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I heard Cora’s scream all the way across town. Everybody in Hot Springs did. Of course, I wasn’t sure who it was at first. It was just a blood-curdling scream. It had been years since I’d read for that little girl, back before she packed her bags and set off for Par-ee. She’d pulled “The Chariot” then, a good a sign for setting off on an adventure as I could imagine. We’d all been a little jealous of her over there all la-di-da. But just a week or so ago, I started hearing rumors. Within an hour of the scream, everybody in town knew everything. It’s a small town. That’s how small towns work.

I’m the only one who knows the future, though.

She called me, no shame, no explanation, at 1 in the morning. “Please, Jimmie Sue, just one card.”

“Without even touching them?” I asked.

“Oh I don’t have time,” she whined. She was always one for whining, that Cora. “Please, just one card.”

I don’t like one-card readings and I especially don’t like one-card readings over the phone. But you have to feel a little bad for a gal who’s just found her daddy splat on the floor, being used as catnip.

“Okay,” I said. “Just don’t blame me if you draw ‘Death.’”

“I won’t, Jimmie Sue! I promise.”

“Then concentrate,” I commanded. “And focus on  your question.”

I could practically see her squeezing her eyes tight.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m ready.”

I unwrapped the silk scarf and took out my cards, cradling the phone against my ear. Throws your whole posture off, doing that. It can lead to a herniated disk. Only for Cora. “I’m shuffling,” I said. “Tell me when to stop.” I led her through the shuffling and the cutting of the cards, and finally pulled her card, which turned out to be number 15 of the Major Arcana.

The Devil.

I hesitated.

“Not Death?” she said.

“No,” I said. “The Devil.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It depends on your question, Cora, but it usually aint good. It’s the beast inside you, your dark side, addiction.  Everything you’ve been hiding from the world. It’s evil, Cora.”

“But is it me, necessarily?” she asked, pleading a little. “Couldn’t it be Medhi?”

“Maybe in a full spread,” I said. “But a single card reading, that’s you. And I’ll tell you something else. You’re not done with that man. On the card, at the Devil’s feet, are two people, a man and a woman, naked, connected by a chain. ”

“So should I have come home, back to Hot Springs?” Cora asked me.

So that was the question Cora had formed when I’d asked her to concentrate. I’d hoped for the Six of Cups for Cora, the nostalgia card, the one that always reminded me of garden gnomes and fairy tales.

“I don’t know,” I said. I felt a little shiver. Not for Cora but for Hot Springs. The Devil had come to town, and it didn’t bode well for any of us.

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I ran down the stairs into the room as they were running out. The little salt and pepper shakers of doom, the white girl and the black boy, who’d let themselves in while I’d been asleep.

“Hooligans!” I screamed. “Thieves! Miscreants! Devils!”

Devils. As soon as the word left my mouth, I remembered. That’s the card that Cora had drawn, and here was her little spawn, speaking French like a preacher speaking in tongues, setting fire to my house, almost killing me. And that other devil, that Daryn boy. I’d been too soft on him for years, letting him lift a little pot now and then. And this was how I was repaid for my kindness.

My cards were spilled all over the floor. My cards, my precious cards. Sure, by now I could tell a fortune with a poker deck. But these were soft at the edges, these cards were informed by years of my touch, these cards contained my soul. I tried to scoop them up but the flames were coming too fast, the cards spread too far. Some had slipped under the couch.

People laugh when misfortune befalls a reader. “If you’re so smart,” they say. “Why didn’t you see this coming?”

Well, I did see it coming. The Tower had been popping up in my readings for weeks.  Card of fire. Card of doom.

But let me tell you something: even fortune tellers can lie to themselves. There’s a reason a doctor doesn’t take out his own appendix and a lawyer doesn’t defend himself.

The Tower had been there, like a great big honking billboard. And I even had that extra clue when Cora picked the Devil.

But I’d deluded myself into thinking it was meant for someone else. And now, I was barefoot in my own backyard with nothing but a nightgown on my back.

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I was surprised to see LaTonya show up for a reading. She never had. The woman was dead serious, grounded in the here and now, in facts. But here she was and I could guess at her troubles.

I did a simple past-present-future spread. Past: Wheel of Fortune. Not a surprise. Some people consider that the card of luck, but it can be good luck or bad luck, and for LaTonya it had almost always been bad. Present: King of Swords. That was clearly her crazy holy roller of a son Dwayne, pastor of the Divine Light, who had kidnapped LaTonya’s baby, Darrell.  Divine Light my ass. If you ask me, Dwayne’s the worst of the lot, even worse than the one that ran the go-go. A tyrant.

It was the future card that was interesting: Six of Pentacles. Generosity. LaTonya clearly doesn’t have anything to give, so it must be some other source of generosity. Generosity…not much of that going around in Hot Springs. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. LaTonya’s a good lady. She could sure use some. Still, I can’t see her taking any handouts either.