“Whatever man may take by violence can be restored by the grace and charity that flows from God.”
Adán St. Cypren
True to Adán’s fears, the Black Hand–particularly with the Giovannini’s backing–had long ago expanded their search for not only for the priest, but any of his friends.
Fortunately for Adán, he had few living companions. Father Fontenot was dead, and his fellow clergy at Immaculate, Notre Dame, and Loyola had no clue where the man had vanished. Fortunately for Father Malveaux, he was well-protected, both by mortal and immortal guardians. Notwithstanding, those same clergy were able to share Adán’s close association with Madeleine. Thus, as the mob put out feelers for Madeleine’s whereabouts, their Giovannini benefactors did the same, with their nigramancers sending their enslaved wraiths to hunt the Shadowlands for any who knew the woman or priest, as they still hoped to reclaim St. Columba’s relic.
Beyond the Shroud, those wraiths’ search came to the attention of Gator Johnson. After being purged from Madeleine’s body and then banished back to the Shadowlands with the hound’s death, he had wandered the Shadowlands, his hatred of the mob was only exceeded by his fear of the allied Giovannini. Still, he had neither forgotten nor forgiven Adán, so the wraith decided to hunt down the priest down himself and not only gain his own vengeance, but deny the mob theirs. Ironically, it had been the mob’s decision to drown the heavyweight boxer that gave him some power over water–a power that he slowly learned to use to detect souls’ spiritual ‘runoff.’ And given his half-decade possession of Madeleine, he found her spiritual essence the easiest to detect.
Thus, he had tracked her across Lake Pontchartrain to the Jeansonne’s house.
Thursday night, 31 October 1946, PM
Perhaps most frighteningly, the Shroud was exceedingly thin on All Hallow’s Eve, allowing Gator Johnson’s spirit to possess the storms’ rainwater. With that ‘corporeal’ form, he half-walked, half-sloshed into the Jeansonnes’ home. His drowned voice roared incoherently like a crashing wave. His watery punches broke the Jeansonnes’ kitchen table, hurling children and chairs left and right.
His rampage, halted however, when he beheld–or sensed–Absalom. The water of his soul was familiar, and the wraith laughed long and cruel. He surged forward to claim, or perhaps kill the child, but Madeleine interceded:
“Take me instead! Spare the boy, please, please, Jesus, I beg you!”
Her selfless plea awakened an old, tortured memory in the wraith, a recollection from his mortal life.
A Mother’s Sacrifice
He had been a young child, of similar age as Absalom. The New Orleans hurricane of 1915 had also hammered Mandeville with unexpected fury. The 125 mile per hour winds had flattened his family’s shoreside shotgun house, trapping him and his mother under the rubble. As the storm surge forced Lake Pontchartrain’s water to swell, their collapsed house had begun to flood.
Eventually, neighbors heard their panicked cries. By the time those neighbors dug out enough of the house to see the timber-trapped family, his mother had been barely able to keep her head afloat, and she had to hold up her young child with her fast failing strength. Her last words had been screams–not for her own rescue, but for the toddler she had desperately thrust out to them:
“Take him instead! Spare the boy, please, please, Jesus, I beg you!”
First saving the child from her arms, the neighbors had then tried to move the timbers pinning the woman under the floodwaters–but they were too late. Such was Gator Johnson’s last memories of his mother–living nightmares he had all but forgotten as a man, that is, until the Black Hand had dropped him in the Gulf. As he drowned, those memories came flooding back, and his last mortal thought was how his mother’s sacrifice had been in vain, just as his had been for his own child.
Back in the Shadowlands’ reflection of the Jeansonne’s house, the wraith’s long-dormant eidolon manifested as a vision of his drowned mother, a shard of his soul that had long whispered to him to “be a man worthy of his mother’s sacrifice.” But his Shadow was strong, a twisted phantasmagorical version of Dalila Petit, an ex-lover who contemptuously berated him as “never going to be good enough, never gonna amount to anything but a failure, a waste, a boy who should have been allowed to drown, so at least his mother had a fighting chance.”
His soul so torn, Gator Johnson screamed and blindly swung a powerful, ghostly haymaker. He had meant to strike his Shadow, but it had goaded him into carelessly striking Madeleine in the Skinlands. As his water-possessed fist connected with her face, the plasm-tainted water rushed into her mouth and lungs. Instantly, Madeleine began to drown–right in front of Absalom. Horrified, Gator Johnson fled into the storm. His Shadow followed, cruelly reminding him that it was just as she had “told him so”: “he would never amount to anything more than a mother killer.”
Inside, Madeleine tried to vomit up the ectoplasmic water, but she soon lost consciousness. Acting on instinctual faith, Pierre’s wife grabbed a vial of holy water blessed by Adán and poured it down the dying woman’s mouth, and pronounced the related prayer of cleansing and protection from evil:
“By dis Holy water and by yer Precious Blood, wash away all der sins, O’ Lord!"
Making a sign of the cross, the Jeansonne matriarch then began to pound Madeleine’s back as if brutally punching out the ‘evil.’
And it worked.
Thursday night, 31 October 1946, PM
Madeleine coughed, then violently expelled the ectoplasmic water from her lungs, replacing the drowning fluid with blessed air. Cradling Absalom in her arms, she cried tears of gratitude. Her child had been spared–and so had she. Yet, some part of Gator Johnson’s spirit or memories lingered within the former energumen. Physically, this condition manifested as a persistent, watery cough and tiredness, akin to pneumonia water inside her lungs. Spiritually, though, this condition granted her a connection with the Shroud, and specifically the dead boxer and his projected eidolon of his mother, Rebe Célestin.
Because of that connection, she surprised all, including Adán upon his arrival with the Jeansonne men, that she did not wish to banish or retaliate against the boxer. Instead, she wished to find him and help him “transcend his purgatory”, and achieve the peace of God. Moreover, she expressed a strong premonition of where they would find him:
“He doesn’t even know it yet, but his guilt is going to drive him back to Mandeville, where his mama died–and on All Souls’ Day, he’ll be drawn to her grave as sure as the sun will rise.”
Adán did not doubt Madeleine’s revelation, but he was unsure of the doctrinal implications of mortals assisting a spiritus immundus transcend Purgatory. Consequently, he spent the next day–which was providentially Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day–to study the question.
Friday night, 1 November 1946, PM
Ultimately, Adán decided that such a thing was not only possible, but also God’s will. For just as the Church Triumphant helped the mortal members of the Church Militant attain Heaven, so too were the Church Militant able to help those in Purgatory via prayers, indulgences, and acts of service. Unlike the demonic pneumata plana like El Taumaturgo, Gator Johnson had clearly been a mortal, and thus his ghost had to be a Purgatorial spirit in the eyes of the Catholic priest.
Saturday night, 2 November 1946, PM
On the next day, he spent his time in meditation, study, and prayer. Any last doubts were dispelled when his daily scripture study took him to the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord proclaimed:
“But I say unto you, that ye resist not the one who is evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Although Adán still had no recollection of his ‘rematch’ with Gator Johnson in the Mahogany Hall, he keenly remembered his first boxing match against the heavy weight, and the right molar he had lost from a vicious left cross before Gator Johnson took his third-round fall.
Sunday morning, 3 November 1946
Thus, on the morrow, Adán and Madeleine left Madisonville to search for the wraith in Mandeville. Although Adán could have piloted the boat himself, Pierre demanded he accompany them, as he was worried for “his priest’s” safety. His wife, meanwhile, agreed to watch Absalom in their absence.
True to Madeleine’s prophecy, they found Gator Johnson at his mother’s grave. To Madeleine, the wraith was visible as a faint outline against the softly falling rain. His plasmic tears further wetted the simple engravings of Reba’s tombstone:
Seeing the ghost, Madeleine called out to him. However, rather than using his boxing nom de guerre, she called him by his birth name, Tiego Célestin.
Tiego’s mother, Rebe had eloped with Oscar “Papa” Celestin, back when the famed jazz trumpeter played under the name of Sonny Celestin; alongside the likes of Buddy Petit, George Lewis, and Kid Ory; at Mandeville’s Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall. Oscar, however, had swiftly dropped Rebe and his stage name of “Sonny” in 1910, and left Mandeville for New Orleans to lead the Tuxedo Dance Hall’s house band as “Papa” Celestin. The next year, the estranged Rebe had a brief, but scandalous affair with another famed jazz trumpeter who frequented the Dew Drop: Bunk Johnson. Nine months later, Tiego ‘Johnson’ Célestin had been born, but Bunk was long gone on a tour with a circus band. Bunk, however, never showed, as he had learned that krewe members intended to do him bodily harm. Unbeknowst to Rebe, Tiego, or the Mandeville neighbors who ended up raising him, Bunk had fled to eventually settle in New Iberia.
In the years that followed, Tiego grew up on jazz and stories of its early legends. On that diet, as well as a childhood full of manual labor, he became tall and muscular, looking far beyond his years. When Mandeville’s famous Ruby Roadhouse opened up in the 1920s, he first worked as an errand boy (back when it was Buck’s Brown Derby) and later as a scullery boy and dish rat (when it became known as Ruby’s Rendezvous). When he turned 20, he tired of cleaning other people’s plates and soaking greasy plates, so he left the Roadhouse and Mandeville in search of his father. In 1932, he found Bunk in Rayne, Louisiana. Much to his chagrin, the previously famous musician had become a drunkard and hobo, who had no interest in teaching his alleged son how to play jazz. Instead, he related how, only a year prior, he had gotten into a fight, during which he had gotten his trumpet stolen and his front teeth knocked out. The theft of the first was bad enough, but the latter loss stole his ability to play. Consequently, he had been reduced to working for scraps, doing manual labor only fit for a beast. Thus, he had told his son:
“You don’t wanna learn no music another man can take away from you, so if I was you, I’d learn how to fight. Hell, become a boxer, and then you can worry about becoming a musician.”
Disheartened, but still taking the advice to heart, Tiego started boxing. However, finding a trainer and gym, and especially the money to pay for them, had been hard in the sparsely populated Acadia and Iberia parishes. Thus, like Adán, Tiego had ‘returned’ to New Orleans to find employ. He tried to get a job in the recently rechristened New Orleans Athletic Club, but the Great Depression meant that all the worthwhile jobs went to the experienced, connected, and white. Being none of those things, Tiego had nonetheless volunteered his time; helping to wipe down equipment, empty out spit buckets, and clean bathrooms; all in exchange for after-hours access to the boxing bags, ring, ropes, and other equipment that was otherwise only accessible to its club-members. His volunteer work had also allowed him to watch the ‘real members’ box and train–and he especially the ‘vicarious’ training regimen and advice dispensed by the club’s Hall of Fame trainer, Tad Gormley. This had continued for over six years, during which time, Tiego’s boxing skills blossomed to be the NOAC’s best boxer. If he had been born thirty years prior, he no doubt would have been put into the Olympic Club and fought before crowds of 10,000 fans. However, he hadn’t, and the Olympic Club had long burned to the ground in 1897. Moreover, Great Depression meant there was little chance of a black man from Mandeville supporting himself through boxing alone.
Thus, Tiego had picked up whatever menial job he could. Yet, when the Gulf Coast longshoremen’s strike began in the fall of 1935, Tiego had been able to get a job from Mr. A. E. Harris, head of the local “negro” longshoremen, as part of the New Orleans Steamship Association, or NOSA. Mr. Harris had hired Tiego for muscle as much as stevedore work, since his union was unaffiliated with both the International Longshoremen’s Association and International Seamen Union. Harris’ union worked through the 10-week strike. During this time, Tiego’s size and boxing skills had helped prevent Mr. Harris’ union from suffering the lethal fates of Henry Jones, Will Ballinger, and the twelve other strike fatalities, which had disproportionately affected black stevedores. True to Mr. Harris’ prediction and stratagem, the strike ultimately failed “all at once and nothing first–just as bubbles do when they burst”. In its wake, Mr. Harris’ had kept Tiego on, providing him with regular, though often part-time, contracts.
Notwithstanding, Tiego’s boxing prowess had not gone unnoticed–or unchallenged. When several ILA ex-strikers attempted to “even the score” after one of Tiego’s shifts, the black man had soundly trounced them, further drawing the attention of the mob-backed illegal boxing circuit. Knowing that plenty of other former strikers and white stevedores would pay good money to see the black man’s blood spilt, those ringmasters had enticed Tiego with a hefty purse. Tiego had readily accepted, as he had been eager for the money and even more eager to finally box in a formal ring. While he would be disappointed by his ‘ring’ (which was nothing more than a stacked-together crates in a warehouse), the money had been all he had hoped for–at first.
After his first few fights–during which time his ‘managers’ had made him adopt the more fearsome fighting name of Gator Johnson–Tiego had found himself with more money than he had ever seen, much less owned. Moreover, as his victories had begun to pile up, he garnered a growing level of local notoriety, if not fame. To the man who had grown up washing dirty dishes in the Ruby Roadhouse, the attention had been intoxicating. Indeed, it had made him feel like he was one of his idolized jazz musicians, whom woman wanted and men wanted to be. He had particularly reveled in his “career” choice when he discovered that his mother’s ex-husband, Papa Celestin, had been forced to disband his Tuxedo Orchestra for lack of gigs and take up work in New Orleans’ shipyards. The ‘fall’ of other Ruby Roadhouse idols–such as Kid Ory hanging up his trombone to raise chickens–only enflamed Tiego’s pride.
As if to further prove he was superior to his former heroes, he wooed Dalila Petit, the daughter of Joseph Crawford, better known by his stage-name of Buddy Petit. Dalila had been initially raised in LA, after Jelly Roll Morton and Bill Johnson had briefly lured Buddy in 1917 to perform in LA. When her father abandoned LA’s “sunny straitjacket” to return to New Orleans, Dalila and her mother had followed, though her mother would eventually return to LA. For Dalila, her LA heritage meant she was a “movie star just waiting to be found”, but when no casting calls came, the beautiful but shallow woman had decided she would “settle” for a movie star’s lifestyle. Initially, she had hitched those hopes on marrying an up and coming musician, and had found her most likely candidate in Chester Zardis.
Though nearly two decades Dalila’s senior, Chester had joined her father’s orchestra at age 16. During the 1920s, he had played New Orleans’ nightclubs as a bassist and tubist, alongside Kid Rena, Punch Miller, Fate Marable, and Duke Dejan. During the 1930s, Chester had played with Count Basie in New York City, performed with Fats Pichon’s band aboard the riverboat, S. S. Capital, and recorded music with George Lewis and even Tiego’s father before Bunk’s brawl-related ‘retirement.’ Chester himself had a history of fighting, which as a youth had landed in the Jones Waif Home.
That penchant once again reared its ugly head while Chester and Dalila were drinking at Noir Cherise, a local speakeasy turned nightclub. The couple’s carousing had developed into spats about Chester’s low-paying gigs and Dalila lamenting how Chester’s peer, Louis Armstrong, had already been in five movies, including his most recent cinema alongside Bing Crosby. The last straw, however, had come when Dalila had made a disparaging innuendo about the bassist’s “lackluster fingering skills”. So provoked, Chester began to physically assault Dalila, shouting that she made a better “dried up sponge than a jelly roll”. The short-statured man had slapped her hard, then balled up his fist as if to punch her face, but Tiego stepped in. The resultant scuffle was short, one-sided, and very painful–for Chester.
When the burly boxer casually threw down a wad of cash to the nightclub’s owner in “apology for the disturbance”, Dalila was smitten. What had followed was a torrid love affair, and within a year, she had become pregnant and delivered their baby boy, Rupén Zebulon Célestin-Petit. Initially, the couple and then family of three had been happy–but only so long as Tiego kept bringing home an ample winner’s purse.
But as Tiego’s cut became smaller and smaller, Dalila’s shrewish, belittling ways resurfaced. In an effort to please his wife, or at least escape her cutting contempt, Tiego had dared to complain to his ‘ringmasters.’ Affronted at the man’s gumption, they had callously replied that the crowds had lost interest in repeatedly seeing their Irish or Italian favorites be brutally, easily beat down by a black man. As a consequence, Tiego was given fewer and fewer opportunities to fight, with smaller and smaller cuts, earning him crueler and crueler harangues by his wife. Back into a corner by non-boxing opponents he could not simply out-punch, Tiego vented his frustration in the ring. At first, his more savage style had earned him some renewed interest and a meagre bump in pay, but it ultimately faded, leaving Tiego even more volatile and enraged. After a particularly scathing diatribe from his wife, he unleashed the full measure of his rage upon an unwitting opponent, one Seán ‘The Banshee’ Sheehan, before unintentionally beating the Irish heavyweight to a bloody, dead pulp. The boxing ‘ringmasters’ covered up the murder, but they took all of Tiego’s winnings and half of his monthly dockyard salary to cover all the ‘hush money’ and related police bribes. To make matters worse, Tiego’s boxing opportunities evaporated, as no one wanted to go up against the “Man-Killing Gator”.
Near destitute and guilt-sickened, Tiego had been thrown further off balance when he returned home one day from a dock-shift to find Dalila and Rupén gone. Dalila’s note had derisively told her former lover that she was leaving him and New Orleans, and sarcastically told him the only way she would consider returning was if his “gloves turned to gold”. Moreover, she had cruelly related that they were heading to LA, where Rupén could escape “his washed-up father” before he could ruin his life, just as he had “ruined” the life of both Rupén’s and Tiego’s mothers. Devasted, Tiego had tried to drown himself–with booze.
He almost succeeded too, save that he eventually ran out of money. Later evicted from his home, he slept on the streets until he sobered up enough to beg his old ringmasters for a fight:
“Any fight, I don’t care if I win or lose, live or die, I just need to be back in the ring. Boxing is the only thing that makes sense anymore… the only thing I have left…”
His ‘managers’ had found it all-too easy to convince the desperate man to agree to the rigged match against the bantamweight Bruno. His promised cut had been substantial, so much so that the drunken man had thought it would be enough to “buy back” Dalila’s love and his daughter. He had been mistaken, of course, and about so many things.
Dalila did not return. He was given some money, but it wasn’t half of what he was promised. Moreover, his loss had utterly ruined his hard-earned boxing reputation–just as it had drowned any meagre self-respect he had once had for himself. Thus, thinking he had nothing left to lose, he drunkenly demanded the rest of the money he had been promised, threatening to otherwise reveal how the match had been rigged. It was the last poor decision of his life–at least as a mortal.
Eight years later, the wraith of Tiego Célestin was ready to abandon himself to Oblivion. Yet, when he heard his name–his real name–from Madeleine’s lips, the tortured, guilt-sick ghost paused. Initially, he thought she too had become a wraith at his murderous hands, but then he recognized that she was somehow alive–even if ‘tainted’ with plasm. He was further confused by her promised help to guide him through the “expiatory purification of Purgatory.” Her desire to save him, to help him “make things right” and “choose the higher road” keenly reminded him of his mother–or at least his eidolon of her. With the barriers between the dead and living still thin on the last day of Allhallowtide’s triduum, Tiego approached her penitently, as if to accept her aid.
He stopped, however, when he sensed the presence of his old nemesis. His Shadow immediately manifested, as the false Dalila was all-too aware of how close Tiego had come to ‘rejecting’ her. She viciously lied, claiming that Adán was responsible for them being apart, as she claimed that she had returned to New Orleans, looking for him and hoping to reunite their family–but that it had all been spoiled and ruined by Adán, the scrawny bantamweight who had stolen his pride, his champion’s belt, his money, his love, and his life.
So enraged, as well as empowered by that dark Shadow, Tiego vented his hate and fury into the Skinlands, sucking up rain to form powerful fists that began to pummel and punch the priest.
Initially, Adán tried to defend himself, but his boxing skills were no match against the mortal heavyweight, much less in his immortal, inhuman form. Thus, to Tiego’s surprise, the priest dropped his guard, knelt on the rain-drenched grass, and began to pray:
“Exorcizo te, creatura aquæ, in nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, et in nomine Jesu Christi, Filii ejus Domini nostri, et in virtute Spiritus Sancti: ut fias aqua exorcizata ad effugandam omnem potestatem inimici, et ipsum inimicum eradicare et explantare valeas cum angelis suis apostaticis, per virtutem ejusdem Domini nostri Jesu Christi: qui venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos et sæculum per ignem.”
(“I exorcise thee, creature of water, in the name of God the Almighty Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that you may put to flight all the power of the enemy, and to root out that enemy along with his fallen angels through the power of Jesus Christ, who shall come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.”)
Ignorant of Latin and most Catholic rites, Tiego thought the priest was trying once again to banish him, so he increased his furious attacks. Pierre rushed into the fray, to save his friend, but the big fisherman was easily knocked back, his head striking a nearby tombstone.
As Pierre fell unconscious, Tiego resumed his attack against Adán. His watery jabs, crosses, and hooks brutally punished the priest’s body, breaking ribs, re-shattering his nose, and bashing in his right brow. True to the Lord’s scriptural injunction, Adán did not resist, but rather ‘turned his check’ and continued his invocation, albeit one broken but grunts of agony:
“Deus, qui ad salutem humani generis maxima quæque sacramenta in aquarum substantia condidisti: adesto propitius invocationibus nostris, et elemento huic, multimodis purificationibus præparato, virtutem tuæ benedictionis infunde; ut creatura tua, mysteriis tuis serviens, ad abigendos dæmones morbosque pellendos divinæ gratiæ sumat effectum; ut quidquid in domibus vel in locis fidelium hæc unda resperserit careat omni immunditia, liberetur a noxa.”
(“O God, who for the salvation of the human race has built Thy greatest mysteries in the substance, in Your kindness hear our prayers, and with the element to this, for many kinds of purifications of His well-prepared, the power of Thy blessing, Serve it; the creation of Thy mysteries, serving as an agent of divine grace; is sprinkled with this water in their houses or in the buildings of the faithful, that whatever might be free from all uncleanness, he is freed from every harm.”)
As Adán refused to fight back, much of Tiego’s fury evaporated. After all, he could not prove how much of a boxer he was if the priest did not fight back. Also, he realized that if he continued, he would surely kill the priest. Initially, this had given him–and his Shadow–great satisfaction, but Adán’s pacifism in the face of Tiego’s tempest-like rage haunted him as surely as Dalila’s Shadow screaming at him to “cut out his lights–just like they said he did to you!” Over that din, he finally recognized the other shouting that he, in his murderous rage, had ignored. It was Madeleine, pleading for Tiego to stop:
“Spare him, please, please, I beg you!”
The plea once more resurrected his mother’s private martyrdom. He then saw her, his manifested eidolon superimposed over Madeleine. Both women were crying, and Rebe’s voice was especially raw and sorrowful as she spoke to her son:
“I didn’t save your life for you to take others.”
The eidolon-imposed Madeleine then threw herself over the savagely injured, barely conscious, but still praying priest. Yet, to Tiego, the woman appeared like a heavenly glowing white towel thrown over the body of not ‘Bruno,’ but Seán Sheehan, the last and only man he had murdered in blind rage. Horrified, he ignored Dalila’s undead diatribes. Sinking down to his knees, as if praying with Adán across the Shroud, he stared down at his glove-tied hands. They were red, stained with his murderous blood.
But then, Adán reached forward–and through the Shroud–to lay a hand upon those gloves, and completing the Latin rite for purifying water and making it holy:
“Non illic resideat spiritus pestilens, non aura corrumpens: discedant omnes insidiæ latentis inimici; et si quid est quod aut incolumitati habitantium invidet aut quieti, aspersione hujus aquæ effugiat: ut salubritas, per invocationem sancti tui nominis expetita, ab omnibus sit impugnationibus defensa. Per Dominum, amen.”
(“Against pestilent spirit or taint of corruption; all the wiles of the lurking enemy; provide for the safety and peace of the inhabitants of that which is, and if there be any, by the sprinkling of this water, so that health, through the invocation of Thy holy name, made secure against all attacks. Through the end–amen.”)
Miraculously, Tiego’s his murder-red, soul-fettering gloves loosened, falling from his hands, then transforming into a celestial white hue. Meanwhile, the Shadow of Dalila screamed and vanished in a silver-screen flash, as if exorcised by the ritual and Tiego’s decision to stay his hand. That hand now reached forward, and with an instinct and power that he did not think he possessed, he touched the dying priest and prayed, echoing Madeleine’s pleas as well as his mother’s last words:
“Take me instead… spare him… please… Jesus, I beg you…”
Upon that benediction, Adán’s wounds began to miraculously heal, bleeding off as Tiego willingly accepted those wounds into his own spiritual ‘flesh.’ The priest still lost his right eyesight, as his retina had been snapped by Tiego’s blows, but the ghost’s sacrifice saved the life of the priest he had just long desired to kill.
Madeleine, in turn, ministered to both of the injured men as best as she could. Cradling Adán’s head in her lap, she heard Pierre moan as he groggily regained consciousness. She called out to the big fisherman. Pierre, upon seeing Adán bloodied and injured (though no longer mortally so), leapt up and lifted his priestly friend, vowing to get him medical aid.
Thus, Madeleine had been left with Tiego’s wounded, soul-weary shade. As the last evening of Allhallowtide came to an end, he shared his life’s sad story and related shames, in a manner similar to how she had shared hers with Adán in Charity Hospital a little more than two years prior.
In the last months of 1946, Adán recovered in the Southern Baptist Hospital in Uptown New Orleans. He never regained sight in his right eye, but his once-lost memories slowly trickled back.
He recalled being abducted by the Order of the Garter when he had entered Mahogany Hall, just as he came to recall performing the Vade Retro Satana on Madeleine and shunting the unclean spirits into the hounds that were savaging the ‘undercover’ detective. Initially, he had no clue who that man was, until Madeleine explained.
Notwithstanding, memory gaps still remained, and Madeleine was in no hurry to fill them. Adán initially thought her evasiveness was benign, a result of her being focused on helping TIego. Indeed, he too soon ceased trying to fill the blank spots when he returned to Madisonville and joined Madeleine in her mission to help Tiego transcend Purgatory.
During Adán’s time away, Madeleine had learned much of Tiego and his unresolved passions and regrets. For even past Allhallowtide, she had retained her special ability to perceive and commune with the ghost, courtesy of her faith and unique case of ‘walking pneumonia.’ The exorcist-priest also found that his prayers and faith occasionally allowed his ‘dead’ eye to perceive Tiego as well as other beings beyond the veil of death. Drawing upon his theological as well as pastoral training, Adán assisted Madeleine’s ministry to the purgatorial spirit.
As part of this process, the trio revisited Tiego’s old Mandeville haunts, including the site of the Célestin’s hurricane-destroyed home. It and the surrounding lots had been purchased as part of Ernest M. Loeb’s budding plan for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. In contrast, the Ruby Roadhouse and Dew Drop still stood and remained in operation. Although Adán vastly preferred liturgical hymns to jazz, Madeleine had grown up in Storyville during the genre’s birth, and its music had been a sole bright spot of her early years.
Tiego’s emotions were more mixed. On one hand, witnessing the resurgent post-war jazz scene made him happy, as he had feared the Great Depression had killed the music of his childhood and bloodline. At the same time, listening to the Roadhouse’s lively music and watching smiling couples dance at the Dew Drop made his morose. It not only reminded him that he was dead and unable to partake in such mortal pleasures, but also that he had forsaken his dream of becoming a musician to instead become a boxer, a path that ultimately made him a murderer.
To resolve the wraith’s conflicted emotions, Madeleine began ‘taking’ Tiego to Mandeville’s dance hall. There, she would dance ‘with’ the wraith, teaching him new songs and dance-steps while also learning to let go of the old. After all, letting go of a past life, and coming to peace with one’s past sins and poor choices, was something the sexually abused, former prostitute, and ex-demoniac was well acquainted with.
Meanwhile, Adán used his scholarly, investigative abilities to discover that both of Tiego’s ‘fathers’ had resumed their musical careers. Namely, after WWII’s conclusion, Papa Celestin had reformed his Tuxedo Brass Band and found renewed fame. Far more surprising and heartening to Tiego was the news of Bunk’s return to jazz.
As the priest shared with the ghost, Bunk’s early compatriots–such as Louis Armstong, Sidney Bechet, and Clarence Williams–had been interviewed by the authors of an early book of jazz history, Jazzmen, during which time they had spoken highly of Bunk’s musical contributions in New Orleans. Those same authors had then tracked down Bunk, and after hearing of his plight, started up a collection among writers and artists. They had raised enough money to gift Bunk a new trumpet as well as a set of dentures fitted for him by Sidney Bechet’s brother, who happened to be a dentist.
“Whatever man may take by violence,” Adán preached to the wraith, “can be restored by the grace and charity that flows from God.” The priest then read the last Parts of the Apocalypse to the ghost, sharing how God would restore all good things lost and how the glories of Heaven surpassed that of Earth:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea… Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away… I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
The priest’s testimony and biblical readings gave Tiego a measure of peace and hope–as well as a warning, particularly the passages that seemed to be speak of the Tempest’s end for the righteous, while the wicked would join the ‘lake’ which to him clearly seem an Oblivion-tainted maelstrom. The wraith had quickly learned to fear the Tempest–and particularly its maelstroms–as he had fallen through a nihil shortly after emerging from his caul (in wraith parlance, accepted his death and “awoken” as a ghost) and being lured into the Gulf of Mexico by spectres. And while he had since learned significant power over water, both natural and spiritual, the already terrifying Tempest reminded him of the hurricane of 1935 that made him an orphan. Moreover, since the Fifth Great Maelstrom, the Tempest had become even more fearful and furious.
Notwithstanding, Tiego was further soothed by another gladsome discovery shared by Adán: a record. It contained Bunk’s first recordings, made and sold by Jazz Man Records in 1942. Tiego wept ghostly tears when Madeleine played it on the Jeansonnes’ gramophone, amazed at his father’s musical imagination, subtlety, and beauty. With Adán’s and Madelein’s aid, he learned that his father had gained a resurgent cult of fans and had been touring in San Franciso, Boston, and New York City, alongside musical luminaries like George Lewis and Lead Belly.
When they discovered that this tour was coming to New Orleans, Tiego found a way to attend–at least vicariously through the Shadowlands. ‘Shadowing’ his father, the ghost was once again awed by the man’s talents–nor did his joy significantly diminish when he witnessed how his father had remained a temperamental, passive-aggressive, and often drunken man. To Tiego, it suggested that a man might transcend his faults through using his divine-given gifts.
Tiego’s own gifts, much to his chagrin, were neither musical nor creative. Instead, his chief talent was pugilism.
To Madeleine, he repeatedly shared that he sorely wished he could have competed in an official tournament, rather than solely in the mob’s illicit warehouse circuit. Indeed, the ghost had slowly come to believe in Dalila’s parting promise that he would be reunited with his family if his “gloves turned to gold.” For the boxer, this meant winning a Golden Gloves competition, a task that seemed impossible after his death.
Yet, after his exorcism in 1944, Tiego had been finally free to wander the ghostly Shadowlands of New Orleans–where to his delight, he discovered that the Olympic Club, despite being burned down in 1897, remained. Moreover, he found its interior ‘haunted’ with wraiths trying to rival the great deeds of John Sullivan, James Corbett, Andy Bowen, and Jack Burke. Racism, however, seemed to transcend the grave, and he was once again ostracized and unable to join their ghostly bouts. Ironically, it had been his lingering in the Club’s shadows that had alerted him to the Giovannini-enslaved wraiths looking for Madeleine and Adán.
Given these frustrations, Madeleine thought that Tiego would need to learn a musical instrument to transcend his regretted career of violence over music. Adán, in contrast, believed that expiatory purification did not entail finishing a ‘bucket list’ of unfulfilled wishes, but rather relinquishing unrighteous desires, fears, and doubts that had led one in life to reject the divine for the venial. To that end, he tried to convince Tiego that that he had chosen the boxing ring over the musician’s stage ultimately out of fear and pride, specifically the prideful desire to be better, stronger, and more powerful than his fellow man–and that this was the foremost thing for which he needed to repent.
That same pride made it difficult for Tiego to accept the priest’s counsel, especially since the gentle but still stinging rebuke came from the man whom he had long considered his nemesis. Adán of course had long ago tried to convince Tiego of the error of that past view, explaining how he had been an unwitting pawn in the rigged match. At the same time, Tiego found it galling that Adán’s participation in the dock’s boxing ring was in no way motivated by a love of the sport, or even its monetary prizes. Somehow, that admission seemed to further cheapen Tiego’s ‘fall’–something which his diminished but still-extant Shadow pointed out with cruel relish. Notwithstanding, Tiego eventually accepted that Adán was never his true nemesis. After all, despite the ringmaster’s lies, it was they, not Adán, that gave Gator Johnson his concrete shoes and last ‘swim.’
That truth reared its ugly head, near the end of Christmastide of 1947, when the Jeansonne’s received an unpleasant gift: a nutria rat nailed to their door. The mob, or specifically a crew of picciotti or low-level ‘soldiers,’ had finally found them. True to Dr. Bristow’s word, the mob never learned of Adán’s treatment at Southern Baptist Hospital. Instead, Madeleine had been spotted during one of her increasingly frequent trips to Mandeville. Ironically, the mobsters had been looking for Louis Armstrong, as the Black Hand was intent on running Satchmo out of the Greater New Orleans area.
The picciotto that spotted Madeleine was a mulatto Italian named Malchus Vattali. Vattali and his would-be capo, Guiseppe “Pino” Barreca, decided not to inform their superiors back in New Orleans. This was partly for fear that they were incorrect, but also because the Black Hand was undergoing an unexpected transition in power. Silvestro’s luck had finally run out, as Congressman Jimmy Morrison’s bill had been exposed, and the godfather was in the process of being deported.
Meanwhile, Underboss Marcello had been called to the Commission’s Havana Conference for the first full-scale meeting of the American mafia leaders since their Chicago rendezvous in 1932. Marcello had not yet returned, as he had left Cuba for New York to further cement his alliances. In the momentary power vacuum, the local mobsters had become embroiled in a lukewarm war against each other as capos viewed for supremacy, in hopes of becoming the new underboss, or even don if they played their cards right.
Malchus and Pino wanted to make sure they alerted the right superiors down in New Orleans, as the former hoped to finally take the omerta (something long denied him due to his Africian blood on his mother’s side) become a true soldato, while the latter wished to be officially appointed the caporegime of his Mandeville crew.
Monday night, 2 February 1948, PM
On Candlemass night, Pino gathered his group of callow picciotti and surrounded the Jeansonne’s home. Inside, Adán, Madeleine, Pierre, and Andre were discussing what they should do about the mob’s ominous warning. Pierre wanted to fight, and he emphasized his point by stabbing the air with one of his boning knives. The more city-savvy Madeleine warned against “bringing a knife to a gunfight”, as she, like Adán, had become very fond of their adoptive family and could not bear the thought of them being injured, or worse. However, she vehemently disagreed with Adán’s proposed plan of turning himself in to the mob.
“Madeleine,” he contended, “they are ultimately hunting for me. If not for my life, then for the relic they believe I have. They’re only going after you to get to me.”
“I disagree, St. Cyprien,” she retorted quickly, “the Black Hand’s not forgotten nor forgiven the Order of the Garter.”
“Da what?” Pierre asked, as neither Adán nor Madeleine had thought it appropriate to share that portion of Madeleine’s sordid past with the fisherman.
Before any either of them could answer, Pino’s crew unleashed a full magazine of a tommy gun as a ‘warning shot’ into the Jeansonne’s remote house. The spray of bullets shattered windows and wood, while also splattering and knocking over the family’s collection of burning Candlemas candles. Miraculously, none of the house’s inhabitants were harmed, though they had to rush to put out fast-spreading fires. To avert further violence and spare his friends, Adán loudly shouted to the mobsters, announcing his presence and peaceful intention to exit the house. He then exhorted the gunmen to hold their fire “lest innocent blood be on your hands.”
Hearing the long-sought priest was inside and about to surrender, Pino thought he had hit the jackpot, as the Giovannini were offering a filthy rich reward for the priest, so long as he was alive. Thus, Pino ordered his crew to lower their guns, but whispered to his men to be ready to mow down the others, “since its’s harder to snitch to the cops when your guts are full of lead.”
Despite Madeleine’s shouted protests, Adán walked out, but hovered near the door, as if his proximity would shield the house’s inhabitants. On Pino’s orders, Vattali and another of his men approached and began to roughly apprehend the priest. However, the tempestuous, protective Pierre rushed out, and stabbed Vattali with his boning knife, impaling the man’s ear and trapping the picciotto against his front door’s jamb. Vattali screamed, and in his pain, he unthinkingly tore free–and thus tore off most of his ear. The other mobsters began to panic, with some a hair trigger away from showering everyone in bullets.
Adán, however, reached down to hold Vattali’s ravaged ear in his stigmata-marked hand, and uttered a brief intercessory prayer of healing to Saint Jude and the Blessed Virgin Mary. To Vattali’s awe, his sliced-off ear suddenly became hale and hole–even as his ‘old’ ear remained impaled to the Jeansonne’s door. The still-kneeling mobster stared up at the miracle worker in speechless shock. Meanwhile, Adán gently rebuked his old friend:
“Sheath your blade, Pierre. Christ did not reject Calvary’s infinite grail of torment. How then can I call myself His disciple if I refuse my own paltry cup of suffering.”
“You’s surrenderin’?” the big fisherman asked, dumbfounded and close to tears.
“As God wills it,” was the priest’s reply as he walked towards the other mobsters, raising his bloodied palm in surrender. Madeleine tried to rush out, to impossibly fight off the armed picciotti, but she was physically restrained by the now freely crying Pierre. Meanwhile, the young mobsters tossed the priest into the trunk of one of two mobster’s cars, a ’41 Pontiac Streamliner. The still dumbstruck Vattali, however, slowly rose, as if in a dream, and ‘freed’ his old earlobe. He cradled it in disbelief of his disbelief.
Ignoring the mulatto and his miraculous healing, Pino nodded to the rest of his picciotti:
“Grab the girl and the kid. They’ll give us the juice in case we need to really squeeze the priest.”
“And the rest?”
Pino just laughed, stepped into the Pontiac, and signaled his driver to depart.
Monday night, 2 February 1948, PM
The remaining mobsters approached, pushing past Vattali, and into the Jeansonnes’ house, where the inhabitants had finally quelled the knocked-over flames. When one of the men snatched Absalom, Madeleine snapped, charging and furiously punching. Initially, both Black Hand and the Jeansonnes were too stunned to act. So unchecked, she screamed and cursed, venting all her rage on the piciotto. When she picked up the nearby gramophone and tried to brain the now shouting, screaming mobster, the young man finally drew his handgun, a M1911.
“L-look, lady, I… I don’t, don’t w-wanna shoot you!” he cried out.
Yet, when the rage-deafened woman still hurled the heavy object at his skull, he reflexively fired. However, much like Enrique’s fated shot on February 26th of 1944, the bullet went high and wide. The .45 caliber projectile blasted apart the gramophone’s vinyl: a 1925 Okeh Records featuring the first recording of “Sonny” Celestin and his Tuxedo Brass Band.
As a young adolescent orphan in Mandeville, the record had been Tiego’s favorite. Not that he had ever owned it legitimately. But he had listened to it routinely when far richer folks played it at the Dew Drop and danced inside the hall, while he hauled garbage and scrubbed pavement stones. One day, he stole it, but to his foolish dismay he hadn’t realized that a record by itself couldn’t play. Still, he had imagined the music coming out of the vinyl record, just as he had imagined himself leading his own Tuxedo Brass Band. He kept imagining those dreams even after the Dew Drop owners caught up to him, took back the record, and beat the snot out of the boy for his theft. The injuries eventually healed, but the music, both imagined and real, continued to play within his dreams, transcending even death’s door.
Consequently, the destruction of the object, as well as Madeleine’s murderous pugilism, summoned Tiego more surely than one of Rosa Bale’s seances. He found himself drawn to–and into–the woman’s tears, sweat, and Shroud-tainted pneumonia. Yet, unlike the last time he possessed Madeleine, Tiego found himself fighting to protect, rather than violently oppress, the weak. And this time, the ‘weak’ included a mother fighting for her child against the Black Hand. Thus, in a rare moment of convergence, his eidolon and Shadow both urged him to fight. The former pleaded for Tiego to fight in order to “spare the boy.” The latter screamed at him to attack the picciotti, to gain some vengeance against the Black Hand and all the woe they had caused ‘them.’
Thus, with the projections of Reba and Dalila spurring on the reunited energumen, Tiego ‘coached’ Madeleine on how to fight off her attackers. She delivered a spine-cracking rabbit punch to a man seizing Absalom. She then unleashed a flurry of fast jabs, driving back one of her own attackers, giving her the space to land a knock-out cross. She then closed in fast as the last invader tried to raise his tommy gun and mow down the entire crowd. Madeleine’s quick duck, then uppercut to the man’s chin, followed by a swinging hook took him down before another salvo could be fired.
Caught up in the ‘blood sport,’ she advanced on Vattali, but the ‘three-eared’ mobster once more fell to his knees, surrendering and pleading for forgiveness. The shocked Jeansonne brothers barely held her back before Vattali blurted out something that stayed her and Tiego’s pugilistic fury:
“I-I can help! I k-know where, w-where they’re taking him! I can help you save him, please, please!”
Initially, Dalila’s Shadow screamed at Tiego to bash in the skull of the repentant picciotto, but she eventually relented. After all, Vattali could lead them to far more ‘boxing opponents,’ and if–or when–Tiego failed, she would be there to cruelly point out his inadequacies and put Tiego back on the path to Oblivion.
Thus, while Pierre’s wife shepherded all the children to one of the family’s bayou-hid hunting cabins for safety, Vattali, Pierre, Andre, and the still Tiego-rid Madeleine all piled into the mobsters’ ’33 Ford Vicky.
The race to rescue Father St. Cyprien had begun.