"I grew up in Haiti, one of the fortunate few," he said. "I was well educated. I never wanted for food. It marked me as a child of great privilege. The poverty in Port-au-Prince is unlike even the worst desperation in the States, and the countryside makes the city look like the promised land. I knew nothing of riders or voudoun. It was superstition. Something for the servants and the beggars on the streets. My family was Catholic, and I grew up within the church and the protective light of Christ Jesus.
"That didn't go so well as I might have hoped.
"I was twenty-four when Carrefour took me. I had been accepted to law school in the States. My family was very proud. There was a girl I had been seeing, beneath my station, but very beautiful. I went one night to say my good-byes to her, and she took the news of my good fortune poorly. We fought, and... she bit me. Hard enough to draw blood.
"I hid the injury, and thought nothing of it. Three days later, she came to my family's house, weeping and demanding that I return something to her, but she could not say what precisely I was supposed to have taken. I know now, but at the time I thought she'd gone mad. We sent her away, and I went on with my preparations.
"I left Haiti on my sister's eighteenth birthday, and I have never gone back.
"At first, all seemed well. I was taking classes, making new friends. Being in the States was more than living in another country. It was a different world. I thought that the dreams were only that. They came every few weeks, and they were not precisely the same, but there were some elements in common. A sense of having been betrayed, and of both rage and the power to act upon it. Asleep, I was the righteous vengeance of God against those who had wronged me. Once, early, I woke to find my bedsheets slit. I thought at the time they had been ripped in the laundry and I'd made it worse in my sleep.
"I began dating a classmate. Cassandra, her name was. She was beautiful and intelligent. She'd been born poor in New York and fought her way through the public schools. She worked twice as hard as any of us. I think I began with her just to see if it was possible to distract her. I had been with women before, but Cassandra was a level above them all. I fell in love with her as I had never done, and so she was the first that Carrefour killed."
He seemed to sag against the iron railing. His gaze was lost in the air before him. We didn't say anything.
"I didn't know that the devil had come inside of me, you see. Not then. Not for years. To begin, it was only that the dreams got worse, and after I'd had one, the whole next day I would be in a foul mood. And then, I started becoming suspicious. Cassandra would study at the library very late, just as she always had, but I became convinced that she was meeting someone. Another man. There was no evidence, of course. It was the rider whispering in the back of my mind, but I believed the thoughts were my own. It persuaded me.
"I had a key to her apartment. I believed that I only intended to frighten her, to show her that betraying me was foolish. I can say that what I did seemed right at the time. It seemed innocent. I went to her apartment one night, parked several streets away so that she would not see my car. I waited with the lights off. And when she came in...
"I believed that I was doing it, you see. They were my hands. My arms. It was my voice. Even if it felt as though I were only watching it happen, how could that have been true? And as it was going on, I felt a terrible sense of peace. Because this is what Carrefour does, you see? It feeds you its rage and its pain, it ties you into a knot. Then when it takes control of you, there is the reward. Peace. Pleasure. Transcendence, almost.
"When Cassandra was gone, I sat with her body for hours. I was horrified. I was stunned with grief. And I was confused, because I had enjoyed what I had done to her. What Carrefour did to me was like training a dog. Punishment and reward. Classical conditioning. And it worked.
"I withdrew from the law program. I was afraid to be around people who had known Cassandra. I moved. Not out of the city but across town. I found work at a small accountancy doing simple data entry. And the beast within me grew stronger. The woman who came in twice a week to help with filing befriended me, and four months later, I killed her too.
"Of course I hated myself, but the pleasure-the release-of my crime was the only peace Carrefour allowed me. It began speaking to me then, a voice within my head. And sometimes it changed me. My fingernails became knives. My skin grew pale. I wasn't a fool. I was hearing voices. Hallucinating. Clearly, I had suffered a schizophrenic break, but with what I had done, who could I ask for help? Three times, I tried to kill myself, but the rider would not let me. I slaughtered two more women.
"I was quite mad by then. I believed that I had been possessed by a demon, but I also believed that I was making that up. I thought I was innocent, and that I was a monster best shot on sight. My victims deserved it and they did not. I began stalking women who had made no overtures of friendship toward me. And beneath it all, there was the sense of betrayal and the rage and the hunger for vengeance that was the rider's. I learned the name Legba and of loa and the power of the crossroads between our world and theirs.
"Each time I committed my crimes, the sense of peace and relief that came with it would deepen. I don't know if it was Carrefour learning how better to control me, or only that I had been broken of my grief and guilt. Broken of it or accustomed to it. For a day, two days, three I would be myself again. The world would have some tiny ray of hope. I could eat. I could sleep. I told myself that it was over, that I could stop. But inevitably, Carrefour would shift in the back of my mind, and I knew it was happening again.
"And then an angel of God's grace by the name Karen Black saved me."
Mfume paused, considering his cigarette. Aubrey squatted down, his back against the rough stucco of the wall. In the dark, it was hard to make out details, but I thought he was sweating. Marinette hadn't ridden him for more than a few hours, and he was listening to a lifetime under the rider's whip. I couldn't have imagined a worse nightmare for him.
Mfume plucked a fresh cigarette from his pack, lit it from the butt of the last one, and flicked the still-burning ember down into the street. It glowed like a falling star, then went out.
"By this time, Carrefour was manifesting within my flesh whenever it saw fit. Angry, I would grow bigger. Wider. I split my pants and shredded my shirts. My hands would sprout knives. And it walked in the crossroads. I could stop the world. Go where I wanted. Take what I pleased. When I found that we could do that, Carrefour and I, I thought that we would never be stopped. But it was reluctant to use that power."
"Why?" I asked.
"I think it was afraid of being found by others like itself," Mfume said. "The crossroads is the natural habitat of riders, and Carrefour was always very aware of being in exile, away from its home. Unsafe. And it was that hesitance that saved me.
"I don't know precisely how they found me out, but I can't imagine it was that difficult. I was past concerning myself with hiding evidence or trying to behave unsuspiciously. One morning, I rose, showered, dressed, and stepped out of my door into a trap. Half a dozen people surrounded me, guns drawn, screaming that I should lay down on the ground. I could feel Carrefour's surprise, its anger. It was preparing to step into the crossroads, and to all of those good people it would have seemed that I had simply vanished. But Karen acted on instinct. She dove for me, wrestled me to the ground. And in the struggle, I bit her. I tasted her blood, and Carrefour took its opportunity. Between one breath and the next, it was gone."
"When Karen talked about the rider," Chogyi Jake said. "She said that even once it had moved to a new host, its former victim was loyal to it. That you loved it."
"Of course I did," Mfume said. "It had been the only thing that could bring me peace. For years, it had insulated me from the worst of my pain, my guilt, my horror. And then I was left not just alone, but empty. Hollow. Carrefour was a dark and terrible God, but it was mine. And God had abandoned me.
"At the trial, I saw it. She testified, and I saw it in her eyes, looking out at me as it once had from the mirror over my sink. I cried out. I begged," Mfume said, then chuckled. "The judge told me that if I wanted to get an insanity plea, I would need to become a much better actor. She had, I think, very little sympathy for my situation."
"And so jail," I said.
"Just so," he said. "I was sent to the state penitentiary. I was monitored throughout the day and night. I could not eat except when I was told. I could not walk for exercise except when I was told. I had no clothes of my own. No books of my own. My family would not speak to me. They were ashamed and frightened. Of course they were. What else could they have felt? Alone, abandoned, imprisoned, crushed by grief and guilt and horror, I also came to understand that I felt more free than I had in years. Even in the nights when I woke weeping and calling for Carrefour to return to me, I was slowly, painfully, becoming myself again.
"I had once aspired to become a lawyer, and so I knew how to study. I read widely on spirits and possession. Most of what I found was useless, but now and then, there would be something that spoke to my experience. You can't imagine how strange it felt to find references to Legba and the loa and to confirm all the things I had imagined at the time to be my own private ravings. I came to understand what I had been, and what had been done to me. I came to see that what had happened to those women had not been my doing. That I was not a monster."
"But Karen," Aubrey said. "She had it now."
"Yes," Mfume said. "The penal system has very few avenues for the prisoners to keep tabs on the police, but I did what I could. I heard about it when Karen left the FBI, and I sent her letters. I begged her to see me. When she did not, I wrote to her partner, Michael Davis. I thought it was a hopeless attempt, but he came. He spoke to me.
"He had seen the changes in her. The anger, the sense of having been betrayed. When he had first met her, she had been the consummate professional, her personal life kept at home. Since apprehending me, those boundaries had begun to break down. She had become sexually aggressive in ways that alienated her from her colleagues. He saw her manipulating the people around her to no clear end. Every time he reached out to her, he had been refused or redirected. When I told him what had happened, he didn't want to believe me. But two months later, he returned. I don't know what had happened, but he knew that Karen was no longer herself."
"And then she killed him," I said. "I'm pretty sure she burned her parents to death too."
"Yes, I heard of that," Mfume said. "There was very little I could do. I was a convict. A serial killer in jail without hope of parole. I was on record saying that I had been possessed by a demon. I was like the Groucho Marx joke. I wouldn't trust anyone idiotic enough to find me credible. And so... I escaped."
"Okay, you could expand on that a little," I said. "You just said, Wait, this sucks, and walked out?"
"At my prison, there was a meditation group. An outreach to help people within the system become well. I joined it at first because I wanted to find some purely psychological peace. But as I coordinated my reading on the loa, my practice with the group, and my experiences being ridden by Carrefour, I found a way to walk in the crossroads."
"You taught yourself magic?" Aubrey said.
"There is a certain amount of spare time in prison," Mfume said. "And I was better prepared than most. I used what I learned. And one day, yes. I walked out. Since then I have been hunting Carrefour, but it has Karen now, and she is a very clever, very resourceful woman. When I learned that the hurricane had injured Carrefour's enemies, I felt certain that the rider couldn't resist. I came here, made contact with Legba, and offered my services in exchange for its aid."
He spread his hands to show the world before us, the dark streets glittering with lights, the black sky glowing.
"Okay," I said. "But how come I was able to get involved when it tried to kill Sabine?"
"You have also lived in the crossroads," he said. "Learned how to step between the moments."
"Yeah, only no. I really haven't," I said. "Seriously, I didn't know about any of this a year ago."
"Her uncle put some protections on her," Aubrey said.
Mfume looked from one of us to the other and shook his head.
"I know of no protections that would do what you describe, but my knowledge is... opportunistic. I am no master of this art."
"What does Carrefour want?" Chogyi Jake said.
"I didn't know its agenda until I came here," Mfume said. "Not precisely. I knew it hated Legba above all other loa, but not why. I knew it sought to return to its place. Having spoken to Amelie and her granddaughters, I believe I understand now, but you must take everything I say on this for what it is: my best guess."
"Consider the caveat emptored," I said. "What've you got?"
"Legba is also a master of the crossroads. It controls the path by which loa pass into human bodies, and it is the gatekeeper between the loa and all other riders. It has terrible power, but it is also weak in some ways. It is more involved with humanity than other loa. It is connected to the world in a way the others-even Carrefour-are not. Each person Legba enters into, it never leaves. It dies with them."
"That's a shitty design," I said.
"No, it's not," Aubrey said. His voice was stronger than I'd expected. Less shaken. "It's normal. Pretty much any terminal or chronic disease works the same way. When a tuberculosis patient dies, all the bacteria in their lungs go with them. The point is to get daughter organisms out before that happens. To spread."
"And so," Chogyi Jake said, "Sabine."
"Sabine," Mfume agreed.
"But Legba's still in Amelie," I said. "Sabine's not being ridden yet, right?"
"No, not right," Mfume said. "Legba is also in Sabine. A Legba. Growing to maturity. Finding its strength and hers."
"And she knows?" Aubrey asked. "She's okay with it?"
"She has always known," Mfume said. "It is what her family has always been. Only now Carrefour intends to pull it out, to sever the connection between the rider and the bloodline that has protected it."
"Why not just kill Sabine?" I asked. "I mean, since we're being bloodthirsty and all."
"Once the rider is vulnerable, it can be eaten. Its power can be taken on by Carrefour. Once it alone controls the crossroads, it believes it can take Legba's place, and force the loa to renounce its exile."
"Can it?" I asked. "Will they take it back?"
Mfume laughed. In the distance, as if in answer, a car alarm chirped.
"The political life of the loa is beyond me," he said. "It's possible that Carrefour is tilting at windmills. Or things might all go just as it intends. Unless someone stops it."
"Meaning us," I said.
Mfume stabbed out the last of his cigarette on the rail, tiny sparks raining down to the street below us.
"We are in the right place at the right time," he said. "And so yes. Us."
"Well," I said. "At least we're on the same side."
"Are we?" Chogyi Jake asked. "It seems we all have similar goals, but our agendas aren't all the same. Legba wants to protect itself and its offspring. We want to find Ex and get him out of harm's way. Those aren't really the same thing. And if I understand Joseph, neither one are what brings him here."
"Your friend's right," Mfume said. "We are on the same path for the moment, but this is a marriage of convenience for all sides."
"So what's your agenda?" Aubrey asked. He managed not to make it sound like an accusation.
"Isn't it obvious? I've come to redeem my redeemer," Mfume said. "I intend to save Karen Black."