Monday, November 16, 2015

Chapter Nine

There was a new photo of Noah and his local friends posted to the Guild of Smiths forum.  Actually, there were several new photos, but the one that provided the most useful information to Alex, for the moment, was one of the group of them in front of a shop.  An occult bookstore.
An occult bookstore named The Tree of Life Curiosities and Metaphysical Supplies, according to the name painted on the window of the shop.
The note under the photo said, “Had a great time picking out a few things and chatting with the wonderful owner of the shop today.”
A couple of quick minutes searching online revealed that The Tree of Life Curiosities and Metaphysical Supplies was located just a couple of miles away, and would be open again at ten o’clock.
“I think it might be worth visiting this shop, and maybe chatting with the owner a little,” Alex said. 
“Certainly,” Harold said.
Alex glanced at his watch.  It was barely eight o’clock in the morning, and Alex was famished.  There was definitely enough time to see about getting some breakfast before the two of them needed to cruise over to the occult bookstore.
“What do you say we go down to the restaurant here and get some breakfast?  We have some time to kill, and I’m starving,” Alex said.
“I’m not hungry, but please go ahead, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“OK, if you’re sure,” Alex said.  “Would you like some coffee or tea or anything?  I can bring you a cup when I come back.”
“A cup of coffee would be fine, thank you Mr. Minor,” Harold said.
“OK, see you after breakfast then,” Alex said.  He left their hotel room and went in search of the hotel’s restaurant.
Alex tried to think of the last time he’d seen Harold eat anything.  The closest thing he could think of was the martinis Harold had made the other night.  And as he thought about it, he wasn’t sure if he’d actually seen Harold drinking his.
So he eats in secret, and he sleeps in secret, Alex thought.  Unless he just doesn’t eat or sleep at all. Weird guy.
He wondered again how Harold, a (surprisingly fast and strong) butler, had come to work for Mr. Darcy.
The hotel restaurant, naturally, was also decorated to look like it was an Olde English establishment.  Alex had been expecting the restaurant to be very busy, since it was a Sunday morning, and figured he would have to wait for a table to open up, but he was seated right away. 
“Good morning,” said the waitress.  She seemed friendly, but not in an over the top way.  It was a relief, Alex had a hard time tolerating obnoxiously friendly people before nine in the morning.  “Can I get you some coffee to start?”
“That would be perfect,” Alex said. 
“You’ve got it,” she said.
Alex looked at the menu, and was glad to see that the first thing listed was something called a Full English breakfast.  It looked like it was basically a huge pile of fried meats.  That would be perfect.
The waitress came back with his coffee, and took his order.  Once she had left, Alex sat back and tried to relax, with little success.  He was too excited by all of the developments of the past twenty four hours.  After a couple of weeks without an assignment, it was good to be working again.
Too bad my car had to get smashed up, though, Alex thought.  He wondered if that incident had anything to do with his current assignment, or if it was because of someone he’d pissed off in the past.  Some of the people he had recovered things from had been less than gracious about it, after all.  It was one of the hazards of the job.
Before long, the waitress came back with a glorious plate piled high with bacon, sausage, ham, baked beans, and more.  Alex was thrilled.
She came back a short while later to refill his coffee.
“So what brings you to sunny Eureka?” she asked him.
Alex glanced out the window.  It was foggy and grey outside.  He smiled and said, “Just a little rest and relaxation.  I thought I might do a little sun tanning, maybe try my hand at surfing.”
The waitress laughed.  “You’d be a brave man to try surfing around here,” she said.  “I’m pretty sure you’d turn blue before you even got out far enough to try to catch a wave.”
Alex grinned, and said, “Well, in that case I guess I’ll just try to catch up with some friends of mine who are here in town.  A guy I used to work with is in town from England, so I came out to see him while he’s here.  You haven’t seen any eccentric English types around, have you?”
“Are you kidding?  Practically half of the clientele here is English.  I’m not sure if they come in here to see how badly we mess things up or what,” the waitress said.
“Maybe it’s like Americans going overseas, just to eat at McDonald’s?” Alex said.
“Maybe that’s it,” she said, and smiled.  “Anyway, if I notice any particularly eccentric English men, I’ll be sure to let them know you’re here.”   
She walked off to wait on another table, and Alex got back to his breakfast. 
Alex happened to look out the window just as someone familiar looking was walking by.  A booking, balding man. 
Holy crap, Alex thought. There was the man they were looking for, just outside the restaurant!
Alex got up quickly and hurried through the restaurant towards the entrance.  He thought he heard someone shout, but he didn’t think it was for him until a couple of waiters stepped in front of him and the entrance.  Alex stopped before he ran into them, barely.
“We are going to have to insist that you pay for your meal before leaving,” one of them said.
“Oh,” Alex said. “Uh, right.  I wasn’t thinking clearly, I just saw my friend go past and I wanted to go greet him.  Sorry about that.”
Shit, shit, shit, he thought.  There went that opportunity.  By the time I get this taken care of, he’ll be long gone.
“You know what? I’ll just finish my breakfast and catch up with him later,” Alex said.  He turned around and went back to the table he’d been sitting at.  The two waiters who had stopped him waited until Alex had picked up his silverware again before they went back to work again.
The waitress came by, and said, “A little excited to see your friend, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s been a while,” Alex said.
And he’s going to be going back to England in a couple of days, with the stuff I’m supposed to be recovering, Alex thought.
“Well, I assume you’d like the check sooner than later.  Is there anything else I can get for you?” she said.
“Could I get two cups of coffee to go?” Alex said.
“You bet,” the waitress said.
When Alex got back to the hotel, Harold was still sitting in the same chair, reading. 
Alex handed him one of the cups of coffee, and said, “Well, I saw the guy we’re looking for walk by while I was down in the restaurant.”
Harold looked up at Alex and closed his book.
“Really?  Why are you back up here, then?  I would think you’d have started following him right away,” Harold said.
“I tried to, but apparently the restaurant really doesn’t like people who dine and dash.  By the time I was able to get out of there, he would have been long gone anyway,” Alex said.  “But the good news is, we know he’s hanging out around here.  We’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled and wait for him to turn up again.”
“Hmm.  It’s a shame you weren’t able to follow him.  He might well have led you right to the artifacts we’re looking for,” Harold said.
“Yeah, but you would have been disappointed if you hadn’t been involved, wouldn’t you?” Alex said.
Harold raised an eyebrow, and chuckled slightly.
“I suppose I would have been a bit disappointed, at that,” Harold said.  “It looks like it’s about time for the bookstore to open, too.  Shall we head over to The Tree of Life and see what we can learn there?”
“Don’t you want to have some coffee first?” Alex said.
“I’ll bring it with me, thank you, Mr. Minor,” Harold said.     
“OK, works for me,” Alex said.
It was a short drive from the hotel to The Tree of Life Curiosities and Metaphysical Supplies.  Alex parked just down the block from the shop, and they only had to walk a little ways back to reach it.  Alex carried his coffee with him, but Harold left his in the car.  Alex didn’t mention it.
The Tree of Life Curiosities and Metaphysical Supplies was a charming little shop.  Clearly the owner had a flair for the artistic.  The walls were painted a deep pink color, and the exposed beams and trim were all painted bright blue.  There was some kind of droning, ambient music playing on a stereo hidden somewhere, and the shop smelled like incense.
The inventory didn’t seem “organized” so much as “roughly grouped together by shape.”  There were shelves that had various bins full of crystals, shelves with books, shelves of little sculptures and idols, an astonishing array of candles, piles of odd musical instruments, all of these sections in varying states of disarray.  
“Wow,” Alex said.  He had never been in a shop like it before, and this really wasn’t what he’d been imagining when he thought of an “occult bookstore.”  He’d kind of figured the emphasis would be on bookstore, so he’d been expecting Barnes & Noble, except with the collected works of Aleister Crowley instead of Fifty Shade of Grey.
The man behind the counter looked a little bit like Santa Claus, if Santa Claus wore a tunic, loose linen pants and sandals rather than a red suit trimmed in white fur.  He appeared to be deeply engrossed in the book he was reading.  After a minute or two, he seemed to notice that Alex and Harold had come in to the shop.  He picked up a bookmark from the counter and marked his place in what he was reading as if he had all the time in the world.
“Welcome to The Tree of Life Curiosities and…” he began to say in a relaxed, sing-song voice, before he caught sight of Harold.
The proprietor’s breath seemed to catch in his throat, and he stared for a moment, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. 
Then he took a breath, pointed at Harold, and forcefully said, “You, get the fuck out!”
“I beg your pardon?” Harold said, taken aback.  “Have I offended you somehow?”
“Out! Out! Out!” the shopkeeper said.  He came around the corner and brushed past Alex, making shooing motions towards Harold.
“I don’t understand, but I’ll go,” Harold said.  To Alex, he said, “I’ll just wait outside, Mr. Minor.”
Harold turned and left the shop.  The shopkeeper sighed deeply, brushed himself off, and turned to Alex.
“Is there anything I can help you find?” he asked, as serenely as if nothing unusual at all had just taken place.

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