I was sprawled out naked on my couch, sticky with sweat in the early evening heat, when someone knocked on the door of my motorhome.
“Come in!” I shouted, pulling a thin blanket around my shoulders to cover my bare chest and draping the ends over my exposed abdomen.
“Hey, Mirrors,” said the circus’s ringmaster, addressing me by my nickname as he poked his head inside.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“There’s someone here to see you,” he replied. “A detective Green. Any clue what this is about?”
“I have no idea,” I said, shaking my head.
“Well, she seems to know you,” he replied. “Want me to tell her you’re busy?”
“That’s okay,” I said. “Give me a minute to put some proper clothes on and I’ll come outside and meet her.”
“Sure thing,” he said, closing the door gently behind him.
I worked myself up to a seated position and pulled on a floral-print sundress before grabbing my cane and heading outside.
“Holly Marsh?” asked the detective. She spoke with a thick drawl that suggested a recent transplant from the American deep south.
“Yes,” I said. “What seems to be the problem, officer?”
“Can we talk inside?” she asked, indicating the front door.
“I’d rather talk out here,” I said.
“This is a private conversation,” said the detective.
“I have no secrets,” I said. “Besides, it’s definitely cooler out here than it is inside. I don’t have A/C.”
“Suit yourself,” said the detective. “My name is Detective Jessica Green, and I wanted to talk to you about your business practices.”
“What about them?” I asked, playing coy.
“You know as well as I do that it’s illegal to claim to tell fortunes in exchange for compensation,” she said, citing the relevant section of the criminal code at me.
“I see,” I said. “So, are you a cynic here to shake me down? Or are you a believer, here for a reading?”
“That depends,” she whispered, glancing over her shoulder as if afraid that someone would see us consorting. “Are you for real?”
“All I can do is tell the truth,” I shrugged. “Whether or not you choose to believe me is your own business.”
“Look,” said Jessica, still in the same hushed tone of voice. “I’ve done my research into all the old cold reading techniques. I’m a skeptic at heart. But the word on the street is that you have a gift.”
“I’m good at what I do, yes,” I nodded.
“It’s more than that,” she shook her head. “You’re not just another midway carny hustler, are you?”
“That’s really all I am,” I said. “Just another low-life scam artist trying to make ends meet the only way she knows how. I don’t bill myself as the Psychic Spider Woman because of my culinary acumen, after all.”
“So you’re saying I should bust you for fraud?” she asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“The ol’ catch twenty two, officer?” I asked, feigning surprise. “How rude.”
“It’s your choice,” shrugged Jessica. “You’re either what you say you are, or you’re not. And I want to put you to the test.”
“If I were to indulge your curiosity,” I said. “What sort of thing would you want to know? Your lucky lottery numbers? Whether or not you’ll find true love?”
“Actually…” she said, reaching into her pocket and producing a glossy headshot photo.
“A missing person?” I asked in disbelief as I examined the photo. “You must really be at a loss to come to me.”
“We’ve been digging for the last week, but we have no leads,” she admitted. “The family is desperate, I’m desperate, and even the smallest push in the right direction could be enough to bring a young man home.”
“It’s like he disappeared into thin air,” I said, handing the photo back to Jessica.
“Exactly like that,” said Jessica.
“Well,” I said. “If this were any other situation, I’d tell you to come back Friday night and see me in my tent. But since you’re not a paying customer, and since I’d be doing this out of the goodness of my heart, I think I can help you out.”
“Good,” she said. “Thank you.”
“I’m not doing it for you,” I said. “I want to be clear: I don’t work with cops. But the family deserves closure.”
“However you have to justify it to yourself,” said Jessica. “So what now?”
“Come back tonight,” I said. “It’s a weeknight, so I’m not working. Three AM is the witching hour, after all.”
“You’ll be awake?” she asked.
“I sleep like a cat,” I shrugged. “Two hours at a time, all day and all night.”
“Okay,” she said hesitantly, handing me a business card.
I nodded politely and bid her farewell. Once she was out of sight, I brought a cigarette shakily to my lips and lit it, taking a long inhale.
“What was that all about?” asked the ringmaster, poking his head around the corner of my RV.
“How much did you manage to overhear?” I asked.
“The important parts,” he said. “Are you really going to do this?”
“What choice do I have?” I asked.
“Not much, I’m afraid,” he said. “You’d be doing me no favors by tarnishing your reputation, even if it means compromising your morals.”
“You’re really going to throw me to the wolves like that?” I asked.
“Like you said,” he shrugged. “The families deserve closure. Play along, and tell her what she wants to hear. If we’re lucky, she’ll leave us alone after tonight.”
“And if we’re not lucky?” I asked.
“I’ll burn that bridge when I cross it,” he grinned, invoking his favorite malapropism.
“Sure thing,” I said, rolling my eyes as I turned and made my way back inside. “Can you tell Syl I need his help? I have to get things set up for an impromptu appointment, apparently.”
“You’re actually going to try finding this kid?” asked Sylvester the Clown as he scurried around my caravan, arranging my set according to my directions.
“What makes you think that?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“Because,” he said, clearing the stacks of books off of my kitchen table and laying out a felt pad. “If you were just jerking her around, you would have told her to come back Friday.”
“So what?” I asked. “I can do a hot reading anywhere. Besides, she said she was a skeptic. That means I have to pull out all the stops if I want her to believe what I’m saying.”
“Why does it matter so much to you if she believes that you’re psychic?” he asked, gently placing my crystal ball and ornate candelabra down on top of the felt pad.
“If she thinks I’m legit, she leaves me alone,” I shrugged. “She leaves me alone, she leaves you guys alone.”
“Bullshit,” he snorted. “You actually believe in this stuff, don’t you?”
“And what if I do? Do you dare speak ill of the soothsaying abilities of Lady Dzerkala Mykhailovna Pozhezhna?” I joked, momentarily adopting my stage presence. “Because that’s a one way ticket to a damn good hexing.”
“Stop!” he said, throwing his hands up in mock protest and almost knocking over a bookshelf. “Don’t curse me, gypsy queen!”
“Hey!” I said sharply, glaring him in the eye.
“Oh,” he said, slumping his shoulders as his face fell. “Sorry auntie. I know you told me that we don’t use that word anymore.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “As long as you keep trying. What do we call me instead?”
“Itinerant fortune teller matron,” he said, giving me a one armed hug.
“Good,” I said approvingly, glad that my talk with him a few days ago was paying off.
“Anything else you need?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, pulling a twenty dollar bill out from under the pillow on my couch. “Run down to the meat shop and get a pork shoulder.”