Sunday, December 14, 2008

Flies and Spiders

So. Mags was dead and Ramanuja, if not already with Margaret, was clearly in danger. But what would the two of them - Thelonius and Henri - do?

Henri followed the reporter down a crooked little alley bisecting a block of cafes and grocers between East 63rd and 64th streets. He knew this part of town, an enclave of artists and students, of communists and writers. None of his clients lived here, but it was well-spoken-of for its coffees, teas, and general vibrance. Jemima M, who didn't really need an initial to be memorable, was a fan of an artist who lived here and spent his days loitering about empty balconies. Henri could not recall his name, but Jemima had thought highly enough of him to model for a painting, half-dressed in an M. Henri creation. The painter's hand had distorted the dress, trivializing it in all sorts of uncouth ways, and then he had shown it at some ramshackle hole in a wall as the backdrop to a poetry reading. Jemima had been excited by it all - surely, for she shared it with Henri - but in the end, it had been a rather tacky affair, and one which Henri was happy to say made little impact on the majority of his clients.

Thelonius had only been to this neighborhood, this place of Spider's, one time - at night, in a thunderstorm actually - and he was not at all sure that he could remember where the place was . But there, like a dollar bill on the sidewalk, it revealed itself to him. : inconspicuous as a cobweb, a door in the alley. It was unmarked except for two life-sized flies painted on the window. "Yeah, this is it," Thel announced.

Inside, the front room was filled mostly with books, propped up here and there with astrolabes, idols from the hot, humid places in the world, jars of colored liquid. In the back room, facing the pair straight on with all the seriousness of a minister to royalty, say a boy at a desk.

"We're here to see Spider," Thelonius said.
The boy at the desk glared. "On account of what?" He craned his head to see past the reporter. Looking at Henri, he asked by way of a list: "Fairy? Want to contact the dead? Got a problem with rats with faces? Cursed?"
"None of the above crap. We need information," Thel said.
"So it's not a paying job."
"We can trade."
"Hm, I'll check. Name?"
"Jones. Thelonius Jones. And Henri."

The boy had a dark complexion and small, pointed features. He was dressed in scarves and plush cap, in the style of an Oriental footboy: he could have been from a hundred countries around the world. He pushed aside what Henri had taken for artimatic books and rounded a bookshelf behind his desk.

Letting their eyes drift now that the child had left, Henri and Thelonius noted that there were several copies - stacks in fact - of most of the titles stocked in this front room's shelves. Works on astrology, mostly. Among the piles of manuals and magazines, Thel noticed several copies of the Stanzas of Dzyan and he wondered if his copy was still in his apartment, or if it had been sucked down the same hole as his Anomalies Monthlys.

The kid returned, rounding the bookshelf again. "Master Spider will see you. Come." He had no accent, and concurrent with this observation, Henri took note that the child's hands were as pale as any Irish news hawker's. Clearly, he was wearing some kind of subtle black face. All at once, the odd effect of the place - from the cobwebs to the instruments to the astrological charts - collapsed for Henri. This Spider character would surely be no more and no less a poseur than any other conman or aspirant in this neighborhood. And what kind of man dressed a boy in such a way?

Behind the shelf was a surprisingly bare stone hall, and at the end, there was a door marked PRIVATE. The boy led the pair inside, where there was another desk, behind which hung a tapestry depicting a hexagram marked with some Arabic-derived script. There were shelves here too, on either side of the room, though these books - as similar as they all seemed to one another, bound in dully colored clothe or leather covers, marked with dust-covered gold lettering or simple imprinted imprinted characters - each appeared to be a unique edition.

A voice echoed in the small room. "I'll be with you in a moment." A wisp of bluish incense rose from behind the hexagram tapestry. "Tell me. What do you need?" Thel opened his mouth to answer. "Not you, Jones. I'm curious." It was a calm, masculine voice; very even in its cadence, not unlike a radio news reader's but much slower and more deliberate. "About this man, here. Let him tell me first. You fill in the details, Jones. So? Henri? Explain to me." Another wisp of smoke rose.

Not all rolls have been revealed. Henri made a spot hidden, and Thel passed an idea.