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Deal 225: Too much good fortune is bad luck

Wilhelm knew the stone was all it was rumored to be the moment he saw it. And he knew it was the answer to his problems. It had been overlooked by many because of its size. His find was a chunk weighing close to a thousand carats, call that half a pound to you and I, which was too large to be believed by any but the most hopeful. And so, it had been tossed with the rest of the larger chunks.

And yet, rumors persisted that large stones were occasionally thrown away. And as often the case, the rumors found people who valued the possibility of a fortune in the future much higher than a wage in the present. Thieves, in other words. But in this case, not the kind of debonair gentlemen gem thieves that spend their days conning rich heiresses out of tiaras and brooches. Nor the kind of brute force loving thugs that lurk in alleys to mug to occasional passerby. These were the kind of thieves willing to risk life and limb to dig through the cast-off slag piles of a diamond mine despite the armed guards, dogs, and miles of barbed wire fences.

Most of the time, they came back empty handed.

Occasionally, they were unlucky and were returned to the fence line under guard, often nursing bites from the dogs that patrolled the less exciting parts of the operation.

But the possibility of striking it rich in the junk heap still loomed large, and Wilhelm was nothing if not persistent. So he returned, night after night, methodically working over the oldest of the tailing heaps. The first few nights, he avoided the dogs and guards completely. After a time, the dogs became familiar with his scent, and one or two began to make is presence into a boredom relieving game.

Then he found it, and at a stroke, he saw his fortunes change.

The crystal was larger than a softball, and quite heavy for its size. He immediately dropped it into a pocket and began to calmly clean up his work site, and made his way to his usual hole in the fence. He was concerned that the one time he actually found something, he would be spotted by the guards, but they clearly were as bored with him as the dogs were. So he covered his excitement and tried hard to appear as if he was just calling it a night a little earlier than usual.

He made it out with his find intact. Once in his rooms, he had a chance to inspect his find a little more closely. Concealed in the matrix, he clearly had a thousand carats of fortune waiting to be cut and polished. Which was itself a bit of a quandary, and quite a big risk. A five carat rough could be explained to the grey market quite easily. Even a five carat polished stone could be explained. But this block was the size that usually gets named and finds a place in the history books, usually punctuated by the list of people killed over it.

He knocked most of the matrix off it, and cleaned off a couple of the natural facets enough to take a peek inside. He was no expert, but you don’t spend years combing tailings and drinking with miners without picking up a few hints and tricks. This was a very nice stone. Which, if anything, made his problem worse.

Getting to keep even a few percent of its value was going to be a tricky proposition.

He fretted about his find for days. Then he went back to combing the tailings, and even let himself be spotted a few times. He wanted to leave an impression that he had failed when he eventually left to cash in his find. He started to drink more, and even to get involved in tall tales, despite knowing that he was playing with fire. He took special glee in bragging about a mythical hundred carat find, knowing all the while about the thousand carat lump buried in his flour sack.

And that is where it all went pear shaped for Wilhelm.

We’ll never know precisely what he said that gave it all away, but one day his boarding house burned down, and Wilhelm was the only casualty. Some weeks later, a thousand carat rough turned up in the black market, and it had a story to tell.

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Deal 224: One night, then knight.

I put a lot of effort into that knighthood. I served my time as squire. I fed, groomed, and cared for the horses. I polished armor until you could see tomorrow in the greaves, and yesterday in the helm. I repaired more than my share of broken lances. I had such expectations of what finally earning my knighthood would do to me.

And yet, when my time finally came, nothing.

I expected something more, I suppose.

I stood my night’s vigil, guarding my new armor from no one for a sleepless night with nothing but water, and an apple I was forbidden to touch just out of reach as the traditional symbol of temptation. Everyone I’d talked to had seen that as a final moving experience that set them on the right path. I found it nothing more than a cold, uncomfortable, and somewhat humiliating eight-hour ordeal. It may not have helped that along about the seventh hour, I picked up the apple and ate it. Seeds, stem, core and all.

It gave me gas.

I exchanged the ritual blows with the captain of our order. I broke his arm, after he broke my toe. There was some hullabaloo about that, apparently tradition held that the ritual bout was not even supposed to leave bruises. But what did they expect, coming at someone after too little sleep and jumpy from eating only one mealy apple?

After all that, the armor didn’t even fit right. Or perhaps it was the broken toe making it hard to concentrate.

Apparently I also flubbed a number of the traditional responses, which made my trainers look bad before their captain. I could sense that armor or no armor, there were going to be some lessons learned in a dark alley over that one.

Then, to top it all off, my phone range during the ceremony. At the most solemn moment. The most completely wrong moment to have Dancing Queen ringing through the room. It probably didn’t help that ABBA wouldn’t be formed for another several hundred years, let alone cell phones… this little gaffe was going to cost me some penalties with the Time Cultural Oversight Preservation Service.

For me, the bottom line remains that getting knighted was not all it is said to be!

Spread: The Sphinx

This deal is inspired by the four powers of the Sphinx as taught in the Hermetic Tradition.

The powers of the Sphinx are TO KNOW, TO WILL, TO DARE, TO KEEP SECRET, and in some variations TO GO.

Deal four or five cards, one for each power, from the full deck. As a variation, deal the card TO KEEP SECRET face down and avoid looking at it until the latest possible moment.

The first card dealt represents something TO KNOW. It could be something critical to the circumstance, or merely something from the past that everyone knows. The key is that it is known, and should be acknowledged.

The second card dealt represents something TO WILL. This is something that must happen, but requires some agent to make it happen.

The third card dealt represents something TO DARE. Attempting this will cause the character to evolve and grow. Actual success is not necessarily more important that making the attempt.

The fourth card dealt represents something TO KEEP SECRET. This is something known to you the author but not your characters. It could be something known to one character but not the others. It could be a dark secret from the past. The important thing is to recognize the shadow it casts on events without revealing the secret.

A fifth card, if dealt, represents something TO GO. This is something that causes a departure either by pushing or pulling. You should know which action is implied, but your characters may be oblivious.

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Deal 223: Mysterious corpse part 3

I was not at all surprised to find that we left the station and hailed a cab to take us to the estate. In fact, it was beginning to appear that one reason for this excursion was to prove that the round trip was indeed possible to make between breakfast and dinner, with time for lunch in the city.

Of course, if it were flat out impossible, then we could probably rule out the gentleman in question as a suspect despite the peculiar coincidence of his appearing to have been seen in town. Holmes hadn’t said it yet, but I myself was beginning to wonder if it was possible that the gentleman was being framed, using the improbability of events to make it seem all the more possible that he was involved. If so, that was a bit of a risky frame, since it couldn’t possibly stick if some sort of witness to his whereabouts between breakfast and dinner were to turn up that put him clearly not in the city.

When we reached the estate, we found another mystery waiting our arrival. A package had just arrived, posted from the city sometime earlier in the day. It must have taken an earlier rocket, though, since it didn’t seem possible to have arrived at the estate ahead of us.

The package had been preserved unopened, and the gentleman (who turned out to know we were coming) had deliberately awaited our arrival before opening it. Holmes was quite interested in the handwriting on the labels, at least until the package was opened. It contained a smaller box, and a letter.

The letter said, simply, “Lord M___, We have something that you value, as the enclosed record will prove. It is in fine condition, albeit slightly bruised in handling. A telegram will provide further instructions. We strongly suggest you listen to the record before it arrives.” The accompanying small box contained a wax record cylinder.

Before he allowed any further handling, Holmes went over everything with his lens. He paid particular attention to the labels, the letter, and markings on the small box and the end of the cylinder. While he worked, the gentleman arranged for a machine to be brought out that could presumably play the record. It consisted of a wind-up arrangement to turn the cylinder, a needle to drop into the groove, and a bakelite horn that would amplify any sound produced by the needle. This was the latest model, usually found in business establishments, allowing busy business men to dictate letters and reports for later transcription.

Holmes noted that the letter had been produced on a mechanical type writing machine also of very recent design and of much demand in business. At first glance, this eliminated any chance of recognizing handwriting, but he was quick to point out a few quirks and glitches in some of the letter forms that he averred would prove as unique as a fingerprint.

The recording was of a young woman speaking. I couldn’t help but notice that the gentleman turned white as a sheet as she began to speak.

“Well,” said Holmes, “that appears to answer that question. So you do vouch for this being a recording of a young woman you know particularly well.”

“Yes.”

“There is no chance it is a ruse?”

“No.”

“And we know it was made today, as they had her read some headlines from today’s Times, along with their demands. To be clear, were you in the city for lunch yesterday, but here for breakfast and dinner?”

“No. I was out riding all day. I do that when I have problems to ponder. I have been greatly concerned about some details of the tunnel project of late, and yesterday’s favorable weather provided a chance I could not pass up to consider them away from my study.”

“You were here for lunch and dinner?”

“Yes.”

“And only your horse knows for sure where you were in between?”

“Yes, I’d imagine so.”

“Then I will need to interview your horse.”

“Naturally.”

Holmes turned to me. “The plot thickens. I am glad we did not make this trip entirely in vain. Although I think we can return to the city by more traditional means tomorrow, I’m not looking forward to a second flight.”

At that point, the bell rang. The butler brought in a telegram for the gentleman.

“Interesting,” he said. “They are not demanding a ransom. Rather, they want my presence at a meeting tomorrow. In the city. The last train has long since left, so that leaves the morning rocket as our only option. You will, of course, accompany me.”

“Of course. Well, then, I must see to a quick interview with a horse before bed. Watson will deal with any trivial items that turn up in the mean time. Until breakfast, then?”

With that, Holmes left me with our bags to find our rooms and settle in for the night. As has too frequently been the case, I was left with the feeling that the puzzle was getting more complicated with every new fact, and was beginning to wonder when we’d finally see the solution. Now we had a dead girl who had clearly died yesterday just after noon, and who equally clearly was alive today. And tomorrow, we were going to have to take that infernal rocket back to the city. It was going to be a long night.