Jimmy Toussaint was a man of opposites. I knew him as a fraud and as a Santeria Wizard, as a friend and as a betrayer. In the end, he might have claimed the same in relation to me.
We met outside the Hotel Ontario near the Zocalo in Mexico City and formed a cult of two. I was the acolyte, he the passer of wisdom. Jimmy told me he was an expert in Santeria, a mix of Catholic and Yoruba lore and ritual that he learned from his ancient Aunt. As a first lesson, he passed me sweetly scented “confidence juice” from a tiny medicine bottle. I drank the nectar and over the next week felt so strong with newfound charisma I talked girl after girl into coming with me back to the Hotel. Jimmy and I combed their hair and fed them orange slices. The young beauties chatted and giggled and some went further than that.
I bought Jimmy white rum in return and he laughed “thanks, it’s a magical drink,” and blinked at me with his deep black hole eyes. During the morning hangovers that followed he prayed to the Saints for luck.
“Keep trusting, Davy boy” he told me. I gave him two aspirin. “With your faith and my wisdom,” he said, “We’ll make a million bucks.”
I knew money was the way to overcome evil, when it was in the hands of the good people, like us.
We moved out of Mexico City and flew to San Antonio on my funding.
“There’s lots of needy people in America who need our assistance,” Jimmy said.
On the first night in San Antonio Jimmy pointed at the ceiling and announced “there’s your guardian angel.”
“I can’t see anything,” I told him.
“It’s always behind you,” he said. “That’s why.”
“Same as yours?” I asked.
“I don’t have one” he said. “You are the fortunate fellow here.”
“What does it look like?” I asked.
“It takes many forms,” he said. “I see it as a white eagle.”
“That’s a bird of prey,” I noted.
“Which is what you need to watch over you, my young friend.” He rubbed some more Master Oil in his temples, and lifted up his arms. I glimpsed a large scar on his left shoulder. “It’s a cleaning accident from my time in the Navy,” he told me. “I was splashed with corrosive material.”
He didn’t talk about it again. Whatever it was, I considered it a mark of experience. “Most of my stories” he said, “Are behind my eyes.” He grinned, leaving me staring into them and wondering.
After we arrived in Texas, Jimmy began to drink more and more. I did not imbibe alcohol, or take the weed, for I felt strong and confident with a white eagle watching my back.
One night, I awakened from my floor mat to witness Jimmy’s hand dangling over the edge of the bed. It was electric bright in the room; Jimmy insisted the light must always be on. I blinked as I heard a disembodied voice call “This, this is the devil.” It came from far above, inside the light, yet it reverberated all along the ceiling. It sounded deep and true. Was that a heavenly warning? Was it a message about Jimmy?
Part of me accepted that Jimmy could be a con artist. It seemed the logical thing. Yet there appeared more to this world than logic. The voice kept echoing “devil… devil.” A voice that clear and certain came from beyond the boundaries of reason. Its resonance told me there was more to this world than reason and science.
On New Year’s Eve we visited Jackson and Sam, the two young men in the apartment above us. They invited us for New Year’s drinks. Jimmy sat in their plush shag carpeted room, smiling. Jackson and Sam joked with each other. They play wrestled, laughing while rolling together from the couch to the floor. Jimmy leaned forward. “I don’t like that music.” he said. He scratched the turntable needle across their record.
Maybe he was drunk with an unsteady hand. Maybe he didn’t care for jazz. From his deliberate action he revealed what was behind all his talk of darkness and light, of the good and the bad, of powers behind the false fronts we present. He scratched their record for no apparent reason but an immediate impulse, then stumbled out of the room and down the stairs.
I apologized to the boys.
“Jimmy’s drunk,” I said.
“Yeah, Davy, we know,” said Jackson. “Keep him outta here. He’s freaking scary.”
“How is he scary?” I asked.
“His eyes look through you,” said Sam. “He’s got the hundred yard stare.”
“Well, he’s had a certain type of war experience,” I said. “He told me he was the janitor on a navy boat.”
“He was a janitor?” said Jackson. “He doesn’t look like a janitor.”
“He looks like some crazy kinda motherf……,” added Sam.
I walked slowly downstairs, sidled into the apartment. Jimmy sat on the floor, holding his rum bottle. “I gotta go out, see a movie,” I told him.
I needed a big screen relaxation fantasy escape.
“I don’t like Jackson and Sam” said Jimmy, pouring himself another rum and coke. “They’re sick.”
“They figure it’s because something happened when you were in the Navy,” I replied.
“I told you, I cleaned things up,” he said. “Messes other people made. Look, they’re trying to drive us apart.” He smiled with his wide red mouth. “They have bad intentions.”
He leaned forward and tapped his right temple. “These people don’t like God’s power. We know the reality behind all their false fronts.”
“You think Jackson has a false front?”
“What sort of false front is that?” I asked.
“He says he’s a man, but he’s really not a man.”
I looked at Jimmy, his big brown hands round the rum bottle, his flawless white teeth bared as he uttered another “they’re sick.”
“Well,” I poured myself a water, “I think the movie tonight is a Sherlock Holmes.” I stood up.
“We have our work cut out for us as wizards,” Jimmy said. “To set this world straight.”
“You’re drunk,” I said. “You should be careful.”
“Go do your movie, Davy” he told me. “Go do what you want. I’m doing what I want.”
“What is it you want?” I asked.
“To be left alone.” he said.
He turned away, his wide shoulders facing the wall. He tipped the bottle to his lips.
As I rushed out into the night I thought of our two months together as Santeria Teacher and student. He lifted me up from purposeless wanderer to the wielder of powerful spells. I paid for his room and food and drink. We chanted together every morning, and put on rubs and potions, under the arms, above the elbows, behind the legs. Using this white magic and my money we met women and partied and studied Santeria truth. With black magic, with candles, chants, and the offerings of blood drops to the Saints, we took control of the darkness behind the light. A Santeria Wizard gains psychic mastery over people and events by using spells and potions. A wizard does not scratch the turntables over neighbours’ record players.
On the chest of drawers in our San Antonio apartment stood foot high ceramic statues of St. Lazarus, St. Augustine. St. Jude. We prayed to them for success. We handed out over a thousand pamphlets promoting our psychic power business. “We will heal you, no matter what your race, creed, or colour.” We ran the healing out of our room, and had ten customers in the first four days. No one complained that Jimmy’s ministrations failed. We made enough money to cover our rent.
The movie was good, a Sherlock Holmes. It immersed me in its filmy lands outside of my own mind.
When I walked back to the apartment, Jimmy was gone.
“The cops took him away,” said Jackson. “He was banging on doors and making one hell of a racket. He broke the neighbour’s window. A fifteen year old girl and her mother live there!” Jackson shook his head. “He said he deserved more,” Jackson said. “For what he’d been through.”
I went into the room where we kept the statues of the Saints. We had no heat in the place and the air was freezing. I quickly unwrapped the prayer capsule Jimmy had placed in St. Jude’s ceramic hands, the statue he implored three times per day, “deliver us two thousand dollars.” I held the paper to the light. It read “Please St. Jude give us business success and we will repay you a hundred fold.”
I remember Jimmy’s fingers trembling as he wrote that.
“I will pay you back all the money I owe you,” he told me, “when St. Jude brings his gift.” Then he added “by the will of the heavens.”
I looked at the writing on the paper a long time. Then I asked “Please St. Jude, tell me, who is the devil?” I looked up, trying to hear a message from the ceiling, or from anywhere.
After a while, I kept shivering too much to be effective. I sat there with my head in my hands.
The police took Jimmy to Bexar County jail. I went down to see him.
“A visitor for James Toussaint,” said the guard.
After hearing that, I knew at least my mentor’s name was real.
He strode in smiling, packing a big black Bible.
“I’ll be out in three days,” he told me.
“What happened?” I asked.
Jimmy told a different story than Jackson.
“I wanted to find out if the neighbours had some coca cola for my rum. They misunderstood my intentions, and called the cops. I’m a black man on the wrong side of town.”
“Jackson’s a black man too,” I said.
Jimmy shook his head. “That’s different,” he said. “He’s a different kind of black man.”
Jimmy showed me where he underlined verses all over his Bible. “I study my scripture, and I study it well. With my praying and hoping, the Lord will keep me safe.” He handed me a Santeria prayer. “Say these words three times a day. I’ll be out by Friday. We’ll meet along the river trail at 4 p. m.”
I forgot to say the prayer more than twice. I spent the time moving out of the apartment and into a long stay motel. At least the motel had heat. Three days later, I shoved all my possessions into my backpack, walked to the river park and met Jimmy walking free along the trail.
“I put all your saint statues in a garbage bag. They’re at my new place.” I said. I pulled out the key to the motel. “I knew you were sincere. I read your prayer note.”
Jimmy nodded. “You’ll learn,” he said, as he took the key. “You’re a child, but you will learn.”
He was right about the education aspect. I knew I’d never obtain the $1500 of hard-earned cash I’d spent for all the rooms and the Santeria supplies and the flight from Mexico.
“The confidence oil, the potions and the spells,” I asked. “Were they for real?”
“Did you doubt them?” he asked.
“Not until recently,” I said. “They smelled really nice.”
Jimmy laughed. “That’s very important,” he said. “Women like that.”
“One thing I wonder,” I asked him. “Is about that scar under your arm.”
“It’s not a scar,” he said. “It’s a birthmark. The mark of Cain.”
“What happened to your scary friend?” said Jackson, after I returned to say goodbye.
“I think he kinda went over the edge at your place.” I told him. “Sorry about your record.”
“He seemed kinda psycho.” Jackson rubbed his elbow. “He was also a drunk.”
“No,” I said. “He was my teacher from the other side.”
“What did he teach you?” Jackson asked.
“He could have robbed or threatened me at any time,” I said. “We both slept in the same room. But he liked me. He liked helping me learn.”
“I don’t think he liked anyone, Davy” said Jackson. “You were lucky, man, that he didn’t shank you and steal your cash.”
“Maybe” I said. “Maybe I have a guardian angel.” I gestured upwards. “Jimmy saw that angel, actually.”
Jackson laughed. “Did it wear a bulletproof vest?”
“No,” I told him. “It was a white eagle.”
That night I took the bus back to Mexico. Customs allowed me across that border without any difficulties at all. I never saw or heard from Jimmy again. Anything could have happened, given random chance and Santeria. Jimmy told me himself that he possessed no guardian angel. I was the lucky one.
Harrison Kim has had short stories published or upcoming in The Spadina Literary Review, Literally Stories, The Blue Nib, Blue Lake Review, The Horror Zine, Bewildering Stories, Storgy, Hobart and others.
Here’s his blogspot link: https://harrisonkim1.blogspot.com
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