Billy had been a wreck when he came back from the war, his sobbing sister told me two months after he disappeared, but red snapper stew had saved his life.
“What?” I lowered my glass. I wondered if it was some sort of obscure military term.
Emily Perkins rubbed a hand across her eyes as she answered, “Red snapper stew, it was what he made when he applied for that position.”
“Right.” I mentally rewound everything that she had said in the past hour. She had mentioned Billy getting into cooking as a way of escaping from the war, how that had led to a position at a fancy seafood restaurant up in Fredericksburg, which in turn had led to the job offer in New Orleans, which had then led to him disappearing en route to the Big Easy, which had led to me sitting across from her at a barbecue joint in Mitchum Bay, Texas, two hundred and seventy-something miles from New Orleans.
And what was I doing in a barbecue joint? As a werewolf, I craved fresh meat. Or at least raw and recently refrigerated. This haven of burned animal flesh turned my stomach. I swallowed more water and wished I had suggested somewhere else. But Porky Pete’s Pig Poke was close to her motel room, and I had a rule about going along with prospective clients until money changed hands.
Emily blew her nose and continued babbling. I hated thinking of it that way, since she was grieving, but really, she was babbling, vocally bouncing all over the place, and this place stunk, the smoke from the pits had seeped into the plank walls, and everything seemed coated in a fine layer of grease, and if I didn’t get out of here soon, I was going to vomit all over her–
“Outside,” I interrupted. I shot to my feet. “What do you say? Some semi-fresh air?”
She blinked. “Uh. Sure. Yes. Okay.” She scooted back her chair.
The smell wasn’t much better out on the restaurant’s wraparound porch, but at least there was a breeze. I leaned on the railing and stared out into the parking lot while Emily picked up where she’d left off.
Fucked up from the war, Billy had sought refuge over a fry pan. Cooking calmed him, gave him something to focus on other than roadside bombs. When the famous (she said, I never heard of the guy) New Orleans chef with his very own Food Network TV show decided to open another restaurant, Billy had applied for the head chef position. He aced his interview. He was on his way back to Nawlins with everything he owned packed into his green Saturn when he disappeared.
She paused to take a sip of beer. My chance to finally jump in and get some questions answered. “What route did he take?”
“Did he take Interstate 10?”
“Oh. Yes, but there was a wreck. He called and told me there was a wreck, and he was taking an exit. He said he was going to find another way. He hated sitting around since coming back. Always had to be moving. He especially hated sitting in traffic.”
“Where was the wreck?”
“I told you, on the intersta–”
“Where, exactly? What mile marker? Near what exit ramp?”
“I don’t know. He mentioned a store. He wanted a soda.”
Oh wow, that so narrowed it down. I rubbed my forehead. When Billy hadn’t shown up for his first day of work, the famous chef had called Emily’s cell phone. Emily hadn’t heard from her brother since the call about the wreck, but she hadn’t thought anything of it. She’d figured he’d call when he was settled in his hotel room. After the chef’s call, she tried his cell, as had his intended boss. No answer.
And so it went. Two months of no word, no sign of the Saturn. She drove the same route Billy had driven. The route he was supposed to have driven, anyway. With no idea of where he’d exited, it was hard to figure out which police department to talk to. A Yahoo! news search had turned up two accidents on the day he’d disappeared, ten miles apart. That left a lot of exit ramps.