The Fortune Teller

The Fortune Teller

Gwendolyn Womack

For Kurando and Kenzo

Some future acts are so inevitable they have been written on the Wall of the World. Like a scribe’s words carved in stone on a temple doorway, nothing we can do will change the story.


The Fool

The fireplace stood like a sentry in the room. Embers crackled and popped behind the grate, breaking the silence, and a log fell forward in a rain of sparks.

The flames bent and bloomed, spreading out their warmth, but Marcel could feel only coldness. His heart slowed and beat out of time, making each breath more difficult to take.

The glass of cognac slipped from his hand and tumbled across the carpet.

Unable to call out from his chair in the study, he looked toward the door and gripped his arm. The muscles of his heart closed tightly like a fist and squeezed until his body began to tremor.

Panic consumed him as his mind rode the pain to its pinnacle. He needed to tell Theo he had found her. He needed to tell Theo what to do—to warn him the manuscript was no longer safe.

He slid from his chair and tried to crawl to the phone at his desk. With a gasp, he rolled to his side and stared up at the framed photographs on the wall. His family looked down on him like angels.

Had he failed them?

His wife gazed at him with eyes full of peace. She had already made this journey. Three years ago he had watched her die—three long years. She would be waiting for him on the other side.

The certainty calmed him.

Relinquishing his last hold on life, his eyes glazed over and settled back onto the fire. His spirit departed like a thousand collapsing stars, leaving all his thoughts, all his secrets to burn away like paper.

The Magician

Semele was struck with déjà vu when she read Marcel Bossard’s commemorative piece in Art Conservator, and the feeling wouldn’t let her go.

She had never met Marcel Bossard personally, but she knew all about him. She knew his collection’s history, the works that made up the collection, and over the years she’d tracked his pieces as they were donated or sold internationally.

Marcel had collected for the love of preserving history’s fragile remnants. Now Semele was en route to his estate in Switzerland to place his treasures in the hands of people who could preserve them just as well.

On the plane ride from New York, she read countless articles and tributes she’d gathered over the past weeks. Only twenty individuals in the world had private collections like Marcel Bossard’s, galleries that could be mistaken for rare manuscript museums, and his death last month had garnered a lot of media attention.

In the Manuscript Society’s quarterly journal, there was an extensive piece on him titled “Marcel Bossard: A Personal History.” It described him as the “last of the great collectors,” a “Man of Letters,” and “the epitome of grace and culture.”

Fine Books & Collections magazine put him on the cover and included a four-page biographical piece celebrating his life. The photographer had taken a picture of him in his study at his chateau near Montreux. Marcel stood tall and elegant, a striking figure in a three-piece suit. An antique pocket watch dangled from his waist, and he held a bowler hat in his hand. His sandy brown hair and old-fashioned mustache made him look straight out of a saloon, and the mischievous laughter lurking in his eyes said he knew it.

From what Semele could gather, Marcel was a private man and quite eccentric. He was born into the family that owned Bossard & Vogle, one of Switzerland’s oldest and most prestigious private banks dating back to the eighteenth century. He had remained at its helm until his death.

When the president of Semele’s firm chose her to appraise and dismantle the Bossard Collection, her mouth had dropped open—not with surprise that she was going, but because she’d always hoped that one day she would. There were only a handful of appraisers qualified to oversee his collection, and Semele had spent years striving to be one of them.

From the moment Mikhail gave her the assignment to boarding the flight to Geneva, she could barely work or eat or sleep from the excitement. She couldn’t help feeling that her whole career, everything she had worked toward, had been for this moment. The honor and responsibility was staggering.

Her anticipation heightened when the Bossards’ driver met her at the airport and drove her straight to Marcel’s chateau instead of her hotel. As they turned up the long drive and climbed the tree-lined slope toward a manor house, she caught herself biting her thumbnail and dropped her hand back into her lap. The estate looked like a Renaissance castle perched high on a hill.

In a few minutes she would be meeting her client, Marcel’s only child, Theo Bossard. She didn’t know much about him except that he was Marcel’s only living relative and the heir to his estate. Theo had requested his father’s entire collection be disbanded, not wanting to keep even one piece, a directive Semele found hard to fathom.

The driver parked and hurried to escort her from the car. She smoothed her hair and skirt when she stepped out, glad she had instinctively dressed for the meeting. Her vintage ribbed-knit dress and pillbox black jacket looked elegant yet comfortable. It would have to do.

The estate attorney, a stylish Swiss woman in her late forties, answered the door.

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