Home, home on the...bayou...
was dawn on Bayou Black, and its inhabitants were about
to launch their daily musical extravaganza, a
performance as beautiful and ancient as time.
The various sounds melded: a dozen different frogs, the
splash of a sac-a-lait or bream rising for a tasty
insect, the whisper of a humid breeze among the
moss-draped oaks, the flap of an egret's wings as it
soared out from a bald cypress branch. Even the silence
had a sound. The only one not making any noise was its
lone human inhabitant, John LeDeux.
But not for long.
About five hundred birds took flight at that shrill
greeting, not to mention every snake, rabbit, raccoon,
or gator within a one-mile radius.
John jackknifed up in bed and quickly pulled the sheet
up to the waist of his naked body. He was in the single
bedroom of his fishing camp, another name for a cabin on
the bayou. He knew exactly who was yoo-hooing him. His
ninety-two-year-old great aunt, Louise Rivard, better
known as Tante Lulu. Who else in the world says "Yoo
should have known better than to buy a place within a
"hoot 'n a holler" of his aunt's little cottage. She
took neighborliness to new heights. And 'hoot 'n a
holler'? Mon Dieu! I'm turning into Tante Lulu.
the time the wooden screen door slammed, putting an
exclamation mark on her entry, he'd already pulled on a
pair of running shorts. He yawned widely as he walked
into the living room where his aunt was carrying two
shopping bags of what appeared to be food. Not a good
But this was his beloved aunt, the only one who'd been
there for him and his brothers during some hard times.
He'd never say or do anything to hurt her feelings.
"What're you doin' here, chère. It's only
six-thirty, and I don't have to report for work 'til
ten." John was a detective with the police department
in Fontaine, a sister city to Baton Rouge. It was a
two-hour drive, and most nights he stayed in an
efficiency apartment he rented in Baton Rouge, but some
nights, like last night, he just wanted to be home, here
in his raised cottage with its stilts half-submerged in
the bayou stream he loved. It was located on Bayou
Black, far enough away from Houma to still feel private
but way too close to Tante Lulu.
"You gots bags under yer eyes, Tee-John," his aunt said,
totally ignoring his question. Tee-John...Little
John...was a nickname that had been given to him as a
kid, way before he hit his six-foot-two.
She went into his small kitchen and was unloading her
goodies. French bread, boudin sausage, eggs, beignets,
red and green tomatoes, garlic, okra, butter, tabasco
sauce, and the holy trinity of southern cooking, celery,
onions and bell peppers. That was just from one bag.
His small fridge would never hold all this crap.
"Yeah, I've got bags. I didn't get to bed 'til three."
"Tsk, tsk, tsk! Thass one of the reasons I'm here."
"Come sit you pretty self down, honey."
sank down into a chair, breathing in deeply of the
strong chicory coffee which she'd already set to
Now she was whipping up what appeared to be an omelette
with sides of sausage and fried green tomatoes. It
would do no good to argue that he rarely ate before
may be old, but I ain't dumb. Even here in the bayou,
we hear 'bout all yer hanky panky."
grinned. "Do you see any hot babes here?"
"Hah! Thass jist 'cause I walked in on you las' month
with that Morrison tart, buck naked and her squealin'
like a pig. Ya prob'ly do yer hanky panky elsewheres
"You got that right," he murmured.
"Why cain't ya find yerself a nice Cajun girl,
Like they don't like hanky panky as much as the next
girl! "'Cause I'm not lookin', that's why.
Besides, Jenny Morrison is not a tart."
His aunt put her hands on her tiny hips...she was only
five- foot-zero and ninety pounds sopping wet. "Does
she have yer ring on her finger?"
His eyes went wide. "Are you kidding? Hell, no!"
"Ya gonna marry up with the girl?"
"Hell, no!" he repeated.
She shrugged. "Well, then, yer a hound dog and she's a
tart. Hanky panky is only fer people in love who's
gonna get married someday."
That was the Bible, according to Tante Lulu.
"Best I bring ya some more St. Jude statues."
She raised her eyebrows at his sharp tone.
"Sorry, but, come on, auntie. I've got a St. Jude
statue in my bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, porch, car and
office. There's St. Jude napkins and salt and pepper
shakers here on the table, St. Jude pot holders by the
stove, St. Jude wind chimes outside, a St. Jude bird
bath, and God only knows what else."
person cain't have too many St. Judes."
St. Jude was the patron saint of hopeless causes and his
aunt's favorite. She was going to heaven some day on
St. Jude brownie points, if nothing else.
"I'm not that hopeless."
She patted his shoulder as she put a steaming mug of
coffee in front of him on the table. "I know that,
sweetie. Thass one of the reasons I'm here. I had a
vision las' night."
rolled his eyes. Here it comes.
"It mighta been a dream, but it felt like a vision.
Charmaine says I should go ta one of those psychos."
Charmaine was his half-sister and as psycho as they
"Psychics," he corrected.
"Thass what I said. Anyways, back ta my vision. Guess
who's gettin' married this year?"
"Who?" He asked the question before he had a chance to
bite his tongue.
"You," she chirped brightly.
choked on his coffee and sprayed droplets all over the
She mopped it up with a St. Jude napkin.
"I'm too young, only twenty-eight," he protested. "Luc
and Remy were thirty-three when they got married, and
René was thirty-five. I got lots of time. What's the
"The time is right fer different folks at different
"Any clue who the lucky lady will be?" he asked,
deciding to go along with the nonsense. He wasn't even
dating anyone steadily, and he for damn sure didn't know
one single woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life
She shook her head. "That wasn't clear, but it's gonna
happen. The thunderbolt, she's acomin'. Best ya be
prepared." The thunderbolt she referred to was some
screwball thunderbolt of love that she claimed hit the
LeDeux men just before they met the loves of their
"No way! And just to make sure, I'm buyin' a lightning
rod before I go in to work today. Speaking of which,
I've gotta take a shower. Can you put a hold on that
breakfast for about fifteen minutes?"
but first I gots ta tell ya my news."
"Oh?" The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. The
last time she had news to announce, she'd popped a
surprise wedding on his brother René. Or maybe it was
the time she and Charmaine had entered a belly dancing
contest. "I thought the vision was your news?" he
She smacked his arm with a wooden spoon. "Stop yer
sass, boy. My news is that I hired Jinx, Inc. ta come
"The treasure hunting company? They're coming here?"
John had worked twice for the New Jersey operation which
hired out to find lost treasures of any kind...sunken
shipwrecks, cave pearls, buried gold, lost objects, just
She nodded. "We's gonna hunt fer pirate treasure."
"On Bayou Black."
"Auntie." He sighed loudly. "There's no treasure here
on Bayou Black."
"Well, not right here. Out past René's fishing camp.
In fact, we's gonna use his camp fer our headquarters."
His jaw dropped. It wasn't the first time she'd
mentioned this idea, but it boggled the mind that his
aunt had convinced a reputable treasure salvaging
company that there was pirate gold on Bayou Black.
"Too bad ya gots ta work. It should be fun."
"You're talkin' about Jean Lafitte, I suppose. Don't
you know, that treasure legend is bullsh...uh, just
"We'll see. I gots clues what no one else has."
That is just great! Probably another vision. "How
are you involved?"
put up two hundred thousand dollars fer half the
inhaled sharply. "That's a lot of money."
His alarm must have shown because she shot back, "It's
my money ta spend anyways I want."
put up his hands in surrender. "Absolutely. When is
this venture gonna start?"
"Okay. That's great, really. I wish you all the
luck." That's what he said, but what he thought,
standing under the shower a short time later, was, The bayou is never gonna be the same again, guaranteed!
Immediately followed by, Treasure hunting is never
gonna be the same after bein' hit by Tante Lulu. Talk
menu at this nightclub was edible...uh, incredible...
Celine Arseneaux took a deep breath, then started across
the crowded parking lot of The Playpen in suburban Baton
Rouge, Louisiana, trying to ignore the fact that she was
all tarted up like a high class call girl.
The get-up had been the bright idea of Bruce Cavanaugh,
her editor at the New Orleans Times-Tribune, designed so
that Celine would meld in the crowd at this upscale club
which provided sexual favors to both men and women, all
run by the Lorenzo branch of the Dixie Mafia. Thus the
black, stiletto sling-backs, the sheer black silk hose,
the black slip dress with red lace edging the bodice and
hem, not to mention flame red lipstick. Her
shoulder-length boring brown hair had been blown and
twisted into a wild curly mane. Normally, her idea of
dressing up was new jeans, lip gloss and a pony tail.
way would she ever be confused for the award-winning
journalist she was. Nor would she be taken for the
mother of a five-year-old child. Nope. She was a woman
on the make for a little action...illegal, paid-for
look like a Bourbon Street hooker," she'd complained to
her fellow reporter, Jade Lewis, just a half hour ago as
she'd helped plant the tape recorder inside her push-up
bra and adjusted the tiny camera into the gold and
rhinestone, rose-shaped brooch at the deep vee of her
front. "I didn't even know I could have cleavage."
Jade had laughed. "Not a hooker. You look too high
class for that. With the diamond post earrings and that
brooch, you look like a bored, upper class gal with a
wad of dough looking for Mister Studmuffin."
"Something like that."
now Celine walked up to the doorman, who resembled a
pro-wrestler in a tux, and flashed the small card she'd
been given for admission. Apparently, no one could
enter the private premises unless they were with a
member, or had obtained one of the cards...cards which
were impossible to obtain without careful vetting. How
Bruce had obtained hers she didn't want to know.
The big bruiser studied the card, then stepped aside and
held the door open for her. She could hear soft music
up ahead...no bump and grind sordid business here. A
hostess, who could have passed for a runway model in a
trendy culottes outfit, inquired, "Black, white, or
light smile tugged at the hostess's lips. "First time
"The black room is for men wanting to hook up with a
woman. The white room is for women wanting to hook up
with a man. And the blue room is for men and women,
together, wanting to hook up with...whatever."
Celine's confused look, she elaborated, "Ménage à
Oh, good grief! Celine hoped she wasn't blushing.
She wondered with a suppressed giggle how another
reporter, Dane Jessup, was going to handle this
situation when he did his part of the story tomorrow
night. The gay male angle. Besides that, if Celine was
a geek, Dane was dweeb to the max.
Soon she was seated at a small round table in the back
of the room with an empty chair across from her. An
in-house phone sat in the center. There was subtle
lighting and the atmosphere of an upscale bar, that
image heightened by the soft rock being played by a
two-piece band. No Chippendale style dancers here or
bare-chested waiters. A female waitress in a perfectly
respectable black uniform asked if she wanted a
beverage. They only cost ten dollars a pop...and that
was for pop.
The ratio of men to women in the room was about five to
one, with about two dozen women sitting at the various
tables. Several were on the small dance floor with
attractive men. Most of the men wore suits, or sport
coats over khakis, or golf shirts tucked into pleated
slacks. A few wore jeans, but they were combined with
tucked-in, button-down dress shirts. No cowboys or
construction workers. Subtlety again. Those men not
partnered on the dance floor or at tables leaned against
the two bars, nursing drinks. Or leaned against a far
wall. A few glanced her way with interest.
looked like a singles club. Maybe this wouldn't be so
But then she opened the "menu" in front of her...and
felt like crawling under the table.
Welcome to The Playpen. We are here for your
enjoyment. Please study the menu below. Then
look around the room. If you see anyone you
like, pick up the phone and indicate your
Only then will you be approached. If after
to one of our men, you change your mind, you
make another choice. Accommodations are
or off-site arrangements can be made. Good
This was followed by a menu of services that were
available...very detailed descriptions...with prices.
She wasn't sure she even knew what some of these things
were, and for sure there were some she'd never done or
had any desire to do. Eeew!
After the waitress plopped her whiskey sour down on the
table, and Celine had taken a big gulp, she braced
herself. It was only pretend on her part. It was just
a story. She'd done worse things to get a scoop. Well,
no, she hadn't, but it was important that these
outrageous activities be exposed. Especially since the
Dixie Mafia was rumored to be involved.
Morphing into professional mode, she made mental notes
of what she'd seen so far and decided she would
"interview" three different men before making her escape
following a trip to the ladies' room. Bruce might want
her to take one of them upstairs, to see how it was
done, but no way was she going that far. Pressing one
of the roses in her brooch to launch the zoom lenses,
she began a slow scan of the men from right to left.
Some of the prostitutes looked downright dangerous. Way
too blatantly sexual for her tastes.
Okay, the young blond man would be her first. Extra
long hair in a low pony tail. Clean cut. Wearing a
light blue Oxford-collared shirt, tucked into dark blue
chinos. He looked like a college student.
Then maybe the older gentleman with salt and pepper
hair. Fiftyish. Well-built. Designer suit.
Third...hmmm, she couldn't decide. She should probably
invite the guy who looked like Tony from the Sopranos,
if she had the nerve. Or the scowling man who was both
homely and tempting as hell; rough sex, for sure.
She had her hand on the phone, about to request her
first "date," when she noticed two men amble into the
room laughing at some private joke. Her survey started
to swing on a return scan, then doubled back.
Oh. My. God!
Could it be...? No, it's impossible.
The tall man with dark hair, late twenties, wearing a
black suit over a tight white silk t-shirt, stopped dead
and was staring at her, too. Her camera took him in,
which she intended to erase the moment she got home. Or
This was an absolute nightmare. The worst possible
thing that could have happened.
was that slimebucket, oversexed, full-of-himself Cajun
jerk. John LeDeux.
Whom she'd had a crush on as a girl and been hopelessly
attracted to as a woman, despite her seeming
intelligence. What was it about men like John LeDeux
who caused women's I.Q.'s to nosedive? She had
successfully avoided him for five long years. Why else
would she have stayed in Texas for so long? What irony,
to finally run into him, after being back here for only
six months, in a...a sex club.
some higher power would just let a crack open in the
floor, she would gladly jump in, assignment be damned.
like to be on her menu, guar-an-teed!...
John LeDeux ambled into The Playpen for his night shift.
The idea of him selling sex, or buying it for that
matter, was ludicrous, but the dickhead managers of this
place couldn't see past their cash registers. One
hundred dollars for a blow job? I don't think so! I'm
worth way more than that.
scanned the room, looking for potential "customers."
Then went stone cold still.
Well, well, well, lookee here. Celine Arseneaux, out to
buy herself some action.
Was she that hard up? She always was a stick-up-the-ass
prudish geek, too smart for her own good. Thought she
was better than the rest of stupid mankind. Except for
that one time that he barely recalled. She'd been hot
damn non-geeky that night if his fuzzy recollection was
But wait, wasn't she supposed to be some hotshot
newspaper reporter in Dallas? No, wait, someone
mentioned recently that she'd moved to the New Orleans
Times-Tribune. Why would she be here...?
Oh, good Lord. She's here on assignment. Man, this is
a FUBAR waiting to happen.
whispered to Tank Woodrow...Police Lieutenant Clifford
"Tank" Woodrow...at his side, "Nine o'clock. Lady in
black and red dress. Reporter."
"The one with the flame-colored mouth that looks like it
could melt salt off a pretzel stick."
laughed, just knowing how much Celine would appreciate
that description. Not! "That would be the one."
"Shiiiit! She's gonna blow our cover."
and Tank had been undercover at The Playpen for the past
week. The Fontaine police department, in conjunction
with the special state organized crime unit, were about
to bust this and other operations of the Dixie Mafia
wide open. This woman would ruin it all.
Not if he could help it.
She recognized him the instant she saw him, her eyes
going wide as saucers.
"Watch my back," he told Tank.
Against Playpen rules, he approached the table, amused
to see Celine averting her face, hoping she could escape
his notice. Fat chance!
yanked a chair around and sat down close to her, with
his back to the bar where the client facilitator stood
watching. Yeah, that's what the pompous pimp called
"Hey, darlin', lookin' fer a date?" he asked with the
lazy southern drawl he had perfected over the years.
She mumbled something, her face still averted. He was
pretty sure she'd told him to do something to himself
that was anatomically impossible.
"Nah, I'd rather do you, sweetheart."
She turned and stared him straight in the face. "Get
"Now, now. Is that any way to treat the man who's gonna
show you a good time?" He picked up the menu of
services that was sitting on the table, opened it and
pointed to one particular line. "I'm really good at
Her face flushed. "You are such a pig."
"Compliments will get you everywhere, sugar."
"What are you doing here?"
"The better question is, what're you doin' here? Oooh,
is that a camera in here?" He flicked the rose brooch
on her chest, and felt an odd zing where the back of his
fingers touched her warm skin.
could tell by the look of horror on her face that she'd
felt the zing, too. Or maybe it was because she
realized that her hidden techie camera hadn't been as
hidden as she'd hoped.
"Go away," she said with a groan. "I've got a job
"So do I, and it's not to dole out sexual favors. This
operation is about to be busted, and we are not gonna
let you jam up the works."
"We? Who is we? Fontaine police? State police?
"All of the above. You're not gonna screw up this
"Oh, yeah, how you gonna stop me, babe?"
"Just watch me." He picked up the phone. "The lady,
she wants numbers five, six, and seven. She's too shy
to tell ya'll herself. Two hours. Upstairs. A rodeo,
a dirty bath, and a missionary. You got her credit card
number on file? Okay."
Celine was too busy gawking at the description of five,
six and seven to notice him standing and pulling her up
with him. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, tucking
her tightly to his side, he prevented her from bolting,
trying his best to ignore her light floral perfume and
the softness of her skin. "Let's get outta here," he
said. "Maybe if you're lucky, I'll show you how well I
She squirmed out of his hold and glared at him. "I'm
not going anywhere with you." She looked as if she
might be about to belt him a good one.
But then all hell broke loose.
Police in SWAT uniforms rushing in all the entries and
blocking all the exits. Bullhorns blaring out, "Stay
where you are, people. This is a raid." Women were
screaming. Men were cursing. The band stopped dead in
the middle of "Love Shack." It was a full-blown police
operation. At least fifty armed local, state, and
federal law enforcement officers in the three rooms on
this floor, he would estimate.
pigload of people were going to be arrested, including
himself, since his identity had to be protected. Ms.
Hot Shot Reporter was not going to be able to fast talk
herself out of this mess 'til later.
She was flashing her chest all over the place, taking
pictures, he presumed, not showing off her assets.
Maybe she wouldn't be so mad at him now.
No, that was not to be the case.
Turning swiftly, she windmilled her arm back, then
clipped him on the chin with her fist.
"What was that for?"
cop he didn't recognize was approaching, already reading
them their rights, flex cuffs dangling from his
fingertips. But first John had to do something. He
grabbed Celine, tugged her flush against his body and
kissed her, long and hard. He might have even used his
tongue, but who knew! He was as dazed as she was when
he broke off the kiss. "Which one of you is the
hooker?" the amused cop asked.
"Him," she said.
"Her," he said at the same time.
Smoke practically blew from her ears as she glowered at
him. Wait 'til she found out that the mind-blowing kiss
had been a ruse to allow himself the opportunity to slip
off her brooch and the tiny mike inside her bra. They
were now in his suit pocket.
les bons temps rouler," he murmured as they walked
off together, in custody. "Let the good times roll."
She gave him the finger.