She was, he thought, a compelling little bundle of energy. She was little, no more than five-two or five-three, slim, with curly hair and hazel eyes, and skin the color of amber. She had a smile that was infectious, and a soft, sweet voice.

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They had sent him another child.

No, there was a keen intelligence in her eyes. She had been a straight-A off-the-charts student; she had studied ethnicity, religion, philosophy, modern and ancient beliefs, while also receiving her degree in film from NYU. Her maternal great-grandmother was a noted contemporary voodoo priestess, and owned a shop called As You Believe up near Rampart Street. She had helped the local police crack down on a cult of would-be voodoo worshippers who had taken it upon themselves to bastardize the beliefs for the sake of human sacrifice—two young people had died during blood-drinking rituals. According to her file, she had a chameleon-like ability to slip into any group and be accepted as one of them—and somehow manage to film or video events and people who had never allowed such a thing before. Her expertise was cameras and film, and Jackson knew that she, like Will Chan, whom he had yet to meet, had been brought in for their work with cameras and sound.

“Hi,” he said, reaching for her large, tapestry travel bag. “Come on in. Whitney, right? Miss Whitney Tremont.”

“Jackson Crow. Love the name,” she assured him.

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“Thanks.”

“So, you’ve already been digging up bodies—I’m late to the party,” she said.

He grimaced. “A skeleton. Angela Hawkins found it.”

“I’m impressed, and the majority of the people in the city are convinced that now all the ghosts who might not have been busy yet will be crawling out of the woodwork. Anyway, if they do, I’m hoping that we catch them on film. I have a lot of equipment out in the van.”

He looked over her head. There was a fellow in the driver’s seat who looked so much like her that he had to be her brother. The man waved to him; Jackson waved back.

“I’ll open the courtyard gate. And call the troops to help. Well, the two who are here now,” Jackson told her.

“Okay,” Whitney said. “That’s my brother, Tyler, over there. I’ll get him to come around the corner,” she said cheerfully.

Whitney went out; he called for Angela and Jake, and soon they were all in the courtyard, meeting Tyler and hauling heavy boxes out of the van. They decided to set up in the grand entry slash ballroom, so Jackson shut off the alarm entirely in order for them to open the middle courtyard doors and take the shortest route.

It didn’t take them more than thirty minutes to bring everything in.

Tyler was as tall as his sister was short, ranging a good foot over her head. He was as pleasant with the others as if he had been leaving his sister at summer camp, but when he was actually ready to leave, he gave her a huge hug and said seriously, “You be careful, and you don’t take any chances, and you don’t go getting your nose in where it shouldn’t be.”

“I’m all grown up now, Tyler,” she reminded him, but she hugged him in return.

“She has a tendency to rush in—right into people who have guns,” he said.

Jackson grinned. “We’ll watch out for her. I promise.”

Tyler nodded. “Adam wouldn’t have set her up with you if you weren’t good people. And if she wasn’t going to be safe.” He paused, looking around. “So this is the Newton house. It doesn’t look like a dark torture chamber, but…I’m sure it’s creepy as hell at night. You all be careful, huh? I remember when the kid took a header when the cops were after him about a decade ago. Brought it all back. And now Mrs. Holloway…it’s a shame, and it may just be that the place is bad.”

“We’ll all be looking out for each other,” Jake said solemnly.

Hugging his sister and warning her to call him, Tyler left at last.

Jackson looked at the four members of his team and the mass of boxes in the living room. “Well,” he said.

Whitney shrugged. “It’s not bad, really! Somebody else is in film, right?”

“Will Chan, but he’s not here yet,” Jackson said.

“We follow orders well,” Angela assured her.

“And I’m way brawnier than I look,” Jake added, laughing.

“That’s good. Because you can all start while I check the doors, windows and the alarm system again,” Jackson told him. “Here are the rules—no one opens the gate without me knowing it. We’re going to be opening the balcony doors from our bedrooms, so I’ll have the alarm set during the day so that we can do that. Though it will sound if we don’t key ourselves in and out of the front door—everyone understand?”

“Yes, and thank God! I can’t imagine not going out on that beautiful balcony,” Whitney said. She didn’t seem the least disturbed by the house—simply fascinated.

“We’ll dig on in and help Whitney start getting set up,” Angela assured him.

“I won’t be that long.”

He was long, though. Longer than he intended.

None of them had been up to the third floor yet. After taking the grand stairway to the second floor, he briefly checked each of the rooms on the front end of the house, and came around to the middle section, and the stairway there. He went up to the third level. Thankfully, the middle section was one big expanse of space. With remnants from the decades that the house had stood.

No one had gotten up here yet to start on the cleaning. The area was rife with dust; it almost felt as if he took a step back into a different time. Dressmakers’ dummies were along the wall, near one of the three dormer windows. Jackson checked them; the alarm wires were in place. Clothing on the dummies ranged from an antebellum ball gown to a World War II–era swing skirt.

A huge old sewing machine was in another corner, and a wire crate held toys from eons past, wooden soldiers, dolls that might have been collectibles, croquet mallets, balls and wickets. More—he couldn’t discern everything in the container.

He walked through the low hallway at the one end, arriving at the area over the ballroom, and discovered that it had been set up as a row of dormitory-style rooms, and he assumed that the rooms had been slave quarters for the household staff at one time, and servants’ quarters at another.

It was slow going, but he checked each of the dormer windows. He walked back through the main storage room and through the low-ceilinged hallway to the last ell; here, he found just two rooms, both of them large, and both of them empty. But the alarm wires were in place, and the windows were secure. He walked back down to the second floor and went through all the motions, finally reached the first, and checked that all the windows not facing the courtyard were secure.

The place was huge. Despite the fact that the police had searched the premises, and despite the alarm system, Jackson still wondered if there hadn’t been a way for someone to slip in—uninvited, and unknown.

Back in the ballroom he discovered that his crew had been busy. There was a set of television screens arranged at the far end of the room, cables, cords, lights and more equipment aligned against the wall.

“We’re trying to decide which rooms should get the cameras first,” Angela told him. She stared at him peculiarly.

“What?” he asked.

“You look like a ghost yourself,” Whitney said, giggling.

“Like you’ve been playing in a pail of plaster,” Jake added. “You went up to the attic? I’m guessing there hasn’t been a cleanup crew there.”

He groaned and looked at his arm. The sleeves of his cotton shirt were white.

Once again, the doorbell rang and he walked to the door, expecting the remainder of the team.

A tall, slender woman of African descent stood there as straight as a ramrod, and as ancient as one. She frowned, seeing Jackson, and murmured something that seemed to be a prayer against curses.

Angela swiftly came running to the door, catching the woman’s hand. “Hi, I’m Angela. Jackson is just dusty—can we help you?”

“Gran-Mama!” Whitney cried. “You’re early.”

Jackson spun back to look at the old woman. Angela had reached out a hand to invite her in.

“Who are you?” Jackson demanded.

“I am Mama Matisse. Whitney didn’t tell you that she asked me to come?” the woman asked. “Whitney, child! I don’t come where I’m not invited!”

“Gran-Mama,” Whitney began, her face chalky, “I just haven’t had time to talk to them yet.”

“No, she didn’t,” Jackson said. “You’re a priestess? A voodoo priestess?”

“Yes. But I am also Whitney’s great-grandmother,” the woman explained.

Jackson wasn’t sure whether or not to be indignant at her demeanor. But he had the feeling that this woman could help them, and that the wisdom in her eyes ran deep. He bowed his head slightly. “Whitney didn’t mention you, but, please, yes, stay, help us.” He cast Whitney a frowning glare; she lifted her hands helplessly.

“Gran-Mama—Mama Matisse—was friends with both the maids who worked here. And she knew Regina and the senator. I thought you might want to hear what she can tell us,” Whitney said.

Jackson nodded at her. “I’ll run up and take a two-minute shower. Mama Matisse, Whitney will take you into the kitchen and get you some coffee or water or whatever. Please?”

“I am here to help you,” Mama Matisse said with tremendous dignity. “I will do my best. You see, the police have not much cared for what I’ve had to say, but I can tell you this—the very day that Regina Holloway died, her maid, Rene, came running over to tell me that there were ghosts in this house. There were ghosts, and there is tremendous evil, and whether or not they are one and the same, that you must discover.”

CHAPTER FIVE

Mama Matisse drew a long bony finger down her teacup as she sat at the kitchen table. “Whitney asked me to come here today because of the maids—and because I was here, and worked with Regina Holloway,” Mama Matisse explained.

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