On the Trail of the Scarlet Gypsy

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Fiction, Short Stories

I wrote this short story back in 2007. I can see some of my early flirtations with gypsy characters. This was fun to find buried in the archives!

On the Trail of the Scarlet Gypsy

by Chad M. Hemmert

 Some lessons come easy in life, others are learned in the blunt, reluctant fashion that only come with hard-headed stubbornness.  Most of my life, I have learned this second way, but I have learned, and I carry the weight of my experiences along with me, heavy like the guns I wear at my sides.

            The name’s Rainier, and I am what some would call a hired gun, others might call an assassin.  Either way, I am on neither side of the law, and have made my own rules since I was on my own as a young lad.  I have had to learn the way of the gun as a way of survival in these dark and troubled times, and my score of kills stretches out like an endless river of blood.  I travel from town to town, where the work carries me, and there’s always work.  People hire me to do the deeds that are tough, but necessary.  I don’t ask questions, and I don’t do children.  I give the little ones a chance to grow into the monsters that they will eventually become, rather than adding their names to my long list of casualties to atone for.  Some would call me a monster, but there is always a place in this world for men like me, hardened, impartial, and skilled in dealing death. 

             I have been tracking her for weeks now, the one they call the Scarlet Gypsy.  I know of her name only by the calling card she leaves behind, the blood-stained tarot card of the Red Queen, and the ‘Gypsy’s trademark way of leaving a trail of destruction and ruined lives wherever she goes. 

            One of these such ruined lives came in the form of a rancher named Diego.  Apparently the Scarlet Gypsy liked to play games, usually elaborate cons,  but some games can turn deadly, and the stakes of this game were high indeed. 

            “Make sure she feels it,” Diego had told me with bloodlust in his eyes, pronouncing  the word “feels” like “filth,” in his heavy accent.  When the ‘Gypsy had rolled him, she had left town with most of his fortune and most of his dignity as well.

            The Scarlet Gypsy has been harder than most to track down, seeming to be more legend than real.  She was said to be possessed of great cunning and beauty, ruthlessly exploiting many unwary victims either for gain or sport, or maybe both.  I wondered if some other hard caliber might have gotten to her first, hired by some poor soul whom she had left penniless and broken, but eventually I find someone that has heard of her whereabouts and I move on.   

             I have tracked the ‘Gypsy to this small, dusty mining town set up in the mountains that overlook the Verde Valley.  I have disguised myself as a businessman looking to invest in some of the mining shareholds this town has to offer.  Discretion is one of my specialties, and I have found that money can buy you much anonymity, even in these small towns where gossip seems to spread like kindling to a fire.

            I have staked out my quarry to the Spirit Room, a rambunctious little honky tonk set in the middle of this growing mining town, and apparently the center of the nightlife here.  Loud music, strong ale, and lively long-legged burlesque dancers are the nightly offerings of the Spirit Room.  Housed upstairs is the Hotel Connor, a decent place to crash and burn after getting liquored up and a lady to accompany you.

            Tonight I am sitting at a table playing a rather civilized but lopsided game of poker with a group of local gentlemen.  I have killed enough of their kind in my line of business to fall into the typical snobbish banter easily, and I play my part well, almost as well as I play cards.  I have to look like I’ve got money if I’m going to have a chance at luring in the Scarlet Gypsy.  Rich men stand out to her like drops of water in the desert.

            The music stops and the barkeep nimbly hops on top of the bar, raising his arms for quiet. 

            “All right you bunch of drunken stumblebums!” he proclaims jovially, his parted mustache twitching.  “Hush now!  We’re about ready for the evening’s real entertainment!”  He winks down knowingly at the large crowd of miners and patrons gathered in the Spirit Room.  There comes a few catcalls and wolf whistles from others.  “And for God’s sake, drink some more, you miserable bastards!”  A few raise their schooners of beer in salute and laugh.  The barkeep hops down just as nimbly as he hopped up, and no sooner does he clear the bar, than a half-a-dozen brazenly dressed women burst from the back room.  The volume of the crowd seems to rise to a deafening level as the music fires up and the ladies take their place on the bar, dancing and swinging their legs high in choreographed syncopation to the music.

            Out of the six, one particular dancer stands out to me.  She is tall, with rich, curly auburn hair.  Although her face is smiling like the other dancers, her dark eyes scan over the crowd, coolly assessing the situation.  She is clearly the best dancer of them all, easily accomplishing the high kicks and jaunty steps of the burlesque dance.

            I catch her eye, and for one icy moment I realize that this is the woman I have been pursuing across the expanse of towns and countryside, this is the Scarlet Gypsy.

            The music speeds up and the throng of people answer by clapping along to the beat, the dancers kicking their heels higher and higher.  The barman approaches my table carrying a foaming mug of beer.  He leans in and I can barely hear him over the noise of the crowd.

             “From the lady,” he says jerking his head in the direction of the saucy dancer and walks away.  I peer down into the glass and see an object that looks like a key sitting in the bottom.  I casually drink the beer thinking about how easily she played into my hands, and soon the burlesque dancers file out of the room for a break.  I notice that the ’Gypsy slips away from the other dancers, up the stairs to the rooms above.  

            Swallowing my last drop of beer, I rake in my earnings from the card game, and part ways with the gentlemen.

            I follow the lady’s path up the stairs.  The key is in my hand, still damp from the beer it was swimming in.  Room 207, is the number stamped on the key, and I take a pause before inserting it into the door.  I smile at the thought that she had danced her last dance down there.

            “I was hoping you received my message,” comes a voice from the darkened room after I shut the door behind me.

            “You have a way with words.  Good Even’ Lady,” I reply, scanning the room for her location.  The room is rather large, and the only light is a faint blue glow coming through the windows, not quite illuminating, but filling the room like a mist.

            I take a step forward and abruptly hear a muffled growl. 

            “You must be careful, Mr. Rainier.  My dog is part wolf, and he is fiercely loyal to my command.”

            “Do you always travel with such company?”

            “He is my protector, and he can always sense a threatening presence.”

            Her accent is slight but discernible.  She is European, possibly Mediterranean.

            “If you know my name, I guess you know why I’m here.”

            “I have heard of your reputation, yes.”  Her tone is easygoing and slightly flirtatious. 

            “Aren’t you afraid?”

            The Scarlet Gypsy laughs, sending chills through my body.  She emerges from the shadows holding onto a leash.

            “Do you know that this Hotel is haunted?  The whole town is said to be haunted.”  She walks over to one of the windows, bathed in the strange blue light, looking like a specter.

            “This whole world is haunted,” I reply, my eyes following her leash to a pair of glowing yellow eyes.

            The room has a dreamy, surreal feel, and I sway slightly, as if drunk.

            “Do you find it easy being a killer, Mr. Rainier?”

            “I–,” now I’m feeling light-headed

            “You see, I’ve been studying you for quite some time.  You think you are so strong and skilled, but no one hunts me!” 

            The cold realization hits me before I have time to react.  I feel a sharp pain in my stomach.  My arms become stiff and unresponsive.  Dammit!  The beer!  I shouldn’t have drank the beer! 

            The music starts up from below and I can hear the crowd firing up again.  The loud noise vibrates through the wooden floor. 

            The Scarlet Gypsy begins to walk slowly towards me, her gaze playful and dispassionate, similar to a cat toying with its prey.  Shocked, I try to reach for my gun with my left hand, concentrating hard.  It is like moving through thick water, my usually quick reflexes reduced to slow motion from the poison working its way through my body. 

            I manage to grab the gun and level it at her, but before I can shoot, more sharp pain, this time in my right shoulder.  The dog, her protector, has throttled me against the wall, chewing on my shoulder.  The gun fires, missing the ’Gypsy by several feet.  I know that the noise from the bar below is loud enough to drown out the roaring report of the gun and the snarling beast on top of me. 

            She calls off the dog with a single command, and he obeys instantly.  I can no longer raise the heavy weapon with the grinding pain in my shoulder, and it drops to the floor with an ominous thud. 

            She is coming closer still, a knife in her hand, the blade gleaming in the dim blue ghost light.  I continue to struggle against the paralyzing effects of the poison with no luck. 

            She reaches out with her knife, directing it towards my crotch, and I close my eyes tightly, expecting more pain, but she simply cuts my gunbelt from my waist, jerks it free of my jeans and tosses it aside as if it were something revolting.  The dog growls at it.

            She bends down and picks up my fallen gun, bringing it to my chest. 

            I vaguely wonder how the tables turned so rapidly, how the hunter became the hunted, how she got the jump on me.

            She presses the barrel of the gun firmly to my chest, directly above the heart.  I can still feel the heat from my misfire, jabbing me like a hot poker.  She leans in close, standing on her toes, bringing her mouth enticingly close to my ear. 

            “Gotcha again…” she breathes in a husky whisper.  I don’t understand what she means by this mysterious message.  Before I can ask her, she kisses me on the lips.  It is like getting a kiss from an angel, or an angel of death.  Then a final pain as my chest explodes with the power of my own gun.  I slowly slide down the wall, trailing blood behind me.

            I sit slumped over, the darkened room growing darker.  I am dimly aware of the ‘Gypsy placing something in my lap where I can see it, something light and papery, then she leaves me alone.  Alone with only the sounds of the crowd in the bar below, and the ghostly blue light coming through the windows.          

            The last thing I see before I die, is the tarot card of the Red Queen, now becoming stained with my own blood, her eyes eerily similar to the eyes of the Scarlet Gypsy, playful, cold, and deadly.

***

            With a scream, I wrench the helmet from my head, covered in sweat, shaking.  It always takes me several minutes to get my bearings after a session.  The sensation of dying never fails to unnerve me, no matter how many times I’ve experienced it.  It is like dreaming you have died and then waking up to realize that it was just a dream.  Just a dream, but more real than a dream somehow.

            As I begin to calm down, I look at the helmet with its black visor and long cable stretching all the way to my computer.  I purchased the unit as a way to safely experience my darker side, my shadow-self, not unlike a video game.  The company promised to simulate fully realistic fantasies, and they certainly have delivered, but the shock of coming out of it, of dying can be a bit overwhelming.  I wonder if the other users experience the same sort of virtual reality withdrawal.  God, I’ve got to unplug for a while.

            I shakily get to my feet, put the helmet down next to my computer screen, and notice that I have an e-mail waiting for me.  Curious, I click open the message which reads:

 

 

<GOTCHA AGAIN>

 

 

lips

           

            I look to see who the message is from, and I am not surprised to see that it is USERWolfGyrl11. 

            She has been dogging me ever since I joined the VR club, always seeming to be three steps ahead of me, always able to swindle me in the virtual world.  She appeared in my Space Wars gaming session as a peg-armed space pirate, and in my Medieval Quest as a ruthless aristocratic spy.  This time it is the Old West, as the ever-elusive Scarlet Gypsy.  A slight grin forms on my lips and I shake my head.  She’s good.

            As I walk from the room, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror, and for just a moment I can see the grizzly, hardened countenance of Rainier, guns hung low on my hips, wide brimmed cowboy hat, and those eyes; the deadened eyes of a killer…

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