EXCERPTS FROM BLACKWELL

 

Magnus nodded to Madam Simone’s baton juju. “How did you become a voodoo high priestess?”

      She came alongside him and took his arm. “It’s in my blood. I was born with a veil over my eyes. In the African culture, it means a child will become a strong high priestess or what we call mambo asogwe. At least that’s what my grandmother professed.” She ushered him deeper into the brothel. “My grandmother raised me. She taught me how to speak to the spirits. She also taught me how to run a business.”

     They proceeded to an open door to the right of the richly carved stairs. “Did she teach you how to run this business?”

     “I am the granddaughter of a plantation owner and the daughter of a rich New Orleans businessman, Mr. Blackwell. Women of mixed blood are good for two things in this town: sex and voodoo.”

***

 

Magnus flashed back to the previous night and to the spirit that beckoned to him from the bayou. “Last night, I saw someone or something coming out of that bayou. Madam Simone stopped it from getting close to me. I remember she said something about the creature I saw being a messenger of the dead.”

     “When did this happen?”

     “When I left the bonfire and went to the water’s edge, I thought I saw a woman. Madam Simone claimed it was a spirit.”

     His eyes lit up, and Oscar edged forward to the table. “What do you think you saw, Magnus?”

     Magnus tried to picture the woman he had seen, her tattered nightdress and her empty eyes, but the only image he could conjure was that of smoke and dust. “What do you think happens to us when we die, Oscar?”

     Oscar tossed up his hands, appearing as if he were at a loss for words. “I wish I knew, my friend.”

     Magnus ran his finger around the rim of his coffee cup. “I know where we go, and it isn’t heaven or paradise.”

     “What kind of end do you envision?”

     Magnus raised his green eyes to Oscar, grinning with a profound certainty. “That’s just it. I don’t see death as an end. For me, it’s turning into a whole new beginning.”

 

***

 

“I liked it when you stood up to Magnus tonight,” Frances softly said while running her fingers through Jacob’s wavy hair.

     “I just couldn’t keep silent anymore. He looked so damned smug. I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face.”

     “Why was tonight any different than the years you have spent with him?”

     Jacob sat up and gazed into her eyes. “Because tonight, for the first time, I saw him for what he really is—a monster.”

 

***

 

“My new book.” He held it out to Magnus. “I hope you like it.”

     Magnus took the book and read the title in gold on the cover. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” He glanced up at Oscar. “What is it about?”

     “You.” Oscar pointed at him. “Or my interpretation of you. A man so obsessed with his greatness he thinks he is above sin. During our time together in New Orleans, I kept telling you that you would make a great character in one of my books. I based the main character, Dorian Gray, on you.”

     “Me?” Magnus sounded genuinely surprised. “I don’t know what to say.”

     Oscar took a seat on the corner of his desk. “The more I wrote him, the more he reminded me of you.”

     Magnus put the book on the desk. “I shall treasure it along with your letters. If you ever become famous, I can sell them and make a fortune.”

 

***

 

 “We all saw different spirits,” Emily surmised. “How is that possible?”

     Katie rose from Jacob’s side. “We each saw the person we wanted to see. The person we felt most connected to on the other side.” She came around the table to Magnus, grinning like a proud peacock. “Do you still doubt my abilities?”

     “No.” Magnus blew out a long breath. “I think we should not do this again, though. I got the impression what happened tonight may be only the beginning.”

     “The beginning of what?” Emily pestered.

     Magnus straightened his coat as he turned for the door. “Something very dangerous.”

 

 

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