What a night. What a terrifying night. What a terrifying, shocking, no-good, utterly confounding night.
Anais Herschel (expert in nautical imagery in tarot) gathered us all together (at least those of us who happened to be in or near the city) but told us to meet not at S.A.U.C.E. headquarters but at her family’s farm an hour’s drive away. She warned us to take different routes and to make sure not to be followed. Of course this instruction resulted in some confusion and alarm as we were all heading to the same place and not everyone recognized the cars of fellow S.A.U.C.E. members. Some of them had to follow one another, since there were more of us than roads to the Herschels’ farm.
Ms. Herschel would not tell us in advance the purpose for this meeting, but I believe that each of us assumed she had found out Michel Nolastname’s killer’s identity.
Her father handed out his famous banana brandy cupcakes, then she began with her usual eloquence. “I’m not gonna bore you with an intro; you know why you’re here and it’s not to apologize for making Elsie empty out her ****ing suitcase. She was acting weird.”
Elsie Cabret quite rightly spoke up to her own defense. “I had private things in that suitcase! You had no right.”
I must say that while I do not agree with all of Ms. Cabret’s actions with regard to our investigation, Ms. Herschel broke past the threshold of decency and privacy. I am certain that in time (gods willing) these two respected tarot theorists will overcome their differences.
“Anyway,” said Ms. Herschel, It’s not Elsie.”
Sorina Jones interrupted. “We know that. She was in San Francisco when it happened.”
“So she said!” yelled Ms. Herschel. “And it turns out she was telling the truth. And she didn’t hire a hit person. Even if she or anyone in this room did kill Michel, I don’t know why anyone would flatten him to a pancake when there are so many easier ways to off someone. I’d do poison, I mean everyone’s gotta eat.”
Julen Ibarra, who had been peeking through the curtains of the front window, said “Hurry up. I think I hear something. Could be the authorities.”
“Sit down, Julen. It’s not the authorities.”
He fumed. He did not sit down. “Don’t be naïve. Open your eyes! They’ve been hiding a new weapon, a collective of five enormous monolithic robots. Tan-coloured for desert camouflage, in some kind of NASA flexible padded covering. One of those things could squash a person a person flat like Michel without any problems. There are whole blogs about sightings!”
“For **** sake, It’s not any of us,” she said. A collective sigh of relief passed through the crowded room. “And it’s not any secret military program either. I found a letter.” She removed it from her messenger bag and opened. “I know we thought we read all of Michel’s stuff but this was folded up in a box of coconut cream pie, in his freezer. That’s why we missed it.”
“Well,” said Ray Moretti, “read it out.”
“To Zero the Cliff Dweller, King of New Year, The Beggar, The Excuse, Everlasting Lord of Laughter, The Pantless, The Motley Servant, The Wild Card, Pie Face, Dogbone or whatever the hell you’re calling yourself these days…”
These were the only words Ms. Herschel had time to repeat to us before the unthinkable happened.
A sudden electrical storm interrupted the clear sky. Mr. Ibarra scurried away from the window and huddled with the rest of us. I and presumably the majority of S.A.U.C.E. are unafraid of lightning and thunder, which are among the more beautiful events of the natural world. This was far from natural, however. There was only one cloud. The lightning crackled directly on and around the farmhouse. Finally there was a great crack that split the roof and exposed us all to the fury of the sky.
We were not electrocuted. Instead, two tan monolithic entities, exactly like the robots Julen Ibarra described, broke through the crack in the roof, grabbed Ms. Herschel by pinching her between them, and then inexplicably disappeared.
We screamed like children. Nothing could have prepared us to see such horrors close up. We only saw them for a second but I will never forget the eerie swirling pattern etched into their surfaces or the translucent but woody shield that each of them had. They were like monstrous fingertips, with Anais Herschel the size of an ant in comparison.
Danny Delaire was inconsolable. She was for several minutes unable to speak and compulsively devowered the leftover banana brandy cupcakes. Ms. Delaire has, as I may have indiscreetly mentioned in an earlier post, a special fondness that she could not bring herself to confess to Ms. Herschel. It may now be too late. Although I have experienced more than my share of loss, I cannot imagine being parted with someone in such a stupefyingly bizarre fashion.
Ms. Herschel had dropped the one page missive while those abhorrent tan devices lifted her up. The page slipped under the sofa. I found it and pulled it out, but I did not read the words out loud. We each read silently, passing it around from one S.A.U.C.E member to the next until we had all read it. There was little else to the text besides the opening salutation that Ms. Hershel had already recited. It was written in an elegant but overly large hand, and so there was room for only three short phrases, “GIVE UP. WE FOUND YOU. YOU ARE OUT,” and the signature, “L ACE.” On the back, Ms. Herschel had scribbled down “hidden cards?” in pencil.
“Who’s Lace?” said Sorina Jones. We all shushed her, although we too had that question. Ms. Herschel was stolen from us only when she spoke the words of the letter out loud.
Ms. Delaire rose from floor where she sat, and, shaking with rage, wiped the banana brandy cupcake crumbs from her tear-stained cheeks. She said in an uncharacteristic guttural snarl, “Whoever it is, I’m going to find them. They’re going down.”
I have vowed to help her in this, as did everyone there. The Cups expert of few words, Crystal Balque, made an elaborate salute. As I write this, the Morettis and I are driving back to the farmhouse with roofing supplies and a casserole for Anais Herschel’s parents.
We will discover whoever Lace is. We have the letter, a genuine clue. We have Anais Herschel’s note on the back, saying “hidden cards?” We have access, with Mr. and Mrs. Herschel’s help, to their daughter’s house, where she presumably collected her findings. We have witnessed firsthand two out of the five tan weapons that Mr. Ibarra seems to know something about, which stole Ms. Herschel and likely also flattened Michel Nolastname to death.
We are coming. Lace ought to cower in fear.