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SECRETS OF ROUX RIVER BAYOU BOOK 2
By Kathy Herman
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Kathy Herman
All rights reserved.
Adele Woodmore steadied herself with the hand-carved Black Forest cane she had bought in Germany and hurried across the living room and into the coat closet. She left the door cracked and dabbed the perspiration on her cheeks and nose with her monogrammed handkerchief.
"O-kaaay," she sang out. "Come and find me."
"Where are you, Addie?" the little voice replied.
"I'm over heeeere." Adele smiled, wondering how she had survived all those years without knowing the joy of loving a child.
She heard the sound of little feet racing straight for the closet. The door slowly opened, and Grace Broussard, looking like a Hummel figurine with her rosy cheeks and blonde pigtails, peered inside.
"Peekaboo. I find you!" The two-year-old squealed and clapped her hands with delight.
"Goodness! You found me again." Adele came out of the closet and straightened Grace's pink-and-white sundress. "Addie needs to cool off.
This July humidity gets to me. Why don't we sit down and have our ginger cookies and milk?"
"I want this many cookies."
Adele met the child's pleading gaze and kissed the three fingers she held up. "Why don't we start with two and see if you're still hungry? We don't want to spoil your lunch."
"I wuv cookies!"
Adele chuckled. "Me, too. If I didn't know better, I'd swear we were related."
She held Grace's tiny hand and walked out to the kitchen and pushed the button on the intercom.
"Yes, Mrs. Woodmore?" Isabel Morand's voice filled the room.
"We're ready for that snack now, hon."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll be right there."
Grace's topaz eyes grew wide and animated. "Where Izzybell?"
"She's in the laundry room, darlin'. When I talk into that silver gadget on the wall, Isabel can hear me, and I can hear her. It saves Addie from having to shout or go looking for her."
Grace cocked her head, a smile dimpling her cheeks.
"Clear as mud, eh?" Adele brushed the little wisps of curls that framed the child's face. "After we have our cookies, I'll show you how it works."
Isabel breezed through the door, her thick, dark hair falling over her shoulders and down to the middle of her back. "Ready to try those gingersnaps we made?"
Grace gave a nod. "I wuv cookies."
"Let me get you some milk to go with it."
Adele got Grace situated in her booster chair while Isabel set the plate of cookies, a glass of milk, and a sippy cup on the table.
The doorbell rang.
"Gee"—Isabel winked at Grace—"I wonder who that could be on a Monday morning?"
"It's probably Murray," Adele said. "Would you let him in, hon? I asked him to come paint that back bedroom a nice shade of pale blue. I'm not fond of lilac.... Why are you smiling?"
"I was just wondering what you're going to do when you run out of things for Murray to fix, paint, or remodel."
Adele felt her face warm. "He needs the work. And I always have something that needs attention. He's the most reasonable handyman in Les Barbes." Adele smiled in spite of herself. "Are you going to let him in or not?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm on my way."
Isabel left to answer the door.
Half a minute later Murray Hamelin came into the kitchen, holding his gold New Orleans Saints cap in his hands, his carrot-red hair showing a line where the hat had been. "Hello, Mrs. Woodmore. Little Miss Grace. I hope it's okay that I brought Flynn Gillis from Haven House to help me move furniture so I can paint."
"Of course it's okay." Adele held up the plate of cookies. "Better take a handful of these gingersnaps with you. Take some for Flynn."
"I wuv cookies!" Grace set her sippy cup down, using the back of her hand to wipe away a drop of milk that had escaped her smile.
"I knew that." Murray took a generous handful of cookies off the plate, his boyish grin and red hair reminding Adele of Richie on Happy Days.
"Were you able to get the paint I picked out?" Adele asked.
"Sure was. Should be enough to do the job and leave a little for touch-ups later on."
Touch-ups. Adele smiled to herself. That back bedroom would likely never be used. "Will you finish today?"
"I should. But I'll need to let it dry. I'd like to bring Flynn back tomorrow to help move the furniture back—if that's okay with you."
"It is. I'll be here."
"We'll go get started. Thanks for the cookies."
"You're welcome, hon. Come and go as you need to."
"Murray is nice." Grace's words were muffled by a mouth full of gingersnap.
"He is nice." Adele glanced up at Isabel. "And he's a fine handyman. It's always good to have someone I can trust."
"Murray seems nice enough," Isabel said. "But you really don't know anything about him. Just because Father Vince discovered that Murray's good with his hands is no guarantee that he's honest."
"I'm a pretty good judge of character, Isabel."
"Ma'am, with all due respect, a few months ago he was homeless. Don't you wonder why? How do you even know that he's who he says he is? Or that you can trust that Flynn fella he brought with him? I saw him standing out in the driveway. His hair is longer than mine, and he looks tough as nails. He could be casing the place."
Adele took a bite of cookie. "You let me worry about the people I hire. Murray's been nothing but polite and efficient. If he needs Flynn to help move furniture, who am I to second-guess him? He deserves a chance to get back on his feet."
"Maybe so. Just be cautious. You're so trusting and accepting of everyone."
Adele fingered the gold cross around her neck. "I don't necessarily trust everyone, hon. But I trust God. He brings people into my life for a reason." She smiled at Grace. "I take them as they come."
"Well, they're coming in the front door." Isabel arched her eyebrows. "Take a look at this Flynn character, and see if you're still comfortable letting him in your house."
Adele heard the front door open and close again. A second later the two men stood at the kitchen door.
"Mrs. Woodmore, this is Flynn Gillis." Murray nodded toward a man who reminded her of a young Willie Nelson.
"Nice to meet you," Adele said.
Flynn gave a nod and mumbled something, never making eye contact.
"We're going to get started now." Murray tipped the bill of his cap.
"Good. I'll be eager to see what a difference the pale blue makes."
Murray and Flynn turned and walked down the hall.
"Well?" Isabel whispered.
"I'm not in the habit of judging a man by the length of his hair, hon. If Murray asked him over here, he trusts him. And I trust Murray."
Isabel didn't reply.
Adele mused. Of course she trusted Murray. Hadn't he proven himself time and again? Yet something about Flynn was off-putting. Was it his long hair? His lack of manners? She couldn't put her finger on it, but it was a moot point. He was already here.CHAPTER 2
Zoe Broussard stood on the gallery outside her apartment above Zoe B's Cajun Eatery. The late-morning breeze was thick with humidity and the melded aromas of ground coffee, chocolate, and caramel corn wafting from the quaint shops along rue Madeline. Across the street, Madame Duval waved from amidst a garden of blooming plants on the gallery that jutted out over the Coy Cajun Gift Shop.
A FedEx truck pulled up behind the horse-drawn carriage that was unloading passengers in front of the Hotel Peltier. Two little boys and a cocker spaniel raced down the sidewalk, chasing a runaway balloon.
Zoe glanced at her watch. She missed Grace and wondered how Adele was holding up with a lively two-year-old in the house. She went inside the apartment and slid the glass door shut, then went out the front door. She skipped down the wooden staircase and walked through the alcove, past the office, and into the cozy dining room at Zoe B's.
The breakfast crowd was long gone, the empty tables set with clean blue-and-gold fleur-de-lis tablecloths, a bud vase and yellow daisy in the center. The pervasive aroma of warm bread and rich seafood gumbo emanated from the kitchen, where her husband, Pierce, was busy preparing something delicious for today's luncheon special.
Could thirteen years really have passed since she opened this place? The same French country furnishings still flavored the ambience. Little had changed, other than the color scheme and laminated wood plank flooring, the addition of a dozen D'Arceau Limoges collector plates, and the for-sale oil paintings by local artists.
She headed for the window table where her head waitress, Savannah Surette, seemed lost in conversation with Tex Campbell, Father Sam Fournier, and Hebert Lanoux.
"Poetic justice, I'd say." Savannah filled Hebert's cup with coffee. "Normally, it's the people who don't deserve it who end up victims."
"Who's a victim?" Zoe said.
Savannah turned, her blue eyes wide and round, her ponytail swaying. "Girard Darveau, the president of Roux River Bank. I just heard on the radio he was found murdered this morning. It's hard to feel sorry for him."
"How'd he die?" Zoe said.
"It appears to have been a robbery. Someone cleaned out his safe and drowned him in the bathtub. The maid found him. He was dressed in a suit and tie."
"Goodness." Father Sam pushed a lock of white hair off his forehead. "What a gruesome start to the week. Every human life has value—even his."
"That might be a hard sell around here." Tex sat back in his chair, his thumbs hooked on his red suspenders, light from the window making his bald head shiny. "I don't see many people sheddin' tears over it."
"Why would dey?" Hebert leaned forward on his elbows, his mousy gray curls sticking up on one side, the ridges in his leathery skin made deeper by the intensity of his gaze. "Darveau lived high on da hog while workers were left wid nothing when dey got laid off. He foreclosed widout giving folks a chance to make good on dare mortgages."
"The man had ice in his veins." Tex wiped his forehead with a red kerchief.
"Well, if y'all will let me finish, there's a disturbing detail I haven't even told you yet." Savannah paused as if to make sure she had everyone's attention and then continued. "The killer spray painted the number one on the wall—that is, the pound sign followed by the numeral one."
"What does that mean?" Zoe felt a chill crawl up her spine.
"The killer numbered him. At least, that's what they said on the radio."
Hebert scratched the gray stubble on his chin. "So if Darveau's number one, dere must be a number two."
"The authorities won't say so," Savannah said. "But what else could it mean? Why else would a killer number the victim unless he plans to strike again?"
"Heaven help us." Father Sam took off his thick glasses and wiped his eyes. "You suppose the killer will go after someone else at the bank?"
Pierce Broussard came out of the kitchen, wearing his chef's hat and apron. He walked over to the table. "Did Savannah tell you what happened to Darveau?"
"Do you know if there are any suspects?" Tex said.
"The sheriff won't comment during an open investigation." Pierce put his hands on Zoe's shoulders. "But if I had a close connection to Girard Darveau, I'd be hiring a bodyguard."
Zoe's heart sank. Darveau was the man everyone loved to blame. But murder? Who hated him enough to kill and number him? Was it someone she knew? A customer? A neighbor? Resentment ran deep in the community. It could be anybody.
* * *
Sheriff Jude Prejean sat at the oak desk in his office and looked across the street at the stately Saint Catherine Parish Courthouse, its proud white columns glowing in the hot July sun.
The old vendor, Andre Chauvin, stood on the sidewalk at Courthouse and Primeaux, serving up andouille corn dogs to a couple and three little boys.
People strolled round the courthouse grounds, some occupying the wrought-iron benches placed strategically in the shade of the giant live oaks.
The intercom buzzed and then Deputy Chief Aimee Rivette's voice startled him. "Excuse me, Sheriff. Chief Norman and Mayor Theroux have arrived and are waiting for you in interview room one."
"I'm on my way."
Jude got up and walked out of his office, across the detective bureau, and down the hall to the first interview room.
Mayor Oliver Theroux and Les Barbes Police Chief Casey Norman sat on one side of the oblong table.
Jude shook hands with each. "Good to see you. I wish it were under better circumstances."
"So do I," the mayor replied. "I understand your departments are working the Darveau murder as concurrent jurisdiction, with you taking the lead. Fill me in."
Jude sat across from them, his arms folded on the table. "Casey's officers and my deputies have done a complete sweep of Darveau's home and grounds, dusted for fingerprints, gathered trace evidence. We're processing all that now. So far, we have no prints that show up in the system. The maid's prints were all over the house, but no more abundant at the murder scene than anywhere else."
"Is she a suspect?" the mayor asked.
"Not at this time. We found a large opening cut in the wrought-iron fence at the back of the property. We believe that's how the killer gained access. The lock on the back door was also broken. Whoever did this either knew the combination to Darveau's safe or forced him to empty it. The preliminary evidence supports that Darveau was drugged, and then dragged to the bathtub where he was drowned. The maid weighs about a hundred and twenty pounds. There's no way she could've done this alone. And the woman was beside herself when she made that 911 call. The EMTs had to sedate her. We can't rule her out as a suspect, but she didn't react like someone who was involved."
"So Darveau was alive when he was put in the water?" the mayor asked.
Jude nodded. "That's what the medical examiner concluded. The cause of death was drowning. But he was drugged. The ME found a significant level of a veterinary sedative called ketamine, which is sold on the street as 'Special K' or cat Valium. It's likely the killer wanted Darveau to know he was being murdered and yet helpless to do anything about it."
"It shouldn't surprise us." Casey tented his fingers. "So many people in this area suffered because of Darveau's policy on foreclosures. Our concern now should be the number one spray painted on his bathroom wall and how we avoid a number two."
The mayor nodded. "What are you doing to protect the people who worked with him at the bank?"
"It's not possible to protect them all," Jude said. "Casey's got his officers staked out at the homes of Darveau's vice president, immediate staff, and board members. And my deputies are posted at Roux River Bank's main office and six branches. That's all the personnel we can spare. And we can't do it indefinitely and expect to adequately serve the rest of the community and the parish. If this guy is determined to strike again, he's probably smart enough to wait us out."
"So you're saying there's no way to stop him?"
Jude glanced over at Casey. "Probably not, if he's determined. We need to figure out who he is and catch him before he makes a move on whoever is number two on his list."
* * *
Murray Hamelin pulled his truck onto Jacquard Street and parallel parked in front of the gray frame house with the rocking chairs on the front porch. He walked up the steps, Flynn Gillis on his heels, and pushed open the oak and beveled-glass door of Haven House. He stepped into the living room and was hit with a gust of refrigerated air.
Father Vince came out of the kitchen, a towel draped over his shoulder. "How'd it go? Did you get the furniture moved and the room painted for Adele Woodmore?"
"Yep," Flynn said. "Murray here's a whiz kid. All I did is move stuff. I took a nap while he did all the painting."
"I finished the job," Murray said. "We'll go over there tomorrow and move the furniture back."
Father Vince smiled at Murray. "You're getting quite a reputation. It's not easy to find a jack-of-all-trades these days. Every profession is so specialized and expensive. I've got a whole list of people who want you to do work for them. You can stay as busy as you want."
"Good. I'd like to stay busy." Murray inhaled the aroma of something that made his mouth water. "What's for dinner?"
"Blackened catfish, coleslaw, and dirty rice. Corn-bread pudding for dessert."
"Man, I'm starved." Flynn flopped on the couch. "Think I'll read the paper until you ring the bell."
"I could use someone to set the table," Father Vince said.
Murray glanced at the empty table in the dining room and then shot Flynn a crusty look. "I guess I'll do it."
"Thanks," Father Vince said. "I've got volunteers for the cleanup."
"Then I'm off the hook there, too." Flynn laughed.
"You're a real bon rien, you know that?" Murray said. "You're supposed to pull your weight around here."
"Hey, I helped you, didn't I—for a lousy thirty bucks?"
"You helped me for ten minutes and then took a three-hour nap. I'd say you were well paid. You know, being lazy isn't going to win you friends around here."
"Hey, guys, lighten up," Father Vince said. "I've got some chores for Flynn to do that he didn't sign up for. He's going to do his share."
Flynn waited until Father Vince turned his back and then made an obscene gesture.
Excerpted from DANGEROUS MERCY by Kathy Herman. Copyright © 2011 Kathy Herman. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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