Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Marvel comics, and have been used without the permission of the rights holders for non-profit entertainment purposes only.
The Death of Le Diable Blanc
The mission proved to be the beginning of the end for the homeless pickpocket known only as Le Diable Blanc. He went there expecting nothing more than a hot meal.
Usually he was able to steal what he needed, surviving on his wits, but he hadn’t managed to lift anything of significance for days. He had been able to buy a junior cheeseburger at McDonalds, but that had been two days ago. Hunger drove him to risk exposure at what he thought of derisively as “the God place.”
None of the volunteers at the mission knew him by sight, which was fortunate, but it was always possible that one of the people taking advantage of their charity might, and there was the distinct chance that he might at some point lose his sunglasses—all he had to hide his identity. Still, he had to risk it. He couldn’t go on like this much longer.
He ought to have known they’d want something in return for their bowl of steaming slop. In point of fact, they’d want to clean him up and chop off his hair. He permitted it, because he could hardly do otherwise, but he refused to take off his sunglasses and kept one hand clamped tight to the frames all the while they were washing him, dressing him, and cutting his hair. As a result, a cut that wouldn’t have been terribly good under optimal circumstances became a real hack job, too short on top and too long on the sides. They gave him some hand-me-down clothes that didn’t fit particularly well and finally let him sit down to a bowl of potato soup and some French bread. Afterward, they let him bunk down on a cot in the main room. It was a vast improvement over a pile of cardboard and newspaper in an alley, and he fell asleep almost at once.
He was awakened at about one o’clock in the morning. He wasn’t entirely sure what brought him out of sleep until he smelled the sour rankness of alcohol on top of severe halitosis. There was a man leaning over his bed, some drunk bum who must have smuggled a flask or maybe even a fifth of bourbon into the mission, where spirits were supposed to be verboten.
“Pritty li’l boy,” the man wheezed. “Don’chu got no Papa, li’l pritty boy? I’ll be yo’ Papa…be real nice t’you…”
A hand brushed his thigh. Instinctively, he kicked out. A sharp gasp told him the kick was a good one. On the instant he shot out of bed and leaped out an open window nearby. He didn’t stop running until he ran out of breath. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was, but by the look of things he was in an alley off of Bourbon Street somewhere. He’d probably slept in this very alley before.
He slumped against the wall of a seedy-looking apartment building and crossed his arms on his knees. His head dropped on his hands. He trembled from head to foot in the reaction from his fear and exertion. He was so tired.
He might have dropped off for a second or two. It couldn’t have been long, because there was no change in the night, but suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore. A man was squatting down a few feet away from him, a big man with dark hair that was just starting to recede. His face was in shadow; even with his unique eyes, L’Diable could make out no feature.
He started, half rising from where he sat. The man raised his hands in a gesture of his harmlessness. “S’okay, petite, I ain’ gon’ hur’chu,” he said. His voice was pure Cajun. “Wha’chu doin’ runnin’ roun’ out here in de dark a’ night, hahn? You better get you’self in someplace safe.
“Here,” the man said, and held out his hand. There was something in it, though L’Diable hadn’t seen him grab anything. It was a piece of paper. “Go on, chile, take it. I won’ bite.”
Le Diable was cautious, but he trusted that he was faster than any grownup. He snatched the paper out of the man’s hand with the speed of a viper striking. L’Diable had no way of knowing it, but if he had wanted to the man could have caught that hand without difficulty just the same. He didn’t try, however, and L’Diable came away with a hundred dollar bill. He stared at it in shock. When he looked up, the man was gone.
“Merci, M’sieu,” he said anyway. He didn’t feel so tired anymore; there was something about holding a whole hundred dollars in your hand that woke you up somehow, particularly when you’d never even seen so much money in one place before. He stood up and tucked the bill into the waistband of his new secondhand underwear. He had to find a safer place to spend the remainder of the night, but he didn’t know anyplace that would let a kid in on his own, particularly not at two o’clock in the morning. But he did know a place where he was unlikely to be bothered.
The house was haunted, but that didn’t worry him. Ghosts couldn’t harm the living, and they kept the bad people away. As far as he was concerned, the dead were much better company than most living people he knew. He’d stayed there several times, during bad weather or just when he wanted to get away from people. He didn’t stay there very often because he didn’t want to offend the residents. They might not let him stay anymore if he became bothersome.
No spirits made an appearance when he crept through the front door, and the house remained quiet as he made his bed on a moth-eaten old couch in what had once been a living room. Feeling much safer than he had at the mission, he fell asleep. If the dead did walk the halls that night, they did not disturb him. He didn’t wake up until the morning was well under way.
The house was at the edge of the main city park. He heard a good deal of noise outside and peered through one of the filthy windows onto a surprising sight.
A carnival had set up the evening before. In the darkness and silence he had not noticed the skeletons of tilt-a-whirl rides and miniature roller coasters. He watched the children running and laughing, their parents tagging along behind them carrying stuffed toys won by throwing baseballs at milk bottles and darts at balloons. He smelled corn dogs and funnel cakes and wished for a moment that he could join the happy Saturday crowd.
And then he remembered the hundred dollars stowed in his shorts, and realized that he could join it.
He hesitated only long enough to race to the old house’s ground floor bathroom, where there was still a cracked and dirty mirror. He groaned when he saw the state of his hair. There was no helping it. He smoothed it out as best he could, dismayed at the way the gingery locks curled into ringlets. When he decided he looked as good as he was going to look, he left the house.
He managed to last about a half an hour before disaster struck. Or at least, it could have been a disaster. Certainly it should have been a disaster. There was no doubt that it was a major progression along the road to the end of Le Diable Blanc.
He had just rung the bell at the top of the pole, startling the hell out of the surly pot-bellied carny running the game. The swing of the hammer had managed to send his sunglasses flying right off his face. They disappeared into the dusty thoroughfare, lost forever. He hid his crimson-over-black eyes behind his hand as quickly as he could.
“Hey, you’re a voice said. He turned in panic to see…
…a little blond-haired girl who was looking at him with curiosity but no fear. Deciding to make a play of it, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t alert any adults to his identity, he set a defiant, arrogant grin on his face and balanced the heavy sledgehammer on its end on two fingers. “Yah. What’s it to ya, beb'?” he said.
Fast as lightning, the girl pulled a knife from inside her coat and sent it flying, straight into the sledge’s handle, inches from his astonished eyes.
“I’m Bella Donna Boudreaux,” she said nonchalantly. “Nice t’meet you.”
“Woah. Nice shot.”
“I’as aiming f’ you.”
He stared at her for a moment, and then they both began to laugh at the same time. A few people looked at them curiously, but for the most part they were studiously ignored. “You better get your shades back ‘f you don’ want someone comin’ aft’ya f’real,” she said. “My Papa’s given orders t’de boys t’bea’chu up wheneve’ dey sees you.”
“I don’ know. Eit’er he don’ like you or he wan’ you t’learn how t’fight. I t’ink mebbe he wan’ you t’learn how t’fight. T’ink he been t’inkin’ ‘bout bringin’ you int’ de guild.”
“De ‘Sassins Guild,” she amplified, rolling her eyes as if she couldn’t believe anyone could not know what she meant. “My Papa’s de boss.”
“So…d’ose boys dat’s always chasin’ af’t me, tryin’ t’beat me up…dey’s assassins?”
“No, not yet. Dey’s ‘prentices. So’m I.”
“So dat mean, you Papa be teachin’ you how to…how t’kill folks?”
"Yup,” she said brightly. “But don’ worry, I ain’ got orders t’be killin’ you. Now hurry up an’ put you glasses back on; somebody gon’ see you.”
“I can’, I los’ ‘em,” he admitted. “Guess I’m gon’ hafta steal me anot’er pair. Tough luck, I really liked dat pair.”
“Well, come wit’ me—I keep y’from gettin’ in trouble ‘til y’can get hid again. Hey, get me m’knife back, wouldja?”
“I dunno's ‘f I should,” he said slyly. “You ain’ gon’ go puttin’ it b’tween ma’ eyes if I does, is ya?”
She laughed. “’Course not. Jus’ give it back, ‘kay? It was ma’ Mama’s.”
He pried the blade out of the wood and passed it over, then followed the girl through the crowded park to a souvenir stand that was selling cheap plastic sunglasses. He gave her the money and she bought him a pair while he hid behind a nearby port-a-potty.
“'Lectric Blue?” he asked incredulously. “You wan’ a red-head t’wear 'lectric blue glasses?”
“Was eit’er dis or hot pink,” she said. “Seem t’me dis was de leas’ a two evils.”
He put them on. “Dey look a’right,” she said. “Come on, I wanna ride d’Tilt-a-Whirl.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon together, and parted that evening with promises to meet again the next day. He couldn’t believe it was real—he’d never had so much fun in his life, nor spent any time with anyone he really liked the way he liked Bella Donna Boudreaux. She was pretty, too, he thought. He was too young for that to have great effect on him, but it seemed like a good quality. He liked pretty things.
He was a bit dismayed to see how quickly his hundred dollars had dwindled. He was still holding more money than he’d ever had previously, but it was considerably less than he’d started out with. Still, if he was able to pick a few decent pockets he should be able to keep his funds up. He grabbed a sandwich at a little café and thought about where to spend the night. Mostly, however, he thought about Bella Donna.
They met at the edge of the park early the next afternoon. “Come on, Red-Eyes, I’ give y’de honor a’ winnin’ me one a’ dem big teddy bears at de ring toss game,” she said.
He grinned. “I c’n try, anyway,” he said. “Le’s go!”
Bel had tried the ring toss herself the day before, and hadn’t managed to win. She knew why; the rings were only a little bigger around inside than the necks of the bottles you were supposed to ring, so it was next to impossible to accomplish. She thought that L’Diable wouldn’t even be able to get one ring on, which would give her something to crow about since she had.
He paid his fifty cents and the carny gave him the five red plastic rings. He held the first one up and aimed carefully, the tip of his tongue protruding slightly from between his teeth in concentration.
The ring went right around the neck of a Pepsi bottle.
He aimed again, and let the second ring fly. It, too, settled neatly around the neck of a bottle. As did the third, the fourth, and the fifth. Bel’s mouth gaped open. Then she let out a whoop.
“Way t’go!” she said as the carny gave them their prize. “Geez, mebbe you should join de guild.”
L’Diable didn’t say anything to that; he was afraid to offend his new friend. The truth was, he didn’t want anything to do with her father’s guild.
They stayed together all afternoon and into the evening. After it got dark, Bel informed him that she had to get home.
“But I got time f’one ride on de Ferris wheel, if y’want,” she said hopefully.
He did want. They took two slow trips up and down until the wheel began to stop to let people off. When their car made it to the very top position and paused while the bottom car emptied and reloaded, Bel leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He looked at her in surprise. Her eyes sparkled in the carnival lights and there was a small, mischievous smile on her lips. After a moment’s pause he leaned over and kissed her in return. She took his hand and lay her head down on his shoulder and they sat that way until the car stopped at the bottom to let them off.
“Well, I better go,” she said sadly.
“Yeh, I s’pose. D’you t’ink…we could see each ot’er again t’morrow?” he asked hopefully.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I c’n try an’ get away sometime in de aft’noon, but I can’ promise not’in. Papa keep me studyin’ hard durin’ de week.”
“Tell y’what,” she said. “If I c’n get away, I’ll leave a note f’ya on de big tree jus’ down de street from ma’ house. D’ya t’ink you c’d fin’ it? We jus’ off Lake Pontchartrain near de ol’ ‘musemen park.”
“Yeh, I c’n fin’ it,” he said.
"I c’n sneak away t’leave de note durin’ ma’ lunch break, at about twelve. Wait f’me by dat tree if you get ma’ note an’ we’ll go have some fun.”
They parted, and the next afternoon L’Diable wandered down to the lakefront to look for the “big tree.” It was easy enough to find—it was, after all, the only tree that had a square of white paper nailed to it. He pulled it off but didn’t attempt to look at it—he’d been too embarrassed to admit to Bel that he couldn’t read. He hoped the note meant she would come. She had said she’d only leave a note if she could, but she might not have meant it the way he heard it. He waited.
She arrived only a quarter of an hour later and they spent the rest of the day together. “I won’ be able t’play wit’chu tomorrow,” she said sadly when it was time for her to head home, “an’ I’m not too sure ‘bout Wednesday, eit’er.”
“Well, dat’s okay. ‘F not’in else, we got de weekend, neh?” he said with cheer he didn’t feel.
“Yeh, I guess.” She stood looking at him glumly for awhile. “I like you a lot,” she said suddenly.
“I like you, too, Bel,” he admitted.
“Will you marry me? Someday, I mean, when we growed up.”
Her face lit up in a big grin and she gave him a kiss. “Can’ wait. Tell ya what le’s do; when I can get out t’see you, I’ll hang a piece a’ green construction paper up on dat nail on de big tree at lunchtime. Dat way you’ll know’f I’m comin’ ‘r not an’ not hafta hang roun’ here an’ risk de boys jumpin’ ya. See y’later, Diable!”
“Bye, Bel,” he called after her. He watched her trot away, the setting sun glinting off a shiny gold anklet on her left leg, and felt lonelier than ever in his life.
L’Diable Blanc went to sleep that night not knowing that the morning would be his last. When he woke up he considered his remaining money and decided that the time was ripe to pick a pocket or two. He headed out to the French Quarter and ended up on Tchoupitoulas Street with no set plan and no known target. He saw a man who looked rather well-to-do and watched him for a little bit, evaluating his chances.
The man was drinking coffee at a sidewalk table in front of a nice café. L’Diable decided he must be a tourist, because he was drinking “tourist coffee,” which is to say he was drinking it black. Tourists were easier marks than locals.
The man was wearing a black leather jacket and blue jeans, and his cowboy boots were shiny and looked expensive. His dark brown hair, thinning at the temples, was pulled back in a ponytail. He was a big man. That didn’t worry L’Diable—the bigger ones were usually slower.
His acquisitive gaze landed on a gold chain the man wore hooked onto one of his belt loops. There was a gold pocket watch on the other end of that chain, and by the look of it a real one, maybe even an antique. He knew pawn brokers who’d give him twenty or maybe even thirty dollars for a watch like that. It was worth much more, but a kid like him could never get the money out of it. He had to take what he could get.
He hung around at a discreet distance until the man paid his check and left, whereupon he followed him into the crowd of pedestrians. Thankfully, the man didn’t seem to have a car nearby. He put on speed until he caught up, then very casually walked straight past the man. With a single deft motion, he unhooked the chain and removed the watch.
The man gave him enough lead to let him think he’d gotten away with it. Then a hard hand grabbed hold of his ginger hair and yanked him backwards so fast he didn’t even have time to yelp. The man dragged him out of the crowd and partway down a quiet alley.
“Guess dat hun’erd dollars din’ las’ too long, hahn?” the man said. “Sad t’ing, ain’ it? It never do las’ long.”
L’Diable twisted out of his grasp and faced him, back pressed hard against the wall. “Y—you dat man.”
“Yah, ‘f y’mean dat man dat followed y’t’ot’er night when you’s runnin’ outta dat mission like someone set fire t’y’tail. How you been doin’, petite? Stayed safe?”
“I seen y’made y’self a frien’,” the man said. “Dat’s good, ain’ it?”
“How’ju know ‘bout dat?”
“Been watchin’ you, petite. F’a long time, actually. Me an’ de boys, dat is.”
“You…you de man set dem kids out t’beat me up,” he stammered, inching away. “You Bel’s papa.”
The man burst out laughing. “Nah, dat’s Marius Boudreaux,” he said. “Ma’ name’s Jean-Luc LeBeau. I ain’ wit’ de ‘Sassins Guild, petite, I’m de boss a’ de T’ieves Guild.”
“You a…a t’ief?”
“Bes’ t’ief in N’Awlins, chile,” Jean-Luc said. “An’ I ain’ in de habit a’ settin’ kids out t’beat up on ot’er li’l kids. Nah, de boys I’m talkin’ ‘bout be de ot’er t’ieves in ma’ guild. Had ‘em out watchin’ aft’you since y’ firs’ come roun’ here, keepin’ de wors’ a’ de bad folks off a’ ya.”
“’Cause you needed it,” Jean-Luc said grimly. “Lo’s a bad folks roun’ here woulda had it in f’you ‘f it weren’ f’us.”
“T’iefs ain’ bad folks?” L’Diable said bravely.
“You a t’ief,” Jean-Luc replied. “You bad folks?”
“I only steal ‘cause I ain’ got no ot’er way t’survive.”
“Same here, chile, trus’ me. Dey’s pow’ful people got a vested intres’ in makin’ us steal. But we’d do it anyway, ‘cause it what we been taught t’do. De guild’s old, very old, an’ ma’ fam’ly been in it f’ever. De LeBeaus got a’ old, honored name.”
“Look, y’can have y’watch back. Can I jus’ please go?” he pleaded.
Jean-Luc shook his head. “Y’can’ see it, ‘cause you don’ know jus’ what’chu got into here. You in big trouble, chile. Caught b’tween two guilds. We bot’ wan’cha, Marius an’ me, ‘cause dey’s a prophecy from de ol’ days ‘bout a red-eyed demon chile. Now, I don’ t’ink f’one minute you a real demon, but Marius do, an’ mos’ a’de men a’my guild do, an’ de guild dat’s got Le Diable Blanc s’pose a’ get all kin’ a’ good t’ings outta dat,” he admitted candidly. “You gon’ hafta chose one or de ot’er, petite, ‘cause sure as anyt’ing you gon’ be drafted if you don’ enlis’. I ain’ gon’ be doin’ no conscriptin’ here, but now dat you hangin’ out wit’ ‘is daughter an’ all, Marius’ gon’ use dat t’get y’on his team. So t’ink about it, chile. You wan’ go wit’ me an’ mine, learn t’be de bes’ damn t’ief in de worl’, or you wan’ go wit’ de ‘sassins an’ learn t’kill folks?”
“Dey ain’ no third option?”
“’Fraid not. Wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Eit’er way, you gon’ have y’self a home. Come wit’ me, an’ I try an’ make sure it a good one. Wha’cha say, kid? You a t’ief? Or a killer?”
L’Diable was silent for a long moment. “If you worried ‘bout Bella Donna, I not gon’ make you give up y’frien’ jus’ ‘cause she from a rival guild. Can’ speak f’what Marius’ll do, d’ough. T’ink it over. You know where you b’long, inside you’self. Jus’ gotta look an’ see where dat is.”
It wasn’t really a hard decision. Frightening as the prospect of living in a real den of thieves might be, the idea of living amongst trained professional murderers was infinitely worse. And there was something about Jean-Luc LeBeau that he couldn’t help trusting. The man held out his hand. He took it, and Le Diable Blanc died forever. A LeBeau was born.