Oscar pounded on Leroy’s door like he was trying to wake the dead. It was going on midnight, and when the thin Cajun answered the door, the look on Oscar’s face told him everything he needed to know.
“Get dressed,” Oscar said. “We’re going on a boat ride.”
Together, they took Darrel Duchesne out on the bayou, to a certain cypress grove that even in the dark looked like something out of a Gustave Dore drawing of the gates of hell. All the while, he was babbling about seeing the glory of his god, and how he wanted to look upon her face and what a blessing that would be. Oscar had wanted to just shoot him in the head and dump him in the bayou, but Leroy said that would be too good for him. Something about poetic justice and just desserts or whatnot, Oscar couldn’t rightly remember. He remembered the look of terror on the man’s face when he finally did see C’thuN’Chuk’s own terrifying visage. He remembered Darrel’s screams as the thing he had worshipped as a god wrapped its tentacles around him and fed him feet first into its horrible gaping maw. Again, he had wanted to put a bullet in the man’s head to end it; to stop the screaming, but Leroy stopped him.
“No,” the thin Cajun said grimly, eyes fixed on Darrel, who was waist deep in the pink labial folds of what passed as Chuk’s mouth. “I need to see this to the end.”
Oscar remembered the horrible chewing sounds, wet and sloppy, and the chortling laughter that followed, and when it was done, he remembered the silence that seemed to last forever. C’thuN’Chuk sunk into the bayou, without a further word.
And then it was over — that was the very end of it. After that day, there were no more disappearances, no more strange killings. There was only one more thing to do, Oscar reckoned. Well, maybe two.
They took the boat back to land, neither of them saying a word. Being in Chuk’s presence was taxing, both mentally and physically. Oscar didn’t know how Leroy managed to do it as often as he had — it made his head feel like it was going to explode.
They drove out to the farm with a trunk full of gas cans, intent on burning the whole thing to the ground. it should have been pretty straight-forward. Of course, nothing about that whole had been simple or easy.
“You ready for this?” Oscar asked as they stood in front of the door of the smoke shack. He had told Leroy what he’d found, but hearing about it and seeing it were two different things.
Leroy shook his head, but opened the door anyway, and stepped inside.
It smelled like barbecue, and that was somehow the worst part of it. If it had smelled like the abattoir it was, Leroy would have at least been able to process what he was feeling. As it was, he was both salivating and gagging, trying not to throw up. The shack was set up like any other barbecue — there was a grill, and a table that held several metal bowls that held what appeared to be marinade, with strips of meat soaking in them.
He came running back of the shack and doubled over, throwing up all over his shoes.
“Burn it,” he spat. “Oh, Jesus, burn it all.”
“The bodies?” Oscar asked.
“Burn them all,” Leroy repeated. “Their families don’t want to know about this.”
Oscar nodded, and walked through the shack’s door with two cans of gasoline. Re-emerging a few minutes later, he swore, and said he wished he could kill Darrel all over again.
Leroy nodded his agreement, and pulled out a lighter.
“You got a piece of paper or something?”
Oscar went back to his cruiser, and pulled out a copy of the Bonhomme Gazette that had been kicking around his front set since earlier that summer. Monsters in the Bayou? read the headline. He’d read that editorial a dozen times or more. He wondered just how much Amie LeBeau knew, exactly. He rolled it up into a torch and had Leroy light it up.
The shack went up in a whoosh, and from somewhere within the flames, Oscar thought he heard screaming. His immediate thought was that somewhere in the midst of all that horror, someone was alive.
Impossible, he thought, but still, his heart was pounding in panic. He looked at Leroy, and the look on the other man’s face told him that he heard it, too. The fire had practically exploded, and there was no way to get in through the door without killing themselves. They ran around the side, trying to follow the sound of the screams above the fire itself.
Oscar thought perhaps it was the ghosts of the dead children screaming, but when he came around the corner, he saw an old Buick parked behind the shack, and when he stopped and listened, in addition to the screams, he heard pounding.
THUNK THUNK THUNK THUNK.
“The trunk!” he shouted, motioning Leroy over.
The driver’s side door was open, but there weren’t any keys — not in the ignition, or on the sun-visor, or in the glove box. A newer car might have an emergency trunk release, but Oscar guessed this car was nearly an antique. For all he knew, they’d dumped the keys in the bayou along with Darrel’s body.
The screams were terrible. Whoever was in the trunk, they were young and afraid, and not likely to be able to listen to reason. Nonetheless, he had to try to calm them down.
“Hey,” Oscar yelled, and pounded on the trunk. “I hear you, kid. I’m with the police, y’hear? I’m gonna get you outta there, but I need you to listen to me. Can you do that?”
The screaming just got louder, but Oscar could make out the words help and outta here.
“Listen, if you can here what I’m saying, I need you to do something for me. Pound on the trunk three times to let me know you understand.”
Oscar had no idea if the kid in the trunk was six or sixteen. He hoped they understood. He was rewarded with three knocks on the trunk, and it was the sweetest sound he’d heard all day.
“Okay, kid, you’re doing great,” Oscar yelled. “Now listen, I gotta get this trunk open, and I ain’t got a key. So I’m gonna try to shoot the lock out. So I need you to move back as far as you can. Can you do that?”
Another three knocks.
Oscar pulled his pistol and aimed it at the trunk. Leroy came running up to him waving his arms.
“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled, frowning.
“I’m gonna shoot the lock out, what’s it look like?”
“This ain’t no movie, Oscar,” Leroy scolded. “You’re more like to shoot yourself in the face with a ricochet.”
Leroy pounded on the trunk and reached into his pocket and pulled out a tool that looked almost like a Swiss Army Knife, but was usually more associated with car thieves and cat burglars.
“Doan you worry, kid, I’m goan get you out of there safe.”
He gave Oscar a disapproving look, and got one in return as Oscar noted the lock-pick tool.
Leroy gave him a shrug and a grin.
“I ain’t no saint, mon ami.”
In less time that Oscar would have believed possible, Leroy had the trunk open and a little boy about his daughter Celine’s age burst out like a bird out of a cage and collapsed on the ground, crying.
Oscar picked the kid up and looked him over, making sure he was okay. With tears of relief, he bent down and wrapped his arms around the boy.
“You’re okay, son,” he said. “No one’s gonna hurt you.”
“Oscar,” Leroy called. “We ain’t done here. We still got the house to do. Who knows what he might have in there?”
Oscar nodded grimly, then turned back to the boy. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Leon,” he said, whimpering. “Leon Hereford.”
“Tabernac,” Leroy swore under his breath, and Oscar just cringed.
“We’re gonna get you home safe, Leon,” Oscar said. “Right now I need you to get in the back of my car and stay there, you understand?”
Leon nodded, and allowed himself to be led to the cruiser.
“Hereford,” Leroy said. “Did you hear that? Did you fucking hear that?”
Oscar ignored the outburst. “C’mon. Never mind the kid. Count that a victory. We saved one.”
It felt hollow, but Oscar would take it.
They drove up to the house and busted in, making sure there was nobody in it, and then torched it. The two men stood for a moment and watched the two buildings burn, both feeling a sense of ending. Something had changed for the both of them, and there was never going to be any going back. It would be months before the two of them even spoke to one another, after a ceremony the town held for all the missing children whose bodies would never be recovered.
When they got back in the car, Oscar’s radio was squawking about the fire, and he heard his name being called, asking for his whereabouts.
“I just picked up a kid out Hereford Lane,” Oscar replied. “He looks a little worse for wear, but he seems okay. Says his name’s Leon Hereford. Can you run that up against our missing persons reports, Janie?”
“Holy shit, Oscar!” the dispatcher called back after the slightest of pauses. “You got one of ’em!”
Oscar allowed himself a smile, and Leroy nodded and gave a slight grin as well. He had tears in his eyes. He was exhausted, in every sense of the word. When Oscar got home, he thought he might sleep for three days straight.
“Yeah?” Oscar replied. “Well, score one for the good guys, Janie. I’ll be bringing him by presently.”
“People are goan want a story, Oscar,” Leroy said, pissing all over Oscar’s sense of small victory.
Except he knew Leroy was right.
“Shit,” he sighed, and looked over his shoulder to look at the boy in his back seat. “Hey kid?”
Leon looked up at him with a grateful smile.
“What do you remember?”
Leon made a face like he was thinking hard, and then shook his head. “Nothing. I don’t remember nothing.”
Oscar exchanged a look with Leroy.
Leroy sighed. “That ain’t what I meant. I mean, folks is goan want a story ’bout the whole thing. What you thinkin’ of tellin’ ’em?”
Oscar thought he had an answer for that already, and he knew just who would deliver the news.
“We’re gonna need one hell of a big gator,” Oscar said, and Leroy broke out laughing. “And that ring you stole off Mel Cayce’s hand.”
Leroy frowned at him. “Well ain’t you a sly sumbitch? If you was so sly, you’d know I kept more than just the ring.”
Leroy nodded, still frowning. “Insurance, mon ami. Was a time, I figgered maybe I’d need to plant poor Mel’s hand somewhere so’s whoever did that to him would leave me alone.”
Oscar thought about Mel Cayce, and everything they’d done since, and looked at Leroy with a mixture of shame and disgust.
“What have we become?” he asked, shaking his head sorrowfully. “We’re monsters. The both of us.”
“Speak for yourself,” Leroy replied weakly. “So what’s your plan? Trap us a big gator and blame the whole mess on some sorry reptile ain’t got the means to defend itself?”
Oscar nodded, and realized how ridiculous it sounded. Still, the alternative — the truth, whatever that was — was more ridiculous still, and more than the public could handle, he reckoned.
“Amie LeBeau wants a monster, we’ll give her one,” he said.
Leroy laughed so hard he started coughing until he was red in the face.
“She’ll laugh in your face and you know it!”
Oscar nodded again. “Yep, she will. But at the end of the day, she’ll run the story, if she knows what’s good for the town.”
Oscar unfolded the newspaper clipping Jean-Baptiste had glued into his journal. He remembered posing for the picture with the dead gator, looking solemn and professional for the camera. He’d been present when the medical examiner cut open the animal and conveniently found Mel Cayce’s hand in the beast’s stomach.
Amie LeBeau had indeed laughed in his face. She’d threatened to write the story of how they were trying to force this story on her, and Oscar appealed to her poverty and her ego and suggested that maybe she use her newfound wealth to move to the big city; that someone of her obvious talent was wasted in their little town.
He ran his finger over the newsprint, and was filled with regrets. He should have tried harder to make Amie stay away. He knew that she had secrets like everyone else in Bayou Bonhomme, and he’d heard the rumours about why she came back, but he wished he had chased her away while he still could. Now she was just another ghost on his conscience — her and Jean-Baptiste.
At least Jean-Baptiste never seemed to know what he and Leroy had done. Reading through his journal, there was never any mention of him knowing about Darrel or what really happened to Mel Cayce. He may have pieced it together, Oscar couldn’t be sure. There were newspaper clippings about the fire out at the Duchesnes’ place, and Jean-Baptiste had remarked rather gleefully that he hoped the fire took the younger Duchesne boy, as that was the common theory being gossiped around town. Oscar himself had started spreading the rumour that the man had been cooking Methamphetamine out there at his shack. It didn’t explain the house burning to the ground, but it was enough to divert attention from the truth.
That was another small victory, Oscar supposed. He didn’t know if he could live with himself if he thought JB knew what he’d done. He’d worked so hard at keeping his own secrets.