The Sisters Strange
A web exclusive Charlie Parker novella
At the Great Lost Bear, amid the sound of music, conversation, and laughter, Dave Evans stared at the pair of dice on the table. Like the housekeeper Floriana, he had immediately spotted the peculiarity of their manufacture, and could only guess at their antiquity. He thought they might have been made from bone – maybe animal, maybe not. Whatever their origin, he recognized with absolute certainty that it would be unwise to touch them.
“I’m not a gambling man,” said Dave.
The stranger tapped his fingers on the table in time to a cadence only he could hear. He blinked heavily, his eyelids descending slowly and ascending more slowly still, as though the tarsal plates within were formed of lead. His eyes flicked wetly to Dave.
“I wasn’t proposing a cash wager, just a game,” he said. “You win, you get to ask me a question. I win, I ask you.”
Dave noticed that his voice was possessed of a peculiar reverberation, a form of distortion that gave the impression of two people vocalizing at once, each with a slightly different timbre.
“What do you have to lose,” the stranger asked, “except a little time?”
Dave Evans had been in the hospitality business for most of his life. During those years, he’d learned to spot badness early, because it saved a lot of vexation down the line. Some individuals, he knew, tried to disguise their iniquity, while others failed even to recognize the fact of its existence, so estranged were they from their own true nature. But then there were those who chose to advertise their wickedness, or could no more hide it than they could the color of their skin or the rise and fall of their breathing; were the very marrow of their bones to be examined, it would be adjudged corrupt. With such men – for men they mostly were – it was best to avoid all discourse and dealings, but when faced with them, one could not display weakness. If they were hellbent on confrontation, then only courage would give them pause.
“With respect,” said Dave, “I don’t believe you have anything I need to know.”
The stranger picked up the dice, shook them in his right hand, and dropped them on the table. They showed a double six.
“There was a man in here a while back,” he said. “I believe he was involved in an argument. His name is Mr. Raum Buker. I’d like to make his acquaintance. You think he might be gracing your establishment with his presence anytime soon?”
“I don’t believe you heard me right,” said Dave.
“Oh, I heard you good, but just because you’re unfamiliar with the rules doesn’t mean you’re excused from the game. The game goes on. The game always goes on. The only issue to be decided is if you’re a player or a pawn.”
He shook the dice again. Once more they returned a double six.
“Has Mr. Raum Buker been a regular here since his return?” he said.
Shake. Throw. Double six.
“What about his women?”
Dave dearly wanted to eject this man personally, and with considerable prejudice, but so far he had done nothing more threatening than ask questions. Dave took a deep breath. To his right, the Fulci brothers were hovering, because trouble recognizes trouble.
“How about this?” said Dave. “We could remove you forcibly from that chair, and deposit you in the parking lot, but it would be undignified for you and disruptive for our other customers.”
“Or?” The dice were back in his hand for the fourth time.
“Or we could let the cops sort it out,” said Dave. “As it happens, we might even have a few of them in tonight, if you’d like to be introduced. But it’s my belief that you’d probably prefer to take the third option, which is to walk away and never show your face in my bar again.”
The stranger let the dice roll loosely in the palm of his hand for a second or two before storing them in a pocket of his jacket.
“That’s a sharp move,” he said. “I hope you don’t regret it.”
He finished his drink, and dropped the empty glass into the same misshapen pocket as the dice. Finally, he placed a dollar bill under the beermat.
“For your time,” he said, and left, trailing the scent of roses. The Fulcis monitored his progress gravely.
One of the servers arrived to clean the table.
“What a creep,” she said. She moved to dispose of the empty ampule, but Dave stopped her.
“I’ll keep that,” he said.
She shrugged and handed it to him, before picking up the dollar bill.
“Big tipper, too,” she said, before examining the bill more closely. “Wait, is this even real?”
Dave took it from her. It was an old Blue Seal Silver Certificate bill in perfect condition, the kind that had ceased to be produced in the late 1950s. The series date was 1923.
“It’s real,” he said. “It’s just old. Might even be worth a few bucks, if you ask around.”
He returned the bill to the server.
“Maybe I misjudged him,” she said.
“No,” said Dave, glancing at the door. “I think you were right on the money.”