“I’ll be damned if some creep in a mask is going to ruin me, even if he killed me.”
Sunday night, 6 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline’s heart races as her eyes linger on the partygoers’ beautiful throats, their throbbing life’s blood. It’s all she can do to resist the urge to leap on them, to claw, and especially bite.
Part of her asks what the hell is going on. Analytically it argues her chill is shock, the result of a night of trauma. Emotionally, intuitively, she knows it is something else. Neither matters right now, because what she actually wants has become an almost overwhelming need.
Her tongue catches the first time she starts to speak.
She coldly tries to join in their laughter. She reaches out, eying on the bottle in the man’s hand for a moment.
GM: “Hee hee hic shake her hand, baby,” giggles the girl, oblivious to the struggle warring behind Caroline’s eyes.
“Nishe t’ meetcha,” guffaws the young man, extending the bottle towards Caroline. He pauses, realizing after a moment that he hasn’t offered her his hand. He guffaws again before extending the proper appendage.
Caroline: Caroline takes the bottle with a smirk when he first offers it. She takes his hand as well while mischievously bringing the bottle up to her lips.
GM: The contents taste vile. Unspeakably vile. Like a dead rat that’s been soaked in bleach and stuffed underneath a dresser for all summer long. Caroline has a fraction of an instant choose whether she retches over the grass or the front of the boy’s t-shirt.
Caroline: She turns away into the grass.
GM: The nauseating concoction loudly comes back up as it dribbles down her chin.
“Hoo, party hardy, PARTY HARDY!” the girl laughs, swaying in place.
Caroline: It takes Caroline a moment to recover, but she finally does before extending the bottle back.
“Can’t end a good party without someone on the floor. Start with that stuff though and you might start the party there.”
GM: “Shtil hic shtandin’ here!” the young man declares with a grand sweep of his hand. Some of the booze sloshes over the grass. His words set his inebriated companion into another fit of laughter.
Caroline: “Aren’t we all? At least so far…” She glances at the other girl’s open shirt.
GM: The girl sways in place some more, clutching her male companion for support. Her skin is white and pricked with sweat. Caroline can hear the partygoers’ hearts beating in their chests. Hear the blood pumping through their systems. That fact seems maddening—that the human body contains such a sheer quantity of liquid. Warm liquid.
Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thum-thump.
Caroline: “Taking the party somewhere else?” she asks, trying to avoid focusing on their blood.
It’s difficult. She wants it. Wants them. But how to do it? She wants to reach out and latch on… but not here. Some ounce of propriety remains even as reason and logic struggle against the insanity of this. What’s going on? Is she dreaming? Has she gone insane? Renfield’s Syndrome… no. This is different, this is… real. Overwhelming.
GM: “Baby, hic I AM the party!” the boy declares with another grand sweeping motion of his arm. More alcohol spills over the thirsty grass. His female companion all but howls with laughter and dabs at moist eyes.
Caroline: “Well, where’s the party going, babe?” She wipes her mouth clean.
GM: The girl hiccups. “Where you goin’, babe?” she grins at the boy.
He proudly draws himself up and surveys the park like a pioneer surveying a grand new expanse of territory. “Where’er… hic …th’ BOOZHE ISH!”
The girl claps in inebriated delight.
Caroline: The pounding of his heart is almost unbearable. She wants to touch it, to dive into that power. No, she needs it. She wants to ride that powerful engine roaring beside her.
“I seem to have lost my party. Mind if I tag along?”
GM: The boy grins widely. “Be our… hic guesh’!”
“Be our guesh! Be our guesh! Be our guesh!” the girl sings along.
Caroline: She falls in on the other side of him. Strangely, as odd as she feels, she doesn’t feel impaired as before.
GM: The park has a stream. The duo stagger along it edge, swaying on one another for support. Though the two revelers are clearly better-acquainted with one another than with Caroline, she can’t help but feel she is excluded from their camaraderie on some deeper level.
The boy groans after a moment. “Aw fuck, I hic gotta pish!”
Caroline: Caroline tries to keep the delight out of her eyes. Opportunity… the girl alone, perhaps? She needs them. She needs their blood. The wait is killing her, driving her mad. This must be what a junkie feels like. Another rational part of her mind fights against the very idea, but that part is very quiet indeed.
GM: The young man staggers up to the waterfront, unzips his fly, and begins pissing into the stream. The girl leans against him, giggling at the act of public indecency.
“Careful, you gonna make me hic mish!” he admonishes.
“I’m shpellin’ m’ name!”
“hic In th’ wa’er?”
The boy pumps his fist. “IN TH’ WA’ER, BABE!”
Caroline: Caroline comes up behind the girl, leaning over the shorter woman’s shoulder to whisper in her ear.
“He looks talented.” There’s a mischievous hint to her voice. “But can he swim?”
GM: The girl, a curly-haired blonde, bursts out in laughter at Caroline’s suggestion. Her male companion guffaws too, hardly seeming to care that he isn’t in on the joke. Up this close, Caroline can feel the sweaty warmth emanating from her body like an old radiator heater. She’s so hot. So flush with life and laughter. And Caroline is so, so cold.
“Thas’ bad,” she giggles. “Thash’ soooooo bad!”
Caroline: “Is it?” she whispers again suggestively.
GM: “Sho bad… ish’ good!” the girl declares. “Like hic Rocky Horror!”
Caroline: Caroline smirks conspiratorially with the other girl, hand at the ready to help shove him in.
GM: The girl hiccups and giggles a few more times as she detaches herself from her friend. The steady trickle of piss into water continues to sound. “One…!” she exclaims, swinging her arms back and forth in the air. “Two…!”
Caroline: Caroline is ready with her to shove him in on the three count. Her strength surprises her, and the drunken unaware man has no chance. He flies into the drink before he can so much as stop pissing and chortling to himself. She falls onto the other girl, laughing, holding… coming closer… just a taste… just a bit.
GM: There’s a heavy splash before the young man’s laughter gives way to indistinct glorb-glorb-glorbs. He surfaces after a moment and yells for the girl to help him out. She remains doubled over in laughter at the sight.
Caroline: Caroline’s hand fall onto the distracted girl. She can’t wait any longer. The contact is intoxicating. One moment she’s laughing into the girl’s shoulder, the next moment… a flash of teeth, a gentle suck.
GM: Caroline lunges forward, her body no longer her own. She grabs the inebriated woman by her unbuttoned shirt, pulls her head back, and feels skin break beneath her so-sharp teeth. Maybe the woman cries or pushes her. Maybe. Everything else stops mattering as liquid bliss rushes down her throat. It’s the savory taste of fine wine and caviar. It’s the ecstasy of sexual release. It’s the high of her brother’s cocaine she flushed down the toilet. It rushes down Caroline’s throat like fire, shoots through her veins, and lights her up to each fingertip.
Caroline: It’s overpowering, addictive, overwhelming. She can’t give up. She wants it.
GM: More. More. Caroline digs her teeth deeper into the girl’s neck, ravenously sucking away. She is cold and empty and confused and hurting, and the blood inside this fucking meatsack can make her warm, can make her live, can sustain her for another night.
Caroline: Warm, comfortable… alive? She always felt alive. What’s going on? Does it matter? Drink…
GM: The thing under Caroline’s hands grows colder, its movements slow. Some part of her mind tries to whisper something to her, something important, but she is lost in the rush of blood, the rapture of feeding. The voice grows more insistent, and she pauses for a moment.
It slowly sinks in that the thing in her grasp is a human being.
Caroline: She wants to keep going, but life is creeping back into her… and with life comes awareness, comes control. She has to stop, she has to pull away… it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done, it’s a fight of will against want… but she breaks away.
GM: Caroline agonizingly tears her mouth away from her victim’s neck. The girl crumples to the ground, pale and unconscious, but breathing. Caroline stands up straight and takes in the night.
She just drank another person’s blood.
It felt like the most natural thing in all the world.
Caroline: She looks down at the girl in her arms as horror starts to sink in. A near-physician’s eye turns over her victims critically… what has she done?
GM: It’s been some time since Caroline took her last pre-med classes, but not that much time. And she got such intensive practice at the police station.
The girl’s lost blood. A lot of blood. Caroline doesn’t think it’s enough to cause anoxic brain injury like poor Sarah, but there’s no question that needs to get to a hospital. Leaving her here, drunk, unconscious, and open for Decadence’s late-night revelers to do as they will with, offers no guarantee she will make it through the night.
Caroline: Caroline swallows the taste of blood, the taste of life, that’s still so hot on her lips. There is no choice. She might have failed Sarah, even if everyone was thanking her, but she doesn’t have to fail again here. She spares a glance for the boyfriend in the water. Emergency services are no doubt overwhelmed…
GM: The man has only just managed to fish himself out, wet and sputtering. He dully glances towards the girl’s comatose form.
“W’sha… w’shap… t’her…?”
Caroline: “She fell when we pushed you, I think she’s hurt.”
GM: The man hiccups. “Shlee… shlee’ off… fuckin’ cold…”
Fortunately for the girl, she’s smaller than Caroline… and fortunately one of the best hospitals in the city is only half a mile away.
“I’m going to take her to the hospital. What’s her name?”
GM: The man hiccups again. “Larn. hic Lauren.”
Caroline: “Lauren what?” She tries to keep her eyes off his throat.
GM: “Uh.” He hiccups again. “I ’unno.”
He grins. “She got grea’ tish! Firsh thing I notished ’bout her.”
Caroline: Caroline scowls. Of course. She tries to gather up Lauren. She doesn’t even dignify the man’s comments.
GM: “She ma’ shure!” he giggles, running a hand through his wet hair. “Perky girls!” More giggles sound. “She hic sai’ she named ’em…”
Caroline: The tall blonde turns her back on him and tries to set off with Lauren gathered in her arms. Tulane Medical isn’t that far, but this is going to be a bear with the other woman. Maybe she’ll get lucky when she gets back onto the street, find a cab or something. A friend. Someone she knows from school to help. Maybe. If only she hadn’t lost her phone…
GM: Caroline’s luck doesn’t hold out with the cab. The city has been slower to allow ridesharing apps like Ryde in, so traditional cabs have remained competitive, but there’s so many people needing rides home at this hour. It almost feels like there’s an unspoken lingo she doesn’t know. The cabs just seem to stop for some people and ignore others, no matter how frantically they wave.
Still, as the minutes wear on, Caroline notices one thing. She doesn’t feel the least bit tired, even carrying something as heavy as a human body.
Caroline: The beginnings of a plan start to come around along the way. She’s known at Tulane Medical, especially after her recent visits to the Whitneys and Devillers. People are going to ask questions. Especially when a girl shows up with blood loss but no obvious wounds.
She keeps an eye out for something sharp. A shard of glass, a bottle she might be able to break, anything to sell a convincing story about a fall…
GM: Caroline has seen the movies. The tale is plain on the girl’s neck: two red puncture marks.
Part of her has to wonder if there are others like her. How they can possibly hide, leaving evidence like this.
Caroline: Questions for another time. Right now she has to cover up what she’s done. Punctures become less obvious as part of a larger wound, and no one is likely to look too closely in an ER on a night this insane…
GM: Glass bottles are easily located amongst the emptying streets of revelers. New Orleans’ open carry laws might dictate plastic cups, but that still isn’t what most booze comes in.
Caroline: Caroline acquires a piece of broken glass from one such bottle. She puts her plan into motion as she draws closer to the hospital. A cut here, a slice there, a bit of digging. Most people wouldn’t stomach it, but she’s seem enough operations, dissected enough creatures, not to mention seen the wounds on the Devillers and Whitney girls up close and personal. It’s a dangerous wound to leave in a dangerous place, but Caroline knows what she’s doing. She tears off a piece of her dress as soon as she’s finished to wrap around the jagged gash. It’s a crude bandage, and blood still flows, but she’s close to the hospital now.
GM: More blood stains Caroline’s hands as she goes about her grisly work, leaving an all-too visceral badge of her sin. It’s impossible to resist not licking it off her fingers. Waste not, want not.
Caroline thinks the newly-inflicted stab wounds look pretty convincing. With any luck, the doctors at Tulane will be too harried by too many other patients to pay much mind to any oddities.
Caroline: She carries the girl into the brick building, taking stock of the room as she enters. No doubt it’s busy.
GM: Tulane Medical Center’s ER is probably always busy. Caroline didn’t visit the last few times she was at the hospital: Sarah and Yvonne were already moved to beds. She’s probably glad she didn’t visit. The ER is packed to bursting with moaning, bleeding, bandaged, and sick-looking individuals, abject lessons against indulging too freely in the festivities—or being the subject of other revelers’ indulgences. Family members and significant others sit by some of the patients, nursing wounds and murmuring words of comfort. Others sit by themselves, alone in their own private worlds of pain. No triage nurse moves to evaluate Caroline’s victim.
“Take a seat and someone’ll be with you,” a receptionist with heavy bags under her eyes snaps at the Malveaux scion without glancing at her.
Caroline: Caroline knows how to get their attention despite the chaos. Some things require more attention than others…
“Neck wound! Unconscious! Hey! I’m talking to you! She needs help.” She flags a nurse down directly. “She needs help now. She lost a lot of blood.”
GM: The receptionist looks indignant as Caroline goes over her head, but the former med student’s authoritative words snag the attention of an overworked-looking triage nurse. Seeing the unconscious girl’s still-bleeding neck wound, she quickly assigns Lauren level 1 priority (resuscitation/immediate life-saving intervention) and gets her hauled off for treatment by a physician. Someone else in medical attire brusquely tells Caroline to hang around, there are some questions to answer and forms to fill out (since Lauren obviously can’t).
Caroline: Like that’s going to happen tonight. No doubt Lauren will not be the only person dropped off amidst all of the pandemonium tonight. Caroline breaks for an exit as chaos reigns.
GM: Caroline doesn’t find it hard to vanish among the teeming press of groaning, wounded bodies and harried ER personnel. Perhaps she’ll be causing someone a headache with those forms left blank, but the new vampire has bigger problems on her plate.
She drank blood.
She has fangs.
There seems little else to call it.
Caroline: Caroline vanishes into the night. She can’t go home, not right now. She has to think. Fortunately, there are a dozen places in walking distance.
She heads back up Basin Street, towards Louis Armstrong again, but tucks into St. Louis Cemetery instead. Seems appropriately glum, and even in life the six-foot wall wasn’t really a barrier to her. There’s some drama to the choice. A vampire in a cemetery. Really, she just wants the peace of it. The stillness. Someplace she can get away. Someplace she can get lost.
GM: St. Louis Cemetery #1 itself well earns Mark Twin’s nickname: “the Cities of the Dead.” Everything about the eerily quiet cemetery’s character bolsters the illusion of days long gone by. Signs of age are everywhere: broken shells and cobblestones, dredged from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, form the alleys, and the crumbling, chipped above-ground crypts hold the dead. The disorderly layout of the tombs and burial plots are a labyrinth that Caroline supposes only the dead themselves could easily navigate.
The dead are a lot more at home here. They don’t have to deal with the heat, either. Caroline has visited before during the day and can attest the subtropical New Orleans sun is as skin-baking as ever. There’s virtually no shade, and the heat-absorbing oven vaults block any semblance of a cool summer breeze while doing nothing to stifle the muggy humidity.
Heat isn’t an issue after the sun goes down, though. Then it’s simply graveyard at night. The atmosphere alone gives individuals little enough cause to linger, even if the cemetery weren’t closed to the public, even if the cemeteries weren’t nexuses of crime and gang activity. Caroline doesn’t run into any, though. Maybe she’s simply lucky.
Or maybe the would-be predators realize they’re outclassed.
The signs are there, though. Besides the usual cryptic symbols adorning many of the family tombs, signs of vandalism and and too-modern urban decay are as abundant as graves themselves: cigarette butts, discarded needles, and even used condoms. Caroline can only imagine what moribund, demented souls would require such in this place.
It’s a well-known factoid the dead aren’t buried in New Orleans. They’re interred. The ground is too wet—as early colonists discovered, to their horror, when the region’s periodic rains and floods washed back up their loved ones’ decayed corpses and sailed them down the city’s muddy streets. Above-ground mausoleums keep the dead where they’re supposed to be. Even when actual burials are more feasible today, history is too ingrained. And so the dead continue to make their homes within crumbling, neighborhood-like rows of house-sized crypts in a moribund parody of suburbia, all so they might not disturb the living.
“Cities of the Dead” feels all-too apt.
Like any city, some residents live large and others live small. The Malveauxes are one of the rich and historied enough families to have their own massive intergenerational mausoleum. A crucifix soars from the roof, as if to proclaim its occupants’ ascension to heaven. Caroline knows many of the names. Jean Malveaux, the family’s earliest recorded priest. There has always been a Father Malveaux. Joseph Malveaux, the patriarch when the family struck it rich off the oil boom. He came into his own when he was just 30, after Leonide and his wife met that tragic boating accident off the coast of Grand Isle. Andre Malveaux, their patriarch during the War Between the States. His peers looked down on him for collaborating with the Yankee invaders, but he laid the groundwork for Leonide and Joseph to bring the modestly wealthy to its current heights of power. Benjamin Malveaux, the albino, dead in a lunatic asylum. Westley has nothing against the black sheep he was.
There aren’t as many names from after the ‘60s. Thomas would say the family forgot itself then, relocating to Baton Rouge. Caroline’s father and uncles always believed her grandfather James weakened the family and left them to pick up the pieces, starting with moving the seat back to New Orleans. The Crescent City has always been their home. Caroline’s, too, even if she wasn’t raised here.
Whatever else she may be, it’s hard not to feel at home surrounded by the dust of so many of her ancestors.
Caroline: Minutes pass into hours. Thoughts run through her mind. What is she? The night was full of horror before she became an active part of it. That poor girl. Which one? Self-pity wars with self-loathing. What the hell is she going to do? She still feels it, the hunger, the desire… she wants to get up and go back out, wants to drink and drink and drink… and leave a pile of bodies or broken people. It’s monstrous. How is she going to hide this, even if she can control herself? Fang wounds are rather obvious. And how is she going to explain this? Her life is over just as surely as if the rapist had murdered her in the alley.
The time lets her clear her head a bit, wrap her hand around everything going on. On what she is now. It staves off the worst of the fear and despair. Two things are immediately clear.
First, she’s going to have to feed again, and that means figuring out a better method. No more ambushing college students in a park. It was clumsy at best, hunger and fear and uncertainty.
Second, she’s going to have to find a place to stay. She looks around at the vaults around her. Family vaults. Too on the nose? Probably. A hotel room then, at one of the nicer hotels. Do not disturb. Will she combust under sunlight? That’s what happens in all the movies. It didn’t in Dracula, but better to play it safe.
One thing isn’t ever really in question, in spite of her self-disgust and loathing. She’s not going to give up. She’s going to figure this out or die doing so. And she’s going to find that bastard René. She may be a monster, but as the graves of her many ancestors remind her, she’s a Malveaux. A rightful ruler in this city.
And I’ll be damned if some creep in a mask is going to ruin me, even if he killed me.
She rises. Time to get to work.
Sunday night, 6 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Planning takes time. It won’t do to simply go home for the night. Caroline needs a safe place where she won’t be bothered. She needs new clothing—her dress is soiled, torn, bloodstained, and torn again. She has to go home at least once, find a hotel with an open room, leave a message for Aimee to find… assuming nothing happened to Aimee amid all the chaos…
It’s a thought she doesn’t really have time for. The night has grown late already and she had no idea what the dawn will bring. She walks home at a brisk pace. First, pack a bag. Get her credit cards. Feed the dog. Make a few phone calls.
GM: Home in Audubon Place is about five miles away. Bereft of a wallet, and likely to make a memorable impression in her bedraggled, bloody state if she attempts to bum a ride, Caroline goes it on foot. She makes her way past the Quarter’s raucous partying, the stately manors of the Garden District where several of her family maintain residences, and the suburban sprawl of Carrollton. She arrives at her home’s literal gates around an hour and a half later. She doesn’t feel tired. She isn’t sweaty either, nor does her heart rate feel elevated.
Audubon Place is a fortress neighborhood and gated community with some of the most expensive residences in the city. It’s home to John Dyer (the owner of the Saints, richest man in the state, and the uncle of Caroline’s Aunt Vera), Edward McGregor (the president of Tulane University), Maxen Flores (her father’s successor as Senate majority leader), Ernie Marchesi (who Caroline is pretty sure is a mobster), and other business and civic leaders who don’t want to associate with “the riffraff” that is the district’s middle-class homeowners and the Tulane and Loyola student bodies… to say nothing of the elements that prey on those students after dark.
Caroline’s uncle Matt owns a house in the neighborhood, which between that fact and being only a several-minute walk from the university campus, made it the perfect place to live. Matt wasn’t using the property for much of anything else.
But by design, Caroline’s home isn’t easy to get to. High concrete walls tipped with barbed wire declare the neighborhood’s desire to divorce itself from the rest of the world. A grilled iron gate and adjacent guard house control vehicle access. Masked Blackwatch mercenaries (“security contractors”) patrol the perimeter with leashed attack dogs, bored and tense for action. Caroline has seen them laugh more than once when the snarling German shepherds snapped at frightened college students who wandered too close. Normally she only sees the dogs through her car window…
The mercenary in charge of the gate detail, an ex-Marine whose only name Caroline has ever heard is Johnson (his hard-eyed masked face appears identical to his men), initially levels his gun at the bloody-attired woman and growls at her to halt. For a moment, Caroline fears the mercenaries are going to shoot her. They’ve shot trespassers before. Some real, some posthumously declared so. Johnson relaxes after recognizing Caroline’s features, but only marginally. What the fuck happened to her? Where’s her ID? He doesn’t see any purse or bag on her.
“No ID, no entrance,” he states flatly.
“Our asses on the line if she gets raped or murdered or whatever the fuck else,” says another lean-looking merc with angry eyes and a badly scarred face.
“So call 911 and get the princess to a hospital,” snorts a tall and cocky-looking merc with blonde hair in a ponytail.
Caroline: Caroline smothers her fear. There may be savages out and about in the city tonight, but these people are professionals. Professional killers, yes, but there is something familiar here. She’s been around private security all her life. She knows the type. She also knows that she’s not getting dragged to a hospital.
What face to wear? The victim? No, these people have seen enough victims, created enough victims. They are much like their vicious dogs on a leash. They respect power and authority, wealth and influence. And no one in town has as much influence as a Malveaux.
“Sergeant, excellent. Some savage tried to shove me into an alley while one of his associates made off with my bag. I had to walk. Walk, mind you, miles, just to get home. My keys, my ID, my phone.” She rattles them off and shakes her head, blonde hair tossing against the night.
“Can you believe it? In New Orleans! This isn’t some backwater slum. My uncle was right about this ‘festival.’ Brings out the degenerates.”
That’s right, she thinks. My uncle. Fit it into place. You don’t want anything to do with this headache.
She shakes her head again, seemingly astonished by the nerve of some people, before turning back to the merc in charge. “Can you send one of your people to open my door for me? You should have an extra key at the gatehouse?”
It’s a request, but it sounds like something more. Not quite an order or demand, but it’s clear she has a set expectation.
GM: Johnson and his fellow mercenaries initially scowl, then merely grumble as the heiress’ authoritative words take hold. When the blonde corrects with a snort, “You know, we don’t actually have sergeants in-” Johnson snaps back, “Can shut your mouth for fucking once, Hall?”
He stares back at Caroline, then seems to decide what state she’s in isn’t his problem. They’re only paid to keep intruders out. He growls at her to “have some ID next time,” because they’re not breaking the rules twice. If they were “real military” she’d be stuck outside, doesn’t matter if they recognized her face. His tone would probably feel more menacing if she hadn’t just nearly killed someone.
He tells the scarred mercenary, who he calls Turner, to retrieve the key and drive Caroline to her house, “Since you won’t run your goddamn mouth doing it.” The woman does those first two things and doesn’t do the third. She wordlessly opens the door for Caroline to get into a black SUV whose side is emblazoned with the company’s black-starred logo.
It’s a short enough trip. Audubon Place has only 28 homes down along a single street. Rows of majestic oaks line each side of the wide boulevard with a manicured park in the middle separating each home from the neighbor across the street.
Caroline’s home at 18 Audubon Place is a three-story, turn-of-the-century mansion that sits on a large 100×200-foot lot with a swimming pool and private backyard oasis. The house retains many of the design details created by famed architect Emile Weil in 1913, including custom cabinetry, high ceilings, leaded-glass windows, intricate crown moulding, original millwork, grand staircases, marbled mantled fireplaces, and gloriously sunny spaces. All Audubon Place homes feature breathtaking views of the private park, but one step onto the grand veranda and the Beaux Arts mansion immediately impresses. A soaring entry, decorative trim, and softly curved staircase welcome guests and homeowners alike. The home flows gracefully from room-to-room, with natural light streaming through (at least during the day), warming up the oak and walnut inlaid hardwood floors.
The 7-bedroom and 5.5-bathroom house is valued at $5.5 million: even Caroline’s family wouldn’t have bought her a property like that. However, Matt had inherited the house from his great-aunt Clementine (she’d been well provided for as one of Joseph’s only two children), who’d died childless, and he’d never had any pressing need to sell it. He’d been renting it out for some years, and upon his niece’s acceptance to Tulane University, made it available for her use. He did insist upon rent, albeit much reduced from what the house would normally be worth, to impress “the value of money” upon Caroline. This was the first place she’d lived outside of her parents’ house.
As a move-in present, he’d had it refurbished and improved with a ceramic roof, copper gutters, plus repairs to the flooring, and plaster and paint repairs inside and out. While still faithful to Weil’s architectural style, the house had room for modern updates in the kitchen and bathrooms. The blank slate approach allowed Caroline to personalize the interior décor to her liking.
Caroline’s escort opens the car door for her, thrusts the spare key into her hands, then drives off without a word.
Caroline: The entryway gives way to a sprawling entire floor given way to entertaining. It is largely unchanged from even a few years ago when she first entertained Aimee. Open spaces, comfortable furniture, original art on the walls. It’s a comfortable but modern space paneled in rich dark wood with a full bar against one wall. Even glancing at the liquor makes Caroline a bit nauseous. One more thing taken from her in all of this. The dominating feature at the moment, however, is the rather large dog waiting to greet her.
Caesar is a relief for Caroline, a familiar furry face she has had since she first left home. A protector and friend. And now a growling snarling beast slowly giving ground as she approaches. She stares at him with concern and uncertainty. Caesar is a huge dog that easily outweighs her. If he attacks her…
But he doesn’t. Instead he just slowly gives ground, ignoring every attempt to calm him down. He refuses to approach when she sits down and tries to call him over. Even pulling a sausage out of the fridge doesn’t coax him. It isn’t until she almost pins him in a corner that his ears go down, his tail rigid—warning signs she can recognize. She backs away. The dog refuses to take his eyes off her and continues to growl. It is with great difficulty that she leaves him alone downstairs and makes for her room to pack a bag.
The upstairs is far different than the downstairs. It is her sanctum, her place away from the world. There are three bedrooms, one of which is a guest room that is supposed to host her youngest brother Gabriel in a few weeks. Her own is furthest from the stairs. It is almost spartan. Clean and functional furnishings, heavy with glass and metals rather than the rich woods of the downstairs. Nothing so tacky as Ikea brand, but similar in function. The room feels cold and clinical. The master bathroom is filled in black and offsets the white carpet starkly. Even the art is muted—mostly what looks like a few Ansel Adams pieces and a few small sculptures in silvery metals.
She barely pays the room any attention, though she does cast a longing glance at the shower. Maybe she will actually feel warm under some hot water. Instead, she mechanically drags a large rolling suitcase out of her closet and starts packing a bag. She only pauses when she is is down to a laptop to look up the numbers of several local hotels of repute. She needs to get away for a while the last thing she needs is Aimee wandering in on her. Who knows what daylight will bring?
She curses the loss of her cellphone, but is fortunate enough that she’s never had to even consider getting rid of her landline. It’s closer to dawn than the middle of the night by now, with even the most extreme parties finally winding down—but the beauty of expensive havens for the wealthy is they cater to whatever you need. She sets about calling around for a room.
GM: Caroline looks up a number of hotels.
The Windsor Court, located in the CBD, is one of the city’s two 5-star hotels. Four U.S. presidents, a U.K. prime minister, and the prince of Monaco have all been guests of the Windsor, which proclaims itself “one of the premier hotels in America, enjoying a reputation for unmatched elegance, location and guest services.” Online search results also show that business seems to have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. The Times-Picayune reports that several staff have gone missing amidst a police investigation. A manager has been committed to a mental institution. A homeless bag lady was allegedly seen in one of the suites.
Caroline well recalls the Hilton Riverside, which is also located in the CBD, as the site of her junior débutante ball back in 2003. Uncle Orson snubbed it for being part of a national chain: the sort of place that “new money goes.” The hotel’s website does not mention when it was built, so the date is presumably nothing to boast about. She remember it offering a lovely view of the nearby waterfront.
The merely four-star Hilton St. Charles Avenue makes its home on Canal Street, the historic thoroughfare that divides the CBD from the French Quarter. Restored in 2007, was originally built in the 1920s and was one of the first hotels in the now-internationally reputed chain. It remains famous for its Roaring Twenties ambiance.
The Roosevelt New Orleans is managed by Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, the company that owns the eponymous hotel of the same name in New York City. The hotel was originally built by Louis Grunewald, a German immigrant, and opened in 1893 as “The Hotel Grunewald.” It was renamed the Roosevelt Hotel in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose efforts building the Panama Canal had been of tremendous financial benefit to the city.
The closer one gets to the French Quarter, the older the hotels tend to get, and the more pride they seem to take in their histories. Some are recognized as historic landmarks.
Le Pavillon Hotel is one such establishment. Dating back to 1907, the hotel is included on the National Register of Historic Places. During Prohibition, it was a popular destination for discreet activities, and an underground passage stretching over a block and a half was used as a discreet exit by politicians and other well-knowns who didn’t want to be recognized. The website conspicuously advertises the fact that the hotel is located close to the French Quarter, though its actual location is in the CBD.
Hotel Monteleone has the Pavillion beat for age. Originally opened in the 1880s by Antonio Monteleone, a Sicilian immigrant, his five generations of descendants have continued to operate their namesake hotel as an independent, family-owned business to this day. In addition to being the French Quarter’s only high-rise hotel, the Monteleone has had a number of famous authors as guests, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Anne Rice. The hotel even has its own Wikipedia page.
The Omni Royal Orleans beats the Monteleone and Pavillion for age, having opened all the way back in 1843. The establishment was originally built by indignant Creoles who, upon seeing upstart Yankees opening luxury hotels in the new American Quarter (now the CBD), decided to outdo them by building a “European Grand”-style “place for aristocrats to meet and do business, to eat and drink and make love, to buy slaves and sell plots of land on the banks of the Mississippi.” The City Exchange, as it was then known, was the city’s most popular auction market being destroyed by a fire in 1841. Its second incarnation, the Saint Louis Hotel, was burned down by another fire in 1914. It was finally reopened as the Omni Royal in 1960, and boasts Richard Nixon and Bettie Davis among its former guests.
Hotel Villa Convento is located on Decatur Street, near the waterfront and historic French Market. The former Creole townhouse scoffs at the age of its younger neighbors and is the oldest hotel Caroline can find in the city, dating all the way back to the 1830s. Seven generations and 185 years later, it is still owned by the Campos, a Spanish-descended family who migrated to Louisiana in the 1780s. Even the Monteleones, who take pride in being a family-owned establishment, must reluctantly accept second place next to the Campos. The language on the Convento’s website isn’t as polished as some of the others, however, and doesn’t seem as if it was written by a PR specialist. They even misspell ‘amend’ as ‘ammend.’
Last of all, though by no means the last historic hotel in the French Quarter, is the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It boasts a location in the historic and cultural heart of New Orleans, only 2 minutes away from Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. The website has little to say about a grand, centuries-old past, suggesting that like its peers in the CBD, the hotel is a recently-owned establishment.
Caroline: She decides on the Hilton. Her uncle might look down on her for it, but it’s familiar and part of a larger brand.
She’s also heard that a number of the historic hotels are supposedly haunted. She’d have scoffed at that last night, but she’d have scoffed at vampires being real too. Choosing a newer hotel seems like the safest play.
While she navigates her laptop, she opens her nightstand to reveal a small safe bolted into it. It’s not the only one in the building, or even the only one in the room, but it’s the most convenient. She withdraws several extra credit cards, a copy of her driver’s license that is technically illegal to possess (but only slightly), her passport, and several bands of cash. A small neat little 9 mm pistol comes out last, almost as an afterthought.
It is a dangerous world out there, after all.
Sunday night, 6 September 2015, AM
GM: The Hilton Riverside is a half hour drive away in the CBD. It’s an odd time of night, late enough for even the most wild parties to be winding down, but still too early for dawn to creep over the horizon. It’s less a moment of relief than embittered exhaustion, when the monsters no longer feel like playing, but have yet to fully retire to their lairs.
The 29-story concrete and steel monolith looms territorially over the Mississippi. Lacking the proud history of its rivals in the French Quarter, the hotel embraces the cold monotony of mass-produced luxury with an air that’s at once sullen and haughty. Silent, weary-eyed valets and bellhops efficiently take care of Caroline’s car and luggage.
The lobby is as empty as its employees’ spirits. Several stony-faced men, their expressions as blank as their suits are black, stare at Caroline with the silent intensity of jungle cats surveying rival predators. The hotel’s receptionist, a young woman whose makeup and professional attire cannot conceal the weariness in her graveyard shift eyes, offers Caroline a smile with $7-an-hour sincerity as she explains the hotel’s many amenities from the fitness room to the pool to the sightseeing tours.
“…and how long will you be staying with us, ma’am?”
Caroline: Now isn’t that a question? Caroline considers for a moment before realizing that it doesn’t really matter.
“A week.” The Platinum AMEX card has little concern for what the total is.
GM: The receptionist types something into her computer. In short order, Caroline has a keycard.
“Here you are, ma’am. Have a pleasant evening,” the woman replies with another $7-an-hour smile.
Caroline: Caroline replies in kind while she waits for a bellhop to show up for her bag and lead her to the room. The crisp hundred dollar bill is excessive even for her, but she can’t be bothered to make change.
GM: The receptionist’s baggy eyes widen at the generous tip. She thanks Caroline profusely while the bellhop takes the luggage of the hotel’s newest guest. No doubt she’s going to get the very best service.
As the elevator doors close, Caroline observes the stone-faced men walking out the lobby, each one grasping the end of a sagging sheet with something heavy-looking inside.
Caroline: There’s a new coldness to Caroline’s eyes as they track the sagging sheet and the hard men as they work. Well, isn’t that interesting.
Not interesting enough to pull her away tonight, though. Not given the late hour.
She eyes the bellhop. “Let’s go.”
GM: The elevator hums its way up to Caroline’s executive suite on the 27th floor. Her amenities include a spacious live area with a work desk, separate bedroom with a king-sized bed, wet bar with refrigerator and 37-inch LCD TV, complimentary WiFi, Executive Lounge access, Health Club by Hilton access, and a stunning view of the Mississippi River. A spread of cheeses, crackers, meats, fruits, and other evening hors d’oeuvres reclines on one of the tables. It takes only one whiff of the food to know she won’t be able to stomach it.
Caroline: The poor bellhop gets his own crisp bill and is sent on his way. Anything to make him leave and take that pulsing vein in his throat away.
GM: The bellhop’s eyes don’t widen like the receptionist’s did, but probably only because he’s expecting a tip that big. “Have a pleasant stay, ma’am. Let us know if there’s anything more we can do,” he states as he leaves. His tone is cordial if not servile. His eyes are those of one who routinely stares luxury in the face while denied its lap.
Caroline: For Caroline, it has nothing to do with kindness or affection. Good tips generate a reputation and promote good service. Something too many with wealth forget. The money means nothing to her, but the world to these overworked souls. For an inch they’ll pull her a mile.
She draws the shades, flips the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, and collapses on the bed. The night has already been a whirlwind. Who knows what tomorrow will hold. If there even is a tomorrow. Who’s to say she doesn’t have to sleep in a coffin? Too many questions and unknowns. She eyes the closet. Demeaning… but she has too many questions, and the night is coming to a close.
GM: Caroline observes the room’s windows are quite wide, though they have drapes. If she does not wish to close those, the closet or the bathroom both might offer sanctuary from the dawn.
Caroline: The drapes are closed, but Caroline eventually retreats into the closet with what clothing she unpacks as well. Darkness closing in? Or is it light? Only tomorrow will tell.
It’s been a hell of a night.