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Authors: Rebecca York

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BOOK: In Search of the Dove
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She relaxed slightly. “All right.”

Michael slapped his fist into the palm of his hand. “I wouldn’t have thought there was anything to this voodoo stuff. But every trail in this case keeps leading back to it.”

She shrugged. “Voodoo’s roots go all the way back to Africa. But here in Louisiana it developed its own traditions and practices. This may be the twentieth century, yet superstition is still a strong element in the local culture. Down in the bayou country a lot of people believe in gris-gris.”


“Voodoo spells and charms.”

believe in them?” he persisted.

She hesitated. “I don’t even know why I seem to be ’blessed’ with psychic powers. There’s a lot I don’t understand about the relationship between the physical world and what we can’t see or touch. That means I can’t help keeping my mind open to all sorts of phenomena. The only concrete thing I can tell you about this charm is that it does have a profound effect on me.”

“So you really don’t know much about how this particular talisman works?”

“No. Remember, I spent years trying
to think about things like that.” Her brow wrinkled. “But my friend Simone might.”

“You mentioned her before. Is she from around here?”

“Her folks lived out by my Aunt Edna. I visited there every summer, and we became best friends. As teenagers we were really into the occult—even some voodoo spells. I have the feeling she kept up the interest.”

“Why do you think so?”

“She has a shop on Royal Street where she sells love potions and stuff like that.”

“Then she might know who in the city could have made such a thing, and why.”


Michael slipped the envelope with the charm into his pocket. “Well, I assume Lieutenant Devine will let us borrow this long enough to take it down to your friend Simone for a second opinion.”

* * *

, like a mountain climber pulling himself hand over hand up the side of a precipice, Jed Prentiss fought his way slowly back to consciousness. Then he fervently wished he hadn’t made the effort.

His first perception was of searing pain in his chest every time he took a breath. The sensation convinced him that he was alive. Nothing else did. Fear of the unknown clawed at his insides. He could not see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or move. The isolation brought a feeling of panic that echoed in the inner chamber of his mind like a silent scream.

He realized he was injured and vulnerable. But he couldn’t quite remember what had happened. And he certainly didn’t know where in the hell he was now. Or if anyone was going to help him.

He dozed off and woke, slept and woke again. Still his only physical tie to the world was the pain in his ribs. It might have been minutes or hours later that he sensed the presence of someone else in the room with him and struggled to open his eyes. But his body would not obey his brain.

A gentle finger pulled up his left eyelid. He had a blurry impression of a dark female face and a white nurse’s cap before she let go and the lid slipped shut again.

“I believe the patient is finally awake, sir,” a soft island voice reported.

Island voice...Royale Verde. I came to Royale Verde on a mission for the Falcon.

“Good, I was beginning to wonder about the dose of phenodryl he received.” The man’s voice was deep and cultured. “Can you hear me, Mr. Prentiss? Jed?” he asked.

Jed struggled to give some indication that he could. None of his muscles responded to orders from his brain.

“I’m Dr. Talifero,” the man continued. “You’ve had a cerebral accident. In laymen’s terms, a stroke. You were brought to our clinic.”

Cerebral accident? What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“It’s not unusual, in this sort of case, to suffer from massive paralysis. It will be twenty-four to forty-eight hours before we know the extent of the damage. You also seem to have fallen and badly bruised some ribs, although they should mend satisfactorily. Other than that, I’m afraid I can’t make any predictions about your prognosis. But I want you to know that we’re going to do the best we can for you.”

What was this guy talking about? The last thing he remembered was sneaking up on a place called the Blackstone Clinic run by a Dr. Talifero.

He struggled to remember precisely what had happened to him. He had rented a boat. That much was clear. He could recall waiting off-shore pretending to fish until nightfall. But the effort to continue piecing together the evening’s activities made his head begin to throb. A stroke, the doctor had said. Was his brain damaged? Fear churned in his stomach, pressed upward against his esophagus.

“Cases like yours are often accompanied by mental confusion and even delusions,” Talifero went on. “I’m afraid you may not have a clear picture of how you got here. But we’ll talk about that when you’re functioning a little better.”

Could that be right? It seemed impossible. But would the doctor be making it all up? It was crazy. Yet the strong taint of doubt was like the taste of copper in his mouth. Some instinct toward self-preservation warned him not to trust this man despite his smooth, professional words.

On the other hand, the man had called him Jed Prentiss. Was that proof of something—or nothing?

Jed’s lip trembled as he struggled to speak.

“Just relax, Mr. Prentiss,” the nurse soothed. “You need to rest.”

Rest, no. He needed answers. He needed to get out of this place, to get in touch with the Falcon. Or was there really an intelligence control who used that code name? For now there was simply no way to verify his memories.

Wait, don’t leave. Help me. For God’s sake, help me. If I can’t trust my own mind, what can I trust? he tried to scream. But the words remained locked inside his skull.

He heard a light being switched off, a door closing. He was alone again, more alone than he had ever been or ever imagined that he could be. But somehow he was afraid that wasn’t the worst part. A doctor named Talifero was his lifeline to reality. And that might well be his greatest danger.

Chapter Nine

s he slid behind the wheel of the car, Michael turned to Jessica. “Would you mind if we stop by my hotel room on the way to Royal Street?”

Her eyebrows arched.

“Besides the voodoo charm, the Xavier letters are the first piece of concrete evidence I have in this case. I want to send a fax of them to headquarters.”

“You can send a fax from your hotel room?”

“Yeah. It’s amazing what the boys in R and D can put together for the road show.”

“All right, then.”

He was staying at an old mansion on Esplanade that had been turned into an elegant bed and breakfast. Jessica might have elected to wait in the car, but she was curious about the accommodations he had chosen. As it turned out, he had one of the best rooms in the place—a suite on the top floor furnished entirely with Victorian antiques.

“I guess I’d pictured you at the Holiday Inn or something like that,” Jessica observed, sitting down on a walnut-and-brocade sofa in the living room. Beyond partially closed French doors she could see an ornate canopy bed.

“I’ve lived in too many cookie-cutter Holiday Inns, thanks. When I get the chance, I look for something with a bit more individuality.” The statement was made with the conviction of a man who didn’t stay anywhere long enough to put down roots.

“Do you have a permanent address?”

He laughed. “I guess I sound like a real gypsy. But I do have a little ranch in Texas that I’ve put a downpayment on.”

She could see that he had a lot more than money invested in the place. “So you’re fixing it up, then?”

“Yeah, although I don’t get there more than twice a year. But some day when I’m too old for fieldwork, I’m going to retire there and raise horses.”


“Uh-huh. My old man was on the rodeo circuit. I guess that’s when traveling got into my blood.” While he was talking, he unlocked an armoire and pulled out a briefcase. “Have you ever seen one of these before?” he asked, adroitly changing the subject as he opened the case.

“It looks like a personal computer to me.”

“That’s right. But this model has a built-in modem for connecting it to the phone lines, an onboard printer, and a fax.” It also had a sophisticated encryption algorithm that ensured the security of his communiques to the Falcon.

After sending the transmission and locking the computer in the armoire again, he took out a tweed sport jacket and slipped the envelope with the charm into one of the pockets. Then he shrugged into the garment. “Come on, let’s go see if we can catch your friend Simone before dinner.”

Simone’s shop, This Is the Place, turned out to be a small but well-appointed boutique situated between two expensive antique shops on Royal Street. The window display featured glass-and-brass etageres on which were arranged handcrafted ceramic and fabric dolls along with soaps and potions wrapped in elegant foil paper and tied with slender velvet ribbons. Like Simone, the effect was distinctive and polished.

When Michael pushed open the shop door, the proprietor was just about to hang up the closed sign. But she laid it on the counter when she saw her old friend.

“Jessica,” she declared, her face registering surprise. It was not lost on Michael even though it was quickly replaced by a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I didn’t expect a visit from you so soon. Come in and let me show off my domain.” As she gestured toward the interior of the store, the full sleeve of her burgundy caftan rippled gracefully.

“I’d like to see it,” Jessica said before turning and beckoning toward her companion. “But let me introduce the two of you first. Michael Rome, this is one of my oldest friends, Simone Villard. Michael’s, uh, helping me with the Aubrey thing.”

“This isn’t a social call, I take it.”

Jessica shook her head.

Simone’s attention shifted to the tall, hard-edged man at Jessica’s side, giving him a careful inspection. “Are you a cop?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Don’t kid me,” the black woman insisted, folding her arms across her chest.

“I’m with the DEA,” he admitted.

“I told Jessica I wasn’t going to get mixed up in anything that had to do with dope.”

“We’re only after some information.” Michael pulled the white envelope from his pocket and shook out the voodoo talisman onto the counter.

As Simone inspected the unpleasant little artifact, Jessica was acutely aware of just how out of place it was in her friend’s upscale boutique.

“This thing was found at the scene of a murder that’s related to the case I’m working on. Jessica thought it was a voodoo charm and suggested that you might be able to shed some light on what it’s supposed to do.”

Simone’s dark eyes narrowed accusingly as they fixed on the other young woman’s face. “Jessica, you had no right to drag me into this.”

“I’m sorry. But I remembered you were interested in this sort of thing in the old days and I thought that—”

“It’s not exactly my bag now.”

Jessica sensed the vehemence behind the words. She and Simone had been out of touch for a long time. Was presuming on their old friendship a mistake?

A phone rang behind the counter, and Simone’s head swiveled to face it. “Now who...?” she questioned. “Please excuse me. I’ll take it in the back.”

Her caftan swirled around her legs as she hurried to the rear of the retail area.

“I told you not to—” Jessica and Michael heard before she firmly closed the door. They exchanged glances and Jessica shrugged.

When Simone returned, her features were carefully composed. “Now what were you saying?” she asked the DEA agent.

“We were hoping you might have some idea who might have made this thing.” Michael gestured toward the charm.

Silence hung in the air of the little shop. Jessica shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. But Michael merely thrust his hands into his pockets and remained impassive.

Finally Simone lifted her gaze to Jessica and studied her face intently. “Well, girl, you used to be good at picking up vibrations from things. Did you get any sort of impression from that?”

“Not much. Just that it’s evil.” Her cheeks reddened slightly.

“Uh-huh.” Simone stuck out a long finger and gingerly poked the artifact. “It sure looks evil, all right.” Her nose wrinkled. “It even smells evil. I’d say that whoever made it means serious business.” She gave Michael a direct look. “Now you realize that I have to live in this town. So if I get someone in trouble by helping you all, I may have to pay the consequences.”

“But you know a lot of people and you understand how to make discreet inquiries,” Michael guessed.

Simone turned back to Jessica. “Would finding out about this charm help Aubrey?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe he’s beyond help. But if we can get the people who did it to him, it will make me feel some sense of justice.”

Simone’s face registered empathy and something Jessica couldn’t identify. “You understand I can’t promise you anything,” she finally said. “But I do know a woman who lives on the other side of the city who has a reputation for this sort of thing.”

“Oh, Simone, we’d really appreciate it.”

“Don’t thank me yet.” She turned back to Michael. “Maybe you’d better give me your phone number and address, in case I need to get in touch with you.”

“Fair enough.” He took out a pad of paper and wrote the required information. “Or, if I’m out, you could leave a message with Lieutenant Devine at the local precinct.”

“I’m sure not getting mixed up with the police.”

“All right, you could call Jessica.”

A few moments later they were back in the car.

“How well do you know Simone?” Michael asked.

“At one time we were best friends, but we were out of touch for years until she came over last week.”

“She came to see you? How did she know you were in town?”

“The grapevine, I guess.”


“What are you thinking?” She remembered Simone’s initial hostility today and then her reluctant agreement to make some inquiries about the charm.

BOOK: In Search of the Dove
3.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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