Sleepless again, many different worries colliding in my brain (I think that sort-of sums up insomnia). Ah well.
Please remember that the stories posted here are drafts. Not the final version. In fact a lot may be culled out before the final book gets released. This is just the sketchy first laying-of-track.
Shadow couldn’t sleep that night. He lay with his eyes open, listening to the chirping of the crickets and the singing of the Southern cicadas.
He couldn’t understand why Lindsey hated him so much; but that wasn’t what really bothered him. As a gypsy he was used to being despised for no reason. It went far beyond racism; people who would usually treat people from other races with great respect, still hated and mistreated gypsies. He had seen it. Especially here in Southern Free where there was indeed a weird and wonderful racial mix; they all seemed comfortable with each other but instantly spotted the outsider in him, giving him only the evil eye if he was lucky. It seemed to be some warped sort of gadjo instinct.
There were no other gypsies in Southern Free. He was quite alone. But the money was good here. It seemed as though through his very foreignness, jobs were easier to find. He wasn’t thinking about mango-picking or car-selling jobs, either. Jobs in his line – and that was a very specialized, highly paid line. Not a traditional gypsy line at all; if his tribe had known, they’d have kicked him out, and so would all the others. It was as modimay as it got. And an outcast gypsy, one who had been cursed, was socially dead. It was worse than being actually dead, so he’d heard. But he had already lost everyone he cared about; there was nothing more to lose.
He’d in fact been on a job when he had come across that rescuable pair, Marge and her baby girl Lucy. He’d been stalking a target, taking notes of his daily habits. And now? His employers usually knew better than to pressurize him for time; it was rare that he took a job with a deadline. Patience was one of his best strategies. He had time for this one. But right now, he wasn’t even anywhere near the job.
He wouldn’t have believed the police ‘justice’ in this place until tonight. He’d thought that his employer had something to hide herself, that she was avoiding the police. She had told him that she’d been to the police and they had advised her to ‘keep her eyes open and report’ if she gained any information; but all information she had brought them about the target, had been duly written down into a file and nothing further had happened.
She had been able to give Shadow quite some details about the target. Night clubs the man frequented; ‘escort agencies’ he visited. Clearly she had done quite a bit of stalking and investigation herself, prior to engaging a professional. On the other hand she had not managed to glean any sort of detail about Shadow, other than that he was foreign. The lady’s name was Ina, and she’d lost her younger sister. The animal in question was a serial rapist. He routinely murdered his victims. And he had a special preference for blondes.
It boggled Shadow’s mind trying to envision what the insides of such a character looked like. What kind of monstrous instinct drove a human being to such crimes? It couldn’t be hate, because hate was attraction. He knew this from escaping the Unicate, night after night… those forces hated him with a bright radiance like a laser gun, and they always found his trail.
See, he thought, and that’s why you can never fit in with a snug little foster family. He got up, as silent as a ghost, and moved to the bedroom door. His instincts actually called him to go to the window, into the night, the moonlight; the house was darker than the actual rooms. But he couldn’t live or die in these disgraceful track pants, it felt like wearing a towel or something. And no pockets at all, that was useless. He had to find his torn jeans and the paraphernalia he carried in his pockets. Hey, it wasn’t much anyway, his knife, a small bunch of Allen keys to pick some locks… a small torch… some coinage… he didn’t carry most of his money on him. Still, without his knife at least he was marooned.
Think like a gadchey mom. Marge would have stuffed his jeans in the wash. He located the laundry basket in the bathroom where the washer was also located; and found the jeans by touch and by – eugh – smell. Those police cells sure smelled like a morgue. He rifled through the pockets, finding nothing. And he cursed softly and put the light on. There was always an excuse for going to the bathroom at night, should someone discover him.
A quick glance around located his knife where he’d left it himself, on the rim of the handbasin. He smiled in relief and took it back. As for the Allen keys, well – if they were truly lost, a piece of wire would do the same thing until he could secure another set.
Now, for something more logical to wear. The shirt was fine, any shirt would do at this point; it was clean. But he needed a pair of trousers that had more pockets than the one he was wearing.
Lucy had said something about a big brother. Well, if he was lucky, he’d find something. He switched the bathroom light off again and sneaked along the dark corridor, peering quietly into the various bedrooms.
Lucy slept with a bedside light on. He paused a moment, absorbing the scene of the little child sleeping, her cheeks flushed, her fluffy hair everywhere like a cloud around her head. Snuggled into her pink bed with the pink-and-red down duvet bedding, the rainbow-cloud curtains, the soft fuzzy white carpet, and fluffy toys all over the room… it staggered him. He’d never seen anything like it before. He’d been in a lot of houses; mostly at night to find a target, and usually the gadje houses were cold, stark, functionally luxurious, or impoverished, dirty and cluttered. But he’d never yet come across such a fantasy of a child’s room before, complete with the little monster herself asleep in the bed.
He removed himself again as quietly as only a Tzigan could, so that he didn’t accidentally pop this bubble by his mundane presence. His perspective on gadje and their imagination had forever shifted.
Silently he crept further down the passageway, finding a locked door – ha, Lindsey had made good on her threat and locked herself in. He laughed soundlessly. She really thought he’d come and rob her tonight, or whatever else her rich imagination could conjure up? He wondered fleetingly if she too slept in such a pink palace, and found his mind jarring with the incongruence. No. Her room might be colour-coded for all he knew; but it wouldn’t be a fairy kingdom. Probably more towards the cluttered and messy side of things. He moved on to the next door and found an empty bedroom. Softly he opened the cupboard doors and found clothes, neatly folded or hanging from hangers. He rifled through them a bit, careful not to disturb too much. And, yes: There was that ubiquitous piece of clothing nobody could do without: the jeans. He pulled it out and unravelled it, his jack-knife still in his left hand as he had nowhere to stash it.
The pants were hopelessly too long for him. It was annoying. He fitted them around his middle; they were also much to wide. This big brother seemed to be a giant. Pulling his lips back to reveal the one metal tooth in his otherwise flawless set, he rifled for a belt, and found one. He put the jeans and belt on, tightened the latter, rolled up the bottoms of the legs, put his knife into his pocket, folded those horrible tracksuit pants and left them on the bed, closed the cupboard doors and sneaked back out into the passageway. Time to get back on the job. And tomorrow he’d be owning a better-fitting pair!
He slunk towards the front rooms of the house without any further sound. He could hear someone softly snoring in the back of the house; presumably Marge. The front rooms – lounge, dining room and kitchen – were dark and eerie, the glass eyes of the dead animals following him spookily. He found himself apologising to the spirits of the animals for having been shot by humans. As a Tzigan, even as a young boy he’d snared rabbits and stolen eggs out of birds’ nests; but that went under survival of the familia. These animals looked as though they had been hunted for sports.
He found his way to the front door. The key was in the lock; he was about to reach for it when the door was flung open and he stared into the barrel of a gun.
Hells’ demons, that thing was a hunting rifle! Shadow knew enough about guns to stick his hands over his head and start that shallow breathing. Those things punched holes the size of footballs into a victim. At close range like this, they could turn their quarry into one single explosion of blood and guts. He didn’t even realize that he was making small stammering noises, repeating “nu, nu, nu…” in Romanian under his voice.
“Staan terug!” came the firm order from behind the gun. Shadow couldn’t even look at anything other than that tube full of lurking death, ready to explode in his face. He backed away.
“Teen die muur! Hande bo jou kop, jou verdomde blikskottel! Waar is jou buddies?”
Whatever that meant! “Sorry, I don’t understand,” stammered Shadow, hating himself for allowing the acid of his fear to eat him alive like that. His most precious survival tool, his Tzigan wit, had deserted him entirely.
The light was flicked on, and the gun was lowered, a little bit. Shadow’s eyes flashed momentarily from its evil mouth to the face behind it. A young, very tall blond gadjo with piercing eyes. That was all the gun allowed him before commanding his full attention again.
“Wait a minute,” said the voice behind the hunting rifle. “Who are you? How did you get into the house?”
“Shadow,” stammered the young gypsy. “They call me Shadow. Marge brought me here.” And he pulled himself up straight and faced that gun down. Damn! That was what he was here for: To protect Marge and the girls! “And who are you?” he challenged. “Do you have a right to be in this house, or are you another one of those Barberton Five or Seven?” If he was going down, at least he’d take this monster with him. He deliberately raised his black eyes from the gun to peer at the gadjo’s face. It would be easy to spot that moment of intent and duck in time: the gadjo had light-blue eyes, the pupils were clearly visible. Duck under the gun and ram the guy in his stomach with his head. Aim to flatten him and then wrestle for that gun, plan to discharge it into the ceiling.
“Shadow?” asked the gadjo and lowered his gun entirely. “You are Shadow? The one who rescued my little sister?”
“You’re Lucy’s brother?”
The tall guy laughed and stretched out a hand. He expected it to be shaken? Shadow eyed him suspiciously.
“Richard,” said the man. “I’m Richard. Yes, Lucy’s my little sister.” He laughed and pointed. “Sorry for the fright, man! You wet your pants!”
“Your pants,” replied Shadow before he could stop himself. Richard stared, then laughed out loud.
“Oh my gosh, guess I deserve that!” He beckoned to the lounge set. “Have a seat, Shadow! It’s good to meet you.”
“Not sitting down like this,” objected the gypsy.
Richard led the way back to the room Shadow had just looted, switched the light on and dug another pair of jeans out for the young vagabond. He tossed it at Shadow.
“You can keep that one,” he said. “It’s too small for me.”
Even these jeans was on the border of too long and too wide, but they sat a lot better than the others that now, inevitably, also ended in the wash.
“You took a bit of a beating for my sister,” commented Richard, pointing to Shadow’s bandages. The Tzigan laughed, embarrassed.
“Just hate it when they pick on the children,” he replied. “Richard, I’ve got to fetch my coat. I left it… in a place.”
“You can have one of mine,” offered Richard.
“Was my father’s,” Shadow pointed out. “Don’t worry, I won’t take long.” He fetched his floppy hat from the bathroom and put that on, and allowed Richard to accompany him to the front door.
“Was that where you were off to when I came in?” asked the tall man. Shadow nodded.
“See you bit later then,” said Richard.
“Later,” echoed Shadow and vanished into the night.
Flying dassies, a hunting rifle! The brother of Lucy stalked around at night with a hunting rifle! What on Earth was he hunting?
He had to get himself a rifle like that, thought Shadow. Maybe, just maybe that stuff that had hounded him all across Europe, would go up in a spray of blood and guts…
Elucidation Foreign Terms:
gadjo, gadchey, gadje – non-gypsy (male, female, plural)
modimay (also spelled ‘marime’) – forbidden, unclean, draws with it a curse of being cast out of the tribe
familia – the tribe
Staan terug – stand back
Teen die muur! – against the wall
Hande bo jou kop, – hands above your head
jou verdomde blikskottel! – you accursed tin-dish (I still haven’t managed to figure out why on Earth that is considered a potent insult)
Waar is jou buddies? – Where are your buddies
dassies – rock hyraces