So here it is...the fruit of my frustration. I hope you like it.
The Black Adders
Chapter One - The Hermit
I knew they might die but I did it anyway. The possibility wasn’t remote at all. Still, the need prickled through my nerves, a waning high making my hands sweaty on the steering wheel. The obedience just came. Like all things in my life, I did what my father told me to do.
When the fender-bender scam went wrong and the family inside the crash-car fried while still strapped into their expensive leather seats, I hadn’t regained my mind enough to fully experience the terror of that day. The smell of the flesh and burning rubber and the strangled screams from within would come later in my dreams. On the day I killed the Cutler’s, I stood on the side of the road, forehead bleeding into my eyes from the blow on the steering wheel, and marveled at the pretty colors of the flames.
No one thought me monstrous for this. I was an Adder. The Black Adders, they called us. Ruthless and feared, we are the gypsies of the modern age. Grifters and swindlers; every one of us have hearts as dark as pitch.
I should have remembered that when I turned on them.
I should have known that hair dye and name changes and new apartments don’t keep your past at bay for long. Gypsies understand fate. Its power and peril are twisted with our history back to the covered wagon caravans that meander our past.
I forgot what I was. Thief, con artist, criminal.
A Black Adder whose heart does not deserve to be trusted.
I often wondered if suspicion of my own impulses led me to a place where sin is not only sanctioned, but rewarded. Las Vegas, with its frantic pace and anonymous faces lit up by a million fake stars, seemed a fitting place for me. If I had to hide somewhere, it might as well be a place where everything is false and temporary.
A place that mirrored my own crimson smile.
I walked along the phony cobbled street of the hotel’s lobby. Made to resemble a quaint street in Europe, the resin stones paved a path to blinking slot machines lined with drunken guests. I adjusted my wench costume to encourage bigger tips and strode through the aisles of gamblers with the tray of drinks balanced on one palm, my other arm at my side ready to pat away straying hands.
Big Bob, a name he’d given himself, balanced precariously with one butt cheek halfway off the green stool, and tried to tip his “Female Body Inspector” hat in a shameful attempt at chivalry.
“Hey there, Raven, when’ re you gonna give in to my charms and come home with me?” He winked at me and I tried to smile, but the piece of unidentified debris on his brown mustache made me wince instead.
“You know I can’t date customers, Bob.” I drawled my words like a girl born in the middle of Memphis. The fact that I was from Southern California didn’t change the fact the men tipped me better with the sweet twang. “It’s completely against the rules.”
Bob leaned forward and twirled his mustache. “Well how can I get you fired then, Sweet Cheeks?”
The greased hair of a black and white movie villain flashed in my head and I smirked. Bob was on the wrong side of two hundred pounds and the little burst capillaries on his nose meant tonight’s level of drinking wasn’t something he only did here. I probably represented the bulk of his interaction with females.
Sad, really, but not my problem.
“If you got me fired, you’d lose your connection for the best Long Island Ice teas this side of the Mississippi.” I winked at him and performed the required tilt and knee bend to deliver his drink with as much view of me as possible. The floor manager actually checked to make sure the waitresses did the move. “Besides, wouldn’t you miss me?”
My smile felt forced, but his mirror response told me he liked what he saw. His eyes went suddenly watery. Mouth tilting down slightly at the corners, he nodded. “I – I would miss ya, yeah.”
I blinked, not knowing how to respond. Why did he have to go and have real feelings? I cleared my throat, patted his meaty hand, and stepped back. “Well…I – I’d miss you too, Bob.”
He smiled then, a yellow, jagged-toothed grin that reminded me how broken people congregated here.
“It’s my anniversary on Tuesday.” He said it so low I almost didn’t hear him over the binging machines and din of the surrounding conversations.
“Yeah, twenty-four years. She’s…something,” he trailed off.
I glanced at his bare left hand. He didn’t wear a wedding ring. “Oh, that’s really great, Bob.”
He stared down at his feet. Encased in black socks and brown sandals, they looked swollen to me. Bob nodded, wiped at his forehead with his hand, and looked up at me with confusion.
“What were we talking about?”
“Drinks, Bob,” I prompted. “You wanted another one?”
He searched my face with unfocussed eyes and nodded. “Oh, yeah, keep them coming, Sweet Cheeks.” He tossed a hundred on my tray and turned back to the slot machine, his face still bewildered.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a hand go up, signaling me for a drink. I turned, making sure to swing my hip in his direction and pose with a smile. It wasn’t a customer. Instead, a young guy wearing too-dark blue jeans and a silver belt buckle large enough to use as a trivet, waved a piece of paper at me. I stood and stared at him blankly, until he sighed and shuffled over to me.
“Didn’t ya see me signaling for you?” He stood next to me breathless a look of annoyance wrinkling his uni-brow.
I eyed the skinny farm boy and raised an eyebrow. Peach fuzz and acne mottled his sallow cheeks. He didn’t look older than seventeen. “Yeah, what do you need hon?”
He held up an envelope and then tossed it on my tray. “A guy paid me twenty bucks to give this to you. He said you’d know what it meant.”
I glanced at the envelope. White with the blue and red stripes of international mail, it looked like someone used it as a coaster for a week before giving it to Kentucky Ken here in front of me. Looking over his shoulder I snapped my chewing gum a couple of times before speaking. I got a lot of ‘offers’ around here that were better left unanswered.
“What did this guy look like?”
“He had a black snake tattoo, kinda coiled up, on his neck.”
The muscles of my arms and legs froze up and I felt wooden as I tried to shrug with an uninterested look on my face. “I – Is he still here?”
The Kentucky shrugged. “He was just walking by, said to find a serving wench with the same exact tattoo on her wrist, and give her the mail.”
“Did he have a—”
Kentucky put his hand up interrupting me. “I didn’t ask his sign or nothing, lady. He just gave me the money and I did what he said.”
He didn’t wait for me to answer before leaving.
Speechless, I sank back into the shadow provided by the fake rock fountain and watched Kentucky shuffle out of the casino. He crossed the street and melted into the throng of walkers on the main strip. I didn’t see anyone meet up with him.
Putting the tray down, I tore open the envelope and held the card up with quivering a hand. On it, an old man clad in a black cloak held a staff in one hand and a lantern in the other; the Hermit card in a Tarot deck.
My family used the Tarot to scam people out of hundreds of dollars. The Adders did not believe in any sort of magic. We believed in the power of lies, and the rewards that come with lying well to those willing to pay to hear them. I knew they held no magic or power to foretell the future, but I also knew what the picture meant.
I flashed on my mother, seated in her long skirts and beaded scarves in front of a table draped with silk. We used to work the carnival circuit whenever my father got arrested for his scams. She’d flip over the Hermit card and pause dramatically, staring at the customer with kohl rimmed eyes wide with fright.
“The Hermit,” she’d hiss.
The customer would always lean forward, breathless with dread. “What does that mean?”
My mother, raven hair like my own, would squint her honey colored eyes and whisper. “A traitor.”
I held the card to my chest and backed further into the dark corner. That’s what I was; a traitor to my family. My actions after the Cutlers died tore my family apart. Swallowing hard, my eyes flit across the room toward the doorways and dim hallways.
Fear thrumming in my chest, I looked at the card again and panted against the suffocating tightness in my throat.
Someone found me.
The Gypsy world and the culture surrounding con artists is very interesting to research. I've learned so much already...I should be writing Bayou Blue, but this is too fun!
Hope you liked the chapter. Until next time...Go Write!
Photograph by cauchisavona.