Esmeralda Faw studied the man's palm intently, running her index finger along the Palmar ridge. Her male customers enjoyed it when she did that.
She gently placed his hand on the table. "I see love in your future and pain in your past."
Her customer crinkled his face. "That's kind of vague. For fifty bucks I expected a little more detail, but I guess I should've known better." He gathered his jacket and rose to leave. "I'm going to flame you on Twitter for wasting my time."
"The love will be from a woman named Laura, or possibly Linda," she said. "It was difficult to see the name because your passion vein is very faint. But the pain in your past was definitely suffered at the hands of someone named Clyde. His vessel is big and yours is small so I'm guessing that is your father."
The man flopped back into his seat. "Whoa. I knew Lindsay had feelings for me. Tell me more."
"That would require another reading."
He reached for his wallet.
* * *
Every con-woman worth her salt knew the 90-60 Rule: You could deduce ninety percent of what you needed to know about a mark with just sixty seconds of careful observation. Body language, attire, speech patterns and hair that smelled like expensive conditioner were just a few of things that gave you away.
The other ten percent you could pick up with a Google search and a high-definition camera strategically hidden outside the entrance to your palm reading shop.
Customers approaching the front door of Lady Seville's Palm Reading and Tarot Boutique were confronted with a fluorescent sign informing them that active electronic devices interfered with mystical divination and were strictly prohibited. Just about everyone responded to this by calling or texting someone they cared about to let them know they would be temporarily unreachable. Esmeralda's hidden cam would zoom in on their screens and eavesdrop on their conversations as they did so. While they waited on her in the lounge with her bouncer Vinny watching them closely, crafty Ralda would be in the back speed reading their Facebook timelines.
By the time she waltzed into the lounge wearing her red wig and glittering belly dancer's costume, her victims were as good as gotten.
* * *
Esmeralda smiled as she watched and listened in on the three young women standing outside her shop. College girls were the easiest victims of all, especially when two of them were inebriated.
Ten minutes later she came out to greet them. "Good evening, Ladies," she said, twirling to make the beads on her costume clink melodically.
"That outfit is so hot!" one of the women yelled out. "I'm going to wear that to the Alpha Rho spring fling."
"You can't do two pilates in a row without drinking a whole diet Coke," another responded. "How are you going to squeeze your Kim Kardashian ass into that?"
This first one stood up and began swinging her hips seductively. "Well Luke's not complaining about this junk in my trunk."
The second one smacked her gyrating friend's butt and they all laughed hysterically.
Esmeralda was nonplussed. There was a bar popular with the college crowd half a block away and it was not uncommon for its drunken patrons to stop by her shop and behave this way. The proximity to the bar was one of the reasons she had picked this location.
"You would look fabulous in this," Esmeralda said. "And I can show you some other outfits that will make Luke drop those weights and run to the Quad to be your man slave."
All three women stopped guffawing and looked at her.
"Do you know Luke?" the first one asked, confounded.
"Lady Seville knows many things," Esmeralda said. She gestured to four empty folding chairs set around her palm reading table. "Come over under the light so you can test my abilities."
* * *
One of the ways Esmeralda entertained herself was by giving nicknames to her customers based on what she deduced about them. Most of the names she came up with were derogatory, so she kept them to herself.
She decided to name these three Trust Fund, Jersey Shore and Goth Girl.
At first glance Goth Girl didn't seem a fitting moniker for the third woman's unremarkable, girl-next-door appearance, but Esmeralda had noticed that the woman's mobile phone case was made of real pine and covered in runes, sigils and intricate carvings that gave away exactly what she was into behind closed doors. She was certain the foolish youngster had no idea what kind of powerful forces she was toying with.
Not that it would stop her from trying to empty the woman's bank account.
* * *
"I see love in your future and pain in your past," Esmeralda said to Trust Fund after examining the woman's palm for ninety seconds. This one clearly had the most money of three and was therefore the prime target.
"Gee, that's so insightful," Goth Girl said.
Esmeralda ignored the barb. "Someone named Carmelita that you loved very much left your life when you were young. I can tell this because her line was tightly wrapped around your main vein but then it suddenly disappeared, leaving yours to go on alone."
Trust Fund's eyes began to water. She cupped her hands to her face and sobbed. Goth Girl and Jersey Shore quickly moved in to comfort their friend.
"Jess," Jersey Shore said. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"My nanny was named Carmelita," Trust Fund said between sobs. "She died when I was nine."
"You never told me that," Jersey Shore said.
"I don't talk about it."
Jersey Shore looked over at Esmeralda in awe, but Goth Girl only seemed to be annoyed.
"You've gone too far," Goth Girl said to Esmeralda. "That wasn't necessary."
"The truth is never too far," Esmeralda replied cheerily.
Goth Girl turned to Jersey Shore. "I'm going to wait in the car. Text me when you're ready."
"Is that what Ben would want you to do?" Esmeralda asked.
"Oooh, she even knows about your Mr. Big," Jersey Shore said. "Still think it's fake?"
Goth Girl looked down at her mobile phone in realization and then back up at Esmeralda. "What do you know about Ben, Gypsy?"
"More than you think, Tenderfoot."
"O-M-G," Jersey Shore said, nudging Trust Fund. "Tenderfoot? I think Miss-Goodie-Two-Shoes has been playing Fifty Shades of Grey with Mr. Big behind our backs. We knew you weren't studying all those nights."
Goth Girl and Esmeralda had a brief staring competition.
Then Goth Girl unzipped her clutch, pulled out a credit card and slapped it down on the table. "This I have to hear."
Esmeralda grinned like The Cheshire Cat.
* * *
Two days later Esmeralda did a double-take when her camera feed showed a man who looked like George Clooney's more attractive brother standing in front of her shop. He was in the midst of sending a text to his job and the message clearly listed his full name. This would be like taking candy from a baby. A hunky, gorgeous baby, but a baby nonetheless. She unconsciously bobbed her hair.
When she sashayed into the lounge to meet her delicious new victim she was wearing a form fitting evening gown accented with a string of pearls she'd bought with some of the money she'd hoodwinked out of Trust Fund.
"Hello," she said throatily, standing far enough away for him to get a full view of her womanhood. "I'm Lady Seville."
"I feel underdressed," he said.
"I know a cure for that," she said, sliding into the seat opposite his.
"Is it included in your fee?"
"You must want me to starve."
"Absolutely not; I want you to get everything you deserve."
She decided to nickname him Prince Clooney.
"It's not fair that you know my name but I don't know yours," she said.
"My name is Ben."
"What can I do for you, Just Ben?"
He leaned across the table and stretched out both hands. "The sign says you read palms."
"And other things," she said suggestively.
"Well, let's start with my palms. The hands are always a good place on the body to start."
She touched her hand to her throat.
* * *
About an hour later, Ben sat back in his seat. "Wow. That was pretty amazing. I had always hoped there would be love in my future, but it's great to get confirmation."
Esmeralda uncrossed then recrossed her legs. "Love is always closer than we think."
He looked up from her lap. "How much do I owe you?"
"My regular price is two hundred, but for you, half price."
He smiled and pulled out his wallet. "This must be my lucky day."
"I'm sure a man like you gets lucky all the time."
"You'd be surprised."
"Very few things surprise me."
He found the hundred dollar bill he was searching for in his wallet. He lifted it out a few centimeters, enough for her to make out the denomination. The he paused and looked up. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
Her eyes flicked to the protruding c-note then back up to meet his. "Just one."
He leaned in close. "What would it take for a guy to get to know the real you?"
His cologne filled her nostrils with a sweet, intoxicating scent.
She reached out and pushed the bill back down into his wallet. "We could discuss it over dinner."
"Is it just me or is it warm in here?"
"It's been warm in here since you walked in," she whispered in his ear.
He backed away. "In that case I better cool it off before one of us goes too far."
Heavy snow began falling inside her shop.
Her head snapped upward in shock. She began cursing in her native Romanian. She ran over to the front window, only to find that the sun shone brightly over a dry street. She whipped around to face Clooney, who was easy to spot through the deluge because there was some kind of invisible shield deflecting the snow away from his body.
He looked amused.
"Vinny!" she yelled in rage.
Her overweight bouncer came running in from the back room with an aluminum baseball bat at the ready. Then he saw the snow. "What the hell?"
"Forget the snow you idiot." She pointed a finger at Clooney. "Get him!"
Vinny pivoted toward Clooney and raised his bat.
"I should warn you," Clooney said calmly, "that I fart uncontrollably when big, dumb men beat me."
Vinny swung the bat with all his might, but Clooney's body disintegrated into a flock of pigeons before the blow connected. The bat crashed against the metallic back of the now empty chair, sending out a loud gong that caused a vibration crack in the shop's front window, directly behind Esmeralda. The crack expanded, which in turn made the neon sign hanging in the front window fall from its perch in a plume of electrical sparks.
Esmeralda screamed and stumbled away from window toward the center of the room.
Meanwhile the pigeons were attacking Vinny's head. And farting. A lot. He whirled in circles, swinging the bat wildly to shoo them away, but it was difficult to see through the snow.
Esmeralda's foot tripped on her her fake crystal ball and she fell close enough to Vinny's bat to be knocked unconscious.
* * *
When Esmeralda awoke, she had a splitting headache. She was on the floor in the lounge of her disheveled shop. Most of the furniture was knocked onto its side and the air still smelled of flatulence despite a breeze blowing in through a large fracture in the front window pane.
She groaned and fell back to the floor.
The first thing she did after gathering herself was check the safe in the back room. It was still locked and seemingly unharmed, but there was a handwritten note sitting on top of it that read:
Miss Faw, If you are not dead, I quit. If you are dead then you don't need to read this. Vinny.
She crumpled the note, reassured that the Nobel Prize was in no danger of ending up on Vinny's trophy shelf.
It took several hours of cleaning and lifting before the shop looked reasonably presentable again. When she sat Clooney's dented chair upright, she found that it had been covering a crisp one hundred dollar bill. She snatched up the greenback and hid it insider her bra. That lifted her spirits.
She was still adjusting her cleavage when the front door chimed. She looked up to find a sandy-haired young woman in a university sweatshirt standing in the doorway and surveying the room with wide eyes.
"Uh, are you open?"
Esmeralda dropped her broom and approached the woman with wide arms. "Of course, of course. Please, come in."
But the woman was reluctant.
"Your first reading will be free for having to witness this untidiness," Esmeralda said, guiding her new customer by the elbow into a chair at her palm reading table. "I'm having some work done and you know how hard it is to find good help."
"My Dad says that all the time," the woman said. "He said it's true even when he pays them ten million a year."
Esmeralda stopped in her tracks. "What kind of work does your father do?"
"He owns the Eagles."
"He sells birds?"
The woman laughed. "No, the pro football team."
Esmeralda's heart fluttered with pure joy. "Would you excuse me for a few moments while I run to the ladies room?"
She darted into the back room and did the quickest Google search ever on the family that owned the Philadelphia Eagles.
Only minutes passed before she was back with the customer she had decided to nickname Empty Nest.
"What can Lady Seville do for you today?"
"Well my friend Jess said you told her some amazing things about her love life that all came true and there's a guy in my life I'm not sure about, so, you know, I was hoping you could read your ball or your cards or whatever and tell me what you see."
Esmeralda extended an open palm. "May I see your hand?"
As soon as she said that, something unexpected happened. The bill hidden in her bra grew into a human hand that fondled her in inappropriate places. She jumped up from the table with a yelp, slapping frantically at her torso. She eventually grabbed the disembodied pervert hand and threw it to the floor, where she stomped on it repeatedly. As her foot came down for a final blow, the hand morphed into an expensive camera just like the one hidden outside her shop.
Crunch. The camera shattered into pieces.
"No," she said before sprinting to the back room to check her camera feed. All she found was a screen full of static.
She was red-faced and armed with a steel letter opener when she came back into the lounge.
Empty Nest snickered and said a few quick phrases in Latin that made her transform into Clooney.
"You," Esmeralda growled.
Clooney said a different set of Latin phrases which transformed him into a short Caucasian man with receding brown hair and a neatly trimmed goatee.
"Truce," Ben said, holding up his palms in surrender. "Scout's honor."
"You have no honor."
"You should talk, Gypsy. Or should I call you Lady Seville in public?"
"You had no right to—"
"Save it," he said. "You're an embarrassment to your Guild. Next you'll be selling used cars."
"I won't be insulted in my own home."
Ben sighed. "Look, I just want to explain myself. Then I'll leave and never bother you again unless you give me a reason to. You can either put your big girl panties on and listen or I can report you to the Tarot Council. The choice is yours."
She glowered at him. "Say your piece and go."
"Two days ago, you relieved three young women of quite a bit of money."
"What concern is that of yours?"
"One of them was my apprentice."
"Then she should have identified herself. You should do a better job teaching her the rules. Don't blame me for your incompetence."
"She's forbidden from telling her friends about her apprenticeship, so she couldn't just come out and identify herself."
"That sounds like her problem, not mine."
"She gave you at least three warnings, all of which you ignored."
"She said she clearly showed you the focus runes on the back of her phone case, addressed you as a Gypsy and cast a spell on her sweatshirt that changed the Greek letters of her sorority into Tarot glyphs only you could see. When you ignored all that, she tried to simply walk away, but you invoked my name, requiring her to stay."
"I don't remember any of that happening," she lied.
"I figured you wouldn't. That's why I took a backup copy of the recording you made with your other hidden camera."
She softened her tone. "I'll refund their money, but I'll need three weeks."
Ben chuckled. "You are a piece of work. I don't care about the other two girls. Their families are loaded. But Beth is putting herself through school and the charges you put on her credit card will stop her from buying books next semester."
"Why don't you pay for the books if you care so much?"
"It's against the rules."
Rules, rules, rules. Esmeralda was sick of being constrained by rules.
She thrust a shapely leg out the slit of her gown. "Can we work this out some other way? I cannot afford to lose a whole day's earnings and pay for the repairs to my shop."
Ben admired the newly exposed leg for a beat, then said, "My wife is hotter than you. Plus she's a Norwalk Witch, so if you and I worked out anything my favorite body part might end up on a goat. But don't worry. The main reason I came back was to tell you that I processed a refund to Beth's account on your credit card terminal while you were napping. You can use the rest of your ill gotten gains to pay for any repairs."
"I suppose I can live with that," she said.
He gave her a small bow. "It was a pleasure doing business with you." He headed for the door, then halted. "One more thing: When I walk out of here, that watch you slid off my wrist when you leaned in to whisper in my ear will turn into a bobble-head doll of Vinny that sings Let It Go from Disney's Frozen every hour on the hour. I love that song."
Esmeralda frowned, reminded anew why she had stopped dating wizards.
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