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Fiction Crime

THE FORTUNE TELLER

By Andrew Paul Grell

“More anatomy books, Walt? Birds, this time? Planning a career change? Veterinarian? Barb’s poodle Dixie had a torn ACL, cost her $5,000 for the surgery. Prices like that, you might consider making the switch.” Audrie and Carl Henshaw shared a laugh; Carl’s bonus from last year paid for ten shelter dog rescues, plus flights to their forever homes, in addition to contributions to the grandchildren fund and a vacation in the Gaspe. 

“I like seeing the way the pieces fit together. At work I fit the pieces of numbers together; if I do it right, the bird flies and the firm gets a big check. I don’t know what I’m going to do with knowing which part of which bird goes where, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.’ Carl took the books upstairs to the study. His wife followed him up, so he mixed a Mother Superior for each of them which they imbibed on the widow’s walk with a view of Gardiner’s Bay.

“May I borrow your telescope, my dear?” Audrie kept a sizable Newtonian scope, courtesy of Stony Brook, with a clockwork and CCD interface via Bluetooth to her image gallery and the virtual blink microscope. The college indulged her; in case something was happening in the sky, her grad students could call her with coordinates, saving an hour drive. In reality, Carl was fascinated with Plum Island, the high-security facility for, supposedly, dealing with animal epidemics, but was thought by everyone east of Quogue to be a Frankenstein laboratory for conducting ghastly experiments on innocent animals. Carl would spend hours on end of weekend time with the scope trained on the island to see if anything escaped. But in even realer reality, Audrie would often find that the delicate and expensive piece of equipment was left pointing at one of those beaches.

“See anything, Carlos? It’s a clear day, good viewing.”

“Black smoke from one of the chimneys. I guess the birds will have to wait a little longer to get a new Pope. So, do you really think I should have a career change? I’ve been doing this for 40 years, Ogee,” Carl reminded her, using her pet name from the 1960s cartoon. Audrey stuck to a single pet name for her husband, Carlos, a hero of the Spanish Civil war. Neither of them could remember which side “Carlos” fought on, but they both remembered Magilla Gorilla fondly.

“It’s not like we need more money. Just to be sure, we’re talking about careers, not marriages, right? None of the classic Long Island debauchery, wife swapping, whips and chains?”

“Wife swapping in the burbs? That started being passe when Ogee was still on TV. How about this. You told me that in grade school you used to be the origami fortune teller practioner. I’ll be right back, Ogee.”

Carl came back with two pieces of paper, one printer paper, and the other a neatly, but hastily cut, square of wallpaper they were planning on putting up.

“Here. You can use this for the fortune teller, it’s white on the back. And here’s a list of generated fortunes. I haven’t looked at them. Pick the first eight fortunes that are exactly nine words.”

Audrey had to reach way, far back in order to remember the folding order. She chuckled out loud thinking about the wacky fortunes she used to make up, and she shuddered at the single, disastrous misfire.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Why not. You’re the expert.”

“Alright, big boy. This will take a few minutes. How about another round of Mother Superiors?”

“I don’t think so, in two hours we’re meeting the Dembitzers at Au Marche, we’re driving. How about grapefruit seltzers?”

“Sold.”

When Carl came back with cans of seltzer, Audrey was ready with the fortune teller. The questioner picked orange. Six letters, fortune six. Audrey had her fingers in the paper pockets and opened number six. “When you’ve reached your peak, choose your next summit.”

“I guess that nails it. Random trial. C’mon, let’s go eat some over-priced faux French food.”

# # #

There must have been magic in the air that night, as well as the stars aligning just right. The couples sat around the table, tricouler trimming on the tablecloths, pictures of Nice, Brittany, Deauville, and the 4th Arrondissement in Paris’s Rive Gauche. After the Caesar salad and bread with olive oil, Richard Dembitzer declared that he was leaving his position as chief grouting engineer at a skyscraper construction company in Manhattan to take a position as an adjunct professor of Engineering at Cooper Union.

“There’s only so many times a guy could do 2:00 AM to 7:00 AM shifts, only so much splattered concrete a person can be expected to scrape of their hands,” Judy Dembitzer explained. “Dick is the best. He took me to see some jobs. He could wave his hand next to a mixer and know exactly what the inside temperature was. Now I can have him for a while, and he can impart his knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. And he gets to be called Professor.”

“And she gets to be Mrs. Professor,” Richard added, signaling the waiter and ordering champagne.

“Make it two bottles, garcon,” Audrey ordered the white-gloved sommelier.  “Carl is seriously considering a career change.”

“And give up that revenue stream, Carl? What’re ya gonna do, buddy?”

“Not sure yet, Dick, but the cards spell out that I need a change. I had my fortune told today.”

That got some funny looks from the Dembitzers, the funniest of the looks being how to not issue a joke response. The topic was cut off there, and the couples found safe harbor in discussing Long Island politics, tax assessment reductions, and traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

# # #

“I’ll always go there for the truite meunière, but the crème fraise needs work,” Carl opined. “It might as well have been Pinkberry. It may not be possible to make good crème fraise in the United States. Next time we go to Au Marche with another couple, we recommend ‘that new place we found’ for dessert.” Audrie and Carl were heading home in the Volvo when a text from “her” telescope cut the culinary discussion short. “Anomalous reading, unknown type”, the text announced.

“Funny, Carlos. It’s summer. From the time stamp on the text, the sky would still have been too bright to see any stars. Hands on the wheel Buddy; I’d hate to die in yet another crash with a drunken driver on Merrick Parkway when a major discovery could be waiting for us at home.”

“Senora, you have my word as a Republican Officer that I will guard your hopes and dreams and deliver you safely to your destination.”

Audrey zipped out of the car and dashed upstairs and out to the widow’s walk. The scope was pointing down, away from the sky. The clockwork was off, but the auto-shoot was on. She went back into the bedroom to get her iPad and see what the fuss was about, wriggling out of Carl’s grasp on the way back to fresh air. She advanced to the timestamp and saw it. Three shots of what looked like a four-winged duck flying away from Plum Island. She risked putting herself back into the clutches of the amorous Republican Captain but felt honor-bound to provide Carl with evidence that his theory was right, that Plum Island was inhabited by mad scientists. Back in his clutches, she showed him the iPad pictures. The interlude engendered not one, but two climactic moments for Carl.

He looked at the anatomy books delivered earlier, looked at the fortune teller, and looked at the monstrous bird.

“I can make these. This is my next peak. From the fortune you told me. How would you like to just stay home for our vacation? Three hours a day, I’m going to scope out my new peak, my next conquest. And you, my beloved Ogee, are you yet tired of teaching party school kids the difference between a light year and a parsec? Is it time for your next peak?”

“I’ve always wanted to make a discovery. I got beat to the punch on establishing the ages of red dwarfs. Sadly, Asteroseismology and I were never fated to be lovers. How about this. Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday, you do your origami by day and I search for rogue planets by night. The rest of the time is regular vacation stuff, but, you know, our house is our hotel.”

“Sold!”

# # #

“This is just like what I do, Ogee. Keep all the lines straight, make sure hills go up and valleys go down. Look at this. It’s The Crane landing on the mast of The Ship,” Carl interrupted, his wife tinkering with her telescope app. Somewhere she got a version of FIG Forth capable of running on an android tablet. She smiled at the two impeccably folded origami models and patted her hero of the Second Republic on the head.

“You really pick things up quickly in your dotage, Comandante Carlos. You’ve got something to do between bombardments, fusillades, and cavalry charges.”

“Cavalry charges. Good idea. When I work my way up to The Horse, my next campaign will be that four-winged duck.”

It didn’t take Carl long to go through the challenging pieces; he then set his own challenges, starting with a model of an ordinary duck, with help from the anatomy books, and then worked on novel models: The Coelacanth, The Tri-Boro Bridge, The Rock Hyrax. The sculptor puffed out his chest and showed his masterpiece set to his soulmate.

“Lookin’ good there, Jerome Connor. By the way, we may have to time shift. I was screwing around with the scope and I found a rock coming from Leo and heading, it looks like, toward Pisces. So it’s not an early Leonid. I have the Grad Kiddies tracking it and seeing if they can get a spectrum.

“Congratulations, Ogee!” Carl said, and left the room. He came back an hour later, interrupting  Audrey’s call to the Stony Brook Observatory. He held up his latest model, a Winged Victory. Audrey applauded silently and slithered herself out of the call with promises she would return.

“Good research there. The towering topless goddess seen by millions stuck in traffic traveling between Queens and The Bronx.

“Thanks for the suggestion of other out-of-place wings. Good luck with your rock.”

# # #

“Those are some fabulous looking duck sculptures, Mr. Henshaw. The detail is amazing. I know a little about origami, I know how much effort you must have put into your project, and I still can’t see how you managed to get four wings on them, or the orange pompadour, or make the ducks’ beaks look like they’re being sarcastic. ” the gallery owner said, a bit sadly. It’s just not what people are looking for when they come in here. They usually want paintings that go with their furniture. I’ll keep your card. Origami comes into favor every few years. By the way, you might want to get some new cards that say ‘artist’ instead of ‘accountant’.”

# # #

Carl set himself one of his three hours that afternoon to moping and thinking of how silly it was to rely on computer-generated fortunes. He had kept the list of fortunes he hadn’t read. Neatnik Audrey had folded it and put it back in the envelope. He found it in a pocket while fishing out a business card to see how to morph from one field to another. At least any new card could keep the illuminated capital ‘A.” He read down the list and halted on one that stood out typographically: “Mohamed, mountain. Mountain, Mohamed. What’s the difference?”

Carl spent his time allotment at The Frick, the Met, the Modern, and the Guggenheim. Carlos, brave freedom fighter, had never before cased a joint. He was a fast learner and soon had a database of what galleries in which venues had a little extra space that might need filling. He took notes on routes in and routes out of the tagged rooms, and especially the locations of security cameras. It was a Target store that provided little fold-up floor tables, the kind one might use to support an orchid or a Christmas card tree. Lastly, a trip to a metal shop in Queens to have some plaques made up.

# # #

“Alright, team.” Carl was addressing Audrey, the Dembitzers and their two kids, Audrey’s sister Maggie, and Jack the handyman. “Does everyone know what to do? Maggie, by the numbers, please.”

“I go in and stand mill around near the target spot. Cassie and Hunter fan out and discretely start recording. Richard and Judy each have a shopping bag from the gift shop. Judy takes out the stand, Carl unfolds it, Dick takes the model out of his bag and puts the magnetic base on the table. Jack wanders over and engages one or more people about the new “installation. Dick and Maggie move to the next gallery. Judy and Audrey visit the ladies’ room. Carl, Cassie and Hunter each head to separate galleries. Everyone intersects at the bus stop and then takes a unique route to where Jack is waiting in the Suburban. Then home to Long Island.”

“Excellent. Everyone have that?” The crew was buzzing like a downed powerline in a Gulf Coast climate change-induced hurricane. They were given a chance to pull off a caper. To execute an act of art counter-terrorism.

             The team inserted 36 Four-Winged Duck models, each successive one with wilder and more orange “hair,” and snarkier bills. Art critics described the as yet unknown sculptor as the Jasper Johns of folded, imaginary ducks. They were only caught once, by an animal control officer moonlighting as a museum security guard who had seen the YouTube videos. Publicity from that incident led not only to an inter-museum compact allowing each installation to remain in situ with full credit to Carl, a percentage of ad revenue from each streaming view, and in short order a licensing deal. 

             Through it all, Audrey kept tabs on her rock. She poured over every image from the blink microscope. Her ardent pursuit of her quarry eventually resulted in some pre-dawn shots of the rock. Audrey established that it had a spectrum, and not the usual spectrum for an asteroid or comet native to our local Solar system. One of the blink pairs gave Audrey a jolt. She actually uttered a perfect Hannah-Barbera “Aw, Gee.” 

             # # #

             “Well, my valiant terrorist. Looks like we’ll be able rescue all the pets we want, now. Maybe set up our own shelter on that land in Duchess County my Aunt Cynthia left me in her will.”

             Carl noticed the origami fortune teller on the porch table. He hadn’t put it there.

             “What’s that you’ve got there, Ogee?”

             Audrey noticeably hesitated for an instant, then showed him the pair of blink shots.

             “Am I looking at these properly?”

             “If you’re asking the question, Commander Carl, you probably are.”

             “So. It looks like the extra wings are just an overlay from one shot to the next.”

             “Correct. But did you get to ascend to your next mountain?”

             Carl fingered the fortune teller.

             “Looks like we both got our rocks off, huh?”

             “Aw, gee…”



November 07, 2020 03:18

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