MAHOGANY HALL

Despite great wealth and prominence, nothing could save Andre Deloitte’s wife Claudine.

The year was 1910. Andre, Claudine and their ten-year-old son Henri lived on Breakneck Lane in the exclusive Garden Heights section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Their majestic manor, “Mon Rêve”, was Claudine’s dream home but she detested the foreboding name of the street. Andre reassured Claudine she was just being silly and superstitious and the family happily settled into their home. The popular couple hosted extravagant parties and entertained the rich and famous from all parts of the world.

Andre owned the illustrious Deloitte Jewelers. His clientele was elite – oil tycoons, judges, entertainers, governors and successful entrepreneurs such as Miss Lulu White, “Queen of the Demi Monde” and madam of the elegant bordello Mahogany Hall in Storyville, the infamous red-light district of New Orleans.

It was during one of their lavish soirees when the Deloitte’s dreamworld turned into a nightmare. Claudine was making her usual grand entrance down the marble staircase when the heel of her shoe became entangled in the hem of her gown. She fell, landing at the foot of the stairs like a mangled doll, her lovely neck snapping like a twig; she died instantly. Claudine’s apprehension towards Breakneck Lane wasn’t so silly after all.

Andre was devastated by Claudine’s death and threw himself into his work. Henri was left in the care of the household staff and a kindly au pair named Josephine. The boy missed his mother very much but thrived under the tutelage of his caregivers. As he grew into his teen years it became obvious to Josephine that Henri needed his father’s guidance more than ever. Andre decided the best course of action was to bring Henri into the family business.

Henri enjoyed being in the shop with his father and soon became quite knowledgeable about gems and precious metals, even demonstrating a flair for designing jewelry. Andre told Henri he had a highly regarded client located across town who was interested in buying several one-of-a-kind pieces. Andre urged his son to accompany him to his patron’s residence where they would display Henri’s unique creations. The cient was Madam Lulu White.

Mahogany Hall was home to “women of the night”. Girls lounged on sofas, their unfastened robes revealing supple naked bodies. Others wore filmy shawls with intriguing thigh-high striped stockings with high heels. Henri blushed when he realized a few of the girls were eyeing the bulge in his pants – something that bewildered yet excited the inexperienced teen.

Henri spoke to his father about the allure of Mahogany Hall and his desire to return. Andre realized there was no stopping Henri and smiled knowingly as he drank his cup of Bowdoin Chicory Coffee. “Just don’t fall in love, son” was Andre’s advice.

Fascinated by everything about Mahogany Hall, Henri returned the next day. As he walked around the estate he became aware of soft music and followed the sound to a small parlor. There, at a spindle leg table in the middle of the room sat the most alluring creature imaginable. She sipped a glass of Raleigh Rye, her lacy manteau barely covering her breasts. There was a hint of a smile on her face and her eyes fluttered in a dream-like state. Sensing Henri’s presence, she looked up and smiled. Placing her glass on the table, she slowly removed the pins from her hair. Her eyes danced seductively as waves of chestnut hair cascaded around her shoulders. Mesmerized, Henri could not control his burgeoning erection. He smiled back.

Enchanté. I am Henri Deloitte.”

The girl replied “I know who you are. I hoped you would ask for me. I am Isabelle Badet.”

Despite his father’s warning, sixteen-year-old Henri fell hopelessly in love.

For the next year Henri was a frequent visitor at Mahogany Hall. He made his wishes clear to Madam Lulu that Isabelle was to see no other men; he was happy to pay dearly for the luxury of having her exclusively to himself.

In November of 1917 the government abruptly shut down Storyville and Mahogany Hall was forced to close its doors. Henri searched frantically for Isabelle but Madam Lulu and all the girls were gone. Despondent, Henri joined the army, fighting overseas in World War I. The young lovers never saw each other again. The birth of Evan Deloitte the following May was Isabelle’s most treasured memory of her blissful love affair with Henri.

NAR © 2020

OP-ED: THOSE LEFT BEHIND

Covered in filth and mange, a multitude of dogs and cats that survived Hurricane Katrina were crammed into military vans. Some had maggot-filled sores, broken limbs and infected eyes that burned like a red hot poker. The vans were filled to capacity and it was impossible to tell one animal from the other. 

Those once long-haired canines with soft billowy fur now resembled stone creatures encased in a shell of thick crust.  Scrawny, flea-ridden cats no longer purred contentedly but howled in fear and pain. The muscular pit bulls were reduced to skeletons, the outlines of rib cages and hip bones clearly visible in emaciated bodies. On and on it went, each animal a mere shell of its former self. 

The catastrophic hurricane had ravaged New Orleans, Louisiana three weeks earlier. The relentless rain caused the levees to burst, resulting in extensive flooding. Home-owners lost everything, all their possessions destroyed. Many scrambled to the roofs of their houses in a desperate attempt to save themselves while others tried swimming to safety. Those lucky enough to own a rowboat floated on the flood waters, dragging people into their boats along the way. 

The president declared a state of emergency and the military arrived .. some say too little too late … but they worked their asses off to bring a sense of order to New Orleans. Non-commissioned officers worked side by side with police lieutenants and fire chiefs. Doctors, paramedics and volunteers all worked hand in hand. The levees were rebuilt and people were relocated. 

However the animals … too many to count …  were forgotten or deliberately left behind in the frenzy. When the waters subsided weeks later, they were found chained to fences and porch railings. Others had climbed up trees or hidden themselves away in the attics of abandoned houses. All were starving, sick, in pain and scared. Others struggled valiantly to survive but failed. 

That’s what the military and animal rescue workers found. Helpless, hopeless animals in need of immediate medical care. Who knows what those poor creatures were thinking as they were being loaded into the vans. Could they sense these people were trying to help them? Were they frozen in fear, traumatized by the events of the past few weeks? 

All the dogs and cats were brought to animal hospitals and makeshift triage centers throughout the state. With the patience of Job, veterinarians … many from out of state … treated thousands of animals, gently cutting off matted crusty fur, administering antibiotics and vaccines, providing food, water and shelter, bringing those nearly dead back to life. If necessary, infected eyes were removed and useless limbs amputated but sadly, in the end, more animals were lost than were saved. 

Is human life more important than animal life? As a reporter, I ask: “If you saw an injured animal lying in a ditch, would you help?” If we choose to believe that a Higher Power created all living creatures in His or Her image, the answer is  easy. 

NAR © 2018