Read My Juliet Online

Authors: John Ed Bradley

My Juliet (27 page)

BOOK: My Juliet
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And now Juliet, remembering something else, is further mollified. As an heiress, and the only survivor in the family, she stands to inherit the entire Beauvais legacy. How soon that succession becomes official is a concern. But Juliet is rich.

And it strikes her, there now on the sidewalk, that her mother really is bound for the grave. Juliet's anger washes away in a single, pulsing tide. She screws her shoe back on and she begins to laugh with such feeling that her laughter takes on a musical aspect. From nearby a man clothed in rags comes shuffling toward her on the bricks. He holds out a palsied hand, as if for payment.

Juliet pushes past the hand and presses up against him.

She inhales his stench and feels his cold wine breath. He is the most hideous and repulsive thing she's ever encountered in her whole, entire life, and yet she does not yield.

Beneath her gaze the man's eyes grow small and pale, and his nostrils flare as he struggles for air. Juliet brings her mouth to the side of his face, her inner tubes brushing the mangled comb of flesh that is his ear. “Wanna do it?” she says.

The man shakes his head.

Juliet gets in her rental car and calmly starts for Esplanade.

In the rear garden the two detectives come back into view. They roll up their pant legs and cross the lawn splashing through puddles and join a clutch of investigators by the privet along the back fence. After a brief discussion a man in sunglasses separates himself from the group and points at something. Peroux crouches next to him to get a better look. They exchange more words, then the man in sunglasses duckwalks into the hedges and carefully picks up a shattered length of PVC. He seals it in a plastic evidence bag.

The knot of men grows tighter as each strains for a closer look. Standing alone on the shadowy lawn, Sonny experiences a jolt of fear that won't be reasoned with.

They have the club, he tells himself. Soon, bubba, they'll have you too.

A wave of nausea cuts through him, leaving him weak and dizzy. He needs to vomit again. He walks into a copse of crape myrtles by the fence, looking for a place to unburden himself, when a voice seems to speak to him. “Well well well. Look at what we have here.”

It's a newsman, standing on the sidewalk. Past the iron bars, the tangle of shrubs, he wears a laminated press pass clipped to a khaki-colored fishing vest, a tortured smile confusing his otherwise relaxed demeanor. He raises a camera and starts shooting the police with their discovery. The man, rotating the instrument from the horizontal to the vertical, clicks off half a dozen frames before he speaks again. “They say she was a hermit. Came out only at certain times of the year to smell the morning glory. And only at night. She'd carry a flashlight. Can you imagine that?”

Sonny watches him.

“Old woman in a big house. Drug dealers and gangbangers thick as cockroaches in the neighborhood. They might not catch the guy but it won't be hard to figure who did this one.”

Sonny is quiet. He nods to let the man know he's interested.

“I was at the scene of a homicide nearly identical to this one about a month ago in the Lower Garden District,” the photographer continues. “You know that area?”

Sonny nods. “Sure.”

“Only difference there, the guy rapes the old broad before clobbering her on the head.”

“They ever find him?”

“Shit no. But they never find half of 'em. Not in this city.” The man snaps off a few more shots. “People call it the Big Easy, but you'll never hear a homicide cop say that.”

“No, you won't,” Sonny says for no reason that he can make out.

“Ask one of them, the Big Pain in the Ass is more like it.”

“The Big Pain in the Ass,” Sonny repeats.

The man smiles and leans in closer as if to let Sonny in on a secret. “You know what I say?” And now his eyes trace back to the Beauvais. “I say it's what you get for trying to keep the past alive. Antebellum mansion, big trees dripping moss. Look over there at that little building. Nowadays real estate folks like to call that a dependency unit. I suppose it lessens the sting in certain ears. But what that is, it's a slave house. A family—black people—actually lived in that thing, and now it's where they store the lawn mower and hedge clippers. Unlike you and me, my friend, not everyone sees beauty when they look at this place. History for one person might be glorious, but for another it's chains.”

Sonny leaves through the front gate. Nobody calls for him to turn around and come back. Nobody says anything.

As he's crossing the neutral ground he hears a commotion and wheels around in time to witness Juliet's arrival. She drives up in a convertible with the top down and parks behind a line of police cruisers. She doesn't see him. He's too far away by now.

She's wearing a little black fuck-me dress and the same clunky shoes that she seems never to be without. A pair of Jackie O sunglasses, black and owl-like, hides her eyes.

Patrolmen hold the crowd back, and photographers form a loose escort around her. She could be arriving for a movie premiere or an awards show, and not to visit the place where her mother was slain only hours before.

It would be no great surprise to Sonny to see her spin around and blow kisses, to wave in the obnoxious, high-handed fashion that Hollywood stars do.

Sonny glances at Lieutenant Peroux and Anna Huey, curious to observe their reaction. They're standing under the blossoms, his expression as ripe with loathing as hers. They make no move to greet Juliet, and Juliet makes none to them.

She travels along the path as far as she's able before encountering crime scene tape and the street cop who ushers her off to the side.

Alone now on the lawn, Juliet stands with both hands covering her mouth, sobs racking her body. The wind blows dust from the crape myrtles and it sticks to her hair and clothing. Sonny finds himself framing the image with his hands, envisioning it on canvas. “The dress a size too small,” he mumbles out loud. “The yellow and the pink. Detectives in their booties.”

He is watching as the ambulance starts for the rear drive gate, leaving parallel troughs in the grass. Juliet pushes past the cops and begins running along the side of the house. Past the garden statuary, sprinting now. Past the fountain covered with leaves. Past the outbuildings and the stone barbecue. “Mama! Mama, don't go! Oh, Mama! Mama!”

Juliet collapses as the ambulance disappears around the brick wall. A splash of rainwater comes up as her body meets a puddle.

On his way down Esplanade Sonny glances back once more, just in time to see Lieutenant Samuel Peroux lifting her in his arms.

They cover her shoulders with a grass-green army-issue blanket and lead her to the front door. “Can we go in the study there?” Lentini says past yellow tape. He's leaning to see through the open door. “Hey, listen, I got the lady's daughter here . . .” At last he waves her inside.

The house is crowded with people but not a one familiar. Juliet sits in the library in the same place where she sat the night before. Her teeth chatter and her hair drips water.

“I bet if you check the closet in my old bedroom Mother still has it full of clothes,” Juliet says to a female police officer.

“Ask Jerry to reach in there and get her something,” Lentini says.

“And also a towel, please,” Juliet says.

Minutes later the policewoman returns carrying clothes that smell of mothballs. She brings hip-hugger jeans, a cowboy shirt with snap buttons and leather piping, gray athletic socks and shoes that look as if they've never been worn. The woman drops the bundle on the couch.

“Much obliged,” Peroux tells the officer, then nods toward the door.

Juliet removes her wet things. The cops in the room, dedicated to the pretense that only the case involves them, feign indifference. Slipping off her brassiere, Juliet glances in Peroux's direction but he's standing at a window, facing outside in a contemplative pose.

She doesn't remember the pants or the shoes. But the shirt's familiar. She was never the cowgirl type, but she did wear it once, as she recalls, to a Sadie Hawkins dance her junior year. Her date that night was Dickie Boudreau. He wore a length of rope through his belt loops and boots with steel toes. Incredible how an old shirt can get her mind on Dickie when something as serious as a police interrogation is moments away. And now another flash:
“Sonny thinks it's his.”

“Good.”

“You don't want your own baby?”

She finishes dressing and pats the water out of her hair with the towel. Peroux, turning from the window, levels his gaze on the other cops in the room, and suddenly everyone but Lentini seems to understand that it's time to leave.

“How come you like this old house so much, Miss Beauvais?” the detective begins, standing now in the middle of the floor halfway across the room. “I been looking it over and it could use a lot of work.”

“All cosmetic,” she says quietly. “Nothing that a little TLC won't fix.”

“I always heard it was cheaper to build yourself a new house than to renovate an old one. You might be smart to tear this thing down and start over. Build yourself something with fiberglass insulation instead of horsehair and with lower ceilings so you don't have to climb a ladder every time you need to get at a cobweb.”

“I'll be sure to take that under advisement, Lieutenant.”

“Look at all this cypress millwork. That medallion up on the ceiling where the chandelier meets the plaster. What's the point of that anyway? Who looks at a ceiling? Some people are always showing off, aren't they, Miss Beauvais? Some people can't abide the simple life.”

“I agree with you one hundred percent.”

He's taking in every piece of furniture, every framed photograph, every title of every book. Everything but Juliet. Once he seems to have seen enough, he says, “You like this old barn so much you went and killed your mother for it, didn't you?”

“Don't be bashful, Lieutenant. We're all adults here.”

“How's that?”

“If you have an opinion about recent events please feel free to share it.”

Now he's looking at himself in the mirror over the fireplace. “Recent events. Is that what happened here last night? A recent event?”

Juliet doesn't respond. She pulls her shoes off and glances at Lentini, who's standing by the door. “Officer, would you do me a favor? These shoes are too small. Would you mind going upstairs and getting me a different pair? And bring some eights this time.”

“You must think you have the shoe department,” Lentini says. “In case someone forgot to tell you, lady, we're the police department.”

“Miss Beauvais, look at me.” Peroux is facing her now in the mirror. “Miss Beauvais, you know what just occurred to me? Your mother got along fine in this house without any trouble for years and years. Then one day you come home to visit and all of a sudden she's dead on the floor upstairs. That's quite a coincidence, isn't it?”

“I admit it's a pretty big one, yes.”

“You sent Sonny LaMott here last night to do what you couldn't do yourself, didn't you?”

“Sorry, Lieutenant. But you must have me confused with somebody else.”

“So you didn't send him here last night?”

“I sent him here for a check. But I didn't send him here to kill my mother.”

“Why'd you hate her so much? What did that old lady ever do to you?”

“What did she do?” But Juliet stops herself and glances back over her shoulder. In her ear the voice of Dickie Boudreau just said
“Good.”

“Miss Beauvais? Miss Beauvais, tell me about your mother. Help me to understand.”

“You know those icicles you put on Christmas trees, Lieutenant? They're not real icicles, of course. They're little metallic things—shiny pieces of paper or something.”

“I know them.”

“Then you know they cost only about nineteen cents a pack. But even at that price Mama insisted on reusing them every year. Instead of throwing them out with the tree, she'd make me take each one off and put it in a freezer bag. If I left any on the tree, she'd throw a fit. Would you resent your mother if she did that to you?”

BOOK: My Juliet
8.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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