Mysteries and mysticism.
Sarah Doucette Jean-Louis is a former therapist turned detective. And she’s got a body on her doorstep.
After author Myra Jolivet reads to us from The Holiday Murder Melange, we talk about the influence of Creole culture in Sarah’s life, what Pushed Times Chewing Pepper means (that’s the title of the first full length novel in this series), and the courage and tenacity it takes to be a writer.
This week’s mystery author
At six years old Myra was a poet and playwright, holding SRO productions in her Berkeley, California backyard. That led to a 20+ year career in TV news, politics and corporate communications.
When her children went off to college she gathered the nerve to begin a series of cozy, paranormal murder mysteries, the Sarah Doucette Jean-Louis mysteries. Sarah’s life is a blend of Myra’s own California and Louisiana Creole cultures that have helped her create a world of mysticism, murder and humor.
To learn more about Myra and all her books visit MyraJolivet.com
Except from The Holiday Murder Melange
Sarah Doucette Jean-Louis removed freshly baked kale chips from her oven and uncorked a bottle of Luc Pirlet Cabernet, as velvety as her new purple Chesterfield sofa. She had planned to sit, sip and read. It was a gorgeous, sunny day in the San Francisco Bay Area, but two interruptions pissed all over her one-person peaceful Saturday afternoon. The first was a call from her mother, a mini-Lena Horne look-alike powerhouse of a woman who stood four feet, ten inches. Every greeting from her sounded like an order.
“Good afternoon, Ma-ma.”
“Good afternoon, Sarah. I hope you’re well. I want to run something past you.”
“I get to have an opinion?”
“Don’t sass. I think that this year you should host the family holiday dinner.”
Sarah wanted to quiet the inner child begging for family validation, but couldn’t. “Oh, Ma-ma. Me? I’ve wanted to host since I was a kid. Wow, I get to pick the menu and set a gorgeous table, and . . .”
Ma-ma cut her off. “That’s right. You’re good at all of that.”
“Yes, but why me this time? I know it’s usually the married-with-children and I’m neither.”
Creole holiday meals are major events and to be chosen to host is a woman’s rite of passage, like a Creole bat mitzvah. Men are never chosen to host in the culture; they’re served. Sarah had a love-hate relationship with Creole tradition.
“Sarah, you’re such a great cook. I just thought it was time.”
Sarah remembered something.
“Wait a minute. Isn’t Lizette’s kitchen being remodeled?”
Her sister, with her slender caramel-colored face, was called the beautiful one. She and her husband, Tom, had the favored home for holiday gatherings.
“Well, yes. The work isn’t going so well. It won’t be ready in time.”
“Ah, and we all know that Lyle’s wife is a terrible cook. Her food tastes like feet.”
Sarah’s brother was a shorter version of their father with chocolate skin, a round face and a thin mustache. He and his wife Tracy had the least favored home for meals. One year they all were left with a touch of diarrhea.
“Well, ok. You weren’t first choice. I just tend to think of my married kids for this.”
“No problem. I’ll make it festive.”
Fifty-plus years in California had only separated Sarah’s mother from her Louisiana Creole accent, not from the cultural biases. Sarah considered herself the misfit daughter born to transplants, Bernice and the late Charles Jean-Louis. She was a curvy size eight with brown locks, brown eyes and brown skin—a near monochrome. She had career success but lacked the MRS status symbol Creoles revered.
“Don’t forget to run the menu past me.”
“How’s my favorite attorney?”
“Manuel is wonderful.”
“Have you set a date?”
“Ah. Bye-bye, mon cher.”
And with that, her Ma-ma had managed to honor and insult in fewer than ten minutes. But Sarah was on a high even as second choice. She went to her kitchen for the recipe box that held her special creations. The holiday dinner was less than a week away and had to be perfect. The second interruption stopped her meal planning.
“Hi, Caswell. How’s it going?” Fergus Caswell was the lead investigator in Sarah’s private detective agency. He was a former New York City homicide detective who looked like a cop from the Godfather movies, crusty, but loyal.
“Doc Sarah, you ain’t gonna believe this.”
“I came to the office to pick up my raincoat. I forgot it yesterday.”
“Ok.” It was a 1970s style raincoat that, ironically, was weathered.
“Well, when I got up the stairs, guess what I saw?”
“A dead guy. His body is right on the welcome mat to our office door.”
“Do you know who it is?”
“Not a clue. Young, expensive suit. Clean cut and a sliced throat.”
“Damn. I don’t get why he was killed at our office,” Sarah said. “Can you find his phone without leaving prints?”
“Ok, Doc. I have gloves. I’m checking his pockets now and found it.”
“Great. Now, try to put his index finger or thumb against the home screen. He might use finger ID to unlock it,” Sarah said.
“Use your phone to copy text messages and call history. I’m on my way.”
“Hurry. I better call the cops, so we’re in the clear.”
Sarah grabbed a gray cardigan to give a business look to her jeans and tee, picked up the car keys and headed for Old Oakland and the street of Victorian homes, now relegated to office space. She parked and hurried inside. Caswell met her at the top of the stairs.
“He’s over here.”
They walked to the office door and looked at the body of a blond man, early twenties. His opened, hollow eyes were blue. Smeared blood had made a crooked line around his neck that drizzled onto the floor.
“I have a ton of stuff from his phone. Turns out his name is Collin Burke.”
“You’re kidding. That’s the guy who called for an appointment. He was coming in Monday to hire us.”
“He ain’t gonna make it.”
“Listen. The police are here,” Sarah whispered.
Three officers walked up the stairs and began securing the location. They asked Caswell and Sarah to step aside while they searched the hallways and pulled doorknobs of neighboring offices. The downstairs door opened again and a familiar voice barked orders.
“Detective Gray is here,” Caswell said.
“Yay, my biggest fan.”
Detective Derrick Gray walked in, short, dad bod, and an oval face shared by millions of other middle-aged black men. His light gray suit with red and black tie seemed to be his uniform. EMTs trailed in after him, along with a doctor from the medical examiner’s office and police photographers.
“Ah, Sarah Jean-Louis. You waved any crystals over the body yet?”
Sarah had spent more than a decade as a successful U.C. Berkeley Ph.D. practicing family therapy. When scandal closed her practice, she became a well-known psychic sleuth. When she was in trouble, second sight had saved her; now it was the tool she used to solve murders.
“And those recipe cards you use for your evidence boards, we get a big kick out of those at the department.”
“Do you get a kick out of my team solving the murders that you guys can’t?”
Gray stopped laughing.
“Maybe you should’ve stayed in family therapy with your hoity-toity crowd. They believe in that woo-woo stuff.”
“I’m living the dream.”
“More like a nightmare. Just don’t get in my way, Doctor.”
Gray walked over to the body and the officers standing near it.
“Don’t let him bother you, Doc Sarah.”
Caswell was well known and respected among area police departments.
The sounds of a scuffle came from around a hallway corner. Two officers appeared with a man, handcuffed. “We found this guy with this bloody knife.”
They held up a bagged knife. The cuffed guy was Sarah’s other investigator, former patient and sociopath stalker, Adrian Corwin.
“Dr. Sarah, these heathens removed me while I was washing my hands.”
Corwin was rich and privileged. He straightened his back and turned his nose up at the officers.
“I didn’t know you were here,” Caswell said.
He and Corwin had formed a bond at the agency.
Corwin’s copper-tinged voice carried a nasal, whiney tone. “I had to go to the bathroom. So, I went there as soon as I came in. I was in there for a long time. You understand.”
“Well, it was a last-minute thought.”
One of the officers escorting Corwin interrupted. “Hey, this isn’t happy hour.”
“Aw, lighten up. You know we’ve been working on the right side of the law,” Caswell said.
“Look, we caught your guy holding the bloody knife in the bathroom,” the officer said.
“He’s not a murderer. He works in my detective agency,” Sarah said.
“Doctor, your guy was caught with what looks like the murder weapon,” Gray said.
“We need to take him in.”
Gray turned to the arresting officer. “Let me talk to him first.”
Gray, one officer and Corwin moved farther down the hall. Sarah tiptoed and leaned in their direction to eavesdrop. She heard Corwin tell Gray that he was in the stall and heard someone come in but paid no attention. When he came out, he saw a bloody knife and picked it up. Sarah tiptoed back near Caswell. She whispered, “Nothing new.”
The officers left with Corwin. Sarah yelled to him, “Don’t worry. I’ll call Manuel to help you.”
“Thank you! You know that I can’t stand small spaces,” Corwin yelled as the officers led him out of the building.
Gray returned to Sarah and Caswell. “I need to get statements from you two.” Both of them were well versed in dealing with police. They managed to give statements that excluded the victim’s name and cell phone information.
“Are we free to go?” Caswell asked.
“Yeah, but keep the good doctor out of our way.”
“Happy holidays, Detective,” Sarah said.
“Whatever,” Gray mumbled.
Once outside, Sarah called Manuel and told him what happened. He agreed to help Corwin and to keep her updated. Sarah and Caswell left the office to talk in private at The Diner, an Oakland hole in the wall where Caswell ate most of his meals. They entered the ’50s inspired metal door, took a red vinyl booth near the back and ordered coffees.
Caswell pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
“Let’s see what you got from Burke’s phone,” Sarah said.
“I copied his calendar for the month, too.”
“Good work. Here’s the appointment at our office on Monday. Let’s look at his text messages.”
“I see a lot of messages from a Jessica Taylor. You can tell she’s a girlfriend or something,” Caswell said.
“You’re right. ‘Can’t wait for tonight.’ Uh oh, sexting. I don’t need to see the rest of that.” Sarah scrolled down. “Look here. A text with no name and it tells Burke to meet at our office today! That’s from the killer!”
“Whoa. We need to meet with Jessica Taylor to see what she knows,” Caswell said.
“And before the police find out who she is. We have two missions now, to solve the murder and to free Mr. Corwin,” Sarah said.
“I have three. I have to solve this case while I prepare a perfect holiday dinner in record time or suffer the wrath of my mother.”
Caswell stopped at the register to pay the check and Sarah waved bye.
Sarah got into her car and a call came in when she turned the ignition. It was her mother.
“Hi, Ma-ma. I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now. Mr. Corwin’s in trouble and we’re trying to help him.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Did you get to the menu?”
“Just give me the basics.”
Sarah hadn’t had time to fully plan a showstopping meal, but improvised. “It’ll be a holiday Reveillon Dinner. We’ll start with a turtle soup and a single leaf endive salad stuffed with a fig. The next course will be a lobster bisque, satsuma-glazed quail with a dirty rice stuffing. For dessert, a Bananas Foster bread pudding in bourbon sauce, and a fruit mélange.” Sarah followed a vegan diet but didn’t force it on guests. Reveillon is the French word for “awakening.” It was originally a meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
“I love the Reveillon idea, Sarah, and the mélange is a good idea. What fruits will you mix up together?”
“I was thinking tropical.”
“I like that. Well, I know you gotta go.”
“Yeah, talk later, Ma-ma.”
Sarah poured a glass of wine and sat on her living room meditation pillow. She closely followed instructions from her Louisiana spirit guide, Ms. Lorena, and began each case with a call for coded psychic visions. She lit nag champa incense, white sage and white candles.
Sarah’s visions began at age six. Her late Aunt Cat encouraged her gift of second sight. By the time she was a young adult, Sarah considered it Creole superstition despite frequent manifestations. Her visions appeared in symbols that she had to figure out. Sarah resented the freakish gift until it saved her from being named an accessory to murder with her former fiancé, Michael Rochon, a San Quentin resident.
“Show me what I need to see, tell me what I need to know. All that is the best for me, in this moment of my flow.” She chanted and prepared for the physical discomfort of a vision. The taste of rotten meat and vinegar lined Sarah’s mouth, her head whirled and her stomach turned. With eyes closed, she saw an image of Collin Burke walking to her office door. He turned around. She could see blood trails from his neck. He yelled, “Not you!” He dropped. She then saw a gingerbread house with two doors. It seemed ransacked. The vision ended. This doesn’t make sense.
Sarah immediately called Jessica Taylor to set up a meeting. The woman refused at first and then agreed to Monday afternoon. She texted Caswell with the address and time.
Sarah was impatient but used the rest of Saturday evening to chop and freeze a large amount of the Holy Trinity for the high-pressure Reveillon Dinner. She used four ingredients in her trinity, bell pepper, celery, onion and garlic. All chopped out, she poured a small glass of Grand Marnier and called Manuel.
“How’s my guy doing?”
“He’s ok. I’ll see him tomorrow. Wanna come?”
“Definitely. What time?”
“After we have breakfast,” Manuel said.
“Oh.” Sarah laughed.
“See you in about half an hour.”
Manuel was Sarah’s knight in shining Porsche. Her close friends sent him to defend her in the Michael Rochon case and they became a couple soon after. Although Manuel suffered from commitment phobia, they were engaged. Their fiery relationship was framed in passion.
After a night of acrobatic sex with Manuel came the predictable glow and a gourmet breakfast of fluffy omelets with shrimp sauce for him, oatmeal for her. That Sunday morning was no different. Sarah cleaned up the dishes and dressed.
“Manuel, I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
“Hope so. I’m ready to go to the jail.”
The short drive to central jail saddened Sarah. She looked out of the window and thought of Mr. Corwin, locked inside. They entered the visitor area and Mr. Corwin was escorted out. He sat down at the government issue metal table in a room of pale green, paint-peeled walls.
“How are you?” Sarah asked.
“Hungry. And I want my tea, but none in here.” He turned up his straight nose. “You know, I never was that fond of you, Manuel, but I’m certainly glad to see you now.”
“Mr. Corwin. You need Manuel’s help.”