Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tea Time Excerpt: Casting Bones

This winter we're matching tea with novel excerpts to help you find good books to curl up with while the weather is a bit nasty. Today we have an excerpt of Casting Bones by Don Bruns. Don Bruns is a USA Today bestselling author of the Caribbean mystery series and the Stuff series. Casting Bones is the first book in his new series featuring Quentin Archer, New Orleans homicide detective who teams up with a voodoo practitioner.

Here's a description of the book:

When a prominent New Orleans judge is brutally murdered, former Detroit cop Quentin Archer is handed the case. His enquiries will lead him into a world of darkness and mysticism which underpins the carefree atmosphere of the Big Easy. Interrogating crooked police officers, a pickpocket, a bartender with underground contacts and a swamp dweller, Archer uncovers some troubling facts about the late judge’s past. But it’s only when he encounters a beautiful young voodoo practitioner that he starts to make headway in the investigation.

Voodoo queen Solange Cordray volunteers at the dementia centre where her mother lives. When she starts reading the mind of one of her patients, she learns that a secretive organization known as Krewe Charbonerrie may be behind the murder of the judge. And the second murder. And the third . . .

Our matching tea is Mr. Bones Voodoo tea from Adagio. It's a black tea with orange peels, rose hips, hibiscus and ginger root. 

And here's the excerpt:

Casting Bones

by Don Bruns

Chapter One

November 1
"He's going to be killed."
     "What?" She turned and studied him.
     "He's going to be killed. Murdered. You need to know that."
     "Who is going to be killed?" The statement had startled her. His mouth never moved but his statement was crystal clear.
     The young black woman stared at her charge, the pale old man slumped over in a motorized wheelchair on the grassy rise above the dirty Mississippi river rushing by. She was simply a volunteer caregiver, and had no idea how to deal with this information.
     "The judge, of course. Shot in the head." Very matter of fact as if everyone knew.
     The wizened, white-haired octogenarian gazed at the brackish water, never saying a thing.
     The girl with soft skin spoke in a hushed tone, afraid those nearby would hear her and think she was crazy¸ having conversation with a mute man. In a sense, she knew she was. Crazy. Like her mother before her. Her mother, who cast spells, prayed for interventions and now spent her days in a wheelchair, staring vacantly at whatever was in front of her. Dementia had robbed Mum of all her abilities and now she, the elderly lady's offspring, was casting spells, praying for the souls of others. She was a voodoo lady like her mother, who could suddenly hear a voice and read the mind of someone who could not speak for himself. This power of hearing voices was something brand new, and the power scared her. Scared the hell out of her.
     "Please, tell me. What judge? Can someone stop this killing?"
     There was silence. Just as there had been silence before. It was all in her head, the words of the decrepit old man. She heard him, clear and precise, yet his voice never uttered a sound. His mind lost in the fog of dementia.
     "Speak to me," she said firmly.
     And in her head she heard his response. "There is nothing you can do. The Krewe has made its decision." His mouth never moved. Eerie.
     The young voodoo practitioner approached him from behind, brushing silky black hair back from her face. She placed her hands on his shoulders, staring at the water as he did. Looking down, she saw the wrinkled hands, thick with gnarled veins. There on his right wrist was the faded tattoo of a green coiled snake. She squeezed his arms, venting some of her hurt and anger.
     "You have caused a lot of people a lot of problems." Whispering the words, knowing, as a volunteer at the center, that she was out of line. Her job was to care for the patients, not abuse them. Still she continued. "You scum of the earth. You have caused a lot of people a lot of pain and I believe with all my heart, old man, that you will have to answer for your sins. You polluted this river with your chemicals, you raped the land and you stole the souls of people who worked for you."
     He showed no sign that he heard or understood a word she spoke.
     "And now you have the audacity to communicate with me, telling me that a judge will be murdered by one of the Krewes and yet you give me no other information? Damn you." Closing her eyes, she took a deep cleansing breath, relieving some of the tension. "I feel if you help stop this killing, you will make some amends for your evil ways. Not all, but some. Help yourself, I implore you. Tell me who will be murdered and let me stop this assassination."
     Releasing the grip on the man's shoulders, the young lady once again closed her eyes. Silently she prayed to Damballa. "Deliver me from this burden. I have one purpose here, my creator. To help make my Mum whole. With your help we can bring her back. I ask that you take away other obligations. She needs me alone to make her well again. Give this murder, this killing to someone else. Another mambo, a houngan. I need time to help my mother heal, and I do not want the burden of someone's death on my conscience."
     Again, there was only silence.
     The girl shivered in the warm, humid air. She was aware of important information, an impending death that was known to only a few. She had the power to inform authorities and even stop the killing. But her source was a man incapable of communicating with anyone through traditional means. An advanced case of dementia had terminated that possibility. And he apparently was very selective in the information he was giving her.
     "So you won't talk?"
     A slight move of his head, almost as if he'd heard her. But his mouth never moved. There was no sound from his formerly raspy vocal chords. No sound, yet she heard him loud and clear.
     "The judge, the judge who will be killed, he belongs to Krewe Charbonerrie. Someone must be told.”

                                                      Chapter Two
April 1
The judge knew at four a.m. that it was going to be a really bad day. Struggling, trying to breathe, he woke up sputtering, choking, deep under swirling dirty water and desperate for a breath of air. Five seconds later he caught that breath, realizing it had all been a dream. He woke up drenched in sweat. The rest of the morning hadn't gotten much better.
     He was going out on a limb today, turning over evidence that could put him away for life. If he didn't, they were going to nail him anyway. They knew enough to destroy him, but at least he had a bargaining chip, or multiple chips in this case. His meeting with Paul Trueblood was in less than half an hour. Trueblood, who said he could make a deal with the government. He just wanted it all to be over.
     "Judge Lerner?"
     The judge jerked his head, looking up from his bent-over position, straightening boxes in the trunk of the cream colored Jaguar XKE inside his garage.
     "Yes?" Where had this punk come from?
     "Nice car."
     The young man stood in the driveway, smiling at him. A goofy, lopsided kind of smile. Dressed in a tight white T-shirt and skin-tight jeans, he turned his head furtively to the right, then to the left, finally looking over his right shoulder.
     "I want to make certain that no one is watching." He giggled.
     Lerner glanced in the same directions.
     "Watching what?" He was confused.
     "Our conversation, of course. I want it to be private. Very private."
     Lerner studied the man for a moment then turned back to the trunk of his car.
     "You got nosy neighbors? Behind the curtains over there?" The intruder motioned to one of the houses across the street.
    "Go away.  I don't have time for a conversation."
     The judge closed the steel-gray lid on a file box and straightened up.
     "No one appears to be watching." The man's high-pitched voice was lilting, and Lerner thought the guy might be gay. Maybe a friend of Rodger's. Although he knew most of Rodger's friends.
     "What do you want?" Now there was a hint of irritation in his voice. "Do I know you?"
     The young man shrugged his shoulders. "I'm about to be an important part of your life." He paused. "Or..." his voice trailed off.
     "Oh, shit." Disbelief in the judge's tone. A touch of fear. "Did I sentence you? You did time? You were in my court, right? Is that it?"
     A bad dream for every criminal judge. Someone you convicted comes back to seek revenge. Deliver me from that scenario, he thought.
     "No. This is nothing personal." A reassuring tone. "Just a message I was asked to deliver."
     "Thank God." Lerner let out a sigh of relief. Then what was the line about "your life. Or...?"  Lerner studied the punk, flashing on James Dean, in Rebel Without A Cause. Or a young Brando in On The Waterfront.
     "Give me the message and then I've really got to go." The judge slammed the trunk lid shut. "Be quick because I've got an appointment in about ten minutes." All he needed was to be late and have this Trueblood walk. He was about to make a deal that might save his life. The day was new and already there appeared to be a problem. He didn't need more problems.
     Lerner stared at the man who appeared to be somewhat effeminate. The high whiney voice, the sullen attitude. God, the guy was seriously going for James Dean, although in New Orleans anything went. Tight jeans, a tight white T-shirt that showed off his flat abs and biceps, and too much product in his spiked hair, the judge thought.
     "Did Rodger put you up to this? Is this his way of getting back at me?" Rodger had been furious. He told Lerner he wasn't about to be dumped by someone like him. It would be like Rodger to put a young punk up to this.
     "No. I don't know a Rodger." He shook his head.
     "No? Then what's the message?"
     The young man wore the same crooked smile, as if he'd had too much to drink or was slightly retarded.
     Lerner motioned him back with a sweep of his hand.
     "Please, get out of my way. Now. Either tell me what you want or get off of my property."
     A black Escalade pulled off the street onto his concrete driveway. It happened a lot at the end of the cul-de-sac. Drivers didn't realize there was no exit. They pulled into his drive to turn around.
     The judge raised his left hand to the driver, barely outlined behind the dark tinted windshield. At the same time he pressed the record feature on his iPhone with his right hand. He wanted a copy of this conversation.
     "Driver, please, be a witness." He shouted it out, hoping the motorist could hear him.
"This guy is threatening me." It couldn't be about what was in that gray file box, the one in his trunk. He'd only told one person that it existed, and even he didn't know exactly what the box contained. That person he was supposed to meet at the restaurant Cochon in just about ten minutes. Paul Trueblood. The contents of that box contained the potential to bring down some very influential people in New Orleans, and he was ready to make a case for his own immunity. This couldn't be about that. Could it? Dear God. Of course it could.
     "Are you here because of the Krewe? Is that it? Tell me. We can work this out. Seriously."
     The young man smiled, still standing in the middle of the concrete driveway, now shielded from the street by the large black vehicle. Reaching behind his back with his right hand he pulled out a pistol, pointing it directly at Lerner's face. The end of the barrel was huge, like an open drainpipe.
     "Do you pray often?" The gun never wavered.
     "No." He was shaking, trembling. "Not often enough apparently," he muttered. Judge Lerner closed his eyes. "Are you going to shoot me? Right now? In front of this witness? Please, tell me before you pull the trigger." Shuddering, he felt the blood leaving his head.
     "Get in." The man spoke in a sing-songy-voice.
     "Get in?" It was then he realized the Escalade was for him. This was no lost driver who wanted a quick turnaround.
     "Look," perspiration covered his body and he felt a slight chill on his skin, "if it's Rodger, tell him I'm sorry. It wasn't going to work from the beginning. Seriously. I offered him cash, a lot of cash. Enough to go away and start over. Please don't do something you'll regret. Something he'll regret."
      "Get in." The voice a little deeper now, more demanding. None of the girlish tones from earlier on.
     "What are you going to do?"
     "Get the fuck in." With a hard thrust he rammed the barrel of the gun into Lerner's soft stomach. It felt like the metal rod might come out the other side. The judge doubled over in crippling pain, tears welling in his pale blue eyes. Lerner fought for a breath, gasping, sucking in air. This guy wasn't fooling around.
     The man in the cotton T opened the rear door and motioned to the judge.
     Still hunched over, Lerner staggered to the door. Where were his neighbors? The loud, brassy soccer mom next door, or the retired couple with the yapping Labrador Retriever across the street? Where the hell was the dog? He was out every night Lerner got home, barking in a frenzy. So the canine takes a break on the one afternoon the judge needs him.
     "In." The kid grabbed Lerner's arm and ripped the shirt cuff from his right wrist. Peeling back the sleeve he unveiled the green coiled snake tattooed just above the judge's gold chain bracelet. He smiled, nodding to the driver. "It's him. No doubt."
     The sting of the pistol barrel smashing into the bone over Lerner's right ear took him by surprise. Then, as his brain processed the pain, he realized the blow had been strong enough to cause a large bruise. Maybe a concussion. His entire skull throbbed. The judge shook his head, trying valiantly to keep his consciousness.
     He felt hands pushing him as he tried his best to climb into the rear seat of the black Cadillac.
     "It's the right guy, James. Let's go."
     The voice faded in and out as he tried to suppress the nausea. Concentrating on his immediate condition he feared only that he would vomit on the soft leather seats. He did not want to embarrass himself.
     It had to be Rodger. The guy just couldn't let it go. As a public figure of some repute, Lerner had decided that he needed a more appropriate lifestyle. He also had decided that he didn't like Rodger Claim so much any more. You fell in and out of love with people for a variety of reasons, didn't you? There were lots of reasons to fall out of love with Claim.
     "The warehouse next to the Napoleon Avenue Wharf, James. You know where that is?"
     "I know, Skeeter."
     They didn't care if he knew where they were taking him. They didn't care if he knew their names. So obviously he was expendable. Expendable. They were going to kill him.
     "I've got money. God knows, lots of money. Hidden money."
     A wave of dizziness came over him.
     "Please, whatever he's paying, I can pay more."
     No response.
    "Oh, God, please."
     The man named Skeeter turned to him and this time he wore a tight, thin-lipped smile.
     "You seem to pray a lot, Judge Lerner. On this side, I don't think that God or Jesus is going to do much to save your soul."
     Lerner thrust his hand into his pocket. Time to call 911. A wave of nausea overcame him and he collapsed on the seat, his last attempt at freedom lost forever.

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