Dax had an unexpected theory. “The Chevalier sisters were experts at duping clients who never guessed they were dealing with two women instead of one. The pair dressed alike so they could appear to be one and the same woman. This gave them the apparent ability to show up in two separate places at the same time. It’s called astral travel or soul projection.”
I sat my coffee cup down on the table. “I’ve heard of that! Some people said the convicted murderer Charles Manson could do it.”
“Word on the streets is that Madame Emerald Chevalier is very good at it,” said Dax.
My mind was already buzzing with possibilities. “The twins could appear in two places at the same time. They were very good at scams.”
With a knowing look in his eyes, Dax offered yet another unexpected suggestion. “I believe they were trying to compete with the legendary queen of the supernatural, Marie Laveau.”
I recalled the chanted words at the voodoo fire. Loa Marie. “What do you know about Marie? Did she really ever do anything supernatural?”
“She was born a slave in 1794 on a plantation in Haiti, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy white planter and an African slave woman by the name of Darcantel Maguerite. By the time she turned up in New Orleans, she was a free woman.”
I could picture the young Marie at work on the plantation, a woman determined to make her own future far from slavery. What might she have done to achieve it? Sell her soul to the devil?
“What about her supernatural powers? What did she do?”
“The story goes that a wealthy merchant had a son who faced certain conviction for a crime. He begged Marie for help, and she agreed. Incredibly and against all odds, her gris gris powers worked. All evidence pointed to the young man’s guilt, but the judge set him free. His grateful father paid Marie a nice bundle of money and deeded a house on St. Ann Street to her.”
For moment, I thought about the trial’s outcome credited to Marie’s voodoo powers. “Nobody questioned that someone possibly bribed the judge? Maybe even Marie herself?”
Still hungry, I grabbed an untouched biscuit from Dax’s plate with a question in my eyes. He nodded, “Go ahead and eat it. It’s all yours.”
“What else did the woman do?” I was unimpressed. “She sounds like a clever woman, but I see nothing really supernatural about her, from what you’ve told me so far.” The biscuit tasted better than a beignet.
“Oh, there’s more.” Dax raised an eyebrow. “Marie became the voodoo priestess and held rituals on Congo Square, which at that time was outside New Orleans. She also held gatherings on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain where she supposedly worked a notable miracle by calming the winds of a hurricane.”
“Good timing,” I muttered. “That’s all. But I can see how that might have impressed the locals.”
“Not only the locals. Marie was said to be beautiful of form. Men from all across the country traveled to New Orleans, just to see her dance on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain. Legend has it that the serpent-god Dumballah coiled sinuously around her bare flesh as she writhed and swayed.”
My silent question had an answer. She had sold her soul to the devil.
“Silly men,” I said. “They didn’t have to leave Bourbon Street to see a show like that.”
Dax continued. “The well-bred New Orleans ladies of high society began to call on her. They paid Marie a pretty price for love potions, which they hoped would rekindle lost love or attract a new passion.”
Anyone who visits New Orleans knows that love potions and gris gris charms are sold by numerous vendors. I always wonder if customers ever ask for their money back when the things don’t work.
Thinking out loud, I muttered, “If Madame Chevalier and her twin could attract a following like Marie Laveau, they might earn a very lucrative income.”
“Indeed,” Dax continued. “Madame Chevalier’s followers are convinced she can spy on them, in spirit form, while they’re completely unaware of her presence. They don’t dare disobey her slightest orders.”
I thought of Bad Leroy, who seldom spoke a word and seemed completely under Madame’s control, ready to do her bidding without question.
“There is one legend surrounding Marie,” Dax said. “Madame—or any voodoo practitioner—would probably be willing to risk everything to have it.”
“And what is that?”
“Marie Laveau supposedly possessed the secret of eternal youth.” There was drama in Dax’s voice.
“Eternal youth? Marie’s not still alive is she?”
Dax grinned at my joke.
“No,” he said. “She’s very much dead. Buried in the St. Louis Cemetery. But legend has it that a notorious Haitian sorcerer by the name of Cagliostro traveled to New Orleans in the 1800s. He supposedly taught her the secret of eternal youth. That secret is a legend that many natives of the Caribbean believe exists somewhere, waiting to be conjured.”
Could anyone be seriously convinced that eternal youth is even remotely possible? I reminded myself that once Ponce de Leon thought so. The natives convinced him.
“Here’s the clincher. Marie’s followers didn’t realize there were actually two Marie Laveau’s. They were mother and daughter.”
“Ah ha! Now I get it. They pretended to do the soul-projection thing.”
Dax said, “Yep. And they also fostered the myth that Marie had eternal youth. That’s how she kept her youthful appearance for years, even as she aged. The daughter simply assumed her mother’s identity. Her convinced followers believed the daughter was actually Marie, their ageless voodoo priestess.”
“They had to know that she died sometime.”
“She died in 1881, but not until she had lived virtually two lifetimes as a young and beautiful woman. They made a shrine out of Marie’s grave, even though the daughter, who bears the same name, is buried in the same cemetery.”
His theory made perfect sense. I could see the parallel—two Marie Laveaus; two Madame Chevaliers. “Madame Horse was clever. If she wanted to build a reputation like Marie Laveau, she could certainly do it by using her supposedly dead twin as a double. Still, I doubted they could pull off the eternal youth thing since they were the same age.”
“Then it was Emerald’s twin sister, Sapphire, who turned up dead in our hotel room at the Lafitte. But who killed her? And why? That would have been the end of the soul-travel scam.”
Mystified, I swallowed another bite of biscuit, waiting for his answer.
“Think about it, Kaytie. The woman you’ve been dealing with was probably willing to have her sister bumped off rather than share Magnolia’s book of spells. She truly believes in the secret arts recorded there. With Magnolia’s book, she thinks she won’t have to resort to charlatanism and chicanery any longer.”
“She believes it all right. You should have seen the madness in her eyes. That woman would commit murder if she thought her sister was a threat to her. Now all she has to do is show up with a whole new identity and nobody will ever suspect her, since there was supposedly only one Madame Chevalier alive anyway. It’s a plot for the perfect crime.”
I saw the scenario on the screen of my imagination. Sapphire, already supposed to be dead, went to my room that night to persuade me to come with her to find the buried book. Instead, someone shot her in the back of the head. But one thing puzzled me.
“Why commit the murder in my room?” If I was going to be any good to Madame Chevalier, she wouldn’t want me arrested. Or maybe she thought she would get the information she needed and then turn me over to the police as a suspect. I’d be conveniently out of her way.”
He rubbed his chin and raised his eyes in an expression of contemplation. “My guess is that the hit man messed up. He wasn’t supposed to kill her in the hotel room. He followed her there, but something surprised him, and he shot her ahead of the plan.”
I visualized Bad Leroy, with his scarred, tattooed face and Satan-filled eyes. I could see him hiding in the halls, sneaking through the doorway, stalking the woman as she entered my room.
“Something startled him.” I spoke the thought out loud. “He fired before she had time to turn around. No one heard the gunshot because of the thunder. Then he ran down the servants’ stairway and out into the alley. Emerald must have been waiting for him in a car. They followed me to Jean Claude’s place, jumped Tex, shoved him in the trunk, and then waited for me in his cab.”
Dax nodded. “With her sister out of the way, Madame Chevalier probably believes she will become the most powerful sorceress in the world, surpassing even Marie Laveau. If only she can find that buried chest.”
I realized I had to spill the rest of my incredible story. Would he think me insane?
“Dax, I have more to tell.”
Encouraged by his steady confidence, I babbled on. “She tried to hypnotize me and when that failed she tried to terrorize me in the swamp. I saw her followers bury poor Tex in a wooden coffin. And then he—you won’t believe this—he came out of it. He looked like a total zombie!”
I watched his eyes for any hint of disbelief.
Of course, Dax is an investigative reporter for the Supernatural Seeker. If anybody believes in zombies, he should. But not without some kind of evidence. Good reporters document their stories.
“Do you think I was drugged into seeing things that weren’t real?” I asked.