The Lady of Royale Street
DARLENE NORRIS DROVE along Rue Bourbon with a smile on her face. She had six active offers on the table and was feeling like Cinderella at the ball. Everyone wanted a piece of her and she loved it. She hadn’t considered taking a bribe until that New York paper called her and asked for a tip or two about the DuMont/Barrington wedding: a time. A place. The vendors. When she’d declined because it was “a terrible thing to do,” that’s when they’d thrown money at her—significant money, too—and her principles had flown right out the window. So the press would take some pictures, so what? Sol and Rain were used to being “It” people. What was one more day in the spotlight? Thank goodness she’d never signed that confidentiality agreement; the happy couple had been so eager to get everything done in a six-week window they’d forgotten all about insisting on one.
That one simple oversight would equate to a new Range Rover in Darlene’s garage on her forty-fifth birthday.
Sorry not sorry, y’all.
Every major publication wanted the scoop, and Darlene had been there for all of it, from choosing the venue, the cake tastings, and selecting invitations to making a call to LA to book a special musical guest—an artist who had more Grammys than they had mantel space.
Darlene had all the deets.
Unfortunately, Carl Willis of the Crescent Times knew she had the deets, which was why he was blowing up her phone. Again. He had a beef with the Barrington-DuMont faction after Vaughan Barrington reshaped Carl’s nose in the early stages of Sol and Rain’s love affair. Running an exposé of their wedding would probably feel like a comeuppance.
His problem: he couldn’t pay.
Her problem: he wouldn’t go away.
“Mr. Willis, the offers aren’t going down. They’re going up, and you couldn’t play when we were at four figures, never mind six,” she said, pulling her car into a spot between two ecofriendly shit machines parked in front of a tourist-trap trinket shop.
Darlene climbed from the driver’s seat and glanced at her watch: 2:10. She had twenty minutes before she had to meet Bonnie the Bridezilla at Clyde’s. She darted across the street, juggling the phone into her other hand. Her gel-manicured fingers clutched an iced soy latte with extra skim, no sugar, and double ice. The wind stirred her blond bob, sending a sheaf of yellow across her Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.
“What’s the amount at again?” Carl whined.
“A lot. And it’s rising.”
“Dang it. But, hear me out, Darlene . . .”
She didn’t hear him out. She tuned him out, scurrying along the street toward her next appointment. Carl droned on as she mmm-hmmmed politely and sipped from her cuppa.
“Carl,” she interrupted when he’d been at it for so long she wasn’t sure when he’d breathed last. “Carl. Mr. Willis. Carl!”
He shut up. Darlene gritted her teeth and hopped across Iberville, a taxi beeping at her as it whizzed by close enough to ruffle the skirt of her sundress. “It’s not going to change, sugar! Pay up or shut up, you hear?”
“The DuMonts owe me,” Carl insisted. “I need this coverage.”
“No one owes you shit, darlin’. Includin’ me.”
She didn’t wait for a response, ending the call just as a text message popped up notifying her that the DuMont place card settings were ready for pickup and could she be there by four? Bridezilla at 2:30 and over to the Garden District an hour later? Doable, but annoying, but everything about the DuMont/Barrington wedding was annoying. It shouldn’t have been a surprise with the names involved, but at a week until the big day, Darlene’s patience was at an end. Two bakers. Four caterers. Two calligraphers. Blown-glass swan party favors done by a local artisan. Antique chairs imported from a plantation in Baton Rouge. Custom-made silk tablecloths. A highly sought-after florist. A Parisian photographer. A Hollywood cameraman for a videographer.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
She should have commanded better rates. In her defense, she’d never taken on such a prestigious client before, so how was she to know she could have asked for twice as much as her requested fee? Thirty thousand wasn’t enough. They should have offered more—a lot more—for the work involved. Really, it was their fault she was taking a bribe this late in the game. If they’d played fair, she’d have played fair, too.
Darlene snorted and turned the corner to the next block.
“We expect the utmost discretion,” Sol DuMont had said upon hiring her. “Considering Miss Barrington’s family connections, our privacy is paramount. Talk to nobody but us. Especially not her mother. You understand?”
She’d said she did because she’d say anything to a boy that pretty, but then the offers came rolling in. People. Star. The Enquirer. She’d understood all about DuMont discretion right up until cash dollars became her new reality.
Sorry, you handsome thing. I gotta get mine.
She killed the latte and tossed it into a garbage bin. Her phone rang again, this time that sweet Tony Cappillanno from that New York paper. They’d been her first offer and now, after dozens of other press calls, they were the highest bidder. She answered, her voice more sugary than a freshly powdered beignet.
“Tony! How are you?”
“I’m good, sweetheart. Got your files. I’ll go up another thirty for the passwords, but that’s all she wrote. The boss ain’t gonna give me another inch.”
She went quiet a moment, toying with the idea of bouncing the offer off her other contacts, but she had so much to do with this stupid wedding and she liked Tony best. He’d been real sweet to her ever since she started singing his song. It’d be nice to get the whole thing done and over with so she could put Rain and Sol in her rearview mirror.
“All right. Lemme text you the first one, sugar pie. As soon as I see the transfer I’ll give you the second, which has the location and the names of the wedding party.”
“Done. I’ll get it sent over now.”
She stood on the intersection of Iberville and Dauphine as she texted him the password for the first file. Vendor names, addresses, and phone numbers of her contacts—all of it was there for greedy eyes to behold. Three minutes later, her bank account balance quadrupled. She giggled as her nails clicked over the touch screen of her iPhone, texting Tony the second password with the real meat and potatoes about the year’s most secretive wedding.
Tony texted back a half minute later.
“You’re a doll. How you feeling now? Richer?”
“Fine. Just fine,” she typed, stepping off the sidewalk and into the street.
She pressed send a second and a half before the commuter bus barreled into her and sent her sailing sixty feet into oncoming traffic.