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The Wheel of Fortune

by Bob Brill

part 1 of 3

Night. Fog. Two cars, speeding along a narrow twisting coastal road. High cliffs on one side, on the other, a sheer drop to the rocks and sea below. The driver of the car in front, his knuckles white as he gripped the wheel, accelerated as he came into a straight stretch of road. In his mirror the high beams of the following car dazzled him. Far ahead he saw a patch of fog blanketing the road.

As he approached at high speed the fog came to resemble a great white face like a demonic clown. Beyond, nothing could be seen of the road. The car plunged into the gigantic open mouth of the figure. Too late the driver saw that the road made a sudden turn. The car crashed through the guard rail and sailed out into space. For a long moment the car seemed to be flying, then the front end dipped, the first fingers of gravity asserting their inexorable dominion. “Laura!” he cried. “Laura!”

The second car pulled up by the guard rail. The driver opened his cell phone and placed a call. “Mr. Bohack,” he said. “We got a problem.”

Twenty miles away a man and a woman were dancing in a crowded ornate ballroom amid whirling reflections from a revolving mirrored ball. They were locked in the passionate ritual embrace of the tango.

“Oscar,” cried the woman, “something’s happening.” In her mind’s eye she saw a green car suspended in space, nose tipping over, heard a voice crying her name. “It was Charlie,” she said, pressing herself against her partner. “Oscar, please take me home.”

* * *

Laura Battaglia sat at her kitchen table shuffling the Tarot cards. They were old, much-used, oft-shuffled. The woman’s hands too showed signs of wear as she handled the deck. Once a beauty, she was now as worn as the cards. But echoes of her former beauty remained, her raven-black hair, now streaked with silver, her large dark eyes and prominent cheekbones.

She laid out the first card. It was Death. “No surprise there, Charlie, if we accept the simplest, most direct interpretation. You certainly must be dead.” She turned over another card, the Ace of Cups, reversed. “Ah, signifies violence and destruction. The watery suit of Cups. You met your death in the water, old friend. Somebody did this to you, Charlie. I can feel it.” The third card was the Seven of Wands. “Oh, how strange that is. You’re dead, but this card points to victory. Fire is your ally. You will struggle and you will succeed.”

She frowned as she lit the stove to heat water for tea. “There’s a real puzzle here.” Suddenly she stiffened, cocked her head to listen. There was no sound but the wind at the windows, a light pattering of rain. “Charlie, is that you?” No answer. “I feel you, Charlie, here in the room with me.”

A voice answered, a voice inside her head. “Yeah, it’s me, Charlie. I don’t know how I got here. Did you call me?”

“Yes, Charlie. I’ve been thinking about you all evening. It was like a knife going through me when I heard you cry out my name. I’ve been laying out the cards for you, trying to figure out what happened. Are you scared?”

“What’s to be scared about? I’m dead, right? What else can happen to me?”

“You’d be surprised. So how do you feel?”

“Restless, confused. Something needs to be done, but I don’t know what.”

“Tell me, Charlie, what happened tonight?” she said as she put a teabag in her favorite cup.

“I was making a delivery for Tyrone.”

“Delivering what?”

“A package. I don’t know what was in it.”

“And who was it going to?”

“I don’t know. All I had was a rendezvous point. I’ve done this little job for Tyrone before, but tonight I could tell something was not right.”

“So what happened?”

“The rendezvous point is the old abandoned Indian trading post in the hills. I always carry the package around back and put it in an old rusted garbage pail, then I leave. That’s all there is to it. Later somebody comes and picks it up. I have no idea who.”

“What happened this time?”

“When I pulled up in the parking area I couldn’t see anyone, but I had the strongest feeling that someone was there. I left the engine running, got out of the car with the package and walked toward the building, looking all around me. The closer I got, the more I felt somebody near. I stopped to listen. I heard a faint noise, like the rustle of cloth or maybe somebody breathing or maybe nothing at all, but it raised the hair on my neck. I turned and ran for the car. I got the door open, threw the package on the passenger seat and had one foot in the car when somebody shot me. I managed to get in the car and drive off.”

The kettle began to wail. “O my god, Charlie. Who would want to kill you?” She got up and poured boiling water over the teabag.

“I don’t know. I thought I had gotten away, but just as I was turning into the coast road, I saw that a car was coming fast down the hill behind me. My wound was hurting a lot. It was in my shoulder and I had trouble steering. I drove as fast as I could, but the fog had rolled in and it was hard to see. The car was gaining on me, I was losing blood and felt dizzy. I drove into a patch of fog and the next thing I knew I’d crashed through the guard rail and was flying out over the sea.”

“Charlie, we’ve got to figure this out. Tell me, this Tyrone person, what kind of business is he in?”

“He operates a little gambling casino in the hills.”

“Illegal, I suppose.”

“Of course illegal. And knowing Tyrone as I do, his dice are probably loaded too.”

“You friends?”

“We grew up together. I got him out of a jam once when we were in high school. Yeah, I guess we’re friends, but we don’t hang out together. He lives a high lifestyle, got more money, more connections than me. For old times’ sake he gives me occasional jobs to do. He knows I’m hurting for money. Was hurting for money. I’m not used to saying ‘was’ about myself.”

She paused to lift the teabag out of the cup. “I would offer you some tea, Charlie, if there were some way you could drink it.”

“I see you’re still using that cup I gave you.”

“Oh yes, Charlie, I still cherish the memory of our time together. It’s cracked and chipped, but still holds tea. I love this cup and I think of you when I drink from it.” She felt a surge of emotion starting to well up in her and suppressed it. “Charlie, you were always very intuitive. That was one of the things I found attractive about you.”

“Didn’t really help me tonight though, did it?”

“If you had developed your psychic powers over the years, you probably would have driven off at the first shiver of intuition without ever stepping out of your car. But then, your whole life would likely have been different and you wouldn’t have been running dubious errands for Tyrone.”

“You are so right.”

“Now, Charlie, you’re going to need to talk to this Tyrone. Find out what this is all about.”

“You don’t suppose it was Tyrone, do you?”

“How would I know? I was just thinking Tyrone could tell you more about the situation. Maybe then you can figure out who would profit by your death.”

“How do I get there?”

“Just focus on Tyrone. You’ll find him wherever he is.”

Laura felt Charlie leave. She sat there sipping tea and thinking back over the years to the time when they were lovers and later when the passion had cooled and they were just friends. Suddenly he was back. “That Tyrone, he’s screwing my wife.”

“What did you do?”

“I couldn’t get through to him. I yelled at him. I yelled at Gwenda. Nothing! I tried to throw things, but I couldn’t get my hands on anything. They can’t see me, can’t hear me. They just went right on screwing. It’s so damn frustrating.”

“Where are they?”

“At my place. In my bed for Chrissakes.”

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. You go back there. Let me know when you get there. I’ll call them up and see what I can find out.”

Charlie left and immediately reported in. “Okay, I’m there already.”

“Hang in there, Charlie. I’ve decided to walk down to the supermarket and call from the pay phone there. I don’t want the call traced to my apartment.”

“Jeez, Laura. I can’t stand watching this.”

“Go take a walk. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”

At the market she had to wait while two teenage boys took turns talking to someone on the phone. One had green hair, a nose ring and bright red high-top sneakers. The other had pink hair, black boots, one ear loaded with studs and rings. They both wore pants that appeared to be sliding down off their narrow hips. From the way they were snickering and smirking Laura figured they were talking to a girl. That could take forever. “Listen, boys, I got an emergency here. I need that phone.”

“Wait yer turn, grandma. We’re not done yet.”

“You can call them back. I need an ambulance.”

“Okay okay, chill, lady. Nikki, we’re gonna take a break now. There’s a li’l drama goin’ on here. Lady needs the phone. Call ya back.” He hung up.

“Thanks, boys.” Laura grabbed the phone. She reached in her purse for a tissue to wipe the teenage sweat off the phone. “Okay, Charlie, I’m dialing your house now.”

Gwenda answered the phone.

“Charlie is watching you.”

“Who is this?”

“A friend of Charlie’s.”

“Charlie’s not here.”

“Listen, Charlie knows about you and Tyrone. He’s watching you right now.”

“O my god. Who are you? What do you want?”

“Put Tyrone on the line.”

“Your voice is familiar. I think I know who you are.”

“It’s Tyrone I want to talk to.”

Gwenda looked up at Tyrone. She put the phone on hold. “It’s ... I don’t know what this is. Some woman, I think it’s Charlie’s ex, she knows about us, says Charlie is watching us. Wants to talk to you.”

“Give me that phone,” said Tyrone. “Listen here, bitch. Don’t try to mess with me. You’ll be sorry if you do.”

No response.

“The phone’s on hold, honey.”

Tyrone shot Gwenda an irritated glance, activated the line. “You mess with me you gonna be sorry. I have ways of dealin’ with meddlers.”

Laura assumed a nonchalant tone. “Oh, hello Tyrone. Charlie is watching you both and I can prove it quite easily. We can run a little experiment I’m sure will convince you.”

“Charlie’s out on a job. He won’t be home till late.”

“I am telling you, Tyrone. He’s right in the room with you. Whatever number of fingers you hold up, I’ll tell you, and that’s because Charlie will let me know.”

“No way could he be in the room with me. You gotta be crazy, bitch.” He slammed down the phone.

Laura returned the phone to its cradle. “Okay, boys, the phone’s all yours.”

The two boys moved in closer. “I thought you was calling an ambulance.”

“Yeah, well I changed my mind. Why don’t you go do your homework?” She turned and walked out of the store.

“Charlie,” she said as she walked along, “that’s enough for tonight. I think we really shook them up. But one thing is clear. Tyrone didn’t shoot you. He doesn’t know you’re dead.”

“Laura, he could be lying.”

“Yes, he could be. But there was something in his voice. You know how intuitive I am. His tone was abusive and defensive, but that was about being caught with your wife. Beneath that I heard a tremor that told me he was really wondering where you were.”

“You’re probably right, Laura. I trust your intuition, always have.”

“Come on back to my place, Charlie. We’ll find out more tomorrow.”

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Bob Brill

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