As it happened, the door to Grandma's place had a cross on the outside as well. Not large, or anything, but it definitely marked the place.
The door opened a little way, and a boy of about 12 looked through the gap. "Yeah?" he said. "What do you want?"
"I'm here to speak to my grandmother, if that is possible. She invited me to come by and talk about old stories."
"You're the one who never said a damn word in church, and then you stop coming, and you show up here wrapped in a bedsheet? And you want to talk to Grandma? Get out of here."
"Please," I said, "I have good reasons for every -- okay, I have reasons for everything, and most of them are good. The point is, I'm trying to have a conversation with an Elder that I should have had a long time ago, and honestly, I can't stay out here in the hall forever."
"You sure can't. Looks like you'll have to scoot before someone else sees you."
"I said the magic word, goddamit! What more do I have to do?"
"Do you even know my name?"
"Correct." He unlatched the chain and opened the door.
The place was...more restrained than I had expected. There was a big cross on the inside of the door, sure, but besides the five bibles on the shelf, I couldn't see much that looked especially Godly. In any case, there lay a big red shag carpet in the living room, and everything was lit warmly by lamps. Nice for a cold March night.
The boy turned and called, "Hey, everybody, it's our silent cousin!"
A lad of about my age appeared out of the hallway. "Our italian cousin, is that right?"
A short woman got up from the couch. "Why, so it is! Girl, I was wondering when you would ever come arou -- what's with the sheet?"
"Long story," I said. "Bit of a hangup down at the old lockup. I need to talk to Grandma, if that's possible. Is she asleep? Did I wake her?"
"She isn't around," said a man's voice from the kitchen. "Said she had to go out to take care of something. She didn't say when she'd be back. What's the trouble?" The man stepped out of the kitchen, and said, "Where are your clothes? For Christ's sake, get inside before someone sees you!"
I stepped inside. Rumplestiltskin closed the door behind me.
"Esther", said the man, "why don't you take Pat here and get her into some appropriate clothing. Then we can do some Proper introductions."
We sat at the kitchen table.
"Right," said the man. "I'm Jamal -- "
"And I'm an alcoholic,' said the younger boy.
"Shut up!" said Uncle Jamal. "That was only funny the first time you did it. This is your aunt Esther."
I shook Esther's hand. "Sorry about not coming around more," I said.
"Well now you're here", said Aunt Esther, "in suspicious circumstances, I'll admit, but better late then never."
"I'm Michael," said the older of the boys, "And Martin told me you were Jewish? Is that right? That's kind of weird for -- "
"Drake is Jewish," said the youngest boy, "it's not THAT weird. Hi, I'm Matthias. Call me Matt. And you said something about a lockup? What's a lockup?"
"I think she means jail," said Aunt Esther. "Am I right? You got thrown in the slammer for something? Ooh, I don't know if I can have a CRIMINAL in my home." She winked. "But it couldn't have been for something that bad, could it? Martin says all kinds of good things about you."
"And yet," said Uncle Jamal, "you're here, at 11 PM, on a school night. With no clothes of your own. What the hell happened to you?"
I related my story.
"Okay," said Aunt Esther, "I see martin isn't quite up to date on you. Let me give it to you straight: that was pretty dumb, what you did. What they brought you in for was a fine-type offense, and you turned the situation into a felony. Why on earth did you do that? Didn't you know the police would come looking for you? As soon as you show your face outside this apartment, they'll be on your case. Hell, they've probably showed up at your actual home by now. As soon as they know you're related to us, they'll be thumping their way up here. What are you going to do?"
"Hold on a second," said Matt. "You turned into a rat and you flushed yourself down the toilet?"
I blushed. "Yes."
"That is so cool!"
"Grandma has all kinds of stories like that," said Michael. "Stories about Conjure Magic and running away from the Hairy man and junk. And here you show up with a tale to match hers."
"Are you saying you don't believe me?"
"I never said that." He leaned back in his chair. "I've seen her run off a couple of guys just by waving one of those wine bottles, so something's up with that, it's just...you're kind of a confirmation, you know? Now I want to ask her more about those roots she mentioned."
"You just stick to asking her about the roots," said Uncle Jamal. "Don't ever ask her to show you what's in those bottles." He shuddered. "I still have nightmares about it. Now, you said you were aided in your escape by Tall John the Conqueror? That's hard to buy."
"Mama told me about Tall John," said Aunt Esther, sitting up straight. "The proud and mighty Tall John. Could never stoop to nothing, could never be pulled down. The free, the brave, and the beautiful John the Conqueror."
"And yet," said Uncle Jamal, "What Pat here did was to flee from prison for a small crime. That sounds like stooping to me." He folded his arms. "Someone led you to bust out of jail for no good reason, and I don't think it was Tall John. Not at all. Tall John would have faced the music and let all the pain and the disapproval roll off him like water off a duck's back. Whoever helped you escape didn't have your best interests in mind, girl."
"Then why did he tell me to go after the Shofar? He said I would do great things with it. He said I needed it."
"Or maybe he needs it," said Uncle Jamal, "Whoever he is. He wants you to find it. Maybe so he can use it himself."
"Well, I want it. The rabbi gave it to me. I can't just let it go."
"Hold up," said Matt. "The police took your stuff and sold it?"
"That's really mean. That ain't right. Boy, if I could -- "
"If you could," said Aunt Esther, "Whatever it is, you'd end up in jail like Pat here. Don't go fighting the police, Matt. I've told you a hundred times."
"Man," said Michael, "They throw you in the slammer and they sell your stuff in the same night. That's nuts."
"Yeah," said Uncle Jamal, "it sure as hell is. In fact, I don't believe it. I think that fellow who spoke to you was lying through his teeth, Pat. Your -- what do you call it, Shofar -- is probably at the station. But you can't exactly go get it NOW, can you? Cause you're a god-dang felon. They'd bust your ass if you tried to get it back. I think that fellow who spoke to you was trying to get you away from the damn Shofar. I think he sent you on a wild goose chase to everywhere except where your quarry is. What the hell is a Shofar anyway? Do you beat on it?"
"You blow it. It's a trumpet made out of a ram's horn."
"I want one of those," said Matt.
"Well, maybe if you come to the Temple, the Rabbi will give you a Shofar and a balloon and a bag of goodies."
Matt pouted. "Well, you're in trouble now, any You may have to escape this city. Head out for new territory. Go on wild adventures."
"I can't leave this town," I said, "not while Coyote is out on the edges of -- Oh. Crap."
"What?" said Aunt Esther. "What are you staring at?"
"I was wrong," I said. "I was totally wrong. Coyote isn't restricted to the outer Bronx at all. He's been posessing people in Harlem. Grandma said she thought all those people with special gleams in their eyes were John the Conqueror, but I met the posessing spirit today, and he tricked me. He didn't trick the high and mighty like Tall John, he tricked ME. Coyote's in this city. I'm not safe anywhere."
"I TOLD you," said Matt, "You're gonna have to escape. Why don't you go to Chicago until this all blows over?"
"Too close to Coyote," I said. "No, I'm going to go to ground for a while. Keep out of sight of everyone. Find a hole or something where Coyote won't look for me. You won't see me, and my parents won't see me, and I'll...be skipping school. Good lord, I've become a Bad Girl. All over a Shofar!"
"All over your haste," said Uncle Jamal, "and your inability to think things through, which I don't find surprising at your age. They really should have let you go with a fine. So this isn't entirely your fault. Still, you can't stay here tonight. You should probably leave within the next hour, in fact. I'm very sorry, Pat, but we don't have the ability to shelter you from the storm that's heading your way."
"I know. I'm sorry to even expose you to danger like this...but I needed to talk to someone. I'll be back when, or if, this blows over. I'll be back to listen to all Grandma's stories. Hug?"
"Group hug," said Aunt Esther.
The night was heavy, but the air was alive. I didn't know where to go, not yet. But i was in different clothes than before, and as long as I kept moving Quickly, the police wouldn't spot me and give chase. I could have as much time as I needed to think of a plan.
It might come down to the fur and the teeth again, but that had turned out badly twice in a row. There had to be something better.