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 Don t be so mean. Actually, you and Dale might be interested in a new line that s coming in on
Monday. Little polished pebbles in sets of six, each with a rune inscribed on it. According to the leaflet,
you can tell people s fortunes by the order in which they come out of the bag. You can also slip them
into someone s pocket to summon the demon, or throw them all up into the air and try to catch them.
You could take a set, show them around, see if they catch on.
 Thanks for the offer, but maybe we have had enough runes for now.
My view of the paranormal was as sceptical as ever, but Hatshepsut s Pavilion had provided more
entertainment and hilarity in the weeks since it opened than all my months of work in the bookshop.
The next little adventure started with the sale of a tin of biscuits, Nefertiti s Nubian Assortment. Each
nibble was in its own paper wrapper, and had a message on the inside saying that the omens for love
were very strong, or that good fortune lay ahead, or giving some other groundless prediction. A smartly
dressed woman who grinned all the time approached the till carrying one of the tins, evidently wanting
to impress with her constant display of teeth. She must have been very fond of snacks, for I saw a few
crumbs from an earlier treat on the lapel of her coat.
When she had gone I noticed some flyers for Alicia s so-called personal astrology service on the
shelf under the counter. At the bottom of the page were the words Ask Alicia or Ben for your personal
consultation. She had included my name without asking me. I tackled her about the leaflets when she
returned from her meeting.
 I thought you d be pleased, she said.  A male customer might be happier to talk to another man,
especially if he is hoping for the more personal subjects to be included. He might tell you a few juicy
bits about himself.
 I m not interested in some weirdo s juicy bits. People will think I m setting myself up as a fortune
teller. If anyone at the Give and Take sees one of these I ll be a laughing stock.
 You re so difficult sometimes. She sighed and put on her Cleopatra headdress, now even more
ridiculous as she had replaced the green-eyed cobra s head with a grotesque plastic spider. My irritation
evaporated as I suppressed the urge to laugh. She said,  I put your name in as an acknowledgement of
all the help you re giving me in the shop. Actually, since you ve raised the subject, I do sometimes sense
that you might be gifted. Now don t pull a face. I always envy the gifted. I m not myself, you see, except
that I think maybe I m good at spotting those who are.
 Alicia, please tell me you won t invite people to contact me to arrange horoscopes, fortune telling, or
anything else of that kind?
 All right, if you must be so fussy. At least your boyfriend doesn t have a closed mind. He s agreed to
come in on Thursday to help me add some new material to the reports on the astrology system.
49
Alan Keslian
Dale did not believe in the stars any more than I did. He had probably agreed to help because he
found it hard to say no. I went back to the bookshop to see if any orders had come in via the internet.
Half an hour later she burst in, clearly overwrought. She was still wearing the Cleopatra headdress, the
eyes of the plastic tarantula now glowing intermittently, presumably battery powered.
 Ben, you haven t sold any of the crystal scarab beetles lately, have you?
They were probably the most expensive items not to be locked away in a glass case.  No. The rune
parchments were still going well, but nobody bought scarab beetles.
 Three or four of them are missing.
 My only sale, other than the runes, was one tin of Nefertiti s Nubian Assortment.
 The last time I checked the beetles was a week ago. My fault. We can t watch everyone a hundred
per cent of the time. It would be easy for anyone to slip a couple into a bag or their pocket.
Unable to think of any comforting words, I offered to make her a cup of tea.
 Thanks, but I d better go back and open up again.
 Jeremy s gone out, but I could come round a bit later when he s back, maybe in half an hour?
When I went round she was sitting behind the screen at the back, looking forlorn. I sat opposite her.
 You could put the scarab beetles in the lockable display case.
 Yes, but it s what the theft says about people in general. You begin to lose faith.
 Not everyone is trying to steal, are they? We ll just have to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
In a shop you have to accept some losses.
She said,  You did once suggest putting in security cameras, didn t you? Things have not got as bad
as that yet. Let s talk about something else. You re good with words, aren t you. Ever thought about
ghost writing?
 Don t you have to be dead first?
 Very funny. You re determined never to take anything I say seriously.
 I take shoplifting seriously. You see the funny side of some of this stuff yourself sometimes.
 Well, some of it& plastic vampire bats and spiders are just for amusement& people mainly buy
them to give to their kids. The fascination, though, is in trying to get some insight into the unknown, or
unexplained. There is uncertainty all around us. Even with ancient Egypt, despite all the artefacts and
records we have, that world is mysterious to us. For instance, we don t know why the pyramids at Giza
were built to the particular size that they are, or why they are in the configuration of the stars in Orion s
belt, or why pyramid building was abandoned for underground tombs. All the unknowns in our world
are worrying in one sense, but they also give us hope.
In order to help with Alicia s astrology system, Dale took off a few more of the hours that the hospital
owed him. Her idea was to add some optional paragraphs to the standard reports for people who were
trying to lose weight. This extra guidance was to slot in with all the usual guff about Jupiter coming
into your birth-house and Mercury going into retrograde. He had been with her for nearly an hour
when she rang to ask me to go over.
Dale had found, in the software package, a way of doing what she wanted, but having adapted a
couple of sentences from a booklet on dieting, they were stuck for ideas. All they had put in was:
Planetary alignments may make comfort foods particularly tempting, but remember, efforts to lose weight can so easily be
undone. Be firm of purpose. The second was: Your ruling planet is in your birth sign. This may help with concerns
about weight. You may find a gradual reduction in calorie intake over a longer period more successful than a short drastic
diet.
 People write whole books about dieting. I thought this would be easy, Alicia moaned.  Most of the
hospital s booklet is too clinical, too medical. The wording is wrong for a horoscope. You re never lost
for words. Any ideas?
 Well, let me see. How about: Cut down on sugary drinks while Saturn is in Uranus.
50
Alan Keslian
 Is that dietary advice, or lewdness?
 Bit of both. How about: The influence of the moon makes this a good month for round continental cheeses; or
you could say: as Taurus is your star sign avoid beef sausages; and for Pisces, Shellfish may help stimulate new
interests.
 Oh for heaven s sake, why can t you be serious? she said. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]