Princess of wands, p.1

Princess of Wands, page 1

 

Princess of Wands
 



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Princess of Wands


  Princess of Wands

  John Ringo

  Special: distinguished by some unusual quality…

  Circumstances: a piece of evidence that indicates the probability or improbability of an event…

  Barbara Everette, homemaker living in a small town in Mississippi, had the perfect life. Perfect husband, perfect children, perfect house, perfect Christian Faith. She cooked and cleaned perfectly and managed all of the chores of the modern suburbanite, toting the kids, running the PTA, teaching kung-fu in the local dojo… Perfectly. But perfection has a price and the day came when Barbara snapped. She simply had to have “one weekend off.” God had to grant her that much. It said no where that she was a slave. Waving goodbye to her hapless, entirely undomestic husband, she set out on the quest for a weekend of peace and maybe some authentic Cajun food.

  Detective Sergeant Kelly Lockhart, New Orleans Homicide, had a perfect record on his latest case: not a single suspect. And there should be at least five or six, given the DNA traces on the many bodies. Furthermore, his sole really outstanding clue, a mysterious fish scale, had disappeared into the recesses of the FBI Crime Lab. But the old fortune-teller was sending him into the bayou, down in the land of authentic Cajun food, on the track of a mysterious pimp with the admonition to “watch for the Princess.” Or die.

  Barbara and Kelly were heading to a rendezvous that might be fate and might reveal the hand of God. There was more cooking in the swamps than jambalaya. Unknown to either, the mystery of the Bayou Ripper had Special Circumstances.

  Princess of Wands

  by John Ringo

  The Princess Of Wands

  A tarot card in the Crowley deck

  “The character of the Princess is extremely individual. She is brilliant and daring. She creates her own beauty by her essential vigour and energy. The force of her character imposes the impression of beauty upon the beholder. In anger or love she is sudden, violent, and implacable. She consumes all that comes into her sphere. She is ambitious and aspiring, full of enthusiasm which is often irrational. She never forgets an injury, and the only quality of patience to be found in her is the patience with which she lies in ambush to avenge.”

  — The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley

  Dedication

  Dedicated to the memory of K. Steinberg, a fine Southron Jewish woman.

  Raise a glass of something pink, frosty and alcoholic. Her voice and presence will be sorely missed.

  As this book was being prepared for print, Hurricane Katrina came ashore and utterly destroyed many of the sites included in the story. It can only be hoped, at this time, that those scenes will someday return to us.

  Our prayers go out to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi.

  BOOK ONE

  THE ALMADU SANCTION

  Chapter One

  The body of the young woman had been twisted into a fetal position and strapped with duct tape. Then it had been dropped in a black plastic contractor bag and rewrapped. Which seemed like a heck of a lot of trouble if you were going to just dump the body in the woods.

  Detective Sergeant Kelly Lockhart stroked his beard as the coroner’s assistant stretched the body out. The corpse had been in the bag long enough for decomposition to work its way on the ligaments that stiffened the body in rigor mortis. And for the smell to change. But Kelly had seen far worse in his ten years as an investigator. And the department wanted to know, right away, if she was another victim of the Rippers.

  Kelly was six two and a hundred and sixty pounds when he was watching his weight. Most people describing him used “thin” because “skeletal” was impolite. He’d started growing his hair when he got out of the army and hardly quit in the ensuing twelve years. It hung down his back in a frizzy, uncontrolled mass and was matched by a straggly beard and mustache.

  Technically, since he’d worked his way out of vice and into homicide, he should have cut both back. But he still worked, occasionally, under cover and he’d managed to convince his bosses to let him hang onto the whole schmeer. Since he had a good track record for running down even tough murder cases, the powers-that-be turned a blind eye to someone that looked like a cross between the grim reaper and Cousin Itt.

  As the corpse’s legs were stretched out the open cavity of her torso and abdomen became evident and he squatted down to look at the incision. Something sharp, but not as sharp as a knife, had opened the young woman’s body up from just above her mons veneris all the way to her throat. The edges of the cut were haggled; it was more of a rip than a cut, thus the name the papers had slapped on New Orleans’s latest serial killer. And, as usual, all her internal organs were missing.

  “Fuck,” he muttered. “You know the problem with being me? It’s always being right.”

  “Same MO,” the coroner’s assistant said, pointing at the cut. “I’d love to know what he’s using.”

  “They’re using,” Lockhart replied, standing up as another car pulled down the dirt road. “And if I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a claw, a big one like a velociraptor’s.”

  “A veloco… what?” the coroner’s assistant said, confused.

  “What, you’ve never seen Jurassic Park?” Kelly said. “A dinosaur, you Cajun hick.”

  * * *

  The edge of the bayou made the roads wet and treacherous but the driver of the black SUV expertly avoided the worst of the puddles and parked next to one of the parish unmarked cars. When he saw who was driving, Lockhart tried not to groan. And it looked as if the FBI agent had a boss with him.

  “Detective Lockhart,” Special Agent Walter Turner said, nodding to the detective. The FBI agent was black, just short of thirty, with a heavy build from football that was getting a bit flabby. “This is Mr. Germaine. He’s a… consultant we sometimes call in on serial cases.”

  Germaine was a tall character, about six four, maybe two hundred thirty pounds, very little of it flab. Sixty or so, clean shaven, short black hair with gray at the temples, and a refined air. The suit he was wearing hadn’t come off a rack. A very expensive consultant, Lockhart suspected. Then the consultant stopped looking at the body and locked eyes with the detective for a moment.

  This is one dangerous bastard, Lockhart thought. As an MP he’d spent just enough time around the spec-ops boys to know one dangerous mother when he ran across one. Not the gangbangers, although they were nobody to turn your back on. But this was somebody who would kill you as soon as look at you and whether you put up a fight or not. He kept looking around, not too obviously but obviously enough, keeping total situational awareness like a cat at a dog convention. No, a lion at a dog convention, wondering if he should just go ahead and kill the whole pack. What the fuck was the FBI doing carting around somebody like that?

  “Can you tell me anything that’s not in one of the earlier reports?” Germaine asked, quietly.

  The “consultant” walked strangely. Kelly had seen a lot of walks in his time. The robotic walk of a tac-team member, arms cocked, fists half closed, legs pumping as if trying not to leap all the time. The street “slide,” feet half shuffling, hips moving. Military guys with their stiff march. Germaine’s wasn’t like any he’d seen before. His hands, instead of being turned in like most people, were rotated with the palms to the rear and barely moved as he walked. Legs were slightly spread, heel strike then roll to toe, stand flat foot as the next rose up in the air and forward. The ankles hardly flexed at all. Back straight but shoulders held down.

  It was almost as if he had to think about each step.

  He had an accent, faint, not one that Lockhart could place. European anyway, not British. Other than that faint trace his English was perfect. As perfect as his suit and just as obviously a disguise he could take on and off. The accent
might not even be genuine.

  “If it’s like the others, not much,” Lockhart replied with a shrug. “All the previous bags were clean of prints, body had been washed. Semen in the remaining vaginal tract, multiple DNA, none from any known sex offender. FBI’s already gotten samples,” he added, nodding at the special agent. “What’s your specialty? Profiling?”

  “I’m called in when the FBI suspects there are Special Circumstances to an investigation,” Germaine said, walking over to the corpse. He squatted down and pulled out a pair of gloves, putting them on before reaching into the gutted corpse. He fingered the cut for a moment, lifting a bit of the mangled flesh along the side and then pushed the abdominal wall back to examine the underside. If he felt anything about manipulating a violently mutilated teenaged female, it wasn’t evident.

  “What are special about these circumstances?” Lockhart said, a touch angrily. “We’ve got five dead hookers and a group of rapists and murderers. Sick fuckers at that. Where are the guts, that’s what I want to know. Draped on display? Eaten? Pickled in jars to await the body’s resurrection?”

  “Partially the group aspect,” Special Agent Turner said. “Serial rape-murders are almost always individuals. And usually when there is a group, somebody cracks and burns it.”

  “The papers are saying it’s a cult,” the coroner’s assistant replied. “Ritual killings.”

  “Perhaps,” Germaine said, reaching up to close the girl’s staring eyes. It was a gentle action that made Lockhart rethink his initial evaluation of the “consultant.” “But cults can be taken down as well,” the consultant continued. He stood up, stripped off the gloves and nodded at the FBI agent. “I’ve seen everything that’s important.”

  “Got a bit of bad news,” Special Agent Turner said, wincing. “You know that scale you recovered from the second body?”

  “Yeah?” Lockhart said, uneasily. The thing had looked like a fish scale but it was about three times as large as any he’d ever seen. They’d sent it to the FBI to try to figure out what species it had come from. Probably it had been stuck to the body or hands of one of the rapists, a fisherman and God knew that there were enough in the bayous, which would probably be a dead lead. But a clue was a clue. You just kept picking away at the evidence until you got a match. Or, hopefully, somebody got scared and agreed to turn state’s evidence in exchange for not being charged with capital murder.

  “The crime lab lost it,” Turner said, grimacing.

  “Lost it!” Lockhart snarled. “It was the only thing we had that wasn’t complete bullshit! How the hell could they lose it?”

  “Things like that happen,” Germaine said, placatingly. “And, eventually, we’ll find the perpetrators and get a DNA match. One scale will not keep them from justice, Sergeant.”

  “What about the odd-ball DNA?” Lockhart asked. “Our lab said they couldn’t make head or tails of it.”

  “Still working on it,” Turner replied. “You get occasional human DNA that doesn’t parse right. Your lab doesn’t see as much DNA as the Crime Lab does; they’ve seen a couple of similar cases. We can match it fine for court, if we get the right perp.”

  “Which we will,” Germaine added, steepling his fingers and looking at the trees that surrounded the small clearing. “On my soul, we will.”

  * * *

  Barbara Everette stepped out of the tiled shower, patted herself dry with a towel and began blow-drying her long, strawberry blonde hair. The roots were showing again, about two shades redder than her current color with the occasional strand of gray. It didn’t seem fair to have any gray at the ripe old age of thirty-three.

  She dropped the blow-dryer into its drawer and brushed her hair out, examining herself critically in the mirror. She was either going to have to cut back on the carbs or find some time to exercise more; there was just a touch of flab developing around the waist and, yes, as she turned and checked there was a touch of cellulite around the top of the thighs. The body was, otherwise, much the same as it had been when she married Mark fifteen years before. Oh, the D-cup breasts were starting to sag a bit and showed plenty of wear from little baby mouths, but it still was a pretty good body. Pretty good.

  She dropped the brush and took a cat stance, twisting through a short kata to stretch her muscles. Ball of the foot, turn, swipe, catch, roll the target down to the side, hammer strike. All slow, careful movements, warming up for the trials ahead.

  She slipped on a tattered golden kimono, sat down at the vanity and did her make-up. Not too heavy. A bit of eye shadow, liner, very light lipstick. She still didn’t have much to cover up.

  Make-up done she stepped into the minimally decorated master bedroom, making another mental note among thousands to brighten it up a bit, and started getting dressed. Tights, leotard, wriggle into casual summer dress on top, brown zip-up knee boots with a slight heel. Her father had taken one look at them when she wore them last Christmas and immediately dubbed them “fuck-me” boots. Which… was Daddy all over.

  Another brush of the hair to settle it after dressing, a pair of sunglasses holding back her hair, a slim watch buckled on her wrist, and it was time to go pick up the kids.

  Barbara picked up her pocket book as she walked out the door, her heels clicking on the hardwood floor. The bag was a tad heavier than it looked: the H K .45 with two spare magazines added significant weight to the usual load of a lady’s purse. But she wouldn’t think about going out the door without clothes nor would she think about going out the door without at least a pistol.

  She climbed in the Expedition started it and waited for it to warm up. The SUV was a touch extravagant and simply devoured fuel but at least two days a week she ended up with six or more kids packed in the vehicle. It was a choice of a big SUV or one of the larger mini-vans, with not much better fuel economy. And Mark had flatly rejected the mini-van idea. If the stupid liberals back in the ’70s hadn’t created the CAFÉ regulations, SUVs never would have been economically viable. Serves them right. If they hadn’t created the need, she could be driving a reasonably fuel efficient station wagon instead of this… behemoth.

  When the temperature needle had started to move she drove sedately out of the neighborhood and then floored it. She knew that she already had too many points on her license and the local cops had started to watch for the green Expedition as an easy, not to mention pretty, mark. But cars were for going fast. If she wanted to take her time she’d have walked. And it wasn’t as if she wasn’t busy.

  The radar detector remained quiescent all the way to the school zone by the high school and by then she’d slowed down anyway. She waved to the nice sheriff’s deputy that had given her a ticket a couple of months before and got in the line of cars, trucks and SUVs that were picking up children from middle school.

  Finally she got close enough to the pick-up area that Allison spotted her and walked over, her face twisted in a frown. The thirteen year-old was a carbon copy of her mother physically, with the true strawberry blonde hair that was but a memory to her mother’s head, but she had yet to learn that a volcanic temper is best kept in check.

  “Marcie Taylor is such a bitch,” Allison said, dumping her book bag on the floor and climbing in the passenger seat.

  “Watch your language, young lady,” Barbara said, calmly. “You may be correct, but you need to learn a wider vocabulary.”

  “But she is,” Allison complained. “She said sluts shouldn’t be on the cheerleading team and she was looking right at me! She’s just pi… angry because I got picked and she didn’t! And she’s trying to take Jason away from me!”

  Barbara counted to five mentally and wondered if now was the time to try to explain the social dynamics of Redwater County. Up until the last decade or so, the county had been strictly rural with the vast majority of the inhabitants being from about six different families. Three of the families, including the Taylors, had been the “Names,” old, monied for the area, families that owned all the major businesses.

 
Recently, as nearby Jackson expanded, the area had started to increase in population and the economy had become much more diverse. Chain stores had driven under the small-town businesses of the “Names” and while they retained some social distinction, it was fading. Even ten years before, Marcie Taylor would have been chosen for the cheerleading squad, despite being as graceful as an ox and with a personality of a badger, simply because of who her father was. And at a certain level she knew that. It undoubtedly added fuel to her resentment of a relative newcomer — the Everettes had only been in the county for ten years — getting such an important slot.

  Barb had seen, had lived through, countless similar encounters being dragged around the world by her father. Marcie Taylor had nothing in arrogance compared to Fuko Ishagaki. But pointing that out wouldn’t be the way to handle it, either.

  “Why did she call you a slut?” Barbara asked, instead.

  “Oh,” Allison breathed, angrily. “There’s some stupid rumor that I’ve been screwing Jason!”

  “Ah, for the days when a daughter would put it more delicately,” Barbara said, trying not to smile. “Have you been? Because if you are, we need to get you on birth control right now, young lady!”

  “No, I haven’t,” Allison snapped. “I can’t believe you’d ask. God, mother, I’m thirteen.”

  “Didn’t stop Brandy Jacobs,” Barb said, pulling into the line of traffic at the elementary school. “Not that you’re that stupid. But if it’s before you’re eighteen, just make sure you ask me to get the pills for you beforehand, okay? I’d, naturally, prefer that you not have sex prior to marriage. But, given the choice, I’d much rather have a sexually active daughter who is not pregnant than one who is.”

 
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