Alex wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the exchange that had just occurred between Harold and the shopkeeper. Granted, he didn’t know if there was some kind of occult bookstore etiquette that Harold had breached (and he assumed if there was such a thing, Harold would be perfectly aware of what the correct etiquette was) but, so far as he could tell, all Harold had done wrong was to walk into the store. And while Harold was a little scary in a way that was hard to put his finger on, Alex had never found himself tempted to shout Harold out of a room.
It was also a little disturbing to Alex the way the shopkeeper had gone from “Demon, be gone!” fury to obsequious calm so quickly.
Alex told the shopkeeper that he was interested in the work of Thomas Smith.
“Oh, yes, he was an interesting one, wasn’t he? I have a few things that might interest you over here with the ritual magic books. You know, I’ve had a lot of people in the shop lately asking about him. He must be getting trendy at the moment,” the shopkeeper said. He led Alex over to a shelf that looked as if it had originally been in someone’s bedroom before getting repurposed for use in the store. There was a printed tape label on the shelf the shopkeeper was scanning, that read, “Ritual Magick.”
“Really?” Alex said
“Really. In fact, I had an English guy in here just the other day. He claimed he’s an international expert on Thomas Smith. Of course, it’s easy to call yourself an international expert when you’re away from home,” the shopkeeper said.
He pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to Alex. “This is a good one,” he said, and went back to looking through the books.
“Did he say what brought him here to Eureka?” Alex asked.
“It seemed like he has a bunch of friends here locally. They’re all nuts for Thomas Smith. I got the impression they wanted to show off how much they knew about him, because they came in and talked my ear off about magical math, but they didn’t buy a thing. Well, they did buy a couple of candles. They made a point of letting me know they already have all the books I’ve got in stock,” the shopkeeper said.
“Wow, that seems kind of rude,” Alex said.
“Well, we get all sorts in here. Some people are so deep in their own heads they forget how to talk to anyone outside of it,” the shopkeeper said. He plucked another book from the shelf and handed it to Alex. “You’ll like this one,” he said.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I usually just let them talk and feel smart. Eventually folks like that come back and buy things, if they like you. I recognized a couple of them, actually. They come in every now and then, and pick up something really eclectic and then vanish again for a couple of months.”
Pay dirt, Alex thought. He tried to come up with a nonchalant way of asking where he might be able to find these people.
What he said was, “What do you mean by eclectic?”
“Well, for example, one of them came in some time ago and bought a Tibetan singing bowl. Then I didn’t see her again for six months, until she came back and bought a scrying mirror, of all things,” the shopkeeper said.
“That’s strange?” Alex said.
“Well, they don’t really go together, but I guess they don’t have to. Some people like to experiment with different things,” the shopkeeper said.
“I have to be honest, I don’t have any idea what a singing bowl or a scrying mirror is,” Alex said.
“Oh, well, let me show you,” the shopkeeper said. He led Alex over to another shelf where there was an assortment of bowls and dowels made of various materials. He picked up one of the bowls, made of brass, and a wooden dowel. He pressed the dowel against the lip of the bowl and dragged it in circles, until a tone began to come from the bowl. It made kind of a pleasant drone. Alex had seen them earlier, but thought they were for grinding herbs or something like that.
“This is a singing bowl. People use them for meditation and a few other things,” the shopkeeper said.
He set the bowl and dowel down again and led Alex over to another shelf that had a variety of shapes and sizes of black glass, some with designs painted or etched on to them. There were also some thicker, round pieces that Alex realized were made of obsidian. The prices on the little signs next to them made Alex’s jaw drop.
“These are scrying mirrors. People use them for divination. Nostradamus made his predictions using scrying. I think I remember reading that Thomas Smith did some too, but don’t quote me on that,” the shopkeeper said.
“Cool,” Alex said. “Thanks for explaining that for me.”
The shopkeeper led Alex over to the counter, and started to ring up the books. Alex nearly protested that, actually, he didn’t want to buy them, but he caught himself at the last second. He figured it would be best to just buy the books and keep this guy talking.
“So you mentioned these folks are local. Any chance I might bump into them while I’m here in town?” Alex said.
“Well, anything is possible,” the shopkeeper said. “If you want to try to catch them, there’s a group for pagans that meets every Tuesday night at one of the coffee shops here in town. They’ve got some flyers up on the corkboard by the front door you can grab.”
He hit one last button on the cash register, and said, “That’ll be ninety four dollars and sixty three cents.”
Alex nearly gasped. Ninety five dollars for two books? He took a deep breath, got out his wallet, and paid with five twenty dollar bills. The shopkeeper made change, put Alex’s books in a bag, and wished him a pleasant stay in Eureka.
Alex picked up the bag, and made his way back through the shop to the front door. There was indeed a number of flyers there advertising that the Eureka pagan club met every Tuesday at seven o’clock in the evening at a place called Geno’s Chinos. He took one of the flyers, and hoped they’d have tracked down Noah well before that. Seven o’clock on Tuesday night was going to be cutting it way too close if Noah was flying back on Wednesday.
Back outside, Harold was waiting just to the side of the front door of the shop. They both turned and started to walk back to the rental car. If Harold was upset about being rudely ejected from the store, he gave no sign of it that Alex could see.
The weather was beginning to warm a bit, though it was still damp and overcast. There was a strong breeze, and Alex was glad he was wearing a jacket. He thought back to his conversation with the waitress during breakfast, and chuckled to himself about getting some sun while he was in Eureka.
“Did you purchase a little light reading, Mr. Minor?” Harold said.
“Yeah, I was trying to keep the guy in there talking, so I figured it would be better to buy something,” Alex said.
“Did that work?” Harold said.
“Not quite as well as I’d hoped it would,” Alex said. “We already knew Noah and his friends had been in there. Now we know that one of them has bought a singing bowl and a scrying mirror, and that they like to show off how much they know about Thomas Smith. Oh, and there are pagan club meetings on Tuesday nights, if we get desperate. I’d been hoping he might actually tell me how to get ahold of one of these folks. Oh well,” Alex said.
“Interesting,” Harold said. “What books did you get?”
“Um, actually, I don’t know. Let’s see,” Alex said. He reached into the bag and took out the books he’d bought. Their titles were The Modern Alchemist’s Guide and Advanced Ritual Magic.
“Ugh, they sound like textbooks,” Alex said. “No wonder they were so expensive.”
“Interesting. I’d like to take a look at those later, if you don’t mind,” Harold said.
Alex handed him the bag.
“Knock yourself out,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they’ll put me to sleep before I get any useful information out of them.”
They reached the car again after just a couple of minutes, and got back into it. Once they were rolling, Alex said, “So, what did you do to set off the shopkeeper? He just wigged out on you.”
“I have no idea,” Harold said. “It took me completely by surprise. I suspect he was just eccentric, though.”
“If you say so,” Alex said. “I have to admit, I’d be pretty steamed if that had happened to me.”
“Well, there’s no sense in getting upset with someone who isn’t rational. I’ve found it’s best to just get out of their way,” Harold said.
“You’re a bigger man than me,” Alex said. “So, it’s not even eleven o’clock. What do you think we should try next?”
“I think we need to do some research, Mr. Minor,” Harold said. “You can check and see if Noah has posted any more useful information online anywhere, and you may as well look and see if there are any more occult bookstores anywhere nearby. If Noah is playing tourist while he’s here, he’ll probably have visited them all. And, while we’re doing that, we can keep our eyes open and hope to spot him out and about.”
“What are you going to do?” Alex said.
“I’m going to dig through these books you bought and see if they might shine any light on what Noah and his friends are up to,” Harold said.