The Disappearance of Anna Popov; Chapter 12; Second Visit to Wolf’s Lair, 22 February; Midnight

Inside, the church was dark and silent. Gone were the lewd dancing girls, the tattooed bikies smoking dope, and the flamboyant DJ. Instead, a nauseating smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke hovered above the deserted bar littered with empty vodka bottles and broken glass. After the obligatory frisking, Jack followed a surly bikie to the stairs leading into the crypt.

He was told to go down alone.
Jack stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked around: the large round table was covered with a green pentacle-shaped cloth. The table was empty except for one item: an intricately carved wooden box positioned at its centre. A lantern made of coloured glass was the only source of light, the candles inside sending crazy shadows flickering in all directions. 

A cold shiver rippled down Jack’s spine as his eyes followed the shadows along the ceiling to a large hook, and then down a rusty chain to the lantern before coming to rest on the stone floor below. For a moment it looked like he was standing in a pool of blood. Someone’s dancing on my grave, he thought.Trying to break the spell, he walked over to the Tarot pictures that lined the walls, his footsteps the only sound, and looked closely at one of the Major Arcana images.

It was The Fool, with a swag slung over his shoulder.
‘Do you know what The Fool is carrying in his swag?’ a voice whispered from behind. Startled, Jack turned around.
‘If I remember correctly, a pentacle, a wand, a cup, and a sword,’ he replied, looking at the petite woman standing under the lantern.
Leaning on a walking stick, the woman limped closer, materialising out of the gloom. 

Combed straight back, her short hair was blue-black and shiny, like the feathers of a raven. Her face was pale and unlined – almost translucent – like alabaster, yet the prominent features hinted at a Polynesian origin. But most striking of all were her eyes – mesmerising and dark – like deep pools in a faun’s grotto.And do you also know what they represent?’
‘His talents, I believe … for the journey ahead …’
‘And what are your talents, I wonder, Mr Rogan?’
‘I’m sure you’re about to tell me.’ A hint of a smile flashed across the woman’s face, momentarily creasing the corners of her mouth.
‘I’m Cassandra. May I call you Jack?’
‘Of course.’
‘Please sit down.’
Cassandra motioned towards the two chairs facing each other across the table; all the others had been removed.
‘You must be wondering why you’ve been summonsed here in the middle of the night – just to meet me.’
Jack shrugged.
‘Ours is a closed community, almost monastic you could say, with strict rules. Before we admit anyone into our world, we have to be sure …’
‘I understand.’
‘My task is to expose that which is hidden … Would that be of concern to you?’
When Jack looked into Cassandra’s eyes, he felt a little dizzy. They seemed to draw him in, radiating both mystery and danger.
‘Do you wish to proceed?’
Jack nodded.
‘I should warn you: this is not a game. If at any time you want me to stop, you can walk away – no questions asked.’
‘Fine.’
‘Let us begin.’
Cassandra reached for the ebony box on the table and pulled it towards her. Jack noticed that two words were carved into the lid – SATOR and ROTAS.
‘Two potent words,’ he said, pointing to the box.
Cassandra looked up, as if prodded from behind. ‘Do you know what they mean?’

‘The words form an anagram. They are related to certain Tarot invocations … To me, they mean very little, but to the Templars, they meant a lot.’
‘You surprise me, Jack, that’s good. Very good, in fact. But then, you are somewhat of an authority on the Templars, aren’t you?’
‘You think so?’

‘Sure. They feature in many of your articles. You seem to be fascinated by spiritual subjects involving the warrior-monks.

And then, of course, you’ve written about the history of the Tarot as well …’
‘You’ve read some of my articles? I’m impressed. The internet can be very informative, don’t you agree?’ Jack observed.
‘I don’t use the internet,’ replied Cassandra, opening the lid. ‘There are other ways …’
She took a small parcel wrapped in blue silk out of the box, placed it on the table in front of her and began to unwrap it by carefully folding back the silk. Jack was admiring the beautiful Celtic cross hanging around her neck and wondered if it was made of ivory.
‘It’s whale bone,’ said Cassandra, answering Jack’s unuttered question without looking at him, ‘and very old. My grandmother gave it to me.’
Shaking his head, Jack lowered his eyes. How did she know? he thought. Inside the parcel was a deck of eighty Tarot cards. Cassandra picked up the deck and began to shuffle the cards, her long, elegant fingers moving like the trained fingers of a pianist; fast and full of purpose. Beautiful to watch, the fluid motion was both mesmerising and relaxing.
‘I would like you to formulate a question.’
‘What about?’
‘The real reason you’ve come to us. Perhaps there’s something you would like to know …’ Cassandra continued to shuffle the cards without taking her eyes off Jack.

 

All right. How about this? Will I be admitted into the world of the Wizards?’
‘Don’t you want to know if you will find what you seek?’
Trying hard not to look surprised, Jack searched for the right way to answer. Had she second-guessed his real intentions? 

If so, how? Walking a tightrope between deception and truth was never easy. ‘Yes, that would be a better question,’ he conceded.
Apparently satisfied, Cassandra nodded and placed the deck of cards face down on the table in front of Jack.
‘Please shuffle the cards. Take as long as you like, but when you’re finished put the cards, face down, back on the table and part the deck with one hand.’
Jack did as he was told.
Cassandra placed the small pile Jack had removed back in the box and closed it. ‘We only use the bottom pile,’ she said. ‘Your question tells me that I should use the Celtic Cross Spread. This consists of ten cards. The first one, which is the top card here, is the entry point.’

She picked up the topmost card of the parted deck, turned it over and smiled. It was the card she had expected: the Strength card.
Placing each of the ten cards, one by one, into the positions required by the Celtic Cross Spread, she explained their meaning and relationship to each other.
As she turned over the last card, her hand started to shake and tiny beads of perspiration began to form on her brow. Jack reached into his pocked, pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to her. Cassandra wiped her burning forehead and described what she had seen. After a while she closed her eyes and sank back into her chair.

‘Now, please leave. I need to be alone,’ she whispered, looking frail and exhausted. Jack stood up and walked slowly out of the crypt.
The guard looked at him sleepily with bloodshot eyes as he unlocked the church door. Outside, it was still oppressively hot and humid. Eager to get away, Jack strode over to his bike. He had his thumb on the throttle when Cassandra materialised out of the shadows.
‘You forgot your handkerchief,’ she said, pressing it into his hand. Jack could feel something hard wrapped inside.
Cassandra looked at him intently and shook her head ever so slightly. Without saying a word, Jack slipped the handkerchief into his pocket, engaged the gear, and accelerated into the night.

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