"Careful Gentlemen.  My family has ears. . . everywhere."  No one is really sure what happened at Lord Grimley’s before Knicknevin rose - but that doesn’t stop most folks from blamin’ the Whateleys for it.  Assuring the public that his kin are innocent, Nicodemus campaigns against the fallen Flock and secures the Whateley holdings in town.  For now, the Whateley homestead remains eerily quiet, but its only a matter of time before its inhabitants return home.

    John Goodrich

Elephant Hill was chill and lonesome on this Gomorra night. The only motion in sight was that of a man digging in a grave, his rolled sleeves exposing thick forearms used to work. His perspiration added to the night’s chill, but the labor kept him warm. He clicked a complex rhythm with his tongue, the better to keep Papa Legba’s attention on him, making the graveyard dust that much more potent. He’d mix this up with rattlesnake skin, and add his own special mix of--

"You digging goofer dust? Goofer dust is for marks and want-to-bes."

Startled, the conjure doctor looked up to see a slender young woman whose black dress clung to enticing curves standing at the lip of the grave. Her face was pale and heart-shaped, framed beautifully by the cascade of raven hair that tumbled nearly to the heavy gun belt slung on her slim hips. Her holster was heavy with a massive Peacemaker nestled close to her side.

Duvalier’s own pistol sat holstered under his suit coat, at the edge of the grave, too far away for him to hope to reach if she meant him harm.

Fortunately, he hadn’t been hired by Sweetrock for his skill with a pistol.

"You would be the younger Miss Whateley." Doctor Duvalier said, his deep, rich voice flowing easily off his tongue. "If I am not mistaken, you assisted your, ah--relative Dolores when she prepared the dead miners for Sweetrock."

A look of amusement crossed Tzipporah’s features. Most stories of the slender Whateley woman spoke of her deadly accuracy with a pistol, but Duvalier had tasted the magic of two women in Sweetrock’s dead miners, and none of it had come from the late Wilhelmina. None of the clan, it seemed, was wholly innocent of hexes.

"Doctor Duvalier, at your service," he performed a limited bow, hampered as he was by the edge of the grave.

"Mr. Baine hasn’t been exactly shy with your services," Tzipporah said, her breathy voice low. "They say you’re a man who gets things done, and you don’t have to use magic to make them happen."

Duvalier nodded slowly, watching her hand as she slowly stroked the butt of her pistol. Clearly, this was no chance meeting.

"You have me at a disadvantage, Miss Whateley. Is there something I can do for you?" Howard Findley had once paid the Whateley clan a substantial amount of money to raise some dead for use in Sweetrock’s mines. After wrestling control of company away from him, Max Baine had put a stop to the practice. Baine considered the Whateley clan doubtful allies--not outright hostile, but not particularly trustworthy either. Certainly Duvalier knew enough to be careful when a one of the clan came calling.

"I need a spell, one that’ll stick to a man day in and day out, make him reeeeal uncomfortable." A gleam appeared in the Whateley woman’s eye, and she cocked her head to the side. "Miz Devlin said that voodoo men are supposed to know all about curses. Especially long-term ones."

Duvalier leaned on his spade and let out a rich chuckle. He’d come nearly two thousand miles from where he’d been born, but people didn't change. First they wanted a charm to make someone fall in love with them, and then something to make their former sweetheart miserable when they tired of the infatuation. It was an old story; and though the characters and setting changed often, the ending was always the same.

"And what can I expect in return?" Duvalier smiled back at her, willing to play the game.

Tzipporah’s right hand snaked up to rake her lush, black hair back, even as her left hand touched the swell of her bodice, then slowly descended, smoothing the snug dress across her flat stomach. Duvalier felt his throat go suddenly tight at the entrancingly suggestive back-and-forth of her hips beneath her light skirts. This was enchantment of a different order, far older than anything in Hoyle’s book. The only sound other than the swift beating of Duvalier’s heart was a single, languorous sigh of unfulfilled hunger from Tzipporah herself. More deadly than a mountain lion, and more poisonous than a coral snake, she was in that moment the most desirable woman Duvalier had ever seen.

But the wanton smile turned to a sneer, and her hand emphatically returned to its accustomed position on the handle of her pistol.

"How ‘bout I let you live?" She offered with mock sweetness.

Duvalier swallowed and started to breathe again. Little wonder she needed supernatural aid to cool the ardor of her discarded suitors.

"In my valise, you will find what you’re looking for," Duvalier conceded. "A small figure like a man."

His heart froze for a second as she drew her pistol, but she only used it to rummage forcefully though his black bag. In a few moments, she had fished out a tiny mannikin, sparing the contents further determined searching. She held the miniature figure by its tiny arm, the muzzle of her pistol inches away from its cloth head. She eyed it with suspicion, as if expecting an attack or other treachery

"A precious pair Cousin Dolores and I are going to make, both with our dollies," she muttered savagely.

"You will need a lock of the victim’s hair," Duvalier said evenly. "But not what grows on his head. Soak the gris-gris with the hair in rum, with tobacco and powdered ghost rock. Various discomforts should begin in a week."

Tzipporah broke into a wide, wicked smile. "Thank you doctor," she said, giving him an ironic curtsey. Then, briskly and confidently, she turned her back to him and walked off into the darkness.

Duvalier watched her leave, amazed at the brief encounter, and touched with a hint of longing. Her casual mention of Devlin’s name concerned him: if the Whateley girl knew Mina Devlin, the murderous black widow who ran the Black River Railroad, then Max Baine needed to know about it. Change--trouble--was headed for Gomorra, and it was going to interfere with Sweetrock’s railroad plans.

Climbing out of the grave and carefully taking out a silver spoon, he scooped some dirt from her footprint into a small, empty bottle. A combination of the footprint dirt and graveyard dust would help counter the Whateley woman’s hexes, even though they were the least of the deadly weapons at her command.

* * *

Mr. Bones dropped a baby straight, three through seven, onto the velvet of the card table, and all the wind went out of his opponents. With a sad sigh, Harney showed his two pair--sixes and queens, and Jimmy didn’t even have that. Bones had won, again. Listlessly, he pulled in his winnings, then passed the deck to Jimmy with a perfunctory gesture.

Mr. Bones was making his daily bread, grifting money away from dipwad miners, but it wasn’t much fun today. He doubted he’d be able to muster a dispassionate shrug if Harney suddenly laid down the deed to the Colorado Lode. All he wanted was Tzipporah--to sneak onto the train to the Devil’s Armpit and prank the locals. To feel the sweet sting of her firm lips again, and know it was forever . . .

Tzipporah would come around; she had to. Like him, she’d never feel complete until they were together again. Bones felt it, knew it to the aching depths of his heart.

Once again, he counted the hours since she’d told him he wasn’t interesting anymore. ‘Bored,’ she said, cruelly. She’d be back. It was fate. He organized his hand and let out a profound sigh.

His temporary separation from his soul mate was ruining his game--and his life. Unable to concentrate, Mr. Bones was barely picking up the miners’ tells. But it didn’t matter today--he was doing well. It helped that this pair of yokels was as sharp as half a bag of hammers.

Bones looked at his hand for the first time--a small heart flush but for the jack of spades. It was time to take these boys to the cleaners, but it seemed like so much effort.

Quite unexpectedly, the floor rushed up and hit him.

The chuckleheads just gawped, mouths open like big, stupid fish. Bones waited for the earthquake to finish, but it kept going and going.

Looking around from his low vantage point, it didn’t seem like anyone else had noticed the ground’s rolling spin. Clawing at his upturned chair like a rat escaping a sinking ship, he tried to stand. He’s got one leg under him when the room abruptly reversed direction, spilling him back onto the floorboards.

What in the name of Abe Lincoln’s bastard brother had that greasy toadstool of a saloon keeper put in his drink? Bones was only vaguely aware of his former table-mates sweeping up his honest winnings and running for the door. He could only lie on the floor, helplessly watching them as the room took another sickening lurch. What was wrong with him?

It wasn’t until he heard a ghostly laugh--her laugh--flitting through his mind that he figured out what was happening. She’d hexed him. She’d actually hexed him!

She was resisting fate. She’d said she didn’t like to be pushed around by anyone or anything, but he wasn’t about to let her wrongheaded and willful nature interfere with her happiness. He’d show her how right and perfect their love was.

Just as soon as he could get off the floor.

Last Story

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