Rigel is working the bar tonight. His real name is Anthony, but he thought it would be clever if all the servers named themselves after stars, so Rigel it is. He looks like a Rigel, I think. His eyes are a burning shade of blue, hot enough to make you want to turn the lights out, if you catch my meaning. Those eyes are watching me now as I address the servers on staff tonight.
Antares, Vega, Spica, Castor, Sirius…I hand them each a coin and instructions.
“Before we open, you should know I do things a little differently,” I say, looking each one in the eye. “Every night you work, I want you come see me and ask for a coin such as this. Before your shift ends, I expect you to give it away.”
I watch as they study the coins, knowing what they see. They do not know they hold silver in their hands — mortals seem to be unfamiliar with even the weight of real silver these days. But they recognize Darkstar’s stamped logo on one side.
A few of them make the connection between the stamp on the reverse side and the tattooed constellation pattern zigzagging across my wrist. Not that any of them know which constellation. From the perspective of Alpha Centauri, the now-setting sun adds another point to Cassiopeia’s crown.
“Does it matter who we give it to?” Spica asks. Pixie, pert, and pretty, I can already tell she will be one of my favorites. Not because of her looks, but rather because her heart glows inside her like a star gone nova. If all mortals were like her, my work would be done.
“Let your generosity lead you,” I reply. “Trust me, you’ll know who needs it.”
Dark-skinned Sirius drops the coin in his shirt pocket. “What if nobody does? Can we keep it?”
“Trust me, you’ll get enough luck rubbing off on you just by carrying it around on your shift.”
Vega’s brown eyes go wide and she holds the coin up to the light. Her Hispanic accent is thick and sultry. “Is that what this is? Buena suerte?”
Antares pulls the coin back out of his pocket and eyes it. I can see the wheels turning in his dreadlocked head, how to make off with the coin for himself. I have no idea what Atropos has in store for him in general, but his days here at Darkstar have just become numbered.
“Those coins are my gift to the world and I expect you to give it,” I say. “If for some reason you don’t, you return it to me at the end of your shift. Understood?”
They all nod in agreement, some more reluctantly than others. I still have a few minutes to give them their assignments.
“Spica, I’m going to have you working the roof tonight,” I say and hand her a short stack of Tarot Cards, all major arcana. “I’ll be up there doing readings until midnight. Give them out in order, that will queue them up well enough.”
“Where’s the Fool?” she asks, noticing the Magician on the top.
“The Fool is the one making the journey,” I respond with a smile. “I suspect they’ll be sitting in the chair asking the questions.”
She taps the upturned tip of her nose before tucking my esoteric ticket system in her apron pocket. Spica is growing on me fast. In lots of ways.
“Vega and Castor, you’ll be manning the floor here and helping Rigel. Sirius, I’m putting you down below since you’re the most experienced with the whole bowls-and-coals routine. Castor, if you get down time, go work with Sirius. Let him show you some things.”
Castor nods at me. “Ok. No one under eighteen in the hookah lounge, right? Who’s checking ID?”
“For drinks, everyone. Downstairs, Sirius is gatekeeper. But people should be able to read.” I point at a sign on the wall near the staircase that spirals down to the first floor level. “There’s no entrance from street level so any crashers will have to get past the bar.”
“Which isn’t happening,” Rigel says.
“Which isn’t happening,” I repeat, knowing I have already enchanted the staircase to be invisible to anyone underage. Last thing I need is to be worrying about the city inspector every time I turn around.
“What about me?” Antares sniffs and pops his knuckles. Human bodies make terrible noises. If he walks off with one of my coins, his will make worse before I am finished with him.
“You’re floating. Wherever is needed.”
Assignments in hand, my little stars tie on their aprons and begin to settle into their courses. I wander out onto the balcony and look down on the swirling mortal flow that is the French Quarter at night. Publicity is easy when you’re a goddess, and they’re cued up down the Rue Royale, waiting for rope drop.
A young trumpet player in a beat up bowler struts down the street. He wails on his horn, weaving through the flow of the living, unnoticed. Mid-turn, he catches sight of me and makes a hasty bow, pawing his hat from his head. I know what he sees: a woman sculpted from starfire.
There’s no point in dimming myself for his eyes because Shades always see true. If life is a caul of flesh, then clarity is the birthright of the dead.
The honeyed sweetness of jessamine rides the air tonight, the top note in the complex perfume of the Crescent City. Beneath it are other scents I am growing to love — chicory coffee, scorching pavement, salt air off the bayou. I take a deep breath and wait.
There’s a feeling the moment the sun goes down. The West swallows one star as the East births hundreds more. And come dawn, the East will birth that one star as the West swallows all the others.
And in between? That time is mine.
I walk back inside to the bar and pick up the blue velvet bag containing my Tarot cards, then start up the stairs leading to the roof. I can feel Rigel’s eyes on me, waiting for my signal to open Darkstar for business.
I pause to give him a nod, and then I do what stars do.
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