Authors: E.J. Findorff
The next item on the morning’s agenda was
figuring out Cozy Robicheaux’s state of mind from her therapist. Dr. Clair
Shipman’s home doubled as her office right off Williams Boulevard. She answered
her door wearing a dark blue blouse, black pumps and a gray skirt, clearly not
lounging on the sofa. From the front step, the inside looked to be filled with
“You must be the detectives.” She looked
to be in her forties, with short hair and a sleek face. Her nose and chin were pointed;
an intelligent kind of sexy if that made sense.
“Lucas Peyroux and Tara Gray,” I said as
we entered her chilly home. “Thank you for seeing us.”
“Let’s sit in the parlor. Can I get you
something to drink? Coffee? Scotch?” She waited with laser focus.
Tara and I declined and were instructed
to sit on a firm white couch that had no arms. At our knees was a coffee table
with looping metal legs underneath a glass top. I felt as if the plastic wrap
had just come off her furniture. Dr. Clair eased into a large, white and teal
striped chair that could fit two people.
Dr. Clair started. “You must understand
that I can’t divulge anything from our private sessions. I told your Captain
“We understand.” I leaned forward with my
forearms on my knees. “But, we need to get some idea of the person we’re
searching for. How she thinks. What she’s capable of.”
She waved her hand at us. “Cozy
Robicheaux? She could be my life’s work, that girl.”
“What can you tell us?” Tara asked.
Her face grew serious. “Let’s see. What
do we all know? Her alcoholic father beat her sister for years before Cozy
killed him. The emotional guilt of watching it
while not being touched can be extremely damaging.”
“How so?” Tara asked.
“Beyond the obvious, as strange as it
sounds, her father beating her sister and not
could be viewed as a type of neglect.”
“You’re shitting me.” Tara said.
“In Cozy’s eyes, her sister mattered
enough to get abused. Good or bad, it’s still attention her sister was
receiving from a parent. Attention that wasn’t worth the effort on her.”
“I get what you’re saying,” I said,
remembering the hug we shared. “It made Cozy feel small, like she didn’t
“Instead of shrinking, she did the
opposite and acted out. Her mother is in denial. Her sister abandoned them, most
likely having serious issues herself. The community she lives in thinks she’s
promiscuous, to be polite.” She paused as if assuming we would come to her
“Has she ever been suicidal?” I asked.
“Hypothetically, someone can commit
suicide by pointing a gun at a cop, right?”
“Sure. Is that why Cozy’s like an
She remained stoic. “I’m just saying people
don’t need to use the direct route of suicide.”
“You may not have heard, but she just
found out her sister Haley is dead.”
“What?” She put her hand over her mouth.
“Murdered and tossed in the Mississippi.”
“I saw that story on the news. That’s why
she missed our session.”
“We can’t locate her. We think she’s
trying to find out who killed Haley and has gotten in with some bad people.”
“Is Cozy capable of killing someone she
believes killed her sister?” I asked.
“In my professional opinion… In the right
in Cozy’s state of
mind could kill and with no remorse.”
“Are we talking multiple personalities?”
“No, nothing like that.” She waited a
beat. “Oh, dear, this changes everything.” She paused again before continuing.
“Her reality has been warped by her parents and her environment, and she has
learned to justify anything she does. She had to make up her own rules her
“What do you mean by that?”
“As a child, she had to decide what
behavior her parent’s favored best to either receive praise or to keep peace.
In random textbook examples; she might have had to decide what outfit wouldn’t
warrant verbal abuse or at what hour she needed to come inside from playing, or
the best times to use the bathroom so her father wouldn’t be disturbed.”
“She could view anything that gets a
positive result as good behavior?” Tara questioned.
I leaned back on the sofa. “So, if she
– if a hypothetic person like Cozy – thinks someone is a bad person,
she wouldn’t have any qualms about killing them?”
“Not exactly. In my opinion, someone like
Cozy wouldn’t kill her boyfriend for cheating on her, but she could rationalize
killing him if she found out he molested a little girl.” Dr. Clair crossed one
leg over the other as if enjoying this.
“So, she could rationalize killing
someone who’s guilty by her moral standards?”
Dr. Clair gave a slight nod.
“Is she delusional?” I asked. “See things
that aren’t happening?”
“I can’t say if delusions are occurring,
but if they do, then she could start hearing what she wants to hear and seeing
what she wants to see. No one can predict that.”
“Did she mention a favorite place in the
I had my notebook at the
“No, I couldn’t say she did.”
“What about Ashton? How is that
“I’m afraid I can’t comment much on that.
But, he strikes me as needy.”
“What about her mother?” Tara asked.
“My personal opinion is that she’s of no
real help in Cozy’s healing. She doesn’t put much faith in psychiatry, but she
seems glad Cozy has someone to talk to.” Dr. Clair appeared disappointed. “I’ve
given you my assessment, but I can’t give you any personal information she’s
divulged in session. I skirted the edge as it is. I would be obligated to
inform the authorities if she posed a danger to anyone, which she hasn’t.”
“So, we’re dealing with a time bomb,”
Dr. Clair kept silent, staring at the bleached
The day lost momentum with paperwork
concerning Dr. Clair, but then Dr. Jerry called. Tara had left for the day and
since I had no other cases, it had to be about Haley Robicheaux.
“Jerry, you have news on my prints?” My
pen rested in my hand.
“How do you do that?” He paused a second.
“The prints on the glass match the cell phone.”
“Seven points. Close enough?”
“Touchdown as far as I’m concerned.
Thanks, man.” I put down my cell and glanced at my computer. Good things come
to those who wait: the lab results had just come in. The DNA from the hairbrush
matched the body, so this was indeed Haley Robicheaux. And the DNA from Edgar
Porter matched the samples taken from when I shot him. Did any of this help?
No, not really.
Ashton Bergeron had lied, having proof of
contact with Haley in New Orleans and not telling anyone. He would be picked
him up for questioning in the morning. I updated Tara, not very optimistic about
the progress. Unfortunately, I would be going home this evening without anyone
in custody, but at least Heather would be happy to hear the updates with the
case. I pushed away from my desk and left for the day.
The drought in my bedroom had been going
on for too long and I didn’t care if we needed to rent a hotel room. I had no
one to blame for myself and I had to make it right. My anticipation focused on
Heather during my entire drive home - her hair, her lips, and the warmth of her
body. I ignored the speed limit until slamming the brakes in my driveway,
glancing at the glow of the lamp in the front window. I entered the house and
immediately located my wife in the kitchen, wearing my over-sized, long sleeve
dress shirt and nothing else. Two glasses of wine were on the table.
“Alicia?” I asked, looking at the wine
Heather unbuttoned the shirt from the
top. “At Jane’s, sleeping over. House is ours.”
Bypassing the red wine, I drew to within
inches of my wife’s body and she didn’t move as my arms pulled her close. Our
kisses were short, intense bursts of pent up desire that led to pulling off our
clothes where we stood. Our aggression forced us against the stove where I
lifted her onto the counter, dividing her knees as she fell against cooking
utensils hanging from hooks, but she wasn’t about to complain.
“When are you going to leave your wife?”
Amy Schultz sprung from the hotel bed wearing just her underwear and a loose T-shirt.
Harry almost walked through her as he
took off his jacket. “I’m not. Quit asking that fucking question.”
He had a different answer this time. He
didn’t say ‘soon’ with a kiss on her cheek and a new bracelet. Harry shut the
bathroom door and the shower went on, leaving Amy to ponder the disrespect.
He had later apologized after a few
drinks, blaming the stress of his job, but the sting of his betrayal made this
night’s sex akin to a one-night stand; the body was the same, however she
didn’t know Harry anymore. For the first time, she saw Harry as the out of
shape, middle-aged adulterer he was. The shame bore through during sex, where
she lost all animation.
Afterwards, Amy laid motionless in the
hotel bed, breathing deep through parted lips, eyes closed, but wide awake
thinking about her apartment, the bills and her future. Harry Winslow’s seven-minute
missionary position, although fierce on his end, had no effect on her insomnia.
She thought he had fallen asleep until the bed shook like a tiny earthquake as
he slid from the covers. The amplified sound of his jacket swishing on the
chair and the unfolding of a piece of paper made his movements easy to follow.
He slithered into the bathroom where she could barely make out his echoing
“…I know you said don’t call you…”
“…Apex…She’ll be there…”
The talking stopped and a minute later
she heard pissing, and then the toilet flushed with a roar. A pill bottle shook
and the faucet came on for a moment before hearing the click of the
cap. He returned to the jacket resting on the
chair and then climbed into bed with his back to her, summing up their entire
She waited an entire hour for his pills
to take effect. She crept from under the blanket and made her way to the jacket
while Harry’s stomach rose and fell with a grating snore. She pulled the piece
of paper from his pocket, set the flash on her camera phone, and took a
picture. Satisfied with its clarity, she slipped the paper back into its home.
After expertly dressing in the dark, she
wrote ‘I quit’ on a piece of paper with lipstick and laid it on her pillow and
in his ear.
And with one final glance, she shot Harry the bird and left the hotel room. She
relished the thought of personally delivering this picture to that attractive
For the first time in weeks, I didn’t
wake before my alarm went off and Heather had been good for another go,
although without the morning breath kissing. We even showered together, but she
was disappointed to learn, although not in a sour way, that I needed to work
for a few hours on a Sunday.
However, Dobson was fine with my collecting
overtime, so I traveled to Manchac solo because Tara didn’t want to miss church
again. I didn’t believe that Ashton Bergeron killed Haley, but he lied and I
needed him to illuminate some things about their relationship, with each Haley
Ashton’s house appeared no different than
the other residents; new planks had been nailed next to old ones with peeling
yellow paint and dirt paths with random embedded bricks leading around back.
Large Cypress trees towered over the front porch, providing deep shade. The
overgrown brush nearly covered the entire walkway to the front door. His
domicile, like most of the others, was also situated over the water.
Two NOPD uniforms staked out the back
pier in case of an escape. I didn’t expect Ashton to run or put up a fight, but
stranger things have happened and I’d rather have my ass covered. I banged on
the screen door, which rattled against the jamb. Soon after, a man in frayed
gym shorts and no shirt answered. His torso was sweatered with sparse gray hair
in contrast to his thick, brown moustache.
“My son ain’t here.”
“Sorry, sir. I’m Detective Peyroux. You’re
“Paul Bergeron, yes, sir.” Only half of
his mouth moved when he spoke. “You’re welcome to come in and look.”
“I will if you don’t mind, just so I can
tell my boss I did.” I stepped inside. “We believe he has information about
Haley Robicheaux’s murder and the whereabouts of Cozy. We know you want to
protect your son, but we need to find him.”
He slapped my shoulder as if we were old
friends. “You mind if I get a beer?”
“Feel free.” I did a quick search of the
closets in each room.
“You want some tea?” He yelled, just as I
entered the kitchen.
Paul opened a brand new silver
side-by-side refrigerator and pulled out a full pitcher of tea with lemon
medallions floating in it. The glasses he pulled from the refurbished cabinets
were spotless. The outside of the house seemed like a disguise for the luxury
“You got some nice appliances,” I said.
“Not what you expected?” Paul smirked.
“Honestly? I didn’t think much care went
into these camps.”
“The bayou moisture and humidity can
ravage these homes over time. Most folks out here don’t live on much. My
seafood place is doing real well and I splurged a bit. We’re a prideful people,
“Point taken. I also believe you didn’t
invite me in to talk about crawfish season.”
“You saved Cozy’s life. That’s all I need
to know. I can sense you’re a stand-up guy. I can also tell you my son is a
hundred percent cocky with fifty percent of a brain. So, let me guess; my son’s
got himself involved in something.”
“Directly or indirectly, yes he has.
Right now, we need to question him.”
“Ashton doesn’t tell me what’s going on
in his life. But, there is something I’d like to show you.”
He held his palms up. “Wait here. Help
yourself to some chips.”
Paul disappeared into the hallway. I
sipped my sweet tea, taking a few chips from an open bag of Zapp’s on the
table. When Paul came back into the kitchen, he had something in his hand.
“Now and then I go through his stuff like
a good dad should. A few months ago, I found this in his pocket.”
He placed several bar napkins from
Molly’s Girls in my hand with scribbling on them. I kept my mouth shut as I
tried to read the crude lettering, which just had some numbers added together
and a couple of French Quarter street names, but in two sets of handwriting
“Ashton probably spent the night at one
of those loser friends of his. This morning, I’d bet my ass he’s at the Wharf
“Wharf? Right off I-55 coming in here?”
The Wharf’s breakfast rush had dwindled
to just a few tables. Ashton and two bulked-up men with tattoo sleeves were
sitting in the corner booth, yakking it up. Their table looked to have been
cleared, but not cleaned. Each man still nursed a full cup of coffee.
“Hey guys, I heard the food here is
terrific.” I let my badge hang over the edge of the table at belt height.
Ashton lost his glee. “Good morning,
“You done eating?” I scooted next to the
mangy one, sitting directly across from Ashton. “
Ashton spoke. “That’s Joe. That’s Tray.”
“Tray and Joe? Two of the date rapists?”
The two men glanced at each other.
“I heard all about you boys from Cozy.
I’m thinking about looking into that before the statute runs out. I’m guessing
you took digital pictures and video, and guess what boys? As long as there’s Internet,
they never go away.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Tray stammered.
“There is no video or pictures on the net. And there was no rape.”
“What about the witnesses?”
“Everyone at that party will tell you she
wanted to go in that room. Hell, every one of us in that room will tell you she
wanted it. Tell him, Ashton.”
“Dude.” Ashton put his hand over his
I stared at him. “Did she want the rape,
Tray shifted in his seat. “Stop saying
rape. It wasn’t rape. You weren’t there. I’ll admit, she was in no condition to
agree, but she didn’t fight it either. As shitty as it sounds, it was just a
“Oh, sorry judge, it was a
. Tray, Joe, you guys
They each scooted out the opposite side
of the booth and walked away without any farewell. I pointed at the waitress to
get some coffee. “You want to explain?”
He didn’t look at me, but real tears
formed. “Yes, I was in that room and yes, I participated, but you can’t tell
Cozy. It would destroy her. She was just lying there, smiling and moaning and
running her fingers across my arm. But, I was as drunk as anyone there. I know
it was wrong, but...”
“You got some balls to start dating her
His head tilted at me. “I was nauseous
with guilt. After that night, I started hanging out with the Robicheaux sisters
because I felt so bad. I wanted to do things for her and her family. It was
just by accident that Hales and I started dating. Cozy loved that her big
sister was seeing me.”
“You did it out of guilt.”
“Deep, deep guilt. I was sixteen when I
made the hugest mistake of my life.” His lip never sneered and his eyes were
I let him sit with that statement before
pointing where his plate had been. “What’d you eat?”
It took a second for him to answer.
“They cook the pecans in the batter or
are they just topped off?”
“Cooked in.” He relaxed. “This ain’t
The waitress came with a cup of coffee and
topped off Ashton’s. She left for another table and I continued. “Listen, date
rape aside, I’m going to ask you a few questions and your answers will
determine whether I drag your ass back to New Orleans in cuffs.”
“Okay.” His pimples flared.
“Were you aware we had found Haley’s cell
phone when her body was recovered?”
“No, sir. I had no idea.”
I sipped my coffee, letting the words
settle. “There were prints on the inside cover, but only one was usable. Guess
whose print it was.”
“I would guess Hale’s.”
“Remember what I said about your answers
and cuffs. You dad showed me the Molly’s Girls napkins.”
“Fuck.” He slumped against the backrest.
“Start from the beginning.”
“Alright, alright, but let me tell you
right now I didn’t kill her.”
He exhaled before choosing his words. “I
started taking little weekend trips to the Quarter to look for Haley.”
“How’d you know to look in the Quarter?”
“The Quarter’s the best place to live if
you don’t have a car. If she was in that area, I figured I’d run into her at
some point, right? Well, sure enough I found her stripping at Molly’s Girls.”
“And you kept it to yourself?”
“She begged me. We had long talks about
her future and what to do with her money and where she would live.”
“Is that what was written down on those
“Can’t believe my dad showed you those.”
He rolled his eyes. “We were figuring out how to get her life legit. You know,
paying taxes and all that shit. She actually wanted a 401k. Then, she was going
to have me go rescue Cozy.”
“Tell me about the cell. She just got it,
so you obviously saw her right before the murder.”
“No.” He waved his finger spastically. “I
helped Haley pick out that phone. She pulled the back cover off, but I put it
back on for her. She had just got her driver’s license, too. She had her birth
certificate and Social Security card, but was really excited about having the
“She was old enough to be out on her own.
Why all the secrecy?”
He hesitated with an answer. “She needed
to be away from Cozy for a while. Not forever, just ’till her life got straight.
Things happened to her, things that no one should go through.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t offer me teasers.
You have a murder charge hanging over your head. I’m giving you a chance to
convince me otherwise.”
“When Haley moved to New Orleans, she was
pregnant and got an abortion.”
“Your baby, Romeo?”
“No, I wish it was.” He tapped his spoon
on the table, unable to look at me.
“Then who? One of these Bubbas out here?”
“No. Think about whose sick baby she
wouldn’t want to have.”
He nodded and his eyes filled, not able
to part his lips.
“He used to rape her?”
“Just the once, she claimed. She said it
never happened before. And, I believed her, sir. The first night I found Haley
in the Quarter, we got drunk and she told me everything. Poor thing was crying
so hard she could barely speak. The bastard thought he could beat Haley into a
coma and that’s when Cozy shot him.”
“Does Cozy know about the rape or
“Cozy never knew any of that. Haley
“So, you wanted to stay with Haley in New
Orleans despite the incest, despite the abortion.”
“We’re all fucked up in one way or
another, right?” He wiped his face dry. “I wanted to make it work, but Haley
“She dated some guy a while. Then, she started
seeing this woman from the place she worked. She was in love according to her.”
“Yeah, Tabby. With Haley’s life, can you
blame her for going lesbo?”
“What’s your relationship with Cozy’s
“I figure if I hang around, do stuff for
her, she might give my Dad a chance. He deserves to have someone. There’s
nothing going on with us, detective.”
I sipped my coffee, thinking Ashton had
bought a reprieve for the moment. He actually seemed like a nice kid in a tough
environment. “I’m not going to take you in, but don’t leave town alright? Not
even to New Orleans. If I find out you crossed the parish line, I’m locking you
He nodded, and drained the rest
of his coffee.
As I left The Wharf, my cell phone
rang. It was Tara telling me to meet her back at the station.
“Man, have I got some updates for you,” I
announced out loud while bounding into our work area. My partner relaxed at her
desk in her nice, blue church dress and she wasn’t alone. The young lady from
Winning One waved from my desk with a demure smile, looking more like a beauty
queen contestant than receptionist. She had on khaki shorts, slip on sneakers,
and a Cowboy Mouth T-shirt.
“You remember Ms. Amy Shultz?” Tara
asked. “The desk called me in when she showed.”
Amy waved. “I called the number on your
card, but it went to voicemail.”
“I didn’t get the call. What’s going on
here?” I rounded my desk and held my hand out for her to shake.
She pulled out a piece of paper and
pressed it into my palm. “I have something you might be interested in.”
Tara gave me the stink eye. “She insisted
on waiting for you.”