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Heaven and Earth: Episode Two
Everybody needs a place to stand,
And a method for their schemes and scams.
If I could only get my record clean,
I’d be a genius.
—“Genius,” Warren Zevon
“C’mon in, Boy. Door’s open.”
Unsurprised, Gambit lowered the fist he had just raised to knock and pushed the door open. He stepped into the dark, sweet-smelling interior of “Tante” Mattie Baptiste’s small, somewhat ramshackle house.
She herself came bustling out of the little kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. Her hair was up in a dew-rag and she looked startlingly domestic in well-pressed slacks and a man’s flannel shirt. Gambit’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“New look?” he asked.
She grinned. “I don’ always wear guild robes any more’n you do, Boy. Only when I wan’ look mysterious.”
He slapped himself on the forehead melodramatically. “All dis time it was a’ act!” he cried. She laughed at him and pushed him down into a chair. “Look at dis,” he sniffed, fiddling with the lace beneath his hands. “She even got doilies on de arms.”
“How many times you been in ma’ house?” she demanded.
“Somehow it take on a whole new aspect when you in y’civvies.”
“I can go change if it’ make you mo’ comf’able.”
“Nah, I’m fine. Jus’ a bit of a shock, you un’erstan’.” He settled back comfortably. “When you gon’ let me move you outta dis nasty ol’ place, Tante?”
“You keep askin’ me dat, Boy, an’ I keep tellin’ you I like< dis house. I live here over a hun’red year, now. It’s home.”
He shrugged. “Que sera, sera. I ‘spect you a’ready know why I’m here, ‘less all dat omniscience jus’ anot’er put on.”
“’Mil’s demon,” she stated baldly.
He nodded. “What’chu t’ink?” he asked.
“I t’ink you crazy t’wan go out lookin’ f’dis t’ing all by you’self, but den, I a’ready knowed you was crazy.”
“I ain’ goin’ all by ma’self, I’m takin’ ‘Mil.”
“Like I say.”
He clucked his tongue. “Show some faith in de boy, Tante—he might s’prise ya.”
“I doubt it,” she said with a rueful shake of her head. “I watch dat boy all ‘is life. His heart in de right place, no question, but he got all d’backbone of a jellyfish an’ de brains of a tube worm.”
Gambit winced. “Harsh. Lo’s a’ folks’d say de same t’ing ‘bout me.”
“An’ lo’s a’ folks’d be wrong. You mebbe ain’ got much more brains dan ‘Mil, but you lots braver, an’ when you take a notion t’do somet’in it’s dam d’torpedoes an’ full speed ahead. Make you ten times as bad as him.”
“Ouch. Dat’s all I can say. Ouch.”
“I say dis ‘cause I loves ya,” she said, smacking him upside the head with the dishtowel, which had a large wooden ring on it to hang by.
“I get it. Some a’ dat tough love,” he said, rubbing his sore pate. “So you don’ t’ink I oughta go after dis t’ing, hahn?”
“I don’ t’ink you got no choice,” she said, lighting an incense burner with a long taper. “’F you don’ go after it, it gon’ go after you.”
She sat down on the other side of the burner and wafted the smoke toward him. He gagged on it and she scowled at him. “Ain’ any worse dan d’ose damn cigarettes a’ yours,” she said.
“I quit smokin’, Tante,” he said.
“Yeh, I b’lieve dat when I sprout wings an’ She turned her attention back to the thick, pungent smoke. Within a few seconds it began to curl itself into ghostly images. As many times as he’d seen this it still startled him. He could never be entirely certain if it was an hallucination caused by some sort of drug in whatever it was she burned or if it was genuine magic. He was inclined to the latter idea. He certainly never felt drugged.
The room seemed to grow darker and smaller and suddenly, in spite of her commonplace attire, Tante Mattie became the enigmatic and slightly frightening figure of his childhood. She seemed almost to radiate power, and it made him feel that his own power, the biokinetic energy constantly surging through his body from some unknown location in his brain, was ridiculously insignificant by comparison.
He couldn’t make sense of the wispy images but whatever she saw in them must not have been good. She exhaled sharply through her teeth, making a snakelike hiss. “What’s d’matter?” he asked.
She didn’t say anything. Her body had grown as rigid as a plank and her deep brown eyes were blank and vacant. He realized she was in a trance. That was surprising: he’d never known her to go into a trance before. That sort of thing was reserved for the mediums and psychics who made their living fleecing tourists in the Vieux Carré. “Mattie?” he ventured timidly.
Her eyes turned white and his own grew wide. “An’ Le Diable Blanc shall cast de Red One down dead upon de ground, an’ de earth will drink his blood and be refreshed. An’ so it shall be dat d’heart given in d’service of de Old Kingdom shall be de poisonLe Diable Blanc to his doom an’ de ancient evil shall be purged, the ground disgorge the black blood he has spilt. When what has been taken has been restored, de Old Kingdom will rise again an’ dere will be Heaven on Earth,” she said. Her voice was deep and masculine. In fact, and in spite of the melodramatic phrasing, for a moment she sounded a lot like Jean-Luc LeBeau. Then her body went limp and the room brightened. The atmosphere cleared and Gambit let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.
“What d’hell was dat?” she said. Her voice was her own again, though somewhat shaky. That slight quaver was somehow more frightening to him than the deep, strident tones of a moment before.
“I take it dat don’ happen too of’en, hahn?” he said, striving for a calm he didn’t feel.
“Dat ain’ never happen befo’,” she admitted. “What did I say?”
“Jus’ somet’in about me, an’ somebody called ‘de Red One.’ I ‘spect dat’d be Emil, neh?”
She considered. “Mebbe. He certainly de red one in dis family. What about you two?”
He stood up and stretched nonchalantly. “Oh, not’in much. Jus’ somet’in ‘bout de Ol’ Kingdom an’ de guild prophecy. Don’ t’ink it have not’in t’do wit’ our li’l problem of t’night. ‘Bout dat, I still don’ know what t’do.”
She stared at him for a moment, consideringly. Then she nodded.
“Firs’ t’ing you not gon’ do is go wit’ no ot’er backup dan Laughin’ Boy,” she said, referring to Emil. “We all go wit’ chu, t’ieves an’ ‘sassins an’ all. Don’ know how much good it do, but you ain’ gon’ face dis t’ing all on you own.”
He shook his head. “I don’ like dat idea, Tante. Dis t’ing be as bad as you t’ink, I don’ wan’ it takin’ out de whole damn guild.”
“’F it kill you we might as well all jus’ go at once anyhow,” she said. “Wit’out chu dey ain’ no chance a’ de prophecy ever comin’ true, an’ we ain’ got any more use t’de worl’ dan dat.”
“Don’ be too sure a’dat, Tante,” he said quietly. “Could be gettin’ rid a’ me be jus’ what de doctor ordered.”
“Don’ be silly,” she said bruskly. “An’ forget anyt’ing I mighta said in dat trance. Trances is jus’ bullshit anyhow.”
He nodded. “’F you say so. You de expert on de supernatural, I’m jus’ de little foundlin’ demon chile. So you wan’ everybody dere, hahn? Includin’ Bel?”
“Ain’ dat kinda like puttin’ de President an’ de Vice President an’ de Speaker of de House an’ whoever de hell else on de same damn plane at once?”
“Like I said, boy; ‘f you die t’night, it all over anyhow. De world don’ need t’ieves an’ ‘sassins. It need saviors. If dat ain’ what we here t’be, den we don’ deserve t’be here a’tall.”
“Allow me t’state for de record dat you prob’ly de only one ‘sociated wit’ eit’er guild feels quite dat way ‘bout it.”
She smiled grimly. “I reckon so. Well, I never joined up wit’ dis chicken outfit ‘spectin t’make no saints outta sinners. An’ hopefully it won’ come down t’anybody bein’ martyred.”
“Only you would expect t’ieves t’stick aroun’ long enough t’risk bein’ martyred,” he grumbled. “An’ none of us now or ever would do it willin’ly.”
“You father did, God give his soul peace,” she observed, crossing herself. He stiffened.
“So he is dead?” he asked quietly.
“I don’ know. I don’ know how he couldn’t be, gone dis long wit’ no word or sign.” She stood up beside him and looked up into his face earnestly. “He was a good man, Remy. He loved you an’ believed in you more dan you could possibly know.”
“He was a good man,” he replied. “But I don’ know dat he was any martyr, Tante, an’ if he was, I’m not like him. I ain’ made a’ de same stuff.”
“Aw, horse apples. You jus’ like ‘im, or better. Leas’ you could be if you b’lieved you are. Everyt’ing in dis worl’ serve some greater purpose, Boy, an’ your father knew dat well as I do. Now, I don’ know where he went or what happen to him when he did, but I know why he went, an’ dat’s de important part. He lef’ so you would take ‘is place, which is where you belong. You got important work t’do, Remy, an’ t’night jus’ might be de firs’ step in gettin’ it done.”
He rolled his eyes. He couldn’t help it. “Is dis de part where you gon’ tell me ma’ Papa live in me, an’ den he gon’ come down out’ de clouds an’ tell me I done forgot who I is, an’ so forgot him?”
Mattie, having never seen The Lion King, didn’t get the joke. “He do live in you, Boy, but if you waitin’ f’de res’ a dat t’happen you could be waitin’ a long damn while, so I’ll gladly say it, if you’ll listen. You have forgot who you are, seem t’me. Once upon a time, you knew, but seem like you los’ sight a’ de trut’ in recent years. You are Remy LeBeau, las’ of a long, proud, an’ honorable line, an’ you are de bes’ t’ief in de worl’, one a’ de mos’ pow’ful mutants; a cunnin’, sly devil wit’ a heart as good an’ decent as it is charmin’. An’ you de one gon’ lead dis guild, dis worl’, out a dese dark days we livin’ in an’ restore de Old Kingdom.”
“So no pressure,” he said, with another roll of the eyes. She smacked him.
“Stop grumblin’. I admit’chu got a lot on yo’ plate, Boy, but if you weren’t up t’ doin’ it den God wouldn’t a’ given you de job.”
“I don’ b’lieve in God,” he said, before he could stop himself. She stopped short and stared at him from under lowered brows.
“Don’ make me say somet’in so damn corny even I t’ink it a bit much,” she said at last. “Don’ make me soun’ like no damn comic book. You oughta know better anyhow.”
She pushed him out the door and onto the porch. “Now get outta here; you got a council meetin’ t’call. An’ f’ God’s sake, eat somet’in! You gon’ need you strength!”
“A’right, Rafiki, you don’ need t’hit me over de head; I’m goin’!” He shoved his hands deep into the front pockets of his duster, hunched his shoulders and walked away, singing “The Circle of Life” at the top of his lungs, much to the amusement of a group of basketball-playing children in a nearby vacant lot. Mattie shook her head at his retreating form and muttered something under her breath. He couldn’t quite make it out over all the noise he was making, but it sounded a bit like, “Crazy. Absolutely crazy.”
On to Chapter Three!