by Andy Rausch
DISCLAIMER: This is one of those “inside baseball” stories where a knowledge of hip-hop music and/or Biggie Smalls is required for the story to make sense. If you don’t know anything about them, you’re gonna be lost.
Big and Cease were in Big’s Suburban, making their way down Fulton Street. It was dark now, a light snow falling against the windshield.
“Crack that window,” said Big, choking on the smoke from Cease’s blunt. “You ’bout to kill me with that shit.”
Cease protested. “But it’s cold, man.”
Big looked over at him. “And?”
“I’ll be fucking cold.”
Big gave him an exaggerated look like he was stupid. “There’s two other solutions.”
“What’s the first?”
“You could put that thing out and stop smoking in my shit.”
“And the second?”
Big grinned as he said, “I could pull over and let your ass walk the rest of the way. Then you’ll really be cold.”
Cease slumped. He rolled the window down a little, tossing the half-finished blunt out. “You happy now?”
“I’m as happy as Shaq makin’ free throws.”
“Where we goin’?”
“There’s someone I gotta see.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know when we get there.”
Big slowed the Suburban, staring up at a shop window on the right. Cease couldn’t make out what the words on the window said, but there was a light on inside. “You see anyone in there?” asked Big.
Frustrated, Big said, “In the window, man.”
Cease stared at the shop, squinting, but couldn’t make out anything inside.
Big pulled the Suburban over next to the curb. Other businesses on the street, like the Jewelry Exchange and the Metro King, had big signs and/or canopies hanging over their entrances, but this one didn’t. As Big turned off the motor, Cease was still squinting at the window, trying to figure out what this place was. He had been down this way a million and one times, but had never paid any mind to the place.
Big opened his door carefully, trying to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic. Cease climbed out the passenger side.
“Make sure you lock it,” said Big.
“Damn, Big, I’m sure.”
Big walked around the vehicle, his Tims stepping up onto the sidewalk. He and Cease stood there for a brief moment in the falling snow, staring at the window. Now Cease could see it for the first time: “Madame Sylvia, Psychic and Medium.”
Cease looked over at Big, now walking towards the business. “Fuck we doin’ here, Big?”
“Don’t worry, man. I got this.”
“I got this,” growled Big, ending the conversation.
As they approached the door, they saw the closed sign facing outward. They could also see a figure moving around inside. Big stepped up to the door, made a fist, and banged hard. A moment later an elderly white woman—likely Madame Sylvia—came to the door. She peered out nervously, pointing at the closed sign. Big then pulled out a roll of hundreds and held it up to the window. The old woman’s face brightened, relaxing a bit. She shrugged, opening the door. As she did, an overhead bell clanged to life.
“Are you open now?” asked Big, enjoying the power of his newfound money.
The old woman looked nervously at the cash in his hand, clearly afraid it would disappear back into his pocket. “I could be persuaded to make an exception,” she said with a thick accent Big thought was Russian.
“I thought you might,” said Big, peeling several bills from the roll.
The old woman reached up and plucked the bills from his hand. She stood there, holding the door open and allowing them entrance. Once Big and Cease were inside, she closed the door and locked it.
The place smelled as if approximately 234 incense sticks had been burned simultaneously.
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“You’re a medium?” asked Big. “That means you can talk to dead people, right? Like Whoopi Goldberg in that movie with the Dirty Dancing guy?”
The old woman nodded. “My body is a vessel through which the dead can speak.”
Big glanced at Cease uncomfortably. “Yeah, that’s what I need. I wanna talk to a, uh… a spirit.”
The old woman smiled nonchalantly. Such a statement would have startled most people—it certainly startled Cease—but this was an everyday occurrence for her. After all, she was Madame Sylvia, Psychic and Medium.
“You can really do that?” asked Big. “It’s for real?”
The old woman nodded. “I can do it,” she said, her voice sounding tired.
She led them past a bevy of weird shit that included a jar with a human embryo inside, an inverted cross hanging on the wall, and a collection of painted skulls. She led them through hanging beads and into a second dimly-lit room, which also smelled of incense, but this time combined with the faint odor of cat shit. Big looked around the room, but saw no cat. The old woman led them to a round wooden table, motioning for them to sit. They did. She sat down on the other side of the table, facing them.
“What is the name of the deceased you wish to talk to, Christopher?”
This startled Big, who paused for a second, looking at Cease. He turned back towards Madame Sylvia. “How you know my name?”
The old woman grinned, exposing one black rotten tooth sitting among what looked like a mouthful of yellowish-brown Chiclets. “This is what I do.”
Big composed himself, staring at her. “Okay, the person I wanna talk to…”
She stared at him, that big creepy grin still plastered across her boney face.
“His name is Tupac,” said Big. “Tupac Shakur.”
The old woman’s head fell back slowly, her cataract-obscured gaze lifting to the ceiling.
Cease stared at Big, looking at him as if he’d lost his mind.
“I don’t like this shit,” said Cease. “I don’t believe in this stuff, but if it’s true, we don’t need to be fucking around with it. It ain’t right, Big.”
Big said nothing, paying his cousin no mind.
The old woman’s frail voice no longer sounded so frail and tired as it came screeching from her mouth. Her head was still tilted all the way back as she said, “I’m calling for Tupac Shakur… Tupac, can you speak with us?” She paused for a long moment, neither Big nor Cease saying anything. Then, finally, she called out again. “Are you there, Tupac?”
Almost the second she completed the question, the old woman started to shake violently. Big tilted his head, staring at her, wondering if she was having a seizure. He was trying to remember what you’re supposed to do if a person has a seizure; do you put a pencil in their mouth so they don’t bite off their tongue? Or was that an old wives’ tale? Big wasn’t sure. Cease looked over at Big again, but neither of them said a word. The old woman’s shaking slowed and she started to cackle now. Her head lowered, her cataract-covered eyes now filled with the shimmering glow of sunlight on gold.
She looked directly at Big. She smirked, but said nothing. She just kept staring at him awkwardly.
Big didn’t know what to say, but the creepy bitch was making him nervous.
Finally the old white woman said, “Nigga, is that you?” Her voice was upbeat now, and she spoke clear English, the accent now gone.
Big was stunned, unsure what was happening. He sat back in his chair, trying to make sense of it.
The old woman spoke up again. “What’s up, Big?”
Now Big knew.
“I’m chillin’, Pac,” he said. “How about you?”
“Nigga, I’m dead. That’s how I am.”
Cease was sitting on the edge of his chair, watching this exchange with his mouth hanging open. He said nothing.
“I can’t believe you’re coming to see me,” said Tupac. Big couldn’t read the tone; he couldn’t properly assess whether or not his old friend was angry.
“I just wanted you to know that I didn’t have shit to do with your death,” explained Big. “God as my witness I didn’t. I know people were trying to put it in your head that I was your enemy, but the truth is that I never had nothin’ but love for you, man.”
The old woman stared at him in silence for a long moment, unblinking. “I know that, nigga,” said Tupac. “You’re right though. I didn’t know it then. I was in a bad place after the Quad Studios shooting. I had a lotta people getting in my ear, tryin’ to tell me shit, tryin’ to tell me it was you and Puff did it.”
“It wasn’t me,” insisted Big. “We had nothin’ to do with that.”
The old woman nodded. “I know.”
They sat there staring at each other for a beat.
“I hated that we became enemies,” said Big. “I never wanted that. I didn’t like it at all. I told my crew to just back down and leave it alone, even though you were saying all kinds of wild shit…”
“Yeah,” Tupac said, grinning, the old woman’s hand rubbing her chin. “I did say some shit, didn’t I?”
“You had cats in the street thinking maybe I was soft because I wasn’t going in on you, wasn’t throwing darts.” Big paused. “Can I ask you a question?”
“You can ask me anything, nigga,” said Tupac.
“You said you slept with my wife.” He paused for a moment. “Tell me, was that true?”
Now the old woman’s face stared at him very seriously. “Nah,” said Tupac. “That wasn’t true. I shouldn’t have said that shit.”
Big nodded. “You’re right, you shouldn’t have said that shit.”
“What can I do about it now? I’m dead, Big.”
“And Faith and I are separated, mostly because of what you said.”
“That’s fucked up. What do you want me to say? I’m sorry.”
Big nodded, looking over at Cease. “You got another blunt? If not, there’s a couple out in the glove box.”
Cease felt around in the pocket of his Girbauds, finally producing a crinkled, slightly bent but intact blunt. He held it up to Big, who took a moment to locate his Zippo. As the two men worked out the blunt situation, Tupac smiled and said, “Hell yeah, that’s what the fuck I’m talking about. You know how long it’s been since I smoked?”
Cease asked, “How long, Pac?”
“Well, how long have I been dead now?”
“About three months.”
“Then that’s how long it’s been. Three months. That’s too long.”
Big now had the blunt in his mouth, lighting it. He removed it from his mouth and held it out to his dead comrade. Tupac reached out with the old woman’s frail hand and took it. He put it to his lips and sucked at it, filling his lungs with thick smoke. He exhaled slowly, starting to laugh as he did.
“Goddamn,” he said. He looked at the blunt for a moment, and then up at Big and Cease. “You mind if I have another hit?”
“Whatever you want, Pac,” said Big.
Tupac took another deep drag, letting the smoke float from his lips. He held the blunt out to Cease, who then took his turn.
“So what’s it like?” asked Big. “Is there, you know…is there a heaven?”
“Not that I’ve seen,” said Tupac. “There’s nothing, and yet I continue to exist. It’s crazy, nigga. It’s nothing but blackness, but somehow I’m aware of everything going on in the universe as it happens. I even know the future.”
Big looked at him. “Like what? What kinda shit you know?”
“I know you didn’t have anything to do with the Quad Studios shooting or my death,” said Tupac. “I know everything.”
Big bit his lip, considering this. He looked up. “So you know who’s responsible for your death?”
The old woman’s body sat back, her facial features lighting up almost as bright as her eyes. “Oh yeah,” said Tupac. “I know who did that shit. It’s someone I knew real well. And believe me, I’m gonna take care of it.”
“Who was it?”
Tupac grinned, revealing that nasty black tooth again. “I’m not gonna say, but believe me, I’m gonna get that nigga. He ain’t gonna die—not yet—but his life and career are about to end.”
“Do I know the cat?”
“You’ve met him,” said Tupac. “But let’s not worry about it.”
It was Tupac’s turn to hit the blunt again. Big passed it to him, and Tupac smoked it, eventually handing it to Cease.
“So you know everything?” asked Big.
“Pretty much,” said Tupac.
“Can you tell me who’s gonna win the NBA championship this year?”
Tupac stared at him through Madame Sylvia’s eyes, grinning. “You’re funny, nigga. I shouldn’t say anything about it. But I think I owe you for all the shit we’ve been through.”
“So what you saying?”
“The Bulls,” said Tupac. “The Bulls gonna win again.”
Big nodded. “Who do they play?”
“What kinda series is Jordan gonna have?”
“Jordan gets hurt in the playoffs,” said Tupac. “He’s not gonna play in the series.”
Big looked at him, his disappointment visible. “Really?”
“It gets worse, too.”
“The injury is gonna end his career.”
Tupac stared at him, grinning, just letting it sit there for a moment. Finally he said, “Nah, nigga, I’m just fuckin’ with you. Jordan’s gonna have a great series. In game five he’s gonna score 38 points. But get this… He does it with the flu!”
“What?” asked Big. “You’re fuckin’ with me.”
“Nah, I’m serious. He ends up being series MVP.”
Big nods. “That’s cool.”
“It’s been good catching up with you fellas,” said Tupac. “But I gotta go back.”
“Good question. I dunno. Wherever the fuck I came from.”
“But you and me, we’re good?”
Tupac smiled, extending the old woman’s tiny hand. The two friends bumped fists. “We’re good,” said Tupac. “We’re real good.”
“I’ll see you soon,” said Big. He paused before adding, “But not too soon.”
Tupac stared at him, knowing Big’s future but saying nothing. Tupac knew Big would never see Jordan perform in the Flu Game, as he would be dead by then.
Big watched as Madame Sylvia’s body started to convulse again, Tupac’s spirit exiting. The old woman slumped over, her face hanging down towards the table. After a moment she sat up and looked at Big, visibly exhausted.
“You okay?” he asked, genuinely concerned.
The old woman stared at him with her yellowed eyes, but said nothing. She just nodded, possibly too tired to speak. Big stood, and Cease followed suit. Big reached into his pocket and produced the roll of cash again. He tossed the whole roll onto the table in front of the old woman and turned to leave.
When they stepped out into the light snow, Cease remarked, “That shit was crazy, Big.”
Big nodded, looking up at the falling snow. He felt the burden of guilt regarding Tupac’s death and their unresolved issues now lifted. He felt alive and rejuvenated. “Things are gonna be good from here on, man. We’re gonna keep working on this music and really doing the damn thing, you know? We’re gonna live our lives to the max and live the long life that Pac didn’t get to.”
Cease nodded, “Can’t nothin’ stop us.”
The two men climbed back into the Suburban. Big turned up the stereo, playing a song he’d recently recorded with Easy Mo Bee called “Going Back to Cali.” As the music thumped from the Kenwood speakers, the two men nodded their heads rhythmically. Big pulled away from the curb, and they drove off into the Brooklyn night.