A short story for your amusement.
So many pass by me, enclosed in my glass shelter, amused at my summoning, but I see them as well. That, they do not know. I see their laughter, their gayety. I see their dark sides.
I am Zoltar.
It was one fateful night I saw something that needed action, and the fortune of a young girl would change forever.
The Girl was with her friends, each sixteen and full of life, teasing, giggling. I had seen such girls many times over the years of summers I'd been stationed at my post. This one, I could tell had a serious side. It intrigued me. Her friends knew The Girl was special too. Perhaps brave enough, or foolish enough, to invest a crisp dollar bill for her fortune to be told.
They cajoled and nudged The Girl toward me. The dollar appeared from a friend and she handed it to The Girl. I could see The Girl hesitate, perhaps from embarrassment more than fear. At her friends’ insistence, The Girl placed the dollar in the slot.
After some of my usual movements and pronouncements, I delivered to her a rather harmless and quite expected card from a slot that produced so many expected cards. The girls all crowded around to see what it said.
You will have a great adventure.
All the girls laughed and concocted wild and teasing conjectures as to what adventure might lie ahead for their friend. But The Girl did not dismiss the fortune out of hand. As her friends teased, The Girl looked Zoltar in the eye searching for further meaning. I knew she would be back.
The Girl and her friends departed. The crowds passed back and forth. One couple caught my attention. They stood on the other side of the boardwalk from me, near the ocean. I could not hear what they said, but from their gesticulations, it was not loving. Zoltar has a well-developed sense of fortune and theirs seemed bleak.
The man was large and seemingly a brute. He took the red cap from his head and slammed it to the ground. His girlfriend left in a huff. The man picked up the cap. He was perhaps a race fan. It said Le Mans on it. I had not seen one like it. He walked after the girlfriend.
Later that evening, the man with the red cap returned, without the woman. He was agitated. This man deserved investigation and I knew who it should be. Zoltar hoped she would return.
The Girl did return. She was alone. Perhaps she was one who expressed her thoughts out loud. I preferred to believe she thought Zoltar could hear her. If so, she would have been correct. "What great adventure?" she asked as she took the dollar she clutched and placed it into the slot. I returned a card.
Follow the man in the red cap.
"What man? What red cap?"
Without further payment, another card came her way.
The cap bears Le Mans on it.
The Girl became Zoltar's eyes and ears. She looked around the boardwalk searching the crowd. She spotted the red cap on a tall head above those around him. The Girl walked behind him, the crowd shielding her from suspicion by the brute. But as he continued down the boardwalk, the crowds thinned, and he turned down a side street. The Girl followed at a distance. She was a natural talent for the adventure. Zoltar chose well.
Several blocks later, the man came to a rental house on a wooded lot, one of the few remaining humble structures in a beach town replacing such homes with mansions. The Girl hid behind a pine tree, peeking out at the man as he entered the house. The Girl crept closer. There was nothing else in sight but an old panel van.
Why she was following this man, she did not know. The Girl reasoned that very specific cards coming from a fortune teller machine must mean something.
The phone in The Girl's hip pocket buzzed. The Girl may have thought she was cool and unflappable, but this time, the cell phone buzz she received so often spooked her. She removed the phone to see that she had a text message from 'Z.' 'Who is Z?' she thought. 'No, that can't be,' she reasoned knowing the only Z name with whom she had recent communication was Zoltar. The message asked, 'What is the license plate number?' The Girl smiled. Z was on the case.
She crept slowly to another tree to be able to read the plate on the van. She froze. The man returned from the house. He was carrying his girlfriend like a sack of potatoes over his shoulder. The girlfriend was bound and gagged with duct tape. The girlfriend was not moving. Was she dead?
Just as The Girl was making out the license plate, the man opened the back door of the panel van, the one bearing the plate. It was no longer in view. The man laid his girlfriend in the back. He did not dump her as though she was a lifeless body. The Girl thought this to be a good sign.
The man left the door open and returned to the house. The Girl had to get closer to read the plate. She was able to move to the opposite side of the van. It was parked close to the house, but she had enough room to squeeze behind the open door and see the license plate. She took her phone and responded to Z with the number.
The Girl heard the girlfriend moan. 'She's alive!' she thought. The Girl clambered into the back. "I'm here to help," she whispered. The duct tape over the girlfriend's mouth kept her from responding other than her questioning eyes darting.
The Girl didn't hear the man return until the backdoor of the van slammed shut. The Girl tried to find the inside door release in the darkened interior but was too late. The van started to move.
The man brooded as he drove. His girlfriend nagged him. It was too much. She knew he had a short temper. It was her fault that she pushed him too far. Her fault he slapped her. He didn't mean for her to fall back into the kitchen table and knock herself out. But she did. Now he had a problem. He first thought of taking her to the emergency room. He really did. But with a warrant out for him, that would be a big mistake. There was only one thing left to do.
The man pulled off onto an access road to the bay. He drove along the narrow beach, deserted at this late hour. Behind the dunes, lined with tall grass, would be a fine spot to bury someone.
The man parked and walked to the rear of the van. He turned the handle on the door, but unexpectedly, the door swung open on its own, hard. The man was knocked to the ground as he witnessed his girlfriend and a young girl he did not know jump out and make a run for it. The man was quick, and the girlfriend was slowed by her concussion. The man was able to grab his girlfriend after a few strides. The Girl stopped in the distance, near the water's edge and turned to see what had happened. The man had a gun to his girlfriend's head.
"Little girl," the man said to The Girl. "I don't want to hurt anyone, but if you don't come back over here, this woman is dead."
The Girl was frozen in place, not knowing what to do. 'Z,' she thought, 'Where are you now?' As though answering The Girl's plea, two police cars, blue lights blazing, sirens blaring, pulled in. Their headlights were in the man's eyes as a voice came over a loudspeaker. "Drop your weapon and get on your knees." The man complied.
As two policemen cuffed the man, another police officer walked to The Girl, still frozen in place by the water. "Are you all right?" she asked.
The Girl thought herself independent and strong, but when she saw the police officer resembled her mother, she embraced the officer like the mom she needed at that moment. Through tears and sniffles, The Girl asked, how did you know to look for us?"
"Do you know somebody named Z?"
The Girl knew the answer to that question was murky on several levels, she could only say, "I'm not sure."
"Well, we got these repeated text messages on all our phones from Z that simply provided a plate number and the words, ‘He is here.’ We ran the plates and found that the owner, that man over there being cuffed, had a warrant for his arrest. Assault with a deadly weapon. We put out an APB and I saw that van pass me. I followed it and, when it pulled off the road, I called for backup.
"Whoever this Z is, you owe him big time."
The girl knew the officer was right.
I continue my duties on the boardwalk every day as is my mission. Watching those who pass, offering fortunes for their amusement.
The Girl came to me once again. She talked to me, ignoring inquisitive expressions from those who wondered why one would talk to an inanimate object. The Girl knew why.
Perhaps out of habit, curiosity, or simply keeping up appearances, The Girl put a dollar in my slot. Zoltar produced a card. She removed it, read it and smiled. Then her friends came along and rushed to The Girl with expressions of 'There you are,' and 'We've been looking for you.' The girl put the card in her pocket, keeping the message between Zoltar and herself.
And there it will remain.
Come, let Zoltar tell you your future.