September 7, 1977 (later)
I wanted to put down my pen for the night, but I can’t, not while the story’s still fresh in my mind. Besides, I ain’t slept right since then, and every time I try to close my eyes I see Martin’s face. How it was before, and what was left of it after.
Let me just begin by sayin’ that for a car that damned big, there really ain’t a whole lot of room in the back seat of a Cadillac Eldorado. Martin and I were slumped in the back like a couple a’ soggy hounds, listenin’ to Stephen Hereford tell us all about him losin’ his faith and trying to do the right thing.
“Richard sold you out,” he said, frantically looking around and checking his mirrors every five seconds. “They’re coming for you, Martin. I’m so sorry.”
Martin mumbled something in French, I didn’t catch it.
“I’m going to do what I can,” Stephen said, “but I’ve got to get you out of town — right now.”
“Ma femme,” Martin pleaded weakly. “Mon fils.”
“I’ll see to your family after I get you out of town,” he promised, but I caught of glimpse of his eyes in the rear view mirror, and they were the eyes of a man who don’t exactly believe what he’s saying.
“Let me out,” I told him. “Let me out, dammit! Stop the car!”
Stephen slammed on the brakes and opened his door. I looked at Martin and grabbed his hand.
“I’ll take care of your family, mon ami,” I said gravely. I intended to keep that promise.
“What about you?” he asked.
“They don’t want him,” Stephen said, his voice straining with panic. “They either don’t know or don’t care — I don’t know which. Olivia hates you, Jean, I know that much, but she’s also given strict orders that you’re not to be touched. I don’t know why — it’s like maybe she’s saving you for something.”
I didn’t like the sound of that, I’ll tell you.
“I’m sorry,” Stephen said, looking at me with pity. I couldn’t even tell you what he was apologizing for — there was far too many possibilities, this latest revelation being only one of them. “Now go! Go take care of Martin’s family. I’ll get him out of town, and when I can, I’ll contact you.”
I stood on the side of the road facing away from Bayou Bonhomme and watched them drive off. I never saw either one of them alive again, and I didn’t know until just recently exactly what happened.
Leaving Celine to watch over her mother, Oscar had gone to see his mother, figuring that he might not get another chance. He hadn’t known what to say her. He had the feeling that it was good-bye, but he hadn’t wanted to upset her, so instead, they talked about the news, and the weather, and the rotten food they served at the home. She asked after Jean-Baptiste, and Oscar had told her that he’d passed away in his sleep.
“Oh, well, that’s the way to go,” she’d said. “What a sweet old man. Your father and he were fast friends. Where is your father, Oscar?”
Oscar had sighed. His mother had, in her own way, been another victim of that terrible summer in ’98. His father had been shot and killed during a a domestic disturbance call — the people of Bayou Bonhomme had been tearing each other apart for weeks, and Oscar’s father hadn’t been the only police casualty.
His mother had lost her mind alongside her husband, and Oscar had essentially been orphaned. It was hard not to see the patterns and parallels through the years as he read through the Levesques’ journal.
“Papa’s been gone for some time now, Mama,” he’d told her patiently.
Now, sitting beside Luanne as she continued to sleep and heal, he wished he’d had the courage to say good-bye. It would have to be enough that he got to see her one more time before the end.
September 8, 1977
Those little bastards tried to leave me another present this morning, like they been doin’ all summer long. I was ready for them this time, though. I was waitin’ for ’em right at my front door, sittin’ on my chair and listenin’ for the creak of that one board that never fails. When the inevitable creak came, I opened the door and shoved my twelve gauge right in the face of a little boy holding a gutted raccoon.
“What’s your name, boy?” I demanded, holding the shotgun steady.
“Gilles,” he said defiantly. The boy’s steely glare was unnerving. “Gilles Duchesne.”
“And how old are you?”
“I’m ten years old,” he said, and then spat at me.
“Old enough to know better,” I said. “Old enough to learn your lesson.”
Then I pulled that goddamned trigger and unloaded two barrels of rock salt into the boy’s chest, sending him flying off my porch and into the weeds. His little brother must’ve been hidin’ around the bend, ’cause he went off like a siren, wailing and screaming and running home. Me, I broke open my shotgun, dumped the shells and went inside and called the police.
“Oh, merde!” Oscar exclaimed, eliciting an annoyed shushing noise from one of the nurses. He hadn’t known Jean-Baptiste to ever be violent. Still, the thought of him getting one over on those Duchesnes brought a smile to his lips. When he’d discovered Darrel’s abbattoir, he’d looked into Gilles as well, but couldn’t find anything on the older brother. But that had never sat well with Oscar, and he’d always wondered about the man. If anyone was involved with Olivia Hereford’s murdering bunch, Oscar had good money on Bayou Bonhomme’s butcher.
September 9, 1977
I am under house arrest, can you believe it? I should’ve known better, I know, I know, but damn if the look on that little fucker’s face when I pulled that trigger wasn’t the highlight of my day. Hell, the highlight of my summer.
The boy’ll be fine. He’ll be terrible sore for some time — cracked ribs are a bitch — but he’ll live. And he won’t forget.
Of course, I should’ve known that Chief DuBois wasn’t gonna take kindly to anything I done. Josie told me that he was there that day. For all I know, it was Chief DuBois that done put poor Martin’s severed head on my coffee table. Josie didn’t know the details of what happened after they’d stopped Martin and Stephen on the road. As for me, other than his head, I never even saw Martin’s corpse. I couldn’t even tell his poor wife that he was dead. I pleaded ignorance, and let her believe that he’d skipped town. I done my best, and will continue to do my best to be a friend to the Angells. That little boy is going to grow up without a daddy, but I’ll be damned if he grows up knowin’ that they killed him — that they, in all likelihood, fed his daddy to that thing out in the swamp. No, I’d rather have him hate his daddy for running out on them than have him grow up with revenge in his heart. I won’t have him grow up like me. It’s cruel, maybe, but it will keep him alive — and maybe one day he’ll even get out of this cursed town.
Josie came by about two weeks ago, near the end of August, I guess — and told me again that I should leave town. ‘Course, by then, everything was over. You could feel it around town, like everyone had been holding their breath all together, and suddenly, everyone exhaled, like a collective sigh. I asked her why I shouldn’t stay — after all, all my friends were here. She didn’t think that was too funny, and now that I think about it, it really ain’t.
She told me that they stopped Stephen on the road out of town. Her, Richard Hendricks and his wife Clare, her brother Robert Bergeron, Chief DuBois, Lise Bergeron — she would have been Martin’s aunt, I think — and of course, Olivia. Stephen’s maroon Eldorado came roaring down the road, around the bend that all them soldiers once walked on their way to their deaths, and started bearing down on them. Josie told me she thought that he was going to try to plow through them, but that Olivia stood out front and did not waiver.
I’ll admit I sort of wish that Stephen had done just that, but wishing don’t change anything. Stephen stopped the car, a-course, and got out.
Josie said he didn’t beg or cry — he just stared at them. He was unarmed, which was unfortunate for him.
“Where are you going, Stephen?” Olivia asked.
“I’m leaving,” he said. “I won’t be a party to murder anymore. I’m sick of all this.”
Chief DuBois stepped forward and said he had a warrant for Martin Angell’s arrest. Said he’d stolen a bunch of explosives from Hereford Construction. Stephen threw his keys in his car, then locked the door and slammed it shut.
“Now, that’d be obstructing justice, I’d say,” the Chief said, his hand moving to the butt of his gun.
“Come with me,” Olivia pleaded. “Come and renew your faith. You have no idea the power and the pleasure you can have if you let yourself go.”
Stephen shook his head and told her he wouldn’t.
Olivia tried one last time. “Come take communion with me, Stephen. It can be again like it was.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Stephen said, and then they took him. Chief DuBois hit him over the head and put him in the back of his car, throwing handcuffs on him.
It all ended that day, really. Everything that came after was like some sick epilogue. Josie didn’t know who sent me Martin’s head, or what exactly happened to Stephen, but ain’t nobody seen him since, either, so I have to think he’s digesting in the belly of their swamp god. There haven’t been any other deaths or disappearances since, so I have to assume it’s over.
The head was a bold move. Something like that says that they don’t care what I know or who I tell, or what proof I think I have. I could walk into a the police station carrying Martin’s head under my arm and it wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference. So I buried it, deep in my yard, where no critters will try to dig it up.
For the first time in years, I began to think that maybe I really should think about getting out of town. Just knock on Josie’s door in the middle of the night and run away with her somewhere nice; somewhere landlocked and swamp monster-less.
Then I thought of that little boy, clinging to his mama’s leg, and I saw myself in his eyes. What would happen to Leroy and his mama if I left town? Hell, I didn’t know they were safe even if I stayed, but I knew for sure they weren’t safe if I left. And it weren’t just about bein’ safe. Maybe none of us were safe. I can’t say for sure. But, assumin’ the best — that Olivia Hereford and her little club would leave Martin’s widow and son alone — the fact is, I felt responsible for them. I couldn’t just up and run away. Who’d teach Leroy how to catch catfish, or throw a baseball, or how to make a mean BBQ?
Nah, I promised Martin I’d take care of his wife and son, and that’s exactly what I’m goan do.