Authors: Aimee Gilchrist
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THE TELL-TALE CON
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Copyright Â© 2013 by Aimee Gilchrist
Cover design by Lyndsey Lewellen
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THE TELL-TALE CON
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Rules of the Scam #26
The con is in the detailsâ¦
A stupid, desperate chick and her money are soon parted.Â At least, that's what my mom always says.Â Which might sound like a concerned mother, except she follows that with “so know how to make people feel desperate.”Â She says if people are dumb enough to pay for a fortune teller located above a Mr. Wong's Suds and Folds, then they deserve what they get.Â Of course, she also says if my dad was better at what he did he wouldn't be doing time.Â What he should have done was spent more time brushing up on his grifting skills and less time drinking.Â
So maybe Mom isn't the best source of morality lessons.
One of the stupid chicks Mom loved to prey on pushed past me and out of the reading room, clutching her D&G purse to her chest and crying huge mascara-y tears.Â
was weird.Â Mom always told the clients either exactly what they wanted to hear or something so vague that it could have meant anything.Â Tears were uncommon.Â
“Everything okay in there?” I called.
For a long moment there was no answer, and I considered going back there, though I hated âthe work room' in all its theatrical glory.Â But finally her voice carried out.Â “Do I have a six o'clock?”
I was Mom's secretary, or as close as she had to one, but I didn't have to look at the books.Â I have a terrific memory for numbers.Â Instead, I wandered to the window and watched the heavy traffic below.Â “Nope.”Â
I decided not to bother inquiring about sobbing Dolce girl.Â Maybe she'd stubbed a French manicured toe.Â It used to be that the street Mr. Wong's was on saw three kinds of people: prostitutes, people trying to pick up and/or bust prostitutes, and prostitutes who wanted to do their laundry.Â
But this entire area of downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico was undergoing something called âurban regentrification'.Â I didn't know what that actually meant, but ever since we'd lived here this neighborhood had been bipolar.Â Million dollar lofts built inside old factories rose up next to squat, cracked stucco houses with bars on the windows.Â Trendy new bars full of douches shared space with places like Mr. Wong's.Â Â Â Â
Now that the higher brow set had moved in we had a whole new clientele of desperate losers.Â We took in enough that we could have moved somewhere marginally nicer.Â But Mom was sure this was the perfect location.Â Plus she said Mr. Wong's added to the ambiance, because apparently nothing says âmystical' like the scent of dryer sheets wafting in the air.Â
I watched a man exit the doors of the converted library lofts across the street and jet out into traffic.Â He narrowly avoided being hit by a truck with âfish' painted on the side.Â No one wants to go like that.Â
He bounded up onto our side of the sidewalk, and I expected him to go into the Indian food grocery next door since rich people seem to love that store.Â Instead, he darted into Mr. Wong's.Â Which was unexpected as, judging from his clothes, he didn't seem to be the Mr. Wong's type.Â
But I was shocked to hear the bang of heavy footsteps on the narrow wood staircase that led up to Mystic Madam Megdala's.Â He
wasn't the Mystic Meg type.Â I didn't need to see him fully to know that.Â Men almost never came into the store.
“I thought you said we didn't have a six?”
The stairs were always so loud that even Mom could hear the steps.Â
“We don't,” I called back.Â “I don't know who this is.”
But when the door swung open, that turned out to be a lie.Â I did know who this was.Â I just had absolutely no idea why he was here.Â
We stared at each other for a suspended moment where I tried to figure out why he was at Mystic Meg's, and he probably tried to get over the horror of unexpectedly seeing his honors biology lab partner in the lobby of a psychic's.Â
As a general rule, I'm an excellent judge of people.Â It was an occupational must in my parents' line of work.Â But I couldn't figure out Harrison Poe at all.Â He'd been my lab partner for the last three months, and he was still as big a mystery as he'd been the first day.Â His thick-framed black glasses and tight, screen-printed t-shirts of eighties movies suggested he was a hipster, but without all the ironic self-loathing.Â
His father was the iconic Hollywood producer, Van Poe, who was currently dividing his time between filming movies in Hollywood and a flashy action television series in New Mexico.Â Harrison had money, and that allowed him to avoid being completely unpopular, but he wasn't social.Â In fact, he was very close to being a total nerd.Â He kept to himself and was excessively fond of chess, two things that would have sent a normal guy into social banishment.
At this point I would not have been surprised to discover he was either in a heavy metal band or studying to be a priest.Â It could go either way with him.Â He was an enigma.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
“Talia?”Â It was obvious from his pale skin and incessantly darting eyes that he was terrified.Â I had no idea if I was the frightening thing, or if it was something else entirely.Â
“Who is that, Tallulah?” Mom called out.Â
I decided to ignore her for the moment, focusing, instead, on Harrison's forehead, beaded with sweat.Â What was wrong with him?
For a second his eyebrows pulled together, and he seemed to snap out of whatever fugue he was in.Â “Your name is Tallulah?”
My eyes narrowed.Â “For you my name is
.Â The only person who calls me Tallulah is my mother and only because she won't stop though I've asked her not to over and over.”
“Your mother is
?”Â His voice was hoarse.
“What the hell is a 'Private Ike?'Â Is that some kind of weird euphemism?Â Because we don't do that stuff here.”
There was actually a hint of a smile on his tight lips.Â “
was the name of the private detective who had an office here.Â I used to see his sign all the time.Â I guess not anymore?”
I shook my head, watching him carefully.Â “It's the shop of Mystic Madam Megdala, the psychic.”Â
“Mystic Madam Megdala is your mother?”Â His voice was tinged with hysteria now.Â
I had a feeling we'd reached the point where Harrison was beyond freaked out.Â He couldn't handle one more surprise.Â “Her name is Stephanie.Â She just likes alliteration and the name Meg.”
“Your mom is psychic?”
Oh, boy.Â I hadn't pegged him for the believer type.Â He clearly wasn't here to see her, just some dude name
Unfortunately it was also clear he thought it was possible people could be psychic.Â I wasn't
, but if I didn't do something to talk him down, he might go darting back out into traffic and not be so lucky when the next fish truck zoomed past.Â
“Harrison, look at this pamphlet.Â Read the bottom line.”
He stared at the pamphlet lying on the glass counter next to the register.Â Mom kept crystals under the glass, and a small selection of incense.Â No one had ever bought anything.Â “Visa, MasterCard and cash?”Â He glanced up at me quizzically.Â
“Okay, no.Â The line above that.”
“For entertainment purposes only?”
I'd been the one to insist she add that.Â For us, this was a relatively honest life we were leading, and I wasn't ready to be chased away by lawyers.
“Yeah, that one.Â That means she's full of crap.Â My mom's not psychic.Â She'll happily take your money, but if you have a real problem, she can't help you.Â And you look like a guy with serious problems.”
For a fraction of a second visible sorrow hooded his light brown eyes.Â Then he shrugged, hunching his shoulders up into his body like in a moment he might disappear.Â
“I didn't come here for her.Â Or any other psychic.Â I was looking for a detective.Â Sorry, I didn't mean to intrude.”Â
My mind scrolled back to the first week we'd been here and the things the last tenant, apparently
, had left behind when he'd gone wherever people go when they leave a pit like this.Â Prison perhaps?Â He had left a laminated plastic card with his prices printed on it.Â A hundred dollars an hour, plus expenses, twenty hours guaranteed, ten percent up front.Â I remembered thinking it was a pity that my mother didn't have the skills necessary for being a detective.Â Or paying attention enough to fake being one.Â
The thought of that two thousand dollars, two K I could really have used, by the way, was enough to make me sigh.Â If only someone, a nice man named Mr. Pete, hadn't been stupid enough to put my mother in charge of finances at his carpet cleaning business when we'd first come to town.Â After all these months he'd just now noticed the eighteen hundred dollars missing from his yearly totals.Â He was too nice to accuse Mom of embezzlement outright, but it would go there eventually, if I couldn't come up with some way to pay him back.Â
Mom finally wandered into the lobby decked out in full Mystic Madam Megdala regalia.Â Usually Mom looked ridiculously young for a woman in her thirties, like a child almost.Â Short, tousled red hairâthe only physical characteristic I'd inherited from herâfreckles and pale blue eyes failed to give her the impression of age.Â She played it up, too, whenever she could.Â She said that people never failed to trust a person who looked cutesy and young.Â Only with "Meg", she was going for a more "authoritative psychic" look.Â Layers of shiny fabrics draped all over her like the sales counter at a material store.Â My friend's grandmother always used to say that God was in the details, but Mom would have countered that
was in the details.Â She said that if you went the extra mile to make sure the details were right, the mark was sure to believe you.Â
In this case, Harrison must have had the stink of big money on him, because she was going all out.Â She stopped, stared at him, and suddenly, her eyes lost their focus, and she stiffened completely, from head to toe.Â “The eye, the eye.Â Don't open the eye.Â The eye is death.Â Don't open it.”Â
Okay, usually she didn't get this dramatic.Â She must have been trying out a new formula.Â But I could tell her this one wasn't working.Â Tell the client what they want to hear is a much better rule than anything involving the word âdeath.'Â
Any color that had been left in Harrison's face immediately drained out.Â He pulled in a deep breath.Â I turned on her.Â
“What the hell, Mom?”
All of the tension left Harrison, as though my words had broken the spell caused by Mom's drama.Â
“You talk to your mother like that?”Â Â
There was no use trying to explain my relationship with my parents, and especially my mother.Â He couldn't possibly understand as he, undoubtedly, had parents that had continued maturing beyond the age of twelve or thirteen.Â It would only be pointless and embarrassing trying to describe our backwards parent/child relationship.Â