Tempterby Nancy A. Collins
A has-been rock star looks to revive his career and is tricked into helping an evil spirit imprisoned in an abandoned mansion deep in the Louisiana bayous
New Orleans has long been famous for good food, good times, good music—and voodoo. When troubled musician Alex Rossiter relocates to the Big Easy, he soon finds his rock star mojo working/b>… See more details below
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A has-been rock star looks to revive his career and is tricked into helping an evil spirit imprisoned in an abandoned mansion deep in the Louisiana bayous
New Orleans has long been famous for good food, good times, good music—and voodoo. When troubled musician Alex Rossiter relocates to the Big Easy, he soon finds his rock star mojo working again. Not only is his new band attracting notice, he’s also having affairs with two gorgeous women: the sexy voodoo queen Ti Alice, and beautiful businesswoman Charlotte “Charlie” Calder. But when Rossiter stumbles across a long-lost book of ancient spells, he unwittingly invites the evil spirit known as Tempter into his dreams—and, soon, his waking hours as well. Tempter is eager to escape his other-dimensional prison so he can once more slake his perverted lusts on the flesh of the living, starting with Charlie. It’s up to Jerry Sloan—Rossiter’s boyhood friend and Charlie’s not-so-secret admirer—and the one-eyed hoodoo woman known as Mad Aggie to stop Tempter’s evil plans before he destroys not Charlie but the descendants of the voodoo priestess who imprisoned him over a century ago. Together this unlikely duo must travel to the abandoned plantation deep in Louisiana’s haunted bayou country, and face the dark secret that lies waiting for them, locked inside its rotting heart.
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By Nancy A. Collins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Nancy A. Collins
All rights reserved.
Alex Rossiter studied himself in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Checking for tremors and twitches was a ritual left over from the days when his presence on stage was enough to trigger hysterical screams. But that was a long time ago, and the man who returned his appraising stare was far removed from the teenage boy who once drove the little girls wild.
He was only thirty-seven, but the last twenty years had been hard on his body, even during the good times. He was taller than average and, thanks to genetics, naturally lean, but the years of hard drug abuse left his face with a puffy layer of fat that made his eyes look perpetually bruised. There was gray shot throughout his hair, which he kept pulled into a ponytail, and his right ear sported three silver rings. He was dressed in loose-fitting white cotton pants, a white cotton sleeveless tunic, which exposed the Anarchy symbol inked into his left shoulder, with a small green cloth bag hung around his neck on a leather thong.
Rossiter absently fingered the mojo bag. He would have felt a lot more comfortable in his jeans and leather jacket, but Arsine insisted he wear the whites of a novice. He was still uncertain about what was planned for the night, but he trusted Arsine. Still, he had reason to be concerned about the motives of others, especially when it came to religion.
His ego still smarted whenever he thought about the wizened little guru who fed on his adolescent insecurities, assuring him that the only way to enlightenment was through ridding himself of all worldly goods and following a strict regimen of meditation, raw vegetables, and ice-water enemas. Rossiter had been so desperate to prove his worthiness to that wise, unworldly little man with the long flowing beard and beatific smile; he would have gladly hurled himself into a volcano.
Since he was still legally underage at the time, his parents and business manager had demanded his release from the holy man's ashram. It wasn't until then that Rossiter discovered that the kindly, "unworldly" holy man had his own helicopter, four Rolls Royces and a brace of certified public accountants in his employ. So much for raw vegetables and cold water enemas. After two decades he still didn't know whom he was angrier with: the guru for deceiving him, or his parents for disillusioning him.
Rossiter left the cramped confines of the bathroom. He hated efficiency apartments but there wasn't much he could do about it. His occasional bouts of employment, combined with the sporadic royalty checks he received, provided him with the base-level income necessary to keep him housed and fed. Food wasn't a problem, since New Orleans was still one of the few places left in America where a poor man could eat well. Housing, however, was another story. It was hard to find a place in his price range where he didn't run the risk of being burgled every time he left the house.
He pushed a mound of stale laundry off the permanently exposed hide-a-bed onto the floor. He checked his wristwatch, a battered Timex with a badly scratched crystal, and wondered where the hell Arsine was.
Rossiter had been in New Orleans just over six months. The city was famous as a breeding ground for jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock-n-roll, and had a reputation for debauchery and wickedness that was mythic. But what fascinated him most was the region's history of voodoo.
Despite his early experience with the guru, Rossiter never gave up on pursuing mystic truth. He'd always had a taste for the metaphysical, even before Crash hit it big, but over the years his appetite for enlightenment had grown in proportion to his inability to land a recording contract. Over the last fifteen he had wandered from Krishna Consciousness to Scientology, with a stop for Jesus along the way. Now he was being drawn to investigate that most primal of beliefs: voodoo.
Make that voudou. Voodoo was Hollywood crap: grimacing idols, human sacrifices, and the blank-eyed walking dead. Voudou was the real thing, pure and uncut.
When Rossiter first moved to New Orleans, he was amazed to find voudou practitioners actually listed in the Yellow Pages under "Museums." The address proved to be an old French Quarter storefront, its rooms filled with various bric-a-brac of alleged supernatural and historical importance. For three dollars Rossiter was allowed to look at dusty glass cases cluttered with corroded iron knives, dried gourd rattles, and a poorly preserved python skin.
As he ambled through the cramped confines of the "museum", he saw a child's white coffin propped on a kitchen chair underneath a faded lithograph of Marie LaVeau, the legendary voodoo queen. A display case housing a collection of defaced 1950s-era horror comics of zombies rising from their graves sat beside an aquarium filled to over-flowing by an obese python. A piece of wire mesh, held in place by a strip of electrical tape and a brick, was all that kept the tank's occupant from escaping. In Rossiter's opinion, the only thing in the whole building that qualified as interesting was a photograph of a woman dressed in a white gown, her eyes rolled back in ecstasy, a red-hot coal balanced on her tongue.
Like any other museum, Rossiter was forced to walk through the gift-shop in order to exit the building. The curator, a stoop-shouldered, slightly overweight man in his fifties, stood behind the gift-shop counter. Behind him were rows of apothecary jars situated on narrow shelves. While some were marked ginger, patchouli, and jasmine, others bore labels such as 'dragon's blood', 'healing hands', and 'goofer dust'.
The curator smiled and nodded at Rossiter. "Y'all enjoy the museum?"
"It was ... different," he conceded.
"See anything you were interested in?"
"Well, uh, there was this photograph ..."
The curator's eyebrows shot up. "Which one?"
"It was of a girl with what looked like a live coal in her mouth."
The curator nodded sagely. "Yes, we get a lot of comments about that one. Things like that seldom end up being photographed in time, you know. The girl is no longer associated with the museum, but we still display the picture."
"Is there any way I could see something like that? For real?"
The curator smiled and handed him a business card. "We do rituals. Both indoor and outdoor. Reasonable rates."
Rossiter nodded, not really listening.
The curator's brown wrinkled and his eyes narrowed as he studied Rossiter's face. "You from around here?"
"I just moved in from out of state."
"Funny, you look familiar," the curator said.
Rossiter was still unsure if escaping unrecognized was a good thing or a bad thing. He had spent years trying to adjust to the adulation of strangers, then decades becoming accustomed to their indifference. In the late Seventies, early Eighties, his name had been used in the same sentence as Hendrix and Morrison. But that was over two decades ago, and while Morrison and Hendrix had avoided the fickleness of a maturing audience by trading their lives for rock'n roll godhood, he was just another washed-up former boy-genius.
The sound of the door buzzer shook Rossiter from his reverie. He opened door, careful to leave the chain on.
"Sorry I'm late, man." Arsine smiled apologetically, exposing his gold eyetooth, "Some last-minute shit came up at work."
Arsine Copeland was a tall, slightly built African American in his late twenties who wore a brightly colored knit beret atop his ropelike dreadlocks. When he wasn't painting houses, Arsine was a session drummer.
"I thought you forgot me."
"No chance, man! You got the offering?" Rossiter handed Arsine a brown paper bag. The drummer skinned back the wrapper and studied the label on the bottle.
"Is it the right kind? I want to make the right impression."
"Don't worry," Arsine grinned. "You'll definitely impress the houngan, if not the Loa! C'mon, let's get gone."
Arsine drove a battered '78 Ford pick-up with an open bed filled with paint cans. On the driver's side door of the cab was a peel-n-stick sign that read Copeland & Son Renovations. The cab reeked of paint thinner, old sweat, cheap wine, marijuana and unfiltered cigarettes.
"Where are we going?"
"Where Marie LaVeau used to hold her rituals, or thereabouts. It's a nice place. Nobody messes with you out there." Arsine glanced at him from the corner of his eye. "You nervous? There's nothing to be worried about. But I can understand why you might be. Kanzo is heavy shit, but don't sweat it. You'll come through all right." Arsine's long, brown fingers dipped into his jeans and withdrew a spliff. "Thought you might need something to, calm your nerves."
Rossiter accepted the joint, grateful to have something to take his mind off the upcoming ordeal. The two exchanged puffs on the joint as they drove through the narrow streets, the truck's shocks squeaking and groaning at every intersection and pothole.
Rossiter first met Arsine at the ceremony staged by the curator of the museum, which featured a pair of half-naked African American men playing conga drums, an exotic dancer Rossiter recognized from one of the titty bars over on Bourbon Street, and the over-fed snake from the museum. After fifteen minutes, he denounced the curator as a charlatan and stalked out. He was halfway down the street when he was tapped on the shoulder. He spun around, not bothering to hide his anger.
"Stay the fuck away from me!"
"Chill out, man. I ain't messin' with you." It was one of the drummers from the ritual. He held up his long, narrow hands, palms outward and smiled apologetically, exposing a gold eyetooth. "I don't blame you for gettin' mad back there. The whole thing is a tourist rip-off. If you want the real shit, it's not that hard to arrange. But only if you're lookin' to learn, not take photos for the rubes back home."
"How much?" Rossiter sneered, expecting yet another set-up.
"I don't want your money, friend. I only drum for that dude for extra scratch. It's an easy gig, y'know? If you want to check it out, give me a call. The name's Arsine." He stuffed a piece of scrap paper in Rossiter's hand. As he turned to leave he gave him a sly wink. "By the by: Blood Moon Rising was a righteous album."
It was two months before Rossiter recovered from being played for a tourist. When he finally called Arsine's number, the drummer acted as if it had only been a couple of days since they last spoke. Rossiter was surprised by how quickly he came to like the easygoing young musician. Over the years he had learned to be wary of those who befriended him. It was his experience that people treated celebrities—even those of dubious fame—differently than they did other people, and he had learned the hard way that most of them harbored secret agendas behind their friendly smiles.
However, Rossiter's relationship with Arsine was that of a peer. The drummer was the third generation of a musical family, whose grandfather used to play live with Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, while his daddy logged studio time with Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and the late Professor Longhair.
It was Arsine who introduced Rossiter to his first real live voudou priest, known as a houngan. Rossiter had been expecting a massively built black man dressed in the headdress and grass skirt of a witch doctor. What he got was a slightly stooped old man with horn-rimmed glasses and false teeth who held his pants up with leather braces.
Papa Beloved (pronounced bee-love-ed) was an elderly man who had come to the United States from Haiti as a boy. Papa Beloved spoke with the lilting, singsong rhythm of the Caribbean, and within an hour of their first meeting Rossiter was completely won over by the old gentleman's sincerity. The clincher came when Papa Beloved confessed there wasn't much money in being a houngan, and that he made his living mowing lawns. He only became a full-time voudou priest after handing his thriving yard-care business over to his son.
On their second meeting, Rossiter confessed his desire to become an Initiate. Papa Beloved explained that novices were expected to pay for the privilege of being exposed to the divine company of the Loa. Rossiter had steeled himself upon hearing this, expecting yet another shakedown. To his amazement, the asking price for spiritual enlightenment was a bottle of white rum.
Now he was on his way to being initiated into Papa Beloved's hounfour. He remembered the photograph of the woman holding the live coal in her mouth and repressed the urge to crack the seal the bottle between his knees. He looked out the window as Arsine piloted the aged truck along Wisener Boulevard. The vast, darkened expanse of City Park lay on one side, the grassy banks of Bayou St. John on the other.
They turned onto De Saix Boulevard and after passing streets bearing such ironic names as 'Industry', 'Hope', and 'Law', came to a stop in front of a rather unimpressive 1950s brick bungalow. There were a handful of vehicles parked in the drive, most of them late Seventies sedans with patchy paint jobs.
"This is it?"
"You weren't expecting a thatched hut in the middle of Gentilly, were you?" Arsine chuckled.
Rossiter was lead around the side of the house to the freestanding garage in the back yard that served as a temple. They entered the squat, whitewashed cinderblock building through a narrow doorway curtained with strands of plastic Mardi Gras beads. The interior was close and dark, and the odor of caged animals, sandalwood, and human sweat threatened to overpower him the moment he entered.
The people squeezed into the confines of the hounfour turned as a group to stare at him. Most of the Initiates were African American women, although Rossiter glimpsed at least one other white face. Even though their gazes held more curiosity than hostility, if Arsine's hand had not been on his shoulder, he would have turned and fled.
Papa Beloved smiled benevolently and stepped forward to greet him. The retired yardman was dressed in a striking red-and-black dashiki, his bare feet encased in eel-skin sandals. His bald head sported a sheen of perspiration that made him look as if he was carved of polished mahogany. He slipped a bony arm around Rossiter's shoulders and addressed the assembled members of the temple.
"Brothers and Sisters, this is Alex. Tonight he shall join us as a member of our society through the ritual of Kanzo!"
"Welcome, Alex." the congregation responded.
Papa Beloved turned back to face Rossiter. "Did you bring an offering for Legba?"
Rossiter nodded and handed him the bottle of rum. The old priest raised an eyebrow when he saw the label and nodded his approval. The altar dedicated to Legba was a card table erected in the corner behind the temple door, draped in bolts of red and black cloth. The four corners were weighted by smooth stones the size of a man's fist. Seven small glass vessels containing water stood grouped in a circle on the table, surrounded by nine white votive candles. A devotional candle bearing the likeness of Saint Michael dwarfed those clustered about it, casting flickering shadows on the crooked stick and plastic bowl full dried corn kernels set upon the altar.
"Legba will be pleased with your offering," Papa Beloved intoned, placing the bottle of white rum among the other gifts on the altar.
"Will Legba be here tonight?"
The old man shrugged. "It is not my place to know the ways of les invisibles. We will call Legba. We will offer him the things we know that please him. Perhaps Legba will come. Perhaps we will get some other Loa. Perhaps nothing happens." The priest grinned and favored Rossiter with a knowing wink. "But when there is good rum—that is when Legba most often chooses to visit."
Papa Beloved turned to discuss something with another member of his flock, his voice low, but Rossiter could tell he was giving instructions. Arsine stripped off his own shirt, revealing sharply defined muscles, and took his place at the drum. Rossiter took the time to study the interior of the makeshift temple. The poured-concrete floor reeked faintly of motor oil and transmission fluid, and the walls were painted flat black, decorated with crude cabalistic figures done in whitewash and chalk. He recognized one of the symbols as the Seal of Solomon, but most were ornate, highly stylized line drawings of stars, crossed sabers, hearts, and what looked like an old-fashioned tugboat with smoke coming from its funnel.
Excerpted from Tempter by Nancy A. Collins. Copyright © 2014 Nancy A. Collins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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