Chapter 1 of The Committee
By Terry E. Hill
It was well after midnight. Blue flames in gas lanterns throughout the French Quarter danced like children awake well past their bedtime. Puffs of white fog crept down the lanes toward the icy embrace of Lake Pontchartrain. The steady, rhythmic clatter of horses’ hooves on the cobblestone road and the scrape of wooden carriage wheels in their wake was all that could be heard.
The carriage came to a rolling halt in front of 543 Rue des Bourbon when the coachman pulled gently on the reins and uttered the command, “Whoa there, whoa!” further shattering the quiet of the night. The two neighing horses trotted anxiously in place until it became apparent they had reached their destination.
The coach sat still for moments while the fog formed a cloudy bed around the wagon wheels. When the door finally swung open, sugar baron Jean-Luc Fantoché extended his patent leather boot and emerged into the night. Dressed in formal evening attire from a night of dinner, theater, and libations at Victorian Lounge in the Columns Hotel, Fantoché was now more than ready for his final stop.
The home was the largest on the street. A short brick path covered by a trellis of dripping lavender wisteria led to the white antebellum mansion. The door opened slowly and Juliette Dacian Adelaide Dupree appeared in the threshold as Fantoché approached.
“You are late,” she chided.
“Please forgive me, mon bel amour,” he said removing his top hat and lifting her hand to his lips. “The play was longer than I anticipated. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”
The couple entered the home filled with Rococo and Gothic Revival furnishings, finely woven Persian rugs, and a patchwork of oil paintings that gave it the distinct air of American aristocracy. Fantoché embraced Juliette passionately and kissed her lips. She quickly pried herself away from the clinging man and entered the parlor with him following close behind. Oil-burning lamps cast quivering shadows throughout the room, and a lone black candle flickered on an oak mantel above a fireplace. A silver chalice cradled the candle with an inscription at the base, “Dans cette flamme brûle le destin de l’homme.” In this flame burns the destiny of man.
They were greeted by a loud, “Squawk!” from a blue and gold Macaw pacing anxiously from side to side on its perch in a cage at the far corner of the room.
“Quiet, Amadeus. It is only our master,” Juliette said sarcastically.
“I’ve missed you so, ma chérie,” he said placing gentle kisses on the nape of her neck. “I could think of nothing more than your touch the entire day. Your intoxicating scent of lilac. The feel of your soft skin against my cheek.”
Juliette was unimpressed by his poetry. “Do you speak to your wife so affectionately,” she asked mockingly, “or are your empty words reserved for the mistress you come to at ungodly hours of the night?”
“You are more than my mistress,” he said continuing his journey of kisses. “I love you and only you. She means nothing to me. Your kiss gives me reason to live. Votre beauté nourrit mon âme.”
Juliette was the illegitimate daughter of a French cotton baron and his thirteen-year-old slave. The mingling of French and African blood produced a beauty that was legendary in New Orleans. Her strawberry blond hair retained just enough nap to form naturally luxurious curls that cascaded like waterfalls over her shoulders and full breasts. Jade-green eyes devoured men’s souls, and her skin shimmered like honey fresh from the hive. She was the exotic Creole jewel countless gentlemen of means and power longed to possess.
“Yes, but you love her money,” she said with arms limp at her sides. “I am nothing more to you than your concubine,” she goaded. “The whore you to come to in the middle of the night and have your filthy way with.”
“Please do not say such horrible things, mon amour,” he replied painfully. “You are my world.”
“Nonsense,” she snapped, abruptly pushing him away. “I could be with any man I choose. Men wealthier and more handsome than you . . . and this is how you treat me. Like a common whore.”
“I am your servant, Juliette,” he said with pleading eyes. “What more will you have me do to prove my love. Shall I buy you more jewels? More gowns from Paris? A mansion more lavish than this? Tell me and I shall do it with joy and great pleasure.”
Despite her young age of twenty-five, Juliette was a master of manipulation. She knew the shortest distance to a man’s soul and once there, took complete control. For the last eight months, she accepted Fantoché’s extravagant symbols of affection and feigned ecstasy when his hulking body pounded into her delicate flesh. She laughed at his feeble attempts at humor and praised his overly simplistic political ramblings. Not because she loved him, or even liked him, but because she had been charged with the seemingly impossible task of making Jean-Luc Fantoché the governor of Louisiana in the coming election of 1852.