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Authors: A. J. Davidson

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An Evil Shadow

BOOK: An Evil Shadow
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AJ Davidson


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New Orleans 2003


Donny Jackson turned the key in the lock, pushed open
the door and entered the apartment, then used his foot to hook the door shut
behind him. His hands were full. In one he carried a medium-sized Samsonite
case and a plastic bag containing a box of duty-free Cuban cigars, in the other
his keys and a bunch of mail that had accumulated during his latest trip to

The temperature inside was just a few degrees from
being chilly and he could hear the ceiling fan rotating slowly. For once the
building's super had remembered to turn the power back on for his return. He
used an elbow to flick on the lights.

It felt good to be home. If you could call an
apartment he saw for less than two months out of every twelve home. There had
been times when he felt it was nothing more than a five-room closet; a place to
store his clothes and his MP3 player. Still, it wouldn’t be for much longer. If
all went to plan then he had only three more weeks before he had his hands on
more money than he had dreamed possible in his wildest fantasy. He would never
have to work another day in his life. No more long-haul flights in cramped,
tourist class seats. No more cheap, flea-ridden hotels in fourth-world
countries. No more having to take orders from a bunch of pricks.

Setting down the case and the cigars, he quickly
sorted through his mail. Predictably, all were circulars addressed to the
occupier of apartment 36. Donny was meticulous about keeping his name off
mailing lists, and the apartment was leased under a corporate name, by the firm
that employed him. But it took more than that to defeat the marketing men.

He had expected to receive a card from his mother. It
had been his birthday the previous day. Celebrated by the devouring of a Big
Mac and a strawberry shake in a Hanoi McDonalds. His forty-second birthday and
she hadn’t missed one yet. He went through the envelopes again in case he had
overlooked it. Nope, nothing there. A little disillusioned, he threw the mail
on the chrome and smoked-glass coffee table. He would trash them later.

Shaking off his jacket, he draped it over the back of
a chair and slipped his feet out of his penny loafers. He sniffed at an armpit
and screwed up his face. Boy, could he use a shower. He moved across the room
to his MP3 player and selected a Garth Brooks album, turning up the volume. The
music would help him unwind while he showered. Installing a remote speaker on
the bathroom wall was his only contribution to the apartment’s fixtures and

Jackson walked into the bedroom and through to the
bathroom. He swung open the glass door of the stall and turned on the water. It
would take a few moments to reach the temperature he liked. Studying his face
in the mirror, he considered shaving, but since he would need another shave in
the morning, what was the point? He screwed the top off a bottle of mouthwash,
took a hefty swig, and started to gargle away the taste of airline food.

As he lowered his head to spit in the sink, he caught
a face reflected in the mirror. A mountain of a man with skin as shiny and
black as an eggplant, his long hair hanging down in braids tied off with red
and blue ribbon. Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe adorned the front of his short-sleeved
shirt. The man grinned wickedly, displaying a solid gold bicuspid.

Jackson knew the dental work only too well. Gilett and
he had worked together on countless occasions and Jackson had considered him an
ally. The man’s unannounced manifestation in his bathroom suggested that he had
been wrong.

The stiletto blade in his hand confirmed it.

Jackson twisted around and spat a stream of mouthwash
straight into the man’s eyes. Momentarily blinded, Gilett’s stabbing thrust
veered off course slightly and deflected against a collarbone instead of
severing Jackson’s spine as intended. Locking his hands together, Jackson
clubbed his attacker, catching him off balance. He followed up by grabbing a
handful of hair and slamming the man’s head against the Spanish tiles on the
bathroom wall.

He seized hold of Gilett’s right wrist. It felt as
hard and rigid as a baseball bat. There was no way he could match Gilett for
strength. He made a claw of his other hand and raked his eyes. Gilett caught
his arm and pushed it away before he had inflicted any real damage.

They wrestled for dominance, grunting with effort,
their feet slipping on the marble floor. A cloud of steam enveloped them as
Garth Brooks started into Friends in Low Places.

Gilett’s cannonball of a head was inches from
Jackson’s. Close enough for him to catch the heavy sour stench of rum on his
breath. Jackson tried to sink his teeth into a cheek. Gilett pulled away and
butted him.

His nose bone cracked and blinded him with pain. Blood
poured into his mouth and resistance started to drain from him. With only
seconds to live, all he could think about was how he should have anticipated
something like this. Jackson, how dumb can you be?

Drawing on the last of his reserves, he brought his
knee up into the black man’s groin and was rewarded with a grunt and a slight
loosening of the grip on his arm.

It was enough. He grabbed another handful of hair,
jerking Gilett’s head backward to expose his throat.

Jackson rose on his toes and sank his teeth into the
vulnerable larynx. He felt the crack as a bridge of bone and cartilage gave

The two men twisted around and stumbled. Gilett’s head
cracked against the toilet. The stiletto went skidding across the floor.
Jackson stretched for it.

Gilett’s hand reached it first and he turned and sank
the blade into the fleshy part of Jackson’s thigh. His body went rigid and he
screamed in agony, but the pain brought renewed strength and he drove a fist
into Gilett’s damaged throat. Gilett let go the knife to protect his damaged

Jackson used the rim of the sink to haul himself off
the floor, the knife protruding from his leg like some evil, black leech. He
limped into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed.

Above the music Jackson caught the gagging sounds of
his former ally fighting for breath. A cold fury exploded deep inside him. Fuck
them and their treachery! Damned if he was going to make it easy for those

Jackson gingerly touched the hilt of the knife and a
wave of dizzy pain swept through him. He had seconds before Gilett would
recover and come at him again.

Removing the knife would give him a weapon, but he was
already in poor shape and could pass out from the effort. Even if he remained
conscious, he was far from certain that a knife would be enough of an

He could make a run for it, but how far could he get
with a knife in his leg, blood pouring from his nose and a gash in his

His living room? The door of his apartment? If he
could get that far, he could make the elevator. He might make even make it to
his car. At least then he would have a chance.

He ran.





Val Bosanquet knew right off that his brother intended
to ask a favor of him, and a big one at that.

The phone call earlier that Sunday morning had taken
Val by surprise — it had been two years since they had last spoken, twice that
since they had met face to face — but the venue and the timing of the meeting intrigued
him enough to agree to his brother's request.

He knew that Marcus's only possible reason for
suggesting Jackson Square was the fond associations the place held for them
both. Memories of other Sunday mornings long ago back when they were kids. Of
their mother attending mass in St Louis Cathedral while the three men in her
life waited outside in the square. Their father would find a shaded bench to
read the sports section, while Marcus and Val played at soldiers, their
marching feet raising clouds of dust on what had once been the parade ground of
the New Orleans Militia.

When mass was over, they would walk through Pirate’s
Alley, find a table at a banquette cafe and order chocolate and beignets. It
was a cherished memory from a childhood that had little to commend it, but one
that Marcus was not beyond invoking when it suited him.

The cathedral bells starting to peal snapped Val’s
thoughts back to the present and he quickly scanned the square. Little had
changed. Swarms of rubbernecking tourists, clutching complimentary street maps
in front of them like divining rods, were passing through on their way to the
French Quarter, pausing briefly to admire the art hung along the wrought-iron
railings. Outside the park, tired mules stood between the shafts of their
buggies, flicking their tails at the pestering flies. A white-faced mime artist
performed her routine in front of a group of twenty camera-festooned Japanese

Val had arrived early, knowing that Marcus would show
up dead on time. They were both creatures of habit.

He picked him out the moment he entered the park.
Catalogue Man. Two years spent in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar had left a deep
impression on Marcus. He brought back an affection for a dress style peculiarly

Acknowledging that he lacked any sense of taste, he
would order entire wardrobes out of the mail-order catalogues of London stores,
replicating exactly the outfits that caught his eye. Today he was wearing
cricket whites, with the sleeves of a pullover draped over his shoulders and
knotted loosely at the front of his chest. A cricket cap finished off the
ensemble. Val allowed himself a sardonic smile. His brother, Dean of the
Creative Arts faculty at the University of New Orleans, might not have
attracted much attention on campus, but in the middle of Jackson Square ...

He sat on the bench next to Val.

“It’s been much too long. How are things with you,

Val flinched. Marcus was the one person who still
insisted on using his full name.

“Pretty good.”

“I’m glad to hear it. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Marcus, tell me what I’m doing here? Has it anything
to do with Angie?’

Angie — Val still couldn’t speak her name without
experiencing hollowness deep inside — was, technically, still his wife. Four
years previously she had left him to move in with his brother. Too devout a
Catholic to contemplate divorce, yet possessing a wickedly dark sense of humor,
she reveled in the ambiguity created by her married name corresponding with
that of her new partner. Val had wondered on occasions if Angie and he would
have been together still had he been an only son.

“Leave Angie out of it,” Marcus said. “I’m here to
offer you a job.”

“I have a job.”

“I mean a real job. One with a future. Designing and
manufacturing illuminated signs for carnival floats is hardly what you’d call a
long-term prospect.”

“It suits me.” Val wondered how Marcus had come to
know of his latest entrepreneurial venture. There had been several ignominious
failures in the first couple of years, but this time he had struck gold. Val
and a few other members of the Black Cat carnival krewe had formed a company to
cash in on the mother of all parties that was millennium year. Business had
been good and the company was still turning over a good profit three years

It was evident from Marcus’s troubled expression that
he was having difficulty coming up with the right words to finish saying what
he had started. To gain a few seconds, he shifted his gaze to an Oriental man
asking a passing stranger to take a photograph of his group. By the time they
had moved on, Marcus was ready to continue.

“The campus police chief is retiring — ill health. A
stroke has left his right arm and leg paralyzed. The post will be advertised
this week, but with the new semester only two weeks away, we need to find a
replacement fast. I want you to apply. I can’t promise anything, but my
endorsement would carry a lot of weight.”

“No thanks. I gave up being a cop four years ago.”

“Don’t say that. Once a cop, always a cop. It’s in
your blood.”

“Maybe it’s slipped your mind, but I left the
department voluntarily.”

A puzzled expression clouded Marcus’s face. “I never
understood what possessed you to resign. The youngest homicide detective
lieutenant in the history of the New Orleans PD; the most decorated; a clear-up
rate that kept you on the front-pages and made you the mayor’s favorite son.
Then one day, out of the blue, you just turn your back and walk away.”

“I had my reasons.”

“Sure you did. That damned perverseness of yours right
up there at the top of the list. You’ve always taken after Dad.”

Val felt a cold hand tighten around his heart. People
say you only remember the good times, but what if there are times so bad you
can never obliterate them? Their father had been prone to sudden, irrational
bouts of violence, during which he would beat his two sons black and blue.
These moods came on without warning, and usually without any grounds.
Afterwards he would be guilt-ridden and beg their forgiveness. Marcus never
gave it, but for Val, the time it took for the hurt to dissipate grew shorter
with each attack until, eventually, he became inured to it.

Marcus was still speaking. “ ... cursed with the same
insane compulsion to mess up anything that could be good for you.”

“And you’re starting to sound like Angie,” Val said,
standing up. He hadn’t articulated the reason for his decision to anyone, not
even fully to himself. There were unexplored depths to some men’s psyche which
were best left that way.

“You may have turned your back on the one thing you
were ever any good at, but don’t try telling me you don’t miss it.”

“If so,” Val snarled, “do you seriously believe that
pushing paper across a desk and busting freshmen for smoking cannabis would

“There’s considerably more to it than that. You would
be your own boss, answerable to nobody. A rent-free apartment comes as part of
the package. The money’s good, and you would be able to transfer your PD
annuity fund into the university’s. I happen to know you haven’t vested it yet,
so another few years of contributions and you could retire on full pension.”

“You’ve obviously done your homework. Shame you wasted
your time. Give the job to the assistant chief,” Val said, turning to walk

“Don’t go. I’m not through explaining.”

“I’m through listening.”

“You promised me ten minutes,” Marcus said, raising
his voice for the first time.

Val twisted around and gave him a hard stare. “Then
cut out the bullshit and tell me the truth. Since when did you give a damn what
I do? Is this some sort of scam Angie’s lawyers have come up with so they can
shaft me some more?”

Marcus stood up and placed a hand on his brother’s

“Do you remember a young girl called Marie Duval?”

“A Haitian Creole who did a Lizzie Borden on her
mother. At the time of the killing she was six weeks shy of her tenth

“You were the primary investigating officer.”

It was Val’s turn to be baffled. What possible
interest could Marcus have in a killing that had taken place ten years before?
“There wasn’t a whole lot of investigating required. What’s it to you?”

“Duval’s applied to the university to study Caribbean
Art. We’ve accepted her. She scored over fifteen hundred on her SATs.”

Like some dumb kid brother, Val said the first thing
that came into his head. “And you want my opinion as to whether she’s likely to
kill again?”

“Not really. Professionals have already assured us
that she poses a minimal risk. A condition of her acceptance by the university
was her consenting to undergo psychiatric testing. The reports say that she is
a gifted artist, well balanced and mature for her age — an ambitious young
woman. Apparently her mother was a manbo — a voodoo priestess — who had been
planning to initiate Marie. The child was locked up for nine days without food
or water and was forcibly subjected to a series of barbaric voodoo rites and
trials. The culminating test was for Marie’s right hand to be plunged into a
pot of scalding water. If she was deserving of manbo status, her spirits would
protect her, and her hand would suffer no harm. Marie genuinely believed she
would fail the test and, in a weakened state, terrified and fearing for her
life, she attacked her mother. She was acting in self-defense. If you ask me,
the mother was the truly dangerous one.”

Val shrugged. It was much the same story as Duval’s
attorney had laid on him ten years before. Like any street-weary cop, he gave
little credence to bizarre defenses and had heard his share of weird ones. Yet
he had been reluctant to totally discount Duval’s. His investigation into the
Duval killing was the second time he had come up against the Art of Darkness.
His first was as a rookie whose beat included a notorious Iberville housing
project, plagued with petty crime the PD were powerless to do anything about.
Then one day an oungan, a voodoo priest, stepped in and the word went out that
there was to be an end to the vandalism, muggings and burglaries. The oungan
was held in awe and was reputed to practice with both hands — magic and
sorcery. Within a week it was safe to walk the streets at night. It had been
difficult for Val to remain cynical when confronted with results like that.

“The Haitians have a saying,” he said. “
Petit tig se tig.
The child of a tiger is a tiger.”

Marcus looked away, his face momentarily displaying the
derision he bore the unenlightened

which usually included anyone who disagreed with him.

Val carried on. “You still haven’t explained what all
this has to do with you offering me a job.”

Marcus turned back to face his brother. “Cards on the
table. I’ve met Duval and was impressed with her determination. She has been
turned down by half-a-dozen universities — she applied to out-of-state colleges
at first. They’re keen enough to interview her, but the moment they learn of
her background ...”

“Who can blame them? Who would fancy sharing a
dormitory room with a convicted axe-killer? I can’t see your student body being
thrilled when it learns who their latest freshman is.”

“On the contrary. We anticipate very little opposition
from that quarter; they would be more likely to protest if we announced that we
had rescinded Duval’s acceptance — not that it’s been officially announced yet.
It’s the parents of the students who concern us.”

“The ones who stump up the tuition you mean?”

Marcus nodded solemnly. “We have negotiated extra
state and private funding to offset any shortfall that would accrue should
parents start withdrawing students. The governor is keen for Marie to attend a
Louisiana college.”

“This funding. What form will it take?”

“Grants, endowments, a new Chair. Marie is being
sponsored by the Assist Haiti charity, which has been lobbying strenuously on
her behalf.”

“And all this extra funding is dependent on her
starting classes in a fortnight?”

Marcus nodded

“And if you could find a way to limit the financial
fallout, the university would come out in front, and you would be doing your
career prospects a power of good at the same time. I was right when I sensed
Angie’s devious hand behind this. She threw the towel in on me when I left the department,
so now she wants to see you make Chancellor.”

“Why do you always think the worse of her? She’s too
fine a woman for that,” Marcus said, his face slightly flushed.

“Maybe it’s because I know her better than you.”

“Still doesn’t give you the right to denigrate her at
every opportunity.”

“It may not be the way of a gentleman, but chivalry
died out the same day alimony was invented,” Val said, grinding his teeth hard
to stop himself striking Marcus. “You want me to apply for the post, so the
university can reassure concerned parents that the homicide detective who
arrested Duval originally will be around to keep a close eye on her. In the
hope — and to me it’s a long shot — some of them think twice before
transferring their kids to Baton Rouge. Am I right?”

BOOK: An Evil Shadow
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