Carly never won a damn thing in her short life that she didn’t lose.
I wouldn’t call her a loser, though. She was a champ when it came to letting things slide.
Won Honor Roll and blew it with truancy. Won a Nerf cannon at the Carver Desire Baptist church raffle and had it broken when she shot Captain Mahoney’s cruiser.
Won me over. Even though I hauled her in on possession charges about every time she got a progress report from Carver High.
Even though I should know better about kids like Carly, she still had that Tinkerbell keychain, that oversized beret, that hang-dog smile telling you there wasn’t a wrong in the world that could touch her.
There was plenty wrong with Carly. It began with her choice of drugs.
That little girl took the dumbest drugs ever to grace a drunk tank:
Carly huffed glue when she was 13. She smoked Wet—formaldehyde-laced pot—so often you’d figure her dad was a mortician rather than locked up in Angola.
I caught her spray-painting a scene of Never-Neverland on the Montegut Market one night, her brain popping prismatic from the tin of nutmeg she ate.
No matter what industrial solvent or kitchen aid she was lit on, Carly and I started the conversation the same way each time:
“Everything alright here, Carly?”
“Hell yeah, Miss Jari.” Carly would smile up at the sun even if it wasn’t out. “Everything just righter than rain.”
You’d never guess from that Sears-Roebuck grin that Carly was dodging bullets on a weekly basis.
As much as was wrong with Carly, the worst wrong was the company she kept.
We’d photographed the whole 2004 Wing Snack shooting before we found Carly.
She was huddled bloody behind the toilet. Tinkerbell rubbed between her fingers. Wet smoke drizzling from her lips.
“You alright, Carly?” I checked if any of the blood was hers.
“Righter than rain. Just chilling.”
“Let’s get you cleaned up and get a statement.”
“I got only one thing to say,” Carly said as I dragged her melted bones out of the bathroom.
“They best open the Wing Snack back up soon, ‘cause I ain’t walking all the way to Seventh Ward for my chicken.”
Carly was cool as they came, but cool with the wrong people.
In 2002, she ran rock for Bebe Pink and Crush. In 2003, when Crush and Bebe got warring, she ran between both sides.
By 2004, battle lines were a pleasant memory; the Ninth Ward became a free-for-all, like laser tag played with AK-47s.
Carly caromed from one murder scene to the next. She lost friends, lost trust, lost her house when Will Clementine burned it down to get at Bebe Pink. The bullets kept flying but Carly kept bouncing from one gang to the next, unscratched.
Sooner or later, I figured, she’d stop bouncing and lay there for good.
Sooner came sooner than anybody expected.
July of ’04, I found her lying in the weeds along Pleasure Street. Carly’s head was full of cat tranquilizer and her tiny frame was covered in Saints gear:
“You part of Vicious’ Saints now, Carly?”
“We’re going to save this town.” Carly kept staring at the sky. I turned my mirror shades to it.
“He’s saving it by killing it off.”
“Well,” Carly sighed, rubbing Tinkerbell, “at least the sun’s still shining.”
It didn’t take a week before Carly was listed as a Person of Interest, gone missing after the Old Crows blew Vicious’ Saints out of Desire.
I don’t hold onto things well either.
Hold onto things and they break. Keep only what I trust:
Hard things. The badge. My partner, Hakk. A brick for busting heads when I’m off the clock.
Not Carly. I hardly thought of her.
She was a ghost.
Then Katrina hit. The whole city became a ghost town.
Three weeks after the waters receded, I cruised the ruin that used to be Desire’s main drag, Louisa. I did a triple-take spotting Carly.
“What’re you doing here, Carly?”
“What you mean? Rebuilding, same as everyone.” She shook her head, eyes dull and lolling. “My city needs me.”
I got word Carly swung a hammer forty times before passing out from the paint she inhaled at the job site. Next week was shirms with the Salvation Army clothes drive. Then speed with Mexican day-labor roofers.
Carly kept at rebuilding, though.
Some things, she refused to lose.