Monday, March 05, 2012

Qwantu Amaru - One Blood


For Every Action...
Lincoln Baker, born a ward of the state, has gone from orphan, to gang banger, to basketball superstar, to lifer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in the space of eighteen years. During his prison term, he meets Panama X, a powerful and mysterious father figure who gives Lincoln a reason for living – he must assassinate Randy Lafitte, the sitting Governor of Louisiana.
There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction...
In order to force a pardon, Lincoln orchestrates the kidnapping of Karen Lafitte, Randy’s only daughter. But Randy Lafitte is a man who built his fortune by resurrecting a family curse from slavery to kill his own father. A curse that may or may not have been responsible for his son Kristopher’s death in the gang crossfire that sent Lincoln to prison for life. Randy will stop at nothing to save his daughter, even if it means admitting the curse is real. Even if it means committing greater atrocities.

Too bad for Anyone Stuck in the Middle.

Three days after Karen’s kidnapping, an explosive cocktail of revenge, manipulation, serendipity, fate, truth, and redemption detonates throughout Louisiana. When the dust settles, the ending is as unexpected as it is illuminating. There are secrets sealed in our blood, you see. The best answers, as always, lie within.


Chapter Six

1963
New Orleans, LA

Randy stepped out of the air-conditioned womb of the hotel into the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells that made up his favorite street in his favorite city. He paused under the hotel awning, rubbing his hand through sandy blond hair, his clipped nails unconsciously brushing the still sensitive scar. His father had dropped him on his head as a baby—the first of many injuries. Randy wasn’t a baby anymore, though, and the delights of Bourbon Street beckoned.
It was near dusk. The French Quarter was ablaze with the orange glow of electric lamps. The thick, sticky air hung suspended like spider webs of moisture, flavored by an eye-watering aromatic stew of magnolia, urine, cayenne pepper, and exhaust fumes. Randy’s virgin ears buzzed with dusky jazz and blues melodies echoing down a street too narrow to contain the soulful yet sorrowful notes. The foot traffic of hundreds of thirsty, starving visitors—beckoned by the holy trinity of cheap booze, cheap (yet exotic) eats, and cheap thrills—replaced automobile traffic.
Randy was here for none of these, although a few drinks would probably help ease his self-consciousness. He stood out like an aristocrat among the groveling masses in his blue blazer, polo shirt, and khakis, but knew the uniform would please his father. After all, Randy’s father was footing the bill for this little excursion, even though he was in the dark about Randy’s real reason for wanting to come to New Orleans.
To keep up the fa├žade of a celebratory party trip to the Big Easy, Randy had brought his partner in adolescent crime, Bill Edwards, along for the mission. Bill was a physical Adonis whose mental faculties were not much more advanced than a statue. His simple, go-with-the-flow attitude made him the perfect traveling companion.
After the four and a half hour train ride from the heel of their boot-shaped state, into the big toe, Randy and Bill checked into the luxurious suite Joseph had reserved for today’s dual celebration of Randy’s graduation from boarding school and his eighteenth birthday. Atop the dresser his father had left them a stack of cash and a note instructing the boys to explore the city. He’d try to meet them for a late dinner.
As the young men passed throngs of street musicians, hippy hustlers, and tourist shops, Randy considered New Orleans’ deceptive nature, the gluttonous beast beneath the cultured veneer. The city reminded him of a decrepit venus fly trap, opening up her decaying petals to emit what was left of her allure. Randy could relate to that kind of deception and duality.
For an instant, Randy felt the presence of something dark, wet, hairy, and profoundly hungry stalking him. He looked over at Bill to see if any of this was registering.
His taller, bulkier buddy gestured excitedly at a sign advertising penny peep shows. “Check this out, Ran!” Bill whipped his head around and gaped at an attractive blonde who looked around their age. The girl glanced over her shoulder and gave Randy a look to which he’d grown quite accustomed. Southern girls played at being prim and proper but were easier to play than a pre-schooler’s recorder.
Forget those girls, Bill,” Randy said. “We’ve got other plans.”
You serious?” Bill asked, following the blond and her buxom red-headed friend into a nondescript bar. The sign outside read: Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House.
Lafitte, hmm. Maybe it’s a family-owned establishment.
Come on, buddy, let’s get some beers,” Randy said, turning Bill away from the bar and pointing him in the opposite direction. Randy actually had no idea where he was going, but knew what he was looking for. He found it down a dark alleyway three blocks off Bourbon Street.
Explaining the essence of his plan to Bill, Randy got the response he anticipated.
No way, Ran. I ain’t goin’ to no fortune teller.”
Who said you were?” Randy pushed Bill out of the way. His eyes were drawn to the sign on the worn door before them.
GOOD FORTUNES, it promised.
Bill interrupted his reverie. “Somethin’ ain’t right about this place. Can we please go?”
Calm down, you big chicken,” Randy replied. “Drink your beer and wait for me.” Randy didn’t anticipate much help from a mere fortune teller, but hoped she could at least point him in the right direction. He was searching for a place where spells, curses, and secrets were traded. Where blood sacrifice was the only currency that mattered. And later at dinner, Bill would corroborate Randy’s story about how they’d spent their evening.
Randy winked at Bill and turned the knob.
Now why you gotta go and do this, Ran. These places ain’t safe!”
Only one way to find out,” Randy replied, pulling the door open. Lavender spice tickled his nostrils as he moved into the building. “See,” he said, “what’s so scary about this?”
Bill peered in briefly before Randy closed the door in his face.
Randy stared up a candle-lit stairway. “Hello! Anyone here?”
Upstairs,” a girlish voice sang.
Well, here goes nothing.
Randy’s boldness was replaced with childlike fear and wonder. Swallowing his nerves, he slowly ascended the staircase, gazing cautiously at his surroundings. At the top, he was greeted by a golden light emanating from a room just off the landing. He looked around for the owner.
The space was empty, but for a myriad of plants and a small round table in the center of the room. Light radiated from a globe in the middle of the table. Randy sat in one of the two chairs and examined the sphere.
You can touch it if you want,” a voice whispered, an inch from Randy’s right ear.
He jumped up and whirled around, his gaze falling upon a beautiful woman with curly, black hair. Her height and youthful bone structure surprised him even more than her sudden appearance. He’d always pictured fortune tellers as older and gypsy-like, but this woman looked barely older than him.
Did I scare you?” the woman asked, her green eyes glinting with mischief. Her near-white skin glowed from the light coat of sweat afflicting nearly everyone in this tropical town.
A little,” Randy admitted. “Why did you sneak up on me like that?” His eyes devoured the yellow summer dress clinging to her sultry Creole curves.
I like to get a good look at my customers before we engage.”
Are you satisfied with what you see?” he asked. He noticed that her delicate hands were wrapped in looping henna script.
Not quite. Come. Sit.”
Randy sat before the beautiful prophetess. He felt an uncomfortable rigidness in his crotch.
Stay focused.
What’s your name?” he asked.
The woman smiled. “Madame Deveaux,” she spoke softly.
Randy had to lean in to hear her. “You…you’re not…what I expected.” Their faces were inches apart.
People rarely are. So, what brings you to me?”
Randy was losing himself in her eyes, forgetting his purpose. Willing himself from her hypnotic sway, he blurted, “I…I want to curse someone.”
Her gaze sharpened. “I do not play games, young man. Nor should you.”
I’m very serious.” Now that his dark request was out in the open, his heart pounded against the walls of his chest like a giant trapped behind a great steel door.
We’ll see about that. How much money do you have?”
Money? I thought…”
You thought you could pay me in pig’s blood or some other foolishness?”
Favors,” Randy choked out, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. “I read…I mean, I thought you were paid in favors.”
Madame Deveaux’s face softened as she erupted in laughter.
What’s so funny?”
You’re just a boy,” she replied. “Who could have possibly hurt you so deeply that you feel the need to hurt them in return?”
Randy stared at the impossibly young fortune teller, trying to decide how much to reveal. Either she would believe him, or she wouldn’t. Either she could help, or she couldn’t. “My father,” he said finally.
She nodded. “Our families are often the cause of our deepest pain. What makes your case so special?”
Taking a deep breath, Randy began his story. It was amazing how easy it was to talk about this secret subject with a complete stranger.
He killed my mother. In a car accident when I was twelve. Tried to say it was some kind of accident, but I know he’s happy she’s dead…”


* * * * *


After his mother’s funeral, Randy was often dragged to meetings his father had with a group of men that Joseph referred to as his brethren. Even at the age of twelve, Randy was well aware of what his father and his friends did to pass the time. After getting drunk, they’d pull out their white robes and hoods and head into North Lake City to “maintain the order of things,” as Joseph liked to call it. Randy once asked his father why they had to patrol the area if that was the police’s job.
Joseph snorted laughter and replied, “Look around the room, son. The police are right here. We just wear different uniforms at night.”
One such night, the brethren were drinking heavily, their pores oozing the rotting oak aroma of Kentucky’s finest bourbon. Joseph, three sheets to the wind, began recounting the accident that took his mother’s life, looking Randy right in the eyes while doing so, as if daring his son to shut him up.
According to Joseph, he and Rita were returning to Lake City from Shreveport on US-151, just outside of Deridder, when a stupid black child chased a ball or something into the middle of the highway, right into their path.
When I saw that niglet, I had a mind to do one thing and one thing only.”
What was that, Joe?” the brethren asked as one.
To jam down on the gas and run ‘im down!”
The brethren howled like hyenas before the kill.
But then my stupid cunt of a wife grabbed the wheel and instead of hittin’ that niglet we hit a ditch. Well…I hit the ditch. Poor Rita flew out the windshield like a witch on a broomstick! Ha! Good riddance, I say.”


* * * * *


It was supposed to be me,” Randy whispered to Madame Deveaux. “It’s my fault she’s dead.”
How is it your fault?” Madame Deveaux asked.
On trips, I was the navigator, so I always got to sit up front with my father. But I was sick this time and couldn’t go, and she died because of it…”


* * * * *


Randy began two different lives in the wake of his mother’s death.
In public, he played the part of the grieving only son of the affluent businessman. He attended school, studied hard, and hung out with friends. But he never shed a tear. That would have brought on a severe beating from Joseph for certain.
In private, he was in agony. He didn’t sleep, eat, or pray. His brain was on a never-ending doom loop. Before long, he fell apart like a long buried skeleton.
One day, while desperately searching for some way, any way, to relieve himself of the crushing grief, guilt, fear, and shame, he took a steak knife in one unstable hand. Before he knew what he was doing, he slashed his upper forearm in a swift motion, reminiscent of a violinist with a bow. After nearly fainting from the sight of his own blood bubbling up to the surface of his pale skin like lava, the sensation of vertigo was quickly replaced by a surge of adrenaline and release.
Eventually, he graduated to butcher knives and long precise cuts to his upper thighs. He even grew accustomed to the additional sting from the sour-smelling vinegar he used to cauterize his self-inflicted wounds. Nothing compared to the merger of pain and exuberance he experienced whenever he plunged a knife into his flesh.


* * * * *


So you wish to curse your father to punish him for killing your mother, correct?” Madame Deveaux recapped.
He nodded.
Why a curse?” Madame Deveaux asked after a moment’s reflection. “Are you afraid to get your hands bloody?”
Randy stared at her over the shimmering globe. “No. I’m not afraid. But there is a certain symmetry to doing it this way. You interrupted me before I could finish my story…”


* * * * *


One afternoon after the cutting started, Randy was wandering deep in the stacks of the Lake City Public Library, planning more self-inflicted incisions, when a book spine caught his attention. He pulled out the book called The History of Magic and cracked it open. Hope whispered to him from between the dusty pages.
He devoured the tome, chock-full of true stories about apparitions, divination, witchcraft, and spirit-rapping. Afterward, he became obsessed with all things occult, reading everything he could get his hands on. Most of the books dealt with the homegrown magic of Hoodoo and the religion of Voodoo. They described New Orleans as the epicenter of American magic.
Randy began daydreaming of one day possessing the power to bring his mother back from the dead. But those plans got derailed when their maid found his stash of bloody rags and damning books, prompting Joseph to ship him off to a boarding school in France.
While exiled, Randy had the opportunity to meet distant relatives and learn more about his origins. His father had always expressed extreme pride for their ancestor Luc Lafitte, a French buccaneer famous for many things, including the founding of their hometown, Lake City, in 1802. However, Randy quickly learned that his French kin didn’t share the same affection for Luc. To them, Luc and his direct descendants were decayed branches that had thankfully rotted off the family tree.
After weeks of searching the library of his boarding school for the French version of Luc’s story, Randy uncovered Le Roi des Pirates, (The Pirate King), which described the beginnings of the Lafitte lineage in America. Apparently Luc had made his fortune hijacking Spanish ships in the Gulf of Mexico, eventually settling down in Lake City. The Lafitte’s had always been an opportunistic clan, and Luc possessed the foresight to open a French trading outpost in Lake City that became a strategic center for French military operations. He married the daughter of a French aristocrat who eventually gave him a daughter and two sons.
Luc’s life then became very unremarkable until his apparent suicide three days after his oldest child and only daughter, Melinda, threw herself from the roof of the Lafitte mansion on her eighteenth birthday. Randy combed through account after account of who was born to whom, who married who, and who died when. A dark trend emerged; Melinda’s suicide had started something.
The more he read, the more he became convinced that fate put this knowledge into his hands at the precise moment when he could appreciate its significance. It was as if his mother were reaching out to him from behind death’s curtain and pointing the way.


* * * * *


Today is my eighteenth birthday,” Randy concluded.
And you want your father to die three days from now, just like Luc Lafitte, am I right?” Madame Deveaux asked.
Randy nodded.
What if you’re wrong? What if the curse doesn’t work that way?”
Randy hadn’t considered this, but couldn’t let her know that. “Well…if it doesn’t work…I expect a full refund.”
Madame Deveaux laughed. “You really have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, do you?”
Randy suppressed the urge to lunge across the table and choke her laughs quiet. “Look, there are a hundred so-called fortune tellers in this town. Are you going to help me or not?”
Madame Deveaux straightened. At once, she appeared taller and more present. Randy felt her essence envelop him from all sides, even though she never moved.
I am no fortune teller, boy,” she said. “I am mambo…ahh, I see you know this word, yes?”
He nodded slowly. “So…you are a voodoo priestess?”
Yes. Now you know what and who you are dealing with. Do you still wish to proceed?”
Yea-yes,” he stammered.
Very well, Randy,” she replied after a moment. “Come back tomorrow afternoon and I will have everything you need.”
Plodding down the stairs, Randy couldn’t remember when he had told her his name.
Oh man, am I glad to see you!” Bill exclaimed as Randy stepped out of the building. “What the hell took you so long?”
Randy’s head buzzed. Madame Deveaux’s incense had done a number on him. “What do you mean? How long was I gone?”
Nearly two hours!”
That long?
Well? What did she say?” Bill asked.
She said that I should get rid of any and all chicken shit friends.”
Come on, man. What did she really say?”
In three days, Joseph is a dead man.
Ran? You with me buddy?”
Randy looked over at Bill. “I need a drink. Then I’ll tell you all about it.” Randy stared back at the sign – GOOD FORTUNES.
Am I really going to go through with this?
He visualized his mother’s kind face and felt his jaw muscles clench painfully. For the first time in years he felt the compulsion to bleed himself.
Okay, no problem,” Bill replied. “Hey, cheer up…it’s still your day for another coupla’ hours. Let’s make the most of it.”
Randy allowed Bill to wrap his arm around his shoulder and lead him back into the lights of the French Quarter.


* * * * *


Over the next three days, Randy followed Madame Deveaux’s instructions without exception. She told him that sometime after midnight on the third day, Joseph would do something completely out of character. That would be Randy’s cue that the curse was in effect. Just when he’d convinced himself that he’d been swindled, his father burst out of the front door of their hotel, a drunken, disheveled mess.
Randy suppressed his impulse to call the whole thing off and followed his father instead.
Joseph was clearly scared out of his mind. The stench of his fear hung in the air like a trail of breadcrumbs as Randy lagged behind him.
Before long, Joseph reached Jackson Square.
Randy found a spot where he could observe without being seen. He watched as his father knelt next to Andrew Jackson’s statue and placed a revolver in his mouth.
It’s working. He’s really going to do it.
Joseph looked up as if in prayer and a tall, black man emerged from the shadows.
Randy stood. This wasn’t part of the plan.
Joseph removed the revolver from his mouth at the sight of the black man and offered it to him.
Randy ran across the square.
Joseph sat in rapt attention as the black man spoke to him. Then the black man shoved the barrel of the weapon back into Joseph’s mouth and pulled the trigger.
Randy watched the back of his father’s head torn apart by the bullet. He stopped in the middle of the square like he was the one who’d been shot. Finally, he found his voice and screamed, “Stop right there!”
Randy broke into a run, but arrived at his father’s side too late.
The murderer was gone.

Qwantu Amaru has been writing since the age of 11.  An avid reader, he has always aspired to write suspenseful page turners and socially significant literature like those of his writing influences Richard Wright, Harper Lee, Walter Mosley, Tananarive Due and Stephen King. Qwantu draws his inspiration from his modest upbringing in small towns and cities across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Florida. In addition to his first novel, ONE BLOOD, Qwantu has published six volumes of poetry:LightbringerLovelostAfter the StormMidnight's ShadowAwakening, andActual-Eyez.Qwantu is an active member of the outstanding socially active poetry collective Black on Black Rhyme out of Tallahassee, FL.He has performed spoken word in poetry venues from New York to Los Angeles.He is also part owner and one third of The Pantheon Collective, an independent publishing venture dedicated to bringing high quality independent books to the masses while empowering and inspiring other authors to follow their dreams.Qwantu currently resides in Jersey City, NJ.



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