Plantation Shudders A Cajun Country Mystery
This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, organizations, places and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real or actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Ellen Byron
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.
Crooked Lane Books and its logo are trademarks of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.
The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
ISBN (hardcover): 978-1-62953-250-9
Cover design by Jennifer Canzone.
Crooked Lane Books
2 Park Avenue, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10016
First Edition: August 2015
Dedicated to the two loves of my life, Jerry and Eliza.
Also to my beloved mother, Elizabeth, and my deeply lamented late father, Richard Seideman.
A Lagniappe about Plantation Shudders
Maggie flew down southern Louisiana’s River Road in the red ’64 Falcon convertible that she’d inherited from her late grandfather. Strands of brown hair from her thick ponytail whipped her face, but after a day spent flouncing around in a polyester plantation belle gown as a tour guide at Doucet Plantation, the wind’s attack felt great.
The familiar scenery followed a pattern: bucolic countryside, hideous industrial plant, an empty field, hideous petrochemical plant. This was the schizophrenic nature of what the legendary road had become—one plantation after another either demolished or demoralized with a monstrous neighbor. But there were some gorgeous survivors, like Doucet—and Crozat.
As Maggie crossed the Mississippi and drove toward Bayou Beurre, she thought of tales her family told about love-struck suitors who swam across the mighty river, braving its wicked currents for the chance to woo her great-great-great-grandmother, Magnolia Marie Doucet. It sure beat the “whassup” texts Maggie got from her last boyfriend.
The river receded into the background, and gradually the ratio of countryside to industrial complex tilted in countryside’s favor. She slowed down as she passed the large “Welcome to Pelican” sign that featured a fat grinning pelican playing an accordion under the town motto, “Yes, We Pelican!” It was a clever way of reminding the world that local pronunciation required emphasis on the last syllable of the town’s name, not the first. But Maggie preferred her personal slogan: “Pelican: The Town People Are Smart Enough to Come Home To or Too Dumb to Leave.”
Rather than make a left into Pelican, she stayed on course. A white fence appeared on the left side of the road, its long reach broken in the middle by an open gate. She turned and entered the property, driving down a hard-packed dirt road under a canopy of pine and oak trees. The trees forked left and right to embrace their prize: Crozat Plantation.
While the Doucets, her mom’s family, had long ago donated their historic cash guzzler of a plantation to the state, the Crozats, her dad’s family, had clung to their ancestral domain, which they now operated as a gracious bed and breakfast. It wasn’t the largest plantation in Louisiana, but with its classic Greek Revival architecture, Crozat was one of the most iconic. Thirty-two majestic square columns encircled the entire mansion. A second floor balcony also ran its circumference, and each floor featured a wide, welcoming veranda. Crozat was more human than house to Maggie, pulsing with life drawn from the generations of strong and quirky inhabitants it had sheltered for almost two hundred years.
As much as Maggie got a kick out of working at Doucet Plantation and entertaining visitors with her personal connection to it, Crozat was home. But it was a home she envisioned visiting during holidays or for the occasional getaway weekend from New York. It was not a place she planned to slink back to as a thirty-two-year-old whose personal life and career both hit a wall. The Brooklyn art gallery that Maggie and her boyfriend of six years had cofounded was now being run by her ex and the woman he’d married instead of her. She had returned to Louisiana searching for the inspiration she needed to ignite her own career as an artist, but success was proving elusive. Maggie feared that she disproved her own slogan—maybe it wasn’t so smart to come home to Pelican.
“No,” she shouted into the air. She stopped the car, stood up, and shook her fist at the heavens in her best Scarlett O’Hara-reaches-the-end-of-her-rope imitation. “As God is my witness, I will not have downer feelings today.” Maggie resumed a leisurely drive toward the plantation, and her melancholia melted away as she absorbed the lovely view of Crozat. She searched for a new perspective on the old home that she could bring to life through oil paints or vibrant watercolors, perhaps even pastels.
Then she suddenly shuddered as a chill ran through her lithe body on the warm August day.
People in Pelican took “the shudders” seriously. Whenever they struck Maggie’s Grand-mère Crozat, she drawled dramatically, “Someone’s walkin’ on muh graaave.” This was followed by a heated family debate over whom that might be until everyone agreed that it was a case for the town voodoo priestess, a woman respected both for her psychic abilities and for the fact she was the first local merchant to download the app that enabled her cell phone to take credit cards.
Maggie searched her mind for what could have spooked her but came up empty. Maybe this was just one of those rare cases where a chill was just a chill, she shrugged. Still . . . it made her nervous.
She drove past the plantation into a garage placed at the far end of the property, where guests wouldn’t notice its peeling paint. The Crozats were still playing financial catch-up after Hurricane Katrina, so repainting the family garage was on hold until possibly forever. Maggie parked, got out of the car, and walked to the family’s organic garden patch, where her mother, Ninette Doucet Crozat, was gathering vegetables. The family’s beloved Basset hound rescue, Gopher, was by her side. He was in his favorite position, head and torso resting on the ground, catching rays while the lower half of his body cooled off in a hole he’d dug—hence the name Gopher.