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"You should have talked to somebody. They didn't give Tee Beau the chair because he killed Hipolyte. It was the way he did it."

"Tee Beau in this house, shelling crawfish. Right here," she said, and tapped her finger on the ironing board.

"All right. But somebody drove the bus off the jack on top of Hipolyte. Tee Beau's fingerprints were all over the steering wheel. His muddy shoe prints were all over the floor pedals. Nobody else's. Then while Hipolyte was lying under the brake drum with his back broken, somebody stuffed an oil rag in his mouth so he could spend two hours strangling to death."

"It wasn't long enough."

"Where is Tee Beau?"

"I ain't gonna tell you no more. Waste of time," she said, took a cigarette from a pack on the ironing board, and lit it. She blew the smoke out in the humid air. "You a white man. Colored folk ain't never gonna be your bidness. You come round now 'cause you need Tee Beau catch that white trash shot you. You just see a little colored boy can he'p you now. But you cain't be knowing what he really like, how he hurt inside, how much he love his gran'maman, how much he care for Dorothea and what he willing to do for that little girl. You don't be knowing none of these things, Mr. Dave."

"Who's Dorothea?"

"Go up the juke, ax her who she is. Ax her about Hipolyte, about what Tee Beau do for her. You, that's gonna take him up to the Red Hat."

I said good-bye to her, but she didn't bother to answer. It was raining hard when I stepped off the gallery, and drops of mud danced in the dirt yard. Down the street at the four-corners, the clapboard facade of the juke joint glistened in the gray light, and the scroll of neon over the door, which read big mama goula's, looked like purple smoke in the rain that blew back off the eaves.

The inside was crowded with Negroes, the air thick with cigarette smoke, the smell of dried sweat, muscat, talcum powder, chitlins, gumbo, flat beer, and bathroom disinfectant. The jukebox was deafening, and the pool players rifled the balls into side pockets, shouting and slamming the rack down on the table's slate surface. Beyond the dance floor a zydeco band with an accordion, washboard, thimbles, and an electric bass was setting up on a small stage surrounded by orange lights and chicken wire. Behind the musicians a huge window fan sucked the cigarette smoke out into the rain, and their clothes fluttered in the breeze like bird's feathers. Two deep at the bar, the customers ate boudin and pickled hog's feet off paper plates, drank long-necked Jax and wine spotioti, a mixture of muscat and whiskey that can fry your head for a week.

I stood at the end of the bar, saw the eyes flick momentarily sideways, then heard the conversations resume as though I were not there. I waited for the bartender to reach that moment when he would decide to recognize me. He walked on the duckboards to within three feet of me and began lifting handfuls of beer bottles between his fingers from a cardboard carton, fitting them down into the ice bin. There was a thin, dead cigar in his mouth.

"What you want, man?" he asked, without looking up.

"I'm Detective Dave Robicheaux with the sheriff's department," I said, and opened my badge in my palm.

"What you want?" His eyes looked at me for the first time. They were sullen and flecked with tiny red veins.

"I'd like to talk to Dorothea."

"She's working the tables. She's real busy now."

"I only want a couple of minutes of her time. Call her over, please."

"Look, man, this ain't the place. You understand what I'm talking about?"

"Not really."

He raised up from his work and put his hands flat on the bar.

"That's her out yonder by the band," he said. "You want to go out there and get her? That what you want?"

"Ask her to come over here, please."

"Listen, I ain't did you nothing. Why you giving me this truck?"

The men next to me had stopped talking now and were smoking their cigarettes casually and looking at their own reflections in the bar mirror. One man wore a lavender porkpie hat with a feather in the brim. His sports coat hung heavy on one side.

"Look, man, you got a car outside?" the bartender asked.


"Go sit in it. I'll be sending her," he said, then his voice changed. "Why you be bothering that girl? She ain't did nothing."

"I know she hasn't."

"Then why you bothering her?" he asked.

Before I turned to go outside, I saw a big black woman in a purple dress looking at me from the far end of the duckboards. Her hands were on her hips, her chin pointed upward; she took the cigarette out of her mouth and blew smoke in my direction, her eyes never leaving my face. In the dim light I thought I saw blue tattoos scrolled on the tops of her breasts.

The rain clattered on the roof of my car and streamed down the windows. At the back of the juke joint, beyond the oyster-shell parking lot covered with flattened beer cans, were two battered house trailers. Two men who looked like Latins, in denim work clothes and straw hats, drove up in a pickup truck and knocked at one of the trailers, their bodies pressed up against the door to stay out of the rain. A black woman opened the inside door and spoke to them through the screen. They got back in their truck and left. I saw one of them look back through the rear window as they pulled onto the dirt road.

Five minutes later the bartender appeared in the front door of the juke joint with a small Negro girl at his side and pointed at my car. She ran across the parking lot toward me, with a newspaper spread over her head. When I pushed open the passenger door she jumped inside. She wore black fishnet stockings, a short black waitress's skirt, and a loose white blouse that exposed her lace bra, but she looked both too young and too small for the job she did, and the type of clothes that she wore. It was her hair that caught your attention, black and thick and brushed in soft swirls around her head, almost like a helmet that made her toy face seem even smaller than it was. She was frightened and would not look at me directly.

"You know I'm a police officer?" I said.

"Yes suh."

"Tee Beau saved my life, so I don't want to see him hurt. The man I'm after is named Jimmie Lee Boggs. He killed two people and took Tee Beau with him when he escaped. You know all that, don't you?"

"Yes suh, I knows that."

"You don't have to call me sir. If Tee Beau can help me find this man Boggs, maybe I can help Tee Beau."

She nodded her head. Her hands were motionless on top of the wet newspaper in her lap.

"Did he tell you where Boggs dropped him off?" I said.

"Suh?" Her eyes cut sideways at me, then looked straight ahead again.

"When you talked to him, did he say anything about Jimmie Lee Boggs?"

"I ain't talked to Tee Beau."

"I bet you have," I said, and smiled.

"No suh, I ain't. Nobody know where Tee Beau at. Tante Lemon don't know. Ain't nobody know."

"I see. Look here, Dorothea, I'm going to give you a card. It has my phone number on it. When you talk to Tee Beau, you give him this number. You tell him I appreciate what he did for me, that I want to help him. He can call me collect from a pay phone. I won't know where he's living. All I want to do is find Jimmie Lee Boggs."

She took the card in her small hand. She looked out at the rain, her eyes quiet with thought.

"How you gonna he'p him?" she said.

"We can get his sentence commuted. That means he won't go to the electric chair. Maybe he can even get a new trial. The jury didn't hear everything they should have, did they?"

"What you mean?"

"About Hipolyte Broussard. Was he a pimp?"

"Yes suh."

"Did he try to make Tee Beau a pimp, too?"