Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chapter Twelve : Alibi

The discovery had been followed by an initial period of excitement which gave way to guarded skepticism. There could be any number of reasons why the card and the painting didn't match; regardless, they both agreed that a few hours sleep to sober up would help more than it would hurt. Zeke texted the find to Otto, who hadn't replied. Then Jericho headed back to his hotel ostensibly to sleep. Instead, he found himself sitting on the edge of his bed with a Doctor Who Christmas Special rerun playing for background noise while he leafed through Crowley's journal.

The benefit of paper, as opposed to digital storage, is its incredible bandwidth. Jericho couldn’t begin to imagine how much effort it would take to create something similar to Crowley’s journal on a computer. There was text, of course, but also marginal notes, sketches, bits of newspaper clippings and more than one image that appeared to have been sliced out of a library book and pasted to a page, often over the top of existing notes. Jericho mulled this over with one corner of his mind as David Tennant adjusted his monstrous fez. Jericho supposed a fez was better than the one-piece silver space outfit that seemed to afflict American science fiction of the past half century. As impressed as Jericho was with the bandwidth of paper, he was more concerned at the present moment with its major drawback – analog search limitations. Jericho had left multiple shreds of sticky note throughout the journal (Jericho always ripped his sticky notes into strips to conserve paper and save money), each carefully marked with a barely legible scrawl describing contents Jericho thought valuable. Unfortunately, on the notes he could actually read, none of them said anything about the Aeon. And so Jericho began the laborious task of scanning each page, beginning at the beginning.

Gematria, that noble science, being central to my theories, has occupied much of my afternoon. In some ways this is a far more inductive practice than subjective, which might shake my faith in its scientific origin were it not for the magnificent results which have ben revealed to me. And what is science more than a structured defense of existential approbation? The particular problem which occupied some part of my prodigious mental capacity this afternoon consisted of how a unity and duality might be subsumed under a single Substance (to use the outdated philosophical term). IHVH = 26 = 13X2 Seems to defend itself given the holy nature of 13…

On the television, a rather well dressed white female tried to convince him that purchasing a sub-compact automobile would make him a Formula One champion with the power to irresistibly attract the opposite sex. Jericho sighed. Crowley’s arrogance, wordiness, and pseudo-science were tiresome. The journal was probably only one hundred pages, but Jericho looked forward to the prospect of combing through it for a second time about as much as he looked forward to a root canal. There had to be someone that could help him scan through the journal.

He headed out to the hotel lobby, which was sprinkled with chairs and a few crappy travel magazines. To his annoyance he kept thinking about a somewhat crass gothic girl he had met recently. She would probably help. Well, it isn’t like I know anyone else here anyway! I’m a stranger here. Still, there was a significant part of his brain that knew he was justifying some other desire. What is reason, but a structured defense of existential approbation? What the hell, he decided, and pulled a locally-sourced pre-paid phone out of his pocket.

The phone rang twice, then a somewhat bored voice answered, “Yeah?”

“Oh, uh, hi. It’s me.”

“Hi, me.”

“Jericho, I mean. Um, look, I have a problem. I mean, I need help. I would like your help, I mean.”

“Well I haven’t got anything else going at the moment. Sure.”

Jericho shared the hotel information, and hung up, surprised at his nervousness. He cursed himself. Why he was even remotely interested in this girl was a mystery. The feeling was reinforced a few moments later as she entered, tattered blue jeans paired with a pink mesh top over black tank. Her tattered Chuck Taylors scuffed at the carpet, matching the cadence of her denim-clad thighs swishing together. She smiled somewhat timidly, and Jericho was reminded of a random article he had read on the hyrax. He had been on the weird part of the internet that night, and learned that the hyrax’s tusks are formed in much the same manner as an elephant; as well, the male hyrax’s testicles are kept in the stomach cavity, also like a bull elephant. Jericho suspected that the testicle thing didn’t apply to his current guest.

“Hullo Jericho, my Yankee bawheid.” Her voice was saucy, but not as sure of itself as it had been the night before.

“Hi.” Jericho paused, and the silence seemed to stretch into awkward minutes, even though Jericho knew that only a second had passed. “Uh, I’m reading this journal. It’s pretty long. I was hoping you could help.” There was a part of Jericho’s brain that realized how lame this sounded, and how the poor girl must actually want to be with him to be present on such a flimsy excuse.

She laughed, a sort of coughing noise like an antique car downshifting on a steep hill. “Well sure I’ll help you, Yank. And do yea propose we split the wee book down the middle?”

Jericho blushed furiously as he scrambled to come up with a response. Finally he pulled a pocket knife out of his pocket, mustering as much nonchalance as he could. “Yep, that was the idea.” He hacked at the spine, and the old volume tore away somewhat raggedly into two halves and a few loose leaves. Jericho stuffed the leaves into his coat pocket, and handed one half to the girl. She smirked at him, one eyebrow raised, then took the book half and slouched into a chair. “You know, you think of the shittiest dates, Yank?”

Yeah, I know. Jericho settled in with his own half. It wasn’t long before his mind began to wonder. The girl had tucked her feet up under her, and was sucking on a strand of hair. She wasn’t wearing any makeup this time, and her cracked lips moved silently as she read. Jericho suspected she was a slow reader. He noticed to his surprise that her eyelashes were blond. There was only one other person in the room, an old lady sipping from a travel mug and reading the paper. Every once in a while, the automatic doors would whoosh open letting in a new pack of tourists along with the hum of the highway, the roar of the motorcoach, and a blast of moist wind like a fan blowing over a wet hamster cage. Most of the tourists seemed to be Asian, especially Indian and Middle Eastern. For a nation that had invented white aristocracy, it sure seemed pretty diverse now. He stole another glance at the girl, and found her studying him over the brim of her book. She looked down quickly, red fire spreading on her neck. Jericho glanced away just as furiously, burying his nose in the journal. He flipped a page noisily, and another leaf flipped to the floor. Jericho and the girl both bent down to retrieve it, and their hands touched. Jericho’s hand was on top, and he made no attempt to move it. He looked up, and her face was only inches away. He could smell her hair, the same cinnamon smell from before, and see something like a fear of hope in her eyes. Something unspoken passed between them, and the room dissolved into a star-spangled night of purple sky so dark it was black. And then the moment passed, and they both straightened, Jericho clearing his throat, and the girl with a nervous chuckle.

“Thanks. Look, it’s noisy in here. Let’s go back to my room.”

Jericho hadn’t drawn his curtain, and the rising sun woke him before his alarm went off. He swung out of bed, and shuffled to the bathroom, glancing over his shoulder. The girl lay with her mouth open, snoring slightly as a thread of drool seeped into a large, dark stain on her pillow. Her small, flat breasts just peeked over the top of the sheets. Jericho felt angry at himself, but dove into his work before he had a chance to think about it. Zeke hadn’t answered his phone, and Jericho suspected he would have to nurse him back to a semblance of hung-over health. It was a short cab ride to Zeke’s flat, and Jericho stopped for a couple of egg sandwich and coffees. He bounded up the steps to Zeke’s apartment, and tried the handle. Of course it was open, and Jericho walked in, shoving the door closed behind him with his hip.

Zeke sat at the table, his face pressed against the wood, surrounded by copies of journal pages, his laptop, printed out photos of the paintings, and several open books on the occult. Apparently he had also tried to do some homework, despite his inebriation and their mutual agreement. Jericho reached over to shake him awake, but he didn’t move. In fact, he was stiff as a board. The hairs on the back of Jericho’s neck stood up, and he glanced around the room as if there might be an intruder present.

“Zeke!” He said loudly, stepping closer.

Zeke didn’t move. The bag of sandwiches slipped to the floor, bouncing once to land in the spreading pool of hot coffee. There was a small, round hole in the back of his neck, just below the hairline. A ring of congealed blood crusted the edge, but no other blood showed.

Zeke was dead.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Chapter Eleven : The Aeon

The photographs took half the day, as the pair worked feverishly, if meticulously, to capture the paintings in all their glory. Ezekiel had an obnoxious habit of occasionally questioning the wisdom of their “consultant” with a passive aggressive manner that irked Jericho. They had finally wrapped, long after lunch, and headed to Ezekiel’s flat for a well-earned meal. That meal had ended up consisting of gas station bologna and Miracle-Whip on rather fine artisan rye bread, tea and coffee, fried onion rings, pickles, and reheated pan-seared foie gras from L’Atelier.

“You’re not supposed to ask for a to-go bag at fancy restaurants.” Jericho had groused, wondering why some bachelors – notably Zeke – seemed incapable of putting together a palatable food combination in perhaps the most prosperous period of human history.

“I didn’t.” Zeke had replied. “I put it in my pocket.”

“Hell of a time washing that.” Jericho had muttered, washing down his gastric train-wreck with a warm ginger ale.

Now Jericho sat staring at photos of paintings on his laptop, while coming through Crowley’s diary. Zeke sprawled across a seedy tweed recliner, gripping the tarot deck. He had set up a very old and well-worn bowler hat on the coffee table, propped brim-up against a stack of vinyl records. A small corner of Jericho’s mind noted that the top album was John Cooper Clark, and wondered if it was worth anything significant. Zeke was flinging the cards through the air with a flick of the wrist, trying to get them to land in the hat. The cards curved in flight, making the game difficult despite being only a few feet away. Every time Zeke missed he took a swig from a bottle of Laphroig 18 year Scotch. It was almost a third empty.

“I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to play those games with a cheap Irish whiskey.” Jericho warned, silently grieving for the loss of such a fine product to the surely drunken stupor of Zeke’s amusement. Zeke stirred, gesturing magnanimously with his arm, and almost knocking both the whiskey and the floor lamp over.

“My friends only get the good stuff.”

“You’re friend hasn’t had any. You’re friend is working his ass off trying to find this key or whatever.”

Zeke sighed. “That’s the problem with you Americans. Always working. Why do you think people get married?”

Jericho clicked through to the next image. It pictured a frontal view of a seated Egyptian god – Horus, Jericho thought – in the middle of a large blue ankh. The ankh was formed from the curved body of a stylized naked female, her body formed from the night sky. Jericho sighed. The paintings were all very detailed, painfully obscure, and poorly done. Jericho noted the name of the card “The Aeon”, accompanied by a small triangle and the Hebrew letter shin.

“Perhaps to be with the person they think they love. Or perhaps so they have things to do with their time besides play random drinking games with excellent whiskey.”

“What I mean is that marriage was an extension of property law in the old times; now that we no longer believe in slavery, shouldn’t marriage be annulled? No pun intended.”

“Maybe you should stop drinking now.”

“And what is with your American gays pushing for marriage? I mean, I understand the desire for social acceptance and integration, but the whole point of the sexual revolution and being gay was to be free from marriage – and now they want it back?”

“Christopher Hitchens already said that. Now would you shut up? I’m, trying to work here.”

“I can’t help it if your reptilian brain isn’t capable of handling a critical line of reasoning while working.” Zeke intoned, pushing has glasses up his nose with his middle finger and smirking. He snapped another card, and it fluttered off the brim of the bowler, bounced once and lay spinning on the end of the coffee table nearest Jericho.

“Personally, I think your ‘consultant’ is a rube. There isn’t any evidence of a code, or a secret even, and frankly I think your over-affluent octogenarian benefactor reads like an accessory character in a bad novel. I say take the money and run.”

The card had stopped spinning, and Jericho picked it up, his mouth a grim line. He was about to hurl it (futilely, he knew) at Zeke, when it caught his eye.

“Wait a minute!” He pulled the card closer. It was the Aeon. He pulled his laptop closer and compared the two images. The card looked just like the painting, only superimposed on the entire image was the ghostly transparent figure of a rather chubby naked boy with an obscure head-dress and his index finger over his mouth. Jericho checked twice, and then again. The images were definitely different.

Jericho’s looked up at Zeke, his eyes glowing triumphantly. “Zeke, you crazy drunk, I think I found something.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Ten : Homework

The paintings were smaller than Jericho expected, somewhat faded, and matte.

“Watercolors,” Zeke commented. “Difficult medium. We have quite a few rejected paintings here; because Lady Frieda worked in watercolor, she frequently had to start from scratch when Crowley changed his mind. Must have been maddening.”

The outside of the building was a large brick cube, with annoyingly symmetrical brickwork and regimented, white-framed windows crowding each other for space and almost begging to have a rock thrown at them. It reminded Jericho of a sanitorium from years gone by, but with too many windows. He imagined that most old institutional buildings shared similar bones. The inside of the building was entirely different. It looked like a cathedral, the walls covered with books and those that were bare covered in large, gorgeous, and no doubt painfully valuable tapestries. The ceiling was gothic, apse and corbel meeting in a gilt arris. The cross-vault was painted in amazing scenes from Christian and pagan myth, while a painted frieze with gilt festoon capped the walls. Enameled coffering and stained-glass lunettes added to the ostentatious décor. Far above, a translucent window in filigree frame let in the nascent sun. Where the walls were covered in books, they stretched three stories high, flimsy iron decking with scrolled railing protecting the expectant reader from falling to his doom. The decking was surprisingly narrow, with barely enough room to turn around, and the books were set behind ornate grille-work. Apparently they were quite valuable. Jericho briefly considered the probability of liberating the entire room and he wondered what he could expect on the black market. Other than the sunlight filtering in stories above, the room was lit with round, frosted globes that evoked Victorian sensibilities. In other words, it was dark, and the paintings were already of questionable contrast. They would need good light and patience to really capture.

Jericho grunted. This was the kind of tedious fieldwork that made him question his career choices. For each painting he took two photographs with his iPad – one portrait, one studio – uploaded them to the project document, and saved the file. Zeke had a Limo Studio 600 watt light umbrella and a set of Neewer collapsible disk reflectors which they used to make sure every detail was captured by the camera. It took several minutes to set the equipment up, test various reflector colors, and then take the shots. There were several discrete signs posted about the room forbidding photography, but the room was mysteriously empty, which Jericho suspected Zeke was largely responsible for. Jericho vowed not to look at his watch. He thought about the night before, and quickly put it out of his mind, a blush creeping unbidden up his neck. That made him angry, which reminded him of Caytlyn. He motioned for Zeke to try the gold reflector. He thought about lunch and his stomach growled. The picture seemed a little washed out, and he adjusted the angle of the umbrella. A twinge went through his back, and he wondered why every museum display seemed to be at that magic height that makes you stoop just a tiny bit. The kind of stooping that leaves your back in knots after only a few minutes and takes days to recover from. Do not look at your watch!

“Hey Zeke, try turning the umbrella toward me for this one; I want a less diffused look. Yeah, that’s good.”

I’m on my fifth painting. It must be almost lunch time. My back hurts. I wonder if these displays are low because they were set up by a woman? Maybe men were shorter when they built these things. These paintings are kind of shitty; I wonder why Crowley worked with Lady Harris? I will not look at my watch. Crap, that photo isn’t right. At least watercolors don’t reflect. Good god, I’m glad these aren’t oils. I can’t imagine trying to deal with the glare. I wonder if the light will damage the paintings? That’s probably why there’s no photography allowed. Or maybe they’re just assholes. Man I’m hungry. It must be nearly noon. At least when we photograph the cards we can sit down. I need more exercise. I sure got some exercise last night! Shut up you idiot. Maybe you should focus on making some intelligent fucking decisions for a change. Argh!!! That was not supposed to be a pun! Stop laughing! I’m hungry. Maybe we can find a burger for lunch. I should probably watch my diet. Haven’t been to the gym for a while. Gosh my back aches. Maybe I’ll avoid the gym for a while. I will not look at my watch. Of course, if I went to the gym my back probably wouldn’t hurt so much. Then again, maybe it would hurt even more. I can’t believe how long this is taking. It must be past noon already. I can tell by the light coming in through the skylight. I am a pretty hard worker! I hope Zeke appreciates my diligence. Why does he look so happy? Nerd. I’ll bet his back hurts more than mine. I bet he is over there suffering in silence. I’ll bet he is just waiting for me to knock off – he probably is just too proud to admit he is suffering. I’ll bet he is hungrier than I am. Oh, well, I don’t want the poor guy to suffer. Maybe we should break for lunch. I’ll just check my watch real quick –

It was 10:30.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chapter Nine: Otto

Zeke was tapping out four eighth notes followed by a quarter rest on the library table. Jericho rose, slowly, walked over and firmly grasped Zeke’s hand until the knuckles cracked. He returned to his chair, silently. Several minutes passed in silence, then Zeke began his tapping again.

“For Christ’s sake, Zeke!” Jericho snarled.

Finally, Otto Pembroke entered. Otto looked like a man who had attended a southern state university as a linebacker, and then spent the next 40 years in federal law enforcement, which, of course, he had. He was bald, with thick shoulders and a substantial paunch. His grey tweed sport coat was a size too small, and his trousers were short enough to reveal that he had declined to wear socks with his tasseled loafers. Otto had spend his career on cryptology, and now toured the world, talking about codes, cyphers, and structured anarchy, which seemed to be his political affiliation of choice.

Jericho noticed a small black speck on the side of his polished head. It was too black to be a mole, and Jericho also quickly ruled out the possibility of a GPS tag or alien implant, although if those things existed they almost surely would target Otto. Maybe it was an insect – but it was so still, it was probably just rubbish. The uninhibited part of Jericho’s brain briefly contemplated just picking it off Otto’s head and having a closer look, despite the fact that Otto could probably rip Jericho’s arms off, and probably did things like that for morning exercise.

“Hello, gentlemen.” Otto approached Jericho, puffing slightly. “Jericho Slade.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Hello Otto, thanks for coming. So you got the background information I sent you?”

“I did. Interesting stuff. So let’s start with the obvious.”
Otto heaved into a plastic chair and pulled a smartphone from his jacket pocket.
“Who are you?” He asked Zeke bluntly.

“I’m professor Ezekiel Garrott, I work at the Institute.”

Otto grunted. “So you’re the gatekeeper. Got it. So look, I ran the journal through a few programs, but there doesn’t seem to be a cypher. Do you know anything about cryptology?”

Jericho shook his head. “Not much.”

“Well, here’s the thing.” Otto ran a few fingers the size of sausages across his perspiring scalp. “A cypher is a letter by letter cryptograph. It might be something like a modern PKE or the good old “a = b” cypher; obviously your guy didn’t have access to computers and such, so if he used a cypher it would probably be something like a transposition cypher. In other words, every fourth letter or some such. You saavy?”

Jericho and Zeke both nodded, although Zeke was having some difficulty unraveling Otto’s south-western accent and slang.

“A code, however, is more complex. A code replaces a word or words with a different word or phrase. For example, if I talk about my aunt in Munich, I might actually be referring to a contact or agent in California. If I mention the color purple, I might be alerting you of a certain situation. So codes can get really thorny.”

Zeke shifted in his seat. Otto ignored him.

“The thing is, we want to look for common threads. It’s called noise cancelling. Somewhere in all the noise is an actual signal. Now we have really complex math for noise cancelling with binary – hell, computer hacking is an art form. In fact, the subrogation of civilian intellectual property for statist engineering is one of the driving forces behind hacking, as well as the intellectual foundation for structured anarchy as a viable – even preferable – political system.”

Jericho cleared his throat; occasionally Otto had to be reeled back in. Zeke rolled his eyes; Otto ignored him.

“Of course, the bourgeois ignore these self-evident truths because of the security that statism affords. In fact, Jonah Levy sees statism as the economic and social barometer of a population group’s self-initiative.” Otto trailed off, staring into space for a moment.

“But anyway, these old fashioned codes can be a lot tougher. The program didn’t detect any codes in the journal either.”

“Great.” Jericho frowned. “So we’re shit out of luck.”

“Not necessarily. Your guy seems to be hinting pretty strongly that he had some kind of secret and hid it away. I’m just not sure he coded anything into the journal. We are probably looking at a multi-source encryption.”

Jericho raised an eyebrow.

“A multisource is an encryption that creates signal by combining noise from multiple sources. A classic example would be a symphony or something. You have noise from the clarinet, and noise from the French horn, and noise from the choir – but when you combine the noise, you get Bach’s Messiah.”

“That was Handle, not Bach.” Zeke interrupted. Otto ignored him.

“In our case, think of it less like a code, and more like clues. Compare the journal to other artifacts from your guy, and look for similar or dissimilar noise. These might work together as clues.”

Jericho knitted his brows. “Well, we have the Book of Thoth, which is actually a book, but also a tarot deck.”

“Great!” Said Otto quickly, almost cutting Jericho off. “So that is another source for reference. You’ll want to see the kinds of meanings he assigns to cards for starters, this could be a really good clue, especially if the journal talks about the cards. Look for similarities and differences between the sources, and also look for meanings that might hint at finding a secret or something.” Otto hefted himself to his feet.

“We also have the original paintings by Frieda Harris.” Zeke added. Otto ignored him.

“So, do your homework, and if you come up with anything, don’t hesitate to call me.” Otto was already at the door.

“Is he always such an asshole?” Zeke asked Jericho.
“Pretty much.” Jericho tapped his iPad a few times to bring up a file. “Ok, based on that incredibly illuminating conversation-” Jericho paused to make sure Zeke got his sarcasm, which had the effect of somewhat reducing its effectiveness. “Let’s cross reference the notebook, the book of Thoth and tarot deck, and the paintings.”

“Perfect. I’ve got you a reader’s card, so you can view the paintings. Let me put together a project document that collates all the information for each card.”

“That sounds good.” Jericho bundled his notes and iPad into a messenger bag. “Let’s look at the paintings first, then the cards. That will give us visual. Then we will compare the notes in the journal with the text of Thoth. That will give us intellectual. Maybe at that point we’ll have enough information to formulate our next move.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chapter Eight : Reverie

The candles guttered in the draft cast by a clattering box fan, and Jericho struggled to focus on the small picture of Caytlyn that he had pulled from his wallet. His fingers felt like sausages, the skin threatening to burst every time he moved a joint. Needles scratched at the back of his eyes, and he blinked. The apartment was small and cluttered, but clean. The table took up most of the space in the combined kitchen and living area, with a sagging tweed couch pushed up against one wall and a very tiny television perched precariously on a spindly plastic chest of drawers. The lights were out, and the street lamps outside cast a warm glow on the threadbare carpets and gingham curtains. The girl pulled her robe more tightly around herself, a bare, freckled shoulder peeping out, and laid her head on Jericho’s shoulder.
“Who is she?” She asked quietly.
Jericho blinked, and pushed the picture out a bit further and tried to focus. “Caytlyn.” He mumbled. “My ex’s daughter.” He struggled for words. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that the entire conversation would be nothing more than a blurry scar in a few hours, and he hastened to unburden himself while he had the nerve.
“My wife was cheating on me and got pregnant. We split up, but the douche-bag left when he found out she was pregnant. She had Caytlyn, but.”
The words stopped, and a single, large tear traced a lazy arc down Jericho’s cheek. The girl smoothed it away with a thumb, and Jericho remembered his last visit to the hospital.
“She died. My ex, I mean. It was an auto accident. Caytlyn was only a few months old.”
The room swayed gently in the breeze of the fan, and Jericho briefly imagined that he was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Carribean. The moon shone softly, and the ocean breeze carried the sharp tang of salt. And then the moment passed, and the room was still.
“I’ve been raising Caytlyn ever since.”
The girl smiled, a genuine smile with no pity mixed in, and somehow Jericho felt stronger. He understood, then, how a face could launch a thousand ships, and almost said so, but some small part of his mind, the skeptical and self-preserving lizard part, thought better of it.
“She has cancer. Leukemia. The doctors say it is a long shot.”
The girl said something, but Jericho wasn’t paying attention. He remembered standing in the doctor’s office. And then sitting in the doctor’s office. And then weeping in the doctor’s office. He remembered the feeling of hopelessness for a child who hadn’t asked to be a bastard, who hadn’t asked for an absent father or a dead mother. He remembered a beautiful little girl, with her mother’s eyes, who hadn’t asked for cancer. He remembered trying, with the doctor’s help, to explain the situation to Caytlyn, and he remembered the large, bright eyes filled with hope as she asked daddy to promise that everything would be ok. He remembered stumbling through the dark streets, filled with hurt and rage and alcohol, cursing everything he could name. He remembered the dark joy that gripped him as he imagined grasping a deadbeat dad around the throat and slowly, very slowly, choking the life out of him.

“Jericho.” The girl’s voice interrupted his reverie. The candles were burned down, and it felt like hours had passed in the blink of an eye. And then she was kissing him, and Jericho felt comfort and self-loathing in equal measure. She stood, her smile more impish than kind, and pulled Jericho to his unsteady feet. “You'll be needing a wash. Are ya forgettin’ yer cards, mon?” She asked. “Ye drew the lovers.”

Jericho blinked. "I don't know your name."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chapter Seven : Marlboro

Zeke was the kind of person who harbored a passion for learning his trade, seconded very closely by his passion to share that knowledge with everyone and everyone as frequently as possible. Unfortunately, such opportunities were rare, and he took full advantage of Jericho's attention. The minutes stretched into hours, and Jericho, who had begun by taking furious notes on his tablet, was reduced to nodding and the occasional interjection to ask a point of clarification. The conversation found them wandering into the early afternoon, the bright sunlight a welcome contrast to the somber elegance of the reading room. The roads were a mixture of quaint cobblestone and newer asphalt; the buildings were multistory brick affairs with white iron railings and white window casings, gleaming in the sunlight. There was a lush park behind a wrought iron fence, and vines tumbled from balconies and balustrades. A monstrously large honeysuckle reared from the park like a pile of golden pillows, and Jericho noticed an abnormally large bumblebee hovering and flitting through the blooms. The cloying scent of the blossoms filled the air, and Jericho noted with a small part of his brain the rust colored patch on the bee's abdomen. For a moment the world was still and quiet, and all this talk of dark magick and spells and tarot seemed as alien as reinforced concrete and jet engines.

"You coming, old chap?" Zeke called over his shoulder. A motorbike clattered past, followed by a delivery van, and the world returned to normal. They turned left, and began walking past beautiful rows of brick buildings and a very old gothic church. Zeke took a break from his speech, the sounds of the city making conversation challenging. They crossed the A400 and stopped at a classic pub, The Marlboro Arms. It peaked out from the base of a massive brick and white building, its doors opening on the very corner of the structure. Its wood and gilt façade supported maroon awnings stretched out over sidewalk seating, and old fashioned glass lanterns beckoned passersby. Above the restaurant, white pillars adorned a bulbous corner tower. Zeke slid into a table, and fished around in his pocket. His fingers emerged a moment later with a battered silver cigarette case, from which he plucked a rumpled Gauloise. He offered one to Jericho, who shook his head.

A girl appeared immediately, dressed in a very short leather skirt, fishnet stockings, platform sandals, and a biker jacket. Her hair was streaked with purple, and it looked as if her makeup had been applied by Alice Cooper.

“Ah, Zeke, ya barry bampot! Hown the fook are ya?” She slid a heavy mug of very dark beer to Zeke, while simultaneously slugging a drink of her own. "Who'se the bawheid?" She thumbed toward Jericho, without sparing him a glance. As if on queue, several burly men dressed in similar fashion crowded around the table.

“Blimey, mates!” Exclaimed a large man that looked suspiciously like Jericho’s cab driver. “It’s Zeke!”

There followed a general pandemonium that involved a lot of beer, some of which ended on the table and sidewalk, more than a few cigarettes, and copious amounts of battered and fried fish, French fried potatoes, and other heavy morsels that had apparently come into vogue at some point prior to the discovery of heart disease. Zeke, it turns out, had a fan club, and they listened in something rather less than rapt silence as Zeke continued to spin his yarn.

“It was the loneliness, really.” Zeke said, his voice raised from too much beer. “He thought himself so above it all, you know, but it was really the emerging insecurities of an unstable and insatiable ego who failed to apprehend the necessary interconnectivity of the social consciousness!”

The girl interrupted with a gaffaw like a braying donkey, spraying the better part of a pint of beer across the table. One of the boys wiped some foam off the basket of fries, and popped one in his mouth.

“Ya gantin dobber! Ya cannae ha two pints and yer all blootered! Ya kin string dead braw words, but nobody knows hoot ya talkin aboot!” She laughed again, and Jericho vaguely recalled a documentary on the mating habits of hippopotami. His head was thick, and his fingers burned. He realized it was the ashen stump of a Gauloise, and he stubbed it into the overflowing ashtray. He wondered how many he had smoked as he bit off a soggy piece of fish and washed it down with warm beer. The girl had ended up on his lap somehow, but he wasn’t complaining. It had been so long since he had really felt a part of anything, and he felt somehow that he could actually belong with this motley crew. Her hair smelled like cinnamon and beer.

A few pedestrians gave them sidelong glances, but probably thought better of complaining about what could be an ex-convicts association chapter luncheon. At one point, Zeke pulled a deck of tarot cards from his pocket, and began explaining the fundamental differences between the Rider-White deck and the Thoth tarot. This devolved quickly into a mad scramble to see what everyone’s fortune was, and the deck ended up in several piles, and no one knew whose cards were whose, and one of the larger blokes accused Zeke of cheating, which, given the circumstances, seemed to require an inappropriate suspension of disbelief. Jericho glanced down, his head spinning, his binocular vision only able to focus on one thing at a time. He noted briefly that his cards were the Lovers, the seven of Wands, and the Hanged Man before the cards ended up being whisked away. And then everything was a blur of gothic clothing, beer, cobblestones, and taxis, and Jericho had no idea where he was.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Chapter Six: Warburg

The reading room looked exactly the way Jericho expected it to. Rich wood paneling on the walls, area Turkish rugs, and high backed leather wingchairs gave the room a plush and ancient feel. Considering the Warburg Institute’s mandate to preserve cultural history, the room seemed fitting. Ezekiel Garrott, however, looked nothing like how Jericho imagined an English professor of alchemy and occult literature. Ezekiel was a hair over five and half feet tall, thin as a reed, and very, very young. He wore an Iron Maiden t-shirt, artfully torn dark blue jeans, and black Chuck Taylors. His hair fell in a tangled mat over his plastic-rimmed glasses, and his cheeks sported a week's worth of the patchy fuzz of youth trying to masquerade as a five o’clock shadow.

“Hullo, Jericho, how’ve you been mate?” Ezekiel was all smiles and elbows as he offered a firm grip.

“Hi, Zeke. I hear your boys handled Milwall pretty well.”

Ezekiel grinned. “And looks like we’ll avoid relegation by a margin as well. Never count out the Hammers!”

Ezekiel gestured to the rich leather chairs, and the two sat, as Jericho fumbled with his messenger bag. There was a spindly end table sandwiched between the chairs, but it wasn’t large enough for anything larger than a cup of coffee, so Jericho squatted down and began laying his research out on the floor.

“So here’s the diary I was telling you about; I’ll get back to that. I’ve got some of the tarot cards here that I bought online. And here are some articles on the history of the Thoth. Oh, and I’ve the book of Thoth in my bag.”

Jericho handed the diary to Ezekiel and then pulled out a tablet. “I’ve got the relevant pages marked with sticky notes. The journal is a bit eclectic, but a lot of it has to do with Crowley’s interaction with Frieda Harris in the production of the Thoth tarot.”

Ezekiel turned the journal over in his hands. It was old and worn caramel leather, closed with an elastic band. One corner was folded over, and several nicks and pits marred the edges. There was the distinct ring of a coffee cup on the back cover. It seemed a remarkably unassuming thing to belong to one of the most egoistic showmen of his age.  “What have you learned so far?” Ezekiel asked as he thumbed the elastic off the book and cracked it open.

Jericho tapped his tablet awake and opened a file, scrolling down a few times before finding what he was looking for. “Well, he begins somewhat early talking about delays and repaints. Apparently he was a real stickler for detail. Lady Harris was working with watercolors which he mentions are a terrible medium for any kind of corrections. Oh, there are a few loose letters in the journal. One of them is a fragment in which the lady seems to be chastising Crowley for using her as his personal bank. The first half of the letter is missing. The others are all about painting design – she seemed pretty fed up with Crowley’s meticulousness. Ok, here we go. About a third of the way into the book he says, and I quote, ‘I fear this may be getting too dangerous.’ I marked that one with the red sticky. Included in that page is a letter fragment from Lady Harris. It reads in part, ‘I have done the 10 of Swords & promptly Russia takes up arms. Where are we going! You haven't sent me the notes on the Fool.’ The next few months of writing all have an interesting fascination with correlating Lady Harris’s completed paintings with world historical events. It’s funny too, because there is about a two week lag between major events and when Crowley learns of them.”

Ezekiel had the diary open and was silently mouthing words as he read. He looked up with a bright look in his eye. “Well I can’t say for sure, but this looks authentic. Crowley had a fairly unique writing style, and this sounds very much like it. It may be a very clever forgery, however. I don’t suppose you’d be interested in donating this to the Institute?”

Jericho frowned. “It’s not mine to give. I might sell it to you though.”

Ezekiel laughed. “We don’t deal in stolen goods. What else can you tell me?”

“Well, about half way through Crowley mentions that the paintings are completed. Interestingly, the entry is dated 1940.”

Ezekiel raised an eyebrow. “The paintings weren’t completed until 1943.”

“Well,” Jericho responded. “This is where things get interesting. Shortly thereafter, Crowley talks about a reading with the paintings. I marked that one with the blue sticky. This was set up as a séance and used lots to determine which paintings would be used. I guess it would be difficult to shuffle and deal a bunch of canvasses. The reading appeared to involve eleven paintings, which I thought was funny because I thought most readings used only three cards. Anyway, Crowley describes the results as “disastrous”, but doesn’t elaborate. Shortly after that he begins talking about altering the deck. Near the end of the diary he says that he has been humbled by his experience and determines that – and I quote – ‘The key must be hidden away.’ That is about all I got out of the journal. The final entry is dated 1941.”

Ezekiel stroked his chin fuzz and then pushed his glasses up his nose with a boney middle finger. “Interesting. And you are looking for this ‘key’?”

Jericho nodded. “Well, my client is. I’m not sure if it really exists or what. I was hoping you could help me figure out if this diary is authentic, and if so, maybe what Crowley was talking about.”

Ezekiel grinned. “Well this is exciting! I don’t get to do many treasure hunts. I suggest you proceed as if the journal is authentic; it may take me some time to verify that, but it can’t hurt to get started in the meanwhile.”

Jericho nodded.

Ezekiel straightened out his left leg so that he could wriggle his hand into a pocket. It took quite a bit of effort. He finally removed his hand, triumphantly clutching a stick of Peppersmith chewing gum. He unwrapped it slowly and put it in his mouth, breaking it into several pieces in the process. He leaned back in his chair chewing for a few minutes, a look of satisfaction on his face. “So let me fill you in a bit on Crowley and his writing style.”