Balloon Man

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Chapter 40

Foret LeBlanc left the police station and took a cab home. Once inside, he made sure to find any papers with names and addresses that would get him in trouble. He shredded every piece of paper he could find, lining the bottom of his cat’s litter box with them. He picked up the house phone, intending to call his clients, telling them he was closing down, but the thought of the police monitoring his calls stayed his hand.

Looking down at the table, he noticed his cell. Foret didn’t know much about technology, but he knew enough. Cell phones could be tracked—his whereabouts a blip on a computer screen. Removing the back of his cell phone, Foret took all the pieces out then smashed them with a hammer. He scrambled down to the basement and hid the shattered remains behind loose stones.

Foret returned upstairs and paced around the living room, trying to figure out the best course of action. “Maybe I’ll go to my brother’s house and use his phone. He doesn’t need to know who I’m calling. I’ll tell him its business and I—oh gosh! I almost forgot!”

Racing to the den, Foret reached his computer. He stared at it, knowing it held enough evidence to send him to prison for the rest of his life. He used it to find new customers and contact them. Foret turned it on, wondering if he could figure out how to wipe the memory clean using only his limited computer skills. Should he just destroy it, too, like the cell phone?

While thinking all these thoughts, the house phone rang. Foret’s nerves were so taut he nearly jumped out of the chair. He decided to let the answering machine get it.

The decision was a mistake because it was a customer, angry their goods hadn’t been delivered and wanted a call back immediately or there’d be Hell to pay.

Slumping back in the office chair, Foret thought about how he was once a respected business owner. He did well until the economy took a turn for the worse right after Ada died and he couldn’t pay the bills. Then Herme and his ideas came along. The money was too good to pass up, despite his aversion to how it arrived in his pocket. Foret wasn’t able to control his hunger for money.

Foret and Herme had a pretty good thing going and when Giselle died, Herme kept telling Foret he’d get even more per trick because Alouette’s youth would fetch higher prices. Foret knew he could have stopped Herme from pimping out Alouette, but again, greed got in the way. The cash in his pocket allowed him to view the girl as nothing more than a business prop.

“God, how did it come to this?” Foret whined. He deleted a few files from the computer then stopped. There were hundreds of files. It would take hours to remove them all, and Foret wondered if he had hours before the police knocked on his door again.

Decision made, Foret picked up the computer and hurled it to the floor. He smashed the internal parts with the heel of his boot until the biggest pieces were no bigger than a golf ball. Satisfied they were useless, Foret gathered them up and hid them next to the broken cell phone parts in the basement.

Breathing hard and stress limit at a boiling point, the shakes set in. The thought of going prison made Foret feel dizzy. He walked over to the liquor cabinet and picked up a bottle of Southern Comfort.

“I got rid of everything, so when the cops come back, they won’t find squat!” Foret mumbled between long gulps of the gut-burning liquid.

Foret took several pulls from the bottle while walking back toward the living room. He paused only once in the doorway leading to the kitchen when the faint, fleeting odor of rotting eggs tickled his nose. He made a mental note to remember to clean out the fridge.

Once inside the living room, the bottle of whiskey half empty, Foret flopped onto the couch. Reaching for his pipe and tobacco on the table, it took him several attempts to grab what he needed. He dropped the pipe twice, cursing each time.

Finally, he shoved tobacco into the hole and tamped it down. The familiar, sweet scent of cherry and oak was overshadowed by the rancid stench from the kitchen. “Gotta clean that fridge!” Foret muttered as he struck a match.

The blast happened so fast, Foret really didn’t have time to register it. He felt his body fly through the air as the house exploded. At first he felt no pain, only the strange sensation of motion, but that changed when the momentum was suddenly halted by a thick, hard tree limb.

Stunned, in excruciating pain and barely conscious, Foret looked around, shocked to discover his legs were wrapped around a branch at an unnatural angle.

“I wonder how they got there?”

The words were Foret LeBlanc’s final utterances before the pain shut down his brain.

The blast was heard blocks away. A few neighbors ran outside to see what happened while others called 9-1-1. Some even tried to get to Foret’s body before he fell, but his legs were impaled on a sharp limb.

An ambulance and fire truck arrived. The fireman doused the flames while an EMT climbed the up the get Foret out of the tree. The first rescuer shook his head at the others below after reaching the man’s position. “He’s gone.”

“Damn what a mess!” muttered the captain under his breath to no one in particular. “All that’s left is the basement stairs and some of the foundation wall.”

Later in the evening after the flames were extinguished and onlookers secured from the scene, the only thing found worth salvaging of Foret LeBlanc’s life were pieces of broken computer and a smashed cell phone in the basement.

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