by Mary Elizabeth Counselman
Joe “Fresno” Talley dropped his cigarette butt on the sidewalk and ground it out with his foot, careful not to step on it where the hole had worn through his shoe sole. Absently he felt in the pocket of his shabby trousers, before remembering. No more cigarettes; that last one had been picked up out of the gutter, in front of a theatre whose twinkling marquee had once spelled out his name in lights a foot high…
Fresno snarled deep in his throat. So what if he had taken a couple too many that night, in Pittsburgh, when he was playing at the Roxy? So he had muffed a card sleight, dropping the whole pack all over the stage, then fallen flat on his face trying to pick them up. Was that a crime? Was that any reason for his booking agent to be dodging him now, after telling him that seven cancellations in a row meant a magician was washed up? He’d show that crumb!
Digging a half-empty flask of cheap whiskey from his hip pocket, Fresno finished it at a gulp and shied the empty bottle at a scrawny gray cat, hunting for scraps in a nearby trashcan. The cat yowled and scampered out of range, limping. Fresno laughed nasally. Nothing wrong with him; his hands didn’t shake too much, or he couldn’t have hit that mangy old…
Shivering suddenly as the chill night wind cut through his loud striped shirt, he paused before a rickety old tenement where his aimlessly wandering feet had taken him. A sign beside the door read:
FREE SÉANCE NIGHTLY
$2.00 (plus tax)