â€œAll right, gentlemen,â€ McCree said as Taylor walked up the street.
â€œHeâ€™s clean,â€ DeLuve said. â€œNo ring.â€
The other two men looked at him.
â€œRing?â€ Johnson said.
â€œYeah, the rings.â€
â€œGot an owl on it?â€
â€œWhat the hell are you talking about?â€
â€œA bunch of people got rings with owls.â€
â€œI did notice a few people with those,â€ McCree said.
â€œHotel man,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œI didnâ€™t see no sheriff. Pharmacist. Hardware store man. Nobody in the trading outpost though.â€
â€œRings with owls on them?â€ Johnson said.
â€œSounds like a missing personâ€™s case has been thrown at our feet,â€ McCree said. â€œAll we have to do is find those dogs.â€
â€œAnd the witch-man, whoever that is,â€ Johnson said. â€œEben Murrow is the name I got.â€
â€œEben Murrow,â€ McCree said.
â€œWell, I guess dog weâ€™ll hunt,â€ DeLuve said.
McCree handed off the empty gun bags to DeLuve and he put them over his back. McCree made sure Johnson got some extra bullets from the bag and then showed him how to reload the Greener. He gave the man some advice on how to use it. Johnson was not very comfortable with it.
â€œJesus, I hope I donâ€™t have to use this,â€ Johnson said.
They crossed the log into the bayou. McCree lost the tracks almost immediately in the muddy and wet ground. He angled them towards the north. They came out of the woods not far from the motorcar McCree had found earlier and made their way back across the wide, still canal. Johnson and DeLuve saw the vehicle for the first time.
â€œWhat the hell happened here?â€ Johnson said.
â€œThis is where my good friend Mr. Brody ran away from those dogs,â€ McCree said.
â€œYou have a friend named Brody?â€
â€œItâ€™s a figure of speech, Joell. This treasury agent in this car was attacked by those dogs, as you can see from the tracks. In the scuttle of he being so fearful of the dogs catching his car, drove off the road and made it on foot into town, where the dogs ripped out his throat and ran off into the woods after taking some gunfire.â€
â€œAnd youâ€™re just now telling us about this?â€
â€œI wanted a good spot for me to tell my story.â€
â€œOh â€¦ thank you for your storyteller qualities that you brought into this murder that happened that I wasnâ€™t even aware of!â€
â€œIt needs to have a proper tone and aesthetic, Joell. So, if we want to check the car now for some clues, we might be able to find what Mr. Brody wasâ”€â€
â€œWhatâ€™s a treasury agent doing down here anyways?â€
â€œFinding someone evading their taxes, I would assume.â€
McCree smiled at the other man.
â€œI have no idea, Joell,â€ he said.
None of them were sure what a treasury agent might be doing in the area.
They searched the car and found a hotel key marked â€œJESSUP ARMS, HOUMA, LA, ROOM 104,â€ a gas station road map of the area with x-marks along Point Farm Road and in the bayou, a handful of .38 caliber bullets, a partially used roll of nickels, a small bottle of cheap cologne, and a pack of cigarettes. McCree pocketed the key and Johnson took the map. DeLuve took the nickels.
â€œOur friend, Brody, was following up on the missing persons case,â€ McCree said.
â€œThe missing people havenâ€™t been paying enough taxes, right?â€ Johnson said. â€œThat doesnâ€™t make any sense to me.â€
â€œI was being facetious.â€
â€œLook at this map. This is someone, to me, who doesnâ€™t make any sense why he should be here. Heâ€™s marking out places in the bayou and places on these farms. Whyâ€™s he going into the bayou? Whyâ€™s he interested?â€
â€œThe dogs reside in the bayou.â€
â€œSo, you think he was coming out for the dogs?â€
â€œThis witch-man â€¦ probably lives in the bayou.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I relayed to you, also.â€
â€œThink it might be oil?â€ DeLuve suddenly said.
â€œThatâ€™s one thing I was thinking,â€ Johnson said. â€œI think we might want to check these places, now we have a map into it.â€
â€œMight as well,â€ McCree said. â€œLetâ€™s see if we canâ€™t get his car out of the ditch too. No need to walk to all these â€˜xâ€™s. Iâ€™d like to check his hotel room first honestly.â€
â€œDoes that mean weâ€™re packing up both these guns back into their bags?â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t we do that later? While theyâ€™re out, we go into the bayou.â€
â€œAt night might be better because the hotel manager wonâ€™t be able to see us as well when we go into his room.â€
Johnson wanted to go to the mark in the bayou first. The humid bayou lands grew progressively thicker and more dangerous. Side dirt roads cut through the swamp and were often muddy and flooded. The swamps were the haunts of snakes and alligators. They stumbled through the tangled roots of live oaks, spiky palmettos, and pale lavender carpets of water hyacinth amid the sounds of teaming life. The air was filled with the cries and songs of the banjo frog, the loon, the coot, and the duck.
They sloshed unceremoniously through muddy streamlets and wetlands full of snapping turtles, catfish, crawfish, and stands of cypress and tupelo-gum trees. They unsuccessfully fended off the misery of mosquitoes and biting flies as dragonflies danced in the hot sunlight. When they least expected it, a rushing flight of egrets or spoonbills gusted up through the moss-strewn branches with a jolt to their strained nerves.
They spotted alligators in some of the deep water. Another time they waded waist deep through a stagnant pond and Johnson found several leeches had attached themselves to his legs. McCree helped him remove the things by carefully disengaging their mouths and flicking them away. He suggested Johnson get some waders when they got back to Montegut.
After several hours, they finally found their way to the edge of the bayou and the canal. McCree suggested they get a compass the next time. The sun was setting to their left and DeLuve looked for any lights back in the bayou but didnâ€™t see any. There was a road a quarter mile away to the north.
â€œI heard you could only see those lights at night but I find it much more dangerous at night because the gators and snakes can see us â€¦â€ McCree said. â€œâ€¦ we canâ€™t see them. Iâ€™m more interested in those dogs at the moment. I know youâ€™re not, but when you see â€˜em, Iâ€™m gonna need you to snap that picture, because sometimes these things like to fade away, as it were.â€
DeLuve just stared at him.
â€œSo, weâ€™ll need you to be quick on the draw as well,â€ McCree continued.
DeLuve continued to just stare at him.
â€œYouâ€™re a peculiar one,â€ McCree said. â€œLetâ€™s head back to the car and check out that hotel.â€
McCree led them towards the setting sun, walking alone farm fields. It was just after dark when they found themselves by the abandoned motorcar. They put the rifles back into the bags and McCree entered the car. It started up and he backed out of the ditch onto the road. The tires were still all right and he found a stick, putting it into the gas tank and finding it about Â¾ full of gasoline.
They drove to the main road and from there to Houma.
It was only about 30 minutes to get to Houma and find the Jessup Arms. They entered the place like they were supposed to be there, found room 104, and easily opened the hotel room. Inside, they found a battered old suitcase, three suits hanging in the wardrobe, several sets of socks and undergarments, including some freshly washed ones hanging off the bathroom sink, toiletries, a small black book with a few phone numbers within, and a copy of the recent novel Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis with a bookmark on page 217.
DeLuve took the address book and looked through it. It was mostly empty but he found numbers for Brodyâ€™s home office, his parents, his brother, and what appeared to be his dentist.
â€œWell, it seems this was a dead end,â€ McCree said. â€œMy vote is we get us a nice dinner and then, in the morning, weâ€™ll get us a compass and find this pesky mark on the map.â€
â€œBefore then, we need to have our meeting with Taylor,â€ Johnson said.
â€œYou have to have a meeting,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œMe?â€ Johnson said.
â€œI made no such promises,â€ McCree said. â€œI did say weâ€™d talk to him tomorrow but I donâ€™t think he wanted to go with my idea.â€
â€œWell, I guess Iâ€™ll go see him,â€ Johnson said.
They left the hotel and, at DeLuveâ€™s request, went to the restaurant in Montegut, first putting the motorcar back where they found it in the ditch. McCree put the hotel key back into it as well. Then they went to dinner. The food proved to be very good and served in large portions. There was fried chicken or crawfish, hush puppies and biscuits, and fish. It was all very good.
DeLuve looked around for the owner or the cook. He watched the waiter, however, and saw he didnâ€™t have one of those owl rings.
They had a nice conversation and McCree tried to learn more about DeLuve but the man was a tough nut to crack. He didnâ€™t talk much about himself personally and only related very surface-level information that everyone already knew.
After dinner, McCree found the sheriff and told him about the motorcar on the side of the road. Sheriff Dundee got the location from the man and headed out to look at it.
* * *
As McCree got ready for bed later that night, there was a knock at his motel-room door. He picked up his .45 semi-automatic pistol and carefully opened the door. It had a chain on it. Burke stood there.
â€œHowdy,â€ he said. â€œHow you doing? You got everything you need?â€
â€œI sure do, Mr. Burke,â€ McCree said.
â€œAll right. Iâ€™ll be in the office â€˜til nine oâ€™clock. If you need anything you just let me know.â€
â€œI will, sir.â€
â€œOkay. You have a nice night.â€
McCree closed the door.
* * *
DeLuve opened his door when he heard a knock. Burke was there.
â€œHow are you doing this evening, sir?â€ he asked.
â€œOh, splendid,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œI havenâ€™t seen much of you around today. I wanted to let you know, if thereâ€™s anything you need, Iâ€™m here for you â€˜til nine oâ€™clock tonight. Do you need anything right now?â€
â€œWhat happens at nine oâ€™clock?â€
â€œThatâ€™s when I close the office. Iâ€™ll be back again at nine oâ€™clock tomorrow morning. Is there anything you need?â€
â€œNo, I believe Iâ€™m good.â€
â€œAll righty then. You have a very nice night. Thanks so much for choosing to stay. Good night.â€
* * *
Johnson also got a visit from Burke and made sure to look at his hands. He noticed the ring on the manâ€™s right ring finger. It was a large ring with what appeared to be three owls underneath three letter â€œOâ€s. He wondered about what the others had said.
Johnson took a bath and then read the strange book about Glaaki they had gotten on the terrible train ride.
Around 11 p.m., he left the hotel room and headed out for Point Farm Road. Taylorâ€™s instructions were very good and he soon found the farmhouse. He crept to the back and figured out which room was Taylorâ€™s. Heâ€™d gathered some pebbles from the road and tossed one so it struck the boyâ€™s window. He tossed a second one.
A strange and eerie howling sounded in the distance, very far off. He looked towards the bayou which was about a quarter mile away. It was a dark line of trees in the distance. Though the moon was waning, it was nearly full, and the sky was overcast and cloudy, the fallow field behind the farm was very dark and gloomy.
He decided to wait a couple of minutes. When nothing happened, he tossed another pebble at the window. There was no answer.
He decided to wait a while longer and, after a short time, thought he saw a light in the trees. It seemed to be deep in the bayou, a glimmer of what seemed to be phosphorescent greenish-purple glow.
He moved closer, crossing the field to the canal that ran along the edge of the bayou. He could more clearly see some kind of strange, unearthly light but it remained in the distance. He thought there was a voice or weird piping just on the edge of his hearing. The light flickered and glowed, at one point getting brighter and then dimming again. The shape and form of the awful light seemed to change and flow.
The crickets around him drowned out most of the sound as he stood there near the canal and watched the oddly changing light and tried to hear the noises that seemed to accompany it. At one point he heard a shriek and a splash somewhere nearby but guessed it was an alligator.
It did not fill him with confidence.
Then he noticed a shape in the trees that looked like a person hunkered down just on the other side of the canal. He stared at it in terror. He watched it for several minutes and it seemed to move but then it would go back to exactly the same place it had been before. He got the impression the movement was just his eyes playing tricks on him. He thought it was just a stump.
He heard the howling in the distance again. It sounded a little closer. It did not sound like a dog.
He was getting bit over and over by the mosquitoes which were so prevalent he could literally hear them buzzing all around him. The noise competed with the constant hum of the cicadas that were so loud as to sometimes feel almost deafening.
He looked back to the house but it was completely dark so he headed back to the motel.
* * *
Saturday, April 27, 1929, continued cloudy. Johnson woke up that morning and felt dirty and miserable with mosquito bites. He took a shower and felt much better after that. He got together with McCree and DeLuve and told them what heâ€™d seen the night before when he visited Taylorâ€™s house. He wanted to check in at the farm to make sure nothing happened to the child.
â€œChanting is never a good thing,â€ McCree said. â€œSo, Joell, if you see someone chanting at you, you should probably shoot at them. Thatâ€™s my experience.â€
â€œYou shoot at people making noise at you?â€ Johnson said.
â€œIf theyâ€™re saying something to me I donâ€™t understand and I know itâ€™s not a language that we typically speak, I might shoot at them,â€ McCree said.
â€œOh yeah, ring guys have a weird handshake that they do to each other,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œLike a secret handshake?â€ McCree said.
â€œLike a secret code,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œOh,â€ Johnson said.
â€œCode is different than chanting,â€ McCree said. â€œMy dear boy. Chanting leads to bad things.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Johnson said.
â€œLet us go buy a compass,â€ McCree said.
They headed into town, McCree buying a compass at the hardware store. They stopped by the five and dime and DeLuve bought a cheap toy compass. Johnson also purchased a pair of waders. He didnâ€™t want a repeat of the leeches.
DeLuve walked around the hardware store. There were large windows in the front. He noted the large warehouse in the back with high-placed windows. There was a loading dock with a loading door in the back next to a normal door.
McCree realized if the map accurately marked farmhouses along the road, it might make finding the marks in the bayou easier.
â€œSometime tonight, around midnight, I think we should go out in the swamp and look at these lights and sneak up and see if we can get anything from those,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI might be busy tonight,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œWhat was it?â€ McCree said.
â€œAre you in some kind of club around here?â€ Johnson said.
â€œNo,â€ DeLuve said.
He stared at the man.
â€œYouâ€™re a strange man, DeLuve,â€ Johnson said.
â€œYouâ€™re just now figuring this out?â€ McCree said.
DeLuve pulled a piece of butterscotch candy from his pocket and put it in his mouth.
â€œAnyways â€¦â€ McCree said.
â€œThis is the most ridiculous person,â€ Johnson said under his breath.
DeLuve turned and walked away towards the motel. Johnson left as well.
* * *
Johnson went to the Mangrove Trading Post again. There, he asked the Cajuns if they could tell him what the markings on the map meant. They conferred among themselves in French, several of them pointing to the marks in the bayou. They seemed to be quite frightened of those.
The man who spoke English finally turned back to Johnson and told him the marks along the road all seemed to indicate farms there. Jacques and Andre-Paul were willing to walk down the road to verify that. Taylorâ€™s house was also one of those that were marked. When he asked if all of the farmhouses were marked, the man said they were.
â€œAnd the places in the swamp?â€ Johnson said.
The man went pale and looked at the other men, saying something to them in French. All of them looked at each other, terrified.
â€œWe heard â€¦â€ the man said to Johnson. â€œWe heard there were some â€¦ dogs in town? Yesterday?â€
â€œYes,â€ Johnson said.
â€œSome monster dogs?â€
â€œI heard about that too.â€
All of the Cajuns looked terrified at that word being spoken. A couple of them crossed themselves.
â€œThe terrible wolf-monster of the bayou,â€ the man told Johnson. â€œEvery Cajun child is told that they had best behave because â€˜if youâ€™re bad, the rougarou is going to come from the bayou and get you.â€™â€
He told Johnson the rougarou was a man who could turn into a wolf or dog and back again. The things were terribly infectious as the bite could turn its victim, should they survive, into a rougarou or kill them. The man was sure that was what had attacked the man in Montegut.
When Johnson told him the man was a treasury agent, all of the Cajuns spoke to each other in French again.
â€œHe was probably looking for moonshiners,â€ the man told him. â€œOr those that donâ€™t pay their taxes. He came by here.â€
The man spoke to the others in French again and then told Johnson Brody had come by there looking for moonshiners and bootleggers.
â€œBut we are all â€¦ all honest men!â€ the man said, taking a sip of the beer in his hand. â€œOh!â€
He offered Johnson a sip but the man declined.
â€œSo, did these marks look like places he was looking for moonshine or something else?â€ Johnson asked.
The man didnâ€™t know.
â€œI was out at midnight last night and I saw some lights in the bayou,â€ Johnson said.
The man gasped and then spoke to the other men in French. That surprised and terrified the Cajuns. The man who had covered his ears, closed his eyes, and put his head down the day before did so again, obviously not wanting to hear anything about it. Many spoke in French to each other and Johnson.
â€œNon,â€ the man who could speak English said. â€œDonâ€™t go out in the bayou! Non! Heâ€™s out there! Heâ€™s out there! He will â€¦ youâ€™ll never come back. Heâ€™s â€¦â€
He spoke in French to the others again.
â€œDo you think this â€˜witch-manâ€™ was the person who sent those rougarous?â€ Johnson asked.
The man gasped and translated it for the others who were equally startled. Only the man who was still covering his ears didnâ€™t respond.
â€œCould be,â€ the man finally replied in English. â€œIf anybody is out there who could do it, it would be him.â€
He warned Johnson about it and the others spoke to him in French, adding to the warnings, which the man tried to translate as quickly as he could. There were many about the witch-man: he had terrible magic powers, he could kill at a distance, raise the dead, cause the blood to freeze in a manâ€™s veins or heart to stop beating, cause the eyes to pop out of a manâ€™s head, blindness, ears to fall off, and the like. They told him he knew when his name was spoken and so it must not be. The man told him one of the Cajuns said he had a conch shell that he could hear when people spoke of him and it could lead him to them.
The man pointed out they had only lived in the area for a short time but someone in town might know more about him. He even noted the sheriff might know more about him.
Johnson left the Mangrove Trading Post.
* * *
DeLuve went to the tiny office of the motel where the payphone was. He was going to call New Orleans but then saw there was no rotary dial on the telephone and knew heâ€™d have to go through an operator. That changed his mind about making the telephone call.
McCree walked up to him.
â€œCan I help you, sir?â€ Burkeâ€™s voice rumbled from behind the counter. â€œYou finding everything you need okay?â€
â€œYes,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œOh good,â€ Burke said. â€œGood. I hope youâ€™re enjoying your stay.â€
He went back to whatever he was working at on his desk.
â€œDeLuve!â€ McCree called as he entered the office.
â€œMcCree!â€ DeLuve said.
â€œOnce Joell gets back, I plan on setting out immediately,â€ McCree said.
â€œOh, yâ€™all going on a little trip?â€ Burke said from behind the counter.
â€œYes, weâ€™re going to bag ourselves one of those mutant dog things.â€
â€œOh, I heard about that. Sound like they had the rabies or something. Thatâ€™s awful.â€
â€œIt looked worse than rabies.â€
â€œIâ€™m glad I wasnâ€™t there. Oh my dear. That just sounds terrible. I heard rumors his throat was ripped out.â€
â€œOh my, thatâ€™s bad. You be careful. We wouldnâ€™t want the same to happen to either of you two gentlemen, would we?â€
The two men looked at him for a moment.
â€œWe sure wouldnâ€™t!â€ McCree said.
They went back to McCreeâ€™s room and DeLuve told him about the people in town with rings and the fact they were supposed to meet that night.
â€œWell, then, that sounds like a situation I might have run into,â€ McCree said. â€œWe may have to stake them out as well. But I would first like to get rid of these dogs. I know they donâ€™t control them otherwise Mr. Dundee wouldnâ€™t have been so startled by them and fired at them.â€
* * *
Johnson went down Point Farm Road, noting there were a few homestead off it. Most of them were simply quiet farms that grew blueberries, blackberries, sugarcane, rice, and vegetables. Many had chickens, goats, and pigs in the yard. All of them seemed a bit rundown and ragged.
Taylorâ€™s farm looked much like the rest and he walked up the dirt drive. As he climbed onto the front porch, he heard a man and a woman arguing from inside.
â€œWe should just go,â€ the man said. â€œWe should just pack up our things and take Taylor and get outta here.â€
â€œNo,â€ the woman said. â€œWe have to talk to the sheriff.â€
â€œBut what about his witchcraft?â€
â€œNo, we have toâ”€â€
â€œThemâ€™s the rougarou! I heard about it from them Cajuns. Heâ€™s gotta be controllinâ€™ â€˜em. Heâ€™s gotta be a warlock like the old stories say. We have to get outta here!â€
â€œNo, we have to get help for her. She could be dead! Itâ€™s been five days! We shoulda gone days ago!â€
â€œNo no! If he finds out, heâ€™ll kill us! Heâ€™ll kill Taylor. Heâ€™ll kill us all.â€
Johnson knocked on the doors. The voices inside stopped and it went dead quiet. Then he heard footsteps carefully approach the door and it opened. A very pale man stood there. He sighed in relief. He was dressed in rough clothing and had dark hair.
â€œYes sir?â€ he said.
â€œMy nameâ€™s Joell,â€ Johnson said. â€œExcuse me, sir.â€
â€œExcuse me, sir, I met your son yesterday in town. Iâ€™m traveling through and heâ”€â€
â€œIâ€™m so sorry if he bothered you. He bothers people.â€
â€œHe didnâ€™t bother me at all, but he talked about going into the bayou and I wanted to make sureâ”€â€
â€œJoell!â€ a boyâ€™s voice called. â€œHey! There he is! Hey!â€
Taylor came running out from the back. He had his stick in his hand.
â€œHey, where were you lâ”€â€ the boy started to say.
He looked up at his father.
â€œHey!â€ he said.
â€œTaylor, were you bothering this man?â€ Margeau said.
â€œNo,â€ Taylor said.
â€œYou just â€¦ you just be quiet,â€ Margeau said. â€œIâ€™m sorry. He interrupts.â€
A woman peeked out from an archway in the side wall. She also had brown hair. She looked nervous and tired. Taylor was almost coming out of his skin, obviously wanting to talk to Johnson.
â€œIâ€™m really sorry,â€ Margeau said. â€œTaylor, donâ€™t interrupt. Why donâ€™t you go play. Taylor, go play.â€
â€œOkay pa,â€ Taylor finally said. â€œYou talk to this man, then.â€
The child nodded his head towards the back of the house while looking at Johnson. Then he went back into the house very slowly.
â€œWhat were you saying, sir?â€ Margeau said, turning back to Johnson. â€œYou met my son in town?â€
â€œYes,â€ Johnson said. â€œI was wanting to make sure he was okay. He was talking about going into the bayou, yesterday, when weâ”€â€
Mrs. Margeau gasped loudly.
â€œI work with the union,â€ Johnson went on. â€œI was coming down here initially to investigate wildcatters Iâ€™ve heard about.â€
â€œIâ€™ve heard some rumors thereâ€™s some around here,â€ Margeau said. â€œBut I ainâ€™t heard more than that.â€
â€œThe more and more I investigate, I found out there are people missing, Cajuns, and when I met with â€¦â€
â€œYes sir, thereâ€™s some Cajun people missing. Yes sir.â€
â€œWhen I met with Taylor yesterday, he told me his cousin had gone missing.â€
â€œEudora!â€ Mrs. Margeau said.
Margeau shushed her.
â€œNow,â€ he said. â€œNow. Why donâ€™t you come in here, Mr. Sir? Iâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™ve forgot your name.â€
â€œMy nameâ€™s Joell,â€ Johnson said.
â€œJoell,â€ Margeau said. â€œCâ€™mon in.â€
Johnson entered the house and Margeau looked outside nervously before closing it behind him.
â€œWe have to tell him!â€ Mrs. Margeau said. â€œWe have to tell him!â€
Margeau looked very uncomfortable.
â€œGrace!â€ he said. â€œGet in the kitchen.â€
She glared at him.
â€œGet in the kitchen!â€ he said again.
The woman finally went.
â€œNow, Joell, yeah, Taylor should not have spoken out of turn,â€ Margeau said, nervously looking around. â€œHe could have put us all in danger.â€
â€œYou seem very nervous,â€ Johnson said.
â€œYes sir, thereâ€™s some things around here you donâ€™t understand. And I fear for the safety of my family. And you have to understand that. That I love my family very much and Iâ€™m afraid to put them in the kind of danger that talking to you might put them in. You understand me?â€
â€œSo, Iâ€™m grateful if youâ€™d just forget about the three of us, forget about Taylor, and just go on your way, and not mention us or mention Taylor to anybody.â€
â€œForget about Eudora?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think â€¦ itâ€™s been five days. Ainâ€™t nothing nobody can do. He took them Cajuns and thatâ€™s bad â€¦ that one girl, I donâ€™t know about her but â€¦ I just â€¦ you just have to understand, I canâ€™t â€¦â€
â€œYou just need to tell him pa!â€ Taylor called from the back hall.
â€œTaylor!â€ Margeau yelled. â€œYou get in your room!â€
Taylor ran away.
â€œMr. Margeau, Iâ€™ve seen the lights in the bayou too,â€ Johnson said.
There was a loud gasp from the kitchen.
â€œWeâ€™ve â€¦ weâ€™ve seen â€˜em,â€ Margeau said. â€œWe see â€˜em from the back window sometimes. But you canâ€™t go out there or youâ€™ll just disappear too. I donâ€™t know â€¦â€
â€œMr. Margeau, Iâ€™ve seen some strange things. Back in my home town of Providence, there was a carnival. Recently, I, with a couple of acquaintances, investigated it and found out there was an operation underground. Iâ€™ve seen things I thought Iâ€™d never see in my life down there, sir.â€
â€œAll right. Well, then, you donâ€™t want to go out in them woods, in that bayou and see things either. Those things came â€¦ you saw â€˜em, those dogs, whatever they were.â€
â€œAnd Iâ€™m here in town with a man who fancies himself a big game hunter who wants to bag himself one of those.â€
â€œWell, I heard the sheriff shot â€˜em and it didnâ€™t even ding â€˜em!â€
â€œThis man has guns as big as me.â€
â€œAll I can tell you is I donâ€™t know where he took her or where he might be, but me and my family are scared. If you can help us, that would be a blessing, but â€¦ thereâ€™s â€¦ I canâ€™t help you. Iâ€™m not going out there and I donâ€™t know where he even might be.â€
â€œWho is out there thatâ€™s making you not want to talk to me.â€
â€œThat â€¦ witch-man. That â€¦â€
â€œEben Murrow!â€ Mrs. Margeau said, coming out of the kitchen. â€œEben Murrow!â€
Margeau turned on her.
â€œYou big quiet woman!â€ he shouted at her.
The two argued loudly for a little while.
â€œBut obviously that canâ€™t be the only reason why you donâ€™t want to get people involved,â€ Johnson said. â€œAre there people in town that youâ€™re worried about?â€
They both looked at him, confused.
â€œNo,â€ Margeau said. â€œHeâ€™s just out there in them woods. Thereâ€™s some â€¦ he ainâ€™t been in town for 20 or 30 years. He ainâ€™t been coming in here, but itâ€™s bad. Heâ€™s just bad. Now that weâ€™ve said his name, he probably knows and heâ€™s probably going to be coming for us. Taylor, câ€™mere!â€
He called a couple times and Taylor finally came out of the back of the house. His father ordered him to sit in the parlor where he could see him. He watched the boy while he talked to Johnson. Since Mrs. Margeau said the manâ€™s name, Margeau had gotten terribly nervous, sweating and obviously terrified.
They talked only a little while longer but he learned Taylor had told everything they all knew.
â€œThank you for your time,â€ Johnson said. â€œIâ€™m incredibly sorry that you have a missing person and, if I find anything, Iâ€™ll make sure and let you know.â€
â€œAnd the sheriff!â€ Mrs. Margeau said.
â€œWoman, be quiet,â€ Margeau said. â€œThank you sir. I hope that I donâ€™t never hear from you again.â€
Johnson realized he meant he hoped he didnâ€™t disappear into the bayou. He left them.
He headed back to town, stopping at the Mangrove Trading Post to ask the Cajuns there if they had heard of a missing woman. They hadnâ€™t and they were nervous about a local person going missing in addition to their own people. He guessed the Margeaus were afraid to report it.
He finally returned to the motel and found McCree and DeLuve. He told them about the marks on the map being the farms, at least on the road. He noted the Cajuns couldnâ€™t tell him anything more and wondered if the marks in the bayou might be wildcatters or something. He told them about talking to the terrified Margeaus, who couldnâ€™t tell them much. He also told them Taylor was fine; the boy just couldnâ€™t stay awake until midnight.
â€œSo, we have two options in my mind,â€ McCree said. â€œWe could do it ourselves or we could try to let the sheriff in on it so he might be interested in saving a girl as well. I know one person that would love that on his credit.â€
â€œIâ€™m a little hesitant to tell him about Eudora,â€ Johnson said. â€œI know her relatives arenâ€™t comfortable doing it. Do you trust the sheriff?â€
â€œHe seems like a stand up fella,â€ McCree said. â€œI knowâ”€â€
â€œHeâ€™s got a ring,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œâ”€heâ€™s not in with the dogs,â€ McCree finished.
â€œHeâ€™s got a ring.â€
â€œHe has a ring, but â€¦ honestly â€¦â€
â€œHow about we donâ€™t tell him until after the meeting tonight?â€
â€œMeeting tonight?â€ Johnson said.
â€œWell, I plan onâ”€â€ McCree said.
â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ Johnson said.
â€œâ”€taking action today,â€ McCree said.
â€œGroup meeting,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œThe group you arenâ€™t telling me about?â€ Johnson said.
â€œThe group of ring people. I told you about â€˜em.â€
â€œNo, you didnâ€™t. You didnâ€™t tell me about it.â€
â€œI told you they have rings, theyâ€™re forming a group, and theyâ€™re doing a group meeting. Group meeting.â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t tell me all that, but I got it now. So, what time is this happening?â€
â€œAfter nine, I think.â€
â€œIf you all want to investigate that if, after that, we can go out to the lights, that should probably be our plan.â€
â€œI greatly suggest not going in at night,â€ McCree said. â€œBecause, again â€¦â€
â€œBut we went in the day,â€ DeLuve said. â€œWe found nothing. He went last night.â€
â€œWe were ill-equipped to navigateâ”€â€
â€œHe went last night. He went last night.â€
â€œDo you want to check out these marks during the day and then try the group meeting at night at nine and then maybe after that go for the lights?â€ Johnson said. â€œMy thing about the lights is that I donâ€™t â€¦ if somethingâ€™s going on there during the day, weâ€™re not going to have any way of seeing it. But if thereâ€™s lights, we will know exactly where somethingâ€™s going on.â€
â€œI just donâ€™t feel comfortable about having theseâ”€â€ McCree said.
â€œLetâ€™s go into the bayou during the day, then,â€ DeLuve said. â€œGood? Good? Weâ€™re all in agreement there?â€
â€œI at least want to show you two and get your opinion on the lights if we can at night,â€ Johnson said.
â€œOf course,â€ DeLuve said. â€œWeâ€™re talking about now.â€
â€œTell you what,â€ McCree said, not really having listened. â€œWe can do it at night as well.â€
â€œThat â€¦ isnâ€™t that what I just said?â€ Johnson said.
They headed out into the bayou again. Once again, they kept the rifles in their bags until they reached the canal at the edge of the bayou near the Margeau farm. They were going to make for the mark in the bayou nearest to Montegut.
They wandered through the bayou for several hours. They found no sign of Eben Murrow but at one point in the afternoon, they heard the noise of people and machinery that seemed to come from the south.
â€œThis could be wildcatters,â€ Johnson told them.
â€œI doubt it would be Eben Murrow,â€ McCree said.
â€œIf theyâ€™re pumping oil, theyâ€™re probably using workers who arenâ€™t paid.â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s right. Thatâ€™s why you came down here. What was it: â€˜For the little man.â€™â€
â€œI can understand how someone like you would think thatâ€™s unimportant.â€
â€œI need some fancy trophies! My trophy room burned!â€
â€œI wish all of us had trophy rooms to burn.â€
â€œWhy would you want to burn it?â€
They headed for the sound of the noise. It took some time to get there as the noises were deceptively far away, as if they were echoing through the swamp. It was nearly 6 p.m. when they found themselves closer. The machinery noises had stopped but they could more clearly hear the sound of people by then.
They spotted movement in the distance and, deciding to be careful, crept closer. A camp had been made on a dry spot. Several tents were pitched near a pair of trucks. A couple cooking fires and a portable drilling rig were nearby. A dozen or so men moved around the camp, apparently getting food ready. DeLuve was surprised they werenâ€™t covered in oil.
Two men seemed to be in charge. One was shorter and older, smoking cigarettes and giving orders. Another taller man with a fine mustache, helped with the cooking but was obviously also in command.
â€œSo, what, exactly, are we doing here, Joell?â€ McCree whispered.
â€œThese guys are digging for oil,â€ Johnson said. â€œItâ€™s a get-rich-quick scheme and all those men who arenâ€™t giving orders, looks like they havenâ€™t bathed in weeks, they arenâ€™t being paid jack. If Iâ€™d have any guess.â€
â€œAnd how would you feel if you werenâ€™t getting paid jack to work in the swamp.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t work in the swamp.â€
Johnson just stared at the man. DeLuve snapped a photograph of the camp.
â€œWell, this is the reason I came here,â€ Johnson said. â€œSo, Iâ€™d like to, at least, do something about it.â€
â€œBut what do you have in mind?â€ McCree said. â€œNow, about these cultists â€¦ cultists are bad people. But â€¦ ah â€¦ I donâ€™t think I could explain it away as well for these fellows.â€
â€œWhat are you planning on doing again? Are we just talking to â€˜em?â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t feel like doing it right now, I can mark it, since Iâ€™m with you two.â€
â€œWell no. No. How do you want to go about it? We could always just tell the sheriff theyâ€™re drilling illegally.â€
â€œThat might be the best thing to do. But we need to tell him where.â€
Johnson was not sure where the spot was on the map but McCree said he thought he could find his way back or at least the vicinity. He guessed he could find landmarks on the way back to Montegut to aid in the search. However, theyâ€™d have to leave right then before dark.
They headed back to Montegut and, when they returned to the town, McCree was confident he could find the spot. They returned to the motel, dirty, miserable, and mosquito-bitten. They all went to their rooms and bathed before going to the small restaurant for dinner. Then they returned to the motel and talked in McCreeâ€™s room, discussing their plans for the secret meeting that night. DeLuve told them about the windows and doors in the warehouse of the hardware store.
â€œHow do you know all this, DeLuve?â€ Johnson said suspiciously. â€œYou been studying up?â€
â€œYeah, for the group meeting,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œYou figure youâ€™re a part of this group now? You keep talking like you are.â€
â€œThey have very nice rings.â€
DeLuve stared at Johnson.
â€œOh well,â€ Johnson finally said. â€œAs long as we figure out if anythingâ€™s suspicious about this.â€
â€œAll Iâ€™m saying is: missing people, weird dogs, these people all have rings,â€ DeLuve said. â€œThey seem to all know whatâ€™s going on.â€
â€œI agree,â€ Johnson said.
They made a plan.
* * *