Balloon Man

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Chapter 42

Arriving at the emergency entrance, they brought Remy in and the staff took over, descending on the disheveled group like a horde of bees. Alma hated the medicinal smells from a hospital, which is why she decided against becoming a nurse. After all the overwhelming scents of the swamp, she welcomed the crisp aromas from the hospital.

“Please, call the police. Now. Time’s wasting,” Alma begged the nurse sitting behind the intake area. “We need to report several crimes!”

The young woman on duty took one look at the dirty, bloody and frightened group and immediately called for assistance. In seconds, men and women dressed in scrubs scurried from seemingly out of nowhere and took each child to an exam room.

Alma saw the look of sheer terror on Alouette’s face. “It’s okay, sweetie. You’re safe now. Let them give you a good once-over. I’ll come with you, if you like.”

“No ma’am, you won’t. You need to be looked at, too,” the young female nurse admonished, ushering Alma in one direction as another nurse took Alouette by the arm and guided her into a room.

“I’ll be okay,” Alouette whispered. “Nothing can be worse than what I’ve endured.”

Alma nodded and followed the nurse, who pointed to the chair and started assessing her injuries.

“Please, don’t worry about me. Call the police. We need them here now!” Alma’s voice rose an octave as the adrenaline crash hit her hard. She’d been running on fumes for hours.

“Stop fretting, ma’am. We already did. They should be here any minute.”

“Thank God! Those poor kids have been through Hell and back.”

The nurse didn’t say anything else as she took all of Alma’s vitals, writing down her findings, and then began bandaging the wounds. Alma had pushed away the pain from her injuries, her mind focused on survival. Now, the muscle aches and pains, the need for food and water, to rest, made the shakes set in. She flinched when the nurse attempted to start an IV.

“Ma’am, I need you to hold still. You’re dehydrated and need—”

Alma jerked her arm away and stood. “What I need is to talk to the cops, and I can’t do that if you hook me up to that! You don’t understand what we’ve been through! Others are in danger.”

Alma’s tirade was interrupted when two men walked through the door. She let out a sigh of relief when Chief Fox and another man she vaguely recognized entered the room.

“Alma! We’ve been looking for you! Cye mentioned you might be in danger. Where’ve you been?” Chief Fox asked.

Alma bravado disappeared at the sight of law enforcement. For the next twenty minutes, she told the men all she could recall in between sobs. The nurse gave up on attempts to start an IV and left the room.

Both men scribbled in notepads, asking questions when Alma stopped to catch her breath. After the details of the last several days were spilled, Alma’s tears slowed to a trickle. “I hope you catch that deranged animal as quick as possible before he grabs someone else. I consider myself lucky, and those boys! They are real heroes, the three older ones, they took good care of those little guys.”

“You are lucky, Miss Alma,” Chief Fox said in a soothing voice. “And so is the young lady. Do you remember the name of the man holding her hostage?”

“Herme,” Alma answered, shuddering at the memory. “I knocked him out and we left him chained to the bed. I threw the key away in the swamp, so when you find him, you’ll need something strong to cut through the links. It’s one of those thick ones, the kind used for construction, not thin like a bike chain.”

“Do you think you could draw us a map of the location?”

Alma turned at looked at the man whose name kept escaping her frazzled mind. “Uh, well, I will certainly try, but I’m not sure it would help. Everything out in the swamp kind of looks the same.”

Detective Booth closed his notepad and smiled. “Not to worry, ma’am. We’ve got the general vicinity based on where you said you emerged from. We’ll gather as much information possible from the others. You should rest and let the staff take care of you. We’ll be back later after you’ve had a chance to recuperate to ask more questions, should we have any.”

Alma didn’t have a chance to say anything in response because the radio on Chief Fox’s shoulder crackled to life. “10-80 in progress. Possible 10-54 on scene—”

Chief Fox immediately stepped out of the room before Alma heard the rest of the transmission. The way the chief’s face blanched made Alma wonder what happened. “What’s all that mean?”

“No need for you to worry, ma’am. Rest now,” Detective Booth said. He turned and left the room in a hurry.

Alma sensed something was amiss. When the nurse didn’t return, she decided to go check on Cye. She hoped the doctors saved his foot.

Stepping out into the hall, Alma could hear Chief Fox and the detective whispering around the corner. She tiptoed closer until she could make out their words.

“I can’t believe our luck! Damnit! Can’t question a dead man, that’s for sure. Do they know the cause of the explosion yet?” Detective Booth said.

“Dispatch said Foret was impaled on a tree fifteen feet in the air and almost thirty feet from the house. Er, well, what’s left of it,” Fox said.

“We don’t need to waste our time worrying about a corpse. We need to find Cooter Lafuente. Now. Get on the horn and let Baton Rouge PD know we’ve got their missing youngster, and for God sakes, call in every available agency and get them here ASAP. Every minute that sonofabitch Cooter is out there means he’s got the opportunity to grab more children!”

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