Have you made it this far? Haven’t been nodding off, have you? Don’t worry, I’m almost done here. Call it a hunch (or call it hindsight) but when I was standing in the residence of Karenina Montgomery, I felt I was near the end too.
She welcomed me inside. I got a better look of her apartment, though not much of one. In reality it was an efficiency. I could see her bed and kitchen from the door. Topography maps, most of them covered in strange symbols, coordinates and some golden ratios, covered the wall entirely. There was a dresser, covered in decks of cards and totems. In the very center was a table, mostly clear except for a long, tall whorled candle that looked like a seashell and a small stereo that was still blasting “Cobra Bora” by 808 State.
As I stepped inside, Ms. Montgomery took her hood off. She was youthful but not young, if that makes sense. She must at least have been a college senior. She lived up to her first namesake (Anna Karenina, tragically Russian) right down to the way her brown locks were curled. With one hand she turned off the stereo. An eerie silence prevailed.
She held up a hand to me as I was about to speak. “Who sent you to me?”
“Oh, well… I didn’t catch her name, but she was wrapped up in a tartan blanket.”
“Oh good, Genevieve got it back.”
“Next question: why did you come to me?”
I had to pick my words carefully. It was late and I didn’t want to waste this woman’s time. After all, I was alone, in a room that (for all intents and purposes) did not exist unless you knew about the secret elevator. You would have been a bit reticent in my boots, too.
I had to be honest though. I pulled out the picture of the bull crane—it was a little bent and smushed by this time—and held it before her.
“I showed Genevieve this and she immediately directed me to you.”
Without skipping a beat, she took the piece of paper from me. “I was about to make some tea. Have a seat.”
I felt sort of like Samuel Coleridge’s ancient mariner, when the albatross falls from his neck. Free of one bird at least, though it didn’t truly dawn on me until Montgomery came back after a few minutes.
She brought with her (on a platter) a kettle, two cups (they had a nice tessellated pattern) with saucers, a bowl of loose leaves and a box of matches. Before she sat down, Montgomery took a match and lit the candle. Then, when its flame was burning brightly, she took the bull crane and burnt it before my eyes. I didn’t move to stop her. It lit up quickly, a tongue of flame lapping against Montgomery’s fingertips. She seemed unfazed by the fire.
“First and foremost, this was a very dangerous thing for you to be carrying around. You’re lucky you only showed this to Genevieve.” I didn’t mention that I had also shown it to McDaniels, the Five Guys line cook, as well. Too much detail.
“Well what makes it so dangerous?” I asked.
She smiled. “Let me pour us some tea first. I hope you don’t mind me doing a reading at the end.”
“What are you, a witch?”
“What’s the matter?”
“You really practice divination?”
“Divination is a load of crap. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I thought you were a witch.”
“But don’t witches—”
“Are you going to tell me what a witch should and shouldn’t do?” She said this curtly.
I decided not to press the issue any further. “Hmm. You sound like the nuns in ‘White Noise.’”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said, handing me a teacup.
We drank the tea through our entire talk. It tasted like crayon wax, but at that point I was glad to have anything.
“So,” said Montgomery, “you’re the one following in Rice’s footsteps. Or picking up where he left off.”
“Wait, you knew about Rice?”
“Of course. He visited me a few times for consultations.”
I had to smile at that. “And I bet he wanted to consult more than your tarot cards.”
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
The tea in my gut went cold, sending shivers up and down my arms. “I guess anyone would be if they had that piece of paper with them, right?”
“So he kept it even after I warned him. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If I were a disconsolate man like that, I’d grasp a scrap of paper like that myself.”
I didn’t press her further. My head was buzzing. My eyes weighed heavily in my head. I was about ready to fall asleep at that table. I was semi-paranoid she had drugged my tea for some reason, but of course she had used the same leaves for her cup as well. Or maybe she had lined my cup with—
“Your tea isn’t spiked, by the way.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“Anyone who wants to run around dressed like a detective in this day and age is bound to be a little twitchy. Now hand me your teacup. I’ll read your fortune.” She pushed her own cup and saucer toward me. “Here. We’ll both get our fortunes read.”
There’s a word for this practice: tasseography. Montgomery told me this in passing. With no prior experience, I just copied her method—carefully pouring out any spare tea onto the saucer and then looking at the tea leaves that remained. It looked like a blob. I didn’t know what it meant.
“Oh you poor bastard,” I heard Montgomery say. She was looking straight at me, cradling the tea cup.
“Funny. Rice said the same thing to me just earlier.”
“Poor, poor bastard.”
“I could say the same thing about you, Karenina.”
She brought back that smile of hers. “You don’t get it do you? Even without that bull crane you’re still in legitimate danger.”
“How do you mean?”
“There was something else you came up here for, wasn’t there? Something that came before Rice’s death.”
Witch or no witch, I found her keenness uncanny. “As a matter of fact, there is something,” I said. “I have to find the Tenny Bros.”
She was silent for a minute, wearing a mask of utter placidity. I was tempted to leave when she spoke up again. “You know, Rice visited me earlier today. He mentioned you.”
She shook her head. “Poor bastard. The answer you were seeking was in your office the whole time. Those are his words.”
I didn’t lose any time running back to Humanities. I’m surprised I didn’t stop, despite almost tripping on the hem of my coat. I was livid. Had this all been one big set up?
When I got to my office I saw it had been tampered with—the lock was busted—and I saw Schlep heaped in one corner. I couldn’t ascertain his condition, because sitting before me was my Merriam-Webster dictionary with a lamp burning over it. The book laid sprawled open, deliberately. I stepped up to it. It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for.
adjective | ten-e-brous | /?ten?br?s/
1: shut off from the light: DARK, MURKY
2: hard to understand: OBSCURE
If I hadn’t wheeled around with the book in my hand, ready to throw it out the door, I wouldn’t have met the masked gunman waiting there. In a second it was all over. They had hit me dead on in the chest. I didn’t even get to ask them about the telegrams.
Well… they were a lousy shot and even though that bullet managed to punch me in the chest, the Bible I had in my coat pocket took most of the impact. Nonetheless, that’s why I’m here.
So in response to your inquiry, nurse: No, I don’t have any insurance.