Alex was happy to see a parking spot was open on the street close to Mr. Darcy’s office. It was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon, and he didn’t want to spend any more time walking than he had to.
Mr. Darcy’s office was in a beautiful old building in a historic part of Minneapolis. Alex guessed that at one time it had been a warehouse or a factory. Now it was divided up into various offices and studios, however.
Beautiful as it was, Alex was not a particularly big fan of the antique elevator that serviced the building. It was kept up as well as the rest of the building, and it didn’t feel unsafe, it was just too darn slow. It would be easy, in Alex’s estimation, to take the stairs to the third floor and back down again in the amount of time it took just for the elevator to reach the third floor.
On the right, there was a plain looking door, with a small sign that simply read, “Stair,” next to it. Alex made a beeline across the lobby, and started up the stairs on his way to the third floor.
Emerging into the hallway from the stair, Alex was struck (as always) by how much it looked like a scene from a film noir detective movie. The walls rose from the floor to about waist height, and were painted a green that was just a shade too dark to make him think of a hospital. Above that were large panes of frosted glass. There were only a few offices on this floor, and most of them had hand-painted lettering on the glass announcing the name of the company within.
Alex walked to the door numbered 310. There still was not a company name painted on the door here. He opened the door and walked in to the office.
Megan sat behind her huge, dark oak desk. She glanced from the screen of her computer to him, then looked back at what she’d been working on again.
“Hello, Mr. Minor,” Megan said. “Mr. Darcy will be with you in just a moment.”
“Hi Megan,” Alex said. “OK, great.”
Alex had been trying to get Megan to call him by his first name without success nearly since he’d first begun working with Mr. Darcy. He supposed it was fair that she called him by his last name, however. Megan was her last name too. Her first name was Melissa, and she preferred not to be called by the title Ms.
He was happy to address her however she liked, since people who crossed her had a funny way of finding themselves dropped off on the side of the road in a remote location in a neighboring state with nothing but a coupon for the Sizzler to show for their trouble. And she had saved his ass on several occasions. Megan might sit at a desk in the front office, however, she was anything but a receptionist.
Alex had a seat in one of the luxurious leather chairs, and waited until Mr. Darcy was ready to see him. He fought the urge to fidget, with mixed success.
After some time, Mr. Darcy’s office door opened, and Mr. Darcy himself came through part way into the front office. He gave Alex a cordial smile, and said, “Good evening, Mr. Minor. Please, come in.”
Alex followed Mr. Darcy into his office. Mr. Darcy sat down behind his desk (which was, if anything, even more massive than Megan’s desk), and gestured for Alex to have a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk.
Once Alex was seated again, Mr. Darcy said, “How was your drive back from South Dakota?”
How did he know where I was today? I didn’t tell him where I was when we were on the phone, Alex thought. Alex knew that Mr. Darcy had people working for him everywhere, but he had figured there probably wouldn’t be anyone affiliated with Mr. Darcy in middle of nowhere South Dakota. Then he remembered feeling like he was being watched in the restaurant, and shuddered.
“I don’t think I told you I was in South Dakota,” Alex said in reply.
“You didn’t,” Mr. Darcy said in an agreeable manner. “I spoke with your house guest earlier today. He said you’d mentioned something about going to South Dakota for the day to get away from his, how did you put it? I believe it was, ‘creepy English butler-ing ass’.”
Mr. Darcy arched an eyebrow at him, and Alex could feel blood rushing to his face. He supposed he was going to have to apologize to Harold for that. In hindsight, did seem like it was kind of a rude thing to say.
Mr. Darcy took a folder out from one of the drawers in his desk. He pushed it across the desk to Alex.
“Anyway, I have something interesting for you. I think you’ll enjoy this, Mr. Minor,” Mr. Darcy said.
Alex picked up the folder, and opened it. The first few items in the folder were photographs, followed by a couple of drawings, of what looked like disks covered with occult symbols. Alex had no idea what he was looking at, but he wasn’t entirely surprised by these pictures either. Most of the work Mr. Darcy gave him involved locating and delivering artifacts that may or may not have mythological origins. If he believed what Mr. Darcy had told him, he’d personally picked up delivered Pandora’s box, once. Magical coasters wouldn’t be much of a stretch.
“What do you know about Thomas Smith?” Mr. Darcy asked Alex.
“I think he’s related to John, isn’t it?” Alex said, cracking a grin.
“Very amusing,” Mr. Darcy said. “I didn’t really expect you to know much about him, to be honest. Outside of a handful of historians and occult study enthusiasts, he isn’t very well-known. Among those same historians and enthusiasts, however, he’s the subject of considerable discussion and curiosity.
“You see,” Mr. Darcy continued, “Thomas Smith was a brilliant mathematician and scientist at a time when magic, science, math and alchemy were all considered parts of the same whole. They were all, ultimately, tools an inquiring mind could use in looking for a source of truth. So in addition to being a mathematician and a scientist, he was also an alchemist, and a magician.”
“Cool,” Alex said. “Did he conjure up anything interesting?”
“Well, that depends,” Mr. Darcy said. His eyes twinkled, and he chuckled slightly. “Some of his ideas laid the foundation for modern scientific thought. People with an interest in some esoteric branches of math still study his work. And then there were the angels.”
Alex had been idly flipping through the folder Mr. Darcy had given him, but here he stopped what he was doing and looked up at Mr. Darcy.
“Angels?” Alex said.
“Well, that’s what Thomas Smith thought they were, anyway. Of course, it’s hard to know what the truth is. All we have are his surviving papers, and some of the writings of his assistant. And his assistant is largely thought to be entirely unreliable,” Mr. Darcy said.
“Was there anything compelling in Thomas Smith’s papers, then?” Alex said. Alex didn’t believe in angels. At least, not in the harp playing, head of a pin dancing, biblical figure wrestling, wings and halos sense. On the other hand, he’d seen a lot of things he couldn’t explain since he’d started working for Mr. Darcy.
So, Thomas Smith’s angels could have been hallucinations, or a misunderstood physical force. Or, maybe, something else.
“There were hints of things in his surviving papers. Unfortunately, when he passed away, his estate was scattered. A shame, he’d had one of the finest libraries in Europe according to the surviving records. Most of his writings and apparatus are presumed lost forever, all that are left are scraps of the whole,” Mr. Darcy said.
“Interestingly enough,” he continued, “maybe they aren’t entirely lost, however. Within the last few years, a few interesting items have turned up. You’ve seen the photos in the folder already, but let me show you.”
Mr. Darcy held his hand out to Alex, who handed the folder back to him. Mr. Darcy took the photos out and spread them on the desk in front of Alex.
He pointed at the first photo, which was of a pair of brownish disks on a black background. They looked like they were about an inch thick, and the top and sides of the disks were closely engraved with odd little symbols that didn’t mean anything to Alex. They might have been astrological signs, or runes, or Celtic markings, or complete nonsense.
“According to Thomas’s papers, there should be a third one of these, somewhere. They’re wax disks, about four inches in diameter and one inch thick. Thomas would put them under the legs of the table he worked at,” Mr. Darcy said.
“He used a three legged table?” Thomas asked.
Mr. Darcy smiled. “Of course. The power of three featured prominently in Thomas’s work. It’s not clear if they were intended to amplify magical energy, or to protect him from hostile forces, while he was working.”
“OK,” Alex said. He wasn’t too trouble by their actual use either way, unless it was somehow relevant to the assignment Mr. Darcy had yet to explain.
Mr. Darcy directed Alex’s attention to the next photo, which was another disk. It looked bigger than the others, but there was nothing to provide a sense of scale in the photo.
“This is also made of wax, and is the base Thomas used for his crystal ball while he worked,” Mr. Darcy said.
Crystal ball? Alex thought. Seriously?
“Really?” is what Alex said.
“Really,” Mr. Darcy said. “This disk is about eight inches in diameter, and two inches thick.”
He set aside the first two photos they’d looked at, and put the third photo in the center of the desk in front of Alex.
“This piece is particularly interesting,” Mr. Darcy said.
I’ll say, Alex thought. It was another disk, but this one was thinner than the others. And it looked like it was made of gold.
Mr. Darcy said, “It’s not exactly clear what the intended use of this piece was, but the drawings and writing on it are consistent with subjects in Thomas’s papers. Notice the four figures engraved near the edges, one for each of the cardinal directions.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Alex said. “So, what do you need me to do?”
“These pieces had all been in a museum in London until recently. They belong to a descendant of Thomas Smith who, amusingly, found them in a trunk in the attic in his family’s estate while looking for a suitable item to use in a white elephant gift exchange. He hadn’t the faintest idea what they were when he found them, but his curiosity drove him to find an appraiser. Eventually, with help, they uncovered the lineage of these items, and as something of a history buff, he ultimately loaned them to the museum.”
“Cool,” Alex said. “So, what’s the problem?”
Mr. Darcy smiled again.
“The problem,” he said, “is that someone seems to have borrowed them from the museum, without permission. Our client believes that the person who took them may already have the missing wax disk, and may also have some of Thomas Smith’s artifacts.”
“So we’re looking for another collector?” Alex said.
“Possibly a collector, or possibly someone who wants to continue Thomas’s work. Ultimately, the person who took them doesn’t matter. Your assignment, Mr. Minor is to get them back, along with any other papers or items this person may have from Thomas Smith’s estate. All of the available information is there in the folder. You’re going to have to do plenty of research and snooping on your own as well, I’m afraid.”
“No problem,” Alex said. Finally, back to work. And it sounded like some international travel was in store for him, to boot. It would be like going on a paid vacation, only more fun.
Alex took the photos and folder back from Mr. Darcy, and stood up. He was just about back at the door when Mr. Darcy cleared his throat and spoke.
“Oh, and Mr. Minor,” he said.
Alex turned back to face Mr. Darcy, and said, “Yeah?”
“You’re going to want Mr. Derby’s help this time.”
Mr. Derby? Alex thought, and tried to remember who that was. After a moment, it came to him. Shit… Harold.