“Wet T-shirt contest?”
“Not so’s you’d know.” Bobby forearmed the sweat out of his eyes. dropped the rope he’d been trying to pull the Swamp Vue Scat up onto the hard-packed mud bar between the north end of Standard Channel and Little Tensas bayou. He measured the weathered man in worn camo cargos, thigh waders and a long-sleeved work shirt. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bernie reach behind her back and go full vigilant. “We for sure didn’t advertise.”
“Most folks, even the city types, they leave a boat in the water, walk the dog with a leash.” Waders took a deep drag on his cigarette, stole a glance at Bernie through the smoke. His sloping shoulders drooped further when he exhaled. “You don’t appear to be natives.”
“Houma.” Bobby waited for the smoke to clear, tilted his head toward Bernie. “She’s Port Barre.”
“Ma’am.” Waders lifted a black Yamaha cap, smiled with a touch of leer. “All the good lookin’ women Port Barre way keep pistols in their shorts?”
Bobby left that one to Bernie who didn’t speak. Or move.
“Remind me to stay south of the highway I get much west of where I am.” Waders returned Bobby and Bern’s measuring eye, with less tension. “Scanner was eat up a while back with po-lice talkin’ about a couple of missin’ kids they’d like to find.” He ground his cigarette butt out on an exposed tree root. “First, they’re lookin’ for ‘em in some little hot rod, then the FBI and the State come on sayin’ they’re not lookin’ for ‘em no more, nobody’s looking for any kids, never were.” He waved loosely to the south, spit out into the water. “Down bayou over to Whiskey Bay they got theirselves three dead road ragers. And an ex-cop I’ve been knowin’ most of my life ‘cept for his time in N’awlins tellin’ a story about how some bad men thumped him an stole his truck.” He spit again. “That there’s a full on bullshit storm.” He shifted his gaze between the two sweat soaked members of his captive audience. “Wanna know what I think?”
Bernie weighed that, laser eyes locked. “We have any choice?”
“You could go ahead on an shoot me, Port Barre.” He waited a few beats, scratched the back of his thigh. “Them kids? I think you two are them two. The same two them foot soldier lawmen got told by the big boys they don’t want no more. Y’all traded the little hot rod for a hot rod swamp skimmer to get away from the dead road ragers. Who might be your fault.” He gauged them for impact. “Faucheaux saw a way out from under that damn Ford needs lifters every five-thousand miles. And somebody somewhere told you there was a way into Little Tensas up bayou hereabouts. You planned on slidin’ through, doin’ Tensas in that little yella boat all the way to the big river, but you’re done at Ramah.” He kept his eyes on them while bent side to side and rummaged around in his cargo pockets. “Looks all the hell to me like y’all got business in the Big Red Stick somebody, or a shit load of somebodys, don’t want done.”
“So far you’re telling a good bedtime sto –”
“Forget it, Bernie.” Bobby wadded up his soaked t-shirt and threw it in the Stinger. “That’s almost the story. We got shot at on the bridge, dumped the car south of the barge loaders, hooked it over to the Standard side where a friend of mine left me this boat. He seemed to have left us a piece of shit for a map sayin’ there was a shallow here fishermen used to get from the channel into the Tensas. And some shrimp salad my neighbor’s momma made sittin’ on a block of dry ice in a cooler. Shrimp salad still ain’t thawed, couldn’t find the shallow. You’re lookin’ at where we’re at.” He picked up the rope. “We need to get on to Baton Rouge. You gonna stand there and talk or you gonna help?”
“I ain’t pullin’ shit for no rope, Houma.” He chuckled low under his breath, lit another cigarette from the mishapen Marlboro Red pack he’d pulled from his cargos and used it as a pointer. “You ease back in the water. ‘Bout twenty yards to your left, cut under that Cypress ‘pears to be fallin’ over. Not sayin’ you’re done with the rope but ain’t neither of you any kinda fat and that lipsticked up whore of a skimmer don’t look to draft much at all.” He turned, waved his cigarette hand above his shoulder. “Take care, Houma. You, too, Port Barre. Keep that pistol handy. Ba-tone can be a damned unfriendly place.” He swept the thick marshy brush away with his right hand and disappeared. They heard an old school two-cycle ATV wind up and head east.
Bobby squat lifted the front of the Stinger, shoved it back into the water. Bernie relaxed, walked toward the boat with the pink Ruger in hand, caught his look.
“Don’t laugh. Where I’m from that banjo song from Deliverance hit number one and stayed a while.” She pulled her soaked tank top over her head, threw it on top of Bobby’s shirt. “Nothing to get excited about, it’s an exer-bra. Keeps things in check under a tank.”
“I know that. I thought bikini models would have, well, more –”
“Boudreaux? I have a gun in my hand and you need to stay alive long enough to get us out of here.”
“You’re an overpaid, apparently incompetent errand and messenger boy, not a fucking house cat.” Liz Vernier swatted Blue Suit’s feet off the coffee table in her office, bent over the table, hands on her knees. “What happened?”
“The kid and the babeage weren’t –” He could feel her eyes setting his chest on fire, saw a flash where his head was rolling around her office like a bowling ball, and decided out of self-preservation not to look down the front of her silk blouse. “The two subjects in question acquired arms and transportation that we were, um, unaware of them having access to. The two scrotes we hired to disenfranchise them failed. One of them is dead, the other one…We don’t know. Yet.”
“No. The two ‘scrotes’ you hired.” She lifted his chin with her index finger. “You are the one who fucked up by hiring low life idiots to do a simple job. Bobby should have been ‘disenfranchised’ within hours of stepping off the plane in Lafayette. Instead they gave him almost three days to smell something and get his shit together? He lives here. Has friends here. Has a girl he still texts and tries to call twice a day even though I make sure it all goes to the Twilight Zone. For Christ’s sake Macon, he owns a fucking boat company. You missed all that and hired a pair of Salvation Army rejects to pull off an easily explainable ‘accidental disenfranchising’?” She caught herself. “Where did you come up with that word?”
“I was told offing and whacked and drilled were impolite, overused terms for murder. And your office has to be wired.”
“They are, and it is.” She sat, crossed her legs, fingered the hem of her skirt, stared at him and waited.
“There were other unforeseen circumstances. People in the picture we didn’t expect.”
“All I heard was that Bobby and this Bernadette person were coming home to raise money for a restaurant and chartered in to Lafayette to avoid an overnight in Houston. Now I’m hearing the FBI is involved and persons unknown were found dead floating in Whiskey Bay. Explain?”
“When we showed on scene the FBI said there was no story and already had the go kart on crack the kid came up with out of there. What they left us is three cars and three bodies. Two cars belong to a pair of dead brothers out of Houston and a fucked up stolen Monte Carlo out of Alexandria is currently hanging on our dead knife thrower.”
“Your dead knife thrower. Faucheaux’s name came up. He’s an accidental tourist or a participant?”
“Whiskey Bay all went down a quarter mile from that swamp-rat hooker infested trailer park of his. He popped our knife man, I had to give him a pass.”
“Your man. There’s something missing. The FBI shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about Bobby, or who Faucheaux rents his fishing trailers to. Who were the other people?”
“We don’t know. Faucheaux let it drop Bobby and the babe, uh, Bernadette, were coming here. To keep an appointment.”
“I don’t have an appointment with Bobby. Or the actress, or the FBI. Goddammit.” She pressed the heels of her hands on her temples, tilted her head over the back of the Victorian couch. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I am surrounded with incompetence.”
He waited for her say something else. When she didn’t he stood, wiggled his suit coat back into position. She sensed the motion.
“Find the other half of your two-fer and clean that up. ASAP. Then think of something, Macon. Something that doesn’t involve brain dead ex-cons with knives.” She rubbed her temples, shook her head, continued talking to the ceiling. “When is he coming?”
“Bobby? Tomorrow. Maybe day after. We don’t know exactly where he is.”
“Perfect. We wait until he pops up like a fucking Jack in the Box. Too bad we can’t ‘disenfranchise’ him when he hits the parking lot.”
“Yes ma’am, it is.” Macon strolled through the female staff in reception, smiled, punched the elevator button, adjusted his tie in the polished door. “House cat my ass, bitch.”