On the Edge of Time


Book Four 
Part Four (II)
"Straight Out Of  Bronzeville"

The Time: Saturday evening, June 19, 1937
The Place: La Tulipe Noire on Chicago's South Side. 
Danisha, Claude Frollo's 21st Century lady, finally learns -- well, in part -- the truth from Vixen. Read on...


"He made me -- really all of us -- promise never to reveal a thing to you...At long as Marcel Rougelot remained a fugitive, you were to be kept in the dark. Claude said the silence was for your protection, and for Nadine's."

Within the sumptuous confines of the ladies' room, Vixen confessed nearly everything. I said virtually nothing as I allowed each and every bit of information to congeal in my mind. At this point, I finally realized why Claude Frollo never fully leveled with me. It, the secrecy surrounding Marcel Rougelot and what compels him to kill, was for my protection. Seems that Jehan Frollo had revealed a great deal more about me than what was previously known, and Claude was determined to protect me at any cost. Now I understood why he wanted to send me home first thing Monday morning, but I would have other ideas -- ideas that would lead to a very painful scene between Claude and myself. But for now, I finally learned the whole story; however, the full horror of Marcel Rougelot's homicidal insanity had yet to reveal itself. That wouldn't come for another two days, and Claude Frollo tried his best to shield me from that horror.
Vixen told me about Julian McNaney, a self-made millionaire who befriended Claude Frollo the previous November. That was during the same time Claude recruited the elderly Wendell Parsons to help the 15th Century judge nab a serial killer. It seems Claude had made a secret time trip; he wanted to confirm Wendell's findings on the fate of the LaCroix family. What he discovered was so remarkable; even I didn't know this: Aunt Eula and I were a direct descendants of Isabelle LaCroix. The murder of Bernard, in reality, wouldn't affect the fact that several of Isabelle's later descendants would eventually emigrate to the West Indies during the latter half of the 16th Century.
However, since Jehan revealed almost too much to Marcel, Claude Frollo wasn't about to take any chances. But why? Was there an outside chance that Claude could've predicted Marcel's transtemporal movements? Not really, but the 15th Century judge took no chances when he enlisted Julian McNaney as his 1937 contact. I still didn't know all the details, but right now, apprehending Rougelot was our top priority.
"Danisha," Vixen finally said before we rejoined the others, "if Marcel Rougelot has anything up his sleeve, well, he'll have to get past Fern. And we all know she seldom misses a thing." 
"Let us hope so, Vixen. I don't think I can take much more of this."
I glanced in the mirror to check my makeup and hair. "Oh let Marcel stew in his nasty little apartment...Right now, we all need some release time. Let's party!"


At this time, on the northern edge of the Black Belt, a stranger strolls along State Street. He is bored -- and desperate. Read on...
Oh, to be free of that awful Ernie...How ingratiating, how uncouth he is...Well, I've mailed my letter , now I can have some fun... That person who sent that message...told me to stay out of Bronzeville...But here I am...Looks safe to me, but all the people are Black, like Isabelle, like Danisha... Too bad about Danisha, she was quite lovely...I can see why Frollo fell in love with her...She reminded me of Isabelle...She looked almost like Isabelle...

"Hey, French boy!"
Marcel whirled around in the voice's direction, and it was a rough voice -- heavy, coarse, almost threatening. He turned to face the rather large woman standing behind him; she spoke again.
"Yeah, baby! I'm talking to you, Frenchie. Ernie told us all about you."

In the faint light of the street lamp, Marcel Rougelot studied this woman, the one they called Big Sal. And she lived up to her name: Tall and rubenesque, large onyx eyes and dark cocoa skin. Years of life on the streets gave Sal a savviness unrivaled by her peers, and it showed on her still-lovely face of thirty-two years. Yes, Sal was beautiful yet hardened; she seldom held her tongue.
Marcel looked blank as Sal sidled up to him and said, "Hey, French boy! Ernie said you like a good time. I bet I can do for you real good..."

She brought her body dangerously close to his; her huge breasts lightly grazed his chest. He swallowed hard, and endeavored to still his rapidly beating heart. But there was no denying the unwanted desire building deep within him.
"Madame, I only wanted to find this place, this La Tulipe Noire..."
Her laughter rang out into the night. "Man, if you ain't nothing! That place don't let in folks like us...Hey," she said, tugging his sleeve, "come on up to my place...We can have us a good time, and I ain't had a nice white boy in months. Come on, honey, let Sally take care of you."

Marcel didn't know what to think as he let Sal lead him through the door. The building itself was in worse condition than that of his Loop apartment. Dank, dark corridors reeked of urine and old bacon grease; vermin scampered here and there. Marcel Rougelot tried not to retch from the foul odors that stung his nostrils; for right now, his mind became clouded with a myriad of memories.
Sal led him into her dingy room then began to undress and jabber on about how swell it was to "do a Frenchman".
"Yes, Lord," Sal cooed as she doffed her black satin skirt, revealing heavy yet shapely deep-chocolate legs clad in silky stockings, "I've had many a white boy but no Frenchman. Tell me what you like, Marty..."
She unbuttoned her blouse and allowed her her generous bosom to fall in his face. He hated this; he hated the idea of giving in to this black harlot. Why? Why must I always do these things? It's why I had to slay Danforth, and the others...Damn, she is nothing like Isabelle, nothing like...Oh God, those voices again! Everything is all muddled together...

Sally pushed Marcel back onto the bed; her soft hands gently kneaded his body. She slid next to him and began to undo his shirt, then allowed her hand to travel downwards. Her lips grazed his neck, his chest; the hand found its target. Marcel, out of desperation, reached into his back pocket. Is it still there? Yes, it is! Now, let me end this...
"...Mmm...Marty...You have the nicest..."
As Sal tenderly kissed Marcel's blushing cheek. she deftly and swiftly unbuttoned his pants, but he was quicker. With dagger in hand, Marcel immediately put an end to his momentary torment. Big Sal, totally taken by surprise, never reacted in time to scream.


Back at La Tulipe Noire...
"Eula, that young man who played piano -- What's his name?", asked Julian McNaney while an attentive waiter refilled his champagne glass. The sounds of big band and swing filled the room as we -- Vixen, Eula, Wendell, Julian, Sunny, Claude, and me -- sat around the table deep conversation.
Eula Mae, ever the attentive hostess, flitted from table to table, inquiring, "How are you all doing tonight?", and, "Make yourselves at home." How wonderful it was to see her work this room, to watch her move gracefully from kitchen to bandstand to dance floor. Even Claude Frollo couldn't keep his eyes off this woman -- He leaned over and whispered in my ear, "My love, it is like looking at a...er...'clone'. Why, Nisha, she moves like you, talks, gestures...everything about her is so...YOU!"
Dearest Claude never quite got over the uncanny resemblance, but then again, neither could I. My mother always told me that I so strongly favored Aunt Eula, but I guess she never realized how much. Of course, Momma's best recollections of Aunt Eula were scanty; Momma seldom saw her aunt and on those rare occasions, the visits were strained and painful. "The Aunt Eula I remember," Momma said, "was so shattered, so heartbroken. My mother told me that Eula was always so happy and so full of life, but that was before all that happened..." Yes, before all that...

I felt a nudge against my knee; it was Vixen whose eyes widened as she leaned over to say, "Nisha, did you and Claude hear that? That young piano player was Nat Cole! Can you imagine? Nat "King" Cole! Before he got really famous!" Vixen tried her best to keep herself from going bonkers; I had to admit that I had a tough time NOT staring at almost every famous face that entered the room.
Claude noticed the pair of us getting all starstruck; his eyes twinkled as he decided to turn the subject. He addressed Wendell and Julian, "Gentlemen, I understand there is a...umm....'title fight' Tuesday evening. Nisha informed me of this Braddock fellow and his young challenger."
At once, Claude Frollo, the medieval magistrate, got a crash course in American fisticuffs -- a sport he usually disdains. But Wendell and Julian made it sound so fascinating, especially when Wendell mentioned that Joe Louis, "Could very well grab the championship by a knockout. He'll be the first colored champ since Jack Johnson."
The two men went on to tell Claude Frollo that they have ringside seats that Tuesday night. "Oh yes," said Julian, "Sunny and I plan to make the most of it. You know, her father is quite the boxing fan." To this, Wendell Parsons looked at me then suggested that, "Your Honor, why don't you and Danisha come along. Eula has extra tickets...You can sit with us. I can guarantee you'll have a good time..."
The 15th Century judge cut the young scholar short. "I'm sorry, M. Parsons, but I have to return to Paris Monday morning; Danisha is returning home that same day." He looked at me with stern eyes and I knew that arguing with him now was out of the question. My only response was, "Thank you, Wendell for that kind invitation, even though I would love to go...But Claude is right; we both have prior commitments."
Deep down I was seething; I mean, here I was in 1937 Chicago. One of the greatest moments in sports history was only days away, and I would have to miss it all because of Marcel Rougelot. As I sat there, smiling and carrying on pleasantly, I secretly reviled the man who had callously ended so many lives. I hated him for what he was doing to Claude Frollo; I hated him for taking advantage of Jehan's naiveté. Damn, and he sold me off...I nearly died...How much more of this can I take?
Claude immediately picked up on my wavelength; I believe he actually had a change of heart. But no, I thought, he has my welfare at heart. Besides. I've been away from home too long, much too long. We can always return to this time, once Rougelot is captured and things finally settle down...

"Danisha, Judge Frollo tells us you can belt out a pretty mean song."  Those words came from Sunny Rathbord who by now had piqued Claude's curiosity. During the course of conversation, she had casually mentioned that, "Well, that makes two Frenchmen in one night. Judge Frollo, Daddy hired a man from...what was the town's name? Nantes! But his name is English...Martin Forester."
Of course, Claude made no further comment aside from "That is interesting." He glanced at Julian who in turn placed an open matchbook before Claude's eyes. I, too , read the handwritten words: "All under control".
Claude reached for my hand, clasped it, then leaned over to say, "It is nearly over, my love."


"Eula, there you are...Is everything all right?", asked Sunny Rathbord while both Julian and Wendell offered to light her cigarette. Aunt Eula -- and I had to resist addressing her as such -- had to leave momentarily. It seems something had gone wrong in the kitchen, however nothing serious.
Eula Mae, who appeared rather worried at first, but soon broke into smiles and gay laughter, replied, "Oh honey, your driver was out back asking about Big Sal..." She then looked at Claude and me, explaining that Big Sal was a prostitute from the north end. "She's a nice woman and all, but baby," she said to us, "Sally's man skipped out on her when the times got real bad. I offered her a job and everything, but she told me 'Oh I can take care of myself'. I really wish she'd get off the streets someday; it's not safe up there."
Eula then said that Sally usually comes around "about this time every Saturday. I let her have a little food and some money."
Johnny, the Rathbord chauffeur (and, as I later learned, a Frollo spy), had inquired about Sally's whereabouts. Usually Sally would entertain Johnny with tales of "all them sorry menfolks comin' down here."  Later the next morning,  Johnny heard some unsavory stories coming from the northern end of Bronzeville. We wouldn't learn of what went down until late Sunday evening. The sudden news would mar an otherwise pleasant evening for Claude and me.


A few moments later, someone is about to take center stage...

Vixen, who was still thoroughly enchanted with her visit to the Swing Era, echoed Sunny's question. Claude Frollo, anticipating this, summoned Eula, whispered something in her ear, then continued lively conversation. "What are you up to?", I asked apprehensively while Eula passed a note to the bandleader. Claude only smiled then told me to look no further than the woman standing before the microphone.

Eula Mae Reynolds addressed her guests warmly with, "Ladies and gentleman, I welcome you all here tonight. I especially welcome my very special guests, one who came all the way from France. Now, according to His Honor, his pretty lady over there is a chanteuse of the first order. Why, she's as fine a singer as Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters."  She looked at me with the most loving eyes; I began to wonder if she knew my true identity. No, that can't be...But the way she looks at me, as if she knows that I have to be a longlost relative...I wonder if Claude has told her...No, he wouldn't jeopardize this case; it's way too risky...

"Now", she continued, "if we can coax her up here..."

My hand grazed Claude's as I leaned over to say, "Honey, you had to put me on the spot like this, but I don't mind. For you, I'll dedicate a special song."
In a flash, I found myself facing a brightly lit, and crowded, room. The band behind me, I stepped back and whispered a few requests to the bandleader. Now, I didn't recognize this man right away, but as I became more comfortable, more 'with it', he would soon join me in a madcap improvisation.

My eyes scanned the room, the people, as I launched into a series of old Gershwin standards, starting with "Fascinating Rhythm" and ending with "Our Love Is Here to Stay" (my special dedication to the man I love). During the course of the set, I dodn't qiute know what came over me -- Everything bottled up inside me came roarinf out. For nearly two weeks, Claude and I had to keep our relationship, for the most part, under wraps. Outward, public displays of affection were taboo. Then there were the near-fatal consequences that seemed never to end -- Marcel Rougelot made sure that Claude Frollo wouldn't take him down without a fight. Damn him!

I became oblivious to my surroundings; I lost myself in the music, the beat. Those jazzy, jaunty, heart-thumping, foot-tapping rhythms sent me into a fit of  the 'shimmy shakes' as I belted out tune after tune. Something inside me snapped, for both my brain and voice immediately decided, "Let's see if we can scat."  Soon the bandleader joined in -- that voice, that raspy, roughhewn voice sounded a tad familiar. When I allowed myself to return to Earth, my eyes nearly popped!

Louis Armstrong! I can't believe this! Louis Armstrong...I'm doing the liveliest and most thrilling scat with the great Satchmo!
Satch and I exchanged nonsense syllables and rhymes, stopping every now and then for him to enthrall everyone with those matchless, incomparable trumpet solos. It was all I wished for and more: A chance to let go, and release all the pent-up frustrations and tensions of the past few days. And I could tell, just from his amazed expressions and rather amorous reactions, that Claude Frollo was thoroughly enjoying himself.
It seemed Eula could sense the fire that burned between the medieval magistrate and myself, because later, she told me, "Honey, I noticed those sparks...The way he kept those eyeballs glued on you...And you, in that dress, doing all that shimmying, singing those songs. Say, I don't think I've ever heard Gershwin done that way. Why, Danisha, you have such a natural talent..."

The conversation went on like this all Sunday morning after church. Later, after services, she coaxed Wendell to take her to Evanston, "Just to spend the day with Minnie (one of her friends) and have a picnic by the lake."

Claude and I were extremely grateful to her, to Wendell. We enjoyed a most pleasant day of radio comedy, music, the Sunday funnies, and, finally, a chance to indulge our love and affeciton for each other. However, Claude Frollo's promise, "All this shall come to an end", would soon ring hollow, for in the Black Belt, bad news travels fast.

Then Fern stepped in with some timely news; I had to mention my desire to see the Louis/Braddock bout. But Claude had other ideas...

A quiet Sunday evening shattered...The cops step in...Nisha and Claude disagree...A confrontation...

To TIME 4:5

Copyright ©1999 by FrolloFreak®

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