The Doorkeepers-Chapter Thirty-Seven

Andrea stared blankly at Marko, stifling a yawn.  Seeing the fear in his eyes brought her fully awake with a jolt.  A second scream reverberated inside his head, drowning out Andrea’s words.  His left hand suddenly felt as though it was on fire.  They had slept in their clothes and only needed to pull on shoes before racing out of their room.  The elevator was moving too slow, so they took to the stairwell.  Marko tried to reason things out on the way down.

“Surely no one came in and took her without waking either of us up.  So, where the hell could she be?”

“I think I know where she went.”


“Back to that hole-in-the wall palm reading shop we saw earlier.  She got mad when I said I didn’t want my palm read.”

“Why would she go back there in the middle of the night?”

“We got into it on the way back to the hotel and she accused me of never being supportive.  Knowing her, she probably poured her heart out to that bogus palm reader.  If that woman was nice to Janet, then she probably thinks they’re friends.  My sister always has been naive.”

“Lead the way, since you know where this place is.”

The two of them charged ahead, oblivious to the pedestrians on the sidewalk they displaced.  The duo arrived at the palmistry shop to find that it was closed.  Andrea peered inside and saw the faint glimmer of light underneath the door leading to the back of the shop.  Marko raised his hands, preparing to magick the door open.  Andrea stopped him.

“Save your energy.  I’ve got this.”

Marko was impressed when she pulled a bobby pin from her hair and picked the lock open.  They found Janet sitting on the floor, in the corner of a small room containing an overturned table and toppled shelves.  Various crystals were strewn across the floor.  Andrea called to her sister.  Janet didn’t respond.  She was staring into space, rocking ceaselessly back and forth.  Crossing over to her, Andrea spotted the palm reader lying sideways on the floor breathing raggedly.  A large, sharp pair of scissors were jammed into her side.  Andrea knelt beside the woman, careful not to step into the slowly widening pool of blood around her.  Andrea’s hand reflexively moved to pull them out.  Marko grabbed her hand.

“Leave those scissors where they are.  If you remove them, then she’ll bleed out faster.  What happened here Janet?  Look at me.  What happened,” he prompted.

Andrea stood and made her way around a shattered crystal ball to sit on the floor next to her sister.  She placed a comforting arm across her shoulders.  The physical contact appeared to bring Janet out of her daze.  Marko repeated his question softly.  Janet spoke without focusing on either of them.

“I…don’t really know how this happened.   We seemed hit it off earlier and chatted for so long, I wasn’t able to get my palm read before Andrea came to get me.  The woman invited me to come back tonight for my free palm reading.  I came back.  She locked the door behind me, saying that she didn’t want to be interrupted, and closed the door to this room.  I got a bad feeling when she locked that door.  Something told me to turn around and leave, but I didn’t heed it.  Why did I do that?  Nothing good ever happens when I ignore a gut feeling.  She seemed so nice and I really needed someone to talk to.  If only I hadn’t come back, she wouldn’t be dying right in front of me.”

Tears streamed down Janet’s face.  She began sobbing uncontrollably.  Andrea pulled her sister into a hug and stroked her back, to calm her down.  Marko decided to give Janet a few moments to regain her composure.  He walked over to the woman and examined her closely.  Marko leaned down and examined her neck.  When he spoke again, his voice sounded strange.

“Um, I don’t think you have to worry about her dying.  She’s got a devil’s mark on the side of her neck.”

“You mean she gave her soul over to Charles just like Ethan and Dorian,” Andrea blurted incredulously.

“I’m not sure of Charles is her master or someone else.  This tattoo is a different color.”

“So, what did she want with Janet?”

Her sister spoke up, “I can answer that.  She wanted this talisman.”

Janet raised her chin.  Andrea gasped, stunned at the sight of deeply scored marks in Janet’s neck.  Raising her chin released the pressure on her neck and blood began flowing from the wounds.  Andrea and Marko were horrified to find that the blood staining the front of Janet’s shirt was hers, not the woman laying on the floor across the room.

Marko searched frantically for something with which to create a makeshift bandage to staunch the bleeding.  Unable to find anything suitable, he pulled out his pocket knife and slashed off a portion of the garish curtains, directing Andrea to tie it around Janet’s neck.  They helped her up.  Janet resisted their attempts to usher her out of the shop.

“What about Esmerelda?  We can’t just leave her.   She’s in a lot of pain.”

Andrea spotted the woman’s cell phone on the floor, made an anonymous call for emergency services, and wiped off her fingerprints.  They hustled Janet out of the back door, made their way down the alley, and joined the flow of pedestrians.  By walking and not running, the trio blended in with the strangers around them.  The last thing they needed to do was draw attention to themselves, leaving the proximity of a storefront containing gravely wounded woman.

Janet was adamant about not going to the hospital.  Andrea took her back to the hotel room, while Marko went to the nearest convenience store for antiseptic and bandages.  Janet paced around the room, unable to get the sound of Esmerelda’s labored breathing out of her mind.  Flashes of their fight tormented her.  Andrea urged Janet to sit down and relax, lest she make the bleeding worse.  The abrasions and bruises visible in the stark light of the hotel room told Andrea how hard her sister had fought.  Inexplicably, Andrea got angry at her sister for almost getting herself killed

Marko returned and attended to Janet’s wounds.  He wanted to ask her questions about what had gone on in that shop but she appeared to be in shock.  The last thing Marko wanted to do was to make her worse by asking questions that make her relive the incident.  As if she had just read her mind, Janet looked up at him.

“I don’t mind if you want to ask me questions Marko.  I’m trying to make sense of things myself.”





Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-Seven

The family meeting had been productive.  They were all in agreement that their little investigation had unearthed some important facts.  Even though at the moment, the significance of those facts escaped them.  Like the outer pieces of a puzzle, they were sure those facts were part of a sinister big picture.

Joshua had requested that Richard ask his friend Summer to run the plate on the van from the warehouse, which Rachel swore had carted off a dead body.  Richard didn’t feel comfortable asking for such a big favor from a friend he hadn’t been in touch with for several years, prior to his current visit home.  It seemed like too big of an imposition.

Given Richard’s recent run-ins with Officer Hodges, the last thing he wanted to do was get Summer in the middle of something which might jeopardize her job.  She had worked hard to move up the ranks and become a detective.  Undoubtedly, some of the good old boys at the precinct still believed that a woman of color shouldn’t be allowed to climb that high.  He presumed that they would like nothing more than to see her stripped of her rank in some humiliating way.

Officer Hodges was working hard to drum up evidence against Richard.  In his suspicious eyes, anyone helping Richard might become guilty by association.  Richard felt the need to pull back on his sleuthing, lest he inadvertently give Officer Hodges an excuse to arrest him again.  Without powerful allies, anything could happen to him inside that precinct.  To that end, he recommended the services of one of the retired officers, who had gone on to become a private detective.

Everyone but Rachel loved the idea.  She wanted to keep digging.  The brothers attempted to reason with her, but Rachel was like a dog with a bone.  She wouldn’t let it go.   Reverend Mother’s sharp reminder of the need for her to attend to the shambles of her personal life had finally brought her vigorous arguing to a reluctant halt.

Richard had to root around in his desk drawers for a long time, before he finally found the dog-eared business card stamped with the contact information for George Holt Investigations.  Reading the name conjured up memories of the tall, thin salt and pepper haired man.  Richard remembered him as being somber and taciturn.  He decided that his first contact with his old colleague should be via phone, rather than a face-to-face meeting.  It would be less awkward that way.  They had been more like acquaintances than friends.  However, Richard had always respected the man’s work ethic.

The call was pleasant yet brief.  The two men reminisced about their time on the force for a few moments, and then Richard dealt with the inevitable question about what he had done since leaving the force by saying vaguely that he worked in New York but had returned home to help take care of his mother.  He quickly steered the conversation to the reason for his call.  George was so pleased that Richard wanted to hire him, that he stopped asking personal questions.  He eagerly agreed to run the plates on the van and see what he could dig up on Nicole.

Richard was hanging up the phone when he heard Reverend Mother scream.  His heart leapt into overdrive.  A hundred violent scenarios  played out in his mind, as he charged down the stairs with Joshua at his heels.  Surely no one had broken into their home in broad daylight.  The brothers found their mother in her bedroom, standing precariously on a chair and staring at the floor with a horror-stricken look on her face.  Rachel was pulling on her arm and shouting at her.

“Get down mama.  There’s nothing there.  Get down!”

Richard saw that Rachel’s tugging was pulling their mother off-balance.  He moved in and quickly separated them, taking his sister out into the living room while Joshua coaxed Reverend Mother down off of the chair.  Rachel sank down onto the couch with a frightened look on her face.  Richard stood in front of her with his arms crossed.

“What happened in there Rachel?”

“I…don’t really know.  One minute we were just talking and the next thing I know, mama started screaming and pointed at something in the corner.  There was nothing there, but she refused to believe me.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even think she heard me.  It was like she was in some sort of a trance.”

“That’s weird.  I wonder what’s going on with her.”

“I hate to say it, but maybe she’s right about Nicole injecting her with something.  It’s the only thing that makes sense.  If Nicole did that to her, then what did she do to me?  How do I know she didn’t use a contaminated needle to draw my blood?”

Richard had never seen his sister so afraid.  He comforted her as best he could, gently chastising her for allowing their mother’s paranoia infect her.  Richard coaxed a smile out of her.  Rachel agreed that her fears were illogical.  His cell phone began ringing and she urged him to answer, assuring him that what amounted to a panic attack had passed.  He took the call and Rachel went upstairs to the bathroom.

She switched on the overhead light and gazed at her reflection in the mirror.  Rachel had always been blessed with clear skin.  Shortly after her trip to Nicole’s house, a blemish had formed between her eyes and appeared to be spawning blemishes on other areas of her face.  Soon, she would no longer be able to conceal the growing eruptions with makeup.  An indescribable feeling of dread swept through her.  Her looks were all she had going for her.

Rachel had turned things over in her mind dozens of times.  Nothing about her routine had changed. In fact, she was taking better care of herself than she had in years. Rachel had been clean for a week.  Thanks to Reverend Mother’s great cooking, Rachel was even approaching a healthy weight.  She was trying so hard to get her life back on track. It wasn’t easy, but taking it one day at a time seemed to be working.  Rachel’s amateur sleuthing had helped distract her from obsessing over her problems.

Her skin was acting up, just when she was starting to feel some modicum of control over her life. None of the face masks, creams, ointments or astringents were having any effect.  They only seemed to further irritate her inflamed skin. Applying a liberal coating of makeup everyday wasn’t helping things either. The unfairness of it all left a bitter taste in her mouth. Full of impotent anger, Rachel felt the impulse to drown out her feelings with alcohol.  One little drink would help alleviate the weight of the heavy emotions and troublesome thoughts.

The idea of having to face her mother’s disappointment was the only thing that stopped her from giving in to temptation.  This was all Nicole’s fault.  It had to be her doing. Rachel had never done anything to that woman.  If anything, she had tried to help her and this was her repayment?  Spurred on by rage, Rachel stormed across the hall to her room and dug the cellphone out of her purse.  Nicole answered on the third ring and Rachel cut her off.

“What the hell did you do to me you bitch?”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t play dumb with me Nicole.  I know you injected me with something.”

Rachel was unprepared for Nicole’s deep throaty chuckle.  A sudden chill ran through her.  Nicole didn’t attempt to deny the allegation.  All of Rachel’s anger suddenly drained away.

“So you finally figured it out did you, ” Nicole purred.

“What the hell did you inject me with?  If I go to the doctor and he finds some disease, I’m coming for you!”

“Go ahead, he won’t find anything.”

“I don’t understand.  If you didn’t inject me with something…”

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.  What you need to do is worry about getting on my good side.  If you do what I ask, then I’ll clear up your little problem.”

“You mean, you can give me the antidote?”

“Something like that.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Oh, not much.  I just want you to keep tabs on your brother and report back to me.”

“My brother…who Joshua?”

“Now who’s playing dumb?  You know I’m talking about Richard.  He’s the one poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

“I don’t know if I can spy on him.  Somehow, that just seems wrong.”

“You had no problem out your family when they pissed you off.  Don’t get all high and mighty with me now.”

“I was drunk.  I would never have done that if I were sober.”

“You don’t really think I believe that load of…”

“I’m telling you the truth.  I love my family and I don’t think I could intentionally betray their trust.”

“Whatever.  Look, you think about it and get back to me.  I would advise you not to take too long though, or there may be scarring.”

Nicole began to chuckle unpleasantly and Rachel slammed the phone down.




Crime Diary-Chapter Thirty-Seven

Delilah had cobbled together outfits from her own closet and packed all but one in a duffel bag for me. I was grateful to have changes of clothes. She left the room so that I could get dressed.

“How nice,” I said aloud.

Plum’s skeptical voice sounded in my head, “Yes it is nice isn’t it? A little too nice if you ask me.”

“No one asked you, ” I thought angrily.

“Relax darling don’t get your panties in a bunch. I’m merely making an observation.”

“And what would that be,” I wondered.

“Isn’t it obvious? People are never nice for no reason at all.”

“Oh here we go again. You and your conspiracy theories.”

“They aren’t theories sweetheart, they are cold hard facts. If you removed those rose-tinted glasses of yours once in a while, you would see that people rarely ever do things for others unless there’s some sort of payoff.  Even if it just makes them feel good about themselves.”

“Leave me alone Plum, I don’t feel like arguing with you right now. It’s too early in the morning. I don’t really care why Delilah is being so nice.  The only thing that matters is that she’s helping me.”

“And that my dear is the reason you’re in this predicament.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you never stop and ask yourself the tough questions. If anything makes you uncomfortable you avoid it, like the plague. Maybe, if you had asked yourself why I was being so nice, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“You know what Plum?  I’m getting a little tired of your smug sanctimonious attitude. It’s easy for you to sit back and judge me, as though you have the slightest idea who I am and what I’ve been through.”

Plum snickered unpleasantly, “Cue the violins.  You know darling, I was wondering how long it would take for you to play the victim card. My goodness.  That thing must be frayed at the edges by now.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What do you think it means? Don’t tell me you are unaware of how many times you retreat from an argument by pleading that you’re a victim and consequently not responsible for your actions or lack thereof. You seem to think you’ve cornered the market on hard times. Well I’ve got news for you sweetie, everyone has a hard luck story. Life hasn’t been all moonlight and roses for me either. The difference between me and you is that I don’t wallow in misery, or turn a blind eye to it. If something goes wrong, then I try to learn from the experience and make sure it never happens again.  I don’t make excuses.”

It was my turn to laugh.  “Now who thinks they have cornered the market? I learn from my mistakes too. Do you think I’m not paying attention?  It’s not like I stumble through life with my eyes closed you know.”

“I’m not so sure about that one.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Do me a favor Patricia and stop saying that. People have better things to do with their time than to spoon feed you answers. You’re always asking people what they mean by things. It’s very annoying. You’re a reasonably intelligent girl.  Use the brains that God gave you.  Stop being so lazy.”

“I’m not being lazy.”

“That’s exactly what you’re doing.  The amazing thing is that you fail to realize that what makes you vulnerable is the unwillingness to pay attention and figure things out on your own. It’s easier to go around with your eyes closed and depend upon other people to guide you.  The problem with that is most people will always tell you only what they want you to believe.”

Delilah bustled into the room and ended the argument. I felt Plum retreat into the recesses of my mind. Things moved quickly after that. I was hustled out to a waiting van with some of the dancers from the club. Delilah took me by the arm and led me to the back of the van. I didn’t know what to think, when I was greeted by the sight of an inflatable mattress. Delilah saw the look on my face and hastened to explain.

“I guess I should have explained before we got out here. You’re going to need to be unconscious for this trip. We can’t have Plum knowing anything about our numbers or plan of attack.”

“That’s fine, I’ll just go to sleep. To tell you the truth, I didn’t sleep that great last night.”

“You don’t understand Patricia. In order to keep Plum from listening in while you are sleeping, I’m going to have to shut down the whole works.”

I didn’t like the way she waved at me from head to toe. All at once, I became acutely aware that the dancers had silently moved in uncomfortably close behind me while Delilah and I talked. Plum’s voice in my head sounded alarmed.

“Do I need to tell you that something is very wrong here?”

Delilah was smiling apologetically. I glanced around at the others and they grinned back at me as though we were sharing some funny inside joke. For one fleeting moment, I relaxed and considered that perhaps my sense of alarm might have been an overreaction. Plum sounded annoyed.

“You’re doing it again Patricia.”

Sensing that I was about to shut her out, Plum softened her tone.

“Look Patricia, I know you are feeling a little cornered right now and you don’t want to believe that your friend means you any harm. It’s natural for you to avoid those feelings, but I implore you not to do it.  Look at the situation, as though these people were strangers. If you’re feeling pressured then speak up and stop worrying about seeming ungrateful.”

My first inclination was to argue, but her words had the ring of truth to them. Delilah was again taking my arm to guide me into the van. I felt hands at my back gently pushing me forward. Plum was fairly shouting at me to do something.

“Wait a minute, I’m still not sure what you mean when you say shut down the works,” I said hastily.

“Get in and I’ll show you what I mean,” urged Delilah.

“No, explain what you mean.  Then I’ll tell you if I am willing to do things your way.”

Frustration momentarily creased Delilah’s smooth features. She quickly masked her impatience with a smile. Her hand dropped from my arm. The hands at my back fell away. Mentally congratulating myself caused me to lose focus for a moment.  I failed to process the almost imperceptible way Delilah shifted, so that her right hand was momentarily out of my sight. Plum was trying to get my attention, but I thought I had everything under control and refused to listen. The next thing I knew, Plum had somehow taken over control of my body and spun me around in time to see one of the dancers with a syringe.  She was about inject me with something.

“What are you doing,” I blurted incredulously.

“Calm down Patricia, it’s just a little propofol,” explained Delilah placatingly.

“Isn’t that the stuff that killed that singer?”

“Don’t worry Patricia it’s harmless ,if you use it correctly.”

Two of the dancers grabbed me from behind and attempted to empty the contents of the syringe into my arm. Adrenaline fueled panic gave me almost superhuman strength. I shook them off and ran into oncoming traffic, narrowly missing being struck by a truck. One risked glance over my shoulder showed me that the group was caught completely off guard by my sudden departure. I made good use of those few moments, weaving through morning rush hour traffic to the other side of the street and doing my best to find some way to disappear.

After what felt like hours of panicked running, with them at my heels, I was breathless and my exhausted body forced me to stop. I darted in to a narrow passageway between two buildings. Bent over by the effort to catch my breath, I dimly became aware of Plum’s voice.

“Are you tired of running like a scared little rabbit yet?”

“If you’ve got a better idea, then I’m all ears.”

“Let me use a little magic.”

“I don’t know Plum. There are four of them and only one of you.  How are you going to defeat four witches?”

“What makes you think those fools are witches?”


Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-Six

The next morning, Harriet was in the throes of a nightmare. Richard’s knocking on her bedroom door fell on deaf ears. Not sure if she was in her room, he opened the door.  His sister was tossing and turning in bed. Richard walked to Harriet’s bedside and said her name softly.

When that failed to rouse her, he reached down and gently shook her by the shoulder. Harriet’s eyes flew open. She reacted before coming fully awake, snatching his hand from her shoulder and twisting it. Caught off guard, Richard barely responded in time to stop her from spraining his thumb.

“Ouch, what the hell Harriet?”

“Since when do you walk into people’s rooms without knocking?”

“I did knock. You just didn’t hear me. Damn girl, you nearly broke my finger!”

“Oh, stop being so melodramatic. I’m sorry okay? I was having a bad dream and you startled me.”

“That must have been some nightmare. What was it about?”

“It’s not important,” Harriet said evasively.

“Oh so, now you won’t even tell me about your dreams? Don’t tell me you’re still mad at me. I apologized last night. What do you want me to do, get down on my knees and beg for your forgiveness? You do don’t you? I’m not even sure what I did wrong.”

“I heard you and Rachel making fun of me.”

“What are you talking about Harriet? We didn’t make fun of you. I would never do that. I know how sensitive you are.”

“I really wish you all would stop acting like you know anything about my feelings.”

‘What are you talking about? We grew up together. I know everything about you Harriet.”

“Wrong again, you know who I was when I first came here. Apparently, that’s the last time any of you paid any real attention to me.  I guess on some level I always knew that, but listening to you and Rachel laughing about me being some pathetic sad sack really drove it home.”

Realization dawned on Richard’s face. He shook his head and sat on the bed facing Harriet, patting her folded hands reassuringly.

“Is that what you’re upset about? You know how blunt your sister can be.”

“Rachel is always talking trash about people. What she said didn’t shock me, but hearing you agree really…”

“I didn’t mean anything by it.  I certainly never intended to hurt your feelings.”

“See, there you go again assuming you know how I feel. My feelings weren’t hurt. I was pissed off! Where the hell do the two of you get off calling me a gloomy Gus? Did you ever stop to consider that maybe the reason we discuss my problems so much is that the only time you pay attention to me is when I’m upset about something? It has been that way since you were in high school and spent every waking moment with your so-called friends.”

“That’s not how it was at all.  If you felt that way, then why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“And deny you the pleasure of swooping in and rescuing me?”

“Now I know you don’t think I enjoyed fighting your battles for you.”

“That’s exactly what I think. You’ve always enjoyed playing the hero. That way, you can play the martyr and call people ungrateful, whenever they don’t do what you want.”

Thomas glared at his sister.  Anger made his voice deepen, “When I came here, I was a kid myself, still trying to come to terms with being dumped into foster care and bouncing around from home to home. The last thing I wanted was to shoulder someone else’s  problems. You were always so damn needy, you would have fallen apart without me propping you up.”

Richard instantly regretted the harshness of his words. It didn’t take much to make Harriet cry. He braced himself for tears that never came. Richard did not know how to respond to Harriet’s bitter bark of laughter.

“Propping me up? Is that what you’ve been doing all these years? Well don’t worry, I won’t burden you with my problems anymore.”

“That came out wrong. I shouldn’t have said it like that,” he said placatingly.

“Why not?  If that’s the way you felt, then don’t sugar coat it for me.”

“I really do want to know what’s going on with you Harriet.”

“I wouldn’t want to burden you with my problems.  You must be exhausted from all those years of propping me up.”

“Fair enough, you’re understandably upset. We don’t have to talk about it right now.  It’s just that you haven’t been yourself lately and I…”

“Is that it, or are you finally beginning to realize that I’m not the scared little girl that you thought I still was?”

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure about anything right now. What I do know, is that I’m sorry if you feel like I’ve been babying you.”

“It’s not entirely your fault.  Coming back home is like entering a time machine. I catch myself falling back into old ways of thinking and acting all the time. I’ve been so preoccupied with my problems that I forgot how much everyone else around here leans on you. What can I do to lighten your burden?”

“How about you get dressed and come have breakfast with us. We’re going to put our heads together and decide what to do about ma’s situation.”

Harriet wasn’t hungry, but Richard wouldn’t take no for an answer.  She reluctantly agreed to get dressed and join the rest of the family in the kitchen.  Thirty minutes later, Harriet strode into the kitchen and instantly regretted having allowed her brother to rope her into coming down for breakfast.  Any other time, her family’s scrutiny would make her wish the floor would open up and swallow her whole.  This morning, Harriet was past the point of caring about what anyone had to say.  She ignored Rachel’s jealous glare and brazenly met Reverend Mother’s penetrating stare.

“Don’t let me interrupt.  What were you all talking about?”

Reverend Mother handed her a plate.  Harriet filled it with small portions of scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon, from platters in front of her on the table, while Richard brought her up to speed.  Harriet’s ears perked up when he mentioned the row of immunosuppressant medications at the warehouse.  She blurted out the names and quantities of the medications stolen from Stryker’s stash house and it was Richard’s turn to be surprised.

“How did you know what I saw?”

“Let’s just say a little bird told me that those medications were stolen.  Finish what you were saying,” replied Harriet cryptically.

“There’s not much more than that to tell.”

“Oh yeah?  What was so fascinating that you cut our conversation short last night?”

“Huh?  Oh that, Josh was able to do a quick title search and found out that Nicole actually owns that warehouse.”

Harriet looked at her brother so keenly that everyone leaned forward expectantly.

“What is it,” Richard asked.

“Nothing, I’m just listening,” Harriet said guardedly.

“Harriet you obviously know something.  If we’re going to get to the bottom of this, we’ve all got to do our part.  Any bit of information could help.”

Before she could respond, Rachel sniped, “What could Harriet possibly have to contribute?  While we’ve all been busting our asses to save momma, she has been off somewhere moping.  She’s just trying to make it seem like she knows something with that stupid little birdie nonsense.  I don’t know why you wanted to include her Richard.  We’ve been doing just fine without her.”

Thomas shot Harriet a worried look, ready to step in and protect her from Rachel.  Rather than her usual wounded expression, Harriet glared at her sister.  He held his tongue and waited to see what she would say.  Harriet laughed.

“You stay sober for one night and all of a sudden, you think you’re onto something.  Don’t speak on what you don’t know Rachel.  You have no idea what I’ve been up to while you’ve been tagging along with Richard.”

“Listen to miss thing over here.  Well, enlighten us Harriet.  What have you been up to?”

“That’s none of your business…”

“Like I said, she doesn’t know anything,” crowed Rachel.

“I happen to know that those medications that Richard saw in Nicole’s warehouse were stolen from a stash house, by a dealer who destroyed his kidneys abusing the drugs he sells.”

“What does that have to do with our investigation?”

“If you stopped interrupting me, I could get to the point faster.  The man was not going through legal channels for the kidney transplant.  He is a member of the Santa Muerte cult and so is Nicole.”

“Are you saying that some cult is trafficking in illegal internal organs,” asked Joshua incredulously.

“I am simply repeating what I was told.”

“Some stranger volunteered that information?  How do you know he wasn’t just screwing with you?  I don’t believe it.”

“I don’t either,” snapped Rachel.

Richard remained silent, but his expression made it clear that he was having trouble believing Harriet.  The previous night had been traumatic for her.  She was still having flashbacks of what those thugs had done to the dealer, in order to extract the information she had just shared.  It would take a long time for her to come to terms with the guilt she felt for the part she had played in that incident.  The last thing she needed was her own family accusing her of being a liar.  Harriet stood angrily, prepared to storm out of the kitchen and pack her bags.  Reverend Mother spoke up.

“I believe her.”











The Doorkeepers-Chapter Thirty-Six

Dorian moved Ethan onto his back, forcing himself not to look at the blood trailing from his injured head.  His friend didn’t look good.  Ethan was ghostly pale and didn’t appear to be breathing.  Dorian nervously checked Ethan’s neck for a pulse.  He had to hold his breath and remain motionless for several moments, in order to feel the thready pulse.   Dorian kept his hand in place, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to find the faint heartbeat again. If Ethan died, then Dorian would be all alone with Enmerkar.

He whispered urgently to his friend, begging him not to leave him.  A moment later, Ethan’s pulse seemed to grow stronger.  Dorian let out a sigh of relief.  Maybe his friend was responding to the sound of his voice.  He kept talking and the vibrations in Ethan’s neck became more pronounced.  Dorian suddenly realized that Ethan’s entire body was vibrating.   Intensifying heat emanating from him made Dorian move back.  What was happening?  Dorian called out fearfully.

“Enmerkar, something’s happening to Ethan.”

“I just told you, he is sleeping,” came his bored response.

“No, something else is going on.  His body is vibrating and getting hot.”

Enmerkar was by Dorian’s side in a flash.  In the next moment, Ethan’s eyelids fluttered and snapped open.  Enmerkar jumped back and Dorian tumbled backwards from his knees to his bottom, pushing away with his legs at the sight of Ethan’s glowing eyes.  The ember-like glow also pulsed beneath his skin.  He levitated his feet and flew in their direction.  Dorian reflexively shielded his own face with an arm and drew his knees protectively up to his chest.

When no attack came, Dorian cautiously lowered his arm.  Ethan had a grip on Nadya’s head.  For a moment, he appeared to be crushing it.  Dorian spent a terrified moment, wondering how he could intervene and manage to survive.  Then Ethan pulled what appeared to be a strand of light from the top of Nadya’s head.  The strip broadened until Dorian recognized the struggling form of a man.    Ethan strode to the bathroom and flung the figure into the mirror.

Dorian glanced over at Nadya and leapt to his feet, catching her as she began to faint.  Their abrupt contact seemed to rouse her.  Nadya looked up into Dorian’s face, her eyes momentarily clouded by confusion.  She slowly regained her senses.

“What just happened Dorian?”

“I thought you could see everything that Enmerkar saw.”

“That was before he started blocking me out.  I haven’t been able to see or hear anything for several days.”

“Oh well, I’m not sure what exactly happened just now.  I think Ethan just exorcised Enmerkar from your body.”

Nadya fell silent.  Dorian watched as her gaze turned inward.  She appeared to be taking a personal inventory.  Her eyes widened with surprise.

“Hey, you’re right.  I can’t sense him at all.  But how could Ethan…”

“Everything happened so fast, the only thing I can say for sure is that he somehow opened a portal in one of the rooms.  Enmerkar had to close the portal and blocked him inside of a pentagram with runes to keep anything from coming through Ethan.  He got so angry that he nearly killed Ethan.  The man was in a coma.  I kid you not, he barely had a pulse.  Then all of a sudden, there were these vibrations and Ethan was as hot as an oven and he just sort of yanked Enmerkar out of your body.  Do you think something is possessing Ethan?”

“Where did Enmerkar  cast the spell on Ethan?”

“In the bathroom over there.”

“Is there a mirror in that bathroom?”

“Yeah, it takes up most of one wall.”

“At any point, did you see something come through the mirror?”

“To tell you the truth, most of my attention was focused on them.  I guess I still would have noticed if some spirit or creature came through the mirror though.”

“Then, it doesn’t sound like anything took possession of Ethan.  More than likely, he has become some sort of conduit.”

“What does that mean?”

“He’s connected to some sort of entity who is using him as a channel into this plane of existence.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Nadya.”

“I think there was more than one portal.  The second one was in the mirror.  Ethan is connected to some being in another realm who is acting upon this world through him.”

“Oh…that doesn’t sound good.”

“It depends on who is in control.  Where is Ethan now?”

“He’s still in the bathroom.  I can hear him talking.”

“Who is he talking to?  I thought you said he banished Enmerkar.”

“That’s a good question.  Hold on, I’ll go see.”

Dorian released his hold on Nadya and waited until he was sure that she was steady enough to stand without his support.  He made his way over to the bathroom and cautiously peered around the door jamb.  Ethan was gazing into the mirror and having what appeared to be a one-sided conversation with his reflection.   Dorian was relieved to see that the red glow was gone from his eyes.  Ethan’s skin color had returned to its previous pallor.  Dorian was studying his friend so intently, that he forgot to remain concealed.

Ethan stopped talking and leaned in, as though listening to someone.  He suddenly spied Dorian and turned to face him.

“Who were you talking to Ethan?”

“Huh?  Oh, you just caught me talking to myself.”

The explanation was plausible, but for some reason Dorian got the impression that Ethan was lying.   He had just watched him pausing and gazing intently into the mirror, as though listening to someone’s responses.  He looked guilty when he said he was talking to himself.  Would Ethan lie to him?  Why was he being secretive?  First, he snuck off and opened a portal without telling Dorian.  Now, it seemed as though he was up to something again, which he was also keeping from him.  In light of the fact that Dorian always seemed to suffer the repercussions of his friends actions, Ethan’s secretiveness was troubling.

“Why do I get the feeling that you’re not being honest with me Ethan?”

“Are you calling me a liar,” Ethan snapped.

“Calm down dude, I’m just saying that it seems like there’s something you’re not telling me.  After all we’ve been through together, it bothers me that you feel like you shouldn’t share things with me.  We have to work together, if we’re going’ to put an end to this whole fiasco.”

“You didn’t have my back when Enmerkar was here.  Why the hell should I trust you now?”

“What are you talking about?  I was always trying to warn you, when you were about to do something to incur his wrath.”

“You sucked up to him so bloody hard, I was beginning to think you had a thing for him.  Seemed like you would have snitched on me in a heartbeat, to stay in his good graces.”

“You wouldn’t even have that damn grimoire, if it weren’t for me.”

“Yeah, and I stopped you from turning into a zombie, so I figure we’re even.”

“Enmerkar did that, not you.”

“Who brought him to you Dorian?  I came back for you, even though I didn’t have to, because I have always had your back.”

“Just because I was…obedient to Enmerkar, didn’t mean that I don’t have yours.”

“That remains to be seen.”




Crime Diary-Chapter Thirty-Six

Hope surged up inside of me so strongly that I felt downright giddy.  Plum suddenly didn’t seem so big and bad.  For once in my life, having an overactive imagination was actually going to be an advantage.  I didn’t realize how tense I had become, until a wave of relief made me weak in the knees.  I moved to sit on my couch and stumbled, abruptly finding myself in the middle of a crowded nightclub.  Shock left me momentarily immobilized.

Having the rug literally yanked out from under me was disconcerting.  I was supposed to be in control of my dream.  The need to sit down before my quaking legs gave out propelled me towards the stools at the bar.  I sat down, staring quizzically for a few moments at the strangers milling around me, before swiveling the stool around and facing the bar.  Plum’s reflection smirked at me from a long mirror behind the bar.  Her lips moved and I heard her voice inside my head.

“Did you actually think that you were in control?”

All of my hard-won self-assurance began draining away. If Plum could move me around against my will, then she would always have the upper hand.  A moment ago, everything appeared to line up. Now nothing made sense.  In the midst of my musing, Plum approached the bar and took a seat beside me. I tensed up, steeling myself for an attack.  She chattered away, seemingly unaware of my horror.

When she didn’t attack, I began to calm down. My heart stopped pounding in my ears and I realized that Plum was saying the same things she said the night we were in the same club and I stole her cell phone. She was even wearing the same outfit.  Looking around, I realized that my mind was replaying that night.  The real Plum was still glaring at me from inside the mirror behind the bar.

Her cellphone was in the same spot on the counter. I still felt guilty about taking it, which made me assume that this part of the dream was nothing more than my mind grappling with that feeling. I sat there and allowed events to unfold, uncertain of whether to let things play out or do something differently. It gradually dawned on me that some things in the dream were different from reality.

Plum’s favorite color was purple. Almost everything she owned was purple, including her cell phone. It was red in the dream and so were her clothes. That was perplexing.  I was mulling over possible explanations, when my grandmother suddenly came to mind. She was superstitious, always talking about symbols in dreams serving as signs. That memory sparked the idea that the red in my dream was symbolic in some way.

The red was so bright that it glowed in the dark club. Could it be my mind’s way of calling attention to something? One glance at Plum in the mirror confirmed that I was onto something. Fear was etched into her features. I blocked out the sound of her voice in my head. She had almost fooled me once. I wasn’t going to give her the opportunity to confuse me again.

The cellphone on the counter began ringing.  It hadn’t done that last time. I wondered if it could be an important message.  Anything was possible in a dream.   A strong urge to pick it up came over me. The dream version of Plum was making her way to the dance floor. I was reaching for the phone, when the memory of Plum’s hypnotic chant over the phone, the night I answered her phone in that motel room, made me shrink back.  She was obviously trying to distract me.

I turned my attention to the dream version of Plum. Everything was as I recalled it. She was dancing seductively with a partner while brazenly flirting.  Catching looks from men dancing with women around her, enticing them away from their partners one by one. Nothing new there.  She was always going after other people’s boyfriends and husbands.  Plum loved the competition and challenge. Halfway through the song, she had four men dancing around her.

Suddenly bored, I was on the verge of turning away, when Plum’s smug expression faltered. The night that it actually happened, I thought that she was just a little uncomfortable suddenly being surrounded by so many men all at once. In the dream, I wasn’t distracted with seeking an opportunity to nab her phone.  That freedom enabled me to see things in a different light. Plum loved being the center of attention. Those men weren’t grabbing or groping her. As a matter of fact, they were all staying an equal distance away from her.

I stood up slowly, leaning forward for a closer look. Their feet weren’t moving. At a distance, the people dancing energetically around them had created the illusion that the men were dancing because their arms were moving. Focusing on them, it quickly became apparent that they were moving their arms in the same sequence. Plum was beginning to look alarmed.

An overly enthusiastic dancer suddenly collided with one of the men, breaking their circle.  Plum surged away from them through the crowd and came towards me at the bar. She was unsteady on her feet and she appeared to be confused.  Looking back on my memory of it, I had previously thought that she was drunk. Reliving that moment in the dream made me realize that something else was going on.

Plum’s cell phone began ringing again, interrupting my train of thought. I tried to ignore it, certain that I was about to come to a very important realization.  It was slowly coming to me.  The ringing was so loud and insistent that it derailed my train of thought.  In another moment, I was jolted awake and realized that the ringing was actually an alarm clock.  Still bleary eyed and groggy from my drugged sleep, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the alarm.  Out of frustration, I covered my head with the pillow.  Closing my eyes did nothing to help me fall back asleep or focus.  The details of the dream were already beginning to fade.

Delilah bustled into the bedroom and shut off the alarm. As she turned to leave, I grabbed her arm.  As soon as I began recounting the dream, a searing pain in my head made me cry out. Plum was trying to stop me. Delilah sat on the bed and waited patiently, as I slowly and described the dream to her, afraid that I would forget if I didn’t get it all out. Delilah’s face began to light up.  She made me repeat everything, her growing excitement fueling mine.

“You know what that part of the dream in the nightclub means don’t you?”

“Enlighten me.”

“Without realizing it, you witnessed the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram being performed on Plum by those four men standing around her. Sounds like they almost succeeded in exorcising her or at least temporarily weakening her possession of the body she occupied. That’s why she was unsteady and confused. No wonder Plum didn’t notice that you had taken her cell phone.”

“What was with all the gesturing those men were doing?”

“It was part of the ritual. They were tracing pentagrams into the air, boxing her in and riveting her to one spot. Good going girl, you’ve given me an idea of how to defend us against Plum when we get to the coven!  Get dressed. We need to hit the road soon.”

Valley of Shadows- Chapter Thirty-Five

Joshua was in the kitchen making himself a grilled cheese sandwich when Richard and Rachel walked in. They took a seat at the table and accepted sandwiches from him. Joshua poured drinks and joined them at the table. The trio ate in preoccupied silence for a few moments.  Richard spoke first.

“Where’s ma?”

“I put her to bed. She’s not doing so well.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you know that she has wound that’s not healing?”

“No, of course not. Where is it?”

“It’s across her stomach. I’m going with her to the next doctor’s visit. Don’t worry I’ll find out what’s going on. As nasty as that wound looked though, that’s not what’s bothering me. Her mental state seems a little…fragile.”

Rachel leaned forward, “what do you mean?”

“Mom has been hearing voices.”

Rachel looked as though she thought Joshua was joking. Seeing that he was serious, she slowly asked, “She told you that?”

“Yes, mom and Thomas both seem to think that Nicole has it out for them and is using some sort of supernatural powers to torment them.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?”

“I just found out.  You know, I’ve never believed in that mumbo jumbo.  If only one of them was saying it, I wouldn’t take it seriously. How is it possible that without discussing it with each other, mom and Thomas are basically saying the same thing? They’re not prone to overreacting.  In fact, they’re two of the strongest people I know.”

“You’re starting to scare me Joshua! Now, I’m wondering what Nicole did with that blood she took from me,” blurted Rachel.

“I don’t know about Nicole being into voodoo, but something weird is going on with her. What did you two find out when you followed her the other night?”

Rachel spoke before Richard could answer, “We saw her go into a warehouse wearing scrubs and carrying what looked like a medical bag. It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes later that a van pulled up, two men carried a body out of the building and loaded it into the back.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions Rachel.  We don’t know whether or not it was a body,” Richard cautioned.

“Yeah right, why else would those men chase you and shoot Carl?”

Joshua interrupted, before the two could argue, “Wait a minute, what is she talking about Richard? Some men chased you? What does that have to do with Carl getting shot?”

“It’s a long story. Let’s not get off topic here. When I went back to that warehouse alone, I got there just as everything was getting loaded up and had a quick look around inside the warehouse.”

“Looking around in there was my idea.  You should have taken me with you,” pouted Rachel.

Richard ignored her and continued, “The room I went into was set up like some sort of operating room. There was a big metal table, big glass-fronted cabinets full of medication, and there was a big smear of blood on the floor.”

“Then they were loading a dead body into that van. I knew it,” crowed Rachel.

Richard shot her an irritated glance and Joshua distracted him from replying by asking, “do you remember anything else?”

“I used my phone to snap a picture of some of the labels on the medications in the cabinet. There were some pain meds but most were immunosuppressant meds used to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs.”

Joshua stroked the stubble on his chin thoughtfully, “I wonder what it all means.”
Richard shrugged, “I don’t know. Nicole seems to be the common denominator here. We need to figure out what she’s up to. I suspect that the answer is criminal though and not supernatural.”

Joshua was starting to feel frustrated and helpless again. His life had been turned upside down and inside out. For the first time in his life, he was confronted with the prospect of losing his mother and his best friend. He would be all alone, if they both died.  His brother and sisters would be supportive, but they’d eventually have to return to their lives. Joshua was haunted by visions of the remainder of his life being an endless succession of lonely days and nights in an empty house. He tried to keep the alarm out of his voice.

“What are we going to do Richard? I couldn’t handle…I don’t want to lose mom and Thomas.”

“And you won’t Josh. For one thing, it doesn’t seem like this wound ma has is life threatening. You already said that you were going to talk to her doctor. If you don’t feel up to it, I’ll do it.”

“Um Hello, am I suddenly invisible? I’m not helpless. I can talk to mama’s doctor,” Rachel protested.

Joshua and Richard exchanged dubious looks, which annoyed their sister.  Rachel opened her mouth to give them a piece of her mind. Richard quickly held up a restraining hand, “Yes, well we’ll see. My point is that we can easily get to the bottom of what’s going on with ma’s health. As for the question of what to do about Nicole, we’ll have to a little digging. Josh, I was thinking that you could use your investigative journalist skills and find out who owns that warehouse and whether or not they’re renting it out to someone. That ought to help us figure out who was behind all of that shady business over there the other night.”

“Ok, I can do that. Maybe you could ask your old partner on the force to run the plates on that van.”

Richard and Rachel exchanged cautious looks. Joshua watched them curiously.

“I don’t think that would be such a good idea. I’ve more or less been…discouraged from nosing around. I get the feeling that Darryl is somehow involved in whatever is going on. At the very least, he hasn’t told me everything he knows.”

“What makes you say that,” asked Joshua.

Richard filled his brother in on the state of things with his old partner. Joshua sat back in stunned silence. What was going on? No one was who they seemed to be. How could the three of them make any headway, if no one outside of their small circle could be trusted? Joshua was starting to feel hopeless again.

He needed to busy himself with something, before his depressed mood robbed him of the will to do anything. Richard needed him to do a little research. There was no time like the present. Joshua retrieved his laptop, set it up at the kitchen table, and turned it on. Rachel and Richard moved to sit on either side of him, waiting for it to boot up.
They heard the front door open and close. Harriet was home. They waited, but she didn’t enter the kitchen. Joshua thought he should to check on her. She was halfway up the stairs when he stopped her.

“Hey Harriet, wait up. Why don’t you join us in the kitchen? Joshua will fix you a grilled cheese sandwich and we can finish our conversation. Just because I’ve been hanging out with Rachel doesn’t mean I forgot about you.”

“Oh hey, no problem. The squeaky wheel gets the oil right? Apparently, Rachel needs you more than I do.”

“That’s not fair Harriet. Rachel’s marriage is falling apart and she might lose custody of her daughter. Her friend Carl is in the hospital fighting for his life. Plus, she’s struggling to stay sober. Don’t you think she deserves a little support?”

“You know what Richard? You’re absolutely right. It’s not like Rachel brought any of that on herself by treating her family like dirt and blowing all of their money on drugs. Stop looking at me like that Richard. Don’t act like she’s an innocent victim. Once that wedding ring of hers granted access to hubby’s money, Rachel wouldn’t give him the time of day. She only had a child to shut him up, because she knew how badly he wanted to start a family. She always acted like her daughter was a burden.”

Richard took a step back, stunned by Harriet’s venomous words. This wasn’t like her at all. Where had his kind-hearted, mild-mannered sister gone? Richard didn’t recognize the person standing in front of him. Where had all this anger come from? She didn’t even look like herself. He took in her disheveled appearance.

“Is that blood on your shirt?”

“Oh, I get it.  You’d rather change the subject than admit that I’m right. What’s the matter?  You afraid she might hear you?  Stop staring at my shirt.  It’s not my blood.”

“You never told me what happened to your face.”

“There are a lot of things that I never told you Richard.”

“What does that mean? Hey, where are you going?”

“Up to my room, not that it’s any of your business.”

“Don’t you want to talk?”

“I wouldn’t want to bore you with my problems. It wouldn’t do any good. Apparently, I’ve always been a gloomy Gus. I guess I just enjoy feeling sorry for myself.”

Richard gave her such a blank look that Harriet realized he had completely forgotten what Rachel had said about her earlier. That was how little Harriet meant to him. How had she not seen it sooner? Harriet turned to continue up the steps and Richard grabbed her hand.

“I know you don’t mean any of the things you just said. You’re just upset, and you have every right to be mad. I’ve been neglecting you and I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been a little distracted with trying to straighten out this mess ma has gotten herself into. Come down to the kitchen and have something to eat. We’re all worried about you.”

Harriet searched his face and saw the concern in his eyes. Her resolve began to falter. It had been a long night. Witnessing the brutal way that Stryker’s people had ripped into that man had her a little freaked out. Maybe talking to Richard would help take her mind off of it. Harriet had started to accept his invitation when Rachel called out from the kitchen.

“Richard, get your ass in here! You have got to see this.”

Her brother unceremoniously dropped her hand and rushed off, leaving her alone on the steps. A moment later, she could hear the muffled sound of their excited voices. Harriet turned and slowly made her way up to her room.