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By TED DEKKER ERIN HEALY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Ted Dekker and Erin Healy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSalazar Sanso raised his binoculars and looked out over the edge of the steep drop into the rosy New Mexican desert. Through the lenses, he scanned the modest-sized Gypsy camp that hugged the base of the mesa. A brisk river separated it from twenty-five tents, which were a combination of sturdy canvas and tall wood-stilt frames. Surrounding them were several trucks and a few SUVs, larger tented structures that Sanso assumed were facilities for school and medicine and whatnot, and a large meetinghouse, which perhaps had once been a rancher's barn.
Children played a game of kickball outside the camp, within shouting distance. A group of men smoked near the entrance of the meetinghouse. Few women in sight. Most of the community-a hundred, hundred twenty-five by his estimation-were tending their carnival booths in Albuquerque for the weekend.
"Tell me what I'm looking for," Sanso said to the woman standing next to him. A hot breeze played with his hair and stroked his close-cropped beard. The wind's uncharacteristic humidity predicted an approaching thunderstorm. In the west, crowding clouds positioned themselves between the camp and the fading afternoon sun.
"She's fairer skinned than the rest, and taller." Callista held out a grainy picture of a young woman in blue jeans. Sanso lowered thebinoculars and took it. Long hair the color of New Mexico's red rocks dunked in water, dark eyes, tan skin, heart-shaped face. She was walking with another woman who wore a long skirt, arms linked, heads inclined toward each other. "They say she is the daughter of a gají."
"A non-Gypsy woman? But Jason Mikkado is the leader of this group."
"Which is why they tolerate her. She's his only surviving child after all. But he has difficulty ... controlling her. If he weren't the rom baro, I think they'd have cast her out by now. They call her Rom Ameriko behind his back."
"But not hers?" Sanso smiled at the characterization. An Americanized Gypsy. Someone who could be counted among neither the Gypsies nor the outsiders, the gajé. It was a biting insult.
"She doesn't really care what anyone thinks of her."
"Good. She's younger than I expected."
"Seventeen. But don't be fooled."
Sanso winked at Callista. "Are you saying you and she are cut from the same cloth?"
"When I was seventeen I was worth cashmere. She's all denim. But she knows cashmere when she sees it. She aspires to cashmere. She and I could be ... friends. Of a sort."
Sanso returned to his study of the camp and noticed a rusty sedan approaching from about a mile off, kicking up pink desert dust under the gathering gray sky. "Will she cooperate?"
"If I've judged her correctly." Callista paused. "She's more like you."
He wouldn't stoop to asking how much more. Did the girl merely share his love of fine food? Or did she possess his need to trample the barriers set up by family and culture, barriers that prevented one from reaching his full potential? When he was seventeen he turned his back on his wealthy South American family so he could become the lord of his own kingdom. His father and brothers wouldn't have allowed him to be anything more than a servant.
"You say that like it's a bad thing," he said.
"For her, it could be."
That was the truth, if she shared even half of his yearnings. "The exchange is still set for Tuesday?"
"Yes. One million dollars. We confirmed this morning."
"What do they suspect?"
Callista placed her hands on her hips. "They suspect that we suspect nothing."
The sedan, a dump of a Chevy, was speeding. Three hundred yards outside the camp, the car left the narrow dirt highway it had been traveling and made a beeline for the meetinghouse. The front driver's-side tire looked low.
The car kept up its pace through the perimeter and came to a skidding stop in front of the smoking men. The door opened and the driver stepped out, slamming the door.
Sanso homed in on the frowning face. Here was the denim girl, an outsider born on the inside, where he needed her.
Janeal Mikkado was wearing jeans. And flip-flops. Footwear the old-timers would disapprove of. Sanso already loved this child.
Her excuse for shoes flapped their way past the group of men. The eldest in the bunch averted their eyes. Sanso had always found this Gypsy quirk amusing: Everything above the waist was considered pure and good. A woman could bare her chest and no one would blink. But everything below the waist was considered dirty, impure, taboo. A true Gypsy woman should cover it up.
The youngest man in the gathering leered and leaned in toward Janeal, saying something that likely only she could hear. Quick as a striking rattlesnake, she jabbed him below his rib cage without breaking stride and proceeded into the meetinghouse. The man doubled over, holding his stomach, trying to laugh it off.
Yes, this girl was going to work out fine.
Chapter TwoJaneal Mikkado stormed into the meetinghouse. From the outside, the building looked like little more than what it once had been: a large old barn, abandoned decades ago by an eccentric rancher who died without heirs. Janeal's great-grandfather had purchased the remote property, too arid for successful ranching, at auction for ten thousand dollars. The Gypsy kumpanía led by Jason Mikkado returned to it every spring and stayed through the summer, doing business with the people of Albuquerque and entertaining narrow-minded tourists who thought Gypsies had no identity or culture outside of fortune-telling and magic tricks.
For this, Janeal hated the outsiders, the naive gajé. And yet she also loved the outside world, the promise of freedom and choice and opportunity. She toyed daily, hourly, with the idea of leaving this place.
If not for her father, she would leave right now, leave him behind with her boyfriend, Robert, and best friend, Katie, who said they were as curious about the world as she was but, when pressed, showed only feigned interest in it. They mocked her fascination as nothing more than a girl's childish fantasy, though they were never intentionally cruel.
Her father didn't know of the hopes she harbored, nor of the bitterness she sometimes indulged in; it soothed the loneliness of her most adventuresome self. Confiding these thoughts to him would be the same as turning her back on him after all he'd suffered. Of all the people she knew, he was the only one she truly loved. In the deepest, most honest sense of the word love, she understood it was something she couldn't define or identify outside of her relationship with him.
Not even the love she bore for Robert Lukin came close.
No, she hadn't found the courage to leave yet. It wasn't like she could go off and come home for holidays, as she heard the gajé her age did. Leaving the kumpanía would be synonymous with rejecting it-and everyone in it. Then they, too, would be free to reject her. Finally. Janeal didn't have any misunderstanding as to what the people of this community really thought of her.
Not that she needed it, but that gave her one more reason to hate them. They wouldn't allow her to belong if she'd wanted to.
Someday she would leave. Someday, when she knew she could endure not being welcome here ever again, when she knew her father would be able to endure it too.
Inside the building, Janeal hesitated at the sight of Mrs. Markovic´, who had appeared yesterday as the kumpanía prepared for the annual festival and asked for their hospitality for the weekend. She was ninety-eight, she said, though one of the elders said he'd seen her walk into camp straight out of the desert and didn't believe she was a day over seventy. At Jason's encouragement, she stayed with a young family at the edge of camp but spent the hottest hours of the day in the cool of this building. From the squat oak rocker by the front window, she gazed down the corridor between tents and observed everyone's comings and goings.
The woman's brown paper-skinned hands lay folded atop her gold-and-fuchsia-colored skirt. She wore her waist-length gray hair in front of her shoulders and hadn't stopped smiling since she arrived, showing off strangely healthy teeth.
But when Janeal caught her eye this afternoon, Mrs. Markovic´ offered only a curt nod. A slight, short nod that seemed to yank the tablecloth off Janeal's thoughts, exposing them. Startled, Janeal shut down that part of her mind.
She turned right and took the stairs to the game room two at a time. If she was lucky, Robert would be finished with his work already, and she could download her frustrations on him while she had his complete attention.
Unlike the outside of the structure, which her father said was best left dilapidated to avoid attracting troublemakers while the kumpanía wintered in California, the interior had been renovated and built out into a practical, attractive community space that included a social area, a conference room, a kitchen, and her father's business offices. On the north side of the building, Jason Mikkado had added private living quarters.
Upstairs, he had transformed the old loft into a game room, which now ran all the way from the front of the barn to the back. The roof on each side sloped.
Janeal stopped climbing the stairs when her eyes broke the plane of the floor. She scanned quickly.
Against the left wall, on the floor that provided a ceiling for the kitchen and dining room, stood three old arcade games rigged to be played without coins or tokens.
Spread across the middle of the room were a pool table, a foosball table, and a Ping-Pong table. Café chairs surrounding chess and checker tables filled the rest of the floor.
The rectangular Tiffany lamp suspended over the pool table filled the room with a dull red ambiance.
No Robert. Janeal sighed and turned on the ball of her foot to go back downstairs. She placed her hand on the wrought-iron banister and felt a shock of electricity zing up her arm.
She flinched, let go, and heard the air crack behind her right ear all at the same time. She closed her eyes too, though she didn't register this until she opened them.
Her shadow stretched out in front of her and spilled down the green-carpeted stairs, swaying like a ghost clinging to her ankles, rocked by a strange red glow. Janeal turned around.
The Tiffany lamp was swinging gently.
She stared at the fixture for several seconds, trying to guess what could have set it in motion. No idea. Its arc shortened on each return until finally it was almost still again.
Without touching the handrail, Janeal went back downstairs, rubbing the palm of her hand. It still tingled.
She passed Mrs. Markovic without looking at the old woman, though Janeal sensed the stranger's eyes on her. Janeal jogged through the gathering room, taking long strides directly through the rear doors and down a hall to her father's office. She burst in.
Her boyfriend jumped in his seat at her entrance and knocked over a Styrofoam cup of coffee at his right hand. "Man, Janeal. I wish you'd quit doing that."
"I do it often enough that you ought to be used to it by now." She grinned to take the bite out of her words and snatched tissues out of a box. Dabbing at the desk, she thought she shouldn't have said that. "I didn't mean to come barreling in."
"Of course you didn't mean to." Robert took a deep breath and righted the cup. "You barrel through everything without meaning to because that's what you do. You're a tornado."
She wondered why she bothered to rein in what she said when Robert wouldn't keep tabs on his own words. She scowled at him and took a step toward the door. He reached out and touched her arm.
"I'm sorry. That's not the best metaphor for what your family's been through," he said, not entirely apologetic. "I get that. But it's the best one I can think of for you." She crossed her arms. "Take it as a compliment."
She tried to read affection into his tone.
"Good thing there wasn't much left." She gestured to the empty cup.
"Good thing. Here, let me have that." He reached for the limp, wet tissues and she grabbed his hand, pulled him close for a kiss. He neither protested nor lingered.
Robert released her lips and leaned around her to toss the tissues in the trash. Janeal released his fingers and focused on her feet.
"So what lit a blaze under you today?"
She collected her thoughts. "Katie."
Robert laughed at her. Of course he would laugh. In Robert's eyes, Katie could do no wrong.
"What could Katie have done to annoy anyone?"
"Nothing. That's just it. Katie never ruffles anyone's feathers."
"You're looking pretty crazed."
"I'm not crazed, Robert."
He took her hands, reigniting her attraction to him. "So tell me what Katie didn't do that has you so upset."
Janeal sighed and supposed that one of the reasons she couldn't resist Robert was because he had this strange power to defuse her when she wanted to be inflamed. That and maybe because he loved her even though everyone else in the kumpanía told him he shouldn't.
She was caught off guard by the possibility that his love for her was nothing more than his own rebellion against the kumpanía. That could explain his wavering behavior of late.
She set the disturbing idea aside without completely rejecting it and leaned against her father's desk. Robert surrounded her feet with his and waited for her to explain.
He was her height but twice as broad. His brown skin made hers look alabaster white, though she had plenty of color in it. Robert's coarse black hair fell sloppily across his forehead and covered his brows. He had full lips and a square face-a handsome, true Romany.
"You should have seen the line outside her booth at the carnival."
"Yeah? She did well, then? She was nervous this morning about going."
"Nervous. You'd have thought she came out of the womb telling fortunes."
"So she's a natural." His smile seemed unnecessarily pleased.
"She's a fraud, Robert! Everything we do at these events is a fraud."
Robert dropped her hands and stepped back. "We've been over this. It's not fraud. It's entertainment. The gajé are always willing to part with their money for a little cultural fun. It's how we stay alive."
"Our culture is not about fortune-telling. It's about music and art and story-the gajé will pay for that too!"
"Not as much." Robert started stacking the papers he had been bent over when she had come in. He was nineteen and had been put in charge of managing the kumpanía's accounts-a tremendous statement of her father's faith in Robert's maturity and skill. "And since when did you think highly of our 'culture'?"
Janeal frowned. "Katie always said she would never stoop to this."
"There is no stooping going on here. Katie is pretty and has the voice of a siren. She's a model woman." Janeal hated it when Robert talked about Katie that way, even though she admired Katie's beauty herself. But he didn't have to make a point of things. "Not a person in this kumpanía has ever had a bad word to say about her. Unlike ..."
Unlike her. At least he had the presence of mind to stop himself. He tapped the edge of the papers to straighten them.
"She's doing her part to bring in funds for the group," Robert finished.
"She doesn't have to do it so well," muttered Janeal.
Robert straightened and caught Janeal's eye. "You hate it all anyway. Why do you care whether Katie tells a few fortunes for fun?"
"Because it reinforces what the gajé think of us. That we're cons. Swindlers. Vipers."
"Listen to you! You don't think any better of your own people. You're talking out both sides of your mouth, Janeal."
"I might like 'my people' more if they didn't reinforce their own stereotypes with this kind of behavior."
"If your food booth made as much money as that fortune-telling booth did, I don't think you'd be so upset."
Warmth flared in Janeal's cheeks. "That's not true."
"You know I'm right."
"You are so wrong."
Janeal turned toward the door, uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. All Janeal wanted was a little sympathy, a little commiseration.
"I got a tattoo today," she muttered, not sure why she would bother to tell him at this point. Earlier, she thought he might have found it alluringly risqué.
Robert's eyebrows shot up. "You must have really been upset to do that."
"Would you stop with that already?"
"Let's see it, then."
She turned her leg sideways and hiked up the hem of her jeans. Above her left anklebone, right where her slender calf started to curve, was a tattoo of a flaming sun. Robert whistled his surprise and bent to touch it. She snatched her leg away.
Excerpted from Burn by TED DEKKER ERIN HEALY Copyright © 2010 by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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