by Tim McDaniel
Lieutenant David Moy bit his lower lip and looked back up at the eighteenth story ledge. The wind blustering along the street took one look at his cropped, steel-gray hair and turned aside. “Well, then, who have we got?” he asked the officer next to him. “A SWAT team?”
“They’re all busy,” Officer Henley said, sweating through his overstretched uniform shirt. “That terrorist scare at the bus station, and that possible sniper situation.”
Moy didn’t take his eyes off the woman on the ledge. Claire – that was her name. He could just see the top of her head. “There’s got to be someone with experience to talk her down,” he said. “She’s made it very clear that if I come back up there again to speak to her, she’s jumping. What about the Suicide Prevention team? A hostage negotiator? Someone?”
“They’re all at that conference in San Diego. They’ll be back Tuesday, maybe Wednesday at the latest, if they decide to do Seaworld. They weren’t sure if they would, the last I heard. Griswold doesn’t like how they treat the whales.”
Moy glanced at Henley, then looked back up at the woman. “I doubt she’ll stick around that long,” he said. “But wait!” He snapped his fingers. “Before I transferred here last week, I heard all about it – you guys have yourselves a team of for-real magic people, sorcerers, right?”
“They call themselves the Magic Squad,” Henley said, rolling his eyes. “But none of us call them that. They aren’t real cops. Just consultants. Usually not even that.”
“I don’t care if they’re on the force or not,” Moy said. “They do real magic, right?”
“Well, yeah, technically–“
“Then get their asses down here. We don’t have time to waste!”
“The so-called Magic Squad, Lieutenant,” Henley said, ushering a mismatched group of six people through the police tape.
“Great! Thank God she hasn’t jumped yet. OK,” the lieutenant said to the group. “We don’t have much time. We got a jumper up there, and she could decide to take the leap any second. Her husband left her the same week she lost her job, and I guess that was also the same week her mom died. She’s convinced herself that life is meaningless. We need to help her.” He pointed at the group. “I need to know each of your specialties. No long explanations, just the quick version. You” – he pointed to a tall, thin woman with way too much curly hair. “What do you do?”
“I’m Madison, and I’m at this temp agency, for now. The pay sucks, but it does give me some flexibility, so–”
“I meant, what is your special ability?”
“Oh, sorry!” she blushed easily, Moy saw. It made her freckles stand out. “Yeah,” she said. “I use cards to tell the future.”
“Well, that might be useful. Do it.”
“It’ll take a few moments.” Madison rummaged in her bag and pulled out a set of cards.
“Get started, at least,” Moy said, then did a double-take. “Those don’t look like the whatcha-callit, the Ouija cards.”
“You probably mean the tarot cards. No, they’re not, but I find these work well with my gift.”
Moy leaned closer. “My God, are those Pokemon cards?”
Madison looked down, her blush returning. “Yes,” she said. “But they work really well–“
“Fine, whatever. Keep going.”
Madison crouched down and began laying her cards out in a semi-circle on the sidewalk.
“Next?” Moy said.
Next was a tall man, stringy and loose-limbed. Apparently only in his mid-thirties, but he had already started combing his thin hair over his scalp. “Jason Boose, Sarge,” he said.
“That’s ‘lieutenant,’” Moy corrected.
But Jason hadn’t stopped talking. “And I can throw fireballs. Fireballs! Up to like a hundred feet. You can see some examples I put on YouTube. They can even blow shit up and stuff.” He was flushed and breathing hard.
“Impressive. Doesn’t sound all that useful in the current situation, though.”
Jason took one more breath, as if to say more, and then gulped, resigned. “That’s usually the way it is.”
“And how about you?”
“My name is Habib,” the elderly, white-bearded man said. “I do magic tricks.”
“Well, you all do magic tricks.”
“No, you see, it is like this. I do the same tricks you can see magicians do. Find a coin behind your ear, pour water into a handkerchief, pull flowers or birds from my sleeve. Things of that nature.”
“But you see, I am not doing any tricks! I really do those things. I can show you. If you will just lend me your hat, I can pull a rabbit from inside it!”
“No need, no need,” Moy said. “I think I get it. But again, I’m afraid that doesn’t–“
“Yes, meet your current needs. I do understand,” said Habib. Perhaps the lines in his face had just dug themselves in a little deeper. He looked down and moved slowly away.
Moy sighed. “OK. So who else we got?”
“I’m Samson. I do levitation.” Samson was a short, heavy Asian man with blonde streaks in his black hair.
“Levitation. Like moving things in the air?”
“Well,” Moy smiled, “this sounds promising, for once. Can you move people?”
“Great!” Moy gestured up to the woman on the ledge. “I want you to pick her up, and bring her down to the ground. Gently.”
“Oh, man, that would be so cool! I could pick her up, and woof – right over the street, and down like a feather!”
“So you can do it?”
Samson grimaced. “Well, it’s like this.”
“Yeah?” Now Moy was guarded. Was the kid going to demand extra money or something?
Samson looked vaguely skyward and twisted his hands together. “Well, so like I can move people, but only about five or six inches off the ground. Sometimes a little less. Well, sometimes a lot less.”
“And only for like twenty seconds, max.”
Moy chewed on his lip. “If she jumped – could you catch her before she hit the ground? Bring her down slowly?”
“You kidding? Something going that fast? No way. Sorry. And I have to be like within eight or nine feet to levitate anything at all.”
Moy sighed deeply. He looked back up at the ledge. At least she was still there. “OK, then,” he said to the next person, a woman in an old sweater wearing glasses. “So what do you do?”
“I’m a mind reader!” she said proudly. “My name’s Brooke.”
A mind reader. Jeesh. She looked more like the career PTA type.
“So you can tell us if she is really planning to–“
“I should tell you,” Brooke said, speaking precisely, “whatever I read is not admissible in court. I bring that up because that’s been an issue in the past, when dealing with the police.”
“No problem this time.”
“Oh, and also, I have to be actually touching the other person to read their mind,” Brooke said.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Moy said. He looked over the last member of the Magic Squad, a nerdy-looking teenage boy with a bad haircut holding a ventriloquist dummy. “So I guess you’re the ventriloquist of the group, huh?”
“Oh, no, officer, nothing like that!” the boy said. “No, I guess you could call me more of an anti-ventriloquist, or something. It’s a really different thing.”
“Shut up, Drew,” the dummy said. The doll’s face turned to Lt. Moy. “Hi, there, officer. Name’s Sebastian. What the kid was trying to say is that he’s not a ventriloquist at all. I really do talk. Thing is, he has to be holding me, or I can’t.”
Everyone paused, just for a few seconds.
“Henley!” Moy bellowed.
“Right here, Lieutenant,” said the officer at his right elbow.
“Have any of these people ever actually been useful in a police situation?”
“Well, they were a pretty big hit at Jimson’s retirement party,” Henley said. “Until a fireball hit the curtains, anyway. But I guess that was before you came on board.”
“I meant,” Moy said through clenched teeth, “in an official capacity.”
“Oh. Not so’s I’ve heard, no.”
“Sir?” It was Madison, the woman with all the cards spread out around her on the ground.
Moy crouched down next to her. “You got something?”
“I’ve finished my forecast,” Madison said. “Look at this – it’s amazing. We have Starmie transcendent, and just below is Ivysaur on the right and Mewtwo on the left, to balance. And look, over here – a transverse Nidorino is nearly eclipsing the effect of Electabuzz!”
“OK, all right,” Moy said. “But what does it all mean? Is she actually planning to jump?”
“Impossible to say, for sure,” Madison said. “She might, or she might not.” She looked at Moy and brushed some hair out of her face. “Things could turn out really, really bad, or be just fine. The cards are always a little ambiguous, you see,” she said. “You can’t expect them to reveal every little detail. That would take the pleasure out of life.”
“Yeah, well, falling eighteen floors would take the pleasure out of life, too,” Moy said. He surveyed the group, shaking his head. Then he looked back up at the ledge. “She thinks she has nothing to live for,” he murmured.
Then he had an idea.
“I promise, I won’t come any closer,” Madison told the woman, her head bobbing. “But you believe me, right? That my cards can tell the future?”
Claire glanced back over her shoulder at Madison. Her feet were still on the window ledge, but now she was at least sitting on the windowsill. “Yeah, I heard about you,” she said. “I followed you on Facebook for a while. But you can’t convince me not to do it. I’ve made up my mind.” The wind pulled at her, and she clutched the edge of the window harder.
“Well,” Madison said, laying out the cards on the beige-carpeted floor a few feet away from the woman, “think of it this way. Maybe you’re right, and your life will forever suck. The cards will confirm that. But maybe the cards will tell a different story. Then you can decide, with that new information, what you want to do. It’ll still be your decision. That won’t change.”
“Fine, go ahead if you want,” Claire said. A gust whipped her hair across her tearstained face, and she turned away from Madison. “But I won’t wait much longer. When I finally get up the courage, I’m going to do it. I swear.”
“Like I said, that will always be your decision,” Madison said. “But the cards can reveal of a lot of information. Look at this deck! There are hundreds of cards here – that’s why they’re so thin. And with that many possible combinations, they can really say quite a bit about each individual I am reading them for.” She put down another card. “Wow!”
Claire looked back at her. Disdain warred with curiosity in her face. Curiosity won out. “What?” she finally said.
“Well, right here! I mean, we started with Relicanth – that didn’t tell us much, in itself, because he can lean so many ways. But on the left is Butterfree, and on the right is Geodude! You can’t see it, I know, because you’re not close enough. Anyway, I mean, that’s just not a combination you see every day!”
“Really? What does it mean?”
“Well, I can honestly say that it means you’re a unique, special person.”
“The cards don’t lie. Now we have to see what card goes above these. This will be interesting.”
Claire leaned back into the room to get a better look. Madison was careful not to glance back to the bathroom doorway, where Samson was hiding. Not long after she had come in she said she’s needed to use the bathroom, and had left the door open after she came out. The door blocked Claire’s view, so Samson has been able to sneak in.
“And it’s… yes! Palpitoad! Wow! You really are one in a billion! More!”
“Everyone’s one in a billion,” Claire said. “One in six billion.”
“We like to think so, but really, most of our differences are pretty superficial,” Madison said. “But you – I’ve never seen cards like these. You, girl, are genuinely in rarefied company with this spread.”
Madison needed to get the woman a few inches closer. “Now,” she said, “if the next card is Jigglypuff – or even Whirlipede… that would say it all. Or even Pidgey, but that, I mean the chances of that, are hardly even imaginable. That would absolutely blow my mind. Still, you never know!” She looked up at Claire. “Ready for the last card?”
“Well,” Madison said, “I guess you might be suspicious that I’m planning on picking a card that will help you leave this place, drop the idea of jumping. So I tell you what. You can choose the last card, OK? I’ll hold the cards out toward you – and you just stretch in and choose a card. Then you can be sure I am not tricking you somehow.”
Madison fanned the deck and held it out.
“Look at me,” Madison said. “The biggest exercise I get is a walk to the bus stop. Thin as a rail. I don’t have the strength to grab you and pull you back from the window. Really. Just take a card.”
Claire rose and took a tentative step over the windowsill, into the room. She still held tight to the side of the window as she brought her other foot over, as if preserving her option of launching herself headfirst out into the air should anything untoward happen. Then she loosened the grip of one hand and she reached out, and her fingers closed on a card. “Wh—What?” she said, startled as her feet left the floor.
Through the doorway Samson came, his eyes on Claire, concentrating. “Don’t worry,” he told her. “It’s just me, and I have you safe. I won’t drop you.”
Claire squirmed in the air, gasping.
Two police officers came through the doorway and took hold of Claire just as Samson grunted and let her feet once again touch the floor. “It’s all right,” one of the officers said. “You’re fine.”
Samson relaxed with a sigh. “We did it,” he said. “We saved her.”
Madison took a deep breath. “Yes,” she said. She stood up and took the card from Claire’s unresisting hand. Claire’s eyes were lost.
The police began moving Claire out of the room. Claire twisted in their grasp and glared at Madison. “You tricked me!”
“I’m sorry,” said Madison. “I really was trying to help you.”
“Everything you said – a lie!” Claire spat. Her face was red and puffy.
“No, no!” Madison said. “It wasn’t! I did do a reading for you, and the cards really did say what I told you they said!”
The police officers took Claire away, and they heard the elevator ding from the hallway.
Madison looked at the card in her hand, and sat down.
Samson crouched next to her. “Hey, you look beat,” he said.
Just then Lieutenant Moy came in. He walked briskly up to the two of them, smiling broadly. “You did it!” he said. “Thank you, thank you! Thanks to both of you. You saved a life today.”
“But what kind of life?” Madison said.
“What do you mean?” Moy asked.
“I mean – well, look at the final card. Pidgey.”
“Hey,” Samson said, “that’s the one, right? The one you were telling her about. The one-in-a-million card. Shows she really was special!”
“Right,” Madison said.
“I don’t understand,” Moy said.
“The cards really did show that she is a special person,” Madison said. “I doubt there is anyone else like her in the world. Probably hasn’t been, for a hundred years. More.”
“So that’s a good thing,” Moy said.
“Not really, no,” Madison said. “The cards were pretty specific. She’s going to be diagnosed with a totally new disease that’s going to cause horrific pain in her gut and – well, other places. And a really, really embarrassing picture of her is going to go hugely viral on the internet in about six months. It’s going to be on the late-night talk shows and everything, and be a deciding factor on ‘Last Comic Standing.’ She’s going to meet a very cute guy, who ends up cleaning out her bank account and leaving her, after cheating on her with her best friend. And after that, she–“
“I get it,” Moy said.
“So, what—we should have just let her die?” Samson said.
“No, no, of course not!” Madison said. “At least, I don’t think…”
“So the cards could be wrong?” Moy asked.
“Sure they can!” said Madison, brightening. “I told you before they aren’t so precise.“
“They sounded pretty damn precise just then.”
“No, no. I mean, it’s possible that the new boyfriend will empty the bank account before cheating with the best friend, not afterwards. It’s certainly possible. I can’t really be sure.”
Lieutenant Moy frowned. “Doesn’t seem like much of a difference.”
Emerging back onto the sidewalk, Samson and Madison explained to the rest of the Squad how things had gone.
“So maybe we didn’t exactly do her a favor, I’m not sure,” Samson said. “But the Magic Squad has its first success!” He turned to Moy, holding a hand up for a high-five, which Moy pretended not to see. Barely deflated, Samson let his arm fall, and said, “So, Lieutenant, I guess you’ll be calling upon us again, and again, and again!”
“Maybe next time it will be fireballs that will save the day!” said Jason. “Voom! Fireballs!”
“Or anti-ventriloquism and a rabbit from out of a hat, perhaps,” said Habib.
“Yeah, I guess anything is possible,” Moy said, running his hand through his hair. “But I doubt it’s in the cards.”
Tim McDaniel’s fiction has appeared in various speculative fiction magazines, including F&SF and Asimov’s.