Last time on Jane Crow, Jane contacted her Invisible Coven handler Lisa Vassey and reported to her about the Count Augur case. In response, Vassey ordered Jane to make certain that the stolen fortune cards never made it back to the FBI!
Agent Symonds was waiting for us at the bottom of the escalator on the way out of Terminal 3. He was probably younger than me, which wasn’t helped by his Iowa farmboy haircut and slightly crooked glasses. In his hand was a sign with our names written in obsessively clear block letters.
Chivas walked up to him and shook the agent’s hand. “Agent Symonds, good to meet you. I’m Andrew Chivas, this is my partner Jane Crow.”
“Ted Symonds,” he replied, already looking more comfortable. “My boss said to put myself at your disposal for the duration of your visit, Agent Chivas. Shall we head straight to the crime scene, or did you want to drop your things off first?”
“Crime scene, crime scene,” I voted quietly to myself.
“First off, call me Andrew. I think we ought to head straight there, let the owner get things back to normal as quickly as he can.”
“All right, Agent… Andrew. The car’s right out here.” Without even glancing at me, he took Chivas’ duffel and turned to the automatic doors. I picked my own bag back up and carried it out to the car.
On the way, I sat in the back while the two menfolk talked about the Forty-Niners. I assumed correctly that they were discussing football rather than gold mining.
The Musée Mécanique was located on Fisherman’s Wharf, a piscatorial-themed San Francisco tourist trap. Despite it being evening, people still milled about under strings of hanging lights. Following Symonds, we headed directly to the Musee. The door was taped, but Chivas knocked twice, badge flashed, and after a moment the owner opened it inward.
Scott Waters, the owner of the museum was a skinny man in his seventies. I’ve seen people before with skin as loose as his, but they were under a curse at the time. The layer of muscle between skin and bone was apparently missing on him, yet he moved with a grace and precision I found fascinating to watch.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the Musee was how quiet it was. None of the machines were beeping or ringing or playing calliope music… whatever it is they do. It was like seeing a circus attending a funeral, head bowed, trying not to interrupt the elegy.
“Show me where the body was found,” Chivas said.
“Right over here, Agent,” the old man said, taking us around a machine called “Clockwork Joe Haymaker,” a painted statue of a boxer with a mechanical arm ending at a boxing glove. Apparently the idea was to try to knock out the automaton before it punched you in the face. Really, I couldn’t make something like that up.
The body was long gone, of course; it would be waiting for us at the local morgue. Still, the tape silhouette seemed almost peaceful laying there… maybe more comfortable than peaceful. The arms weren’t splayed out or the legs bent like a hieroglyph Egyptian the way you see chalk outlines on television. From the position it almost looked like the body had lain down for a long winter’s nap.
“And which machine was vandalized?” Chivas asked.
The owner pointed across the room to the familiar looking count. He stared back at us from his glass enclosure, lifeless eyes petitioning us to right this indignity.
“You said you found Mr. Goering this morning when you came in to open up?”
“Ah, actually I came in a little early,” Mr. Waters said. “Woke up this morning early, there was some kind of animal fight going on in my backyard. Knocked over the trash bin. Couldn’t get back to sleep after that, so I came by to get a little work done. Both the front door and the lock gate were open… I came in and I found Frank lying there face down.”
“When did you notice the machine had been vandalized?” I asked.
“Oh, probably about five minutes later, after I had called the police. I was more concerned about poor Frank.”
While Chivas talked up the museum owner, I decided to take a closer look at Count Augur.
The figure inside the glass enclosure still gave me the jim-jams. The Count was a stern looking bust of a man with a turban and an elaborate mustache. His eyes were made of glass, but that didn’t reduce the intensity of his gaze. His jaw was separated from the rest of the head like a ventriloquist’s dummy, apparently to allow him to speak his dire warnings. What was strange about the rest of the figure was that instead of weird wizard robes or gypsy garb, his torso was in a grey business suit with a purple cravat that matched the amaranthine booth that made up his body. Most of the paint that made up his features was intact, except for a chip off his right cheek in the V-shape of a flying bird.
The booth itself was less intact, both in its veneer and structural integrity. The purple and gold paint was worn off in several places, but the main damage was to the chrome mechanism hanging from splintered wood on the front.
I pulled a pair of latex gloves out of my purse and rolled them down over my fingers and wrist. Taking the metal device in my hand I knelt next to the Count to take a closer look.
The front of it was a simple metal plate with three points of interest. The first was a simple coin slot, large enough for a nickel, too small for a quarter. Next to the slot was a dial shaped like a flower, about an inch in diameter. It looked to be there to drive the inserted coin down into the nickel reservoir. Below those two elements was the largest feature, a curved half-cup protruding from the plate, big enough to hold a playing card. The back of the plate had several screws with wood in their grooves but not much in the way of mechanics. Turning to the hole that the plate once covered, I could see that both the coin slide and the rubberized wheel that dealt fortune cards were a part of the clockwork labyrinth that also controlled the Count.
I pulled out my Maglite and clicked the rubber button to light her up. Illuminated, the mechanism looked even more elaborate than before. I swear there were gears attached just to look good spinning. Following the wooden dowels past the rubber wheel, I found a rectangular depression about the size of a deck of cards. Putting the flashlight in my mouth, I rummaged one-handedly in my bag for my UV light. There was enough grease on the flywheels and cogs that it was more likely than usual that someone reaching inside to steal the fortunes would have left a print or some skin cells.
I switched lights and shone the UV around, but nothing useful reflected back. I was about to go back to the maglite when I caught, deeper in the mechanism, something bright. Reaching in with two fingers (which I was barely able to squeeze in at all) I pulled out a ripped piece of pulp cardstock that had gotten caught in a wood grain crack.
Through my gloves I felt a strange tingle. Something magic had gone off. Damn it, I had been so busy following my bureau operating procedures I didn’t even think to be watching out for witchcraft.
The card in my hand was most of a fortune. It had probably gotten caught in the clockwork splinter when the perp had been taking the stack.
In depressed type, the top of the card read “COUNT AUGUR SAYS:” Below that, written in pencil, was most of a fortune. “You will find true love but lose it three times before…”
I mean seriously, how come partial messages never actually break off somewhere undramatic? It’s always “you will be killed by–” or “the secret of the silver key is–“.
I was about to bag and tag the card when the bigger picture hit me. I had just picked up a fortune from a known precognitive. The magic I had felt was probably the prophecy going off in my hand. I looked at the fortune again.
Shit. True love was the last thing I needed. I had to lie every day of my life, I didn’t need to add to that by having a relationship.
I glanced over my shoulder. Chivas was still talking to Waters and Agent Symonds was standing by the front door looking at a pachinko machine.
The fortune went into my purse.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.