Awakening with a jolt, Lafayette lurched up, swinging his booted feet to the floor and an agonizing wave of pain blinding him. Before he could even formulate a thought, he was retching out the contents of his stomach. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he moaned aloud, “What the hell?” His dark eyes scanned the room. “Where the fuck am I?” he asked, the empty room.
His head was pounding twelve-ways to Sunday and he reached up with his right hand to feel of it. Another gut wrenching stab of pain erupted in his side. “Jésus pleura.” he whimpered. Looking down, he saw he was drenched with blood just as the doorknob rattled. Sliding his eyes to the closed door, every fiber of his being hoped it was Jonathon.
Instead, a thin-set man loaded with towels and a steaming pitcher, elbowed his way in. Lafayette’s first impression was how short the man was, followed by how out of place he looked in the well-furnished room. The man’s threadbare shirt had once been white just as the loose pants shoved in his tall boots had once been black.
He entered with a relaxed air, placing a steaming metal pitcher on the bedside table and tossing a pile of towels on the bed, saying “Ye be awake. That be a good sign.” With a smile, he threw a towel on the floor, and stepped on it to sop up the vomit, “I see ye not be callin’ me to mind, do not surprise me none, Boyo.”
Bewildered, Lafayette extended his right hand with a grimace, “Names Lafayette Crowe.”
“Aye, I surely be knowing who ye be. Puts ye hand down. Ye not be in any condition for civilities. To roust ye memory, I be Connor Shelley.”
Lafayette blinked, the name sounded familiar, but his head was pounding so badly he could not focus. His eyes darted to the man’s left hand. Seeing it was missing half the little finger, it came to him. “I met you my first day.”
“Sure look it, ye be quick on the uptake, perhaps ye brainpans not too addled.”
Lafayette ran his tongue across his teeth, thinking, ‘I wish I could focus.’ Taking shallow breaths, he closed his eyes to the strange surroundings. ‘…so many questions. Damn, I hurt... fuckin’ everywhere.′ Exhaling, he opened his eyes, only having enough force-of-strength to glare suspiciously at Connor Shelley, while wishing, very much, to know why this stranger was with him instead of Jonathon.
Shelley rocked back on his heels, crossing his arms, “Boyo if ‘n I be plannin’ ye harm, I would have already been about it.” Receiving no response, Shelley looked down and away, before asking, “So be ye or be ye not goin’ to let me see to ye?”
“Suppose so, but first where am I?”
“Why in the lovely Hotel St. Charles. Ye Boyo, he set ye up in this fine place. While he be out hustling up a bone mender.”
Rolling the information over, Lafayette looked again to the amount of blood covering him, and figured Jonathon was correct. “What happened to Mitchum?”
Shelley tilted his head to the side.
“Mitchum? The man I was fightin’.”
“Ah ‘em. Well, I be a thinkin’, he shall not be a bothering ye any mores.” Shelley answered, flexing a bicep so it bulged.
Lafayette’s brows dropped.
“I be quite positive, I permanently mustered ’em out of action. Whole reason I resolved to leave the ring, be I got me a murderous southpaw. I be regretful to say, I really do mean murderous.”
Lafayette swallowed, his eyes widening.
“Do not be feelin’ bad. Ye sent ’em on his way and he went and chose his own path, he did. Boyo, ye ready to scrape the filth from ye?”
Lafayette nodded and labouredly, began unloading his pockets: wallet, silver and blue lapis rosary, pocket watch, silver match tin, and a silver liquor flask engraved with fleur-de-lis and his initials. Regrettably, his cigarette makings were dripping with blood. Disgusted, he let them drop to the floor, ‘Damn, I could use a smoke.’ Then recollecting his cigarillos, he searched his pockets for their silver case before recalling it had been sitting on the table next to his whiskey tumbler. With a low snort, he glowered at the gummy lump of tobacco on the floor.
Shelley chortled and pulled out his own kit. Rolling a quirley, he lit it, handing it over.
Filling his lungs, Lafayette exhaled languidly, the tobacco taking the edge off his uneasiness, “Hellfire, I needed that, merci beaucoup.”
A smile erupted on Shelley’s face.
Studying the man, Lafayette did not see the smile as playful but genuine and inside of him, it was like a switch flipped, and he felt at ease with Shelley almost as if he had known him forever.
“I see we be sharin’ the same religions.” Shelley said, scooping up the flask and rosary. “So, me Boyo, which one ye be a mind to rely on?”
“Both!” Lafayette replied, twirling the rosary about his left hand, saying, “call me Lafe,” and removing the flask’s lid, he drank until it was empty.
By the time they had him stripped to the waist, he was panting and wishing the flask was not empty as the pain was raping him of his sensibilities.
“I been hurt bad before and I know how it be.” Shelley stated softly, wiping the grime and blood from Lafayette’s pale skin while pointedly ignoring the tears dripping from his stony face. Throwing the towel toward the corner, Shelley again rocked back on his heels, “Well Lafe, I seen men be lookin’ worse after a fight” He shook his head, “But by the saints, the brute sure did a right good job of knockin’ the dapper off ye.”
Lafayette started to smile and winced, his face feeling just as bad as the rest of him, “Merci beucoup for your efforts and Connor, I apologize for not speakin’ to you at the Crescent. However, in m’ défense, I did not see you.”
“I be dealin’ Faro away in the back.” Shelley replied, pouring the filthy, red water out the window. “I be thinkin’ on coming by and say, ‘hello’.” He leaned on the window ledge watching a dog sulk down the empty street.
“Why did you not?”
“Ye makes it sound right uncomplicated.” Shelley answered. “Ye be forgetting, we be not of the same ilk. How do they say it here... we walk in different circles.”
Lafayette understood what Shelley was saying, and it made him like the man even more. “Might I request a faveur?”
’Damnation, ye had to be for reminding ‘em ye be different. He be fixin’ to ask ye to take ye leave and not be speakin’ of this to anyone.’ Shelly thought, and turning from the window his blue-gray eyes scrunched up giving him an all over sour look.
Lafayette gulped out, “Monsieur Shelley, pardonnez-moi. It is absurd of me to ask more of you. I am sure you have famille awaitin’ your arrival. How egotistical of me... you have done more for me than one man merits. Excusez-moi”
Shelley’s mouth popped open, ’I misread ‘em.’ Closing it, he licked his lips, “There be not a soul awaitin’ me. I be able to perform any favors ye be requirin’.”
There was a knock on the door and Shelley leapt to it, a small, wickedly curved knife appearing in his hand, “Who it be?”
Concealing the knife away, Shelley opened the door, ushering in Jonathon and an older man with a florid face who had the appearance of having been abducted from his bed.
With a voice thick from exhaustion, Jonathan said, “Good evening, gentlemen, may I introduce Dr. George Belfew.”
The doctor’s eyes blinked rapidly, as they darted from the clothing and towels steeped crimson to Lafayette. “Gracious you have lost a good deal of blood young man.”
A feeble smile played across Lafayette’s lips. “Then it stands to reason you will not find it necessary to leech me.”
Belfew stepped closer, peering at Lafayette over his half moon glasses, “I will have you understand, leeching is a mania of the past. I use utmost modern practices.”
“Dr. Belfew, he was not aiming to insult you.” Jonathon said, furrowing his brow at his soon to be brother-in-law, “were you?”
Sighing, Lafayette replied, “non, bonne Docteur, I was merely attempting to lighten the mood. I am quite grateful vous have come and aptly prepared to reimburse vous for your graciousness.”
His apology or the offer of recompense worked to loosen the tight grip the doctor held on his medical bag.
Jonathon stepped forward. “Let me take this so you may remove your coat.”
Belfew appeared uncertain but still handed Jonathon his bag. “I do not know why, I agreed to let you pull me from my home at this hour, when the streets are crawling with thieving cutthroats. Jonathon, I can say, I came solely out of respect of your Father,” Belfew huffed, throwing an ugly knowing scowl at Shelley. “And furthermore, you should know I will very much be informing him of all of this when I see him Sunday.”
Jonathon’s smile played back-and-forth as if he had to warm it up before using it. “I understand.” His eyes skipped to the crimson towels to the oozing gash in Lafayette’s side and back to the Doctor, “Manifestly, I will ensure my Father speaks with you after church, however Doctor Belfew, I implore you.” Jonathon said, holding a hand toward his friend. Seeing the firm set of Lafayette’s mouth and the way his left dimple was pulsating in his pale, inscrutable face he felt a nervous itch crawl up his back.
With a distasteful air, Belfew set to examining Lafayette and at length, said, “Well, young man, do you agree your use of evil liquor has brought great abuse to the temple the Lord gifted upon you?”
Lafayette’s nostril’s flared, ‘What a fucking hypocrite. I can smell rum on your breath and yet you stride in here, like you are a gift from Mt. Sinai. You insult Connor, belittle Jon, and expect me to grovel like a penitent.’
“Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”
One eyebrow twitched, a snarl emerged.
Dr. Belfew moistened his lips, concluding he not only did not care for the young man’s manner, he also did not recognize him from the Garden District. Rummaging in his bag for his sewing kit, he wondered what sort of man he was administering and caught sight of the rosary wrapped about Lafayette’s hand. Seeing it, Dr. Belfew fell back as if scalding water had been thrown on him. “Jonathon Burgess, you brought me to a papist! I have yet, in all my days, to tend a fish-eater who adheres to the papal beliefs of Rome.” Snatching his coat and stomping from the room, he bellowered, “and I am too old to start.”
Jonathon stared at the door the echo of its slamming still hanging in the air then looked to Shelley and back to Lafayette. For the briefest moment, he considered running after the doctor and instead, shrugging his shoulders began sifting through the bag the doctor had forgotten in his flight.
“Nice Monsieur you brought for a visitez.”
“You think so?” Jonathon replied, not looking at Lafayette, “Wait for my second act, I am positive I can do even better.”
Laying various items on the bed, Jonathon moved a wooden chair to the center of the room.
Watching him, Lafayette said, “seems you have a plan in mind.”
“I went to medical expositions in Europe... found them rather fascinating. Thanks to Belfew I have the supplies we require.”
“Oh really,” Lafayette chortled but it was cut short by a groan of pain.
“If you have another suggestion. I will act on it.”
Lafayette closed his eyes, wishing like mad Jackson were here instead of Jonathon. “I do not."
“Then, I shall sew you up.”
“Do I trust you?” Lafayette quipped.
A stranger might think his reply sounded playful. However, Jonathon was no stranger. For the first time since Belfew had left, Jonathon looked his friend directly in the face. What he saw was intense anger. “Yes, Crowe, you can trust me.” Jonathon replied reaching for Lafayette’s left arm, “I need you in the chair.”
Shaking his head, Lafayette stood. Gritting his teeth, he hobbled the short distance on his own.
Squatting next to the chair, Jonathon said, “Mr. Shelley?”
“Mr. Burgess.” There was a tightness to Shelley’s voice that somehow matched the look in Lafayette’s eyes.
“Would you, please, fetch more hot water?”
Shelley’s deep-set eyes tracked to Lafayette, as a soldier would to his General, and not one muscle moved until Lafayette nodded approval.
With Shelley gone, Jonathon studied Lafayette thinking of his love for Josephine. Although he had come to realize she and her brother were not close, if Lafayette decided their friendship was done, Jonathon feared he would lose far more than his pal. “Crowe… ” Jonathon swallowed, clearing his throat. “Uhm... I would have been there if I had known. I was not aware…” Jonathon broke off, scrambling for the right words to relieve his guilt, both for not being there when Lafayette needed him and for bringing Belfew here to insult him.
“Do not trouble yourself, we are good.”
Laying a hand on Jonathon’s shoulder, Lafayette said, “cannot say my anger did not flare some, but to me an ami is an ami till the end. As I said Jon, we are good. Hell, you can even persist courtin’ that deceitful, narcissistic Sœur of mine.”
“Hey! Miss Josephine is the most amiable, thoughtful, sweet-tempered person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.”
“You do not know her like I do. Honestly, I am not doin’ you any favorise by allowin’ you to court the lil’ mercenary démon.”
Jonathon’s jaw clenched. The muscles in his neck going rigid and staring hard into Lafayette’s black eyes, he very calmly and quietly said, “being her brother, you may say what you will, yet only until my status changes.” Then a smile crept onto his face, “Crowe, I was feeling pretty bad about what I am preparing to do you; because I know it is going to hurt something fierce. However, since you have taken it on yourself to bad-mouth my love...” Jonathon raised his chin, a smug smile look marring his looks. “I find I do not feel so bad. Nope. Not at all,” and his smile turning wicked, he ripped the square of shirt fabric stuck to the wound away.
It made a wet, sucking noise as it came free, and Lafayette howled, bolting up, hissing, “Doux Jésus. . . Fuck!”
“That was for my Josephine.” Jonathon said, flatly, “now on to act three.”
“I do not consider myself ready.” Lafayette shuddered, slumping against the chair back. “And, Jon, I am thinkin’ you need to calm down first.”
“I am thinking from here on out, you have a better understanding of what not to say regarding Miss Josephine around me!”
Staring warily at his friend, Lafayette nodded.
Breathing deeply, Jonathon exhaled slowly, “this has to be done.”
Lafayette took a breath himself and braced himself.
Jonathon was correct the pain had been exquisite and when they had laid him in the bed, Lafayette did not even recall falling asleep. It was more like drifting away and opening his eyes, he now felt something about the room looked off and it came to him, ’mon right eye is swollen shut.’ Laying there cataloguing his injuries, he notice a rhythmic clicking sound. Curious, he turned his head toward it and every muscle in his neck and back came alive with arcs of pain that set his head to pounding. “Ah... doux Jésus!”
“Ah, ye be decidin’ to rejoin us in the world of the livin’.” Shelley stated tucking the intricate box he was carving into his coat pocket. “Suppose ye be feeling, like ye been run down by a freight wagon?”
“Lafe Boyo, hate to inform ye, ye be looking like it also.”
“Merveilleux,” Lafayette groaned, closing his one eye and lay there for a time thinking of home, “What time is it?”
The corner of Shelley’s mouth curled, and picking up the gold pocket watch from the bedside table, he placed it on Lafayette’s chest.
The watch felt heavy in his hand and he hesitated, not sure he wanted to know how long he had slept. Taking a breath, he clicked it open. “4:49! Chiant, I have slept the day away.”
“Sure look it, be not a day, but two.” Shelley replied, “it be Saturday.”
“What!” Lafayette exploded, flinging off the covers and sitting up in one move. The room spun wildly, and gripping hold of the mattress, he rode it out, his one good eye staring at his bare legs dangling to the floor. “Where are my clothes?”
Shelley pointed to the bloody pile of clothing lying near the door.
“Hellfire, I cannot return home in those. It would throw the filles into conniptions.” A new thought came to Lafayette. “Jon, told ’em where I was, did he not?”
Shelley rubbed at his lower lip, “the Boyo paced this here room for hours going over the reasons he should and reasons he should not.”
“He decided ye should be the one a telling ’em.”
“Why that damn, lousy coward!” Lafayette growled, breaking into a smile that became a cringe.
“We two just could not come up with, what we should be for telling ye lasses and since ye was sleepin’ it off and all….”
Lafayette held up a hand, “Stop before you dig a hole for both of you. I know exactly why neither of you went to m’ mansion. I would not want to either if’n I were y’all. Where the hell is Jon?”
“His shift ended two hours ago, we been takin’ turns sittin’ with ye.”
Lafayette studied his bare feet, “I regret being such a burden.”
“Do not be thinkin’ on it, neither of us ever did.”
“I am loath to say, it appears I require further assistance.” He looked at Shelley through the sweep of his long hair much like a child, who remains partially hidden; when they know they are in trouble. “If’n I stake you, would you procure clothes for both of us?”
“I not be needing ye to--”
Lafayette cut him off, “As a matter of fact, I do. As I am requirin’ your aid outside this room, if’n you are willin’. As you pointed out before, we do not walk in the same circles. Hence, I will need you to purchase the appropriate attire, which is why I will foot the bill,” Lafayette said, pushing his hair back to look straight into Shelley’s eyes. “And Connor, make no mistake, I comprehend what you have done for me and I plan on changin’ those circles forever if’n you will allow me.”
Several hours later, standing outside Lafayette’s home, Shelley felt grateful for his new wardrobe. A servant of such a place would not have cracked the door, clad as he had been. Knowing what needed to be done was inevitable; he took a deep breath and pulled the bell cord.
Within seconds a tall, negro woman opened the door, tired exhaustion hung on her face. “Bonjour, Monsieur?”
“I be deliverin’ a missive for Miss Katharine Crowe.” Connor said smartly, handing it over, except the look she gave him told him, he had just slipped up.
Taking the folded paper, Odette asked, “Be it from Maître Lafayette?”
“It is, Miss.”
“S’il vous plaît, come in while I fetch, m’ Maîtresse Katharine, so vous may deliver it personally, as I am optimistic she will have questions.”
‘I dare not be goin’ inside, it be for sure I will blunder if I do.’ Backing away, Shelley said, “Why thank ye lass, but he be givin’ me none endorsement to answer queries. I done all Lafe sent me to.”
Odette’s keen eyes watched the man hastily retreating, setting every detail of him in her mind, before shutting the door to find Josephine hovering behind her.
“Was he here about Lafe?”
“Oui, he delivered a missive.”
Josephine reached for it. However Odette tucked it in her apron pocket, “I was told it be for Madame Katharine.”
“You give it to me right now.”
“Mes excuses. I am to deliver it to Madame Katharine.”
Their eyes tracked to the staircase, and losing all decorum, they raced up, bursting in on Katharine like a pair of chickens who had been run off a porch.
Startled by their entrance, Katharine squeaked, “Oh my, what is it?”
Josephine shouted, “Lafe sent a message,” her eyes glued to the paper Odette offered.
Seeing her name in his neat, tight handwriting, Katharine breathed a sigh of relief. For the past two days, she had pretended his choice to keep his own hours had not troubled her. However, it had and deeply.
Wringing her hands, Josephine wailed, “Hurry up, Katharine, read it aloud.”
Dear Katharine, I apologetically beg your forgiveness for my untimely absence. I pray it has not caused too much concern. Please, inform all I am well. I will return to you all tomorrow. Lafe
“How peculiar?” Katharine said, turning the paper over. “It is all he has written.” With a shake of her head, she handed it to Josephine, “At least we know he is…” she paused, not liking what was on the tip of her tongue.
“Alive!” Josephine finished, tears rushing down her cheeks. “We know he is alive.”