He sat down and took a gulp of coffee. It was the color of sand and smelled sweet from the sugary creamer. Palermo's diabetic.
In the hallway, the scent of sandalwood incense warmed the air. Pacing footsteps echoed across the polished white marble floor.
Tammy, 47, fidgeted in the chair across from Palermo, arms crossing and uncrossing over her chest. She was a nurse, working with pregnant teens at a local hospital. Her boyfriend died last spring of cancer.
The nurse shuffled the tarot deck, then handed it to the psychic.
Palermo divided the deck into three stacks of 26 cards and asked her to choose a pile. She pointed to the one in the middle.
He picked up the stack and turned the cards over, one by one. The edges were worn in spots. He placed the cards in four rows, their borders overlapping. Palermo's shoulders tensed. He coughed. He drank more coffee and cleared his throat.
There was the Three of Swords -- blades mounted on a graffiti-covered wall, with someone gazing from the street below. The Hanged Man -- a man suspended upside down, arms behind his back. The Eight of Cups -- overflowing goblets floating in nothingness.
Palermo sucked in his breath. In a soothing voice, he spoke about the death and how someone from her past would reemerge.
Suddenly, he changed subjects. His stomach rolled. "You're job's going to change," he said. "Sorry."
"I'm going to lose my current job?" Tammy asked.
"You're going to leave it. . . . After June, your job is over," Palermo said.
Tammy sat in silence, listening to the murmurs of other fortune tellers and customers whispering over Styrofoam cups of spiced apple tea.
It bothered Palermo to see the fear in her eyes. His throat tightened.
He handed Tammy a different deck for another try. She shuffled the cards with hands that barely shook.