I eased back in my chair and peered out the window at the Louisiana heat that was baking everything on the other side of that thin pane of glass. The air conditioner was running nonstop and giving me a slight headache of too dry air. It was late afternoon and still the thermometer stood over 92 degrees, a normal summer day in other words. I glanced at the tie and jacket hanging in the corner and stole another look at the clock to confirm that it had been five minutes since I had last looked.
I hate these cocktail party thingamajigs but as an up and coming businessman, my presence was expected if not anticipated, hopefully. Besides, I might meet someone. One or two romances that went nowhere and now ten years later I was wondering what the hell else life had to offer me besides business success and money; my nights were empty.
Maybelle knocked on the door and opened it without waiting for a reply. She was my office manager, my surrogate mother, and my private fashion guru. She was also a Creole black with five grown children and an accent that was smooth and rich like an etouffee.
She pointed at my tie: "Is that what you're gonna where?"
I nodded and waited for the critique. My right hand was in my lap and tapping nervously on my leg as she chose her words.
"You ain't going to a wake, Mr. Koenig. You can wear a little color, bring out some color in your face instead of making you look like a pasty white man."
I pay her well for this privilege, mind you. Truthfully it was a tremendous, daring act to call a white man "white" as a black person. Racism is alive and well in Louisiana and the hatred between black and white is deep, hard, and unrelenting, often with good reason. It is flattering that she trusts me so well. I also know she already has a tie picked out that she bought on her lunch break at the local mall and charged to the office expense account; ain't the first time.
This little social gathering was a watershed because of my money. True it is that politics and money go and in hand but in Louisiana that relationship is just a little more incestuous than most other places; it is not just the food that is spicy. In fact the natives look upon the antics in Washington and dismiss it with a one word critique: "amateurs."
This was a gathering for friends and would-be friends of the mayor, whose election was next year. I was wondering just how much it was going to cost me - two zeros or three. Just another business expense as far as most people were concerned.
I was surprised how many showed up solo for the cocktail reception. Usually the well-coifed and bejeweled wives were out in front for these affairs, but the room appeared to be filled with check writers, men and women who actually cut the checks.
As I worked the room I began to catch a glimpse of an unfamiliar face. It was a pixie face framed in short black hairstyle. She seemed to weave through the crowd and I had a hard time keeping her in my line of sight. She stopped in front a couple near the front of the room and I disengaged myself to find a better vantage post to scope her out. I leaned against the opposite wall and was pretending to wade through a Texas salsa while surreptitiously stealing long glances at her back. Her black dress hung low down her back and framed her hips deliciously.
"She's called 'Black Widow'," Little Jim chuckled in my ear making me jump a mile and almost dumping salsa down my front. There is nothing little about Jim, it is just that his daddy is Big Jim; they do that a lot down here.
I started to protest my innocence and Little Jim just waved it away with a drink in his hand. "She lost a kid to cancer about five or seven years ago, real tragic. She threw her husband away and took over her daddy's nursery business. They grow exotics I think. Anyway, she turned the business around, she's doing good. But she only wears black and no man gets close to this day - that's why she is "The Black Widow."
"You related to her?" Everyone is related down here; not that there is any such thing as incest in these parts.
"Naw, she's Cajun, pureblood." If you are white you're either a Mississippi redneck or a Cajun; transplanted Yankees like me are the exception that proves the rule. In the deep south, the white folk used to call black people "Coon"; they don't do that in public anymore because it isn't polite in public, only in private. The Cajun people, they were called "Coonass." While a non-Cajun would never call a Cajun that, if they want to live, they still call each other "coonass." They wear it like a badge of pride.
Little Jim spotted someone and with a wave he took off towards a distant clump of people. I waited around for the official mayor welcome and lamely touched base with acquaintances who might have business on their minds. Just as I was getting tired of waiting I felt the hand come down on my right shoulder and I knew the squeeze had arrived.
"Mayor," I oozed as I turned to greet my host, "what a pleasure to see you. Thank you for the invitation."
"Peter Koenig, you are looking good tonight, nice tie too. After I greet everybody, I want you to hang around. I got someone who wants to meet you."
The mayor wants to introduce me to someone, that was a first and my curiosity shifted into high gear. The mayor made his obligatory speech with a subtle reminder that he expected all of us to open our hearts and checkbooks, and he kept it short. I stood in the crowd waiting for the brown-nosers and pud-protectors (I know, some of my juvenile traits die slowly) to finish before I approached.
I caught his eye and he broke away from the shoe-lickers and took me by the elbow over to none other than the Black Widow. Her scent was jasmine and I took a deep breath.
"Peter Koenig, let me introduce Marie-Claire Bresson, and as I stretched out my hand the mayor drawled, "Marie-Claire, Peter."
As we shook hands 'hiz honor' explained that Marie-Claire was looking for private investors for expansion and I was a private investor in search of business. I turned to thank the man for the introduction but he had that look on his face that screamed that he had just added a third zero for his campaign check. Damn. I kept my mouth shut.
He scuttled off to find fresh blood and I turned my attention back to this beautiful woman. She had an amused look on her face that reduced me to a one word defense: "what?"
"We'll just call you the new "moneybags for the mayor," she drawled out slowly. Cajun language sounds like French with a Brooklyn accent, but her voice left me utterly smitten.
"Just bizz-ness," I replied. "I could use a drink, care to join me?"
She nodded and walked beside me to the bar, which was not busy at the moment, a rarity in these parts. I let her order first as is proper and she asked for a double vodka. 'O Lord, ' I wondered, 'what kind of woman is this.' She swept the room with her eyes and suggested we take a walk where we could talk uninterrupted. That only confused me more.
We walked out with our drinks and I figured we had just screwed the caterer out of two glasses. Marie-Claire led the way out of the building. She asked me to walk down with her to the Mississippi and then she turned to cut between two buildings. As we past the back corner of the building we heard a commotion to our right. In the lengthening shadows I picked out Little Jim with his pants down boffing a woman I couldn't see. I could hear her though.
"Oh gawd. Yes! That feels so good! Yes! More baby, more!" and so on and so forth. Little Jim was encouraging her and thrusting his hips with great energy; I have never seen him move so forcefully, even when his son was throwing the football in front of his Lexus. I also realized that it wasn't his wife.
Marie-Claire, standing at my left elbow, snorted. "God, I hope she fakes an orgasm as well as the rest of her performance."
I started to chuckle and was trying to hold back a good laugh, so I grabbed Marie-Claire's elbow and pulled her along until we were out of sight.
"That was Little Jim, who was that woman?" I asked while trying not to laugh.
"Just more trash in the street, darlin'." She said it with such a straight face that I couldn't hold back and just started laughing. Marie-Claire joined me with a sad smile.
As we sat on the concrete levee overlooking the river, I found myself rebuffed at any sort of small talk; however, business was an easy topic. Marie-Claire had outgrown her present property and wanted to open a second site closer to the city. We made arrangements for me to drive out to her nursery after the weekend and I walked her back to her car.
I stood in the middle of the street watching her car slip down the street and vanish around the corner. A spell had been cast upon me and I was infatuated.
Little Jim was waiting for me by my car. I figured that he knew that I knew that he was boffing some woman, but no. He slapped me on the back and offered to buy me a drink and I told him whatever he wanted was going to cost him dinner. He shrugged and pulled me into the same bar he had staked out anyway.
The man knows his food, the gumbo was good and had a kick. Everything is spicy around here. Jim wanted to know what the Black Widow wanted with me and I wanted to know who the woman was. We compromised, the woman wasn't worth a name because she was a lousy lay and Marie-Claire wanted me to come visit next week. I like Jim but I don't trust him with my business before and now, I didn't trust him with my women.
.... There is more of this story ...