It was hard not to pass the Thanksgiving holiday struggling back across the Anacostia River after Gyra and Dansel got a chance to see what was on the other side of it. Most of the makeshift town along those silvery shores was leaned up against the biggest Red-and-Gold-Reserve either of them had ever been presented with. And, taking care to use his lesser known alias, Bartel Barrons guided his good woman-friend inside those crimson-colored glass doors. Stinson the Boatman proudly read all the gilded gold signs for them once they all got inside.
“George-Ton and Tourism Co: for your realest DC experience, Target Presents: Columbia Heights Generalist’s Store, and The Side Hustle Intranet Lounge–for all your real-world needs when you aren’t hangin’ out and having a life’s-time.” the old man grinned gray stubble, and leaned on his boat’s oar that he used as a walking-stick. “Beyond this resort, my friends, are all points north-west. This is the grand gate to it. Now you two kids are glad you paid all this money to take me here, aren’t you?” Then, their only ride departed for the Uno tables, without explanation. Gyra turned round again and flinched at where he now wasn’t, wondering why the old man’s voice seemed disembodied.
Gyra said, “I don’t understand, Dansel. We aren’t even in Northwest yet?”
Dansel wriggled flat fingers imbetween the buttons of his tan vest. He was watching something in particular and chewed lips on the far side of his mouth at wanting it. “That’s just it, Gyra. Folks can come here, spend a lot less, and marvel that they’ve–kind of–been.”
“Is that because it’s so dangerous to go all the way out there on your own the way things are?” but Gyra found herself speaking to another ghost. The next time she spied her friend Dansel, the back of his head was turned to a Redskins game blaring on the bar’s flat screen, and he was flipping through some of his bluest dollar bills faster than ever. Other men at the table smoked cigars and talked the talk. Gyra wondered at how some people slipped into their old moods so fast.
Then, “Ohmigosh! It’s a real life fortune teller–please, Miss Mystic, can you tell me whether or not I’ll finish college or at least grow up to be a DC Rollergirl?”
This merriment went on for days. The three travelers rarely saw one another, but that they shared a suite helped–at least at the bottom of the night, they kept the same sleeping hours. Later, that turned into two rooms done in faded bars-and-stars when Stinson lost his share of what Dansel had ultimately paid him for. This dwindled to just one bed with them sleeping in shifts, once Dansel finally lost what was left of his money. He gave them a spectacular Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings but it turned out to be his last good streak of luck at fantasy football. “I’m down to my Fenty Greens. Nobody’ll want those.” he frowned. “I just can’t understand these guys–they know about Redskins games I’ve never seen before. And then I tried to bet on the Caps or DC United, but I hadn’t a sense of those teams either. Damn and more damn.”
Gyra rubbed Dansel’s shoulder. She’d written to the Cannoneer of course, but he hadn’t sent any money back or substantial correspondence other than to ask whether she and Dansel could stay away a little longer. This made Gyra screw up her face now and again, imagining what foolishness her father had fallen into.
Old Stinson kicked his boots off and went from the breakfast table where their coins and scraggly bills were pooled together, then and lay down on the bed. “Oh well, guess we’ll have to just stay here forever, earnin’ what we earn and lovin’ what we love. And never having to see another snot-nosed, ‘can I have some money grandad’ relatives, ever.'”
It was uncomfortable, learning the spooky Boatman’s scheme all this time was to supplant his grandchildren.
“If it makes you feel better, Dansel, I’ve been going to a fortune teller this last month and she says we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. Just one more payment–and there’s enough here for my last session.”
“Why does it sound like you finally up and took yourself to therapy, Gyra?”
Gyra chose not to answer. “Can I take what’s here on the table and go? I’ve spent the least money out of all of us, and I promise to bring back dinner later. I bet this old bracelet will go for something at El Pollo Sabroso…”
“But I don’t like peruvian chicken.” Stinson complained absently.
“No, Gyra, we need the last of this money.” Dansel rested chin in palm, then found a smile for her. “Though I am glad you’re getting help. What is this Mystic woman telling you, by the way?”
“I have a case of urban despair, like we already talked about. But she’s also about to tell me what I have to do, to fix it. I don’t want to end up like my Momma did, Dansel.”
“You won’t end up like her. But we don’t have the money to entertain you either, nor myself, nor Stinson anymore. And someone like that Mystic woman is probably no help anyway if she’s so money-grubby. Next thing you know, she’ll want to introduce you to her friend the acupuncturist, or… I don’t know. Let’s all just breathe a moment and think about what we might do to get back home.”
“Miss Mystic knows a real-life wizard, Dansel! That’s who I’m on the verge of meeting–I didn’t want to say it, because look at you, you’re already looking it, but I’ve almost earned the right to see him, a true wizard with the power to change everything. Please don’t deprive me of that, dear Sir!”
Stinson complained about their way of speaking, again. Gyra became so incredulous that eventually she had to remove herself from the room, claiming that she would find the money for therapy and wizardry somewhere, somehow.
When her voice was done echoing down the hallway, Stinson raised up a little on his elbows. “Her Miss Mystic does know a real Wizard. Dansel–how can you be so into fantasy sports and not catch it?”
Dansel wondered aloud between fingers folded before his mouth, “Who invited you to dip into my savings in the first place, or tag along with me and Gyra anyways?”
“You stupid boy–I’m talkin’ about there being real celebrities downstairs, who play basketball! What if you chat one of them up, then they go back to Downtown-civilization and throw a game or two… that could be our way out. What if one of them even knows Michael Jordan?”
“Anybody could just call themselves a magician or whatever, especially out here. And, that whole Michael Jordan owning the Wizards, and then playing on the team and then fleeing DC… we already did that and suffered from that. Why would any professional athlete ever listen to me anyways?”
“Well, Dansel, if it can’t be something so big, then it is about there bein’ real people from behind the Beltway Wall way out here, in this part of the city. Somebody’s bound to have a tip on what’s really going on out there–stuff that not even those friends of yours downstairs could know. There must be scores and rosters nobody in this city has seen since the Near Revolution of 2010–if you don’t get up right now, then I’m going to, and I don’t know that I’ll be so fast convinced about sharing my wealth when you’re being so danged stubborn about a free lunch!”
And so, the two men went off to find Gyra, her Mystic, or the Mystic’s Wizard, himself.
It took a whole night of sneaking around, asking questions without letting on that real people from beyond the Beltway Wall were someplace in the Red-and-Gold resort. Dansel and Stinson schemed their way backstage of a live junkyard band concert, they shuffled at bachata to navigate around a discotec dance floor unnoticed, while peering in people’s faces for any celebrity they recognized. Stinson chatted up an old woman in broken Vietnamese that Dansel didn’t think him capable of, and then later came Stinson’s turn to cringe while Dansel attempted to pass off elementary French as Haitian Creole to a woman who put hands on her hips and left when she realized that, no, he wasn’t flirting with her and not even selling anything. This polished off young man was going crazy after some kind of Wizard.
“I just realized, I don’t know what in the world this guy looks like, and we can’t even call him by name since we haven’t seen a new anything-kind-of-game in two years. It really is pointless.”
“But he’d be tall, and he’d have on sneakers, right?”
Dansel broke down and laughed. Or, was he crying? Something about Stinson was as sweet as an old man could get, but also tragic. If that was all his cohort had aimed for, then they’d surely wasted all these hours of search.
This latest miserable ruminating was about when a tall man in sneakers and wearing a bathrobe covered in gold stars stopped in front of them and waved a large hand across their faces. Dansel and Stinson frightened up straight, thinking some spell was cast. But, no, that was just the difference in height. The robed stranger had been waving hello. They also noticed his costume was really some standard-issue team gear the Wizards probably gave their players to use in the locker rooms. And, well, the Red-and-Gold-Reserve was a hotel and resort, wasn’t it?
“I hear that you two are looking for a Wizard.” Dansel tried to speak up, but he was snapped at. “I already know what you men seek. I have here, in the palm of this great hand, something that will grant you access to all of your dreams, anything you would have desired in life, I can make it, I can shoot it from all over the court, but only for those fans who are worthy. If you can answer my riddle, what is in my very hand, right now, can be yours–”
“No, I don’t think so. You’ve got as many holes in your shoes as I did before I painted over them.” Dansel said. “We just want an inside take on any of the sports teams out there in downtown DC right now. I’ve got guys down at the bar forecasting a season ahead of me, and it’s not like anybody can look it up on the intranet.”
“Ah yes, the intranet. So different from our… internet. I really miss being able to check my Facebook.” said the Wizard. “I’m Howard Lanier, by the way. They had me at point guard before I decided to protest the latest section of wall and got banished from Downtown. Out here in the real city, though, nobody knows who I am–I wasn’t on the team in 2010. So, I ended up speaking out for people who not only couldn’t have asked for it, maybe they don’t even deserve it.”
Dansel wasn’t or chose not to be offended. “Did you help the Wizards win anything, while you played with them?”
Howard shrugged, and the toll of dealing with more disinterested people seemed to wear in his voice. “My girlfriend Shandrea once did, but she won’t speak about it. And, I never see her because she’s lost her mind pretending to be a real mystic. Shandrea only tells fortunes these days. We got banished together.”
So, they all were going to be stuck in paradise with no way to enjoy it. Dansel was also secretly horrified at the Cannoneer leaving Gyra entirely to him without any paternal restriction in his letters–the romantic hope and reason for their delay being so obvious in that sense, though it couldn’t have been written. And then, Stinson having adopted he and Gyra so fast was still more frightening. Now that they three were broke together, perhaps he and Gyra even owed Stinson as much money as his real relatives, wherever they were.
When Dansel looked so dismayed, the Wizard Howard seized upon it. “Now then, I know you guys want to guess, what it is that I have in my hand?”
“That’s not a riddle by the way.”
“Fine, I’ll just show it to you.” and Howard uncurled long, strong fingers to reveal a rubber banded set of thin paper slips. The power latent in those small cards was suggested by the strange writing embossed everyhere–or was it an enchanted code, blacker than night itself? And then also, a soapsud metallic gleam smiled back at Dansel when he recognized it. “So, can I sell you guys some superbowl tickets?”
“How much?” Stinson srutinized.
“WHO’S PLAYING?” Dansel covered his mouth. He was shouting, anyone might hear and rush over… when he’d already seen, he already sensed it.
“Well the Redskins are, of course. Didn’t I just explain to you guys that I got fired for protesting them moving the Beltway Wall, in order to build a stadium down on the National Mall? That’s what Superbowl 2012 is–a sham. And the city practically bought the game. Meanwhile, so many of its residents are being disenfranchised. The people can’t leave the city, most of them don’t even have access to proper schools or even the internet…”
“…and they have no idea that the Redskins are back in the Superbowl.” Dansel was amazed.
“Yep, and their chance of winning is pretty damned good too. You know, because so much money got thrown at the team these last two years.”
Dansel clamped fingers down over the Wizard’s palm, smiled hard while he possibly crushed the man’s hand. “I will sell you, the clothes off of my back and go crawling through the city naked for these. How much?”
To trudge penitent through the streets of DC,
To smuggle across the Beltway Wall to see,
But Dansel didn’t have any money.
“Well,” said Howard the Wizard, “I’m finding that these aren’t really worth anything to folks here, you know, if you think about how impossible it is to get past any of the stilt-bridges or beyond the Beltway Wall. But if you two guys want them so bad that you’d actually take them off my hands and rid of me these stale memories in exchange for something… you can have this set of ten for a song if you just get your crazed friend Gyro-whatever away from my Shandrea so I can finally have an evening alone with her. I don’t care if God himself comes to DC and sets up his throne on the National Mall, you couldn’t pay me to go back Downtown again.”
And so, when not even the Wizard would, Dansel was going to find a way.