“Damn it. Fuck.” Steve McSwain curses and bangs his hands, now fists, on the steering wheel of the International Harvester. Traffic is at a crawl on I-80. He turns on his portable sat-nav. It can route him around the traffic. It is slow booting up as well and can’t find the satellite. He cycles the power button, and pulls it down onto the trucks floor. “Shit,” I’ve got to calm down, he thinks. McSwain reaches down to pick up the device and the car behind him lays on the horn. Fuck you, he thinks to himself. He grabs hold of the GPS and holds it up to the top of the windshield. It still cannot find a satellite. The car behind him is still laying on the horn. A large gap opens in front of his truck. He crawls forward, and the person who was honking zooms around on the shoulder and into the opening. They are driving a small Fiat and the one finger salute appears out of the sunroof. McSwain taps his horn and shakes his head.
“I don’t have any fucks to give, pal.” He says to the inside of the front windshield. The GPS still cannot find a satellite, so he carefully turns it off and back on again. Of all the days for it fail on me, I am totally out of sync with the world or something. He sighs.
Bixxter steps up to the PA. Tap, tap, he taps on the microphone. “Quick update folks, the kegs,” he pauses, “yes that is what I said, kegs are parking out front and will be available in few.”
A loud hoorah penetrates the general rumble followed with loud clapping and somersaults.
“Thank you, thank you, but I can’t take credit.” Bixxter bows while blushing. “Could I get a yes,” he shouts into the microphone. “I just want to add my thanks,” he claps, and then points to the grill, “to our hosts, Phoebe and Comma.”
Everyone turns to look and Comma ducks behind the grill. Phoebe waves. “Stop it guys,” she says and blushes. The adulation continues for a few more seconds.
Chili recruits several of the acrobats and clowns to help wheel in the kegs, and their setups. He borrowed a two-wheeler from inside and maneuvers the first keg next to the dead one. A queue begins forming as several of the clowns load ice into its plastic garbage can.
“I’ll set this one up, go back and get the other one,” Chili tells Jaeble.
She smiles back, grabs the two-wheeler and an arm of one of the acrobats, Alex.
Seven and Emily make their way through the front room. A couple of troupers are putting on makeup at one of the desks. They apply colors liberally, but with the precision of a sculptor. They have a makeup kit and mirror in an old leather salesman’s case. The open side has a mirror attached to it and three clowns are using it at once. They don’t notice the two behind them watching.
“The party is out back,” says one of the troupers.
“I don’t know how you do that,” Seven replies and Emily looks toward the kitchen.
The clown looks up at Seven as Emily pulls his arm.
“I can tell you later, sweetheart.” The deep voce looks up and down and back to his butt. He goes back to his work. “I wonder if they are a couple?” All three laugh together.
Seven opens the back door and sees Comma leaning over the grill. “There he is.”
“Who?” They step through and Emily follows him. No one notices his or her entrance. It’s been at least 24 hours, but Emily’s outfit is more formal than anyone at the party.
Comma flips another round of patties and twirls the hot dogs. He has a few chicken quarters left and adds them to the fire. He looks up, “Hey, Seven, you made it.”
“Finally, long day.” He says and they shake hands and then bump fists.
“Hello, Lieutenant Cochran,” he offers his hand.
She looks him up and down and shakes his hand, “I believe we’ve met before.” She smiles.
“I know. I’m flattered you remember.” He turns the burgers. “That was an unfortunate case as I recall. What ever happened?”
Seven interrupts, “we solved it and got reamed.”
Comma laughs, uncomfortably, “that’s an ab-end.”
Cochran remains silent.
“In fact, Com, we’re working another with similar results.” Seven says. “I’m a suspect for the mad M.”
“Nix it,” Emily nudges him hard with her elbow, “ we’re not talking about that to civilians.”
“OWWIE,” Seven reports. “I didn’t use any facts.”
“Just keep cool about it.” She repeats.
Comma snickers uncomfortably to him self, “okay, okay, old-married-couple we don’t want any fights, no one is going to the moon.”
“We’re not a couple.” Emily shakes her head, no.
“Quite a party, you’ve out done yourself,” Seven changes the subject.
“It’s mostly Phoebe’s friends. I am glad you two could join me. I’m almost out of food though. I’ll need someone to back me up when this tangerine mob realizes it.”
“I can’t stay long,” Emily begins.
“She still on duty, and it is not a pretty duty.” Seven interrupts her again. “I drug her along to eat. I’m staying, buddy.”
“Great,” Comma says. “I’ve got some burgers, meat and not, and some dogs in the same condition. I don’t know how anyone eats that. What are they made of, do they grow on trees?”
The three of them laugh and a milk bottle goes flying over their heads. It crashes onto the deck with a thud.
“Sorry, sorry guys, it got away from us,” a scraggly juggler with dirty harlequin tights comes running after it. “It’s only foam with a little weight.” He accidentally bumps into Emily. “Sorry.”
She exhales, “it’s okay.” She can’t help not stare at his crouch. The orange, green, and dirty white pattern creates a perfect codpiece, but is worn and almost opaque.
“I’m Carl,” he says and holds out his hand.
She blushes and takes his hand to shake it.
Carl turns it over, bows and kisses the back of her hand. His other arm swishes the air.
Emily swoons, her eyes open wide with her mouth. “Uh, how sweet.” She says. “A gentleman… I think?”
“My lady,” as he rises and walks off, he begins twirling the prop on one finger.
Emily stares at his butt as he walks away. Carl’s tights are even more threadbare in the rear, and she can make out tiny holes with a firm white cheek slightly poking through. Does he have underwear on? She thinks to herself. He turns again catching her and winks; his smile is as wide as his costume is bright.
Seven watches the spectacle, “HEY,” he punches Comma in the arm. “What the hell does that guy think he is doing flirting with my lady friend?”
“Augh.” Comma drops the spatula onto the grill, “damn it, Seven.”
Emily punches Seven in the arm, “idiot,” she says.
“I’m hungry.” Seven says.
“Grab a plate on the picnic table, some cheese, lettuce or whatever, and I’ll have a few meat burgers ready in a moment.” He says. “I’ll have some chicken in about 30 or so minutes. Chili. You’ve probably not met Chili, but he’s working the keg. We’ve already made a beer run.”
“How many kegs is this party?” Seven asks. “What are you guys doing, beer pong?”
“It’s crazy. I never realized how many people Phoebe knows?” He answers.
Tap; tap, Bixxter looks out at the party. “Clowns, jugglers, acrobats, musicians, and folk of the creative busker, BEER, the illicit hop and malt, the gateway of enlightenment and foundation of civilization, BEER is available.” He begins clapping and the crowd joins in. “A queue of quenching is forming, so be early, be late, be sure and say thank you, again, to our wonder hosts and producers of such a fine tangerine experience this night.” He begins clapping again, and a second round of cheers, louder than the first, interspersed with “thank youse” and “huzzah.”
Long queues form at both kegs, and Phoebe is filling all the pitchers she could find to redistribute the mead. Chili pumps the 2nd keg up and begins filling glasses. Jaeble is on the first keg, and after Phoebe fills several pitchers, she starts down the line filling glasses as quickly as thirst can be quenched.
Bridget drinks from her beer and pulls another card off of the deck. Ethan drinks all but the reaming foam; he burps.
“Sorry,” he says. He burps again and purses his lips and eyebrows, “oops.”
Bridget laughs at him and shakes her head. She lays the card down to the right of the crossed cards and above the previous card. It is Death.
“Whoa, that burp was serious,” Ethan, says. His eyes and mouth form an “O” of disbelief and stares blankly at the card. He holds his stare as long as he can as Bridget stares at him, until he bursts out laughing, and tips over his foam beer cup onto the reading.
“Watch out,” she grabs it and dumps the foam on the grass.
“Sorry.” Ethan adds. “I was being droll.”
“Is that what they call it now? How droll, troll,” shakes her head and then repeats. “It doesn’t mean what you think it means.”
“Good,” he replies. “I thought the curse of the foam was the end.” He giggles, and she continues to shake her head.
“Well, that beer is dead,” she makes the sign of the cross over the plastic glass.
“Good riddance.” He burps, “to bad rub…”
“Like another beer?” Phoebe interrupts him. She is carrying two pitchers.
“Saint Pauli Girl?” Ethan asks.
“Ha, ha.” She replies, “I may be a little light on the top for that spokes-logo.” She curtseys.
“Too much foam upstairs,” Bridget says and the two of them laugh.
“I’ve got more than foam where it counts,” he retorts, and offers his glass.
Bridget looks straight into Ethan’s eyes and places her fist on her hip, “Have you and Joel changed skins?”
Phoebe rolls her eyes as she fills his glass. She fills Bridget’s, pulls an empty cup out of her apron, and fills it for herself. “I’ll be back in few for a break.”
Ethan sighs and smiles, “the long black rider.” He taps his finger on the card.
“It doesn’t mean what you think it means.” She repeats. “The Death card is in the eighth position. It is the impact, influence you have on the reading as whole and on other people.”
“What, death on other people?” Ethan goes quiet. His thoughts return to the BART station and that blonde, what was her name?
“Not literally, silly. Your not a killer,” she giggles.
Ethan does not respond.
“Ethan?” She reaches across the table and grabs his arm.
“Huh,” he says, “ha ha, gotcha.” He blurts out. Ethan smiles,
Bridget exhales, slowly and audibly forced.
“Sorry, sorry. I don’t know what has come over me. I hunted birds with my grandfather once, but I never shot anything.” He explains. “I did have to help clean the kill, and if the bird was just wounded, Grandy had to break their necks and pull off their heads. Their blood would spurt out in time with their heart.”
“Gross Ethan,” she recoils. “What a horrible memory. That’s too much information.”
“Circle of life,” he defends it. “They were very tasty pan fired with eggs and hash browns.”
“I’ve had game birds before, but I just don’t want to know how.” She shudders and takes a long drought of her beer.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what is wrong with me tonight.” He closes his eyes and shakes his head; the blonde’s brown eyes flash in his memory, she doesn’t understand what is happening; and then she is replaced with the bulk of the light rail car.
“The Death card simply means change.” Bridget begins. “It can be painful change with resistance from all facets of your personality.”
“Like changing into worm food?” Ethan takes a long drink off of his beer.
“Are you a mean drunk, Ethan?” Bridget asks.
He drinks again, “no, no, sorry. I’ll be nice. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” He replies.
“The Death card simply means a difficult change”
“Into bones,” he smiles at here.
“Look, if you’re not really interested, I can stop.” Bridget rebuffs him. She begins picking the cards up.
“No, I am sorry. It was the last time. I promise.” He grabs her hand and looks into her eyes. “I’m not normally a jerk. I was just thinking about a bad incident at work. Please, don’t stop.”
She sighs and lays a card back down. “Are you going to listen with an open mind?” She asks in a serious tone.
“Yes. I promise I will focus,” he answers. “I promise,” he shakes his head up and down. Ethan takes another sip.
She exhales deeply, again, “okay. The rose on the night’s flag represents the love of God. He is own a white steed determined to get through it. His skeleton is death in a since, the death of your own will to not change. You ego must die, so you can cross the river to the other side where there is a sun and light.” She explains, “the four people in your path are aspects of your personality. The king is you ego and he suffers the most. The bishop is reason and it begrudgingly knows he must change; the maiden is you regret. You regret having to go through this, and you morn the change. The child is you innocent future. He is the part of you that looks forward to it.”
“This card has a lot on it?” Ethan says.
“Difficult change can be an extremely hard thing. You just have to accept it and gallop full forward. Embrace it.” She says. “In this position, the change you are going through has an impact on everyone around you.” She says.
“So,” he sips and swallows, “I’m going through a change and it has an impact on everyone I know or everyone in this moment?”
“Both, but everyone in the short term.” She answers. “This moment and in the near future.”
Phoebe rejoins them. She is carrying a single pitcher. “Can I sit this on top of your cards?”
“I’ll move them out of the center.” Bridget says and scoots the reading closer to the edge between her and Ethan. She straightens them.
“Finally, a break,” Phoebe sighs. She takes a long drink out of her cup. “Not much flavor” she says, “it must be a cheap American beer. I wonder what Chili bought?” She takes another long drink and refills her glass from the pitcher. She offers it to the others.
Ethan offers his glass, and Phoebe fills it.
“That was quick,” Bridget says.
“Got to go when offered otherwise I would be uncivilized.” He says.
Phoebe offers some to Bridget.
“No. I am good.” She replies.
“Is that for everyone?” Joel walks over with two cups. His cheeks are painted green, his eyes blue, his nose and lips are painted red.
“You look like a tarot card, two cups,” Ethan says.
“Two of Cups,” Bridget corrects him.
Phoebe smiles and refills her glass first, “shortcut,” she says to Joel and empties the pitcher into his two glasses. “That was quicker than I thought,” she announces.
“Thanks, Phoebe. You are the hostess with the mostest.” Joel encourages. “He lifts one of the glasses, “to our favorite hostess, may your spigot always run free.”
The others at the table raise their glasses and toast to Phoebe.
“I need larger pitchers,” Phoebe says.
“TO PHOEBE,” Joel calls out and looks around him. Everyone in earshot lifts his or her cup, and toast spreads all over the yard with everyone joining in and drinking in toast.
“To my love,” Comma bends down and kisses her on the neck and whispers in her ear. “What a wonderful party.
Blushing, Phoebe closes her eyes, stands with her glass above her head; toasts back at everyone then bows. She repeats the gesture in all four directions and sits. Her cheeks are warm and flushed, “okay, okay, that’s enough guys,” she says to the table.
Comma taps her on the shoulder, “Phoebe I want you to meet some friends of mine from The City.” Seven and Emily are standing next to him.
“Hello.” She shakes her pinky with Lieutenant Inspector Emily Cochran’s pinky. Cochran is holding a can of coke and plate of food, and her pinky motion is all she can juggle.
“It’s nice to meet you, and thanks for letting us join your party,” Emily says.
She turns to Seven and hugs him. “I already know you, Seven.”
“Great party.” He says in her ear.
“I’ve gotta go back to the fire.” Comma announces. “You two got here just in time; we’ll be out of food before you know it. Out of meat anyway, but plenty of snacks.” He adds.
“We’ll make room for you at this spool,” Phoebe suggests. She lifts her plate and the two empty pitchers. “I’ll be back in a few. Go ahead and take my seat.
Ethan and Bridget move closer together, keeping the reading between them. Seven moves around the table next to Ethan and sits his plate and cup down. Emily follows suit and sits.
“I think we’ve room for one more.” Seven says. “We’ll need another chair. I’ll see if I can find one.”
“I’m not staying that long,” Lieutenant Cochran reminds him, and tugs at his shirt.
“I know, but if we need it, I want to be sure our hostess has a seat.”
Cochran is sitting opposite of Ethan. She stares at him for a moment and Ethan squirms a little. Something about her is familiar, but he can’t quiet remember. Ethan takes another drink.
“I’m Bridget,” she reaches her hand across to Emily. “Phoebe is really busy, I’m sure she would have introduced us.”
“A party this large, she must have a lot on her mind,” Cochran responds and smiles. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“This is Ethan,” Bridget says. “I’m reading the cards for him.”
“Oh,” Seven interrupts, “I wondered what they were for. I’m Seven.” He reaches across the table and shakes their hand as well.
Ethan smiles at them both, but doesn’t say anything. Something, something, he knows her from somewhere, TV, perhaps? He see’s Suzy on the platform again, and tenses up.
“Seven? That’s an unusual name?” Bridget asks.
Seven similes wide, but holds the blush, “My parents were mathematicians, and…”
“Don’t ask,” Emily interrupts and cordially laughs.
“I’m really interested?” Bridget counters.
“I’ll explain it later.” Seven says.
Bridget senses the increase in tension at the table, “are you two okay? You both seem jittery?”
Emily eats her meal, a grilled chicken breast and a salad. She drinks from her coke and Seven takes a long draught form his beer.
“In short,” he begins, “Em is still on the clock and has to go back to headquarters. Her case is going poorly, again.”
“Shhh.” She looks at him sternly and points her fork at his face.
“Case?” Ethan asks.
“I can’t talk about it.” Seven says as Cochran lifts her fork again.
Ethan frowns and looks Lieutenant Inspector Cochran up and down more closely. She doesn’t notice. She is dressed a little too professionally, he thinks to himself. She could be a city employee? Ethan takes a drink.
“Work in the city?” Ethan asks.
Emily nods her head yes, but doesn’t look up.
“The Death Card?” Seven changes the subject.
“IT DOESN’T MEAN,” Bridget and Ethan say in unison, then look at each other,” what you think it means.” They finish the same statement then laugh. Ethan groans and relaxes.
“Everyone makes that mistake,” Bridget instructs. Cochran looks up. Seven grasps the meaning of the outburst with his open mouth and then grins at them. “It just means drastic change.” Emily says. “If ever, it rarely means death.”
She points at the card, “See the King laying under the horses front hooves? He is not dead. He’s exhausted fighting against the change.”
Cochran continues to eat and doesn’t look up. Seven eats slowly and shakes his head as Bridget explains the reading.
“The holy man next to the King is submitting to the change as there is no other choice.” Bridget trades eye contact with both. Ethan glances back at Cochran. He knows her from somewhere, He thinks of that moment, in that blonde’s eyes as she realizes what is happening. Her surprise at the touch passes to shock and absolute terror. He maintains eye contact with Bridget, but his thoughts are not in the present.
“Did she see the train,” Ethan whispers.
“What?” Bridget asks, “What Ethan? I couldn’t hear you.”
He looks at Seven, then Bridget, and doesn’t answer. He looks at Cochran; she must work for the city. He thinks as he stars at the Death Card.
“Ethan? Do you have a question?” Bridget is stern. “Ethan?”
“No. No, I just can’t seem to focus. I was thinking of my grandfather again.” He explains.
Seven rolls his eyes, takes a bite of a hot dog, then a drink of his beer.
“I am so sorry Bridget, please, please go ahead.” Ethan refocuses.
“Okay. The knight, a skeleton or the bones of an old idea or way, is facing across the river to a castle in light.” She adds. “He carries a banner and its staff is like a graduated ruler. Change comes gradually sometimes inches at a time, but the white rose on the flag signals a positive outcome.”
Seven and Ethan shake their heads up and down. The reading is not for Seven, but the interpretation of the images on the cards is fascinating. He’s always been curious about how the tarot works. He thinks if he could create an app associated with a random number generator, perhaps he could interpret his feeling about a case, a mystery that doesn’t quiet come directly to mind. If the generator were accurate, would he need life tables in the BART case? How could he apply context to other events like a person’s death? Seven thinks, I don’t know if an app could replace the context that the reader provides in real time for all circumstances? The diviner is extremely important to the reading to provide all contexts for every current circumstance. Hum?
Bridget drinks from her beer, “okay. The child next to the holy man accepts the change with full resolve, hope, and excited expectation. It’s just like when we have to change a habit or something in our life, but don’t want to. We fight, but we know we have to and eventually after exhaustive resistance, we ware down our conception and rationalize with the future in mind, like the holy man; and then we are as excited as a child for something new.”
“That makes sense,” Seven says, “like our case, we got kicked off of and no matter what we wanted we had to move on. The murder at the BART station last night, we were on the right track but extraneous circumstance, politics that are totally out of our control, forced us off, and…”
“DAMNIT, SEVEN.” Cochran pops straight up. “Shut the FUCK up.” She pokes his arm with her fork.