Tuesday, 12 May 2009
DEADLINE - by Anna Harris
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Vicky giggled unhooking her arm from Caitlyn’s. “No way. What a waste of money.”
“Aw come on, where’s the harm?” pleaded her friend. “I’ve never been game enough to step inside a fortune teller’s tent before but I would if you came in with me.”
“It’s only a crappy church fete, Caitlyn. You do realise the fortune teller will be some dreary old housewife with a goldfish bowl turned upside down for a crystal ball, don’t you?”
“I know, but it’ll be all packed up and gone tomorrow. C’mon, for me? It’d be a real laugh and it’s only £5. You’ll be doing your bit for charity and comparatively, it’s one Tropical Lagoon cocktail at The Bullion Bar. You can afford it, Steve’s loaded.”
“Shhh, I told you not to mention his name in public, Caitlyn. You never know who’s who.”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn rolled her eyes, “like his wife is standing right next to you. Even if she was, she wouldn’t have heard me in this crowd anyway. Seriously, Vicky, you can be so paranoid. Besides, what would it matter if his wife found out? He told you he’s leaving her, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but these things are never simple.”
“Neither is having an affair with a married man and that’s never stopped you before.” Embarrassment flushed across her pale features when she realised how that must have sounded. “Sorry, that was uncalled for.”
“No, you’re right. I’ve had the occasional fling. It’s just that married men are so much more…”
“Responsible and stable.”
Caitlyn smirked. “Not forgetting, wealthy.”
“The only kind of man to date. Can I help it if they love buying things for little ole me, or that I have such expensive tastes?” She batted her eyelashes and formed her lips into a baby-doll pout.
She eyed the deteriorating tent with its cracked and faded stars spray stencilled across the outside. It looked as if it had been dragged out of the rectory storage shed once a year for the last two centuries. “Come on then,” she sighed, “before I change my mind again. And for god’s sake, let’s put our press passes in our pockets. No point giving the game away right up front.”
As soon as they pulled back the heavy canvas flap, Vicky nearly burst out laughing. How much more cliched could it get? Flimsy drapes of sheer material were caught at the centre apex and swept towards the outer walls, while a smattering of cardboard cut-out stars decorated with glue and glitter hung from thin fishing line suspended over a wonky, centrally positioned card table. A large patterned rug, threadbare and in need of a good vacuuming scuffed underfoot as the two females stepped inside.
A turban clad woman with thick rimmed glasses who looked to be about their own age - although it was a little hard to tell in the dim interior - greeted the women. “Velcome to your future,” she declared melodramatically.
“Oh good grief,” whispered Vicky. The woman’s Russian accent was hideously fake. She almost giggled aloud but a sharp nudge in the ribs from Caitlyn brought her under control.
“I am Madame Manya. You may cross my palm with silver and I vill tell all.”
“Silver?” asked Caitlyn.
“It is, how you say? a turn of phrase,” she sighed. “Ze fee is as stated on ze board outside.” The two women opened their purses but Caitlyn paused as Vicky handed across her cash to Madame Manya, who immediately tucked it into her ample bosom beneath a voluminous red kaftan.
“Er…I could’ve sworn I had more than just a few coins left in my purse. Sorry,” Caitlyn said sheepishly. ”Never mind, you go ahead.”
“Oh no you don’t!” said Vicky, glaring at her, “This was your idea. You’re not getting out of it that easily.”
“No matter,” interrupted the fortune teller, “Ve vill see vot ze future holds for you, shall ve?” With that, she clasped Vicky’s hands in her own, and then closing her eyes trance-like, emitted a weird, high-pitched whine that sounded as though she was in considerable pain. “Eeeeyaaaaa-eeeee-oooohhhh.”
Vicky suppressed convulsions by biting down hard on the inside of her cheeks. This little comedy show had to be worth more than one lousy drink. Caitlyn didn’t know it yet but she was going to shout her a seriously good hangover’s worth.
“I see you are verrry wary of sumsink coming out into ze open,” began the mystic. “It iss sumsink to do vis a man.” Then, as an aside, she lowered her voice and whispered conspiratorially, “Zese private thoughts of yours are alvays to do vis a man, no?”
Vicky felt her face draining of colour but forced her features to remain inscrutable. This was a scam and nothing more. These charlatans always said things like that. You’ll meet a tall, dark and handsome stranger yada yada yada. Some people watched too much television for their own good.
“I see here you haf a deadline looming,” predicted Madame Manya trailing a chipped and dirty fingernail across the other’s palm. “You vill meet it verrry soon.”
Huh! She worked in a newspaper office for shit sake. Deadlines were part and parcel of the job on a daily basis. This Madame whatsername had probably been watching the pair of them through a gap in the tent before they’d entered. It was easily explained away. She glanced across at Caitlyn who stifled a giggle.
“Is that it? Anything else I should know?” Vicky asked, growing impatience clearly evident in her tone.
“Everysink iss all going black…no, wait…unless…”
“What is it? What do you see?” asked Caitlyn with more eagerness than Vicky thought the occasion warranted.
“Only zat…per’aps…I sink maybe you should ‘ave your car checked. Zere is maybe a failure of some kind. Per’aps with ze brakes, no?”
Her car, a gift from a previous lover, bless him, was perfectly fine. The service on it wasn’t due for another month and it had never given her a moment’s grief.
“Ah yes, as you vish.” But even though the fortune teller didn’t push the issue, adding with a dismissive flick of the wrist, “It iss probably of no consequence,” it was enough to send a small tendril of doubt curling up Vicky’s spine.
On Friday afternoon, Caitlyn stopped by Vicky’s corner office and propped herself on the edge of the desk, arms folded. “So, what time is it ready to be picked up from the garage?”
Vicky appreciated the fact that her co-worker hadn’t ribbed her about dropping her red BMW sports car in for a service. She felt ridiculous enough as it was. In fact, Caitlyn had given her the number of her own mechanic, a little place just up from the railway station and not far from their favourite pub.
“The woman on the phone – “
“That’d be Bev,” Caitlyn interrupted.
“Bev told me I could collect it around five thirty so that works out okay. Time enough to file this story for the morning edition, pick up the car and then drive us both to The Bullion Bar to meet with the others.”
“Actually, I’ve got a bit of catching up to do so you go on ahead and I’ll meet you there. All going well, I’ll be right behind you.”
Caitlyn closed the office door behind her, stopped by her desk to pick up her handbag and made her way quietly to the exit.
“Thank you so much, Bev,” Vicky said as she swiped her credit card through the machine on the front counter. “So it was just for the oil change and grease? You didn’t…I mean, there was nothing else…needing attention?”
“Nope, right as rain. I’ve personally gone over it from top to bottom. Bring on the weekend, eh?” She checked her wristwatch. “I’m locking up now. I’ll follow you out.”
Vicky had not driven half a block when the engine began to splutter and cough so she was pleased to see Bev’s Toyota Hilux single cab in the rear view mirror.
Caitlyn, who was scrunched down in the passenger seat of Bev’s 4WD, tried to sneak a peek of Vicky’s car above the dashboard. “You can sit up, silly, it won’t matter if she sees you now,” Bev laughed. “Zere couldn’t be a more perfect ending, dahlink.”
“Hehehe, that would have to be the worst Russian accent I’ve ever heard, bar none, Bev.”
“Madame Manya, to you, if you don’t mind, Daaaahlink.”
“Um…she can’t actually…get out, can she?” asked Caitlyn, the question furrowing her brow.
“Oh no, the self-locking system I installed this morning will make certain of that. Along with the water in the fuel tank, she’s got no hope of restarting the engine or getting out of the vehicle. Gee, she’s really giving it her best shot though, isn’t she?”
The two women sat and watched as brake lights flashed frantically on and off in front of them and the car horn blared.
“Told you she was a determined piece of work,” said Caitlyn. “She thinks I was oblivious to the affair she had with my husband. Then three months ago when I found out she was on with your Steve...”
Vicky’s movements inside the vehicle became frenzied.
“I love your wit too.” Caitlyn impersonated her friend’s terrible accent, “You haf a deadline to meet. Hehehe, dead on the line, deadline. I still can’t get over that.”
"Shhh, here comes the 5:45." Bev eased her car back from Vicky's bumper, reversing off the middle of the train tracks then let silence descend over them while they watched with a heady mix of excitement and anticipation at the high speed train thundering down on the stranded car.