A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to see “Constellations”, a play about “what if’s” and choices. Physics was in there too, but only, to me anyway, as a way to remind us that there is an order in everyday life, even when we don’t see it. The two characters, Bernard and Marianne, were portrayed in a variety of situations, each one determining the next steps in their lives. Some brought them back together, others kept them apart, but each choice made led to another scenario, good or bad.
We all make choices, right? Even when we don’t realize we’re making them. That is one of the points of the drama; the other (in my opinion) being the fact that we affect others’ lives by our actions. Scary, don’t you think? Life is a formula in which one variant can create other possibilities. Adding or subtracting an element from any equation changes the equation. Physics. Even making no choice at all becomes a choice.
Making choices isn’t always easy, and sometimes the easy choice isn’t the right choice. The hard decisions always make us wonder if we really need to make them. We do. In everyday life we have to choose the best for ourselves, but we also need to see how it relates to the people in our lives. And whether we need to ask them to journey with us or leave them behind…for whatever reason.
Putting this all on paper makes it seem scary. Run into a corner, hide, and don’t ever decide a thing….help! But it’s worse not to decide than to choose a course of action. The trick is taking that split second to think about the result. We all do that most of the time. Usually we choose well, but in those times we don’t, it’s important to realize that we can make changes. Not easy ones sometimes, but changes nevertheless. That realization is what keeps us hopeful and human.
Speaking of changes (and a decision Mae makes), Mae and her crew are trying to figure out how to bring down the traffickers without jeopardizing her, Drummond, or Begonia. And Mae’s idea is definitely a surprise to the men.
I won’t make you sit through my conversations with Sylvain once I had seen Drummond peacefully asleep and surrounded by the aromas of lavender and other soothing botanicals. Let’s just say he was more than skeptical until he’d placed a call to our mutual friend up North and had gotten the curriculum vitae of one Marcus Banning. From diapers to detective no less. I spent the time shoving Mae Fitzgerald into the closet for the night and reclaiming me slippers and sweater before making a pot of Earl Grey. Hyssop and lavender are fine in their place, but the McEwan teapot wasn’t meant for anything finer than the real thing. The leaves were quietly steeping their required five minutes when Sylvain ended his talk with Morales and shook his head.
“Why did I think this would be easy?” The grin on his face belied the seriousness of the question. “I should know better by now. Enough tea for two?” He parked himself at the table and stretched his long legs underneath.
“Almost ready.” I checked the timer and picked up the tea strainer. On cue, the timer buzzed and I positioned the strainer over the nearest mug. “I’ll be makin’ a second pot in a few anyway,” I said as I poured the fragrant brew and handed it to Sylvain. He took a moment to savor the aroma before blowing the steam away.
“One cup is all I need, Mae. Unless…. Banning is paying us a visit, isn’t he? You didn’t mention that in our discussion.”
“Discussion? More like a “you go off half-cocked and trust a complete stranger” rant. I met Marcus a long time ago on one of me and Drum’s first stays in Charles City. Once I got his voice in me head, I knew who he was. And I told him so. Morales had already given him your name in case he needed help so you’ d most likely have met him anyway.”
“Fine. But you take a lot of chances with some pretty strange people.”
“Like you? And….Raimundo? And your cousin?”
“Not quite, Mae. Alex Morales vetted me before we’d known each other ten minutes. You know what I mean.”
“ I do, but that works both way. You didn’t quite trust my judgement on Marcus until you “doublevetted” him. If you want me to trust you, you need to trust me. I’ve been through a lot in my travels, so I don’t take anything at face value.” I poured me own cuppa and swirled it a bit to settle the errant leaves. “And before you say something like ‘but this time it concerns Drum’, let me tell you that it always concerns him in one way or another. And maybe I can be hotheaded, but…”
“You always have someone to talk you down, right?” Sylvain’s tone indicated he didn’t quite believe that. “Like Alex or me.”
“Not always, but often enough. Or I’d be somewhere not as pleasant as here sipping tea.”
It was almost nine before we heard a light tap on the loft door. I signaled to Sylvain to stay put and walked over to answer it. Just as I opened the door, my visitor was propelled into the room by a tackle from behind. From my perspective, all I could see was one hooded body over another. I felt Sylvain push me aside as he rushed to the doorway.
“Step back Mae. Let me untangle this.”
I watched as Sylvain tugged at the sweatshirt of the figure on top, almost like a momma cat snatching her kitten by his scruff.
“Alphonse! What the hell are you doing?”
“You know him?”
“I do. And so do you. Remember your first adventure? When we met at my warehouse?”
I nodded, although I couldna’ see what that had to do with this. “Aye, but…”
“Alphonse is one of my ‘men’…to use the term loosely.” He pished back the hoodie and turned him not too gently in my direction. “Who told you to attack this man? Answer me now, boy,” he added as the young un’ shook his head. “I don’t want to have to…”
“A minute, Sylvain,” I said. “Sit him down over there. I’ll watch him. You tend to Doctor B…if that’s who it is. Then we’ll sort things out.” I saw the relief in Alphone’s face as Sylvain guided him to the closest chair. My friend however looked none to pleased with me.
“Check on our guest, please. I’ll get some tea ready. Alphonse can help me.” The surprised looks both faces gave me a chuckle. I got out the tea jar and proceeded to instruct our younger visitor in the art of Scottish tea. Behind me I heard a grunt as Dr. B managed to get up, not without a scuffle.
“It’s fine, I’m fine,” he protested as Sylvain ushered him firmly to a second chair. “Just need to….that’s what hit me?” He stared at Alphonse. “You have guards? Or is he a random street punk?”
“He’s worked for me on occasion,” Sylvain said. “Although this is not one of them. Now, Alphonse. Why are you here and why did you throw yourself on this gentleman?”
“Mr Ray said I should…the lady could be in…” he looked at me. “Got told to watch your crib, Miss Mae. Anyone I didn’t know I should track inside. Make sure they wasn’t doin’ nothin’ bad. To you or the place.”
“And how were you spposed to know that?” Sylvain moved closer to Alphonse, who seemed to shrink in the chair.
“Mr Ray said…and I thought…He…looked like he was… I’m sorry, Mr Sylvain. Just did what I thought I should.” He tried to stand but Sylvain pushed him back into the chair. “Can’t I go now?”
“You owe some apologies first, I think. To all of us.”
“I…I’m sorry for all the trouble, sir, Miss Mae. I was only doing the thing I was asked to.”
“I believe you,” I said quickly. I’d seen the glint in Sylvain’s eye that signaled he wanted more. “Now you’re welcome to stay and have tea until you calm yourself down, but…”
“No ma’am, thank you kindly ma’am. I’d best be goin’ back now. Ferrin was comin’ to relieve me. I need to tell him to stay back. And not be so…”
“Reckless. While I think Mr. Ray had a good idea, remind him he needs to let me know his plan,” Sylvain replied. “He’s not to make choices for us. If we’re to succeed here, we need to be on the same page.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll tell him.” Alphonse rose again, this time making it to his feet. “Should I tell Ferrin to just go home then?”
“It’s all right, son.” Again I spoke before Sylvain could. I looked at him and Dr. B. “Maybe we need Ray in here. He seems to know something we’ve missed.”
“If this is big enough for the…um…police to wonder about it….”Dr, B. added, “maybe your friend was right to suspect danger.”
Sylvain stood silent for a moment, then spoke softly to Alphonse so neither Dr. B or I could hear the words. Alphonse nodded and with a smile for me he turned and went outside, shutting the door behind him.
“Ray should be here in a bit,” Sylvain said to our unasked question. “He may be a bit impetuous but he doesn’t act without his own reasons. We need to know his thoughts on why he chose to post my boys on guard here. So far I didn’t think there was a problem.”
“If there is, we have choices to make,” Dr. B said. “I’ve got people I can call, but the agency wants to keep a low profile. That’s one of the reasons I was glad…yes…glad,” he paused at my surprise. “I was glad Mae decided to get involved. Morales had just found out from her that Drum was ill and passed that on to me.”
“But you told me that the men who snatched Drum were no…”
“They weren’t, but the van was Begonia’s….when I saw the man inside and asked his name, I figured we could make him comfortable until you came looking for him. Remember,” he grinned,”this isn’t our first go-round. Now while we wait, some tea and talk would suit me fine.”
By thr time Ray appeared at my door, Dr. B had filled Sylvain in on all the details he was free to share (and some he wasn’t if truth be told) as well as the timeframe he’d been alloted by his bosses to “end this mess” as he put it. After some hurried introductions, Ray settled in the remaining chair and looked at me.
“You do have a knack for landing in the middle, don’t you Miss Mae.” He turned his attention to Sylvain. “I was holding out hope you’d never have to know about Alphonse and Ferrin, Syl.”
“You should have kept me in the loop, Ray.” Sylvain’s voice held no accusation; rather an unasked question. “I could have seriously damaged Alphonse. And his brothers could have seriously damaged me.” He lightened his words with a smile. “So why the need for guards? This place isn’t in any more danger than the rest of the waterfront.”
“If Miss Mae will make me a cup of her fine tea, I will tell you as much as I know.” Once the cup was in his hand, he took a long sip and looked at Dr. B. “When Miss Mae here decided to get involved, she sounded a bell or two. My money is on the nurse…maybe even the medico…at the Free Clinic, although you did talk to others on that street. No, wait,” he said as Sylvain started to interrupt, “like anything else, evil draws people in who need something. In this case I’d said money is the fuel. I did some digging on my own once Mae got into character…the personnel at the clinic are paid, just barely. The medicine? Comes from donations. And you know nothing in the Crescent City comes without a bit of graft attached Since Katrina, there are more have nots than haves, and help comes with a price.”
“Lots of honest people in this city, Ray. You can’t tar them with the same brush. They do what they can, even if they can’t do much.” Sylvain countered.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong. What I am saying is that money means a lot those those who don’t have it, and giving away some names over the telephone don’t seem harmful.” Ray waited for a reaction but got none. “At the same time, I’m not sure they don’t know exactly what they are doing and just don’t care. Or are too scared to stop.”
“Let me talk to that nurse. I’ll get some answers.” Cold anger came through Sylvain’s statement.
“And then what?” Dr. B broke the silence. “One person is a drop in the bucket. We take her off the counter and they put someone else there. We could spend all out time on the small fish and let the sharks get away. That’s why I’m at Begonia. Sooner or later…”
“Sooner or later isn’t good enough.” I finally put me tuppence in. “If I hadn’t taken Drummond in and then left him, you…” I looked at Sylvain and Ray, “you wouldn’t have even known this shite was goin’ on. “And I agree with Marc….Dr. B here. “To stop this, we need to set a trap for shark, not minnows. And tippin’ our hand early is not an option.”
We sat in silence, digesting our words along with the tea.
“So,” I said after setting yet another pot of tea to steep. “None of this gets Drummond and me out of the Quarter and back up North. All I can see is that we use someone as bait…NOT me brother…and let them get taken to the first station on the road to organ trafficking. Follow the van, or car, or whatever, and find out where the old ones are left off.”
“Then what? We can’t set up a sting until…” Dr B said. “We won’t know where until it’s too late.”
“I agree Mae. Ray and Dr. B can’t just trail after and…”
“Look, Sylvain, I’m thinking we can use Begonia as…” protests from my three cohorts came in a roar. “Let me finish. Drummond was left in the van when his abductors panicked. So, if we put it about that the head honcho at Begonia is curious as to why we could get some feedback.”
“No. And no. My agency promised the owners of Begonia that we would do nothing other than act as watchdogs and guard their reputation. I can’t risk anything negative being associated with the clinic. These folks believe in what they do. No.”
“Look Doc,” Ray said, “if we can pull this off without it becoming public knowledge…Mae?”
“Let me ponder on this. I’m thinkin’ it has to be a special person who gets lifted. No, not me…I’m already inside. And Drum getting taken again is not good either. And maybe it doesn’t have to be an old one, just someone who looks down on their luck and sickly. No one local either. The bad guys have their sources, and we can’t risk them tumbling onto a….”
“Ringer?” Sylvain finished. “Frankly cher I think you’re giving them too much credit, but I would rather err on the side of caution. IF we’re doing this. Ray? Doc?”
“I’d hate to be inside that devious brain of yours, Mae. I think you already have someone in mind.” Dr B winked at me. “But I need to speak with the owners at Begonia. Offer to protect their standing here.”
“Mon dieu “You can’t be serious. He would never…”
“Call him and ask,” Dr B said. “If he says no, then we find someone else. My gut says he won’t turn us down. Not when it’s for her.”