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Princess of Wands: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Sunday, September 11, 2005 23:00 EDT



    She helped with training until it was time to leave and then headed for the locker room. Technically, she helped with training the younger kids so she didn’t get charged tuition. In reality, they both knew that she was training John as much as she was training the kids. Who was the master and who the student? But training other people’s kids had never bothered her. She’d thought about becoming a teacher full-time, she was already an occasional substitute. But Mark made enough money that she didn’t have to work and he preferred that she stay at home. And she believed, in a fundamental and unshakeable fashion, that Mark was the master of the house. If he wanted her to stay home and be a housewife, she’d stay home.

    Barbara had been raised an Episcopalian and in her teenage years, when other kids were getting as far away from the church as they could, she’d gotten closer and closer to it. She often thought that if she’d been raised Catholic, God forbid, she’d have become a nun. But her family, her religion and her country were locked in an iron triangle that defined her life. In many ways, it was religion that kept her sane. When times were bad, when she and Mark were at each other’s throats, when Allison had been struck by a car, when Mark was laid off, it was to God she turned for solace. And that solace was always there, a warm, comforting presence that said that life was immaterial and only the soul mattered. Make sure the soul was at peace and everything else would eventually fall into place.

    She wasn’t a fundamentalist screamer. She didn’t proselytize. She simply lived her life, every day, in the most Christian manner that she could. If someone sniped at her, she turned the other cheek. If the children bickered or snapped, she smothered her anger and treated them as children of God. And when someone needed a helping hand because another supposed Christian had said no or simply not turned up, she gave that helping hand.

    She knew that a good bit of her belief centered around what she called “the other Barbara.” One time in the sixth grade she’d been sent home, almost expelled, for putting a boy in the hospital. He’d been teasing her and when she tried to walk away he’d grabbed her. So she’d broken his nose, arm and ankle. She had not used any training, no special little holds or martial arts moves were involved, just shear explosive rage. It was the rage, as much as anything, that she used her religion to control. She’d learned it from her mother who had much the same problems and who explained that, besides the necessity for belief in the One God, religion’s purpose was to control the demons in mankind.

    Barb worked very hard to control her demons, because she knew what the results would be if she did not.

    It didn’t mean she was an idiot about it. The world was not a nice place and never would be short of the Second Coming. To her, “turn the other cheek” meant “let the small hurts pass” not “be a professional victim.” So she made sure her children were as well grounded as possible, gave them all the advice she could, showed them a Christian way of life in all things and made sure they knew how and when to defend themselves.

    When she was in college, shortly before meeting Mark, she had been attacked on her way home from the library late one Wednesday evening. The path was lit but the location was obscured by trees and landscaping and the man had been on her before she knew he was there. She could have screamed, she could have tried to run, he only had a knife after all. Instead she broke his wrist, struck him on the temple with an open-hand blow and walked to the nearest phone to call the police.

    After the police took her statement she had gone back to her dorm, thrown up and then prayed for several hours. She had prayed for the soul of her attacker and her own. For her attacker she had prayed that he would find a way to Jesus lest the evil in his soul give him to Satan for all time. A soul lost was a soul lost. For herself she had prayed for mercy. For she had, in her anger, given his wrist an extra, unnecessary, twist, that had elicited a scream of pain. She prayed for mercy for letting her anger, which she knew to be volcanic, slip in the circumstances. And for the wash of pleasure that scream of pain had caused her. She’d been really upset by the attack. The attacker had been picked up at the hospital while having his wrist set. DNA matched him to a string of rapes around the LSU campus so Barbara hadn’t even had to press charges. She still prayed, occasionally, that while in prison he would find his way to Jesus. Every soul, even that of a rotten little rapist, was precious.



    When she got home the TV was on, tuned to ESPN. Mark was settled on the recliner, a position he would assuredly occupy until time for supper. She got him a fresh beer, turned on the water to boil and got out the meatloaf. Twenty minutes later she had the kids washed and at the table.

    “God, thank you for this food,” Mark said, his head bowed. “Thank you for another day of good life, for all the things you have given to us…”

    Barb tuned Mark out and sent up her own prayer of thanks. It was a good life. Intensely frustrating at times, but good. Everyone was healthy, no major injuries, decent grades, Mark had a good and steady job. She felt…under utilized, but bringing three sane and reasonably well balanced kids into the world was probably the best utilization of a life she could imagine. When Mark was done she picked up her fork and looked at Allison.

    “Other than the unpleasantness with Marcie, how was your day, Allison?” She insisted on conversation at the table, a habit she had gotten from her mother, God rest her soul. Mother Gibson had followed her Air Force husband around the world, often ending up alone with the kids in some God forsaken wilderness like Minot, North Dakota. Often the only conversation she could have was that with her children.

    The kids had learned. A simple “Good” or “Bad” would elicit parental disapproval of the most extreme kind. So Allison swallowed her bite of broccoli and frowned, trotting out the prepared speech.

    “I think I did okay on my chemistry test…”



    When dinner was done, all the kids in bed but Allison, who was doing homework, the dishes in the dishwasher and Mark back watching television, Barbara went over to the couch and sat down.

    “Mark,” she said, softly, “I need a break.”

    “Huh?” Mark said, looking away from a rerun of Friends then back at the TV.

    “I need a break,” she repeated. “I’m going away for the weekend.”

    “What?” he asked, looking over at her again. The station changed to a commercial and she now had his undivided attention.

    “I’d like you to pick the kids up tomorrow,” she said. “And take the Expedition in the morning, I’ll take the Honda. I just need a short vacation.”

    “Who’s going to cook supper?” he asked. “And Allison asked me if she could go to the dance tomorrow. I said yes. Who’s going to pick her up?”

    “I said no,” Barb sighed. “Because I knew you’d ask that question.”

    “We just had a vacation a couple of months ago!” Mark protested.

    “You had a vacation,” Barbara replied. “I made sure that Allison didn’t wear that thong bikini, got sunscreen on everyone, treated Brandon’s sunburn when he didn’t get it replaced, made sure there were snacks for the beach…”

    “Okay, okay,” Mark said. “I get the picture. But that still doesn’t answer who’s going to cook!”

    “You’ll go to the game on Friday anyway…”

    “And that’s another thing,” Mark said. “I thought you wanted to go to the game. You always do!”

    “I go to the games because it’s a duty, Mark,” Barb said. “I don’t enjoy them. You can eat at the game, everyone will anyway. I’ll leave a casserole for Saturday evening. Sunday you can go out. I’ll be back Monday.”

    “And I was planning on going to the State game on Saturday! Who’s going to drive me home?”

    Barbara tried not to sigh or mention that that was part of her reason for wanting to get away. If the day went to form, Mark would be far too drunk to drive before the game even started.

    “Catch a ride,” she snapped. “I’m sorry, Mark, but I have to get away.” She took a deep breath and counted to ten mentally. When that didn’t work she repeated it. In Japanese.

    “Okay,” Mark sighed as the show resumed. “Where are you going?”

    “Gulfport, probably,” Barb answered. “I’ll get a cheap hotel room and just…read I think.”

    “Whatever,” Mark said, watching Jennifer Aniston bounce across the screen to the couch.

    “And you’ll need to get the kids to school on Monday,” she said.

    “Okay,” he replied, clearly not listening.

    She stood up and walked to the bedroom, got undressed, cleaned off her makeup, climbed into bed and picked up her latest trashy novel. Another day down. Just one more until she had a break. She could use a nice relaxing weekend.




    Augustus Germaine held the scale up with a pair of tweezers and rotated it against the light, shaking his head.

    “I thought that Almadu was dispelled, what, seventy years ago?” Assistant Director Grosskopf said.

    “All are not dead that sleeping lie,” Germaine answered, continuing to examine the scale. “What once was can be again. And, clearly, is. The thorium traces are distinct, as is the patterning of the scale. Someone has been very naughty.” He set the scale down on the laboratory bench and looked over at Dr. Mattes. “Concur?”

    “Oh, yes,” Vonnia Mattes, PhD replied, shrugging. “And the construct DNA, of course.”

    “So it’s a manifestation of Almadu for sure?” Grosskopf asked, pointedly.

    “That’s a full avatar manifestation. I can’t exactly send my agents in on that!”

    “No, it’s clearly Special Circumstances,” Germaine said with a sigh. “I’ll find someone to attach to your investigation. The usual covers.” He frowned and bit his lip, wincing. “But for a full manifestation…I don’t really have any agents, available agents, that are up to dispelling one of those. Not to mention their followers. This is likely to get…noticeable.”

    “Five dead hookers are already noticeable,” Grosskopf pointed out.

    “Noticeable as in explosions, weird lights, people going insane and lots of dead bodies,” Germaine snapped. “This is not going to be an easy take-down. The last cult involved depth charges, torpedoes and a full cover-up. And even then that beastly writer got ahold of some of it!”

    “Whatever,” Grosskopf replied. “Just get it shut down. Fast. Before somebody outside the organization stumbles on it.”

    “Well,” Germaine said, shrugging, “if they do, I don’t think they’ll live long enough to tell anyone about it.”



    Blessed peace.

    Barbara enjoyed driving, especially when she was by herself. She loved her children and her husband, but it just wasn’t the same. A reasonably open road and good car meant time to think, time to pray, time to dream without constant interruption. As she pulled onto the Natchez trace she pushed a CD into the player and felt the ethereal strains of Evanescence wash over her, rinsing out her soul in music. She’d been told that Evanescence was first classified as a Christian rock band despite its Goth look. She didn’t know if it was true or not but it was probable. Surely only God would have a hand in such glorious music and most of the songs could be interpreted that way. Certainly Tourniquet was a direct call to God although Haunted always made her wonder.

    The radar detector remained quiet all the way to the outskirts of Jackson where the traffic started to pick up anyway and she had to slow down below eighty. She weaved expertly in and out of the traffic for as long as she could, never being aggressive, never getting angry even at the idiots that clogged up the left hand lane. She didn’t know where she got the ability to sense what other drivers were going to do, sometimes even before they seemed to know. But when a car cut into her lane suddenly she’d know it before the first move. Sudden braking rarely caught her unawares even though she was in an alpha state of road daze. She just handled it until the traffic got so heavy she couldn’t maneuver then settled in the middle lane and rode the flow into Jackson.

    She was planning on picking up 49 in Jackson and taking it over to Hattiesburg then down to Gulfport but at the last minute she changed her mind, picking up I-55 instead and heading for Louisiana. She didn’t know why, but for once she could just follow her feelings. She had a sudden craving for Cajun food, real Cajun food from down in the bayou and decided to go with it. Besides, she’d been to Gulfport every summer for the last five years. She wanted something new.

    When she was growing up, all she’d wanted was to settle in one place. Just some stability and not having to wonder what country you’d woken up in. Sometimes she’d wondered if she’d fallen for Mark simply because he represented that stability. Mark was from Oxford, which wasn’t all that far from Tupelo, and when she’d met him the farthest he’d ever traveled was to Daytona Beach for spring break.

    Since being married, and never traveling any farther than Daytona, Barbara had started to notice how much she missed it. When the kids were young it was one thing, she was occupied full time taking care of them. But since they’d become more or less self functional for day-to-day activities, she’d started to crave something new. Which meant not going to Gulfport again. Besides, US 49 was a crawl from Jackson to Gulfport, especially on a Friday.

    The traffic on I-55 was heavy with weekend travelers and she was reduced to a relative crawl of high seventies. She continued on 55 nonetheless, following it all the way down to I-10 and then striking out into the unknown. She followed US90 for a while and then took a side-road, heading into bayou country and trying as hard as she could to get lost. She had a GPS and checked that it was tracking so no matter where she ended up she could find her way back.

    However, the meandering on side roads with their sudden turns to avoid going into a swamp got wearying after a while. She’d had so much to do she hadn’t gotten on the road until around three and it had been a long nine hour drive to the bayou country. So as midnight approached she started looking for sign of a hotel.

    The road she was on wasn’t even mapped on the GPS and the very few stores and filling stations she passed were mostly closed. But, finally, she saw a Shell station with its lights still on and pulled in gratefully. She filled her tank and then went into the crumbling cinder-block building, wrinkling her nose at the smell of dead minnows and less identifiable things.

    There was a slovenly looking fat woman behind the counter with greasy black hair and a dirty smock. People who were overweight didn’t bother Barb, Lord alone knew she had to fight to stay in any sort of shape, but dirt did. There was no reason in this day and age that a person couldn’t take at least a weekly bath and throw their clothes in the washing machine from time to time. But they were all God’s children so Barbara smiled in as friendly a manner as she could muster.

    “I’m looking for a hotel,” she said, smiling pleasantly. “Is there one around?”

    The woman looked at her for a long time without speaking then nodded, frowning.

    “Im de parsh set been Thibaw Een,” the woman said, pointing in the direction Barb had been traveling. “Bein closin soon.”

    Barbara smiled again and nodded, blinking in incomprehension. It was the thickest Cajun accent she had ever heard in her life. Back home the locals sometimes put on a thicker than normal southern drawl to confuse visiting Yankees and people from Atlanta. If you talked like your mouth was full of marbles it made you virtually incomprehensible. She wondered if the woman was doing that to her but was too polite to ask for a translation. So she nodded again and walked back out to her car.

    Apparently somewhere down the road was the “Parrish seat”, which would be the center of the local county government. Where, hopefully, she could find something called the Thibaw Inn or similar.

    Even in road daze she never really went to condition white: totally unaware of her surroundings. She had been raised by a father who was marginally insane from a paranoia perspective and he’d spent hours teaching her to keep her guard up to the point that it was old hat. But she hadn’t really examined her surroundings and when she did she considered turning around and heading back to bright lights and the big city. The road was flanked on either side by bayou and the arching cypress overhung it, draped with gray Spanish moss, some of the longest she’d ever seen. The bromeliads were waving gently in the light night wind and combined with the croaking of the frogs in the bayou and the call of a night bird they gave the scene an eerie feel. With the exception of the station, which was shutting down as she stood there, there was not a light in sight. There was a glow back over her shoulder, probably New Orleans, but for all that she could have been standing there in a primordial forest. A splash off in the bayou was probably from an alligator slipping into the tannic water, but it could just as well have been some prehistoric monster.

    She shivered a bit and got in the car, starting it and then pausing. Turn around and head back to New Orleans or Baton Rouge? Or go on? On the other hand, the news out of New Orleans made a black night in the bayou seem positively friendly. And it was a long darned way around to get to Baton Rouge.

    On was, presumably, closer and it had been a long day. She put the car in gear and headed west. Somewhere around here there had to be a hotel.



    Kelly had started off his detective career in vice and New Orleans’ French Quarter was as close as he could call anything to home. So he walked along Chartres Street with an air of ownership, dodging the occasional group of tourists and looking for familiar faces.

    Familiar faces were few and far between, though; the ladies seemed to be running shy of the street. There were a few around, though, some of whom recognized him from previous busts and for once seemed glad to see him. He wandered over to Dolores as she waved to a passing car.

    “Hey, Dolores,” he said, grinning. “How’s tricks?”

    “Short, small and too slow, like usual,” the hooker replied. “I am, of course, simply a young lady who enjoys dates with generous gentlemen and sex has nothing to do with it, nor does money.”

    Dolores Grantville, age 37, hometown somewhere in Arkansas. Five foot eight, willowy, mostly from a coke habit, dishwater blonde. Six previous convictions for prostitution, one drug arrest, nol pros when she burned her dealer. Blue eyes, face worn far beyond her years. And scared. Really scared.

    “You heard about Marsha, right?” Kelly asked.

    “Probably before you did, Kel,” the hooker replied, smiling tiredly as a passing tourist beeped his horn. Her face twitched and she watched the street scene, avoiding the detective’s eyes. “You got any leads?”

    “If I did, would I be here?” Kelly asked. “What do you hear?”

    “Nothing,” Dolores said. “They’re just up and disappearing, Kelly. I mean, Marsha was a young one, they’ve all been young ones. But she was streetwise, you know? She’d been turning since she was fourteen or so. If somebody can pick her, they can pick anybody. Probably some regular trick, but nobody can put a finger on one or we’d all be telling you, okay?”

    “Okay,” Kelly agreed. “When’d you see Marsha last?”

    “Saturday,” Dolores said. “She was talking with Carlane. Be in the evening, don’t know what time. Earlyish. Nobody’s seen her since. Well…not until the papers.”

    “She used to hang with Evie, right?” Kelly asked, considering the information. Carlane Lancereau was a pimp, a long time one. Pretty heavy-handed, but that came with the territory. And he’d been around for years, there was no reason to think he’d suddenly gone nuts and started ripping up hookers. “The one that calls herself Fantasy?”

    “Evie did a runner two weeks ago,” Dolores replied. “Lots of the girls have. New Orleans don’t seem like a good place to be right now. I don’t know where she went, maybe Baton Rouge, maybe St. Louis.”

    “Nobody saw Marsha after she was talking with Carlane?” Kelly asked.

    “You think it’s Carlane?” Dolores responded, eyes wide. “He’s been around since before I got here.”

    “No,” Kelly said. “That’s not what I said. I’m just getting old and trying to cut down on the walking. Since I’m looking for the last person she was known to have talked to, which is never the murderer, I’m just trying to figure out who that was. If it wasn’t Carlane, who was it?”

    “Christy said she saw her late evening, maybe after midnight,” Dolores replied, frowning in thought. “Up Dumaine Street, off her regular beat. Looked like she was heading somewhere. But last time I saw her was talking to Carlane and she ain’t been seen since Saturday night.”

    “Okay,” Kelly said, sighing. “You see Carlane, tell him I’m looking for him, like him to give me a call. Just a friendly conversation. Or I can go find him, or have the black and whites go find him, and it won’t be so friendly.”

    “I’ll pass it on,” Dolores said. “You be careful.”

    “Always,” Kelly replied, walking off into the crowded night.

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