Balloon Man

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Chapter 23

The police found Jo Bob and the four dead boys. They sealed up the metal pipe found next to Jo Bob’s dead hand, grateful to have found what looked like the murder weapon. Detective Booth’s sharp gaze took in the entire scene downstairs then he climbed the stairs to the second floor.

Once inside the bedroom, Detective Booth pulled a kerchief from his pocket and covered his nose and mouth.

“Two beds are empty and one has blood all over it,” the young officer pointed.

Detective Booth groaned. “We may have a hostage situation here. We’ll put out an alert to the other parishes and state police. Do you have the names of the missing boys?”

Chief Fox walked in. “Not yet. Still trying to get IDs on those who didn’t survive. Team’s downstairs searching through records. Lord, I can’t imagine why Jo Bob would do such a thing!”

Detective Booth took in all the carnage in the room. “He didn’t.”

“What do you mean he didn’t?” Chief Fox asked.

“For one, it’s obvious he’s been dead longer. Two, there are footprints in the blood by his head leading to the front door. Three, someone bashed his skull in and it certainly wasn’t any of these young boys.”

Chief Fox’s cheeks burned red with embarrassment. “Oh, uh, didn’t think about that.”

“Which is why I’m the detective,” Booth answered. “We have to search the surrounding area and see if our suspect ran into the swamp or left any clues. He may have two boys with him. Make it happen, Chief.”

It took an hour to assemble a search party. Once they were all in place, including several bloodhounds, the group fanned out into the swamp. Within minutes, the dogs picked up a scent.

“Man, these dogs are going crazy!” said one of the handlers.

They followed the dogs into the swamp. Less than twenty minutes later, the dogs stopped at a hole, baying loudly.

“They found something! Here, right here,” said Detective Booth. “Looks like some kind of a trap hole or something. Let’s get this checked out first.”

All the police went to the hole and started digging. They were looking for anything that would clue them into the murders or where the boys might be.

“Holy Moly!” said one policeman. “Look at this!” He pulled up a skull.

“Oh man,” said Detective Booth. “Looks like an adult skull. I can’t say yet, but it doesn’t look like any small boy’s skull. Bag it and keep digging. Coroner should be here soon.”

“Already here.”

Detective Booth turned and faced Rick DuPriest, the coroner. “That was fast.”

“Been a long time since this town’s seen so many deaths at one time,” said DuPriest. “Gave me a chance to drive fast through town.”

Detective Booth cracked a wry grin at DuPriest’s strange sense of humor. He handed the evidence bag with the skull in it to DuPriest. “I wonder what made someone do this? They’re orphans for God sakes!”

“Beats me,” said DuPriest while studying the skull. “But whoever did this was really mad. After looking at the remains of the boys upstairs, I’ve never seen such force used. Their heads were literally crushed like a nutshell. Lord, I’m going to be a busy man the next few days.”

“Hard to tell with all the damage, but Chief Fox said the adult male was Jo Bob Swain. He was the overseer of Swarthmore. Won’t know for sure it was him until his brother Cye IDs the remains.”

“Chief Fox mentioned Elaine Emmet works there and she’s missing? You think she—?”

Detective Booth rubbed his forehead. “It’s possible. It’s also possible her twin sister Alma did this and decided to pin it on her sister. We won’t know for sure until all this evidence gets processed. What we need at the moment is motive.”

DuPriest sighed while watching the remaining officers dig. “I’ve got this. Go.”

Booth nodded and left. While trudging through the swamps back to his unit, he thought about Elaine Emmett. Where in the world did she go, and why would she do this, if she did do this? If it wasn’t Elaine, then who else could it be?

The thoughts gave Booth a headache. Once back at his unit, he gave instructions to Chief Fox then headed back to town.

Booth stopped at the Foxhole bar. The call of alcohol to numb the shock of what he’d witnessed at Swarthmore was too strong to ignore. Just one drink then he’d get back to work.

Booth removed his hat when he entered. He nodded to the few men sitting at the bar. They nodded back, finished their drinks and left. Booth took a seat at the bar and the hat in the chair next to him. Glancing around, he noticed Cye Swain in the corner.

He told the bartender to give Cye a drink. Booth felt a twinge of sadness for the old man. He never had anyone but his brother, and now he was dead Booth understood why Cye needed liquid courage before identifying Jo Bob’s remains.

Booth picked up his drink and walked over to Cye’s table.

“Thanks for the drink,” said Cye. He took a sip, wiped his mouth, and rolled up the sleeves of his once white shirt. His tanned arms were muscular and full of prison tats.

“You’re welcome, Cye. I’m sorry about Jo Bob.”

“Thanks. Can’t seem to get the nerve up to go. Even whiskey ain’t helping.”

Booth waited for a few seconds before asking, “Cye, do you have any idea who would want to do anything to hurt Jo Bob and those boys? How about Elaine Emmett? Do you know much about her?

“I don’t know who would do this. I’ve been trying to keep only good company since I got out of prison, and I don’t know who Jo Bob’s friends were. I can’t imagine why anyone wanted a seventy-year-old man dead. He really kept to himself mostly. He lived for those boys. And yes, I do know Elaine Emmett. She and her twin sister Alma work for Jo Bob. Err, well, worked. They kept house and such. I was sweet on both of them back in school.”

“Well someone did want to kill him and they succeeded. What I can’t understand is why the boys, too and what happened to Elaine?”

Cye stared at the drink as though it held the elusive answer. “No clue, Booth. No clue.”

Booth finished his drink and stood. “I’ll see you later Cye. If you think of anything that might be of use, call me.”

Booth left and headed back to his unit, determined to figure out just what happened at the Swarthmore Home for Boys.

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