Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Swamp Queen

            My new book, The Swamp Queen is ready for download from Amazon.com.
          My wife and I spent over a year living on the Atchafalaya Basin. The camp belonged to a friend of ours, David LaBreche, who was working in France. It was an exciting adventure for us. I spent most of my days fishing and exploring this wonderfully exotic and mysterious place. We cooked our food outdoors whenever possible, and spent our weekends eating doughnuts and freshly cooked bread from T-Sue's Bakery about a mile or two away in Henderson. We moved out when the Army Corps of Engineers decided that it would not allow camps inside the levee anymore. It was a sad day, but the memories we created living on the swamp are still with us, and we remember our short time there fondly.
           When I decided to write this book, my focus was on the relationship between LeGrand and Woody Bergeron, his old college roommate. As the book progressed, I decided that I needed to take LeGrand out of his usual setting. I immediately thought of Lafayette and the Atchafalaya Basin. I spent several years living in the Lafayette/New Iberia area, so I'm familiar with my setting. The book was originally titled What You Gonna Do? from a statement made by Woody Bergeron to John LeGrand, but once I decided on my setting, I changed it to The Swamp Queen for obvious reasons.
          For those of you who decide to read my book, I thank you, and hope you enjoy it. It was a blast writing it.

The Swamp Queen: A Cajun PI Series by [Roy, Jude]


An old college buddy, a missing woman, a dead body, and all clues leading to the great Atchafalaya Swamp has John LeGrand scratching his head. Woody Bergeron, John's old college roommate, stole his girlfriend and married her. Now, she's missing, so he hired John to find her. The Swamp Queen is another Cajun PI caper and this one takes place in the Atchafalaya Basin, 800,000 acres of alligator-infested wetland. Who kidnapped Teresa Bergeron and why? John must find out although it brings back some painful memories.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Hunters

I jumped out of bed and threw my clothes on before my father had a chance to call my name a second time.
"Whoa, boy," he said from my bedroom doorway. "You better slow down, or you're going to end up hurting yourself before we get out the front door. The squirrels will wait for us. You might as well learn right now that there are only two ways to nab a squirrel; you either sneak up on him quiet-like or wait him out. Either way takes a lot of patience."
It was an effort for me to slow down. I slid my feet into my old sneakers.
"Not them things, boy. The dew will get them wet and give you blisters. Wear those boots I bought you."
"Yessir," I said and dug the work boots my father had given me for Christmas two years before out of the closet and laced them. They still smelled new.
My mother stood over the sink when I walked into the kitchen. The smell of coffee and fresh biscuits was strong. She poured me a glass of milk, added a little sugar and some of her strong coffee to it. Then she pulled a biscuit from the pan on the stove, dropped it onto a plate, and drizzled a little dark sugarcane syrup over it.
"Here," she said, as she slid the plate onto the table. "Sit down and eat some breakfast. No telling when you're going to eat again."
I grabbed the glass of coffee milk and sat. I started to wolf down the biscuit, but my mother waved a finger.
"You stop that right there and eat your food the proper way I taught you."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, and took a bite out of the biscuit.
My father appeared from the bedroom, walked to the stove, and poured himself a cup of coffee.
"It's pretty damp out there with the fog and all. He's going to need a jacket."
"It's in the closet with the winter stuff. I'll get it." My mother disappeared into the bedroom. My father sat across from me at the table and silently sipped his coffee, his uncombed hair wild on his head, his skin dark and leathery from years of working in the sun. My mother draped my old jean jacket over the back of a chair and poured herself a cup of coffee. Then she pulled a chair and joined us at the table.
"How long ya'll gonna be?"
My father shrugged.
"Probably be back early afternoon—whenever we get tired, I guess."
"Be careful, yeah."
My father nodded, stood, and walked out the front door. After a while, I heard the door to the outside john slam shut.
"I want you to listen to your daddy. He has some very serious things to show you and tell you. This is a very important event for him."
"Yes, ma'am."
"Just you listen to him. Okay?" She stood and rushed out of the kitchen.
My father came back in and sat before his cup of coffee again.
"Where's your momma."
"She went to the bedroom." I paused a second. "Daddy, is everything all right?"
"Of course it is. Why you asking?"
"I think Momma was crying."
"She's just worried about you. That's all. Finish your breakfast. I'll be right back." He walked into the bedroom. A few minutes later, he returned.
"Go get the gun and the shells so we can go."
I dragged a chair to my father's bedroom doorway. The 16-gauge single-shot Remington shotgun sat in its gun rack over the doorway; the shells were in the closet. I broke the gun opened and sighted through the empty barrel toward the kitchen light before handing it to my father. Then I pulled the chair to the closet and pulled down the box of shells.
My mother, eyes red, appeared in the kitchen again. I gave her a peck on the cheek. She grabbed me and hugged me. I wormed my way out of her grasp and joined my father.
"Let's go fetch Brownie," he said.
We walked out into the early morning air, thick with fog. I could barely make out the Ellisonville blacktop just twenty feet away. My father whistled softly and Brownie, his squirrel dog, crawled out from under the front porch and shook herself awake. He rolled a cigarette, lit it, and we followed the dog.
Brownie scurried from one side of the blacktop to the other, disappearing in out of the fog like a ghost. Occasionally, she would stop and peer behind her to see if my father and I followed. Satisfied, she would return to her foraging. Brownie was a short hair mutt with floppy ears, a broad head like a golden retriever, and a short muscular body perfect for running through the briar bushes and shrubbery of the woods around Serpentville.
When we reached Monsieur Claney's fallow rice field, about two miles from my house, my father stopped and rolled a cigarette. He whistled, and Brownie appeared at his side. We crossed the ditch, and he held the barbed wire apart, so I could squeeze through. I did the same for him. The fog had receded somewhat, and the morning was now a dull gray. My father straightened and stretched.
I examined his face. It was the same dull gray of the morning light. His eyes were sunken with dark patches beneath them. He put a match to his cigarette and waved his arm signaling Brownie into the field. She broke into a run, scaring up a snipe, which let out a scaipe scaipe and zigzagged into the fog. My father picked a levee that snaked toward the woods across the field and we walked along it. A few lazy Black Angus eyed Brownie nervously.
My father handed me the shotgun and motioned me to follow him.
"Hunting is not a sport like your softball and such," he said after a while. It's serious business. You know why?"
"I think so," I answered, but I don't think he heard me. He kept talking.
"Because you'll be taking a life. Even the life of a squirrel is important, you know. He was put on this earth for a reason—maybe to feed us men, or maybe to feed the other animals or maybe to be a part of all this." He waved his arm in a huge sweep that took in our surroundings. Brownie stopped and eyed him carefully. When she realized that he didn't want her, she resumed her bird chasing. "But make no mistake about it; the squirrel is on this earth for a reason. To kill and waste is a sin. It took me most of my fifty-two years to find that out. I remember when your momma's daddy, your granddaddy, died." My father stopped and stared off into the distance the dark edge of Monsieur Claney's woods where we would hunt the squirrels. I waited for my father to start again. "He died well before you were born. It was the only time anybody ever saw him cry. The only time. Ever. I thought that it was weakness in him that made him cry, but it wasn't. He was scared to die. He was scared that his life was a waste, but it wasn't. Look at your momma. Look at you." My father started walking again. "Never waste a life, son. Whether it's your own or that of a squirrel, you should never waste a life."
"Nosir," I said. I wasn't sure what my father was trying to say, but I knew it must be important because of the way he talked to me, like I was a grown up.
"Come on then," he said. "Let's go."
We watched as Brownie scared up one snipe after another. She would chase it until it flew too far or too high for her to have any chance. Then she would run around in circles again until she scared up another. Once we neared the edge of the dark woods, my father whistled. Brownie stopped in mid stride and looked over her shoulder at us. My father waved, and she fell in behind us. When we were close enough to the big moss-covered oaks and other hard woods, my father stopped.
"I'm going to let Brownie go into the woods before us," he said. He waved his arm and Brownie moved forward slowly placing one paw in front the other. "When she spots one, she'll stiffen up and look up at the spot where she saw it. That's when you know she got one. She's just as important as your gun because she'll make that squirrel show himself to you. But you have to know how to make her move the right way."
Even as he talked, Brownie stiffened.
"There, she got herself one. Watch how she works."
Brownie stood frozen under a chestnut tree. She looked up at the tree. I followed her gaze but I saw nothing. My father motioned me to follow him and we walked forward until we were nearly under the tree and almost directly behind the dog.
"Load the gun," my father whispered to me.
I broke the barrel and slid in a shell.
"You see where she's staring at?"
"Yes sir," I said, but I still could not see the squirrel.
"Aim your gun at that spot, but watch what I do."
"I still can't see the squirrel," I whispered.
"Don't worry about that. You will. Just watch what I do."
My father waved his arm to the left and Brownie took a step in that direction, never taking her eyes off the tree. I looked up and a bushy, gray tail appeared from behind some hanging moss. I heard the squirrel bark wildly at the dog. I pulled back the hammer.
"Not yet," my father whispered. "Wait until you see all of him."
He waved his arm again, and Brownie took another step in that direction. I could see the squirrel now. It watched the dog intently and waved its tail up and down vigorously.
"Now?"
"Now."
I slowly squeezed the trigger. I staggered under the recoil. I didn't see the pellets hit the squirrel, but I heard it fall. Brownie ran up to it, gently fitted its lifeless body into her mouth, and carried it to my father, dropping it gently at his feet. He patted the dog and lifted the squirrel to me.
"That's a fine-looking little gray. That was some fine shooting, too." He placed his free hand on my shoulder.
I didn't feel well. The thrill I expected at shooting my first squirrel never came. Instead, I felt sorry for the limp little animal before me. My father placed the him in the cloth sack hooked onto his belt.
"Daddy," I said, once I found my voice. "Daddy, I don't feel so good."
A slight grin flitted across his lips.
"Yeah, I know. Why don't we sit here for a spell and rest?" He pointed to a log a few steps away. We sat next to each other. "Being sick is nothing to be ashamed of. It'll always make you a little sick to kill something if your heart is in the right place. All I want you to know is that there is going to be some times when you have to kill. When you grow up and go to war, maybe you might have to kill another man, or you might have to kill another animal when you're hungry and need to eat. If you have a good reason to kill, the sickness goes away. If not, it stays with you for the rest of your life."
My father smoked silently for a while.
"God is a hunter, too. He has his reasons for taking a life, and I imagine he doesn't feel any better than you do about having to take one." My father's voice sounded strange. I examined his face carefully. He didn't look at me; he stared deep into the woods. After a while, he stood up, brushed his clothes, and motioned me to follow. We headed deeper into the woods. As we walked, the sun gradually diminished until it was only a patchwork quilt of light and dark on the decaying forest floor. After we had gone a good distance, he motioned me to sit on a log. Brownie stayed within sight of my father, quietly surveying her surroundings. We didn't see any squirrels although we had seen signs of them.
My father picked nervously at a thread on his shirtsleeve.
"I have to tell you something, and I'm not so sure how to go about it." He paused and rolled a cigarette. "Do you know what cancer is?"
"Yessir, a disease that eats at your insides, kinda like rust or rot. Madame Jogneaux was sick with it until she died last year."
"That's right. I don't know too much about it, but I think Emma had a skin cancer. It spread to the rest of her body, I guess." My father paused and put a match to his cigarette. His words tumbled out with the smoke.
"Remember last week me and your momma went to New Orleans?"
"Yessir, I do." He, Monsieur Theo, and my mother had driven all the way to New Orleans in Monsieur Theo's battered old Chevrolet. They stayed gone for two days and when they returned, their faces were ashen and gray. My mother's eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot. She had been crying, but she would not answer any of my questions. "Your father will explain it later," she told me and disappeared into her bedroom.
"It was Dr. Frugé who thought I should go to New Orleans for some tests. He thought I might be sick. I was having trouble breathing, and I passed out once at the cotton gin." My father paused and watched in silence as Brownie dug furiously under a dead oak tree. He turned to me. "Les docteurs from New Orleans made their tests, and they found out I had cancer, lung cancer."
His words shot through me and I recoiled with the impact of them.
"Daddy?" I whispered. I could think of nothing else to say. Tears of fear stung my eyes.
"I have to go to New Orleans again next week so the docteurs can operate on my lungs. Your momma and I thought we needed to explain things to you." He stared off into the distance, past Brownie, into the dark woods. "Je suis peur. I'm real scared. When they told me, it was like they put a shotgun to my head. I was mad, too, but I was mostly scared."
"The operation, Daddy. It's going to fix it, won't it? You're going to be okay?" I was afraid to look at him. I was afraid of what I would see in his face.
"That's what I want to tell you. I asked les docteurs the same thing, but they didn't seem to think too much about my chances." My father paused. When he resumed, there was a slight tremor in his voice. "My chances are not too good. Not too good at all."
I stared at the ground and tried to imagine a world without my father. I watched a lone ant try to move a dead beetle. The ant struggled, but the beetle would not budge. Finally, a few other ants arrived and together they pulled and tugged the dead beetle toward the log we sat on. I looked up at my father's face.
"Everything is going to be okay, Daddy." My voice sounded strange to me, almost like it was coming from somebody else. "I'll help you, Daddy."
My father turned watery eyes on me. He placed a thin, calloused hand on my shoulder.
"I know you will. I never doubted it one minute. I just wanted you to know how it is. That's all."
We sat in silence for a while. I didn't want to hunt anymore.
"I'm ready to go home, Daddy."
"Me too, son. All of a sudden, I'm real tired. Why don't you call the Brownie?"
I spotted Brownie about ten feet away standing stiffly staring up into a gnarled oak. I looked up to where she stared and spotted a gray tail waving vigorously just visible behind a clump of moss. I whistled softly like I'd seen my father do, and Brownie broke her stance and ran to me. She stood beside me and waited for my next command. I picked up the shotgun where it leaned against a tree next to my father and pulled out the shell before shouldering it. I offered my father a hand and he took it. I motioned Brownie to follow, and the three of us walked out of the dark woods into a blinding sunlight.

I published "The Hunters" in Papyrus, Fall 1998. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Jukebox Dreams

Tim's favorite song is “House of the Rising Sun,” and he can make that beat up old Fender of his give you the blues. After a night of smoking, drinking, and jamming, we take his little Kawasaki 85 with the broken lights, and drive ten miles hugging the edges of dark country blacktops to the Highway 190 Truck-Stop. I cling to his wiry body like he hugs that guitar. He sings Van Morrison songs loud over the motorcycle’s tinny rumble. Visions of adoring fans in his head, I imagine.
The Highway 190 Truck-Stop stays opened all night, and the hamburgers are big, beefy, and greasy. We eat burgers, listen to the jukebox hits, and sing along with the songs, Tim cutting the air with greasy fingers.
“Someday,” he says between air solos. “That’ll be me on there.” He nods toward the jukebox, his long oily hair falling over his forehead. "I'll be A1."
A bleary-eyed trucker walks in, glares at us, and sits at the counter. He orders a cup of coffee and stares into it.
"Monkey shit music," he mumbles when a CCR tune crops up.
"You got a pretty voice," the homely waitress tells Tim, as she clears our mess. He tips her a quarter, and she smiles her appreciation, revealing yellow teeth and foul breath.
"Chicks always take to me," he says and shoots me a smile. "Someday, I'm gonna have them clawing my clothes off."
We pop fries into our mouths and nickels into the jukebox until the hot sun burns through the Louisiana fog. The trip home is hot and sweaty, and the burgers sit sour on my stomach. The motorcycle putters forward toward sleep and jukebox dreams.
Tim sings some T-Rex song he picked up at the truck stop. I cling to him and join in, but my voice sounds like an out-of-tune guitar.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Jeanne Smith 2

On August 12, 1980, a stranger abducted Jeanne Smith and killed her boyfriend. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book because my main character can't know what happened after Jeanne's abduction. However, I have to know—mostly because the backstory gives me insight into my victim and my antagonist. I have written such scenes for each of the girls abducted in the story. This is Jeanne's experience.


Jeanne Smith
August 12, 1980

When Jeanne woke up, she was immediately aware of the shooting pain in her head. It was so intense that it took a while before she was able to focus on anything. Then she remembered what happened, and the image of Joey lying face up in the bloodstained water came to her.
"Oh, my God," she cried and blacked out briefly from the pain in her head, and the horrible recognition that Joey was dead. She would never see him again.
After a few seconds of blissful darkness, she opened her eyes. I have to force myself to focus, she thought. I have to figure out what's going on. I can't think about Joey. But of course, that was the first thing she did. The man, a hunter, shot Joey without saying a word. Jeanne had been afraid that he was going to shoot her too, so she tried to run. What happened then? The man grabbed her. She fought back. Then he hit her with the rifle. Yes, she remembered the rifle stock coming at her, and then everything went black. She lifted her right hand to feel the spot where she'd been struck, but she couldn't lift her arm above her shoulder. She was handcuffed to a pipe.
Where am I? How did I get here?
She surveyed her surroundings. She was in a room—a cellar it looked like—with cinder block walls. A bare bulb, with a pull chain hanging from it, illuminated the room. The metal pipe holding her handcuffed ran from the wall behind her to the other end of the room about fifteen or twenty feet, she guessed. She tugged on the cuffs and tried to slip out of them but only succeeded in bruising her wrist.
Focus Jeanne.
The walls were bare and unpainted. The ceiling was low with exposed joists. The floor looked like unpainted concrete. To her left, an opened door revealed stairs leading upwards—from where she lay, she could only see halfway up the stairs. She lay on a cot still dressed in her red bikini. She took a deep breath and sobbed.
Focus Jeanne. Please focus.
Across the room from the cot sat a white chamber pot, a roll of toilet paper next to it. The place smelled dank and mildewed. She could faintly hear footsteps from upstairs and what might have been boards creaking as someone shifted his weight.
Her teeth chattered, more from fear than cold.
Then she heard what sounded like a door sliding open and footsteps on the stairs. She curled up in a fetal position—the only protection she had.
He's going to kill me. Please help me, Momma. Please.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jeanne Smith

On August 12, 1980, while swimming with her boyfriend, Joey, a stranger killed him and abducted Jeanne Smith. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book; however, it defines Jeanne's character and introduces the Trahan boy and his father, who are suspects in her disappearance. I don't always write scenes for my secondary characters, but occasionally, I find it important enough to do so. Enjoy.

Jeanne Smith
August 12, 1980
Nine-thirty A.M., Jeanne Smith stretched, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and climbed out of bed. She shuffled to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, and showered. She wrapped a towel around herself and walked back to her room. She could smell the bacon her mother cooked, and as if she could read Jeanne's mind, she called out that breakfast would be ready in five minutes and cold in ten. Jeanne chose to wear her Pink Floyd tee shirt and cut-off jeans. She checked herself in the mirror and liked what she saw—blonde hair, green eyes, oval face, pouty lips, a small slightly upturned nose, and a smoking-hot body. She pirouetted in front of the mirror and bounced out of the bedroom.
"I hear the garbage truck, Honey. Could you take the container to the road?"
Jeanne pouted, but she knew it would be futile to protest. It was part of her agreement with her mother—take the garbage out on Tuesday, vacuum her bedroom once a month, fold clothes on Saturday, put her clothes away by Sunday, and place dishes in the dishwasher every evening. In return, she received a fifty-dollar-a-week allowance, which was no small feat on her mother's miniscule salary. Every time she failed to do a chore, she reduced her allowance by ten dollars. She couldn't afford not to take out the garbage.
Of all her chores, the one she hated the most was garbage duty. Calvin Trahan, a dirty, greasy-haired junior at Ellisonville High School worked the garbage truck with his father every summer, and he leered at her, making rude inappropriate comments about her and often to her. She complained to her mother, who complained to the city, but it made no difference. Calvin's father had been a garbage truck driver for twenty years. He was not going anywhere.
Jeanne grabbed the garbage container and rolled it down her driveway to the road. She and her mother lived in a brick home in a quiet suburb just west of downtown Ellisonville. Her father, an accountant with Magnolia Financial Group, had died a few years before when Jeanne was thirteen. She could barely remember what he looked like. He left behind the house, a trust fund for Jeanne's college, enough money to cover the funeral and allow Jeanne and her mother to live comfortably for the first two years after his death. When it became clear that the money would not last, Amanda enrolled in the nursing program at Ellisonville Junior College. Finances were tight right now, but her mother would graduate soon and get a better job than the one she had at The Helping Hands Nursing Home as a certified nurse's assistant.
Jeanne arrived at the road about the same time the truck did. She was sure Calvin's father timed it that way. She had tried placing the garbage out the night before, but the neighborhood dogs would tip it over, and she would be forced to pick up the scattered trash. She tried waking up early and beating the truck, but she was no early riser.
The truck was a noisy machine that smelled like rotten vegetables, rotten meat, and sour milk—all smells she hated. Calvin came out from behind it and leered at her, his teeth dirty and greenish looking when he spoke.
"Hi, beautiful," he said and took the container making sure to brush her hand with his. Jeanne wiped her hand on her butt.
"If only I was that hand, I'd be in heaven right now."
"Oh, shut up, Calvin, and empty the damn container." Jeanne glanced at Calvin's father. He was grinning and actually licking his lips. Calvin hooked up the container to a lift on the truck, and with much grinding of gears and revving of motors, the lift upturned the container and dumped the garbage into the rear of the truck. He returned it to Jeanne.
"Hey, sweets. How about you go out with me this weekend?"
"I'd rather cut my arm off." She grabbed the container and pushed it up the driveway. She heard him tell his father, "She looks just as good going as she does coming." The father laughed and moved the truck up one driveway.
When Jeanne entered the kitchen, her mother had breakfast waiting for her.
"How'd it go with the Trahan boy?"
Jeanne told her what happened.
"Honey, if you would put out the garbage on Monday night or earlier on Tuesday mornings, you wouldn't have to deal with those two."
"I shouldn't have to, Momma. Can't we sue the city or something?"
"It costs money for lawyers, and we just can't afford that." Amanda reached under the cabinets, pulled out a shopping bag, and placed it in front of Jeanne. "Here's something that'll put you in a better mood."
Jeanne's face brightened.
"Oh, Momma, the red bikini." They had seen a Cheryl Tiegs poster in which she wore the swimsuit. Jeanne had fallen in love with it.
Jeanne grabbed the suit and ran to her room to try it on. It clung to her like skin. She turned sideways and checked herself out in the full-length mirror. She turned around and looked over her shoulder to check her backside. Perfect. She felt like a model.
Eat your heart out Cheryl Tiegs.
"Momma," she called out from the bedroom. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
"Come out here. Let me see what you look like."
Jeanne came out prancing like a model on the runway.
"Oh, Honey. Don't you think it's a little too revealing?"
"Oh no, Momma, this is what women are wearing now-a-days."
"But, Honey, it leaves little to the imagination."
"I know how to take care of myself."
"Okay, Baby. Hold on. Let me get the camera."
Her mother walked into her bedroom and grabbed her Instamatic. She snapped several shots as Jeanne posed.
"I need to show it off, Momma. I have to show it off. I'm going to call Joey."
"Don't you two usually go to the pump on Tuesday afternoons?"
"Yes, but I can't wait. I want him to come early. I can't wait to see his reaction."
Joey was Jeanne's boyfriend of sorts. He was on the football team; he and Jeanne had an on–again-off-again relationship. Currently, it was on. She disappeared into her room, reappearing a few minutes later.
"Momma, Joey'll come pick me up in a few minutes. He'll take me to his house, and we'll take his four-wheeler to the pump from there. Okay?"
"Okay, Honey. Just be careful."
"I will, Momma."
"Love you, Honey."
"Love you too," Jeanne turned and ran out of the house, slamming the door in the process.
Her mother stood in the doorway and waved. It would be the last time Jeanne saw her mother.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Amanda Smith 2

In the last blog, you met Amanda Smith. In this one, you will see how she reacted to her daughter's abduction. On August 12, 1980, while swimming with her friend, Joey, someone killed Joey and abducted Jeanne Smith. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book; however, it will give me an idea of is happening in the background. Next week, you'll meet Jeanne.

Amanda Smith
August 12, 1980

Amanda usually staffed the desk near the entrance to the Helping Hands Nursing Home when she wasn't working with the residents. The home was a plantation-style building, which housed the elderly and the infirmed. A former member of the Louisiana Society of Helping Hands had willed the building and the two hundred plus acres surrounding it to the charitable organization with the stipulation that it be turned into a low-cost nursing home. Kristin Ivers, a nurse and her supervisor, was passing on some instructions to Amanda when two Ellisonville Police Department officers walked in. For some reason, she could not explain, she shivered at the sight of the two men.
When the overweight red-faced man walked to the desk and asked for Amanda Smith, she knew it would not be good news, but when he told her that Jeanne was missing, and Joey had been shot, it was the worst possible news she could have imagined. She took a deep breath, held it in for a few seconds and then exhaled. She had to be calm—find out what it all meant.
"What do you mean 'missing'?" she asked in an even and controlled voice.
The red-faced officer turned to his partner, who nodded.
"We think…That is, the state police believe she was kidnapped."
When she heard the word, kidnapped, she blinked.
"Who would do such a thing?"
"We don't know yet, ma'am."
"I see." Amanda took another deep breath. She felt as if she were losing control, but she had to find out what happened.
"Are you all right, Mandy?" Kristin asked.
Amanda shook her off with a wave of her arm. She had to concentrate.
"You say Joey was shot. Is he dead?"
Again, the red-faced officer looked at his partner, and he nodded again.
"Yes, ma'am."
"Oh, my God," Kristin exclaimed and placed a hand on Amanda's shoulder.
"How was he shot?" Amanda asked.
"Ma'am, we're not allowed to give out any more information than that."
She nodded.
"Was my daughter shot, also?" She resisted the urge to cross her fingers, something she did as a child when faced with bad news.
"We don't think so."
"Ma'am." The other police officer, a tall dark man with a buzz cut, stepped forward. He had been standing back until then, watching her reaction closely. "We need some pictures of your daughter for identification purposes and maybe a couple of articles of clothing for the dogs."
"Dogs?"
"Bloodhounds."
"Of course." Amanda took a step forward, but her legs would not work. She could not support herself, and she fell, seated on the wood floor. Then the grief and despair overwhelmed her, and she let out a howl that reverberated from wall to wall in the old building. Then she sobbed, a series of convulsive explosion that emptied her lungs of air, and she knew she was going to die.
She was going to die without ever knowing if her daughter was alive or dead.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Amanda Smith

On August 12, 1980, while swimming with her boyfriend, Joey, a stranger killed him and abducted Jeanne Smith. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book; however, it did give me an idea why Amanda is so determined to find her daughter. I don't always write scenes for my secondary characters, but occasionally, I find it important enough to do so. Enjoy.

Amanda Smith
1960

Amanda Smith's life was not an easy one. The daughter of a sharecropper, a sweet potato farmer for Alcide Rozas, she suffered the taunts of the other kids who did not want for new clothes, food, and a house with electricity and running water. She swore that if she ever had children, they would not want for any of those things.
At sixteen, she did not go to the Junior/Senior Prom Night at Serpentville High School because she had nothing to wear, and even if she could have somehow afforded something decent, she had no date. No boy would ask her to a prom. She was not ugly. She was plain. Plain-colored hair. Plain face. Plain body. Plain intelligence. Plain clothes. Everything about her was plain. In fact, the photographer taking the Junior pictures for the yearbook grimaced when she sat for him.
At seventeen, when prom time at EHS rolled around, she figured there was no hope that anyone would ask her, but someone did. Shaking from nervousness, Johnny Smith snuck up on her in the library and asked if she would go with him. Johnny was nerdy, a math whiz. He had an oversized Adam's apple, wore thick black-rimmed glasses, khaki pants, and a checkered shirt over a soft, flabby body. Several zits stood out prominently on his face, and his oily black hair was combed back from his forehead. He was not handsome by any stretch of the imagination, and no girl would consider accompanying him to the prom, but Amanda was no stranger to logic. She figured out his reasoning immediately. Since no girl would go out with him, and no boy would go with her, they were a perfect match.
She was so startled by Johnny's invitation that she stuttered.
"I…don't…know."
"Oh," Johnny said, lowering his head and shoulders and walking away.
"Wait," she called out after him. "I didn't mean I wouldn't go with you. I just meant I don't know if I can."
He turned and sat down at the library table, across from her.
"When will you know?"
"Tomorrow. I'll know tomorrow."
Amanda's father's shack was just off the Isaacton gravel road, about three miles north of Ellisonville. The school bus route ran four miles west, going over a network of graveled and paved country roads. The driver turned the bus around at an abandoned farm house, doubled back for about a half mile, then turned northeast again traveling through another maze of country roads. The scenery was always the same, changing only with the seasons. The farms were mostly cotton with soybean and sweet potato fields sandwiched between them. In the spring, the cotton plants were babies. In early summer, they flowered, and in late summer the cotton bolls popped open. In the fall, there were only dead stalks left in the fields. In the winter, there was nothing except empty rows, bare and brown.
When the bus finally arrived at the dirt lane leading to her father's shack, Amanda ran home, an armload of books in her arms. She wasn't sure what to think about Johnny asking her for a date to the prom. On the one hand, he wasn't exactly the dream date. On the other, at least, he was a date. She decided that if she could convince her parents to buy her a dress, she would go with him.
She asked her mother, but when she realized that the prom dream would cost over twenty dollars, she balked.
"Your daddy is not going to go for that, honey. We just can't afford it. Twenty dollars would buy a lot of food."
When Amanda approached her father, he said basically the same thing her mother said, but he did have an idea.
"Let me talk to Arlene." Miss Arlene was Mr. Alcide's wife. "Maybe there are some odd jobs you can do for her to earn the money. Mind you, you'll still have to do your chores here."
Miss Arlene and Mr. Alcide Rozas were a childless couple, and Amanda had sat at her feet many times, listening to her tell stories of the "old days," while she sewed or knitted. They were not rich, but they owned their own home and enough land to sharecrop out. They lived comfortably enough compared to her family.
Miss Arlene sent word through her father for her to come by. She had a few chores for her to do. As payment, she would buy her a dress and fix it up.
Amanda was going to the prom.
***
The decorations committee had built a large papier-mâché replica of two opened hands side by side. Seated on stools in the palms of the hands were the king and queen elected by the student body.
Amanda met Johnny at the entrance to the gymnasium. Her father drove her in his old Chevrolet pickup and dropped her off in the parking lot. Johnny, dressed in a powder blue tuxedo, waited for her at the entrance. When he saw her, his eyes widened, and he let out a small gasp of surprise.
"You look beautiful."
Amanda had never felt beautiful before, but on this night, she felt like a queen. She wore a white full-length dress. The bodice was powder blue, matching Johnny's tux, and dipped down emphasizing her shoulders and just enough of her breasts to be exciting. A powder blue band encircled her waist and tied into a bow whose ends dangled the length of the white skirt. Her long dark hair hung straight, just above her shoulders. Her mother had ironed the hair to insure straightness and cut her bangs evenly across so that they dangled just above her eyes—a very mod coiffure that Mrs. Manuel discovered in a copy of Vogue.
Johnny gave her his arm and escorted her into the gymnasium. They received several surprised stares, but neither had eyes for anyone except each other.
For Amanda, the prom had been a dream come true. It was everything she could have imagined—romantic, exciting, and entertaining. She and Johnny danced until her legs ached. When it was over, he offered to take her home. She agreed and toe to toe on her front porch, he kissed her—a wonderful kiss that lingered long after he'd left.
They became a couple after that. Dowdy Amanda had a boyfriend. Insipid Johnny had a girlfriend. They did things together. He loved jazz. He took her to the Jazz Festival in New Orleans. They walked from stage to stage. They danced, kicking up dust that covered their legs like a fine mist. Amanda loved hiking, so he took her to Kisatchie National forest where they hiked and explored for an entire day until they were too tired to go on.
After they graduated from school, Amanda secured a job at the local Walgreens pharmacy. Johnny attended Louisiana State University under a scholarship. He wanted a degree in accounting. During his junior year, when he came home for spring break, Amanda had some news for him. She was pregnant.
He did not hesitate. He married her, and she moved to Baton Rouge to be with her husband. He lived in a rundown apartment—really, a room in a house. He shared a kitchen and a bathroom with three other students. She found a job clerking at a nearby quick stop store while he attended school and worked at a student aid job.
They found a tiny garage apartment within walking distance of the college. Jeanne arrived on November 24, 1963, a beautiful perfectly healthy girl. Amanda quit her job to take care of the baby. She quickly became the focus of their lives.
Johnny graduated six months later and immediately enrolled in a master's program, which he finished in two years. He applied for a job with Magnolia Financial Group in Ellisonville and was hired. He loved his job and climbed the executive ladder so fast that by the time he died in a car crash in 1975, he was one of the top administrators at Magnolia. As one member of the financial group said at his funeral, "Johnny Smith's future with the company was nothing short of stellar. He will be missed."
Amanda was devastated, but she did not mourn for long. She had Jeanne to think of—all that was left of her life.

The Swamp Queen

              My new book, The Swamp Queen is ready for download from Amazon.com.           My wife and I spent over a year living on th...