Last time on Jane Crow, our intrepid agent decided that after all the bad stuff that had been dumped on her that day, she needed a drink. What she found instead was a charming and handsome young man named Thed… which is the last thing Jane needed with a magical true love destiny hanging over her head!
The next morning I had a text message on my phone from “Bitchy McSkankjowels.” That was how Charissa was listed in my contact list. It both preserved her anonymity and gave me a giggle every time it came up. It said simply “Vassey said u were in town, yay! I made us resvs at Brides of Seitan for 11, yummy healthy food! CU there!”
I made a mental note to pry the exclamation mark off of her phone keyboard.
I Binged the restaurant and confirmed that it was far enough away from the morgue where Chivas was following up on the case this morning. I told him I had a hunch I wanted to follow up with, and after a ten minute lecture on procedure, he let me go for it. We agreed to meet up afterwards at the pier and compare notes.
The restaurant was obviously a place that could only exist in San Francisco. From the multicolored photocopied menus and flyers that served as decor, “Brides of Seitan” was a co-operatively owned female-only vegan restaurant for wiccans. After lunch, I would need to ingest a serious amount of bacon to feel clean again.
I sat down at a table on the outside patio. I desperately wanted a cigarette. The first time the waitress came around, I told her I was waiting for someone and I’d order when she got here. When she asked ten minutes later, I ordered an unsweetened tea with extra lemon and a glass of ice water. I think the glare I got was because ice was a tool of the patriarchy.
Two teas later, I finally spotted Charissa walking down the sidewalk towards the restaurant.
She looked different than I remembered, though admittedly my last mental picture of her had her nose spouting blood. She was wearing a purple blouse under a burgundy sweater which, combined with her artificially red hair and pale pink skin made her look like some kind of hybrid orchid. Her skirt was black and ran down to her knees. I couldn’t see her shoes, but I could sense the aura of a pretentious anklet from yards away.
When she spotted me, she broke out in a wide beaming smile completely unlike the real one Thed had been flashing at me all evening last night.
“Janey!” she said, picking up her pace. She climbed over the patio fence separating the eating area from the sidewalk without flashing an inch of leg. Even I was impressed.
“Char,” I said, not standing up. I tried to focus the power of my standard FBI power business suit on her new agey ensemble, but she was too convinced that she was a Bay area poet to notice the awesomeness of black and white.
“I was so surprised to hear from Lisa Vassey that you were in town,” she said, sitting down across from me. “I told her that I hadn’t seen you since college.”
“One way of putting it,” I said, trying to sound like a bad wolf.
Charissa lilted her head to the side theatrically.
“Come on, Janey, can’t we put the bad stuff aside? I mean, we’re sisters and it’s been, what? Four years? I’m so sorry I was such a bitch to you, but that was in the past. Since I moved out here I’ve totally turned it around. I mean, rule of threes and all?”
The Rule of Threes was an old witching law that said that what one put out into the world came back threefold. If you used your power for evil, evil would boomerang back and kick your ass. Thrice. If you stole, three times the value would be taken from you. If you slept with your stepsister’s boyfriend pretending to be her, well, let’s just say she had two more broken noses coming her karmic way.
“Sure, Char,” I smiled fakely very well. “I mean, that’s part of what I wanted to meet you for… bury the hatchet?”
“Long as you don’t bury it in my head,” she half joked.
No, I thought, the Bureau gave me a firearm for things like that.
“So what are you doing these days?” I asked, pretending to care.
“Well, I’m self-publishing a book of poems, mostly stuff based on dream imagery in early-twentieth century literature. I also play keyboards and write songs for an alt-folk indie girl band, we’re called Moon Prism Power. Kind of a post-feminist statement about reclaiming girlhood. During the days, I work at City Lights, it’s a bookstore down on Columbus at Broadway…”
She went on like that for about ten minutes, enumerating countless faux-thoughtful details of her incredibly shallow life. I maintained eye contact, but I was really looking at the tiny white scar over her left cheek. It helped maintain the patient smile.
Finally they brought some food and she had to stop talking. I took the opportunity to pull the fortune card out of my purse and slide it across the table at her. “You know I work for the FBI,” I said. “This is something that’s a part of a case I’m working right now. Definitely magical, but as you know, I can’t actually cast any divination myself. I was hoping you could take a look at it, give it a little of the second sight.”
She picked up the card and read it. For just a second, the old Char’s familiar smirk flashed across her face but she shut it down with facility born of practice.
“Wow, true love, huh? Lucky you.”
“It’s not my fortune, it’s evidence.”
“Janey,” she smiled with sympathy (I can’t keep explaining how everything she does or says is fake, so just take it for granted and I’ll just describe how she’s pretending to act, okay?) “I can see even without the craft that this has attuned to you… this thing reeks of prophetic magics.”
“Well, I’m more interested in whoever might have the other half of it… or other fortunes created by the writer of this one.”
“Whomever,” she corrected, “and I’ll see what I can do. Anything for my sister.”
She picked up the card and held it to her lips. Most witches have a sensitive spot, someplace their magic comes most easily to the surface. Mine is the burn on my arm. It figured that hers were her lips. She certainly used them enough.
Closing her eyes, she sat still for several seconds. Worrying that someone might wonder what she was doing, I knocked my water glass over, spilling my ice to the floor. I made a big deal about wiping the tablecloth and by the time the waiter came over with extra napkins, Char had finished with her meditations.
When the waiter had left, she looked at me with a serious expression that blasted through the smile.
“This is serious, Jane,” she said. “I’ve never felt a vestige like this.” Even concerned, she couldn’t use a normal word like artifact.
“Specifics,” I said.
“Well, the magic in it, even ripped? It’s incredibly potent and intricate. I’d take it to someone on the Council, or maybe even one of the ronins.”
That caught my attention. The Char I knew, while vindictive and bitchy, wasn’t one to color outside the lines. Being the daughter of a Council witch, she believed in the hierarchy of the witching community. Ronins–witches who refused to work inside that hierarchy–were at best rogues and at worst criminals. Apparently Charisse’s bohemian transformation wasn’t entirely cosmetic.
“It’s that bad?”
Char flipped a red lock of hair out of her face. “It’s not bad or good. There isn’t black and white magic. That’s like asking if you use a good or an evil hammer.”
“I use an evil hammer,” I offered.
Charisse ignored me and I regretted breaking the mood.
“First off, what I told you about you being attuned to it? That’s true. This thing has actually gone into your destiny and altered it.”
“I don’t believe in–” I started, but Char waved my objection off.
“Of course you don’t,” she said with familiar disdain. “You’re a free spirit unbound by the unseen laws of the universe and nothing can make you do anything you don’t want to. I did grow up with you, Jane, I know how you feel about this.”
She wasn’t wrong, but she didn’t have to be so bitchy about it.
“And if the other cards are like this one?” she continued, “then I can see why they were stolen. Giving a fortune like this to someone will change their fate.”
My brain sent a message to my eyes to squint suspiciously but I intercepted it mid-nerve. I hadn’t told Charissa that the other cards were stolen. Had Vassey told her? Or was there some deeper connection there?
“Wouldn’t whoever took them get all the fates?”
“They’re activated by reading,” Char said, handing the card back to me like it was radioactive. “When you read the fortune, it enters you.”
“This one’s ripped,” I said. “Do I get the whole fortune or just what’s written there?”
“I… don’t know,” Char said.
“What about the… other cards? Can you give me anything about who has them or where they are?” Since she already knew they were stolen, I didn’t have to tiptoe around the issue.
“I said their magic was complex… as powerful as they are, I don’t think they’ll show up magically until they’re activated.”
“Would you then? Is there some way you could be alerted when one went off?”
“No… I mean, I’m good at divination, sure, but this is… this is beyond me. Like I said…”
“Talk to the Council,” I repeated. Like hell Eleanor or Vassey would like me doing that, but I didn’t want Char thinking I might go color outside the lines. “I think I’ll do that.”
“I’m sure mom knows someone to talk to. Want me to ask her?”
“No,” I said. “This is kind of top secret FBI stuff. I probably shouldn’t even have brought you in on it,” I lied. “I can trust you to keep this totally to yourself, right?”
“Absolutely,” Char said, and it was a testament to her own duplicitousness that I almost believed her.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.