Alain Bontemps | Alan’s Extra Room | The Rorschach Painting | Goodtime Voice-O-Matic | The Siege of Calais | I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime | The Alton Arsenal | The Death of Alan Goodtime (other stories in the arc)
I was never a person who had many dreams and, when I did have one, I would wake up with only a hazy blur of color and narrative that made about as much sense as a telenovela played in reverse. That night, however, I had the clearest dream of my life. The colors were sharp, crisp, even more vibrant than in real life. I remembered the entire event, though it seemed to begin and end with no structure. I walked into a room; a small basement constructed from moldering grey bricks. Every surface was dusty and free of clutter, save for a few pistachio shells piled together on a sturdy, metal, olive drab desk. The desk was the type of well-constructed but utilitarian piece that had been mass produced during World War II, then slowly phased out into society as the decades progressed. I remember seeing pictures of the San Francisco Police Department headquarters, local hospital offices, and even real estate agencies from the 60s during lessons in history class; these desks crowded their floors. Though their numbers had declined, a few could still be found in garages around the country, now used as project tables or outdoor home offices. Pulled out from the desk was a matching chair. On the seat, where there should have been olive vinyl to match that on the backrest, was a deep, multicolored hole. The image rippled, as if filled with water. It seemed there were three, or possibly four, concentric circles; the outermost circle started in light tan but quickly grew a darker yellow, the middle circle was a vibrant aquamarine, and the innermost circle was a deep royal blue. It was an iconic image, on that I knew I remembered from somewhere. Hard as I tried, though, I couldn’t place it. As the scene faded, I could hear a voice say, “You’ll get it.”
I awoke feeling unrested. The flight home was horrible; air conditioning that didn’t work, screaming children, some of the worse turbulence I’ve ever felt. A hefty woman across the aisle from me couldn’t manage to hold in her pancake breakfast when the plane started shimmying. It went everywhere, including my left leg. The next day at home was no better. My usual Mini-Wheats tasted bland and uninteresting, my coffee too hot and bitter. I exited the shower still feeling sticky and hot. I tried to enjoy my day off by catching up on television, but the DVR had recorded over most of my shows and, when I finally found one I could watch, I couldn’t bring myself to focus on the trite, boring story. I grabbed the detective’s journal and headed out to a beachside bar to drink a few rounds and do some reading.
February 12, 1973.
We decided to head back to the precinct for the afternoon. The drive to Pointe Coupee could take an hour and there was no safe bet that Mrs. Gautreau would be home when we arrived. Even if she was, there was her arrest and the twin girls to worry about. Bringing in a woman and her two daughters on four counts of homicide wasn’t something to begin in the afternoon if your day had started early and unfortunately. The next morning, Joe swung by in his car and picked me and Dob up at my place. I had Joe unlock his trunk and placed a loaded 12 gauge inside, along with a Colt 1911 and several replacement magazines. I didn’t trust my Police Special to do the job if Mrs. Gautreau’s family decided to make an Old West stand out of the arrest. We stopped by Frenchie’s Diner on the way out of town for some hot bologna poboys and coffee. We wanted to be well fed and ready for whatever came next.
The north end of Point Coupee was a jungle. A hundred years ago, the land was covered in one cash crop or another. Probably cotton or tobacco. Now, the old plants had gone to seed and the weeds had thickened into shrubs. Once-trimmed trees were over grown and blocking portions of the road. As we drove up the Atchafalaya River, a heavy brick began to grow in my stomach. The further north we traveled, the closer we got to parts known to my younger self. One more coincidence may have been too much for me. A burgeoning acidic taste on the back of my tongue and a bulge in my throat made me wonder if the bologna and coffee was a wise choice. Joe pointed out an old wooden street sign. The turn we needed to take. Bordelon Street. I didn’t recognize the name. I sighed and sat back, trying to get more comfortable in Joe’s passenger seat. The coincidences ended here. My body didn’t seem to believe that, though. My shoulders and thighs remained tense and nothing I did could ease them.
Soon Joe announced the soggy brown rivulet we had reached. He must have seen a sign. Bayou Moreau. I had to ask him to repeat it, hoping I had misheard. I used to play in Bayou Moreau as a kid. Used to drink beer next to it as an adolescent. I’d eaten my share of catfish from that bayou. We rounded a shallow muddy pond that looked familiar and a two story wooden house rose out of the trees and weeds. It had been painted eggshell white once, back when I knew it, but the color had been aged and – literally – soiled to a light yellowish beige. The sullied paint hung off the decrepit wooden frame like curls of white chocolate on the rum cake I bought in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A screen door hung ajar on the front of the house. The screws in the top hinge had pulled out of the frame long ago, allowing the door the move freely in the breeze, scraping a worn half-moon into the wooden porch. The estate was a little run down when I last saw it nigh on fifteen years ago, but now it looked positively condemned. There seemed to be far more than two decades’ worth of weathering and age. The house looked like it had been left unattended since the turn of the century. Regardless of the disrepair, it was still the same house. Still the house Sam Maginot, the uncle of my dead fiancée, had lived in with his family.
Joe and Dob could tell something was bothering me. I’m usually cool under pressure. That day, I was anything but cool. I was quiet, tense, sweating, and in danger of losing my breakfast all over the ground. While I loaded and racked my shotgun, I filled them in on the way this case wove together like a fishing spider’s web. That image stuck with me as we wove our way through tall weeds. The disturbance shook pollen free from each stalk, turning the entire front yard a hazy yellow. I thought about the way fishing spiders construct their webs to catch much larger prey like bayou frogs. The frogs first step into the web and can jump away. Some do. Others view the sticky web as a mere annoyance and try to untangle themselves, which actually binds the web around them as strands cling to other strands and hogtie the defenseless frogs. The three murders had tangled us together. Maybe each new piece of the puzzle was binding us, confounding us, condemning us to our fate.
Joe swept aside the limp screen door with a loud creak. Dob knocked loudly on the thick oak front door, announcing us as the police. I stood a yard back from the door and off to the side a bit, ready to raise my 12 gauge if the Maginots knew why we were here and decided to protect their daughter and her children. We waited a while for an answer, our grips tightening on our firearms with each audible tick of Joe’s watch. Sweat had started to drip from my palm and down the cherry stock of my shotgun when the heavy oak slab finally slid back. Audrey Maginot looked out at us, her face stony and impassive. Her threadbare nightgown had obviously once been white, but was now covered in stains. She probably never washed it. Judging from the thick organic stench wafting out of the open door, she probably didn’t wash much. Including herself. Audrey Maginot looked at the three of us for a good three minutes before responding in any way. I had opened my mouth to announce ourselves again, when she beckoned us inside, turned, and disappeared from the doorway.
The inside of the old Maginot residence matched the ramshackle exterior. Boxes, trinkets, and dusty cobwebs were piled high on every surface. The floor was strewn with objects save for winding pathways that led from room to room. We trailed Audrey through the mess, her thin, bony frame visible in the way the nightgown clung to each limb. Her body looked like it could break at any moment, her face looked her resolve never would. She sat and gestured to a few chairs.
I sat my shotgun down on its butt, resting the muzzle on my right thigh. I laid out the three murder cases to Audrey, detailing how each led back to her daughters. When I finished, I asked if we could talk to them. Audrey smiled.
“The girl reminded you of Penelope, no?” Audrey asked almost conversationally. Her face looked calm. Pleasant. Like a mother having sweet tea on her porch over conversation. Except the eyes. Audrey’s smile didn’t reach her eyes, they sat like two black marbles in her head. Looking into them felt like looking at the pictures of space from the moon landing. Vast. Empty. Engulfing.
“I thought so, too, Remy. We knew it would bring you in.” At this statement, Dob swore and rose to his feet. He pulled a Colt from his belt and pointed it at Audrey from his hip. “You sit yourself down, now, lawman! You hear?” Audrey shouted at Dob, her Creole accent thickening and contorting her face into an angry snarl. She took a drink of something that smelled like metallic coffee and closed her eyes before returning her gaze to me. Her joyless smile was back.
“Was you able to put all the pieces together?” she asked. I told her she should go ahead and tell us and pulled a slim notebook from my pocket to make notes for the arrest. I tried to force myself to relax again. Audrey was talking. It seemed she had no fight in her. We would probably catch Hell for not clearing the arrest with the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Department, but not as much as we would if it had turned into a shootout.
“Mr. Simon in the fancy car was the man who hit my Penelope. He had a taste for younger flesh. The college girl had a taste for easy money. Learning ain’t cheap for a girl, I guess. It didn’t take much to convince them to get together. Took more to confound him to kill her. Too much, I reckon. When my girls showed up to take him away, that college slut was just passed out. Had to finish the job myself.”
Joe’s jaws had slackened so that his mouth hung slightly open. I wondered if he was as puzzled as I was. There wasn’t a chance in Hell that someone of Joe’s middling stature could have twisted Maureen Tiffenberg like a wet washrag, much less someone with the fragile, bird-like bones of Audrey Maginot. I might have been able to manage it, but only by using my arms, legs, and torso for torque. I told Audrey as much. She just smiled again. This time, her abysmal eyes did crinkle up at the corners and glint with amusement.
“Remy, you been away from your home too long, boy. You didn’t see the gris gris bags when I brought you in? You didn’t smell that voudou vapor in Mr. Simon’s apartment? City’s getting you, boy. It has been since you was young. If you had your wedding up here the Creole way, my Penelope would still be alive. But them buildings got they hooks in you. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
I remembered the chemical smell in Allen’s apartment. I had assumed it was a mixture of bleach and other cleaning supplies that the killer used to wash away blood or fingerprints. But Audrey was right. It smelled exactly like the fires we used to find out near the bayous after the old women had a “meeting” to bring good luck to a new couple on their wedding day or a family during the birth of a child. The vapors were a staple of voudou in Pointe Coupee, but bringing fortune wasn’t. For every benevolent wish sent to help, the matriarch of a different family might be calling for sinister events in retaliation for a slight that occurred decades ago. As for the gris gris bags, I looked over my shoulder at the path we had taken from the front door. There were gris gris strewn all over on the floor, on top of appliances and chair backs, and tossed into piles of garbage in corners. I could see them clearly now that the sun was shining through the west side windows. I had to stop myself at that thought. The west? It was morning, how could the sun be in the west?
“Them boys on Hammond was the sons of the man my mother worked for before she died,” Audrey said. I returned my attention to her. “Lots of families up here fell on hard times ‘round abouts the time you left. Farms and fishin’ can’t compete with the bigger companies down south in the cities. Well, hard times make a monkey eat pepper. Same is true of a family and money. You remember my mother, Remy? Pretty like Penelope. She caught a fine dollar in Baton Rouge. Worked under a man named Chabliss. Heh, she worked under a lot of men, I guess. You catch me, though.”
I asked what Chabliss’ boys had to do with any of it. “Other than being two little shits, they’re a shame to my daddy. The mulatto bastards would drag his good name through the dirt if anyone ever found out what bitch bore them into this world.”
I guessed that Chabliss’ sons must have also belonged to Audrey’s mother. She nodded, sending her matted hair flying. I was relieved when the thick hair blocked my view of Audrey’s unsettling eyes. “And how do you think Tiffenberg got her looks? Just an accident she looks like your fiancée, Remy? She was my mother’s first child born out of wedlock. Mama took up with Mr. Tiffenberg when he come through looking to set up a pharmacy. Guess the little bitch follows the old bitch’s lead.”
Audrey stood, which again prompted Dob to stand and aim his Colt. We all allowed her to walk to the end of the kitchen. We shouldn’t have. “Seein’ Mama with child so many times broke Daddy’s heart. Broke his mind, too. He hung her from that tree in the yard there. Then he hung himself. I was all alone.”
I had jumped from my chair and followed Audrey slightly, looking to what held her gaze out the window. A white, gnarled tree that looked completely foreign to the region. I had missed it on my way in. As I turned my attention back to Audrey, I noticed it was dusk outside. Rapidly approaching dark. How was that possible?
This time Dob interrupted my thoughts by asking Audrey if that was it. If she had murdered everyone who took her family from her. “Almost,” she replied. She took a final sip of the foul-smelling coffee. She grimaced at the gulp, bitter from sitting and cooling off. Instead of the white or slightly brown color her teeth should have been after downing coffee, they were dark red. Blood red. She ran her tongue over them before turning on her heels. “Follow me, officers.”
We should have just stayed sitting.
Audrey led us through a hallway that jutted off the side of the kitchen. The uncluttered path weaved through this part of the house like a water moccasin was even narrower than the one from the front door to the kitchen. Audrey pushed open a door to a sitting room. The voudou vapors rushed out into faces like steam from a pot. I coughed. Dob pulled his shirt up over his nose. The room was a mess. More gris gris bags and plates of half eaten and rotting food were scattered on the floor and large wooden table. Scraps of filthy muslin lay out on the single uncluttered area of the table. Surrounding the fabric like a picture frame was an odd assortment of beads, spices, seed pods, dead frogs and spiders, severed chicken feet, and short strands of hair. Audrey’s twin daughters sat in rocking chairs playing with dolls made from the same muslin that lay on the table.
I first thought the windows were blacked out with curtains. But then I made out the glint of moonlight shimmering on the water. It was night. How the Hell had it become night? I turned my head toward Dob to ask him, but my eyes were captured by the twins’ dolls. Three of them. All male. One in a fancy suit, one hefty and balding, one in a leather coat. They looked just like me, Dob, and Joe.
“I’m almost finished. You the last one, Remy. I’ve wanted your blood for a long while, now. You took my Penelope away. ‘Fore she met you, we was inseparable. She was my safe place. We was closer than cousins. She was my sister, my soul mate, and the only lover I’ve ever taken aside from the sperm donor necessary to get me my two girls.”
As Audrey spoke, she slipped the straps of her sodden nightgown off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She stepped over it, coming toward us, every bone visible through her tight, papery skin.
“I had hope Penelope would come around eventually and leave you. We would be incestuous lesbians to our family and everyone in Pointe Coupee, but there’s other bayous deeper in the swamp. We could have been happy. Then your goddamned wedding got her killed!” Audrey’s impassive face was now filled with tortured rage. I told Dob and Joe to retreat, head for the car. We could get a response team out there the next day.
Audrey plucked one of the dolls from her twins’ hands.
“You can’t leave, Remy,” came a voice behind me. I looked back to see Joe, teary eyes wide in fear, holding his gun to his head and speaking Audrey’s words. “Not until your friends are dead.” Joe pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. Not even the click of the firing pin striking an empty chamber. Audrey didn’t direct Joe to release the safety. I hit Joe’s hand hard with the butt of my shotgun. Joe’s Colt went flying, leaving his trigger finger in an impossible backward angle. I had broken it.
The sound of running bare feet drew my attention to the left, where one of the twins ran towards Dob with a large, curved knife. He tried to bat her away with his revolver, but she clung to his hand like a jungle cat climbing a limb. She pulled herself up and sliced into Dob’s neck. He kicked the girl square in the hip, sending her flying into a wall, before collapsing to the ground with his hand clamped over the gushing wound.
More pitter-patter to the right. I knew the other twin was heading for Joe. I aimed in the direction of the footfalls. I fired. My 12 gauge shell exploded, the pellets impacting the girl’s skull like a hundred tiny hammers. Brains, blood, and teeth painted the old Hoover-era wallpaper.
A shrill, deafening cry of anguish rang out, seeming to last much longer than any natural scream, but was also over before I could swing the barrel of my shotgun up. I let off two shots in Audrey’s direction, but she was gone. I lowered the gun and looked around. Early morning sunlight shone through the windows. Dob’s eyes stared at the ceiling, his hand frozen to his neck. Dark brown dried blood caked his hand and shirtfront. His flesh was cold to the touch. The dead girl was still at Joes’ feet. I looked quickly away. Joe cradled his hand and looked at me. He cursed.
I convinced Joe to leave the house and take his car with him. He had just gotten married and didn’t deserve to be caught up in the clusterfuck this arrest turned into. I waited an hour and a half before meandering back out to Audrey’s kitchen and phoning the precinct. That day began a long investigation by internal affairs but, in the end, it seemed to be going my way. I was given no disciplinary sanctions pending a decision from IA, but I was placed on paid leave until they returned a formal ruling.
That brings me to today. I know exactly how I’m going to use my leave. I don’t know what the fuck Audrey was doing to us to force an entire day to pass during a thirty minute conversation, but she can’t have too much of a head start. I’m going to track that bitch down and end her.
That was about all I could take in for the day. At this point in my venture through the journal, I still hadn’t been presented with any evidence that the tale was real, but there was something about the cursive scrawl that felt authentic. In places where the author’s words were angry, the script condensed into hasty, impacted words with sharp, dagger-like points. When I read about the author shooting the young girl, I noticed small circular shapes where the ink had run and left the paper wrinkled. Tear drop stains, maybe. The desire to read this journal consumed me, but I knew I needed time to process what I had read. I needed to sleep and wake up fresh. The day was barely half over.
I drove home, stopping by a liquor store on the way and picking up a new bottle of 16 year old Lagavulin scotch. I poured double after double and half-attended to art films and documentaries on Netflix until I fell asleep.
Like the night before, I dreamed of the old desk and chair, of the hole in the seat with the colorful gradient. I heard the voice, definitely behind me this time, say, “You’ll get it.” This time, however, there was a singular bright white business card on the desk. When I picked it up, it felt vastly more tangible than most things I touch in the course of a day. The paper was thick and dense, pressed by some machine during the production process to retain a texture not unlike a basket weave. There were small strands of bluish grey fibers throughout the white cardstock, the edges of which were not cut so as to drop off like a sheer cliff, but were almost beveled. There were only four words on the card: All In Good Time.
Alain Bontemps | Alan’s Extra Room | The Rorschach Painting | Goodtime Voice-O-Matic | The Siege of Calais | I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime | The Alton Arsenal | The Death of Alan Goodtime (other stories in the arc)