Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
It was fortune telling day again a week later. Business was slow. We were having a cold spell, so I was staying in my sitting room, splitting my attention between a coffee-and-bourbon and playing with Bastet. She was all black, no thumbs, and seemed to think her day was not complete without sneaking over to see Doc, but other than that, she was a good kitten, insofar as moral concepts apply to cats. Doc hadn’t raised a stink when I brought her home from the shelter, and even seemed to like the little fur ball. Me, Doc still wasn’t entirely comfortable with yet. We were talking, but I figured we’d probably have some more blow-ups before we got right with each other again.
There was a knock at my inside door, and I could tell that the one I’d been expecting had finally showed up. I shoved Bastet out of my lap, walked out into the hall to the door, and opened it up. Bastet naturally shot through my legs and past the visitor onto the porch. My visitor was an unfamiliar woman who looked to be maybe a few years older than me. She was kind of nerdy, with straight hair and bangs, wire-rimmed glasses, and shoes with all the sex appeal of one of those old-fashioned electronic calculators. Though the stud in the nose and the row of about ten piercings on her left ear kind of freaked the geek look. She hesitated, as if startled by me or the cat, and then stammered out, “Are, are, you, um, ah, Pers, Persephone Désirée Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson?” She had a high, thin voice.
I smiled at her, which seemed to disconcert her. “Well, today I’m Madame Fortuna, but yes, that’s me. And who are you, who doesn’t actually want her fortune told?”
That disconcerted her some more. She reached in, pulled out a card, and without a word handed it to me. Like Valerie’s badge wallet, it was a trick card, just showing the name and contact info of Eurydice Young, but with magic I could see a familiar seal and the additional lines, “Apprentice Magician, San Francisco branch, Office of Occult Affairs.”
She nodded. “My mother was fond of Greek mythology.”
“Aren’t they all? Valerie Thompson sent you?”
She shook her head. “No. I mean, yes. I mean I got my instructions from her via e-mail. It’s just that nobody ever sees Valerie Thompson.”
I chuckled. “I have. C’mon in.” And I led her into my fortune telling parlor, taking up my usual chair and letting her sit in the client’s seat. Bastet had followed us, and jumped into my lap as soon as I sat down. I’d like to say I taught her that trick, but she came up with it herself. It really spooked my customers to see me in my fortune-telling robe with a black cat sitting in my lap.
Eurydice looked around, and seemed even more bewildered by me, Bastet, and my decorations than most of my customers were. “You really, you tell fortunes here?”
“No,” I answered, “but my clients think so.” I laughed at that, and Eurydice nervously joined in.
Then she put on a solemn look. “I’m supposed to give you a message from Valerie Thompson. She wanted me to repeat it exactly.” Here she tried to make her voice sound more impressive. “‘Don’t you ever try a trick like that again.’”
I knew what was meant. Said trick had been to write the Secret Service with complaints that one of their agents, Valerie T. Thompson, had engaged in gross misconduct leading to serious brain damage of a citizen, and that a lawsuit was being prepared. Hey, if she had left a straightforward way to get in touch, I wouldn’t have done it. Funny that she hadn’t actually said this to me over the phone when we talked. Maybe she didn’t dare. I could hope.
Eurydice resumed her normal thin voice. “So I understand my mission is to take a ghost from here to his home in the Bay Area, and let his family see him? Isn’t that against the rules?”
“Yeah, but I’m not part of your organization. And that’s what I got Valerie to agree to. It should be enough for the ghost, a tourist named Mortimer Green; it was for our two local ghosts. And if he doesn’t pass on right then and there, take him to his grave. I suppose we should be thankful he wasn’t cremated and his ashes scattered.”
Eurydice nodded to all of that. “That I can do.” She hesitated, and then said, “Do you mind if I ask you some questions? My instructions didn’t explain much of what’s going on.”
“So Valerie didn’t tell you about the soul-eater? Or the miners’ ghosts? Or her pulling me out of a mine shaft? Or seeing Abigail Lane’s ghost?”
It was the last that got a reaction from Eurydice. “You saw Abigail Lane’s ghost? Wow. This must have been an important case. I’d like to hear about it.” And after a moment, she added, “Please.”
It was the way she said it, almost like a kid asking for a story, that finally made me realize what was going on. I had to laugh inside. There was no way I’d been sent this beginning magician by happenstance. Valerie, I thought to myself, I don’t know if you’re trying to teach something to me, or to this Eurydice Young, but you did this for a purpose. And I’ll play along. I owe you that much. “You have time, Eurydice? It may take a few hours.”
“My instructions allow for a night’s stay here, so yeah, I have the time. But before you start, one question.”
“I’ve heard that you, well, that ‘Nightfeather’ isn’t just your name, that you actually have night feathers. Could I see them, please?”
I held my right arm up, bent at the elbow, showing her the back of my gloved hand. “On one condition,” I told her. “I want you to find out what your Office of Occult Affairs knows about them and pass that information along to me. I suspect they know more than I do. I’m only beginning to learn to use them, myself. Deal?”
Eurydice waffled. “Well, um, I’m not sure . . . I mean, you’ve got them so I suppose it’s all right . . . but it might be classified . . .” Then she made up her mind. “Deal.”
I stripped off the glove and held my hand out across the table to shake hers. She was taken aback for a moment, not realizing she’d not only get to see my night feathers, but shake hands with me. And then she gamely reached across and we clasped hands. Eurydice didn’t know it, but that was the first time in over a decade that I’d shaken hands with someone, bare flesh to bare flesh. And I was determined it would not be the last.