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Chapter One

 

Rugged and arrogant, his dark hawk eyes narrowed on the beautiful woman sitting across from him.  Though his words were laced with anger, there was a smoldering invitation in the depths of his velvet brown eyes.

Check and check mate, Jet thought shifting one perfectly formed leg over the other.  Keeping her pulse steady, she straightened her skirt,  ignoring the way his eyes racked over her.  If he had thought to intimidate her, he was wrong, dead wrong.

The meeting had gone badly.  Not that she had expected it to.  This wasn’t her first run in with a condescending Chief of Police.  He was, however, her first in Louisiana.  She planned on writing her story with or without his help.

She pressed her lips together and she noted the way his mouth thinned with displeasure.  The tense muscles of his jaw line quivered slightly.  If her goal had been to anger him, she had succeeded.

From across his desk, he leaned closer.  A lethal calmness settled in his eyes.  Seated just three feet away, she could almost feel the heat emanate from his body.  She watched as an icy ring formed on Police Chief Brent Broussard’s lips but whatever he was about to say to her was lost as a portly officer burst breathless into the room.

Startled by the officer’s entrance, the Chief of Police and his female visitor turned toward him.

“Chief, Chief, mon dieu!”  Officer Tudi LaBeaux huffed leaning against the door frame.  “We got another body!  This one, she’s a floating face down in Lake Beauvais.”

Police Chief Brent Broussard rose to his 6’4” stature with such a force it caused the wooden captain’s chair to scrap across the hardwood floor.  With his broad shoulders straining against the fabric of his uniform, his dark brown eyes flashed with intensity.  Keeping his attention to the reporter before him, there was a silken thread of warning in his voice as he said, “Miss Williams, you’ll have to excuse me.”

“I’m coming with you,” Jet argued gathering her things.

Without giving her a second glance, Brent looked at the Trahan.  “If she follows me, arrest her.”

“But boss” Tudi Trahan argued as Brent brushed past him. “You don’t really mean…”

Before he could finish, Jet slid her briefcase and slim body between Trahan and the door.

In the cluttered inner office, Brent Broussard turned back toward the police dispatcher.  “Who found the body?”

“That no good Etienne Oubrea.”

“Tell him if he disturbs anything I’ll feed him to the gators he’s pouching,” Brent snapped.  “Call the Sheriff and the Medical Examiner.  Did he say if she was in the water or on the shore?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Make sure the Sheriff knows to bring a diver.”  Brent stopped and looked to an officer seated at one of the two desks.  “Stelly, you’re with me.”

Flanked by a police officer in his late twenties, Brent left the room taking the overcharged testosterone with him.

Still appearing very confused to his orders, Tudie slipped behind Jett.  “Miss, the Chief say you are to…”

The rest of his comment was lost as she slammed the door.  With no idea where Lake Beauvais was, Jet’s only hope of following this story was to stay in close proximity with the police cruisers.

She rushed out of the Lauriet Police station just in time to see Brent Broussard’s black SUV pull away from its parking space.  The second officer, Shelley Trahan was quick to move his police squad car behind him.

Pompous ass, she wanted to yell at Broussard. 

Jerking open the door of the small compact rent-a-car, Jet threw her purse and brief case into the car. Slipping behind the wheel, she jammed the key into the ignition and gave the car no time to warm up as she jettisoned the compact out into the street.

With one hand on the steering wheel, she pressed the gas pedal into the floorboard.  Grabbing her cell phone from her purse, she called her Editor-in-Chief, Alan Randolph.  Without preamble she said, “They found another one.”

“Oh my God,” came his stunned reply. “This makes four girls now. You were right. Any idea if this is one man or more?”

“No idea.  The Police Chief refused to answer any of my questions.  He doesn’t like reporters and he doesn’t like me.”

Alan chuckled as Jet ran her second yellow light.  “Give him a break, the last thing a small town police chief needs is a serial killer on the loose especially on a town whose economy is dependent on tourist dollars.  Where exactly are you now?”

“I’m on my way to the crime scene now, someplace called Lake Beauvais.  “Alan, let me call you back when I know more.”

With her last comment, she closed the cell phone and glanced in the rear view mirror.

Furious with Brent Broussard, his image was still burning in her mind.  The handsome Chief of Police had been friendly enough until she had told him she was a reporter.

Racing down Main Street after the police cruisers, she quickly captured the small town of Lauriet in a mental snapshot. The town consisted of one main street.  Buildings and stores were neatly stacked side by side in a Romanesque revival style that was popular at the turn of the century. Almost all the businesses boasted heavy brick exteriors showcased arched windows on the front of each building. Long awning hung above the sidewalks sheltering pedestrians from the hot Louisiana sun and rains that swept in from the Gulf of Mexico.  Telephone and electric wires crisscrossed and in places drooped over Main Street.

If she looked a bit deeper, she was sure she’d find Andy, Floyd, and Goober gathered at the town’s only Barbershop.  This town, this quiet little town was the very last place anyone would stumble on a murder.

Pushing the rental car as fast as she dared, Jet caught the taillights of the Trahan’s cruiser as he passed the city limits.

She took a deep breath and gave her attention to the small narrow highway that would lead her to Lake Beauvais and the body that had been found there.

As a crime reporter, she was used to grisly crimes but this killer or killers were taking innocents to a sinister depravity.  She held her breath feeling part of it, somehow sensing this time; she would be more than an observer.  Dismissing the warning, she focused on the road ahead of her.

Outside of town, a white framed farm house gave way to open to fields filled with majestic oaks and lush willows whose low branches touched the ground.  In the distance she could see bald cypress rose to an azure sky. Cattle ignoring the flies and the humidity of the morning moved lazily across wide open fields. Flowering yellow Buttercups, grew wild along side fragile blue sage flowers and tiny violets in spurts along the fencing. 

Jet drew her attention back to the road and what lay ahead.

It is said there are two reasons for everything.  The real reason and the one that sounds good.  Jet had chosen the ladder to bring her to the small town of Lauriet.  Her publisher was more than eager to send her to the crime that was quickly grabbing sensation headlines across America.

In front of her, she watched the police cruiser break then pull off the road. It came to a quick stop beside Broussard’s Black SUV.  An EMS vehicle was already on the scene as were four or five Ursanne Parrish Sheriff patrol cars.  She slowed to a stop and was a bit surprised to note despite their fast race to the scene, she was not the first reporter to arrive at Lake Beauvais.

No one was moving.  Everyone was silent, waiting, focused on a lone fisherman in a small Jon boat drifting along the water’s edge.  Lying next to the boat, a woman’s torso with arms outstretched was bobbing at waters edge.  The rest of the woman’s body was hidden in the black waters of Lake Beauvais.

Slipping her hand held tape recorder into her pocket, she slipped the camera over her shoulder and stepped out on to the soft ground still wet and a bit soggy from the previous’ nights rainfall.

Silence, she thought as she moved a few feet closer to the body, she could almost hear the early morning haze rising from the lake.

“You want me to pull her out of the water, Chief?” the fisherman offered as he wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. 

“Don’t touch anything,” Brent Broussard snapped.  Jet watched his face slowly study the scene before him. With a quick response, he turned to Shelley Trahan.  “I want you to barricade off a broad 50 perimeter around the body with entry and exits here.  Has anyone gone down to the body?”

“No Chief,” one officer replied, “we were waiting for you.”

“Good,” Brent’s voice cut through the quiet sound of his own frustration.  “I want someone to take a temperature of the water.  Start taking photos and make sure you have a long shot of the crime scene down the bank and up to the far point.”

“Any idea how long she’s been in the water?” Brent asked on of the EMS Technicians.

He shook his head.

Across from Jet two of the Crime Scene Unit technicians dawned protective clothing.

Shelley Trahan came up behind Brent.  “The ground’s still soft; want me to look for tire prints, impressions?”

Brent shook his head and glanced around looking at the small crowd assembled at the scene.  “How the hell did everyone get here so fast?”

Shelley shrugged.  “Must have picked it up on the police scanner, who knows?”

To Jet, their voices sounded heavy, pained.  This was not going to be a stranger to them, there was no dispassionate detachment, this woman, she had the feeling, was one of their own.  

Brent looked across the lake to the far side. “Get the water temperature but don’t go near the body until the Medical Examiner arrives.”

Shelley nodded and glanced to where Jet and the other reporters were standing.  “Yeah boss, I will do that.  What do you want me to do about them?”

Brent frowned at the group of reporters but his attention settled on her.

What was her name? Jet Williams, he remembered, the reporter for The American Independence.  Like a breath of much needed fresh air, he took in her small frame and her gentle overwhelming beauty.

The black skirt and jacket she wore were ill suited for the damp, wet heat of the Bayou and certainly too heavy for the white silk blouse that clung to her like a second skin.  One tiny peal of moisture slid untouched from the creamy softness of her neck into the ample, moist satin sheen of her breasts.  Her skin was glowing and the humidity accentuated her exotic cheekbones and gathered about her generous curved lips. The red, fiery streaks in her dark auburn hair tumbled carelessly down her back like lustrous glass under the sun. Despite her seductive little body, and innate strength of character and intelligence in her, there was a wholesome look about her.

Unlike the other reporters, her blue eyes reflected the pain he was feeling.  Though his glance had taken only a moment, he had found in her a much needed momentary relief from the horrific scene below him.

Brent turned back to the girl, putting the image of the beautiful reporter in the back of his mind as an older sedan pulled beside where she was standing.

The Medical Examiner stepped out.

Jet turned to see a man in his late fifties step out of the car.  Dressed in a green flowered Hawaiian shirt and key lime colored slacks, he lifted a worn coconut straw hat from the passenger seat and put it squarely on his head.   Noticing Jet’s was watching him, he offered in a polite nod before grabbing the medical bag from the car. His face painfully grimaced as he headed toward the body.  This was, Jet surmised, the Parrish’s medical examiner.

“Doc Edwards,” Brent said in greeting confirming Jet’s conclusion.

“Brent,” the Medical Examiner said as he approached the Police Chief,   “What am I looking at?”

Jet watched his shoulder droop downward.

“Etienne found the body about an hour ago, floating face down.”

With reluctant but purposeful strides, Brent and the ME walked toward the lake’s shore line.

 “Hey Chief,” Etienne shouted over to the men. “Chief, there is reward, oui?  I find her, no, so there is reward, yes?”

Both men ignored the fisherman and crouched down by the body.  Gently they rolled the corpse over. 

Keeping their voices low, their words were obscured.  Jet heard “girl’” “what was she doing here”’, and then softly, “we’ll have to tell her Grandmother. “

 The other victims had been prostitutes, ladies of the night, strangers brought into Lauriet.  This girl must be a local.  Her death would impact the local citizens, and this would become all the more personal as friends, relatives, neighbors and citizens would demand answers. 

“Let’s get her out of the water,” the Medical Examiner said in anger motioning for the EMS technicians.  The two technicians walked in their direction rolling an empty gurney along the soft ground.

Brent shouted across the water to Etienne. “Where did you put in this morning?”

Etienne tilted his head toward a boat launch.  “At the point.  Mon Dieu, it was foggy this morning.  There was a little bit of wind, so I fished close to the shore, then I find her.”

“What did you do when you found her?” Brent asked.

Etienne shrugged.  “She’s dead.  Nuthing to do so I go back to my truck, called the 911 and come back here.  Chief, is récompenser, a reward, no?”

Brent frowned.  “No reward for finding victims, but come by the office, since you phoned it and tried to help, I’ll see what I can do.”

This seemed to please the fisherman.

There was a hushed mummer around Jet as the technicians gently pulled the body from the lake.  She ignored the reporters around her and simply watched. They had already begun spewing speculation; she was content to wait and find the truth.

Her view was obscured by the technicians, Dr. Edwards and Brent. As she stood in silence, the older man who had just arrived on the scene came up beside her. Though he tried to smile, his face was grim, eyes tired and shoulders heavy. 

“You must be Jet, I just got off the phone with Alan Randolph,” He began, reaching out his hand for her.  He grasped her hand and shook it. “I’m Bob Miller, I run Lauriet Independence.  Alan told me you were out here, boy nothing like jumping in with two feet.”

Jet gave Bob a weak smile.  The Lauriet Independence was part of the mega-giant American Independence’s newspaper network.  Alan had directed her to Bob Miller, a personal friend who was in charge of the newspaper.  Jet gave the man a soft smile.  He was her only ally in the town of strangers.

“Nice to meet you,” she said to meet the first friendly face since she had arrived in Lauriet.  “What can you tell me about these murders?”

Bob looked down at the ground.  “In the last two months we’ve found two bodies.  This poor unfortunate girl will make number three.”

“Who are these women?” Jett asked.

Bob drew a long breath as if to gather his thoughts before he explained, “Murders as you can surmise are a rarity in our neck of the woods.  It took them nearly a month to discover the first girl was a prostitute from New Orleans.  Everyone speculated she was murdered there and the body dropped off in the swamp for the gators.”

“And the second girl?”

“She was a topless dancer from some dive just outside New Orleans.  The third was a local prostitute who lived in New Orleans but was known in these parts by a few, lets say local patrons.”

Jet sighed.  “I overhead the ME and Police Chief say something about this girl being local, they were talking so low, I can’t be sure.”

Bob’s face paled.  “Oh no.  It’s bad enough those young girls were murdered and found here but to have a local girl.  This is horrifying.  As bad as it sounds to say so, I had somehow hoped the three girls were random killings, not connected but now…”

She heard the sadness spill over into his voice.  Drawing closer to him, she was careful to keep her voice low.  “Word on the street is these deaths are more than the run of the mill homicides, that they were some kind of ritualistic killings.  True or false?”

Bob shook his head.  “Yeah, I’ve heard the same thing but the police have been pretty hush-hush about the details.  My usual sources won’t tell.  I do have a young reporter running down the information.”

Bob paused and looked across the lake to the beautiful Louisiana countryside.  “My wife and I came here about five years ago when I retired.  Alan talked me into taking over the local newspaper.  To date my biggest story has been the widening of King Street.  You can’t imagine how something like this will affect this town.”

Jet glanced back to Brent Broussard and brushed a stray hair away from her face.  “What can you tell me about the Chief?  Is he up for this type of investigation?”

This was the first time since arriving, she saw Bob Miller smile.  “Yes, he is.  Like most here, he’s a local boy. Pure Cajun.   After college he went to the army, was involved in military intelligence.  When he came back home and joined the force. The former chief took a position with another Parrish, Brent took over the job.  He’s easy on the tourists and hard on local mischief makers but he can be a tough man if he gets crossed.”

Bob paused and looked back to the activity at the shoreline.  “This murder is going to cause quite a stir.  The locals are dependent on the tourist dollars and the retirees and snow birds have moved to enjoy our quiet little town.”

“They’re moving the body,” Jet said as the EMS workers lifted the body onto the gurney.  Just as they placed the body on the stretcher, a slender black arm fell.  The hand was missing.

“The hand,” she gasped. “The hand is missing.”

Bob strained to look but saw the technicians were carefully adjusting the arm back into the body bag.  Working quickly, they tightened the body bag on the platform and zipped up the cover.

“What did you say?” Bob stammered, “Something about the hand?”

Jet could barely raise her voice to a broken whisper.   “The hand was severed.”

Bob paled.

At the same moment she drew Brent Broussard stare.  His brown eyes locked with hers.  His jaw clenched and he quickly scanned the group of reporters gathered along the bank.  No alarm had gone through the group, only she alone had seen what he had hoped to keep hidden.

Keeping her attention on the Police Chief, Jet said loud enough for him to hear.  “Sorry, the sun was in eyes. I was mistaken.”

Bob’s entire body went limp with relief. 

Across from her, Brent Broussard’s handsome face twists in silent warning.  His dark eyes were filled with distrust but she also saw a pained glimmer of gratitude.  She knew he would seek her out and this time she would be ready for him.

Brent didn’t know her well enough to know that she would keep silent about what she had seen.  To him, she was another headline grabbing newspaper reporter.

He kept his eyes upon her; his stare was brutal and burned through her.

Jet stood motionless then turned from him, watching the men load the body into the EMS Ambulance.

Bob coughed.  “Jet, look, there’s nothing more we can do here but speculate who she was and how she got here.  The body is on its way to the Medical Examiner’s office.  Ed and I belong to the same church.  I may be able to get some more information from him later, let’s cut out of here and go grab a cup of coffee.  I need one.”

With the ambulance headed toward town, Jet saw Brent Broussard move quickly, evenly across the soft ground, taking giant strides up the bank toward her. 

Watching Brent close the distance between them, she turned to Bob. “Actually coffee sounds great.”

“Follow me into town.” Bob said clearly relieved to be leaving the scene.

Together they hurried toward their parked cars.

If she had been worried that Brent would reach her, she needn’t have, the moment he reached the crime scene tape, the TV reporters rushed to him and began a relentless barrage of questions.

Jet glanced back to him only once.  He was answering questions but his eyes were fixed on her.  Jet was held captive by his dark eyes that pierced the distance between them.  She had no way to tell him that his secret, at least for the moment was safe.  Speaking might betray the victim, forewarn the killer and ignite fear in the community Brent Broussard had promised to keep safe.

 “I’ll meet you at Mama B’s in town.  You can’t miss it, it’s in the heart of the downtown area right across from the police station,” Bob called to her before he got into his suburban.

She nodded in reply.

Minutes later she was driving into town, leaving Brent Broussard to the TV News reporters.  As she drove she began to formulate her story.

Another body was found in Louisiana, she would write, identity was unknown though it is speculation that the victim, the young black female was a local girl.  She would leave the sensationalism to the TV and tabloid reporters.  She wanted the facts and she also wanted the monster who had murdered her brought to justice.

She would meet Bob Miller in town at Mama B’s, a restaurant she had seen earlier.  She would plan her next meeting with Brent Broussard knowing he would now seek her out. 

As she drove away, a man stood in the crowd and smiled.  He had noticed the beautiful young woman when he arrived though no one took notice of him.

He appeared as he intended, just another local passerby drawn by the furor at Lake Beauvais. He stepped closer to hear what Brent Broussard had to say but he already knew the police had nothing to share.

Giving the small compact and its beautiful occupant another glance, he knew there was something special about her. 

Since she had spoken to Bob Miller and a stranger to him and this town.  He quickly suspected she was a reporter of some sort, brought in to cover a much larger story than Laurent’s Crawdad Festival or the upcoming Grand Masquerade Ball at La Rochelle, so it wouldn’t be hard to meet her

He returned his attention to media circus surrounding the Chief of Police and tried not to smile.

Brent Broussard and his band of keystone cops would never find out who had murdered young Abby Fonet or the others.  His secret would be safe.  They knew nothing of evil. They would learn.

 

© Linn Random, 2008, 2009.  The above is an excerpt of the novel Black Waters by Linn Random.  Names, Characters, Location and Incidents are a product of the Author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, establishments or events are purely coincidental.

 

 

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