August 3, 1998,
I should have left right then and there. I should never have let her leave. It’s been two days and I ain’t heard from her, so I have to assume the worst. And now I’m shit drunk and scared stupid. My only hope is this scrap of paper Josie gave me before she left, and there’s no guarantee it will keep me alive. I get the feeling that my time in Bayou Bonhomme might just be up one way or t’other.
I’m too old to run. I should’ve done that years ago when I still had the strength and the means. Should’ve taken Josie away from all this.
Too late for that now.
Two days ago, got a knock at the door real early in the morning. I don’t sleep much anymore, ‘specially not in this heat, and so I was up and about already. I opened the door and Josie was standing in my doorway again, only this time, she’d brought company. Young Marla Bergeron was with her, and she looked like she’d been crying up a storm.
Josie told Marla to go have a sit and let the grownups talk. I offered her some juice, but she weren’t havin’ any of it. Girl could barely stop shakin’. I gave her a bit of coffee and slipped some whiskey into it. The look on her face when she drank it was priceless, but it’d calm her down some, I figgered.
Josie told me that the night before, Marla had been over visitin’ her and Ben, and had gone sleepwalkin’.
“Only it weren’t sleepwalkin’, was it?” I asked, fearing the worst.
Josie shook her head, tears in her eyes. “I waited too long, Jean. Please forgive me, I waited too long.”
I held her and let her cry, hoping she was wrong.
“She was in a trance, Jean. I’ve seen it before, only usually it’s only once someone’s tasted the flesh. Only she’s too young to…”
I’d been trying to hide the disgust in my face, but I s’pose I wasn’t doin’ too good a job, because Josie clammed up and looked at me with a strange mix of shame and anger.
“Don’t you judge me, Jean-Baptiste Levesque!” she said, pointing a finger in my face. “I know all about the things you done.”
I’ve loved that woman my whole life, but I couldn’t take the way she was looking at me. I snatched that finger out of the air and held it tightly but not cruelly.
“What do you know?” I snapped. “Tell me ’bout the things I done.”
“Jean,” she cried, and I dropped her hand. “Don’t be cruel. I know you killed Phillip Hereford. That’s why Olivia hates you. That and that journal of yours. She thinks you know things — things that could hurt her, if you ever decided to leave town with them.”
“I do,” I told her, and my face was relaxing into a sad smile. “But you’re wrong about me, Josie. I never killed nobody.”
“But,” she started, and began to cry again. “But you sent his tongue…”
“Who you been talkin’ to?”
Josie looked at me with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and I swear, she was seventeen again, sneaking kisses with me behind her daddy’s shed.
“Olivia has a book of her own,” she said. “I’m not supposed to know about it. Nobody’s supposed to read it, apparently. Nobody but the Matriarch. I only had but a few minutes with it, Jean, but it’s old. There were entries going back a hundred years or more.”
“What is it?” I asked eagerly.
“Names, dates, stories, prayers of a sort,” she said. “Names of members of the Faithful, names of sacrifices, newspaper clippings. Everything you would need to blow everything apart.”
Just the thought of it! If I could get my hands on that book!
“Josie,” I started, but she finished the thought for me with a sad shake of her head.
“I can’t. I don’t dare. But I got this.”
She handed me a torn out page, with a list of seven names on it. It was dated May 1, 1998.
“The Seven,” she said. “There are always seven in the inner circle. Not that they are the only ones you need to worry about. There are others, Jean. Many others.”
“Your name’s on here, Josie.”
She nodded. “Yes it is. My name’s also mentioned on another page of Olivia’s journal. That one I left there, so I didn’t give myself away.”
The look on her face, well, it was like a critter in a trap. Or maybe one that’s been chased long and hard by some bigger animal — one with claws and sharp teeth — and can’t run no more. It’s cornered, and it ain’t got nowhere to run, and it knows it’s been caught.
“What did it say?”
“She knows,” Josie told me, and suddenly she din’t look no seventeen years old no more. She looked like a scared old grandmere, and seeing her like that frightened me. “She knows about you and me, says she’s known for years, but that she has spared me because of the love she holds for Colette and little Marla. But…”
“But no more, she says. I’m to be one of the three. Mel Cayce was the first. And you and I — oh, Jean, she hates you so much! We’re to be the other two.”
I hadn’t known — not for sure — ’bout Mel Cayce. I suspected, but back in ’77 they’d made a big show of displaying Reverend LeBeau’s body, I just reckoned if that had started again, that I’d hear about it.
I told her I wouldn’t let that happen, but that we had to leave, and right quick. She insisted we take Marla with us, and I didn’t give no argument. Even now — especially now — all I can think about is saving that little girl. I promised Josie I wouldn’t let them have her.
I gave Josie a quick kiss and told her to hurry back and be ready to go. She wanted to grab travellin’ money and a case of clothes or whatnot. I should’ve told her to forget all that and just get in the car and go. Josie was always more practical than me — if I’d had my way, we’d have been broke down by the side of the road out of gas not a hunnerd miles down the way.
So Josie left, and left Marla to stay with me until she came back. But it’s been two days, and she ain’t been back. Marla, she’s gone, too. Her mama done fetched her not twenty minutes after Josie left, and she weren’t too happy, neither. She all but asked me if I was messin’ with her little girl — messin’ in a way that was disgusting. Threatened to call the police on me if she ever caught Marla ’round my place again. I shoulda known then that something bad had happened to Josie. Why something bad ain’t happened to me yet, why, I can only think that it has something to do with this piece of paper, and what they might think I know. I’d like to think that in a way, Josie may have saved my life for a while longer.
Oscar found himself wishing that Jean-Baptiste had followed his gut and left right away. Leroy had wondered if maybe Josie Ammon had been another victim — he’d mentioned it a few times, but they’d never found a body. Not that disappearances were uncommon in Bayou Bonhomme, but not all of them were Chuk-related.
He looked at the list — carefully taped into the pages of the journal — and his heart sank. A couple of the names were obvious. Olivia Hereford. Marla’s parents Robert and Colette. Gilles Duchesne. Leon Hereford. Claire Bergeron. It was the seventh name that made him hate himself for a fool. He thought he’d been rescuing her from her sick fuck of a husband. He’d managed to make his way into her bed. Told himself he was comforting the grieving widow. But here she was, the seventh name on a list of the inner circle of the Faithful. Jolene Duchesne.
Oscar fought the urge to tear up the page, to throw the journal across Luanne’s hospital room and scream. If he thought it might wake up his sleeping wife, he might have done it anyway, but instead, he buried his head in his hands and wept unmanly tears.
“I’m a idiot,” he cried, clutching at the blankets on Luanne’s bed. “I’m a fucking idiot.”