Balloon Man

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Chapter 51

Two weeks later, Cye Swain’s infection finally beaten, he was released from the hospital. He started visiting Alma and Alouette regularly and they became quite a threesome. Cye was still in awe at how much Alouette resembled Alma and the girl’s kind spirit. She did have his nose and inquisitive nature. It took a bit to lure the girl out of her shell, but once the ice was broken between the two, Alouette chattered nonstop.

The romance between Cye and Alma—dashed so many years ago—resurfaced, and they grew closer the more time they spent together. Suffering such tragic events then being bombarded with news neither ever expected to hear, brought them together in ways neither could have ever imagined.

One night, while watching Alma fix dinner and Alouette shell peas at the table, Cye realized how truly blessed he was to be given a second chance. As he sipped fresh tea, he thought about all that had happened, and how he’d sorely misjudged his brother.

The news about the murders, human trafficking, and what really had been going on at Swarthmore, left the town gossiping for weeks about nothing else. However, the nonstop talk was only between other residents. Alma and Cye spoke only once about the entire debacle then opted to never bring the subject up again.

The horde of reporters who descended on the town like a Biblical plague, asking questions, pointing their microphones and noses anywhere and everywhere to try to obtain an exclusive, were shut down. The small community rallied together and gave the newshounds the cold shoulder, hoping the collective silence would encourage the reporters to leave.

Their plan worked, but only after all the cases against all parties involved were finalized. Soon, the news vans were packed up with cameras, lights and annoyed reporters, off to feast on the latest headlines in another city.

Herme couldn’t afford a lawyer and was appointed one by the court. A young, fresh-out-of-law school buck named Oscar Leike, who really didn’t seem to know his head from a hole in the ground. Herme knew he’d get the maximum if Alouette took the stand and testified, so he convinced his attorney to plead him out.

He was sent to prison for forty years after pleading guilty to human trafficking, involuntary manslaughter, enabling rape, and kidnapping. In exchange for dropping a life sentence from the table, Herme gave names to the police about his cohorts.

Herme only spent six weeks in prison before he rigged his bed linens as a noose and hung himself from the bars on his cell. When the autopsy was performed, numerous wounds, some fresh and some weeks old, were found all over his body. Word around town was Herme was beaten without mercy on a daily basis until he couldn’t take anymore and killed himself.

Cooter LaFuente was charged with five counts of premeditated murder and sixty-eight counts of kidnapping. His attorney tried to plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, but after a court-appointed shrink deemed him fit to stand trial and able to participate in his own defense, his attorney struck up a plea deal. Since he’d cooperated with the investigation from the beginning once arrested, he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole, the death penalty no longer an option, much to the dismay of most of the residents of Leesville. Most wanted to see Cooter hanging by the end of a rope in the town square, burnt to a crisp in the electric chair, or even shot in front of a firing squad.

Cye wished he could have just five minutes alone with the sleazebag. Make him pay—an eye for an eye, death for a death—but it wouldn’t bring Jo Bob back, and after all he’d learned about his brother’s deplorable dealings, Cye was glad Jo Bob was dead.

After the first month since the awful night in the swamps, the community held a candlelight vigil for all the souls who’d lost their lives and the ones who’d survived with mental scars that would never heal.

The residents of Leesville then did their best to put the nightmare behind them, including Cye, Alma and Alouette.

About three weeks after all those involved with the unspeakable crimes were sentenced, the Swarthmore house burned down. Everyone, including the fire investigators, knew it was arson yet no clues as to the identity of the arsonist surfaced. A few people made noises about a shoddy, half-hearted investigation, but most people breathed a sigh of relief the monstrous place was razed to the ground.

Cye never told a soul, not even Alma, he’d been the one to set the place on fire. He’d spent the night at Alma’s that night then snuck off after the girls crashed for the evening. When the police came and questioned Alma and Alouette, they’d both provided a solid alibi, Alouette even offering she’d run into him in the kitchen around two in the morning rummaging around in the fridge for a snack.

It was at that moment Cye realized Alouette covered for him because her story was a bald-faced lie. The two had been inseparable ever since.

The burning of the Swarthmore Home for Boys was the starting point of healing for all those who’d been tainted by the horrors inside the massive estate and the community at large.

Every citizen of Leesville was glad to see the place destroyed, and Cye Swain had no regrets.

Three months to the day from when she was rescued from Herme’s clutches, Alouette stood in front of her grandmother, trying to calm her down. A trapped raccoon in the garage made awful hissing noises and bared its teeth. After all they’d been through, Alouette thought it funny her grandmother was shaking at the sight of a coon.

“He’s just scared, that’s all,” Alouette offered.

“Yeah, well, me too! Those things carry rabies and who knows what else! I’m going to call Cye to come over here and get it!”

“Afternoon, ladies. Everything okay?”

Both women jumped at the sound of a familiar voice from behind them.

“Detective Booth! You just scared a year from my life!” Alma blurted. “Oh, you’ve got a gun! Shoot that critter messing up my garage!”

“Just open the door and step away. He’ll realize freedom awaits and be gone before you know it. These bullets would blow him to bits and leave an awful mess.”

Alouette laughed at her grandmother’s antics even though a shadow of concern hovered over her chest. Had something gone wrong with all the legal stuff and Cooter was being released from prison? Was it about Papite or Remy? Swallowing her fear, Alouette asked, “What can we do for you, Detective Booth?”

Grinning wide, Booth answered, “For once, I get to bring good news! Alouette, the FBI found some information on your father’s computer I know you’ll enjoy.”

Alouette stared at the legal binder full of papers in Detective Booth’s hands. “What kind of information?”

“As you know, we worked for weeks in conjunction with the FBI pulling together as much information as possible on the kidnapped children and those who adopted them. I’m sure you kept up with the news reports. We’ve located over ninety percent of them and are close to bringing the total to one hundred.”

A wave of dizziness made Alouette grab onto Alma’s arm. Closing her eyes, she whispered, “Oh, my God. Did you—?”

Nodding, Detective Booth answered, “We found your siblings—and your child. I’m afraid the siblings didn’t make it, but your son did. As soon he is secured and his foster parents are in custody—which should happen by the end of the day—we’ll be able to arrange a meeting.”

“Meeting my ass!” Alma said through sobs, excited about seeing her great-grandchild, yet disheartened the other grandchildren born by her daughter were dead. “That baby is coming here. For good! He needs his mother!”

“Yay!” Alouette leapt with joy, nearly knocking Alma over. “I can’t wait to see him! Oh, Grandma—can you believe it? I’m so excited. We’ve got to get ready!”

“I’m not done with my news yet, ladies,” Detective Booth interjected. “Foret had documents on his computer that were well hidden and took a while for computer forensics team to access. The papers consisted of his last will and testament, among various other estate planning documents. Foret’s will was updated the year after his wife Ada died, leaving Alouette as the sole heir of his estate, which wasn’t much.”

Alma interrupted, “What could possibly be left? The house has already been demolished and his car taken to the scrap heap since it was nothing but a pile of burned metal. Any money in his bank account would just be stained with blood.”

“True on all accounts, Ms. Alma,” Detective Booth answered. “However, the funds found at Cotton State Bank originally belonged to his half-brother, Paul DeValle. Foret was the sole heir of Paul’s estate and he never spent one penny of the money. He kept it hidden from his wife. There’s almost two million dollars in the account, and since Alouette is Foret’s only living heir, the money goes to her. Oh, and Mr. DeValle’s house in Baton Rouge.”

Alma and Alouette’s jaws dropped. Both were speechless, completely stunned into silence.

“A lawyer from Cotton Bank is on his way here. Should be by around three. I snuck over here to tell you first, in plain English, before all the mumbo jumbo lawyer talk.”

“I just—I can’t believe—I don’t—” Aloutte stuttered.

Detective Booth interrupted, “Like my momma always said, don’t ask why the sky’s blue and the sun’s yellow. Some things simply cannot be explained and only need to be enjoyed.”

Detective Booth gave both women a sheepish smile then left, unwilling to let either of them see his own tears. No two women deserved a ray of hope to shine down on them more than Alma and Alouette Emmett.

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