Leroy pounded on Marla’s door, tears of panic in his eyes.
“Marla!” He called out, feeling a bit like Stanley Kowalski from that movie with Marlon Brando in it. “Hey Marla!”
“Okay,” he said to himself, and sat down on her step for a minute to catch his breath, having run all the way from the bayou. “Okay, she’s not here. Maybe she’s with Mel — seems like those two was up to old tricks. Don’t mean nothing that she ain’t here.”
“Who are you talking to?”
Leroy turned to see a very annoyed looking Colette Bergeron shining a flashlight in his face.
“Missus Bergeron,” Leroy said, and then fumbled for something to say.
“What the hell are you doing pounding on my daughter’s door in the middle of the night?”
Mrs. Bergeron kept the flashlight in place, and Leroy raised his hand against the glare.
“I’m looking for Marla,” he said.
“Well, obviously,” the woman sighed. “I could hear you screaming down the street. You woke me up. Is this a police matter?”
“No, ma’am,” Leroy said, and then reconsidered. “Well, maybe. Maybe it is.”
“Well? What is it?”
Leroy rubbed the back of his neck, a nervous gesture that made him terrible at poker.
“I just really need to make sure Marla’s all right.”
It was the wrong thing to say, and he knew it as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
“Why?” She demanded. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Leroy backpedaled. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Dammit, Leroy, if my daughter’s in some sort of trouble — enough trouble for you to be pounding on her door at three o’clock in the morning, then I want to know about it.”
“And I’d tell you if I knew something for sure, cher,” Leroy tried to assure her.
“Don’t cher me,” Colette scowled.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Leroy whispered. Marla’s mother was an intimidating woman. Not as intimidating as Olivia Hereford, but close. “Do you know where she could be.”
“Of course, you stupid man,” she nearly laughed. “I know as well as you do where she’s been bedding down. Why you came here in the first place is beyond me.”
“Mel’s,” Leroy thought out loud.
“Yes,” she said with a hint of distaste. “Now if you’ll kindly move along. And keep it down, will you? Some of us are trying to sleep.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Leroy said, biting his tongue.
“And Leroy,” Colette called after him gently. “If you don’t find her, please come and find me, you hear?”
“Of course,” Leroy said, though he thought that he would do no such thing. If he couldn’t find Marla, he would likely be on his way out of town before the sun rose.
Marla woke from a dream of being drowned. A voice she knew too well echoed in her mind, a remnant from her nightmare.
You are mine, it said, but not menacingly. It spoke in her mind like the whisper of a lover engaging in post-coital pillow talk. Sometimes she found herself responding, and part of her ached with longing. Other times, like that particular moment, she shuddered with revulsion and terror. She sat up in bed, trying not to disturb her sleeping partner, and pulled her knees to her chest. She bit down on her knee hard enough to break the skin and cried. It had taken nearly an hour for her to calm down, and to convince Mel that she was going to be okay. She’d been doubled over in pain. They could see the fire, and Marla knew immediately what was burning. Mel told her to go help, but Marla had shaken her head and held her lover’s hair as she threw up. She spent the better part of the night assuring Mel that she wasn’t going to leave her; that she felt fine.
She wondered how much C’thuN’Chuk knew about her. How could the creature have this pull over her? It got into her mind; into her dreams — could it read her mind? Did it know that she had lost her faith? She wondered if she was in danger.
She lit a cigarette, and breathed the smoke in deeply, feeling lightheaded. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her mind.
She thought she heard someone calling her name in a harsh whisper, and tried to shut it out.
A knock came at the door — hesitant, but loud enough to hear.
There was someone there, calling her name. She crushed her cigarette and grabbed a t-shirt, throwing it on quickly as she fumbled her way in the dark down the stairs.
“Marla!” The voice called again, a little louder this time.
“Who is it?” Marla called, her ear against the door.
“Leroy,” he answered, and Marla opened the door a crack and scowled out at him, looking very much her mother’s daughter.
“What the fuck are you doing coming here in the middle of the night?” She barked. “You scared the shit out of me!”
Leroy looked at his feet and tried to hide his smile of relief.
“Well?” She asked, exasperated.
Leroy hadn’t thought about what he was going to say if he did find Marla. He hadn’t had time to think.
“I, uh, well, you know,” he stammered.
“No,” she shook her head angrily. “No, I don’t know.”
“The, uh, fire.” Leroy said. It seemed as good an answer as anything.
Marla opened the door a bit further and thrust her head through the opening so she could better get in the man’s face.
“Are you serious?” She whispered. “You came here in the middle of the night to make sure I wasn’t going to say anything about the fire? Are you drunk or something?”
Leroy took advantage of her suggestion and gave her a guilty grin.
“I ‘ad to work up de courage, cher,” he said, wishing he were drunk at that moment.
She sighed. “Go home, Leroy. I’m not going to say anything. Just go home and sleep it off. I’ll be by tomorrow, of course. There’ll be an investigation.”
“It was vandals,” Leroy suggested. “Or an accident.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Marla said, losing patience. “But please leave, before somebody sees you.”
“Of course, cher,” Leroy said, and gave her an exaggerated smile.
“Oh, and Leroy,” Marla added, and Leroy raised an eyebrow. “Don’t call me cher.”
Marla knocked on Leroy’s door, and the man groaned. The sunlight coming through his window was like daggers in his head, and his whole body ached, the result of terrible muscle spasms the night before.
“I’m comin’, I’m comin,” he said, and stumbled out of bed, still wearing his wet clothes from the night before. His house smelled like the swamp.
Opening the door, he invited her in. She was dressed in uniform, her gun at her hip, her long red hair tied back tightly. She was carrying two cups of black coffee in a tray, and Leroy could smell hot biscuits, which she carried in a brown paper bag.
“I brought some breakfast,” she said congenially. “I need to get a statement from you. My mother says she saw you last night at around 3:15 — shortly before you and I spoke. That’s good. We can say that you were coming to me about the fire, maybe say that you thought you saw someone breaking in to your shack. With what happened earlier yesterday, I think we can sell the idea that someone had a grudge against you and went back to finish the job they started when they broke in earlier in the day.”
Leroy nodded, but didn’t say anything. His hands were clenching and relaxing, clenching and relaxing, and his heart was pounding in his chest. He remembered having his hands around this woman’s throat not twenty-four hours earlier, and how good it felt. He hadn’t been in control of himself, but he remembered every second of it, and the memory excited him.
“Did you come by yourself?” Leroy asked, motioning to the door.
“Yes, of course,” Marla replied, with a look that said that she wasn’t stupid.
Leroy nodded in acknowledgement, and then stood up to get some cream from the kitchen. On his way back from the kitchen, he noticed something out of place. Some weird looking statue on his only bookshelf. His momma used to collect all sorts of weird things, but he didn’t remember ever seeing this thing before, and isn’t that strange? Living in a place and not knowing every inch of it. Whatever it was supposed to be, it was a damned ugly thing. Looked heavy.
Without really thinking about what he was doing, Leroy picked the statue up, and hit Marla over the back of the head with it. It was heavy, and after he hit her with it a second and then a third time, she collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
Leroy looked at the statue — a strange, almost Indian looking thing with twisted features and appendages sticking this way and that. One of the sharp edges was coated with Marla’s blood. He stuck out his tongue and licked it clean, then went off to draw a bath.
Leroy came back out to his living room and pulled the gun out of Marla’s holder, tucking it into the back of his damp jeans. Then he grabbed her under the arms and dragged her to his bathroom, propping her up against the tub. Stepping into the tub himself, he lifted her up and into the water. Her eyes popped open and she started beating at Leroy’s chest. He jumped on top of her and knelt on her chest, holding her under the water with the full weight of his body.
“You are mine,” Leroy said in a voice not his own. He wrapped his hands around her throat and squeezed, holding her head under.
Marla screamed under water once, twice, three times, and then her eyes went dead, and her arms stopped flailing.
A knock came at the door, and Leroy jerked awake with a startled shout, and looked down at his hands. He was in the bathtub, fully clothed, and the water was running. But he was alone. The water was spilling out of the tub on to the floor, spilling all the way out of the bathroom and into the hall.
“Leroy!” Marla’s voice called from outside his front door. “Is everything all right in there?”
Leroy had no idea how to answer that question.
“Ah, doan come in ‘ere just yet, cher!” He called, pulling the plug and standing up. The water spiraled down the drain, making an obscene chortling, bubbling noise that sounded like mocking laughter.
“Is something wrong?”
Leroy laughed nervously. “No, cher, nothing’s wrong, it’s just I ain’t dressed yet.”
This was partially true. He was dressed, but his clothes were soaking wet and smelled like the bayou.
Leroy threw some towels and the floor and quickly changed his clothes.
Opening the door, he saw Marla staring back at him with bewilderment. The sun was shining behind her radiantly, making her look like an angel there for judgement. She was dressed in her uniform, her long red hair pulled back tightly. Her hands were empty except for a clipboard and a pen.
“I thought we could get a statement together,” she began, and Leroy pushed her gently out the door.
“You didn’t think to bring breakfast?”
“Leroy, we really need to…”
“Oui, cher, but not ‘ere, okay? Let’s go get us some biscuits and some o’ dat fine coffee Mel brews, and we can talk about whatever you like.”
Marla sighed. “Fine.”