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.


Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"We are trying to find a man called Ramanuja," Henri said, glancing at M. Jones to see if he should speak frankly. "We believe he is in danger. He has apparently vanished after his stage performance last night. He fell to a malade; he fell ill, you see and was taken in an ambulance. We are wondering if you can help us."

da solomon said...

"I know about Ramanuja," said the voice.

Behind the purple tapestry, a shadow moved; the shape of a man rose up and into the light. He may have been bald or he may have been wearing a skull cap, but he was short, and over his shoulders hung heavy layers of clothes. The clarity and tone of the voice was in contrast to the monkish form behind the tapestry. Thelonius had never actually seen the man who called himself Spider, as he was known to leave his shop's public business to his boy to conduct.

The shadow continued, "Ramanuja is a brahmin from the East and a fake mystic. We've done a bit of business in the past, you know.

"But if he is ill, why don't you check the hospital? Why come to me?" The shadow raised a hand and extended a finger. "Thelonius Jones, do you want to add anything?"

Thelonius Jones said...

"We have, and we have good reason to believe he is involved with Occult forces that are perhaps a bit...out of his league."

Thelonius began to explain the events of the previous evening, watching the shadow as he related the story of the Ectoplasm, the occult symbol on the cap of the strange vial (and his personal interpretations), and the death of Mags.

"So we have come seeking your assistance in matters such as this. Can you help us learn more about the nasty business that the Swami seems to have gotten himself involved with?"

(ooc note - I'll be out of town until Monday. I MAY have Web access...but if not, i'll be back next week.>

da solomon said...

Thelonius again recounted the story of Ramanuja's performance and illness, but showing only a bit of weariness – like a good reporter, his narrative was, by now, terse and factual. He went on to describe the symbol that he had seen on the bottle cap, a twelve-spoked solar motif. With a presence not unlike an academy scientist's, Thelonius described his interpretations of the symbol to Spider's shadow.

It was on this topic where the reporter's story drifted somewhat into technical jargon, which Henri couldn't entirely grasp. Some of the terms, like "theosophy," were vaguely familiar to Henri, but others seemed to be nothing but overwrought collections of Greek suffixes - theozoology, glacial cosmogony, Ordo Novi Templi. Henri was clear on a few points, though: Thelonius thought the symbol's name might be Santur, and it seemed that in most cases, it represented an extinct predecessor to the sun. But sometimes it might be a chemical, or a giant snowball from outer space, even. There were German groups – religious groups, possibly – that used it, but so did the ancient alchemists, who tried to turn lead into gold.

"Dazzlingly bad luck for poor Ramanuja. It seems he might be in some real danger." Spider said in his flat, crystal clear tenor. "The Central Sun of The Stanzas of Dzyan? Unlikely, I think. Moreover, the connection with the ectoplasm is interesting. It suggests the alchemical angle, which I don't know to be of any interest to the theosophists. The symbol as you described it is currently used only by the Thezoological sects. So, yes, I do say, what you have on your hands is the harbinger of the Hyperborean apocalypse, the opposite of the sun, or ice from beyond the solar system." Spider muffled a contentious laugh. "Horbiger is not much of a cosmologist, and less of a conversationalist. I favor the apocalypse."

Henri felt like the shadow was smiling - but not necessarily sinisterly. Perhaps this Spider was in on the joke?

The shadow opened its arms. "I'll tell you. I'm not a fan of Vikram myself, but I don't want him to come to harm. If I divulge what I might know to you, you will have to get something for me." This was expected, and the pair were ready to hear his request. "Do you know what that is?" Spider asked, his voice grooving a little, like a radio actor narrating a moral tale for the kiddies on Sunday morning. "I would like a sample of the ectoplasm." His arms relaxed and rejoined the rest of the lump of cloaks. "If you come across any. You can give me that?"

He awaited affirmation.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius looked over to Henri and shrugged. turning back to the voice in the shadows he answered, "All right, if we find a sample of ectoplasm we will give you some. I wouldn't hold my breath, Spider. It's not like the Swami is a leaky oil can with the stuff dripping out of him."

da solomon said...

Another muffled laugh. "Well, poke a few holes if you must." The shadow continued. "Good. Now; I don't have any idea at all why he would have been driven to such violent lengths. The person I'm thinking of doesn't strike me as particularly insane and he is quite the opposite of stupid. But the only – shall we say, 'serious'? – Theozoologist in the city, assuming Ramanuja was taken somewhere in the city, is Domenikus Gerloch, the erstwhile founder of Heilige Leibeigene des Therazoan. Of course, the HLT is disbanded. Domenikus didn't come through on his promise of charismas, I hear. He claimed that his techniques would only work for those of true Hyperborean descent – which was a gloss for saying that his little band wasn't blonde-haired and blue-eyed enough. He wanted to carry out Lanz von Liebenfels' plan – but on a face-to-face level, if you grasp my meaning, boys. Head in the clouds, that's my opinion; Domenikus was just too randy to lead a sect."

Henri was having a hard time following Spider's line of reasoning, but he was distinctly Рunsettled? Made anxious? Interested? Рby the mixture of violent, scientific, religious, and sexual images that the man's explanation brought to mind. Thelonius maintained a blas̩ mien. "So, where is this Gerloch?"

"As it happens, I have his card." The boy, who had been standing silently in the corner until then, stepped forward and went behind the curtain. The child's slender shadow accepted something from the nearly shapeless form of Spider. He stepped out from behind the curtain, and handed a business card to Thelonius. "And there you are. Now. Unless there's anything else I can do for you," the shadow said, "I think it'd be in your best interest to conduct a face-to-face interview with Master Gerloch."

Henri checked his watch. It was already 6:15.

(for Thelonius: the name of Gerloch's group translates to "The Holy Thralls of the Therazoans" and Gerloch's motto is "for the blonde and the manly".)

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius followed Henri out to the street. He glanced over at his companion.

"I think we should find Miss Predoviciu. I'm sure she has a need to consult an Aryan psychic about something. Of course, I'll be there to cover the story and you need to come up with a convincing cover."

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri gave a shrug.

"I am her gentleman companion, non?" he said. "No young woman who is so pretty goes anyplace without a man to hang on her arm like a necklace to hang on her neck, a bibelot. However do you think it wise to walk to readily into the parlor of this spider? You know much more of this than I, but this seems foolhardy to me. If this German has killed Madame Whitcombe it is maybe we should be more careful?"

He shrugged again.

"I know little of these things, and will trust your opinion. Where to find Mademoiselle Predoviciu I do not know. Do you know where she lives? If not, let us see if she went to my shop. We all know where that is."

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius sighed, "Let's try your shop then. If she has not been by, then we can come up with some other reason for visiting the psychic."