Last time on Jane Crow, she remembered the first time she encountered the ronin witch Tex Catlipoca, the Smoking Mirror. Roused by her her boyfriend’s spiritual equivalent of cow-tipping (for which he was quickly driven off terrified), the powerful diviner foretold a future meeting between himself and Jane. A meeting that just might be happening today…
“I was expecting someone taller,” I said.
“I remember you had some kind of a mouth on you,” the man behind the smoky curtain said. “Of course, you were still a sweet little thing back then.” He leered a little at me, and I knew–just like when he appeared as a smoky figure of wrath–he was forging a mask to keep me from seeing the real person. He wanted to keep me uncomfortable, off balance. I totally understood.
“Tex Catlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, the most talented oracle in America… the man who spoke the Doom of the Coven back in 1954 and was banished from earth for the remainder of his unnatural life.”
“Someone’s done her homework,” Tex said. “Care to have a seat?” Grinning, he gestured at a couch with an open pizza box on it.
“No,” I said. “I’m here on business.”
“Heh heh heh,” he laughed. “Someone here’s got themselves all destinied up, didn’t she?”
“Abner Cyzinski.” Jane fell back on the professional demeanor she had worked hard to make second nature.
Tex plopped himself down in a patched recliner. “You’re much more fun when you visit me drunk,” he said.
“In the thirties he wrote a stack of fortune cards. He hid them in a machine where they waited eighty years before someone recently came and stole them.”
“Most of them,” Tex corrected.
“Look,” I sighed. “I know you think that making this all about me makes you all ominous and super cool, but I’m doing my job, okay? And I actually want to be good at it, and finding out what you know is going to help me with that. You said you owed me one. I’m calling it in.”
The surfer pothead joviality drained from Tex’s face and I think he even lost some of the chubbiness as he stood and faced me. There’s a reason that ronin are feared and distrusted, and I felt that all the way into my bones.
“They’re going to find out about you,” he said. “You think you can keep everything secret, but it ends. Your time runs out.”
I said nothing.
“Everyone’s time runs out. Heck, I pronounced the Doom, you know. It all. Falls. Apart. A clock starts ticking and the universe just spins down the drain and no one sheds a goddamn tear.”
I had never been so frightened in my life as I was that moment, listening to the Smoking Mirror speak.
“But you just want to find some stolen fortune cards. Well, that’s easy enough.” He spread his hands in a gesture of magnanimity. “But when it hits the fan, remember that we’re all even now. All the favors have been balanced out and I don’t owe you crap.”
Catlipoca reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a small orange stone.
“This was Abner’s. He gave it to me. He used to keep it in his turban when he did his act. It would be a simple thing for a real witch to link it to his other magics.” He put enough emphasis on “real witch” to make sure I knew he was insulting me.
“When someone reads one of his fortunes,” the Smoking Mirror continued, “this will light up. Since I’m sure that a glowing carnelian would get you in trouble in your ‘job,’ I also set it on vibrate. No extra charge. When that happens, take it in your hand and concentrate on it. You’ll get a brief vision of whose destiny just got screwed over.”
He took my hand, opened it, and placed the stone in my palm. His fingers were cold.
“You can’t find where they are now with it?” I asked, pushing my luck.
“The fortunes?” He laughed. “They’re not magical until they’re read, dummy.”
“I had a, ah, few other questions.”
Catlipoca laughed. “I’m not your damned informant, Crow. I’m the Smoking Mirror, remember? Big heap scary mofo. You’re lucky I did as much as I did for a two-faced liar like you.” He grinned as he said it, but it didn’t make me feel any less chilled. “You helped me, now I repaid the favor. Quid pro-effing-quo, Clarice.”
He turned away and left the room. I stood alone in the middle of a room full of detritus that suddenly felt like a monster’s lair, littered with bones of its victims.
I got the hell out of there and swore never to return.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.