“Hey, Sheriff. Johnny here. You monitoring your radio?”
Alphonse Rideau keyed his microphone. “Yeah. Johnny, I hear you. Go on.”
“I’m on my way down to Golden Meadow to check out whatever it was that Vernon and Baptiste saw on their way down to Grand Isle.”
“What are you talking about, Johnny? Where are Vern and Baptiste at?”
“They in da boat. Say they gonna try and get down to Grand Isle. Water’s been too high since the storm to get down there.”
“Is the bayou back in it’s banks down there yet?”
“Vernon said it was, as far as Golden Meadow. Don’t know what’s below there. I’m just outside Larose headed that way.” Johnny Leroux was the chief deputy stationed in Larose, the southernmost post for a deputy in Lafourche Parish.
“So what did they see?” Alphonse asked.
“Not sure. But they thought it was suspicious. Downstream a couple hundred yards from that old houseboat that’s at the tail end of Golden Meadow. You should remember that place. Great, big fat dude and his fat mama used to live there.”
“Yeah. I have a vague recollection of it. Why?”
“Vern and Baptiste saw something strange on the bank of the bayou, or near it. Not sure which. They said it looked like a human form tied into a big old wooden chair. You know, one of those made out of wood. Low to the ground. Big wide wooden arms?”
“Oh, shit.” the sheriff said.
“What’s the matter.”
“I remember that chair. The one time I saw it it was nailed to the back deck of that houseboat and a dead woman was sitting in it.”
“What?” asked Johnny.
“Three or four months back, that fat slob called to tell me his mama had died. I went out there with Roderick and sure enough, there she was, dead as a doornail sitting in that big, old Adirondack chair with it nailed to the deck of that houseboat. Roderick could see no evidence of foul play so he ruled that she died of natural causes. Fat boy was supposed to arrange for her burial. Think he just dumped her in the bayou?”
“Don’t know sheriff. What you want me to do?”
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“How much longer before you get there?”
“Go over and have a closer look and get back to me.”
Johnny left his truck and walked the few yards to the edge of the bayou. He could see something partially submerged about two feet from the bank. When he got closer he could see it was a chair that fit the sheriff’s description. It was laying on it’s side. A few pieces of rope were tied around a muddy, half submerged form that looked human. Wisps of hair could be seen poking out of the mud. Several concrete blocks were tied to the chair. Johnny went back over to the truck.
“Alphonse. You still there?”
“Yeah. What’d you find.”
“Stay there. I’m on my way. Call Vern and Baptiste and tell them to get back up there ASAP. I’m starting down that way now. I’ll call the coroner and have him meet me at Bayou Marine in Larose. They have a barge with a dredge bucket on it that we can use to pick up the chair and bring it back to the marina to wash it off. Meanwhile, just stand by and make sure it don’t float away. You got any tools or equipment with you?”
“I got some rope, I think.”
“Can you throw a lasso?”
“Hell no! Whatta ya think I am, a cowboy or somethin’?”
Alphonse chuckled. This was the response he expected. “Then wade in there and hold on to that chair till Vern get’s back.”
“You’re shittin’ me. Right, Sheriff?”
Alphonse laughed even harder. “Yeah. Thought that’d get a rise outta ya. Just sit tight till those other boys get back. Stay close to your radio.”
“Ten-four.” Johnny said.
Johnny saw Vern and Baptiste coming back up the bayou so fast the boat was just skimming the top of the water. Johnny waved his arms for them to slow down, pointing at the chair. They eased up beside it.
Baptiste was the smartest one of the bunch, although that wasn’t saying just a whole lot. When Johnny told him the sheriff thought they should tie a rope around the thing to keep it from slipping back down into the bayou, Baptiste had Johnny throw him the end of his rope. When he got it he tied a slipknot in the end and made a large loop. From the side of the boat, he tossed it down around the chair. “Pull it tight, John.” he said just as the rope began to settle below the waterline. “Now, go tie it to the bumper of your Bronco.” Vern let the boat drift downstream twenty feet or so carefully lowering an anchor.
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It was nearly three hours later when the sheriff and the coroner, Roderick Ross, showed up in the dredge barge.
Alphonse had the barge pilot move the barge over to the opposite bank upstream a ways and signaled Vern to come over and pick them up so they could go in for a closer look before bringing the barge down.
Vern eased the boat up as close to the chair as possible. Roderick and Alphonse leaned over the rail to get a closer look.
“Sure looks like what we saw that afternoon on that houseboat.” Rod said.
“But what I’m seeing now is mostly mud, not fat.” Alphonse said before turning and shouting up to the pilot on the barge. “Can you ease her over here slowly and pick this thing up in your bucket?”
While the barge was being maneuvered into place, Vern parked back downstream where he had been before.
Roderick looked at the sheriff. “I’m almost positive it’s her but we’ll have to get her fully washed off, and that’s not a task I look forward to. You think that fat bastard son of hers did this to her? I’m betting the parish clerk has no record of her burial. Wanna bet?”
“Hell, no.” the sheriff said. “That’d be a sucker bet for sure.”
The pilot dropped an anchor to steady the barge and shouted over, “You want me to pick the whole thing up in the bucket?”
“Think you can without breaking it apart?” Rod said.
“Not sure. All I can do is try.”
“Then let’s go for it.” the sheriff replied.
The pilot opened the jaws of the dredge bucket to their widest and slowly lowered it down over the chair. Slowly, very slowly, he closed them and began to raise it. Once it was free of the water, he swung it around over the barge keeping it as far from the pilot’s cabin as possible, lowering it down just so it wouldn’t swing when they started back upstream. “What now?” he called.
“Reckon so.” the pilot answered.
“We’ll ride with Vern and meet you there.” the sheriff said to the bargeman.
Johnny went back to his bronco. The sheriff, coroner, Baptiste, and Vernon followed the barge in the parish boat.
At the marina, the pilot lowered the bucket and its contents just down to the end of the dock as far from the operations office as possible. He waited till the sheriff’s crew could get their boat secured to the dock and come that way.
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“Want me to open the jaws, Sheriff?”
Roderick was the one to answer. “Let me go to my truck and get a couple of hazmat suits and other supplies first. Don’t anybody do anything til I get back.” As he passed near the operations office he shouted to the man inside, “You got a hose that will reach out to the end of the dock where that barge is?”
“Mind dragging it out there. Don’t use it yet. Just get it ready. Okay.”
The coroner was just coming back onto the dock from his truck. He was loaded down with breathing masks, a large camera and a body bag. The man from the arena arrived with his hose. It was a large one used for washing down barges and shrimpboats.
“Whew.” the deckhand said. “What the hell is that thing?”
“A dead body.”
“Been dead for awhile from the smell.”
“Three, four months.” the coroner replied. “Just hold it there a minute.” he said before looking back up at the barge pilot. “Can you open the jaws now? Make sure the chair is firmly on the dock first, though.”
“Aye. Aye.” the pilot said as he slowly opened the jaws of the dredge and swung it up and out of the way.
Roderick looked back at the man with the hose. “Test that nozzle and make sure you can spray without too much pressure. If you blast it, pieces parts are going to go flying all over the place. And I’ve got some masks here to help with the smell a little.”
He distributed the masks as the deckhand pulled the hose over to the chair and reset the nozzle to a fine spray. As he gently sprayed the thing with water the mud began to melt away and the grotesqueness multiplied. What they found was the remains of a human, that they were pretty sure was Biggy’s mama. The only soft tissue remaining was on the backs of the legs and parts of the buttocks and back. Places where it was impossible for even a gator to get to with her tied in like she was and surrounded by concrete blocks. The coroner began to snap pictures from various angles even before all the mud was washed off.
“Okay, boys. Now for the really gross part. We’ve got to cut all this stuff off and transfer the remains into this bag. Are y’all up to it?”
Vern looked at Baptiste who shrugged and looked at Johnny who looked like he was about to pass out.
Alphonse answered, “Of course these boys are up to it. Anybody got anything we can use to cut these ropes?”
“I’ve got some bolt cutters in my truck.” Johnny said.
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“Get em, Son. Be quick.” Alphonse said.
Johnny started up the dock. Roderick pulled a bundle of rubber gloves from his pocket and began to distribute them.
“Cut the ropes closest to the blocks first. Once we get all that concrete out of the way, we’ll work on those holding the body in place.”
Roderick resumed taking photographs and kept snapping all the way through the procedure.
Concrete blocks began to crash down on the deck as Johnny cut the ropes, stopping after every one to heave over the side of the dock until there was nothing left in his stomach. Alphonse directed Vernon to begin moving the blocks aside. Once the remaining ropes were cut away, Roderick directed the three deputies how to transfer the remains into the body bag.
Johnny stood back a ways and would have passed out if Baptiste hadn’t caught him. “I can’t do this anymore, Sheriff.” Johnny said.
Rod said. “Sorry. I know this is a hard job, especially if you’ve never had to do anything like it before but we need all three of you. Try to get yourself back under control?
“I’ll try.” Johnny said. He was still white as a sheet.
Rod zipped the body bag down the side and lay it open next to the chair. He instructed Johnny to take the feet and Vern the shoulders. He had Baptiste provide support underneath her buttocks. “One, two, three, lift.” he counted. Lifting the body as slowly and gingerly as possible, they managed to keep it mostly intact except for the right arm that was still attached to a rope they had overlooked. It was wrenched from the rest of the body. Rod reached in and freed it from it’s rope, tossing it over onto the body before beginning to zip the bag. He directed Vern and Baptiste to carry the bag and put it in the back of his truck before turning to Alphonse.
“I’ll take it back and begin the work of making a positive identification. Dental records would help but I doubt this woman saw a dentist too often so they may be hard to find if they exist at all. That means we’ll have to make a tentative ID until we can get the fat boy to confess. Any idea where to find him, Sheriff?”
“Not really, but I have an idea where to start looking. He worked for the Parish Solid Waste Authority driving a garbage truck. Has to be around here somewhere. I’ll go out to the transfer facility and see if Zack Theron knows where he is.”
“Good. I’ll let you know if I come up with an actual identification.” Rod said as he began walking toward his truck.
“Wait!” Alphonse called. “What should we do with this old chair and the rest of this stuff.”
“That’s up to you, Sheriff. Probably should hold on to it until the case is completely closed.”
Alphonse looked at the dock worker. “Is there anyplace here we can store it for awhile?”
“I’ll go check. Probably.”
– Page 132 –