"Hot Times in the Bayou once again"
Reviewed by Sharon Galligar Chance
Posted October 1, 2010
Seven young women have been found dead in Louisiana's
Jefferson Davis Parish, and Detective Dave Robicheaux has
been called in to find a common denominator in this
string of deaths. Most of the victims are
poor girls with somewhat questionable morals, except for
Bernadette Latiolais, a smart high school honor
student. Her disappearance and subsequent death just
doesn't fit the M.O. of the others.
As Robicheaux and his friend and sometime sidekick, Clete
Purcel, dig into the background story of these heinous
crimes, they find a series of threads that, once tied
together, will have repercussions that will rock
not only the world of New Iberia, Louisiana, but also
Robicheaux's own circle of family and friends.
Meanwhile Robicheaux's beloved but headstrong daughter,
Alafair, is back home to finish up her novel and is
associating with a group of shady characters that could
take her down a very dark pathway, but not if her daddy has
anything to say about it!
In THE GLASS RAINBOW, the eighteenth book in his Dave
Robicheaux series, author James Lee Burke continues his
story of the rough, tough Cajun cop and the swampy, fetid
underbelly of Louisiana culture where the bad folks and
alligators crawl. Burke remains true to Robicheaux,
highlighting his love of family, respect of the law, and
infatuation with his state, all while managing not to take
away from the gritty, grimy job that fans are so fond of.
Filled with Cajun dialect (that is sometimes a wee bit hard
to translate) and culture, Burke's creative storytelling
seems squeezed from the Spanish moss that hangs from the
trees in the bayous, and distilled in the whiskey brown
rivers of the South.
James Lee Burke’s eagerly awaited new novel finds
Detective Dave Robicheaux back in New Iberia, Louisiana, and
embroiled in the most harrowing and dangerous case of his
career. Seven young women in neighboring Jefferson Davis
Parish have been brutally murdered. While the crimes have
all the telltale signs of a serial killer, the death of
Bernadette Latiolais, a high school honor student, doesn’t
fit: she is not the kind of hapless and marginalized victim
psychopaths usually prey upon. Robicheaux and his best
friend, Clete Purcel, confront Herman Stanga, a notorious
pimp and crack dealer whom both men despise. When Stanga
turns up dead shortly after a fierce beating by Purcel, in
front of numerous witnesses, the case takes a nasty turn,
and Clete’s career and life are hanging by threads over the
Adding to Robicheaux’s troubles is the matter of
his daughter, Alafair, on leave from Stanford Law to put the
finishing touches on her novel. Her literary pursuit has led
her into the arms of Kermit Abelard, celebrated novelist and
scion of a once prominent Louisiana family whose fortunes
are slowly sinking into the corruption of Louisiana’s
subculture. Abelard’s association with bestselling
ex-convict author Robert Weingart, a man who uses and
discards people like Kleenex, causes Robicheaux to fear that
Alafair might be destroyed by the man she loves. As his
daughter seems to drift away from him, he wonders if he has
become a victim of his own paranoia. But as usual,
Robicheaux’s instincts are proven correct and he finds
himself dealing with a level of evil that is greater than
any enemy he has confronted in the past.
Set against the
backdrop of an Edenic paradise threatened by pernicious
forces, James Lee Burke’s The Glass Rainbow is
already being hailed as perhaps the best novel in the
ExcerptTHE ROOM I had rented in an old part of Natchez seemed more
reflective of New Orleans than a river town in Mississippi.
The ventilated storm shutters were slatted with a pink
glow, as soft and filtered and cool in color as the spring
sunrise can be in the Garden District, the courtyard
outside touched with mist off the river, the pastel walls
deep in shadow and stained with lichen above the flower
beds, the brick walkways smelling of damp stone and the
wild spearmint that grew in green clusters between the
bricks. I could see the shadows of banana trees moving on
the window screens, the humidity condensing and threading
along the fronds like veins in living tissue. I could hear
a ship's horn blowing somewhere out on the river, a long
hooting sound that was absorbed and muted inside the mist,
thwarting its own purpose. A wood-bladed fan revolved
slowly above my bed, the incandescence of the lightbulbs
attached to it reduced to a dim yellow smudge inside
frosted-glass shades that were fluted to resemble flowers.
The wood floor and the garish wallpaper and the rain spots
on the ceiling belonged to another era, one that was
outside of time and unheedful of the demands of commerce.
Perhaps as a reminder of that fact, the only clock in the
room was a round windup mechanism that possessed neither a
glass cover nor hands on its face.
There are moments in the Deep South when one wonders if he
has not wakened to a sunrise in the spring of 1862. And in
that moment, maybe one realizes with a guilty pang that he
would not find such an event entirely unwelcome.
At midmorning, inside a pine-wooded depression not far from
the Mississippi, I found the man I was looking for. His
name was Jimmy Darl Thigpin, and the diminutive or boylike
image his name suggested, as with many southern names, was
egregiously misleading. He was a gunbull of the old school,
the kind of man who was neither good nor bad, in the way
that a firearm is neither good nor bad. He was the kind of
man whom you treat with discretion and whose private frame
of reference you do not probe. In some ways, Jimmy Darl
Thigpin was the lawman all of us fear we might one day
He sat atop a quarter horse that was at least sixteen hands
high, his back erect, a cut-down double-barrel twelve-gauge
propped on his thigh, the saddle creaking under his weight.
He wore a long-sleeved cotton shirt to protect his arms
from mosquitoes, and a beat-up, tall-crown cowboy hat in
the apparent belief that he could prevent a return of the
skin cancer that had shriveled one side of his face. To my
knowledge, in various stages of his forty-year career, he
had killed five men, some inside the prison system, some
outside, one in an argument over a woman in a bar.
His charges were all black men, each wearing big-stripe
green-and-white convict jumpers and baggy pants, some
wearing leather-cuffed ankle restraints. They were felling
trees, chopping off the limbs for burning, stacking the
trunks on a flatbed truck, the heat from the fire so
intense it gave off no smoke.
When he saw me park on the road, he dismounted and broke
open the breech of his shotgun, cradling it over his left
forearm, exposing the two shells in the chambers,
effectively disarming his weapon. But in spite of his show
of deference for my safety, there was no pleasure in his
expression when he shook hands, and his eyes never left his
"We appreciate your calling us, Cap," I said. "It looks
like you're still running a tight ship."
Then I thought about what I had just said. There are
instances when the exigencies of your life or profession
require that you ingratiate yourself with people who make
you uncomfortable, not because of what they are but because
you fear their approval and the possibility you are more
like them than you are willing to accept. I kept believing
that age would one day free me of that burden. But it never
My introspection was of no relevance. He seemed uncertain
about the purpose of my visit to Mississippi, even though
it was he who had contacted me about one of his
charges. "This is about those hookers that was killed over
in your area?" he asked.
"I wouldn't necessarily call them that."
"You're right, I shouldn't be speaking unkindly of the
dead. The boy I was telling you about is over yonder. The
one with the gold teeth."
"Thanks for your help, Cap."
Maybe my friend the gunbull wasn't all bad, I told myself.
But sometimes when you think you're almost home free, that
indeed redemption is working incrementally in all of us,
you find you have set yourself up for another
"His nickname is Git-It-and-Go," Thigpin said.
"Don't be feeling sorry for him. He could steal the stink
off shit and not get the smell on his hands. If he don't
give you what you want, let me know and I'll slap a knot on
Jimmy Darl Thigpin opened a pouch of string tobacco and
filled his jaw with it. He chewed slowly, his eyes hazy
with a private thought or perhaps the pleasure the tobacco
gave him. Then he realized I was watching him, and he
grinned at the corner of his mouth to indicate he and I
were members of the same club.
The convict's name was Elmore Latiolais. He came from a
rural slum sixty miles northeast of New Iberia, where I was
employed as a detective with the Iberia Parish Sheriff's
Department. His facial features were Negroid, but his skin
was the color of paste, covered with large moles as thick
and irregular in shape as drops of mud, his wiry hair
peroxided a bright gold. He was one of those recidivists
whose lives are a testimony to institutional failure and
the fact that for some people and situations there are no
We sat on a log in the shade, thirty yards from where his
crew was working. The air was breathless and superheated
inside the clearing, the trash fire red-hot at the center,
the freshly cut pine limbs snapping instantly alight when
they hit the flames. Elmore Latiolais was sweating heavily,
his body wrapped in an odor that was like mildew and soapy
water that had dried in his clothes.
"Why we got to talk here, man?" he said.
"I'm sorry I didn't bring an air-conditioned office with
me," I replied.
"They gonna make me for a snitch."
"I drove a long way to talk with you, podna. Would you
rather I leave?"
His eyes searched in space, his alternatives, his agenda,
the pitiful issues of his life probably swimming like dots
in the heat waves warping off the fire.
"My sister was Bernadette, one of them seven girls that's
been killed, that don't nobody care about," he said.
"Captain Thigpin explained that."
"My grandmother sent me the news article. It was from
November of last year. My grandmother says ain't nothing
been written about them since. The article says my sister
and all them others was prostitutes."
"Not exactly. But yeah, the article suggests that. What are
you trying to tell me?"
"It ain't fair."
"That's right. Calling my sister a prostitute. Nobody
interested in the troot. All them girls just t'rown away
like they was sacks of garbage." He wiped his nose with the
heel of his hand.
"You know who's behind their deaths?"
"What do you base that on?"
"Herman Stanga tried to have me jooged when I was in
"Herman Stanga is a pimp."
"You're telling me a pimp is mixed up with your sister's
death but your sister was not a prostitute? Does that seem
like a reasonable conclusion to you?"
He turned his face to mine. "Where you been, man?"
I propped my hands on my knees, stiffening my arms, my
expression blank, waiting for the balloon of anger in my
chest to pass. "You asked Captain Thigpin to call me. Why
me and not somebody else?"
"My cousin tole me you was axing around about the girls.
But I t'ink you got your head stuffed up your hole."
"Forgive me if I'm losing patience with this conversation."
"There's no money in selling cooze no more. Herman Stanga
is into meth. You got to come to Mis'sippi and interview
somebody on a road gang to find that out?"
I stood up, my gaze focused on neutral space. "I have
several photographs here I'd like you to look at. Tell me
if you know any of these women."
There were seven photos in my shirt pocket. I removed only
six of them. He remained seated on the log and went through
them one by one. None of the photos was a mug shot. They
had been taken by friends or family members using cheap
cameras and one-hour development services. The backdrops
were in poor neighborhoods where the residents parked their
cars in the yards and the litter in the rain ditches
disappeared inside the weeds during the summer and was
exposed again during the winter. Two of the victims were
white, four were black. Some of them were pretty. All of
them were young. None of them looked unhappy. None of them
probably had any idea of the fate that awaited them.
"They all lived sout' of the tracks, didn't they?" he said.
"That's right. Do you recognize them?"
"No, I ain't seen none of them. You ain't shown me my
I removed the seventh photo from my pocket and handed it to
him. The girl in it had been seventeen when she died. She
was last seen leaving a dollar store at four o'clock in the
afternoon. She had a sweet, round face and was smiling in
Elmore Latiolais cupped the photo in his palm. He stared at
it for a long time, then shielded his eyes as though
avoiding the sun's glare. "Can I keep it?" he said.
"Sorry," I replied.
He nodded and returned the photo to me, his eyes moist, his
gold Brillo pad of a haircut popping with sweat.
"You said you hadn't seen any of the other victims. How did
you know they lived south of the tracks?" I said.
"That's what I mean when I say you got your head up your
ass. If they lived nort' of the railroad track, y'all would
be tearing the state of Lou'sana apart to get the man who
Elmore Latiolais was not a likable man. In all probability,
he had committed crimes that were worse in nature than
those for which he had been punished. But the fact he
considered Herman Stanga a cancer indicated, at least to
me, that Elmore was still held together by the same glue as
the rest of us. Herman Stanga was another matter. Herman
Stanga was a man I hated, maybe less for what he was
personally than what he represented, but I hated him just
the same, to the degree that I did not want to be armed and
alone with him.
I said good-bye to Elmore Latiolais.
"You ain't gonna he'p out?" he said.
"You haven't told me anything that could be considered of
"'Investigative value'? Yeah, I like them kind of words.
Herman killed a cousin of mine ten years back. He give her
a hotshot and blew her heart out. When he knowed I was onto
him, he paid a guy to joog me. Y'all wasn't interested
then, y'all ain't interested now."
"I'm sorry for your loss," I replied.
"Yeah," he said.
HERMAN WAS ONE of those singular individuals for whom there
is no adequate categorical description. He deliberately
created addiction among his own people by giving what he
called "entrepreneurial start-up flake" to teenage dealers.
He encouraged his rock queens to eat fried food so their
extra weight would signal to their customers that they were
AIDS-free. He pimped off his white girls to black johns and
his black girls to white johns. If a perv who liked it
rough got into the mix, that was just the way it flushed
sometimes. "Harry Truman integrated the United States Army.
I'm taking multiculturalism and equal opportunity to a much
higher level," he liked to say.
By his own definition of himself, he was always rocking to
his own rhythms, high on his own rebop and snap-crackle-and-
pop, and didn't "need to slam no gram to be what I am." He
had the face of a pixie, his mustache trimmed into tiny
black wings on his upper lip, his eyes bright with innocent
mischief, the harmless satyr peeking out of the bushes. His
physique was hard and lean, his skin stretched tight on his
bones and tendons like a meth addict's, though he used
drugs rarely, and only for recreational purposes. He liked
to kick off his clothes by the poolside, down to his white
silk boxer shorts, and sunbathe on a floating air mattress
in the middle of his swimming pool, wraparound Ray-Bans on
his face, a frozen daiquiri balanced on his stomach, his
sunblock trailing off the ends of his fingers, his phallus
as pronounced as the wood figure on a sailing ship's prow.
The neighbors complained because of the exposure to their
children, but Herman literally gave them the finger, hiking
it in the air whenever he saw them gazing at him from their
windows. Herman Stanga was above convention. Herman Stanga
was the iconoclast whose irreverence had made him rich
while the assets of his neighbors drained through a
sinkhole called the recession of 2009.
He had acquired his home on Bayou Teche, a faux antebellum
two-story brick structure with twin chimneys, from a black
physician who signed over the property for a minimal sum
and left town with his wife and children and was never
heard from again. Maintenance of the house and grounds
ended the day Herman moved in. The hollow wood pillars were
eaten by termites. The ventilated green storm shutters hung
askew on their hinges; the rain gutters were clogged with
pine needles and bled rust down the window frames. The
manicured St. Augustine lawn was destroyed by mold and weed
infestation and chains of red-ant mounds. Herman's
Dobermans dug holes in the flower beds and downloaded piles
of dog shit on every square inch of dirt they could squat
Herman, like a Leonardo da Vinci in reverse, had turned his
own home into an emblematic masterpiece of suburban decay.
I rang the chimes, but no one answered. When I walked
around back, I saw him cleaning leaves and pine needles out
of the pool with a long pole, wearing Speedos that exposed
his crack and his pubic hair. He had the most peculiar
coloration I had ever seen in a human being. It was like
black ivory that someone had poured liquefied gold inside.
The afternoon sun had already dipped behind the oak trees
on the bayou, and his wet hair and the oily glaze on his
skin seemed touched with fire. A chicken was turning on a
rotisserie over a bed of charcoals, next to a glass-topped
table that was inset with an umbrella. In the shade of the
umbrella was a cooler packed with crushed ice and bottles
of Mexican and German beer.
"It's my man RoboCop," he said. "Sit yourself down, my
brother, and open yourself a beer."
A striped robe like a Bedouin would wear hung over the back
of a canvas chair. I picked it up and threw it at him. "Put
"Your neighbor's kids are looking through the gate."
"You're right, it's starting to cool off," he said. He
wrapped the robe around his midriff and tied it like a
sarong, his chin tilted up into the breeze. The late sun's
yellow glare on the bayou was like a match flame flaring
just under the current. "Want to take a swim? I got a suit
might fit you."
"I need you to look at some photos, Herman."
"Them girls over in Jeff Davis Parish that got themselves
"Why would you think that?"
"'Cause you always looking for a way to jam me up. 'Cause
y'all ain't got nobody else to put it on."
"Nobody else has talked to you?"
"There ain't been no ink on those girls in four months.
What's that tell you?"
"You have to explain it to me. I'm not that smart."
"Give me them pictures," he said, ignoring my statement,
his hand upturned.
This time it was I who ignored Herman. I laid the photos
one by one on the glass tabletop. He waited patiently, an
amused light playing in his face.
"Do I know them? No. Have I ever seen them? No. Would they
be of interest to me? No. Why's that, you ax? 'Cause
they're country girls with a serious case of ugly. Don't
look at me like that."
"Who do you think might have murdered them?"
"It ain't a pimp. A pimp don't murder his stable. Check out
their families. They probably been killing each other." He
glanced at his watch. It was gold and had a black face
inset with tiny red stones. "I got people coming over. We
t'rew wit' this?"
The underwater lights in his swimming pool had just clicked
on, creating a sky-blue clarity in the water that was so
pristine I could see the silvery glint of a dime at the
bottom of the deep end. Banana trees and a magnificent
magnolia tree hung over the spiked fence that surrounded
the pool. Potted plants bursting with flowers shaded his
deck chairs and filled the air with a fragrance that was
heavier than perfume.
"Your home is a study in contradictions. Your yard is
carpeted with dog shit, and your house is being eaten to
the foundation by termites. But your pool area is snipped
right out of Southern Living. I don't get it."
"The uptown nigger who built this place wanted to be a
character in Gone Wit' the Wind. Except Whitey on the bayou
don't got no need for niggers pretending they're white
people. So I give them a real nigger to weep and moan
about. I own t'ree rentals, a condo in Lake Charles, and a
beach house in Panama City, but I use this house to wipe my
ass on. Every day I'm here, the value of my neighbors'
property goes down. Guess who they gonna end up selling
their houses to? That is, if I'm in the market for more
"Know why there ain't been no media coverage on them girls
for four months? Nobody cares. This is still Lou'sana, Robo
Man. Black or white, it don't matter—if you got money,
people will take your ten-inch on their knees. If you ain't
got money, they'll cut it off."
"I think I'll let myself out."
"Yeah, fuck you, too, man."
"Everyt'ing I tole you is true. But you cain't deal wit'
it. And that's your problem, motherfucker. It ain't mine."
I LIVED WITH my wife, Molly, who was a former Catholic nun,
in a modest frame house with a peaked tin roof among live
oaks and pecan trees and slash pines and windmill palms on
East Main, a half block from the famous plantation home
known as The Shadows. There was rust on the roof and in the
rain gutters, and it turned orange and purple in the late-
afternoon sunset. Our lot was one acre in size and part of
a historical alluvial floodplain that sloped down to Bayou
Teche. The topographical contour of the land along the
bayou had never been altered, and as a consequence, even
though we were located close to the water, the houses in
our neighborhood never flooded, even during the worst of
hurricanes. Equally important for one who lives in the
tropics, our house stayed in deep shade most of the day,
and by the front walk, where we got full sun, our camellias
and hibiscus stayed in bloom almost year-round, and in the
spring our azaleas powdered the lawn with petals that
looked like pink confetti.
It was a fine house in which to live, cool in the summer
and warm in the winter, the ceiling-high windows outfitted
with ventilated storm shutters, our new veranda a grand
place to sit in wood rockers among our potted plants and
Alafair, our adopted daughter, had graduated from Reed
College with a degree in psychology, and now had taken off
one semester from Stanford Law School to rewrite a novel
she had been working on for three years. She had graduated
Phi Beta Kappa from Reed and was carrying a 3.9 GPA at
Stanford. She was a good writer, too. I had no doubts about
the level of professional success that awaited her,
regardless of the field she entered. My concern for
Alafair's well-being was much more immediate and without
any solution that I could see. In this case, the specific
name of the concern was Kermit Abelard, the first man I
believed Alafair was actually serious about.
"He's coming over here? Now?" I said.
I had just come home from work and had parked my pickup
under the porte cochere. She was sitting in the rocker on
the veranda, wearing a flowery sundress and white shoes,
her skin dark with tan, her Indian-black hair burned brown
on the tips. "What do you have against him, Dave?"
"He's too old for you."
"He's thirty-three. He calls it his crucifixion year."
"I forgot. He's also grandiose."
"Give it a rest, big guy."
"Is the convict coming with him?"
She made a face that feigned exasperation. Kermit Abelard,
whose family at one time had owned almost half of St. Mary
Parish, could not be accused of decadence or living on his
family name. He had gone to acting school in New York and
had published three novels, one of which had been adapted
as a film. He had worked in the oil field when he could
have been playing tennis and fishing for marlin in the
Keys. Unfortunately, his egalitarian attitudes sometimes
required others to pay a price, as was the case when he
encouraged the entire crew on his drilling rig to join the
union and got them and himself fired. Two years past, he
had managed to work a parole from the Texas State
Penitentiary at Huntsville for a celebrity convict author,
a man who had been in and out of reformatories and jails
since he was sixteen.
"Have you read The Green Cage ?" Alafair asked.
"I have. I got it from the library. I didn't buy it."
"You don't think it's a brilliant piece of writing?"
"Yeah, it is, for reasons the author and his admirers don't
seem to understand."
She wasn't taking the bait, so I slogged on. "It's a great
look inside the mind of a sociopath and narcissist and
manipulator. Count the number of times the
pronouns 'I,' 'me,' 'mine,' and 'myself' appear in each
"Somebody must have liked it. Robbie was a finalist in the
National Book Awards."
"Argue with someone else, Dave."
I looked out at the evening traffic, at the birds gathering
in the trees against a mauve-colored sunset. "Want to go
for a run?" I said.
"I'm going to the park with Kermit. He's reading the
revision I did on the last chapter in my novel."
I went inside the house. Molly had left a note on the
kitchen table to the effect she was in Lafayette and would
bring supper home. I changed into my gym shorts and a T-
shirt and my running shoes, and in the backyard, under the
supervision of our warrior cat, Snuggs, and our elderly
raccoon, Tripod, I did fifty push-ups with my feet propped
on a picnic bench, five reps of sixty-pound curls, three
reps of military presses, and one hundred stomach crunches.
It was cool and warm at the same time inside the shade of
the trees, and the wind was blowing through the bamboo that
separated our property from the next-door neighbor's, and
wisteria was blooming in big blue and lavender clumps on
the side of her garage. I had almost forgotten my worries
regarding Alafair and her willingness to trust people she
shouldn't; then I heard Kermit Abelard's black Saab
convertible pull into the driveway and a car door open and
close. I did not hear it open and close and then open and
close again. Which meant Kermit Abelard did not get out of
his vehicle and approach the gallery and walk Alafair back
to the car and open the car door for her. In my view, no
one could accuse Kermit Abelard of going out of his way to
be a gentleman.
I walked to the edge of the backyard so I could see through
the porte cochere into the front. Kermit was backing into
the street, the top down on his convertible, the dappled
shade sliding off the hand-waxed surfaces, as though the
cooling of the day and the attenuation of the light had
been arranged especially for him. Alafair sat next to him
on the rolled-leather seat. In back was a man whose face I
had seen only on the flap of a book jacket.
I jogged down East Main, under the canopy of live oaks that
spanned the entirety of the street, past The Shadows and
the bed-and-breakfast that had been the residence of the
plantation's overseer, past the massive old brick post
office and the Evangeline Theater, across the drawbridge at
Burke Street and into City Park, where people were
barbecuing under the shelters along the bayou and high
school kids were playing a work-up softball game on the
I jogged for four miles, circling twice through the park.
At the end of the second lap I hit it hard toward home, my
blood oxygenated now, my breath coming regular, my heart
strong, the sweaty glaze on my skin a reminder that once in
a while you're allowed to reclaim a libidinal moment or two
from your youth. Then I saw Kermit Abelard's Saab parked by
the tin pavilion, checkered cloth and newspapers spread on
a table, a mound of boiled crawfish and artichokes and corn
on the cob piled in the center.
I didn't want to stop, but Alafair and her friends Kermit
Abelard and the convict-author whose name was Robert
Weingart had seen me, and now Alafair was waving, her face
full of joy and pride. I tried to shine her on, to pretend
I was committed to my run and couldn't stop. But under what
circumstances do you embarrass your daughter in front of
her companions, or indulge your enmity toward them at her
expense? Or pass her by when perhaps she needs your
presence for reasons she may not be able to acknowledge,
even to herself?
I slowed to a walk, wiping my face with the towel I carried.
Kermit was a stocky man of medium height, with vascular,
short arms and a cleft in his chin. He was built more like
a dockhand than a descendant of local aristocracy. The top
of his shirt was unbuttoned, his tanned, smooth skin
exposed for others to look at. He had wide, square hands
and fingers that were blunt on the tips. They were the
hands of a workingman, but incongruously, the red stone of
a Kappa Sigma ring twinkled on his finger.
"Come meet Robert, Mr. Robicheaux," he said.
"I'm pretty overheated. I'd better not get too close to you
guys," I said.
Robert Weingart was sitting on top of the wood table,
smiling good-naturedly, his alpine-booted feet planted
solidly on the bench. He had fine cheekbones, a small
mouth, and dark hair that was clipped neatly and wet-combed
with a part that created a straight gray line through his
scalp. His eyes were hazel and elongated, his cheeks
slightly sunken. His hands were relaxed on his knees, his
fingers tapered, like a pianist's. He conveyed the sense
that he was a man with no hidden agenda, with no repressed
tensions or problems of conscience. He seemed to be a man
at peace with the world.
But it was the lack of balance or uniformity in his
physiognomy that bothered me. He didn't blink, the way
screen actors never blink. His mouth was too small, too
quick to smile, his jaw too thin for the size of his
cranium. His eyes stayed fastened brightly on mine. I kept
waiting for him to blink. But he didn't.
"Looks like you've been pouring it on," he said.
"I thought your speed was pretty impressive."
"Have I seen you in the movies?"
"I don't think so."
"You remind me of an actor. I can't call his name to mind."
"No, I'm just a scribbler." He got up from the table,
extending his hand. "Rob Weingart. It's a pleasure to meet
"It's not Robbie?"
"Just call me Rob if you like."
His handshake was boneless, unthreatening, cool and dry to
the touch. There was a white shine on his teeth. He picked
up a peeled crawfish and put it in his mouth, his
cheekbones working slowly, his gaze never leaving my face.
He touched at his lips with a paper napkin, his expression
as benign as the weather was temperate, a bit like a man
thinking of a private joke. "Is there something on your
mind I can help you with?" he asked.
"I got it. It wasn't an actor. You remind me of Chet
Baker," I said.
"That's right. A tragic one, at that. His addictions ate
him alive. You like jazz, Mr. Weingart? Have you done any
professional performing? I'm sure I've seen you in a
"Let me fix you a plate, Mr. Robicheaux," Kermit said.
"No, I never was a performer," Robert Weingart said. "Why
would you think that?"
"I just admire people who can teach themselves not to
blink. When a person doesn't blink, you can't read his
thoughts. All you see is one undecipherable expression.
It's like staring into electrified silk."
"That's quite an image," he said to Kermit. "One of us
ought to borrow that and give Mr. Robicheaux a footnote."
"You can just take it and use it in any fashion you choose.
It's free," I said.
Kermit Abelard touched my forearm with a loaded paper plate.
"No, thanks," I said. "I'd better get back on my run."
"You're a police officer," Robert Weingart said.
"Alafair told you?"
"Usually I can spot a police officer. It used to be part of
my curriculum vitae. But in this case I think your daughter
told me. I'm almost sure of it."
"You think? But you don't know?"
Alafair's face was burning.
"Is my plate ready? I could eat a whale," Robert Weingart
said, looking around, suppressing his amusement at the
situation that swirled about him.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE you. Why didn't you punch him in the face
while you were at it?" Alafair said to me after she
"That's a possibility," I replied.
"What did he do? The man was just sitting there."
"He's a mainline recidivist, Alf. Don't be taken in."
"Don't call me that stupid name. How can you know somebody
five seconds and make judgments like that?"
"Anybody who's con-wise can spot a dude like that five
"The real problem is you always want to control other
people. Instead of being honest about your own self-
centered agenda, you go after Kermit's friend."
"You're right, I don't know him."
"Why do you blame Kermit for what his family may have done?
It's not fair to him, Dave, and it's not fair to me."
"There's no 'may have done' about it. The Abelards are
dictators. If they had their way, we'd all be doing their
grunt work for minimum wage, if that."
"So what? That doesn't mean Kermit is like the rest of his
family. John and Robert Kennedy weren't like their father."
"What's with you two? I could hear you all the way out in
the driveway," Molly said, coming through the back door,
both arms loaded with groceries.
"Ask Dave, if you can get him to pull his head out of his
ass," Alafair said.
"That's the second time someone has said that to me today.
The other person was a meltdown on a road gang in
Molly tried to make it to the counter with the grocery
bags. But it was too late. One of them caved, and most of
our delicatessen supper splattered on the linoleum.
That's when Clete Purcel tapped on the back screen. "Am I
interrupting anything?" he said.
© 2010 James Lee Burke
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