Rona couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right with the world—literally. It wasn’t functioning properly. She’d felt it for some time now, and despite her best efforts to ignore it, the feeling had grown stronger, even keeping her awake at night. The wind blew through her long, wavy, sapphire-colored hair. She pulled her jacket tighter, shielding herself from the cold air. She peered up at the moonlit sky just as a bolt of lightning cut through the air, illuminating her brown skin. The clouds were just starting to move in. It was beautiful and eerie. And yet, something about it felt unnatural. As if nature was breaking its own laws. It was a feeling that she couldn’t describe, but could no longer ignore. Now, she wanted answers. The first raindrop fell, landing squarely in her eye, causing her to blink rapidly and wipe at it. The next few fell with increasing succession until a downpour began. Rona pulled her hood over her head, tucked her chin and ran towards the entrance of the bar across the street.
Ward sat at the bar staring into an empty beer bottle. He put the bottle to his lips and leaned back as far as he could, hoping to extract one last drop from the stubborn bottle. No such luck. He placed the bottle down on the bar and called to the bartender. “Gimme’ another,” he said, in a slurred London accent.
“I think you’ve had enough for one night. Why don’t I call you a cab?” said the bartender.
Ward wrinkled his nose in indignation. He pushed the empty beer bottle toward the bartender, almost falling from his seat as he did so. “You must be new here. I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough. Another.”
The bartender reluctantly removed a bottle from the cooler, popped the cap and pushed it over to Ward, who grabbed the bottle and took a large gulp. The bartender grabbed the end of the bottle and forced it back down to the counter.
“You gonna’ pay for that?” he asked, more of a statement than a question.
Ward pulled out his wallet. He turned it upside down and dumped a hefty amount of coins onto the counter. The bartender’s face twisted in revulsion.
“I’m not accepting that.”
“Why not? It’s money in-it?”
The bartender’s face went flush. “That’s your last beer,” he said as he raked the coins into his hand. “Then you’re outta’ here. I’ll call you a cab. You’ve got five minutes to finish that.” The bartender stormed off.
Ward took a big gulp of the beer, belched, and then set it back down on the bar.
Nature was calling.
He stood up and headed toward the bathroom, but something caught his eye. In the back of the room sat three big men clad in black trench coats. Each of them eyed him with hatred. He recognized them. Fear shot through him, as he hastily returned to his seat. He knew that if he left that seat he was a dead man. Not even the bathroom was safe. He chanced a glance over his shoulder. The shortest of the men, a dark-skinned man with a goatee, made a pistol with his fingers and pretended to fire it in Ward’s direction. Ward tore his eyes away. He took a sip of his beer, ever so slightly, but it still made a gulping sound as it went down.
The wind slammed the door closed behind Rona as she entered the bar. “Whew!” she said as she wiped rainwater from her forehead with her sleeve. The bar was just the right temperature. And the perfect amount of not-raining. She didn’t bother scanning the room. The man she was looking for would be at the bar—and likely inebriated. She sat in the first empty seat she saw, before brandishing her ID for the bartender to see.
“Wow, you look so young for your age,” said the bartender. Rona smiled. “What can I get you?” Rona shrugged, took a look around and pointed to one of the taps. “You got it.”
The bartender came back with a tall glass of dark beer, filled to the brim. He placed it in front of Rona, taking the dollar bills from her hand in exchange. She leaned over and took a whiff of the beer, recoiled in disgust, and pushed the glass away. She scanned the bar until her eyes met Ward’s. A smile brightened his features as he recognized her. He looked like he was about to shout her name, until she furtively placed a finger in front of her lips, silencing him. He settled back down in his chair and waited. Rona walked over and sat next to him.
“I need information,” she said without looking at him.
“Is that how you greet all of your friends?” asked Ward.
“We’re not friends, Ward. I don’t have friends.”
“Well perhaps you would have friends if you weren’t so flippin’ rude all the time. In the six years that we’ve known each other we’ve spoken for exactly twenty-two minutes and nine seconds, including this conversation; I know we’re not besties. But, there is a such thing as common courtesy, a lesson you yanks never took to. ‘Hello, Ward, how are you?’ and perhaps a little eye contact, that’s all I ask.” He downed the rest of his beer in one gulp.
Rona turned to him, opened her eyes wide and emphasized every word as she spoke. “Hello, Ward, how are you?”
“I can’t complain, thank you for asking,” said Ward, his bright smile emanating even from his blue eyes.
“How was that?” asked Rona.
“I’ve had better,” said Ward.
Rona laughed. She reached for her untouched beer and pushed it in Ward’s direction. “Here, have a drink.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Ward. He leaned forward to grab the drink but fell forward, tipping the glass over. Rona caught the glass in one hand, before it spilled, and caught Ward with her other hand before he fell off of his stool. She lifted him upright with ease. The commotion grabbed the attention of the bartender.
“Is this idiot bothering you,” he asked.
Rona waved it off. “I’m bothering him.”
“Lucky guy,” said the bartender as he filled a cup of water, placed it in front of Rona and left.
“ ‘Lucky guy’? He obviously hasn’t met you.”
“ ‘Idiot’. He obviously has met you. I was kind of hoping that you wouldn’t be this…impaired. I’ll come and find you tomorrow when you’re less intoxicated.”
“I have only two modes: drunk and hung over. Trust me, I’m a lot more fun when I’m drunk,” said Ward, taking a sip of beer. Besides, if this was a matter that could wait until tomorrow, you wouldn’t be out in this nasty weather. How can I help you?”
Rona looked Ward up and down. He looked thinner than the last time she’d seen him. His reddish brown hair was unkept and it looked like it had been a few days since his last shave. Perhaps he’d fallen on hard times. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for oracles to be self-destructive.
“You’re the oracle. Shouldn’t you know already?” asked Rona as she took a sip of water.
“Oh, we’re playing that game, are we? ‘Guess what’s on my mind.’ Well, I’m an oracle, not a mind reader, Love.”
Oracles always made you ask. They got a kick out of making you work for the information even after you’d paid for it. And they never gave a straight answer. Ever. Dealing with them and deciphering their coded language was an acquired skill. Rona had run into every type of Oracle in her day. Some had been children; others wise old sages; some had been priests; others, sailors; and some were drunks. She found that she preferred the drunks. Drunk oracles, like regular drunks, seemed to speak the truth. And they were a lot less holier-than-thou. Of all of the oracles she’d ever met, Ward was the least obnoxious. But she still didn’t quite know what to make of him. On the few times she had called on him, he had given her good information, which made her wonder who else he was giving information to. She had to choose her words carefully and not reveal any more than she needed to. She didn’t trust him.
Then again, she didn’t really trust anyone.
“Something was stolen from me. I want it back.”
“Could you be more specific?”
Rona took a moment before answering. “My lucky stone, someone stole it.”
A brief look of surprise crossed Ward’s face. Then he snickered.
“Pardon me if I don’t believe you. Who would steal your lucky stone?”
“That’s what I want you to tell me.”
“It’s a rhetorical question, Love. The answer is: no one. Have you checked the couch cushions?”
Rona folded her arms across her chest. “I wouldn’t have lost it. It was a gift.”
“I’m still finding it hard to believe that you are the superstitious or sentimental type. I can’t help but wonder if there are more important things that you wish to discuss,” said Ward, giving Rona a dubious look.
Of course there were.
“Nope,” said Rona. “If you could just tell me where I can find what I’m looking for, I’ll be on my way.”
“Okay,” said Ward, shaking his head in disappointment. “But first, let me tell you that there is no such thing as luck. ‘Luck’ implies coincidence. And there is no such thing. Everything happens for a reason. I think there is a reason that you came out here tonight, and it has nothing to do with luck or stones or any other bollocks. You made the decision to come and find me, tonight. What we call coincidence is in fact the cause and effect of decisions being made somewhere at some time. Sometimes decisions made before we are born or a million miles away affect the decisions that we make today which in turn affect others. Each decision has power, each has consequences.”
“Um, okay. So, are you going to make the ‘decision’ to tell me where my lucky stone is?”
“I think you’re missing the point, Love.”
“My name is Rona.”
“Rona, haven’t you noticed that something seems amidst? The average person suspects nothing, but someone like you, who is a bit more, let’s say: tuned in, definitely notices that something is going on, something big.”
Now we’re getting somewhere, thought Rona. Not wanting to overplay her coyness, she said nothing.
“That’s what I thought. The universe is out-of-whack for some reason. Up is down. Left is right. Nothing is as it should be. There is something going on, and I’m afraid it’s far more important than your lost trinket. Aren’t you the least bit interested?” asked Ward.
“Tell me,” said Rona, attempting to hide her anticipation.
“For a price,” said Ward.
“I bought you a beer.”
Ward chugged it. “What beer.”
Rona glared at Ward for as long as she could stomach him.
“Goodbye, Ward,” she said, rising from her chair.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” said Ward, “I’m a wee bit pissed. Please don’t leave.”
“Have a nice night,” said Rona, pushing her chair in. “And take a cab.”
“I need your help. They’re gonna’ kill me.”
“Been nice knowing ya!”
Ward tugged at Rona’s arm. She gave him a dangerous look.
“Please,” said Ward, staring into Rona’s eyes. On his face there was no smile, no snark; only fear.
Rona resigned herself to her chair. “Who’s ‘they’?”
Ward gave a barely visible head tilt toward the rear of the bar. Rona reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a Compaq mirror. She opened it, angling it just enough for her to see over her shoulder. She scanned the room with it, taking in the many people in the bar. It didn’t take long for her to spot them. Three of them in the back. Trench coats. Scowls. Trouble. She folded the mirror back into her pocket.
“I’m not getting involved in whatever mess you got yourself into,” said Rona.
“Come on, we’re friends,” said Ward, with a smile.
Rona shook her head in disagreement. “How do I know that you don’t deserve exactly what these guys are about to do to you?”
“They’re going to hang me by my intestines.”
“Gross,” said Rona. “Who are they?”
Rona smacked her teeth and shook her head. “Don’t think so.”
“Avon salesman?” said Ward with a shrug.
“Doubt it. Why don’t you call the police?”
“There’s no way I’m leaving this building alive without your help. Trust me, I know— I’m a freaking oracle for crying-out-loud! I’ll tell you anything you want to know, but you have to promise to help me.”
“No promises. Start talking, and hurry up, it looks like they’re getting impatient.”
“Okay,” said Ward, with new found urgency. “Tonight, you’re going to be offered a choice. Your decision will affect the course of your life from this night forward. I don’t know who is going to offer you this choice or why, but I know that bigger things are happening. Things that even I don’t quite understand.”
So she hadn’t been imagining it. Something was off. Rona didn’t know if this conformation made her feel better or worse.
Ward continued. “I can’t explain it. Things are happening too fast. I know that no matter what you decide, things are never going to be the same.”
“Should I be prepared for a fight?”
“Aren’t you always?”
“Touché. Do I know the person that will make this offer?”
Ward thought for a moment. “I think so. In fact, I think that you know a great deal more than you let on.”
“How much do you know about me?” asked Rona, before taking a sip of water.
“I know that you’re beautiful.”
Ward held out his hands toward Rona as if studying a work of art. “I mean, your features are absolutely flawless. Big brown eyes, long eyelashes, a personal preference of mine.” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “A cute nose, full lips, even skin tone, decent height.” He clenched his fists. “A tight, shapely, athletic body.” He cuffed the air around his chest. “Nice…demeanor.”
Rona cocked her head to the side. “You’re weird, Ward. And you smell funny.”
Ward sniffed himself. “Both true statements, I must admit. I also can’t help but notice that in all the years I’ve know you, you haven’t aged. Not a day. Not one bit. Not one wrinkle, not one sag in the skin, not one hair out of place. I mean, I know black don’t crack, but this is a bit excessive. Oh, I don’t mean to offend you, I’m not entirely sure that you are black or Latina or what you consider yourself; but I am sure that you aren’t even human. At all.”
Rona smiled and shrugged.
“Fair enough.” He leaned in a little closer and his expression and tone turned more serious than Rona had previously seen. “I challenge you to remember who you are; to commit to something damn-all the consequences; and to protect someone simply because they need you.”
“Me, of course!” said Ward. “They’re coming.” Ward took Rona’s cup of water and chugged it down in one gulp.
Rona noticed through her peripheral, the three men in trench coats moving towards them. She didn’t turn her head to meet them, instead she watched from her periphery. The men moving toward them ranged in size from big, to bigger, to biggest. They moved at a slow but deliberate pace. These were no ordinary thugs. They had training, possibly military. Within seconds they were all within touching distance of Ward, surrounding him on all sides.
“Hey gents!” said Ward, to the men. “How’ve you been? It’s so good to see the whole gang here.” Ward nodded his head to each of them. “Terrance,” he said to the first man. The man nearly growled in reply. “Donny,” he said, to the second man, who returned a polite nod. “Isaac,” he pointed at the biggest man. Isaac made no gestures, facial or physical.
Ward wasn’t needlessly babbling, he was feeding her information in case she decided to help him—which she hadn’t yet—giving her a glimpse into who each of these men were just by their initial reactions to him. Just from that brief exchange Rona decided to fix her attention on Terrance. He had taken charge of the confrontation, and anything that would happen from this point forward would begin with him.
Terrance grabbed a stool and placed it between Rona and Ward, nearly pushing Rona out of the way as he sat down, facing Ward. Rona moved back a few inches and watched the interaction.
Terrance was average height, but he was a block of a man, wide and powerfully built. He’d had a scowl plastered on his face during the entire walk over to Ward, so Rona wasn’t at all surprised by his rudeness. He was a dark-skinned man with a smooth goatee. The edges of his fade were impeccable even in the back.
“Terrance, how you been? Gimme’ a hug, mate,” said Ward, as he leaned forward to embrace Terrance. It took only one of Terrance’s catcher’s-mitt hands to push Ward back down. He fell, hard on to his stool. Rona winced. This was getting interesting.
“You thought you could run?” said Terrance, through clenched teeth. His voice matched his look perfectly. “You thought we wouldn’t catch you? We will follow you to the ends of this Earth.”
“ ‘Fraid I don’t know to what you are referring,” said Ward, his voice quivering.
“Don’t play dumb,” said Donny, his voice a deep, gravelly sound with a hint of a country accent. “You know why we’re here. It would be better if we stepped outside to…discuss things.”
Donny was quite tall. He had a salt-and-pepper mustache, making him more distinguished than the other two men. He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. To an untrained eye he almost seemed benign, but Rona could see the steel in his eyes. The way he moved reminded her of a cobra moving through tall grass; the kind that you didn’t see until after it had bitten you. Deadly, was too drab of a word to describe him.
“I’m through talking to this clown,” said Terrance. “I’m about three seconds from dragging him out of here.”
“We’re going to give you one last chance to walk out of here of your own volition. Do it. Like a man. You don’t want your lady friend getting caught up in this,” said Donny, tipping his hat to Rona.
“Yeah, wouldn’t want my brains getting all over her,” said Ward.
“I don’t mind, actually,” said Rona with a wink.
“Shut up, bitch,” Terrance spat, over his shoulder.
“Did you hear what he just called you, Rona? You gonna’ take that?” asked Ward.
“Doesn’t bother me,” said Rona with a smile. She downed her glass of water. The tension in the air was building, reaching a tipping point. Rona prepared herself for whatever was coming next. She made sure to keep a close eye on the biggest man of the group, Isaac, who seemed to be carved out of stone. He was even stone-faced, which gave Rona the impression that thinking, wasn’t his role in the group. But Rona could tell that whatever he did do, he was good at it. She had gotten a feel for the other two, but Isaac, with his expressionless face and long black ponytail, was still a wild card.
“Enough! I’m gonna’ put a bullet in him right now!” said Terrance. Rona took note as he shifted his weight to his right side.
He was right-handed.
“Take it easy, rookie,” said Donny.
“I got this,” said Terrance.
Donny gave a long sigh.
The room went silent and everyone in the bar seemed to be fixating on their conversation. Even the music had stopped. The bartender walked over. He had a look of alarm on his face. Terrance placed his hand inside of his trench coat.
“You’ve got to the count of three, before I do you right here,” said Terrance in a low and dangerous voice. “One.”
“Hey, you guys are going to have to take that outside,” said the bartender, his voice quavering.
“This is your last warning, son,” said Donny.
“Rona. Help,” said Ward.
“I’m calling the police!” said the bartender.
Terrance pulled a semi-automatic pistol from his jacket and whipped Ward across the face with it, toppling him over his stool and onto the floor. He took aim at the bartender, whom was dialing numbers hastily on his phone, seemingly unaware of the gun pointed at him.
Rona took action. She kicked Terrance hard in the back of his knee, knocking him off balance. A shot rang out. A bottle shattered. Everyone in the bar screamed and took cover. Terrance whirled around and pointed the gun at Rona. With inhuman speed, she kicked one leg over the other, pinning Terrence’s gun hand down onto the bar. Using the momentum gained, she placed her hand on the bar, and kicked Terrance in the jaw with her spinning heel. Terrance hit the floor and didn’t move. In the scramble, Rona hoisted herself onto the bar and landed in a crouching position facing the other two men. They both reached for their guns, but, Rona leaped over their heads, landing behind them. Isaac had his gun drawn and was raising it when Rona smacked it from his hand. Donny pointed his gun at Rona. She grabbed his wrist and twisted it in a counterclockwise motion, forcing him to somersault and land on his back. His gun and cowboy hat falling to the floor. Isaac grabbed Rona in a bear-hug from behind. He squeezed, but Rona broke his grip effortlessly. She placed her hands on the floor, and kicked backwards at the same time. The kick landed square in Isaac’s gut, sending him stumbling into a nearby wall before collapsing to the floor.
“Don’t make me use this,” said Donny, “I’d hate to shoot a lady.” He had gotten back to his feet and now had a pistol pointed at Rona. His breathing was heavy, but his voice was steady.
Rona knew that he meant business. But she didn’t give him time to make good on his threat. She tucked and rolled past Donny’s gun, grabbing his ankle in the process. When she rose, she spun Donny around and around by his leg, ultimately releasing him, and sending him sailing into the wall on the far side of the bar. He bounced off of the wall before crashing into a heap on the floor. He didn’t move.
Everyone had their phones out. Ward emerged from under a table rubbing the side of his jaw where Terrance had struck him. His expression was a mixture of glee and awe. Rona wasted no time.
“Come on!” she said as she grabbed Ward. She burst through the doors of the bar with Ward in tow. She ran so fast that Ward couldn’t keep pace. She half carried, half dragged him down the sidewalk. They didn’t stop running until Rona felt like she had put enough distance between them and the bar. She let Ward rest as she peered around the corner for signs of the police or any other inconveniences. She didn’t see anything. She could hear the sound of sirens, but they were at a safe distance.
“Okay, I think we’re safe,” said Rona. She turned around and saw Ward with his back to her and his head leaning backwards in pleasure.
He was urinating on the side of a building.
“Ward!” snapped Rona.
“Sorry, I’ve been holding that in for quite some time,” said Ward, apologetically. Rona turned around and gave him time to zip his pants up. “Almost lost it in the trousers, back at the bar. Good show, by the way! You’ve got some moves. You saved my life.”
“I saved the bartender,” said Rona. “Now tell me what I want to know.”
“Okay, you’ll find all of the answers you’re looking for and more at the Fairview Cemetery on the west side of town.”
“Okay, take care of yourself, Ward. Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand,” said Rona.
“Oh, right,” said Ward with a bashful smile. “Cheers.”
She hailed a cab the first chance she got, settling into the back seat. “Fairview Cemetery, please.” She removed her lucky stone from her pocket, tossed it into the air and caught it with the same hand. Oracles possessed a wealth of knowledge, but also enormous egos. They had to be challenged, coerced into talking, made to believe that volunteering the information had been their idea from the start. They never ever gave you information if it seemed like you wanted it too badly. They were adept at fleecing the overeager. She placed the stone back in her pocket. It was also safer to poke around if it didn’t seem like you were poking around. Not that getting into a bar fight was exactly inconspicuous. She was sure that was going to bite her on the ass at some point, but she couldn’t worry about that tonight. Something big was indeed happening and tonight she was going to get some answers. Whether she liked them or not.