Balloon Man

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Chapter 37

Detective Booth gathered up his wallet, keys and notes off the desk. In a hurry, he trotted out of the police station, hoping to bypass running into Chief Fox.

“Wait up!”

Booth sighed and turned around. Fox’s face was red as he huffed to catch up.

“I’ll come with you.”

“You don’t even know where I’m going, Fox. Might be some place you don’t want be.” Booth glared at the chief.

“Look, I get it. I’ve been an ass. It’s just, well, we ain’t never seen anything like this around here. Press is driving me bat shit crazy, and I can’t sleep at night. The images of those boys—”

“They haunt me too, Fox,” Booth sighed. “C’mon. I’ll fill you in on the latest while I drive.”

“Where to?” Fox asked, sliding into the passenger seat.

“Vernon Parish. There was a number in the book with no name next to it. I searched. Jo Bob’s phone records and found a lot of calls back and forth. Got the address this morning from the phone company and that’s where we’re headed.”

“That’s great! Leo and the others are heading back to the swamp. They left about fifteen minutes ago. Between us all, maybe we can solve this case today!”

Booth didn’t say a word in response and the remainder of the thirty-minute drive was silent.

When they arrived at the address in Vernon Parish, Booth drove through the massive driveway, surrounded by a fifteen-foot wrought iron gate. He let out a low whistle. “Nice digs. Fancy brick, manicured hedges, expensive gate. Now, why in the world would someone living here even contemplate talking to that swamp trash Jo Bob Swain?”

Fox shrugged his shoulders and stepped out onto the blacktop. “Ain’t gonna know unless we ask.”

Booth walked up to the door and knocked. “First smart thing you’ve said in a year, Fox.”

“Funny,” Fox replied, peering at the nameplate. “Those letters are so fancy, I can’t make it out.”

“It says LeBlanc. That’s his name. Foret LeBlanc,” Booth responded, pounding harder with each knock.

“I don’t think anyone’s home,” said Fox. “We can come back.”

“This place is big. Give him a minute to get to the door.”

The door opened and a slender man with glasses and a bow tie answered. “May I help you?”

Booth flashed his badge and said, “I’m Detective Booth and this is Chief Fox. Are you Foret LeBlanc?”

“Yes. What may I do for you?”

“May we come in and talk?”

Foret titled his head and stepped outside onto the porch. “I don’t like strangers inside my home. I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Feel free to ask me any questions out here.”

Booth sensed LeBlanc’s unease. “If you insist. So, Mr. LeBlanc, how long have you been acquainted with Jo Bob Swain?”

Fox and Booth both noticed the color drain from LeBlanc’s face.

“I’m afraid I don’t know the man. Why do you ask?”

“Are you sure? I mean, I know the heat’s been unbearable the last few days, so maybe it’s messing with your memory. Let me help jumpstart it. Jo Bob Swain, caretaker of the Swarthmore Home for Boys over by Anacoco Lake, near Atchafalaya Basin? Ring any bells yet?”

“I, uh, well,” LeBlanc stuttered.

Sensing the man was close to breaking, Booth continued to press him. “Is that a spark of recognition I see behind your eyes? Yes, I believe it is. Let me throw out another tidbit. You last spoke with him on the phone two weeks ago, at approximately,” Booth made a big production of consulting his notes, “fifteen minutes after midnight. Oh, and according to the phone records I went through this morning, you two were quite chatty over the years, usually late in the evening.”

Fox interrupted, looking straight at Booth. “Oh! I bet they were secret lovers!”

“We were not! We were simply…” LeBlanc blurted out then clamped his mouth shut, realizing he’d walked into their trap.

Booth gave a slight grin to Fox. “I believe it’s time to continue this discussion at our station. We aren’t afraid of germs.”

“I want a lawyer,” said LeBlanc.

“Guilty parties always do,” Fox replied, leading LeBlanc to the back of the car.

Booth’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He stepped away and let Fox secure LeBlanc in the back seat. “Booth.”

“Got news from down here in the swamps. We found her,” Leo Welch said.

There was so much static over the line, Booth wasn’t sure he heard him right. “Come again?”

“We found her. Well, what’s left of her.”

Booth rubbed a droplet of sweat from his forehead. “What’s left? Did a gator—?”

“Yep. However, it only ripped her torso in half. Her hands are missing and her throat had been slit. Those wounds were clean. Someone cut her up then dumped her out here.”

“Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Did you notify DuPriest?”

“Yep. He’s on his way.”

“We’re taking in a man for questioning, so it’ll be a bit before I make it out there. Good work, Leo. See you soon.”

Disconnecting the call, Booth sighed and slid into the front seat of the car. Fox shot him a questioning glance yet before he had a chance to speak, Fox’s cell rang.

“Chief Fox. Wait, slow down. Who’s this? Oh, uh-huh. You don’t say! Interesting. Sure, be there within the hour.” Fox ended the conversation then looked at Booth. “Nothing for days then boom!”

Booth motioned with his head toward the back seat and scowled. “Not here.” He followed the statement by exited the car.

Fox followed, leaving a distraught Foret LeBlanc in the backseat. Once far enough away to not be overheard, Booth asked, “Who was that?”

“Hospital. Jo Bob’s brother Cye is there and wants to talk to the police. Get this—he’s in the hospital because a gator chomped on his leg. Who called you earlier?”

Booth raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Leo. They found Elaine—in pieces. Clean cuts, so someone—”

“Took her to the swamp and dumped her after chopping her up. And Cye got nibbled on, presumably in the swamp.”

Looking back at the car, Booth chewed on his bottom lip. “If Cye’s our man, why in the world would he call and want to talk to us? Something’s off here. Let’s head back to the station. I’ll handle questioning LeBlanc. You go pay a visit to Cye Swain.”

Foret’s lawyer sat next to him inside the small interrogation room. Booth had turned off the air conditioner earlier and watched through the two-way glass with a smile on his face as sweat sprinted down their faces and stained their shirts. Booth’s first round of questions didn’t produce anything useful, so he stepped out of the room to let them chat, hoping the heat would kick things up.

Taking the last gulp of cold water, Booth stepped back inside the sweltering room.

“Detective, as I mentioned before, Mr. LeBlanc has no recollection of the people or events you are questioning him about. I assume while you left us in here to die of a heatstroke, you checked out his alibi, verifying his whereabouts the night of the murders?”

The smug look on the lawyer’s face made Booth want to knock him to the floor. Nodding once, Booth kept his irritation inside. “Yes.”

Both men stood. “If you aren’t formally charging my client with anything, we are leaving.”

Booth fought the urge to let out a smart comeback and stepped aside. He watched the two men scurry down the hall like mice freed from a trap.

“You’re lettin’ him go?” Fox whined.

Turning around, Booth grimaced. “Can’t hold him for chatting on the phone. His alibi checked out. He was in Baton Rouge with some friends. Went to a show, ate dinner, got drunk, and took a cab back here. He’s not our killer, though my gut tells me he ain’t all clean. Please tell me you pulled something useful from Cye.”

Fox nodded. “Cye thinks he got bit by Parrain. His foot looks awful.”

“I didn’t ask for a medical report, Fox. What did he want to talk about?” Booth grumbled.

“He thinks Cooter Lafuente had something to do with the murders though he isn’t quite sure why. Cye was pretty doped up and wasn’t making a whole lotta sense. He said we need to talk to Alma Emmett. Told me she was waiting in the parking lot. I looked but didn’t see her.”

Booth motioned for Fox to follow him down the hall. “DuPriest called about ten minutes ago. Said the first set of skull and bones we found belonged to Cooter’s sister-in-law.”

“Well I’ll be! That’s a lot of ties to Cooter. I mean, a dead sister-in-law and a missing nephew! I say it’s time to find Cooter and ask him what he knows.”

“Cye said we needed to talk with Alma, and since her place is closer, let’s head there first.”

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