Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Jones receives a text message from Willett indicating Eli was killed at the Food 4 Less over on 6th Street. He tells Jane that he’s going to go investigate to see if there’s anything to be seen, and she decides to come along.
There’s nothing further to determine. The store is open until midnight, so it’s entirely conceivable that somebody could have used cars as cover to ambush him late at night. Likewise, late at night, it’s possible too few people were around to make a positive ID.
After contemplating enough heaviness for one day, Jane and Jones go out for ice cream.
The next day, Thursday, June 23, Jones, Kevin, and Leah meet in the late morning to go to Las Vegas. Jones drives. At Leah’s request, they take back roads so Kevin will hopefully not encounter as many threats to flow requiring them to stop. To calm her nerves, Leah has taken to smoking weed at regular intervals during the journey; Jones agrees, as long as she keeps it to a minimum and largely keeps it out of the car.
On the way, Jones has to pull over to take a call from Leah Dupree. She indicates she found a ritual she suspects will meet his needs, although she doesn’t want to go into detail over the phone. They agree that she will come to L.A. on Saturday; she says she will contact them tomorrow about a place to perform the procedure.
They also discuss what they want to do with the American Café. The general consensus seems to be to allow John Fist to keep running it for now, but perhaps get to work on training a replacement. Kevin thinks Felicia would be a good candidate, but Jones notes that she has no managerial experience of which they are aware. Although John Fist could probably train her. They all agree to keep on the lookout for whomever they might want to run the place once they complete the paperwork.
The rest of the trip is uneventful. They arrive in Las Vegas in the early evening, and meet with Tom and Shake at a coffee shop on the edge of town. Shake’s pupils are intensely dilated. Introductions are made: Kevin thanks Tom and Shake for saving them, while Leah hugs them both. Shake comments that Leah has a lovely aura, like a chrysalis ready to become a butterfly.
Tom explains that they’re going to Delphi’s to consult the Oracle, as Jones has no doubt told the others. Matthias Katsaros owns the place, and is some manner of Merchant; evidently, the prices for Oracle access tend to be steep. Tom notes he and Shake have never used the Oracle before, but by reputation, she is accurate enough to warrant the high prices. As per the tradition of the original Oracle, though, she can be a little vague or obtuse. So the stories say.
As for payment, Jones asks if Katsaros deals in money or more abstract bargains. Tom notes that he might deal in both, but he’s known for dealing in abstractions and knowledge. Anything that can be traded, he’ll trade.
With the possible preparation out of the way, the assembled quintet caravans to Delphi’s. Delphi’s appears to be just preparing for the night’s operation when they arrive. Tom bypasses the bouncers and security — they appear to recognize Tom and Shake — and they arrive at the back room. The bouncers outside ask what he wants, and he says he wants to die. They let the quintet inside.
The group navigates the tangle of passageways. As they arrive closer, they can hear the distant bass beat of another club (probably the one in D.C., based on the time zones), and they find people milling about in the backrooms. They arrive at a waiting room, Tom announces them to a receptionist, and it’s another fifteen or so minutes before the receptionist calls for “Tom O’Balor,” and the quintet is ushered into Matthias Katsaros’ office.
Matthias Katsaros is a well-dressed, portly, older Greek man. Tom makes introductions — Katsaros apparently recognizes Jones, Kevin, and Leah from their recent legal entanglements — and then turns things over to Jones. Jones wants to see the Oracle, and has brought money to pay. Katsaros notes that he’s unlikely to need money unless they happened to bring a lot of it, but he’s willing to trade in other things. Jones notes that he used to be an Air Force pilot, which could come in handy for Katsaros’ private jets; Katsaros notes that he usually has people to fly them, although he sees the utility if the pilot has a heart attack. He’ll accept the equivalent of a few years’ training and five years of life from everyone present, so twenty-five years total.
Tom takes this opportunity to call the group over in a huddle to discuss these matters. He asks if it’s true that John Fist in L.A. sells a year of life for $100 a pop — they say they don’t know. In either case, they’re wary about selling off years of their lives, particularly since you don’t know which is your last. Jones thinks he has something further to offer, and returns to say he can give some of his experiences in the war, familiarity with violence and things of that nature. Katsaros says he’s not in the business of buying trauma, as taking people’s trauma away is usually a service people pay him to perform.
Finally, Jones offers his service as an air traffic controller, saying that it helps with alertness and stress management. Combined with his Air Force service, his experience is measured in decades. After some negotiation, Katsaros says he wants half. Jones agrees, figuring he doesn’t specifically need the specialized knowledge if he’s out of a job. A contract is drafted and signed, and Jones feels some of his knowledge slip away, along with the occurrence of several small but strange gaps in his memory. Katsaros bids them to return to the waiting room, and says someone will be along once the Oracle is ready.
It’s roughly a half-hour before an attendant summons the quintet (they take the opportunity to finalize their question and determine how they’re going to record the answer), and ushers them into a room. Several armed guards are in this room. At the far end of the room, a pale woman rests in a chair; she is evidently the Oracle. She appears strung out, heavily drugged — uncomfortably so, like maybe-she-should-be-at-a-hospital levels of intoxication. In the middle of the room, there is a stool. Upon it sits a strange device, resembling an old-fashioned radio. Stamped across the middle, it is labeled “DACTYL HEX-O-TRON.” Jones speaks, asking what threatens Los Angeles and what they can do to stop it. After a pause, the Oracle begins speaking, mumbling incoherently but occasionally shouting only vaguely-understood fragments of words. As she does, the Dactyl Hex-O-Tron starts to whir, eventually revealing the following prophecy in a mechanized but pleasant voice:
Lo, did the Solid Citizen come to the brink of ruin, Explorer and Star nearly lost to the realm of the Cruel Ones, but the gods granted him and his trusted companions their lives. Countermove and move in the grand chess match of distant heavens, a blow turned aside from the Dark Stalker sent by the True King. The city suffered while they were away, trapped beneath shadows, the shadow of the arm of a sundial and the man it wields. Black mirror in hand, he is the trusted gatekeeper of kings, empowered by the skulls and the bones of defenders of home. The arm is mighty and its reach is long and it will discharge the lightning that holds the matrix of the father’s work and realm. The arm and the bound gatekeeper it wields have seen the future and hope the work they do ought to prevent the future they saw, but the doom they fear has already been wrought upon the kingdom. Theirs is the action of damming streams that already flood their banks and perhaps all this destruction is too little and too late.
After the translation finishes, they are ushered from the room to return to the Back Corridor. With their task complete, they leave Delphi’s.
Over drinks, they discuss the potential implications of the prophecy, and Shake and Tom are interested to learn that some force is apparently threatening Los Angeles. They will attempt to investigate it with any resources at their disposal.
During the conversation, Leah gives Shake her number. They commence flirting in earnest. Once it’s clear that everyone is hanging around for a bit, they start casino-crawling, although it’s really just Leah and Shake — Jones and Kevin keep watch, while Tom stops drinking as soon as he realizes she’s attracting paparazzi. (Shake, for the record, wasn’t drinking anyway, so it’s quickly just Leah.)
Eventually, it’s clear that the group is not returning to Los Angeles tonight. Tom arranges for them to stay in one of the suites at a slightly off-Strip hotel. Jones asks Tom a bit about himself; he’s apparently from South Boston originally, and he and Shake have known each other a while. They act as general troubleshooters, trying to help occult underground types wherever they can. For the record, Tom thinks Leah’s attentions are probably good for Shake, as he tends to be inside himself a fair amount.
With the group staying another day, Leah and Shake slip away. Jones, Kevin, and Tom hang out a bit longer until they all decide it’s time for bed. Jones and Kevin make their way to their suite, and Jones goes to sleep while Kevin stays up watching television and waiting for Leah to return.
Shake takes Leah back to what is apparently his house — moderately large, clean, not terribly well-lived-in, and located in a more quiet suburb. He gives her a cocktail of LSD and Ecstasy, but it’s quickly clear that it’s some strange mixture, as it’s a lot cleaner and purer than usual. The drug mixture has a few strange side effects, as well: Leah and Shake’s conversation is intensely engaging, and she can see Shake’s aura. He has a fiery third eye upon his brow, and the drugs resonate like they have some symbolic meaning. In the mirror, she appears much as she did in the ritual mirror, illuminated by a spotlight, her aura blazing.
They make love that night. Shake is gentle, and very communicative — it’s different different than Leah’s typical fare, and maybe it’s largely the drugs, but it’s all quite lovely. Shake is very introspective and philosophical, and they end up talking a lot as well, about things largely forgotten by morning.
Jones is concerned enough to send her a text message around 10 AM, which awakens her prompting a grumpy message back. Satisfied, he tells her to return to sleep.
When she actually awakens, Shake makes breakfast — he doesn’t have many of the components to which she is accustomed for some sort of vegetable smoothie, but they make do. Tom has returned by the time they come downstairs, and he seems very amused by the whole affair. Once breakfast is finished and she is fully dressed, they pile into a car to take her back to the suite with Jones and Kevin.