<DIV><B>Mojo Hand</B><BR></div><DIV><DIV><b>ONE</b></div><DIV><b>The blues descended on Vincent Shives like the ashes of</b> some distant fire. It drifted in the air until it fell on his shoulders, carrying the memory of magnificent flames. He walked ghostly through the swamp, albino skin glowing in the platinum radiance of a full moon. He'd been followed for a while by some teenagers who called after him until they realized where he was going. Then they dropped off fast. That had been over an hour ago.</div><DIV>Though it was a muggy summer night he wore a black overcoat and gloves. Black, thick, tinted wraparound prescription glasses covered his sensitive eyes, giving him an odd, comic-book-spy appearance. In the moonlight his skin appeared nearly translucent. Blue veins squirmed beneath an unhealthy-looking hide the color of the dead. Long white hair swung like limp pasta on either side of his gaunt face, framing it like a cheap Italian dinner.</div><DIV>Vince stayed on the path.</div><DIV>He walked purposefully, sliding one storklike leg in front of the other, black boots clomping in the soft mud. His feet made subdued sucking sounds. From somewhere in the night mournful loon cries echoed across the black, still water. To Vince the music of the loons sounded like slide guitar. He even thought he recognized the song: "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya."</div><DIV>The summer humidity played tricks with the sounds, reflecting certain frequencies, making them almost sound like human voices. Once he was reminded of the song, the lyrics danced around hishead as he walked. "Gris-gris gumbo ya-ya ... Hey now, gumbo yay-yay ..."</div><DIV>Vince walked through a copse of trees into a clearing. Ida John's voodoo shack was not outwardly marked by any sign, and the windows were covered with yellowed newspaper. The glow of an oil lamp illuminated the paper from inside. It stood alone at the edge of the water, a sagging pier jutted out into the swamp.</div><DIV>The music played in Vincent's head. "Gris-gris gumbo ya-ya ... Hey now, gumbo yay-yay."</div><DIV>He strode past the rotting corpse of a chicken, humming with flies, hanging from a tree limb. Vincent Shives did not hesitate. He mounted the wooden step and knocked three times on the front door. Loose screen rattled. The sounds of the hot, muggy Louisiana night clung to his back, hanging there for a moment like a diseased monkey. The loons sang another chorus. Vince shook it off and turned the doorknob.</div><DIV>The music in his head faded as he stepped into the low-ceilinged room. He coughed to announce his presence.</div><DIV>Several hurricane lamps flickered. Dust particles hung in the air, visible in the shafts of moonlight leaking between the newspaper panels. The dust swirled in the eddies and currents when he moved. The cloying scent of incense covered a much worse smell, something putrid, discernible above the sandalwood. Vince pushed his glasses up and squinted. His pink eyes adjusted to the light.</div><DIV>Shelves holding bizarre and wildly esoteric merchandise lined the walls. There were hundreds of hand-labeled bottles containing powders and potions. Two bleached skulls grinned. A dusty glass case featured a collection of bones arranged according to size. Dried toads stood at attention.</div><DIV>The curtain behind the counter parted and an ancient black woman stepped through. She stared through the lifeless air at Vincent.</div><DIV>"I came, Ida John. Just like you said."</div><DIV>Ida John nodded. She brought a cardboard shoe box up from below the counter and placed it in front of him. Vince looked at it with keen interest.</div><DIV>"Go ahead. Open it," she said with a cracked voice. Vince thought he recognized a slight accent.</div><DIV>Daintily, he removed his gloves. They were the tight-fitting black leather automotive-type gloves that professional drivers wore. His naked hands were moist and incredibly pale after the opaque black of the gloves. He flexed his fingers self-consciously.</div><DIV>The old woman watched him, her eyes challenging. Vince avoided looking at them. He carefully lifted the lid of the box and looked inside. There, resting like a piece of sculpture amid some tissue paper, was a severed human hand. It appeared mummified, brown skin dry and leathery, even cracked in some places. It gave off a strange, cadaverous odor which bloomed up into Vince's face when he removed the lid. But Vince did not wince. He thought the thing was beautiful. Suppressing a smile, he reached in carefully and picked it up. It seemed surprisingly light in his hand. He held it high in the light of a hanging lamp and examined it. "Looks like the real thing."</div><DIV>The bone, yellowed with age, had been crudely cut just above the wrist and jutted out a grotesque one or two inches. Vince wondered whose hand it had been. It didn't matter, of course, but then, it did. What mattered most was the power.</div><DIV>"How much?" he asked.</div><DIV>The old woman cocked her head, birdlike, and eyed him suspiciously.</div><DIV> <BR></div><DIV><i>She didn't like this white man--he was bad juju. Albinos were bad luck, everybody knew that. And in her heart she didn't want to sell the thing to him. She didn't want him to own the power. The Hand of Glory could be the most powerful force in the universe, if you knew how to use it. How could this white devil know?</i></div><DIV>She searched his face with her aged, discolored eyes and wondered what terrible twist of fate had brought this albino to her door. She'd been careful to cut some of the fingernails off the hand and save the clippings in a jar so that the magic of the mojo could not be used against her. Ida always kept a little of what she sold. She assured herself that whatever she passed into the unsuspecting world would not come back to haunt her. That was just common sense. She'd spent a lifetime unleashing all sorts of terrible forces on people, always strangers, and she knew the precautions.Magic fed on hatred and revenge. Ida understood that above all.</div><DIV>And this white man vexed her.</div><DIV> <BR></div><DIV>"Real Mojo Hand cost money," she said hoarsely. "Maybe you want a fake one? Then you go see Madame Oomph. This one real. This one ... very strong."</div><DIV>"How much?"</div><DIV>"Five thousand."</div><DIV>Vince stared at the hand. <i>Where did the old crone get it?</i> It looked pretty old. The muscle tissue had fused and dried up like beef jerky, and the fingers were slightly curled inward. Underneath the chipped nails he noticed some black dirt, as if the thing had crawled from the grave by itself. The skin was so discolored that he couldn't tell if the person had been black or white.</div><DIV>"Negro?" he asked.</div><DIV>Ida nodded so imperceptibly that Vince nearly missed it.</div><DIV>"Good." Vince felt the itching, burning power of the Mojo Hand as he held it. It tingled. And suddenly Vince felt bold.</div><DIV>He had to have it. The Hand of Glory was a powerful talisman, known among believers to be uncommonly effective. Its magic was the strongest money could buy. Vince knew that any crime could be committed with the Mojo Hand, and the owner would never be caught or punished. It had the power to make a person <i>uncatchable</i>. And there were other, darker powers, but Vince had no illusions about tapping those. Yet.</div><DIV>The secret was knowing how to unlock the energy. Vince felt electrified with the possibilities and absolutely sure he could make the hand work for him. The old woman glared, but he didn't notice. Vince reverently placed the hand back in the box. Finally he looked at Ida John.</div><DIV>"Five thousand? Is that what you said?" That seemed high, higher than he'd expected. Vince had already resigned himself to meet any reasonable price.</div><DIV>The old woman put the lid back on the box and pulled it toward her. She motioned for Vince to stand back. "Maybe I won't sell it to you."</div><DIV>"What?"</div><DIV>"Maybe I sell it to somebody else. You bad juju. I can tell. Very bad juju." She continued to speak in clipped sentences, her accent sour and thick-lipped. "Too white. A white devil. That's what you are. Very bad juju. White man with the Mojo Hand. Very bad juju." She shook her head vigorously.</div><DIV>Vincent Shives removed a large roll of hundred-dollar bills from his pocket and counted out fifty of them. He put the money on the counter in front of the old woman and waited.</div><DIV>Vincent watched her attention flicker from the money to his face and back. A heartbeat later, her bony hand reached out and snatched up the cash like a lizard. The deal was consummated.</div><DIV><i>She counted it quickly by touch, but she knew he would not cheat her. No one cheated Ida John.</i></div><DIV> <BR></div><DIV><i>Ida knew Vince feared her. He feared because he believed. And believers were the most dangerous people in the world.</i></div><DIV><i>She'd gone against instinct this time, but the money had seduced her. What did she care what this pale spook did with the Mojo Hand? He was just another lost soul, one in an endless stream of meak and ignorant pilgrims who came to her. She hadn't liked anything about this transaction, but it was over now, the money warming in her hand.</i></div><DIV><i>Now she wanted to get Vince out as soon as possible. She wanted him far away, with his dead man's skin and his evil pink eyes. She cursed herself for being greedy, and turned her back on him.</i></div><DIV> <BR></div><DIV>Vince wasted no time collecting the box under his arm and moving toward the door. The hand shifted inside its cardboard coffin. The dead fingers scratched the sides of the box, and the ghostly weight shifted again. Vincent stepped to the door, trying not to hurry, but hurrying anyway. He could feel Ida John's stare across his shoulder blades. Like the yoke of oppression.</div><DIV>"Bad juju!" she called out behind him. "Don't come back here!"</div><DIV>In a moment Vince was outside and gone. She watched him disappear into the swamp. "White devil," she muttered. She crossed herself and made a series of hand signals in the direction he had gone.</div></div><DIV>Copyright © 1999 by Greg Kihn</div> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Mojo Hand</b> by <b>Greg Kihn</b> Copyright © 1999 by Greg Kihn. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.