The dry husks of dead leaves swirled across the cracked pavement like the end of a long cloak. They gathered in the gutters as the horse drawn carriages trundled past on the cobbled brick road. The spokes of a particularly shiny carriage’s wheels rotated hypnotically and gradually slowed as the vehicle came to a halt in front of a resplendent building set far back behind a magnificent set of marble steps. Pedestrians in long autumn coats congested the surrounding street and sidewalk. Every so often people entered or exited the building with the marble steps. The two black horses pulling the stopped carriage tossed their heads and pawed the ground as the driver hopped down from his perch and opened the door for the passenger.
A fair-haired young man in an expensive coat and bowler hat exited the carriage. His face was a picture of curiosity as he took in the sight of the large building. A sudden breeze caused his coat to flap as he took a pair of leather gloves out of the inside pocket and pulled them on. The visitor read the gaudy, hard-to-miss sign that said “The Ruby Roulette,” and climbed the short flight of marble steps. He pulled the brass handle of one of the double doors and entered The Ruby Roulette.
Albert Charnoire was a young businessman who had in his short time in adulthood amassed a good fortune as a stockbroker with shrewd logic and quite a few new ideas from his travels and experiences with worldwide business. He migrated to New York City from Paris to further branch out his company and his worldly scope. He currently lived in an impressive townhouse that his father had generously paid for before he died of a heart attack two years ago. Although Albert had inherited an equivalent of three million American dollars, he did not rely on the family fortune and chose to make his on way in the world. His living standards boasted the success of that sojourn.
The young tycoon’s current project was sponsoring a famous nightclub in New York City’s French sub-metropolis called the Ruby Roulette. He had never even set foot inside the Roulette, but he knew it was a very popular place and he thought himself very wise to be investing in the finances of such a popular place.
When Albert stepped across the threshold and into the Roulette, he stood for a moment and soaked up the image of the dance hall’s lobby. The grand staircase was actually quite short in total height, just about six steps, but the opulent red carpet and the sweeping golden banisters upheld the term “grand” staircase and more than made up for its lack of height. Another set of heavy double doors at the top of the staircase separated the lobby from the dance hall. Through a crack in the doors, Albert could just make out the corner of the stage. Seeing the lobby quite deserted, he ascended the stairs and entered the dance hall, looking for someone to give him a guided tour of his investment.
Upon poking his head into the room, Albert saw the stage and surrounding tables crowded with people assisting with the afternoon’s rehearsal. He weaved through the tables and chairs and stood patiently as the singers, dancers, directors, and choreographers loudly discussed conflicting instructions.
A tall, gaunt man whose pale complexion was complemented by a flush on each cheekbone raised his voice hoarsely.
“All of last week, we specifically practiced the key change right at the bridge here. I don’t understand. I just don’t understand how the whole company can suddenly decide that such a key change is unpalatable when we went over and over it!” The tall man, on whose head was perched a navy blue beret, accentuated each ‘over’ by slapping the palm of one hand with the back of the other.
A muscular chorus member piped up. His voice, upon being heard, was surprisingly weak and high pitched.
“Aw, we did practice that change but it just sounds better there on the bridge, because we do a change to a different key before the refrain the next time anyways. Besides, Madame Gareau agreed with us on Saturday when you weren’t here. We practiced and got used to it, that’s why it’s difficult learning differently again.” He flexed and adjusted his suspenders earnestly.
The tall director paced and turned in a radius of only about one foot. He seemed to be revolving on the spot, with one hand on his narrow hip and the other on his meager goatee.
“Madame Gareau, I do not understand what makes you think you can approve of such a monumental change in the original score! You are assistant director, if perhaps you had forgotten and decided to take my liberties upon yourself.” He seemed to have a habit of including quite a few accents on words he pronounced. He also looked exhausted.
A plump, shrewd looking woman standing onstage with a clipboard shrugged unassumingly.
“Lionel, you’re making far too much fuss about this. The key change is barely legible in the score, so I just let the company take over with things you worked out with them since I figured they knew what they were doing.” With this, she glowered around and the general assembled group for getting her in trouble. “Besides, the composer was nowhere to be found. I had someone run up to ask him, but the man wouldn’t even answer his door. Probably writing some more unreadable nonsense for next week’s shows.”
There was a general mumbled agreement. Singers and dancers glanced at one another mutinously. Albert wondered if there wasn’t going to be a coup against the music composer the moment he arrived.
“I don’t find the music to be nonsense,”
The voice came calmly from a slender brunette young lady sitting on the edge of the stage. She seemed to radiate common sense and stood out from the rest of the group, perhaps due to talent or intelligence. The rest of the whispering trailed off as the group craned their necks to better hear what she was saying. Apparently, she was someone whose opinion was valued, if not listened to. The speaker coughed lightly and continued.
“I think it’s well written. Have you ever tried writing a whole twenty pages of music for a dozen different parts? That must be hard to do once a week, and I for one appreciate the hard work Sebastian does. I also find it a poor excuse for our directors to blame their misunderstanding of directions on the composer. And Lionel, I think there’s someone here to see you.”
All heads slowly turned from the speaker to the director and finally coming to a rest upon Albert, whom they finally seemed to have noticed in their presence. Lionel’s eyes were narrowed for a moment, trying to place the face, when he recognized the newcomer with wide eyes. He strode up to Albert and gave him a firm handshake.
“Ah! Finally I meet our new patron! Welcome, welcome, welcome to our humble establishment. Welcome to the Ruby Roulette, Monsieur Charnoire. I am Lionel DeVoir, the performance director. Normally, the manager would be giving you the whole tour today, but under certain circumstances…” he trailed off vaguely, “I will be doing you the honor myself.”
Albert returned the handshake politely. “If you don’t mind, Monsieur,” he said curiously, “what happened to the manager?”
DeVoir looked up at the ceiling as if looking to the heavens for inspiration. “Ah, well, you see, that is a problem. He, er, well, I’m afraid he is dead.”
“What?” Albert exclaimed, shocked. “The man is dead? When did this happen? What will be done? Who will replace him?”
There was a light cough from DeVoir. Albert wondered if it was something scandalous had done the poor manager in. “I’m sorry,” he said scathingly. “It’s really none of my business, but seeing as I am now the patron…”
“No, no, no, not at all. Monsieur LaCrosse passed away four years ago, actually. He was the owner of the Roulette, you see, and in his will he left the whole thing to his son, Sebastian. He is, er, well, he has many other things on his mind and so myself, Madame Garneau, and now you are in charge collectively of many of the duties. Young Monsieur LaCrosse composes most of our music, you know. Very talented lad, really. He’s got quite a lot to do.” DeVoir finished his winded speech with a nervous chuckle. Albert wondered why the man was defending the incompetent manager so loyally. However, he was not about to question the way the Roulette was run. Yet. It seemed to be doing quite good business just the way it was. Such criticism could wait until it was necessary.
“That’s well enough,” Albert said amicably. “I’m ready to be given the grand tour now, if you or someone else can possibly stray from rehearsal.”
DeVoir contemplated for a split second. “Well, I can’t possibly leave now. I just have to oversee the reworking of the problem with the key change,” He flapped his hand dismissively. “Musical jargon, of course. You don’t understand a word of any of it, of course, but don’t worry, you’ll pick it up in no time if you hang around here long enough.”
“I played the piano as a child,” Albert volunteered, “but I’m afraid that’s the extent of my musical knowledge.” He chuckled. “I’m a businessman, not a musician. And that’s what I’m here for, is business. But I’m sure to enjoy the performances quite a bit, no doubt.”
DeVoir nodded, slightly distracted. “Yes, yes, well, who could go… Marie, you’ve got everything all worked out with your part, haven’t you? You could give Monsieur Charnoire a guided tour of the place, couldn’t you?”
The brunette sitting onstage who had identified Albert wore a nonplussed expression. “Yes, of course I could, but if Sebastien were to come down to rehearse with us like he said he would, I would have to be here to hear our parts together, wouldn’t I?” she replied innocently.
There came a snort from Madame Gareau.
“You honestly expect him to show up and rehearse his part? That’s hoping for too much, girl,” she said cynically.
DeVoir sighed and removed his beret to run his spider-like fingers through his thinning black hair. Apparently, he was having a stressful day. “I think it is quite clear that young Monsieur LaCrosse is not planning on gracing us with his presence anytime soon. So, Marie, if you would…” he jerked his head imploringly in Albert’s direction.
She shrugged and hopped down from the stage imploringly.
“Alright, Lionel, but I’m only doing this for you because you’re so handsome.” With this she tweaked his cheek gently and laughed. The sound was like the light tinkling of silver bells to Albert. She stopped short in front of him.
“Of course, Monsieur, it’s an honor to escort you. I was joking with Monsieur DeVoir,” she said with a modest curtsy.
“Oh, not at all,” Albert said politely. He followed obediently as she led him off on the tour of the Ruby Roulette.
“So, Mademoiselle…” he trailed off expectantly as they walked through a narrow corridor with sunlight slanting in through the arched window.
“It’s Mademoiselle Allons,” she finished for him. “Marie Allons, but everyone calls me Royale.”
Albert was unsure, but he took that as a signal to call her Royale instead of Mademoiselle Allons. “Yes, er, Mademoiselle Royale, how old exactly is the Roulette?”
“Well…” she started. “I believe the building is about sixty years old, but before it became a night club it was an amateur museum. All of the dormitories for singers, dancers, and other employees were originally for the museum’s caretakers and secretaries at the front desk. Monsieur LaCrosse senior bought the building about forty years ago, when the museum’s funding was canceled by the city. The city council decided it was really quite a terrible museum, what with only one large room for exhibits. (Not very interesting, either).” She paused to catch her breath and glanced at Albert. “Continue?”
“Oh, of course,” Albert said graciously.
“Right,” Royale continued. “LaCrosse bought the building around 1880. His original vision was to make it a theater, but the structure much more accommodated the format of the Roulette today. Of course, there were a lot of additions to be made, so remodeling took about five years. It grew in popularity quickly because there were no other places for entertainment in the French part of town quite in this style. There were a few theaters and ballrooms and whatnot, but this was the first modern one anywhere near here.”
Albert was impressed. “You certainly do know the history of this place. Are you sure you’re not a professional tour guide? Is there a gift shop after the tour is over?”
Royale stifled a giggle with her fist. “No, not professional. I’ve never guided a tour of the Roulette before. I suppose I must know my facts pretty well, is all.
“Anyway, Monsieur LaCrosse managed the business affairs of the Roulette, what with money and wages and occasionally employment, and he also shared the directing duties with Lionel. Four years ago he died of natural causes, and now his son Sebastian has taken over his managing duties.
“Before his father died, Sebastian did a lot of work with composing some of the music we used and he also was the lead in a few regular numbers. Nowadays, most of what he does is just the composing. He still performs with us, but never comes to the rehearsals.” She glanced at Albert quickly. “He’s not a bad manager, he just has many duties to fulfill, and we get along very well with the manager duties shared between directors.”
Albert nodded, but he thought that the club should at least get another manager, one who worked full time. He didn’t voice his opinions out loud, however.
The following hour passed pleasantly enough. Royale guided Albert through the many backstages and dormitories and offices, chatting conversationally all the while. As they made their way to a well lit hallway with cedar paneling on the third floor, Albert asked suddenly, “Is Monsieur LaCrosse Jr. here today?”
Royale blinked. “Well yes, he’s always here. Why, do you want to see him?”
“I’d like to meet the manager,” Albert replied.
“That’s fine, but I’m not sure if Sebastian would appreciate being interrupted during is work. He rarely answers his bedroom door, you know.”
Albert looked disappointed.
“Well, it’s worth a knock on the door. I’m sure that can’t hurt.” Royale said lightly. “Sebastian’s bedroom is actually around this hallway.”
The pair turned the corner ahead and headed for the end of the remaining hallway stretching before them. They arrived at the appropriate door and Royale knocked three times.
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