Tonight I shared with our furr friends peanut butter and crackers and when I didn't feed our 90 pound hound, PeeWee, soon enough he would bark for more with a bark that says loudly pay attention to him. The small pack of crackers ran out as did the serving pack of peanut butter and PeeWee barked again so I grabbed a large milk bone for him and threw it over by the outside door in our TV room and office. I then broke up a large milk bone for the other furr buddies and Sissy laid claim to several pieces and stood guard over them as she ate the pieces. When PeeWee looked at her stash Sissy growled and barked at him and he sat back on his haunches. When the other dogs, Mac and Molly, got to close she growled and barked at them. You wouldn't believe that a little female Jack Russel Terrier had such a growl and bark.
When Sissy goes to sleep on the couch under her blanket and if any of the furr buddies get to close, that growl and bark comes out. Sissy loves to play with all of the furr buddies and it is run and play and carry around toys to play tug a war mainly with our male Jack Russel Terrier, Bully, named after a brother-in-law that passed earlier this year.
Right in my ear I hear a whispered, “Okay Cher, as much as I would enjoy playing Prince Charming, if I try and pick you up I am gonna fall on my ass and dump you on your head. And speaking of my ass it has fallen asleep even harder than you have so wakey-wakey. We both need to get off this floor.”
I knew I needed to wake up. “Just tell me I didn’t drool on you.”
He snorted a quiet laugh. “Nope. Can you move?”
“Good question.” I groaned as quietly as I could as I leaned away from Em and then crawled into a reasonably upright position. I stuck out my hand and he was man enough to let me help him up. I still felt bad and said, “You shoulda just pushed me over and gotten into your bed. Now you’re gonna be sore.”
He rubbed the back of my neck and said, “Worth it.” He gave me a look then said, “C’mon.”
“Uh … you sure?”
“Yeah. You don’t bite.”
“Ha ha. You … you know what I mean.”
“Cher … if I’m willing to accept you aren’t the kid you used to be can’t you accept that I’m old enough not to jump on you?”
He was slowly undressing down to the point we always did and then climbed into bed letting me decide. I had one last question, trying not to sound like an idiot when I asked it. “This isn’t teasing is it? I don’t mean it that way. I don’t want to mess things up. I … I mean things are … there just seems like …”
“C’mere. And stop worrying. A man who can’t take a little heat doesn’t deserve to have a chance at the kitchen.”
“Um … that’s … not exactly … er … what … I mean …”
He sighed. “C’mere.”
I gave up and climbed in the bed almost too tired to care.
“Ava. Stop worrying at it.”
“I don’t want to screw this up. I just don’t know what I can do, what I’m ready to do, there’s so much going on. But … I don’t want to lose whatever this is right now. And I … um … don’t want to lose it later whatever does or doesn’t happen right now.”
“That makes two of us. There’s time. World is a mess for a fact.” He sighed. “Someone said something.”
He was still and then sighed again. “Ava maybe I should have gotten out of it but I couldn’t. People are pushing and pulling and trying to get me to say one way or the other. Neither one of us needs that pressure right now.”
He was telling me the truth and I was finally able to relax. “So who are you going to take?”
“I don’t want to take anyone.”
I said the obvious when I told him, “They’re going to expect it.”
“They can expect things and shove them up their …”
“Em. I may not be a lady, but I don’t want to make you swear either.”
He snorted. “I’ll go to their damn party but I’m not going to take anyone.”
“What if I said that they expect me to go to that stupid Fall Festival as well and I don’t trust their motivations either.”
Carefully he asked, “Are you going?”
“Yeah. If for no other reason than to rub it in the nose of that so-called USO Director the Navy brought in. But that’s next month. First I guess I gotta deal with the mess that Martin Edgar left behind.”
He was silent for a moment. “You think you know?”
“What a depressed and anxiety-ridden man did? No. But that’s gonna have to wait until tomorrow. First, we need some sleep and then first thing I’m gonna have to help Auntie and get started on the September doings. Can you believe it is getting close to a year since I been here?”
I nearly squeaked like a girl when he pulled my feet next to his. “Seems like I’ve known you longer and that I don’t know you at all.” Then there was a long pause before he added, “I’m asking you not to take jobs that take you so far away. It worried me when Zeb tracked you to Legonier.”
“I didn’t know I was going so far,” I admitted. “And I won’t do it again unless I can guarantee the pay will be just as good.” When I whispered what went in the bank and what I brought back with me he nearly jumped out of bed.
“Damn Ava. That’s …”
“Almost as much as you make on a job. I know. Now I can carry my part on the storage lock next three months instead of worrying that you’ll have to carry it on your own.”
“Cher that’s more than I clear on most jobs and you know it.”
“Clear maybe, but before you take out expenses it is. And I’ve got expenses too. So …”
“So, you got some funny way about you Ava Thibodaux, but I think I like it. But you ain’t just whistling Dixie, we need to sleep.”
And believe it or not that’s just what we did and all we did. I’m not saying that we’ll make a regular habit out of it but the dreams I was worried about left me alone and I think his occasional nightmare sought greener pastures as well.
It was a week later and after some other stuff that I heard from Captain Dunkirk again and he said that he’d send world through Mr. Hubert if he was in need of another hand but it would likely be a while as signed on Jolene’s two younger brothers as permanent crew to fill the slot. I wasn’t sure whether my feelings were supposed to be hurt or not.
“You waiting on me to throw a hissy fit?” I asked Mr. Hubert.
“You wanna throw a fit?”
“Not particularly. It’s too hot. ‘Sides, I figure it was a one off to start with and I’ve got my regular work to keep me busy.”
He chuckled and then sobered. “Heard you got took to the state offices for questioning and to …”
“Say whether the remains from the cemetery was my uncle? Yeah. They tried to rattle me. Did a little. But ..” I shrugged. “I guess someone from the family had to do it and I’m it.”
“And that cousin that showed up?”
“Don’t ever remember meeting him; he’s got ten years on me. He said I looked like his sister did when she was my age and I guess that’s something. Apparently my Aunt Juliette sent him to see what was going on after she read it in the online newspaper. She still keeps up with things around here even if she doesn’t ever want to come back.”
“You gonna go visit her?”
“No. ‘Cause now she’s mad that Uncle Henley left everything to me and it is in a Trust and I’m not a little kid that needs a guardian or whatever. If she knew how little was in that Trust she’d really be a wet hen.”
“That little huh?”
I laughed and lied, lied, lied ‘cause my business is my own. “You don’t really think the State was gonna cough up any more than they had to for my grandparents’ house did you? They already flooded the land and the house has fallen in [that part is true according to some surveyors report I found in Uncle Henley’s papers] and what the State did pay for it has been eat up by this war. They put it in a Trust just to look good and all concerned for my well being and crap like that. And as I understand it, what does come to me at twenty-one is going to be taxed and fee’d into oblivion.”
“The only thing the government doesn’t tax these days is the air we breathe and they’re working on how to do that,” he said knowingly.
“So the news people tell it,” I said. “Please let Captain Dunkirk know I appreciate the thought but understand he has to do what works best for him.” I went on to ask him if Tib wanted to hunt up some more illegal quadrupeds which was why I’d come by in the first place.
“If you talking about pigs I believe he would if there were any to hunt. They sent them patrols out and they’ve thinned the feral herds until you’re lucky if you see sign once a month. Pickings to put meat on the table are getting slim.”
“Uh … Mr. Hubert … don’t laugh but does Momma L know how to fix things like racoon and ‘possum?”
Well he laughed anyway. I figured he would, but it was a good way to change the subject since he looked like he’d been about to come back around to Uncle Henley and I wasn’t interested in discussing it. “Tell you what, instead of them nasty things, how about I teach you how to catch and cook nutria.”
“I read about them. They’re like little furry cows that swim.”
He laughed again. “Not quite but I know for a fact where we can get some. You bring that live trap of yours … and your trapping license … and bring Em if you can get him … and we’ll get us some before them Fish & Wildlife folks can send in their own to clean ‘em out.”
Em looked at me like I was more than a little squirrely. “You wanna what?”
It was after lockdown nearly a week after the outside job that had netted me good money and more nightmares to go with it. I’d managed to surprise Em with some mulberry candy I’d made. I also managed to surprise him with my request to come hunting … or trapping rather.
“Mr. Hubert needs my trapping license. I’m willing so long as we get a cut. He figures you remember how to do it from when you were a boy and will make up for my lack of experience. So … nutria? Unless you’ve got a job.”
He looked at me in the glow from the solar lamp. “You really are bent out of shape that you been replaced in the Big House.”
He’d hit a sore spot. I shrugged, still not sure myself. “At least Franc and Fontaine can’t call me a House Slave anymore.”
“That’s not what they call you and if I catch them saying what they did call you ever again I’m going to kick their tails.”
“Don’t bother. They’ll get what’s coming to them in juvie. Idiots. I can’t believe they got caught red handed in Martin Edgar’s house. Even more surprised they were processed through Family Court as fast as they were.”
“I’m surprised that the neighbor called the federal investigators instead of the local police. As for how fast they were processed, let’s just say it might be payback for some stunts their father and brother has gotten away with over the years.”
I shrugged. Since it hadn’t been a neighbor that called the less I said about it the better. There were other things I couldn’t say anything about like I knew for a fact that Martin would never be coming back. Because to say that would mean that I would have to explain a bunch more than I wasn’t ready to … might not ever be ready to now that I was finally getting the last bits of the puzzle put together.
Em caught me thinking. “What you thinking about Cher? You were gone all five of them days they gave you off. If I had known I would have been worried. Came back, found your note … or I might have thought you’d taken another job with Dunkirk.”
“Told you I wouldn’t.”
“Naw. You said you wouldn’t unless the pay was at least as good.”
I shrugged. “Well I won’t. He hired a couple of guys according to Mr. Hubert. So can you go or not? I know you just got back from visiting your mother.”
“I don’t have nothing between now and Monday. That work?”
I nodded but had stuff on my mind and was having a hard time hiding that fact.
“Need to talk?” Em asked.
“Still thinking of your uncle?”
“That’s part of it.” Then to distract me I asked, “What would you think that at some point in the not too distant future I start dressing like a girl? At least part of the time.”
“You already dress like a girl about to the limits of my will power. Somebody bothering you?” he asked protectively.
I snorted. “No. And forget about it. I don’t know why I keep being surprised at how much commonsense you have when it comes to me being a girl.”
He chuffed a quiet laugh. “Hard won. Now tell me what’s really bothering you instead of trying to send me off down rabbit holes.”
And then it clicked. I needed someone I could trust. And here they sat right in front of me. And not telling him would be like me saying I didn’t know if he would suddenly turn into the kind of strange that too many people in my family had been and I knew for a fact he wouldn’t. He might want the stupid treasure for me but not for any other reason than that. Not that I really knew what to make of it all. Poor Martin. Poor Yula Mae. I swear you’d think there was enough crazy in this world without people make up more of it.
He gave me blank face until I said, “Not about the sex stuff or whatever it is between us stuff. I … I mean the stuff that I could have told you more about all along but didn’t because it sounded too stupid to be believed. And once you hear it you … you might not want to … whatever this is or might be … because … because … the stupid to insane crap might be inherited.”
He went from blank face to concerned. “Cher … you don’t look so good.”
“I don’t feel so good. Especially now that I’ve gotten this far and realized that maybe I shoulda been telling you all along.”
“Don’t look like that Cher,” he told me. “I’m a man that knows that hindsight is 20/20.” He gave me an encouraging grin, trying to be funny but all I could do was sigh and tell him to hold onto his hat because it was a heck of a roller coaster ride. I gave him a brief review of what I had told him in the past and then started in on the most recent events.
“I know it is going to be confusing. If I’ve gotten to where I can’t keep things straight without a players’ roster, for you it might not make any sense at all. I’m related to all of these people yet I’m not. I mean I am just …”
“Cher, breathe. I get it. Your family has been here a long time. Mine too but not so long as yours and not as … er … prolific. My father only had two sisters and neither one of them had kids. My mother is an only child of older parents. She had a lot of cousins but the ones that stayed in this area didn’t have kids and the ones that moved away didn’t stay in touch. Talking about family gets complicated because I never knew most of them and keep forgetting they ever existed.”
“Yeah well, hearing all the ones that I keep finding in my family tree, the Catholic Church might have made an exception on that birth control rule they had back then. Be fruitful and multiply shouldn’t count when the fruit all turns out rotten or crazy.”
“That bad huh?”
“Oh you just wait. You laughing now but you’re gonna wish you’d avoided me all the way back to US90.”
He insisted on moving his chair closer to where I was leaning against the wall. “Don’t think so Cher. But if this is eating you up that much just go ahead and start.” So I did.
For a brief moment I thought Aunt Juliette and my cousins were part of this. Bishop showing up like he did, the timing, was a little too coincidental for my comfort. But I’m now convinced they haven’t got a clue. And no matter what, I’m going to keep it that way. This bunch of stupidity ends with me. Aunt Juliette has enough of a fixation, but I think it has finally come to an end as well. She was stuck on the idea of the land that my grandparents’ house sat on until she found out that it was under water. She is also hacked off at Uncle Henley ‘cause she figures she should have inherited something as the only grandkid that stayed in the area. That is until she found out about taxes and fees and such and then she only wanted to make sure I understood that I couldn’t come to her for a hand out since I “was an adult” and needed to stand on my own two feet or I would never appreciate what I did eventually get out of life.
My cousin Bishop wasn’t nearly as harsh. He isn’t a bad man but he is older than Lalli would have been and already has a wife, a kid, and another on the way, and not to mention a job with the new CCC planning the cities of the future to take the place of the ones that have and will be destroyed in this war. From that I understand that the government is willing to “lose” some cities and areas so they can save others.
Trinity, his sister, has taken vows and works at some hospital which apparently Aunt Juliette can’t decide whether to be proud of or irritated by. Not too sure it is my business either way and Bishop seemed to appreciate me not needing to have an opinion on it. He said if I got hard up that he’d try and help me get a job after he heard my qualifications. It was a nice thing to do and I even got his card and he wrote his home number on the back of it plus his personal email address. Not bad for meeting someone for the first time.
“That’s that side of the family,” I told Em.
“They don’t sound bad.”
I shrugged. “No they don’t. Maybe if I knew why Dad held a grudge but I don’t and Uncle Henley’s journal never really spelled it out either. Maybe it was Aunt Juliette that held the grudge. I don’t know. And I’m pretty sure I don’t care after all this time.”
“So is it your mother’s side you having problems with?”
I nearly laughed but I wasn’t sure I could have stopped had I started. “No. This is worse than that.”
The other side of the family? The distant and I’m beginning to think three-quarters crazy side? That’s a different kettle of fish. I picked up the story after I’d come back from Legonier and figured Em would just have to catch up on the rest of it as I went along. There were a few times he wanted to make a comment but he’s a good listener and let me blather away telling him something he didn’t know and including some things that he does.
It was three days before I could get away and do some of my own investigating where Martin Edgar was concerned. First, I had to work for Auntie on Monday which was interrupted by being taken away for questioning. Wylene tried to make it look as nasty as possible but no one bought it and she’s in more hot water than she started out being in since she didn’t have the authority to take me in to begin with since she hadn’t gotten permission from the federal office overseeing the law enforcement in Beaux Bridge. Mouthful that basically means she is on unpaid administrative leave until they are through being hacked off at her and as a result she is blames me. I thought the woman was smarter than that but it appears she’s got the same brains leaking out her libido as some men appear to have.
I escaped from there, and only just back to the Old House before curfew so my day was shot and I was upset but too tired to do much about it after I’d reported to everyone and got the situation as cleared up as I was able to. On Tuesday I try to go back to get ahead of my work only to find out that the Trust Lawyers had for some reason hired Vadie to help inside at the Big House. I’m trying not to be angry about that, but it took almost the entire day to untangle the mixed signals I was getting. I thought at first I’d been let go; their letter wasn’t real clear. I admit that I was in a bit of a panic and trying not to let anyone know. Then I got a call from some woman named Evelyn Cartier – apparently someone so far up the totem pole she can tell the Trust Lawyers what to do – and she said that it was at her request that they’d hired a second person but that she had not meant for me to be let go. I was still to be in charge of the outdoor stuff on the property. In charge? That was news to me. And for some weird reason she asked how Mr. Julius was doing but not to mention that she’d called, and certainly not to share that she’d asked about him. Another mystery I do not need.
The only good thing is I found out my pay doesn’t go down or change either despite the “redefining of my job description.” So long as I am willing to take goods and shares of things for the bulk of my pay and scrip for the rest, and accept room and board as part of that, I still get the same amount and maybe a little more time to hunt up crap work to fill in the gaps when possible. Seems there were some problem with some audit by the State and with me not getting overtime for all the hours I put in. It violated some employment laws and complicated their bookkeeping. Whatever. I still got a job, food in my belly, and a roof over my head. My relief must have been something because more than just a couple people remarked on it. On top of that Auntie surprised me by swatting me with a broom and telling me that I had the roof and she’d feed me and that it wasn’t anyone else’s say so but hers and not to forget it. I didn’t have any cause to worry her that I might take off. Alrighty then. Auntie may be a bit mellower these days, but you still don’t mess with her on some subjects.
In the midst of all of this Em had to take off and go and help his brother on a major job for the military. It was good money and a good way to help his family that he normally kept at arm’s length. And not an hour after he left I got another call from the law firm of Doodley, Squat, and Irritating … my current name for the Trust Lawyers … telling me that for tax purposes I needed to take five days off. Boom. I’ve got all this work to do and they’re telling me I can’t do it because they need to catch up paying my employment taxes and finish being audited. I got that situated and decided that there was no time like the present to go to the one place that I figure Martin is holed up.
Geez when it rains it pours. Quite literally. I got to Yula Mae’s place, found what I found, and a freaking tropical storm decided to take a sharp left turn and come on up the Delta and make trouble for the Atchafalaya.
“There’s some old woman living out in the middle of the swamp? Now you sound like you are telling a story.”
I shrugged, added a few more branches to the family tree for him and decided to let him figure out who the nuts and knotholes were as we went along. He looked at me crossed eyed and then got even worse when I showed him the diagram of all the lines in the family that I’d been drawing.
“You sure about all this?” he asked skeptically. “I’m not sure even my mother could put something like this together and she’s all about where her people came from.”
I flattened the paper out like it was a battlefield map. “Em, from my great great grandparents I’m sure. Before that I know for a fact it is wrong and that’s part of this entire soap opera. Can you wait for me to explain that part?”
“Miss Yula Mae? You home? It’s me … Ava. Just come by to see if you need any work done.” That’s what I said so she wouldn’t think I was dogging her because I thought she was too old or “special” to take care of herself.
Silence. Something I’d never been met with before. She always seemed to know when I was coming whether that was with Martin or not. I stepped off the porch and started walking around. I had a bad feeling and it wasn’t just from the storm clouds that had followed me into the swamp.
I looked all over the little island and was about to leave thinking I’d come on a fool’s errand, or that maybe Martin had taken her and gone someplace he thought was safer. I know that doesn’t make sense in hindsight but I was really wigging by that point. When I got to the back corner she’d never taken me before and spotted a few turkey vultures sitting in a tree. I prayed it was just a dead animal. I prayed hard. I did not want to see that poor old lady lying dead of something, whether that something was natural or not. Yeah, that’s where my head was going at that point.
In that back corner I found an area that turned out to be a small family cemetery marked off with bricks and wrought iron that would have had to be brought in on a boat. It was old and the wrought iron was completely rusted through in places and had been repaired with wood and sticks making the entire thing look like it belonged in a horror movie. I pushed the gate open to find some few little graves in the ground with homemade markers. None of the homemade markers had names on them which in my research either meant they were child burials or burials of family pets.
What dominated the space was a stone crypt, the kind that sits above the ground like the ones in most of Louisiana do. It too was made of bricks but there were a few carved stone pieces to it as well that looked as professional and ornate as found in any Louisiana cemetery. The name LEVERT was carved above a door. And the fancy roof capping the small building had enough crying angels and crosses on it to prove the family meant business when they buried their people in it.
The crypt looked like it had been disturbed because the metal door wasn’t closed on it good; it sat all calliwumpus in the frame. I got close and realized that the smell wafting out of that door was what had drawn the vultures. I swear I did not want to have to open that door any wider but I couldn’t just run screaming into the night to wait for someone else to take care of things. I owed it to … someone … maybe myself, not to show such cowardice in the face of whatever it was. Using my boot I pulled the little door open. The sound that door made could have been recorded for a scary sound effect. It certainly gave me chills despite the awful heat nearly stilling my breath. Then I took my penlight and shined it inside … after the worst of the smell had escaped.
I knew it was her. Her long white braid had escaped the sheet she’d been wound up in. What shocked me was the stains on the sheets that I realized was blood. I pulled my head out of there and shut the door as fast as I could and started backing away. I was heaving but I’m not sure if it was nerves or the odor. Thanks to this war I’ve seen death up close too many times. Death as I’ve seen it has never been pretty. I looked around but didn’t see Martin. He’d be the only one I know of that would know or care enough to take care of the old woman so respectfully in the family crypt.
I returned to the house to see if he’d left a note or anything and discovered the back door was unlatched. The same moment I put my hand on the latch there was a huge clap of thunder and the first fat drops of rain started to fall. Had I been wondering just what to do, the sheets of rain that started falling right after that, as well as the lightning, would have driven me inside one way or the other. Downpour was so heavy I wasn’t even sure there was any oxygen between the drops.
I was shaking as reaction had set in and the inside of the little house was nearly completely dark. The shutters were closed keeping what little bit of light out that the storm clouds let reach the ground. I was still trying to figure my next move when I heard a hoarse, “I knew you’d come.”
I nearly came out of my skin, at the same time I pulled the buck knife I’d taken to carrying on my hip and was swishing it first one way or the other not wanting anything to sneak up on me. Took me a moment to find him with my light and when I saw what he looked like I freaked a bit, but only on the inside as I forced myself to calm down from my earlier fritzy reaction. I’d learned long ago that panic didn’t help anything. But I couldn’t hide some of my feelings. “Martin?! What happened to you?! They said you might be hurt but … but nothing like this!”
I started to go over to him and tripped over something soft and squishy.
In a rough, gravely voice barely loud enough to be heard over the rain on the metal roof he explained, “I … I didn’t have the strength to move them all after I finished taking care of Yula Mae.”
“Who … uh …” I said picking myself up and backing away from what I discovered was another person … body I guess since there wasn’t anyone occupying it any longer.
“The one you just stepped on is Remy. I was going to drag him into the swamp and dump him with the other two but … but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and now I can’t …” He gave a painful cough. “He deserves it just like the other two. I just … just …”
There wasn’t much time after that, and it makes me a little nauseous and crazy to remember that conversation. Essentially this is what happened:
Remy Edgar escaped from prison with a couple of buddies. He came back to Breaux Bridge to get some money to head to Florida with. Why Florida? It was just a coincidence. The brain-dead fugitives thought they’d be able to live off the land and take what they wanted from the communities that had been evacuated. Why they’d thought there’d be anything left after a year is beyond me. It takes several layers of stupid to wind up in prison and doing the kind of time they were so what’s one more layer.
First, they looked up Daniel. Remy remembered Daniel being the baby brother and thought he’d be easily intimidated. Wrong. Worse, he told them to get because that was the only break he was giving big brother because he was calling his superiors and they’d soon be on Remy’s tail. In the process, some how or other, Remy got Martin’s address. Probably from Daniel which still has me all kinds of suspicious, especially since it was never mentioned that Remy might just be who beat on Daniel and left all the blood evidence behind. If Daniel did turn Remy in, it sure wasn’t common knowledge.
Remy knew the story of the treasure. He never put much faith in it until he saw Martin’s notes and “evidence” spread all over the kitchen table. And for another layer of stupid Remy got it into his head that somehow Uncle Henley took it to the grave with him. Really? Last time I checked Louisiana and Ancient Egypt looked nothing alike. Who is going to be crazy enough to bury gold treasure and such with someone that doesn’t need them anymore? Be that as it may that’s what Remy and his buddies got in their heads and when Martin tried to explain reality to them they beat on him and then marched him to the cemetery and forced him to dig Uncle Henley up.
You can guess the resulting disappointment. Yep that’s sarcasm you hear and a buttload of snark as well. Remy also didn’t appreciate Martin’s grief over a man that had been more brother to him than Remy and Daniel. So when they got back to Martin’s place Remy beat on him some more and then wanted real money. Only that wasn’t happening either because Martin had just given his wife his entire paycheck because his daughter needed things for school that was supposed to be starting up right quick. That’s when things got crazy … crazier. Remy shot Martin and Martin shot Remy. Neither man knew the extent of the damage as they’d been pumped up with adrenaline and testosterone but that was likely the reason all the blood was judged to be Martin’s. If they’d done a DNA test they would have found two men but that cost money and assumptions ruled the day.
Remy and his partners in crime were desperate. A military patrol came through the neighborhood regularly or someone might report the sounds of gunfire but in all honesty I doubt seriously anyone would bother. Martin was renting a place that was backed up to the bad part of town and gunshots were simply accepted or would be put down to a little night time hunting of nocturnal animals like possums and ‘coons. What Martin was sure of – based on some threats his brother made – is that they’d go after Martin’s wife and daughter next and he couldn’t allow that to happen. Just as bad for Martin was that Remy had stolen all of his notes on the family treasure and it included a map to Yula Mae’s place. Martin had to guess who he’d go after first and since he needed to get out of town he guessed correctly.
Come to find out that Remy knew about Yula Mae. How he knew remains a mystery, but Martin suspected that Remy had followed Sylvee on one of her many solo forays into the swamp because he was nosey like that when he was a boy. It wasn’t until he saw Martin’s treasure hunting evidence that Remy put two and two together and decided that the Levert homestead would make a good hideout and he could look for the treasure at the same time. Or so explained Martin after added two and two together. Of course two and two could have added up to three or five but that’s the new math for you.
What happened was that Remy and his buddies took off in Martin’s personal vehicle and it took longer for Martin to get to his pirogue while Remy stole a motorized boat from someone else. But even known the swamp ten times better than Remy, and nearly beating him to the island, he still wasn’t in time. Martin told me that Yula Mae didn’t suffer as she’d been shot before Remy even docked the boat he’d stolen and that is the only good thing that could be said. Martin was poling in right behind him and saw it happen. One of the other men had made the killing shot and then Remy started screaming at him because they could have questioned Yula Mae about the treasure. That’s when Martin shot the shooter and managed to also injure the one remaining man that hadn’t been shot at that point.
For the next 48 hours they chased each other around that small island with Martin gradually getting the upper hand, killing first one then the other fugitive. I have a suspicion they were all in worse shape than they were letting on since it took that long. But it was mostly insanity that seemed to be driving them. He and Remy took shots at each other, some hitting but most not. In fact none of each man’s injuries were killing shots in and of themselves, but with both Remy and Martin injured to start with, and not getting medical attention, they both wound up with a cumulative effect.
One of the last things that Martin explained to me before he went off the deep end was, “Remy must have sensed he was fading and finally decided to give up. He headed for the boat but I’d already disabled his and hidden mine. I don’t know what he was after when he headed back here but I was waiting for him. He had a surprised look on his face when he saw me, a look that is still on his face. Brother or not, what he did was wrong. You understand that don’t you? You have to.”
“Cher?” Em prompted when I’d fallen silent.
“I … I have a lot of emergency first aid. A lot. I’m wilderness trained and some beyond that. But there was nothing I could do. Remy Edgar was already dead of a gunshot to the head. And before you ask, let’s just say no one is going to be identifying him the regular way, not even through dental records and leave it at that. As for Martin, I think one of the bullets he was hit with must have knicked his bowels. That wound smelled nastier than the others that I cleaned and bandaged; and it was in his side.”
“Er … you saying?”
“That Martin Edger is dead? Yeah. Probably about like Uncle Henley only without the painkillers to help him along.”
It took a moment for Em to work out what I meant. “Aw Cher. C’mere.”
“Maybe in a minute. I need to finish this out.”
The pain got so bad Martin asked for his gun a couple of times. God help me I nearly gave it to him but he was out of bullets and all I had was my shotgun and one mess of that kind was all I was facing. I’d tried to figure some way to get him to medical help but the storm had swamped both boats and even my raft. I’d make a little headway and then another squall line would come through and make everything worse than when I’d started. I finally managed to get my raft and pole up on land and just left it there and did what I could.
Martin started having fever-delusion-illusions. I’m not sure what to call them exactly but nightmare comes in a close second. I learned things about his childhood that fit so hand in glove with what I’d seen in foster care that I cursed his father for being the perpetrator and his mother for waiting so long to take the man in the swamp and leave him there. Yeah. That’s what happened because apparently as the oldest he had to help his mother get rid of the evidence. Remy and Daniel don’t know that part and I’m thinking no one does except the mother who is well out of the mess she helped to create and then leave behind. I’ll keep his secret. There’s no proof and it wouldn’t do anything but cause more pain if it was made public.
At the very end he was eager to go. Seems his daughter was a twin but the other was stillborn. But they named the little girl and when the wife was too distraught to do much more than tell the hospital to deal with it, Martin stole his baby’s corpse and carried it out here and put it in the Levert crypt with Yula Mae’s permission. Apparently there’d been babies and children that didn’t survive to adulthood – Yula Mae’s siblings and nephews and nieces – and there’s a pile of what looks a lot like bird bones in the crypt from all those babies. Well Martin seemed to be seeing something I couldn’t and talking to someone that wasn’t there. I stopped worrying about him at that point. I don’t have any room to preach in this life but I guess I hope that I’ll see my family again so if that’s what it took to let Martin have peace at the end, so be it. We should all be so lucky.
He did have one lucid moment in there and he asked that I put him in the crypt with Yula Me and his baby daughter and not to tell anyone about the Levert place … to let the swamp swallow it back up and the spirits of the people that lived here go free. Talk about heart strings being pulled and getting weirded out at the same time. Then he went and asked me to do something for Remy … to put him in the swamp to join their father. I didn’t tell him he was smoking dope or anything. I wasn’t sure I was going to do it at that point but the smell was getting to me that was for sure despite me having pulled Remy’s body to the front porch rather than be in a dark house with a swelling up corpse while tending to a dying man. I got enough nightmares thanks anyway.
When I was sure that Martin was completely gone I wrapped him in the sheet he’d been lying in and then found some rope and tied him up like a bird going in the oven. It was the wrong visual to have and I had to hit the porch railing and dump what little I’d eaten in the last couple of days. It was still raining off and on, but I was running out of time. There was no way I was going to drag a body a couple of acres, so I did what I didn’t want to do and carried Martin’s body in a fireman’s carry and took him to the crypt. The smell was so much worse that I puked some more but it’s done and I sealed the crypt properly to keep animals out. Our Creator set things up to work a certain way. As the priest said when my own family was put in the ground, “From dust we came and to dust we return.”
I was pretty numb but it was getting late and the weather remained uncertain. I didn’t think it a good idea for me to try to make it back to Breaux Bridge. Water level had risen around the island but it wasn’t to the house or cemetery yet though there was water encroaching in other places. Having decided I couldn’t leave just yet, I also decided I was not going to deal with that smell again. I rolled Remy off the porch and down to the floating dock and then off the dock and into the flooded swamp. I had to throw up again. Rolling Remy like that kinda let the gas out of him along with some bodily fluids. I’m hard but I’m not that hard and I added another nightmare to the playlist in my head.
“Cher, we gonna talk about you trying to do things that no man or woman should have to do alone.”
I leaned over with my head on his knee accepting the rough comfort he was offering. But then I sat back up. “Yeah well, life sucks. It might have been better for me if you were there, but it wouldn’t have changed anything and I’d feel guilty about dragging you into it.”
I felt him brushing my hair off my neck. It was still hot and even though it was night and cooler it still wasn’t great.
I asked him, “You want to hear the rest of it or are you sick of it and me?”
“Hush your mouth on that thought. Not to mention I want to know what this ‘rest of the story’ sound is in your voice.”