Hidden Evil, by Bob Stewart
No, it’s not a review it’s a press-release of sorts. Novel Concept Publishing has just released a new book – and this time it’s by Bob Stewart.
In an upcoming interview, Bob shared what prompted him to write HIDDEN EVIL…
“Reared in Texas I had heard rumblings of occult power, but generally it was the superstition generated by well-meaning people who want to insure good health, happiness or wealth; a rather benign practice that involves candles, herbs or ritual. It wasn’t until People Magazine assigned me to report on the sacrifice/murder of a college student on Spring Break on the South Texas border that I came into contact with the evil side of the occult. I had never heard the words Santeria or Palo Mayombe, until then. As I stood amid a number of fly-covered graves, when I visited the death shack on a desolate rancho in Mexico, I discovered an evil as ancient as any practice during Biblical times. Hidden Evil is my way of drawing attention to this culture flourishing in the halls of the rich and the powerful as well as humble adobe shacks. While it is fiction, many of the incidents and rituals used in the book are based on fact.”
The rest of J.E. Taylor’s interview with Bob Stewart will be available on Halloween. In the meantime, here’s a first look at HIDDEN EVIL:
HIDDEN EVIL by Bob Stewart
After a drug-addled teenager turns the annual Battle of Flowers Parade into a bloodbath, Majorette Cindi Neff – photographed blood covered and screaming beside the body of a dead classmate – becomes the media symbol of the tragedy, and the object of cult leader Juan Otero’s obsession.
Soon after his burial, the gravesite of Cindi’s dead classmate is violated and Deputy Sheriff Nancy Neff, an expert in Afro-Caribbean religions, is called to the scene. Minister Luke Oeding, a representative for the bereaved family, joins Nancy in the investigation into this unimaginable crime.
In a deadly chess match of good versus evil, they plunge into the world of the South Texas drug cult and come face to face with Palo Mayombe, the darkest of the hidden religions. When Cindi Neff is kidnapped, Nancy and Luke race to save her from the clutches of the malevolent cult before she is sacrificed in an Easter Sunday Palo Mayombe ritual.
“Bob Stewart’s new novel, HIDDEN EVIL, is ripped directly from today’s headlines about drug smuggling on the Texas border. This puts a face to the horrors that we seem to see daily on the evening news. Deeply-disturbed characters, facing what they see as a black future, turn to drugs and the occult and what follows…human sacrifice. It’s a tale that begins with a Columbine-style massacre and ends on Easter Sunday in a classic battle between good and evil. I don’t read vampire or werewolf novels simply because I don’t believe they exist and it’s a bit difficult to conjure up any kind of delicious fear by pretend monsters, but these folks are real and quite possibly living on my block… so, yeah… it pushed my fear button. After I read it, I slept with the nightlight on for a week. Get this book. It’s truly scary and it’s damned fine writing and story-telling.” Les Edgerton Author of Hooked, Just Like That, The Bitch, The Rapist and others.
Excerpt from HIDDEN EVIL:
Book One-Chapter One
A mixed blessing. That’s how Nancy Neff viewed chaperone duty. Within a few minutes she would join a dozen other band parents, all loaded with water and supplies. But, only one of them would be carrying a gun, tucked away in a fanny bag, under a backpack filled with white shoe polish, Band-Aids, water, and Gatorade.
Her only regret when she volunteered for this duty was that she could not watch Cindi strut her stuff as lead majorette. She felt foolish at the thought. Andy had never seen his daughter twirl a baton or heard the appreciative applause in a packed football stadium, never looked into her emerald green eyes, the same color as his, or taught her how to dance or gave her first date grief.
“She’s not going to be allowed to date until she’s 45, and then when the ol’ boy shows up it’d better be with three tickets,” he said one night while feeling the child kick in her bloated belly.
She gave her standard reply. “I’m sure she’ll want you to go with them.”
This bit of nonsense had become a ritual on the rare nights he was home.
“Better yet. When he shows up I’ll be cleaning my service revolver. No. Better yet. I’ll get my shotgun and be putting shells in it when she escorts him into the living room to meet me. Maybe I’ll be wearing my uniform and badge and pistol.”
They laughed at the vivid image of a nervous teen before an armed stern officer of the law before Nancy said, “No. You won’t do that.”
“Yes I will. Just you wait and see.”
On the day Cindi was born, he was denied the joys of parenthood, except for one brief moment, and then he saw only the blue eyes that all babies are born with. Sometimes the guilt overwhelmed her. Why had she been allowed the privilege of the child and Andy had been denied?
The regret was compounded by sixteen years of guilt and longing for what might have been, never for what could be. How could she exist in any other reality? Her love remained in the past. Cindi was all that made life bearable. Cindi was her happiness and her future. She rarely dated, and these men quickly discovered that there was no room for anyone else; just the ghost of the past and the reality of the present.
“You would think after sixteen years I could start over,” she muttered aloud, taking the Broadway exit off Interstate 35 near downtown San Antonio. “Maybe even resurrect my life, or what’s left of it.”
* * * *
Luke Oeding looked around. The Harringtons were late. No surprise there. He came early to hold a place for them so they’d have a good view of their tuba-totting son after they helped the band with last-minute details. Luke claimed a good spot along the curb at an intersection in front of The San Antonio Light, and across the street from the WRW-TV platform.
He breathed in the ambiance of the parade. Cotton candy, hot dogs, sausage on a stick, and fajitas mingled with the sharp odor of spilled beer and body odor. Music, laughter, crying children, and vendors hawking everything from food to fiesta folderol wrapped him in a festive buzz.
Sun sparked golden diamonds off bass horns and baritones and French horns as students paraded down the street in a calliope of colors, red and blue, black and yellow, green and brown, all accented by thousands of freshly polished white shoes.
Again, he looked around for the Harringtons, and checked his watch.
The cool fall morning was already giving way to a sweltering heat that would soon wilt the students in woolen uniforms.
“Mommy, I can’t see. That man’s in the way.”
From the mouth of a child.
“Hush.” It was a serious whisper.
Luke turned to look down at a woman holding a tiny child, delicate and blonde. Bittersweet memories washed his soul as he stepped back and gestured toward the space in front of him. “Why don’t you step in front of me, then the child can see.”
Luke hushed her protest with a raised palm.
“That’s one of the privileges in being tall. You can see over everyone.”
She hesitated, looking up at him.
“Please. We don’t want the child to miss the parade.”
She stepped forward and stood on the lip of the curb in front of the crowd.
“That better?” Luke asked.
“Much. Thank you, again,” she said.
The child looked up showing dimples with a grin. “Thank you.”
Luke felt his gut clinch and the old familiar demon churn when he locked into her innocent eyes. The shy smile reflected a past he fought daily to forget.
With a sigh he closed his eyes, shoving the past back into its God-forsaken realm. He forced a grin, patted her on the head, then looked up to see the Harringtons across the street. Good, they made it in time to see Ron.
Thankful to refocus, he waved.
Pop… pop … pop…
It sounded like a string of firecrackers: sharp reports out of sync with the rhythmic cadence of marching bands parading through downtown San Antonio.
Luke shook his head. Fireworks were outlawed, but kids loved to break rules.
Pop… pop … pop. The woman grabbed her daughter’s hand and began to push backward. He stepped out of her way, offering a smile.
“Don’t worry. It’s just some…”
Pop! Pop! Pop… pop…pop pop-pop-pop
Luke swiveled to see one of the pops rip open the chest of a hefty police officer directing traffic. He pitched backward to lie sprawled, unmoving.
“Pancho!” Another officer bolted into the intersection only to tumble the last few feet, blood gushing from both legs.
Riding the rising crest of chaos a piercing scream spun Luke back to the fear-stricken woman.
* * * *
Nancy heard the frantic words every lawman fears.
“Officer down! Officer down!” The dispatcher guided everyone within radio range to Broadway and Nogolitas, the staging area for high school bands.
Nancy was only a few blocks away, dressed in her band chaperone’s outfit of blue jeans and a new blood-red bowling shirt with the white Rough Rider mascot on the back.
Now she wished she had on her deputy sheriff’s uniform as she slammed the accelerator to the floor and toggled the siren.
* * * *
In blind terror, Cindi tripped over a bass drum. She no sooner hit the hot pavement than a fleeing fellow student kicked her in the stomach. Gasping for breath and fighting nausea, she rolled over to push up only to have her hand crunched by another student. She collapsed head down, her cheek sliding along the searing pavement.
Her good hand flew to the raw flesh. What’s Bill going to think when he sees my face?
Paralyzed by heaving gasps, her hand throbbing, her face now hamburger meat, Cindi felt strong hands behind her, scooping her upward.
“I’ve got you Cindi, nothing’s going to happen to you,” a calm voice whispered in her ears. “God’s watching.”
She recognized Ron Harrington’s distinctive tenor. The husky tuba player used his bulk to block for her as she struggled to stand. Cindi was almost on her feet when she heard the wet smack of lead ripping into flesh. Ron crumpled atop her, shoving her to the pavement; his wounded body now her prison, and her shield.
She could barely breathe from the weight of the big teen as his life-blood oozed out and trickled down her cheek. She spit out the warm, salty taste that dribbled into the corner of her mouth and retched, finding relief in the bitter bile that washed away the coopery taste of human life.
Terror crashed into sensory overload as Cindi struggled to be free of Ron’s bulk and to spot the shooter. Splayed face down on the pavement, and trapped beneath more than two hundred pounds of slack weight, she could only move her head to one side, her vision knee-high. Movement caught her eye. Her lungs nearly exploded with fear. In the distance the killer strolled down the street toward her.
Through the haze of blood-blurred eyes, Cindi watched Tommy spray the retreating red-and-white clad band members with a machinegun. Then, he turned it onto the stunned crowd.
* * * *
The nervous woman’s scream morphed into a throaty gurgle. Luke caught her before she fell, swung her up snug against his chest, and started to run. A thin shriek stopped him.
“Mommy! Mommy. You hurt my Mommy.” Her voice trilled terror in upper register. He turned to see her standing paralyzed at the sight of him holding her mother like a rag doll.
Luke closed his eyes in disbelief. He forgot the little girl!
“No! No. I didn’t hurt her. Come here, honey,” he coaxed the child toward him, his rumbling bass barely concealing his fear.
He would not mess up this time. This time no one would die. Gunfire continued in the background, a few bullets slapping too close.
The little girl took a halting step forward before retreating at the horrible sight of her mother hanging limp in his arms.
“Pumpkin.” Luke said, then hesitated, the word bittersweet in his mouth. He was stunned that he used the term of endearment. He had not uttered it in years; but, it rolled out easily, subconsciously.
“Pumpkin. You have to come with me,” Luke said softly, gingerly stepping toward the child. He saw blood in her platinum hair.
“Does your head hurt?”
She shook it side to side.
“Come.” Half command, half plea. “You have to come with me. Your Mommy needs help. We need to take her to the doctor. Right now!”
When the child hesitated, he commanded, “Look at me.” When the tearstained gaze met his, he continued. “I have to get your Mommy to the doctor and I can’t leave you here. It isn’t safe.” He relaxed his grip and extended a long finger for the child to grasp. “Hold my hand and I’ll get you and your mother to where it’s safe.”
The child’s wide eyes clutched at Luke’s heart like a molten vice grip.
“Promise?” she asked.
Luke swallowed deeply. For a moment, he toyed with an assortment of answers. “Yes,” he whispered, offering confidence he did not feel. “Yes. I promise.”
Despite the pandemonium surrounding them, Luke concentrated on her eyes-silently willing her to take his hand. The crowd surged backward, trampling upon itself, leaving Luke and the child exposed.
Chunks of lead slammed into the street sign only a few inches from Luke. He didn’t notice. His deep, bass voice coaxed the child forward as he inched toward her. She took a few tentative steps until she gingerly took his extended finger. Adobe exploded, concrete chunks filled the air, and the child shrieked.
“Don’t let go! Look at me.”
Rocky shrapnel peppered his face with tiny fragments. Ignoring the blood dripping down his face, Luke began to walk backwards, all the while talking to her. He existed in a false island of quiet amid the chaos of death, living in the narrow confines of the moment.
* * * *
It took only a few seconds for Tommy to empty the automatic weapon. He tossed the machinegun aside, and pulled a pistol. Cindi watched him scurry toward her, leaving more death in his wake. He paused over a moaning musician to deliver a coup de grace. The victim’s head dissolved in a spray of pink mist. Two steps and he stood over Ron Harrington, who weakly raised a hand to ward off the pending assassination.
The repercussion from the blast snapped Cindi’s head into the pavement. Blood, bone, and tissue puffed into a frothy crimson ball, its residue settling like a filmy blanket over her head and shoulders.
“Why are you doing this?” she moaned. The two had been innocent sweethearts in the fifth grade. Tommy had always been a good friend. Startled at the sound of her voice, she mentally commanded her quivering body to remain still as she held her breath, and went limp. Tommy rolled Ron’s body from over her, the dead weight of his meaty arm caught hers, pulling her onto her back before his lifeless body was pushed clear. In a vacuum of terror, she lay prone with her eyes closed – playing dead.
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