The living area was as lavish and unkempt as the rest of the house. Slate floors were covered with faded, antique Persian and oriental rugs that cost more than some homes. The room was crammed with an eclectic collection of antique furniture, from a turn of the century Wernicke book case to a jade and ebony round oriental table. Its legs were carved ebony dragons, each one unique, one of which clutched a pearl in its claw that must have been nearly two centimeters across. There was a fireplace along one wall, with an elaborate stone mantle. Every horizontal space in the room was covered with papers, books, magazines, figurines, snuff-boxes and trinkets, and the occasional piece of horribly juxtaposed contemporary kitsch, like a bright purple fibre-optic miniature Christmas tree that slouched over a mountain of nature magazines on the corner of a Goddard and Townsend writing desk. In the corner of the room was a monstrous black and white patterned reclining wing chair that had probably been purchased from a big-box outlet in the early 1990s. The monochrome Bote Jeghe motif was nauseating. Beside the chair sat a metal walker, two tennis balls carefully sliced open and shoved over the rear legs to allow them to glide easily over the floor. Within the chair sat a shriveled old woman. She sat as erect as a poker, directing a piercing gaze over a crystal-skull topped cane. She wore bright metallic purple parachute pants and a tie-died muscle shirt, forgoing the courtesy of a bra. When she saw the man, she smiled. It was a beautiful smile. Her eyes crinkled back into happy crows feet, and her surprisingly full lips revealed a sliver of yellowing but original teeth.
“Young man, you are a sight for sore eyes. If only I could see you. Where did I put my glasses?”
Her glasses were heavy, cat-rimmed things bedecked with a gaudy smattering of rhinestones and beads. They hung heavily against her chest, suspended by purple and gold ribbons.
“Hello, Ellen.” The man’s voice was kind, but guarded.
Ellen carefully placed her cane to one side and plucked a small silver bell from the nightstand beside her chair. She rang it cheerfully. Almost immediately, a tall fat man in a black suit appeared. He looked like an English butler, or what might happen if a mafia button man was trying to pass for an English butler. It was probably the alligator shoes that had that effect, but in the surroundings he looked surprisingly normal.
“Hey, ma, whaddaya need?” He was sweating somewhat profusely from his receding hairline. He raised his hand to wipe his forehead, revealing a gaming console controller snug in his feverish grip.
“Harry, get some tea for our guest, and then make yourself scarce. The grownups need to talk.”
Harry rolled his eyes and then glared at the visitor. “Yeah, sure, ma.”
The visitor sat down, selecting a sparsely padded Chippendale corner chair that was, as might be expected, not in a corner. Ellen looked at him passively, but said not a word until Harry returned, bearing two tall glasses. “Tea” meant not a hot beverage served on a saucer, but thick, sweet iced tea, served in oversized sweating glasses, a welcome respite from the spring heat. A mint leaf and slice of lemon were crushed between bricks of ice.
“Thank you, Harry; now do leave us.” Ellen seemed to be well past the point of caring what people thought about her.
“Now then young man,” Said Ellen, setting her tea untouched upon the nightstand. “You did fine work on that Tillya Tepe job; fine work indeed. Now I have something much more interesting, but I didn’t dare communicate through our contact; no, this is far too important. That is why I asked you here.” She smiled and added, “Thank you for coming. Now our contact always called you Jericho. I assume that is a professional flourish?”
The man smiled, but it came out more like a smirk. “Nope. It’s my name. Jericho Slade. My parents had a unique sense of humor.”
“But I don’t see the humor.”
“I said it was unique.”
Ellen smiled and grasped her tea, pulling it close to her nose. She closed her eyes and relaxed, a smile spreading across her face. She exhaled deeply from her nose, the warm air causing steam to rise from the icy brew. It curled up lazily before wreathing into the shape of a unicorn and then scattering almost as soon as it had begun. Ellen opened her eyes, and they were blazing.
“Well you seem like a perfectly capable agent, Mr. Slade. And you are what – some kind of archeologist?”
Jericho laughed at that, but it was a kind of short, defensive laugh. “Not hardly. I’m a high-school history teacher. And sometimes I’m a treasure hunter.”
“I see.” Said Ellen in a disapproving voice. Jericho suspected she wanted something more glamorous. “Well, there is no denying you get results. Are you interested in a job?”
“Depends.” Jericho responded. “Tell me about it.”
Ellen sat back, sipped her tea, and smiled, peering out over her glass with a lupine stare. “What do you know about magick?” She asked.