Watching the big old car burn, Leroy experienced an understandable frisson of déjà vu. He hoped that bitch Olivia Hereford got the message loud and clear; moreover, he hoped she knew well enough to leave him alone. He had no doubt that she knew it was him and Oscar that had done for Darrel back in ’98 — wasn’t it some nephew or cousin of hers that they had pulled out of the back of that trunk that day?
“Okay, let’s go,” Victor called, a tremor of nerves in his voice. “It’s going to be daylight soon.”
Leroy had lost track of time altogether. It had been a crazy couple of days, and it all ran together in a blur in his head, like a highlights reel. His eyes were tired, and the smoke wasn’t helping. If he didn’t some proper sleep soon he was going to be sick.
“Alright,” he sighed, and nodded to girl who’d fallen asleep in the passenger seat. “But we droppin’ her off at de Amtrak station before we do anyting else.”
Victor nodded in enthusiastic agreement, and went to get in the driver’s seat.
“Get outta there, you!” Leroy scolded. “Hop in de back.”
They got to the train station in time for breakfast, and sat in a diner and had biscuits and gravy and gravelly coffee. Leroy had a twinge of homesickness and wondered if he’d ever taste Mel’s biscuits again. The three of them looked a frightful sight, quiet and trembling from exhaustion.
Leroy pulled all the money he had in his wallet, roughly about $800, and handed it to Becky, who stared at him uncertainly.
“Take it,” he said. “Go on.”
“Thank you,” she said, and snatched the money, and then added, “I don’t even know your name.”
“Better that way, don’t you think?”
She nodded. “Sure.”
“Now you get on a train and go home. Or go to Biloxi, I don’t care which, and frankly, I doan wanna know. But we never met, you understand?”
She nodded again and thanked him again, with tears in her eyes. Then she surprised Victor by wrapping her arms around him and squeezing him tight, then kissing him on the cheek. He blushed and got all flustered, and waved goodbye to her as she walked out of the diner and into the train station.
“So what now?” Victor asked.
Leroy shrugged, and his cell phone began to ring. He looked at the caller ID and moved his thumb over the answer button, but then thought better of it and ignored it.
“Who was it?”
“Nobody I want to talk to right now,” he said. “Mind your own business, anyhow.”
“Sorry,” Victor scowled.
“Never you mind,” Leroy said, rubbing his temples. “I say we go back to the motel and catch some shut eye, and then you and I, mon ami, we need to be in the wind.”
Victor nodded and yawned, and if Leroy had thought that his grin was gruesome, he had to admit that the man’s yawn was downright horrifying.
“Jesus, Varney, put that shit away.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Varney laughed. “I can’t help it.”
Leroy signalled the waitress for the check, and then realized he’d given Becky all the money he had on him.
“Shit,” he grinned. “You got money for the check, Vic?”
“Oh, you sonofabitch,” Victor moaned. “You insult me and then expect me to pay for breakfast? I oughta dash right now and leave you washin’ dishes all day.”
“They don’t really make you do that, you know,” Leroy said.
“And why don’t I find it hard to believe that that is something you’d know all about?”
Leroy shrugged. “What can I say? I never claimed to be no saint.”
Victor looked at the white-haired man and broke out laughing until tears streamed down his cheeks, and for a moment, Leroy wasn’t sure the man wasn’t just crying. He covered his face with his hands and a napkin, and then emerged a moment or two later more composed.
“Sorry, it’s just been…”
“No need, mon ami,” Leroy said. “You’n me, we like brothers, now, you hear? You need anything, you let me know. We been trough ‘ell and back. That ain’t something you forget.”
Victor sighed. “So what are we gonna do? I think we should try to get in touch with the Chief.”
Leroy nodded. “Yeah, if you could find him. He disappeared right ’round the same time as you. I ain’t been able to get in touch with him at all.”
“Well, maybe Marla knows where he’s at,” the pale man suggested, reaching for his wallet and counting out several bills to pay for their breakfast.
“Yeah, maybe,” Leroy said absently. “Only I ain’t seen her, neither.”
Victor looked at him strangely.
“What?” Leroy asked. “You see sometin’ green?”
“Nah, it’s just…” he rubbed his eyes. “When you stopped in to Sadie’s a couple of days ago… Jeez, was it only that long? Feels like forever ago.”
“Tell la vérité,” Leroy agreed.
“You were goin’ on about Marla. Askin’ folks if they’d seen her, if they knew where to find her. And now Gilles, he was doin’ the same.”
Leroy nodded solemnly. “So?”
“So what if something’s happened to her?”
“Nah,” Leroy said. “She a tough gal, that one. More like she gone off on her own search. I wondered once if we could trust her, but now, I think she was one of the good ones.”
“Still,” Victor said. “Maybe I ought to look for her. Maybe Mel knows where she’s at.”
“That’s a good idea,” Leroy said. “I’ll drop you off at your motel room, and you sleep until dark. THen you go talk to Mel, but I wouldn’t go home, Victor. Stay outta sight. Hard as that may be for you, lookin’ like you do. Mel will put you up, I’m sure of it. If there’s anyone in town you can trust, it’s Melissa Cayce, I know that much.”
“And what about you?” Victor wondered. “What are you gonna do?”
“I’m goan catch me a few z’s myself, and then I s’pose maybe I best go looking for the Chief. I’ll give you my cell number — but you only call it in an emergency, you hear? I’m trusting you not to say nothin’, ‘course, I always trusted you, Victor, you know that. You find Marla, or the Chief, you call me, an’ I’ll do the same.”
Oscar hung up the phone when Leroy’s voice mail picked up. Maybe it was too early in the morning, or maybe he didn’t want to talk. Or couldn’t talk. Oscar felt a renewed twinge of guilt for running away and abandoning Marla and Leroy and the entire town, but one look at his daughter sleeping safely in the hotel bed and he knew that he’d made the right call. He tried to tell himself that Luanne’s condition wasn’t his fault, and even managed to half-convince himself, but the truth was, in some way, he shared the blame. He wondered how much his wife knew; how much she lived in denial of.
He tried calling Marla again, and after a few rings, her voice mail picked up and he hung up. Again. He was starting to go a bit stir crazy not knowing what was going on back in Bayou Bonhomme. He’d spent the last fifteen years drinking himself into an apathetic stupor, and suddenly he was wide awake again. But for the ache in his knees and back, and all the extra weight he was carrying around, he felt like he had years ago, when he’d actually cared what happened to the people in town.
He had come to realize a great many things by reading the history of Bayou Bonhomme as presented by the Levesque men. One of the things he’d had to face was the fact of his own participation and involvement in some terrible things — things that already haunted him, but that now he saw in a new light entirely.
There were people he had done wrong that he hadn’t even considered. His wife and daughter first of all, but then Amie LeBeau came to mind, and while he knew that situation was beyond repair, there was another that was still among the living, who he had sinned against grievously, and who he felt a great need to make amends with. He’d told himself that he was saving her from unnecessary grief, but in retrospect, the real reason he hadn’t told Melissa Cayce about her father was because he hadn’t wanted to admit that he’d been afraid, and that he’d made the decision to cover it up out of sheer terror. He’d been a coward, and a fool, but the time was coming when he couldn’t afford to be either.
He dialled the number to Mel’s Bar and Grill. She might not be open yet — opening hours at Mel’s were kind of flexible depending on how much Mel had to drink the night before — but all he could do was try.
Mel picked up on the fourth ring, “Mel’s, Mel speaking.”
“Mel, it’s Oscar. Don’t say my name.”
“Oh, hello there,” she said. “No, Victor ain’t here right now.”
“What?” Oscar was confused. “What about Varney?”
“Well, actually, his name’s Victor, and I’ll thank you to remember it. But he works nights… Uh-huh, on account of his condition, that’s right. No, you best call back later. Try back ’round 7:30, maybe 8 O’clock this evening. All right. Bye-bye now.”
Oscar stood looking at his phone and wondered what the hell that was all about. He thought about calling back, but then thought that Mel had sounded pre-occupied, and that maybe she was trying to tell him something was up. He’d wait until later, like she said, but he was definitely planning on calling her back.