CATverse A/N: Don't know what the CATverse is? Check out freewebs dot com slash catverse to find out. This story occurs in arc two.
A/N: Since this (expletive deleted) website keep changing its software and thus, deleting all kinds of things in my old fics (like scene breaks and so forth, making for very difficult reading of ye olde ficcage), I've decided to take some time to revise/rewrite my stories so they look a little less like crap (thanks for the excuse to do this, ff. net!)
Originally written 2007, Revised, 2010.
The sign that hung from the door, swinging in the balmy New Orleans spring breeze, read 'Lavoux Curios' and the window was grimy, the display nothing more than a raggedy red cloth, covered with beads, tarot cards, overturned half-melted candles and stuffed muslin poppets stuck with pins, while the shop beyond it was barely lit.
The other shops on the street were neat and tidy, couched in obviously manufactured mysticism (obvious to anyone who knew what to look for, anyway), with signs advertising palm readings, tours of 'Haunted New Orleans', elaborate voodoo dolls and spells of all types, from the friendly sounding 'Lover Come Back' and 'Get Lucky' to darker, more sinisterly worded advertisements promising revenge on unfaithful spouses and things of that nature.
If you were to walk down the street, chances are you would simply pass by Lavoux Curios, thinking it either closed or a shabbily run business that didn't deserve your patronage. Aside from the grubby appearance of the shop, the fact that the owner was trying to capitalize on the name of the famous old voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, but couldn't be bothered to spell her name correctly, would certainly convince you that it was all a bunch of hooey, and if you really wanted your palm read, that it would be better to go to one of the shinier, newer shops. Leaving Lavoux Curios to its own devices, you would happily shell out an exorbitant amount of money for a 'genuine voodoo doll' and a handful of Mardi Gras beads, maybe a cheaply printed book of local folklore and then be happily on your way, none the wiser that you'd just been thoroughly fleeced.
And this was exactly what the owner, 'Madam Lavoux' wanted. Being one of the few legitimate practitioners of hoodoo and knowledgeable herbalists with a shop in town, she found her real business far easier to run without college students on spring break popping in to buy love spells every five minutes. Her shop stayed afloat through very selective word of mouth and the occasional fool to stumbled into her shop by mistake and bought up a bunch of mass produced products they could have found at the local Shedes and Gallant bookstore. Nobody who couldn't afford her knew of her real sideline business: selling incredibly rare herbs to an elite clientele who had money to burn.
Madam Lavoux was an old woman, this is true, but her eyes were just as sharp as any self respecting hawk when it came to seeing danger on the way. In the old days, the uninformed may have called her a gypsy- she did wear the trappings of one; in older days still, they would have called her a priestess; In modern day New Orleans, though, the tourists who passed her on the street and felt her cool, flinty gaze fix itself on them called her "Oddity", "Distraction" or "Superstitious Nonsense", shook themselves of the shiver that she gave them and went on their way, assuring themselves that there was no such thing as magic.
The last of those endearments was her favorite. "Superstitious Nonsense." The young had so much to learn, she knew that- such was the benefit of ninety some odd years spent in the pursuit of knowledge -but she took their little jeers in stride, knowing that one day, when the time was deemed right by the powers that be, those nonbelievers would find themselves in a situation where denial was no longer a possibility and acceptance was the only course of action.
And then, if they were smart enough, or curious enough (or rich enough), they would come to her.
It was for this reason that she maintained her little shop all year 'round, while others barely stayed open in the 'off season', adding to the myth and mysticism of the legends of the bayou by spinning tales to anyone who would allow her to bend their ear as she doled out a 'novelty' potion or read a palm. Many simply dismissed her ramblings as those of an old, slightly senile woman, but her mind was a good deal sharper than most of the patrons who entered her shop of curiosities. Her mind's eye was clear as the finest crystal and despite her advanced years and failing body, she could still spot trouble when it walked through the door.
And this man...the man who reeked of sack cloth and foxglove blossoms...he had trouble written all over him.
She saw him through the window after she caught the faintest whiff of foxglove through the open window screen on the door, a tall, thin stranger with the air of not wanting to be seen by anyone. His shoulders slumped, he reached for the door, pulled for a moment, stopped and hesitated, before shaking himself and forcing the rusty hinges to bend to his will.
The bell on the door jangled a melody like part of a broken waltz, haunting and out of tune, and he stepped inside. He gave the shop a perfunctory glance and then turned his attention to its only other inhabitant. He seemed startled to find an old woman, but his surprise quickly turned to something else.
He looked at her oddly, seeming to weigh her worth by her appearance alone. His eyes swept calmly over her snow white hair and her brown wrinkled face as he scrutinized her and from the disdain that became apparent in his sneer, she knew he thought her beneath him.
, she mused silently. How often foolishness goes hand in hand with it.
The stranger cleared his throat and asked with derision, "Are you…Madam Lavoux?"
Her lips cracked a little as the corners of her mouth turned up into a smile, not warm but not frigid, either. "You will find the nature of my answers all depend upon the nature of those asking the questions, young man."
"Do not speak in riddles, old woman. You will find that I have little patience for them."
She chuckled throatily and drew her worn wine colored shawl a little tighter around her bony shoulders. "Very well, you are here for my services as more than just an old crone with a tarot deck."
"I have it on very good authority that you can supply me with a very rare herb- in its purest form -"
"You are from Gotham," Madam Lavoux said suddenly, more to herself than anyone else, before turning back to the raggedy man before her. "Two in one week. This is an unusual occurrence. The alabaster man-"
"Alabaster man?" He questioned suddenly and more than a little rudely, narrowing his eyes at her suspiciously. "The Joker? You supply him?"
"I supply any with the need and the means," she answered, turning back toward the shelf of jars behind her. "And it is very rude to interrupt your elders, young man. Especially elders who have something which you are in dire need of."
He glared at her. She needn't have seen it to know he was doing it. "By all means, madam, continue."
"The alabaster man came with many hangers on...for his protection or for his ego, I am unsure. Yet, you come alone."
He folded his arms across his chest haughtily. "I am a solitary creature by nature. I prefer it that way."
"No man is an island."
"I beg to differ."
She smiled her crackly smile again, this time fused with a little more warmth. "You might do well to have companions, young man. You're far from burly. I would wager you get the stuffing beaten out of you on a regular basis."
Drawing himself up to his full height, the stranger became indignant. "Now see here, old woman, I did not come here to be insulted. My money is as good as anyone's and you will give me what I require."
"Oh, I will give you what you require and more," she replied cryptically, reaching for one of the uppermost jars and pulling it down. "But I will ask no payment from you. Not monetary payment, anyway."
"I warn you now, I have no soul to sell," he answered smartly.
"Good, because I have no extra jars to put it in." Madam Lavoux twisted around to face her customer once more. "I believe you have a handkerchief in your breast pocket?"
His hand flew to the left side of his chest on instinct before he could stop himself. "How did you…"
"It is best for a skeptic not to ask questions to which he will not like the answers." She held the jar, which contained a blend of very illegal plants which were only available in the immediate area and could only be gathered by very experienced herbalists to be of any use, close to her chest. "What you ask for in exchange for the handkerchief."
"Why do you want it?"
"It is of no concern to you."
"It's my handkerchief, it is my concern."
"The terms of my deal are nonnegotiable. Herbs for the handkerchief."
"I could kill you and just take what I need, madam."
"You could at that. I'm old, I'm feeble, and even as slight as you are, I know I'm no match for you…" She cocked an eyebrow at him. "But if you were ever in need of my services again, young man, and you had killed me…you would be quite out of luck."
Grudgingly, he withdrew the small scrap of fabric from his pocket and held it out to her, snatching the jar from her with his other hand.
"Pleasure doing business with you," Madam Lavoux said with a cordial nod of her head. "Do return when the consequences of your actions have become apparent to you, young man…I should like to see how well you fare."
She smiled at his puzzlement before he glared at her and turned on his heel, the door slamming quite noisily shut behind him.
She chuckled again, the low, throaty sound like sputtering twigs in a fire. She shuffled to the door of the shop and turned the 'open' sign to 'closed', pulling the curtain on the display window shut and the blinds on the door as well.
Handkerchief in hand, Madam Lavoux hobbled to the beaded curtain toward the back of the shop and brushed it aside, cursing the arthritis in her knees that none of her herbs seemed to ease as she slipped silently into the back room where she kept her private store of supplies.
She lit several candles, casting an eerie golden glow over the ruby red tablecloth that graced the sewing table situated in the center of the room where several nondescript pieces of muslin lay, needle and thread at their side and she took a seat at her little work area.
Maybe she was a "Distraction" or "Superstitious Nonsense" out there, in the main area of the shop; but back here, she was all hoodoo priestess.
And the little scraps of fabric in front of her, just waiting to be assembled, were all poppets.
"When I woke this morning," she whispered with audible delight to the first poppet, "I knew I would need you."
Not so long ago, three young women had assisted Madam Lavoux…three very unusual women, with a vested interest in a man of sackcloth. Whether they helped her defeat a demon or helped her across the street was immaterial. They had helped and instinct told her to ask for something from each of them, as she had from the tall, lanky stranger.
Though they were hesitant at first- indeed, they had told her in no uncertain terms that they knew what she was under that façade of dotty old woman (she had returned the favor, replacing the words 'dotty old woman' with 'innocent, law abiding young ladies')- they still acquiesced, on the condition that she promise she wouldn't do anything untoward with whatever they gave her.
She had sworn by the black tree that she wouldn't do anything that would not benefit them in the end, and they had taken her at her word.
And now, with the handkerchief of the sackcloth man, she could make good on her promise.
With a skill and accuracy that someone of her advanced years shouldn't have had, she began to stuff the little cloth dolls with the artifacts she'd received from each of the people she intended to bind together before she picked up the needle and thread to start closing their little fabric bodies.
Yes, this would benefit the young women who had assisted her so selflessly not so long ago…
But the sackcloth man wouldn't be very happy about it…and that was an added bonus.
Any fool alive knows you never offend a hoodoo woman.
Madam Lavoux stitched the hands of the four poppets together with red thread, making certain that the connections would never unravel from each other, tethering four lives together for as long as the poppets remained in each others company.
Yes, any fool alive knows you never offend a hoodoo woman.
But you especially shouldn't offend one with a wicked sense of humor.
A/N: "Madam Lavoux" is a practitioner of hoodoo, which is a branch of folk magic with African, European and Native American roots. Hoodoo is not to be confused with Voodoo: Voodoo is a religion, hoodoo is a system of magic. A poppet is the 'technical' term for what most people call a "voodoo doll" and red string, in the hoodoo tradition, is often used for binding.