This is a continuation. To start at the beginning of the series, click here.

By Nancy Carlton

“Take a breath, Norman!” said Madame Zsa Zsa. It was a good thing she said it, too, for poor Norman the Invincible Genius Winner had suddenly, in his terror, forgotten how to perform the simple tasks of inhaling and exhaling.

He had never expected anyone to penetrate his hidden lair – least of all a creature like this. Norman was stunned and defenseless.

Madame Zsa Zsa let out a cackling peal of laughter and twirled around in front of Norman, using one hand to fan out her billowy skirt and the other hand to make graceful spirals and waves in the air. The coins on her headscarf tinkled merrily.

Finally, Norman gasped and caught his breath. After shuddering for a few seconds, he managed to whisper, “Who in the world are you?”

“I am Madame Zsa Zsa, Fortune Teller and Life Advisor! Messengers in the night came to me and told me of your plight. They said you need my help. I am here to give it.”

“Messengers in the night, my foot, Lady!” retorted Norman, managing to get to his feet and venture closer to his strange visitor. “The only messengers in the night in this village are the wild animals that roam these woods, and I feel confident they aren’t carrying gossip about me!”

“Alright, Kid, I read about you in the newspaper. ‘Village Marauder’, they call you. I thought maybe at last I would meet someone in this boring little burg that wouldn’t put me to sleep with their dull-as-dishwater personality. Besides, I figured you really do need me. One way or another. You will soon see what I mean, dah-ling.” She had drawn out that last word to emphasize the Romanian accent she was trying to perfect.

“Why on earth would I need You?” Norman chuckled. “I have been taking care of myself for a long time. I have shelter, food, clothing – everything I need. And I’ve got a plan to elevate my standard of living while taking care of a lady who needs me – namely, my mother.”

Madame Zsa Zsa dragged a wooden box over to the center of the room. She started dragging pallets and stacking them to make seats for herself and Norman. He caught on to what she was doing, and pitched in to help. “Sit, dahling,” she said. So, they sat.

“Ever since I read about you in the paper, I have been consulting the tea leaves, my crystal ball, and the Tarot cards about you. I couldn’t get a clear vision of you, but I could sense deep trouble, long-standing sadness. And looming danger! I can tell you this much, dahling, if you don’t let me help you, dark forces will cast you into prison, or even worse. You are sliding down a spiraling tunnel, and picking up speed!”

Norman was listening to her words, trying to glean any truth from this mish-mash of superstitious/supernatural nonsense. He was no MENSA member, but he knew enough to smell the “feces of oxen” when it was right before his face.

“Look, Lady, before you use up any more of the oxygen in this room, how about you let me ask you a few questions, alright?” He tried to sound authoritative.

“Why, certainly, Your Honor,” she said, with a curtness in her manner and a flash in her eyes. “Whenever I come across a gentleman of distinction who lives in a shack in the woods, owns less than most beggars, eats scraps and jerky, and who fancies himself a success, I always expect him to put me in the hot seat and grill me with questions.”

At this point, Norman could have erupted into a blind fury and attacked this impertinent intruder, but his attention was suddenly arrested by the same voice that earlier had assured him he was a genius and a winner. Now, the voice was saying, “Listen to this woman! She will help you!”

He relaxed. Shifting to a more comfortable position on the makeshift seat, he rubbed his hands on his jeans and took a deep breath. “Okay, first of all, my name is Norman. Did you already know that?”

“You want to know if the newspaper is telling your name to the public, am I right?” asked Madame Zsa Zsa.

“Exactly. Do they know who I am?” he asked, with a smidgen of fear showing in his eyes.

“If they know your name, they are not releasing it,” she said. “However, the police have said that your fingerprints have been matched to a set on file in the system. They know who you are, but they have not announced it to the media yet. They have been fairly secretive. I think they want to make a big splash when they find you and make the arrest.”

“How did you find me? I mean, the truth this time, not your horse pucky about ‘night messengers.’” Norman was looking her square in the eyes as he asked her this. He needed her to be honest.

“Dahling, you are not as well-hidden as you seem to think,” she said. “I wandered these woods for a few hours and found two of your food stashes, plus the tell-tale signs of the footpath you are wearing as you sneak around from hidey-hole to hidey-hole. If our local constabulary had any gypsy instincts, they would already have you locked up.” She smiled smugly.

The slight air of superiority she displayed now, piqued Norman’s insecurities just enough to cause him to unload on this blonde show-off who had found him out.

“Oh, yeah, Madame Zsa Zsa?” he sneered. “Well, let me just tell you something, ‘dahling!’ You aren’t any cotton-pickin’ gypsy! You’ve got a Texas drawl so heavy that I keep expecting you to yell, ‘Hook ‘em, Horns!’ any minute! How about that?”

She jumped to her feet and planted her hands on her hips. “One thing you’ll never hear from my lips is ‘Hook ‘em, Horns!’ I am an Aggies fan. I have no use for a longhorn steer!”

“Aha! I knew it! Texas!” Norman said, excitedly. “Gypsy, my rear end!”

Madame Zsa Zsa was incensed, now. “You arrogant vagabond! A person can be a Texan and a gypsy! I found my gypsy roots recently, and I am growing into them rather nicely. And no one ever gives up being a Texan! So, I am both!”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Are you wearing cowboy boots underneath that long, flowing skirt?” Norman teased.

“If I am, how’d you like to have a cowboy boot planted somewhere on your body where the sun never shines?” she retorted. At this juncture, they were succumbing to the obvious humor of the situation. They shared a quick giggle, then sat back down to resume their conversation. It was time for them to get down to the business of how she could help Norman, and to be fair, how he might be able to help her, too.

His first item of business was to explain to her his brilliant plan to rip off the local pharmacy. He was proud of his strategy and figured she would be, too…

Meanwhile, back at Lena’s house, Joe had arrived home and was watching the news in the living room while Lena chopped vegetables for a salad in the kitchen. Maureen had dropped in to go over some music for an upcoming concert of the one vocal ensemble that they both happened to be a part of. It was called Rising Voices, and it was the “crème de la crème” of vocalists, belters, crooners, and generally enthusiastic singers in the village. The discussion at this moment concerned the final tagline of a harmonic piece that had the seventeen members of Rising Voices splitting off into six distinct parts. Lena and Maureen sang through their parts several times, careful to be precise where the First Altos took a different note pattern than the Second Altos.

“I have set this line to memory by imprinting on my brain that my tune here is exactly the same as the first four syllables of ‘Blessed Assurance’,” Lena said. She proceeded to show Maureen how well it fit. Then, she paused. “Oops. You folks don’t do that one, do you?”

Maureen grinned. “No. Not so much.”

“Not in your ‘Top Forty’, huh?”

“Not in our ‘Top Four Hundred’,” responded Maureen, with a chuckle.

“Well, I’ll make you a deal, Mo. You manage to sneak “Blessed Assurance” into Father Bill’s notes for your service on Sunday, and I’ll finagle a way to get Pastor Jason to speak a little bit of Latin in his sermon. Okay?” Lena smiled a hammy, overdone, hopeful smile.

“I suddenly feel prompted to borrow a word from our Jewish friends. ‘Oy! As a matter of fact, Oy vey!’” Maureen was feigning exasperation with this remark, and both ladies ha-ha’d just a quick giggle, as Maureen picked up her sheet music to head home and prepare supper for her husband.

“See you at rehearsal!” Lena called after her as she started to close the door. Suddenly, she caught a faint whiff of strange, spicy incense, floating on the wind. A shiver ran down her spine.


Chapter 1 –   Click here

Chapter 2 –  Click here

Chapter 3 – Click here

Chapter 4 – Click here

Chapter 5 – Click here

Chapter 6 – Click here

Chapter 7 – Click here

Chapter 8 – Click here

Chapter 9 – Click here

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