Authors: Jana Deleon
© 2016 by Jana DeLeon
All rights reserved.
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elles Fleurs Plantation
he boy burst
out of the back door of the house and ran for the row of azalea bushes that lined the backyard. Storm clouds rolled overhead and blocked the sun, covering the entire plantation in a dreary gray cloak. He slipped between the bushes and ran into the sugarcane fields, traversing the well-traveled path until he reached the tree line that indicated the end of the cane field and the beginning of the swamp.
He stepped into the canvas of thick brush and cypress trees, and everything went several shades darker as the cypress trees choked out what little light managed to push through the stormy skies. Bursts of pain shot through his right eye, and he could feel the skin tightening. It was already swelling and he knew it wouldn’t be long before the eye was completely shut. It wasn’t his first black eye, but if his plan worked, it would be his last.
The path through the swamp ended at an old slave quarters. His father had plenty of crop workers on the plantation, but they were paid now and all lived in newer quarters closer to the main house. This was the last of the buildings remaining from the old way of things, and the boy and his friends had helped it along by sneaking lumber from the plantation and keeping the structure upright.
He could see light streaming through cracks in the wall and was relieved to know his friends were there. With the storm moving in, he had been afraid they wouldn’t be able to come. And tonight was important. Everything depended on it. He pulled open the door and two boys looked up at him, the lantern on the floor illuminating the depressing room that had once served as a home for six people.
Both of the boys stared at his eye but neither questioned it. They didn’t have to. They already knew the answer. One of the boys still had yellowish splotches on his own face. Remnants of his own living conditions. The third boy’s father was traveling right now, so he’d been bruise-free for two weeks, but his father was due home in three days. The boys’ families were all part of the same social circle of the remaining rich plantation owners. They were educated at the same private schools and required to spend so many hours every week learning about the businesses they would inherit.
They’d bonded over the abuse.
At school, the other kids shied away from them. They heard the whispers behind their backs. They knew the other parents didn’t want their children visiting plantations that belonged to the fathers of the three. They didn’t want their children exposed to the kind of life the three lived every day at the hands of angry, bitter men who took their frustrations with the ups and downs of the sugarcane business out on the weak.
“Did you bring it?” one of the boys on the floor asked.
The boy with the black eye nodded and pulled the crumpled paper from his pocket. It contained a picture of an odd-looking star and a chant. The boy sank onto the floor next to his friends and pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket.
“We need to draw this on the floor,” he said. “Then we stand around it and I say the chant.”
The two other boys looked at each other, then cast doubtful looks back at him.
“Are you sure that will work?” one of the boys asked. “What if the spirit attacks us instead of your dad?”
“It can’t do that,” the boy with the black eye said, although he had no idea if what he said was true. But he needed the other two boys to make it work. The spell required at least three people. “The spirit has to listen to us if we bring it here.”
Neither of them looked convinced, but this was their last hope.
They were all at the verge—twelve years old—just approaching what their fathers considered manhood. When you were a man, the responsibilities got bigger and the beatings got worse. The boy with the black eye knew it better than any of them. He’d seen his father beat his older brother to death for breaking a plow. The boy wasn’t good with his hands, even when he tried to be really careful. He knew he’d make a mistake, and he knew the consequences when he did.
The police wouldn’t do anything. They had no power over those with all the money. They accepted any lie the men told and removed themselves from the situation before the men’s anger came down on them. No one on earth could help them. But something from hell could.
The boy drew the star on the floor with the chalk and gestured to the two other boys to stand. They rose from the floor, their fear so palpable it was almost visible. The boy lifted the piece of paper and started reading the words. They were in some foreign language, and the boy knew he was probably saying them all wrong, but surely that wouldn’t matter.
He was just about to start the second line when the door to the shack flew open and all three boys ran for the back wall, huddling together, certain they had been caught and this was the end. Instead, the son of one of the plantation workers stared at them.
He was older than they were, probably eighteen. His father had worked on the plantation as long as the boy could remember. The son started working the fields six years ago with his father. The son’s skin was as dark as the storm clouds swirling overhead, but his blue eyes were a perfect match for the boy’s, rather than his Haitian parents’ dark brown.
The Haitian looked at the star on the floor and let out a single laugh. “You think you can summon the devil?”
The boy was scared of his father, but he refused to be mocked by a worker’s son. “So what if I do?”
The Haitian boy stared at him for several seconds, then nodded. “I know why you want to, but this won’t work.”
“Why not?” the boy asked.
“Because you don’t have the skill. I do. My great-grandmother was a conjurer. I learned from her. This nonsense with chants and stars is the white man’s poor attempt at stealing the one thing he hasn’t taken from us.”
The boy frowned. He didn’t understand what the Haitian boy was saying, except for the word “conjurer.” He knew that word.
The Haitian boy narrowed his eyes. “I can help you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because then you’ll owe me something.”
The Haitian boy shook his head. “When the time comes, I’ll ask for it. All three of you. Do you want my help?”
The boy looked at his two friends, who’d remained silent the entire time. They were scared, but both nodded. “Okay,” the boy said. “What do we need to do?”
“Give me that chalk,” the Haitian boy said. “I’ll fix this and then I’ll call for the demon. Only I will be able to see or direct him. This is your last chance to change your mind. Once I call him and give him an order, he won’t stop until he’s done.”
The boy handed him the chalk.
The Haitian boy smiled. “Then let’s begin.”
, July 24, 2015
French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana
haye Archer fingered
the scanned paper, reading the words Detective Elliot had written in. He’d broken part of the code on the document, revealing a list of people who’d sold human beings to John Clancy, the man Shaye had been instrumental in helping the New Orleans police take down a couple weeks before. The name he’d written belonged to the woman who’d given birth to Shaye. Not her mother. Shaye refused to call her that. No mother could sell her child. The woman named on this paper was a monster, just like the man she’d sold her child to. Just like the man who’d bought Shaye from Clancy.
Shaye looked over at Eleonore Blanchet, her therapist and friend, and shook her head. “No matter how many days pass, I still come back to this, almost not believing it’s true. Until I look at this piece of paper again.”
Eleonore nodded. “Perfectly normal. I’ve had quite a few moments of incredulity myself, and you know I’ve heard just about everything there is to hear.”
“When will I stop being so angry? Is it even possible?”
“Pop psychology loves to tell you that forgiveness will set you free.”
“But you don’t agree?”
Eleonore frowned. “You know these sessions are not supposed to be about my beliefs. I posit things so that you dig deeper into your own thoughts and beliefs.”
Shaye stared at her. “What I
is that I’d like you to answer the question. Come on, Eleonore. It’s not like this is my first day in the chair.”
“Okay, then. My answer is no. Personally, I think forgiveness is something that must be earned by the person who wronged you. I don’t believe in forgiveness in absentia.”
“So you think if someone can’t or won’t atone, then the victim—God, I hate that word—remains angry forever?”
“Not at all. I believe that eventually, you’ll simply let it go. I don’t think forgiveness is necessary to put something in the past where it belongs. Letting it go is about your mental health. Not giving someone who didn’t earn it a free pass.”
Let it go.
“If only it were that simple,” Shaye mused.
“I never said it was simple. I’m not ready to let go of the outrage I feel
you. I hardly expect you to be in a position to move on without another thought. You’re too intelligent and too stubborn for that to happen.”
Shaye looked down at the paper again, the penciled letters seeming to taunt her. “I’m going to launch an investigation,” she said quietly.
Eleonore sighed. “I figured you would.”
Shaye looked up at her. “I can’t let it go until I have answers. At one time, I thought I might be able to, but this seems like it’s taunting me.”
“I can see how it would feel that way.”
“Right now, I have only a small piece of my story.” Shaye shook her head. “I always knew my past was bad. It couldn’t have been anything else, right? And given the work stories I’ve heard from Corrine, I always figured that maybe my biological mother was a junkie—someone who traded her child for a fix, or at best, wasn’t diligent about the kind of men who came around.”
Shaye held up the piece of paper. “But this…I never imagined this.”
“None of us did. How could we? Everyone is shocked by what Clancy did, all the way from law enforcement to other criminals. Even the worst among us usually have their lines in the sand. This Clancy stepped right over them without a qualm.”
“A sociopath, right?”
“Given what we know, that would be my guess.”
Shaye leaned forward in her chair, preparing to broach the subject she’d come here to discuss. “I want your help.”
Eleonore frowned. “You already have my help.”
“I don’t mean for me. Not exactly. I mean to get in the mind of the people who are involved in my past. I don’t know anyone who knows more about the deranged criminal mind than you. I can’t think like them, but you’ve been inside enough of their heads to know what’s going on.”
Eleonore shook her head. “It’s not that simple. Every offender I’ve studied, even the most depraved, all had their own methods. Their own style. For everything that is the same, there’s always something else that differs.”
“But you would be able to profile things easier than I would. My injuries scream ritualistic abuse. We skirt around the term, but we both know that’s the case. The cuts on me are symmetrical, except for the ones on my wrists, and my guess is that I made those. The worst of my dreams have black candles and a red dress, and I’m terrified of both when I’m conscious.”
Shaye drew in a breath and slowly blew it out. “And if all that isn’t enough, the pentagram branded onto my back clinches it.”
Eleonore folded her fingers together and stared at them for some time. Finally, she looked at Shaye. “I know you’ve read the FBI study on child ritualistic abuse.”
“Yes. And I’m well aware that they found it to be a form of hysteria, and that no real cases of abusing children in an attempt to worship demons were ever uncovered. But just because they never discovered an instance, does that mean one never happened? You’ve profiled cults. Is marrying off little girls to old men with multiple wives—all in the name of Jesus—really any different?”
“In many ways, it’s the same. The god that cult members chose to worship isn’t relevant, but control is always at the root of it, not spirituality.”
“So what if the person who bought me had a small cult—people he’d convinced that he had dark powers and who believed he could do the things he claimed. If he selected members carefully, couldn’t he find people who would join him?”
“Evil can always find an accomplice. But even if we assume the person who bought you used you for satanic rituals, why do you make the leap to an entire cult? What if it was just one seriously fucked-up individual?”
Shaye gave her a rueful smile. “Is that your clinical diagnosis?”
“In this case, yes.”
Shaye shook her head. “Part of it is my dreams. I see other people there. It’s hazy and I can’t even latch onto how many or whether they’re men or women, but it’s more than one person. Also, I…feel like it’s more than one person. I can’t explain it. It’s just there in my mind like it’s a fact.”
Eleonore frowned. “And maybe you’re right, but even if that’s true, it doesn’t provide you anything that helps. In fact, it gives you an even longer list of perpetrators with not a single clue as to how to locate them.”
Shaye took in a deep breath and blew it out. “I want to try something.”
“Deep regression hypnosis.”
“Jesus, Shaye, you know why. Anything recalled under hypnosis might be factual but is far more likely to be a conglomeration of things the subconscious mind has put together to answer questions when we don’t know the answers or can’t handle them. You’re already off on this idea that what happened to you was ritual abuse. What makes you think your mind wouldn’t put together your thoughts and every late-night horror movie you’ve ever seen and deposit that answer there for you? Just to make you go away?”
“The truth is neither of us knows what my mind will do. Not unless we try. I hate to do this to you, Eleonore, but I have to tell you that if you won’t do it, I’ll find someone else who will.”
“Damn it!” Eleonore leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling.
Shaye knew she had backed her friend and therapist into a wall. Eleonore knew she wasn’t bluffing, and while Eleonore didn’t believe in hypnosis as a tool, she also knew plenty of the “hacks,” as she called them, did. Any of them would be more than happy to take Shaye’s money and put her under.
Eleonore leaned forward in her chair and looked at Shaye. “I need some time to research. I’m not interested in making a mistake. And whatever I require for your own safety, you’ll go along with or I won’t be part of it. Even if it means a heart monitor and an IV.”
“Whatever makes you comfortable.”
“Not doing it at all is what would make me comfortable. But I refuse to let some charlatan feed you a bunch of nonsense just to make a quick buck. I’ll check with people I know—competent doctors and scientists—and I’ll figure out how to handle it the right way. If there even is such a thing.”
Eleonore shook her head. “This is the first time I’ve ever asked and I hope it will be the last, but can we keep this just between me and you? At least for now?”
“Absolutely.” Shaye had no interest in telling her mother. Corrine was an awesome mother who took her role seriously, which made her a great worrier. With Shaye being her daughter and Eleonore her best friend, Corrine would wear the two of them out if she had even an inkling what they were going to attempt.
If she was being honest with herself, Shaye wasn’t convinced it was a good idea either.
But if it worked…
* * *
, in his custom-tailored suit and wearing a watch that probably cost more than her car, looked out of place sitting in a lawn chair in Corrine’s backyard. But Corrine had insisted on getting some sunlight and air, so if her father wanted to continue harping at her, then he was going to have to do it on the patio.
“I spoke with Police Chief Bernard and the medical examiner yesterday,” he said, “and let them both know that if anything about that despicable woman who gave birth to Shaye or that insane man who sold her leaks to the public, then I’ll have all their jobs.”
Corrine closed her eyes and silently asked forgiveness for her father’s complete lack of manners. On a normal basis, Pierce didn’t use his considerable wealth or his position as a state senator to manipulate or threaten people, but when it came to Corrine and Shaye, the lines of propriety blurred. She opened her eyes again and stared at him.
“Why would you do that?” she asked. “You know as well as I do that it only takes one person looking to make a quick buck for things like that to get out. We’re not the Kennedys, but in New Orleans, we may as well be.”
“Damn people are always looking for an easy way to get rich. This is my family. I’m not going to have the Archer name bandied about like a Kardashian.”
“It’s not the same, and you know it. None of us have done anything to cause the talk, and Shaye can hardly control what was done
her. Do you think people will blame her for what happened? I know you don’t think highly of mankind in general, but that’s a stretch, even for you.”
Pierce ran his hand through his hair, clearly agitated. That wasn’t unusual. Things outside his control always frustrated Pierce. “How is Shaye? I don’t want this to affect her.”
“You may as well wish for unicorns then, because I don’t see how it’s possible for her to remain unaffected. It affects all of us. She’s just got the worst end of it.”
“And you. If she bleeds, so do you.”
“What can I do? Let me send the two of you away for a while. I saw a place the last time I was in Italy. A small castle. I’ll buy it and the two of you can go there for a few months and take in the culture, pick out drapes, whatever.”
Corrine held in a sigh. Her father held fast to the belief that money could fix anything and refused to think differently, even though all his money hadn’t been able to prevent her mother from dying.
“I don’t think a vacation will fix this,” she said. “Not even one that includes a castle.”
“I’m not trying to fix anything. That’s Eleonore’s department. I’m trying to get the two of you out of Louisiana and away from talk.”
“I can’t just leave my job for a couple of months to gallivant around Italy. We’re already shorthanded, and my being out has already put cases even further behind.”
Pierce threw his hands in the air. “You were attacked by a psycho while doing that job. I will never understand why you insisted on being a social worker in the first place, but then you compound the first bad decision by putting yourself in such risky positions on top of it. You’re not average people, Corrine. No matter how much you’d like to convince others that you are.”
Corrine frowned. She was well aware she wasn’t average people. If the mansion she lived in wasn’t enough proof, the private security guards parked in front of her gate, courtesy of her father, were a clear indication. Corrine wasn’t obtuse. She knew people treated her differently because of who her father was, but that didn’t mean she had to act special just because people tried to treat her that way.
“I’m not taking off work,” Corrine said, “and that’s final. I’ve missed enough already, and I’m looking forward to going back in another week. But if you want to try to tempt Shaye with your castle idea, then give it a whirl.”
He perked up a bit. “You think she’d go for it?”
“Not a chance in hell.”
He shook his head. “The two of you are going to be the death of me.”
“Then what can I do? I can’t sit around doing nothing.”
A tiny bit of empathy wormed its way into Corrine’s thoughts, and she decided to give her father a break. His intentions were always good even if his execution needed work. And besides, it wasn’t as if she didn’t have a firsthand understanding of all the worry that a single parent put into their only child. They had that in common.