Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Emerald Mound, Natchez Trace, Mississippi


Previously, Sam Bradford had hired ShadowMan to torch the New Orleans townhouse of Ella Mae Quicksilver and her gifted, six-fingered daughter. But the two psychics escaped and fled to Mississippi. ShadowMan took up the chase.
          Standing in the chilly evening air, Sam surveyed the ruined townhouse. The French Quarter Committee wanted the structure rebuilt which Sam would assist and solicit funds, make a hefty donation.
          But what puzzled Sam was the reverent crowd that had gathered at the fire. What was it about the burning townhouse? Or was it the two women who were thought to be inside that attracted the crowd? If so, why?
           Sam scraped at the rubble with his foot as he saw a glimmer reflecting the late sun. It was the bronze plaque bearing the townhouse number, 437. As he stared at the plaque, his Sunday school lessons floated through his mind. Three was a divine number and four was a perfect number. Four plus three equaled seven, the number was featured in Revelations: seven trumpets, seven dooms.
            The night of the fire Averil Jean had seen the danger, warned her mother and the two had escaped just as the townhouse burst into flames. They fled north along the Mississippi River, stopping to rent a modest farm house at the Emerald Mound, a Natchez Indian site where the tribal leaders, Great Sun and Tattooed Serpent, performed sacrificial rituals.           
            ShadowMan, also gifted, was soon on their trail, hiking the ancient Natchez Trace. The assassin felt a connection with the two females and he sensed it was Averil he could read. What was it about the girl?
            Late one afternoon Ella Mae was standing at the kitchen window, having prepared her secret Indian recipe for pan-fried bread. Outside walking down the dirt road toward the mound was a slender, tall man, dressed in black. Ella’s eyes widened and she clutched her throat, holding her breath. In the dusty haze she swore it was the man from Roswell, the visitor who came, stayed a spell, and fathered Averil. Without explanation, one morning the stranger told her he had to go, but promised he would return. Then he left, walked down the dirt road and vanished.
 Ella ran outside to the front path and put her hand to her eyes, watching as the man studied the Emerald Mound’s historical marker. He looked her way, gazed and then smiled at Ella, who started out of the gate. Her heart fluttered; had the father of her daughter returned?
 Averil came to the screen door and saw her mother walking toward the stranger in the road. She called out, but Ella waved for Averil to stay put. As the two closed, Shadowman raised his eyebrows, seeing for the first time the lovely Indian woman with high cheek bones and dark, intelligent eyes. He hesitated as Ella held out her arms and came to him. But then the woman abruptly stopped and her cheeks flushed.
 “I’m sorry.” She said in confusion. “I thought you were someone else.”
 The two stood a few yards apart, staring at each other. Ella was embarrassed at her mistake, her wanton display of emotion. In her soul she always believed her one love would someday come back.
 The two turned as the screen door squeaked and then slammed shut. Averil was standing on the porch dressed in a blue, cotton dress, with arms akimbo.
 ShadowMan took a step backward as he stared at the raven-haired girl, who locked eyes and glared at him. She radiated a powerful aura…or was it a trick of the afternoon light?
 “Invite him to dinner, Mom.” Averil called, breaking the standoff. “Tell him we are having my stew and your fry bread.”
 Ella looked at the man who had gone pale, but relaxed at Averil’s invitation and he smiled at the smitten woman.
 “I’m a historian. Staying at the Eola Hotel in town and I’d be pleased to join you. It would be a treat to see the Mound in the evening light…there are so many stories about the rituals I can share.”
 They agreed he would return at six. In exchange for the meal, he would relate the complicated history of the Emerald Mound and the Natchez Tribe. Ella stood and watched as the man turned and walked back down the dirt road. His walk, his stride was so like Roswell.
 When she returned to the porch, Ella started to speak excitedly about their evening guest, but Averil quieted her mother with a sharp look. She took Ella’s hand, whispered in her mother’s ear, and marched her back into the house. 

At six that night, the stranger came down the dirt road. He paused at the gate, taking in the isolation of the house. He would enjoy his meal, share a few Natchez stories, and then take care of business.
           ShadowMan tapped politely on the screen door, and then called out softly, his voice echoing through the house. But there was no response. He sniffed the air and the aromas made him lick his lips. A combination of bakery-like scents, combined with a spicy tang floated from the house.
           He tapped again, then opened the door and stepped into the small entryway. To his right was a sitting room; to the left was the dining room, with a 4-chair dining set.
           Only one place was set at the table.


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mystics, 437 Rue Toulouse, French Quarter, Louisiana


Previously, Ella Mae and her daughter, Averil Jean, stopped at the Myrtles Plantation in Alexandria, Louisiana where they met the nefarious Beau Raspberry. During their stay, Averil Jean encountered a lady in white, who had been murdered by her husband, Sam Bradford. The apparition urged Averil to seek justice for her in New Orleans.
           Sam Bradford left his New Orleans office to wander and think. Inexplicably, he found himself ringing the doorbell of 437 Rue Toulouse, a rundown townhouse in the French Quarter that advertised a Seer. To Sam’s surprise, a young girl with raven hair and blue-gray eyes opened the door.
           "We have been waiting for you." The girl announced mysteriously.
  She took Sam’s wrist in a strong grip and pulled him into the foyer. Sam noticed she had an extra finger on both hands, a six-fingered girl. Appalachia?
 He let himself be steered into a shadowy front room where a woman of 40 or so sat at a round table. The attractive mystic nodded for Sam to have a seat where a cup of tea steamed. They had been waiting for Sam.
He scrutinized the black haired woman who stared at him silently. She was of American Indian blood, dark with high cheekbones, slender and striking, perhaps royalty. Without a word, the woman took his hands and held them tightly and then let out a breath.
“You drowned your late wife, Alice Lacount." She said laconically.
Sam gasped and his blood ran cold as he pulled back his hands. How could this crackpot know?
“But no matter, we will come to that later. For now, we are here to help with a different message." The Seer told him with an enigmatic smile, taking Sam’s hands again.
 The odd girl sitting off to the side chirped. "Sell. Sell everything now!"
Sam looked at her as if she was deranged. But the girl persisted. “Sell now. Buy back in a year. Believe me!”
The woman rubbed her hands and looked at him with her dark eyes: " Five dollars, please."
Sam was filled with a sudden dread, a yearning to flee, so he paid and hurried back to his office. Nonsense, he thought. The market had fallen, but the Dow Jones average was still high. He laughed the townhouse session off and poured himself a glass of bourbon. His elegant office looked out over the French Quarter which was coming alive as the darkness took hold.
But he tugged at his collar, restless. He wondered what had made him stop at that pink, neglected townhouse. What about the woman and the strange young girl with the wolf eyes? His spine tingled as he recalled the woman saying she knew he had drowned his wife, the wealthy Alice Lacount.
Soberly, he nodded his head. He had drowned Alice in a staged boat accident to escape her haranguing, but also to inherit her money. Sam had loved running Alice’s Myrtles Plantation, but when the servants began to talk about the ghost, a woman in white, he knew it was time to move to New Orleans. With a sigh, Sam decided to call it a night and go upstairs. His day had been tiring and the encounter with the Seers had unsettled him.
Oddly, the next morning when Sam got to the office he called his broker and told him to sell his stock market holdings. Afterwards he gulped a coffee and chewed on beignets as his stomach turned. What was going on?
A few days later, the market collapsed, this time dramatically. The great recession was on. But Sam’s money was safe, half in a solid bank, the remainder in gold. He owed preserving his fortune to the crazy psychic and the weird girl. Why on earth did they help him?
Sam paced the floor in his office. The Seer knew Sam had taken Alice behind Myrtles to the Cane River that fateful night and cleverly arranged the boating accident. Something had to be done about the psychics.
A friend arranged a meeting for Sam in a cafe that was around the corner from Rue Toulouse. There he met a tall, thin man, his face hidden in the shadows. Sam explained his problem, the psychics at the townhouse. To Sam’s surprise, the man said he had heard of the two women, the mother a princess, her daughter otherworldly. He would be pleased to take care of them.  Perhaps a fire.
The Seer’s townhouse burned one night and when fire engines rushed to Rue Toulouse, the firemen were surprised to find a large crowd on the street watching the blaze. Men stood sadly and women sobbed, wringing their hands, young children wept. Who was inside the townhouse?
Once the fire was extinguished the firemen searched the ruins with dread, expecting to find dead bodies. The crowd continued their watch; many were on their knees, heads bowed.
Given the crowd’s strange reverence, the fire captain arrived and counseled with the fire team. He stood on the steps of the burned building and announced through a bullhorn that no one had been inside the destroyed building.
There was a cheer from the crowd. “Halleluiah,” some shouted.
“Praise God” rang out from the multitude, which maintained a vigil throughout the night, then dissipated in the morning light.
Standing in a doorway was a tall thin man, who watched the crowd. So the mystic and her strange daughter had slipped away. He would hunt them, find the pair and bury them deep. 

There was still work to be done.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Myrtles Plantation, Alexandria, Louisiana

Previously, Ella Mae departed Nocona, Texas traveling to Natchitoches, Louisiana. Her daughter, Averil Jean, enrolled in the sixth grade at the Hanna School. A mysterious woman in white instructed Averil and her mother to visit the Myrtles Plantation, a place of evil with a need for justice.
           Leaving Natchitoches early on a winter morning, Ella Mae and her gifted daughter drove along Route 40, a two-lane black top rutted by recent rains. They arrived early afternoon in the sleepy city of Alexandria and Averil Jean directed her mother to the imposing Myrtles Plantation, a structure of antebellum architecture, featuring a 100 foot white-columned portico and set among towering oak trees that lined the drive.
            Ella Mae stopped the car and put her hand to her throat, never having seen such a beautiful structure. She dutifully followed the signs to the service entrance and told Averil to stay in the car while she went to the door.
            Ringing the bell, Ella waited with fluttering in her stomach. What were they doing in such a grand setting? She asked herself.
            Fortunately, the handsome estate manager, Beau Raspberry, opened the door, his eyes widening as he saw the comely Ella Mae. There was something about the woman before him. She was obviously of Indian descent, graceful with flowing black hair, a chiseled face, aquiline nose, and dark eyes that telegraphed intelligence.
            Beau’s mind raced as the woman told him she was looking for work. There was the Myrtles Thanksgiving open house in a week and his assistant had taken ill. He was in desperate need of an intelligent helper and the alluring Ella seemed to fit the bill.
           Ella and Averil were quickly settled in the back section of the house, formerly the head butler’s quarters. Beau put Ella to work on the party preparations, while Averil attended the plantation school.
           One evening while Beau was directing a practice run, Averil wandered behind the house, coming to rest at the dock that overlooked the slow moving Cane River. She sat and closed her eyes, suddenly hearing music, a slow tempo waltz that drifted on the crisp fall evening. To her amazement, the dining room French doors flew open and two people emerged, a portly gentleman carrying a picnic basket, accompanied by a lovely, blond lady in white.
           Averil watched as they walked to the beach beside the pier and climbed into a teak rowboat, casting off and moving upriver, then drifting with the languid current. The woman sat in the back and bent over to pour champagne and serve canap├ęs when the man suddenly grabbed her feet and flung her backwards over the stern. He then stood, taking an oar and swatting the struggling woman who was tangled in her elaborate gown. In a few seconds, the woman in white sank.
The man than rocked the boat until it flipped over and he tumbled into the water. He surfaced and laboriously swam to shore where he pulled himself up on the beach, then collapsed. Moments later a servant appeared on the porch, scanned the river for the couple, and saw the man prostrate in the sand, quickly sounding sounded the alarm.
Averil opened her eyes and understood all…the woman was Alice Lacount and her husband, Sam Bradford, had murdered her, feigning the boat tragedy. Alice was the woman in white, the woman crying out for justice that she had met at the Hanna School. Averil now knew it would soon be time to move on and find the nefarious Sam Bradford.
Back in the mansion, after the practice and Beau Raspberry had gone to his quarters, Mae retreated to the kitchen with Chloe, who led the kitchen brigade. She and Ella had become friends and Chloe had confided that at one time she had been close to Beau. Chloe had rebelled when Beau took up with a younger servant, but Beau put her in her place by slicing off her right ear, which explained the head wrap she wore. It was Beau’s retaliation for Chloe listening at the door when he was dallying with his new desire.
Once alone in the kitchen, Chloe revealed that she was a mixture, a blend of Hoodoo and Voodoo royalty. Not only did she worship the Grand Zombie, the snake god, but she also had the ability to conjure. As such, she recognized the royalty in Ella Mae, but was puzzled by Averil Jean, Ella Mae’s daughter who cast an aura and had six fingers on each hand.
Ella explained that she was descended from a Yavapai-Apache princess, and that Averil‘s father came from far, far away and Ella motioned to the night stars, recalling the dark stranger who had wooed her when she lived in Roswell, New Mexico.
The two women agreed that Beau was evil and they must rein him in. Chloe said she was biding her time, but would soon extract sweet revenge.  Ella told Chloe to be patient, that she would arrange a setting for the lascivious Beau Raspberry after the annual affair.
Two weeks after the successful open house, Beau Raspberry made his move, always a feint to disarm the new quarry. He invited Ella Mae to join him at the caretaker’s small house located in the woods, a brisk walk from the manor. The pretense was to consider refurbishing. Ella eagerly agreed and that evening they walked to the cottage, pausing at the front door, which Beau unlocked.  Anticipation ran through Beau to his bones, but when he looked down at Ella’s shining face, he suddenly felt a chill and doubt.
“Maybe now is not the right time.” The hesitant Beau said.
“This is the perfect time.” Ella replied and pushed him into the dark cottage.
 Later that night when all was quiet and clouds were scudding across the three-quarter moon, Ella took Chloe to the caretaker’s cottage. The two of them paused as Ella turned the key and opened the door. Chloe gasped as she saw in the faint light Beau tied to a chair in the middle of the room, his clothes neatly piled on the floor. Ella handed Chloe a Bartlow hunter’s knife with a gleaming 6” blade and a honey stag bone handle, just right for gutting.
As Ella walked away the clouds obscured the moon and the night creatures were silent. Even the old owl in the oaks was quiet. That was when the shrill screaming started and Ella knew it was time to move on.
Averil had been importuning her mother to travel to New Orleans where there was someone who needed to be called to account.
The two left early the next morning.