Lt. Colonel Baldwin Owen Bates breathed in the warm air, thankful it finally felt like spring, and grateful to get out of the apartment building after a week of voluntary lock-down. The MIND team was firing on all cylinders, conducting interrogations, searching for friends and foe alike, while covertly protecting the entire planet from potential alien threats. A reality he was still getting used to these days. He and Dina had spent the better part of the last week and a half making sure everyone involved in their current dilemma had the tools and information required to keep things moving along. He was in charge of tools, meaning stunner guns, grenades, and other equipment while she handled the coordinates, background data, and whatever else needed at any given time.
The only reason the others agreed to his solo mission was due to its location in New Jersey. Bates had firsthand knowledge of Hoboken since it was the first city he visited when he migrated from the UK to the US. The time alone during the commute from New York City gave him a moment to sort through everything that had happened in recent weeks, but he wasn't sure he understood it all. So, Bates tucked the idea away and gazed out of the window for most of the ride. The others loved to zip to and fro with their teleporting, even offering to bring him here, but he needed these simpler moments of life to keep some of his old habits and guilty pleasures intact. He didn't enjoy being the third wheel or weak link, either.
He sat straighter as the taxi slowed on the corner of 1st Street and Sinatra Drive. The Mayor's Street Fair was winding down but his boss, Duncan, assured him the woman they were searching for would be here. She was posing as a fortuneteller, and with her name appearing on the alien registration from the 1940s, could probably do much more than what she advertised to the public.
After paying and tipping his driver and exiting the vehicle, Bates put his sunglasses on, fixed his tie, and then meandered through the thinning crowd, making his way to Pier A to begin his search. Dozens of face-painted children ran around the park's fountain, zipping between parents and strangers alike, with no worries and sometimes no manners. Several of the street vendors were packing up in the dimming sunlight, complaining about the time, wishing it stayed lighter later like the old days when the United States still practiced Daylight Savings Time.
As he bypassed the crafters and artists, the scent of Asian BBQ wafted through the air. He grumbled along with his stomach and hoped a few of them stuck around so he could pick something up on his way out.
"How's it going?" Dina Ranger asked via his earcomm, jolting him.
"Shit! Forgot I had this bloody thing in," he replied, taking a breath and shutting his eyes for a second.
"Have to get used to it if you want to be in the field...alone."
"Unlike your brother, I need some me time, Sherlock." This time, he chuckled when he felt her brush his mind with calming thoughts. "How's Lexa? Any change?"
"No, nothing. Never changes. I...just don't get it."
"Likewise," he said with a sigh, quickly putting it out of his mind to maintain his focus. "I just got to the park. I'll check in before I leave."
"Okay. And whatever's got you so hungry, bring some back. Talk to ya."
Shaking his head, Bates waited for the static of the comm to fade before pushing farther into the park, eyeing the tables and tents but mostly their occupants, searching for a face. Miss Takashi had a pretty face, although older now, since the photo from the MIND database was almost one hundred years old.
When he neared the end of the first row of vendor tents, he took in the sight of the city across the river, and then found the second and final row of vendors left to search.
He politely declined several offers to purchase various items like candles and potholders, wondering why his 'blah face'—a term his new friend Kim called his usual stern facade—wasn't working.
Toward the middle of the second row, Bates slowed, eyeing a colorful booth, shrouded in light purple curtains, and a sign that screamed for attention. When a face-painted toddler, followed by a frantic parent, came running out of the booth, he barely sidestepped out of the way. The parent offered Bates a weary shrug. He smiled and carried onward, finally seeing a sign for "Madam Takashi" two booths down.
Bates peered inside the Moroccan style tent of oranges and yellows. Way too many tassels for his liking, yet warm and inviting pillows and seats waited on the inside. At the back, he spotted the traditional setup, a table covered in cloth, a huge clear crystal ball on top with tarot cards spread in a row in the foreground.
Since no one was waiting, Bates stepped in and cleared his throat. The woman behind the crystal ball popped up and smiled.
"Greetings to you," she said.
She blinked. "I'm not what you expected."
"No. Actually," he replied and walked closer while pulling a card out of his suit jacket. "I'm looking for Yukio Takashi...the fortuneteller?"
The woman narrowed her gaze, plucked the card from his hand, and studied it. "Very sorry. Madam Takashi is...more of a brand than an actual person, Mr. Bates. I'm afraid I've only been here a few seasons."
"Department of Health?"
"Yes, I'm a consultant. Do you happen to know how I can get in touch with the former Takashi?"
"She has long since passed away," she said. "Can I be of assistance?"
"Only if you can see the future," he said with a sigh, instantly catching himself. "Pardon. Bad joke. The records we have from...some years ago claimed she had an expertise in ah, personality disorders from her former career and we wanted to seek her help."
New Madam Takashi gave him the once over with her eyes yet her face was as still as he usually kept his, part of his English upbringing whereas hers seemed forced. When he tried to peek into her thoughts, she scoffed. "You've seen much but you don't believe in fortunetellers?"
Bates chuckled. "I wouldn't exactly say no to that, but I believe we make our own luck, it's not just out there waiting for us."
"You are wise, Mr. Bates."
"Do you know of any relatives or friends who knew the previous Madam Takashi?"
"I can reach out to a colleague; see if she knows of anyone who can help."
Unable to get a read on the woman and realizing she was being evasive, he pulled off his sunglasses, placed them in his top pocket, attempted his best friendly face and sat down in the empty chair opposite her. "I would appreciate the help and since I'm already here, I wouldn't mind hearing what you think my fortune is."
She grinned, seemed to relax, and playfully looked at him sideways as she gathered the tarot cards from the table. He expected her to shuffle them; instead, she set them aside and then pushed the crystal ball out of the way. Madam Takashi extended her hand, palm facing up, and motioned for his.
Without really thinking it through, Bates placed his hand on top of hers and jolted in place when their fingers touched. The irises of her eyes went completely white.
Jerking away, he bolted out of the chair.
She was gone.