Twilight of the Fifth Sun

The past has always beheld a certain fascination for me -- not the long past, but rather the near past of several decades ago, before the Great War. Local history has been my particular love, and many is the time you can find me attending estate sales, looking for the odd trinket or trove that links the present with the past. My most fruitful searches are those that turn up the written word: diaries and journals of those who lived during a simpler, more idyllic time in New Orleans.

I've spent many sleepless nights pouring over pages of barely legible scrawl, trying to gain insight into some trivial or monumental historical event. My most recent acquisition has cost me a great deal of sleep, but not from an illegible hand, as was the case with many of my previous finds, but from the contents of the journal itself. The occurrences described therein are fantastic to the point of fiction, and I would have discarded this tome some weeks ago had certain key events not been corroborated with historical fact, and familial knowledge. By some stroke of luck the journal of which I speak was that of a former friend and employee of my father, Laurence Destrahan, and although he died a few years past, my mother retains memories of the disturbing events described in my book -- memories that she was loathe to recall, even for me, Eduardo, her only child.

I have now embarked on a difficult task: setting down in a formal unbiased report all that occurred to a group of individuals based upon this fantastic journal and the facts I have uncovered to corroborate its account. I suspect that I will make errors, for time has no doubt diminished the accuracy of this account.

New Orleans has always had a taste for the bizarre and unexplained. Superstition pervades every aspect of society, and even the Mafia keeps clear of the primary voodoo quarters in the city. It came as no surprise, once the fantastic tales of the journal began to unfold, that the center of these activities was an old mojo shop on Rampart Street where an unlikely group of friends joined together for an atypical task for a typical reason: money.

It began with treachery, and Marcel Franju would not stand for it. The charlatans of the voodoo world could do as they will for all he cared, but one thing was for certain: his sister, Beatrice Deburau, was still in a state of shock after the death of her husband, and now some two bit faker was trying to bilk her for what he could get. This Jamie Stardust had convinced Beatrice that her deceased husband, Louis, would talk to her through him. Stardust visited Beatrice at her home nearly every day, and Marcel was certain he would soon ask for money, lots of money, to keep up the ruse. Even ignoring the potential financial risk, there was the family reputation to protect, and so Marcel knew he had to take action right away!

Marcel Franju felt that the person best qualified to expose a faker was another faker, and after a few inquiries he contacted Jean Picard, a business acquaintance who had friends and contacts with the lower class all about the city. Marcel's instructions were simple: gather a team capable of exposing a voodoo charlatan and meet him at his office for further instructions the reward would make it more than worth their time efforts.

Jean quickly gathered a group of friends who he felt were qualified or at least interested in this task. Jean himself was a local importer and owner of a small shipping company, through which he knew Marcel Franju. Jean's close friend Henry Smith was the director of the New Orleans Museum of Natural History and was an obvious choice as a cohort in this adventure. Jean also asked Simone' Mouton to join the group because of her intimate contacts in the voodoo and entertainment circles of New Orleans. Henry brought his friend, Colette Etienne into the troupe for her ability to mingle with the upper crust of society, and Nicole brought along her boyfriend, Nick Johnson, a jazz musician, and Mona the Mojo Queen (Monique Dugas), who would provide their voodoo expertise. Mona's helper Jaques Cormier also tagged along out of curiosity (and he owned a car, which could prove useful).

Jean, Henry, Colette and Jaques (Mona seemed oddly distracted by some monumental personal affair and did not feel up to the trip) met Marcel Franju at his office for their appointment while the rest of the band waited at Mona's, drinking mint juleps. Marcel once again confirmed his belief that Jamie Stardust was a charlatan out to cheat his sister out of her money. The investigators were to find some way to discredit Stardust in the eyes his sister or persuade him to leave her alone (Marcel had already tried this tactic with no success). The terms of the investigation were generous but came with one additional condition: in no way could the team let Beatrice, his sister, know that he had hired them. If she ever found out, they would not be paid. All future inquiries in this affair were to be directed through Marcel's assistant, Pierre Garance.

Back at Mona's shop later on that day the group decided upon their course of action. Mona had never heard of a Jamie Stardust, but Jaques looked back through their invoices he found an order he had delivered to Mr. Stardust several months back. The order was for very basic voodoo supplies that any novice might purchase, and it included Jamie's address. It was decided that early the next day part of the group would spend some time at the library researching Louis Deburau for any clues to trip up Jamie Stardust in a future confrontation, and others would try and find out something about Stardust himself.

The next morning at the municipal library Henry, Jean and Colette quickly found an article describing Louis Deburau's tragic death. On November 4 of 1925 Louis was struck by a car as he left a friend's house on Fourth Street. The vehicle was a 1918 Ford Model A, and was found abandoned moments later on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse, in front of the remains of the Opera House. Eyewitnesses reported that the car had swerved towards Deburau, as if the driver were trying to hit him. George Modot, a Negro musician, was walking by when the accident occurred and valiantly pulled Deburau from the road and tried to revive him. Modot himself fell unconscious at the scene, but was revived at the hospital and released the next day.

The newspaper article also mentioned Deburau's archaeological work with local Choctaw and Houma artifacts, and his generous contributions of both money and artifacts to Tulane University's Department of Middle America Research.

Additional research on the Deburau family turned up various historical facts, and one odd reference dating to the time of the French occupation of New Orleans. A scoundrel named Deburau had been exiled from his native France for unnamed crimes had angered Governor Bienville by selling arms to hostile Indians in exchange for a handful of trinkets. Strangely, on the morning of his execution, Deburau swore that he was no the man the authorities thought he was, but in reality was the priest who had visited Deburau the night before to read him his last rights. The judge didn't buy the story and Deburau met with the firing squad on schedule.

Nick, Jaques and Simone had no luck at all finding any information about Jamie Stardust. No other voodoo shops or practitioners had heard of him before, and no public records referred to that name.

Later on that day Jean, Henry, Colette and Jaques made their way to the French Quarter for a visit Beatrice Deburau. The house was a grand structure perched at the north end of Dauphine Street, and Jean, Henry and Colette were invited into the counting room by a servant while Jaques remained outside, waiting to see if Jamie Stardust drop by. Anne, the mulatto servant girl who invited them in, took their cards to "Miss Beatrice", and after a few minutes returned to take them upstairs where "Miss Beatrice can spend a few minutes with you." The house was quite dark within because all of the windows were covered with heavy black curtains, but the investigators could still tell that the house was lavishly decorated with local Indian artifacts as well as photographs of a young man directing archaeological digs -- probably Louis Deburau.

Beatrice sat in a distant corner of the parlor, dressed completely in black and clutching a small laced white handkerchief. She cordially greeted her guests and asked what brought them to her house. Thinking quickly Henry told her that Louis was an archaeological colleague of his and that he had come by to pay his respects to Louis' memory (in short, he lied like a cheap rug). Beatrice seemed to warm up to henry and told of that tragic day that had taken Louis from her. He was killed as he was leaving a meeting of the Feathered Serpents, a new Mardi Gras krewe organized by Louis and some of his archaeology friends. Beatrice bravely held back her tears as she said that the club's very first tableau ball was mere days from now - the ball Louis slaved over so feverishly. At first Beatrice did not want to attend the ball, because her husband had been killed while making the finishing touches on the lavish sets. However, she stated quite primly, Louis has insisted that she attend - insisted through Jamie Stardust, of course. In fact Stardust would be attending the very exclusive ball as her guest.

Beatrice was obviously quite taken with Stardust, and was convinced that she spoke to her husband through him. She said that Stardust visits her every day from 12:30 to 2:30, and has helped her settle her late husband's affairs. Beatrice has known about her brother's disapproval of Stardust, but insisted that Jamie has never asked for a single penny from her.

As Anne led the group back down to the front door, they caught glimpses from other rooms which contained a large number of Aztec and Mayan artifacts. Before they reached the door, Anne turned to them and whispered that she had eavesdropped on Stardust's "channeling" ceremonies, and could tell he was a fake. Furthermore, Jamie has had Miss Beatrice take things out of a safety deposit box - such as triangle of some sort, which Beatrice now wears on a chain around her neck. Ann said wasn't too worried because Beatrice's brother was a wealthy man and was going to take care of that uppity faker.

Jean, Henry and Colette met Jaques outside and told him of their interview. It was already noon, and so Jaques decided to wait for Jamie Stardust to arrive, and then follow him home when he left at 2:30. The others returned to Mona's place, where they discussed their options. Henry thought a trip to Tulane to see his old friend and colleague Professor Whitwell was in order, while others decided to find George Modot, the black musician who tried to help Louis after the accident, and chat with him.

Francis Whitwell was delighted to see Henry again, and the two chatted for a while about old times before settling down to business. Whitwell was a close friend of Deburau, and helped plan the grand ball that was only a few days away. Whitwell confided that the theme of the masquerade ball was Aztec and Mayan, and that Louis had donated a large number of artifacts for the occasion to make it more authentic. Deburau had a vast assembly of Aztec artifacts in addition to his native Indian collection, and he had possessed the largest selection of triangular ceramic tiles in the world. The tiles, which ranged historically from Aztec times to nearly the present, were used for religious ceremonies and would add an air of authenticity to the finale that Louis planned for the ball. A large Aztec temple would be the main setting for the ball with Louis' tiles arranged around it. Whitwell said the party would be held at the old Seymore house in the Garden Quarter, and that it would be the event of this year's Mardi Gras. Henry asked if he could attend as Francis' guest, but Whitwell apologized and said that the guest list was set for the movers and shakers of New Orleans, and it wasn't possible for him to add Henry.

Jaques returned to Mona's place that afternoon just after Henry had left for Tulane. Jaques had followed Jamie Stardust from Deburau's house back to his place - an old apartment building in a bad part of town, and thought they should pay a visit to Stardust.

Simone' had met George Modot some time ago at the Maggie Noir, one of the night clubs where she sang. Modot had been a member of the band in the fall, but she couldn't recall when or why he quit. The group first went to George's home address, which they obtained from the police report of the fatal accident, but George had moved out soon after that incident and hadn't left a forwarding address. At the Noir Simone asked the other band members about George, and was told that he just left them shortly aft er the accident, and they had to scramble to find a replacement. They thought he was cold towards them after the accident: even when they visited him in the hospital. They didn't know where he was now. On the way out of the club Jaques paused and stared at a photograph of a trumpet player hanging on the wall. Simone' came up and said it was a photo of George Modot at the same instant that Jaques said it was Jamie Stardust!

Back at Mona's place the group once again gathered to discuss what they had discovered about the case thus far. Henry arrived soon after and told what he had found from Professor Whitwell, and the team decided to scout out the house where the ball was to be held two nights thence.

Colette was in her element at the Garden District, and as they drove up to the mansion she took over. Unfortunately the staff was well trained and under direct orders to admit nobody except the workers and ball organizers (this made sense, considering how secretive Mardi Gras krewes were). Nick, Simone' and Jaques made their way around back to the service entrance while Colette circled around to a balcony on the dark side of the house. The service entrance was guarded by a friendly but unknowledgeable servant, who simply confirmed that the ball was to be held there, and that the decorations within were extensive and elaborate South American style structures. Meanwhile on the dark side of the house Colette had not been idle. Showing skills that no one knew she possessed she quickly clambered up a trellis onto an upper balcony, then picked the door lock and entered. Colette managed to creep around a few empty rooms to little avail: this house was simply too busy and too occupied with the impending ball for any amount private snooping. The group left for Mona's place, being far more dejected than the occasion called for.

Part 2.

It was Nick that broke the group out of their malaise by suggesting they hit the night clubs and find the band that was hired to play at the ball. The group piled into Jaques' car and spent much of the evening hopping from night spot to night spot until they found a lively quartet at a hot little dive on Dauphine. Nick quickly discovered that these were indeed the players hired for the Feathered Serpents' ball, and schmoozed his way into playing a set with the quartet. Nick was a master at the trombone, and the newly formed quintet smoked. When Nick offered to play at their next gig for free ("just for the experience") they quickly agreed.

The group was feeling somewhat mollified over this turn of events as they drove back to Mona's, but Jaques noticed that they were being followed. He tried to lose the car tailing them, but without much success. Nick decided they should speed well ahead of the other car, then quickly stop so he could get out and hide and wait for the other car to go by. Just what he or the others expected to accomplish with this action wasn't clear, but they agreed to this odd plan. Jaques quickly sped ahead and briefly put a significant distance between him and the car behind, then slammed on his brakes. The moment the car stopped, Nick jumped out and hid behind a bush as Jaques sped off. The mysterious car pulled up and stopped where Nick had jumped out and turned such that it's headlights illuminated the bush behind which Nick stood. A man stepped out from the car and began to walk towards Nick, but another car sped up and the man leapt back into his car and sped up. Jaques had returned just in time (apparently) and drove back to Mona's place once Nick rejoined the group.

In the morning Henry decided to pay another trip to Beatrice Deburau's house, before Jamie Stardust's usual visit. Mrs. Deburau was delighted to see Henry again, but had nothing new to add to her story about her late husband. Just before 11 Beatrice told Henry that it was time for her appointment with Jamie, so he would have to leave. Anne was sympathetic to Henry's goal of exposing Stardust, and so she allowed Henry to remain hidden in the garden while Stardust entered and to snoop about for a short while longer. Unfortunately Henry was not adept at searching for clues, and he eventually left the house with little to show for his efforts.

As Henry was visiting Mrs. Deburau, Simone and Jaques waited outside a Gallatin Street flophouse until George Modot (a.k.a.. Jamie Stardust) left for his usual visit with Beatrice Deburau. The main entrance to the building opened onto a pool hall, where various locals were occupied at the tables. A surly man tending bar asked the trio what they wanted, and Nick replied that they came looking for their friend, Jamie Stardust. The bar keep grunted that he didn't think Stardust had any friends and that he was out for several hours. Nick and Simone managed to wheedle Jamie's room number from the man in addition to the fact that Jamie spent most of his time in his room, other than for a daily walk for several hours around noon and for dinner, which he always ate at the same greasy dive.

Jaques asked if the house had any rooms for rent, and the bar tender replied in the positive. When Jaques asked to see the room, the man told him to check it out for himself: the open door three to the left at the top of the stairs. The three made their way up the stairs and found Stardust's room, where they forced the door (Nick and Jaques broke the jam). Inside was a squalid simple room with wardrobe, an unmade bed, a desk with a broken chair, and a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

In the wardrobe Nick found several of the voodoo robes Stardust had purchased from Mona's, plus a tattered suit which had a wallet. The wallet had ID for George Modot and one hundred and fifty dollars, which Nick took, figuring that the theft would explain the forced door Stardust would find when returned. The desk revealed unopened packages of gris-gris and other unused voodoo paraphernalia. A small book lay beside the bed, which Jaques examined: it appeared to be Stardust's journal, with the first entry beginning on November 7 and the last being just the day before. Jaques kept the journal for later reading.

Nick had a way into the ball with the quartet -- now quintet -of musicians, but the others needed a way in as well. Jaques and Simone discovered which uniforms the servants would be wearing at the ball and managed to rent a pair for themselves. Meanwhile Henry, Colette, and Jean searched the town for some sort of costume that would fit in with a Mayan or Aztec theme. Unfortunately few such costumes actually existed, and all of these had already been rented some weeks in advance. Undaunted the trio decided they would wait until the night of the ball and discretely ambush several partygoers and take their costumes.

As the three finished lunch they spotted a man watching them from across the street. They realized that the same man had followed them for much of the day, but as they began to cross the street to confront him, he leapt into a car and began to drive away. Henry decided he was tired of being followed and ran to his car, shouting for Jean and Colette to follow. The three sped after the mysterious man, who led them on a difficult chase into the River Quarter. Following the man's car around a corner and into a narrow alley Henry slammed onto his brakes to avoid crashing into the car, which was stopped before them. The alley was a dead end, but the car was empty and there was no sign of the driver. A search yielded no accessible doorways or windows through which the man could have escaped, but behind a crate they found a shaft leading down.

It was obvious that the shaft lead into the city's sewers, and the three reluctant heroes found a lantern and a flashlight in the back of the car and slowly descended into the damp and stench. Stench was right! The odor was so horrific that the three nearly gagged and could barely function in the noxious tunnel. Colette carefully studied the tiled walls as they walked along the side of the sewer channel and soon discovered a hidden door with signs that it had recently been opened. Beyond this door another stairway descended into an older sewer system, which was mercifully no longer used as such, and so the odor was significantly less.

The old sewer lead straight and slightly down for several hundred yards where it began a gradual curve to the left. The tunnel itself was five yards wide with a channel of slimy water running between a narrow walkway on either side. As they approached the curve Jean thought he heard noises from ahead and he told the others to stop and be quiet. Soon they all heard the sound of footsteps splashing through the water from around the bend. The splashing became louder as who ever -- or more likely whatever -- it was came closer. Suddenly a huge reptilian form clambered around the corner, and upon seeing the humans on the walkway it charged with its mouth agape. Henry, Jean and Colette had pulled out their pistols at the first sound of the approaching menace, and immediately fired at the approaching alligator. The damnable thing nearly made it to them before their combined gunfire killed it dead and they watched as its partially submerged form drifted away with the sewer current.

Shaken but still determined to go on the three walked beyond the bend and discovered an ancient iron grate set in the wall. The grate had an old lock, which was scratched as if a key were recently inserted, that prevented them from opening it. Jean thought that their gunfire at the alligator had already alerted the quarry, so he destroyed the lock with several shots, and forced the grate open with Henry's help.

A narrow tunnel lead from the grate in a sweeping arc to the right, which the three figures followed cautiously in single file. The tunnel completed its curve to the right and swept back to the left for a short distance before ending in a vast chamber lit by torches set in wall sconces. Entryways to other tunnels lined the walls of the large room, with a broad round set of stairs leading a short way up to a large, half round wooden door. As the three entered the room a group of men stormed out from one of the side passages with guns pointed at the team. A lone man stood out from the group -- the man whom they had chased into the sewers -and demanded that they drop their weapons.

The three pursuers turned captives found their arms bound by the armed men as the apparent ring leader asked them what they were doing investigating Jamie Stardust and Beatrice Deburau. Jean answered honestly, although he left certain facts out of his explanation, and then the man told them they must either swear to cease their investigations into this matter or to die then and there. The three investigators instantly swore to cease and desist and were blindfolded and whisked away down various tunnels, up several stairways, and then around several corners, where their hands were untied, but they were ordered to remain still. After a while Colette removed her blindfold to find herself in the dead end alley with their car before them. The three clambered into the car and drove back to Mona's.

Back at Mona's the gang finalized their plan, such as it was, for the next evening. They would arrive at the ball depending upon their access: Nick would show up with the musicians, Jaques and Monique would arrive in their uniforms and slip into the back door with the other servants, while Jean, Henry, Colette and Mona would hide about the grounds, waiting for hapless partygoers to stumble close enough to be overcome -- Mona was on hand with the appropriate gris-gris to help in this endeavor, and to provide back up support should things turn ugly once everyone else had infiltrated the ball.

As the discussions in Mona's shop wound down, Jaques retired to his room upstairs, where he remembered the diary he took from Jamie Stardust's room. He opened the book and began to read the first entry when a large winged faceless creature crashed through the window and attacked Jaques. Jaques panicked, and began to chant various forbidden prayers he learned in secret from his cult. The others from downstairs heard the commotion and raced upstairs as the creature continued to attack, and Jaques continued to chant. Suddenly Jaques lost touch with reality as the ceiling of his room appeared to disappear and then... something... something happened. Henry bolted through Jaques door to find him standing before a large, smelly puddle of black tar.