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Fiction Suspense

Harry made suggestive gestures around the voluptuous crystal ball. Eyes rolled back into his head, he chanted words that could have been Arabic, he even invoked Allah, with a smattering of Hebrew he recalled from a Bar Mitzvah, but most were gibberish. The teenage trio at the table tried to hold back, biting their lips, but one couldn’t manage. “Dude, it’s like you’re grabbing a boob!” They fell into hysterics.

      Harry’s eyes rolled forward to glare. “It’s how I connect with the spirits,” he said, any trace of an exotic accent gone. “Do you want your fortunes read or not?”

      The kids nodded yes, still giggling, but one asked if he’d be touching a boob any time soon. He gave the name of a girl. The others sneered saying he didn’t stand a chance and anyway her boobs weren’t so very big. Harry adjusted his blue satin turban and said, “Let’s see what the future holds. Maybe it will be a breast or two. They tend to travel in pairs.” The boys laughed though Harry held his composure. He went on offering the standard fare of fortune-tellers…you will meet someone, you’ll win money, be wary of a dark stranger. With a glance to the little crowd, he added one would get into college and become successful. Two of the boys punched the chubby one in the arm. “Gotta be you Poindexter!” one said.

       “Cross my palm with silver,” said Harry in the most resonate baritone he could deliver.

      “Huh?” said the boys in unison, oblivious to the term used by fortune tellers in B movies long before they, or their parents, were born.

      “It’s an expression,” said Harry. “It means a little gratuity might influence things.”

      They left Harry a one-dollar tip, which wasn’t bad considering he rarely had his palm crossed with silver or any metal after people paid the five-dollar ticket for a reading, but then he had pandered to this group when he told the boy wearing a Red Sox shirt that he’d make it to third base. He didn’t say whether that would be in a game or with a girl despite the boy’s pleading. “Soon,” was all Harry said. “Very, very soon.” The boy’s face turned red as baseball season was over.

Harry wasn’t a sham soothsayer. In fact, he wasn't a soothsayer at all. He never overtly claimed to know the future, just hinted at it. What he was was a very out-of-work birthday party magician, a once part-time actor, and a bit too seedy at seventy-four to come up with much related to those passions. Harry’s biggest role was an extra as a prisoner in an Alka Seltzer commercial where he banged a tin cup on a table while demanding “Alka Seltzer, Alka 

Seltzer, Alka Seltzer!” He still had the cup.

       He briefly did a stint as a greeter at Walmart but never could remember which aisle had what. Whole Foods had a program for his sort, retirees looking to do something, but standing at checkout counters didn’t agree with his tired legs and he told too many stories of his theatrical past to shoppers keen to get their bags home. Plus, he refused to double bag. He was encouraged to leave after he pulled a fake rabbit from a bag, causing a child in the cart to scream. He was reassigned to the frozen fish section where he complained of Reynaud’s disease.

Magicians, especially mediocre ones, weren’t in high demand even at cut-rate prices. He did a few kids' shows, altering his act to fit the genre the genres being ages three to eight. A birthday girl walked up to him, in the middle of a sponge-ball act, his specialty, and said “I have Asperger’s.” She did indeed have Asperger’s as did most of the other kids at the party. It’s a thing about Asperger’s that those with the syndrome miss “normal” social and focusing norms. Rather than be swayed by his professional misdirection, these vacant-eyed children watched the other hand so to speak and readily shouted out how he was doing things. One boy’s mother pulled him away when he started screaming, “It’s up his ass, it’s up his ass.” The parents in attendance didn’t appreciate it when Harry bent over and told them to check.

      That was typical. Harry retaliated against his hecklers with sarcasm. When the birthday girl stated she had Asperger’s, Harry naturally replied, “Hey, that’s usually my pickup line!” The girl’s mother asked him to leave to which Harry said, “What, no cake?” At least he was paid his $150 fee and the girl had wrapped up a slice of Black Forest cake for him. “Was it really up your ass?” she asked.  

      His career as a fortune teller was an offshoot to his magic. Under the advice of an AARP coach, he set up a table at a depressed flea market to unload cheap magic tricks he’d accumulated over the years as party giveaways or the rare corporate event. He didn’t sell much. There was little demand for a deck of cards bearing an Enron logo. At least the flea market managers didn’t charge him for the space. That’s because parents would drop their kids off in front of his table and tell them to sit and watch the show while they went off to buy the dust, rust, and faded memories from other vendors of unwanted junk.  

      The kids didn’t have much patience for Harry’s stale act and Harry didn’t have much patience for kids removing a finger up their noses and touching things. Eventually, the flea market’s managers said they needed the space for a guy selling well-fingered copies of Playboy, Penthouse, Oui, Cavalier, Dude, Stag, and Swank out his ample personal collection at $5 a pop. He was doing very well with the nostalgic crew.  

      But the vendor liked Harry’s turban, vintage jokes, and hopes that as his soft-core magazine inventory diminished, Harry’s act might attract a broader audience for his other wares; vintage MadCrackedNational Lampoos, and an eclectic collection of titles such as Tales From the Crypt, Creepy and others of the ilk. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” his father had warned him. If only his father had been alive to see him sell one Mad for over four hundred dollars. He allowed Harry to set up behind a beaded curtain bought at a headshop in Cambridge Massachusetts in the 70s. 

       The cover of one Creepy showed a satanic figure gazing into a crystal ball wearing a turban that looked surprisingly like the one on Harry other than a large ruby. That didn’t go unnoticed by a young, worn, woman who looked through reddened eyes from the cover then to Harry then back to the cover. 

           The vendor winked and said ten dollars and for that she could have her fortune read by the guru behind the curtain for free. After scrounging in her wallet, she came up empty with a sad shrug. The man smiled, said “one dollar” and thumbed her way to Harry.

           “Cross my palm with silver,” Harry said in what would the woman thought was a creep’s tone. She said that she thought she got a free reading with the magazine she was waving. “It’s an expression,” said Harry, less sultry this time, “to get the mood going.” She gave him a look that said she had enough mood for the day.

       Harry closed his eyes took in a deep breath through shaggy nostrils, his nose hairs almost long enough to be twisted into Salvador Dali’s mustache. 

           He made a wide arc with his hands as if to bring silence over the sounds of flea market haggling, leaned forward, his hands neatly fondling the crystal ball. His look was intent, a contrived mien from an early magic act. He would speak; “I see concern, deep concern. It’s about love, a friend, but not a friend.”

       Standard fare and worked 75% of the time. If someone balked, Harry would tell them to think deeper, perhaps they didn’t realize the worry or, yes, the worry would come. Based on the responses and body language Harry would milk it and milk it until dry well for most of his infrequent clients. Kids were easy: toys or school. Teens were easier still: the opposite sex, though nowadays Harry had to finesse the concept of an opposite. He settled on “you will meet a person” in ambiguous situations. Adults were entirely gullible or wanted to be. Their questions revealed more than his answers. 

           Harry looked from the ball to the woman before him. She didn’t look so young up front, late 20s maybe. Shadows under her eyes hinted at someone troubled. He’d go easy and lay off the “concern” with a friend bit.

      He did the hand thing around the orb which always gave him a few seconds to think of something to say. Usually. But he had to do a double-take, then triple, then pushed himself away from the table, shaking out the cobwebs in his brain. “You okay?” asked the woman. Harry hesitated too long. “Swami? Kreskin? Hello.”

      Harry stuttered that he was fine, just getting a vision. It was more than just a vision. He saw this woman’s life.

      Harry had never seen anything in the ball beyond his own fish-eyed reflection. But here was this very woman standing in front of a sink overflowing with dirty dishes and pots with burnt lasagna. How could he know that? He saw her grab a bowl and hurl it across the room. He didn’t see at what, but he did see a hand whack her across her face, blood spurting from her nose. A coarse voice screamed, “Stuck up bitch.” Then she was packing a bag, a scuffed blue suitcase, with a scratched American Tourister label near its handle. It was night. The only light came from the dim greenish-blue glow of an LCD radio clock. He could see the name, Proton, and one of the numerals was winking on and off. He knew that clock, a Proton 320. He owned one once; it died around 1990.

      He was telling her things, made-up ideas, to keep her engaged as he followed the drama in the ball. She was in a car, a beat-up Honda, parking right at this flea market. She kept looking over her shoulder and bit her nails. She was walking towards his curtain. Then she was back at her car, peeling off.

       He stopped speaking the generic musings of a part-time fortune teller -- had he really said something about a tall, dark, handsome stranger? – and revealed what he was seeing; the kitchen, a Pabst Blue Ribbon clock on the wall with the wrong time. How did I know that?  He heard the slap, he smelled the musty odor of old suitcase, he heard her whimper as she stuffed clothes in. There she was locking the door to her Honda, double-checking the lock. He sensed as much as saw her fear of meeting this man. The details he revealed frightened her as much as Harry.

      Harry described the bag, the clock and asked if she’d burnt her dinner and left pots in the sink? “Who is Butch?” he asked. She stared at him. She grabbed his wrist and would have drawn blood if her nails hadn’t been chewed to stubble. Did he know Butch, was Butch here? She spoke as if she was trying to cough up something, like just before a dog throws up. 

      “I’m sorry,” he said. “Maybe I should stop.”

      “Go on,” she told him.

      Harry went back to caressing the ball.      

 She was sitting in a park wearing a loose sweater. It was the fall, the leaves orange and red. She was taking notes with a pile of books showing from a backpack. She looked different, better, a little younger maybe but this wasn’t the past. She’d put on some weight that made her look less gaunt, less taut, and was dressed more fashionably. A man came over, not Butch, with two large cups of coffee from a place called The Beanery. Harry smelled caramel and knew it was a sweet latte. She looked up with a smile and mouthed a “thank you” before going back to her work.

       “How’s it going?” the man said as he sat down near her.

      “I’ll probably fail,” she said, though didn’t mean it. They both smiled at the remark.

           “So says the newly minted nurse!” He said.

       “Don’t jinx me!” She squealed that and punched him in the arm.

       “Ouch! Watch that right jab. I need a nurse!”

      Harry saw her now, getting a diploma, waving to someone in the audience who cheered a “You go girl!” over the applause of the crowd.

She was staring at Harry, not moving a muscle. Harry’s face dripped sweat, the rim of his turban soaked through. “A nurse,” she said. “Are you sure? Is this real?”

      Harry shook his head in disbelief, not in doubt. “I’ve never,” he stuttered. “But, yes, a nurse. You’re going to marry that guy, I think. He’s a good fellow.” She gave him that same smile he saw in his crystal ball and dropped $20 in the jar that had a few suggestive bills in it place there by Harry.

      “Go now. Right now,” he said. “And keep to the speed limit. I’m serious.”

She hadn’t been gone more than half an hour when a hulk came bounding through the aisles causing the people to part ways to let him through. A woman at a booth selling cheap cosmetics pointed to Harry’s stand. He looked at the leftovers of the girly magazines for a second before confronting Harry. “Cross my palm with…”

       “Screw that Mohammed! Was a girl here?”

       It was the voice behind the slap. Harry lied that there’d been several girls at his table that day and asked that he describe the one he sought. 

           “Ah,” said Harry. “That was hours ago. She was in quite the hurry but was rather generous.” He pointed to the twenty sticking out of his jar. Butch snarled, “That bitch gave you a twenty? The least you can do is tell me where she is.” 

           Harry pointed to the seat where the big man sat down, hard, almost busting the wooden legs of the chair.  

      Harry stared into the globe half-expecting nothing. Then a fog developed.With his hand fluttering, waving, the fog moved away from a scene. It was Butch on a loud motorcycle, a Harley. He was wearing the same leather vest he had on now, no helmet. The speedometer showed 90 right behind a beat-up Honda. He got so close he could see her looking into her rearview mirror, frightened. He heard, as if in his head, Butch biting the wind “I got you bitch.”  

      The Honda picked up speed then skidded over a long patch of a road repair underway. The workers waved and yelled to slow down, but she went on spraying gravel over them and Butch. “Goddamn bitch!” he heard as Butch slowed down then pick up speed again he passed the gravel patch.

           “Yo, Aunt Bea, what you got?”

      Harry took a deep breath. “She wants to be something, school, she’s moving to that.”

       “Yeah, bitch wants to be a nurse. Fat chance for that moron.”

       “You’re following her, on a highway, going to…she’s on I 84 East.”

      Butch said he should have figured that out. She’s headed towards Storrs, U Conn, somehow got accepted. “I know where she’s going.” Butch stood up.

       Harry put up his hand. “Wait, there’s more.” He made fondling gestures around the ball. “Follow that road, quickly. You’ll see her car. You’re right behind her. There will be a road crew waving for people to slow down. Ignore them, just speed ahead. I see you back together. She’s pouring you a pitcher…Pabst Blue Ribbon. She’s smiling and rubbing your shoulders.” Harry looks up with a smile all his own. “She wants to be with you but is scared. She thinks you’re angry.”

       “Damn right I am.”

       “You have to catch up with her. Can you drive fast? Really fast? If you miss her after that roadwork you’ll lose her.”

      Butch pointed a tattooed hand at Harry. “Dude, look in that ball of yours. I’ll catch her and she won’t forget it.” He rose tipping the wooden chair over and flicked the tip jar with a finger. “She paid enough.”

      Harry watched as Butch tore out of the lot towards the highway. In his ball he saw the highway, members of the road crew were away from the unfinished repair work, standing near a “FRESH OIL” sign. The oil was scarred by skid marks. To the west, traffic was at a halt. To the east, past the gravel patch they’d been working on, were two fire engines and an ambulance. None of the firemen or EMTs were in any hurry; there was no need. Harry watched the tow truck hoist what remained of a Harley onto its bed.

      About 100 miles further east, an old Honda chugged along, its driver glancing into the mirror every so often, wondering why the traffic was so light. A good omen, she thought, a bit of good luck. At last.                   

Harry went back to kids’ shows. He got quite good at reading his audience

December 09, 2022 17:18

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1 comment

Wendy Kaminski
14:49 Dec 17, 2022

This was hilarious, and very well-written! I love how you tweaked the nose of more than one establishment early-on. :) And then there were these ... "Maybe it will be a breast or two. They tend to travel in pairs.” LOL "though nowadays Harry had to finesse the concept of an opposite." hah The struggle is real! Excellent ending. :)

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