Sunday, July 17, 2005
Copyright 2005 by T.E. H****
The sandstone bricks of the old cellblocks and guard towers gave the illusion that the complex was a fantasy castle rather than a prison. Or at least it had been a prison. The state had turned the buildings of the old state penitentiary over to the city for a park after a new and more civilized institution had been constructed several miles from the city in a sagebrush-coated wasteland.
The territorial prison was now a tourist attraction where, for a modest fee, families could spend a lazy Sunday afternoon touring maximum security or "oohing" and "ahhhing" at death row where Idaho's last execution had taken place sometime in the early 50s. In the tradition of the west, the man had been hung, not from a tree or wooden gallows, but from a simple reinforced metal hook suspended over an innocuous trap door. All of the tourists agreed that the "death room" was the highlight of the tour.
Curious place for a high school reunion, he thought. He did however, appreciate the statement -- conscious or subconscious -- that the event planners had made by holding East High School's ten-year reunion there. After all, he thought with a grim smile, the institutions had similarities -- one imprisoned bodies and the other minds and spirits.
He'd forgotten how hot Boise got in the summer. A smoky inversion hung over the gray buildings of the warden's house. It seemed as though a new acre of the surrounding rain-starved forests was consumed by a lightening induced forest fire daily. The smoke added to the small city's big-town pollution problem.
He glanced up at the retreating sun. The heat bounced lazily off the gravel road. Strains of music wafted down to him in the smoky air. The Stones, he thought with a smile. Mick Jagger wailed over a girl named Angie. It had played in his father's old pick-up during his sophomore year. He'd had a crush on a girl named Robyn...Robyn Averson. The crush hadn't been mutual. His smile faded.
The gravel snapped in the heat as he made his way up the path towards the music. He could see knots of people clustered around small tables. Red and white balloons hung from bushes and lampposts. Big red, he thought numbly, home of the Mighty Braves.
A small line trailed away from a registration table just outside the garden area where faceless people milled about. He slipped silently into the back of the line, ignoring the squeals of recognition and laughter coming from the courtyard.
The couple in front of him turned and smiled self-consciously. He nodded mechanically. They turned back to the registration table where two young blonde women in summer dresses laughed and passed out nametags. They chatted amicably with the couple in front of him and checked off names on a long list. The couple slapped "HELLO MY NAME IS" tags on their chests and headed towards the reunion crowd.
He stepped up to the table.
"Hello," said the blonde on the right. He recognized the face, Jane Ray, senior cheerleader, ski team captain, and honor society treasurer. The hair was blonder and the face had aged but the plastic expression was the same. He nodded again.
"We're trying to guess everyone's name...let's see, it's no fair wearing sunglasses."
"Rex," he said without emotion. "Rex Bryant."
Jane's tanned brow furrowed. There was no look of recognition on her face. "Yes, Rex. How are you?"
He shrugged. The woman seated next to Jane searched the list of East High School class of 1976 reunion attendees. Rex remembered her too -- Colleen Grant, senior class vice-president and pep-club captain. Her nametag read Colleen Grant-Simpson. She looked up puzzled.
"I don't seem to have your name on the list Rex. Did you return your registration form?"
He stared at her through the dark lenses. Her frozen smile melted. "I didn't get an invitation. I move around a lot."
Colleen recovered her smile. "No problem Rex. We're glad you made it. There is a $20 charge to help cover the cost of refreshments and the band."
Rex dug into the hip pocket off his Levi's and pulled out a crumpled and worn twenty-dollar bill. He handed it to Colleen. She took it and gingerly placed it in a slate-gray metal box on the table. Jane printed his name on a tag and handed it to him. "Enjoy the reunion..." Her words choked off as Rex's fingers brushed hers. He walked towards the reunion, crumpled the nametag and shoved it into his pocket.
The two women at the registration table turned and watched him fade into the crowd. "Do you remember him," Jane asked.
"Barely," Colleen replied. "I think he was in band. I always thought he was a creep."
"He hasn't changed," Jane said. They both laughed nervously. "You'd think he would have at least worn clean clothes. It looked like he's been wearing those jeans since high school."
"I know," Colleen agreed. "I hated even touching his money. It felt...moldy."
They both shrugged and turned as a limousine pulled up.
"Look, it's Ray Devine. He's in a tux," Jane said. "Now that's a classy entrance!" They forgot about Rex and turned back to their nametags.
* * *
Rex moved wordlessly through the crowd. Most of them were couples. He walked purposely to where the bulk of the crowd stood clustered about two silver kegs, plucked a large, bright red plastic cup from a stack and expertly filled it from the keg tap. To the amazement of several curious onlookers, he downed the beer in one large swallow and filled the cup again. A large man detached himself from the crowd and approached Rex.
"Whoa boy, save some for the rest of us!"
Rex stared at him expressionlessly from behind the glasses and brought the cup up to his lips. The man -- Dale Fredericks according to his nametag -- grinned good naturedly at Rex over a ponderous belly that had contained many beers in its time. His eyes grinned as well from beneath the receding hairline.
"Just trying to get my twenty bucks worth Dale," Rex finally said, a tight-lipped smile appearing. A hearty laugh shook Dale's beer-belly.
"I hear that...UH..." Dale replied, looking down at Rex's chest for a nametag.
"Rex...yeah Rex...I remember you," Dale said scratching his stomach. "You was in my German class with Herr Haddock, guten tag, wie gehts!"
"Danke gut, un dia?"
"Auch gut!" Dale slapped his back again. "Boy, you don't look much older than when we graduated. What you been up to Rex? Last I heard you'd gotten some scholarship up in Oregon. You always was an egghead."
Rex's smile faded. "I went to college for a couple of years."
"Don't tell me you dropped out," Dale said, weaving a bit, feeling the effects of the cheap keg beer.
"I learned what I needed to know," Rex said with a shrug. "Anyway what about you Dale?"
"I'm the assistant manager of a company that manufactures prefab log homes," Dale said proudly. "I'm married too. You remember Paulette Bennett don' ya?"
"Sure, she was in the band, played flute."
"Yeah, thas the one," Dale said as he turned. "Hey Paulette, com' on over here and see who I found." A large pleasant-faced and very pregnant woman edged through the crowd.
"Stop hollering Dale, you're embarrassing me." She looked up at Rex and smiled warmly. A puzzled look passed over her face.
"Doan cha remember? This here's ol' Rex Bryant. You and he was in band together."
Paulette smiled weakly and reached out her hand. "Of course I remember, how are you Rex?"
"Just fine Paulette, how about you?"
"Well, I'll feel better in a month," she said patting her swollen stomach. "This will be our third. You have any children Rex?"
Rex shook his head slowly. "No...no I never married."
"Smart man," Dale said, avoiding the elbow Paulette aimed at his gut.
"Listen, it was nice seeing both of you," Rex said softly. "I'm going to find a nice quiet corner and watch the festivities. You both take care. Give my best to the little ones...Patty and Ben wasn't it? I'm sure they'll like their new little sister."
Paulette nodded dumbly as Rex refilled his cup and slipped away into the crowd. Dale was concentrating on refilling his own cup. "Did you tell him the kids’ names Dale?" she asked with a perplexed look on her wide face.
"I'm not sure," replied Dale. "I might have, why?"
"Nothing, it's just...well I don't think I told him that the doctor said we were going to have another little girl. And I'm trying to recall something I heard about Rex after graduation. I wish I could remember."
"You worry too much woman...hey, well look there, it's Eddie, Eddie Colson and that pretty little wife of his!" He moved off into the crowd with Paulette trailing, still shaking her head.
* * *
He found a quiet table on the edge of the courtyard and sat down. The sun slipped behind the weatherworn blocks of sandstone that made up the main cellblock. It left behind the heat and the pungent odor of sagebrush from the surrounding foothills.
Rex reached into the breast pocket of his faded blue work shirt and pulled out an oversized deck of dog-eared cards. With expert casualness he began shuffling the deck, staring straight ahead, trusting his hands to do the work. Caterer's assistants passed among the tables, silent as alter boys unobtrusively lighting candles. When the candle at his table was lit and the attendant moved on, Rex stopped shuffling and placed the deck face down on the table. The plain black backs of the cards contrasted sharply with the white tablecloth. He sat motionless; eyes still hooded by the dark glasses.
A woman work her way through the milling bodies, stopping occasionally to acknowledge a greeting and hug a familiar figure. Most of the men's eyes at the reunion followed her progress hungrily. The women looked on disapprovingly, clicking their tongues as she passed and whispering to each other.
The woman moved in a practiced way, both aware and unaware of the eyes on her. It was a sensual walk accentuated by tight clothing. A silver bracelet wound snake-like up her tanned arm. Rex sensed a slight shakiness behind the walk despite the woman's feigned confidence. As she neared his table, she was jostled slightly, spilling her drink on Rex's shoulder.
"Shit, I'm sorry..."
Rex cocked his head slightly to one side, processing the voice. His face remained emotionless.
The woman looked at him quizzically.
"You remember me, how sweet!"
"Traci Sauer, third period advanced humanities, sophomore cheerleader, gymnastics, national honor society, debate team, drill team and ski club."
Traci blushed. "Jesus, what you'd do, memorize the damned yearbook? I don't even remember half that shit."
"You look familiar...UH?"
"Rex...Rex Bryant." He stared into her heavily made up face.
"Rex...yeah, I think I remember you. You were in my accelerated math class and advanced humanities. Quiet and smart. You used to help me with math. I think you even wrote a few humanities papers for me, didn't you."
"I'm flattered you remembered," Rex said.
"Considering all the beer I've had tonight, you should be. Mind if I sit down?"
Rex motioned towards the chair opposite him. Traci slid into the seat sensuously. She looked at the reunion crowds wandering about and sneered. "These people watch too much TV. We're talking Miami Vice-look here." She studied Rex's faded jeans and work shirt draped over a black Grateful Dead t-shirt. "I see you dressed down for the occasion, good for you!" The edges of Rex's mouth lifted slightly.
"So what're you doing over here in the corner?" Traci noticed the cards sitting face down on the table. "Were you going to play a game of solitaire? I know these reunions are a drag..."
"They're tarot cards," Rex said softly.
"Tarot cards," he repeated patiently. "I used to do card readings while I was going to college to help pay tuition."
"You mean you're a fortuneteller?"
"Well, I prefer to think of myself as a visionary."
"So look into my future."
Rex shrugged, picked up the deck of cards and handed them to her. "Shuffle the cards while thinking of a question," he said. She took them from his hands.
"Damn, these cards feel cold." She looked at Rex’s face, trying to see his eyes, but all she saw was herself reflected in his glasses. She began shuffling the deck.
"What am I supposed to ask?"
"Whatever you'd like to know about," Rex replied without emotion.
She shuffled the cards carefully. "Okay, they're shuffled, now what?"
"Divide the deck into three piles face down on the table and tell me your question."
Traci's hand trembled slightly as she followed his instructions. She looked around self-consciously. "I want to know about romance...will I ever find it, I mean the real thing?" She gave a half-hearted attempt at a smile. A shadow of weariness showed through the carefully applied make-up.
Rex picked up the cards, beginning with the pile on the left and reformed the deck. He placed it in front of him on the table, his hands resting gently on the top card. He nodded his head for a moment as if in prayer. The sound of crickets wafted in from the prison grounds. Traci shivered involuntarily.
Rex lifted his head and began mechanically turning over cards from left to right, spreading the first six cards into a cross pattern. He then turned over four more cards and placed them carefully one above the other to the right of the cross.
"This is the Celtic cross, the most ancient method of spreading the cards," he intoned. "In the center of the cross is you, the questioner -- the Queen of Swords. The card represents a sad woman deprived of love." Traci took a long draw off her beer and stared intently at the cards as Rex flipped them over.
He touched a card placed horizontally across the first card. "Crossing the questioner is the card representing those forces in play at this time -- the Moon. This card represents a yearning for fulfillment. Above the Moon is what the questioner hopes for..." Rex paused and looked up at Traci, candlelight reflected in the dark lenses of his glasses. "...the two of cups -- love, a spiritual union."
"No shit," Traci muttered.
"Below the questioner is the card representing the foundation of the question asked."
"What you've experienced relative to the question so far that has a bearing on the future," Rex explained.
"Oh." She fumbled nervously in her purse for a cigarette and lit it with the candle.
"The five of cups -- disappointment, possibly a marriage carrying with it bitterness and frustration."
"Hit that one on the head."
"To the left of the questioner is the card representing the immediate past -- the Devil." Rex stopped and took a drink of his own beer. “The devil represents...”
"You don't have to tell me, I've spent some time with him."
Rex nodded and continued. "The card to the right of the questioner represents the immediate future -- the Wheel of Fortune. The card suggests the ups and downs of life, constant change. You must find the still center of the wheel to find peace." Traci nodded.
Rex pointed to the bottom card of the row next to the cross. "This card represents your attitude towards the question -- in this case love." The picture on the card showed a hooded figure with a beard walking a solitary path. "The Hermit represents withdrawal and reflection." Traci stared at the cards silently.
"Above the Hermit is the card representing your environment -- the Five of Pentacles. The card represents spiritual impoverishment and loneliness."
The color drained from Traci's face. "I'm not sure I want to go on with this."
"We're almost through," Rex replied, a trace of sympathy in his voice. Traci wished she could see his eyes.
"Go on then."
"Above the card representing your environment is the card which symbolizes your hopes and fears -- the Lovers." The card was upside down. It showed a man and woman embracing. "An upside down card indicates a reversed meaning. The Lovers reversed implies quarrels, frustration of romance or marriage, and failure."
Traci stared at the cards. "Get to the punch line."
"The final card indicates the outcome of the matter, the culmination of all the influences at work in the preceding cards -- the Ace of Swords. The card indicates the triumph of a great force, either love or hate."
Rex shrugged. "You tell me, we live in a universe of choices and we all have the power to make those choices."
Traci laughed nervously. "This is just a game, isn't it? All of this crap is so general it could have applied to any woman in this room."
Rex gazed at a point over Traci's shoulder. He began speaking in a soft, but clear and emotionless voice.
"Upon graduation from high school you turned down scholarships to two prestigious schools on the East Coast. You were afraid of failure. To the embarrassment of your parents you enrolled at a local university. In the first year of college you met a man named Larry Poulson. You didn't love him but he fit into your parent’s mold of a perfect partner. You became pregnant, married the man and three months later had a miscarriage. The marriage ended.
"In a few months, you met a man named Robert Tenny. Thinking you were in love, you moved in with him. The man was heavily involved in drugs. He repeatedly stole from you and abused you mentally and physically. It wasn't until you were hospitalized after a particularly severe beating that your parents convinced you to move home.
"You attended counseling sessions for a few months and then moved into your own apartment. You ended counseling and began holding private sessions at several bars in town. You had brief affairs with several men, many of which you can't remember because of frequent blackouts due to your heavy drinking.
"Finally, in the last year you stopped going to bars. You now spend most of your time at home falling asleep alone with a bottle. Is all that specific enough for you?"
"You bastard," Traci cried with a choking sound. "How could you...did you...know all that?"
"The cards reflect the questioner."
"Bullshit," she sobbed. "It must be the talk of the reunion. If a nobody like you knows my life story then everybody here must know."
Rex flinched slightly. "No one here knows. They perceive you only as they remember you. You asked me a question and I gave you an answer. It's as simple as that."
"You expect me to believe that you dredged up all that dirt on me from a stack of cardboard with pretty pictures on it?" Mascara-stained tears ran down her face.
"Whether you believe in the Tarot or not is of little consequence," Rex said softly. "The truth remains the truth."
"I asked you about future love," she sobbed. "All you told me about was past pain. You're not much of a fortuneteller."
Rex sighed. "If I told you that you would meet a tall, dark and handsome stranger, fall in love and live happily ever after, would you have been satisfied?"
"It would have been better than reminding me of what a failure my life has been," she snapped.
"I came to this reunion to try and regain a little of the happiness I felt when I was in High School. I was popular then, liked and looked up to."
"You were envied, despised and talked about behind your back," Rex replied.
"You're just a regular ray of sunshine, aren't you you bastard," Traci spat out. "Why the hell did you come to this reunion anyway? You didn't fit in when you were in high school and you don't look like you've made a raging success of your life."
Rex shook his head sadly. "No, I don't have many fond memories of high school. Let's just say I have a few debts to pay."
"What kind of debts? You want to drag everyone down to your pitiful level?" Traci was interrupted abruptly by a drum roll and a loud voice blaring over loudspeakers. She turned and watched a man in a Brooks Brothers blue jacket and burgundy tie at a microphone trying to get the attention of the crowd.
"Whoa everybody...can I have your attention." A few catcalls came from the crowd around the kegs. "I just want to say a few words..."
"SO WHAT'S NEW," someone called from the crowd.
The man laughed the polished laugh of a politician and raised his hands in mock surrender. "Guilty as charged...in case some of you don't remember, I'm John Ostrander, president of East High School class of 76." A spattering of applause rippled through the crowd. Ostrander smiled the canned smile again.
"Seems like only ten years ago that I was standing in front of most of you at graduation," he said smoothly.
"DOESN'T SEEM LIKE LONG ENOUGH," a voice called out.
"Is that you Ed...Ed Cropke? Did you finally graduate?" The crowd around a blushing Ed Cropke erupted with laughter, slapping him on the back and spilling beer. Ostrander continued. "Anyway, I'd like to welcome all of you to East High School's class of 1976 ten-year reunion." A few people cheered.
Ostrander droned on. "No high school reunion would be complete without awards. So before we're entertained with sounds of the 70s by our band tonight, Strawberry Fields -- which incidentally includes the Class of 76's own Kelly Carter on the drums...," Carter hit a cymbal and twirled a drumstick amidst cheers.
"Anyway, " Ostrander said scowling impatiently, "Time for the awards." He fished into his jacket pocket, pulling out a folded piece of paper. "Let's see, the first award is the Yul Brenner Memorial award for the person whose head has outgrown his hair.
Ostrander paused for dramatic affect. "And the winner...by a head...is Gary Lynman!" A cheer went up from the crowd as Lynman worked his way towards the microphone. "We have an appropriate prize," Ostrander said, reaching into a box behind him, "An East Braves baseball cap!" Lynman snatched the cap and pulled down over his glistening crown. The drunken crowd cheered again.
"The next award is for the most unusual occupation," Ostrander continued. "And the winner is...John Steelsmith. John is an architect who specializes in designing golf courses." An exaggerated "ooooh..." rose from the beer-keg crowd. Steelsmith worked his way through the crowd.
Traci stood up. "Wait a minute," She called out. "I've got somebody here that's got a more unusual occupation than that."
Ostrander looked slightly flustered but quickly recovered. "Sorry Traci, whatever you do may be kinkier but not necessarily more unusual." Some of the men in the crowd snickered lecherously.
"I'm not talking about me," Traci continued undaunted. "I'm talking about good ol' Rex Bryant here. He's a fortuneteller and a mind reader." The entire crowd turned to stare at Rex. He stared straight ahead as if detached from the debate.
"Come on Traci, the awards have already been decided on," Ostrander said, his cool slowly melting.
"GIVE THE AWARD TO REX, FORTUNE-TELLING BEATS DESIGNING GOLF COURSES," someone called. A chorus of supporting and slurred voices echoed the sentiment.
Ostrander held up his hands for quiet. "Traci's just joking. Let's just get on with the awards."
“I’m not joking, John. He's a card-carrying fortuneteller. Have him come up there and show you." The crowd started cheering and chanting Rex's name.
"Okay, okay," Ostrander said, glaring at Traci. "Rex why don't you come up here before we have a prison riot." The crowd began chanting again. Rex sat motionless for a few moments and rose. The crowd cheered wildly.
"Let's see you get out of this one fortuneteller," Traci whispered with controlled menace. Rex turned towards her and smiled gently. He touched her arm and the hate disappeared from her face.
"It's okay Traci." She sunk into her chair, tears streaming down her face. Rex began walking...almost floating, towards the stage. The crowd opened up. A few of the bolder ones slapped him on the back and pulled away as if they'd touched a live power line. Rex stepped up onto the stage. The crowd became quiet.
Ostrander assessed the situation with a practiced emcee's eye and regained his composure. "Democracy rules Rex; you win the award for the most unusual occupation. Since you're a fortuneteller, perhaps you can tell me what the prize is." He winked at the crowd and held the microphone up to Rex's face.
Rex stared passively at the microphone. The crowd waited expectantly. A few coughed and snickered. Ostrander seized upon the moment. "Please, please. We must give the Amazing Rex complete silence in order for him to commune with the spirits." He held an envelope up to his forehead and closed his eyes. "I'm picturing the prize in my mind Rex, are you picking up anything."
"Yes," Rex said softly. The crowd cheered.
Ostrander opened one annoyed eye. "Well, what is it?"
"You're hoping no one will ever find out you've embezzled funds from your father's company because, although you're a impressive public speaker, you are a very poor business man with expensive vices. Although you appear quite conservative, your sexual practices aren't...S & M is the popular term for it isn't it, John?"
Ostrander's face flushed a bright red. "Why you..you..", he gasped.
"Oh, and the prize is a pass to see the East High drama club's fall production of 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.'"
"Get out of here," Ostrander said, thrusting the envelope at Rex. The fascinated crowd watched with growing confusion. Sporadic cheers sputtered through the crowd. Rex started to leave the stage.
"TELL SOME MORE FORTUNES," a voice shouted. The crowd agreed. People began calling out questions. Ostrander stuttered a protest and tried to shove Rex from the stage. A couple of men intervened, restrained Ostrander and handed the microphone to Rex. Ostrander broke free and ran from the stage amidst catcalls and jeers. He was quickly forgotten as all attention turned to Rex standing silently at center stage.
A barrage of drunken questions were hurled at him. Rex held up one hand. “I will answer all of your questions, but one at a time.”
"Who's gonna win this year's Super bowl," an anonymous voice called out.
Rex shook his head slightly and replied with a sigh, "A football team." A few people laughed.
"Surely you have a more important questions, Bob," Rex challenged, "Perhaps you'd like to know where your wife is?" A beefy looking man in front of the keg looked startled.
"Listen you little freak, my wife is at home taking care of the kids."
"I'm sorry Bob, you're right. She is home taking care of your children. Of course we both know it's not your home." Rex smiled a close-lipped smile.
Bob's face blanched white. "How...where is she," he stammered.
"She's safe Bob, out-of-state and happy. You should get the divorce papers sometime next week."
"That bitch can't divorce me, I'll...I'll..."
"Beat her up again," Rex finished. "I suggest you sign the papers and let her go, for both your sakes."
Bob shook his head and downed his beer. "Bullshit, he's lying. Wife's at home..." He looked around to his former classmates. Heads turned away. "It's bullshit..." He pushed his way through the crowd and disappeared.
"More questions," Rex asked. The faces around the courtyard looked uncomfortably at each other and then back at Rex.
A huge man with thinning hair pushed his way to the edge of the stage. A jumbo-sized lime green tux, straining at the seams, was wrapped around his huge frame. Rex looked down at the man. He recognized the 6-foot-by-3-foot frame immediately -- Ray Devine, star fullback of the East Braves varsity football team. An image of a younger Devine surfaced in his mind, almost as large and every bit as intimidating. The last time they'd met, Ray had been demonstrating his kicking and passing abilities with Rex's body. The painful image faded.
“Okay, Bryant, the joke has gone on long enough,” the big man boomed. "Why don't you just apologize and we'll get back to the party."
Murmurs of agreement rippled through the onlookers. By virtue of his size, Ray had always been in charge of most situations during high school.
"No joke, Ray," Rex said calmly. "I was asked to tell fortunes. That's what I'm doing."
"Wrong, you're up here spreading rumors about people and ruining this reunion."
"Ruining this reunion," Rex replied in mock innocence. "What could be more entertaining and refreshing at a reunion than the truth about your classmates? Perhaps everyone would be interested to have me unveil what's behind that stuffed tuxedo of yours."
Faces pushed closer to the stage, watching with fascination the absurd verbal duel between the frail-looking young man in the work shirt and the giant in the tuxedo.
"Kick his ass, Ray," someone called.
"Listen, Bryant," Ray said, menace creeping into his voice. "Get off the stage while you can still walk."
Rex smiled. "Breaking legs is your specialty isn't it, Ray. That's one of the things you employer in Seattle pays you to do."
"What's this bullshit Bryant, everyone knows I run a finance company in Seattle." Devine looked around and several heads quickly nodded in agreement.
"That's true Ray. It is a finance company of sorts, but you don't run it. You just a collect bad debts for a larger organization. Unfortunately, your collection techniques are a bit crude. You got a little bit too rough last week. You killed a poor old man, Ray, killed him because he couldn't come up with $150.00. Cheap price for a life."
Devine looked as though a defensive lineman had kicked him in the stomach. "I...he...he was just a stinking junky, I didn't mean to...he owed...," Ray gasped. He turned to face the silent crowd.
"He's lying...I'm a businessman." Familiar faces turned away.
Rage filled Ray's eyes as he turned to face the young man on stage. "You little bastard, this is your fault." He reached out an oversized hand and grabbed the fortuneteller by the shirtfront. The thin, young man made no move to resist. "I want to see your face before I kick your ass."
"Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set ye free," Rex said with nasty chuckle. He pulled off his dark glasses and pressed his face up to Devine's. A whimper escaped from the huge man's lips as he stared deep into two empty sockets. Devine pulled back, the rage in his eyes replaced by numbing fear. He stumbling drunkenly from the stage and into the obsidian darkness that pressed closer to the edge of the reunion crowd.
Rex stood alone on the stage. It was quiet except for a chorus of crickets from the nearby foothills. He tilted his head slightly towards the microphone. "Are there anymore questions?" His sightless sockets swept across the stunned audience. Faces turned away, avoiding the empty gaze. No one stepped forward. No one spoke.
"I didn't think so," Rex said, nodding. "Since we seem to have lost our emcee, I suggest we get on with the music. How about it Kelly?" Carter jerked as if he'd been slapped. Rex smiled. "I'll make the first request to get the ball rolling. Do you guys know 'Lyin' Eyes' by the Eagles?" Carter nodded weakly and whispered to the other members of the band. The band started playing, shakily at first, but building as they concentrated on the music.
Rex stepped up to the microphone one last time. "Hey, it was good seeing everyone. What's say we all get together again in another ten years, okay"?
The lines of the Eagles tune began filtering through the crowd. "You can't hide your lying eyes. And a smile is a thin disguise. Thought by now you'd realize, there ain't no way to hide you're lying eyes..."
"Ain't it the truth though," Rex said with a chuckle as he stepped from the stage. The stunned crowd parted as he slipped silently into the night.
No one moved at first. Hushed sobs broke out here and there in the clusters of people. The sound broke the spell. Beer began flowing and people began talking, first in hushed tones and then loudly. Within minutes muted laughter returned and the ritual handshaking and hugging began again.
* * *
Traci sat at the table on the edge of the reunion staring into the flickering candle. Tears rolled gently over her sculptured cheekbones and flowed unchecked in tiny rivulets down her neck.
She started as a hand grasped her shoulder."Traci..." She turned, half expecting to see her face reflected in a pair of dark glasses. She sighed, unsure of whether in relieve or disappointment when she stared into a much fuller face framed in tortoise shell designer frames.
"It's Jeff...Jeff Mays," the man said, "Don't destroy my ego and tell me you don't remember your favorite prom date." Traci forced a smile and tried in vain to brush away some of the tears.
"Of course I remember you Jeff, it's good to see you."
"You could have fooled me, why the tears?" He sat down and offered Traci a handkerchief.
"Thanks, that whole thing with Rex got to me."
"What thing with Rex?" Jeff asked.
"The awards, the fortune telling...Ray Devine. Don't tell me it didn't upset you."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Traci, I just got here. Doesn't seem like much of a party. Everyone's acting like they're in a trance. What happened?"
"It's a long story. John Ostrander was announcing some ridiculous awards -- you know, for most hair lost and the most unusual occupation." Jeff nodded. "Anyway, he was giving an award to John Steelsmith and I interrupted and demanded he give the award to Rex Bryant for being a fortuneteller. I wanted to embarrass Rex. He'd been telling my fortune and...well it just hit too close to home."
Jeff looked puzzled. "You say that Bryant was telling your fortune and you talked Ostrander into giving him an award for the most unusual occupation?"
"Yeah, I know it sounds ridiculous..."
"Are you talking about Rex Bryant, the skinny, smart kid that never said much in high school?" Jeff asked skeptically. Traci nodded.
"Well either someone is playing a very sick joke or Rex should have received the award for traveling the farthest to come to this reunion."
"Why do you say that," Traci asked defensively.
"The Rex Bryant we went to high school with had a scholarship to the same college I went to."
"So, Bryant didn't do much better socially in college then he did in High School."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, he killed himself half-way through his sophomore year."
"What...how...," Traci gasped.
“Acid...LSD...he overdosed on the stuff. It was quite the scandal on campus. Pretty gruesome about his eyes too."
"What do you mean, what about his eyes?" Traci could feel her insides churning.
"Well," Jeff said, looking around uncomfortably. "Apparently he was tripping out pretty badly and seeing some scary stuff. According to the reports, he...he gouged out his own eyes."
"Oh my God..." Traci began shivering. In the background the band struck up a song by Credence Clearwater Revival. Dancers began gyrating on the dance floor as Kelly Carter, doing a fair of imitation of John Fogarty, rasped out, "Don't go around tonight, you're bound to lose your life. There's a bad moon on the rise..."