Friday, December 6, 2013

Jolie Blon

Henri Arceneaux said, “Member what I teach you, you.” He straddled the body in the bottom of the pirogue, making the small, green boat bob like a cork, “We want dem to stay down, so we gots to tickle dem diaphragm.” He was seventy years old and shirtless, his chest and stomach marked with old scars from knife and bullet. He looked hard, like he was made of gristle and bone. He motioned at me with a finger, “Take off dat shirt, it’s too hot dis morning.”

“The mosquitoes like me too much. I’ll leave it on.”

 Henri shrugged and drew the big knife from his belt sheath, the blade every man in St. Landry Parish respectfully called Jolie Blon, and cut open the man’s shirt. The Kabar’s blade sliced through the cloth like a scalpel.

Achille Dupre’s tattooed chest and stomach looked deflated in death.  Henri said, “Want to get de feel of it?” He held the knife out to me, hilt first. The thin, honed edge glowed like a sliver of white ice.

 “Go ahead. I’ll watch.” I saw something flicker in his eyes. Maybe disappointment, maybe not. He touched Dupre’s chest an inch below the juncture of the breastbone, right on the forehead of the Jesus tattoo.  “Put her in here, angled like you want her to come out between dem shoulder blades.” He showed me by holding the knife at the proper angle. “Work de handle to cut back, then left and right.  Make like a cross in dat diaphragm, and no gas can trap. Dat’s bein’ professional at what you do, you.”

He punched the blade into the tattoo and it made a wet sound, then he flexed his wrist in different directions and pulled out the knife, widening the hole in the skin with the blade. “If dey’s floaters, you leave an opening to put in rocks, hold him down for de first few days.  After dat, you don’ worry, you.”

“They’ll float even with the diaphragm cut?”

“You ever see somebody swimmin’, floatin’ like dey’s an air mattress, an’ somebody beside dem sinks every time dey try?” I nodded.  “Dis one‘s a floater.” He grinned, “I’m not a floater, me.”

“How can you tell?”

“Dis I been doin’ for forty years.” Henri slipped five, fist-sized rocks into the body and hooked his hands under Dupre’s armpits as I grabbed his ankles. We tossed him into the Atchafalaya, making the flat-bottomed boat rock.  It was as if Achille Dupre never existed.  Henri washed the knife and his hands in the dark water, saying, “Still got time for dem fresh beignets. Start the motor, you.”


Two days later, we were at the same location. Henri studied the water, “He stayin’ down, dat’s good.  You always check, you.” He stood in the boat with his back to me and slipped off his shirt, “Hoo-wee, it’s so damn hot dis year.”

I stood and drew the pistol from under the back of my western snap-button shirt. When he turned, his eyes narrowed.

“What’s my name,” I said. Henri looked as wary as a wolf. He didn’t answer. “What’s my name?”

He was angry, but cautious, looking for an opening. “Teddy Beaupre.”

“Who was my daddy?”

He couldn’t figure out where I was going, but playing along gave him time. “Bobby Beaupre. He die in de big twenty year ago storm.”

“Yeah, he did. And we moved away, came back three years ago.”


“Did you know my momma remarried two years after daddy died?”

“How de hell I know dat?” He eased his hand an inch closer to the knife.

“My step-daddy was a good man. I loved him.” I ripped open my shirt. “We even got matching tattoos.”

“You got de Jesus, you.”  He glanced at the water where we tossed Achille Dupre. Henri’s shoulders sagged, and he looked old.

He said, “Member what I taught you, you?” I nodded. Henri grabbed for the knife and I shot him.

 I motored home in the pirogue, and on my hip was Jolie Blon.