I looked at the obituary one more time and laid the paper gently in the wastebasket. Heading for home on the Honda, I stopped at the crossroads. A magnolia tree, branches drooping with thick, creamy blossoms, hung over the road. I jumped from the bike, broke off a branch, and wedged it into the carrier, then took the turning for town.
The shops along the waterfront drive were shuttered and bolted, only the bars spilling music and tourists onto the shadowed wharf. The bay reflected faint purple to the darkening sky. I followed its curve past deserted dim streets, an empty schoolyard, and a closed automotive center, then parked next to a wrought-iron gate set in low masonry walls.
Inside them, a miniature city of white houselike monuments, the cemetery lay hushed in the fading dusk. Stone glowed pale against pools of black shadow in the aisles between crypts.
In Haiti, if the family could afford it, they installed heavy stone crypts to keep a Bocor from stealing the body to make a zombi slave, one of the living dead.
I hesitated at the gate, glancing back at the deserted street. My fingers slipped into my pocket to touch the can of mace I’d bought after the encounter with the dog and the hostile Dread. Was it my fault, mentioning the boy? Had they gone after him, poisoned him?
“Slow down, girl,” I muttered. Taking a deep breath, I pushed through the gate.
I wasn’t alone in the cemetery. Along the far wall, where the tall, ornate crypts thinned out and gave way to simpler monuments, a low shape rested on freshly disturbed earth. The coffin and ground around it were covered with flowers, where two men sat on folding chairs, drinking from cups. I clutched my armful of blossoms, easing through a shaded alley between high, ghostly-white boxes. A whirring sound passed overhead, a bat making passes through the night, and despite the sultry evening, the shade in the narrow passage felt cold. I walked faster.
Emerging into the open, I let out my breath. The bat swooped by again. The men looked up.
They froze, one crouching to light a lantern, the other with his cup raised to his mouth. The one with the cup dropped it, stood, and picked up a karate weapon, two short sticks connected with a chain.
“Who you come for?” The man by the lamp stood, too, voice gruff. The whites of his eyes glinted in the dusk.
I stepped from the shadows, holding out the waxy pale blossoms. “I’m a friend of Samuel’s.”
“Huh.” A match scraped and the lantern flared, lighting a cooler and radio beside their chairs. They were both big men, dressed neatly in khaki pants and work shirts rolled up to reveal muscular arms.
“Who you be? Why you come now?” It was the man gripping the weapon, giving me a once-over as I stepped cautiously closer.
I cleared my throat. “I only just now read about him in the paper.” I laid the magnolias among the other offerings, a pitiful gesture after all.
“You fool, gal. Lucky you find us, not dey Dread, not dey Rude town-boy.”
I looked up to meet skeptical dark eyes. Suddenly I felt very small. The man could have modeled for a statue of an epic hero, everything on a giant scale and not an ounce of fat on him. He radiated power, but not the threatening, violent aura of the Rudes strutting around town.
I made a rueful gesture. “Guess I lost my head.”
A dazzling smile, startling in the dimness. “You bes keep dat pretty ting.” He picked up a chair, offered it to me. “You sit now, drink a rum foh Samuel.”
I offered my hand. “I’m Susan.”
“James.” His huge hand engulfed mine. “Dis here Frederick.”
The other man, burly but not on James’s scale, wiped his hand on his pants and gave mine a brief squeeze. “You frien’ of de family?”
I shook my head. “I’d just met Samuel. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the newspaper.” Or had it only been the jolt of recognition? Those swirling images out of the blue, stone demons and the boy’s eyes gone blank glass, death finger pointing over the brink of the abyss—
“His mama like to lose her mind.” Frederick poured some rum and Coke into a paper cup and handed it to me. “Now she got jus dat Dwayne.” He snorted. “He be grief and moh grief.”
“Don’ got flap lip like some.” James crossed his arms, gave Frederick a narrow-eyed look.
Frederick shrugged. “No secret he mix it up in dat bunch over West End. No good coming in dat, sure. See what come to young Samuel, he follow on Dwayne.”
“You talkin’ like ol’ granny, you got Jumbie on de brain.” James shook his head, raised his cup. “Now you drink up, gal.”
I sipped, coughing on fiery rum.
“Hoo-whee!” A rumbling laugh from Frederick. “Dat de cure.”
“What you do here on you own at night? You bes stay safe at de tourist place.” James was sprawled on the grass, eyeing me.
“I’m living up on the mountain. I’m an archeologist, investigating petroglyphs.”
“Dem ol rock to Palm Cay?”
“I see dem carve rock!” Frederick nodded. “Granny say dey power spot.”
“Power spot?” I leaned forward. “What do you mean?”
“Huh!” James cut him off. “Don’ you listen on Frederick, he jus ’fraid on dark, ‘fraid on Jumbie hide under every little pebble.”
Frederick scowled, massive fist pounding the flimsy armrest of his folding chair. “Now you diss me, dat one ting, James! You mind you mouth, you diss ol’ Granny! Maybe Jumbie come foh you, maybe soul-stealer, he creepin’ in de dark to take you, and you not be minding de ways!”
“Hssst!” James made a dismissive chopping motion.
“Frederick.” I cleared my throat. “Are the carved rocks connected with Jumbies? What are they?” I wasn’t sure, with the fast patois, if I’d heard him right. Soul-stealer?
James rolled to his feet, leaned over, and tuned in a local radio station. Reggae crackled. “Jump, jump! Hands in de air . . . .”
He flashed white teeth, sliding into a dance step. “Carnivale song! Come now, Samuel not liking’ all dis fool talk. We send him off right, raise a little party here.” He reached down to take my hand and tug me out of the chair. One hand on his belly, he danced some swivel-hipped steps, pulling me toward him.
I shook my head, stepping back. “I’m not much of a dancer, I’m afraid.”
“No fear, gal, you makin’ bold tonight! You dance now foh Samuel. How you go Carnivale, you don’ shake it up a little?” He tugged me closer again.
I gave in and started swaying to the lively beat.
“Hoo-ha! Dat de way!” Frederick raised his cup to us.
“Dat right. Here, you got to get moh loose, gal!” James laid his huge hand on my hip, guiding me into his movements.
“Jump, jump, every-body . . . .” Tinny drums pulsed out of the radio, swelled our little circle of light, glimmering on rum-soaked waves, holding the dark night and the pale stone monuments at bay.
I danced, sweat springing on my face in the damp heat. Another song picked up the pace, drums pounding, claiming my feet. Hot surge up my spine to the serpentine sway, flash of James’s grin, “Dat it, gal!” and I was flowing with his loose-hipped lead, flowing with the rhythm pulsing up from the dark earth.
“Dance, dance, Hey!” A final crash of cymbals and steel drums.
“Hey, gal, you showin’ dat big-head James how!” Frederick crowed.
Laughing, dizzy with the rum and a final spin from James’s arm, I staggered, pushing my tumbled hair from my eyes. I came up short before the flower-covered coffin, the open earth grave.
I sucked in a shaky breath. “I guess I should get going.”
James touched my shoulder. “Dat mighty fine send-off foh poor Samuel.”
Frederick stood, beaming down at me.
I shook his hand. “Thank you.” Turning, I peered past our fragile circle of light at the night settled over the tombs. I wasn’t eager to retrace my steps through those dark aisles.
James stepped beside me, touched my arm. “No fear, Sweet Sue. Where you car? No body mess wi’ you when James walkin’ longside.”
His powerful presence steered me through the rows of boxes shimmering dull silver in the night. No sign of the swooping bat. James, karate sticks and chain in his grip, chuckled when he saw the Honda. “You a case sure, gal.”
“James, why are you and Frederick staying by the grave?” Soul-stealer? Were they guarding the body from a Bocor?
“Don’ you listen on dat Fredrick. We jus shows respect on dead.”
“I see. Well, good night.”
“Now you take care dat pretty little head, Sue.” Teeth flashing, he touched me under the chin. “Come see me down de harbor. My boat, she Sea Maid.”
He stood tapping the wooden sticks against one leg as he watched me start up the motorcycle and ease forward.
I turned to wave. “Good night!”
He was already gone, melted into the shadows of the cemetery.
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