"Oh Claude, it's beautiful!", I gasped as he pinned the snow-white, sweetly scented gardenia corsage in my hair. I stepped before the mirror and admired how the flowers complimented my dress. Right away, Claude Frollo fell in love with the dress, and the wonders it did for my figure. It was a daringly body-conscious number of silky. slinky deep purple satin. It glowed in all the right places; it clung to my body like a wet cloth. Halter-necked, barebacked, cleavage-revealing -- I was transformed from a mind-shattered 1859 slave into sort of a "Hollywood Glamor Queen: the Ebony Edition".
I stood before the mirror and what reflected back gave me a jolt: I even looked younger, more vibrant. Never before had I felt sexier, more glamorous, more 'vampish'. Ever since we embarked on this manhunt through time, I believe I lost a few pounds; my body was -- what Eula called -- 'streamlined'.
Much to Claude's amusement, I even struck the Hollywood sexpot pose complete with slinky hip wriggles, hot come-hither eyes; I even puckered my sculptured Jungle Red lips into imaginary kisses.
"Why don't you come up and see me sometime?", I playfully cooed in my best Mae West as I jiggled up to him. My eyes never left this man, the man I who loved deeply and faithfully all these years. For tonight, Claude Frollo agreed that he needed a release; he had just received some good news for a change. It seemed Marcel Rougelot had been spotted somewhere near the Loop; nailing him down to a precise location was difficult in the extreme. It was only a matter of time before we would finally catch up with the man, but for now we were in need of some fun.
Tonight we would meet my great-aunt Eula Mae, along with a few of Chicago's upper echelon. We even had the rare opportunity to meet some of the future stars of popular music and comedy. It was an unforgettable evening.
"You Honor, Nisha...I hope you all will have a pleasant evening. Eula sends her apologies for not personally greeting you...My goodness, Danisha! Eula will surely want to meet you!"
Thus said Wendell Parsons as we emerged from the car -- Eula Mae's prized 1936 shiny black Packard. Claude Frollo, resplendent in his evening attire of formal black tux, white shirt, and deep purple cummerbund, warmly greeted our host as we entered the club. Now, nothing prepared me for the visual treat awaiting me. Even Claude's eyes were soon dazzled by an elegance of which he had never before experienced. All Claude Frollo knew about my great Aunt Eula was through my own recollections, and they were scanty at best. My mother told me much about her favorite auntie, and now, I finally understood why Wendell's folks were so hostile to his relationship with Eula Mae Reynolds.
Eula Mae was the oldest of four children, my grandfather being the youngest.
According to Momma, Eula was the favorite child, the one who had all the
style and 'good time fun'. Whilst her siblings had settled into routine,
'respectable' lives in Lafayette, Eula struck out for Chicago back in 1922.
Because of her beauty, vivaciousness, and generous nature, she was soon
dubbed the "Black Tulip": beautiful, sweet, stately, charming. She had
owned and operated a florist shop on State at 39th Street, the heart of
the famous "Stroll".
Eula Mae's business had prospered enough to earn a comfortable living, but she wanted more. Although she was generous with her money -- she donated heavily to her church, the YMCA, and the NAACP -- there was always nasty gossip following her every move. The rumors about Eula's easygoing way with men were simply not true, although she was meet and fall in love with one of Chicago's more prosperous Policy kings. She did just that, and would soon become one of the most talked about women in the Black Belt, and all because of a brief alliance with Murray Strayhorn, an upper-class 'shadie'.
She and Murray met in 1928, then married in the spring of '29. Murray had just returned from Paris after a lengthy visit where he had imbibed the cabaret scene. From what he had observed in Paris, he decided to return to Chicago and open up a nightspot, "That would rival the best and tonier downtown places...MY place will be one of those exclusive place for the best people -- white and Negro. This WILL NOT be any dive or juke joint!"
When Eula and Murray opened La Tulipe Noire (named after Eula, of course), nothing was remotely like it. The club was conceived to serve only the creme de la creme Chicago's elite -- They even required clients pay dues and carry membership cards. The only way one could gain entrance was by membership, or as personal guests of the owners. Hmm...Now I know how Claude and I got in, but how did Sunny...?
Well... I'll get back to Sunny, but let me tell you more about Eula, Murray, and Wendell. Since Murray was of the upper-class 'shadies', the respectable Black elite wanted nothing to do with neither him nor Eula. Murray, despite the fact that Eula Mae possessed a natural, effervescent charm that no finishing school could ever improve upon, never mixed with the 'respectables'. Indeed, Murray skewed all those "Tea parties and bridge luncheons...We just want to have fun, you know the Good Life." By The Good Life, Murray and Eula indulged their many guests with poker parties, Sunday barbecues, Saturdays at the races, and of course, the cabaret scene with its jazz and blues.
Both were self-educated, although Eula had attended two years at Fisk only to cut short her studies to help take care of her ailing mother. Anyway, La Tulipe Noire became the mecca for many of Chicago's Black and White elite. Many a rising star graced the stage -- Armstrong. Bessie Smith, Ellington -- and both Eula and Murray strongly believed in giving ,"Those talented young people a chance at the big time".
They soon moved into a fancy house on South Evans, just a few doors down from the Warfields. Tongues wagged how Murray's "ill gotten games" bought his way into society. Eula, for all her charm and graciousness, was never fully accepted by the 'respectables', but things would take a dramatic turn during the Depression years.
In 1931, Murray died of a massive stroke -- the result of so much stress and worries over his financial future. His policy business was doing well -- even during hard times, people still played policy in hopes of 'hitting it big'. But the club suffered some minor setbacks despite the loyal clientele and the fact that neither Eula nor Murray had yet to be caught serving liquor -- Remember, this was still during Prohibition.
What really distressed Murray was the fate of his new bride and child. Yes, Eula Mae found herself pregnant just before Murray died; they had planned to move, "When the times get better."
But they didn't get better for Murray whose health rapidly declined. Eula, left with a newborn son and a failing business, had to do something, and quickly.
Enter the Rathbords, then Wendell Parsons. Eddie and Evelyn Rathbord
were among La Tulipe Noire's steady customers; Eddie wondered
why Eula expressed a desire to sell the place. "After all, you and Murray
built this from nothing but a dream. It's a shame you can't make a go of
it -- At least you need to think of your son's future. May we be of assistance?"
After some diligent soul searching, and the fact that the local gossip wouldn't abate, Eula Mae had made up her mind: The transformation of the club into one of Chicago's best kept secrets. She didn't care if her neighbors whispered how she "got herself in trouble" by marrrying a Policy king, then had his child.
Of course, Eula Mae's natural exuberance and unaffected graciousness still failed to win her many friends among the 'respectables'. No, she thought, if these folks won't give me the time of day, then I'll look elsewhere. And she did...
"My goodness, Nisha, when you said this place was...uh...'swanky'...!"
So said Claude Frollo as he and I descended the stairs. We felt all eyes upon us but we really didn't care, for at this moment, we allowed ourselves to drink in the visual impact of the establishment. As a child I heard many a conflicting story about Aunt Eula's club, but seeing La Tulipe Noire for myself, I instantly came to the realization that this was no juke joint!
The main room was spacious and brightly lit, with Art Deco carvings, crystal chandeliers, and so many damask-covered tables. Everything was state of the art, right down to the glossy black linoleum dance floor and bandstand. And this place saw many a famous and soon-to-be-famous face; Claude and I would soon be enthralled and entertained by so many wonderfully talented people. Even I was drafted into serenading the audience with a little song and scat.
Now, this 15th Century man, whose only exposure to early 20th Century American pop culture was through me, instantly launched into his perfect gentleman routine, even offered to light my cigarette (This was rare! All during this mad dash through time, Claude Frollo never said a thing about my smoking habit! Maybe it was all for show and such.)
Anyway, we hadn't settled down five seconds when Wendell Parsons, gleaming in his formal black tie, came over to our table. He was accompanied by a knockdown, drop-dead gorgeous woman. She was of medium height -- not much taller than me -- and had a pronounced curvaceous figure. Her skin was the color of warm maple syrup and her eyes were as deep a brown as the finest chocolate. The clothes -- My goodness! Now I've always considered myself a sharp stylish dresser but this woman's way with fashion really blew me away! The slinky black satin dress clung to her every curve; the sparkling jewels suspended from her earlobes reflected her own inner beauty.
The way she stared at me as Wendell introduced us...And Claude Frollo couldn't keep his eyes off this woman...The way he glanced back and forth at the both of us...
"Eula," began Wendell, "I'd like you to meet Judge Claude Frollo and Miss Danisha Wood. They're the nice folks I was telling you about." Eula Mae Reynolds stared right through me as Claude Frollo arose from his chair and gallantly kissed her hand. Eula couldn't get over how much she and I favored each other!
"So you are Danisha, my double! Honey, when Wendell said you and I favor each other..."
Her voice broke off as Claude Frollo addressed her, his eyes taking in every detail, "Madame, words cannot express my sheer gratitude for you kindly invitation. Your cabaret is quite the visual treat!"
I watched Eula Mae's expression undergo a myriad of changes while the
medieval magistrate continued to charm her with words and his winning manners.
Several days later, after Claude finally confronted Marcel Rougleot, he
commented that I had to be Eula Mae, "Although I'm not one to believe in
that reincarnation nonsense. Honestly, my love, so much of her is in you..."
Well, for now, all we wanted was to have a good time and forget our troubles for a while. However, within the course of the evening, we would hear some very interesting news concerning a 15th Century fugitive.
The room filled quickly as Eula excused herself many times to greet her customers. As I related to Claude Frollo, nearly all the club's clientele had to pay dues and carry cards. "Or else, as Eula reasoned, the place would be swarming with troublemakers."
To this Claude commented, "Well, do you blame her? Nisha, not to change the subject, but why does a promising scholar such as Wendell Parsons...?"
I quickly picked up on this. "You mean," I replied, "why would Wendell,
who holds a B.A. in sociology AND has a WPA job would supplement his income
as an assistant manager. Honey, Eula needed help in running this place,
and since she has a child to think of...Claude, did I ever tell you about
Claude raised an eyebrow but acknowledged that he remembered this slice of personal history. "If I remember correctly," he said, "Mademoiselle Rathbord is one of Aunt Eula's closest friends."
He smiled as he recalled an important connection: The Rathbords had lent Eula the necessary funds to reestablish the club. They were also good friends with the Warfields, well at least with Walter. You see, Walter met Eddie Rathbord at a hospital benefit. Edward, ever keeping his eyes peeled for up-and-coming young persons, heard about young Wendell's desires to attend the University of Chicago. That was one year before Wendell graduated from Fisk, and before he met Eula Mae. Well, things got sticky...
"And that, darling Claude, is how Wendell and Eula became an item --
through Sunny. When her daddy pulled all those strings to get Wendell accepted,
Sunny introduced Wendell to Eula...Well, you see what has transpired."
Claude Frollo contemplated all this while he sat back in his chair, sipped his wine, then glanced up at the three figures entering the club. His eyes widened immediately as he recognized two persons, but the sharply dressed woman accompanying them was yet unknown.
"Nisha," he said, his left hand gently stroking my satin-clad thigh, "Look who just walked in...Isn't that...?"
Now my eyes fell upon this couple and their companion. The gentleman was exceedingly handsome; he could pass for Tyrone Power. Those dark eyes and glossy, wavy black hair contrasted sharply with those of his lady, and she was strikingly beautiful. She was tall and slender -- almost sylphlike - with abundant golden brown hair which fell about her neck in tasteful ringlets. The form-fitting pink satin gown and white silk stole flattered her lithe figure.
Now I already knew the couple's companion; she and I had the distinction of being among Claude Frollo's many lovers. This was Vixen, a petite redhead who I counted as one of my dearest friends. I hadn't seen her for a while and I was quite taken with Fern's handiwork: the transformation from sweet and savvy 21st Century woman to 1937 gossip queen was amazing. Vixen wore a sleevless gown of bottle green silk which delicately caressed her figure. The color greatly enhanced her autumn good looks and I could tell right away that a certain medieval magistrate was quite pleased with the results of Fern's coaching.
"Why, Nisha," said Claude Frollo as his eyes surveyed Vixen's Swing
Era attire, "she rather favors that actress...Hmm...the one named Norma
Shearer -- or was it Joan Crawford...?"
Darling Claude had boned up on his history lessons. He actually spent a good part of our time here -- when he wasn't tracking Marcel Rougelot -- listening to various radio programs and reading about the current Hollywood scene.
The woman spotted me, then swept across the room towards Claude and
me. She seemed rather puzzled as she drew closer to me; she glanced at
Claude Frollo then back at me. She grasped my hand and said, "Why Eula
Mae, you look simply divine! But who is this fabulous gentleman? Don't
tell me you've gone the other way?!"
I had to laugh because this woman obviously mistook me for Aunt Eula; then she questioned why I was with Claude. "You've gone the other way!" Was she referring to his age or color? No matter...Eula has Wendell, and I have Claude....Love is both age AND color-blind...
Claude's eyes widened when the young woman addressed me as 'Eula'. Immediately and gallantly he approached the couple then introduced himself -- and me! "Enchante, Mlle. Rathbord," he graciously said as he kissed her hand. He nodded his head in the man's direction saying, "M. McNaney...It is a pleasure to see you again..."
What! Claude Frollo knows this man? Wait a...! Did he say 'McNaney'? Then this woman is Sunny Rathbord, Aunt Eula's friend...What is going on here...?
Upon shaking Claude's hand, Julian McNaney spoke, "Why, Judge Frollo,
when Eula and Wendell informed me that you'd be here tonight, I definitely
wanted Sunny to meet you..."
His eyes fell upon me when he added, "...and your gracious lady...Damn, if she isn't a splitting image of Eula Mae!"
I began to feel somewhat lightheaded as Claude, Julian, and Sunny continued
to converse. Vixen noticed my uneasiness, took me aside, then said, "Danisha,
honey...We have to talk. Hmm...can we go somewhere private?"
I nodded then made up an excuse "Er, Claude?", I whispered to him, " Baby, I need to step out for a few -- nature call and all that -- I won't be long."
Claude Frollo acknowledged this, although I highly suspected that he
knew all along why Vixen wanted to speak to me in private. Finally, everything
would fall into place for me: why Claude recruited Vixen, and how the medieval
magistrate and Julian McNaney became acquainted.
Nisha learns the truth...Eula notices the sparks...Marcel Rougelot gets desperate...
Go to TIME 4:4(II)
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