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If you take the East Side IRT - the Six train - to 116th street, then get off and walk a couple of blocks, you'll come to a small head shop tucked away between a Mexican restaurant and a neighborhood supermarket. It's fairly unremarkable, except that even in these more gentle times for gentrified Manhattan you really don't find many people as palefaced as I hanging out in front of it.
I nodded to the four or five kids sitting around on crates there as I went inside. One of them knew my face and nodded back. As I went in, he was muttering to his companions, something which I assumed and devoutly hoped was the patois equivalent of 'he's cool.'
The interior of the shop was just as it always was. Not so much cluttered as intricately packed in three dimensions with junk - at least, objects that I would label junk, but which were likely treasures to someone, somewhere. The entirety of the airspace that was left was redolent with what I was sure was incredibly high-grade weed, well-aerosolized by the enormous bong that reached from floor to ceiling at the back behind the counter.
There was an older man lounging there with a hookah tube hanging lazily from his mouth while he talked rapidly to a younger woman who was in front of the counter, apparently haggling over some small piece of merchandise. I blinked at him, both because of the smoke and because I'd never seen anybody who was stoned talk that fast. While I was trying to decide if that meant he wasn't stoned, or if it meant he was just an instinctive haggler to such a degree that the drug didn't touch his flow, he noticed me standing there in the half-light and waved me forward. Without stopping his patter, he lifted up the counter gate and passed me through. I stepped by with a nod of thanks, and he slapped my shoulder as I turned down the narrow staircase that was mostly hidden behind hangings on the back wall.
A deceptively long flight down, I came out into the small vestibule I remembered. The door was closed. I knocked once. A voice came through the solid metal surface. "What?"
"Here to see Alan."
A peephole slid open to reveal a pair of eyes which focused on my face beneath the single bulb, then crinkled in what was likely a grin. "Yah, mon. Stand back, now."
I stepped back up the stairs a pace while the door made chunking noises and then opened outwards, then stepped through. The enormous man guarding it clasped hands with me and pulled me into a hug which nearly broke my spine. "Michel, brah, 'tis you an' all."
"Ow. Damn, Demaine, you're too big to do that." I hugged him back before reclaiming my hand. "Your dad here?"
Demaine turned to secure the door behind me. "Yah mon. Him in back, go right t'rough."
I did that. The back room was much larger, the edges of it set in shadow, with a desk in the very center brightly illuminated by halogen desklamps at the corner of its ruthlessly empty surface. Behind it sat an older Jamaican man, his eyes bright behind cheap spectacles. As I came in, he rose, his face sliding into shadow as it rose above the lamps. "Ah, France. Is good t' see you uptown." We shook hands and he gestured me to a chair across the desk from him; we both sat.
"Hello, Alan. I hope you're well."
"As well as can be, now. You got needs?"
"I do. First, though, is Demaine all right?"
"Tis good of you t'ask. He is. Nobody come knockin' for him, not since you talk to de rider for us."
"I'm glad. If they haven't spoken to you by now, they likely won't."
"You credit always good here, France, for that work." Teeth flashed white in the darkness. "You one of mine, now, ever an' ever."
"Thanks, Alan. I don't need credit right now, though. I need your help, but it's cash on the desk."
Alan laughed, rubbed his hands together. "Cash always a friend too, France. Always. You tell Alan what you need."
I grinned at him. "First of all, your help." I reached into my bandolier. Alan watched interestedly as I pulled out the stone spearhead and placed it carefully in the middle of the desk. "I got this from a friend. I need to know if you can tell me anything about it."
Alan picked up the spearhead and turned it over in his hands. He touched it to the center of his forehead, then jerked it away with a hiss. "Oh, mon! This hot. Ver' ver' hot, brother. All manner power in here."
I sat back. "I know. I just don't know how to use it."
"Ahhhh." He reached out and stretched one of the lamps up higher, creating a larger pool of light. Holding the spearhead before his left eye, he rotated it carefully, his right eye closed to a slit and his left open as wide as it would go. I could almost see the loupe that he didn't need screwed into his eye socket as he looked at it. "This not from the loa."
"Nope." Alan was familiar with the Jamaican voodoo pantheon; too familiar. He'd been a reasonably successful dealer until he hit upon the notion of asking them for help with his business. Unfortunately for him, one of them had agreed - and the price had been his son. He'd tried everything, bringing all manner of bokkors from Jamaica to intercede for him, but none had managed the trick. I'd met him in the course of his desperate last attempt to trade himself for his son, at a makeshift altar in Central Park. I'd been following the loa he was calling, and it had led me to his crude summoning. When he'd offered the trade, the loa had laughed and said it had no reason to accept.
I'd given it one. It was a bargain I hadn't liked at the time, and still didn't - but it had agreed, and dropped its claim on Demaine. I lost one day a year, usually ending up with massive hangovers and enormous credit card bills, and Alan welcomed me where I would normally have been shunned. The loa made out well on the deal, as a single day of a willing and wealthy horse was apparently worth more than the month a year of a sullen and unwilling slave. So far, it had always been careful not to run me afoul of the law, presumably to avoid ruining its playground. It's a good thing I didn't care about my reputation, though. It had been five years since our bargain, and there were five more years to run.
"Michel, you have tried touch, yah?"
I nodded at him. "Doesn't respond."
"Yah. Thought not enough. Touch not enough. This a weapon, mon. It respond to only one thing."
I slapped myself on the forehead. "Oh, for- of course."
He grinned. "You brave enough, white man?"
I gave him a dirty look, and pulled my Swiss army knife out of my pocket. He put the spearhead back down on the desk. I extended the pen blade and pricked my left thumb, then squeezed a drop of blood onto the surface of the spearhead. There was a crackling WHOOM somewhere behind my forehead, and I felt the power force its way into me. The spearhead quivered on the desk and lifted slightly into the air to hover before my face, spinning slowly. Alan whistled softly. I looked at it. "Now what?"
"Think about something, Michel. Think about something that not here."
I frowned, and formed an image of Demaine. The spearhead shuddered and then spun to point at the door. "Ahhhhh." I reached out and plucked it from the air. Power crackled into my finger. "That's...nice."
"That a serious mojo."
Still holding it, I thought about Baba Yaga. It trembled in my hand, but I held it firmly. I shuddered at a wave of dizziness, and my eyes were drawn inexorably to the wall - the downtown wall. I forced my gaze back to Alan and let my arm rise and point; when I followed it, it was pointing at exactly the same spot. "South."
"Now you know, France."
"Thanks, Alan." I tucked the spearhead into the bandolier and tightened the pocket around it. I sat with my eyes closed for a few minutes, flexing not-muscles, until I could close down the conduit of power that reached from me to the spearhead, and think of objects without the overriding directional cue. Then I opened my eyes.
"You got what you need, France? That don' cost you nothin'."
I laughed. "Not yet, Alan. I need some hardware, too."
Alan laughed again, and reached under the desk. The lights came on around the room's edges, outlining racks along the walls. Weapons, enough to outfit at least a regiment of Marines, were neatly hung around the room. "It Red Tag day always, France, for you. You take what you need."
I dropped a bundle of hundred-dollar bills on the desk, stood up, and shook Alan's hand. He shook his head, but I pushed the bills across to him. "Cash on the desk, Alan. Someday I'll need that credit, maybe. But until I need it, cash on the desk."
He grinned again.
I left the head shop with a twin to my Desert Eagle, a silenced Beretta, ammunition and spare magazines for both, a hideaway Derringer in an ankle holster, an extendable baton, two pairs of handcuffs and a ring of handcuff keys and four stun grenades in a brown paper bag.
On the way out, I nodded to the boys still sitting outside. Three of them grinned at me, and I patted my coat and grinned back. All four laughed.
Then I walked to the Six train and rode it back down to the Village, trying not to clank as I went.
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