The door crashed open and an imposing looking gentleman strode into the room. He looked rather dashing in his pinstripe suit; unfortunately the effect was spoilt by the fact that he was wearing a bright purple beanie complete with yellow pom poms on his head.
“Meandering! Unfocused!” shouted the newcomer. “Call yourselves private detectives? I’ve had enough of this rubbish. I demand you interrogate me.”
“Alright, keep your voice down,” said Tara. “For starters, who are you? And why are you wearing that ludicrous thing on your head?”
“I am Vince French. Yes, that got your attention!” He looked brazenly around the cafe with an unpleasant sneer.
“Oh, the headgear. My elderly Aunt knitted it for me and insisted I wear it. What could I do?”
“Well,” said Star mildly. “That’s extremely sweet of you. And, you are in luck because we’ve been looking for a Vince French. But first can you prove you are Vince French because we are getting rather a lot of false negatives lately. Or do I mean false positives. I really get so confused.”
“Yes, and tattoos as identification won’t do,” said Tara.
“Will Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi prove it to you?” he asked and broke into song.
“Wow,” whispered Star. “What a voice! It must be him.”
“Arrogant bastard,” said Tara.
“Will you look at these prices!” exclaimed one of the middle aged ladies.
Privately, Tara called them the miserable old bag and the crazy old witch, or Mob and Cow for ease of reference. Anyway, it was Mob who was banging on about the prices.
“Feel free to take yourself somewhere cheaper to eat,” she snarled.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, as long as you’re happy paying these outrageous prices.”
Cow cackled. “I’ve not eaten for a month so bugger the prices! Not that I need to eat, airs good enough for me seeing as I have special powers. Still, a raspberry bun wouldn’t go amiss. Thank you, Ladies!”
“Sorry, I were trying to help,” she said with a shrug.
Tara scanned the room. The only other people in the cafe were an elderly gentleman reading the newspaper and a bedraggled mother with two noisy snot-bags in tow. Tara shuddered and turned her attention to the elderly man. “Those deep wrinkles and wasted muscles look genuine,” she whispered to Star. “There’s nobody here who could possibly be Vince French. I’m going to go and keep watch by the door.”
“Good thinking,” said Star, after covertly checking her Lemoon quote of the day app on her phone; she realised uneasily she was increasingly relying on it for guidance. “There’s a sunny seat over there; I’ll grab a coffee and look inconspicuous by doing nothing. I don’t want to blow our cover.”
Tara glared at her. “I saw you checking your app! What did the oracle say?”
“Oh, just some crazy stuff.” She laughed nervously. “There is some kind of peace in not feelign like there’s anythign to do.”
“Well that’s not going to get us far, is it now?”
“It’s Thursday today,” remarked Star.
“Special subject the bloody obvious?” Tara replied rudely. “You should be on Mastermind.”
“Well, we were wondering what we were going to do to pass the time until Thursday, and here we are. It’s Thursday!”
“Are you losing your marbles?”
“Actually it’s you losing your memory,” Star sighed. “Remember the case?”
“The case we were working on!”
“Oh, that case! Well you can hardly expect me to remember that when it’s been such a strange week!” Tara was starting to get tearful and agitated.
“Look, Tara, the tests came back negative. You can stop worrying about it now. We can go back to normal now and carry on. And just in time for the rendezvous at the cafe on Main Street.” Star patted Tara’s arm encouragingly. “And what timing! If the results hadn’t come back yet, or we’d tested positive, we wouldn’t have been able to go to the cafe.”
“Well we could have gone and just not said anything about the tests,” sniffed Tara. “Everyone else seems to be doing what they want regardless.”
“Yes, but we’re not as morally bankrupt as them,” retorted Star.
Tara giggled. “But we used to work for Madame Limonella.”
“Is it a fancy dress party? I could wear my plague doctor outfit.”
Star rolled her eyes. “No! We have to dress appropriately, something subtle and serious. A dark suit perhaps.”
“Oh like my Ace of Spades T shirt?”
This is going nowhere fast, Star thought, but then had a revelation. A moment later, she had forgotten what the revelation was when the door burst open.
“Ta Da!” shouted Rosamund, entering the office with two middle aged ladies in tow. “I nabbed them both, they were lurking in the queue for the food bank! And I single handedly brought then back. Can we talk about my bonus now?”
One of the ladies piped up, “She said you’d be taking us out for afternoon tea at a nice cafe!”
The other one added, “We haven’t eaten for days, we’re starving!”
The first middle aged lady said, “Oh no dear, it’s September. I’m quite sure of that.”
“Clearly,what we do next, my friend, is free the middle-aged lady,” Tara smiled smugly.”First rule, notwithstanding that I hate rules, if you don’t know what to do, do what you do know what to do, even if you don’t want to do it because at least you’ve done something.”
“No, I made it up myself.”
“Oh, well … I’m too tired to do anything.You do it, Tara.”
“No, you do it! Lazy tart.”
“I’ll do it!” says Rosamund, appearing from nowhere and bounding over to the wardrobe. “I want to borrow her lippy again.” She tugged at the door. “It seems to be stuck.”
“It does seem to be rather stuck,” said Star said after a few minutes of fruitless tugging. She knocked on the door of the wardrobe. “Excuse me, are you there? Excuse me … dreadfully sorry about all this.” There was no reply.
“Dead,” said Tara. “Darn it.”
Undaunted, Star tried again. After a particularly spirited tug, the door flew open and Star fell backwards. “She’s gone! But she left a note. Thank you, Ladies for your hospitality. This is a clue. At 4pm Thursday, go to the cafe on Main street. Vince French will be there..”
Tara gasped. “Who was she? That seemingly innocuous middle-aged lady.”
“Perhaps we will never know,” said Star.
Board 5, Story 2
Coming from the computer world that makes it a pun of sort. I’m overloaded with whales nowadays. They’re everywhere. Are you involved? Or were they around all along? I must say I never paid too much attention to whales before. Now it’s a sticker on the asphalt when I get out of the metro to my daily rendez-vous with myself at the café. Or an advertisement of a winking whale on a bus side for a whale cruise near Canada. Or a friend this morning who called me to tell his dream: A Ballistic Whale shut through huge distance in space, it was angry and ever arriving.
Let me think that something big is coming.
I ordered a macchiato and the waiter had made a funny whale design with the foamed cream. When I asked he said he didn’t know why because he had never made it before. I could see it. And it looked angrier as the foam melted. I decided not to pay too much attention to the whale, focusing my attention instead on finding a friend in the passing crowd. Lots of students that day. A group of girl came and stopped right in front of me, chatting loudly. I started to feel irritated and looked at them angrily. One of them saw my face and turned to tell something to her friends. I saw the blue whale keyring hanging from her backpack zipper. They all looked at me and laughed.
I think I’m whale cursed.
One, Two, Three… testing the keyboard. It seems to work fine. Now I’m not sure how to continue. Well it’s today obviously and should I say Hello Mr Journal? Maybe it’s a female, but that would be distracting. I think I should call it a whale for now.
Hello Dear Whale, long time no sea. Haha. I’m making me laugh alone. I hope people will not think I’m a lunatic. I’m not. They never are. Oh maybe you’d like some setting Whale? I am at the terrasse of a café in Saint Germain district in Paris. Waiting for a friend that I fear will never come. I don’t know them of course, and maybe that’s why they never come.
It just occurred to me that I should maybe try another approach. Did that come from you? Maybe you’re the friend I’ve been waiting for for so long.
Moving to the city apartment had not been a bad move. It was little things like this ~ being a five minute walk from a cafe terrace…. a selection of cafe terraces, she reminded herself…after all, her old home in the country village had been a thirty second walk from a bar terrace, and she had never used it. But the idea of being able to meet friends easily seemed to be one of the appealing things about urban life, despite being vociferously against the ghastliness of concrete and traffic landscapes for most of her life. Lucinda wasn’t sure what had changed or when it had happened, or even why, but over the years she had socialized increasingly less, to the point where an occasional lunch date seemed like a jarring interruption to her routine, where a trip to a shopping centre became a dreaded ordeal, or god forbid a journey to the nearest airport, on the most horrifying things of all, a motorway. And yet, she’d been quite the social butterfly in her youth, and a part of her still felt that that was who she was, really. And yet the truth was she hadn’t been very sociable at all for years.
The decision to move to an apartment in the city happened suddenly, almost by accident. Or had it? In retrospect, Lucinda could see the signs and the little nudges, one thing after another going wrong as they usually do before a beneficial change ~ would that we could appreciate that at the time, she often thought! At the time she’d wanted nothing more than for nothing at all to change, to be left in peace to appreciate ~ and yes, she promised herself she would remember to appreciate everything more often! ~ if only, if only, nothing changed or went wrong and she could stay just as she was. But as time lurched on, dealing with one thing and then the next, and the next ~ she started to wonder. And then like dominoes falling, it all happened, and here she was. And it wasn’t bad at all.
Maeve sighed loudly—something she had been doing an awful lot of lately—and checked the time on her phone. If she left now and really hurried it would only take 5 minutes to get to the cafe. On the other hand if she took her time … well, with any luck the others would have already moved on.
Not that she didn’t like Lucinda, on the contrary she enjoyed her neighbour’s gregarious nature and propensity to talk amusing rubbish — usually in public and at the top of her voice which would cause Maeve to look around nervously and lower her own voice in order to compensate.
Maeve had made peace with her own introversion years ago. In order to survive with a semblance of normality, she had cultivated an outward calm which belied the activity going on in her head. The downside of this was she suspected she came across to others as muted and dull as the beige walls of her apartment. The upside was it allowed her to hide in plain sight; and she considered this to be a very handy trait. In truth, Maeve was one who liked many and few; she would happily talk to people, if she knew what on earth to say to them.
‘Anyway,’ Maeve reasoned, ‘I have to finish the doll.’
She looked with satisfaction at her latest creation; a young boy wearing a vintage style buzzy bee costume. She had painstakingly sewn, stuffed and painted the cloth doll and then sanded the layers of paint till he looked old and well worn. ‘He looks like he has been well loved by some child,’ she mused. There was just one more step remaining before applying a protective coat of varnish and seating him on the shelf next to the others.
She went to the kitchen drawer. In the 3rd drawer down there was a cardboard box of old keys. Most of the keys didn’t fit anything in her apartment; in fact she had no idea where they came from. Except one. She picked out a small gold key and went to the writing desk in the lounge, a heavy dour piece of furniture with a drop-front desk and various small drawers and cubby holes inside. Maeve unlocked one of these drawers with the key and pulled out a small parcel.
‘Only 3 parcels to go,’ she thought with relief.
A small section of the stitching was unfinished on the back of Bee Boy, just enough to squeeze the package inside and then rearrange the stuffing around it. With neat stitches Maeve sewed up the seam.
She checked the time. It had taken twenty six minutes.
“Want to go for a walk to see Aunty Lulu and her nice new friends? See what she is going on about decorating?” she asked Fabio, her pekingese.
Lucinda answered her honking phone, while silently indicating to the waiter whose drink was whose. She smiled as she noticed the reaction of the people sitting at the other tables to the strident honking geese noise she’d chosen for her phone. The mundane daily things that amuses one are more important that you think, she’d say if anyone mentioned it, and the reaction to the honking tickled her every time her phone rang.
“Maeve, darling!” she gushed, showing off a bit in front of Shawn Paul and Jerk, and then her face puckered into a frown as she cringed. “Oh dear, I’m awfully sorry… . No, of course you can’t decorate it all on your own, that wouldn’t be fair at all, but that’s the thing I wanted to tell you,” Lucinda was thinking quickly, “The neighbour, you know that tall one with the nice smile, and the, er..the well dressed one, yes that’s the one, the writer, well he’s going to help us with everything…”
Almost imperceptibly, Shawn Paul’s head jerked back a little upon hearing this, as he wondered what exactly he was expected to help with.
Lucinda continued into the phone, “And you know the guy from the supermarket down the road, the , um, the quiet one, well ok perhaps you haven’t noticed…. what? yes, that’s the one! well he’s going to help too. What? Oh I’m sure he’s only like that at work,” Lucinda glanced at Jerk with a little laugh, mouthing something indecipherable to him and pointing at the phone with a roll of her eyes. Jerk raised a single sardonic eyebrow and sipped his cocktail.
“I tell you what Maeve, come and join us. We’re having drinks at the Red Beans cafe. Where? It’s next to the Karmalott Kafe on the river front, you know it? Good! See you in ten, then.” Lucinda snapped her phone shut and beamed at the two men.
The red woman led Shawn Paul through small busy streets. Shawn Paul had never seen that many people with dogs and parked bikes all gathered in strategic places each time he was about to catch up on her. He swore he could hear her giggle.
Eventually she entered a cafe called Red Beans. Shawn Paul steered through white tables and chairs made of wrought iron and followed her in, breathless. He had never seen the point in running before. But he still wasn’t sure why he had to catch her. What would he do? Talk to her? Ask her what she did perched on trees and smiling?
There seemed to be only the bartender who was busy with a huge coffee machine, hissing like a locomotive. A colour, a movement on his right made Shawn Paul turn, and he just had the time to catch sight of a red hat going down the stairs. She certainly went to the toilets. He thought that maybe following her downstairs would be too creepy, but at the same time he didn’t want the bartender to talk to him either.
So he went down and waited at the door. The lock was red, showing someone was inside.
Shawn Paul waited. There were many flyers of parties and events pinned on a wall, but he wasn’t the party guy and his eyes flew over the messy images and texts that seemed scattered on the wall.
After five minutes he wondered if something had happened and pushed the door. It was open and the lock was broken, always showing red. He tutted and shook his head. He had been foolish, he thought. There has certainly been nobody there since the beginning. There was no girl sitting on trees with red sandals.
He got out of the cafe and was ready to walk back to his apartment with his granola cookies. When someone called him. He turned and stared at a girl and a guy having drinks on the Red Beans’ terrace.
“I was sure it was you, Shawn Paul,” said the girl. “I thought I recognised you when you ran inside earlier, but you seemed in such a hurry,” said a girl. She had a big grin and a pony tail.
Her face looked familiar, all rosy and cheeky. She had a nice jacquard sweater and a matching skirt, and she was waving at him cheerfully. Her cocktail was full of reds, blues and yellows.
“Remember me? Lucinda, from the apartment on the other side…” she added.
It suddenly dawned on him, they had met once or twice. She had said they should meet again, but they never had. He felt a bit trapped, not knowing what to say.
“Hi,” he said, and he looked at the guy. He had never met him, that he was sure of.
The guy looked as embarrassed as himself by the intrusion.
“Hi. I’m Jerk,” he said.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” asked Lucinda pointing at a flyer on the table. She took a sip of her cocktail.
Shawn Paul was about to decline with a ready made up excuse when he saw what was on the flyer. It was a big red balloon with a red hat on a starry background. It said “Reception of the French Ambassador. Free Buffet with Ferrero Rochers and Champagne”.
Shawn Paul pulled closer one of the heavy metal chairs and sat with them.
“Tell me more about it,” he said instead.
Granola allowed herself a few moments to bask in the glow of satisfaction. At least Lucinda had noticed the side bar suggestion she had implanted on the Face It web page, and had perused the ideas sufficiently to motivate her to try out one of the missions.
“Invite a random stranger to join you,” it had said, “to join you for coffee in a nearby cafe, or invite them home for dinner, or to see a movie.” The page had included numerous other suggestions, but that was the gist. They did warn the reader that often, people were suspicious and expected a scam of some kind, and if the random stranger exhibited more that a token display of wary caution, to leave them with a cheery wave, and thank them for helping you to practice your confidence boosting exercises. Under normal circumstances, providing the level of fear and distrust wasn’t too high, this approach usually rendered the random stranger more amenable to an approach in future.
In truth this wasn’t a difficult exercise for Lucinda, for she often spoke to random strangers and quite enjoyed it, although usually she didn’t extend that to personal invitations. But the Ask Aunt Idle Oracle had been droning on and on about interconnection being the primary factor in reducing signs of aging ~ yes, strange, but true: nothing to do with food or toxins or exercise after all ~ so the coincidence of Aunt Idle’s advice mirrored in the side bar suggestion registered sufficiently for Lucinda to actually remember it, and try it out on the bored looking fellow in the supermarket.
Only hesitating slightly before extending his hand to grip hers in a surprisingly firm handshake, he responded: “I’m Jerk. Pleased to meet you.”
Granola grinned from behind the pyramid of baked bean tins, and faded out of the scene. There was work to do on the side bar method for the next clue.
Jerk’s eyes flickered over to the baked beans, registering the peripheral movement, just in time to see a disembodied foot wearing a red sandal vanish into the somewhat heavy air of the canned goods aisle.
As the crow flies, Glenville is about 100 miles from the Forest of Enchantment.
“What a pretty town!” tourists to the area would exclaim, delighted by the tree lined streets and quaint houses with thatched roofs and brightly painted exteriors. They didn’t see the dark underside which rippled just below the surface of this exuberant facade. If they stayed for more than a few days, sure enough, they would begin to sense it. “Time to move on, perhaps,” they would say uneasily, although unsure exactly why and often putting it down to their own restless natures.
Glynis Cotfield was born in one of these houses. Number 4 Leafy Lane. Number 4 had a thatched roof and was painted a vibrant shade of yellow. There were purple trims around each window and a flower box either side of the front door containing orange flowers which each spring escaped their confines to sprawl triumphantly down the side of the house.
Her father, Kevin Cotfield, was a bespectacled clerk who worked in an office at the local council. He was responsible for building permits and making sure people adhered to very strict requirements to ‘protect the special and unique character of Glenville’.
And her mother, Annelie … well, her mother was a witch. Annelie Cotfield came from a long line of witches and she had 3 siblings, all of whom practised the magical arts in some form or other.
Uncle Brettwick could make fire leap from any part of his body. Once, he told Glynis she could put her hand in the fire and it wouldn’t hurt her. Tentatively she did. To her amazement the fire was cold; it felt like the air on a frosty winter’s day. She knew he could also make the fire burning hot, if he wanted. Some people were a little scared of her Uncle Brettwick and there were occasions—such as when Lucy Dickwit told everyone at school they should spit at Glynis because she came from an ‘evil witch family’—when she used this to her advantage.
“Yes, and I will tell my Uncle to come and burn down your stinking house if you don’t shut your stinking stupid mouth!” she said menacingly, sticking her face close to Lucy’s face. “And give me your bracelet,” she added as an after thought. It had worked. She got her peace and she got the bracelet.
Aunt Janelle could move objects with her mind. She set up a stall in the local market and visitors to the town would give her money to watch their trinkets move. “Lay it on the table”, she would command them imperiously. “See, I place my hands very far from your coin. I do not touch it. See?” Glynis would giggle because Aunt Janelle put on a funny accent and wore lots of garish makeup and would glare ferociously at the tourists.
But Aunt Bethell was Glynis’s favourite—she made magic with stories. “I am the Mistress of Illusions,” she would tell people proudly. When Glynis was little, Aunt Bethell would create whole stories for her entertainment. When Glynis tried to touch the story characters, her hand would go right through them. And Aunt Bethell didn’t even have to be in the same room as Glynis to send her a special magical story. Glynis adored Aunt Bethell.
Her mother, Annelie, called herself a healer but others called her a witch. She concocted powerful healing potions using recipes from her ’Big Book of Spells’, a book which had belonged to Annelie’s mother and her mother before her. On the first page of the book, in spindly gold writing it said: ‘May we never forget our LOVE of Nature and the Wisdom of Ages’. When Glynis asked what the ‘Wisdom of Ages’ meant, her mother said it was a special knowing that came from the heart and from our connection with All That Is. She said Glynis had the Wisdom of Ages too and then she would ask Glynis to gather herbs from the garden for her potions. Glynis didn’t think she had any particular wisdom and wondered if it was a ploy on her mother’s part to get free labour. She obeyed grudgingly but drew the line at learning any spells. And on this matter her father sided with her. “Don’t fill her mind with all that hocus pocus stuff,” he would say grumpily.
Despite this, the house was never empty; people came from all over to buy her mother’s potions and often to have their fortunes told as well. Mostly while her father was at work.
Glynis’s best friend when she was growing up was Tomas. Tomas lived at number 6 Leafy Lane. They both knew instinctively they shared a special bond because Tomas’s father also practised magic. He was a sorcerer. Glynis was a bit scared of Tomas’s Dad who had a funny crooked walk and never spoke directly to her. “Tell your friend you must come home now, Tomas,” he would call over the fence.
Being the son of a sorcerer, Tomas would also be a sorcerer. “It is my birthright,” he told her seriously one day. Glynis was impressed and wondered if Tomas had the Wisdom of Ages but it seemed a bit rude to ask in case he didn’t.
When Tomas was 13, his father took him away to begin his sorcery apprenticeship. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time. Tomas never talked about where he went or what he did there. But he started to change: always a quiet boy, he became increasingly dark and brooding.
Glynis felt uneasy around this new Tomas and his growing possessiveness towards her. When Paul Ackleworthy asked her to the School Ball, Tomas was so jealous he broke Paul’s leg. Of course, nobody other than Glynis guessed it was Tomas who caused Paul’s bike to suddenly wobble so that he fell in the way of a passing car.
“You could have fucking killed him!” she had shouted at Tomas.
Tomas just shrugged. This was when she started to be afraid of him.
One day he told her he was going for his final initiation into the ‘Sorcerer Fraternity’.
“I have to go away for quite some time; I am not sure how long, but I want you to wait for me, Glynis.”
“Wait for you?”
He looked at her intensely. “It is destined for us to be together and you must promise you will be here for me when I get back.”
Glynis searched for her childhood friend in his eyes but she could no longer find him there.
“Look, Tomas, I don’t know,” she stuttered, wary of him, unwilling to tell the truth. “Maybe we shouldn’t make any arrangements like this … after all you might be away for a long time. You might meet someone else even …. some hot Sorceress,” she added, trying not to sound hopeful.
Suddenly, Glynis found herself flying. A gust of wind from nowhere lifted her from her feet, spun her round and then held her suspended, as though trying to decide what to do next, before letting her go. She landed heavily at Tomas’s feet.
“Ow!” she said angrily.
“Okay! I promise!” she said.
That evening there was a gathering of Uncle Brettwick and the Aunts. There was much heated discussion which would cease abruptly when Glynis or her father entered the room. “Alright, dearie?” one of the Aunts would say, smiling way too brightly. And over the following days and weeks there was a flurry of magical activity at 4 Leafy Lane, all accompanied by fervent and hushed whisperings.
Glynis knew they were trying to help her, and was grateful, but after the initial fear, she became defiant. “Who the hell did he think he was, anyway?” She left Glenville to study architecture at the prestigious College of Mugglebury. It was there she met Conway, who worked in the cafe where she stopped for coffee each morning on her way to class. They fell in love and moved in together, deciding that as soon as Glynis had graduated they would marry. It had been 4 years since she had last seen Tomas and he was now no more than a faint anxious fluttering in her chest.
It was a Friday when she got the news that Conway had driven in the path of an oncoming truck and was killed instantly. She knew it was Friday because she was in the supermarket buying supplies for a party that weekend to celebrate her exams being over when she got the call. And it was the same day Tomas turned up at her house.
And it was then she knew.
“You murderer!” she had screamed through her tears. “Kill me too, if you want to. I will never love you.”
“You’ve broken my heart,” he said. “And for that you must pay the price. If I can’t have you then I will make sure no-one else wants you either.”
“You don’t have a heart to break,” she whispered.
Dragon face,” Tomas hissed as he left.
Glynis returned to Glenville just long enough to tell her family she was leaving again. “No, she didn’t know where,” she said, her heart feeling like stone. Her mother and her Aunts cried and begged her to reconsider. Her Uncle smouldered in silent fury and let off little puffs of smoke from his ears which he could not contain. Her father was simply bewildered and wanted to know what was all the fuss about and for crying out loud why was she wearing a burka?
The day she left her mother gave her the ‘Book of Spells”. Glynis knew how precious this book was to her mother but could only think how heavy it would be to lug around with her on her journey.
“Remember, Glynis,” her mother said as she hugged Glynis tightly to her, “the sorcerers have powerful magic but it is a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the magic of All That Is. You have that great power within you and no sorcerer can take take that from you. You have the power to transform this into something beautiful.”
The waiter stood to the side of the of the tables and chairs on the pavement, smoking a cigarette and listening to the babble of conversation. Holiday makers exposed themselves in the sun, in shades of white, pink and red striped flesh, while the regulars were seated closer to the cafe in the shade of the awning.
Across the road, a bone thin ebony skinned man carrying a small brown suitcase paused, and scanned the street. Laying the suitcase down, he opened it and removed a tattered cloth which he spread out upon the sidewalk and proceeded to display an assortment of sunglasses and cheap glittery watches. The man sat down behind his small display of wares, leaning against the wall. The waiter felt a physical pang in his gut as he registered the expression on the face of the watch seller: resigned hopelessness. A palpable lack of optimistic anticipation. The waiter wondered how he managed to sell any watches, indeed how he managed to get out of bed in the morning, if indeed he had such a thing as a bed.
The waiter stubbed out the cigarette butt and lit another one. A group of five teenage girls picked at their pastries while passing around a bottle of sun protection lotion, giggling as they showed each other photos on their phones. An older couple bickered quietly between themselves at the next table, the wife admonishing her husband over the amount of butter he spread on his toasted baguette. A younger woman with two neatly attired and scrubbed faced children waved away a stray wisp of cigarette smoke with a righteous frown, and glared in the direction of nearby smokers.
None of them had noticed the watch seller with the small battered brown suitcase across the road. The waiter caught his eye and nodded, giving him a good luck thumbs up sign. The watch seller acknowledged him with an unenthusiastic lift of his hand.
The waiter sighed, ground his cigarette butt out with his heel, and went back inside the cafe.
Back at her desk after a crash course at zumba with the Chinese team, Connie was sorting her e-mails (meaning sending them to trash). Nothing fancy, nothing catchy, nothing to grab her attention span for more than a minute.
The noise of the open space was making her feel drowsy. Maybe a coffee would help her wake up, or maybe if something could happen to stir the pot. Connie deleted a few more e-mails to show the others that she was a busy reporter before leaving her desk.
Passing by the desks of her colleagues, Connie looked surreptitiously at their computer screens and saw that everyone was playing the busy game. It was sad to recognize that good news (meaning bad news) were hard to come by nowadays.
In times like these, she had to resist the tentation to create her own news, it was not that kind of press. But still toying with the idea and making up some outrageous stories with her team was a way to make time fly away more quickly. Once, Hilda had even reused one of the titles for a real stories that sadly happened shortly after she had made it up.
Rumour had it that Hilda’s great grand mother was a gypsy and could do palm reading. The gran even used palm tree leaves to do her reading when there was nobody, you just had to cut the leave in the shape of the person you wanted to read the future and she would tell you all about them. She was good.
“It runs in the family,” Hilda had said. “It’s helpful to be at the right place at the right time.” And for sure she was the most prolific reporter of the agency.
Connie sure would have used some of Hilda’s medium inner sight to know when something would happen.
She made herself a cappuccino and with the milk drew the face of Al Pacino. Many years at a press agency and you learn a few tricks to impress your friends.
She heard the slow and uneven pace of sweet old Sophie behind her. She sighed, she didn’t want to have to answer another of her dumb questions about the future. If Hilda could read bits of the future, Sophie was always thirsty about it. Maybe that’s why Hilda was more often in the field and not so often at her desk.
Connie turned and almost dropped her cappuccino as the old lady handed her a Fedex envelop.
“Sorry,” said sweet old Sophie, “That just arrived for you. I wonder what it is.”
“I’m sure you do,” muttered Connie.
“It’s from Santa Claus,” said the old lady with a conniving smile.
Connie looked at the old lady, with a forced smile. Was insanity a cause to get rid of one of your employee ? She took the package with one hand. Heavier than she had expected. When she saw the address, she couldn’t believe it was real. The sender’s and city’s names were certainly fake. Jesus Carpenter, Santa Claus, AZ
Sophie was still there, looking at Connie with a big smile.
“What are you waiting for ?” the reporter asked.
“Aren’t you opening it?”
Connie considered opening the package, but the avidity on the old face was making her uncomfortable. “Nope,” she said. With her cappuccino and the package she went back to her desk. Sweet Sophie was still looking at her with that greedy smile on her face. Connie shivered and shook her head. It was obvious, the old tramp was mad.
She touched the package, trying to guess what was inside. As no convincing guess presented itself in her mind, she stripped it open. There was an iPhone 5 SE with 64Gb memory in it, two plane tickets for Keflavik in Iceland, and a note.
‘If you want a good story prepare your suitcase. Bring Sweet Sophie with you. We’ll contact you once you are there.’
Connie thought of a joke. She checked the package and no matter how many times she looked it was still her name. She looked toward the cafeteria and she shuddered. Sweet Sophie was still looking at Connie with that strange smile, as if she knew. Or as if she had sent the package herself, the reporter thought.
“Someone knows where Hilda is ? I need to talk to Hilda.”
“Cheer up, old bean,” Liz said kindly, reading his mind. “There’s a rendezvous at the Absinthe Cafe soon. Aunt Idle (and I do often wonder why you all insist on calling her Dido; it’s nothing more than a deliberate confusion tactic for the poor reader) will teleport over. It’s a fancy dress party, and my suggestion Godfrey is that you dress up as a particularly dashing superhero, in tights. She won’t be able to take her eyes off you.”
The following is an e-mail from the past, composed on July 01, 2010. It is being delivered from the past through FutureMe.org
The Absinthe Cafe
Dawn and Mark had a bottle of Absinthe (the proper stuff with the WORMwood in
it, which is illegal in France) but forgot to bring it. Wandering around at
some point, we chanced upon a cafe called Absinthe. Sitting on the terrace, the
waitress came up and looked right at me and said “Oh you are booked to come here
tomorrow night!” and then said “Forget I said that”. Naturally that got our
attention. After we left Dawn spotted a kid with 2016 on the back of his T
shirt. We asked Arkandin about it and we have a concurrent group focus that does
meet in that cafe in 2016, including Britta. Dawn’s name is Isabelle Spencer,
Jib’s is Jennifer….
The Worm & The Suitcase
I borrowed Rachel’s big red suitcase for the trip and stuck a Time Bridgers
sticker on it, and joked before I left about the case disappearing to 2163. I
had an impulse to take a fig tree sapling for Eric and Jib, which did survive
the trip although it looked a little shocked at first. As Eric was repotting
it, we noticed a worm in the soil, and I said, Well, if the fig tree dies at
least you have the worm.
At Balzacs house on a bench in the garden there was a magazine lying there open
to an ad for Spain, which said “If you lose your suitcase it would be the best
thing because you would have to stay”.
Later we asked Arkandin and he said that there was something from the future
inserted into my suitcase. I went all through it wondering what it could be,
and then a couple of days ago Eric said that it was the WORM! because of the
WORMwood absinthe syncs, and worm hole etc. I just had a chat with Franci who
had a big worm sync a couple of days ago, she particularly noticed a very big
worm outside the second hand shop, and noted that she hadn’t seen a worm in ages
~ which is also a sync, because there was a big second hand clothes shop next to
Dawn and Mark’s hotel that I went into looking for a bowler hat.
Arkandin said, by the way, that Jane did forget to mention the bowler hats in
OS7, those two guys on the balcony were indeed wearing bowler hats, and that
they were the same guys that were in my bedroom in the dream I had prior to
finding the Seth stuff ~ Elias and Patel.
And another Time Bridger thing; a while ago, Jib and I had fun planting some TB stickers at random places in Paris (and some on a wooden gate at Jib’s hometown).
Those in Paris I remember were one at the waiting room of a big tech department store, and another on the huge “Bateaux Mouches” sign on the Pont de l’Alma (bridge, the one of Lady D. where there is a gilded replica of Lady Liberty’s flame).
I think there are pics of that on Jib’s or my flickr account somewhere.
When we were walking past this spot, Jib suddenly remembered the TB sticker — meanwhile, the sign which was quite clean before had been written all over, and had other stickers everywhere. We wondered whether it was still here, and there it was! It’s been something like 2 years… Kind of amazing to think it’s still there, and imagine all the people that may have seen it since!
I wasn’t all that keen on flying and procrastinated for ages about the trip. I
flew with EASYjet, so it was nice to see the word EASY everywhere. I got on the
plane to find that they don’t allocate seats, and chose a seat right at the
front on the left. The head flight attendant was extremely playful for the
whole flight, constantly cracking up laughing and teasing the other flight
attendants, who would poke him and make him laugh during announcements so that
he kept having to put the phone down while he laughed. I spent the whole flight
laughing and catching his mischeivously twinking eye.
I asked Arkandin about him and he said his energy was superimposed. I got on
the flight to come home and was met on the plane by the same guy! I said
“HELLO! It’s YOU again! Can I sit in the same seat and are you going to make me
laugh again” and he actually moved the person that was in my seat and said I
could sit there. Then he asked me about my book (about magic and Napolean). He
also said that all his flights all week had been delayed except the two that I
was on. He wanted to give me a card for frequent flyers but I told him I
usually flew without planes ~ that cracked him up
The Dream Bean
Eric cracked open a special big African bean that is supposed to enhance
dreams/lucidity so we all had a bit of it. The second night I remembered a
dream and it was a wonderful one.
(Coincidentally, on the flight home I read a few pages of my book and it just
happened to be about the council of five dragons and misuse of magical beans)
In the dream I had a companion with magical powers, who I presumed was Jib but
it was myself actually. It was a long adventure dream of being chased and
various adventures across the countryside, but there was no stress, it was all
great fun. Everytime things got a bit too close in the dream, I’d hold onto my
friend with magical powers, and we would elevate above the “adventure” and drop
down in another location out of immediate danger ~ although we were never
outside of the adventure, so to speak. At one point I wondered why my magical
freind didn’t just elevate us right up high and out of it completely, and
realized that we were in the adventure game on purpose for the fun of it, so why
would we remove ourselves completely from the adventure game.
In the dream I remember we were heading for Holland at one point, and then the
last part we were safely heading for Turkey…..
The other dream snapshot was “we are all working together on roof tiles” and
Arkandin had some interesting stuff to say about that one.
There were alot of vampire imagery incidents starting with me asking Eric if he
slept in his garden tool box at night, and then the guy who shot out of a door
right next to Jib and Eric’s, in a bright orange T shirt, carrying a cardboard
coffin. He stopped for me to take a photo (and Arkandin said it was a Patel pop
in); then while walking through the outdoor food market someone was chopping a
crate up and a perfect wooden stake flew across the floor and landed at my feet.
The next vampire sync was a shop opposite Dawn and Mark’s hotel with 3 coffins
in the window (I went back to take a pic of the cello actually, didn’t even
notice the coffins). Inside the shop was an EAU DE NIL MOTOR SCOOTER Share, can
you beleive it, and a mummy, a stuffed raven, and a row of (Tardis) Red phone
I had a nightmare last night that I couldn’t find any of my (nine) dogs; the
only ones I could find were the dead ones.
The trip to Balzac’s house was interesting, although in somewhat unexpected
ways. (Arkandin was Balzac and I was the cook/housekeeper) The house didn’t
seem “right” somehow to Mark and I and we decided that was probably because
other than the desk there was no furniture in it. Mark saw a black cat that
nobody else saw that was an Arkandin pop in (panther essence animal), and Dawn
felt that he was sitting on a chair, and Mark sat on him. (Arkandin said yes he
did sit on him The kitchen was being used as an office. Jib felt the house
was too small, and picked up on a focus of his that rented the other part of the
house. (The house was one storey high on the side we entered, and two storeys
high from the road below). There were two pop ins there apparently, one with
long hair which is a connection to my friend Joy who was part of that group
focus, and I can’t recall anything about the other one. Dawn was picking up
that Balzac wasn’t too happy, and I was remembering the part in Cousin Bette
that infuriated me when I read it, where he goes on and on about how disgusting
it is for servants to expect their wages when their “betters” are in dire
straits. Arkandin confirmed that I didn’t get my wages.
The garden was enchanting and had a couple of sphinx statues and a dead pigeon ~
as well as the magazine with the suitcase and Spain imagery. Mark signed the
guest book “brought the cook back” and I replied “no cooking smells this time”.
It was already warm and Kale was glad for the shade the large oak trees offered as he walked along the sidewalk. He was heading for the Tangy Pickle cafe; his favourite breakfast spot just a few blocks from where he lived.
A song had been running through his head all morning: a big hit from a robot band which were popular in the late 2030’s: “Sour Tart and The Denouements.” He hadn’t even like the band at the time— just the name was depressing —but for some reason the tune and a few of the words were looping through his head like annoying little ear worms.
… bugger current information planet robot key bugger current information planet robot key bugger current information planet robot key…
So Kale was busy pondering the implications, if any, of endlessly looping ear worms when Flynn messaged him:
“Interview scheduled for 9.30am tomorrow.”
“Blimey, that soon? Okay, well what else can you tell me?”
“The ad has been taken off the network and all associated information shut down.”
“But your interview is scheduled with a Mr Eb Ruide. And I’ve got your outfit ready.”
“Hang on, Flynn. This all sounds a bit odd don’t you think?”
“Oddness factor 57%. Probability of success 22%. If I may quote the famous robot philosopher Monenole: The point is the exploration. So gird your loins and stick your chin out. You can do this! What fun! See you later!” messaged Flynn
Gird my loins? That robot really needs rewiring.
He was nearly at his destination. There weren’t many people around this early in the morning, just a few stalwart joggers and the occasional dog walker. Most people, the lucky ones who had employment, worked from home. So Kale was most surprised to see an attractive dark haired female—oddly attired for the hot weather in fishnet tights and knee high boots—standing outside the cafe.
Those maps got me remembering all kinds of things, not that I was fretting about the note because I wasn’t, but once I’d quit flapping about the note, all kinds of things started popping into my mind.
Odd little cameo memories, more often than not a mundane scene that somehow stuck in my head. Like that cafe with the mad hatter mural, mediocre little place, and I cant even remember where it was, but that number on the mural was just wrong, somehow. It’s as clear as a bell in my memory now, but not a thing before or after it, or when it was, other than somewhere in New Zealand.
I kept getting a whistling in my left ear as I was recalling things, like when I remembered that beach on the Costa del Sol, with a timebridgers sticker in the beach bar. I can still see that Italian man walking out of the sea with an octopus.
I can still see the breeze flapping the pages of a magazine lying on a bench in Balzac’s garden in Paris, something about a red suitcase, but I can’t recall what exactly.
A motel in a truckstop village in California…the sherry was making me drowsy. I almost felt like I was there again for a moment.
Conjure up a bowler hat, he said, while you’re out today. I forgot all about it (how often I thank my lucky stars for having a bad memory, I much prefer a surprise) and saw a delightful hurdy gurdy man wearing a bowler hat (In June! I do recall it was June). My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, he was playing. I’m sure to have forgotten that, but I made a video recording.
All these locations were holes in the maps, those ripped up maps the girls brought home from the Brundy place, just after I got that note. I was beginning to see a pattern to the connecting links between the letters ripped out of the map locations, and the wording in the note (which was made of ripped out letters from place names on a map, and glued onto the paper, as anyone who is reading this will no doubt recall). The pattern in the discovery of connecting links was that the pattern is constantly changing, rendering moot the need to decipher a plot in advance of the actual discovery of spontaneous development of the shifting patterns of discovery, and deliverance of the decipherable delegation of the delighted, promptly at noon.
The whitewashed blue trimmed village by the sea had an air of tranquility despite the abundance of colourful beach dresses and accessories draped outside the shops, and the red and blue parasols shading the cafe tables and chairs. Locals and holidaymakers strolled about, unhurried and relaxed, and the blue sea twinkled enticingly beyond, as if the street disappeared into the ocean. Mirabelle imagined shoppers carrying bags of vacation purchases wandering right into the water, perhaps to continue their strolling on the seabed, idly perusing it’s treasures and trinkets; wandering back out again on to another street somewhere, dripping at first and leaving little puddles in their wake.
I wonder how deep you could go? she wondered, If you could walk on the ocean floor for as long as you liked?
Lisa, however, was more interested in the shops and had disappeared into one of them, lured by the gaily coloured scarves. She chose two and held one in each hand, wondering which one would be more reassuring, more comforting. A scarf is something to hold on to in a storm, she thought ~ and then wondered where the thought had come from.
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