|Although this is fiction, most of what is described actually happend to my brother Danny and his girlfriend Cheryl. The two of them found more trouble in a very short time than many people do in a lifetime.|
What the hell? The wallet on the floor behind the toilet looked like his! Danny reached for his back pocket as he went down on one knee and stretched for the worn piece of leather. It was his all right. Everything was still in it too, except for the cash. Gawddamnit. More than eighty bucks gone. And it hadn't been more than fifteen minutes since he had paid for the beer in the noisy bar on the other side of the door. One of those bastards had slipped his wallet and dropped it back here just a few minutes ago.
Danny buttoned his Levis and considered what to do. He'd look like a fool to go out there and ask who took it. There were six college kids playing pool near where he had been sitting at the bar. They were the only ones in the place. Hell, all of them did it. Now that he thought of it, the little guy who had been handling the stick a few minutes ago had seemed kind of clumsy when he had backed into him, poking him with the cue and almost upsetting his beer.
The kid had apologized and Danny had let it go after some quiet comments about the guy's ability to operate the cue. He had stood up at the time, and when he turned back to his seat, the blonde guy had pivoted quickly away from him. Had his wallet been lifted as he sat there? Maybe the jostling had been a diversion while the blonde dude wearing the University of Nevada football jacket played Light Fingered Louie.
As he stepped out of the men's room and back into the bar he was aware of the eyes ricocheting off of him. Just for a moment, as he stood and scanned the group, there was a heavy silence which was suddenly followed by several too loud remarks about the progress of the game. Danny watched the tall blonde, the one they called Jojo and seemed the most popular of them, stroke the cue and drop the black eight ball into the corner pocket. As Jojo straightened he handed the cue stick to his partner and said to the fat guy at the end, "Rack 'em, Artie. I'm buying drinks for the house." He turned to Danny and with a nasty smirk, said, "You'd like a free beer, wouldn't you, buddy?"
The six of them watched as Danny, feeling the angry flush in his face, slowly shook his head in agreement. A couple of them laughed and the little guy who had shoved the cue stick in his backside said, "Yeah Jojo, buy him a free beer." Danny took the table nearest to where Jojo was standing.
Jojo pulled a wad of bills from his shirt pocket and said, "Hey Rob, you got the deck of cards? Who wants to cut for high card to see who's the next pair to shoot against us?"
A few minutes later the bartender wiped the table in front of Danny and put a full pitcher on the wet spot. In a low voice he said, "It's the least you deserve. Just don't look for trouble with this many guys, even if they are punks."
An hour earlier Cheryl had pointed to a parking spot and Danny had pulled the Chevie into the bar's lot on Boulder Highway, just outside Las Vegas. They had been on the road several days, making the trip from Florida to Los Angeles, and they both wanted to stop in Glitter Gulch. Besides, Cheryl had a couple of aunts who lived here and she wanted to spend the evening with them. Cheryl indicated the modern apartment complex across the street and asked if he would come over for a few minutes to meet Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Laura.
It was interesting. The old ladies had an odd assortment of antique furniture which seemed to fit them very well, but which clashed with the building they lived in. Laura, the younger of the two women, had a date and was just leaving, but said she would be back early so she would have a chance to catch up on some family gossip. Aunt Elizabeth seemed to fit right in with the old furniture, as though she were also a curio, and took some delight in showing them through the rooms. There was an assortment of really old pewter pieces and an odd deck of cards laying on a table next to a large crystal ball. Danny thought it must be expensive.
Cheryl turned to Danny and said, "Aunt Beth makes her living with this stuff, can you believe it?"
The elderly lady was delighted to have guests, and after explaining what she did with the cards and crystal ball she finally took them to the kitchen, but it hadn't taken long for the two women to become totally oblivious to his presence. Cheryl and her aunt sat at the kitchen table and talked on and on about family, trying to include him in the conversation occasionally, but it was a waste of time. Stories of someone else's relatives are awfully boring. When the photo album came out Danny stood and said he needed to stretch his legs. As he went out the door, he told Cheryl he would be back later, but he wanted to go across the street to the bar for an hour or so.
The parking lot had a few bikes near the door, and although none of them were Harleys, a couple of them had a few bucks invested in them. One Honda in particular sported a custom paint job with the name JOJO on the tank. What a waste, he thought.
The college kids were laughing and occasionally giving him the eye as he morosely pushed the beer mug in wet circles. It looked like they were here till the place closed and they certainly seemed to be enjoying the complimentary drinks. The bartender also watched him, wondering what he would do. He had seen guys like Danny before, lean and clean, obviously intelligent, and someone you didn't take advantage of without being sorry you had met him. He also thought the six at the pool table had made a miserable mistake and would somehow pay it all back, and maybe with interest. As he watched, he saw the beer mug come to a stop and a slight smile cross Danny's face.
"Hey, bartender, watch my pitcher of beer." Danny stood up and continued, "I'm going out to my car for a few minutes, but I'll be back."
The words brought a few nervous looks from the pool table area, but Jojo looked up and said, "Yeah, hurry back. There's more beer where that came from." There was an obnoxious grin to go with the words.
Danny slowly approached the brightly lit table and said, "Ya know, I left some money in the car and thought maybe I'd return the favor. You guys'd like another free round, right?"
The fat kid named Artie sniggered and Jojo grinned again. Now all of them were enjoying the scene. Jojo replied, "Un huh, and why don't you bring back some entertainment as well? This place is a little dead."
As he turned on his heel Danny said, "I got somethin' in mind for that. Wait here and I'll see what I can do."
Moments later, Danny was conversing in quick, hurried words with both Cheryl and Elizabeth. He had their full attention and both of them were nodding in agreement.
Finally, Danny pointed a finger toward Cheryl and said "Now, write it down and then give me all the money you got left, okay?"
Danny was heading for the door when Elizabeth reached in her purse and brought out a wad of bills. "Here. This is my Saturday-night-good-time-bingo-money. Use it if you have to." She gave him a light kiss as he went out the door.
The college kids, still at the pool table, had been joined by a couple of girls and the laughter was even louder than when he had left. He headed for the table near them and flashed the roll of money to the bartender, keeping it out long enough for everyone to see it. He settled in at the table and brought out the deck of tarot cards he had picked up in Elizabeth's apartment. One by one he turned them face up, placing the unfamiliar cards in what he assumed was some kind of order. It felt good. There was a tingling feeling along the back of his hands and he felt as though he was conscious of everything that was happening in the bar. His sense of awareness seemed to sharpen with every glance he received from the group around the pool table. At last one of them took the bait.
"What the hell ya got, buddy? You some kind of nut what thinks you can read fortunes or somethin'?" It was the little guy who had poked him. "And another thing, wasn't you gonna buy a round of beers?"
"Yeah, you were," said Jojo. "But what's with the fortune tellin' cards? You don't believe in that shit, do you?"
"Well, maybe I do. Before I came in here I might not have, but now I'm not so sure. This afternoon a lady I met claimed to be able to see the future sometimes. She said I was going to lose some money tonight, and damned if I can't find my wallet now." He looked straight at Jojo. "Luckily, I had most of my money out in the car."
"That's a bunch of crap. If you'd ever taken any college classes you'd know that seein' the future is impossible." Jojo grinned at his buddies.
"Maybe you don't learn everything in college, blondie." Danny watched the grin disappear as the word "blondie" hung in the air.
"What does that mean?" Jojo had the confidence given him by several beers, a group of five friends behind him, and one lone guy before him. He had a clinched look on his face as he swung the cue stick so the heavy end was in front of him.
"Nothing, man." Danny didn't want trouble now that he had their attention. He flashed a smile and continued, "Just that I'd be willing to bet that a few hours ago this lady knew everything that's happening to me right now."
Jojo slapped the heavy end of the cue into his palm. "No way, man. I told you. It's not possible." Jojo had his grin back.
Danny pulled the roll of money out of pocket and said, "How about a little bet? You know what they say, money talks and bullshit walks. Are you going to talk or walk?"
Jojo eyed the roll of bills and said, "We don't mind taking your money, buddy, but how you gonna' prove this woman can see the future?"
Danny gathered up the tarot cards, "Tell you what. You got a deck of cards over there," he gestured at the deck on the side of the pool table. "Why don't you pick a card right now?"
"No problem, buddy." Jojo pulled the seven of hearts out of the deck, and said, "But so what?"
"I'm covering all bets that if you call this telephone number and ask for Grace Matthews, she can tell you that card in your hand and will also tell you something about yourself." He pointed toward the bartender and continued, "He can hold the money. Anyone interested?" He had one of Elizabeth's business cards in hand. Psychic Readings & Tarot.
All six of them stepped forward and one of the girls was digging in her purse. Money was spread across the bar and Danny went down the line, covering each pile with an equal amount. Jojo had more than two hundred dollars on the bar. The bartender placed a shot glass on each pile as the bet was covered. When he put the last shot glass down, the bartender turned off the music and held up his hands. Turning to the group he said, "I got a speaker phone connected, so if you guys are quiet, we can all hear the conversation." With that, he brought out a telephone from below the bar.
Quiet. The bar was totally quiet as Jojo punched in the numbers Danny had given him. Everyone heard the ringing at the other end and the woman's voice which answered. "Hello?
Danny recognized the soft voice as Elizabeth's.
"Hi. Is this Grace?" Jojo had his confidence again and was posturing for the group. They were still quiet, but there were grins around as they regarded the cash on the bar top. Easy money.
"No. But there are two women named Grace here. Which one do you want?" Jojo made a face at the group and shrugged his shoulders while Danny picked up a napkin and wrote "GRACE MATTHEWS" in block letters on it. Jojo read the name aloud and Elizabeth's soft voice said, "Oh, just a moment, please. You must be the call she's been expecting."
Cheryl's southern accent came on the line. "Hello?"
"Yeah, is this the Great Grace Matthews?" Jojo waved the seven of hearts and let his eyes roll as he asked the question. The girl at his side, the one who had put forty bucks on the bar, suppressed a giggle.
"Well, I don't know about the great part, but my name is Grace." There was a pause, and then, "And your name is Jojo. I've been expecting a call from you." The giggles stopped. In fact, the room stopped. For Danny it was a moment which lasted an hour in slow motion.
Cheryl's voice had that slight twang which she sometimes put in it as she persisted, "It may be too late, but I wanted to tell you that sometime this evening you'll have a chance to pick up some extra money, but you should turn it down, because if you don't, it'll cost you a lot more. I promise you'll be money ahead in the long run. Oh, and that's the seven of hearts you took out of a deck of cards a few minutes ago, right sweetie?"
Danny and Cheryl counted the money on the coffee table as Elizabeth and Laura watched. A little over five hundred bucks profit.
"Not bad, huh? And I slipped the bartender a couple of twenties when he handed me the wad."
Cheryl laughed and said, "I'd love to have seen his face when I told him about the seven of hearts. What happened after that, anyway? He just hung up the phone."
"No, it wasn't Jojo who hung up. The bartender cut you off and handed me the money." Danny laughed, "I didn't stick around to see what happened after that because I beat it out the back way. The barkeep pointed the way through the store room."
Laura sat forward on the couch and hugged Cheryl. "Now tell me again, honey. How on earth did you know he drew the seven of hearts?" Cheryl reached for a piece of paper and handed it to her, saying, "Look, the four suits are listed across the top of the page, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs and each one has a last name, see? Hearts has the last name Matthews." Cheryl had her finger on the column marked, MATTHEWS=HEARTS.
"Yeah," Danny said, "And look down that column of thirteen first names. Each card in a suit has a first name."
Laura looked where Cheryl was pointing and saw the name GRACE beside the number seven. Silently she ticked off the letters of the alphabet on her fingers. When she got to the letter G she looked at her fingers and said, "It wasn't too difficult to memorize, either was it?"
Elizabeth leaned back and said, "Didn't you have to buy a round of beers, though?
"Nope. They forgot all about it after the bet got started. But in a way I bought Jojo a round. Some used beer that passed through my kidneys is in his gas tank right now."
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