At the very end of the midway, on the left, was a skinny man wearing baggy blue Bermuda shorts, a strap-style undershirt, and a bowler hat. The bowler was old and faded, but cocked at a rakish angle. Also, there was a plastic sunflower stuck in the brim. He was a funny guy, and the girls finally got their chance to put their hands over their mouths and giggle.
He looked at them with the air of a man who has been giggled at by experts and smiled back. This made Carol and her friends giggle harder. The man in the bowler hat, still smiling, spread his hands above the makeshift table behind which he was standing - a slab of fiberboard on two bright orange sawhorses. On the fiberboard were three redbacked Bicycle cards. He turned them over with quick, graceful gestures. His fingers were long and perfectly white, Bobby saw - not a bit of sun-color on them.
The card in the middle was the queen of hearts. The man in the bowler picked it up, showed it to them, walked it dextrously back and forth between his fingers. 'Find the lady in red, cherchez la femme rouge, that's what it's all about and all you have to do,' he said. 'It's easy as can beezy, easy-Japaneezy, easy as knitting kitten-britches.' He beckoned Yvonne Loving. 'Come on over here, dollface, and show em how it's done.'
Yvonne, still giggling and blushing to the roots of her black hair, shrank back against Rionda and murmured that she had no more money for games, it was all spent.
'Not a problem,' the man in the bowler hat said. 'It's just a demonstration, dollface - I want your mom and her pretty friend to see how easy it is.'
'Neither one's my mom,' Yvonne said, but she stepped forward.
'We really ought to get going if we're going to beat the traffic, Ewie,' Mrs Gerber said.
'No, wait a minute, this is fun,' Rionda said. 'It's three-card monte. Looks easy, just like he says, but if you're not careful you start chasing and go home dead broke.'
The man in the bowler gave her a reproachful look, then a broad and engaging grin. It was the grin of a low man, Bobby thought suddenly. Not one of those Ted was afraid of, but a low man, just the same.
'It's obvious to me,' said the man in the bowler, 'that at some point in your past you have been the victim of a scoundrel. Although how anyone could be cruel enough to mistreat such a beautiful classy dame is beyond my ability to comprehend.'
The beautiful classy dame - five-five or so, two hundred pounds or so, shoulders and face slathered with Pond's - laughed happily. 'Stow the guff and show the child how it works. And are you really telling me this is legal?'
The man behind the table tossed his head back and also laughed. 'At the ends of the midway everything's legal until they catch you and throw you out . . . as I think you probably know. Now . . . what's your name, dollface?'
'Yvonne,' she said in a voice Bobby could barely hear. Beside him, Sully-John was watching with great interest. 'Sometimes folks call me Evvie.'
'Okay, Evvie, look right here, pretty baby. What do you see? Tell me their names - I know you can, a smart kid like you - and point when you tell. Don't be afraid to touch, either. There's nothing crooked here.'
'This one on the end is the jack . . . this one on the other end is the king . . . and this is the queen. She's in the middle.'
'That's it, dollface. In the cards as in life, there is so often a woman between two men. That's their power, and in another five or six years you'll find it out for yourself.' His voice had fallen into a low, almost hypnotic chanting. 'Now watch closely and never take your eyes from the cards.' He turned them over so their backs showed. 'Now, dollface, where's the queen?'
Yvonne Loving pointed at the red back in the middle.
'Is she right?' the man in the bowler asked the little party gathered around his table.
'So far,' Rionda said, and laughed so hard her uncorseted belly jiggled under her sundress.
Smiling at her laughter, the low man in the bowler hat flicked one corner of the middle card, showing the red queen. 'One hundred per cent keerect, sweetheart, so far so good. Now watch! Watch close! It's a race between your eye and my hand! Which will win? That's the question of the day!'
He began to scramble the three cards rapidly about on his plank table, chanting as he did so.
'Up and down, all around, in and out, all about, to and fro, watch em go, now they're back, they're side by side, so tell me, dollface, where's she hide?'
As Yvonne studied the three cards, which were indeed once more lined up side by side, Sully leaned close to Bobby's ear and said, 'You don't even have to watch him mix them around. The queen's got a bent corner. Do you see it?'
'Good job!' he said. 'You've a sharp eye, dollface, a sharp eye indeed.'
'Thank you,' Yvonne said, blushing and looking almost as happy as Carol had looked when Bobby kissed her.