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the website of Sean Patrick Doles

The Price of Love

by Sean Patrick Doles

“My God, Lucien, will you look at the size of that thing?” Olivier DeJoie had never seen an oyster of quite such menacing proportions. “Thing must be big as my fist,” he said, holding his beefy hand up for comparison.

It was no exaggeration. In all his years of running DeJoie’s, the city’s premier fine dining establishment, he could not recall ever having encountered such an impressive specimen.

“Bet you can’t get it all in your mouth,” said Lucien Dautrieve, his trusted chef, sitting beside him at a large round table overflowing with steaming food dishes. Babe Ruth and Diamond Jim Brady – whose outsized appetites had been chronicled in the newspapers of the day – had nothing on Olivier DeJoie.

“Ha. Guess again, Pal,” Olivier said. “You should know me better than that.”

“You care to make a wager on it?”

“You really are a stupid Coonass, aren’t you?” Olivier said in surprise. “Sure, I’ll take your money. How much? Let’s say fifty.”

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Dautrieve said. “You don’t pay me that well.” He raised his hands in protest. “How ’bout ten?”

“Ten it is,” Olivier said. And with that, he lifted the plump oyster to his mouth. His jaw seemed to unhinge like a boa constrictor’s, and his elasticized lips engulfed the glistening bivalve with ease. With a swish into one cheek, a swirl of his deft tongue, a chomp of his granite molars and a gulp down his powerful gullet, the fat oyster proved no match for this master of mastication.

Olivier grabbed a white cloth napkin that had been resting in his lap and dabbed at the corners of his mouth, which curled into a haughty smile. “I’ll just deduct it from your next paycheck.”

“Whatever you say. You’re the king.”

“That’s right. I am, aren’t I?” Olivier DeJoie said as though he had momentarily forgotten this morsel of truth, which he found exceedingly pleasing.

Olivier DeJoie felt like a king in every sense of the word, and he treated himself accordingly. He lorded over the family fiefdom with absolute power. He dominated the social order of New Orleans, having ascended to the throne of Rex in 1930. He even saw fit to sully his hands in city politics, throwing his support behind mayor Sidney “Turkeyhead” Chapoton during his successful 1932 bid to unseat incumbent Herbert “Woodshed” Wilson.

To see DeJoie in action, you’d never know there was a Depression going on. For him, the only Depression he ever knew stemmed from the Prohibition of alcohol back in 1920. And that malaise had lasted only six months, until he could establish his underground supply network through his friends in customs at the Galvez Street Wharf.

No, Olivier DeJoie lived an entirely privileged and rarefied existence. He practiced moderation in no endeavor, especially not in anything of a gustatory nature. Because for him, eating was serious business. In fact, it was his birthright, his lifeblood, his raison d’etre. His was a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

And he didn’t, hitting the scales at a fighting weight of 345 pounds. DeJoie’s appetite was as voracious as a chaste boxer’s sex drive the night after a KO victory, his tastes as expansive as his waistline, which measured a cool 46 inches. Of course, in those days, girth was a sign of power, something to be flaunted. And no one did it better than the flamboyant Olivier, great-great-great-grandson of DeJoie’s founder, the esteemed aristocrat Louis Phillippe duc D’Joie.

Olivier made quick work of the oyster and appeared poised to move on. Dautrieve sat beside him at the corner table with a notebook in hand, recording comments and criticisms for his kitchen staff.

DeJoie’s workload for the afternoon lay on the table before him, the tasting and testing of menu items in a process that, today, would be called Quality Assurance. But in his view, given the crowded dining room, this was advertising, plain and simple. Olivier’s every burp, gurgle, grunt and moan was a commercial message. Each savory aroma an invitation to the neighboring diners to stop by, interrupt, visit, pay deference to the king, and ultimately, to spread the word among their closed circle of patrons like bees spreading pollen. For, to be a Friend Of Olivier DeJoie, a FOODie, was to be in elite company.

After the Oysters Rockefeller, the lineup for this session included a mirliton bisque with crabmeat. From there Olivier might progress to Duck Roulade, featuring black trumpet mushrooms, duck livers and black truffles rolled inside a young duckling, with truffled greens, Muscadine aspic and chicory coffee bread. Then maybe the medallions of lamb wrapped in bacon, served atop grilled pineapple and draped with a savory marchand du vin (onions, mushrooms and a rich, red wine).

Dautrieve was especially nervous about two new creations, concocted at Olivier’s behest upon his return from a safari in Kenya: Deep Dish Lion & Foie Gras Pie (a phyllo pastry shell filed with lion confit, Hudson Valley foie gras and wild mushroom duxelles, finished with goat cheese fondant and pressed pumpkin-seed oil); and Butter-Braised Hippopotamus Sweetbreads (the hippo’s hypothalamus gland laid over a savory cake made from minced artichoke, crawfish and forest mushrooms, then drizzled with a spiced Armagnac crawfish butter).

In keeping with a trend then popular among American glitterati, Olivier had instructed Dautrieve to add exotic game to the menu, and his young chef reluctantly complied, despite having little knowledge of big game cooking techniques. However, having been raised in the swamps of southwest Louisiana, Dautrieve knew his way around plenty of small game such as squirrel, rabbit, possum, wild boar, marsh leopard and ferret. Unable to locate genuine hippopotamus meat, he substituted a tasty but little known varmint called nutria, otherwise known as swamp rat.

Carefully, he pushed the faux hippo hypo toward his boss and stood at attention with pen in hand to take notes. But Olivier was having none of it. Instead, he picked up another oyster and examined it closely.

“Jesus, that’s the biggest oyster I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You get these from the Dalmations?”

“Uh no,” Dautrieve said, setting down his pen. “I been using a new guy. A Dago from Bucktown.”

“A Dago from Bucktown? What happened to Vucjchnovich?”

“The Dalmatian’s getting’ too big for they britches, cher,” Dautrieve said. “Want too much money. The Dago’s cheap. And he’s good. We can get specks, reds, drum, crabs, brown shrimp and them there oysters.”

Olivier shrugged and spoke in a foreign tongue. “Balie nef, blaie prope.” (“A new broom sweeps clean.”) He stared at the oyster a second longer, contemplating its singular beauty. “A Dago, huh? I wonder what his secret is?”

“You know, he’s in back right now,” Dautrieve said. “I can get him if you like.”

Olivier contemplated this option and surveyed the busy dining room. He set down the oyster and reached into his suit jacket pocket for a cigar.

“Aw hell, Lu, we don’t want no stinkin’ Dago walkin’ through here during lunch, smelling of fish and bothering the customers,” he said, clipping the tip from his stogie and striking a match. “Maybe some other time.”

“Fine by me.”

Olivier puffed on the cigar, sending thick clouds of smoke billowing from his cheeks. A gray haze quickly settled over the room, but none of the diners seemed to mind. In fact, given the number of FOODies in the room, many took their cue from DeJoie and followed suit with cigars of their own. Soon the air was barely breathable.

“More coffee,” Olivier shouted across the room to no one in particular. He lifted the stainless steel pot to ensure his request did not go unmet. He then poured the final ounce of dark liquid into his cup and gulped it down in a swift, pronounced motion.

“Whew,” he said upon swallowing. He laid his palm on his chest and passed a heavy breath through his windpipe. “Got quite a kick to it.”

“It’s all that chicory,” Lucien said, winking and lifting his cup. “Put hair on your chest, lead in your pencil and make you howl at the moon.”

“Gotta clean the palate for the next dish,” he said, setting aside his cigar and repositioning his napkin. “Now, what do you have for me?” Lucien began to slide the faux hippo hypo toward him, but before he could speak, a commotion emanating from the kitchen caught their attention.

A fiery young man with dark eyes and darker hair burst through the kitchen door trailed by two chefs, who struggled in vain to prevent his entry to the dining room.

“No, no, you can’t…go…in…there,” the chefs said in unison, struggling to restrain him. But the young man broke free of their grasp with one swing of his powerful right arm. He quickly scanned the dining room, where all activity had ceased and all eyes had turned to focus on him. Identifying his quarry, he marched across the polished hardwood floor to DeJoie’s corner table. The two chefs followed, preparing their excuses for Olivier.

“Escuse-ah,” the man said upon reaching the table. “Wheech one ah you ees De-JOY?” He leaned forward, resting his weight on his fists, which were planted threateningly on the tablecloth. These were no ordinary fists. They looked to be the size of miniature wrecking balls, hewn from long hours of physical toil. The sleeves of the man’s cotton work shirt had been rolled up to his elbows to reveal powerful (and hairy) forearms.

“I’m sorry, Mister DeJoie,” said one of the chefs, peeking out from behind the man. “We tried to stop him. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Olivier sized up the situation and realized an ugly scene would be very bad for business. Definitely not in his marketing plan. He smiled and struggled to get to his feet. Once there, he extended his hand to the man.

“It’s De ZHWAH,” he said. “Olivier DeZHWAH. Pleased to meet you.”

“Ahh, De ZHWAH,” the man said. “I get. Mister De…ZHWAH. Giuseppe Fontana.” The young man shook DeJoie’s hand.

“Please, please have a seat,” Olivier said, gesturing toward an open place setting.

Giuseppe “Joe” Fontana examined the feast spread before his eyes. He didn’t quite know whether to feel awestruck or disgusted. Given his bellicose nature, disgust won out.

“Fat American pigs,” he thought, cocking his lip in a sneer. He turned to offer a scowl to the two chefs behind him who were standing with arms crossed.

“Don’t mind them,” Olivier said. “They’re going back into the kitchen. Right boys?” He waved them off and returned his attention to Fontana. “Please, have a seat.”

Fontana sat across the table from DeJoie and Dautrieve, but not before issuing a profane Italian hand gesture in the general direction of the departing chefs.

“Can I offer you a cup of coffee?” Olivier said, giving Fontana a wink.

“Yeah. Sure. Is a-good,” Fontana said, winking back. A fresh pot arrived, and DeJoie signaled for the attendant to fill Giuseppe’s cup.

“Now how can I help you, Mister Fontana?”

“Mister De…ZHWAH,” Giuseppe said slowly before launching into a rapid-fire staccato blast, “I been a-give you fish two month and you no pay. I tell a-your man, you pay one week. He say, no, we a-pay one month. I say, okay, one a-month because you big fish. So one month come. I say, you a-pay one month. He say, no, I pay two month. I say, no way, two month it a-too much. I need money one month. Two month a-too much.”

Fontana’s volume rose steadily as he spoke, and his hands flailed wildly, culminating with a manual flourish evocative of a sign language interpreter at a livestock auction.

Olivier sat stone-faced for a moment while his brain attempted to process the information. He then turned to Dautrieve and frowned. His chef had a bad habit of exploiting the immigrant fishermen who trawled the local waters. Didn’t matter whether it was the Yugoslavs in Plaquemines Parish, the Islenos in St. Bernard Parish or the Sicilians in Bucktown. They were all fair game for Dautrieve, whose own parents had fled the Acadian region of Nova Scotia and settled in the swamps of Terrebonne Parish, managing to eke out a meager existence by fishing, trapping…and bootlegging.

“Is this true?” Olivier said to Dautrieve, placing him squarely in the hot seat.

“I, uh, I don’t know,” Dautrieve said. “I’d have to check my books. It must have been some kind of mix up.”

“No mix up,” Fontana said. “You say a-one month. I say okay. So one month come. I say, you pay a-one month. Then you say, no, two month. I say…”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Olivier said, raising his hand in surrender. “Quand poul ou tini ze, pas mette li dans canari.” (“When your hen is laying, don’t put her in the pot.”)

Although he could easily find fault with Dautrieve’s ethics, he secretly applauded the chef’s business acumen. Nevertheless, he wanted to appease this unruly Italian, not only to prevent a scene, but also to ensure his continued supply of mammoth oysters.

Fontana shrugged.

“We’ll pay you, we’ll pay you,” Olivier said. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “But first I want to know, where did you get these oysters?”

Fontana crossed his arms and eyed his interlocutor warily. “It a-secret.”

“Oh come on, Giuseppe,” Olivier said, laughing and slapping Fontana on the arm like an old pal. “Look at us. It’s not like we’re going to run out and steal your secret spot. I’m just curious.”

Fontana mulled it over. “I have a-small oyster lease. Off Lake Borgne. Where the Dalmatians no want to go. So I go. Lake Fortuna. In Italy, that a-mean ‘Fortune.'” They say, oyster there a-no good. I say, oyster there a-good. They say, oyster make a-you sick. I say, oyster no make a-you sick, oyster, make a-you strong. They say…”

Fontana’s words were like a boulder rolling downhill, quickly gaining unstoppable momentum. DeJoie realized he had to interrupt if he ever wanted him to shut up.

“Alright, alright, I’ll have my daughter cut you a check right away,” Olivier said.

Fontana stopped talking and looked at DeJoie as if he’d been deeply offended. DeJoie suddenly felt sorry that he’d interrupted because, seeing one of Fontana’s wrecking-ball fists raise in anger, he feared he was about to be punched. Instead, Fontana slammed his fist to the table. BAM!

“NO CUT,” he shouted.

“Excuse me,” Olivier said, having nearly fallen out of his seat.

“I need a-whole thing. Bank won’t take check if a-cut.”

“No, no, no, Giuseppe,” DeJoie said, laughing with relief. “That’s just a figure of speech. It means we’ll write you a check. My daughter Penelope will take care of it for you right now. Lucien, would you please go get her?”

“Sure, boss,” Dautrieve said, rising from his seat and disappearing into the kitchen.

Now that the two men were alone, Olivier searched for something to say. Fontana spoke for him.

“This a-lotta’ food,” he said.

Olivier looked over the table of food and sighed heavily. He picked up his cigar and took a drag and then another hit from his coffee cup, wincing from its potent jolt. “It’s tough work,” he said with the utmost sincerity.

“Ha, I want a-your job,” Fontana said.

“Be careful what you wish for, my boy,” Olivier said.

“I have a-my own restaurant one day,” Fontana said. “You see. I save a-money.” Fontana leaned forward and inspected the dish sitting in front of DeJoie.

“I’m sorry,” Olivier said. “How rude of me. I should have offered you some of this incredible food. Would you like some?”

Fontana scrunched his mouth into a frown.

“Why you eat rat?”

“Excuse me?”

“Swamp rat. Why you eat?” Fontana motioned toward the dish before DeJoie.

“No, no, no, this here is hippopotamus,” Olivier said. “Not swamp rat. DeJoie then spoke slowly. “Hippo potamus. River horse. You see.”

Fontana looked puzzled.

“In Greek, in Greek,” Olivier said. “Hippopotamus means river horse.”

Giuseppe brushed aside that explanation and pointed to the dish. “In English, it a-swamp rat. I know swamp rat when I see it. That a-swamp rat.”

“Don’t be silly, boy,” Olivier said. Testily, he cut into the meat and forked a piece into his mouth. “Man, that’s good. You sure you don’t want some?”

“No thanks. I stick to coffee,” Fontana said. He threw down a slug of dark liquid and began to cough. He looked at the liquid in his cup, then breathed in a whiff, recoiling from the alcohol vapors.

DeJoie’s chewing slowed as he went, and more and more, he just wasn’t sure what to think about the flesh filling his mouth. Regardless of the actual taste, he did not want to fathom the possibility of ingesting rodent. Finally, relieved, he was able to swallow and, without hesitation, was prepared to move on to the next dish. Perhaps he would rethink this wild game idea.

Once Fontana had resumed steady breathing, he leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. “Mister DeJoie. I gotta’ say, this coffee, it a-not very good.”

DeJoie laughed, then stopped. “Boy, don’t you know it’s Prohibition out there?”

“I don’t a-know Prohib-prohib…,” Giuseppe said. “All I know is a-this coffee stink.”

A beautiful young woman approached the table, followed by Dautrieve, who returned to his seat. Fontana bolted upright in his seat and suddenly looked petrified. This woman had the purest white skin Giuseppe Fontana had ever seen. Even though her brown hair was swept up into a bun, it only served to accentuate her sculpted cheekbones and gossamer neck. Not even the generous cut of her blouse and skirt could suppress the verdant promise of her womanly figure underneath. Fontana’s heart beat well up into his throat.

“You wanted to se me PaPa?” she said.

“Penelope, this is mister Fontana,” Olivier said.

“How do you do, sir,” she said, extending her hand politely.

“Is a-pleasure,” he said, shaking, taking great care not to break this fragile hand.

“Penelope, would you please check the ledger and cut, er, write mister Fontana a check for what we owe him?”

Fontana cast a concerned look at DeJoie. After all, a woman could not be trusted in handling business affairs. Was this the type of outfit he wanted to be doing business with?

“Don’t worry, Giuseppe” Olivier said. “She knows what she’s doing. She’s even got a college degree.” He turned to Dautrieve and spoke under his breath, “Now if we can just find her a husband.” The two men burst into laughter. “Bon lilit, bon menaze.” (Where there’s a good bed, there’s good housekeeping.) Olivier slapped Dautrieve on the arm with the back of his hand and the two men laughed even louder.

Fontana seemed to grow more unsettled.

“Come on, Giuseppe,” Olivier said. “She doesn’t bite. You want your money, don’t you?”

“Yes, please come with me, Mister Fontana,” Penelope said, placing her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll take good care of you, indeed.”

Penelope led Giuseppe through a labyrinth of hallways, past the kitchen and the prep crew, into the inner sanctum of the restaurant, a cramped wood-paneled office that housed a desk and a large safe. Clearing the threshold, she literally shoved Giuseppe into the room and slammed the door behind her, locking it with one hand, removing her hairpin with the other so her nut-brown tresses could drape over her shoulders.

“Oh Joey!”

“Oh PePe!”

They met in a passionate embrace, pressing their lips together for what seemed an eternity while their hands roamed frantically across their respective bodies. Penelope fumbled with the buttons of Giuseppe’s shirt, exposing the taut flesh of his rippled chest, which proved irresistible. She swept down and covered his torso with kisses, all the while struggling with his belt buckle in order to free the beast trapped in his pants.

“PePe,” Giuseppe said, as though trying to gain her attention. He pressed his palms against her shoulders as she lowered herself to his midsection. He applied the slightest pressure, hoping to slow her progress.

“PePe,” he said again with more urgency. But his protests were all for naught, as she ripped open his fly and thrust her hand into his boxer shorts. Like a dog that had just been stepped on, Giuseppe emitted a high-pitched squeal and jumped away.

“PePe,” he shouted. “No touch-y my cuccuzza.”

“What?” Penelope was down on her knees, huffing and puffing. She brushed back her hair so her face was visible as she looked up at her stud.

“My cuccuzza. No touch-y.”

Penelope looked as if she were just told she couldn’t ride her favorite pony.

“But why?”

“It a-sore.” Giuseppe delicately placed his hand over his nether region.


“Yes. My cuccuzza. It a-sore. From a-yesterday boom-boom. It a-too much.”

“But, but, I love your cuccuzza,” Penelope said, standing again and leaning close against him. She carefully reapplied pressure to his nether region in an attempt to coax a favorable response. “It’s the best cuccuzza I’ve ever had. It’s the only cuccuzza I’ve ever had.”

“I know it a-good cuccuzza, bambina,” he said. “But a-no today boom-boom.” Giuseppe pulled her closer and wrapped his arm around her shoulders for a hug, hoping this would slow her momentum. He’d never been with a white woman before. He never knew they had such insatiable sexual appetites. He wasn’t quite sure he was up to the task. But as a Sicilian, he had a reputation to uphold.

“No boom-boom?” she said, looking up into his eyes. “Joey, is there something wrong? Something else wrong?”

Giuseppe would not meet her eyes. Instead, he stared at he pattern on the wood paneling. Finally, he pushed her away and held her at arm’s length.

“When you gon’ a-tell your father about us?”

Penelope’s mouth dropped open in surprise.

“Is that what this is about? My father?”

“I don’t a-like to sneak around,” Giuseppe said. “I want a-his blessing.”

Penelope backed away and leaned on the desktop, lowering her head into her hand to contemplate this difficult decision. She looked back up to deliver the news.

“Joey, darling, it’s too soon.”

“What a-you mean ‘too soon’?” he said. “It a-been almos’ two month.”

“But he’s not ready yet.”

“What a-you mean ‘not ready’?” he said. “I jus’ meet him today. He good man. He got eating problem and his coffee no good. But he good man.”

“I know, I know, honey,” she said, grabbing his hands in hopes of settling him down. “But it’s complicated.”

“It not a-complicated,” he said. “It a-simple. You tell him about us and we get a-married.”


“Married,” he said. “We already commit a-big sin. We get a-married.”

“Oh Joey, my dearest,” Penelope said shaking her head, “You just need to be more patient. We can’t go rushing into something like marriage.”

Giuseppe seemed confused.

“But a-you go rushing into my pants,” he said. “You want a-my cuccuzza. Why you not want to get a-married?”

“Joey, it’s just…” Tears began to flow down her cheeks. Giuseppe could see her troubles ran deeper. His brow furrowed in anger as he gleaned her unspoken meaning. He raised an accusatory finger.

“You no think I good enough,” he said. “You think I a-poor, stinking Dago.”

Penelope lifted her head, visibly wounded.

“I do not.”

“I work a-hard,” he said. “I make a-good money. I am American like you.”

“I know, I know, sweetheart,” she said. “And I admire you for it. That’s why I l-, lo-, lov-, love…I love you. I love you.”

As the words came out, they were a revelation to the both of them, and their pain disappeared, replaced by a new spirit, set free like a white dove on a clear spring day. Giuseppe smiled wider than the time he caught a 17-pound speck at Eloi Bay.

“Really?” he said, placing his hands around her face and drawing her closer.

“Yes,” Penelope said, placing her hands atop his.

“And I love a-you too,” he said. “I love you.”

Again, they kissed, but this time it possessed an altogether new power. The power of love. And they sensed that, somehow, some way, this power would be able to span the vast gulf between their cultures and backgrounds. Somehow, love would conquer all.

“I show you,” Giuseppe said. “I make a-you proud,” he said. “Your father. He’ll give me his blessing. You’ll see.”

“Oh Joey,” she said. “I know he will. I know he will.”

They hugged again for a long, long time, until Giuseppe pushed her away and addressed her in a stern voice.

“Now a-give me my money.”