Lian was outside when I pulled up in front of the bar, he was studying one of the chalk symbols that appeared on the front walk every morning. He was also talking to himself. I stifled a smile as the one sided conversation seemed to become more heated. He gestured wildly, as he vented to the poor, defenseless sidewalk. Throwing up his hands, he turned and stalked back to the bar, his long-legged stride eating up the distance to the door before I could get out of the car.
I made my way across the deserted street, balancing two hot cups of coffee and my purse, teetering a little on my heels when I stepped up onto the uneven sidewalk. It was just as it had been every day since I’d started working for Lian, complicated looking symbols drawn in chalk all along the front of the bar. They kind of looked like mini crop circles.
Lian was still grumbling when he came back out, full pitcher of water and broom in hand. “Oh… pardon me, Figg,” he said after almost plowing me down. Pouring the water over the symbols, he began scrubbing them with the business end of the broom.
“I don’t know why you won’t let me do that,” I told him. He shook his head and grumbled a little more. If it had been someone else doing the guttural venting I would have sworn I heard the word ‘bitch’ in there. I planted my butt in one of the comfy club chairs just inside the door and drank my venti white chocolate mocha, watching Lian finish scrubbing the sidewalk.
There were a lot of things about him that didn’t add up. When I came in, looking for a job, he’d struck me pretty solidly as a professional man who was experiencing an early mid-life crisis. After we’d spoken for a while, I revised the professional part of my assumption to academic. He was definitely over-educated and the three-piece suits he wore were more college professor than upper-management.
As for the early mid-life crisis part, I’m still not sure. After working for him for all of two weeks, I knew he didn’t fit the bar owner role. My boss had the business sense of a three year old. There were never any customers, probably because he’d chosen to open his business just beyond the trendy Bishop Arts District. Sure, we got one from time to time. Usually they were lost or just too drunk to find their car.
He came in, put the cleaning supplies away and took his coffee. “I’d like you to discourage any visitors today,” he said. “I don’t want to be disturbed.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” I said. Working at the bar for a short while, I knew exactly what that meant. He didn’t have business meetings or suppliers to call. He’d gotten a new book and was determined to lock himself in his office.
On cue, the rattiest car I’d ever seen actually moving pulled up in front, it shuddered, backfired and then died. The tree-hugging pagan stickers all over the back of the vehicle sent Lian scurrying for his office. The guy with greasy, shoulder-length hair that got out of the hoopty and headed for the front door almost had me following him. I groaned and moved behind the bar so that I didn’t have to smell the guy.
“Woah!” the guy said, taking off his mirrored aviators, unapologetically checking me out. “What’s happening, sweetness?” He slid onto one of the barstools, his eyes glued to the Captain America shield, printed on my T-shirt.
“Not gonna happen.” I said. I wanted to add ‘you patchouli-soaked hippy’ to the thought, but there was a slim chance he might actually be there to buy something, so I bit my tongue.
He leaned close enough for me to get a good whiff. “Is the man available?”
“Not today.” I glared at him, hoping for a way to call him a hippy, now that I was sure he wasn’t a paying customer.
“That’s cool,” he said, taking off his hoodie, revealing a T-shirt with ‘Born Again Pagan’ emblazoned across the front. “What time do you go to lunch?” He slid his grubby hand across the bar, almost touching me before I pulled away.
Unbelievable! What part of not going to happen didn’t he understand? Maybe it was earwax buildup. “Are you going to order a drink, or do I have to get the air freshener out and chase you around the bar with it?”
He held up his skinny arms, palms out. “There’s no need for violence, babe. I just thought we could do something about your muddy aura.” He slid a fairly professional looking business card across the bar and headed for the door. “Call me if you change your mind.”
I dumped the card in the drawer with all the others I’d collected. Aura cleansing seemed to be the pick-up line of choice for the male half of Lian’s odd little fan club. The females weren’t so bad. At least they washed themselves on a regular basis. Usually they wanted to teach me how to do something for my chakras, whatever the hell that was.
I had about thirty minutes of bar wiping and stool sanitizing peace before the next one arrived. This one looked like Madame Zora, straight from a carnival circus tent complete with scarf over her hair, huge dangly earrings and a gypsy skirt that jingled when she walked.
“Is Dr. Cairn available?” she asked, her little voice and eyes looking at anything but me heaped on the guilt.
“He’s not seeing anyone today,” I told her.
“Oh.” Her shoulders sagged.
“I’ll give him a message.” I couldn’t be mean to the sweet ones. She jingled over to the bar and wrote something on a cocktail napkin.
“I had a vision,” she said. “There’s trouble coming in the next few days.” She handed me the napkin, barely making contact with my skin. Her eyes grew round and she collapsed onto the pine floor in a sitting position. She looked up at me. Her eyes, taking on a milky appearance. “You’re in danger, Eleanor.”
It wasn’t the danger that got my full attention. It was that she called me by my first name. The only person who ever called me that was my mother when I was in trouble. Something resembling fear caught in my chest for a heartbeat, then I remembered that none of their crap was real. She had to be wearing contacts. She’d probably slipped them in when she was writing the note.
“Out!” I said, pointing toward the door.
“No! Please!” She gripped my pant leg, tugging on the vintage, checkered fabric. “Death follows the path you’re on.”
“Out!” I said, pulling out of her grasp. “I’m calling the cops.” She scurried out of the bar and I threw the napkin in the trash. “Weirdos.” I muttered to myself.
All was quiet for a while after that. We had a visitor right after the gypsy, but a narrow-eyed glare from me was enough to send him away.
For the rest of the afternoon, I did my best to wipe the varnish off the immaculate bar; listening to my iPod with one earbud in. Around three, the door chime jangled. My foot slid out from under me and my iPod hit the floor a mere second after my butt. I grimaced, hoping that my accident hadn’t rocked the Kasbah enough to send bottles flying off the shelves on top of me. Collecting myself, I stood to greet the visitor.
“May I speak to Dr. Cairn.” It was a statement not a question.
Standing in front of me was the boogeyman, or actually woman. I might not have believed in the cheesy psychics, but Rene Champtillion was a neighborhood legend. Up close, she didn’t really look that scary. She was kind of small, her close-cropped hair sprinkled with a little gray. Her appearance said sweet little grandmother, but I’d been in high school with her grandchildren and knew better. In my sophomore year, her granddaughter Levine who was a senior, dated a boy on the football team. The gossip mill said that Levine got pregnant and the boy abandoned her. Soon after that, the boyfriend dropped dead. Could it have been an aneurysm? Sure, but I didn’t think so.
I scooted into Lian’s office, completely ignoring his wishes. He was inspecting a coffee table sized book with yellowing pages. “Lian,” I said, “you have a visitor who I wouldn’t keep waiting if I were you.”
“Who is it?”
“It’s Marie freaking Laveau, that’s who it is!”
Lian frowned at me. “How does she look?”
“Ha ha,” I said, shocked at the first stab at humor I’d seen him manage. “The Marie Laveau of Oak Cliff,” I said. “Come on!” I tugged on him. “I don’t want her putting the evil eye on me!”
I averted my eyes as Rene Chamtillion, voodoo queen of Oak Cliff followed Lian into his office. I agonized for about thirty seconds over whether or not to listen at the closed door. Chances were that I wouldn’t hear anything, but if Rene was putting a curse on Lian, I might need to know what kind. Though if I were caught, I might find myself on the wrong end of a voodoo doll.
“You’ll find no zombies in my basement Dr. Cairn.” The hint of a New Orleans’ accent in her speech crawled along my spine as I listened. “Them old ways is just that, old and dead.” The guest chair across from Lian’s desk made a squeaking noise, signaling that she was probably ready to go. I shuffled back to the bar and resumed my imaginary cleaning.
Rene exited the bar like the queen she was. A great whoosh of air left my lungs as soon as the door closed.
“Superstitious?” Lian asked, one eyebrow raised in question.
I glared at him. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on here, I am going to strangle you!” I paced the best I could in four and a half inch heels. “I mean, we barely have any customers, yet every ten dollar fortune teller in the neighborhood has been here to see you! And now Rene with her grandgoons outside…” The rant trailed off as he stared at me with unnerving eyes.
I plopped down on my stool. “The goons that were by her car, they’re her grandsons. I went to high school with them.” And from the bulges in their jackets, they had graduated from scary to scary and armed. He was still staring, almost looking amused. “TELL ME!” I half yelled, hamming it up, face in the air and fists clenched in pretend agony.
He sent me a blank stare that said I was getting squat from him. Danger or not, if the gypsy was to be believed, I was definitely keeping the bartending gig until I figured out what was going on.
I slung my bag over my shoulder and started for the door. “I’m getting food. Do you want a burger?”
Lian took out his wallet and handed me his bank card. “A Grilled chicken salad for me, please.”
“Salad?” I snorted. “Pansy.”
“Muzzy,” he said, and smiled. Leave it to Lian to call me something I had to look up.
I walked down to the neighborhood hamburger joint and grabbed some takeout. On my way back to work, I spotted Rene’s wannabe pimp grandson parked in a brand new Mercedes SUV across the street from the bar. I walked in, trying not to let on that I’d made him.
“Lian.” I yelled. He poked his head out of the office door. “Looks like you pissed the Voodoo Queen off.” He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Her grandson is parked across the street watching you.”
Lian went over and plastered his face to the big picture window. So much for subtlety!
I stared out the window over Lian’s shoulder. “What could he be doing?
“Go around the corner to the cleaners, I want to see if it’s you or me he’s watching.”
“Being the bait is not part of my job description.”
Lian sighed. “No, but assisting me is and I have drycleaning.”
“Why don’t you go?” I asked, “Oh yea, that’s right, you never leave the bar.”
Lian turned to face me, “How do you think the clothes got there if I never leave?”
“You probably paid someone to take it.”
He opened the door and maneuvered me to it. “Get going Champ. Not too fast though, he doesn’t look that bright.”
“If you haven’t noticed, going fast isn’t an option in these shoes.”
I shuffled down the sidewalk keeping my stride shorter than usual. I forced myself not to look over my shoulder until I rounded the corner where I allowed myself to peek. He hadn’t moved an inch. I retrieved Lian’s laundry and walked back to the store.
“He’s not after me.” I thrust the clothes at Lian.