An autumn story for spring: Autumn Delatois by Stephen Woodfin
March 24, 2013
Detective Fred Samples was a short-timer, three weeks left in a forty-five year career on the Kemah, Texas, police department. For the last six months, he had been assigned to the intake desk, a plum of a job, eight to four-thirty, no weekends.
But when one of the rookie detectives had a kid playing in the summer league baseball championship game, Fred volunteered to cover his shift.
That’s when it all came down, a fitting denouement for a lifetime peace officer.
The call came in at ten-thirty that evening. There was a disturbance at a grille next to the shipping channel, a dive that sat under the Kemah bridge and welcomed the locals and looked askance at outsiders.
Fred had been to the bar a thousand times, had rousted drunks and dope heads, occasionally busted a whore or her pimp. When he arrived, he walked up the long plank ramp to the restaurant that rested on stilts to keep out the high tide.
“Hey, Fred,” the barkeep said when the detective pushed open the front door.
“What’s up? We got a call about a disturbance.”
The barkeep shrugged and pointed toward the women’s restroom.
“She’s in there. We can’t get her to come out, and the patrons are growing restless, what with their imbibing and all.”
“Okay. So they’re a little drunk. It makes a girl need to go,” he said. “We’ll have a riot on our hands if she doesn’t unlock the door.”
“That’s the name she uses now. You may know her by her former stage name.”
“April’s in there? I haven’t seen her in twenty years.”
“Still looks the same,” the bartender said. “At least from the neck down.”
“I never looked at her face,” Fred said as he winked.
“Neither did anyone else, until this evening. That’s when the trouble began.”
“Ask him,” he pointed at the end of the bar where a man in denim overhauls sat on a barstool, his head down, a half empty beer mug in front of him. He looked like a fifty year old otter, his skin weathered from days on a shrimp boat, his dark eyes set deep in his forehead. “He’s her date tonight.”
“April Rose is here with him?” Fred asked.
“I think the years may have caused her to lower her standards.”
Detective Samples walked next to Autumn’s date and flashed his badge.
“Can you help me de-fuse this situation, sir?” he asked.
The man stared at his beer glass.
“She won’t listen to me, never would,” he said. “I’m shed of her.”
He got up from the barstool, staggered outside.
Fred watched as the man stepped into his twenty-one foot center console bay boat, untied it from the dock, started the engine and puttered out into the channel.
Fred walked back to the bartender.
“Now what?” he asked him.
The barkeep shrugged again.
“Maybe you should talk to her daughter.”
The bartender motioned with his head toward the other side of the restaurant where a girl wearing a bikini top sat at a raised table surrounded by an entourage of admirers.
“That’s Summer Delagarza, isn’t it?” Fred asked.
“In the flesh. So to speak.”
Fred went over to Summer’s table.
When she saw him, she was the first to speak.
“Officer Samples, isn’t it? It’s been a long time.”
“Lots of water under the bridge,” Fred said.
“Lots of men under the bridge, too. You were one of her favorites, though.”
“I was young and stupid back then.”
“No, you weren’t. You were taken by her beauty. She was irresistible back in the day. Forty movies to her credit.”
“If you could call them that.”
“That’s what I call my pictures now,” she said. She turned to the man next to her. He wore gold chains around his neck, a fake Rolex and sunglasses. “Tell him, Andre.”
Andre looked at the detective.
“Summer is the biggest box office draw we have. We’re in town to film her new movie, Sex in the Surf.”
Summer smiled. “Momma came in and saw us sitting around the table. I hadn’t seen her since I was fifteen, when she left town with Harry the wig.”
“Harry was a mess,” Fred said.
“So was momma. The one thing she can’t stand is to be upstaged, especially by her bastard daughter. Next thing we know, she’s barricaded herself in the john. It’s just the right place for her, if you ask me.”
She looked around the table at her entourage.
“C’mon, guys. I’ve had enough of Kemah for one night.”
With that she was gone, her mother still in hiding.
Fred went back to the barkeep.
“I’ve got a plan,” he said.
He walked to the group of women standing outside the ladies’ room.
“Walk this way, ladies,” he said.
They followed him to the door of the men’s room. Fred went in and checked to be sure the facility was vacant.
“I’ll stand guard,” he told the women, who went inside a couple at a time.
About one-thirty that morning, Fred called the barkeep from the station house.
“All clear?” he asked when the bartender came on the line.
“Yeah. At closing time, I told her the coast was clear. She came out with a scarf draped over her head and hitched a ride with one of the bus boys.”
“That’s good,” Fred said. “Even Autumn Delatois is entitled to some dignity.”
“I guess, Fred,” the barkeep said. “But you know what?”
“It’s a long, long while from May to December.”
“And the days grow short, when you reach September,” Detective Samples said as he hung up the phone.