Battle Hill Bolero

Trouble is brewing between the Council of the Dead and the ghostly, half-dead, spiritual, and supernatural community they claim to represent. One too many shady deals have gone down in New York City’s streets, and those caught in the crossfire have had enough. It’s time for the Council to be brought down—this time for good.

Carlos Delacruz is used to being caught in the middle of things: both as an inbetweener, trapped somewhere between life and death, and as a double agent for the Council. But as his friends begin preparing for an unnatural war against the ghouls in charge, he realizes that more is on the line than ever before—not only for the people he cares about, but for every single soul in Brooklyn, alive or otherwise…

In the third book of Daniel José Older’s Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, the time has come for the dead to rise up against the shady powers-that-be. Battle Hill Bolero is available January 3, 2017 from Roc.

 

 

Chapter One

Sasha

I open the door, blade ready, and the first thing I think is, Oh, Carlos, what have they done to you?

The thought comes with a startling pinch in my chest, and I step back from the shimmering, hunched-over figure, suddenly sadder than I thought I’d be.

Thought I’d be if ever—

Because surely one day—

Shit.

I shake off the threads of worry and sorrow, and blink once at the ghost in my doorway.

His flowing cloak and notched helmet mark him as one of the Council of the Dead’s Soulcatchers Prime. He’s tall—Carlos tall—but his shoulders slump forward, one lower than the other. His head slumps down like a hanged man, face hidden behind the caged face guard. He clutches a cane, just like Carlos. And he’s trembling. But the energy is all wrong; something vastly more desperate and mournful radiates from this wraith. And for Carlos, half-dead like me, to be a ghost, they would’ve had to catch and kill him the rest of the way, and somehow, deep inside myself, I’m sure I would’ve known if that had happened.

“The Council pardoned me,” I say. It comes out hoarse, like I’ve been crying. “Almost a year ago.” Nine months and seven days. The last time I saw Carlos. “Maybe you didn’t get the memo.”

“My lady.” The ghost bows. His voice is a thin, unraveling whisper.

Definitely not Carlos.

Tiny muscles I didn’t know I had unclench themselves. But if not Carlos, who?

“What do you want, soulcatcher? I don’t politic with the Council.”

He shakes his head. “A word, is all. I’m not here on Council business. Not exactly.”

Down the hall behind me, the twins sit perched on their big, old babysitter’s lap. I shut and locked the nursery door as soon as I’d heard the knocking. Baba Eddie has ghostproofed, sanctified, cleansed, and spiritually booby-trapped their room hundreds of times.

And still, it’s never enough. Still my slow, slow heart cantors into overdrive at the gentlest hint of something off.

I narrow my eyes. “I have no words for Council goons.”

“You don’t have to have any,” the soulcatcher assures me. “The words are all mine.”

“Not interested.”

Just before I slam the door the ghost says, “I knew you.”

He says it very quietly. It’s not desperate, not a plea. Just a fact. I glare at him through the crack of the doorway. “Excuse me?” A fury rises up and I push it away.

“I knew you,” he says again. “In life.”

A moment passes, then another. My stare doesn’t waver.

It could be a lie. A trap. I could somehow force it not to matter, but I’d be pretending. No matter how many ways I try to ignore it, the truth about my life matters.

Still, I already dislike this phantom. First of all, he’s with the Council. I’m inbetween—full flesh and blood but neither fully dead nor alive—and the Council has no tolerance for folks like us, unless we’re doing their dirty work.

Like Carlos.

Who I murdered once—a lifetime ago, before we fell in love.

Who this ghost strangely resembles.

“Wait here,” I say, and shut the door.

* * *

I unlock the twins’ bedroom and poke my head in.

Their babysitter sits like a giant Cuban Santa Claus, a toddler on each leg. He squints at the handwritten letter through his bifocals. I don’t know if it’s old age or all that coffee he drinks, but his hand trembles slightly. “It was maybe the fourth time Mrs. Overbrook has called me,” Gordo reads. “I think she just likes having someone to talk to.” He makes it sound like a fairy tale, Carlos’s never-ending cycle of ridiculous adventures. Xiomara and Jackson are enraptured. There’s no way they can grasp what’s going on, but their wide eyes are glued to Gordo’s face as he reads.

“I’m going out,” I say.

The twins train their how dare you interrupt story time, Mami faces on me, and I almost come curl up with the three of them, the Council’s limping ghosts be damned.

But no. My life—even if it’s a cruel joke, it’s one I need to get to the bottom of.

“We know this,” Gordo says. “You already said goodbye.”

I puzzle at him for a half second and then remember: it’s Saturday and my friend Reza gives me what she calls “offensive driving” lessons on Saturdays. That’s why Gordo’s here in the first place. I’d been on my way out when the knock at the door sounded.

“Right.” I smile, but it’s forced and Gordo knows it. I’m already off my game.

“Everything alright?”

I shake my head but say, “Yeah. Change of plans, though.”

Xiomara cocks an eyebrow at me, because she was apparently born knowing everything. I come back in the room, a flurry of jingling keys and all my weird stress, kiss both their foreheads—little Jackson squirming already at his mommy’s love—and Gordo’s cheek. He’s so warm; they’re all so warm and wholesome, and I’m so aware of my chilly skin against theirs.

Gordo smiles at me, takes my small, cool hand in his big, hot one. Of all the fully alive folks I’ve met, Gordo is the only one who never missed a beat realizing how neither/nor I really am. Without a word spoken, he just gets it, and I will always love him for that.

“Ten cuidado, nena,” Gordo says.

I nod. “Always.”

I start to leave but he doesn’t let go. “Yes, Sasha, always. But much more so now.”

He lets go and turns back to the letter, suddenly Santa again. “And then we had to help a group of suicides out of the riverway. What a mess that was!”

Xiomara giggles; I shake my head and walk out of the room.


Carlos

“Should I cut him?” Harrison Range’s voice shivers. “I mean, I mean… I feel that I should probably cut him, right? I’m not sure though, to be honest.”

I hate new guys.

Harrison is clinging to a support beam of the Manhattan Bridge. He’s a ghost, and ghosts don’t really fall unless you push ’em, so there’s really no need to be clinging. But that’s not what’s put the tremor in his voice, at least not the only thing. A river giant stands astride the Manhattan-bound lane of traffic, sobbing.

The answer to Harrison’s question is an unequivocal and enthusiastic yes, according to Council protocols. But it’s Saturday, and I haven’t had any coffee yet, and I’m not in the mood for even the pretense of following these inane bylaws. Anyway, I think I know this river giant. Got into a tiff with a group of ’em not too long ago on the west side—they were trying to resurrect an ancient serial-killer god. We murked the whole squad except one, who disappeared back into the dirty waters of the Hudson. I think this is that one, even though my friend Krys warned him not to come back with the business end of a ghost bazooka.

Then again, all river giants look alike to me, so what do I know?

“Do what you want, Harrison.”

Harrison whimpers. The giant sniffles and sobs.

Traffic is snarled, mostly because our lumbering, distraught friend caused a fender bender. No one can see him, at least not most folks, but his very presence sends discord rippling through the congested air above the East River. It’s the third mash-up this week, and the Council finally caught wind, and, well, here we are.

“I’m not sure I should cut him,” Harrison reports.

Surely one of these passing cars has a spare cup of coffee in it.

“The thing is, according to Council Bylaw 89.2, the river giant is a Causal Disturbance Entity, and I should thereby cut him and send him to the Deeper Death, thereby ending his existence entirely and for good.”

I peer through the crisscrossing tension wires, into the window of a black SUV. That guy has two coffee cups in his drink holder and no one in the passenger seat. Dickhole.

“However, there are two complications: the river giant has not technically made himself visible to the general public, and he hasn’t caused any mass loss of life or property damage in excess of forty thousand dollars—not by my guess, anyway. Wouldn’t you say, Carlos?”

“Not unless that Winnebago that got trashed at the exit ramp was full of cocaine.” My arm doesn’t quite reach, so I slide my cane through the steel crossbeams.

“Ha, no, we probably would’ve heard about it if it was.”

“What’s the other thing?”

“What other thing?”

Success! The tip of my cane clacks against the side of the SUV. The window slides down with a whirr. “What the fuck!” the driver yells. He’s burly and wearing those Terminator sunglasses that grandmas realized weren’t cool in 1994. I’ll take the L.

“You said there were two things, Harrison.” I walk a few steps out of range while the driver continues his curse-out. “What’s the second one?”

“Oh! River giants are almost extinct.”

“How can a dead thing be—”

“Therefore, as per subguideline 91a, they are technically protected entities.”

Didn’t seem like that a few months ago when we were trying not to get stomped by them on the banks of the Hudson. “Well, damn. Didn’t realize that. So what you gonna do, man? I’m cold, and I gotta be somewhere at two.”

Above us, the river giant lets out a warbling cry—something like a thousand dying goats simulcast through a screechy megaphone. I scowl. I’d forgotten about that shit. Harrison squints, steeling himself.

“I’m gonna cut him!” he announces.

As it turns out, I have my own little set of protocols, and one of them is don’t announce you’re going to cut a gigantic river demon before you do it. It’s too late for all that though; the warbling peaks in intensity and then cuts suddenly short. The giant looks at Harrison.

Harrison says, “Oh sh—” and then the giant backhands him off the bridge.

Fuck.

Then the river giant looks at me.

Double fuck.

You!

There aren’t enough fucks in the world. I turn around and run.


Sasha

For a dead guy, Juan Flores is remarkably ungraceful. Most ghosts flit around with that edgeless, flowing abandon you’d expect from a being that’s all soul. Even the ones that stride, like Carlos’s friend Riley, strut like walking water in a seamless swirl. It’s a glory to behold, when you stop to take it in, and soulcatchers more than anyone else are supposed to be unflappable, ferocious, and yes, graceful.

Not Juan Flores, though. He limps along beside me like a busted San Lázaro / Darth Vader mash-up, phantom cane clacking on the pavement as his bum leg drags along behind.

“Anyway,” Flores says, “the Council is in the midst of a lot of change. Several Remote Districts are in open rebellion. No one knows when they’ll replace the slain minister…”

“I hate the Council, Mr. Flores.”

“Juan, please.”

“I want nothing to do with them. Ever. I told them as much when they brought me in to say they wouldn’t be trying to kill me anymore. You said you weren’t here on Council business.”

The ghost sighs. Snow from a blizzard three days ago still covers the park in pristine blankets. Some kids run around a playground, squealing, and I think of Xiomara and Jackson, wonder briefly if they’ll ever know a life so perfectly simple.

“You’re right,” Flores finally says.

“You said you know me, Flores. Out with it.”

He stops walking, turns to face me. “April nineteenth, Grand Army Plaza.”

My back straightens without me telling it to. Tiny beads of sweat form along my spine.

“A rainy night.”

Even hunched over, Juan Flores’s face reaches a little higher than mine.

I nod.

He lifts the visor of his soulcatcher helm. Inside, it’s just a hazy fog.

“We were seven,” Flores says. “All died. Five survived.”

It’s the only information Carlos could track down about the night we died—the resident house ghost at the plaza told him before being annihilated by a powerful sorcerer named Sarco, who orchestrated the whole thing. Then Carlos and I killed Sarco.

“You were there?” I try to make my voice sound unimpressed. It doesn’t work.

Flores nods.

“But you… you remember?”

“My passing was less violent than yours. Or the other four.”

The other four. Carlos and my brother Trevor, who Carlos later killed on orders from the Council. Marie and Gregorio, who formed the Survivors with Trevor and me, and died in the infighting last year.

My blade is out; it’s pointed at that swirling emptiness where Juan Flores’s face should be.

“Who was I?”

“Sasha…”

“Before I died. You said you knew me.”

Juan Flores nods. “Aisha,” the ghost says in that trembly, soft voice. “Aisha Flores.”

I lower my blade, raise it again. “I was…”

“My wife,” Juan Flores. “My dearly beloved wife.”


Carlos

I shove through a gaggle of tourists—German, I think. I grunt an apology without stopping. None of them mind too much—apparently assholes are just part of the local flavor. One even snaps a picture, but then the river giant is on them, which must feel like some huge, invisible tornado just dropped out the sky. They collapse, screaming.

The river giant doesn’t apologize; he just roars toward me with those humongous strides, crashing along the walkway like a deranged oak tree. I turn back to look where I’m going just in time to see the cyclist I’m crashing into.

For a few seconds, everything is a tangle of gears and sudden aches and the biker’s cursing. Then I’m right side up again and still running—my odd, lopsided gait even more slanted.

“You can’t goddamn just do that, man!” the guy yells. “I mean! I mean!” And then he too is swept aside with a yelp. The whole fence shivers, the cyclist grunts and collapses, and me? I run.

I’m only halfway across the bridge when I start running out of breath. Blame the Malagueñas. But I still hear the thing clamoring along behind me, even if a little less enthusiastically now. I steal a glimpse and then stop entirely, leaning my hand against one of the huge concrete support pillars to catch my breath.

The giant’s wild flush forward has slowed to a pathetic, uneven clamor. He keeps stopping to wipe his eyes like he has something in them and then hock giant ghost loogies into the river below.

The bumps-and-bruises carnage we caused is far enough back not to trouble us, and besides the gridlocked traffic and passing seagulls, we’re alone on the bridge. The giant stops a few feet away from me and just breaks down sobbing. One hand clutches the tension wires above him, the other massage the center of his wide face, right between those two beady eyes.

“Ay,” I say. My cane unsheathes to reveal a blade, and it’s a blade that deals the Deeper Death to spirits like this with a quickness. Plus my breath is back, mostly. I take a step toward the river giant. “You alright?”

He snorffles and sniffles, wipes the two slits where his nose should be, and looks up at me. For a second, I think I’m gonna have to make a break for it again. Then he says, “Ookus,” and goes back to sobbing.

Man, I’ve had days like that. More than a few, in fact, especially since I murdered the brother of the woman I love before I’d even met her, and then fathered her children. And then found out she murdered me. I just usually stay in my apartment instead of terrorizing a major throughway, though.

I don’t know what “ookus” means, but I know what I do when I’m sad. “Ookus,” I say, retrieving two Malagueñas from my inside pocket. “Ookus.”

He looks up again, wipes his eyes. Then the river giant reaches those long fingers out and daintily accepts the gift. I’m wondering if I’ll have to explain what to do with it, but he just puts it right into that big ol’ mouth and leans forward, putting his face all up in mine, for a light.

* * *

“And then she showed me her memory,” I say, two hours and six Malagueñas later. “The one memory she had of her life before she died. And it was me, Ookus. It was me. My final moment. She… she killed me, man.”

Small, gated-in enclosures line the upper level of the Manhattan Bridge. Empty forties, crumbled paper bags, and cigarette butts cover the ground, and graffiti commemorates the many exploits each alcove has witnessed. But the view is unparalleled: the shimmering towers of Manhattan’s Financial District stare down Brooklyn’s newly converted warehouse apartments as the East River swirls between toward the scattered islands of the open bay.

Ookus looks down at me, aghast. We’ve cleared the trash out the way and sit facing each other, backs to the colorfully cursed-upon stone walls of the enclosure. At some point during the conversation, God or the orishas or Nuyorican Jesus sent one of those foodcart guys past on his way to catch the latelunch crowd and I snagged two coffees for us.

“Ookus barabat kimbana shok,” Ookus says, glummly.

“Right?” I don’t know what that means, but it seems genuine. He’s probably been in a similar situation and feels my pain. “Thanks, man.” I shake my head, sip the now-cold foodcart coffee. “I was pretty mad. I am. I mean, I walked away, never looked back. Sorta. Sorta never looked back? Is that a thing? Look.” I pull a scrap of folded, lined paper from my pocket and pass it to Ookus. Then I relight my cigar while he reads.

“Baseena pos prana koolesi,” Ookus says.

“Exactly. I just feel like, they should know something about their father’s life. Half-life. Whatever. So I pass ’em along with the old Cubano guy that babysits ’em. But I know that what we did before we died—us halfies, I mean—we can’t be held responsible for it, not really. I have no idea what I did or who I was before that night. I coulda been a hellish human being. What matters is what we do now. And in the now? I’m the one that was in the wrong more than Sasha. And I mean… when it comes to those letters, they’re nice, I guess, but really and truly? I ain’t shit for it. I know, I know I gotta suck it up and face them… her… soon.”

Ookus peers over the lined paper at me. Nods. “Ookus.”

“I know, man, I know. I’m gonna.”

He passes the papers back.

“But I keep seeing that night, the night I killed her brother. And I honestly think she forgives me, to be honest. I just don’t think I do. And you know what’s really fucked up about it?”

“Ookus?”

“Behind everything that went wrong in my life, starting with that single night, lurks the motherfucking Council of the Dead.”

Ookus’s brow furrows.

“The Council sent me to kill Trevor.” I relight the Malagueña and pass Ookus the lighter. “And when I did, the Council sent me to kill Sasha. Which I didn’t, of course. The Council backed Caitlin Fern, whose fucked-up cockroach cult almost turned my babies into demon insect hives. My babies, Ookus. And when my best friend Riley had finally had enough, the Council wanted me to kill him too. And his ass already dead.”

Ookus shakes his head.

“Hell, the Council sent me to kill you. You know what, Ookus? Fuck the Council. Fuck ’em in the face.”

Ookus nods. “Fraang pa Konseeli.”

“Exactly.”

“Lareeni.”

“Anyway, that’s my story. What’s got you so upset?”

 


Chapter Two

Krys

There’s a new girl working at the botánica when Jimmy and I stop by on the way to the meeting. She’s all dressed in white, head to toe, and got a million beaded necklaces round her slender, dark brown neck, and it takes me like point eight seconds to fall in love. I mean: look at her! Eyes sleepy, mouth an unimpressed pout. Her hair’s all hidden away beneath a white head tie, and a white Kangol sits on top, perfectly crooked. Besides all that, some kind of ethereal glow pours off her like she’s just emerging from some divine seashell and the holy light of God is awakening all around her.

Also, she sees me.

To her, I exist. She says “Hey” to Jimmy first, barely taking note of his tall-as-hell but truly flesh-and-blood alive ass. Then her gaze rests on me, floating translucent and fat: the dead black girl beside him. Still Mohawked, still fabulous and unfuckwithable. But very dead.

And invisible to most.

Jimmy waves at her, and his voice cracks when he says “Hi,” poor dear. She nods, ever so slightly, at me, and then she’s back in the glow of her laptop, and I want to be that glow, to bathe her face, receive her undivided gaze.

“You coming to the secret meet up, Baba Eddie?” Jimmy yells. So much for the secret part.

“Baba Eddie’s giving a reading,” the girl says without looking up.

“Oh,” Jimmy says. “Are you new? I haven’t seen you here before.”

She turns to him, and those big eyes narrow to vicious slits. “I built this place.”

“Oh, I didn’t…”

She assesses him and then seems to decide to be merciful, returns to her laptop. “I’ve been away.”

“Well, welcome back. I’m Jimmy.”

“You’re not gonna introduce your friend there?” She nods at me. My face catches fire. I manage a smile through the flames.

“Oh, you—,” Jimmy starts.

“I’m Krys,” I say.

The girl lets loose a wide, adorable smile. She’s got a gap: two front teeth just fully doing their own thing, side by side but not touching. “You can call me Iyawo.”

“Ayo?” Jimmy says.

“Yee,” she pronounces.

“Yee,” we echo.

“Ah.”

“Ah.”

“Whoa. Iyawo.”

Jimmy puzzles his face. “I’ve never heard that na—”

“It’s not a name; it’s a title.”

“Oh!” He’s doing the thing he does: the thing where he’s just oblivious to all that shade. It’s either charming as hell or frustrating as fuck, depending on who he’s dealing with and how much coffee they’ve had. The Iyawo seems to be softening to him, though. I’m just hovering in a corner amidst herb packets and dangling necklaces, trying to catch my breath.

“Well, nice to meet you, Iyawo.” He pronounces the fuck outta it, and she seems to appreciate that, right up until he reaches out a hand.

She frowns at it. “I can’t shake your hand.”

“Oh, my bad.”

“It’s alright. It’s a iyawo thing.”

“Iyawo!” Baba Eddie calls from the back.

The Iyawo cocks her head and raises her eyebrows. “Awo?”

“Bring me some efun, por favor.”

She grabs two little cups of chalky white stuff—the million bracelets on her wrist jangling a song directly into my heart—and then she heads to the back.

“Fuck,” Baba Eddie says. “Make it a lot.”

She whirls around, rolls her eyes.

“Know what? Just bring the whole bucket of ’em. This shit gonna need a real… yeah.”

The Iyawo retrieves a plastic container and heads back through the aisles of sculpted saints and elaborate pots.

“The Iyawo is fine as fuck,” I say.

Jimmy nods. “She aight.”

“I heard that,” the Iyawo calls from the back.

I cringe, then cringe deeper, then just give up because she didn’t seem to mind, and anyway: it’s true.

“I dunno if she’s my speed,” Jimmy says.

“Do you even have a speed?” Mina Satorius was the only girl I’ve known Jimmy to have dated. She was a wee little white chick, and her satanic, doll-collecting grandma went MIA after Carlos busted her trying to steal Jimmy’s soul. They messed around a few times after that, but really, that’s a tough hurdle to overcome for a dweeby high school relationship. Jimmy and I check out ass on the street together, but his tastes have no rhyme or reason.

Jimmy shrugs. “I’m equal opportunity when it comes to the booty.”

“You would be if you ever got any.”

He’s about to zing back when the front door opens just as the Iyawo reappears from the back. A tall bald-headed dude with a ridiculous goatee stalks in, smile first.

“What it do, my Iyaweezy!” he yells, crossing the store in a single stride and offering a fist bump to the Iyawo. “Dap? Ha! I’m kidding—don’t touch me.” He whisks his hand away, chuckling, then crosses his arms over his chest and bows slightly.

The Iyawo, who’s been standing perfectly still with one eyebrow cocked and one hand on her hip, does the same, shaking her head. “Whaddup, Rohan?”

“Picking up Baba Eddie for the thing. You coming?”

She slides back behind the counter and pouts. “He says I can’t cuz I’m a iyawo.”

“Aw, man. Ah!” Rohan whirls around like Jimmy crept up on him. “What’s up, my man. You mad tall! You almost as tall as I am, my dude. I’m Rohan.”

“Jimmy,” Jimmy says. They shake and Jimmy flinches.

“Ay, ghost.” Rohan waves at me, smiling brightly.

“What it do?” I give him a salute. “I’m Krys.” Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that folks in a botánica can see spirits, but it still catches me off guard. Invisibility formed a habit with me.

Baba Eddie strolls in from the back. “Well, I see everyone’s met.” Jimmy and I call Baba Eddie the Puerto Rican Super Mario. He’s short and shaped like a fire hydrant with a mustache. I’ve never seen him mad, but I have a feeling it’s a terrifying sight—he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and the ferocity hides deep in his eyes, but trust me, it’s there. “Rohan, Krys, and Jimmy are gonna roll with us to the thing.”

“Fantastic,” Rohan says.

“Iyawo.” Baba Eddie pulls his jacket on and takes a cigarette out. “Baba Gene is gonna need a minute. He’ll be along shortly. Just make sure you charge him for the efun and make a note we gotta restock.”

“Already done,” the Iyawo says. “Have fun at the secret meeting.” She flashes a wicked smile at me, and even though it’s a snowy winter day, for a second, everything is sunlight.

* * *

I’m still tingling with it when Baba Eddie leans over the front seat of Rohan’s Crown Vic and says, “Listen, you two: do not under any circumstances fall in love with the Iyawo.”

I frown at him. “Why would we?”

“Ha!” he turns back around. The cigarette still sits unlit in his mouth—Baba Eddie’s big on savoring every little moment of his singular vice. “Why indeed.” He raises the lighter, flicks it once, twice, a third time, and finally touches the flame to the tip, inhales.

“What’s a iyawo anywa—” Jimmy doesn’t finish cuz I bap him on the shoulder. My translucent hand slides through his warm flesh, bone, and blood and he shudders.

“Not on the first drag, man, you know that.”

Jimmy shuts up.

We hear the whisper of the kerosene, the embers crinkling, turning black like Baba Eddie’s lungs must be, the slosh of cars driving through muddy snow, wet flakes from the sky slapping against the windows.

Baba Eddie lets out a sigh, his eyes closed.

“We going by Mama Esther’s first, right?” Rohan says when it seems like the moment has passed.

The santero nods, eyes still closed. “Supersecret pre-meeting to prepare for the less-secret meeting.”

Rohan grunts. “This is it, huh? We doin’ it.”

Baba Eddie chuckles wearily. “We doin’ it. After this, there’s no turning back. You got that, youngens?”

We nod.

“No turning back,” he says again. Then he reaches his arm across the front seat and turns to face us. “A iyawo is a brand new baby santero. Or in this case, santera. She just got made a few weeks ago, right after she got back from Brazil, in fact.”

“Got made,” I say. “Like in the mafia?”

“Heh, kinda,” Baba Eddie chuckles. “But nicer. Usually. Anyway, her name is Kia, but for the next year, her name is Iyawo.”

Year?” Jimmy and I say together.

“And she will only wear white. She won’t be going out at night, going to parties, drinking… none of that.”

“Damn,” Jimmy says. “Shut the whole thing down, huh?”

Baba Eddie shrugs. “She’s brand new and wide open, spiritually speaking. Reborn.”

“That’s why she can’t touch people?” I ask, trying to pretend like my whole entire shit isn’t crumbling before my eyes. I wonder if I could wait a year. I wonder if Ki—the Iyawo could love a dead girl. Or any girl.

“Right,” Baba Eddie says. “And that’s why you won’t be falling in love with her.” He shoots a sharp look at Jimmy, who raises both hands and tries to look innocent. “Or making her fall in love with you.” He glares at me.

I just shrug and look out the window.

“She’s married to orisha,” Baba Eddie says, turning back around. “‘Iyawo’ means wife. And orisha always wins.”

Rohan just chuckles.

Excerpted from Battle Hill Bolero © Daniel José Older, 2017

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