Authors: Keith Hartman,Eric Dunn
I fanned the cards out on the desk, face up.
"We begin by choosing his significator card. Concentrate on your daughter's new husband. Bring a clear picture of him into your mind. Feel his presence."
I watched her face, until I knew she had him.
"Good. Now look at the cards. Do not try to choose. But your eye will light upon one that will remind you of him. You will know when it happens."
While her eyes roamed over the cards, I casually slipped my palmtop out of my pocket and onto my lap, where I could glance down and read it. The last few sentences of our conversation glowed dimly on the screen, transcribed from the mic hidden in the amulet around my neck.
I know-- you'd think that in this day and age I could just openly put the computer up on the table and take notes, but for some reason the clients hate it. Kills the ambiance, I guess. And then you get the wacky ones who think that you should be able to tell them everything they want to know from the cards without having to resort to a computer. As if the cards are going to give me names, addresses, and incriminating photographs. The cards do provide useful hints, but you always have to follow them up with a lot of digging to get anything useful. And the last time I checked, no courts in this state were accepting tarot card readings as admissible evidence. Maybe things are different out in California.
Ms. Hastings' eyes settled on a card. She placed a finger on it and pushed it forward.
The Five of Swords
. A red headed kid with a smirk and a lot of blades. Well, I could see the resemblance to the photo she'd shown me. And at least she hadn't picked
. I know some mother-in-laws who would have.
Behind her, the coffee maker started up with a loud "klug-glug". Great. That meant that Drew's car was pulling into the parking lot. I've been trying to convince him to give up that caffeine laden sludge he drinks in favor of a nice herbal tea. But so far, no luck. I think he actually enjoys the extra stress. Anyway, I needed to get on with this reading. Drew's a skeptic, and a real wise ass to boot. I hate doing new client interviews in front of him.
I picked up the
Five of Swords
and moved it to the center of the table.
"This is the man we seek knowledge of," I said. "He is represented by the
Five of Swords
. A young man with red hair smiles in triumph. He holds three swords, and two more lie at his feet, abandoned by his vanquished foes, who turn their backs on him. It is a card of victory, but of an incomplete one. For the youth is ungracious in his triumph. And though he has taken the swords of those he fought, he has not won their respect."
I let her think about that for a moment.
"It is an interesting card, a good place to begin our inquiries of this man-- you said his name was Collin?"
"Yes. Collin Cartwright."
"Hm. Could you spell that for me? The letters might have numerological significance."
She spelled the name for me, and I jotted numbers in the air with a finger as if making calculations. With my free hand, though, I highlighted his name on my palm top, and had Cassandra run a standard search pattern on it. Fortunately, it was an uncommon name. There were currently 12 Collin Cartwrights with phone numbers in the United States. None of them had been mentioned in the national media in the last five years, and none of them had outstanding arrest warrants.
"Hmm," I muttered, finishing my showy calculations. "His name contains a number that is associated with prosperity, but there are also some strange primes that I'm not sure how to interpret. Do you know when he was born?"
"Well, he's twenty-six. I'm afraid I don't know the exact date."
"Pity. It would be nice to know his sign."
I surreptitiously traced the number "2009" on the screen of my palmtop and tapped on Cartwright's name, sending Cassandra to do a search of birth records for that name in that year. I figured it would net me his place of birth and his parents' names. Good places to start a background check. Instead Cassandra came back with a single line that read,
Hm. This just got interesting.
I picked up the remainder of the cards and shuffled them once, passed them to Ms. Hastings to shuffle again, and then shuffled them a third time myself. I fanned the cards out in front of her, face down, and asked her to choose one. She tentatively selected one with her index finger.
"This card represents the man's distant past," I said. "The forces that shaped him and made him what he is today."
I flipped the card over, placing it next to the first.
"This card is
, a card of deception, illusions, and mystery. Perhaps there is some great secret in his past that he must keep hidden. Or perhaps there is some mystery from his childhood that still haunts him, that he has yet to unravel."
I gave her a moment to look at the card and register its images.
"Sometimes this card comes up with people who were adopted," I explained, "and never found their birth parents. Do you know anything about his family?"
"Yes, that came up when I suggested having a reception-- I mean, since we didn't get to go to the wedding and all. I asked him about inviting his family, but it turns out that his parents are both dead. It happened sometime when he was in college. I get the impression that they left him a great deal of money. I don't think he has any other family."
"Perhaps there is some mystery surrounding his parents' deaths, then. Do you know how they died?"
"I think he said it was an auto accident."
"An auto accident when he was in college? Hm..."
I faked an attack of deep thinking, while I highlighted the relevant phrases from our conversation and had Cassandra search the newsites for any story that matched the description. An auto accident that killed a married couple named Cartwright leaving an only son sometime between 2027 and 2031. Again, she came back with a single line.
I reached out and touched
"There is something very important here," I said. "I'm not sure what, but there is a secret. A secret that he keeps to this day."
I paused to let that sink in.
"Let us continue."
She chose another card, and I slid it across the table to join the other two.
"This represents the man's recent past," I said. "That which has lead him to his present circumstances."
I flipped the card.
The Eight of Swords
. A woman, bound and blindfolded, stands caged by a ring of swords."
I saw the look of alarm come into Ms. Hastings' eyes.
"Be at ease," I said. "This probably isn't your daughter. It's a card of the past, and you said your daughter has only known him for a week."
Ms. Hastings relaxed a bit.
"Still," I went on, "there is a woman in his past. A woman who has been bound and caged, perhaps in a metaphorical sense. Perhaps a woman who has caged her own emotions, or is fettered by an excess of responsibilities."
I let her look at the card for a while.
"Does any of this sound like someone he knows? A friend? A coworker? Perhaps a former lover?"
She shook her head.
"We don't really know any of his friends. He's been living out in Los Angeles."
That made things a little easier. The California DMV has this wonderfully enlightened attitude about public access to its data base. If only more government agencies were so cooperative. With a couple of quick taps, I had Cassandra run a search for Cartwright's name. She came back a second later with a snapshot of his drivers license.
OK, so at least this Collin guy wasn't a complete ghost. I was just checking the picture to confirm the match when the office door opened and my partner Drew walked in. I decided that I'd better make introductions before he did.
"Ms. Hastings, this is my associate, Mr. Parker. He helps with the legwork on my cases, running down the leads that the cards provide."
They smiled at each other politely, and then Drew got himself a cup of coffee and settled down behind my desk. As soon as my potential client looked away, though, Drew was shaking his hands in the air and mouthing the word "SPOOOOOOOOKY". I ignored him, and motioned for my client to choose another card, which I slid next to the others in the middle of the table.
"This card represents the man's present circumstances," I said, and flipped it over. "
The Wheel of Fortune
-- reversed. It signifies a moment of worldly gain, but a transitory one. Perhaps a business deal, which seems favorable now but will prove to be less advantageous in the long run. Do you know anything about his finances?"
"Well, he seems to be quite well off. Of course, he is quitting his job out in California so that he can move here and be with Catherine. I guess that might make money tight for them until he finds work in Atlanta. But really, Catherine can support them both on what she makes, for a while at least."
"What does he do?"
"He works in the entertainment industry, but he isn't very happy with it. He said that everyone in LA is a phony."
"Really. What exactly does he do in the entertainment industry?"
"Well... I asked him that and he assured me that it was deathly dull. And I'm afraid that his explanation did go over my head. It had something to do with coordinating intellectual property rights among different companies. I couldn't follow it."
It was a pretty vague job description. If he'd said he was a lawyer or an accountant or an agent, I would have checked the membership listings of the relevant professional organizations.
"Hm. Do you know the name of the firm he worked for?"
"No. I'm afraid I don't. He gave them his notice the day he got married. Says he doesn't believe in looking backwards."
"Then perhaps we should look forwards."
She picked the next card, and I added it to the pattern that was forming in the middle of the table.
"This card signifies the man's near future, that which current circumstances are already calling into being."
I flipped it over.
The Five of Cups
. A man in a black cape faces three cups which have been overturned, the wine they contained spilling on the ground. Behind him, two cups remain full. It symbolizes a gift which is not all that it was expected to be. Perhaps this is associated with his impending marriage. Would he have reason to expect a large wedding gift from you?"
"Well, we did tell Catherine that we would buy her a house when she got married. Of course, we figured we'd have a long engagement to find a place. We haven't even begun looking yet."
"That may be it. Perhaps the young man knows of the promise, and his expectations are a bit high."
I paused, then risked a guess. "Has he, by any chance, suggested that you just give them the cash instead? Perhaps as seed money to start a business?"
"No, nothing of the kind."
"Ah. That's good."
I had her draw the last card, and used it to complete the cross pattern.
"This card represents the man's hopes and fears for the future. It is not necessarily what will happen. It is simply an event that he works to attain or avoid."
I flipped it.
The Six of Swords
. A man pilots a boat containing a woman, a child, and six swords across the water to a distant island. It is a difficult card to interpret. It does show him with a family, which may represent his hopes for the marriage, but it shows them in flight. Perhaps he believes that he will be cast out of his current situation. Or perhaps the island is a home that he longs for, that he will eventually return to with his wife and child."
We studied the card for a few moments.
"Do you know where your son-in-law was raised? Perhaps this is the home he seeks to return to."
"Well, I'm not sure. But I think he's from Alabama. He mentioned that he went to Auburn, and that's primarily an in-state school."
Ah! Now we were getting somewhere. I highlighted Auburn and dragged it into a box with Cartwright's name and the years 2026-2031. Again, no matches. So either he'd changed his name sometime after graduation, or he had been lying about going to Auburn. And really, who would lie about going to Auburn? I mean, if you're gonna invent a college history, you'd at least choose Princeton or Harvard. Maybe Vanderbilt or Emory if you wanted to stay in the South. But Auburn? I don't think so. That must be a bit of his real history that he'd accidentally let slip.
This was a lead that I could eventually use to trace Cartwright --or whatever his name really was-- back to his past. With time, I could set up a search comparing his current photo to the school's yearbook. Gotcha.
"Alabama?" I said. "Maybe, but it's difficult to imagine anyone actually wanting to go back to Alabama. Has he mentioned anywhere else that he's lived?"