Sitting by his wife’s bedside, Oscar wept into his hands at the realization that he’d been played for a fool. Fifteen years earlier — in another life, it seemed — he’d put an end to a monster. He’d always told himself that it was just a matter of time before he was stopped. But now he wondered if he weren’t manipulated into doing someone else’s dirty work.
A dozen children, maybe more, had been gone missing from around Bayou Bonhomme in the summer of 1998, and there were no leads. At the time, when Jean-Baptiste had pointed him in Leroy’s direction, it felt like a godsend. He had almost wished it were Leroy, because at least then he’d have someone other than himself to blame. But while the man had definitely been keeping secrets, he wasn’t a killer. At least, he wasn’t until Oscar got him involved in the investigation. Then they’d found Mel Cayce crucified on the back of his own bar, and after that, things went from bad to worse.
Reading about Josie Ammon, Oscar felt a terrible sense of failure. He hadn’t even noticed, hadn’t even investigated Josie Ammon’s death. Not until days — maybe weeks — after everything had ended. Looking back, there was never any doubt in Oscar’s mind exactly when it all ended. if he had to, he could probably narrow it down to the very hour. He saw the past now with a clarity that he hadn’t had before. He and Leroy had been manipulated, all right. First with Mel Cayce. They’d covered it up, kept it a secret, which, at the time, he’d rationalized as protecting the town from the horror. But looking back, and reading about Jean-Baptiste’s conversation with Josie, he now believed that he’d done exactly what Olivia Hereford and her followers wanted him to do. He and Leroy had made the first sacrifice to Chuk, taking Mel Cayce’s body out to the bayou and feeding it to the ancient thing. If what Jean-Baptiste feared was true, Josie Ammon was the second sacrifice. And without even realizing what they were doing, Leroy and Oscar had made the third sacrifice themselves. After that day, things quieted down around Bayou Bonhomme, and Remy LeVert went back to being a spook story and a bumper sticker.
He had just finished a twelve hour shift, and wanted nothing more than a rack of ribs and some of Mel’s famous coleslaw and corn bread. But then he remembered that Mel’s was closed — temporarily, Melissa assured the town — and decided to try out that BBQ of Leroy’s that everyone was raving about.
On his way there, he’d bumped into Charlie Bergeron — though knowing what he knew now, Oscar wondered just how much of a chance meeting that really was. Charlie said that he didn’t know who to talk to anymore, what with the Chief being gone, and Oscar’s daddy, too.
“I’d go to the police proper, you understand, only I was kind of hoping we could keep this on the down-low, if you catch m’drift.”
Oscar had never liked Charlie — he was everything that rich folks thought they were supposed to be. Aloof, snooty, and too good for everyone else. Oscar, and every other civil servant, he treated like the hired help.
“What can I do for you, Charlie?”
“Well, it’s not for me, precisely, Oscar,” he said.
“Officer Blanchette,” Oscar corrected him.
“Of course,” Charlie revised. Oscar knew the man was only placating him, but he’d take what he could get. “See, it’s my cousin Jolene. She… well, you might say she’s having some domestic issues.”
“So call a lawyer. They as thick as catfish ’round here.”
Charlie forced laughter, as if the two men were drinking buddies.
“No, it’s not as bad as all that. Well, not yet, anyway. But, between you and me, I think she’s pretty badly frightened.”
“Of her husband?” Oscar knew the Duchesne boys were bad news. How someone like Jolene Dubois ended up with Darrel Duchesne he never understood.
Charlie nodded. “Afraid so. He… uh, he roughed her up some.”
Oscar clenched his teeth. “You think she’d press charges?”
Charlie gave Oscar a look as if to say he knew better than that, and of course, Oscar did. He’d seen it dozens of times, and heard the same words come out of the mouths of different women.
He just got a little crazy, that’s all. He loves me, I just shouldn’t have run my mouth off. You don’t know him. He’s real sweet most days.
Or some variation of that line of thought.
“Right,” Oscar sighed.”Well, where is she now?”
“She’s been staying with Robbie and Colette for a couple of days now. She’s safe, and we’d really just like to keep it in the family, work things out ourselves.”
“Uh huh,” Oscar said, sensing a but coming. “So what do you want from me?”
“Ah, well, we were wondering — this is, I was wondering if you’d mind going and having a talk with Darrel.”
“They sent me right to his door,” Oscar sighed, holding Luanne’s hand as he told her the things he never could, and if she were to wake up right then, never would. “And I did just what they wanted me to.”
Oscar imagined his wife’s ghost scolding him for being so stupid, and he wondered just what some fancy head-doctor would say about that. That wasn’t even the weirdest thing he could confess to. He’d never put too much stock in the idea of a head-shrinker being able to fix his problems, though. He’d been self-medicating with Johnny Walker Black Label ever since that day, and most days that kept the ghosts at bay.
He told Marla’s uncle Charlie that he’d speak to Darrel first thing in the morning, but Charlie was quite insistent that it get done that very evening. He gave Oscar some story about how he was worried that Darrel might go knocking on his brother and sister-in-law’s door and cause even more trouble.
“Ah, fuck, Charlie…” Oscar sighed.
“Mister Bergeron,” Charlie insisted.
“Touché,” Oscar nodded, and then thought, you prick.
“Please. It would mean a lot to my family.”
Oscar grimaced. He couldn’t afford to piss off the Bergerons. He had ambitions — small ambitions for a small town, but still — he had his mind set on being Chief of Police some day, and that position was usually filled by a Gillette, or a Dubois, or some other old family with ties to either the Herefords or the Bergerons. He was being asked for a favour, which was a double-edged thing — both opportunity and threat.
“All right,” he agreed. “I’ll go knock on his door right now. You coming with?”
The man shook his head politely. “I think it would be best if it were to be just you. All official-like, but in a friendly warning type of way. You know?”
Oscar nodded, and turned back the way he’d come from. He wouldn’t be able to walk all the way out to the Duchesnes’. After he’d gotten married, Darrel Duchesne moved his wife into his grandparents’ old house — not the dilapidated shotgun shack in town that his parents had lived in, but an old farm on the outskirts of town. Not much to look at, but it was on a nice little plot of land far enough out of town that they had their privacy. Darrel’s grandpere once had a rice farm, but his daddy hadn’t any interest in that, and so the land wasn’t being used at all — hadn’t been for years. A few different people had offered Darrel a ton of money for the land, including one man who had wanted to convert the land into a giant crayfish pond, but he wasn’t interested in selling. Instead of using all that land for farming, or crawfishing, Darrel had built a big smoke shack out back, nearly as big as the house itself. In the wintertime, they’d bag their share of deer and prepare the carcasses in the shack, tanning the hides and everything and selling them in town.
Oscar drove out to the Duchesne place and parked out front. There weren’t any lights on in the house, and it was still early. The sun was low in the sky, but it wasn’t dark yet. Oscar couldn’t help but think of his own father, taken by surprise at a domestic call, and thought for a moment about calling for back up. Then he remembered that he’d promised Charlie that he’d take care of this on his own. Still, he’d be cautious. He held his hand on the butt of his pistol all the way to the door of the house. Green paint peeled off the siding, giving the house a scarred look. With one thumb, he unhooked the clasp on his holster and made ready to grasp his weapon.
“Darrel,” he called, knocking on the door. “Hey Darrel, it’s Oscar Blanchette. You home?”
He didn’t say Officer Blanchette. He knew better than that. He knocked again and waited, listening for any movement inside the house. He didn’t hear any, so he walked around the house, peeking his nose in the windows, but didn’t see anything. Around back, he caught a whiff of something cooking, and his stomach suddenly reminded him that he never did get that BBQ sandwich he’d had his heart set on. Tummy rumbling, he turned toward the smell and saw smoke rising from the chimney of the big shack at the back of the Duchesnes’ lot. There was a dirt road — a thing made by time and use, not by work — that wound its way back through the property to the smoke shack, and Oscar followed it, walking slowly and surely, careful not to trip over any jutting rocks or crevasses.
As he got closer to the shack, the smell got stronger. He and Luanne always got together with his folks on the weekends during the summer and had a big barbecue dinner. All that was done, now, Oscar supposed. The summer had not been one for relaxing or celebration, and he couldn’t remember if they’d even had one barbecue. Smelled like Darrel was grilling up some ribs, and Oscar thought maybe he’d just walked into a plum assignment. The two of them could crack open a couple of beers, share some ribs, and talk over the situation like men. He’d never much liked the Duchesnes, but a cold beer and a plate of ribs sounded just about perfect just then.
He knocked on the door of the smoke shack. “Hey Darrel, it’s Oscar Blachette. Wanted to have a word.”
Oscar could hear the man moving inside, and other than the sound of cooking, there wasn’t any noise. Oscar liked to listen to music when he grilled — some Creedence or Zeppelin maybe. Darrel didn’t seem to be a music lover.
“Hey Darrel,” he barked, knocking harder on the door, hoping to make clear that he wasn’t there to sell bibles. He waited, counted to ten, then twenty, then thirty. He pulled his gun and took the safety off. He didn’t know what to think, but something didn’t seem right.
“Darrel, this is Officer Blanchette. I am going to open the door.”
Then Oscar opened the door of Darrel Duchesne’s smoke shack, and he’s been trying to close it again ever since.