Smokey, the Siamese cat, eyed AM's open bowling bag on the floor and began to circle behind the couch to investigate when LC opened her sister's bedroom door, saw the moving curtain, and said, "I see you!" The cat came out of hiding, fluffed her tail, and arched her back in her best Halloween cat pose. LC advanced on the cat. The cat scrambled back behind the couch with LC in hot pursuit. Around the couch they went; each enjoying the game—a ritual they played throughout the house.
"Lillian Clarice, dinner is ready." The game ended abruptly, as LC left with a sinister tone, "I'll get you later, my pretty."
Smokey returned to her investigation of the bowling bag. She peeked into the bag, touched the ball with her nose, and jumped back! The ball glowed in the dark bag. The cat cowered on the floor, eyes wide, ears back. She stared intently at the ball. A face appeared on the globe. The cat bolted out the door and thundered down the steps.
"Now, what's got into that cat? Ever since your sister left for nursing school, that cat has been acting crazy."
The cat scrambled through the doorway and into the kitchen. Her fur was bristling. She brushed up against LC's leg. LC reached down to scratch between her ears and knocked the envelope from St. James School of Nursing onto the floor. That envelope had held her sister's future—a Doris Pepperidge full-tuition scholarship. LC picked up the envelope and rubbed it against the cat. Smokey's paw swatted at it. "That's more like Smokey," LC thought. "I wonder what scared her so much."
Upstairs, Madame Z looked out into the world of Smokey the cat and the Anderson clan.
Preparations for the annual student nurses' Halloween party were underway when Anna Margaret Anderson, AM to her friends, remembered the crystal ball.
Auctioneer Will Chuck had given it to her as a joke after the estate sale of the Welgora-Central properties. At first AM thought "the gift" was a child's bowling ball, but upon opening the bag, she realized that the ball had no holes. Will had teased her that she could tell fortunes to make some money. Even though AM had worked for the auctioneer all summer and saved every last cent, she was devastated when she realized that she hadn't earned enough to cover her tuition. One week before classes started, the Doris Pepperidge Scholarship envelope offering her a full scholarship arrived. She had danced for joy.
When AM returned home to retrieve the crystal ball, Smokey greeted her with a loud "Meow" punctuated with deep purrs. AM picked up her cat and cradled her in her arms. She carried the purring cat upstairs to her bedroom. She gently put the cat on the floor and stroked her back. Then AM opened her closet door and reached for the bowling bag. Smokey growled, then hissed.
AM turned toward the cat and moved away from the closet. "What's wrong, Smoke?" The cat arched and glared at the opened bowling bag. "Don't worry, Smoke," AM cooed. "It's all right. Just a silly crystal ball. I'm going to take it to school." The cat was not convinced and moved between AM and the bowling bag. AM knelt down on the floor next to her cat. Both of them looked at the crystal ball in the bag. Then Smokey walked over to the ball and touched it with her nose. The crystal ball became luminous as the cat retreated to her place next to AM. Both of them just stared as Madame Z's visage appeared.
"I am Madame Z." AM saw an old gypsy face in the globe. The gypsy waited, but AM was speechless. "Do you know the sign?" the gypsy asked. AM was silent. The globe suddenly went dark. AM was stunned. "This is a real crystal ball!" AM realized she didn't know the first thing about a genuine crystal ball. She also realized that she needed to get back to St. James Nursing School. She patted Smokey, zipped up the bowling bag, and carried the crystal ball to her anatomy class.
AM was surprised to see Ms. Polevacik in anatomy class. She had heard tales from upper class students that the Director of Nursing would randomly conduct spot quizzes on unsuspecting first years, but nobody really believed them. Until now. Ms. Polevacik was definitely "old school".
"Ms. Anderson, what is the order of the nerves that pass through the superior orbital fissure in the cranium?"
AM didn't hesitate, "Lacrimal, frontal, trochlear, superior oculomotor, nasociliary, inferior oculomotor, and abducens."
Ms. Polevacik continued to quiz the class, while their Nursing Instructor finally arrived after changing her flat tire. "Whew," AM thought, "That old student nurse mnemonic, 'Lazy French Tarts Lie Naked In Anticipation' came through today." The class had passed the Director of Nursing's scrutiny.
On her way out the door, the Director of Nursing nearly tripped over AM's bowling bag. Curious, Ms. Polevacik asked about it. This time, AM hesitated and then blurted out, "Madame Z's crystal ball." Ms. Polevacik froze at the name. AM's classmates began to laugh, saw the look on the Director's face, and fell silent. Ms. Polevacik quickly composed herself. "Ms. Anderson, please see me in my office after class."
Twenty minutes later, AM was sitting in the Director of Nursing's waiting room with the bowling bag on her lap. Directly across from her was a large painting of the legendary Doris Pepperidge R.N., her benefactor. The D.R.'s door opened, and Ms. Polevacik summoned the student nurse into her office.
Ms. Polevacik came right to the point. "How do you know that this is Madame Z's crystal ball?"
"She told me," AM replied. "She asked me for the sign, but I didn't know what to do."
"I see," said Ms. Polevacik. "May I ask where you got the crystal ball?"
"Um, it was given to me by Auctioneer Will Chuck. He gave it to me after the Welgora-Central estate sale in August. I was working for him. I cataloged sale items, but nobody wanted it. I thought it was a bowling ball at first. My cat, Smokey, is afraid of it. She touched the ball with her nose, and the ball began to glow, and then an old gypsy's face appeared, and then the gypsy said, "I am Madame Z." AM reported in one breath. She exhaled, and added, "Ms. Polevacik, do you know Madame Z?"
"Yes, I do. Yes, I certainly do." Madame Z was Ms. Polevacik's very first charted patient. She had been a first year, just like AM, when Madame Z arrived in Emergency with burns from a gas explosion. She remembered the Tarot cards, the new "offisa", and . . . now in her last year as Director of Nursing, her attention returned to Ms. Anderson.
"May I see your crystal ball?"
AM carried the bowling bag to Ms. Polevacik's desk and unzipped the bag. The Director of Nursing wiped her hands clean, and then carefully picked up the crystal ball with both hands. Instantly, the ball glowed, and Madame Z appeared. AM watched as two very old friends greeted each other across time and space. AM decided then and there to give the crystal ball to Ms. Polevacik.
"Excuse me, Ms. Polevacik." The Director of Nursing looked up. "I think you should have the crystal ball."
"No, AM. I can't accept the crystal ball. It's yours, but I'll teach you how to take care of it and use it if you would like to learn."
AM nodded. Madame Z smiled and disappeared into the depths of the crystal ball. AM walked up to Ms. Polevacik's desk, wiped her hands clean, carefully picked up the crystal ball with both hands, and placed it back into the bowling bag.
Over the next couple of weeks, AM learned to clean her crystal ball: mix six parts water with one part alcohol and boil the crystal in this solution for almost fifteen minutes. Then remove and carefully rub with a brush dipped in the liquid. Rub dry and polish with chamois or a piece of velvet. AM had already purchased a yard of black velvet, and she found a new ebony frame and box to hold her crystal ball on EBAY. She also learned how to sit properly facing North with her back to the light. She discovered that placing the ball about twelve or thirteen inches away and about three and a half inches below her eyes worked best for her. Most importantly, she learned calmness, patience, and perseverance-essential qualities of crystal gazing and of being a good nurse.
AM's midterm grades were straight A's: Nursing 175, English 151, Chemistry 180, and Human Anatomy and Physiology 1. The day after grades were posted and a day before the student nurses' Halloween party, FEDEX delivered an overnight package to AM. The box contained a crystal ball—much larger than Madame Z's—from an out-of-state occult store. AM was relieved. She really didn't want to take her real crystal ball to the party.
Back at home LC was trying to complete her Family Tree and genealogy project. Her grade-point-average was half of her older sister's, and she knew she had to get those grades up or else. The Family Tree part was fairly easy because great Aunt Judy had started researching the Anderson's clan when she and Uncle Earle went to Scotland on their honeymoon. LC decided that she could scan some pictures from their scrapbook for her power point presentation. She could start with the Family name, then the clan motto-- "Stand Sure"—followed by the Oak Tree crest. Next, she could trace the family tree. She could get the template from AncestorSearch.com and then just fill in the blanks.
For the researched genealogy section she had a couple of good leads since Aunt Judy discovered a couple of really famous Andersons--Alexander Anderson, a mathematician who published work on algebra and geometry in Paris between 1612 and 1619, and his cousin, David Anderson of Finshaugh, whose sobriquet was 'Davie-Do-a' Things' because he figured out a way to remove a large rock that blocked Aberdeen Harbor, Scotland. Then there was George Anderson, also known as George Andrews, a Quartermaster of the New Orleans Greys, who was killed at the Alamo with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. A couple of clicks on the internet, and voilà la project . . . le project—whatever.
"Mom, where's Aunt Judy's scrapbook?"
"Which one, honey?"
"You know, the one about our family. I have to do that genealogy project."
"Upstairs in Grandma Annie's chest. Be careful with it."
"Thanks, Mom. I'll be careful. I promise." When LC stood up, Smokey got up and raced up the stairs. "Game on, cat!"
Smokey beat LC to the landing but went to hide in the wrong bedroom. By the time Smokey realized that LC was in AM's bedroom, the game was over. LC had opened the chest, found the scrapbook, and settled in her grandmother's rocker. LC knew that Aunt Judy had been an English teacher at Central High School years ago, married Earle Cole, a radio DJ, and was widowed three years later. Grief-stricken, Aunt Judy died from pneumonia-and a broken heart. She left her house, this house, to her great niece, Francine—who had been living in a battered women's shelter with her two daughters.
Mom had named Anna Margaret after her great grandmother. Lillian Clarice knew that she was named after her grandmother. Smokey rubbed up against LC's leg. LC looked at the cat. "Hey, cat. Who are you named after, huh?" The cat looked up, and from the kink in her long dark tail to her crossed cobalt blue eyes, her whole being sang out, "We are Siamese if you please; we are Siamese if you don't please"—even if I don't have a pedigree paper to prove it. The cat was secure in her identity.
LC paged through the scrapbook. From the back pages, a yellowed newspaper article caught her attention. The boldfaced headline read:
WSE DJ Earle Cole died early this morning while protecting the infant daughter of his niece, Francine Anderson. Cole is believed to have been fatally shot by William Douglass.
Police think Douglass pursued his wife and children to Earle and Judy Cole's house at 133 Garden Court, where witnesses say they saw a man standing in the street in front of the house screaming and waving a gun. Neighbors called 911. The next-door neighbor then reported seeing a man go to the back door of the house and kick in the back door. The neighbor then heard a crying baby, a gunshot, and Police sirens.
When the police arrived, they found Earle Cole's body slumped over the crying baby. They did not find the shooter. Cole's wife, Judy, had taken Francine and her two year old daughter to an upstairs bedroom to call 911. They left the sleeping infant on the sofa with her great uncle.
Police report numerous incidents at Douglass's apartment. Neighbors said they heard screaming shortly after William Douglass returned home last night. The Building Superintendent called the Police. When the Police arrived, they saw smoke billowing from the upstairs floor of the apartment building and evacuated the residents. The Fire Department entered the building and discovered a blazing kitchen fire and living room in Apartment 4; fire fighters put out the fire and cordoned off the apartment as a crime scene. Captain Jose Cuevas reports damage was confined to that apartment. Police are now looking for William Douglass as a suspect for arson and murder.
LC sat in shock. Her mother told her and Anna Margaret that their father had been a soldier who had died from an IED in Iraq.
LC texted her sister. "Do you know how Uncle Earle died?"
AM read her sister's text message and typed back, "No, sorry, have to run to Halloween party now. Later."
LC rocked in the chair. "Uncle Earle saved my life. Dad tried to kill me. Uncle Earle saved my life. Dad tried to kill me. Uncle Earle saved my life. Dad tried to kill me." Her mantra was broken by her mother's voice, "LC, how's your project going?"
"O.K. I'll be down in a little bit." Her mantra changed. "Mom lied to me. Mom lied to me. Mom lied to me and AM."
LC texted AM again. "AM, we NEED to talk. Like NOW."AM
AM turned off her iPhone and prepared to deliver her first psychic reading. The idea had been a big hit with the student nurses. Hours later, after having received congratulations on the successful party, AM plugged her phone into its charger, and fell into bed.
LC and Smokey were having breakfast. Mom was already at work in the diner.
LC poured out the story like pent up water busting through a dam. AM listened, read the yellowed paper article for herself, and headed upstairs to her computer. LC and Smokey weren't far behind.
AM typed "Earle Cole" into her search engine and the same article appeared, archived in the newspaper file. AM then looked at the scrapbook and the page where the article had been. On the next page was a St. James Hospital memo dated six weeks later: luteal phase defect. Their Aunt Judy had a miscarriage.
"Why didn't Mom tell us?" LC's voice had a pained, pleading tone.
"I don't know, LC. She probably wanted to spare us from the pain of knowing the truth."
"But Uncle Earle saved my life," moaned LC.
"He probably saved all of our lives." AM thought about a great uncle that up until fifteen minutes ago was simply a name. She thought about her fictitious dad and her real father. AM went back to the computer.
"What are you looking up?" demanded LC, but as she asked the question, she knew the answer.
There on the screen was a WANTED POSTER for William Douglass. The picture did not look anything like Mom's picture of their Dad in his Army Ranger uniform. AM clicked off the link. The fugitive was still at large.
"What do you think we should do? What should we say to Mom?" LC was flooded with questions, doubts, and fears.
AM tried to steady her sister. "Look, LC, right now we need to stay calm . . . and say nothing. Mom did what she did and said what she said for a reason. We were both babies. We don't remember our Dad, so she gave us one we could be proud of. One we could hold up our heads for when we hear the national anthem. That's the Dad she wanted for us. We can't tell her that we know."
LC looked deep into her sister's eyes. "You're right, AM. We can't tell her. I'll just do my genealogy project and put everything back just the way I found it."
"O.K., I have to get back. Ms. Polevacik wants to see me at 10:30." The sisters hugged each other, and LC waved from the doorstep as AM headed back to her dorm.LC
LC went back into the house to deposit Aunt Judy and Uncle Earle's scrapbook into Grandma Annie's chest.
There were a lot of notebooks in there. LC put the Honeymoon Album on top of them, but before she closed the lid on the chest, she wondered what secrets the other ones held. She reached back into the chest, set the Honeymoon Album on the rocker, and picked up the next one--Portals to the Periodic Table. "That's a strange one," she thought. "Aunt Judy was an English teacher." The next one, Vocabulary for Standardized Tests, was definitely an English teacher's notebook. Then LC discovered a much smaller book, actually a journal—the Diary of Catherine Buchanan. LC searched her memory--never heard of a relative by that name before. "O.K. enough for now," and she carefully replaced everything. She closed the lid of the chest. Smokey now occupied the space on the rocker where the Honeymoon Album had been.
"Well, Smoke. It's been a rough 24 hours."
Her body felt so heavy. She had tossed and turned all night. Her mind continuously churned. She picked up the cat, sat in the space where the cat had been, and held the cat on her chest against her shoulder. Her mind finally began to rest. She rocked the cat. LC was tired, so tired-and she drifted off the sleep with Smokey curled up in her lap.
When Lillian Clarice awoke, Smokey jumped to the floor with a thump. LC walked over to the chest, opened the lid, and took out Vocabulary for Standardized Tests. She was going to need that one.
When Anna Margaret showed up with her crystal ball in the Nursing Director's office, Ms. Polevacik could see that AM was distraught. The usually calm student nurse clearly had something pressing on her mind.
"Anything you want to talk about?" inquired Misty.
AM knew that the Director could read her like a book, so she told Ms. Polevacik about her sister's discovery, confident that their talk would go no farther. AM concluded with a question, "Did you know my Uncle Earle and Aunt Judy?"
"Well, I knew your uncle's voice from the Oldies Show on WYSE, but I never met him. I did not know your Aunt Judy." Misty's thoughts turned to the crystal ball. "But I know someone who did."
"I think the answers to your questions can be found in the crystal ball."
AM quickly removed the ball from its ebony case and placed it on the Director's desk. She peered into the ball. The globe remained dark and silent. "What's wrong?" impatiently demanded AM.
"You," replied Misty. "Be calm and patient, and you will persevere."
Ms. Polevacik, as usual, was right. Misty slowly got up from her chair, wiped her hands clean, picked up her crystal ball with both hands, and gently placed it back into its case. "Thank you, Ms. Polevacik."
"You're welcome, AM. Try later. Don't worry. Your answers will come to you. Be patient."
The dorm was a hive of activity all day, but late that night, when all was quiet, AM decided to clean her crystal ball. She had settled her mind. Madame Z once again appeared, and without any prompting invited AM to read a book.
"Read a book," AM's mind scoffed, but she immediately checked herself. "Never, never underestimate Madame Z and her crystal ball." She soon discovered that the crystal ball could sort of act like a SKYPE, and there, right before her eyes was TOP TEN: The stories behind the dedications of an oldies call-in radio show.