I am standing in a bar. A woman stands in front of a jukebox and sways to the Bruce Springsteen tune coming from it. She wears a long skirt that falls from her hips and covers her ankles. It flows with her movements, revealing nothing, but promising everything. She has long shiny black hair, so black it is almost blue. It bounces from one shoulder to the next. Several small round tables with chairs are scattered haphazardly around the place. A man sits at one of them. He stares at the woman. He calls her Baby.
“Baby,” he says. “Punch in some Merle Haggard. I like Merle.” He slurs his words.
She turns sideways and looks at the man. I catch a glimpse of a small upturned nose, full lips, and high cheekbones.
“No,” she says simply and returns to her swaying.
In the back of the bar, two men shoot pool, but I can’t hear the clacking of the balls hitting each other over the music. Both men look up at me when I enter, frown, and return to their game.
Another man sits in a chair placed in a corner at the back of the room. He eyes me through droopy eyes.
The bar runs from the entrance to about midway in the room. Stools line one side of the bar. A mirror, shelves, and bottles line the other side. A bartender stands between the two and pours red liquid into a drink glass. He drops a cherry into it and starts working on another drink. He frowns at the couple and ignores me.
The Springsteen song ends and a Fleetwood Mac song starts. The woman turns, leans back on the jukebox, and stares at me. She has intense green eyes the color of jade. The bartender yells, “Drinks” behind me.
“Baby,” the man at the table slurs. “Will you bring me my drink?”
She turns toward him, starts to say something, thinks better of it, and pushes off the jukebox. She dances toward me, staggering slightly, stops in front of me, and takes my hand.
Dance with me,” she whispers and folds into my body, swaying to the music. We dance between the tables, knocking chairs and tables awry, her skirt flowing around my legs, her chest rubbing against mine. The song stops, but she doesn’t pull away. She looks up into my face, her green eyes playful.
“This one is my favorite,” she whispers. “This one takes me all the way home.”
Van Morrison comes on the jukebox and she pulls me tight to her.
“Don’t,” she says. “Please don’t.” But I can already feel the pull…
My cellphone danced on the night table, my “Brown-eyed Girl” ringtone coming to a fever pitch. I picked up the phone and glanced at the number. I didn’t recognize it. I glanced at the clock, 2:30 in the morning.
“Who the hell?”
I flipped the phone open.
“Hello,” I grumbled.
It was a woman’s voice, slightly familiar.
“Yeah. Do you know what time it is?”
There was a pause on the other end.
“Two thirty-one in the morning.”
“Most people are normally asleep at 2:31 in the morning.”
“Meet me at the Silver Slipper Shack around one o’clock tomorrow.”
“The Silver Slipper Shack? Isn’t that the bar by the hospital that the town wants to get rid of?”
“That’s the one. See you at one o’clock.”
She hung up.
I scratched my head, got up, and relieved myself. Then I climbed back in bed, hoping against all odds that I would recapture my dream, but that wasn’t going to happen. Finally, I climbed out of bed and watched an old movie on television until I fell asleep on the couch.
I woke up the next morning stiff and in a surly mood. Some newsperson on television talked about the war on terrorism’s effect on morale at home. I found the remote control buried under a couch pillow and clicked the television off. I stretched, scratched a few spots, and made my way to the bathroom. After I had brushed my teeth and splashed water on my face, I felt a little better. At least, I was ready to face the day. It was then I remembered the two-thirty call. Something had been familiar about the voice, but I could not place it or put a face to it. What had she said? Meet her at the Silver Slipper Shack. I had never been inside the place, but I knew about it.
The Silver Slipper Shack was a slatternly building with a tin roof, barred windows, and a wooden sign attached to the building. The sign, about the size of a small window, sported a drawing of a silver slipper with the words SILVER SLIPPER SHACK below it, attached over the front door. A cylindrical low voltage light sat above the door. In the light of the afternoon sun, the place looked run down, out of place between a drug store and a medical equipment rental building. For years, the city had been trying to rezone the area to get rid of the Sliver Slipper Shack eyesore, but Horace Guillory, the owner, was a resourceful bar owner. I had never met him, but I knew about him. Not only did he know his way around politics, he was also a resourceful collector of bar gossip, and he made sure the politicians knew that. Consequently, there was a lot of talk about rezoning that area, but whenever it actually came time to vote the rezoning, there never seemed to be enough votes. It wasn’t as if the Silver Slipper Shack caused anybody any problems. The clientele was small, a group of about twenty or thirty regulars, who came in irregularly and the occasional drop in from the hospital, usually a group of hospital workers on a slumming party. Overall, the place kept a low profile, and the police seldom had to visit the establishment because of trouble. If trouble broke out, the response was usually quick and definitive. If you caused trouble, you left, either on your feet or on your butt. It didn’t matter if you were wrong or right. Apparently, Horace Guillory was not a compassionate man.
At one o’clock, I parked my old Dodge Ram Van in front of the Silver Slipper Shack and climbed out. I hesitated in front of the door for a few seconds. Music leaked out and I could just make out a CCR tune. I pushed open the door and was shocked.
I had seen this bar in my dream. It wasn’t exactly the same. The jukebox was different, newer. The pool table was the same, but nobody played on it. Two pool cues lay crossed on the tabletop. An older version of the man in my dream sat in a chair in the back corner, eyeing me with the same droopy eyes. Several people sat at the tables, drinking drinks or beer and talking over the music. The woman, it was the same woman I had seen in my dream, but older, stood at the bar and drank from a red drink. She watched me in the mirror. The bartender nodded and swiped the bar with a rag.
“Get you anything?” He asked.
I shook my head and sidled up to the bar next to the woman.
“I’m John LeGrand,” I said. “Are you the one who called me at 2:30 this morning?”
She turned slowly and faced me, her jade-green eyes searching my face.
“Do I know you?”
I recognized the voice from the morning phone call.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “You look familiar to me, too, but I don’t know where I might have met you.”
“You’re a detective, aren’t you? The phone book said you were.”
“Yeah, I’m a detective.”
“Come,” she said and walked toward a table at the rear of the room. I followed her and took a chair opposite her.
“Sit closer,” she said. “The music is loud, and I don’t want him to hear.” She nodded her head toward the man in the corner.
I switched chairs and sat next to her. She smelled of honeysuckle and coconut.
“You need a detective?” I asked once I settled myself in the chair
“What I need can wait. Tell me about yourself.”
“I usually ask the questions.”
“Listen, I made a mistake a long time ago. I jumped into something without considering the outcome. I don’t make the same mistakes twice. Either we do it my way, or you can go.”
“I’m an ex-sheriff’s deputy. After my wife left me, I fell into a bottle and lost my job. A very good friend of mine pulled me out, found me a part time job at the college, and helped me start my detective business. I don’t make a lot of money as a part time teacher and even less as a detective.”
“Are you a good detective?”
“The best in Ellisonville.”
“I didn’t see any others in the phone book.”
“My point exactly. Now, you know about my problems. Let’s hear yours.”
“Come with me.”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me up.
“Come on. Come with me.”
I let her pull me across the room out the front door.
“Where are we going?” I asked once we were outside.
She released my hand.
“I want to show you something that I hope will explain what I want a lot more forcibly than words can.”
“Alright, but where are we going?”
“To the hospital. It’s only a block and a half away.”
We walked the block and a half in silence. When we arrived at the hospital, she walked up to a check in desk. The elderly woman behind the desk smiled at her.
“Hi, Mabel. This is John LeGrand.”
“Oh, you called him, huh?”
“Yes, I decided to bite the bullet.”
“Welcome, Mr. LeGrand.” Mabel smiled at me and handed me a clip-on tag. “Wear this whenever you enter the ICU. They won’t let you in without it.” She handed another tag to Cassandra. “Here you go, honey. My prayers are with you.”
“Thank you, Mabel.”
Cassandra took off up a hallway, and I followed. When I caught up with her, I took her arm and stopped her.
“I’m not going a step further until I get some answers. What’s your name, for instance?”
“Okay. Why are we going to the ICU?”
“Please be patient, Mr. LeGrand. I promise you, it’ll all become clear to you in a few minutes.”
“I don’t know why I’m doing this, but lead on.”
She led me to a bank of elevators and we took them to the third floor. We hung a left out of the elevators and came up to a secure combination lock door. She punched in a few numbers, and the door buzzed open. We walked in. Two nurses looked up at us.
“Hi, Cassie,” the blonde nurse chirped. “Is that the detective?”
“Uh, huh. How is Tiffany?”
“Oh, Honey, she’s just like you left her, no better, no worse,” the gray-haired nurse answered.
“Follow me,” she said to me.
We walked into a small room filled with machines. A little girl about eleven or twelve lay in a hospital bed. She had tubes running to and from her, from IVs to breathing tubes, to blood pressure monitors, and other monitors I was not familiar with. She had a breathing tube that entered her mouth and I assumed supplied her lungs with air. It would click loudly, whisper with a rush of air, and her little chest would rise.
“This is Tiffany Caissie,” Cassandra said. She ran a hand through the girl’s hair. “She’s my little girl.”
“What’s wrong with her?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Just about six months ago, I was washing dishes in my kitchen when I heard this God-awful thump. I knew immediately that something was dreadfully wrong. I ran to my living room, and Tiffany was sprawled on the floor not breathing. I called 911 and started CPR on her. The paramedics arrived within minutes, and she’s been in here since then.”
“What happened to her?”
“Nobody knows. The doctors sure don’t know. All they know is that, for whatever reason, her body stopped functioning. She can’t breathe on her own. Without help, her kidneys, liver, pancreas, and God knows what else simply would stop working. She is alive because of those machines. That’s the only reason.”
I looked at the girl, her chest rising on cue, and shook my head.
“I’m sorry,” I said, weakly.
“I wanted to bring you here because I wanted you to see what I’m faced with. You’re a man, Mr. LeGrand. You don’t know what it’s like to have a child grow inside of you for nine months. There’s an intimacy between the two of you that no man can ever experience. It’s a connection, a bond, which continues even after the child leaves the womb and the umbilical cord is cut.” She paused and stared at the girl. Her eyes teared up. When she talked again, her voice was choked with emotion. “This is no way for a child to live.”
“What are her chances of recovering?”
“The doctors tell me they don’t know. They just don’t know. I’ve yelled at them. I’ve threatened them. I’ve cried, cajoled, cursed, but they still don’t know.”
“Why did you bring me here, Cassandra? Why did you want me to see her?”
“I’ll get to that in a minute.” She swiped at her eyes. “Two weeks ago, one of the doctors told me that I had a choice to make. Tiffany had been in ICU longer than they normally allow patients to stay. The prognosis for her recovery was not very good, and in any case, it didn’t look like she would recover any time soon, so I needed to start looking for a home to place her in.” She paused and looked directly into my eyes. “I don’t know how much longer I can handle watching my daughter being kept alive by machines. Do you get the irony, Mr. LeGrand? In the womb, she was connected to me. I kept her alive. Now, she’s connected to these damn machines, and they keep her alive. I don’t want to see her get older, grow up, in this vegetative state. I just don’t want to see it.”
She looked away. I watched her shoulders shake as she sobbed into her hands. After a few minutes, she straightened and faced me again.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know it sounds selfish, but I can’t bare this alone anymore.” She paused and swiped at her eyes again. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You said the doctor gave you a choice?”
“Some choice. He wants to cut back on the percentage of oxygen they provide Tiffany. She’s on 75% oxygen right now.”
“What happens if he does this?”
“More than likely she would die. He says it is possible that she could start breathing on her own.” She shook her head. “Who the hell are we kidding here? It’s pulling the plug. It’s giving up. It’s turning off all these fucking machines and disconnecting my little girl. That’s my choice: disconnect my little girl or stick her and her machines in a nursing home for what, the rest of her life. I can’t make this decision. I can’t. I just can’t.”
“Do you have family that can help?”
“A few cousins here and there who don’t give a damn about me or Tiffany.”
“How about her father?”
“When I told him I was pregnant, he disappeared. I have not heard from him since, twelve years ago. That’s what I want you to do, Mr. LeGrand. I want you to find the bastard. I want you to bring him back here. I want him to stand right where you’re standing, and I want him to look at his flesh and blood and make the decision.” She glanced at her daughter. “She even looks like the bastard. How unfair is that?” She turned back to me. “I don’t have any money, Mr. LeGrand. Every penny I had saved has gone to the hospital. I had a pretty good job as a legal secretary, but I lost that job because I was needed here. I had to be with her. I will make it up to you, Mr. LeGrand. I promise. I’ll do everything it takes, anything, and everything, if you’ll just do this for me.”
“My name is John. What can you tell me about this guy? Do you have a picture of him?”
“No picture. All I really have is his name, Richard Andrepont.”
“Our little affair did not last long—a few weeks maybe, and there wasn’t much talk. It was purely sex, for both of us, I guess. I didn’t even like him.”
“Did either of you consider abortion?”
“It wasn’t his choice, John. It was my choice, and I chose to have the child. I was going to college at the time—in fact, I was pregnant when I picked up my associate degree in business.”
“Do you at least know where he’s from?”
“I don’t know that either—only that he’s from Louisiana. You can’t fake that accent of his.” She paused.
“Well, I’m thinking he might have been from Lafayette. He seemed to know a lot about the place and he did take me there a couple of times to restaurants.”
I took out a small pocket notebook and wrote Richard Andrepont in it. I was hoping it wasn’t too popular a name.
“Anything else? For example, where did you meet?”
“In class, actually.”
“He was a student at EJC?” Ellisonville Junior College was the local college.
“Didn’t I say that? He was. We met in an English class. I was passing. He wasn’t, so he asked me to help him.”
“That was, what, twelve years ago, about? How old was he then?”
“Over twenty-one for sure. Probably closer to twenty-four or twenty-five. I was twenty-two, and he had to be older than me.”
“So that would make him in his upper thirties today?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Anything else? What was he going for at the college?”
“He was working on a science degree, I believe. He kept complaining about having to take humanities classes.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you, John.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you, so much.”
“I can’t promise anything, but I will do what I can. How do I get in touch with you if I need to?”
“I have a trac phone. You can call that.” She gave me the number, and I wrote it in my notebook.
I left the hospital and walked to my van. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into, but after seeing that little girl, there was no way I could refuse her mother. Actually, I wanted to find this guy and show him what he left behind.
The first thing I did was drive to my home slash office and searched for Richard Andrepont on the Internet. I received over fourteen thousand hits, but after looking over a mere thousand or two, I decided that was no way of knowing if any of those Richard Andreponts was my guy. Then I decided to visit Marybelle Aucoin at the college. If anybody was going to remember who this guy was, Marybelle would.
Marybelle was the oldest employee at Ellisonville Junior College. She had been there when it first opened, a trailer in a cow pasture. Now, she was in her upper eighties and still going strong. She refused to retire, so the school built her a little office next to the registrar, gave her a title, School Historian, and everybody was happy.
I knocked on her opened door and Miss Marybelle looked up.
She looked her age—stoop-shouldered, thin, wrinkled, and white-haired—but her blue eyes were still clear and steady. She smiled, her wrinkles moving with the smile.
“You’re that detective they hired a few years ago to teach part time, aren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am. John LeGrand.”
“Well, come in, Mr. LeGrand and have a seat.” She indicated a chair next to her desk. I sat.
“Before you start. Tell me a little about yourself.”
“Who’s your momma and your poppa?”
“My momma was Rosalie Smith LeGrand and my daddy was Clement LeGrand.”
“I thought so. You’re from Serpentville. Your momma’s poppa was a German prisoner of war. When the war ended, he didn’t go back to Germany. He met your granmomma and stayed here. Now your granmomma on your momma’s side was a pretty interesting lady, too. Her poppa was a big time politician in, I think it was Rapides Parish, and he didn’t cotton to his baby girl marrying a German prisoner of war, so he forbid her to see him again. But Angelique Bernard was a headstrong girl. One night, she lit out and married that German guy, en chacette. But you probably know all this stuff. You came to see me for a special reason, not to hear me babble on. What can I do for you?”
Actually, she was telling me things I didn’t know about my relatives. I knew a little about my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side, but they both died when I was very young, and my parents never mentioned my great grandfather.
“Yes, ma’am. About twelve years ago, a student attended here by the name of Richard Andrepont. I wonder if you have any information on him or if you remember him.”
“Twelve years ago. I was working in financial aid then, mostly filing papers, ‘cause they didn’t know what to do with me, even then. Andrepont? The name doesn’t sound familiar.” Miss Marybelle struggled out of her chair. I started to help her, but she waved me off.
“I’m old, but I can still stand up on my own.”
She pulled open the top drawer of a file cabinet standing next to her desk and rifled through a row of file folders.
“Several years ago, the school decided to destroy all their old folders and go digital. I begged them to let me record the information on them, and I guess they figured it would give me something to do, so they gave me this office and a title, and here I still am.”
She pulled out a manila folder and opened it.
“I took each individual folder the registrar had, copied down the name and address on it and anything else I thought was interesting and started a list of everybody who ever attended our prestigious little school.” She traced a finger down a list of names. “I’m on the M’s right now. I hope I don’t die before I get to the Z’s.” She grinned at me, her blue eyes sparkling. “Here he is. Richard Andrepont, worked toward an Associate of Science, took a lot of math and geology classes, stopped coming all of a sudden in his last semester, actually.”
“Is there an address there for him?”
“Let’s see. Yep, 15 Sunlight Street, Ellisonville. That’s on the west side of town, over behind the new Big Lots they’re building.”
“Thank you, Miss Marybelle.”
“Just a moment, young man.” She replaced the folder and sat back down. “Why do you want information on that boy?”
“Someone hired me to find him.”
“Would it be that young girl he got pregnant?”
“You know about that?”
“I’m old, young man, but I’m not blind. She was big as a house when she picked up her diploma, and him disappearing sudden-like like that, well, it doesn’t take a mathematician to add up those numbers. How long it’s been since she last saw him?”
“About twelve years, Miss Marybelle.”
“That’s a long time. Lots of things can happen in twelve years.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll tread lightly.”
“See that you do. Sometimes history is best when it lies buried. You know what I mean?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do, but this woman is not looking to get even.”
“You just beware. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
I left her, thinking that I needed to start doing some digging in my family’s past. A fine detective I was. This old lady knew more about my past than I did.
Fifteen Sunlight Street was on the West side of Ellisonville. Most of the houses in that neighborhood had been built in the fifties and were wood frame, white, and practical. Many of them, if not most of them, were covered with vinyl siding now. The one at 15 Sunlight St. was painted white with green door and window trim. The house was a one-story home raised about two feet off the ground on brick pillars. A garage next to the house was also wood frame and painted white with green trim. A set of stairs on the house side led up to a room over the garage.
I walked along a flower-lined walk up to the front gallery. I climbed the steps and knocked on the front screen door. A woman wearing an apron appeared at the door.
“Can I help you?” She touched her gray hair with a flour-coated hand leaving a spot of white on her temple.
“Yes, ma’am. My name is John LeGrand. I’m looking for the whereabouts of Richard Andrepont. I was told he lived here about twelve years ago.”
“Alphonse,” the woman called out. “Come here. Somebody’s looking for Richard.” She turned back to me. “My husband’ll be here in a moment. He’s out back working in the garden.’ She stepped back and opened the door wide. “Come in Mr. LeGrand. I’m right in the middle of kneading some dough for some bread, and I’m sure I’m a real mess.” I followed her through a living room into a small back kitchen. A mound of bread dough sat in the middle of one of the counters. “Hope you don’t mind,” she said. “But I have to work on this a little more before I let it rise again.”
“No. Please go ahead.”
A few minutes later, a short, stocky man with gray hair and large calloused hands came into the kitchen.
“Alphonse, this is Mr. LeGrand. He’s looking for Richard.”
The man nodded and walked to the kitchen sink and washed his hands using dish soap.
“What did I tell you about washing your hands in the kitchen sink? That’s what the bathroom sink is for.”
“Dirt is dirt. A little more of it won’t hurt nothing.”
He wiped his hands on a dishtowel hanging from a cabinet door and extended a clean hand to me. I shook it.
“Richard ain’t been here, for what, Izetta, fifteen years?”
“For twelve years. He came in one day, packed everything he had, loaded a couple of boxes in that old car of his, told me to hold on to the other boxes, and hightailed it out of here.”
“Do you know where he went to?”
“Ain’t got the faintest idea.”
“He went to New Iberia,” the woman said. “Remember, he sent us that letter postmarked from New Iberia and told us to get rid of those two boxes he had us hold on to.”
“Do you remember what the return address was?”
“Ain’t got a clue. Got rid of the letter and the boxes long ago. New Iberia’s all I know.”
“Would you like to stay for a cup of coffee?” The woman asked.
“No, ma’am. Looks like I’m going to New Iberia. Thank you, both for your help.”
“Well, if you see him, tell him Alphonse and Izetta said hi. He was one of our favorite renters.”
“Will do,” I said and found my way back to my van.
I wasn’t getting paid for this case, and I wasn’t so sure my old van would make it to New Iberia, so I had to find a way to con Janet, my department head, into letting me use a college vehicle. She would have to believe that I was going there on school business. I worked on it all through my afternoon Intro Criminal Justice class when at the end of class a student gave me an idea. “When are you going to show us how to solve a case?” one of my more ambitious students asked. That was it—I was going to New Iberia to research a case for my students to solve. The argument had both professional development and student-centered instruction as its centerpiece. Janet would salivate at that.
I found her in her office. She sat in front of her computer hunting and pecking with two index fingers. The door stood opened, so I didn’t bother knocking.
“Haven’t you ever learned how to type?”
She stopped pecking and looked up at me.
“What do you want LeGrand? You never visit my office unless you want something.”
“I need a school vehicle for a day to go to New Iberia.”
“With the cost of gas these days, the school is limiting the use of school vehicles. It would have to be damned important.”
“It is. I’ve been thinking about redesigning my course some to make it more student-centered.”
She cocked an eyebrow. She was thinking, he’s trying to BS me, but all she said was, “Go on.”
“Look, I stand in front of the class and all I do is lecture. I give them information. They memorize it and take the test. Then they forget it. That’s not a good way to teach. Agreed?”
“I agree. In fact, the school is looking at making our classes more student-centered. It’s the new mantra.”
“So why do you need to go to New Iberia?”
“I have an idea. In order to teach my students the basic ideas behind criminal investigation, I’m researching a case right now that will do all of that without me having to stand in front of them and pump them full of information. I’m going to let them find the information on their own. They’ll need to use their research, critical thinking, and reporting skills in order to do so. The reason I’m going to New Iberia is because that’s where the case is. I have to make sure that it’s safe and doesn’t interfere with anyone’s rights.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a missing person case. I’ve already done most of the research. The missing person came here as a student over twelve years ago. I will give the students that little bit of information and a name. They’ll have to use their own resources to find the person. I need to speak to the individual and make sure it’s okay with him.”
“Can’t you do this over the phone or email?”
“Sure some, but I need for him to sign a waiver that basically says he agrees to allow my students to look for him, and I have to have that waiver before my class on Monday.”
Janet turned away from me and stared at the calendar hanging from her wall. She was debating whether to believe me or not. She and I had a history. We liked each other. I suspected she was a darn good administrator, and I was sure she felt that I was a good teacher, albeit unconventional.
“Alright,” she said finally, and wrote a note on a blank sheet of paper, signed a blank form, and handed both to me. “Fill out the absence form and take it and this note to the Business Affairs Office. Tell them to give you a vehicle for tomorrow if they have one available.”
“Thanks,” I said and took my note with me. I stopped by the secretary’s desk.
“Hey, Patsy. Can you fill out an absence report for me?”
“Are you really that incompetent?”
“You know how it is, mon cherie, I never know where all those numbers go. It would take me all afternoon to do it, and you are so good at it. It would only take you a few minutes.”
“I might as well stop arguing with you and do it. I’m going to end up doing it in the end.”
She picked up a pen and started filling out the form.
I smiled and winked at her. She shook her head.
“You’re impossible. You know that?”
“Aw, come on, cher, you know I’m right.”
That night I spent a little time at the computer. I lucked out. There were only two Richard Andrepont in New Iberia. The first one sent me to a voice mail. I dialed the second one and, a woman’s voice answered.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Pardon me, ma’am. I’m trying to reach a Mr. Richard Andrepont. I’m with Ellisonville Junior College.”
“Just a minute.” She placed the phone down, and I heard her yelling Richard’s name. A few seconds later, a man’s voice came on.
“My name is John LeGrand, and I work with Ellisonville Junior College.” Technically, I was not lying. “You attended EJC about twelve years ago and dropped out. Is that correct?”
“Yeah. That’s right.”
“EJC is clearing its books, and we just recently found your phone number.” Okay. Now, I was lying. “Because you didn’t finish the semester, EJC owes you some money.” I paused for effect. “Let’s see, the total comes to one hundred and twenty-seven dollars and thirty-two cents.”
“Well, that’s good news. But I thought if you just dropped out like that without formally dropping, you would lose your money.”
“I only read what it says here, sir. If you’d like to donate the money to the school, I’m sure that could be arranged.”
“Hell, no. Send me the check.”
“If you’ll give me your address, sir, I’ll make sure it gets to you as soon as possible.”
“Sure. My address is 111 Saltilla Street, New Iberia.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He hung up.
I called Cassandra and told her I had located Richard Andrepont, and I would have him at the hospital in the afternoon the next day. She wanted details, but I begged off and hung up.
I spent the next hour or so combing the New Iberia newspaper for a picture of Andrepont. Because a woman answered the phone, I figured he was married and engaged couples liked to place their pictures in the newspaper. Sure enough, I found a picture of the happy couple in the paper’s archives under a five-year-old headline “LaBauve-Andrepont Plan June Wedding in Park.” Under the headline was a picture of Richard Andrepont and his soon-to-be bride, Alyssa LaBauve. Alyssa was blonde, beautiful, and elegant in her strapless evening dress. Andrepont had on a formal tux and a wide smile. She rested her head on his shoulder, and he rested his cheek on the top of her head. I hit print, folded the picture, and stuffed it in my wallet. I didn’t need the picture now. I knew who Richard Andrepont was. He was the guy in my dream, the one who called Cassandra “Baby” and wanted to hear some Merle Haggard. This case was getting weird.
The distance between Ellisonville and New Iberia is about sixty miles if you travel in a straight line. It took me about two hours to make it there because there was no straight shot from Ellisonville to New Iberia. New Iberia was sugar cane country. The soil was dark rich Atchafaylaya River sediment perfect for growing sugar cane. On both sides of the road between Lafayette and New Iberia green fields of the tall sugar cane plants waved in the light breeze blowing. The sight reminded me of pictures I’d seen in history books of Haitian and Cuban sugar cane fields being harvested by black slaves. I wondered if there was a connection between New Iberia and the Caribbean Islands. I decided there probably was, considering that most of those islands had been French dominated.
I checked my GPS on my phone, and noticed that I was about a mile from my destination. Saltilla St. subdivision was fairly new, consisting of a mixture of brick homes and trailers, all well-kept. Four eleven Saltilla Street was a new brick home with a fenced in back yard. When I pulled into the driveway, a dog barked from behind the fence. I rang the doorbell and Alyssa LaBauve Andrepont answered the door. She held a squirmy toddler in her arms.
“My name is John LeGrand. I called yesterday.”
She glanced over my shoulder at the van I parked in her driveway and noticed the school name and logo on the driver’s side door. The child reached a dirty hand toward me.
“Richard,” she called out over her shoulder. “It’s for you.” She left the door opened and walked away. Five years of marriage to Richard Andrepont and perhaps childbirth had taken its toll on Alyssa. She looked haggard.
Richard Andrepont showed up at the door, glanced at the van, and then at me.
“You the one who called last night?”
“I expected you would mail the check.”
“There is no check, Richard. Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
“I got nothing to hide.”
“Not even Cassandra?”
Richard glanced over his shoulder. Then he stepped out and pulled the door shut.
“What the hell does this have to do with Cassandra?”
“You’re coming back with me. She wants to talk to you.”
“The hell I am.”
“Richard, I’m a private detective. One, I know stuff about you that your wife does not, like an abandoned child from twelve years ago. Two, I carry a firearm.” I patted my empty back pocket. “That gives me two good reasons why I’m sure you are going to be coming with me.”
Richard sighed and his shoulders sagged. Sure signs of defeat.
“I have to tell my wife.”
“Make it quick, Richard. We have an appointment for this afternoon.”
He turned and re-entered the house. I could hear his wife through the door, asking question, yelling angrily because she was not getting any answers. The toddler cried loudly. Richard came out a few minutes later and climbed into the school van.
“How am I going to get back?”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way, Richard. You are a resourceful kind of guy.”
I pulled into the hospital parking lot around one o’clock that afternoon. It had been a strange trip. Richard peppered me with questions until I finally told him to shut up, and we rode the rest of the way in silence, except for once when I caught him staring at me.
“What?” I asked him.
“Do I know you?”
“How in the hell do I know?”
He turned away from me and didn’t speak again until we reached the hospital.
“Why are we at a hospital?” He asked.
“Because that’s where I want to be. Come on,” I said.
Cassandra waited for us at the check-in counter. The old check-in lady gave Richard and me our tags.
“They don’t usually allow more than two people in the ICU at once. Must be pretty important for them to break the rule.”
Cassandra led the way. She didn”t say anything to Richard. He tried telling her hello, but she ignored him. Once we entered the ICU, Richard stopped
“Damn it, what’s going on here? I got a right to know.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” I said and shoved him forward.
When we entered Tiffany’s room, Cassandra spoke to Richard for the first time.
“I’d like you to meet your daughter,” she said.
Richard stopped so fast, I almost ran into him. He gaped at the body of the girl. The resemblance between him and the girl was obvious. He brought his hands to his face and fell sitting in one of the chairs in the room. Great heaving sobs wracked his body.
I looked at Cassandra. Tears streaked her face. She placed a hand on Richard’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I couldn’t go through this alone, Richard.”
Richard let out a muffled, “What happened?”
I left the ICU and walked to the Silver Slipper Shack. The two had a lot to talk about and I would only be in the way. I walked to the bar, sat down on a stool across from the bartender, and ordered a beer.
After my third beer, I realized that if I kept drinking, I would get drunk, so I stopped and asked the bartender for a glass of water. He raised an eyebrow and slid a glass of ice water my way.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m hungry.” I nodded toward a collection of jars at the far end of the bar. “Give me two of those pickled quail eggs, and one of those pickled sausages.”
He shrugged and made his way to the other end of the bar.
The door opened and a customer walked in. I noticed that it had become considerably darker outside. I had no idea how long I had been sitting in the bar. I stood and dropped a quarter in the jukebox. I punched in a Van Morrison tune and something by Boz Skaggs. The customer asked for a beer and shoved a few coins into the pool table. He nodded at me, and I understood that he wanted me to play with him. I declined and walked back to my stool and my meager meal. The door opened again and to my surprise, Pat Broussard, my former boss, walked in. Pat was the Ellison Parish Sheriff and was dressed in his uniform. He plopped himself in the stool next to me.
“Hey,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
Pat removed his Stetson off and placed it on the bar. “Get me a beer,” he said to the bartender. “Oh, and a couple of those quail eggs, too.” He turned back to me. “Horace called me.” He nodded at the white-haired man seated in the corner.
I turned and looked that direction. So that was Horace. It looked to me that he hadn’t even moved since I’d first entered.
“Okay, I give up. Why would Horace call you?”
“You and him got history.”
Again, I looked in Horace’s direction.
“We got history? I don’t even know him, Pat. I’ve never been in this place before yesterday.”
“You don’t remember, do you?”
“You came in here once before, about twelve years ago. It was shortly after Vera left you. You came in here, so drunk you could barely walk. I guess you hit on some woman, and her boyfriend was screaming bloody murder at you. Horace called me because he recognized your sheriff’s uniform.” The bartender placed the beer and quail eggs in front of Pat. He pulled out a bill and slid it to the bartender. “When I showed up, you were wrapped up with some woman in the middle of the floor there. I don’t know who was drunker, you, her, or her boyfriend. I peeled you off her, and she crumpled to the floor. The boyfriend kept yelling that you had killed her. He got up, knocked over a couple of chairs and collapsed about two feet from her. They were both dead all right, dead to the world. I carried you out, drove you home, and dropped you in your bed. The next day, I fired your ass. I couldn’t have my deputies drunk in public.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“I did, you idiot. Don’t you remember that either. I told you exactly why you were fired.”
“But you didn’t tell me that I had been here before.”
“And why should I? It didn’t matter where I found you drunk. What mattered was that I found you drunk in uniform. Don’t you remember any of this?”
“Sure, I remember the conversation, but I don’t remember being in here.” Then it hit me. The dream wasn’t really a dream. It was a memory. “Damn,” I said. “That explains so much, Pat.”
“How about you explain a few things to me. What the hell are you doing in here? Have you taken up drinking again? I thought you and I had taken care of that problem.”
“I got a call a couple of nights ago, a woman. She wanted to meet me here around 1:00 yesterday.”
“So you’re on a case?”
“Yeah, but when I entered this place, it seemed so familiar. I couldn’t figure it out. Your little bit of information sure cleared a few things up.”
“Great. Now can we go?”
“No, Pat. I’m waiting on her. I have to make sure everything worked out.” I paused a moment. “There’s more, Pat.” But before I could tell him, the door opened and Cassandra walked in.
“Hey,” Pat said to me. “That’s her. That’s the woman.”
“I know, Pat. I’ll explain later.”
Pat stood and placed the Stetson on his head.
“Call me. Inquiring minds want to know.” Pat smiled, turned, and walked out, touching the brim of his Stetson when he passed by Cassandra.
Cassandra took the stool Pat had just vacated. She smiled at me, but it was a tired smile with little pleasure behind it. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her face was blotchy. Whatever had happened at the hospital had taken its toll on her. The bartender walked up, but she motioned him away. She looked up at me.
“Thank you,” she said. “I had to make sure that Tiffany was not a mistake, that I wasn’t such a bad judge of character. I was right. Richard is not a bad person.”
“He deserted you and his child.”
She took my arm and leaned into me.
“I didn’t say he was perfect. Apparently, he’d been living with the guilt for twelve years. When he saw Tiffany on that hospital bed hooked up to all that machinery, it came back to him, and he completely broke down.” She laid her head against my shoulder. “I promised that if you helped me find him, I would do whatever you wanted me to.” She looked up into my face. “The offer still holds, but I have a funeral and some mourning to go through first.”
I nodded and smiled at her.
“Of course, Cassandra. I’m so sorry.”
“I think I had made my decision long before Richard showed up. There were no miracles in that room, John, just machines.” She paused for a few moments. “Sad as it seems, I think I wanted Richard to suffer, too.” She pulled her head off my shoulder and searched my face. “Does that make me a bad person, John?”
“No, Cassandra. I think you are an incredibly brave person.” She rested her head against my shoulder again. We listened to the pool balls smacking against each other, the music spilling from the jukebox, and the bartender washing glasses behind the bar, and in that moment, I understood what Horace was doing behind those droopy eyes.
“I hear you’re a pretty good legal secretary.”
“I told you that.”
“My files are in real bad shape. I sure could use someone who knows what she’s doing helping me put them in order.” She looked at me through the bar mirror. “The pay won’t be much, you know.”
“I know, John.” She released my arm and slid off the stool. “Will you walk me back to the hospital? I’ve got a lot to do the next few days.”
“You have a standing offer for help.”
“Thank you, John, but this is something Richard and I have to take care of.”
She took my arm and together, we walked out of the Silver Slipper Shack, but just as the door shut, I swear I saw Horace open his eyes and smile at us
Jude Roy has published widely in print and online sources, including The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, National Public Radio, Prism International, Zuzu’s Petal Quarterly, A Writer’s Choice Literary Journal, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, and numerous others. He was born and raised in Chatagnier, Louisiana and is personally acquainted with his setting. He studied writing under Ernest Gaines, Richard Bausch and Alan Cheuse.