After three days of bed rest, no headaches or weird happenings, and Momoko memorizing the theme song to one of her favorite drama shows; the doctor finally approved her release to move about. She'd have to keep the sling on for at least another week, the tendons in her shoulder and elbow were pretty tender. Her medical plight wasn't over yet, though. With a quick phone call on the fourth day, Sylvia had her out the door and in a cab heading to a "cranial specialist" she knew in Brooklyn.
Momoko stared at the scenery as the cab zipped through the city. Most of the streets looked surreal. They were still mostly empty, only a few people had ventured out, and most of the vehicles she saw were manually run taxis. It seems the computer travel system still wasn't ready to run yet. Most of the sidewalks were taped off or cracked, and the curbs were full of rubble and debris. A few homes in the residential areas had collapsed, making New York look more like a ruined city in the history books than the vibrant metropolis it had been a week ago. After a few miles Momoko had to turn from the window, her heart broken by the devastation.
"Rough couple of weeks." The cabbie grunted.
"Yea." She agreed, absently twirling her stone pendant and trying not to look at what they were passing.
"Where were you when..." the cabbie cleared his throat. "Me and the wife were at home; my day off, ya know? It was crazy. The whole house shook like a cheap horror flick."
"Don't look so worried, we're both all right. Can't say the same for the house, the city condemned it five days ago, but it could've been worse. They got us in the bio-shelter on fourth. It's like staying in an ultra-sheik hotel; I tells my wife it's like we're on a free vacation, except I still gotta work! Some vacation!" The cabbie hacked out a laugh.
Momoko laughed heartily, her spirits raised by his gruff humor. "Well, at least it's free! Thank you, I think I needed that."
"Don't mention it, but that'll be ten dollars on your cab fare. No, I'm just kidding, but if you don't mind, I'd appreciate an autograph for my daughter. She loves sports."
Momoko smiled. "A small price for cheering up my day, Mr. Cabbie."
"Call me Dean; and here's 4056 Broad St."
The cab pulled up against the curb in front of a building that looked like it was in its last years before the earthquake, and now looked like it was ready to fall any moment. An old sign worn by weather and illegible hung sideways from a single hook.
"Are you sure this is it?" Momoko scrutinized the unmarked rusty metal front door.
The cabbie, Dean, tapped on his dash console, glanced up at the surrounding buildings, and then checked the screen again. "Yup, this is the place. Dono what you'd want to go in there for, though."
"It's supposed to be a doctor's office." Momoko unfolded the small slip of paper Sylvia had jotted down the information on. "Midnight Hong, Specialist. 4056 Broad St."
"That's what the dash says." Dean scratched his head. "It don't look like anything's here, though. You want me to take you someplace else?"
Momoko's instincts whispered she should check it out. "No, I'll get out here."
She smiled graciously, pulling a photo and pen out of her purse. "Who should I make the autograph out to?"
"Uh, Gracie. You want me to wait for you? I really don't feel right leaving you here."
Momoko handed him the autographed photo, and scanned the cab fare to her m-band. "If you wouldn't mind waiting five minutes, that'd be great."
She opened up the door. "If I'm not out by then, it's probably the place; so please go about you're day, I don't want to inconvenience you."
"Ain't no problem." Dean grinned, holding up the photo. "Thanks, if you need anything you have my cab number in the transaction details. Just call."
"Thank you, I will." Momoko exited the cab and faced the crumbling structure. It really did look condemned, but her gut was pulling her forward, so she followed it to the rusting door and gently tugged at the old handle. Surprisingly, it opened easily. She glanced inside the dark interior, her eyes taking time to adjust from the bright light as she stepped in, the door shutting behind her with a loud clang.
The inside was a dusty old foyer filled with books, reminding her a little of Sylvia's study. Under a layer of dust she could barely make out intricate tile work on the floor. It seemed like at one time this was an elegant office entry. She maneuvered around the stacks of books towards a hallway with a glowing light at the end of it. The combination of dust and stale air made her cough, and she covered her nose and mouth moving forward.
"Who's there?" a raspy and withered feminine voice drafted in from the end of the long hallway.
"Hello-"Momoko broke into another coughing spasm. "Um, I'm looking for a specialist
"Come in! Come in!" The voice beckoned.
The hallway suddenly gave way to a small room lit with candles. Momoko blinked, her mind trying to keep up with the bizarre surroundings. This room was also lined with stacks of books pushed against the walls, in one corner a bookshelf reached the ceiling stocked with jars of unidentifiable contents and neatly rolled paper scrolls. In the center of the room was a small card table draped with sheer linens and flanked by antique wooden chairs. Sitting at the table, opposite of the entrance was a squat old woman shuffling cards.
"Hello my dear," the woman grinned a nearly toothless smile. "And what brings you here today?"
"I-"Momoko cleared her throat of dust with a few more coughs. "I'm looking for Mid-"
"You're looking for love, aren't you?" the woman cackled. "Come, sit down! Sit down!"
She hopped off of her chair and waddled over, pulling Momoko down and dragging her to the table. "Now I can do a reading for you to determine your fortunes—"
"No, no!" Momoko found the old woman's grip surprisingly strong as she tried to tug free. "I'm actually here for-"
"Oooh! I know! You heard about our Matchmaker special!" The woman spun around and grabbed Momoko's left hand, scrutinizing her palm. "Oh! Yes! I have just the one for you dearie! A little old, perhaps, but—"
"No, wait-"Momoko's protest was cut off by the jolt of being shoved down in a chair.
"Now he's got lots of money, so you don't have to worry there." The old woman clucked on. "Not too bad in the looks either, it's quite a catch, you're lucky to come in today! We even have a half off special going on!"
She climbed up into the seat she had previously occupied and licked her lips as she resumed shuffling the cards.
"Um, ma'am," Momoko tried again.
"Oh yes!" the crone chuckled. "The cards have a strong energy with you; I think this match was divinely chosen!"
She began to throw down cards, and Momoko sighed, frustrated.
"ma'am, I'm not here for my fortune, or getting married or anything, I'm looking for someone."
"Yes, yes!" she set down the deck and began pouring over the cards laying face-up on the table. "The cards say that you come from a tragic past, my dearie, but that's the past, and that you will soon find someone, and..."
For the first time since Momoko entered the room, the old woman stopped talking. Her brow furrowed as she slowly reviewed the cards once, then twice.
Curious, Momoko too looked at the cards. The images meant little to her, except for the card on the far left with a grim reaper on it.
"Why did you say you were here?"
Momoko looked up, and was startled to find the woman staring intently at her, her glassy eyes clouded by cataracts.
"I'm looking for Midnight Hong. The GPS said this is the right address, but I don't think I'm in the right place, at all."
"You're looking for Midnight?" the woman's eyes widened and she leaned across the table. "Why? Who sent you?"
"Um, Sylvia Moon-White set up the appointment?" Momoko leaned back, unnerved by the sudden change in the chatty old woman's demeanor.
"Sylvia Moon-White?" The old woman leaned back into her chair and glanced again at the cards on the table, her brow furrowed. "So that would make you Rumika's girl?"
Momoko shot up in her seat. "You know about my mom?"
The old woman just sighed a tired sigh and climbed down from her chair. "Wait here a moment."
She disappeared through a black door at the back of the room, leaving Momoko stunned with a thousand questions racing through her mind. What was this place? How did the crazy little lady know about her mom? Was that Midnight? Why would Sylvia send her to a weird place like this? What did any of this have to do with her headaches?
A creeping feeling crawled up her spine and she felt a little nauseous as the thought began forming in her mind that maybe what was happening with the stone wasn't all in her head. If it was really happening, then that would mean something... wouldn't it? And that something, everything within her said it wasn't anything good. She glanced back at the table at the card with the grim reaper that seemed to be grinning, just for her. With a shudder, Momoko jumped up from the table and headed for the exit. She didn't want to have anything to do with this weird little room or that weird little old woman.
"She'll see you now." The words froze Momoko in her tracks.
She turned to find the old woman in front of the black door at the back of the room. "Don't keep her waiting dearie; she's a very busy woman."
For reasons she would never really understand, Momoko only hesitated a moment before turning back and crossing the small room to that menacing black door opening it to darkness, then stepping through the threshold.