Creole Belle

Free Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

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Authors: James Lee Burke
Tags: Dave Robicheaux
for chemical sludge trucked in from other states; and the Gulf Stream waters of Woody Guthrie’s famous song were strung with columns of oil that were several miles long. But I believed I could hear Tee Jolie’s voice rising out of the mists, her Acadian French lyrics as mournful as a dirge. Maybe all my perceptions and convictions were the stuff one expects of a dry drunk or, in this instance, a drunkard who had to wet his lips each time he thought about the slow seep of a translucent tube into his veins. No matter how it played out, my vote would always remain with those who’d had their souls shot out of a cannon and who no longer paid much heed to the judgment of the world.
    I would like to say that all my cerebral processes gave me a solution to my problems. The opposite was true. At sunrise, when steam rose off the bayou and the tidal current reversed itself and I heard the drawbridge at Burke Street clanking into the air, I still had no answer to two essential questions: What had happened to Tee Jolie Melton, and how had a collection of low-rent gumballs gotten their hands on a bourré marker that Clete Purcel paid off two decades ago?
    A T 7:45 A.M . I walked down East Main and up the long driveway past the city library and the shady grotto dedicated to Jesus’ mother and entered the side door of the sheriff’s department and knocked on Helen Soileau’s door. Helen had started her career as a meter maid with NOPD and had worked herself up to the level of patrol-womanin a neighborhood that included the Desire Projects. Later, she became a detective with the department in New Iberia, the town where she had grown up. For several years she had been my partner in our homicide unit, overcoming all the prejudices and suspicions that people have toward women in general and lesbians in particular. She had been the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation and brought to task because of her romantic involvement with a female confidential informant. She had received three citations for bravery and meritorious service. She had been Clete Purcel’s lover. Last, there had been occasions when Helen looked at me with an androgynous light in her eyes and I found it necessary to leave the room and devote myself to other duties in the building.
    I told her about Clete’s problems with Waylon Grimes and Bix Golightly and about Grimes’s invasion of Alice Werenhaus’s home. I also told her about the disappearance of Tee Jolie and her sister, Blue Melton, in St. Martin Parish.
    “Dave, no matter what Clete does or does not do, Ms. Werenhaus is going to file charges with NOPD against Grimes,” she said. “Let them do their job.”
    “There’s no evidence it was Grimes,” I replied.
    “Maybe they’ll create some.”
    “Things have changed since you and I worked there.”
    She picked up a ballpoint pen and stuck the end between her teeth while she stared flatly into my face. “What Clete does in New Orleans is his business. I don’t want to hear about it again. Got it?”
    “No. What do you think happened to Tee Jolie?”
    “I don’t know,” she said, her exasperation barely constrained. “You say you saw her at your recovery unit. Why do you think anything happened to her?”
    I didn’t have an adequate answer for that one.
    “Hello? Are there two of us in the room, or did you just take flight?” she asked.
    “Tee Jolie was afraid. She was talking about centralizers.”
    “About what?”
    “She said she was scared. She said she was around dangerous people.”
    “If we’re talking about the same person, she has a promiscuous reputation, Dave. Bad things happen to girls who drop their panties for bad guys.”
    “That’s a rotten thing to say.”
    “Too bad. It’s the truth. Didn’t she sing in that zydeco dump by Bayou Bijoux?”
    “So what?”
    “It’s a place where guys in suits and ties hunt on the game farm.”
    “What you’re suggesting is that she deserved her fate.”
    “It’s a real

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