Several times in my vocational career I traveled the two-lane, one-lane and no lanes of southern Louisiana. I’ve helped make drilling mud movies, serviced music stores and eaten things I still don’t know what were. The stereotypes are far more sanitized than the reality, and to remain sane on those long, lonely swampy drives I talked to a micro cassette recorder. About Bobby B and CL Roche. Here they are.
Houma, Louisiana – Late May, 2005
“That pipe joinin’ chain let go and popped your daddy’s head clean off, Bobby. Rolled around on the platform some, kinda crazy like that bowling ball y’all took a blowtorch to a while back…” Gardner Dupont kept taking his cap off, putting it back on. He’d worked next to Bobby’s father on the offshore rigs for years and the two men were closer than most brothers. Aside from Mr. Dupont being black, they might have been. “Don’t know no other way to tell it. Sorry.”
Bobby buried his face in Mr. Dupont’s starched overalls, and stayed there. Dupont put an arm around him, set a big, rough hand on Bobby’s head. “Things gonna be okay, son. The oil company, some insurance. I’ll help with cleanin’ up your Daddy’s business, gettin’ him in the ground and such. It’ll work out. Long about now, though, they tell me since you’re only sixteen, you’re gonna need a legal guardian. You want me to call your Momma?”
“Hell no, Uncle G. I ain’t movin’ to Kansa City and I ain’t living with her and that couillon greeting card artist she ran off with. That shit won’t never happen. Never.”
Carrie Louise Roche, the petite fifteen-year old girl in cutoffs and a faded tank top who’d been standing in the living room with Bobby when Dupont and the Sheriff knocked, opened her folded arms, put a hand on Bobby’s back. “Mom’ll do it, Bobby. She’s right next door, and my Aunt Lizzie an ‘em in Baton Rouge will run it through the system however we need. Mr. Dupont’s right. It’ll work out.”
“C’mon, Roche, your Daddy’s not so fond of me.” Bobby’s muffled voice sneaked out from between his head and Dupont’s chest. “Or my daddy or my used-to-be mom, us not ever bein’ Christian enough for him.”
“Daddy’s an ex-alkie tent revival coon ass who thinks Jesus pulled him out of the bottle when Catholics had foresaken him, and nobody is Christian enough. Particulalrly Catholics ’cause we’re all still idol worshipping drunks and fornicators as far as he’s concerned. Which, no offense, your ex-momma kinda was some of that, but forget him. My Momma says you and me, we’re the pair to beat in Houma, and she’ll do whatever for us. Daddy does exactly what she tells him ‘cause even snake handler Hell looks like a springtime garden in the French Quarter compared to my house if he don’t. And Momma’s been feedin’ you half the time anyways since your Momma took off and your Daddy was out on the rigs.” Carrie stopped, assessed the quality of her pitch, decided she was okay and went for her summation. “So we’ll ink it, and unless you fuck up royal and stop goin’ to school or do some other dumb shit, things’ll keep on bein’ how they’ve been.”
Dupont looked at the girl, nodded with approval, gave Bobby a squeeze. “Girl’s got herself a point, Bobby. Down the road there’s gonna be some money for you in all this. And Carrie Louise, since she’s gonna grow up and be a lawyer and all? I gar-own-tee she’ll sue her Momma, she don’t do right by you.”
Houma, Louisiana – Early July, 2005
“This is what we’ve decided is a prompt and fair offer for your Father’s untimely death while in our employ, Mr. Buisson.” The oil company lawyer from Baton Rouge, who Bobby figured smelled better and had softer hands than most women who went dancing on Saturday night or church on Sunday morning in Houma, set the papers on Bobby’s kitchen table. Carrie Louise immediately snatched them away and had a look.
“Five hundred grand? That’s it? You’re fucking kidding me. Uh, us. I mean our client.” Carrie skipped a beat before she let go of the line she’d practiced in front of the mirror countless times. “We’ve subpoenaed the OSHA reports, the witness statements and reports from your own company on their pathetic indifference to safety and lack of concern for their people. You can stick this where the sun don’t shine, Mr. Michaud. And we’ll see you in court.”
“And you would be?” The lawyer’s obvious boredom and indifference lit Carrie Louise’s fuse. Her mother put a hand on Carrie’s arm to shush her.
“She would be my daughter, Mr. Michaud. Unfortunately for us, she was born with the same Lawyer stamp on her forehead as you. However, I do agree with her sentiments, if not her language. As I’m Bobby’s legal guardian and my daughter is his legal watchdog, we can neither, in good faith and with Bobby’s best interests and future at heart, accept your offer without making further inquiries on his behalf.” She smiled like the edge of a sharp knife. “But if you would be so good as to leave us a copy of your offer, and your card?”
The Highway Patrol trooper who’d escorted the fuming lawyer and was supposed to have been an official witness to the signatory proceedings, eased out of the Buisson driveway and rolled down Bayou Black. “Not what you were expecting in there, I gather?”
“Mouthy little backwater bitch. She was mine I’d turn her over my knee and teach her some manners.”
“She was yours, and you did, she’d have me put you in handcuffs and every penny you’d ever made or will ever make would be headed straight into her bank account. Girl’s been that way since she was born. Sharp as a catfish whisker and a mouth like gator. Just like the rest of the women folk on her Momma’s side.”
“Well, they’ve got a fight on their hands if they think some scrawny, teenage gator mouth swamp monster wannabe lawyer and her Ice Maiden Momma are going to push Magnolia Production around. I’ll drop the offer to two-fifty, tell ‘em that’s it, see how they like it.”
“They already ain’t likin’ it at twice that, Mr. Michaud. Chew on this. That little swamp monster’s Aunt, the one helping her out with the ‘wannabe lawyer’ business? She’s Liz Vernier, runs Senator Guillon’s office.”
“Senator Francis Guillon, the pious Robin Hood reformer? Vernier as in Vernier, Leduc and Delome?”
“Daughter and senior partner and the Senator’s Chief of Staff. The one pushing his pious reformation ass right at the governor’s office. Yes sir.”
“Fuck.” Magnolia’s assistant chief counsel ripped the manila envelope with the unsigned payment contract and release into eighths, then ripped them up some more, scattered the whole mess out the window and watched them blow into the bayou. “You know what VL&D got from the tobacco companies and the refineries?”
“Yes sir, I do. And that right there was littering.”
The trooper hit his grill and rear window lights, turned right onto the highway and pushed the cruiser up to 85. “No sir, not this time. If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Michaud, I’ll take you on back to your office in Baton Rouge. Where I reckon you’ll be a sight more miserable than you would be in jail, even in Houma.”