Authors: Arno Joubert
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Religion & Spirituality, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction
Mika Wattana sat across the table from the man who had been abusing her for the past week. Her lips were swollen and bruised, and she stared at her lap through puffy eyes.
“Not so feisty now, are we?” the man said with a grin.
She shook her head but said nothing.
He slipped out of his chair and strode around the table, then stood behind her, massaging her shoulders with his long, manicured fingers. “So, we have reached an agreement, yes?”
She sobbed but said nothing.
He pulled her chair around with a scraping noise, kneeled in front of her, his face pushed close to hers. Mika looked up, trying to swallow away the invisible hands choking her.
Joe Di Mardi had delicate features, almost epicene, childlike. Pale soft skin and full red lips, a mop of curly black hair. His only sign of maturity was the slight greying at the temples. “Do you want the boy to die as well, Mika?”
She bit her lower lip and shook her head slowly. “No,” she sobbed.
He smiled and stood up straight. He looked almost angelic when he beamed his beautiful smile, the smile that had attracted her to him the first day they had met.
He wore a black two-piece suit, the legs of the pants tapered and tight-fitting. Black shoes and a thin black tie to match his mop of black hair. “Very well then,” he said and nodded, folding his hands into his armpits. He chewed his lip. “Get yourself cleaned up.” He checked his watch. “The Awakened Ones will arrive in half-an-hour. As a prized offering, you don’t want to get caught with dirty underwear, now do you?”
Mika Wattana winced as he leaned over the table and slammed his palm down on it. “Do you, Mika?”
She sobbed again as her heart threatened to explode from her chest and shook her head slowly.
Joe Di Mardi pulled his tie straight, yanked open the door to the cell. “It’s almost show time,” he muttered as he slammed the door closed behind him.
Senior Superintendent Neil Allen snapped on a pair of latex gloves and kneeled beside the body. The alleyway smelled of garbage and urine and death, an overbearing stench that assaulted the senses.
He had to force himself to not look away from the corpse.
He studied the body as objectively as he could, the familiarity of her features making it impossible to rationalize away the familial intimacy he felt toward her. She could have been his kin. Probably was, in a certain sense.
The young woman had oval burn marks on her legs and on both breasts. He turned her head to the side. The eyes and mouth had been stitched closed and there was a long Y-incision from the top of her chest down to her abdomen, also closed up with small, tidy stitches.
He closed his eyes and sighed before glancing sideways at Alexa Guerra. “Recognize her?”
Alexa turned around and briskly strode out of the dank alleyway, a grim expression on her face.
“What’s her problem?” lead Investigator Bradley Ortell, a square-jawed man with a thick neck, asked. “She a greenhorn?”
Neil shook his head. He didn’t try to explain, it would have only led to more questions.
He sighed as he stood up, slipping off the gloves and wiping his hands on his pants, breathing through his mouth, forcing himself to ignore the familiar fetor of death.
General Alain Laiveaux had notified them of the girl’s murder earlier that evening. They were wrapping up a case in Hollywood and had taken the first flights available to LA on Laiveaux’s request. They had found it strange that Laiveaux would have wanted them to check out one dead girl, but hey, he was the boss and orders were orders.
“What could have caused the burn marks?” Ortell asked, his hands shoved deep inside the pockets of a knee-length grey jacket, although it was a balmy Las Vegas night.
“A blow dryer.”
He kneeled next to Neil awkwardly, balancing with his fingertips. “You think she was tortured?”
Interpol Superintendent Neil Allen glanced sideways at the man, then stood up with a grunt and stretched his back. “Yes, I do.” He paced around the body, scratching the back of his neck before cursing softly.
The dead girl looked like an older version of his adopted daughter, Yumi Wattana.
Jenna Sands rolled her eyes and twirled a finger through a lock of her curly red hair. “Yes, Mom, I’m okay,” she mumbled into the receiver, chewing her gum noisily. She leaned back against the kitchen’s doorframe, tapping a bare foot on the cheap linoleum as she waited for the customary interrogation to begin.
“Then why do you need more money, Jen?”
She sighed. “Because life ain’t free Mom, you know? I’ve got responsibilities and stuff.”
“Then get a job.”
Jenna stomped the floor as a soft growl escaped her throat. She closed her eyes and slowly blew out a breath through pouted lips. “Is dad there?”
Her mother hesitated.
“Mom, is dad there?”
“No,” the woman said softly.
Jenna Sands’s pretty little forehead wrinkled into a frown. “Where is he, then?”
It was the older woman’s turn to sigh, a trait the Sands woman shared. “He left. He blames himself for losing you.”
Jenna rolled her eyes, again, another Sands clan trait. “You haven’t lost me.”
“Then why can’t we come visit?”
“You’re free to come anytime you want.”
“Tell that to that janitor boyfriend of yours. Last time we were there, he made it clear in no uncertain terms that we weren’t welcome to come back.”
Jenna smiled and cupped the receiver. “She thinks you’re a janitor,” she said to Ted Olson, a man in his mid-thirties with tousled blond, shoulder-length hair.
He stopped kicking his legs from where he was sitting on the kitchen countertop. “Screw her.”
Jenna swaggered toward him and slipped a thumb into his belt loop. “You wish,” she said with a giggle.
He pushed her away irritably. “Get the money, Jenna. Rent is due.”
She pouted her lips. “I thought I stayed for free.”
He flicked a strand of highlighted hair from his forehead to the back of his ear. “Yeah, well. Let’s just say there’s been a whole lot of takin’ and not enough givin’, sweetheart.”
“Jen, you there?” her mother asked.
She sighed again. “Yes, mother. Look, are you going to give me the money or not?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Oh, come on!
“Mother, please, I’m grasping at straws here.”
“Why don’t you come home, baby?”
“Because I like it here.”
“That place is evil, Jen. Did you hear that I said your father left me?”
Jenna spat the gum she was chewing into her hand, stomped a foot onto the pedal bin and tossed it inside. “Yeah, well, the wheel turns, Mom. You were never really good for him.”
“Don’t you lecture me on relationships, young girl.”
“Mom, transfer the money, afterwards maybe we can talk some more,” she said and thumped the receiver back into the cradle.
“You going to get it?” Ted Olson asked, hitching himself off the counter.
Jenna Sands shoved her fingers into the pockets of her short denim pants. “Why does the Grand Master need so much money? We can’t be costing him
Olson’s eyes wandered down her legs, over the tight fitting pants, lingering on her cleavage for a second before smiling at her. “The Grand Master wants what he wants. We have no right to question him.”
She frowned. “I guess you’re right.”
Ted Olsen turned around and headed toward the front door. “Let me know as soon as you get the money,” he said over his shoulder.
Jenna Sands folded her arms over her ample bosom and pouted. “I know, I know. Rent is due.”
Jenna Sands’s hand was plastered to her chest, fingers splayed out, as she stared, the spiritual plasma manifesting on the Grand Master’s fingertips. Then his hands smoldered and abruptly, his hands burst into flames and the Spirit of Entitlement appeared in the room, her fine feminine features outlined by a soft luminescence on the smoke-filled stage.
Jenna glanced sideways. Her friend, Julia, stared wide-eyed at the figure, her mouth slack as her hands beat a hypnotic rhythm on the drum between her knees.
, step forward now,” Grand Master Di Mardi ordered, his arms raised in the air.
Six hooded figures stood up and took their places beside him, three on either side. They started chanting in a low guttural monotone, in tempo with the beating of the drums, their faces invisible beneath their hoods. They held jewel-encrusted scepters in their hands, tapping it to the ground in unison as they repeated the rhythmic phrases.
“Bring the traitors to me,” Di Mardi bellowed, his voice echoing off the walls of the stone amphitheater.
Two robed men with shaven heads dragged a man and a woman to the stage. The frightened young woman protested as she clung a shrieking baby to her chest. The baldheaded men manhandled them and turned them around to face the crowd before forcing them to their knees.
“Nobis vero ad matrim
,” the cloaked figures chanted, over and over, slamming the scepters down on every second word.
!” Grand Master Di Mardi shouted and
the Awakened Ones
stopped chanting and snapped to attention, the scepters held in both hands in front of them.
Jenna’s ears rang as she became accustomed to the deathly silence.
“What do you command we do with the traitors, oh Goddess of Justice?”
A sharp popping sound emanated from somewhere behind them, like someone had thrown a ping-pong ball against a wall. The pops came quicker, until they resembled a ticking clock, and even quicker still, the pitch increasing before reaching a whirring crescendo.