The water on Little Tensas Bayou was like glass, and Bobby had the Swamp Vue trimmed up until it was floating on air between the bridges of I-10. He was headed straight for endless bayou meditation mode. The drone of the covered, muffled Honda behind them, sun on the water –
“Mmmmm…” Bernie smacked his thigh a half-dozen times. “Mmm, mmm, mmm.” She caught a chunk of cracker that escaped from her mouth. “Mmmph. Jeee-eeez us. Slow down.”
Bobby throttled back so the boat sloshed in its own wake, maneuvered it under the eastbound bridge afraid she’d seen their crazies with guns again.
“This?” She pointed at the rectangular Tupperware container between her legs. “And these?” She picked a slightly greasy brown paper lunch bag off her thigh. “When something was totally out of hand Gramma used to say ‘Law-awww-dee’. Well, Law-awwww-deeee, Boudreaux. This is crazy good.”
“Momma Roche’s shrimp salad? It’s like a local legend.”
“Momma Roche would be your future mother-in-law?”
“That’s lookin’ like a ‘one that got away’ story.”
“Listen to you. You’re nineteen, a millionaire, own a boat company that makes these Rolls Royce class swamp runners. You get fan mail, you’re honest, have a big heart and good, no great, ideas. Girl’s not going anywhere. Y’all get some things out of the way growin’ up wise, it’ll happen. If it’s supposed to.” She ate another bite of shrimp salad on a peppered oyster cracker, closed her eyes. “Day-umm. It’s the heat from the crackers and the cool pineapple and shrimp that does it.” She tapped his leg again. “If you have to marry that girl to get this recipe? I’ll bring the shotgun. Monterrey Mick’s needs a signature appetizer.” She popped another bite. “What else does she have going on? Cottage cheese or mayo, eggs? Onions? Potatoes?”
“She calls it a shrimp potato salad with pineapple. Easy on everything so there’s all of it in every bite. The season’s down to the crackers.”
“How long did the oil sit up? She had to re-bake the crackers. No way this much flavor soaks in without too much leftover oil.”
“Askin’ the wrong person. Promise you’ll put her name on it in a real restaurant menu and she’ll have you in the kitchen making it.”
“Here’s a thought we missed…” she pulled another oyster cracker, frowned at the empty Tupperware. She rimmed the cracker around the container, tossed it in her mouth. “We could brand our specialties out of Mick’s, mass market them to grocery stores. Sell them online. I’d drive across LA and pay too much for this, well, what was this shrimp salad.”
Bobby watched her daydream for a minute, corrected the drifting boat. “Glad you liked it. But there aren’t any Monterrey Mick’s restaurants. Not yet.”
“It’s barely noon, Boudreaux. I’ve been shot at, scared shitless by you driving like a swamp slalom fool on the interstate in a pocket rocket pickup. I’ve cussed saw grass and underbrush, fought the current, sweated like a pig trying to drag whatever crazy boat this is over a mud bank and got another scared shitless adrenaline rush thinking that Beavis or Butthead the swamp geezer would taser and rape us. Both of us. And I’d have to watch.” She popped another peppered oyster cracker. “Our suitcases and clothes and all my keep-a-girl-beautiful things are probably in a dumpster behind that motel in Lafayette. Not to mention we skipped on the rooms.”
He thought she might drop the iron Bernie shield and cry, didn’t know what to say.
“And thinking about Mick’s?” Her face was full of desperate. “Not the stupid fucking show, but our restaurant Mick’s?” The tears were there. “Keeps me from thinking this,” she tapped on the two-million-dollar briefcase, “is going to get me killed before I can see myself as something more than a bayou bimbo bikini model and a hot-pants delivery girl on a crotch-rod TV show.” She put her hand under her nose and turned away. “If that’s all there is to my story I’m gonna be beaucoup pissed.”
Bobby reached up, unhooked their shirts from the top of the canopy, handed her the dry, turquoise tank with one hand and jacked the Stinger wide open into the channel with the other. “I’d like to stick around a little longer myself.”
“The way you drive?” She snort laughed, white knuckled the ohmigawd bar. “Good luck with that.”
“Mick, Paris?” Orrin rolled Faucheaux’s pickup to a stop on the edge of old downtown Baton Rouge. “Y’all get out. Mick, grab the duffel bag. Find us a booth in that Waffle House and wait. Me an Henry are droppin’ by an LSU lot to swap rides.”
“My nuh, nuh, name’s not Henry.” Red Converses had been glum and dumb since he’d climbed in the pickup at Whiskey Bay.
“Henry’s what I’m calling you, regardless. Less you can come up with one you’d like to share.” Orrin glanced in the mirrors and pulled away from the curb after Mick thumped the side of the truck.
‘Henry’ leaned out the window, watched Mick and Paris swing the Waffle House door open. “Kinda ob, ob, obvious. Them. That bag?”
“BR be full of homeless. They’re invisible.”
“This truck sure as, as, as hell ain’t. Mother fuh, fuh, fuh…He was a cop. An you buh, buh, bought his shit?”
“We been stopped yet?” Orrin checked his phone, turned left. “Man’s word was good. He wanted to know what the fuck was goin’ down in his front yard is all. Your partner caught a terminal case of bad judgement. Story told.” He lifted a folded-up piece of aluminum foil from his shirt pocket with two fingers, handed it off. “Take one of those. Calms your mind down, stops you talkin’ like a broken record.”
“I’m nuh, nuh, not sure. Don’t, do, do, do –”
“Drugs? Yeah, yeah. Pick this up, Henry. The man without a head back there? He’d get rattled and stutter, time to time. That shit stopped most of it.”
“You’d blow my fuh, fuh, fuh, fucking head off fuh, fuh for stuttering?”
“Not ‘less you’re a die-hard Rolling Stones fan on top of it.”
“Nuh-uh. Springstuh, stuh, steen. He’s my man.”
“Is that a fact?” Orrin checked his phone again, made another left. “Got any tapes or CDs of that shit?”
“Good. You keep your hands off the radio, take one of those pills an you might make it out of Louisiana alive.”
Orrin spotted something easy, waited for the two shaggy kids with beanies and beards to load up their backpacks and books like a pair of pack mules and take off at a fast walk before he crawled under their old, faded red Wrangler. The door opened when he flipped the latch. He knocked the shifter to neutral, crawled back under and started it.
“Henry.” He tossed him Faucheaux’s keys. “Take the cop’s truck to the Wendy’s we saw on the way here. Park it in the back, wait for me.”
“Can I have my guh, guh, gun? In cuh, case?”
Orrin pulled a random nine out of his waistband. ‘Henry’ jammed it in his front pocket on a dead run to the pickup, took off with the door open. Orrin ground the Jeep into gear and let out the clutch.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency…”
Orrin squawked his voice up two octaves. “That pickup y’all be a lookin’ for? One got stole over to Whiskey Bay? I seen it settin’ up at Wendy’s down in Tiger Land.”
“Sir? Did you say –”
Orrin tossed Cletus’s old phone from the rolling Jeep. “I said if a four-way hit of acid don’t kill that stutterin’ motherfucker, y’all will.”
“Afternoon, Macon.” The Trooper pulled himself out of the open door of his cruiser. “We sent the locals home, pushed the phone video crowd back a block just like you asked.” The State Trooper leaned his forearms on top of his cruiser door, waved a lazy finger toward the pickup backed into a corner of the lot. “I walked right up, tried to talk. He’s armed. Don’t seem to want to shoot anybody. Higher’n my summer electric bill on somethin’. Ain’t made a lick a sense since we got here.”
Macon tagged the man in the truck as the living half of his Vernier problem, let the breeze blow burger wrappers around their feet while he bought time to think. The Trooper looked down, lifted a foot and let a wrapper sail.
“Said you wanted to talk to him, Mr. LBI. Go talk. Can’t keep this Wendy’s shut down all day.”
Macon walked across the lot to the far side of the pickup, out of sight between it and a dumpster, opened the passenger door. Red Converses ‘Henry’ gave him a glassy eyed stare and a drool-y smile.
Macon leaned in, reached under the seat. “How’s it goin’?”
“Buuhhh guh. Buuh -uuhhh!”
“Momma’s fine, thanks. Yours?” Macon fished under the seat of Faucheaux’s truck for the emergency kit every cop kept in every car, pulled out a hazard flare, scratched it to life, shoved it in Henry’s lap.
“Yep. Fresh roasted nuts.” Macon buried his face in the crook of his arm against the smoke that had filled the cab in seconds, grabbed Henry’s hand, wrapped it around the nine on the truck’s seat and shoved it against Henry’s temple. He screamed “NO”, squeezed the trigger with Henry’s finger under his own, dropped the nine in Henry’s flaming lap and collapsed on the floor trying to back out of the cab.
The Trooper heard the shot, jogged across the lot and dragged Macon out of the gray-black cloud by his belt and collar, spun him around the back of the truck and toward the cruiser. They were ten yards into the parking lot when the cab went Whoomph in a ball of fire, threw them into the asphalt. Where they stayed, belly down, while the unspent rounds in ‘Henry’s’ gun popped like popcorn in a hot kettle.