This is an excerpt from my novel FAILUR. It happens earlier chronilogically than most of the action in the story. Warren is only a couple of years out of college. He has a godd job with a consulting firm something like Accenture. He is a little arrogant, but he is already beginning to sense something is wrong. I wanted to include a gypsy warning, like in an old black and white Universal horror movie, but I wanted to make it very modern. Warren’s dealings with the gypsy will have reprocussions later in the story.
The Market Plan of the Mall Gypsies
from FAILUR: A Werewolf Love Story
(Copyright Brian Wittenbrook 2007)
As soon I entered the room, I knew it was a mistake. The woman gazed downward as if she was in a trance or meditating or something. I waited. I decided it was up to her to make the first move. After all, I was paying. Just as I was getting tired of waiting, she looked up. Her eyes were fierce. I was startled. I flinched. Ok, so she had the dramatics. I’ll grant her that. I made it a point to hold her gaze after that.
“You have the mark of the wolf.”
“What?” I said. She had startled me again.
“You have the mark of the wolf!” The old gray gypsy woman repeated the pronouncement.
“Crap!” I couldn’t believe that I let Gilbert talk me into this. Forty dollars wasted.
The gypsy laughed. “Come in,” she said, “sit down. You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you? What will it be? You want to talk to the dead? You want to know your future?”
“Sure, whatever,” I said.
“Perhaps,” said the gypsy, “you can outsmart me. Maybe we talk awhile. You can catch me in a lie, or see through my trickery. I have to warn you though, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m very good at it.”
The gypsy’s frankness surprised and amused me.
“Come on, sit down and talk to me for a few minutes,” said the gypsy, “The first moment I look at you I can see that you don’t want to be taken in by an old gypsy like me. But I’m a very clever talker. I think I can find something to interest you. Besides, you’ve already paid for the time, and there are no refunds.”
What the hell? I sat down at the table across from the gypsy.
“What do you want me to do first?” asked the gypsy. “Shall I impress you by guessing your profession? Give me three guesses.”
“You need three guesses? I would have thought that you would use your powers and get it on the first try.”
“Give yourself a little credit. You are not that obvious,” said the gypsy. “Let’s see, you are very young. You haven’t been out of college long. This is your first job. It’s a very good job. You are successful for your age, but you are not comfortable yet in your success. You dress very well – very professional but not stiff. You are proud of your position. You like making money. You might be a lawyer, but no, I don’t think so. You dress like a sales person.”
“Good guess, but wrong,” I said.
“Ok, I get two more guesses. The questions is, what brings you to the M-A-double-hockey-sticks on a weeknight. You didn’t buy your clothes at this mall. I don’t think this is where you shop by choice. You are here because it is convenient. You are probably staying in one of the hotels nearby. You are here on a business trip. You have alcohol on your breath. You probably had drinks with coworkers or clients at T-Buds. Now you are wandering the mall, because you don’t have anywhere to go except back to your hotel room. You are a consultant. I’m right. Aren’t I?”
I agreed. The gypsy was correct.
“You are from one of the prestigious consulting firms that hire a lot of young people out of college like Melvin-Conroy, or Brinkley Barnum.”
“That’s right, Brinkley Barnum,” I said. She was good, but she was still just guessing. “Now what? Are you going to tell me my future?”
“I could show you your future, but the procedure is imperfect, expensive, and many find it disturbing. No, I don’t think you want me to show you your future, but I can give you insight.”
“I’m not really looking for a spiritual therapist.”
“I’m more of a spiritual consultant,” she said. “I’m intrusive. I tell you what you should do with yourself. In the end, you can’t be sure if you could have done just as well without me.”
I laughed. “Do you always insult your clients?”
“Most of them don’t catch it,” said the gypsy. “Tell me, do you like motorcycles?”
“Not at all?”
“Not really. Why? What’s the deal with motorcycles?”
“It’s nothing. Tell me about yourself. How is the career going? Is it everything you’d expected so far?”
I decided there was no harm talking to the gypsy. She had been correct. I had nowhere to go except back to my hotel room to watch television and log a few more hours. I had gone with my coworkers to the T-Buds on the other side of the mall for happy hour. We’d gone to T-Buds almost every night since we’d come to Fort Lethe. At first, we had gone most nights after happy hour searching for merchandise or entertainment on which we could dispose our generous per diems. Now, about five weeks into the three-month assignment, we usually went back to our rooms after T-Buds.
Julie, Jonathan, Gilbert, and I were the younger members of the Brinkley Barnum team on the Fort Lethe assignment. We worked together, ate together, drank together, laughed, and argued with each other. We were proud that we worked for Brinkley Barnum. We had been chosen from among many for our skill and promise. We made good money and expected to make a lot more. We were hard working, smart, and very competitive. Each of us knew that we would be the first to make partner.
That night, as usual, we laughed about the follies of our client, the billing office for the Bauldi Hospital network. They needed our assistance more than they could comprehend. We complained about our project leaders, the senior members of the team. They gave us the crap work and little credit. They treated us like we didn’t know anything. Granted, they had more experience, but we had a fresh perspective they lacked. They needed our creativity even if they didn’t acknowledge it. We suspected that the senior members of the team resented us a little. We had talent. We knew it. We were a circle of geniuses. We would be recognized and rewarded for our abilities.
I think I loved that group, a little. They were the best allies and fiercest competitors I could have hoped for. Gilbert had been with Brinkley Barnum a little longer than the rest of us. He thought of himself as our leader. On these extended trips, he planned most of the outings: dinners, ball games, bowling, clubs, or movies. Usually the rest of us went along with his plans, but we thought of him more as our mascot than our leader. Julie and I had started at Brinkley Barnum the same summer. Julie had a deep smile that most of the guys mistook for flirting. Jonathan had joined Brinkley Barnum the year before. He had a bashful bladder.
“I do not have a bashful bladder,” said Jonathan.
“How come you are always running back to your hotel room before the rest of us?”
“I just need to get back to the hotel room. That’s all,” said Jonathan. “The bashful bladder joke is getting really stale.”
The rest of us voted and decided that no, in fact, the joke was not getting old.
“What about dinner?” asked Gilbert. “Anyone up for seafood?”
We weren’t. Jonathan planned to grab a burger on the way back to his room. Julie wanted to shop a little. Gilbert and I had nothing better to do. So, we followed her to Great Pages, where we each purchased a copy of the latest business bestseller, Constructing Leviathan. I knew Julie would actually read the book. I had already read the reviews. I thought I understood the main points enough to discuss the book, at least with associates that also hadn’t read it. I didn’t like the picture of the author, Leonard Morrow, on the dust jacket. He looked too smug. I decided that when I appeared on the cover of my best-selling book, I would look friendlier. Morrow’s smugness made me resent him all the more for taking another twenty dollars from me.
After Great Pages, Comfort Tech, Edges, and Gizmos and Stuff! Julie was ready to go back to the hotel. Gilbert wanted to stay. Usually, I would have gone back with Julie, but I was feeling restless. Most nights I phoned Valerie when I got back, but this evening she was dining with a group of doctors and telling them about her company’s new heart medication. I had nothing to look forward to at the hotel, but cable movies and endless spreadsheets.
I followed Gilbert deeper into the mall. He chatted tirelessly about something. When he confided in me that he thought Julie had been flirting with him, I assured him that she had not. Gilbert and I came to a branch of the mall that I hadn’t been down before. It didn’t look promising. I knew from the maps that there was no anchor store this way. The wing was a gloomy beige and white. It hadn’t yet been remodeled to the more elegant gray and white of the rest of the mall. Passing archaic chain stores and lackluster homegrown boutiques, I found nothing of interest. It depressed me inexplicably. I found myself daydreaming about six-figure bonuses, about being interviewed by leading business journals, about my name in big letters on the outside of an office tower.
“Look! Let’s go in here,” said Gilbert with his typical dopey enthusiasm that made you want to go along. Having nothing better to do, I followed Gilbert into the Fortunes, Etc.
Fortunes, Etc. stores were for the gullible. I’d never been in one before, but it was about what I’d expected. Voodoo dolls, craven images, and stone idols filled the shelves, representing no consistent culture or creed. There were racks of candles and red and yellow leather bound books. Charms, talismans, and symbols promised easy love, wealth, or revenge.
Back in college, I’d read a case study of the Fortunes, Etc. franchise for a marketing class. Fortunes, Etc. had two types of customers. Most customers came. to buy talismans and idols to decorate the walls of their bedroom or dorm to make their lives less mundane.
The other type of customer was fewer in number, but spent more money. They came to Fortunes, Etc. to gain more control over their lives or at least hedge their bets against uncertainty. They bought trinkets, tomes, and salves to help them obtain love, revenge, or wealth. For these customers there were four doors. Three of the doors went to fortune rooms, where the mall gypsies read palms, tarot cards, and tea leaves. The fourth door was marked “Do Not Enter.” You had to prove your knowledge, desperation, or wealth before you were allowed past the fourth door. Beyond the fourth door, was the room where the “sophisticated” and “enlightened” shoppers could find the “real” stuff, or where the suckers bought the expensive stuff, depending on how you saw it. Even after you were admitted, the gypsies would sell you nothing until you had accepted the responsibility of the power they offered. It was part of the market plan of the mall gypsies. They made you work for it, or at least made you feel like you were working for it.
“Let’s get our fortunes read,” said Gilbert. I can’t explain how he convinced me. Maybe it was his almost giddy excitement and I had nothing better to do.
Once I’d made it clear to the mall gypsy that I didn’t want any bogus hocus pocus, I actually enjoyed talking to her. The gypsy had remained largely silent while I told her about my career, about Valerie and about my plans. When I’d finished, the gypsy stared at me as if considering my words or my soul.
“You want me to tell your future?”
I nodded noncommittally. I wasn’t expecting much.
“It is very likely that you will be disappointed in your ambitions.”
I smiled. It was a joke. “Is this the way you keep customers?” I asked.
“You want me to tell you that you will inherit a fortune from a long lost relative, or some bullshit? You’ll be fine. Probably, you’ll be better off than most. Unless you are very careful, however, you will plateau. You will be frustrated.”
“Unless I buy something from you to help me take control of my destiny, right?”
“We both know you aren’t going to buy anything from me. I have nothing to gain or lose by saying this. You need to decide what you want.”
“See, you don’t know me at all. I know exactly what I want. I’m going to get it. I’m going to do whatever it takes. And, I’m going to do it my own way.”
“Which is it?”
“You are going to do whatever it takes, or you are going to do it your own way? There is a difference.”
“You don’t make any sense. I don’t need your help. I have a mentor back at the office, who helps me without speaking in riddles.”
“It is a shame you aren’t a motorcycle enthusiast,” said the gypsy.
“What are you talking about?”
“There is this man. His name is Mansfield or Mandrake. He is the head of your company.”
“You mean Sherman Manchester, president of Brinkley Barnum?”
“Yes, that is the one. He is passionate about motorcycles. He collects them. He used to race them. Maybe he still does. Perhaps if you knew more about motorcycles-”
“How do you know Manchester is into motorcycles?”
“I have my sources.” She didn’t say what her sources were. I didn’t believe they were supernatural. Manchester was well known. Most likely, the gypsy had read something about Manchester in a magazine, assuming, of course, that her intel was even true.
“What did you think?” asked Gilbert when he’d finished talking to his gypsy and I to mine.
“Not worth the money,” I said. I didn’t want to admit that it had been more interesting that I thought. Toward the end, I had allowed the gypsy to get to me a little. It was my fault. She was just doing her job. I had no plan to come back, but I had to admit I had a little more respect for Fortunes, Etc. and their market plan. Before going, I glanced back at that fourth door that went back to the secret room. It was a clever gimmick. I had to admit I was curious about what was back there.
It would be almost a year before I asked the old mall gypsy to show me.