Madame chose the bench seat at the table. Dax and I dropped gratefully onto the rough floor. Leroy leaned against a wall.
For a moment, all I could do was stare at the exotic woman before me. Her dark beauty was both sensuous and sinister. Her eyes, blacker than the deepest cave, glittered with forbidden knowledge. Neatly braided ropes of dark hair fell in a thick curtain to her narrow waist. She wore a canary-yellow gown of rough fabric, draped over one shoulder and tied at the waist with a rope of orange beads.
Yellow and orange beads were woven into her braids. Gold bands circled her upper arms, and multiple bracelets jangled around her left wrist. Bright orange fabric was tied around her right hand. She might be a queen of black arts, but the woman obviously liked bright colors.
I could see little evidence of African ancestry. Her finely sculpted exotic features might have been Egyptian, or even West Indian. She didn’t bother to look at me Dax or me. Instead, she locked eyes with Madame.
“You not be female.” The declaration was sudden.
“That is correct.” Madame appeared pleased. “I am no female. You are as skillful as they say.”
Madame, not a female?
Well, here was a completely unexpected turn. Questions swirled in my mind. How long had he passed himself off as a woman? Did his followers suspect his true identity?
I stole a quick glance at Leroy but saw no hint of surprise on his stony face. He already knew his boss was a man.
That explained the shadow on the lower half of Chevalier’s face. A beard! He hadn’t been able to shave since we’d left New Orleans.
“Comment vous appellez-vous?” Darcantel resorted to French. I speak only a little French, so I understood that she had asked our captor’s name.
The man, previously known to me as Madame Chevalier, said, “Je m’appelle Onyx Chevalier. I am the only living descendant of Magnolia from the O’Hara plantation in New Orleans.”
So … Onyx must be the brother of the deceased Chevalier twins. That’s right! There had been three children mentioned in Maggie’s will. One had supposedly died, and we had assumed there were only two remaining sisters.
“Darcantel spoke with disdain. “I don’t know dis Magnolia.”
“Ah, but you know of Marie Laveau.” Onyx Chevalier spoke the name in a velvet tone.
“Marie Laveau!” Darcantel’s voice whispered with a kind of awe. She peered more intently into his eyes. He had definitely struck a chord.
“Magnolia was Marie’s apprentice.” Chevalier’s voice was calm. “Magnolia came to Haiti on the slave ship. Then later she be sold to the owner of a sugar plantation in New Orleans. She went to Marie Laveau’s gatherings in Congo Square and became her secret apprentice. She learned from Marie—powerful spells—so she could be set free.”
Darcantel listened passively. Her eyes glittered, but her expression remained unchanged.
Onyx tilted his chin to the ceiling. “I am Magnolia’s only living descendant.”
The Bizango woman’s eyes blazed with excitement. “What is that to me?” Her words were cool and she looked down her patrician nose as though at a servant.
Chevalier paused, then said, “Marie Laveau is my loa.”
Darcantel appeared unimpressed; however, something in her posture shifted. For a moment, she studied the man, Onyx, in silence before assuming a posture of fierce defiance.
“The Ioa be no slave in Haiti.” She spat out the words. “We be free!”
Slowly, her expression changed to one of intense curiosity. “Your loa is Marie. She is your spirit guide? You channel her messages?”
Chevalier nodded, a gleam of triumph in his eyes. “Oui. I channel her messages. I know her arts. Her secrets.” He knew French. Clearly this heretofore unknown Chevalier sibling was educated.
His declarations were uttered with a kind of jubilance, a secretive glee filled with seductive promise. It was plain to see he had something of value to the sorceress of Terrible Mountain.
The dark beauty glanced at the list in her hand. Her eyes narrowed, then widened.
“You have poison in your blood.”
Evidently, she recognized the ingredients on the list as the antidote.
Chevalier nodded, swiping a hand across his perspiring brow.
“What will you give me?” Darcantel asked, her face unreadable, both beautiful and terrible.
Ah yes, the fee. Like most physicians, the witch wanted payment up front. I doubt she’d honor a medical insurance card.
Chevalier motioned to Leroy, who produced a drawstring purse. Darcantel reached for it and emptied the contents onto the plank table. Gold coins dropped into a heap.
I wasn’t surprised. I half imagined the coins were pirate’s gold from Leroy’s evil treasures.
Darcantel did not bother counting them. “Unnh.” It was a snort of disgust. “I have no need of that. You have more?”
Did she want more coins?
Once again, she peered intently at Chevalier, and then stepped forward with an in-your-face manner. “You have more.”
That’s when I realized she wanted something other than money.
Chevalier looked at her, and I could see the resignation on his face. “I have Magnolia’s book. The secret spells from the most powerful mundunugu of Africa be written there.”
“Dis I have already.” There was impatience in Darcantel’s voice. “What else?”
She drove a hard bargain.
Onyx paused, and a knowing look glittered in his eyes. “I have the secret of eternal youth.” The promise was delivered in a seductive whisper.
So that was it. For the Chevalier siblings, it had not merely been about riches or more powerful black arts. They had believed they could find immortality in the ancient mundunugu’s book. Emerald Chevalier had been willing to kill her sister for it. Now Onyx must share this ancient knowledge with the Bizango sorceress in order to get the antidote or die himself.
What would sharing the secret mean to him and to Darcantel? Would the distance between them be great enough to diffuse their competition for power?
It hadn’t been enough for Cagliostro. He’d traveled from Haiti to New Orleans with the intent to kill Laveau, so the story goes, rather than compete with a priestess more powerful than himself. Instead, he’d become her lover and shared his dark sorcery with her. Her seductive charm had been greater than witchcraft.
Now, once again, a powerful priest and a priestess of this ancient dark religion faced each other. Darcantel was at least as beautiful as Marie had been, but I doubt she would find Onyx Chevalier’s still-obese form the least bit attractive. This time, history would not repeat itself.
I watched in fascination as desire lit Darcantel’s eyes. “I will see dis book.”