“Goddamn you, Oscar,” the thin Cajun swore, throwing the yellow legal pad into a suitcase along with a bunch of quickly chosen clothes, a stack of money, and a box of shells for the Mossberg. Leroy had written all he could remember about his experience with Chuk that night — that night that now seemed like it was years ago — and Oscar hadn’t even read the damn thing. “You got no idea the things are goin’ on in this town.”
He had to leave, while he still had his faculties about him. Much as he wanted to let certain people know, he had no idea how he would explain to Mel Cayce that he wasn’t rightly in control of his own body when he slit her lover’s throat. Besides, he should have had the sense to leave and stay away when he had the chance.
Leroy wondered if Mexico was far enough away from Chuk. He never wanted to feel that thing’s oily voice in his head ever again. Maybe now that he’d done what it wanted, Chuk would leave him alone.
He’d dialled the Chief’s number a dozen times or more, middle of the night or not, but either hung up after a couple of rings or, in his braver moments, hung up on Oscar’s voice mail.
He felt more than a bit abandoned by the fat man who wasn’t really a friend, but at least an ally. But he envied him as well, having escaped the madness of Bayou Bonhomme. He had thought of escaping, himself — in the most permanent way. As he sat in his boat, screaming Marla’s name and washing the blood and hair off his hands, his instincts were immediately divided between surrender and preservation. For a second, he almost just let himself fall into the Bayou — but he couldn’t do it. He’d decided long ago that no mattered what happened, he wasn’t going to die in Chuk’s belly. He didn’t care how he went, exactly, just so long as it wasn’t being digested by that thing.
And then he got angry. He’d been used, his mind violated and manipulated like a puppet to kill Marla, who he was just starting to warm up to. He wouldn’t let this go. He’d leave town, and if it took him the rest of his life, he’d find a way to kill that fucker.
He looked around his living room, trying to decide if he was missing anything. He grabbed his parents’ wedding picture out of sentimentality and threw it in with the rest of his gear.
“Just in case I don’t ever make it back here,” he muttered under his breath.
The adrenaline rush was wearing off, and he felt weary and exhausted. The clock on the wall told him it was 3:38 in the morning. His eyes felt swollen and heavy.
“Where you goan go at three-thirty in the morning? Lay yourself down a couple hours and get your rest,” he scolded himself and gave a weak chuckle. “Yes, mama.”
Just a couple hours, he thought, and lay his head down on his pillow. If someone noticed he was gone from the lock up, the last place they’d be looking is his own house. What kind of fool breaks out of prison and goes straight home? Besides, he hadn’t actually been charged with anything. Marla had told Suzanne that Leroy had too much to drink and took a swing at someone down at Mel’s, and she was just throwing him in a cell to dry out. If they checked and found him gone, well, they’d likely assume he’d been released.
“Just a couple hours,” he murmured, and slipped into dreamless sleep.
When he awoke, the light shining through his window caused him to wince, and so he kept his eyes shut and stretched. He was stiff and sore all over, and his body made all sorts of noisy pops and cracks as he arched his back like a cat and stretched his legs out, pointing his toes and then curling them up to stretch his calves. He rolled out of bed and checked the time — 7:50 — a little more than a couple of hours, but he supposed his body needed it. He went to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face, then took another look outside — something didn’t look quite right, but he couldn’t place it at first. Anyhow, he was starving, and he needed to be on his way before he ran into anybody. He couldn’t even remember what day it was, but even if it were the weekend, eight o’clock in the morning was late enough that people in town would be about, walking their dogs, going to work, and whatever else it was folks did that time of the morning.
So when Leroy stepped out his door and heard music coming from the direction of Mel’s, and saw three kids racing their bikes down the street, and smelled the smoke from someone’s barbecue, he was a bit alarmed. How could he have slept for that long? Could he have —
He shook off any thoughts that he’d gone sleepwalking again. After all, he’d woken up in the same place, with no strange mud on his shoes, clothes dry, no blood on his hands. No, Leroy decided that his body had just shut down and rebooted itself, and while he would have liked to get out of town during the early daylight hours, evening would suit him just as well. And he had slept through the day and in doing so, managed to avoid running into anyone or having to answer any questions.
He stepped back inside for a minute and grabbed a couple of envelopes off the top of his dresser. On one of them, he wrote the name Colette Bergeron, and on the other, Mel Cayce. Once he was out of town, he thought he might write each of them a letter, explaining himself as best as he could. It’d be signing his own death warrant, sure, but if he could work up the courage to do it, he would. And those two envelopes would be his reminder that he owed a debt.
It was just after nine before he actually got going, headed north. Something in Slidell was calling him, and it weren’t just the perfectly sculpted breasts of the dancers at Sadie’s. Though if he were honest, he’d nearly forgotten what a woman looked like under her clothes, it had been so long. Still, there was something nagging at him in the back of his mind, and so to satisfy his curiosity — and other needs — he pulled into the parking lot of Sexy Sadie’s and walked into the pink and blue neon lights of the club. The throbbing pulse of the bass immediately settled into his chest and rested there, drowning out his own heartbeat. The girl on stage had one leg wrapped around the brass pole and was swinging around it, arching her back and letting her amber hair swing around to the rhythm of some pop song whose lyrics sounded like the script to a bad porno. All he could see was the red hair, flowing, and he felt a stab of guilt and panic, so he turned away to find somewhere to sit where he could be left alone to drink and forget.
“I like the new look, Jerry,” a woman in a red tube top and ragged denim shorts so short they might as well have not been there at all sat down next to him and ran her fingers through his silver hair. He didn’t bother to correct her about his name.
“Hello, cher,” he said, not smiling, and produced two crisp hundred dollar bills. “I’m in a drinkin’ mood. But other’n that, I’d prefer to be left alone, comprenez-vous ceci?”
She snatched the money out of his hand with a dirty look, and Leroy reached out and grabbed her hand firmly.
“Now, now, don’t be like dat, cher,” he said smoothly but with a hint of his own annoyance. “Dere be plenty more where dat come from, and plenty of time for all kinds of other fun later. For right now, you just keep the drinks coming and keep all dem gilly girls away from me.”
She made like she was flattered, but there was something in her eyes that looked like fear — or maybe even disgust — and Leroy wondered if he really looked so terrifying.
“Sure thing, honey,” she purred, leaning down to kiss him on the cheek and give him a free look at what she had under her top.
“You do this, and I promise you I’m all yours, cher.”
“Lucky me,” she muttered under her breath as she walked away.
Leroy liked Sadie’s. The owner didn’t hire needle-freaks or straight up hookers, though the odd concrete blonde slipped by his careful scrutiny, and what the girls did after hours he turned a blind eye to, and so there were no shady back-room blowjobs going on, which was nice, because there was nothing worse, in Leroy’s opinion, than being propositioned for a lap dance by a girl whose breath smelled like sweaty cock.
The girl returned a few minutes later with a watered-down draft beer and turned to walk away before Leroy tried to engage in further conversation with her. She wasn’t entirely successful.
“What should I call you, cher?”
She turned back and gave him a disappointed look, as if she was offended that he didn’t remember her from the many times he’d been to Sadie’s before.
“It’s Chastity,” she said, and Leroy laughed.
“Sure,” he said. “Of course! Chastity, can you rustle me up a plate of mussels and some bread? I’m fearsome hungry. Maybe a burger, too, cher. What the hell.”
“Sure thing,” she said, and hurried off.
The other reason Leroy liked Sadie’s is that they actually had a proper kitchen, unlike some of the other joints where you’d be lucky to get a bowl of pretzels or maybe a bag of potato chips. He watched Chastity poke her head into the kitchen, and as the door opened, he saw something that he hadn’t expected, and he found that he was both amused and intrigued.
Now he remembered why he’d come here in the first place, and it was as if the tumblers were all falling into place in his mind. He began to relax, feeling more like himself than he had for months. He downed his pint glass and made a mental note to make sure he asked Chastity for a bottle for the next round — this one had been mostly water. He caught the woman’s eyes and lifted his empty mug up in the air, motioning for her to come over.
“Get you another, hon?” she asked, all charm.
“Actually, you can bring me two bottles, cher. One for me, and one for your new kitchen help.”
“Boss don’t like him comin’ out here on the floor at night,” she said. “On account of…”
“Oh, he’s a freaky looking fucker, I’ll give you that,” Leroy agreed, and produced another hundred and held it up between two thin fingers. “But I’ll have words with him nevertheless. He and I go way back, and I ain’t seen him for a spell. So you go ahead and send Varney out here to have a drink with me, cher.”
She looked at Leroy and hesitated.
“Now, cher!” he snapped. “Or Je vais the passer une callotte, yeah?”
She went to snatch the hundred from his fingers and he pulled it away.
“Tell you what, cher,” he said. “It ain’t that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I don’t trust you. Don’t take it personal, like, but you can have this lagniappe when I’m sipping beers with my old friend Varney, yeah?”
“I think you’re confused, mister,” she said, trying one last gambit. “There ain’t no Varney here.”
Leroy held out the hundred again, teasing her with it.
“Oh, I think you know just who I’m talkin’ about cher, so don’t play dumb, you ain’t a good ’nuff actress, I think.”
“Whatever,” she sighed, and turned her back on Leroy and muttered: “Asshole.”
Leroy didn’t pay her any mind. That wasn’t even the worst thing he’d called himself in the past twenty-four hours.
After five minutes or so, he began to wonder if she wasn’t going to come back — either with his food or the kid — hell, he wasn’t really a kid, he was only a handful of years younger than Leroy himself — but just as he was about to get up and walk over to the bar to re-emphasize the seriousness of his request, she showed back up with a plate of mussels, a burger, two beers, and was accompanied by Victor Morse, who Elmer Cayce had once dubbed Varney the Vampyre, on account of his rare skin condition that made him a sight to behold.
“Hello, Varney,” Leroy grinned. “Pull up a chair and chew the fat wit’ me.”
The man smiled back, despite Leroy’s use of that awful nickname. The effect was as hideous as always, and Leroy understood why he was kept in the back. It was tough to keep your hard-on when you saw Victor smile.
“Jesus, Varney, put that thing away before you hurt someone. Sit down and have a beer. I get the feeling you ‘n’ me got a lot to talk about.”