Ever since I read James Dickey’s novel Deliverance, I wanted to take a canoe trip down our lazy bayou all the way down to the Mississippi. When I told Pat, my friend and Sheriff of Ellison Parish, he grinned, and told me that it was his dream too.
“Let’s do it,” he said.
We had just finished a set of tennis, and I was hot, sweaty, out of breath, and Pat had beaten me soundly. I wasn’t really in the mood to plan a trip down Bayou des Sauvages with Pat. In fact, right now, I didn’t like Pat very much.
“When?” I asked, hating myself for encouraging him. Pat was a good friend. He had bailed me out of jams many times, and I literally owed him my life, but floating down a river with him for days, maybe weeks, while exciting, seemed awfully challenging in the aftermath of a humiliating defeat on a hundred-degree-plus tennis court.
“Listen,” Pat said wiping his face with a small white towel. It was starting to turn brown from the sunscreen. “I’ve got vacation time out of the yahoo. I could take a couple of weeks off and we could do it. It’s been pretty quiet in the parish, and Claude can handle things while I’m gone. In fact, he’s been complaining lately that I don’t give him enough responsibility. This would be perfect.” Claude Laforche was his second in command.
“Okay, but you’re forgetting about my job.”
He almost laughed.
“You’re a private detective in a two bit town. Hell, when’s the last time you had a case?”
“Two weeks ago,” I said trying to sound offended. “I helped Fred Vidrine find out who was stealing his pigs.”
“That’s right. I forgot about that. Somebody wore his rubber boots to steal the pigs. No strange footprints.”
“It was a little more complicated than that, Pat.”
“It was his wife.”
“That’s right. I almost never figured it out. She was damn good.”
“Well, you should be flush. You won’t need spending money for a while.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s say we do plan on going on this canoe trip. We’ll need supplies.”
“I’ll cover that.”
“We’ll need maps.”
“Got it covered.”
“We’ll need tents, sleeping bags, mosquito repellent.”
“Got it. Got it. Got it.”
“We’ll need a canoe.”
“Okay, you got me on that one, but surely I can find one easy enough. I’m the sheriff.”
“When would we go?”
“How about next week?”
“Pat, we have to make plans. You can’t just throw a canoe in the water and take off. We need to know where we’re going, and how long it’ll take to get there.”
“Alright. Alright. How about two weeks?”
I rolled my eyes, and he grinned. We were going on a canoe trip down the mighty Bayou des Sauvages.
Bayou des Sauvages is muddy, shallow, and slow moving. It meanders lazily through three parishes and empties into the Atchafalaya River, which is fast, furious and empties into the Mississippi. We decided to launch our expedition just outside of Ellisonville, at the Parish Boat Launch on Highway 2340, what the locals called the Lac Noir Road. There the bank sloped gently into the water and the parish had built a concrete boat launch. Melissa, Pat’s wife drove her husband’s SUV. The canoe, a camouflage-colored aluminum boat he found somewhere at the courthouse, was strapped on the top of the SUV. The supplies, one ice chest with a case of beer, two shopping bags of “groceries,” two sleeping bags, and one tent, were packed in the back. I wasn’t sure the canoe would float, but it rode high in the water, even after Pat and I added our bulks to the other stuff.
Our plan was simple. We would float down the bayou until we tired. Then we would set up the tent and camp out. We would fish for most of our meals. Occasionally, when the river ran past a town, we would go ashore and re-supply, especially the beer. We would do this until we reached the Atchafalaya. Then we’d follow that river to the Mississippi. I figured it would take us a week to make it to the Mississippi barring no problems. Pat figured it would take us a week and a half.
Melissa shook her head and waved at us from the bank, probably worried that we would drown or somehow kill ourselves. Pat and I dipped our paddles into the water, and we were off. The canoe slid through the water easily, and I felt a surge of excitement. Yes, it was a lame beginning, but it was also a new experience with no way for us to know what lay ahead. I could tell that Pat felt the same way.
We saw the body after the first bend we rounded—a blonde woman, judging from the hair waving in the muddy water. Pat and I steered the canoe toward her. It was obvious that she had been there a while. The bloated body gave off a putrid smell. The garfish had started to eat at her. I could see several of them circling the body. Pat slapped his paddle on the water, and they scurried off. When we were near enough, Pat gently touched her with his paddle. The blouse she had been wearing tore and revealed the maggots feasting on rotting flesh. I nearly threw up.
Pat flipped open his cell phone and called the sheriff’s department.
“This is Sheriff Pat Broussard,” he said. “Send over a coroner and a couple of patrol cars to the Parish Boat Launch on the Lac Noir Road. I just found a dead body in the bayou.” He turned to me. “I guess we’ll have to wait until next summer to complete our deliverance.”
I nodded, swallowing the bile rising in my throat.
After Pat called her, Melissa arrived a few minutes after the Sheriff’s people arrived. She and I unloaded the canoe and strapped it on the SUV. We left just as they were pulling the girl’s body from the water, one of the most unnerving sights I had ever seen. The only thing that resembled a human being on that girl was her blonde hair, which shimmered in the sun. I heard Melissa groan beside me.
“Sometimes I wonder what keeps him in that job.”
“Things like this, I guess. Finding and punishing the person who did this is important to him, Melissa.”
“I know. It’s one of the things I love about him.”
We were silent all the way to my house.
“I’m sorry, John. This was your idea, wasn’t it?”
“Uh, huh, but Pat took over once I mentioned it. He was even more excited than I was. Another day will come, and there won’t be a dead body in the river.”
“Let’s hope not,” she said and drove off.
The story was in the Ellisonville Gazette. The girl was a seventeen-year-old high school student from Ellisonville. Her name was Margaret Reviere. There wasn’t much else about the death. The cops weren’t talking about how she died, or when she died, yet. That usually meant they had a suspect.
The story stayed in the paper for the next week or so. The police arrested her boyfriend, James Fontenot, a twenty-one year old who had trouble staying on the right side of the law. Apparently, he’d been arrested several times before—small stuff, mostly—marijuana possession, speeding, breaking and entering. This was the big time for him. This was murder.
Pat gave me the whole story during a tennis get together. We sat on the benches and rested after our first set.
“Did you read about the girl we found in the paper?”
“There wasn’t much in there.”
“Yeah. We tried to keep it quiet. We didn’t want the boyfriend to run on us.”
“So he did it? It’s slammed shut?”
“Oh, he did it alright. He admitted that he was with her that night. He admitted taking her toward Lac Noir. He admitted they’d had a fight. Oh, he did it alright. No question about it.”
“She was pregnant, John. She was two months pregnant.”
“Wow is right. That’s big time trouble for our man—especially if you add up all the other arrests he had.”
“Any complications? Other boyfriends? Enemies?”
“None that we’ve found.”
“Are you looking?”
Pat gave me a hard look.
“We looked, John. This guy had the opportunity, the motive, and the means.”
“How’d she die?”
“A broken neck.”
“So she was dead before she hit the water?”
“That’s what the coroner says. No water in what was left of her lungs.”
“Any other marks on her?”
“Well, she was pretty far gone by the time we found her, but there seemed to be a bruise or something along her jaw line like maybe somebody hit her, but like I said, it’s hard to tell. There also were what could be bruises on her left shoulder and on one buttock. The coroner wasn’t totally sure.”
I shook my head.
“Sounds like a tough one, Pat. I don’t envy you.”
“When I saw her, John, the hair floating in the water like that, reminded me of Melissa when she was young. It scared the shit out of me. This guy did it, and I’m personally going to see that he pays for it.”
I nodded. I had never seen Pat this worked up about a case before.
“Let’s play,” I said. “I’m getting cold here,” which was a big lie because it was over a hundred degrees on the courts.
I followed the murder loosely in the newspaper, but they soon went on to other things, and I’d forgotten about the case until I received a phone call from James Fontenot.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Mr. LeGrand, my name is James Fontenot. Maybe you’ve heard of me.”
“Is this some kind of prank call? If it is, I have your number here, and I will sic the law on you.
“No, it’s no prank call, Mr. LeGrand. I’m calling from the parish jail. You can check it out.”
“I will, but let’s hear what you have to say first.”
“Like I said, I’m James Fontenot, and I was arrested for Margaret Reviere’s murder. I didn’t do it, and I’d like a chance to prove to you that I didn’t.”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t represent the law.”
“You’re a private detective, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but I hardly ever handle murder cases. There just aren’t that many in this town.”
“Fair enough. Would you at least listen to my story? You can make up your mind afterwards.”
“You realize I charge two hundred a day plus expenses. Last I read you weren’t exactly rolling in dough.”
“I know that, Mr. LeGrand. I’ve already sold my car and what few belongings I had. That money will go toward hiring you, if you accept the case.”
“Okay, then. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I figured that since the paper wasn’t covering the story, and Pat wasn’t telling me much about it, I would learn what was going on from the horse’s mouth.
The prison officer was reluctant to let me talk to Fontenot, but he knew I was a friend of the sheriff, so he made an exception.
“Next time have his lawyer okay it first,” he reprimanded me after dropping me off in a small ten by ten room. I sat in one of the two chairs at the only other piece of furniture in the room, a small table both bolted to the floor. A few minutes later, a jailor brought in James Fontenot.
He was dressed in the familiar Ellison Parish prison garb, purple striped overall. Maybe you could escape from the jail, but you would stand out like a sore thumb. He sat across from me. The jailor stood discreetly in a corner of the room near the door.
“Mr. LeGrand?” He wasn’t a bad looking kid, twenty-two according to the paper, black hair, combed back behind his ears. He wore a neatly trimmed moustache under a sloping nose. His teeth were slightly yellow, from cigarettes or coffee. His eyes were dark, slightly bloodshot.
“They’re not going to give us much time, so if you have something to say, start talking.”
He glanced at the jailor.
“I didn’t kill Maggie.”
“Everybody I know thinks you did it, including the sheriff and his people. Convince me otherwise.”
“I picked her up on that night around eight o’clock in the evening.”
“Her sister’s house. She sometimes stayed at her sister’s whenever her and her momma got into it.”
“Got into it?”
“Argued. Her momma drank, uh drinks, a lot, and when she’s drunk, she can be mean. Whenever that happened, Maggie would go live with her sister. Usually, once her momma sobered, she’d come back.”
“You called her Maggie?”
“Uh, huh. She liked it better than Margaret. Anyway, I picked her up, and we were headed to Lac Noir.”
“Why Lac Noir?”
He hesitated. I stood.
“Listen, either you tell me everything, or I walk.”
“Please sit down, Mr. LeGrand.” He glanced at the jailor, who was watching us carefully. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
“Why Lac Noir?”
“It’s a good safe place to smoke pot and do some necking. The rangers don’t bother anybody, and the cops hardly ever go around there. Lots of young kids hang out there.”
“Anybody see you there?”
“We never made it. As we were driving along, Maggie told me she was pregnant, and it wasn’t my baby. As you can guess, I was pretty pissed. I slammed on the brakes,—I imagine the marks are still there—and told her to get the fuck out of my car. You know what she did? She laughed. Then she climbed out the car and started walking toward Lac Noir. I watched her in my headlights for a while before deciding that at least we could talk about it.” He’d been looking at his hands while talking. He looked up and met my eyes. His were moist. “The funny thing is I loved that girl, Mr. LeGrand. She was just as mean and aggravating as her drunken momma, but I still loved her. I drove up to where she was walking and leaned over and opened the passenger door for her, just like they do in the movies. ‘Get in,’ I told her. ‘This road is dark and dangerous for a girl.’ She just turned around and started walking the other way, back toward town. I made a u-turn, caught up with her and asked her again to get in. She flat out refused and started screaming all kinds of shit at me. I won’t lie to you. I was mad. I gunned that Camaro and probably burned most of the rubber on my tires. I drove back home.”
“When you last saw her, was she still headed toward town?”
“Did anybody see you when you got home?”
“No, sir. I live in a roach infested trailer, behind the meat packing plant. The rent’s cheap, so it’s a pretty good deal if you can ignore the roaches and the smell of rotten meat.”
“You live in a dump, but you drive a Camaro?”
He grinned at me.
“Drove, Mr. LeGrand. Remember, I sold it.”
“Alright, you lived in dump, but you drove a Camaro?”
“I got a fantastic deal on the car at a police auction in Baton Rouge. Apparently, they found somebody dead in the trunk and nobody wanted to deal with the smell. Hey, I was used to the rotten meat smell, so I bought it. It took me almost two months to get the smell out, but in the end I had a bitching car.”
“Alright, what did you do the rest of the night?”
“After I cooled off a bit, maybe an hour, maybe less, I drove back down toward Lac Noir, to see if I could find her. I never did. I figured she got a ride, or she called her sister to come get her. She had a cell phone.”
“Did you try to call her?”
“Once, but she didn’t answer.”
“The cops should have a record of that from her phone. What time was that?”
“After I got back to the trailer the second time, around ten, I’d guess.”
“Tell me something. Could the baby have been yours?”
He nodded, looking down at his hands.
“Yeah. We’d been having sex for some time, a year, maybe more.”
“Didn’t it occur to you that she was a minor, and you could get in a shit load of trouble?”
“You didn’t know Maggie, Mr. LeGrand. When she wanted something, she got it. She wanted sex with me. There was no way I could stop it.”
The jailor stepped forward and told us that time was up. I asked him for five more minutes, and he nodded.
“Who’s your lawyer?”
“The parish furnished me one, William Washington.”
I cringed. William Washington was a good man, had a decent knowledge of the law, but he had no personality what so ever. Everybody called him “I’m Sorry” Washington because he always apologized for giving you information. Even during his summations, he would apologize to the jury. At first, it was interesting, but after a long string of “I’m sorrys” the mind would go numb.
“‘I’m Sorry’ Washington, huh?”
“He does say that a lot. At first, I thought for sure he didn’t think I had a chance. Then I realized that was how he talked—’I’m sorry, Fontenot, we need to find you a witness.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry, the judge is a woman.’ I thought those were bad things. You know what I mean?”
I nodded. They were.
“One last question and I want you to look me straight in the eyes when you answer. Did you kill Margaret Reviere?”
He looked up at me and our eyes locked.
“No sir, Mr. LeGrand. I did not kill Maggie. I have no idea who did. None, what so ever.”
I nodded and motioned the jailor over.
“I’ll let you know something very soon. I have to check out a few things first,” I said once he stood up.
“I hope you take my case, Mr. LeGrand. I did not kill her, and nobody believes me.”
He walked out with the jailor. I stood and scratched my head. I was ninety-nine percent sure that James Fontenot did not kill Margaret Reviere. I was rarely wrong about things like that.
I drove from the prison toward the Lac Noir road. About two miles from Lac Noir, I pulled off on the shoulder. I could see two faded tire marks, as if someone had locked their brakes. The marks were light, but clearly visible. I made a U-turn and about a quarter mile further up; I found the two other marks. Fontenot had been telling the truth.
I drove to the parish boat launch and parked my van. The concrete launch was about twelve feet wide and cut into the bank with small water oaks, a few cottonwoods, blackberry bushes, and assorted other vegetation I didn’t recognize on either side of it. Boaters would back their boat trailers into the water, loosen the constraints on their boats, pull forward, and the boats would slide into the bayou. They reversed the operation to pull the boats out of the water. The only way someone was going to get into that bayou was through the launch. There was too much undergrowth on either side.
I walked down the boat launch to the water’s edge. Could she have walked up to this point, decided to take a break, tripped, and fell down the boat launch and into the water? Could the fall have broken her neck? Could all of this have merely been an unfortunate accident? I realized I was asking questions. That meant I had already taken the case.
As soon as I drove back to my house, I called Fontenot to let him know. He was excited.
Next, I called “I’m Sorry” Washington. His secretary answered on the third ring.
“William Washington Law Offices?”
“My name is John LeGrand. Can I speak to Mr. Washington?”
“Do you have an appointment, Mr. LeGrand?”
“No, I don’t, but if you tell him, I’m a private detective, and I’ve just taken on the Fontenot case, I’m sure he’ll speak with me.”
“Just a minute, sir.”
I knew “I’m Sorry” from an award luncheon I’d attended in Pat’s honor. Someone, I hope I never find out who, seated me next to “I’m Sorry.” It had been a very apologetic evening.
“Mister LeGrand,” the secretary cooed. “Here’s Mr. Washington.”
“I’m sorry, John. How’re you doing?”
“Hear from Pat much? I’m sorry, but I don’t see him as much as I would like.”
Probably because Pat wanted it that way.
“We play tennis two or three times a week.”
“Good. Good. I’m sorry; did my secretary tell me that you’ve gotten involved with the Fontenot case?”
“Yeah, that’s right. He called me and asked me to do a little detecting. I didn’t plan on taking the case. I was just curious at first, but he convinced me that he’s telling the truth. I kind of wanted to see what you thought about his story.”
“I’m sorry. This is a curious case. Pat’s people have stopped looking for anybody else. I’m sorry, but they believe they have enough to literally hang our man.”
“It’s all circumstantial. Isn’t it?”
“That never stopped prosecution before. I can name countless men and women sent to the chair on circumstantial evidence. I’m sorry. The mentality of most of those jurors is, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Our man has a history of offenses. He was last seen with the victim—in fact, he has even placed himself at the scene of the crime. The girl was a teenager, and she was pregnant by him. He admits to having a fight with her. I’m sorry, but it would take a miracle to convince a jury that he didn’t do it.”
“Are you sure the baby is his?’
“No, I’m not. Nothing yet to prove it is his.”
“What about you, Bill? What do you think?”
“The boy didn’t do it. I’ve been in this business a long time, John, as you well know. I can smell guilt. I’m sorry, but this one doesn’t stink.”
“I agree with you.”
“So you’re taking him on?”
“Uh, huh. Have you talked to anybody?”
“The sheriff’s people mostly—the coroner. I’m sorry, hadn’t had time to get to anybody else. Give me an hour or two, and I’ll let Pat’s people know that you’re working on this with me. That’ll give you access to family, friends, et cetera.”
“That’ll make Pat happy.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Nothing. What did the coroner say?”
“Pretty much what you read in the paper: broken neck, a few bruises, died before entering the water. I’ll have my secretary send you a copy of the report as well as the police report. Anything else you need?”
“Yeah, permission to visit the prisoner occasionally.”
“Done. I look forward to working with you.”
The first thing I had to do was talk to Pat. I had the feeling he would not be very happy that I had decided to take on James Fontenot. I called him next.
“Yeah?” I had called his cell phone. I suspect he knew it was me calling.
“What do you want, John?’
“Got a few minutes. Want to meet me in the Courthouse Café for a while?”
“Fifteen minutes, no more.”
“I’ll be there.”
The Courthouse Café was located across the street from the courthouse. The food was good and affordable. The place was popular with the courthouse workers and the locals, and was usually crowded around meal times. Right now, there were only a few people in the place, mostly coffee drinkers. Two women sat at a table eating pie and drinking coffee. Several men sat hunched over cups of coffee at the counter. The chubby waitress behind the counter leaned forward reading a fashion magazine. I signaled her and mouthed the word coffee, and she nodded. I chose an empty table away from the women.
Pat walked in just as the server was handing me my cup of coffee.
“Get me another if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind, honey. It’s my job.”
Pat pulled out a chair sat across from me.
“What did you want that was so all fire important?”
“Have you heard from Bill Washington, yet?”
“‘I’m Sorry’ Washington? Why?”
“I’ve decided to take on James Fontenot as a client.”
Pat slammed a hand on the table. My coffee cup shook and spilled over the rim. The two women eyed us suspiciously.
“Are you crazy? Are you that hard up for money? Hell, John, I’ll give you money if you need it that bad. The guy is guilty, and he got a teenager pregnant and killed her instead of facing up to his responsibility.”
“I don’t believe he killed her, Pat.”
“Why in the hell not? Do you have any proof? You don’t, do you? That’s because he did it, pure and simple.”
“Come on, Pat. You don’t have any proof either. It’s all circumstantial. I talked to that kid, and some of the things he said convinced me that he didn’t do it. I think he wanted to do right by her.”
“He’d say anything to get out of frying, and frying is exactly what’s going to happen to him.”
I didn’t have the nerve to correct him. Louisiana didn’t fry people anymore.
“Look, Pat. You and I have known each other for many years now. You know I wouldn’t take this case if there wasn’t something in it that just doesn’t ring right.”
“And you know I wouldn’t say he was guilty if I wasn’t absolutely sure of it.”
“I know that, Pat, but I can’t help how I feel. I’ve already talked to ‘I’m Sorry.’ He’s happy to have the help. Can we have a truce, Pat? If I find out anything, one way or the other, I’ll share it with you. If you’re so sure he’s guilty, then you’ll be equally as sure that I won’t find anything.”
“Oh, I’m sure he did it, John, and I know you’re going to be spinning your wheels on this one. I’ll give you some leeway, but if I even get a hint that you’re manufacturing evidence, I’ll come down on you so hard that…”
“Damn it, Pat. You know me better than that.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want him to get away with this.”
“If he did it, he won’t get away with it. I guarantee it.”
Pat didn’t like it, but he nodded.
My first task as Fontenot’s detective was to talk to the victim’s mother. I checked with Washington, and he told me that the mother lived in Oak Grove Trailer Villa, a collection of run down trailers on the southern edge of the town. I pulled into a rutted driveway and parked next to a faded chocolate brown and tan trailer. I climbed up the cement steps and knocked on the rickety door. A woman in a housecoat and curlers answered the door. It was three in the afternoon. She squinted at me.
“My name is John LeGrand. I’m a private detective, and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“I talked to the cops already. They asked a ton of questions. I don’t think I want to talk to anybody else.”
She started to shut the door on me.
“Just a minute, Mrs. Reviere. I don’t know if you’re a drinking woman or not, but I have a six pack of Budweiser in the van, and, well, I was kind of hoping to share it with somebody.”
She swung the door opened and glanced up at the sky.
“I don’t usually drink this early in the day, but a cold beer might be just the thing.”
“Perfect,” I said and jogged to the van. The six-pack I picked up, on the way to her house was sweating in the Louisiana humidity. Yes, I knew it was not exactly the sensitive thing to do, but I have found in this business that money and booze are two of the best tools at a detective’s disposal. Mrs. Reviere was a drinking woman, and I was hoping the six-pack would pay off.
I popped open two beers and gave her the rest to place in the refrigerator.
“Excuse the mess,” she said from a kitchen defined by its dirty dishes and left over food. I figured this could be a roach paradise. I made a mental note not to accept any food she might offer. She accepted the opened beer I offered her and took a long swig.
“I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“I don’t mind, but I doubt if I got anything important to tell you.” She took another long swig from her beer. At this rate, I would not have enough booze to keep her talking long enough.
“Tell me about your daughter.”
“Maggie? She was a good girl.” She drank from the beer again, and her eyes watered. “A real pretty girl.” She absently ran a hand through her dry gray hair. It made no difference. “Some people say she looked like me when I was young.” She smiled revealing coffee and smoke-stained dentures. “That was long ago. She had a bad streak, though.”
“What do you mean, bad?”
“Oh, she didn’t listen to her momma sometimes. I’d set times for her to be home, you know, but she did as she damn well pleased.” She drained the beer bottle and waddled to the refrigerator for another.
“You want one more?” She yelled out.
“No,” I said. “Did your daughter have many boyfriends?”
“What do you think?” She said sitting in the ratty chair across from me. “Look at her.” She grabbed a picture sitting on the end table next to her and handed it to me. It revealed a pretty, blonde girl, about sixteen or seventeen, with just a little too much makeup, what the fifties movies might call a floozy. “Isn’t she beautiful? The boys would come sniffing around here when she was twelve. I did my best to protect her from them, but like I said, she had a mind of her own. She had her first date at thirteen—went out with a boy she met in grade school. They went to a movie.” She drank from her beer. At the rate she was going, she’d finish this one before I finished my first one. “It only got worse as she got older. Then she met that one.”
“Uh, huh. She was real excited about him. I tried telling her he was no good, and she should stay away from him, but she would always do the opposite of whatever I told her. Now, she’s dead. That bastard killed her.” She upended the bottle and emptied it. Her eyes watered. She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her housecoat. Then she stood and got another beer from the refrigerator. She didn’t ask me if I wanted one this time. I figured it was time to change the subject.
“Do you have any other children, Mrs. Reviere?”
“Uh, huh,” she said dropping into the chair. “I’ve got another daughter, Abbie—three years older. She went and got herself pregnant too, when she was fifteen. The bum left her, and the kid, and she moved into that trailer she lives in now.”
“In this trailer park?”
“No, it’s the one about a mile from here on the Serpentville highway. I’m real proud of her. She found a job at the meat packing plant, and she is able to take care of herself and that kid of hers. I didn’t know Maggie was pregnant. You’d think she woulda learned from her sister.”
“You’d think so,” I said and watched as she did her best to polish off her beer.
“Damn kids. Sometimes they got nothing but shit for brains. You got any kids, Mr. LeGrand.” I shook my head. “Probably lucky. They don’t give you a moment’s peace, and the more you do for them, the more they expect from you.”
It was time to leave. She was getting sloppy. I stood.
“You leaving already? You didn’t even finish your first beer, and there’s at least two more left in the frig. Here, let me get you one.”
“No thanks, Mrs. Reviere. I really do have to go. You can keep the beers. I’ve got some driving to do.”
“Well, if you insist,” she said and drank the last of the bottle in her hand. She was headed back to the refrigerator even before the door swung shut behind me.
It didn’t take me long to find the trailer park Mrs. Reviere had mentioned. It was located just off the highway. A white sign with black lettering announced it as the Pine Bluff Trailer Park. I didn’t see one pine around the trailers, but it was a little more upscale than the one I’d just left. I found a kid poking a stick in a drainage ditch and asked him if he knew an Abbie Reviere. The kid poked a finger in his nose before pointing to a trailer across the lane.
Abbie Reviere’s trailer was in much better shape than her mother’s was. This one was cream colored with blue trim. It seemed to be in good shape. A concrete walkway ran from the graveled driveway to a small deck leading to the front door. Someone had planted flowers along the walkway and a couple of potted plants sat on the deck. I climbed the steps and knocked on the front door.
She had brown hair, but other than that, she looked exactly like the picture of her sister. Even the makeup was applied a little heavy handed.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Abbie Reviere?” A small boy popped his head from behind her. He looked to be six or seven.
“Yes I am.”
“My name is John LeGrand. I’m a private detective trying to find out exactly what happened to your sister.”
“I talked to the police, Mr. LeGrand, and they seem to think they got the right person. They say Jimmy Fontenot broke her neck and threw her into the bayou.”
“Yes, ma’am, I know that. I just have a few questions to ask you. Just too clear up some questions in my mind.”
“Okay, but I don’t have much time. I have to be somewhere at five.” She glanced at a clock sitting on a table by her television. It was 4:30. She turned to the boy.
“Bobby, go play outside, but don’t get dirty. You hear me?”
The boy didn’t answer. He scooted past me and ran toward the other boy across the lane.
“Come in, Mr. LeGrand,” Abbie Reviere said and held the door opened for me. She led me to her kitchen, which was much neater than her mother’s was, and offered me a stool at the kitchen counter. “Sit down, Mr. LeGrand. Would you like some coffee or a Coca Cola?”
“Just a glass of tap water if you don’t mind.”
She reached into a cabinet, pulled down a glass, filled it with tap water, and placed it in front of me. She couldn’t have been more than twenty or twenty-one, but childbearing had matured her body some. It seemed softer than most teenage bodies, but softer in the right places.
“You had some questions, Mr. LeGrand?”
“Did you know your sister’s boyfriends?”
“I knew Jimmie. Sometimes, when things were bad between Momma and Maggie, she would come live with Bobby and me. Occasionally, Jimmie would come over and visit for a while, but she never let him stay long. Didn’t want him to settle in, she told me. I think she thought he was too serious—that he would try to tie her down.”
“Tie her down?”
“Yeah, marriage and kids and stuff. None of that was for Maggie. She wanted one of two things: to live a free lifestyle with no attachments or to marry a rich man. That’s the way she was. Anyway, Jimmie was too serious for her. I liked him all right, but I wasn’t the one he was interested in. You could see that by the way he looked at her, he was way in deeper than his head. Maggie used him like a broom—sweep, sweep, and stand it up in the corner ’til you needed it again.”
“Did she have any other boyfriends?”
“Oh, sure. She went out all the time. That’s why she was doing so bad in school. She never had time for schoolwork. I told her over and over again that she’d end up chopping meat in a meat packing plant like me if she didn’t buckle down, but she’d laugh at me. Usually, she met them somewhere, or they’d pick her up at the end of the lane there. One of them, though, would drive up to the driveway and toot that damn horn of his.” She smiled. “I guess he irritated me more than any of the others. It was as if he believed that the world was his God-given right.”
“Did you ever meet him? Did you ever know his name?”
“Nope.” She grinned again. “I never even saw his face clearly. It was just that damn horn of his. Two short beeps—demanding as hell.”
“What kind of car did he drive?”
“Don’t know what kind it was, but it was red with glitter in it and tinted windows. Damn thing rumbled when he took off. Thank God for the speed bumps or I’m sure he would have taken off like a bullet down the lane here.”
“Anything else you can tell me about him? How about pictures? Does your sister have pictures of boyfriends?”
“Funny you should ask about that. I was going through the junk she had accumulated here, and I didn’t find one fun picture. You know the kind, with friends and family with everybody acting goofy. There just wasn’t any. I called Momma to see if she had some, but she said the same thing. No pictures, except for the studio ones. So, no, I don’t have any pictures of her with boyfriends or friends for that matter.”
“I won’t keep you any longer, Ms. Reviere. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all. Listen, Maggie was not what proper people would consider a good girl, but she didn’t deserve to die like that. Whoever did that to her was very cruel.”
“Yes. Whoever did that was cruel.”
She walked me to the door and paused a second.
“Are you working for Jimmie?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Do you think he did it? I mean, the cops do.”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out—who did it if he didn’t.”
“Good luck,” she said and closed the door.
I sat in my Ram van and considered my next move. I had talked to Fontenot, Washington, the mother and sister, and to some extent, to Pat. I had not turned up anything that would even indicate that Fontenot didn’t do it. It seemed as if I had nowhere else to go.
Since it was on my way, I pulled in behind the meat packing plant and into Fontenot’s driveway. I parked across from his trailer, and killed my lights. His trailer didn’t look much better than Gabrielle Reviere’s—sun faded brown. If this guy killed that girl, and I didn’t much care what kind of girl she was, then he deserved the death sentence, but I didn’t feel like he did it. In my gut, I didn’t feel as if he was capable of that kind of crime. Oh, I didn’t doubt that he could break the law—he had proven that already—but I really didn’t believe that he could kill someone, especially that girl, in cold blood and then roll her into the bayou. So what was I missing? What I needed was somebody else with a motive. But who?
When the idea hit me, I stalled the Ram van trying to get it into gear. I left Fontenot’s driveway leaving gravel and dust behind me. I drove as fast as I could back to the Pine Bluff Trailer Park, and as luck would have it, the boy was still playing in the drainage ditch. I pulled up across from him.
“Hey, kid, come here,” I called out.
He looked up at me and hesitated.
“Hey, it’s me,” I said. “Remember, I was here earlier.”
He recognized me and jumped across the ditch.
“What you want?” he said, making sure to stay on the passenger side of my van. Smart kid.
“I just need to ask you a few questions, and I’ll give you a buck if you answer them.”
“Where is it?”
I pulled out my wallet and showed him a dollar bill.”
“Okay. What do you want to know?”
“Did you ever notice who came to pick up Maggie Reviere when she stayed with her sister?”
“Did you know any of them?”
I dangled the dollar bill in the opened window.
“Well, did you notice what kind of cars they drove?”
“I answered two of your questions so far. I think I should get more money.”
I pulled out another dollar from my wallet and added it to the other one. This kid was good.
“Alright, another dollar.”
“Jimmy Fontenot drove a dark blue Camaro. The other guy, I don’t know who he was, drove a metal flake cherry red Jaguar with the cat hood ornament broken off.”
“You sure know your cars. You wouldn’t happen to know who that guy in the Jag is?”
I pulled another bill from my wallet and added it to the other two.
“Thanks,” I said. “You’re a very observant kid.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Ain’t much else to do in this trailer park.”
I had no choice. If I was going to find out who owned a metal flake cherry red Jaguar with the hood ornament broken off, I was going to need Pat’s help. I wasn’t sure Pat was going to help though. I called him anyway.
“What do you want, John?” After that greeting, I was sure I wasn’t in Pat’s good graces.
“Well, hello to you too, Pat.”
“I’ve got work to do, John. What do you want?”
Nothing else for me to do but face the situation.
“I need your help, Pat.”
“No way. There is no way I’m going to help you set that guy free. Do you understand me? There’s no way.”
“Even if I can show you that Margaret Reviere had another boyfriend—one who could well have gotten her pregnant?”
“Don’t bother, John. If she had another boyfriend, I would have known about it.”
“Yeah? Who did you ask about it? I talked to the mother. She said that Margaret Reviere dated other boys. I talked to the sister. She actually saw other boys pick her up.”
“No you don’t. None of them were with her that night. Fontenot was.”
“Do you know for sure, Pat?”
“I know for sure that he was with her—had the opportunity and a motive to kill her.”
“I don’t argue that, but could somebody else have the motive and the opportunity?”
“Damn it, John. Fontenot did it. I’m positive he did.”
“Alright, Pat. That’s what you believe, but you’ve known me for years. You know one thing, I would never bullshit you.”
There was a long pause over the phone.
“I’m doing this because you and I go back a long ways, John. I swear to God. I’m not very comfortable about this, but what do need?”
“Thanks, Pat. I promise you won’t regret this.”
“I better not.”
“I need two things from you. First of all, did anybody think about doing a DNA or a blood test on the fetus?”
“According to the coroner, we couldn’t do a blood test. She’d been dead too long. We did do a DNA test, but we haven’t gotten the results yet.”
“Oh, come on, Pat. How long has it been? Surely you’d have gotten a response by now.”
“They tell me six to eight weeks.”
“Alright. I need to know the owner of a metal flake cherry red Jaguar with the hood ornament missing.”
“You got a license number, John?”
“No, I don’t Pat.”
“Then how the hell can I help you?”
“Oh, come on Pat. How many Jags have we got in Ellisonville? In Ellison Parish?”
“Hell if I know. You figure it out, John. When you have a question I can help you with, give me a call why don’t you.”
The bum hung up on me.
No DNA sample. No car identification. It didn’t look like I had much choice. I’d have to do the leg work. Obviously, I couldn’t rush the DNA, so I needed to find out about the Jaguar. The phone book told me that there were no Jaguar dealers in Ellison Parish. My assumption was that this guy would only drive a new Jag. My next move was to find out where the nearest Jag dealer was. I booted up my old computer and searched Jag dealers in Louisiana. The nearest one was Baton Rouge. I didn’t bother calling them. I needed to go there in person. I jotted down the address and made a mental notation to drive there the next day.
The trip to Baton Rouge was just over 100 miles. With the price of gas, Fontenot would owe me a pretty penny in expenses. The salesman that intercepted me was a short Italian guy impeccably dressed in a dark double breasted suit and tie. He introduced himself and started his sales pitch, but I quickly put him off.
“I already own a Jaguar, but the hood ornament broke off.” He eyed my 87 Dodge Ram Van. I smiled. “Don’t worry, that’s my ghetto wheels. It’s loaded.” I was sure he wouldn’t dirty himself checking.
He nodded but not very convincingly.
“Missing hood ornaments is very common, you know. Vandals can’t seem to resist breaking them off. They keep them as souvenirs.”
“Uh, huh, that’s what happened alright,” I said. “It’s been broken for a while, but I’m from Ellisonville, and I don’t get to Baton Rouge much.”
“From Ellisonville? We had a guy from there come by with the same problem not that long ago.”
“Oh, yeah? There’s only one other guy with a Jag in Ellisonville. Oh, what’s his name?”
“No, that’s not him. His first name was Alvin or something like that, Alvin Broussard.”
“Then there must be more than two Jag owners in Ellisonville. I have his name right here.” He walked to an immaculate desk and punched a few buttons on his computer. “Here it is. Bruce Doucet. He owns a 2002 Jaguar.”
“Did he buy the Jaguar from you?”
“Oh, yes. His father paid cash for it. You don’t see that too often, you know.” Then he realized he was talking too much and clammed up.
“Thank you,” I said and started to walk out. He wasn’t going to talk anymore. Anyway, I had what I came for.
“Wait,” the salesman called out. “What about your hood ornament?”
“I think I’ll live without it for a while.”
I drove off with the salesman scratching his head. I was sure he’d never had a customer like me before.
I called Pat as soon as I got back in town.
“What is it now, John?”
“I found out that Margaret Reviere had more than one boyfriend.”
“So you tell me. Were any of them with her the night of her death?”
“I don’t know that.”
“Well, Fontenot was.”
“Yes, I know that, Pat, but this guy was seeing her pretty regular, too. Maybe the baby was his. That could give him a motive.”
“You won’t shut up until you tell me who it is, will you?”
“Alright. Who is this other boyfriend?”
“Freddie Doucet’s boy? Boy, our girl could sure can pick them. Bruce is a rich bad boy constantly in trouble for speeding, drugs and fighting, you name it. You know his daddy, don’t you? Freddie Doucet of Freddie’s Shoes?”
“Fred is the owner of Freddie’s Shoe Stores—there’re three of them in Ellison Parish and two or three others in neighboring parishes. I never shop there. The shoes are overpriced and cheaply made.”
I agreed with Pat. I had no idea why people frequented Freddie’s Shoes. Possibly, because of the commercials—”Don’t let your feet touch the ground without Freddie’s Shoes.” A beautiful female model walks hand in hand with a handsome male model down a cloud-lined walkway. The message: Freddie’s Shoes are not only comfortable, but you’ll look beautiful in them.
“I’m going to talk to him, Pat.”
“Oh no, you don’t. You’re not in the force anymore, John. You can’t just barge in on people and accuse them of murder.”
“Where are you?”
“At Steve’s Gas & Goodies. I’m headed to my house.”
“I’ll pick you up. I’m going with you.”
“Interested all of a sudden?”
“I got the right man, John. I just want to make sure you don’t antagonize Freddie. He’s a powerful man, politically.”
“Make it quick.”
I hung up. I’d probably have time for a quick phone call to Billy Waddle, an assistant coach at Ellisonville High School.
Bruce was a big boy, over six feet and about 250 or 260 pounds. He used to play football, offensive lineman, with the Ellisonville High team. He received an athletic scholarship with LSU, but the coach got rid of him after the first season. Word was that he didn’t go to practices, drank like a fish, and was constantly in trouble with the local authorities for fighting. He came back to Ellisonville and took classes part time at Ellisonville Junior College.
“What can I do for you, Sheriff?”
“This is John LeGrand, a private detective. We’d like to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, Sheriff. Why don’t you come in?”
“Shoot, Sheriff.” He snickered. “I guess that’s not a good thing to tell a sheriff.”
Pat didn’t respond.
“You’ve heard about the Margaret Reviere murder, I suppose?”
“Yeah. That was just too bad.”
“Did you know her?”
“Not well, Sheriff. I knew her to talk to. She had a pretty bad rep.”
“I have it on good authority you were dating her,” I threw out. Pat cut me a nasty look. He was supposed to ask the questions.
“Oh, I dated her a couple of times, but you know, she was a minor, and with the bad rep and all, I was afraid to get in trouble.”
“Where did you go on your dates?”
“You know, the movies, restaurants. Things like that.”
“You ever take her to Lac Noir?”
“No, I never took her there, Sheriff. She was a minor.”
“Where were you the night she was killed?” I asked.
Pat glared at me again, but he didn’t say anything.
“Here. In my room. It was a quiet night for me.”
“Can anybody verify that?”
“My mom was home.”
“Was she in the room with you?”
He looked at me as if he could kill me. Then he softened and grinned.
“No, man. She’s my mom.”
“One more question,” Pat said. “How often did you date Margaret Reviere?”
“I don’t know exactly, Sheriff—two or three times maybe.”
“Did you see her the night she was killed?”
“You said just one more question, Sheriff. I think I need to call my lawyer before I answer any more.”
“I’m not here to arrest you, Bruce. I just need some information.”
Bruce pursed his lips.
“Sorry, Sheriff. No lawyer. No answers.” He stood.
Pat stood and I followed suite.
“In that case, Bruce. Thank you for answering as many questions as you did without your lawyer.”
He led us to the front door, and we walked to Pat’s SUV.
“What do you think, Pat?”
“He seemed a bit cagey, John, but I still can’t place him at the scene. Fontenot is still my best bet.”
“Pat, Jimmie Fontenot says he tried to call the girl after he left her. Did your guys find her cellphone?”
“Nope. If she had one, and I’m not saying she did, it’s buried in Bayou Sauvage mud.”
Pat dropped me off at my house. He still insisted that Jimmie Fontenot was guilty. That meant the burden of proof was on my shoulders, but I didn’t have a clue where to go next.
I sat down at my desk and tried to decide what my next move was. I was sure that Bruce Doucet was involved somehow in Margaret Reviere’s death, but I wasn’t sure how. I needed to place him with her before Pat would listen to me, but how was I going to do that. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked Abbie Reviere a very important question. I popped open my cell phone and called her. She answered on the third ring.
“Abbie, John LeGrand again. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve got another question to ask you.”
“Go ahead Mr. LeGrand.”
“Remember you said that sometimes a guy would pick your sister up in that red car?”
“Yes. He had that irritating horn.”
“Did he show up the night your sister died?”
“As a matter of fact, he did. I sent Bobby out to tell him that she was gone to Lac Noir with Jimmie.”
“You told him where she was going?”
“Did I do wrong?”
“No. Of course not. I appreciate your help.”
“No problem, Mr. LeGrand. I actually liked Jimmie. He was a nice boy, to me anyway.”
I drove to the Pine Bluff Trailer Park and took the route I thought Bruce might if he headed for Lac Noir. The first Seven Eleven I came to was only one-quarter mile away. The little guy with the nose ring standing behind the counter told me he wasn’t working that night and even if he was, he would not know one customer out of all the customers he served in one night. I glanced around the empty store, thanked him, used his restroom and left. I stopped at two other quick stops with the same result. At the fourth one, I struck gold.
I walked in and asked the overweight woman at the counter if she had served someone driving a cherry red Jaguar with a broken hood ornament on the night Margaret Reviere died.
“You mean Freddie Doucet’s boy?”
“Uh huh,” I said.
“Sure I did. He stopped by and bought a six pack and a tank of gas.” bought beer?”
“Yap. Sure did.”
“Do you know Bruce Doucet?”
“Know him? Not to talk to. I used to follow Catahoula football. He was awful good, you know. I never understood why he didn’t make it in Baton Rouge.”
A customer came in and bought a pack of cigarettes. She rang it up, took the money, and then turned back to me.
“That reminds me,” she said. “That girl, the one who was drowned, came in too.”
“Yap, her. Let’s see that was about a half hour before Freddie’ boy came in. She wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes, and I wouldn’t sell it to her because she wasn’t eighteen. Boy she was hot.”
“You know, mad. She called me a fat bitch and stomped out. I don’t like refusing customers, but I could get in big trouble if I get caught, you know.” I nodded. “Anyway, that boyfriend of hers came in and bought the pack for her.”
“Yap. The one they arrested for her murder.”
“Did you see which way Bruce Doucet headed?”
“Nope. I can see the pumps well enough from here, but unless I’m watching the camera, I can’t tell which way they’re headed.” She motioned with her head toward a grainy image on a little black and white monitor sitting on the counter next to the register.
I called Pat from a public phone outside the store. He didn’t even give me a chance to say more than hello.
“I let your boy go.”
“Jimmie? You let Jimmie go?”
“Don’t get me wrong. He’s still my number one suspect, but DNA testing on the fetus suggests that he isn’t the father. Want to guess who is?”
“That would be my guess. I just sent a deputy over there to get a DNA sample from the Doucet boy. I doubt if he’s going to cooperate without a lawyer. It might take some time before we get the results. If he’s the father, then he lied to us big time about not being close to her.”
“He lied about something else, too.”
“He told us he’d been home that evening, but I just finished talking to a clerk at Lac Noir Highway Quick Stop where he tanked up his Jag and bought a six pack.”
“Looks like I’m going to have to have a long talk with that boy.”
One week later, Jimmie was back at his old job at the meat packing plant trying to get his life back together. He thanked me for all I’d done and paid me well. He was still a suspect, but almost all the attention was on Freddie Doucet’s son now. The papers were full of it. Jimmie was happy that the attention was no longer on him.
Bruce would not talk to the authorities at all without a lawyer at his side. Try as they might, the authorities could not place him and Margaret Reviere together, and a case against him never materialized. Pat finally got a DNA sample from him, but the results would take a while. We were all sure that he killed Margaret Reviere, but he could not be charged with her murder without evidence.
The Sheriff’s office never did arrest Bruce Doucet. Ironically, he lost his life by drowning. He took his daddy’s boat out into the Gulf and apparently fell off the boat. Authorities found over a case of empty beer bottles on board. By the time they found his body, there was very little of it left. Apparently, the ocean is no less respectful of the human corpse as the bayou.
The thing that bugged me the most about the case was that we would never find out exactly what happened to Maggie Reviere. I worked out this scenario in my head.
After Jimmie left Margaret Reviere and went home, Bruce came along. She must have made it to the Parish boat launch by then, so he stopped and tried to get her to go to Lac Noir and share his beer with her. Maybe she told him about being pregnant and that it was his child. Judging by her reputation, I’m not entirely sure she knew who the father was. However, Bruce would have been a good catch because of his daddy’s money. Maybe he slapped her around a bit, hit her a little too hard—that would explain the bruise along her jaw line. Maybe he broke her neck then, or maybe she fell and broke her neck that way—rolling into the bayou. Several girls, who had dated him before, told reporters that Bruce had a temper and wasn’t beyond slapping them around a bit. I wasn’t sure if my scenario was right, but Bruce was dead now, and he took that secret with him to his watery grave. Justice has a way of working out.
On a sunny spring day, long after the death of Bruce Doucet and Margaret Reviere, I met Pat on the tennis court.
“Let’s start making plans for our summer canoe trip,” he said during one of the breaks.
“Okay,” I said, “but if we see a dead body along the bayou, let’s just pass it by.”
“You know,” Pat said. “The thing that bothered me the most about that case was never knowing exactly what happened. I’m pretty sure Freddie’s boy did it, but what if it was Jimmie Fontenot, and he got away with murder?”
“That reminds me. I received a wedding invitation this morning. Jimmie and Abbie Reviere are getting married. I never believed he did it, Pat.”
“Yeah. Maybe I wanted to believe it too much.”
“Anyway, guilty or not, Jimmie’s turned into a good citizen,”
“Yeah. Maybe so,” he said, but he didn’t sound too convinced.
“So when are we leaving for our deliverance?” I asked, changing the subject. He gave me a hard look before letting the smile creep onto his face.
“Next week,” he said.
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, Mysterical-E, Riverbend Review, and numerous others. He was born and raised in Chataignier, Louisiana and is personally acquainted with his setting. He studied writing under Ernest Gaines, Richard Bausch, and Alan Cheuse.