“This is a tragedy no one deserves.”
Saturday morning, 29 August 2015
GM: Matthew and Vera Malveaux’s home is one of the largest in all of New Orleans. Built in the ’80s alongside Lake Pontchartrain in Lakeview, they claim the palatial 12,000+ square foot house has been used to entertain past presidents during visits to Louisiana. Stately columns and gas lanterns open to a large marble foyer with grand staircase, large living and dining rooms, chef’s kitchen, enough bedrooms and bathrooms to comfortably house even their large family with guests to spare, a private library with separate entrance, and enough other rooms to get lost in. Hardwood and marble floors feature throughout. A huge sun room and study with impressive architectural detailing border a tropical, brick-enclosed oasis with pool and cabana.
When Caroline’s six cousins lived at home, she remembers the enormous house feeling roomy but populated on the occasions when she came over. Now that her cousins are grown up and Matt is said not to enjoy his wife’s company, the home feels as oversized as a three-ring circus tent used on a one-family camping trip.
Caroline only dimly remembers Carson dropping her off, talking to someone there, and helping her up to one of the guest rooms. She slept like a log and wakes up well past her usual alarm time. If her Uncle Matt was ever at the house, he’s gone before she’s even awake. Virginia is still supposed to be home. Classes at MIT, the school she was just accepted to (and the one Amelie said she wanted to attend so badly), don’t start for a little while longer. Caroline’s also heard she spends most of her time in her room with the door locked. Her cousin is gone after an early meal she doesn’t share with anyone else, leaving Caroline to break her fast with Vera. Her aunt asks a few cursory questions about how she’s doing, but mainly seems frantic over how Amelie (whose misdeeds she is blanched to hear about) will reflect on McGehee and the Malveauxes.
“You didn’t actually meet with her, did you? No one believes she had anything to do with us?” she asks over a continental breakfast of fruit, granola yogurt, and boiled eggs that’s been prepared by the housekeeper.
Caroline: “I didn’t meet with her that anyone will remember,” Caroline assures Vera. “And she’ll have plenty of things to worry about much more than an introduction she’ll probably barely remember when—if—she wakes up.”
GM: Vera is quiet for a moment at Caroline’s assurance. “Yes, that’s right,” she finally declares as she sips some chicory coffee. “If she wakes up.”
Caroline: She provides other details as demanded, without enthusiasm or resistance. She’s still mostly numb over it all. It’s not until nearly noon that she breaks from going through the paces when she gets another text from Neil, asking if she’s all right. That finally breaks her daze.
Did the girls make it? she sends back.
GM: Yes. Both are stable.
Caroline: Taking visitors? she asks back.
GM: The Devillers girl is. Her family wouldn’t take no for an answer. Not yet for Whitney.
Caroline: The news takes a weight off her chest she didn’t even know was there. She takes what feels like the first deep breath since the shooting. Are you on the floor this afternoon?
GM: Yes. If you want to come by there’s a lot of people who’d like to see you.
Caroline: I’ll be there in an hour. Thanks Neil.
GM: Anytime. Take care
Caroline: She takes her leave of her aunt’s and uncle’s too-empty Lakeview home after thanking Vera for hosting her for the night and spotting a change of clothes. She catches a Premium Ryde back to the police station where her car awaits and drives home to Audubon Place, where she changes into something more fitting than her aunt’s borrowed clothing. After that, she heads back to the all-too familiar Tulane Medical Center.
GM: Her housemate Aimee is unsurprisingly not home on the Saturday afternoon, though Caesar greets her enthusiastically. Her rubs his big nose over Caroline’s unfamiliar clothing and licks fingers.
The hospital is noisy and bright, like it always is, although the former pre-med student’s familiar eye spots noticeably fewer nurses and support staff. Caroline recalls that being one of the reasons Neil signed up to work on Saturdays—including while they were together, perhaps to her chagrin. “Patients admitted on Sundays face a 16 percent higher risk of dying within a month than people admitted on weekdays,” her ex had quoted at her.
Caroline catches Neil on his lunch break in the hospital cafeteria, eating a red apple and less appetizing-looking sandwich. His baggy-eyed appearance remains perpetually haggard and harassed from a medical residency’s thankless work hours. He’s tall, blond, and has a scruffy beard that he still keeps better-trimmed than the rest of his hair. Caroline’s heard a few people describe him as a “conventionally handsome Yankee” when he doesn’t look too weighed down by his job.
He rises when he spots Caroline and moves to greet her with a hug.
“Caroline. I heard about last night,” the messy-haired resident doctor says, somewhat obviously.
“Those girls were lucky to have you around.”
Caroline: The heiress has changed into a sleeveless white dress with cream and black heels. She carries her black leather purse (Italian) and a rather less expensive (but perhaps more appealing to the resident) brown paper bag with its neck rolled halfway down. Her blonde hair is tucked behind her ears but otherwise hangs free. She’s running a little later than she’d originally intended, but when she scowls down at his ‘lunch’ she’s glad she stopped.
She puts on a fake smile as she answers, “I suppose so. It’s funny, my father said I’d be wasted as a doctor.” She sets the paper bag down on the table before hugging Neil back for perhaps a moment longer than she normally might.
She’s wearing more foundation than usual, especially around her eyes. Her fingernails are (atypically) unpainted, though Neil can see the hint of what might be mistaken for red paint at the base of a few fingers. Might be, by someone who isn’t a surgical intern.
She bids him to sit down even as she snatches up his lunch—the sandwich still sitting in its plastic wrapping—and takes three steps over to dump it in a conveniently placed garbage can. More wholesome smells waft from the closed bag.
GM: “Maybe that’s one thing we can agree your dad’s wrong about,” Neil answers as he lets her go. His gaze lingers on her face, and then her hands and the bag as they sit down. He doesn’t nag her about finding a compost bin this time.
Caroline: She takes her seat across from him and breaks open the bag, inside are two sandwiches wrapped in the paper with the distinctive BUTCHER stamp on them. The debate in New Orleans over who makes the better Muffuletta is an ongoing one.
The one from Central Grocery is almost universally recognized as the most iconic. Massive, historic, and cheap, it’s a monster recognized even by non-residents. It also requires standing in a line that is usually out the door no matter what time you get there. Some have described the line as ‘part of the experience’. Neil knows Caroline isn’t one of them.
The two remaining contenders are typically floated as The Napoleon House and Cocon Butcher. Both have radically different approaches with their own pros and cons. Today it appears that Cocon won out. Virtually everything at Butcher is made in house, from the meats to the pickles. It shows, and perhaps nowhere as obviously as in their version of the New Orleans classic muffaletta.
Three kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, a massive hunk of bread, and creole olive salad—and like many things New Orleans, it only gets better with time as the flavors are allowed to sink into the bread and marry.
Caroline unwraps one to match Neil’s. “I can’t believe you still eat that crap,” she declares, avoiding the elephant in the room topics. “It’s a wonder you’re still alive.”
GM: “God, that smells delicious,” Neil replies, barely even glancing at what’s in his hands before pulling off the paper. He actually closes his eyes for a moment as he sinks his teeth into the warm, oh so tender sandwich. A few stray pickles fall out onto the BUTCHER-stamped paper.
“Lesh of a wonder than shome other people here,” he answers through a full-sounding mouth before pausing to swallow. “The staff petition to close down the in-hospital O’Tolley’s hasn’t gained any traction since you left.” Neil takes another clearly-savored bite. “I still can’t believe we let patients just out of heart surgery load up on fries and quarter pounders.”
Caroline: “That stuff isn’t even food,” Caroline agrees with a more careful bite of her own. “It’s basically just poison.” After skipping breakfast—she didn’t feel like eating alone—the warm sandwich is a godsend.
GM: “I think the administrators are actually glad. We’ll have those patients right back in needing more procedures.”
Caroline: “Someone’s definitely making money,” she agrees. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back last night.”
GM: Neil waves her off, then takes another hungry bite of sandwich. “You had other things on your mind. I wouldn’t have been around to answer anyways.”
Caroline: “Yeah, but I might have given you a heads up about what was coming after… well, you saw.”
GM: Neil gives a tired smile. “Wanting to get every last thing right is a good trait in doctors.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a small smile. “Maybe, but… Neil, I don’t know how you do it. I’ve never been so exhausted.”
GM: “It’s different in the hospital,” her ex answers. “You’re prepared for it, and you’ve got a lot of people behind you. Patients come in like clockwork.”
Caroline: Caroline shivers. “No thanks. I don’t know what I would have done if one of them had died in my arms.”
GM: “Lucky for everyone you were there,” Neil repeats. “Yvonne’s family is…” He smiles. “Well, effusive. That’s the part that makes it worth it. Seeing them all walk out of the hospital together.”
Caroline: “And the Whitneys?” There’s an obvious edge of concern.
GM: Neil takes a slower bite of sandwich. It doesn’t look as if he enjoys it nearly so much.
“Sarah’s stable, like I said. But she lost a lot of blood. There could be anoxic brain injury. We won’t know for sure until she wakes up. She’s been placed into an induced coma to reduce brain swelling.”
“It was… pretty ugly. Her lungs kept collapsing. Didn’t take well to the ventilator. She became delirious after sepsis set in. The coma was for that too.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. She starts to say something, then shakes her head again instead.
“What about the two that came in earlier?”
GM: “Sorry, the two?” Neil asks. “The Devillers girl is up and awake, like I said. She’s taking visitors.”
Caroline: “I heard a rumor another girl and a police officer were admitted earlier in the evening.”
GM: “No rumor. They both came in at the same time,” Neil confirms. “The police officer’s awake. He had some other cops come to visit him earlier. The girl’s…” He gives a grimace. “She had some cops visit her too.”
Caroline: “That bad?”
GM: “She’s also stable, but they placed her under arrest. She’s got two officers outside her door and everything, even though she’s in a coma too.”
Caroline: “Sounds like a busy night.”
GM: “It was. She had an aunt, too, who blew a gasket after we notified her.”
Caroline: “Family tends to react badly to news their loved ones are hurt, much less in legal trouble.”
GM: “Yeah,” Neil agrees without much enthusiasm as he takes another bite of sandwich.
Caroline: Caroline’s own sandwich is also rapidly disappearing between snippets of conversation. “Any word on how she got hurt?”
GM: “From what I’ve pieced together, she took several falls over the night. The last one hit her head, on top of some drugs in her system.”
Caroline: “Slightly less traumatic than getting shot.”
GM: Neil finally takes a bite of his apple. “It’s crazy what those kids get into. I hear it happened down at the old LaLaurie House.”
Caroline: “Really? That’s an odd place for a group of teens to be.”
GM: “Maybe not so odd. Back in Newport, there were some beach caves everyone said were haunted. My friends and I would go there sometimes, on dares, just to screw around.”
Caroline: “Kids being kids, I guess.”
GM: Neil nods and takes another bite of apple.
Caroline: “You said the Devillers were here? Sisters camped out full time?”
GM: “Like you wouldn’t believe,” her ex answers with a faint smile. “I haven’t been able to count how many there are, and they all look alike.”
Caroline: “Six,” Caroline provides helpfully. “Though even I have some trouble keeping the younger ones straight.”
GM: “Six,” Neil repeats amusedly. “Well, forewarned is forearmed, if they try to stampede you. They all seem really close.”
Caroline: Caroline tips a hat she is not wearing in thanks for the warning. She seems content to take her next few bites in silence, simply enjoying his company. Sometimes it’s enough not to be alone.
Saturday afternoon, 29 August 2015
GM: The rest of Caroline’s lunch with Neil passes with pleasant uneventfulness. He mentions an influenza case that broke out during a dorm party at Tulane’s (the university’s, not the hospital’s) Josephine Louise House and being one of the responders. He wasn’t working at the time but happened to be on Tulane’s campus on unrelated business. It was really something to see, anyway. A whole bunch of students all came down with the flu, just like that. Neil still isn’t certain what caused the outbreak, but he supposes a few weird cases come with a doctor’s profession. He mentions meeting a girl there, Angela Greer, who he’s going to grab coffee with later. Their planned outing is over a week away, thanks to how full their schedules are (and Angela coming down with the flu herself).
At last, Neil checks his phone and says he needs to get back to work. He gives Caroline another hug, thanks her for bringing the muffaletta (“way better than what I usually have for lunch”), and gives her directions to Yvonne’s room.
True to her ex-boyfriend’s words, Caroline finds the whole family has camped out. She can make out around half a dozen pale blonde heads around the door. She has little opportunity to make an exact count before a teenage girl who’s probably Yvette barrels into her with all the speed and determined accuracy of a ballistic missile.
“Caroline—you saved ’er life! Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she cries as she hugs Caroline.
Caroline: Caroline wraps one arm around the younger girl, returning the hug even as she glances past her at the rest. “What else could I do?” she answers warmly.
GM: “Yvonne, she’s mah twin. Mah fraternal twin. Ah’d ‘ave… Ah’d ’ave died, too, if anything ’appened to ’er,” Yvette gushes on.
There’s another, grade school- or middle school-age girl who’s probably Simmone, and another girl who looks a year or few older. Both are equally profuse in their own hugs and thanks. Cécilia, the only one of the six who Caroline knows well enough to distinguish on sight, is also present. “Your brother’s here, he’s in the bathroom,” she adds over her sisters’ voices.
Caroline: After a round of hugs and assurances, Caroline caps them with, “I’m just glad she made it. How’s she recovering?”
GM: Caroline sees for herself after hearing an exchange of, “’Oo’s there?” “It’s Caroline!” “Oh, please, send ’er in, send ’er in…”
Yvonne’s hospital room is quite cheerful next to others that Caroline has been in. There’s cards, bouquets of flowers, and several baskets of candy and snacks. Tablets, purses, and other personal effects are scattered around the room’s half-dozen chairs. Her sisters have even brought in scented candles to get rid of the aseptic smell.
Yvonne lies in the bed. She’s propped up by several plush, colorful pillows and wears a comfortable-looking cotton nightgown instead of the standard hospital dressing gown. She’s hooked up to an IV, has shadows under her eyes, and looks markedly paler than her already pallid siblings. Still, she cranes her neck to get a better look as they usher Caroline in. She gives the older woman a weary but happy smile.
“Everyone says you saved mah life. Thank you so much, Caroline. Ah don’t know what else to say. Thank you.”
Caroline: “Anyone would have done the same,” Caroline replies with a genuine smile as she looks at the living, breathing girl. “I’m just so happy you’re okay.”
She doesn’t add how terrifying it was to be the only one there trying to stop the bleeding. The only one acting while others couldn’t even look on in the dark. The pressure of the knowledge that if she made a mistake the teenager might be dead.
“And to see that your room is in better taste than most. They’re not trying to make you eat the galley slop here, are they?”
GM: Yvonne gives a weak chuckle.
“Oh of course not, we’ve been bringing ’er food,” says Yvette.
“The ’ospital food is so gross,” adds one of the younger girls.
Caroline: “So’s the smell, but you seem to have that covered as well.” The smile doesn’t fade from Caroline’s face.
GM: “Yes. Everyone’s been so thoughtful,” Yvonne replies with another tired but grateful smile. “Even mah teachers, saying not to worry about school…”
“Oui,” Yvette takes over, “they’ll make it so she can still graduate on time even if she’s ’ere for months.”
Caroline: “Hopefully the past part won’t be the case,” Caroline replies. Her eyes unconsciously sweep over the various charts and posted monitors, taking in information and processing it in the background. “In fact, you look worlds better already.”
GM: “Mah mom and sisters make it ’ard to feel bad for long.” Yvonne’s expression looks a little tearful as Yvette squeezes her shoulder. Her eyes settle on one of the room’s gift baskets. “Oh, please… ‘ave some snacks and candy. There’s more than Ah can eat, and Ah don’t really feel that ’ungry anyway.”
Caroline: “I just finished lunch,” Caroline replies, “but I’m sure your sisters will be happy to help you with them.”
GM: “Oh, they’ve all been more than happy. Simmone, it’s polite to ask,” Cécilia says, though her tone is more gentle than chiding as the youngest girl, who’s leaning against her, pulls out a blood orange chocolate bar.
Simmone looks up. “Yvonne, can Ah…?”
Yvonne gives a faint nod. “Please, go a’ead… Ah’ll never eat it all.”
“Thanks for getting us out of trouble too, Caroline,” Simmone says. She looks up at Cécilia, who pauses for a moment and then starts to pull off the wrapper for her.
Caroline: “Your mother did a lot of that,” Caroline replies. “I was just trying to keep things from going too badly until she could. I’m very sorry you had to get searched, questioned like that, and put in a holding cell, though. I wish I could have done more.”
GM: Simmone uncomfortably looks away. Cécilia puts an arm around her shoulder, hands her the candy bar, and then assures Caroline, “It could have been much worse. You did more than enough,” over the sound crunching chocolate.
Caroline: Caroline mentally adds ‘gift basket’ to her list of tasks.
GM: “Yvonne, can Ah-?” asks the other, younger-looking girl.
“Oh, go a’ead, Noëlle. Ah know Maman and Cécilia want you to be polite, but it’s never going to get eaten if you ’ave to ask every time,” the bedridden teenager answers with another tired smile.
Caroline: “I’m so glad you’re all here for her. Too many people get left in the hospital alone.”
GM: The younger girl pulls the ribbon and plastic wrapping off a candied apple drizzled with chocolate and glazed nuts. There’s a crunch as she takes a bite.
“Oh, I can only imagine,” Cécilia agrees.
“Family sticks together,” declares Yvette.
Caroline: “Yes, it does.” Caroline’s eyes linger on Cécilia with the words. “But if there’s ever a time that they can’t be here, and you have any concerns about your care—or anything else,” Caroline pulls a card from her purse, “please call me. I have some friends in the hospital, and if anything were wrong I know they’d want it fixed.” She slides the card next to one of the fold out trays on Yvonne’s bed. Unlike the one from last night with the legal stationary this one simply reads Caroline in black script with her phone number underneath.
GM: “Oh, Caroline, you’ve already done so much…” Yvette starts.
Cécilia nods. “Yes, you have. And if there’s anything more you can do for Yvonne, we won’t hesitate to ask. Thank you, Caroline.” She smiles. “You’ll hear those words from us a lot more times, I’m sure. But we’ll mean them no less.”
Caroline: “I have no doubts of your sincerity,” Caroline replies. “Have no doubts as to mine.”
Saturday morning, 29 August 2015
GM: Yvonne puts on a brave front, but it’s soon plain that the visit is tiring out the gunshot wound survivor. Caroline files out with all of Yvonne’s sisters except for Yvette. The former insists she help herself to any choice items from the get-well baskets, reiterating that there’s no way she can eat them all. Cécilia insists that Caroline stop by her mother’s house for the dinner they’ll (hopefully) soon have to celebrate Yvonne’s hospital discharge.
Caroline: Caroline is happy to accept and observant enough to take her leave instead of lingering overly long. She proceeds through the hospital guided as much by memory as by observation, seeking the ICU and the other victim of last night’s senseless violence.
GM: It’s a grimmer picture with the Whitneys.
Lyman is there, along with Sarah’s father Warren, absent during last night’s proceedings. They’ve camped out outside the door to her room, Lyman anxiously pacing while staring down at his ticking watch. Sarah received surgery and is in stable condition, as Neil said, but has yet to wake up. Both men are no less effusive with their thanks than the Devillers. “She’d have been dead if you weren’t there,” they repeatedly state.
Caroline: “I just hope she’s okay,” Caroline replies demurely with both men. “I’m so grateful the surgeons were able to stabilize her. I can’t imagine what possessed the detective to do what he did.”
GM: Both of the Whitneys give dark looks.
“NOPD will bring him in or there’ll be a new superintendent,” declares Lyman.
Caroline: “I suspect fewer things could be higher on their list of priorities. He gave the entire department a black eye on a night when it’d already taken one.”
GM: “I just can’t believe it. How did a maniac like that work for NOPD for so long?” Warren asks, shaking his head. The still-handsome man looks in maybe his early-mid 40s; the tail end of when “eligible bachelor” crosses over to “perennial bachelor.”
Caroline: “Mr. Whitney, Detective Gettis was known to be, to an extent, unstable.”
GM: “Not ‘known’ enough,” scowls his father.
Caroline: “I can’t argue that,” Caroline replies appeasingly. “Maybe if someone in the force had the guts to call him before it got to this point all of this wouldn’t have happened. I’m indescribably sorry that they didn’t. This is a tragedy no one deserves.”
GM: “Tragedies happen like acts of God.” The old man’s eyes are numb. “Without warning. Without anything you can do, when they do. If I’d said no over that house, or didn’t let Mae go with that boy to prom, maybe they’d…”
“Dad…” Warren cuts in, laying a hand on the senior Whitney’s shoulder.
Lyman sighs heavily. He looks old. Very old. “I’m sorry, Caroline. I’m forgetting my manners… and remembering more than I should. But you saved our Sarah’s life. She’s here now, alive, thanks to you.” He lays a weary hand on Caroline’s arm. “You don’t need to be sorry for anything. We’re…”
“…indescribably thankful,” Warren fills in. “We won’t forget this, Caroline. Not soon, or ever.”
Caroline: Caroline’s gaze lingers on the closed door to the girl’s room. “Thank you. That makes two of us, Mr. Whitney. Things like this don’t happen every day, and I feel a strange, affinity I suppose. Responsibility to her. If there’s anything else she needs you need only call—though I can’t imagine that with her father and grandfather here she wants for much.”
GM: The two Whitneys nevertheless reiterate their thanks, both for everything that Caroline has done and which she is still so willing to do. The three are soon interrupted by a clique of high school-age girls, whom Caroline recognizes a number of, including a tall blonde who is one of Senator Kelly’s grandchildren.
“Mr. Whitney, Mr. Whitney,” she says, acknowledging both men but looking towards the door, “we heard that Sarah wasn’t awake yet, but we just wanted to…”
Introductions are made between Caroline and the others, and further condolences and well wishes expressed. Sarah’s friends have brought balloons, cards, and other get-well items, clearly hoping they would be able to see her. An increasingly weary-if not numb-looking Lyman talks with the girls while Warren takes Caroline aside and apologizes for any perceived shortness or ingratitude.
“My dad… never took my sister’s death well,” he explains. “Having Sarah in the hospital like this… it’s dragging up a lot of memories. Once she’s awake…”
The man trails off for a moment, then somewhat lamely finishes, “You’ll see how much this means to us. All that you’ve done.”
Caroline: “You need not worry about that,” Caroline answers. “I’m happy I could be there for your family, and I’m just as certain that if the time ever comes the Whitney family will do the same.”
GM: Warren smiles, seemingly put at ease by the familiar dance of favors. “Of course. The Malveauxes can count on that.”