Joe Avery Deals With Cards
Charles C Cole
The city was in the middle of a summer afternoon downpour. The raindrops were large and heavy and plentiful. I preferred walking, but not in this. My taxi arrived. To my surprise, my ride, looking something like a cross between a Humvee and a limo, was big enough for a rock band, its instruments, and its roadies. It had been recommended by a client.
I dashed out from the building’s entrance, happy to not be trapped by the overwhelming elements, barely making it unscathed. The cabby opened the sliding door remotely. I swooped in and closed the door behind me and was hit by not-unpleasant new-car smell.
“Unique wheels,” I said.
“Got to stand out, but there’s a cost.”
The cabby, looking exactly like me, tossed me a clean towel to wipe the rain out of my eyes.
“Nice trick,” I said, after the shock wore off. Having a business based in large part on faery-folk meant it took a lot to startle me.
“You’ve heard of games where the joker’s wild? That’s me. Patrons either love it or hate it. No in-between. I pulled the image down from your social media account. It’s a gimmick, sure, but nobody else can do it.”
The rain was pelting the car with no indication of slowing. Looking out the rear window was like looking at the back of a waterfall.
“I’m gonna give it a sec if that’s alright,” said the driver. “I’m not licensed for an amphibious assault.”
“Sure.” I glanced back the way I’d come, appreciating my recent escape. In the doorway, an impossibly thin man dressed as the king of hearts looked like he’d just been dumped by his cosplay date. I knew by the way he’d lingered, he had a question for me, but he’d been too shy to ask it. I had plenty of room and a dollop of guilt: the vehicle could easily have been a mobile boardroom. “Do you mind if we add another person?”
The driver squinted, following my gaze. “You mean the playing card? Your dime. It’s a big city. He might be closer to his destination if he just stays put.”
“Can you open the door?” He did so. I waved our prospective traveling companion over to join us. The king looked about like he thought I was communicating with someone behind him, but there was no one else. Then he shrugged and sprinted our way, splattering the fallen rain as he did so.
The driver closed the door remotely as soon as our new guest jumped in. That’s when I notice the human-card was coated in wax; the water rolled off him harmlessly. Another nice trick.
“Where’re you going?” I asked.
“I don’t rightly know, but I know where I came from. Does that help? We could draw a straight line from point A to point B and then from point B to…” He noticed the driver and I were twins. “Imagine the odds!” he said. “You two related?”
“It’s a parlor trick, pal,” explained the cabby. “Watch.” Like hitting a switch, he turned into a second humanoid playing card. “A pair of kings.”
“Can you turn into the queen of hearts? That’s my wife. We had a sort of falling out. I’d really like to see her.”
“Not sight unseen. Maybe off a picture in your wallet.”
The king looked himself over, as if for the first time. “Haven’t got a wallet. Or pockets.”
I jumped in, before things got awkward. “We’re heading to 72nd Street. You going in that direction? I can cover your costs if so.”
“Money! Coin of the realm. I knew I forgot something.”
The driver heard, turned around in his seat. “Maybe you ought to consider walking. Wait for the rain to stop. Enjoy the fresh air.”
“How far,” asked the king, “to the nearest white rabbit?”
The driver and I shared a look care of his rearview mirror. “I have a friend with a boat,” he said, after a moment, sounding like a doctor explaining maternity to a toddler, “He has a deck. I bet you like decks.”
The king smiled politely. “Lost without one, but not the kind you mean.”
“You two have more in common than you think,” I said. “King meet joker.”
“And you’re Joe Avery, the Hat Man, I suppose.”
“I suppose I am.”
“Imagine the odds! Things are a bit unsettled back at court. We’ve been trying to keep a lid on it, but the queen of hearts ran off with the king of diamonds – from another deck! She’s always been a bit of an adrenalin junkie. I just want things to look normal until they can be normal. What say you, Mr. Cabby? I have a life-size portrait of my other half back at the palace for your study. I’ll make it worth your while.”
The cabby turned back into his “joker wild” self in the blink of an eye, impossibly thin, complete with tall floppy crown with multiple dangling bells. He peered out his driver’s window into the downpour and sighed. I saw a genuinely sad clown.
“Forgive me, Joe. It’s not that humans are unbearable. And cars are a sweet way to get around. But it does get tiring, being the class clown all the time. And hearing, inevitably, ‘Nice try, but I don’t look like that. I don’t sound like that.’ Yes, you do, exactly like that. Sorry to disappoint.”
“So, you’ll do it?” asked the king, perking up. “A long temporary engagement?”
“For the sake of the community. For political stability. Who am I kidding? For a taste of the good life, count me in!”
They rescued each other; I was merely their intersection.
The moral of the story: A winning hand is based on a great combination of cards.