Veiled eyes, p.23
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       Veiled Eyes, p.23

           C.L. Bevill
 
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  “Ah, oui. Apparently she was too much for Sebastien to resist.” She paused. “Arette had a little tingle of the gift. I think maybe her family might have had a distant relative to us. Some great-granny perhaps.”

  “Jesus Christ!” Anna swore. “Did you have to kill her too?”

  Aurore’s silence was telling. “It was the only way to protect the family. Arette liked to talk to people. She was a friendly one. And they liked to talk to her. Some outsiders can be like that. Like your friend in New Orleans. But Arette was curious about the mine. And she found her way down her, just like you. What she discovered in this room caused her to take her unborn child and flee to some far-off place. But I had known of her presence. I asked Gautier about her, but he simply said she was gone. When Arette came back, several people saw her and recognized her as she made her way to her husband’s home. She didn’t know that word tends to get around.” There was a significant pause. “It had to be done, and Gautier would never betray us. We didn’t know about the child. About you. Gautier must have found you inside Arette’s car, and it was he who took you away. Took you away to protect you from me.”

  Her voice seemed to be coming closer. Anna realized Aurore was stalling while she searched for her. The gift wasn’t like radar unless Anna chose to tell her where she was.

  She began to low crawl through the vehicles and hunks of machinery, trying to work her way around to the other side of the room where the main opening was located. Feeling her way with her hands, she hoped that she wouldn’t slice some of her flesh wide open with a rusted piece of metal. Keeping the glow of Aurore’s light on her right side, she moved cautiously.

  “I think maybe you’ve got me wrong, child. Best to come clean with you and hope blood runs true in your veins. I forgave Sebastien for the slight of your mother years ago, but even he wasn’t sure if you should be privy to every little secret the family possesses.”

  What are you saying, Aurore? You don’t intend to kill me like you did all of them? She felt the bumper of a car and wondered whom it had belonged to and what isolated, innocent act of being in the wrong place at the wrong time they had committed.

  I don’t want to kill you. Not unless I have to. Stand up, Anna. Show me you trust me.

  It was the same voice in her mind that had warned her that she would be judged, judged like Gautier Debou. “Oh, God!” she said. “You killed him too? And if I hadn’t come along, his body would have vanished into the mine, as well?”

  “He kept Sebastien’s child away from me, away from the family,” Aurore snarled. “He and that bitch of a woman, Meg Theriot. She wasn’t one of us. Not really. She only had a smattering of the gift and was far too greedy to suit anyone.”

  “What did Meg have to do with it?”

  “She helped your mother run from the family, taking you with her. Gautier wanted to protect you. He knew that…”

  “What? Gautier knew what?” Anna kept moving. The light was almost to the Peterbilt truck now. Aurore didn’t know where Anna was, but if she kept moving she might be able to outsmart the older woman. Outrun her too. She had marked every passage. Aurore wouldn’t know where Anna was going until she had fled. There were too many tunnels for Aurore or his sons, if they were there as well.

  “As Sebastien’s child, with the amount of power you have, you become the next guardian. Not Gaspard. Not Raoul. Neither have the right gifts. It was always yours. The elders knew that you would do this. We all knew.”

  Anna was instantly outraged. “You mean I’m supposed to be some kind of official assassin for the family, taking care of problems like the ones that fill this cave?” She paused. “You’ve got a helluva step up on the mafia. Casting huge shadows that move like monsters? What do you do with the bodies? Feed them to Goujon?”

  “The outsiders have ruined you,” Aurore said sadly. Her voice echoed weirdly over the chamber, and Anna knew that she was almost to the opposite side. She barked her shin on an old conveyer belt and held the limb with her hands, dropping her flashlight to the ground while the pain radiated through her leg. Biting back the curse that would have flown out of her mouth, she realized Aurore was talking again. “There’s another mine shaft with a sinkhole in it. It’s a fitting resting place for those who’ve betrayed us. And those outsiders who would have done us harm.” There was a hesitant pause. “It’s where you’ll go too. Unless you want to change your mind. Convince me that you care about the family.”

  Anna saw the sinkhole in her mind as Aurore allowed her to see it. It sat deep in the salt dome, well below the water table. Men had once gone too deep there, and they had died when the floors under them had collapsed in a dry year. The sand at the bottom of the salt dome began to suck away at the surrounding walls and the miners had closed off that part of the mine. But Sebastien and Aurore’s kin had found another use for it. Whatever went into the ravenous soil of the sinkhole never came out. It was where Dan Cullen had gone, and where Meg Theriot had ended up, and the vision of sinking in the silt was prominent in Anna’s mind. “And what are you going to tell Gabriel and the rest?”

  “Why nothing at all,” Aurore replied surprisedly. “You just up and went off by yourself. Again. You died down here as a victim of your own curiosity. A tragic…accident. I expect Gabriel will take it hard, but he’s a tough man. He’ll make it through the night. Mebe one day he’ll even find another family girl to marry.”

  “And who will you get to be your guardian then?”

  “There are others who will take my place. Not as strong as you, but loyal to La Famille.” Aurore’s voice had shifted again. Her light suddenly went upward and shone on the high vaulted ceiling of the giant room they were in. “This place, well, if you look up, Anna, you can see where the waters have seeped in from the lake above. We’re sitting right under the deepest part of it. It’s easy to get mixed up in the tunnels, but most of the salt dome sits under our beloved lake. That’s where these engineers sank an exploratory oil shaft about fifty years ago. They plugged it up with a cement cap, but I do believe this whole room will collapse one day. Especially if I give it a little assistance.”

  Anna looked upward. Aurore’s light revealed drilling apparatus in the ceiling. Water dripped from the rigging. Seeping black water ran down cracks in the ceiling, confirming the weakness there. She glanced back down as the light Aurore held moved. “What are you telling me, that even if I get out of here, no one will believe me because you’re going to close this place up? You’ve got to be joking! All I have to do is call out to Gabriel.” But I don’t want him to come chasing after me, to put himself at risk, to possibly get himself killed because of me. Oh God. I can’t do that to him.

  “I won’t let you do that,” said Gaspard. His light flickered on and immediately blinded Anna. He’d been waiting for her at the other end of the hollow of the mine. A fist struck her jaw and Anna lost consciousness.

  Chapter 23

  Saturday, February 21st

  If salt is spilt, then no one must speak until it is thrown over one’s left shoulder or else awful bad luck will ensue to the transgressor.

  Gabriel staggered with the abrupt shocking pain that exploded in his head.

  Without a doubt, he knew it was Anna. It was well after 10 p.m., and he hadn’t seen her since asking her and Alby LaGraisse to retrieve the cases of cola from his garage. There had only been that little sense that told him she had been thinking about him and then the rich smell of raw earth, heady in his head, just as if he really smelled it.

  The fireworks show had gone off on schedule at 9:00, wowing the audience with its spectacular effects, lasting a lingering forty minutes in its entirety. After the show, Gabriel had brought the Belle-Mère back to the dock and unloaded his passengers so they could eat at the crawfish boil. He had begun helping with some of the other events because there were still crowds of people eating and drinking.

  The families with smaller children had begun to leave, trickling out after the big event, and the parking lots wer
e showing empty slots as they slowly left. But it was the Saturday night before Fat Tuesday and revelers were in a mood to party before Lent. Empty buses still waited for their passengers. He knew from past experience that the town of Unknown would be shooing off merrymakers until the wee hours. There were tents with coffee and breathalyzers for those who wished to be safe and three tow-truck companies had volunteered their services to those who had overindulged. Three sheriff’s deputies directed traffic and made sure that the partygoers didn’t go overboard.

  Helping out in one of the coffee tents, Gabriel and Camille didn’t have a lot of business at the moment and didn’t expect any for a few more hours. In fact, only two designated drivers were having a card game with two of the bus drivers at a table in one corner of the tent. Even Camille, who normally had an easy time with outsiders, was having a difficult time with all the noise. She didn’t notice Gabriel’s hand at the back of his head because she was slowly rubbing her forehead with both hands. “Aie, so many people,” she said. “And you know what they’re thinking when they’re drunk. I hope I never sound like that when I drink. It’s enough to become a teetotaler.” She removed her hands from her face and looked at her brother.

  Gabriel’s eyes were closed, and his head bowed forward. His teeth were clenched in an unholy grimace of pain. His hands gripped the back of a folding chair until his knuckles turned white. “What is it, cher?” Camille said, her hand touching him gently. “All these people? It never used to bother—”

  When he opened his eyes, she saw that his pupils were enlarged, eliminating all but a sliver of the antique gold color. Camille almost jumped backward because he looked so wild. She was reminded of another time more than a month before, when she had been in the same situation with her brother. As she opened her mind to her sibling, the ache transferred itself to the side of her jaw and to the base of her neck. One of her slender hands went there. “Anna,” she murmured. “That girl has bad luck. Alice Tremoine said the priest knocked over the communion cup today. It’s a bad sign.”

  Suddenly Gabriel straightened up, ignoring Camille’s statement. “Gone. She’s gone. It’s like before. Like she’s…”

  “Not—”

  “Non!” Gabriel snarled. The sober card players paused in their game and looked over curiously. His voice lowered. “Not dead. Just not…transmitting.”

  They were silent for a moment. The card players resumed their game. One said happily, “Hah. Queen-high straight. Beat that.” Zydeco music could be heard in the distance playing Allons à Lafayette. The aromatic smell of meat cooking was prominent in the air, revealing that the grills were still operating and feeding tourists and townspeople alike. People were laughing and singing along with others in the German beer tent that was adjacent to the coffee tent.

  “Something is very wrong,” Gabriel muttered.

  “Where is she?”

  “I don’t know. She was troubled by something earlier.” Gabriel ran an anxious hand through black hair, swiping it away from his forehead. He glanced around him, looking out through the openings of the tent into the groups of people hurrying past. Some were dancing, dressed in festival costumes. Some had colorful masks on their faces. Others merely had dozens of ropes of glittering beads draped around their necks. None of them were Anna.

  Anna? His eyes drifted shut as he concentrated over the thrall of outsiders’ thoughts. Some of the outsiders couldn’t help the noise they made; it slipped out of their heads unbidden. More of the family couldn’t help but listen to it; it was like having a blaring radio that one could not turn off. Most of the time, Gabriel was good at tuning them out, like ignoring a persistent gnat.

  Anna? He hesitated as a vision of roses poured over his body. The roses were so richly red, so scarlet, that he mistook their velvet petals for drops of blood falling around him. Gabriel felt a surge of fear and knew that it was his own.

  ANNA!

  The blood red roses consumed his mind, and he shuddered as he opened his eyes.

  * * *

  Anna was lost in her thoughts. Words and phrases drifted around her as she fought for understanding. Fear is what binds the family together. Fear and love. Don’t forget it, Anna. I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life before this. You’ll be sucked down. Drowned in a place where you cain’t escape. It won’t be no giant catfish who wolfs your rotting flesh down, it’ll be stuck in a tomb of sandy soil with all those others who done gone before you. Relatives and close loved ones are blessed with the strongest connections. I was angry. I could have ripped his lungs from his body. That miserable son of a bitch. Someone placed flowers in front of the marker, fresh red roses that Anna could smell as though someone had cut them from the garden just a moment before. I told you our gifts are strongest between family members and ones who love each other. No more secrets from you.

  The soft brush of a thousand fragrant fingers spilled over Anna’s face. In the eye of her mind she saw dozens of roses spilling over her head, engulfing her in an ocean of crimson. She lifted her arms out to feel their silken texture wash over her, enjoying the sensation.

  ANNA! It seemed like Gabriel’s beloved thoughts, but while it was clearly a plea for her attention, it was also very far away as if dulled by time and space in its most infinite form. She couldn’t bring herself to answer because she knew that it would garner him undesired knowledge that would draw him to his death.

  There was a prick as a thorn bit into her flesh. It brought Anna careening into the present with a vicious stab of pain.

  These were his roses, Sebastien’s roses. She had seen the greenhouse in his backyard herself, the variety of color that could be seen through the iridescent color of the glass. He had left the roses at Arette’s marker, and it was his feet that had trodden the path smooth. He had honored Arette’s memory even while staying married to the one who had murdered her.

  The pain of the thorn began to move along her body, moving into the side of her face and to the back of her head where it had hit the ground when she’d fallen. The vision began to move away, drifting like the fog pushed by a demanding wind. Anna heard voices, and she wasn’t sure if they were those in her head or those of men talking not too far away from where she was laying.

  The ground under her shifted, and Anna almost moaned, but she bit it back and allowed her body to sink into a state that was the equivalent of a well-boiled noodle. Consciousness had intertwined with her visions and then returned in full force, leaving her in a state of confusion. Rose petals continued to rain down on her thoughts, and she was helpless to stop them.

  “Merde,” said one, dropping Anna’s feet to the ground. He had been carrying her, his hands braced under her ankles. “She’s one of the family. She hasn’t harmed anyone. Perhaps we can convince her?” The same sentiment repeated itself in Anna’s head as the man thought, Must convince her to keep quiet. It’s her birthright.

  Another familiar voice erupted with rage and let go of Anna’s shoulders. She felt the gritty surface of a salt-laden path under her shoulders. “Don’t do that! I can only suppress so much before someone else will hear your thoughts. Control them.”

  “The rest of the elders would not approve,” the first one warned the familiar voice.

  “Oui, I’m aware of that. They haven’t got the Rocky Mountain oysters for this. That’s why I do it. I judge those who must be judged, and it is up to us to tend to that business.”

  There was a brief silence. The first voice said, “Anna’s not an outsider, no matter who her mother was. She has kind thoughts. She ain’t going to hurt the family no matter what she’s seen down here.”

  “It’s her kindness that makes her the most threat, cher.” The familiar voice became entreating as it attempted to convince the other one. “She doesn’t have the stamina and the temperament to protect the family. Oui, the gifts are there, but she’s never learned how to use them. And look how she found her way down to this place. Looking for something she won’t understand, or worse, she’ll refu
se to understand.” Aurore Benoit became like ice as she spoke to her son, Gaspard.

  Gaspard said, “We can convince her. We can make her one of us. Do you know what this will do to Gabriel? His pain will be like a fire that will burn through our forest, each of us will be blackened and smoking for years to come. The agony will be senseless.”

  The gnashing anger was perceptible in Aurore’s reply. “Yes. Yes. We all make sacrifices. You think I wish your half-sister dead? What I don’t wish is to stand here and convince you that I am right, that this is best for La Famille.” There was a momentary pause. “You did not wish to touch those geology students, but they had found the graveyard. They were looking in each of the vehicles. They had used boltcutters on the fence and broken the locks on the main doors. Another few minutes and they might have found the hidden opening to the sinkhole. The one said to me that he specialized in diving sinkholes. Anh. He would have found much to occupy him there.”

  “Get rid of these vehicles then, Maman. They only point to us.”

  “It used to be safe.” Aurore’s tone became thoughtful. “No one dared to come down this far into the mine. Not the miners. Not even the odd tourist. Never one of the family.” Her voice altered as she changed direction. “Just her. Looking for Meg. Who would have thought that Meg Theriot had enough of the gift to call to her? Oui, even the best of protectors becomes lax at times.”

  Gaspard didn’t reply.

  “I hear Gabriel,” said Aurore after a moment. “He’s faint. But he calls for her. And she, she dreams of roses. Roses the color of blood spilling from a fresh wound. The roses Sebastien leaves for Arette’s memory.” Her voice came closer to Anna. “Anna? Anna? So close to consciousness, oui? We’ll have to work quickly. We won’t want her to suffer.”

  “It’s a mortal sin,” said Gaspard piously. “Thou shalt not kill.”

  “And thou shalt not kill,” said Aurore. “The sinkhole. That’ll do the job.”

  Rose petals caressed Anna’s cheeks. She let them flow over her in an endless rain. They protected her from Aurore’s knowledge.

 
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