(CH. 2, PART 3)-The Boy Stranger: A Free Novel

          “You’re not a very good gambler, Jason.” Van Carlo said.  It was early in the morning.  “I don’t think you’d ever make it on this side of the table.  Your family is starving, and you still don’t take any more from me than you did when you first started.”

            “I’m sorry,” the boy said, staring out the window of the casino.

            “And I’m angry about it.  Which is strange, I know.  I should be happy to have such a fool for a telegraph.  Maybe I’m the fool.”

Van Carlo turned away from the boy and looked at his chips.  He was on a break between games, and the other gamblers had stepped away from the table.

            “I don’t think you are a fool, Van Carlo” the boy said.  “You’re the only one who can look out this window and see things as they really are in South Dakota.”

            Van Carlo turned to look at the boy again.

“Boy, you are hard to read.  I look at your face, and all I see is nothing.  Maybe you would make a good gambler after all,” He paused for a moment.  The he said, “There is only one more thing you need.”

The boy looked out the window again, burying his head behind the velvet curtain. “What is that?”

            “To take more money. Until then, you are no gambler.  I don’t know what you are.”

“Mm,” the boy said. He was barely paying attention to Van Carlo’s words.

            Van Carlo shook his head.  “Dead.  Your family.  That’s what they are. At least they can claim it.  But you, I have no idea.  You come to work, but you don’t make any money.  You have a face fit for anything, but you do nothing with it.  Truly, you are a strange boy.”

            “Mm,” the boy said again.

            The boy turned to the side and the lethargic light from the window struck his face, making half of it gray and overcast.

‘He looks like a man today,’ Van Carlo thought.

The boy sighed and turned completely away from the window.  The velvet curtain fell across the panes and the streets of South Dakota were blacked out and only the dim of the casino remained.

“What’s going to happen to my family, Van Carlo?”

Van Carlo sighed.  “They are just a number in a book in some Company office in Shadow, Jason,” he said.  “That’s Dakota Inc.  You warned your father about them?”

“Yes.”

“Stuck in the drawer, he is,” Van Carlo said.  “I’m sorry.”

The boy nodded.  Then he didn’t say anything for a long time.

“What’s wrong?” Van Carlo said.

“I don’t want to say, Van Carlo.  You will think I am a fool.”

“I already think that,” he said.  “All boys are fools whose fathers are fools.”

“Then you know what’s happened to my father.”

“Yes. They have come and taken him away.  Now only your mother is left.  She has to be both your mother and your father now.”  He took a chip and spun it.  “It is a hard place to be in, especially in South Dakota.”

“Taken him away?” the boy asked.  “That’s not what I meant.  He is in bed, and he never leaves.”

Van Carlo looked very sad.  “No. They’ve taken him, and he is dead today.  So what I’m saying is…” he stood up and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “…to take more money.  It doesn’t matter anyway.  I don’t go anywhere to spend it.”

The boy turned away.  “I don’t believe you,” he said.

Van Carlo sat down and picked up his cards.  “You don’t have to believe me.  Pretty soon it will be time for you to get out of here, and then you’ll go home and see.  When the daylight has broken and the gray clouds are bright enough for you to see the road, you’ll see.  Just as sure as you saw the blue general that they said would never come.  Dakota Inc. does not hide such things.  They make them plain for all of us to see.”

“Then I prefer to wait until then,” the boy replied.

“Suit yourself.”

The boy looked at the empty seats across the table.  The other gamblers were still taking a break.

“I wish I could read faces so well…like you Van Carlo,” the boy said.

Van Carlo shrugged. “Don’t do this to yourself.  This was your father’s doing.  None of this is your fault.”

“Yes, Van Carlo.”

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