"Crowley?" Reiter blinks. "The mountaineer?"
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"The magician." Crowley takes one of the empty chairs and drapes his coat over the other. "Which is not to minimize my accomplishments in the field of mountaineering, only to correct you. I am not 'Crowley the mountaineer'. I am 'Crowley the magician.' You understand the difference, of course."
"And you must be William Reiter." Crowley steeples his fingers in front of him. "One-time gentleman adventurer turned...hmm...what precisely do you do now, apart from criticizing others from your armchair? Or was that the entirety of it?"
"I have read your pamphlets, sir," Richard Shake says, breaking into the conversation. "I should think you yourself are well-acquainted with the art of armchair criticism."
"Ah..." Crowley turns with a pleased, predatory expression. "Mr. Shake. Still flogging about that grotty little lodge? Do you think Mathers will give you table-scraps from the Golden Dawn, or Alpha et Omega, or whatever damned thing he's calling it now?"
"How dare you speak this way in front of my wife, sir?" Shake's face has gone florid.
Crowley's smile widens. "Oh, your wife is no lady. Not by half. I've not had the undoubtably infinite pleasure of attending the 'temple meetings' in your parlour, but reliable sources inform me that during private 'rituals' in the late hours of the night, your wife entertained probationers in ways not fit to be repeated at this table. Which must be very unfit indeed. Ah, the waiter!" Crowley snaps his fingers, turning away from the shocked expressions around the table. As he places his order with the waiter, Richard and Lady Shake stand up from the table- Richard's face has gone an ashy pale- and all but run from the room, Lady Shake's heels pounding the marble floor in a staccato rhythm.
Christopher notices a new scent at the table, something heavy and musky, its aroma carrying hints of things earthy and animal. He turns back to Crowley, who is filling a glass with red wine, oblivious to the stares from his tablemates.
Lord and Lady Esterling stand up, both of them displaying a self-posession the departed Shakes had lacked. Lord Esterling's expression is unreadable. Lady Doris is regarding Crowley with something between disgust and pity.
"I, too, have read your pamphlets," Charles Esterling says. "And I have a great deal of respect for your ideas. However, your treatment of Lady Shake is personally disgusting to me. However fine your words may be, you, sir, are a beast." He bows to the table. "Good day."
They take their leave. Crowley looks after them, grinning. "You have no idea how right you are. I am a beast. Ha!" He reaches over to his coat, draws a pipe from the pocket, and begins to fill it.
Ritchie, the pale artist, folds his arms. "I can see why Mathers had you expelled."
"Oh yes?" Crowley's eyebrows go up behind his pipe. He pauses for a moment, getting it smoking to his satisfaction, then returns his penetrating stare to the man. "And which lofty position did you hold in the Golden Dawn? Adeptus Minor? Practicus? Neophyte? Oh, of course, how foolish of me. You never bothered to apply to the Order, did you? You couldn't be troubled to spend your precious time reading dreary books or exercising your undoubtably atrophied powers of Will and Imagination, could you? No, of course not. Your sort never can." Crowley studies his fingernails for a moment. "Instead, you hover around the outskirts of the occult world, making yourself out to be important and powerful by fetching the Master's brandy or nodding in agreement at everything the Adepts say. I should think, if the learned magicians of London desire fawning loyalty and mindless obedience, they would be better served by buying a dog."
Ritchie tries to match Crowley's wide-eyed stare, but in his sallow face it looks almost comical, a stage actor's expression. "You are wrong, sir," he says. "I am a natural and intuitive etheric communicator, a far different thing from the pomp and contrivance of ceremonial magic. My connection to the supersensible is a vital, living thing, not a mechanical and heartless ritual. I am not at all surprised you failed to recognize it."
"The supersensible." Crowley scowls. "Do you even bother to listen to your own words? This is the kind of wooly thinking that will drive us straight into a new Dark Age. What, pray tell, does 'supersensible' mean? The etymology would suggest 'above or beyond the senses' as a literal translation, though it means little enough even then. And yet you can sense these things, with your senses- or perhaps with your supersensible senses, that lie in a supersensible realm only you can sense? You disgust me, sir. You're no better than a Christian Scientist."
"My powers unnerve you, then? Is that it?" Ritchie raises his eyebrows, arms crossed. "Do not be afraid to admit it, sir. I see the apprehension in your eyes."
"Is this with your supersensible senses? Or the more mundane variety?" Crowley reclines in his chair, smoke rising lazily from the bowl of his pipe. "Have you your blasting rod on you? Your barbarous names, your words of power?" He waves a languid hand. "Very well. Do your worst. No doubt Lucifuge Rofocale and seventy-two howling demons will appear any moment now to tear me to pieces." He yawns.
"Demons?" Ritchie appears taken aback. "Sir, I am no black magician!"
Crowley snorts in disgust. "The raising of demons is not in and of itself- oh, bugger it all. Forget it. What do you do, Mr. Ritchie, if anything?"
"I am a natural clairvoyant, Mr. Crowley. I can read your future in the patterns of your life-force."
"So, you utilize a 'natural' clairvoyancy to access 'supersensible' strata of being. Yes, of course you do. Well? I presume you are able to demonstrate this poorly-worded ability of yours?"
"Of course. Even on a mind as closed as your own. May I?"
Crowley makes a wordless 'go ahead' gesture with his free hand.
Ritchie closes his eyes. His left hand goes to his temple and rubs at it with the first two fingers. His face contorts, as if in great concentration. "I see...two men...they're shouting to you...crying for help. But you are not helping them. I see...wait...dead men. Four dead, I think. Yes, four. cold and buried. A cold wind is blowing." His eyes open. "That is all."
"Not nearly as impressive as spiritism," Crowley says. "Perhaps we should dim the lights next time?"
Ritchie stands up. "It was for your benefit, sir. If you choose to make light of it, that is your affair. And your failing. Good day to you." He turns and strides away, head held high, only breaking the effect when he throws a glance behind him at the doorway.
Reiter stands up a moment later. "I think I will take a cue from our artist friend," he says. "I don't care for the atmosphere in this place." He shoots a baleful glance at Crowley.
Crowley tips him a salute with the stem of his pipe. "Farewell, Mr. Reiter. Do give my respects to Mother Germany's sausages, won't you?"
Reiter stomps away, fuming.
"Well..." Crowley turns to regard Christopher, now alone at the table. "You are, of course, free to associate with whomever you please, Downing, but I can't say much as to your current company."
"Oh, you said quite a bit," Christopher says. "Honestly, I think you were a bit cruel with Ritchie. And with William."
"If people insist upon applying their atrocious and non-thinking minds to the art and science of Magic, they should hardly be surprised to be smitten by those who posess real wisdom." Crowley tamps his pipe out into an empty wineglass. "As for Reiter...well, the man just irritates me. Not lofty, but honest. So be it!" He stands up, plucking his coat off the chair-back. "I must confess, with your excecrable friends gone, I feel distinctly bored. I believe I'll seek out a table in the main room. Mr. Downing." He offers his hand across the table.
Downing shakes it. "Mr. Crowley."
"Love is the Law," Crowley says. "Love under Will. Good day, Mr. Downing. Onward!" He leaves in a sweep of coat-tails and pipe-smoke, his wild eyes turned to the room outside.
The rustle of paper echoes across the quiet room. Christopher looks over to see the man in the corner peering over the top of his folded-down newspaper. The man's face is olive-colored, his features dark and Balkan. His hair is a cap of short, wiry curls. He regards Christopher with bright, intelligent eyes. "So that was the famous Aleister Crowley."
"That was certainly Crowley," Christopher says. "I can't speak for the rest."
"And is he always so very rude to people?"
"Oh, not at all. Sometimes he's much worse."
"I see. He is your friend why?"
"It seems to be easier than being his enemy."
The man folds his newspaper and stands up. He is shorter than Christopher, slim and neat, dressed in a simple black and gray suit. He walks over to Christopher and offers out a hand. "Manuel Lascaris. I believe we have a friend in common."
"Allan Bennett. The Buddhist monk?"
"Oh! Yes, I know Allan. You've seen him recently? Is he well?"
"Quite recently," Manuel says. "And he is as well as can be, I think. His health is never good, but it would be worse here in England. He spoke of you, when I saw him."
Christopher frowns. "I've not seen him in years..."
"He seemed to think you had made some important discovery in the field of Yoga, but he did not value it for himself."
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Mr. Lascaris."
"We have met before, did you know? You and I. The Whitechapel case, in 1888. You do not remember, I suppose."
"That would have been..." Lascaris pauses. "Seventeen years ago." He leans forward, his eyes in shadow. "You seem remarkably unchanged in all that time, Mr. Downing."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.