This is part of a serialized story that takes place in the Louisiana Bayou. It’s full of murder, monsters and intrigue, and if you want to familiarize yourself with this world you can read all about it here.
This scene opens immediately after last week’s tale, which ended with the revelation that Old Jean-Baptiste Levesque had been found brutally murdered.
By the time that Chief Blanchette and Leroy arrived at the scene, Marla had recovered herself enough to be keeping any gawkers away from Jean-Baptiste’s house. She’d called the Chief away from his breakfast, where he was trying to rid himself of an awful hangover, to tell him that the old man, who was sort of the unofficial keeper of the town’s history, had been killed most horribly. She’d dispersed the crowd that had gathered with threats of arrest for obstruction, and that had been convincing enough to clear away the ghouls. All except one, it turned out. Oscar spat a string of curses in both English and French as he watched a familiar red-haired woman try to sneak out the old man’s back door.
“Marla, goddammit!” he yelled. “Stop her!”
The distraught woman looked at the Chief with an unspoken Who? Apparently she wasn’t aware of the intruder on her crime scene.
“Amie Fucking LeBeau, that’s who! ‘Round the back of the house, you bonne a rienne! Go get ‘er and bring ‘er ’round to me! Merde!”
Leroy and the Chief approached the house with trepidation, not knowing what exactly to expect, but fearing that the scene would be sickly familiar to them both. What they found would open all kinds of old wounds and would leave them both sleepless for many nights afterward.
The two men ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and were assaulted by the smell of blood and shit. It was only mid-morning, but the Levesque home sat facing East, because Jean-Baptiste’s daddy had loved to watch the sunrise, a tradition he passed on to his son. Because of that placement, the late summer sun had been heating up the old man’s small house for a good three hours already. Another couple of hours and the place would be near toxic.
“Kee-rist, Oscar,” Leroy whistled under his breath, whispering as if someone might hear him. “This is a bad ting, yeah?”
The Chief took in the scene in the dead man’s house. It wasn’t carnage, exactly, but it wasn’t clean, either. If you wanted to kill somebody in the middle of the night and get away with it, you smothered them with a pillow or you slipped something into their drink. This was something else.
“Yeah,” the fat man agreed, “this some bad joujou, dat for sure.”
The place had been ransacked, as if the culprit — or culprits — had been looking for something. The Chief wondered if they’d found what they were looking for, and prayed that they didn’t. Jean-Baptiste himself had been nailed to the wall — crucified, in fact. Then whoever had done this had flayed him open like a frog in Biology class and scooped out most of his insides. They must have taken his guts with them, because there wasn’t anything lying around the house. It wasn’t surgical, it was savage, and Oscar only hoped that the man had been dead long before they desecrated his body like this. His mouth was open in a soundless scream, but his tongue was missing and his eye sockets were sunken in, as they’d taken his eyes with them as well. Oscar was sickened, and held a sweaty bandanna over his mouth and nose and was taking slow, controlled, shallow breaths to keep himself from vomiting or passing out. The terror he felt was not only because of what happened to Jean-Baptiste, who he’d always liked, but rather, because he’d seen this ritual — if that’s what it was — before.
“Just like Mel’s dad,” Leroy said, breaking the silence by voicing what they’d both been thinking.
The Chief glared at him. “I thought all this was done. I truly did.”
“So did I, mon ami,” Leroy said absently.
A voice from behind them startled them both. It was Marla, and she was still pretty shaken up from the scene, but now she was angry as well.
“Chief, I got Amie LeBeau out here insisting on talking to you. She says she ain’t leavin’ ’til you do.”
Ordinarily the Chief would have stormed out and threatened to arrest the nosy newswoman, but he was in a delicate situation, and his good sense told him that it might be best to at least find out what exactly the woman had, and what she was planning on doing with it. And so he swallowed all the nasty things that he wanted to say to her as he walked out on Jean-Baptiste’s porch and saw her standing with her hands on her hips, glaring up at him accusingly. Instead, he wagged his finger at her as if chastising a naughty child.
“Ah, cher,” he said condescendingly, “you been pokin’ your nose in too far dis time, I tink. Dis ‘ere’s a crime scene, darling, and you got no right trespassin’ in here.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Chief,” the woman said smoothly. “I just came by to have a morning coffee with Mr. Levesque, and found him… like that.”
Amie had been crying, herself, and that eased the Chief’s mind a little. She was human, after all, and not just some carrion bird.
“I want your camera, cher,” the Chief said sternly. “Ain’t nobody else needs to see what was done in dere.”
“Sure thing,” Amie said easily, and handed her digital camera into the Chief’s meaty hands. “Just don’t break it, or I’ll expect you to buy me a new one, y’hear.”
Chief Blanchette turned the camera over in his hands, knowing full well that what he’d been handed was useless.
“And the memory card?” He asked.
Amie shrugged. “Must’ve gotten lost when your officer was dragging me back here.”
Oscar looked at the woman pleadingly. “Walk with me.”
Oscar left Leroy standing on the porch and hooked his arm out and offered it to Amie LeBeau like they were old sweethearts and not at odds with each other. Amie looked at him an laughed nervously for a second — she had a tendency to laugh inappropriately in the face of death — a trait that had embarrassed her mother to no end at her father’s funeral. After a moment more of consideration, she placed her hand in the crook of his arm and allowed herself to be led along the side of Jean-Baptiste’s old house for a more private conversation.
When Oscar was sure they were out of earshot, he looked at the woman with tired eyes and pleaded: “Amie, you can’t publish anything about this. You can’t.”
“Why not, Chief? So you can tell everyone that some rogue gator killed old man Levesque?”
The Chief grimaced bitterly. At the end of the summer of ’98, he and Leroy had gone out and found the biggest gator they could, and when they dragged its corpse back to town and cut it open, well, what did they find but scraps of partially digested clothes, and a hand that was still wearing a big gaudy tiger-eye ring that everyone in town could identify as the kind that Mel Cayce always wore. The Chief made sure that Amie LeBeau took lots of pictures of that, and even gave her a bullshit statement about how they’d found a nest with other signs that pointed to the gator as the cause of all the troubles they’d had that summer. She’d written a big piece in the Gazette with the caption REAL SWAMP MONSTER CAPTURED? with that damned question mark again that suggested that she didn’t believe a word of what she’d written — or rather, that she’d been manipulated into writing — but then the disappearances stopped, and so people got on with their lives, and were happy for any explanation, however implausible. He’d used her to help clean up his mess, and he’d never once felt guilty about that part of it until just now.
“Rogue gator’s gone, cher, you know dat,” the Chief said, suddenly feeling sick again. “This is… something else.”
“There’s something going on in this town, Chief, and I’m going to find out what. And if you have anything to do with it, you can bet your fat ass that I won’t hesitate to expose you, too.”
“What, are you writing a book, or something?” the Chief asked jokingly.
Amie didn’t find his tone amusing. “As a matter of fact I am. I’ve been compiling all the information I can about just exactly what’s been going on in this town, and specifically what really happened to fourteen children from this parish in the summer of ’98. Who or what killed those kids, Chief? It sure as hell weren’t no rogue gator. And now it looks like the killer’s still out there. Did the same people kill Elmer Cayce? And then fed him to the gators?”
“I don’t have the answers you’re looking for,cher,” Oscar said, shaking his head sadly.
“I think you do,” Amie replied, poking his ample chest with a pointed finger. “And I think that if I dug a little deeper into Darrell Duchesne I’d find even more answers. What do you think, Oscar? Maybe I ought to go have a cup of coffee with Jolene to get what I’m looking for. How does she take her coffee in the morning, Chief?”
“You leave dat woman alone, y’hear,” Oscar growled.
“You expect me to believe that everything stopped after Darrell Duchesne’s house burned to the ground, but that he had nothing to do with it? Truth will out, Chief. My momma always said so, and she was right. Sooner or later, all the secrets rise out of the swamp, and truth will out.”
Oscar looked at the woman in fear and anger, and not all of that fear just for himself, likewise not all of that anger directed at her. He walked her a bit further away from the house and lowered his voice.
“If you’re so sure that something or someone around here is killin’ folks and then coverin’ it up, cher, then why, for the love of god, would you risk writing about it? Don’t you see?Jean-Baptiste was an old man, cher, and dey done crucified him. What harm can an old man do, I tink. But yet, dey killed him just the same. Now, I don’t like you, dat’s clear. Let’s not bullshit each other. But I’m scared for you, cher. I don’t wanna be pullin’ your body offa no wall, y’hear?”
“You’re scared,” the woman stated plainly. It was a cold accusation, not contempt.
“Damn right, I’m scared, you silly bitch! And so should you be!”
“Don’t you worry about me, Oscar,” she said with a confident smile. “I can look after myself.”
But the next time he saw her she was missing her eyes, among other things.