Lucy McCall poured it on for the last quarter mile of her run. She’d make it back to the Times-Picayune’s offices just in time to wolf down a sandwich at her desk. She wasn’t a star reporter yet, so she couldn’t blow off the time clock. Ed Vernon, her editor, would be watching. But she was up and coming, and everybody knew it. The new Hot Kid. A take-no-prisoners investigative reporter, she made her bones exposing some of the more blatant post-Katrina construction scams and now she was getting her pick of the better assignments.
Male heads turned and male eyes followed the flowing chestnut hair, long legs, and shapely figure in tight spandex as she ran along the Mississippi River promenade that skirted the French Quarter. She didn’t notice. Her attention was focused inward, on the mystery she had turned up, one she was sure was a big story—if only Vernon would let her follow it. This story had the stuff that gave New Orleans its reputation as the Big Easy—mysterious, free-wheeling, and old-world decadent.
Lucy had a source in the police department. They were trying to keep it quiet, but over the past three months there had been five disappearances of young women. All of them, it seemed, had been taken from their places of residence—apartments, houses, even college dormitories. In several of the cases, investigators had found an odd object—a handmade, carved wooden doll with clothing and hair. Each doll had been painted with a face that actually resembled the young woman who had been taken. That fact gave the cases an uneasy taint of weirdness as well as a connection. The fact that these effigies had been found wasn’t something generally known. Lucy had come about that information from a friend who worked in the evidence room at NOLA PD.
Her friend Nadine had warned her, “It’s my ass, girl, if you tell anybody, but these dolls, or whatever they are, were found in these women’s apartments. I logged them in as evidence.” Further, according to Nadine, the detectives had tossed around the phrase ‘voodoo cult’ when discussing the case.
But Lucy swore she would not tell.
In point of fact, the disappearances were not well known. The abductees, if that’s what they were, were single women living alone. Other than that, there was no apparent common thread connecting them. They were students, shop girls, and career women from their late teens to their early thirties.
At first the police denied it was happening. Young single women dropped out all the time. They moved around to other cities looking for better jobs, or left after a breakup with a boyfriend. Girls barely out of their teens gave up on school and went home, or took off to live with boyfriends. It took time for each one to become a missing person’s case despite the exhortations of family, friends, and colleagues who besieged the police, pressing for answers. The cops would not have even seen a pattern, but for the dolls. But the dolls gave these missing person cases a different, and disturbing, vibe.
From a journalist’s point of view, it was hot stuff. Voodoo dolls left at the scene. Shades of Marie Laveau, voodoo queen of New Orleans. The question was, could she get Vernon to allow her to pursue it?
Her pitch to Ed Vernon did not go well.
“Absolutely not. I want you covering the krewes for wrap-up stories on Mardi Gras, not chasing some wild ass story about missing girls. These people go missing all the time. There’s nothing to it. They take off for Biloxi with some lowlife boyfriend. They go to Pensacola to visit grandma. Who the hell knows?” Vernon hunched forward at his desk, his finger wagging at her. “I don’t want you wasting both your time and the paper’s money, got it?”
She got it. A little voice told her to say nothing about the voodoo dolls—yet. She’d find something of substance and hit him with that later. But she’d be damned if she was going to be a good little girl and give up on this story. Being a good little girl never got you anywhere. She was convinced of that.
The question was, where to take it from here? The voodoo doll angle was the obvious hook into the story. She needed someone authoritative, not some storefront gypsy queen in the French Quarter. She could try the Internet. Plug into that Goth/vampire culture that was part of the city’s underbelly. New Orleans had all kinds of steamy and strange subcultures. It was a hangover from its day as a free-wheeling city of decadence and lust.
Then she had a thought. Her best friend Kiri knew that girl, Sheila, sort of a wild child who liked to party. Sheila, in turn, had that daffy roommate, Livia, who was a Goth girl—the wild hair, the nose rings, the black clothes, the heavy mascara. Kiri told Lucy stories about Sheila and Livia’s escapades in the supposedly ‘secret’ clubs of New Orleans where the real stuff went down. She’d heard voodoo was definitely a part of that scene. She’d try Kiri and see if Kiri couldn’t hook her up with Sheila and Livia. They were due to meet for lunch anyway.
Every call to Kiri went straight to voicemail. Where was that girl? They had met as roommates at Newcomb, joined Kappa Alpha Theta, partied at the ATO house, getting sloppy drunk, and generally raised all manner of hell together. They had also studied together, counseled and comforted each other through long successions of boyfriends, both serious and trivial, and traveled to meet and get to know each other’s families. They were as close as sisters.
After graduation both of them had stayed in New Orleans. Kiri with her bubbly personality had landed a peach of a job in hospitality and Lucy with her hard-charging determination and drive had managed to get hired by the newspaper. They lived apart, however. Lucy preferred her efficiency on St. Charles Avenue and Kiri liked living in the Quarter. Still the two young women saw each other every few days.
It was disquieting that Kiri had not called Lucy in several days. It became cause for alarm when Kiri’s mom called, wondering if Lucy had talked to her recently.
“She was supposed to drive home for the weekend, but she never arrived. That’s not like her at all. Have you seen her or spoken with her recently? Her dad is really worried.”
“I’ve been trying to call her, too,” said Lucy.
“Well, I just want to know she’s all right. She never goes more than a day or two without talking to us and I’m worried.”
“Alice?” said Lucy. “Tell you what. I’ll drop in on her.”
“Oh, would you?” Kiri’s mom sounded relieved. “We’d be so grateful if you did. Just to see she’s alright, you know.”
“Don’t worry, Alice. I’ll check on her and call you.”
Lucy would do it as soon as she could, but first she arranged to meet Sheila and Livia at Lafitte’s, a trendy bar at Bourbon Street and St. Phillip. Parking in the Quarter was a bitch, so she left her office and was soon dodging tourists, walking through the flow of humanity that seemed to keep the French Quarter in perpetual party mode.
The girls were waiting in a back corner booth when Lucy arrived. There was one unexpected surprise. Livia was different. The Goth look was gone. She still dressed in black, but it was black leather, a tight-fitting black sheath hemmed well above the knee. Add the six-inch heels and seamed stockings and she was a dominatrix from central casting. She carried it off well, though. Livia was a tall, lithe girl with abundant curves, and in that outfit she projected raw sex. The long black hair with blond streaks was a new look too. It made her appear formidable, a woman in control, a woman used to giving the orders and snapping the whip. Lucy didn’t know much about BDSM, but she suspected Livia had picked this image with some care—one calculated to make the men quiver.
“Well, this is a new look,” said Lucy as she sat down at the low round table.
“Like it?” said Livia.
“What happened to Goth?”
“Traded it in for the real thing, honey,” said Livia, flashing a wide grin.
“Livia’s been slumming in BDSM clubs, getting all kinky on us,” said Sheila.
Livia jabbed back, “So have you, little Sheila, so don’t get uppity with me, miss.” She cocked her head and hooked a thumb at Lucy. “See what I have to put up with?” It was all good-natured with a slight hint of competitiveness.
“Club Diabolique, if you must know. A truly unique place. It is so cool.”
“And the guys are cool—and hot,” said Sheila.
“So what is the deal?” said Lucy.
“It is all fun and games, lady child. All fun and games.”
“Until someone gets a spanking,” said Sheila, giggling.
Livia smiled at her friend indulgently.
“We met this really cool older woman who showed us the ropes,” said Sheila.
“She sure showed you the ropes,” said Livia.
“Ok, ok,” said Sheila, blushing. “But wow, was it sexy. Weird, but really sexy.”
This sounded interesting, but it was not what she was looking for. “Damn,” said Lucy. “I wanted to plug into that Goth subculture thing. I need to know all about voodoo and the occult. Who does it. Where they do it. How they do it. Things like that.”
“Oh, there is plenty of that,” said Livia. “This is the real thing. Those Goth kids were poseurs. The people at these clubs are true believers.”
“But what about the voodoo angle? I thought this BDSM stuff was all whips and chains.”
Livia pursed her lips and nodded. “Yeah, I did too—at first. But, like, I’ve heard some of them actually practice voodoo.”
Lucy sat back and pondered that for a moment. Then she leaned forward to speak.
“So can I ask you a big favor? Can you introduce me to somebody there who is into that? Somebody I could talk to? I’m doing background on a story.”
“Well…” Livia rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, cocked her head, thinking. “I do know someone who is pretty connected. I could take you as a guest, maybe.”
“Hold on. Not so fast. You’d have to go in character.”
“You mean get myself all decked out like you?”
“Not like me. You’d be a sub. You could go as my sub.” Livia batted her eyelashes and grinned.
Lucy rolled her eyes. Livia was pulling her chain. “Ok, I’ll play. Like, what would that be like?”
“Hmmm. A Catholic schoolgirl look is just right for you. We’d get you a pleated skirt, saddle oxfords …”
Another eye roll. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Look, seriously, you have to blend in, and hot schoolgirls are popular.”
“But,” added Livia, “you might get what you want. There is this guy all the women talk about. He owns the club. He’s not always there, but he comes around sometimes. I’ve heard lots of talk about him. He’s different. They even say he has powers.”
“Yes, like, I don’t know—these women, they talk about him in mystical terms, like he has some special mojo or something. He can do things.”
“Things? Like what?”
Livia leaned in and whispered, “Well, for one thing… in the sex department, he is quite something else. That’s what I’ve heard. He’s, like, this incredible dominant. I mean, women are falling all over themselves to be with him. He has the pick of anybody who walks into the club.”
“Ok, great. He’s a great big stud. What does that have to do with voodoo?”
“They say it’s the source of his power. He’s into voodoo.”
Lucy had to think about that. Could she possibly meet this guy? It sounded like she’d have a lot of competition. She’d need some kind of introduction and probably from someone who had an in with this mysterious man. Someone higher up on the totem pole than Livia.
“Can you get me in?”
Livia shook her head. “I’m a newbie. You’d have to go with someone who’s been around, who’s known in those circles.” She thought a moment. “Like we said, we know this woman who is a dominatrix. That’s like a female domme. Her name is Agatha Dupree. She’s older than we are, rich and very sophisticated, and knows a lot about the whole scene. We all hit it off last time, I guess you could say—me, her, and Sheila. And she wants to see us again.” Livia blushed, Sheila giggled, and Lucy picked up on what she obviously meant by ‘hit it off.’ “If I called her up and told her all three of us would go as her subs, she would be real interested. I think she has the hots for me and Sheila.”
Lucy gave her a raised eyebrow at that revelation.
“Truth is, the idea is kind of exciting. Right, Sheila?” Sheila nodded vigorously. “I see you’re skeptical, but like I say, don’t knock it, you might like it.”
Lucy shrugged. “Nothing ventured, as they say. Give her a call.”
“Oh—and she’s big into that voodoo stuff herself. She has all these books and stuff at her house.”
The BDSM club angle intrigued her, but, as Livia explained it, she’d have to go as Agatha’s ‘sub.’ Lucy rolled her eyes. She’d probably have to wear some slave girl outfit and be pulled around all night by a gold chain attached to a collar. But Agatha supposedly knew this mysterious guy, well enough to secure an introduction. It was worth a shot, Lucy decided.
But before that, Lucy had to check on Kiri. She was already deep in the Quarter so she cut toward the river on St. Phillip from Bourbon Street and hiked across Jackson Square. It was late, and the usual contingent of street musicians, hustlers, and various other hangers-on had departed for the brighter lights of Bourbon Street.
The apartment was a third floor walk-up in an old and venerable apartment house known as the Augustine. The apartments bordered on Jackson Square and were some of the Quarter’s most sought-after rental space. Nice digs and expensive. Not the easiest place to drag someone out of if they didn’t want to go.
Lucy climbed the stairway to the third floor. She had a key to her friend’s apartment the same as Kiri had to hers, so after a perfunctory knock and hearing no one, she opened the door and stepped inside.
“Kiri? Kiri, are you here? Is anybody here?”
Inside was Kiri’s classy two-bedroom apartment, tastefully furnished with decor that fit the old-world style of the building and surroundings. As Lucy knew, Kiri Constantine had been doing quite well for herself after landing this job. It also helped that Kiri’s dad was a prominent surgeon in Lake Charles. This place wasn’t cheap. She entered the front door and stopped, listening. No one seemed to be around.
Now the task was to see what she could find that might help shed light on where her friend had gone. Lucy flipped on the lights and let out a gasp. The first thing she noted was cause for alarm. There were signs of a struggle: broken glass on the floor, a lamp had been upended, and an end table lay toppled over on its side.
That was the front room. She decided to try the bedroom.
From his vantage point on the roof of the Fontaine Apartments, Drake watched and waited. His gut told him they would return. They’d be compelled to. The effigy was probably still there, and it attracted the loa like the smell of blood in the water attracts sharks. He had encountered loa before. His knowledge of their exact nature was sketchy, based upon tales handed down from one generation to the next, but as he understood it, they were a type of spirit entity, dwellers in the space between the realms of the living and the dead. They could be summoned by sorcerers, the voodoo priests known as houngans. It was how they had found the girl in the first place, but for some reason the houngan who controlled them wanted this one back.
Drake wore black to blend in with the night. The change was upon him, but the hood of the dark pullover hid the distortion of his face, and the long sleeves hid the talons that his hands had become. He could will himself to change back, but he needed the extraordinary powers the change carried with it. Years of this strange existence had taught him this; how to control his bodily changes, from man to beast and back again. But, as he reminded himself, he could not control the cravings required as payment for such awful power. As a beast he had the strength of ten men, the agility of a cat, and the weapons of an ancient predator. He would need those if the loa appeared. Sent forth by their master, they were relentless in purpose until their objective had been achieved. In this case it might be removal of the evidence since clearly, they already had the girl.
He had stumbled onto this one quite by accident, and it had been a chilling discovery. In scouring the city for signs of Claire LaMoyne, the missing daughter of his old friends, he had caught the whiff of agents not quite human. It was a peculiar scent and one to which he was uniquely attuned.
With his ultra-sensitive sense of smell and extrasensory perception of things occult, he had recognized their presence in Claire LaMoyne’s empty apartment. The vodoun artifact he had found there, an effigy remarkably similar to Claire in appearance, had made hackles raise up on the back of his neck. He had picked up the same sensory anomalies riding on the wind and had followed them here. It meant that perhaps Claire was not the only one to have been taken. Whether there were others was a fact to be investigated, and he hoped that in confirming it or not, he would also find Claire. So he watched and waited.
Now his keen visual senses picked up movement inside the apartment. Someone was there. A figure stepping gingerly from room to room, searching. Not a creature of the night. No. The motion was just a figure walking, flipping on lights, room by room, as they traversed the apartment. He decided to investigate. Whoever it was, they were in danger, but they didn’t know it.
As he stepped to the precipice that separated the buildings, his eyes caught movement below, in the alley between the Augustine and the Fontaine. Three dark amorphous shadows moved in a stealthy fashion. They crept low to the ground, not making a sound. The smell assailed his hyper-sensitive nostrils. Revenants. Creatures made up of random body parts and reanimated by magic, most likely by the loa, as he had feared. They had been sent here to perform a specific task and Drake was sure it was the retrieval of the voodoo effigy.
Drake decided to make his fight on the ground. With agility that defied logic and the laws of gravity, the revenants began to climb straight up the side of the building. He jumped, easily clearing the void between buildings, and landed on the roof of the Augustine. Then, like an alpha predator he launched himself straight down the side of the old brick and wrought-iron structure, rushing headlong on all fours like some great cat.
Lucy was startled by sounds coming from the alley below. At first she thought it was alley cats fighting, but the pitch of the snarls and the low guttural growling that assaulted her ears told her this was something very different. It continued for several minutes, then there was silence. Slowly she edged toward a window to see, but when she looked, there was nothing. The commotion had lasted for a brief time and no more. She could make out nothing but black shadows in the alley. Still the hair on back of her head stood up. Something had been there. Something big.
Suddenly frightened, she resumed her search with a sense of urgency. She noted more toppled objects—broken bottles, a nightstand tipped over, a smashed computer monitor. She felt a cold chill in the pit of her stomach. Something very bad had happened here. She took out her cell phone to call 911.
A noise in the front room startled her and made her lose her footing. She banged into a wardrobe, moving it an inch or two, and dropped her phone. Her hands went scrabbling for it, and as she touched it, she felt something else. It was an object covered in cloth. She pulled both her phone and the object out from underneath the wardrobe. When she saw what it was, her heart caught in her throat.
Her hand held a crude figure made of carved wood and fitted with a doll’s dress. A wooden head displayed a face painted to look like a girl. Yellow hair of some type had been glued to the head. It was uncanny, she told herself. She was staring at a simulacrum of Kiri Constantine.
Another sound in the front room made her gasp and whirl around. In the bedroom doorway stood a tall figure clad in black, his face hidden by a hood.
“Ahgh! Wh-who are you?” She backed up, now scared out of her wits.
“I might ask you the same thing,” the figure said.
Casually, he stepped inside and scanned the room, noting the disarray and damage. Lucy beheld a tall man, all in tight black clothing. His body was sinewy and lean with broad shoulders and long arms. When he flipped back his hood, Lucy saw the face of a man in his forties—dark short cropped hair, dark eyes that were large like a cat’s, and heavy eyebrows. A hawk-like nose and a prominent jawline imparted an aristocratic look to a visage covered with the unshaven stubble of a dark beard beginning to form. He was the most devastatingly handsome man Lucy had ever seen.
“You—you’re not the police.”
“No. And obviously, neither are you. What are you doing here?”
“I’m a friend of the woman who lives here. I’m concerned about her.” Then Lucy recovered from her earlier fear and pushed back. “And what is that to you anyway? What I’m doing here is none of your business. She’s my friend and I have every right to be here. See? I have a key.” She held up her door key.
The man ignored her protestations. “Did you take anything from this apartment, pick up any object? Anything at all?”
“No,” Lucy lied. Why should she tell him about the doll?
“Because if you did, it might be extremely dangerous to have it in your possession.”
“What are you talking about?”
“An artifact. A dangerous artifact may have been left here.”
Lucy shrugged, then glared. “I don’t have anything and even if I did, I wouldn’t give it to you.”
“I see,” said the man. He folded his arms and stared her down. It made Lucy uncomfortable. She fidgeted nervously.
He broke the silence. “You’re an amateur—and utterly naive. Whatever game you are playing at, you are in way over your head. You need to go home like a good little girl and stay out of this.”
Lucy sputtered. “You can’t talk to me that way. I’ll have you know I’m a reporter for the Times. A good one.”
“You are a dilettante and you are about to be in serious trouble of a type you can’t imagine. Go home.”
Lucy tossed her head and set her jaw. “I’m not done looking around yet.”
The man stared her down. “You will either get out of here and go home, or I’ll put you over my knee and spank your little bottom raw, right here and now.”
What did he just say? Lucy froze at the threat. Spank her? The prospect of a humiliating spanking at the hands of this man flashed through her head as she saw herself rudely upended, bottom up. Then her ire rose. “Don’t you threaten me. I have as much right to be here as you. More, actually. You wouldn’t dare touch me.”
“Have it your way,” said the man as he advanced.
Lucy stumbled backwards and slipped. She fell on her back on the bed. The effigy popped out of her waistband where she had tucked it, and fell at the man’s feet.
“So,” he said, bending to pick it up. “You lied, and on top of that you were going to cart this off.” He shook his head. “I’m going to impart a valuable lesson here, one that might save your life. You will stay away from this place and everything connected to it.”
He reached for her. Lucy tried to scoot away, but he was too quick and too strong. He sat on the bed and flipped her across his knees.
“Noo!” Lucy shrieked, but the man was undeterred. The next thing she felt was her skirt being lifted and her tights being rucked down. Underneath she wore a thong. He left that in place at least.
For the next several minutes the apartment of Kiri Constantine rang out with the sounds of a sturdy male palm meeting bare female flesh. Crack after crack exploded across her rear. Lucy had never felt anything like it. Her bottom burned red hot with the repeated smacks. The spanks assaulted her rear cheeks with a relentless intensity, the sting in her bobbing fanny increasing with each meaty smack until she was sure that she’d burst into tears any moment.
She felt overpowered, helpless, and utterly humiliated. Bare bottomed, held face down over this man’s knee and powerless, she wriggled and fought, but he held her in an iron grip, seemingly effortlessly. As smack after smack assaulted her nearly bare behind, Lucy could do nothing but flutter her legs and wail.
He lectured as he spanked. “Promise me you’ll stay out of this, Miss Reporter. I’ll stop if you’ll do that.” He finished with a fast flurry of spanks then laid a proprietary palm on her derriere, rubbing gently, making little circles on the flesh, now red like a ripe tomato. She gulped. It almost felt good, even as her bottom was aflame and throbbing.
She almost did promise, but pride got the better of her.
“No! And you let go of me! You—you bastard.”
She gritted her teeth in anticipation of more spanking, but to Lucy’s surprise, he relaxed his grip. She tumbled off his lap and rolled away, cursing and swearing and tugging at her tights.
The man seemed not to notice. He was focused on something, but Lucy could neither see nor hear what it was.
“Quiet!” he said and put his finger to his mouth.
Lucy struggled to pull her pantyhose up—a most unladylike display. The man seemed not to notice. He stood still, listening. She started to speak, but his warning gesture was unmistakable.
“We have to go now. They are back.” He grabbed her hand.
“Who is back? What in the hell are you doing?”
“Come with me,” he said, pulling her to the window and out onto an old iron fire escape. The guy was incredibly strong. She felt as though she were being jerked along like a puppet. Instead of going down, they went up. As he carried her he seemed to expand in bulk, to grow larger. She noticed thick hair on his arms and more hair seemed to sprout out on his face. Once on the roof he pointed to the next adjoining building.
“Hang on. We’re going to jump.” The voice was now low and guttural.
Lucy looked down and screeched. Twenty feet separated the buildings. To attempt a jump was suicide. But as if she were some featherweight toy, the man snaked a steel band of an arm around her and launched himself into the air, carrying her on his hip. There was a sensation of flight and they landed on the adjoining roof with feet to spare. Good grief, who is this guy, Batman? Hearing a noise, she jerked her head around, fixing her gaze on the roof of the building from which they had launched into the air. She had to stifle a scream in her throat.
Three dark forms, faintly man-like, but amorphous like dark smoke gazed at them hungrily. Their faces were grotesque and Lucy thought maybe they wore masks, but the blazing yellow eyes dispelled that notion.
“What are they?” whispered Lucy, half in awe of something so alien and so wrong, and half in terror.
“Loa,” said her protector. “Spirit creatures controlled by another. Demons if you like. Come on. I can deal with them. You can’t.”
Lucy felt air forced out of her lungs as once again the dark man grabbed her. “Get on my back, arms around me and hang on.” Lucy obeyed. This time Batman ran across the rooftop, loping like a large wolf. He jumped to another building, and scaled down an outside fire escape to the ground. Leading her to a motorcycle parked a few blocks away, he jumped on with her behind him and kicked on the engine. Somehow his form had changed back to what it was at first. She must have been seeing things.
“I’ll take you someplace safe, then I have to leave you. They are not interested in you. I have the effigy.”
Lucy could only nod. He headed uptown to Lucy’s apartment house, a tony address fronting St. Charles Avenue near the Garden District. When they got there, he let her off the bike. “Do yourself a favor. Forget this. It’s way too dangerous for you to investigate. You don’t know what you are dealing with.” Then he favored her with a sardonic smile. “And if I catch you at it again, that last spanking will seem like love pats. Now go,” he said and gave her a healthy swat on the backside to propel her forward. She yelped and turned to give him a piece of her mind, but in a flash he was gone.
Emotionally drained, but still on edge from the events of the night, she poured herself a stiff bourbon and plopped into a chair—and promptly shot up like a scalded cat. Ouch! That bastard had really blistered her ass. She got out of clothes to inspect the damage, and was not surprised to see her entire butt was red with angry-looking handprint blotches. In fact it glowed with a throbbing heat that invaded her pussy, making her think inconvenient thoughts. Lying across the man’s lap, she remembered being aware of a certain tubular hardness poking her belly. That bastard! That had been a monster erection she felt, and the thought of that sliding into her pussy… No! Batman or not, he was a total cad for what he did. But hard to swallow was how turned on she felt as she recalled the incident. If only he hadn’t been so devastatingly good-looking, so totally bad boy alpha male. Unconsciously her hand drifted to the slit between her legs. Somehow his mastery of her had ignited a flame and as she dwelled on the incident, her fingers rubbed her clit until she convulsed in orgasm.