“I can’t stop what’s happened here from going forward, but I can make the process much less neat and tidy than everyone else would like it to be."
Sunday afternoon, 30 August 2015
Caroline’s second trip back to Tulane Medical Center feels much like the first. Neil has already eaten lunch, but still says hi when he sees her and provides the directions to Emil’s room. Her talk with the injured lawman is what it was.
People are still showing up to pay condolences, drop off gift baskets, and wish the girls speedy and complete recoveries. Sarah is still in a coma. Visitors give her their prayers as well. Yvonne seems to be tired out, and Caroline spots four of her sisters camped outside the door to receive further well-wishers in her stead. They mention Yvette is staying inside. She hasn’t ever left Yvonne’s side except to use the bathroom.
Susannah Kelly and several girls (some familiar to Caroline, some not) stop by Yvonne’s door to leave her with balloons. Other students from McGehee pay their respects, including Rachel and her father; Caleb Gallagher’s granddaughter Mackenna; a South Asian girl with her parents who are probably some of Rich Pavaghi’s many relatives; a redhead who Caroline doesn’t know; and a black girl who’s the daughter of Eric Lancaster, the (Democratic) U.S. representative for New Orleans’ congressional district, and who pointedly ignores Caroline’s presence.
Adults stop by too. There are two lawyers from Caroline’s old job at HMHL&P, and whose number do not include Denise; Carson Malveaux, who checks in on Caroline too; McGehee’s headmistress Catherine Strong, who tells the Devillers and Whitneys (for what doesn’t sound like the first time) that Amelie has been expelled; a blonde woman who brings food and Caroline recognizes as the ex-wife of Maxen Flores, her father Nathan’s successor in the state senate, and who half-playfully admonishes the girls to eat something besides sweets; two executives from Whitney Bank, along with Lawrence Thurston, who was her Aunt Vera’s portfolio manager; and a few further faces Caroline doesn’t know.
There’s also a delegation from NOPD, who have updates on Richard Gettis. He doesn’t seem to have gotten the message that he’s no longer a cop. He’s actually arrested two people for suspected crimes, handcuffed them to doors, and vanished after calling NOPD to come pick them up (both victims were released and not charged with anything). In so many words, “He’s gone off the deep end.” It makes his movements all the easier to follow, and they assure the Devillers and Whitney families that Gettis will be brought in—“dead or alive”—very soon. Both receive the news coolly.
Luke doesn’t seem like he has plans to leave the hospital anytime soon, and not just for his girlfriend’s sake. He glibly greets and shakes hands with as many people as he can, taking the opportunity to wave the family flag and praise Caroline’s heroism without seeming like he’s doing that (but which Caroline knows is exactly what he’s doing).
Caroline: Caroline plays the part opposite of him, the demure savior grateful the girls survived. It’s far from her most difficult role.
GM: It’s after a few hours of this that Caroline spots Christina Roberts among the various visitors coming and going.
Caroline: The heiress frowns at the sight. Roberts is many things, but an ambulance chaser isn’t one of them.
GM: Luke frowns at Caroline, as if having the same thought. “What do you suppose she’s doing here?”
Caroline: “I’m not sure. But I’ll find out.” The heiress crosses in front of the madam on her way to the bathroom.
GM: Christina looks notably stone-faced as Caroline intercepts her. She greets the Malveaux scion with a perfunctory, “Caroline.”
Luke does not accompany her.
Caroline: “Christina,” Caroline replies obliquely as she crosses ahead and into the restroom in front of Christina.
GM: The madam walks around her into one of the stalls, closes the door, and audibly goes about her business.
Caroline: Caroline pays the noise little mind as she moves to the sinks and checks her makeup and general appearance, waiting for the madam to finish her business. When Roberts emerges the heiress watches her through the mirror.
“I don’t expect they’re your clients, and they seem a little young to be your employees,” she offers.
GM: The sound of running water punctuates Roberts’ snort as she washes her hands. “They’re a little well-off to be my employees.”
Caroline: “I’m told that some teens enjoy rebelling against their families,” Caroline replies.
GM: Roberts’ expression looks as if she could snort again. “Some girls who’ve wanted to work for me have wanted to do that. They can rebel anywhere else they like, but I don’t employ minors, girls who’ll just make me enemies, or both.”
Caroline: “Personal, then,” Caroline replies.
GM: “My niece was hospitalized and arrested,” Roberts answers as she dries her hands.
Caroline: “I didn’t know you had one,” Caroline replies. “Anyone I might know?”
GM: “She’s only been in town for a few weeks. I doubt you know her, but after last Friday I’m sure you know of her.” Christina examines her reflection as she starts to touch up her makeup. “Her name is Amelie Savard.”
Caroline: Caroline pauses what she’s doing for a moment.
“That’s unfortunate,” she says at last.
GM: “I rather thought so too,” the madam deadpans.
Caroline: “I don’t need to tell you how ugly this is. And will continue to be,” the heiress replies.
GM: Christina silently continues to fix her face. The look on it is hard.
Caroline: Caroline finishes her own efforts and snaps her purse shut.
“Call me if you need something. My advice though, given the powers in play, it may be far better to ride this one out than swim against it. For her.”
GM: Christina turns away from the mirror to look at Caroline. She regards her for a moment.
“Your family connections could be very useful here. Something tells me Carson is going to be the judge who decides her case.”
Caroline: “I’m open to pitching something to him when we get there,” Caroline begins. “But I’d need a scapegoat. Someone isn’t coming out of this with a slap on the wrist.”
GM: “Yes,” Christina agrees, though not happily. “And Amelie makes the perfect one.”
Caroline: “Well, perfect save you,” Caroline replies.
The heiress’s expressionless mask cracks for a moment. “If it had happened with almost any other group in the school, this would have been a far easier matter for you to sweep up, if so inclined.”
GM: Christina simply sighs. “The Devillers and Whitney girls are off. The Freneau girl is more convenient, but still inconvenient. That leaves the injured cop and the Burroughs girl, so far as people who were actually there.”
Caroline: “I’m certain you can come up with something. This probably isn’t the time to discuss it though,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Quite the opposite. I’m sure your parents have told you some variation of ‘the longer you wait, the harder it gets.’”
Caroline: “And what do you propose? And is your niece smart enough to follow along with whatever you’d be selling?”
She lets that hang for a moment, then bites her lower lip. “The police officer is likely your best bet. I could spin advantages to pushing them further on the defensive, and he struck me as…. well, let’s just say someone unwilling to play ball.”
GM: Christina seems to think on that. “I’d heard a few strange things about him.”
Caroline: “He started ranting to me about bringing justice back to the police for the common man,” Caroline answers dryly.
GM: “An idealist among NOPD? I thought they were an endangered species,” the madam quips back, equally dryly.
Caroline: The smile Caroline gives is positively predatory. “They might be.”
GM: “That does change things a good deal,” Christina considers. “Brass will want him off the force sooner or later anyway if he doesn’t change his tune.”
Caroline: “And it would be easy to argue his call set it all in motion,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “It’s chains of events that build towards fuck-ups this big. Never just one thing,” Christina sighs. “But you’re right. Now, so far as what Carson wants to hear.”
The madam rubs her forehead. “I won’t fight Amelie’s expulsion from McGehee, sue the school, or sue the girls’ families. That should be enough for them. But anything that results in Amelie getting a felony conviction is a dealbreaker. I won’t allow this to destroy her future.”
Caroline: “She’s going to get something—there’s too much on the record now—but I can make that argument,” Caroline replies. “Extra attention isn’t something the girls’ families are likely to want either, given all that was involved.”
GM: “A misdemeanor conviction will probably be too hard to dodge,” Christina grudgingly agrees. “Carson and I can haggle over the sentence particulars—but no felonies. The drug charge is bullshit and we all know it. I can’t stop what’s happened here from going forward, but I can make the process much less neat and tidy than everyone else would like it to be.”
Caroline: “You’ll need something on the cop,” Caroline replies. “Making the drug charge stick to him might be ideal. And easy. He’s stuck here for days.”
GM: “He needs a motive.” Christina thinks for a moment. “He could have wanted to strike a blow against the city’s old families. Send a loud and clear message that no one was above the law.”
Caroline: “He certainly accomplished as much. I confess, my understanding of exactly what happened makes it difficult to frame it neatly, but I expect your own perspective may lend itself well.”
GM: “The girls have a better idea than either of us regarding what happened. I’m sure they’d talk freely around you.”
Caroline: “You’re asking for a lot,” Caroline replies. “That could leave me high and dry.”
GM: “Asking the ones who aren’t in a hospital bed costs you nothing relative to my goodwill,” Christina counters. “Any of the girls would be more than happy to complain about the cop who got them into this mess, I’m sure.”
Caroline: “And filling in all those holes for you?” Caroline counters. “Is your niece going to play ball when she wakes up, or are our plans going to come apart?”
GM: “She’ll do what she’s told,” the madam states.
Caroline: “I trust you can find a way to make the drugs stick to him,” Caroline answers rather than asks. “I’ll call you later with details on what happened.”
GM: “Good. If you’re looking for more on Kane, he’s since been visited by Delron Mouton, some other lieutenant, and Senator Flores’ ex-wife. They all might have more to share with you than me about any unsocial behavior.”
Caroline: “Someone’s been busy,” Caroline replies. “I’ll see what I can do.”
GM: Christina snaps her purse closed. “I have no doubt.”
Sunday afternoon, 30 August 2015
GM: Yvonne’s room is much as it was when Caroline left it last, or at least the outside is. Four of her sisters are camped out on chairs with cushions, occupying themselves on phones and tablets. One result of last Friday and Saturday, Caroline supposes, is that she can now tell them apart better. Yvette, Noëlle, and Cécilia are present, along with Luke and another pale woman who looks a little younger than Cécilia. That has to be Adeline.
Caroline: After the predictable and expected round of introductions, Caroline asks Cécilia to step aside with her for a moment.
GM: All of the girls are as grateful to see Caroline as before and offer an abundance of treats from Yvonne’s gift baskets, which they say she’s fine with them offering (“there’s just so much”). Cécilia tells her sisters she’ll be back momentarily.
Caroline: Caroline politely inquires as to Yvonne’s condition before moving on to the topic at hand. “What exactly happened that night, Cécilia? There’s a lot more to this than I was selling the night of.”
GM: Yvonne is feeling a lot more out of it than yesterday, Cécilia answers. She’d wanted to look strong for her initial visitors and has received fewer today. She’s too tired to have anyone in her room besides Yvette right now. But she is making a steady recovery. Everyone only hopes the same can be said for Sarah.
Cécilia frowns over the topic of what happened. “It’s a long story, Caroline, but one I know pretty well by now. It all started over a school project. It was for a history class Yvette was taking with Amelie. They were supposed to research a haunted historic building. I guess the teacher thought that would be a fun project.”
“Yvette and Amelie got paired up when they didn’t want to be. Or at least when Yvette didn’t want to be. Yvette had a thousand reasons for disliking her, I won’t go into them, but she said Amelie was paranoid about ghosts and convinced the house really was haunted.”
Caroline: “So they decided to play to it,” Caroline fills in.
GM: Cécilia nods. “Yvette said Amelie was even stabbed by some Quarter psychic over the weekend, which I’m sure made her even more scared. But you guessed what Yvette did. She gathered up a bunch of other girls, who didn’t like Amelie but were pretending to be her friends, and decided to play a prank on her.”
“They tried to give Amelie a drink spiked with LSD and then wanted to host a pretend séance, where they’d have acted like ghosts were actually there. Once she started really hallucinating, they’d have locked her in the attic overnight. Where all the slaves were tortured, and let her think the ghosts were getting her.”
Caroline: It’s a particularly cruel ‘prank,’ but Caroline has heard worse.
GM: “They’d have left her there for the caretaker to find the next morning, where they must have figured she’d get in even worse trouble.” Cécilia sighs. “I suppose teenagers will be teenagers, no? But obviously that isn’t what happened. They said Amelie was already on edge. She was jumping at shadows and wouldn’t even take the drink. She was seeing things all without LSD.”
Caroline: “So what happened? How did she end up with her head cracked open, and her phone destroyed?” Caroline asks.
GM: Cécilia sighs again. “The house had all the girls on edge. Things sounded like they started to get really downhill after… they found some disturbing painting the last owner, that movie star, left behind. It scared all of them, not just Amelie. Yvette took a picture of it, then texted it to Amelie after they’d all split up.”
“It must have really scared her. That’s when the girls all heard her screaming, and saw she’d fallen down a flight of stairs.” Cécilia’s brow furrows. “They aren’t sure exactly happened to her phone. But Amelie brought a lot of knives, maybe it fell on one. She was out of her mind when the others saw her. They tried to calm her down, but she ran off and tried to climb the gate… and fell.”
Caroline: “And when their friend’s cop father showed up, he had the bright idea to make them write out this plan of theirs—and they did.”
GM: Cécilia nods. “In garbled bits. Most of them left out the drugs and other parts that could have gotten them in real trouble, I think, but Simmone is only 10… she told the full story.”
Caroline: “And then the cops searched and found the drugs. Lord, how much did they have?” Caroline asks rhetorically. “Can the drugs be traced back to anyone?”
GM: Cécilia shakes her head. “They were very plain-looking pills, you could mistake them for medication tablets. No smiley faces or rainbows like you see on some.”
Her face falls a bit. “They said that was Sarah’s idea, to keep them plain. In case Amelie saw them spiking the drink, or something else went wrong… like it did.”
Caroline: “Small mercies,” Caroline replies quietly. Gears turn in her mind. “Do they have any idea what happened to the cop? Just a stroke?”
GM: “It… must have been. The girls all say he started screaming over Amelie. Really screaming, like some kind of… animal, then ran out of the house. Everyone must have just been so scared. When they found him, he was lying passed out in the rain. The doctors all say it was a stroke compounded by hitting his head.”
Caroline: “Then the other cops and paramedics showed up,” Caroline fills in.
GM: Cécilia nods. “The girls were all arrested. And then, well, you were there for all of it.” Her face looks more than a little numb. “It was such a nightmare.”
Caroline: “Yes, it was,” Caroline agrees, flashing back to blood squeezing its way between her too-pale fingers working over paler-still flesh.
GM: “Everyone says that house is cursed.”
Caroline: “Maybe it is,” Caroline answers. “Do you know anything about Amelie beyond what your sisters shared?”
GM: Cécilia shakes her head. “Mostly just what Yvette shared. And Yvonne. They both had classes with her, I’m sure they could all tell you a lot more. And Mrs. Flores, their dance teacher, who’s been by.”
Caroline: “Her aunt is Christina Roberts.”
GM: “Oh, I see.” Cécilia clearly does see if her stiller expression is any indication.
Caroline: “I don’t think she could actively derail things at this point, but I suspect if so inclined she could turn this into a very messy and too-public spectacle.”
GM: “Yvette wants Amelie to pay. So does our mother. I’m not sure they’re wrong.”
Caroline: “For being a fool?” Caroline shrugs. “She’ll be expelled either way, and is likely to end up with an array of criminal charges. To say nothing of her own road to recovery. At the end of the day she wasn’t why the girls got arrested.”
GM: “There’s a lot of people at fault for what happened last night,” Cécilia grants with a faint sigh. “These sorts of things are too big for any one person to be responsible.”
Caroline: “Really? Because I can think of someone whom it falls on more than others,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Completely responsible,” her brother’s girlfriend amends with another stiller look. “And he of course chose to do everything that he did, knowing what would happen. But even Yvette and the girls are partly—partly—responsible, for their prank to make Amelie so scared. So am I for driving them to that house. And Amelie is the most responsible of all, for obvious reasons, and getting the police involved.”
Caroline: “I spoke with him,” Caroline continues. “Idealist type. He was preaching to me about turning the police around to help the ‘little guy.’”
GM: “How unfortunate he couldn’t help my sisters,” Cécilia notes coolly.
Caroline: “Were it not for his prying, there would have been little reason to touch them,” Caroline replies. “And while I can only speculate as to what possessed Detective Gettis, I have to imagine those writings played a part.”
GM: “I don’t know why he had them do that,” Cécilia frowns. “I’ve never heard of police taking written statements before.”
Caroline: “They don’t,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Everyone knows how bad police corruption is in this city, of course, but I thought they at least cared about people like my family. They’re making an énorme show of it now, of course. The superintendent was by yesterday, along with Nolan Moreno, and that commander just a little while ago. They even wanted to ‘pay respects’ to Yvonne, in her room. As if we would let them.”
Caroline: “It was disgusting,” Caroline agrees. “But I think holding Detective Kane accountable would make a larger impact than platitudes.”
GM: “Officer Kane. They say he’s been demoted.”
Caroline: “A slap on the wrist,” Caroline scoffs.
GM: “Yes. I suppose it would be a step in the right direction to have him off the force, thinking on it now. My mother would agree, I’m sure. Things have just been… well, you know how.” Cécilia looks a little numb again. “When we’re thinking about anything besides the girls, it’s about Gettis, and then Amelie. What to do about Kane just fell by the wayside.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in understanding. “He doesn’t seem the type to let things go. Pitch it to your mother for me,” she asks. “She has more police connections than I do. If she’s willing to let Amelie off with the more minor charges—and a removal from McGehee—I can make Roberts play ball, and the rest of this can go away without dragging the girls into trials and other unpleasantness.”
GM: “Oh, mon dieu, a trial? Do you really think she would?” Cécilia asks.
Caroline: “I think she’d call them as witnesses in any more serious trial for Amelie, and perhaps pursue civil measures.”
GM: Cécilia sighs. “Well, Yvette might relish that, but Yvonne and Simmone don’t need to go through another ordeal. Or the other girls. I suppose as long as Amelie’s out of McGehee, that’s what matters.”
Caroline: “Out of your lives,” Caroline agrees. “Do you think your mother will go along with it?” she asks.
GM: “Out of our lives,” Cécilia repeats, then pauses. “She wants the people who’ve hurt her children to pay.”
Caroline: It’s not something Caroline can relate to, even though she understands.
GM: “Gettis is the person who’s on her mind most of all right now. I think she’ll also be glad to avoid a trial, but she’ll want more than just expulsion for Amelie.”
Caroline: “An array of misdemeanors are all on the table. Her future is finished. She’ll be lucky to finish high school.”
GM: “Would it be?” Cécilia asks, seemingly half-curious. “You are the lawyer, but a few misdemeanors is much less of a black mark for jobs and colleges than a felony drug conviction, isn’t it?”
Caroline: Caroline pauses. “It isn’t an outright end, but it closes many doors. To say nothing of how long her recovery is going to take.”
GM: “My mother keeps an eye on the long term. She’ll want this to keep a lot of doors closed for good.”
Caroline: “I see few doors open to a potential high school dropout,” Caroline replies. “It certainly closes the doors on any prestigious schools.”
GM: “There are other high schools she could enroll in. Not prestigious ones, after an expulsion on her transcript, but still.”
Caroline: Caroline spreads her hands. “Amelie’s future destroyed, the girls not dragged into a public debacle that could damage their own.” She weighs one hand against the other for emphasis. “If she’s as unlikable as you’ve made her out to be, it seems doubtful she’ll make much of herself. And if the police are forced to sacrifice one of their own at her altar, it’s unlikely they’ll turn a blind eye to her.”
GM: “That’s also very true,” Cécilia considers. “Maman could put in a bad word with them. All right, Caroline, I think I can convince her on it.”
Caroline: “There are many opportunities, past this, for things to go a bad way for her,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “More than. By the way, your brother is coming back with lunch for everyone, would you like to join us? My sisters would love it if you did.”
Caroline: “I’d love to, but I need to make sure the Whitneys are on board as well, then call my uncle.” She gives a strained smile. “If all goes smoothly, I’ll come back by—but when does it?”