This is part of a serialized story set in the Louisiana Bayou. If you haven’t been reading it, you may want to go here and catch up. This story takes place a couple of weeks after Jimmy Singleton’s body was found.
Oscar Blanchette sat at a table in the corner of Mel’s and stirred a cup of chicory coffee. He was nursing a hangover that would have kept anyone else in bed, but with the case of the dead Singleton boy still technically unsolved (though Oscar had some unspoken ideas on that front) the Chief couldn’t be taking any time off. The burden of responsibility fell on his ample shoulders.
To top it off, Jolene had given him one hell of a knock on the head when he finally told her the truth of what happened to her late husband back in the strange summer of ’98, and he was sporting a shiner the likes of which he hadn’t had since his boxing days. All things considered, he was thankful to have forgotten what it felt like to have his head beaten on. He’d meant to tell her on the night that they pulled little Jimmy’s body out of the bayou, but he’d gotten distracted by her peach pie and other charms, and had spent the last couple of weeks finding solace between her thighs while he worked up the nerve to tell her what he’d been keeping from her for nearly fifteen years.
Oscar hadn’t told Jolene the details – he didn’t have it in him to talk about that if he didn’t absolutely have to – but he told her enough, and she was so infuriated that she grabbed a lamp off the nightstand and bashed it across his head.
In retrospect, Oscar thought, perhaps he shouldn’t have told her those things while he was still inside of her.
The door to Mel’s opened, and with it came harsh morning sunlight and the jangling of bells, which sounded to the Chief like gongs from hell. He winced and rubbed his temples with his fingers. He sipped his chicory coffee and then spit it out distastefully.
“Mel!” He called, annoyed. “Mel, don’t you have any real goddamn coffee?”
“Take it easy, Chief,” Mel replied. She’d nursed the fat man through many hangovers, and had grown accustomed to his impatience. “I thought all you Cajuns loved that chicory shit.”
“Merde,” the Chief grumbled. “You got dat right, cher.”
Mel replaced Chief Blanchette’s chicory with a cup of coffee and a glass of tomato juice, and asked him if he wanted some eggs or something.
“Nah,” the Chief muttered. “I’m sorry, cher. I doan mean to be a prick. Got me a headache like nobody’s business.”
The door opened again and the last person Oscar wanted to see walked in and immediately made his way over to his table and sat down across from him.
“I’ll have some eggs, Mel,” Leroy Angell said cheerfully. “And some o’ those biscuits of yours if they’re hot and fresh. Maybe some sausage, too. I’m powerful hungry this morning, I tell you.”
“You want some coffee with that, Leroy?” Mel asked, not looking at him.
“Just a cup o’ chicory for me, cher,” Leroy said, and winked at her as she walked away.
“You know,” Leroy said to Oscar, “I don’t think she likes me.”
Oscar grunted something unintelligible, and nursed his tomato juice. Leroy took a good look at the Chief and grinned in pleasure at the man’s misfortune. The Germans had a great word for what Leroy was feeling, but he couldn’t rightly remember what that was right now. He just kept grinning across the table at the man with whom he shared the darkest of secrets. That didn’t make them friends, exactly, but there was certainly a bond there that wouldn’t soon be broken.
“Luanne?” Leroy asked, and pointed at the ugly purple and yellow contusion over Oscar’s left eye.
Oscar coughed and shook his head miserably.
“Jolene, then?” Leroy ventured, and gave a little chuckle as Oscar’s eye widened with irritated surprise.
“You know too much, you,” Oscar sighed, and sat back, looking Leroy sternly in the eyes. “You know anything else I need to know? Something you might want to share with the Chief of Police?”
The light went out of Leroy’s eyes. He hadn’t come to talk about Chuck, but apparently the Chief didn’t have the patience to play poker with him this morning. He’d put all the cards right out on the table.
“He says it wasn’t him,” Leroy said, dropping his voice. “Or her… or whatever.”
Oscar winced, remembering the throbbing pain in his head – far worse than any hangover – that he felt in the presence of the thing that lived in the bayou. The report that Chuck – whatever Chuck was – claimed it had nothing to do with the Singleton boy’s death didn’t make him feel any better. If anything, it might have been easier for him if the monster had confessed to the murder. As it was, it meant that there was still a monster out there, and Oscar reckoned he’d only just begun.
“What would you say about me deputizing you, Leroy?” the Chief asked suddenly. He didn’t even realize he was going to ask, but now that it was out there, part of him regretted it and another part saw the merit in it; would be grateful for the help.
Leroy chuckled out loud, and his caws of laughter made the Chief grimace in pain and anger.
“I doan tink that’s such a good idea, Chief,” Leroy said. “People ‘round here doan like me too much. I doan tink dey’ll be talkin’ dey secrets to the likes o’ me.”
Leroy was laying on the Cajun a little too thick, and the Chief got the feeling that he was being made fun of.
“People don’t like you,” the Chief replied, gritting his teeth in disgust, “but they trust you. They trust you enough to eat that shit you serve.”
Leroy blanched. There were some things that they just didn’t talk about. Leroy’s barbecue was one of those things.
“You know why they keep coming back, you fat fuck!” Leroy barked, turning red in the face.
“Yeah,” the Chief said, grinning now that he’d turned the tables on the other man. “Yeah I do. And wouldn’t the Health Inspector just love to hear about dat?”
Leroy almost laughed out loud, but instead just gave a low chuckle. He knew the Chief was winding him up.
“Well, you know, Chief,” Leroy said with a sly grin, “Health Inspectors is hungry and underpaid. Just like you, I tink, eh?”
With this, Leroy produced and envelope of money from his pocket and slid it across the table.
“I tink dis is what you’re looking for here, yeah? I tink you’re making out just fine off of my barbecue.”
The Chief scowled and pocketed the envelope quickly.
There was a bitter silence between the two men. Mel came and went, leaving Leroy’s breakfast and scowling at the both of them for fighting in her place, where other customers could hear them.
“Seriously, though,” Oscar asked, “you ever eaten it?”
Leroy nodded. “Once,” he said, and then hesitated. “And once was enough. I craved it for weeks afterward. I ain’t never had a jones for anything that bad in my whole life, and that’s how I knew I couldn’t never touch the stuff again.”
“Yet you serve it up to anyone with a dollar,” the Chief remarked.
“And it doan do you no harm, Oscar,” Leroy replied. “It’s delicious, and that’s all anyone needs to know. If anyone’s ever suspected that they’re addicted, why, no one’s ever complained. People line up to buy cigarettes every day, and I don’t see you tryin’ to shut down tobacco farms.”
“That’s different,” Oscar replied, and hunkered down close to the table so he could lower his voice to hushed tones and still be understood. “People know what they’re getting into with that. We don’t even know what the hell Chuck is, and here you are cooking up his babies and feeding them to the townfolk!”
“Hey!” Leroy exclaimed, dropping his voice to a harsh whisper. “You shut the hell up about that Oscar Blanchette! You think I had a choice in the matter? That freak practically begged me to take them. And then it threatened me! What was I supposed to do? You’ve felt what that thing does to your mind, you know…”
Oscar’s radio squawked and cut off Leroy before he could justify his actions fully.
“Chief Blanchette, come in,” the voice of one of his officers called.
Oscar held an angry finger up to Leroy and answered the call.
“This is the Chief, Marla, what’s up?”
“Uh, Chief, you better get down here,” the young woman said, sounding queasy and nervous. Oscar’s stomach rolled and threatened to be sick.
“Calm down, Marla,” the Chief said, trying to take charge of both himself and the situation. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Mister Levesque, Chief,” Marla said. “He’s…”
Oh God, Oscar thought, not Jean-Baptiste…
“What’s going on, Marla?” he asked again, this time a little more harshly.
“He’s dead, sir,” she replied, and sounded a bit sick. “He’s dead, but it ain’t right, Chief. You gotta come see this. It aint’ right.”
Oscar looked across the table at Leroy, who was already fishing a couple of bills out of his wallet and throwing them on the table.
“You coming, then?” he asked. The Chief nodded and swallowed back the urge to vomit. He hated being right about this, but he was.
It was all beginning again.