Blood and Bourbon

Story Two, Caroline III, Louis VI

“I know what grows from your seed.”
—Louis Fontaine


GM: Stepping out of her car, Caroline looks up and inspects the office whose address she was given. It is set in a dilapidated cluster of buildings, a melange of old brick, rusted iron, and cracked plaster. It has the look of a forgotten age that seems an all-too appropriate neighbor to the grave-marked dead.

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Looking for the entrance, she spots a paint-chipped door, riddled with fresh graffiti and faded fly-post adverts. Above it is a perantique plaque, shot with patina, depicting an unsleeping eye. Its engraved iris reads:

Private Investigations & Consultations

Caroline: Not a neighborhood she would normally visit, but nothing is normal anymore. She’s redefining it daily. She slings her bag over a shoulder after paying the cabbie, glad she didn’t bring her car down here. She slides up to the door and raps on it, the ring on her finger ringing against the wood loudly. It’s early evening still, but she has little time to waste.

GM: No one answers Caroline. Peering inside, she sees a sagging staircase, a taped-off lift, and a snoring hobo clutching a cut pay-phone receiver and bundle of smutty magazines. She swings open the black-iron gate and scales the stairs. Three flights up, she comes to a door in marginally better repair. Painted black letters on the door’s bleary glass window read:

Louis Fontaine, Private Investigator

Caroline: Here indeed she knocks, hoping this is not another bit of cruelty by another of her kind. Kindred. She has found few enough friends among them, and just as few answers. For instance, the nature of this being. A ghoul? Vitae? Too many questions. Suppositional answers only. Perhaps she will get something here. The ring against the glass is a sharp, crisp sound.

Louis: A grunt sounds from the other side of the glass door.

Caroline: “Mr. Fontaine?” Her voice is just as crisp. Sharp, like blade cutting through the glass. She doesn’t try for the handle yet.

Louis: Another grunt, this one pitifully weary. A squealing chair and the sound of a bottle rolling off a table. A man’s voice wavers through the door. “Come in. If you have to.”

Caroline: A thrilling start. She tries the door.

GM: The unlocked door swings open, revealing a small, cluttered flat.

It isn’t much to look at.

But it isn’t the ataxophobic sight that strikes Caroline first. It’s the smell. It doesn’t strike her nostrils so much as mercilessly savage them. The room absolutely stinks with a combination of over-ripe stale sweat, cheap cigarettes, cheaper booze, and other ineffable, stomach-churning odors… not least of which might even be stale vomit.

At the room’s rank epicenter, an old, one-armed man sits behind a three-legged roll-top propped up by outdated phonebooks. The brick-faced man wears crumpled, coffee-stained clothes that look like they haven’t been washed for days. Weeks, maybe.

Louis: The old man with the lantern jaw and atavistic brow is holding a massive revolver. Large enough to make Dirty Harry blush. A Smith & Wesson Model 500. He doesn’t look up at Caroline. Not in the slightest. Instead, his bourbon-hued gaze is fixed on the barrel, as if he’s mentally measuring the barrel to see how it would fit between his teeth.

Caroline: She wants to walk away, to leave this foul room and this broken man. Abandon the cruel joke played upon her again by her ‘priest.’ But… “Mr. Fontaine. I’m told you’re a man of specific talents.” The gun doesn’t appear to bother her.

Louis: Lou might be listening. Perhaps even to Caroline.

GM: A three-year-old print of the Times-Picayune lies sprawled on his desk beside an antique typewriter and black corded phone dangling from its receiver. Caroline glances at the walls. There, gray file cabinets loom: stoic, rectangular sentinels from a bygone era. Between those relics and the door is a flotsam maze: the detritus of a long, lonely life. Overflowing trashcans and ashtrays. Empty liquor bottles and greasy take-out boxes. Half-unpacked boxes and second- or more likely fourth-hand chairs and furniture, some of which still bears mildewed post-it notes scribbled with “Free” in black sharpie. A dozen or more shop window mannequins stand against a wall. Old ones, some without arms or hands or heads. Others impaled by knives or riddled with bullet-holes. Stranger bric-a-brac war for space: a mummified snapping turtle, mugshots taken with dusty polaroids and museum-piece daguerreotypes, and apotropes to various loa, black and red.

But perhaps the noticeable feature in the room is the vomit. It’s crusted over the floor, the edge of the desk, and the black corded telephone. Peering closer, Caroline thinks she can identify the half-pulped remains of lettuce, lunch meat, and mashed, sickly-blue berries, corroded by stomach acid and exposed to the air for god only knows how long. The stink is ungodly.

Caroline: Were she mortal she might vomit. Instead the wave hits her like the surf crashing against rocky cliffs. She is unmoved. A gamble… “Father Malveaux gave me your name. I need help finding someone.” The lack of reaction is not his first clue as to her nature.

Louis: The name jostles him from his thanatopic soliloquy. His eyes slide slowly, reluctantly away from the gun and to the ‘girl’ standing in his office. His watery gaze drinks her in. Slowly. “Don’t we all,” he mumbles to no one in particular.

Caroline: Young, no doubt the first word that comes to his mind with his gaze. Tall, haughty. Pale, skin and hair. Well-dressed. Too well-dressed. Graceful. Athlete maybe. “No doubt why you see such a brisk business.”

Louis: Lou considers the well-heeled dame for a moment. He slides the Smith & Wesson into its shoulder holster.

Caroline: She shuffles into the room, sidestepping the filth around her. “This is a bad time?”

Louis: Rather than fishing out her story, he fishes out a cigarette. Sticking the lung-bullet between the tines of his prosthetic hook, he ignites it with a gold-plated lighter. The blue butane flames illuminating the myriad crags in his face.

Caroline: “A foolish question,” she concedes as she looks around. “It seems they’ve all been bad times for you of late.”

Louis: He flicks the lighter shut, and takes a long drag. “But bad times are new for you, Miss…”

Caroline: “Malveaux.”

Louis: A brow arches ever so slightly at the name. Not in surprise, perhaps, but in dawning interest.

Caroline: “You’re not wrong.”

Louis: He waves the smoldering cigarette in the vague direction of his flotsam chairs.

GM: There’s a bit of vomit crusted over the edge of one.

Caroline: “I’ll stand, thank you.” Her gaze continues to sweep the room. “As I said, I need to find someone, preferably without them knowing they’ve been found.”

Louis: Lou just nods for her to proceed.

Caroline: “Does the name René Baristheaut hold any meaning for you?”

Louis: “I’m acquainted with his… family.”

Caroline: “Are you now? How well acquainted?”

Louis: “Perhaps more than I’d like.”

Caroline: A cruel smile. “You have no idea.”

Louis: He sucks down another cloud of lung cancer before replying. “Try me.”

Caroline: “You’re not really my type. But I was his.”

Louis: Lou snorts at the implication that he could be anyone’s ‘type’. Anymore, at least. “I’m listening, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Do you take my meaning, Mr. Fontaine?”

Louis: “Miss Malveaux, I prefer my stories like I prefer my bourbon. Neat. So if you don’t want to give me the former, I’ll insist on you giving me some of the latter.”

Caroline: “I hear you favor a different drink in truth.”

Louis: His head throbs. And his tongue feels like sandpaper. “Maybe you heard wrong. Or maybe you didn’t hear me at all.”

Caroline: That smile again. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”

Louis: “Give it to me straight or give me some bourbon.”

Caroline: “Let’s keep this simple though. I need to find René. I’m told you may be up to the task.” She glances around. “Doubtful though it may appear. And you need something more than bourbon right now.”

Louis: The alcoholic tries to hide his disappointment. He really wanted that drink, after all. Reluctantly, he settles into sorting out the necessary facts to weigh the case. “Why? When? How much?”

Caroline: “Mhm?” Caroline cocks her head. “Why what? When what?”

Louis: He groans. Scratch that, he inwardly grumbles, I don’t want that drink—I need it.

Caroline: “Let’s start with the simple. How much do you owe?”

Louis: “The order of the questions, and their answers, isn’t random, Miss Malveaux. Why do you need me to find René—without letting him know he’s been found?”

Caroline: “His family would like to speak to him.”

Louis: “By when?”

Caroline: “Soon. As quickly as possible.” She can’t hide the slight bit of desperation in her voice from him, but nor is she trying to lay it upon him.

Louis: Lou takes a final drag from his cigarette before flicking it into a empty beer bottle. He leans back, groaning in sync with the chair. “I’ve got other cases, Miss Malveaux. I can either get to yours once I’m done with them, or set them aside. But the latter’s costly.”

Caroline: “Which takes us to my question. Two days. Are your other clients paying up? More, can their pay save you. That’s a notice to vacate, not simply to pay.”

Louis: Lou shrugs. He honestly doesn’t know, given he never discussed payment with Amos. He kneads his forehead. How many others will pay?

Caroline: “You look troubled.”

Louis: He tries to swallow down his conscience. Slowly, words slip from his dry, bitter lips. “1,300 clams up front, $1,000 for operational costs, and double that upon finding René.”

Caroline: She arches an eyebrow. “Are you worth it?”

Louis: Lou shrugs his chronically slack shoulders, but says flatly, “Would the father have recommended me otherwise?”

Caroline: She laughs. “You think not?”

Louis: “You’re asking me to find the childe of Robert Bastien, on the drop of the dime. Find him, and don’t let him know he’s been found. And given who you are, what you are, it means either your family can’t find him or isn’t willing to help you find him.”

Caroline: A smile. “What’s your read?”

Louis: He shrugs. “Either situation leaves you in a pretty sad little boat called Desperation. Either way, you’ve reached it harbor.” He waves his hook at his rancid, ransacked office.

Caroline: “Done.” Caroline reaches into her bag and pulls out a neat bankstack. She breaks the band and counts out crisp hundred dollar bills.

GM: A few days ago she might have been wary to carry around so much cash on her person, in a neighborhood.

She’s learned there are worse things to be scared of.

Louis: Lou nods and sighs. He pulls out a steno-pad from his roll top, and after a cursory search, snatches a pencil from a mannequin’s heart. “What can you tell me, Miss Malveaux, about René’s last known whereabouts and actions?”

He settles back into his chair, grunting. He looks up, his gaze almost startlingly focused. Sober, even. “You might be tempted to hold your tongue. To hold back. And you can. This is an office, not an interrogation room. But the more you withhold, the slimmer your chances of having another date with René.”

Caroline: “Two nights ago he was about Southern Decadence wearing a mask. He rescued a girl beset by revelers only to attack her minutes later and Embrace her. He abandoned her in Louis Armstrong Park and has not been seen since, to the best of my knowledge.” She does not appear ready to continue.

Louis: Lou asks a series of follow-up questions, including René’s mask and attire, the direction he went after abandoning the ‘girl’ in Louis Armstrong Park, and others.

Caroline: She answers questions about his appearance, but can offer nothing of his actions thereafter. “He left her before she recovered.”

Louis: “If he even left her there himself, that is,” Lou says as he scribbles down a few notes. He then asks after the conversations had between René and the ‘girl’, hoping to find some lead amidst their palaver.

Caroline: To Louis’ great shock, Caroline is able to relay these conversations in great detail. It’s almost as though she were there… it seems much of their conversations centered around faith.

Louis: Lou jots down his notes, seemingly concerned with the identity of the ‘girl’. He does pause though to touch his chest for a moment, as if feeling something beneath his shirt. “What was the girl’s opinion of René’s religious views?”

Caroline: “Hostile.”

Louis: He probes her terse reply at length before asking his final queries.

Caroline: She explains his hostility in the face of faith, expressions of his own wickedness, and so forth.

Louis: He rifles through his desk and unfolds a faded city map. “Show me,” he says while pointing to the two sites.

GM: Caroline notes the distinct lack of computer in Lou’s office. If they were using Google Maps, she could show him the location down to the exact GPS coordinates.

Louis: “Normally, I’d have you show me in person, but to be frank, I think it’d be best if we’re not seen together.”

Caroline: A smile. “Bad company?”

Louis: “René’s no greenfang, Miss Malveaux. According to your kind’s laws, he committed a serious crime. At best, he did so in the heat of the moment, then bolted and has gone to ground.”

Caroline: “You don’t say.”

Louis: “But he’s still likely to try keeping tabs on you, so I don’t want him putting the two of us together. I don’t want him to see me coming.”

Caroline: “Wise…”

Louis: “At worst, he did so deliberately to incite the already hair-trigger conflict between the Baron and the Prince. In which case, his interest in you might persist and be far from benevolent.”

Caroline: “And the girl?”

Louis: “Once again, distance between us, at least for now, would be prudent.”

Caroline: "No, I mean, do you think she was chosen by chance? "

Louis: He chuckles. Rather darkly, though not quite menacingly. “I’d bet my last hand at Harrah’s against it. A Malveaux Embraced by chance?” He looks at her as if she should keenly understand the implications, the byzantine web of Kindred politics.

Caroline: She doesn’t offer a correction. “What’s the conflict with the Baron and the Prince?”

GM: Indeed, this is the first time Caroline has heard of any “Baron”.

Louis: Lou stares at her pale eyes with his own dark ones. Shock for the first time seeps into his face. And then, an even more rare expression paints his face: pity. He almost stumbles with his next words. “Miss Malveaux, do you know what you are?”

Caroline: Her eyes are hard at that. “Is it that obvious?”

Louis: In that moment, he reconsiders everything. The case just turned into a hand-grenade, gift wrapped in pale hair and skin. He cracks his knuckles. He opens his mouth several times as if to answer, but the words escape him. Where does he begin? And why would he try? Paranoia and pity struggle in the diseased smear that is his heart.

Caroline: “I don’t need your pity, Mr. Fontaine.”

Louis: The victor of that battle is not immediately obvious. Slowly, he regains his composure. His face slackens to match his shoulders and his voice becomes the hard edge of a cold roscoe. “Do you have a safe line I can call to reach you. A private line.”

Caroline: She passes him a card. “That number is private. Virgin in fact.”

Louis: He nods approvingly. “I’ll be in touch, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She nod and heads for the door, pausing. “Mr. Fontaine. Everyone has written me off already. You shouldn’t.”

Louis: “I haven’t.”

Caroline: “Malveauxes have long memories. I may be a liability now… but I will not be forever. Or even for long.”

Louis: Lou almost whispers, “I know what grows from your seed.”


Louis: Once Caroline departs, Lou creeps to his door and listens for the sound of her fading footsteps. He toys with following her—or more precisely making sure she wasn’t or isn’t being followed. But he holds back.

He stalks back to his chair, his hand twitching. He goes to sit down, but suddenly stops and grabs hold of his roll-top desk with terrible fury. He tosses it back, causing it to splinter and crack open like a sun-ripened corpse.

“Mierda, mierda, mierda!” he screams, then pulls his gun and fires it into his mannequins. “Me cago en la leche!”

He drops the sizzling firearm, and falls to the ground, a sobbing wreck all-too resembling his desk’s ruin.


Previous: Louis V

Next: Caroline IV

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Story Four, Emmett I

“Smart people seem to have caused me most of my problems.”
“Then maybe you should get smarter yourself.”

—Emmett Delacroix to Christina Roberts


Friday morning, 4 September 2015

GM: Too late.

Clouds rumble overheard as the church bell tolls midnight, but still a suited young man sweeps among the costumed throngs, grinning and laughing as the ballroom’s lights glint off his mask.

Too late.

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The crowds sweep him up, drape an ermine mantle about his shoulders, place a crown upon his brow. He laughs as they carry him before a throne, then snatches a second crown from the sitting gold-robed figure’s; he is to be king of both courts. The crowd roars at his audacity. The queen swoons. He takes her gloved hand in his, grinning as he prepares to sweep her off her feet, but his mask is so unbearably heavy.

Too late.

He ignores the rain’s warning patter as he lifts the weight from his head, just for a moment. The queen screams and pulls away. He holds her hand fast and tries to console her, but when he stares into the jewels around her neck, no face stares back.

Too late.

Thunder rumbles. Lightning flashes. The crowd screams as the floodwaters rise, and a young man gasps to wakefulness in his bed, his phone’s alarm clock buzzing.

Too late?

Emmett: He stiffens, briefly, then suddenly relaxes. Dreams don’t come to him often, or at least tend not to stay around for the morning after. A lesser man might wonder what it meant. But Emmett Delacroix blinks and breathes shallowly. He strokes the sweat-soaked sheets and stares at the ceiling.

Em doesn’t have anyplace to be, but he’s as much a morning person as he is a night owl. So he listens to the monotone screeching, and lays alone in an empty apartment, and for a second, Em is nobody and enjoys it.

Then it passes, and he tells Siri to shut her stupid trap, which she does. He paces barefoot through the French Quarter apartment. He should be hungover, but nobody seems to have told his head so. The apartment is more set than home. Tasteful furniture, tasteless dinners in the fridge.

Shower. Brush. There’s bills, letters on the table. His gaze lingers on the pink envelope that arrived two weeks ago. The one with the looping, cursive Mom. He thinks of masks and crowns and for a second, he wonders if he should…

No. He’s not too late.

Em smiles a snake’s smile as he steps outside with a smoke.

He has all the time in the world.

GM: At about a grand a month, excluding utilities, the Saint Louis Street Apartments don’t offer private balconies, but they do offer a communal one. The humid morning air is warm against Em’s bare chest, but one benefit to being a late riser is that it probably won’t get too much warmer into the day.

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Beyond his shared balcony, which overlooks the building’s courtyard, Em can hear the sounds of the Vieux Carré ‘rising’ to greet the Friday morning, if such a term can honestly be said apply this close to the crack of noon. Lazy jazz from buskers playing for enjoyment as much as crowds at this hour. The clop-clop-clop of horses’ hooves. Occasional groans and slurps of coffee from nearby apartment units. The French Quarter collectively grouses off its Thursday night hangover in anticipation of the always-harder Friday hammering.

Emmett: That smile gets wider as Em adds the hiss of butane and crackle of tobacco to the air.


Friday noon, 4 September 2015

Emmett: “Madeline, Madeline. What am I eating today?” Em smiles sunshine up at the waitress.

GM: “I don’t know, Em, whatever you order?” the wavy-haired waitress answers with a roll of her eyes, though she can’t stop herself from smiling back at the perennial charmer either.

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She pours the smooth-talker a glass of ice water and hands him a menu. Past noon, breakfast is off, and it’s lunch and dinner items to break Em’s fast.

Café Soulé is a modestly-priced restaurant literally next door to Em’s apartment building. It’s still a bit more expensive than making his own breakfast, but the convenience can’t be beat. The surroundings reflect the price tag. There’s round, slightly scuffed wooden tables and functional chairs, spruced up with flower vases and Belle Époque-era paintings of ballet dancers and suited gentlemen meeting at, fittingly enough, a café. French flags and cast iron lamp lights give the place an Old World ambiance. At the far side of the room, there’s a modestly well-stocked bar and chalk blackboard that spells out the day’s specials, as well as drinks for a happy hour that’s still a ways off.

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It’s a few minutes after Em places his order that his point of contact arrives. Christina Roberts is a handsome, 40-something woman who people her age would describe as wearing it well, and people around Em’s would just call a MILF. The former attorney 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 dark suit, skirt, and black stilettos that pair well with her shapely nylon-sheathed legs.

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Christina assumes a seat opposite of Em’s and pulls one of the paper menus off its holder, briefly glancing it over. “Hello, Emmett.”

Emmett: Em’s costume change is sudden but seamless, discarding one mask for another in between sips of ice water and the clicking of Roberts’ heels as she makes her way to his table. The cocky twenty-something dressed for a lunch date is gone, and a young entrepreneur is sitting in his seat.

Act one.

He smiles at her as she sits. “Ms.—” emphasis, “—Roberts. You really didn’t need to dress up for me.”

GM: “I didn’t. I have somewhere else to be after this,” Christina answers as she glances across the menu, then up at the approaching waitress. “I’ll have the eggs benedict and a coffee, please. Sugar and no cream.”

Emmett: “Of course.” His smile remains. “They don’t make breakfast after noon, I’m afraid. Hurts if you’re a late riser who hates to cook. But the shrimp and eggplant pierre’s delicious.” He tilts his head. “Although maybe you’re more of a crabcakes woman.”

GM: The waitress looks as if she was about to similarly remark on the absence of breakfast items. Christina turns the menu over. “Hmm, that’s early. Make it the onion soup instead.”

The waitress writes down her order and replies she’ll be back soon.

The former attorney doesn’t look amused by the much younger man’s remark as she takes a sip of her water. “Let’s make this a strictly business lunch, Emmett. What do you have for me?”

Emmett: A sense of humor, if you wanted it. He spins her the pieces of information she wants to hear, the secrets coaxed from drunk businessman, the interesting bits that come out in bed when people think they’ve already shared the most important parts of themselves. What he overheard from his local cocaine dealer (Westley Malveaux’s off the wagon and the wagon’s on fire). He’s tempted to make it a yarn, force her to sift through the watery anecdotes for the gold, but he’s stayed on her good side—or, her less hostile side—this long, and he’s already pushing her with that crack. So he gives it to her straight and boring, just the way she likes it.

“Worth your while?” he asks when he’s finished. He knows it is, but is curious if she’ll admit it. It’ll make the next part easier if she does.

GM: Whether Christina Roberts enjoys all things in her life straight and boring, Emmett cannot say, though like many professional women she does appear uninterested in trading sexual innuendos with a boy young enough to be her son. She interjects with the occasional follow-up question or request for clarification as Em relays what he’s picked up, and halfway through, the pair’s food arrives.

The onions in Christina’s soup are carmelized to a rich orange-brown hue, though some of that might be from the apple cider and dash of cognac. A fat slice of french bread coated with melted fontina and gruyere cheese lazily floats in the center of the bowl, half-submerged by the chicken broth and beef consomme it’s soaked up. Scattered green chives provide a finishing touch and dash of contrasting color to the dish.

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She finally nods in satisfaction once he’s finished, then cuts off a section of the moist bread with her spoon. “Yes, those are some useful tidbits. I suppose that makes it my turn now. What are you curious over?”

Emmett: He leans forward, curious to see her reaction. “Prince Talal al-Faisal al-Saud.”

GM: Christina’s face doesn’t let much slip, but Em’s pretty sure he sees some amount of recalcitrance, or maybe simple wariness, there. “All right. What’s your interest in him?”

Emmett: “I think I might want to make friends. I’m sure he’s employed some of your, ah, services over these last few months?”

GM: “I don’t discuss my employees’ clients, Emmett.”

Emmett: Oh, I’m sure you do. For the right reasons. “I can respect that. But I don’t need to talk about your professional relationship. I’m simply interested in what any acquaintance of his might know.” He quiets as Madeline lays the nutella-and-banana crepe in front of him. Probably not the best choice, given Roberts’ view of him, but he can deal with being called a child.

“You don’t object to gossip, surely?”

GM: Christina takes another sip of her still-steaming soup. “Well, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I did, after how we’ve spent the rest of this lunch. If you want to talk about al-Saud, that’s fine. But anything that could hurt my business is off-limits.”

Emmett: Em nods and gets to it, taking bites of the powdered-sugar-and-chocolate explosion on his plate between questions. He asks general questions first—what’s Prince Talal like? Does he speak good English?— and then slowly works deeper. He fishes for as much as he can get of Saud’s personal business and hobbies as he can, keeping the tone as casual as the setting.

GM: Explosion is right. The crepes have been pan-fried to a buttery gold-brown and are folded in half, not unlike tacos. Slices of banana and liberal latherings of nutella and whipped cream ooze out from the corners. A gentle snowfall of powdered sugar tops off the sweet confection.

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“You want some lunch with that dessert too?” Madeline asks wryly.

Christina, meanwhile, is fairly noncommittal where Prince Talal is concerned, and Em honestly can’t say whether she’s acquainted with him personally. It also doesn’t help that Christina is a former attorney, and thus has the educational background to know quite a bit more about Saudi Arabia than the college-uneducated Em does (even if, by Christina’s admission, she’s far from an Arab studies expert).

She does explain to him, first, that she would be shocked if Talal doesn’t speak fluent English. It is the first language of the countries whose oil purchases make up nearly half of the Saudi GDP. Many young Saudi elites also study abroad at Western universities and thus have to speak English. Finally, Talal has more or less set up a life for himself in America—not being able to speak the language would make that pretty hard for him.

Emmett: He smiles through the lecture, nodding even as he grits his teeth inwardly.

GM: As for Talal’s hobbies, it’s fairly common gossip that the Saudi prince loves to dance and party his nights away in the French Quarter. Beyond that (if carousing can be called a hobby), Christina has also picked up that he enjoys boating, water-skiing, betting on horses at the track, and eating out. The Saudi prince might, of course, have other notable hobbies, but those are the ones that other people can most readily observe. If Talal is a bibliophile with a private passion for reading, Christina is in little position to know.

Emmett: Not a complete waste of his time. Just mostly one. He savors the crepe and keeps up friendly appearances, but the games are over, for now. As the conversation lulls to the clink of steel on china, and he reaches for the check, Em hears himself asking without thinking. “How’s Sam?”

GM: “Sam?” Christina raises a questioning eyebrow. “Oh, you must mean Samantha Watts. She’s doing very well for herself. She’s attending, or it might have been throwing, another gallery exhibition in a few days. Money agrees with her.”

Emmett: “Always did,” he says wryly. More than I did, anyways.

GM: Samantha’s former employer seems to consider the young man for a few minutes. “Smart people in her line of work learn to keep business and personal separate, Emmett. Don’t take it too harshly.”

Emmett: “Smart people,” he mutters, “seem to have caused me most of my problems.”

GM: “Then maybe you should get smarter yourself.”

Emmett: “We’ll see. It’s a rigged game, I find.”

GM: It probably wouldn’t be too hard either, part of Em can’t help but observe. His parents are both professors. They probably have enough clout to get him into Tulane. He’s not even that much older than the student body.

Emmett: He could also probably get a job starring in porno. At least that way he wouldn’t have to listen to Professor Mom and Dr. Dad.

No.

He made his choice a long time ago, and now it’s…

Too late.

“You should probably get going,” he says. “I think we both have better things to do.”

GM: “I was about to say that very thing.”

Christina calls for the bill and hands their waitress a credit card, stating to charge her for the soup and coffee. After Madeline returns with her card, she stands and shoulders her purse.

“One final word of advice, if you’re serious about making ‘friends’. The Sauds are big money. And royalty. They don’t make a habit of rubbing shoulders with plebs like me, much less you.”

Emmett: Em shrugs. “They just haven’t met me yet.”

GM: “In any case, I’m off. Give my number a call if there’s any other gossip you want to trade.”

Emmett: Em smiles and waves her to the door, then takes off himself. He pauses to leave a twenty for Madeline before he goes.

His good mood is melted with the ice in his water.


GM: It’s a several-block and eight-minute walk from Café Soulé to the Ritz-Carlston New Orleans, the hotel where Prince Talal is known to be staying.

The elegant, fourteen-story, five-star hotel is located just off Canal Street, the historic divide between the French Quarter and Central Business District. Its web site boasts 527 rooms, 35,000 square feet of meeting space, a 25,000 square foot day spa and fitness center, one restaurant and one lounge, all within walking distance of the French Quarter’s world-famous landmarks and attractions.

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The lobby is a suitably impressive affair. Glittering chandeliers, richly upholstered furniture, tasteful Neo-Classical statues and portraits. Expansive, multi-tiered windows allow natural lighting to pleasantly illuminate the white marble floors. Past a wide set of glass-paned double doors, an indoor courtyard and garden invitingly beckons.

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It doesn’t look unlike the one at Em’s apartment. But much larger. Much classier. Much more expensive. The same can well be said for the hotel’s people. A few well-suited guests recline on chairs, reading newspapers (the ones who are old enough to still do that), tabbing through their iPhones (not Em’s much cheaper Android), or engaged in quiet conversation with one another. All eye the comparatively shabbily-dressed young man suspiciously.

Meanwhile, minimum-wage bellboys cart around bags of luggage, while politely smiling receptionists at the front desk see to the needs of the well-to-do clientele. Em can still feel a pronounced iciness, but it’s diminished, not so much through any sense of commonality as the pressing immediacy of their jobs’ tasks.

Emmett: He knows better than to try to talk his way through them, at least for the moment. He effects an expression of dumb awe as he takes in his surroundings, and then forces a blush onto his face as he leaves, attempting to look appropriately intimidated.

GM: The well-heeled guests watch with little-concealed smugness as he slinks away. The suited security guards do not look so overtly pleased, but neither do they make any attempt to follow him.

Emmett: He gets to the other side of the road, gags a bit, and then promptly fishes out his crap Android and calls the number he pulled off the hotel site on the walk over.

GM: “Good afternoon, thank you for calling the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. This is Sandy speaking. How may I assist you?” greets a receptionist.

Emmett: He sounds like he’s choking on happiness. “Hello! I’m calling for my boss. Do you have a guest there by the name of, um…” He lets the silence drag on a second too long to be comfortable. “A… Tal-al al-Faisal Saudi?” He’s found people are less threatened by idiots.

GM: There’s a slight pause from the receptionist. “May I ask who you are calling on behalf of, sir?” The ‘sir’ sounds all-too forced.

Emmett: Here goes. “Christina Roberts.”

GM: There’s another brief pause and sound of keyboard typing. “Yes, sir, Talal al-Faisal al-Saud is one of our registered guests,” the receptionist confirms.

Emmett: “Can you see if he’s in at the moment?”

GM: “Certainly, sir, just one moment.” There’s a longer pause. Then, “I’m afraid he’s asked not to be disturbed before 2 PM, sir. Can I pass along a message for you?”

Emmett: “I’m sorry, I was told to only speak to Mr., um, Saud. It’s a pain, I know, but I just started working here…” Milk the embarrassment. “Maybe I can call back in a little?”

GM: The receptionist assures Em that it is before wishing him a pleasant afternoon and exchanging goodbyes.

Emmett: He rings again two hours later, after a few vocal exercises.

GM: Em is greeted by another receptionist named Susan.

Emmett: He plays the same game. “Christina Roberts for Mr. al-Saud.”

GM: There’s a brief wait as he’s transferred before a so-slightly accented male voice asks, “Hello, this is Ms. Roberts?”

Emmett: Em hangs up and heads down the street. He glances at the glass castle over his shoulder, at the peak where al-Saud would clearly sleep.

“A pleb,” he says. “My ass.”


GM: Em has a nagging feeling in his gut as he hangs up. Several minutes later, his phone is ringing.

It rings and rings. Finally, it dies, and a middle-aged-sounding woman states over the voicemail, “I advise you to pick that phone up, Emmett, if you don’t want al-Saud to know about your interest in him.”

Emmett: Click. “Ms. Roberts! I’m afraid I’m still full from our last meeting, but I might be able to make lunch tomorrow.”

GM: “I just got off the phone with Mr. Al-Fawaz, one of al-Saud’s assistants. He said he spoke to one of my employees, but the line died. The employee was a young-sounding man.”

Emmett: “That is odd.”

GM: “Yes, especially after a young man with no apparent concept of client confidentiality was prying into my relationship with al-Saud.”

Emmett: “As I recall, I agreed not to ask you about your clients. Not the other way around.”

GM: “Last chance, Emmett. I’m in no mood to play games.”

Emmett: Em rolls his eyes and hopes she hears it. “Last chance for what, exactly? You called me. Do you want an apology? Some kind of repayment?”

GM: “Let’s start with what your real interest is in al-Saud, and why you would try to impersonate one of my employees.”

Emmett: Em replies promptly, “I’ve found money may agree with me too, Christina. He has a lot of it. I plan to take most of it.” He strides into an alley. “As for the impersonation, I just wanted to see if he was a client of yours or not. I’m still gathering intel.”

GM: “Oh, isn’t that reassuring. You’re willing to throw my business under a bus for your own convenience.”

Emmett: “Hardly. If your business could be undone by a confused phone call, it wouldn’t have lasted this long. You didn’t tell Mr. Fawaz that the man who called him was a thief who you shared information with, I assume?”

GM: “Don’t tell me what is and isn’t good for my business, Emmett, when you don’t have a clue how it runs. You’ve put me in a difficult position with al-Saud, too. Can you imagine how, or are you just making this all up as you go along?”

Emmett: “Both, actually. This level of improvisation takes a large amount of imagination.” He grins into the phone line. “I imagine there was some manner of arrangement between you two of which I was unaware, that I violated?”

GM: “Try there being too many ways an ill-considered ‘get rich quick’ scheme by a petty grifter who understands nothing about Saudis could go south and too many links between him and me.”

Emmett: “Not quick,” he corrects. “I’m observing, learning. First contact is a ways off. Samantha waited three years for hers to pay off, yes? Mine may take longer, although I probably won’t have the option of sucking his cock to speed things up.” He pinches his nose. “What do you want to get out of this, Christina? We beat around the bush plenty at lunch.”

GM: “What do I want? How thoughtful of you to ask, Emmett. What I want is complete uninvolvement in any illegal activity that could balloon into a diplomatic incident—if your scheme actually works. So I’m weighing my options. It would be safest, and simplest, just to tell Prince Talal everything I know.”

Emmett: “But you aren’t doing that because you’re talking to me.”

GM: “I’m not doing that because I’m waiting to hear if there’s a better one. Which seems unlikely at this point, but it costs nothing besides a few minutes on my phone plan.”

Emmett: Em closes his eyes. He sighs.

“If you fuck me on this, you take damage too. Maybe, maybe, Talal will forgive you enough to live and let live. That’s a thing in Saudi culture, right?” He lets a moment of silence elapse before continuing. "But he sure as hell won’t be your customer anymore. And judging from what I’ve heard about the bastard’s appetites, that’s a lot of Café Soulé lunches you’re flushing down the toilet. Not to mention what’ll happen to your business if word gets out about how you sold information to a hustler about one of your clients.

“Granted, as you’ve rightfully pointed out, I don’t know anything about how your business runs. Just your name. And Samantha’s name. And two or three of your other girls’. I actually don’t relish screwing my allies just for convenience, Christina, but as you just noted, I am quite petty. Petty enough to screw over my enemies as I go down for them. Are you ready to hear what I have to offer, or should I start typing up my confession for NOPD?”

His heart hasn’t thumped this loudly in years.

GM: Emmett’s heart beats and beats in his chest with a steady thump-thump. It’s loud enough, in fact, that he barely hears the ‘click’ on the other end of the line. His phone screen spells it out for him though:

Call ended.

Emmett: “Huh.”

Then he starts running.


Emmett: He considers calling back. No. He may have lost everything but he’s kept his pride this long. So he runs, without thinking, without breathing. He hasn’t hit the gym in years, used to scoff at the kids that did, but now he understands, he can feel the burning, and his steps clack to a beat—

Toolatetoolatetoolate

He finds himself at his apartment before he realizes he’s headed there.

GM: Passersby in the street stare, gawk, or simple grumble at Emmet as he pushes through crowds. After several minutes, the grifter arrives back outside the blue doors to Café Soulé, and the next-door ones to the St. Louis Apartments where he dwells. Once a fantastic deal at a killer location, to the distraught Emmett they now seem all-too close to Talal al-Saud.

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Emmett: There’s not much to pack. Clothes, thrown in his one suitcase. His laptop. A few pictures of Benjamin Franklin get pressed into his wallet. In less than ten minutes, he’s tearing out the door.

GM: This late in the afternoon, the apartment complex seems largely empty. No scents of coffee or cigarette smoke emit from the nearby units. Just next door, patrons peacefully eat their lunches. He can even hear Madeline casually asking, “And what’ll it be for you, sir?”

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“Hey, misser, whassa hurry!” cackles an old black man with a gold tooth as he dashes off.

Emmett: He starts walking, quick, backpack across his shoulders and suitcase dragging. He does his best to look like a tourist while he’s at it; it helps that he’s never felt quite so lost. The day, he has to admit, has not gone to plan.

Shit. Shitshitshit. One phone call. One fucking phone call.

He hails the first taxi he sees. He feels too dizzy to walk.

GM: The yellow cab pulls up. Too-loud, distinctly foreign-sounding discothèque music blares out, as does the pungent smell of left-out hummus and other, less identifiable dishes that look maybe like burritos. The driver has tanned, dusky skin and Middle Eastern features. He grins widely at the distressed “tourist” as he asks in an accented voice not dissimilar from Mohammed’s,

“Where to?”

Emmett: An hour ago, if you can get me there. “Marigny.” He gives the name of a place he’s stayed the night before, under better circumstances. Not that that’s saying much.


GM: Emmett searches his phone during the cab ride over. To his distress, he finds that the roach motel he last stayed at in Marigny has closed. There are a few hotels in the bohemian district, but they’re mostly of the three stars and up variety, and Emmett won’t be able to afford much more than a single night on his budget. He also finds several lower-budget places in Tremé, Mid-City, and the CBD, where he could stay for longer. Further, increasingly cheap places, can also be found further away from the city’s central hub.

Emmett: He pinches his nose in frustration. “Change of plans.”

GM: The blare of overloud music from the car’s speakers is Em’s only immediate answer.

The cabbie drums his free hand along the dashboard in tune to the screaming stereos.

Emmett: Em leans forward and raps the driver lightly on his arm. “Oi.”

GM: The dusky-skinned, scraggly-bearded man glances over his seat. “Eh?”

Emmett: “Can you head towards the CBD?”

GM: The hummus-smelling driver nods along, though whether in tune to the music or Emmett’s request is hard to say. The cab, however, changes direction.

Emmett: Em leans back as it does. He hates to think, but he finds it an unfortunate necessity. He’s been scared of the police, first and foremost, but he doubts they’ll be involved. Possible, but unlikely. Saud will either ignore him or deal with him privately.

GM: The Warwick Hotel is a twelve-story high-rise located just by City Hall, Tulane Medical Center, and the Orpheum Theater. Despite its size and stately neighbors, however, the hotel seems to lurk in their collective shadows. Em’s first tipoff is the poorly-designed website. The nearly solid canvas of pink background dotted with white text looks like it was put together in the ‘90s. Unlike the glass castle that was the Ritz-Carlton, the Warwick looks more like a solid concrete block that’s had holes poked in its flank for windows.

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The front doors aren’t defaced by graffiti, nor do any homeless sleep by them, but there’s nothing that particularly impresses visitors with the place either. No hanging multinational flags, no doorman who surveys Em with a silent air of disapproval. This is the sort of place where traveling businessmen resigned to staying at lower-middle management and tourists on a budget go to stay.

The lobby is clean and tidy enough, but virtually deserted. A bored-looking receptionist, just as low-paid as her Ritz-Carlton counterparts but less expected to hide it, awaits to check Em in.

Emmett: He rubs his neck as he approaches the receptionists, and asks if they have any openings. Lip trembling: “Do, uh, do you take cash?”

GM: Em registers clear suspicion on the receptionist’s face as she answers that they do. There is also a $100 deposit on top of the room fee for cash-paying guests.

Emmett: Em spins a yarn in a voice that unravels as it gets longer. His wife’s kicked him out of the house, and she froze his card, and it’s fucking humiliating, but he knows he deserves it…

GM: The receptionist skeptically looks the young man over for a moment… he doesn’t look the age of your typical married homeowner. In the end, though, she accepts the cash, albeit with a $100 deposit that won’t be refunded if the room gets trashed or cops get involved.

Emmett: On the bright side, if either comes to pass, the deposit will be the least of his problems. He gives his name as Albert Marlowe and moves on upstairs.

GM: Em makes his way to his room on the 6th floor. It is a plain and functional affair. Cyan carpet floor, white comforter that covers all of the single-sized bed, TV just across from it. A desk and two chairs sit in the corner by the bathroom door. The bedside table has the usual lamp, phone, and bible.

Emmett: He checks his watch.

GM: Mid-afternoon.

Emmett: That’s excellent. He’s lost himself a home in three hours. Hopefully a temporary situation, but even so, it stings. He unpacks, or at least unzips his bag, before collapsing onto the bed, squeezing his eyes. He becomes aware of something in his pocket, probably stuffed blindly there at the apartment. He pulls it out, scowls, and drops the pink envelope by the bible. Should have left the damn thing.

He glances at the bible.

GM: He finds it in the cabinet of his bedside table.

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Emmett: It’s been a long time since he’s been in a room with one. He flips through the Good Book. Any words, God? Any advice? I’ve been waiting a long time.

GM: Opening a few random pages takes Emmett to the following verses.

“God blesses those who realize their need for him; and who mourn will be comforted.” Matthew 5:3-4.

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Timothy 5:8.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.

Emmett: “Yeah. Fuck you too.” He puckers and spits on the page, aiming for the Big Guy’s name, before dropping the book by the bed. He hopes Clarice is watching.

GM: The petty gesture goes unresponded to in the privacy of his room.

Emmett: He lays his head down for a minute. He’s got to get to work soon, but for now…

GM: Sleep comes easily enough to the harried young man. He awakens from his nap several hours later, the clouds dark and purple against the early evening sky.

Emmett: Much like the morning, he finds himself staring at the ceiling. Wondering. Still lying prone, he pulls out his phone and places a call.

GM: Numerous rings sound before the phone finally speaks up. Em can hear muffled noises in the background, some of which sound like they come from young children. “Eveline Merinelli speaking,” sounds a woman’s voice.

Emmett: “Hey, Lena. It’s me.”

GM: “Oh, hi there Em. How’s things?”

Emmett: “Great,” he lies. “Just went to an audition today. Went well.”

GM: Lena sighs. “Emmett, you’re not a teenager. You can’t get in trouble from Mom and Dad if I tattle you aren’t looking for a job, if that’s what you’re worried over.”

Emmett: “Maybe I just aim to please,” he says. “How’re the little bastards, huh?”

GM: “Try aiming for being honest to me then. I’d find that a lot more pleasing than whatever make-believe story you dream up.” Lena’s tone is more sad than angry. This is far from the first time she’s been disappointed by her baby brother’s continual lying. As if realizing further discussion is fruitless, simply in no mood to revisit the worn subject, or both, Em’s older sister continues, “Maya and Noah are doing good. They started Pre-K and first grade not too long ago. Maya came home with her ‘first homework assignment’ actually excited to be doing it. The teacher made it like a scavenger hunt, counting up objects around the house.”

Emmett: Ok, sis. I’ve actually been a conman for the last five years while you were getting your medical degree and raising a family. It’s more fun than being an actor and probably pays better, too, until recently, since I just pissed off a literal Saudi prince—I know!— who may or may not be willing to get NOPD involved, making me the center of a diplomatic and legal shitstorm. Or, you know, just getting me killed. And Dad said I wouldn’t go anywhere without a college degree, amirite?

He smiles. “That’s nice, Lena. Really, it is.”

GM: “Nicer memories than I have of doing homework during my school years, at least.”

Emmett: “Maybe not as nice as my memories of getting you to do mine.”

GM: “Yes, all two years of that before college came along, so you enjoyed that while it lasted. You weren’t too much older than Maya is now,” his decade-older sister remarks. Meanwhile, Em can hear childrens’ indistinct voices in the background, though louder. And what sounds like a dull clinking.

“Listen, the family and I are just sitting down to dinner. You doing much for the rest of tonight?”

Emmett: He hesitates. “I don’t know if you want me there tonight. Not looking my best, lately.” And there is the distinct possibility somebody will look for me there.

GM: “Well, invite’s open if you change your mind. It’s a weekend, so we’ll be watching a movie with the kids before going to bed.”

Emmett: “Sounds cute. Might be I’ll show.”

GM: “Okay, dinner’s on the table, I gotta go. Mom and Dad say to pass on ‘hi’.”

Emmett: “You—brea—up. Bye.”

GM: “What? All right, bye Em.”

Emmett: He tosses the phone back on the bed and runs his hands through his hair. Then he starts to change. Time to make some money.


Friday night, 4 September 2015

Emmett: Roberts called him petty. She wasn’t wrong about that.

But he’s not just any grifter.

Emmett’s an artist.

He works his way through the CBD, then through the Quarter and Marigny as the night drags on, paving his road with broken promises and a smile. He slides from bar to lounge to park. He decides on a mark, and waits. He wears a suit, too. White men in suits have been stealing ages longer than anybody else.

It was equal parts terrifying and hilarious when he first realized how easy it was to separate people from their common sense. A smile gets you far, and the right words get you farther. People feel grateful for the silliest reasons.


“Want to take my place? You look like you need it…”

“Don’t look now, but I think I saw that guy slip something…”

“I think you dropped your wallet… are you sure?”


Then comes conversation. Most people rarely say anything important at all. A conversation’s a dance, and it doesn’t take much to make people think you’re their new best friend as long as you make the right gestures and take the right steps. Especially when you make yourself sound a lot like them.


“Dude. You don’t even know…”

“…I know, it’s awful. I’ll never understand how somebody could…”

“…act like an ass, but you’re better off without him.”


Then you make them feel powerful. For most people, that means feeling needed. Trusted.


“Can you keep a secret?”

“I hate to ask…”

“…rock and a hard place…”


Sam—Samantha—once asked him how he could make people behave like idiots. He had told her that that was the thing; he didn’t. Most people are idiots anyway, and they believe a world of bullshit long before he gets to them, and it doesn’t matter how rich or soft they’ve had it. Businessmen believe in God. Scientists believe in politicians. College professors believe in the human spirit.

People believe in what they want to, Em told her, tracing her hair with his finger. And all I do is give them something they want to be true.


“I could probably hook you up, yeah…”

“…know her—yeah, seriously. Free tickets, every tour.”

“The guy at the door knows me. You just have to tell him my name…”

“…I just need a little help, first.”


All the world is Em’s stage, and all the boys and girls the played.

Several hours later, Em counts his “winnings” in Hamiltons and Jacksons and Franklins.

GM: Life, the young scam artist concludes, is good. It’s probably not a conclusion shared by the people parted from their money. But life is also a game, and it’s a zero-sum game. You can play to win or you can sit out and lose.

Em knows which he’s doing.


Previous, Narrative Order: Prologue
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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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Story Four, Emmett III

“I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die.”
—Courtney


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.

Yawns.

Licks its lips.

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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.

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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


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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

You

Bleed

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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


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“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.”

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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.

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Fire burns in his chest. It roasts his heart but he doesn’t have one.

I searched for God

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And found only myself

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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.

Yawns.

Waits.

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.

Yawns.

Gulps.

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.

“Moe.”

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


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Keep me safe through the night
and wake me with the morning light


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If I should die before I wake,
I pray for Lord my soul to take.


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Amen.

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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.


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He would follow. He would, honest,
but when he held her, dancing,
everything felt good but
not everything felt right.


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Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.

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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.

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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.


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“Reality is a prison.”

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“Reality is a prison.”

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“Reality.”

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“Is.”

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Your prison.”

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“Do you wish to be free?”

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Emmett: “I don’t think you’re really asking.”

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GM: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven.

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Daddy, DON’T!

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STOP IT, daddy!

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You’re hurting me!

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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,

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All the children

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of the world.

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Emmett: “Please.”

GM: Fat and skinny, short and tall,

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Jesus loves them

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one

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and

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all

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I asked why, but you only said because you could.

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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.

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I know a girl

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That’s pure beauty to see

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Won’t mention her name

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As I feel there’s no need

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Emmett: I’m way, way too hungover for this.

GM: Lover

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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.

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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.

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Day ? Month ? Year?

GM: Pain. It surges through bone and blood—and beyond.

The darkness looms.

Licks its lips.

Spits.

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.

Everywhere.

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…

“…my?”

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.

“OH SWEET JESU-”

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.

“Wait—”


Previous, Narrative Order: Caroline II, Louis II
Next, Narrative Order: Caroline III

Previous, Character Order: Emmett II
Next, Character Order: Emmett IV

View
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…

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”


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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? Was he really going to make another decision without—

“Deal.”

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.”

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.

Lena1.jpg
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.”

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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.


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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.

Lena_Home.jpg
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.

Touro_Synagogue.jpg
There’s that synagogue. He hears it’s pretty old.

blue-white-red-porch-tree-uptown-2016-09-12-11.53.43-1024x768.jpg
Some other house. Nice like Lena’s.

Touro_Home.jpg
That house looks even nicer.

Childrens-Hospital-New-Orleans-Exterior.jpg
There’s the hospital where his sister works.

Touro_Shakespeare_Home.jpg
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.

“What?”

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.

WHAT?”

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

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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

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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.

MMMMM!!!!!!!”

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

MMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“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.

“Mmmm….!”

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.

Death_Row.jpg
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—

“Ha.”

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.

“HA!”

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…

Curtains.


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 sentences could no longer continue to be served.

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

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

Previous, Character Order: Emmett VIII

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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.”
—Oscar


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.

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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…”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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?”

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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

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