Feature Article from the Orange County Ledger-Times An Inquiry into Mall Magic :

A Feature Story in Five Parts

November 13, 1998: The Room in the Back

The shop, the owner, the neighbors, the customers--and still a mystery at the center. It was time to return to Bet Your Life--this time as a buyer of dreams.

Convinced that I would never understand the inner workings from the outside, still wondering about the room in the back, I decided to take out some insurance, myself. Four thousand was not possible, but twenty dollars for a new wardrobe, including briefcase and tape recorder, was doable.

I arrived right after lunch. Two young women in jeans and t-shirts were just leaving, and this time Annabelle was wearing a long, satin cape, black with sequined spirals--much more like I had imagined.

"How about that promotion?" Annabelle beamed at me from behind the counter, already entering my name into her computer. I hadn't factored a promotion into this story. But there it was. If I could get a promotion to Features Editor, I could have that new wardrobe, or at least a good start. When I had answered a few more questions, Annabelle did a quick print and handed me a contract. Read this, it explains your liability, it said, Payment due $50.

"I've had to begin charging for the consultation," she apologized. "Too many customers just wanted to talk. But I take credit cards. Come with me." She led me into the back--opened the sunflower door, and offered me one of two arm chairs. The black walls were covered with numbers, spirals, sunflowers, apples, pineapples, diagrams. At last, the magical touch. Annabelle rested in the other chair.

"How long have you been waiting for the promotion?" I was surprised. Despite the computers, the businesslike austerity, the real work went on here, where the input was generated--in the abracadabra room. It was Annabelle, herself, who sorted out the stories and decided the odds of my promotion, Nikki's chance at cheerleader.

"So what are the odds?" I asked, when we had finished the consultation. They were very good.

"I recommend a coverage period of six months. You do understand, the better the odds, the more expensive the insurance."

I nodded. Of course, how else would she stay in business?

"But the most important thing is the pattern, the Fibonacci data. It will only take me a few seconds to get the answer." Annabelle began entering numbers into the computer. In a few moments she looked up.

"Five hundred dollars."

This figure was considerably more than I had expected to pay, and I don't carry that kind of cash.

"So," I said, "you just figure how life spirals out, and you have all the answers. right?"

"Life," she said, "spirals in."

"Well, you have my fifty. Five hundred is just too high." But as the day passed, my promotion began to seem more and more shaky--for reason I could not pinpoint. The next morning, I went to the bank, pulled out five hundred in cash, and went to visit Annabelle Thompson. Anyway, the payout, should I fail to get promoted, was five thousand (perhaps my wardrobe was anticipated to be more expensive than Nikki's).

As I left, I wondered where the high school kids got cash like that. Two groups of young men waiting--some gents wearing Bolsa High baseball jerseys and what appeared to be a rock group, no doubt eager to insure a record contract. As this article goes to press, I can report that Annabelle Thompson has my money for good. The promotion came through.