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Steel Blues -- The Countess

For cadenzamuse, who had some insightful questions about Steel Blues, the sequel to Lost Things, a sneak peek at the trouble coming their way!




There was a prickle at the edge of his consciousness, like a faint sound too low to hear, a prickle he was learning to associate with his sight. The last time he'd been to one of Henry Kershaw's parties all hell had broken loose on a psychic level, so Lewis started around, looking for the source of the trouble. Or was it trouble? More like a manifestation of some kind, work being done quietly and skillfully.

There was another terrace down from where they'd set up the bar, screened from above by big bushes, but when he stepped away from the bar and the music Lewis could hear faint voices, two women talking. Another step and he could see.

Two women were sitting at a cast iron table, chairs pulled close together. One of them was their hostess, Henry's wife, Mabel. The other was perhaps thirty-five or so, shorter than Alma and very thin, with black hair and long scarlet nails and a black dress. Her eyes were outlined in black like Theda Bara playing a vampire, and her face was powdered pale. She bent over the cards laid out on the table, a cigarette in a long holder in her hand, a little black handbag lying on the table by the cards.

"I really can't tell anymore, Mabel," she said, peering at the cards. "As far as I can tell his ventures are just fine." She turned another over, showing the picture to Mabel. "See?"

It was the cards, Lewis realized. The prickle was the cards and whatever she was doing to manipulate them. They were a focus for sight, just like Alma's pendulum was a focus for her affinity with earth. He'd seen old women tell fortunes with playing cards, but the pictures on these were unbelievably more complex, a full language of rich symbols rather than rudimentary forms. He wanted to see them, to handle them and get a better look.

She looked up, the black haired woman, and her ruby lips parted in a wide smile. "We have company, Mabel."

Mrs. Kershaw turned around, momentary alarm flitting across her face. She relaxed when she recognized Lewis. "Oh! Mr. Segura." She beckoned for him to come down the last two steps. "I was just asking the Countess to read on Henry's wagers on the air race."

"Um?" Lewis said.

"It looks very good," Mabel said reassuringly. "The stars seem favorable."

"I hope Mr. Kershaw bet on us," Lewis said.

"Of course!" Mabel said. "Henry would never bet against his own team. I just couldn't resist asking the dear Countess to give me a teensy weensy peek into the future. She's absolutely the best medium in town, you know. Much better than those overpriced Hollywood ones." Her voice dropped confidentially. "You know she faces a terrible exile for her talents."

Lewis blinked. "Do you?"

"Oh yes." The Countess put her elbows on the little table, gloved hands clasped together with the cigarette holder between. "I was trained by Rasputin himself. And so of course when the Revolution came I had to flee for my life, darling! Of course I would have anyway, because of my rather distant kinships with dear Nicky. The Czar, of course. I called him Cousin Nicky. We were all so familiar at those rustic retreats at the dascha, just family and Rasputin!" She closed her eyes rapturously.

"What do you do?" Lewis asked.

"She reads the cards," Mabel said. "And she speaks with the Dead."

"It causes me great suffering," the Countess said in her throaty voice. "But if it helps set those poor souls at rest, what else can I do except put myself through the most excruciating agonies if it will bring them peace?"

Lewis felt a chill run down his spine. It wasn't that he didn't believe it was possible. But surely of all magics that was the one that should be played with the least, the awesome and horrible act of disturbing the rest of those laid in consecrated ground, or of listening to the torments of those who did not rest in peace. He looked at her, frowning. He'd felt the frisson of real power. She was doing something. But speaking with the dead?

No, he thought. She had to be a fake. There were charlatans, that he knew, and Alma had warned him there were those who sought membership in a lodge to legitimize their own schemes. Speaking with the dead was for priests, for those who were most serious about their spiritual vocation, not for would-be dragon ladies who apparently charged for card readings, vamped up in black dresses and too much makeup!

The Countess smiled at him stiffly, as if she'd read every thought on his face. "But I don't believe you need my little talents, do you, Mr. Segura?"

Lewis swallowed. "There isn't anyone dead I need to talk to." And he sincerely hoped there wasn't anyone dead Alma wanted to talk to either. He glanced down at the cards again. They were beautiful. And there was no way he was going to ask to see them, not asking her.

"How nice for you," she said, casting her brilliant smile on Mabel Kershaw again. "Then shall we go on, darling?"

"I just came out to get Alma a drink," Lewis said. He took a step away. "I'll do that, if that's ok."

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
cadenzamuse
Jul. 8th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
Oh dear, what a frustrating (and scary) woman. [Obvious] fakery to cover true talent. And I am as disturbed as Lewis at the possibility that this woman's sly mix of both covers actual necromancy, not just Seeing on some level.
jo_graham
Jul. 8th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
She is indeed a scary woman! Nothing like the classic Theda Bara vamp, is there? Every story needs the Dame with an agenda of her own, at least Mitch would say so!
st_aurafina
Jul. 9th, 2012 11:54 am (UTC)
A ha ha, poor Lewis! I can just see him backing away carefully from that dangerous situation. I love how the cards are kind of calling to him.
jo_graham
Jul. 10th, 2012 11:14 am (UTC)
Poor Lewis indeed! The cards are calling, but this is definitely trouble!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )