August 3, 2012
Look, said Beker patiently, fortune tellers are a fake. You’re married to a retired CSIS cypher clerk, Carol; trickery was my business. You’re just afraid to go in, said Carol. Here, just follow me, and she swished into the large tent and plopped on the chair. For some reason, the fortune teller looked a little flustered. No clients? wondered Beker, standing behind Carol. The little sign outside saying occupied – please wait had not been lit.
Can I help you? she asked, like a somewhat distracted sales clerk, thought Beker, smoothing the cloth that created a floor-length skirt around her table with its crystal ball. For sure, said Carol, if you can tell my future – how much? Beker laughed inside. Credulous Carol might be, but not imprudent. The answer was unexpected when it came: Whatever you want to give me when you’ve heard the future. Beker heard an ominous note. Carol did too, but soldiered on, to show she was not afraid. Ok, shoot.
The fortune teller pressed the button to turn on the sign outside and asked may I see your hand? Not the crystal ball? asked Carol in a disappointed voice. Perhaps later, said the fortune teller. Ok, said Carol and stretched out her right hand. Immediately the fortune teller said no, show me both. She bent over the two palms, took one in her hand, traced the lines with a dark-skinned finger; then did the same with the other. Then she paused, doing nothing, her head down, for the longest time. Carol began to itch.
So, what does it say? she asked. I’m not sure, the fortune teller said, troubled. He’s getting in the way, nodding at Beker. Beker decided not to move. He’s like a mirror, she said, coming back at me; maybe it’s me I’m reading. But it’s my palms! said Carol. I doubt not, said the fortune teller. But I find a message for me. Do you have a son? No! said Carol. But I do, said the fortune teller, and this says my son will ascend to unimaginable power. But I will be calloused and my eyes will be full of dirt. She paused. Please go now, she said, I must do some things, and lifted her large gypsy skirts and disappeared behind another flap inside the tent.
So anyway, she didn’t try to charge us, said Beker, to console Carol as they walked away. But she’s in trouble! said Carol. Oh, for pete’s sake, she’s loopy, Beker said, she’s been in the sun too long. But he agreed that there had been no attempt to target their cash in that tent. He looked back at it, and saw a swarthy man looking around and then separating the canvas flaps to get in. Look, he said, another client, or maybe the son. Let’s see if he gets kicked out too.
Instead, some minutes later, it was the fortune teller who came out, almost unrecognizable in heels and a tight-fitting dress. What did I tell you, crowed Beker, it’s all an act! They watched as she headed toward the fairground exit, picking her way as fastidiously as she could on the earth and grass. Must be the son, said Carol. She left him alone in the tent. Beker looked at her fondly, she was catching on.
What do you suppose the unimaginable power is? asked Carol. Ill-gotten gains, said Beker, fairgrounds are perfect for that. Who knows what’s exchanged among the elephants? They don’t have any elephants here, said Carol. They don’t even have proper horses, just a petting zoo and a pony for parents to buy their kids over-priced rides.
You wait here, said Beker, and before she could respond, he was on his way back to the tent. Carol hesitated only a second before following him. They paused a little before the door flaps, listening, noting the sign still said occupied — please wait. There was no sound. Quiet as the grave, Beker thought, and pushed in.
He was stopped immediately by the scene, and made sure he was standing in front of Carol. Obscured by the long tablecloth, a young woman’s body lay on the ground, eyes staring sightlessly up, and naked from what Beker could see. There was some ugly bruising on her head, and a line of blood seeped from the edge of her mouth. Beker took a deep breath, stepped forward and bent over her to touch her neck, trying to detect a pulse. Nothing. Beker could see no weapon, but most of the body was under the tablecloth. More puzzling was that the swarthy man who had entered the tent hardly a quarter of an hour before wasn’t there.
Beker stood up, and backed toward the tent entrance, crowding the wide-eyed Carol, glancing around to see if the man could be hiding somewhere. There was the fortune teller’s private corner, shielded by the flap she had disappeared behind when dismissing him and Carol. Beker felt his heart beating rapidly as he pushed Carol out of the tent, and then pulled at the cell phone in his pocket.
Beker refused to move far from the tent entrance, as he and Carol waited outside for help from Beker’s 911 call. If the swarthy man tried to leave, Beker wanted to know about it. Why had he hidden himself? Why would he think anyone would come in, given that the occupied sign was still on? Why hadn’t he fled? Or had he? Was there some inconspicuous other exit? Beker was sure he’d have seen anyone leaving even from the back; the grounds were not large, with not much cover around that group of sideshow tents. Beker warned the police and the ambulance when they came, so the tent was surrounded first. After several demands to come out, the police went in with weapons ready. They found only the dead body.
When the ambulance had taken the corpse away, and the police investigating the scene had finally paid more attention to Beker and Carol than to say they should wait in one of the cruisers, the detective questioning them kept returning to what they had seen. It was evident he thought that the swarthy man, if he had existed at all, had really been entering another tent, or had made an escape despite the Bekers’ attention. There’s no back exit to that tent, he told Beker. He was much more interested in the fortune teller. Both Beker and Carol were asked to describe how she looked, what she said and how she behaved several times. Her behaviour seemed more odd every time they repeated it. The police had their suspect. Beker assumed they were identifying the fortune teller, and maybe the corpse, from whoever was running the fair.
Finally, after the police decided they had everything they could get from Beker and Carol, they were asked to come to the station to sign a statement. Carol insisted they needed to go home first, to feed and walk the dog. She didn’t trust that they wouldn’t be made to wait hours till the statement was written up. So Beker drove them home, silently. Carol looked at his preoccupied face and hoped this wasn’t going to turn into another Beker episode. What are you thinking? she asked. Beker laughed and said, a locked tent mystery!
Carol headed for the kitchen to open the kibble for a very excited hound, Beker following her to quiet the dog. Hardly a few minutes later, there was a knocking at the kitchen back door. Beker looked out the window in the door, straight into the eyes of the fortune teller. She gestured and implored with her hands and eyes, trying to talk through the door. Please!, please, she said, let me talk to you! Carol drew in her breath as Beker began to unlock the door. What are you doing? she managed to hiss before the fortune teller was in, almost babbling.
Thank you, thank you, mister! she said breathlessly. You are so kind! You are so kind! Her accent was stronger than in the tent, from anxiety, Beker supposed. You and your lady are so kind! Look said Beker, what are you doing here? And how did you get here? Oh yes, oh yes, she said still breathlessly. I am coming back from my trailer and I see all the police around my tent, and I hide and watch from behind another tent! Then I see you and your so lovely wife talking to the police, so I know you can tell me what has happened! I follow you when you go to your car, and I follow you with my own car, and I need so much for you to tell me what has happened!
Just call the cops said Beker, though he knew already that she was hardly likely to trust them if she hid from them. She really looked Roma, and so had that son of hers. What happened to your son? he asked, where did he go? She looked taken aback, and said, my son? Yes, said Beker, wasn’t he your son? We saw him go in after we left and he never came out, but he wasn’t there when the cops came about the murdered girl. Murdered girl? she said, again repeating what Beker said. She looked shocked, then anxiety overcame all her features. Are the police looking for my son? she asked on a rising note. Beker noticed she was not asking about the girl.
Actually, said Carol, breaking in, I don’t think they even believe us that he was there, because he’s disappeared! The fortune teller shifted her gaze to Carol, and a kind of fellow-female look softened her face. I’ll tell them I did it, she said, as though the thought was birthing in her mind. You understand, he’s my son! You shouldn’t have any trouble with that, said Beker drily, it’s what they already think.
I’ll tell them he was never there, the fortune teller went on, looking at Beker, then Carol, and you won’t be able to prove he was! She laughed a bit crazily, and said, we can vanish like that, into thin air you know, we Roma! We are magicians!
But isn’t it true anyway, that the girl was dead when we walked in? asked Beker quietly. Hadn’t you just pushed her body under the table? You were going to hide her till your son came to help you get rid of her, isn’t that true? But you were so shaken up that you hadn’t thought yet to turn on the sign to keep clients out, and when we came you needed some minutes to think. You gave my wife a fortune that meant your own fate was at the top of your mind, and then you just had to get us to leave. So tell me, did you find her dead? or kill her? asked Beker.
Why should I kill her? Why should I kill her? the fortune teller almost screamed. She is my helper, we work magic together, she sits under the table and the ouija board moves, and the ball reveals. I love her like a daughter, and she is wanting to marry my Ivan, my son, my son, her voice faltered and tears were starting in her eyes. Oh, please help me, mister, she said, please help me, missus, turning to Carol. We are kill no one. We are new in this country, look we just come, just come, and she pulled at her purse, hauling out her passport, and then another passport, saying, see, see this is my son! We are here since three months; it’s so bad in Kosovo, so war, all hate Roma, and we are here with work visa for circus! Here are no enemies, why are we kill the lovely girl, how are we kill her?
Well, said Carol soothingly, we don’t think you did, do we Beker? When we came into your tent, asked Beker, ruminatively, as though deaf to the fortune teller’s overwrought state, was she alive under the table, ready to help you with your crystal ball gazing or ouija board moving, and after you left the tent, did your son kill her? Or should we believe she was dead when you found her before we came in, killed by a person unknown to you and your son, as part of a sex assault? Yet you were ready to hide the body? Or do you ask us to believe you did not know there was a body under the table till just now when we told you? That you did not look to see if your helper was in position?
Yes, yes, I look, said the fortune teller, capitulating, and I find. I find. She is naked, she is dead, and I not know why. And I am so afraid, for me, for my son, we are new and we want to stay, but now with dead helper, who will believe us? Who will say it is not us? So I call my son — she showed her cell phone proudly — and he say, hide her, hide her, till I come. Then you come in. Now I think my fate is seal! Her English was deteriorating rapidly. My son has vanish and no one can say true he is there. It is me, it is me who die for this! The fortune is true! My fate is in your hands, missus! No, no! exclaimed Carol, appalled, we have no death penalty here.
Then help me, please help me, you will help me? implored the fortune teller, looking to Carol and repeating, my fate is in your hands! But what can we do? exclaimed Carol, you and your son would be best to go to the police! No, no police! said the fortune teller, but you go to police, you say not sure man come in tent. You make mistake, you know now. No man in tent.
Beker was staring at her, she had produced a plausible tale, as far as it went, though it didn’t go nearly far enough, not for example, as far as explaining about the vanishing son. He was about to speak when the doorbell rang. As he walked to see who was at the front door this time, the fortune teller raised her hands prayerfully to Carol, who quickly opened the kitchen pantry door, and whispered, here, stay in here!
Somehow, it didn’t surprise Beker at all to see the police inspector on the stoop. He opened the door and welcomed him in with what brings you here? We were just feeding the dog. Putterball II, who had mainly been gulping food in the kitchen, now lolloped around the inspector’s coat the picture of dog enthusiasm.
I want to apologize, said the inspector, we should have paid more attention to that man you saw going into the tent. We’ve been checking with the fairground operator, who showed us the work visas of the fortuneteller, and her son. He keeps them as a precaution. The son’s picture looks pretty much as you described the man, and we’d like you to look at it and confirm it. I’ve brought it with me, here, and he extended a paper to Beker. The face looking out from the visa was the one that had looked around before slipping through the tent door.
The operator also volunteered, said the inspector, that there was no love lost between that mother, her son and that little lady who’s our victim. It was the operator who teamed up the victim with his new fortune teller and magic act, but it never really took. Lately, it seems the victim was showing off some real expensive jewelry, and making jokes the son didn’t appreciate about how he had to keep her happy. Everyone in the circus figured she had a hold on him somehow. So we’d like to locate him and talk to him. You still have no recollection of seeing him come out? Go anywhere?
No, said Beker, but come into the kitchen, maybe Carol has something to say. Carol, listening at the kitchen doorway, was aghast. No, no, she said, I don’t know anything about that man!
But I think I do know where he is, said Beker, or at least where you can find him, if you’re quick. Carol stared at Beker in shock. The inspector, too, was surprised, with the beginning of anger. What do you mean? he said, and what he silently meant was why didn’t you say anything before?
Beker went quickly to the pantry door and opened it, grabbing the phone from the fortune teller as she was trying frantically to push the buttons. He’ll be somewhere in this neighbourhood, probably sitting low in a car, waiting for this lady to come back. The inspector decided first things first; before grilling Beker, he quickly called for backup and a ring to be put around a six-block radius. It took only thirty minutes to locate the car, which was parked two blocks from Beker’s house. The fortune teller’s son was sitting in the driver’s seat, hadn’t even tried to hide, so confident was he that he had vanished from sight.
How could you do that? asked Carol much later. Now she’ll claim she did it, just to save her son! That would be fine, said Beker with a shrug, seeing that she did do it. How do you know that? demanded Carol. Well, if she’s trying to protect her son, and we believe her when she said the girl was dead when you and I entered the tent, then he would have had to have done it earlier, then left the body for some reason for his mother to find, then returned when she presumably called. How much sense does that make? And the girl was hit with a blunt instrument, which the police now think was the crystal ball. No wonder our fortune teller didn’t want to use it to tell your future! On the other hand, if the girl was alive under the table when we entered the tent, why was our fortune teller so anxious to get rid of us? And there would have been very little time for the son to kill her after we saw him. He’d have to have come planning it, even to including his mother.
No, it was a crime of impulse, and our exotic drama queen is a better bet, not some passing sex maniac. Maybe the girl mocked her as they were about to start their fortune telling shift; maybe she could threaten the son in a way the mother couldn’t tolerate. Or could threaten them both, I think, continued Beker, given that the work visas were faked. I could tell that when the inspector showed me the son’s, and I saw the form numbers were faked. Form numbers are very tiny and on the page border, but I’ve seen enough government forms to know they’re always there and carry a date of initiation. That visa’s form number and date were smudged, to hide that the maker didn’t know the real date that should be there.
But how did you know he’d be in the car waiting for her? asked Carol. He could just have stayed disappeared! Not without his passport, said Beker. His mother had it in her purse. She used it to show us how they were good law-abiding immigrants. Or maybe she was still just carrying it, given that when she left the tent, it was to go and retrieve their passports from their trailer, as they were thinking they’d both maybe need to get away! But first, the mother wanted to know what the police were thinking, wanted to know if she could get the son in the clear, just through the vanishing act, if no one believed he was there. Hence the visit to us.
So how did he vanish? asked Carol. It’s when I realized that, said Beker, that I knew I couldn’t be fooled by her twice and keep my self-respect. It was classic misdirection. The son had seen us hanging about outside, so they wanted to undermine our credibility as witnesses, given there’d be a dead body to investigate, probably before close of business that day. They realized they could do a magician’s vanishing act — the mother changed into the clothes that the victim was wearing, and they pulled the rest of her clothes off to give the impression of a sex crime. The girl’s dress and heels were a bit too tight for the fortune teller, making her attention-getting. And it worked, said Beker, I’m ashamed to say. I watched her, you watched her, as she gave us a show, walking away toward the fair exit. As we watched, her son slipped out of the tent and hid behind it, thinking when we moved off, he could complete his escape. It must have been a shock when we went inside the tent instead, but it still left him the chance to get away unseen. When we started paying attention, the horse was already out of the barn door. Or maybe that should be out of the tent flap!