Andrea stared blankly at Marko, stifling a yawn. Seeing the fear in his eyes brought her fully awake with a jolt. A second scream reverberated inside his head, drowning out Andrea’s words. His left hand suddenly felt as though it was on fire. They had slept in their clothes and only needed to pull on shoes before racing out of their room. The elevator was moving too slow, so they took to the stairwell. Marko tried to reason things out on the way down.
“Surely no one came in and took her without waking either of us up. So, where the hell could she be?”
“I think I know where she went.”
“Back to that hole-in-the wall palm reading shop we saw earlier. She got mad when I said I didn’t want my palm read.”
“Why would she go back there in the middle of the night?”
“We got into it on the way back to the hotel and she accused me of never being supportive. Knowing her, she probably poured her heart out to that bogus palm reader. If that woman was nice to Janet, then she probably thinks they’re friends. My sister has always been naïve.”
“Lead the way, since you know where this place is.”
The two of them charged ahead, oblivious to the pedestrians on the sidewalk they displaced. The duo arrived at the palmistry shop to find that it was closed. Andrea peered inside and saw the faint glimmer of light underneath the door leading to the back of the shop. Marko raised his hands, preparing to magick the door open. Andrea stopped him.
“Save your energy. I’ve got this.”
Marko was impressed when she pulled a bobby pin from her hair and picked the lock open. They found Janet sitting on the floor, in the corner of a small room surrounded by an overturned table and toppled shelves. Various crystals were strewn across the floor. Andrea anxiously blurted out her sister’s name. Janet didn’t respond. She was staring into space, rocking ceaselessly back and forth. Crossing over to her, Andrea spotted the palm reader lying sideways on the floor breathing raggedly. A large, sharp pair of scissors was jammed into her side. Andrea knelt beside the woman, careful not to step into the slowly widening pool of blood around her. Andrea’s hand reflexively moved to pull them out. Marko grabbed her hand.
“Leave those scissors where they are. If you remove them, then she’ll bleed out faster. What happened here Janet? Look at me. What happened,” he prompted.
Andrea stood and made her way around a shattered crystal ball to sit on the floor next to her sister. She placed a comforting arm across Janet’s shoulders. The physical contact appeared to bring her out of a daze. Marko repeated his question softly. Janet spoke without focusing on either of them.
“I…don’t really know how this happened. We seemed hit it off earlier and chatted for so long that I wasn’t able to get my palm read before Andrea came to get me. The woman invited me to come back tonight for my free palm reading. I came back. She locked the door behind me, saying that she didn’t want to be interrupted, then closed the door to this room. I got a bad feeling when she locked that door. My gut told me to turn around and leave, but I didn’t heed it. Why did I do that? Nothing good ever happens when I ignore a gut feeling. It’s just that she seemed so nice and I really needed someone to talk to. If only I hadn’t come back, she wouldn’t be dying right in front of me.”
Tears streamed down Janet’s face. She began sobbing uncontrollably. Andrea pulled her sister into a hug and stroked her back, to calm her down. Marko decided to give Janet a few moments to regain her composure. He walked over to the woman and examined her closely. Marko leaned down and examined her neck. When he spoke again, his voice sounded strange.
“Um, I don’t think you have to worry about her dying. She’s got a devil’s mark on the side of her neck.”
“You mean she gave her soul over to Charles just like Ethan and Dorian,” Andrea blurted incredulously.
“I’m not sure of Charles is her master or someone else. This tattoo is a different shape.”
“So, what did she want with Janet?”
Her sister spoke up, “I can answer that. She wanted this talisman.”
Janet raised her chin. Andrea gasped, stunned at the sight of deeply scored marks in Janet’s neck. Raising her chin released the pressure on her neck and blood began flowing from the wounds. Andrea and Marko were horrified to find that the blood staining the front of Janet’s shirt was hers, not the woman laying on the floor across the room.
Marko searched frantically for something with which to create a makeshift bandage to staunch the bleeding. Unable to find anything suitable, he pulled out his pocket knife and slashed off a portion of the garish curtains, directing Andrea to tie it around Janet’s neck. They helped her up. Janet resisted their attempts to usher her out of the shop.
“What about Esmerelda? We can’t just leave her. She’s in a lot of pain.”
Andrea spotted the woman’s cell phone on the floor, made an anonymous call for emergency services, and wiped off her fingerprints. They hustled Janet out of the back door, made their way down the alley, and joined the flow of pedestrians. By walking and not running, the trio blended in with the strangers around them. The last thing they needed to do was draw attention to themselves, leaving the proximity of a storefront containing gravely wounded woman.
Janet was adamant about not going to the hospital. Andrea took her back to the hotel room, while Marko went to the nearest convenience store for antiseptic and bandages. Janet paced around the room, unable to get the sound of Esmerelda’s labored breathing out of her mind. Flashes of their fight tormented her. Andrea urged Janet to sit down and relax, lest she make the bleeding worse. The abrasions and bruises visible in the stark light of the hotel room told Andrea how hard her sister had fought. Inexplicably, Andrea got angry at her sister for nearly getting herself killed
Marko returned and attended to Janet’s wounds. He wanted to ask her questions about what had gone on in that shop but she appeared to be in shock. The last thing Marko wanted to do was to make her worse by asking questions that made her relive the incident. As if she had just read his mind, Janet looked up at him.
“I don’t mind if you want to ask me questions Marko. I’m trying to make sense of things myself.”