I received the call at exactly one o’clock in the morning according to my cell phone. Nothing good ever comes from such calls.
“Yeah?” I grumbled.
“Someone is trying to kill me, and I need to know who,” the caller blurted out.
I sat up in bed.
“How do you know someone is trying to kill you?”
“I found a note in my mailbox that said so?”
“Let’s start from the top. What’s your name?”
“Okay, Howard. Have you contacted the police?”
“No, no police.”
“We’ll talk about that later. What did the note say?”
“That I was going to die before the night was over. I figured that if I was going to go, I’d want whoever did it to pay, so I called you. I transferred two thousand dollars to your account at the Ellisonville bank.”
That would make my impoverished account dance with joy.
“It’s probably some prank, Howard. Someone is having fun at your expense. Probably some kid.”
“If that’s the case, you get two thousand dollars to find out who.”
“Okay, where do you live? I’ll come over.” I figured, for two thousand dollars, I could do without sleep.
“Mississippi River Avenue 1204, Riverside Condos, number three.”
“I’ll be there in twenty-five or thirty minutes. I’ll knock and identify myself as Detective LeGrand. Don’t answer the door if anything else is said. Got it?”
I ended the call, jumped out of bed, and slid into a pair of jeans and a Saints tee shirt. Then I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and urinated. I was ready to face the world—well, sort of. Apparently, my old van wasn’t. She picked that moment to be ornery. I turned the ignition and received a loud click. Experience taught me not to be rude to her, so I patted her dash, gave her a few loving comments, and turned the key again. She roared to life.
Riverside Condos, although there was no river within miles, was about twenty minutes from my house. I parked in the lot near one of the brick buildings, slid out of my van, and walked on a concrete sidewalk to the entrance of number three, a two-story brick building situated near a manmade lake. I knocked.
“Howard, this is Detective LeGrand.”
No answer. I waited a few minutes, rang the doorbell, and repeated myself.
Still no answer.
I tried the doorknob, and it turned in my hand. The door opened easily. I didn’t like that at all.
The place was a mess. It looked as if someone had taken a baseball bat to everything. A wide-screen television lay shattered on its back. Lights, pictures, paintings, dishes, everything lay scattered around the floor in pieces. I made my way through the rubble, calling Howard’s name. I found him in a bedroom, shirtless and very dead.
Howard Fontenot was a big man with muscled shoulders and arms—a weight lifter’s body. He didn’t look like the kind of man who would cringe at a threatening note. A tattoo—VEE VEE DID THIS—decorated his back. I wondered what exactly Vee Vee did. A snub nose 38 special lay on the floor just below his outstretched hand. I checked his head. A dime-sized hole, leaking blood and showing signs of gunpowder burns around it, revealed how he died. The bullet entered his right temple and exited just below his left ear. Apparently, Howard took his own life and recently because I could still smell the gunpowder.
I poked around the rubble, looking for the note, found nothing, so I pulled out my cell phone, took a few pictures of the body, and dialed nine-one-one.
Helen Quibodeaux and her partner with the Ellisonville Police Department arrived about ten minutes later.
“John, what are you doing here? You the one who called this in?”
Helen and I went back to when I used to work for the Ellison Parish Sheriff’s Department.
“Yes, I called it in and hello to you too.”
She smiled, flashing her pearly whites at me.
“You didn’t answer my first question.”