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.”