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capacity this afternoon consisted of how a unity and duality might be subsumed under a single Substance (to use the outdated philosophical term).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.”
“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.