by B J Bourg
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
I’d never been to Thibodaux. It was a small city with an antique look and a welcome flavor. As I drove through its downtown area, I stared up at the balconies overlooking the street.
One such balcony protruded from the top floor of an elegant restaurant. Ceiling fans turned like helicopter blades. Every round table was crowded. The buzz and laughter carried down to the street below. The fragrance of freshly cooked seafood set my stomach to growling. I longed to be up there, enjoying the cool evening shade and partaking of the Gulf of Mexico’s fresh offerings.
I made a mental note to return to this place with a date. Of course, I thought, she’ll have to be someone special — take a woman here and she’ll expect a ring.
Further down the street, I passed a large white courthouse, where a cop had just locked the front doors and was walking to his black and white parked on the corner. I slowed to a stop and hung my arm out the window. “Sir, can I ask you a question?”
The cop smiled and walked over. “Whatcha got?”
I pointed to the address on Grandpa’s faded letter. “I’m looking for this street.”
The cop nodded and pointed in the direction I was traveling. “Go to Main, hook a left, cross the bridge, and head south for a mile. Gracie Lane is on the left.”
I thanked the cop and followed his instructions. When I turned onto Gracie Lane, I stared in awe at the ancient oaks that lined the street. Moss clung to the thick branches like clumps of hair from a million hippies. The spacious houses were set back from the street and spread far from each other.
As the sun slipped along its westward slide, a darker shadow began to fall under the leafy umbrella that covered the entire length of the street. I shuddered. This place is spooky.
I rounded a bend in the street and stopped abruptly. My mouth slowly dropped open. “What the...”
A large alligator sat motionless in my path. Its length took up most of the width of the road. I’d seen way too many alligator attacks lately on the news. My heart pounded in my chest. I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew what not to do, and that was exit my vehicle. After several minutes of indecision, I smashed the horn.
The giant lizard didn’t even flinch. I glanced at the sky. It would be dark soon, and I definitely didn’t want to be out there then. I finally worked up the courage to try and drive around the monster. Taking a deep breath, I eased my car to the shoulder of the road and crept by the alligator. As I did so, I wondered who would be responsible for damage if it tail-swiped my car.
Only when the alligator was a mere speck in my rearview mirror did I exhale. It was then that I realized my hands shook. I wiped the sweat from my brow and sped down the street. I checked the numbers on the mailboxes that blurred by. I finally saw it: 917.
I lurched to a slow roll, turned to the left, and drove down the long shell driveway. The house that dotted the witch’s finger of road stood like a peacock amidst the backdrop of swamp country. After parking, I killed the engine and stared in awe at the hypnotic image before me. “Esther, I almost can’t even blame you for moving out here. Almost.”
I pushed my car door wide and checked the ground for alligators. I even bent and looked under the car. All clear.
The steps to the southern mansion were wide. I took them two at a time. When I reached the top step, I knocked on the door. It pushed open and I stepped back. The interior of the house was cloaked in shadow.
“Hello?” I leaned my head in. Mr. McKinley? Miss Esther? Anybody home?”
No answer. I pushed the door with the toe of my sneaker. Something crashed within the house. Hard-soled shoes echoed on the wooden floors as footsteps stomped away. A door slammed.
“Hey, what’s going on in there?”
Everything went deathly quiet inside the McKinley home. Suddenly, that silence was interrupted by a faint gurgling sound. My heart slammed against my sternum. I shot a quick glance over my shoulder. Not a person in sight. The gargle came again, accompanied by a low moan.
Without thinking, I rushed into the house. Dim light filtered through the curtains and lit my way. When I reached the living room, I gasped. A man and a woman lay in awkward positions on the floor. They were cloaked in blood. I moved closer to the woman and stared down at her paling face. It was Esther.
My head shot up when a truck engine roared to life behind the house. I bolted down the hall and out the back door, which was already open. A dense wooded area surrounded the house on three sides and obscured the truck from view.
Headlights splashed through the trees as the truck sped toward Gracie Lane. I hit the woods on a dead run, in a desperate attempt to cut off the vehicle. When I stumbled out the other side, I was just in time to see tail lights turn the corner of the dirt road. The truck was headed toward the beginning of Gracie Lane.
Doubled over, gasping for breath, I dug my cell phone from my pocket and dialed 911.
* * *
The handcuffs dug into my wrists. I leaned over and pumped my fists to regain feeling in my fingers. Footsteps crunched in the shells. The back door to the black and white opened and light flooded the interior of the squad car. A plainclothes detective motioned for me to step out.
“Sorry ’bout the cuffs,” he explained in a flat southern accent. “Overzealous patrol cops.”
“I understand... I guess.”
The detective removed the cuffs. I rubbed my wrists and stared at the house. It was encircled in police tape and an army of cops scurried about the property. “What happened?”
“Seems you almost interrupted a murder.”
The detective shook his head. “Neither one of them made it.”
“God, that’s awful.” I bit my lower lip. “If I’d gotten here earlier I might’ve been able to scare the killer off.”
“Yep.” The detective shoved the cuffs into his back pocket. “So, why were you here?”
“My Grandpa died. I was just trying to let his ex-wife know about it.”
“How’d he die?”
“Cops said it was suicide.”
“How’d he do it?”
“With a rifle.”
The detective scribbled something in his notebook. “How many times were the victims stabbed?”
My eyes scrunched up. “How would I know?”
“Didn’t you see the bodies?”
“Well, how many stab wounds did you see?”
“None. All I saw was blood.”
“What did your ex-grandma say when you told her the news?”
“I never got to tell her. I had only knocked on the door when—”
“Detective!” A young patrolman ran up carrying a clear evidence bag. “Look what I found.”
My heart froze in mid-beat when I saw the Miller Lite beer cans. There were dents beneath the openings in all of them.
“Where’d you get that?” The detective asked.
“Behind the house, near a clump of trees. It looks like he waited there a while. There was also a whole pile of cigarette butts.”
“What kind?” I asked.
The patrolman looked at me and then at the detective, who nodded. “They were Marlboro Reds. Why?”
The detective’s eyes turned to slits. “Bull. Why’d you ask that?”
I swallowed. “My grandpa used to smoke Marlboro Reds.”
“A lot of people smoke those kind. Besides, I thought you said he was dead?”
“Then why the question and comment?”
“I don’t know, it’s just...”
I pointed to the clear evidence bag. “My grandpa used to push a dent in his beer cans just like that. I never saw anyone else do it.”
The detective picked up the bag and examined it closer. “You’re right. Did you acquire that same habit?”
“No, sir.” At that moment, my phone rang. I raised my eyebrows to the detective and turned up my hands.
He nodded. “Go ahead, answer it.”
“Hello, this is Winston.”
“Kid, this is Harley. I think we have ourselves a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“It wasn’t suicide.”
“What? Someone murdered him?”
“No, coroner says he died of natural causes.”
“A gunshot to the head isn’t natural. Is that coroner on crack or something?”
“The shot was post-mortem.”
“What’s that mean?”
“He was shot after he was dead.”
“Why on earth would—”
“To make it look like suicide.”
“Sorry, detective, but I’m not following you.”
“We got a homeless guy that rolled into town about a month ago. When he first got here, he was treated for a broken leg, just below the left knee. When your grandpa died, I got a call from a man saying the homeless guy probably murdered him.”
“Why would he think that?”
“He saw the homeless guy get into your grandpa’s truck.”
“Did you question the homeless guy?”
I shook my head. “You’re losing me, detective.”
“While X-raying the body, the coroner noticed a recent break to the victim’s left leg, just below the knee. Your grandpa never had a broken leg. X-rays from the emergency room proved that the homeless guy is the one we pulled out of your grandpa’s house.”
“But, that body had on my grandpa’s clothes, his rings, his—”
“It just shows how determined he was to convince everyone it was him lying dead.”
“Why would he wait until now to do something like this? I mean, if he was going to do it, why on that day? Why not three years ago? Or two? Or ten?”
“If you’ve ever done any shopping for dead bodies, you’d know that it’s hard to find one in your size.” The detective was quiet for a moment and then said, “I just can’t figure out why he would want to be dead.”
I stared in shock at the bodies of James and Esther McKinley being carted away to the meat wagon. “I think I know why.”
Copyright © 2009 by B J Bourg