Lipstick & Danger

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Mystic Voodoo Paraphernalia and Palm Reading

I belong to several writing groups. Each one has from time to time offered up contests for members and outsiders alike to submit a story. Sometimes there’s a prompt or guidelines. The common denominator usually is word count. I wrote this one late at night after one of the officers of Sleuth’s Ink Mystery Writers called for members to get with the program because only a couple of people had submitted. So about an hour before the midnight deadline I came up with this.

Voodoo Paraphernalia and Palm Reading
     Cherabella opened the door to her
grandmother’s Mystic Voodoo Paraphernalia and Palm Reading store for the police.
The back alley business was no more than ten feet wide, but boasted a depth of
twenty five feet. The neighbors in the upstairs apartment across from Mama
Juju, which is what everyone called her, heard arguing the night before, a
scream and maybe a gunshot. They admitted it could have been those crazy
college boys shooting off firecrackers after a night of celebrating the fourth.
     “Why the concern? Mama Juju argues with
every customer sooner or later because she jacks up the prices on her black
magic medicine and scares the crap out of them with voodoo.”  Officer Devaux tried to look unconcerned as
the granddaughter rattled the door to make the key turn.
     She shifted her chocolate brown eyes to
him. “Mama Juju didn’t call me this morning. 
I left a little early to swing by. By that time,” she nodded at the
neighbors standing on a balcony that had seen better days. “Let’s just go in.”
     The door swung open, but caught on a rug
which forced the bell over the door to tinkle, almost in merriment. Little
light made its way inside the large window due to the towering building across
from the shop. A hint of mildew and jasmine, mixed with the smoke of
extinguished beeswax candles clung to the stale air.
      Cherabella loved everything about the
shop; the shrunken heads hung on the walls (which were really plastic), the
jars of deformed creatures soaking in formaldehyde, the bottles of magic
potions that promised to trap a lover or punish an adulterer and the drawing of
a palm mounted on the back wall.
      “Mama Juju!” Cherabella tried to sound
natural, but she couldn’t help but notice Office Devaux unsnap his holster and
rest his hand on the handle of his weapon. She decided by the curious
examination of his eyes drifting from oddity, to the lifting of brown bottles
to sniff, he feared the voodoo more than the possibility of a crime.  
     “Is all this stuff real?”
     “No. Mama Juju makes most of it from
various teas, herbs and spices.” Cherabella called again. “Hello!”  Walking to the back of the store, she pulled
back the lace curtain to peer into a small room her grandmother called home.
     The officer quipped. “How would you know?”
     Cherabella ignored the insult as a moan
lifted from the darkness. “Mama Juju!” Officer Devaux directed his flashlight
at the floor. A boney woman pinched with wrinkles across her face, lay in a
bloody pool. He pulled the chain on the light bulb that swung from the middle
of the ceiling then called for an ambulance on his radio.
     “Mama Juju, who did this to you?”
Cherabella chocked on her tears as she removed the red bandana from her
grandmother’s frizzy hair turned gray.
     A hand lifted to Cherabella’s face. “Read
the tea leaves.”
     Officer Devaux kneeled down. “Mama, did a
customer hurt you?”
     She whispered. “Tea leaves.”
     Paramedics arrived to hurry an unconscious
Mama Juju to the hospital amidst the sobs of Cherabella, and police moving back
curious onlookers. Officer Devaux led the granddaughter back inside as the
ambulance sped away.
     “Did Mama Juju read tea leaves to many
clients, Cherabella?” He removed his hat to dab at the perspiration. “I’ll wait
here for the crime scene team if you want to get to the hospital.”
      “Mama Juju seldom read tea leaves. She
made teas to treat ailments for older clients. Didn’t believe tea leaves spoke
truth, but held cures.” Cherabella shrugged then wiped her eyes. “Tea for
colic, headaches, high blood pressure, you name it, she made it.” She moved
behind the counter where her grandmother kept the book of recipes. “Oh no!”
     Officer Devaux joined her. “Problem?”
     “Mama’s recipe book for teas is missing.”
     “Maybe she put it somewhere else.”
     “No. I know it doesn’t look like it, but
Mama is meticulous with placement. People always wanted her recipes so she kept
it all secret. Even I don’t know the exact combinations.”
     “Why would someone shoot an old woman for
a recipe book? That’s just crazy.” He spotted a large bowl on a dusty shelf
covered with a piece of burlap. “Would she keep tea leaves in a bowl?” He reached
for the burlap and jerked his hand back when a mouse scurried from behind the
chipped bowl.
     The front door bell tinkled again as a
well-dressed man entered.
    “I’m sorry. We’re closed.” Cherabella tried
to sound polite, but couldn’t resist frowning at Officer Devaux. She motioned
for him to move away. “Mama Juju won’t be in for a few days.” He ignored her
and lifted the cloth to peer inside the bowl.
     “Oh. I’m Carl Higgins. I paid for some
medicine. Some tea, I think. I paid in advance.”
     What nonsense did Mama Juju use on this
man?  Her eyes caught a glimpse of the
officer lifting a piece of paper from the bowl, then shake tea grounds from the
surface. “I’m sorry. I don’t know anything about any tea.”
     The officer dropped the paper then drew
his gun on the customer. “I think our friend here came for more than tea. Get
those hands in the air.”
     “Good Lord, Officer Devaux, what is wrong
with you?”
     “There was a note in those nasty tea
grounds. Looks like Mama Juju discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s with one of her
teas. Recipe is on that piece of paper with a warning. ‘No give Higgins.’”
     Cherabella’s hand flew to her throat.
“You’re the man from the pharmaceutical company that took samples of Mama
Juju’s teas to test at your lab. What’s the matter? Not in the recipe book you
took last night?”
     “I work for powerful people.” His voice,
although nervous, grew slow and calculated.
     Cherabella rushed up to him and yanked out
three hairs from his slicked back hair.

     “And I know voodoo.”   

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