This is part of a serialized novel. Reading this chapter is not going to make much sense to you unless you’ve read what came before.
GO HERE to find the list of chapters.
They didn’t kill me, of course, but after a few hours, I have to admit, Jean, I began to wish they would just do it. Just kill me and put me out of my misery. They knocked me out and when I woke up, I was in some dark room, I don’t know where, but Georges Bergeron and Phillip Hereford were staring down at me. I was tied to a chair, and I’d already been beaten so badly that I could hardly open my eyes. They’d broken my hands a finger at a time, asking me who I’d spoken to, and I told them the truth every time. I told them that I hadn’t told nobody, not even you or your mama. I begged them to just kill me, but to leave my family alone. I swore to them that I wasn’t going to tell anybody nothing, not as long as I lived, and they had a good laugh at that. I thought they was going to kill me then, but instead, they just cut out my tongue.
I must have passed out from the pain, ’cause when I woke up again, every bit of me aching, and my mouth so dry it felt like it was full of sand, I was in a jail cell. I tried to speak, but could only make awful, beastly noises, and I became terribly aware of what had been done to me. It weren’t no nightmare. An officer came and tossed some water on me and laughed in disgust. I curled up on the floor and wept, making the most wretched sounds a man can make. I don’t know how long I cried for, but Chief Duchesne put a stop to my wailing by banging on the bars of my cell and yelling for me to get up.
I couldn’t stand properly — I don’t rightly remember the extent of my injuries, but I was beat pretty bad. I rolled over and looked up at him and struggled to sit up. Doc Ammon was with him, looking horrified. The Chief held a clipboard in his hand, and told me that they needed me to make a confession. I looked at my hands, twisted claws with pieces sticking this way and that, and almost laughed at the thought of me writing anything, even as simple as my name.
He sent the doctor into my cell, and he began poking at me and accessing the damage. He mentioned some broken ribs, and a bunch of soft tissue damage, and of course, the whole tongue situation. He began at resetting my hands and putting splints on my fingers, which was basically breaking them all over again, which was not nearly the most painful thing I’d been through that day. When the doc was wrapping tape around my chest, he whispered in my ear that he was sorry, and then he asked me if I’d seen his grandson, Jackie. I looked him in the eye and nodded sadly, and Doc Ammon nearly got choked up with tears, and my eyes went wide in alarm. I couldn’t have this man’s blood on my hands as well. I shook my head at him in the only warning I could manage. He seemed to get the idea, and steeled himself the best he could.
Chief Duchesne asked the doc if I was gonna live and the doc said that he reckoned I would, so long as I was left alone, and that I didn’t sustain any other injuries. The doc seemed like he was threatening the Chief, though it didn’t look to me like the Chief gave a shit. All he wanted was my signed confession. The doc helped me put a pen in my hand, and nodded at me.
“They’ll kill you if you don’t,” is what he told me when he handed me the confession papers, and I gave him a look that told him that I wished they would. He told me that they’d kill you and your mama, too, if I didn’t sign their papers saying I killed them girls. He promised me that he’d make sure you was safe, and that he’d take care of you both.
So, with the help of Doc Ammon holding my hand, I signed it. The doctor gave me something for all my pain, and I went to sleep.
Sometime later, I heard some woman screaming in hysterics. She was going on and on about her brother and her husband being monsters, and that she demanded to see ‘that poor man’. The poor man was me, of course, but I never in a million years expected Josephine Bergeron to be coming to my defense. She was screaming that she had killed the girls, that she worshiped the devil and was a witch, and that they’d got the wrong person. She was screaming about how she could tell them all the names of the other witches in her coven when suddenly she stopped screaming altogether and I’m pretty sure I heard her head hit the floor with a thunk.
I understand that Josephine Bergeron disappeared after that, though of course, I only heard about it months after the fact, when your mother was finally allowed to come visit me, making the long trip up to Angola where I would spend the rest of my life awaiting execution.
Ten years I spent in Louisiana State Penitentiary. Ten years of me keeping silent, not so much as writing down the names of those who put me here. Visits from you and your mama meant so much to me. I know you’re angry, and you don’t understand. I hope that when you read this someday that you’ll know that I was always trying to protect you. I wish I’d never stumbled on to the horrible things going on in Bayou Bonhomme. I ‘spect my daddy felt the same way, and he didn’t know the half of it.
I am not sure how to feel about you and your mama staying in Bayou Bonhomme. Part of me is proud that you didn’t let yourselves be driven away, and I know that I have the Ammons and the Gillettes to thank for that. Your mama says that you and Josie Gillette have become like brother and sister. That makes my heart glad, son. Your mama and I always wanted other kids of our own, but it just dint work out that way.
I ain’t got much time. The nurse who comes to check in on me has the rotten luck of having the last name Duchesne. A common enough name ’round these parts, sure, but it was once also Marie Hereford’s last name, and I can’t be too careful not to let this book fall into the wrong hands.
I didn’t have any idea why they came for me now, after all the years, but it seems they can get anywhere. Of course they can. These folks is richer than the devil and just as powerful. My cell opened in the middle of the night and four men in white hoods grabbed me, wrapped a blanket around my neck and threw me over the side of the walkway. I would have strangled to death if it weren’t for a tear in the bedsheet. I was nearly blacked out when the damn thing tore, sending me falling from the second tier to the floor of the prison, breaking one of my legs.
I woke up with your mother standing over me, lying in a hospital with an IV drip in my arm, handcuffed to the bed rail.
She told me that Phillip Hereford was dead, and I glared at her. I wanted to scream at her to not even speak his name. I motioned to the guard for something to write with, and he passed me my pad of paper and a ballpoint pen. I wrote your mother a quick note, asking for my Daddy’s book. I said I wanted something to read.
She knew my Daddy’s book wasn’t for reading. We’d already read it together, having shared in the same childhood tragedy. She understood what I meant, and made sure that when she came back to visit, she not only had my Daddy’s journal, a copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The picture of the giant squid on the cover gave me nightmares last night, and I couldn’t sleep, so I started writing this.
I love you, Melissande. I love you Jean-Baptiste. I am sorry I could not save you from Bayou Bonhomme. I would gladly give me life to protect yours. I’m afraid that the time may have come to fulfill that promise.
Please, Melissande, keep this safe, and give it to Jean-Baptiste when you see fit. I love you always.
There was no more. Oscar turned his attention back to the news story announcing Mathieu’s death. He wondered about the timing of Philip Hereford’s death, and what the cause was. He searched through the clippings looking for an obituary, but found none.
The door to the motel slammed shut and Oscar’s daughter Celine came in, sounding annoyed.
“Mom’s passed out in the car,” she sighed. “Are you ready to go… wherever we’re going?”
Oscar thought he was. He would have to look into Philip Hereford later.
“Yeah,” he said, only half paying attention to her. “Here, sugar, put this bag in the car for me, I just have to gather up a couple of things and we’ll be on our way.”
The Chief threw the newspaper clippings back into the carved wooden box and placed the journal carefully on top. He gave the room a once over and then picked up the box and headed out to the car.
“So where are we going?” Celine asked from the back seat. “And do I have any say in the matter?”
Oscar smiled. “You actually made the decision for us.”
“Me?” She asked, confused. “What did I do? Where are we going?”
“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go,” Oscar sang, strangely happy with himself for being so clever.
“Grandmere’s! Why are we going all the way up to Greensburg?”
“Because,” Oscar grinned. “That’s just where I told that little sonovabitch where we were going, and now that he knows we didn’t go there, it’s the last place on earth that they’d look.”
Celine growled and threw herself back in her seat in a temper.
“Ugh! I hate you!”
Oscar thought about Amie LeBeau, and how he’d been too late to save her, how, even though he’d warned her, he couldn’t help but think that he could have done more.
“Yeah,” he replied to his petulant daughter, “I hate me, too, cher.”