Friday, September 15, 2017

Sisters of the Mist - Synopsis

Here are the full cover and the synopsis of French Quarter Mystery #6. Released on Christmas day, Sisters of the Mist is available at Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, and Amazon. I had a blast writing Sisters. The story took me to places I never thought I'd go, and that I didn't even know existed (now I do!). Hope you love reading Sisters of the Mist as much as I loved writing it.


When his cat awakens Wyatt Thomas from a fitful dream and leads him outside to his second-story balcony, he watches in disbelief as a ghostly funeral procession passes on the street below. The lone woman staring up at him from a dark hearse is Desire Vallee, his former lover. She’d disappeared after her twin sister had jumped from a bridge to her death, and it’s the first time he’d seen her since then. Convinced she’s in grave peril, Wyatt begins a search to find her. His quest leads him through haunted cemeteries and back alleys of New Orleans, and finally to a mysterious castle hidden deep in the Honey Island Swamp. Will he be able to rescue Desire and exorcise her demons, or die himself trying? Sisters of the Mist is Book 6 of the French Quarter Mystery series set in that exotic, erotic Mecca known as New Orleans.

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 AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sisters of the Mist - an excerpt

In Sisters of the Mist, sleuth Wyatt Thomas is awakened from a dream by Kisses his cat. A thick fog is rolling in off the river as Wyatt follows Kisses out to his French Quarter balcony overlooking Chartres Street. Half asleep and perhaps still dreaming, Wyatt watches as a ghostly funeral procession proceeds up the street. He senses that the person in the hearse is Desire his former lover who has gone missing. When he finds a mysterious object on the balcony, he is sure of it.
Before setting out on an odyssey that will ultimately lead him to a forbidden convent deep in the Honey Island Swamp, Wyatt spends a day at the horse races with friend and Federal District Attorney Eddie Toledo. The ensuing murder of a jockey and trainer and disappearance of a valuable racehorse propels Eddie on his own journey of discovery. Sisters of the Mist is Book No. 6 of my standalone French Quarter Mystery Series. I hope you love it.

Chapter 2

A gloomy day had turned rainy and overcast as Eddie Toledo waited in the drizzle outside the main building of the racetrack. The rain had begun dampening his long hair. Pulling the trench coat over his head, he gave up his grandstand seat and made a run for the entrance. After a quick glance at his watch, he let the door shut behind him.
His friend, Wyatt Thomas was thirty minutes late. It was still an hour before the first race. Plenty of time to lay a bet or two. He double-stepped up the escalator to an upstairs bar he liked, planning to settle in at a table overlooking the track.
Eddie had invited two attractive women he’d met at Bertram Picou’s Chartres Street bar. They hadn’t shown, and he was miffed. What he needed now were a stiff drink and a racing form. He could get the former in the dark bar; the latter could wait. As he approached the bar, a familiar voice called to him.
“Trying to ignore us, Mr. D.A.?”
Eddie could barely see the person who had just spoken, though he recognized the gravelly voice in an instant.
“Mr. Castellano,” he said, shaking the older man’s hand.
“It’s Frankie,” the man said. “My dad was Mr. Castellano.”
Castellano was probably mid-sixties with black hair just beginning to gray around the edges. A red carnation matching the silk handkerchief in his coat pocket protruded from the lapel of his seersucker suit. Had it not been so dark in the cozy fern bar overlooking the expansive racetrack, you could have seen your reflection in his thousand dollar shoes. Frankie wasn’t alone. His companion, a very attractive, middle-aged woman, bounded from her seat and hugged Eddie.
“How you been?” she said in her Italian-laced, old Metairie accent.
“Adele! Been missing you, babe. How’s marriage treating you?”
“Frankie swept me off my feet the first time I met him. Things haven’t changed. We been to Italy twice, Bermuda and two cruises. Believe me when I tell you I’m ready to stay home awhile and cook cannolis and lasagna for my wonderful husband.”
Adele had dark hair and eyes, and a perfect olive complexion. Her welcoming smile left no doubt about how much she liked Eddie. Another woman was with the happy couple. When Eddie’s eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, he saw she looked like a young Sophia Loren. Their eyes locked. For the first time in his life, he was speechless. Frankie rescued him.
“Don’t have a coronary. This is my daughter, Josie.”
“Then you better shoot me now because I think I’m in love.”
The comment brought a frown to Frankie’s face and a smile to the young woman as Eddie grasped her hand. He was wrong. She didn’t look like Sophia Loren. More like a Greek goddess with dark liquid eyes and black hair braided in intricate cornrows. Her black dress matched Adele’s, and he could only catch his breath.
Adele bumped his shoulder with the palm of her hand. “What’s the matter, Eddie? Never seen a pretty girl before?”
“Sorry,” he said, regaining his senses. “It’s just I didn’t expect to be in the presence of the two most gorgeous women in New Orleans.”
“You haven’t changed a bit,” Adele said, hugging him again.
“Watch it,” Frankie said. “Don’t be disrespectful or I may have to bump you off.”
“Something I would never do,” Eddie said. “But you’d kill me now if you knew the thoughts I’m having about your beautiful daughter.”
When Frankie frowned and started to stand, Josie grabbed his arm. She was laughing, her eyes dancing.
“He’s just kidding, Papa. Isn’t someone going to introduce us?”
“This pretty boy with the big mouth is Eddie Toledo. A Federal D.A. who works with the G-men downtown.”
Josie ignored her dad’s sarcasm. “Happy to meet you, Eddie,” she said. “Will you join us?”
Frankie grumbled as Eddie grabbed the chair beside Josie. His daughter’s laughter had abated his anger. It helped when Adele kissed his forehead, sat in his lap, and squeezed him to her ample breasts.
With the races nearing, patrons had begun pouring into the bar. Frankie’s table was the best seat in the house with a panoramic view of the track through the wall-sized window fronting the room. Frankie’s frown returned.
“What’s the matter?” Eddie asked. “Your horse throw a shoe before the big race?”
“I don’t own quarter horses,” Frankie said.
“Oh, why not?”
“Thoroughbred racing is the sport of kings. Nobody likes quarter horses except a bunch of damn Mexicans.”
“You kidding me?” Eddie said. “Quarter horses are among the fastest animals on earth. It’s still misting rain, and just take a gander at all those people filling the outside grandstand. What do you have against Mexicans?”
“They been flooding the place ever since Katrina. Taking jobs that should go to Americans; living off welfare and paying no taxes. They also control the quarter horse business around here and it’s time someone investigated.”
“Is that a hint?” Eddie asked.
“Someone needs to stop their nonsense.”
“Most Mexicans I know are hard-working, church-going, law-abiding citizens,” Eddie said.
Frankie snickered. “Now I get it. You’re a tree-hugging, bleeding heart liberal. I hope, at least, you’re not on their payroll.”
Eddie let the thinly veiled accusation of corruption pass without replying to it.
“I’m here to watch the ponies run, not to talk politics,” he said. “If you don’t like quarter horses, what are you doing here?”
Josie raised a hand. “Blame me. They’re my favorite. I dragged Dad and Adele with me. He couldn’t come to a horse race without an entry so he bought one.”
“You’re running a horse today?” Eddie asked. “Thought you said you don’t own quarter horses.”
“For Josie, I made an exception.”
“And where did you get the horse?”
“Just an old nag I picked up for next to nothing. Like Josie said, I hate watching a horse race unless I have one running.”
“Uh huh. How’d you get a trainer and a jockey so fast?”
Josie answered the question for him. “Dad has a horse farm north of Covington. Murky Bayou Farms. One hundred eighty acre working horse facility. All pasture under fence with pipe on three sides. Three stock ponds, 16,000 square foot metal barn with twenty-four twelve by twelve stalls, tack room, feed room, wash rack, stocks, and storage galore. Exceptional apartment above barn with three bedrooms and two baths. Ten loafing sheds in pasture.”
“You sound like a real estate agent,” Eddie said.
Josie nodded. “Because that’s what I am.”
“Josie’s been in the ten million dollar club three years in a row,” Adele said.
“Impressive,” Eddie said.
“Are you in the market for a horse farm, Eddie?” Josie asked.
He laughed. “Never gonna happen on my salary,” he said.
Frankie frowned when Josie said, “You can visit Murky Bayou Farms anytime you like.”
“Sounds secluded,” Eddie said.
“On the banks of a scenic bayou and ten miles from the nearest town. It’s like a slice of heaven on earth. Dad’s not a fan.”
“Give me the city anytime. I don’t like having to drive twenty miles for a decent plate of spaghetti,” Eddie said.
“You don’t have to drive anywhere,” Josie said. “You have a world-class chef that works full-time at the farm and cooks you anything you like.”
“That just ain’t the same,” Frankie said.
“Sounds like heaven to me. Josie, I’ll take you up on that offer,” Eddie said. “I love horses.”
“Want to see Dad’s quarter horse?” Josie asked.
“Love to.”
“You’ll miss the first race,” Frankie said. “Who you betting on?”
“I don’t even have a racing form yet. You betting?”
“Always, even if they are quarter horses.”
“Then here’s a twenty. Can you pick a winner for me?”
“You trust me with your money?” Frankie said.
“You kidding? If I had your money, I’d burn mine.”
Josie grabbed Eddie’s hand. “We’ll be back,” she said.
She led him through the crowd starting to gather for the first race. It was still misting rain when they reached the paddock. Eddie didn’t care, too enthralled by the gorgeous young woman pulling him through the throng of spectators viewing the horses parading out for the first race. The crowd abated when they reached the stalls.
“That’s Lightning Bolt,” she said.
She petted the mane of the black stallion, its head protruding from the stall.
“This is your dad’s horse?” Eddie asked.
“Isn’t he beautiful?”
“Doesn’t look like a nag to me. Check out his muscular hindquarters and barrel chest. He’s the best looking horse in the paddock area.”
“He’s gorgeous,” Josie said. “I love the lightning-shaped blaze on his face. That’s how he got his name.”
Eddie touched the horse’s forehead. “What blaze?” he asked.
Josie touched the wet dye on Lightning Bolt’s forehead.
“I think someone must have put shoe polish to cover it up.”
“Why would they do that?”
“No idea. You’ll have to ask Dad,” she said,
Even without the distinctive blaze, the horse was gorgeous. Someone had braided its mane and tail with a red ribbon and decorated his fetlocks with bright red tape. He looked ready for a horse show competition.
“The way he’s all dolled up, someone must expect him to win.”
“Dad says he’s never won a race. Precisely the reason he was able to purchase him so cheaply. He’s forty-to-one in the morning line.”
“Guess looks are deceiving,” Eddie said. “We better head back. From the sound of the crowd, the first race just finished. If we stay away much longer, your dad will come looking for me with a gun.”
“He wouldn’t do that, silly. Dad’s a pussycat.”
Eddie knew differently, though refrained from voicing his opinion. He followed her through the crowd of people, some with smiles, others with frowns, returning from the betting windows.
“If you say so,” he said.
Adele was back in Frankie’s lap and both were smiling when Josie and Eddie joined them at the table overlooking the track. Frankie handed Eddie a wad of cash.
“You won,” he said.
“Wow! Must have been a long shot.”
“Can’t make any money betting on the favorite,” Frankie said.
“How’d you know it would win?”
“Betters’ luck,” Eddie said. “There’s no other way to bet on these damn quarter horses.”
A waitress in a revealing skirt and skimpy blouse brought everyone fresh drinks. Josie saw Eddie glancing at the young woman’s long legs clad sexily in black mesh stockings. She smiled at him when he realized she’d caught him looking. He grinned back at her and shrugged his shoulders. Adele also noticed.
“Eddie likes the ladies,” she said.
“Guilty as charged, Your Honor,” he said.
“At least he ain’t looking at my legs,” Frankie said. The comment caused both Josie and Adele to erupt into laughter. “What’s so funny?” he demanded.
Neither of them answered, or stopped laughing. Frankie rolled his eyes as he sipped his drink.
“Can I have a look at your racing form?” Eddie said.
Frankie handed it to him. “For all the good it’ll do you,” he said.
Eddie thumbed through the magazine. “Is pure speed all you look at?” he asked.
“Lots more than that,” Josie said.
“Please tell me.”
“The races are short. Most are less than a quarter mile and last only twenty seconds, or so.”
“What’s your point?”
“There’s not much time to correct if a mistake is made coming out of the gate. A bump can end a horse’s race before it gets started. There’s also the matter of track bias.”
“Most of the races have no turns,” Eddie said. “How can there be a track bias?”
Josie handed him a pair of powerful binoculars. “Look at the turf directly in front of the gate. Specifically, the fifth through the tenth spots. What do you see?”
“The dirt’s not as even,” he said.
“Whoever smoothed the track left the turf in front of the last five slots deeper and more furrowed than the first five.”
“That can’t make that much of a difference,” Eddie said.
“In a race that takes only twenty seconds to complete, every tenth is critical. Trust me. In this race, horses one through five have a definite advantage. Gate three has the smoothest exit from the gate.”
Eddie glanced at the racing form. “The number three horse is a twelve to one long shot.”
“And it’s the horse I’m betting on,” Josie said.
Frankie didn’t comment, though Eddie noticed his wry smile.
“Tell us who you’re betting on, Frankie,” he said.
“Not the three horse.”
“You think he’s too much of a long shot, even with the favorable track bias?” Eddie asked.
“Nope,” he said. “I think an even bigger long shot will win.”
“You know something you’re not telling us?”
“The number three is a plant. Everyone in the paddock knows he’s supposed to win. He’ll be bet down to less than three to one by the time they come out of the gate.”
“This is all sounding complicated,” Eddie said. “How do you know so much?”
“The four horse is gonna come across the track and bump the three,” Frankie said. “He’ll veer to the left and take out the one and two. The six horse is a twenty to one that’s never won a race. It’ll win this one.”
“How do you know that?” Eddie demanded.
“His owner is Diego Contrado, the nephew of Chuy Delgado.”
Chuy Delgado, the Mexican drug lord?” Eddie asked. Frankie nodded. “Should I believe you?”
“I didn’t make it up.”
“Who owns the number four?” Eddie asked.
“Angus Anderson. He owns the three and the four.”
“Angus Anderson, the president of Anderson Energy Corporation?”
“Probably the richest man in New Orleans. He’s also a media mogul and owns more radio and TV stations, newspapers, and Internet properties than you can count.”
“The four is the favorite to win. Why would he ruin his own horse’s chance to help Chuy Delgado?” Eddie asked.
“Maybe he owes him a favor.”
“If what you say is true, your sources are better than those we have downtown. Who are your sources?”
“I didn’t say,” Frankie said.
“You know I can subpoena you and get all the answers I need,” Eddie said.
Frankie smiled again. “Answers to what?” I can’t even remember what we were talking about.”
Eddie took a deep breath as he stared at Frankie. “I gotcha,” he said. “You’re probably pulling my leg, anyway. Horses one and two are both good bets. If the four doesn’t win, my money says it’ll be the one or the two.”
“You’re a smart man, Eddie. I wouldn’t bet all my money on it if I were you.”
“Stop it, you two,” Adele said. “We’re here to have fun.”
“She’s right, you know?” Josie said. “You shouldn’t disrespect your new bride by arguing in front of her.”
Frankie grabbed Adele’s hand and kissed it. “My wonderful daughter speaks the truth. Please accept my humble apology. There’ll be no more harsh words out of my mouth the rest of the day. Forgive me?”
Adele hugged his neck. “You big galoot, you know I do.”
“I’m also sorry,” Eddie said. “Let me buy the next round of drinks. I’m on vacation for the whole week. I intend to quit thinking about work, and I promise to keep my big mouth shut.”
“Good idea,” Frankie said. “I’m gonna place my bet. You coming, Josie?”
Josie grabbed Eddie’s wrist again. “Come with me to the betting window?”
“Why not? I have money burning a hole in my pocket.”
“Not for very long unless you take my advice,” Frankie said.
Frankie hurried ahead through the crowd, Josie and Eddie holding hands as they followed him.
“No matter what your dad thinks, I’m still betting with you, babe.”
“I was going to bet a hundred to win on the three-horse,” she said. “Dad sounded pretty sure of himself. I’m putting the hundred on the six horse instead.”
“You think your dad has inside information?”
“Don’t be silly. He has excellent instincts when it comes to horse racing, though from the absolutely crazy story he told us, I’d say he has a bit of fiction writer in him.”
“Then I’m betting with you,” Eddie said.
There were fresh drinks waiting for them when they returned to their table. Frankie and Adele were standing outside on the balcony, preparing for the start of the next race. Eddie and Josie joined them.
“Hope your prediction proves correct, Frankie. I put all my money on the six horse. If it doesn’t win, I’ll be living off my credit card for the rest of my vacation.”
“Hey, no guarantees,” Frankie said.
The starting bell rang as they watched the horses bound out of the gate. The three horse was almost too fast for Frankie’s scenario to occur. Almost. The four veered toward the rail, bumping into the three horse. The collision caused the three to impede the path of the one and the two. Taking advantage of the chaos, the six horse raced into the lead, holding it all the way through to the finish line. Josie and Eddie were going wild.
Eddie clutched Josie to him, twirling her twice before returning her feet to the balcony.
“Oh my God!” he said. “We won.”
The other spectators on the balcony weren’t so happy, most of them frowning as they wadded their tickets and tossed them into the trash. Eddie and Josie, smiling as they counted their money, were soon back at their table overlooking the track.
“How much did you win?” Adele asked.
“Twenty-eight hundred and change,” Eddie said. “Gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Frankie said. “You amateur betters are all the same. You’ll be penniless when you leave the track.”
“No more tips?”
Frankie crossed his arms. “You’re on your own, big boy. My horse is running in the next race. Hold the fort down up here. Josie, Adele and me are gonna watch from the owner’s box near the track.”
Eddie blew Josie a kiss as she, her dad and Adele disappeared down the escalator. He wasn’t alone for long.

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 AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo and iBook author pages. You might also like to check out his website.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Sisters of the Mist - Chapter 1

No spoilers, just the first 500 words of so of Sisters of the Mist, French Quarter Mystery #6

Chapter 1

A silent moan died in my throat as my cat Kisses awoke me from a recurrent nightmare. She was standing on top of me, kneading dough on my chest as she licked my face with her emery board tongue. My heart raced and I wondered if she could feel it. When I’d regained my senses, I gave her a full-body stroke that ended with the tip of her mostly missing tail.
“Did I wake you?” I said.
After arching her back to maximize my caress, she stopped licking and kneading and jumped off the bed. Grabbing my old robe, I followed her to the door leading to my second-floor balcony. Wind had blown it open sometime during the night and a chill breeze greeted me as I stepped out onto the little terrace overlooking Chartres Street. Though it was dark, the lack of visibility resulted from more than just a power outage.
Thick fog rolling in from the river had all but engulfed the French Quarter thoroughfare. Headlights penetrated dark gloom as I stared up the street. A slow moving taxi, searching for one last fare, passed beneath me, honking its horn at a stray dog. The taxi swerved to miss the dog, and then disappeared into murky darkness. The foghorn of a passing freighter on the nearby river sounded muted and far away. Feeling a damp chill in the air, I pulled the robe tightly up around my neck.
Kisses stood at the edge of the balcony, her head protruding through the wrought iron railing, staring at something I couldn’t see.
“What is it, girl?”
Whatever she was staring at was invisible to me because of the dimly illuminated rolling fog. It didn’t matter. Cats can see in the dark. I had no doubt something had focused Kisses’ attention. It was then I saw it: another set of headlights shining through the fog as it moved toward us.
Unlike the glare from the taxi, this was as dim as the fog itself. I watched, transfixed as the long hood of a ghostly white limousine penetrated the fog. It passed beneath me on the street. More vehicles followed. Except for one, all were ghostly white, their passengers but gray outlines through the smoky windows.
A black carriage pulled by a prancing stallion, tendrils of steam wafting from its nostrils, appeared through the dense fog. In the back of the carriage, wreaths and garlands of white roses draped a gold coffin. The carriage was a funeral hearse. It had no driver.
One last vehicle followed the black hearse: a pearly white, stretch limo. Its tinted windows were closed. All except one. As I stared at the passing vehicle, the young woman in the window with snowy white hair gazed up at me. It was a person I recognized. Rushing to the railing, I leaned over and called to her.
“Desire, is that you?”
She followed me with her eyes; bewitching eyes I had never forgotten. Sadness masked her face, and she didn’t answer. The limo had disappeared down the street when I realized the passing funeral procession had never made a sound.

All my books are available on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and my iBook author pages, and on my Website.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Solstice Time-travel Excerpt from Blink of an Eye

Tonight is the Summer Solstice capping the longest day of the year. In my new novel Blink of an Eye, P.I. Buck McDivit travels back in time 1000 years and experiences an ancient Summer Solstice festival first hand. Check it out.

A storm came up, with thunder rattling windows as rain drummed a cadence on Thorn’s tin roof. Lost in a dream world, Buck didn’t awaken. At least until a bright light shining in his eyes caused him to open them. When he did, he sat straight up on the couch, not believing what he saw.
In front of him stood a beautiful woman, an aura of blue light radiating from her naked body. He first thought it was Thorn. Instead, it was someone he’d never expected to see again. His heart began racing inside his bare chest.
“Is it you, Esme, or am I dreaming?”
“Come to me and see,” she said.”
When he pressed against her and began smothering her with kisses, he knew she was real.
Esme was tall and graceful, her long hair and demanding eyes as dark as the storm raging outside the house. As he pressed against her soft breasts, a familiar rush coursed through his body. Just to make sure it was she, he turned her around. As he remembered, a rattlesnake tattoo highlighted the supple curve of her shoulder.
“It’s been two long years. Not a day has passed that I didn’t think about you,” he said. “Why did you go away?”
“I know it hurt you, Buck McDivit. I could not help it because I am from a different place and time.”
“What place, and what time?” he said.
“You will see. I will take you there. First, you must become as naked as I am.”
Buck’s jeans dropped to the floor. “I’m ready,” he said. “Where are we going?”
“To a place you’ve never imagined,” she said.
Esme held his hand as they passed through the locked door as if it weren’t there. The storm had grown stronger as rain poured down in sheets. Thunder rocked their steps, lightning sizzling across an angry sky.
Sharp stones from the gravel driveway didn’t hurt his feet. Though rain gushed off his head and shoulders, he was oblivious to it. Esme led him down the hill, their feet sinking into the mire as they reached a pond overflowing from the deluge. Lightning laced the darkness above them. He hesitated when she stepped into the roiling water.
“Come with me,” she said.
He continued to waver. “It’s dangerous.”
Pulling him toward her, she said, “Trust me.”
Neck deep in churning water, they embraced as lightning kissed the pond. It set off a kaleidoscope of radiating colors that made his head spin. When he opened his eyes, darkness was gone. So was the storm. Dancing rays of sunshine radiated through the cloudy sky. Birds soared overhead, and only friendly drops of rain rippled the water’s surface.
“We’ve crossed over,” she said.
“That was the wildest ride I’ve ever taken. What just happened?”
“You did this once before. You just don’t remember.”
“Did what?” he asked.
“Walked across time,” she said. “Brace yourself for culture shock because you are now in my world.”
They were in the river. Esme took his hand and led him out of the water to a teepee near its bank. The same teepee Esme lived in when he’d met her near the pagan village of Lykaia. When they pushed through the flap, he saw Beauty, Esme’s giant wolf dog. They moved toward one another, meeting in the middle, and were soon rolling on a deerskin rug.
“Where the hell have you been,” Buck said, giving her big neck a warm hug.
“She’s missed you, and so have I,” Esme said.
“You can’t imagine how much I’ve missed both of you.”
“Yes I can,” she said. “Let’s get you dressed. I have much to show you.”
Soon, Buck looked like a Mississippian warrior, Esme like a medicine woman. Beauty hadn’t left Buck’s side until Esme told her to stay and guard the teepee.
“She doesn’t like crowds,” she said.
Buck gave the large beast another hug and then followed Esme out the door. He could hardly believe the sights that began unfolding around them.
Dozens of canoes occupied the riverbank and more floated in the river. When they crested the natural levee, his jaw dropped. Wooden houses with thatched roofs stretched for as far as he could see. Indian women, naked from the waist up, were working small truck gardens. Men, returning from a hunt, carried a deer and a large turtle.
“They are preparing for the festival,” Esme said.
Buck was curious. “Festival?” he said.
“You’ll see.”
They were both resplendent in colorful paint and feathers. Esme seemed to know everyone and exchanged smiles and greetings as they passed. They soon reached a palisade. Behind the timbered walls, stately mounds, topped by wooden houses, jutted toward the sky. Activity outside the entrance to the palisade was heavy.
“It’s festival day,” she said. “Some of the people have traveled a thousand miles to be here.”
“Tell me about this festival.”
“Tomorrow is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. For my people, it is one of our holiest days. Today is the eve of the summer solstice. Our chief will speak, and there will be a game of chunkey. Following the game, the bonfire is lit, and everyone feasts, chants, and dances until dawn.”
Buck had met Esme for the first time during a solstice celebration. He remembered because he’d been the only male present. He and several hundred naked pagan females had danced the night away in a solstice ceremony. When he’d met Esme, she’d been the spiritual leader of the pagan enclave known as Lykaia.
“Are we going to dance like we did when we first met?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I am the medicine woman. I must feast with our chief, the elders, and the emissaries from many other tribes. I have other plans for you.”
“What tribes?”
“Mississippians from all over, Aztecs and Mayans from Mexico, and Anasazi from Four Corners.”
“You must be kidding.”
“I assure you I’m not.”
They all wore their festival best. Pearls, shells, and colorful beads adorned the braids in many of the women’s long hair. Most of the men had painted faces and shaved heads with only a top knot. Colors of their costumes moved like a kaleidoscope in slow motion.
The palisade was on a hill. From their vantage, they could see the bend in the large river. Hundreds of canoes lined the bank, more still arriving. Everyone, it seemed, was smiling.
“How can so many tribes coexist?”
“Spiro, as you know it, is the religious hub of our universe. There can be no war, strife, or disagreement in this holy place, especially on the eve of the summer solstice. Well, except for chunkey,” she said.
The scene reminded him of the open marketplace in Santa Fe. This was similar but ten times larger. A myriad of color, noise, and excitement, and jewelry wasn’t the only thing for sale.
The aroma of fresh corn, squash, grapes, and a dozen other vegetables floated in a warm breeze. A big black dog that no one seemed to own sniffed his leg before disappearing into the crowd.
“This place is shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “Reminds me of the crowds at the state fair or an OU football game.”
“There are many thousands here today,” she said.
“Thorn would be in heaven,” he said.
“She descended from Mississippians.”
“I can’t imagine anyone loving their cultural history more than her.”
“She is a good person. Maybe too good for the likes of you.”
“What about for you?”
Esme’s smile disappeared. “We were never meant to be.”
“Star-crossed lovers?” he said, squeezing her hand.
“We must live in the moment. I have you now, at least for a short time, and there are many things I need to tell you.”
They strolled through the open-air market, marveling at the crafts. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, only a flock of gulls circling to land on a pond created by a bend in the river.
“It’s time to enter the palisade,” she said.
“I understand every word these people are saying. They can’t be speaking English.”
“You left your clothes and many other things in Oklahoma. While you are here, you are one of us.”
The high-timbered palisade surrounding the enclave was more spectacular than Thorn had described. A moat filled with water surrounded the tall timbers. Guards armed with spears left little doubt that no one entered except by invitation. He and Esme were on the list. They followed a circular maze until it opened into the ancient gated city of Spiro. The panorama blew him away.
“I visited the Archaeological Park yesterday. I had no idea it looked as spectacular as this.”
“The new world’s version of Camelot,” she said. “The game is starting. Would you like to see?”
In the distance, hundreds of spectators occupied a large arena where two teams were beginning to compete.
“It’s a half-mile away. It’ll be lunch before we get there,” he said.
“We don’t have to walk,” she said, snapping her fingers.
Four men appeared with a hand carriage, waiting until Esme and Buck had climbed aboard. Hoisting it to their shoulders, they began trekking toward the chunkey game. Rampant noise grew louder as they approached the arena, covered seating awaiting them. Play stopped as the players, and the crowd acknowledged Esme’s appearance.
“They treat you like a goddess,” Buck said.
She wasn’t smiling when she said, “To my people, I am a goddess.”
Forty people occupied covered seating opposite them. A man in bright paint sat in a cane throne decorated by wreaths of flowers and feathers. The throne rose high above everyone else in the box.
“He must be a bigwig,” he said.
“Walking Wolf is chief of the Mississippians. He’s without a doubt the most powerful person in North America.”
Walking Wolf’s throne was quite a distance away for a good look. Still, the regal old man seemed strangely familiar to Buck.

Buck had attended many sporting events, both amateur and professional. He’d never seen one quite as loud and raucous as the chunkey match.
Eight contestants and a referee, surrounded by several thousand adoring fans, occupied the football-sized field. Dressed in breechcloths, the competitors had faces painted white with black eyes like raccoons. Both teams wore pillbox hats woven of straw. One of the men stood at least six-six, and towered over the others.
“That’s Talako,” Esme said. “He’s the captain of our team. We have never lost a game.”
“Impressive,” he said. “Who are they playing?”
“A team from a large Mississippian settlement called Cahokia. They have also never lost.”
“One of their dudes is almost as big as Talako,” Buck said. “How is the game played?”
“With short spears and a stone roller chiseled from quartz. Talako and the big man from the other team are the spears. They do all the throwing and most of the scoring. Each team has a disc roller and two team members called fronts that run interference. Only the disk rollers can touch the disk, and only the spears can throw them. The fronts use their spears for tripping, and preventing the disk from going through the goal posts. That’s five points. You’ll get the gist once they start playing.”
One of the Cahokians had a six-inch stone disk with a hole in the middle. Taking a stance like a pro bowler, he rolled it toward the opposite goal. The referee waited until the disk had traveled about twenty feet and then waved his hand. Talako and the big man from the Cahokia team launched their spears. When the disk came to a halt, a ref ran onto the field, picked up the closest spear to the disk and held up a finger.
“One point,” Esme said. “The first team to reach twelve points wins.”
“What’s the significance of the hole in the disk?” Buck asked.
“If a spear penetrates the hole, then the game is over. The team that makes the toss is the winner.”
“Seems unlikely for that to happen.”
“Almost never,” she said.
When the ref waved his hand again, eight men ran toward the disk. The melee that followed resembled hand-to-hand combat. Both teams pushed and shoved, the fronts doing their best to break their opponent’s legs. A Cahokian retrieved the disk and launched it toward the goal. The scrum continued, both teams fighting for position and scoring a few points. The crowd had grown inflamed.
“There’s massive betting going on in the stands,” she said. “Much property will change hands because of this match.”
“Most everyone’s rooting for our team,” Buck said.
“Not all. There’s a large contingent of Cahokians here to watch the game.”
Talako’s spear landed within inches of the disk, the crowd standing and yelling. When the ref waved his hand, the two Cahokian fronts took Talako’s legs out from under him. When they did, the big spear kicked him in the side.
“Damn! That looked like a foul to me. Those boys are serious. They don’t have a penalty box in this game?”
“Chunkey emulates combat. Bones are often broken. The crowd expects the team to play through their pain.”
“Brutal. Sort of like pro football. How long till the ref calls a break?”
Esme shook her head. “They’ll battle until they drop, or the game is over. There are no quarters.”
“And the reward?” he asked.
“Life, the losers killed and their scalps displayed on the winner’s belts.”
“You gotta be kidding me,” he said.
“If the visiting team wins, our chief will pardon them because this is a religious holiday. If our team loses, they will lose their heads.”
“Doesn’t look like they’re in any danger of that. They’re ahead by six points.”
“I pray not,” Esme said. “Talako is Walking Wolf’s only grandson, and the greatest warrior our tribe has.”
“Your chief wouldn’t allow his own flesh and blood to have his head chopped off.”
“Not only allow it, he would proclaim it so. He would have no choice,” she said.
“You seem distressed. You okay?”
“These games always frighten me.”
“You want to leave?”
“I can’t,” she said.
“Something you aren’t telling me?”
“Walking Wolf and I are time walkers, inherited only when both parents are also walkers. The only other walker in the tribe is Talako.”
Buck stared at her anxious expression, trying to decipher what she had just told him.
“So you and Talako are . . . ?”
“Betrothed,” she said. “We must marry and have a child.”
She squeezed his hand, her eyes begging for understanding.
“I had hoped we were going to do more than just hold hands tonight.”
“I am so sorry. That is not possible,” she said.
“Do you love him?”
“As much as I love you.”
“Then I guess it’s okay,” he said.
When they returned their attention to the game, they saw that the Spiro team had drawn within a point of winning. The Cahokian roller gave the disk a great heave, the crowd waiting until the referee waved his hand. As he did, Talako and the big Cahokian launched their spears. The disk hit a bump and fell on its side as Talako’s spear sailed over it.
When the Cahokian’s spear began its descent, every spectator in the arena sensed what was about to happen. As the missile landed in the hole in the disk, the crowd grew deathly silent. The chief came down from his cane throne, motioning Talako to approach him. Esme’s face turned bright red as she squeezed Buck’s hand.
“I can’t believe this,” he said.
“If he can break Talako’s spear, then it is a sign that the Great Spirit wishes him to die. Walking Wolf will have to take his head.”
Buck stood. “I’ll stop it,” he said.
Esme pulled him back into his seat. “No. If the spear breaks, then it is ordained.”
Talako’s head hung low as he knelt in front of his grandfather and handed him his spear. Removing a serrated stone dagger from his ceremonial belt, Walking Wolfe drove it into the earth. Then he raised the spear over his head and did a slow turn so that everyone in the stands could see.
Esme let go of Buck’s hand, her tears flowing and the veins in her neck bulging. She clinched her hands, almost as if she also had hold of the spear.
Though smaller than his grandson, Walking Wolf looked anything except weak. Buck could see he was preparing to break the spear and had little doubt that he could complete the task. As the rapt crowd watched in silence, his muscles strained, his face turning red. Buck and everyone else expected the spear to snap at any second.
Despite his efforts, the spear never even bowed. Finally, the anger imprinted on his face disappeared, replaced with a smile. He turned again to the crowd.
“This spear is unbreakable. Would anyone care to try?” He walked around the arena, offering it to anybody that might accept it. No one did, not even the contingency from Cahokia. “Then the Great Spirit has spoken,” he said. “I deem this contest a draw.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd as Chief Walking Wolf returned the spear to Talako. Buck glanced at Esme, her hands still clinched and tears streaming down her face. He took her hands and uncoiled her fingers. Two deep red welts occupied her palms. He began massaging them.
“You saved him, didn’t you?” he said.
Her breathing labored, she answered. “It took every ounce of power I have. I couldn’t let him die.”
People began filing out of the arena as Esme regained her composure.
“What now?” he asked.
“A meeting with Walking Wolf. You are about to learn why we brought you here.”
Mesmerized by the game in the arena, Buck hadn’t noticed much of the scenery inside the palisade. Now that it was over, he glanced around at the mounds that seemed much larger than when he viewed them with Thorn.
“These structures are magnificent pyramids. They seemed like nothing more than mounds of dirt when I saw them yesterday,” he said.
“Withered by centuries of wear and erosion. I am thankful you get to see them in all their glory.”
“So am I.”
“Like the pyramids of the Mayans and Aztecs, ours predict astrological patterns.”
“Like tomorrow’s solstice?”
She nodded. “Now, we must meet Chief Walking Wolf in the Great Hall atop the main pyramid,” she said.
Buck was breathing hard as they climbed the pyramid. When they reached the top, he could see that the panorama was breathtaking.
“What are they building down there?” he asked.
“A giant bonfire to celebrate the solstice. Chief Walking Wolf will address the masses just before dark. The ceremonial lighting of the bonfire will then occur. You will see.”
A massive wooden house occupied the flat top of the pyramid. Esme led him down a long hallway to a darkened room and the chief of the Mississippians soon joined them.
“Oh, my God!” Buck said when he saw him. “You’re Pascal LeFlore.”
“I am Chief Nashobanowa. That means Walking Wolf in our language. I go by many other names. Like you, Esme, and my grandson, I am a walker. I was the one that handed you the Black Cup.”
“But you died,” Buck said.
“No, because I was never alive in your time. Walkers cannot alter time. Please, have a seat.”
Chief Walking Wolf sat on a colorful blanket situated on the dirt floor. Buck and Esme joined him. The man was much older than they were, though younger than the old man he’d pulled from the burning pickup.
“There is much you don’t understand about walking through time,” Esme said. “Right now, it is not important. What is important is the reason we brought you here.”
“Which is?” he asked.
“We first must drink from the Black Cup,” Walking Wolf said.
The cup was similar to the one Pascal LeFlore had given him. This one exuded a distinct glow, its aura pulsating when Walking Wolf shifted it in his hands.
“You have done this before,” Esme said. “With the Great Spirit when he took the embodiment of a man.”
“I don’t remember,” Buck said.
“It is okay,” Chief Walking Wolf said. “The point is we know you are reverent and that you appreciate this moment.”
“The Black Cup is as old as time,” Esme said. “The relic is the most valuable, venerated, and holy object our tribe possesses. Every one of us would give their life to protect it.”
“And we do,” Walking Wolf said. “But there is a problem.”
“The Black Cup is in danger of desecration,” Esme said. “Though not in our time, and out of our control.”
They both nodded when he said, “Haskel Doonkeen?”
“The man who calls himself Blade,” the chief said.
“He has gone to great lengths to get the cup,” Esme said. “Chief Walking Wolf and I have done everything we can. We are powerless to protect it from him in your world.”
“Will you help us?” he asked.
“If it’s within my power, I’ll stop him,” Buck said.
“I believe you,” Walking Wolf said. “But we must drink from the Black Cup to assure that it is so. Are you prepared?”
Buck nodded as a young woman appeared through the door’s skin flap. Below the waist, she wore moccasins on her feet and a deerskin skirt. Above the waist, except for red paint, bright feathers, and strings of beads, she was quite naked. She was also attractive.
“This is my daughter, Teawah. She will assist us with the ceremony,” he said.
Chief Walking Wolf held the cup as she filled it. He took a deep breath before drinking. Whatever was in the cup was potent because his eyes crossed, and he looked as if he were about to pass out. Esme took the cup from his trembling hand, waiting as Teawah refilled it from her pitcher.
“The tea from the Black Cup induces visions,” she said. “It tastes like death, though is life itself. It focuses our mind’s patterns and illuminates the future.”
She took a drink from the cup, her reaction to tasting the concoction much the same as Walking Wolf’s. Buck thought she was about to throw up. She didn’t, though her entire body shook as she handed him the empty cup.
“The tea lays bare our fears and desires,” Walking Wolf said. “Two things from which we hide. Take it in one drink, or you won’t finish it.”
Teawah drew close to him, filling the cup with the viscous fluid. He could feel her warmth and smell her lotus perfume as he touched the dark concoction to his lips. The tea was so foul tasting he had the instant urge to spit it from his mouth. He didn’t, taking the chief’s advice and drinking it in one long swallow.
Buck felt his eyes cross. The room began to spin, Esme, Walking Wolf, and Teawah staring at him, laughing. His body shook and stomach churned as Teawah pulled him toward a door that led outside. He reached it in time to vomit over the railing. With his body twitching and head pounding, he let her lead him back to his seat on the rug.
The hallucinogenic tea affected Walking Wolf and Esme less than Buck. He watched as Teawah refilled the chief’s cup. This time, she had to lead him to the back door. Esme soon followed.
Buck’s head continued to swim. He’d never felt so drunk. The room had begun to rotate. Explosions of colored lights illuminating dark worlds he’d never imagined. Esme was a snarling jaguar, the Chief a giant wolf pacing the floor.
Teawah’s smile was sultry as she approached him. Engulfing him in her willowy arms, she kissed him and pressed her soft breasts into his chest. When her intoxicating perfume changed into the fetid breath of a man, he recoiled. It was Haskel Doonkeen. Buck pushed him away.
Blade’s features began to change. He morphed into a giant, hairy creature that looked almost human. Buck was trying to scream when someone put the Black Cup to his lips again. It was the last thing he remembered for a while.


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