John M. Floyd

Dawson's Curse

 

 

At twenty minutes to noon Jeremy Dawson crossed Canal Street, walked half a dozen blocks, turned left for a few more, and paused at a storefront near the edge of the French Quarter. He shot an uneasy glance up and down the narrow street, then quickly stepped inside. The shop was small and cluttered, its walls lined with dolls, charms, statues, oils, books, candles, and masks. The young man behind the counter looked up from his iPhone.

 

“Madame Zoufou,” Dawson said.

 

Without a word the young man rose, led him to a gloomy office, and followed him inside. The owner sat at a tiny desk with her bejeweled hands folded in front of her. A ceiling fan moved the humid air around. After a long moment of silence Dawson told her his name.

 

“I member you,” she said. “Why you here?”

 

“To check on our deal,” he said.

 

“How you mean, check on it?”

 

“Well . . .” He cleared his throat. “I paid you and it’s been five days and there’s been no, ah . . .”

 

“No wot?”

 

“Results. I mean, I’ve been watching his office, and he still comes in every day. Nothing’s happened.” Dawson swallowed, the sound loud in the quiet room.

 

Madame Zoufou held his gaze for a moment, then looked at the young man. He said nothing.

 

“You lissen to me, mon,” she said, turning again to her visitor. “It take time, dis kinda ting. Twinny-four hour, usually—but I not get hole of wot I need till yestiddy mornin’. Spell I put on dis mon, it will work.”

 

“When?”

 

“I finish yestiddy noon. Fore long now, you will hof result.”

 

The result, of course, would be news of the sudden—and hopefully painful—death of one Tyson McCauley. Jeremy Dawson had discovered only a few weeks ago that McCauley and Dawson’s wife Andrea, who were colleagues at a suburban real estate firm, had for several months been enjoying an intense affair at unsold and vacant properties throughout the metro area. Dawson not only felt deceived and betrayed, he felt as dumb as a lamppost for not suspecting something sooner. It had taken awhile to decide on a course of action and even longer to find the correct person for the “job”—but in the end he thought he had chosen well. The name of Madame Zoufou, Queen of Voodoo, was whispered in every bar and back alley in the city. It had taken almost all Dawson’s courage to approach her last week, and even more to come back to see her today. But he couldn’t help it—he couldn’t just sit and wait.

 

“What will happen, exactly?” Dawson asked.

 

“You sure you won to know?”

 

He swallowed again. “Yes.”

 

She leaned back in her chair. “After twinny-four hour, like I say, he first feel uncomf’tibble warm, like wit high fever. Den will hof trouble breathin’, and movin’. Den . . . it take only ten minute or so, once it start.”

 

Dawson nodded. “I see.” He paused and added, “What if it doesn’t work? What if nothing happens at all?”

 

When she didn’t reply, the young man spoke up, from the other side of the room. His voice was calm but firm: “Be careful, Mr. Dawson. The last person to doubt my mother did not fare well.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“She turned him into a dog.”

 

Dawson blinked. He glanced at her, then back again. “What?”

 

The young man tipped his head toward an ugly white poodle curled up in one corner of the room. It stared back at them with big, sad eyes.

 

“Where my manners?” Madame Zoufou said to Dawson, whose own eyes had widened a bit. “Dis my son Louis. Good boy, but he sometime exaggerate.”

 

The two men studied each other. Neither spoke.

 

“Wot Louis mean,” she said, “is dot you hof no worry.” She looked down at a wristwatch the size of a beer coaster. “Fifteen more minute, dis be over.”

 

Dawson nodded. After another glance at the dog he said, “Can I ask how you . . . did it?”

 

“Our arrangemit, you mean?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I sent young potner, a Mr. Perrault, to dis mon’s house.”

 

“To his home? McCauley’s home?”

 

“To address you give me,” she said. “On Loyola.”

 

“And what did this partner—Perrault—do?”

 

“He check your mon’s garbage. He find piece of his cloze—someting been wore many time. I muss hof it to perform spell.”

 

“A clothing item? What did he bring you?”

 

“Maroon tie. Much used.”

 

For the first time, Dawson smiled a bit. “A maroon necktie.”

 

“You find dot fonny?”

 

“I find it appropriate,” he said. “I’ve seen McCauley wearing a maroon tie. I myself had one for years—they look good with almost any color suit—and mine disappeared the other day. I suspect that when McCauley threw his away, my wife gave mine to him to replace his.” Dawson chuckled without humor. “Thieves as well as adulterers.”

 

Madame Zoufou shrugged and gave him a bored look. “Anyting else?”

 

“No.” Jeremy Dawson rose to his feet, wobbled a bit, and put a hand on the edge of her desk to steady himself. “Thank you.”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “You all right, mon?”

 

He wiped his suddenly pale, sweaty forehead. After a labored breath he said, “I’m fine. It’s a little hot in here, is all.” He turned to leave. Twice he stumbled and righted himself. He had perspired all the way through his shirt.

 

When he had staggered out of the shop, Madame Zoufou watched the door for a moment, then lit a fat cigar, fanned out the match, and turned to her son. “I tell your frinn Perrault to be certain. Absolute certain. You hear me say dot to him?”

 

“I heard you, Mother.”

 

She exhaled a plume of blue smoke. “Go find Perrault. Bring him to me.”

 

Louis moved to the doorway. “What are you going to do?”

 

She tilted her head back and examined the slow rotation of the ceiling fan. “Your sister birt’day tomorra, do you member?”

 

“I remember.”

 

Madame Zoufou smiled coldly. “She always won to hof a puppy.”

 

 

 

John M. Floyd’s work has appeared in more than 300 different publications, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and three editions of The Best American Mystery Stories. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, John is also an Edgar Award nominee, a four-time Derringer Award winner, a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and the author of nine books. He and his wife Carolyn live in Mississippi. Bienvenue au Danse, John.