“I don’t think there’s any way to find out.”

“Your mother has passed?”

Passed. It might be more accurate, he thought, to say that she’d failed. He said, “She died a long time ago.”

“And your father…”

“Died before I was born,” Keller said, wondering if it was true. “You asked me over the phone if there was anyone who might remember. I’m the only one who’s still around, and I don’t remember a thing.”

“There are ways to recover a lot of early memory,” she said, and popped a chocolate into her mouth. “All the way back to birth, in some instances, and I’ve known people who claim they can remember their own conception. But I don’t know how much to credit all of that. Is it memory or is it Memorex? Besides, you probably weren’t wearing a watch at the time.”

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I don’t know the doctor’s name, and he might be dead himself by this time, but I’ve got a copy of my birth certificate. It doesn’t have the time of birth, just the date, but do you suppose the Bureau of Vital Statistics would have the information on file somewhere?”

“Possibly,” she said, “but don’t worry about it. I can check it.”

“On the Internet? Something like that?”

She laughed. “No, not that. You said your mother mentioned getting up early in the morning to go to the hospital.”

“That’s what she said.”

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“And you were a fairly easy birth.”

“Once her labor started, I came right out.”

“You wanted to be here. Now you happen to be a Gemini, John, and… shall I call you John?”

“If you want.”

“Well, what do people generally call you?”

“Keller.”

“Very well, Mr. Keller. I’m comfortable keeping it formal if you prefer it that way, and-“

“Not Mr. Keller,” he said. “Just plain Keller.”

“Oh.”

“That’s what people generally call me.”

“I see. Well, Keller… no, I don’t think that’s going to work. I’m going to have to call you John.”

“Okay.”

“In high school kids used to call each other by their last names. It was a way to feel grown up. ‘Hey, Carpenter, you finish the algebra homework?’ I can’t call you Keller.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m being neurotic, I realize that, but-“

“John is fine.”

“Well then,” she said, and rearranged herself in the chair. “You’re a Gemini, John, as I’m sure you know. A late Gemini, June nineteenth, which puts you right on the cusp of Cancer.”

“Is that good?”

“Nothing’s necessarily good or bad in astrology, John. But it’s good in that I enjoy working with Geminis. I find it to be an extremely interesting sign.”

“How so?”

“The duality. Gemini is the sign of the twins, you see.” She went on talking about the properties of the sign, and he nodded, agreeing but not really taking it all in. And then she was saying, “I suppose the most interesting thing about Geminis is their relationship to the truth. Geminis are naturally duplicitous, yet they have an inner reverence for the truth that echoes their opposite number across the Zodiac. That’s Sagittarius, of course, and your typical Sadge couldn’t tell a lie to save his soul. Gemini can lie without a second thought, while being occasionally capable of this startling Sagittarean candor.”

“I see.”

He was influenced as well by Cancer, she continued, having his sun on its cusp, along with a couple of planets in that sign. And he had a Taurus moon, she told him, and that was the best possible place for the moon to be. “The moon is exalted in Taurus,” she said. “Have you noticed in the course of your life how things generally turn out all right for you, even when they don’t? And don’t you have an inner core, a sort of bedrock stability that lets you always know who you are?”

“I don’t know about that last part,” he said. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Maybe it’s your Taurus moon that got you here.” She reached for another chocolate. “Your time of birth determines your rising sign, and that’s important in any number of ways, but in the absence of available information I’m willing to make the determination intuitively. My discipline is astrology, John, but it’s not the only tool I use. I’m psychic, I sense things. My intuition tells me you have Cancer rising.”

“If you say so.”

“And I prepared a chart for you on that basis. I could tell you a lot of technical things about your chart, but I can’t believe you’re interested in all that, are you?”

“You’re psychic, all right.”

“So instead of nattering on about trines and squares and oppositions, let me just say it’s an interesting chart. You’re an extremely gentle person, John.”

Oh?

“But there’s so much violence in your life.”

Oh.

“That’s the famous Gemini duality,” she was saying. “On the one hand, you’re thoughtful and sensitive and calm, exceedingly calm. John, do you ever get angry?”

“Not very often.”

“No, and I don’t think you stifle your anger, either. I get that it’s just not a part of the equation. But there’s violence all around you, isn’t there?”

“It’s a violent world we live in.”

“There’s been violence swirling around you all your life. You’re very much a part of it, and yet you’re somehow untouched by it.” She tapped the sheet of paper, with his stars and planets all marked out. “You don’t have an easy chart,” she said.

“I don’t?”

“Actually, that’s something to be grateful for. I’ve seen charts of people who came into the world with no serious oppositions, no difficult aspects. And they wind up with lives where nothing much happens. They’re never challenged, they never have to draw upon inner resources, and so they wind up leading reasonably comfortable lives and holding secure jobs and raising their kids in a nice safe clean suburb. And they never make anything terribly interesting of themselves.”

“I haven’t made much of myself,” he said. “I’ve never married or fathered a child. Or started a business, or run for office, or planted a garden, or written a play, or… or…”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I never expected to get…”

“Emotional?”

“Yes.”

“It happens all the time.”

“It does?”

“Just the other day I told a woman she’s got Jupiter squaring her sun, but that her Jupiter and Mars are trined, and she burst into tears.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“Neither did she.”

“Oh.”

“I see so much in your chart, John. This is a difficult time for you, isn’t it?”

“I guess it must be.”

“Not financially. Your Jupiter-well, you’re not rich, and you’re never going to be rich, but the money always seems to be there when you need it, doesn’t it?”

“It’s never been a problem.”

“No, and it won’t be. You’ve found ways to spend it in the past couple of years”-stamps, he thought-“and that’s good, because now you’re getting some pleasure out of your money. But you won’t overspend, and you’ll always be able to get more.”

“That’s good.”

“But you didn’t come here because you were concerned about money.”

“No.”

“You don’t care that much about it. You always liked to get it and now you like to spend it, but you never cared deeply about it.”

“No.”

“I’ve prepared a solar return,” she said, “to give you an idea what to expect in the next twelve months. Some astrologers are very specific-‘July seventeenth is the perfect time to start a new project, and don’t even think about being on water on the fifth of September.’ My approach is more general, and… John? Why are you holding your right hand like that?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“With the thumb tucked inside. Is there something about your thumb that bothers you?”

“Not really.”

“I’ve already seen your thumb, John.”

“Oh.”

“Did someone once tell you something about your thumb?”

“Yes.”

“That it’s a murderer’s thumb?” She rolled her eyes. “Palmistry,” she said heavily.

“You don’t believe in it?”

“Of course I believe in it, but it does lend itself to some gross oversimplification.” She reached out and took his hand in both of hers. Hers were soft, he noted, and pudgy, but not unpleasantly so. She ran a fingertip over his thumb, his homicidal thumb.

“To take a single anatomical characteristic,” she said, “and fasten such a dramatic name to it. No one’s thumb ever made him kill a fellow human being.”

“Then why do they call it that?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t studied the history of palmistry. I suppose someone spotted the peculiarity in a few notorious murderers and spread the word. I’m not even certain it’s statistically more common among murderers than the general population. I doubt anyone really knows. John, it’s an insignificant phenomenon and not worth noticing.”

“But you noticed it,” he said.

“I happened to see it.”

“And you recognized it. You didn’t say anything until you noticed me hiding it in my fist. That was unconscious, I didn’t even know I was doing it.”

“I see.”

“So it must mean something,” he said, “or why would it stay in your mind?”

She was still holding his hand. Keller had noticed that this was one of the ways a woman let you know she was interested in you. Women touched you a lot in completely innocent ways, on the hand or the arm or the shoulder, or held your hand longer than they had to. If a man did that it was sexual harassment, but it was a woman’s way of letting you know she wouldn’t mind being harassed herself.

But this was different. There was no sexual charge with this woman. If he’d been made of chocolate he might have had something to worry about, but mere flesh and blood was safe in her presence.

“John,” she said gently, “I was looking for it.”

“For…”

“The thumb. Or anything else that might confirm what I already knew about you.”

She was gazing into his eyes as she spoke, and he wondered how much shock registered in them. He tried not to react, but how did you keep what you felt from showing up in your eyes?

“And what’s that, Louise?”