CRESCENT CITY by Jack Caldwell


Bourbon Street Nights
Volume One of CRESCENT CITY

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(Excerpt from Chapter 1:)

Located on famous St. Charles Avenue between the Uptown and Riverbend neighborhoods of New Orleans, Loyola stood next door to the much larger Tulane University and across the street from Audubon Park. Many people took advantage of the streetcar stop right in front of the two schools, but Marianne and Elizabeth hopped into Marianne's rusty used Corolla and drove down the majestic live oak-lined avenue to the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon. Parking on Napoleon Avenue, the two girls walked to a dark wood storefront that was the entrance to Fat Harry's.

In a town renowned for its neighborhood joints, bars, and pubs, Fat Harry's was an institution with the college-aged crowd. Dark, crowded, and smelling slightly of stale beer, it was the stomping grounds of generations of the Uptown university types. Students consumed burgers and quaffed beer while listening to the same Motown music their parents rocked out to. If New Orleans ever passed a law against polo shirts and khaki pants, half the men in the city would be naked.

Marianne and Elizabeth squeezed their way in. It took only moments for Marianne to spot her quarry. The two girls made their way to a tall bottled-blonde sitting at a high table.

"Emmm!" screamed Marianne.

"Mar-eee!" The blonde returned the greeting, and the two hugged and blew air kisses.

"Emma Weinberg," said Marianne, "this is my new roommate, Elizabeth Boudreaux."

Emma shook Elizabeth's hand. "Nice to meet you. Where did you go to school?"

Elizabeth understood her question to be New Orleans code for Where did you go to high school? "E.D. White in Thibodaux. You?"

"Newman," Emma answered, naming one of the more prestigious private schools in the area. She was a slender girl with three prominent features: a slightly long nose and one of the most impressive chests Elizabeth had ever seen on a woman of her slim frame. It wasn't anywhere near Pamela Anderson big, but it was something impossible to ignore. Emma wore designer clothes, Manolo Blahnik pumps, and a Prada bag sat on the table, but Elizabeth found her smile to be genuine.

"Sit down," she said with a wave of her hand. "Why don't y'all look over the menu while I get us something to drink? What can I bring you?"

Before Elizabeth could answer, Marianne chimed in. "A Miller Lite. How 'bout you, Elizabeth?" At Elizabeth's questioning look-they were all sophomores, at least a year too young to buy alcohol-she continued. "You want a beer?"

Elizabeth shrugged. It was Emma's neck for buying beer underage. "Abita Amber."

Emma smiled and moved to the bar. Once there, she caught the eye of one of the younger bartenders.

"Yeah, Em?"

"Jimmy, I need a Lite, an Abita, and a Zima."

"Aww, Em, I don't know-"

"C'mon, Jimmy, this is for your Emma. Please?"

"Jeeze, you'll be the death of me. If I get busted-"

"You won't, Jimmy," Emma assured him.

The bartender capitulated and soon returned with the drinks. "Run a tab?"

"You're a sweetheart. I'll settle up before we leave. Bye bye." Jimmy grinned and his eyes followed Emma as she returned to the table.

"Here we are, ladies. A toast to a new semester."

After drinking to the new school year, Marianne asked, "So what you gonna order?" as the waitress approached.

"Small burger," said Elizabeth.

"I'm gonna get some cheese fries. Y'all want to share?"

"Ooooh, cheese fries! I'm in," said Emma.

Elizabeth smiled. "I tell you what. Forget the burger. I'll take nachos."

"With extra jalapeños?" asked Marianne.

"You bet."

"Yeah!" Marianne turned to the waitress and ordered the nachos and cheese fries. After the waitress left, the girls continued their conversation. Responding to Emma's question, Elizabeth told her she was studying to be a journalist.

"So what are you studying, Emma?" asked Elizabeth.

"Oooo . . . that's a good question!" Marianne laughed.

"Oh, shut your mouth, you redneck!" Emma teased back. "Well, Elizabeth, I started out as a psychology major, but I didn't enjoy it, so I switched in my second semester to sociology. Now I'm in fine arts." She smiled. "I'm experiencing all college can offer."

"She's really working on her M-R-S, if you ask me!" said Marianne.

"Oh?" said Elizabeth at Emma's frown. "Any prospects?"

"No," Emma admitted. "How about you?"

"No. There was a boy back home, but that's history."

Emma sighed. "Long distance romances never work."

Elizabeth grimaced. "It would, if the asshole in question would stop rodayin' around behind my back."

Everybody laughed. Emma turned toward a flash of sandy hair. "Hey, there's Chuck. Chuck! Over here!"

A good-looking, tall, man with a friendly grin approached the table, a Bud in his hand. "Emma! Good to see you, lady! How was your summer?"

"Not bad. All ready for your senior year?"

"Can't wait."

Emma turned to the others. "Girls, this is my friend, Chuck Bingley from Tulane."

"Howdy do, ladies?"

"Chuck, this is Marianne Dashwood and Elizabeth Boudreaux, both from Loyola."

Chuck grinned. "Loyola, huh? You gals know why Jesus has his hands raised in front of the school?" He was referring to a large statue of Christ at the entrance to Loyola.

Both had heard the old joke before-countless times. "Yeah, we know. 'I can't help it if Loyola is a better school than the one next door!'" they cried in unison.

"No, no, that's not it." Chuck laughed. "It's the other way 'round!"

"Give it up, sugar," advised Emma, "or you'll never get a date."

Chuck's face fell. "You heard?"

"What?" asked Emma.

"Jennifer and I-we broke up over the summer."

"Oh, Chuck, I'm so sorry."

"Ah, well, water under the bridge. Hey, I've got to join my buddies, but I've got an invitation for y'all. First night of Rush we're throwing a big party and you're invited. All of you."

Emma turned to the others. "Chuck is President of the Alpha Iota Fraternity chapter at Tulane."

"It'll be dry-college rules-but it'll be fun."

"It sounds great. Hey, is that William over there?" Emma pointed to the crowd in the back.

"Yeah, and Chris, too."

"Tell them 'hi' for me."

"Sure. It was great seeing you, Em. And nice meeting you ladies. Don't forget, first night of Rush! AI House! Be there!" he said as he moved away.

"Cute guy," said Marianne after Chuck was out of earshot.

"Yeah, he's really nice. Too good for that bitch, Jennifer," Emma growled.

"Whoa," remarked Elizabeth, "sounds like history there."

"I watch out for my friends, Elizabeth. Jennifer treated Chuck like shit. She was a real user, you know?"

"And now he's free," Marianne said with a grin. "You're going after him?"

"Maybe," Emma said with a smile.

"Aww, looks like Chuckie's gonna get some TLC for that broken heart." Elizabeth laughed.

"Chuck E's in love," Marianne sang.

"Mari!" Emma laughed. "Stop it, you redneck!"

Elizabeth basked in the good humor of her new friends. She was relieved she had found some friends at school at last.

***

"Ahh, cheese fries." Without waiting for permission, Chuck took a handful out of the basket. No processed cheese product here, the hot French fries were topped with piles of grated cheddar, and the heat of the fries melted the cheese into gooey strings of addictive, cholesterol-filled goodness.

"Leave some for us, Chuck," warned Chris Breaux.

"Nope," he mumbled with a filled mouth.

"That's the way with those Baton Rouge guys," remarked William Darcy. "If it wasn't for low class, they would have no class at all."

"Hey, I resemble the remark!"

"You're going to resemble a whale if you keep stuffing down those fries," said the forth member of the group.

"Aw, who invited the cop?"

"Someone's got to keep an eye on you guys," responded Lt. Richard Fitzwilliam of the New Orleans Police Department and Darcy's cousin. Unlike the rest of the family, Richard felt a calling for law enforcement. He had earned his Criminal Justice degree at UNO before joining the NOPD. His parents, while proud of him, did not know what to make of their boy in blue. Still, he remained good friends with his younger, wealthy cousin. "Was that Emma Weinberg you were talkin' to?"

"Yeah, and a couple of babes from Loyola."

"Babes is right," said Chris. "You get some introductions?"

"Down, boy," advised William. "They've got be sophomores, at most. Too young for my blood."

"Willie, you are way too picky for your age," said Richard.

William frowned. He hated being called Willie, but there was nothing he could do about it. Richard knew it bugged him, and he lived to see William get upset. William would not give him the satisfaction.

"You got that right," agreed Chuck. "Their names are Marianne and Elizabeth. I invited 'em to the big Rush party in a couple weeks." He turned to Richard. "Don't hassle them about their beers, okay?"

"Not my problem. Let the alcohol boys handle that," Richard said as he took a pull on his longneck.

"So, is the chapter ready for the semester?" asked William.

"Yeah, I got a good crop of officers. The house is in good shape. There's money in the bank. It's all good." Chuck sipped his beer.

William lowered his Heineken. "Being president all you thought it would be?"

"It's a pain in the ass. You should have told me. I worry every day."

"I did tell you, pledge." William was Pledge Director when Chuck joined AI, and he reminded his friend of that fact every now and then. "You didn't listen."

"Remember the time you were trying to show his pledge class how to run the floor buffer?" Chris chuckled. "I thought I'd die laughing."

"Damn, those were the days," said Chuck with a smile. "We drove Will absolutely nuts. It was great."

"Chuck, if I die young, you'll be happy to know it was all your fault."

"Young?" Richard snorted. "Willie, you were NEVER young!"

Everyone else broke up at that. "What is this-pick on Darcy day?"

"Whatsamatter, Mr. Perfect?" Chuck teased. "Can't take it?"

"Better than you, pledge-or should I remind you of the peanut butter and mayonnaise incident?"

"Man, that's cold, Will," said Chris.

"All right, enough of this fraternity bullshit." Richard broke in. "I gotta get home to Olivia soon. How do you think the Greenies are gonna do this year?" This got them into one of their favorite subjects: Tulane Green Wave Football.

The group fell into a discussion of the quality of the receiver corps and the chances of the coach being lured away that season. Richard was enjoying the conversation when, glancing around, he spied a familiar face. Only his years of training prevented his beer from going down the wrong way. He carefully placed his bottle on the table.

"Guys, I gotta run, or the wife'll have my hide. Chris, Chuck, Will-have a good evening." The group exchanged goodbyes, and Richard moved towards the door.

They were still so busy arguing over football, they didn't notice Richard hadn't yet left the bar.

Richard approached a young man with blonde spiky hair. "Well, well, well. If it isn't my favorite reprobate, Greg Wickham."

The man whirred around. "Lieutenant!" he cried, eyes bugging out. "What do you want?" He nervously wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

Richard leaned closer. "Why don't you tell me what you're up to?"

"Fuck off. You're off-duty." Greg turned back towards the bar.

Richard grabbed Greg's arm in an iron grip. "Wrong answer, punk. I'm never off-duty. Outside or I break your arm."

Greg must have seen the seriousness in Fitzwilliam's eyes because he put down his drink and allowed himself to be escorted out of the bar. Once on the sidewalk, Richard guided Greg to his un-marked police car and threw him against the hood.

"Assume the position, punk," growled Richard. With a groan, Greg turned around and leaned over the hood, his arms spread wide and his legs apart. Richard quickly patted him down.

"Any guns or sharp objects, Wick-? Hello! What have we here?" Richard extracted a wad of cash from Greg's front pocket. "My, my, my. You have been a busy boy, haven't you? What's in here-a couple thousand?"

"My inheritance from my aunt twice removed, officer."

Richard counted the cash. "All in twenties? Yeah, right. Don't get smart, punk, or I might just hold this as evidence. How did you earn it? Selling crack to kids?"

"I don't do that shit-"

Richard slammed him against the car hood. "Watch your language, Wickham. You'll hurt my little ears. Now, again-where did you get this money?"

"I'm tellin' you, I just got an inheritance!"

Richard pulled out his handcuffs. "This is just for your protection. Let's go check out your car, Greggie-boy." Once Greg's hands were secured behind his back, the two walked over to where Wickham's Camaro was parked. "You got any problem with me searching this thing? Just asking. Remember, I got probable cause."

"Go ahead. I got nothin' to hide."

"We'll just see." Richard quickly and expertly searched the vehicle. As Wickham was being cooperative, he expected he would find nothing, and he was right. Richard returned to his prisoner and released the handcuffs. Greg rubbed his sore wrists, glaring at the policeman.

"How about my money?" Just as he finished mouthing the words, the roll hit him in the chest. Greg quickly picked up the money and stuffed it in his pants. "I ought to sue you for false arrest-"

Greg was slammed backwards against the roof of his car. "Oh, please do that, sir." Richard gripped Greg by his shirt front. "I would love to have you explain that money in court. The IRS would be on your ass so fast it would make your head spin. I know you're still dirty, Wickham. The word's out about you on the street. Coke and weed-you're the man. The only reason you're walking away tonight is because business is tight . . . this time."

Greg remained silent.

"Uptown is my town, punk. I hate drug dealers in my town, especially ones who sell to high school kids. I busted you once-"

"I don't do that anymore!"

"Shut it! And I will bust you again! You're too stupid not to make a mistake. It's just a matter of time. And next time it won't be probation. It will be a nice little cell in Angola. They love pretty little white boys in Angola. By the time they get finished with you, you won't be able to sit down for a year." He leaned very close. "Stay-out-of-Uptown. Got it?"

"I hear you."

"Good." Richard shoved Greg against the car one last time. "Drive safe, Wickham. And remember-I'm always looking out for you."

Greg dusted himself off, walked around to the driver's side, and let himself in. A moment later, Greg fired up the Camaro and pulled away.

Richard sighed. He hoped, rather than expected, his warning would do some good. The drug war was never-ending, with a steady supply of fools and the curious willing to escape reality for a while. With that depressing thought, Richard returned to his car and went home to his wife.

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