The call came in at eleven-thirty. Ten minutes later, Landry was driving south down Panther Creek Road toward Black Sulfur Bayou. He hit the first pothole about a half mile outside the city limits. The frequency and depth of the potholes rapidly multiplied until the asphalt vanished in favor of a dirt washboard. The road made a sharp right and turned into a pair of ruts separated by a mat of swamp grass. Half a mile further he ran up on a rundown mobile home.
A mangy red bone hound greeted him with bared teeth and a menacing growl. Landry rolled down his window. The sound of the hammer of his revolver being pulled back and the appearance of its black snout looking down from the window of his cruiser convinced the dog to retreat to safety under the front porch.
Landry stepped from the cruiser and made his way to the porch. The wooden steps groaned under his weight, but held. He reached through the torn screen and gave the door his best “this is the law” knock. The fool dog barking from his hiding place was the only answer. Landry announced himself and eased the door open. His light shined over a field of jumbled, broken furniture.
“Jeff. Sheriff Landry, y’all in there? Jeff?”
Silence. Not crickets, silence. Creeping, crawling silence as foreign to the bayou as a saguaro cactus. He drew his revolver once more.
“Jeff, you hear me? This is the Sheriff. I’m coming inside.”
A bouncing pair of hi-beams lit the night. Jerry’s cruiser swerved around Landry’s and rocked to a halt in the yard. Finding himself silhouetted by the headlights, Landry ducked inside the house and flattened himself against the living room wall.
“Jerry, check around back,” Landry shouted to the deputy without moving.
Landry shined his light over the living room and kitchen. The places was a mess, but guessing at Jeff’s tidiness that did not necessarily mean trouble. He checked the hall, cleared the bedroom to his right and worked his way through the trash piled in hallway to the master bedroom.
“Coming in,” Jerry’s voice announced from behind Landry.
“Come ahead,” the sheriff answered.
The back door swung open and Jerry followed the beam of his light inside and caught up to Landry outside the bedroom. Landry pointed to a spot of blood a few feet from the door before trying the knob. The door creaked open on dry hinges.
“Oh shit,” Jerry said
Landry pulled the door closed and pointed for Jerry to back down the hall. They made their way back to the porch without a word and took up seats on the front steps. Landry put in the call to the coroner. The boys from the state crime lab were in for a long night putting back together the pieces Jeff Donne.
“Sheriff Landry come in,” a pair of radios squawked in unison.
“Sheriff come in.” Freddie’s voice crackled again.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” Landry said. He reached through the window for the radio. “Landry.”
“Sheriff, we need you back in town, Freddie stammered.”
“I’m kind of busy here, Freddie,” Landry told him. How far out is the crime lab?”
“Maybe an hour, but this can’t wait.”
“What is it?”
“We have another one.”
Rita Goodwin, the busiest body of the busybodies living on the bayou. Rita had kept her head. Landry thanked God for small favors…very small favors, her head was turned to the side and he could see the lower half her face was ripped out of it place. He didn’t have to look far for the missing parts. Her tongue and lower jaw rested atop the center of Rita’s ample backside.
Great, Landry thought, now we’re staging the scene.
I was a statement he as soon not heard. Her body was a vital clue, but he just didn’t have the stomach for it. He backed slowly out of the room trying not to disturb the scene and put in another call to the coroner.
It turned out Rita had no stomach for it either. When the coroner turned her over, her abdomen was ripped from clavicle to groin.
Landry called in his reserve deputies. When Cletus Washington arrived, Landry sent him to guard the scene at Rita’s while he went next door to question Mamie Rioux. Mamie was a seventy-year-old widow with chronic insomnia and horrendous maculuar degeneration. She insisted on making coffee for Landry before answering any questions. The Sheriff, not one to refuse coffee, offered no resistance.
“It was the gawdawfulest racket,” Mamie began. “I first thought Miss Rita was caught up between two dogs fighting. Her her dog, Archie is his name, barking like all git out. Then, Miss Rita started screaming amidst all the snarling and growling going on.
I peeped out the door to see what was the matter and a man ran out of Miss Rita’s door. At least, I think it was a man. My eyes ain’t what they used to be, you know. I could almost swear the man was carrying a dog on his shoulder. That’s crazy talk, but that’s what it looked like.”
“Which way did he go?” Landry asked.
“He run right past my porch, Miss Mamie held out an arthritic finger. “And went yonder way down the street.”
“So, he ran underneath that street light out front of your house?”
“Yes sir, Sheriff.”
“You got a good look at him, then?” Landry said.
“Like I said, my eyes so good anymore, but yes, sir, I’d say so.”
“Was he white, black, Hispanic?”
“I can’t say. He had that dog on his shoulder. No, wait. He was white, yes, sir a white man. I remember his legs were bare. Yes sir, white with a black spot on his back.”
“A black spot?” Landry asked. “Could it have been a tattoo?”
“I reckon it must have been, Sheriff,” Mamie said. “If it was a tattoo, it was big. I couldn’t make a design. Can I get you more coffee?”
Roger Bass kept his eyes on the top of the table in front of him, shifted in his seat and swallowed hard. A slow shake of his head was the only answer.
“I can’t Sheriff,” he said.
Roger looked up. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His fear looked genuine, but people can get genuine looking when you catch them in a lie. Landry continued to fix him with a stone faced stare.
“Three people are dead, boy,” Landry growled. “I damn well want an answer.”
“Old John was right,” the boy’s words were barely a whisper.
“Old John was right about what?” Landry leaned closer a puzzled look on his face.
“I’m scared to say it and you should know better,” Roger lamented. “You know, what Old John said on television.”
“On television? What did he say on television? Quit playing games with me.”
“Don’t answer that son.” Frank Bass breezed into the Sheriff’s office chased by a worried Freddy Bimmel.
“I tried to stop him,” Freddy said.
“Forget about it,” Landry waved Freddy out of the office.
“Sheriff, the boy ain’t saying no more,” Frank declared. “He’s told you enough already. You’re the lawman, you figure it out from here.”
“I got three dead bodies, Frank.” Landry said. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Yes sir, It means Roger ain’t going to be number four.” Frank tugged Roger to his feet. “Let’s go boy.”
Jerry Wills rapped on the sheriff’s open door. Landry offered a quick wave and let his boots fall from the desk. Jerry pulled up a chair across from his boss.
“Are you ever going to sleep again?” Jerry asked.
“It doesn’t feel like it,” Landry said. “How about you?”
“Sheriff?” Jerry said.
Landry looked at his deputy with a lift of his brow.
“I’ve been thinking about what Roger said.”
Landry rolled his hand in a “go on” motion.
“Well, I read this story once where there was this monster. It lived in a mental hospital and came out at night to feed on the loonies. Of course, none of the doctors or nurses believed their stories about a monster. They call it mass hysteria, delusions, hallucinations anything, but a monster.
They called in the police, who didn’t believe in a monster either, but they definitely had a murderer. So, the dug around and found zip. Then, one night, a nurse who believed the stories, hid out under a patient’s bed. Damn if there wasn’t a monster. About killed the nurse before the stake out team got to the ward.
The whole thing got hushed up. Well, as hushed as something like that gets.”
“What are you saying? We have a monster loose in Lockett?” Landry said. “You want me to believe these murders were committed by a monster? You sound like…Old…John…holy shit.”
“Oh, I don’t know what I’m saying,” Jerry confessed. “I’m punchy, I guess. It’s just we’ve got three random murders and no evidence.”
Landry bolted upright.
“What did you just say?”
“Huh? I said we have three murders and no evidence.”
“No, you said we have three random murders. We have been assuming the murders are random, but are they? What if there’s a connection?”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Jerry said. “What do a semi-reclusive baker, a college kid, and an elderly gossip have in common? Other than they are all dead?”
“That, my dear Watson, is what we must find out. And I think I know what Roger Bass is holding back.”
“I was hoping to be Holmes, what with my story about monsters and all.”
“Tell me then, Sherlock, what you deduce from the staging of Ms. Goodwin’s body.”
“Elementary. She’s been talking out her ass.”
“Ah, that’s not as tricky as it seems. Somebody that Jeff double crossed.”
“Where do you get that?”
“When the pieces of Jeff were put back together, all of his injuries were inflicted from behind.”
“That’s pretty thin, but suppose you are right. How does Delmer fit in?”
“Yeeeaaahhh. That’s where I say goodnight. I’m going to bed. If you don’t mind me saying so, you should do the same, Sheriff.”
An hour later, Landry decided to take his deputy’s advice. He grabbed his hat and pulled the door closed behind him. Camille St Pierre, working dispatch, returned his wave as he breezed passed by.
“Don’t call me,” Landry said over his shoulder.
“Night, Sheriff,” Camille called after him.
A familiar hunched figure sat on the bench at the foot of the stairs. Landry thought it was just like the man to ignore all the warnings to stay off the streets at night. Old John scratched behind one ear as he looked up at the Sheriff.
“How y’all are?” John said with a wave and a smile.
“John, what are you doing out here?” Landry asked.
“I was just sittin’ here thinking about going home.”
“I bet you were,” Landry said. “Come on get in the car. I’ll drive you home.”
“That’s mighty nice of you, Sheriff.”
John tried to lever himself up, tottered and flopped back onto the bench. Landry hooked an arm under John’s and helped him up. The old man wasn’t as feeble as he generally let on, but Landry thought the hollows around the old man’s eyes looked deeper than usual and there was a definite tremble in the usually steady hands. Landry noticed a grimace when John lowered himself into the car.
“John, are you feeling poorly?” Landry asked. “I could take you to that new Urgent Care up in Morgan City.”
“I just need to go home. Maybe have a little sip.”
“That stuff’s going to kill you some day.”
“Doc Cogar says different.”
“I got the cancer, Sheriff,” John told him. “Doc says a month or maybe two. Oh, don’t look so shocked. I’ve been around a long time. Maybe that rougarou get Old John before the cancer does.”
“John, how many other folks around town do you think believe in this rougarou of yours?”
“Damn near everyone,” John said. “You’re from here, don’t you believe in da rougarou?”
“No, but do you think Frank Bass does?”
“I know he do,” John said with a smile. “Him and dat boy come to see me da other day.”
Landry drove the rest of the way in silence. He dropped John off and watched him go inside before driving off feeling a bit strange that news of John’s cancer hit him harder than the slaughter surrounding him.
Back at home, Landry settled into his chair with a bottle of beer and pried off his boots. Sleep felt miles away. He flipped by two mindless talk shows and a hair regrowth infomercial before coming to rest on an old episode of Forensic Files. A few sips into his beer, he closed his eyes to the mellow voice of Peter Thomas, and was instantly asleep.
In the middle of the DNA analysis, a nurse in blue scrubs wheeled a gurney carrying Old John into the operating room. Just as the doctor made his incision, bells began to ring and alarms to squawk.
“We’re losing him,” a voice announced.
The doctors began doing CPR. Each compression sent blood flying from the fresh incision. Blood covered the doctors and nurses and dripped from the table.
“That’s it,” a doctor said through his mask. “Time of death…”
The doctor chocked on something and clutched at his throat. His eyes rolled back becoming white soulless orbs, a wild, undulating howl that dripped with despair poured from his lips.
Landry’s eyes flew open. The operating room disappeared, Forensic Files was back, but the howling continued. Landry kicked down the footrest and bolted for the window. He hit the floor and traction failed. He socks slid over the wooden floor and, for a moment, his churning legs took him nowhere. He stumbled twice before reaching the window. He threw the window open and the volume doubled. Everywhere lights were popping on around the neighborhood.
The howling died while Landry struggled to put on his boots. Shod again, he ventured outside to investigate. The neighborhood porches and sidewalks were crowded with people, half of them armed. A few brave souls, brandishing shotguns and flashlights, searched between the houses. Landry herded everyone back inside without any causalities.
“That was a dog, right Sheriff?” Edouard Bevier asked.
“Yeah, Ed,” Landry said. “Somebody’s dog got loose. I’ll take care of it. You go on back to bed.”
Sweeping his light over the nearby yards, Bevier ambled home. Landry continued to roam the neighborhood.
What are you looking for? He thought. “You know sure as hell that ain’t no stray dog.”
Landry gave up his search and walked back home. As he turned onto his front porch, his eye caught on a crumpled zinna. He played the beam of his flashlight over the flowerbed. He found what he was looking for. It was anything but what he expected. It was a footprint; a human footprint with one inch claws.