Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Princess of Wands: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 19:31 EDT



    The first good thing that had happened since getting to this forsaken burg was that when she got to the car the tow-truck had just arrived. The driver was a short man, swarthy and with lanky black hair. He could have been the brother of the convenience store clerk. In fact, thinking back, all of the locals had had the same look, like they were all from the same extended family. Come to think of it, she wished she'd never thought of it.

    "It won't turn over," she said as the man got out of the truck.

    "Could be the battery," he said in a thick Cajun accent. "Could be the alternator. I'll try to give it a jump."

    He uncoiled wires as she opened the hood then hooked up and gave her a sign. Click.

    "Connections are tight," he called from under the hood then shut it. "Got to take it to the shop."

    "Is there a mechanic available?" she asked.

    "I'm the mechanic," the man said, giving his first grin. "Mechanic, tow truck driver and owner. Claude Thibideau. I'll get you fixed, long as we got the part."

    "And if you can't?" she asked.

    "Order it from New Orleans," he said, drawling the name as "Nawleen". "Sometime they can't get out this far on a Saturday. Don't deliver on Sunday neither. Might be Monday before I can get it fixed. You okay with the hotel?"

    "Just fine," Barbara replied, lightly, trying not to curse. It was getting very hard. "Very nice atmosphere."

    "What you doin down here, anyway?" the mechanic asked as he hooked the car up to tow. The truck was the old fashioned kind that actually pulled the car rather than putting it up on a lift-bed.

    "Just . . . traveling," Barbara replied. "Seeing new sights. Do you want me to come with you?"

    "Be best," the man said from under the car. "If it's a part, I'll give you a ride back to town. Ain't much to see. Send word when I can get it fixed."

    "I've got a book," Barb replied. "Could I take just a minute?"

    "Sure," the mechanic replied. "Gots all day."

    Barbara had dressed for the anticipated drive in her boots, a pair of jeans, a cream silk blouse and a dark leather jacket. But the outfit was far too warm to go wandering around Thibideau, already the town was steaming in the morning heat. So she popped back in the hotel, tiptoeing past the sleeping attendant or owner or whatever and slipped into the bathroom.

    A quick rummage in her bag showed that she'd failed to anticipate heat at all. All of the blouses were long sleeve. The jeans she could survive and the boots were fine but she really needed something lighter. Right at the bottom of the bag her hand closed on what felt like a t-shirt. Pulling it out she frowned and shook her head. The shirt had been given to her as a joke by her sister. Once upon a time, Barb had been madly smitten with Middle Earth. When she was fourteen she had sworn that she was going to name her first female daughter Galadriel and she'd wanted, badly, to be an elven princess.

    So her sister Kate, who still read fantasy and even went to those convention things, had sent her the t-shirt. Sighing she pulled it out and changed, quickly, making sure that the color of her bra didn't show through. It was the coolest thing she had to wear so for once fashion was going to have to take a back seat to comfort. It wasn't like she was planning on making this place a regular stop or had anyone to impress. And if Thibideau, Louisiana couldn't handle a . . . well-stuffed t-shirt with the caption "Aloof Elven Princess" on it, they could . . . well, that was just too bad.



    "Carlane Lancereau was born in Nitotar, which is in Thibideau Parrish," Kelly said, tossing a file on Lieutenant Chimot's desk. "Madame Charlotte says he's 'gone back to the swamps from whence he come.'"

    "That's gotta be a quote," Chimot said, opening the file and glancing in it. "You've never said whence in your life. Isn't much of anything comes from Thibideau Parrish."

    "Except hookers, drug dealers and pimps," Kelly replied. "I want to go down there."

    "Way out of our jurisdiction, sergeant," Chimot said, raising an eyebrow. "Why? It's not like you don't have enough work here."

    "Gut?" Kelly replied. "I want to see if I can find him. He's still only a material witness, not even a suspect. Not much we can do but ask questions. And Thibideau's got almost nothing in the way of police; we can't just drop the detain order on them and hope they track him down."

    "We got a make on one of the johns Claudette was seeing the evening of her disappearance," the lieutenant said, rubbing his chin. "Previous arrest for battery and a kidnapping that got downgraded to a misdemeanor solicitation charge. Judge decided he was telling the truth that he'd just picked up a prostitute and had a misunderstanding about the price."

    "Fine," Kelly said. "Let somebody else run it down, I want to go looking for Carlane. I'll be back on Monday, latest."

    "Go," the lieutenant said, shrugging. "But you draw a weapon and you'd better have an iron-clad reason. One that will survive Thibideau justice."

    "You mean they've got a judge down there?" Kelly said, grinning, as he picked up the file and walked out the door.



    "Ma'am," the mechanic said, walking into the dirty waiting room and wiping his hands on a towel that was so grungy it was adding to the mess, "can't hardly tell you how sorry I am. It's the alternator, all right, and the local warehouse is flat out. Be Monday before they can get one to me. I'll get you going quick when it comes in, though."

    "Fine," Barbara said, closing her book and setting it back in her purse. "That will be fine."

    "I can give you a ride back to the hotel . . ."

    "Is there a restaurant around?" Barb asked, her stomach rumbling. There was a concession machine in the waiting room but one look at the contents had convinced her not to try it. She'd rarely seen fly-specks inside of one before.

    "The bait shop's got a bar that serves food," Mr. Thibideau said, shrugging. "They do a fine jambalaya. You can get bacon and eggs and such as well, but I do recommend their jambalaya."

    She'd had pork fried rice any number of times for breakfast in Thailand, but jambalaya for breakfast would be a first.

    "Could you drop me off?" she asked, sweetly.



    It was a two hour ride from New Orleans to Thibideau, even in what was clearly an unmarked police car. The roads for the last hour were all two lane and twisted in and out among the bayous. There was very little in the way of signs of habitation and what there was tended to be rattle-down tar-paper shacks. It was hard to believe that no more than sixty miles away as the crow flies there was a major metropolis.

    Thibideau was in keeping with the rest of the area, not much more than a wide spot in the eternal swamps. He parked by the courthouse in a spot marked for police vehicles and walked inside, passing an untended reception area and looking for any signs of life. He finally found it in the county clerk's office where a harassed looking woman in her forties was sorting through paper.

    "Detective Sergeant Lockhart, New Orleans PD," he said, holding out his badge and ID. "Was wondering if you knew where I could find the local sheriff?"

    "Died," the clerk said, shrugging. "Last month. Heart attack. Deputy Mondaine's doing his job."

    "Sorry about that," Kelly said, unconvincingly. "Where can I find Deputy Mondaine?"

    "Around now?" the clerk said, shrugging. "Maybe down at the bait store getting lunch."

    "You wouldn't happen to know a Carlane Lancereau by any chance?" Lockhart said, smiling.

    "Never heard of him," the clerk replied. "Some Lancereau up Nitotar way, but they live out in the bayou. Gotta take a boat and asking them questions won't get you no-where. Maybe the deputy can help."

    "Could you, perhaps, call him on the radio?" Kelly asked, smiling again.

    "Broke," the clerk said. "I got to find this damned title, if you don't mind."

    "Not at all," Lockhart replied. "Thank you for all your help."



    The jambalaya was good but it was also fiery with spice and the restaurant didn't serve unsweetened tea. So she was drinking Diet Coke, which was the best of a bad lot, to wash down the fiery jambalaya, then having another spoon of the jambalaya to wash out the taste of the Coke.

    It reminded her of the dinner she'd gone to with her parents. The people were friends of her father, Abyssinian exiles, and they'd hosted an authentic Abyssinian dinner. She couldn't remember what any of the food was called, but it was good. However, it was also very hot. And the only thing to drink was small glasses of some high proof liqueur. Since she was being on her best manners, she ate everything that was put in front of her. And because she couldn't handle the spice, she'd washed it down with glass after glass of liqueur. Before she knew it, she was tight as a tick and telling the hostess the woes of her life, often in quite graphic terms.

    It was then she'd decided that she really needed to be careful with liquor. Fortunately, Mom had been doing much the same thing and hardly noticed.

    To get to the small eating area of the restaurant required going through the bait shop, which was an experience she'd rather never have had. The live bait tanks appeared to never have been cleaned out and she suspected the dead shiners roiling in yellow foam had probably perished immediately upon entry to the tanks. The whole place was filthy with a layer of grime that would require a thousand gallons of bleach to fix and dead cockroaches in the corners. At least the cup was Styrofoam, and appeared mostly clean and she'd taken it without ice.

    The woes she had laid upon the hostess were the woes of being a good Christian girl. Besides the usual, no sex until marriage, there was the whole "being a Witness" thing. If you were a good Christian, you couldn't tell a person when they were being brain-dead. You had to subtly hint that an idea was as stupid as a slug at a salt convention. You couldn't say things like "here's a dime, buy a clue." Or "why don't you clean this place up, it's filthy. And take a bath once in a while!" Or "what do you mean you can't get the part I want to talk to a district manager right now!" Or "learn to cook! It's not that hard!" You just had to smile and hope that things would work out for the best.

    It was a pain in the . . . it was frustrating.

    She was contemplating the negative aspects to being a good Christian woman when the cop sat down.

    He had the same look as most of the locals, large eyes set a bit close together, rounded chin, wide cheekbones that didn't look classically Cajun. But his hair was shorter than the norm and he was at least clean. But there was something about his eyes. She really didn't like the look in them. One look from him and her "creep-meter", as Allison would say, went into overdrive.

    "What's a pretty lady like you doing in a place like this?" the cop asked, waving at the slatternly waitress. "Gimme a plate of jambalaya an a coke, Noffie." He was spending about half his time making eye contact and the other half examining her t-shirt. Or, more likely, what it covered.

    "I was just passing through and my car broke down," Barbara answered, taking a sip of diet coke and giving up on the jambalaya.

    "You call your folks and tell them you're all right?" he asked as the jambalaya was served. Barb noticed that he got quick service; she'd waited nearly ten minutes until the waitress had gotten done talking to one of the regulars.

    "Yes, left a message for my husband," she replied. "Told him where I was."

    "That's good," the officer said. "Oh, I'm Etienne Mondaine. I was the chief deputy til old Claude keeled over from a heart attack last month. You got any problems, you just give me a holler."

    "Thank you," Barbara said, taking another sip of the rapidly warming coke. "I usually can avoid problems, though."

    "Where you from?" the deputy asked, not looking up from his plate. He was rarely drinking and seemed immune to the spice.

    "Algomo," she said. "Little town outside of Tupelo. Wanted to take the weekend off, go see the sights."

    "Not many sights around here," the deputy said with a wheezing laugh. "Ain't much to do, neither. Can rent a boat and go fishing or frog gigging. Or . . . other distractions?" he said, raising an eyebrow.

    "I brought books," Barb said, closing off that line of investigation. It was one of the less subtle come-ons she'd heard and she'd heard a lot of them. "I think I'll just find a comfortable spot and read."

    She'd taken a spot where she could watch the door of the restaurant and wrinkled her brow as a newcomer walked in the place. He was tall and almost skeletally thin with long, frizzy, blonde hair going a tad gray and a matching beard and mustache. He was wearing jeans, t-shirt and a jacket but there was a distinct bulge on his right hip. And he certainly didn't look like a local. Nonetheless, he walked immediately over to their table.

    "Deputy Mondaine?" the newcomer said, fishing out a badge and ID. "Detective Sergeant Kelly Lockhart, New Orleans PD."



    The bait and tackle store overhung the water and there only appeared to be one entrance. Inside, Kelly saw just about the nastiest live bait wells it had ever been his joy to examine; the forensics guys could spend a lifetime just cataloging the material in it. There was a door to the left, though, that apparently led to a small restaurant and bar. When he walked through it took a moment for his eyes to adjust then he saw the deputy sitting on the far side of the room talking to a rather good looking blonde.

    As he approached the table he noticed that the . . . seriously stacked blonde was wearing a t-shirt with an inscription on the front but it wasn't until he got over to the table that he could read it in the relative gloom.

    "Aloof Elven Princess."

    His first reaction was to try not to laugh: he recognized the logo. It was from a website that lampooned the Lord of the Rings in quite humorous terms. His second reaction, which he hoped was unnoticeable, was total shock.

    Don't weird-out on me, he thought. Plenty of shirts around with princess on them.  

    "Deputy Mondaine?" he asked, showing the deputy his badge and ID. "Detective Sergeant Kelly Lockhart, New Orleans PD."

    Mondaine could lose some weight, he more than filled his black uniform, and he wasn't wearing a vest. Of course, in a town like this they probably weren't the utter necessity they were in New Orleans, either.

    "Is that like, 'I'm from New Orleans PD and I'm here to help you?'" Mondaine said, dryly. "The check's in the mail?"

    "I won't c . . ." Kelly started to say then stopped at the expression on the blonde's face. "Yeah, like that. I'm looking for a guy named Carlane Lancereau. Know him?"

    "Lancereau?" Mondaine said, wrinkling his brow. "There's some Lancereaus live up in the back bayou over Nitotar way. Carlane don't ring a bell. Why?"

    "He's wanted for questioning in the Ripper murders," Kelly said, pulling out one of the flyspecked chairs and sitting down. "Not a suspect, just a material witness. Last-seen person with one of the victims. An informant told me he's come down this way. He may be staying with his family."

    "I'll ask around," the deputy said. "I'd say 'you want to come along' but people are probably going to tell me more if you're not."

    "I understand," Kelly replied. "You don't mind if I ask around town, do you?"

    "Not at all," Mondaine said, standing up. "I'll be back in about an hour."

    "Hello," Kelly said, looking at the blonde and wrinkling his forehead. "I suspect you're not from around here, either."

    "No, I'm not," she said, trying not to grin. "I was just passing through town last night. Stopped at the hotel and this morning my car wouldn't start. Alternator. They can't get the part until Monday."

    "Wonderful place to spend a weekend," Kelly said, dryly. "So much . . ."

    "Atmosphere," the blonde finished, waving away a fly that was trying to settle on her straw. "I've decided to use the word 'atmosphere'. And if you end up staying over, don't go out at night."

    "Oh?" Kelly said. "Why?"

    "Alligators," she replied, smiling slightly with no smile at all in her eyes. "They tell me they come right up in the town. Very bad idea to walk around at night."

    Kelly opened his mouth up to reply then looked down at her chest again and closed his mouth.

    "My eyes are up here," the lady said, dryly, after the examination had taken up a few seconds.

    "I know, I've made my decision," Kelly replied distractedly, looking up a few moments later. "I was reading. Slowly." He looked around and then frowned again, his entire face crinkling then clearing. "Let's take a walk," he said, standing up and offering an arm.

    "I have to pay my bill," the blonde pointed out.

    "Why?" Kelly said, grinning. "The deputy didn't. Clearly the food is free."

    "I have to pay my bill," she said, again trying not to grin.

    Kelly waited while the lady paid her bill and even left a small tip, which he felt was excessive considering the quality of food and service. When she was done he accompanied her outside. It was slightly cooler outside under the trees than in the sweltering bait-shop.



    "What's your name, lady wearing the Secret Diaries t-shirt?" Kelly said as they walked to the edge of the parking area and stopped under a tree.

    "Barbara Everette," Barb replied. "57 Wildwood Lane, Algomo, Mississippi."

    "Barbara," Kelly musingly. "Barbara . . . can I call you Barb?"

    "Yes?" Barbara answered.

    "Barb, I'm going to tell you a story," Kelly said. "I am going to tell you this story, despite the fact that I find it fantastical, because I want you to know I'm talking to you because of the story and not because of your . . . remarkable endowments and pretty face. Although those certainly help."

    "Okay, tell me the story," Barbara said, dryly. "And avoiding reference to my endowments will help your case."

    "Well then, once upon a time, this must have been, oh, yesterday?" Kelly said, looking up at the sky and nodding. "Yeah, yesterday. Once upon a time I went to visit a medium, bordering on small. Now, before you get hooked up on the 'police using a psychic' crap, let me explain that this medium, Madame Charlotte, is very good. But not, in my opinion, because she taps into mystic understanding that mortal ken should not wot of, no, but because she's been tapped into the street for literally decades. She knows everyone, understands people and can make some pretty astute guesses. You with me so far?"

    "Oh, yes," Barb said. "You can even use words of more than one syllable."

    "Beauty and brains, how wonderful. Anyway, I went to visit Madame Charlotte to try to figure out where my old friend Carlane had run off to. Carlane is a pimp, a rather nasty one but there's no reason to suspect he's become a serial killer. However, I'm starting to get a real desire to speak to Mr. Lancereau, because people are hiding him."

    "What do you mean?" Barbara asked, wrinkling her brow.

    "When you ask people about someone, and you're working on a public case like the Ripper, they tend to be either very helpful or very uncommunicative," Kelly said, trying to explain something it had taken him years to figure out. "If they're being helpful but don't know the person, they say things like 'have you checked the phonebook?' And they're helpful in random ways. Some of them are more common: 'I don't know him but I'll call my sister she knows everybody' and the phonebook question. They don't all say: 'well, there's some Lancereaus up Nitotar way but that's out in the swamps and you'll need a boat.'"

    "That's what the deputy said," Barb pointed out.

    "That's three times I've gotten that identical response," Kelly replied, holding up three fingers. "Which means that three out of three people in this town have been instructed on what to say in the event of questions. And that makes me very interested in Mr. Lancereau."

    "I didn't go to New Orleans because of the Ripper killings," Barbara said, her face working. "Are you telling me that he might be here?"

    Kelly paused and looked around the town, frowning.

    "There are at least six people involved in the killings . . ." he said, cautiously.

    "How do you know that?"

    "Semen traces," Kelly responded, coldly.

    "Thanks so much for the blunt answer," Barb replied, wincing. "Go on."

    "Carlane Lancereau is not one of the rapists," Kelly continued. "But I'm beginning to suspect he knows who they are."

    "And the chief deputy is . . . what? Hindering your investigation?" Barbara asked.

    "Certainly not giving full support," Kelly replied. "I'm going to be fascinated if he turns up with Carlane in an hour."

    "Why?" Barb asked. "Then you take him back to New Orleans?"

    "Perhaps," Kelly said, frowning. "But I don't actually have anything to hold him on. All I can do is ask questions. If he gives me the run-around, there's not much I can do."

    "So . . . why did you tell me about the medium?" Barbara asked.

    "Ah, Madame Charlotte," Kelly said, regaining the thread. "Madame Charlotte told me that Carlane had come down here, back to his swamp. But she also told me that that Carlane was playing with powerful ju-ju. More powerful than she was willing to play with. And that I was in grave danger which is no surprise since we're talking about at least six people who are willing to involve themselves in rape and murder. Last, but not least and most important to you personally, she told me that I should look for help from the sign of the princess," he finished, looking at her chest again.

    Barb quirked an unnoticed eyebrow and lifted her shirt outward.

    "Bingo," Kelly said, grimacing. "I wasn't looking for the sign of the princess, but lo and behold, there it was. Talking with a rather unhelpful deputy shortly after the death of the local sheriff." He looked back up and stared in her eyes. "So, Mrs. Everette, what do you know about Carlane Lancereau?"

    "Oh, come on," Barbara snapped. "I'm on vacation and my car broke down. It's in the shop, want to go look at it? All I want to do is get the heck out of this place!"

    "But that doesn't explain why Madame Charlotte would tell me to look for the sign of the princess," he said, gesturing at her chest. "I'm trying to figure out why she told me that, well, a soccer mom was my only hope of survival."

    "Lots of girls wear shirts that say princess," Barb pointed out with a shrug. "Maybe I'm not the right sign of the princess."

    "There's that," Kelly replied. "But I was wondering . . . would you care to assist me in my investigations?"

    "Can I at least leave my bag in your car?" she said, shrugging with her left shoulder to indicate her clothes bag.

    "Of course," Kelly said. "Want me to carry it?"

    "I can carry it as far as your car," Barbara said, smiling.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image