“SOMETHING’S HAPPENING ACROSS the way,” Sage announced, standing at the hotel entrance, staring out. “Something big.”
The tall, African American woman looked spectacular, as usual. She was wrapped in a purple-and-pink sari, the thin fabric swirling around her strong frame. Her green and blue hair was braided and wound into a bun on the top of her head. Her cheekbones glittered in the morning light.
Breakfast was over, the guests getting up and out early. Behind Sage, Roxy, manager and part-owner of the Funky Cat Inn, flitted about clearing tables and straightening cushions.
“Here we go again,” Nat said. The hotel’s girl Friday rolled her eyes and wiped her hands on a towel. She looked a little forbidding in her tight black jeans, black metal-band T-shirt, and Doc Martens. On her wrists were studded bracelets. She tossed the towel across her shoulder and looked skeptically at Sage. “What is it this time? Did the hotel’s aura shift into Capricorn? Have the spirits misaligned the crystals?”
“No.” Sage smiled at Nat, knowing this was just a game they played. “There’s a film crew outside Elijah’s bakery.”
Suddenly alert, Roxy and Nat darted quickly to the large windows. Sure enough, the alleyway outside was filled with people and activity. Men hauled equipment from large vans parked on the main street. People were shouting instructions at each other. A crowd of ten or so stood watching. Roxy recognized some of Elijah’s regulars.
“They’re setting something up,” Roxy mused. “Look, there’s lights.” The early morning sun reflected off Roxy’s short, blonde hair. She was wearing a T-shirt with ripped jeans and sneakers for this part of the day. Her blue eyes matched the denim of her jeans and the bright, clear sky outside.
“And cameras,” Sage added.
Nat gasped. “There’s a TV truck. Has something happened to Elijah?” she said, fear in her voice.
“I don’t believe so,” Sage said calmly. “Look, the crew doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, and I sense a very happy, positive energy about them.” Nat turned from the window to look at Roxy for confirmation, as if Sage’s words weren’t quite enough to calm her.
“She’s right.” Roxy shrugged. “They don’t seem like a news crew, and most of them appear in good spirits. Look, they’re laughing.” One crew member slapped another on the shoulder.
The three of them continued to peer through the windows for a little longer until, like a comet hell-bent on destruction, Evangeline’s voice burst from the kitchen, her small, chunky frame following it.
“Where’s that Elijah with the beignets?” she cried. “Ain’t no good bakin’ the best beignets in the city if they don’t get here in time!”
The elderly woman—former owner of the hotel prior to Roxy and an excellent chef—stopped when she saw the three women peeking outside. Nat turned and said, “Something’s happening at his bakery. Looks like a film crew setting up.”
Evangeline toddled to her side. “Scoot over. Let me take a look . . . Oh Lord, what’s that flamin’ fool got himself involved with this time?” Evangeline was officially retired now that Roxy had taken over but couldn’t quite seem to stay away.
Roxy withdrew from the window and moved to the door. “I’ll go find out.”
“No, you won’t,” Evangeline said.
“Yes, I will!” Roxy argued back.
“No, you won’t, cher,” Evangeline repeated. “Look, our new guests are about to knock on the door. I know a new guest when I sees one.”
“Oh!” Roxy exclaimed, looking quickly about the lobby to check nothing was out of place. She looked down at herself. She was hardly dressed to meet new guests, but there was nothing she could do about that. “Well, get away from the windows then! Sage, why don’t you go find out what’s happening while I welcome them.” Roxy looked at her watch. It was eight thirty a.m. “What are they doing checking in so early?”
Sage glided to the door. Roxy opened it for her, and after Sage had passed through into the courtyard outside the hotel, she kept the door open to greet the new guests and wave them inside.
“Welcome to the Funky Cat.” She smiled.
A tall, photogenic brunette turned to Roxy. She looked formidable in her white silk blouse, business pants, and heels. “I’m Paige Crawford,” she said in a strong, commanding voice. “I’m an executive producer with UB Productions.”
“I’m Roxy Reinhardt, the manager. It’s a pleasure to welcome you here.”
Paige gestured to an equally tall and confident-looking man beside her. He wore an expensive, tailored suit and had silvery, thick hair that looked as well cut as his clothes. “This is Alan Conway,” she said, “head of NOLA-09.”
“Oh!” Roxy had not known her guests were from a TV network.
“How do you do?” the man said, shaking Roxy’s hand and smiling. There was an old-world charm about his manner.
“And this is Frank Ancelotti,” Paige said, turning to a short, stout man in a pinstripe suit and trilby hat. He had a big, bushy handlebar mustache. “My fellow executive producer.”
“Executive producer, investor, restaurateur—and my béchamel sauce cannot be beat!” Frank laughed. He took off his trilby and wiped his bald head as he looked around the hotel lobby before turning to smile at Roxy. He looked full of mischief, but as if his mood might turn quickly.
“One hell of a place you got here,” he said as he handed Roxy his business card. “Last time I saw a joint like this there were enough bullet holes in it to grate parmesan! Haha! Ah, but it was a different time back then. I’ve heard plenty about this place. I thought I’d stay the night so I could check it out. A vacation in my own city!” Roxy noticed Paige Crawford share a raised eyebrow with Alan Conway before turning back to point to two men carrying bags into the lobby.
“This is Zach and Mickey,” Paige said. Sleeves rolled up and collars undone, the two men looked as though they anticipated a hot day’s labor. “Zach’s our lead cameraman,” Paige said, pointing to a dark, tough man with a heavy, square jaw set in a grim line, grizzly stubble, and messy black hair. “And Mickey is our sound engineer,” Paige added, smiling at a lanky dude with stringy muscles and loose, blond, surfer-style locks. The two men nodded before dropping the bags and returning to the courtyard.
“Great,” Roxy said, still beaming her cheerful, welcoming smile. Her face was beginning to ache. She noticed that the bags the two men had brought in had tags on them. “I’ll have somebody take the luggage upstairs to your rooms. You’re staying for two nights, correct?”
“Just one,” Paige said, already busy typing something on her phone. “But I booked two just to be sure. We’ll pay for both even if we leave tomorrow morning.”
“Okay, very good,” Roxy said. She wondered what they were doing here, especially since she now suspected they were involved with the goings-on at Elijah’s bakery. She wanted to ask, but Paige was engrossed in her phone. “Would you like some breakfast?”
“No, thanks,” Paige said quickly. “I’ve got to supervise the setup. Alan?”
“Ditto for me, I’m afraid,” the TV network man responded.
“I’m game. What you servin’?” Frank said, not bothering to wait to be asked. He rubbed his hands together.
“This morning, we have eggs hussarde—that’s eggs in a red wine sauce, rusks, and bacon. You could have bananas Foster French toast—French toast slathered with sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, banana liqueur, and topped with vanilla ice cream. There’s also a Creole breakfast skillet—shrimp, French sausage, mushroom, grilled with a lot of rich cheese and plenty of spices that our cook—”
“Stop, stop! I’m sold!” Frank shouted happily. “I’ll take the skillet and the French toast. Sounds like much more important work than hanging around the crew.” Roxy noticed Paige and Alan share another look. Paige Crawford was obviously not Frank Ancelotti’s biggest fan. Her eyeroll communicated her feelings perfectly.
“We’ll see you later, Ms. Reinhardt,” she said.
“Please call me Roxy. Yes, of course. I’ll make sure your bags are in your rooms on your return.” Crawford and Conway walked outside, while Roxy led Frank to the dining room to take his order. Paige and Alan might not want to spend time with Frank, but Roxy was keen. She wanted to know what was happening across the way.