"You have a lot on your mind," said Maria laying out her tarot cards.
"Nope, try again," replied the man cheerfully.
Maria had dealt with troublesome clients before; this one was unique. He wasn't challenging her, trying to catch her out or becoming aggressive. He was happy to let her predict his future, then tell her she was wrong. Maria looked at him: his expensive suite was not the standard attire for one of her clients either, and especially not for Saturday morning in a village hall. She could get nothing from his relaxed manner. His clothes told her he had money and said nothing else. If all was well, why did he want to know the future?
"You..." she considered the cards again, "...you, are worried about your heath?"
He stood up.
"You've told me all I need." He dealt out a sheath of bank notes. "Thank you."
He moved to the next trestle table.
A folding display behind it announced John Seer's talents, successes and photos with a few notables. His skin was suitably aged, his hair was long and thinning and to complete the required image he had a wizard's beard.
"Good morning," said the man.
"Morning," said Seer. He gave his practiced knowing look. "Tarot, crystal, runes or palm?"
"Palm please," the man presented his left hand.
Seer took it, pulling it toward him like an object not attached to a human. He forced the hand flat. He commanded the session. Seer peered at it as if examining an ancient manuscript.
"You will have a long life."
"I'll come back if I don't," the man promised and got a stern look in return.
"You are unmarried, but will have three loves."
"I can see three women."
"I'm not here to argue. Tell me of now. Tell me something for the next six months. Will my business succeed?"
"I cannot put times on the future, however, I see troubles soon. But you will prevail."
The man pulled his hand swiftly from Seer's grasp.
"I've not finished."
"You are." He dished out another fee. Seer was aggrieved. "For any inconvenience," said the man then counted out double.
Next table, half way down the hall, sat Madame Nantes. She had an exotic European style to ordinary enough clothes. A lady of a certain age, she beamed to match the man's smile.
"Time is money."
"Twenty pounds for zee taro. Thirty for a more - 'ow you say? - intimate reading."
He paid for a full reading.
"Vee must 'old 'ands."
She took his and closed her eyes, which was fortunate or she would have seen the amusement in his eyes.
"Pleez conzentrate. Let your mind focus on the essence of life."
"Conzentrate," she repeated distantly. A pause to listen to the world beyond this one, then she said, "John, I sense a John, or James. I see a 'J'." He was unresponsive. "It could be Jane or Janet."
"Oh, oh, it iz danjerous, to break zee bond."
"Enough. None of that. I've learnt all I need. Thank you."
"You can't just - "
"I can," he said moving on.
He had a crowd with him by now. Punters were hesitating from selecting a table. A few psychics had come across from the other side of the room to see what was going on. The spurned ones watched from their tables.
Robert was next, younger than most, he had the air of a businessman in casual clothes, never quite off-duty.
"Good morning," said the man.
"Go away," Robert snapped. "I can see what you're doing. Go away or I'll have you ejected."
The man sat down. Resting his hands on the bare tabletop in a friendly manner, he asked unperturbed, "What am I doing?"
"You're a sceptic. You've come here to discredit us. Waltzing in here with your theatrics, your aim's to put off these people from learning there is more to the world than there first appears."
"Wrong. I am not a sceptic," the man replied. "I believe."
"Just go away, I don't want your style of trouble."
"Pity, you see I do believe. I believe so much I hire a psychic to be my exclusive advisor. My last one was a dear lady who has sadly passed on. She did die very rich though. I'm now searching for a new one."
Robert shook his head. "I don't believe you."
"Pity, I pay well, but you're willing to give that all up."
"I don't believe you."
"You could find out couldn't you? Hold something close to me, read why I'm really here. I'll make it worth your while or are you frightened I'll expose you."
Robert felt cornered. His audience was much larger than normal and in front, the man waited. His wallet was open and large denomination notes were being counted.
"If it is a matter of expense..."
"No, it's principle. I don't want your money. Give me something. Something close to you and we can get on with this."
"Well said sir, well said." He worked off his signet ring and passed it over.
Under the guise of taking it into his hand and concentrating, Robert assessed it. Thick gold, heavy: a quality piece. The head of the ring was a genuine seal. Cut deep was a figure of a man, in a style that reminded him of Dark Age coins, the coarse figure held...it was too worn for him to see in the brief moment he had.
"This is an old ring," Robert stated with the effort of drawing history from the band. "I feel many lives, it has been in your family for generations."
"Bravo, bravo," the man encouraged. "Now tell me something you couldn't deduce from that trinket's appearance."
"You mock me. Do not mock what you do not understand."
"I never mock what I don't understand," the man said so quietly Robert doubted he heard it. Louder he said, "I'm paying, or perhaps, in the future I shall pay so see some real talent."
"It is hard," Robert moaned, "there are so many lives here."
"Do you want a clue?"
"Make a guess; make a reading; time is money. There are others I want to test."
"This can't be rushed." Robert felt it a challenge to knock the arrogance from the man. "I sense so much history. History of many generations."
"You've said that already. What's my job? Go for an easy one. How do I earn my daily crust?"
"Land; you family owns much land."
"Nice try, but no cigar."
"I haven't -"
The man got up and turned his back on Robert.
"Take your ring back," Robert shouted and hurled it at the man.
Sidestepping the man caught the projectile as it passed without looking. He admired the ring and returned it to its rightful place. He moved onto Zimba.
A young black woman in neat clothes, she looked harried before the man sat down. Not exotic, ordinary and uncomfortable.
"Oh dear," slipped out unprofessionally when the man made himself comfortable at her table. Day one as a professional and her first customer was this one. At least once he was finished with her things could only improve. Maybe be it was a test, like an initiation ceremony. No, she wanted a simple weirdo; a woman could fail initiations.
"Good morning," he said.
"And what marvel do you perform?"
"Er...I cast bones."
"Like the casting of runes?"
"Something like that, it's a Zulu thing."
Thing! She kicked herself. She said thing - stupid.
"You're not Zulu. You might be black but you haven't a drop of Zulu blood in you. Two-three generations in England, a few in the West Indies, a mix there from West and East Africa. A touch of Arab too, if I'm not mistaken."
Zimba's jaw muscles gave up against gravity. She was saved from the embarrassment of not being ready with a comeback when a man put his hand on her customer's shoulder.
The man looked at it then up into the face of George Cornwall, caretaker of the hall, a serious town council official bringing order to chaos.
"I shall ask you once to leave. You are causing these good folk distress. Whatever your game, you can play it elsewhere."
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr?"
"I'm terribly sorry Mr Cornwall, I was trying to have a reading, but none of these people could impress me. I promise I shan't cause any more trouble."
"You've caused enough already."
"One more reading, just one."
"Consider it this way: you are a committed Christian and see all this fortune-telling and obsession in all things mystic as blasphemous. Expel me and you are a hypocrite, defending sinners from a little retribution. Just one more."
"I...er..." Cornwall began. "Just one."
"This crowd seems to be more trouble than me, what do you think?"
"Yes, just one," Cornwall repeated. He turned on the audience. "Break it up, nothing to see, get on with your own lives."
"Now, where were we?" the man asked. "Yes. Casting the bones."
"Fish badge left-lapel; his grip on my shoulder was uncertain and he couldn't look me square in the eyes."
"Oh. About me?"
"Probability and history. Now you were about to cast the bones."
She poured an assortment of chicken bones onto the table then scooped them up in both hands. Soon he would move on she thought.
"No," he commanded. His left hand seized both hers. "Not on the table, they'll tell you nothing. You know that. Use the floor like you were taught."
He released her and held up a delaying hand. Swiftly he pulled the tabletop clear then knocked the trestles away. Her purse flew away with the pouch. Pushing his seat away he said, "The floor is yours."
She froze; from about the walls everyone was watching her, the crashing of furniture drew much interest. Cornwall hovered on a decision to act, but didn't. "Bang goes my career," she moaned and sent the bones rattling over the dusty floorboards. Abandoning the chair, she knelt to examine the signs and portents.
"Truth," he said crouching on the opposite side of the pattern. "What do you see?"
"You're lying," she said carefully. "You are not a businessman. You are...a...searcher, guardian, a moderator...a shepherd. You're a shepherd?"
"Bang on," he encouraged, "or rather, I am today. What of the future?"
"You're to lead a journey...to take someone on a journey. You're here to find something - someone - me!"
"Don't look anymore," he told her. "It's not for you yet, or me." His hand scattered the pieces.
Briefly she saw another man waiting and a...His hand collected the significant bones before she could understand.
"Will you come with me?" he asked.
"I need to stay here," Zimba answered gathering up bones.
"You need the money," he said handing her back her purse. "Money is never going to be a problem again." A fist of notes packed what had been a rather anorexic pouch.
"Of course there'll be other problems. Will you come with me?"
"You must have seen..."
"Yes, yes, I'll come."
Together they left, the man unconcerned at the hundreds of pairs of eyes on him.
"Au revior," he said to Madam Nante.
A few followed them to the exit. He lead her off the main road and into the suburbs and out of sight.
"What's your real name?"
"Not exotic enough for my job," she commented. After a thought she asked, "Shouldn't you know that?"
"That's a myth. I am the Man Who Knows, but I don't know everything, like who taught you."
"I got it out of a book, thought it would be a good spin on the usual."
"I'm impressed. Talent like yours shines like a beacon you know, but it's still hard to pin-point."
"Oh," she said, beginning to wonder why she was going along with this man. She had seen...
"What else did you see?"
Did he read thoughts too? "Er...a man, a teacher I think."
"Talent is wasted if it is not trained and encouraged."
Along a suburban road lined with cars defining middle social groups and huge aspirations they went. They travelled until they reached a huge and disturbingly not quite black limousine.
"Permit me," he said opening a rear door.
Inside waited an ancient man in an elegant suit. He smiled at June as a craftsman looks upon uncut stone knowing what beauty can be released.
"Beautiful and perfect," he observed.
"You're on the back of my book," she blurted.
"I think you'll find it is my book. You've learnt from it well. It's quite a bestseller you know, but only you have touched on its secrets. One has to cast many seeds for just one to find fertile soil."
Clarity and realisation formed in June's mind, she didn't have to be psychic to know what he was going to say next.
"Sit down, don't look so worried, I have but one question for you. Would you like to be my apprentice?"
© Copyright Roderick Gladwish 2000 All Rights Reserved