Carl is not mine, but I'm borrowing him for this story. This takes place between Las Vegas and Seattle, during the time Carl was traveling to major cities leaving want-ads searching for Gail. Please review.

Little Romani Tearoom

by SpunSilk

Maria noticed him as soon as he came in. He was kind of hard not to notice; rumbled straw hat perched precariously on the back of his head and a light-colored suit that looked a good 20 years out of date. It takes all kinds, she said to herself, Well sometimes the eccentric ones leave good tips. A compact tape recorder and pocket flash camera hung from his shoulder. Journalist, she nodded smugly.

She kept an eye on him with the edge of her eye as Savorarea seated him, asked his order and soon brought him a tiny cup of thick, romanian coffee. Like the finest of detectives, she observed every detail and skillfully built a theory for the man whose future she was about to read. Questionable fashion sense to say the least. He was either down-on-his-luck, or he just didn't give a rip about how he looked. Hmmm. He inhaled the coffee's aroma deeply and added just the right amount of sugar. After a quick stir, he let the grounds settle, just as he should. He took a careful sip of the hot liquid and closed his eyes in pleasure ––possibly nostalgia.

She turned her full attention back to the couple holding hands across the table from her. "Now, de dird child vill be athletic..."

"Like me!" the young man beamed.

"Yes" the gypsy smiled knowingly, "You must offer de child much sport in de up-bringing.. Dees child vill have great success on a field..." She rolled the tiny cup around in her long fingers, peering at it from every possible angle, reading the lines of coffee grounds that lay up the sides of the inside. She was almost bored now with this couple. They had been far too easy to read. Simple.

Her next client continued to drop clues about himself. He was obviously actively listening to the ethnic music that twiddled and droned in the background. His body language had relaxed and he appeared 'at home' here, even though she was certain he had never entered her business before. He glanced around with interest at the tearoom's decoration as he sipped his coffee, even grinning as he reached out to touch the traditionally painted napkin holder. Yup, nostalgia confirmed. He didn't carry himself like a Romanian national, but she was certain he had the blood, or had grown up in a romanian home, one of the two. She had noticed as soon as he entered he wore no wedding ring, nor ever had. Now, that wasn't a guarantee, but a darn good bet that he wasn't married.

She stopped short at his shoes. Odd white sneakers. She had no guess what they said about him.

Finally she excused herself from the young couple, and slipping their bills smoothly to the warm wallet that was her bra, she gratefully turned her full attention to the more challenging man in seersucker. She approached him with a knowing "Buna ziua!"

He looked up. "Buna ziua," he grinned.

"Ah, vorbesti Roman! Ce minuat!"

"Nr, not really. I can follow it some, that's all."

"You ahre dird generation." she stated rather than asked.

"That's right."

She nodded self-confidently and seated herself across from him. "I ahm Maria," she said with a roll of the r.

"Carl." He extended a hand.

She took it with a smile. "Charm-ed. Do you weesh me to read your fortune?"

"That's what I'm here for." He carefully sipped the last of the strong coffee off the top of the grounds and vigorously swirled the cup to loosen them, then with a deft movement he flipped the cup together with its moist contents upside-down in the saucer.

She smiled approvingly. "You know how. So many customers vill hand me de cup, not knowing dat it is dey who must invert de cup to make de fortune ring true."

"Years ago, neighbors used to do this around my kitchen table. My Brunica had the gift, you know. Or she said she did. But she would never read my fortune..."

"Of course not! We women with de gift are not allowed to know de futures of our children nor grandchildren, eet is forbidden."

"Yeah," he peeked to see if the lines of grounds in the sides of the cup were dry enough,."Which means I have to come to you to hear it. I just got into Chicago from out west and when I drove past this place today, I figured it was a chance to hear what I have been curious about since I was a kid. A lot has changed since then, too..." He handed her the cup. "What's the future hold for me? Look particularly for any Pulitzer-shaped patterns," he added good-naturedly.

She took the cup with a theatrical flourish, closed her eyes, and spoke with a mysterious voice, "Wealth, love, success, I vill find all answers; here." She opened her eyes again and peered into the tiny cup. He leaned forward.

With a cry, she jerked and the cup flew spinning from her hands and landed on the floor. Both shocked, they stared at each other with wide eyes. He frowned darkly, "Hey now, what's this?" he growled.

"Sorry! I'm so sorry, my mistake!" she answered, flustered, all hint of an accent gone. She bent down to retrieve it from the floor. "Oh, the pattern is ruined. Let's get you another cup, sweetie –– on the house –– Savorarea! Another cup, girl! Another cup ––" Despite her best efforts, her hands were shaking. She rashly wiped the grounds away from the sides of the cup with a paper napkin.

He watched her sharply, his mood now wary. "What was there?"

"It was a bad cup, that's all! It happens sometimes... we will redo it, you and I," she patted his hand reassuringly. "––get your real fortune. Forget that one, sometimes it happens –– ha ha..."

He said nothing as another cup was hastily placed in front of him. He added sugar, stirred, and let it rest to settle out. "Maria. I want you to be straight with me. Tell me what you saw."

"It couldn't be right."

"Tell me anyway." he countered, "For laughs."

"No, no. No laughs. This one will be right," She stared at the new cup expectantly.

He frowned seriously. "I think maybe I know what it was. I just got here from Las Vegas and had a run-in with some bad nastiness there. Did that show up in the cup? Could it? Even though that's in the past?" His brow was furrowed.

"Las Vegas?" she asked nervously.

"I killed a vampire there." His eyes unfocused. "I had to, I had no choice."

"...vampire?" she asked weakly.

But he was no longer listening. He was re-living it. He took a couple shaky breaths. "Have you ever pinned a creature down helpless and then with your own hands and a stake and mallet pounded the life out of him? ––out of it. It." He closed his eyes, and corrected himself. "It. Yeah. Not out of him. Out of it." He opened his eyes slowly, looking haggard. "I haven't had many good nights of sleep since."

She said nothing.

He picked up the new cup and downed the coffee in one take. He then purposely swirled the grounds loose and inverted it into the saucer. He pushed it towards her with two hands. "Tell me." he demanded, "Is that one morning going to affect my whole life?"

She glanced down at the cup, still holding its secrets to itself. She was loathe to pick it up.

"Tell me!" he said desperately.

She bent down to the level of the table and tilted the cup just a sliver. Then a wider glimpse. She gasped and averted her eyes. She replaced the cup top-down on the saucer.

Carl snatched it up himself and studied it, frowning, but of course it all meant nothing to him. He shoved it in front of her, the offending patterns face-up. "It's there, isn't it? My mix-up with Skorzeny is going to be a shadow over my whole life, right?"

Maria took it from him and made a great effort to compose herself. "Your –– ah– your lifeline is extraordinarily long..."

"Uh-huh." he said incredulously.

"Forgive me," she faltered, "I've never seen a fortune like this..."

"What do you see?"

"What do I see? I see –– I see... " She swallowed hard and searched for the right word. "––evil. You and ––evil. In battle." She stared at all sides of the cup with wide eyes, rolling it to examine every inch.

"We did battle, yes. But I won." He ran a weary hand over his brow. "If you can call it winning..." He sat staring into space. "I ended up loosing more than I gained by it." He sighed deeply. "But, hey. The whole thing didn't kill me, right? I'm still kicking." He pondered this. "I'll be fine; and you yourself said about the long lifeline, right? Something like a run-in with a real vampire has got to affect a man's coffee grounds, even after it's all over, right? Right?"

She nodded silently, still in shock.

"Yeah." He pressed his lips together in thought for a moment. "I've put it behind me. I'll be fine." He pulled a few bills from his wallet and tossed them on the table. "Thanks." He got up and left without another word. Outside the door, he stood in thought for a few moments looking up and down the street, then he pulled the sad straw hat forward on his head, started whistling with intention, and walked out of sight.

Maria tried to calm herself, with only small success. She slammed the cup back top-down on the saucer, and crossed herself three times. The gypsy sat stunned and even the dollars on the table lay forgotten.

She shuddered. "What I saw wasn't just Las Vegas, friend." she said quietly.