“… fantastic characters and a truly spellbinding plot—the best book in its genre I have ever read.” —Susan Keefe, TheColumbiaReview.com
“A gripping thriller, which excels in unusual twists and turns, explorations of family heritage and truths, and one man’s ongoing journey as he explores new connections and threats to his life.” —Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
Jackson Walker once again faces his demons in this haunting sequel to Devil in the Grass. Now working as an investigative lawyer for Peter Robertson, Jack teams with Janie Callaghan to solve the disappearance of a sleazy client specializing in taboo pornography. Meanwhile the evil head of the Church of Satan weaves an intricate web to lure Walker as the sacrificial lamb in an Everglades Black Mass ritual.
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A TALL, MUSCLE-BOUND POLICE officer ushered Jackson Walker reluctantly away from his grandfather by putting a forceful hand on the back of his head, the other on one of his bound arms. The McFadden property, now overrun by cops, news crews and forensic teams, no longer seemed creepy. Lit-up, it looked ready for a film shoot — not the house of horrors it had been an hour back, shrouded in darkness with the smell of the Everglades and death all-pervading. The carnage strewn across the estate would be picked apart, piece by piece, every inch scoured for incriminating evidence until its dark secrets were revealed to all who might have the stomach and desire to know them.
Jack, with the help of his Seminole cousins and a law clerk named Janie Callaghan, heroically brought down the Church of Set, a satanic cult based in Southwest Florida. Its evil leader, Henrietta LePley, along with her henchmen, the McFadden brothers, Eric, Isaac and Jimmy, all found their lives at an end earlier in the evening, and deservedly so. They were evil, hearts rotten to the core, especially the McFaddens, who were killers of a serial nature.
Though Walker would most likely be cleared of the alleged killings of two elderly people a week back in Clewiston, he would first need to be detained. The burly officer ushered him into a police van; the reinforced double-back door slammed shut with a loud clang before the locking mechanism engaged. Sitting across from Jack, to his utter shock, was Mason Matye, a high-ranking leader within the American branch of the Church of Satan. The cops surely made a mistake placing the two in the same vehicle. Matye, like Jack, was one of the few survivors of the haunting events of that evening. Jack felt slightly better seeing the Satanist's hands were similarly bound with plastic flex cuffs. Their eyes met in the dark van.
"Jackson Walker," said the man in his thick, Parisian French accent. His coal-black eyes were like lasers searing into the back of Jack's skull and drying his throat. A wry smile formed on the man's lips. "You have proven very resourceful." His eyes were unrelenting. "You made a deal with the Devil, Mr. Walker, about a week back. I know you remember."
Jack laid into him. "The Devil? Stop with the crap, you satanic fuck. I made no such deal with any Devil: Satan, or Set, or whatever name you want to call him!"
Mason only smiled, the way any Satanist would, his eyes narrowing and his mouth forming a taut smile. "Ah. Perhaps you thought you made a deal with Henrietta. We both serve a higher being — as agents, you might say, Mr. Walker. I hope you will not make the same mistake twice. It's time to pay up, one way or another. You see, the beauty of being a Devil worshiper ... it's expected of you to be dastardly. I take great pleasure in it." His eyes narrowed as he whispered through pursed lips, "We know where your family lives. We will watch your every move, be it as a free man, or in a prison cell. This isn't finished."
Jack studied the man, his eyes not leaving Mason. "Don't tell me," Jack said sarcastically, "the Church of Satan has connections within the state prison system?"
"Each and every state, Mr. Walker. Your incarceration will be a perfect hell. If you are lucky enough to make it there." He lifted his foot to his cuffed wrists, resting it on the detention van's bench seat. He deftly pulled out a thin blade hidden in the heel of his shoe. With his fingertips he ran the steel edge across the plastic tie and, gritting his teeth, began to cut through the plastic.
Jack couldn't believe this was happening after all he'd been through that day. "Fucker!" He hurled himself at the vile little Frenchman, catching him in the chin with his shoulder. The force of the blow drove Mason's head into the wall of the van. The blade clattered to the floor. Both men ended up face to face on their sides trying to capture the blade.
Mason spit at Jack, covering his face with blood and saliva. "Merde! You will die, Walker. Count on it!"
Jack did his best to head-butt the man but didn't have the leverage with his hands tied, so the effort ended in more of a head rub than a useful smack. Mason scrambled to grab the knife. Jack pushed himself up against the bench and tried to regain his footing. Mason pulled his feet back to his hands and, with a couple of frantic pulls, cut his bonds.
Jack, having only freed his feet, hauled back and kicked Mason's throat. There was a sickening crack and Jack hoped something gave way. Mason made a horrible gurgle, like a clogged drain being emptied. Jack kicked him again, this time in the face. He felt the man's nose snap.
Clank. The back doors to the van opened abruptly. Two armed officers jumped into the back, grabbing both of them.
Jack yelled, "The fucker's got a knife!"
One officer grabbed Jack by the hair, expertly herding him out of the van. Within seconds, and with the aid of a fellow officer, he found himself in the back of the police cruiser. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Matye receiving similar treatment. After that, the night became a blur.CHAPTER 2
JACK SHOOK HIS HEAD as he drove down Route 29 to Everglades City, remembering the attack in the van. Amazingly, five years had passed. He'd been pardoned by the governor for all of his transgressions, with the backing of Senator James Hunter. Jack deservedly came out of the fiasco a hero. With his grandfather's backing, he returned to the University of Florida and finished a degree in law. Now he worked for Peter Robertson at Robertson and Robertson LLP.
Jack was visiting his Seminole grandfather, whom he and the rest of his family affectionately called Gramps. A year back, the old man signed on as Jack's first client, much to the delight of Peter Robertson. Gramps invited him down to the Seminole gaming offices to sort out some business. The drive through the Everglades after turning south off I-75 brought back memories, most of them not good. The vast swamp spread out before him, seemingly ready to swallow him up once again; mile after mile of saw-grass savannah and the odd stand of trees all framed by an endless blue sky worked to pull at his soul. He loved the place but reluctantly came back, like someone returning to a small town after living in the big city for years. He didn't want to admit defeat, yet it would be easy to fall back into the embrace of the ancient swamp and its simplicity.
Pulling his red Rubicon Jeep into the Seminole Gaming Agency's parking lot, he slipped out of the vehicle and retrieved a satchel containing the requested documents. He two-stepped up a set of wooden stairs and barged into the building.
A young Seminole woman, who gushed every time she saw him, looked up and smiled. "Hello, Jackson. We haven't seen you in months!"
He remembered her: very attractive, tall and slim, with shoulder-length black hair.
"Hello ... Beth, right?"
"Yes!" she beamed. "Your grandfather asked me to show you right in. Come along with me."
Jack gladly followed the shapely female along the hallway to his grandfather's office. When Beth gave him her best sexy walk, he had to remind himself to focus. "Thank you, Beth. I'll see you on the way out." He knocked, stepped inside and closed the door.
Gramps sat behind an old desk made from driftwood, the legs carved by a famous Floridian artist and the top varnished to perfection. Black-and-white Clyde Butcher photos of Florida wildlife adorned the walls around him.
Nathaniel Portman loosened his tie, grinning at his beloved grandson. "Jackson, you leave that girl alone unless you have honorable intentions. Your mother would have loved to see a few little ones running around with the blood in them."
Jack felt talked down to at the mention of kids. Snapping out of the ego-inflated trance Beth put him into, Jack raised his brows. "Gramps, no hocus-pocus, y'all hear? I can handle my own women."
"Really?" The old man jumped out of his chair and hugged him.
Jack nodded and smiled at the distinguished-looking man. His grandfather was referring to Jack's near-fatal attraction with a satanic cultist. "Point taken!"
"Jackson, I asked you to come down for a few reasons. First, I promised when you were released I'd keep an eye on you." He paused to stare at his grandson, even though he knew how much Jack hated when he did. "I believe in looking people in the eyes from time to time." The old man's eyes probed his until Gramps finally said, "I see no mischief in them. Good." He motioned for Jack to sit.
"So, Gramps, what's up?"
"We have some business to talk about. We've made a few land purchases, and we want you to represent us, but we can talk about that later."
"Gramps, you call me Jackson like that when there's something up, like when we were kids and Josh and I did something bad, which was not uncommon."
Gramps suddenly smiled. "You're strong with the spirit." He sat back.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jack asked with a touch of irritation.
"Just what I said. Jack ... the cultists were drawn to you and I saw it. I didn't know it to be you, but now I can see your spirit. It shines bright around you, like a beacon."
"So?" Jack chose not to believe in such nonsense, while Gramps was known within the Seminole tribe to be a spirit talker — some called him shaman. The gift passed to Jack's mother, who died several years back. Gramps believed Jack carried the gift to some degree, but it would be hard to tell the strength until the young man openly accepted it. Up to this point in his life, besides when he'd been quite young, Jack utterly denied its existence.
"You, if anyone, should know the truth in what I say. I see danger again, Jack. It's not the same, but it's bad. I have to tell you ... you attract badness. Evil is attracted to you like when you were attracted to drugs in your youth."
"Aw, come on, Gramps." His short college attraction to a socialite group heavily into drugs wasn't one of Jack's favorite topics. He wanted to banish all the bad times and the bad people from his memory.
"Maybe not the substance, but surely those people who gave it to you, and the Satanists as well —"
"All a coincidence."
"There is no such thing. These occurrences were meant to happen."
"Where are those real estate files?" Jack messed around with his satchel.
Nathaniel said, "I've experienced a vision for several nights in a row. A raven sits inside a cage, pecking at the lock that binds it, its beak bloodied by the constant pecking. Last night, the bird broke its bonds and flew away from the cage."
"Okay, so how does this concern me?"
"In the vision, I can see you in the distance. The raven flies toward you, Jackson."
Jack sat for a moment deep in thought. That fucking bird better not cross my path. He grinned, trying to defuse the old man's bunk.
"Think, Jackson, the riddle is simple."
"I know, Gramps, I'm not a moron. The raven represents someone dark, who has been imprisoned. It could only be Mason Matye. All the rest of those satanic fuckers are dead. That's if you believe all of this nonsense."
"I have lived by these visions my entire life, as have my forefathers. These people, the Devil Spawn, know how to harbor a grudge, or maybe it's the power down below that will not let it go. They will try to find retribution. If in fact this man is on the loose, he will seek you out. I can feel it."
"Okay, so say I believe you, just a little. What am I supposed to do?" Jack crossed his legs uncomfortably. "I haven't heard squat from any of those bastards in five years."
"I would like you to spend more time with your cousin, Josh. I'll talk to Peter and add him to the retainer. A man like Mason does not play by the rules. He will do whatever he needs to do to fulfill his mandate. You ... are a law-abiding citizen, which puts you at a disadvantage."
Jack tipped his head to the side in semi-acquiescence. "How so?"
"If it's true he's escaped, he'll resort to anything, even suicide, to not go back to jail. You would be wise to keep both your eyes on the lookout, if nothing else, and be a little more careful in the near future." He looked directly into Jack's eyes. "Do this for your grandfather."
"Okay wonderful, Gramps. Let's get to those files. I've had enough mumbo jumbo."
Gramps nodded, accepting his grandson's disdain for the old ways of the Seminoles.
* * *
Jack pulled out of the parking lot, his head abuzz, the conversation with his gramps still fresh in his mind. He floored the gas pedal as he turned onto the highway, kicking up stones behind him. "Why me again?" he said out loud. "Bullshit!" He punched the hands-free. "Call Perry," he told his Bluetooth and waited for the system to dial.
His friend's voice rang out through the speakers. "Wassup, bro?"
"Bit of a bad mood. Snook fishin' tomorrow morning?"
"Have t'kick the girl out early, but sure, what the hell. Where at?"
"I'll pick you up. We'll launch at the Sanibel causeway, head up to Captiva. We can net some white bait by the bridge pilings ... 6 AM."
"I'm there, bro."CHAPTER 3
LOLITA SHIFTED HER LARGE frame in the overstuffed chair and looked across the small round table at her client. It had been a long day and she slept little the night before. The room glowed softly, lit by an overabundance of randomly-placed candles, the decor heavy and full of warm colors. Her cat, Princess, sat on a chair in the corner preening her black fur. Lolita gently took the woman's small, white hands into her large black palms, engulfing them in warmth. She rubbed the tops with her thumbs, pulling the client into her presence, Lolita's voice soothing and deep. She turned the hands over, examining them carefully. Each set of hands showed their own story. Sometimes that story came to her as a vision, and sometimes she had to rely on the creases and lines to divine the truth.
The spirits felt strong the past few days, and she was startled by what she saw. Lolita closed her eyes, not wanting her turned-up whites to scare her customer. Once the vision passed, she opened her eyes and examined the lines in the woman's palms, not really taking notice. Lolita tried to come to terms with what she needed to tell her. Sandy Templeton, twenty-six years old, lived in Bonita Springs. She'd been given an hour's time with Lolita by her friends as a wedding shower gift, which was very common. Lolita, by her own admission, could be wrong in her palmistry and even her tarot readings from time to time, but the visions never failed her.
She placed Sandy's hands palms down on the table. "Sweetheart," she said in her South Floridian drawl, "I rarely do this, as I need the money, but this is important. I'm going to give you your gift card back and I want you to make an appointment to come back and see me."
"Sweetheart, your fiancé ... is he tall with dirty-blond hair, and a scar under his right eye?"
"Why yes, ma'am." Fear crept over her pretty face.
"Is he planning on going over water in the near future?"
Hesitating, she grew paler by the second. "He's gonna go fishing with his buddies this evening after work."
"Sweetheart, I want you to go now, and when he comes home, I want you to make love to him like you've never loved a man before. I want you to take your time and ease into making him not want to leave the house. Do you follow?"
"Yes ma'am. What is it?"
"Will he be on the water tomorrow?"
"No. We have plans. He won't be happy."
"Let me put it this way: No one will be happy if you let him walk out that door tonight. I want you to go now and shine up that pretty little white ass and shake it for all it's worth."
* * *
Lolita turned the deadbolt on the door after the young woman left. She didn't like doing what she'd just done. Sandy would probably be able to seduce and keep her future husband from leaving and there would be no way of proving the vision would have come to fruition. Sandy would think her a crazy old black lady and never come back. It would be a smudge on Lolita's reputation. She shook her head and went back into the parlor, picking up her tarot cards. Lolita eased her large posterior back into her old, rickety chair.
She had seen the drowning of Sandy's future husband. The vision appeared abruptly and was gone within seconds. What appeared immediately after the first vison seemed clearly unrelated to the young woman — an augury jumping over the drowning fisherman. No less important, but the calling appeared stronger. Lolita knew better than to ignore the spirits. She saw two more deaths, one being her own.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Palm Reader"
Copyright © 2018 Christopher Bowron.
Excerpted by permission of Koehler Books.
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