I snatched it from his hand and peered at it in the light.

“Mambo Maryse,” I read out loud. There was only the name and an address. “What on earth is a Mambo?”

“Someone who hopefully can help us.”

“Help us?”

He gave me a grave look. “Sorry, Dawn. You’re in this now, too.”

I looked at the cabbie who was eyeing us suspiciously in the rearview mirror. “Do you know what a Mambo is?”

His eyes grew wide and he shook his head vigorously. “No man, no I don’t want any part of this. No part. I’ll drop you on the corner of the street and then you’ll have to walk.”

Sage scrunched up his forehead with his hands. “Whatever, just get us as close as you can.”

I wanted to throttle him and demand he tell me what was going on. But getting answers from Sage was like pulling teeth, and he had a fear of the dentist.

I sat back in the seat and tried to compose my thoughts that were flying all over the place. It didn’t do me any good. I couldn’t come up with any conclusions. I had no choice but to wait until we met this Mambo Maryse.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Twenty minutes later the cab pulled to a stop at the end of a deserted street. We had left the city a while back and the land had changed from built-up and bright to dark and spacious. This street bordered what looked to be swampland, maybe a bayou or a river. Dark, depressed trees waved their long leaves in a building wind. The houses facing them were scattered apart with messy lawns and rusting trucks in the driveways. I suddenly wished we had stayed back at the venue, but with that horrible sucking creature in the dressing room, that wasn’t much of an option either.

The cabbie didn’t waste a second and took off when we closed the doors, the wheels spinning.

“Didn’t even have a chance to pay him,” Sage muttered as it disappeared in the distance.

That wasn’t good.

He looked warily down the street we were on where the faded streetlamps stopped The houses down that dark way looked old and forgotten, almost swallowed up by the wild vegetation.

“Looks like we’ll have to head down that way for a bit.”

That also wasn’t good.

We walked, keeping a vigilant watch around us for anything out of the ordinary. We passed one house where an old lady sat in the shadowy porch chair, swinging with the breeze, not moving an inch. I had to wonder if she was dead or alive.

“Can you at least tell me how you knew about this person?” I whispered.

“My uncle,” was his answer. “He’s good for this sort of thing. You meet a lot of strange people when you’re in a traveling Mariachi band.”

“Unlike a traveling rock band?”

“Stranger.”

When we finally found the house with the right address, I was quite surprised to see it was the most well-kept house on the street. It was dark and small with a red glow from the windows and beads instead of curtains. There was a tended garden with flowering plants that smelled heavenly. We went up the stony path to the front door and, after taking a steadying breath, Sage knocked on it.

We waited, listening.

“Are you even sure anyone is home? Is she expecting you?”

He gave me a look indicating I needed to shut up. So I did.

We waited some more, and he was about to knock again when we heard the slide of the peephole. After a few beats, as if the person was deciding whether to open the door or not, we heard many locks being undone and finally the door opened.

The woman was lit from behind with that eerie crimson glow. I couldn’t really see her face, but she was short with pulled back dark hair.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a full-on Creole accent.

“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you so late,” Sage began.

“Late is all relative. What do you want?”

I eyed Sage expectantly. Yes, I thought. What do you want?

“I got your card off my uncle. You met him once when his band was here, the Mariachi Seven. His name was Felipe Gonzales.”

“He sounds very Mexican. I think I recall him.”

Her head turned in my direction briefly. I smiled faintly before her attention went back to Sage. “But you didn’t answer my question. What do you want?”

“I need your help with a hex removal.”

I don’t know what I expected Sage to say but I didn’t expect that. The woman, however, just raised her brow and calmly said, “All right. Come on in.”

I followed Sage inside the house. The woman pulled on the string of a table lamp and I was able to see her more clearly. She was pretty and surprisingly young, maybe thirty at the very oldest. Her eyes were small and dark, skin smooth and pale, eyebrows full and expressive. She was wearing a long African looking tunic made up of oranges and browns. She stood in front of us and clasped her hands together.

“I am Mambo Maryse,” she announced. “Please tell me your names.”

“I’m Sage Knightly,” he said. “This is Dawn Emerson.”

“Are you a couple?”

“No,” I said quickly, perhaps protesting a bit too much.

She nodded, clearly noticing.

“Do you have money up front?”

Sage was caught off-guard. He paused and pulled out his wallet from his dark jeans. “I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how much.”

“I charge by the half hour,” she answered simply. “Fifty dollars. A genuine hex removal will take at least an hour. We will have to investigate the problem first, then I’ll have to make a potion specifically for you.”

Potion? I looked around the room and noticed how normal it all looked. Just the neat and tidy, albeit dark, home of a single woman.

She noticed me staring.

“My office is downstairs.” She waited until Sage gave her a hundred dollar bill then she turned gracefully and made her way down the narrow hallway. “Come with me, please.”

We walked down a short flight of narrow red lacquered stairs and then we were in her office. This was more like it. It was dark, the walls were a lush purple color, and books, tomes of all sizes, were piled high on dark wood bookcases. There was a little table in the corner that looked like it belonged at an herbalist’s, piled high with strange jars, liquids, and powders. There was also a kettle and bags of tea, which I assumed were for tea leaf reading. In the middle of the room was a round table with two chairs on either side with an honest to god crystal ball on it as well as a pendulum and a stack of cards. Two white candles burned brightly in a silver holder.

Instinctively I grabbed Sage’s hand. He gave me a squeeze and held on tightly.

Mambo Maryse brought over another chair from the side of the room and put it at the table. She nodded at it.

“Here, sit down, please.”

We did so. The candlelight flickered ominously on her face as she studied us.

“I would like to hear what is going on. Why do you think you’re being hexed? From the beginning, if you will.”

I kept hold of his warm hand. He steadied himself with a deep breath and launched into it.

“I don’t really know when it started. We’ve just had a lot of bad luck lately. Especially on the tour. I’m a musician like my uncle. I’m the guitarist in a band called Hybrid, a bit of a hybrid of sounds: metal, rock, and blues. Anyway, a few months ago, someone broke into our rehearsal space and stole all of our equipment.”

I looked at him in shock. I hadn’t heard any of this.

He continued, his eyes watching the flames dance. “It was a lot of money. Aside from my acoustic which I kept in my house, everything was lost. We weren’t even going to do a big tour for Molten Universe—that’s our new album—a lot of the songs don’t translate well live and we just wanted to get on with recording the next one. But now we had no instruments and no money. On top of that, album sales weren’t as strong as the last two. So we had to do this tour. We needed to earn our keep. And then things started getting, well, weirder. I had this feeling like I was being followed everywhere I went. My dreams were about fire and monsters, things you’d see in the movies. I couldn’t sleep anymore and I was worried about the tour. I just had this terrible fucking feeling like it was all a big mistake. Then Graham, our drummer, had this great idea of getting a journalist to cover the tour. Our band manager agreed and found Dawn here.”

The woman’s eyes flicked to me briefly then went back to Sage. I noticed she was watching him closely, almost in disbelief.

“Dawn can attest that the tour’s been crazy. I don’t know if you follow the news, but we had a girl, a fan, die from a drug overdose in our trailer a few nights ago. Then our bassist went batshit crazy and she’s being treated in a hospital. Last night our stage in Nashville collapsed, though thank god no one was hurt. Tonight there was barely anyone at the show. We’re losing money now and we’re going to get sued over the stage collapse.”

She squinted at him. “That’s it?”

He looked puzzled and laughed nervously. “Well, what more do you want?”

“And you think there is a hex on you? Who do you think would do that?”

He shrugged and exchanged a look with me. Mambo Maryse was watching me closely now.

“I think I would like to hear from Dawn here. She seems to have a different story than you do.”

I opened my mouth to say something but she continued, “But first I would like the truth to compare it to. And though I believe what you say has happened to you, is happening to you, I don’t believe you’re being honest with either me or your friend. Or perhaps yourself.”

She put her hands on the table, palms up.

“Put your hands in mine.”

I let go of Sage. He seemed nervous. Terrified, actually. I didn’t like seeing him terrified. He was supposed to be my rock. He was certainly built like one.

“What are you going to do?” he asked tersely.

“I’m just going to hold your hands. That’s all. I will see if I can get a reading off of you. If not, I will use ceromancy.” She winked at me, the first show of humor. “That’s just reading candle wax.”

“Do it,” I whispered, kicking him lightly under the table. She wasn’t going to bite. At least, I hoped she wouldn’t.

With great reluctance, Sage laid his hands in hers. They were so large and dark compared to her small, pale ones. She gripped him lightly and closed her eyes.

We watched as she sat there, motionless at first. Then she began to frown and twitch. It got worse and I wondered if she was having a seizure of some sort. It reminded me of my brother on rough days.

Finally, she grew completely still. Sage and I leaned forward, holding our breaths, watching her closely.

Her eyes flew open. They were completely black from rim to rim.

I stifled a scream. We were too scared to move.

She spoke in a thick and raspy metallic voice. “You, fool. Did you really think you could get out of the deal? We told you the conditions and you agreed. This is your fate, Sage Knightly, this is the fate you chose.”

Then the woman closed her eyes, twitched once more, and shot up out of her chair, her eyes back to normal and filled with fright. She pointed at him, hand shaking.

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