OMG, What Have I Done?
First let me introduce myself. My name is Charlotte Parker. I write until the name C. J. Parker (paranormal) and Charlotte Parker (romance). I live in a north suburb of New Orleans, been married thirty years, no children except for my basset hound.
I, like most of us, have one good-hearted flaw. We volunteer when we actually don’t have the time or energy to spare, and often put aside the things important to ourselves.
Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not a day person. My hubby is. If I sleep past 7:30 in the morning, the first thing out of his mouth when I get up is, “I thought you were going to sleep till noon.” I mumble something in return while I start coffee. Hubby doesn’t drink it, calls it my drug of choice.
While coffee gurgles, I shower, blow-dry my hair, brush my teeth and dress. I pour my mug of coffee (holds about four cups), set something out to thaw for dinner, boot up my computer and write until noon, even if it’s total garbage I’ll delete later, I put words on the screen. Some time during the day, I check my e-mail and blog.
Okay, that WAS my normal day. Let me explain. I belong to EPIC, http://www.epicauthors.com/, Last March they were gearing up for their yearly EPICon, this year in Las Vegas. I made an offhand remark that I wish they’d bring the conference to New Orleans someday.
“Volunteer to Chair the convention and it will be,” they said.
Yes, you guessed it. That little person who takes up space in the back of my head said, “Oh, go ahead and volunteer. How hard can it be?” It sounded like fun to me so I took on the responsibility.
First thing I had to do was come up with a budget. Now mind you, I’ve never done anything like this before, so I had no idea where to begin. I asked for the last couple of years’ budgets and went from there.
Then I was faced with trying to find volunteers to help with this project. Sounds easy, huh? Not! Seems most of my friends were too busy WRITING. Silly me. But I did eventually gather five people (need about 10) to help pull this thing together.
Hey! Got a little extra time on your hands?!!
Speakers: I knew I wanted Keynote Speakers who other writers had heard of and respected. I’ve been to a few writers’ conferences and met a few of the upper crust of the publishing world. I have one paranormal novel out in E-format (FUGUE MACABRE: GHOST DANCE), the second book of the trilogy coming out soon in E-format (FUGUE MACABRE: BONE DANCE -- Both from Sapphire Blue Publishing www.sapphirebluepublishing.com/catalog). In November of this year, I’ll have a time-travel romance (Misty Dreams) coming out in print and e-book format through The Wild Rose Press (www.thewildrosepress.com). So I’m not unfamiliar with the publishing world. But were they familiar enough with my name to take me seriously when I sent out invitations to do a workshop at EPICon 2010?
Answer: I signed Holly Jacobs, USA Today best selling Harlequin Romance author, Debra Dixon, of Goal Motivation & Conflict fame, C. T. Adams, best selling paranormal author for TOR Publishing, and Deidre Knight of The Knight Literary Agency.
Where will they stay? That was the next hurdle. I had to find a hotel. That turned out to be fairly easy. I called the tourist board and they sent out requests to all the hotels in the city. The hard part was touring all these hotels that made the cut, looking at their prices, and making sure they could handle our brood. We signed a contract with the Sheraton New Orleans; great location near all the city’s activities and absolutely beautiful.
What will they eat?
How will I advertise this thing on the shoestring budget?
Or find time to write an article for the local newspapers?
Canvas for sponsors for evening events. Oh! And plan those evening events.
Find a list of all the schools in the area and either visit or mail brochures to the literary faculty inviting the students to the New Voices Day for young adults.
Okay. You get the idea, right? Now all the while I’m doing edits for Bone Dance, working on a WIP (Work in Progress), promoting Ghost Dance and trying to be a good secretary for SOLA, local RWA chapter. Oh yeah, and be a good wife to hubby and good mommy to my very spoiled basset hound, Beau.
Sleep? What’s that? Coffee? I really should by stock in the company.
C. J. Parker
EPICon 2010 http://www.epic-conference.com/
C. J. Parker http://www.cjparker.net/
Chapter 1, Fugue Macabre: Ghost Dance
Reporters already clogged the cemetery entrance when Detective Derek Bainbridge pulled alongside the police units sitting end to end like a funeral procession down Basin Street. He leaned his head against the steering wheel. Bile burned his throat, and his stomach cramped from fighting nausea. He knew what awaited him¾another dead child and not a trace of evidence¾nothing to help him find the lunatic doing this.
A sharp knock at the window drew Derek’s head up with a snap. Detective Karney smiled through the glass like the brainless idiot he was. “What?” Derek shouted.
“Oh, nothing. Just wondered if you were going to get out of the car during this century. The kid is gonna start getting ripe.”
Gritting his teeth, Derek opened the door and exited his SUV. Karney’s dun colored eyes crinkled at the corners giving people the misguided impression he was jovial and kind, where in truth he was a mean son-of-a-bitch, his heart as black as his hair. “You got business here, Karney, or just sightseeing?”
“I heard the call and was nearby. I’m leaving now.” Karney jerked his head toward the scene. “Don’t envy you this one. The Governor’s giving the Chief a lot of shit.” His smile widened bearing crooked, stained teeth. “And, it’s gonna run downhill all over you, Bainbridge.”
Derek swung the car door shut, forcing Karney to move or be knocked down. Derek made his way to the yellow crime tape stretched around an area containing eight elaborate crypts and what he knew would be the body of ten-year-old Selma Fortier. Thunder rumbled overhead, echoing through St. Louis Cemetery Number One as though the occupants of this necropolis were angry over the intrusion of the living.
He surveyed the scene and pulled in a deep breath instantly regretting it. Musty scents of centuries-old tombs and ever-damp soil intermingled with the sticky-sweet aromas of gardenias and jasmine in bloom. Summer’s noontime heat settled over him in a humid, suffocating cloak, making the air seem that much more dense.
“Detective.” A uniformed officer stepped up beside him breathing hard.
Derek nodded once. “Who found her?”
Turning red-rimmed eyes to his left, the young officer indicated an old black man losing his lunch behind a grave. Sounds of his retching bounced from one tomb to another. The officer drew another deep breath. “Name’s Earl Levy. Came to visit his wife and found the girl’s body.”
“This your first murder?”
“No, sir. First kid, though. I got a son ‘bout that age.”
The officer swallowed so hard Derek heard his throat clench and then release. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I nearly got sick when I saw her, though. They’re not gonna let me live it down, either.” He gestured with a tilt of his chin toward two detectives trying to keep the press at bay. More reporters and cameramen jammed the wrought iron entrance of the concrete wall surrounding the cemetery, shouting questions and snapping photographs.
Anger tugged at Derek’s already sour stomach. Those barracudas thought of nothing but a byline, never considering those left behind. Common decency be damned, get the story. He shook his head. And people couldn’t understand why cops’ souls hardened? “Don’t let them fool you, kid. They’ve done their share of puking at crime scenes.” Derek swooped under the tape and strode to the remains of the murdered child. The killer had taken the time to pose the child’s nude body against a mold-blackened tomb¾legs crossed at the ankles, tiny hands folded in her lap and head tilted to one side. The pose would appear peaceful had her face not been streaked with dried blood from maroon hollows where innocent eyes once viewed her world. The girl’s injuries exposed raw, bloody bone and ragged-edged flesh where her scalp belonged. As with the five children murdered before her, elaborate symbols were carved into her torso.
Mrs. Fortier’s tortured expression flashed across Derek’s memory and tore at his gut. For the last three days, she’d come to the station begging for answers. Having to tell the woman her baby was dead made his insides twist painfully.
A cocksure photographer from some supermarket rag made it over the wall and dashed close enough to snap a shot of the naked victim before two officers tackled him to the ground and confiscated his camera.
Frustration and anger fueled Derek’s temper. “Why don’t we have a blind up? Hasn’t the ME been here yet?”
The young cop’s back stiffened. “No, sir. Not yet. I roped off the area and kept everybody away. Crime scene’s not been messed with.”
Derek’s eyes were drawn to the front of the crypt where words written in blood taunted him. Always the same enigmatic message: Ogou La Flambo, Lieutenant of burning battlefields, gorge with this blood and grant me my revenge.
He turned when Detective Frank Panner, approached. Running fingers through his sandy-blond hair, Panner shouted orders to nearby men to blind the scene with tarpaulins. He glanced at Derek. “Found out what that Ogou La Flambo shit is.” He flipped his cigarette beyond the cordoned area. “Voodoo head-honcho. Some war god or something.”
The scenario wasn’t a new one. Ten years ago a boy of thirteen started his own Voodoo doomsday. And then there was the old woman who read Tarot cards in Jackson Square. If the death card came up during their reading, she stalked them until she got her chance to carry out God’s wishes. “You think this could be a cult gone bad?”
Frank reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out another Marlboro. “Best motive I’ve heard so far. Isn’t this cemetery where Marie Laveau is supposed to be planted? Maybe¼” He wiggled his eyebrows, and the corners of his mouth twitched with mirth.
Derek felt the heat of rage sting her cheeks, and the pounding of his pulse in his brain. “I’m in no mood for jokes, Frank. We have another dead kid. Or didn’t you notice?”
“Yeah. Number six.” Frank lit his cigarette and drew in a smoke-clogged breath. “The Governor thinks you should be replaced, you know?”
Derek anger climbed another notch as he clinched his teeth so hard he felt a sharp pain shoot to his left eye. He brought his face so close to Frank’s he smelled a mixture of peppermint and smoke on the man’s breath. “I don’t give a damn what the Governor thinks. Let him come out here and see these kids. Then see if he can tell me what I’m not doing to find the son-of-a-bitch doing this.”
Frank held up his hands in stop-sign fashion. “Hey, man, I’m with you. Don’t kill the messenger. I’m just telling you what he said.”
Derek stepped away. “Sorry, man.”
“No need. I understand. This case is eating at everybody.”
“Have you talked to the guy who found her yet?” He took a deep breath trying to calm himself. It didn’t work.
With a shrug and a flick of his hand to dust away a smear of dirt from his shirt, Frank said, “No. Figured I’d let you talk to him first. But, Derek, do him a favor. Soften up that scowl. You look like you have a mad-on for the whole damned world.”
A shrill whistle drew their attention.
“Found something,” an officer yelled.
Detectives and officers converged on a pale yellow sheet of notepaper with two bloody orbs placed on top. Four words mocked them: She has to pay.
“Is¼is that¼?” The officer didn’t finish his question. “Oh, God.” He gagged and ran a few feet away before throwing up.
Frank whistled low. “You think those are the kid’s eyes?”
Derek gritted his teeth. “Bastard’s playing with us.”
Memories of a twenty-year-old unsolved murder teemed inside his skull like the buzz of a low-hanging power line. As with this one, the killer’s note baited him. The taunting message reverberated over and over like a mantra in his brain.
I couldn’t let you have her.