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Princess of Wands: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 19:31 EDT



    "The cop was talking to Chauvet," Deputy Mondaine said.

    The meeting was in the back of the old church where the sacristy had once been. The room had been fixed up to minimal standards and now served as the office of the cult. On the back wall, by the window, was a black flag with a shape like a weird green dragon. In one corner was a sculpture of the same creature, twisted and horribly deformed. Carlane Lancereau was standing behind the desk, looking out over the bayou with his hands folded behind his back.

    "I told you we should have had him killed," Mondaine said when there was no response. "Sacrifice him to the Master."

    "Such a soul would be of little use worn and devoured as it is by time and life," Carlane said. "And what is he going to say? That devils live in the swamps? That the whole town has succumbed to evil? That there are voices in his head? That should go over well. And after tonight, it won't matter. The master will have fed and fed well. After tonight he shall be fully manifest upon the Earth. And then, we move. Be prepared."

    "I will, Your Unholiness," Mondaine said, bowing.

    "But bring Officer Lockhart and the woman to me," Carlane said, turning to face the deputy, his eyes glowing a sickly green. "Lockhart's soul is steeped in the evils of the street and worth little. But the woman glows with power. She will be fine food for the Master."



    "Wait," Lockhart said as they approached the car. It was parked by the courthouse in one of the reserved parking spaces. He pulled his keys out and thumbed a control. There was no apparent response.

    "Shit," he muttered, thumbing the control again.

    "What's supposed to be happening?" Barbara said, lifting an eyebrow.

    "It's supposed to start," Lockhart replied. "We had a rash of attacks on police during the drug wars. Now all the unmarked cars can be started remotely since starting was one way that was used to bomb them. It's not starting."

    "Maybe the battery is out on your little controller thingy," Barb said, quirking one cheek in a slight grin.

    "Maybe," Lockhart said. "Stay here."

    He walked over to the car and opened the door with the key then attempted to start it.

    "And, then again, maybe your car has broken down," Barbara said, walking over.

    "This is really annoying," Lockhart replied. He slid out of the car and underneath, soiling his clothes on the dirty parking lot. After a certain amount of fumbling from under the car he slid back out.

    "The ignition wiring harness has been cut," he said, frowning. "And a section is missing. Since it goes to the computer as well as the solenoid, just hooking up another wire won't work."

    "No car," Barb said, frowning slightly

    "No car," Lockhart agreed, nodding. "Which is stupid since I can just call New Orleans PD and have someone come out and pick me up. Us up."

    "So what now?" Barbara asked.

    "You get your bag," Lockhart said, going around to the back of the car. "We'll go to the hotel and get a couple of rooms. Then I'll get the bottle and head down to the Piggly-Wiggly and give Lieutenant Chimot a call. You stay in the hotel."

    "Nuh, uh," Barb said. "Horror movie time. What you just said is 'let's split up.'"

    "Good point," Lockhart said, grinning. "Okay, plan b. We both go to the phone. I call the PD. Then we get your bag, go back to the hotel and do the transfer. I'm not taking you with me to talk to the drunk. You stay at the hotel."

    "Let's go," Barb said, waving in the direction of the store. "But let's get my bag first."

    She hoisted the bag on her shoulder and followed the detective the two blocks to the store.

    She watched his back as he pulled out his phone card and punched the number.

    "What?" Lockhart said after a moment.

    "What what?" Barbara asked.

    "Listen," Lockhart said, lifting the receiver.

    "The number you have called is no longer in service, please check the number and dial again. Two-three-two. The number you have called is no longer . . ."

    "What number did you dial?" Barb asked.

    "The eight hundred number," Kelly snapped, slamming the phone down and digging in his pocket for change.

    "Don't mind me, I'm just a scared old lady," Barbara said. "But let me point out that it's getting dark."

    "I know," Kelly said, thumbing quarters in the phone. He dialed a number rapidly and then cursed. "Son of a bitch!"

    Barbara could hear the same recording.

    "Let me try," she said. "Got any more change?"

    Her home number wouldn't work and neither would her father's number in Denver. Neither did the operator pick up when she dialed zero.

    "Okay," Kelly said, shaking his head. "Somehow they, whoever they are, are fucking with the phone."

    "Watch your language," Barbara snapped automatically. "Okay, I would say we are officially in Indian Country and cut off from reinforcements, wouldn't you?"

    "Yes," Kelly said, trying not to smile.

    "In that case, our job is to survive and either wait for supports or get out if we can," Barb said, nodding to herself. "The hotel isn't great, but it's the best we're going to get. We go there, hunker down, and hope like hell when you don't check in the lieutenant sends somebody out for you. Will he?"

    "Probably," Lockhart said. "I told him enough to have him worried. But I want to talk to the old man. Stick with plan b. You go get a room, I'll pick up your bottle. I'll get a room also, but we'll hunker down in yours."

    "I assume I can trust you to be gentlemanly," Barbara said, smiling, as they started to walk back to the hotel.

    "Of course!" Kelly said. "I am nothing if not a gentleman."



    When Barbara got back to the hotel she considered her options. The fact was that she was scared. More scared than when she'd been attacked in college. Nearly as scared as when Allison had been struck by a car. She had come to the conclusion that something was very wrong in Thibideau, Louisiana and that the wrongness was probably going to reach out for her. All day long she'd felt a strange uneasiness like being just a little sick. She knew she wasn't, it was something else. Something weird.

    "Dear Lord," she said, sinking to her knees and clasping her hands, "I ask you to hear my prayer. I believe I am in the midst of evil and I ask only that your divine power comfort me in my trial. I will act on my own behalf if evil men come for me but, Lord, I sense a greater power of evil at work. Shelter me from that, I ask in Jesus' name, and I'll take care of the rest. For though I walk through the valley, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Watch over me as the shepherd watches his sheep and I will do my Christian best to stay alive. Amen."

    She felt comforted after that but she'd made a promise to the Lord and it was time to see what she could do to ensure she kept the promise.

    "First things first," she muttered, unzipping her boots. "The f . . . the boots have got to go." If she had to run, better that it be in running shoes. If she fell and twisted her ankle, she'd never live it down. Hell, she probably wouldn't live much longer.

    The jeans . . . were too tight. She had a looser pair. They were darker as well. The tennis shoes were white, but mud would fix that if she had to. Dark blouse, the dark leather jacket. Among other things it would mildly deflect a blow from a knife. If she had to sneak, her face and hair would give her away. She pulled out a black silk blouse and, wincing, began slitting the seams. A few quick stitches with her sewing kit and she had a perfectly adequate hood. She cut eyeholes with the locking-blade knife from her purse finishing with the dying rays of the sun.

    She dumped the drinks out of the backpack, dumping out the remnant water in the bottom on the floor, and slid her purse into it. She pulled out her holster and put that on, slipping in the spare magazines and then, after a moment's thought, racked a round into the chamber of the H&K and used the decock lever to drop the hammer safely. She put the pillows on the bed under the covers, making a lump. What the heck, it worked in movies. Then she grabbed her makeup case and sat down cross-legged in the corner. She had one shade of very deep blue eye shadow that would probably work for camouflage. She rubbed some around her eyes and then all over her hands. It was slightly shiny, but better than skin.

    She rummaged through her bag looking for useful items. Makeup . . . all the use it was going to be. Nail polish . . . nothing came to mind. Lighter. That went in a pocket. Locking knife, that clipped to her right pocket. Nail polish remover. Potentially useful but where to carry it? She slid it in the backpack and added the remaining bottles of water, wishing she'd picked more up at the store. Sodas as well. Hair-spray . . . oh, yeah. Take.

    She put everything useful in the backpack and then dumped the bag off to the side wishing she had a roll of duct tape. No particular reason, but duct tape had a thousand and one uses. One of them came to mind and she crept quietly over to the dumped out empty water bottles and collected them. If she found a roll of duct tape.

    She realized what she was contemplating and froze.

    "First degree murder," she muttered, frowning as she sat back down in a lotus position. Well, if it came to premeditated murder or dying, she was just going to do the deed.

    Yes, "thou shalt not kill" correctly translated as "thou shalt not murder." But that was what she was contemplating. If she had to fight her way out of town, she wasn't going to do it like a cowboy in the westerns. She was going to do it the way daddy taught her, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape. Never come at a frontal position. Use concealment as long as possible. Never give an enemy an even break.

    Murder them before they knew you were there.

    Murder. The bottles could be used as field expedient silencers. Using a silencer was, de facto and de jure, proof of prior intent. First degree murder.

    She was getting angry, too. The deep, cold-hot anger that she worked every day to control but this with a righteous strain that somehow made it stronger and more potent. She could feel the demon straining at its leash and she knew that soon it would be let loose. Murder, she knew, wasn't the true stain on the soul, it was the tarnish that came with the feelings surrounding it, the anger and the sick feeling of power to give or take life. That was the center of the sin against oneself, against God.

    But there were times, and this seemed like one of them, when letting the demon out of the jar was acceptable and appropriate. She wondered how hard it would be to get the lid back on.

    She was contemplating that moral and legal dilemma when she suddenly realized it was full dark.

    And Kelly hadn't returned.



    Kelly stepped to the rotten door on the side of the boathouse, hand on his service Glock, and ducked inside, looking around.

    The room was gloomy and covered in spider webs, half the roof gone. The old man was in a corner, shaking and moaning. But he was the only one there.

    Kelly walked across the concrete floor, searching the shadows for threats and then shook the man on the shoulder at which he screamed.

    "Shut up!" Kelly said, quietly.

    "Oh, God," the man said, rolling over and grasping at the detective. "Please tell me you brung a bottle! Please! I gotta have a taste!"

    "Here," Kelly said, drawing the flask out of his waistband and then holding onto it as the alcoholic clawed at it. "Just a taste," he said, opening it and letting the old man have a swallow.

    "God, that's good," the man said, trying to hold on as the detective wrestled it away. "Please, let me keep it! I need it to make the voices go away!"

    "Not until you tell me what is going on," Kelly said, squatting down. He let the man have another drink then pulled the bottle back and capped it. "What's your name?"

    "Claude Chauvet," the man said, hugging his arms to his body. "I'm from up Houma way. Used to do construction, fishing, whatever I could do for money. Had a wife and kids once, then the bottle started to get to me. Been wandering for a while. Fetched up here about a year ago. Old sheriff dropped me in the tank til I was dried out. Fed me up, got me a job on one of the boats. Couldn't keep me off the sauce but I worked, you know? Wasn't a great place, but it was as good as any to die and I knew I was gonna go soon. Too much booze, liver's going."

    "So what's this with voices?" Kelly asked. "And do you know where Carlane Lancereau is?"

    "Sure," the old man grunted in laughter. "But gimme another taste. I need some help to tell it."

    Kelly let him have another swig and took the bottle back.

    "Tell," Kelly said.

    "Bout six months ago, things started happening. People got stranger than they'd been, really angry sometimes. Were a couple of murders which hadn't happened in a while. People started to talk about strange lights over by the old church and that fella Carlane started turning up real regular. Drove a fancy car, had fancy clothes. Sheriff couldn't stand him, said all the Lancereaus were plumb bad. Then some kids went missing. Some people thought they were run-aways, sheriff thought different. Got really angry with Deputy Mondaine about it. Couldn't find nothing, kids had disappeared like they never was. Parents moved away, said they'd been getting threats about making a stink. Then the voices started . . ." he trailed off and looked longingly at the bottle and Kelly let him have another taste.

    "Ain't really voices," the old man said in a strained voice. "More like visions." He looked up at the cop sharply and coldly. "Everybody's got demons, mister cop. You know that. Things they think about that ain't exactly . . . right. You do too."

    "Everybody," Lockhart agreed.

    "Well, imagine you're pulling in a basket of crawfish and your boss is yelling at you to hurry it up and you can see yourself cutting the bastard's throat. Just like it's real. Feel the blood running down your hands, just like you'd already done it. Feel a rush, like a drug, at killing him. Then all of a sudden you're back pulling in line, like nothing happened."

    "I'd say you were having DTs," the cop replied.

    "Ain't like them," the drunk said, shaking his head. "Sometimes you see things can't be real. Big shapes you just know if they see you nothing's gonna save you. See yourself doing . . . bad things. Got to where it was like it was all the time. But when I was drunk . . ."

    "The visions went away," Kelly said.

    "Yeah," Claude said, shaking. "That's why I got to have a bottle. Yeah, I'm a drunk, but I need the bottle so the voices will go away. Sometimes they're voices, speaking a weird language, calling me. Then the old sheriff died. Strong as an ox he was. A right bastard if you crossedhim but he was a good man and healthy. And he just up and died. After that it got bad. Started hearing . . . screams from the church of a night. Bad screams. And chanting, weird chanting, like humans trying to say the words in my head, but we can't say those words right."

    "Okay," Kelly said, standing up. "Here's your bottle . . ."

    "He won't get a chance to drink it," Deputy Mondaine said from across the room.

    Kelly turned around slowly and lifted his hands at the sight of the twelve gauge pointed at his midsection. And Mondaine wasn't alone. Kelly recognized the owner of the bait and tackle store and one of the clerks from the Piggly Wiggly. At least five men, all with guns pointed at him.

    "You can die right now," Mondaine said. "Or you can pull your gun out real slowly and drop it on the floor."

    Kelly slowly pulled the automatic out with two fingers and dropped it on the ground then turned around with his hands over his head.

    I should have stayed with the Princess, he thought as something crashed into the back of his head. All he saw was white.



    Barbara sat in the corner in a lotus position, praying, until she heard the creak of the door downstairs. Then she stood up, quietly, and cat-walked to the window. She'd tested the floor and found all the spots that creaked and she carefully avoided them. She also stood back out of the slight light from the window to survey the top of the porch. Sure enough, there were several figures, at least four, clambering up onto the roof via a ladder.

    "Lord, I ask that you infuse me with the warrior soul of David this night," she said, quietly. "And forgive me my actions, speech and thoughts. Because, Lord, I am seriously going to kick some unrighteous ass in Your Name, Amen."

    That last prayer done she reached down inside, set "Good Barb" off to one side and opened up the jar. It was time for Bad Barb to come home.

    All the fear seemed to wash away, leaving in place something hard and cold and ancient in its place. Her breathing slowed, details seemed to jump out at her, a vase on a shelf, the smell of the bayou, the scuffling of feet outside her door.

    She catwalked back over to the shadow in the corner and waited, hand going to the sidearm and then withdrawing. Use that only if necessary.

    With a crash a chunk of cinder block came through the window and at the same time someone tried to open the door. There was a thudding sound from there as three men piled through the broken window, one of them yelping as he apparently cut himself on glass. Just as the first man was throwing himself on the pillows on the bed and shouting in surprise, three more came through the door and piled into him.

    Funny as the resulting scramble was, Barb was in no mood for entertainment. So she quickly walked across the room and kicked one of the bystanders in the balls from behind. Hard.

    All six of them were howling and cursing so loud that they never noticed him go down. She gave him a hard kick in the temple as she went by, nonetheless. Then she got seriously to work.

    She slammed a closed fist, a hammerblow, down on the neck of one of the figures at the back of the group, right at the top of the neck where the spine inserts to the skull. Concussion on the first through third vertebra almost always induces instantaneous unconsciousness and it did in this case. It could also cause death if the blow was hard enough and Barb was not pulling her strikes. Mrs. Nice Lady was no longer in residence.

    One of the group seemed to sense that something was going on behind him and turned. Barb caught his left wrist with her right hand and twisted it up and back while holding the elbow, dislocating it on the fulcrum of her left hand. He howled like a banshee as she gave the elbow an additional twist then was cut off in mid howl as an open palm struck him on the temple.

    The group was finally aware that the person they were wrestling with on the bed was one of them and was trying to come to terms with being under attack, but she wasn't going to give them much time.

    A man was reaching for her from the right and he got a dislocated thumb for thanks then another kick to the balls followed by an elbow in the chin that drove him into unconsciousness. This left Barb balanced to the right and she used it to high kick to the left, catching one of the group in the throat and undoubtedly breaking his hyoid bone. That was a kill for sure and certain if somebody didn't do a tracheotomy. But she didn't let it slow her down.

    The last two attackers were the one on the bed, who was getting off as fast as he could, and the guy who had been grappling him. She feinted a kick at the balls at the standing man and then followed the motion forward with an open hand blow to the nose. As the man's hands came up to his shattered nose she punched him in the solar plexus and drove a hand up under his descending chin. Then she wrapped his head in one arm and stepped forward, over and back, rotating his neck through three dimensions and snapping it like a twig.

    The last attacker was scrambling for the window but she was in no mood to deal with him later. She stepped forward and kicked him in the small of the back, throwing him into the wall, then punched at a pressure point in the upper back, temporarily immobilizing him with pain. Then she dislocated his shoulder, kneed him in the groin as she twisted him around, broke his instep and drove a hammer blow into his upper neck as he bent over from the blow.

    She looked around the room and nodded. There was some groaning but most of the figures weren't so much as twitching. At least two were dead, probably more. The thought suddenly made her queasy so she put it out of her mind, she had no time to throw up, and took one more look around.

    "Time to leave," she muttered, looking at the dark hallway and then the slight light from the window. "No real choice there," she said, quietly, picking up her backpack and moving to the door as silently as she could. She looked at the broken glass and then leapt up and forward over it, legs stretched like a hurdler, body bent to avoid the upper sill. But while she was still in mid-air she saw the figure by the ladder rising up, holding a rifle or shotgun in his hands.

    She landed carefully and drew her sidearm with a practiced and automatic motion, cocking the lever and firing twice at center of mass. She was rewarded by seeing the target fall off the roof with a quiet grunt of surprise and a small cry. He couldn't know it was she who had come through the window and hesitated so he wouldn't shoot one of his friends. That wouldn't happen every time. Especially now that the relative silence of the night had been ruptured by pistol fire.

    She decocked the pistol and holstered it, buckling it in place, then ran to the edge of the roof, jumping down and landing in a roll. She came up on one knee, drew her pistol and scanned for targets all around. The previous target was on the ground, groaning, so she ran to him and looked for the weapon he'd been holding.

    "A pistol in a gunfight is only good for getting a shotgun," she muttered, scanning the ground. "A shotgun is only good for getting a long gun."

    She found the long gun a few feet from his body and picked it up, examining it and trying not to curse.

    It was an AR-10, the identical model that Kelly had in the trunk of his car. What were the odds of that?

    She went to the groaning figure and quickly rifled his body, looking for ammunition for the rifle. He was wearing a camouflage blouse that was just about covered in blood, so she wasn't going to be borrowing it. There were two spare magazines, one in each blouse pocket. Those went in the back pockets of her jeans.

    She straightened up and pulled back the charging handle of the AR-10, ensuring that there was a round in the chamber, then headed around the back of the hotel as voices and flashlights closed in on the front.

    There was an overgrown garden in the back that terminated in the bayou. She moved through it as silently as she could until she was on the far side, away from the voices, and then suddenly bent over, pulled up her mask and was as quietly sick as she could manage.

    When she was done throwing up she pulled the backpack off her back and pulled out one of the bottles of Pepsi. She carefully opened the top to quiet the hiss and let the shaken bottle relieve some pressure then quickly opened it and used it to swill out her mouth, spitting to get the taste out. Then she capped it, put it back in the bag and listened to the night.

    There was shouting from inside the hotel and she could see flashlights up on the second floor. None of the words were coherent but she thought she recognized the voice of Deputy Mondaine.

    Big surprise there.

    It was definitely time to get out of town. The problem was wheels.

    She walked quickly to the edge of the swamp and rubbed mud on her running shoes, wiping her hands off on the grass. Then she picked up a twig by feel and slid it into the barrel of the gun to check that it was clear. It was.

    That done she hoisted the rifle into a tactical position, butt by her shoulder, barrel down, and headed west, away from the voices. She wasn't sure what was to the west, but it had to be better than this place.

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