People Like Us

Chapter 17

The Time & Place: 
A few minutes after Claude Frollo and Felise depart for the Palais, Danisha takes her company out to the courtyard. Ah, the noble Phoebus lingers after a would be assassin is arrested and hauled off to the dungeons...But new revelations surface, giving certain people pause. Read on...

She said she needed "some air". Far too many revelations for one afternoon were obviously too much to bear. But, for Danisha's peace of mind, things began to fall into place the moment she and her friends ventured out to the courtyard. With its high brick walls and dense shrubbery, it was a fitting place for private time. Of course, Fern Grigsby noted Nisha's attire and commented, "You never changed your clothes. While the suit is smart and looks fabulous, I have a sneaking feeling that some of our neighbors will have something to say..."
Danisha paid her no mind as she and Nadine settled on the stone bench amid colorful fall flowers. Silence hung heavily. Only the occasional twittering bird and the rustling of wind disturbed the dead quiet. Soon a familiar voice called out from the gate.

"Danisha! Hey, it's me, Phoebus!"
What a welcome sight – the noble ex-soldier strode through the gate as Iggy greeted him with a ton of questions. "Hey if it isn't my old buddy Bubba! What went down back there? That guy who almost bumped off Felise – I bet that was Morté." 
The usually jovial, bouncy blond man replied, "Hmm...M. Frollo confirmed it before he left for the Palais with Felise..."

Then he looked at Cherie, then at Danisha. His eyes rested longest on the second woman as he continued, "We were coming from the opposite end when we spotted the man. It's as if he was waiting on Cherie and Felise, so we stayed in the shadows until the women appeared." 
"Who's we, Phoebus? Was Quasi with you?," asked Fern.  The former Captain needn't explain further other than, "Quasimodo's swamped with chores, which is why he wasn't here. However I did run into someone else on the way. I had to make sure, though, that Frollo was good and gone..."
Now it was Nisha's turn to question. "Why wait until after Claude left? Why...?"

Her eyes widened; her hand flew to her mouth as if to catch the gasp. Phoebus noticed this and said, "Almost a year ago she saved your life; now she saves not only Felise's life, but your sister's." With stunned expressions, Danisha and company watched as Phoebus went to the gate and beckoned to the people outside. "Come on, Frollo's not here, and he'll probably be gone into the evening. And don't worry; it's perfectly safe."

Through the gate cautiously strode four figures: Esmeralda and her aged white goat Djali, along with daughter Katerina and the spunky kid Djalito. Naturally, Nadine Frollo, despite having her father's name and all the negativity associated with it, automatically rushed to greet her friend.
"Trina!," she called out enthusiastically as both little girls ran towards each other. As they embraced, every adult present couldn't help being overcome with emotion and joy. Imagine! Frollo's daughter embracing a special friend who happens to be a Gypsy. Deep down both mothers had wished that Frollo was here, just to gauge his reaction.
"Claude Frollo and his stupid, petty prejudices be damned! This is MY house, and these are MY guests!"

That was clearly and resoundingly uttered by Danisha who approached Esmeralda first; she reached out her hand and the dancer reciprocated. In a flash the two women broke into tears and embraced each other.

"I'm sorry for all the horrible words and things...Thank you, Esmeralda, for saving my sister's life. I'd do the same for you." Esme tearfully replied, "I'm sorry, too. Whether you're Frollo lady's or not, Clopin was right about you."
"Right about what?," asked Nisha as the two women looked at each other, their hands still locked together. Both sat on the bench as the others gathered about. The children contented themselves by heading inside, with Nadine politely asking, "Mommy, may I show Trina the pictures?"  Nisha didn't understand at first, but pondered what Claude Frollo revealed to her earlier (about telling Évrard Ouimet the truth), she replied with wariness, "You may show the pictures but don't touch anything else...On second thought..."

Upon hearing this, Fern rather worriedly said, "Honey, do you know what you're doing? I mean..."
Danisha was not swayed. "Fern, I know he told Évrard; he admitted that much."

Not saying anymore on the subject, she turned to a puzzled Esmeralda who by now studied Nisha's clothes.
Whatever it is, it's so short; the legs show...her shoes....those heels are so high...but...Clopin was right! She has it all: Power, wealth, and a gutsy style that I like! She's exactly the kind of woman who can tell Frollo where to get off, and she gets away with it! That's what Julian said to Clopin, that Danisha has so much of Guillaume Sarrisin and Isabelle LaCroix in her..the same proud bearing, that quality that commands "I must be and will be respected!"...And that she has deliberately defied Frollo in the past...She holds him accountable now, especially that they have a child... Hmm...wonder if she'd dump Frollo for Évrard Ouimet? Wonder if she'd end up as Madame Ouimet after all, live in high style in Marseilles, and to hell with Frollo! Ooh, I bet Clopin would get a real kick out of that... 
But Frollo doesn't know the truth about Julian...I do...I mean, about him helping us hide, and about his health...He says he's dying...

Esmeralda came back to reality while Nisha returned to her original questions. "Clopin was right about what, Esme?"
Esmeralda smiled broadly; her jade green eyes shined with delight. "He says you are one courageous and gutsy lady to put up with the likes of Claude Frollo. Not to mention all the intrigue you found yourself sucked into." Danisha Wood returned the smile saying, "Well, baby, let me clue you in on this: My Aunt Nola sized up Claude Frollo long ago, and she says he's 'Almost all right, but Nisha, he's got some issues and you got to deal with them by any way necessary, that is if you want to keep on being with him.' She speaks a wealth of sense, and..."

She suddenly realized her 21st Century attire, and recently granted permission to Nadine and Katerina. Trying to stammer a plausible explanation, Danisha felt Esmeralda's hand upon hers. In a comforting voice, she said, "Phoebus and Quasimodo told me all about you and your friends. Don't worry. I won't tell a soul, not even Clopin."

Esmeralda simply explained that she hid in Notre Dame while looking for her daughter. "If a soldier should threaten me with arrest, I could plead 'sanctuary' this time and mean it," she said while throwing Phoebus a knowing wink. "I did find Trina; she was already there when I came up to the bell tower. Anyway, Quasi was fiddling with a curious little object. I spied on him and that's when he told me."
Phoebus corroborated this with, "I was on hand in case Esme faced harassment from the citizens. Actually, it was Quasimodo and I who spread the word that Orry was found alive and well. We made sure everyone knew that Gypsies did not snatch the boy, and that the real criminals were now in custody."

OK, Nisha pondered, so Esmeralda now knows the truth about me, about my friends, about Claude's frequent excursions in and out of town... I suppose Claude had his reasons to tell Évrard, and Phoebus and Quasimodo had reasons to reveal all to Esmeralda...But does Jacki and Tony know that our cover is blown? At least two additional people know the truth – Esmeralda and Évrard...Wait a minute! I want to know what went down with that paid assassin...

Before Nisha could pose her questions, Esmeralda, who sensed them coming, spoke first. The lovely dancer glanced about the little gathering and continued. "I may not be as refined or as educated, but I do recognize kindness when I see it."  She referred to the many times Danisha opened her home to Katerina. "If it wasn't for your and Nadine's openness and compassion then Katerina would've never set foot on this property as often as she did."

Now it was Cherie's turn to speak. "Nisha, after Esmeralda cornered the assassin...Hold it, let me back up..."

Both Cherie and Esmeralda recounted those moments that led to a thwarted attempt on Felise LaCourbe's life. Cherie began with, "We left the cathedral but noticed nothing strange. Felise and I decided to take the back alley and enter through the courtyard." |
Esmeralda continued, "Phoebus, Katerina, and I left Notre Dame a few moments afterwards. That's when I noticed a suspicious man following Cherie and Felise. We took another shortcut through the opposite end, hoping to arrive before the ladies. Of course, we hid in the shadows and waited. The ladies were within a few feet of the gate when..." 
"Nisha," Cherie rejoined, "that man rushed up and grabbed Felise. He had the dagger raised and everything, and that's when Esme and Phoebus jumped out and grabbed the man! I mean, they literally pulled him off Felise." 
Dead silence at first, then raucous laughter as Phoebus added, "When Morté dropped the dagger. both Djali and Djalito gave him a resounding 'butt' to the butt!"

Once the laughter died down somewhat, Fern and Iggy wondered what was going on at the Palais. "I trust," said the queen-sized Frollo spy, "that Felise hasn't any problems ID'ing Imbert and Fabrisse." 
"And," wondered Danisha, "whether Felise will drop her big bombshell on Imbert. From what Claude told me, l'Etrange never knew the entire truth. And I truly hope Évrard never finds out...Or maybe he's figured it out already."

At that moment, as if summoned via telepathy, both Nadine and Katerina rushed into the courtyard followed by a very handsome man. "Mommy!," little Nadine rattled non-stop, "Orry's papa is here. Did you know Orry was in trouble? Papa did but he wouldn't tell me. Orry's my friend and a bad man kidnapped him, but Trina saw it all and so did Felise."

As Évrard Ouimet strode forth, the late afternoon sunlight cast dramatic shadows which further accentuated the man's slender figure and delicious cafe au lait complexion. As it was last summer, Danisha, despite her apparently renewed commitment to Frollo, still felt something for Évrard. She still couldn't tell if she felt true friendship or something entirely different. Of course, in light of what Évrard later told the gathering, she wondered if she truly made the right decision – that is, choosing Claude over Évrard.

The gentleman from Marseilles cast his eyes upon Esmeralda, then walked over to her. He took her hands into his, peered deep into her green eyes, and said, "I want to thank you for saving the lives of Mlles LaCourbe and Cherie. I also want to thank your child for telling me her eyewitness account of Orry's kidnapping." Everyone's eyes soon shifted to a far corner of the garden, where the little Gypsy girl merrily playing a newly learned hand-clapping game with Nadine. Évrard continued, "Your Katerina told me that she saw Imbert and his accomplice snatch Orry, and that she was afraid to come forward because my brother, the Minister of Justice, would not believe her."

Esmeralda paused a bit, then replied, "M. Ouimet, it's very different for people like us. Men like your brother and Frollo always think we're naturally evil, corrupt, and cannot be trusted. Tell me, what do you think would've happened if Trina went to Philippe Ouimet or Claude Frollo with this information? They'd have the child locked up for lying, and just for being what she is. You know they believed Imbert's lies: that we took your son. Philippe Ouimet died still insisting that Orry was holed up in the Court of Miracles. Did you know about the citizens' rumors? That we were going to sell Orry to another clan, perhaps to a tribe of Persian infidels? That's what your brother and friend wanted to believe, and that's why they didn't bother to check out other leads. And did you know that it was Cherie and Jehan, not Claude Frollo, who initially sent for Julian? It's Julian who uncovered physical proof that we did not commit this crime. Couple that with Felise and Trina's eyewitness accounts. We are innocent; Frollo and Judge Ouimet thought otherwise."

Évrard Ouimet was thunderstruck! "Am I hearing you correctly? That Claude Frollo, along with my brother, put my son's life in danger? And all because they couldn't see past their own noses that my own manservant was behind the crime? Damn Philippe!" He paused for a few seconds and glanced at Danisha, who by now was as shocked as he. 
He looked her squarely in the eyes and pronounced, "And damn Claude Frollo! How can you remain with such a man? It is clear, my dear lady, that men like Frollo truly do not have your best interest at heart."

Nisha Wood's heart raced, her palms perspired profusely. Her breathing became rather ragged. But she quickly composed herself, eyed Fern, and said, "When Jacki arrives with Orry, we need to talk. I believe it's time for me to give Claude Frollo his walking papers. I can't stand by and let this man fill my child's head with xenophobic nonsense."

She noticed the shocked expressions and said, "I don't care! Jacki can reprogram Claude's device until it's nothing but a worthless piece of junk. I knew it! After all we've discussed – about so many experiences growing up Black in a world based upon white privilege, about the countless atrocities inflicted upon...Damn! He saw what I went through when Marcel Rougelot sold me into slavery. Claude Frollo witnessed the degradation and humiliation I suffered; he even came to my rescue just as Charles Woodbridge was about to...Claude Frollo put his life on the line for me — MANY TIMES!! Doesn't he remember all this? Doesn't he remember any of what we went through last year?!"

She could say no more; breaking into tears, she collapsed into Évrard's arms. What a relief! Finally, she said what she kept bottled up inside for so long. For more than ten years she loved and cherished Claude Frollo, had his child, suffered with him through good times and bad. Now, with yet another example of how close Frollo's entrenched prejudices endangered a little boy's life, Nisha realized what must be done.

"Fern, I want you and Iggy to return home. Call my folks, let them know what happened. We owe them that much. Then I want you to bring back Aunt Nola, because she's the only one who can talk sense into Claude Frollo's thick head."

To Évrard, she said, "When Orry comes home, and once things settle, I want to treat the two of you to what I know will be refreshingly amazing...Hmm...I know Claude will be tied up with this interrogation and all, so we have to move fast...There is a really classy party coming up and I want you and Orry to be there...And..."
She paused long enough to espy Jacki Terrell appear at the gate; she smiled as she remembered Nadine relating a secret conversation with Orry, saying, "And Orry shall get his wish."

She then turned to Esmeralda, broke out into a smile, and requested, "But not before I finally meet a certain Gypsy King. I heard what Julian did, and I owe both him and Clopin my undying gratitude. I didn't know Clopin met my ances...Oops, I mean, that he and the Sarrisins were such good friends. Esmeralda, as soon as Orry and Évrard are reunited – and after I make special travel arrangements – take me to Clopin."


Go to Chapter 18

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