Mornin’ all! Glad to see you up and about. Bring your cups on over for a pour. Snag a seat there between Dave Benneman and Camille Douglass, then we’ll get right back to our story of magic and the old west with the second half of Chapter 6 of CONJURING MISERY. Jami’s visiting San Diego this week, but she’ll be back next week, bringing stories I’m sure. Until then, we hope you enjoy our tale…
Chapter 6 (the second half)
After rattling off instructions, I held Villalobos’ dark gaze as everyone else cleared out. The busted door jangled against the frame and I listened to Smoke’s taffeta rustle down the hall. I bet she was about to ditch those damn skirts for something less troublesome. Silence settled in, but I kept my mouth shut and waited. As he probably had no notion of what courtesy meant, Mendes’ man wasn’t sticking around to be a gentleman. Guess my salt bath would have to wait a few.
Sure enough, after a half minute Villalobos broke. “You look nothing like your uncle.”
I touched the brim of my hat. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Villalobos cocked his head. “He is family, no?”
“You seem to,” he waved a hand in the air, “¿Como se dice? Tiene un hacha para moler por tu tio.”
My Spanish was rusty, but I got his meaning. “Yeah, you could say I have an ax to grind with good ol’ Jinx.” There was no hiding the growl in my voice. In fact, I wanted to grind a lot more than an ax into the idiot but again there was Meemaw to consider.
Watching the smile that crept over Villalobos’s face was like watching a snake slither out under a rock. “Ah, so the ties of family are no so tight then?”
I shrugged. “Depends on which family we’re referring to. For instance, Smoke is off limits. Should someone decide to test those limits, well, let’s just say what shambled in here tonight would be the least of your worries.” Best to be sure he knew exactly where I stood on family.
His olive skin paled even as his mustache twitched. His throat worked as his gaze slid from me to the red smear by the door. “What kind of fever does that?” he muttered.
I didn’t get a chance to answer because Charlie came in, a ten-pound bag of salt slung over his shoulder. “Where ya want it?”
“Just set it by the door, Charlie.”
He dipped his shoulder, slid the bag off and rested it against the wall. He twisted his hands in his stained apron. “You’ll take care of things? Make it safe.” I nodded and he darted out of the room as if the demons of hell were on his heels. Poor fool.
Once he was gone, I turned back to Villalobos. “Ask what you want to ask, but hurry the hell up, I got cleaning to do.” My patience was thinner than a dragonfly’s wing and the damn revenant blood was going to do a number on my coat, not to mention my blade, both of which I liked better than anything else sharing the room with me.
His spine snapped straight even as a frown carved furrows across his forehead. “Why do you think I want to ask you anything?”
Guess I offended him. Tough. “You’re still here, aren’t ya?”
“Did Mendes hire you?” It came out in a hiss.
Well, color me surprised. That was not the question I expected. “Isn’t that a dangerous question to ask for a man in your position?”
He reeled back as if slapped. “In my position?”
I nodded and let my lips twist up, playing up the crazy a bit. “We’re two strangers, all alone in a blood spattered room. One that achieved that status due to our unexpected guest. This state of affairs would generally indicate someone is definitely on somebody’s list. Now, knowing Mendes and what type of man your boss is, what are the odds of him not taking out an insurance policy.”
Confusion did not pair well with his expensive suit. “Insurance policy?”
And just like that I had the confirmation I needed. Villalobos was Mendes’ man. “You think you’re the only one he hired?” Though I threw that out there in hopes of reeling in more information, the truth of it struck home like a lightening strike. Thing was, Mendes wasn’t an idiot, but he was sly. Sly enough to fix the game by employing more than one player.
Confusion disappeared as understanding dawned, only to be followed by anger. A string of curses, all in Spanish, erupted. Hidden deep inside, I was grinning from ear to ear. Guess he didn’t like finding out he wasn’t Mendes’s one and only.
It didn’t take long for him to wind down and then he found his cajonoes, again. He closed in, but kept a bit of space between us. All my humor vanished as I coiled in preparation. Granted Smoke might be pissed if I gave her another body to get rid of, but this close, I wouldn’t miss.
His voice was hard and flat, “I don’t care what Mendes offered you, it won’t be enough if you get in my way.”
I fought not to gag at the reek of his breath, but my answer was colder than a witch’s tit. “Get in my way, and I’ll bury you.”
He sneered. “You can try.”
I let the dark anticipation that lived and breathed in my soul peek out for just a moment, just long enough for Villalobos to notice. “I try, you die.”
Even though he tried to cover it, I could see fear leaking under his offended pride. “We’ll see.” He stormed pass me and out the door.
Heaving a sigh, I shook my head. It was always sad when a grown man threw a temper tantrum. I went over and crouched by the bag of salt. I had to use a different knife to cut it open, and then I hefted it up and began to lay out the purifying circle needed to begin the cleansing. As I walked and poured, my thoughts tumbled about. Villalobos was working for Mendes. Two Crows claimed the Star as his, and since he was offering a reward, it was a safe bet he didn’t have the Star. His offer was compelling, so much so, I began to wonder if it wasn’t time Smoke and I made Sam an official proposition. Thing was, I had no idea who Sam was working for. It could be Mendes, it could be someone else. And there had to be a someone else because Mendes didn’t have what it took to bring a revenant into play. Nope, someone raised Diamond Jim and aimed him like a sixshooter with a lone bullet. Who was the target?
Granted Smoke and I could have ruffled a few feathers, not an unusual occurrence, but my gut was saying Jim’s goal was my feckless uncle. Since Jinx was the reason Smoke and I were in this mess to begin with, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out someone else wanted him dead too. See, family could be a blessing, but in Jinx’s case, he was a curse. Literally. He made a bad deal with someone from the Sullivan clan, a powerfully magical family, about on par with ours except they dealt with the darkest of the arts. When he failed to uphold his end of the deal, someone from that family went after one of ours for repayment. And now our youngest nephew, Cyrus, was facing an eternity of slavery if Smoke and I couldn’t reverse the binding spell. Even worse, we couldn’t prove it was Jinx behind the mess because no one in Sullivan’s family would admit to laying the spell. Smoke and I tried, long and hard, knowing if we could prove Jinx’s involvement, Meemaw would take care of him once and for all. Unfortunately we both kept coming up empty and neither one of was comfortable going up against the Sullivan clan, not with the magic they used.
With the circle in place, I shrugged out of my coat, laid it on the table, dusted it with salt, and then did the same with the blood-crusted blade. Pulling on the magic in my veins, I began the cleansing ritual. It was a familiar spell, so familiar that while I went about purifying my things, I began to make a list of things that needed doing. First, it was time Smoke and I convinced Sam his chances of survival would rise dramatically if he stuck with us. Second, track down whoever brought Jim back into the picture. Third, find the damn Yaqui Star and save Cyrus. If Jinx found a tragic end along the way, so much the better. I bet I could even dredge up a sniffle or two when I broke the news to Meemaw.
For a price Charlie had been kind enough to provide a sheet to wrap Jim’s body in, a wagon to hall his rotting corpse out to the desert, and another bag of salt. If we stayed in town much longer he would probably need to order the salt in bulk. Body wrapped and settled in the cart along with the salt Jinx and I sat in silence at the front of the cart. I let him drive and he urged the mule along. The mule hadn’t even batted an eye at the corpse or the dark magic that infested it. That’s why I would choose a mule any day over a horse.
We made it about five minutes before Jinx had to open his stupid mouth. “I don’t know what you and Snake got against me girl but this here is my gig.”
I took a deep breath to arrange my thoughts before turning to him. “This should be your gig because you’re the one that hurt Cyrus…”
“Now listen here.” Jinx started to talk over me. If it weren’t dark as pitch I had no doubt his fair skin would be mottled red. Jinx could always be counted on to get worked up when he knew he was in the wrong.
“No,” I cut him off firmly, “You listen here. If you ever had our clan’s best interests at heart Snake and I would not be here. If I thought for one moment that you planned on using the Yaqui Star to clean up your mess I wouldn’t have had to come down here. If you think for one minute that I won’t put you in the ground if you get in our way you’re sorely mistaken. Here’s thing,” I poked him in the arm, “I respect Meemaw but she is wrong about you and I’m just about to the point where I am willing to face her wrath and be thrown out of the family to save Cyrus. So don’t fuck with me.” Turning back to face forward on the bench I crossed my legs grateful that I had changed out of the skirts before this ridiculous journey.
I could practically feel Jinx stewing behind me but I kept quiet, my point made. He lasted a couple of minutes before he continued on. “I had nothing to do with Cyrus,” he grumbled out.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well that’s a fine thing. My own kin.”
I rolled my eyes in the darkness. There was no point talking to him.
He continued, “I’ll have you know that my first wish was going to be to remove Cyrus’s binding even though I ain’t got a thing to do with it.”
“Really? Wonderful. I must point out though this is what got Cyrus ensorcelled in the first place.”
“What’re you spouting on about now girl?”
“You double crossed someone. You always think you’re cleverer than everyone else around you. You aren’t. Someone hired you. There is no way in hell that you found out about the Yaqui Star all on your own. So, Uncle who’s your puppet master this time and does he know that you like to cut those strings?”
“Just shut up already,” he muttered.
“Happy to. We’re far enough out, pull over.”
Getting down from the wagon I pulled two shovels out of the wagon and tossed one to Jinx. The next few hours involved the backbreaking work of digging a six-foot grave out of hard dry earth. The hole needed to be deep enough so Diamond Jim wouldn’t rise to ride another night. By the time we were finished sweat drenched both of us from head to toe and despite the gloves that I had donned for the occasion my hands ached and felt raw through the leather.
We used half the bag of salt to line the bottom of the grave, and then hoisted the body in using the other half to cover him. We then began our song. Jinx’s deep baritone combined with my alto set the intention of the spell. There were no intelligible words only intentions. Our intention was to release the tattered remains of what was left of Jim’s soul so that he could move on and fingers crossed stay in his grave. The depth of the grave and the salt were merely meant to keep the dark thing Diamond Jim had become in the grave. We weren’t so cruel as to leave what remained of Jim in there with it.
There was a sigh in the air, a light breeze in the night and we stopped our song. Jim free, we went about filling up the hole. Task completed we loaded up and headed back. The sun made an appearance on our drive back to town beating down on us with unrelenting heat. Jinx was blessedly silent on our return drive which was good because I was too tired to kill him.
We appreciate your continued participation in our campfire experiment. Don’t forget to rejoin us for the next chapter in CONJURING MISERY in a couple of weeks!