L’union fait la force
(In union there is strength)
On a cold, windy February day, LaShaun sat across from Chase at her kitchen table as they had lunch. Chase had taken a break from being a deputy and chasing down crime to relax. She’s fixed his favorite to lure him away for a few minutes: a sandwich made of tender roast beef on French bread with spicy Cajun mustard. She’d entertained him with small talk before telling him about her visit to the courthouse in Abbeville for her cousin’s sentencing hearing. Chase said nothing as she spoke, but maintained a tight blank expression as he slowly ate. When LaShaun got to the end of her account, Chase carefully wiped his mouth with a napkin.
“Bad idea on like six different levels. My advice? Steer clear of Azalei. She’s seven different kinds of bad news.”
“Azalei has her faults, but even I kinda felt sorry for her. Though I know she brought it on herself,” LaShaun added thoughtfully.
Chase downed the last bit of ginger ale in the tall glass mug and crossed to the dishwasher. He stacked his lunch dishes inside it. Then he turned around, still wiping his mouth with a large paper napkin. “Bad news,” he repeated.
“Well I…” LaShaun started and stopped when Chase held up a large hand.
“I’m just saying, LaShaun. We got enough on our plate. And what’s with this mysterious ‘It’s not over’ crap. Nah, ignore the dramatics. Bad news,” Chase said.
“She could be finally willing to drop a few tidbits about Quentin Trosclair. He’s been getting away with murder in Vermilion Parish for years,” LaShaun replied and grinned when Chase let out a loud groan.
“If I have to deal with that spoiled rich asshole one more time, I’ll be on trial for murder,” Chase blurted out.
“I know, honey. Maybe Azalei means she wants to explain herself and try to make up for what she’s done. Not that it will bring Rita back or…” LaShaun’s voice trailed off. There was no arguing that Azalei’s scheming lies led to their cousin Rita’s death. “I know what it’s like to set loose evil and be helpless to stop what you put in motion.”
Chase tossed the napkin into the kitchen trash can and walked to LaShaun. He pulled her up from the kitchen chair to wrap both his brawny arms around her. “Come here. You believe that Monmon Odette would want you two to repair this big rip in the family. But, sweetie, it ain’t gonna happen. You got the land and the money they wanted.”
“Well, that didn’t end up being the warm reassurance I was expecting,” LaShaun tossed at him with a sigh. Then she looked up into his dark Cajun eyes. “Okay, okay. You’re right. We won’t be having fuzzy family reunions any time soon. I get that.”
“Just stating the facts, ma’am.” Chase kissed her on the cheek, and then let go. He checked his phone for text messages. “For some damn reason, we got a rash of burglaries. Wait, let me check that. I know the reason; drugs.”
“Meth labs and so-called ‘bath salts’. Folks come up with some interesting ways to self-destruct.” LaShaun shook her head.
Chase continued to scroll through messages. “Even in our pretty Cajun countryside, people get stupid or evil. Poverty and chaos are everywhere.”
“Thanks for stopping by to share that cheerful thought, Deputy Broussard,” LaShaun said.
Chase put his phone back into the case clipped to his belt. He grabbed her in a bear hug again. “Well, we’ve got some happy stuff to talk about, like our wedding in April. My brother says Adrianna is having a ball being your coordinator. She’s dragged him to three different florists getting ideas.”
LaShaun grinned. “Your sister-in-law is enjoying this way too much, and for the wrong reasons.” Then LaShaun grew serious. “Your mother…”
“If she’s not there then that’s her problem,” Chase said easily. “Hey, I said we were going to have happy talk. My sisters, my brother and Adrianna, and even my daddy will be there. She won’t be thrilled about it, but she will. Grandstanding won’t get Queen Elizabeth the attention she wants, so she’ll come around.”
“If you say so. You know her better than me,” LaShaun said raising her eyebrows. Elizabeth Broussard didn’t impress LaShaun as a woman who bluffed.
Before Chase could reply, his phone beeped. He took it out again and tapped the screen. “Damn, high priority; which means…”
She watched his expression. Chase walked away a few steps. When a law enforcement officer’s cell phone went off, it usually wasn’t good. Chase stood in the bay window that overlooked her back lawn. He spoke quietly for a few minutes before he turned around.
“Gotta move. People are crazy,” he muttered.
“Somebody been stupid or evil? Which is it this time?” LaShaun followed him to the back door.
He leaned down and kissed her on the lips. “Watch the news. That’s all I can say.”
Moments later he drove away in his Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Department cruiser. LaShaun closed the door and went to the wall mounted television. She found the remote and tuned to the local station. A pretty blonde anchorwoman at the Lafayette station read the noon news.
“To recap, three teenagers were found two hours ago hanging from an oak tree near the small town of Kaplan. The Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Department is on the scene. We’ll update this breaking story as details become available. Let’s turn to the weather now. Clay Wilcox has our forecast. Can we hope for a warm up by Mardi Gras, Clay?” The woman lost her grim expression and engaged in light banter with the weatherman.
LaShaun hit the mute button. The chill moving along her arms had nothing to do with the cold temperature. Just as she was about to leave the kitchen, a soft sound of bells stopped her. She went to the wall mounted phone and lifted the handset. This time she wasn’t surprised by the contralto female voice on the line.
LaShaun sat on one of four chairs around Mrs. Rose Fontenot’s breakfast table the next morning. She could only imagine the number of curse words Chase would let out if he knew. LaShaun smiled at the image of Chase pulling one large hand down his face in frustration. Rustling to her left caused LaShaun to focus back on the elderly woman moving around the parlor. Sister Rose, as she was called by a lot of people, still stood tall despite her seventy-four years. People in Mouton Cove swore her apparent hardiness proved she had supernatural power.
Miss Rose fussed with a lovely china serving set with magnolia blossoms painted onto a white background. The scent of Louisiana dark roast coffee rose from the carafe. Matching cups, saucers, sugar bowl, and small cream pitcher were also arranged on a round honey oak Lazy Susan.
“Miss Rose, you don’t have to go to any trouble. You know I’m not a guest,” LaShaun said. She felt pleasantly full after eating fluffy scrambled eggs, and sausage.
“I’m from the old school as they say. You need to serve folks some refreshment when they drop by to visit,” Miss Rose replied as she refilled two cups with the steaming dark brew.
“Yes, ma’am,” LaShaun replied. She knew better than to argue with Rose Mouton Fontenot.
“I don’t get over your way often; otherwise I would have been over to check on you.” Miss Rose nodded as she placed a cup in front of LaShaun. “Have a slice of my banana bread. Perfect way to finish off breakfast.”
LaShaun patted her mid-section. “No, thank you, ma’am. I’m stuffed.”
Miss Rose chuckled. “Lord, I’m showing my age. This is how we used to eat before going out to the fields. Hard work, child. My daddy and granddaddy didn’t have these modern combines to harvest that rice.”
“No, ma’am,” LaShaun said. She sipped more coffee and waited.
“Well, you didn’t drive over here to hear an old woman ramble on.” Miss Rose chuckled again.
“You can ramble all you want, Miss Rose. That’s the privilege of elderly ladies,” LaShaun said and grinned at her.
Miss Rose wagged a forefinger at LaShaun. “Smart mouth just like your mama and Odette.” Then she sighed. “I miss my friend and our long talks.”
Miss Rose and Monmon Odette had met when Miss Rose taught school. Francine, LaShaun’s mother, had stayed in trouble right up until she dropped out of high school. Monmon Odette frequently declared that Miss Rose was the best teacher around. Their efforts to keep Francine on the right path forged a decades-long friendship. The two women had something else in common; the gift of second sight.
“I’m back, Rose,” a gruff voice called out.
The thump of a door slamming shut sounded a few seconds later, and then he walked in. Miss Rose called Pierre her “young” husband. He was, but only by four years.
“Alright, you don’t have to tell the entire parish,” Miss Rose replied loudly. Then she lowered her voice. “Every Wednesday he meets his men friends down at the local diner for breakfast. They flap their lips like they know what they’re talking about.”
“Me and Mack going down to look at the river, see how the water is running. Might be able to tell what the fishing will be like come spring.” Mr. Pierre stopped short when he noticed LaShaun. “How you young lady?”
“I’m fine, sir. You look well.” LaShaun crossed to him and pecked him on the cheek.
“See, Rose? You better treat me right. I can still catch the eye of pretty women.” Mr. Pierre laughed harder at his own joke than either of them. A car horn blew. “Y’all don’t be talkin’ ‘bout me when I’m gone. I’ll be back around lunchtime.”
“Bye. That man,” Miss Rose said as if she didn’t need to explain anything else. She listened to the door open and close, and then she turned to gaze at LaShaun for a few moments. Her amused expression faded away.
“So, you called me for a reason,” LaShaun said. She felt a familiar prickle on her arms.
Miss Rose walked over to a beautiful pine kitchen cupboard. LaShaun guessed it to be at least one hundred years old. Miss Rose opened one of the drawers and returned to the table with a worn scrapbook.
“The children they found hanging; that’s a bad sign, cher. I’ve been watching the news. They talk about how kids have been dabbling in devil worship and such out in the woods.” Miss Rose suddenly seemed to feel her age. Gone was her sprightly demeanor. She moved stiffly as she sat down again.
“Kids acting stupid. We both know they don’t have a clue about what they’re doing,” LaShaun said. When Miss Rose pointed to the scrapbook, LaShaun opened it. The first page had four small leaves in wax paper envelops taped to it.
“Never mind those,” Miss Rose turned the pages and tapped the fifth. “Look here.”
“Okay, you’ve been collecting articles... from the eighteen hundreds?” LaShaun raised an eyebrow as she glanced at Miss Rose.
“I’m old, but I ain’t that old, girl,” Miss Rose wisecracked and then grew serious again. “Where did they find those silly youngsters?”
“Off Highway 694 on Indian Bayou Road,” LaShaun replied. She knew that Miss Rose wasn’t asking the question because she didn’t know the answer.
Miss Rose nodded slowly. “That land used to be part of the Sweet Olive Plantation. Read the top article.”
“Horror at Metier Mansion,” LaShaun read the dramatic headline.
“Now look at this.” Miss Rose turned more pages.
“Another article from 1937, another in 1956, another in 1967. Couple found dead, murder-suicide suspected,” LaShaun said and looked at her. “Scrapbooking is a nice past time, but Miss Rose, you’ve got a creepy hobby.”
“Look at the location, cher.”
“Sheriff Henry told this reporter that Deputy Bill Fontaine found Joseph and Eliza Ducommon on the dirt lane locals called Duck Lane just off... Highway 694.” LaShaun shuddered when the prickle spread up her arms again. The sensation was more intense, like a combination of a static shock and pins sticking into her skin.
“Your monmon and me been watching for many a year, child. We kept hoping this thing, this evil, would be banished. We tried our best. I’m afraid you’ll have to fight it now. After Odette got so sick, I went to see her. You hadn’t come home yet. She knew.”
“That she wouldn’t live much longer,” LaShaun whispered as though talking to herself.
“More than that, cher. She knew that you would have to face down this evil.” When LaShaun looked at her sharply, Miss Rose put a hand on LaShaun’s arm. “Yes, the spirit in the woods. Odette called it a loa, from the Voudoun religion. A spirit called up by your ancestors. Greed drove Isidore LeGrange to call this fiendish force into our world. Arrogance convinced him he had the strength to control it.”
“But Loa are strong, unpredictable. They always have their own agenda. They will turn on their human guide just for amusement,” LaShaun said, repeating what she’d read.
“Malicious loa may be a different culture’s name for Satan’s demons,” Miss Rose replied.
“You think these kids acting stupid stumbled onto a real ritual that called up this spirit again?” LaShaun looked at her.
“And have paid for their stupidity in blood, cher,” Miss Rose said in a bleak tone.
“Coincidence, Miss Rose.” LaShaun gave the older woman an indulgent pat on the hand.
“I know you thought, or more likely hoped, that thing was gone for good, child,” Miss Rose said, her voice soft and sympathetic.
“No, ma’am. I prayed and prayed hard,” LaShaun replied. She smiled at the older woman, squeezed her hand and stood. “Thank you, Miss Rose. But this time I’m sure that we don’t have to worry.”
Miss Rose stood with her. “I feel better hearing you sound so confident. But if you need me, call. I’m old, but I still pack a punch if I do say so myself.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better sidekick, but I won’t need that help,” LaShaun replied and hugged Miss Rose.
“You come over here anytime, cher. I’ll whip up some blackberry cobbler, and we’ll have us a good old time,” Miss Rose said and hugged her back. “One more thing; Odette didn’t want you to be bitter against your family. The evil infected your family bloodline, she said. Greed and the hunger for power crossed generations.”
LaShaun turned to leave, but then stopped short. She stared at Miss Rose. “Wait a minute. What is the connection between those murders over decades?”
“I’m sorry, cher. I wish I could tell you. Odette and me couldn’t figure that one out. We just sensed the pattern. Same as when I saw the news last night.” Miss Rose shook her head. “So much death.”
“I’ll search archives online and let you know what I find out,” LaShaun said.
“Email it to me.” Miss Rose grinned at LaShaun’s surprised expression. “My granddaughter bought me a tablet computer and taught me how to use it. Child, I’m hooked on that thing. Let me get it.” She went to a shelf on the same cupboard and came back with it.
LaShaun sent an email to herself from Miss Rose’s tablet. Miss Rose wrapped up slices of banana bread for LaShaun to take with her. After repeated assurances that she would keep Miss Rose informed and it was probably nothing, LaShaun left for home. On the ride to Beau Chene, LaShaun rehearsed breaking this latest news to Chase. Once again, the supernatural mixed with human stupidity played into Vermilion Parish crime. Chase and M.J. Arceneaux, the acting Sheriff, would not be pleased.
“Maybe I can figure it out. It’s not like I’m keeping secrets. All Miss Rose has is a faded newspaper article and intuition,” LaShaun mused aloud as she turned onto Highway Eighty-two. Still, a tiny prickle argued with LaShaun’s attempt to stay grounded in the natural world. Miss Rose was no ordinary septuagenarian holding on to hundred-year-old superstitions.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish