Wednesday, March 28, 2012

     "NIGHTRIDERS"  Author's note: A few pages of one of my short stories from ten years ago, a noir zombie yarn set in Galveston, Texas at the height of the island's gangster notoriety is here below.  Neither noir or zombies are specialties of mine, but I do recall the story being fun to research and write.  I hope it's not too cliche, but oh well, who cares?  If "The Goon" gets away with it, why can't I?
      And this story also stems from my fascination and love for the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and '40s, their hokey depiction of the living dead (Nightriders), and their often stereotypical portrayal of Gypsies/Roma culture in them, such as Maleva in "The Wolf Man".  All these influences, and my love of carnivals, tarot (which is frequently attributed to the Roma (Gipsy) people and I am and was at that time very enthralled by the tarot, mysticism and fortune-telling), and the wonderful Free State of Galveston, sparked indepth research in them, and spawned the following tale.  And that being, I sincerely hope that no one is offended by an evil Gypsy character (Zola); no misinterpretations should be taken; ANYONE can be evil.  So no curses or evil eyes from the Gogol Bordello set-I've seen "Stephen King's Thinner" and "Drag Me To Hell"...definitely no extreme-heh heh weight loss or ancient dentures barfed in my mouth or anything, please, O Gypsy mystics.  Roma embrasure of the occult enchants us all (if not scares the dickens out of some), and the atmosphere is escapable and lends itself beautifully to the fodder and artistry of the horror-story shaman.  The whole idea would make a great film, or shadowcast (i.e. Repo the Genetic Opera, The Devil's Carnival), say set in Vaudevillian times (the shadowcast gurls and bois would love the Victorian and carny clothes, zombies, and carnival, vaudeville and flamenco music).  Nobody steal my thunder.
     The inset photos are not mine, and most of them are borrowed from Deviantart.com. 

NIGHTRIDERS


Case File: the Castelletti Murders

October 30, 1954-Entry One

     Ugly day.  Even uglier case.  Nothing but rain coming in from the Gulf, drenching Galveston and my Daily News.  And from the get-go this case looks to be bad news.  First, I get a ring from this Tino "Tiny" Castelletti character, one of the Island's gangster-heroes, telling me how he needed a slick dick like me on the job to do some digging, said I was "B. O. I.", local slang for "Born On (The) Island", that I had connections and a good standing with the big shots in Galveston.  Some of his Family were getting gruesomely canned, their hearts and intestines removed, and he wants to know why and by whom.  Wants me to dig up the dirt.  I'm a jack of all trades, but working and dealing with crooked clients who are tracking down the slayers of their henchmen ain't exactly a sunny day, but hey, I need the money-times are golden, but can always use a bright shiny doubloon or two in the pocket, and besides, I love a good adventure.  What the heck!  But something tells me I should have stayed in bed today.

      I have to say, though, when the big guy (by "big", I do mean "gigantic" instead, because this cat stood at least seven feet tall) started filling me in on the killings-how some of the brothers were torn limb from limb, eyes gouged out, disemboweled and what not, I was a little apprehensive about taking the case.  I never like to stick the proverbial nose where it might get shot off.  But he's offering to pay a swell fee-ten thousand to the penny-so I gave in.  Work's hard to come by since the Ledge boys in Austin have been trying to close down the casinos and the tourists have been flocking to Vegas or Atlantic City, instead.  Sure hope this investigation doesn't get dirty.  Maybe I should quit the business and settle down with a nice girl, if there are any left these days.  Play "house" in some swank little beach cottage on the west end of the Island, maybe fish off the decks while getting drunk every night on gin fizzies and dizzy from smoking too many Cubans.  Sounds like the life.  It's too bad regular Joes like me get into such nasty mix-ups.  Anyway, it's time to throw on the hat and coat and dig up some bones.

      Seems like these Downtown casino gangsters have made a few enemies in their business dealings, but the Mafia ain't too careful sometimes about who they piss off.  The Gulf's probably full of people chained to cement blocks, who didn't see eye-to-eye with the Beach Gang, or the Downtown Gang.  I don't aim to be one of them.  Racketeers, although they have  the rich and governing elite eating out of their hands, still have got to watch their backs.  Could be that some Joe whose brother got whacked by one of their enforcers was sore and wanted revenge.  Or then again, these killings could have been perpetrated by some fat cat who lost big at the tables of one of the mob's casinos.  Could be just about hundreds of folks out to do them in.  But most sore losers are afraid of the mob, more likely to move out of town than give the mafia a mean glance.  

     



      So Tiny wants me to meet him at the Imperium Club on Poast Offices Street to give me some up-front pay and to cue me in on my assignment.  Not my kinda place, full of gamblers and gunmen, otherwise known as the "Bucket of Blood".  Dicey little joint.  I'll carry an extra iron or two.

     October 30, 1954-Entry Two


     I'm in over my head.  Can't begin to to figure this case out.  Yesterday when I arrived at the Imperium, I met Tiny at the back of the place playing with a pile of poker chips in front of him and with a hotsy-totsy redhead dame beside him.  Tiny (who, again, wasn't very small at all, but in fact very large, as in three axe handles wide, a very fat gent.  He looked like a frightened mouse, though, perspiring, trembling, wide-eyed.  He was afraid for his life.  I could tell.  I've seen it dozens of times on dozens of grown men's faces, that look of utter dread.  I took a seat at his darkened booth  surrounded by some ritzy neon palm fronds, and he told me the lurid tale.

     "A curse, Mr. McNabb", he stammered as he lit the chubby cigar dangling from his quivering lips, his accent twinged with a hint of Sicilian.  "An evil curse, placed on my family and partners by my enemies.  Black Magic.  The Evil Eye.  The darkest sorcery imaginable!"

     I scrutinized the portly man, then looked down at my gold cigarette case of Lucky Strikes.  I lifted the carved lid off a Halloween pumpkin on the curving booth and lit one of the Luckies on the melted candle.  "I don't believe in curses, Mr. Castelletti, only circumstances.  What we sometimes think of as "bad luck" is only a series of unrelated incidences, the most damaging of which is usually at the hands of some dim-witted wise guy."

    "You're job isn't to be a skeptic.  I'm the client, you're the lackey.  I'm not crazy, McNabb.  I saw those...things...with my very own eyes.  They looked...dead!"  Tiny wiped off the sweat running down his forehead with a silk hanky.

     Of course, I couldn't make heads or tails of this guy, but I nodded with feigned concern.  I peeked at a cigarette girl to bring my senses back to reality.  "Um, dead, Mr. Tiny-I mean, Mr. Castelletti, to whom or what are you referring?"

     Tiny fumbled with the "I. C."-labeled chip in his fat fingers.  he was obscured in darkness and the smoke of the club, seated at this private nook at the back of the speak-easy, away from the throngs by the roulette wheel and slots.  Then he leaned forward suddenly, and his sweat-soaked face came into the light.  His eyes were bulged.

      "I don't know what they are.  All I'm sure of is that these creatures aren't normal.  I saw  them.  They weren't normal, I tell ya.  Their skin was gray and sallow, chaffing caked with dirt.  Their eyes were all white and yellowy, their flesh was all mottled.  Moaning, like they were in pain.  Big piebald heads, some them, and others small as children, but with same large round head, like ghouls or demons.  Bones protruded from their fucking flesh, McNabb, and they were still kinda shambling about."


   
     He paused a moment, receded back into the gloomy darkness of his deco booth, and then leaned forward again.  "I was going over to Danish's headquarters on the Strand.  He was in from Chicago on some business, and even though we didn't do business with the fellow anymore, we still kept in touch.  Helped us out a lot in the past, and he knew all the highrollers and mob connections, we went to the little gin mill he frequented and hob-knobbed with him and his boys.  He was quite a guy.  But, lemme tell ya, Danish had seen better days.  There were a bunch of motorcycles parked outside.  These undead creeps, whatever they fucking were, had him chopped up or chewed to bits or something.  One of 'em had Danish's calf in its mouth like it was a chicken leg!"  Tiny crossed himself with his giant fingers.

     "And, what's more, I found some thins in Danish's office suite when I returned later that day with reinforcements.  Some of his vital organs were removed, his flesh mauled.  He was stretched out on the floor with his arms in a "T" like a cross.  On his forehead was a Death card from the tarot deck.  On top of that was a poker chip with the Malibu Club, one of the Beach Gang's casinos on the Gulf."

     We sat there without words for what seemed like an eternity as the bandleader, a cat named Sig Dorsey and his Full Moon Orchestra, directed the band to play an instrumental version of "Anything Goes" as he lead on a white upright piano. 

     Finally, I got up the balls to reason with the crazy lout.  "Yes, well, a few bruisers keen on cuttin' ain't too cool, I catch your drift." 

      Seeing as the cops won't touch this, and I really couldn't go to the coppers when I was snooping for the mob, I'd have to find some loophole.  I looked up Sal Delgado, who ran with the Bugsy, Lansky and Capone types of big racket syndicates organized to circumvent the law and bring about some sort of twisted underworld justice and peace, and of course made sure the cops warned certain gangsters before their hideouts were raided.  The cops were bought and wouldn't investigate the Castelletti slaugherings.  But blackmail and extortions worked both ways.  Or at least we could shut somebody down due to city code violations, or see what we  could come up with.  I had my ways.  I'd talk to some more witnesses.  And maybe some of the hitmen were into the occult as a scare tactic.  And that's just the reason the sick fucks are so ugly and minced some Tiny's boys, to keep anybody from snitching to the law about their racketeering.  But being of sane mind I didn't suspect any bogeymen.  Just some goons.  


      Tiny dropped his chips, letting them crash to the table.  "Say, mac, you're being hired to do as I say.  And I say I know what I saw.  Besides, everyone's winning at my casino tables.  And they're rigged!  I'm losing more than I'm taking in.  I'm just about all washed up.  Back in the old country we believe in the evil eye.  With all of the Gypsy creeps on the Boulevard, any one of 'em coulda slipped us the eye for not paying out at the tables.  Some associates around the clubs at the Murdoch Pier-in the Shangri-La, the Crystal Cotillion, the Aphrodite Speakeasy-say the Beach Gang had some gypsy witches in on it, put a hex on the Downtown boys.  Some of the gypsies are killers-for-hire, do anything for money.  You snoop around the Midway.  Find the motherfuckers that know something, then we'll get things worked out somehow.  We'll get something on them.  Or I'll plant some evidence on 'em.  Then, I'm afraid, those evil screwballs will damn us to Hell, for sure. 


     He twisted the rosary around his neck around his  chubby wrist and held it under the lamp hanging from above, and lifted his black fedora from his brow.  "I beg of you, McNabb, I'll pay you whatever you require, just don't let anything happen to my wife and family.  There's goddamn blood and guts everywhere!  Lucky for me I got associates here to look out for me.  But someone's taking 'em all out one by one.  First, it was Danish.  Then, last week "Savage" Moretti.  A few days ago, they tore the arms off of "Mad" Matteo Furia.  Yesterday, Marciano Sandoval.  Everybody in the business is gettin'...chewed up.  And I don't plan on being anybody's next meat-grinding.  I've seen eyes drawn in chalk on my door stoop.  I'm marked.  I want these people snuffed out.  I don't want the eye on me.  I want their heads, Mr. McNabb."

     I  craned my neck back took off my hat and let my hair fall loose.  I stared at the ceiling fan over our heads while it spun varying shades of light and dark over us.  A hurricane must have hit the Island while I slept last night, I thought, and stewed everyone's brains.  this clown couldn't be serious.  As a student of criminology and law, I know blackmail doesn't exactly doesn't go along with the code of cool.  An investigator that went against the law for his own monetary gain ans was found out was often banned from the practice, or at best working on the chain gang.  But I need the dough.

     "Well, uh, you see, Tiny, I don't do hits anymore, that was just doing the War", I told him, looking at the scowl forming on his mug.  "I was young and stupid.  I'll rough somebody up for ya, blackmail 'em, even tar and feather their underpants, but bloodworks are out of the question."

      I was an assassin during the War for the Allies, and knocked off plenty of Nazis.  I'm out of the killing game, that's for damn sure.  Got too much blood on my hands as it is.  I'll stick to being a private eye.  It's a little more cutthroat, but usually no blood is spilled, at least not mine or by my hand.

     "That's okay, I have people for that.  Just get me some leads.  I just want to find a little infraction, a little legality, on the part of the Beach scum and the Gypsies what work for 'em.  Maybe a fire or building code problem.  An unfortunate industrial accident.  Watch out for Nightriders in their casinos.  They'll be on you like a shark on a drop of blood."


     I knew about the Nightriders.  They are the Beach Gangs hitmen.  You didn't want to get on their bad side, or if you did, you needed to leave town, and how.  And their good side was almost just as bad.

      So I decided to go down to the Seawall and get my palms read.  Tiny wanted me to look for some Gypsy fortuneteller that goes by the name of Zola.  I hope she's a doll.  With all these toughs doin' each other in and all, I need an angel to soothe my savage beast.  If I can only keep my tail above the storm surge and out of high water, everything'll be tops.  But money has my loyalty.  Every man or woman has their price, especially me.  I liked to get paid, loved the finer things in life.  And I needed their protection and soft lines and feline eyes and supple thighs. 

      So I assured him I'd get this situation resolved, tilted my hat to the cute moll, Maddie I think her name was, and snuck out.  The night air filled my senses with night-blooming jasmine, the rushing waves crashing on the beaches, and to the dangerous and mystical, and before turning in that evening I went out into the foggy unknowns in search of "bogies".


October 30, 1954-Entry Three

     Leaving the Imperium I headed up to the far west side of the Island to the Malibu Club, the club from which the poker chip left on Danish's head came.  The place was outside Galveston city limits to avoid city jurisdiction.  Its Spanish facade loomed before me like the Beverly Hills mansions of Hollywood star, exclusive and palatial.  Palms bent over the elegant, pale pinkish casino.  A spotlight announced its whereabouts.  Neon blaze reflected in rain puddles the huge air-conditioned complex of gambling, dining, drinking and big name entertainment.  Ritzy.  Regal hopped-up rockets and jalopies were parked all around the joint.  A place to see and be seen, where deals were made and broken, and underworld playboys made all the rules, the big boys turf, to be sure.

     Parking far out in the lot, not wanting to leave the keys with the valet, I passed a row of Indian, Triumph and Harley motorbikes lined up outside.  Bikers just didn't seem like the normal patrons of the Malibu.  This joint said high society and mobsters, not hepcats and greasers.  The lowlifes usually frequented the dives along Post Office Street.  Wondered what they were doing hanging out with the creme-de-la-creme.  I shrugged it off as an anomaly.  Weird shit sometimes happened at places like this.  Stragglers from the upstate invading.  Who knew?

      Four armed guards stood outside under the covered valet circle.  They were all wearing dark sunglasses, which I figured were for blocking the glare of the myriad of lights dancing around the casino entrance.  The creeps gave me the customary once-over look and continued to stare ahead, hands clasped in front.  These ghastly-pale oafs could use a day or two in the sun.  They were as white as sun-bleached stone. 

    

     "Biker convention in town?"
     
     None of them answered.

     As I entered, more the guard henchmen were spread out about the place all wearing the same dark glasses.  The infamous Nightriders, I deducted.  Scary fucks.  They didn't pick these ugly fellows for their good looks.  I felt like they were shadowing me, watching me.  Maybe I'd come back at closing time and follow one around, tail him home, after I checked out the beach scene. 

      Anyway, later, at the bar inside, after I'd lost with flying colors at blackjack, I ran into Tiny's moll, Maddie, of all people, swigging giggle water and wearing the swankiest low-cut gown I'd ever seen.  What she was doing with the competition and on her enemy's turf I could only guess.  Could be a double-crosser.  She stood against the bar, her back to the neon-lit deco bar, drinking a flute of wine.  A bright red bow tied flat against the top of her brilliant red hair, the perfect accompaniment to the red gown with the diving neckline to her navel.  She was one smokin'-hot broad.

      I don't know if she'd seen me come in the place-it was dark, the floor lighting being just about it-but she just stared ahead with a blank look in her misty eyes.  The orchestra played "Mambo Italiano", but she wasn't bebopping to the music.  A forlorn expression soured her face.   Two spiffy suitors flanking her were brushed off with a wave of her hand, and without looking at the beluga dish, she dipped her hand in and splattered the unwitting drugstore cowboys with fish eggs.

     "Scram, assholes!"

     I saddled up to her at the bar, lighting my cigar.  "Come here often, Red?"

     "I thought I told you to take a..."  She turned and saw that it was me.  Under the soft light of the wall sconces she looked angelic.  "Oh, Mr. McNabb, is it?"

     "In the flesh.  But call me Toby, sweets."

     "What's a cat like you doing in a dive like this?"  She crushed her long cigarette holder out in a shell-shaped ashtray and snickered.

     "Well, you know, curiosity killed the cat."

      She let out a sultry chuckle.  "I see.  Hopefully you're here to root out the criminal element.  Bad boys and girls need to be spanked soundly and sent right to bed.  And I've been a very bad little girl."

     "Oh, have you indeed?"



     "Indeed, and in my dreams.  And I'm determined to be held accountable for them."

     I swallowed.  She was playing me like a roulette wheel and had me spinning out of control.  And I was gambling, trifling with a crime boss's bitch.  But this place was all about the thrill of risk-taking.  "Well, I don't think Mr. Castelletti will be too thrilled with some of the company you've been keeping, Maddie, dear, so I'd be happy to look into it."

     "Good.  Room 219 at the Hotel Galvez .  Late tonight.  I plan on committing a sex crime and breaking every decency law on the books."  She handed me the key to her room.  "I'll need your expertise."

October 30 , 1954-Entry Four

     From the Malibu I returned to my office on the Strand and looked into the matter of the club's books and to type out a dossier on their business practices, or vices, if you will.  Then I cruised Seawall Boulevard to see what nuggets of wisdom I could drum up.  The moon hung low over the Gulf like a lazy pink eye bloodshot from too many rum punches, just barely visible in the watery air.  And, strangely so, a grapefruit sun swam on the western horizon concurrently, so that a strange greenish haze hung over the waxing pink moon.  The twilit mistiness blanketed the vices of the riffraff, and the action was beginning to pick up, even in the nasty weather .  The street was lined with imported palms, which made it difficult to check out the beach scene while cruising, so I pulled over.  The roar of the some motorcycles and the wooden roller coaster, "the Corsair", could be heard down the coast, as well as the music box fanfare of the Kentucky Derby carousel.

     Here, amidst a sea of shiny umbrellas, the crowd was out en masse, clowns, acrobats, and showgirls trickled along the esplanade.  Here magic, monsters and wizards swooped in and out of the waterspout rivulets of your imagination.  This was the beach Midway, set up on the old Pier like a fantastic medieval fair or Merlin's Cave over the ocean. 

     I thought I noticed a large car tailing me, or was it?  A similar coupe was behind me all the way from the Imperium, it seemed.  But no, it was turning off, taking the corner at Eleventh Street.  I was a little paranoid after the espionage of the War, always sure a spy for the Reich or the Axis was following my every move in Lisbon or Monte Carlo.  A few times they did, but I always shook 'em off.

     I recognized a black friend of mine, "Cosmo", from the Strand docks back when I was younger working as a longshoreman.  Cosmo's real name was Cyrus Jefferson, but everyone thought he was "out of this world".  He was working as a barker at a game of chance booth.



     "Well, whadya know, Cosmo, how do ya do?"

     "Been just fine, Toby, just fine.  How 'bout yeself?"

     "Can't complain too much.  Did you give up the ghost on the docks to become a world-class saxophone player, or what, pal?"

     "I had to tell 'em where to put it, or it was gonna be the death of me.  So I got this gig as a barker.  Least I ain't no shoeshine man.  Say, fella, how'd ya like to try your luck at Corno, tonight?  I been dolling out some big cash and prized tonight like I was flipping out pancakes.  Only cost ya one thin dime to play.  Or how 'bout ya take a gander at the snake-charmer lady.  Man, she's a right freakish sight!"

     Nah, thanks just the same, pal", I replied, knowing that if I starting the betting game I'd be gambling 'til dawn or until my pockets were empty, whichever came first.  And I had just lost my money on the crap table at the Annex on Post Office last week, so I wasn't too keen on the idea.  "Nah, but, if you would, could ya tell where I might find a fortune-teller by the name of Zola a correspondent of mine recommended?"

    The carny smiled a wicked smile.  Rubs his thin curled moustache over his upper lip, revealing a snake tattoo winding around his forearm.  "I'll bet he did!  I'd recommend her, too.  Zola's little scare shop is right down yonder by the Ferris Wheel, but further down in the sideshow with all the other shady Gypsies and freaks.  And if you need a girl, Una's in the trailer behind 'er.  Or, if you're like a lot of the folks that come here, you can take the trolley to the "Conservatory", the "French" house Jakob and Madame Zola have on Church Street down by the train yard.  They entertain the rich weirdos there.  You got some moxy, Tobias, old buddy.  It's back in the Jungle.  Crazy fools in that part of town.  I ain't no square, but I'm no soft-shoe, either, you know what I'm sayin'?"

     "Yeah, I 'spose I do," I said, but at the same time thinking maybe the guy had a little too much padding at the shoulders of his striped suit.  "There's more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.  That's ol' William Shakespeare, bub, look it up.  Anyway, thanks again for the tip."

     "Hey, Toby, look out for that chick, she playin' with pretty powerful hoodoo.  She got bad mojo.  You need you a sea-salt ju-ju or some bread in your pocket, to protect you from anything she might put on ya, or some Joe put on her.  Keeps da zombies away, too."

     I laughed this off.  "I won't be needing one, Cosmo.  I'm not superstitious."






     "Take it anyway." Cosmo extracted an old hoodoo charm from his vest and thrust it in my pocket.  "See ya, Tob.  Watch ya step."

     I shoved the gris-gris charm deeper into my jacket, thinking it the most ridiculous thing at the time, and wished him well. 

     So, not really getting the gist of what he said, other than assuming Zola was a gal with a love for the bizarre and occult (what bird didn't down here in the Free State of Galveston, as they call it), the beach loomed lustrous and tempting ahead and the fresh saltwater taffy called to me from the carts.  The Ferris Wheel towered in the distance.  Starting towards it, I beachcombed before I reached the Midway and found a bright coin, old and faded like a piece-of-eight, so I picked it up.  Nothing but an old poker chip with "M. C." on it, probably from the Malibu Club.  No doubloon, but its dull facade still shimmered a smidgen, which attracted the notice of three hungry seagulls.  They glided and hovered over my head in anticipation of a treat, cawing, staring at me with their cold black eyes.  The gulls diverted my notice of the dark stranger behind me.  I took a seat on one the rocks along the Seawall to comtemplate the brown pelicans and other shorebirds on the pilings, and my next move.

      "You know, you should be wary of three seagulls flying over your head," said the shadow.  "It's an omen of death."

     "Huh?" I mistook the stranger in my midst for the strains of the Polkas and swing ditties coming from the the dance pavilions down the Midway.  

     "Heh-heh.  Name's Dimitri."  As his almost seven-something-foot frame walked into the light of a gas streetlight, I could almost see under the shade of his umbrella that he was Gypsy, and a sheik of a man.  Long dark hair blowing in the sea breeze tousled the mane beneath his scarf, tawny skin wrapped in a loose shirt over which he wore a red woven vest.  His eyes concealed by dark glasses, but glinting underneath, the glare I assumed was from the bright lights of the carnival.  A single golden earring with a gold coin hanging from it dangled from one ear like a buccaneer.  And that's what he reminded me of, a swarthy pirate like Errol Flynn.  But his dark skin tone appeared almost bluish in the half-light.  "'Dim' for short.  I'm a Gypsy, with the carnival.  And I hate to tell you this, Mr. McNabb, but sea fowl aren't always a  lucky sign.  Sometimes, they are the reincarnated souls of drowned or murdered seamen, warning of impending doom."

     "Well, Dim, I often fell like I'm in a sea of trouble.  And by the way, how do you know my name?  It is McNabb, but call me Toby."

     "Let me see your palm, my friend."







      So I did what the charlatan told me to do.  I held out my left hand.  He grabbed it firmly in his rough hands, his fingers ringed with exotic jewelry, and studied it for a moment.  Running his index finger over the lines of my palm as if her planned to titillate me rather than advise me, he squinted at it before his whole face lit up with a smile like fucking July Fourth.  His fingers were cold as ice.
    
     "Yes, you are in a sea of trouble."  He brushed the mop of black windblown hair from his face, revealing a smirk of consternation.  "I see zhat you are at war with your life and the Fates, that it is taking you down the wrong roads.  There wil be some serious problems in your near future, here, see, at this conjunction of lines."

     "Hopefully a drinking problem, bub."  I never was much of a drinker, unless you counted the occassional beer or martini at lunch, but the joke broke the ice.

     "You have an Earth hand, which means that...you work hard, try hard.  You are good with your hands." 

     "So I've been told."

      "But you don't like change.  There will be cataclysmic change in zhour life zoon.  A transformation.  You will no longer be ze same.  You will hunger for...new people and things in your life.  Your Water hand says intestinal problems.  Thiz here stat on ze heart line, means you will have ze heart problems.  And, I'm sorry, my friend, but you're Fate line ends at your heart line.  You will lose your heart to ze rigors of life, or to love, and lose your way in life somewhere zoon.  You will stray away from ze rightful path.  but you are very talented and one of a kind, by ze whorls on your fingertips, zo myabe you'll adapt to these upheavals and be okay.  I zee you adapted in your difficult childhood, as zour Head line is tied to your heart line.  I feel you will persevere."

     I smirked and withdrew my hand.  "Well, only the strongest survive."

     "Tread carefully, my friend.  Don't tempt Fate.  the wages of zin are death."

     "Or so says my ex-wife."

     I exchanged glances with the charlatan, noting the troubled look on his face.  the dark clouds over the Gulf of Mexico loomed large, like a giant decaying maw eating the day.  In the subtle light the charalatan looked like a ravenous Faustian devil obstructing my way from Paradise.  Soft rain ran down his darkened and soaked fedora as he donned it, his face down-turned and frowning.  I started to feel uncomfortable just then, for the first time on this case, being prodded with cold hands by this weird stranger with the hidden visage.

      I had almost forgotten my purpose.  "Say, fella, ever hear of a girl named Zola, a fortune teller down here?"




     "I may  have heard the name before, but I can't say from where."

     I pulled a money clip from my pocket  and proceeded to flip through a few big bills and yanked them from the stack.  I noticed the strange pendant swinging from the necklace, a large Egyptian ankh.  A brilliant glare white light flashed like waves crashing on the rocks at twilight from its silvery surface.  The wad of cash seemed to jog Dim's memory.  Eyes lighted up quick.

     "Yes, now that you put it zhat way, I think I do recall a Zola."  He snatched the money and stuffed it in the inside pocket of his raincoat.  "She's Roma.  She's a drabardi.  Works ze midway.  Can't zay I ever took much of a liking to 'er.  Always got zhat look in her eyes like she's lost her mind.  Anyway, she's deep into mysticism, very mixed in whith ze bad elements.  Stay away from her, you don't want to fuck with that evil bitch.  Works amria, the curses."

     By now I'd gotten sick and tired of hearing all this mumbo-jumbo about reading palms, cannibalism, and curses, but I humored him for the sake of the investigation.  And for the sake of my own ass, seeing that if I don't find out a solution to my retainer's ordeal or some kind of story to satisfy them, I might be the butt of the hoke when mine is six feet under.  I'd had dealings in my line of work with sick fucks and the sort that dabbled in witchcraft and played with people's heads just to make a dirty buck.  It came with the territory.  Before the War, the Island was an immigration station rivaling Ellis Island in the Big Apple.  After the Wars, all sorts of crazies came to the Island, attracted to its liberal atmosphere, bringing with them their freakish superstitions and beliefs.  Don't know quite what to make of it all, but what he intimated about the fortune tellers sounded straight, even though he looked a little on the depraved side himself.  I'll get this scoop on these perpetrators if I have to dig up graves, human life being so cheap here on the Island.

     My strange reflectin of fear pooling his dark glasses pooling like the red twilight sun finally almost sunken on the horizon of West Bay.  "Zola and Jakob practice black magic, Mr. Toby, black as ze blackest night, forbidden magic, outside the community of ze Roma.  Guard your soul.  Zhey bring back the mulo, wich is Romani for spirits of the dead, or walking dead.  Zhey're in league with some the most evil motherfuckers in ze South; you name it, zhey're into it, cowboy.  Zhat caravan he and Zola own, at ze place called Pirate's Beach, at the trailer park, all zhem teardrop trailers used to be storehouses for ze rumrunners back before the War, during ze Prohibition.  Now zhey take in contraband of all sorts, zhose...people.  People were killed zhere, still are, gods of the underworld love rum, zin, zacrifice...And some say zhere are rooms in zhat old cabin zhat once a man sees, he don't never see nothing else again!  Jakob and Zola have no hearts, so zhey steal the hearts of others-zhey are ruthless in zheir lust for power over zhis world!  Look just like normal folk, but zhere's nothing zhere!  Take my word for it, stay clear of 'em.  Besides, zhey charge too much for zheir readings-come to Dim, instead!  Heh-heh!"










     More bull about the occult.  I told myself I had never heard so much weirdo garbage in all my days.  But this tall drink of water believed in his own hoo-hoo he was shitting out of his mouth.  I handed him another bill.  He gave me a wink and just strolled away as if in a trance, his black chinos coming unrolled at the hems so they dragged the wet sand.  He turned back towards me. 

      "Remember what I say, Mr. Toby.  You're a good man.  Don't play with fire.  Get away, while you still can.  Or do you like playing with fire?"

      And at that he hurried along the shore back in the direction of the Boulevard and the carnival, and became a blurry splotch intermixed with the cool drizzling of the raindrops.  Drifted into oblivion, so it seemed.  Funny sort.  Where do they all come from, and where do they all go?

October 30, 1954-Entry Five

     Rain slicked Seawall Boulevard as I drove a few city blocks to the other end of the beach.  Sometimes it's like you're on the edge of the world out here, like you've come to the ledge of the precipice that drops into the abyss, and you can slide off at any moment into chaos.  I squinted as I sped through the sop.  The wiper did little to clear the stuff. Lights of the carnival were meager in this watery soup.  Flickered as I'm sure the dimly lit fires of Hell do.

     Headlights behind me again, just then.  Couldn't tell if it was the same car that was trailing earlier today.  They eased in closer, and just as I was almost able to make out the make and model, or at least their plates, they backed off and disappeared into the traffic along Seawall.  A definite trail on me, but who?  Was Tiny putting some of his men on me to see if I'm on the up and up?  Did the Beach Gang put a mark on me?  I didn't fucking know.

     Anyway, they veered off as I pulled into the parking lot of the carnival.  I parked my coupe at the very rear, the whole time holding open the suicide doors, ready to bound out if need be.  I slid in the spooky ticket turnstiles, unseen by the attendant or anybody else, and nuzzled my .45 at the ready.  Showers splashed my face .  I jumped out into the crowd, shuffled through couples holding hands, carny midgets feeling each other up, and occasionally a clown or circus laborers herding a festooned elephant through the crowd.  A strange tattooed guy was swallowing fire in a circle near me.  The oddest woman, one with a beard and a snake around her neck, snickered at me.  Kids in sailor hats with balloons and stuffed lions ooed and awed as the Alligator Man walked through the Midway. Game bells clanged, lights of the Midway circled into the night, rides roared with screaming passengers...

     But no one came...at least, no Nightriders!








  
     So I slowed my step and wiped the sweat from my brow.  I assumed I'd shook 'em and bustled down the soggy sands of the beach towards the sideshow section of the carnival, further away from the Pier, all the while checking over my shoulder every now and then.  Had to deal with enough paranoia during my spy stint overseas, sleeping with one eye open.  I'm a pretty little gentleman, at five foot nine, and looking out for goons with that can overpower you in a muss of people sucks, let me tell ya, even if you got your trusty iron by your side.  Always relied on my intellect to outsmart them.

     Stilted jesters, freaks of all sorts, dwarves, an immensely fat man, jugglers juggling fiery batons, a giant laughing clown statue, burlesque girls, barkers in dusty top hats yelling, "come see the Tallest Man in the World", a strange scent of forgotten lives and mystic medieval fairs of olde, spinning rides, a dog show yelping filled the air, the laughter of a thousand phantom sounds intermingles with the pageantry of the carnival.  All this, and a heady mix of carnies, swimsuits, cotton candy, hot dogs, splashing puddles, night sea air, foghorns blowing in the distance, a collage of colors distorting the dreamy canvas of early evening like a funhouse mirror.

     Finally, after searching the drenched midway for the place, I arrived at Zola's tent, trailers and various ornate caravans.  Her silly sign with a picture of an eye hieroglyph inside a pyramid, the Eye of Horus, directed the way to her lot.  "Welcome to the Temple of Osiris, The Great and Powerful Gypsy Psychic Madam Zola Presiding: Fortune-telling, Magic, Mystery, Prophecy, Belly-dancing, Tarot, Seances, Necromancy, Scrying.  Enter and find your way through the Darkness."

     I looked over my shoulder to be sure nobody was following, or watching me enter this totally square snake oil nut house.  No one.  And luckily no one did.  I was hopeful that I had shaken my shadows by zigzagging through the sideshow.  Ol' Franklin Delano had said back during the War with Hitler that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", but I wanted to play it safe.  Never did like having to have eyes in the back of my head.








     I knew then what that crackpot Dim meant by saying "rotten to the core".  The striped canvas hulked like Moroccan monstrosity over a goodly portion of the beach.  Its lurid colors blanketed even the night, so faded were its material and dye as if it had been pelted by too many grains of sand during its many ancient desert caravans.  A strange exotic essence permeated.  The atmosphere spoke of wicked harems, snake-charmers, and centuries of bloodshed by marauding knights of eld.  As I walked closer a scent redolent of burning incense and the sweet sweat of sex wafted over the caravan. 



      


        

    



    

    

     



     

    
     

     
    

       
      

     
     

        
 

 




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