In Big Easy, Book 1 of my French Quarter Mystery Series, a killer is at play on the dark streets of New Orleans. The element connecting all of the killings is voodoo. Long-suffering N.O.P.D. homicide detective Tony Nicosia enlists the assistance of two of his friends: voodoo mambo Mama Mulate and French Quarter sleuth Wyatt Thomas to assist him in his investigation.
Voodoo is the street name for Vodoun and it’s safe to say few people know much of anything about this strange and mysterious religion. In Big Easy, Mama instructs Tony about voodoo and takes him with her to attend a ceremony on the banks of Bayou Rigolette. Ride along with Mama and Tony and attend the ceremony with them. Some of the content of the excerpt is “racy,” so if you are offended by such content then please stop reading now.
In Mama’s words— “The ceremonies are often quite sexual as Vodoun is the religion of common people. Poor people of the world have no place in their lives for puritan mores and morality. Life is not all flowers and fairy tales, it’s also bladder wrenching fear, utter poverty, and rotten meat. Will you be okay?” she asks Tony.
Tony survived but not without consequences. Like Tony, I hope you will also be okay and that you will enjoy your peek into a Louisiana voodoo ceremony during a stormy night on the bayou.
Big Easy, Chapter 24
When the rain had subsided a bit, Mama continued along the blacktop, this time at a much slower speed to avoid hydroplaning into the ditch. Her body language indicated Tony had regained her good graces. As flashes of lightning illuminated the cab of the car, he could feel the thaw.
“Tell me about the case. Maybe I can help,” she said.
“The three victims were homeless, the two females both murdered in a ritualistic fashion. All lived near the Camp Street Mission. Slow strangulation with a thin piece of wire killed the two women. The murderer strangled the male with his bare hands. Oddly enough, the male victim was our prime suspect in the case.”
“Why did you suspect the murdered man?”
“His history of violent behavior. He’d once attacked his English teacher. Both female victims were former English teachers. Problem is he was also a victim.”
“I see,” Mama said. “A mystery wrapped in a conundrum.”
“Something like that,” Tony said. “We found a bowler hat, cigar, and flashy sunglasses at the scene. That’s compatible with your description of the man that attacked Celeste.”
“Baron Samedi,” she said. “Wyatt told me the murderer took a hand and left the foreleg of a cow in its place.”
“The way Wyatt explained it to me, this Baron person should have ended up with the cow’s hoof. Tommy, my partner, said it sounds ass-backward.”
“Unless the murderer left the foreleg as a clue.”
“Or to make us think he’s someone he’s not,” Tony said.
“The person that enticed Celeste away from Bourbon Street was Baron Samedi, and not someone disguised as him. Of that, I am sure.”
“Mama, I’m having trouble absorbing this spiritual stuff and such. I can’t deal with a ghost here. I need a killer that’s an air-breathing human being.”
“He is Tony. In Vodoun, we deal with the concept of possession. Spirits often possess the bodies of the living. Possession causes them to do things they would not ordinarily do. You will see this at the ceremony tonight. These possessions are usually initiated by mambos or houngans.”
“You mean someone could be directing the murderer?”
“That is exactly what I mean.”
“Great! I can see the confused looks in the eyes of the jury right now. Every defense attorney in the city will be clamoring to represent the killer. Hell, the case is already so convoluted that I could get him off myself.”
Again, the rain became so intense that Mama pulled to the side of the road, put the car in neutral, and engaged the emergency brake. This time, she kept the engine running because the roof and windows of the little car were so porous there was little chance of asphyxiation.
“It’ll work out,” she said.
“I hope so. Now finish your story about tonight’s ceremony.”
“Each Vodoun ceremony is unique, meant to invoke a particular Loa to negotiate with Bon Dieu. Our faith has three stages of initiation. Most worshipers never go beyond the first level. The next requires much more time and effort to achieve. Mambos and houngans are initiates of the second level. The third level is, quite simply, the most powerful practitioner of our faith on the earth.”
“And who is that?” Tony asked.
“That’s a secret even I don’t know.”
By now, the ground was saturated and heavy rainfall streamed across the road with large fish flopping around in the middle of the narrow thoroughfare. It seemed to be raining fishes. Tony worried the intensified storm would result in canceling the ceremony.
“This could go on all night,” he said.
“Have faith,” Mama said. “The rain will cease long before the activities begin.”
“If you say so,” he said.
He began to notice her perfume—an enchanting fragrance further enhanced by the sweet, subtle scent of her warm, damp body. Like a double shot of straight whiskey, it quickly intoxicated him.
“The ceremonies are often quite sexual as Vodoun is the religion of common people. Poor people of the world have no place in their lives for puritan mores and morality. Life is not all flowers and fairy tales, it’s also bladder wrenching fear, utter poverty, and rotten meat. Will you be okay?”
“I’ve been around the block a time or two.”
“I’ll bet you have. What do you think is the most appropriate gift for the Queen of the Sea?”
“Fish, I guess,” he said.
Mama laughed aloud. “Never offer Lasyrenn fish. Appropriate offerings are sweet, white wine, mirrors, and perfume. It was a reasonable guess.”
As Mama predicted, the rain soon abated and finally stopped altogether. They still had a problem. When she put the car into gear, the rear wheels spun in the mud. They were stuck. Tony got out and rocked the car, pushing as Mama applied the gas. Luckily, the vehicle wasn’t heavy, and the pavement nearby. Still, he was out of breath when he reentered the car.
“You’re way too young to be wheezing like that after a little exercise. I have something to increase your strength. You’re going to need all you can muster before the night ends.”
She reached into her purse for a vitamin bottle filled with capsules, popping one into his mouth.
“What is it?” he asked.
“An extraction from the bark of an African tree called Yohimbe. Warriors used to drink Yohimbe tea before going into battle. It has psychotropic properties. Simply put, it alters perception, emotion, and behavior. It was the first drug approved as a treatment for sexual dysfunction. Unlike Viagra, it does more than make you erect.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Puts you in the mood. Makes you want it like a rutting stag.”
“Do you get it from Africa?”
“You can buy it over-the-counter at practically any drugstore.”
Since Mama had made clear the herb only works on male subjects, he wondered why she kept a bottle in her purse. He didn’t need her drug because he was already hot for the gorgeous voodoo mambo. While taking a hard corner, Mama reached over and grabbed his thigh for support. When her electric touch brought him to an almost instant erection, he began to worry.
The car’s top that had been such a bear to raise and secure was a pussycat to lower. The rain had finally ceased, and Mama unlatched the top, laying it behind them as she drove.
“Never did like these things,” she said.
Mama exited the main road and took an even narrower blacktop that led into a thicket of trees, bushes, and vines. An armadillo ran across the road in front of them. Minutes later, the pervasive rhythm of African drums, echoing through the draping shadow of live oak and Spanish moss, encompassed their senses.
“Mambo Aghnee will have a mistress-of-ceremony. Her name is Estelle. There is also a group of servers dressed in white. Most of the worshipers will only be onlookers. Some will even become possessed.”
Between the Yohimbe and magic powder Mama had blown up his nose, Tony’s head had begun to hum. Though he couldn’t explain the feeling, he knew it was a mental high more powerful than he’d ever experienced. The herbs, Mama’s perfume, damp night air, and the steady drumming had transported him to a different plane of reality. Worse, he’d almost forgotten the main reason he was there in the first place. He remained in his seat after Mama parked and got out of the car. Opening the passenger door, she grabbed his hand.
“Are you ready?”
He had a silly grin on his face as she nudged him gently out of the bucket seat. It no longer worried him that she might see the obvious bulge in his pants. Mama simply smiled as she led him to the peristyle illuminated by torchlight. The brethren had already started gathering, many sitting cross-legged in a circle around the peristyle, their bodies swaying to the beat of drums.
“Being a mambo has its perks,” Mama said. “There’s something important I have to tell you. It’s possible you may be asked to perform in the ceremony.”
Her statement normally would have sent Tony running to the comfort and safety of the car. Tonight was different. He was different.
“How will I know what to do?”
“You’ll know,” she said.
Heavy rain had passed, heading south toward the Gulf. Humidity remained, carrying with it the dueling fragrances of perfume and night blooming hyacinths. Mingling aromatic scents further lifted his already elevated libido. As he and Mama swayed to the music, the tempo of the three drums began to change. Smoke, billowing from the far side of the peristyle, appeared after a loud pop. It remained near the ground as humid air prevented its rapid dissipation. With everyone’s attention rapt, a young woman appeared followed closely by three women dressed in white.
The woman named Estelle, Mambo Aghnee’s La Place, danced slowly to the rhythm of sultry drums. Attractive Estelle had the body of a college athlete. Gris gris and charms draped from chains around her neck, decorating her white dress. Her legs, exposed to mid-thigh, were the color of coffee lightened with extra cream. Bouncing cornrows framed her face and expressive eyes.
The servers carried a hidden stash of offerings for the Loa Lasyrenn. Estelle took a bottle of white wine from one woman and danced to the poteau mitan, a post in the ground acting as the altar. Removing the cork, she poured a few drops on the post. Dropping to her knees, she began writhing like a serpent. When she finally returned to her feet, she grabbed the neck of her dress with both hands and ripped it open to the top of her dark pubic hair. After pouring the rest of the wine down her chest, she caressed her breasts with the bottle. Sinking to her knees, she continued her snakelike dance.
The serpent dance caused the audience of fifty or more people to sing, sway, and moan, many joining in with their own writhing movement. Estelle crawled on her belly to her servers, retrieving from them dove feathers and a mirror. Something unusual happened this time when she deposited the offering at the poteau mitan.
The audience gasped as the loud pop of another explosion sounded. A second thick cloud of smoke billowed up from the far side of the peristyle. From the cloud of smoke, another woman appeared. It was Mambo Aghnee, her arms outstretched to the heavens, right hand clasping a rattle made from a calabash gourd.
Mama Aghnee’s flowing hair reached her waist. Instead of black as Tony had expected, it was a striking shade of blond. Her pale skin seemed almost as though it had never seen the light of day. Her knee-length mantle of loosely beaded seashells made no pretense of covering her otherwise nude body. In that obscure age somewhere between early forty and seventy, her legs and torso could have passed for an athletic twenty-five-year-old. The youthful-looking mambo had neither scar nor blemish on her body. Her finest asset kept the crowd from spending too much time staring at her body. If she locked you with her eyes—limpid blue, the color of the sea pooled in Bahamian coral grottos—it was hard to break the stare.
Mambo Aghnee danced around the perimeter of the peristyle, shaking the rattle at her servers and the rapt audience. She circled three times and then moved toward the poteau mitan. dropping to her knees, she produced a bag containing powdered eggshell from beneath her beads. Pouring the eggshell into her hand, she used it to draw Lasyrenn’s vever in the dirt. Everyone watched until she completed the masterful drawing, the symbolic meaning known only to her.
Mambo Aghnee pivoted on her knees, facing a bit of the peristyle that she and her La Place had oriented. Swaying observers parted and the servers appeared, between them a young woman with an angelic smile and nude body. They danced her to the awaiting Mambo Aghnee.
Something about the striking mambo seemed vaguely familiar to Tony. Awash in the beat of drums, Mama’s perfume, and flickering torchlight, it failed to register as something important. The breaking and ebbing waves of dancers and performers engulfed him. Like the rest of the crowd watching the ceremony, he was only intent on the actions of the naked initiate and Mambo Aghnee.
After the servers and Estelle had oriented the initiate, Mambo Aghnee began dancing around her, shaking her rattle. Estelle and the servers placed offerings at the poteau mitan and on the body of the initiate. The young woman was soon dripping with perfume, honey, and white wine.
Matched by Mambo Aghnee’s frenetic movements, the drummers changed the rhythm of their instruments. The faster she danced, the more sexually overt her gestures became. The crowd responded, mimicking every move and mannerism the animated mambo made.
A collective gasp surged through the mass of swaying bodies following someone’s shrill scream. Almost on cue, a dozen observers began rolling on the ground, their bodies, and limbs writhing in a burst of uncontrolled motion. Mambo Aghnee’s actions were similar, although wilder and more animated.
The possession had begun. Having accepted her offerings, the loa Lasyrenn had finally appeared embodied within the molten shape of Mambo Aghnee. Sultry and brazen, Lasyrenn/Aghnee pulsated through the faithful, humping their legs, stimulating them with the sexually explicit use of her lips, tongue, hands, and body. Her lewd behavior prompted more possessions. Those possessed rolled, squirmed, squealed, and cried on the ground beneath her bare feet.
As Lasyrenn/Aghnee passed among the true believers, they opened a pathway toward the vever, the poteau mitan, and the loa’s newest initiate. Tony watched the blue-eyed woman mount the young initiate and hump her like an excited stallion. When the simulated, although quite explicit action ended, Lasyrenn/Aghnee stretched to her full height and pointed to the woman she straddled with her legs.
“Ainsi sort-il,” she shouted.
“Ainsi sort-il,” the dancers replied.
Estelle and the servers helped the young initiate to her feet and then pulled a white dress over her head. One of the women brought an ivory bowl that she and the others used to clean the initiate’s head. Following the ceremony known as Lave Tet, they led her away into the trees. Although the initiation had ended, the ceremony was not yet complete.
Mama’s drugs had already altered Tony’s perception of reality. No reality remained. As if on cue, the drumming intensified as every reveler crowded into the peristyle. He had the vague sense of Mama dancing around him, her caftan pulled down to her waist to reveal her bare breasts. It all seemed natural as she pulled him into the crowd.
Tony’s spirit had entered a wild, bacchanalian dream as Lasyrenn/Aghnee singled him out of the crowd. She danced toward him, her muscles flexing, and skin glistening with sweat. When he reached for her, she smiled and pulled away, then moved even closer, blowing in his ear and licking his eyeballs as she played with his nipples through the coarse cotton fabric of his shirt. Soon, she squatted atop him, humping him in a lascivious manner.
Lightning flashed overhead, joining the fireworks already ignited in Tony’s brain, his reality suddenly altered beyond breaking. After turning the wildly excited Lasyrenn/Aghnee on her back, he spread her legs and began humping her as if a man possessed. He was possessed. Crowding around him, they began chanting Ghede, Ghede, Ghede.
Finished with Lasyrenn/Aghnee, Ghede/Tony rose to his feet and saw Mama. Stalking her, they launched into a game of cat and mouse as interpreted by dancing and movement that was both ritualistic, and sexually explicit. Ghede/Tony finally caught her, rolling her in the dirt beneath him, her shapely legs pointing toward the darkness.
Mama’s skirt lay crumpled on the grass, her shapely legs spread wide and inviting, her eyes wild with desire. Ghede/Tony needed no encouragement. With tongue hanging from his salivating mouth, he lowered himself between her legs and had his way with her.
Born near Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption, and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma where he continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans and the Paranormal Cowboy Series. Please check it out on his Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.