Arnold Labadie had taken the call from the Lafourche Parish Sheriff. He was standing by the fax machine as the photo slowly began to materialize. It was still printing when he exclaimed, “That’s him!”.
“What do you mean, that’s him?” asked another detective standing next to him.
“The fellow who didn’t commit that homicide a while back. You remember. Out in Carrollton? We found a man dead and a woman unconscious in a driveway. A carman reported seeing a really fat guy run across in front of his streetcar and get in a blue truck. The woman was seriously injured and was put in a coma for a few days but when they brought her out of it she said the dead guy was trying to rape her. The fat guy was charged with justifiable homicide and let go.”
The other detectives face suddenly showed recognition. “Oh, yeah! I remember now. The fat guy killed the guy who was assaulting the girl and that guy was the one who pushed the girl down. The fat guy was just trying to protect her.”
“Isn’t that what I just said, idiot?” Labadie asked, rhetorically.
“Why do we have his picture now?”
“Sheriff of Lafourche Parish sent it up here. Seems they found his mama’s body in the bayou after the storm. Sheriff wants to talk to him.”
“Is he still in the city?”
“Yeah. Think so.” said Labadie. “I remember he worked in some bar uptown and I think he may have even been living there. Can’t remember the name or exactly where it is but I know someone who will. Jake Parrow. Runs Jake’s Place out in Riverbend. I stop by Jake’s a couple nights a week on my way home. Jake’s a nice fellow, but he sort of tried to cover up for the Big Un. That’s what he called this guy. Big Un. Right after the crime, when it was reported we were looking for him, Jake became very interested in the case. I didn’t know why then but after it was all over and the Big Un had been released and everything had sort of blown over, Jake admitted to having gone to school with him. Said he didn’t realize he was involved in the murder, he was just interested because it happened only a few blocks from his place. Anyway, long story short, Jake admitted to knowing him and was the one who had gotten him the job when he first came to New Orleans. I’m going to talk to Jake.”
Jake was very surprised to see Arnold Labadie come walking into the bar at four in the afternoon. He had never seen him in the daytime.
“Hello, Arnie. Starting a bit early today aren’t we. Your usual?”
“No, Jake. I’m here on official business.” Arnold said as he lay the photo fax of Biggy on the bar. “Know where this fellow is?”
– Page 135 –
“Biggy? I might. Might not. Why?”
“I don’t think it’s anything serious. Sheriff down in Lafourche Parish wants to talk to him is all. Seems his mama died right before he left the parish. Sheriff and the coroner remember certifying the death as natural and thought the big boy had had her buried. Likely in the pauper’s cemetery down there. But there’s no record of a burial and earlier today part of a body was found washed up out of the bayou from last night’s storm. It was tied to one of those big wooden chairs. Called an Adirondack chair, I think. The sheriff said he had forgotten but the coroner remembered that when they went out to see the body after Clarence had called them, the woman was extremely obese and was sitting in a chair just like the one they found in the bayou with the body tied into it. It was weighted down with concrete blocks.”
Jake listened to Labadie tell the story of what the Lafourche Parish authorities thought had happened. Jake, of course, knew exactly what had happened and knew the remains they found almost certainly had to be those of Biggy’s mama.
“Shit.” he thought. “Can I save that big asshole’s life again? Should I lie or tell the truth.” He decided to tell the truth about where Biggy was but not saying he knew anything about what Biggy had actually done. Then he could warn Biggy that the cops were coming for him.
When he spoke, there was real concern in his voice. He told Labadie that Biggy was working for Miss Sophronia and lived in a room at her bar. Labadie thanked him and left. Jake immediately picked up the phone and dialed Miss Sophronia’s number. Biggy was already down in the bar with Jacques but it was too early for Miss Sophronia. She would still be doing her toilette in preparation for a night of bartending. Biggy picked up the phone and Jake told him what he had just learned and figured Biggy would want to get out of town as quickly as possible. Labadie was undoubtedly on his way over to Miss Sophronia’s that very moment.
Biggy went back up to Miss Sophronia’s apartment. He had slept there for three nights now but they hadn’t let anyone else know.
He opened the door gingerly. “Miss Sophronia?” he called as he stepped inside. He didn’t want to scare her.
“What’cha doin’ back, Honey. Is something wrong?”
Biggy stood outside the open bathroom door. Light spilled out of it into the late afternoon gloom of the room.
“Are you standin’ outside that door, Honey.”
“Well, come on in, then.” she hesitated and then added, “Unless you’re afraid to. But you know, we don’t have nothin’ to hide from each other after the last couple’a days. Now do we?”
Miss Sophronia was submerged under a sea of bubbles in the big tub that stood against the far wall of the bathroom.
– Page 136 –
“Sit down there, Honey,” she said, indicating the toilet, “and tell Miss Sophronia why you come up here.”
“I just got a call from Jake. He said my mama washed up out of the bayou down in Lafourche last night. Sheriff wants to talk to me.”
“Is the sheriff here?”
“No’m. Jake said it was a cop from NOPD, a guy he knows, that come to ask him about it and he’s on his way over here now. Jake was afraid to just lie to him. I’m worried they’ll take me away if they find me.”
“Don’t worry. Miss Sophronia gonna take care of you.” she said, as she picked up a cordless phone that was on a small table next to the tub. She pressed a single button. Biggy could hear the beep-beep-beep-beep as the speed-dial dialed the number for the bar. She said into the phone, “Jacques. Has a policeman come in.” Hesitation. “Okay, good. One will. He’ll be looking for Biggy. Tell him we sent Biggy on an errand. Make up anything. It doesn’t even have to sound convincing. Just don’t let him get behind the bar without a warrant. And he don’t have one. Got it?”
“Yes’m. What’s going on?”
“I can’t tell you any more right now. Just do what I said and be convincing. Okay?”
“Yes’m. … Uh, I think he might have just come in.” Jacques said before hanging up abruptly.
Arnold Labadie had indeed just walked in. The handful of customers were all sitting up at the bar. Labadie wedged himself in between two of them and flashed his badge. At the same time he lay the photo on the bar. The customers on either side of him picked up their beers and moved away further down. Jacques glanced at the picture. “That’s Biggy. Why ya showin me his picture.” The last word sounded more like pitcher. “He in trouble?”
“I’m not sure. I’m just doing this for the sheriff of Lafourche Parish. This boy here?”
“Where’d he go?”
“Why you askin’ me. I’m just a lowly colored bartender. Miss Sophronia. She the one you got to ask.”
“Is she here?” Labadie was starting to show impatience with this man. Was he trying to stall.
“She’s upstairs in her private apartment. Usually she come down around five. Sometime it be later if it don’t get busy.” Jacques had lapsed into the speech patterns of an old, black retainer even though he’d never actually talked that way in his life and he certainly had not been any white man’s retainer.
“Can you go get her now?”
“She be upset. She take a nap every afternoon on account she work the late shift. I leaves here at nine and she take over then. From whatever time she get here to nine we both work the bar.”
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“I don’t need to know how the bar works, I just need to talk to her. Are you saying you can’t, or won’t, call her down before she comes down.”
“That’s what I’m sayin. Don’t see I got no call to. Everything under control here.”
Labadie got up in his face as close as the bar would allow him. “I’m tellin you to! Else, things might not be ‘under control’ as you say. Maybe I’ll just go on up there myself. Where’s her apartment?”
“It’s upstairs. Only way up there is through the back room and I guess I cain’t stop you but less’n you got a warrant to search this place I be havin to call her lawyer.”
Labadie thought it was an idle threat. He started around the end of the bar. Besides the two who had moved away from him when he first flashed his badge, there was an older woman sitting at the end of the bar closest to the door and a large, burly man at the other end nursing a draft. As Labadie came around that end of the bar, the man lifted one leg, blocking Labadie momentarily. Meanwhile, Jacques had picked up the phone and pressed a button. A second later he spoke into the phone.
“Yes’m. This here police be sayin he goin up to talk to Miss Sophronia in her apartment. Don’t have no warrant. Just goin to do hit.” He listened to ‘The number you have dialed is a non-working number. Please hang up and dial again’ before saying, “Yes’m. I’ll tell him.”
Jacques pressed a button to disconnect the call.
“Miss Allen, Miss Sophronia’s lawyer, say she be here in just a few minutes.
Labadie backed away, turned, and started towards the door. “I’ll be back.” he said and left.
Labadie’s car was parked right in front of the bar on Freret. He drove slowly eastward noting the small parking area beside the bar where three vehicles were parked. An old Cadillac, a taxicab and an old red pickup truck.
He passed on down the street, driving almost two blocks before he found a convenient place to turn around. Easing back towards the bar, he parked on the street before getting to the parking lot. Sure enough, the fat man came out of the back within just a few minutes and got into the red truck. As he backed it up, Labadie pulled out onto the street and parked across the entrance to the lot. Biggy had to slam on his brakes to keep from hitting him.
Labadie jumped out and pulled his weapon. “Get out and put your hands on top of the truck where I can see them.” When Biggy didn’t move quickly enough he shouted, “Now!”
Biggy did as he was told as Labadie walked towards him, keeping his weapon pointed at him. “Is your name Clarence Bigeaux?”
“Yeah. What’d I do now?”
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“The sheriff down in Lafourche Parish wants to talk to you. Might not be nothin’ but I have to put you under arrest, anyway, until he can send somebody to pick you up. Or maybe he’ll just come up here and talk to you hisself. Either way, you got to come with me.” Labadie knew that without a warrant there was nothing he could do to force Biggy to come with him but he didn’t know Biggy knew that. He had drawn his weapon just for show. There was no way he would shoot the fat slob.
About that time something heavy struck the pavement right in front of Labadie, making a sound almost like a gunshot when it hit. The air was immediately saturated with a heavy perfume smell. Startled, Labadie whirled around but saw no one. Then he looked upwards.
A large woman in a peignoir was standing on the small balcony over the front door. She was leaning so far over the railing it looked like she might topple at any moment. He kept his eye on her just in case she should decide to launch another missile but he shouted to Biggy. “You stay right there, mister.”
Biggy didn’t move.
Labadie shouted up at the window. “You Miss Sophronia?”
“That’s me and you put a hand on that boy my lawyer will have you and the entire department up on charges.”
“Ma’am, you’re welcome to do whatever you want but I’ve got a legitimate request from the sheriff of Lafourche Parish for the arrest of Mr. Clarence Bigeaux who is wanted for questioning down there and I’m taking him with me. Should I have him leave his key in this truck so someone can move it to keep it from blocking your parking lot?”
Miss Sophronia paid no attention to him. ““Biggy, get the key outta your truck and come back inside. Whatever they got to talk to you about can wait. He ain’t got no warrant or he woulda said so. He knows he can’t shoot you in cold blood.”
She turned to face Labadie. “Now, mister police, you go-on and git outta here. You tell that sheriff down there he want to talk to Biggy he contact my lawyer.”
Biggy did as he was instructed. Labadie did as well.
– Page 139 –