Voodoo. Fucking voodoo. The lore was all over the place, there were about eight million variants of the damn religion, and New Orleans had them all. Vodon, vodou, vudu, hoodoo, fucking Louisiana tourist trash, made-up hippy bullshit, and, under it all, someone definitely messing with things better left alone. There was weird, untraditional veve all over three murder scenes now, and Deanna was getting really tired of white chicks in dreadlocks waving chickens at her. No one was talking, no one who knew shit about the real deal, anyway, and Bobby had come up dry. I ain’t got no contacts in New Orleans, he’d grumped at her over the phone. Of all the times for Dad to have gone radio silent.
Not that she needed him. Deanna slammed back her shot of Jack and lifted her finger at the bartender for another. She’d waited fourteen long years for him to start trusting her on solo hunts, and up til a year ago he’d only let her handle standard salt-n-burns, despite the fact that she’d been running point since Sam had –
Her next shot arrived and she sent it to follow the previous one. None of that. Anyway, just because she didn’t like to work alone didn’t mean she couldn’t. She just needed to let off some steam, sow an oat or two, come back at things tomorrow with a fresh perspective. A flick of her head tossed her hair back behind her shoulder and she let her gaze wander.
There, at the end of the bar. Bit older, deep brown skin, warm brown eyes. He was watching her, had been for a few minutes now. Nice hands, long, strong fingers. Nice shoulders.
Deanna turned her body slightly toward him and smiled. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Deanna.”
“Emile,” he said, with that faint Frenchy accent half the people here seemed to have. “Nice to meet you.”
“It certainly could be,” said Deanna.
He grinned, white teeth and crinkled eyes, and Deanna bit her lip.
He was pretty bitey himself, though she decidedly did not mind. They spent an athletic and deeply satisfying half hour in her hotel room, followed by an uncomfortable fifteen minutes while Deanna strategized the quickest way to get him into his pants and on his way. She’d just opened her mouth to deliver the so I’ll call you sometime speech when Emile rolled over, naked and glorious in the afternoon sun, and bit her left buttock gently.
“Already? Jesus,” she said. “Your stamina is kinda terrifying.”
“Not really,” he said. “But if we get you started, I’m sure I’ll catch up.”
Deanna laughed. Why the hell not? “You’re on.”
Three hours later they were eating beignets on a street corner and Deanna was spinning her bullshit story about undergraduate anthropology research. Emile listened, licked icing sugar off his fingers and looked pensive.
“Not exactly original, I know,” said Deanna. “I mean, voodoo. Shitloads written about it already.”
“Yeah, but not a lot that’s particularly good,” said Emile. “Mostly a stack of poorly researched stereotypes and Marie Laveau biographies.”
“She more or less jumpstarted the voodoo tourist trade, right?”
“She was a very smart, very savvy woman,” said Emile. “She was a priestess, yes, but her power in life was that of politics and money.”
“In life?” Deanna stole the last beignet off the paper plate and raised her eyebrows.
“There’s a tradition that her spirit stayed on after her death, that she grants wishes, that you can summon her to aid in you in healing, that kind of thing.”
Deanna’s hunter hackles rose. “Summon her how?”
Emile shrugged. “By name, I would guess.”
“Like the loa,” said Deanna. “Like with a veve and gifts and that?” Attar of rose perfume oil, hand rolled cigarettes, a wooden rosary. All things found at the crime scenes.
Emile gave her half a smile. “Well, you’ve done your baseline research, anyway.”
“I’m serious about this,” said Deanna.
“I’m starting to get that,” he said.
“Could she be summoned for not so good reasons?” Deanna asked.
Emile hunched his shoulders. “That’s – not so safe, in vodou tradition. To summon a loa and ask it to act against its nature is just going to piss it right off. Marie Laveau was a devout Catholic and dedicated to helping others. There’s a movement to have her declared a saint, did you know that?”
“Huh,” said Deanna. “But there are loa that would be alright in helping people do nasty shit?”
“Now you’re verging into bokur territory,” said Emile. “Sorcerers, not priests and priestesses.”
“You know a lot,” said Deanna.
Emile held up his hands, sat back in his chair. “I’m no practitioner.”
“Could you hook me up with someone who is? Someone real?”
Emile glanced away, rubbing his face.
Deanna leaned across the table, widening her eyes just a smidge, tilting her head. This generally worked better before sex, but shit, the guy’d bought her pastry and hung around for hours after the deed, he was obviously still into her. “C’mon,” she said. “I’d really appreciate it.”
“I can’t guarantee Mémé will talk to you,” said Emile. “Turn left.”
Deanna steered the Impala up the suburban street. “Hey, all I want is a chance.”
“She’s not really keen on tourists.” Emile rubbed one long fingered hand over his mouth.
“Not a tourist,” said Deanna. “I told you.”
“Yeah, well. Student researcher, whatever. She’s not likely to see a difference, okay? Just. Be respectful.”
“Sure. ‘Course.” Deanna shifted a little in her seat.
“Right here. The pink house.”
Dear god, was the house pink. Pepto-Bismol would have been an improvement. This was Barbie pink, like some life-size Dream House plunked down in the middle of staid, beige suburbia. “Does the front open up?” Deanna asked, peering at it through the windshield as she pulled up in front of the garage.
“What?” Emile asked, half out of the car already.
“Nothing, nothing,” Deanna said. She’d asked for a butterfly knife for her eleventh birthday, but some Mattel dreams died harder than others.
The door opened as they approached, revealing a tall, lean woman in her sixties, grey hair scraped severely away from her face. She pursed her lips as she watched them climb the steps. “Emile.” Her voice was a resonant alto. “Qui est ce?”
“L’etudiante, Mémé,” said Emile, conciliatory.
The woman studied Deanna for a moment. “Non,” she said. “Elle est une chausseure. Et une menteure.” She jerked her head. “Son intérieur.” She vanished inside.
“What’s she saying?” Deanna asked.
“Uh, she invited you in,” said Emile, but he looked distinctly uneasy.
“Well, that’s good, right?”
“I’m not actually sure,” said Emile. “I think she – just be polite, oui? It’s really important.”
“Dude,” said Deanna. “Relax. I’m not going to shock your grandmother with my terrible manners, okay?” She stepped forward into the house.
The pink was everywhere. Walls, carpet, furniture. Also, doilies and small white tables with little pink and white statues of angels and children and kittens. Deanna was starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer unrelenting girliness even before Emile’s grandmother came into the sitting room with a silver tray covered with bone china.
“Uh, thank you,” said Deanna, accepting a tea cup. Pink roses climbed the sides. “Um, I mean, merci.”
“Don’t strain yourself. I speak English. When I want to. Emile, s'asseoir.”
Emile sat, hastily, and took the second cup. “Mémé, this is Deanna. Deanna, my grandmother, Aimee Toutant.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Deanna, through her teeth.
“She doesn’t have a last name?” Mrs. Toutant asked.
“Winchester,” said Deanna.
Mrs. Toutant raised an eyebrow. “So now you choose to tell the truth,” she said.
“I’m sorry?” Deanna carefully put the cup down on its saucer.
“You have told my grandson lies,” said Mrs. Toutant. “You are not a student. You are not here to write a paper. You are chasing the bokur who is killing people.”
“Mémé!” said Emile, laying a hand on her arm. She ignored him.
Deanna met her gaze squarely and made the call. “You’re right.”
“Uh, what?” Emile looked at Deanna.
Mrs. Toutant smiled, thinly. “I knew it was only a matter of time before one of you showed up. You are a little tardy, mademoiselle chausseure. There are four people dead.”
“Three,” said Deanna and then checked herself. “There’s another body. Where?”
“Wait, what?” Emile said again, more insistently. “What does she mean, you’re a hunter? Hunting what?”
“Things that go bump in the night,” said Deanna, and patted his cheek. “Why don’t you take a moment while me and your grandma have a chat.”
“Emile,” said Mrs. Toutant. “Mon cher. Fie-tu en ta grand-mère.”
He subsided, not happily.
“The first death was not discovered by the police,” said Mrs. Toutant. “A man died out in the swamp. He was not a good man and no one was particularly sad that he was dead. These others, though.” She shook her head. “Things are not right.”
Deanna pulled a swatch of paper from her bag and slid it across the coffee table. “What can you tell me about this?”
Mrs. Toutant took the paper with a small purse of her lips. “It’s a veve. Non-standard. “
“And usually that means it’s just a drawing, right? No power.”
“This has power.” Mrs. Toutant dropped it back on the table. “Burn it,” she advised. “Carrying it around is not a good idea.”
“What does it name?”
“Something new.” Mrs. Toutant lifted her teacup and sipped. “Something evil.”
“I don’t understand why I am driving you out into the swamp,” said Emile.
“You aren’t driving,” said Deanna. She eased Baby down the rutted, ancient road, wincing at the scrape of branches against the paint job.
“Alright, why I am driving with you out into the swamp.” Emile tugged at the St. Christopher’s medal around his neck fitfully. “Why I am in your car, driving with you out into the swamp, to look at a three month-old murder scene that the cops don’t know about.”
“Because your grannie told you to,” said Deanna, unable to keep the smirk off her face. “I like her, by the way.”
“Of course you do,” said Emile. “Turn here.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Deanna peered down the barely-there track that Emile was pointing at. “No. No way am I taking my baby down that.”
“That’s where Frank has his boat,” said Emile.
“How far is it?”
“A mile, maybe?”
Deanna put the Impala in park and got out.
“Great,” said Emile. “Just great.”
The mosquitoes were nearly as horrific as the heat, but Deanna set a brisk pace regardless, her gear bag slung across her back. Emile kept up without difficulty or complaint, which was a definite point in his favour. At the end of the track was a ramshackle wooden house with a ramshackle dock attached to the back. Frank turned out to be a silent, weathered man in his fifties, who got stoically into the flat bottomed boat tied up at the dock and gave Deanna a hand down. Emile climbed in easily after her and then they were put-putting away across the water.
The bayou was a seriously confusing place, all droopy, depressed looking trees and moss and the swish-plunk of nameless animals sliding in and out of the water. It smelled intensely green and also intensely rotten.
They moored at another dilapidated heap of wood, at which point Frank sat stolidly in the boat and opened a paperback novel.
“Okay, so,” said Deanna. “Just us, then.”
The scene wasn’t hard to find. Trees opened into a circle, recently cleared, scattered with candles and bowls filled with a variety of fairly disgusting things. There was also a human body, hung on a cross like a particularly gruesome scarecrow.
Emile turned away and vomited into the grass on the side of the trail.
“Stay there,” said Deanna, and stepped into the clearing. The hair on the back of her neck prickled immediately. The EMF reader was going nutso, swinging back and for like a metronome. She picked her way among the ritual items, noting their placement and uh, contents, until she stood in front of the body.
The smell was the first thing she noticed. From what Mrs. Toutant had said, Brian Alphonse had been dead at least a week. His corpse should have been bloated, teeming with insects, and generally stinking to high heaven. Instead Brian looked waxy and pale and slightly desiccated and smelled – she sniffed, delicately, and heard Emile mutter “Oh, god,” from the path – of magnolia.
“You sure do smell pretty for a dead guy,” she told him.
His shirt hung open, and she could see what looked like cuts through the bloodstained edges. She pulled the thing open and surveyed his carved up chest. The reve. A knife lay at his feet, as though dropped from his hand, blood along its edge. Deanna ran her fingers along the ropes that held his right arm to the crossbar. Loops. Not even tightened.
“You crazy bastard,” she said. “You did this to yourself?”
A sudden wind whipped the end of her ponytail against her face. The trees rustled and creaked, Brian’s loose shirt fluttered in her grasp.
“Emile,” she said. “Get down.”
“What?” Emile turned his head, looking up at the foliage. “What’s with the wind?”
“Emile!” she said, unlimbering the shotgun from her bag. The wind howled, a whip that dragged water and debris into the air, a mini hurricane of otherworldly force.
“Jesus Christ, that’s a shot –“ he began, pointing stupidly at her, which is when the spirit flung him fifteen feet across the clearing into a tree.
“Brian!” Deanna shouted. “Brian Alphonse!”
Not anymore. The voice came from everywhere and nowhere, but the spirit coalesced right in front of her, a shifting, dancing shape formed of leaves and dirt and bayou water.
Deanna fired, and the salt ripped through the spirit with absolutely zero effect. “Oh shit,” she said, dropped the shotty, and groped the iron bar out of the bag. The spirit barrelled into her. The world turned dark and wet and confusing. Something pried at her jaw, trickling in through her teeth.
Oh, no. No, no, no, fuck no, she thought, even as fear clenched a fist in her guts, even though she knew it wouldn’t do her any good. Spirits didn’t give a shit about your ‘no.’ Spirits just took. She flailed frantically with the bar, heard the spirit scream in rage and pain, and then the pressure and darkness fled.
Deanna staggered to her feet, bar held out defensively in front of her. The wind whipped at the treetops. “Shit,” she said. Back to the bag, fumble out the salt and kerosene. She fended Brian off twice more while she dosed his corpse. His water-leafmould-moss body didn’t burst apart like a normal ghost at the touch of iron, but it hurt him in some way, and that was good enough for Deanna. She sparked his fuel-drenched clothing and backed away, shielding her face with one hand.
The body went up in a sudden whump of flame, burning abnormally fast. In moments it was a charring, crumbling, misshapen figure. The wind died, the trees calmed, and bits of wet debris pattered to the ground around her.
Emile stirred and groaned.
She went over, hoisting the bag onto one shoulder. “C’mon, big guy,” she said. “Let’s get the fuck outta Dodge.”
“What happened?” He put a hand to his head and brought it away bloody.
“Ooh, that’s going to be a nice goose egg,” said Deanna. She prodded the wound on his scalp. “Don’t think you need stitches, though.”
“Deanna, what – oh my god,” he said, finally seeing the burning body. “Oh my god, what did you do.”
“Saved your ass,” she said and grinned. “I love the smell of burning salt in the morning.”
She kicked over what was left of the ritual on the way out, spraying clotted blood and dried herbs across the ground. Brian was nothing but slumped ash. She didn’t know what he’d been up to in this nasty little grove, but he was a done deal now.
“C’mon,” she said, slinging Emile’s arm over her shoulder and tugging him into motion. “Let’s go see your grandma.”
When Deanna pulled up in front of the Dream House again, she was feeling pretty good about herself. Emile was still sulking in the passenger seat, unfortunately. The chances of a post-hunt roll in the hay were looking pretty grim, even without considering his head trauma.
Mrs. Toutant opened the door as they came up the walk and stood, arms crossed, just inside. “You have conquered the spirit?”
“Piece of cake,” said Deanna. “Even with whatever mojo he was cooking up out there.”
“You are sure,” said Mrs. Toutant.
“Salted and burned,” said Deanna. “Every inch.”
“Come in, then,” said Mrs. Toutant. “I will say a blessing for you.”
“Oh, well,” said Deanna, uncomfortably. “I don’t want to put you out –“
“Come in,” said Mrs. Toutant, inflexibly.
Deanna took a breath and went inside.
Emile hovered on the porch, head down, hands shoved into his pockets. “Mémé, maybe another time, okay?”
Mrs. Toutant went still, one hand on the door. “Now is a good time, Emile,” she said.
“My head hurts, I was thinking I’d go to a hospital –“
“Come in,” said Mrs. Toutant. “I will look at your head.”
Deanna glanced from one to the other, her good feelings dissipating. “Uh,” she said, and was cut off by Mrs. Toutant’s raised hand.
“Enter my house, grandson,” she said.
Emile edged forward, lifted a shoe, extended it toward the lintel.
And stopped, his foot hanging in midair, while his face did a weird, snarly little dance.
“Brick dust,” said Mrs. Toutant. “And you cannot cross.” Her lips drew back, her face suddenly terrible and stern. “Get out of my grandson!”
Deanna groped for her gun. Wind howled through the open door, rattled the windows, knocked Mrs. Toutant back into Deanna.
Deanna fought free of the older woman, brought her gun up –
The porch was empty.
Mrs. Toutant seized her by the wrist and forced the gun downward. “You stupid little girl!” she hissed. “You were supposed to dispel the spirit, not force it into my grandson!”
“I didn’t know!” Deanna wrenched free with difficulty. The old woman had a grip like steel. “I burned the body, the spirit went away! There shouldn’t be any spirit anymore, dammit.”
“I thought you were a hunter,” said Mrs. Toutant. “Not some ignorant ghost chaser. Who trained you?”
“John Winchester,” said Deanna. “And he’s the best.”
“The best would not have let a half-formed spirit abomination infest my flesh and blood,” said Mrs. Toutant. “The best would have recognized what was happening.”
Ok, she didn’t like this woman anymore. “So Alphonse is tied to something other than his body,” said Deanna. “We just – find it and burn it. Job done.”
Mrs. Toutant pressed her lips together. “Tell me everything you saw in that clearing.”
Mrs Toutant’s work room was also pink. Herbs and pictures of the saints and carefully labelled bottles filled the shelves. There was a shrine on the far wall, candles and incense and small jars set up beneath a picture of the Virgin Mary. The floor was swept clean in the middle of the room, stone flags a bit discoloured with old soot.
Deanna sat at a small table with Mrs. Toutant, enduring an interrogation as gruelling as any session with John had ever been. She told every detail about the clearing and the body and what had happened between the second she’d set foot there and the moment she’d hauled a stumbling Emile out again three times over before Mrs. Toutant was satisfied. Or as close as she was likely to get, at any rate.
“So,” said Deanna, finally. “Any ideas?”
“I am going to pray,” said Mrs. Toutant.
Deanna stared at her a moment, then put her hands deliberately to the table and stood. “Good luck with that,” she said.
Emile was nowhere in evidence outside, and Deanna suppressed a twinge of guilt. She was going to kick that ghost’s ass, clean it out of Emile’s pipes, and then maybe collect some goodbye nookie on the way out of town. She just had to figure out how.
She settled into the Impala, pulled out her phone, and dialled John’s number.
“If you have this number, then you know this better be good,” John’s voicemail rumbled into her ear.
“Dad,” she said. “So, this voodoo thing, it’s uh, gotten complicated. I could really use your help. Call me.” She flipped the phone shut, stared at it a moment, and then tossed it onto the seat. Time to go back to basics.
One piece of luck; Alphonse wasn’t officially a missing person, which meant that Deanna wasn’t going to be tripping over cops everywhere she went. He’d lived alone in a shitty little house on the edge of the Ninth ward, he’d apparently run some kind of porn site, and he was a right bastard. The first bit of information had come from a quick online search. The rest came from Maryanna, his neighbor, relayed over the chainlink fence that separated the two properties.
“Called the cops on me four times,” she said. “Three times for noise disturbances, cuz of the dogs, which, bullshit. A dog barking a bit in the afternoon, who gives a fuck. The last time he told them I was running a whorehouse.”
“You’re shitting me,” said Deanna.
“He’s a piece of work,” said Maryanna. “You’re chasing him for debts?”
“Yep.” Deanna smiled. “So you haven’t seen him in, what was it, a week?”
“At least. There were some people here, though, four days ago? Banged around inside for about an hour. My first thought was they were robbing the place, but they locked up behind themselves so,” she shrugged. “Not my fucking business.”
“People? What kind of people?”
“White kids,” Maryanna said. “Three of them, two girls one guy. Came in a red pickup, took a bunch of boxes with them when they left.”
“Can you describe them?” Deanna flipped open a notebook.
“Sure. Guy was tall, dirty blonde, wore this poncho thing. Girls were both dark haired, one skinny, one bigger. The bigger one had this big tattoo on her left arm. I think it was a bird. All red and orange.”
“And you’d never seen them before.”
“Nope. You might wanna talk to Hortie, though,” Maryanna nodded across the street. Deanna followed her gaze and saw the curtains in the front windows twitch. “She’s in a wheelchair, got the oxygen. Watches the soaps and this street, that’s all she does all day.”
Deanna smiled. Nosy old ladies were god's gift to an investigation.
Hortie was Hortense Gunderson, an eighty-two year old transplant from Minnesota who looked Deanna up and down, then invited her in and offered her a beer from a cooler under the front window. The walls held scores of framed photographs, mostly wildlife, and the furniture was old and dusty and well made. Hortie gestured at the picture above the big screen TV on the wall, which showed a much younger Hortie with a tall, not-handsome-but-interesting man. They both held cameras.
“My Gerald,” she said. “We bought this place thirty years back, before the neighborhood was so dangerous. He’d blow a gasket, me living here by myself, but what can you do.” She parked herself by the window and lifted the lid of the cooler.
“Lots of shady characters around here?” Deanna asked, accepting the cold bottle from Hortie’s liver spotted fingers.
“Not the kind I’d want to invite for dinner,” Hortie agreed. “But I always did enjoy watching nature, red in tooth and claw. You’re looking for Brian, you said?”
“You knew him?”
Hortie shrugged. “I knew his parents. That was their house. They were good people, I don’t know what happened to him.”
“Not a good person?”
“He did that porn stuff,” said Hortie. “Filmed some of it in the house. I’m not against skin flicks, but damn those girls looked young. Then it was selling drugs, I’m pretty sure. Recently, Satanism. Don’t look at me like that,” she said, waving her beer bottle at Deanna. “I’m not saying I believe in that hooey, but coming home with two black roosters in a cage, what do you think he was doing? He sure as heck didn’t put them in a hutch in his back yard.”
“Hey, I believe you. I’ve seen some pretty weird things,” Deanna said.
“Have you,” said Hortie. She drank some beer. “How old are you, twenty-three?”
“Twenty-si-“ Deanna tried, but Hortie kept on going.
“People get up to all kinds of things, the more so when they get in over their head with the two biggies.”
“Money,” Hortie held up two skinny fingers, “and sex.” She winked.
“Which one was it for Brian?” Deanna asked, charmed despite herself.
“He didn’t seem like the type to get hung up on a girl, I’ll say that much. He was a mean, little man, the kind who always thinks he deserves more than God gave him. A complainer. A schemer.” Hortie shook her head. “I hate to say it, but I hope he doesn’t come back. He was starting to give me the heebie-jeebies.”
“Maryanna said you might know more about the people that were visiting him recently?” Deanna flipped open a notebook.
Hortie eyed her and then pulled an impressive looking digital camera out from behind the cooler. “Sure, honey. Whatcha want first, the license plate number or the close ups of the tattoo?”
Five minutes searching local tattoo parlours online turned up the actually quite impressive phoenix tattoo, which led to a Myspace page which led to Sylvia Jenkins, student at Nunez Community College and friends with Greg Hawkins and Michelle Lambert. They were also students at Nunez Community College, which had a sad excuse for a security system and very old fashioned and poorly organized filing. Deanna spent half an hour with a flashlight going through actual file cabinets and then retreated to her motel room to spread her booty across the polyester comforter.
Michelle and Sylvia, eighteen and twenty years old, respectively, lived in an apartment building a few blocks away from the school. Greg, bless his twenty-three year old heart, lived at home with Mom and Dad in Gramercy and no doubt commuted to school in his red 2002 Dodge pickup truck. The girls were both enrolled in Business Technology and Greg in something called General Studies.
“This is fucking depressing,” Deanna muttered to herself. “2.6 GPA? Get it together, Greg.”
Greg had also been caught carrying weed on university property, the naughty boy. A lot of weed. The records showed that he’d successfully argued it was for personal use and had gotten off with a formal reprimand. That had been four months ago. Possibly a dealer in Brian’s shitty little empire. The girls had been buyers, maybe? And when Brian needed help with his ‘die and become a super-ghost’ project, he’d reached out to a previous employee? What had Greg and the girls gotten out of the deal? More than just the contents of his crappy little house, surely.
She rooted out the files of the three other dead people. Susan Perrault, fifty-seven, social worker. Christine Boudreau, twenty-two, student at Tulane. Chris McElroy, forty-one, associate professor at –
“Shit,” said Deanna. He’d worked at Nunez, in the, yes, Business department. He taught Entrepreneurship, a course in which, Deanna scrambled through her papers again, Michelle had received a D. “Really?” Deanna demanded of Michelle’s academic record. “He gave you a D, so he had to die?”
Greg’s Myspace photo album yielded a picture of him and Christine Boudreau, entwined in front of a coffee shop. On her page, however, a cute black guy was everywhere, liplocked with her in front of an alligator pen, laughing at a party, standing with Christine and, ouch, her parents at a picnic. Love you Brandon! was the last thing she’d posted. Thwarted love, okay, that was a classic murder motive the world over.
It seemed obvious that Susan Perrault had been Sylvia’s target, but nothing in local news or Sylvia’s records made it clear as to why. The picture in the newspaper story about Perrault’s death, third in a string of voodoo-related murders, showed an average, pleasant looking woman in her middle age. A long career with the New Orleans’ Department of Children and Family Services, said the article, and Deanna repressed a grimace. She’d been twelve when she’d been caught shoplifting in Minneapolis. Five hours in a police station with a kindly woman in a grey skirt and giant brown purse who’d given her a peanut butter sandwich and asked how many times Deanna had been left alone overnight? Where did she get that bruise? Your jeans are awful small on you, honey, do you have clothes that fit? Deanna had dodged and lied and tried not to worry about what Sam was up to in the motel room all by himself, waiting for her to come back. When Dad had finally showed up, thunder on his brow, Deanna had been unable to keep from flinching a little and then the shit had really hit the fan.
Maybe Sylvia had had real reason to hate Perrault. “Still murder, though,” Deanna muttered. Murder via voodoo-ghost. Had these dumb kids known what they were signing up for?
Deanna glanced at her watch. Two in the fucking AM. Time to grab some sleep. She could hit up the girls’ apartment first thing and maybe start to get some real answers to all this bullshit. Maybe in the morning, Dad would call.
Yeah. And maybe Madame Toutant’s prayers would be answered. Wish in one hand and shit in the other, as Bobby was fond of saying. She brushed her teeth, double checked the salt lines, and lay down on top of the bedclothes, boots on and crowbar in hand.
Sylvia Jenkins and Michelle Lambert lived together in a dismal beige three story apartment complex not far from the college campus, though that was not going to be the case much longer. When Sylvia, the one with the tattoo, opened the door and looked with dismay at Deanna’s fake private eye license, Deanna spotted cardboard boxes, open cupboards, and other sundry evidence of a hasty get-up-and-go.
“I don’t know any … what did you say his name was?” Sylvia lied. She was making borderline-hostile eye contact with Deanna, her whole body exuding a “fuck off” vibe strong enough to peel wallpaper.
“Brian,” said Deanna. “Alphonse. He’s dead,” she added.
Sylvia didn’t twitch a muscle at that one. “Oh,” she said. “That’s too bad.”
“Not really,” said Deanna. “He was a pretty bad guy, apparently.”
“Syl! Where did you put the bag with the –“ Michelle pulled up short when she saw Deanna, and shot a fearful look at Sylvia.
“Hi,” Deanna said. “I’m looking into the disappearance of Brian Alphonse. I was told that you might have some information.”
Michelle burst into tears. Sylvia closed her eyes in resignation.
“I dated Greg for a while, kind of a rebound thing. He was all fucked up about his ex, and I wasn’t looking for anything too serious.” Sylvia said. “He’s a dirtbag but he could be fun. Then I lost my job and was going to have to drop out of school and he said that he could hook me up with a gig.”
“Selling drugs,” said Michelle.
“Selling pot,” said Sylvia. “Ecstasy, shit like that, nothing heavy. Just until I found work again. That’s how I met Brian.”
“I told you not to,” Michelle began, and Sylvia rounded on her.
“You were the one who bought his line of crap to begin with, so don’t start on me with –“
“Okay, okay,” said Deanna. “Slow down. What line of crap?” Both of them clammed up, simmering with various levels of anger and fear. Deanna put down her notebook and leaned forward, elbows on knees, and tried to channel Sam. “You can tell me,” she said. “Even if it’s weird. I’ve seen some weird.”
Michelle chewed her lip and looked at Sylvia.
“It was weird,” said Sylvia. “Brian was weird. But like, charismatic? He had Greg wrapped around his little finger.”
“He could talk you into things,” said Michelle. “Like, sometimes he was hypnotic and, uh, sexy and the other times he was just this greasy middle aged creep.”
“Talk you into things?” Deanna asked.
“He was into voodoo. Like, the real shit,” said Michelle. “The first time was just for fun, sort of, we all got high and sat around drumming. And then it got –“
“Weird,” agreed Sylvia. “Like, killing chickens and seeing things weird. And he gave me this amulet and two days later I had a job. A really good one.”
“He cured my asthma,” said Michelle. “Like, it’s still gone. Just gone.”
“Does this look familiar?” Deanna pulled out the veve, and both of them flinch-nodded.
“He had it up on the wall. It would change every now and then, like he was revising it. He told Greg he could make Christine love him again, which was when I was like, come on,” said Sylvia. “That’s like, rape or something. Bitch wanted out, she left, get the fuck over it.”
“He told us,” said Michelle, her voice winding down, “that he could fix things.”
“Like Professor McElroy,” said Deanna, nonjudgemental.
“That asshole,” said Sylvia, while Michelle’s gaze dropped to the floor. “She wasn’t the first he pulled that shit on, you know. It’s like his m.o. and the school won’t do anything. Told her to go to the police which, right. Good fucking luck. He said she said.”
“How bad was it?” asked Deanna.
“He just – he would say things,” said Michelle. “And he told me if I wanted a better grade I could take private tutoring, no charge, and I told him to fuck off.”
“And then he made her life a living hell,” said Sylvia. “He stalked her, basically, tell her,” she said, turning to Michelle, “tell her about the hallway. About him grabbing you.”
“And Brian said he could make it right,” Deanna said.
“Brian said a lot of things,” said Sylvia.
“We did these – rituals,” said Michelle. “I don’t – neither of us really remember much about them, just being super tired afterward.”
“I know I fucked Greg during one of them,” said Sylvia. “Like, without a condom, which I never fucking do.”
“And then things would happen,” said Michelle.
“You mean, people would die.” Deanna fought the urge toward sympathy.
“Not at first!” Michelle clenched her fists. “McElroy lost his job, first.”
“Caught jerking off in a women’s bathroom,” said Sylvia, grinning faintly.
“And that social worker went nuts and attacked a judge in court,” Michelle went on.
“Whatever,” said Sylvia, hastily. “Whatever, shit happened, okay? Non lethal shit. It wasn’t nice, maybe, but it was justice.”
Deanna asked. “Did Christine Boudreau get justice?”
Both girls looked down at that one.
“What did Ms. Perrault do to you?” she asked Sylvia.
“Took my neice,” she said, raw. “My sister has issues. She was working on it. But,” she shrugged. “Monika’s living with some family across the city and we can’t even visit. I heard that the judge was considering letting them adopt her.” She looked up, met Deanna’s eyes. “I got mad,” she said.
“I get it,” said Deanna, quietly. “But people are dead.”
“McElroy fell off his balcony,” said Sylvia. “We didn’t know it was us. The social worker – it was a break-in. And like, because we got naked and high in front of some asshole’s shitty little pretend altar? Come on, who could believe that?”
“But then,” Michelle faltered.
“Greg got real insistent about Christine. About her coming back to him.” Sylvia wrapped her arms around herself. “Brian was looking pretty rough by then, he’d like, stopped bathing, he was looking like a feral dog or something. And we were standing outside Brian’s house trying to convince Greg not to do it, and then Brian pops out and grabs Greg’s arm and he’s like, smiling like the Joker.”
“And he says,” said Michelle. “’We gonna kill this bitch or what?’”
“So we bailed,” said Sylvia. “We thought, maybe he can’t do … whatever, without us.”
“That was the last time we saw Brian,” said Michelle. “Greg came by a few days later, told us that Brian had died, and he needed our help to get the altar and shit out of his house so that no one would find out what, what …”
“What we did,” Sylvia finished, harshly. “So we did. We thought it was the end.”
“But the next day …” Michelle trailed off.
“Christine died,” said Deanna.
They nodded, miserably. There wouldn’t have been any doubt about how, either. Strangled in her home, with hundreds of swamp snakes slithering around in every room and that fucked up veve painted on her front door.
“Christine died five days ago,” said Deanna. “Why are you getting out of Dodge now?”
Michelle hunched up and Sylvia put a hand on her back. “There’s been some shit happening. Dead birds on the doorstep, and Michelle’s been having these dreams. And …” Sylvia managed to look pissed off and terrified at the same time. “I saw Greg yesterday. He looked real bad. Like, kind of like how Brian looked at the end. He was just standing across the street from my work when I went out for a smoke break and he pointed at me. It was like ice went down my spine. So, fuck it. We’re not staying to get fucking strangled by snakes, okay?”
“Yesterday?” Deanna pulled out the photo of Emile she’d lifted from Mrs. Toutant’s house. “Did you see this guy?”
Sylvia looked and shook her head. “Who’s he?”
“A possible associate. If you see him, clear out as fast as you can, and then call me, okay?” She handed over her number and Sylvia took it dubiously. “In the meantime, get some red brick dust for your entry points.”
“Seriously?” Sylvia said.
“Welcome to the real world, ladies,” Deanna said. “You fucked with forces beyond your comprehension. If all you end up doing is making some windowsills dirty you’ll be lucky.”
“We didn’t …” Michelle started.
“You acted with hate in your heart,” said Deanna. “I get it, believe me I do, but nothing good ever comes of that shit.”
“Who are you?” said Sylvia. “You’re not a P.I.”
“I’m Deanna Winchester,” Deanna stood, channeling John as hard as she could. It seemed to be working - the two of them stared up at her in a mixture of hope and fear. “I’m here to clean up your mess."