He’d seen the signs and portents. So he went to The Fat Lady for interpretation. Feeling faintly sceptical — despite her exemplary track record — he watched as she swirled the last of his tea around the cup before a practiced flick of her wrist expelled the remaining liquid onto the stained wooden floor leaving a kaleidoscope of dark tea-leaf at the bottom.
Her eyes narrowed. She glanced at him briefly then went back to studying the pattern. She glanced up again after a good three minutes of almost subaudible hmms, tuts and gasps. This was the only problem with The Fat Lady… her day-job as a forture-teller for pay. All that silly melodrama to impress the punters tended to leak into her real work, so you were never quite sure how many of the hmms, tuts or gasps to take seriously and how many were there to add atmosphere.
She was staring into his eyes with an intensity that only she could muster. “Your hand”. It was an order, and it was in her business, not her theatre, voice. He held out his right hand and she grasped it. Another couple of minutes passed and still she stared into his eyes, syphoning information through them directly from his brain. Finally she looked down at the palm of his hand and studied it.
This time there were no hmms, tuts or gasps. She was all business now, and that worried him a little. As frustrating as it was, the fake-gypsy act gave the whole affair a slightly unreal edge. Without it… well, without it, it was just him and The Fat Lady.
Finally she pulled a pin from somewhere in her burgundy housecoat. With a single deft movement she stabbed it into his thumb and squeezed a tiny droplet of blood into her own cup before draining the tea and releasing his hand. She sat back with a sigh and fished a half-smoked joint from one of the many pockets in that housecoat of hers. She lit it from the candle on the table and took a deep draw. Her eyes closed and she entered whatever trance it was that let her do her thing.
After about ten minutes of silence, her eyes opened. She relit the now cold joint. “So you’ve been dreaming of him?”
“And you found his initials carved on the tree outside your house?”
Again he nodded.
“Of course, they are pretty common initials…”
He shook his head. ‘They were in Cyrillic. And it’s not like I live in Little-Moscow.’
“True. But what with all the recent Eastern European immigrants…”
Again he shook his head. ‘Beneath the initials was the number 209′.
The Fat Lady nodded. “That was the number of his unit when he was in The Service of course. And when you add that to the black dog, the telephone call and the DVDs… well, you have more than just a few omens and portents. You’ve got a full blown prophecy.”
It was his turn to sigh. ‘That’s why I’m here. I need to know what it means… what did you see in the tea-leaves? In my palm? In my eyes?’
The Fat Lady offered him the joint. He thought about it, but realised he wanted to be completely straight when he heard what she had to say. Her eyes widened slightly at his refusal.
“Never thought I’d see the day when you turned down a toke. Right, let me put you out of your misery, ‘though I suspect you already know what I’m about to say…” There was a pause. Not for melodrama, for a toke. The Fat Lady exhaled and went on. “Here’s the thing… he’s coming back. He’ll be here within the month. He’ll arrive on a Saturday evening. He’ll be dressed as he always was. And he’s looking to finish what he started.”
His objection sounded hollow to his own ears. ‘But he’s dead. I know that better than anyone… it was me who had to identify his body for the police. And when the embassy staff questioned me, they had photographs of the autopsy with them.’
“Be that as it may. He’s coming back. I suggest you prepare a welcome. And maybe dig out the old notebooks, he’ll want to go through them.”
He looked faintly dazed. ‘You’re right, I knew you were going to say that. I just didn’t think I’d believe you. You’d better give me a hit on that thing after all’. She passed him the joint.
He smiled. ‘So Potemkin Smith is coming back… that should be fun.’