The alarm screaming in Landry’s ear was merciless. The number of times Delmer Rousseau’s headless body flashed across his mind meant nothing. The alarm had one job to do and, by God, it was going to do it until Landry got his ass up. It was seven o’clock, there were people to serve and protect out there. Landry gave in, slapped the alarm clock, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
The wood floor was cool beneath his bare feet. He scrubbed his face with his hands, chasing away the lingering sleep from his eyes, took in a deep breath of morning air, blew it out and started for the bathroom. The hot water of the shower began to melt away the stress that had his neck and shoulders tied in knots. He steadily bumped the hot water faucet to the left. He stood under the spray until, at last, the water heater surrendered and the water began to cool.
He dried quickly before wrapping the towel around his waist and abandoning the steam filled bath in favor of his bedroom where he stood absently gazing at the uniforms hanging in the closet. It suddenly seem like a good time to retire.
“Oh hell,” he said and for a shirt.
Dressed, he greeted the sink full of dishes with a shrug on his way to the Bayou Cafe. Landry dropped down on his usual place at the counter. Maury met him with a steaming cup of coffee which he slid silently in front of Landry and backed away. Halfway through the first cup of strong, black coffee a hot connection to reality was made and Ed Landry, Sheriff of Bonaire Parrish, was open for business. Although he heard it all before, he waved Maury over.
“Morning,” Landry said. “Now that you’ve slept on it, do you know of anybody that was having trouble with Delmer?”
“What? No,” Muary said. “Dey only say, ‘Why dat Delmer don’t make enough beignets?’ Father Jean come in four, three days ago asked Delmer why he not go to church. That’s all. Besides all dat, who’s sleeping anymore?”
“Yeah, me too, Muary.” Landry looked around the cafe. “I cannot for the life of me believe anyone one would do that to Delmer.”
“Maybe old John is right,” Muary said. “Maybe it is a monster.”
“Don’t you go getting all crazy on me too.”
“You know me better than that, Sheriff…but, still dis is crazy business we got here.”
“You got that right,” Landry told him. “What’s good for breakfast today?”
“Hey,” Muary spread his arms wide. “Everything I make is good.”
Landry ordered a ham and egg biscuit and washed it down with a second cup of coffee before grabbing a third cup to go.
He didn’t have far to go the Sheriff’s Office was just across the street. Landry took his time crossing taking in the soft pale blue sky laced with wisps of high clouds. A hint of breeze rippled through the pines and was carried along Main Street whispering that spring was here. Landry took the steps to his office two at a time and pushed through the door. He waved at Freddy sitting at dispatch, hung up his hat, and was about to sit at his desk when he realized he was not alone.
Behind the door was a tall, lanky man with a shock of coal black hair above a large hawk-like nose and black framed glasses. Next to him was a kid of no more than seventeen. The “kid” was around six foot five and two hundred fifty pounds wore a battered green field jacket with an Air Force patch over one breast and a name over the other. The kid’s face was familiar. Landry was sure it did not belong in Lockett…but the name did. So did the black-haired man. Landry walked around the desk and held out his hand.
“Frank, how you doing?”
“Tolerable, I suppose,” the stranger said. “This is my nephew, Roger.”
“Richard’s boy?” Landry asked.
Frank gave a quick nod.
“Y’all sit down,” Landry pointed to the chairs in front of the desk. “How can I help you?”
Landry noticed that young Roger’s left knee was bouncing like it was turbo-charged, his eyes flitted about the room and his hands couldn’t seem to decide where they wanted to be.
“So, Roger,” Landry tried to put the boy at ease. “I knew your daddy. He was a fine man.”
“Yes sir,” Roger said. His knee slowed a little.
“What is it you want to tell me?”
Frank glanced over at the boy, pointed at the sheriff and nodded. Landry leaned forward waiting for the kid to say what was on his mind. Roger looked back over his shoulder, saw the door was closed and cleared his throat.
“I think I saw who killed that man yesterday,” Roger blurted out.
“What did you say?” Landry asked though he’d heard perfectly.
“I think I saw who killed that man who works at the cafe.” Roger repeated.
“You think you saw?” Landry looked at Roger, then Frank and back. “What makes you think so?”
Roger got up and retrieved a back pack he left by the door. He slowly walked back to the chair, dropped the backpack on the seat and opened the zipper compartment.
Frank leaned forward and stretched his arm across the backpack.
“I told the boy you wouldn’t arrest him,” he said.
“I can’t promise you that, Frank,” Landry said. “And you shouldn’t either. First off, I have no idea what’s in that backpack or what’s involved here. Next, I have a duty to do here. I will tell you this, I will cut the kid all the slack I can. Good enough?”
Frank nodded at Roger.
“Last night we were out at Uncle Frank’s camp,” Roger began. “It was kind of foggy. Anyway, we heard something snapping twigs and crashing through the brush on the other bank. Jeff shined his light that way to see what it was.”
“And what was it?” Landry asked when the kid seemed to run out of gas.
“It’s hard to say.”
“Now, why is that?” Landry asked. “Either you saw something or you didn’t, which is it? Did you see something?”
“Yes, sir,” Roger said. “It’s just that I don’t know what it was. It looked like a man only he was wearing a mask.”
“Uh huh…I mean, yes sir. Yes, sir a mask.”
“Look up here, Roger,” Landry tapped the corner of his eye. “What kind of mask?
“I can’t rightfully say,” Roger said. “It had a lot of hair…maybe a dog or a wolf, I don’t know. When Jeff’s light hit him, he was crouched down by the bank. Then, he stood up and just stood there looking right at us for a few seconds. Did I say he was naked? Anyway he was naked, and covered with something dark…blood I reckon. He looked right at us. After maybe thirty seconds or so he ran off into the trees. When it got light we took the boat across and found this.”
Roger reached down and pulled a blood covered bundle from the backpack. Landry held both palms up in Roger’s direction.
“Whoa!” Landry shouted. You hold it right there, don’t move.”
The sheriff hurried around the desk and stuck his head out the door.
“Jackson, get in here,” he shouted and turned back to the boy. “Roger, very slowly, put that down on the desk and back away from it.”
“I didn’t do anything, I swear,” Roger said. “I just found it.”
“I believe you,” Landry said. “Now just do what I asked.”
Deputy Jackson came through the door, barely avoiding a collision with Roger as he backed away. Jackson looked around the boy, opened his mouth to ask what was needed, saw the bloody object on Landry’s desk and retreated. He returned moments later with gloves and evidence bags.
Landry looked at the shape of the blood covered cloth on his desk and knew what he was going to find when it was unwrapped. Procedure trumped the growing knot in his belly and the chill running through him. Freddy, summoned from his dispatcher’s seat by Jackson, appeared with a camera and slipped between Landry and his deputy as they were putting on gloves. He snapped four pictures of the thing on the desk and stepped away.
“Oh shit, Sheriff,” Jackson groaned as he pulled back the cloth.
Landry swore under his breath as the face of Delmer’s dog Pepe was pulled free of the rags that covered him. Jackson spread the cloth flat on the desk under the dog’s mangled body.
“Damn, looks like he was chewed by a lynx or something,” Jackson said.
“Or a wolf,” Frank said, peering over Landry’s shoulder.
Pictures taken Pepe’s bloody body was carefully lowered into a bag and tagged as evidence by the deputy as Landry watched. The body secure, Landry turned his attention to the backpack.
The inside compartment was covered with blood from what appeared to be a full set of equally bloody clothes. When Deputy Jackson finished with the shirt, he tagged into evidence a pair of socks, underwear and jeans as Landry removed them from the backpack.
“Is this where the clothes were when you found them?” Landry asked.
“No sir,” Roger told him. “They were scattered on the bank. We wrapped up the dog and stuffed them down in the pack. We thought you would want to see them.”
“Well son, you’re right there,” Landry said. “But, I really would have wanted to see them where you found them. Tell me something, you said the man you saw was naked. Was there blood on the clothes before you put them in the backpack?”
“No sir,” Roger’s voice fell with his head. “Guess we screwed everything up, Sheriff.”
“You complicated things, but don’t kick yourself over it. You boys aren’t police officers, but damn don’t y’all watch CSI?”
“We don’t have cable, Sheriff.”
“Forget I said it,” Landry said with a chuckle.
The clothes from the backpack were too small to ever fit Roger Bass. A quick inspection of Roger’s body showed no sign of trauma. In all probability, the blood belonged only to Pepe, but the final word would have to wait for the state crime lab. Jackson carried the sealed evidence from the room.
The sheriff motioned for Roger and Frank to sit and resumed his seat. Landry rested his elbows on the desk and lowered his head onto his hands, rubbing his chin while his eyes scrutinized Roger.
“Y’all were drinking,” Landry said. “That’s why you were worried about being arrested?”
“Yes sir,” Roger said.
“Frank, what’s going on here?” Landry asked.
Frank Bass slowly shook his head. “I don’t know Ed. The boy’s been in trouble since his daddy died. His mama sent him here hoping it would help straighten him out. I thought it was working. Now, there’s this.”
Landry leaned across the desk and pointed a finger at the boy. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”
Tears blossomed at the corners of Roger’s eyes, he swallowed hard and slowly nodded.
The boy’s uncle was about to intervene when Landry cut him off with a raised hand.
“Now, you listen to me, Roger,” Landry voice was cold steel. “If you’re involved in this in any way you’d best heed that advice and get a lawyer. Are you sure understand?”
“Yes sir, Sheriff,” Roger’s tears started down his face. “I swear I didn’t do anything but find them clothes.”
“Do you understand, Frank?” Landry turned on the uncle. “You want a lawyer?”
“Are you arresting the boy?”
“No,” Landry said. “He gets a free pass on the drinking. That’s just kids being kids. I just don’t want to find out later he’s involved and have some jackass lawyer moaning how he wasn’t read his rights.”
Roger and Frank heaved united sighs and sank back into their chairs.
“Now,” Landry said. “Who exactly is we?”
Three hours later, the interviews with Roger and his two companions completed, Landry felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on him. The questioning went as expected. He was looking for white male, undermined age, medium height and weight in a hairy mask…that didn’t narrow the field by much. Hell, not at all as far has Landry was concerned. He needed coffee.
There was a pot in the common office and he headed for it. He held the coffee in the pot up to the light. It was black as ink, thick as syrup and smelled a bit scorched. He poured a cup.
Freddie pointed at the steaming cup in his boss’ hand. “I wouldn’t drink that, boss. That’s got to be toxic by now.”
“Invigorating is the word,” Landry said after a quick sip. “You know, Freddie, if you’d leave that fru-fru coffee you drink alone you might grow facial hair someday.”
Freddy was saved from further comment by the arrival of Jerry Wills.
Landry motioned for Jerry to follow him to his office. Landry propped his boots on the corner of his desk and leaned back to enjoy his coffee. He filled the deputy in on his talk with Roger Bass. Roger didn’t strike him as a killer nor did his drinking buddies, Jeff and Jon Donne, but he told Jerry a few extra eyes on the boys couldn’t hurt things.
“So their stories jive,” Jerry said. “What now?”
“Well, they told the truth and nothing but the truth,” he told the deputy. “No crime there. What we need from them now is the whole truth.”
“You think those three are holding out on us?”
“Without a doubt. They were vague about the face. They were sure about a bird tattoo on his shoulder, but got real dumb about the face. How do you see a man’s shoulder and not get a hint at his face? I don’t buy the whole hairy mask crap.”
“Maybe they didn’t recognize whoever it was.”
“Could be, I doubt it, but could be. One thing I’m sure of, they saw his face.”
“They’re protecting someone?”
“I don’t get that feeling. I think they are scared.”