On Monday morning, the third day after the attack, Polly’s doctors decided to bring Polly out of her coma. She woke up from an afternoon nap to find a policeman standing beside her bed.
“I’m Detective Labadie of the NOPD. Do you remember what happened to you on Friday night?”
“Not much. The doctors said something about there being an attack and that I was knocked unconscious. Said I lost a lot of blood and they had had to induce a coma. Everything’s really fuzzy. All I can remember is my neighbor Paul trying to rape me and that behemoth from the streetcar running towards us and me falling backwards and then everything disappeared.”
“Wait.” The sergeant said. “Your neighbor was, I mean, is Paul Bonificio. Is that right?”
“I don’t know his last name, although I think maybe he did mention it one time. All I know is that his name is Paul.”
“So you weren’t friends?”
“And you think on Friday night he was trying to rape you?”
“He said as much, so what else was I supposed to think?” She hesitated. “Wait. You said ‘Your neighbor was Paul Bonificio and then that we weren’t friends. Did something happen to him?”
“He’s dead. Do you know anything about that?”
“How would I know anything about it. Like I said, right after I saw that behemoth running towards us I blacked out. I have no idea what happened after that.”
Polly was beginning to get scared. Were they accusing her of killing Paul? Sergeant Labadie could sense her fear.
– Page 81 –
“I’m sorry Ma’am. I really wasn’t trying to accuse you of anything. We’re just trying to find out what happened. So why don’t you just start from the beginning and tell us everything that you possibly can about Friday night. How did you get home from work?”
As she began to think about that night the details came flooding back into her mind.
“On the streetcar, as usual.”
“Where did you get off the streetcar and how did you get home from there?”
“I got off at Maple Street as always. I walked to Burthe Street on Carrollton and came straight to my apartment.”
“When did you first see Mr. Bonificio?”
“First I noticed as I was walking towards the house that the front porch light was on and that meant he would be outside on the porch drinking. That’s what it always meant. If he wasn’t there the light would be off. I expected him to be well on the way to being plastered, as usual when he had a night off. As soon as I stepped into the driveway he started begging me to come inside with him. I tried to say I was too tired, that maybe we could do it another time. I had no intention of ever doing it but I was just putting him off, hoping he’d shut up and let me go home. He said he thought I liked him since I had asked him to come to my party a few weeks back and he didn’t know why I kept putting him off.”
“You invited him to a party?” Detective Labadie asked. He acted like he didn’t know about the party.
“Well, it was sort of a party. One Monday afternoon when a bunch of us restaurant workers were off we decided to get together at my house and make gumbo. We had gathered at the A&P and bought all the stuff and when we turned into the driveway there he was. When he saw us he said, “Hi, Polly. Looks like a party.” We were all, you know, joking and carrying on and had our arms full of grocery bags and cases of beer. He made it sound like he was really lonely and I kinda’ felt sorry for him, you know, so I said. ‘Yeah. Wanna’ join us?’ before I even realized what I had said.
“As soon as I said it I regretted it. ‘Sure. I happen to be off tonight.’ So he just followed us back to my apartment.”
“So. Did you talk to him much that night? Did you encourage him in any way? Make him think you wanted to have a relationship with him?”
“Oh, God no! At least I don’t think so.” Polly gasped. “I hardly talked to him. A couple of the guys were actually in charge of making the gumbo but it was my kitchen, you know, and I had to stay close by and tell them where things were and, of course, being guys, we girls had to clean up behind them. I hardly noticed Paul at all.”
– Page 82 –
“What was he doing? Was he sitting off by himself?”
“I really didn’t know what he did until later. I found out he had tried to chat up every one of the girls there, getting right up into their faces, and even trying to cop a feel when he could, rubbing against them and stuff.”
“So on Friday night he asked you to come in and have a beer and you refused?”
“Yeah. I always refused. He gave me the creeps. Like I said before, if the light was on, I could count on him being outside but he never came down off the porch before. He’d just ask me if I wanted to have a beer with him and I’d say “No thanks.” and that was that. I would get inside my apartment as quickly as I could and make sure all the blinds were closed. I never slept well on those nights. He really unnerved me sometimes.”
“But he didn’t come down off the porch?”
“Not before that night. … Was it really just Friday night? It seems like it’s been so much longer… I walked on down the driveway towards my door and he followed me, begging me to come back to his apartment, telling me he couldn’t stand it any longer knowing I was just right on the other side of his wall and that it would just be natural for us to hook up. He was obviously very drunk.
“I began yelling at him to leave me alone. I was trying frantically to get the key into my door and get inside before he caught up with me.
“About that time he grabbed my hair and pulled me down the three steps of my stoop. He pulled me back down in front of him and then slapped me. I put my hands up to my face and tried to protect myself. I don’t remember much about what happened after that except that he tried to pull me towards the backyard where it was dark. He was rubbing himself …” Polly got a little embarrassed. “…you know, down there.” Her eyes went momentarily to Labadie’s crotch.
“I understand. Go on.” He said.
“He was muttering something about showing me just how much of a man he was. How he was twice the man any of those ‘little sissy boys who worked with me’ were. I remember those were his exact words. And he said he would just show me as he tried to drag me towards the dark backyard.”
As Arnold Labadie listened he wondered when the fat man showed up. Where did he come from? This certainly was not what they had been thinking as they tried to reconstruct the scene after Friday night. Was she telling the truth or was she terribly confused?
“So Paul Bonificio was not your boyfriend? The two of you were not involved?” The detective said and realized immediately that he had made a mistake.
– Page 83 –
She yelled at him . “Didn’t I just tell you that? Didn’t I just make that absolutely fuckin’ clear? Are your ears stopped up?”
“Sorry.” Labadie looked even more confused. “So on Friday night you thought he was going to try to rape you?”
As Polly told the story, more details came back to her. “Didn’t I make that clear as well. I don’t think he was, I’m sure he was.”
“Okay, so he’s trying to pull you towards the back. What happened then?”
“Actually, he had his hands around my neck and was pushing me towards the back because I remember screaming as loud as I could and the big fat man was running towards us and I thought ‘Why is he here?’ I don’t know if Paul could see him or not. Probably not.
“Paul must have had his back to the big man because he drug me around with him when he turned around. Then he shoved me and I stumbled backwards. Like I told you, that’s when everything went black. You already said Paul is dead. Where is the fat man?”
“We’re looking for him but we don’t have much to go on. Up until now we’ve been going on the assumption that you and Bonificio were an item and the fat man had attacked you both. We don’t know where he is. We don’t know nothing about him except that he is very large and drives an old blue Chevrolet pickup.”
“So you don’t know why he was there?” Polly asked.
“No Ma’am. We thought he was just looking for someone to rob or perhaps he had rape on his mind but after hearing your story, I don’t know what to think. A few minutes ago you called him, let me see …” he looked at his notes … “’that behemoth from the streetcar.’ What did you mean by that?”
“It’s been weeks ago. I’m not sure exactly how long ago. I saw him one night on the streetcar when I was coming home. At least I think it’s the same man I saw.”
“Tell me about that night.”
– Page 84 –
“I was on the streetcar with my friend Manuel from work. We got on across from Lafayette Square. I don’t know when the fat man got on. All I remember is, after Manuel got off at Jackson, this fat, smelly man was standing right in front of where I sat on one of the lateral seats at the rear of the car. He didn’t seem to be paying much attention to me so I figured I would just have to endure it. But pretty soon his leg was wedged in between my knees. By that time the car wasn’t nearly as crowded and there were even a couple of empty seats so it’s not like he had to be standing that close. Then the car stopped at Napoleon and I tried to readjust myself, thinking he would step back but he didn’t so I waited just until the car started to move before rushing for the back doors and crashing outside. He was startled when I shoved him aside and didn’t try to follow me, thank god. I was so grateful. I walked over to Napoleon Bar and Grill and sat at one of the tables on the sidewalk and waited for the next car to come along. I hadn’t seen him again until Friday night. Do you think he killed Paul?”
“Yes, Ma’am. We do. We thought he was responsible for hurting you as well.”
“I’m sure he’s not the one who hurt me. He hadn’t gotten to us when Paul shoved me backwards and I fell. I don’t remember anything after that but I remember everything up to that point clearly.”
Sergeant Labadie took several minutes to look over all his notes carefully before saying, “Well, Ma’am. I know this has been a shock and an ordeal for you. You have been a real help to us. Is there anything else you want to say before we leave you to your recuperation?”
“Not that I can think of right now.”
Labadie lay one of his business cards on the bedside table. “Well, if you do, there’s my business card. It’s got my numbers on it. Call me anytime.”
“Oh, wait. There is something else I want to say.”
“I suppose from what you say that the fat man really did kill Paul but if it hadn’t been for him I’m sure Paul, whatever his name is, would have raped me and, quite possibly have killed me. So as far as I’m concerned, the fat man saved my life.”
“I’ll remember that, Ma’am.” Labadie said as he turned to leave the room.
– Page 85 –