Gypsy Mob Episode 5 – Childhood

 

In the days Ladez Hammalka was a young boy in an ancient roving Gypsy clan, he remembered hard times, tight belts and empty bellies. He remembered going with his mother to beg on a street corner when he was too young to be on his own. When he reached nine years old, he was sent to find his own street corner along with his brothers and sisters. His mother sometimes went with his father, sometimes on her own, for the more members of their family were out there, the more they would come home with. Living on the public’s kindness, some nights everybody went to bed hungry. 

The Gypsies had no communal property, everything belonged solely to their respective families. There was a code the Gypsies lived by; while they were not above swindling and conning their respective marks, thievery from another within the clan was not tolerated. Ladez Hammalka remembered the screams of those who had found out the hard way as their thieving fingers were severed, before being turned out of the clan for good. But mostly Ladez Hammalka remembered the nights he could not sleep, staring at the ceiling of their tent, hunger growling inside him like a wolf, rocks beneath his back getting larger by each hungry hour. Sometimes he fainted. 

The man who called himself the leader of the clan was a weak individual named Hurfong Sammenz who had been in the position for as long as Ladez had been alive. The rest of the clan possessed no individuals who wanted the responsibility and so they blindly followed Sammenz. They wandered aimlessly across the country, crisscrossing it at random, sometimes buried in snow in the mountains or dehydrating in the desert in August. The older and weaker members of the clan had started expiring before mutterings of removing their leader reached his ears. Rather than take a chance on a violent coup, Sammenz vanished in the night, taking with him as many valuables as he could easily lay his hands on. 

Without a leader, the clan began loosely drifting apart, finally going their own separate ways. The Hammalka family, crammed into two large vans along with everything they owned, never stayed in one place for more than a week before they were told to “move along.” Sometimes these warnings came through official channels; sometimes one of Ladez’s brothers came back to their camp with a broken arm or one of his sisters returned home with a black eye and a split lip, refusing to make eye contact. Then it was time to cram all eight children and all of everyone’s possessions into the two vans again. Over the years as the family grew and the children did likewise, their food situation became more and more dire. More often, all the food went to Mother, who was expecting their next sibling and was eating for two. 

One night, Ladez heard Mother and Father talking outside the tents at night, when they thought the children were all asleep. 

“…can’t go on much longer…”

“…horrible…”

“….no choice.”

“But which?!”

“Shh!”

The voices dropped lower than he could hear, and he fell asleep before he heard another word. 

The next day, the family stopped at a gas station. His parents seemed anxious, glancing at him frequently as the rest of the kids hopped out of the vans, stretching their legs. Elbowing his siblings out of the way, Ladez ran for the store, his stomach churning. Last night, they had eaten from the dumpster of a deli that threw out all its unsold perishable food at closing time. Something had upset his stomach and he was not even sure he could get into the bathroom before everything unloaded in his pants. Bursting through the door, he looked around wildly. 

“Bathroom?” 

The clerk looked up from the register. “Paying customers only.” 

“I’ll buy somethin’, PLEASE…” Ladez said as his stomach gave another almighty creak and groan. 

Another eternal moment as the clerk considered, then nodded towards the back door. “Out the door and to the left.”

Ladez sprinted out the back door and turned left, sobbing with relief as he saw the bathroom door, unoccupied and open. 

When he was certain he was finished, he walked gingerly around the back of the building, picking his way through the overgrowth to make sure the clerk wouldn’t catch sight of him. He was so focused on avoiding the clerk that when he saw his family’s vans pulling out of the station and back onto the main road, it didn’t register until he saw the empty spaces at the pump where the vans had sat. He forgot the burning of his sphincter as he sprinted after the vans on legs that were still weak, yelling hoarsely as they pulled further and further away. Coming to a halt, chest heaving, he watched them drive off down the road, out of his life forever. 

Of course, Ladez didn’t know that yet. Returning to the gas station, he found a spot to wait where he could easily see them returning to pick him up, apologizing profusely for having left him in the commotion of getting everyone back in the car. He would be merciful, he decided, give them some hurt looks and maybe a tear. But he would not rake them over the coals. He loved his family too much for that. 

***

The adult Ladez sat in his motorhome which still reeked of burned flesh. His hand throbbed where he had pierced it, and he flexed it, feeling the torn edges of the puncture knitting together slowly. In a few hours, it would be smooth and unmarked again. 

A rapping at the door of the cruiser opened his eyes. His eldest daughter Zara peered in, her dark eyes wide. “Father?”

“Come, Zara. What have you?”

The girl entered the motorhome, shifting nervously from foot to foot. “There are more men here to see you.”

Ladez raised one bushy eyebrow. “Back for more?”

“They will not enter,” she said, glancing at the door as though to verify it. “They want you to come out and speak to them.”

Something in her tone awoke an uneasy feeling in Ladez, one he had not experienced often. “There is more. Tell me.”

“One of them is darkness,” she said, forking the sign of the Evil Eye at the door. “You should be careful of him.”

Zara had too often been proven correct in her analysis of strangers. This disquiet in her deepened the unease Ladez felt. He stood without speaking, opening the door and stepping out into the night. 

There was a campfire burning outside the camper, casting yellow flickers of light on the faces of the two smaller men standing beside it. Their faces were blank and hard, their arms crossed over expensive suits. The third man towered behind them, a bulky shadow cloaked in darkness, exuding darkness. Ladez, who was nowhere near as sensitive to the auras of others as his daughter Zara, could feel the menace from the tall figure. Unbidden, a chill ran down his spine. 

“What do ye want from me?” he asked, crushing his fear of the tall man down deep where they could not see it. “Do ye come to experience the burning, like yer friends?” He grinned, a smile so fake that the two men could easily tell. 

“We have come to deliver you your last invitation,” Rocco said, his voice flat. “Return wid us to speak wid the Don, or Tony will ‘ave no choice but to make you.” 

The towering figure shifted slightly. Ladez peered into the shadows but could make out nothing but a silhouette. He could smell the menace baking off the man, and tried to keep control of the conversation. 

“And if I don’? You have no power here,” Ladez said dismissively. “I could turn ye to charcoal with a whisper of my will, all t’ree of you.”

Brando laughed and spat into the fire. “Try it.”

Piercing his palm again, Ladez flicked his hand at them and cried “Bur–!” 

Before the word had left his lips, the silhouette had stepped forward, the fire casting light over his chest while leaving his face shrouded in black. Ladez let the word die unfinished as he saw his youngest son, three months old, dangling from the man’s enormous hand by his head. The man held the infant up, his arm straight out. Tendons in his hand stood out as his hand tightened on the child’s skull. Ladez could hear a sickening pop from inside the man’s hand. 

“Now ‘e’s got brain damage,” Rocco said, flicking his cigarette into the fire. “Keep playing wid us and Tony will crush ‘is skull into pulp. Come wid us now, and your boy will just be a little slow in de head. Up to you, Pops.”

Rage and terror fought a bitter battle in Ladez, his child dangling from one enormous hand as the two men in the firelight smirked at him. Behind him, he could hear Zara weeping quietly. 

“I come wi’ you, I have word dat dere be no damage to my family?” Ladez asked, fighting to keep the tremor from his voice. 

“One t’ing at a time, gran’pa,” Brando said. “Let’s go talk to de Don an’ you can hear what he has t’say. Otherwise, Tony’s just getting started.”

Ladez looked over his shoulder at Zara, looking at him with red-rimmed streaming eyes. “Go, papa,” she moaned. “Or they kill us all.”

Turning back, Ladez nodded. “Release me son and I go wi’ you.”

“No, ‘e’ll be coming wid us, in case you get any ideas.” Brando grinned as Tony tucked the little body inside his jacket, where it made only the smallest of bulges. 

Ladez ground his teeth together in impotent fury.

“After you, gramps,” Rocco said, stepping aside and gesturing magnanimously.

Gypsy Mob : Episode 3 / Gypsy Traffic

Peter Giletti had just pulled his Ferrari into the Giletti mansion when Matteo came bursting from the front door, his face a mask of terror so stark it made Peter’s balls creep. Putting the sports car in park and setting the emergency brake, he hopped out and waved. 

“Matteo! What the fuck is up?”

Wild-eyed, Matteo looked around. When he spotted Peter, he rushed over, seizing Peter by the shoulders. “Pete! You gotta help me! I lost her and your uncle—”

“Whoa whoa whoa, first things first, drop the Armani,” Peter said, pushing Matteo’s hands away from his tailored jacket. “I just got this. Now what about my uncle?”

“He’s gonna kill me if I don’t find Bianca!” Matteo said, wringing his hands. 

“Wait a minute, where’s Bianca? What happened?”

Matteo blurted out the night’s events, circling back to the salient point. “He’s going to kill me if I can’t find Bianca! Peter, you gotta help me!”

“You really ditched Bianca to go fuck a whore? That’s pretty—”

“Yes, I know what it is, but it is what it is and if I don’t find her, I’ll never fuck anything again! Now will you help me or not?” Matteo waited, shoulders heaving. 

“Yeah, yeah, sure thing,” Peter said, opening the door to his Ferrari and sliding back inside. “Come on.”

They made good time back to the carnival, Peter pushing the little car up to nearly 130mph on the straight stretches. The police in the area knew the Giletti family cars on sight and knew better than to interfere with them. Peter concentrated on his driving, Matteo sat rigid in his seat, savoring each breath he took, wondering if they would be among his last. 

Before long, the lights glowing in the night became brighter and they were pulling into the parking lot of the Gyspy camp. Matteo reached beneath his shirt and pulled out a Glock .9mm. Racking the slide, he ensured a round was in the chamber and stowed the gun away again. Peter watched, an eyebrow raised. 

“Guns blazing?”

Matteo shook his head, scrabbling at the car door handle. “Just a little protection. It’s up to them.” 

Shrugging, Peter chambered a round into his own Glock and tucked it back into his shoulder holster. 

Passing under the gate to the scruffy midway, Peter popped a cigarette into his mouth and lit it with a practiced motion as he surveyed the meager crowd while following Matteo. “Pretty weak carnival. Everything is rusted. You couldn’t pay me to ride one of these fucking things.” He took a drag as his eyes swiveled to follow a blonde girl with a painted face and jeans which looked to be painted on as well. “Rides are for kids anyway.”

“There,” Matteo said, pointing as he quickened his pace. “That’s the tent.”

Peter looked from the sign proclaiming Your Fortune for $5 to the scrawny man beneath it. The man grinned invitingly, gesturing to the door. Rolling his eyes, Peter caught sight of something far more akin to his tastes. 

“You go ahead,” he said to Matteo, who was fumbling in his pocket for a five-dollar bill. Beating him to the draw, Peter pulled out a five and gave it to the skinny man who made it disappear. “My treat. I’ll wait out here, I want to finish this.” He waved the cigarette. 

“Okay. I’ll yell if I need backup.” 

Peter saluted with the cigarette as Matteo disappeared into the tent. He took another drag and dropped it to the ground in front of the Gypsy, grinding it out and turning without a word toward the Pleasure Tent. 

“Hiya,” said the girl attending its entrance, flashing a dazzling white smile over the barest of tops. “Looking for pleasure?”

“Yes, and I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Peter said, glancing over at the fortune tent. 

The girl smiled. “Take our newest girl. Tonight her first night.”

“I’ll take her. How much?”

“$200,” the girl said, holding out a hand. 

Peter’s fingers nimbly extracted two Benjamins from his wallet and slapped them into the girl’s palm. She tucked it down her skirt and beckoned him to follow as she slipped into the tent. Peter followed her through the labyrinth of cloth stalls, adjusting himself as the sounds of sex further stimulated his growing member. The girl stopped at one of the curtains and gestured. 

“She new. Start tonight. No worry ‘bout that. She ready.” With that and a smirk that gave Peter’s peter a twinge, she retreated into the dim of the tent. 

Peter licked his lips and pulled the curtain back. A girl lay on the cot, staring at the ceiling. The shadows hid her face, framed by her long dark hair. She was nude, her arms over her head and legs slightly apart. At the sound of his zipper, her eyes flickered towards him, then back to the ceiling. Unbuckling his pants and pulling down his underwear, he mounted her and slid himself inside. The girl at the front had been right, this girl was prepared. It didn’t take him long and the whole time, her expression never changed. 

Panting, Peter slid out of her and wiped himself on the cot before standing and refastening his pants. “Good for you, honey?”

“Yes.”

Peter’s hands froze in the act of buckling his belt. It was not the word itself, nor its delivery, flat, dead, devoid of any emotion. The voice he had heard at the Giletti mansion more times than he could count. It was Bianca’s voice. 

“…Bi?” Peter croaked. 

She looked at him blankly. With shaking hands, he pulled his lighter from his pocket. Flicking it open, he cast a soft glow over the room, illuminating the face of his cousin, Bianca Giletti.

“Bianca! What the fuck are you doing here!”

She said nothing, just continued staring at him. If not for her breathing, she could have been dead. 

“I’ve got to get you out of here. Can you walk?” Peter reached for her, weak-kneed at the thought of touching her again after what he had just done. “Bi, I’m sorr—”

A harsh whisper of canvas behind Peter made him spin. An enormous man covered in tattoos and body hair had torn the curtain back and was reaching for him. Peter’s heart leaped into his mouth as he staggered backward. 

“Where you tink you goin’ wit our girl, eh?” the man growled, stepping forward. 

Peter’s reflexes, honed by years of the family business, came to his rescue, drawing his Glock from the shoulder holster and pointing it squarely between the man’s eyes. The big man halted, the gun’s barrel an inch from his forehead. 

“Go ‘head, city boy,” he sneered. “If you got da guts—”

The Gypsy’s hand moved, amazingly fast for his size. Unfortunately, his aim was not good; as he attempted to grab the gun from Peter, one sausage-sized finger slid into the trigger guard of the gun, its girth inexorably pressing Peter’s more modest digit into the trigger. There was a shot. The giant man’s ugly sneer turned into a look of shock as the back of his skull and brains splattered across the tent wall. 

Peter was still trying to process what had happened when the screams began, galvanizing him into action. Pulling the gun from the finger of the dead giant, he looked around wildly. Bianca lay on the cot, splattered with bits of bone and brain, her expression as vacant as ever. There were yells from within the tent as interrupted men and women expressed their fear and concern. There was no choice. 

“I’ll get you out of here, Bi, I promise,” he whispered to her, unsure if she would hear him or if it would even register. Slipping out of the stall’s entrance over the dead giant, he fled down one of the corridors between the stalls, heading for the exit. The girl who had admitted him was standing in it, a machete in her hand. She had dispensed with the knowing smirk and her face was a mask of rage. 

“You murder a Rom, white man,” she hissed, raising the machete. “You will pay.”

Peter raised the gun, pointing it at her chest. “Step aside, lady, or those pretty tits of yours will be the next thing to get splattered.” 

Curling her lip, the girl stood aside, still holding the machete. Peter eased around her, trying to keep an eye on the machete and the rest of her at the same time. As he passed her, she spat at him. 

“I’ll remember that, babe. You’ll be hearing from me again real soon,” he snarled, slipping into the crowd of oblivious carnival patrons outside the tent who had somehow not heard the gunshot. 

Elbowing his way through the throng, Peter halted, panting, before the fortunes tent, his gun beneath his bloody Armani coat. The scrawny Gypsy eyed his hectic expression with what appeared to be a look of amusement. 

“Where’s my friend?” Peter demanded, looking over his shoulder toward the Pleasure Tent, sure the girl would be coming after him with the machete. 

“You friend ‘as gone,” the Gypsy said, spreading his fingers. “He say, he see you later.”

Peter pulled the gun from beneath his coat, keeping it low. “He wouldn’t do that, don’t take me for a moron. Now you tell me where he is, or—”

Behind the scrawny man, another mammoth Gypsy appeared out of the darkness of the fortunes tent. “Or what, slicker?”

Peter heard shouts from the direction of the Pleasure Tent and, performing an analysis of his odds, holstered his weapon and took off, shouldering his way through the crowd of increasingly agitated carnival-goers. He did not stop until he was in his Ferrari pushing sixty mph on his way out of the parking lot.

***

Matteo pushed into the dimly lit interior of the fortunes tent to see a thin old woman wrapped in shawls seated before a dark glass orb. She raised her eyes to his, and a smile crept across her mouth. “So, you come for your fortune?”

“I come for my girlfriend, Bianca,” Matteo said. He pulled his phone from his pocket and showed the woman his phone’s wallpaper. From the screen, Bianca was blowing a kiss with a bottle of tequila in her other hand. “She got her fortune read earlier tonight and now she’s missing.”

“I donno whatcha talkin ‘bout,” the woman said. Her smile widened. “If I read ya fortune, maybe we find hers?”

“Sure, fine, whatever, only her dad has told me he’ll cut off my nuts if I can’t find her so I really need—”

The woman threw up her hand, freezing Matteo in mid-sentence as the crystal ball’s surface flared bright blue. “Silence!”

She moved her long fingers over the ball, peering deep into its depths. Matteo waited impatiently, hopping from one foot to the other. Waste of time, this, he thought furiously as the woman whispered gibberish to the ball. Bianca’s father is going to have me castrated and I’m sitting here watching this old bat poke a piece of glass.

“Well?” he demanded when he could stand it no longer. 

The woman looked a moment longer and then raised her eyes to meet his. “Well what?”

“Where is Bianca?” Matteo’s voice was becoming shrill. 

“Ah,” the woman said, and shook her head. “I can no tell you dat. But I tell you, you be reunited wid her soon. You VERY HANDSOME!” she shouted this last, causing Matteo to recoil. 

“What the—”

“You VERY. HANDSOME.” She repeated, if anything, louder. 

“Listen,” Matteo said, his voice cracking as he pulled the Glock from his waistband. “If you don’t tell me where Bianca is—”

There was a rustling noise behind him. He half-turned in time to see an enormous man swinging a baseball bat at his head before the world exploded into blackness. 

“I tell you, Matteo,” Madam Zara stood, looking down at the prostrate form of Matteo. “You be seeing her soon.” 

The giant snickered.

“Good swing, Grog,” she said with a smile. “Take him to tent.”

***

The sound of a Ferrari caught Don Giletti’s ear and he turned, frowning, to glance out the window behind the desk in his study. Not just because he and his wife Lucia had bought it for their son Peter not six months ago, but because he had made the modifications to that engine himself, and he couldn’t mistake the sound of its tachometer reaching the red line. 

He turned back to face the room. His brother Rocco stood by the tray of amber-filled decanters, pouring himself a snifter of cognac. Giletti’s wife Lucia leaned against the front of his desk, her cosmetically perfect ass seated a few feet from Giletti. “I’m sorry, my dear, what were you saying?”

Lucia rolled her eyes. A few years Giletti’s senior, she sometimes felt as though she were a mother chiding her son. Turning to face him, she leaned against the desk, palms down. “The body trade is down all of a sudden, and you know that is one trade that is recession-proof. Something has changed, Lorenzo, and we need to figure out what it is. I have girls sitting idle at night.”

“My supplier is getting ratty as well,” Rocco said, coming back from the bar with a drink and lit cigarette in the other hand. “I told him I only needed half a container this week and he warned me not to let it become a habit, then hung up.”

Giletti snorted. “I try not to lose sleep over it.”

With a sudden bang, the doors to the study flew open, making them all jump. The men had their guns half drawn before their brains registered that their brother, Brando, towed his son Peter by the arm. The latter’s eyes were giant saucers, staring around though not seeing. Coming to a halt, Brando dropped Peter’s arm and slammed the doors shut, locking them. He strode forward and prodded Peter in the back, pushing him forward. 

“Go on, tell them!” he barked. “Spit it out, boy!” His face was red and his hair looked as though he had been pulling chunks of it out. Giletti had never seen his brother looking quite so deranged and felt a hint of an unusual emotion he was able to identify as fear. What the hell had happened?

“I—they—there’s a car—carnival, up the road,” Peter gabbled, still staring around as though he had never seen the place before. “They had—girls. Bianca. They—I—” Peter shivered mightily and wrapped his arms around himself as though he were freezing. 

“What de absolute fuck are you gabbling about?” Giletti roared, on his feet, fingernails unconsciously digging into the desk. 

“You’ve been wondering why the girl trade is down,” Brando said, striding forward and shoving Peter out of the way, who took no notice. “I think you’ll find it’s been down the exact length of time as a certain Gypsy carnival has been set up in the area. As near as I can tell, Peter, saw a tent set up as a brothel, and when he went in to, um, investigate, the girl they gave him…was Bianca, Lorenzo. They’ve got your little girl, brother,” Brando said, tears of rage standing in his eyes.

Gypsy Mob : Episode One / The Pleasure Tent

The Ferris wheel whirled as the midway lights flickered, lit by the secondary generator also powering the staticky sound system piping carnival music through the meager lane of tents pitched along a lane that may have constituted a midway. A few dogs begged at the hands of the well-dressed patrons lined up at the booths, but for the most part, the only scavengers were the Gypsy carnies. 

“Step righ’ up, hit the tits off da bull wid a dart, and win a stuffed monkey!”

“Ladies and gents, if’n youse can fill this balloon wid a water gun, you get a ticket for our private show featuring the stunning Ms. Gingerette!”

“Guess da number o’ clams inside th’ bucket o’ sand and you wins a million dolla! Okay, not a million, but ONE HUND’RD DOLLARS! Ladies and gents, how ‘bout dat! For th’ price of a pounda clams…”

Bianca’s eyes shined as the Ferris wheel’s cars swooped past her, the lights of the cars reflected in her eyes. “Matty, this is so much fun! I haven’t been to a carnival in… ever!”

“Don’t get carried away, Bi,” Matteo said, his hand tightening on hers involuntarily as a carny whirled by in a fiery cartwheel, somehow juggling the Earth and two flaming torches. “This isn’t a carnival, just a campground of Gypsies with a few rusty rides.” As he spoke, the Ferris wheel whirled behind him, neglected joints letting out a squeak with every car. 

“Spoilsport,” Bianca shot back, dropping his hand and flouncing ahead. Matteo cursed and followed her, shouldering his way through the people crowding the midway. He was amazed at the number of people in the Gypsy encampment. Didn’t these people realize that Gypsies were scum and would only bring them heartache? Grinding his teeth, he followed Bianca’s short-skirted ass as it weaved through the crowd. 

“Ooh, fortunes!” Bianca squealed, coming to a halt at a black-bordered booth studded with blue stars. A banner proclaimed “Your fortune for only $5.00.” Beneath it, a scrawny dark-skinned man with greasy hair and a scraggly mustache grinned, holding out his hand. Matteo groaned, coming to a stop behind her and catching her arm, bringing her to a stop. 

“Bi, maybe we should go find somewhere else to spend our money,” Matteo said, neglecting to mention that the last time she laid down any money for their extracurricular activities was the last time they had bought coke(months ago) and hoping that she would move on rather than costing him another ten dollars for unmitigated Gypsy bullshit. 

“Maybe you want to go on and spend your own money,” Bianca said, her voice clearly inviting him to go fuck himself. 

Matteo sighed, glancing around them for a diversion. His eyes fell upon a tent much larger than the others, a banner over its entrance reading “Pleasure Tent.”  His eyes widened as, with a yank, Bianca pulled her arm free from his gripping hand. With a vindictive look at Matteo, Bianca dropped a five-dollar bill and a single into the bowl before the booth. 

“Look, Bi, if you want your fortune so bad, go and get it,” Matteo said, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “I’ll wait here.”

Bianca rolled her eyes before turning her million-dollar smile towards the carny. The greasy man smiled, vanishing her bills as though he had a conduit to another world. Turning to the side, he barked a word. Behind him, a wall of curtains they had not noticed parted and an old woman appeared, shrouded in ragged robes. Frizzy white hair surrounded her face as she beckoned Bianca forward. With a last vicious look at Matteo, Bianca disappeared behind the curtain. 

Matteo watched Bianca disappear into the fortune tent and rolled his eyes. It would be a long drive back to the Don’s mansion with her in that mood. With a sigh, he set his sights on the Pleasure Tent, the entrance attended by a Gypsy girl behind a wooden booth. She wore a long swishy skirt with the barest of tops covering her ample breasts. The fabric was translucent, making it abundantly clear that she wore nothing beneath it. Matteo felt himself stiffening as he walked towards her. The girl noticed him and smiled slyly as he approached. 

“Bitta pleasure?” she asked as he halted in front of her. 

“How much?” Matteo asked, glancing around and seeing no one to notice him patronizing the tent. 

“$100, you choose girl.”

Matteo put on his boyish charming face. “How about you?”

The girl laughed, the barest hint of disdain in it. “I not work inside. $100 and you make choice here.”

Fumbling, Matteo pulled his wallet from his pocket and extracted a bill. The girl made it disappear with the alacrity of the fortune teller before pulling a battered three-ring binder from beneath the booth. Opening it to the first page, she tapped the glossy color photograph of a pretty brunette. “She new. Just start tonight.”

“Do you have any blondes?” Matteo asked, glancing around again. 

“Accourse,” the girl said, selecting a bookmark and opening the binder to the section marked BLONDE. “Nonna them are…fresh as new girl.”

Matteo paged through the section, evaluating each prospect until one caught his eye. She had long blonde hair, down past her shoulders, full pouting lips and a haughty expression that made his groin twinge. He pointed. “How is she?”

“Well, I donno mysel’,” the girl said with a laugh. “But no complains. She very popular.”

Popular. Matteo knew what that meant. “Which is the newest blonde you have?” 

Leafing back several pages, the Gypsy pointed one out. “This one our newest blonde.”

Matteo gazed at the girl. Her face was lovely enough but the expression on it was vacant, the eyes a thousand miles away. “Is she… popular?” 

“Not as much, but you no sorry,” she said with a wink. 

Matteo moistened his lips. “I’ll take her,” he said, his voice husky. 

“You no sorry,” repeated the girl, coming around the booth and taking his arm. “Follow.” 

Matteo felt one full breast pressing against his arm and felt another twinge in his groin. “Are you sure you couldn’t work inside, just this once?”

The girl laughed as they entered the tent. “Sorry. But you be very pleased with Dora.”

As Matteo’s eyes adjusted to the gloom in the tent, he could see it was separated into sections by thick curtains. He could hear various liquid sounds, male groans and the slap of flesh on flesh. The scent of rut filled the air, swelling his member further. 

Leading Matteo down an aisle, the Gypsy girl stopped at one of the sections. Releasing his arm, she pulled the curtain back and gestured for him to enter. Peering past the curtain, Matteo saw the blonde girl reclining on a bed, nude, her eyes on him. With no expression, she gestured him forward. Glancing at the Gypsy girl, Matteo stepped forward, feeling the curtain fall into place behind him. 

Throughout their session, the girl’s blank face did not change, even when she took him in her mouth. Matteo was disconcerted but found that by taking her from behind, it rendered her expression immaterial. As he came, she let out a sigh, her only vocalization. 

Pulling out of her, Matteo spotted a roll of paper towels on a table beside the bed. Wiping himself, he buckled his pants, noting with unease that the girl had not moved, laying on her stomach with only her breath to show she still lived. 

“Well…thanks…” Matteo said, unsure of what to do or say. None of the other working women he had patronized had been so…lifeless. She continued saying nothing, so with a shrug, he pushed back the curtain and left the tent. 

The Gypsy girl was showing the book to another prospective client, her untethered breasts jiggling as she laughed at something the man had said. Her eyes met his, and she grinned. “Please come again, we have new girls very soon!”

“Right,” Matteo said uneasily. He escaped into the crowd, feeling dirty. Sniffing himself, he did not detect any smells that would arouse Bianca’s suspicions. 

Making his way back to the fortune tent, he was surprised not to see Bianca there. Walking up to the scrawny Gypsy at the entrance, he asked, “Is my girlfriend still in there?”

“No, sirrah. She gone.”

“Without me?” Matteo swore, not really surprised. 

“She very beautiful,” the man said, and grinned. “You lucky man.”

“Thanks,” Matteo mumbled, pulling his phone from his pocket as he walked away. Dialing Bianca’s number, a crease appeared on his forehead as it went directly to voice mail. Bianca NEVER had her phone off. 

“Hey Bi, where are you? Call me.”

Inside the fortune tent, the old woman ushered Bianca to a seat on one side of a crystal ball. Swirling her rags around her, she seated herself at the single stool opposite Bianca and steepled her fingers before her face. 

“Fortune a mysterious thing,” she said, her voice dry and thin. “It come with fame, herald it, be preserved within cookie, but nobody know where it comes from.” She tapped the crystal ball twice and its clear surface filled with gray clouds. “We may read it…here.”

Bianca leaned forward, entranced. 

With a wave of her hand, the woman plunged the room into darkness and leaned forward over the crystal ball, from which emanated a soft white glow. The shadows it cast over the woman’s face made her skull stand out, sinking her eyes into her head. For a moment, it looked as though across from her sat a grinning, skeletal ghost. Bianca let out a little squeak. The woman did not notice, leaning over the crystal ball as though she were reading a fascinating novel. 

“Ahhh young lady, you will go on to marry good, prosperous man. Your life will be everything you wished it could be…”

She trailed off. Bianca leaned forward, riveted. “Yes? What else?”

“I see you very beautiful,” the woman nearly shouted, and Bianca recoiled. “Yes, you be fine mother for your children and good wife to your husband.”

“Children?” Bianca said, her voice unnerved. “But I don’t want–”

“Ball has spoken!” the woman barked. “But I see you are very beautiful.” She nearly shouted this last phrase and turned her rotten smile upon Bianca. “Fates never lie.”

Bianca stood, her slightly shaky legs betraying her outward calm. “I will never breed,” she said, her voice haughty. “You have misread me, foolish woman.”

“Ah, p’rhaps,” the Gypsy said and leered. “If you wish, you go now.”

Without a word, Bianca turned toward the door to the tent through which she had entered. 

“Ah, miss, this way,” said the woman, gesturing to an arch in the cloth behind her Bianca had not noticed. “We must keep d’traffic flowing, yes?” She cackled. 

  Without saying anything more, Bianca pushed past the table and out the archway. She stood for a moment in the fresh air, savoring her relief from the heavily perfumed atmosphere of the fortune-teller’s tent. 

As she stood there, breathing, an enormous Gypsy man approached her. He grinned, showing teeth as rotten and black as the fortune-teller’s. 

“Miss, you very beautiful? Is what Madam told you?”

“Yes, and I don’t think it was worth what I paid her. I know I’m beautiful, I don’t need her to–”

Without warning, Bianca was hit from behind by a massive weight, sending her crashing to the dirt as a spray of red formed before her eyes. “Oh no, that’s blood,” she thought, as the ground rushed up to meet her and the world turned black. 

“You right,” said the huge Gypsy man. “She very beautiful.”

“She be perfect,” Madam Zara said, dropping the rock back inside the tent. “Now get her out of here.”