On Clete Purcell: “Insatiability seemed to have been wired into his metabolism.” -James Lee Burke
Setting: Vieux Carré—”The Old Square” (The French Quarter)
The old part of New Orleans, the original city, rides just above sea level, peeking over the Mississippi River levee at the silted memories of half a continent roiling by.
In summer, she is unbearably hot and sticky. In winter, just hot and sticky. On a Saturday morning her cobbled streets reek of waste and beer, and the daily early-morning sluicing does little to curb the rankness. She is old. She is tired. But she rides just high enough to not fully sink into the mire. Katrina gave her a good thrumming, but she’s still there, still on the mend, and still a wonderful old soul.
Clete Purcell, the “libidinous trickster of folklore,” divides his schedule between the Quarter and New Iberia. We don’t hear much about his time in the Quarter, but James Lee Burke, creator of Clete and his buddy Dave Robicheaux (Burke’s main character), allows us to draft our own account of Clete’s days in the heart of the Crescent City.
Burke describes Clete Purcell as “the nemesis of authority figures and those who sought power over others…a one-man demolition derby.”
Fond scenes unfold in my mind of Clete, pork-pie hat resting on his bald head, slouching in his red convertible Cadillac, waiting outside Coop’s Place for a bail-skip to stroll out onto Decatur Street.
I see plate glass shatter onto the sidewalk. I see a rag-doll body thud to the concrete. Tourists bedecked in faux Hawaiian shirts, cargo-shorts, and flip-flops scatter across the street to the drivelous safety of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
Later that evening, adrenaline buzz wearing off, copper-penny taste dissipating, heart rate subsiding, Clete remembers his planned rendezvous with a couple of kind-hearted twin strippers who work in one of the seedy off-Bourbon joints. Clete needs a cocktail and a nice place to court two sisters.
Clete strolls into the alcove-entrance at Sylvain, just a few blocks shy of St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square. He wears a white linen suit, powder blue shirt, pork-pie hat, cordovan loafers, and a double act of over-blond exotic dancers, one on each arm.
Murf Reeves, betattooed bouncer-turned-bar-manager, glances up from behind a wooden bar, spies the behemoth of a man wearing a duo of honey-colored-entertainers. Murf’s usually unreadable bouncer countenance unfolds into a smile, that furls into an across the bar handshake-man-side-hug, and introductions. “Sit, Clete. I got the perfect drink for you.”
Murf grabs a bottle of Corsair Triple Smoke and pours 1.5 oz into a shaker. Tosses in 0.5 oz. Lemonheart 151, 0.5 oz. Carpana Antica, and 0.5 oz. cinnamon syrup. Tops the whole concoction off with a dash of lemon juice and shakes. He places a lowball on the counter, fills it with ice, and pours. “I call this the Gumshoe’s Blackjack.” Murf says. “It’s like you Clete, a sweet-hearted guy who packs a punch.”
1.5 oz. Corsair Small Batch Triple Smoke whiskey
0.5 oz. Lemonheart 151
0.5 oz. Carpana Antica
0.5 oz. Cinnamon syrup
0.25 oz. Lemon juice
Pour all ingredients into a shaker, shake well, and then pour over ice into the glass of your choice.
If you find yourself strolling the streets of the French Quarter, saunter into the beautiful courtyard at 625 Chartres Street and sidle up to the bar. Ask for a Gumshoe’s Blackjack. Tell ‘em Nashville private investigator Thomas H. Humphreys sent you. You will not be disappointed.