A few days later
Late winter air blew through the cracks in the window and sunk into Darzsa’s bones. He’d forgotten to turn the radiator on again last night and woke up shivering and to the sound of the neighborhood children playing in the street. He stared outside past the chipped paint on the walls, wondering how much longer he could lie in bed before he had to get to his post at the route. Carnival season was the perfect time for him to keep himself occupied and make some extra money. Throwing on some slacks and a button-down shirt, he quickly got dressed and ran out the door.
The elite krewes had the gaudiest floats. Darzsa stood at the front with some of the other men, ready to guide the way down Magazine. After sweet-talking one of his customers and a few favors, Darzsa was able to stand idly by, shielding his eyes from the sun overhead. At least the end of the route was near home. He didn’t want to look at this tacky float all day.
“Alice in Wonderland” was the theme. Jabberwock, the dragon, was at the head, mouth agape, and its length serpentined around the krewe waiting to dazzle the crowd. Daniel used to read him a tattered copy of Through the Looking-Glass. Darzsa especially liked it when Daniel changed his voice for the Tweedle brothers. The Red Queen always fascinated Darzsa as well, but he never cared too much for Alice—all that nonsense she endured. Darzsa wasn’t one to engage in things that served him no purpose, nor the idea of everything not being as it seemed and in one’s imagination.
To him, there was nothing to gain in hiding behind pretenses or broken promises.
The horse next to Darzsa’s head neighed in his ear, jolting him out of his reverie. He patted it lightly to calm himself and the animal down. The parade was due to start soon, so Darzsa adjusted his cap and waited for the signal.
The streets were littered with beads and doubloons from the day’s activities. Glass crunched under Darzsa’s feet as he snuck away from the chaos. He wanted to do nothing more than to get under the covers and sleep until he had to go to work. Crowds milled about up St. Peter toward Congo Square, whispers of some colored man going on about a new medium in town.
Darzsa had to see what poor soul was making a fool of himself and luring gullible folks into getting swindled out of their money. He was familiar with stories of some of the charlatans who came into town, promising fortune to those who wanted desperately to be deceived. One of those Marie Laveau types, but not as cunning, was probably trying to make their way in and make some kale before moving on or getting run out.
Hordes of people stood around a bench in the middle of the square. Darzsa couldn’t see who they were crowded around, but he could hear their questions and whispers among themselves. Whoever this was must have some wits about him to enthrall a crowd like this. Darzsa craned his neck over the influx of congregating passersby to spot who they referred to as the man who spoke of communicating with the dead.
The more the smooth talker sold this foolish dream of speaking to the beyond, the closer they moved in. These people couldn’t be serious about believing that someone was getting in contact with spirits, much less giving them otherworldly advice. More like they had a pocket full of wooden nickels if they bought this load of horsefeathers.
“My cousin in New York wrote me a letter saying she went to a reading and was told she’d come into some money. Met one of those big wigs in the hotel business a month later,” Darzsa overheard a woman say.
Her friend clutched her chest, letting out an airy laugh. “Well, I went to one when I was traveling the east coast, and it is simply marvelous. You know they held seances in the White House. I heard…”
Darzsa didn’t care enough to continue eavesdropping on their conversation. All he cared about was getting to the source of that voice. Wading through the sea of people gathered, he saw his target, sitting among the masses that were entranced under the timbre and cadence of every word he spoke.