IT’S JUST A DATE Part FOUR
From the world of Jane Yellowrock
Copyright Faith Hunter
We arrived at Stephan’s with a few minutes to spare, the lights in the four star Cajun-Creole restaurant shining bright through the sparkling windows. The place had been refurbished and enlarged, the kitchen pushed back behind a wall, the lighting all copper, the tables all quartz-topped with cast iron bases, the seats all high-end leather.
Stephan’s had originally been a diner, and had closed down after a fire just before I arrived in NOLA. When the place reopened a month past, it was no longer a dive that specialized in fried foods and crawfish, but an elite and expensive joint that required either lots of time on the waiting list for a reservation, or someone with moxi and power, to get one of the twenty tables sooner. Someone like Bruiser, the MOC’s former primo.
We were shown to a large, U-shaped, leather-seated booth in back, big enough for us all with room to spare, but with limited linear length for us all to face the front door. Each of us was hardwired to sit so we could watch the entrance, and while the others were jockeying for position, I slid in, facing one of the back entrances that opened on the alley and the small courtyard. If I was a bad guy and had reconnoitered the restaurant, that’s the way I’d come in.
I placed the cloth napkin on my lap and waited until the others realized why I’d sat. The women figured it out first. Syl drew a file and started working on her nails with false patience. Jodi just rolled her eyes and rested a hip against the table, waiting.
The three alpha males looked both ways, considered the layout, looked at each other and, with that peculiar communication of battle-weary warriors, they each took a seat. Bruiser shoved me over so he could take the aisle. Eli maneuvered around in next to me in the center of the U, and pulled Syl in after him. Eli was the most limber and slightest of build. He could leap over the table faster than either of the others. Wrassler held out his strong right hand and encouraged Jodi into the seat next to Syl, so he could take on the other aisle seat. Wrassler was the biggest and the slowest, due to the injury he’d received in a battle at vamp HQ. Didn’t make him less valuable in a fight. Just meant he took a different job and different position.
We three well-armed women shared a look that said, Aren’t they cute? and let the guys position us where they wanted. Not that we didn’t each decide how we would respond to a threat. Finding the best defensive positions was hardwired into us too.
Together, we were that odd mixture of races and genders common to New Orleans and bigger cities, black, white, tribal, all sitting together. Eating together. Ready to defend our fellow diners from an outside threat, or a hidden threat from within. Together we were a small army.
The waiter was a good looking local kid, skin a reddish brown color that suggested a gorgeous mixture of tribal, black, and white. He had a local patter and graceful social skills, as he gave a half-bow to our table. “How y’all doing tonight. A pleasure to have a such beautiful group of people in Stephan’s. Hope you’re hungry. Tonight there are three specials on the menu and a wonderful selection of wines to compliment the meals…”
I tuned him out. Not just because I’d have the beef, and everyone at the table knew it, but because the head of NOPD district eight, Commander Walker, and his wife had just entered Stephan’s. At the same time, a thin trail of smoke was wending its way down the aisle from the direction of the restrooms at the back of the restaurant. And the smoke was purple.