On a dark, moonless night

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At the Piggly Wiggly and the Dock-n-Shop, Sportsman’s Paradise and Coco Marina, if you ask about Mike Ledet they will say they know him, and them someone will tell a story.

Mostly the people here on Bayou Little Caillou know Mike because of his work as a sheriff’s deputy with mad special skills.

When your brother-in-law says he made a wrong turn near Bayou Gotohell and the engine quit and he’s lost, Capt. Mike Ledet is who you want the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office to send. He won’t need a map and because they’re all loaded in his head, these bayous and canals and all their tentacles, and he’ll get your brother-in-law home fast. After that he’ll say it was no big deal, and he’ll be off on his way until the next person needs rescue from a storm or a flood, this big country boy with the humble, shy smile. There is no hint of braggadocio, and when anyone talks about all he has done for so many over so many years he just gives a shrug.

“I like helping people, it’s why I do this,” he will say before getting on with his business, and if it takes you five years of hearing this to finally realize it’s not an act, that’s on you. A big part of Mike’s business – when he’s not acting as an angel on the water – is that of charter fishing. In his 25-foot bay boat Mike shares the beauty and bounty of the sea, specializing in finding and catching bull reds.

That’s what he was doing Friday night, with six men who hired him, scouring these lakes and bays for big old reds, and word is they did really well, which meant a boat full of happy people as Mike guided the vessel back to Cocodrie.

There was no moon but that made little matter as the bay boat glided over smooth, open water. Mike turned out of Lake Pelto and into the ever-more sheltered waters of Bay St. Elaine, minutes out of Cocodrie, and the time was around 11 p.m.

And then it happened.

The investigation has only now begun, but what little is out there indicates a well-head with no marker light, and when the captain saw he turned as best he could but still there was contact, and metal ripping into fiberglass. Men screamed and there was blood, and flailing in the water, and a dream trip had become a nightmare. The rescuers tried to get a fix on a location and briefly there was relief because they heard Mike was out there, so they figured he was taking care of it. Then the realization came, that the rescuer had become the one in need of rescue, that it was his private, personal boat rent open and sinking.

Except Mike got it moving. Somehow the boat was running, and somehow, even with the warm water flowing in through the starboard side gash, Mike urged the crippled vessel forward and it became obvious on the Cocodrie pier that the rescuer had rescued everybody along with himself. Almost. Jacob E. Fulmer II, age 36, of Ector Texas, is one of the people whose souls will now be prayed for at the boat blessings each year. They tried to save him with first aid and with CPR the whole way back, but it did no good.

All day Saturday Mike was busy with the Coast Guard and Wildlife and Fisheries, and he had showed them where the wreck occurred. There was little sleep and eating was beyond question, even at Sunday when Mike went to the dock where the boat was kept up on a sling, and it was lowered down and trailered and he brought it home. Slowly, methodically, Mike emptied the boat of bait and ice chests and all those things that go into making good times on the water, the magic that a charter captain provides.

But there was no magic. There was just a mask on Mike’s face of the pain that comes from knowing, and that came each time another well-wisher called and he lived it all over again. The bayou boy glow was gone. The well-head without the light, the technicalities, that’s all for the courts and the insurance and the lawyers certainly will be kept busy. But that has nothing to do with the soul-eating reality that a death had occurred, and the cry from the soul about trading places if one could. And at the Piggly Wiggly and the Dock’n’Shop, at Sportsman’s Paradise and Coco Marina, they all know that for now, and some time moving forward, there will be pain. And they know that if their brother-in-law turned off of Bayou Gotohell and was suddenly lost and needed finding, Mike Ledet is who they want looking for him and bringing him back.

John DeSantis