There are those among us who prey, who hunt under the guise of trust. They kill not just the physical body, but the psyche, the dream of the soul. They are the clever ones, the dexterous and silver-tongued. They sway the weak, the old, the gullible and the infirm. They are the tricksters of the universe and work through enchantment.
They are ruled by Mercury, a god of great cunning, a thief and a prowler. With no place of his own, the ancients ascribed to him rulership over borders, secret passageways, and crossroads where suicides are buried. He alone escorted souls to the underworld because only he could move freely in the world above and the world below. In our time, he leads unwary travelers astray to meet their own twisted shadow in the dark night.
It was a new client whose predicament recalled this mythology to me. My name is Julia Bonatti – Julia Elizabeth Bonatti — and I’m an astrologer. For too long, I had worked with practical daylight interpretations of the natal chart. For too long, I had happily delineated charts concerned with mundane issues. What’s the best time to plan our trip? When should I invest? I’ve thought of returning to school, can I afford it? It was Evandra Gamble and her family and the events surrounding them that indelibly marked me, that caused me to know the dark side of the god.
Long fingers gripped my wrist with a surprising strength. “She’s trying to kill me.” A network of veins on Evandra’s hand bulged like blue worms burrowing under the dry parchment of her flesh. Evandra Gamble was the elderly aunt of my longtime client, Dorothy Sanger, the very she to whom Evandra referred.
I straightened in my chair. “You can’t mean that.”
“Hah!” Evandra replied. “You think you know her? My charming niece! Believe me, you don’t!” Her face shifted. Her watery blue eyes held my gaze. “I am afraid, Julia.” Her voice quavered. “Please help me. That’s why I needed you to come here today for my reading.” Her grip on my wrist tightened.
I sighed inwardly. I’d formed a few rules over the course of my practice. Number one is that my clients come to me for readings. For professional reasons, it’s important that I work on my own turf. If a client is new, or not referred by someone I know well, I might arrange for a private room at the Mystic Eye, an occult shop in North Beach owned by my friend Gale.
Today, I was breaking that rule. Evandra was on the verge of turning ninety and had suffered a fractured hip. She was on the mend, but mobility was still difficult. Dorothy had asked me to visit the rambling house on Telegraph Hill for her aunt’s sake. I complied, imagining my new client’s questions would fall in the category of health or decisions over her final wishes. I certainly never expected Evandra to accuse her own flesh and blood of murder.
“Dorothy’s devoted to you. She’s taken a leave from nursing to stay here with you. Why do you say that?” I replied with disbelief.
Evandra’s eyes shifted and grew wary, her expression closed. She sniffed. “I hoped that you of all people would listen and believe me.” She released my hand. Her arm was frail, as if muscle had separated from bone. Her thin shoulders and collarbone looked as light and hollow as a bird’s. She slumped back against the flowered cushions on the large armchair and closed her eyes.
Evandra’s natal Sun and Mercury were under the sway of a Neptune transit. I knew she’d be physically depleted, her normal energy sapped. For an elderly woman recovering from a fracture, I was concerned. Neptune’s effect on her Mercury, the planet related to mental acuity, could cause confusion, perhaps even delusions. Was the Neptune transit signaling the start of some form of elder senility? I just wasn’t certain.
“Please believe me, Evandra. Your thinking is affected during this time.”
“You mean you think I’m losing it, don’t you?” She glanced at me sharply.
“No. I don’t think that. But anyone, at any age, would be affected. Please, please reserve judgment, especially of Dorothy, until this time period is over?” I watched her carefully, not sure how to put my fears into words. “There is another thing I should mention. Illnesses can be extremely difficult to diagnose under this planet’s transit.” I didn’t want to frighten her, but I had to be as honest as possible. “One worry is that you could have an adverse reaction to medication.”
She pursed her lips and continued to stare at me, an expression I was sure was designed to engender guilt. My answer hadn’t satisfied her. I mentally reviewed my work on her chart. Had I missed anything? Was it my own insecurity? Or was I just being guilted?
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll have a further look and check your lunar returns for the next couple of months. The lunar return chart describes the current month, based on the Moon’s return to its natal position, and I’ll see if there’s a period of time during this transit that’s more threatening.”
“My niece is your client. You have her chart, don’t you?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Have a look at that too. Please. Before it’s too late.”
I couldn’t respond. The thought that Dorothy would ever harm her aunt was outrageous and unthinkable. The woman I knew was a highly regarded and experienced nurse. She had devoted her life to taking care of people. And now she had put her work on hold to care for her aunts — Evandra and her younger sister, Eunice.
Evandra sat forward in her seat. “I need Luis. Can you fetch him, dear? Just pull that tassel over there.” She pointed to a length of cord near the canopy bed that undoubtedly connected to a series of bells below.
I rose and passed by the window. Luis was below in the garden, trimming a hedge. He was the sisters’ valet, gardener, chauffeur and all around gofer. A short man, thickly built, with graying hair, he maintained a gentle and long-suffering demeanor as he was called upon often for any number of odd jobs.
“Damn and blast this hip.” Evandra fidgeted in her chair. “I hate being so helpless.”
I pushed open the casement window and waved to Luis. He nodded and wiped his brow with a red bandanna, holding up a calloused finger to indicate he’d be upstairs in a moment.
“Old age is not for sissies, Julia.” She grimaced in pain. “Why, when I was young, I could party, as they say, with the best of them.”
Luis arrived a few moments later and knocked. I hurried to the door and opened it.
“There you are, Luis.” Evandra raised her arms. “Help me to the bed.” He lifted Evandra’s slender form with ease and deposited her gently on the large bed, then covered her with a crocheted quilt. Her complexion had grown pale.
“I’ll be working on the back lawn, Miss. But you pull the cord if you need help. Miss Dorothy can call me.
“Thank you, Luis. Please tell that niece of mine to stop baking and do something useful around here. For all we know, she’s slipping arsenic into those blasted cookies she’s always making.”
“I will tell her, Miss.” Luis smiled and winked at me as he shut the door behind him.
Evandra leaned her head back and pulled the quilt up to cover her arms. “I have to rest now, dear. Will you come see me again?”
“I’ll stop by again, if you like. Perhaps tomorrow.”
“Thank you.” She sighed heavily and closed her eyes.
I had been dismissed. I gathered up my notes and charts and stepped softly across the heavily draped bedroom and pulled the solid oak door shut behind me.