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Last Callby Tim Powers
Chapter One: "I'll Still Have You, Sonny Boy"
Georges Leon held his, little boy's hand too tightly and stared up from under his hatbrim at the unnaturally dark noon sky.
He knew that out over the desert, visible to any motorists along the lonelier stretches of Boulder Highway, the rain would be twisting in -tall, tagged funnels under the clouds; already some flooding had probably crept across the two lanes of Highway 91, islanding the Flamingo Hotel outside town. And on the other side of the earth, under his feet, was the full moon.
The Moon and the Fool, he thought desperately. Not goodbut I can't stop now.
A dog was barking a block or two away, in one of these alleys or parking lots. In spite of himself, Leon thought about the dog that appeared on the Fool card in the Tarot deck and the dogs that in Greek mythology accompanied Artemis, the goddess of the moon. And of course, the picture on the Moon card generally showed rain falling. He wished he were allowed to get drunk.
"We'd better be heading for home, Scotty," he told the boy, keeping the urgency out of his voice only with some effort. Get this done, he thought.
Palm fronds rattled overhead and threw big drops down onto the pavement.
"Home?" protested Scotty. "No, you said --"
Guilt made Leon gruff. "You got a fancy breakfast and lunch, and you've got a pocketful of punched chips and flattened pennies." They took a, few more steps along the puddled pavement toward Center Street, where they'd be turning right toward the bungalow. The wet street smelled like dry white wine. "I'll tell you what, though," he said, despising himself for making an empty promise, "tonight after dinner this storm willhave cleared up, and we can drive out of town with the telescope and look at the stars."
The boy sighed. "Okay," he said, trotting along to keep up with his father, his free hand rattling the defaced chips and pennies in his pocket. "But it's gonna be a full moon. That'll wash everything else out, won't it?"
God, shut up, Leon thought. "No," he said, as though the universe might be listening and might do what he said. "No, it won't change a thing."
Leon had wanted an excuse to stop by the Flamingo Hotel, seven miles outside of town on 91, so he had taken Scott there for breakfast.
The Flamingo was a wide three-story hotel with a fourthfloor penthouse, incongruously green against the tan desert that surrounded it. Palm trees had been trucked in to stand around the building, and this morning the sun had been glaring down from a clear sky, giving the vivid green lawn a look of defiance.
Leon had let a valet park the car, and he and Scott had walked hand in hand along the strip of pavement to the front steps that led up to the casino door.
I Below the steps on the left side, behind a bush, Leon had long ago punched a hole in the stucco and scratched some symbols around it; this morning he crouched at the foot of the steps to tie his shoe, and he took a package from his coat pocket and leaned forward and pitched it into the hole.
"Another thing that might hurt you, Daddy?" Scott asked in a whisper. The boy was peering over his shoulder at the crude rayed suns and stick figures that grooved the stucco and flaked the green paint.
Leon stood up. He stared down at his son, wondering why he had ever confided this to the boy. Not that it mattered now.
"Right,Scotto," he said. "And what is it?"
"Right again. You hungry?"
"As a bedbug." This had somehow become one of their bits of standard dialogue.
The desert sun had been shining in through the windows, glittering off the little copper skillets the fried eggs and kippered herrings were served in. The breakfast had been "on the house," even though they weren't guests, because Leon was known to have been a business associate of Ben Siegel, the founder. Already the waitresses felt free to refer openly to the man as "Bugsy" Siegel.
That had been the first thing that had made Leon uneasy, eating at the expense of that particular dead man.
Scotty had had a good time, though, sipping a cherry-topped Coca-Cola from an Old Fashioned glass and squinting around the room with a worldly air.
"This is your place now, huh, Dad." he'd said as they were leaving through the circular room that was the casino.
Cards were -turning over crisply, and dice were rolling with a muffled rattle across the green felt, but Leon didn't look at any of the random suits and numbers that were defining. the moment.
None of the dealers or croupiers seemed to have heard the boy. "You don't --" Leon began.
"I know," Scotty had said in quick shame, "you don't talk about important stuff in front of the cards."
They left through the door that faced the 91, and had to wait for the car to be brought around from the other sidethe side where the one window on the penthouse level made the building look like a one-eyed face gazing out across the desert.
The Emperor card, Leon thought now as he tugged Scotty along the rain-darkened Center Street sidewalk; why amI not getting any signs -from it? The old man in profile, sitting on a throne with his legs crossed because of some injury. That has been my card for a year now. I can prove it by Richard, my oldest son — and soon enough I'll be able to prove it by Scotty here.
Against his. will he wondered what sort of, person Scotty would have grown up to be if this weren't going to happen.
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