Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

Story Five, Amelie III

“You wouldn’t think we were being rude if we asked whether you could find another seat, would you?”
—Student at the McGehee School for Girls

Monday morning, 17 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie goes through the rest of her weekend quietly. She takes the mandated trip to McGehee’s campus. Bereft of any distractions, her mind wanders on social anxieties tied to the first day at school. It doesn’t help that her first day will also be her senior year.

The evening before the big day, she lays out her uniform and does everything she can to make herself look presentable. Sleep doesn’t come easily either after spending all day agonizing, but it comes. The alarm she set on her phone rings the next morning, followed by several other alarms minutes after the first.

GM: “I was looking up bus routes, and McGehee turned out to have its own private ones,” Christina remarks after Amelie has showered and come downstairs for breakfast. She’s sitting at the table and eating from a plate of toast and grapefruit. “That’s very good, if taking the bus is how you plan to get to campus. It turns out public schools are obligated to provide transportation to qualifying private schools, and I can only imagine what mixing the students does. God knows that most public school students in this city are delinquents in the making.”

True to the pair’s conversation on Friday night, however, Amelie’s aunt has left her to make her own transportation arrangements, whether that’s walking to school, taking the bus, or whatever else.

Amelie: Amelie comes down fully dressed in her new uniform, a bit unimpressed with the length and existence of the skirt, not mention how the school charter asked it be so high on the hips with the shirt tucked in. Her hair is brushed, but still thick and wild as ever. Hearing about the transit system eliminates one of her worries, however. A walk creates an awkward first impression in a white dress shirt.

“I think I’ll take advantage of that. I underestimated the sun down here yesterday,” she affirms, draping her uniform’s black blazer carefully over the back of a chair. While she can’t agree with the ‘delinquents’ line, she has to admit she likes the thought of the private bus. Young girls in school uniforms are a stereotypical harassment target. Still, her more pressing concern is her aunt, and the best way to fully break the ice this morning.

GM: “That’s the subtropics,” Christina replies between a sip of coffee. “The school should have air conditioning, though. Practically every building down here does.”

Amelie: Amelie replies to the word ‘subtropics’ with a groan of distaste, but she’s glad they’re at least mid-way through August. Only a month before fall. She sits down across from Aunt Christina and has a simple breakfast that almost mimics hers: an apple and some plain toast.

“I’ll be a little busy this week with a few things. Is there anything you’d like me to do or help you with?”

GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “That’s kind of you to offer, but you should focus on school right now. I imagine your first day of classes will give you enough new things to occupy yourself with.”

Amelie: “I’m not sure what to expect there, so far as classes. I’ve only ever been in public school. But I’m confident I’ll be fine in that regard. Did you and my mother attend a private school?”

GM: “Oh yes, the public schools in our area were terrible,” Christina confirms. “Not so bad as New Orleans’—I’m sure it’s no small feat to top those—but some of them might have had daycare centers too.”

Amelie: Amelie thinks as she takes a last bite of toast, trying not to look too interested. Her mother is a sore mystery. “That’s a sad thing for a school to have. I never understood people who didn’t take studies seriously.”

Amelie cleans her dish and sits back down, checking the time on her phone with a sigh. The social aspects of high school aren’t missed by the young woman. But it’s nearly time. “I should go. I need to introduce myself to the headmistress anyway.”

GM: “They’ve called them principals since the ’60s or thereabouts,” Christina mentions wryly.

Amelie: Amelie wonders back to the pamphlets but nods to her aunt. “That’s a shame, too. Principal just doesn’t carry the same weight as a title.”

GM: “Anyways, feel free to either head home or go wherever else once school’s over. I’ll be out until sometime later this evening.”

Amelie: Hearing that her mysterious aunt is going to be home late makes the young woman wonder if it’s safe to venture into New Orleans without a guide. At least this early into her time here. “I want to check out the New Orleans public library, across the river. So I’ll probably do so after school today. Until then, I should get going.”

GM: “You mean in Algiers? That’s a bad part of town,” her aunt warns. “I’m sure there’s quite a few other libraries on the north side of the Mississippi. That’s where most of the city is, including the Garden District here.”

Amelie: The young woman thinks a moment and shakes her head. Directions aren’t her strong suite, but she’s looked this up already. “The one a half-hour walk away, in the Central Business District. Unless I’m wrong about which is the flagship location? Thanks for the warning though. I saw some worrying things on the drive here with Oscar.”

GM: “The CBD is on the same side of the river as we are,” Christina confirms. “I’m not sure off-hand if its library is the main branch, but that seems more likely than it being in Algiers. The CBD is a fairly safe part of town, too.”

Amelie: Amelie reflects on the river, and how her aunt makes it seem as though it’s the proverbial train tracks separating the good and the bad in a small town. She finally stands, slings her backpack on, and takes a deep breath, bracing for the day as she starts for the door. “I’m off, then! Have a good day at work.”

GM: “And you at school. Good luck, too,” Amelie’s aunt wishes as she tabs through something on her tablet.

Amelie: It’s a short trip to the bus stop once Amelie finds it on her phone. Some anxiety starts to peek in, inspired by American movies in English on late night TV. They had a lot to say about the horrors of both American high schools and all-girls schools. She hopes the bus is empty.

GM: For the moment there is no sign of the bus. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and the temperature already feels like it’s hovering around 80 degrees. Together with the abundance of drooping oaks, thick hedges, palm trees, and other greenery in the neighborhood, it almost feels like waiting in a tropical rainforest. The morning sky is a bright and cloudless azure that promises an even hotter August day.

A yellow school bus eventually pulls up near the gate to Christina’s house. The driver, a middle-aged black woman in a green vest, wishes Amelie good morning as she gets on. The teenager’s ears are immediately filled with the high-pitched but still sleepy chattering of her identically-dressed schoolmates… all of whom looks a great deal younger than she is. Half of them don’t have breasts, and the other half are awkward in their braces and acne. Backpacks are pink or rainbow-hued and depict characters from Disney films and other cartoons. The children variously quiet, furiously whisper into one another’s ears, or simply stare as the almost-eighteen-year-old makes her way down the bus aisle.

Amelie: The young woman makes her way onto the bus and wishes the driver a good morning, only for the awkward childrens’ faces to drive home a stark thought: most people her age in this wealth bracket are probably driving. The importance of a learner’s permit seems all the more socially relevant now. Her demeanor stays true to the Roberts family brand of poker face as she makes her way to the nearest empty seat and plops down. She takes out her phone to pass the time unless her underclassmen approach her.

GM: Amelie observes that the bus is nicer than the ones in her hometown. There still aren’t seatbelts, but the windows are cleaner and there aren’t anywhere nearly as many visible doodles, graffiti, or tears on the seats. She’s only just gotten out her phone before a high voice behind her asks, “Excuse me, why are you taking the bus?”

The speaker is a blonde-haired girl who’s at least one head shorter than Amelie. She’s dressed in the same uniform as the high school senior and every other student on the bus.

Amelie: Amelie notices but ignores the cleanliness. It feels wrong somehow to be on a bus that’s this well-maintained. The underclassman however takes her off guard, and she turns slowly to get a look at whoever she’s speaking with. She keeps her answer short. “I’m new to the city.”

GM: “Are you poor?” the little girl asks curiously.

Amelie: Amelie raises a brow at the girl’s brash question, but stays polite and shakes her head. “I’m not poor, no. Just not from here.”

GM: “I’m friends with a poor person. She’s mostly like me, apart from not having a dad.”

Amelie: “That’s common.”

GM: “That’s what my mom says too,” the kid remarks. “My friend’s mom used to be our maid before my mom fired her. She says married people are more honest.”

Amelie: Amelie raises a brow again, feeling something like she did looking out at that dark part of town. “Everyone lies sometimes.”

GM: “I guess. Some people lie more.”

Amelie: “Do you want to know the secret of how to tell who?”

GM: The little girl leans forward. “What?”

Amelie: “Practice listening to people. Liars talk a lot.”

GM: “Why’s that?” the child asks.

Amelie: “It’s different for everyone. But the secret works. Try it,” she answers, turning around and putting a ‘shhh’ finger over her lips. It’s half actual answer, half trying to quiet her down.

GM: The little girl turns away from Amelie to listen to the students in the seat behind her.

Amelie: Amelie smirks a little wickedly as she goes back to her phone.

GM: The remainder of the bus ride through the Garden District passes in comparative solitude. Amelie is barely able to tell when they’ve reached McGehee: the school looks the same as any other picturesque home in the neighborhood. It’s surrounded by the same historic Antebellum and Victorian mansions, the same pristine gardens, and the same thick canopy of live oaks, evergreens, and willows that keeps the district as green as its namesake. The only giveaway that Amelie has reached the school is how long the property’s cast-iron fence stretches.

Unlike other schools, whose sprawling complexes of buildings are obvious from afar, McGehee seems to have been worked into the historic neighborhood as unobtrusively as possible. The only giveaways as to its presence, besides the longer fence and the half-visible tops of a slide and jungle gym, is the presence of two gates into the property rather than just one. A red canopy over the left entrance reads in white font, Louise S. McGehee—Founded 1912—Honor, Service, Leadership.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the silence and watches the scenery pass her by until they get to the school proper. She’s suddenly glad that she took the bus instead of walking like she did yesterday. It’s a seamless blend into the rest of this historic section of town, and could pass simply for an eccentrically large mansion among other well-to-do houses until one saw the sign itself.

GM: Amelie’s bus stops along the sidewalk for the girls to get off. The bus driver tells them all to have a “super” day, prompting one of the preteens to roll her eyes. A few other buses are parked nearby. Amelie doesn’t see much available space for the older students who clearly drive, but she can spot a number of teenagers walking down the sidewalk who are uniformed in the same plaid skirt, white shirt, and black blazer she also has on. They smirk and whisper among themselves at the sight of the new girl getting off the kiddie bus.

Amelie: Amelie gives a smile and a nod to the driver on her way out of the bus. As soon as she spots her classmates whispering, however, it’s apparent where she’ll be standing in this new school. It’s a disappointment, but her face stays steely. She reminds herself that it’s only for a year. She keeps her blazer draped over an arm, the heat dissuading her from wearing it, and makes her way inside the school. She retraces her steps from yesterday to find her homeroom class, feeling more than a little awkward, but hopes she isn’t showing.

GM: The mass of chattering girls makes their way past the school’s iron gate and the police officer guarding it. McGehee’s central administration building resembles a preserved historic house more than an office where one expects to find school administration at work. Balconies extend underneath the second-story windows, while benches and tables are set out across the carefully manicured lawn. They look like good spots for the home’s residents to sit down at and enjoy a glass of sweet tea to cool off a hot afternoon. The ‘office’ itself is built in the Greek Revival style popular throughout many other homes Amelie has seen in the Garden District. Tall Corinthian pillars and a coat of nearly-uniform white paint bring to mind the buildings of ancient Greece. Amelie observes a few girls making their way up the front steps, but even more are heading off towards a single, larger building.

Amelie: All of this is a marvel for the young woman to look at. Many buildings in Quebec are just as old as these, but the styles run counter to each other. Where Quebec has Gothic Revival, New Orleans butts heads with its Greek Revival. It feels more secure and aesthetically pleasing—almost airy—but less ornate. It’s a wonder anyone can get work done here with so much to look at. Amelie puts her thumb and forefinger up into the air in front of her eyes to get a sense of the building’s straightness as she walks.

Then she remembers the scheduled assembly. That snaps her out of her reverie. She quickly turns and heads straight for the site. Much as she’s skipped them in previous schools, they certainly aren’t ‘20 grand a year’ schools.

GM: Amelie finds that the assembly is being held in a proper auditorium rather than the gyms her previous schools hosted them at. The cloth seats look relatively comfortable, and the large space is clean and well-lit.

At least several hundred girls in the same uniform as Amelie are filing into the auditorium. Some of them look around her age, while others are young enough to ride the bus without shame and even be shepherded in groups by adults. All of them are avidly chatting amongst themselves, and the sounds of so many conversations permeate the auditorium with an omnipresent din. Seats swiftly fill up as the students divide into cliques. Everyone seems as if they know one another.

Amelie is left alone.

Amelie: It’s impressive, once again, and she takes a moment to look around the room and take it all in. Plays, announcements, concerts, the venue seems well-suited for everything. Her earlier concerns do not abate, however, as she surveys the divide of the students. Her elders and her betters she can easily work with socially, as well as younger kids, but people her own age are usually more of a problem. Instead of going to join any one clique, she finds a seat near where more of her age seem to be congregating, and sits on her own. Rumors are most likely already spreading about her time on the bus, and accepts her fate in that regard. But damned if she’s going to let the social game stop her from being the best student in the building.

GM: Students continue to file in to the auditorium. Amelie’s proximate position to the girls who look old enough to be fellow seniors soon results in her being approached by a round-faced girl with brown eyes and dirty blonde hair. Like every other student in the room, she’s dressed in the same white blouse and plaid skirt, although unlike Amelie she’s wearing her blazer.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was hoping to sit by my friends—would you mind scooting back a row?”

Amelie: Amelie sighs internally. This is the part in public school where she crosses her legs and ignores this girl, but with a new start comes new concessions. She stands, fixes her skirt and gives the girl a polite smile, resolving to just be formal and remember whoever she is for later. In case this turns into the proverbial Mean Girls scenario somehow.

“Since you were so polite about it, of course. I’m Amelie, by the way. It’s nice to meet you.”

Instead of shaking hands like she usually would, the taller girl simply gives the interloper a curt nod and slides past her. She finds another seat next to a stranger in the row behind.

GM: “Bless your heart,” the girl smiles as she assumes Amelie’s seat, then begins animatedly chatting with her neighbors. More students continue to file in. Several more sit down in the empty spots Amelie could previously have scooted over to.

She is again left by herself as the auditorium continues to fill up.

Amelie: Amelie makes a mental note after moving into her new position. First new person on her list of people to watch. But she lets it go fast, turning to the new prospects and trying to be brave as she takes inventory of the people in the row with her. She hopes whatever clique she now shares a space with is more accommodating than the plump-faced potential queen bee.

GM: The seats next to Amelie soon fill up with students, but they don’t seem to share her space so much as dwell in an independent space that happens to be adjacent to hers. Like seemingly everyone else in the auditorium, the girls appear to already know one another, and ignore Amelie completely as they animatedly talk amongst themselves about various topics.

“These commencement addresses are so boring…” “I hear public school students have an easier time skipping…” “Have you heard about…” “I think senioritis is gonna hit me pretty hard…”

Amelie: It’s a different atmosphere than she’s used to. She’s only ever changed schools once, but this feels awkward. Before she starts to question the need to make friends at all with these people, she scoots in her seat and clears her throat as she introduces herself to the nearest group.

“Pardon, do you know who that girl down there is?” she asks, pointing down casually at the round-faced girl she’s found herself relocated by.

GM: “Yeah, that’s Mackenna,” one of the girls answers distractedly before turning back to her friends.

Amelie: Its less than she’s hoped for, but more than she dares expect from these people. It’s becoming more and more clear this isn’t where she’s going to be making friends. At the very least, there’s now a name on her shit list instead of just a round face. Amelie crosses her legs, takes her phone out and fiddles with it, waiting for either the damn assembly to start or for someone to approach her.

GM: None of the other girls approach Amelie. After what seems like an eternity of waiting to the friend-less senior, the din of chatter fades. Amelie looks up and sees that the apparent “faculty” section of seats has filled up to perhaps half a hundred teachers, which looks rather sizable next to a crowd that can’t have more than ten times as many students, if not less. In contrast to the sea of green, white, and black uniforms among the girls, the teachers wear their own outfits, although conservative styles and colors predominate. Some of the faculty are also male. Some are old enough for their beards to be struck through with gray and even white, while a few are just young enough to draw appreciative stares from some of the girls. Most gazes in the room, however, look towards the auditorium’s stage, where a woman standing behind a podium is calling for attention.

She’s of average height and in her later middle years, with prominent lines around her neck and cheeks. Her dark blonde hair is cut relatively short, and she wears an austere black suit and skirt with a pearl necklace, matching earrings, and low-rimmed glasses. “Good morning, everyone,” the woman smiles, her voice clear and audible over the podium’s microphone. “As most of you are likely aware, my name is Catherine Strong and I am the headmistress at McGehee. Our 103rd school year is about to commence and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all of you bright and lovely young women back to our school…”

Amelie: Amelie spends the time alone on her phone, teaching herself about the area and planning out the rest of her week in the back of her mind. It’s full, but it’s the way she likes it. Once the event begins, she puts her phone away to listen. She feels a small sense of vindication at the title of the school’s leadership, given her discussion with her aunt this morning.

GM: The principal’s greeting does not go on for long before she states that there is a video clip she would like to show the gathered students. The lights dim as a projection booth in the back of the auditorium comes to life, splaying its image across the blank wall behind her.

Amelie: The advert is a small surprise. Abused or lonely geriatrics struggling to show themselves that they’re still alive and achieving their dreams through great effort and strength of character. It resonates with Amelie enough to give her a light swell in her chest, but she swallows it down without much effort.

GM: Principal Strong smiles at the assembled teenagers and younger girls as the clip ends and the lights resume. “This ad has resonated with millions around the world for many different reasons—it’s inspiring, beautiful, funny, foreign, curious, unusual, yet common to us all. What themes from it can you relate to your own lives?”

Hands shoot up throughout the crowd.

Amelie: Seeing so many raised hands is another strange sight for Amelie. It’s a stark shift from the level of enthusiasm and participation in public school, but she isn’t about to let herself be outdone. She raises her hand and watches for the headmistress’ choice.

GM: “Yes, Susannah?” the principal asks with another smile, pointing towards an older teenager sitting close to the front.

“It’s a very sweet ad for sure, ma’am,” the pretty blonde begins.

“Sweet as maple syrup over pancakes,” one of the girls next to her interjects, to the assembly’s light laughter.

“But what really struck me, you know,” the other girl continues, “was how Ta Chong Bank was sponsoring this ad—that’s what the ‘TC’ is short for, my daddy has a few overseas clients who do business with them. Anyway, a bank might not seem like they have too much to do with a bunch of old friends reliving their dreams on motorcycles. But just seeing that name at the end, ‘TC Bank’—well, if I were the customer and had to choose between different banks to open a savings account at, I know I’d go with the one whose name I saw in such a heartwarming ad. I’m probably going to go into business after I graduate college, so I’d like to see my company make ads as powerful as this one. I take it as an example of what I should aspire to in my professional career, and another example of what my mama always told me—‘aim for the heart, not the head.’”

“Well-said, Susannah,” the principal replies. “There’s certainly no denying that TC Bank is receiving a great deal of publicity as a result of their ad—including in our very school. Yes, Sadie?” she then asks, pointing towards another face in the crowd.

Many further students, mostly higher schoolers and a few middle schoolers (the elementary-age girls remain quiet) critique the ad and find ways to connect its sponsoring company’s success and brand imaging to the success they’d like to enjoy in their own careers. A few girls comment on how the characters are elderly—“we’re so used to seeing the young and beautiful in the media, that element helps TC Bank further stand out from the competition and appear honest, authentic.” Other girls offer critiques of the ad and what they would do to improve it, or how they would tailor it for broadcasting to different audiences. Amelie is struck by the high level of student participation in the assembly, as well as the fact that the principal knows so many of them by name (though all of them call her by “ma’am”).

Amelie: Amelie waits patiently as she listens, but what strikes her as things go along isn’t just he level of participation but the way other girls are picking apart the ad from a business perspective. There are a few people pointing out the angle of the elderly protagonists in the media vs. the standard of beauty, but she barely pays any mind to them. Each person along the line leading up to her makes her rethink what she’s going to say. The differences between her previous education and what she’s going through right now make her more than a little excited.

GM: Eventually, the principal picks out Amelie among the many still-raised hands and asks, “Yes, over there in the back?”

Amelie: By the time her name is called there’s a faint smile on Amelie’s previously neutral features. Clearing her throat, she makes sure her voice is loud enough to reach the podium. “Thank you. I’d like to first point out that as powerful as this ad is, the reason it’s crossed the borders from Taiwan to the USA is that the core message of the ad is one no one is left out from. That through strength of will, you can achieve your dreams, as long as you’re prepared to sacrifice, and pay in blood, sweat, and tears. While its ultimately a marketing tactic designed to pluck the heart-strings for a profit, I find it deeply endearing and very encouraging that this message of hard work and suffering for your dreams has resonated with enough people outside its consumer base that it’s rung out across the ocean to land in this school. As someone from a life of hard work and harder study, it tells me that many people still respect and aspire to that level of commitment.”

GM: Amelie’s closing mention of being from a life of ‘hard work and harder study’ draws a few amused looks from the crowd. Principal Strong smiles and replies, “Yes, even in our roles as critical analysts and future ad producers, let’s not forget that the core message is still just as applicable to us: follow your dreams. Yes, Hannah?”

Amelie: Amelie already knows that the rumors are starting thanks to being spotted taking the kiddie bus. That piece of information will spread like wildfire after this assembly, what she’s mentioned about being from a life of work is just another piece of a narrative she’s already sure is inevitably going to form about her. With a school this size, it’s guaranteed.

As she sits back down, though, she feels disappointed in both herself and the crowd. The message she was trying to push got misconstrued. ‘The ad is successful for choosing a core value of humanity, in cheering for the underdog and his great efforts to succeed against odds’ instead of just ‘work hard’. Along with a sense of justice and family, it’s something one could say crosses cultural borders into a more widespread audience.

GM: “If the ad is applicable to us,” answers the called-on girl, “and we’re spending this much time talking about it, then you could argue that it’s already successfully influenced us,” answers a voice from the crowd. “Most of us are probably going to remember the school assembly we spent talking about a TV bank ad, and consumers are more likely to buy things from or do business with companies they recognize. We might even be more likely to, since we think the ad is so well put-together. How many of us would might do business with TC Bank now, even if we don’t know anything else about their practices or their competitors? We like to think we’re perceptive enough to see through it all, but their ad probably still made money off of us.”

“My folks would say that’s life,” a voice calls from the crowd to several amused titters.

“Yes, it certainly does behoove us to always keep the big picture in mind—and our roles in it,” Principal Strong replies pleasantly. Something about her seems cross to Amelie, though whether at the comment, the student herself, or something altogether else is not apparent to the new senior.

Amelie: Amelie finds herself agreeing with this student, never having disputed that fact either. Marketing is an art form nowadays. She recalls a similar ad back home in the ‘Prevent-It’ ad campaign in which—after a workplace accident—the victim stands back up covered in blood, as though re-animated from the dead by someone saying it was an accident, to explain that it was negligence. It preyed on another core human emotion, fear. Amelie still remembers being a little girl and hearing the blood-curdling screams of a chef doused in cooking oil and her charred boiling face.

But the headmistress doesn’t seem too happy with something or other. Maybe her? That could mean a call to the office to explain all this. The young woman still pushes it from her mind, leans back and relaxes as she listens to the next speaker.

GM: The principal goes on to compliment the gathered students for their thoughtful analyses and reminds them that for McGehee has graduated young women just like them for over a century now—ones who know what it means to be leading women. “All of you are ready to take charge of your futures thanks to our small class sizes, academic rigor, experiential learning and our focus on the individual girl. At McGehee, we prepare each of you for your unique journey amidst a climate of innovation rooted in tradition.”

Principal Strong relates how Louise S. McGehee, an “extraordinary visionary for her time,” founded their school in 1912. McGehee’s mission was to build a rigorous college-preparatory school for young women that would focus on each girl, fostering self-esteem, encouraging high personal standards, and emphasize active student participation in the learning process. Principal Strong says their program uses traditional and innovative teaching strategies to challenge students and to foster a lifelong love of learning—a gateway to success. Though the concept of single-sex education has come under challenge in recent decades, the headmistress states undeterredly, “We are a school of girls and for girls. Our students understand that they can do anything because here girls fill every role—student body president, math whiz, sports star, lead in the play and valedictorian.”

The principal proudly states that they have never wavered from that goal in over a century. The school’s “extraordinary faculty,” a number of whom hold PhDs in their fields—atypical for a high school—respect the way girls learn and teaches with a curriculum that goes beyond the walls of the classroom. “All of you are encouraged to succeed by harnessing your potential, finding your voice, taking risks and delivering your best. Constantly improving and striving for excellence, our faculty, administration and staff and the Board of Trustees remain committed to ensuring McGehee is as unique and forward thinking as possible.” With that said, the headmistress “turns over” the assembly to “the acting president of our student government, Susannah Kelly!”

Polite applause greets the girl who steps up to the speaker’s podium. Amelie recognizes her as the blonde who was first to offer her thoughts on the TC ad. “How are all y’all doing today?” Susannah asks brightly, then goes goes on to remind the class that as “Abby and her family” have moved to Little Rock, the race for president of student government will not be against an incumbent this year—“much to everyone’s relief, I’m sure, after how remarkable it was for a junior to win last year’s!” she laughs.

Susannah goes on to explain the election’s rules, which most of the auditorium’s faces already look familiar with. There will be a jungle primary where anyone can run in, followed by a general election that consists of two candidates (if a primary candidate isn’t elected outright by receiving 50% or more of the votes). Susannah gives all the relevant deadlines and locations for interested candidates to file the paperwork, and states that she will fulfill “all the functions of the office” as acting president until the election is held. At present, that will include introducing the first of the morning’s guest speakers—all of whom are McGehee alumni, “So let’s all show these fine ladies how tickled we are to have them here today!” Susannah exhorts, prompting a round of enthusiastic applause from the seated girls.

The first speaker is a middle-aged woman with an ugly scar over her face, trailed by a somewhat harried-looking younger woman who sets a water bottle and several speech cards on the podium.

The scarred woman introduces herself as Vera Malveaux and a graduate of the class of 1975. Today she is married to Matthew Malveaux, the CEO and board chairman of Malveaux Oil, a prominent local petroleum company. Vera herself either sits on the board of trustees for or is a regular patron to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Newcomb Art Museum, and a variety of other cultural centers and philanthropic organizations. She and her family are active in a great many further organizations and causes, including the Malveaux Cultural Trust, the James C. Malveaux Charitable Foundation, the William Dyer Institute, the Roman Catholic Church, political advocacy, conservative think tanks, higher education scholarships, cancer and science research, and more. Vera talks about her experiences at McGehee where she served as secretary for the arts club, treasurer for the student government, and sang in choir. She says these experiences helped her to learn to work with others and realize that the world after high school required more than just good grades. “Join, participate, and experience as much as you can in the short time that you’ll spend in high school,” she exhorts the girls, reminding them that every item on their resumes will make them stand out to colleges and better prepare them for their lives as adults.

Amelie overhears several girls near her chatting that “her face looks that way because a voodoo serial killer tried to cut her up.” “No, I hear her own daughter tried to murder her, and got locked up in a convent. Made a nun and everything.” “Well I hear she’s addicted to painkillers.”

Amelie: Scars don’t affect Amelie as much as they might other students in the room. When she sees Mrs. Malveaux, she simply wonders as to the scar’s origins. She feels the ones on her back and arms tingle as well, like they do whenever the subject comes up. As she listens to the woman’s speech, however, Amelie sees its logic and wonders if she herself should run for an open position. Or even shoot for the top. She only shakes her head at the rumors the other students leak out. None of them are probably true if they’re being thrown around this casually.

She claps along with everyone else when the speech is over. Overall, the young woman wonders how effective a speaker like Mrs. Malveaux was supposed to be when she isn’t a success herself, but simply married a major success. Still, it’s incentive to dig into how involved Mrs. Malveaux is with the company, and what money she uses for her local advocacy and agenda, whenever she has time. At the very least, it’s good to learn the name of what she’s assuming is the ‘Rockefeller’ family of Nouvelle Orleans.

GM: Polite if not enthusiastic applause sounds from the students as Mrs. Malveaux steps off the stage and makes her way back among the seated adults. Amelie catches her taking a very long pull from her water bottle before handing it off to her black-haired younger assistant, who also lays an extra cushion down on her seat.

The next speaker is a stern-looking, white-haired old woman with several liver spots who introduces herself as Payton Underwood and a graduate of the class of 1965. She is an associate judge for the Criminal District Court of Orleans Parish and is serving her final term before she retires. She credits her participation in the school’s debate team and mock trials with developing her interest in civic affairs. She also attributes a girls-only education with helping her develop what she terms “a solid backbone.” She continues that, “Make no mistake, it’s still a man’s world out there. If you want to go anywhere in it, you’ll have to do a man’s jobs and not take gumption from any man who feels threatened by you. McGehee taught me not to apologize or make excuses for my success. Other girls certainly didn’t expect it.” She finishes her speech by waving to her several granddaughters who are present in the crowd. She also states that she occasionally volunteers in various capacities with the school’s debate team, and may see any students who have an interest in joining.

Amelie also catches further gossip among her peers. “I hear she sent a little boy to Gruesome Gertie.” “Oh that isn’t true, the electric chair isn’t even legal anymore.” “I hear it was a while ago. Do you know when they outlawed it?” “Don’t reckon I know. The ’90s?”

Amelie: The next guest is a bit more Amelie’s speed, a woman in a position of power who takes no shit and does her job with a passion she found in her youth. She’s touched, too, to find that the judge is a mother with several grandchildren among the crowd. But of course the rumors still flow, and the young canuck listens carefully. Gruesome Gertie, the infamous chair used to execute many a man in the South, only fell out of use in 1991. Amelie can’t remember the exact month, but it’s surely 1991. If Judge Underwood is an alumnus of the class of ’65, she had plenty of time to sentence someone to the chair before it was replaced by… whatever they use now. Her country abolished the death penalty a while ago. Extracurricular activities in general and the debate team in particular suddenly seem a lot more interesting.

GM: The last speaker is a white-haired, ancient-looking woman with stick-thin limbs who makes her way up to the speaker’s podium on a cane. She introduces herself as Patricia Maurier, a graduate of the class of 1946. She works as the clerk of council for Orleans Parish and is responsible for overseeing local elections, managing city council meetings, reviewing legislation, maintaining the parish’s records, and a variety of other duties. She recalls back to her experiences as a yearbook editor and library assistant. It was all so long ago.

“I remember celebrating V-E day as a junior,” she recalls in a voice that’s dry and thin like a well-preserved book. “Everyone took to the streets like it was Mardi Gras. A few weeks later, they let out class early so we could welcome back the first ship of soldiers returning from Europe—New Orleans used to have an important naval base. Now those men, the ones who got to return home first and who didn’t have to re-deploy to the Pacific, were the ones who’d been wounded or earned the most combat points. Every girl wanted her classmates to believe she was welcoming home a war hero and sweetheart who she’d been writing letters to throughout the war. I was too grown-up to do a thing like that, of course,” Mrs. Maurier laughs self-depreciatingly. “They were all really our fathers and older brothers. And they always told us the real heroes were the ones who didn’t come back.”

“We’d listen to that soberly and remember it for all of five minutes, of course. Every girl wanted to marry a handsome war hero. Most of us, after we graduated, either went to Sophie-Newcomb College—that’s defunct now, it was merged with Tulane University after Katrina—or took out a simple job like secretary or sales clerk, and lived with our folks. We usually got married a couple years after high school, then concentrated on raising families. Everyone wanted to get married at that age. It was embarrassing if you got married too late.”

“I never did, though. I married my work. I started working for the clerk’s office as a secretary with a typewriter, and I’ve worked there for over sixty years. I’ve kept track of so many records. So many births and deaths. I don’t recognize most of your faces—except for my great-great-niece’s, hello there, Rachel—but if I heard your name, and if you were born in the city, chances are I’d know something of your history. Many of your families have lived here for generations. They’re like the great trees just outside. Faces change like leaves over the seasons, growing from young to old. Generations grow and flower like branches. Your families themselves are the roots—and they run strong and deep.”

“I remember Katrina, and how so many people said the city was finished, but ten years later you can hardly tell it was once half-underwater. I remember the Depression, and the floating Hooverville that was built on sad little rafts along the Mississippi. My mother and grandparents—my father wasn’t from New Orleans—told me stories about the influenza and yellow fever epidemics. For once, everyone was jealous of the colored folks—people believed blacks couldn’t get sick from yellow fever.”

“Our city has faced so much adversity, but our roots—your roots—have weathered every storm, and grown all the stronger. Why, the canopy over some parts of this neighborhood is so thick you could swear it’d stop the rain.” Mrs. Maurier gives a dry chuckle before her wrinkle-lined expression grows sober.

“But times are changing. Things aren’t like they used to be. Girls like you are scattering every which direction across the country instead of staying where you grew up. We have so much history here… my great-grandmother, in the few years I remember her, would tell me stories about the Yankee occupation of the city. Yes, you heard that right, the Yankee occupation—I was half your age when she was as old as I am now. And she was about your age when she remembered one of the doughboys hitting her in the face with a closed fist, like you’d hit a man, because she emptied a chamber pot over his head from her window. Beast Butler, the occupying general, told his men they could treat the town’s ladies like they were prostitutes plying their trade, because of how hostile they were. I suppose we could almost take it as a compliment.” There’s another thin chuckle and wistful look.

“We have so much history in this city. But my generation, the so-called great generation, aren’t your grandparents anymore. We’re great-grandparents, and we’re dropping like flies. I’m going to retire in three years—twenty-five years past the date I started collecting social security. I fear for how much history will be lost after I’m gone. Part of me is sad, but I have to remind myself that your generation also has opportunities which mine never did—as my father once said, ‘You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore’.”

“Spread your wings and fly far, but remember where you come from. Always remember where you come from. Remember your families’ pasts, for their future lives on in you.”

Amelie: Amelie slowly uncrosses her legs as she sits up and listens intently to the current speaker. While history is certainly her passion, it’s not just Mrs. Maurier’s recollections that have her so interested. If anyone can help her track down the sword’s family line, it’s the city clerk who knows everything about the city’s roots and history.

After that realization passes, Amelie allows herself to be taken in by the aged woman’s words. She nods along and feel the pain that every historian feels at one time or another. Those who ignore the past are doomed to relive it. The tales of her being a young woman when WWII ended are interesting, but the young woman finds that the further back in time Mrs. Maurier goes, the higher her own interest gets. Hearing about the ancestor who dumped chamber pots over the heads of Union occupiers makes her grin. As an outsider in the politics of the American Civil War, she chuckles at the actions of those who Northern histories paint as the villain.

When all is said and done, plans and questions are already forming the back of Amelie’s head as she watches the wizened old lady hobble back to her seat. As she sits back in her own, the young woman reflects on all the speakers and ticks boxes in her head. She’s sure that she needs to visit at least one of them about the history of French immigrants to NOLA.

GM: Applause sounds as Mrs. Maurier ambles off the podium. Acting President Susannah thanks each of the McGehee alumni for coming today to share their experiences, and reiterates the scool’s commitment to making all of its graduates as engaged, passionate, confident, and successful as the ones they’ve received today. Susannah welcomes several new faculty to the school, eliciting another round of applause from the students, and proudly announces that McGehee has had some of the highest GPAs and college acceptance rates in the country—rates that “everyone here, student and staff alike” hopes and expects to increase this year.

“Towards that end,” Susannah goes on to announce times and locations for the year’s first college and career fairs, as well as a long list of extracurricular activities that are directly offered at McGehee. Available ones include the usual math, science, and debate clubs, physical sports, band and choir, theater, and a number of miscellaneous clubs such as chess, breakfast club, finance, philosophy, local history, politics, newspaper, yearbook committee, and of course student government. Printed schedules will be distributed during first period. Susannah not only encourages students to sign up for as many extracurriculars as possible, but to independently pursue further activities that are not offered by the school. “I’m working on my grandfather’s Senate reelection campaign, for instance—” Ivy League schools just love that sort of thing, and want students who show they can go above and beyond.

Amelie: Amelie joins the applause of course, and listens carefully for the announcements afterwards. There’s a few clubs that sound interesting. She wonders what physical sports they offer, but resolves instead to seek a school counselor’s aid for making plans for the future. More than one or two clubs might limit her schedule, but if she chooses to go to tertiary school it’s something she knows she has to consider.

GM: Acting President Susannah eventually steps down, and Principal Strong delivers a few closing words with the three principals for the lower, middle and upper schools, the peer counselor advisor, and a few other faculty members. The assembly closes with a full contingent of cheerleaders, song leaders, and mascots (all but the cheerleaders are of varying age, with some as young as grade school) leading a cheer.

Amelie: Amelie smiles calmly throughout. The assembly has smoothed over most the doubts had about the education and the caliber of thinking at McGehee. As she listens to the headmistress’ and varied staff’s last words, she feels as thought it’s about time to stretch her legs before the glee club arrives. Memories of her last school’s cheer clique rears its ugly head as Amelie watches the pompom-waving girls file out and begin a routine she’s sure they practiced over the summer.

The tall girl slumps back in her chair and runs a hand down her face, feeling her earlier swell of confidence drain out her ear as school spirit is shoved back in. Without the typical public school atmosphere, it’s easy to miss the sports banners, but they’re there as soon as she focuses. McGehee Hawks. Travesty. She lays still in her chair and waits for it to be over so she can get to class.

GM: The bell rings and Amelie makes her way across the tree- and flower-lined campus to class. The other buildings resemble the “old Southern house”-like central administration building, although the hallways are wood-hued linoleum instead of actual wood. Onrushing tides of students head this way and that. Once Amelie has picked up her things from her locker, first period begins with Business and Finance. The class size is very small and there are only nine students besides her. It almost feels more like the small group discussions her old teachers would sometimes have, rather than a proper class, especially when all of the girls already seem to know one another and the teacher skips the ‘introduce yourself to the class’ ritual that characterized some of her old school’s classes (to varying degrees of awkwardness). The girls all take notes on their individual but school-mandated laptops as the teacher lectures from a modern-looking smartboard.

He’s an older, pale-haired man who’s still relatively handsome for his age, and dressed in a light-hued seersucker suit and burgundy necktie. He introduces himself with a lazy southern drawl as Lawrence Thurston (all of the girls call him “sir”) and mentions that he’s a former investment banker at Whitney National Bank. Teaching is a part-time gig for him in his retirement, which he’s doing more for fun and to “keep the old mind sharp” as anything else. He seems to genuinely enjoy the prospect of teaching many of his former clients’ and associates’ daughters how to navigate the byzantine complexities of modern finance (he himself is the grandfather of another McGehee student who isn’t yet old enough to be taking his class). He seems to particularly favor a girl he addresses as “Miss Whitney,” and even mentions with a chuckle, “Your great-uncle used to cut my paychecks,” to which she smiles prettily in response.

Amelie: Nepotism is clear and real here in this school, it seems, but so long as Amelie keeps her mouth shut about it, she’s certain that she can duck any negative effects long enough to graduate. It’s not like she minds them all knowing each other, anyway. She has her laptop out along with the other students as class starts. It’s not the newest thing on the market, but it was when she bought it two years ago, and it’s served her without error ever since.

GM: The day’s lesson is more a course objective overview and summary of what Mr. Thurston intends to cover than an actual lesson, but its tone still feels almost conversational. Mr. Thurston frequently drifts off-topic to relate anecdotes from his work at the bank (much of which involved his students’ parents and other relatives), only to subsequently weave his meanderings back into the lecture like it’s some grand tale in which his students and their families are the main characters.

Just outside the window, meanwhile, it’s a already a witheringly hot August day. The sun shines brightly overhead from a cloudless azure sky, and Amelie can make out the grounds’ drooping azalea bushes and banana trees actually shimmering in the heat. The air-conditioned classroom itself is quite cool, and many of the girls are wearing their identical dark blazers just to stay warm. That odd duality of hot and cold, together with the still-early morning hour and mirage-like (not to mention foreign) scene outside the window make it so easy for the cold-accustomed Canadian to feel drowsy. Especially with the old man’s mellow Southern cadence as a sleep aid…

“…times were tough then, my granddaddy always said. People were down on their luck and desperate. Robbing a bank was much, much easier in the ’30s than it is today. No cameras, no criminal databases, no ready means of tracing stolen bills. Why, if you could manage to duck the bulls—that meant police—and split town, you could start over with a satchel of money and brand new life in the next state…”

“…like your mother did, I suppose, Amelie. She never did love you.”

Amelie: Amelie takes quiet notes from the start of class, keeping her back straight and her notes in bullet points for now. She jots down the outline of the semester’s topics as well as other interesting bits like ‘Miss Whitney’ having an old family connection to the teacher. Even with the AC going, Amelie keeps her blazer off, unphased by the cold like many of her classmates are. But the outside view somehow feels like she’s on vacation in some tropical dreamscape. Just the existence of trees besides those found in a ‘normal’ forest line draws her attention every so often. But she’s too serious a student to allow it to bother her.

When the sudden curveball hits her in the jaw, her first reaction is a flash of annoyance at the mention of her mother. But she pushes it down as she always does, maintaining a polite smile at the teacher as she wonders if she heard him right. She glances at the students to see if they’re looking at her, if she hasn’t gone insane. Maybe a daydream got the best of her with how drowsy it is. She pinches the space in between the knuckles on her pinky finger to help wake herself up. But she keeps her mouth tightly shut and listens all the same, her heart throbbing slightly in her chest.

She’s sure she didn’t fall asleep, but… maybe she did.

GM: “…it was ironic. My granddaddy made it through the Great War without near so much as a booboo, but that fool bank robber put him in a wheelchair. All those robberies sure blew up a storm, though, and were one of the main reasons the Bureau of Investigation was reorganized into the FBI.”

Mr. Thurston glances up at the clock.“All right, girls, we don’t have too many minutes left. Y’all can use that time to sign up for extracurriculars. Miss Savard, if you’ll be a dear and pass along those sheets…”

The other students are looking at Amelie as Mr. Thurston hands her the sign-up sheets, though their gazes don’t otherwise seem to be regarding her as insane.

Amelie: Amelie lets off a small sigh at herself, wondering if it’s the pressure of being in this school or the hell of a summer she’s had coming up to this point. She stands and gives Mr. Thurston a quick and polite, “Yes, sir,” and hands out the pages when asked, keeping the final copy for herself as she sits back down. She resolves to ask the teacher if he knows about the Roberts family after the bell rings instead of using class time. That’ll settle it in her head, she hopes.

GM: Amelie doesn’t find it necessary to stand as the teacher hands her the sheets. She merely needs to take one for herself and pass the remainder to her nearest peer, a black-haired girl whose name she picks up as “Miss St. John” and who probably speaks the most during the class after Miss Whitney. Once the bell rings, Amelie finds that both girls briefly stick around after class to share a few friendly words with their teacher. Once they’re gone he finds time for Amelie, though it’s not a lot, especially as other students from next class begin to file into the room.

“Roberts? There’s a Christina Roberts I’ve met at a few socials. Probably a few others. It’s a common enough name. What has you asking, my dear?”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man and breathes an internal sigh of relief. “I must be fighting traveler’s sickness from the sudden change of climate. I could have sworn I heard you mention a member of my family. That’s all. My mother was from New Orleans, and Roberts is her maiden name.”

GM: “Maybe you were daydreaming, dear. You are listening to an old man drone on about finance and even older family stories during first period,” Mr. Thurston chuckles. “Get a full night’s sleep if you aren’t already doing that. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself, in school or real life.”

Amelie: “Seven hours a night, every night, sir. Thank you. I should hurry to next class, but thanks for taking the time for me.”

GM: “Old buildings can play tricks on hot days, Miss Savard,” Mr. Thurston smiles as he waves her off.

Amelie: If that’s the case, Amelie cannot wait for fall to finally hit. With a little nod and another thank you, she slips out of the class and strides to the next.

GM:Amelie’s next class is History of the Late Middle Ages. It’s in the same building as her last class and equally small, with only ten or so students. The teacher, Mr. Rick French, is a trim-looking man with balding gray hair and a salt-streaked goatee who also serves as the golf instructor.

Amelie: Amelie remarks to herself once again about how different it is to have such a small class. Though another thing that doesn’t escape her notice is another teacher being male, along with the last—Amelie stops in her mental tracks as the teacher mentions… golf coach? The stony look she’s had on her face the whole day breaks for a moment as the sides of her mouth curl up, a small stifled smile on her face as she barely keeps down a laugh at the idea of a girls’ school golf team.

GM: Amelie draws a few glances from her peers, but Mr. French either doesn’t notice or merely chooses not to acknowledge as he goes on, “The Late Middle Ages were a pivotal time period that witnessed Europe’s transition from feudalism to centralized nation-states,” he lectures, and informs the class that, among other topics, they will cover the Black Death, Hundred Years’ War, Great Schism, War of Roses, Ottoman conquests in Europe, flowering of the Italian Renaissance, and discovery of the New World. Students will choose one of those topics to write fairly long-sounding term papers on, “As this is a college-level course aimed to prepare you for doing college-level work.” As there are fewer topics than students, even in a class as small as the ones at McGehee, the remaining students will write their papers on how the period’s changes impacted one of the following modern nations: Britain, France, Spain, Germany, or Italy.

“Broadly, the Middle Ages can be defined as the period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of the Byzantine Empire…” the teacher starts, then goes on to give a brief synopsis of the major historic events that occurred between Rome’s fall and 1200 AD. “Far from the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ commonly stereotyped, 13th century Europe had reached heights of civilization that rivaled if not surpassed many of ancient Rome’s achievements. Europe’s population was over 30 million higher during the 13th century than the 1st, but roughly 1 in 3 people will be dead by 1400.”

After reiterating the many societal changes that both caused and were caused by by this calamitous population drop and its related events, he informs the class that “Those of you wishing to more fully explore the consequences of Europe’s socio-political transformation can do so in Mrs. Bradford’s Early Modern History class next semester. Those of you taking History of New Orleans next semester with Ms. Perry will also find our class a useful frame of reference, as she likes to pick up at the Age of Exploration. Columbus’ search for new trade routes to India was prompted by the fall of Constantinople, so it’s possible that without the Turks, none of us would be be here today.” Mr. French smiles. “History is a great wind and we are but motes swept along its path.”

With those final words, he calls on the girls to list what topics they would like to research before the bell rings.

Amelie: Amelie calms down a few moments after the golf coach mention and takes a seat, starting her notes for the class on her laptop and wondering which of these subjects she should choose. More than one sound appealing to her, though of course her smith’s mind flashes through the rise of Gothic plate armor, masterwork weapons, the invention of the blast furnace, the Hundred Years’ War, and of course the Ottoman conquests’ sharing of military ideals. She nods when she hears about the-tie in with the Local History class and makes a special note of this, a bit of excitement building in her chest. Between this class and the one next period for New Orleans history, she’s already bouncing in her seat in anticipation.

When the call goes out, she of course raises her hand to say her two cents, wanting to touch on ‘the rise of artisan-ship during the rise in technology, especially in western Europe and especially pertaining to metallurgy’ as well as ‘how gunpowder changed Europe’ and of course ‘the life and death of Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans’.

GM: “Does that mean you want to choose the Hundred Years’ War for your paper, Miss Savard?” Mr. French asks.

Amelie: Amelie rues a bit that she has to make a choice right now, but nods. “I’ll gladly take it, yes.”

GM: The bell soon rings again. Amelie makes her way down the halls to her next class. Third period is with Ms. Anna May Perry, a slender black-haired woman in her late 20s or early 30s with half-rimmed oval glasses. She wears a floral-printed white blouse and darker skirt. After greeting the perhaps ten-girl class class with, “How y’all doing today?” she has the students “break the ice, not that it’s very thick with so few of us” by sharing facts about themselves. Some of Ms. Perry’s include that she was born in Lafayette, earned her master’s in Miami, likes cats, has a skull tattoo on her lower back, and got engaged to her boyfriend two weeks ago. The class offers various iterations of “why, congratulations, ma’am,” which she thanks them for.

Amelie: Amelie notices again how small her class is when she enters and sees just a few others. It’s something that’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s very encouraging that the pamphlet was not fibbing about class sizes. Another surprise quickly surfaces as she takes her seat: the first ice-breaking exercise of the day, something that’s been a staple of pubic education to pad a first day for her many years as a student. When it’s her turn, she remarks that she’s Canadian Quebecois, has only been in New Orleans for the lesser part of a week, is an advanced fencer in the schools of French saber and German messer, been a ‘historical artisan’ making weapons, armor, and jewelry since she was a young girl until last year, and that this is her first experience with private education.

GM: Amelie’s introduction draws pleasant smiles. Her mention of this being her first foray outside of the public school system draws ones that are particularly wide… if not pitying. Once everyone “feels ready to get down to business,” Ms. Perry starts with a brief overview of the time periods the class is going to study. They will cover the colonial period under French and Spanish rule, the Antebellum years before the War Between the States, the Postbellum years after the war, the comparatively calmer 20th century, and “recent history, which really begins with Hurricane Katrina.” Today, however, they will cover a truncated history of the Caribbean and continental Europe during the Age of Exploration. New Orleans’ history is a product of the centuries-old and conflict-fraught relationships between France, Spain, and England, and “That all begins, good or ill, with the 1469 union of the Catholic Monarchs in Iberia.”

Iberia was not yet modern Spain, and Aragon and Castile retained distinct laws and languages despite their sovereigns’ marriages. But they were united in their desire for gold and silver from the New World—as much of it as possible. Columbus’ search for new trade routes to India, spurred by the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks and followed by the Spanish conquest of the Americas, brought an enormous influx of wealth that tripled Europe’s monetary. At least a third of this silver went to China to purchase silks and spices, from whence it would never return. Havana became the chief embarkation point for these precious metals on their way back to Europe. The fleets of transportation ships could take months to assemble, and bored sailors required entertainment, leading to Havana to become a city known for its rollicking good times (a reputation it would carry well into the 20th century).

Times were good in Europe, too, at least for Spain. Thanks to generations of inbreeding, Carlos I (but better-known as Charles V) ruled the largest empire in Europe since Charlemagne. He inherited Castile, Aragon, and the Sicilies from his Spanish grandparents; the Low Countries from Mary of Burgundy; and the Holy Roman Empire after bribing the electors note to vote for other contenders (who included the French Valois king Francois I and even England’s Henry VIII). Among other things, this dizzying array of kingships gave Charles one of the most complex coats of arms possessed by any monarch in history. Charles was king during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, but Spain’s activities in the Americas were always of lesser importance to him than his driving goal in the Old World: uniting all of Christian Europe under one banner.

It was Charles’ misfortune to be born several centuries too late, however, for Martin Luther’s Reformation (among other factors) broke the Catholic Church’s hegemony and bitterly divided Europe over the subject of religion. Charles ordered Protestants throughout his kingdoms burned at the stake, establishing the precedent that a person’s religion in Europe would largely be determined by where they lived. He also forbade the importation of Muslim slaves to the New World, and further banned all Protestants and Jews from making the trans-Atlantic voyage: this would result in Latin America remaining strongly Catholic even into the 21st century.

Charles was succeeded by Philip II, who by 1556 ruled over a politically united Iberia that now included Portugal. During this peak of Spanish imperial power, no other country could seriously challenge their empire in the New World. Spain’s greatest rival, France, was consumed with religious civil strife. France executed over 15,000 Protestants during its bloody Wars of Religion: the better-known Spanish inquisition, in comparison, killed a mere 5,000 people. French pirates and privateers plundered Spanish colonial ports and treasure ships, but they could not directly challenge Spain until the Edict of Nantes in 1598. This made Catholicism the state religion while also granting guarantees to over a million Huguenots (French Protestants). France could now turn their energies outwards, and Philip II died only a year later.

Philip II’s son Philip III inherited a kingdom in troubled straights. Spanish culture was flourishing across Europe (Don Quixote was published during this time), but its century-long imperial movement was at an end. Despite a vast income from the New World, Spain had been reduced to minting copper coinage and was nearly bankrupt from its wars in Europe—Charles V’s huge empire had united many enemies against him. Spain consequently made no attempt to develop its American colonies: its interest lay purely in extraction. The world today might look very different indeed if Spain had followed the examples set by France and England. Instead, Spanish colonists in the Caribbean were kept under an extraordinarily tight leash. They were not allowed to engage in commerce with other colonies and could only buy supplies from royally authorized Spanish vendors, which put them at the mercy of monopoly pricing and predatory lending.

The colonists would have starved if they had followed their mother country’s heavy-handed edicts, so they unsurprisingly turned to piracy, smuggling, and barter-based commerce. When royal authorities discovered Bibles—Lutheran Bibles—in Santo Domingo, they were aghast. Protestants were not allowed in the New World. Madrid responded with a spectacularly ill-advised order in 1605 to forcibly relocate the island’s entire population to the central town. Over 100 colonists who objected to their homes and farms being burned were hanged in punishment. The entire island of Hispaniola (the second-largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba), except for its administrative center of Santa Domingo, was left depopulated and abandoned. The results were unsurprising, and ultimately made the founding of New Orleans possible.

The pirates moved in.

Spanish authorities simply did not have the means to let the island sit empty and keep pirates off of it the same time. The western third of Hispaniola soon became effectively independent. Society was free to the point of anarchy. The empty territory became populated by wild cattle, dogs, and men called boucaniers (or buccaneers, from boucan, the brazier in which they cooked their food). This almost entirely male society lived and worked in pairs, with the custom of inheritance upon death for the surviving partner. The boucaniers endured lives of great hardship but total freedom, and were spiritual cousins to the French Canadian coureurs de bois and voyageurs, the later South American gauchos, the Mexican vaqueros, and—last to emerge—the cowboys of the Wild West. The New World thus afforded to some a degree of freedom unknown in the Old, and complete slavery to others.

Off the north coast of the western territory of La Espanola, the small island of Tortuga (popularized by a certain pirate film franchise) became a haven for another kingless society: the freebooters, or filibusters (_flibustiers in French, from the Dutch flittboten, or flyboats). The emergence of nation-states saw piracy used practically as a military arm of the state, especially with the advent of privateers, who were pirates bearing letters of marque that allowed them to prey on merchant ships of enemy nations. Spanish ships, groaning under the weight of so much silver, were their richest prizes. Although piracy existed in the Caribbean before Spain’s ill-advised decision to abandon Hispaniola, and would have existed regardless of it, granting the boucaniers their own island base from which to launch attacks certainly helped the practice to flourish. The boucaniers also served a valuable role for France as vanguard colonists. Over time, they transitioned from piracy and cattle killing to agriculture. Their first crop was tobacco. Tobacco’s profits would prove far more enduring than gold (not to mention less susceptible to piracy), for plantations would continue to be profitable economic enterprises well into the 19th century.

Meanwhile in Europe, Spain was exhausted from war and signed the Twelve Years Truce with its rebellious vassals in the Netherlands. Spain would never regain them, nor its sense of empire. The newly-independent Dutch would go on to became a major economic power in the 17th century: they were the most urbanized and tolerant people in Europe, and did not burn witches during the mania of persecutions sweeping the continent at the time (witch-burnings were not actually widespread during the Middle Ages, Ms. Perry also points out). Only a few decades later, the Thirty Years War tore apart the Holy Roman Empire, crippled the power of the Catholic Church by separating politics and religion (Europe was sick of religious wars), and humbled Spain’s military power with the defeat of the formerly invincible tercio (Spanish infantry formation). Europe’s stage was set for a new era of French dominance under their greatest king: Louis XIV, for whom Louisiana would be named.

Louis won many wars, broke the power of the feudal nobility, and remade France into a highly centralized state where he enjoyed near-absolute power. Yet despite these accomplishments, the Sun King showed consistently poor judgment where Louisiana was concerned. “I am convinced that Sieur de La Salle’s discovery is quite useless,” were his words when told of his new territory at the mouth of the Mississippi. In 1685 he revoked his grandfather’s Edict of Nantes, removing civil guarantees for Protestants. France had enjoyed religious peace for 87 years, and it was late in the day for an act of intolerance of this magnitude. The Thirty Years War was long over. Nevertheless, Huguenots saw their property forcibly confiscated, and many more of these French Protestants were brutally tortured and executed. At least 200,000 chose to flee France. Their ranks included many of the country’s most productive and industrious people: artisans, craftsmen, and other professionals, some of whom were quite wealthy (“that Protestant work ethic,” Ms. Perry chides). Many smuggled out their gold and silver with them, further weakening France’s economy. They took that money and their considerable expertise, which would help fuel the Industrial Revolution, to France’s rivals: England and the Netherlands.

The Dutch golden age was already over. But an age of English world power was looming. France, at the time, had much greater wealth than England and a population more than three times as large (some 20 million). But England had a greater navy (partly thanks to its copper-bottomed ships, which were safe from barnacles—a significant advantage) and a more modern political and economic structure than France. England established a central bank in 1694 and had an essential weapon for managing the expense of war which France did not: paper money. This eliminated the need to physically transport heavy chests of coins, a practice far too slow for the needs of modern commerce. Louis never understood this, for Versailles was an inland capital and remote from the forces remaking Europe’s economy. Where Britain taxed consumer goods being brought in through trade, and which brought in predictable revenues from diverse sources, France’s taxation system lagged behind in the Middle Ages: the king squeezed his nobles for money, and his nobles squeezed the commoners below them. England’s religious tolerance created a much wider talent pool for business and industry than France, who had just expelled their most productive workers. The British had a bank and a system of credit: the French did not.

It would take time for economic realities to catch up with political ones. The War of the Grand Alliance, Europe’s latest conflict, ended largely inconclusively in 1697. But as part of its outcome, Carlos II (Spain’s last Habsburg king, mentally feeble from generations of inbreeding), conceded Saint-Domingue (the western third of Hispaniola) to France—making official a fact that had long since been established by the boucaniers. Now that France was no longer at war, more plantations sprang up on the colony, which was well on its way to creating phenomenal wealth. France’s economy had been depleted by Louis XIV’s many wars. It was time for them to make their move in the southern region of North America, where they hoped to duplicate Spain’s success at finding precious metal and establish a new empire. Surely in the vast, unexplored territory of Louisiana, there must be gold and silver!

“We will pick up with the results of that search and the direct settlement of Louisiana tomorrow,” Ms. Perry states, glancing up at the clock.

Amelie: Amelie takes voracious notes throughout the lesson with a content smile on her face. It’s a fun class, though she doesn’t share the titters and group chuckles of her peers. Instead, her mind’s eye gets away from her as she touch-types out the best bits of information she can gleam from the lecture. Right up until it ends, like all good things.

GM: “We’ll also spend the rest of this class in America, or at least most of it,” the teacher continues. “But that doesn’t make European history any less relevant to New Orleans. Let’s trace it along. First, who can tell me the main consequence of the Protestant Reformation?”

“It weakened the Catholic Church and started religious wars throughout Europe,” answers the first girl who’s called on.

“That’s right. Spain took the side of the Catholics and tried to keep Protestants out of the New World. What happened because of that?”

“Spain overreacted, made all the colonists move, and left Hispaniola open to the pirates.”

“Right again. And what’d that lead to?”

“The pirates basically took over the island for France.”

Another girl asks, “What does that have to do with New Orleans, though?”

“That’s a bit of a longer answer,” Ms. Perry replies. “But in short, Saint-Domingue and the buccaneers established French power in the region—New Orleans wasn’t a very livable place in its early years. We have to keep in mind the first American colonies were over 200 years older than New Orleans, and the early city would conduct a lot of its commerce with them. Many Haitians would also flee to New Orleans after the revolution. But we’ll get to all of that later. Who can tell me what consequence the Reformation had for Louis XIV? Yes, Ms. Devillers?”

“’E drove out the Huguenots and weakened the French economy,” answers an actually French-accented girl with clear blue eyes, pale skin, and similarly pale blonde hair.

A thin smile touches her lips. “Louis, ‘e was a strong king, but ’is own legend went to ’is head. Mah mother says men like that always do the most foolish things, once they’ve ’ad time for their ’eads to swell.”

“Don’t they ever,” Ms. Perry smiles in response, to amused titters from the rest of the class. “Louis’ ego, if we want to delve that deeply into historical causes, made a mistake that weakened the French economy. That left the Duc d’Orleans, the regent for France’s next king, open to a sweet-talking Scottish gambler who promised an easy answer to France’s financial woes: Louisiana. But we’ll get to that scoundrel,” and there the class titters again when Ms. Perry emphasizes the name with an eye-rolling smile, as if the figure in question were a ne’er-do-well who’d plied his charms on her personally, “tomorrow.”

Amelie: Amelie stays out of the ‘question and answer’ period for the most part. She raises her hand for the question pertaining to a favorite subject of hers, Louis the Sun King, only for someone interesting to get called on first. Her accent is unmistakable, and as Amelie turns to regard her, it’s possible in her mind that the pale girl is a fellow Quebecois. Though it’s impossible to tell unless she gets her speaking French.

GM: “In the meantime,” Ms. Perry continues, “we still have a bit of class left. That will go to your research projects. We live in a city that’s filled with history, including right here in the Garden District. So we have no excuse not to go out and see it. We obviously don’t have time for field trips with an hour-long class period, so y’all will do those yourselves after school—but cheer up, your research projects will also substitute for all but one of your exams.”

“We have two options for research projects, which I’m going to put up for vote: colonial buildings and ghost stories.” Ms. Perry smirks when the class visibly perks up at the second option. “Now you just hold your horses, you haven’t even heard what they are!”

“Colonial buildings will entail you visiting and doing a research project on one building of your choosing that existed between the city’s founding and the coming of the Yanks,” a comment which draws more titters from the class, “in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. It doesn’t have to still be standing, but you have to be able to at least visit the site where it used to stand. Your building also doesn’t have to be in the Quarter, although that is where most of our city’s oldest buildings are.”

“For ghost stories, you’ll research the life and times of a famous local figure who folktales or urban legends have associated with ghosts—and believe me, we have plenty of those. For instance, you could research Jean Lafitte, whose bar and blacksmith shop is reportedly haunted. You can also research a ghost story that isn’t about a famous figure, so long as you can still connect it to a meaningful piece of history—like a ghost story that’s about yellow fever victims. You also have to include a physical place that you’ve visited in your presentation.”

“So that said,” Ms. Perry smiles as she looks around the class, “what’s it gonna be: colonial buildings or ghost stories?”

Amelie: The class’ interest seems quite a bit more piqued at ghost stories, but either one sounds interesting to Amelie. She’ll get into a building of historical importance either way. She decides to see where the vote leans, confident that any show of hands will be for the second of the two choices, and raises her hand for it when it comes to that.

GM: Amelie finds there to be no show of hands. The class is small enough for the girls to simply all start talking. “Oh, let’s do ghost stories!” “But every class probably does that.” “For a reason, of course!” “The colonial buildings have interesting histories too.” “Not as interesting as the people who lived in them.”

Ms. Perry patiently listens as the class talks things out. The consensus seems to be leaning towards ghost stories, but a strong enough voice may yet tip the balance towards historic buildings.

Amelie: It’s fun to think about both, but it’s a long shot from what the young woman is used to. She wonders about it as the others talk, then turns to the teacher with a question. “Mrs. Perry, is this an individual report, or would you allow groups or pairings? If we chose ghosts, it may be fun and practical to spend a night in a haunted location as part of the research, though I doubt many of us have the courage to do that alone.”

GM: “Ms. Perry, Ms. Savard. I’m engaged but I haven’t tied the knot just yet,” the black-haired teacher laughs off. “That’s a very interesting idea, for those brave enough to take it up.” Indeed, despite Amelie’s earlier reception among her peers, the idea gets a few intrigued looks. “And you’re way ahead of me. The projects will be done in pairs.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles thinly and gives Ms. Perry a light apologetic nod. “I put my bid in for ghosts, then. It may be a bit gauche, but this could be a chance to see a different side of New Orleans, and we get to make an event of it. Maybe even a terrifying one, depending on the locale. I have my eyes set on the LaLaurie Mansion for instance.”

GM: That draws another laugh from Ms. Perry. “Oh, you’d be pretty brave to spend the night there. They say it’s brought ruin to every inhabitant. In fact, does anyone here know who owns it? Last I heard it was a famous Hollywood actor.”

“’E sold it,” answers the pale blonde. “It is currently on the market.”

Consensus from the rest of the class concurs. In fact, as a search on their phones reveals, the actor in question sold the house to pay off some of his debts. One girl adds that he died from alcohol poisoning not long thereafter.

“Sounds as if the curse is alive and well,” Ms. Perry suggests, arching an eyebrow.

Meanwhile, the class seems sold, and expresses as much. Ms. Perry gives a satisfied nod. “All right, ghost stories it is! Though fair warning, you might not be able to spend the night at all haunts. The LaLaurie House for instance is privately owned.” The teacher gives another smile over her half-rimmed glasses. “Luckily, that should also give any chickens a valid excuse to stay out.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider, a plan already forming in her head forming about this project. If there is a curse, best to talk with a priest. Or maybe a Vodouisant, considering the race of the potential tormented souls. The news of a recent death only cements the twinkle of interest in her eye about the house. Only owners have been cursed, it sounds like.

While the class agrees, the young woman turns to the pale blonde. Speaking French again feels good, really good, as she lets her fluency roll off the tongue. “Vous semblez connaître un peu cette maison. Souhaitez-vous être mon partenaire pour cela?” (“You seem to know a bit about this house. Would you like to be my partner for this?”)

GM: The pale blonde looks confused by Amelie’s words. “Ah’m sorry, what was that?”

Amelie: Amelie looks a bit confused as well for a moment, and switches back to accent-less English. “Oh, I’m sorry! Your accent, I assumed you were French.”

GM: “Oh. Merci. Mah brain is scattered,” the girl answers. “Ah am French. And of course that was. It ’as simply been a while since I ’eard the language spoken outside mah family.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a moment to size up the girl before a small smile breaks out on her face. “That’s perfectly fine. I had a similar issue growing up,” she says, trying to put her at ease. “Which are you more comfortable with, so I can speak that around you?”

GM: “Either is fine. It was just a surprise,” the blonde answers. “Ah am Yvette, if you also did not listen to the silly introductions.”

Amelie: “Amelie. Very nice to meet you. I’ll try not to surprise you too much from now on.” It’s the first real conversation she’s had at this school, of course it needs to be slightly embarrassing. “I was asking if you’d like to be my partner for this paper. You seemed to know a lot about the LaLaurie House.”

GM: Yvette glances about the room. By now all of the other eight girls have since paired up. They do not seem to have taken overly long to decide about partners and are chatting about topics instead, in between glances at the sheets Ms. Perry has handed out. “Ah don’t think we really ’ave a choice anymore. But Ah ’ave ’eard and seen a few things. Mah sister Cécilia lives in the Quarter and pointed it out to me on a walk.”

Amelie: With an even number of people in the room, Amelie knew beforehand that there was little chance she’d get to do this on her own. But at the very least she and her new partner have something in common besides the fact they’re almost forced to work together.

“Well, before we get too focused on it, do you have anywhere else you’d want to do the report on? I fully intend to stay a night where we choose, and I’d hate to expose you to a curse,” she jokes.

GM: “Oh, well, we might ’ave trouble as Ms. Perry says. Ah would not want to let a stranger in to sleep in my ’ouse if it were me, no?” Yvette smiles faintly. “But per’aps that would spread the curse around.”

Amelie: “It’s currently on the market. We have to talk to the bank I believe? I’m not really sure how it’d work here,” she admits. “As for the curse, for dramatic effect, we could ask a priest—or a Vodouisant, since the ghosts were black servants—to come with us. I more meant, if you want to chose another location, I’m happy to hear it.”

GM: “Non, ze LaLaurie ’Ouse is fine,” Yvette replies. “Ah don’t think anyone else will take it after you said you were interested. And Ah don’t really believe in curses, of course.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles, though she keeps her own thoughts on curses to herself. “The way I see it, if we ask a priest or Vodouisant to accompany us to ‘protect us’, we’ll get plenty of material from them. While also getting our own experiences there for the report.”

GM: “That is fair. St. Louis Cathedral is not far off. And of course there are tons more churches if any priest is too busy.”

Amelie: Amelie ticks a box in her head when Yvette doesn’t mention the suggestion of asking a mambo, but continues on, asking what days of the week Yvette is available to study after school. Talking about it only gets them so far after all, hitting the books is how they’re going to get this done.

GM: “And the ’ouse,” Yvette adds with a faint smile. She is currently busy after school for most of the afternoon today, but can meet with Amelie tomorrow an hour after school ends. She provides a few further dates in the imminent future before the bell rings, signaling the start of lunch break. Yvette gathers up her laptop with the other girls and remarks, “It was nice to ’ave met another French speaker.”

Amelie: Amelie nods, mirroring the faint smile back at her new partner before they start organizing the days they can meet to work together on the project. She’s even more glad for the remark. “Same. Bonne journée, Yvette.”

GM: Yvette and most of the students file off into the hallways, though a few remain behind to talk with the teacher, lunch break eliminating the need to quickly get to next class.

Amelie: It’s lunch-time, but Amelie is one of the students who stay behind to speak with their teacher. She plans to ask if they’ll be touching on a favorite figure of hers. Jose ‘Pepe’ Llulla.

GM: Ms. Perry becomes available several minutes later as the other girls head off to lunch. “We’ll be touching on him as part of the dueling culture that was an important part of the city’s larger Creole culture,” she nods. “He was the city’s greatest duelist, after all! You can choose him for your next research project if he’s a figure who grabs your interest.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the teacher a nod. As a fencer, Jose Llulla grabs her interest immensely. “I’d like that. He was quite the man from what I’ve read. It was written once that three Haitians tried to assassinate him in front of his home. His presence terrified them so much they couldn’t draw their pistols before he’d already killed one with his sword.” Not wanting to take up any more of the teacher’s time, she thanks Ms. Perry for the affirmation and excuses herself to lunch.

GM: “Yes, there are a lot of stories about him. They say he had a whole cemetery for the losers of his duels, but that he was still unusually merciful for how many of them he spared. They say he was as skilled a shot as he was a duelist, and could blow silver dollars right off his young son’s head, with the boy never once fearing for his safety.” Ms. Perry smiles as Amelie heads off. “Maybe we’ll even hear a few more tall and not-so-tall tales from you.”

Amelie: Amelie feels excitement welling as she talks about the historic duelist. It’s all she can do to hold back from grinning like an idiot and going on and on. “We’ll see! Thank you Ms. Perry, I really look forward to your next class!”

After heading out the door, it’s a quick backtrack through the campus to the cafeteria. Amelie remembers visiting the place during her tour the other day, but worries still flare up about what kind of atmosphere the place has while other students occupy it. She resolves to keep the lunch quick while she browses for the owning bank of the Lalaurie House.

GM: A quick search on her phone as she heads to the cafeteria turns up Whitney National Bank together with the LaLaurie House.

Amelie: Amelie is in no rush as she makes her way over the grounds, but mentally jots down the connection between Whitney National Bank and the speaker at the assembly this morning. ‘Mr. Whitney, your great-grandfather wrote my checks’ or something like that. It’s a good place to start, at least, and the list of who Ms. Whitney is shouldn’t be too difficult with the tiny size of the school compared to her previous public schooling.

GM: Amelie soon arrives at her destination. The school’s cafeteria, Cafe Louise, is a large and well-lit space filled with the sounds of chattering girls and the aroma of surprisingly rich-smelling food. A poster board with pictures of the staff welcomes students to the space.

Another posted overhead menu reads, Potato Sausage Soup; Cajun Caviar; Jumbo Scallop Salad; Fried Creole Marinated Calamari; California Chef’s Salad; Coconut Beer Shrimp; Gumbo Ya Ya. Amelie overhears one girl waiting in line remark, “I read that the menu is longer at Sidewell Friends, the school where presidents all send their kids.” “Thanks, Obama,” snickers another girl. There are no cashiers, as tuition covers lunches, leaving the students free to simply walk up and ask the lunch ladies for whatever looks tasty. Students who want soda or iced coffee rather than water, lemonade, milk, or sweet tea still have to buy it from a vending machine.

While there are the usual rows of occupied tables one expects to find in a cafeteria, many girls eat outside on benches, the grass, or the particularly scenic (and seemingly coveted) tables around the central administration building. Most of these students strip off their blazers in the sweltering heat, which is a pleasant change in temperature (at least in brief doses) from the air-conditioned classrooms. Shaded areas under the oaks and banana trees offer a slightly cooler in-between. A few girls walk off in the direction of their cars, presumably to buy lunch off-campus. Students who bring their own cold lunches (or at least find some creative way to eat the cafeteria food without absconding the trays) would seem free to eat anywhere, though they are likely a minority given the free and aromatic-smelling meals.

It also becomes apparent to Amelie that almost all of the girls, whether they are inside or outside the cafeteria, are divided into avidly chattering cliques. The Canadian transplant is free to find peers to socialize with (or at least try to), or to simply pick a secluded spot on the grass by herself.

Amelie: When it comes to the young woman’s turn, she politely asks for the calamari from the lunch ladies, and heads off to sit at a free table with girls that look around her age, not bothering to wonder what clique they are. She sets her bag between her legs, gets a notebook out, and writes down a list of things she needs to start on so far today. Start planning report on Hundred Years’ War, find Ms. Whitney, approach her about LaLaurie House. Amelie underlines the next item very thickly. Think of way to convince her to help. It isn’t enough to just ask, after all.

With that done, she finally starts on her food, turning to observe who she’s sat with.

GM: Amelie has barely had a chance to sit down, much less write out a to-do list, before her neighbors react to her sudden presence. Like every other student at McGehee, the four girls are dressed in the same plaid skirt, white shirt, and black blazer as she is.

“Oh, I’m sorry—one of our friends was going to sit there,” remarks a blonde-haired girl.

“We’d use a ‘reserved’ placard if there was one, but seems the cafeteria’s fresh out,” laughs a brunette.

“Yes, if only there were some way we could make those things obvious,” comments the first black girl Amelie can recall seeing.

“You wouldn’t think we were being rude if we asked whether you could find another seat, would you?” asks another brunette.

Amelie: Amelie sighs internally, thinking fast as the group of girls make their thinly-veiled attempts at politesse. They don’t seem to be feeding her a lie at the very least. This seems as though it could be a good chance, too. Amelie keeps her usual stony face as the last brunette speaks, before offering a light smile to the group.

“If that’s the case, I’ll go, though I wonder if you could do a new face a favor in pointing me to someone first. The girl pointed out during the assembly? Ms. Whitney?”

GM: “Miss Whitney? You mean Sarah Whitney?” asks the blonde.

“There’s only so many Whitneys,” the first brunette laughs lightly.

The black girl rattles off a room number for Amelie. “You should be able to find her there.”

“Yes, that’s where she has sixth period. So she’ll probably still be there for a little bit once school’s out, if you make time,” nods the first brunette.

Amelie: Amelie gives a bit of a wider smile at the news and slowly stands. “That’s really helpful, thank you. Sorry for the disturbance. I hope we can become friends over this year.” Excusing herself, Amelie makes a note of the room number and decides to head outside, sitting under the shade of one of the schools oak trees to dig into her meal.

Mulling it over in the grass, it feels like the girls at the table were lying to her. Not that it matters, there is still Yvette to help introduce her. Amelie doesn’t quite shrug it off, however, keeping a list of their faces and saving it for later.

GM: The flash-fried suckered calamari tentacles are slightly chewy, as all such fish is, and the marinated Creole sauce brings the flavor. Amelie isn’t sure what the sauce is… it looks like orange gravy, and has a buttery, milky taste, with a zesty tang from what might be pepper, paprika, and white vinegar. The calamari tentacles lie over a bed of steamed brown rice that nicely soaks up the runny sauce. There’s a side of thicker tomato sauce with basil and parmesan to pour over the rice for a heartier contrast. A tinier cup of olives provides a saltier, lighter contrast to both savory sauces.

It’s a lot better than most school cafeteria food.

Yet Amelie cannot help but notice that she seems to be the only person sitting by herself. The students not sitting in cliques sit in twos and threes. They chatter away between bites of food, and laugh or exclaim at this or that. Amelie even spots a trio putting their arms around one another while the girl with the longest arms snaps a group selfie with her pink-colored phone. The smiling three exclaim something to the effect of, “BFFs!”

Amelie sits and eats alone.

Amelie: Canada has a ‘wealth of cultures’ in its pocket, meaning quite a varied culinary experience. But one learns quite fast that this only applies the larger cities. Once Amelie moved out from Quebec City, she found herself cooking quick meals. Now that the young woman is sitting here in a place famed for its fine foods, she nearly drools over her meal as she takes the first bite. It’s good enough to take her mind off the solitude for a short while, as she looks around at the kind of people she often scoffed at while slaving away in front of a hot forge. Seeing it this close, though, she can only feel a little jealous. Going to find Yvette would be inappropriate and clingy, and if her last interaction is any indicator, breaking into social circles is going to be difficult without an avenue in.

She sighs and eats alone, spending the last 45 minutes of her lunch break browsing around the area, familiarizing herself with the streets and shops and landmarks she’s interested in visiting. Her next class, if she remembers right, is Inorganic Chemistry, another chance for her to show off her practical knowledge.

GM: Amelie finds she has less time than the break’s full 45 minutes after she has gone through the lunch line and finished eating, so the stroll through the picturesque neighborhood is short but sweet. Amelie sees more of the old Greek Revival and Victorian mansions, brick (not concrete or asphalt) sidewalks, tall stiff magnolia grandiflora with their shiny dark leaves, wrought-iron fences with their floral patterns, and sentinel oaks stretching out their mammoth branches like mighty and protective arms. Some parts of the Garden District feel almost indoors, like they exist under a great green leafy done. It’s not unlike a giant, all-natural greenhouse. Summer cicadas are out and singing their buzzing song.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the walk quite a bit, keeping a brisk pace to keep the air moving through her short thick hair. She tries her best to get used to the sound of cicadas over seagulls and frogs, as well as the perfect silence of winter months. Being in such a different environment is dream-like as she watches the brick walkway and briefly imagines herself as Alice, adjusting to a mad mad world. Beautiful, but oh so foreign. The bliss ends when she gets back to the school gates, and she flips back to the academic frame of mind she always does when she’s ready to learn.

GM: Amelie’s newfound focus proves just enough for her to spot the small, black-haired girl in McGehee’s unmistakable uniform who’s clearly been watching her from a distance.

Amelie: The black-haired girl instantly steals the young woman’s interest. She leisurely makes her way closer.

GM: As the girl sees Amelie coming, she turns and disappears among the mass of identically-attired students on their way back to class. The teenager lasers in like a hawk, and physically keeping up isn’t much trouble with longer legs. In her haste to get away, the younger girl actually bumps head-long into another, taller student. Her wallet falls out onto the ground. She mumbles an apology in response to the other girl’s glare, then looks up to see Amelie. Up close, she appears around middle school age. She’s also very thin, with plain and mousy facial features, and neck-length black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Braces are visible on her teeth and there’s an even more visible red pimple on the bottom of her right cheek.

“Why are you following me?” she glowers.

Amelie: Amelie can barely believe she catches the girl, but long strong legs carry her right to the little middle-schooler in due fashion. She even sees her bump right into the upperclassman, and feels a bit sorry for the mousy little girl, even as she shoots off that hostile look.

“To see why you were watching me so intently,” she answers plainly, kneeling down to pick up the wallet. “I’m sorry if it startled you.”

GM: “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the girl bristles. She then sees Amelie pick up her wallet and exclaims, “Hey, that’s mine!”

Amelie: Amelie takes a moment to size up the smaller girl and slowly offers her a little smile, trying to disarm her. “It’s okay, hun. I followed you, that was kinda awkward too, huh? My name’s Amelie.” Still, she offers the wallet back to her. “We still have some time left on our lunch break. You wanna go sit down?”

GM: The girl looks at Amelie warily, then grabs it back. “Lunch’s over. And you look like a dyke with that hair!” She quickly turns to leave.

Amelie: Amelie gets the first straightforward insult she’s had in America and can’t stifle a bit of smile. She stands back up but doesn’t pursue the girl. Maybe this is a chance to make a little friend. Her first at this school.

“There’s no reason to be rude. I’m trying to make friends. Why don’t you tell me why you were staring and we can start over, okay?”

GM: Amelie’s calm and unruffled response seems to take the wind out of the preteen’s bluster as she looks up at the upperclassman, then looks down at the ground. “I’m not supposed to tell you that.”

Amelie: The girl’s words give Amelie a bit of pause, and she leans down just slightly to get on a more comfortable level with the shorter student. The girl is just scared underneath, she can tell. “Are you okay, hun?”

GM: The preteen’s eyes start to look moist as she stares at the ground.

Amelie: Amelie’s throat starts to clamp as the little girl looks so upset. She leans in a big more, wrapping an arm around the middle-schooler to let her know she’s going to be okay. “It’s okay, hun, you don’t have to say anything if you’re scared. Do you want me to walk you to your next class?”

GM: The bell rings overhead, deaf to such concerns. Chatting students begin trickling back inside to the school’s various buildings. The girl tenses at Amelie’s touch but doesn’t pull away. “I’m already skipping…”

Amelie: The young woman sighs and looks up as the bell rings and people head off to their classes. She resolves to take just a few more minutes. “You don’t like school, then. What’s your name, hun?”

GM: The girl still isn’t looking directly at her. “No, I… Miranda.”

Amelie: “Miranda. That’s a really nice name. Listen, hun, you don’t have to tell me anything, okay? I’m not going to ask you to. And while I’d prefer you went to class, I’m not going to make you do that either. It’s your choice. Can I give you a hug before I got to class, though? Please? I’m really weak to sad faces.”

GM: The preteen starts crying. “You… you weren’t supposed to see… I can’t do anything right…”

Amelie: Amelie swoops in right then and there, pulling Miranda into a full on hug as she cries. There is no greater chink in Amelie’s armor than seeing someone younger than her crying. “Hey hey hey, shhh. It’s okay. It’s not your fault, it was mine. What kind of crazy lady would run after someone like that. It’s okay. Whoever it is that asked you to do this, you can tell them you’ve done one better, okay? That you made friends with me to watch me closer, okay? Would that work?”

GM: Amelie can feel the slight shudders going through the younger girl’s body as she pulls her in. She doesn’t return the hug, but neither does she pull away. “I… I dunno…”

Amelie: Amelie feels awful for making Miranda tense up, but the hug is all she can think to do, and she slowly pulls away to give her some space. “You can try. Okay? I’ll let you. I don’t know what’s going on, but I have some ideas, and none of them are as important to me right now as you, okay? I’ve had dyke hair all my life, so I’m tough like a dyke too, don’t worry about me.”

GM: The preteen wipes her eyes after Amelie lets go. “Okay…”

Amelie: Amelie gives Miranda a little smile and gets out a pen from her bag. She rips a sheet of paper out of her notebook, writes down her phone number, and passes it over. “Do you have a phone, Miranda?”

GM: The preteen looks the piece of paper over. “Yeah.” The pair are now alone, the last of the other upper school students having headed to class.

Amelie: “Text or call me whenever. You’ll be my first friend at this school. I’m going to leave you now and run to class, okay?”

GM: Miranda puts it away and rubs at her eyes again, which now look about as red as the zit on her cheek. “Okay.”

Amelie: Amelie gives her one last smile and hug, then stands and bids her farewell, all but running to her next class. It’s incredibly strange, and bad feelings are ringing every corner of her chest, but the young woman keeps it together. What will come will come, and she’ll face it! There’s just a bit of a throb in her heart at the thought of bashing Miranda’s faceless boss into the pavement with a baseball bat.

Previous, by Narrative Order: Mouse II
Next, by Narrative Order: Caroline III

Previous, by Character Order: Amelie II
Next, by Character Order: Amelie IV

Story Five, Amelie II

“It’s easier for people who’ve let you down to continue the pattern than to break it.”
—Christina Roberts

Saturday morning, 15 August 2015

GM: For better or for worse, tomorrow eventually comes. Amelie dreams of flickering ghosts, purloined blades, and sinners interred in ornate mausoleums with full funerary honors. After she showers and brushes her teeth, she finds her aunt in the kitchen downstairs. Christina is seated by the island and eating a plate of eggs and toast. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

Amelie: Now that Amelie’s hair is brushed into a much more deliberate style, mostly to one side and mostly controlled, she certainly looks a lot better than she did last night. “Good morning. I slept good, the bed was almost too soft, I thought it was going to swallow me. How about you, Auntie?” Amelie simply sits with her aunt, wiping blear out her eyes and blinking out the last of those flickering ghosts.

GM: “I slept well, thank you for asking. There’s more eggs still in the pan.” Amelie also finds bread by the toaster. Once she gathers up food and sits back down, Christina adds, “I’m going to be out of the house for most of today. If you want to go anywhere, like your visit to McGehee, feel free to take the other car around.”

Amelie: Food sounds good. When she sits back down and hears her aunt’s next statement, however, she can only chuckle. “That’s an amazing offer. But I can’t drive. Having a walk around the Garden District will be nice.”

GM: Her aunt frowns briefly. “Hm, I suppose we can sign you up for driver’s ed classes at school, if that’s something you’re interested in doing.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’d be interested, for sure. Now that I’m allowed to take them, I’d be happy to.” She pauses for a second, clears her throat, and starts just poking her eggs. “I called my father last night, about my things. It didn’t end well.”

GM: “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s easier for people who’ve let you down to continue the pattern than to break it.”

Amelie: “That’s true. He just threw it out as well, that’s the part that made me so upset.” She sighs and almost angrily pops more egg into her mouth. “I’ll have to make another. Anyway. You’re going to be out today. I’ll keep myself busy, take that walk, unless you wanted me to stay in? I don’t know if you had a key made for me or anything.”

GM: “Rebuilding and moving on is often all we can do,” her aunt nods between a sip of coffee. “So far as today, I’ll leave you fare for the streetcar and other expenses. If you still want to go shopping, today or later, I can see when my assistant is available to also drive you around. And yes, I did have another key made.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a moment and just kind of laughs at herself. This is all so different from what she’s used too, and in more ways than just wiping up bad free-sample microbrewery beer vomit. It’s almost surreal. “I think I’d like to get as much done as I can before school on Monday. Today would be great. But won’t you need your assistant for your work?”

GM: Her aunt takes a bite of toast. “No, not today. It’s the weekend.”

Amelie: “I’ll be sure to return her in good condition then. I’ll do the dishes here, too.” Amelie stands up again, her plate already empty, and goes to wash it. “Would it scare your assistant if I brought her in to see a gunsmith?” It’s not a tease, but her tone is joking.

GM: “She has a fairly level head,” Christina counters with an equally faint touch of amusement. “That much said, I think it’s illegal to sell or deliver firearms to minors in Louisiana, so you’ll only be able to window shop.”

Amelie: “I’ve got no interest in the guns. I wanna see how much Louisiana sells their acetylene and permits for, and see if I can’t make some friends. I have a year to set the groundwork for a business.”

GM: “I haven’t a clue there, but I’m sure the internet could tell you.” Her aunt then remarks approvingly, “Good for you though wanting to make some contacts. They’re the lifeblood of any successful business.”

Amelie: “The internet is great. But I don’t have a cellphone anymore. But I’m glad you think so. I need to get in touch with the Mardi Grass costume shops and float artists, performance theaters, and as many old Civil War fanatics as I can. Restoration is good business.”

GM: “You’re sure you didn’t actually come over as a Syrian war refugee?” Christina wryly remarks, shooting off a text on her iPhone. “All right, she can take you out to buy a cellphone as well. You can get by without knowing how to drive, but there’s really no excuse not to have a phone in today’s day and age.”

Amelie: Amelie chuckles, shaking her head. “I had a phone. You just don’t have Telus here in the states. They made me give back the phone when I ended the contract early. As for driving, I can just get rollerskates.”

GM: Her aunt looks as if the concept of ‘giving back’ a phone is foreign to her. “Hmm, that’s not a very equitable deal. We’ll make sure to get you a phone that you actually own.” The mention of rollerskates only elicits a dry look before Christina puts her plate in the sink, rinses it, and remarks, “All right, I’m taking off. My assistant should be here in an hour or so. The extra key is on the dinner table, along with the gate code. Enjoy your day.”

Amelie: Amelie just grins back at her aunt about the rollerblades comment, but decides against stepping in to wash her plate. She instead wishes her a good day and waves goodbye. She then cleans out the pans used to cook breakfast, puts everything away, and goes back up to her room for a moment. It’s going to be an interesting day. Once the hour is up, she’s sitting down at the dining room table, dressed in faded jeans and a white tee shirt almost stereotypically topped with a thin plaid button-up. They’re honestly the best clothes she owns, with no holes and no soot.

GM: The doorbell rings. Amelie answers it and meets a fair-skinned, long-legged and attractive woman with shoulder-length auburn hair who looks in maybe her mid-20s. She’s dressed for the 80-degree-plus weather in a blue and white sundress, closed-toe sandals, and a purse slung over her shoulder.

“Hi! I’m Kristina Winters. You must be Amelie.” The woman smiles and offers a wave.

Amelie: New Orleans is off to a good start on the “make you feel manish” side of things so far. “Amelie Savard. Nice to meet you, Ms. Winters.” Christina Roberts hiring a Kristina Winters, there’s enough joke material there to choke on. “You look good! I can see I’ll be in good hands as far as advice on appearances. Should we get going, or did you want to sit inside awhile?”

GM: Kristina laughs. “Thanks! Pretty hard to buy any clothes from inside here though, unless you want to do it online.”

Amelie: Amelie just smiles and steps outside, closing and locking the door behind her with the new key. “More meant to get some water or something, but point taken. Let’s head out, I promise not to take up too much time.”

GM: “Don’t worry about it, your aunt doesn’t need me today.” Kristina heads walks down the house’s steps and over to a silver Prius. Kristina punches some buttons on the keypad to close the house’s gate, gets in on the car’s driver’s side, and takes off once the two have fastened their seatbelts. Tall and proud Southern live oaks interspersed with rows of Colonial-, Victorian, and Greek Revival-style old homes drift past.

“There any particular places you’d like to head, or do you wanna leave that in my hands?”

Amelie: Amelie gets in on the passenger side, looks out the window and enjoys the scenery passing by. It’s still barely real. This part of New Orleans is just so beautiful, and there are so many houses she’s tempted to walk into when the owners are gone just to look around. But memories of the canines and officers patrolling so close act as a good deterrent.

“I dunno if my aunt told you, but I do have one very odd stop to make last. I need to go to a privately owned gun store, to speak with the owners. Plus I need a cellphone. But after that? It’s in your hands completely.”

GM: “Yep, gun store it is,” Kristina nods as the car passes by a garden whose stone fountain is festooned with capering nymphs and dolphins. “There any particular stop you want to make first?”

Amelie: Amelie looks over and cocks an eyebrow at the woman, wondering if her aunt is just that thorough or if Kristina has heard stranger things out of the blue. The scenery is quite a distraction from the question, though, and the teen takes a moment to fawn over the stonework before collecting herself. “Cellphone has my vote, networking is easier with one I’d imagine. No questions about the gun shop though? Does my aunt send you to look at weapons often?”

GM: “This would be my first time,” Amelie’s driver answers with an amused smile. “If that’s what you wanna do, that’s what you wanna do.”

Amelie: That reply just makes Amelie even more curious, and she can’t help but laugh a little. So tight-lipped. “If it makes you feel better, it’s for business. I’m not interested in guns. For now, I’ll leave it in your capable hands where to go for this cellphone, and the clothes after.”

GM: “All right! There’s a place not too far off on Magazine Street. We can probably do most of your clothes shopping there too.”

Amelie: “That sounds good to me. Dunno how long we’ll be out though, I don’t need a lot, unless my aunt is planning on taking me to corporate parties or something. In that case, god help us finding a dress.”

GM: “Nah, she’s not much one for those. But okay, Magazine Street it is.”

Amelie: It’s almost a relief to hear her aunt isn’t one for attending every soiree in New Orleans. Amelie doesn’t really know how much she can get away with wearing men’s formal wear before someone shoves her in a dress that shows too much scarring. Though she has to wonder, would showing all that off maybe help her case? No one wants a swordsmith who can’t swing a hammer.

GM: Kristina drives a few minutes, and the greenery-interspersed rows of old houses give way to a stretch of antique shops, art galleries, craft shops, boutiques, coffee houses, and restaurants. Kristina mentions that the street was originally named for a “magazin,” a warehouse that was built in the late 1700s to house products awaiting export. Today, Magazine Street features as historic a range of architecture as the rest of the Garden District, from the large columned Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century to colorful Victorian cottages trimmed in gingerbread millwork.

Amelie: Amelie’s internal struggle comes to an abrupt end when they reach Magazine Street, and she listens attentively to Kristina’s story as she scans each craft and antique store for her interests. “Almost nothing in New Orleans feels real so far. Quebec City is over 100 years older, but it feels nothing like this. So much culture in every piece of… everything. Could we stop in a few of these antique stores later?”

GM: Kristina nods as she parks the car outside a store with “myPhoneMD” marked over the door with a red and white medical cross. “Sure! You never know what items those places are gonna have.”

Compared to the old houses and storied streets the two have passed, MyPhoneMD’s interior feels like it could be anywhere in the United States (or Canada). Kristina says hello to the staff and helps Amelie shop around for a smartphone of her choice. Her aunt’s assistant, personally, is an Apple user.

Amelie: It’s a bit of normalcy at last as Amelie enters the store and starts looking around for what she had before the move. Samsung Note, the bigger kind with the tap pens, and just as akin to a phone and the pocket PDAs of older times. For someone who spent most of her days with hands covered in iron shavings and soot, that kind of phone was a match made in heaven. Once Amelie makes her selection, she saunters back up to Kristina.

“Cheaper than the cutting edge, but function over form though, right? Least I’ll never lose it, le gros baiseur.”

GM: “Oh, your aunt says it’s okay if you want something more expensive,” her driver for the day assures, then frowns a little. “I think I read an article about those exploding in peoples’ pockets…”

Amelie: “That so? Hmm. I’ll take the risk, I like these things. If I get a new scar, I get a new scar, and I can even take part in a grand American rite of passage. Lawsuits.”

GM: “You picked the right aunt to have for that too, she’s got a law degree,” Kristina remarks as she hands over a credit card to the sales associate.

Amelie: “I wonder why she isn’t a lawyer anymore. I asked about her job and it seems she enjoys it well enough, but I gotta wonder.” Amelie thinks it’s a bit of a strange move for her aunt to give her credit card to her assistant, but the teenager steps up to the counter to set up a cellphone plan. She needs a phone number before she leaves this place.

GM: Kristina tucks the credit card back in her wallet after the sales associate swipes it. “I don’t think being a lawyer was for her. It’s a lot of stress and long hours. Plus, you’d be surprised how many careers a law degree can be used for. Accountants, auditors, bankers, politicians, stockbrokers… I’ve even heard of talent agents and screenwriters who got their starts in law school.”

Amelie: “Laywer in New Orleans, I can see where the stress would come from. Oh well, I’ll have to ask her in person instead of gossiping with her assistant.” There’s something up about her aunt’s work. Even if it’s rude, it’s too tempting not to pry. Slowly.

Amelie is faster, however, in setting up her service, and she has a phone number again in just a few minutes. She also gets a case to protect the thing before they’re done. It’s the first piece of equipment to start towards her end goal, one she’ll set up later. “Next. This part I’ll definitely defer to your judgment more than not.” She grins, motioning with her own phone to Kristina’s iPhone.

GM: Kristina smiles back as the pair exit the store. “Let’s waste no time then. Fleurty Girl’s just up ahead…”

Amelie: Amelie asks if they can stop early when another store catches her eye. She stands at the entrance for a moment, feeling as though she’s getting punked. ‘40s and ’50s styles, ’Betty’ fashion, horribly impractical hats, and over to one quarter of the store? Lingerie. Lovely. As out of her element as the young woman is, she resolves to keep an open mind about all this, clearing her throat as she strides back after Kristina.

“So these are the clothes you wear when you don’t have to worry about freezing to death. Do you go clothes shopping here often?” Amelie motions to the assistants dress.

GM: Trashy Diva looks largely the same as Magazine Street’s other stores from the outside: dark green doors and two swimsuit-clad mannequins in the windows. The interior has a checker-tile floor, further mannequins clad in the knee-length dresses that were ubiquitous in the ’40s, and the usual racks of clothes alongside a jewelry counter.

Kristina shakes her head at Amelie’s query. “I’m not into the whole retro-chic myself. But it’s got a classy feel.”

Amelie: If anything, the clothes match the architecture. The teenager looks up at the cheap copper chandelier in the middle of much more modern LED lights. Classics ham-fisted back into fashion using modern techniques and styles.

“Classy is good. Just nothing that shows off my back, okay? Nasty scars from before I was Nouvelle Orleans levels of fancy. You mind if I ask you some questions while we look around?”

GM: Kristina smiles at the sales associate as she comes over and tells the woman that they’re just “browsing around.” She nods at Amelie’s next query as the two walk down the racks of clothes. “Nope, ask away.”

Amelie: Amelie barely knows the woman, but the questions have got to be asked. She pulls a black sleeveless top that is pre-tied up daisy duke style a few inches above the belly button, sighs and turns, holding it up to her chest for appraisal from the more fashion-savvy woman.

“What exactly does my aunt do for a living? I’ve never seen anyone self employed with a personal assistant before.”

GM: “Hmm, that says more country girl or party girl to me,” Kristina remarks of the stomach-revealing cut. “If you’re going for a ‘40s look, it’s pretty much all dresses.”

“So far as your aunt, she works in the consulting business. She helps manage money, make introductions between clients and entrepreneurs, navigate legal issues—the law degree helps there—help with networking, that kinda stuff. She does a lot of things for a lot of people. She’s pretty well-connected and has a good sense for knowing what they want.”

Amelie: Expected reactions for Amelie on all fronts but the shirt. She looks down and sighs as she puts it back on the rack and heads for said dresses, panning them from afar as she continues probing.

“She’s well-connected but doesn’t go to social gatherings so much, might mean people come to her. That last part though, that’s something to chew on. Sorry for prying, I’ve a habit of being wary about the people I live with. Makes my life easier sometimes. How about this one?”

Amelie pulls a black dress off the rack, a short-sleeved button-up shirt on the top, the cleavage cutting straight down in a rectangle window, with a belt at the waistline separating into the actual skirt of the dress. “I don’t know. Just how many men might be intimidated if I show off biceps? But going to an all girls school putting out a butch vibe screams, ‘but I’m a cheerleader’.” She hopes Kristina gets the 1999 movie reference.

GM: “It’s corporate parties she isn’t big on, but I’d say she’s pretty social. If you’re feeling wary, anyways, you might try just talking to your aunt. She’s a pretty cool lady when all’s said and done, and being up front with people can work out pretty well.”

Amelie: “So far she’s been scarily like my mother. Just more like she’s the smarter sibling. But she’s been really cool so far, yeah. I don’t know many people who’d take in their niece they’ve almost never seen. But still, old habits, eh?”

Amelie doesn’t exactly trust the whole straightforward approach. What could she say? I don’t think your job is what you said it was. Why aren’t I good enough to help? Right.

GM: “Anyways,” Kristina remarks as turns the dress over, “that’s got a more a ‘40s vibe. You’d probably be wearing it outside of school. Your aunt said you’re going to McGehee, but even most of the public schools here require uniforms.”

Amelie: “I’m guessing it’s to avoid gang colors or something? I like this one. I’m going to try it on. Nothing else really catches my eye. How about yours?”

GM: “I’m more modern-chic than retro-chic, like I said. Knock yourself out though, the changing room looks like it’s over there.” Kristina nods in its direction.

Amelie: “Let’s go to a place more your speed after this, then.” It’s a moment in the changing room before she emerges. The dress fits well on her, matching her athletic body type. Her arms and legs pocked with strangely shaped scars, more than a few looking like they’ve originated from something like branding irons. “Dresses may not be my speed after all. Unless I’m going for the ‘my first house was a toaster oven’ look.”

GM: Kristina cocks her head in appraisal. “I’d say it suits your figure. How much skin you wanna show off’s a personal call, though.”

Amelie: Amelie smooths it out and appraises the feel on her. It’s good. Something nice to make a good impression on someone later down the line. Without another word she vanishes into the changing room and comes back out in jeans and flannel, looking a little more comfortable, the dress draped over her arm.

“Let’s grab this and go to a more modern place. How about you though, Kristina? What brought you to work for my aunt? From what she says you have a level head on your shoulders.”

GM: Kristina buys the dress at the counter, exchanges pleasantries with the sales associate, and carries off the shopping bag as the pair exit the store. “Well, I grew up in New Orleans and earned a marketing degree in Dallas, but I couldn’t find much work except as a waitress. Employers wanted experience and all I had was a ton of student debt. I came back to the city and sort of fell in with your aunt. Couldn’t have happened at a better time, as I’d just moved back in with my mom.” She gives a short laugh that’s not quite humorful or humorless. “I guess that’s my generation’s story in a nutshell.”

Amelie: “Seems like she attracts people who feel lucky to be around her. How long ago was it you started working with her?” Amelie leaves the store with her aunt’s assistant and puts her hands on her hips, looking up and down the street. “Next place. I want to get the clothes out the way so I can visit one of these antiques places. See if I can’t find anything actually worth being impressed about.”

GM: “Long enough to have moved out of my mom’s,” Kristina answers with a faint smirk as the pair make the way back to her car. She unlocks the door and sticks the bag in. “About four years though, give or take.”

Amelie: Getting answers out of people like this makes Amelie feel like a mix of the blonde from Mean Girls and a shitty daytime soap detective: rude and ultimately ineffective. But at least it’s starting to feel like a bit more of a conversation. The teen smiles and puts her focus back on Kristina.

“Good chunk of time! I’ll try not to make your job any more difficult. I offered to help already, but… well, her mouth said ‘no thanks’ and her eyes said ‘you couldn’t.’ I have to imagine it’s difficult.”

GM: “I wouldn’t take that too harshly, you just need a college degree. Almost all jobs require them these days. You know the quip about every barista having a bachelor’s…”

Amelie: “I meant mostly just help organizing. But I can see what you mean. Though I don’t think I’ll be attending a, uh… oh geez, is it called college or university in the states?”

GM: “Both, though if you wanted to earn a bachelor’s, you’d be going to college—that’s a school where you earn an undergrad degree. A university is a group of schools that offer postgrad degrees, plus at least one college for undergrads. That’s why community colleges aren’t ever called universities, because they only offer AAs.”

Amelie: “Ahhh. Same names with different functions, then. That’s not confusing at all. Colleges in Canada offer mostly vocational training while universities offer more academic studies. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be attending. It’s not part of the career I’m setting up for myself, which is one of the reasons I asked for the gun shop stop. Maybe I’ll change my mind after going to this private school. But so far? I see no harm in making sharp things for the good people of NOLA.”

GM: By this time the pair have since gotten back into Kristina’s silver Prius. Magazine Street’s art galleries, coffee houses, and brunch-eating cafe patrons roll by in the window. “Oh that’s neat, you want to be a gunsmith after you graduate high school?”

Amelie: Amelie watches the buildings change intently, more interested in their make than their contents as she listens to Kristina. That question, though, makes her wonder. “Does my aunt not talk very personally with people? She’s never talked about her sister, my mother?”

GM: Kristina doesn’t break stride as Amelie seemingly jumps between topics. “I’d say I know her pretty well for a boss, but no, she hasn’t talked about her family much.”

Amelie: Thankfully, it’s only a short planned branching off. “I don’t think we have much in the way of it. My mother is—maybe was—a champion epee fencer and artisan, and my father was a master blacksmith in a reenactment village. I want to do both the fencing and the smithing.”

GM: “A chip off both the old blocks then, eh?”

Amelie: “Excuse me? Eh is ‘our’ word,” Amelie jokes, trying to deflect from her parents now. “New Orleans has a lot of history. I should have trouble setting up my own deal here.”

GM: “I cry the forgiveness of your maple gods,” Kristina smirks before continuing, “History might be on your side there. Immigrants in cities like New York pretty much kept to themselves and got famous for their ethnic neighborhoods, but you won’t find any Chinatown or Little Italy in New Orleans. The city just mushed everything together into one big pot of gumbo. So who knows, maybe you’ll have a few ingredients of your own to add.”

Amelie: “This place is ancient. I’m sure I’ll find people who want a piece of history for their very own. I know the history, and I have the hands that can re-create and restore it. I like that thought.”

GM: “So it’ll be guns and swords you make then? The city used to have a pretty colorful dueling culture.”

Amelie: “I don’t know about guns. I’d have to look into the permits for that. Plus I just don’t like them. Armor and jewelry too, though. Oscar, the limo driver, he told me about a dueling tree here in New Orleans still standing. It’s an incredibly romantic moment.”

GM: “They sure could be, two duelists taking to the field over some slight against a fair lady’s honor.” Kristina smiles at the description, as if she’d enjoy the prospect of two men fighting a duel over her.

Amelie: “I fell in love with the opposite. Dueling meant all that mattered was skill, so a woman could take her own sword and her own pistol. Take her own power, name, and fame. I’m sure history is hiding plenty of women who dueled over a man they both liked.”

GM: “Maybe so,” Kristina nods. “You said you like making jewelry too? Is there a lot of overlap between that and swords?”

Amelie: “Very much so! Swords are just their blades basically… you sharped a piece of W10 or toolsteel you’ve forged and tempered and that’s your sword. The rest is jewelry, the hand carving of wood, the wrapping of leather, the acid engraving of metal, even the jewel inlays in some. Actual jewelry though, rings need to be forged correctly so they don’t constrict in the cold and kill fingers. Every precious metal has so many rules to follow. Chains are quick, but braided chains are beautiful and so hard to make, three hours, tweezers, and magnification goggles just to make five inches of it. I… sorry, these things get away from me easily.”

Amelie clears her throat and crosses her leg looking out the window. “I would have something to show you, but I lost my collection.”

GM: Kristina takes in Amelie’s description of the technical processes with some interest before remarking, “Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that! Hopefully you’ll get to make a new one. You sure sound like you know your way around a forge. I never knew you had to forge rings not to constrict in the cold.”

Amelie: “If I didn’t, I dunno what I’d do with myself. Don’t worry, I’ll make you something nice. How about you, did you always want to go into business?”

GM: “I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, but that didn’t look like it’d pan out as a career. Marketing’s close enough and pays a lot better.”

Amelie: “I wouldn’t have thought those would be connected at all, but then again I don’t have writing experience. Do you keep up with it? Or does my aunt keep you too busy?”

GM: “I’m more of a reader these days than a writer. People go on a lot about how you should follow your childhood passions… but some things you just end up moving on from,” Kristina answers with a shrug.

Amelie: Amelie sits quietly, thinking on it for a moment. Of course she has backup plans. “That’s smart. I’ll have to think on that. If anything, it’d look good on a resume to be a, uh… museum curator or something, if I can make and use the things I’m taking care of or studying.”

GM: “My guess is you’d need a degree to work at a museum, but I’m no expert. Experience with weapons is definitely an interesting resume item to talk about at interviews.”

Amelie: “It’ll require a degree for sure. I don’t see myself having issues with that, though. Of course ‘Plan B’ is ‘Plan B’, I’d rather work with my hands.”

GM: Kristina opens her mouth, then glances up. The subject of her gaze is nestled between a furniture store and a locksmith. Indistinct figurines and metallic shapes peer through dark windows. A wooden sign over the front door bears a single word with no other name:


“That the sort of place you were looking for?” her aunt’s assistant asks.

Amelie: Amelie sees it, leaning into the window to get a better look as she nods. Much as she tries to hide it, she looks like a child about to take a trip into a toy store. “That’s exactly it. Can we drop in for a bit?”

GM: Kristina laughs as she parks the car. “Sure. Antiques aren’t so much my thing, so how about you text me when you’re ready to be picked up?”

Amelie: Amelie’s face flushes when Kristina laughs, realizing she may have shown her excitement a bit too much. But she takes out her phone in any case and exchanges numbers with the savvy woman. “I’ll text you. I might wander a little, but I won’t stray more than a block.”

GM: “Sounds good. Oh, in case there’s anything you wanna get.” Kristina digs through her purse and hands Amelie a blue Discover Express card.

Amelie: Amelie awkwardly takes the card, looking at the older woman as though she’s just handed a over a severed head. It’s too generous on top of what he aunt is already doing for her. “I’ll… keep it for emergencies, I guess? Oof.”

GM: Kristina laughs again at Amelie’s flustered response. “Well, I’m gonna ask for it back when we’re done here, but your aunt is paying me back for everything we buy. Heck, I get to rack up more cash back and rewards points this way, so I’m actually making a little money here.”

The amusement on her face fades though as she adds, “But seriously, she said to treat you like an adult. Something about that being ‘the best way to prepare you for being one.’ So if there’s anything you wanna get, go ahead and buy it. The card isn’t gonna bite.”

Amelie: Amelie stops and takes in what Kristina says. She looks down at where she’s stored the card and thinks. After taking care of her father for so long, she’s thought it fair on occasion to think she’s already very adult-like. Clearly her aunt sees room for improvement, which is both an encouraging and disheartening thought.

“If I see anything I like, I’ll get it. Maybe try to find something I can refurbish and resell!” she assures the woman, looking much more confident.

GM: “Awesome! Pick you up when you’re done.” Kristina shuts the car door and drives off. The dingy-looking shop awaits Amelie.

Amelie: Finally exiting the car, she hurriedly tucks the card into a pocket and waves goodbye. She heads into the shop as the eager historian in her flares back up.

GM: A sales bell lightly chimes as Amelie pushes open the door. The smell of dust, aged books, and old wood and fills her nostrils. The building’s interior has no windows besides the two by the front door, and the store’s cluttered inventory blots out much of the sunlight like a bayou’s hungry plant life.

Confederate flags. Furniture. Dishes. Typewriters. Cowboy boots. Glasses. An Indian peace pipe. Owl figurines. Books. Jewelry. Silverware. Rosaries. A saxophone. Voodoo dolls. Globes. Sailboats. Portraits. Saints helmets. “Mammy and chef” negro salt shakers. Harmonicas. A bird cage. Domino masks. A Mardi Gras Indian feathered costume. Phonograph records. A riverboat captain’s hat. Paintings. A whip. Taxidermies. A sword. Silver coins. Postage stamps. The dim shop is stacked from floor to ceiling with junk collected from the attics of a dozen eccentric uncles.

Amelie: Amelie understands the reasoning behind the darkness the moment she smells nirvana coming from old paper and wood. Maybe the owners want to avoid fading in the sunlight. Despite the darkness, she doesn’t hesitate before stepping in to browse, then delves into the stacks and looks everything over. Some of it is foreign to her, from the flags and whip to the peace pipe and feathered outfit. It’s a marvel to the young woman that there are Natives this far south. There’s a lot she wants to look over, but the moment the glint of steel from the sword pops into her vision, she lets herself be predictable and makes a beeline for it. She almost hopes no store worker intercepts her before she gets a good look.

GM: The subject of Amelie’s attention is typical of the “Walloon” style that was popular in the mid to late 17th century among military and civilian users alike. Two large side-rings are filled with a plate featuring pierced stars and circles, while a knucklebow with an expanded central section is screwed to the ovoid pommel. The large scrolled crossguard is stamped on either side with faded portraits of men wearing large wigs. The grip is engraved with floral motifs and fleurs-de-lis which Amelie has seen in various places throughout New Orleans and her home alike. The double-edged blade looks a little over 30 inches long with a single 7" fuller.


The sword itself is dark and covered in heavy dents and pitting. Amelie cannot make out even a ghost of her reflection, though that might also be due to the store’s poor light. The overall condition, she pegs, is somewhere between adequate and poor.

Amelie: Amelie pours over the weapon, dissatisfied with the bulb pommel and the dramatic wave the Walloon has on the back of the quillion, the crossguard that protects the hand. However, the condition itself is both a good and a bad thing. Heavy dents and pitting mean one of three things; use, exposure, or forgery. This isn’t something that she can swing around, lest the blade splinter or shatter, but it’s a possible study and resell piece. Moreover, the floral motif has her interested, especially when in conjunction with a fleur-de-lis! Maybe a Dutch or German swordsman had this commissioned while living in New Orleans? It’s what she loves most about history, the mystery to unfold! Amelie takes the blade and looks around for a desk, and a light so that she can properly look the sword over.

“Hello? Excuse me?”

GM: The shop is small and cluttered, but Amelie’s voice seems to almost echo through its dark recesses. There’s even a few cobwebs. The place seems bereft of life.

Except for the man who’s staring at her.

He’s tall, standing perhaps a head over her, but slim and gaunt like a scarecrow. Cobwebs of wrinkles crisscross his apricot-like, black-skinned face. What little hair remains on his nearly-bald pate is thin, wisp-like and shock-white, like a leftover snowfall that’s been melting for several days. He’s dressed in a faded dark jacket, wine-colored vest, and mustard-yellow bowtie.

“I see the young lady has found something she likes,” the old man observes with a near-ghost of a smile. His hoarse voice is barely above a whisper.

“Welcome to my shop. I am Raphael.”

Amelie: Amelie jumps slightly when she sees the man just standing there, giving him a fast “flight or fight” once-over before she relaxes and looks politely embarrassed for being startled. Taking the sword in one hand, she gently places the point of the blade against the top of her shoe, a safety habit, before she takes the few steps to the man and extends her free hand to shake with him. Now that her heart isn’t trying to pull out her chest to face the foe on it’s own, she’s all smiles, back to her giddy curiosity.

“Amelie. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Raphael. And yes, I’ve found something very interesting. If I may… is there a story behind this sword you’re aware of?”

GM: The old man accepts Amelie’s hand with another ghost-like smile. His fingers are long and slim, and Amelie can feel the bones through his wrinkled skin as if it were merely a tight, well-worn glove. His motions are slow, but his grip remains firm.

“Less a story than several related discoveries and recollections.” The ghost on Raphael’s lips grows just a bit more solid. “But it has a past, as all items that pass through my shop do.”

He slowly gestures towards the storefront with a spindly arm.

“Would the young lady care to sit?”

Amelie: Amelie smiles, hoping that he’s right. It has a past, it has to have one after the oddities that she’s sniffed out already. But as far as the shop goes, she can already tell she’s going to like this place, and this man. You can tell a lot about someone from the way they shake hands and when they deign to smile the fullest. “I’d love to, thank you.” She passes him carefully, watching the blade of the weapon before she steps up to the storefront, not sitting just yet. It’s polite to wait until the host sits first, after all.

GM: Raphael makes his way through the forest of piled junk. Sharp angles and jutting edges lurk everywhere, roots and thorns in the man-made jungle. The old man does not visibly sidestep them so much as he does not even seem to have to: none interrupt his path. Eventually, the pair emerge into a ‘clearing’ by the store’s counter and register. Raphael motions to a pair of Victorian chairs with wide backs and faded red upholstery, then clenches each armrest with his spindly fingers and slowly lowers himself into the seat with a deliberate-looking motion.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t see it from where she leads, but she has her own nervous journey through things, curving her body to avoid edges, or stifling her breath and turning sideways so as not to knock into anything. It’s a difficult journey, but she watches the man lower himself at the end of it, before she does the same, careful with the chair.

“If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you had this store, Mr. Raphael?”

GM: Filtered beams of sunlight spear through random openings in the thick collection of junk. A few of them lance across the proprietor’s face. So “illuminated” to Amelie’s eyes, or at least made less dark, the man looks even more ancient. His face’s lined crevasses are deep enough to have wrinkles of their own, resembling a desert’s cracked earth more than simply an apricot. The longer she stares, the deeper the lines seem to run and twist.

“For a long time, Ms. Amelie,” comes his whispering reply.

“My mother willed it to me upon her death.”

Amelie: Seeing the old man like this is a bit sobering from the high her find has given her. But she keeps her eyes on his, pushing her mind back to his story as she gently places the sword on her lap, keeping any stress off of it.

“My condolences. That is quite a pedigree for an antiquarian, though, inheritance. This shop must be very precious to you.”

GM: “She has been dead for a very long time, Ms. Amelie,” Raphael echoes with faint amusement at the young woman’s condolences. “You are correct. It is. It will not be long before it passes to another, I think.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses at the man’s words and looks a bit thoughtful for a moment. It sounds to her like he’s almost ready to die, and she finds that rather honorable, for him to know himself so humbly like that. Death is something that has only peeked into her mind these past years. But just peeked. Or is he just ready to rest for his twilight years, maybe? Still, Amelie gives the man a gentle smile.

“Your handshake was still nice and strong you know, Mr. Raphael. Do you plan to pass it on to your kids?”

GM: “I have no children, Ms. Amelie. My shop will pass to a distant cousin of mine, if he should decide to keep it,” the old man answers.

Amelie: “That’s a shame. I hope he treats it with a lot of respect.”

GM: “Not all of us are willing or able to bring life into the world,” Raphael murmurs. “That is also my hope, and his choice.”

Amelie: Amelie can only nod. “Some shouldn’t, despite them already having done so.” It’s a sore spot. “You have a whole lot of good items here. This sword… it’s like a puzzle. Walloon swords were never popular in any French-speaking nations, and yet… fleur-de-lis.”

GM: “As for swords, I will admit they are not my specialty. I was led to believe walloons were developed among either the Germans or Swiss, fell into the hands of the Dutch, and were obtained from them by the French. A weapon’s success on the battlefield frequently breeds imitation from opposing armies.”

Amelie: The young woman perks up with a small smile as the talk comes back to weapons. “It’s a good style of sword. Ones like these were made to deal with both rapiers of the gentry and the rigors of actual battle.” Leaning forward, she puts the whole hilt in the light as much as she can, trying to get a bead on exactly where it might have come from.

After a good few minutes looking over every bit of it, Amelie has a good picture of it. “It’s definitely real. And you were right! French. 1600s, the Baroque era, very nice. I have to guess maybe a bit late in the era. I wonder how much use it saw. But it looks like it was for gentry, not military use! Which explains why it may be in New Orleans! French dandy came to the New World with all his great-grandfather’s belongings. Though that’s just a guess. What has me excited, this was a blade for gentry in the time of the Sun King! Louis XIV! If I could somehow track down that bloodline…”

Looking up, the girl finally realizes she’s been rambling and clears her throat. “Sorry. I get carried away easily.”

GM: There’s a series of faint, cough-like sounds from the darkness ahead of Amelie. It takes her a moment to realize that the store’s owner is chuckling softly. “If the blade holds the young lady’s interest, perhaps it will find a better home in her hands than mine.”

Amelie: Amelie again feels like she’s an easy startle when a thought about not knowing first aid pops into her head, before seeing he’s just having a laugh. “I think I’ll take it. I was told to buy something if I saw something I liked. How much would you part with for it?”

GM: Raphael quotes a figure. Accounting for the sword’s notable age but poor condition and obscurity, it’s “only” on the lower end of several thousand dollars.

Amelie: The figure doesn’t phase the girl until she remembers she’s not buying a piece for her shop in Biccoline. This isn’t exactly her money. “That’s reasonable, but just let me clear it real fast, excuse me.” She turns to the side just a little in her chair and pulls her phone out to text Kristina. Found a piece. I might be able to make some money off it, but it’s pricey. What do you think? It’s followed by the figure Raphael quoted her.

GM: You try negotiating for anything lower? This is an antique store.

Amelie: He could have already asked for more. Should I push my luck and ask?

GM: Lot I don’t know. Go with your gut. But your aunt can afford that.

Amelie: I’ll tell you how it goes.

Tucking the phone back into her pocket, Amelie sits up with a small smile, attention back on the older man. “Mr. Raphael? Would you be willing to give me a small deal? I could do you a favor or two around the shop, or we can work something out to share profit. Once I find the origins of the sword, the price will jump up. Or if you’re looking for company, I could always come back to inspect the sword in my free time, and you can keep all the profits if it turns out to be a historical item.” With her skills, she’s confident see can find the origin, given time.

GM: “The price is already a modest one, young lady,” Raphael answers in his hoarse whisper. “But what is an antique purchase without haggling, and I do not think another buyer will be coming along soon. I will go $100 lower.”

Amelie: Amelie looks down at the blade, an eager rolling in the pit of her stomach, mixing in with the anxiousness of this not being HER money she’s spending. But if she makes a profit selling it? Well, she can pay her aunt back in full. She nods her head, looking more than a little nervous about it. “Thank you. I think I’ll take it! Would you still be interested in hearing the story if I find the original owner?”

GM: The old man’s dark eyes glint. “Very much so.”

Amelie: Amelie sits up a bit, all smiles. “I’ll be back, then. Often, if I can help it.”

GM: “The profit margin in selling antiques is low, but only materially,” Raphael states with another hoarse whisper.

Amelie: “I don’t mind breaking even, long as I figure out just where this came from. I’ll start with the metals. Easy to track historic metals. Then to smiths. Then to their buyers.” Amelie stands. “I’d love to chat more, but I might be keeping someone waiting. Hopefully you accept credit cards?”

GM: Raphael deliberately grips each of the chair’s armrests and slowly raises his scarecrow-like frame to a standing position. “I do.”

He takes Amelie’s credit card and fades out of sight behind the counter’s register. There’s a faint, slow scratching sound as perhaps a minute passes. Raphael reemerges with the card and a hand-written receipt.

Amelie: Amelie hates this part. It’s always a tense moment for her to finalize a sale, but she’s sure that she can convince her aunt that this is an investment. After he comes out with the receipt, she checks it real quick before she folds it up and carefully sticks it into her wallet. “Thank you, Mr. Raphael. I’ll update you as soon as I find something.”

GM: “Good day, young lady. I shall look forward to hearing of your discoveries.” Raphael slowly approaches the door and holds it open for Amelie, spilling sunlight into the dingy shop.

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man’s manners, giving him the smallest curtsy before she exits. “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Raphael!” Then she’s right back in the sun, squinting as she pulls off her overshirt to drape over the blade of her find, tucking it carefully under the arm holding the handle. She fishes out her phone to texts for a pickup.

GM: Kristina’s Prius pulls up outside the store after several minutes. “Found something you liked?” her aunt’s assistant asks.

Amelie: Amelie simply pulls out the sword to give the woman a quick once-over before she puts it on the floor in the back seat, covers it with the overshirt and shopping bag to keep it from knocking around, and hops into the passenger seat. “1600s. French. Big mystery to me as to who brought it to New Orleans! Then when the mystery is over, I resell it.”

GM: “Oh wow, nice find,” Kristina remarks as she pulls the car out of its brief parking spot by the curb. “Maybe one of the early French colonists or immigrants. The sword might not have even been that old when they brought it over.”

Amelie: Amelie grins wide, very visibly excited. “What makes it even better is that it was made for gentry! Rich and French! If I can find that family line, imagine them getting this piece of history back! For enough to pay back my aunt, of course.”

GM: Kristina laughs. “I guess that’s between the two of you, but in my experience, people who send you out shopping don’t think of it as a loan.”

Amelie: “I still feel… weird about taking money from her. I earned my money all my life. This wasn’t essential, so I’m going to be paying her back. As for the rest of the day? Gotta finish clothes shopping. I can visit a gun store another time, today has already been an adventure.”

GM: Magazine Street’s shops and eateries roll past the car’s window as Kristina tilts her head. “I dunno how much this is my business, so tell me to but out if it’s not, but your aunt likes treating people. I think she’d feel weirded out if you offered to pay her back.”

Amelie: “Hmm… it might just be a difference in etiquette. I’ll have a talk with her. As for it being your business, you’re close with my aunt, so I really appreciate the insight. She’s as hard to read as my mother was.”

GM: “Glad to help, then,” Kristina answers. “Now, the next store worth hitting is at…”

Amelie: After dropping off the day’s rather exhausting haul in her room, Amelie takes a full catalog of pictures of her antique and carefully puts it under the bed before she rushes back out to meet Kristina. Just a short trip to the city library, and she’ll have everything she needs to start the hunt for the owner.

GM: New Orleans has a number of city libraries. Kristina drops off Amelie at the Garden District’s nearest one, the Milton H. Latter Memorial, a former neo-Italianate mansion converted into a library. The building sits on a low grassy hill surrounded by Southern live oaks that makes it feel removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Kristina tells Amelie that she’s taking off for the day if there’s nothing else. When Amelie is finished at the library, she can either walk back to her aunt’s house (the Garden District is a lovely neighborhood to stroll through) or take the St. Charles streetcar, which Kristina leaves her with fare for.

The building’s interior still resembles the mansion it used to be, replete with a fireplace, fancy drapes and rugs, and old-fashioned brass light fixtures. As a library, it has the typical reading rooms, computers, printers, and wi-fi one might expect to find.

Compared to the other public libraries Amelie has seen, which invariably seem to draw at least several obviously homeless people with nowhere else to spend their time, patrons at the Milton Latter are generally quiet and well-dressed. The one person who does not look as if he belongs, a black man with an electronic ankle monitor he plugs into an outlet, is quietly escorted out of the building by a police officer.

Amelie: Visions of canine units and street patrols walking the borders of the Garden District yesterday come to mind as Amelie watches the vagrant escorted out, only to replace him as the worst-dressed person in the library as she steps in. Atmosphere immediately sets in as she takes in the architecture of the library, her mind’s eye bringing up where all the furniture and finery would have been in the days of its intended use. But after a moment, she focuses, looking to find the librarian’s desk. If there’s one thing all libraries have in common, it’s a librarian dedicated to its upkeep, a tamer of what one could call a hydra.

Include an Ignatius Reilly reference/pic

GM: This hydra’s tamer looks as if the lernaean beast has resisted his domesticating hand. He’s a middle-aged man with a closely-shaved graying beard, hair of the same color, oval-shaped glasses, and wearing a beige blazer over a collared light blue shirt. There’s a large bandage over his forehead whose boundaries extend to the edge of his glasses. The placement makes the two items seem almost connected, as if pulling off his eyewear would rip off the bandage and half his scalp with it.

Amelie finds him sitting behind the service desk’s computer as she approaches. An overweight, nasally-voiced 30-something man wearing socks and sandals clutches a stack of comic books to his chest, thanks the librarian for his help, and waddles off.

Amelie: Amelie pays the man already at the counter no mind, wondering more about the comic books and what they could have to do with the library than anything else. The type of people she’s seen up until now haven’t given this place the sort of air where comics might be kept. Pushing it out of her mind, she approaches the desk and waits a moment for the man to make eye contact.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if you had a moment to help me find something. It’s a bit weird.”

GM: “Someone who works at a library sees ‘weird’ more often than you might think, ma’am,” the librarian answers with a subdued smile. “What are you looking for?”

Amelie: Amelie gives the man a bit of an amused smile at the statement, taking out her phone and sliding a picture of the sword across the desk to him.

“I’m looking for books on the region around France in the mid to late 1600s. I’m trying to identify three things. Mines the French got their steel from, the blacksmiths of note at the time, and the major and minor nobility at the time.”

GM: The librarian strokes his chin. “Famous blacksmiths should be the easiest to research. Mines after that. Major nobility are fairly well-documented, but you’re going to have quite a project if you want to identify all the minor French nobles of the period.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “That’s the order I’m gunning for. Broad list of blacksmiths, narrow them down by the steel they use, and then cross my fingers those blacksmiths kept a record of their work to nobility. I’ve got a hunch the descendants of this dandy are now in New Orleans.”

GM: “They might’ve kept records, but I don’t know how likely you are to find those posted online,” the librarian considers, then types a few things into his computer. “Let’s see what we have, anyway…”

Amelie: Amelie pulls her phone back to her and starts to tap her fingers around in the memo app, starting a record of her search.“Merci! Oh, and if you have other work, please don’t let me distract you too badly. This is a mystery that will take awhile.”

GM: The bandage-wearing librarian pulls up a few titles on blacksmithing for Amelie and suggests those as a start, as well as that she use one of the library’s computers to do further research. Several hours later, Amelie is confident that she’s exhausted every non-checked out title on blacksmithing that the Milton H. Latimer Memorial Library has available in its modest collection on the subject. Many of the books are concerned with technical knowledge of blacksmithing rather than the craft’s history, and most are fairly recent titles too… the oldest how-to manual she can find is Practical Forging and Art Smithing, published in 1915.

Blacksmiths themselves, too, appear to generally be less famous figures than their arms and the bearers of those arms. Most well-known blacksmiths are figures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, the former are often famous for reasons besides the quality of their arms and armor. Thomas Davenport (1802—1851) is remembered for inventing the electric motor and simply happened to also be a blacksmith. John Fritz (1822—1913) is known as the “Father of the U.S. Steel Industry” for inventing the first three-high rolling mill. He also happened to begin his life as a blacksmith. Alexander Hamilton Willard (1777—1865) is notable for being a blacksmith on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Contemporary blacksmiths, in contrast, are famous because it is easier to become famous and because crafting swords (rarely armor) is a more distinctive occupation than it used to be. As industrial technology has progressed beyond its roots in hand-operated forges, modern smiths have become more renowned for the quality (and expense) of their weapons than any technological innovations. The Okinawan swordsmith Kiyochika Kanehama best epitomizes how specialized the market has become: his pieces sell for upwards of $15,000 each and he rarely sells more than one sword a year. Most of the ones he crafts do not satisfy his stringent expectations.

“When I saw my first sword, at a friend’s home in 1974, I was stunned by its power and beauty. I was a college student, studying accounting, but knew instantly I had another calling,” Kanehama explained in an interview. When commenting on his first encounter with a treasured sword, the Okinawan smith also remarked, “When I encountered an old sword which was registered as Japanese National Treasure, I was captured by its beauty and warmth. The elegant curve of the blade fascinated me. I discovered… that Japanese swords are not mere weapons, but they are manifestations of the spirit of Japanese culture.”

Amelie digs deeper for actual historic smiths. The closest she finds are Kunz Lochner (1510—1567), a master armorer from Nuremberg. There’s also Antonio Missaglia, an armorer from 15th century Milan, and Lorenz Helmschmied, a second 15th century armorer who crafted mail suits for the Holy Roman Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. Many of the surviving pieces of their work are now on display in museums.

Half an hour before closing time, the librarian announces that fact over the building’s intercom. The announcement is repeated at 4:45, and again at 4:55, at which point patrons are asked to begin returning or checking out their reading materials and packing up their laptops and other personal belongings. It looks to Amelie as if unearthing her sword’s maker is going to be a multi-day project.

Amelie: Amelie keeps bibliographies of the works that interest her, as well as a few pictures of the examples given. None of these things quite match up, and it’s slightly frustrating to have her hard work not give her any immediate results. But she resigns herself to the feelings of anxiety that come with long bouts of work. This library was a great source of starting information, but for the subject at hand it’s outlived its usefulness. Packing up, she rubs her eyes and slides the last book she’d grabbed back in its proper place, before returning to the man at the desk to thank him for his work.

GM: The librarian replies that she’s welcome and to come again if she has any further questions. Amelie files outside with the rest of the patrons. Afternoon feels like it should be waning into evening, but the lazy Dixie sun still hangs fat and sweltering in the humid August sky. A half-hour walk back to her aunt’s house awaits by foot, or a twenty-minute ride by the St. Charles streetcar.

Amelie: Amelie thanks the librarian again and promises to be back sometime as she heads home, resolving to walk and save the streetcar fare for a time she actually needs it. The heat is a mixed bag. She knows this subtle labored feeling from living near an ocean inlet—it’s like trying to breathe in steam. The heat still weighs on her during her walk, and she feels sweat down her back by the time she reaches the gate to her aunt’s house. It’s a climate that will take adjusting to.

And a culture.

Previous, by Narrative Order: Mouse I
Next, by Narrative Order: Caroline II

Previous, by Character Order: Amelie I
Next, by Character Order: Amelie III

Story Five, Amelie I

“Bein’ a Catholic don’ mean you can’t be a madame too, not in this city. Maybe you’ll have a lil’ bit more to say to your pries’ behin’ the grill, but tha’ jus’ how things sometime are.”

Tuesday, 14 August 2015, PM

GM: “…we wish you a pleasant stay in New Orleans and we hope to see you again very soon. On behalf of all our crew, thank you for choosing Air Canada Express as your airline this weekend.”

Amelie stows away her carry-on luggage and rises with the mass of passengers departing the newly-landed plane. More than a few are grumbling. The flight was noisy and turbulent. The baby in front of her wouldn’t stop crying. The lady behind her kept complaining how much tickets cost, an irrelevant topic where Amelie is concerned. For better or worse, she is unlikely to fly back to Toronto anytime soon.

Her footsteps loudly thump against the jet bridge’s floor as she follows the other passengers out of the plane, her luggage rolling behind her. Past the glass windows at the end of the corridor, the airport’s flat runways provide a nearly unobstructed view of the starless night sky. It stretches over the blinking clusters of yellow-white lights like a great void the planes aren’t flying into so much as being swallowed up by. Distant engines roar as the aircraft take off, then fade as their blinking lights disappear into black.

The windows overlooking the runway have that odd quality of glass at night, where one can glimpse their half-translucent, shadow-drenched reflection. Just past hers, Amelie can dimly make out a dark sign with a pale gold trombone emblazoned over the skeletal of a blue globe. “THANK YOU f… N… O… &… R… R… LOUIS ARMSTRONG… N.. O… I… A…”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but stare out into the dark, her first bittersweet sight of Nouvelle Orléans. Louis Armstrong even greets her with a song. He’s before her time, but she remembers the jazz musician for a few of his most historic pieces. “Pieces,” she can’t help but mutter now that the horns and unmistakable deep voice are stuck in her head. She lets the slop carry her along, and without meaning to, her feet get caught up in the tempo.

“-magic spells you cast. This is la view en rose.

She lets out a small sigh as the windowed walk down and out quickly ends and breaks into what she assumes is arrivals. She can’t very well say she knows the exact procedure after her first flight, and chooses to simply follow the crowd, standing up straight and scanning around for some kind of sign. Bad movies and worse books dictate there’s a stranger with a sign with your name on it somewhere in the process.

Amelie only hopes she recognizes her own aunt.

GM: Walking off her flight in Course C, Amelie can observe that the airport looks like a bus terminal in South America. It’s appallingly crowded. Every single seat in the airport is occupied by bleary-eyed, impatient-looking, or simply half-asleep human bodies. Some people sit on the floor, while others merely stand tiredly in place, almost elbow-to-elbow with their fellow passengers. Long lines only half-distinguishable through the crowd wind towards the restrooms. People snap at one another and argue through clenched teeth why they should get to go first, their motions causing the line to shift like an agitated animal flicking its tail. Most of the adults sullenly wait out the arrival of their flights, though a few of the younger children cry. “Mommy, I’m tired…”

Away from the boarding and departure points, lines of people are herded through metal detectors like parts on an assembly line by bored-looking customs officials. A detained woman flushes red as security rips open her suitcase and sorts through a pile of lingerie before finally retrieving the underwire bra that set off their scanners, eliciting a round of snickers from the otherwise apathetic crowd. Masked and armed black-uniformed police officers watch the proceedings suspiciously, while camo-clad National Guardsmen shoulder their way through the crowd, occasionally chatting into hand-held radios. Amelie is not stopped and frisked as she picks up her remaining luggage from the stainless steel conveyor, though a few leashed inspection dogs growl at her presence.

Amelie: Amelie almost visibly recoils at the sight. So many people in such a cramped space is unlike anything she’s seen. Just a half hour ago she was thinking on how busy Toronto was compared to Quebec City, and now this. It feels base and even a little alien. But she proceeds along quietly. All she needs to do is grab her checked bags and go to the front of the airport, right? She hopes that’s right. What she wants now more than anything is a change of clothes and a shower. The sweatpants and old Real McKenzies faded shirt is not a flattering look, and even less so with her wild black bedhead.

The United States’ nature seems all the more alien as she perceives the sudden flood of gunmetal, camo, and kevlar. Her heart drops into her stomach for a split second when she sees a masked man with a gun, but calms after she sees the patches and realizes he’s supposed to be here. Weapons, sure. But Amelie fails to see the reasoning behind the masks beside intimidation. She goes through on the best behavior she can muster, eying the pissy dogs and dismissing them as she gathers her luggage and sets off towards the front of the airport. She looks around for a sign, or for her aunt to sneak up on her. She hopes either happens before she chokes in the midst of so many human bodies.

GM: The airport becomes a completely different world outside of security. There are still people, but Amelie can now see wide empty stretches of white linoleum. Leather couches and chaise lounges recline around bookstores, gift shops, and casual dining establishments from international chains like Subway, Chili’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as several that Amelie hasn’t seen in Canada, including a PJ’s Coffee and West Beignet.

A man with long dreadlocks and a skull-emblazoned t-shirt storms up to a seated customer by the Subway. “The fuck are you doin’ there? Are you seriously the guy who comes to New Orleans to eat at fuckin’ Subway?”

The other man, a portly middle-aged fellow wearing khaki shorts and glasses, looks up from his sub with an annoyed expression. “If this is southern hospitality, you’re making a shit case for it.”

“Fuck you! Go back to suburbia!”

“I’m gonna call security.”

FUCK YOU!” the first man yells, spinning away on his heel.

Amelie: It’s a relief to get back out where she can think. The young woman stops to gather herself and take in her surroundings. Subway at least is familiar. Chili’s is known to her only through American media bleeding north, and Dunkin’ Donuts is the kind of place that can only struggle next to the Canadian giant that is Tim Hortons. The scenery is marred by the rather silly confrontation, and Amelie has a hunch that the dreadlocked man has quite a bit of pride, but also a lot of pent-up anger against the white man. Just like home. Amelie lets it go, scans the rest of the airport lobby, and pushes down the itch to walk into the bookstore or sit down with her own book.

GM: As Amelie turns her gaze from the two’s commotion, she can see a figure by the airport’s entrance holding a sign that reads “Savard.” He’s an elderly, slightly stooped African-American man with a short beard streaked through with white, and dressed in a plain black suit.

Her aunt is nowhere in sight.

Amelie: Of course. She can only assume this stereotype made flesh is her driver for the evening. The young woman quickly fixes her hair with her fingers, takes a deep bracing breath, and pulls her bags up to the man. Her accent is almost non-existent. Like many Quebecois born to English parents in larger cities, English was a second language learned alongside her native Francais.

“Sir? I’m Amelie Savard. Are you here for me?”

GM: The old man grins as he sees her. “Whoa! Miss Savar’! Welcome to the Big Easy.” His voice is worn, deep, and slightly scratchy, like an old vinyl record. “Name’s Oscar, with the Executi’ Charter Limo Service. I’m to drive you to your auntie’s.” He motions to her luggage. “If you’ll permi’ me?”

Amelie: “It’s a pleasure, Oscar, glad to be here.” It bothers Amelie only slightly that her aunt isn’t here, but she waves off the emotion remembering how busy this woman has to be. Having to prepare to take care of her niece. What kind of job affords her to send a limo after her, anyway? She looks back at her bags and offers Oscar her smaller carry-on to wheel after them. “I’ll take one, you take one? I have my pride, after all. Are you parked nearby?”

GM: Oscar laughs as he sticks the “Savard” sign under his elbow, takes Amelie’s first bag, and holds out another hand to take her second. “Haw haw! Naw, please, you be doin’ me a favor lettin’ me carry yours. I say I let a client carry her own bags, ain’ never gonna hear the end of it from the boss-man! Blo’ on my recor’, yessir.”

Amelie: Amelie immediately realizes that being waited on like this is going to take getting used too. She mutters a small “merde,” under her breath and reluctantly wheels the bigger bag to him around her back. “You’re a hard worker, thank you Oscar. Do you work for my only my aunt, or are you part of an agency?” She motions for him to lead the way and prepares for the drive. It’s going to be an interesting day.

GM: “Yes ma’am,” Oscar answers as he takes Amelie’s other bag and starts wheeling them out of the building. “I work for the Executi’ Charter Limo Service. Your auntie gives us a call e’ry now an’ then. She always tip well.”

Amelie: Amelie uses her now free hands to smooth through her thick black hair. She’s glad her aunt doesn’t own a limo and tipped the so-far nice man. She strikes out in front, holds the door open for the driver and follows him out to wherever he’s parked. “How well do you know New Orleans, Mr. Oscar? I haven’t been here since I was a child. I could use some good insider information.”

GM: Amelie finds that the airport’s sliding front doors open automatically, for there are a great many other people with full hands making their way past. She is immediately struck by the almost stifling warmth of the humid not air, so unlike her cold hometown. Outside of the airport’s sterile environment, the teenager can make out an asphalt plane filled with parked cars for as far as her eye can see, which is not very far on the dark and starless night. The odd street lamp glares down yellow light over the vehicles, throwing deep shadows where its illumination does not touch. The low roar of departing and arriving aircraft sounds in the distance.

“Well, I been here since I was a chil’, so guess I the guy t’ axe!” Oscar laughs. “What you wanna know ’bout New Orleans?”

Amelie: It’s been a long day of plane rides, for sure. But it nearly takes her off her feet when the air hits her outside of the air-conditioned building. Humidity was normal where she grew up, out on the ocean of the Saint Laurent, but it was never like this. It takes her a moment to adjust. Heat itself is nothing to her, and she can have a jolly time slamming a hammer into yellow glowing steel, but the air itself being like this is something. She keeps beside Oscar as they walk and talk.

“Mostly where the good places are. I know from experience there’s a big difference between tourist and local places.”

GM: “Well, Bourbon Stree’, that a touriss place,” Oscar answers over the sound of Amelie’s luggage rolling along the asphalt. “Ain’ no self-respexin’ musician who play there, no sir! I do me a lotta drivin’ ‘roun’ the Quarter, an’ there things there worth a stop, don’ get me wrong. It’s the upper bit now, they makin’ it like Disneyland. I got a frien’ from Vegas who say the city goin’ that way too.”

The two stop by a parked black limousine. Oscar sets down Amelie’s luggage, reaches into his pocket and clicks a keyfob, then grins at the teenager. “But that ain’ what you axed me, now is it? Good places, that righ’?”

Amelie: Images of Old Quebec come to mind for the teen as she thinks about how played up everything in the district is, with ‘the most photographed hotel in the world’ at the center. But Oscar knows just what she means, and she can’t help but smile at both that fact, and this limo. Her nicked-up self of a year ago certainly never thought she’d ever sit in one of these, and she still doesn’t feel quite right with it as she opens the back door and tentatively looks inside. “Your favorites, if anything. To eat, to listen, to shop. I’ll be living here from now on, you know. Got my citizen’s card and everything.”

GM: Oscar laughs as Amelie insists on opening the door herself. “Damn, girl, you gonna drive me outta bidness at this rae!”

The limo’s interior isn’t enormous, but it’s large enough for Amelie to comfortably lie down across the seat if she were so inclined. The usual alcoholic beverages in the minibar also seem to be absent, replaced instead with soda and flavored fizzy water.

Amelie: It takes a moment for Amelie to realize what Oscar means, especially since she was only looking. It’s always been her first instinct to ride in the front seat, after all. “Oh… I’m sorry, Oscar. I’m not exactly high class bred, this is all more than a little new to me. I hope I didn’t offend you.”

The interior is new to her as well. It’s so posh and exactly like she’s seen in movies, though she makes note of the absent alcohol. Not that she was ever planning on drinking, she’s had quite enough of that garbage.

GM: Oscar laughs again. “Ain’ no thing, Miss Savar’. ‘Specially now that we got you ’way from any more doors to open, ain’ tha righ? Here on, you can jus lay back an enjoy the trip. Is’ a long ride. Half an hour, my way up! No wonner your auntie had me come drive you.”

Amelie: Amelie just sighs and nods a tiny bit. Half an hour. “I just had a big trip in a bad plane, I don’t mind a half-hour ride. It’ll give my nerves time to settle.” Going to meet the relative who’s taking her in is a bit nervewracking. The teenager can face down a bear with a toothpick, but this is a big debt she has to prove is worth her aunt’s time, lest she get pawned back into the foster system. Amelie hasn’t a clue if her aunt’s that kind of person. She makes her way close to the front as she crawls into the limo. Oscar is good company for her nerves.

GM: The chauffeur loads in Amelie’s luggage and gets in on the driver’s side of the limo. “There should be a bag in there, West Beignet’s. Issa a good place for airport food. They don’ make nothin’ but beignets! No sir, they do jus’ one thing, and they do it righ’.”

Amelie: Amelie looks down and around for this bag. Beignets are basically a kind of fritter, but everything from short-rib meat to apple can be stuffed in the center. She’s never had any her… her mother hasn’t made. The excitement drops and she gives up her search, instead leaning back to look out the windows. She isn’t supposed to be eating too many treats anyway, but the sore subject lessens her excitement.

“Where exactly does my aunt live, Oscar? Our talks were a little short while I was up north, she’s quite a busy person.”

GM: “She live in the Garden Dis’ric,” Oscar declares as he starts up the long car’s ignition and begins to pull it out of the lot. Amelie sees a white paper bag resting on the limo’s long seat. “Is’ real pretty. Magazine Street, is’ a calmer Royal Stree’, thas the closes’ I can put it. Still a few touriss, but yknow, they ain’ all bad. They bring in the money, an’ the ones ousside Bourbon Stree’, maybe there hope for. Your auntie’s the one who lives there, though. She can tell you all ‘bou the Garden Dis’ric.”

Amelie: Garden District. Amelie doesn’t try to strain her jet-lagged head and just assumes it’s one of New Orleans’ more upper-class neighborhoods. Not that it’s hard, much easier images come to mind of squalor and hard times for residents of the other districts. “I dunno, I’m hard-pressed to have faith in most tourists. But we’ll see how they behave.” Her tone is teasing, of course. “I have a bit of a strange and tricky question for you, then, Oscar. What do you know about the fencing in New Orleans? The city does stand as the American duel capital.”

GM: “Whoa! I don know nothin abou’ fencin, Miss Savar’. There a duelin tree in one of the parks, I guess, the Duelin’ Oak. If there real duels goin’ on, I sho’ ain’ hear of them!”

Amelie: Amelie grins a little bit. The tree is interesting, of course, but that isn’t what she means. But if he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. “That’s a shame. I’m looking to join a fencing club now that I’m here. I’m a bit of a history buff. That dueling tree is interesting though… can you remember which park?”

GM: “Lesse, that’d be at City Park, I think. Bigges’ park in the city, yessir. Almos’ think you wasn’ in a city when you there.” Oscar’s teeth flash in the car’s rear view mirror as he grins. “You like your hissory now, does you?”

Amelie: Amelie nods in thought. This dueling tree is a good place to add to her list. Just how many hundreds of insults have been settled under that tree? Rapiers and sabers flashing, flintlocks bellowing out, sixshooters snapping. If trees can tell stories, Amelie wants to hear them.

“I live history. I grew up working with my father in an historic tourist attraction. It’s where I learned my smithing trade.”

GM: “Whoa! You a smith now, like swords an horseshoes? You pick a good city to be a smith, Miss Savar’. This city love her hissory too.” Oscar smiles distantly and taps the steering wheel. “She really do.”

Amelie: “Swords and horseshoes,” she agrees, smiling. She’s prod of what she is, and itchy to get her idea of building a forge here in New Orleans underway. “I visited here when I was just a little kid… my aunt gave me a history book on Nouvelle Orleans here. I fell in love. I’m actually happy to be back.”

GM: “Well, this city knows how to love, yes she do.” Oscar’s smile seems to dim a bit as his eyes return to the road and onrushing night sky. “Lovin’ someone ain’ always easy, Miss Savar’. This city knows too. She’s a lot to love.”

Amelie: Amelie can only nod, not from experience, but at least from reading. “Lots of good, I’m sure. But lots of bad underneath, I’m even more sure. This writer I really enjoy once wrote, ‘We accept the love we think we deserve.’ Even if thinking that only makes it harder, I guess.” Oscar seems a little world-weary to her, but it’s none of her business if he doesn’t want it to be. “I plan to take it slow. I do still have school, after all.”

GM: “Oh yeah? Hope you don’ go to one of ‘em, whas’ they call, charter schools. Seem like all schools are charters these days. Them charters are shi’.” Oscar’s eyes seem to return from the road as he grins again. “’Scuse my French.”

Amelie: “Your French is excused.” Amelie can’t help but smile just a tiny bit as she wonders if her tongue will even work here. Anglo and Creole French aren’t interchangeable after all. Charter schools, however, make her hope that at least a good public school is in the cards for her. “I’m not entirely sure where yet, but hopefully somewhere close. What’s wrong with charter schools?”

GM: “I ain’ a teacher or nothin’, Miss Savar’. Kids an parenss jus’ seem a lot sadder than they use to. They close down the school I wen’ to when I was a lil’ boy, too. Was a good school. Been aroun’ over a hunnerd years.”

Amelie: Oscar seems like he’s perturbed and steering away from the topic. Amelie has a hunch why. She’s coming from foster care and now in a limo, going to live with her wealthy aunt. Maybe it has something to do with there being no alcohol to drink. “That’s a real shame… old buildings need to be preserved as they are.” She lets that sit for a moment before coming in with a more somber question. “How about a better question. What places in New Orleans should I avoid, Oscar? If I’m living here now, not knowing the laws of beating up muggers, I want to know where isn’t safe.”

GM: “Well, lesse. Central City an’ the Ninth Ward, those the worse’ places f’ a girl like you, I reckon.” Oscar lets out a low sigh. “Ninth Ward ain’ so bad as they say on TV, an’ use to be nicer too. But the ward jus’ got lef’ to die since Katrina… it look like the hurr’cane hit only yesserday, lotta parts.”

“‘Sides those places, well, New Orleans can be a funny city, Miss Savar’. Rough neighborhoods can be righ’ nex by the not-rough ones. Can be har’ for a touriss to fin’ they way… Bourbon Stree’ is safe ‘nough, or least has lotta po-lice ’roun it, but Rampar’ an’ Decatur, lot worse can happen than losin’ a wallet.”

“So it really ‘pends where y’at. An’ if you ain’ sure, jus’ axe your auntie, or somebody else who know the place. The Garden Dis’ric is pretty safe, though, if you belong there. Lotta money there.”

Amelie: Amelie makes mental notes as she listens in rapt attention. She’d suspected all of this news, but but now she has names to tack onto a map of avoidance. She has research to do now, as well, about what kind of protection she can carry with her. Every form of self-defense besides your fists is illegal in her country. It’s all great until she hears that very last part.

“Safe if you belong there? What do you mean, Oscar?”

GM: Oscar makes a waving-off motion with his right hand. “Oh, don’ worry, you do fo’ sho’ livin’ there with your auntie. Garden Dis’ric’s a pretty safe place fo’ you to be.”

Amelie: Oscar waving it off just makes Amelie wonder even more about what he means. She assumes the worst in that maybe the Garden district won’t have many black people. Natives get treated much the same, rare the Metis who isn’t living on the other side of the tracks. But she pushes it out of her head, looking up and out the window to do some sightseeing. “Speaking of the Garden District, how much longer? I’d kill for a shower after all this travel.”

GM: Oscar laughs. “While longer. It an hour’s drive, both ways. You jus sit back…”

GM: The sights roll by.

A long stretch of midnight highway follows the playground. Cars thrum along against the road, their headlights cutting twin spotlights through the dark. The muffled sound of traffic in the big limo is easy to fall asleep to.

Another park comes up near a Best Buy. Oscars mentions the lights are, “Real pretty roun’ Christmas time. They get this dragon wi’ a Santa hat in the water.”

After the second park comes another long stretch of I-10. Rows of cloned suburban houses, bereft of any trace of individuality, fly past. And past. They could be anywhere in Canada or the United States from what Amelie can tell, although the trees lining the curbs are tall and venerable-looking.

They turn in at Pontchartrain Expressway, and the houses give way to endless rows of a different sort. Oscar grins again. “Ah, now we close to New Orleans.”

Amelie: Amelie is less than interested in the parks, they just mean kids after all. An incident involving a helmet rivet and a peckish grabby child left her none too fond of them, though the Christmas lights manage to pull a smile off the girl’s tired face. What really gets her interest, however, is the cultural sculpture. Even in the dark, they’re prolific: stone faces in the ether and figures seemingly frozen in time standing guard over Louisiana’s above-ground cemeteries. They’re stunning.

“This is incredible! Real stone statues, too. Canada is only able to have steel, the winter and snow cracks stone too easily. I’ll have to come back during the day, maybe be a tourist for just a moment, and do a tour or two.”

GM: “Seein’ em from a car window ain’ the same,” Oscar nods. “There lossa cemeteries to go see, you like those. Mos’ famous is St. Lou’s, ‘course, an there thirteen more ’long Canal Street. Metairie here’s one of em. Got the bigges’ tombs an statues of em all. Like that Egyptian peer-mid, which they say there mummies in.” Oscar smiles at that statement.

Amelie: “Mummies in a pyramid, hmm? Well then, I better bring a book of matches in case he breaks out during my tour.” Amelie smiles a bit as she watches the mausoleums go by. “St. Louis’ the most famous. You have any idea which one’s the oldest?” Old cemeteries, of course, are the more important to her. Sometimes there are hints of what kinds of weapons and armor they have locked away, either from tour guides or through hints left on graves. She hopes it’s the case as well with mausoleums.

GM: “St. Lou’s is the oldess,” Oscar laughs. “But you wanna see others, like I say, lot more. Even this one, Metairie, ‘is pretty old. Davi’ Hennessy, the po-leece chief killed by the Mafia way back when, he buried here.”

The chauffeur glances into one of the limo’s side mirrors. “So’s Josie Arlington, Storyville’s riches’ an’ classies’ madame. See tha’ girl statue knockin’ at the door?”

“She’s a virgin bein’ turned ‘way, cause Josie Arlington wouldn’ let no virgins get deflowered workin’ for her.”

Amelie: That’s good info and now makes near the top of Amelie’s list to become one of her first stops. If only just for the stonework. “You know a lot of history yourself, Oscar! If it paid better, I’d tell you to become a teacher.”

GM: Oscar laughs. “I do more than jus limo drivin, Miss Savar’. I also drive ‘roun carriages in the Quarter. Cussomers like hearin’ hissory, an’ you pick it up.”

Amelie: Amelie can only smile as she pictures Oscar in a big fancy driver’s outfit carting people around on a horse. “I’m surprised a madame is buried here, though. Isn’t New Orleans mostly Catholic?”

GM: His laugh spreads into a wider grin at Amelie’s question. “Amen, she is! So’m I. Go to church e’ry Sunday. Bein’ a Catholic don’ mean you can’t be a madame too, not in this city. Maybe you’ll have a lil’ bit more to say to your pries’ behin’ the grill, but tha’ jus’ how things sometime are.”

Amelie: The strange news that this madame was a rightly buried Catholic and still facilitated the sin of selling your body in life. It’s a confusing thought, but she doesn’t judge. Instead, she changes the subject again. “Is your carriage ride job a normal history tour? Or one of those late night ghost tours by horse-drawn carriage?”

GM: “Oho, ghos’ tours? I don’ do those, but I know a few folks who do. Or, well, a lotta folks. New Orleans a real spooky city, afta all. There as many spooks as they say, I don know it got room for the people!”

Amelie: “Probably some old ones, too, I bet. You already talked about that dueling tree. Bet it’s a pretty spook place to be near after dark,” Amelie laughs, siting back again. If only ghosts really do exist. Talking to one sounds more educational than reading a book droning about how those ghosts thought in life.

GM: “All the dark is spooky, Miss Savar’,” Oscar smiles faintly.

The limousine drives on through it. A light rain begins to patter against the windshield, prompting Oscar to turn on the wipers. Shk-shk-shk they go.

Amelie: Amelie has to agree that the dark is something to be wary of, but after growing up playing in the woods she isn’t scared so much as she is respectful. Dark places hide a lot. Then the rain starts to fall. That at least makes things feel even more relaxing in the soft back of the limo.

GM: It isn’t much longer before the cemetery’s stony expanse recedes into grass and foliage.

“That the Longue Vue Gardens. They don’ have much hissory, used to belong to some rich folks who ‘cided they’d make it a museum. But they sure made it a pretty one. Lotta weddin’s hos’ed there.”

“Now you got me started up playin’ tour guide, you jus gonna have to sit an’ lissen to me all the way,” Oscar teases.

Amelie: Amelie wonders if anything interesting besides architecture is hosted at this museum. “I’m here for the history, I really do appreciate it, Oscar. Do you want one of these fancy waters for your voice?” As much as the girl likes the sound of it, she isn’t sure if water like this is palatable. Better to test it on the driver.

GM: The driver’s smile seems to fade a bit. “’Scuse me?”

Amelie: Amelie cocks an eyebrow, wondering if he thinks she’s ragging on his voice. “I’ve been making you talk this whole time. You probably have to talk all day during your other job. Do you want one of these waters?”

GM: “No thanks, Miss Savar’. I’m use to talkin,” Oscar answers.

Amelie: Amelie feels a pang of guilt as she gets the impression his opinion of her has lowered. “I’m sorry Oscar, I didn’t mean it like that. I like your voice, it’s calming and classy. I can’t imagine having a job that has me talk so much, and wanted to see if these waters were any good while I was at it. I’m not exactly socially graceful sometimes, metal doesn’t really… talk.”

GM: Oscar chuckles a bit. “Don’ think nothin by it, Miss Savar’. I won’ be doin’ too much more talkin tonigh anyways. Your auntie’s is comin’ jus up.”

Amelie: Amelie almost sighs in relief when Oscar seems to forgive her a tiny bit. She melts back into the seat as she passively watches out the window.

GM: Buildings pass by in the dark. Indistinct houses and their soft lights give way to the brighter ones of convenience stops, low-rise apartment complexes, and office spaces. Rain continues to patter down. The limo eventually reaches a tangled crisscross of looping highways, shadowed to their left by the outline of a looming sports stadium and downtown skyscrapers. On the expressway’s right, the high-rises crumble away into darkness and neglect. Indistinct shapes, perhaps Oscar’s ghosts, flicker and cavort through the ruins.

Amelie: Amelie almost sighs in relief when Oscar seems to forgive her a tiny bit, and melts back into the seat as she passively watches out the window. Things change a little quicker than she’s used to thinking of as kosher for a city, but the effect is nonetheless dazzling. Even in the moonlight, Amelie is gobsmacked at the sheer size of downtown, only to turn and grow a bit somber looking at the neglect on the other side of the freeway as they drive on. It’s just as Oscar has said, this city is a lot to love.

GM: Oscar pulls off the expressway into a classically-styled faubourg with tree-lined thoroughfares. Southern live oaks, weeping willows, palm trees, carefully maintained hedges, and expansive lawns fill the neighborhood with green. Attractive rows of Greek Revival and Colonial-style homes, some small enough to be ordinary homes and others large enough to be mansions, are surrounded by ornate cast-iron fences and classical statues of Greek nymphs and muses, lending the district an overall aura of grace.

This late at night, the neighborhood is quiet and its streets largely deserted. Police cruisers and armed patrols with leashed attack dogs patrol the borders, keeping out jealous ghosts.

Amelie: The duality of New Orleans gives way to spit-polished streets and ancient history. Even just what she can see in the headlights and streetlamps confirms a lot of fantasies she has about this old and cultured city. Seeing the police again worries her, but her focus is quickly recaptured by thoughts of which house she’s going to spend the next year in.

“This is beautiful, Oscar… I’ve never seen a neighborhood like this where people are allowed to live in the buildings.”

GM: “Jus’ you see it durin’ the day. Is’ a pretty neighborhood to do nothin but walk ‘roun in. You can do that f’ hours, jus walk aroun’ an’ look at the nice houses.”

The house Oscar pulls up at it isn’t as large as some of the district’s true mansions, which are replete with their own sprawling grounds, high walls, and armed guards. Still, a cast-iron fence and barred gate provides what is likely enough privacy for most. Oscar stops the limo, gets out, and punches a string of numbers onto a keypad. The iron gate swings open to a white-washed, neoclassical-style home supported by four pillars. Several palm trees sway against the light wind and rain.

Oscar makes several trips to carry Amelie’s luggage up to the front door, then opens an umbrella he holds over her head while he escorts her up the steps.

Amelie: Amelie is gobsmacked again upon seeing the house her aunt has. After so many chats with her parents about her maternal aunt, there was nothing to indicate just how wealthy she is. She’s never even been told what the woman does for a living to be so successful.

She does things right this time and stays where she is until Oscar opens the door, then gets out to walk under the kindly-offered umbrella. “Thank you for the ride, Oscar, you were really good company.”

GM: “S’ my job an’ pleasure. Din’t eat your beignets, so even more pleasure for me!” the chauffeur laughs as he rings the bell.

Amelie: Oscar’s last-minute joke lightens Amelie’s mood enough to put a slight smile on her face, but the bell’s ring rips her heart in two. One half rises up into her throat while the other drops like iron into her stomach. Petrifying as it is, she keeps a brave face and reminds herself to breathe. She silently prays she makes a good impression despite her bedhead and ratty clothes.

GM: The woman who answers the door is a handsome, 40-something individuals who people her age would describe as wearing it well, and boys Amelie’s age might just call a MILF. She has long brown hair that falls to her upper back, matching eyes, and faint lines around her mouth that give her face a slightly sad, or at least contemplative expression. She wears a v-neck green sweater, black slacks, and pair of brown loafers.

“You must be Amelie. My, you’re certainly taller than I remember. Come in.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a rush of a lot of different emotions, but she swallows a mighty few. This is awkward and it feels like she’s answering for something she’s done. But as Amelie looks up and scans her aunt’s face, for better or worse, she recognizes a lot of her mother. Strong personality, a fierce intellect, expectant of results, and, yeah—her niece’s jetlagged appearance definitely isn’t winning points.

“Hello, Aunt Christina,” is all she can really manage as she picks up her carry-on and steps into the house’s atrium. Amelie stands tall with her back straight, trying to make a good impression with her proud and correct posture after she sets down her bag. “Sorry for looking so… ratty for our reunion, Auntie. This is not the kind of first impression I was hoping for.” Just like her mother once taught her, no excuses. The young girl straightens her band shirt and dark sweatpants, already having tamed her thick black hair much as she could without washing and combing it.

GM: “Don’t worry about it. It’s not as if you’re headed anywhere besides bed at this hour,” Christina waves off as she leans in to give Amelie a hug. She pulls away after a moment to address the chauffeur. “Oscar, thank you for bringing her.”

“S’ my privilege, ma’am,” he replies as Amelie’s aunt retrieves a purse and counts out some bills for him. He tips his hat to the two after accepting them and calls as he leaves, “Get some beignets someplace else now, hear!”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t expect the hug, but it does a lot for her nerves as she instinctively returns the embrace. “Thank you again, Oscar,” she waves with a fond look as the kind man leaves. She’s suddenly left alone with her aunt again. It’s still awkward, and she wonders if her aunt has questions about where her mother got off to, what her father did to her afterwards, or if the foster system has already given her reports or something.

“It was a little surreal being picked up in a limo. But… thank you. It was a good experience. Oscar told me quite a lot about New Orleans. And I—well, I don’t really know how to fit it into normal conversation, so before I get settled… thank you, Auntie. For taking me in. You didn’t need too and I really can’t thank you enough.” There’s a lot more she wants to say, but knows Amelie knows she’s rambling already. She bites her lip, unable to make proper eye contact.

GM: With her eyes staring towards the floor, Amelie can’t make out her aunt’s expression as she hears the woman reply, “You’re welcome. It’s only a year until you graduate high school, anyways, and the alternative was apparently foster care. But come on, the living room’s a better place for us to talk. You can leave your bags by the stairs.” So saying, Christina closes the front doors and leads Amelie down a picture-lined entry hall into a wider room with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the palm trees and green yard outside. Several couches and plush leather chairs are positioned around a central (empty) fireplace and mantle. A few low bookshelves, lamps, and vases fill in the remaining blank space. Amelie’s aunt sits down on one of the chairs and motions at a table with a laid-out spread of bread, cheese, salami, grapes, olives, vegetables with dip, and other non-junk snack foods.

“Airline food isn’t much good, so that’s there if you’re still hungry.”

Amelie: Amelie gives her aunt a small nod and does as she’s told, pulling her carry-on to lean against her luggage as she follows Christina into the living room. When she sees the spread, however, she’s surprised to see her aunt went through that kind of effort! It’s a good sign, at least, and one her empty stomach very much appreciates. She takes a mushroom and piece of meat and cheese, looking forward to finally getting something in her stomach as she carefully sits down in another chair.

“This is wonderful, thank you. I didn’t end up eating any airline food. But… yes, I, um—there’s a lot to talk about, I guess. I have to imagine you have questions about your sister and her husband. And about me, as well.”

GM: Christina gives a slight shake of her head. “Your parents, not so much. But so far as yourself, I imagine you’ll know a better place to start than I will.”

Amelie: It’s a little strange hearing that after spending the better part of a year talking about her parents with a slew of people. “Oh. Well, in that case I don’t really know where to start? I’m… still obsessive over history, just like when I was little. I still have that book you gave me back when, too. I fence and I smith, and I plan to make a career out that.” Amelie slowly peters out, awkwardly grabbing for something else to say about herself. “I speak… English, French, European Spanish, and German.”

GM: “You don’t say on that first language?” her aunt remarks wryly, then smiles. “That’s good you’ve been passionate over something for so long, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. It sounds like you have your path in life fairly figured out.”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but give a small smile and fights back a little chuckle. “English isn’t my first language, so I tend to just include it all. But as for my life, it’s a best guess… one I’m planning on achieving.” Finishing her first little bit of finger food, she takes a step forward out of the chair and snags another couple mushrooms, making it clear what her favorite is.

GM: “That’s also good,” Christina nods. “At seventeen you’ll also be on your own relatively soon, so I think it’ll be better for us both if I treat you less like a ward and more like a roommate. I’ll be around if there’s anything you need an adult’s help with, but for the most part, you can focus on finishing high school and making a start on that fencing and smithing career, getting into college, or whatever else you want to do with your life next.”

Amelie: There it is. Amelie has thought a lot about how the ways this could go over, and the current scenario actually measured rather high on her ‘possibilities’ rankings. Her aunt seems just like her mother did, only with her head ripped out of the clouds and her feet firm in her success, even if Amelie misses the warmth her father once was so happy to provide. But for now, it’s business.

“There is actually something I was hoping you could help me with, yes. My mother was… well, you know your own sister. Very strong, very independent, but sacrificing a lot of… social grace, maybe is the word? If I hope to strive here in New Orleans, I was hoping you could help me in those graces.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt reaches for a celery stick. “If that’s something you want to get better at, then I might recommend you start by using more natural-sounding language. Something like ‘I want to fit in’ over ‘I hope to strive.’”

Amelie: Amelie clears her throat as clasps her hands together a bit. She’s nervous, of course, and her heart is still threatening to fall out her ass and out her nose at the same time. “I went through today a few too many times in my head, I guess. My parents never really gave me any details about you other than New Orleans and great personal success, so you’ve kind of always been this big intimidating figure for me.”

GM: “‘Great personal success’ is another one of those phrases,” Christina adds, then offers a faint smirk. “But here I am. I won’t bite.”

Amelie: Amelie sighs, her posture falling apart as she rubs the back of her neck with both hands. “I just don’t want to be embarrassing or anything. I was raised around swearing and hard work. I have—look.” She grabs the hem of her pants and pulls it up, revealing an old and oddly-shaped scar.

“All over. A-And I don’t know how to dress, Mum never bothered with cosmetics shit—stuff. Stuff… like that.” Another much deeper sigh slips past and the girl roughly scratches her head, messing her thick jet black hair up again. “Les choses doivent aller bien pour baiser une fois.” (“Things need to go well for fucking once.”)

GM: Her aunt cranes her neck to get a better look at the skin Amelie shows her, but her expression doesn’t change at the sight. “Presenting yourself well is like any other skill. Some people might seem to have a born knack for it, but most obstacles are in our heads. It’s really just a matter of learning by example and putting the time in,” Christina offers. “And money, I suppose, when it comes to dressing. I have a personal assistant who could show you around there.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses. “You have a personal assistant, on top of Oscar driving people around for you often. What-” She stops herself, curtailing the rude question. Here she is talking about wanting to be more socially graceful. “Putting the time in doesn’t sound like a problem to me, then. What do you mean by ‘show me around there’?”

GM: “I mean go shopping with you,” her aunt elaborates. “If you’d rather do it by yourself, that’s fine, though you did just ask for help in that area.”

Amelie: “Oh! No, no, that would be amazing. Bit of a hand would help in something like that.” Watching her aunt, Amelie knows right away that a shopping trip isn’t really a big blip on her radar, but… “Of course, I’d pay you back. My grades are good, I can tutor while in school, or help you with your work or anything else you need.”

GM: Christina waves her off. “Don’t worry yourself about it. I’m sure your parents didn’t ask you to pay for your clothes or food.”

Amelie: Amelie gives a rather coy smile for someone so jet-lagged, leaning in and grabbing a few more mushrooms and meat slices. “You don’t get arms like mine from not earning your keep. I don’t want to be a drain on you, Auntie. Though now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m curious again. Do you mind me asking what you do for a living?”

GM: Her aunt smiles faintly. “The thought is touching, though don’t worry yourself there either. You won’t be. And so far as my livelihood, I work in logistics consulting.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles a little back, sensing that something is up with this. Her aunt’s job has just turned up from a comment piece to a mystery. Especially at the hint of amusement at the mention of Amelie helping with her work. However young the teenager might be, she hates being told she can’t do something. But she drops it and relaxes a little as she pops a mushroom into her mouth, then leans back into her chair.

“That sounds like it’s a lot to manage, especially if you have a personal assistant. The offer is always open, though. How about… what else… school. Is the school I’m going to be attending in the area?”

GM: “You’d need a professional degree first, but try earning one of those and perhaps we can talk. So far as school, it’s the McGehee School for Girls. Their campus isn’t too many minutes away from here. It’s is quite lovely.”

Amelie: The smile just get’s bigger at the mention of a degree, until the bomb hits. School for girls? Amelie all but freezes mid fungal bite, almost choking on it as she jerks up, finally swallowing. “School for girls? Like a private school?”

GM: “Oh, yes, the city’s public school system is terrible,” her aunt remarks seriously. “The public schools have all been getting turned into for-profit charters since Katrina, which has turned out about as well as you might expect. Not that they were much good even before then. Anyone who can afford it pays to attend private school.”

“McGehee looks like a good place for you to finish up your final year. Class sizes are very small, graduation and college acceptance rates are close to universal, and a number of the faculty even hold PhDs. That’s not common to see in primary and secondary education.”

Amelie: Amelie bites her lip, slumping back into her chair. This is… going to take a lot longer to pay back than a trip to American butt-fucking Apparel. “That’s… I mean, that’s amazing, I didn’t think. I—how much—is there a pamphlet?”

GM: “They have a website,” her aunt nods. “Tuition is only for two semesters, so it was affordable. You’re also required to visit the campus before getting accepted into the school, but given your living situation and good grades, I was able to talk the admissions office into deferring your visit until you arrived in the United States. You’ll need to go in either tomorrow or the day after. The school week starts this Monday, so between that visit and the weekend, you should have some time to settle in to things.”

Amelie: Amelie all but tosses a bit of meat into her mouth. She feels simultaneously humble and dizzy with the sudden action of it all. Worst of all, she can feel some of that blue-collar sarcasm rising up like bile. “Is the uniform going to get me leered at, or is it not a Catholic school? I’ve never worn a skirt before.”

GM: “It’s not a religiously affiliated school,” Christina confirms. “Though even at the ones which are, uniforms tend to be modest.”

Amelie: Amelie winces a bit as she realizes she let something crude slip out, then nods. “That’s good. Sorry, I’m just… I never show my legs. I already showed you the scar. That was molten copper for a pommel decoration, and there’s more.”

GM: Her aunt reaches for an olive. “From what I saw in the photos, the skirts are knee-length. But I’d guess how your legs look is a bigger deal to you than it’s going to be to anyone else.”

Amelie: When a woman has a point. The girl sighs, nods, and rubs her eyes, then leans in to grab some cheese. “You’re right. I”ll have to look it up tonight, and see what I’m in for." She’s almost glad her aunt isn’t picking up on the Catholic school girl kink joke, or at least seems to be ignoring it. “Um… well… I’ve been asking a lot of questions. How about you? Is there anything you wanted to talk to me about?”

GM: “Nothing specifically. You’re the one who’s moved three thousand miles to be here, and I prefer to let a conversation simply flow,” Christina answers. “So if you have any other questions, feel free to ask away.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a little naked. Her aunt is good. But there’s one more question she has to force out. “I have a rather… difficult one. My pieces. Back in Quebec. Are they yours now? All the things I made, I don’t—my father lost custody but wasn’t jailed, but one of my swords, I have an… attachment to it.”

GM: “As a minor, you have the legal capacity to own property. As your legal guardian, I act as your fiduciary for purposes of acquiring, investing, reinvesting, exchanging, selling, and otherwise managing that property, but I don’t legally own it, and will cease to have fiduciary powers when you turn eighteen,” her aunt explains in response to Amelie’s question. “In other words, if you want to bring over something you left at your father’s, that’s fine. You’ll just have to ask him about it.”

Amelie: “I doubt he’ll give it to me. Forged W1 tool steel, short but engraved ricosso, perfectly hand ground fuller, forge beveled and then hollow ground, perfect distal taper, and 5 degree sabering. Grip-slabs hand carved from purpleheart, riveted to the tang. Pommel Cap is hollow-ground. Non-traditional knuckle guard despite the 180 degree mild steel crossguard.” Amelie almost wakes up from a trance talking about her work, then clears her throat. She’s sold too many weapons. “It’s worth a grand a half, easily. If he even still has it… I dunno if I’ll be getting it back.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt regards her technical description of the sword with a largely blank look. “Well, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about a sword that may or may not be in someone else’s house three thousand miles away. I’ll reimburse your father for shipping if you can convince him to send it over, but if you can’t, filing legal action against someone in another country is an absurd hassle.”

Amelie: Amelie flushes a little at the blank look. She adjusts in her seat and nods. “I wasn’t really considering suing him over a kriegmesser. I’ll give him a call next week, I just wanted to see if I had any rights to it. Sorry, I’ve been making these damn things long enough the technicals are nearly lullabies.” She shifts in her seat to look around the house, and feels small again as soon as she regards its size. “Would it be okay if I packed up some of this food and went to see my room?”

GM: “Feel free. It’s the former guest room on the second floor.” Christina rises from her seat and picks up the platter. “That’s too bad you forgot about the sword. It sounds like it was important to you.”

Amelie: Amelie stands up quickly, but there’s a frown on her face the moment the sword is mentioned again. “They didn’t let me take it. No deadly weapons allowed in foster care, couldn’t afford a big enough deposit box, and my mother is… probably in Rio with some mouth breather, and I ran out of time before I could think anything else up.” The young woman shakes out her legs and stretches tall. “Thank you though…it is important, stupid as it sounds. Can I take that to the kitchen for you?”

GM: “Language,” her aunt says mildly as she passes over the plate. “I’m sorry to hear you weren’t allowed to keep it then. And sure. Put some saran wrap over whatever you don’t take upstairs. There’s also more food in the fridge if you’re still hungry.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles a tiny bit. “If that’s bad language in New Orleans, Canada would give the locals a heart attack.” It’s a tease of course as she takes the platter and thanks Christina, then turns and heads towards where she assumes the kitchen is. She resolves to explore if she’s wrong.

GM: “It’s not what’s said, but when and where,” her aunt retorts with a trace of wryness. “Anyways, sleep well. Feel free to explore, or I can give you a tour tomorrow. And welcome to New Orleans.” With that, Amelie’s aunt bids her good night and heads upstairs, presumably to her own bedroom.

The kitchen has a dark brown hardwood floor and white cupboards and cabinets. An island with a black granite countertop and bowl of fruit sits in the center of the room, surrounded by several identically-colored chairs. Amelie finds saran wrap after rummaging through a few drawers. A random scan of the clear metal refrigerator’s interior reveals leafy green vegetables, more fruits, yogurt, almond milk, takeout boxes, a few precooked meals in glass dishes, and various other food items she might expect to find from an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods.

Amelie: Amelie waves and wishes her aunt a good night. Once it’s quiet, she stops to take inventory on what’s happened today. Oscar, the trip, and Aunt Christina and how hard she is to read. Maybe it’s just how she works and has the potential to be a cold person, or maybe just a tough shell? Amelie doesn’t know.

She goes about wrapping up what she isn’t going to eat, putting the rest on a plate. She washes and dries the big tray and puts it away before she turns to leave. She starts with her plate of food and carry-on bag, hauling them up and into the guest room once she finds it. The day starts to wear on her now that it’s almost finished. She hopes to see an attached bathroom, or at least one nearby.

GM: Amelie finds her new bedroom on the second floor to contain a double-sized bed and two adjacent bedside tables with lamps on them. There’s a desk, dresser, and picture of a ship sailing by a forested coast. A nearby door leads into a bathroom.

A window overlooks the house’s lawn and cast-iron fence. Amelie can make out near and distant lights from the Garden District’s other fine homes, nestled among the greenery like the cicadas are silent for now. In their place, raindrops steadily plunk against the roof.

Amelie: It’s a lot more than she’s used too, and as Amelie looks around the room she can’t help but visualize what she had before. Her mattress on the floor and the loft walls a pyramid over her head, covered in every inch with posters and magazine cut-outs of everything from beautiful faces to large charts detailing the reactivity of carbon housed in common iron when introduced to borax solution. Now there’s this… big window looking out like an eye over a nice yard.

Much as she misses the familiarity, she knows things can be different here. She already has more than she did in that ratty apartment after Mom vanished. She drops her carry-on onto the bed, puts her food back down, and quickly grabs her luggage back from downstairs. She yanks it onto the bed, then lays out some sleeping clothes before tossing her disgusting life-of-their-own travel clothes into the corner and hopping into the bathroom with her toiletries kit. All the while, she thanks whatever gods are listening that she doesn’t have to make good on her promise of stabbing someone for a wash.

It’s a long one, and she hopes her aunt doesn’t need the hot water anytime soon as she scrubs the last 24 hours out of her bones. It’s an odd feeling, walking out of the shower and not immediately regretting it. There’s no cold chill, no freezing tiles, yet there’s still windows in the room. It’s fucking magic. Amelie is in a shirt and boxers just a moment later, looking for the time as she unpacks and eats. Maybe there’s time to make that call. A day can only get so stressful before it watersheds, after all.

Amelie walks back down to the first floor. Without a cellphone her only only option narrows to the house’s landline. She’s brought a pad of paper and a pen for her to write details down on, but the ache in her gut tells her it’s not going to make keeping her emotions down any easier. But calling her father serves a lot more purposes. She’s not spoken to him since she was first put into foster care, and has no idea how her absence affected him. But she dials the number, clears her throat and hopes he answers. Her hand remains ready to write.

GM: The phone rings and rings. Amelie is almost convinced that no one is going to pick up before a man’s voice grogs, “Hello?”

Amelie: Amelie is just about to hang up before that familiar grog answer. It’s hard not to just hang up. “Salut père. Est-ce que je t’ai réveillé?” (“Hello Dad. Did I wake you up?”)

GM: “What d’you want?” he grunts in English.

Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes, of course this is the reaction she’ll get. Fucking drunk. “I’m settled in New Orleans. I wanted to know If I pay shipment, will you drop off my Kriegsmesser at a post office? You know, the one I spent 200 hours on?”

GM: “Wha?” the voice over the phone mumbles.

Amelie: “Dad, this is Amelie. Your daughter? The one you haven’t talked to in months?”

GM: “Th’ hell are you talking abou’, Krigsmess? It’s not Christmas.”

Amelie: “The sword, Dad. The big one, in my room. Wake up, go splash water on your face.”

GM: “I threw out your stuff. Don’ call again.” The line hangs up.

Amelie: Amelie just about slams the phone on the floor before she hangs it up. She looks back down at her writing notes and nearly tears the paper with the ballpoint before slamming it down on the counter and leaving it there by the phone. She stalks away back upstairs. Every fiber of her being screams that he must be lying, but she knows her father well enough. Her masterpiece is gone.

Instead of fuming about it any longer, the girl throws herself into bed. The skill of forcing herself to sleep proves its use yet again, but for the first time it’s not in the same house as that drunk bastard. Tomorrow will be better.

It has to be.

Previous, by Narrative Order: Prologue
Next, by Narrative Order: George I

Next, by Character Order: Amelie II

Story Four, Emmett Epilogue

GM: “In CASH? What is this, 1995?!” Lena sputters into the phone.

“A few years rather later. Knowing your brother, though, I’d rather not have any paper trail linking us,” Villars replies with an oily grin that all but dribbles through the receiver.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Ah-ah, if you want my advice, I’m billing you by the hour.”

“This is highway robbery. It’s a simple phone number!”

“Yes, it is. And yes, it’s that too. You do seem fairly desperate.” Villars draws out the pause. “Of course, if you’d rather Bud come by the house when you’re away, and find Em missing… he doesn’t like surprises very much. I suppose he could always stop by somewhere else. Like your childrens’ schools… what grade is your youngest in? Kindergarten?” Lena can’t see the leer across the lawyer’s face, but she can hear it. “Bud loves kids. Why, he has a little girl who-”

“No! We’ll pay. We just… need a little time to get the money together.”

Villars grins into the phone. “Don’t worry about making my deadlines, Eveline.”

“You’ve got far bigger problems.”

GM: “Hello, are you Mrs. Merinelli?”

Lena looks between the two police officers at her front door. “I am. Can I help you?”

“Yep, by coming quietly. You’re under arrest.”

Lena blinks. “I’m sorry?”

GM: “So, let me try to summarize this,” the lawyer frowns. “You’d kept silent about your brother’s criminal activities for years. Your brother murdered Miguel Rodriguez in his apartment, and several other men with the aid of accomplices, over a cocaine deal gone sour. In retaliation, Rodriguez’ friends kidnapped your brother and cut off his legs.”

“He went to the hospital, and was arraigned for a variety of misdemeanors. He paid his attorney’s fees with a loan from… the Mob, and they threatened to kill his family—that is, your family—if he didn’t repay them. After he told you this, you paid his attorney $5,000 cash so that you could contact the Mob and pay them the $11,000.”

“I don’t mean to belabor the point, but… you realize how that missing money looks, the same time as this drug deal gone sour?”

Lena spreads two hands that are cuffed to the table. “I know it sounds ridiculous.”

“Well, moving around $11,000 simply isn’t possible for you right now. And the police protecting your family over your brother’s word is unlikely too. However, there is another angle to this. It’s possible that your brother was lying to you. Asking for $16,000 could have simply been an attempt to defraud you, before he was caught for murder. This Villars could have been his partner.”

“You think I actually trust anything he said?” Lena scoffs. “I’m just not going to gamble my children’s lives that he was lying.”

“Well, if you believe him, the most they can do is get out of town. As for your plea bargain, I think I can get you down to just five years as an accessory to murder…”

GM: A boy sobs against a man’s chest. “I don’t wanna move, Dad.”

The man gives his shoulder a squeeze. “I’m sorry, kiddo. I’d like to stay too.”

A girl cries. “W… why can’t we?!”

The man is silent for a moment as he tries to piece together an explanation. “Mommy lost her medical license when she went to prison. That means she can’t be a doctor anymore when she comes home.”

The man tries to say something comforting, about how everything will turn out all right. The boy cries some more. “I—I don’t wanna go. I don’t want her… to go. I don’t…”

The man struggles to keep his face composed. His failure gives his children their first memory of seeing their father cry.

“Neither do I, sweetie… neither… do I.”

GM: “…hello, sir. We’re here on behalf o’ yer brother-in-law. Might we step in?” the smiling man asks as he does just that, closing the front door behind him. Daniel Merinelli barely has a chance to yell before his guest sharply yanks his arms behind his back in a painful lock, while a young girl in cowboy boots plasters duct tape over his mouth.

“I helped!” Sue smiles.

“Thatcha did, darlin’,” Bud grins.

“Yessir,” he drawls as he casually breaks the thinner man’s left arm, “this is mighty overdue.”

“I’m a patient man, see,” he continues over Dan’s muffled screams, "and three months ain’t that long in the grand scheme. Long ‘nough fer things with yer family and the cops ta blow over. Lot o’ time fer your brother’s interest ta rack up, too. By ma count, he owes us thirty-one thousand, three hundred and eighty-four dollars, and twenty-eight cents.”

“That there is compound interest,” Bud explains as he breaks Dan’s right arm with another sickening crunch. “It makes the math all funny.”

The tape-gagged man gives a strangled half-scream, half-moan as tears well from his eyes.

Bud exaggeratedly cocks a hand to his ear. “Whas’ that? Yer gabbin’. I can’t understand a word yer sayin’.”

Snot leaks from the crying man’s nose.

“I won’t charge ya the twenty-eight cents, though. Heck, we can even roun’ down to jus’ three-eighty dollars. I’m a man who likes ta do things nice an’ even.”

Bud clucks his tongue as he looks around the home’s living room, dragging the shattered-armed man along by the scruff of his shirt. “Y’all ain’t as rich as I thought. Losin’ yer doctor wife musta tightened some belts. Still, ‘tween yer car, ’lectronics, and credit cards, I’ll get ma ten-kay investment more than back.”

Sue smiles and pulls off Dan’s shoes. Then his socks. Bud pats her head and drawls at his equal parts bewildered and moaning victim, “Sadly fer y’all, that ain’t all I’m here fer.”

Sue plasters some more strips of duct tape over Dan’s mouth.

“Yer brother’n law owes us some other interest. I’m here fer that too.”

Dan snorts more snot over his tape gag, his eyes wide and feverish.

“Thank ya, Sue, that’ll do jus’ dandy,” Bud smiles at the girl, then smashes her passed sledgehammer over Dan’s bare feet.


Bud brings down the hammer over Dan’s other foot.


“Ooh hoo, bullseye!” Bud whoops, flecks of blood coating his wide smile. “Ya ever hit the center o’ the big-toe-nail jus’ likeyat, an’ see the bits go a-flyin’ everywhere?”

Dan screams past the gag. “MMM-MMMMMMM!!!”

“Nah, don’t reckon you have. It’s like hittin’ one o’ em,” Bud snaps his fingers, “whatcha-ma-call-’em’s, at the state fair? Ah, can’t remember the name. It’ll come ta me, though.” His smile widens. “Things have a way o’ comin’ back ta me. They always do, in the end.”

Buds sucks his gums. “Shit, if ma eyes ain’t lyin’, I think some o’ yer toenail jus’ landed in that outlet!”

Dan brokenly sobs and convulses. His tape gag bulges as beads of sweat trickle down his reddened, snot-nosed face. His head shakes as choke-like noises rasp from his throat.

“Don’t go throwin’ up now,” Bud chides. “I seen more painful ways ta go, son, but you believe me, there ain’t many pansier ways than chokin’ ta death on yer own barf.”

The crippled man’s eyes roll back in his head.

Dan sets down the sledgehammer and walks up to the house’s stairs. He then turns and smiles, “Don’t go a-runnin’ now,” with a wag of his finger.


Sue smiles. “I helped!”

Bud comes back downstairs with two crying, squirming burdens slung under each arm. Duct tape is plastered over their mouths and hands. The broken-limbed man screams past his gag and thrashes impotently in place. Sue sets up a video camera, aims it at the kitchen, and skips off.

“They got chipmunk-cheeks like that ’cuz I stuffed socks up their traps,” Bud explains as he lays down the sobbing children on the breakfast bar, belly-first. “This part gets a lil’ noisy.”

The girl gives a muffled scream and kicks at Bud’s hands.

The big man clucks his tongue, scoops up both children under the crook of one elbow, and pulls open the freezer door. He tosses out ice cream cartons and bags of frozen fruit and vegetables, sticks the now even fiercer-struggling girl inside, then closes the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll have ‘er out ’fore her teeth e’en chatter,” Bud remarks over her father’s renewed scream-muffles. “Yessir, she’s a-gonna get hotter’n sweatier than a sinner in church, soon ’nough.”

But flicks on the video camera one-handed. The little boy hoisted over his shoulder just cries. “Y’all will ‘scuse Sue takin’ off. But ya know there’s people who’ll pay top dollar ta jack off ta this?” Bud casually asks as he slams Noah face-first onto the ‘set’.

Twisting the burner stove’s knob to 400 degrees only takes him a second.

The family’s screams last far longer.

GM: Em’s heard as much about prison as any moderately well-to-do white boy has. He’ll wear an orange jumpsuit. There are racially segregated gangs. He shouldn’t drop the soap.

Death row hasn’t been much of anything.

Twice a week, Emmett strips to his boxers and is escorted, handcuffed, to a shower where his cuffs are removed and he is permitted to luxuriate under lukewarm water for ten minutes. The rest of his existence is spent locked in a 6-by-9 concrete cage for 24 hours a day. The toilet is an arm’s length away from his bed. There are no windows or natural light.

At some unknown time, for Em has neither a clock nor other means to track the sun’s passage, breakfast carts rattle across the concrete outside. The first sounds of his morning repeat the last sounds of night—remote-controlled locks clanging open and clunking closed, electric gates whirring, heavy metal doors crashing shut, voices wailing, klaxons blaring. A prison’s maximum security wing has no soft or delicate sounds.

At that interval, a ruler-sized slot opens in Em’s featureless concrete box. A tray with powdered eggs, undercooked grits, and a plastic spork is wordlessly pushed through. Em never sees the face of whoever feeds him. It could be a man. It could be a woman. It could be Bud, Christina Roberts, or Bert Villars for all he knows. Maybe it’s Lena.

He hauls back his tray and eats from it over the stumps that are his legs. Sometimes there is a cockroach for him to squash. When he is finished he returns the tray to the slot and goes back to sleep. Sleeping, he soon learns, is the best way to pass time on death row.

He can’t sleep for long enough. Later, though Em cannot tell at what time, more food is deposited through the slot in his cage. It is a thin sandwich, carton of milk, and runny mashed potatoes without gravy. Em can lose maybe another hour with a nap after lunch.

He has heard of a luxury called “the canteen.” Men in prison maintain a type of bank account where they can deposit money sent from family and friends. Once a week, such men can fill out an order sheet and spend up to $99 on cigarettes, chips, soap, soup, sandwiches, pastries, and even shoes. Their goods are delivered through the grill in their cells several days later.

Em cannot buy anything from the canteen. No one sends him money.

Dinner comes an unknown span of time after lunch. It consists of a processed pork chop, piece of liver, or half-raw chicken together with more potatoes. Potatoes come in each of his meals. Prisons, he soon learns, have a million ways to serve potatoes.

Visitors’ days are on Sundays. Em is authorized to receive a single visitor between 9 AM and 3 PM. The visitor can purchase items from vending machines and share a single hug or kiss (but not both) with him.

Em receives no visitors. Sundays are the same as any other day.

Em knows that he will eventually face execution by lethal injection, and his monotonous existence will come to an end. He does not know when. Some inmates are said to die of old age while on death row. The monumental task that is every condemned man’s burden until he is permitted to die is how to fill the hours until he can sleep again. His options are few. He can watch black and white non-cable TV, if he’s earned that as a reward for good behavior, but Em isn’t sure how he’s supposed to demonstrate good behavior. He can do his laundry by running his clothes through the toilet and hanging them up to dry. He can talk to himself, endless disembodied and mostly inane chatter. He can lie on his thin 30-inch mattress and think. And think. And think.

Sleep eventually comes, and for a few hours, he has a preview of existence after he faces the needle. Then sleep recedes and he is back in his concrete cage. Another day on death row begins. It unfolds in almost exactly the same way, then it ends. More days pass. Then even more days. Maybe they grow into weeks. Maybe months. Maybe years. Em cannot say. He has no piece of chalk to mark the days with like he’s seen inmates do in movies. He can feel hair growing on the face he has no mirror to gaze upon. His constant companion, like a grim reaper hovering over his shoulder, is the knowledge that he will die. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps after a month. Perhaps after many years.

Eventually, he will get to sleep forever.

Emmett: For now, though, he dreams.

A king of two courts, a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not dream of walking. He flies, over New Orleans. He points and laughs at a vomit-streaked hustler with a badge. He cries over the Quarter, and his tears look like snowflakes, and Maya and Noah laugh and swallow them whole like pills.

He hovers over Prince Talal al-Faisal al-Saud’s penthouse. Did that castle ever seem so close? He sits in Bud’s lap. “Hello,” he says into a phone. “Goodbye!" Breaking bones answer, and screams hang up on him.

He flies towards the sun. He can make it out of here, he knows. Nothing can keep Emmett Delacroix down. He soars. His wings melt like ice in untouched water, and he falls—he lands in a booth in Café Soulé, across from Christina Roberts. Anastasia is his waitress. She pours him a cup of cyanide. It smells delicious.

“Maybe you should try being smarter,” Roberts says with Villars’ rasping lungs.

“Maybe,” he admits. “Maybe.” He drinks. She tuts and her spoon gouges the crust of her soup, and she slurps, slurps, and he plunges forward, burning, scalding… hell smells like onions.

Clarice is on her bed, dying, though she doesn’t remember what that is. She doesn’t even recognize him. He leans forward and whispers, “You’re going to burn for what you did, you know?” She opens her eyes and whispers, “You too.”

Emmett doesn’t know where he is. Or when. Death row is like the womb; everything is noise and waiting, and he doesn’t know what for.

Too late?

It echoes, a meaningless question. There is no more too late. There is no arrival, there is no departure. He’s just a cripple stuck in time.

What should he say? Is he sorry? Only that he failed. Does that make him a monster? If that’s all a monster is, how do most people live with themselves? What should he have done different, anyway? Lied to himself, and not everybody else? If being a good person means being a fucking idiot like Mercurial Fernandez, then what the hell is the—


Mouse probably doesn’t know he got arrested. Probably broke his back, asking for money. Oh, that’s funny. He’s still hurting somebody. Maybe Mouse will even try to have a concert.

“Ha. Hahahaha. HAHAHAHA…!”

Laughing burns his throat, but he swallows the pain like a pill. Everything is so goddamn funny. There is no punchline, there is no final bow. He probably can’t pull one off anyway, without legs.


They’re yelling at him now, to shut his mouth. They want him to die quietly, too. But there’s no quiet for people like Emmett Delacroix. They boo. He pays them no mind. He deserves a standing ovation. Somebody should throw him a bouquet. The noise inside his head is drowned in the laughter. He claps for himself, because nobody else will. And then there’s no noise at all, except the rushing of curtains, curtains for Emmett…


GM: A white concrete cross sits among a field of other crosses: the true crop of the Farm, officially known as Louisiana State Penitentiary. Each cross is spaced exactly three feet away from its neighbors laterally and nine feet longitudinally. Such sameness is only possible at a place like Angola. Even the dead still wear uniforms. Simple plaques are inscribed with DOC numbers, names, and dates by which inmates were sentenced to serve time for eternity.

The undertaker’s spade shovels on the last of the earth.

Emmett Delacroix

Previous, Narrative Order: Louis V
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline Epilogue

Previous, Character Order: Emmett VIII

Story Four, Emmett VIII

“I hope the fun has been worth it.”
—Lena Merinelli

Sunday night, 13 September 2015, PM

GM: Mere hours after his sister has all but disowned him, two uniformed police officers stride into Em’s hospital room. They give their names as Jessica White and Marco Rizaffi. For the second time since he first checked into Tulane Medical Center, Em is placed under arrest and handcuffed to his bed. The charges are drug distribution and murder.

Emmett: “…what?” He’s more perplexed than worried.

GM: “You have the right to remain silent,” the younger female officer recites. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

Emmett: “Uh. Yeah. Are you sure you have the right room?”

GM: Em knows better than to go to Bert Villars for legal representation by now, and he couldn’t afford the grimebag lawyer’s fee even if he wanted to. A weary-eyed public defender, whose full caseload only permits him seven or so hours per client, tersely lays out the facts. A dead body was found in Emmett’s apartment on Royal Street, along with 30-some grams of cocaine. Further cocaine samples from the same batch were also found in a run-down apartment complex in Mid-City, which blood spatter analysis indicates was the scene of at least several other probable murders.

The police are going to question him, the defender continues. They want to know where the other bodies are. They want names for Em’s accomplices. “Just tell them everything you know and take the plea deal,” the tired-looking man advises Em.

Emmett: “Yeah, and you aren’t going to believe me, but I can’t. You think I killed a guy from the hospital? Legless?”

GM: The defender gives Em an annoyed look and informs him the murders took place prior to that date, though the body in his apartment and matching cocaine samples were only just discovered. “The fact you lost your legs and were found guilty of drug possession around the same time as the original violence only further helps prosecution’s case.”

Emmett: “Ah. I still didn’t do it. Do you have a name on the body?”

GM: The short, unruly-haired man sighs. His face bears the pockmarks from a bad case of teen acne, and he truthfully doesn’t look much older than Em. “Miguel Rodriguez.”

Emmett: “Never heard of him. So, uh. Your life is going to get difficult. Sorry about that.”

GM: “Take the plea bargain, and you’ll face fewer years than when a jury finds you guilty anyway,” the young man sighs.

Emmett: “I seriously would, dude. I mean, I’m probably headed to prison anyway, but I actually have no idea what the fuck this even is. Nothing to give them.” He rolls his eyes. “Look, you obviously aren’t going to believe me. But I’ve got nothing on a plea.” He does try to communicate his sincerity, if only to accelerate things. He sighs. “What’s your name.”

GM: “Robert,” the public defender answers.

Emmett: “Robert. You’re fired. Save yourself the trouble.”

GM: The short man raises his eyebrows. “You are waiving your right to legal counsel and choosing to represent yourself?”

Emmett: “No way out, right?”

GM: “You do have a way out. Spare the state the time and expense of a needless trial, and you’ll face fewer years.”

Emmett: “Yeah, except for the fact that there’s nothing for me to give them. I guess I could just say, ’I’m guilty,’ fuckers, but have nothing to give you,’ but I don’t think that would help.”

GM: Em’s defender explains that while offering substantive information on the murders will get him a better deal, if he doesn’t want to rat out his fellows, the police ultimately can’t force him to talk. He can still get a deal better than a trial’s likely outcome if he agrees to spare the courts the needless time and expense.

Emmett: “Oh. Okay.”

Whoosh, whoosh, goes the car window.

GM: There’s another bedside arraignment. The same clerk, the same uniformed officer, the same assistant DA. Same everyone except for Bert Villars. Judge Underwood looks even less pleased to see Em than last time.

Emmett: “Oh, hi.”

GM: The white-haired judge levels an icy stare over the rim of her glasses. “Mr. Delacroix, you are acting in a manner which disrupts this tribunal and prejudices the administration of justice, and are in contempt of court.”

Emmett: “Oh. Sorry.”

GM: Judge Underwood’s stern face grows sterner yet when the cripple neglects to address her as “Your Honor”. After informing Emmett that he is now guilty of two counts of contempt of court, she states that while a guilty plea is binding, the court is not bound to honor the plea bargain negotiated by Em’s lawyer. She is now summarily throwing out the entire deal and proceeding to his now-unmitigated sentencing.

Emmett: Em’s eyes narrow.

GM: The following legal proceedings are all very confusing. Underwood states that, as part of Emmett’s plea bargain, he has forfeited the right to a trial by a jury of his peers. She asks him if he understands what that means, whether he knows he has waived his privilege against self-incrimination, whether anyone has forced him into making this settlement, and whether he is pleading guilty because he killed Miguel Rodriguez while engaged in the perpetration of aggravated kidnapping and the attempted exchange of a controlled dangerous substance listed under the Schedules II, section A.4., of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law. All Em can mostly manage is an uncertain “yes” with the occasional “no”, where appropriate, to Judge Underwood’s and the prosecuting DA’s pointed queries. When he tries to deflect or sidestep, they relentlessly assault him and his counsel with a further gamut of twisting, head-pounding questions they already seem to know the answers to.

Em wonders what Villars would do here. As treacherous and underhanded as the cottonmouth-like lawyer was, he always seemed to have some way of slithering out of trouble—or at least fangs to sink into the hands of anyone who grabbed him. Em’s defender mostly just wearily takes everything the judge and prosecution dishes out. In fact, he looks as if he wants to rip off his necktie and strangle the mouthy cripple who is his client right then and there.

The ADA states that there are a host of charges Emmett is facing besides Miguel Rodriguez’ murder, all of which he duly enumerates, but murder in the first degree already carries the maximum possible sentence in Louisiana. Judge Underwood sentences the guilty-pleading young man to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. He is also to be placed on death row and will be executed by lethal injection.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction,” the white-haired woman levelly intones.

“We are adjourned.”

Emmett: Cool, Em he wants to say. He wants to smile up at the judge and do his best sear himself into her memories. I hear some guys who get the needle die with a boner, but I’ll just think of you, he wants to taunt.

Ge says nothing.

He told Lena he didn’t care what happened. She’s safe. That’s what matters. He’s all right with this, isn’t he?

So why is he crying? Crying, like the brat they all think he is?

GM: Em can’t make out much past his now-blurry vision. The clerk, doing something with the tape recorder. People getting up from their seats. Underwood, exchanging a few words with the ADA, both heedless of his tears. His defender, saying something to him that flies in one ear and out the other.

Look where we are now, Lena had said.

I hope the fun has been worth it.

Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline VI
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline VII

Previous, Character Order: Emmett VII
Next, Character Order: Emmett Epilogue

Story Four, Emmett VII

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”
—Emmett Delacroix

Sunday afternoon, 13 September 2015

GM: Em calls upon his doctor and asks when he can get out. Dr. Brown tells him that while he’s out of ICU, he’s still got “a little while yet” before he’s ready to be released.

When pressed, Dr. Brown admits that it’s Em’s legal right to check out of the hospital at any time—he’s a (sufficiently) mentally competent adult and they can’t hold him against his will without a court order. Dr. Brown repeats that he does not advise Em to leave the hospital at this time. The still-injured cripple does not have a clean bill of health. If Em wants to leave, there’s going to be a liability waiver for him to sign, absolving Tulane Medical Center of responsibility for any injury that results from Em ignoring his doctor’s orders.

Furthermore, if he’s well enough to leave the hospital, he’ll also be considered well enough to meet his probation officer and spend weekends in Orleans Parish Prison. And to start paying his many, many bills.

Emmett: He can deal with the problems he already has or wait on his back while more accumulate. This might be the worst week of his life, but he’s going to face it. It might be the bravest thing he’s ever done, and that might be pathetic; but then, so is he. He asks for somebody to call his sister. He’s getting out of here.

GM: Lena is, to put it mildly, surprised by Emmett’s sudden turn-around. As a doctor herself, she is not predisposed to go against the advice of a colleague responsible for her brother’s care. Still, money is a huge issue without insurance, and Em pitches that another week (or more) of mounting bills will ruin his life worse than a pediatrician taking over his post-ICU care. Lena reluctantly acquiesces after Em signs the liability waiver, but adds that he’s going right back if his symptoms take a turn for the worse. Not only does Em’s silver tongue win him release from Tulane, but Lena volunteers to take the rest of the day off (as a doctor she still works Sundays) and take him home right away, rather than waiting until evening.

Now that he’s feeling well enough to leave, however, Lena also declares that he’s well enough to talk about bills. “I made a trip to Tulane’s financial services department, Em. They haven’t finished tabulating your bill, but it looks like you’re going to owe them at least $100,000. Possibly a lot more.”

Emmett: “That’s a lot, yeah,” Em says. He’s oddly calm. He has long given up on clawing his way out of the medical debt. It’s the one that might hurt his sister he’s terrified of.

GM: “The bill hasn’t arrived yet, so that buys you some wiggle room. Hospitals are pretty slow about sending them. It could take months before yours actually arrives in the mail, but we shouldn’t put this off.” She pauses to gather her thoughts. “Now, you have a lot more options than you may realize, including charity programs and government assistance like SSI. You can also simply negotiate the hospital for a lower bill—most people don’t know you can do that. Hospitals only charge so much because of the games they play with insurance companies; bills are more like ‘oh I hope to get this’ Christmas wish-lists than anything else. Hospitals don’t actually expect to collect the sums of money they initially ask for.”

Lena pauses again. “But for someone who isn’t on insurance, you’re on hook for the entire amount. Even with everything we can do to bring this bill down… god only knows when, or if, you’ll be able to pay it off.”

Emmett: “A crippling debt, one might say.”

GM: His sister isn’t laughing.

Emmett: The joke has been repeated too many times to be funny. He’s just pushing air. He sighs. “Lena. My life is over. The debt is just the very, very big cherry on the sundae that is my life being over.”

But yours isn’t going to be ruined, too.

GM: “Actually, Em, if we can get you on an insurance plan as well as public assistance, you might not have to pay any money for your stay. Now, you can’t get on my and Dan’s insurance, because you aren’t a financial dependent of ours. But under the Affordable Care Act, you are still eligible to be on our parents’ until you turn 26. In fact, if the state finds you disabled and starts paying you SSI, I think there’s a law that you can stay on their insurance indefinitely.”

Emmett: “That sounds like it involves talking to Mom and Dad.”

GM: “Yes, it would. We’ve talked. They still feel…” Lena trails off, seeming to think better. “I’ll let them talk to you about how they feel. Regardless, I think they might still be willing to put you back on their plan. But I’m not the one who’s going to convince them.”

Emmett: He says nothing.

GM: “Emmett, you could go to prison for this,” Lena states seriously. “They can sue you for failing to pay outstanding bills. You can then be held in contempt of court for failing to make the court-ordered payments. I’ve seen it happen.”

Emmett: “Yeah. It’s bad.”

GM: “And if you can’t pay the bills back, forget about prosthetics. Those also cost thousands of dollars.”

Emmett: He hangs his head. “You already won, Lena.”

GM: His sister closes her eyes for a moment. “Thank you, Em.”

Emmett: “Nah. Don’t thank me for saving my own ass, Len.” His voice is very, very quiet. "I meant it when I said I was going to make it up to you. Somehow. "

GM: “That’s one part of why I thanked you.” Lena manages a tired smile. “There are a few other things before we leave. But hopefully less…” She trails off again. “Well, first. When I tried to visit you earlier, there were police outside your door who said you were under arrest.”

Emmett: “Past tense, now.”

GM: “Clearly. I do need to know why and what you were charged with, if anything.”

Emmett: He sighs. “Assaulting a police officer was the biggie.” Preemptively, he says, “Relax.”

GM: Lena doesn’t look very relaxed. “Emmett, if you’re going to be staying in the same house as my kids, I need to know the full story.”

Emmett: He closes his eyes. “This’ll take a while.”

GM: Lena patiently (but far from passively) listens to Em’s explanation of the many events that led to his current point. He leaves out everything to do with Talal al-Saud, as well as the loan from the Dixie Mafia that may have bought his legal defense at the price of his niece’s and nephew’s lives.

Lena is still horrified by the story he tells her. She’s read about corruption in NOPD, of course, but she can’t believe a police officer would actually do something like that to someone—or hand them over, or—well, it’s not apparent what happened to Em, though Cash Money was clearly involved, and he’s the easiest figure Lena can find to blame. She wonders if they should try to press charges—but upon hearing of Em’s arrest and the consequences which resulted from that, she reluctantly concurs they should stay the hell away from Ricky Mouton.

Lena seems to assume that Em went with a public defender for his lawyer. He does not attempt to dissuade her. The court fines are a drop in the bucket next to the medical bills, but the state of Louisiana is going to be far more aggressive (or at least timlier) in collecting those.

Em spending his weekends in jail seriously worries her in his present condition. Orleans Parish Prison is one of the worst jails in the country, she’s read. There are horrible stories about inmate fatalities and rampant corruption and abuses among the guards. It’s no place for anyone to be, much less someone in as sorry a state as Em.

Then there’s his probation. One of the terms, if he wants to stay out of prison, is to be gainfully employed. In other words, Em must hold his first real job in all his life.

Emmett: He sighs. “I’ve always wanted to be a mobile signpost. Or maybe a tourist attraction. What qualifies as gainfully employed, in probation terms? Can you look it up?”

GM: “Basically anything there’s a W2 form for. I mean, it’s not as if most parolees are working as rocket scientists. An entry level dishwashing or fast food job would satisfy.”

Emmett: “What about being a student?”

GM: Lena considers the question. “I don’t think so, as it’s not a paying job. But that’s something I should ask my lawyer. Maybe it would count if you did a work-study program.”

Emmett: “I’ve actually… been thinking about going back to school. Before all this.” He serves the lie with a bitter laugh. “Hindsight 20/20, right?”

GM: “That still wouldn’t be a bad idea, Em,” his sister encourages. “Desk jobs that require a degree are a lot more likely to accommodate physical disabilities.”

Emmett: “Yeah… but come on. The cripple with a rap sheet? I don’t know much about student loans, but I wouldn’t qualify, right?” He does his best to make it sound like a foregone answer, but everything might ride on a “yes.”

GM: “Student loan eligibility is mainly based off personal and parental income, though past a certain age, I don’t remember what, how much your parents make doesn’t factor in. So in some ways it can be easier to qualify when you’re older. Having a physical disability might also help, I’m not fully sure there either. We can try applying for grants too—those are available to older students, and you don’t even have to pay them back.”

Emmett: “…oh.” He starts to nod. “I guess… that might be a decent bridge to build with Mom and Dad, right?” And also to my way out of shit creek.

GM: “Going back to school? Oh, definitely, Em.” Lena pauses. “Also, when I said to pass on they said hi… that was me, well, fibbing. They… haven’t asked me to pass anything on for over four years.”

Emmett: “Oh. That’s… good? I feel less bad now.” He considers. “No. I don’t.”

It’s true. He feels exactly as guilty about it as he did before this nightmare started.

GM: Touro is a well-to-do neighborhood that sits just east of the Garden District. Blocks of glorious 19th-century homes stand as symbols of the industriousness which made New Orleans one of the wealthiest cities in the nation during the Antebellum. While Touro does not play home to the same old money that its elder, western neighbor does, most Touro residents are white (a significant demographic break from the majority of the Crescent City) and a third own their homes outright. Children play on a basketball court right next to a police station whose officers vigilantly keep “undesirables” out of the upper-middle class neighborhood.

The Merinelli house is a two-story affair built in the Craftsman style, surrounded by a neatly-trimmed hedge and low iron fence. The family’s breadwinners aren’t Malveauxes, but they both still make six-figure incomes, and it shows.

Lena parks her SUV in the house’s unattached garage, then lowers Em onto his wheelchair with the help of a Hispanic woman in a housekeeper’s beige uniform, who she introduces as Paula. The newly-crippled young man is wheeled into the room that Lena and Dan use as their shared office space while the former boots up a desktop computer and asks for help making an Excel spreadsheet list of all the outstanding debts he owes, the various court-mandated obligations he’s expected to keep, and when they’re due by.

She’ll type.

Emmett: Admitting he had trouble keeping track of everything at the time, he recalls the hospital’s outstanding (and unknown) bill and his court-mandated fines.

GM: “Okay, that’s good. On top of that, there’s also your probation officer’s monthly fine. Then medical bills, and your public defender…”

Lena draws up an excel spreadsheet and puts down five rows for the five separate fees, with “monthly payment”, “total owed”, and “total paid” under each one. His court fees, Em recalls, come out to $5,900, including the $200 restitution owed to Ricky Mouton. When Em expresses shock over the probation officer’s fee, Lena confirms for him that people on probation are indeed expected to pay the state for their time. They also front the cost for drug tests.

Emmett: “…christ.”

GM: Looking it up, Lena finds there’s a flat $60 monthly fee for the probation officer, and $42 per drug test.

Emmett: “You’d think they’d just go ahead and stop arresting people,” he mutters.

GM: “Arresting people can bring in a lot of revenue. Sometimes, anyway.” Lena frowns. “Okay, next big expense… how much did your public defender cost you?”

Emmett: “Ten grand, or thereabouts. The prick seemed pretty happy, considering.”

GM: Lena blinks. “The state charged you $10,000 for a public defender’s plea deal? That’s insane.”

Emmett: Em frowns. “Uh, I think so. Is that unusual? The dude seemed to think it was pretty standard.” The frown deepens. His tone isn’t aggressive; he’s unsure. Here is a crippled man concerned about his own ability to help himself out of the grave he’s dug. Nothing more. Inside, he’s sweating.

GM: Em’s sister nods and frowns at the same time. “Someone had to have goofed up your legal bill. I should talk with my lawyer to make sure, though. What was your defender’s name?”

Emmett: He frowns slightly. “Villars, I think.”

Shit, shit shit.

GM: “Do you remember his first name?”

Emmett: “Something with a B. Bernie, Bertie, something like that.”

GM: Lena spends the next several minutes Googling Villars’ name and calling the state’s public defender office. By the time she’s finished, her frown has deepened. “Emmett, this man is a private attorney. He couldn’t have represented you. And the ten thousand dollar fee. That’s high even for a private attorney, if all you got was a plea deal.”

The expression on Lena’s plump face abruptly goes flat.

“All right, enough of the bullshit. What aren’t you telling me this time?”

Em’s mind furiously backpedals, but everything these past few days… it’s just too fucking much. Lena stares at her still-tongued baby brother with an increasingly severe expression as he sweats, then finally snaps, “All right. That says it all.” She gets up, takes Em’s wheelchair by the handles, and starts pushing him out of the room.

Emmett: He lets her.

GM: “Paula! Come help me get Em back into the car.”

Lena’s housekeeper follows them outside and helps her employer separately load the legless cripple and his wheelchair into the SUV. Lena gets in, turns the ignition, and pulls out of the driveway.

Emmett: Em speaks in the car. He speaks, because Cash Money left him his tongue. He’s the king of two courts. The actor on the stage. He’s invincible.

And that Em is dead. He can’t save himself. But he can save her.

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”

He waits, giving her a second to speak.

GM: Lena’s eyes stay fixed on the road. “Expensive toys for the kids whenever you visit. A swank apartment on Royal Street. No job beyond audition-seeking. And now this ten thousand dollar legal bill. People aren’t as dumb as you think, Emmett. Those things don’t add up. I don’t know what it does add up to. But you’re right that it’s nothing good.”

Emmett: He giggles. It isn’t as unstable as it should be; the irony is genuinely amusing. “Yeah, well. This whole week has been about me realizing exactly how stupid I am. Makes sense everybody else is a bit cleverer.” He breathes. Air is sweet. He should learn to enjoy it.

“I’m going to tell you who I really am, sis. And then you’ll drive me to the hospital and never talk to me again. I’ll probably go to prison. Or you could just leave me by the side of the road. You won’t love me anymore. That’s fine. That’s smart. But I’ve gotta tell you this. Because I still love you.”

GM: Lena isn’t laughing. In the slightest. Her knuckles clench around as the steering wheel as she replies in a tight voice, “It’s like a shot, Emmett. Best to just get it over with.”

Emmett: “Oh, yeah.” He chuckles. “I’m a thief. Obviously. Just not as good a one as I thought. Goddamn, I’ve done some things. You remember what Clarice always told us? That there’s a special place in Hell for children who act like they’re perfect? I tried to prove her wrong.”

He’s unable to look away from the window. Not out of cowardice. But God, how fast the world whips past. There goes a tree. There goes the neighborhood he liked to take walks in. There go his legs. There goes Emmett.

GM: Touro doesn’t draw the sightseers like the Garden District does. But it still has sights worth seeing.

There’s that synagogue. He hears it’s pretty old.

Some other house. Nice like Lena’s.

That house looks even nicer.

There’s the hospital where his sister works.

Touro Shakspeare Home. Do they read Shakespeare there, perform plays? And do they mean ‘Shakspeare’? It’s missing the extra ‘e’ it should have, like Em is missing the legs he should have.

Emmett: Somehow, it’s a comfort to know that someone else is missing something too.

“I ripped people off,” he says. “Acting’s lying for a living, right? So’s swindling. And the money was good, man. Oh, boy, it was great.” He chuckles. “I let go of everything anybody told me was important. And holy shit, was it fun. You know how freeing it is not to care about anybody but yourself, Lena?”

He never thought he’d think so, but it feels nice to tell the truth.

GM: Lena’s face is oddly tranquil throughout Em’s confession. There isn’t surprise written on it. Or disappointment. It’s not acceptance either. Just a simple… tiredness. The kind that comes when someone takes a shower and goes to bed after a long, sweaty day under the hot Dixie sun. Except the shower is cold, and the bed is hard and lumpy, but they have no choice but to make do.

“No, Emmett, I don’t know what it’s like. I haven’t had that luxury ever since I became responsible for seven and a half pounds of helpless life that was completely dependent upon her caregivers. Then another seven, after her brother came along.”

“And look where we are now,” she says slowly. “I hope the fun has been worth it.”

Emmett: “Probably would have said so, once.” Outside, the world outruns him. Granted, that’s not so hard anymore. “Somebody’s going to come by your home in a week. Dixie Mob. Pay them eleven grand. Don’t help with my hospital bills, or getting me that state assistance. Just pay them, and forget about me.”

He’s never realized how beautiful this city is.

GM: Lena blinks.


Emmett: “Villars. The lawyer. He’s a scumbag. He put me on the phone with the Mob, and I didn’t realize who I was borrowing from or what the stakes were when he did.”

GM: Lena stops the car dead in the middle of the road, sending the breaks squealing.


Emmett: “Oh, come on. You heard me.” He misses the pretty whoosh that life was making a few seconds ago. He sighs. “Worst thing I’ve ever done, completely by accident. I was half-doped up at the time. Not that it makes it better, obviously.”

GM: The car remains stopped. Lena doesn’t unbuckle her seatbelt. She stares at Em flabbergastedly, then demands, “Why on EARTH is the… Mob coming to MY house?!”

Emmett: “That wasn’t me. Villars, apparently, figured you would take me in. Apparently, he also found your address. Oh, and the reason he did all this was to pay my legal fee. Would have gone to prison if I had known the real cost.” He’s got an itch on his nose that he cannot fucking scratch and somehow, that is all he can think about at the moment.

GM: Lena just stares at him, her face at a total loss.

Emmett: “Deep breaths,” he advises.

GM: Em’s still-tender cheek burns as his sister slaps it.

Emmett: He takes it silently, and then says, softly, “Feels good, right?”

GM: Lena is visibly shaking as her face flushes red. “What happens to my children, Emmett, if I don’t pay these people?”

Emmett: “You can pay them. At the very least, you can make the minimum weekly payment, which if I had to guess isn’t more than, like, a grand or two. Bud probably should have explained that to me.”

GM: Lena’s eyes bore into his. Another car honks several times from behind their stopped vehicle, but she doesn’t turn around. “I’m not asking you again. What. Happens.”

Emmett: “The guy said he’d kill my family, just before he hung up but—please stop panicking—that’s stupid business, though, they’d lose money. Could be broken bones, mutilation, what have you. Actually, probably not anything too permanent, at least not the first week. I honestly don’t know, but I can safely say that you’re going to want to pay them or take a long, long vacation.” Damn that itch.

I’m sorry, Lena. But to say it would infuriate her, so he doesn’t.

GM: Lena slaps him again. Harder. Her next hoarse words are almost a shout.

“You handed my kids’ lives over to the MAFIA!?”

Emmett: “No, I handed my life over to an unknown caller and then found out I’d accidentally done the unthinkable. I literally had no idea what was happening until the guy on the phone said, ‘great, Em, short any payments and we’ll kill your family. Have yerself a dandy dixie day.’ Then he hung up.” He blinks tears out of his eyes. The world becomes blurry and beautiful. God, it hurts.

GM: “I don’t believe this,” Lena states numbly. “I just don’t believe this.” She’s slumped back in her seat. Her next words don’t sound like they’re addressed to Em. “I don’t know who you are.”

Emmett: “I told you. An awful, parasitic excuse of a person. Who you never have to see again. And who really, really loves you. And my niece. And nephew. You don’t have to think about anything, Lena. You just have to pay the monsters who come to your door and forget I ever existed. It’ll be like a shot.”

GM: Lena stares directly at Em again and holds up a finger. Red starts to re-color her face. “Don’t. You. Dare talk to me about love right now.”

Emmett: “Okay.”

GM: She fishes a phone out of her pocket and dials a number. “Dan? You need to pick up the kids and take them to your mom’s. Possibly for a long time. I’ll explain later.” Confused chatter sounds from the other end as she hangs up.

Emmett: “Oh, and don’t even think of going to the cops,” he adds. “They’re infested, Lena. You’ll end up in a ditch for the nerve.”

GM: She dials another number. “Mom?”

Emmett: “Oh. Right.”

GM: “You were right. I was wrong. About everything.” There’s an indistinct voice. “Yes. Don’t put him on your insurance. I’ll explain later.” She hangs up to the sound of more confused chatter.

Emmett: “Right, so you can dump me or drop me at Tulane, but uh, yeah. Cops aren’t a good idea. Good news is, though, I’ll almost definitely get sent to the Farm anyway.”

GM: “No, Emmett, I’m not going to leave you here when a good samaritan might stop to help.” Lena looks as if she might shake her head, but she still doesn’t look all the way there. Another car honks from behind theirs. She ignores it and mutters, “God knows you’d only spit in their face.”

Lena drives back back to Tulane Medical Center. She does not speak a word for the rest of the trip. When the pair arrive outside the brick-like building, Em’s sister doesn’t literally throw him out of the car: she just dumps him on the side of the curb. She does not help him into the wheelchair she unloads from the SUV’s rear with more care than she shows her brother. The effective paraplegic is left to writhe helplessly on the asphalt while onlookers stare and gawk. A few laugh and pull out their phones to snap videos.

Lena closes the car door without a glance back, pulls out of the parking lot, and out of Em’s life.

Emmett: “Ummph.”

And good for her. Exit, stage right. He has little to feel proud over, and less to feel happy about. But the world becomes a rush of noise and people and consequences, whooshing by like a car window.

Em stares at the sky. He waits, for somebody to help if they wish or leave him if they don’t. The world isn’t a nice place. He isn’t a good person. But he could be worse, and somehow, that means a lot. He wonders what the crowd thinks. It must be odd to see a cripple looking happy.

GM: Hospital staff eventually haul Em back onto his wheelchair and cart him inside. Dr. Brown stares down at the cripple with another shadow-rimmed smile and cheerfully tells him that it’s good he changed his mind. “You should still be in bed anyways. Doctor’s orders, after all!” That’ll even net him some extra time before his jail sentence starts.

Emmett: Em says nothing. It’s about time he learned how.

GM: No one charges him with anything. Em is placed in a non-ICU, partitioned hospital room he shares with another patient. She’s an older woman who was attacked by a home invader (who also didn’t steal anything, oddly enough). Her teenage son comes by frequently with food. As Em can well attest, what passes for it in the hospital tastes terrible. The two laugh about random things to keep their spirits up, sometimes cry, reminisce of memories gone by, and plan for a future Em may no longer have.

Now it is not tears that fall like sand in an hourglass, but days of the young cripple’s life.

Steadily trickling away.

Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline VI
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline VII

Previous, Character Order: Emmett VI, Mouse I
Next, Character Order: Emmett VIII

Story Four, Emmett VI, Mouse I

“All you can do right now is give.”
—Bert Villars

Thursday, 10 September 2015

GM: After Emmett is cleaned and changed, Gettis obtains an arrest warrant from Judge Carson Malveaux of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Dr. Brown does not believe it medically advisable for Emmett to be moved to Orleans Parish Prison in his current condition, so two police officers are assigned to guard his now-private room around the clock. He is to be denied all visitors except for his lawyer. He will be allowed other visitors when he is brought into conventional custody or if a judge releases him under bail. His guards are present to watch whenever a nurse feeds him, sponge-baths him, or assists his bowel movements. They laugh at him and crack lewd jokes every time.

Emmett is formally booked. Police ask him for basic personal information, including his address and birth date. Fingerprints and DNA samples are taken. He is photographed. His photographer remarks that Em’s mugshot is without doubt the “ugliest goddamn one I’ve ever taken.” He is needlessly and embarrassingly strip-searched for any contraband (somehow) on his person. Police gawk at his bruised, flaccid manhood and compare it to a variety of decomposing vegetables.

Emmett is told that he will be bought before his arraignment when he is well enough to leave the hospital, or after 72 hours have elapsed, whichever duration expires first. If the newly-crippled grifter is unable to be transported to court after 72 hours, the arraignment will occur bedside with the judge and other necessary parties traveling to Tulane Medical Center.

Bert Villars is not present for the whole process, but snaps at Emmett to shut up and not say anything to the police except for direct answers to questions he is legally required to answer, such as his birth date. He is being charged with assaulting a police officer, soliciting prostitution, drug possession, obstruction of justice, and, because DAs in Louisiana evidently have a sense of humor, false impersonation. The prosecutor’s office, Villars adds, is not bound by this initial charge decision and can later change the crimes charged once and if more evidence is obtained.

“But you have something much more pressing to worry about than what you’re being charged with right now,” the grimebag lawyer remarks when the two of them are alone. Conversations between Emmett and his attorney remain private, with the guards waiting outside.

“Namely, how you’re going to afford my fees.”

Caveat’s ears perk.

“And pay my outstanding ones.”

Emmett: Em glances up at him. “Depends on what I’m allowed to liquidate.” He shrugs. “You tell me. If that’s not feasible, I’ll…” He pauses. “Think of something.” He’s too tired to lie. Too tired to even feel scared.

GM: Villars bares another cobra hood-flaring grin. “Mmm. And what do you own in property? Cars? Other assets of comparable value?”

Emmett: Em goes over what he can remember. The feeling is surreal.

GM: “Mmm. Not good. Not good at all. Rented apartment, no car, no insurance…”

Emmett: “Well. Worse for me than for you.”

GM: Villars strolls up to the bed and leans his elbow by Em’s head. “And these medical bills…”

Emmett: “Costing me an arm and a leg. Oh, wait.”

GM: “All those days in ICU. The surgery. The amputation. Antiobiotics for all those diseases. Being waited on hand and foot by your nurses. You know how much hospitals charge for just toilet paper, mmm? They mark up everything.” The grimebag lawyer makes a tsking noise and shakes his head. “And no insurance…”

Emmett: He closes his eyes. “I get the picture. You have your phone on you?”

GM: Villars gives a phlegmy, choking laugh that makes his dog’s ears go flat. “Emmett, you aren’t allowed phones when visiting jail inmates. Your officers took mine at the door.”

Emmett: His eyes are still shut. “Okay. I’m going to give you a number.” He promised himself he would never do this. He had meant it, too. But why should he keep this one?

GM: Villars’ bared yellow teeth loom all-too close to Emmett’s face. He can smell the man’s stale breath. “All you can do right now is give.”

Emmett: Em ignores the taunt. He speaks slowly. Makes sure Villars repeats it. “Call that. They have money. And they might care enough to pay. If I were you, I’d play up how sorry I am. How I tried to play it straight, and this is all one big misunderstanding. Appeal to their better nature. They always loved that.”

GM: “Ah. Family.” The thing that passes for a grin on Villars’ face spreads like a tarantula splaying its legs. “But, you know, Caveat gets so tense whenever he hears the words ‘might’ and ‘maybe’ in the same sentence as money.”

His grin seemingly too wide to spread any further, Villars runs a tongue over his yellowed teeth. Emmett is reminded of a jackal staring at fresh carrion. “Fortunately for us both, I have another way out.”

Villars pats his dog’s head. “Caveat. Spit.”

The dobberman starts making some whoof-like wheezing noises. Then louder coughs and hacks. Drool flecks from the canine’s open mouth.

Emmett: Em frowns. “What are you doing?”

GM: The dog makes a choking, retch-like noise. Villars sticks a latex-gloved hand under its mouth. A drool- and vomit-spattered small plastic case falls into the grimebag lawyer’s palm.

Emmett: “…Jesus.”

GM: Villars sets the case on Em’s bedside table, opens it with his gloved hand, and pulls out a cellphone with his bare hand. “I’m going to put you in touch with someone who can make all of our financial problems go away.”

Emmett: Em sucks in a long, pained breath. “Why would you do that?” You bloodsucking snake?

GM: The still-wheezing dog’s ears perk. “Well, our legal financial problems,” Villars cautions with another tarantula-like grin. “You’re still fucked when it comes to these medical bills. But I’ll finally get paid, and you’ll have legal counsel to represent you.”

Emmett: “Who is this?”

GM: “Bud.”

Emmett: “Little girl on his lap guy?”

GM: The tarantula on Villars’ face twitches its eight hairy legs. “The very same. He and his… friends make a business of providing loans to high-risk borrowers such as yourself. You’ll take out one from him, pay my fees, and your legal troubles will be over.”

Emmett: “What happens when I can’t pay him back?”

GM: “You’ll be able to.” The tarantula on Villars’ face swallows a fly. “They’re very good at squeezing blood from stones.”

Emmett: Em bites his lip. “I don’t really have a choice. Do I.”

GM: “Not if you want to continue enjoying my… services. I will be suing you, as well, if you can’t pay my outstanding fees.” He shrugs. “Well, probably not suing. Whatever else it takes to collect.”

Emmett: He snorts. “Why? I’d be in prison. Or dead, probably, knowing Mouton. You might as well buy flowers for my funeral instead of waste the legal fees.”

GM: “Oh, Emmett.” Villars turns away from his client’s bed and runs a gloveless hand over his hooked-up IV fluid bag. “I’m very good at squeezing blood from stones too.”

The grimebag lawyer abruptly seizes the transparent bag and squeezes it hard. A fresh spike of agony shoots through the vein in Emmett’s arm, turning the needle stabbing through it into a pinprick-shaped fire.

“You’ve been digging your own grave these past few days, you legless fuckwit,” Villars snarls, his face as black as the sunglasses hiding his sightless eyes. “You can dig it all the way to China for all I care, but I’m not breaking my back and shoveling dirt for free.

“You’ve made a lot of enemies lately, Emmett,” he whispers. “You don’t want me as one of them too.”

Emmett: It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. It’s also not that new, and it still hurts. He hears himself speak through fog and from the forever ago that he started down this road. “Point… made.”

GM: Villars’ fist unclenches. Fire drains back out of Em’s artery.

“Finally, he listens to his counsel’s advice.”

Villars picks the phone back up, holds it up to his face and squints closely, and eventually manages to dial a number. He presses the phone to Em’s face. Several rings sound.

“Bud,” grinds out a low bovine voice.

Emmett: “Delacroix,” mutters Em. “Client of Villars.”

GM: “Ya been fucked real hard, Delcroy,” drawls the voice. It’s slow and lazy, like molasses being poured from a jug on a hot summer day. Emmett can hear the smile. But there’s nothing sweet to it.

“We’ll fuck you nice an’ gentle.”

Emmett: “Afraid I won’t be fucking anybody for a long, long time, Bud. What exactly is the offer, here?”

GM: “Sue wants to say hi.”

There’s a brief silence.

“Hi!” pipes a small-sounding girl’s voice.

Emmett: “Hi, Sue.”

GM: “Yer lawyer’s taken care o’ it all,” drawls Bud’s deeper one.

Emmett: Em’s eyes slide towards the attorney. “Oh. That’s… good.”

GM: “We loan you the money. He gets his fees. You getcher lawyer. Then you pay us back.”

Emmett: “And we are talking about how much, exactly?”

GM: “Ten grand.”

Emmett: “I’d make a joke about crippling debt. But. You know.”

GM: Emmett can hear the grin spread on the other end of the line. It’s not like Bert Villars’, though. Slower. Fiercer. Hungrier.

“Say we done got a deal.”

Emmett: He’s already got one foot in the grave—well, both of them—but even so, he pauses. His entire life these past few days has been one losing deal after another. Is it really worth all this? Is he really going to make another decision without—


GM: “Thas’ gooood,” Bud drawls. Long and slow, like a man taking a savored drag from a hand-rolled cigar. “Yer interest’s 10% a week, compounded weekly.”

“Short any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”

Emmett: “…um.”

GM: “Bye!” pipes Sue’s voice.

The line clicks.

Emmett: “You son of a bitch.”

GM: Villars drops the phone back into its plastic case, snaps it shut, and holds it out for Caveat. The dobberman snarfs it up like a dog biscuit. There’s even a few loud cracks from his teeth.

Emmett: “What happens to you if I can’t make the payment? You’re ripping them off just as much as I am. More.”

GM: “Nothing at all, Emmett. The debt’s yours. Not mine. Besides.” Villars bares another cobra-like grin. “I bring them a lot of repeat business.”

Emmett: “Yeah, but you purposefully referred them somebody who probably won’t make it worth their while for your short-term gain. That seems like it would piss them off.” He coughs. “Though I will, obviously. Pay.”

GM: Villars drops the soiled glove into a trash bin and pats his dog’s head. “Emmett, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re, well, an idiot. You don’t have enough leftover brainpower to spend it pondering how the Dixies do business.” His grin widens. “But your concern for my welfare is… touching.”

Emmett: “Oh, trust me. One day I’ll think back on this and be very, very angry, and I’ll spend hours thinking of a way to fuck you under the bus. But for now, just take the money and shut up, please.”

GM: “And maybe one day you’ll grow a new pair of legs and not be crushed under a mountain of medical and legal debt. But I suppose we can hope, now can’t we?” Villars’ leer twitches in place.

“But yes, the money. That’s being taken care of. Bud’s sending it directly to me. You won’t see anything in your bank account—as it’s a no-no for you to be performing those sorts of financial transactions right now, not to mention it’s the first place your creditors are going to ransack—so make sure you remember the sum.”

Emmett: “Oh, yes.”

GM: “This isn’t strictly legal advice, but now that you’ve paid me for my services, I am feeling generous. That medical debt’s going to crush you like a sack of bricks. If you think my fees are expensive, you should see what an extended ICU stay without insurance adds up to.”

“Most likely Tulane’s going to sell your debt to a third party collection agency. They’re nicer than the Dixies, though not by much. You do look young enough to still be covered under the Affordable Care Act, though. So if I were you, I’d start practicing how to ask Mommy and Daddy extra nice for an advance on your allowance.”

Emmett: “A cripple can make bank in this city. Any city, really. At least, a cripple with a tongue.” Em shrugs. Then he winces, because it still hurts.

GM: A familiar slimy grin spreads over the grimebag lawyer’s face. “Of course, I could also make another call to Bud.”

Emmett: “Let’s not.”

GM: Villars shrugs. “Some last food for thought, Emmett. Many of those agencies collect their money by garnishing debtors’ wages. Those who don’t have a legal source of employment, however…”

Emmett: “Well. Not your problem until I pay you to fix it, is it?”

GM: Villars looks almost wounded. “Why, Emmett. As your attorney, it’s my ethical duty to look out for your interests. In this case, how failure to repay your medical debts could still get your family killed.”

Emmett: “I’m telling them to poison your dog if I go down,” he mutters, but his heart isn’t in it.

GM: “Caveat’s cheaper than he looks,” Villars grins. “In any case, you need a valid—that is, taxable—source of income for the collection agency to dock your wages from. If you don’t have one, you’ll go to jail. They don’t call them ’debtor’s prison’ anymore, of course, and you won’t actually be jailed for failure to repay debts—but the collection agency can sue you, a judge can hit you with even more court fees, and you can be jailed for failure to pay those.”

“Bud, of course, could care less if his debtors are in prison. So if you want to make good on your off-the-books payments to him, you’ll need a source of income that exists on someone’s books.”

Emmett: “That’s… actually good to know, yeah. Thanks.”

GM: Another yellow-toothed grin. “You’re very welcome.”

Emmett: “I didn’t mean that thing about Caveat. For what it’s worth.”

GM: “Well, I did. But I’m sure he’s grateful for it.” Villars scratches the dobberman’s ears.

Emmett: “Just to be clear. When he says my family-”

GM: Villars gives the crippled young man an almost pitying look.

Emmett: “Dammit.”

Friday morning, 11 September 2015

GM: The days drag by. Villars spends the next few going over his client’s legal options.

There aren’t many.

First, Emmett can take a plea bargain. In return for pleading guilty, there will be no trial and some of the charges he’s facing will be dropped, resulting in a reduced sentence. 90% of all criminal cases are resolved this way. It saves money for the state and legal clients alike.

Villars will do his best to haggle for Em’s sentence(s) taking some form other than consecutive jail time. If Em is in jail for longer than a week, after all, he won’t be able to pay off Bud. Alternative sentences can include fines, probation, community service, or part-time (weekends only) imprisonment.

Em’s second option is to go to trial. If he wins, he could get more charges dropped. If he loses, he will receive a less forgiving sentence—which is very likely to include consecutive jail time.

Win or lose, a trial could be months away, and Em’s judge could be pissed enough (the state hates unnecessary trials) to hold him in Orleans Parish Prison without bail. He will also owe Villars thousands of dollars more in legal fees. Villars does not trust Em to repay any further debts and requires that he tender the monies up front. Whether Em obtains them through another loan from Bud, conning or begging his parents, or GoFundMe donations makes no difference the grimebag lawyer.

An additional con to going to trial is that Cash Money will be called to court—and see Em’s face again. Corrupt cops, Villars adds, hate going to court.

All things told, the mostly-blind lawyer advises his client to take a plea bargain. If Em wishes to go to trial, however, Villars is happy to let the newly-crippled grifter dig his own grave—so long as he gets paid.

Emmett: Em takes no persuading. Persuading is for people who can afford not to buy. He just nods his head. It’s the only part of him that doesn’t hurt anymore.

GM: “By the way. My further legal advice is for you to get your arms cut off,” Villars states upon hearing Em’s suggestion that he try to strike a deal with Cash Money.

“I’m quite serious. You’ve already shown so much more common sense after losing two of your limbs.” Villars leers. “Who can imagine what losing all four might do for you?”

Emmett: Em says nothing. “I just want to make this go away as fast as possible.” His hands shake, and he winces from the pain. “Please. You make the choice.”

GM: “You just leave it in my hands,” Villars states with another yellow leer.

He scratches his dog’s ears. “They have you on several gross misdemeanors, but no felonies. Your sentencing can probably take place concurrently with your arraignment. The state doesn’t want to spend any more money on this than they have to.”

The grimebag lawyer’s leer spreads like a piss stain over tile.

“Justice’s wheels turn so much faster when they’re greased with money.”

Emmett: Em says nothing. He just thinks a number, over and over and over. The number Bud whispered to him with a little girl on his lap. Ten thousand dollars. That was the number he had sold his sister’s life for. He wondered if they included little Noah and Maya in their definition of “family.” The last time he had seen them, he had given them toys he stole from his local store.

He breathes the number, hears it in the pauses of Villars’ monologue and sees it in the slits in his snake’s grin. He didn’t know what he was trading away. He didn’t know who he was on the phone with. The excuses are plenty. His idiocy has never scared him. He isn’t scared of going to the funerals. Or, at least, he’s not scared of that right now.

He’s scared that he might make the same deal if he knew what was on the other end.

Sunday morning, 13 September 2015

GM: Three days after Emmett’s arrest, he is due for his arraignment. Dr. Brown still finds him medically unfit to be transported to court, so the legal proceedings are held inside his hospital room.

Stout chairs and thick wooden desks are brought inside by hospital staff. Bert Villars and four strangers dressed in full legal regalia file into Em’s room. There’s an older, gray-mustached man in a dark suit. A younger, clean-shaven man in another dark suit with a tape recorder. A square-jawed, balding man in a tan police officer’s uniform. Last is a stern-looking, white-haired woman dressed in a judge’s voluminous black gown. She peers down her half-rimmed glasses at the crippled young man with a disapproving eye as she assumes her seat.

The suited young man, who looks like he could be around Emmett’s age, hits the recorder and announces, “The Honorable Peyton T. Underwood presiding. The case of Louisiana vs. Delacroix; Criminal Action 09-10017 will now be heard before this court. Counsel please identify themselves for the record.”

“Please be seated,” the judge pronounces.

All of the attendant individuals do so except for the older suited man.

“Good morning, Your Honor, for the assistant district attorney, Maxwell F. Hammond.”

“Good morning.”

The man seats himself. Villars rises and states, “Good morning, Your Honor, Bertram S. Villars representing the defendant, Mr. Delacroix.”

The judge regards the puffed-up grimebag lawyer. “Mr. Villars, do you waive the reading of the indictment in its entirety?”

“I do, Your Honor.”

The judge turns her severe stare upon the still-bedridden, gown-clad, and legless Emmett. “Mr. Delacroix, you have been charged in indictment with violations of the law for the United States, specifically assaulting a public officer, soliciting prostitution, false impersonation, drug possession, and obstruction of justice.”

Her half-rimmed gaze sweeps back to the cripple’s lawyer. “Mr. Villars, have you had an opportunity to at least preliminary review the indictment with your client such that he is ready to be arraigned?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Does he have or has he received a copy of the indictment?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Hammond, please state the maximum punishments.”

“Certainly, Your Honor,” the older suited man replies. “Count one, assault…”

The prosecuting attorney lists the maximum sentences for all the charges in their entirety. Non-aggravated assault can carry a penalty of up to 90 day in jail, a fine of up to two hundred dollars, and financial restitution to the victim.

Soliciting prostitution can be fined not more than five hundred dollars, imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

False impersonation can be fined not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or both.

Drug possession can be fined not more than five thousand dollars, or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both.

Obstruction of justice for lesser criminal proceedings (that is, involving a criminal proceeding in which a sentence of imprisonment less than a life sentence may be imposed) can be fined not more then ten thousand dollars, or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

“…as to Counts 1 charging you with assault in violation of RS 14:35; Counts 2 charging you with soliciting prostitution in violation of RS 14:83; Counts 3 charging you with false impersonation in violation of RS 14:1112; Counts 4 charging you with drug possession in violation of RS 40:966; and Counts 5 charging you with obstruction of justice in violation of RS 14:130.1; how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?”

The prosecuting ADA finally stares directly at Emmett.

Emmett: His voice is every bit as enduring and reliable as a tin can. “Guilty, Your Honor.”

GM: Almost everyone in the ‘courtroom’ gives the young man a condescending look. “‘Your Honor’ is the term of address used for judges, Mr. Delacroix,” the prosecutor states thinly.

The judge’s gaze sweeps to the clerk with the tape recorder. “Mr. Thaddeux, can we have a date please?”

True to Villars’ promise, justice’s money-greased wheels speedily grind on. Em isn’t required to speak for any of it. Just the guilty plea. That’s all they want to hear from him.


Guilty they find him, of the following charges: assault, drug possession, and soliciting prostitution. Villars gets the false impersonation and obstruction of justice charges dropped as part of the plea deal. Judge Underwood sentences him to the following:

For assaulting a police offer, he is fined $200 and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Emmett will also have to pay an additional restitution of $200 to Ricky Mouton.

For soliciting prostitution, he is fined $500 and sentenced to another 90 days of jail time.

For drug possession, he is fined $5,000 and sentenced to yet another 90 days in jail.

Villars has managed to wrangle one precious concession: Emmett is to serve a nonconsecutive sentence on weekends, which means he will “only” lose two or three years of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. He is also to be assigned a probation officer, and is effectively on parole when he is not in jail. He will be subject to random searches and drug tests, paid for him by him.

Additionally, all persons who are convicted of the offense of prostitution are referred to the parish health unit for counseling concerning Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The counseling will be provided by existing staff of the parish health unit whose duties include such counseling. Emmett will pay for that as well.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction,” the judge pronounces with a final stern look for the despondent cripple.

“We are adjourned.”

Emmett: And all the men and women in suits get to go home, and Em stays. They walk, and Em sits.

They go home to their families, and Em cries.

GM: “Oh my god… Emmett, what happened?”

Emmett’s older sister stares at him with one hand over her mouth. Eveline Merinelli looks in her late 30s, but it’s her occupation that shows just as much as her age with the formative wrinkles around her mouth. She has sandy shoulder-length hair and a plump face, never having fully worked off her first pregnancy’s weight gain. A pair of carolyn-framed glasses sit over her nose, while her makeup is minimal and her jewelry absent. She’s dressed in a pastel blouse, dark slacks, and leather clogs. All things told, she looks like she just removed her doctor’s coat after getting off from work at the Children’s Hospital New Orleans, and perhaps she did.

Emmett: “Lena,” he says. He feels his eyes getting wet. “Hi.”

GM: Lena sits down and wraps her arms around him in a hug. The doctor tries to be gentle, but the sister can’t resist pulling him close against her chest.

Emmett: “Ribs,” he mutters. “I need my ribs, at least.” The joke takes what little energy he has left.

GM: His sister’s touch lingers for a moment, but she finally pulls away at his protests. Her face is overcome with a palette of emotions, shock and concern not least among them.

“Em, what happened?!”

Emmett: “I…” He’s thought a lot about this moment. He’s spun webs of lies to make spiders weep, rehearsed in the empty hours of the night when sleep won’t come for him.

None of that matters, now.

“I…” He bites his tongue. “I…”

Just do it. Just lie, you lying liar fucker. Just DO IT…!

“I can’t,” he says, and bursts into tears. Somehow, this is worse. This is worse than the ass-wiping, than being raped, worse even than the moment he realized he couldn’t feel his legs.

“I made bad choices. Okay? I made a lot of mistakes, and some of this is my fault, and I’m an idiot. That’s what happened. And I can’t talk about it, right now. I can’t lie here in my shit without legs and talk about how I got here. I’m sorry, Lena. I’m just… I’m really sorry. Please don’t make me talk about it.”

He can’t see the room anymore. It’s all one big, saline bubble.

GM: Em might not be able to see, but he can still feel someone’s arm around his shoulders in another half-hug. “Em, that’s… that’s okay. You don’t need to talk about anything right now. I shouldn’t have even asked, not this soon. After…”

She gives him a squeeze. “Thanks for being honest.”

Emmett: He sobs subside, slightly. “I’m… I’m sorry. For everything.” More than you know, Lena.

GM: “It’s all right. You’ll get… get through this.” Lena takes a breath and tries to put on a comforting smile as she pulls something out of her coat. “Maya and Noah made you a card.”

Emmett: He manages an uneven laugh. Get well soon. Get well soon…

“That’s nice,” he says. “Are they all right?”

GM: “More than. They’re in school right now. They can come visit later, if you’re feeling up for it.”

Emmett: “That sounds great.” And more fun than going to their funeral. Oh christ. Oh my god. He starts crying again. “You know I love you guys, right?” he says. His throat burns.

GM: Lena dabs his face with a second tissue. She dabs hers with the first. “We… we know. We love you too, Em.”

“Listen,” she says more slowly, “another thing to think about is bills. Every day you’re here is going to cost you more money. I’d need to talk with your doctor to get a better picture of what condition you’re in, but if he thinks an early discharge would be okay, you’re welcome to stay at my family’s house.”

Emmett: “I don’t want…” to watch you die. “…to be a burden.”

GM: “Well, you wouldn’t be,” his sister states matter-of-factly. “We do have a housekeeper, lord knows we pay her enough as it is. And it’s going to take at least a month for your arms to heal.”

Emmett: A home. Warm food. His nephew and niece. Christ. He even misses Dan. “I don’t want you to… I need care. I can’t do… things for myself anymore.” Things like feeding myself, he doesn’t say. Things like brushing his own teeth and wiping his own ass.

GM: “I know, Em. I’ve seen my share of hospital patients. We can have Paula do some of those things, if you’d prefer.”

Emmett: He laughs a crippled laugh that never gets off the ground. “That’ll be a fun conversation.”

GM: “And you’ll miss out on, poor you,” Lena offers with a nose-crinkling smile. “Another thing I’m going to do is start a few applications on your behalf for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. That probably won’t take care of all your bills, but if you get approved, it’ll help.”

Emmett: “If you’re sure… I’ll pay you back for this. Someday.”

GM: “I’m very sure. And nonsense. What family’s for, isn’t it?”

Emmett: OhGodPleaseForgiveMeLena.

“Okay, then.”

Sunday noon, 13 September 2015

GM: Em can make out the voice of one of his nurses just past the door. “…and he’s in here. Please try not to make any… noise with all that.”

Emmett: He lifts his head, squinting.

Mouse: “I can try, ma’am,” another voice replies with a lilt. It’s pure as water and smooth as black velvet whiskey.

The door handle to Em’s room turns as a svelte man enters. He looks a few years younger than Em, but still old enough to be out of high school. His chocolate-brown hair is an unruly mass of frizz and curls. His sea-green eyes look over Em’s bedridden, crippled form with a juxtaposition of sympathy and oddly unrelenting cheeriness. A tired, beat-up guitar is slung over his right shoulder as he takes a couple soft-footed steps forward. He’s carrying a large card and several balloons in his free hands. He turns back to the nurse and gives her a shy look as he thanks her for showing him the way to Em’s room.

Emmett: Oh, just what I needed. The power of positive thinking. Em manages to make his eye-roll look like a spasm. “Hey, Mouse. Been a while.”

Mouse: Mouse smiles back. “Hi Em.” He approaches Em and awkwardly proffers the card and balloons.

Emmett: Em flicks his eyes at his cast-bound arms. “Maybe tie it around my arm?” he suggests weakly.

Mouse: “I can do that,” Mouse answers nervously, still clearly surprised by Em’s condition. He puts the card on the bedside table and ties the balloons to Em’s nearest cast-bound arm with a dextrous flourish. “What happened?” he asks softly.

Emmett: “Crippling debt,” Em says simply. “I’d… rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind. How’s prison? Sorry, Tulane?” The casual shift in topic feels about as natural as the stumps where his body ends.

Mouse: Mouse gives a humorous smile. “It’s not as bad as a prison, Em.” He laughs quietly at the joke. “They make all student residents adhere to a meal plan, though. How’s the hospital food?”

Emmett: “I haven’t tried it yet. They have stuff that looks like food, though.” Em smiles, painfully. “Francis still… Francis?”

Mouse: “Yes. Francis is still Francis.” Mouse beams with pride at the mention of his older brother. He adds in a hushed tone, “I didn’t tell him I was going to see you, of course. He doesn’t really like me hanging out with you.”

Emmett: “What’s he gonna do, break my legs again?” He sighs. “I appreciate you coming, though—” He stops. “You, uh. Still living the high life? Gallery openings, whatnot?”

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes drift conspicuously downwards to Em’s lower half.

“Yeah…” is the most manages, his tone deflated. When he forces himself to meet Em’s gaze again he looks like he’s barely holding back tears. “Are… you hungry? Do you need me to get a nurse for you?”

Emmett: Em has an idea. Granted, ideas have not worked well for him recently. But how much worse can things get? He summons every ounce of self-pity and makes it sound like sympathy. “Hey, man. You don’t need to cry over me. I’m gonna bounce back. It’s going to be—” he starts coughing, an ugly, ragged noise.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen with alarm.

Emmett: He eases himself out of the fit, shaking his head. “I’ll be fine, really. It’s the money I have to worry about. They may as well break my back, ha-ha…” The joke falls flat, as the bitterness in his voice becomes apparent. He shakes his head again. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear about my problems.”

Mouse: Mouse shakes his head, drying his eyes with his shirt as inconspicuously as he can manage. “It’s okay, Em,” he says, trying his best to be the strong voice of support. “I don’t mind listening. It’s the least I can do.”

Emmett: “If you’re sure.” Em talks in circles, letting Mouse’s artist mind paint the picture. His family’s offered to take him in, until he can find a place he can afford. The hospital isn’t so bad. It’ll be nicer than the jail he’ll stay weekends in.

He trails off when he says he hopes to hit the ground running. Finally, he seems to hesitate. “Mouse… I can trust you, right? For old time’s sake?” The artist can’t help but remember the 19-year-old bleeding after his older brother had a ‘conversation’ with him.

Mouse: “You know you can trust me.” Mouse’s smile takes a bit to remerge, but it never leaves his face.

Emmett: “What do you know about…” Swallow. Pause. And: “…the Dixie Mob?”

Mouse: Mouse just looks confused by the name.

Emmett: Jesus Christ, Francis does the heavy lifting, doesn’t he?

“It doesn’t matter,” Em says quietly. “The short of it is, I owe some money to some bad, bad people. People even Francis probably doesn’t fuck with. And… and they’re going to hurt my family.” He hangs his head. The pain, at least, is real enough.

Mouse: “Why would you owe them money?” Mouse asks. “You should know better than to deal with bad people, Em.” His voice might be soft, but the words are hard, even if unintentionally.

Emmett: The tears are real, too. As is the humiliation. “Yeah, I should. I know, man. It was my damn lawyer. He said he had a way I could pay his fees, and I didn’t realize what I was getting into until it was too late.” He sighs. “I’m sorry. My problem. I shouldn’t have made it yours. Thanks, anyway.”

Mouse: “No. I’m your friend.” There’s still a strain to Mouse’s voice, but there’s sudden strength to it too. “Who’s your lawyer? What did he do? I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Emmett: “The lawyer’s out of the picture. For better, trust me.” He closes his eyes. “12 grand. I need 12 grand. I can’t ask you to come up with that. It’s out of your hands.”

His hanging head bats one of the balloons tied to his arm out of the way. The image would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes bug out. “I wish I had that kind of money. You know if I did, Em, I would pay for everything right away.” He looks almost as helpless as his invalid ‘friend’ for a moment there.

Emmett: I think college might actually make people stupider.

“Of course not, man,” he says. “I’d have to ask your brother, if anybody. And that wouldn’t go well, right? Hates my guts.”

Mouse: Mouse pauses for a moment. Then his eyes then light up as if a switch has been pulled inside his mind. “I could go and ask Francis for help!”

Emmett: There we go. “Are you sure he’d have the cash?” Em’s voice contains all-too-real hope.

Mouse: “I don’t think he does,” Mouse says unsurely. “But I could ask him if he knows anybody who could possibly help.” He gives Em a hopeful and hopefully encouraging look.

Emmett: Em’s already shaking his head. “No. I won’t make my problems his. I’ve wronged him enough. If he doesn’t have the means…” He pauses. “You’ve still got some friends in high places, right?”

Mouse: Mouse blinks. “High places?”

Emmett: “You’re a musician, man. I went with you to that concert once, remember? You seemed pretty comfortable with some of the… more well-off crowd.”

Mouse: “Thanks!” Mouse beams. “I get along with pretty much anyone.”

Emmett: Oh my god, I’m fucked.

“Cécilia Devillers,” he snaps, before composing herself. “I think that was her name, anyway. We had a good time, remember? And she said her mother’s got all sorts of non-profit projects. Maybe we could get some help there?”

It takes most of his remaining presence of mind to avoid screaming.

Mouse: Dawning understanding lights up Mouse’s face. He gives Em his brightest, most hopeful smile yet. “I could definitely try! I can talk to my agent about getting in contact. She’s the one with all the connections, y’know?”

Emmett: “That would be… awesome, Mouse. You’re a good friend.” He clears his throat. “The only thing is, whatever we do, it has to be quick. Within the next four days.”

Mouse: “Why’s that?”

Emmett: Because the Mob doesn’t screw around with deadlines, you fucking airhead. Em bites his tongue before that sentence passes his teeth. “Because that’s when they promised to hurt the people I love, Mouse.”

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen in shock. “You can count on me, Em!”

Emmett: Probably not, but at least you won’t cut off my leg. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Mouse,” Em says, and isn’t quite sure how much he’s lying.

Mouse: “No worries!” he grins. “You’re a really, really great friend, too!”

Emmett: “Thanks, man. That means a lot.” Almost as much as that stupid fucking card… is that a spit stain? He must have… no, he couldn’t have tried to get his brother to sign it, could he? Idiot.

Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline IV, Emmett V
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline V

Previous, Character Order: Caroline IV, Emmett V
Next, Character Order: Emmett VII

Story Four, Emmett IV

“Glad I’m not you.”
—Pamela Ardoin

Day ? Month ? Year?

GM: Beep… beep… beep…

White. Bright lights. Breathing. Every inhalation, every exhalation, a gale wind through his mouth. Hazy figures in green. Murmurs. A white-gloved hand over his face.

Beep… beep… beep…


GM: Beep… beep… beep…

Sterile white linoleum walls. A blue partitioning curtain. Smells of sweat, saline, and disinfectant.

Beep… beep… beep…

Something soft behind his back. The pain. Still everywhere. No longer a roaring bonfire, but a dull, throbbing ache.

Everywhere but his legs.

Emmett: “Ha… ha.” It’s a dream. Just a dream. Just a nightmare. He’s going to wake up soon. Any minute now.

GM: As his surroundings reluctantly focus, Em finds himself already in bed. One of those half-upraised hospital beds. An IV stabs through a vein on his arm.

Emmett: No, he isn’t. Please, God. He knows he’s made some mistakes. But he doesn’t deserve this. Does he? He speaks, and does not hear what he says.

GM: Emmett knows not whether he screams and blasphemes, cries and sobs, or desperately tries to convince himself the past… however many hours didn’t happen.

Nothing changes.

Pain does not fade. Feeling does not return from whence there was none. No voice answers in return. Emmett is left alone, denied even the comfort of sharing his pain with another human being.

Emmett: Tick tock, goes the clock. Thump-thump goes his heart. Beep-beep, goes the machine. His legs do nothing at all. Tears mark the time like sand in an hourglass, and fall just as heavy.

GM: The sand trickles. The tears flow. Em does not witness them run out. Perhaps he is simply too exhausted, or perhaps fate takes pity on him. Blackness finally steals over the young man’s sight.

Day ? Month ? Year ?

GM: “Good morning. Can you hear me?”

Emmett: Grunt.

GM: “You’ve been through an ordeal.”

Emmett: That is one way of putting it. “Water.”

GM: Emmett’s surroundings reluctantly blur into focus.

A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope looks down at him. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe a few years Lena’s junior. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. Em can’t say if it’s due to the doctor’s almost-beard or just the lighting, but a shadow seems to spread across his lower face as he smiles down at the bedridden young man.

Emmett: His voice is a dry husk. “Stop smiling.”

GM: “Try not to move too much. It’s going to hurt like hell for you right now.”

Emmett: “Stop smiling.”

GM: “You’ve been through an ordeal.” The doctor’s dark eyes twinkle.

Emmett: “You’re putting me through an ordeal. Look a little sad, please.” The joke, he finds, isn’t one. “Could you just… look a little goddamn sad?”

GM: The doctor’s smile slowly widens. “I’m sorry. I suppose I’m just happy for you. You’re very lucky to still be alive.” He gives a light chuckle. “In fact, most patients I know would be asking whether they were all right or how they ended up here.” The doctor glances down at something in his palm and seems to consider Em more thoughtfully.

Emmett: “I don’t think I’m all right,” Em says tonelessly. “Where am I? And how did I get here?”

GM: “Great questions. Let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember what your name is?”

Emmett: “Yes. Do you know my name?”

GM: The doctor smiles. “We’re here to talk about you right now.”

Emmett: “I remember my name.”

GM: “Please repeat it for me,” the doctor patiently requests.

Emmett: Em laughs. “I don’t know where I am, how I got here, or half of the last… Christ knows how many days. Why don’t you tell me what kind of frying pan I’m in before I step into the fire?”

GM: The edges of the doctor’s eyes crinkle. “No fire or frying pan. You’re in a hospital, and you’re here to get better. If you want to do that, we need to know how bad off you are. If you can’t remember your name, that would indicate something is pretty wrong. Make sense?”

Emmett: Em’s shoulders sag. He’s can’t feel his legs. His fucking legs. But. He still has his tongue. “I’m sorry, doc. I know you just want to help.” He forces every broken bone into his voice. Every drop of despair. “I… I have family, and they’re not well off. If they get called, they’ll try to help.” The tears are real enough. “I don’t want to break their backs, too, doc. I’m sorry.”

GM: “I’m sure you don’t,” the still-smiling doctor responds with a humoring tone. “Hate to rain on that parade, but I already know who you are. I’m checking to see whether you do too.”

Emmett: After considering the truth in Doctor McSunshine’s eyes, Em sighs. “Emmett Delacroix. I get to know yours?”

GM: “You can call me Dr. Brown. I’d shake, but, well.” The doctor offers a deprecating smile.

Emmett: But you’re too worried I’d bite you, fucker? Em glances at his arms.

GM: He finds both in casts and slings.

Emmett: “How’d I get here?”

GM: Another soft chuckle. “I was about to ask you, Emmett. What’s the last thing that you can remember before waking up here?”

Emmett: “I…” Em’s brow creases. “I think I drank something. In the Quarter…”

GM: “Something pretty strong, must’ve been.”

Emmett: “No, I think… I think I blacked out, after.”

GM: Dr. Brown raises his eyebrows. “That’s the last thing you remember, before waking up here?”

Emmett: “No. There’s… flashes. I was, um.” Swallow. “Naked. In the dark. I kept fading out.”

GM: The doctor glances down at something in his palm again, then back up at Emmett. “You have any idea how you might’ve ended up that way?”

Emmett: “There’s, um. The obvious answer. Some psycho slipped something in my drink and… Christ.”

GM: The doctor asks Em a few similar follow-up questions and finally states, “Mmm-hm. Well, maybe it’s for the best you don’t remember too much, but this is out of my hands anyway. The police are going to interview you, once you’re okay enough to have visitors.” The doctor smiles again, stands up, and pats the foot of Em’s bed in seeming substitute for touching the catastrophically injured young man’s body. “So until then, take it easy. We’ll have a nurse come by later to check on you.”

Emmett: “Please.” Em locks eyes with the man. “Can’t you tell me what you know? I’m sorry for being rude. I was scared. Am scared. I just…” the frustration, humiliation, in his voice is all too genuine. “I have no idea what’s happened to me.”

GM: The doctor heaves a sigh and sits back down. “Your landlady found you in the dumpster bin outside your apartment. Gave her quite a scare.”

Emmett: “Oh my god. What about my legs? My arms? How… how bad is it?”

GM: “Your arms were broken. They should heal up fine.”

Emmett: But.

GM: “Your legs, you’ve lost everything from the knee down.”

Emmett: Em blinks. “I, ah. I see.” He sobs, a little. His tongue. He still has his tongue. “Have you… called anybody?”

GM: The doctor smiles again, though whether out of genuine sympathy is Em’s guess. “Prosthetics have come a long ways, Emmett. So far as your family, we’ve called all of your immediate relatives.”

Emmett: Fuck. “Okay,” he says meekly. He has nothing else to say.

GM: “Turns out your sister’s actually a doctor too. Lucky you, when you’re discharged.”

Emmett: “Lucky,” he repeats.

GM: “Well, lucky in your circumstances,” Dr. Brown smiles.

Emmett: “Has she… seen?”

GM: “Oh no, we’ve not allowed you any visitors yet.”

Emmett: “Could we keep it that way, please? For… just a little bit?”

GM: The doctor laughs. “You just lie back and relax, Emmett. Enjoy some TV. You won’t need to worry about police or bills or whatever else until you’re a ways better.”

Emmett: “Not police. Just family.”

GM: “Afraid that’s not up to either of us. But like I said.” The doctor encouragingly pats the foot of Em’s bed again. “You don’t need to worry about them for now. You just focus on getting better.”

Emmett: Doc Brown’s probably tasted vinegar that was sweeter than Em’s laugh. “Oh. I’ll get right to that. How long does it take legs to grow back, usually?”

GM: The doctor grins. “Well, science hasn’t come quite that far yet. Prosthetics usually take at least a few months.” He picks up the TV’s remote. “You got a favorite channel to watch?”

Emmett: “I don’t suppose you have Netflix.”

GM: “’Fraid not. Or cable. Just regular old TV here.”

Emmett: “Just… anything.”

GM: Dr. Brown flicks the remote, pats Em’s bed again, and reiterates how a nurse will be around later to check on him. A final shadow-rimmed smile and he’s gone. The television blares down at the invalid young man.

“…this largest tooth whale is also called a chacalot!”

Game show-themed music begins playing. Dooh-dooh dooh dooh, dooh dooh dooh. Dooh, dooh-dooh dooh dooh dooh-dooh. Dooh, dooh-dooh, doo. Dooh. Dooh. Dooh. Dun-dun.

“What is… the sperm whale!”

Cheers and applause sound from the audience.

Emmett: He misses those visions already.

Em’s eyes close; first because the host’s makeup offends him, then because he finds the world is a better place when he doesn’t have to look at it, and finally because the pillow is so, so warm…

Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM

GM: Sleep comes easily and brings neither dreams nor nightmares. Just a blank stretch of non-being, when he isn’t Emmett Delacroix, isn’t a legless cripple, isn’t anybody else.

He comes to later in the evening. If the room’s darkened lighting is an indication, it’s late evening. He is confronted by a stout-framed, middle-aged woman with short graying hair and a jowl-lined, bulldog-like face. Emmett initially suspects her to be an orderly, but she wears a nurse’s scrubs and is holding a plastic bin that smells of talcum powder.

“You can’t use toilets, so you’re going to use this. Do you need me to remove your clothes?”

Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow. He glances at the strange white things that have replaced his arms. Then back at her.

GM: The nurse’s expectant expression doesn’t change.

Emmett: He grits his teeth. If pride had gone before the fall, this would be easier. “Yes,” he forces out.

GM: The nurse sets down the bedpan and pulls back Emmett’s covers. In place of where his legs used to be below the knee are two white-bandaged stumps.

Pain stabs through Em as the nurse hoists him up beneath his armpits like a sack of potatoes, lays a plastic cover over the sheets, and sets him back down. That hurts too. She undoes his hospital gown and raises it over his hips with the impersonal detachment of someone who’s done it a thousand times before. She then lowers the bed and grunts, “Lie supine.”

Emmett: Is that a math thing?

No more pillow talk, please…

Buy me dinner first…

He would have said something like that, once. Now he stares sadly at his cock. It’s cold in here, and he hurts all over. “I don’t know what that means,” he mutters.

GM: Emmett’s manhood resembles nothing so much as a sickly misshapen eggplant. It’s all blacks, blues, and dulled reds. Faded slashes crisscross its length. Random clumps of hair are either singed or missing.

The nurse just sighs, then takes hold of Emmett’s hips with two thick hands, which hurts, and pulls him forward so he’s lying flat on his back. She turns him on his side, which also hurts, and he feels cold plastic pressing against his buttocks. That hurts too. She rolls him on top of the bedpan and raises the bed, bringing his body into a somewhat more natural toileting position. That still hurts. She does not leave the room, but simply turns her back.

Emmett: “…oh.” He’s past the shame. He just loathes the dirty feeling. When he’s done, he clears his throat. “I need you to…”

GM: Voiding his bowels is like shitting rocks and pissing razor wire. It hurts. A lot. The smell is coppery and exceedingly foul. The nurse wrinkles her nose. “Glad I’m not you.”

Emmett: “I’m not.”

GM: The nurse holds the bedplan flat and then rolls Em away, onto his chest. He hears something lightly tearing, then there’s more pain. By the time the nurse is done and does up his gown, his ass feels like it’s been scorched with a blowtorch. “They found glass in your rectum,” she explains.

Emmett: His eyes feel wet, and he doesn’t trust himself to speak. He’s always hated places like this, for no particular reason. Now he has one.

GM: The nurse wordlessly carries away the foul-smelling bedpan. The stool is mostly obscured by discarded toilet paper, which is colored red as much as brown.

Em can’t say how much time passes before she returns. She sets down a tray on his bedside table, then looks over Em’s chart, re-inspects the splints on his arms, changes the fluid bag hooked up to his IV, and checks a few other things. She then sets the tray over Em’s lap. What’s on it looks almost as nauseous as what just came out of his ass.

The glob of potatoes is wet, gray, and runny, like a hunk of moist brain matter with runny snot for gravy. The ear of corn is discernible as corn, but the kernels are spaced conspicuously close together and are curiously uniform in their shape, like a plastic replica rather than the real thing. Em has no idea what the round-shaped gray stuff is. The brown goop smeared over it would resemble his stool if not for the sickly-sweet smell.

Emmett: “I’m not hungry.” Unless maybe you have some poison.

GM: The nurse sets a plastic knife and fork by Em’s plate and stares at him.

Emmett: “I’m not hungry,” he repeats. He sounds like a child. He doesn’t care.

GM: The nurse sets a glass of water on his tray. And stares.

Emmett: His head droops. “I—ok.” Here it comes. “My arms are, um. I can’t.” Goddammitdammitdammit. “I need you to help me.”

GM: The nurse stabs off a forkful of the snot-like potatoes and holds it in front of Em’s mouth like he’s twelve months old.

Emmett: Here comes the airplane. Right into the towers. He closes his eyes, and opens.

GM: The “food” gets shoved in. It tastes as bad as it looks. Bland, runny, and as far removed from that chocolatey Café Soulé luncheon as his odds of coming first place in a marathon. The nurse watches him as he chews and swallows, then partitions off a second forkful of mashed potato.

Eventually, his plate is cleaned and his glass is emptied. The nurse takes them away and tells Em that someone will come by in the morning to help him void his bowels and hand-feed him another meal. She takes her leave just as the wing’s lights go out. Em is left alone in the dark with his thoughts.

Emmett: It could be worse, right? He’s alive. People have lost more from less to drink. He still has his tongue. People love cripples—or they pity them, which is the same as far as money goes. It could be worse. Right?

But even Em isn’t that good of a liar.

GM: The days drag by.

Em can’t even change the TV station on his own. He remains completely dependent upon a rotating shift of impersonal caregivers to hand-feed him his food, brush his teeth, sponge-bath his useless body, and wipe toilet paper along his ass. The closest he comes to interaction with them is when he picks up his first nurse’s name as Pamela Ardoin. Dr. Brown checks in every so often, cheerfully remarking that Em’s vitals are improving nicely. For whatever that may be worth.

He’s tired.

It’s a bone-deep weariness of the spirit as well as the flesh. It weighs him down as much as the absent legs that confine his helpless body. Em overhears that he was not missing both his legs when he arrived in Tulane Medical Center, but that his left one was amputated. He had already lost his left foot, much of the flesh around his calf, and all of the bone up to his ankle. What was left of the leg was infected and had to come off. Dr. Brown reminds him with a smile that he’s very lucky to be alive.

He’s on antibiotics for a lot of things, including the treatment of several STDs. His head still hurts whenever he tries to recall past the black fog where Cash Money smashed a bottle over his head. The police will interview him about those events, he’s told, now that he’s being moved outside of ICU.

Thursday morning, 10 September 2015

GM: The police detective is an older man, with closely cropped irony gray hair that might’ve once been black. He’s got a hard nose, hard jawline, and harder eyes. His skin is worn and leathery like a well-used pair of work gloves, and pulled taut against gaunt cheekbones. He’s still a big man, maybe an inch or two over Em’s height, and wears a scuffed, faded gray trench coat over a plain shirt of the same color. A police badge on a cord dangles around his neck in place of a tie. He doesn’t bother flashing it as he pulls up a chair by Emmett’s bed and grunts, “Det. Gettis. Let’s hear it.”

Emmett: “I don’t remember much of what happened. I’m sorry.” Emmett’s voice has the all the emotion of a tombstone.

GM: The detective’s answer has all the tenderness of one.

“Not good enough.”

It’s even worse having his back up against the wall when he has no legs to run with. Then it’s just him, the wall, and whatever’s shoved him there.

Em doesn’t like this. He’s gotten into enough trouble with NOPD. There has to be a way out.

Wednesday evening, 9 September 2015

Emmett: Em lifts his head during the daily… wiping. “Hey.”

GM: His nurse grunts.

Emmett: “Who do I talk to to make a phone call?”

GM: His nurse grunts again. Another streak of cotton-texture fire scorches Em’s ass, though after several days of ‘care’ it stings more than it burns now. “Me. Because you’re in no shape to make one.”

Emmett: Em eyes the woman. “So can you? Make a call? I need to talk through the phone myself.”

GM: The nurse gives him an irritated look. “Cellphones aren’t allowed in ICU. I’d have to wheel you out to use one of ours.”

Emmett: “Could you, please?” Em arches an eyebrow. “I know it’s a pain in the ass. Do you know Dr. Merinelli?”

GM: Emmett’s regards him with that same flat, bulldog-jowled stare he’s come to know her by so well for the past few days.

Emmett: “I’m her baby brother. Woman practically raised me.” That first part is even true. Em looks at her as levelly as he can manage from his current position. “She’d be very grateful. And she’s a generous person. Ask her friends on the board. Or on the faculty of Tulane’s med school. You hear what I’m saying?”

GM: The nurse grunts again as she wipes another toilet paper strip along Em’s ass, but her movements feel slower. Even a bit less painful. “How generous?”

Emmett: “She once asked a waitress if there was a cap on tips.”

GM: “You’re getting moved out of ICU,” Em’s nurse declares with another grunt. “If you’re well enough to get wheeled out of here, you don’t need to stay in here.”

Emmett: “As long as I get to the phone on the way, you can stick me in a closet.”

GM: Several minutes later, Em is sitting on a wheelchair, his nurse has dialed a number on a landline, and is holding the phone to his ear. Several rings sound before another middle-aged woman greets him with a flat, “Bert Villars, attorney at law. How can I help you?”

Emmett: “Hello, Paloma—it’s your secret admirer. I’m sorry I’m not there to see you in person.” The words echo strangely off his voice—lines delivered without passion. “Put me through to Bert, please.”

GM: “It’s you,” Paloma remarks in an equally cheerful tone. The secretary’s voice disappears. Shortly later, Em hears a greasy “Hello, Emmett,” drip from the phone’s receiver.

His nurse sighs and lifts it off from its temporary resting place on Em’s shoulder and holds it to his mouth.

“Bud’s available to meet tomorrow evening,” Villars continues.

Emmett: “What? Oh. There’s, um. Been a development.”

GM: Emmett can all but see the mostly-blind lawyer’s yellow-toothed grin. “Isn’t there always.”

Emmett: “How soon can you get to Tulane Medical?”

GM: Emmett can picture the yellowy grin spreading like a cobra’s flared hood. “As fast as a paid legal bill.”

Emmett: “I need counsel. Payout might be a few days away, but I only need a few hours’ investment. I’ll pay you double for the time. I have your attention?” A gamble. But when you’re about to hang, Em figures, asking for more rope can’t hurt.

GM: And Cash Money, true to his name, worships no higher god than Mammon, Em recalls his attorney telling him earlier.

Bert Villars is evidently a fellow disciple.

“Things sound like they’re starting to heat up,” the grimebag lawyer grins. “All right, I’ll be over soon. Don’t burn your pants too badly for me to put out.”

Emmett: The call ended, Em nods to his nurse. “Appreciated.”

Thursday morning, 10 September 2015

GM: “Not good enough.” If Em’s voice has all the emotion of a tombstone, Det. Gettis’ is just as hard.

Emmett: Em tries to meet the taller man’s eyes. “Maybe not. But as you can see-” he flicks his head at the wreck he’s woken up in, “-my entire life’s not good enough at the moment. Yours can wait in line.”

GM: “…and he’s right in here,” Em hears a woman’s voice declaring. A nurse opens the door to his room, and Caveat slinks in, followed by the grimebag lawyer he’s tethered to. Villars wears a similar dark suit and striped necktie to the one Em last saw him in, and the same dark glasses. He bares his teeth 90 degrees to the right of Em’s location in what passes for a smile. “You tell me now, whoever’s sitting in that bed, are you my client?”

Gettis’ knuckles tighten.

Emmett: “I am indeed.” Em’s smile is every bit as brittle as the casts that imprison him.

GM: Villars thanks the nurse for showing him the way with another ugly leer and then remarks, seemingly oblivious to Gettis’ presence, “So, first, there’s the matter of bills…”

Emmett: “Company, Bert.”

GM: “Is there now? I-”

Gettis cuts the lawyer off. “Last thing you remember, Delacroix.”

Emmett: “You, leaving.” He tilts his head. “Oh, wait, sorry. That’s what happens next. Maybe it’s one of those precognition things. Like on T.V.”

GM: The detective rises from his seat, walks up to Em’s bed, and stares down at him. “Wrong answer.”

Villars tilts his head. “Ah, now what’s this? Is my client under arrest, Officer…?”

Emmett: “Gettis,” mutters Em.

GM: Gettis regards the grimebag lawyer with all the esteem he might hold for a glob of sputum on his shoe. “He’s being detained under reasonable suspicion.”

“Ah, I see,” Villars replies thoughtfully. “Well, it’s a good thing he has his lawyer present for all the twenty minutes you can be here. Emmett, now, the good detective is trying to do his job. What is the last thing you… do remember?”

Emmett: Em nods. Swallows tremulously. “I… I was having a drink. In Marigny.” He scrunches up his brow. “I’m sorry, it’s all hazy. Either the Vortex or the Carnival Club. Someplace with lots of music, flashing lights. I was drinking something. I don’t remember ordering, but I was definitely drinking, and I remember talking to somebody. A girl. She said her name was Courtney.”

GM: Det. Gettis walks directly in front of Emmett’s bed and plants his callused hands on either side of the railing. Bert Villars is literally eclipsed by the man’s looming presence. His gaunt, scarred face is all-too close. His gaze all-too intense. Pitiless iron-gray eyes bore into Em’s with all the hardness of railroad spikes.

Emmett: Em wants so badly to stare back. He wants to laugh in the pig’s face, and pull out another one-liner; he wants to make him fume and spit and tear his hair out. He wants to feel like himself again.

But he isn’t.

He remembers what happened to the last NOPD detective he defied. He breaks under Gettis’s gaze like ice underfoot. “It… it wasn’t my fault.” The world’s gone blurry.

GM: Villars frowns slightly at Em’s change in tone, but remains literally blind to the goings-on. “Now, Emmett…” he starts.

Emmett: “It was… Mouton. I had a deal with him, and I shorted him. Just a hundred bucks. I, I was drunk. I threw up on him.” There are skates more steady than the manic laugh. “He didn’t like that. Not at all.”

GM: Emmett might as well be talking to a brick wall for all the reaction that Gettis’ hard-jawed face evinces. Villars moves to intercede, telling Emmett to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights, that he doesn’t have—but the change in tactics comes too late. Gettis ignores the lawyer utterly as he stares at Emmett… and something within the crippled young man just breaks.

It all comes tumbling out. The now so-very aborted plan to defraud al-Saud of his millions. Going to Cash Money to find out what NOPD had on him. Taunting the soon-enraged corrupt cop. The one-sided brawl. The… Em regales what parts came next that his mind hasn’t scabbed over like still-purple scar tissue. The conversation with Courtney. The woman whose shoes clicked against stone. Waking up in the dumpster. All of it.

Emmett: The good news is he sounds like a madman. Too insane to be taken seriously.

The bad news is he sounds like a madman, and he takes himself seriously.

GM: Gettis produces a pair of handcuffs, snaps one cuff around Em’s broken, cast-encased wrist, and snaps the other cuff to his bed. “You’re under arrest.”

“On what charges, Detective?” Villars scoffs.

“Good question. Lot here.”

Emmett: Em frowns, his wrist limp. “Bert. Is that legal?” His tone is more deadpan curiosity than interested.

GM: Villars might roll his eyes. “I can’t stop him from making an arrest, only challenge its legality in court. And if you’re expecting NOPD to care about legality next to everything you just blabbed, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Now shut your mouth and don’t think about any words except ‘Fifth Amendment’ before you make things even worse.”

“Assaulting a public officer,” Gettis muses about the cause for Em’s arrest, seemingly half to himself.

Emmett: “Okay.” Em flicks the tears from his cheeks. “Bert?”

GM: Villars looks at him disgustedly. “That isn’t anywhere close to ‘Fifth’ or ‘Amendment’.”

Emmett: “I have to take a shit. Call the nurse.”

GM: Gettis pulls out a card and dryly recites, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

Villars looks between the two and heaves a sigh.

Emmett: “No, seriously. Call the nurse.”

Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline III
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline IV, Emmett V

Previous, Character Order: Emmett III
Next, Character Order: Caroline IV, Emmett V

Story Four, Emmett III

“I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die.”

GM: There’s Romena, where I falsified
the coin that issues from the Baptist’s die,
for which I was condemned, and burned, and died.

But if on Guido I could set my eye,
or Sandro, or their sib, I wouldn’t trade
the sight for all the fountains of Versailles.

Day ? September 2015?

GM: The merry-go round spins forward. His inebriated psyche bleeds out of his dripping head wound and onto the rotating platform. Jameson and bitter regrets spill over the pulsating lights.

The darkness looms.


Licks its lips.
Welcome to the jungle
It gets worse here everyday
You learn to live like an animal
In the jungle where we play

Emmett: Around and around he goes. Mistake after mistake after sin. Clarice had always made him count his sins. He tries to open his eyes, even with the anvils tied to them. “Mom?”

GM: I’m here, precious.

If you got a hunger for what you see
You’ll take it eventually
You can have anything you want
But you better not take it from me

In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your
Knees, knees
I wanna watch you bleed

I wanna watch you bleed

Emmett: Bleeding, he remembers. He was bleeding. Ohfuck. Cash Money. Barely Legal. But…

What’s happening…

GM: I wanna watch you

I wanna watch you

I wanna watch you

Watch you



Emmett: What the fuck? Who?

GM: Welcome to the jungle
We take it day by day
If you want it you’re gonna bleed
But it’s the price you pay

Emmett: Something in him snaps. I liked Paradise City better. Where am I? What’s happening? What’s happening? FUCKING ANSWER ME

GM: And you’re a very sexy girl
That’s very hard to please
You can taste the bright lights
But you won’t get them for free

“When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Emmett: Em tries to scream.

GM: The Eighth Circle begins with the sale of the sexual relationship, and goes on to the sale of Church and State; now, the very money is itself corrupted, every affirmation has become perjury, and every identity a lie.

Fire burns in his chest. It roasts his heart but he doesn’t have one.

I searched for God

And found only myself


GM: Pain. It surges through bone and blood. It pounds against Emmett’s skull like a raging hangover and twists his guts like an apple peeler.

The darkness looms.



He can’t see anything. The surface beneath his bare skin is hard, cold, and uneven, like stone. His teeth and gums are caked with something dried that tastes even worse than it smells. His throat is dry and parched. A splitting migraine pounds inside his head. His face and hair feel crusted over with another dry substance. The gaping pit where he remembers having a stomach sobs and whines. When did he last eat? His bladder feels like a full water balloon pinpricked with tiny holes that could make it rupture at any moment.

Emmett: Em spits. He tries to move. Can he see his hand? He’s still alive, right? Death is supposed to feel better than this. “Act three,” he says aloud.

GM: His tortured body slowly, screamingly, acedes to his desire for locomotion. He feels the tendons in his arm stretch. He does not see his hand move.

Emmett: He slides a hand beneath his shirt. He remembers an explosion. Blood. He laughs a little, and speaks to nobody in particular. “You wanna see me bleed?”

GM: Em feels no shirt to slip his hand beneath. Only flesh. Naked. Sweaty, cracked, and wincingly sensitive. From his chest to his genitals.

Emmett: “…fun.” He takes a breath, and raises his head. “Cash Money?”

GM: A raggedy-, high-sounding voice croaks back, “Always gets his money…”

“Cash Money…”

“Always gets his money…”

Emmett: Em’s blood would run cold if he could spare the heat. “Hello?”

GM: “Always…” Manic, choke-like excuses for laughter echo in Em’s pounding ears.

Emmett: “That’s not a good noise. Fuck me. Fuck me.” Em squints through the gloom. “Who are you?”

GM: Raggedy sobs answer Em’s query. “I don’t—I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die.”

Emmett: Em’s own laugh is sane only by comparison. “Me neither. Me neither. I hear it’s expensive. Focus, focus. I’m naked and I have to focus. Oh shit.”

He rambles for a minute longer before asking again. “If you tell me your name, I might be able to get you out of here. Ok? I need to know what’s happening, or I can’t get us out of this. You want out, right?”

GM: Em’s parched, raggedy voice is a far cry from its usual smooth tones, but the sobs eventually subside into shuddering breaths. “C… Courtney…”

Emmett: “Good. Still got it. Pretty name, Courtney. Do you know where we are?”

GM: There’s a strangled sniff. “No…”

Emmett: “Oh, Christ. You’re useless. We’re fucked. We’re so fucked I might get pregnant and give birth to a little bastard and name him after myself, because I’ve fucked myself.” Aloud, he thinks he says, “Everything’s going to be fine, Courtney.”

GM: “W-wha…?” The woman’s tears sound all but spent, but her voice cracks as she repeats, “I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die. I… I don’t wanna die…”

Emmett: “Nobody wants to die,” he snaps. “People make a habit of it anyway. It’s like school or sticking your parents in a nursing home-ohfuckIneverreadmom’sletterFUCK!”

GM: “My mom’s dead…”

Emmett: He kicks inanely at the stone floor.

GM: His already tender foot hurts.

Emmett: “Eh? What was that? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of us being trapped in a fucking dungeon.”

GM: A shrill note of panic rises in Courtney’s voice. “Oh god oh god oh god…”

Emmett: Em rubs at his bloody hair and does the thing he hates most, and waits. “Fuck this jungle.”

GM: The darkness looms.



Em falls into sweet oblivion.

GM: The Arctic Ocean crashes against Em’s face. Freezingly cold and crushingly hard. Wet. A rancid odor wafts between his thighs. His once-bursting bladder feels empty.

The darkness stirs.

A steady click-click-click sounds against the stone floor. Like Roberts’ high heels.

Emmett: “…you’re kidding me.”

GM: A low female voice pierces the silence.

“Eeny… meeny… miny… moe…”

“Catch a… tiger… by the… toe…”

Emmett: “If I holler, do I get to go?” He snickers. “Blunt, but what the hell. I’ll do better next time.”

GM: The darkness smiles.


The darkness shifts.

“The city for her. Bad pockets for him.”

Heavy footsteps draw closer to Em.

Emmett: He laughs. “You’re welcome, Courtney.”

GM: Metal shrieks and groans.

The darkness yawns.

Opens wide.

Em falls in.

Day ? Month ? Year?

GM: Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord, my soul to keep

Keep me safe through the night
and wake me with the morning light

If I should die before I wake,
I pray for Lord my soul to take.



GM: Her appetite has become tremendous in every way
they make love in the kitchen, the living room,
and she eats huge plates of pasta.

He would follow. He would, honest,
but when he held her, dancing,
everything felt good but
not everything felt right.

Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.

Children understood at a very young age that doing nothing was an expression of power. Doing nothing was a choice swollen with omnipotence. It was, in fact, godly.

He wanted to strip away the pain but not the sadness,
he wanted to breathe real life into every memory
but still somehow let go,
he wanted to become something else
while holding onto everything he had.

“Reality is a prison.”

“Reality is a prison.”



Your prison.”

“Do you wish to be free?”

Emmett: “I don’t think you’re really asking.”

GM: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven.

Daddy, DON’T!

STOP IT, daddy!

You’re hurting me!


Emmett: “Stop. Please.”He’s sold ice to Eskimos and charged them double for snowshoes. He’s cheated cheaters and pulled tricks on tricksters. But he’s never been scared. Not like this. And he’s never asked for something he wanted quite so much. “Please make it stop.”

GM: Jesus loves the little children,

All the children

of the world.

Emmett: “Please.”

GM: Fat and skinny, short and tall,

Jesus loves them




I asked why, but you only said because you could.

I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out. He who will drink from the bubbling stream which I have measured out…. He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.

I know a girl

That’s pure beauty to see

Won’t mention her name

As I feel there’s no need

Emmett: I’m way, way too hungover for this.

GM: Lover

Emmett: “I’m… n-not… Dimit…ri. And I… alw-ways h-hated that… mov-vie.” His voice quavers when he… says the words? Thinks them? If he were one to pray, he’d pray it’s the first. If only to keep his tongue.

Emmett: “Looks… like… a-a fun…n-ne…r h-hell… tha-an-n th-ISS-SSS!!!”

Is he crying? Laughing? Is there even a difference?

GM: It’s not what I’ve done, you stupid bitch.

It’s what I am.


Day ? Month ? Year?

GM: Pain. It surges through bone and blood—and beyond.

The darkness looms.

Licks its lips.


Or maybe it just shits.

The smell stabbing up Em’s nostrils is revolting. Like rotted food, soiled diapers, and sweat-drenched clothes. His surroundings clink and crinkle as he moves.

Emmett: “Hello?” he croaks. “Please.” His defiance is gone, wasted on whatever sick fever dream that was.

“Water?” he rasps. Asking would mean thinking; thinking doesn’t enter into it. He does not ask, or want, or need. He is just thirst, and pounding head, and regret.

GM: No one answers Emmett. No one he can hear. If he can still hear. No one he can see. If he can still see. There is only smell. And sensation.

Thirst. Hunger. Hangover. Vomit. Cuts. Bruises. Lacerations. Aches. Trying to describe them all is futile at this point. He just hurts.


Inside and out.

Everywhere but his legs.

Emmett: No. I’m going to do so much worse. No. Em slides his hand below his waist.

GM: Em feels a ragged, wet, crusted-over mass of ravaged quivering meat underneath his hand. Each moment of touch sends further shivers of pain up his arm. Where his thighs should be.

Past that is nothing.

Emmett: Em’s back arches, and he gasps for breath. If he has the water to spare, his eyes burn with tears. He’ll only realize later that he’s laughing, though it sounds much the same as a scream.

GM: The manic noise echoes and rattles like he’s trapped inside his own skull. There’s a sound in the distance. Thump. Thump. Closer. Not thumps. Softer. A sharp tap, from above Emmett’s head.

Emmett: Mom…


GM: Pain. It floods Emmett’s eyes, blasting his vision into a bright hellscape. Absolute dark is supplanted by absolute white.

“What the-”

A pause.


Light recedes back into pitch black. Something wet hits something hard.

Emmett: Em doesn’t know much, anymore. He’s past thinking. Past wanting, even, except for the want of the last day to vanish, to drown like an abort in a toilet, to sink and flush and die. But he feels the fainting spell coming, sure enough.


Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline II, Louis II
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline III

Previous, Character Order: Emmett II
Next, Character Order: Emmett IV

Story Four, Emmett II

“There are three commandments the French Quarter’s police hold sacred above any written law.”
—Bert Villars

Saturday afternoon, 5 September 2015

GM: New Orleans is no New York or District of Columbia, but between hosting the Louisiana Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s the legal capital of the South. Located in the Vieux Carré and Central Business District respectively, one can easily walk from one court to the other, not that most judges and attorneys would deign to traverse the distance on foot. Law offices cluster around the two great courts like tics burrowed against a fat carcass. Louisiana might be the poorest state in the country, but well-reputed lawyers can make very profitable careers for themselves in this square mile of it.

Bert Villars is not a particularly well-reputed lawyer.

His office is located a short walk away from Mid-City’s Shops at Crescent Club shopping mall. The house-like building is plain and nondescript from the outside, the sort of place that looks like it could be either a “professional” office for a small business or somebody’s home. Its only advertisement is a slightly scuffed sign that reads “Bert Villars—Attorney at Law”.

The reception room, though, tells it all.

The first thing that hits Emmett as he walks in is the rank odor of cigarette smoke. Several black men wearing fashion assortments that include hoodies, leather jackets, baseball caps, and flashy gold jewelry are engaged in conversation with a Latina woman who might be able to pass for a professional-looking receptionist if she were several decades younger, there were fewer bags under her eyes, and her jowls weren’t tugged into a seemingly permanent scowl. Two women dressed in miniskirts, heavy makeup, and stripper-high heels dangle from the mens’ arms, looking bored as the receptionist splits her attention between conversation and typing at her computer.

The other dregs seated in the reception area’s chairs say few better things about Bert Villars’ clientèle. A slim-faced, long-nosed, greasy-haired man dressed entirely in black stares intently at the magazine gripped in his hands, his mouth contorted in a sneering half-grimace as his beady eyes dart suspiciously between Em and the other clients. His neighbor is an indistinct figure swaddled in a drawn-up hoodie, baggy pants, and what looks like at least several further layers of clothes. His (her?) face is concealed behind a ski mask and wide pair of sunglasses. He stares blankly up at the ceiling, his arms and posture slack, his body motionless. Em cannot say if he is alive or dead.

The last personage is a middle-aged, pencil-mustached man in a cheap white leisure suit and partly unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt that shows off his chest hair. His graying, receding hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and he smells of incredibly strong cologne even when he’s seated over five feet away from Em, boredly flipping through his phone.

The aging receptionist spares Em a half-glance as the black men and scantily-attired girls on their arms file out. The stench of cigarette smoke doesn’t dissipate. “Take a seat, Bert’ll be with you soon,” she snaps.

Emmett: He inclines his head, and gives her a smile even as he makes his way to the seat by the black-dressed man. “Who says I’m not here to see you, Paloma?”

GM: The frumpy-looking woman snorts and types something onto her computer.

Emmett: Taking his seat, Em says to his neighbor out of the corner of his mouth, “She’s got a soft spot for me. Deep, deep down.”

GM: The greasy-haired man actually startles as Em speaks to him and clutches the magazine even tighter. His eyes slowly drift between the receptionist and grifter. His right is a bit of a lazy one. “She’s a fat cunt.”

Emmett: “That’s why it’s so deep.”

GM: The man’s thin lips pull back as he makes a series of half-hissing, half-coughing sounds that might be able to pass for laughter. Paloma shoots him a withering glare.

Em waits for some ten minutes before his attorney finally shows, preceded by the sound of a clip-harnessed, stub-tailed dobberman’s steady padding against the carpeted floor. The grimebag lawyer wears black sunglasses that conceal his sightless eyes, a mid-range suit, checkered black and red necktie, and an American flag lapel pin that technically satisfy all the external trappings for how a lawyer is supposed to look. The leathery, scabbed-over quality to his worn black skin from a former career as a bug exterminator, however, betrays their spirit, as does his too-wide, yellow-toothed smile. It’s bared in an almost paralytic grimace not unlike a cobra flaring its hood, and is made all the less reassuring by how the near-blind lawyer is staring just a little ways off from where Em actually is.

“Ah, Mr. Delacroix. Right this way, please.”

Emmett: Em slides to his feet, hands in his pockets. “Long time no see, Bert.” He moves to get the door for the old bastard, even though he’s always had a faint hunch that the snake’s eyes still work.

GM: The old snake bares another hood-flaring grin. “You’re too kind.” Villars and his canine guide Caveat follow Em down a short hallway into his office room, which contains all the usual accouterments one expects: desk, chairs, bookshelves filled with legal titles, mounted degrees and awards. The latter, though, seem just a little scarce, and the empty space on the walls is instead conveniently filled out by four framed pages of the U.S. Constitution. Villars takes a seat behind his desk and the faux-gold model scales of justice on its surface, then motions for Em to pull up a chair on the other side. He lights up a cigarette and bares his yellowed teeth in another grimace-like smile.

“So what kind of trouble can I get you out of today, mmm?”

Emmett: “The type that gets you either in a cell or buried under it.” Em clears his throat. “And which earns repeat business.”

GM: Villars exhales a plume of dirty smoke. Politely away from Em’s face. Caveat, lying at the foot of the desk, shakes his head. “Doesn’t it all, when it adds up,” the grimebag lawyer smiles.

Emmett: Em doesn’t hold anything back in his explanation of his recent activities. He also dies his best to approximate exactly what he imagines Christina knows about him and could have passed on to Talal.

“How much trouble am I in, legally speaking?”

GM: Villars patiently listens to Emmett’s explanation of events. By the time he is finished, the lawyer’s cigarette has diminished to a stub. Villars snubs out the smoking embers in an ashtray next to justice’s scales. “Well, Emmett, there is legally and there is legally, yes?”

“Legally, you haven’t actually done anything. Well,” he adds as Caveat’s ears seem to perk, “anything to al-Saud. I suppose they could try to get you on false impersonation, but, really, it’s a completely frivolous case.” Villars drums his fingers over his desk. “Legally… well, there are three commandments the French Quarter’s police hold sacred above any written law.”

“One, visitors must feel safe.”

“Two, visitors must spend money.”

“Three, nothing must disturb the businesses through which that money flows.”

“You, my friend, by wanting to defraud al-Saud, are guilty of intent to violate #2. Whether you’ve violated #1, well, I suppose that depends how he took whatever Ms. Roberts had to say.”

Emmett: “So I don’t have to fear a lawsuit,” Em says. “I have to fear the cops? As far as the Quarter goes,” he amends.

GM: “The Eighth District cops have jurisdiction over the CBD, Warehouse District, and Marigny too,” Villars amends.

Emmett: “Oh. Everywhere fun.”

GM: “Yes, it’s a cushy district. The cops want to make sure visitors like al-Saud stay safe. In fact, not just perception, for ones as high-profile as him.”

Emmett: Em considers in silence.

GM: “So if he wants them to break your ribs and throw you in jail for ‘assaulting an officer’, that’d be fairly easy for him to arrange. He’s probably lavishing them with regular bribes anyway, to overlook what goes on in his hotel room.”

Emmett: “…ah.”

GM: “Al-Saud brings the Vieux Carré a great deal of money. You don’t.”

Emmett: “You know Cash Money—Ricky Mouton?”

GM: Villars flashes another yellowy grin. “All too well.”

Emmett: “He’s connected. Think he could make this go away, if he wanted to?”

GM: Villars bursts out in raggedy, cough-like laugher he’s only able to sustain for a few moments. Caveat’s ears go flat at the sound. “Emmett. Al-Saud brings in the French Quarter a great deal of money. You don’t. And Cash Money, true to his name, worships no higher god than Mammon.”

Emmett: “If he wanted to, though,” Em repeats.

GM: “Well, he wouldn’t. But that’s the real question, isn’t it? Whether the want is Cash Money Mouton’s or Talal al-Saud’s.” Villars drums his fingers. “That’s your best defense at this point. Whether Talal actually cares enough to make any fuss over this. You say you never spoke to him, and it sounds as if Ms. Roberts didn’t either.”

Emmett: Em blinks.

GM: “He could have the police beat your brains in out of pique, but you have to meet a man to feel pique towards him.”

Emmett: Em slept through English, but he gets the gist. “You think Roberts was bluffing?”

GM: Villars frowns. “What? My lord no, I’m positive she wasn’t. She, Emmett, certainly feels pique towards you.” The black-bespectacled lawyer makes a tsking noise. “Discretion is to her business what tourists are to the French Quarter, you ought to know. Rich men who see her escorts don’t want it blabbed about to strangers.” He flashes another leering, grimace-like smile. Caveat scratches his ear. “And Christina Roberts does so live to serve mens’ wants.”

Emmett: Em ignores the urge to see if the blind man recognizes a middle finger. “So it seems like my next step is to figure out what’s happened so far, then find who it is I have to talk down. Unless you recommend another, ah, course of action?”

GM: “Well, that’s also hard to say,” Villars muses. “Al-Saud at least, who doesn’t know you, who never spoke to you, doesn’t have much reason to hate you. I’m sure he has a hundred other things—and people—he’d rather be doing than fretting over a warning about a petty grifter from the woman who supplies his whores.”

Emmett: Em sighs. “I’ll figure it out. There’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask you, anyways.”

GM: “Well, just a moment, Emmett. I haven’t offered my full… two cents,” Villars offers with another smile that has all the warmth of melted butter. The longer he talks, after all, the more he gets to bill.

“Al-Saud’s security detail is another matter. Their job, after all, is to do nothing but obsess over things that could rain on their boss’ vacation. What they want to do, though, I suppose depends on how they feel towards Christina Roberts, what she had to tell them, and how seriously they decide to take it. All you did, after all, was call and hang up.”

Emmett: Em rubs at his eyes. “As long as I don’t get FBI shaking up old cases. Like Afflerbach.” He grimaces at the memory. He had met with Villars after that disaster, too.

GM: Villars just bares another yellow-tinged grin. There might not have been any court appearances, but there were billable hours. “Afflerbach was NOPD business. But I digress. And no, unless al-Saud has given over the purse strings to his security detail, they can just cave your skull in themselves if they think you’re going to be trouble.” His leer widens. “And we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?”

Emmett: “I am fond of my skull, yeah.”

GM: Villars lights up another cigarette. “But, now, that’s on the extreme end of things. Could be they’ll just keep a closer eye on people trying to make friends with their boss. I don’t know them, so I really couldn’t say.”

Emmett: Em manages a smile, despite what seems like Villars’ best efforts. Bad, but survivable. “Anything else I should keep in mind?”

GM: Villars exhales a smoky plume. “Mmm, how’s this. If you’re appealing against someone’s self-interest, it doesn’t matter what you have to say.”

Emmett: “I do that every day. It’s how I’m paying for this meeting.”

GM: “Cash Money loves money. Christina Roberts loves satisfied—and satisfying,” he leers, “—customers. Al-Saud’s people love their boss. Or at least his paychecks.” Another rancid, smoke-stained smile. “It’s so much harder to talk people away from their loves than their wives.”

“So if I were you, I wouldn’t talk to al-Saud’s people, or Cash Money, about anything related to this. Sometimes it’s better to just shut up.”

Emmett: Em simply shrugs. “Gotta play the cards you’re given. I don’t have many, and I don’t play to fold.”

GM: “Mmm. So what other cards are you laying on the table for me today?”

Emmett: Em spends the rest of the hour asking about the practicalities of alternate identities, and what if anything Villars knows about creating them.

GM: Villars grins like he’s been told an amusing joke. “Things starting to heat up, mmm?”

Emmett: “Always good to have a way out.”

GM: “Well, I don’t know anything about falsifying identities. Or at least anywhere near enough to do it myself.” The grimebag lawyer scratches his dog’s ears. “But you could say I know a guy who knows a guy. You’d not be the first of my clients who’s needed to disappear.”

Emmett: Em eyes the lawyer’s shades. “Does your guy have a name?”

GM: “He goes by Bud. He’s in the Dixie Mafia. If you’re interested, I can make a call to set things up.”

Emmett: “Depends. How much is the referral gonna cost me?”

GM: “‘Nother hour’s worth.”

Emmett: Em considers, then nods. “Make the call, then.” He gets up to go.

GM: Villars rises after him, picking up Caveat’s tether. “He’s a bit eccentric. Likes to have a little girl sit on his lap and watch when he does business.”

Emmett: Em blinks. “That… is eccentric.” As he heads to the door, he calls: “Tell Paloma to smile more. Can’t find good service these days.”

Emmett: Em waits a whole hour after leaving Villars’ to call Ricky “Cash Money” Mouton from his hotel room. Never let it be said he does not heed legal counsel.

GM: The phone rings and rings and rings. Finally, a smug-sounding “Hello, Em,” slides across Emmett’s ear with a tone as pleasant as oil over water. He can all but see the beanpole-framed cop’s puffy lips pressed into a smile at the greeting, like life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows.

Emmett: “Hey, hey, Ricky,” Em says. He should call more often. Every time he’s met Mouton in person he’s wondered if the asshole’s hair is as flammable as it looks. “Million-dollar question is, do you know why I’m calling?”

GM: Emmett can’t smell Cash Money’s signature scents of old spice deodorant, hair tonic, or tabasco sauce over the phone, but he can feel the leering man’s sleaze tickling his ear like an older relative’s fingers being somewhere they shouldn’t.

“For a million dollars I’m sure I could give you a reason.”

Emmett: “I’ll take that as a ‘no.’”

GM: Emmett can all but see the amused smirk. “Take it any which way you like.”

Emmett: “I may or may not have some unofficial heat at the moment. Can you poke around and see if any of your friends in blue have been asking about me? Preferably without making waves?” And more to the point, can you do it without bankrupting me?

GM: “Well, Em, that depends,” drawls the redbone cop. “Blue’s a color that pairs with green like dick and lips.”

Emmett: “Get your metaphors straight. You want cash or a BJ?”

GM: “One buys the other anyway.”

Emmett: “I’ll pay the green, then. How much?”

GM: “Mmm, let’s put it at a Ben Franklin.”

Emmett: “Done. He looks forward to meeting you. Call me back in a few?”

GM: “Meet me at the Barely Legal at 9.” His god’s presence invoked, Cash Money hangs up.

Emmett: Em texts him. Sorry to ruin the dramatic exit, but can’t do it. Call or nothing.

GM: No response texts back from the redbone detective.

Emmett: Em frowns. Then he calls his landlord.

GM: A few rings pass, though not so many as for Cash Money. “Yes, what is it?” asks Mrs. Darnell, the woman who serves as the building’s property manager. The actual landlord doesn’t care to handle that himself.

Emmett: “Hello, Mrs. Darnell. Having a good day?”

GM: “About as good as any other. They come and go.”

Emmett: “I’m out of town for the weekend, but I just remembered an old friend may have dropped in. I was double checking with you; has anybody come by looking for me?” She doesn’t sound like she’s been visited by the authorities. But better safe than sorry.

GM: “No, no one that I remember. Although I don’t know how many visitors would know I’m the building manager anyway.”

Emmett: “That’s fine, thanks anyways. Have a good one.” Click.

He trusts Cash Money about as much as he likes talking to him. Odds are that meeting with the cop will land him in trouble. He can’t—won’t—spend God knows how long squatting here until he feels safe walking the streets of his home. Fuck Mouton, fuck Roberts, and fuck the NOPD if they think they can keep him shut up in some two-star shithole in the CBD.

What he needs is a plan.

Saturday evening, 5 September 2015

GM: Emmett hits the Vieux Carré and bribes a stripper he knows into getting close to some of the dirty cops who work alongside Cash Money. She shoots him a text around 8 PM, at the end of her day shift. As far as she could pick up, NOPD has no plans of busting Em, either for real crimes or manufactured ones. What that bodes for Talal al-Saud, of course, she cannot say.

Emmett: Em swallows his nightly pill of self-loathing and gives in to the redbone sleazebag fuck, showing up at Barely Legal come 8:59.

Act two.

The one when most things go to shit, Em can’t help but note.

GM: There are few places in the world that can so carefully walk the line between “grimy disgusting shithole” and “mecca of rambunctiousness.” New Orleans, Louisiana walks that line with unparalleled grace.

The Barely Legal drunkenly stumbles after it.

It’s a hole in the wall strip club on Bourbon Street, stuck in between the plethora of restaurants and shops that line the partygoer-filled street. Unlike many of the topless establishments of the French Quarter, Barely Legal asks for no cover charge, ushering patrons straight into a neon-red world of scintillating lights, thumping music, and pole-dancing, ample-breasted women in various states of undress. Frat boys, dirty old men, sleazebag cops, and washed-up losers variously cheer, gawk, and leer at the strippers as they stick dollar bills between g-strings. An omnipresent musk of cheap perfume, sweat, pre-cum, dollar bills, and cigarette smoke suffuses the dimly-lit place. A fully-stocked bar lurks in the corner, offering a “wacky” party menu that lets patrons do everything from having the staff refer to them as “Master” for $100 to managing the club for a day for $25,000.

Em looks around. At 8:59, Cash Money isn’t there.

Emmett: Shit. Shitshitshit. Roberts’ voice rings in his ears, a whisper louder than the club’s garbage-lid-pounding of a soundtrack. “Maybe you should get smarter yourself.”

Em takes advantage of the lighting, or rather, the lack thereof. He becomes another pair of gyrating hips, another hand lingering too long. He throws himself into the mass of people, wrapping them around him. Tree in a forest and a perv in Gomorrah. He watches the points of entry at the same time. Waiting. Watching.

GM: Em loses himself among the dancing and leering throngs, but they don’t lose him. It’s not long before he’s caught a girl’s attention.

She’s a bit on the short side for a stripper, which her breast-length blonde hair makes all the more pronounced, but her strappy six-inch plastic heels probably still make her taller than Em. She smiles down at the young man as she leans in close to his ear. “You having a good night there?”

Emmett: His eyes fixed on the door, he blinks and does his best to give a her a neon-painted smile and a soft squeeze. “So far. Night’s still young, though.” He tries to maneuver around her so that she’s in between him and anybody coming through the door.

GM: The stripper flashes her own neon-red smile and saunters closer to Em, though neither does she fight where he’s trying to position her. “You’re right. It is.” She plops down on his lap. “I’m Anastasia.”

Emmett: He squirms away as gracefully as he can. “And I’m not Dimitri Cusack.”

GM: ‘Anastasia’ giggles at his action. “Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Not-Dimitri.”

Emmett: “See, that’s exactly the problem. I like a lady with a little bite. Don’t take it personally.” He glances at his watch in consternation, then back at the entrance. Where IS Mouton?

GM: Anastasia doesn’t try to sit on Em’s lap again, but she does squeeze onto his seat, cattily waving at him to “make some room!” He gets a good whiff of her perfume up close. Cotton candy? “You seem tense.”

Emmett: “You seem eager.”

GM: Anastasia laughs again and runs a hand along Em’s arm. “So what do you do, Not-Dimitri?”

Emmett: He gives in, visibly. Cotton candy, he does like sweet things. “I’m a spy. I’ll tell you all about it, if you’ve got a place we can be alone…”

GM: The stripper grins widely, the club’s lights flashing off her teeth. “Now you’re talkin’ my language.” Before Em can say T-Pain, he’s headed up the VIP stairs to a comfortably seated mirror-lined room sporting flat screens in every corner. Then a private one with magenta lighting and tiger-print furniture.

A pale male club employee pokes his head in the door as Em is meticulously examining every supple curve on Anastasia’s glittery body.

“You two want some Jameson or something?”

“Oh yeah, let’s party!!!” Anastasia cheers, clapping her hands.

Emmett: Maybe it’s because the last 48 hours have been trying. Maybe because he’s not entirely sure how long he can keep the game up. Maybe it’s because he’s 24. But fuck maybes. Partying sounds pretty good at the moment.

It’s a private room. He’ll be just fine.

GM: More than a few bottles, several dances, one blowjob, much lighter pockets, and one hour later, Em staggers back downstairs. It’s hard to make out many faces over the thumping music and past the smoke-filled, neon red haze, but the joint’s newest patron stands out.

Cash Money Mouton resembles a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a permanent smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. He smells of deodorant, hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze that gives his tan skin an almost iridescent sheen. Cash Money is known for claiming to take the ’plain’ out of plainclothes detective, and tonight’s outfit consists of a ballooning lime silk leisure shirt, a long brown leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and crocodile wingtips. All things told, the self-appointed Casanova looks like he’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies (and men if the rumors are true). Fortunately for Cash Money Mouton though, he has, as he is wont to say, the “cash to get the gash”.

Em isn’t so sure of the time, but he’s pretty sure the dirty cop is at least an hour late.

Emmett: “Heeey, C-c-cash… Ricky.” Who chose this song, and why is it so good? “I’d say you’re late, but I, ah. Managed.”

GM: The redbone detective pulls up a seat not too far away from the stage and cocks a smirk in Emmett’s vague direction. “I bet.”

Emmett: “Yeah.” Em ends up in a seat opposite him, though he doesn’t quite remember getting there. “I shoulda joined the mob.”

GM: Cash Money waves over a waitress, orders some drinks, and smacks her ass as she turns away. The young woman starts slightly but otherwise does not react.

Emmett: Em keeps talking. Big mouth on him, and it only gets bigger with booze poured down it. “But nope. Not a wise guy. More of a wiseass. ’M not very scary, either.”

GM: Cash Money just flashes that same, self-satisfied, puffy-lipped smirk. “Not too bright either.”

Emmett: “Naw.”

GM: He sips his beer as it arrives and pinches the waitress, again, as she leaves. The woman. “What trouble have you gotten yourself into?”

Emmett: Em takes his own bottle. “You tell me.” He tilts it back, trying to see if he can fit all the contents of the bottle and the rest of the world into his mouth at once. It doesn’t work, and he ends up sputtering.

GM: It’s not that Cash Money looks cool and collected in comparison. It’s more that he takes a pull of his bottle, and smirks (wider) at Em’s overindulgence, and sets it down in a sequence of motions that flow together like oil over a snake’s back.

“Not so much to tell, Emmett.”

The music’s beating rhythm is all so loud. The jeering, raucous patrons so noisy. The smoke in the air so thick.

“Nothing, really. Hundred things we could bust you for if we wanted.”

Another pull. Cash Money doesn’t just smirk this time. He smiles. It’s an ugly expression that shows off ugly, crooked teeth interspersed with gold crowns that glint dark red under the club’s lights. It’s the sort of look Scrooge might wear if he were counting his money and having a simultaneous hard-on.

“But nothing that’d explain you running to meet me here like a little bitch.”

Emmett: “That’s good. That’s nice.”

GM: Cash Money waves, and the waitress sets down two new beers in front of both men. He takes a thoughtful drag of his.

Emmett: Em makes a choking noise. Then he starts to gasp, and clutch at his chest, and then he’s laughing as his booze spills over the table and himself.

GM: The waitress represses a frown and comes back with a cloth to wipe the table. Cash Money’s puffy-lipped smug look doesn’t waver.

Emmett: Em laughs harder. “You—you wanna know the funny thing, Ricky? Dick?”

GM: The redbone detective’s brown eyes glint with amusement, like gold in a river of mud. Or shit. “I’m looking at it already, funny man.”

Emmett: “Yeah, whatever,” Em wheezes. “I was worried you were gonna arrest me. But nah. The funny thing is—” and Em does think it’s very, very funny, “—I just spent your money. Ha. Ha, hahaha…”

He leans forward, and opens his mouth to tell Cash Money what he really thinks of him. Then he feels strange, and then he wonders why his mouth tastes odd, and then he’s tasting everything he drank over the last hour as it heaves out of him and all over the cop’s thrift-shop-pimp wardrobe.

GM: Like a fire-breathing dragon, Emmett points his mouth and heaves everything that’s in his stomach all over Cash Money’s silk shirt with a loud, wet, rancid splatter. Patrons and strippers alike scream in shock, disgust, and incredulity.

Emmett: For his part, Em’s still laughing.

GM: The awful smell is perceptible even over the strip club’s—and Cash Money’s—sleazy musk. Gooey bits of orange vomit dribble off the table—and Rickey Mouton’s soaked, ruined clothes—like wet drool. More screams sound in the background. There’s even a few guffaws.

For a moment, the cash-loaded, badge-bearing, smugly self-assured persona of Cash Money Mouton slides away too. With a flash of clarity that cuts straight through the club’s smoke and scintillating lights, Emmett sees another man. An ugly, backwoods, insurance-hawking, vomit-drenched (somehow, it doesn’t actually seem that out of place on him) peckerwood piece of white trash whose beanpole-like face is flushed bright red with lip-chewing, saliva-spitting, single-minded rage.

Emmett: And that really is funny. “You, uh. You’ve got a little something.”

GM: With a single swift, viper-like motion, Ricky Mouton seizes his beer bottle and and smashes it over Em’s head. His skull explodes into burning, booze-drenched fragments of agony as he’s knocked off his chair and crashes face-first onto the floor. The rancid stench of his own waste fills his nostrils. Bits of glass tinkle over the ground like scattered confetti.

With his swimming vision tilted 90 degrees, Emmett only barely makes out the pair of vomit-specked crocodile wingtips advancing towards his face, glass crunching under their step. A rough hand seizes his shirt’s collar and yanks him up.

“Maybe you think I’m just going to arrest you.”

The club’s grating music blares and pounds. Neon lights painfully flash, blinding Em’s already spinning vision. His head throbs like it’s about to explode from the booze and blow alike. Something wet and coppery is trickling down his temple. He wants to throw up, again, but there’s nothing left in his stomach. Sight, sound, smell, and sensation all blend into one nightmarish merry-go round that he can’t stop. That is careening forward at breakneck speed to a place he knows he doesn’t want to go.

A dark, indistinct figure clamps a vice-like hand around his throat. There’s a noise. A stabbing? An explosion? His lower gut is on fire. His stomach feels warm and wet. More screams in the background.

“Trust me, funny man,” breathes a voice with all the warm regard of a boa constrictor swallowing its prey.

“I’m going to do a whole lot worse.”

And it all goes black.

Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline I, Louis I
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline II, Louis II

Previous, Character Order: Emmett I
Next, Character Order: Emmett III


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