Deal 255: Paranoia

The widgets keep track of everything. They are in everything. They exchange data when nobody’s looking. They know things. The widgets keep track of everything.

Knowing they are watching helps. You can be vigilant all you want, but they will slip one in when you aren’t looking. But if you know it is happening, you can find them and remove them. Because you know they are there, and what to look for. The widgets, they keep track of everything.

It is almost as if they have free will of their own. They spread. They contaminate. They gossip. They learn things, secret things, things I would tell no one. And having gathered that intelligence, they willfully, deliberately, maliciously spread it. The widgets keep track of everything, and tell Them what they know.

There is no justice possible. The widgets are in everything. They know everything. The are looking for me right now, because I’m on to them. I know the Truth and I dare shout it to the four winds from the rooftops. I know the truth. I had a widget. It was watching me. I had to remove it to get some privacy. To get some peace. To regain some control. The widgets keep track of everything.

I am without hope. Without plans. Without fears. The widgets keep track of everything.


Deal 253: An encounter with Tina

I open my eyes to find that no, I haven’t been transported to a new and more interesting place while I slept. I’m still in my single-room studio office, on the couch. As usual, I didn’t bother to pull down the Murphy bed. When I finally remember to do that, I’ll likely find some surprise left for me by my last assistant.

Assistants don’t seem to last long in this business. I wish I could tell whether it’s the fact that I don’t often manage to make payroll on time, or if it is something else. Me. The clients. The boredom from a phone that never rings.

I get up and put on a pot of coffee. Since the cream seems to be holding elections, I’ll have my coffee as black as night, and as strong as a black bear. It will undoubtedly put hair on my chest.

As the coffee is brewing, I notice that the afternoon sun is just breaking through the west window. Just how long had I been sleeping anyway?

Apparently I’m awake just in time, as the hall door opens, and a client walks in. I assume it is a client. I haven’t had any visitors that weren’t trouble in a good long time, and this one certainly looks like trouble. Trouble with a very nice fashion sense, but well dressed trouble is still trouble. Just well dressed. And a looker.

I look up. And down. And back up again. She is going to be trouble, so getting a good look now may be my only return on this gig. Assuming there is a gig here at all.

So trouble walks in the door, with that air that she knows she is trouble incarnate and she enjoys the effect she has on a room. Pretty quickly, she sees that I am the only one here, and pauses. Looks around. There isn’t much to see, this is a typical uptown second floor walk up studio office. My bed is already put away, so that leaves plenty of open floor space around my desk, and the little area where I keep a small table with my crystal ball and related paraphernalia.

She walks over. “You know why I’m here,” she said. I nod. She went on. “So get on with it.” She sat down where I led her.

I take her hand, and turn it to look at her palm. Then I try the other hand.

“Interesting. You aren’t entirely human, you know,” I said.

She nodded, and said, “Yes. I know.” She didn’t elaborate.

“Let’s try something else.”

I pull out a bundle of yarrow stalks, and start the process of casting the I Ching, but the stalks repeatedly refuse to cooperate. I set them aside.

Trouble, indeed.

Coffee grounds refuse to produce a message. Tea leaves are ambiguous. The Tarot deck picked itself back off the table and went and hid, trembling. Finally, I try a new deck of cards, an unusual deck, one that I’ve mostly heard of in rumors and only recently located. The cards are reluctant at first, then when compelled they come around.


“You said that already.”

“Well, yes. But it is true. You are a difficult client to read. But I think I’ve got a handle now.”


I consider for a moment, then proceed.

“You are an embodiment of peace, but the sort of peace that comes from the firm application of great strength. Not peace through fear or exhaustion, but peace through conquest. The same strength is applied to knowledge, which you almost will directly into existence. You dare to treat many men as puppets, to manipulate at need. As I look at the cards, I can’t help but get the sense that I might myself be one of those. Finally, there is the business of the secret amphibians. Everywhere I looked, I found frogs in the background. It is possible that is significant. I cannot tell from here.”

With that pronouncement complete, I found myself almost completely unable to move. She stared at me for a time, as if contemplating how and in what order she would dismember me. Finally, she shook herself, laughed, and found her way to the door. She stopped and turned.

“You are more right than you know, dear Michel. I will return and you will know the whole story. Until then, just be you.”

She vanished through the door.

Looking over at my desk, I saw a bag sitting there that hadn’t been there earlier. I assume it contains payment, I vaguely recall that she has visited before, and always left more payment than answers.

Perhaps a nap…


Deal 252: Giant

Michel sat in his dusty office, enjoying the peace and quiet. One of his secret pleasures was to enjoy the peace and quiet that results from an unsuccessful practice. Most folks would end up consumed with worry about the next rent check, but Michel had long ago learned to be entirely at peace with his periods of failure. He reasoned that whether the rent was paid or not, a quiet afternoon with a breeze and time for a cigar was not something to be ignored.

He heard the heavy steps on the stairs, but expected they would go on past to the next floor.

Nope. Now the heavy steps were in the hall, and then the hinges he kept forgetting to oil were announcing a visitor.

He looked up, and then up some more. His visitor was tall, easily more than seven feet tall given how he instinctively rolled his head under the door’s lintel. He was also quite thin, and carried a slender cane which he did not actually seem to be using. He walked with a heavy step over to Michel’s table, sat down, and waited.

Michel briefly wondered if was expected to provide a reading without a word being spoken.

He reached for his Tarot, and hesitated. Was this client really the Tarot sort of client?

Michel reached for the client’s hand, and turned them in the light seeking a sign. Oddly, his hands were smooth and almost unmarked. Michel stared, waiting for the information to flow.

“You know jealousy in several forms. Although you’ve sought to change, you remain jealous to this day. You rise to any occasion, and from time to time your rising is more literal than usual. In the face of all that, you dare to be fearless.”

The quiet giant just stared at Michel, stood silently, turned and left.


Deal 251: War Wizard

Author’s Note: The following brief description of the man is as accurate as I can make it, based on my fallible memories of watching Max Howard portray Professor Augustus Rich, The War Wizard. I had the good fortune to spend this very weekend with Max, and came away from the experience with a great deal of respect for him as a playwright, actor, and magician. The surprise is that these cards were dealt days before I left for the event, and certainly were not chosen to be so appropriate to its subject.

In life, Gus suffered the ravages of the Civil War, surviving after service in the “Bloody” 29th at Gettysburg. He was a Moravian gentleman and traveling magician, whose life story has been sadly neglected by history. While lots of evidence survives to prove the range of his touring by horse-drawn carriage, very little (beyond the props themselves) survives to describe the actual show he produced.

Being a good citizen of his community, he enlisted. Being a good Moravian and pacifist, he found a non-combative role as the bass drummer in his unit. While this might appear to an outsider as a contradiction, it was his belief in his duty to both church and community that led him to find a supporting role.

When confronted by the Yankees as Gettysburg turned the fate of the War, he dared to live. The story told is of his brazenly escaping from chains while standing before his firing squad, which so impressed the Northern force that they let him walk away a free man. Daring to live makes a good story.

Touring as a magician, he undoubtedly had secrets to keep. We know that despite engaging in frivolity for a living, he received a respectful eulogy from his church.

Sometimes, the cards cannot lie.