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French Quarter Nightmare



He works all night and sleeps all day, so he didn't know about it for a couple of days. Then on Saturday, he went by his mama's in Kenner and she showed him the newspaper and he read it and then ran outside and vomited.

"It's a good thing he did what he did to himself," Bren Miller says softly. "If not, I would be looking for him now."

Who and what Bren Miller's talking about is that French Quarter murder a while back, the one that stood out from all the other murders because Zack Bowen strangled Addie Hall, sat next to her on their sofa for a couple of days, then chopped her into cookable pieces. Then he wrote a lengthy farewell to the world before going to the seventh floor of the Omni Royal Orleans hotel and jumping off.

There are plenty of other details about what happened, gross or engrossing according to taste. When Bren gets to some of these details, he has to stop and pinch his eyes with thumb and forefinger. "Nobody deserves to die like that," he simply says.

Not even a Quarter Rat. That's what they call themselves, these young people who come to New Orleans from everywhere and nowhere and hook on to some job stirring Hand Grenades or Bloody Marys for the tourist throng. They set up in some termited room and after work they meet up with other Quarter Rats in late-night places like The Alibi or Gemini's, and if there are no suckers to hustle, sometimes they hustle each other.

"It can be a bloodsucking place," Bren admits. "But I couldn't imagine Addie outside the Quarter. That was her place."

Well, her first place was in North Carolina, where, she told Bren, she was sexually abused by a close relative. Then there was an artist boyfriend who beat her. Finally, she got on a Greyhound bus headed for New Orleans.

She liked the Quarter life and she liked plenty of the Quarter people, too. She especially liked a tall guy named Bren Miller, who towered over her small frame. He had green eyes and earrings and ran a creaky strip joint. They would meet before work and play Scrabble. He began to like her, one Quarter Rat to another.

What was not to like? Addie was a dynamo behind the bar at Hog's Breath Cafe on Chartres Street and had an infectious sense of humor. Bern asked her out once, then again.

She could be delightful. She didn't drive, just pedaled around on a bike with a blue basket and white-wall tires, seeing things through aviator glasses. She sang songs from Pee-wee's Big Adventure when she wheeled her bike.

Addie had more male friends than female, but she also had issues with men. "She was a sweetie and had the best laugh, but she was very protective of herself," Bern says. "She was a Capricorn and a bad drunk."

Their dating life ended in a typical Addie overdramatization. She and Bren were drinking at Cosmo's and some guy made a very indecent proposal. She didn't say anything, but back at her apartment, she took a quick bath. When she got out, she told Bren to leave. "Get out. I don't want you to see this," she said and started punching walls and mirrors.

The next day Bren brought over some flowers and the suggestion that they would be better off as friends. They stayed that. Addie tended bar at Hog's and showed Bren how to make a stinging Dirty Martini ("You pour out the vermouth after you swirl it.") and they stayed delighted with one another.

There was another Quarter Rat working at Hog's, a guy even taller and more handsome than Bren. His name was Zack, and there was an exactness, a neatness, about him that caused some wise-guy whispers that he just had to be a narc.

Bren and Zack got on OK and would sometimes hook up for some late-night pool. "He told me he'd been with the army in Bosnia and had shot up a family," Bren remembers. "I wasn't sure if he was telling the truth."

One thing for sure, there was no one betting on Zack and Addie. "They hated each other," Bren says. "But he could be pretty outgoing, and I guess his personality eventually won her."

Then there was a hurricane and people and their plans got scattered all over. Bren Miller drifted to Las Vegas, and by the time he drifted back in July, things had shifted.

"I ran into Addie in One Eyed Jacks. She still smiled but wasn't as explosive."

That was then. Now, Bren Miller sips at his coffee and thinks of all the things he's heard about Addie and Zack lately. About how he choked her and later raped her body. About how he prepared potatoes and peas and then cut off her head and limbs and seasoned them before putting them in pot and stove. About the cameras on the hotel roof catching him making aborted run-ups to the edge of the roof before finally going over.

There's this, too. These were Quarter Rats. Not too many people around here knew these lives that just went down the drain. Not too many care. There's been no wakes, no obituaries. The Quarter Rats themselves aren't talking about things too much; maybe there's some notion that it's bad luck not to move on quickly.

"Addie never expressed herself in the future. Always the present," says Bren Miller. He tips his Courvoisier cap and tugs a little at his long hair. It's like he's grabbing for another memory, any one.

"She loved to be free ... she used to sing that song by the Smiths: Please, Please, Please. Lemmie Get What I Want." He pinches his eyes again with thumb and forefinger and talks like he's picturing that room ­ yeah, that room ­ yet again.

"It's hard to imagine her in that state," he says with a signing on his face that says he's doing just that.

Horror comes gradually in nightmares. But it comes, it comes.

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