part #1 of Krewe of Hunters Series
The house on Dauphine
She had dozed, Regina Holloway thought. Sheer exhaustion from the work she engaged in at the house on Dauphine Street. Sheer exhaustion had finally allowed her to drift off to sleep. The word, the whisper, was something she had conjured in her mind; she had been so desperate to hear it spoken again.
Waking, not opening her eyes, she listened to what was real. The sound of musicians down the street, and the spattering of applause that followed their jazz numbers. The deep, sad heartbeat of the saxophone. The distant noise of the mule-driven carriages that took tourists around the historic French Quarter. Sometimes, the sound of laughter.
She breathed in the smell of pine cleaner, which they had been using on the house. Beneath it—drifting in from the open French doors that led to the courtyard of the beautiful home—was the sweet scent of the magnolia trees that grew against the rear wall. They’d finally gotten their home in the French Quarter, with its subtle and underlying hint of strange days gone by.
Some said that it was haunted by those days, by that history, certainly not always so pleasant. This house had been, after all, owned by Madden C. Newton, the killer who had terrorized many a victim in the years following the Civil War. The tour group carriages rolled by with tales of ghosts and ghastly visions seen by previous owners. But neither she nor David believed in ghosts, and the house had been a steal. Now, of course, she longed with her whole heart to believe in ghosts. If they existed, she might see her Jacob again.
But ghosts were not real.
The house was a house. Brick, wood, mortar, lath, plaster and paint. She and David had both grown up on the “other” side of town; they had dreamed of owning such a house. They had, however, never dreamed that they would live in it alone.
Yes, she knew what was real, and what wasn’t. She was learning to live without the painkillers that had gotten her through the first months after Jacob had been lost. The painkillers had given her several strange visions, but none of them ghostly.
But she heard the word, and she heard it clearly. She opened her eyes, and a scream froze in her throat.
A little boy stood there. A little boy just about Jacob’s age, seven. He was dressed in Victorian-era breeches, a little vest and frock coat, knickers and boots.
And an ax blade cut into his skull, the shaft protruding from it. A trail of blood seeped down the sides of his face.
“Mommy, it hurts. It hurts so badly. Help me, Mommy,” he said, looking at her with wide, blue, trusting eyes.
She so desperately wanted to scream. She had seen her son in dreams, but this wasn’t her son. She knew the stories about the house, knew about the murders that had taken place here just after the Civil War….
Yes, she knew, but at the worst of times, she hadn’t had such strange and horrible visions.
He wasn’t real.
Sounds emitted from her at last. Not screams. Just sounds. Sounds of terror, like the nonsense chatter of an infant. She wanted to scream.
“Mommy, please. Mommy, I need you. ”
It wasn’t Jacob, and it wasn’t Jacob’s voice. And Jacob had been killed in a car accident six months ago; a drunk driver had nearly killed them all, veering over three lanes on I-10 late at night.
Jacob had died at the hospital, in her arms. He had been buried at Lafayette Cemetery, dressed in his baseball uniform, which he had loved so dearly. She wasn’t hearing her son’s voice.
Just his words.
Mommy, it hurts. It hurts so badly. Help me, Mommy.
Jacob’s words, those he had spoken when she had held him at the hospital, just seconds before the internal bleeding had taken his sweet, young life.
This was not Jacob.
She closed her eyes, unable to scream. She prayed that David would come home, Senator David Holloway. Her husband, handsome, even, lucid, rational, wonderful, ever there for her in their shared grief. David could hold her, and she would find strength. He was due home. Dusk had come. Dusk, and yet, there had still been pink-and-yellow streaks remaining in the sky, casting light upon the dust motes that had danced in the room. Dust motes that became the image of a murdered child.
He would go away. He wasn’t real. He was the result of the local lore about the house, that was all.
“Mommy, please, I need you. Please, just hold my hand. ”
She opened her eyes. He hadn’t gone away. He was standing there, anguished eyes on her, reproach and confusion in them. The boy was wondering how she could ignore him, stare at him with such horror in her own expression.
“You’re not…not there,” she whispered.
“Mommy, don’t leave me! I’m scared. I’m so scared. Take my hand, hold it, please, I’m so scared!” he said.
And then, the little boy reached out. She recoiled inwardly, sheets of icy fear sweeping through her with the rage of a storm. And then…
She felt the little hand. That little hand, reaching for hers. It was warm, it was vital, and it seemed so alive.
The fingers squeezed hers. She squeezed back.
“I need you, Mommy,” he said.
She didn’t scream. She managed words. “It’s all right,” she said.
Suddenly the twilight became infused with dust motes that sailed on pink-and-yellow ribbons of light, a palette fueled by the dying of the day. Soon, the harsh neon lights of night would take over on Bourbon Street, and the rock bands would reign over the plaintive drumbeat of jazz. Soon, David would come home, and she would hear some psychobabble about her imagining the ghost of a long-dead child to take the place of Jacob.
No one could take her son’s place.
But suddenly she wasn’t frightened. She needed to reassure a child.
“It’s all right,” she said again.
“It’s going to be dark. See, outside, in the courtyard, it’s going to be dark,” the little boy said.
“There are lights everywhere. In the courtyard, on the gates,” Regina said. “I’ll turn on the room light. I won’t leave you in darkness. ”
She sat up, still feeling the cling of that little hand. She walked to the French doors; it was spring, and the air was so fresh and beautiful, as if newly washed, and the scent of flowers was in the air. The inhabitants of the Quarter loved to twine vines and set flowers out on their patios and balconies. For a moment, Regina inhaled deeply.
Yes, she was desperate. In so much pain. They would say that she was seeking a companion to make up for Jacob, not replace him. That sounded insane. She would never make up a little child with an ax sticking out of his head.
“I love the courtyard, Mommy,” he said, leading her.
“Yes, it’s so pretty,” she said. Hysteria started to rise in her again. She was thirty-five years old, and now she had an imaginary friend.
He looked at her again, leaning against the railing. Suddenly, it seemed that the light hit the child’s great blue eyes strangely. There was a look of cunning in those eyes.
She thought she heard something behind her. She turned and frowned with confusion.
And then shock.
She was dimly aware of being pushed.
She was fully aware of falling.
Her scream tore from her lips at last, until it was cut off abruptly.
Skull shattered, neck broken, Regina lay dead with her eyes wide open.
Jackson Crow sat staring at the pile of dossiers before him. This was his first meeting with the man on the other side of the desk: Adam Harrison, white haired, dignified, slim and a taste for
Adam had just handed him the folders. “Jackson, do you have any idea of why you’re here?”
He’d returned to his old Behavioral Sciences Unit in D. C. to discover that he was being given a new assignment. His leave of absence, it seemed, was somehow permanent.
His last assignment, despite the excellent work done by him and his colleagues, had ended with three of them being dead. Yet if it hadn’t been for his intuition, two other fellow agents might have died as well. Local police had not responded to the call sent out, and there was no way to blame himself.
Naturally, he did.
Maybe the empathy of his superiors had caused them to give him a new assignment, in a different place—behind a desk.
He’d heard things about Adam Harrison. He’d worked solo over the years—and for the government where the government could not act officially. Adam went in where others did not.
It wasn’t because of extreme danger. Rather, it might be considered that he went in because of extreme weirdness.
“No,” he said simply.
“First, let me assure you, you are not being let go. You will still be working for Uncle Sam,” Adam told him. “The assignments will come from me, but you’ll be heading up the team. A new team. ”
A cushy job somewhere behind a desk that didn’t involve serial killers, kidnapping or bodies discovered beneath concrete.
Jackson wasn’t sure how he felt; numb, perhaps.
“Take a look at this. ”
He hadn’t had a chance to look at the files yet, but Adam now handed him a month-old New Orleans newspaper bearing the headline Wife of Senator David Holloway Dies from Fall into Courtyard.
He looked up at Adam.
“Read the full article,” Adam suggested.
He read silently.
Regina Holloway, the wife of beloved state Senator David Holloway, died yesterday in a fall from a balcony at their recently purchased French Quarter mansion on Dauphine Street. Six months ago, the Holloways lost their only son, Jacob, in an accident on I-10. While there is speculation that Regina cast herself over the balcony, David Holloway has strenuously denied such a possibility; his wife was doing well and coming to terms with their loss; they were planning on building a family again.
The police and the coroner’s office have yet to issue an official cause of death. The house, one of the grand old Spanish homes in the Quarter, was once the killing ground of the infamous Madden C. Newton, the “carpet-bagger” responsible for the torture slayings of at least twenty people. Less than ten years ago, a teenager who had broken into the then-empty house also perished in a fall; the coroner’s office ruled his death accidental. The alleged drug dealer had raced into the vacant house to elude police.