Leroy woke with a rotten hangover, and the first face he saw was that of Victor, looking like something out of a nightmare. Weren’t the man’s fault, of course — no one gets to pick their own genes — but it was still something Leroy could have done without.
“I brought you some Gatorade,” he said, handing over a bottle. “Figured if you felt half as bad as me, you could use it.”
Leroy mumbled a barely audible Thanks, opened the bottle and began sipping it slowly.
“Ginger wasn’t too happy to find you crashed out here last night, but I told her you’d be gone by morning. You headed out?”
“Hadn’t planned that far ahead,” Leroy groaned.
“Well, you can probably get a room here if you were planning on sticking around here for a bit. Me, I’ve got to get to work soon. Sadie’s opens up at four o’clock, givin’ me about five hours to clean up the place, re-stock the beer, and start the kitchen up.”
“Fuck, Varney, I kept you up all night, I’m sorry,” Leroy’s stomach moaned in relief as he sipped the Gatorade.
“I might have been able to sleep if it weren’t for this,” Victor sighed, and handed Leroy the folded yellow paper of his confession of what Chuk had shown him the night his hair turned white. “How much of that do you remember now?”
“All of it,” Leroy whispered hoarsely and tapped a finger to the side of his head. “Every mad second of it.”
“Yeah, it’s a mindfuck, all right,” the sickly looking cajun said, and found his way uneasily to his feet. “And I got plenty to feel guilty about, don’t mistake me. But I didn’t kill no kids, Vic.”
“I know,” Victor said, looking guilty himself.
“Listen, you want a hand cleaning up the place today? It’s the least I can do for puttin’ you in the dog house with your lady friend.”
“I don’t know Leroy…”
“Oh, c’mon, it ain’t no thing,” he said with a forced grin. “Besides, don’t you want to hear ’bout what really did happen that summer?”
Leroy hadn’t spoken to Oscar Blanchette socially since they were teenagers, and ever since the other man had followed his daddy into the police force, Leroy hadn’t had much time for him, considering his own extra-curricular activities.
So when the man showed up at his BBQ shack, in his police blues, Leroy knew it wasn’t for a sandwich.
“Mornin’ Leroy,” Oscar said, over the din of the early lunch crowd. He’d only been open just over two months at that point, and already, he’d had to hire two extra hands to manage serving all the customers.
“Officer Blanchette,” Leroy smiled congenially. Oscar thought the man was greasy and slick, like a snake. “Get you a sandwich? Finest BBQ in this side of Nawlins, dey say.”
“Nah, none for me, merci bien,” Oscar smiled, and then laughed. “You been open two months and yet you claimin’ to be the best? Boy, you got some stones on you.”
“What can I say, mon ami?” Leroy held his hands open in a shrug. “People ’round here talk, and they all sayin’ Leroy’s BBQ is the best dey ever had.”
Oscar didn’t say anything, just sort of motioned for Leroy to follow him down the counter.
“What you here for, if it ain’t for lunch, Officer?”
“I’d like to ask you some questions, Leroy,” Oscar said, and then added: “‘Bout them missin’ kids.”
As was the intended result, every mouth shut and every head turned to look at Leroy, who gave a cold smile, completing the snake image Oscar had created for him in his head.
“Well, now, that’s just damn rude, dat’s what dat is,” Leroy said coolly. “Din’t your mama teach you no better’n dat, Oscar?”
“It’s Officer Blanchette, Leroy. Now, you and I goan have us a sit down here and now, or else I can make the misere for you something terrible. I’ll drag your ass down the jailhouse and you can rot there until I get some answers.”
Leroy scoffed. “On what charge, you fucking pischouette? What probable cause you got?”
Oscar took a step forward toward the lunch counter, and the customers in line gave him a wide berth. Oscar was a full head shorter than Leroy, who was built like a stalk of asparagus, and had to bend down when the shorter man motioned for his finger for him to come closer, like he wanted to whisper something in his ear. Instead of whispering, Oscar grabbed Leroy by the hair with one hand, and by his shirt with the other, and used his leverage to lift the thin man up and over the counter, tossing him on the floor of the small shack.
“Oh, you maldit sonofawhore!” Leroy screamed indignantly. “I ain’t done nothing! Rien! You ‘ear me?”
Oscar rolled Leroy over on his belly and pulled his hands into handcuffs. The girl at the counter, a cousin of Oscar’s, stood with her mouth gaping open.
“Leroy?” she asked. “Leroy, what should I do?”
“Take their money, you bonne a rienne!” he yelled, red in the face, as he was dragged off. “Take they money and give them their damn sammiches, that’s what!”
“Chief Blanchette did that?” Victor laughed, then apologized. “Sorry, it’s just… Oscar, he don’t…”
“Yeah, well, you got to remember, Oscar weren’t always the fat sack of shit he is today. Back before everything went to hell, why, I think he might have actually believed in what he was doing. ‘Course that was before he met Chuk. Another goddamn sin to lay at my feet.”
Leroy grabbed a case of beer from the storage room, took it out to the bar and began re-stocking the cooler.
“He was full of questions, Oscar was. Wanted to know what I was doin’ out in the bayou at night, where I was goin’, who I was meetin’. Din’t seem to care ’bout how the hell I’d gone from low-life poor white trash to ownin’ my own business — be it ever so modest. He just wanted to pin them kids’ murders on me. Told me folks was talkin’. Talkin’ bout me, and how I gave them the creeps, and that they din’t trust me, and what was I hiding — you know, all that mean shit cop talk to try to rattle you.
“Then he pulled out the big guns. He told me that Jean-Baptiste had put him on to me. Said the old man thought maybe I was involved in something terrible, and that he should go talk to me. I reckon that’s bullshit — Jean-Baptiste and I hadn’t been as close as we once was, but to use the man who’d helped raise me as a ploy to get me to spill my guts — that was just the lowest of the low.”
Leroy and Oscar sat at a booth at Mel’s Bar & Grill and glared at each other across the table.
“Jean-Baptiste is worried about you, Leroy,” Oscar said. “Asked me to look into what you been up to.”
“Ah, now, you see, now I know you be talking bullshit, you.”
“Wish I was. And I don’t want to believe that it’s you that’s been takin’ all them kids, Leroy, but folks is talkin’, and your name keeps comin’ up. What you got to say about that?”
Leroy put his hands behind his head and leaned back. “I’m a popular fella, I reckon.”
Oscar looked at him with frustration and desperation. He needed a break.
“Put yourself in my shoes, Leroy,” he said. “What would you think? Huh?”
Leroy stopped smiling.
“Okay,” he said, hoping he was doing the right thing. “I might know something.”
“What?” Oscar snapped.
“Keep it down, will ya? I think I might know who been takin’ them kids. But it ain’t nothin’ you’re gonna like, and I don’t even rightly know how to tell you.”
“What are you talking about?” Oscar asked. “I don’t have time for no games, Leroy.”
“Ain’t no game, boss,” Leroy said earnestly. “You wanna know what’s really goin’ on in the bayou, you meet me tonight.”
“Oh, sure, and you’ll kill me and dump my body in the drink. I don’t think so.”
Leroy looked Oscar in the eyes.
“I ain’t goan hurt you, Oscar. Fact is, I’m terrified myself every time I go out there. It’d be nice not to have to keep this secret no more. I could use a friend in this. So what do you say? You in?”
Oscar said nothing for a moment, and then stood up.
“I’ll call on you tonight ’round eleven. You ain’t home, I’m puttin’ a warrant out for your arrest.”