“Well, it’s a good idea for sure, but I guess I didn’t think about puttin’ myself back in that witch’s hands.” Tex looked me in the eye. “But I’ll do it. We gotta get free of this voodoo stuff, once and for all.”
“I go with you,” Sofronia said. “Madame knows me. She knows her power can’t harm me since I am a Christian now. The curse without a cause cannot come. She be fearing me, like she fears you.”
I turned to her. “Sofronia, I don’t know how to find her. Will you take us to Madame Chevalier?”
She nodded. “She works the crowds in Jackson Square some days. But dat’s no good for you. Her followers may be waitin’ to grab you. This meetin’ has to be on your terms. You must meet her before the next full moon, about two weeks from now. Then she be in the bayou to meditate and call on her most powerful spirit guide to help deal with you. That be the time when she is weakest and will fear your faith the most.”
I could let the police know I was still alive, call my boss, and catch a plane back to Chicago. That would give me time to catch up at the office before I headed back to Louisiana.
I would return … wouldn’t I?
We began to make plans at once, exchanging phone numbers, arranging meeting places, setting times and calendar dates.
Tex seemed apprehensive. “I don’t know if I want to drive a taxi around N’awlins for two weeks with that woman and her thugs looking for me.”
“You can drive a cab anywhere,” I said. “Go to Baton Rouge or Lake Charles. Go back to Texas for a couple of weeks. They can’t find you there.”
Sofronia raised her hand. “They find him anywhere. You too.” She turned her knowing eyes toward me. “She won’t let you go. There be nowhere to run. You be meetin’ her again. Either on her terms or yours. I will tell her you come. She wait. She has to wait. Just like you have to come back and face her. Or you never be free. She will harm all the people closest to you, the ones you love most, if you try to escape her.”
“Can she really do that?” I was chilled by the possibility.
“She is not without power. She can cast spells that will hurt even those who don’t believe in her power. Make them sick with fevers. Cause fires to burn their houses down. I’ve seen it happen. If her spells don’t work, she sends her slaves to do the harm.”
I couldn’t take that kind of risk. Sofronia was right. I had no choice. I would have to return to Rainy Bay Bayou. I didn’t want to live in fear. More importantly, I didn’t want any of my friends to suffer harm from the witch woman.
“How do I let her know that I’m coming?”
“I send her the word,” Sofronia said. “She will know it is true.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, and Tex echoed it.
Thank you, Lord, for Beth and Sofronia. Both were unexpected sources of help.
Rain continued to pelt our shelter, but now it pounded a rhythm of hope. At last we had a plan. A dangerous plan, perhaps, but a plan nevertheless.
Would each of us be willing to carry it out? I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed these people—Beth, Tex, and Sofronia.
I needed the power of faith like never before.
“Kaytie Flame O’Hara, don’t you ever put us through this kind of anxiety again!”
That was my boss’s welcome when I walked into our small Chicago office on Friday morning.
Ed gave me an uncharacteristic hug and sat me down with a cup of coffee. Time to “debrief”.
I’d never heard a happier voice than Ed’s when I called him from the New Orleans Police Department. Officers had returned my purse with cash and return flight ticket still inside. Now that I was back in Chicago, I found his welcome to be warmly affectionate, like I was a long lost daughter returned to him at last.
He took a chair next to mine and listened intently as I shared my story. He nodded from time to time but remained speechless until the end.
“You’ve got a scoop here, young lady!” He jumped up, almost knocking his chair over. “Zombies. A voodoo priestess. The homicide. What a story!”
I grinned, pleased that he was pleased.
“You’re not going back?” There was a question in his voice, but he already knew the answer.
“Ed, I have to go back. Tex and Beth, the Fish and Game agent, will go with me to visit Madame Chevalier. And Sofronia, too. I’ll be safe. The police have heard the entire story. They’re looking into it. They’re also getting court permission to open the burial crypt and find out if the body of Sapphire Chevalier really is inside that coffin. If not, Madame has lots of ‘splainin’ to do. Detective Broussard is already looking for Bad Leroy. If he can find Leroy with the murder weapon, he won’t have any trouble proving who shot the woman in the Pirate Suite.”
“Then why not let them handle it? You don’t have to go back. Madame and her thugs may get locked up for a long time. Too long a time to care whether they ever get their hands on that old treasure chest.”
That was exactly what I was hoping for, but I knew there were no guarantees., “They may also be wily enough to escape the law. What have the police actually got on Madame anyway? She may not be directly responsible for the murder, so they may only be able to get her on the kidnapping charge. Even if she’s convicted, she could get out in a few years, and then what? She’s determined as a hound dog after a bone. I know she’ll come after me again. She knows who I am and where I’m from. There’s no way she wouldn’t find me. The woman is hell-bent on finding that book.”
I didn’t tell him what Sofronia had said about Madame harming my loved ones.
Ed sighed. “I don’t like it. We’ll talk more about this later.” Then he turned to pick up a notepad lying on the desk. “By the way, in addition to your usual callers, you’ve been getting several messages from Dax Larue. He was as anxious to know where you were as I’ve been. I had to promise we’d let him know you were okay as soon I heard from you.” He handed me the slip of paper. “Please call him at this number.” He handed me the slip of paper.
Ed was like a father to me. I was touched by his concern and warm welcome.
Larue, on the other hand, could wait.