‘The Bokor Diary’ Part 3 – A Miami Zombie Story
Detective Eugene Laurence is investegating the recent 'Zombie' attack in Miami, in this short story we're serializing. Catch up on Parts 1 and 2 here if you missed it or dive right in as Detective Laurence heads to Delray Beach and investigates further into South Florida's voodoo community.
“Always toting you around,” Eugene chucked to himself as Chief Gabe’s words bounced in his head on the ride to Delay Beach. The chief was always quick to remember the first time the two of them met.
Eugene was fifteen and riding with two older friends in a car that didn’t belong to any one of them. It was just after sunset on a Saturday night when Officer Gabriel Burel pulled them over for an illegal lane change.
The older boys went downtown; they should have known better.
The pair started their near 40 mile drive north to Delay Beach along US 1. Gabe was forced to turn inland and hop on Interstate 95 to avoid a traffic back-up on 1 caused by the large Memorial Day parade in Fort Lauderdale. Keeping the windows rolled down on the interstate impeded conversation, so Gabe slipped back to his first car ride with The Chief.
Eugene was toted home in the back seat of Chief Gabe’s patrol car. Embarrassed to face his strict parents and ashamed to see the reaction from his grandmother, Eugene listened to the fatherly advice Gabe dolled out from the front seat as the patrol car barreled down Miami Avenue towards home and trouble. The policeman wasn’t gruff and didn’t treat Eugene like another Little Haiti lost cause. Most importantly, the policeman in the front seat had dark skin like him. That was a rarity - seeing black skin beneath a blue Miami Police uniform.
Next year at school Eugene enrolled in the Cops & Kids after school program and saw Chief Gabe quite regularly at the Lemon City Neighborhood Center where the program held homework time and pick-up basketball games.
After graduation and two years at Dade County Junior College, the police academy was an easy choice.
Just off Atlantic Avenue in Delay Beach is Marie’s Apothecary. Its proprietor, Marie Antoinette Marçon, did a surprisingly brisk business with some of the Palm Beach society ladies who used her plant and herb-based hair and skin products as 'beauty secrets.' Marçon also served the Haitian community with folk medicines, compounds needed for vodou rituals. She also served, on many happy occasions, as a midwife.
The detective and the chief entered the apothecary. Marie greeted Chief Gabe with a big hug. Judging by sprouts of white hair escaping from under a red bandana, she was of an age with Gabe. Eugene knew the mambo by reputation only. Gabe made the introductions and Marie seemed pleased to meet another member of the Haitian community who had risen high in South Florida law enforcement. “Detective Laurence, I believe I knew your grandmother, Yvonne Laurence.”
Eugene shot her a surprised look.
Marie smiled and explained. “I grew up in Miami and met your grandmother when she came over from the island in the '60s. I was mixing medicines out of my house on 78th Street back then and she was a frequent customer. I only came up here to Delay Beach in ‘76 to serve the growing Haitian community. I was sorry to hear that she'd passed.”
Nodding, Eugene accepted the condolence. It has been more than 10 years since his grandmother's death but hearing her name brought childhood memories flooding back. He turned away for a moment to collect his thoughts.
As he composed himself, Gabe glanced around the store and saw shelving built into the wooden walls all filled with small glass jars. Marie settled back behind a counter that held a few scales as well as mortars and pestles for mixing and compounding.
Gabe and Eugene were the only customers in the cramped shop, so there was no need to make a pretense for their visit, “No doubt, you've heard of this 'cannibal' guy in Miami,” Gabe asked, his 'police officer' tone slipping effortlessly back into his voice.
Marie nodded slowly. The airy lilt that was in her voice upon greeting them hardened with seriousness. “Nasty business, that. Since you're here asking me about it, it's not drugs like they're saying in the news.”
Eugene let Gabe take the lead and the Chief asked, “It's been 25 years since Troussaint went bokor, did one of your fellow priests go over? Is someone making zombies in Miami?”
Considering the question, Marie rubbed her nose and let her eyes drift over to a row of glass jars on the far wall. “No one in Delray and none that I've heard of down in Dade either. Someone could have come over from the island.”
Eugene followed Marie's eyes as she spoke and went to examine the jars on the wall. Dusty and on the far end of the shelf Eugene found jars labeled, moonflower, nightshade, henbane and mandrake. The witches' weeds, he thought. The detective picked up the moonflower jar and brought it back to the counter where Marie and Chief Gabe stood.
“Ah, datura.” Marie smiled at Gabe's selection. “You know a little of this then.”
“Datura, also known as moonflower, thornapple or angel's trumpet, is used in many potions and spells.” Gabe rattled off as if in school. “High doses are fatal. Lesser amounts can cause one exposed to a powder made from the plant to fall into a delirious state – a zombie state.”
“True,” admitted the mambo. “If you know of those uses, then you also know that in minute amounts, it has been used in healings for centuries. You learned this from your grandmother, correct?”
“No,” replied Gabe. “Grandmother taught me the good and bad of vodou and the way of life in her home country but spoke little of the specifics. I just picked things up along the way.”
“Along the way? Did you also pick up the story of Claivius Narcisse?” asked Marie.
Detective Laurence nodded at the name seeing the connection to the present day. “The man who was a zombie. Narcisse lived in Haiti in the 60s, died quite young and was buried. Years later, he stumbled back to his home and community. It's claimed he had been drugged by a bokor and didn't truly die, it just appeared that way due to the drugs.”
Eugene picked up the jar of datura powder absentmindedly and continued. “As the story goes, he was exhumed after his burial by the bokor. Narcisse was kept in a drugged stupor and forced to cut sugar cane on a plantation alongside others is a similar zombied state. Only after the death of the plantation owner and bokor was the hold over Narcisse broken. He made his way back home with this story to tell.”
Marie glanced at Chief Gabe, but her question was directed as Eugene. “What do you know of the bokor?”
“Nothing. I didn't think his identity was ever known.” answered the detective.
Marie nodded and stood to note an end to their interview. She asked Chief Gabe to pass along some well wishes to old mutual friends then turned to Eugene and said as he was at the door, “the bokor was known to some, but not to me. Not business I want any part of. Your answers, if you want to seek them, are in Haiti.”