Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

by Charlotte Carter

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Will hard-boiled New York street musician Nanette Hayes find love and music in the city of lights—or only heartbreak and murder?

After a series of harrowing events, sassy self-taught saxophonist Nanette Hayes is back to her routine: street performing from the theater district to Riverside Park to Park Avenue, haunting the music stores on Bleecker, hanging out at the mobbed-up strip club where her BFF, Aubrey, is the reigning diva, and, to keep her mom in the dark, inventing more and more tales about her fictitious job at NYU as a French teacher.

When Nanette’s overprotective mother tells her that her glamorous, bohemian auntie Vivian has gone missing in France under mysterious circumstances, Nanette is dispatched to Paris to help. Paris—her favorite city! Nan has to keep her focus on the mystery at hand and not on the coq au vin and Veuve Clicquot and jazz clubs. But the vibrant scene turns out to be the very thing that leads her deep into the underbelly of historic Paris, the crux of her aunt’s disappearance, a twenty-year-old murder—and a sexy duet with Andre, a gifted violinist and fellow street musician from Detroit who puts his life on the line to prove his love for her.

Coq au Vin is the second book in the Nanette Hayes Mystery series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497691810
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 01/27/2015
Series: The Nanette Hayes Mysteries , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 202
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Charlotte Carter is the author of crime novels including the Nanette Hayes Mysteries—Rhode Island Red, Coq au Vin, and Drumsticks—featuring a saxophone-playing street musician and crime solver. Though Nanette is from a solidly middle-class black family, her salty language, boho ways, and irreverent humor undercut her bourgeois upbringing—and often land her in the middle of a murder case. The books have been translated into French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch.

A recipient of the Chester Himes Black Mystery Award, Carter has worked as an editor and teacher. A longtime resident of downtown New York City, she has also lived in France and North Africa, where she took writing workshops with Paul Bowles.
Charlotte Carter is the author of crime novels including the Nanette Hayes Mysteries—Rhode Island Red, Coq au Vin, and Drumsticks—featuring a saxophone-playing street musician and crime solver. Though Nanette is from a solidly middle-class black family, her salty language, boho ways, and irreverent humor undercut her bourgeois upbringing—and often land her in the middle of a murder case. The books have been translated into French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch.

A recipient of the Chester Himes Black Mystery Award, Carter has worked as an editor and teacher. A longtime resident of downtown New York City, she has also lived in France and North Africa, where she took writing workshops with Paul Bowles.

Read an Excerpt

Coq au Vin

A Nanette Hayes Mystery

By Charlotte Carter


Copyright © 1999 Charlotte Carter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-9181-0


Travelin' Light

Damn, I was tired. My saxophone seemed to weigh more than I did.

I had awakened early that morning and immediately commenced to fill the day with activity—some of it necessary but most of it far from pressing.

I played for a time midtown, a little north of the theater district; made some nice money. That wasn't my usual stomping ground. I had picked the corner almost at random. I don't know why I did so well. Maybe the people had spring fever, hormones working, calling out for love songs. In fact the first song I played was "Spring Fever." When you play on the street, you never know why you're a hit or a bust. Is it the mood of the crowd? Is it you? Is it the time of day or the time of year? Anyway, you do the gig and put your money in your belt and move on.

Next, I power-walked up to Riverside Park and played there for a while; did my two hours volunteer work at the soup kitchen on Amsterdam; bought coffee beans at Zabar's; took the IRT downtown; bought a new reed for the sax on Bleecker Street; picked up some paint samples at the hardware store; then played again on lower Park Avenue, closer to my own neighborhood.

Makes me sound like a real flamer, doesn't it? A go-getter, a busy bee. Not true. I'm lazy as hell.

What I was doing was trying to outrun my thoughts. That's what all that busy work was about.

Over dinner the previous night, the b.f. (the shithead's name is Griffin) had announced, number one, he wouldn't be spending the night at my place because he had other plans, and number two, he had other plans ... period.

I should have known something was up when he said to meet him at the little Belgian café I like in the Village—the other side of town from my place. He hated the food there, but it was convenient for his subway ride home.

This kind of thing has happened to me before. The relationship is at some critical point—or maybe not; maybe it's simply that a certain amount of time has passed and I'm reevaluating it. I meet his family. Mom wants to know if this is "the real thing." I'm asking myself constantly, Is the sex really that good? Should I stay in or should I get out?

And then, a couple of weeks later, before I come to a final decision, he splits.

What's with that?

I always seem to end up asking myself that question. What is with that?

I didn't spend the night crying or anything. I merely came in and stripped out of my clothes and snapped on the radio and finished whatever brown liquor I had in the cabinet. Temper tantrum aside, breaking the porcelain planter in the living-room window had been more of an accident than anything else.

Sleep was a long time coming. Yes, I had decided about two A.M., the sex had been that good. And when I awoke in the morning, I just started moving like this—manic.

Now I was exhausted. I packed up my sax and started the short walk to my apartment near Gramercy Park.

Our homeless guy was back. It had been so long since anybody had seen him on the block, we all figured he was dead. But here he was again, in a neck brace, evil as ever, begging for dollars and cussing at anybody with the nerve to give him coins. "Why don't you comb your hair?" he called after me when I stuffed a single into his cup.

I made a quick run to the supermarket and then into the benighted little corner liquor store where a white wine from Chile is the high-end stuff.

I had poured myself a glass, turned on the radio, and read through the mail before I remembered to check the answering machine.

"Nanette, it's me. About tonight. You're still coming over to eat, aren't you? Because I've got something to tell you. It's ... I'm ... Well, I'll tell you when you get here. I'm going out now to pick us up some food at Penzler's. You still eat pork, don't you, baby?"


Oh shit.

I had forgotten. Two weeks ago I had said maybe we'd have dinner—I walked over to the kitchen calendar—tonight.

I was in no mood to see anybody tonight, let alone Mom, for whom I'd have to put on an act—make out that things were fine between me and Griffin, and that my fabulous—and utterly fictitious—part-time job teaching French at NYU was going great. I'd have to be careful never to mention the sax or my street friends or anything remotely connected to my career as an itinerant musician on the streets of Manhattan. She might have been able to handle it if she ever found out that the teaching job was a lie (I was getting steady translation work, at least). But she would have gone absolutely crazy if she knew I blew sax on the street corners with an old fedora turned up to catch the cash. And I'd have to haul my ass on the F train out to Queens.

Well, I just wasn't going to make it. Not with all these papers to grade. Not with this pneumonia, cough cough. Not tonight. Tomorrow maybe, but not tonight.

I've got something to tell you.

I turned that gossipy, girlish phrase over in my mind. What was there about that locution that troubled me so? It didn't sound like Mrs. Hayes, that's what. It just did not sound right. And, come to think of it, there was a bit of a quaver in her voice, too.

Oh, God. She's sick. Heart. Cancer.

I rushed to the wall phone and dialed her number. No answer.

I threw my jacket on and locked up.

Halfway to the subway, I realized I was probably being crazy. There were only about three million other reasons my mother might have had to sound worried. Maybe it really was something about her health, but that didn't have to mean that death was knocking on the door.

So why hadn't she answered the phone? She was probably still at Penzler's—Elmhurst's answer to Dean and Deluca—inspecting the barbecued chickens and braised pork chops and waiting on line for a pound of potato salad. Or out in the backyard. Or over at the Bedlows' house, picking up one of Harriet's cobblers for our dessert.

By then I was at Sixth Avenue. I turned downtown instead of north to the Twenty-third Street station. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I had suddenly decided I needed a drink before heading out there, and I needed a little reassuring from the one person whose level head and unfailing equilibrium I could always depend on: my one and only homegirl, Aubrey Davis. Who works as a topless dancer.

We knew early on, at about age nine, that I was the whiz at sight-reading music, inventing lies more believable than the truth, and forging my mother's signature. "Very bright, but a bit unfocused," one of my teachers had told Daddy on parents' night.

Aubrey, however, was the one to call when you wanted to see some dancing. She struggled mightily to teach me one or two moves. But it was no good. I could work the shoulders, and I could usually work the hips too—just not at the same time. To this day, when I hit the dance floor I look like a holdup man who realizes too late that his victim is carrying a taser. By the time we were fourteen we'd both thrown in the towel on my dancing career.

It was about that time, on a summer day, that Aubrey's mother abandoned her. She went off to play cards with some people and just never came back. In school, I was the brightest star in the heavens, but Aubrey, when she deigned to join us, was the butt of the kids' pitiless taunting—about her clothes, about her poverty, about her mother, and in time, about her morals. The oddsmakers wouldn't have laid ten cents on Aubrey's chances of getting through life in one piece. They'd have lost. She is a genius at taking care of herself. And my girl never wastes a second looking backward.

Anyway, Aubrey is now one of the bigger draws at Caesar's Go Go Emporium, which is exactly the kind of place it sounds like, tied however circuitously to the mob and located in that one dirty corner of Tribeca where Robert De Niro has not yet bankrolled any emigre restaurateurs.

She performs topless, like I said, and what she wears over the nasty bits is barely worthy of the term "panties." Between weekly pay and tips she makes a pretty impressive salary, only a fraction of which gets declared to the tax folks. I don't know all the details, but I believe Aubrey has an enviable little portfolio going, thanks to one of her Wall Street admirers. I can always hit her up for money, but I made a vow long ago never to do so unless I was starving. See, if you ask her for a couple of hundred, the next thing you know, she's putting down a deposit on a new co-op for you. She is that generous. She is also a great beauty, and I love her madly. So does my mother, who took turns with the other grown-ups in the neighborhood in trying to raise her.

I heard the pounding bass line from halfway up the block. Caesar's. I hate that fucking place. I hate the white men in their middle-management ties who come in for their fix of watery scotch and flaccid titties. I hate the rainbow coalition of construction worker types in their Knicks T-shirts drinking Coors and spending their paychecks on blow jobs. And I've got zero patience with all of them. Not Aubrey, though. She understands men—all kinds of men. And boy, do they love her and her Kraft caramel thighs and her cascades of straightened hair and her voice like warm apple butter.

It is little wonder that Aubrey became a superstar, if you will, at Caesar's. A lot of the other dancers are distracted college girls who'd rather shake their ass in a dive than work behind a cosmetics counter somewhere, or they're skanks strung out on crack and pills. But Aubrey, who isn't even much of a drinker, is focused, engaged, thoroughly there when she's dancing. She has a fierce kind of dedication to her work, and the guys seem to pick up on that immediately. It is the damnedest thing, but they appear to respect her.

There was no one on stage when I walked into the darkened room. The girls were taking a break. I walked double time through the crowd of horny men, and had almost made it back to the dressing rooms when I heard a male voice call my name. My whole body stiffened for a few seconds. I kept walking, but the voice rang out again: "Hey, Nan!"

I stopped and turned then. I couldn't believe that any man who actually knew me would not only be hanging in a place like this but would actually want me to see him in here.

To my relief, it was only Justin, the club manager. He was standing at the end of the bar, his signature drink, dark rum and tonic, in one hand and one of those preposterously long thin cigarettes in the other. Justin, self-described as "white trash out of Elko, Indiana," is Aubrey's most ardent fan. Of course, his admiration for her has no sexual dimension; he is as funny as the day is long.

Justin has a benign contempt for me that actually manifests itself as a kind of affection. I'm just not a femme—his word for a certain kind of lady that he idolizes. (Femmes, you see, are a subgenre of women in general, all of whom he refers to as "smash-ups.") In any case, he is absolutely right—I am no femme: I don't sleep all day, as Aubrey does, and then emerge after sundown like a vampire; I never paint my nails; I don't own a garter belt or wear spike heels before nine P.M.; my hair is Joan of Arc short; I don't consider the cadging of drinks one of the lively arts; I don't share his and Aubrey's worship of Luther Vandross; and, probably my worst sin, I cannot shake my boody. The truth is, he thinks I'm overeducated and a secret dyke. Justin does not understand going to college and does not approve of lesbians. But he likes me in spite of himself and, giving the devil his due, he says my breasts are "amazing." We've been out drinking together a couple of times, once just the two of us and once with an old lover of mine, an Irishman who is still turning heads at age forty-two. Yeah, Tom Farrell garnered me quite a few Brownie points with Justin. On the other hand, Griffin, my ex, met Justin once, and the two of them scared each other half to death.

I saluted Justin, raising a phantom glass to his health, and continued walking backstage.

Aubrey gave out with one of those Patti LaBelle—register shrieks when she saw me swing through the door. She was busy applying some kind of sparkly shit all over that flawless body and she didn't have stitch one on.

"Christ, Aubrey. Put some clothes on," I said. She made me feel like I had the body of a Sumo wrestler and the skin of Godzilla.

"This just makes my night! What are you doing here, sweetheart?" She slipped into a peach- colored robe as she spoke.

"I just thought I'd drop in for a minute on my way out to see Moms. Is there anything to drink back here?"

"Yeah, just a minute." She walked to the door and called out into the ether: "Larry, get me a Jack Daniels, baby. Tell him don't put no ice in it."

The glass was in my hand almost before I could blink. I took a healthy drink from it.

"You look kind of funny, Nan," she said. "Wait a minute ...don't tell me that nigger is trifling with you again?"

"No, it's not Griff. It's my mother."

"How is Moms?" she asked me, back at her dressing table.

It was taking me a long time to answer. "What's the matter with her, Nan?"

"Probably nothing," I finally said.

"What does that mean?"

"I know you're going to say I'm crazy, but ..." I repeated, a bit abashed, the phone message that had set me spinning.

"Nanette, you are crazy, girl. How you know it ain't something good instead of something terrible? She could be getting married again for all you know."

"Aubrey, I know you're a relentless optimist. But give me a break, huh. Moms is getting married? To who?"

"How do I know that?"

"Or me, for that matter."

"That's what I'm saying, Nan. You don't know all her business."

I took another deep drink of the bourbon. "Trust me, it's not wedding news."

"Okay, fool. She's not getting married. But that still don't mean she got cancer, do it?"

"No, you're right, it doesn't. But I'm still a little freaked. Which brings me to the reason—another reason—I came here. I thought if you could get a couple of hours off tonight, maybe you'd go out there with me."

"Oh shit. I can't, baby. I am taking some time off tonight—but I gotta meet somebody for a couple of hours."

"Oh." It flitted through my mind to ask who she was meeting, but then I remembered myself, and who I was talking to, and who she worked for. I didn't want to know any of the particulars. Of course, it might have been something perfectly innocent, but I thought I'd better let it go.

I stayed a few minutes longer, until it was almost time for her to go on again. She insisted on having one of the guys run me out to Queens in his car. I ran through my head the possibility of staring at the thick neck of some club gofer while I sat in the backseat all the way across town and then over the Long Island Expressway to Elmhurst. Or maybe, I thought with a shudder, he might try to chat me up. We'd talk about—what?—Heavy D's latest, or some new designer drug? My heart sank.

Then I mentally put myself on the subway, stop after stop after stop. I didn't even have a newspaper to distract me.

I went for the car.

I left with the promise that I would call her the next day to give her a full report on Mom's news, whatever it turned out to be.

On the way out I ran into Justin.

"What's happening, Smash-up?"

"Same old, same old, Justin. You know."

"Have a quick one with me, girlfriend."

"I can't.

"Got a date?"

"Yep. Dinner. With my mother."

"Ooooh. Bring me back some cornbread."

I guffawed. He didn't know how funny that was.

The kitchen was spotless, as always. But then, why shouldn't it be? Mom never cooked. Everything was take-out or premixed or delivered in stay-warm aluminum foil.

"Mom, I'm here! Where are you?"

My mother's cotton dress was as surreal as the kitchen counters in its neatness. Decorous pageboy wig bobby-pinned in place. Makeup specially blended by one of the black salesladies at the Macy's in the mall.

It must be eight, nine years now since Daddy left her. But if I no longer remembered the exact date that had happened, Mom sure did. I bet she could tell you what she'd eaten for breakfast that day, what shoes Daddy was wearing when he broke the news to her. On those rare occasions when Mom talks about him, she never uses his name, referring to my father only as "him."


Excerpted from Coq au Vin by Charlotte Carter. Copyright © 1999 Charlotte Carter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Coq Au Vin 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I read by Charlotte Carter and is my personal favorite out of RHODE ISLAND RED and DRUMSTICKS. Nan's attitude toward life coupled with her excellent view of Paris makes for a good mystery story. It is simple and the plot lines aren't too hard to follow. Carter ends with just the right touch of bittersweet irony that left me wanting to read the next book just to see what else Nanette would go through.