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By: Dale C. Uhlmann

Chapter One

The thing lying beneath the pus and blood-laden hospital bed sheet was no longer a man--merely a hideous, emaciated frame for the odious yellow sores whose stench filled the private room, and which covered virtually every square inch of his skin. One symptom of a deadly new disease more grotesque and lethal than even Edgar Allan Poe's "Red Death."

What had killed Morton Fletcher? What obscene malignancy had ravished his body upon his return from a three-month Australian vacation? No one not even the medical community's finest specialists, had been able to diagnose the malady that had first caused his skin to erupt into those horrid pancake-sized sores, then his blood to flow in rivulets from his mouth and nostrils, and finally, his red blood cells to be utterly decimated, not by any known cancer, but by a completely undetectable and unknown entity (as if an invisible parasite, as one specialist had explained )and within a startling forty-eight hours following the first two stages of the disease. The quickness of his death had shocked the doctors-- all in a mere week following his arrival in Carlton, as if the process had been timed to begin immediately upon his return to Ohio. The entire community had been stunned, including George Fletcher, co-owner, along with late younger brother Morton, of the Carlton Scouts, the AA affiliate baseball team of the American League Buffalo Chiefs.

Both brothers had been almost universally disliked by all who had had anything to do with them--gruff, hard-edged and as more than one associate had observed, utterly ruthless. They had both gained reputations as carpetbaggers, having coerced the cities that they had previously negotiated with--Pyretes, N.Y., Uniontown, PA--and now, Carlton, Ohio, into granting them exorbitant tax breaks and full profits from stadium concessions and parking (the third city in the last six years to have been forced into such an arrangement), this time extorting added funding from Carlton University (and passed off, according to disgruntled students, in the form of increased tuition). That the present facility, Arrow Stadium, was only fifteen years old and needed only a few cosmetic nips and tucks had mattered not to the Fletchers, since the stadium did not have the luxury logue boxes that they could rent to high-paying ticket-holders, nor that ground for a new stadium which would provide these amenities had been broken over Delaware Indian burial land, the courts having agreed with the Fletchers that such an area could not be considered an officially licensed cemetery entitled to full legal protection, a decision which had angered members of the local Native American community, one of the most outspoken of which was Rachel Russo, a half-Delaware Indian ("Pocahontas with tits," as George had once described her to Morton), a graduate teaching assistant in Carlton's Pan-African Department. But as callous as George Fletcher normally was, his brother's death had genuinely shaken him. Yet this was not the only tragedy to strike the organization.

Unbeknownst to George Fletcher, who, at the time, had been holding a vigil for Morton in Carlton Metropolitan's Intensive Care Unit, Timothy Harron, the Scouts' Director of Public Relations, had just groggily crawled out of bed to take a shower, his legs and body weak from the frenzied and unbridled sex that he had just enjoyed with Tiffany Miller, his secretary, who had now fallen asleep, her perspiration-soaked body having been exhausted not so much from the carnal activities, but from her vigorous orgasm-faking (the fifty-five-year-old Harron, despite his illusions, had been no stud). Unlike the other women in the department who had rightfully resented his unwelcome advances, several of whom had had the courage to file sexual harassment charges against the organization, all of which were currently pending in court, Tiffany had had no such qualms about sleeping with her boss if it meant a promotion. Even though he had donned a robe, the bathroom had still seemed abnormally cold that morning, even though the rest of the apartment had been quite cozy In fact, the sensitive soles of his bare feet, though encased in the soft felt of his slippers, had still stung from the inexplicable iciness of the cold ceramic floor tile.

Suddenly, his attention had been seized by a low, odd noise coming from behind his back (it had almost sounded like--"but, no, it couldn't be that!," he had remarked to himself). Quickly, the sound had increased in intensity until he had feared that his eardrums, which his hands had futilely tried to cover and protect from the noise, would burst. Frenziedly, he had bolted for the door but the knob, to his astonishment, had stubbornly refused to budge. Then, sensing the presence drawing nearer and nearer, he had spun around in fear. What he had seen next, no one could have possibly known, but the eyes with which he had viewed his assailant were found lying in a gelatinous mass on the blood-soaked floor, along side his corpse: each orb had been plucked, like worms by a bird's beak, form its socket and dropped near his nose, which had been wrent from its now vacant and mushy cavity. Tiffany had not discovered his body until two hours later: all during the carnage, she had slept blissfully on, absolutely oblivious to her boss's anguished screams.

Less than a month later, there was yet another unexpected and savage death, that of Pat Fitzsimmons, the Scouts' Resource and Management Director, who was known as "The Slasher," due to his ruthless downsizing which had frequently and heartlessly cost many Scouts employees their jobs. His final jog around Old Pine Trail that late March day was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of footsteps following him, as if he were being stalked. He stopped, grateful for the excuse that the sound had given him to rest his aching ankles and sore flat feet, and glanced behind but saw nothing in the dim 6PM twilight except the cold, eerie shadows of the thick fir trees that lined the trail. Yet he was unable to ignore the increasing clarity and closeness of those steps. Then, before he could react, it was upon him, knocking him to the ground and slicing the soft flesh of his throat--with only God knew what-- as easily as a finely honed knife cuts a loaf of doughy bread. Despite this sudden and savage attack, he somehow managed to rise unsteadily to his feet and scramble away, the white block letters of his powder blue Carlton Scouts sweatshirt now a bright crimson from the matted blood that had been gushing profusely from his gaping throat wound. But whoever or whatever had attacked him wasted no time in leaping onto its victim's back and knocking him to the slippery, muddy ground, still wet from the previous night's rain, then flaying away at the wool of his jogging sweats and wrending the sponging flesh of his buttocks. Fitzsimmons was unable to move or scream, his body having mercifully gone into shock. Little of Pat Fitzsimmons would be left following this attack, only, as the coroner would later report, those parts that the killer hadn't liked.

Soon, talk of a jinx--a curse--began circulating around town, but George Fletcher would have none of that bullshit. He had a team to run, what with the season only a month away, and profits to make. Rachel Russo, though, would soon consider a most unusual explanation for these recent tragedies, although she could scarcely bring herself to use the word that she had first heard as a child from her grandfather, a Delaware Indian medicine man or shaman whose folk stories about this creature had always entertained, yet frightened her: chindi.

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Chapter Two

Rachel pointed disdainfully to the rows of orange Carlton Scouts pennants that lined the paneled walls of the busy sports bar and grill that she and her boy friend, Nick Graffanino, frequented for lunch between her classes and his driving run for the Metzger, Metzger, and Dean law firm, where he was employed as a docket clerk. "Just look at those big teeth, that huge beak, and that idiotic grin," complained Rachel about the smiling, toothy Indian featured on each pennant, as well as on all Carlton Scouts merchandising. "How can you say that he's not demeaning to Native Americans?"

"Aw, come on, Rach," Nick laughed good-naturedly between bites of his turkey sandwich and potato chips, trying his best to avoid another friendly but heated argument over popular culture and racial stereotypes with Rachel, whose views on he subject he was already all-too familiar with. "Scout Braveheart wasn't designed to represent all American Indians--."

"Uhhh, Native Americans," interrupted Rachel.

"O.K., lets be politically correct, then: Scout Braveheart wasn't designed to represent Native Americans as a whole."

"Then what does he represent?," Rachel asked, as if quizzing one of her students. Nick knew that she wasn't patronizing him; she was just asking him to consider more seriously her point of view as a member of a marginalized ethnic group toward symbols of cultural repression. Though she realized that there was little chance of changing his mind about the Scouts' logo, Rachel knew that he understood and respected her feelings. Be that as it may, Nick was not going to give up without a fight.

"He's a mascot," Nick continued, "a cute little cartoon character that sells T-shirts, warm-up jackets, and soda glasses. Kids love him."

"You said it right there," Rachel answered, putting aside her slightly overdone buffalo wings and salty honey mustard sauce. "Cartoon--caricature-- sign--symbol--of ethnic stereotyping that dehumanizes Native Americans by placing them on the same level as Bugs Bunny or Roger Rabbit--as grinning fools. And as for kids loving the character, well, how better to introduce cultural stereotypes than with the most impressionable members of our society, children?"

"Rachel, he's just a fictional character."

"O.K., let me ask you something," responded Rachel, trying a different tactic. "Suppose the Scouts were named 'the Godfathers,' and their logo featured Don Corleone, tux and all, surrounded by fedora-topped gangsters in piniped suits, all carrying tommy guns. How would you, a hard-working Italian American who's attending law school to boot, feel about such an insulting stereotype?"

"Wouldn't bother me a bit," replied Nick.

"Why not?"

"Because Don Corleone is Sicilian, not Italian."

Rachel sat silently for a moment, realizing the tactical mistake that she had just made,and then laughed, conceding momentary defeat. "All right, false analogy, O.K.? Let's try a different example. What if this team were 'the Catholics,' and during the seventh-inning stretch, the fans were encouraged to shake rosaries?"

'They'd never do that. That would insult someone else's religious beliefs?"

"Exactly. But nobody gives a damn when Scout Braveheart runs out of his teepee near the first base line and does a mock ceremonial victory dance whenever a Scouts player hits a home run. Yet that's insulting to my religious beliefs."

"But weren't you raised a Catholic in that orphanage you were in?"

The word "orphanage" temporarily took Rachel aback, momentarily stilling her diatribe. Suddenly, she was no longer Rachel Russo, a twenty-three- year-old graduate student and teaching assistant, but a frightened five-year-old girl, the daughter of an Italian immigrant who had fled to the U.S. from the Black Hand because he had killed its collection officer in self-defense, in a knife fight, having refused to turn over a portion of his hard-earned paycheck from the local foundry to the Hand, and a Delaware Indian woman who suffered periodic delusions ever since having been sexually molested as a child by a Federal Bureau of Indians Affairs agent. Tragically, it was during one of those delusions that Rachel's mother had suffered a flashback, and, mistaking her husband when he returned home from work one day for her childhood molester, shot him through the skull. Rachel, who was staying with her maternal grandparents at the time on a summer visit, was never told the truth about her father's death and her mother's subsequent incarceration in an asylum, where she died seven years later, until she was fourteen, a shocking revelation which led to several years of professional counseling for Rachel. During the intervening nine years, New York State authorities had placed Rachel in an orphanage, ruling that, because her father had had no living relatives, and her maternal grandparents' income was insufficient to meet state standards, leaving her in their care would not be in "the child's best interests."

How wrong they were. What Rachel remembered the most from those nine years were loneliness and fear; the frequent beatings by two of the stricter nuns who were forever determined to punish Rachel's soul (even for as innocuous a transgression as entertaining the other children with stories from Delaware Indian folklore--"lies, blasphemies," Sister Agatha had called them); and the mouthwashings with soap that she had received whenever she had spoken in the Delaware tongue that her mother's parents had taught her. Finally, her grandparents' financial standing had improved enough that they were granted custody of Rachel, at which point she fully embraced her Delaware heritage, often wearing traditional Native American braids, ceremonial feathers, and jewelry (even in the classroom, which made her something of a curiosity to her students, who enjoyed telling friends that their prof. was an American Indian) and practicing her people's spiritual beliefs.

Nick's question had temporarily transported her back to those terrible days in the orphanage, but she was determined to put those memories in their proper perspective. "That's true," she replied, "but, as you know, I'm no longer a member of the Church, although I have great respect and reverence for its teaching, and, personally, find many aspects of Native American religion--the belief in a Supreme Being, respect for Mother Earth, and the need for spiritual balance and harmony-- all perfectly compatible with organized Christianity. Still…"

"Here ya go, guys. I'll take that up as soon as you're ready," announced their server, who dropped their check off at the table. Rachel and Nick were grateful for the interruption, for the conversation was now turning a little too heavy for both their tastes, so Nick tried to lighten things up a bit. "See, you didn't say a thing about that!," he suddenly remarked.

"About what?," Rachel asked, searching in her purse for money to pay her share of the check, since she always insisted on Dutch-style.

"She called us 'guys,'" Nick explained, "which clearly excludes you. Isn't that sexist, if it implies that it's O.K. to call women men, but not vise versa?"

"What are you talking about?," asked Rachel.

"Well, people might think that you'd look sexy in nothing but my blue dress shirt, and I'm sure you would (he was partially serious; a ceremonial dancer, she had an attractive figure), but they probably wouldn't think that I'd look too cool in that silk top you're wearing--same principle!"

"O.K., O.K.," laughed Rachel. I don't think I want to go there!"

"Well, I know where I've got to go: on the road. I've got a filing in Ravenna to handle before I take off work early for this morning's tryout."

"Oh, yeah, some scouts from the Reds are gonna check you out today, huh?"

"Yeah, my arm strength is the best it's been in six years." Nick was referring to the car accident that had severely curtailed his chances, as a promising high school pitcher, to try out for the big leagues following graduation. If only his friend, who was driving that night, had not had so much to drink at the night club that they had just spent most of the evening at celebrating Nick's upcoming evaluation by Pittsburgh Pirate scouts and had not tried to beat that yellow light--if only…but it was useless to mull over the past, to relieve the pain of the reconstructive surgery of his left shoulder, and of the rigorous rehabilitation that followed months later, and the disappointment in learning that, despite all the surgery and rehab, the 98MPH fastball that had first intrigued major league scouts was simply no more. Nick had tried to be realistic, figuring that a major league career had not been meant to be, and instead going to college, and later to law school, all while working part time as a docket for extra legal experience. Still, he had not given up entirely on his earlier dream, continuing to work out, and pitching city league baseball on weekends. The fact that his fastball had been recently clocked at 92 MPH during his last start, and that he was left-handed (a valuable commodity) and still only twenty-four years old had encouraged him not to give up hope.

"Well, I'm glad you're not trying to make the Chiefs."

"What do you mean?," asked Nick.

"They might place you at AA with the Scouts. What a dilemma that would be--rooting for a racist organization like this!"

"Are you on that logo thing again?," Nick asked, now tiring of the topic.

"It's not just the logo," Rachel replied. "It's the Fletchers, and their total disregard for sacred Native American customs. They--and the University-- know that this new stadium would be built over Delaware burial ground. That would be like digging up your grandparents' graves in Calvary Cemetery, but all anybody cares about is the money they'll be getting from this new playground. Well, if that's the case, maybe the boycott my group is planning will hurt all of those bastards where it will hurt the most--in the pocketbook."

"You've forgotten, haven't you, Rachel?," Nick reminded her. "Morton Fletcher is dead."

"That's right," remembered Rachel. "You know, the way he died is so strange. It reminds me of a story that I heard from my grandfather about a Kiowa medicine man named Maman-Ki, who was called the Owl Prophet, and a Kiowa Chief named Kicking Bird."

"I'd love to hear it, Rachel, but maybe some other time. I've really got to run."

"O.K.," agreed Rachel.

"Anyway," Nick remarked, as the server took the check and their full payment, and began leaving his share of the tip, "I hope that your boycott'll make an exception if I happen to pitch some day."

"Well--," laughed Rachel.

"I'll show you one guy I'd like to see," added Nick, quickly unfurling the dog-eared sports section of the Carlton Chronicle and flipping to a full-length photo on page two. "That's Len Cody. This guy's a real phenom, a fist-round draft pick from Michigan State. Scouts say that he's got a 100-MPH fastball and the nastiest slider they've ever seen. And, get his, Rachel, he happens to be a full- blooded Delaware."

"Rachel was instantly transfixed by the photo, tearing the newspaper from Nick's hands and studying it in disbelief.

"What's the matter?," asked Nick, astonished at Rachel's reaction.

"Chindi…chindi!," Rachel muttered.

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh, uh, nothing. Look, Nick, I've got to go. See you tomorrow, O.K.?" She kissed him on the cheek and quickly bounded out of the restaurant, as if in a terrible hurry.

"Yeah, right," Nick replied, convinced that Rachel was hiding something from him, a secret, he suspected, that he was perhaps better off not knowing.

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Chapter Three

As not only one of her second-year TAs, but co-organizer of the Pan-African Department's upcoming first Traditional Gathering Powwow, which had been sponsored by both the Erie Native American Council and the University's Office of Cultural Diversity and enrollment Management and Student Affairs as a way of introducing Carlton's students to Native American culture, Rachel had learned to read Dr. Naomi Walker's personality as closely as she could read her own. She knew that something was deeply troubling her, and that for the first time in two years she seemed less than her usual professional self, merely going through the motions of conducting the Department's weekly teaching seminar. True, she responded appropriately enough to many of her TAs' complaints about their students' disinterest in reading, and about their poor vocabulary skills (one TA noted that several of her students didn't know the meaning of either "euthanasia" or "excommunication"), and efficiently organized next week's small "cluster" groups, in which the TAs would assess their evaluation of student writing in order to ensure uniform grading standards (something which, Rachel informed the seminar, Nick felt didn't exist among law school professors!), she seemed distant. After class, Rachel was to meet with her to discuss their preparations for the Powwow, which was to be held that weekend in the Student Center Ballroom. She felt that she should take that opportunity, not as a student, but as a friend, to try to help her, if she possibly could.

Eventually, then, the conversation did turn from the Powwow to Dr. Walker's puzzling indifference to that day's academic duties. Dr. Walker paced nervously around the bandbox-sized seminar room, finally sitting on the edge of the room's broad roundtable, and asked Rachel to close the door. After a deep sigh, she began to explain the cause of her anxiety.

"It's Dr. D'Arcy," she confessed, folding her arms across her chest and looking not at Rachel, but at the beige tile floor (it was the first time that Rachel had known her not to make eye contact with her, as if these thoughts were too personal to share with any other human being, yet Dr. Walker felt that she must tell somebody or go mad, and she trusted Rachel). "He's been charged with sexual harassment and criminal stalking by two girls who share his apartment complex. They've filed charges against him for leaving blood-soaked panties on their doorsteps and placing pornographic video tapes in their mailboxes.

"Dr. D'Arcy? I can't believe that. I had him for several under graduate survey courses and I never found him to be anything but thoroughly professional."

"I know," Dr. Walker replied. "But these girls claim that he had made several passes at them during the last few months and that, though they had repeatedly rejected his requests for dates, he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Now, they've accused him of stalking and terrorizing them for having turned him down. Even if the charges aren't true--and I know they're not!--he's finished, Rachel. He'll lose everything…everything he's ever worked for--his reputation, his tenure, his career--all because of these two tramps and their sleaze all lawyer. All three of them can't wait to collect the money from the civil damages alone that they'll hit him with."

Rachel was surprised to hear Dr. Walker talk this way. It seemed to her that she was unfairly condemning these women without a trial, but she decided to keep her objections to herself.

"But I know," Dr. Walker continued, "that Red Cloud has the answer."

Red Cloud was Dr. Walker's spirit guide, an Ottawa Indian chief whom, she claimed, had visited her nightly following her nearly successful suicide attempt in 1982 over the breakup of her fifteen-year marriage. It was he, she insisted, that had materialized near her bedside and had snatched the bottle-full of sleeping tablets that she was about to ingest. Ever since then, according to her, he had become her spiritual advisor, a combination patron saint and guardian angel, dispelling the popular notion that Native American spiritualism or "medicine power" was merely about getting high on peyote buttons and "magic mushrooms."

"He showed me a vision last night, Rachel," continued Dr. Walker, now raising her head, staring at Rachel through her scholarly-looking prescription bifocals and speaking in a trance-like manner, like a shaman in a state of altered consciousness. "A vision of Tom…Dr. D'Arcy…free…and vindicated. I know that Red Cloud will show me how to make that prophecy a reality."

Vision…prophecy. The words reminded Rachel of the fear that she had experienced earlier that day while looking at Len Cody's photograph and beholding the visage of the man that he most extraordinarily resembled--a man who had been dead for 150 years. Yet she could not disclose her fears to Nick--nor to Dr. Walker--until she had had a chance to see Len Cody in person, in the flesh. Only then could she know for sure if her suspicions were correct. But until that time, they had to remain her secret, just as Dr. Walker had to hide from Rachel her own secret, the real reason for her concern over Dr. D'Arcy's plight: she was in love with him--always had been, ever since their affair, which no one else at the University had known about, and which had been responsible for the breakup of her marriage. Unfortunately, like Homer Barron, the Yankee gigolo of William Faulkner's classic short story "A Rose for Emily," Tom D'Arcy was not "the marrying kind," and had exchanged Naomi for another, younger woman, following her divorce. Still, despite his selfishness, she had never stopped loving him, and had never abandoned hopes of their reconciliation. That was why she felt that she had to do everything in her power to save him from this predicament, and why she had turned to Red Cloud for help.

But what she didn't know--what she probably wouldn't have accepted anyway, even with irrefutable proof--was the fact that D'Arcy, who she had secretly bailed out of jail earlier that day and whose legal bills she was helping to pay, was guilty. His ever-increasing obsession with his advancing middle age had caused him to pursue a secret life, a life of weekly Saturday drives to Shore and Lowe Avenues in downtown Carlton, where he would search for prostitutes. One foray had been disastrous: "Jeannie," a leggy, curly-haired brunette, had jumped out of his car with the thirty dollars he had given her for oral sex before she had fulfilled her end of the bargain, then had tossed her wig away before running off: "Jeannie," to his shock, had been a man!

Still, D'Arcy had not learned any kind of lesson from this sordid incident, and had continued to canvas Shore and Lowe, making it with a dozen prostitutes, all considerably younger than his forty-one years, a fact which he had constantly tried to hide through such obvious and ludicrous measures as combing down his thinning hair and practically unbuttoning his dress shirts to the navel in a ridiculous effort to look and feel more virile. D'Arcy had become a fool, a caricature, a pervert, and now a sexual predator. But this was his hidden side--his doppelganger--that the University knew nothing of--the Edward Hyde that he had created as a means of satisfying his sexual insecurities, the side that he showed only to the denizens of Carlton's pay-for- sex district. To the University community, he had remained Dr. Thomas D'Arcy, respected writer, scholar, and Professor of Twentieth Century American Literature, replete with tweed jacket and designer tie. He was determined never to damage his reputation by letting his Dionysian alter ego, whom he called "Darryl" (the false alias he would use when hookers would ask him his name on "dates"), roam beyond the run-down confines of Shore and Lowe.

Yet he had done exactly that by pursuing Kelly Walters and Julie Gleason, two nineteen-year-old girls who lived in his apartment building. Like Mr. Hyde, "Darryl" had, in a moment of weakness, taken complete control of his creator, and Dr. D'Arcy, like Dr. Jekyll, had lost whatever battle he had been waging (and, if truth be told, he had never tried very hard) to control his sexual urges.

Although he had never before hit on college students (he liked to think that he was neither that depraved or that stupid, though he would prove himself wrong on both counts), the close proximity of these two girls, coupled with the false sense of security that he had gained form never having been arrested for his soliciting of prostitutes, had encouraged him to new heights of daring. Like McMahon, the dirty-minded butcher of John Updike's story "A&P," he would "size up" the two girls' "joints" from afar; he would also call them at odd hours of the night and pester them for, first dinner dates, and then, sexual favors, culminating in the cruel humiliation that he had subjected these students to, two young women who had merely wanted to be left alone. Like Norman Bates, he had indeed gone "a little crazy."

Still, what no one knew at the time--not Dr. D'Arcy, not Dr. Walker, and not Rachel--was that he would be implicated in crimes far more serious than even sexual harassment and stalking--crimes that Rachel would increasingly be convinced were somehow connected to the desecration of sacred Delaware Indian graves.

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Chapter Four

If the horrible deaths of Morton Fletcher, Timothy Harron, and Pat Fitzsimmons, in addition to the charges filed against Dr. D'Arcy had not provided enough unfavorable media coverage for the city of Carlton (the tragedies had even made the national news; one network news magazine, Dr. Walker felt, had been unreasonably exploitative in its reporting of the sex scandals in particular), now came more public attention, and on a woman that the University had long been trying to distance itself from: Althea Brewster.

Althea Brewster was the current curator of Howard House, the restored Tudor house-style mansion on the west side of campus, an edifice that had been built one hundred-twenty-five years ago, and which had been bought in 1905 by the Howard family, who had made their fortune in rubber and fiberglass production, and whose financial generosity had helped support Carlton's polymer science research. When Carol Howard, the family matriarch, died in 1968, her will had bequeathed the mansion to the University as an historical monument, which the Board of Trustees had continued to maintain to the present day. But she had bequeathed much more than the house to the University, for with the house had also come its ghosts.

No one knew who these mysterious residents were (not even the Howards, who could find no records pertaining to their identity), but countless eye witnesses (workers, visitors, students) over the years had claimed to have seen two figures, an elderly charwoman, her face and apron smudged with soot, and a small boy, dressed in formal Victorian clothing, roaming the basement (where a souvenir shop had been set up years ago) of Howard House. According to Mrs. Brewster, who had been curator for the last ten years, they seemed to be most active when the building would undergo any renovation, no matter how slight, as if they could not allow the house to be changed in any way. At such times, the ghosts would become particularly restless and mischievous, stealing artifacts from the gift shop, turning light switches on and off, and, on more than one occasion, lightly but firmly shoving Mrs.Brewster from behind into the house's open doorway when she would arrive for work in the morning. Because she claimed in local interviews to have experienced visions and been a psychic-sensitive (a person attuned to paranormal sensations and presences since childhood), the diminutive 5' 4", 125-lb., sixty-three year-old-woman, who had been recently widowed, had become, much to the Board of Trustees' embarrassment, a local celebrity, and had soon attracted the attention of international ghost hunter and psychic investigator Kurt Zinneman, whose subsequent story on Howard House was featured on his popular paranormal-news cable series. Now, the whole nation, thanks to Althea Brewster, knew of Carlton's "ghost house," giving the school a reputation that, the Trustees feared, would offend alumni and harm enrollment.

Now, in the midst of the new unwelcome publicity concerning these recent tragedies, Althea Brewster offered a dire warning in an exclusive interview that she had granted to a Newscenter 3 television reporter: there would be more inexplicable deaths in Carlton. The ghosts, she claimed, were in the most destructive mood that she had ever seen, smashing antique glass-wear and tearing valuable artwork from its moorings. They were, she was convinced, trying to warn her of the imminent dangers to come. This latest revelation proved too much for the Trustees, who wanted to fire Mrs. Brewster for creating a panic, but petitions from many alumni and faculty, including Dr. Walker, herself a believer in the paranormal, had helped to save her job--for the time being.

But whether one believed in ghosts or not, there was no denying the fact that neither the Carlton police nor the FBI had been able, due to lack of logical leads, fingerprints, or DNA evidence, to capture the brutal serial killer which appeared to be currently at large, though at least some involved in the investigation believed that the attacks may have been committed by wild animals, even though no reports of any escaped beasts, or of a private menagerie, had yet surfaced, nor any animal DNA found. Nor had the medical community or the National Disease Control Center been able to diagnose the unknown disease which Morton Fletcher had evidently brought back with him from Australia, and which, they feared, had been the cause of two more deaths that had occurred in the last few weeks, prior to the Scouts' opening day game of the season. Both victims, financial consultants to Morton Fletcher (and, it had long been rumored, his co-partners in stadium concessions and parking kick-back schemes with the two brothers), had died from the same disease that had claimed Morton: an apparently new form of cancer which had utterly decimated the victims' red blood cells within two days of its initial symptoms: eruption of large, putrescent skin sores and copious flowing of blood from the mucous linings of the mouth and nostrils. Suddenly, the very real possibility of an epidemic gripped the community. What, if anything, had Carlton done to deserve such miseries as plague and the most savage of killings? Was this all part of the Great Purification--a time of unimaginable catastrophe and suffering that many Native Americans believed that mankind had incurred for its desecration of Mother Earth?

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Chapter Five

Rachel pondered these questions while preparing an alcohol rubdown for Nick in her apartment, which was liberally decorated with Native American paintings and artifacts. She had pursued a degree in physical therapy, in addition to her major in Pan-African literature, as an undergraduate, and had earned a license so that she would have something to supplement the part-time teaching that she knew she would have to do following her MA, and future Ph.D. work. She was a good masseur, and Nick's ailing shoulder and back badly needed the benefit of her skilled "healing" fingers, for he had overdone it in his last tryout for Cincinnati's big league scouts, who were, despite his best efforts, unimpressed by Nick's lack of movement on his fastball. He lay, stripped to the waist, on a cotton sheet-covered table, while Rachel, clad in a terry cloth powder blue bathrobe, stood behind him, her long, flowing black hair (which was usually braided) tied up in a loose bun, poured the pungent alcohol onto her palms, vigorously rubbing her hands together while lightly singing to herself in the Delaware tongue.

"That doesn't sound like Maraih Carey to me," Nick joked.

"It's not," she replied. "It's a ceremonial chant. The Delaware believe that singing appeases those spirits that are out of harmony with the world, and helps restore order in the universe."

"It seems that there's a lot of disharmony right now in this town," replied Nick. "I'm no authority, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that something's seriously out of synch in Carlton."

"Yeah," Rachel agreed, running her alcohol-permeated hands over the small of Nick's back, and up the curvature of his spine to the crest of his wide shoulders, rubbing the medicated balm into his pores. Then her fingers went to work, sinking into the folds of Nick's soft, bare flesh and the thick strands of his back and shoulder hair, slowly massaging the tightness out of his joints and muscles.

"But everything's in synch right here," Nick added, his body yielding easily to Rachel's skilled touch. He closed his eyes and came close to blissfully falling asleep.

"It's just a matter of finding the right response points," Rachel explained, while rubbing off the excess alcohol on the front of her robe, "and of applying the appropriate pressure. O.K., we're finished."

"Well, you've sure found my response points," grinned Nick. "But it's more than that: you've got a gentleness of both touch and spirit--a real gift. I mean that, Rach."

"Thanks," Rachel answered, genuinely touched. "Now, get your ass off my table," she joked, trying to keep matters light, something that she always did as a defense mechanism whenever she thought things were becoming too serious too quickly between Nick and herself. It wasn't that she didn't like Nick--far from it, for she loved his warmth and sense of humor and admired his determination to make something of his life--but she wanted to take their now eight-month relationship slowly. She certainly wasn't one of those women with poor self-esteem who believed that they had to be utterly dependent upon men, nor did she want to make the same mistakes she had seen some of her girlfriends make, having sexually involved themselves with men whom they believed would provide them with security, but who would subsequently have nothing more to do with them but send them monthly paychecks (if they held jobs at all) for the children that they had fathered. She tried to convince herself that Nick was different, but how could she be sure?

"Gee, is that any way for an angel of mercy to talk?," Nick joked, jauntily rising from the table and placing his hands around her slender waist as she stood over the kitchen sink, her back to him. He gently nuzzled the nape of her neck, and she responded as readily to the touch of her moist lips as he had to the soft caress of her fingertips. Her skin trembled; her pulse raced. Impulsively, she turned around, placed her hands on both sides of his head, and drew his mouth close to hers. Then, suddenly, she remembered: "Take it slowly; keep it light." She paused, smiled, dropped her hands down, and hung them around his neck and bare shoulders, lightly tapping his dangling left brass earring (an adornment that his Old World parents had never really accepted) with her right hand and playfully stroking the tuffs of hair on his breastbone with her left hand. "What makes you think I'm an angel?," she asked.

"Well, a physical therapist is a nurse," he explained. "And a nurse is an angel of mercy. So, how 'bout some mercy, angel?"

"Now you sound like one of my students," she laughed, running her fingers through his wavy dark-brown hair. "That's fallacious reasoning."

"Is that something dirty?," asked Nick.

"I certainly hope so," Rachel smiled, affectionately treating his lips to several short but warm kisses, draping her arms around his neck as she drew him closer to her. "To hell with caution," she thought "This is the man I want to be with. I know it!"

"I love you, Rach," Nick whispered softly between kisses.

"I love you, too," she replied, resting her head on his chest.

"Will you marry me?"


"But what?"

"How will your family like the idea of you marrying a half-Delaware Indian, a born-again Native American dancer, activist, and spiritual power medicine advocate?"

"What is this?," he chuckled, that old song "Half-Breed?"

"No, but--"

"'Half-Bre-ed,'" Nick sang boisterously, as if he were in a Karaoke bar and doing a terrible impression of Cher Nono's booming voice; he was not ridiculing Rachel, but merely trying to help her laugh at her groundless concerns.

"Nick," she objected.

"'Half-Bre-ed, How I Loved to Hate the Wo-r-d!"

"Nick," she continued, her voice rising.


"Nick!," she shouted, jerking her head up and cupping her hand over his mouth in order to silence the dreadful assault on her ears. "You sing one more word, and I'll sew up your lips tighter than Lionel Atwill did to that guy in Murders in the Zoo!" Both were old movie fans, and both loved to top each other with their knowledge of movie trivia.

"Or worse than Karloff 'Burked' Lugosi in The Body Snatcher?"

"That, too. Deal?"

"Deal," he agreed, "if you stop worrying and let me handle my parents. They'll love you, I promise."

"O.K.," Rachel answered, sealing their agreement with another kiss. the two then got dressed and left for their favorite nightspot, The Animal House. When she returned to her apartment later that night, Rachel felt that the last few hours had been like a lovely dream, and soon fell contently asleep. What would follow, however, would be an unexpected and nightmarish return to reality.

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Chapter Six

The peaceful slumber that Rachel had fallen into was violently broken by her own deafening screams. Instantly awakening, she felt something damp and turned on the bed stand lamp, its bright fluorescent light illuminating the copious pool of urine that she had just left on the mattress in a paroxysm of fright. After composing herself and donning her robe, Rachel phoned Nick and asked him, despite the fact that it was two in the morning, to come over immediately. As they sat in her kitchen, slipping the coffee she had prepared in the meantime, Nick tried desperately to convince her that what she had experienced had merely been a meaningless nightmare.

"Maybe, Nick," Rachel replied, nervously gripping her slightly chipped Carlton University cup with unsteady hands, "but I think it may be the key to these awful deaths."

"How?," asked Nick.

"Because it concerned the Owl Prophet, the shaman or medicine man that --you remember, I told you--chanted the death prayer for Kicking Bird, the great Kiowa chief who, wishing to save his people form further decimation, had agreed to cooperate with the government and turn over to General William Sherman twenty- six Kiowas who had continued to carry on the war against the Army. Among those twenty-six was the Owl Prophet, who, desiring revenge, chanted a prayer that unleashed a chindi. Kicking Bird, who was strong and healthy, and who had never been sick a day in his life, suddenly became skin and bones, dying of a completely unknown illness. I'd first heard this story from my grandfather when I was a little girl; it so terrified me that I couldn't go to sleep without a night light because I was so afraid that a chindi would get me in the dark. I remembered that story tonight, in my nightmare; it brought all those old fears back."

"So? What do the Owl Prophet and Kicking Bird have to do with you? You're not Kiowa anyway. You're Delaware."

"You don't understand. All Native Americans believe in chindis and their terrible powers."

"O.K., next question: what the hell is a chindi?"

"To understand that, you'd first have to know a little bit about our belief system."

"Hey, you're a teacher, Rach. Go ahead. I'm all ears, and it's a long night yet."

"Well, we believe in a Great Spirit, Nick, a Supreme Being called Gicelamu Kaong, who created man, all helpful animals, and the elements. The Great Spirit is constantly at war with the Evil Spirit, who was responsible for all the monsters and poisonous reptiles and plants that man has been plagued with through the centuries. It also has at its command chindis, malevolent spirits that can be used by skilled medicine men or shamans to strike down enemies, or which can be unleashed from their slumbers in sacred resting grounds. which they are then unable to return to until all those responsible for their desecration have been destroyed."

"Rachel, you're an educated woman. You can't believe in hexes and evil spirits."

"But the illness that struck down Morton Fletcher and the others strongly resembles a traditional chindi-inflicted disease--the quick wasting away and the death."

"But what about the blood loss and the sores? You didn't say that Kicking Bird suffered from either of those."

"He didn't, but others believed to have died from chindi attacks had. There are different chindi diseases; this one that we're seeing in Carlton may be a special punishment for sacrilege."

"But what about Harron and Fitzsimmons?," asked Nick, rising from the kitchen table to fetch some cream from Rachel's refrigerator. "Do you mind?"

"No," answered Rachel.

"Those two looked like they'd been butchered by a vegematic," Nick continued, returning to the table. "You believe that an evil spirit is on the loose, because of the Scouts' desecration of its people's burial grounds--the same grounds that the new stadium is going to be built over?"

Rachel paused for a moment before answering. "If you'd asked me that question before you'd shown me that picture of Len Cody at the restaurant, I'd have told you that I wasn't sure. I'm still not--not completely--but a lot less skeptical than I would have been."

"Why?," probed Nick.

"Because one of the most powerful of all Delaware medicine men was Maman-Ti, or "One Who Is Marked," who loved one-hundred-fifty years ago in this area. He died as a result of "boomerang" magic; he had commanded a chindi to kill an entire family in order to obtain their land. When it had completed its task, wiping out its master's rival, along with his wife and two small children, the chindi, before returning to whatever realm it had been summoned from, killed Maman-Ti, hacking him to pieces. Native Americans believe that whoever uses medicine power for personal gain, or against undeserving victims, will himself die by the chindi's own hands."

"I thought we were talking about Len Cody," interjected Nick.

"We are," insisted Rachel. "Nick, I've seen pictures of Maman-Ti, and Len Cody could be his twin--his clone--right down to the same claw-like birthmark on his forehead. I tell you, he is Maman-Ti!"

"Do you mean his reincarnation?," asked Nick incredulously. "Look, Rach," he argued, "this is beginning to sound like a bad grade-Z horror flick!"


"Have you ever seen The Maitou, Rachel, with Tony Curtis? In this movie, his wife, played by Susan Strasberg, had on object on her neck that grew into the reincarnation of an Indian medicine man!"

I know this sounds incredible, but--"

"Or how about The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake? That's an oldie but a goodie about an Amazonian medicine man who lived on because his head had been sewn onto a white man's body!"

"All right, don't believe me--make fun of me! But don't forget Mrs. Brewster. She's seen signs of more deaths to come."

"Oh," scoffed an exasperated Nick, rising from the table and throwing his arms about in consternation. "Now you're quoting our renowned authority on the paranormal, Althea Brewster. Everyone knows that that woman is nuts. Remember what Cary Grant, in Arsenic and Old Lace, found out about his relatives, who were also named 'Brewster?'-- they were crazy? I wouldn't be a bit surprised if insanity ran in dear Althea's family, too. That's the way it usually works, you know."

Nick stopped, realizing that he had inadvertently touched on a secret fear of Rachel's: her fear that, as unfounded as it was, that she might some day succumb to the same mental aberrations as her mother.

"I'm sorry, Rachel," Nick said.

"Look, Nick," Rachel replied, rising from her chair, placing her hands on his shoulders and staring at him intently, eye to eye, "All I want you to do is to keep an open mind, O.K.? I don't know that a chindi is at large, or that this Cody is some ancient shaman returned from the dead to unleash an evil spirit on this town. I hope that there's a perfectly sound and logical explanation for these deaths. But--I'm scared," she admitted, burying her face in his chest while they held each other tightly. "I'm scared."

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Chapter Seven

"Who the hell is that?," wondered Mike Carter, the Scouts' new beat writer, as he made way through the throng of season ticket holders milling around the gates of old Arrow Stadium like hyperactive bees around blossoming shrubs. On his way to interview Len Cody, who had just been designated for assignment to the AA Scouts, Carter did a double take as he noticed, strolling by the stadium, which would open for the minor league baseball season in one week, a tall, gangly figure who brought new meaning to the word "grunge," dressed in ragged, stripped battleship-gray institutional pajamas and mud-caked asphalt boots. Around his neck he wore tattered, oily, olive-green rags as scarves, and on his head a battered navy-blue baseball cap, around whose perimeters dangled three matching rags, two from the side and one from the back. All in all, he resembled a cross between Ichabod Crane and a '60s beatnik, what with his dark sunglasses and black goatee. Carter, who had previously covered the AA Portland Sea Dogs, but had been fired over an embarrassing anti-Semitic remark in a column in which he had written that the Sea Dogs' parent organization, the Mariners, should "Jew down" a highly touted amateur pick's asking signing bonus, hadn't been in town long, having ony recently been hired by the Carlton Examiner. He would later learn that this peculiar figure was "Ragman," a local celebrity.

No one knew who Ragman was, where he came from, what he did for a living (if anything), or where he stayed. But for the past five years he had been a familiar sight to Carlton drivers, who would commonly see him, at any time of the day, pounding the sidewalks for a destination known only to him. Occasionally, he would stop at one of the local Laundromats not to wash clothes, but to get a soda and cigarettes from the vending machines. Intermittently talking in so low a whisper that it was impossible to decipher what he was saying. He seemed to keep to himself, although three teenagers who had gotten up the nerve to stop him one day and ask him where he was heading with a road kill orange tabby cat slung over his right shoulder, claimed the normally silent and placid Ragman responded with a stream of obscenities that quickly confirmed his desire for privacy. From then on word on the street was that "Ragman bothers no one and no one bothers Ragman." Carter, in his twelve years of covering sports, had seen hundred of fans dressed in all manners of outlandish colors and get-ups, but he had never seen anyone like Ragman. He shook his head in disbelief as this bizarre Johnny Appleseed continued on his way.

The pungent odor of liniment and the strains of rap music greeted Carter as he entered the Scout's locker room. He headed quickly for Cody's locker and found the Scouts' new star seated pm a nearby bench and reading an article about him that Carter had submitted yesterday. "So, how ya doin', Len?," Carter asked. "Did you like the article?"

"Everything but that cheesy title, 'Chief Special-K Set to Scalp Opposing Batters,'" snarled Cody, angrily tossing the newspaper aside.

"What's wrong with it, Chief?," asked Carter, not realizing that his choice of words struck a raw nerve with a Native American who was genuinely proud of his heritage. The 6'6," 280lb. Cody could have leveled the ignoramus with one blow, but he considered himself above that sort of thing. Still, he felt that he needed to make his resentment known.

"I don't object for myself, but for my people," explained Cody, now rising from his seat to confront Carter face to face. "The Delaware are a proud race, courageous and noble. They have suffered much hardship; many of us have died defending our rights. A name like 'Chief' is an honorable title, reserved for a great and brave leader, not a cheap sound byte or a gimmick."

"Aw, lighten up, 'Chief,'" replied Carter. "You don't object to Scout Braveheart, so why should you care about a name that gives both you and the team some good publicity. Besides, it helps sell tickets. It's a great promotion, and promotion is the name of the game-- that, and how much jack this team can make."

"My people don't need that kind of promotion," shot back Cody, losing his patience with Carter's insensitivity. "I can't do anything about a team's logo, but I can about the names that fans associate with me, and I don't want to be called 'Chief'--O.K.?"

"Hey, whatever you say, 'Chief,'"

"I asked you not to call me that."

`"I just did," gloated Carter.

"I bet you don't do it again."

"I bet you I do," said Carter, his mouth curled into a broad smirk.

"I bet you don't."


Cody now moved threateningly toward the sportswriter, who instinctively backed away. He need not have had, however, as Eduardo Martinez, another of the Chiefs' top prospects, jumped in between the two men. Martinez was a power-hitting first baseman that scouts predicted could be a thirty-homerun, thirty-stolen base man in the big leagues. The only thing that could hold him back, in many opinions, was an explosive temper, which was now vented on Carter. "Back off."

," Martinez requested. "I want first crack at him!"

"What's up your ass," asked Carter.

"I'll tell you, you little shit, you! It's that "Dead Beat Dad" article you wrote about me!"

"Well, what about it?"

"Since when does my personal life have anything to do with baseball?"

"Well, you are a public figure."

"So? What I do off the field is my business," insisted Martinez, thumping the blue block "Scouts" logo on the front of his pinipped uniform.

"So what are you gonna do? Kill the messenger because of the message?"

"I ain't killed no one yet," replied Martinez, "but, like they say, 'there's always a first time!'" He took a step toward Carter, who, feeling the sharp, cold metal of the locker that he had just backed into, suddenly found that he had run out of room, and now had no other choice but to face his accuser.

"Come on, Ed," said Carter, trying to pacify Martinez. "I also mentioned that other sports figures have fathered kids out of wedlock. It wasn't like I was singling you out. Why, Sports Illustrated ran a similar article just last month. It's a perfectly legitimate topic."

"I don't give a rat's ass what S I prints, as long as they don't use my name. But you did, and I don't like it!"

"Hey, I wasn't lyin', Ed. You are behind in your child-support payments. Like Casey Stengle said, "You can look it up!"

"You listen to me, mother fucker!," shouted Martinez, grasping the writer tightly by the lapels of his plaid sportscoat, "You print anything about my personal life again, and you're dead meat!" With that final warning, Martinez flung carter across the locker room. At that point, several players, led by Cody, sheltered Carter from the irate Martinez. "Come on, Ed," advised Cody, "this scum bag ain't worth it!"

"You're right, man," agreed Martinez, who now realized that further action on his part would only make matters worse for himself.

Picking up the notepad and micro-cassette recorder that he had dropped during the scuffle, Carter rose unsteadily to his feet, like a newborn colt just learning to walk, and shouted, "You're all witnesses! We'll see what the International League says about this!" He then scurried from the locker room, almost bumping into Ragman, who had, for some unknown reason, backtracked his way to the stadium. "Freak!," Carter mumbled to himself. Carter fully intended to file a grievance with the League over Martinez' behavior, and to charge the player with assault and battery. But Carter would live to do neither: the next morning, his body--or what was left of it, merely the charred stumps of his legs amid a rubble of burnt flesh and black ashes--was found in his bedroom, which had been remarkably spared from the ravishes of a fire that some were convinced could only have been the result of spontaneous human combustion.

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Chapter Eight

Spontaneous combustion, the belief that the human body could, through heat generated by its own internal oxidation, ignite itself, had long been dismissed by most serious scientists and scholars. Yet, through the years, there had been no shortage of baffling cases in which people seemed to have literally caught themselves on fire from some internal source and had gone up like dry tinder. Perhaps Mike Carter had been one more victim of this phenomenon. "Wouldn't surprise me a bit," quipped Eduardo Martinez to his teammates. "That man was so full of bullshit, it's a wonder he didn't blow up long ago!"

Taking the matter much more seriously were Rachel and her Delaware grandfather, Dan Friar, who had been a shaman for most of his long, eighty-three- year life, and who still continued to practice "medicine power." Both knew that spontaneous human combustion was yet another time-honored chindi punishment. Rachel had telephoned her grandfather about the mysterious chain of events that had stricken Carlton, and the gallant old gentleman, convinced that sorcerer's magic was afoot, had insisted on taking a bus from upstate N.Y., where he had continued to live following his wife's death, to Carlton, to do what he could to help. This included taking part in the new protests that Rachel had organized against the continued desecration of Delaware burial grounds that George Fletcher had announced would be necessary to accommodate the planned logue luxury box section of the new stadium.

As the small group of Native American men and women formed a phalanx in front of Arrow Stadium on the day of the Scouts' exhibition game against its parent major league team, the Chiefs, Len Cody made his way to the players' entrance, doing his best to ignore the demonstration. As a full-blooded Delaware, he was, naturally, sympathetic to their concerns, citing his own objections to Carter's "Chief Special-K" label, but had, much to Rachel's disappointment, distanced himself from the group, arguing that such protests would not change the owner's mind, and, in the long run, do more harm than good, by making the group seem like extremists. Besides, he contended, he was merely a hired hand who did not make the organization's decisions, and who had his career to think of. So it was that his presence was greeted by icy stares from many of the picketers. But when Rachel's grandfather saw Cody, the old man's wrinkled bronze face turned as white as a marble statue. He started shaking so violently that he dropped the sign that Rachel had prepared for him ("Don't Sacrifice Spiritual Values for Money"), and had to excuse himself. Rachel followed him to her car, and asked him what was wrong.

"You were right," he gasped, bracing his left hand for support against the passenger door car's handle. "He is Maman-Ti!"

The next two weeks would do nothing to change Dan Friar's mind, for the strange ailment, which the local media was now calling "Carlton Plague," would claim the lives of four engineers who had planned the quickest (and hence the most destructive) way to remove the remaining graves in order to make room for the new stadium's logues. When Rachel heard about these latest deaths, she recalled Poe's words in "The Masque of the Red Death": "The 'Red Death' had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal…" But that was fiction; this was reality, and she wondered how long it would be before Carlton's own plague, like the "Red Death," would hold "dominion over all." Little did anyone know how ironic a role the Scouts' most controversial player, Eduardo Martinez, would now play in this cruel game.

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Chapter Nine

"Hey, deadbeat!, deatbeat!," chanted a small but vocal group of fans from the field stands at Eduardo Martinez. "Assholes!," grumbled Martinez to himself, trying to ignore the taunting that had no doubt been encouraged by Carter's column. Martinez was not in a good mood--had not been since the end of spring training, when he had been notified that he would start the season at AA Carlton, and with major league Buffalo, or even with AAA Indianapolis. "Can't hit a major league curve just yet," one scout had said; "needs to work on his throwing," had reported another. "What the hell do they know?," rationalized Martinez. He was convinced that he was ready to play major league ball right now, but, no, here he was, from his point of view, buried in the bush leagues, and playing for a team that had, in its first three weeks of play following Rachel's protest rally over further stadium construction, lost eleven games in a row. And now, here he was, in front of a bunch of brain- dead drunks that had badgered him relentlessly for six innings.

It wouldn't be long before Martinez' volatile temper, which had plagued him like an abscessed tooth since his University of Pittsburgh playing days, when he had had to be restrained from jumping into the stands to answer a verbally abusive fan who had called him a "dumb spic" for having let a ground ball bounce between his legs in a 1996 College World Series game, would get the better of him. Since then, he had become well known for getting into heated arguments with umpires, coaches, and fellow players; breaking clubhouse water coolers in frustration over bad at-bats; and being rude to fans who would request auto- graphs of the field in public places like bars and restaurants, which request which Martinez regarded as invasions of his privacy. "Who cares?," Martinez would argue when both fans and the media would accuse him of surliness. "They don't pay my bills," he would respond. He was convinced that the big club's concern over his "attitude" had been responsible for this current sentence to what he considered baseball purgatory, but he was determined not to let the bastards win. He'd show them: he would be on his best behavior and not give them any further excuse to keep him from big league money and fame. It was this vow that he had so far that day kept his temper in check.

But then it happened: at the conclusion of the inning, one of the drunks went too far and shouted, 'nothin worse than a deadbeat half-spic, half-nigger!" Matinez, a third-generation Mexican-American whose dark skin he had inherited from his African American mother, reacted immediately. Instantly, the ground ball that Martinez had just fielded became a missile which he launched at his antagonist, sailing over the drunk's outstretched hands, which he had held up in a futile attempt to catch the ball in self-defense, and ending up three rows back, where a small ocean of fans fought for the trophy like a pack of scavenging pack dogs for a kill. "You should have caught it, asshole!," taunted Martinez. "That was your souvenir!"

The media was divided in its reaction to the incident. Some felt that the fan had had it coming to him, that security should have rejected him and his friends earlier for the obscenities that they had been annoying other spectators with throughout the game. The International League President, however, who was considering disciplinary action against Martinez, argued that, while he was not excusing racial slurs, no amount of verbal abuse could justify a play deliberately trying to hit a fan with a baseball. What if a senior citizen--or even a child--had been hit? For George Fletcher's part, he feared being named as co-party in a personal injury suit. It was this matter that was the subject of the heated conversation that Fletcher held the next day with Martinez.

"I've called a news conference for 5PM today," Fletcher told Martinez in his office, "and you're gonna be there."

"Why?," asked Martinez. "I've got nothing else to say, other than what I've already said: this guy and his friends had been riding me during the game. Then, he hurled a racial epitaph at me; I lost my temper and simply responded as most anyone else would have under the same circumstances. Hell, he's lucky I didn't beat the shit out of him!"

"Because he called you a name?," asked Fletcher incredulously. "I know you people are supposed to be hot-tempered, but isn't this carrying things a bit too far?"

Martinez ignored Fletcher's remark about stereotypical Hispanic tempers, and let the owner continue his diatribe, amazed at the man's astounding ignorance and insensitivity.

"If it's not you," declared Fletcher, lighting a cigarette and shoving it into an ostentatious holder in the shape of a bear's claw, "it's those God-damn Indians bitching about Scout Braveheart, or about the plowing up of a few feet of unmarked ground that they claim is a cemetery of theirs. You're all too sensitive--too fuckin' politically correct! Look, the bottom line is that this guy's suin' both you and me, which could end up costing me a bundle!"

"Aw, come on," argued Martinez. "He wasn't hurt!"

"Yeah, well, his lawyer claims that he's suffered 'severe emotional distress' and 'hysterical paralysis,' and that he now he's so traumatized that he can't lift his right arm."

"That's bullshit!," objected Martinez. "His client hasn't got a case, and we all know it. We'll laugh him out of court."

"We may not have to," countered Fletcher. "Fortunately, his lawyer said that his client's open to a settlement that would save us all a lot of time, money and bad publicity."

"What kind of settlement?," asked Martinez warily.

"First, he wants free tickets to all remaining Scouts games. I've already O.K.'d it with our ticket department, so I've done my part. Now it's time to do yours."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that, for starters, he wants $10,000 for you in personal damages.

"No way," said Martinez.

"Then," Fletcher continued, oblivious to Martinez' objections, "you are to issue him a public apology and personally sign the free merchandise--bats, balls, T-shirts, warm-up jackets, and caps--that he's also demanding from the ball club.

"You call that a settlement? That's what I call blackmail! I'm not giving him a dime, and if you want to give him all those freebees, fine, but I'm not signing those things and letting him sell them, when I make the big leagues, for three times their value. He's not gettin' rich off of me!"

"You don't have any choice," retorted Fletcher. "You either do as I say or I'll see to it that you'll never make it out of the minors; I have connections with the big club, and I'll use 'em! They're already fed up with your temper tantrums anyway."

"So all I have to do to get to the bigs is to surrender my self-respect and integrity, is that it?"

"That's it," Fletcher answered, crushing the remaining stubs of his cigarette into a jade ashtray and putting a fresh replacement in the bear claw holder.

"Was that holder made from a real bear's claw?"

"Absolutely," replied Fletcher proudly, "a grizzly!"

"Well, it's a dirty shame that such a magnificent animal had to give its life for an asshole like you!," Martinez announced, rising from his chair and heading for the door.

Instantly, Fletcher jumped from his plush chair behind his huge mahogany desk and forcibly grabbed Martinez by the shoulders in an attempt to prevent the big first baseman from leaving. "Who do you think you are, talking to me that way?," demanded Fletcher.

"Get your fuckin' hands off me!," snarled Martinez, firmly shoving the owner out of his path and opening the door, allowing the entire office to hear his parting words: "You may pay my salary, but you don't own me! I'm a human being, not an object for show, like that friggin' cigarette holder of yours! If you ever lay your dirty hands on me again, I guarantee, by the time I'm through, a DNA expert wouldn't be able to ID you!"

Fletcher didn't press the issue further, a wise choice, considering the fact that at 5'8," 170 lbs., the forty-four-year-old owner was no match for the 6'5," close to 300 lb., twenty-one year-old first baseman. No matter, he felt. Martinez, he was convinced, once he had cooled down and had thought about a future as a career minor leaguer, would come crawling back to him, humble and repentant. He would soon "learn his place," Fletcher reassured himself, brushing back with both hands his thinning, pepper- gray hair that had become mussed during the brief altercation, and meticulously straightening the lapels of his tweed Christian Dior suit coat that Martinez had accidentally wrinkled.

That evening, which was unseasonably warm and humid for late April, Fletcher lay in his air-conditioned bedroom, pausing in his channel surfing with the remote to his 44" wide-screen TV to reach for his cigarette holder. He knew all about the dangers of smoking in bed, but wasn't worried about falling asleep with a lighted cigarette, for he wasn't tired. As he picked up the holder, the air conditioning suddenly died, and instantly the room became stuffy and uncomfortable. Before Fletcher could react to this problem by cussing out the mechanics who had installed his house's new central cooling system, he noticed that the claw felt inexplicably different: heavier, warm, fleshy, --even furry--although the object itself looked unchanged in appearance. "This can't be happening," remarked Fletcher, "it must be my imagination." But that was before he heard the unmistakable growl of a ferocious bear, and dropped the cigarette holder in fright. He felt foolish, though, as he glanced at the TV set and discovered that the sound had merely come from a group of grizzly bears fishing for salmon on a Discovery Channel wildlife documentary. "Bullshit!" he said to himself, convinced that that he had imagined the changes in the bear claw's texture. But as he reached to retrieve the cigarette holder, his eyes widened and his mouth fell open, and immediately the quiet of the room was shattered by his own anguished screams.

When his maid reported for work the next morning and mounted the spiral staircase to this bedroom, she was surprised that the air conditioning had been off in such warm weather. Then, her nostrils caught the nauseating smell of decaying flesh. The odor seemed to grow stronger as she neared Fletcher's bedroom. Pushing open the slightly ajar door, she stepped into the room, the stench of rot and decay permeating the air. It didn't take her long to discover its source: lying on the blood- soaked mattress, pieces of spongy flesh stuck to the sheet, was George Fletcher's mangled body, his throat torn out and his face mauled beyond all recognition. One of the investigating officers who were subsequently called to the death house remarked to his partners that the last time that he had seen marks like those on what was left of Fletcher's face (which now resembled a gnarled walnut) had been on a trip to Colorado, when a fellow camper had been attacked by a female grizzly protecting her cubs.

Picked up later that day for questioning was Eduardo Martinez, who had been heard threatening Fletcher the previous day. Although he had had motive, the police did not charge him, since they were unable to answer one vital question: how Martinez-- or any other human being, for that matter--would have had the strength to have wrenched both of Fletcher's arms from their sockets.

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Chapter Ten

George Fletcher constituted the eighth person associated with the Carlton Scouts in the last two months to have met a horrible death, either through plague or dismemberment, or, as in Mike Carter's case, through some other inexplicable act of violence. Fletcher's murder forced the International League to place the team in receivership, and led to rumors of discontinuing the Scouts' entire season. But much more serious was the shocking news two weeks later of the savage murders of Kelly Walters and Julie Gleason, the two women who had brought sexual harassment and stalking charges against Dr. Tom D'Arcy. Every bone in their bodies had been shattered, and their windpipes crushed, as if by unbelievable constriction and pressure. Evidently, the killer had grown tired of dismemberment and had reserved a slower, and arguably more torturous, death for these two women. Naturally, Dr. D'Arcy had been picked up and questioned, but due to the unusual nature of their deaths, he was not considered a serious subject and had been released.

While the police and FBI were searching for more rational explanations, Rachel was convinced that these women's deaths could mean only one thing: the chindi was now turning its attention to the University, for its association with the Fletchers and the Scouts.

"No one's safe," Rachel confided to Dr. Walker, who, too, had begun to accept the possibility of a chindi curse. "Not the students, not the faculty--not anyone."

"Unless," Dr. Walker agreed, "we can convince the Scouts and the university to restore the consecrated ground and cease further disturbance. Otherwise, there may be nothing anyone can do. The Plague will spread to the University grounds. And more people will die. either through illness or violence--."

"There may be one other solution," interjected Rachel. "As you know, from your own study of Native American medicine power, it's possible to redirect a chindi to destroy the one who had called it forth in the first place, to cause its power to 'boomerang' on its master."

"But if you're right," replied Dr. Walker, "and the sorcerer is Maman-Ti, then it's imperative that his opponent be as skilled in the ancient medicine arts as he if the 'boomerang' ceremony is to be successful."

"Luckily," smiled Rachel, "there is such a person, right here in Carlton."

"Who?," asked Dr. Walker, genuinely surprised at such a revelation.

"My grandfather, Dan Friar."

Rachel's grandfather had, since the age of twelve, been apprenticed to a great Delaware shaman, Walking Bear, who had taught him the means by which one could attain an altered level of consciousness in order to communicate with, and, in some cases, control, the elemental forces or spirits with which man shares his world. Walking Bear had always stressed the imperativeness of using such forces to help one's fellow beings--to cure sickness or to relieve drought, for example. He had also warned his student that those same forces could be commanded to harm others, but that if a shaman ever used these forces for selfish purposes--against an innocent person, or for greed, personal vengeance, or power-- then those same spirits would avenge their unjust use on him. This is what had happened to the Owl Prophet, who. shortly after having the chanted the death prayer for Kicking Bird, had met the same fate as his victim. In such instances, the shaman might try to "cleanse" himself through a special ceremony, in order to prevent such "boomeranging," but such a precaution would result in merely a temporary stay of execution, for no amount of cleansing could prevent the spirit from finally avenging itself on the offending shaman.

But Dan knew that he could not afford to wait that long, for, in the meantime, the chindi could kill countless innocent people--turn Carlton University into a graveyard--before ultimately turning on its master. Instead, he must use his own powers to gain control of the spirit and command it to kill the one who had first summoned it. However, he also realized that in so doing he would be putting his own life in danger, for if his victim knew what he was attempting, Dan could become the victim of his own "boomerang," a fate which he might or might not be able to prevent through a counteractive cleansing ceremony. Having decided to accept this risk, he had asked Rachel to secure for him an image of the shaman, the newspaper photograph that had first raised her suspicions about Len Cody.

"Now," explained her grandfather, his palsy-ridden hands shaking as he held and studied the photograph intensely, " I will chant a special prayer that will direct the chindi to absorb its master's vital force. If I am successful, the sorcerer will at first feel a numbness which will begin at his feet and then gradually spread to his knees, and hips, and finally, to his heart. I must know immediately if the chant has worked or not, so that I may begin cleansing myself as soon as possible, so as to counteract Cody's 'boomerang' power."

"I'll let you know right away if anything happens," answered Rachel, switching on the local radio station covering the game.

"Thank you, Rachel, and, if the worst happens to me tonight, remember, I love you dearly." With that, he embraced her tightly, and, tearing Cody's photograph from the newspaper, stepped into Rachel's guest bedroom, in the middle of which he had lighted and placed at opposite ends of a ceremonial floor rug two candles. He then closed the door, so as to prevent any distractions, and began his preparations while Rachel sat on her sofa and listened carefully to the game amid the crackle of static from her radio.

Dan worked meticulously, removing from the pockets of his flannel jacket two separate packets, each containing a different quantity of grain, wheat, and corn, and emptied their contents into three ceremonial bowls, which he had earlier placed on a nearby bureau, and which he now moved next to the candles, in front of which lay Cody's photograph. Seating himself on the rug, hands on his knees, he threw back his head, closed his eyes, and began the ceremony, rhythmically chanting to himself so as to achieve a state of altered consciousness. Then, when he and the spirit world had become inexorably attuned, he summoned, with a time-honored Delaware prayer, the restless chindi to the room.

At first, all was normal, but the persistent shaman repeated the prayer four more times until, finally, the right signs began to manifest themselves. The room suddenly became abnormally cold, a fact which Dan, who was now deep into his trance, was unaware of. Then, a powerful gust of wind blew through the open window, rustling the curtains and quickly extinguishing the candles, plunging the room into total darkness. This activity, of course, could easily have been attributed to the imminent thunderstorm that "Doppler Weather Radar" had been tracking all evening, and which had been playing havoc with Rachel's radio reception, even now forcing her to feverishly adjust the dials in order to keep track of the game and notify her grandfather of any change in Cody's behavior or condition. But what happened next was totally unexplainable by any standards.

According to Native American belief, a shaman must first appease a chindi with a food offering, hence the three bowls of grain. Once the chindi has been propitiated, it will absorb the food's life force, or mana, first nourishing itself, and then expending its excess energy. This it now did by violently hurling objects about the room: books, videotapes, CD holders, and shoes. Frightened by these strange noises, Rachel had considered rushing to the room to see if her grandfather was all right, but he had warned her to expect such phenomena, and to not interrupt the ceremony under any circumstances, until they were sure that Cody had been stricken.

After about fifteen minutes, the chaos had ceased and all was still, and Dan, surrounded by the debris that had been tossed all about him, chanted over and over the death prayer, commanding the chindi to track down and enter his master's body, and absorb his life force. Then, whatever presence had been in that room now departed. The window curtains billowed strongly, and the room quickly returned to its normal warm temperature as it exited.

Roughly twenty minutes later, Rachel jumped up from the sofa, scattering the pile of student papers, which she had decided to read in order to calm her nerves, from her lap, letting them fall to the floor. She then ran to the guest bedroom, flinging open the door and turning on the light, the illumination causing the heap of objects that had been thrown about during the chindi's poltergeist- like activities, and which now littered the room. Still holding court was Dan Friar, as deeply entrenched in his trance as ever. "Grandfather! Grandfather!," she shouted, grabbing the old patriarch by the shoulders and gently shaking him from his altered state to waking consciousness. His venerable head dropped to his chest, his mouth agape; then his eyes slowly began to open, and he summoned the strength to look up at his beloved granddaughter.

"Rachel," he muttered weakly. "What is it? Is it over? Did it work?"

"Yes!," exclaimed Rachel, joyously hugging her grandfather. "In the seventh inning, Cody suddenly took ill and had to leave the game, complaining of severe numbness in his joints."

"Then it won't be long now," Dan replied, closing his tired eyes and sighing in relief, "and all this horror will end." Then, like an infantry soldier who has been marching for days, half-asleep from exhaustion and more dead than alive, but determined to regain the hill that his side must hold, the gallant old man called up deep from within himself one more reserve of energy, and rose, though unsteadily, but with great resolve, to his feet. "Now, " he told Rachel, "we must hurry. Quickly, my dear, get me my cleansing artifacts from my room, so I can defend myself against Cody's 'boomerang' power. You'll find them there," he said, pointing to the large duffel bag on the kitchen table.

But Rachel never had a chance to retrieve them, for suddenly she was frozen by the same unearthly iciness that had previously permeated the room. Then, that same unholy blast of wind that seemed to have been powered by a force outside the scope of nature once again blew in through the open window, only this time more powerfully than before, tearing the curtains from their rods. Instantly, the pile of books and other objects on the floor once again became endowed with lives of their own, and transformed, one after another into guided missiles, one weighty tome barely missing Rachel's head, and another striking her grandfather in the temple and opening a deep, bloody gash. Then, the unthinkable: Dan felt a peculiar numbness in his lower extremities, the first sign of a reverse chindi death curse. Maman-Ti's/Len Cody's magic had been too powerful, even for Dan, who now gasped in agony as the numbness moved in ever-widening arcs, and up to his chest. "Rachel!," he cried out, grasping his heart.

In a matter of seconds, it was over: Dan crashed to the floor. Immediately, whatever objects that had been flying about the room dropped to the floor with the same sickening finality as Dan's now lifeless frame, his hands twitching spasmodically at the frayed fringes of the ceremonial rug on which he had landed. At that moment, the coldness left the room, the wind ceased, and all was silent--except for Rachel, who, sobbing loudly, clutched in her arms, as tightly as a child does a cherished toy or doll, no matter how old, broken, or tattered, her grandfather's body.

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Chapter Eleven

Following her grandfather's death, the dark twins of grief and vengeance waged a fierce right-brain/left-brain war for control of Rachel's soul. Unable to resolve this terrible ambivalence, she soon experienced severe sleep disorders, and fell into the deepest depression she had experienced since, as a teenager, she had first learned the true details of her parents' fates. Although she continued to attend her graduate classes and to teach, nothing really mattered to her now, including her engagement to Nick, who, possessed of great sensitivity and understanding, overlooked the entirely uncharacteristic habit that she had now consequently fallen into of not returning her phone messages. Realizing the trap that she was engulfing herself in, she was determined to fight, summoning the same fortitude that had allowed her to survive nine years of loneliness in that hellish orphanage.

Knowing that she, being her grandfather's closest surviving relative, would have to make the funeral arrangements, Rachel shook off the shackles of depression and poured her energies into supervising the funeral (which was to be held in what had been her grandfather's place of residency for the past forty years, Ft. Mapleton, N.Y., where his body had already been sent on), making sure that traditional Delaware rites would be observed. She was grateful to Dr. Walker, who, still recovering from a severe flu that she had unexpectedly contracted a few days before, had generously granted her a week off from her teaching duties to make the trip to New York.

Before leaving, however, Rachel was unable to resolve one mystery that had continued to perplex her: the whereabouts of her grandfather's cleansing artifacts. They had disappeared from her apartment the very day following her grandfather's death. She had filed a stolen goods report with campus police when she had found the bag missing following her return from her 2PM Pan-African composition class, but it had so far not turned up, and she now had to make the trip without it. She would not be surprised to find it either in Len Cody's locker or apartment, but realized that she could never convince the authorities to issue a search warrant, so she let the matter drop for the time being, although she knew that, eventually, she and Cody would have to have a showdown.

However, when she returned from New York early Monday morning the following week, Rachel had no time to take up this mystery right away, for a new crisis now demanded her attention: she had received an urgent fax from Althea Brewster to see her as soon as possible, for she claimed to have important news about the Carlton deaths. Although both tired and hungry, she decided to forego the microwave frozen veal parmesan lunch that she had bought herself and instead see Mrs. Brewster right away. As she drove the short distance to Howard House, Rachel could not help but sense that something was terribly wrong, and, anxious to reach the House as soon as possible, she, for one of the few times in her life, succumbed to road rage. "Damn orange barrels!." she shouted, throwing her hands about and cursing at the congested traffic caused by the construction work which restricted traffic to one lane, thus prolonging a ten-minute drive by at least an extra fifteen minutes. Once out of this zone, her luck was no better; practically every red traffic light in town seemingly had her name on it.

Finally reaching her destination, she pulled her Hyundai into the Howard House parking lot, where she was surprised to see, Althea Brewster's dark blue Toyota, and an olive green van, since the place was closed to the public on Mondays. Even more astounding was the next sight that greeted her eyes: running from the house, at full gallop, was Len Cody, who jumped into the van and peeled out of the driveway, almost hitting broadside a University transit bus in the oncoming lane.

Rushing into the house, Rachel ran up the stairs to a parlor room on the second floor, where the sound of mournful sobs had now directed her. There, cradling Mrs. Brewster's body, was, of all people, Ragman, who, aware now of Rachel's presence, looked up at her and announced, "She's dead…he killed…he killed…my mother!"

"Your mother?," asked Rachel in disbelieve. Len Cody kill Mrs. Brewster?"

"He killed my mother!," he repeated.

"Wait here!," commanded Rachel, her palms upraised, as in a "stop" gesture. "I'll get the police."

"He killed my mother!," the pathetic man-child said a third time. The police arrived in twenty minutes, questioning both Rachel and Ragman. Although they could get only limited information from Ragman, they learned, and were late able to confirm, that he was indeed Althea Brewster's son, whose real name was Milton DeFalice, having been born to his mother forty-one years ago, out of wedlock. Mentally retarded, he had spent, on and off, a good of his life institutionalized, having received treatment that had been completely paid for by his mother, and had been released five years ago, and placed in her care. It was she who had been providing for him as best she could, having never forgotten nor abandoned the child that had been the product of an unhappy relationship between herself and a college student, who, like Amanda Wingfield's husband in Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, had fallen in love with "long distance." But this gallant woman was now dead, having been immobilized by a sharp blow to the skull, and her face, mouth, and head completely wrapped in duct table, having resulted in asphyxiation. When questioned further, Milton (AKA Ragman) explained, as clearly as he could, that he had returned to he House after his morning walk and had found the door, to which his mother had given him a spare key, strangely unlocked. Then, he claimed, he had seen Len Cody kneeling over his mother's body and fumbling with the duct tape that had been applied. Upon being discovered, Cody had run from the House, unaware that he had been spotted by Rachel. Her testimony, plus a subsequent fingerprint dusting of the House, seemed to have indeed confirmed Ragman's story, and the police, some of whom, off the record, confessed partial relief at having at last been able to investigate a "normal"murder for a change, immediately issued an ABP for Cody.

However, they need not have bothered. By 4PM that day, the unexpected happened: Len Cody turned himself in to the Carlton police, waived his rights to legal counsel, and confessed that he had, indeed, killed Althea Brewster, because she had discovered his plan to avenge the desecration of Native American burial ground by both the Fletchers and, indirectly, the University. He admitted that he had carried out a plan involving an ingenious but cruel combination of crude germ warfare and DNA engineering (accounting for both the so-called Plague, which, he assured them, would not claim another victim, and the chemical reaction, caused by a tiny capsule that he had placed outside of Mike Carter's open window, and which had been responsible for the writer's spontaneous combustion), and direct attacks, involving both evisceration and dismemberment. Cody offered no explanation as to why he had turned himself in, other than the confession that he was now bored with killing, and that he knew he would be caught eventually.

The local radio talk shows and TV stations were soon carrying the story of Cody's amazing confession in full, bringing an end to, what one national news correspondent had called, the most ruthless serial killings in modern crime history. As Rachel and Nick sat on her living room sofa, watching the story unfold on Channel 10, they were unaware of the fact that they would seen be having an uninvited-- and totally unexpected--visitor. Both the so-called Plague, which, he assured them, would not claim another victim.

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Chapter Twelve

"You see, Rach," said Nick, "there was a perfectly sane and logical explanation for these murders after all. No evil spirit, no reincarnated medicine man, just a psycho-pathic killer consumed by his own hatred."

"I suppose so," admitted Rachel, though still finding it hard to believe that Len Cody's resemblance to Maman-Ti, birthmark and all, had merely been an extraordinary coincidence; that that night he had merely succumbed to an ordinary virus that had had nothing to do with her grandfather's ceremony; that nothing more than extraordinary wind turbulence created by perfectly natural forces had caused the poltergeist-like flying of objects that night; or that the power of suggestion, brought on by her grandfather's firm belief in the supernatural, had overtaxed his weak heart. She wondered if she too had let all those childhood stories about spirit power over ride her sense and logic. The persistent ringing of her doorbell, however, coupled simultaneously with loud, violent knocking, soon shook her from her contemplation. "Who the hell could that be?," she wondered, briskly rising from the sofa and unlatching the door's deadbolt. She didn't have long to wait for an answer, for stumbling through the doorway and collapsing onto the floor was Dr. Tom D'Arcy, his face a grotesque mask of Carlton Plague sores and ribbons of blood.

"Let's get him over to the sofa!," shouted Nick as they walked an almost unconscious Dr. D'Arcy, one arm on each of his shoulders, to the couch. "Rachel… Rachel," D'Arcy muttered incoherently, struggling, without success to open his eyes.

"Yes, Dr. D'Arcy," answered Rachel, kneeling over the gravely ill man as Nick grabbed Rachel's cellular phone from the nearby easy chair, pulled up its antenna, and quickly contacted 911. "Rachel," D'Arcy weakly continued, between painful gasps for air, "I've…got…to…warn you…before it's…too…late!"

"Don't try to talk, Dr. D'Arcy," Rachel advised. "Nick," she said, as he finished his call for help, "dab his face with a wet sponge while I notify Dr. Walker. I know she has office hours right now, since she's teaching a 7PM class."

"Right," said Nick, hurrying to her bathroom's medicine cabinet.

Quickly, Rachel touch-toned Dr. Walker's office number on the cell phone-- once, twice, and then three, four, and five times, each time receiving nothing but a busy signal.

"I can't get through," conceded Rachel after about five more failed attempts, disgustedly pushing down the phone's antenna and emphatically tossing the device back on the easy chair. "Look, Nick, stay with Dr. D'Arcy until the paramedics arrive, will you? I'm going to the University to get Dr. Walker."

"O.K.," agreed Nick, mopping the still flowing blood from D'Arcy's face with the sponge, which instantly turned from canary yellow to deep, bright crimson.

Traffic was still down to one lane, but through excessive speed and extremely skillful--some would have said reckless--maneuvering which caused more than one angry cut-off motorist to beep his or horn, and a half-dozen orange barrels to be decimated in the process, Rachel was able to cut five full minutes off the prolonged twenty minute drive, and soon arrived at Stanton Hall, where the Pan-African Department was located. Finding an available fifteen-minute parking meter close to the building, Rachel raced to its north entrance, neglecting to deposit a quarter in the pay slot ("Screw it," she remarked to herself. "Let 'em ticket me"), and ran up the stairwell to the third floor of the Department.

Without acknowledging the student receptionist, with whom she had always been on friendly terms), Rachel walked briskly past the girl, who was mystified by her uncharacteristic rudeness, and down the hallway to Dr. Walker's office, the fifth room on the right-hand corner. The door was slightly ajar and the office dark and empty, the silence broken only by the sporadic but persistent busy signal coming from the telephone receiver that Dr. Walker had taken off the hook. Evidently, she had been engaged in something too important to be distracted from at the moment.

Rachel discovered exactly what that activity was when she saw, on the professor's desk top, her grandfather's duffel bag, containing his cleansing artifacts: the traditional bowls of food, offered in supplication to the spirits, a pipe, and a drum, all integral to the ceremony. Realizing the significance of this discovery, and fearing that Dr. Walker might return at any moment, Rachel called Nick on the professor's office phone.

"Hello, Nick? This is Rachel. Did the paramedics arrive yet? Good, Listen… I'm calling you from Dr. Walker's office…no, she not here, but Nick, I've found something that explains this whole rotten business: she stole my grandfather's cleansing tools. That can mean only one thing: she used them to protect herself from the "boomerang" power of one of her own spells. Don't you see? She's the one who's been commanding the chindi!…Look, I don't care whether you believe me or not, but I want you to get the campus police and meet me here right away. If we can--"

Rachel never got a chance to finish her sentence, for a firm hand had pressed down on the phone hook, disconnecting her call. Whirling around in surprise, she found herself looking into the cold eyes of Dr. Walker, who had caught Rachel, who had been so intent on informing Nick about her discovery that she had failed to notice the professor's footsteps echoing down the hall, nor the sound of the door that she had quietly closed behind her and locked. Rachel made a move for the door, but Dr. Walker had matters well in hand: the slightly bigger woman grasped Rachel firmly by the shoulders and shoved her to the floor.

"Going so soon, Rachel?," Dr. Walker sneered. "Why, I wouldn't hear of it! You and I have so much to talk about."

"You--you're the one!," exclaimed Rachel, slowly rising to her feet. "It's your orders that the chindi's been following!"

"You're only partially right," explained Dr. Walker. "The creature had been first unleashed by the Fletchers' disturbance of its burial grounds, and took its revenge on both of them, and on anyone else connected with the team. I had nothing to do with that. But following Mike Carter's death, I began to believe in this thing's existence, and in the possibility, through certain incantations, of controlling it…using it to my advantage. I found out that I could…and I did!"

"You mean that those two young women--?"

"Were my victims, yes. I commanded the chindi to take the form of the snake spirit, just as it had earlier assumed the shapes of the hawk, wolf, and bear. And the result? Well, pretty damn successful, wouldn't you say? And the beautiful thing is that the chindi, being of spirit, not of substance, leaves no trace of itself--no DNA, nothing."

"But why did you do it?," asked Rachel.

"Why do you think?," Dr. Walker answered. "Because of Tom. They were a threat , both to his career and to any future happiness that we could have had together. I had simply done him a favor by having the chindi kill them. But was he grateful? No! When I told him about what I had done for his love--the risks I had taken--he ran from me like a frightened rabbit to betray me--and to you, the one person he knew might believe the fantastic story I had told him. I hated him at that moment! I finally realized how he had simply used me--like all the other women he had ever known--so I chanted the Plague curse. I wanted him to suffer--and he will! There's nothing anyone can do for him. But don't grieve for him--I've come to the conclusion that he had never really been worth carrying about anyway!"

"What about Mrs. Brewster?"

"Oh, dear Althea? The fool! One day at Howard House, I overheard her talking to that idiot son of hers, claiming that she had seen me in a vision the night before, casting the snake curse on those two sluts, and that she had to contact you immediately. I knew that nobody else would believe her, but that you would be a different matter. I had to not only dispose of her, but to do it in such a way that would allay your suspicions once and for all. Suddenly, it struck me: kill her and give you, on a silver platter, your 'sorcerer,' Len Cody. It had been too short a time following my last incantation, and I couldn't use the chindi right away, so I killed her myself, and then cast an ancient Delaware will-usurpation spell to summon Cody to Howard House and make himself believe that he had been responsible for both this and the earlier deaths."

"Then Len Cody is not Maman-Ti?"

"Of course not! You should learn to trust a little more fully in coincidences, because after all, my dear, that's all his remarkable resemblance to Maman-Ti was: sheer coincidence. And, oh, by the way, your grandfather's powers were most impressive. The death spell he cast on the chindi's master laid me up for quite some time; I'm just now getting my strength back from that 'flu,' completely unrelated, of course, to the quite ordinary bug that just happened to have struck Cody that night on the mound. Of course, your grandfather failed to act quickly enough to combat my 'boomerang' death spell, but in a few minutes you'll know what it feel like, because you're going to join him! I can chant the death prayer for you, and the chindi will strike you down anywhere, at any time, and at any place, no matter where you flee to!"

"Haven't you forgotten something, Dr. Walker?"

"I don't think so."

"I do. Remember the Owl Prophet? He was struck down by the very chindi that he had commanded to kill Kicking Bird, because the Prophet had used spirit power to kill undeserving victims."

"Have you forgotten your grandfather's cleansing artifacts, my dear? I've already conducted the preventive ceremony. You really don't think that I would have neglected to protect myself, do you?"

"No," answered Rachel contemptuously, "I'm sure you've thought of everything. But all his cleansing didn't protect the Owl Prophet, and it won't protect you, either,"

Suddenly, that same unearthly, icy blast of cold wind that had chilled the very marrow of Rachel's bones the night of her grandfather's death now blew through the office's open window. As before, inanimate objects--first books, then folders, the telephone, and a chair--were propelled across the room by some separate life force or intelligence.

"You hadn't summoned it this time, had you?," gloated Rachel over her fear. "It shouldn't be here now, should it? But it has--and its come for you!"

"Be quiet you fool!--be quiet!," demanded Dr. Walker, shaking Rachel violently by the shoulders. Then, Dr. Walker felt a sickening numbness that started in her joints and moved quickly up to her chest, causing her to stumble against the office's rear wall. At that moment, campus security, accompanied by Nick, broke down the locked door, and all became witness to a sight that would haunt them for their lives.

Instantly, Dr. Walker screamed in torment, covering her face with her hands. Some malevolent beast, invisible to all in that office, was attacking her. As her hands dropped, the terrified onlookers saw the results of the creature's work: deep talon-inflicted slashes on her face, blood crisscrossing the torn flesh. Faltering about the room in agony, Dr. Walker now felt her body internally combusting, as billowing smoke began emerging from every pore and scalding her skin. Then, the entire office shook with turbulent ferocity as her body exploded, splattering all those assembled with fragments of blood and flesh as they gazed in silent shock and disbelief at the charred rubble that had once been Dr. Naomi Walker.

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Chapter Thirteen

Even though the more skeptical might have searched for a logical explanation the astounding events that day, those eyewitnesses to the carnage were convinced that something beyond the scope of nature had destroyed Dr. Walker, and pressure was brought on the Scouts' new owners to restore the burial grounds, and to build the new stadium elsewhere. While not admitting, as the had the Cowardly Lion, that they did believe in "spooks," the team complied with the request. Subsequently, not another Carlton resident was stricken with the Plague, and the mysterious attacks, which Len Cody had been promptly cleared of, ceased. Cody put this whole sordid affair behind him and was eventually called up to the major leagues, as was Eduardo Martinez. And Nick, whom Rachel would marry the following January while finishing her MA in Native American literature and applying for a doctoral program, so impressed the San Diego Padres in a successful tryout that the team offered him a minor league contract. If Rachel felt that she had any reason to complain about anything it was because of the fact that she had been ticketed by the Parking Department for having illegally parked at Stanton Hall that day she had risked her life to investigate Dr. Walker; a parking official had placed a boot on her car's rear wheel, requiring her to pay a fine to have it removed. "What a crock!," she had remarked, laughing at the irony of the situation.

In the meantime, doctors in far off Montgomery, New York were puzzled by the outbreak of a strange disease which caused the skin to erupt into large, foul-looking sores before claiming its victims. If that weren't enough, several persons had been savagely butchered by either some unknown maniac or unidentified wild animal. But to take their minds off these tragedies, at least Montgomery's citizens could look forward to the new deluxe super pharmacy which, after two months of work, was now three-fourths finished, the one that was being built on a large tract of land adjacent to the expressway--on land that, it was rumored, had long ago been used by the Iroquois as sacred burial ground.

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