The Summer Solstice was yesterday at 10:34 in the evening, and it was an event I shall never forget if I live to be a thousand.
I, and probably many of us, took little notice of Danny Delaire until Anais Herschel’s kidnapping. Ms. Delaire is a quiet soul. She seats herself at the back of the room during meetings and lectures. She does not participate during formal group discussions but listens silently. This may not change, nor should we pressure her to change. She is who she is, and she is part of our tarot community. Nevertheless, this crisis has brought her brilliant colours to light.
She was the one who devised the plan for returning the captive Ace (a disembodied hand the size of a fast food establishment) to its mate. It was fortuitous that the ransom note gave us the Summer Solstice as a deadline, for our city holds a street festival each year in celebration. Ms. Delaire gave treasurer Sorina Jones the task of convincing festival organizers to allow us (under a false name) to erect a float on festival grounds, as a front. There is no parade. Soon after her errand, Ms. Jones reassured us that we were allowed to bring something resembling a float, but that we will have to discuss the impact our bribe will take on this year’s budget. We all agreed that until Anais Herschel was safely with us again the budget was something worth ignoring, which is helpful when an organization comprised entirely of volunteers has to rent two flatbed trucks with matching trailers and décor suitable for a festival installation whose theme we told them was “Helping Hands”.
We gave the Ace a manicure with a rented chainsaw, an industrial-grade orbital sander and automotive paint (it chose a shade labeled “Flamingo Fling”) and helped it up onto the flatbeds. We then covered the rest of the float with the golden bepentacled disks we found in the basement. We installed short plastic hedges around the edge of the flatbeds, to prevent the discs from spilling out into the streets. The ransom specified returning the gold along with the hand. For the sake of our dear Anais Herschel, we could not risk losing a single one.
Crystal Balque posed on top of the Ace’s palm as the allegorical personification of Charity, to ensure that our float had the appearance of legitimacy as well as to remind the Ace not to move. I suggested that for safety reasons, two of us could instead stand in the hedges on either side, but Danny Delaire agreed with Ms. Balque that “one in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
We did not go to the festival grounds, however, but passed it closely by on our way out of town. If anyone asked us why we were going the wrong way, we had some excuses prepared. It was a clever ruse, or it would have been had festival organizers started the bonfire a little later in the day.
As soon as the Ace caught sight* of the fire, it threw Ms. Balque into the air and ran off as fast as its monolithic fingers could carry it. Had we not been in a state of shock and horror in that moment we would have surely given an enthusiastic hand to Ms. Balque as she checked her dexterity and rolled with critical success down onto the festival’s bouncy castle.
The subject of our shock and horror (namely the hand the size of a fast food establishment set loose upon an unsuspecting public) jumped from building to building, knocking down streetlights, crushing rooftops and causing multicar collisions throughout downtown.
It was a miracle that while many were injured, there were no fatalities. We chased the Ace as best we could. Tina and Ray Moretti followed closely in their car, which was handy, rather than our cars which were all down in the underground parkade. I hailed a cab, but the driver would not go anywhere near a gigantic appendage of any sort. Danny Delaire managed to reach the hand by motorcycle. Putting her own life at risk, she grabbed onto the Ace’s pinky and climbed up and across to the metacarpophalangeal knuckle of its index finger, carefully, slowly, in the time it takes to say metacarpophalangeal.
Ms. Delaire said something to the wayward Ace to convince it to stop. I could not hear her words over the sound of car alarms and emergency vehicles. I will not interrupt her now to ask what they were, for reasons you will soon come to understand.
Our time was running out, our deadline looming. We should have been well on our way through the fields in the country side, towards the Herschel family’s farm and here we were at a busy intersection in the middle of the city, surrounded by frightened witnesses.
Sorina Jones and Julen Ibarra arrived with the flatbed trucks two roads down, honking madly at us. At Ms. Delaire’s instruction, the Ace scooped up the Morettis and myself as if we were tokens in a game of jacks and trotted towards the trucks on the tips of its middle and index fingers. Crystal Balque waited for us in the back.
With a screech and a squeal and a roar of motors we sped out onto the highway. Ms. Jones and Mr. Ibarra ignored all speed limits and traffic signage. The police understandably switched on their sirens and chased at reasonably fast speeds, and were soon joined by a duet of chop-chopping helicopters. I worried for these officers as well as the Ace, who was so easily frightened and who had the power to crush one of their cruisers with its thumb. Luckily, the Ace’s flight response proved stronger than its fight.
The chase forced us to take an inefficient route, turning whenever it was unsafe to continue forward. Eventually we reached city limits where a blockade was waiting for us. We had no choice but to stop. Crystal Balque jumped around in anger like a child.
“We wouldn’t have made it anyway, Crystal. All this extra driving, at full speed… we’re running out of gas. We could have stopped at a gas station if Acey McHandThing had kept to itself.”
A rain cloud hung over us in the middle of an otherwise clear night, metaphorically but also literally. The weather, however, was the least of our worries.
Acey McHandThing, as Ms. Jones called it, shivered in fright with a sweaty palm. Whatever faint hope we had slipped through our fingers. The authorities caught us red-handed and I suspect they intended to give us more than a simple rap across the knuckles. Our fate was out of our hands.
I hesitate to label what happened next as a Deus Ex Machina, because the object that fell from above was not a machine. The object was in fact a golden goblet as tall as a transmission tower. It landed and toppled over with a crash. The contents of this goblet was not a god, but Anais Herschel, secured inside with a clingy film of giant-sized plastic wrap. Danny Delaire slid down the Ace hand’s thumb and scrambled to free her.
The police did nothing at this time. I imagine they were far too baffled to have any ideas as for how to proceed. Some of them recorded the events on their phones.
Another object fell from the cloud: the left counterpart to the our Ace, whose sinister deeds included not only Anais Herschel’s kidnapping but also (so we believed) Michel Nolastname’s murder. The Left Ace pounded the ground with a white-knuckled fist. The earth shook. The police scurried back to view the scene at a safer distance.
Our villain’s newly-freed right-hand-man rose up onto its fingers and leaped about like an untrained spaniel. The left hand knew at last what the right hand was doing.
These touching reunions, of Ms. Delaire and Ms. Herschel as well as the left and right Ace hands, were interrupted by the voice of a young man.
“Told you they’d do it.”
Startled, we turned to face the source of the voice. His clothes were motley, literally, covered in so many random patches that I could not say which parts belonged to the original shirt. His pants fell down to his knees. A cat and a dog nipped at his calves, but he somehow managed to ignore them both. He also ignored us at first. He talked to the hand.
The left Ace raised its middle finger at the newcomer, then resumed collecting the gold coins from the flatbed trucks and flicking them into the goblet.
The stranger then turned to us and chuckled. “You should see the looks on your faces. Wow.”
Anais Herschel shouted out, “**** you, Fool! Tell them what’s going on or I will seriously **** you ****less.”
Ah, how I missed the comforting ring of Ms. Herschel’s colourful turns of phrase.
The Fool smirked. “Where’s the fun in that? Okay, fine. All my friends walked off a cliff so I did too. I didn’t know there was a net. It was all a big joke. The Page of Coins bet that I wouldn’t go through with it, the Page of Wands poked me, the Page of Swords prodded me, the Page of Cups plied me with liquid courage but the Page of Chickens called me a chicken anyway and I had to save face. I missed the net. Justice told the Emperor and he ordered the Ace down to pick me up before the people below saw me. First they lost their innocence,” he pointed to himself, “and then they had to go around with one hand tied behind their backs. We’re talking some terrible tarot time, my friends. ‘s all good though. I’m going home, the Ace hands are going home, and you get your little fowl-mouthed fire cracker.”
I seethed with rage. Whether or not this person was some kind of embodiment of The Fool didn’t matter a whit in that moment. I pointed at the Left Ace. “All good? ALL GOOD? That thing murdered one of our people. Michel Nolastname. He was a prince among men and we loved him!”
With that, The Fool burst out laughing. “Too bad you didn’t say that to his face. No wait, you just did. I’m fine now.”
He did not elaborated for several minutes, during which we made our annoyance and frustration abundantly clear.
“Yes, I was Michel Nolastname. I forgot who I was. I grew old. So much for saving my face. Soon I started thinking that all this card stuff was a bunch of random metaphors you pair up with other random metaphors in poetic ways. Elsie Cabret’s mother took me in and kept me away from the world, just like they did with the Ace… though they didn’t lock me in the basement.”
“But your body,” said Danny Delaire. “We found your body. You were flat.”
He grinned. “Flat like a Loony Toons character hit by a cement roller. You didn’t think it was weird that Elsie wouldn’t let you talk to the cops or shovel dirt on my casket? I bounced back, fresh as rising bread.”
With that, he climbed into the goblet the size of a transmission tower, fitting himself between the coins. The right and left Ace pair picked the goblet up, and together they faded into the low hanging cloud and disappeared.
It was done. Anais Herschel was back safe and sound. The murder of Michel Nolastname, or lack thereof, was solved. Now our only challenges were dealing with the surrounding police, media attention on our secret organization, and the millions of dollars’ worth of collateral damage that the Ace caused on its rampage.
Sorina Jones gave us permission to use S.A.U.C.E. money from outside the already-depleted emergency funds to bail her and Julen Ibarra out. They were charged with reckless driving, and many other crimes relating to reckless driving. Julen Ibarra believes that this is all part of a conspiracy on the government’s part, to extract sensitive tarot information from his brain. He remained strong throughout the interrogation, which stayed on the subject of the police chase and did not veer at all onto the subject of tarot cards.
We survived. We are, as they say, flat broke, but we persist and we are together as a community.
Ms. Herschel and Ms. Delaire have locked themselves into the guest room of S.A.U.C.E. headquarters. We leave them now to their privacy and ignore as best we can the sounds of passion that occasionally breach the sanctity of those walls.
The Fool card, which was temporarily missing from my deck as well as the decks of my colleagues, has returned to its place. I do wish I had thought to ask The Fool, or whoever he was, why two nonexistent cards briefly appeared in my deck during a spread that I read for the purpose of solving his murder. As you may recall, those nonexistent cards were called “Bits of String” and “It’s Right Behind You”. Perhaps I will never know.
*The Ace has no eyes and therefore should not be capable of sight, however it is also a disembodied hand. Biological logic need not apply.