13a: One Last Sale

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): November 15-17, 2002

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Yukio Ohta (Bob)

What It Was

George and Yukio get a lesson in paranormal economics when they discover just how tenacious the spirit of capitalism can be. But thanks to a chance meeting with Jamal, they also learn that the true spirit of the Renaissance has always been Art.

The Full Horror

Down at O'Malley's, George tells Yukio about meeting the Sleeper. George thinks Winfield Hall must have put them on the Sleepers' list. Yukio did not know about the Sleepers, so he can't say if they are the ones responsible for TNI's losses in Asia and Australia. But it does sound as if the Inquisition doesn't have much time left. George isn't so sure about that: "Abel ain't dead yet."

Then to their surprise, Jamal joins them. Jamal admits he feels strange-it's been months since he last left Harlem. Yukio takes the opportunity to ask Jamal if he has any objection to Yukio laying to rest all the ghosts that still haunt the Renaissance. Jamal says that would be fine with him, but Yukio really should talk to the "Spirit of the Renaissance" to be polite and get his help. George and Yukio are amazed-they never knew the Renaissance even had a Spirit.

Yukio had not heard the history of the Renaissance, so Jamal tells its story again. He concludes with the arrival of the Dominican bokors in the late 1950s. How they took control of Brooklyn, and clashed with Harlem's defenders from the Nation of Islam. How that war led to the fateful confrontation of 1976 in the grand ballroom of the Renaissance, when the Nation fell. And how that brought years of suffering to New York, until Alex Abel and the last of the old Black Power leaders united to bring the City back from the brink. Yukio decides he should learn more about the burial practices of bokor sorcerers.

George and Yukio leave for the Renaissance to meet the Spirit, whom Jamal says will be expecting them. When they reach the lobby, they can already hear the sound of a piano ("Mood Indigo", of course). As they step into the ballroom, they see it transformed. Ghostly tables and chairs fill the room, disarrayed just like they must have been after a fine evening back in the glory days. On the bandstand, sitting behind a beautiful grand piano, is a handsome black man. His bowtie is undone, his shirt collar open, playing in that relaxed, after-hours way.

And that is how George and Yukio meet Art. George asks Art if Jonathan knows about him. Art smiles, and says not like this, but "Jonathan and I have talked, in our way."

Yukio asks Art about the fallen bokors. Art nods. They are a rough bunch, but the Aces have made things much better in the past year, especially when they brought down the mold monster. Their work since then has been just as important, bringing the Renaissance back to what it was meant to be. But there are still many spirits needing help, including all those homeless people killed by the mold.

Hearing this, Yukio goes in search of one and finds the spirit of a Vietnam vet. Yukio summons a doorway to the Threshold, and each person sees something different through it: Yukio sees a pastoral scene. George sees a subway turnstile. But the homeless spirit sees a Huey helicopter with a red cross-the way home. He passes on, and the Renaissance takes one more step toward peace and balance. Art says it's time for him to take a break, and he fades away, wishing the two men well until their next meeting.

A Neighborly Request

The next day the Renaissance gets a visit from James and Shauntell Robertson, the brother and sister who run the homeless shelter at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. The guards treat Shauntell like a queen, and she teases the hell out of them for it. But she and her brother are there to ask George and Yukio for help: there's a storefront in the neighborhood that just won't stay open.

The Robertsons have known about the place for years. It used to be owned by old Ezekiel Washington, who ran a smoke shop there, but he died before they were born. The place has been a problem ever since, but lately it's been worse. The economy has been slipping ever since 9/11, and that's brought a new wave of homeless people to the neighborhood. Naturally, they don't know the rules yet, and a couple of them have tried spending the night in old Zeke's place. Each time, they've ended up at the soup kitchen the next morning, terrified and crying.

Zeke was a cranky old bastard every day of his life, but his shop stayed open at that corner for decades, until the old man finally dropped dead right while he was serving a customer. Over the years, people have tried to rent that space, hoping to put a shoe store or clothing shop there. But Zeke's ghost keeps at them until they give up, and then the place decays right back to what it looked like just after Zeke died. It looks that way even today.

Zeke's ghost isn't really dangerous, but he's mean, and he scares people, and the Robertsons just wish someone would take care of the problem. Zeke needs to go to his rest, so the neighborhood can get that corner back. The Aces have been doing so many good things for the neighborhood, James and Shauntell thought they were just the people to ask.

George and Yukio are happy to help. The Robertsons take them back to the soup kitchen, where they meet Joshua, the unfortunate homeless man who ran afoul of Zeke the night before. Joshua is pretty far gone, mumbling that he's "just tryin' to get back to the promised land", but can't seem to find it no matter what he does. He can't even remember his last name anymore, but it will be a long time before he forgets his night in Zeke's.

Joshua remembers waking up late at night to find the abandoned store looking clean and open for business. All the shelves were jam packed with cigarettes and other things, all arranged real nice. But then Joshua realized the entire place was all ghostly and glowing with a sick, pale green. He sat there on the floor, trembling, until he locked eyes with an old man who was standing behind the counter, glaring at him. He was the meanest-looking man Joshua had ever seen, and Joshua almost felt his heart give out when the man started yelling at him to go on and buy something. When Joshua cried what the fuck was happening, the old man roared, "I'm waiting for the sale, you dumb shit, waiting for the sale."

Laying Zeke, New York Style

The Robertsons say they think Zeke must be talking about his very last sale. The story goes, he had just handed a pack of cigarettes to Burt Tyler Chapman, the skid-row scion of a wealthy New England family, who used to shop at Zeke's store every day. Burt always bought Tyler smokes (they were no relation, but Burt liked to pretend they were), and Zeke's was the only place that carried them.

There's only one smoke shop in the neighborhood now, the one run by Trey Hughes, so Burt is probably going there instead. The Robertson's aren't sure where Burt lives exactly, but Trey might have an idea. And if they can find Burt, maybe he will know something that will help.

George and Yukio suspect Zeke is still around because Burt never actually paid him for that last pack of cigarettes. But of course, that doesn't make things easy: when they try talking with Trey Hughes, he says he always hated Ezekiel Washington; he doesn't believe in ghosts; and even if he did, he's damned if he would do anything to help "that old motherfucker", even after he's dead.

George tells Trey that's no way to treat a couple of customers, and before Yukio can see it coming, the two men are locked in a very loud, and very New York, shouting match. Then Trey makes the mistake of insulting Yukio. Enraged, Yukio slams Trey with a necromantic "Taste of Death", roaring, "I chastise you with the hand of your parents!"

Trey falls right to the floor. By the time he's able to stand up again, he's become damn cooperative and promises the two men that Burt will be there the next day at 4pm. George and Yukio depart, giving Trey one more glare that leaves the man shuddering.

Sure enough, Burt shows up the next day. He's willing to help, even with a ghost (Burt looks like the kind of guy who sees all kinds of things), but then says George and Yukio are going to have to offer him something in return.

Unfortunately for Burt, by that point George and Yukio are in no mood for any more bullshit. They manhandle Burt into Lucy, and George drives the cab straight back to Zeke's old place. They haul Burt out, drag him into the storefront, and get the job done. Zeke's spirit dissipates, Burt stumbles off, and George and Yukio exchange glances: "O'Malley's?" "O'Malley's!"

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