The Jasper Claxton Mysteries
Here is the first chapter from the book, I hope you'll check it out on Amazon there are links below.
The Taíno Stones
It was dark, and the beautiful Lady Fenella Windsor Hawtrey was alone running as fast as she could through the dense forest, the darkness was alive. Her body was throbbing and wild with fear; she was so scared she was struggling to breathe. She was sure she’d seen a form, a shadow, and could hear rustling in the trees and bushes of the dense leafy forest. Her mouth feels dry, and her tongue is taking up too much space in her mouth. She opens it to try and call for help, but no sound will come out. It’s pitch black; Lady Fenella is running as if she was blind as if her eyes had been gouged out. Her body is dripping with sweat in the humid heat, but she feels so cold, almost as if she was dead.
She irrationally brings her fingers to her eye sockets; yes, they’re still there. What was lurking out there in the pitch-black brooding darkness? She wonders. Suddenly she can hear human voices and see a light flickering in the far distance; she starts running towards it. Her hands are trembling uncontrollably at her sides.
Lady Fenella thinks she can hear someone or something coming; it’s unknown but feels sinister and threatening. The noise doesn’t seem to come from any direction; it seems to be all around her, adding to her intense feelings of despair and hopelessness. She is sure there is a presence only a few feet away from her and feels convinced that the beating of her heart will give her away as her pulse quickens. She’s sure that she isn't going to make it out of the forest alive, which now feels like an endless horrific black chasm.
Her legs become heavy, so heavy she crouches into a crawl and frantically drags herself across the ground with her arms, gasping and choking for breath while clawing her way forward digging her bleeding fingers with growing desperation into the tree roots and earth of her desperate void.
Her heart is thumping against her chest, she can feel the rush of blood in her veins, her ears becoming sharper and her mind more paranoid, panicked, and confused. Every snap of a twig or rustle was a danger, the chill of fear washes over her, she must keep moving, she must get to the light.
Suddenly, the silence around her is broken by the sound of rapid footsteps; the footsteps are getting closer, real terror surges through her veins and body. She keeps moving she can hear drums beating and strange rhythmic chanting in the distance.
Something lunges at her, a dark shape grabbing at her, she lay there convulsing, writhing, and twitching to escape. But the life in her eyes fades slowly as she falls into the all-consuming darkness. The next thing she awakes confused and disorientated, she is firmly tied to a wooden pole in front of an altar, and she is wearing a white ritualistic dress/costume, surrounded by piles of firewood.
People are dancing around her erotically; they appear to be hallucinating as if they have been possessed by evil spirits. They are chanting in some strange language in a state of mass hysteria, all of them wearing weird costumes, some are almost naked and carry rattles and burning torches. Some are wearing strange masks with coloured, exotic feathers. Their beautiful dark skin is glistening with sweat; some have dead chickens around their necks and are dripping in chicken blood. There is someone in charge, a priest; she can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman because they’re wearing an elaborate headdress which covers their face, along with ceremonial robes, they are also carrying a terrifying giant snake. A peculiar heady smell of incense fills the intense, stifling, humid night air. The priest takes an elaborate ceremonial knife and then grabs a live goat, cutting off its head with one precise swipe of the blade and starts drinking its blood; The priest then passes it to the others who do the same increasing the mass hysteria.
The crowd continue to dance around a tree in a state of frenzy, moving faster and harder with the rising pulse and rhythm of the drum beats. The priest draws sacred symbols in the dust with cornmeal and ash, and rum is poured on the ground to honour the spirits. A woman falls to the ground, convulsing, her eyes bulging, she is helped back to her feet and continues to dance with the others, she appears to be in a trance, apparently possessed by Erzuli, the great mother spirit.
Lady Fenella tries to scream, but again no sound will come out of her mouth. She struggles to free herself and is consumed with sheer horror and indescribable fear, she is barefooted, and suddenly the soles of her feet start to feel hot, the sheer depth of her situation hits her.
There is a smell of burning wood the chanting becomes louder and louder, everyone is in a mass state of hysteria, the wood around her dances with golden light and bursts into life as it is set on fire. Lady Fenella is shouting and screaming, but still, no sound is coming out of her mouth.
‘Lady Fenella, Lady Fenella, wake up my dear, wake up.’ Lady Fenella sat bolt upright in bed in her elegant ivory silk nightgown dripping wet with perspiration; she was still in that hypnopompic moment between dreaming and waking. ‘My dear you were dreaming, I could hear you calling, almost screaming. Are you alright?’
Lady Fenella opened her eyes and looked around the room with confusion trying to focus her sapphire, vivid blue eyes, and get her bearings while calming and steadying her breathing and getting the stubborn parts of her dream from her head. She then said with her perfect English diction while running her fingers through her shoulder-length blond hair, which was wet with perspiration, ‘Oh… Jocasta it’s you… yes… yes, I’m fine thank you. I had an awful nightmare… It was terrible; I was being burned alive, in a strange tribal ritual, like some sort of awful human sacrifice.’
‘Is this the first time it’s happened?’ Jocasta asked with curiosity.
Lady Fenella thought for a moment, ‘No, it’s strange, the nightmares have started since we arrived here in Haiti. I’ve not had them before.’
‘Are they always the same?’
‘They appear to be; they always involve rituals and horrific acts against one.’
Jocasta sighed, it was a sigh of confirmation, ‘Yes… yes, my dear, just as I thought, it’s some sort of voodoo spell. I was sure I’d seen it in my crystal.’
Lady Fenella looked astounded and said dismissively, ‘Voodoo spell?’
‘Yes, my dear, I fear someone or sect is trying to warn us, scare you, us, away.’
Lady Fenella looked doubtful, ‘Do you think they’re on to us already, we’ve only been here two days?’
Jocasta nodded slowly, ‘Yes, my dear I think they may be, there are spies everywhere here I can feel it, I fear that no one can be trusted. I sensed it the moment we arrived. It’s not safe here at the best of times, but for two women travelling alone, well, we must be on our guard; I think we are being watched, and we need to call in someone I know to help us.’
Lady Fenella said in a whisper, ‘But our mission with MI6 is secret as you know. That’s why you had to sign the official secrets act before we came out here. The fewer people who know why we’re here and are involved in this case the better.’
‘Yes, I know, but you must trust me on this Lady Fenella, MI6 brought me in on this mission for a reason, for my spiritual knowledge and connections. The person I have in mind is used to working in secret; in fact, he’s rather like a secret agent. I’m surprised he hasn’t already been recruited by MI6.’
Lady Fenella was intrigued, ‘Well, who is he?’
‘He’s someone I’ve known for some time, he’s a member of the Pluckley Psychic Historical Society, and his name is Jasper Claxton. I’ve worked with him on some cases over the years which have all involved the spirit world and the supernatural.’
‘Is he a key member of the society?’
‘Oh yes, most certainly.’
Lady Fenella spun her legs out of bed pulling aside the mosquito-netting moving to a side table and poured herself a glass of water, taking a large gulp. She walked over to an elegant cream chaise longue and slowly sat down, ‘So he will know dear Uncle Winston and Miss Dearden?’
‘Of course, he knows Winston Hatherton and Florence Dearden very well.’
‘I see… tell me about this Mr Claxton.’
‘Well he’s a psychic investigator, and like I say we’ve worked together on some cases. He has extraordinary abilities; I don’t know anyone else quite like him, he has what you might call a ‘sixth sense’ with anything to do with the dark arts, the occult, and that sort of thing,’ Jocasta smiled for a moment deep in thought, ‘And Jasper is always so interesting and so charming.’
‘But surely it will take Mr Claxton days if not weeks to get here? That is if we can find him and he’s even available.’
‘Don’t worry my dear; I’m sure he will be. He’s never let me down; I think you will like him. In fact.’ Jocasta hesitated, ‘In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not already on his way or even here.’
Lady Fenella looked puzzled, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I know it sounds odd, but he has this strange way of knowing when he’s needed and just appears out of the blue.’
‘Yes, it does sound odd.’
Jocasta agreed, ‘Yes, it is, but it can also be very useful.’
‘How old is he?’
‘Well it’s hard to say, he always looks so young, it’s very extraordinary, but he doesn’t age. I guess Jasper is a similar age to you in his late-twenties, although he could be in his early thirties now.’
‘But we won’t be able to tell him why we’re here; you know it’s all secret, and it’s far too dangerous. We could put him in danger.’
Jocasta moved to the open window taking in the salty, fragrant night air, ‘Um, don’t ask me how, but I suspect he might already know, and trust me, we must tell him everything…. and anyway, I think he likes danger, he seems to be drawn to it.’
Jocasta turned looking at Lady Fenella, ‘What dear?’
‘Him knowing, it’s impossible.’
‘Yes, you would think so, I agree.’ Jocasta said, ‘But with Jasper, it’s almost like he can read people’s minds. And he already knows Winston and Florence have come out here to do some research for Winston’s next book while looking for the stones. And as a white witch, Florence is hoping to learn something about the Taíno’s alleged mystical secrets and healing.’
Lady Fenella looked dismissive, ‘Well if he knows why we’re here, I’ll be amazed.’
Jocasta moved from the window and sat on a cream silk brocade covered chair by the large mahogany bed, ‘In that case my dear, you must prepare to be amazed, you will find Jasper fascinating, prepare to be astonished on a number of levels, he’s quite an enigma.’
‘An enigma?… well, you do make him sound most interesting. I’ve met quite a few amazing people.’ Lady Fenella said thoughtfully, ‘I remember one of my teachers when I was at Howell’s all-girls boarding school in Wales, Miss Tyson… she was so inspirational, and she gave one such a desire to be intrepid, and for adventure, she could somehow see beyond the horizon.’
‘Well, in my view good teachers never get the credit they deserve, particularly women teachers.’
‘They were such happy days, and so character building… Of course, all our teachers were women, but they were remarkable, so ahead of their time, they encouraged one to challenge gender stereotypes, anything a man could do, a woman could do better.’
Jocasta nodded, ‘Oh yes, I quite agree. I’ve always thought that.’
‘But what is so sad is that some women I know have suffered due to society and its rules and expectations. But at my school, there were no codes of exclusion, and the school taught special subjects; I particularly enjoyed fencing and the outdoor survival classes, they were so informative and interesting.’
‘How fascinating, Jasper is certainly interesting, and he’s so knowledgeable on things like world history, he has an almost encyclopedic knowledge, but I do find it best not to ask him too many questions, about himself that is. He doesn’t like talking about himself.’
Lady Fenella twinkled, ‘How refreshing and unusual for a man, normally that’s all they ever want to talk about; as I say, you make him sound most intriguing. Although I’m reluctant to contact MI6 to have him checked out and get their permission to involve him; it’s too risky, too many watching eyes and listening ears… How can we contact him?’
Jocasta thought for a moment, ‘From here it won’t be easy, I could try to send him a telegram, or telephone him long distance, but don’t ask me how, as I’ve said, I somehow think he’ll already be here.’
‘But why would he be here?’
Jocasta shook her head, ‘I don’t know my dear, but I’m sure he is, I can feel it, and he has a strong connection to Winston, Florence, and I. I would have suggested him earlier for this case, but I couldn’t contact him. I think he’s been on a case in Patagonia.’
‘What’s on earth has he been doing there?’
‘Something to do with the ancient Patagones and the legend of the Patagonian giants. One can never be sure with Jasper.’
There was a long silence.
‘Do you really think he’ll be able to help us to find Uncle Winston and Florence?’
‘Most certainly, that is if they’re both still alive.’ Jocasta’s face crumpled, ‘Oh, it doesn’t bear thinking about; what could have happened to them both? And neither of them is getting any younger; they were both warned not to come here; I could see trouble in my crystal.’
‘I find it strange how they just disappeared.’
Jocasta concurred, ‘Yes, the hotel staff say they haven’t been seen since we arrived here, but I’m not sure I trust them. I think they could be lying, hiding the truth. And the police have been no better.’
‘Yes, I agree with you, I have no faith in the police, they just aren’t interested, I think they have enough local problems to deal with, there is so much poverty here, and the crime rate is very high, without having to focus on missing visitors to the country. But how could they just have disappeared?’
Jocasta shook her head, ‘I don’t think it’s uncommon for people to disappear here. They say a lot of it’s linked to crime, kidnapping, and even voodoo. But with Winston and Florence, it must be linked to the stones; it has to be.’
Lady Fenella took another sip of water, ‘They must have been onto something, do you think they could have found the stones?’
‘I hope not; I fear if they have, they must be dead. I think our only hope is they haven’t, and someone is holding them captive hoping they can lead them to the ancient stones.’
‘Suppose they’ve had an accident.’
‘Yes, that’s a possibility, particularly in these parts.’
‘Do you think they really exist?’
‘What, the stones?’
Lady Fenella nodded.
Jocasta sighed, ‘I don’t know, there is so much we don’t know about the ancient world and legends. But Winston and Florence are convinced they exist and are like a key that holds colossal knowledge, but knowledge that needs to be used with great care.’
‘Do you think they really can unlock ancient mysteries granting its holder supreme power, eternal life, and resurrect the dead?’ Lady Fenella asked doubtfully.
‘I have no idea; legends tend to grow with the passing years. But I do know that there are many dangerous, ruthless people out there looking for such ancient artefacts and mythical items, we’ve come across them many times at the Historical Society.’
Lady Fenella stood up putting her glass back on the table while gazing out at the night sky, ‘What a strange melting pot Haiti is turning out to be. It has such a complex, rich history connected for many years to the Spanish and French, but it’s now been under American occupation since 1915.’
‘Yes, my dear, but of course I can’t think of Haiti without thinking of awful brutality, and all those years of terrible slavery. You know France had several colonies in the Caribbean with millions of slaves. Slavery supported the very productive plantation economy that produced chocolate, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and cotton. And the most important of those colonies was here, which was said to have well over half a million slaves. Can you believe that?’
Lady Fenella frowned, shaking her head slowly, ‘Half a million? That’s truly shocking.’
‘Yes, the African slaves were needed because so many of the local population were killed by diseases brought over by the Spaniards and the French, the locals not having immunity to European illnesses. Although many of the African slaves also died on the ships during transportation, and from disease, and of course the brutal cruelty. Then there were all the ruthless, murderous pirates inhabiting the Caribbean islands. They say voodoo, which still has a significant stronghold here was imported with the many slaves who came over from Africa, but voodoo is often misunderstood, and it dates back thousands of years before slavery.’
Lady Fenella bit her lip, ‘What exactly is voodoo?’
‘Well, I’m not an expert, but if I understand it correctly, Haitian voodoo is like a religion and closely linked to nature. Voodoo is not necessarily a practice of evil. The Africans used it for reverence to the earth, sun, water, air, and all the other elements that yield food, water and help sustain life. I think slavery may have caused the Africans to use voodoo to protect themselves.’
‘Well, given the awful circumstances, and terrible oppression, who could blame them?’
‘Absolutely, today it’s a religion derived from African Polytheism and ancestor worship. The voodoo cult originated in West Africa and now combines religious fancies with Christian, Roman Catholic, and indigenous elements. It’s a cult where animals like snakes, goats, and chickens are sacrificed, led by a witch or priests.’
Lady Fenella winced, ‘Oh, I hate snakes, but go on.’
‘All voodoo specialists are known by various names in different regions, there is Houngan, Bokò, Gangan, and Manbo in the case of female specialists. Females are viewed as having the same spiritual powers as males. There are also bush priests, Pè Savann who read specific Catholic prayers at funerals and other ceremonial occasions, and Hounsis, who serve as ceremonial assistants to the Houngan, or Manbo. They say that the Bokò are practitioners of black magic and sorcery and only loosely tied to voodoo, but my understanding is that they all tend to operate independently of each other.’
‘Do you believe in voodoo?’
‘Most certainly my dear, we must not underestimate its power and influence, it has a powerful hold on the imagination of the people here who are strong believers, increasing its power and hold over them. I always find it best to be very cautious with spiritual things I know little about.’
Lady Fenella moved slowly back to her bed draping herself elegantly across it, ‘I find the Haitian Revolution, which took place between 1791-1804 fascinating. I was reading about it as part of my research before we came out here. It’s so significant because Haiti is the only country where slave freedom was taken by force. It was the only successful slave revolt in modern times.’
Jocasta agreed, ‘Yes, it also challenged people’s beliefs about black inferiority and about an enslaved persons' capacity to achieve and maintain their freedom. They certainly get my vote. Although the white population of the day said, the revolt was the work of the devil. But there must have been terrible cruelty, suffering and unrest here over many years.’
Lady Fenella sighed softly, ‘Well in many ways that unrest has continued, it’s why the Americans came here following the assassination of the Haitian President in 1915. Of course, it’s very controversial, but President Woodrow Wilson sent the United States Marines here to restore order and maintain political and economic stability in the Caribbean. But they’ve now started training Haitian officials to take control of the government. Rumour has it they may be thinking about pulling out.’
Jocasta pondered for a moment, ‘Well I’m sure the Haitian people will want to have control of their own country. But don’t they still have a huge financial debt that they have to pay back to France?’
Lady Fenella nodded thoughtfully, ‘Yes, it began after they gained independence from France in 1825. France had warships at the ready and demanded that Haiti compensate France for the loss of its slave colony. In exchange for French recognition of Haiti as a sovereign republic.’
‘That’s outrageous, but don’t France lay claim to the stones if they’re ever found?’
‘Lots of people will lay claim to the stones if they’re found. The Spanish for example, and of course the Americans are very interested in their legend.’
‘Yes, sometimes I think things are best left undiscovered.’ Jocasta turned to Lady Fenella, ‘Tell me, dear, why are the British government so interested in the stones?’
Lady Fenella hesitated, ‘I think because of their legend, they fear their power, particularly if they were to get into the wrong hands. Lots of world powers are interested in ancient mysteries and are looking for sacred items.’
‘I see, what will the British Government do if we find them?’
Lady Fenella shrugged, her face going into a perplexed frown, ‘Well I should imagine they will study and protect them, keeping them in safe hands.’
‘Well my dear, if we do find them, I hope you’re right, but first, we must find Winston and Florence. I’m going to study my crystal; it might give us a lead.’
‘Of course, the stones are not our main problem; we must find out what’s happened to Giles and just what Mr Charming, the plantation owner Victoire Leclerc is doing, after all, that’s why we’re here… I’m getting a feeling of déjà vu with Giles, I’ve rescued him once before, in fact, it’s how we met.’
Jocasta smiled, ‘Really dear, what happened?’
‘It was in Paris in 1930, I was coming out of the exotic Bal Tabarin nightclub in the early hours, it had been a marvellous evening, and there was Giles bless him, fighting with two rather unsavoury looking gentleman, so I stepped in to help him. I knew all those karate and judo lessons would come in useful one day.’
‘How very brave of you my dear, I hope he was grateful?’
Lady Fenella frowned, and her expression dulled, ‘Well, actually no he wasn’t, he called me an over-educated public-school girl bitch, who had no sense of purpose and said rather abruptly he didn’t need any help and I wasn’t to interfere… However, I think deep down he was grateful, and in all honesty, I never gave it a moment’s thought, although on reflection it was probably very hazardous, but we saw them off… And anyway, it was an unexpected start to a beautiful friendship, and after all his rather tedious complaining, I made him take me out to dinner at The Ritz where I ordered the most expensive dishes and champagne on the menu.’
Lady Fenella thought for a moment and smiled mischievously, ‘I admit it was somewhat petulant of me, but I wanted to teach him a lesson, I mean why should femininity and toughness be incompatible?’
Jocasta grinned, ‘My dear, call me old-fashioned, but I thought it was the man who was supposed to rescue the beautiful damsel in distress… And you know to me, the only thing worse than a single woman, is someone who pretends to enjoy being a single woman.’
Lady Fenella laughed, ‘Oh I don’t believe in any of that silly nonsense, it’s all propaganda from those fictional romance writers, and women’s magazines. No, I live in the real world, I want to be a rebel, and we women have to learn to fend for ourselves. I never want to be dependent on any man. The only problem is we have to work twice as hard as any man to prove our abilities and be taken seriously.’
Jocasta gave a thoughtful nod, ‘Yes I suppose that’s true, in fact, the history books are littered with examples of women rescuing men, and also strong women, that is, of course, if you’re prepared to read between the lines. Although I must admit, I’m a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice… Is that allowed?’
‘Absolutely.’ Lady Fenella said with a gleam of devilry, ‘It’s my favourite as well, but don’t tell anybody… Do you think that Mr William Darcy would have allowed Miss Elizabeth Bennett to travel the world and have a mind of her own?’
Jocasta grinned, ‘Oh yes my dear, my Mr Darcy most certainly would.’