Chapter 6 of
Friday afternoon, Tessa stood outside baggage claim waiting. Soon people began to fill the area as luggage began to appear on the carousel. The person she was waiting for took her small bag and approached.
"Hello Nicole." Tessa greeted. "I'm Tessa."
Nicole smiled. "Comment ca va?"
Tessa didn't speak French but figured she was asking how she, or things, were. "Fine, I think. How was your flight?"
"No bad. Guy next to me smell cheap cigar and stale beer. Could been worse." Nicole remarked. "Could been interest in me for that mile-high club thing I hear about."
Tessa laughed. "Does sound like that would be worse."
Nicole nodded. "Regardez."
Tessa looked to where she was indicating and saw a very disheveled man yanking his suitcase from the carousel. "That's him?"
"Uh-huh. Prize winner, yeah?" Nicole commented.
Tessa shook her head, trying not to laugh. "No way in hell. Let's go before he notices us."
"I with you Joli Tessa." Nicole said and followed her out.
Tessa led her out to the parking lot and pointed to her car. "This is me."
"NICE!" Nicole said and set her bag in the backseat and sat in the passenger seat. "Maybe one day, I learn drive one these."
"Maybe. Maybe something better." Tessa replied then pulled away.
Tessa drove to the hotel and had Nicole checked in. "You want to relax or go see what I'm working on?"
Nicole eyed her. "You say you want check me out. We go do that first. Get out way, yeah?"
"That's the right answer. Run your bag up to the room and do what you need. I'll wait." Tessa said.
A few minutes later Nicole was back and they drove over to the park. Tessa led them to the trailer marked Security and went in.
Dave sat at his desk reading something on his computer.
"Nicole, this is Dave Wells. My Head of Security." Tessa introduced. "Dave, this is Nicole. The girl from New Orleans I told you about."
"Hello Nicole. I won't waste time. I need some information and your fingerprints." Dave said.
Nicole nodded. "Yeah. Tessa tell me you do that. Only thing on me is run'way. I don't get no big trouble."
Dave handed her a form to fill out. "That's good. Tessa told me everything you told her. I understand doing what you can to survive. That'll have to change if you work here. Oui?"
"Oui. I don't get no trouble here." Nicole nodded, understanding and added. "I not from New Orleans. I just live there. I from Crown Point. Down road a piece from New Orleans. Just so you know."
Dave chuckled. "Well that explains why your accent is so strong."
Nicole glared. "What you mean 'accent', Yankee-boy? You th' one talk funny."
Dave and Tessa laughed, as Nicole smiled.
Nicole filled out the form then stood to let Dave take her fingerprints. Afterward she used a wipe to clean the ink off her fingers.
"About an hour." Dave said to Tessa and scanned the card in.
"Were you cop?" Nicole asked.
Dave smiled as he sat back in his chair. "Nope. I was in the Army then I worked Casino Security in Vegas. Now I work for Tessa."
"How about I show you around and we come back?" Tessa suggested.
Nicole nodded. "Ok."
Tessa led her over to her own office and showed her the big drawing of the park.
"This is the area where you'll be working. Storm Bayou. Between shows, you wander around the area. Be seen, take pictures with the guests, visit with them, give directions, point out things there for them to check out. Do you cook cajun food?" Tessa asked.
"I cook, yeah." Nicole replied. "I gonna do that too?"
"We'll have cooks there but if they have real cajun recipes, it'll help alot. Food you find in New Orleans." Tessa stated.
Nicole nodded. "I got a notebook full stuff. You want New Orleans flavor you have to order the coffee. Community is big there. They ship here. Community coffee and beignets is official New Orleans. After that; po'boys, ettoufee and creole, jambalaya and gumbo. Everybody have Red Beans and rice too. Not gonna be easy get much crawfish up here, but shrimp used just as much for things."
Tessa thought then asked. "Is there a place that handles all that? I can order all the seafood from that place and have it trucked here?"
"Yeah. I think they put other stuff too. Boudin and sausage." Nicole said then froze and blurted out. "I KNOW SOMEBODY HELP!"
"Somebody can help?" Tessa asked.
Nicole nodded. "Andre Babineaux. He work a bunch kitchens, cook everything and know how you get stuff."
Tessa figured there had to be a catch. "What's his deal?"
"Oh. He's, uh, gay." Nicole said.
Tessa tilted her head. "So?"
"He, uh, get in fight with chef one time. Chef run mouth about Andre being gay. Andre hit him, plenty hard, yeah. Then Andre kiss him and say he look for a new friend. Coulda end there, but Andre go a little too far." Nicole told her.
Tessa was curious now. "Oh? Just how far did he go?"
"Andre, kinda give once over." Nicole blushed. "He 'check' what Chef got. None gentle, no."
Tessa got it now and giggled. "He made his eyes cross?"
"Maybe. Chef talk funny rest of night and don't walk good either." Nicole added.
Tessa laughed. "Ok. But other than that, what's he like?"
Nicole waved her off. "Oh, Him a hoot and half. Make everybody laugh. Andre really nice and fun. Cook anything cajun or creole. Just don't like anybody mess with being gay. He about this tall, bout this big. Keep hair short, always wear LSU cap unless wear chef hat. Oh, he half-black. Daddy was white and Momma black, so he kinda light. They both die in Katrina. That matter?"
"Nope. I don't discriminate." Tessa replied. "Has he ever been arrested?"
Nicole shook her head. "No. Except that one time, Andre don't get no trouble. Actually, Andre scared drugs and stuff. He find uncle die from it when little. He drink a little but don't get stupid."
"Ok." Tessa remarked.
Nicole leaned in and said softly. "Andre have hard time grow up. He do all he can; not be call drunk, drug-up nigger. He really nice Tessa. You like him. Andre find me on street, help me straighten up. Now he have hard time, maybe you help him too?"
"Maybe I can Nicole. Let's go show you around." Tessa said then led the way out.
Tessa drove one of the security carts and showed Nicole around the park. Underground services were being put in, the placement of the rides and so on were marked off with stakes and strings. Tessa drove slow so they could see the signs in front of each space. Workers would call out and wave as they passed. Half an hour later Tessa drove over to the dorm. The exterior block walls were up and they could hear the noise inside of the work going on.
"HEY QUEEN TESSA!" Lance called out from a second floor window.
Tessa called back. "HEY LANCE! HOW'S IT GOING?"
"JUST A SEC!" Lance yelled and disappeared.
A couple of minutes later he climbed out a ground floor window and walked over. "How you doing today Queen Tessa? Want to come in and look? who's your friend?"
"Lance, this is Princess Nicole. She'll be the Bayou Princess. We came over here so she could see where she'll be living." Tessa explained.
Nicole nodded. "Bonjour Lance."
"Wow! Cool. Well, we haven't gotten to the rooms part yet." Lance said.
Tessa drove the cart close to the doorway but not too close. She and Nicole got out and followed Lance inside.
"Hey Jerry! We got a royal visit!" Lance called out.
The crew leader looked up then came over. "Hey Queen Tessa. Whoa, who's your friend here?"
"Jerry, meet Princess Nicole of our Storm Bayou." Tessa said then turned to Nicole. "Nicole, this is Jerry. He's in charge of building the dorm here."
"Comment ca va Jerry?" Nicole asked.
Jerry adjusted his hard hat, thinking, then replied. "Good? I think."
"You good Jerry?" Nicole asked.
Jerry nodded. "Yeah. I'm good. Nice to meet you."
Tessa smiled. "Nicole is the first princess I found. All of the princesses will be here in the dorm. I wanted her to see what's being built."
"Ok. Follow me then, Ladies." Jerry said then led them both through the whole building.
When they returned to the doorway they had entered, Nicole was all smiles. "I can't wait move in!"
Jerry said. "Well Princess, it's gonna be a while. Tell you what though; when we start doing the room interiors, your room gets priority and we'll do the other two princess' rooms after. Sound good?"
Nicole turned to Tessa. "How long?"
"I'll have a temporary place for you Monday so you can send all your things and fly back." Tessa informed her.
Nicole nodded. "That work, yeah. I got question. What everybody follow 'round for?"
One of the workmen chuckled. "Queen Tessa found a princess. We wanted to find out more."
"Oh. I get. Well come see, I tell story." Nicole said to the group.
Tessa stood out of the way, knowing this should be a good laugh.
Nicole looked around then began. "I'm from South Louisiana, yeah. Down there we got all kind famous. One be Margrite Thibodeaux. Margrite like to fish. She so good, a magazine come talk. They sit her porch and talk. Magazine man say 'Margrite, you win all kind fish rodeo. What you secret?' Margrite look 'round real careful and say 'Etienne. Him my secret. Every mornin', 'fore I get out bed, I hold up sheet and look Etienne. Him thing layin' left, I fish off the left side the boat. Him thing layin' right, I fish right side the boat'."
Everyone was snickering at the cajun girl's story.
"Magazine Man say 'But Margrite, that all good, but what he ain't lay left or right?' Margrite just sit back an' say 'Cha, them days I DON'T fish'!" Nicole hit the punchline with a broad smile.
Everyone erupted with laughter. Nicole told them two more jokes then waved them down.
"This all fun, yeah, but I get the eye now. Time go back work. I get out way. Don't worry, none. I be back, yeah." Nicole curtsied then blew a kiss.
"Merci Princess Nicole. You made our day better." Jerry said. "Let's get back at it everybody. We got a Princess waiting on her place now."
The group broke and went back to work, with more enthusiasm. Tessa and Nicole drove the cart back to Dave's trailer and went inside. He waved them in.
"Ok Nicole. Officially, you're clean. Unofficially, you are believed to have been a prostitute, but no investigation and nobody is keeping tabs otherwise. New Orleans Vice knows you perform in shows now and have gone off their radar. If Tessa still wants to hire you, ok, but you will have no reason to return to 'ways of survival'. Clear?" Dave asked.
"I don't make trouble, no. Merci, Dave." Nicole said.
Dave looked to Tessa. "Up to you."
Tessa nodded. "Come to my office Nicole. Let's see if I can convince you to relocate here."
Ten minutes later Nicole's paperwork was finished and it was official. She was the Bayou Princess of the park. She would be able to continue staying at the hotel, but her personal belongings could be stored in a shed at the dorm site until ready for her to move in. When she returned from New Orleans, she would be bringing her friend Andre with her to meet Tessa and Dave.
Monday afternoon Tessa went to the bank to electronically transfer another set of payments for the rides to the manufacturers after seeing Nicole off at the airport. Tessa went into a diner across the street and took the last table. As it was lunch time, the place was almost standing-room-only. A waitress came over.
"Diet soda, please." Tessa said to her.
Kammi blinked then grabbed her order pad and wrote it down. "Oh. Yes Ma'am."
Tessa looked at her curiously. "You weren't here for my order?"
Kammi blushed. "Actually I came over to ask if you wouldn't mind sharing your table with her."
Tessa looked and saw the other woman smiling politely. "If you don't jump on the table and yodel, I guess it would be alright."
"Oh I specifically requested the non-yodeling section." The woman smiled, took the seat opposite and offered a handshake. "Elaine Oberlin, Mayor of Bayleston."
Tessa nodded. "Nice to meet you. Tessa Frost."
Elaine's mouth dropped open then she quickly recovered. "Are you really?"
"Wow. This is chance! I've been wondering if I would ever meet you." Elaine smiled happily.
Tessa took the menu from the waitress. "Oh?"
Elaine placed her order then Tessa did as well.
Elaine picked up the conversation. "It's my understanding that you bought the old park and having it rebuilt."
"That's right." Tessa confirmed. "Things are progressing nicely."
Elaine smiled. "I won't beat around the bush Miss Frost. Re-opening the park is a big thing for Bayleston. It means tourism and that means revenue. Lodging, restaurants and rentals. I won't lie; yes, I'm very interested in the money the park would bring here. I put high stress on education reforms and health services. I'm tough on crime as well. I invite you to check my record."
"Well, I can't say you aren't direct. So be it. I'll check you out. If I like what I find, we'll have a meeting." Tessa said then gave her a hard look. "If I don't, you won't hear from me personally."
As the waitress set down their orders, Elaine nodded. "Sounds fair to me."
Conversation was light as they both ate. Tessa called for both checks.
"I could take of the checks, or at least my own." Elaine Oberlin said.
Tessa paid in cash and told the waitress to keep the change then turned to Elaine. "You may get the chance another time. We'll see. Good day Mayor."
"Good day, Miss Frost." Elaine said as they parted ways, then to herself. "You're a tough cookie Tessa Frost, but I think we can get along."
Wednesday, Tessa watched as several trucks entered through the open gate. The loads were covered with tarps to protect and conceal. The first set of rides for the park had arrived. Her crew of technicians were still at the manufacturers learning and building more rides, but they were going to be returning soon. Right now it was the simple, kiddie rides that were coming in.
A rep from the company had rode in with the lead truck.
"Hello." Tessa greeted him.
The man wearing a hardhat that looked like a cowboy hat nodded. "Ma'am. You must be Miss Frost."
"That's me." Tessa confirmed.
He nodded back. "Harlan West. Your gate guard directed us here. This the unloading area?"
"Yes. Unload here and when the ride location is ready, we'll set them up." Tessa told him.
Harlan nodded as a crane moved over to the first truck and handed her a copy of the list. "You're the boss, Ma'am."
One by one, the trucks were unloaded as he checked off the pieces against his list as did Tessa. Several of the construction crew came over and began covering the equipment with thick black plastic and marked them with signs.
After the last truck was unloaded and rolling out Harlan made notes then handed Tessa his clipboard. "Ok Miss Frost, that's everything for this shipment. It's all here. Just need you sign off."
Tessa signed the invoice and accepted her copies. "Thank you. Have a safe ride."
Harlan tipped the hardhat. "Yes Ma'am. Ya'll have a great day."
Bill had been watching the activity. "I don't think we have a higher gear, your Ladyship."
"It's fine Bill. We're on schedule. There's going to be some more come in but its all kiddie and family type rides and they can wait. My technicians aren't done training yet. We can't start putting any rides up until they come back. You're still putting in the underground, so we're not ready anywhere." Tessa reminded.
Bill's radio crackled. "Bill have you seen Tessa?"
"Right next to her Captain Dave." Bill answered.
Dave called back. "Leslie says she has a call."
"Ok." Tessa said to Bill and went back to the cart she had rode over in.
Bill spoke over the radio. "Her Ladyship is on 'er way."
Tessa drove back to her office and went inside.
"Ah. She's here now." Leslie said over the phone then told Tessa. "A Mister Andre on the line Ma'am."
Tessa nodded, continuing to her office. "I'll take it in my office."
A moment later Tessa sat down and picked up the line. "Tessa Frost."
"You're a hard lady to get a hold of." A pleasant voice answered. "Nicole said I should talk to you. Andre Babineaux here."
Tessa replied. "Mister Babineaux, you come highly recommended by Nicole. According to her, you are quite the culinary specialist."
"I can throw some stuff together." Andre chuckled.
Tessa knew he had to be vastly understating his abilities. "I'd like you to come for a visit this weekend, when Nicole comes back. Perhaps give a sampling of some of your specialties?"
Andre was nobody's fool for sure. "I might could do that. I'll have to overnight some things there though."
"This isn't a freebie Mister Babineaux and I'm not going to play around. I'll send you five hundred dollars to procure and ship ingredients and a thousand dollars for a weekend of your time. Travel and lodging will be paid. Does that get your attention?" Tessa asked.
Andre quickly replied. "I'll wear a crawfish costume and tap dance if you want!"
"Do you have an account I can send to or do I need to wire it?" Tessa asked.
"I have a PayPal." Andre answered and gave her the account information.
Tessa made the transfer then pulled up the airline site and began making his reservation. "Alright. Money sent and I have your flight confirmed with Nicole's."
Andre said firmly. "You want New Orleans' cooking, that's what you're gonna get."
"Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some snacks or treats, too. Quintessential New Orleans Mister Babineaux." Tessa reminded.
"Miss Frost, when I get done, you'll swear you spent the weekend in the French Quarter." Andre insisted.
Tessa didn't miss a beat. "That's exactly what I'm expecting Mister Babineaux and I'm told you can. See you Friday."
Tessa then gave him the address to ship to then his flight information.
Friday several boxes containing Styrofoam with frozen gel or dry ice packs to preserve the contents in them arrived by 10 that morning. Dave arrived with Nicole and Andre at the hotel just after noon.
Tessa stood in the lobby and handed them a pair of room keys. "Welcome back Nicole. Welcome Mister Babineaux. The hotel has graciously indulged me a favor, to borrow their kitchen for you this afternoon. Everything you sent is there already and waiting for you."
Andre laughed. "Don't waste no time. You was right Nicole. Ok Mam'selle Frost. I'll be there in just a minute."
Five minutes later the kitchen staff were surprised to see a tall man in chef's uniform and LSU Tigers ball cap come into the kitchen. He went straight to work, taking all the burners on one of the stoves. It didn't take long for the kitchen staff to begin reacting to the smells. They had all been watching, some even taking notes of, the obviously skilled stranger in their kitchen.
Finally Andre brought over a plate and two small bowls to set in front of Tessa and Dave. "Here's my opening. The bowl on your right is Crawfish Etouffe. The bowl on the left is Shrimp Creole. On the plate is Sausage Jambalya."
Andre went back and dished up for the staff to sample as well. The hotel's manager had joined them out of curiosity. The clinking of cutlery was punctuated with murmurs of appreciation.
Tessa used a napkin then addressed Andre. "Mister Babineaux, if this is only the opening; I'd say you are quickly proving to be as advertised."
"This is fantastic! A classmate at cooking school made dishes like this. I never had the courage to try imitating." The head chef said.
Andre laughed. "If you want to cook cajun and creole, you gotta be bold!"
Andre began telling cooking stories while cleaning up. He soon had the staff howling with laughter. Dave, Tessa and Nicole were laughing as well. Andre truly was a character. He continued to treat them with some of the desserts found at the better restaurants in New Orleans as he told stories of cooks, in and out of kitchens, and some of the colorful patrons famous locally and otherwise.
Dave returned to his office and collected the results of the check of Andre's background. Only minor traffic violations were there, but had been resolved. Saturday Andre made more dishes and did prep work for the most time consuming dishes that would be served on Sunday. Monday when he went back to the airport, he was only going back to New Orleans to get his things together and set up supply delivery.
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