Voodoo Child: Murder and Dark Magic Prowl the New Orleans Streetsby Michael Reaves
As a Louisiana parole officer, Lia St. Charles is used to tough customers, but the man in front of her doesn't fit the description. Shane LaFitte had been a priest of voduna healer, not a killeruntil he was put away for the brutal ritual murder of his beloved wife. Something about his case just doesn't make sense. And now a ruthless drug lord who
As a Louisiana parole officer, Lia St. Charles is used to tough customers, but the man in front of her doesn't fit the description. Shane LaFitte had been a priest of voduna healer, not a killeruntil he was put away for the brutal ritual murder of his beloved wife. Something about his case just doesn't make sense. And now a ruthless drug lord who controls the New Orleans street trade has opened a door to the Invisible World beyond, summoning monstrous forces for a dreadful day of reckoning. To work this terrible evil, he needs the sacrifice of an innocent, a very special child. Only Shane LaFitte has the power to stop his old enemybut first he must convince Lia not to put him back in prison for trying...
- Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
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- First Edition
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- 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 2.00(d)
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By Michael Reaves
TOR BOOKSCopyright © 1998 Michael Reaves
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrench Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana February 24-25, 1998
The dead were celebrating on Bourbon Street.
It was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, the last night of Carnival, and the narrow streets of the Vieux Carré were packed with costumed merrymakers partying themselves blind in the last hours before midnight. The night air was redolent with the smells of Cajun spices, barbeque and spilled beer. Over on St. Charles and Canal Street huge floats moved slowly through the crowds, pulled by tractors and filled with riders tossing doubloons, cups and plastic beads at delirious throngs shouting "Throw me something, Mister!" On Bourbon and Royal people leaned perilously from wrought-iron balconies, clung to street lamp poles and danced atop parked cars. Jugglers, unicyclists, stilt walkers and acrobats found space somehow in the tightly packed crowd to demonstrate their skills. Dominatrix nuns and transvestite priests dispensed favors, while jazz from Dixieland marching bands and syncopated zydeco clashed with boom-box rap and hip-hop. Legions of horsemen dressed in satin and velvet robes, feathered plumes rising over their heads, passed proudly by, flanked by clowns, masquers and mimes. On the corner of Royal and Conte an evangelist in sackcloth and ashes shouted predictions of divine doom through a bullhorn. Naphtha-fueled flambeaux carried by white-robed black men shed flickering light on the scene.
The dead blended easily into the revelry; on this last frenzied night of Carnival the sudden appearance of Satan himself would hardly raise eyebrows. Members of one of the many costumed krewes that helped stage the parades and festivities, they wore loose black robes and porcelain skull masks. They stalked through the throng, somber figures contrasting with the crowd's bright colors. Unlike the other masquers, they dispensed few party favors - only an occasional blood-red bead or baggie full of crimson powder. This did not seem to bother those filling the picturesque French Quarter. After all, the dead are not known for their generosity.
Gil Duquesne loved Mardi Gras. Every year the "City that Care Forgot" invited six million people to a month-long drunken bash, and every year Gil made out like a bandit. The other events - Festa D'Italia, the Jazz Festival, Spring Fiesta - were good too, but for sheer opportunity Carnival was the best, no question. Gil had heard it called the biggest party in the western world. He didn't know about that, but it was for damn sure the best time of year for his line of work. Sometimes he made enough of a roll to last him almost into summer.
He moved through the dense mass of humanity, sizing up marks with a practiced eye. The possibilities were so many it was almost impossible to choose. Many of the tourists wore costumes, making it hard to get through the layers of clothing to find wallets, but more than enough didn't.
He set his sights on a heavy-set tourist, standing near the brightly lit entrance of the Absinthe Bar, neck slung with a Nikon, a Rolex on one wrist and a nylon fanny pack around his ample waist. Christ, Gil thought, slipping easily through the crowd toward him, too dumb to live. If only someone else ain't shaken him down first....
He stumbled against the mark, recovered his balance and grinned apologetically, like a tipsy and sheepish drunk. The other man returned the smile, clapped Gil on the back and shouted, "Happy Mardi Gras!" An instant later the surges and eddies of the crowd carried them apart.
Gil headed down Conte toward Chartres, away from the floats making their way down Bourbon Street. He slipped into the dark haven of a recessed doorway and quickly eviscerated the eelskin wallet. A nice wad of fifties and twenties, another five hundred in travelers checks - unsigned, thank you Jesus! - plus a bit of lagniappe in the form of VISA, Discover and Amex gold cards. "Sweet charity," he murmured. This put his take so far at nearly fifteen hundred in cash alone. Amazing how much money people will carry on them in a strange city. Gil dropped the wallet and blended back into the press of revelers.
For a time he let the currents of humanity move him while he thought about the day's take. Not bad, not bad at all. He had enough to carry him solid for a couple of months and keep him well-supplied with some good Southern Comfort, maybe even let him score a little coke. Life was good. Laissez les bon temps rouler....
Of course, there were bad times as well as good. Just a few weeks ago he'd been so desperate for cash that he'd lifted a purse off a hooker, praying that she didn't belong to a certain stable that included just about every whore in the Quarter. He'd sweated that for a while, no mistake, done some serious looking over his shoulder. There were certain rules prudent men lived by: you don't pull on Superman's cape or yank the mask off the Lone Ranger and you sure as hell don't mess with Mal Sangre, the top crime lord in Louisiana, not if you don't want to wind up gator bait in some bayou.
Thank God, Mardi Gras had come along, with enough easy marks to keep him from having to do that more than once. And no one had seen him and the bitch together, no one had put the finger on him. Gil knew a lot of people on the street who believed all the stories about Sangre's voodoo, how he used it to keep his people in line. Well, that was fine - let him kill all the chickens he wanted, long as he didn't know who Gil was. The only magic Gil believed in was what prestidigitation he could perform with his ten fingers. Making a pocketbook vanish out of a purse without the owner noticing - that was sorcery.
Several teen-agers ran past a line of parked cars, smashing windshields with beer bottles. A biker maneuvered his Harley down the crowded street with a topless laughing woman riding pillion. Gil kept his hands in his pockets, clutching the booty he had dipped from unsuspecting victims. Let the drunks and stoners occupy the cops' attention. He looked like a citizen: thirtysomething, clad in stone-washed jeans, light sweater and running shoes, his hair and mustache neatly trimmed. A face in the crowd, no more. The only thing even remotely memorable about him was a birthmark in the form of a tiny dark blemish in the white of his left eye. He wore tinted glasses to keep that from being noticed.
A black youth a few steps ahead of him cut the strap of a woman's purse and pulled it free, shoving his way through the confused crowd as she screamed. A mounted cop, wearing purple bead necklaces and gold epaulettes, guided his horse adroitly through the mass of humanity and grabbed the cutpurse by the collar.
Gil watched this with the professional's contempt for the amateur. No finesse, no style. He had spent long hours practicing his craft, working on a dressmaker's dummy laced with bells until he could lift a wallet from a coat pocket without making a sound. He shook his head. Kids today didn't want to learn a trade.
He passed a few other pigeons who looked ripe for the plucking, but let them slide by. Greed could very easily land you in the House of Blue Lights, especially tonight, when the NOPD had many of its people cruising the streets as potential marks. Gil was pretty good at spotting them, but you could never be too careful. He'd done a good night's work, and now he was content to amble past the restaurants and houses ablaze with light and alive with music, their balcony railings festooned with gold, purple and green crepe paper, garlands and balloons.
He turned right on Chartres, heading toward Jackson Square. The former military parade ground was a great place to score some action, on this night in particular. Last year he'd gotten a truly amazing blow job from a drunken college girl in exchange for a handful of beads. God, he loved Mardi Gras.
The ancient bulks of the Cabildo, the St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytere - three of the oldest buildings in the country - glowed against the night sky as he entered the square. His Nikes squeaked on the flagstones. He could smell flowering shrubs and banana trees in the small park across the court where Andrew Jackson reared his horse on a pedestal. Shouts and laughter echoed all about; a short distance down Pirate's Alley he got a glimpse of a couple backed up against the Cabildo wall, the man's pants sagging open around his hips, the woman's skirt hiked up over hers. Gil moved closer to the comforting light of one of the lamps that topped the park's iron fence. No sense tempting fate; he wasn't the only one looking for prey tonight. Some of the local skinhead gangs were cruising as well; he'd seen four of them earlier, kicking the shit out of a street person with their steel-toed Doc Martens over in Exchange Alley.
The thought was sobering. Though he was more capable than most people of avoiding danger, maybe it wasn't a bad idea to head back to his apartment. The constant partying was wearing on him. It was drawing close to midnight anyway; soon the madness would start to die down, and by morning it would be mostly over for another year. He could afford a cab, which was just as well, since his neighborhood around St. Charles was not the safest. One of the problems of not having a regular income.
Gil started out of the square, passing one of the Civil War cannons in front of the Cabildo that had been stuffed with paper and set on fire. Its barrel glowed with embers, sending smoke twisting up into the night. He was about to stroll up St. Ann Street to hail a cab when he noticed someone standing in the shadows of Père Antoine's Alley.
An ivory skull, floating above whispering silken darkness, approached him. A white-gloved hand extended, opened. On the palm rested what seemed to be a frozen drop of blood.
Gil looked at the eye sockets of the mask. It was only a trick of the light, of course, but it looked like nothing but darkness, with perhaps faint twin gleams of red, was behind the false face. He snorted at the momentary gooseflesh the thought produced. "Thanks," he said, taking the bead from the masquer, who turned and disappeared quickly into the night. As he left, Gil glanced at his watch. It was midnight. One last gesture of bonhomie from a stranger before Mardi Gras ended. He felt oddly touched.
He crossed the street in front of the bakery, raising his right hand, fingers still closed about the bead, to brush hair out of his eyes. He managed to lift his arm only a few inches before it dropped down again by his side. Gil frowned; his arm felt numb, like it had gone to sleep.
He tried to raise it again, but this time the mental command had no more effect than if the limb had belonged to someone else. Gil noticed a faint tingling sensation spreading through his shoulder, leaving more numbness in its wake. He couldn't open his hand. His heart began to beat rapidly. What the hell was this? Some sort of stroke? His hands were his livelihood; who ever heard of a paralyzed dip?
He grabbed his limp right arm with his left hand; it was like seizing the cold dead limb of a corpse. Gil felt his mouth go dry. He raised the numb hand, pried it open, turned the supplicating fingers toward the moonlight and saw a fading red stain in the center of the palm.
A coffin-shaped stain.
Gil turned frantically. A block away a phalanx of mounted policemen, moving in wedge formation, ushered hard-core party animals off the street. He tried to cry out - the only time in his life he had ever called a cop for help - but all that came out was a rasping croak. The tingling was spreading across his chest and he couldn't fill his lungs. He tried to run, but his right leg buckled beneath him.
Gil lay on his back in a welter of paper cups, discarded fast food wrappings and other trash left by the crowd. The numbness had devoured both legs now and the tingling was advancing across his chest. He wanted to scream, but not even a whisper was possible now. His panic and terror were trapped within his skull.
He stared up at the moon riding the clear night sky. He thought his vision was beginning to blur; the single moon seemed suddenly to have divided into multiple discs bobbing uncertainly in the heavens. Then he realized that the pale shapes looking down at him were the skull faces of masquers like the one who had given him the bead. One of the forms bent down, began going through his pockets.
Then the tingling engulfed his eyes and moved toward his brain.
Excerpted from Voodoo Child by Michael Reaves Copyright © 1998 by Michael Reaves. Excerpted by permission.
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