THE INFORMATION #824
FEBRUARY 20, 2015
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART SIX: KINGDOM COME
“That night,” said Jim Whitey, the confidence man and clown, “I managed to get the Sherf of Hickory Hollow good and liquored up and I offered to do a reading on him. “Thought you was a jack-leg preacher,” says he. “Since when does a preacher-man go in for fortune telling?” I told him it was one of the skills I had picked up along the way and it was all strictly for a gag.
“The Swami always told me to let the cards shape what I had to say, and that’s exactly what I done, and it worked out fine. Fine! I told him that the first card was the hanged man. That was easy enough to make out, I suppose; I told him that he would never admit it, maybe not even to himself, but that he regretted all the poor wretches he sent to trial, and thence to jail, and later to themselves be hanged. What made it all the worse was that he himself was blameless in his own personal affairs, and so he couldn’t imagine for the life of him why some people manage to get themselves in the kind of fixes that they do do.
“The next card I pulled for him was The Magician. I told him that this referred to all the dam fool quacks and other so-called doctors who dose their patients to poison, only you can’t do anything about them, see, because they’re docs, and even the very best doctor makes a mistake every now and then—not to cast aspersions on the sole practitioner doing his good works in Hickory Hollow—no, I was mostly referring to the Witchy Women and the herb Doctors so called and all the purveyors of snake oil and so called medicine—begging the pardon of Doctor Ketman (who, as though summoned, had just walked in). Most of those so-called medicines were just alcohol or laudanum, and would be more likely to make you keel plum over rather than cure you. Doctor Bed-Rest, said I, was the best doctor of all, and I told the Shurf that whenever he was feeling a mite puckish it means he shoulda stood in bed.
“For his next card, I pulled out Temperance. I said that this indicated that he had to use his judgment, and not feel guilty if he had a drink or two—which he was glad to hear—as it would help him to relax, which he badly needed (he agreed) and get a handle on his job and maybe not to judge too harshly the poor sinners and Rum-dums who get a snootful of tanglefoot and proceed to raise Holy Ned. I also told him that liquor drives men to be more than they could be, but it makes them lesser beings who are prone to all sorts of faults, such as sneaking off with prostitutes—‘Taint so, says he, none of that here, I druve ever’ damn pimp out of this town, he roared—and maybe sneaking off with thy neighbors’s wife, and I noticed that he didn’t have anything to say about that. Me, I can hold my applejack when I have a mind to, and I let Shurf Troop drink two for my every one. I said that the Temperance card shows the way for the gambler—the man who gambles with his life every day—and who maybe likes to relax with a friendly game of cards—not for big shekels, strictly penny ante—and he looks at me kind of funny and asks me how I knew he liked to play cards? Well, it wasn’t much of a stretch—the man had to have at least one vice—and he didn’t seem like the type who goes in for dancin’ and petunias and perfumey water—I said that the temperance card told him just how bad gambling could be, so he wouldn’t break up a friendly game but he was hell on riverboat gamblers and that ilk, and he says, damn straight—they’re just about as bad as pimps—and I told him that many a riverboat gambler has met a sorry end at the hands of dedicated law officers such as himself, and it’s a crying shame there weren’t more men of his caliber to drive these rats from their hidey-holes, and he beamed and stuck his thumbs under his galluses like he had just won the Irish Sweepstakes. I said that a man who would gamble for high stakes is a man who would lie, and that a liar is a thief and a thief is a murderer, and he grew quiet and muttered that this was what he always thought.
“Oh, I know I was playing with fire, cozying up to the Shurf like that—the cards could go terribly wrong at any moment or he could decide at any moment that I had some ulterior motive for jollying him along—and he could pistol whip me and send me to jail on trumped up charges just as easily as he could ding the cuspidor.
“I noticed that the Shurf was looking a bit trembly and white lipped and I asked him if anything was wrong and he wanted to know if there were any more cards and what they said and I told him there were two more, if he cared to know about his possible future, and he said he did, and he declined the bottle when I offered him more, which told me that he didn’t intend to be at the mercy of me or of no man, so I knew I had to watch my step.
“Luckily, the next card was in his favor. I drew the Ace of Pentacles, and even a blind man could tell you that this means good news–that money will be coming. It’s always from an unexpected source; never tell the sucker who benefactor is, lest you trip yourself up.
“Finally, I held my breath and drew the final card. It was the Nine of Swords, and you don’t have to be a swami to know that this signified bad news. I put a sweetener on it to make the medicine go down. I told him the tale of a young man who leaves home, full of high hopes, and ready to tell the world where to get off, who comes home beaten and broken and ready to embrace his family once more. I was taking a real stab in the dark, but it just so happens that Shuft Troop had a scapegrace older brother who went off to the war and was livin’ high until he lost all his dough and had to return all browbeaten back to the embrace of his home folk. By that time you could of knocked the Shurf over with a willow switch. He was all googly eyed, and half-convinced that I was some kind of wizard. But I told him, I said to him that it wasn’t me, that I was just a vessel for the cards. I also told him that the swords was there for him to cut through all his difficulties, but by them he was completely white-faced and took his hat and made some excuse and fled out of there as though I were the Devil hisself.
“I didn’t have much trouble from him after that.
“Why’d I have to leave town? It warn’t the Sheriff who caught me out. No, it was the other two store clerks, Mr. Akia and Mr. Ayak, who started in to bad mouthin’ me. Said I tipped off the suckers about the sand in the sugar and the worms in the corn meal and the dust in the pepper. Said I sold them crabapples as the regular kind and pocketed the diff. Maybe a stray coin or two did find its way into my coin purse. So what? It’s not like Honest Joe Kludd was paying me a King’s Ransom. I was the main attraction of the store. Everyone wanted to see the City Slicker. Until one day, the novelty wore off. All of a sudden, I was Peck’s Bad Boy. I blame them counter-jumpers, Akia and Ayak, for spreadin’ mean and false rumors about my deceivin’ ways with the womenfolk. Word also spread that I was a kind of pansy, or worse. If you can believe it. And that I wasn’t a God-fearin’ Christian, like the rest of them. The upshot of all this was that the Butchers just about cut me down. I got outta there about one step ahead of a necktie party, and no more.
“Now, Yobs, if you happen to run across anyone from them parts, don’t tell ‘em you know me or where I’m roostin’. It wouldn’t be too healthy for me or for them –or Johnny Darby of the C.T.A.–to know that. I’ll be at the Carny until the whole thing blows over. I’ll likely be working the Mitt Camp. If’n yuh need to look me up, look for the gent with the tall turban.”
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