Authors: Mary Bowers
Table of Contents
To the memory of Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, creator of the Cozy Zone that was my happy place after many a long day at work.
As always, special thanks to my husband, Dale, and cousin Kiki.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
The Fortune Teller
Copyright © 2015 by Moebooks
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any way without the express written permission of the author.
Cover designed by Revelle Design, Inc.
The fortune teller was late.
We had worked it all out ahead of time. She’d get there in time to help set up the tent and then she could arrange the table and chairs the way she wanted them while our designer wired up the lights. Then she would get into her costume and be ready to start telling fortunes by 7:30 pm sharp. It was now 7:20. I’d had to pitch in to get the tent ready when I had a thousand other things to do, and still, our “Madame Domani” was nowhere to be found. We already had a line of people waiting to have their fortunes told.
Madame Domani, in real life, was a new volunteer, Eden O’Sullivan, a flaky but lovable 32-year old with pilot-light blue hair and eyes to match. She’d been so excited about playing fortune teller at the Halloween Haunted House fundraiser that I couldn’t believe it when she didn’t show up.
Up until then, there had been very few snags. The new owner of the town’s official creepy mansion, the Whitby House, had offered to lend it to us for the event without even having to be asked.
The Whitby House occupied half a city block on Palmetto Street, just one block over from Locust, the town’s main drag, so it was centrally located. As a bonus, it was really creepy looking, really haunted (or so a lot of us believed), and had plenty of room for tables and tents outside on the lawn.
Marian Miller had let us use her tent, the one she sells hand-made jewelry from at the farmer’s market. We tricked it out with lots of spangly black fabric, special lighting, and we even had a crystal ball with its own lighted base. There was sandalwood incense and mystical music, and a sign in fancy letters that said, “Madame Domani Will Reveal Your Future.” Then, below that in smaller letters, it said, “Only Ten Tickets.” Ten tickets amounted to five dollars, a bargain, especially since she promised she was only going to predict wonderful things. But we had no fortune teller.
My name is Taylor Verone. I run the joint.
“The joint” in this case, is Orphans of the Storm, an animal shelter. I’d been doing it for so many years I could do every job there was in the place, and any job that happened to be invented. In this case, I was about to drape myself in leftover gauze, (or as we were calling it that night, “ectoplasm”), and go tell fortunes when Madame Domani finally showed up in full costume, mumbled an apology and quickly disappeared into the back of the tent. We were in business.
I looked after her as she ran by, heaved a sigh of relief, and then looked around to see if anything else was going wrong. For the next hour or so, I forgot about the fortune teller’s tent.
We had lucked out with the weather; it was a cool night with no rain in the weather forecast. When you tell people you live in Florida, they picture you running around in a bikini all year, but northern Florida does get cool in the fall and winter. I’ve even seen snow in Tropical Breeze. Happens about once every thirty years, and a light dusting is enough to immobilize the city. Since Halloween fell on a Saturday that year, we chose the previous weekend for our event, so it was exactly one week before Halloween. The temperatures were in the low seventies, the ocean breeze was calm, and people were comfortable in light jackets. Overhead, low-hanging clouds scudded across the stars and seemed to bring the night sky down close to us.
We had decided this should not be an adoption event. It was strictly a fundraiser. There would be too many excited kids, it was going to happen after dark, and there are way too many nuts out there to even think about it. My own cat, Bastet, who happened to be solid black, was safely locked up at home. My beloved other, Michael, was manning the hot dog booth on the mansion’s front lawn.
Our local hot-shot reporter, a little old lady named Bernie Horning, was roaming the festival, snapping pictures and interviewing various ghosties and ghoulies. I decided not to bother her, since she was working. She always gave us great coverage in the town newspaper,
The Beach Buzz
By 8:30 I had done the rounds, checked in at the table selling trinkets from our resale shop, Girlfriend’s, given the hot dog man a kiss, and decided to see how things were going at the fortune teller’s tent. When I walked up to it, there happened to be no line, and on impulse I decided to go in and see Eden’s act.
As I stepped inside I remember thinking that if she knew all about me, I wasn’t going to be impressed. Everybody in Tropical Breeze knew all about me. Almost forty years before, as a young woman, I had moved from Chicago to Florida, so naturally, everybody still considered me a Northerner. I had snaffled the most eligible widower in town, a good-looking retired lawyer named Michael Utley, and I lived for my animal shelter, which I’d been running since I’d moved to Florida.
Inside the fortune teller’s tent, it was stuffy, and as I ducked into the entrance, the fug in the air from the incense nearly gagged me. I’d only had a quick glance at her costume as she raced by me to get into the tent, so when I stepped inside, I took a moment to look her over.
Her costume was better than I had expected, and a heck of a lot better than the pile of ectoplasm I’d been planning on wrapping myself in. She wore a deep purple veil that draped beautifully around her shoulders, and was anchored by an elaborate headpiece that dropped huge purple jewels across her forehead and decorated her face. Beneath the veil, a head cloth was pulled tightly against her cheeks, making the shape of her face into a sharp V. Her blue hair was completely hidden, and she wore heavy black eyeliner, shadow and mascara, making the blue of her eyes unnaturally bright. She looked like she was all eyes and jewels. She didn’t wear a yashmak – the veil worn across the lower face – but somehow the draperies of her costume made that unnecessary. Her lips were pale, and I decided that was so the customers would concentrate on her eyes while the rest of her features faded out.
“Ooooo, Eden,” I said, waving a hand in front of my face. “You might want to air the tent out a bit while you have a chance, before the line starts forming again.”
She remained in character, gazing at me deeply. I didn’t see her move, but I heard a small tinkling noise from the chain of coins hanging around her neck. The close atmosphere inside the tent made the sound seem to come from somewhere behind her. As she continued to stare, her eyes lost focus, as if she were actually looking through me, or seeing me in a dream. Then she intoned, “Madame Domani sees your future.” She made a small gesture with her hand, indicating I should sit down.
I grinned. “Very effective, Eden.” Then I made myself serious up and get into the act. I wanted to see what the customers were seeing, and so far, I thought they were getting more than their money’s worth.
There was murky, dirty light coming from each of the four corners of the tent. The amber up-lights were hidden behind covered boxes (the Fire Marshall had nixed candles). Madame Domani’s table was draped with dark blue velvet and dusted with a light sprinkling of tinsel stars. In the center of the table sat the crystal ball from the magic shop in Daytona Beach. It had a wooden base with LED lights that melted through all the colors of the rainbow, making the ball glow through hypnotically slow changes. It was fascinating. I found myself staring into it, seeing an upside-down image of her face, and I actually jumped when Madame Domani said, “Your hand.” She made an infinitesimal move, reaching her own hand toward mine.
She was using a deep, groaning voice that was going to give her a raspy throat tomorrow, but I loved the effect.
I felt her take my right hand and turn it palm-upwards. As I looked down at our hands, I noticed a smudge or discoloration near the base of her left thumb. At the time, I thought it was a trick of the light, what little light there was. She silently studied my palm, then withdrew her hand without comment and began to gaze into the crystal ball.
Music percolated up from somewhere on the floor, never forming into a melody, but rolling and burbling back onto itself in low, primitive tones. It had a subdued, persistent rhythm, as if the tent had its own heartbeat. I began to feel drowsy. It had been an especially busy day, and the air in the tent was so thick and stale.
I was beginning to drift when Madame made my heart leap by intoning again.
At first, she said inscrutable things about planets and energy fields, auras and effluvia, as if she were commenting on things that I couldn’t see. Then, just as her eyelids began to flutter drowsily, she seemed to come awake and stared at me. I could see the whites all around the blue of her irises. She nodded wisely. Then she let her gaze drop to the crystal ball and began to tell my fortune.
“You are strong,” she said. Then, in a lower voice, “Too strong, but only for others, not for yourself. You fight, but only for others, not for yourself. You are often tired, but you go on. You go on. You are sometimes discouraged, but you go on. It is as it should be. As the Immortals wish it to be. You are the friend of the animals. You are the lady of the cat.”
Well, anybody in Tropical Breeze could have told you that. I tried to be cynical about it, to give a little chuckle, but I couldn’t; my throat felt thick. The act was actually getting to me, no matter how much I tried to remind myself it was all phony. I made a mental note to charge more for her readings next year. This was good stuff!
“Will I marry again?” I asked. The correct answer would be, “No, you’re happy having things just as they are, and you and Michael have got it right,” but I made a bet with myself that Eden would promise me a big wedding and exotic honeymoon.
She paused. Beneath the edge of her head dress, I saw her eyebrows come together in doubt. “N-nno. I see no marriage for you.” Her voice began to attenuate; she swayed slightly. “Something is coming to trouble you.”
Well, this didn’t sound like the kind of fortune we had discussed. We needed love for the lonely, success for the discouraged, money for everybody. I decided to hold my tongue, but if she got really morbid, we were going to have a discussion about it. I heard a couple of teenagers talking outside the tent and realized the line was forming again. I’d have to leave soon.
Before I could cut the session short and tell Eden to lighten up, she was intoning again. She spoke so softly I didn’t catch it.
“What? Speak up, Eden. Madame Domani. I can’t hear you.”
She suddenly locked eyes with me, staring blankly through glassy eyes. “Death walks tonight,” she said, making the hairs on my arms rise. “It is the night of the dead. They walk in the cemeteries, they walk in the streets. I have seen them.
“Okay, that’s enough,” I said angrily. “We agreed you’d keep it upbeat.”
I expected her to break the tension, giggle, push the head piece back and say she was only kidding. She didn’t, but the girls were getting louder outside the tent, and I was distracted.
Half-turning, I said, “It sounds like you’ve got customers. Now look, I appreciate you sitting in this stuffy tent tonight. You must be getting bug-eyed promising hunky boyfriends for middle-schoolers, but remember what we talked about. Light. Fun. Everybody’s gonna be happy. No more walking dead, okay?”
When she didn’t answer, I looked back at her. I was standing now, and waited for an answer. She solemnly nodded.
“Eden,” I said, lowering my voice and getting ready to leave, “I appreciate you getting into it like this and all, but don’t scare the kids, okay?”
She nodded again, murmured something that sounded like an apology, and I got out of there. Coming out into the fresh air again was such a relief, I stood there a moment just to breathe. Lord, bless my volunteers, I thought, lifting my eyes to the stars. Whatever kind of a job she was doing tonight, Eden was sitting in there choking on incense when she could have been out partying with her friends and having a good time, and she was doing it for free.
“Hey, Miss Verone,” said a cute little brunette at the head of the line.
“Hey, Shelly,” I said. She was one of the middle school kids who volunteer for me from time to time. The other girls in line greeted me and then went back to sharing their little-girl secrets through braces and giggles.
I walked away hoping none of them would come out crying and wanting a refund.
I made the Haunted House my next stop. We had a professional do our décor, and as usual, he’d taken on the job like he was mobilizing for war. He’d driven the other volunteers crazy, but he’d gotten great results.
Edson Darby-Deaver was a very serious man, a skeptic in what can be a very silly profession: ghost hunting. He actually had a successful ghost-hunting TV reality show, but he seemed to consider it a kind of loathsome ATM. It continually delivered money, but he didn’t want anybody to know he had it. He didn’t watch the show himself. He did private investigations and wrote books, but they didn’t make much money, which was the only reason he allowed himself to be associated with something like
Haunt or Hoax? Featuring Porter, the Ghost-Sniffing Dog.
His real friends never mentioned it to him.
The Whitby House is a fieldstone mansion that was built in 1899 by a man whose daughter committed suicide in its foyer. He later killed himself in the same way, in the same place. Whether or not they walk is a matter of conjecture, but most people like to believe it. After there was yet another death in the foyer, the house had gone up for sale. People around town hadn’t expected it to sell, and waited for it to slowly deteriorate, empty and unloved. But it did sell, almost immediately, and to a woman who knew its reputation very well, because her family had owned it for a while in the 1980s.