The dark was sticky and warm and the air was so thick it felt as though he could swim through it. He tried but could not move. His head could, but nothing else. Pulling at his hands and legs only caused what felt like razor wire to cut deeper into his wrists and ankles. Trying to open his eyes, he found they were behind a cloth tightly bound around his head. When he tried to take a deep breath, his airway was blocked by a smooth rubber ball gag. From what seemed to be very far away, he could hear the sounds of the Gypsy carnival. Wherever he was had no noise.
As he became more alert, he could hear the sound of breathing from behind him. His heart raced and he tried to speak around the ball gag.
“Hoh, oh eeh–”
It was hopeless. Ball gags were well designed. But without warning, the breathing gave way to footsteps, which approached his chair from behind. There was the sound of fabric stretching and a metallic flexing sound. Then the fabric was ripped from his head, freeing his eyes. The tent he was in had a bed, dresser, mirror and a little fan rotating as it buzzed. All this was lost upon him though.
The girl from the front of the Pleasure Tent stood before him, nude, one hand on one slender hip, the other hand balancing a metal pie dish on her fingertips as though she were a waitress. His heart leapt into his mouth and despite his predicament, he could feel the beginnings of an erection.
This was not lost on her, since he was nude, he could now see, spread-eagled on the chair with one leg wrapped to each chair leg with razor wire. She smirked at his member’s pathetic show of force and lowered the pie tin to his eyes. He gazed back at himself from the pool of his own blood, reflected in billions and billions of microscopic cells.
“Rom mikiah wheli fursna,” she hissed at him, dipping a finger in the blood and licking it off sensually. “I enjoy watching you die, white man. Bit by bit.”
He tried to speak but could not even attempt it. He was mesmerized, watching as she dipped her palm into the pool of his blood and reached for him. Stroking him in earnest, it didn’t take long for him to reach his full potential. She straddled him and his vision grew darker and darker as she shouted the words into his face and they both realized culmination.
Catching her breath, the girl stood and hopped off Matteo, taking no notice of his vacant expression. She filled a pie dish with his fluids.
A Gypsy with long braided hair entered and looked her straight in the eye, paying no mind to her exposed body. One eye was a bright, piercing blue. The other, a bleached white sightless orb.
“Dai, shivisna ecrusi taruma,” she said, gesturing at Matteo and reaching for a robe. “He is ready.”
The man nodded, crossing the room to Matteo and lifting both him and the chair to which he was bound. He carried Matteo out of the tent without a sound. The girl picked up the pie dish of Matteo’s fluids, carrying them from the tent, careful not to spill a drop.
A long black car pulled into the carnival’s parking area and stopped with a crunch of gravel and swirl of dirt. Four men got out, dressed in fine suits with matching fedoras. The bulge under each of their arms and at their waist made it clear these men expected trouble.
Giletti’s goons, Marco, Branden, Lou and Carter, were on high alert, not because of the Gypsies but because Giletti had been apoplectic with rage and let it be known that negative results would not be well received. As they entered the midway, they spread out, heads on swivels, walking with purpose. The public parted before them uneasily, sensing trouble.
Zara spotted an anomaly in the movement of the crowd. She had been working here her whole life and could easily pick out the signs of anything but the general public plodding through the ritual of a carnival. The four well-dressed men were coming her way with a purpose, looking far too bulky to be carrying anything less than an Uzi each beneath their jackets.
Carter was in the lead and was not the type of man to be coy. He walked up to Zara and showed her the butt of his gun. “Word is you got someone for sale who ain’t yours, lady,” he said, his voice casual enough that none of the public nearby looked around. “The boss sez you’re to let her go wid us, now, and your boss is s’posed to come back to meet wid our boss also. Now,” Carter gestured at the other three unsmiling men surrounding the entrance. “We can do dis de easy way or de hard way.”
Ladez Hammalka had been leading his clan of approximately one hundred souls for many years. It had started many years ago with two families, roaming the country in their RVs. Over time, marriages and unions had strengthened the bonds of family and increased their numbers. One year, Ladez chanced upon an old carnival ride at an auction. It needed only minor repairs, and nobody else wanted it. For a song, Ladez got them to throw in the trailer that housed the track and cars. In little hamlets they frequented, the locals were thrilled by any entertainment and the ride gave them another reason to visit the Gypsy midway, which was little more than booths selling hand-made items. They flocked to the carnival atmosphere, a fact not lost on Ladez, who began expanding on it, buying rides that needed fixing and having the mechanically gifted members of the family bringing them back to life.
With their income once again secure, Ladez began seeking not only security but luxury. One of his wives put to him the suggestion of a body shop. Through her connections, she knew no shortage of orphaned or runaway girls that would be happy to lay with a man in exchange for food and shelter. Ladez agreed.
Now, decades later, as he sat in his Empire Liner motorcoach, looking at the four men who had entered by holding an automatic weapon to his only daughter’s stomach, he felt a cold rage burning within him. Come to take what is ours again, he thought.
“Release her.” Ladez said.
“I think we’ll just hold on to her while we chat, just for safekeeping, Pops,” Branden, the tallest of the four, was holding Zara around the throat with his Uzi to her head. “Don’t get any funny ideas wid the elbows, honey.”
Carter chuckled, holding his gun lazily on Ladez. “Yeah, I’d hate to have to shoot dis old guy just because you decided to be a hero. We just want Bianca Giletti, and for the old man to come meet our boss.”
Ladez felt the cold rage turn hot. Without looking at his hand, he pierced his palm with a sharpened ring he always wore and hissed, “Calidi.”
The men looked confused and raised their guns sharply as Ladez’s hand rose from behind his back, blood running down his withered arm. He raised his hand high and said it again, just as a drop of blood fell and hit the floor of the RV.
The two men holding their weapons screamed and dropped them as the metal began to glow a dark red. Blisters shot up on the hands which had been holding their guns. Marco and Lou, their weapons still in their holsters, began to yell and clawed their jackets open, yanking the hot metal from their armpits and dropping them to the floor. Zara elbowed Branden in the stomach and slipped from his grasp, running over to Ladez. Branden doubled over, unable to howl in pain over his burned hand. Carter was squeezing his hand between his legs as tears rolled down his face. His eyes, wide and streaming, stared at Ladez.
“What—how did you—”
“SILENCE!” thundered Ladez and all four men cringed back, nursing their various hurts.
“You t’ink you come in here and start giving orders? After years of living off yer filth and offal, we finally able to ‘ave a portion of luxury you ‘ave lived all your life, an’ you come in ‘ere to take from us.” The old man’s voice did not get louder, but it seemed to fill the entire room. The four men cowered as he went on. “You will walk from ‘ere an’ tell your boss of what occurred. Tell him, we not like what he used to, and will not roll over like good dogs.”
Relief washed over the faces of the men as Ladez finished speaking. “We will, sir,” Carter spoke up. “We appreciate you letting us go wid just the warning, we’ll make sure—”
Ladez held up a hand. “Well…not all you,” he said with a leer. Carter’s eyes traveled to the bloody hand, a drop poised to fall. His eyes went back to Ladez’s. There was no mercy there.
“Burn,” Ladez hissed as the drop fell.
Immediately, Branden and Carter began to scream as a fire as they had never known erupted within them, as though their very souls were being incinerated. Steam poured out of their orifices as they thrashed around, clawing at themselves, unable to quench the internal flames. Lou and Marco flattened themselves against the wall, horrified, unable to look away. Carter’s eyes melted out of his sockets and down his face as his tongue, blackened, flopped uselessly inside his charcoal mouth. Branden had fallen to his knees and was trying to scream, but all that came out was black dust. When they finally toppled over, dead burned husks, they left a charcoal smear on the motorcoach’s carpet.
Lou and Marco had at some point clutched each other for support as they witnessed the men being burned alive. Huddled together in a wet spot of shared urine, they stared wide-eyed at Ladez.
The old man took a deep breath and let it out, closing his eyes for a moment. Opening them, he gestured, a sweep of the hand toward the RV’s door. It was with the non-bloody hand, but Lou and Marco still flinched.
“Now, go from ‘ere.” Ladez clasped his hands before him, the bloody one holding the clean one. “Tell your Don what you ‘ave seen, with my regards. And express my condolences to the families of dese two foolish men.” He nodded at the charcoal husks.
Marco nodded, his eyes unfocused. Lou croaked something that may have been an affirmative. Neither moved.
“GO!” screamed Zara. Immediately both men stampeded for the door, nearly tearing it off the frame before realizing it opened outward. With a bang, they fled into the night.
Don Giletti was just lighting his fourth cigar when Lou and Marco burst into his study, panting heavily, having run the whole way, since the car keys were in Carter’s pocket. Giletti looked at their faces and his heart sank.
“Where are Carter and Branden?”
“Charcoal!” screamed Lou, quite hysterical. “He done something, black magic, witchcraft, voodoo, I dunno but he burnt em both, pore ol’ Carter an’ Branden burnt to a crisp from the inside out, on me life sir, they got me too, me and pore Marco, lookit—”
Dragging Marco(who seemed to be in a daze) forward to the Don’s desk, he pulled Marco’s coat and shirt open. He yanked the undershirt to the side so Giletti could see a blister in the shape of a gun seared into Marco’s chest just beneath the armpit. “I got one too, but we was lucky compare’t to Branden and Carter, poor fellers just burnt up…”
Turning away from the blubbering Lou, Giletti looked at his brother Brando with smoldering eyes. “Get Tony and you go down dere to talk to dat old man. Or rather, let Tony do de talking, as loud as he pleases, as long as de old man is able to answer questions when he gets here.”
Brando smirked. “Tony don’t usually have to speak too loudly before they gets the point.”
Giletti stared at his cigar, smoldering gently away in his hand. “Indeed.”