I wanted to drive straight to the cops, but Joey dissuaded me.
“We stumble in at three A.M., saying Rico Rodriguez slept with a redhead who dyes her hair, according to some sound guy on some TV show, and some desk cop writes this on a Post-it, and that’s the end of it. We need a hard-core theory that makes sense of things, and hard-core evidence to back it up. But I agree, it’s the cops we have to go to, if whatever happened to Annika happened to Rico. I don’t think the Feds are interested in Rico, or we’d have heard it on the news. They’re always doing press conferences. I’ll drop you at home, then head to the production office and check out Savannah’s B.C. application for clues. I’m too wired to sleep.”
There was no one lurking on my block. I was sure now that the previous lurkers were the plumber paparazzi, that my street, at least, was safe from whatever danger Annika had hinted at in her e-mail. That I could sleep tonight.
Except that my mother was waiting up for me.
“Green tea,” she said. “I had a bit too much, so I’m awake. You’re out of champagne.”
“It’s not a staple item in my life, Prana. No sign of plumbers, I take it?”
“No, but the mailman came to the door, as it was too much mail for the box. All those holiday catalogs. Such a waste of trees. How did it go in San Pedro, dear?”
I looked up in surprise, but she seemed interested, not like she was about to criticize my hair but like she really wanted to know. So I joined her in the living room. I told her about my night. Breaking and entering, near arrest, Joey’s assault on the photographer.
Prana nodded placidly. “I practiced civil disobedience with you in utero. Not with P.B., he gave me morning sickness, but you were a cooperative fetus. They put me on the front lines. The media loved it, the pregnant woman and the military industrial complex. Theo has clippings. Did I spot a Cabernet in the kitchen? I prefer white, but I’m having sleep issues…”
I left June Cleaver to her memories and went in search of wine and pajamas. My body ached, from being pilloried in a bathroom window, frozen at an outdoor restaurant, tortured at Krav Maga days before. If I were a tadpole, I could regenerate limbs. Four new ones would do.
I brought the Cabernet and wineglasses into the living room to find my mother surrounded by her Tarot cards in a pattern I’d seen all my life, a circle within a circle within a circle. “Whose fate are you reading now?” I asked, sitting opposite her.
“Your German friend.”
“Annika? Really? She doesn’t have to be here for it to work?”
“No, I’m good at remote readings. I often lay out cards for you and your brother.”
I felt strangely pleased. Sandalwood incense and the tuneless bell-like music on the CD player filled the room, calming me. My mother had been New Age before the phrase had been coined. It was a language I’d turned a deaf ear to, wanting to fit in with my friends whose mothers read Reader’s Digest, not Tarot cards. “What do they say?” I asked.
My mother stared at her layout, then with one arm movement swept it aside. “The answers are in her own backyard.” She picked up her wineglass, took a sniff, and made a face.
“Your friend must return home or what she left unfinished will haunt her forever. The lessons we choose not to learn recur, again and again, until we surrender to them.”
Like math, I thought.
“You, however, must stay out of it, Wollstonecraft. Her backyard is not yours. There is Evil present. My guides are clear on this matter.”
The dreaded guides. There was, I knew from experience, no way to win an argument with my mother’s guides. Arguing with almost anyone in the spirit world is fruitless. My eyes started to glaze over, drifting across the Tarot cards. Then an image jumped out at me.
I popped up out of my chair and shrieked.
“Mom-Prana-what is this?”
“This little squiggle down here at the bottom? That’s the Devil?”
She put on her reading glasses and took the card. “No, that’s the symbol for Capricorn. The Devil, the card you’re holding, is associated with the Egyptian sun deity, Ra, and with Pan, half man and half goat, which in turn connects to Capricorn, the goat. A very sexual card.”
“I’m sorry, you’re losing me. Capricorn’s astrology, isn’t it?”
My mother took off her reading glasses and sighed. “Of course. Tarot embraces astrology, numerology, mythology-”
“So if someone uses that symbol, does it mean they’re into Tarot cards?”
“Not at all. Astrology is everywhere-dinnerware, stationery, toothbrushes. Well, look at what you’re wearing.”
My flannel pajamas. There it was, the stylized little squiggle against the black background, alongside a goat. On my left sleeve, knee, chest, the cuff of my pants. I’d seen it hundreds of times. “When is Capricorn?” I asked. “What month?”
“My God, you’re ignorant. Next month. It follows Sagittarius. Winter solstice through mid-January. Christmas. Jesus was a Capricorn, didn’t you ever hear that?”
I sat, trying to process information. “What if you saw this used as a logo, on a pill, something like Ecstasy? The drug, not the state of bliss.”
“Thank you, I live in an ashram, not a rest home. It could signify the insight and revelry of Pan and Dionysus, or it could be the sun sign of the pill manufacturer.”
“Wouldn’t that be a little risky, for a drug dealer? A signature of sorts?”
“Drug dealers, in my experience, are not particularly risk-averse. And they tend toward large egos. Speaking of ego, Wollie, this television enterprise-”
“Forget that for a minute-”
“Is the City of Angels so bereft of men you need to seek one on television? It wasn’t that way for me, I assure you.”
“You don’t need to assure me. I was there, Mom. I grew up with you.”
“Then perhaps you should have taken notes.”
“For the record,” I snapped, “I was engaged. Recently. To a married man. Who has a child, so there was going to be a custody issue, and he was a convicted felon, so he was going to lose her, so instead, he left me. Happy?”
My mother’s face brightened. “Intriguing. This isn’t the man who came to brunch?”
“No. That was Simon.”
“He’s not one of these reality people, is he? By the way, he left messages on your machine. I’d watch myself with him, if I were you. Those intense, testosterone-driven men, even one in the Peace Corps-”
“Simon’s not in the Peace Corps. He’s an FBI agent.”
I’d done it. I’d rendered my mother speechless. But not motionless. She rose from the sofa, like a goddess out of the sea. Aphrodite, I think. She found her voice. “You’re dating-Feds?”
“One date. One Fed.”
She spat out the words. “My father-your grandfather-smoked a cigar with Fidel Castro. I followed Carlos Castaneda into the rain forest. This is your bloodline. For you to desecrate it by- Why not join the Marines and be done with it?” She turned and swept out of the room in the manner of Isadora Duncan, caftan swirling.
I sat on the sofa and closed my eyes. I opened them. I looked at my watch. Still too early to call Marie-Th'er`ese, even with the time difference. But not by much. I closed my eyes again.
The next thing I knew, the sun had found its way onto my face through the curtainless living room window, waking me. I was on my second cup of coffee before I realized my mother had packed up and gone.