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"I'm sorry," I said.

He cleared his throat and rubbed one eye hard with his palm, but he did not speak.

"Can you move at all?" I said.

He shook his head.

"I've got a jack in the truck," I said. "I'll go get it and come back. But you're going to have to do something for me, Jimmie Lee."

His elongated spearmint-green eyes looked up into mine. The pupils were like tiny burnt cinders.

"Can you talk to me?" I said.

"Yeah, I can talk." His voice was thick with phlegm.

"When I come back I want you to tell me what happened to Hipolyte Broussard. I want you to tell me who stuffed that oil rag down his mouth. Are we agreed on that?"

"Why do you give a fuck?"

"Because Tee Beau Latiolais is a friend of mine. Because I'm a police officer."

His eyes looked away at the rust-eaten line of holes in the hull. Where there had been light from the outside, the river current was now eddying inside the barge. His face was bright with sweat.

"Get me out of here, man. The tide's coming in," he said.

I climbed hurriedly up the steps, got the jack and a three-battery flashlight out of the equipment box in the bed of my truck, made my way back across the footbridge, and climbed back down into the engine room. I clicked on the flashlight and balanced it on a step so that the beam struck the hull above where Boggs was pinned. His skin looked bone-white against the blackness of the water.

I wedged the base of the jack between the tilted floor and the side of the hull and fitted the handle into the ratchet socket. I snugged the top of the jack against the engine block and started pumping the handle.

"Come on, Boggs, talk to me. It's not a time to hold back," I said.

He strained his chin upward to keep it out of the water.

"The colored kid didn't kill the redbone. Fuck, man, get the sonofabitch off me," he said.

"Who did?"

"The woman did."

"Which woman?"

"Mama Goula. Who do you think, man?"

"How do you know this, Jimmie Lee?"

"I was out there. The redbone was under the bus, banging on the brake drums, yelling at the kid. The bus fell on him and the kid took off running. Come on, man, I'm busted up inside."

"Keep talking to me, Jimmie Lee."

"Mama Goula had brought some chippies out to the camp. She found the redbone and poked the rag down his throat with her thumb."

I felt the engine block move slightly; then the jack handle slipped out of the socket and my knuckles raked against the hull. Boggs pushed with both hands against the block, his neck cording with the strain.

"Hang on," I said, and reset the jack flush against the hull with the other end inserted against the engine's crankshaft. I jacked the handle slowly with both hands, a notch at a time, to try to move the engine's weight back on Boggs's legs so he could sit up higher out of the water.

"Why did she want to kill Hipolyte?" I said.

"She didn't want to split the action. It was a perfect chance to clip the redbone. She knew everybody would blame the kid. Fuck, hurry up, man."

"Why would they blame Tee Beau?"

"The redbone was queer for him. He wanted to make the kid his punk."

I eased the jack up another notch, saw it shift the block perhaps a half inch, and then I clicked it up another notch. It popped loose from the crankshaft with such force that it broke through the water's surface like a spring. Boggs's mouth opened breathlessly.

"You sonofabitch, you're gonna tear my insides out," he said.

"Listen, I've got to find a piece of hose or some pipe."

"What?" His eyes were filled with fright.

"I've got to get you something to breathe through."

"No! You get that jack under the block."

I held it up in my hand.

"It's stripped, Boggs," I said.

"Oh man, don't tell me that."

"Come on, we're not finished yet. I'll be right back."

I hunted through the pilothouse and fore and aft on the deck, but anything of value that could be removed from the barge had long ago been taken by scavengers. Then I recrossed the bridge and tore the radiator hose out of my truck. When I climbed back down into the engine room, Boggs's head was tilted all the way back, so that his ears were underwater and only his face was clear of the surface.

I knelt by him and put my hand under the back of his head.

"Take a breath and lift up your head so you can hear me," I said.

Then I said it again and nudged the back of his head. He straightened his neck and looked at me wide-eyed, his mouth crimped tight, his nostrils shuddering at the waterline.

"We're going to hold his hose as tight as we can around your mouth," I said. "I'll stay with you until the tide goes out. Then I'll get help and we'll pull this block off you. You've got my word, Jimmie Lee. I'm not going anywhere. But we've got to keep the hose sealed against your mouth. Do you understand that?"

He blinked his eyes, then laid his head back in the water again, and I pressed the hard rubber edges of the radiator hose around his mouth.

We held it there together for fifteen minutes while the water climbed higher and covered his face entirely. His hair floated in a dirty aura about his head, and his eyes stared up at me like watery green marbles. Then I felt the rubber slip against his skin, heard him choke down inside the hose, and saw a fine bead of air bubbles rise from the side of his mouth.

I tried to screw the hose tighter into his mouth, but he had swallowed water and was fighting now. At first his hands locked on my wrists, as though I were the source of his suffering; then his fists burst through the surface and flailed the air, and finally caught my shirt and tore it down the front of my chest. I pushed the hose down at him again, but there was no way now he could blow the water out of it and regain his breath.

Then one hand came up from my shirt, and felt my face like a blind man reaching out to discover some fragile and tender human mystery, and a last solitary air bubble floated from his throat to the surface and popped in the dead air.


Tony had walked almost all the way back to his fishing camp when I slowed the truck abreast of him under a row of moss-hung oaks. It had stopped raining now, and out in the pasture the cows had broken out of their clumps and were grazing in the grass again. The hair on the back of Tony's head was singed the color of burnt copper. He glanced sideways at me, indifferently, and kept walking.

"Get in," I said.

He jumped over a puddle in front of him and brushed a wet branch out of his face. I let the truck idle slowly forward in first gear.

"Come on, Tony. Get in," I said.

"Is this a bust? If it is, do it by the numbers. I've got lawyers that'll eat your lunch."

I braked the truck at an angle in front of him and popped open the passenger door.

"Don't act like a sprout, Tony," I said. "I want to tell you something."

He paused, looked out over the fields, pinched his nose, then got in the truck and closed the door. His clothes smelled like smoke and ashes. A volunteer fire truck passed us and splashed a curtain of yellow water across my windshield. Tony watched the fire truck disappear down the road through the back window. Finally he said, "Jimmie Lee got away from you?"


"You popped him?"

"He drowned."


I told him what happened down in the engine room of the drill barge.

"Then I guess it's a red-letter day for you, Dave. You got to watch Jimmie Lee shuffle off with the hallelujah chorus, and you get to be the narc who made the case on Tony C."

"Is that the way you read it?"

"I told you once, everybody cuts a piece out of your ass one way or another. Except don't bank your promotion or your pay raise yet, Dave. What you've got here is entrapment. Also, I don't think you've got enough on that tape to get them real excited at the U.S. Attorney's office. You're DEA, right?"