D. A. Ratliff: Tied With Twine


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A Detective Elija Boone Mystery

Tied With Twine 

D. A. Ratliff


Louisa DeLong wrapped her arms around her, pulling her sweater tighter against her slender body. Mist floated in the air, obscuring the trees as she made her way along the Bayou Lafourche in the early morning hours. The note clutched in her hand instructed her to meet him south of Lockport on LA-1 and park behind his truck. He would wait for her along the banks of the bayou.

She spotted his black truck, parked, and hurried across the road to the water’s edge. Shivering, she carefully picked her way through the underbrush and the gnarly roots covering the bank. Not seeing him, Louisa whispered his name. A twig broke behind her, but before she could turn around, arms swept over her head, hands holding a belt, and the thick, hard strap dug into her throat.

Instinct kicked in, and Louisa screamed, but her effort only resulted in a garbled groan. She attempted to tug at the belt digging into her flesh but couldn’t slip her fingers underneath. Her knees buckled, but pressure from the strap that pinned her against her assailant kept her from collapsing. A coppery taste filled her mouth, and the pain became unbearable as the belt sank into her throat. Her lungs struggled for air but lost the battle. As the world around her faded to blackness, her last thought was why.

~~~

“What the….” 

It took me a second to realize the ringing in my ear was my phone. I grabbed the offending device and might have answered gruffer than I should have.

“Don’t take my head off.” The aggravated voice of my partner, Hank Guidry, was gruff too.

“Sorry, didn’t sleep well. What’s up?”

“Captain got a call from the sheriff in Lafourche Parrish. They’re dredging the bayou there and found remains. Looks to be Louisa DeLong.”

I bolted upright. “You sure?”

“I’m not, but the captain is—said to get our butts down to Lafourche Parrish now.”

“You at the station?”

“Yeah.”

“Be out front in fifteen.”

I took the quickest shower I could, dressed, and left to pick up Guidry. If the remains were Louisa’s, maybe I could bring closure to a family I had become close to in the last seven years. Time I, Detective Elijah Boone, got a break.

~~~

We swung around to a fast-food joint for coffee and cardboard sandwiches. In a city known for its cuisine, having it ‘your way’ should mean, did you want shrimp or chicken etouffee, not dried out buns and flavorless meat. But I was hungry, and cops gotta eat when and where we can.

Hank offered me some of his fries, and I grabbed a couple. “Tell me what the sheriff said.”

“The state’s dredging the bayou after some barges got stuck and some areas flooded on high tide. This morning, just after daybreak, a backhoe was digging out along a bank. Operator pulled the bucket up, finding a chain dangling from a tooth. When the operator lifted the bucket higher, he saw a partial skeleton attached to the chain. Got divers in the water to recover the rest of the remains if they can.”

“What makes them think it’s Louisa?”

“Hand recovered had a ring still on a finger. Sheriff ran the description through the database, and the ring came back identified to the DeLong open case.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Sapphire and diamond ring?”

“Yeah.”

“I guess it’s her.”

Hank shifted in his seat. We weren’t partners when Louisa had gone missing seven years ago. My partner then was Allen Marco who had a fatal heart attack two weeks after Louisa went missing. He’d vowed to keep working to find her, and I suspected Hank knew this case was special to me.

“I know you worked on the case. LaSalle said it was a tough one.”

“Yeah. Louisa was a pretty girl. Sophomore at Tulane. Roommate Jenna Srathworth woke up about four a.m. on the morning she disappeared. Jenna asked her where she was going, but Louisa told her not to worry. She would be back soon.” I shut up for a second to get my voice under control. “No one saw her again.”

“No suspects?”

“None. Jenna said she knew Louisa was seeing someone but had no idea who. Louisa wouldn’t tell her.”

“Your partner, Marco, he died a couple of weeks later?”

I gripped the steering wheel. Losing Al still hurt. “Yeah, heart attack. Told him to stop smoking, but he just puffed away.” I remember his funeral. Al’s widow and two kids stood beside me in a Metairie cemetery as we watched his casket lowered into the ground. I shook it off.

“I was shocked at Al’s funeral to see Louisa’s parents, brother, and sister show up.”

“They came to Marco’s funeral?”

I nodded. “Good people. Felt we were trying to find their daughter and seemed genuinely sorry Al died. Stayed pretty close to them since then.”

Hank’s phone rang. It was forensics about another case we were currently investigating. After he ended the call, we talked about that case until we got to Lockport. The only directions I had was to keep on LA-1 past the shipyards until I spotted cruisers.

We fell silent as we got closer. Hank knew me pretty well, and I guess he could tell how the discovery of Louisa’s remains had affected me. A line of traffic cones slowed us down as only one lane was open. We stopped briefly as a flagger held us up. A lone commercial truck passed, and the flagger motioned us through.

We drove a short distance until we spotted several cruisers, blue lights flashing, parked on the right side of the road. Several officers were standing across the road on the narrow strip of land along the water.

It was July, and the second I opened the car door, the heavy humidity washed over me. I felt like I’d had a shower. I took off my suit jacket and noticed Hank did the same. The one thing we couldn’t get away from was the briny, fishy stench in the air. And I thought decomposed bodies smelled bad.

Sheriff Carlton Thibodeaux noticed us and waved us across the road. I’d met Thibodeaux before when his deputies caught a fugitive wanted by the NOLA police.

“Detective Boone, good to see you.”

“Good to see you, Sheriff. My partner, Hank Guidry.”

Thibodeaux nodded. “So it seems this gal’s the one who went missing a few years ago.”

“It appears that way. You got the ring here?”

“No, sent it back to the station with a deputy so we could run the photo through the database. I was surprised when we got a match.”

“So was I. Can I see the remains?”

“Yeah, sure, what there is.”

We climbed onto the berm that served as a flood barrier. A large barge dredging the main channel sat in front of the shipyard. A large backhoe, its bucket raised, brought in to dredge the bank, sat perched on the narrow strip of land on the roadside. Hence the need to close one lane of LA-1. A salvage diving team that assisted the county in water rescue continued to search for additional remains.

Thibodeaux motioned us a few feet south of the backhoe, where a plastic sheet lay on the ground, a chain, and part of a skeleton lying on the sheet. I hoped no one noticed the impact seeing the remains of a young girl with her life ahead of her, now nothing but bones had on me. I crouched down as if getting closer to the remains was going to make me feel better. It didn’t.

A splash of water interrupted my self-pity party, and I looked around to see a diver coming out of the water. I couldn’t say much. He was holding a skull. The ME onsite took the skull and gently laid it on the sheet. I stood up—that was too close.

The diver, partially out of the water, held up an object. “Found the skull wedged beneath a rock, and this,” he held a belt, “was caught in the broken part of the skull.” The diver took a breath. “Looks like someone chained the body to five big concrete blocks.”

The deputy placed the waterlogged leather belt onto the plastic sheet. Attached to one end was an ornate buckle that appeared made of solid gold. I slipped on gloves and knelt again, this time carefully picking up the buckle decorated with an embossed wolf face.

 “Carl, need to keep this belt in water until the techs can look at it. Got anything we can put It in?”

One of his deputies spoke up. “Got a cooler in the back of my cruiser. I’ll get it.”

While the deputy went for the cooler, I asked the divemaster the odds of finding more remains.

“Not good, Detective. The current’s strong on the tide, even this far inland. The backhoe snagged the arm and collarbone. We found the ribcage and part of the spine on the first dive. It looks like the body got wedged in the submerged roots, then covered with silt. Backhoe stirred everything up. It’s murky under the surface, and my guess is we won’t find any more remains. We’ll continue to look for a while anyway.”

“Thanks. Appreciate it.” I stared at the shipyards across the bayou. Louisa was thrown in the water here, and no one saw. The thought made me sick to my stomach.

After the belt was secured in the cooler with bayou water in it and logged in as evidence, we took it and headed to the station to pick up the ring. We established chain of custody and jurisdictional rights with the sheriff, transferring all evidence to our case. Hank and I returned to New Orleans. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and I needed to speak to the DeLongs after talking to Captain Ferguson.

After logging the ring and the belt into evidence at the crime lab, Hank and I went to see the captain. I think Fergusons might feel like I did. Even though we suspected Louisa was dead, no one wanted to believe it.

I had the ring with me. Ferguson held the plastic evidence bag in his hand, staring at it. “You sure this is her ring?”

I pulled a photo from my wallet. “Lisa DeLong gave me this picture of Louisa from her high school graduation.” I handed it to him. The photo showed Louisa in her cap and gown, proudly displaying her late grandmother’s ring that her parents gave her for graduation. The captain handed the photo and the ring back to me.

“Time to tell them, Boone.”

~~~

I called ahead. When I arrived, I realized Lisa must have heard the emotion in my voice when I told her I had something to discuss with them. Several cars were in the drive and parked along the street in the quiet, upscale neighborhood they lived in along Lake Pontchartrain.

I pushed the doorbell, and Geoffrey DeLong opened the door. His eyes reflected what was in mine. He knew why I had come.

“Eli, come in.” Before we reached the den, he stopped. “Just tell us.”

Lisa and their other two children were in the den. Lisa ran to me, hugging me tightly. “We’ll be okay.”

I had talked to them, texted with them but hadn’t seen the family in nearly a year. Son Duncan had graduated from law school, and daughter Marissa was a senior at Tulane. The entire family stared at me. I had to say the words.

“This morning, I got a call about remains found during a dredging operation on Bayou Lafourche. We had reason to believe the remains were Louisa’s. My partner Hank Guidry and I drove down there.”

“It was her.” Lisa’s voice was solid, steady.

“We don’t have an identification yet, but we recovered a ring.” I reached in my pocket. My hands were shaking, and I took a minute to get a grip on my emotions. I pulled out the evidence pouch. Geoffrey took it from me.

This time Lisa’s voice betrayed her. “Geoff, tell me. Is that Mom’s ring?”

He nodded, and Lisa reached for him. I gave them a moment as Duncan and Marissa joined their parents. True to the strength of this family, they regained composure quickly.

Duncan spoke first, ever the new lawyer. “Eli, what do you know?”

“Not much. We recovered partial remains, but we can check dental records, which the ME will do soon. I’ve had the remains brought from Lafourche Parrish here for our forensics unit to examine. Other than the remains, we only discovered the ring and a man’s belt with a gold buckle and the image of a wolf embossed on it.”

“Do you think it belongs to whoever murdered her?”

“I don’t know, but we are certain someone murdered her.”

“How are you certain?”

“Her remains were attached to a chain and weighted down by several cement blocks.”

Lisa grabbed her son’s hand and looked toward me. “Eli, you’ve brought us closure. We know where she is. If you find her killer, we’d be glad. But know that we are grateful that you brought her home to us.”

 ~~~

Two days passed, and we had confirmation from her dental records that the remains were Louisa. I didn’t know if I should be relieved we found her or furious that her killer was out there somewhere going about his life. I decided to be both.

I sat at my desk, looking through Louisa’s case file as I had countless times. I slipped out the packet of notes tied with twine found among her things. Her roommate was sure she was seeing someone, but we hadn’t found any clues as to who. The notes were signed with the initials WL, but a search for anyone with that name never panned out. I know because I was still trying to find him.

I’d read and reread the notes so often they were worn. Just typical ‘I love you and as soon as I am free’ rhetoric. Ten to one, the guy was married and having his way with a young college student. Bastard needed to be taken down for that alone, but if he killed her—well—I didn’t want to admit what I wanted to do to him.

I was putting the file away when the desk sergeant called to say I had a visitor. I was surprised when I saw Jenna Srathworth entering the squad room.

“Jenna, good to see you. I take it you’ve heard.”

“Yes. I’ve remained close with the family, especially Marissa, but Lisa called me, which is why I’m here. Lisa said there was a gold belt buckle found with her… uh… body that had a wolf head on it.”

“Yes. Do you know something about it?”

“I’m not sure. You know we lived on Magazine, and I’d gone to the nearby drug store. When I came out, I saw her across the street. She met an older man who hugged her, and they walked around the corner. I’d forgotten all about this until Lisa mentioned the gold buckle. I remember he was wearing a belt that glinted in the sun. I asked her later, and she said it was a family friend. I’m sorry, just never thought about this.”

My heartbeat increased. At last, a small clue we hadn’t had before, but a long shot after so long.

“Do you think you could give us a description of this man, maybe help with a sketch?”

“I didn’t see him well, and it’s been a while, but I can try.”

~~~

A week had passed. The dive team found no additional remains, and we had nothing but a possible sketch of a mysterious man and a gold belt buckle. Doubt that we would discover Louisa’s killer fleetingly entered my mind, but I beat it back with a stick. I would find the bastard.

My stomach rumbled, and I decided my partner and I needed food. I grabbed my coat and told Hank to come with me. Time for some home cooking at Mama Leone’s.

It had been eight months since the shooting at the restaurant, and I had no qualms about admitting I felt a bit of deja vu when I enter the place. I dealt with it by never sitting with my back to the door.

Mama Leone spotted us and showed us to a table, brought us a bottle of wine, took our orders, then disappeared into the kitchen. Tom waved to us from the kitchen pass-through, and Uncle Matteo was engrossed in conversation with a guest. The world felt right to me here. This was my neighborhood and my friends.

Hank poured the wine. “This is a great place, and they like you.” He snickered. “No accounting for taste.”

I glowered at Hank, but he was right. For whatever reason, they did like me. We tap-danced around the real issue in front of us until Hank brought it up.

“You figured out what happened when those guys shot up this place. You’ll figure this out.”

“We need a break. We searched the databases for any mention of the gold buckle and checked with jewelry stores, leather shops. Nothing.”

Hank nodded. “Nothing on the sketch either.”

I stared at the photo of the buckle on my phone. Someone must have seen it before. I laid the phone down as Winona, one of the servers, brought our meals. I was about to say the Pomodoro smelled delicious when she pointed to my phone.

“Eli, I’ve seen that before.”

“Where?”

“On a buckle. Guy comes in here now and then.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, but Matteo might. I’ll get him.”

Matteo knew from the look on my face that it wasn’t time for niceties. “You looking for the man with the gaudy belt buckle?”

“Yes.” I showed him the buckle and the sketch. Matteo bit his lip.

“I know this man. He must be fifty, but always bringing in a young girl. Gives me the creeps.”

“Know his name?”

“Connor Chauvin. Runs a video production company three blocks from here.”

 ~~~

We picked the bastard up two hours later at his studio. He wore a wolf head solid gold belt buckle. No surprise that his video production company was making pornographic videos.

It took three hours to get a confession, but he knew the belt buckle convicted him. He admitted to luring Louisa to the bayou, strangling her with his belt and dropping her in the water tied to concrete blocks. He seemed upset he lost his belt in the process. Chauvin drove Louisa’s car to Dufrene Pond, where he owned a fish camp that he used for videos, hid the car in the garage, and rode his scooter back to his truck.

Why did he kill her? He said he loved luring young college girls into posing nude and making porn. I’ll never forget his words. “Louisa refused to play, and I knew she’d turn me in. Foolish bitch thought she loved me. Promised her I’d quit making porn. She knew about the cabin, so I told her to meet me, and we’d talk. Couldn’t let her ruin my good thing, so she had to die.”

I asked one last question. Why the wolf head on the buckle? Chauvin scoffed. “My name, Connor, means wolf lover.”

Wolf Lover. WL—the initials on the notes tied with twine. The notes he used to make her believe he loved her.

As the sun rose, I left the station. Time to tell the DeLong family we had justice for Louisa. 

————–

If you enjoyed this Detective Elijah Boone story, please check out this story in the series.

The Neighborhood

Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://daratliffauthor.wordpress.com

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