Monday, November 2, 2009

Chapter One: Old Friends

I brewed an instant coffee one morning, carried it into my living room, and found a coyote curled up on my couch. He was a decrepit looking beast, all skin and ribs. “Christ,” I said. “You better not have fleas.” He lolled its tongue at me in what was clearly laughter. Those teeth looked sharp, I noted. “What the hell is this? I'm not an Indian.”

“So what? I like Indians.” The coyote told me. “And I don't have fleas.” The talking was expected, because it's the kind of stupid nonsense that happens to me with alarming frequency, but that didn't make it any less unsettling. His mouth moved, but the movements it was making didn't match the words. Like in an old kung-fu movie, his lips kept flapping long after he'd finished speaking.

“You've got mange.”

“You've got nerve.” He slunk off of the couch and walked into my kitchen. He had an awkward, like big dogs get when their hips are starting to fail. It obviously hurt the coyote to move like that, and just as obviously the thing that was wearing it didn't care. “You have any meat? I'm starving.”

I went to the front door, and swung it wide open. “Find some roadkill while you're fucking off, hound dog. You ain't no friend of mine.” In a flash, the coyote bounded across the room and took my shin in its jaws. It wasn't a real bite - not hard enough to draw blood, but it was meant to get my attention, and did. It's teeth felt as sharp as they'd looked. I threw up my hands in a placating gesture, and it released me, then squatted at my feet like a beloved pet.

“Daniel Berlin died today,” the coyote said. “Edward Fagen did too, and Louise Canton died yesterday.”

I didn't recognize any of the names. “People die,” I suggested. Without too much attitude, and watching his jaws warily. “The lady downstairs in fourteen has a bad heart. If she saw you coming in, she's probably dead too.”

He gave another tongue-loll laugh. “The lady downstairs is fine. She saw a puppy in the hallway, looked just like the one her father got her for her eighth birthday. Rex, she called him, because that's the sort of name an eight year old gives a dog.” I stared at him for a long minute, wondering just how full of shit he was, on average. “The lady downstairs is not the issue, Luke Conley. The lady downstairs is not a murdered dreamer. On your territory. On your watch.” The last words practically spat at me.

“Okay,” I said, feeling a migraine start to blossom in my mind. “But what do you want from me? I'm not a detective. And I'm out. You know that.”

“You don't get to be out. I will humor you up to a point, Luke, but no further. You're a piece in this game, and sooner than you think you will be put into play. Whether that's as a willing partner, or as an abject lesson in terminal stupidity is entirely up to me.” He walked out the open door. “Find Mary Gleeson. Ask the fortune-teller, he knows her. Warn her, and if you're not too much of a coward, keep her alive.”

“Hey,” I said, as he turned away again. “Can I scratch you behind the ears a little?” His growl was louder than I expected it to be. “Bad dog!” I taunted.

He looked like he was about to lunge at me again, but I gave the door a slam that I hoped looked very disdainful. “What a dick.” Walking back into the living room, I felt a flea bite my leg. “Huge dick.”


The fortune teller is Aaron Cole. Aaron's one of the few fringe types that I genuinely get along with. I like him because he's managed the balancing act that so many people on the fringe fail at. Most of these guys and girls get a look at the monsters under the bed, and then they forget that there's still a real world, with jobs, friends, families, and most importantly, showers.

Aaron gives readings at a flea market on the seedy end of Trenton. Not genuine readings, most of the time. He gives most people safe, stale futures, because that's what most people go to fortune-tellers to hear. He's got some talent, though – enough that I don't let him near my palm, drink his tea, or touch his Tarot cards.

He was staring into his crystal ball as I entered his booth. Aaron doesn't look like a fortune teller. I guess. I don't know that I've ever met another, but if I did, I'd expect a certain style. Hoop earrings and a Romany accent, at the very least. Aaron wears button-up short sleeve shirts and skinny ties, a mop of dyed neon green hair, and thick Buddy Holly glasses.

“I've been expecting you,” he said, looking up from the crystal ball dramatically. Not many people can pull that off, and he isn't one of them.

“I bet you use that line on all the boys,” I said with a laugh.

“Only the pretty ones. Oh, and you, too.” He picked up the crystal ball and tossed it carelessly under his table, where it landed with a thunk that betrayed its true, plastic nature. “So, have you finally decided to let me work my magic on you, Lucky? Or are you looking to get wasted? My cousin brought me back a couple bottles of tequila that he swears will leave you blind after the second shot. I haven't dared to try them yet, but you're the perfect guinea pig.”

“Trying to get me wasted so you can take advantage, huh? You're such a man.” I was forcing the levity a little bit, and I think he could sense it. He sighed to himself, and pulled out a pack of smokes, lit two, handed me one. It was already at my lips when I remembered that I didn't smoke anymore. “Thanks,” I said. Then, to get it over with already, I added: “I was told you could find a woman named Mary Gleeson.”

He closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair. “Oh fuck me. Just when you thought you were out, right?”

“Yeah.” I took a long drag. “I am out. Just delivering a warning, is all.” I got a dubious look at that, but no argument. He was pissed, though, and more than a little frightened, and that raised my hackles. “What am I in for, here?”

“It's... Well... Fuck, Luke.” He broke off, agitated, and pulled out his ashtray, stubbed the butt out with a shaking hand. A couple deep breaths, to steady himself. “Mary came in maybe a week ago. I took one look at her and knew her for one of ours, you know? Bad, bad energy around that girl.” That wasn't all of it, from the look in his eyes.

“You gave her a reading?” I asked, incredulous. “You read a fucking dreamer?”

His hang-dog expression was all the answer I needed. “She insisted. I didn't see the harm.”

I burst into that helpless kind of laughter that leaves you wiping tears from your eyes when it finally subsides. “A psychic, even a crappy one like you, opening his mind to a dreamer. If she'd had a nightmare the night before, people in China could have woken up shitting their pants this morning.” The chagrin on his face almost set me off again, but I managed to keep it to a small chuckle. “What'd you see?”

“Just blood. That girl's future is full of blood.”

That was not what I'd been hoping to hear. Guys and girls like Aaron can't see the exact future. The future's a very flexible thing, and a lot of it is determined by chance. For example, Mary Gleeson could have been hit by a garbage truck walking out of Aaron's little cubicle of fate, and he wouldn't have seen it coming. The odds of getting hit by a garbage truck are pretty low, after all. What Aaron sees, what any clairvoyant sees, is what's likely to happen, barring random garbage trucks. He explained it once as having to do with intuition about the nature of the person, the nature of their surroundings, and a lot of pseudo-babble I'm convinced he was making up on the spot. In summary, though, if he has a vision of someone's future, it's a little more accurate than the weather report, a little less accurate than a guess that the sun will rise tomorrow.

A future full of blood was bad, then.

“Great,” I said, the word spilling over with sarcasm. “How do I find her?”

His jaw dropped a little at that. “You're still going to find her? Lucky, I think you should sit this one out.” He flung his fingers up like he was looking for a gesture, but couldn't find one. “This isn't a reading, exactly, but I've got a bad feeling these days. Something is in the air.”

I dug out another of his cigarettes. “I know it. I'm getting pressured about this, though.”

He gave me a long, unreadable look, then without a word, placed his deck of Tarot cards on the table. “Let me read you, Lucky. My bad feeling just got a lot worse.” He licked his lips, nervously. “Please.”

I shied back from the table like a cat from running water. “No thanks.” A sad nod from Aaron at that, and then he wouldn't meet my eyes.

“She was wearing a uniform,” he said, almost inaudibly. “From the movie theater.”

He still wouldn't look at me, not even as I stood up to leave. He just stared down at the deck of cards, desolately. “Shit man,” I said, surprised at the lump in my throat. “I know my fortune already. Bad luck, trouble, death.” Nothing. “See you when I see you, Aaron.”

“Yeah,” he said, quietly. Then, quieter, as the door was closing behind me, “Maybe.”

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