The CRESCENT CITY series is the story of America’s most unique city, New Orleans, as told through the lives of an immigrant family from Derbyshire, England—the Darcys. The story spans almost two hundred years, from the Battle of New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina, told in a series of novels.
I started things off with THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE: a Story of CRESCENT CITY, my Battle of New Orleans novel. Now, it’s time to get to the centerpiece of the project.
CRESCENT CITY is the story of three women, all recognizable characters from Jane Austen. BOURBON STREET NIGHTS is the first book of a trilogy recounting the events leading up, during, and after New Orleans and the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
The book opens in August of 1998. Elizabeth Boudreaux (Lizzy Bennet from Pride & Prejudice) is a daughter of the owner of a small oilfield service company in Chackbay, a small hamlet in the swaps of Louisiana. She is studying journalism at Loyola University in New Orleans. Her roommate is vocal music major Marianne Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), whose divorced mother lives in Jackson, Mississippi. Mari’s friend is Tulane fine arts student Emma Weinberg (Emma Woodhouse of Emma), who lives in the Uptown neighborhood with her widowed father.
They will meet the men who love them and the men who will break their hearts. Elizabeth is both attracted to and repelled by overconfident graduate student William Darcy, heir to a vast shipping fortune. Marianne is caught in a triangle between the charming John Waguespack (John Willoughby) and the quiet Chris Breaux (Colonel Brandon). Emma is so busy running other people’s lives she overlooks her life-long friend, Dr. George Katz (George Knightley). Chuck Bingley, from Baton Rouge, is bedeviled by his needy sister, Carrie, and harassed by his dominating mother, Catherine.
Meanwhile, Darcy’s cousin, NOPD Lt. Richard Fitzwilliam is searching the city for his nemesis, drug dealer Greg “G-Daddy” Wickham. All these lives, and many more, will collide in a year of love and friendship, trials and tribulations, tragedy and murder.
But it is also about a fourth lady, one that is known by many names. Isle d’Orleans. The Paris of the Americas. Queen City of the South. The City that Care Forgot. Birthplace of Jazz. The Big Easy. Crescent City. New Orleans — what she was, and what she may be again.
The following excerpt is from Chapter Two:
Marianne and Elizabeth met Emma in the lobby of Buddig Hall. The girls wore their usual jeans, but Elizabeth had on a cami-top and heels, while Marianne settled for a T-shirt and western boots. Emma had on a Betsy Johnson dress and heels, which drew a lot of admiration from the others. They left the dorm and walked along Freret Street towards Broadway. Within moments, they were on the campus of Tulane. They passed Fogelman Arena, the home of the basketball and volleyball teams, and Percival Stern Hall, the 120,000-square-foot science building shaped like an old-styled computer punch card. Three blocks later, they were on Broadway, the upriver border of the university and the home of most of the fraternity and sorority houses. It was also the location of The Boot, a bar well-used by Tulane and Loyola students.
The street was filled with students of both genders moving between the houses. The sororities were decked out with paper streamers in their colors. The frats were clean and welcoming. It was not long before the trio reached the AI house.
The place was a large, wooden, two-story building, built in an earlier era, painted light blue with black trim. A blue flag with a black crest in a white circle flew from a large flagpole between the house and the sidewalk. A narrow driveway was taken up by three cars. A porch spanned the entire length of the front of the house. The Greek letters “AI” were on a plaque beside the open front door. The house was lit up on this muggy, late summer’s evening, and music was heard from within. With a smile, Emma led the girls inside.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure what to expect. She had heard about fraternities, usually stories bandied about describing the trouble this one or that one had gotten into. She figured she would see either a group of loud guys in jeans and sandals sitting around a keg, or a bunch of uptight Uptown types in blazers and striped rep ties with button-down shirts.
What she saw was a house full of young men and women in a large, brightly-lit room. Couches and tables were against the walls, and above them were numerous identically framed collections of photographs. Many of the guys were dressed in light blue polo shirts with a crest and black slacks. They appeared clean-cut and friendly. Before Elizabeth could take in any more, Chuck Bingley was welcoming them. Emma was especially enthusiastic in her greeting, which brought smiles to her two companions.
Chuck walked them through the room, Emma taking a position by his side, and pointed out a large framed document which was the charter of the fraternity. He explained the other decorations were chapter photos from years gone by. “We’ve got about twenty years’ worth here,” he said. “The rest are in storage.”
“How many do you have?” asked Elizabeth.
“A bunch. The chapter’s been here for over eighty years.”
Chuck introduced the girls to several people. Many were members of the chapter or their girlfriends. There were several potential members, shy men with name tags on. A moment later, they were at the far side of the room where two men stood. They were both tall and dark haired, one with dark eyes, the other with blue. Neither had on the blue polos or a name tag.
“William! Chris! How are you?” cried Emma.
“I’m fine, Emma,” replied William as he received a peck on the cheek.
Chris grinned. “I need more than that, lady!” He gave her a big hug. “You’re looking wonderful, isn’t she, Chuck?”
“Yeah, she is,” Chuck said with a slightly goofy smile.
“Guys, these are my friends, Elizabeth Boudreaux and Marianne Dashwood. Mari, Lizzy, this gorgeous man is Christopher Breaux. And this ol’ stick-in-the-mud is William Darcy. C’mon, Will, show off those devastating dimples of yours.”
William rolled his eyes. “‘Devastating dimples?’ I didn’t know I had that effect on you, Em.”
Emma gave him a cheeky smile. “Don’t you wish.” She stepped closer to Chuck.
“Ladies,” said Chris, “I’m very glad to meet you.”
After exchanging pleasantries, Elizabeth pointed out they weren’t wearing polos. “Is there a penalty for being out of uniform, Chuck?”
Chuck and Chris laughed, while William looked at her with an amused expression.
“There is,” said Chuck, “but not for these guys.”
“We’re alumni, Elizabeth,” said William. “Chris and I graduated last year.”
“Oh! I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” assured Chris. “I, for one, am glad to be mistaken for an undergraduate!”
“Speak for yourself, Chris.”
“Can we get y’all something to drink?” asked Chuck. “Soft drink? Water? We’ve got some punch.”
Marianne and Elizabeth requested diet colas. “I’ll go with you to get the drinks, Chuck,” volunteered Emma. “You two just stay here and get acquainted.”
The two of them moved away, and Marianne and Chris fell into conversation. William looked on. Elizabeth listened for a moment, then allowed her eyes to roam over the chapter pictures hanging on the wall. She noticed they were from the last few years. She began to look closely at them.
“Something interests you, Elizabeth?” asked William.
“I was looking at the photos.” She paused. “You were quite the leader of this place.”
“Yes, president for two years.”
“Is that usual?”
Chris heard her question. “Nope. First time that’s happened in ten years.” He thought for a moment. “Now that I think on it, wasn’t your dad president, too?”
Elizabeth turned to William. “Your dad was a member of this fraternity?”
“Yep, I’m a legacy.”
“How you think he got in?” laughed a newcomer, his voice giving away his New Jersey roots. A redheaded man of medium height, he had a pretty blonde girl on his arm.
“I knew it was a mistake to pledge you, Tilney,” said William good-naturedly. “Why you put up with him, Cathy, I’ll never know. Ladies, let me introduce this loud-mouthed Yankee, Henry Tilney, vice-president of the chapter, and our beautiful chapter Sweetheart, Catherine Moreland.”
“Who has the incredibly bad taste to date Henry!” cried Chris.
“Oh, don’t listen to them! Please call me Cathy,” the girl said in a soft Southern drawl, as she shook the girls’ hands. They were just getting acquainted when Chuck and Emma returned with the soft drinks.
After some more conversation, Henry tapped Chuck on the arm and pointed at the door. “Right,” Chuck mumbled. “Ah, duty calls, folks. Time to get to work. We’ve got potential pledges to impress.”
“Girls, why don’t y’all come with me?” Cathy said. “I’ll introduce y’all to everybody.”
“Chuck, Will, it was nice to meet you,” said Marianne. Elizabeth nodded her agreement, and the group moved towards the center of the now crowded room. They split up, Chuck and Emma taking position near the front door, greeting the guests, while the others worked the room.
“Lizzy and Mari,” said Henry, “this is John Waguespack and Tommy Bertram. They’re a couple of our newer members, initiated last spring.”
Elizabeth felt much more at ease with these guys, as they more fit her expectations. Tommy was a tall, lanky, laid-back fellow whose shirt tail was outside of his black jeans. John was not as tall but had an easy smile and an open manner.
“Dude,” drawled Tommy, “thanks for introducing us to such awesome babes! You are truly a gentleman an’ a scholar.”
“Cool it, Tom,” said John with a smile. “Ladies, welcome to Alpha Iota house. Are you going to Tulane?” Told they were Loyola coeds, he continued. “I must thank our dear neighbor for enrolling you. I hope you won’t be a stranger, will you, Marianne?” John was clearly taken with the slim brunette.
Marianne chatted with John, while Elizabeth talked with Tommy. Assured the ladies were engaged, Henry and Cathy excused themselves. A few moments later a young man with spiky hair approached.
“Greg! You made it, dude!” cried Tommy.
William and Chris, joined by a third slightly older man, were watching from across the room. “Another year, another smoker. Glad those days are over, Will?” asked Chris.
“Yep. Emma’s really putting a full-court press on Chuck, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, it’s kinda funny. Think Chuck realizes it yet?”
“If he doesn’t by the end of the night, I’m sure Cathy will cue him in. Emma’s a nice girl. Hope it works out better than Jennifer.”
“Emma and Chuck?” asked the third man. “Really?”
“Yeah, Doc. Something wrong?”
“No,” said Dr. George Katz, alumni adviser to AI. “I know her family. My folks were close to her father and grandfather. Don’t get me wrong, Emma’s a nice girl. I just never figured her for somebody like Chuck.”
George, a tall man in his late twenties whose curly hair had begun to thin in front, had just finished his surgical residency at Tulane University Medical Center. He had been presented with the extraordinary honor of an offer of an instructor/practitioner, a position almost never offered to a new physician.
“What do you mean?” asked Chris.
“You know how Chuck is—real easygoing. Now, I’m not saying Emma’s high-maintenance, but . . .”
“Yeah,” Chris laughed. “We’ll see.” He looked over at William to see him frowning. “Will, something bothering you?”
“What? No. I just noticed Emma’s friends are talking to John and Tommy.”
The other two men glanced over. Chris turned to his friend. “What is it with you and Waguespack? You’ve never gotten along with him. He ever do something to you?”
“No. It’s just . . . I don’t know. I guess we’re oil and water. I just can’t warm up to the guy—or Bertram, either. Don’t trust them.”
“John and Tommy are fraternity brothers. If you can’t get along with them, just avoid them.” George paused. “Why does it bother you that those girls are talking to them?”
William shook his head. “It doesn’t. Forget about it.”
About an hour later, Elizabeth felt she needed air. She looked at Marianne, but she was still engrossed in conversation with John, and Emma was on the other side of the room, glued to Chuck’s side. Elizabeth smiled. It looked as though Emma’ plot to capture Chuck was succeeding.
Tommy had disappeared with Greg Wickham, a spiky-haired blonde guy, and she hadn’t seen them for about twenty minutes. Feeling like a third wheel, she caught Marianne’s eye, pointed at the front porch, and walked out the door.
Leaning on the railing, Elizabeth drew in a deep breath of the warm, humid, night air. She watched the traffic, both pedestrian and automotive, pass by. She didn’t notice someone had joined her.
“Elizabeth, are you all right?”
Startled, she turned to see William Darcy looking at her. Her breath caught in her throat. Darcy, backlit by the light from the house, was a tall, dark statue of masculine perfection. She could feel his dark eyes staring at her.
“I’m fine. I just wanted some air.”
“It does get a little close in there. I was just coming out for the same reason. Mind if I join you?”
“It’s a free county.”
William frowned. “Have I offended you?”
Elizabeth gasped. “Oh, no. I’m sorry. I get a little flippant, sometimes. My dad is always on my case about it. He says I sometimes talk before I think.”
“He’s really important to you.” He moved over to the railing, a little way from her.
“How did you know that?”
“The way you speak about him. I feel the same way about my dad.”
She nodded, having no response to that. She was a little disconcerted he had read her so easily.
“Are you having a good time?” he asked, leaning against the railing.
“Yes. Though not as good as Emma.”
He nodded. “Chuck’s a nice guy and a good friend.”
They fell into silence. Elizabeth could not help but consider the man next to her. He was certainly handsome and well-spoken—when he chose to speak. Yet she was uncomfortable with him. His age, his self-assured manor, his silence, his tendency to stare a hole through her, all made her feel unexpectedly inadequate. She felt as though she were being weighed, judged. And it really irritated her.
William started talking again. “Have you always wanted to be a journalist?”
Elizabeth was surprised he remembered her major. “I guess so. I’ve always enjoyed writing. I like to know what’s going on, and I like telling stories. I want to make a difference.”
“And you can do that through journalism?”
Elizabeth frowned. “You sound as though you disagree.”
“A bit.” He turned towards her, leaning on the rail. “After all, aren’t reporters supposed to just tell us the facts? Who, what, where, when and how? How is that making a difference?”
Her eyes flashed. “By bringing stories to people’s attention. Stories they need to hear. Let them know how the other half lives.”
William smiled. “And who picks the stories?”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply and stuttered. She had no answer. She glared. “You’re just one of those people who hates the press!”
William laughed. “Now, Miss Boudreaux, if you’re going to be a journalist, you’ll have to defend your position better than that! Name-calling is a sure sign of losing.”
“Great. You were probably in the debate club.”
“My high school team went to the state finals three years in a row.”
“Handsome and modest, too,” she blurted before she could catch herself. She was glad the darkness prevented William from seeing the blush on her face.
“It’s not bragging if it’s the truth. You asked, I answered. Look, Elizabeth, I’m not trying to put you down. Journalism is a worthy profession. Benjamin Franklin was one, and he was one of our Founding Fathers. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I wish you good luck.”
Elizabeth wasn’t completely satisfied. “And what about you? Business school, running a corporation? How is that helping the world?”
William shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe providing jobs? Bringing or making goods for people? Providing a needed service like printing a newspaper? Say all you want about the government, true prosperity comes from gainful employment. That’s where most people’s income and health benefits come from.”
“You’re right, but how do you justify CEO salaries?”
“Some aren’t justifiable. But the same can be said of what entertainers or sport figures or network news anchors make. Where do you start? Who makes that choice?”
“All right, I’ll ask you. Who should make that choice?”
“I don’t trust the government to do it. That’s socialism, and you can see what that’s done to the world. It should be personal conscience, but as we know, not everyone listens to their conscience. So in the absence of anything else, I’d have to say the market.”
“What if the market’s skewed, like oil prices?”
“That’s not the market—that’s monopoly and collusion. Different from true competition.”
“And jobs going overseas?”
William paused. “That’s hard on the people involved. Losing their jobs. But, if everyone else can buy the same goods at a cheaper price, who is to say they shouldn’t? What about the people in those foreign countries? Don’t they deserve the chance to support their families? There’s no easy answer.”
“How can people buy goods if they have no jobs?”
“That’s not quite true. I know there are jobs out there—”
“Yeah.” Elizabeth smirked. “Minimum wage jobs.”
“Not really. Did you know there’s a shortage of nurses? Of engineers? Blue-collar jobs of every kind are going unfilled. Dad tells me he could hire twenty people tomorrow if he could find them.”
Elizabeth blinked. Her own father was complaining about the same thing only a few weeks ago. “What kind of work does your father do?”
“Delta Global Shipping. It’s an international shipping company.”
“I’ve heard of it. What does he do there?”
“Umm . . . he owns it.”
Elizabeth was stunned. She knew a lot of the students at Tulane came from well-to-do families, and she had assumed Darcy had money, but she had no idea he had that much. It didn’t help her stomach that he finally showed those dimples Emma had referred to earlier. If he was a nine-and-a-half before, he was an eleven now. An eleven, at least. And super-rich. He was way out of her league.
William noticed her reaction. “Look, it’s no big deal.”
“Oh! Oh, no, no. I’m sorry for zoning out like that. I guess I’m a little tired.”
“Yeah, me too. Do you want to sit down? Or leave? Do you want me to get Marianne or Emma?”
“No, don’t trouble yourself.”
“There you are!” cried Chris from the doorway. “I wondered where you got off to. Keeping our boy company, Elizabeth?”
“We were having a conversation, yes.”
“Elizabeth is tired,” William stated. “Can you get Emma and Marianne?”
“No, wait! Please don’t go through all that trouble.”
“It’s no trouble,” said Chris.
“They’re having fun and I’m fine.”
“Then, can we give you a lift back to your dorm?” asked William.
Elizabeth turned to him again in amazement. He was full of surprises. “No, that’s not necessary.”
“It’s not out of our way,” said Chris. “You live at Loyola, right? We can pass by your place on the way to our apartment. We’d be glad to help.”
“Please, you both are very kind to offer, but I’m not ready to leave. Thank you, though.”
“All right. You ready to go, Will?”
“Yeah.” He turned to Elizabeth. “I enjoyed our conversation, Elizabeth. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“I enjoyed it too,” she was surprised to admit. “And please, I’m Lizzy or Liz. Goodnight.”
William smiled. “Goodnight, Lizzy.”
Chris drove back to their apartment while William thought about the evening. He had not sought out Elizabeth Boudreaux when he walked onto the front porch of the AI House. He had always disliked being in the middle of a closely-pressed crowd. It was a weakness, he knew, one he constantly fought against. Tonight was just too much.
The conversation he shared with Elizabeth was an unanticipated pleasure. She had that pretty, girl-next-door look he was a sucker for. That she had a brain was a big plus. She had her opinions and defended them admirably, and he respected that, even when they disagreed. Their banter had been fun.
“Nice party, eh, Will?” Chris said off-handedly.
“It was okay. What do you think of the prospects?”
Chris chuckled. “It was a respectable group, but I wasn’t talking about that! I meant Emma’s friends. Cute girls, weren’t they?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Chris glanced at him. “You guess so? You were on the porch talking to Elizabeth for how long? Twenty minutes? Will, you never talk to a girl that long unless you’re interested!”
“Oh, yeah, right. I don’t even know her.”
“Looked like you were on your way, partner.”
William, an intensely reserved man, grew irritated. He hated when Chris started poking around his private life, especially because his friend was good at it. “Chris, drop it. I was just talking to a girl, all right? I doubt I’ll see her again.”
“Sure, William. Sorry.”
William appreciated that Chris knew when to back off. Meanwhile, he tried to push all thought of Elizabeth Boudreaux out of his mind. What good would it do him to admire the way she filled her jeans, the graceful way she walked in her heels, her quick wit, or her expressive eyes? She was too blasted young! She was at least four years younger than he. An immature babe was trouble. He had learned that the hard way.
He wanted intelligence and maturity, not just a great rack. And Elizabeth did have a great rack—
Oh, cut it out, Darcy!
He needed someone he could respect, someone he could confide in. A partner. Like his father had with his late mother. Why waste time with bimbos?
The girls left the party about a half-hour later. Marianne spent the entire walk back to Loyola rehashing the party. She seemed to be taken by John Waguespack. Elizabeth was quiet, encouraging the others to talk. She was still trying to decide if a certain MBA student was interesting or not. After exchanging farewells, Emma climbed into her black Saab and drove back to her home in Uptown.
Within minutes, she pulled into the two-story house off St. Charles Avenue. It was not the home Emma had been born in. Her father, a partner in Weinberg & Larson, one of the more prestigious architectural firms in New Orleans, had always wanted to restore one of the old mansions in Uptown. Ten years ago he had finally found the right house. He moved his family from Lakeview, and with the help of his decorator wife, returned the house to its former glory. It was the last thing Emma’s mother ever did. Within three years of completion, Ruth Weinberg was dead of breast cancer.
Quietly, Emma let herself into the house. Locking the door behind her, she saw there was a flickering light coming from the den.
“Emma,” called out Abe Weinberg, “you’re home.”
Emma walked into the den. Her father was sitting in his favorite La-Z-Boy recliner, the room lit only by the light from the television set. “Papa, you shouldn’t wait up for me. It’s late. You should be in bed.”
Abe shook his head, his eyes never leaving the TV screen. “I can’t sleep when you’re out, princess. Did you have a good time?”
Emma knelt at the side of his chair and looked at the set. Conan O’Brian was just finishing his show. “Yes, Papa. We had a nice time. I’ll have to have Mari and Lizzy over. You’ll like them.” She didn’t tell him Chuck had invited her to catch a movie Sunday night. She would do that tomorrow.
Irene, Emma’s older sister, was attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville when their mother died. A year later, she married her gentile boyfriend, and after graduation, moved to the Washington DC area. Irene now worked in the HR department of a large defense electronics manufacturer in Maryland, while her husband was a mid-level staffer in the State Department.
“How are Irene and Tyler?”
“Good. Irene’s expecting.”
“Papa, that’s wonderful! When is she due?”
“She said, but I don’t remember.” He changed to the Weather Channel. “Call her tomorrow, Emma.”
“I will.” She looked at him. He was so much stronger, so much livelier when Mama was still alive. When Irene married, his joy at his oldest finding love was tempered by the knowledge she had married outside the faith and was moving a thousand miles away. Tyler was a mensch, but he was still a goy. Abe continued to ride the streetcar ever day to his office Downtown, but much of his energy seemed to have been drained away. Emma gave him a kiss on the side of his forehead.
“Rosh Hashanah’s coming up. I invited George Katz. He’s all by himself, his folks being in Fort Lauderdale now.”
“You did? I saw him tonight at the AI house. It will be good to have Dr. George here. Did you eat?”
“Yep. It was good.”
“Do you want anything else?”
Emma stood. “I’m going to bed now. Are you staying up?”
“Just for a little while. Good night.”
“Good night, Papa.”
As she was leaving the room her father called out. “Emma! It looks like there’s a tropical storm in the Gulf.”
“Is it coming here?”
“We’re in the cone of probability.”
“How strong is it?”
“Minimal. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
“Okay, Papa. Keep track of it for me.”
Emma went up the stairs to her room as Abe Weinberg kept vigil before the TV set.
The other books of CRESCENT CITY are:
- ELYSIAN DREAMS: Volume Two of CRESCENT CITY (out July1)
- RUIN AND RENEWAL: Volume Three of CRESCENT CITY (out Sept. 1)
Meanwhile, the prequel to CRESCENT CITY is THE PLAINS OF CHALMETTE: a Story of CRESCENT CITY, available now.
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“It takes a real man to write historical romance, so let me tell you a story…”