Last time on Jane Crow, Jane and partner Andrew Chivas were assigned a strange case by department director Ian Hill. An old-time fortune telling machine called Count Augur had been broken into and all of its fortunes stolen!
I headed back to my apartment to put a bag together. I also had to contact my handler with the Witch’s Council. I hadn’t seen the Witch Queen since that day back in college, but there were two other people who knew what I was up to. The first was my handler, Lisa Vassey, the same witch who had first identified my particular “talent.” She operated as my connection to the Witch Queen and supervised my countermissions within the FBI.
I woke my phone up and thumbed through the pages to find an icon for an app titled “Obscurus.” Don’t look for it on the iTunes store, it’s something that a wonk in witchy R&D came up with. Basically, it shields your phone from any sort of mundane wiretapping or signal capture. It also has the nice feature of surrounding you with a distraction field while you’re on the phone. You’re not invisible or anything, but while you’re talking, no one pays any attention to you and they can’t hear what you’re saying. I suspect it sounds like you’re just saying “rutabaga watermelon” over and over again. I turned Obscurus on and called Vassey.
“Vassey’s Russian Bakery,” the old woman’s voice answered, her accent heavy to reassure customers looking for authentic Slavic pastry.
“I’d like to place an order for some orieshki sa sgushchonkoi, please,” I said, invoking the code phrase to identify myself.
“Let me go look in the back if we have any right now. Hold please.”
Vassey didn’t like me much. I think she was offended that I held a special position with the Witch Queen while she was relegated to a mere functionary, a cog in the plan. She didn’t shirk her responsibilities as my handler at all, but there was a palpable tension when we talked. I think she also didn’t like the way I mangled the pronunciation of Russian pastries.
The hold music finally stopped. “Yes, Janushka, what is it?”
“I’m heading out to San Francisco, there’s been a robbery of some supposedly prophetic fortune cards. Do we know anything about a guy named Abner Czynewski?”
“Abner Cadabra?” Vassey asked. “Quite a seer, he was.”
“Well, apparently he wrote up some cards for one of those old fortune telling machines. A guard at the museum where the machine was got killed last night. Hills suspects witchcraft in the murder.”
There was a short pause as Vassey considered. “I will see what I can hear about this thing,” she eventually said. “You must make sure that these fortunes do not make their way into Hill’s hands, though.”
“Wait, you want me to steal key evidence?” I asked. “I thought I was just supposed to be reporting on things… if I got caught messing around with stuff like that, they’d kick me out right before they arrested me!”
“Then it is best that you not get caught, ne?”
“Gee, thanks, that hadn’t occurred to me. It’s easier said than done. I don’t know that I feel comfortable stealing. That’s not my job.”
“Your job is what we say your job is, Janushka. I know I speak for our Queen when I tell you this.”
“Fine, fine,” I huffed. “If we find the cards, I’ll see what I can do. But I need to know anything you can find out about the murder…”
“Did I not say I would already do this? Now back to your business, we do not want anyone knowing you are communicating with us.”
I had no problem hanging up on Vassey, so I did without another word.
I guess you wonder why someone who has no problem lying and spying has such an issue about stealing. Growing up with Char and Chloe, there wasn’t a lot that was concretely mine. Toys were kind of communal property, and Aunt Cat wasn’t big on selfishness. As a result, there wasn’t a lot that I could honestly call my own. I had a few books and a silver broach left by my mom. When I was twelve, the broach went missing. I didn’t see it for almost two years, when I guess Charissa got tired of being subtle and actually wore it out in front of me. I made the mistake of trying to narc her out to Aunt Cat, and got a big lecture for my troubles. I did get the broach back, but that’s another story, and admittedly, it doesn’t put me in the best light. Still, remembering how it felt to have something taken from me, it’s not a feeling I want to lay on someone else. I may lie and cheat, but steal is where I draw the line.
I met Chivas outside my apartment building. Since I don’t drive a lot, we share a bucar.
“Ready?” he asked as I climbed into the immaculate passenger seat.
“You really think this is a Yellow Center case?” I asked.
“SAM’s pretty good at tagging these things,” he said. SAM-2 is the data collation program in the FBI mainframe that cross-references incoming case data with a series of esoteric or arcane qualifications to try to alert the Yellow Center when something occurs that might have supernatural implications. For some reason, Chivas always talks about it like it’s a real person. From my experience, it does a pretty good job, but it’s more likely to err on the “I believe” side of things.
“Hey, who am I to begrudge a free trip to the west coast,” I said.
“You know,” Chivas said as the car moved out into traffic, “you’ve got to keep the smart mouth out of the briefing room.”
“I mean, I appreciate your humor.”
“Are you talking about the Riddler comment?”
“Hills is a serious guy. He takes stuff like that personally… and you don’t want to get on his bad side.”
“Sometimes it just leaks out,” I sighed.
“Well, find a way to plug the leak. I don’t want to see you end up on complaint duty full time. You’re too smart for that.”
“Hey, you knew who Frank Gorshin was,” I pointed out. “Who’s really smart?”
Without further comment, Chivas turned onto I-295 and we headed towards the airport.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.