When the money ran out, I regretted not holding onto those cards. It is so fucking easy to realize mistakes after they’ve been made. I started seeing want ads from people hunting for those kinds of cards. The ads popped up in the weirdest places, like comic books and girlie mags, and men’s adventure books involving Nazi women dominating half-naked bleeding men in jungles. There was no way you could figure out what the ads were hunting for unless you’d actually seen the cards. I called some of the numbers listed in the ads, and the buyers sounded eager, very eager, maybe even desperate, and willing to pay through the nose. And I was pissed at myself for selling the cards before I took full advantage of them.
I had my own particular talent that I could have put to better use while the cards were in my hands, right in front of me. I’m not half bad at art if I’m just copying pictures. I’m not good enough to do forgeries. I mean, fuck all this shit about rustling up old canvases, and mixing in ground up old paint to fool the guys who examine masterpieces under a microscope. I wouldn’t be able to fool anyone. But I can copy stuff. Fuck trying to be original, too, because originality is bullshit.
Everyone steals, when it comes to art, by copying images or ideas, or by mixing them like you’d mix paint, or by doing the opposite. You can steal from other artists by dissing what you’re stealing from. Take what’s there and show it in a way that insults the original. Everyone steals. It is sort of like the way cops and robbers deal with each other. Both earn a living based on theft, both are passionate about it, and thrilled by it, sharing the same values, looking at the exact same problems from different angles. In the big picture, theft is always profitable, to someone. Sometimes to you, sometimes not, and with the right kind of insurance, everyone profits.
I figured I could have copied the cards. I tried doing it from memory, but that sucked. I need to have what I’m copying right there in front of me.
I went looking for Glori, hoping she could lead me to more of those cards. I couldn’t track her down. And then I thought maybe her step mother still had those cards, so I did some asking around in our old haunts. The trail led me to what used to be a hippy neighborhood in the Grove. The woman I found looked to be much younger than I expected. But it was her, sure enough. I figured Glori’s old man might have hooked up with a much younger bride. Not that Glori seemed the type to have come from money, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had.
Eliza was the name of Glori’s evil stepmother. Our conversation centered around Glori, since that was the excuse I had given to wheedle my way inside the house. I said I wanted to patch things up between me and Glori, and that wasn’t entirely a lie, since it would have been OK if it happened, though also OK if it didn’t.
Eliza said she was looking for Glori too, though she said it without much enthusiasm, so it came across as a deadpan joke.
“Maybe we could work together.” I put on a poker face, acting cool and calm, telling stories about the way Glori could tell stories, and her gift for convincing people to buy worthless junk. Ever so slyly, I thought, I slipped in the tale of the medicine cards, trying to put them in the same class as all the other worthless junk. “You wouldn’t happen to still have them?” I asked.
“No.” Eliza’s eyes went reptilian, like she had retreated to a venomous portion of her psyche untouched since cold-blooded prehistorical times. “It’s late. Nice talking to you, and all that. Let me know if you ever hear word from Glori. But I’ll tell you, I used to have a good knack for predicting the future, and I’d say she’s gone for good, for both of us.”
“Yeah, I suppose. Doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that, I guess. At least I got to meet Glori’s evil stepmother.”
“She actually call me that?”
“All the time.”
She held up a single finger. At first, I thought it was her middle finger, but that was an optical illusion. It was her right forefinger. Like wait a minute.
She went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of bourbon. She offered a glass. I shook my head, and she drank straight from the bottle.
“One of my closest friends had a lover who used to call me the ‘Ultimate Evil’. And I used to know someone else who read auras, and she told me mine was pitch black.”
Eliza was starting to get interesting for her own sake, and not only because of the cards she might have, and not only because I was trying to recapture my Glori days. But I surely hadn’t lost interest in the cards.
So, I stopped playing coy, and I put my cards on the table, face up. “I’m really good at copying pictures. It’s a gift, sort of a bullshit gift, like Glori’s gift for bullshitting. If I could find more of those cards, I could make really good duplicates. There’s good reason to believe we both could make a pile of cash. I have some leads that no one else could possibly know about, and I’m more than willing to share.”
“You know, I took a course on Coincidences. Long ago. I got an A in it. I don’t remember a whole lot, but there’s two things I learned, two things I never forgot. The first is when you encounter a really bizarre coincidence, stop and find its special meaning; stop and take a deep look, and try to decipher what has just happened,” she said. “And there’s a second way to look at a coincidence: it is something nature hates, because it means something fucked up is going on, since there is a disconnect between what was supposed to be in front of you and what is actually there.”
I piped in, “Or take a look at what’s in front of you, and maybe that’s all there is. Nothing deep. Just an opportunity. Take it or leave it.”
“You sure you don’t want a drink?”
“Oh, what the hell, if you let me hang around awhile afterward.”
She handed me the bottle.
“I have these cards, these special, healing cards, these cards full of power, had them for decades now, and not a day goes by that I wonder how I should be using them. They’ve been on my mind a lot, especially this week.
“Then you show up, a total stranger, out of nowhere, and you tell me about someone I used to dearly love; you tell me that Glori thought I was evil. How many others in my life thought the same? I never thought of myself that way. Yet how many of the wicked actually do? And maybe I am evil because I’ve been keeping these cards to myself, while the whole world is going to shit, what with climate change and all the bullshit politics, and everyone saying things have to change; everyone else has to change, yet no one wants to personally change. And these cards could make a difference, if I only changed; if I used them differently
“How about you? Do you want things to change? I’m not talking about money, though my crystal ball tells me we can make some kind of moral pact between us, and do the right things with my cards and your talents, and things will change, and it will the good and right thing to do, a better future for all, and we will still get rich.”
And I was drunk enough by then for that bullshit to make sense to me. But she was right, you know. She had a knack for knowing what was going to happen. A fortune teller.
Five years later, I found myself caught up in a market I couldn’t even begin to describe, with fortunes passing through my fingers, while I dealt the cards to shadow cartels and the Feds, sometimes playing the double agent, or the triple agent, switching my loyalties according to whichever side would let me keep on living in the moment.
I still don’t know if these cards actually do what everyone claims they can do, of if people just get hooked on bullshit stories about them, like the tricks Glori used to play when she was dealing trash. We are talking about obscene amounts of money here, though it seems to me that people were out there paying obscene amounts of money for far less flashy old bubble gum cards, and those things obviously didn’t have the power to cure disease or keep you young, maybe forever.