Valley of Shadows-Chapter Forty-Four

By

Samentha sat in the rental car on the parking lot of the nursing home housing Reverend Mother and quieted her thoughts.  Before proceeding, she wanted to make sure that Harriet hadn’t broken through her mental defenses.  There were certain things she didn’t want Ms. Goody-two-shoes to see.  It always took complete concentration to completely block things from Harriet’s consciousness.  After a few moments, Samentha was satisfied that she would be operating outside of Harriet’s consciousness.

Samentha parked Harriet’s rental car in an area downtown which had seen better days.  The brick high rises had aged badly, looking abandoned with their grimy faces and cloudy windows.  Samentha knew that there would be no available parking spots close to the building she sought and pulled into the first available space.  It was better that way.  No telling who might be watching the building.  Samentha got out of the car, fed the parking meter and strolled at a leisurely pace, intentionally conveying an air of indifference as her eyes, shielded behind large sunglasses, warily scanned the street around her.

Even in broad daylight, the downtown streets could be dangerous.  She came to a dingy, white apartment building and looked up past windows with all manner of bedsheets towels, and tattered blinds tacked up in the windows.  Samentha made her way up a crumbling cement walkway and used her shoulder to push open the stiff front door.  She ignored the mailbox buzzers and took to the steps, knowing the intercom system never worked. Discrete knocking brought the owner of the house to the door.  She gazed through the screen door at Samentha in surprise and quickly held it open for her friend.

“Samentha?   What brings you to my neck of the woods?”

“We haven’t talked for a while, so I thought I’d stop by for a chat.”

“No really, what’s up Samentha?  Nobody comes here, unless they need something.”

“Now that you mention it…I did want to run something by you.  A friend of mine and her daughter have been hexed.”

“What makes you say that?”

“They have identical festering wounds in different places and both say Nicole drew their blood before their…”

“So, she used blood magic…wait a minute.  Did you say her name was Nicole?”

“What does she look like?”

“I dunno, she’s light-skinned with shoulder length hair…why?”

“If you’re describing who I think you’re describing, then that woman is bad news.  She’s in a voodoo gang.”

“You’re joking right? A voodoo gang?  Isn’t that a musical group?”

“I’m serious Samentha, you don’t want to tangle with that woman.  If you cross her, she will literally hunt you to the ends of the earth.  Let your friends handle their own situation.”

“I can’t do that Anitra, I made a promise.”

“Better to break a promise than to be broken by that woman.”

“Stop being so melodramatic.  Harriet knows her and she’s relatively harmless.”

“Anyone who practices blood magic is not harmless.  That’s some bad ass juju! I have it on very good authority that Nicole practices Palo Mayombe.”

“Who told you that?”

“Now, Samentha you know I never reveal my sources.  That’s why people know it’s safe to tell me things.  Trust me, it’s a reliable source.”

“Alright, I’ll play along.  Let’s say she does practice Palo Mayombe.  It doesn’t make her any more dangerous than someone practicing traditional vodou.”

“Are you serious?  Anyone willing to place their own soul in peril by invoking evil spirits to inflict pain, suffering, or death on others is a ruthless individual.”

“Okay, you’ve done your duty and warned me.  Now, help me figure out what to do about this woman.  What?  Why are you looking at me like that Anitra?”

“It’s just strange I had that spot of trouble…and then you show up after being gone for six months asking me questions about that woman.”

“There you go exaggerating again.  It hasn’t been six months.”

“Yes it has…a lot has happened while you were off somewhere living it up.   I’ve been here struggling to survive.  I got in a little trouble and I really could have used your help.”

“You talk as though we’re best friends, when you know we never had a personal relationship.”

“But you said…”

Samentha was suddenly annoyed.  She didn’t have time to butter the woman up.  A flash of anger made her snap, “oh grow up Anitra!  What we have amounts to a business arrangement.  Sure, we’ve got a great working relationship.  But if we were actually friends, then I wouldn’t have to pay you for all the little tidbits of information you give me.”

Anitra’s face fell and Samentha immediately regretted her harsh words.  It wasn’t easy to cultivate a relationship with someone who was trustworthy and had their ear to the streets.  Each time Harriet blocked Samentha out, she had to reconnect with people all over again.  It helped to have contacts like Anitra, who could get her up to speed quickly.  Samentha gave Anitra an apologetic look.

“Oh hey, I’m sorry girl.  I didn’t mean it like that.  It’s just that you seemed to be taking things so personally and I…”

“No worries. Guess I just misunderstood the nature of our relationship.  I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Don’t be mad…”

“I ain’t mad.  No harm no foul.  I’m thirsty.  How about some tea?”

“Well I really just…”

“You don’t even have time for a cup of tea,” Anitra said sharply.  Samentha took one look at her injured expression and gave in.  Anitra disappeared down the hall into the kitchen.  Samentha heard water running and the clink of cups on saucers.  Anita spoke up.

“I’m not sure what you want from me.”

Samentha was bewildered by the suspicious tone in her voice.  Something felt very wrong.  She remembered that Anitra had an electric kettle which she always kept on.  So, what was taking her so long to make the tea?  Samentha eased up out of her chair and stood beside the window, peering out through a gap in the curtains.

At first glance, the activity on the street appeared to be unchanged.  There were kids riding up and down the street on bikes.  There was the woman sitting on her porch across the street, fanning herself with an envelope.  On the corner, were three men having an animated conversation.  Samenta’s eyes rested on the group a moment longer and one of them suddenly pulled a cell phone out of his pocket, unlocked the screen with his finger and then glanced in the direction of Anitra’s apartment.

Samentha cursed under her breath and quickly turned from the window.  Harriet’s muscular dancer’s body allowed her to speed silently down the short hallway and cross the tiny kitchen, while Anitra’s back was turned.  Samentha wrapped her right arm around the woman’s neck and pulled her into a sleeper hold, using her left hand to pull the arm tighter as Anitra struggled and scratched at it.  Samentha turned her face away, to protect her eyes from Anitra’s clawing fingers.  Her strength was almost gone, by the time Anitra finally passed out.