Elena sighed and leaned against the drapes while the Great Madam Vadoma walked the client to the door and then shut it behind her.
“You’re supposed to keep your mouth shut,” Vadoma said as she straightened the silk tablecloth. The inside of the wagon was as dark as a coffin, and twice as stuffy. In the light, the drapes and silks would look shabby. The whole carnival was a sham. It didn’t stand up to close inspection.
“Did Lean make you go through a week long apprenticeship? This is bullshit. I know how to conduct a reading,” Elena said. She had been reading people for years. From what she had seen, she was already twice as good as the Great Madam Vadoma. There was nothing to learn here.
“You know how to read people?” Vadoma asked. Without waiting for an answer, she said, “What you know is how to develop a relationship with a Lugen. You work them and massage them over a long time until they don’t make a move before consulting you.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Look around you. This is a traveling show. It’s not about convincing the person in the seat, it’s about enticing the three people who they go talk to. And it’s also about turnover. Lean told me that you took twelve minutes with him. You should see two people in that time—maybe three,” Vadoma said.
“You’re seeing ten people an hour?” Elena said. The idea was absurd. It took five minutes just to get the sense of most people.
“At least,” Vadoma said.
“Bullshit,” Elena whispered.
“Heh,” Vadoma said. She tilted her chin and pretended to spit at the corner. At least Elena hoped that she had pretended. Pretty soon, Elena was going to have to spend a lot of time in this stuffy dim box, lined with musty silk.
“I brought in a lot of money for Lean. People know my reputation and they line up to come visit me. You’ll see tonight. The line will stretch from my door all the way to the Ferris wheel.”
Elena doubted that very much. The woman was a caricature from a low-budget movie. The readings she gave were dull-witted pronouncements of great fortune or grave danger, handed down indiscriminately with a thick fake accent and waving arms. It didn’t matter who walked into the place. They all got whatever nonsense popped into Vadoma’s head.
Elena wanted to turn the tables on this conversation.
“I know what your retirement is going to look like. He won’t take you in. Not for long,” Elena said.
“Who?” Vadoma asked. Her half-closed eyes suggested that she was barely paying attention.
Elena had hit close to the mark though—she could see it in the way that the old woman had slightly stiffened. Some people had a decent poker face. Very few people in the world had mastered control of their entire body.
“You’ll go to him and everything will be fine at first,” Elena said. “All these years you’ve talked about being together, but there was a reason why he never traveled with you. It wasn’t because he likes to stay in one place, it’s because he could only stand being with you for so long. Perhaps neither of you were able to see that before. After a week, it will be the only thing on his mind. A month from now, you’ll be alone again.”
Vadoma was perfectly still for a moment.
Elena hadn’t been predicting the future. She had merely been pulling fears directly from Vadoma’s brain. Fears were always more powerful than truth.
Vadoma smiled, showing her predatory teeth.
“And you will last almost that long here. It won’t take you a month to figure out that your boyfriend’s fingers are wet from the popcorn girl.”
“That’s something the popcorn girl and I have in common,” Elena said. “We don’t need a bottle of lube in the nightstand.”
Vadoma’s face wrinkled with hate. She sneered as she extended her index finger and pinky and jabbed them towards Elena.
“Get out. You go tell Lean that I am gone and it is your fault. Let’s see how well you deal with the crowd—my crowd—that shows up tonight.”
“Fine,” Elena said. She was pleased to walk right out of the stuffy wagon and out into the brilliant sunlight. A moment later, the daggers of light drove a spike of pain into the center of her forehead.