Last call, p.60
Last Call, p.60Tim Powers
“Scott Crane,” said Hanari, “slowly, with your left hand, take the gun out of your belt, and drop it over the side.”
At the mention of a gun, Stevie stood up and raised the shotgun and the other Amino Acid stepped back to have a clear field of fire.
Crane dragged his left palm up the tail of his shirt and tugged at the Pachmayr grips of the gun. When he had got it free of his belt, he paused.
If it’s my father in the Hanari body, he thought, I should just spin and try to shoot him, and both of the Amino Acids, too.
He was cold with sweat, but he began to bend his knees in a slight crouch, and he tried to think about how he’d hike the gun to slap well back into his palm and where he’d fall after the first shot.
“Bolt-hole and hidey-hole,” said Hanari softly.
That was what Siegel had said to him in the vision under the lake.
I’ve got to trust in somebody, Crane thought, blinking against the sting of sweat in his eyes. Shall I trust in…Bugsy Siegel?
He straightened and tossed the gun out over the rail, and it splashed into the water. He took a deep breath and let it out.
“Now you, Frank,” said Hanari, “into the lake with it.”
After a moment’s hesitation a revolver flew past Crane’s shoulder and into the water.
“Stevie,” said Hanari, “bring me the shotgun.”
Crane turned to the dock and saw Stevie scramble onto the deck and hand the shotgun to the purple-faced Hanari body, then step respectfully back.
Hanari hefted it and racked the slide, chambering a shell.
He pointed the gun at Frank.
“Stand over with Stevie, boy,” said the baritone voice wearily. “On the dock. There’s a new King, and you two have nothing to do with him.”
Frank and Stevie scrambled off the boat, and the two Amino Acids stood together fearfully on the planks of the dock.
White light touched the street, and Crane looked back and was dazzled by the first sliver of the new sun over the peaks of the Black Mountains.
“Go far away,” called the ghost of Benjamin Siegel through the mouth of the Art Hanari body. “Forget all these ambitions. Go!” He walked toward the two Amino Acids, and they retreated up the dock toward the parking lot.
The Hanari body followed them to the driveway and then just stood there holding the gun, staring after them as they hurried across the early-morning pavement toward the two white El Caminos parked side by side in the lot.
Still sitting in the deck chair, Mavranos stared after them, then looked around at Crane.
Crane jerked a hand at him. “Come on aboard, Arky,” he called softly.
Mavranos paused in the lounge doorway and looked around the big room, from the wide green felt table to the twitching figure of Doctor Leaky in the wheelchair. The old man was asking over and over again whether anyone else smelled roses.
The table was empty. The Lombardy Zeroth cards were scattered all over the red carpet.
Crane exhaled a hoarse moan. “Help me gather ’em up,” he said.
Mavranos walked over by the bar and then crouched to gather cards, and Crane got down on his hands and knees by the table and began scooping up the ones that were scattered there.
Doctor Leaky stirred in his wheelchair. “Climb up on my knee, Sonny Boy,” he said.
Crane ignored him. Two of Swords, he thought as he picked up that card, and here’s the Ten of Cups…
“‘When…there are gray skies…’” sang Doctor Leaky.
Crane had gathered a good handful of cards, and he shoved them carelessly into his pocket to keep them from getting away, and then scrambled to another spot and started picking up more.
Finally he couldn’t stand the uncompleted lyric hanging in the cool air. “‘What don’t you mind in the least?’” he recited, through clenched teeth.
“‘I don’t mind the gray skies…’” Leaky sang.
Crane crumpled more cards into his pocket and hunched his way over to another cluster of them on the carpet. The painted faces stared up at him idiotically as he scuffled them together and balled them up in his fists.
“‘What do I do to them?’” he said, furious that he remembered the old routine. Six of Cups, Ace of Sticks, the Fool…
“‘You make them blue…’”
Christ, Crane thought, feeling tears welling up in his eyes. “‘What’s my name?’” he said dutifully, his voice catching.
“I’ve got ’em all over here,” said Mavranos, standing up with two fistfuls of cards. He wasn’t looking at Crane or the old man.
“Okay,” Crane said, getting to his feet. He spoke levelly. “Bring them to the table here. I’ll nail down the ones we’ve got, and then we can search for any others.”
He pulled from his jeans pocket the jackknife he’d taken out of the wall of the tunnel under the Flamingo, and after Mavranos had crossed to the table and laid his cards on the green felt, and Crane had dug out of his jacket pocket the cards he had picked up, he opened the blade and pressed the point against the back of the top card. Then, reminded of the night when he had stabbed his own leg, he brought his other fist down hard onto the butt of the knife, spearing the cards.
The boat didn’t shift, no rain pattered against the ports, and no voices spoke out over the lake.
The knife stood upright, its point buried in the wood under the green felt.
“There’s more here and there,” Mavranos said quietly, “in the corners.”
“Let’s get ’em.” Crane crouched by a half dozen cards against the starboard molding—and he could feel Doctor Leaky’s eyes on him, his father’s eyes.
He looked across the room and saw the old man in the wheelchair staring at him imploringly.
“‘What will friends do to you?’” asked Crane softly.
His father smiled and opened his mouth. “‘Friends may forsake me…’”
“That’s it for over here,” said Mavranos, walking back toward the table with another handful.
“And with these,” said Crane, straightening up, “I think that’s the lot. Here, count ’em all, would you, Arky?” A sob was building in his throat, and he waited until he knew he could speak steadily. “I don’t think I can.”
Mavranos took Crane’s cards from him, and Crane looked angrily over at his father. “‘What will you let them do to you?’” he said.
“‘Let them all forsake me…’”
“Seventy-eight,” said Mavranos, his own voice sounding a little unsteady.
“That’s it,” said Crane. From his inside jacket pocket he took the second deck and laid it next to the first. He tugged the knife out of the table and began cutting all the cards up, sawing and hacking at them.
He thought he felt shiftings and resistances under the blade, muscular flexings of protest and outrage as the steel edge violated the cardboard surfaces and forcibly scraped and scored the paint, but after a couple of minutes the cards were a pile of irregular fragments.
He stood back from the table. “‘What will you still have?’” he said absently.
“‘I’ll still have you…’” sang his father.
I suppose you will, thought Crane with bitter helplessness—the piece of me that’s still a five-year-old boy, at least.
Crane gathered up the pieces. “Let’s go out to the bow,” he said to Mavranos. “I’ll scatter them in the lake, like somebody’s ashes.”
“And let’s be quick,” Mavranos said. “I’d really like to be away from here, you know?”
Crane paused before stepping out onto the deck, for the lyric hung uncompleted in the face of all the years to come.
“‘What’s my name?’” he whispered.
Half an hour later the old truck was rattling along north on Highway 95, through the desert toward the McCullough Range and Las Vegas beyond.
“And when we came back inside,” said Cra
“I’m sorry about your father,” Diana said.
“I don’t think you should be, at all,” Crane said. “I don’t think I should be, at all.”
Oliver shifted, and Crane thought he was going to say something, but the boy just stared out the window.
“And,” Crane went on, “when the knife was about to hit the water—you couldn’t really see, with the sun glittering on the waves—I swear a hand stuck up out of the water and caught the knife! And then just sank back down under with hardly a ripple.”
That caught Oliver’s attention. He whipped his head around. “A hand?” he squeaked. “Like someone alive under the water caught it?”
“I don’t know about alive,” Crane told him.
“I still say it was a turtle,” commented Mavranos from the front seat. He took a sip from his can of Coors without taking his eyes off the road. “I saw a turtle stick its neck up and catch the knife, in its mouth.”
“I like Arky’s version,” put in Nardie.
“What about…Siegel?” asked Diana.
Crane shook his head. “He was still standing there when we left the boat. Didn’t even look at us. And then you all heard that boom.”
“I guess the verdict will be that Art Hanari, whoever he once was, committed suicide in the parking lot,” said Mavranos.
“The last of the deaths,” said Diana, and Crane knew she was thinking of Scat, who was expected to be released from the hospital in the next week or two.
“For a long while, at least, let’s hope,” Crane said. He thought about crossing his fingers, but clasped her hand instead.
And the old truck sped on up the highway in the morning sun. And in the desert all around, the Joshua trees were heavy with cream-colored blossoms, and the glowing cholla branches shaded the flowering lupine and sundrops, and in the mountains the desert bighorn sheep leaped agilely down to the fresh streams to drink.
About the Author
TIM POWERS is the author of numerous works of speculative fiction, including Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather, and The Anubis Gates; the novel Declare; and the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Last Call. He lives in San Bernardino, California.
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Algis Budrys, Fantasy & Science Fiction
“Powers is the author of a series of idiosyncratic, memorable fantasies, but he has outdone himself with this story…Last Call is a fast-moving, unusual fantasy by a writer who just keeps getting better and better—and was no slouch to start with.”
“Distinctive and commanding…a strikingly inventive novel.”
“Though the plot is as complex and fluid as high-stakes poker, and the setting is the intricately imagined Camelot of gambling itself, Powers does not forget that the most important element in any novel’s game is the stylish play of character.”
“The best fantasy writer to appear in decades.”
Manchester Guardian (UK)
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Village Voice Literary Supplement
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New York Times bestselling author Raymond E. Feist
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Marvelously successful…quirky dark fantasy…supercharged with twentieth-century—and eternal—myths running on high-octane fuel…Utterly compelling. Powers plays for high stakes and wins big.”
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Books by Tim Powers
THE STRESS OF HER REGARD
ON STRANGER TIDES
DINNER AT DEVIANT’S PALACE
THE ANUBIS GATES
THE DRAWING OF THE DARK
Cover design by Adam Johnson, Cover photograph © by topseller/shutterstock images
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Tim Powers, Last Call
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