The sound of the shot rang in Leroy’s ears, louder than he ever would have imagined. Blood and gore splattered the windshield, and Gilles’ body twitched for a minute, then slumped to the side.
Trembling, he dropped the gun like it was a snake, and moaned a sick growl of fear, rage and disgust all wrapped into one.
Quickly, he thought. I have to move quickly.
He was confident that no one inside would have heart the shot — you could hardly hear yourself think in Sadie’s. The music was so loud, the waitresses had to take your order by yelling in your ear — which was all sort of the allure of the place — a sort of manufactured form of almost intimacy. But if anyone stepped out and saw all that blood…
He opened the back door and felt a rush of tepid air hit him in the face. It smelled so much better than the back of the car, and Leroy breathed in giant lungfuls of it. Carefully opening the driver’s door, he said a quick prayer of thanks for the big bench seats those big old models had, and put all his weight into pushing the big man’s corpse over into the passenger side. Then he tore off Gilles’ shirt and quickly cleaned off all the blood he could with a couple of quick swipes. He had to get rid of the body, at the very least, if not the car, too. He needed another driver, and other car. That meant Victor.
Quickly but as calmly as possible, he drove the car out of the club’s parking lot and down the road a half a mile. He could leave it there, he thought for a minute. But then someone from the club might remember seeing Gilles talk to Victor, and he couldn’t do that to him. Instead, he walked back to the motel and knocked gently on Victor’s door.
The door cracked open a bit, and a little voice in the back of Leroy’s head said Enter freely, and of your own will and he had to stifle a laugh. His ears were still humming and he was still more than a little wound up on adrenaline.
“Come on, you,” he said, pushing the door open and pulling Victor outside.
“What did you do?” Victor asked, noticing the blood on Leroy’s hands.
“Here,” he said, not answering him, but throwing him his car keys.
“Leroy, where are we going? I can’t just pick up and go!”
Leroy laughed a sick chuckle. “Doan worry, we’ll be back. Just shut up now and drive me down de road a spell. We got work to do tonight, then everything goan be okay, doan you worry none.”
Victor started the car up, and before he put it in gear, he looked over at Leroy, whose white hair was specked with red.
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“Doan fret, Victor. This ain’t the first time I’ve had to get rid of a body. Now drive!”
Oscar opened the door to the smoke shack and froze. The man who sat on the floor looked up at him but didn’t seem particularly interested in his presence, or alarmed at the gun that Oscar was pointing at him. He simply looked up at him with wild, staring eyes, and continued chewing. He was only wearing a pair of ratty underwear, and was sitting in front of a fire pit, over which he had a black cast iron pot, almost like a witch’s cauldron. Oscar’s hands trembled so badly he dropped his gun, and was relieved when it didn’t go off. He picked it up and quickly resumed his position. His eyes were drawn to the walls of the shack, where several bodies hung on hooks, in various states of decay.
“What are you doing?” Oscar cried, gasping for air. Between the smoke and the shock of seeing children’s bodies hanging like butchered deer, he was having a hard time breathing.
Darrel looked at him calmly, and reached his hand into the pot. “I’m doing my father’s work,” he said, and pulled out a piece of meat on the bone. “Are you hungry? Come, sit. Eat.”
Oscar felt his head spin, and clenched his teeth, biting his tongue in the process, and the pain centered him and kept him from swooning.
There were pieces missing from the bodies, he noticed. Some of the bodies were little more than skeletal remains.
“What are you doing?” he repeated, unable to process what he was seeing. His mind would fill in the blanks in his nightmares for the next fifteen years.
“Bringing the storm,” Darrel said. “The storm wouldn’t come on its own, and so I have to bring the storm. I’m chosen, and I will be rewarded.”
Oscar could hardly speak. He was nearly shaking with anger and hate.
“What are you doing?” Oscar just kept asking. “What are you doing?”
“I brought the children to the storm,” he said, and opened his arms wide as if displaying his work. “But the storm did not take them. So I will become like the storm, though I am not the storm. I’m just a man, but he who comes after me is not a man.”
Oscar put his finger on the trigger and tried to hold his hands still. His vision was blurred with tears and he felt a scream building in his belly, rising up into his throat.
“What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?”
Darrel stood up and began to walk calmly toward Oscar with his hands spread wide. His hands and lips were stained with blood or barbecue sauce, or perhaps both. He walked right up to Oscar and put his forehead up against the muzzle of the gun.
“You can’t kill me,” he said with religious certainty. “When the storm comes, she will raise me from the dead, and I will feast on your flesh by her side.”
“You’re a monster,” Oscar managed hoarsely.
“No,” Darrel said, smiling. “I’m just a man.”
Oscar raised his arm and brought the gun down on the man’s head again and again and again, until he collapsed on the dirt floor. He cuffed Darrel’s hands behind his back, and considered throwing him over his shoulder and trying to carry him across the field back to his cruiser, and then thought better of it. It was starting to get dark, and he wasn’t sure he could carry a body all that way without tripping over his own feet and going ass-over-teakettle. Then there was always the possibility that Darrel could wake up, and as the man was quite clearly insane and certainly dangerous, he didn’t want to take any chances. Instead, he cuffed Darrel to a support beam and ran down the dirt road back to his car, stopping about half way to retch, though thankfully, he still hadn’t eaten anything, and couldn’t imagine he would for some time.
He got in his car and made his way slowly back to the shack, still feeling a little dizzy and light-headed. He half expected Darrel to be gone or dead, but the man was still unconscious, his face looking like ground chuck from the beating Oscar had given him. Oscar picked him up and threw him in the trunk of his car. His hands were still shaking as he slammed the trunk down hard.
THUNK THUNK THUNK… THUNK THUNK… THUNK THUNK THUNK… THUNK THUNK…
Leroy pulled the car over to the side of the road, thinking maybe he had a flat tire. His ears were clearing up, but there was still a dull ringing in one of them. Victor pulled up behind him and started getting out of the car when Leroy heard it again.
THUNK THUNK THUNK… followed by what he though could very well be a scream.
“Ah no, no, no!” he moaned. “Not again!”
Fumbling with the keys, he jumped out of the car and around to the trunk, and when he opened it, it was like watching history repeat itself.
“Oh fuck,” he heard Victor say from behind him.
Leroy held his hands out wide, showing the girl who lay in the trunk that he was unarmed. The girl wasn’t dressed like a stripper — she wore bluejeans and a T-shirt with what looked like a stylized monkey on it. Leroy thought she looked like she was probably a nice enough girl.
“I ain’t goan hurt you,” he said. “I’m goan let you out of there. I’m not with the man who did this to you. I… well, you might as well know. I shot him. He’s dead, cher. He won’t be hurtin’ you no more.”
She began to cry, and Leroy reached forward to pull the gag off of her. She flinched instinctively, but let him take it, and then help her out of the trunk of the car. When her hands were unbound, she threw her arms around Leroy and thanked him.
“Woah, take it easy, cher,” he said, pulling himself loose. “Doan thank me yet. You just complicated things. What’s your name?”
“Becky,” the girl said hoarsely.
Leroy looked at Victor, who looked terribly nervous, and nodded.
“Well, Becky, you’re what’s called an accessory,” Leroy laughed, knowing full well it wasn’t terribly funny, but laughter was his nervous response. “Where you from, cher?”
“Beau… Beaumont,” she stammered. She was shivering a bit, and Leroy figured she might just be in shock.
“Beaumont?” Victor murmured.
She nodded. “Beaumont. East Texas. Where am I?”
“Well, shit, cher,” Leroy sighed. “You a long way from home. Slidell, Louisiana.”
Becky didn’t look surprised. “Well what do you know? I was almost there.”
“Where were you headed?” Leroy asked.
“Biloxi,” she said. “In Mississippi.”
“Yeah, I know where Biloxi is,” Leroy said. “How the hell did you end up with the big dead guy?”
She swallowed hard. “You got a cigarette, Mister?”
“Yeah, sure,” Leroy said, pulling out two cigarettes and lighting them both, then gave one to her.”
“Thanks,” she said, fingers trembling as she drew in a drag of her smoke. “I was hitching. My mom and I got into a fight, and I took off to go stay with my daddy — he lives in…”
“Biloxi, yeah, I got it,” Leroy said and shook his head. “Jesus, girl, this ain’t no Jack Kerouac novel you’re living in! Next time, take a fucking bus!”
She flinched as if he’d slapped her, and Leroy felt like a bastard.
“Merde,” he said, and hung his head and rubbed his forehead. “What we goan do with you?”
“I won’t tell nobody!” she promised. “You don’t need to do anything to me.”
“I ain’t goan do nothing to you, cher. Relax. Go on and sit in that other car over there. Me and this pale fella, we got to take care of big dead and ugly here.”
She looked at Victor, who made the ill-conceived decision to smile at her and wave. She shivered and looked at Leroy with wide, frightened eyes.
“What’s wrong with him?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“What the hell,” Victor sighed. “I’m standing right here.”
Leroy laughed. “Varney? Why, he’s a vampire, of course. Doan you watch HBO? Lousiana’s full of ’em.”
She laughed in spite of her self, and apologized to Victor for staring, which the man shrugged off. People had been staring at him his whole life.
“Go on, now,” Leroy prodded her. “Get in the car and let us take care of this. Soonest begun, soonest done, mama always said.”
Becky did as she was asked, and Victor helped Leroy lift Gilles’ body out of the passenger seat and into the trunk.
“What are we going to do about this, Leroy? If the cops get wind of this, we’re both done for.”
Leroy smiled, and nodded his head over at Becky, sitting in the passenger seat of Leroy’s Dodge Duster with her knees drawn up to her chest, fidgeting nervously.
“Doan worry about the cops. Right there’s our only loose end, and I think she’s too scared and too grateful to say anything. Soon as this is done, I’m putting her ass on a bus out of town. Back to Texas, on to Mississippi, it doan matter to me, long as she gets.”
“But what about the cops?” Victor asked.
“Well, let’s just say I know a place where the cops tend to turn a blind eye to things involving all things involvin’ these monster-worshipping pricks.”
Leroy lit another cigarette and grinned. “Why, home, of course. We’re going back to Bayou Bonhomme.”
Victor took a step back as if Leroy had threatened him.
“Doan worry, Victor,” Leroy laughed.
“Yeah, you keep sayin’ that, only I keep worrying.”
“Do you know where the old Duchesne rice farm used to be?”
Victor thought about it, and nodded. Then his eyes went wide.
“It burned to the ground. That same summer.”
“Yes,” Leroy nodded. “Yes, it did.”
Victor grabbed the other man’s arm and turned him so he could face him.
“What aren’t you telling me? You said this wouldn’t be the first body you got rid of. Did you burn someone in that farmhouse?”
Leroy remembered the feeling of righteous anger he felt, watching the Duchesne place burn. Of course, he’d already done far worse by that point, so burning the man’s home to the ground wasn’t anything to him.
“No, Victor,” Leroy sighed. “It’s far worse than that, mon ami.”
A silent understanding passed between them, and Victor let it drop for the moment.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Follow me there,” Leroy said. “Try to keep her calm, let her know we’ll be sending her on her way safe and sound. Maybe try to impress on her that Gilles Duchesne wasn’t just gonna kill her. In all likelihood, he was going to eat her.”
“Eat her? Jesus, Leroy, what are you talking about? How could you know that?”
Leroy dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his heel.
“I just do,” he said, and left it at that. “Just follow me. We got to find us a gas station, pick up a gas can, and head on out to the old Duchesne farm. We ain’t goin’ into town proper, and by the time the fire trucks arrive, we’ll be long gone.”
“They’re still going to find Gilles’ body,” Victor said.
“I know they are,” Leroy said. “We’re sending a message, Victor.”
“To who, exactly?”
“Why, Olivia Hereford, of course.”