The Disappearance of Anna Popov; Chapter 13; Rose Cottage; 22 February, 3 a.m.

Jack pulled into his driveway and cut the engine, conscious of the bike’s rumble echoing through the quiet streets. It was three in the morning.
Walking up the stairs to his front door, he noticed that the light in the lounge room was still on. Rebecca was asleep in a chair with a book in her lap. Jack walked over to the sideboard and poured himself a large scotch. As he turned around, Rebecca opened her eyes and looked at him sleepily.
‘How did it go?’ she asked, rubbing her stiff neck.
‘Interesting …’

Sipping his scotch, Jack told Rebecca about his encounter with Cassandra in the crypt. ‘And then came the intriguing bit,’ he said, ‘the cards …’He reached for the bottle and poured himself another scotch.
‘Well?’

‘It’s difficult to explain. I guess I was disappointed in a way …‘
‘What do you mean?’

‘Her interpretations sounded glib, predictable, boring even. She spoke in generalities. The usual mumbo-jumbo.’
‘Come on, Jack, what did you expect?’
‘Yet, when I looked at her – especially her eyes – it was a different story …’
‘In what way?’
‘It was as if she was really communicating on two different levels. Her words were telling me one thing, but the expression on her face, her voice, her body language were telling me something else … Something ominous, disturbing. I don’t think she told me what she really saw.’
‘Why would she do that?’
‘I don’t know, but maybe I’m about to find out.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Look.’
Jack pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and placed it on the table in front of him.
‘I see. Another mysterious object with supernatural powers? I think you should go to bed, Jack.’
‘Just before I left, she walked up to me and gave me back my hanky,’ continued Jack, ignoring the remark.
‘How nice of her.’
‘This was wrapped inside it …’

Unfolding the handkerchief, Jack pulled out a Tarot card – the Strength card, torn in half – and gave it to Rebecca.
‘What does this mean?’
‘Look at the back.’
Rebecca turned the card over. Scribbled in tiny, spidery handwriting was an address and the words ‘Meet me there tomorrow at 10 am’.
‘Surely you’re not going to go along with this cloak-and-dagger stuff? This is a game, Jack. She’s toying with you.’
‘I’m not so sure.’
‘You can’t be serious!’

‘There was something about her … a presence, an aura. I can’t quite explain it …’
‘Try this: how about a carefully orchestrated theatrical performance – eh? She’s a clairvoyant, for Christ’s sake!’
‘There’s more to it.’
‘So, you will go there tomorrow?’
‘I’ve nothing to lose.’
‘You find her that fascinating?’
‘I do, but not for the reasons you may think.’
‘And what do I think? Mind reader?’
‘She’s not my type to begin with.’
‘Not quite like the countess – eh?’ snapped Rebecca, instantly regretting the comment.
Jack looked at her, surprised. ‘I don’t follow.’
‘Oh, I think you do,’ replied Rebecca, biting her lip.
‘Come on, Becky, this is ridiculous.’
‘Is it?’
She’s jealous! thought Jack, searching for a way to defuse the growing tension. When all else fails, try humour. ‘Do you seriously think that a Russian countess could be interested in a knockabout country bloke from Queensland? Really!’
‘Oh, I should think so.’
‘You reckon? Irresistible charm and all that stuff?’
‘Very effective.’
‘Well, blow me down. I thought a classy broad from New York, maybe, but a Russian countess? Never!’
‘You are such a rascal, Jack Rogan,’ said Rebecca, laughing. ‘Drink?’
‘Sure. Make it a large one.’
‘Coming up.’
Rebecca looked pensively at Jack. ‘You seem to know a lot about these things – the Tarot, I mean. The pictures in the crypt … How come?’
‘Just a second. I’ll be right back.’ Jack went to his study and returned moments later carrying a slim folder. ‘Here, you can read all about it,’ he said, opening the folder.
‘What’s that?’
‘An article I wrote a few years ago. One of my early forays as an investigative journalist into the realm of the supernatural.’ Jack handed the folder to Rebecca.
‘The Tarot – Occult or Science?’ read Rebecca. ‘You are full of surprises, Jack Rogan.’
She walked over to Jack and ran her fingers through his dishevelled hair.
‘Just look at you … authors,’ she said.
Jack shrugged his shoulders and stared wistfully into his glass. He had become very fond of Rebecca. Her wit, her sparkling intelligence and good humour had been a breath of fresh air after two tumultuous years and several dead-end affairs. He respected her professionalism and sound advice and realised that she was exactly what he needed: a hand brake to keep him in check and pull him back from the brink.
This was something very rare and precious, and Jack was afraid of losing it. It had happened to him before. He also realised that suppressing his feelings was beginning to work against him.
‘And thanks for asking me to stay in your lovely house. Much nicer than a hotel room. Very thoughtful of you.’
‘It’s great having someone around who keeps an eye on me …’
‘You need that, do you, Jack?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘I’ll keep that in mind.’
Rebecca put the Tarot card with the address on the table next to Jack’s glass and walked to the door. Remembering the awkward bedroom moment at the chateau, she stopped. He’s pulling back again, she thought. Why? Once again, the little voice told her to be careful.
‘I better start reading this, if I want to keep up with the sorcerer’s apprentice,’ she said, holding up the folder. ‘I’m off to bed. You better get some shuteye too, if you want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for your appointment with your soothsayer in the morning. Sweet dreams.’
‘Sorcerer’s apprentice? I like that.’ Jack was about to say something else, but thought better of it. Instead, he lifted his glass and blew Rebecca a kiss.

Being tired wasn’t enough; Rebecca couldn’t fall asleep. He’s invited me into his house. I’m sure he knows I want to sleep with him. What’s he afraid of? Rebecca asked herself. After tossing and turning for a while and rearranging her pillow several times, she gave up. She switched on the light beside her bed, reached for Jack’s folder and

began to read.Most probably, it all began in Egypt. Conceived by priests, the Tarot entered the world as a manifestation of objective knowledge – Truth – five millennia ago. Truth IS: it doesn’t change and cannot be altered. It is eternal. The Tarot is objective knowledge and has been used by mankind as a philosophical and psychological tool throughout the ages.
Preserved and guarded by the initiated, this precious knowledge has been handed down from generation to generation.
Rebecca heard footsteps outside her door and looked up. ‘Jack?’ she called out. He put his head through the door. ‘This is amazing,’ she said, suddenly wide awake. ‘I can’t put it down. I had no idea …’
‘Where are you up to?’ he asked, sitting down in the armchair beside her bed.
‘Precious knowledge guarded by the initiated and handed down from generation to generation …’
‘Yes, by special schools, or secret societies. The Essenes, Cathars, Templars, the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons were all part of it.’
‘How do you know all this?’
‘I did a whole series of articles on the occult – fascinating stuff. Listen to this: legend has it that the Atlanteans, knowing that their island was doomed, wanted to preserve their sacred laws for posterity. So, what did they do? They engraved them onto the surface of an ivory globe and then cut it in half. There were 144 laws in all. On one half of the globe they engraved the Arcana of the Tarot – all eighty of them. On the other, they engraved the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching.’

‘The I Ching? What’s that?’
‘An ancient oracle book dating back to about 1200 BC. According to the I Ching, creation begins with a line which then divides in two, bringing duality into the universe. Space and Time appear, Good and Evil, Below and Above, Left and Right and so on. But back to Atlantis. The two halves of the globe survived the calamity. The half with the Tarot engravings found its way to Crete and then Egypt; the other surfaced in India and China where it became the I Ching.’‘Incredible!’
‘Yes, I came across some amazing books written by some amazing characters.

Take Gurdjieff’s book, for example, All and Everything: Beezelbub’s Tales to his Grandson, arguably one of the hundred most influential books ever written. George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a Russian mystic and spiritual healer who had an extraordinary career and many famous students. Perhaps his best known student was Ouspensky who, in his book In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, defined eternity as “the endless existence of each and every moment in time”

Influenced by Einstein, he came up with the concept of the eternity-line or fate-line as it is also called.’
Jack paused. ‘Am I boring you?’
‘Far from it; this is fascinating. I feel like I’m in a lecture theatre. Go on …’

‘A Tarot consultation is a joint experience between the diviner and the questioner; their respective fate-lines intersect.

That’s how it works. And then there was Le Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie written by Eliphas Levi in the 1850s. Eliphas Levi was a pseudonym for Alphonse Louis Constant, a fascinating individual who dominated the development of the occult in nineteenth century France. Pseudonyms were very popular in occult circles. Take Gerard Encausse, for instance, a French doctor with remarkable psychic powers. He was known as Dr Papus and published all of his books under that name. He became a good friend and confidant of Czar Nicholas II. It was rumoured that he predicted his own death, naming the day and the hour. During his funeral service in Notre Dame, a finger belonging to a statue – an angel – high above the altar broke off all by itself and landed on his coffin. To many this was a sign. All of these writers believed in the Tarot and were instrumental in its revival and popularity during the nineteenth century.’
‘Stop! My head’s spinning.’
‘The Tarot didn’t stand still,’ Jack continued, undeterred. ‘Over time, different versions emerged incorporating changes and perceived improvements, not all of which were helpful. We now have the Tarot of Marseilles, the Tarot of the Cat People, the Alchemist Tarot, the Fat Woman Tarot and many others.’
‘You’re a walking occult encyclopaedia, Jack,’ interrupted Rebecca. ‘No wonder the Wizard was impressed and asked you to come back. Alright. I can see now why you want to meet Cassandra again tomorrow.’ She closed the folder.
‘Cassandra believes in the Tarot. That’s why she fascinates me.’
‘Enough for one day. I’ll read the rest in the morning. Go to bed, Jack. We both need to get some sleep.’
Rebecca put Jack’s folder on her bedside table and turned off the light. He’s so passionate about the subjects that interest him, she thought, and so knowledgeable. Amazing guy. Without realising it, Rebecca had just glimpsed the hidden drivers behind Jack’s success: an almost childlike joy of learning and discovery, a burning curiosity, and a relentless pursuit of adventure.

Jack went to his bedroom and placed the Tarot card next to Anna’s photograph. Looking at the picture next to it, he traced the words – ‘Anna Popov – help’ – that had been scratched into the polished wood of the secretaire, with the tips of his fingers. Then he opened the secret drawer, pulled out the bracelet and dropped it on top of the card.
‘What does it all mean?’ he asked himself, staring at Anna’s photo.
Then a familiar feeling came over him: once again, he was being swept along by forces beyond his control. Some of his best leads had started like that. He knew then that all he had to do was follow his instincts. This time, however, he would have to be careful. Very careful …

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