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Prologue

 

David Henderson laughed as the cadaverous witch danced before him. The person—actor or actress or just-out-for-dress-up-fun person—was really magnificent. The costume was tight and black, with some kind of extra piece flowing around the body. The hat was big and black and pointed. The face… The face was the best. Green and mottled, with a huge hooked nose. And the eyes burned in a mixture of red and gold. Fantastic!

Annoying, though. David knew that the house just outside the French Quarter off Frenchmen Street was occupied that night only by one person, the old man who had owned it for years and years. His family had recently refurbished the home, which had been in a sorry state since the devastation of Katrina. But now, the old man’s Wall Street son-in-law had been pouring money by the gallon into the place. It was prime for picking.

Or, in David’s case, prime for the robbing.

And if the old man gave him any trouble?

That’s why Tink Aldridge was working with him.

Tink wasn’t against violence in any form. They wouldn’t set out to kill the old guy. He was just old. But if he got in the way…

Maybe he wouldn’t. David was no sadist. Maybe Tink was, just a little bit. Didn’t matter. There were riches to be had in that place, and David—who delivered pizza to the house—happened to know that the old man’s daughter, son-in-law, and their little brat-boy were gone for the week. Back to New York City to take care of some business there. It was a good thing to be able to hang around and smile and wait patiently for the few dollars they scrambled for to pay for their pizza. It gave him time to learn those little tidbits.

And figure out how to rob the family dry.

“Sacrifice, son. Sacrifice,” the witch cackled.

She shook her broomstick at him, like something out of a bad horror movie.

He was thinking it was too bad he didn’t have a pup with him so she could cry out she’d get his little dog, too.

“What the hell?”

David realized Tink had arrived. They’d made a point of meeting here, just off Frenchmen. While the pulse that came from the many music venues on Frenchmen Street was loud, here the sound was muffled—and the street usually deserted.

“It’s a witch,” David said, looking at Tink.

It was good Tink was here. He was a frigging giant. Six-five, built like brick. Nice for him—since he did have his sadistic tendencies. Good for David tonight. No one messed with Tink. Not for long.

“It’s an ass,” Tink said dryly. He pointed. “Being joined by other asses.”

And Tink was right. Two more witches had appeared. They were identical—down to the tips of their black hats and the curve of their giant noses—and red and gold, evilly gleaming eyes.

They swayed for a moment and then stood dead still, staring at Tink and David.

“Bunch of jerks. Get off this sidewalk—or I’ll wipe the old gum off it with your noses,” Tink said.

The witches stared at them for a second and then began to cackle. Tink shook his head. He called out a number more names—“cunts” was among his more colorful—and then started to stride over to them.

The first witch stepped out from the group.

Tink headed straight for her.

He was about to deliver one of his debilitating right hooks to the jaw—but his fist never connected.

The witch ducked low, and then jerked up.

David stared in bewilderment, and then in horror as Tink turned to him.

Tink’s eyes were wide with disbelief. His hands were at his throat, clutching it as if he was choking.

As if…

He was choking. Blood spurted from him in a flow of crimson that wasn’t to be believed, that couldn’t be real.

It was almost Halloween. It was a trick.

But it wasn’t.

Tink took a few steps, staggering with his massive bulk and height.

And then he went down. Just like a giant redwood sawed at the root.

Again, for a moment, David just stared. Shocked.

Then he realized the witches were silent. And they were looking at him.

From Frenchmen Street, the pulse of drumbeats could be heard, softened to a strange thrum by the distance.

A saxophone played, also muted and plaintive.

The witch who had just felled Tink took a step forward.

David stared a split second longer. Then he turned and ran.

Ran for his life.

He heard their cackling laughter. And he prayed it would soon fade like the distant sound of the drum.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Donegal Plantation sat back on Louisiana’s River Road, a grand dame—regal, elegant, and glorious. She was an icon of days gone by. Good days and bad days, certainly. For she had been built in the sweeping Colonial Southern style, and she immediately brought to mind a time of hoop skirts and mint juleps.

Grandeur—and cruelty.

Cotton had been king in the South, and while the Donegal family had been famous for their kind treatment and for allowing slaves to earn their freedom, slavery had still existed here.

To many the plantation was a fascinating glimpse at the days when the country was in turmoil, days when slavery had existed, when the prevalent mindset had longed for riches more than the freedom and equality of man.

To others, she was a spellbinding curiosity.

And to this day, despite political controversy, she offered up a re-enactment of a long-ago skirmish during which, history had shown, it hadn’t been war or ideals, but the jealousy and cruelty of one man which had brought about the death of the most famous member of the family.

Captain Marshall Donegal.

He and his beloved wife had been the main ghosts of the great house for decades, though sightings of them had ebbed in the last few years.

Rumor—cruel rumor—had even stated that Emma Donegal had killed her husband, furious with him for his infidelities. Except that there hadn’t been any infidelities, and eventually, the truth had been proven.

Donegal Plantation was beautiful. It echoed the glory and the agony of history. Now a museum, it was often used as a guesthouse as well. But for the month of October, no rooms were rented out. It was simply too crazy a time.

And, at the moment, Donegal Plantation was “haunted.”

Not just in reality. But also commercially, for the Halloween season.

An early 1800s hearse sat in the sweeping drive. The striking white pillars at the entrance were draped in black. Menacing witches on broomsticks were hung here and there along the antebellum porch—along with ghosts, goblins, and evilly grinning jack-o’-lanterns.

 
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