In a corner of the restaurant, past the customers picking over plates of potato skins and crab balls, Miss Betty is predicting the future.
Her wrinkled fingers flash over the green-and-white checked tablecloth as she lays out a row of cards. Queen of clubs. Six of diamonds. Seven of hearts.
She licks her lips and peers through thick bifocals at an anxious hairdresser sitting across from her. "Why do you want this man back?" she asks in a throaty whisper, then lays down a king of clubs. "There's someone better who wants to get back in your life."
Three days a week, 66-year-old Betty Setters sits at this table in the Lansdowne Inn and listens to the dreams, desires, sorrows and fears of those who come to her for guidance.
Whether they seek her regularly, or consult her on a whim after a burger and pint of Bud Light, their questions are more or less the same: Who will love me? What will happen to those I love? Where will the money come from? What will I do with the years of my life?
Dressed in denim shorts and white sneakers, her short gray hair neatly combed, Miss Betty, as she is called here, looks more like a spunky grandmother than any Hollywood image of a psychic. But for nearly four decades, she has been gazing at cards and telling her visions of the future, both joyful and sad.
"I have a third eye. It's like a movie camera," she says. "I do believe I can help people sometimes."
Sitting under a hanging stained-glass lamp, with two decks of cards and a pack of Pall Mall lights resting on the table in front of her, Miss Betty says that she sees a barrage of images, some crisply defined, some vague, when she concentrates on a person's future.
She begins each reading by asking her client to shuffle the deck of playing cards while thinking of a wish. "There's a residue of their vibrations on the cards," says the East Baltimore resident, stretching the word "vibrations" to four syllables.
"Sometimes I can pick up the fear from them."
Since antiquity, people have sought the advice of those who claim to be seers. The early Greeks consulted the priestess of the Oracle at Delphi, and the ancient Egyptians asked their priests for prognostications. The prophecies of the 16th-century French apothecary Nostradamus are still frequently referenced - at least by the supermarket tabloids - and modern seers such as John Edwards and Miss Cleo have found fame on television.
While many scoff that clairvoyants are a bunch of hogwash, the plethora of palmists and card readers testifies to their enduring popularity. Their names run the gamut from the familial (Sister Bess, Sister Teresa and Sister Lisa) to the matronly (Mrs. Lee, Mrs. White and Mrs. Williams ) to all-out alliterative (Miss Millie Miller, Sister Susan and Madam Mary, whose shop is, perhaps appropriately, on Wise Avenue in Dundalk.)
As Miss Betty consults her cards and murmurs advice to her clients, it is apparent that she is part psychiatrist, part tough big sister and part concerned mother to her clients.
"You going down the ocean?" she asks Mandy Geyer, a 30-year-old store manager from Baltimore. "Check your tires before you go."
To Joyce Wilson, a 57-year-old waitress at the Glen Burnie Golden Corral, Miss Betty has this to say: "I've told you, you've got to get rid of this man, Joyce. You wait every day for that phone to ring, don't you? Every time that phone rings, you think it's him calling."
Having a resident psychic keeps things interesting at the little restaurant and bar by the train tracks on Hammonds Ferry Road, says Pete Panselinos, who owns the Lansdowne Inn with Gus Kimos.
"I've seen people that they leave here and they cry and other people that are very happy leaving here," says Panselinos, a portly man with laughing eyes and a thick Greek accent. "One time there was a woman crying in the bathroom. It took hours to get her out of here. I said [to Miss Betty], 'What you tell that lady? Don't tell people bad things. Only tell people the good things.' "
But Miss Betty says that, in most cases, she shares her predictions whether they are positive or not. Visions of death or illness can be terrible, she says, adding, "Sometimes it feels like a curse, hon."
Although she believes that all people have some ability to foretell the future, Miss Betty says that she believes she has a God-given gift. When she was born, she says, a caul, or a portion of the amniotic sac, was covering her face, which some believe portends psychic ability.
At the age of 4, she left the tiny town of Moorefield, W.Va., to live with her grandparents in Baltimore's Otterbein neighborhood.
When she was 13, she watched a friend's uncle read cards, then picked them up and startled him with her own predictions. But it wasn't until she divorced her husband, the father of her five children, in 1972 that Miss Betty began to read cards regularly. Over the years, she has read cards in a number of bars, restaurants and private homes.
She says that although she cannot foretell the events of her own life, she can read her children easily. "If my kids are going to be sick, I can feel the illness around them," she says. "I could sense if they were lying to me when they were in trouble."
Miss Betty has been reading cards at the Lansdowne Inn for about a year, ever since the previous psychic, Elizabeth Roberts, known as Miss Bessie, took ill. Before she died at the age of 85, Miss Bessie asked Panselinos to bring in Miss Betty to replace her.
"There will never be another Bessie," says Joyce Wilson, who has been a friend and client of both women. "She didn't even charge all the time for readings. If you bought her some Depends, she'd do a reading. If you bought her lunch, she'd do a reading. She would always say, 'If I can just help one person a day. ...' That was the kind of person she was."
Angel in the seat
Miss Betty sits at the same table where Miss Bessie once sat, but not in the same seat ("An angel sits there," she says). Customers scrawl their names in her notebook, have a snack or drink while they await a turn and then pay $40 for a half-hour reading.
Some days, only two or three people seek her advice, but other times as many as 10 come to her table.
"I really, honestly believe she's the real deal," says Kim Rhoades, a bartender at the Lansdowne Inn and a client. Nearly a year ago, Miss Betty warned her that there would be a tragedy in her family two weeks before a close relative committed suicide.
As silk flowers sway in the breeze from the air conditioning, Miss Betty fixes her warm brown eyes on Wilson and warns her about gambling. "Go little steps," she says. "God don't want you to go big steps. He wants you to take little steps."
The older woman explains that while she cannot predict every detail - sometimes events that she foretells happened in the past or names or relationships are a little off - she believes that her readings can help people improve their lives.
"I can't pull a rabbit out of a hat," says Miss Betty. "All I can do is pray for you."
Watch a video of Betty Setters reading fortunes at baltimoresun.com/psychic