Last June Tillie Frank decided to leave her family's business in Oxon Hill and go out on her own.
She picked a new market -- Forest Heights, a small town a few miles down the road -- acquired a red brick building, and prepared to set up shop.
Then her troubles began.
A lot of people in the town of 3,500, it turned out, didn't think much of her family's line of work, which happens to be palm reading. And they decided to do something about it.
Led by Mayor Warren S. Adams, the town council passed emergency legislation declaring it against the law to "tell fortunes or predict the future for pay" within the boundaries of Forest Heights.
Tillie Frank, however, decided to fight back, and the result is one of the more unusual court battles in Prince George's legal history.
She and another fortuneteller from Mount Rainier, which has also prohibited palm reading within its boundaries, have sued, arguing that the ban prevents them from earning their living and is unconstitutional. The case is scheduled to be heard in Circuit Court this week.
Their lawyer will point out that Prince George's County, unlike neighboring Montgomery County, licenses fortunetellers and that eight currently practice their trade in the county.
But to officials of Forest Heights, it's a question of home rule.
"The county doesn't rule the world," says Morris Topf, the lawyer who is representing Forest Heights.
Frank, a thin, dark-haired woman, will say little about the case, but her family thinks it's a case of discrimination.
"It's upsetting and very frustrating," said her father, Jack Frank. "Some people have prejudice against us."
Fortunetelling, he says, has been a way of life for his family.
"It is a tradition," says Tillie's father. "It's been a tradition in our family for many, many years and it's a gift, as far as I know."
County law permits telling fortunes for money anywhere in Prince George's. The Forest Heights law states that it is unlawful and prohibited to "tell fortunes or predict the future for pay . . . by means of palmistry, crystal ball, spirits, mediumship, cards, talismans, charms, potions, tea leaves, magic of any kind . . ."
The Franks insist they "just look at the palm and read the lines" to tell the future, avoiding other paraphernalia such as artifacts or tea leaves.
In Forest Heights, a cluster of stores and houses around the intersection of Livingston Road and Route 210, not everyone is opposed to the idea of fortunetelling.
"It don't make any difference to me if they move in," says Jim Thorne, manager of Paisano's Pizza, located several blocks from Tillie Frank's proposed fortunetelling site.
But a lot of people apparently agree with Ann Griffith, manager of an apartment complex across the street from the site.
"I always thought them types were kind of slinky," says Griffith. "Here we are trying to upgrade the neighborhood, and in comes a bandwagon of gypsies. I wouldn't want them."
At this point no one -- not even Frank -- is predicting how Judge Jacob S. Levin will rule in the case. At a pre-trial hearing on the case, the following exchange took place between Frank and Topf, the town's lawyer:
"Miss Frank, are you able to predict the future?" he asked.
"Yes sir, if it is there," Frank replied.
"Can you tell us what the future for this case is?" the lawyer asked.
"I haven't looked at the judge's palm yet," she replied. "If I looked at the judge's palm, maybe I could."