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Cover Artist: Becky Scheel
Hoodoo, haunts, and horror.
Riga Hayworth just wants to wrap up her supernatural TV series exploring the magic of New Orleans. But when she stumbles across a corpse, she becomes a police consultant on a series of occult murders, murders that quickly become all too personal.
Book six in the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries.
Snakes and Magic
“Every great story seems to begin with a snake.” - Nicholas Cage
Let’s face it. For most of us, snakes are just creepy. But in the magical world, they can represent either good or evil.
Time travelling back to the Neolithic era, snakes were a symbol of hope rather than a threat. They shed their skin, hibernating in the winter to be “reborn” in the spring, just as the world is reborn each spring.
Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas theorized that the snake’s coiling, spiraling energy corresponded to critical, life giving functions like sex, growth, and fertilization (Joy Reichard, The Neolithic Goddess). When I was in Latvia, I found a silver, coil-shaped wedding ring with abstract symbols on it, symbols I later learned were Neolithic snake symbols.
I love that ring.
In shamanism, snakes represent wisdom, transformation, and healing. As a protector and guardian, this makes the snake a good totem animal to have around.
In hoodoo, practitioners sometimes say they work with “both hands,” using magic for good or evil. On the dark side, snakes can be used for hoodoo jinxing or crossing spells, and are a key ingredient in Goofer Dust (a mix of graveyard dirt and various nasties, also used for such spells). Dr. Buzzard (1885 – 1947), a famous hoodoo practitioner, was known for magically implanting snakes in his enemies through his mental and/or magical powers.
Yeah, that is creepy.
So let’s get back to the light side of hoodoo. Rattlesnakes are powerful hoodoo talismans for good. Their shed skins can be used to reverse bad luck and/or create good luck (especially for gamblers). Snakeskin can also be used as an ingredient to reverse dark hoodoo spells causing madness.
Want a fictional adventure in hoodoo? Read The Hoodoo Detective, available now.
“What we need is more conflict.” Sam frowned, his sandy hair stirring in the breeze from a nearby fan.
Riga Hayworth caught a waiter's eye, pointed to her empty cocktail glass, and raised a digit.
Nodding, the waiter bustled off, abandoning her to the crew of the reality TV show. Tourists and black-aproned wait staff swirled about their courtyard table, in that New Orleans mix of soupy heat and raw excitement.
But all Riga felt was irritation. Irritation that so far the Haunted New Orleans episode of Supernatural Encounters had been a bust. Irritation that she’d felt obliged to do the reality show. Irritation that she didn’t really need the money from the series, her husband had plenty for them both. And that left her awkwardly trying to demonstrate some relevance, keeping her hand in as an income earner. And why did she feel the need to prove herself in their marriage? At the thought of her husband, her annoyance vanished, replaced by longing. What was Donovan doing now?
“We need tension,” her field producer went on. “It doesn’t have to be a fight per se. Tension can mean two people who want different things.” He was dressed for an L.L. Bean safari, but judging from his darkening freckles and ruddy face, he wasn’t any cooler than the rest of them.
Summer in New Orleans. Why?
Riga glanced across the table at her slim, tousle-haired niece, Pen. One bare foot was propped on the edge of her chair, straining the knees of her cargo pants. Today's t-shirt read: KEEP CALM AND GET OFF MY LAWN, an image of a shotgun bracketing top and bottom.
At least with Pen on the Supernatural Encounters camera team, they had a chance for some quality time. The opportunity to do magical research was an added bonus. One of their interviewees, a local hoodoo queen, had joined them for lunch, and Riga had been picking her brain about gris-gris charms.
Riga angled her head back, meditating on a puffy white cloud. If Donovan had been able to get away from his casino in Macau, New Orleans would have been different. Her lips parted. Fun.
She pulled her auburn hair off the back of her neck, enjoying the play of the fan on her damp skin. Discreetly, she unstuck her white silk tank from her back, leaned forward in the wrought iron chair.
“Story is conflict,” Sam, rattled on.
Pen fiddled with a video camera. Her chair was slightly back from the table, angled toward her boyfriend and fellow camera tech John Wolfe. Her other foot rested, hidden, in Wolfe's lap, being massaged.
Angus, their sound man, turned a deeper shade of pink and looked away from the couple.
“I mean, you're gorgeous,” Sam continued. “A Rita Hayworth clone whose name is actually Riga Hayworth. The heart-shaped face, the hair. Your eyes are more of a browny-purple, which is stunning, but the point is...”
Ignoring the producer, Riga narrowed her gaze at Wolfe, still massaging her niece’s bare foot. With his long sideburns and wavy, dark hair, his looks fit his name. Seven years older than Pen, he was a grown man, challenging, virile, sexy. And though Riga liked him, his relationship with her niece made her uneasy. Pen wasn't even old enough to drink yet.
Catching her eye, his face paled, and he laid his broad hands on the table. Riga was unsure what her role of chaperone entailed and had decided to err on the side of militancy.
“You're ignoring me again,” the field producer said.
Riga looked up, studying the spot between his pale blue eyes. “I'm not ignoring you,” she lied. “Just waiting for you to elaborate.”
“As am I, chère.” Beside her, Hannah the Hoodoo Queen propped her head in her hands and fluttered her lashes. Tall, with the sculpted cheekbones of a supermodel and the muscular frame of a pro tennis player, Hannah’s dark skin shimmered in the heat. Dreadlocks streamed from beneath her gold-colored turban.
Sam waved his manicured hands in the air. “Conflict. Stories are built on conflict. Our pilot show had it in spades—”
Riga's mouth turned down. “In the pilot we crossed paths with a serial killer. Do you really want that again?”
“No, no. Of course not,” he said. “Just... conflict.”
“We've got some great footage of Riga rolling her eyes and smirking.” Pen shook her loose, chestnut-colored hair, smothering a smirk of her own.
“It's a start,” Sam said. “But we need more.”
“How much more?” Riga asked.
“We need conflict between people.”
“It's too hot to argue,” Riga said. “Whose bright idea was it to come to New Orleans in June?”
He sighed, glancing at Hannah. “Can't you two at least disagree a little? Magical practitioner to magical practitioner?”
“Why would I disagree with Hannah on anything that has to do with hoodoo?” Riga asked. “She's the specialist, not me.”
“I like this girl,” Hannah said.
He put his hands on his hips. “Work with me here.”
“So you're asking us to fake an argument,” Riga said. “For reality TV.”
“It's television,” Sam said. “You should know by now there's no such thing as reality TV.”
Hannah rose. “Sorry, Mr. Producer. I don't do catfights. And now if y'all would excuse me, I've got to meet a client in desperate need of a love potion.”
“Bye,” Riga said.
Hannah winked and sauntered through the restaurant, winding past the fountain in the center of the courtyard. Pausing beside a table sheltered by ferns, she nodded and disappeared through the garage-like entryway.
Sam folded his lanky arms across his chest. “Riga... We spent the night in one of America's most haunted houses, and you didn't react.”
“It's not that haunted.”
Wolfe's hands were under the table again, and Pen smiled. Riga relaxed, slipped through the in-between. Wolfe's drink toppled, spilling ice and mint leaves and booze into his lap. He leapt up, sputtering, dabbing at his jeans with a cloth napkin.
Pen's feet retracted onto her chair. Peeling a wet leaf from her foot, she glared at her aunt.
Riga gave her a what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it grin. After a year of struggling, her magic had had a sudden breakthrough.
Unfortunately, other parts of her magic were still wildly awry. But the possibilities both excited and terrified her. Enemies in the magical world were like gunfighters, looking to make names for themselves by knocking off tough opponents. The more adept her magic, the easier it was to defend herself, the more people came after her. She fidgeted, itching to return to her hotel room to study the thin file on the Old Man, the file she'd told Donovan she'd leave at home.
Wolfe tossed the soaked napkin on the table. An awkwardly positioned stain spread over the front of his jeans. “I'll be right back.” He headed for the bathrooms, passing the bar. A youngish man in a Hawaiian shirt and baggy shorts half-fell off his barstool, but managed to keep his tall, tropical drink upright. The drinking got started in New Orleans earlier than any other city Riga had visited.
“Riga, this is important,” Sam said. “You need to react more. People need to see your emotion to connect with you – whether that emotion is positive or negative. For example, what are you feeling right now?”
“Great! And what do you do when you're annoyed?”
Riga's lips thinned. “As a mature adult, I express my annoyance in the appropriate time and manner. If you expect me to pitch a fit like some reality TV star—”
“You are a reality TV star. Or you could be if we get this series off the ground. Look, we've got three more days. Just… give me more reaction, okay?”
“Got it. More emotion. No problem.”
Glass splintered, and they turned toward the sound. Hawaiian shirt guy had navigated off the barstool and knocked a waitress to the ground. Clumsily, he brushed an orange from her knee. Her tray rolled along the moss-filled brickwork. A toddler in a highchair pointed at it, laughing with delight. Clutching a fistful of napkins, the bartender hurried to the fallen waitress.
Riga's brow furrowed. Stupid drunks, that was her drink seeping into the patio floor.
Waving a hand in apology at the waitress, Hawaiian Shirt staggered to the fountain, crashed into a chair and stumbled into their table.
Angus stood quickly, and laid a chubby hand on the drunk's chest. In spite of Hawaiian Shirt's six-inch advantage, the stranger stumbled back.
“Hey friend,” Angus said, his broad, freckled face serious, “the bar's that way.”
“I'm not your friend. I'm a hit man. A hoodoo hit man.”
“Well, Mr. Hit Man, you need to move along.” Angus oriented him in the other direction.
The man nodded, turned, brushing past Riga. His lips pressed to her ear, his breath hot and sweet on her neck. “And you're worth a cool quarter mil.” He leaned into her, the gun hidden beneath his shirt digging into her shoulder. Something dropped to her lap.
Pen's face twisted with disgust.
“That's enough, buddy.” Yanking him away from the table, Angus shoved him gently in the opposite direction.
The hoodoo hit man lurched into the dark corridor that led to the bathrooms and the rear exit.
Riga looked down at the scrap of paper folded in her lap. Hands beneath the table, she opened it:
Neither of us is alone.
Follow me and only one of us gets hurt.
At a nearby table, a father lifted his toddler off the ground, blew into the little boy's belly. The child shrieked with laughter.
Riga swallowed. There were too many targets. The waitress, bringing her a fresh Hurricane. A well-dressed couple, engrossed in their smart phones. Pen, smiling vacuously at Wolfe and oblivious to the danger. Riga clenched her hands, a wave of dizziness surging through her body.
Abruptly, she stood.
“Now that's an emotion,” Sam said. “That's what I want to see on your face. What have we got? Anger? Anxiety? Stress?”
“Indigestion.” Riga followed the hit man.
Walking into the cool shadow of the wood-paneled corridor, she unclenched her fists, her heart slamming in her chest. In magic, fear and stress worked against her. Riga fought to relax, rolled her shoulders.
It didn't help. Tension sputtered through her system.
A humming fluorescent light illuminated the narrow hallway in flickering sepia tones. On her left, two bathroom doors, black and splashed with red paint. Further down, a cart stacked with dirty dishes. A sliver of light gleamed at the end of the hall. The rear door stood ajar.
So he wanted her there, outside.
Which meant he was probably in one of the restrooms. Centering herself, she pulled in energy from above and below – hot molten red from the earth, cool blue from the sky.
Riga shoved open the door to the ladies room, checked the stalls.
Riga sidled outside. She walked to the men's room, her sandaled feet clicking lightly on the tile floor. Flung the door open.
Wolfe, braced before a urinal, whipped his head around. “Hey!”
“Anyone in here with you?”
“What are you... No!”
“Of course I'm sure. Do you mind?”
“Sorry.” She ducked out.
So the hit man really was waiting for her in the alley, unless he could hide on the ceiling like a bat. Glancing up, she blew out her breath. No vampires or hit men crawled across the ceiling. Not that she really believed there would be.
Riga paced down the corridor, energy rippling between her fingers.
Heat drifted in from the cracked door. Licking her lips, she tried to ignore the fluttering in her stomach and pressed her fingertips to the door. She extended her senses beyond it, a gentle push on the auric bubble that surrounded her, forcing the bubble outward. She felt no one before her, outside. Which meant…
Riga spun, panting, palms extended outward, fingers curled like claws.
The corridor was empty.
Sounds of normalcy – the clatter of dishes, laughter, light jazz music – flowed down the corridor from the restaurant.
She stared at the alley door. What. The. Hell. Extending her senses again, Riga probed more carefully. A flicker of life sparked on the edge of her awareness. But it was too small to be the hit man. A cat? The gorge rose in her throat at a familiar pull, sickly sweet.
She pushed open the door. A wave of damp heat struck her, and the scent of copper and rotting garbage. A narrow brick alley. Tumbled cardboard boxes. A garbage can, tipped on its side. A hand, lying on the pavement, wet with...
Gripping the door, Riga took another step into the alley. She stared, breathless. The hoodoo hit man lay on the ground, blood spreading from the gash in his neck in a ghastly smile. Blood soaked his Hawaiian shirt. Blood puddled, trickled, spattered. She stumbled back, dizzy, the warm door handle tethering her to reality, keeping her upright.
Something prickled at the edges of her consciousness, hot and cold and electric.
At the end of the alley, a tall figure wavered in the heat, its head strangely bulbous. It stretched, extended, darkening, pulling light inside it.
“What's going on?” Wolfe asked.
Riga jumped, gasping. She turned and looked into a camera lens. “Dammit, Wolfe!”
Riga glanced down the alley. The figure had vanished.
Wolfe smiled, one eye glued to the viewfinder. “I figured you were up to something when you busted into the men's room, so I went back for my camera.”
Riga couldn't trust herself to speak. She longed to punch him, to wipe that infuriating grin from his mouth.
“What...?” He turned the camera, panning down the alley. The camera dipped, swayed. “Oh.”
Digging into the pocket of her skorts for her cell phone, she called 9-1-1, hands shaking.
“At least the cops can't say you did it,” he said. “I saw you go into the alley. I've even got it on tape.”
Riga grunted. “Small favors.” Forcing down the fear and shock, her mind registered the scene. The hit man had probably been attacked from behind. But the spatter would have been hard for the killer to completely avoid, and she shuddered in spite of the furnace-like heat rising from the macadam. It cooked the garbage, the blood, the body.
There was something horribly intimate about a knife attack. It was close, personal.
She'd rather face a gun.
The hit man's shirt was ruched up, exposing his weapon, a Walther PPK. He'd never gotten a chance to draw it.
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Kirsten Weiss is the author of the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery series: The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, The Infernal Detective, and The Elemental Detective. She’s also the author of a steampunk novel, Steam and Sensibility.
Kirsten worked overseas for nearly fourteen years, in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. Her experiences abroad not only gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature, but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.
Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.
Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer reruns and drinking good wine.
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Love it. TFS.
Thanks for hosting me!
An interesting GP; Thank you
Sounds like a great read!
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