The Lost Reflection by Bruce T. Jones
Brian Denman, a retired CIA agent and lethal mercenary turned private investigator, unearths the scum and scandals among the politically powerful. When his friend Phillip Wilder, owner and editor of Urban Legends tabloid, recruits him to gather information for a blockbuster story, Brian cascades into a series of unexpected events. Sent to New Orleans, Brian probes into the centuries old myth of what the Vatican conceals on the third floor of the Ursuline Convent. As he delves deeper into the mystery, Brian is hurled into New Orleans’s dark and dangerous underworld, a labyrinth culminating in an epic battle of destiny and revenge.
Excerpt from The Lost Reflection
Throughout our lives we take our reflection for granted, some more than others. We wake up and stare, or perhaps merely glance, into the mirror knowing the face we see is the same as yesterday, and the day before. Aging slowly with time, reflecting pride or shame, happiness or sadness, many times not the person we want to see. Some have the power to change their reflection, most do not. There is no hiding from the truth reflected, but can you change it? What would you give to see that familiar face again, the one that has been lost forever?
The night air in Jackson Square clung like a warm and soggy wool blanket; just another August night in the French Quarter. The spicy aroma of Cajun cooking permeated as tourists blended with the vast assortment of locals crowding the marketplace. Deep, earthy blues from a nearby restaurant reverberated off the historic walls of the surrounding structures. Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic Church in the country, vigilantly towers over the square. Dim gas glow flames scintillated from the street lanterns and buildings, scarcely illuminating the carnival atmosphere. Musicians, artists and gypsies all work their crafts to the delight of the nightly gatherers.
Stella La Rue was the oldest and wisest of the gypsy fortune tellers, a throwback to the classic gypsies in Lon Chaney movies of a bygone era. Stella was old, exactly how old nobody knew. An advancing kyphosis had given her a pronounced hump on her back. Crystal blue eyes, so clear you would swear you could see right through them, highlighted her cinnamon brown, weathered face. Gray hair, tightly pulled back, framed her bandana covered head. Jewelry excessively draped her neck and wrists. Most of it was worthless, but not to Stella. She valued it all with great reverence. Her mismatched, bright, layered, oversized clothes stated simply, she was a fashion maven.
She did not waste her talents on the typical tourists. Leaving them to her brethren fortune tellers, Stella would wait, biding her time for the one to approach her. If she sensed there was something of value to share with this person, she would offer them her unique insight.
Even though the square was crowded with tourists, she felt no calling strong enough to make a little cash. She sat at her table and watched in amusement as many of the other girls worked their craft. They were indeed “working” the crowd, a skill she had taught most of them. Although most had never developed the gift Stella possessed, they were all good at mixing a little truth with a healthy dose of bullshit. Occasionally, Stella would casually eavesdrop, forcing herself to conceal a smile of amusement when she heard a good whopper.
Stella believed in hope and promise, not gloom and despair. Tap dancing around bad fortunes most of the time, she offered only a glimpse of potential tragedy. “What good is it to tell someone they are going to die tomorrow?” she would say. “Better to tell them that a loved one is about to suffer a great tragedy, show love to all near and dear. Tell them only a half truth, for it’s never wise to share all of life’s mysteries.” Stella could sense bad karma like a mouthful of sour milk. Her purpose, she believed, was to set things right. And that is exactly what she did, masterfully blending truth and fiction. In the end, her message remained an undying constant. Love for another, yourself, the planet; it did not matter. Love conquers all.
Tonight was slow. There were no spiritual emergencies looming from any of these walking, talking, specimens of sociologically decaying humans. Although it was a quiet night, Stella felt there was an ill cast to the moon, but the where or why had not become apparent. Imminently, this was about to change.
“Good evening, Madame Stella,” a young woman purred in a deep velvety voice as she approached.
“Good evenin’ to you Lady Isabelle,” came a raspy, smoking induced reply.
The old woman was seated at a rickety fold-up card table with mismatched chairs, appearing to be salvaged from the Salvation Army dumpster. On the table was a deck of tarot cards and a crystal ball concealed by a blue velvet cover.
Accentuated by brilliant cobalt eyes, Isabelle’s face was hauntingly flawless. Her black hair spiraled down just past her bare shoulders, contrasting against her moonlight-white skin. Tall and slender, she made her routine nightly rounds dressed in low cut, lacy black attire, crippling the resistance of passing men regardless of female companionship.
It was ten o’clock, and like most nights Lady Isabelle was on the prowl, constantly searching for fresh meat. As fate dictated, she was the anointed leader of the modern cult of vampires inhabiting New Orleans. As the stories of vampirism traveled throughout the country, many wayward souls found the city’s dark heritage created an ideal home. This modern- day cult consisted of the classic coffin-by-day, blood-drinker by night, sexual predators and mind fuckers. But, they all shared one common thread: Lady Isabelle was their leader. Her mysterious persona, sex appeal and gothic style made her matriarch of this bizarre cult of misfits. Her orgasmic consumption of blood was legendary amongst the clan of “living dead.”
“It looks like a slow night,” Isabelle began.
“It’s been steady ‘ere, but I’ve got ‘dis uneasy feeling ‘bout the spirit ways tonight. I’ve been keepin’ away from dose people,” Stella reported, as she thumbed in the direction of the tourist littering the square. I’m jus’ sittin’ ‘ere listenin’ to da wind, what little dere is.” Listening to the wind, as Stella put it, was her unique way of connecting with her karma. She claimed that she could hear voices calling, telling of things to be and things that had passed, all carried on the soft, gentle breeze that occasionally caressed her senses.
Periodically, the local police would visit Stella concerning unsolved crimes or missing persons. She would provide them with insight as to what had occurred, but often those clues were jumbled by insensible rantings and ravings from the spirit world. Stella was unable to interpret her messages, as she was in a transient state, totally unaware of the words flowing from her mouth. She existed somewhere between the world of the living and the dead and had no memory of these sessions. Only when the messages were comprehensible and clear did the police find her helpful. Although somewhat inconsistent, her gift was known to many.
“Lord child, sit down,” Stella exclaimed, alarmed by a sudden revelation. “It’s you.”
“What do you mean, it’s me?” Isabelle replied, unaware of Stella’s sudden premonition.
“I’ve been feelin’ something foul in the wind. Felt it ‘dis morning when I got up. Been feelin’ it all day. Now ‘ere you are and it’s plain as the black on your dress. It’s you! I can feel it.”
Having known Isabelle for many years through frequent nightly visits, they had grown close. Often, the wise gypsy would give stern advice, as one would their child. Like any daughter, Isabelle would choose to ignore or heed the advice. The tone of the warning, along with the belief the old lady’s craft was authentic, instantly sparked Isabelle’s curiosity.
“What is it? Can you tell me?”
“I don’ know. Maybe Kahlea can say.” Kahlea, Stella’s crystal ball, was her link to the spirit world. But unlike most portals, Kahlea worked, or at least Stella believed so. Whether the globe was indeed a medium, or in fact it was merely her psychic abilities, through Kahlea Stella witnessed glimpses of the future.
Isabelle did as instructed, sitting and pulling her chair close. Stella began caressing the ball with slow, intimate strokes. Kahlea suddenly developed a steamy condensation from within. Swirling cloud patterns flowed in a clockwise motion, intermittently mixed with dark abstract images that hovered against the current. “I see a man.”
Isabelle inched forward, attempting to discern the strange images being interpreted. “He comes like a storm. Misery and great danger surround his existence.” The patterns intensified and began to change hues. “I see evil, a great evil rising from da past. It clouds all our futures. Dere is so much death.” Stella paused and reflected. Unwillingly entangled, she fell deeper within the globe.
Genuine concern inched across Isabelle’s face. Never had Stella sounded such an alarm, or steered her down the wrong path. “Much remains unclear,” the old lady continued in a mesmerized tone. “There is great conflict witin dis man.”
Abruptly the fog within the ball dissipated, transferring its energy to Stella’s eyes. Her once crystal blue eyes quickly turned opaque gray, blinding her. Fear welled up in the old woman. “Flee ‘ere child. Dere is much danger.”
“Ohhh,” Stella moaned woefully, as she glanced up searching, unable to make out the silhouette of the familiar woman before her. “Kahlea has lost her sight. Some evil from beyond has blinded us. Never before as dis ‘appened,” Stella wailed, confused, but not panicked by this anomaly. Isabelle remained transfixed on Kahlea, waiting for the globe to once again burst to life and reveal a sign, or restore Stella’s sight. Neither happened.
The gateway to an ancient evil had been breached and unexpectedly terminated. The evil had indeed blinded Kahlea and Stella. The danger of dwelling in the spirit world was never knowing who will awaken to answer the call of the medium. All of her long life, Stella had encountered spirits of many types, their triumphs and miseries, all laid out within the reaches of her enlightened mind. Even the most sinister of the spirit world could be tamed by her compassion. But the source from which this message came was not to be interpreted, communicated or reasoned with. Its sole purpose was to forewarn of the unleashing of a great evil to come.
Stella sat in despair. The frightful calamity foretold, paled in nature to the violent disruption from the message. Her eyes painstakingly began to clear as she continued to stare at the blurry silhouette before her. Isabelle’s fine details remained shrouded in haze. “I fear Kahlea ‘as been injured. I must take ‘er ‘ome now,” Stella rose, and steadied herself against the table.
“But Stella, what does all this mean?”
“It means child, you must leave dis place. Leave now and don return any time soon. Your future remains unclear, but dis man, if you stay, his pain you will endure. You must leave. Dat is the only way.”
“I can’t leave here, this is my home,” Isabelle proclaimed boldly. “Besides, I have many friends here who will protect me.”
“I fear dat will not be enough. Dis man brings death to us all. Who lives or dies? Dat vision is lost. I don’t know your part, but if you stay, you will be consumed in dis, dat much is certain,” Stella lectured, as she hurriedly gathered her belongings from the table. “Listen to me,” she said, pointing a crooked finger, “I know your people will try to take care of you. I know you believe you ‘ave to stay, but please leave. Do dis for ol’ Stella.”
“I promise I will be careful.” Taking the old lady’s hand into her own, she gazed about the only city she had ever known. “You know I have nowhere else to go. Besides, traveling for my kind is not as simple as packing a suitcase.”
“Your kind,” Stella huffed, “I been tellin’ you for years ‘oney, you need new friends. Good people. Dose people ain’t doin’ nothin’ but bringin’ you down baby.”
“I am one of those people,” Isabelle proclaimed stubbornly. “I know you think I can just change my ways, but you are wrong. I am what I am, and no desire to change will ever alter that.”
“And so it is,” Stella sighed, gazed up to the heavens, then back to Isabelle. “We are what we are, and dere’s no denyin’ dat. I know you ‘ave no faith, but I pray, God be wit’ you.” With that, Stella broke hold of Isabelle’s hand and finished packing her belongings into a worn tapestry bag.
Isabelle stood and watched Stella clumsily disappear around the corner. Silently, she contemplated the dire warning. But no man controlled her destiny. And after all, it was only one man. Besides, Stella did not know everything. She had never seen, or believed in Isabelle’s peculiar circumstances. With the old gypsy gone, Isabelle scoffed defiantly, “What do you know of my kind?”