There had been a number of occasions when someone wanted to have a conference with the King and Queen. All invitations were confidently accepted, eager to learn what sort of interest others had in the carnival. Offers were extended and rejected, much to the disappointment of those who made them, and yet they persisted. It was to be expected, what with the size of the crowds that came to the grounds on a daily basis, many of whom paid that extra admission to go inside the sideshow tent and gawk at what they saw advertised on the banner line. To any eyes that were observing the show, it was obvious what the main attractions were. Jesse knew when spies were sent to scope out the performances, and in a way he was flattered. His father never had that many offers, so it meant they were doing something right. Thankfully, there had not been much interest expressed in the past few months, and so he wondered who would want to speak with them. An anonymous letter arrived at their doorstep that morning, neatly written and to the point with only a time and place along with the request for their company—no signature or name to be found. Going into the city still made Jesse a bit apprehensive, as he enjoyed life on the beach with Sacha, and the community there certainly grew quite find of the couple. The carnival and sideshow also attracted plenty of patronage for the shops and restaurants in the surrounding area, making the owners happy to have the extra income at the end of the day. However, things were very different in the city, where it was every man for himself and business was downright cut-throat. Nonetheless, it was important for them to keep their heads up high, flaunting that elitist Carny attitude and breezing through the meeting as they had so many times before.
Sacha clutched Jesse’s hand as a 1930 jet black Buick approached the house, in order to reassure her husband that she was there for him. She could sense that he was slightly nervous, and she had to admit that there were butterflies in her own stomach. A joint was lit after they entered the vehicle and it pulled out of the driveway. Cool salty air intermingled with the pungent smoke which enabled them to relax, Buddy Holly’s voice crooning on high volume beside them, bodies comforted by the white leather interior. The tinted glass partition prevented them from seeing or speaking to their driver and it seemed a bit suspicious that no one had come out to open the door for them. As the ocean faded into the distance, her grip tightened for a moment before releasing, fingers busy taking another hit. The city loomed a few miles ahead and while it served as a reminder of the day they first met, it was still viewed as a conglomerate of rubes and marks to be taken advantage of. The once great mecca was hardly impressive anymore, but it made for an afternoon of amusement as they could surely entertain each other with some casual pick-pocketing. It was not about the money, but rather the enjoyment of skillfully stealing from those that were blissfully unaware of missing items.
Traffic crawled past as the Buick slowly entered the city, buildings towering overhead. Jesse savored a tiny smile, his arm wrapping around Sacha’s waist to keep her close. For a brief moment he was overwhelmed by dizziness, the world around him becoming a giant spinning blur. It was a feeling that had been dormant for quite some time, and it took a bit of effort to fight off. There had been little disturbance from his darker half—or perhaps that was just a lie Jesse constantly convinced himself to believe, just as he did a number of times before. His vision returned to normal and there were no signs that any change had taken place, much to his relief. It was not the first episode he had experience since James seemed to have disappeared, however, there was no reason to inform his wife, as he felt in control. A wave of sickness surged through his body, but Jesse fought that back as well, though it settled in his stomach and would remain there as a small reminder of what had just taken place, seemingly mocking him. Nothing could deter him from maintaining the outward composure that blatantly stated his ability to be the one in charge. Part of him felt guilty due to the fact that he harbored the secret from Sacha, but it was only because he did not want to burden her with concern any more. She had endured so much without once ever having the desire to leave, but he felt that she deserved a break. Even though she never complained either, and knowing quite well that she did everything because of how much she loved him, it was important for her to be happy as well. That was the exact reason he made no mention of the sensations which had been occurring recently. Instead, Jesse focused his attention on the flashy diner that came into view, its polished chrome exterior sparkling in the sunlight, red glass panels almost glowing.
When the door was opened, he took a deep breath and slowly exhaled before he climbed out. He lent Sacha a hand as she also exited, holding her close for a moment to keep himself composed as he gazed into those gorgeous eyes. There was comfort in her smile, that boost of confidence she always seemed to give him which made dealing with life so much easier. With his Queen on his arm, Jesse was able to walk into the diner with an arrogant swagger he had become infamous for, a fierce expression fixed on his face as they were escorted to one of the red vinyl booths. Seated there was a man perhaps a few years younger than him, dark blonde hair carefully sculpted into waves that blended into perfectly shaped side burns. He was casually dressed in dark blue jeans along with a blue cotton button-down shirt layered over a white T-shirt, and greeted them with a smile as he snuffed out a cigarette in the green glass ashtray.
“Thank-you kindly for joining me,” he began in a heavy Southern accent, brown eyes sparkling with a smile. “I must say that I am very pleased you came.”
“Not a problem,” Jesse replied. “We appreciate you having us.
A hand was extended across the table. “Allow me to introduce myself—name’s Lance, and of course you are Jesse.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” he replied, firmly gripping Lance’s hand.
“This must be the lovely Miss Sacha. I have heard so much about you.”
She blushed slightly as he placed a kiss on her hand. “You are too kind.”
Jesse chewed the inside of his cheek to keep the small amount of jealousy that formed from being expressed. “To what do we owe this meeting?”
“Well, they were right when they said you were a no bullshit kind of guy.” Lance chuckled slightly and lit another cigarette.
“To be quite honest then, I have great respect for what both of your fathers accomplished, and hold the same towards you. It is very easy to get distracted by things and lose track of what we love.” He paused a moment and flashed a smile. “You see, I once worked for your fathers and have known the pride that carries. My arrogance led me astray, and this city is not the great empire it once was—it pales in comparison to what these fuckers have turned it into. There are too many men who would lie, cheat and steal to get what they want, so let them have at it. I am so very tired of all this bullshit and would love nothing more than to leave it behind to come back to the carnival. It is the one place where I felt like I actually belonged, strange as that is to say.”
Jesse processed the information, taking in consideration the sincerity of Lance’s words. “Well, I would be a fool not to call you friend. I was once in your position, so I know how it feels to want a way out. You are most welcome to join us at the carnival and will be put to work immediately,” he said with a smile. “Come out to the cove later on tonight and there will be a grand celebration.”
Lance was stunned. “That is very generous of you.”
“Sacha and I cannot be in every place at once, and I know that we would both prefer to concentrate on just the sideshow. Therefore, I am willing to entrust you with the duty of being my eyes and ears out on the midway.”
“There are not enough words to show my appreciation, and I will not disappoint.”
In a most unusual display, Lance took Jesse’s hand and placed a kiss upon it. The gesture was common among those who wished to seal an agreement, meant to display respect and nothing more, though it had fallen out of use among society that it looked a bit strange to those who were gazing at the odd trio. Wary of the attention, Jesse slowly withdrew his hand while faking a smile when he would rather sneer and tell that kid to take a hike. However, Lance had some vital information, so he would entertain a friendship for the moment to get what he wanted.
“You are a very intelligent man, and I can see why you have such a prestigious position. It will be a great honor to work with you.”
“We are all equals,” Jesse humbly replied, “and I make a point of treating everyone the way I would want them to treat me.”
“Well, I certainly appreciate it. However, I do have a question. Since I will be monitoring the carnival, is there a vacancy somewhere close by where I might take up residency? It would make me happy to get out of here once and for all.”
“There happens to be a house that is currently empty,” Sacha spoke up. “It is right outside the grounds and would be ideal for you.”
“There is no way I can possibly thank you both enough,” Lance replied, slowly rising from the booth. “My life has needed a change for so long, and I am excited to have this opportunity. Please be assured that I will do everything I can to repay your kindness.”
“You have made a wise decision, and I am sure it is going to benefit everyone,” Jesse said as he stood up as well. “The party will start promptly at ten, so do not be late.”
“Not a problem,” Lance replied, still smiling as he kissed Sacha on the cheek. “I look forward to seeing you later. The driver will bring you to any destination you desire. For now, I bid you good afternoon.”
With that, he walked out of the diner as Jesse followed him with a harsh gaze, jealousy slightly evident in his eyes. No man had ever dared to show his wife such affection, though simple physical contact was certainly acceptable in a business matter, and forbidden on any other occasion. He made sure to avoid anything that would cause anger for fear James might emerge, and that was a situation he definitely wanted no part of. Yet there he was, replaying the moment over and over again in his head, wondering what motive lay behind that overly friendly kiss. It had seemed harmless enough, but Jesse certainly noticed how much Lance was staring at Sacha the entire time. Of course he could have just been paranoid, reading more into the situation than was necessary, but that did not prevent him from tightly clutching his wife’s hand as they returned to the Buick, instructing the driver to take them down to the boardwalk.