After his wife left him, John LeGrand tried to drown his sorrow in alcohol. When he finally came out of it, he found he had a house, no job, and no prospects for the future, so using the experience he had working for the Ellison Parish Sheriffs Department, he applied for and received a private detective's license. He wasn't prepared for his first "real" case, however. It never occurred to him that he would have to kill a man.
I’m a small town detective. Mostly, I track down animals for local farmers, or I’ll do stints in department stores with shoplifting problems. Occasionally, I will spy on a wife or a husband for divorce reasons. I also teach a law enforcement class part time at EJC, the local junior college. When Aline Fontenot asked me to follow her husband, I was ready for the case. I was broke. I hadn’t had a case in weeks and part time teaching pay barely paid the groceries.
I operate out of my house on Chinaberry Street. Chinaberry is on the wrong side of the tracks in Ellisonville, but close enough to make it semi-respectable. In fact, it is so close to the tracks that everything shakes whenever a train passes through at 6:00 a.m., 11:47 a.m., 2:32 p.m., 7:11 p.m. and 12:01 a.m. My house is a small white clapboard. I moved in it ten years before with my new bride. Five years later my new bride moved out, taking everything and leaving me the house. She did leave a note telling me that she was tired of the trains. I had been working for Sheriff Pat Broussard for about three years at that point, but I gave it all up for a bottle and some self-pity time. When I had fallen far enough into the pit of despair, I still had my house and enough common sense to know that I would die if I didn’t climb my way out.
I gave up drinking heavily, cleaned myself up, and obtained a PI license. At first I spent most of my time outfitting the extra bedroom into an office. Then a farmer came by asking me to find out who was stealing his cows. I spent three weeks living in a mosquito infested pasture babysitting a herd of beef cows until one moon-lit night I caught a teenage boy leading one of the cows out through a hole in the fence. He had been slaughtering them and selling the meat in Baton Rouge. The farmer was very pleased with my work and spread the word about me.
I didn’t suddenly receive an influx of customers, but now and then someone would wander in and after a few moments of “I heard from my sister’s husband’s father’s best friend that you do detective work,” we would settle down to establishing a case and a price. A teacher at EJC contacted Pat Broussard asking for someone to teach an Introduction to Criminal Justice class, and he gave him my name. In that way, I slowly built up a reputation and earned enough to survive. I had been in business for four years when Aline Fontenot rang my doorbell.
She wasn’t what I would call a beautiful woman. She had a good child bearing frame—not fat, but wide and strong looking. She wore black slacks, a white blouse with a thin tie, and a black jacket. She had no make-up on, but her face was pleasant enough that she didn’t need it. She had rich eyes, deep green with specks of gold in them. Sometimes I can read a customer through her eyes—nervousness, guilt, cowardice, modesty, all sorts of revelations. I searched her green eyes, but she held my gaze and let nothing through.
“What can I do for you?” I asked after I had seated her in the rickety wooden chair across from my desk. I had found the chair as well as the desk at a yard sale.
She didn’t waste time getting to the point.
“I think my husband is cheating on me. I want to know for sure.”
“What makes you think he’s cheating on you?”
She pulled out a pack of menthol cigarettes from a small leather pocketbook.
“Mind if I smoke?”
I minded, but I needed the business more. I found an old tuna fish can that I had cleaned out and used as an ashtray for the occasional celebratory cigar or the occasional smoker who visited. She shook out a cigarette and lit it with a small gold lighter she fished out of her pocketbook. She blew a cloud of smoke over my head.
“It’s the little things he’s doing. He’s coming in late at night.”
“Could he be working late? What does he do for a living?”
“Oh, come on. Everybody knows Emory Fontenot.”
Up to that point she had not mentioned her husband’s name, so I had to assume she meant that her name was equally recognizable. I knew Emory Fontenot, the “Sauce Piquante King” from his commercials on local television and radio stations—an overweight Cajun with a crown on his head advertising the “good Cajun food” at Ellisonville’s Courthouse Café. Emory had been a cook there until Sam Martin discovered his Cajun cook’s talent for acting. After that Emory’s popularity shot up. He was now a local celebrity, well known in Ellison Parish and the television coverage area.
“Maybe he’s preoccupied with making more commercials,” I suggested.
If that’s the case,” she said through cigarette smoke, “then you tell me, collect your money, and everybody is happy.” She tapped her cigarette into the tuna fish can and held my gaze.
“It’ll take me at least a couple of days to verify his movements.” She nodded. “I charge a hundred dollars a day.”
She reached into the pocket book and pulled out two bills.
“Here’s two hundred dollars,” she said, sliding the bills across the desk. Apparently the “Sauce Piquante King’s” salary had shot up, too.
She pulled out another bill.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars,” she said. “That should buy you at least five sauce piquante meals at the Courthouse Café.” She smiled at her own sarcasm.
I took the money and slipped it in the cigar box I kept on the desk for such occasions. It was never a good idea to leave the money in front of the customers. Too tempting for them to change their minds.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take the job. What can you tell me about him? His habits?”
She studied me for a moment and then snuffed out her cigarette.
“Emory goes to work at nine every morning. He comes home at six, or he used to. Now he comes home at eleven, twelve, sometimes later.”
“What are his excuses?”
“The usual. Had to work late. Went to dinner with the boss or some television employer that will land him a statewide or national TV job. At first, I believed him. Emory is a very convincing man, Mr. LeGrand. I have occasionally caught him in outright lies, and he somehow convinced me of the truth of his words. Well, this time I noticed little things that made me suspicious, and rather than allow him to work his magic on me, I came to you.”
“Little things? Like what?”
“I don’t know. The sound of his voice. The way he refuses to look me in the eyes at certain times.”
I nodded and looked down at the pad I’d been taking notes on.
“Have you ever had problems like this with your husband before, Mrs. Fontenot?”
“No, Mr. LeGrand. I met Emory shortly after high school. He had been two classes ahead of me. I was taking a class or two at EJC then and working part time as a clerk for Cajun Quick Construction when he came in looking for a job. I knew immediately that I was going to marry him.” She paused and smile at something she remembered. “He didn’t get the job, but he got me. I married him two years later. I had gotten my degree from EJC and was working as a receptionist for the college. Emory was still unemployed despite a few starts at jobs here and there, mostly menial.”
“When did he get the job as ‘The Sauce Piquante King’?”
She fished out another cigarette and lit it. She exhaled a steady stream of smoke in my direction. I coughed a small protest.
“That didn’t come until we’d been married quite some time, Mr. LeGrand. After about a year and a half of my support, he found a job as an assistant cook at the Courthouse Café. Emory was a good cook, Mr. LeGrand. Still is. One day Sam asked Emory if he would do a commercial and the rest is history. Emory is making a good deal of money now, but that is of little consequence to me. I’m an independent woman. I have a good paying job at EJC. I don’t need his money. I have devoted ten years of my life to this man, however. I would rather not see all those years wasted, but I will not play second fiddle to anyone. Do you understand that, Mr. LeGrand?” She stared me right in the eyes. Her cigarette smoke danced bluely between us.
I met her stare and nodded.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll get to work on this today and I’ll give you a report as soon as I have something concrete.
She stood before I did, snuffed out her cigarette, and found her way to the door. I followed her. She stopped with the screen door open.
“Let me make it very clear to you, Mr. LeGrand,” she said. “If Emory is really working, or if he’s just going through some faze, I’ll be very happy, but if he is cheating on me, I’ll destroy him. I won’t play second fiddle to anyone.” Her mouth twisted hard for a second and I thought I saw hurt and pain in her eyes. Then she smiled, revealing smoke-stained teeth. “I just wanted you to know.”
“Thanks,” I said, but it was lost in the slam of the screen door.
The Courthouse Café was nothing but a hole in the wall squeezed between the Ellisonville Feed & Seed store and the Main Street Drug Store. Up until Sam Martin saw the potential in advertising, it had been the hangout for a few regulars, sheriff deputies and office workers from the courthouse across the street, mostly. Now the Courthouse Café was filled with customers and it was difficult to find a free table or space at the counter during mealtimes, especially during lunch and supper. Nothing had changed—it contained the same tacky diner décor, the same greasy food. The only difference was that Sam was making money now. I had heard that he had just bought a new house on Chêne Avenue where the wealthy lived, the other side of the tracks from mine.
I parked my ’86 Dodge Ram Van, payment for finding a lost pit bull, in the 30-minute free parking across the street. Although it was a good three hours to supper, there were a few people lining the counter, drinking coffee and several tables were taken, too. I asked the blond waitress behind the counter where Sam was. She looked at me as if I was crazy or stupid, or both maybe.
“How the hell would I know? He doesn’t tell me anything.” She paused a second and when I didn’t react, she added, “Do you want something or you gonna just ask questions?”
“Uh, a cup of coffee will do,” I said vowing to leave her a big tip when I left. She had to be overworked. When she returned, I asked her another stupid question, judging from her expression.
“Any idea where Emory Fontenot is?”
She glared at me.
“Man, do I look like his keeper? I got no idea where the King is. He came by this morning, made his fifteen or so gallons of sauce and left. Just like he does every day of the week.”
“Where does he go?”
“How would I know?”
I pulled out my wallet and opened it. I slipped a twenty out and placed it on the counter—a huge chunk out of my expense account. Her eyes widened when she saw the bill. She reached over and pulled it to her.
“Try the Stagger Inn Bar,” she said. “He likes to go there in the afternoons. I hear tell he has a honey there.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Keep the change.”
The Stagger Inn Motel was across town next to the Greyhound Bus station. The Stagger Inn Bar was located in between the two. Actually, the bar had been a seldom-used storage shed for the bus station, but when Sissy Ching bought the Stagger Inn Motel, she convinced the depot to sell her the shed. She added to it, stuck a jukebox, a bar, and a few tables in it and created an instant hit. Travelers liked to visit the Stagger Inn Bar while waiting for buses. Sissy was smart enough to keep an updated bus schedule behind the bar. Motel customers visited the establishment for nightcaps before tackling the cheap motel beds for the evening. There was almost always someone in the place.
I walked into the dark building and stood by the door for a moment while my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. The jukebox cranked out a Hank Williams tune, “I’m so Lonesome I could Cry.” Two men in suits sat at the bar and hunched over their beers, crying for all I knew. A barmaid made as if she were listening to them. She glanced in my direction, didn’t like what she saw, apparently, and returned to her crybabies. A red head and a man were having a tête à tête over a couple of drinks, but the man was not the “Sauce Piquante King.” I scanned the rest of the place, but there was no one else there. I walked up to the bar.
“What’ll you have,” the barmaid asked in a bored voice.
“A Dixie,” I said. She leaned into the cooler in front of her and pulled out a bottle. She twisted the top off and placed it in front of me.
“How much?” I asked.
I gave her a five and held it a second too long before releasing it—a signal that I wanted something else.
“Seen Emory Fontenot today?”
“Yeah,” she said, still bored. “Came in around noon. Had his usual two bourbons and left.”
“Know where he went?”
“To the motel, I suppose. It’s what he does most every day.”
“He goes to the motel every day?”
“Uh, huh. And if you got more questions, you’ll have to break out a few more bills.”
I couldn’t do that. My expense account was disappearing fast.
“One more,” I said. “What does he do there?”
She laughed exposing stained and partially rotten teeth.
“How the hell do I know? Takes a nap, maybe? Or catches a nooner with that whore of his?”
“Are you serious?”
“You said one more.” She took the five and rang up the beer on the ancient cash register sitting opposite the bar. She dropped the change in a Mason jar in front of the two men. She glanced at me and smiled. I finished my beer and slipped out into the bright sunlight.
The Stagger Inn Motel office was a 10 x 10 room with a black and white television sitting on a counter, a fish tank filled with three overweight gold fish near the entrance, and a Naugahyde chair next to the fish tank. Sissy Ching sat on a stool behind the counter. She reached over and turned down the sound on the television when she saw me. Sissy was a fairly good looking oriental woman with a nice smile and white teeth.
“Hello,” she said, flashing her white teeth at me. She looked about mid thirties, but I was pretty sure she was older. “You looking for a room?”
“No,” I said. “I just wondered if Emory Fontenot was here. I need to talk to him.”
“He left about twenty minutes ago.”
“Any idea where he went?”
She shrugged and turned up the volume on the television. A soap opera came on.
“Thank you,” I said and thought of a question. “What kind of car does he drive?”
“A big black Cadillac,” she said, not looking at me.
When I returned to the Courthouse Café, it was significantly more crowded. I muscled myself a spot at the counter and asked the new waitress if she knew where Sam Martin was. She nodded her head toward an office door at the end of the counter. I walked to it and knocked.
“Come in,” a voice said through the door. I opened it and walked in. Sam Martin was a short, pudgy Cajun with dark curly hair, balding on top. He looked up from the papers he worked on and fixed two dark eyes on me.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about Emory Fontenot.”
“You a cop or something?”
“No,” I said.
“A newspaper man.”
I shrugged and he must have thought it was a nod.
“What do you want to know?”
“Well,” I said. “Does he still work as a cook now that he does commercials for you?”
“Yeah, sure. He comes in every day and makes his famous sauce piquante.”
“What does he do with the rest of his time?”
“I don’t know. We shoot commercials occasionally. I got no idea what he does with the rest of his time.”
“Does he get paid extra for the commercials?”
Sam looked at me suspiciously.
“Listen, I paid him good money before he became the ‘Sauce Piquante King.’ He still gets that, plus he gets major bonuses every time he does one of those commercials. Not only that, he gets another bonus every time the damn things air. That guy can talk blood out of a turnip if you ask me. I’ll have to raise my prices just to keep him from draining me.”
“Looks like you’re doing alright to me.”
“What’d you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. It’s John LeGrand.”
“What newspaper did you say you work for? The Gazette?”
“Nope. I’m not a reporter, Sam. Let’s just say I’m a fan of the ‘Sauce Piquante King.’”
Sam shook his head from side to side.
“You’re probably from Lafayette or Baton Rouge, I bet. You’re going to steal him away from me, aren’t you? I’ll never find another guy like him with such a smooth tongue.”
“Any idea where he is?”
“Who knows? Probably getting drunk somewhere. The SOB drinks like a sponge. You might consider that if you’re planning to hire him.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You’ve been real helpful.”
“Yeah, right,” he said and returned to his paper work.
I found Emory at the Four Corners. His was the only Cadillac in the parking lot. If he was cheating on his wife, he wasn’t working too hard at hiding it. The Four Corners was what passed for a whorehouse complex a few years before. Now it was nothing more than a collection of broken down clapboard buildings. Three of them were boarded up. The opened one contained aging, unattractive women passing as prostitutes. The AIDS epidemic and fear of STDs had put a real crimp in the Four Corners. A few losers still visited, judging from the smattering of cars and pickups in the parking lot.
I parked next to Emory’s Cadillac and entered the whorehouse. The beer I bought off the gorilla behind the bar cost me three dollars; the information I wanted cost me the change from my ten-dollar bill. Emory was out back with a whore. He would be back in fifteen minutes. I nursed my beer and waited. One overweight whore with scummy teeth and wearing a polyester pants suit hit on me, but I told her to get lost. She must have been used to such treatment because she left without a word. A lone man sat at the end of the bar nursing a drink. I figured he was probably waiting for someone, a particular whore maybe, or a friend that he came in with who couldn’t pass up the selection of prostitutes. Three of them sat smoking and chatting at a table in a dark corner of the room. From my vantage point, the selection looked unappetizing.
Emory Fontenot looked exactly like he did on television except without the crown. He wore dark slacks, a light blue button down shirt and a dark jacket. His stomach was huge, probably from eating too much of his sauce. It spilled over his belt. He waddled to the bar and ordered bourbon on the rocks. I grabbed my beer and sidled up to him.
He looked at me, a bit startled. He had small brown eyes sunk deep into his pudgy face.
“Yeah. Who are you?”
“What do you want?” He said this gruffly, as if he didn’t want to be bothered.
“I’m a fan, Emory.”
He smiled revealing coffee stained teeth. The “Sauce Piquante King” enjoyed being admired, it seemed.
“Yeah? You seen me on TV?”
“Uh, huh. I love the one where you sit at the table with that crown on your head and that accordion music in the background and you just dig into the sauce piquante with that oversized fork.”
He cocked his head to the side and pretended he held a fork to his mouth.
“Then I say, ‘This sauce is soooo good, it’s fit for a king.’”
“Yeah. That’s it. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.”
“It’s my favorite too. Did you notice that bottle of Dixie next to the plate?”
“Uh, huh,” I said.
“That was my idea. Sam didn’t want me to put it there, but I told him it was either the beer bottle or me, and he let it be.” He held my gaze. His eyes hardened for a second—dared me to disagree. “I told him that it was artistic integrity. The guy who directs those things thought it was a brilliant idea. That’s what he called it—brilliant.”
“Well, anyone can see that it makes the commercial special. It adds the Cajun element to it. It really was brilliant.” Emory grinned at me, and I let a few moments of silence pass. Someone stood, one of the whores, and dropped a coin in the jukebox. Soon we were listening to Tammy Wynette’s, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Even the songs in this place were old.
“Let me buy you a drink, Emory,” I said, noticing that his glass was almost empty.
“Sure,” he said. He held his drink out to the huge, dumb-looking bartender, with eyes the color of moss. I pulled out a ten and gave it to him when he returned with the drink and a bottle of beer for me. He waited a moment or two, for a tip perhaps, but the expense money was low enough as it was. He wasn’t going to get any extra from me.
Emory raised his glass and clinked it against my bottle.
“To success,” he said.
“Amen,” I championed and drank from my beer.
He had unbuttoned his jacket and I could see he carried a piece. He saw me looking at it and he looked down at the holstered pistol.
“I got a license for it,” he said. “I told Sheriff Broussard that I needed a concealed weapon because I was a celebrity and all. You never know when some crazy is going to jump in front of you and blow your brains out.”
I made a few sympathetic sounds deep in my throat and let a few moments of silence pass as I pretended to enjoy the taste of my beer. Actually, this was my third and I was already starting to feel the effects. I was not a big drinker.
“I saw you come from the stalls,” I said, breaking the silence with an observation most men would not make in an establishment like this. “Which one did you go with?”
He eyed me for a while, his cold brown eyes sweeping over me, stopping and holding my gaze. I was hoping that the alcohol had loosened him up a bit.
“Oh, that’s Clarisse,” he said leaning closer to me. “I didn’t do anything with her, ‘cept talk. I knew her in high school.” He paused, seeming to consider whether to say something else. He didn’t.
“A regular high school reunion, huh?” He didn’t like that, I could tell by the way he frowned into his drink. “Was she a particular good friend of yours, Emory?”
He glanced at me, but he didn’t say anything. I had hurt his feelings.
“One of my high school sweethearts became a whore,” I said trying to get back in his good graces. “Peggy, blonde, blue eyes, and freckles all over her body.”
That got him. He smiled.
“Yeah? She work here? I could go for blonde and freckles.”
“Naw, Peggy was high class. She went to work in New Orleans. Dances on bars and men put bills in her panties.” I tried to bring the topic back to Clarisse. “Were you and your friend tight?”
“Clarisse? Naw. We knew each other a little, you know. After high school she just disappears from Ellisonville. Two weeks ago she shows up at the Courthouse Café and says hello. I’m really happy to see her, but I’m busy, you know. I have to make my sauce before the lunch crowd shows up. So I tell her to go to the Stagger Inn Bar and wait for me there. When I show up, she tells me that she had just accepted a job here.” Emory drained his drink and ordered us each another. At least it wasn’t coming out of my expense account.
“You mean here, at the whorehouse?”
“Uh, huh. I was a little surprised, but, hey, she had been kinda wild in high school.” I followed his gaze and even across the dark room, I could see that Clarisse was thin woman to the point of sickness; she looked anorexic.
“Does your wife know about her?” I nodded toward the woman.
“Oh, no. I could never tell Aline. She would never put up with it. I hate going behind her back, but—” He shrugged.
“What they don’t know, huh?”
He shrugged again; I knew that was about as much as I could get out of him on that subject.
I spent over an hour with the “King of Sauce Piquante,” and I had no idea whether he was cheating on his wife or not. I knew one thing for sure and that was that he was definitely capable of it.
He and I had another round of drinks before he left. I had to break one of the hundred dollar bills to pay for it. After he walked out, I took my beer and walked over to where Clarisse sat nursing what looked like a whiskey sour.
“Hi,” I said, feeling a little light-headed from the short trek. I pulled a chair and sat across from her.
She looked up and licked her lips.
“Hi,” she said. “Looking for a little action?”
“Maybe. I was just talking to Emory and he said you were the best this place had to offer.”
“You smoke?” I shook my head. “How about buying me a drink then?”
I signaled the bartender and he sent a tired-looking waitress over. I ordered a whiskey sour and gave her a twenty and watched another significant portion of my fee disappear.
“Emory told me that you two knew each other. Have you known him for long?”
“Since high school. The SOB knocked me up and then refused to take credit for the dirty deed.” She laughed as if she’d said something funny. I could see her gums. They were red and sick-looking.
“He got you pregnant and left you holding the baby? Is that why you left Ellisonville?”
“I wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted a woman who could give him more than good sex and loud, smelly kids.” The drink came and she downed half of it before letting it touch the table. “Hey, do you want some action or not?”
I shook my head. I’d had all the action I could handle for one afternoon.
I shouldn’t have been driving, but I was afraid that if I stayed there any longer, I would drink more and end up with one of those whores, maybe even Clarisse. That scared me sober enough to attempt the drive home. I was surprised that the sun was down and it was already dark when I exited the whorehouse. The mosquitoes were in full force and I swatted them away from my face. It would have to be one brave mosquito, which sucked my blood.
I made the drive home without as much as a fender bender. I tried to make sense of what I’d heard, but my alcohol-soaked brain wasn’t working well. I should have gone straight to bed, but instead I called Aline Fontenot. She answered on the third ring.
“Mrs. Fontenot, this is John LeGrand. I think I need to talk to you.”
“So talk, Mr. LeGrand.”
“It’s a standing policy of mine not to give reports over the phone. Could you come here?” My stomach turned over and reminded me that I was hungry. “Or maybe we could meet at a restaurant?”
“I haven’t eaten, yet. Why don’t we meet at Ally’s? Do you know where it is?”
“Uh, huh,” I said. “How about thirty minutes?”
“That will be fine,” she said and hung up.
I showered, shaved and sobered up somewhat, before I set out for Ally’s. A crippled African American woman, who made some of the best traditional Cajun and Creole dishes in the state, owned the restaurant. Her blackened catfish was well known statewide. Word was that the governor occasionally sent a helicopter out here to grab a carry out of blackened catfish when he had special visitors. I called to make sure there would be a table available.
I pulled into the lot and walked to the entrance of the old barn converted into a restaurant. Aline waited for me at the bar. I joined her and together we allowed the waiter to escort us to our table. She ordered a glass of white wine, and I had an iced tea. We both ordered the blackened catfish. We made small talk until the waiter took our dishes and brought us coffee.
“You have a report for me, Mr. LeGrand.”
“I don’t think your husband is cheating on you.”
“Good. Now convince me.”
I had wrestled with whether I should tell her about Clarisse or not, but I didn’t see any way around it. After all, Aline Fontenot was my client, and my allegiance was to her.
“Do you remember him telling you about a woman called Clarisse?”
“Clarisse Lafleur, that little whore? Is she back in Ellisonville?”
“You know her?”
“I know her, Mr. LeGrand. I attended high school with Clarisse Lafleur. She was nothing but a tramp. Slept with all the boys at Ellisonville High and most of the ones at EJC, too. Emory had a little fling with her before he met me. I believe she disappeared shortly afterward. Everybody figured she’d probably run off with some married man or something. What does she have to do with all this?”
“That’s who your husband has been spending time with. She works at the whorehouse.”
“At the Four Corners?”
“It figures. She was never good for anything else. What I don’t understand is why Emory would jeopardize his home life and career for some sleazy prostitute like her.”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think he’s having sex with her. Or that’s what he’s saying, anyway.”
“Let me see if I have this straight. My husband is spending time with a woman who happens to work in a whorehouse, but you don’t think he’s having an affair. Do all men stick together that way, Mr. LeGrand?”
“Now wait a minute. You’re twisting my words here. You haven’t heard the full report.”
She stood and threw her napkin over her plate.
“Write it all down, Mr. LeGrand and mail it to me. I am well aware of what’s going on between Clarisse and Emory, and I will handle it.”
“Wait, Mrs. Fontenot.” I stood, but she had already started to walk away. I sat back down and finished my coffee. The waiter brought the check--$39.49. By the time I left the tip, I had blown another fifty dollars. If I wasn’t careful, I would end up paying to take this case.
I’m standing buck naked in a doorway. My hands are cuffed and tied to the doorframe over my head. Clarisse, dressed in garters and fishnet stockings, holds a whip in her hands. Her skin is stretched tight over her bones, which poke through obscenely. Emory stands next to her. He is dressed in boxer shorts with tiny little skulls and crossbones all over them. Clarisse raises the whip high above her head and flings it at me. It wraps around my chest. The pain is so horrible that I hear a ringing in my ears. She raises the whip and again I hear the ringing. The ringing gets louder and Clarisse and Emory slowly disappear.
It was the telephone. I ignored the piercing pain in my head and answered it.
“Pat Broussard here.” I sat up a little straighter and paid for it. “Do you know an Aline Fontenot? She had your card in her pocket book.”
“Yeah, I know her, Pat.”
“Well, she’s dead, John.”
“Shot three times through the temple. Somebody wanted to make sure she was dead.”
“Where did you find her?”
“In her driveway. Looks like she had a scuffle with someone there and he/she shot her. What can you tell me about her?”
I told him what I knew, but I didn’t mention the Stagger Inn Motel. I don’t know why. I owed Pat Broussard a lot, but Aline Fontenot had been my client and something I missed made her dead. I had to find out on my own. I promised Pat that I would go over and make a statement in the morning and hung up. Then I dug up my police piece, a .45 caliber that I kept when I left the force. I checked to make sure it was loaded and stuffed it in my waist.
The radio in my van was on, and after a sappy swamp pop tune by Clint West, a commercial came on. I listened to the smooth voice of Emory Fontenot. “Listen Folks,” he said, “and I’ll tell it to you straight. You can’t get a better meal anywhere in the state of Louisiana. Come join me, the ‘Sauce Piquante King’ for a meal at the Courthouse Café. Right across from the courthouse in downtown Ellisonville. Tell Sam Martin that the ‘Sauce Piquante King’ sent you. You’ll get a good meal at a good deal. You have my word on it.” I slammed my hands against the steering wheel and then reached over to shut off the radio. What a fool I was? I was no smarter than the thousand of people who listened to Emory Fontenot’s smooth voice and took it at face value.
Sissy Ching was seated behind the counter, although it was after midnight. She lowered the volume on the black and white when she saw me.
“Where is Clarisse’s room?” I asked.
“Room thirteen. First floor.”
Room thirteen was located at about the middle of that wing. The door was in the shadows of the stairs leading to the top floor. I placed my ear against the door and listened to the movement inside. Someone was speaking, but I could not make out what was being said.
I knocked softly with my piece and someone cracked open the door. I slammed my shoulder against it and sent Clarisse flying across the room. I felt the bullet nick my scalp and slam into the doorframe before I heard the report. I fell to my knees and fired once. Emory took the bullet in the chest. His body folded in half and slammed into the wall. I watched him slump to the floor leaving a trail of blood on the dirty motel wall. He remained sitting, his upper body propped up against the wall.
Clarisse screamed something and made as if to crawl toward him, but I was there before she could reach him. I picked her up and threw her on the bed, where she remained and didn’t move.
I searched through the partially packed suitcase looking for some kind of clue that would give me a reason for everything that had happened. I found it in Clarisse’s purse—a marriage certificate between her and Emery Fontenot. The “Sauce Piquante King” was a bigamist, a career-ending situation to be sure.
I threw the purse next to Clarisse, who sobbed loudly on the bed, and sat on the threshold, trying to swallow down the bile, like a bad meal, that kept rising up in my throat. I waited for the distant sirens to arrive.
The story made all the papers. The “Sauce Piquante King” finally got his statewide reputation. The headlines read, “Love Triangle Takes Life of Sauce Piquante King and Wife.” My name was mentioned but only briefly as the king’s killer. Two days later Clarisse Lafleur’s body was found hanging in her cell at the courthouse. She had somehow managed to tie her bed sheet to the cell bars and around her neck. The newspaper story that covered her death revealed that she had married Emory Fontenot in high school and shortly after ran off to points unknown. It was widely speculated that she had been pregnant, although a child was never discovered.
Pat Broussard called me a couple of days later and filled in the rest of the blanks. She had been working as a bar maid in Nevada, but her cocaine habit was so bad that she could no longer support it. I guess she heard about the king and she returned to Ellisonville hoping to blackmail him.
“Emory starts acting strange, so his wife hires you to check him out.”
“And when she hears Clarisse Lafleur’s name, she remembers the high school story and suspects he’s laying her again.”
“Uh, huh. I doubt if she knew anything about the blackmail business or even that he was married to Clarisse. She confronts him in the parking lot and probably threatens divorce. He can’t let her do that, especially since he’s being courted by a big TV guy from New Orleans. They wanted him to go national.”
“I’d heard rumors about that,” I said. “So it was true , huh?”
“Yap. The publicity would have destroyed him, and it would probably come out that he was a bigamist, so he did the only thing he could do. He killed his wife, hoping to make it look like a robbery or something. He didn’t account for you.”
“What were his plans about Clarisse then?”
“She told us that he was going to take her to New Orleans with him. I doubt it seriously that she would have lasted long. Nobody would be looking for her, a common whore.” Pat was silent a moment. I could hear muffled voices in the background, and I remembered that he liked to leave the radio in his office on low throughout the day. “Well, John, it’s been a rough case and you had to kill a man. Can’t be your best moment. Can I do anything to help you?”
“Thanks for the offer, Pat, but I think I’ll have to work this one out on my own.”
I hung up and went for a long drive in my old van. A Courthouse Café commercial came on. Sam Martin had already replaced the “Sauce Piquante King” but this guy’s voice was not nearly as smooth as Emory Fontenot’s. I suspected that Sam might have to give up his new fancy home and move back to my side of the tracks.
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|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
|Excellent! For bein a misplaced Cajun, you pen a spicy little number here. Well done, mi chere!
(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
Used to live north of Lake Ponchartrain, meself. Natalbany, a little bitty place north of Hammond. I'm not Cajun, but they adopted me as their own. :)
|Reviewed by Mary Lynn Plaisance
|My Dad was born and raised in Lafayette! When I saw the word Sauce Piquante I knew it was something Cajun. *lol*
I enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing
Mary Lynn Plaisance and
The Cajun Fairies~
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Excellent tale; well done! :)|