Papa Legba lived in Valiant's pocket, on a three-link chain to his Glock 17. Valiant kept all his saints - his voodoo loa charms - close. A kingpin of Desire's corners had to.
Papa Legba ruled the crossroads: Opened the gates between the world of nature and the world of spirit. Mama taught Valiant that Legba also went by "Saint Peter," before she vanished.
Ogun, the warrior Saint Michael, drove the swelter and cracks of Desire's streets with Valiant every day, dangling in silver from his Tacoma's rear-view. Baron Samedi was carved into his money clip, his dominion over death and wealth strengthening Valiant on his shakedowns and snitch killings. Erzuli, the Blessed Virgin of love, stood in pink soapstone by his stained bathroom mirror.
Valiant had all the Saints he needed. Until he found Violetta.
Erzuli had been moved to his bedside that morning. Valiant needed her warmth nearby after Katrina's nails had ripped gaps in his home's walls.
Violetta was picking through Christmas ornaments outside the Winn-Dixie when Valiant went there for blankets. Her brown skin gleamed like a statue God polished every day. Her smile made the mist in the air seem the gloss on a greeting card.
They traded sugared words. He bought her baubles and a Big Shot cream soda. She found his hand like she'd been looking for it her whole life.
"How about being mine for awhile?" Valiant said.
"Awhile sounds like a good start," Violetta said.
After a month of cruising Krunk shows together and steaming the Tacoma's windows in empty lots on Pontchartrain's shores, Violetta took to staring at Ogun's swing above the dash. Her perfect skin creased. Her fingers on Valiant's neck gripped to hold the blood in place.
"You got to be done with gang-banging if you're going to be with me," Violetta would whisper, tongue near enough to gilt Valiant's ear. "I don't want to lose you."
"I don't want to be lost."
"Lose the gang for both of us, then."
Ogun came down from the rear view and Valiant kept out of Grub turf. Calls from fellow soldiers in the Dirty-30, even his best friends Owen and C-Murder, went to voice mail.
Valiant patched his walls. He locked his doors at 11. He shrugged off his friends' punches and pleas for help.
Violetta strung Christmas lights over his iron-barred porch. She made their bed early to preserve their heat of the night before. She decked his rooms with aromas of cayenne, flour and andouille.
When C-Murder banged Valiant's door with their friend's blood on his fists, Valiant answered. He listened to how the Grubs had hung their shoes over a Dirty-30 corner seconds after they put seven bullets through Owen. He nodded and touched Baron Samedi's symbol on his money clip as C-Murder said they had to do something.
"You want to go rolling with them," Violetta said when she heard, "don't expect me to be waiting if you come back."
"When I come back, you got to be waiting."
"When or if, I won't be here."
Valiant spent the next week behind his new locks and Christmas lights, listening for gun shots. Two weeks after, he read poems to Violetta curled in his lap, one ear turned to the second-line funeral jazz playing for boys from both gangs. When he drove alone to buy their groceries later that month, Valiant listened to the voicemails:
He heard his friends sobbing and snarling that he'd abandoned them. He listened to the echoing names of Dirty-30 soldiers lost because he didn't stand by them. He heard the silence after the voicemails stopped, their emptiness like an opening grave.
She started asking Valiant what was wrong every time he came home silent. She quit laughter, quit eating as much, quit touching him first, when he told her. She would be found staring at the stains in the ceiling when he startled awake amid the night.
"I'm afraid they'll come for you," Violetta said, holding her hands locked over her lap. "I'm afraid they'll never go away."
"It ain't just our world, it's theirs too."
"I just want them gone."
Valiant kept Baron Samedi balled in one fist when he shot C-Murder with the Glock 17 in the other. He watched his friend choke on blood for five minutes outside the Mini-Mart before getting in his truck. Two hours after, he pulled into house-high weeds by one of his former Dirty-30 corner, got out of the Tacoma and hid behind a tree. It took thirty minutes before C-Murder's cousins cruised up with Rav-4's sub-woofers thumping and bandanas raised.
He stepped from the tree and crossed the street with Papa Legba dancing on the chain. He saw his pal Gary's eyes, familiar as they'd been at all of his birthday parties, catch sight of him in the side mirror. He unloaded the clip before any could turn, popped a fresh one in, emptied that into what still twitched in the Rav-4.
She smiled twice as much the next week. She left the bed unmade and made calls to friends in Baton Rouge. She touched Valiant with wooden hands and avoided his eyes.
"I just couldn't take it anymore," Violetta told Valiant over the phone, three days after she vanished without even a note. "I can't be with a man like you."
"I did everything you wanted," Valiant pleaded into the phone, staring at Erzuli's statue by his bedside.
"After the way you turned on your friends, I just can't trust you."
She hung up when Valiant ran out of words. He held the phone and stared at the bed, stripped of blankets, where the impression of Violetta's body cradled Papa Legba bound to the gun.