Monday, June 15, 2015

Chapter Seven Fourteen Quarters Repertory Company

UPDATE: Unlikely Merger is NOW available! We will offer
the book FREE on Kindle July 1-July 5, 2015!

Happy Monday - hope you had a great weekend!

Mercy is sure staying busy. So far, she's been to Texas, New York, California, Florida, and Alabama. Today, she's headed to the Big Easy. What do you think of all the heroes so far? Have you picked a favorite yet? Remember - readers vote for their favorite hero beginning June 20 - those votes will determine the final chapter of the book!

Here are links to the previous chapters, in case you need them to help you decide.

Unlikely Merger: Chapter One
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Two
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Three
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Four
Unlikely Merger: Chapter Five

Unlikely Merger: Chapter Six

Chapter Seven
Fourteen Quarters Repertory Company, New Orleans, Louisiana

Mercy moved from her dresser to the opened suitcase on her bed, where Madeline sat reading from a file.
          “The Fourteen Quarters Repertory Company. You’ll be meeting with Douglas Grant. This venture is a non-profit with a lot of potential outside the financial realm.”
Mercy took the folder. “Daddy wants to support some actors and actresses in The Big Easy?” She flipped through the papers. “Not a lot of information here.”
“Said he wants you to meet Mr. Grant and see firsthand his interest in this venture so that you can make a decision. If you don’t look at it with the same eye, he’ll defer to you.”
Somehow that didn’t ease Mercy’s mind.
“But don’t forget to have some fun while you’re there. Who knows, maybe that perfect SAM is hanging out waiting to be found.” Madeline grinned with her exit.
That thought didn’t ease her mind either.


She tugged her rolling carry-on through the throngs of people entering and departing New Orleans via the Louis Armstrong International Airport. She breathed a sigh of relief that this venture had been planned after Mardi Gras. She didn’t know if she could breathe in the swell of humanity with only one purpose: to make sure that the phrase, “anything goes” kept its meaning.
Enough of that. There was more to this city than debauchery, like fine food and wonderful music, a lifestyle of blending cultures, and a Ritz Carlton on Canal Street, her destination, right after she caught a cab.
“Mercy. Mercy Lacewell?” A man pushed through the crowds. He wore a hat that reminded her of a prop from an old movie she’d watched once. The shiny black bill tipped into his eyes. With one dark hand, he pushed it back. “Ms. Mercy Lacewell?”
A hint of one of those blended cultures tickled Mercy’s ears, and she smiled, but only for a second.
Mercy pointed to the sign in his hand. “You seem to know my name, but I’m clueless as to yours?”
His smile brightened Mercy’s day. The man held out his hand and at the same time, the cap’s bill fell over his eyes. “I was afraid I’d miss you.” He took the cap off and tucked it under his arm. Then he shook her hand.
“No, I’d say you did pretty well. This is a big airport.” She laughed.
“The way you were described to me, I didn’t think I’d have too much of a problem finding you, especially coming from the direction of your flight’s terminal. I just looked for the most beautiful girl.”
Whether he wanted to melt her heart or not, it would soon be swimming in a puddle somewhere inside her. “Well, thank you. You’ve made my day. Are you a chauffeur from the repertory company?”
“The hat?”
He shook his head. “No.” He held up the cap. “Actually forgot I was wearing this.” He chuckled to himself. “And some little urchins let me leave the stage with this getup on.”
“And you are?” Mercy interrupted the conversation he seemed to be having with himself and walked ahead, trailing her carry-on behind her.
The man followed. “I’m Douglas Grant. You can call me Digger.”
The owner, not the chauffeur. “Please, call me Mercy. But where does Digger come from?”
“My initials, D.I.G. It’s a lot better than my middle name, which is the one my momma stuck me with.”
“May I ask …?”
“Only if you want to tell me your age.” His smile widened.
Mercy clamped her mouth shut.
“I’m not playing fair, I guess. I’ve looked up your information. Wanted to know who I was courting.”
“Courting? I wasn’t told that was part of the deal.”
He stopped, seemed to think for a minute, and then laughed. He shook his finger at her and laughed some more. “Mercy, I like you. I meant that strictly in the business sense.”
“Okay, so?”
“So, what?”
“You know my age. So give. What’s the ‘I’ stand for?”
He leaned close, his breath brushing her hair. “Ichabod, and if any of the troupe discover it, I’ll know where they heard it. Soon as my momma died, I threw that moniker off of me.”
“So, I can’t call you Ichabod?”
His face lost its mirth. “I’d rather you not, ma’am.” He took possession of the carry-on and led her to the corner of the lot.
Mercy’s eyes widened as they approached Digger’s car. She whistled. “Nice car.”
“Lincoln Continental convertible, 1963.”
“Love the blue color. Looks like the ocean.”
Digger unlocked the door as Mercy ran her hand over the cloth top.
“Guess I should tell you, it doesn’t belong to me. Old Gus lets me drive it when I have someone to impress.”
“So you do a lot of courting in it, huh?” Mercy tipped her head as he opened the door for her. She started to sit.
Digger placed his large hand on top of her head and pretended to push. When she was comfortably inside, he closed the door and moved around to the driver’s side. “Actually, the last time I drove this was during a parade. Old Gus sat in the back and waved to the nice folks along Canal Street during the Krewe of Jingle.”
“I’ll bite. What in the world is a Krewe of Jingle?
“It’s a Christmas Parade, New Orleans’ style, but Krewe is an organization that’s best known for Mardi Gras and a lot of the Carnival events outside of New Orleans.”
“Does everyone call Gus old or just you?”
He pulled out of the spot, his gaze attentive to the cars he passed. “I use Gus, not that the ‘Old’ matters. Gus is a character like many others in New Orleans. Not even a storm like Katrina could get them away from this town.”
“Were you here during Katrina?”
He took a deep breath. “I lived in St. Bernard Parish. I was fifteen. Momma took me to Old Gus’s place, where we both worked odd jobs. Momma also worked a regular job at the nursing home that wasn’t being evacuated in St. Bernard. She had to be there.” He drove in silence for another length of time. “They say the workers left those people in that nursing home to die, but my momma was there. Nancee Grant wouldn’t have left those people short of trying to get help.
Mercy blinked moisture from her eye. “Sounds like she was an amazing woman.”


Mercy tossed and turned in the comfortableness of the four-star hotel’s accommodations. She dreamed the city was under hurricane watch. She’d never been in a hurricane, but the terror of trying to flee the town was true enough, especially in light of the story Digger had told.
The knock on the hotel room door brought Mercy solidly to her feet, her hair covering her face, and confusion absolutely filling her mind.
Gone were the water-filled and windy streets of New Orleans she’d been wading through and pushing against.
Instead, her toes melted into plush burgundy carpet, and when she flipped her hair up, she took in her elegant room.
The pounding sounded again. “Mercy.”
Digger. Why was he here? She was supposed to meet him at Cafe Beignet at nine.
She squinted her eyes at the clock, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, and squealed. She’d overslept. Way overslept.
“Mercy, are you okay? If you don’t answer …”
“Digger, I’m coming. Give me a sec.” She picked up her robe and threw it around her shoulders. Then she unlatched the door and opened it a bit.
He stood in the corridor in a royal blue shirt worn under a suit without a tie.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am. I didn’t sleep well. I overslept.”
The man smiled and his cocoa eyes lit with amusement. “From the looks of your hair, I’d imagine you got involved in some sort of cat fight.”
Mercy laughed then recovered. “I’m terribly sorry. This is inexcusable of me. If you need to reschedule, I’ll understand.”
“I did some work while I was waiting for you, so I haven’t lost anything. If you want, I can wait downstairs. I have to resolve a problem, but no reason you can’t go with me.”
“Does the problem have to do with the company?”
“In a way, yeah, but no reason you can’t see the good and the bad.” Digger slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small leather bound book. A Bible. “I didn’t get my quiet time this morning, and truth is, I need it.”
Digger’s relationship with God made Mercy’s heart sing.
“I’ll make myself comfortable down in the lobby. Take your time.”
“Give me fifteen minutes.”
“You sure? I think it’s going to take you that long to get that rat’s nest out of your hair.”
The music stopped.
He laughed as she shut the door on him.


Mercy met Digger in the lobby of the hotel thirty minutes later and he had the valet retrieve Gus’s car.
They pulled out into traffic and silence stretched as he drove. He seemed to be lost in thought, and she didn’t want to invade.
The drive wasn’t long. They probably could have walked from the hotel. Digger pulled the car over to a curb in front of a gorgeous three-story building with wrought-iron railings along the upper story balconies. A sign over the door announced, “The Nancee Grant Fourteen Quarters Repertory Company.”
Mercy sat waiting as Digger opened his door and came around to open hers. “Welcome to Vieux Carre, another name for the French Quarter.”
He moved ahead and opened the front door to the building. “And this is what I want you to see.”
Stepping inside, she found herself in a theatre lobby. A buzz of activity sounded beyond the double doors on each side of a circular stairway. The chatter of children, the twangs of stringed instruments, the boom of percussions, the whistle of woodwinds … and tap dancing.
A young teenage boy was alone at the concession counter scrubbing the shelves. He straightened and brushed his long blond hair from his eyes with the back of his hand. “Guess it’s about time you got here. You expect us to do all the dirty work, and you’re out playing around on a date.” The teen narrowed his eyes, and he seemed to be daring Digger to take a move toward him.
Digger looked away and led her toward one of the double doors. “You’ll have to excuse Chandler. He’s my problem for today.”
“There you are.” An older woman stood from her seat in the middle of the front row. She held out a beautifully manicured hand, and Mercy shook it. The woman’s silver hair was long but styled to frame her face. Only the laugh lines around the corners of her lips, gave away any hint of her age. Otherwise, the woman’s skin was milky white. Brown eyes were still bright and unlined. A dimpled cheek added to the mystery. The lady bore herself like an aristocrat, her back straight, her shoulders back, her bearing regal.
“Mercy Lacewell, Meet Augustus Payne. Gus graciously provides the repertory theatre a home, and she lives in an apartment on the third floor.”
Gus wrapped Mercy in a tight hold. Gone was the woman of royalty replaced by a motherly figure. “Digger said you were as beautiful as your daddy described.” Gus’s Southern accent was another captivating feature. Now, Mercy understood what Digger meant by a “character of New Orleans.”
Mercy glanced around the elaborate auditorium as Digger moved toward the stage. Kids seemingly as young as nine or ten and into their teens worked together or alone on dance steps or lines. In the orchestra pit, the musicians began to practice. All of it a chaotic hum of brilliance that kept Digger’s focus.
She relished the delight of the group under his direction and even Gus called out a few kind instructions.
Curses filled the air loud enough to blare through the lobby doors and stop all movement.
“Excuse me.” Digger caught her gaze. “I’m sorry you had to hear that. I was hoping we’d avoid this problem altogether. Should have known ignoring it wouldn’t make it go away.” He rushed back up the aisle.
“I don’t have to take this,” the loud voice from the lobby drew Mercy’s breath away.
“No, you don’t.” Digger’s voice held an edge that would frighten her if turned in her direction. “You can do what I ask you to do here today, or you’ll accept the consequences. Do you understand?”
“You need me, man. I’m the one who has it all, but you replace me with that …” A very ugly world fell from the young man’s mouth. So ugly was the sentiment that it jarred Mercy.
A little boy on the stage gasped, and hurt fell across his sweet dark face.
Gus hurried to the stage. She reached out her arms, and several children—black, white, Hispanic, and Asian—fell against her, all hugging the little boy that had seemingly been the target of the teenager’s remark.
Digger’s voice was muffled as he spoke, but it still carried that edge. When he returned, he moved to the stage and bent down, looking up at the kids surrounding Gus. “We have no room for prejudice or arrogance in this company. My momma always taught me that love and respect don’t come in colors. Chandler was wrong.”
Digger focused on the boy in Gus’s arms. “I know Chandler’s parents. I know they wouldn’t be happy with the things he said. That’s why he used to be a part of our company. As of right now, he isn’t. I’ve given him something he has to do. Something that isn’t easy, and if he does, it will show us all a lot about his true character. In the meantime, I do need a volunteer, though, one of our older understudies who can cheerfully help with concessions tonight.”
Instead of one, two hands went up.
Digger smiled.
“Thank you,” he said to the boy and girl.
“And we’ll have a meeting to see if Chandler will be invited back for our next presentation. Pray about it and ask God to show us if he’s worth another chance. If you have trouble …” he tweaked the boy’s nose. “Ask God to give you the mercy He shows to you each day.”
Mercy’s admiration for Digger grew.
He rejoined her. “I’ll be pretty busy tonight, but I hope you’ll come see the fruits of our labor. This is where kids can come, regardless of finances or race. It isn’t only acting, singing, dancing, or music. We have kids who are skilled at carpentry. Others paint the backdrops. Others are too shy to get on stage, but they help the little ones with their lines.”
“Digger isn’t telling you the most important thing.” Gus touched her arm. “These children work in the community. They help the elderly. They clean up yards. They do jobs, and the community gives to the theatre. We’re a profitable non-profit. We like to think of our treasure being stored in heaven as we prepare these children to accept and to bear responsibility while learning to use their God-given talents.”
They didn’t need to convince her. She was already there. Digger had said she could see the good and the bad, but Mercy would only hold to the good.


Mercy sat alone in her seat, fifth-row-center. Piano keys plinked, stringed instruments twanged, woodwinds whistled, and percussions tom-tommed. This was no ordinary orchestra. Not with those musicians. Digger explained that Gus was a classical violinist in her day, and she could play practically any instrument. She had taught each child well.
“Lovely old place, when all the lights are on, isn’t it?” Gus scooted into the aisle. Digger wanted me to be sure you received a program.” Gus held out the glossy magazine.
Mercy smiled and took the program. “Thanks.”
“And you’re to wait for him after the performance.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Mercy nodded. She hoped to spend a little more time with Digger before she left for the airport in the morning. She flipped through the pages of the program. Pictures of every kid in the ensemble smiled back at her. Mercy leaned toward Gus. “What does this mean, next to each child’s name? Garden District, Upper Ninth Ward, Lower Ninth Ward, French Quarter …”
Gus slipped an arm around Mercy’s shoulder. “Each of those kids represents the fourteen neighborhoods in and around New Orleans, children from every economic background who need to take pride in the talents God has given to them. That’s why we call it the Nancee Grant Fourteen Quarters Repertory. We have fourteen distinct neighborhoods, and this ensemble represents them all.”
The music started, and the play began.
Mercy sat enthralled as children sang, acted, tap-danced and otherwise moved to choreographed numbers of Twist-An American Musical, based on the Dicken’s classic. She studied the backdrops and the furniture. These kids had worked hard, and Digger had organized all of it.
And he was also onstage, not a main character, but he sported the chauffeur garb and the hat with the bill that he’d worn at the airport.
When the musical ended, Mercy was the first to her feet to give the ensemble their rightly rewarded standing ovation.
Long after the performance, Digger and the children greeted their audience in the lobby where they were treated to finger foods and drinks.
Proud parents and grandparents stood by the kids beaming as others poured out their appreciation of the talents represented.
Mercy stood in the background sipping a soda.
Digger spoke to a well-dressed man and woman, a sad-faced teen by their side. She looked closer.
Digger said something to catch the teen’s attention. The boy looked up, and Mercy read his lips. “I’m sorry.”
Digger slapped a hand on his shoulder and smiled. His reply wasn’t so easy to read, but when all eyes turned in her direction, and Digger said something to the boy, she straightened.
Chandler and the couple walked toward her. Digger followed.
“Ms. Lacewell,” the man said. “I’m Chandler Eisenberg, Sr. Meet my wife, Ellen, and I believe you had the displeasure of meeting my namesake. Chandler told us what happened today. He said Mr. Grant told him he needed to tell us the truth and to apologize to everyone involved. That should tell you how important Mr. Grant’s vision is to these kids and how much of an impact it can make in other locales.” He tilted his head toward the boy who didn’t look so mouthy now.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Eisenberg. Wasn’t this performance wonderful?”
Mrs. Eisenberg smiled. “Lovely. Just lovely, and we want you to know that we stand behind Mr. Grant. Our son behaved badly, and Mr. Grant treated him with respect and dignity.”
Chandler looked up and pushed his long hair out of his face. “I apologized to Adolphus and the others, and I owe you an apology too. I’m very sorry for my behavior.”
“Thank you, Chandler. I appreciate that.” Mercy held out her hand. “And if you are able to rejoin the company, and if you get a chance to be on stage, no matter the role, I’m going to ask Mr. Grant to let me know so that I can be in attendance.”
Chandler glanced to Digger and back to her. “It’ll be up to everyone, and I wouldn’t blame them if they kick me out.”
Mercy placed a hand on his shoulder. “Well, I know that Mr. Grant asked them to forgive you. He also asked them to pray to ask what was best for you.”
“Chandler!” Adolphus ran to him. “We’re going to get something to eat. My daddy wants to know if you can come with us. Your parents too.”
Mercy looked to the couple standing by the stairs. They were much different from the mother and father standing in front of her in their designer clothing.
She held her breath, but Mrs. Eisenberg bent down. “We’d love to join you and your family.” She looked back to Mercy. “It was very nice meeting you.”
Mercy couldn’t speak, but she nodded. If this were all she’d experienced of this evening, she would have recommended Lacewell Limited back Digger’s dream, but she’d seen so much more. The memories would stay with her forever.
Mercy looked into Digger’s cocoa-colored eyes. “Digger, this was fantastic.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you liked the show. Now, let me get you back to your hotel safe and sound.”
“I’d like one last ride in Gus’s Lincoln.” She followed him out the door. “Got a question for you?”
They walked beside each other until they reached the place where he’d safely parked Gus’s car. He opened the passenger door for her. “Can’t imagine what it could be.”
She sat inside, and he closed the door and ran around to get behind the wheel. “Go ahead and ask.”
She couldn’t help the small giggle that fell out of her mouth, but Digger had become her friend, and she still needed to get back at him for his unkind teasing when he’d awakened her this morning. “Mind if I call you Icky instead of Digger?”
He didn’t speak until he pulled up at the Ritz Carlton.
He got out of the car and opened her door, remaining silent until they were safe and warm inside the lobby. “Mercy, here’s the deal. You call me Icky, and I’ll share the pic I secretly took on my phone when you answered your hotel door this morning, rat’s nest, drool, and all.”
Mercy opened her mouth to give a retort but changed her mind. “Show me the picture.”
He shook his head.
“You’re bluffing.”
He pulled out his phone and yanked away from her when she tried to see. “Call my bluff, and you can look me up on every social media site I’m on.”
She raised her hand. “Surrender. You win.”
He tucked his phone back into his pocket.
She stared into those warm eyes. “Should my strong recommendation be taken, I hope that you will consider opening a repertory company in Colorado.”
“Wherever there’s a need.” His face broke into his broad grin.

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