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By Robin Caroll
Steeple HillCopyright © 2007 Robin Caroll
All right reserved.
Humidity, the South’s great oppressor, seized the Louisiana bayou firmly by the throat. Late afternoon heat washed through the air in waves, turning and mixing to make the region downright sticky. CoCo LeBlanc wiped her brow and squinted, scanning the grassy shores. A living bulk shifted on the lush embankment, then the alligator stretched its mouth, his jagged teeth glistening in the late afternoon sun. Moodoo appeared healthy. CoCo stared, smiling at the twelve-foot reptile. She let out a long sigh. It’d been a rough couple of weeks, nursing the prehistoric beast back from the brink of death. Stupid poachers—would they never learn they couldn’t hunt alligators anytime they got the notion? If she ever caught them…
Moodoo waddled along the banks, then surged his large body into the bayou. CoCo marked his location on her tracking sheet and then fired up the airboat’s engine. She settled into the single seat before turning the steering wheel to head back to the house. Picking up speed, the airboat skimmed over the murky bayou. Drops of water jetted up, spraying CoCo’s face and arms. She leaned closer to the edge of the boat, welcoming the cool mist. July in Lagniappe meant misery, no matter how you chopped it.
She banked the airboat and tied off on the knotty root of a live oaktree that had survived for several centuries. Stepping to the ground, she let the air pockets bubble up around her feet before striding toward the house with sure steps. Her hair was plastered to the nape of her neck, and her thin cotton tank top clung to her back. Too bad her tan lines were so messed up because she couldn’t wear the same style shirt to work every day.
A man’s angry voice burst through the cicadas’ chirped song. “You get out or I’ll have the sheriff force you out.”
“You get on, now, Beau Trahan. Before I put a gris-gris on you,” her grandmother replied, her voice quivering.
CoCo recognized that tone and quickened her pace. What now? She rounded the corner of the old plantation home to find Mr. Beau and Grandmere facing off on the veranda. She took the stairs two at a time, the wood creaking in protest. “What’s going on here?”
The businessman in slacks and shirt, complete with powerred tie, faced her and glared. “Your grandmother seems to think she’s above the law. As usual.”
“Get off my land, you old goat.” Grandmere’s deep green eyes narrowed to slits and she took a step in his direction.
“It’s not your land, vielle.” He wagged his finger in front of Grandmere’s face.
Not a good move on his part to call her an old woman, not good at all. CoCo shifted between the dueling elders, popping her hands on her hips. “What’s this all about, Grandmere?” She turned to her grandmother, but kept track of Mr. Beau from the corner of her eye.
“He says he owns this house.” Her grandmother waved a crumpled piece of paper. “Says he’s evicting us. Just threats. All little men like him can do is threaten.”
“Read the notice, you bat. Marcel signed this land over to me years ago when he couldn’t pay his gambling debt. It’s all legal—I drew up the papers myself.” Beau Trahan, tall and distinguished as a retired politician should look, crossed his arms over his puffed-up chest.
Sounded like something her late grandfather would have done.
CoCo and her sisters had moved in with their grandparents thirteen years ago when their parents had died in a car accident. Grandpere died five years ago, after CoCo had returned to Lagniappe from college. The last years of his life had been littered with gambling and depression.
CoCo pried the paper from her grandmother’s fist and scanned the eviction notice, chewing her bottom lip. Thirty days, that’s all they had to save their home. She squared her shoulders and set her jaw, piercing him with her stare. “You’ve served your notice, Mr. Trahan. I’ll contact my attorney immediately, and he’ll get back to you regarding this matter.”
“Not going to do you any good, young lady. The law’s on my side.” He directed his words to CoCo, but his eyes remained locked on Grandmere. Even in the stifling heat, not a single strand of gray hair moved out of place.
“The spirits are on mine.” Grandmere wore that hazy expression she got when riled to the point of pulling out her voodoo paraphernalia.
Oh no, not the spirits again. CoCo let out a deep sigh and gripped her grandmother’s shoulder, digging her fingers into Grandmere’s bony frame. “Please leave, Mr. Trahan.”
“Thirty days, Marie. That’s it. And only because the law stipulates I have to give you that much time.” Beau spun around and stomped to his pristine red Cadillac. He slammed the door, revved the engine, then peeled out down the dirt-and-gravel driveway.
CoCo waited until the rooster tails of dust disappeared before turning back to her grandmother. “Did Grandpere sign over the deed to this house?”
Grandmere’s eyebrows shot up over her fading green eyes. “Not that he ever told me. Beau Trahan, that cooyon is only trying to cause trouble, ma chère. I’ll handle him.” Her arthritis-gnarled hands grabbed the handle of the screen door.
Shoving her foot against the base of the door, CoCo tapped her grandmother’s shoulder. The blue veins were apparent under Grandmere’s thin skin. “No voodoo, Grandmere. I mean it.”
“Just because you’ve turned your back on the old ways, doesn’t mean the rest of us have.” Grandmere shot a look that could freeze fireballs, her jade eyes turning into icicles.
“You’ll see. You were wrong to drop your training, CoCo. You’re a natural.”
Biting her tongue, CoCo moved her foot and let her grandmother enter. The argument stayed as constant as the bayou’s summers. Ever since she’d come to Christ two years ago, she’d walked away cold from voodoo, black magic and all that her grandmother had been teaching her. Why couldn’t—no, wouldn’t—her family open their eyes and see the truth? Didn’t they realize their eternal lives were at stake?
A breeze stirred the hot air, teasing the edges of the eviction notice. CoCo shook off her guilty conscience and marched inside the house. She’d deal with her family’s salvation later. Right now, she had to find an attorney. Preferably a great one.
For a moment she considered calling her middle sister, Alyssa, up in Shreveport. Just as suddenly as the thought scampered across her mind, she disregarded the idea. Alyssa wasn’t interested in the pressing issues happening in Lagniappe. As usual, the responsibility fell to CoCo.
The kitchen had always before been a place of soothing with its bright yellow paint on the walls and cabinets adding a sunny glow to the room. Despite the lack of updated appliances, the kitchen welcomed. She glanced at the clock—4:10. She needed to hurry before businesses closed for the day. She grabbed the Vermilion parish phone book, dropped into the kitchen chair and flipped through the business pages. Not much choice of attorneys. All the last names looked familiar, but none of the first names rang any bells. CoCo closed her eyes and jabbed her finger on the middle of the page.
Trahan Law Firm
Oh, but no. This wouldn’t do.
Lord, could You give me a little direction here? She flipped to the other side of the page and repeated her random-selection process.
Dwayne Williams, Attorney
That sounded promising. A whole lot better than anything to do with a Trahan. She pushed back her chair and lifted the cordless phone off the counter. Punching with more force than necessary, CoCo dialed the number listed in the phone book.
On the second ring, a chipper female voice answered. “Law offices of Dwayne Williams. How may I help you?”
“My name is CoCo LeBlanc and I need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.” CoCo chewed the inside of her mouth.
“Yes, ma’am. Just a moment, and I’ll connect you with Mr. Williams.”
Elevator music sounded over the line. Pretty slick, getting to talk to a lawyer on the first call. Maybe because it was so close to quitting time?
“Dwayne Williams.” His voice sounded deep, full of timbre.
“Mr. Williams, my name is CoCo LeBlanc and I need a lawyer. A man, Beau Trahan, has just served my grandmother and me, with an eviction notice on our home.” “Did you say Beau Trahan?”
“Yes.” She pushed the bangs from her forehead. “Is that a problem?” Great, leave it to her to pick out an attorney who probably sat in Mr. Beau’s back politician pocket.
“No, not at all.” The sound of papers crinkling rustled in the background. “I can work you in tomorrow morning at nine to discuss your case. Is that a good time for you?”
Fast appointment, too. “That’ll be perfect. I’ll see you then.” She hung up the phone, staring at it, hard and long. Jumbled thoughts bounced off the edges of her mind as she worried her bottom lip.
Did she dare call him? It’d been two years since they’d spoken. Did she want to open up all that hurt and anger? Yet, maybe he could talk some sense into his grandfather.
Jerking the phone up again before she could change her mind, she punched the number she knew by heart, still knew as well as her own. Would Luc Trahan answer?
Luc Trahan strode up and down the length of the front porch, glancing down the long driveway lined with oak trees and then back to the wood planks beneath him.
“You’re going to wear out the veranda if you don’t stop pacing,” Felicia said.
He glanced at his younger sister, sitting properly in her wheelchair. “I’m just ready to get this over with.”
“He’s gonna blow, you know that, yes?”
“I do. That’s why I need to get it over with as soon as he gets here.” Luc turned and began the next lap. How could he break the news gently to his grandfather? He shook his head. There was no easy way. Felicia had hit the nail on the head— Beau Trahan would blow a gasket when Luc told him that he had no intention of taking over the managerial reins of D’Queue Casino. Luc enjoyed his job as a freelance consultant for an accounting firm and had no desire to go elsewhere.
“Luc, look at me.” His sister’s soft voice never failed to calm him.
He did. Her big blue eyes twisted his heart. “You’re doing the right thing, no matter what Grandfather and Mom think.”
“I know. I just hate to disappoint either of them.” He dropped onto the porch swing adjacent to her wheelchair.
“He wants this so badly for me.”
“It’s not what you want. It goes against everything you believe in.”
Felicia smiled. “Oh, she’ll moan and grumble, only because she’s scared of him.” She touched the back of his hand, caressing reassurance into his very being. “He isn’t going to kick us out like Mom thinks he will.”
“What if he does?” His gaze rested on her sweet face.
So sweet, so gentle—so unfair cerebral palsy had attacked her frail body. At only twenty-eight years old, she was confined to a wheelchair, one leg too weak for her to even walk across the room. Would Grandfather kick them out of the house if Luc didn’t abide by his wishes? That could never happen—Felicia needed the stability of their home and the care their grandfather’s money provided.
“Stop worrying so much, you.” She gave his hand a final squeeze before dropping her own back in her lap. “He’s threatened Mom with that for years now, yet he’s never given us the boot. He’s all talk.”
“I wish I could be as sure. This just might be what calls his bluff.”
Felicia flashed her full-tooth smile. “With all his ranting and raving over me and Frank, he still didn’t follow through on his threats. We’ll be fine.” She stared out into the yard. “When did he say he would be here?”
“He told Mom he was on his way when he called about ten minutes ago.”
His cell phone rang, the chords to “Dixie” playing loud and clear. He snapped if off his belt, flipped it open and pressed it to his ear. “Hello.”
Just his name—that’s all it took for his heart to stutter. Her sultry voice always did make his pulse race. His memory slammed the image of her curly black hair, dark eyes with specks of green dancing around the irises, and tanned face to the forefront of his mind. Her strong French heritage had blessed her appearance, that much was certain.
He swallowed back the emotions clogging his throat. “CoCo.” “Your grandfather just left here.” Her breathing came across the line as ragged, hitching.
“What was he doing at your place?” Luc shook his head at Felicia’s inquiring stare. What could the old man be up to now?
“Serving us an eviction notice.” His ex-fiancée’s voice quivered. He recognized that trait—she barely had control over her emotions.
“An eviction notice? What’re you talking about?” Luc stood and paced again.
“Just what I said. He hand-delivered an eviction notice to Grandmere today, right before I got home from work.”
His gut clenched. Work. Her work. He gritted his teeth. The memory of yet another reason they broke up slammed into his mind.
“Luc, are you listening?”
“Yeah. I just don’t understand.” “Neither do I.” Her throaty sigh over the line tightened the knot holding his stomach hostage. “I wanted you to know what he’s up to, and to tell you that I have a meeting with an attorney first thing in the morning.”
Lawyers, already? What exactly had his grandfather done? He ran a hand over his hair. “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into him, but I’m not going to battle him without legal counsel.”
No, CoCo wouldn’t back down from any fight. He knew that all too well. Her personality wouldn’t let her roll over and play dead.
“So, why are you calling me?”
“I don’t really know.” Her voice changed, moving into the confrontational tone he also recognized. “I thought you should be aware. I’m not going to lie down and take your grandfather’s bullying. I intend to fight him with everything I can.”
“Curses, cunjas and hexes, CoCo?” He could have bitten off his tongue for letting that slip out. The pain was still raw, even after two years of not being together.
She snorted. “Some things never change. I made a mistake in calling you, Luc. You’re too much like the old man to see reason.”
Excerpted from Bayou Justice by Robin Caroll Copyright © 2007 by Robin Caroll. Excerpted by permission.
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