Arla hadn’t been giving her work her usual gusto. And considering her usual gusto, she was barely doing anything at all now.
But considering her recent familial happenstances, it was admirable she was even there, doing what she was doing. After all, the casino had clientele to please, and business hadn’t stopped to mourn. In fact, when news of Armaan’s death spread, it seemed to bring in a lot of people who wanted to catch up and reminisce.
Arla’s job had remained the same. As people went up to the desk, she would clap away their body parts away in exchange for tokens, or vice-versa. Lately, though, she had been working slower when she needed to be working faster. This annoyed Jocub.
Jocub was the cold logical half of Jicub and Jocub. These two had been Armaan’s understudies. Normally they handled finances, disputes, and end-of-night duties, but recently they had been doing all that that in addition to Armaan’s old jobs. Jocub was constantly annoyed by Arla acting as if her employment was some sort of birthright.
Jicub, however, found her as charming as ever. He sympathized with her. He decided to talk to her. Just talk. Like friends do. If he could get her to crack a smile tonight, he could sleep easy for the rest of his life. But Jocub had a lot of work to do, and wasn’t able to do it with Jicob making a ‘blushy idiot’ of himself at the claims and exchanges counter, because Jicob and Jocob were literally different sides of the same person. Jicob on the front, Jocob on the back, each with their own pair of arms. Jicob, as always, won out.
He slid smoothly up to Arla’s counter while Jocob puttered away at all the work he was able to carry. He tried not to pay attention to Jicob. “Good evening, Arla,”
Arla didn’t hear. He tried a little louder. “Arla! What’s new, beautiful?” Still nothing.
Jocob sighed and whistled for her attention. He got everyone in the casino’s. Luckily, that included Arla. “Oh, hi, Jicob. What do you need?”
“I just thought we should talk,” Jicob replied, “we don’t talk enough. How are you holding up?”
He had not yet succeeded in making Arla smile. “I couldn’t find any leads. The bounty hunters are a really secretive bunch,” until this point, she had been fiddling with tokens, which from a distance was an activity that could have been mistaken for work, but now she wasn’t even doing that, “It’s weird how I never really thought about bounty hunters before. It seems so stupid. Why didn’t I ever learn how they operate, or organize, or– or–”
“–You should never have needed to," Jicob assured her, as Jocub rolled his eyes.
“I sent that guy in there, do you think that he was even part of it? It drives me nuts not knowing if his death was my fault,"
“Hey. Stop that. It wasn’t your fault," He reached out to wipe her tears, but she was so large and tall that he couldn’t, so he turned the gesture into a casual-looking stretch. Jocob crunched away at his numbers and tried not to make fun of him. Jicob concluded his stretch. “Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t I investigate the bounty hunter circuit for you?”
Jocob spun around as best he could. “Excuse me? When are you planning on doing that? We’re swamped, dummy,"
“Don’t listen to him,” Jicob assured Arla, “It would be my honor. I mean, depending on why Armaan was killed, you might be next! It would be an insult to your father’s memory to not investigate this to my best ability!”
“WE ARE TOO BUSY!” Jocob began, “Do I have to list the things that need to be done? We’re three days behind on our end-of-day reports, we have to take inventory of everything in the vault, (that’s everything, not just the stuff that doesn’t reek!) We have to spray the vorax outside, train the new game masters, wash things, everything! We have to do–”
“Joe,” Jicob interrupted, referring to Jocob by his colloquial nickname, which he despised, “Depending on why Armaan was killed, WE might be next! And if WE get killed, who’s going to count and clean all the stuff?”
Jocob, bothered by the gross oversimplification of their duties among other things, had to concede he made at least a half-formed thought, and not the dumbest one he had ever formed. “Fine, but you realise we’re behind? In everything?”
“It shouldn’t take too long. We’ll be back this evening. Arla? Would you mind?”
She wiped her tears away and cracked a slight smile.
“I don’t understand,” Danbr whispered at his umbrella, “What’s so special about this guy?”
The two of them stood before the Mad Dancer Mort on a crowded street. He spun, he flipped, he did cheezy sleight of hand, and he did it all in perfect synchronicity with the grooves cracking out of his cheap, tinny stereo.
“Look at him!” Burke replied, “He’s incredible!”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d never be able to do any of these things, but I don’t really see anything that a person couldn’t do without lots of practice. Maybe that’s it? He never had to practice? He was born with this raw, unfettered talent?”
“No, he trained his entire life to dance with the dexterity and stamina that he does,"
“Has his life been spectacularly long? Or short?”
“No, he’s about thirty,"
“Was the coin he pulled out from behind that girl’s ear actually magic or just sleight of hand?”
“Sleight of hand. But honestly, I honestly think that’s MORE impressive. I mean If you can do magic, you just do magic. It’s not hard. But sleight of hand, that takes finesse,"
“I’m sorry, Burke, I just don’t get it,"
“He’s really talented,"
“You’re not wrong, but this is all stuff people can do. Like, regular people,"
“You wouldn’t remember seeing this without the blessing. All these other people are going to forget it,"
“I understand that…”
“To see this sort of performance in a circus or theatre or something you’d have to pay a lot of money,"
“Absolutely, I mean as far as supernatural phenomenon go, this one has great... value. Was there anything else you were going to show me today?”
Burke seemed a little hurt. “I thought we’d be watching this guy for hours,"
“Sure!” Danbr began watching enthusiastically.
“If you like, we can try to get that ghost dealt with,"
“No! Let’s stay and watch the dancer guy!”
“This isn’t interesting to me and it’s not interesting to you..,"
“No, Burke, it IS interesting me, really, but it’s relatively uninteresting compared to some of the other things I’ve seen this week – the clappers, Debbie, the ghost – it’s been a lot to drink in,"
“Would you like to get your ghost situation dealt with right away, then?”
“I’d like to see what we could do, but it sounded like there’s nowhere we can really go for help,"
“We could try the exercise thing you were talking about,"
“An exorcism?” Danbr corrected, still baffled at how foreign the concept was to him. “I don’t know the first thing about them,"
Burke popped out of Danbr’s umbrella, took it, folded it, and used it to get the attention of a man enamored by Mort.
“Pardon me, man or woman,” Burke said, trying to be personable, “would you happen to know how to perform an exorcism?”
The man, of course, had never seen a vorax before. Having enjoyed a few street performers that day already, he assumed Burke was some sort of puppet.
“Why, homesick?” He joked, as he searched for the strings.
“No,” Burke responded, missing the irony, “my friend has a ghost in his house,"
“Oh, exorcisms are for getting demons out of people,” he turned to Danbr, “what you want to do is a smudging, which it when you crack open a window, light a pouch of sage on fire and walk around your house, filling it up with smoke,"
Burke looked up at Danbr, “That was lucky. The first person I asked was an expert. Thanks, sir or madam,"
The man smiled. “What are you supposed to be?” He extended a finger into Burke’s middle, trying to play with his mistiness. His finger turned blue from the cold, and he fell backwards screaming.
The crowd and Mad Dancer Mort all turned to see what was going on. Danbr helped the man up, who desperately breathed on his hand to thaw it out.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” several people asked in various phrasings.
“I don’t know! Who is that guy? Who are you? Where am I? I’m late for work!” He shuffled away, dropping his hot dog.
“Is he okay?” Mad Dancer Mort yelled.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Danbr replied “sorry for the interruption!”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry!” Mort replied, “I’m sorry I’m so boring! After all, this is just stuff regular people can do!”
Danbr gulped, “No, no, everything’s great! I especially like the –” he snapped and pointed while he tried to think of the word, “ – twirls! Carry on!” He then watched him for another three hours.
“Are you sure that’s enough?” Burke asked Danbr as they climbed his stoop.
“Burke, I have no idea, but it cost thirty dollars,” He held up the pouch of sage, “and they didn’t have it at the first three stores we tried. Don’t people use this for cooking? Shouldn’t it be easier to find?”
As they entered the apartment, Danbr noticed a strange, ancient-looking stone idol on his dining room table.
“Say, Burke,” said Danbr, “what’s that?”
“I don’t know,” said Burke, “it looks heavy,"
“Is it here to kill me?”
“No, I think it’s just a regular statue. There’s nothing savory about your memories of it,”
“Could you go inspect it?”
“Inspect it for what?”
“I don’t know, just check it for traps, or if something’s hiding inside it’s mouth! It won’t hurt you!”
“I think it’s fine,”
Burke, showing no emotion, whooshed in front of it and tapped it a couple times with the umbrella. Getting a close look inside his mouth, he found a note.
“What does it say?” shouted Danbr.
Burke read it. “Oh! It’s a gift from Cacta! It was the most valuable thing she got in her Armaan bounty that she didn’t have a use for. It’s a thank you gesture for being the person who actually killed him. How nice!”
“What does it do?” he asked, still wary.
Buke finished reading the note. “I think it might just be a statue,"
Danbr walked over to it. “I guess I could put pens in it or something. Or maybe a museum might want it. I’ll keep it in the closet for now,"
He picked it up and immediately dropped it, just barely missing his toe. It formed a cozy dent for itself in the ground, shaking the entire building.
Jicob and Jocub returned to the casino. They didn’t seem to be any more tattered or beaten than they were when they left, which was a good sign. Jocob seemed more annoyed, but then he always somehow managed that.
“Any luck?” Arla asked hopefully.
Jicob slicked his hair. Arla could tell he was trying to put together difficult words in a way that wouldn’t hurt her.
“No,” Jocob blurted, “but none of us are on the hit list so we can all get back to work,”
“Oh,” She replied, repressing tears, “Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. I feel like I was so close last time–”
“You musn’t!” Jicob exclaimed, “It’s too dangerous! I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to you! Besides, as I would have said, if my impertinent other half hadn’t so rudely interrupted, we may not have to go back there to solve this mystery,"
She stopped moping for a moment. She stared at Jicob. There was a tinge of a smile. He reached into his pocket and produced a list.
“It’s Armaan’s bounty!”