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Princess of Wands: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 19:32 EDT



    “You get anything talking to the girls?” Lieutenant Chimot asked.

    They were going over the daily take on the case. The department had set up a task force with Chimot, who was one of the three lieutenants in Homicide, in charge. It was late, but nobody was getting much sleep as long as the investigation was going on. There were five other sergeant detectives working the case but Kelly sort of figured if anybody was going to find the perp it would be him. The other detectives were straight arrow homicide dicks; in other words they could just about see lightning and hear thunder.

    Most homicides were pretty straightforward investigations. There was a dead body on the floor and a person, usually a spouse, standing over it mumbling about whatever had set them off. File the paperwork, go to court, walk the jury through the chain of evidence and you were done. Then there were the gang shootings, which usually came down to somebody boasting and squeezing the name out of a singer.

    Serial killers were different. They usually worked alone and they were generally smart, often very smart. They covered their tracks. Talk about profiles all you wanted, they didn’t fit in happy little categories. They could be black, white, Hispanic or more mixed than Tiger Woods. They could be single or married. They might frequent hookers or avoid them like the plague. No two were ever exactly the same, whatever profilers tried to say. They were not all, or even mostly, single white males with a “loner” personality. The Green River killer had been a married white male who was referred to as “exuberant.” The Atlanta killings was a single black male. The Los Rios killer had been a married Hispanic.

    And this case was right off the charts. Very rarely did serial killings involve multiple individuals. There had been one series in California that involved two killers and a case in Charlotte that had involved six or seven. But in the latter case, one of the killers turned evidence before they’d killed more than one girl. The last case he could think of that had involved high multiples perps and multiple killings was the Manson case.

    The one near constant was that they tended to start with hookers and eventually worked their way to…tastier game. Nobody wanted a gutted corpse, but by the same token there was a much higher interest in missing schoolgirls than in hookers. Kelly liked the streetgirls for all they could be a pain in the ass. But they chose their jobs and they knew the risks. He didn’t want to be there when a black bag got slit open to show some junior high girl who had been snatched walking home from the bus. Or some oblivious college girl who had just been trying to have a good time on Bourbon Street.

    “Dolores saw her talking to Carlane sometime Saturday night,” Kelly said, glancing at his notes. “And she was seen later, alone, on Dumaine Street. I’m going to talk to Carlane but I’d say it’s a dead-end.”

    “Who’s Carlane?” Detective Weller asked.

    “Pimp,” Chimot answered. “Been around for at least twenty years. Bastard to his girls, but…”

    “But why would he all of a sudden start offing them, right?” Kelly said. “And none of the girls were from his string; they were all independents.

    “Trying to increase his take?” Chimot said. “Not really his MO, though, is it?”

    “No,” Kelly agreed. “But I’ll talk to him. Right now, it’s the only lead we’ve got.”



    The town couldn’t be called a one horse town because there wasn’t enough grass for a horse to eat. It was basically a slightly wider, slightly drier spot in the swamp. There was a dilapidated courthouse, a small Piggly Wiggly, a closed gas station and an old mansion that had a sign out front that said “Thibideau House.” Since there was a “Vacant” sign next to it, she had to assume it was the town’s lone hotel and there was a light on that revealed a large, covered front porch.

    She parked around the side and went to the front, hoping that the light meant somebody was still awake. The door was open so she pushed on it and listened to the creak with a slight sense of humor. You don’t get good creaks like that every day. They need either real artistry to create or just years of neglect. It was more than the hinges, the whole wall seemed to creak as the door swung open.

    She poked her head through the open door and looked inside curiously. The ornate foyer was in as bad condition as the exterior. The house had clearly once been a prime residence to someone addicted to gilt and red velvet. Time and the elements had worked their way on the foyer, however, to an even greater extent then the door. She cat walked across the floor, just to make sure none of the flooring was going to give way. But there appeared to be no one in sight.

    “Cooee?” she called, trying not to laugh. “Anybody home?”

    All she needed was to be broken down by the side of the road for the bad movie impression to be complete. No, there should be a…

    “You be late, missus,” a husky voice said from her right. Stepping through the door Barb could see an old black woman rocking next to the empty reception desk. “You be very late.”

    “I’d say I was lost, but I don’t know if it counts if you’re trying,” Barbara said, grinning and walking all the way into the dimly lit lobby.

    “Only counts if you don’t want to be lost, missus,” the black woman said, grinning back. “Been tryin to get lost my-own-self before. Always find my way back home.”

    “Nice place,” Barb said. “I don’t suppose there’s a room available?”

    “We bout full up of empty rooms, missus,” the woman said, getting to her feet creakily and going behind the desk. She swung an old fashioned ledger around and pointed to a line. “Need your name and address and such and your make of car and tag. If’n you don’t know the tag, jest a description will do.”

    Barbara picked up the old pen tied to the ledger with fishing line and after trying to get it to work dug in her purse for her own. Finally she had the ledger filled out.

    “Be thirty dollar a night,” the woman said. “Don’t take no plastic. If you ain’t got the cash, you can pay me tomorrow.”

    “I’ve got cash,” Barb said, trying not to smile again. It was so charmingly informal it reminded her of Malaysia. The back areas, not Kuala Lumpur which was just New York with worse humidity and drainage. She dug out two twenties, crisp from an ATM and received a crumpled five and five incredibly dirty ones in change. She hadn’t felt so at home in years.

    “Lights are out upstairs,” the woman said, picking up a flashlight. “Not in the rooms, just the hallway.”

    Barbara hoisted her bag over her shoulder and followed the old woman as she ascended the grand staircase. She could practically hear the tread of the master of the house walking out to the balcony to greet his guests and retainers. There’d have been slaves, or at least servants, scurrying among the guests and a chandelier about covered in candles. Now it had a worn runner and lights that, apparently, refused to glow at all.

    “Circuit’s out,” the old lady said, gesturing at the sconces as if reading her mind. “Called the lectrician. Lazy bastard ain’t been by in two weeks. Got your choice of views: bayou or town square.”

    “Oh, I think I’ll take town square,” Barb said.

    The room was just as fusty as she expected, smelling of mildew and neglect. But the linens were fresh and appeared clean.

    “Bath is down the corridor,” the woman said, pointing to the door. She suddenly looked at the flashlight in her hand with an expression of worry that made Barbara try not to laugh again.

    “I’ve got my own flashlight,” Barb said, pulling a minimag out of her purse and switching it on. It was at least twice as bright as the dim torch the woman had been using. She reached in and flipped on the room light and was relieved that that, at least, worked.

    “See you in the morning, then,” the woman said. “I’d not advise going out at night, sometimes the gators get up on the road.”

    “Wasn’t planning on it,” Barbara admitted. “See ya.”

    After the woman was gone Barbara turned off the room light and her flash and waited for her eyes to adjust. She wasn’t going to go out in that hallway with her eyes blinded, that was for sure. It was only after waiting a few moments that she thought of one small detail.

    Checking the door she determined that the knob was not designed for a key and there was no latch on the inside.

    “Now that is unusual,” she said to herself, straining her eyes in the darkness and running her hands over the door. Even in that flea-bitten hotel in Petra there’d been a lock for the door. Oh, well, needs must. She examined the furniture by the faint light from the window and was unsurprised that none of it would be useful for blocking the door. It required a very specific height and design of chair to block a doorknob and the chairs in the room were heavily stuffed easy chairs, not the straight backed chair that would work.

    However, not for nothing was she a reader. The pen she’d used to sign the register was heavy metal, a gift her father had given her when she went off to college and it had a matching fountain pen. She never used the latter but they were both in her purse and with a few pounds from the romance novel she’d been carrying they were both wedged in the crack between the door and the jam. It would be possible to force the door but not quietly or easily. If the old lady had any questions about the noise she could feel free to complain. In the morning.

    The window led onto the roof of the porch and that at least had a latch. She made sure it was secured and then got out of her clothes. The soiled linen packed away in a mesh net bag she pulled on a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt then laid the H&K by the side of the bed along with the spare magazines and regular clothes. Finally, feeling a tad sheepish, she pulled out the holster and laid that next to the pistol. Since it was only for a running gunfight, pulling it out told her she was assuming the need for a running gunfight.

    “Just because it’s like a scene in a bad horror movie doesn’t mean I’ll have to fight off Jason,” she muttered to herself. “But I am definitely getting out of this burg tomorrow.”



    “My Lord, we have a problem,” Germaine said, kneeling in the holy circle, head bowed.

    The figure of light seemed to nod in response.

    “Our information indicates that there has been a remanifestation of Almadu,” Germaine said. “I seek heaven’s aid in our holy cause.”

    “We are stretched, my very old friend,” the voice said in his head.

    “I don’t have agents to handle this, my lord,” Germaine said, quietly. “We, too, are stretched. And Almadu is a particularly hard case.”

    “Look for the Hand of God in strange places,” the figure said, fading. “All who work His will are not among your host.”



    Street people were not morning people and neither was Kelly. But he’d been up at first light, rattling cages. He knew where they lived and the answers might be surly answers but he got them. The only problem was that Carlane seemed to have disappeared.

    “It’s the street,” Lieutenant Chimot said, shrugging and taking a deep suck on his coffee. “People come and go.”

    “How long’s it been since you’ve heard of Carlane being off the street?” Kelly asked, yawning and digging vigorously in one ear. “Nobody has seen him since he was talking to Marsha and now Dolores is gone. I got the landlady to let me in her room. All her stuff is there so she didn’t move. And I asked her to pass on to Carlane that I wanted to talk to him.”

    “You’re starting to think it’s him,” the lieutenant said, leaning back in his prolapsed chair and looking at Kelly over a pile of paperwork.

    “I want to talk to him,” Kelly said, shrugging. “It doesn’t make sense for Carlane to have suddenly gone nutter. But he was the last person seen with Marsha and now he’s missing. I think we can swear a warrant as a material witness and put out a search and detain.”

    “You checked to see if we’ve got his DNA?” Chimot asked.

    “Yeah, a sexual assault case where the victim refused to press charges,” Kelly said. “I checked. He’s not one of the rapists.”

    “If he’s an accessory and he knows we want to talk to him, he’ll have gone to ground,” Chimot said, musingly. “Might be waiting for it to blow over, especially if he knows we don’t have any evidence on him. Go talk to Mother Charlotte. She’s been around longer than Carlane; she might know where to go a-hunting. And put out a search and detain. I’d dearly like to talk to our old friend about now.”




    Barb packed her bags and headed out of the room, feeling much better about the town than she had the night before. She'd taken the chance to have a shower and while the water was brown and stunk, it was better than nothing. She'd had worse. Not in a long time, admittedly, but she'd been looking for adventure, whether she'd put it that way or not, and this was certainly an adventure.

    But one that she was just as glad to have past so she tossed her bag in the trunk of the Honda happily, got in, inserted the key and turned it. Only to receive a click. Turn. Click. Turn. Click.

    "That is just too much," she said. She'd like to swear but she'd worked so hard to teach herself not to that she found her mouth locking up as she tried. Finally she simply muttered: "Sugar."

    Fine. The Honda had a very comprehensive warranty. She opened up the glove compartment and pulled out the paperwork until she found the 800 number for the extended care service. They'd tow the car to a dealership, which was going to cost them a pretty penny she suspected, and get her a rentacar. She pulled her cell phone out of her bag, dialed the number and hit send.

    No signal.

    She looked at the indicator with a frown and a shrug. In the country there were plenty of areas where the signal was weak. Eventually it opened up when a cell got free. Fine. She'd wait.

    After about thirty seconds with no flicker of the indicator she shook the phone and waved it through the air, hoping the magic electrons would somehow be caught. Still no signal.


    She got out of the car, noticing that it had gotten hot even in her brief sojourn, and walked back in the hotel.

    The same old lady was on the rocking chair and seemed to be asleep.

    "Pardon me, ma'am," Barbara said, softly. "Ma'am?"

    "Uh?" the old woman said, sitting up and smacking her lips. "Sorry, was up late."

    "Yes, ma'am," Barb said, smiling sweetly. "I seem to be having car problems. Is there a phone around? My cell won't work."

    "Ain't none of them towers around," the lady said, peering short-sightedly at the cell phone still clutched in Barbara's hand. "Pay phone down at the Piggly Wiggly. Ain't got none here."

    Barb was reasonably sure that the last meant that the hotel had no phone, which seemed remarkably antiquated even for south Louisiana. But she just nodded in thanks and walked out.

    By day the town was somewhat more pleasant than by night. The courthouse still looked as if it could use a coat of paint, or maybe a major fire, but there were a few more houses than she'd thought and a bait and tackle shop that doubled as a liquor store. Maybe she'd go fishing. Or get stinking drunk and explain just what she thought of the place. No key on the door, no bathroom in the room, it was worse than Egypt for God's sake.

    No, not God. Take not the name even in thought.

    The Piggly Wiggly was . . . fair. No dirtier than others she'd seen and the payphone was at least operational. She pulled out the paperwork and thirty five cents then called the service company.

    Yes, I have a problem with my automobile, one. Yes, I need roadside assistance, one. No, I don't want to use the automated system. No, I am not at my home. Yes, I'd like to speak to an operator. I'll wait!

    As she punched the various buttons on the Kevorkian disconnect phone-tree she stood with her back to the glass of the Piggly-Wiggly, ensuring that she could keep an eye on what was going on around her. It wasn't because of the situation, it was just how she used the phone. She'd rotated to the right side of the phone despite the fact that it put her back to the glass because that way she could hold the phone in her left hand and keep her right free.

    "Thank you for calling Honda Warranty Service International, my name is Melody, how may I help you?"

    "My car won't start," Barbara said. I was hoping to order pizza, how do you think you can help me? 

    "Where is the vehicle?" Melody asked with a distinct mid west accent.

    "Thibideau, Louisiana," Barb said. "At the Thibideau Inn."

    "Do you have your warranty number?" the girl asked, brightly.

    Barbara read off the numbers patiently.

    "I'm sorry, ma'am," the girl said with a real note of distress in her voice. "There isn't a Honda dealership within service range of Thibideau, Louisiana. However, we do have an allied service representative, Thibideau Tire and Auto who should be able to get you on the road again. Are you at the vehicle location now?"

    "No," Barb said, trying not to swear even mentally. "I can get there before they can, though. But there's no phone there."

    "That will be fine. According to the computer they should be no more than thirty minutes getting there."

    "I need a rentacar," Barbara said.

    "I'm sorry, ma'am, but, again, the location is outside of rental service area," the girl said, really distressed. "But, I'm sure that . . . Thibideau Tire and Auto will be able to get you going quickly."

    Left hind leg of a camel. Sugar.

    "Thank you for your help," Barb said, sweetly.

    "Thank you, ma'am, and I hope you have a good day."

    Sugar, sugar, sugar! 

    She pulled the coins out of the drop and inserted them again, dialing zero and then her home number at the tone.

    "If you'd like to place a collect call, press one."


    "I'm sorry, ma'am, but that's an answering machine," the operator said after a moment.

    "Can you hold a moment?" she asked.

    "Yes, ma'am," the operator said.

    She dug in her purse and came up with a handful of change.

    "Can you change it over to a for-pay call?"

    "Yes, ma'am. That will be seventy five cents for two -minutes."

    She inserted the coins and then waited until the answering service picked up.

    "Mark, this is Barb. I'm not in Gulfport I went down to the bayou for some atmosphere and Cajun food. I'm fine and I should be home on time on Monday. The car's broken down but there's a local service place. I'll try to call you ag . . ." Beep.




    "Come in, Sergeant Lockhart, come in," Madame Charlotte said from the deeps of her shop.

    Kelly pushed aside a bead curtain and paused in the doorway, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.

    "I'd ask you how you knew it was me, but I don't think I'd like the answer," Kelly said, smiling.

    "I gots a video camera," Madame Charlotte said, pointing to the monitor mounted over Kelly's head. "You wouldn't believe the terrible people try to steal from an old lady."

    "Must not be locals," Kelly said, sitting down across the table from the medium. "They'd be afraid of being turned into a snake or a zombie or something."

    "I don't do that sort of thing, Mr. Detective," Madame Charlotte said, grinning, the teeth standing out against her jet black face. She was a slight woman with gray shot hair peeking out from under a colorful kerchief and a face wrinkled like the lines on a map. "Not so's you'd notice."

    "Glad to hear that," Kelly said, smiling back.

    "But I knowed you'd be stopping in yesterday," Madame Charlotte stated. "Saw it in the cards. Terrible cards, lately, just terrible. You need to watch your step, Sergeant Lockhart, the Reaper is your sign, him who takes the souls."

    "That's because I'm thin," Kelly replied.

    "Laugh if you will," the medium replied. "But you be searching for Carlane. Hisself is gone from here, gone back to whence he come."

    "Where's that?" Kelly asked. "And why'd he leave."

    "He has the sign of the Wizard," Madame Charlotte said, laying out the card. "And the Hangman," she added. "He messing with powerful magic and ain't got the training. Powerful. I wouldn't mess with nothin like this and I be a mistress of the arts." The medium laid her cards out and pointed to one. "But there's another. This be the sign of the Princess of Wands. She's a powerful force for Good. Good will be by your side, Detective Sergeant Kelly Lockhart. Just you look sharp for the sign of the Princess or . . . you won't be lookin no more."

    "Do you know where Carlane has gone?" Kelly pressed.

    "Aye, back to the swamps that bore him," Madame Charlotte said. "He's from down Thibideau way. Look you there, Sergeant Lockhart, but you be watching you back. There's powerful art stirring in the swamp, powerful and every man's hand against you. Look for the sign of the Princess. She be your only hope."

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