by Mary Anna Evans
Episode 1 of “The Podcast I Never Intend to Broadcast”, Part 1
by Amande Marie Landreneau
How long have I been stealing my grandmother’s stories? I’ve been doing it longer than I’ve been telling my own stories, that’s for sure, and I’ve been doing that for most of my sixteen years.
I don’t remember falling in love with books. I just remember the boat rocking beneath my bed as Grandmère read me fairy tales. And I don’t remember learning to read. It was a gradual thing, as if the letters on the pages of my picture books slowly came into focus, day by day, materializing out of the fog as my grandmother spoke.
Some days, my naptime came and went without a book in sight, because Grandmère knew more stories than the Brothers Grimm. Her people—our people— have always lived here in the deep delta country, way below New Orleans in the between-land where the Mississippi pours itself into the Gulf. If there’s a story floating around about ship captains or long-lost lovers or endangered children or voodoo priestesses, and if my grandmother didn’t tell it to me, then it isn’t true. Or, at least, it didn’t happen anywhere near here.
Young children like their worlds to be just so—it’s less scary that way—so it bothered me that some of the stories she told me came out of thin air. All stories should be captured in books, or so it seemed to me.
To fix that problem, I wrote my first story in the margins of a coloring book, one word on each page: Ship. Gold. Thief. Kidnap. (Quite a word for a preschooler, don’t you think?) Run. Home.
All my stories end safe at home, just like that one. My social worker thinks this is significant. Well, duh. My mother ran away when I was six months old, and I’ve always lived on a houseboat that could’ve theoretically floated away some school day while I was learning things and playing kickball on the playground.
After I wrote that immortal coloring-book tale, Grandmère bought me a spiral-bound notebook. The blank pages made me happy, since I didn’t like writing books with pictures that didn’t match my story. Actually, I was tired of picture books in general. The drawings never matched what I saw in my head, and they took up space that could’ve been used for more words.
I love words. They mean what they say, and they never change. You can trust them. (I’m not even going to bother you with my social worker’s interpretation of those last two sentences. You know what she thinks they mean.)
Sally the Social Worker says that recent events may put me in foster care a while. Frankly, I’d rather just get started taking care of myself. I think I’d be pretty good at it, and I’m not sure I trust anyone else to do the job. Still, there are days when I feel like a little girl whose home floated away in the last hurricane.
When I need something to hold onto, I’ve always reached for the two silver coins I found buried in mud, back when I was a little kid messing around the islands in my boat. I would hold them, one in each hand and think, “These must be worth something. If the houseboat and everything else goes back to the bank, I can sell these. With a silver coin in each hand, I’ll never starve.”
Those coins are gone now, stolen. I really need to go looking for more silver coins.
Until then, I’ll sit here, alone with my cheap digital recorder, and I’ll tell it my grandmother’s stories. Nothing else makes me feel quite so safe.
The Gulf of Mexico lapped at Faye Longchamp’s toes, as flawlessly blue as the water that wrapped around her home on Joyeuse Island. The waves splashed on her bare feet, blood-warm, just as they did on her own beach. The scent of salt water was as familiar as the soap smell on her husband’s neck.
Strictly speaking, she wasn’t really looking at the Gulf of Mexico. Faye wasn’t sure how to name this water. In south Louisiana, the land just drifts to sea. The water at Faye’s feet was connected to a bunch of canals and island-dotted estuaries and grassy coves that extended south and west until they eventually connected to Barataria Bay, and it was connected to the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of its name, this water smelled like the gulf breezes that blew in her bedroom window every morning.
Faye had never traveled much. There had simply been no money. Starting her own archaeological consulting firm had held the promise of frequent business trips, paid for by someone else. What could be better than seeing the world and being paid to do it?
This first out-of-state consulting trip had brought her here to south Louisiana, five hundred miles from her front door…to a place that looked and felt pretty much like home. Maybe someday she’d land a client who wanted to send her someplace exotic, but not this time.
This client had just called with a change in assignment, and Faye was still trying to wrap her brain around it. Everything had changed in the days since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, though none of those changes were visible to the naked eye. Yet.
The water at her feet was still as clear. The sky was as blue. Pelicans flew overhead without a care in the world.
Actually, one ripple from the offshore disaster had already reached shore—fear. It showed on the faces of boaters at this marina, where a rented cabin served Faye as project headquarters. It showed in the reluctance of shoppers to part with money at the marina’s tiny convenience store. It showed in the concern on the face of the marina’s manager, Manny, as he stood at the cash register and surveyed an empty restaurant.
It showed the most at the waterfront. Every time someone walked to the shore and stood there looking, as Faye was doing now, the fear showed.
Joe appeared at her side. It was a comfort to remember how many times they’d stood on their own island and looked out to sea in just this way. He leaned down to speak in her ear, so that she could hear him over the wind that whipped off the water hard enough to stir even Joe’s heavy black ponytail.
The expected endearment didn’t come. Instead, he said, “We’re out of bottled water to mix Michael’s formula. I’ll get some at the marina store.”
Faye snaked an arm around his waist and rubbed her hand over the muscles of his flat belly, just to remind him that she was a girl. “Grab some of that turkey he likes while you’re there.”
He put his lips next to her ear again, then headed for her neck. “If I get sweet potatoes, too, he’ll sleep better…and longer.”
Seduction between parents moves at lightning speed. It has to. There’s no time.
Faye whispered, “If you get some of that microwave rice to go with it, he’ll sleep till sunup,” and Joe was gone, making tracks to the convenience store so that they could carb-load their baby. Faye was left to watch the setting sun bleed into the sea.
Somewhere out there in the Gulf of Mexico was actual blood and crumpled wreckage and a whole lot of oil. Before many days had passed, the oil would come here. Faye’s job had become a race against time.
Steve Daigle’s wife was hardly cold in the ground. Actually, she was neither cold nor in the ground. He’d cremated the body, since it was the cheapest way to get rid of her, and that had just happened yesterday. He doubted she’d really had time to cool off before he dumped the ashes into the stagnant, lukewarm bayou behind their duplex.
Justine was gone. He did not miss the hospice workers trooping in and out of the house, taking her vital signs and recharging the morphine in her IV. Why in hell couldn’t somebody hook him up to a morphine pump?
He did not miss the months when she was on chemo, retching and vomiting on schedule, three weeks on and one week off.
Did he miss Justine herself, before the cancer erupted from her breasts and consumed the rest of her? Steve wasn’t sure his memory reached back that far. He remembered the breasts. They’d been on the small side, but soft. She’d trembled when he touched them. Yes, he missed those. And he missed her firm little ass.
Had he loved her? Was that why he stuck around to watch her shrivel and die?
Maybe he’d loved her and maybe he hadn’t, but Steve Daigle was not the kind of man who stayed around for the hard times. Justine’s diagnosis of terminal cancer would ordinarily have sent him out the door and on his way to the next parish, but not in this case. He had an inheritance to consider. Justine had owned a piece of her late father’s houseboat, not to mention a piece of a nice little pile of stock in the oil company where he’d worked.
After he’d found out about that inheritance, it had taken him a while to understand why Justine couldn’t just go back to her hometown and kick her stepmother off that houseboat. Finally, he’d called a cousin who’d almost finished paralegal school, and she’d walked him through Louisiana’s twisty inheritance laws. She’d repeated herself until her words sank into his brain, but that didn’t mean he liked those words.
She’d said, “Like Justine told you, her father died without a will, so all the property he’d owned before he married didn’t go to his wife. It went to his natural children. This means his wife Miranda didn’t inherit the houseboat she’s living on, nor the stock that provides the income that pays her bills. The kids own it.”
This was the part Steve liked. Unfortunately, there was more to the story.
“When there’s no will, the state of Louisiana gives the surviving spouse a ‘usufruct’ on the property. This means that Justine’s stepmother Miranda has the use of the houseboat and the income from the stock for as long as she lives. But the children, the actual owners—they don’t receive their property until she dies. Her estate will owe the children, or their heirs, all the money she collected in dividends for all these years, but Miranda’s got no money. There won’t be anything in the estate to repay those dividends, so his children are screwed in that regard. They’ll eventually get the boat and stock, but that’s all, and it won’t happen till Miranda dies and that could be a lot of years.”
The cousin delivered the final bad news with a colloquial definition she’d learned from a classmate. “It’s easy to remember the word ‘usufruct.’ The person holding the usufruct has the use of the property. And the actual owners are ‘fruct.’”
Steve didn’t see himself as stupid, though he may in fact have been. His immediate reaction to this news had been to ask his cousin to help him draw up a will for Justine.
Thanks to the terms of that will, there would be no usufructs for Steve. When Miranda croaked, Steve would own all of Justine’s worldly goods outright.
Now that Justine was gone, paying Miranda a visit seemed like the obvious thing to do. He could tell her about Justine’s death, paying his respects to the grieving stepmother. He could also get some idea of just how old Miranda really was, because he really needed her to die soon so he could move onto that boat. The rent on this duplex was killing him.
Justine had described her stepmother as physically frail and mentally tough. Mental toughness was all well and good, but it didn’t keep a person alive.
If God was good, Steve would arrive just in time to see Miranda succumb to sudden cardiac arrest. It could happen. He threw some clothes and a razor into a duffle bag, hooked his boat to the back of his truck, and hit the road.
Faye’s client, a humongous environmental firm, had originally sent her to survey archaeological sites along the Mississippi south of New Orleans as part of a run-of-the-mill environmental assessment. The Deepwater Horizon disaster had exploded her routine project into a job so huge that it just might swamp her little company.
She’d hung up the phone after accepting the new work and wandered to the waterfront, hoping the water on her bare feet would tell her what to do. Knowing that the oil spill would generate the Mother of All Environmental Impact Statements, her client had promised Faye’s new business a much larger check if she expanded her scope to include the vast area that potentially could be damaged by the spill.
Faye’s client had not grown to be humongous by hiring foolish people. The managers knew that their firm would be well-positioned to land that Mother of All Environmental Impact Statements if it could provide a good assessment of the land as it was now, before it got messed up. Faye was now officially contracted to race with the oil.
Others would be hurrying to assess the other aspects of the area—the plants, the animals, the towns, the roads, the economy, the air quality, the water quality—but Faye just needed to focus on its archaeology: the physical remnants of human history near the mouth of the Mississippi. Humans had lived here and fought over this land ever since they figured out that boats made it easy to go places and move stuff.
Most of this vast area was accessible only by a boat captained by somebody smart enough to navigate water that was way shallower than your average bathtub. There was no way around it. Faye’s new project was gargantuan and it just might be impossible. The only point in her favor was the fact that she and Joe had been piddling around in little-bitty boats for a combined half-century. She’d upgraded their rental boat when the new scope-of-work came in, and the new one didn’t count as “little-bitty.”
Manny, the marina’s manager, had grinned from ear to handsome ear when Faye told him she needed something bigger. Then he’d reached up a mahogany hand and brushed one long dreadlock back over a broad shoulder, revealing three hoop earrings and a diamond stud. “Let me show you the boat I rent to the rich Yankee fishermen. A beautiful business owner like you, ma’am, should ride in style.”
Faye didn’t like to think that she could be swayed in her financial decisions merely by being called beautiful, but she was now in temporary possession of a watercraft that was way nicer than any boat she or Joe had ever owned. It was more than twenty feet long and luxuriously outfitted, yet designed to navigate waters less than two feet deep. It was good that the thing was comfortable, because she and Joe would be coming to know it intimately. They would be doing a lot of this work themselves, since they were working with a skeleton crew.
Oh, who was she kidding? She was working with Joe and a part-time technician. Even the term “skeleton crew” was a bit much.
The original job had been a perfect fit for her startup company–an initial survey, heavy on library research and site walkovers, without the need for excavation that would have required a big crew. The best part about the job had been that they could even bring little Michael.
And the worst part about the job had been that they could even bring little Michael.
Joe was much better than Faye at handling the distractions of having a nearly-one-year-old underfoot. He also was much better at dealing with the natural behavior of a tiny child, which can only be described as suicidal. Faye knew she was capable of laser-sharp focus on her work, which meant that she was capable of forgetting to watch a toddler every split-second. Michael had his father’s strength and coordination, so he’d learned to walk before he was nine months old. And he was fast. Her nightmares were now haunted by speeding cars and sharp objects and the still bodies of water that are so seductive to children who can’t swim.
Faye’s inspired solution to the problem of Michael had been to hire Dauphine, a technician who had done fabulous work for her at the Chalmette battlefield near New Orleans. No less significant was the fact that Dauphine had also saved her life.
Most of the time, Dauphine was Michael’s babysitter, but when he was napping or otherwise occupied, she reverted to being a crackerjack technician. Even better, when she was being a technician, she was billable to the client. This warmed the deepest depths of Faye’s businesswoman heart.
Dauphine was a stout woman who dressed like the part-time voodoo mambo that she was, covered in mismatched, candy-colored scarves and turbans and flowing skirts. Her personal style was not a problem in this part of the world where voodoo mambos in full ceremonial regalia didn’t attract one whit of attention. Michael had adored Dauphine from the moment he laid eyes on her. Faye was pretty sure he just liked to watch his mambo babysitter float by in a sea of multicolored gauze.
Hebert Demeray missed his old hangouts, the ones that had washed away during Hurricane Katrina. He missed the way beer bottles stuck to the tops of their bars, grimy with old shellac and spilled bourbon. Nostalgia gripped him when he remembered worn floorboards so uneven that the bathroom doors scraped and squeaked and sometimes didn’t close all the way. He even missed the stench of old urinals, served by plumbing that had rebelled after years of carrying an overload of beer piss and vomit.
It had only been a few years since the storm. The replacement drinking establishments didn’t have enough age on them to make Hebert feel at home, and maybe they never would. The government had made the barkeeps rebuild on stilts. By the time folks got to the top of all those stairs, they’d stomped the mud off their feet. How on earth was a bar’s floor to get dirty enough to make a dirty man feel comfortable?
And the cheapest thing to put on top of those stilts was a pre-manufactured building. How on earth was a man supposed to drink enough to blot out the world when he was sitting in a doublewide? And when that man was drinking early in the afternoon, like now…well, the sunlight shining through the clean new windows onto the shiny new bar made the atmosphere almost too perky for total drunkenness. Almost.
The only things in sight that were seedy enough to suit Hebert were his fellow drinkers. He recognized all but one of them. He’d been in brawls with at least half of them. Three of them had pulled knives on him while brawling, which Hebert frankly considered cheating, but he was a big man with more than a little extra flesh. On those few occasions that a blade had made contact with his body, it had buried itself in a roll of fat. Hebert had suffered nothing more than the loss of a little blood and a sharp stab of pain that was quickly blunted by booze. The knife-wielders had suffered a lot more, and Hebert had delivered that suffering with his bare fists.
Hebert thought of his mother, as Cajun men will do when under the influence of booze and nostalgia. He hadn’t spoken to her in years, not since the last time she cursed him and cast him out. Miranda Landreneau was well-able to curse a man, so he’d never had the guts to go back and ask her forgiveness, though in all that time he’d never lived more than ten miles from her shabby little houseboat. He’d spent those years staggering from one rented room to another. And from one rented woman to another.
The stranger raised his beer bottle in his direction, beckoning for Hebert to join him. This was unusual behavior in the bars where Hebert liked to drink. People didn’t go there to look for new friends, unless you counted the ones who were looking for one-night friends. Most of the drinkers here weren’t even looking for sex. They sat alone, or they sat silent next to the friends who came out drinking with them, and they raised one glass after another until the world looked like a place they could possibly tolerate. Or until they passed out, whichever came first.
But Hebert was a friendly sort, and he was inclined to like a man who was drinking heavily while the sun was still high overhead. He was perfectly willing to go keep the stranger company, especially because the stranger might decide to buy his new friend a drink, if Hebert could manage to be charming enough.
Faye slipped on her flip-flops and shuffled back to the marina, finding Joe burdened down with grocery bags. The neck of a wine bottle stuck seductively out of one of those bags, and Faye started calculating just how quickly she could get Michael settled in his portable crib. She thought two bedtime stories would do it. Three, tops.
“This little man has been talking all the day long,” Dauphine said, gathering Michael up, giving him a noisy kiss on the cheek, and thrusting him into Faye’s arms. “What he was saying, I cannot tell you. But any fool could tell it was very important.” She leaned in for another kiss. “Tell your maman the things you told me.”
Michael did not intend to chat on cue. He pursed his little lips, which made him look exactly like Joe. Well, he always looked a lot like his father, but the stoic pout made him look like Joe when Faye had done something dire…like, for instance, forgetting to tell him about a contract so big that it could sink their fledgling company.
Oops. She decided to tell him about the new job after he’d had one glass of wine, but before he’d had two.
Laughing, Faye held Michael up so Joe could see his little twin. Something made her look over her husband’s shoulder and focus on a houseboat so nondescript that it should have been invisible among the shiny pleasure craft and well-maintained working boats. It was moored well away from the transient boats that constantly moved in and out of the marina, and it was accessed by a floating dock that wrapped around two sides. It looked like it had sat in that spot since it was shiny and new. Nothing between the houseboat and open water, so the shabby craft had a million-dollar view. For that reason Faye thought it might be a more inviting place to live than it looked.
Faye would never have noticed the boat at all, but for the girl standing on its deck. It was as if somebody had whispered in her ear: “Look. Your baby may look like his father made over, but here is a mirror for you.”
Faye was nothing if not rational, and it took only a split second for her to catalog the ways this girl was not her mirror. She was tall and broad-shouldered and well-muscled, and Faye was a hundred-pound wisp. Her shoulder-length hair was a dark mass of brunette curls, which could hardly be less like Faye’s cropped and straight black locks.
On the other hand, her creamed coffee skin tone and sharply defined features were very like Faye’s, and their golden-brown eyes were more alike than not. But these were not the things that caught Faye’s eye. Faye was riveted by the girl’s confidence as she grabbed a flashlight and leaned close to one of the boat’s windows to inspect the caulk that she’d just applied.
An old woman emerged onto the boat’s deck, scolding the girl in French. The girl answered her in French, hugged her, then mischievously untied the woman’s apron strings.
Dauphine had stopped tickling Michael when she heard French being spoken. Faye raised an eyebrow in her direction.
Dauphine answered the unspoken question. “The woman is the girl’s Grandmére. She is convinced that her granddaughter is rendering herself unmarriageable by doing something so unladylike in broad daylight. The girl said that she could hardly be expected to caulk in the dark, and that she was sure her grandmother liked the water to stay outside their home.”
At this girl’s age, Faye had already spent a lot of time on the roof of her own aging home, trying to keep the water out. Unlike this girl, she’d had the advantage of a grandmother who hadcrawled onto Joyeuse’s roof with her, because Faye’s grandmother had wanted her to know how to keep the leaks stanched when the house passed to her.
It was probably a good thing that Faye already had more work on her plate than she could possibly do. Otherwise, she’d have hopped onto the houseboat and helped the girl make it ship-shape. Faye’s grandmother had taught her boat maintenance, too. How else could Faye be expected to live on an island when Joyeuse was hers?
Instead of volunteering to help a stranger lay down a bead of caulk, Faye turned to the child in her arms. Reflexively catching the sippy cup that he kept tossing to the ground, she noticed Dauphine’s face. Pensive and watchful, the mambo watched the houseboat until the old woman disappeared into the cabin. Her hand strayed toward a pocket in the side seam of her voluminous orange pants.
Faye knew that Dauphine kept a protective talisman in that pocket at all times. The mambo’s hand slid out of sight and returned to view, clenched around something Faye couldn’t see.
Didi Landreneau Channing hadn’t seen her husband Stan in a good long while. This was not the first time he’d bolted.
Or maybe he hadn’t bolted. Stan worked out in the oil field, seven days on and seven days off, and sometimes he picked up an extra shift that kept him offshore for three weeks at a stretch. Didi loved it when that happened. She didn’t miss his sorry ass, and seven extra days of work brought in a pile of extra money in terms of both straight salary and overtime. Or it would have, if he didn’t head straight for the New Orleans casinos as soon as his paycheck arrived.
She’d almost convinced herself that Stan had told her he was taking some temporary contract work between his regular weeklong shifts, so that he could pick up a little extra money. She was almost sure she remembered him saying that he’d be working on the rig they called Deepwater Horizon. The newspaper was saying that eleven people had died. But did they really know? Amid the flames and confusion, was anyone really sure who was out there?
Maybe twelve people had died, and Stan was one of them. Maybe Didi was entitled to some cash compensation. And even if she wasn’t, maybe she could fake her way through a bunch of paperwork and get some anyway. She’d heard that a lot of people faked their way into a lot of money after Katrina. Besides, since she really didn’t know where Stan was, collecting a check for his death couldn’t actually be called fraud, could it?
Didi knew she would be much more convincing as a helpless widow if she looked as needy as possible. Maybe it was time for her to go sleep on a houseboat again. Maybe it was time to run home to Mother.
Faye picked her way through the muck, moving quickly and trying her best to keep up with long-legged Joe. They’d already spent a full morning on this task, and they just might lose their afternoon to it, as well. It would be really nice to have something, anything, to show for their trouble.
The marina was in sight to their west, but they were alone here. Not even tourists were foolish enough to walk through this marshy wasteland. The black goo sucked at her feet, but she fought back. If she lost a work boot, Joe would laugh at her forever.
He had elected to shed his moccasins and go barefoot. This would probably work out just fine for him, since there were no rocks to stub his calloused toes, but the marsh grasses were hard on Faye’s dainty feet. Besides, if they found what they were looking for, Faye knew she could find herself bashing her feet on rocks or cutting them on nails or skewering them on splinters of old wood preserved by being submerged for decades. Joe might be willing to take this risk, but she wasn’t. Or perhaps his bare feet proved just how much he doubted their ability to find a rotten old dock in the middle of this swamp. This thought made Faye even more determined to find it. Today.
Historic maps said that there had been a wooden dock here, back in the days of steamboats. It was probably long-gone, blown away in a hurricane or sunken beneath the muck. Joe’s bare feet said that he wasn’t too worried about the dock and its splinters. Nevertheless, it was Faye’s job to look for it.
Further from the water, Michael was running rampant on dry land. Dauphine stood, one fist on her cocked hip, and watched him frolic. And Faye, pausing in her work more frequently than she should, watched them both.
“Why’d you hire somebody to watch the baby if you ain’t gonna let her watch the baby?”
Joe’s shy smile got wider and cockier when he knew he was right.
Faye snatched up a clump of oozy mud and threw it at him. It hit his bare thigh and oozed downward. “He’s your son. It’ll take more than one person to keep him from doing something dangerous.”
Then she looked over her shoulder again to make sure that Michael was okay.
In the distance, she saw the golden-skinned girl from the houseboat, walking slowly through knee-deep grass, wearing headphones and waving a metal detector in front of her. The sun, almost directly overhead, cast a shadow at her feet, as black as the muck under Faye’s own boots. She wore an oversized Hawaiian shirt, untucked, with khaki shorts, red deck shoes, and a red baseball cap. She would have stood out in any crowd, based on her unusual height and shoulder-length curls, but the colorful clothing made double-sure that she caught the eye.
Faye was several years away from intimate knowledge of school schedules, but she could think of no good reason for a teenaged girl to be out of school this early in the afternoon on a weekday. It was too late for spring break and too early for summer vacation. Faye could think of no school holidays in April. The girl shouldn’t be sweating under a bright sun or breathing in fresh gulf breezes. She should be crouched over a school desk, getting ready for her final exams. Faye wondered if she should speak with her grandmother.
Belly laughter erupted behind her, and Faye looked back to see Michael smearing mud on a pair of cocoa-brown shins.
“Why you do such things to your Dauphine?” The babysitter turned the toddler around to pick him up, so that the filthy hands waved in the air but did no harm. She hauled him to a not-too-muddy puddle for rinsing, still laughing.
In the distance, the girl stooped and picked something up, studying it with a deliberation that Faye recognized, because it was very like her own. After a moment, she hurled it, overhand, and it landed in the open water with a plop. It occurred to Faye that this young woman might know whether a ruined steamboat dock was lurking nearby.
Making her way to more solid ground, she said, “I want to ask that girl if she’s seen what we’re looking for.”
Joe mumbled something that sounded like, “Go ahead,” so she did.
When other mothers cursed their wayward children, they merely shouted four-letter words. When Miranda Landreneau was the one doing the cursing, her target was actually damned, in the original sense of the word. Hebert’s mother was gifted in the dark arts. He believed this with all his heart. He was indeed damned. The sorry state of his life proved that.
Sometimes when Hebert was really drunk, like right now, he staggered down to the waterfront. There was a secluded dock where he could see his mother’s houseboat, without much chance that anyone could see him. Although his mother probably had ways of knowing he was there…
He was squatted on the dock, dabbling his hands in the water and wishing that Miranda would lift her curse, when the knife fell between his shoulder blades. It was a big knife, wielded with power, so it was more than sufficient to penetrate Hebert’s skin and the copious layer of fat beneath it. Severing a number of important nerves, the first blow embedded itself deeply into Hebert’s right lung. He went to the ground hard, on his chest, and somebody’s foot held him down, getting leverage to pull the blade out of his back. The second blow sliced through his spinal cord and nicked his aorta. The third blow pierced his heart, but by this point that hardly mattered.
The foot struck Hebert’s side hard and repeatedly, shoving him toward the dock’s edge. As he dropped into the water, a weak breath and a few words passed his lips. These last words were a curse, one that his mother had taught him.