I swerved uptown instead of continuing all the way home and walked a couple blocks north up Broadway. At the corner of Sixteenth and Broadway, where Broadway was just a side street squeezed next to Union Square Park, there was a dingy bank building with scaffolding around it. Checking my watch to make sure it was at least past noon, I pushed inside.
The building had been a bar for as long as I could remember. I had first ventured in when it was titled the Bank Cafe in a nod to its obvious financial origin. Now it boasted a much hipper name and even more nouveau cuisine. Young, hip tech and media types jockeyed for bar space under the enormous plant that was placed at the curved end of the drinking platform, half of them the pasty color of true techies and half of them the overblown bulge of strenuous gym workouts.
I ignored all of them and shouldered my way to a seat at the back of the bar, just before the server’s area partition. I flipped my trenchcoat collar up and hunched my not-inconsiderable shoulders, which didn’t prevent me getting several not-quite-nasty who the hell is that guy? looks from the clientele. Rose was there within thirty seconds, though, and from the even dirtier looks I got I figured that she was still enforcing the “one minute wait per poser point” rule she’d once explained to me while closing up the bar one night.
“Hi, Michel.” The greeting came with a dram of Lagavulin, neat, placed on the bar alongside a tumbler of ice water.
“Thanks, Rose.” I dropped a credit card onto the bar top. “Run it.” She nodded genially and headed back to run the card. I picked up the wee dram and looked at it consideringly before swigging it hard.
I paid for it. Lagavulin does not take well to cavalier fucking around.
Once the burn in my esophagus and stomach had settled to a mild teary-eyed tingle of pain, I put the glass back down and pulled out the Patek Phillippe, laying it on the bar, open. I trusted whatever powers it had somehow acquired to prevent any nosy passers-by from peering into its now-depthless surface. Placed as it was facing the floor, I could see a portion of greenish-gray hide and a few tentacles. Moving my head closer to the watch somehow moved the point of view upwards towards me; with my eyes almost touching the surface I could see Cthulhu’s full upper body in repose. I lifted my head back and swigged again, thinking hard.
Another figure slid into the seat next to me. I ignored it until a hand reached across and slid the pocket watch across the bar’s surface to the next seat. I turned, pissed, and saw a familiar face looking at the watch, eyes close to the surface.
“Well, well, well. Graduated to the big leagues, haven’t we, monkey.”
“Malsumis, what the fuck are you doing here?”
The other slid the watch back to me and waved at Rose, who produced a glass of something clear without further elaboration. Malsumis raised the glass to me in salute before downing its contents entire and placing the glass back on the stone surface with a sharp click. “Drinking.”
I did just that, in smaller amounts. “Last time I saw you, I think I threw you off a building.”
“You did. I’m not very happy about that.”
“Still, you look well.”
“Why thank you, Michel. It’s my new tailor.” Malsumis straightened what I could now see was a steel-grey full Windsor-ed tie over a dark slate-colored shirt with a deep sheen. Waving at Rose again, he turned in his seat to face me. I tensed, but he just cocked his head and looked me up and down. “I have to say, we’re all a bit confused.”
“Who the hell is ‘we’?”
“Oh, the boys in the poker game. It’s not often a human takes such a jump.”
“Mal, please start making sense, or pick up my bar tab.” I waved at Rose too, and she nodded.
Malsumis indicated the pocket watch without touching it. “Knowing you as I do, Michel, I’m going to take a small bet with myself. I’m going to bet you really have no idea what’s just been done to you.”
It hurt, but it was safest. “Okay. I’ll have to admit that.”
Malsumis’ face brightened. “See? You can converse. I knew you had it in you.”
“Get to the point, Mal.”
“Michel, you’ve been marked. Your Contract is in that watch. You’re under agreement with the talisman’s backer – in this case, Old Yellow Orbs – to perform a service. In return, the backer has lent you power, here embodied in that watch, to assist you in your task. So I have to ask: What did you tell the old squid you were willing to do?”
I thought about that while Rose arrived with more drinks. Mal, to my surprise, handed her a credit card of his own and murmured instructions to her which caused her to tear up the tab slip in the cordial glass before me on the bar. “Mal, are we cool at the moment?”
The other looked surprised. “Of course. We’re sitting here drinking. You’re being remarkably sociable, compared to your usual. Maybe I should arrange to have you permanently confused?”
I grimaced sourly at Malsumis, who smirked. “Thanks. I meant, how do we stand over the Empire State?”
Mal waved a hand. “Done is done. You have the spearhead, and you’ve charged it, I can tell. It’s useless to me now. I could be irritated about that, but life’s too damn long to bother. I’m not happy about the shooting me part, but again, I have to admit that it was certainly a novel experience, and you were right – I managed to fully regen before I hit the ground, so no permanent harm done.” Teeth glinted momentarily. “Before you consider trying that again, I should give you fair warning that it won’t work, now.”
“Noted.” I sipped my second whisky. “I have no plans to try unless you make it necessary.” Mal raised his glass again, silently, and we both drank for a time.
“So, Mal. May I ask you about this here jump you said I’ve made? Will you tell me anything?”
“Sure, kid.” Malsumis’ speech patterns tended to jump around. He’d seen all of American culture go by around him and had latched onto several archetypes which fought for space in his manifestation. I could never be sure if he was consciously imitating or just not paying attention. “Ask away.”
“I’ve thought about this pretty hard, and I don’t recall either agreeing to perform any service for…well, you know. I also don’t recall him charging me to do anything.”
“That’s amusing. What did he say?”
“Well,” I thought about it for a moment, “he acknowledged my presence, and accepted the message I’d been charged to give him, and said that even though he knew what I was going to say, I had to say it to fulfill my charge. I said it, and he stated my charge was complete.”
“Was that all? You’re sure? When did he frankenstein your timepiece?”
“He said…” I ran down. Malsumis took another drink, uncharacteristically patient. “Oh, shit.”
“Was that the sound of realization?”
“Mal, he said ‘for your grandmother’s sake.’ Right before he hit the watch.”
Malsumis actually choked on his drink. I stared at him, but he recovered quickly and placed the glass back down. By the time it hit the bar, he was in perfect control. “For your grandmother’s sake?”
“Yeah. What did he mean?”
“You tell me, Michel. You’re supposed to be good at this talking-to-the-powers routine.”
I scowled at him. “The shrink act, Mal. It’s not you.”
The other shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. What do you think he meant?”
“Either he owed my grandmother something…”
“Yeah, I think so too. Or somehow…”
“You’re almost there, Michel. I can tell from the smoke.”
“Suck my monkey dick, Malsumis. Somehow…he hit the watch because of something my grandmother did. Or didn’t do.”
“Oh, hell.” I looked at Mal in horror. “Mal, what happens to those talismans you mentioned in the case of the contract holder’s death?”
The Abenaki god grinned at me with extremely sharp canines and eyes burning in his dark-skinned face. His straight black hair fell across his forehead as he answered. “The contract passes down, Michel. Inherited. The obligation traverses the generation, and thus also does any tool or talisman originally granted the contract holder.”
“You’re telling me Nana had a contract with fucking Cthulhu?”
Malsumis finished his drink and waggled his thumb and forefinger at Rose for the check. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, boy. And now, of course, that contract has passed to you.”
“But I have no idea what it is!”
“Well,” said the Amerindian Elder, signing some form of his name to the credit card slip without looking at me, “Maybe you’d better swallow some of that annoying French pride and go ask, hadn’t you?”