Is this cover not on some next level, steampunk, what-is-this steeze? Nikki Woolfolk, I am not worthy…
One of the things I told myself is that I am going to start reading and spotlighting more books that aren’t necessarily romantic in theme and not what I would traditionally read. Mise en Death definitely fits the bill. Expand your horizons, girl!
I proudly consider myself on the cusp of blerdom (black nerd), and this book is right on time. Ms. Woolfolk has allowed me to share a generous snippet, and I hope after reading, you’ll click it up and support this often underrepresented genre of black fiction. Cause we outchea, y’all. In all forms…
Summer Solstice eve, 1881
If it had not been for the ice cream, Alex LeBeau would not have found herself in jail.
On the last leg of their journey from up north, Alex’s young son, Pierre, drove them along the outer road of her childhood parish of Honfleur in their steam-powered automobile. The brass and steel bonnet of the contraption gleamed in the June morning sunlight and caught stares from the many town patrons enjoying their mid-afternoon constitutional.
In the passenger’s seat, with a hand firmly grasped on her almond wafer cone, Alex used her free hand to adjust her goggle strap against the back of her humidity dampened Eembuvi-style auburn plaits.
Despite the speed of the automobile, the breeze was stifling and caught at the back of her throat. Or was it a bug? Grimacing at the thought, she licked at the frozen concoction. The sticky caramel and sea salt blended together in her mouth, and she let out a euphoric sigh, then took another lick.
Pierre pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket. “Here, you’ve dropped some ice cream on your skirt,” he offered, slowing the car as he waited for a pedestrian to cross. “Maman,” Pierre playfully chided, as he adjusted his own goggles.
She gave a soft Merci before taking his handkerchief and used it to swat at the two bees hovering at the hem of her skirts.
“Bon Dieu!” Alex hopped out of the mobile.
Holding her ice cream in one hand, Alex fanned her skirts with the other. She did not notice the sound of the car stopping or the quick footsteps behind her. Her focus was on the angry bee up her skirts.
Alex gathered up a fist full of material and flung her hand upward with such force her fist connected with Pierre’s jaw. He fell to the grass like a stone. Alex stopped and gasped at her unconscious son as the two bees flew from underneath her skirts. She glanced up to notice the two police officers staring at the scene with humorless eyes.
She dropped her skirts.
Alex glanced at one of the police officer’s belt, spying the hydraulic D cuffs, her hands still faced the cloudless sky. The other officer knelt down at Pierre and checked his pulse, before giving her partner a side eyed glance. “Alive, but out cold.
We should get him to the station. Once he wakes, we can find out what happened.”
The officer standing only a few meters away glanced at Alex. “Mademoiselle, we need you to come with us.”
Alex hitched up her skirts slightly to cross her legs as she sat at the foot of the cot without any worry. Hunter and Lan the Wire Witch, made sure to keep any of her past hiccups with the law off the police records. Alex may have cut ties, but Bellicose Solanum always took care of their own and kept their promises.
She knew with certainty nothing of her past would be found. The odd thing about clandestine groups like BelSol is that they brought attention to themselves in ways Alex had never expected. BelSol posed as a night carnival that traveled by train. It housed some of the cleverest minds in the country.
Alex convinced the police officers to let her son rest, but while Officer Potkiss took notes Officer Meckelson still questioned her in the station.
Meckelson stood a few inches shorter than Alex, but the height difference was lost as the officer sat on the corner of the desk.
“What brings you to Honfleur with an automobile full of weapons, Mademoiselle…?”
“LeBeau. My knife case of my best cutlery is only a weapon to the finest selection of beef or pork,” Alex said with a laugh.
The officer’s gaze bore into her. “If I were to get on the horn with Monsieur Guillaume, do you think this story would match up?”
Alex raised an auburn-kissed eyebrow and looked up into Meckelson’s unreadable face.
“There’s only one way to find out that I am assisting Chef Guillaume at the Honfleur Cooking School. The Head Event Chef Heston up and quit, but do not take my word for it.”
She stood. “I need to check on my son while you make your call.”
The other officer, Potkiss, did not stop entering data into the Babbage machine at her desk. In fact, neither Potkiss nor Meckelson pressed further in the query as Alex joined Pierre in the jail cell. Alex had enough run-ins with the police to know when they were trying to intimidate and shake up someone. Alex was no fool. She peered out the small window, watching a lady in britches riding a velocipede in a circle around her friends, laughing and teasing them as she feigned loss of control of the dual-wheeled contraption.
Alex peeked at the chronometer on her wrist. Even if Pierre woke soon, she would be late getting settled at her mother’s before preparing for tomorrow’s event.
It could be worse, Alex thought.
Though Alex was fully aware her privilege could not protect her son per se, she could use it for something good. As a Creole woman in this post-Insurrection, she was aware of her privilege over Anglo men and their ancestors who created the causes for the uprising in the first place. Oppression, slavery, or any forms of inequality against Black, Brown and Indigenous folks ceased after the Insurrection of 1856.
Any Anglo men with a desire to create or fix anything more than a calculating machine required heavy licensing fees. Even if any Anglo male had the rare fortune to have a few coins in his pocket, the mounds of paperwork and psychological evaluations would break his spirit. Attempted genocide of the Native peoples and the dehumanization and enslavement of people from the Motherland drove the policies and regulations of the new America.
“Ma’am,” Officer Meckelson said.
Alex faced the hard-jawed brunette.
“Is there a reason you are carrying this many knives?”
“What kind of cook would I be if I did not have my own knives? I cannot chew my way through animal proteins with my teeth.”
The officer’s eyes had lost their coldness.
Meckelson aimed a thumb behind. “But Officer Potkiss can.”
Alex blinked in surprise at the change in her mood and stifled a giggle.
Officer Meckelson unlatched one of the trunks and began to search through it.
“Please take care,” Alex warned. “Those are gifts for my family.”
Officer Potkiss peered over Meckelson’s shoulder as they sifted through the decorative tin.
“Do I need to be warned about the contents of this tin?” asked Meckelson.
“Only if you are watching your sugars.”
Both officers stared back at Alex.
“There’s a six-piece pie collection. Apple, key lime, peach, blueberry, strawberry and pecan ganaches covered in chocolate.”
Meckelson pulled the clear cylindered case out for closer inspection. Potkiss opened the top, looking at the two levels with six wedges, all colored with distinct pictures.
Each tri-shaped wedge was painted with either apples, strawberry, lime and other cocoa butter silk-screened decorations.
Officer Potkiss searched through the tin and plucked out a couple of chocolate bars. One was labeled Apple Toffee and the other Tropical. The drawing showed a coconut, the newly imported pineapples from Hawaii and a tiny pinkish-red bumpy fruit.
“What’s that?” Officer Potkiss asked pointing to the fruit.
“Lychee. Looks odd, but its white flesh inside is so perfectly sweet.”
Meckelson pulled out the five-piece box of chocolate and read the flavor map aloud.
“Saffron pear pâte de fruit.”
“It’s pronounced fwee, not fruit.”
“What is it?”
“Pureed fruit boiled down into a concentrated flavor.”
“I see,” Meckelson replied and continued reading. “Kumquat with Scottish shortbread cookie.”
Potkiss leaned in. “What’s this one with the yellow flowers and bumblebee pattern on this square one?”
“Oh, that’s just my version of Honeycomb candy. A British treat with an American twist. The white flower with the green background, that’s one I call Sakura Plum. That is cherry blossom and plum tea marshmallow. And that last one, with the fleur de lis, is a traditional Bittersweet chocolate with a buttercream ganache that melts just so in your mouth.”
Potkiss looked at the chocolates then at Alex.
“You make these?”
Alex flashed a smile. “Yes. Those are a test batch. I would like to have my own shop one day.”
Meckelson and Potkiss’ eyes lit up.
The stationary voice telegraph rang.
Both officers did not move.
“Can someone answer that?” an officer called out from a corner desk.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Pierre stir, most likely from the bell chime.
Pierre rushed to sit up. Dazed he took in his surroundings and finally rested his gaze on his mother.
Alex looked at him and shrugged. “Desolé.”
“It’s Miss Miel, the madam of the Wild Mare brothel. She says Miss Clackett keeps telling her she has permission from her mother to be at the brothel farm down the ways.”
The second officer turned from Alex. “What in the world? Isn’t her mother in her late nineties?”
“Why don’t you ask her when we get there?”
“Miss Clackett brought her own mother to a brothel?”
“Yes, and several more of her friends from the retirement home. Miss Miel says they’re making a scene because they only have enough money for one gent to rent, and there are eight ladies.”
Mise en Death