Jackson Elias Journal
13 March, 1916, Bucharest — Overnight a winter chill had moved in from Russia. A cold wind which they call the crivetz and is reputed to have ‘biting teeth.’ I am not sure about the teeth but it certainly can bring tears to your eyes. And more than tears, it brought with it the beginnings of a light snow, which whipped up a hoary dust along the Calea Victorie. I was dressed in a long black skirt with a double breasted waistcoat, a grey French blouse, and a petite fashionable black hat, adorned with a small, single black feather. A pair of amazing black pumps (which resembled a pair I most reluctantly had to leave behind on Corfu) as well as sleek, black leather gloves and the long greatcoat of which I am grateful Bobinette had talked me into as my purchases had been far more inclined toward the coming of spring, when I had been shopping yesterday. I was up early. Much too early for having been writing most of the night, but I was too eager to begin the day.
And so out the revolving door I braved the teeth of the wind and its accompanying swirl of snow as I strolled down the Calea Victorie to Casa Capșa on the corner of Edgar Quinet Street. Founded by the Capșa brothers – in particular, Grigore Capșa, who had established the current hotel, restaurant, and coffee house, with financing provided by his older brothers Anton and Vasile – it was legendary for its French-inspired confectionery and cuisine. As it should be seeing as how Grigore’s brothers had packed him off for Paris, where he had spent four long years taking courses under the tutelage of M. Bélissaire Boissier, the most famous Parisian confectioner and chocolatier. An education which culminated in Grigore not only having been chosen by Boissier to assist him at the Paris Exhibition, but in an opportunity to serve Empress Eugenie, the spouse of Napoleon III, some of his own “confiseries,’ which were so well received he had been given an most envious invitation to become a supplier to the French Imperial Court. An invitation which of course he had graciously refused seeing as how he had always planned to return home to help his brothers turn their ‘Two Brothers’ confectionary shop into one of the finest sweetshops in all of Bucharest. And so it was for soon their French-inspired confectionery gained a near continent-wide reputation. And no so very long after, the Capsa enterprise was further expanded to include the Capșa Hotel – although initially it been nothing more than a dream of Grigore’s and little more than a guest house for out of town members of parliament. But, with the acquisition of a French manager – who had formerly managed the Hôtel Café Anglais in Paris – the Capșa Hotel became one of the finest in the world. In fact, before the opening of the Athene Palace, which has since become the premiere hostelry in Bucharest, the Capșa Hotel was considered to be the only suitable choice for rich entrepreneurs and aristocratic families, high ranking politicians and foreign diplomats whenever they came to visit Little Paris. Even now, to come to Bucharest as an artist, as a writer, or a journalist one simply had to visit its famous coffee shop – which was the haunt of Romania’s literary and artistic community. Only, this morning I wanted a quiet breakfast – and the coffee house was already filled with the smoke of cigars and cigarettes and the boisterous arguments about the course of the war and the state of the Balkans Romanian politics – and the rather vociferous disagreements concerning Romania’s possible entry.
I made my way through the lobby, stepping beneath the spectacular chandelier and before the monumental staircase to enter the hotel’s restaurant dining room, which is known as the ‘tomb of the pharaohs’ owing to it’s being adorned in red marble and accented with rich, heavy, red velvet drapes.
The waiter spoke perfect French – which he should as I soon discovered he was not Romanian but from Calais. In fact, nearly all of the staff of the hotel and restaurant he said were either from France or Belgium, a few from Spain and even Germany. “There are only a very few members of staff from Romanian – very few.” I asked how the French and the Germans managed to work together – and he smiled and explained that at first “there had been fierce disputes, even as you hear now in the coffee house, Mademoiselle—but as the war it drags on, the emotions, they have grown as fatigued as Europe has become with the fighting.”
Although there are those who suggest that the Athene Palace has supplanted the Casa Hotel, it is still said, the kitchen it is still the finest in all of Bucharest, the waiter assured me and in fact I was able to get a wonderful British breakfast, of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, and a most excellent cup of coffee, which was served in these rather delicious little red cups (which matched the crimson décor). Being as I was less concerned about safety and the possibility of another gunshot then I was about the chill of sitting next to a window, I had taken a seat in the center of the dining room – for the dining room to me felt was decidedly cold – I could still watch the snow falling as I occasionally glanced up from the broadsheet of the illustrated French language newspaper I spread out before me. The fighting in Verdun I hear it is very bad, the waiter remarked as he refreshed my coffee, and glanced at the article I was reading. I agreed – Verdun had not gone as the Central Powers had first hopes. Having finished with my breakfast and the newspaper and my second cup of the most marvelous coffee, I got to sign the back of one of Casa Hotel’s famous menus. Hand painted, written, and printed, each was known to bear the signature of some of the hotel restaurant’s most illustrious customers – members of royalty, as well as foreign prime ministers, along with local parliamentarians, and famous artists. I asked the waiter if were at all possible if he could find the one signed by John Reed and after a few minutes he returned with it.
As I signed, I took notice of a very striking gentleman sitting in a far corner of the dinning room. His table was situated in a slight niche before a window, where, with the drapes pulled back and the morning light providing a bright background, he seemed to sit in a drifting haze of cigarette smoke – for he lit one cigarette with the remains of another. His table was cluttered with the pushed aside china and silverware of his breakfast and what appeared to be a copy of every morning newspaper in Bucharest. He was dressed in a very fashionable grey suit with a silk, apricot ascot, and he seemed deeply absorbed in his reading. His hand reaching out for his cup of coffee more from recollection than in looking up to find it. He held the newly lit cigarette in a hand elevated slightly so that it’s backward curl of smoke would not drift into his eyes. He had the look and bearing of old world aristocracy. He may have felt my gaze for he looked up for a moment and smiled most charmingly and then returned once more to his newspaper.
Outside the snow had begun to fall in earnest. A frosty sheen was beginning to accumulate. I hailed a motor cab – a Ford of course. They seem now to be everywhere.
I had a name. Imre Turcanu. The only clue given to me by Lord Cyril and vouchsafed by Commissioner Câmpineanu, who had then supplied me with not only the name of the booksellers establishment, Inima Muntelui , but a location. Gral Street.
As I watched the snow slowly covering the streets of Bucharest. I sat back and reflected upon the fact that this early morning investigation was taking time from my initial reason for being in Bucharest, but I was more than certain Lord Cyril had given me the name of M. Turcanu with the expectation that I would make inquires. And although I did not know precisely the reason he had braved the long trip from Corfu to Romania, his meeting with Mr. Richmond last night only reinforced my suspicions he was working in conjunction with either the War Office or British Intelligence or both. And I could not help but smile – for with this cab ride this morning, so was I. Unofficially of course.
As I paid the driver, I surveyed the snow covered street and took notice of the small café across from the narrow storefront of the bookshop. From the facts as related by Commissioner Câmpineanu last night, it must certainly have been the one various witnesses had reported Montague used to observe the bookstore.
I entered to the jangle of the bell above the door. The bookshop was narrow and fairly crammed to overflowing with books in shelves and bookcases, stacked on tables and the floor.
A very tall, a very thin and very pale man in a dark woolen suit, white shirtfront with a wing-tipped collar and a slightly crooked tie, wearing a pair of spectacles, stepped into the main room of the bookstore by way of a small, narrow side door. He said something in Romanian and I bid him good morning in French.
“Ah. Yes, good morning.” He now replied in French. His voice seemed deep and drawn-out. “May I be of some service, Mademoiselle?”
“Yes, I am interest in a rather unique book – is M. Turcanu available?” I asked as I browsed along the titles of various books ranked in a bookcase with glass doors, where I saw a copy of Malleus Maleficarum beside De Daemonialitate et Incubus et Sucubus.
“I am sorry Mademoiselle but M. Turcanu is not available.”
“Oh,” I said, turning my attention away from the bookcase and toward him, “Well then, when will he be, available?”
“M. Turcanu is unfortunately no longer with us.”
“Oh,” I said with a quizzical look, “No longer with you? That seems rather odd. I thought he was the proprietor?”
“Alas he was, but that was . . . some time ago. The shop has since changed ownership.” The man said as he stepped forward and clasped his hands, “I am Viorel Rákóczi, I am the proprietor. Now.”
“I see,” I idly picked up a book and flipped through the pages: it was in Russian, “I had no idea that M. Turcanu was thinking of selling his shop.”
“You were well acquainted with M. Turcanu?” He asked.
I smiled, “He acquired – certain items for me.”
“I was unaware he had dealings with American clients.” M. Rákóczi made his first probe at my subterfuge, “I was of the understanding he dealt exclusively with dealers in America.”
“Yes—well, in America money has a way of obtaining direct access when one needs it.” I explained.
“And so, I can, as I said, provide such access.” He said in his languidly, “When you need it.“
I stopped flipping pages and put the book down and looked at him, “Well, you see the book I am interested in is rather . . . esoteric . . . and as such, I feel I would have far better luck obtaining a copy through him.”
“I am capable of procuring such books. Most capable, of that, I can assure you.” He replied though his manner seemed oddly distracted.
“Perhaps—but, I would really like to discuss the matter with M. Turcanu.” I continued to press for he had as yet, for some reason, and perhaps, entirely owing to the gruesome death here in the bookshop, not divulged the fact M. Turcanu was dead.
“That will be most difficult Mademoiselle – as I said he is no longer with us.”
“But surely you can put me in touch with him.” I inquired.
“He is among the dead.” He finally revealed in a level voice and with a countenance that bore very little expression.
I feinted sudden shock and continued as if I had truly known the unfortunate gentleman. “Dead? That – that is most distressing news. He seemed in perfect health.”
“Yes, well, I don’t expect one anticipates decapitation.” The long fingers of his left hand ran lightly along the cover a book resting atop the stack on the table near at hand. He looked at me to see my reaction.
“Decapitation,” I did my best at appearing shocked at the word, “How ever did that happen?”
“It would be murder. They say. Here. In this very shop.”
I looked about, “Well—that is rather grim.”
“Indeed.” M. Rákóczi replied, “Rather. Now – in regards to the volume for which you would have sought the assistance of M. Turcanu’s? That would be?”
Quite prepared for the question, I had already selected a book I had heard about in connection to some rather grisly murders in New York. "Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars.”
A sight smile now appeared on the previously expressionless face, “Ah, Hali’s translation of the Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya.” He said very slowly. “I see. Yes. Truly a rare volume. Indeed.” His eyes gleamed or was it merely the reflection of the light upon the glass of his spectacles. “Most rare. Indeed. As I said. But alas, I have no copy. Truly, there is perhaps none within Bucharest less of all in Romania.”
“I see,” I replied, unaware I had unknowingly chosen such a rarity. I frowned, “Alas – I fear it will be some time before I shall find someone with M. Turcanu’s associations.”
He continued to clasp his hands, “I am such an association. We shared an common affiliation. If you would but leave your card I shall endeavor to inquire upon your behalf.”
“I am staying at the Athene. I can be contacted through it’s concierge.” I said by way of discretion.
“Ah,” He unclasped his hands and let the right one make a slight motion, “Mademoiselle Doulenques.”
“Yes. You know her?”
“We are acquainted.” He nodded.
“Good, then we can communicate through her.” I nodded – confirming the worst I had feared regarding the lovely Bobinette.
“You are aware such a volume will have . . . a most substantial value. Is there any preclusions as to cost?”
I gave him a smile, “If you find a copy please forward the purposed remuneration to Mademoiselle Doulenques.”
“I see.” His voice lowered considerably. “To be sure.”
There was something about M. Rákóczi, his tone and formal reticence, which told me there would be little information forthcoming. Whether he saw through my subterfuge I was not at all sure, but I was more than certain he was very suspicious of me. I glanced once more about the cluttered bookshop. “So, M. Turcanu was murdered you say.”
“I did say.’ He nodded.
“In the workshop.” He replied.
“Robbery I suspect.” I tried to sound off-handed, “He did keep far too many valuable books about.”
“He did.” M. Rákóczi agreed and there was that glint in his eye or upon his glasses.
“It does seem odd.” I said.
“And that would be?”
“Oh, I was such thinking. It seems a bit odd, I would have thought his property and financials would have been entangled in the courts far longer.”
“M. Turcanu had arrangements.” He said as way of short explanation.
“Oh, I see, you inherited.” I conjectured expecting at some point to see either a growing fatigue with the conversation or some irritation – but there was only the cold passive, professional countenance of the bookseller. “Are you some relation then to M. Turcanu?”
“No relation.” He replied, “No. No relation. As I said, M. Turcanu had . . . arrangements. And we shared common affiliations. He and I were members of a fraternal organization with connections to one much similar in London. As an affiliation, they had interests. Here. They provided financing.”
“I see – some Hermetic order?”
“Some such.” He said, then began to cut the conversation short: “Word to you shall be given as you wish through Mademoiselle Doulenques. I must be forthcoming, in regards to the availability of a copy the Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya, it will be most difficult. There are but few existing copies. Those who are in possession of such a copy will be most reluctant to relinquish their volume.”
I smiled and nodded, “Yes – well, everything has a price, doesn’t it?”
He remained standing in his aloof manner, “To be sure.”
I turned to make my way to the door. As I was about to the reach for the latch he said: “Would the Mademoiselle have any interest in a copy of Sous le Monde.”
I turned, “You have one available?” I asked having no idea what Sous le Monde was other than in French it’s title meant Under the World.
“I am aware that such a copy can be obtained. First edition. Most rare. Through intermediaries – of course.”
I feinted thinking of the possibility for a moment – if I were to give the impression I was not at all interested, then a possible avenue of inquiry would be no doubt be closed, as I felt I was already far too suspect in his eyes, having asked for a volume which was apparently very obscure and rare to come by, and I should have known that – but, were he to actually find either of the volumes and they had any true value, I could just as readily recoup anything I had to spend to obtain one, “Yes. Yes—contact through our mutual acquaintance.”
He nodded, “To be sure.”
I turned once more to leave the bookshop and he said as I opened the door, “Go and leave something of the peace you bring.”
I exited the bookshop and felt a shiver – and not from the wintery wind and snow. I glanced back at the bookshop window, and the clutter of books but there was no sight of M. Rákóczi . With a flutter of eyelashes against the wet flakes of snow, I crossed the street and entered the café, where I took a seat at the window. Perhaps the very seat M. Montague had taken. I ordered a cup of tea and contemplated a pastry but instead sat contemplating the bookshop. A similar fraternal organization, he had said. Freemasonry or something other? I suspected something other. Particularly as they had gone to some lengths to assure the occult bookshop remained open – which meant not only financing but some considerable influence, no doubt political, to keep it from being ensnared within the legal system. Something even Commissioner Câmpineanu had alluded to as of interest . . .
Suddenly, the chair across the table from me was pulled back and a tall, strikingly attractive, slender, dark-haired woman in an expensive and very fashionable grey dress, with exquisite lace cuffs and a small hat, with a fall of smoky tulle across her forehead, sat down, “You have an interest in esoterica.”
I sat my tea cup down in the saucer, “Perhaps.”
She glanced through the window to the bookshop across the street, “ Inima Muntelui. The Heart of the Mountain. Do you know where it derives its name?” Her voice was sultry and she spoke with a most decidely refined British accent.
“No.” I said, feeling as if I were now imitating M. Rákóczi’s reticence.
She turned back to look at me, her green eyes were simply beautiful, “There is the belief in a school of sorcery. The Scholomance. “ A slight wry smile at the corner of her lips.
“A school of sorcery?” I asked
“Black magic.” Her green eyes were quite mischievous. “Ten scholars enter and nine return. They say the head master is the Devil himself and he takes the tenth scholar as his own.”
I smiled back at her, “I don’t believe in the Devil. Men do evil very well on their own – they certainly don’t need any assistance from him.”
Her eyes glinted with some bemusement, “Then what do you believe in?’
“In regards to religion?” My interest in her was growing as I was most unquestionably attracted to not only those mesmerizing eyes, but in watching her lips as she spoke, “Well—I don’t believe in God either.”
The wry smile at the corner of her mouth grew, “Ah, a revolutionary?”
“A journalist.” I informed her, my fingers idly playing with the tea cup sitting in the center of the saucer.
“Believe in only what your eyes can see and your ears can hear.” Her own eyes growing playful, the smile on her lips revealing white, even, dainty teeth—save for a certain sharpness of her incisors
To which my lips created their own wry smile, “I have read the Bible.”
“There are some things far older than the Bible.” She said, the mischief still in her eyes.
“Such as?” I asked captivated not only by her eyes but her voice – which had a sultry quality that was captivating.
“Bribery.” She said with a slight lift of her brow.
“Bribery?” I repeated, owing to it bit being such an abrupt changing in topic.
She leaned slightly forward, with a quick conspiratorial glance, “How else would a property of some value be transferred without proper legal procedure and adjudication?”
“From what I understand there was some British affiliation.” I said aware of M. Rákóczi ’s recent but reticent explanation. “They in some way intervened.”
“Indeed.” Her green eyes becoming less amused and far more quizzical.
I lifted my tea cup, “M. Rákóczi is far too evasive. Which isn’t really all that unusual for an occultist. I mean, what with their secret societies and mysterious rituals. Hermetic Orders. Spiritual Alliances. Handshakes and pledges—
She placed her forearm on the table and leant forward, “But as a journalist surely you must find it suspicious that The Pimander Club has interests in some obscure bookshop in Bucharest. After all there are any number of furtive bookhounds sniffing about London eager to deal in the esoteric eccentricities. And the Club’s library is already considered to be quite respectable. After all they publish the Journal for the Occult.”
“The Pimander Club?” I looked intrigued over the rim of my tea cup into those marvelous eyes, within which you could find your way very, very easily lost.
“Yes. A rather an exclusive West End establishment. Established in 1887 as a response to the Golden Dawn.” She explained, “It would seem certain members of English high society, those with rather outré interests in Hermetic Lore, are rather unwilling to associate with the pretentious parvenus. Whereas, of course, communing with the dead – not so much. But – what of you?” She raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
I place my tea cup down, “Me?’
“How do you feel about communing with the dead?” She asked with the return of her wry smile.
I am more than certain I was unable to conceal the sarcastic glint in my eyes, “Well—there is life and then there is death. And the dead—they are dead, of that, I can assure you.”
Her bemused eyes suddenly turned sardonic, “You don’t believe in the poet?”
I gave her yet another quizzical look.
“As the poem says the dead travel fast.”
“I sorry,” My own wry smile reappearing now to match hers, “You don’t look like someone who would believe in such superstition.”
“And you do not look like one who should be forewarned to do so,” She replied now in sudden seriousness, “Perhaps, Elisa Louise Bishop, you should not be in Bucharest.”
Although she had sat down at my table and knew about the bookstore and my interests in its regard, I was suddenly surprised she in fact knew my name: “Pardon – have we been introduced?”
She arose from her seat. “No we have not.” She answered, her sultry voice now gone all cold.
And then she turned to leave.
“Excuse me – I did not get your name.”
As she walked away toward the door of the café she said over her shoulder, “Yes. I know.”
And I arose from my seat but as the café was long and narrow and I had sat at the front window in order to watch the bookshop, she was already stepping out of the café and into the falling snow. I watched through the window as motor cab pull to a halt – almost as if it had been waiting for her to step out of the café. I must admit – as captivated as I had been by her, the last few moments of our conversation had suddenly seemed sinister.
I was further astonished to take note of Mr. Richmond arriving just as the raven-haired beauty entered the cab. He glanced at her and then opened the door of the café. I watched as the motor cab pulled off into the wet flakes falling gather upon Gral Street.
“Ah, Miss Elias,” Mr. Richmond, dressed in a dark suit, a stylish hat, and a heavy overcoat, with his arm suspended in a sling, smiled brightly as he stepped over to my table.
“That woman – do you know who she is?” I asked hurriedly.
“The one getting into the cab?” He asked, his smile immediately disappearing as he took note of the tone of my voice. “No. No I don’t – why?”
I sat down slowly, “It was all rather odd, she sat down at my table, discussed the bookshop,” I motioned with my hand to the shop front window across the street, “And she knew my name.”
“Well as long as she’s not the devil – then you should be fine.” He said with a grin as he took off his hat and placed it in his lap. “Thanks ever so for trying to take care of me last night.” He continued as he lifted his wounded arm slightly, “But Dr. P says I shall mend well. So, what is it you wished to see me about?”
I looked at him, “I’m sorry, what do you mean?”
“You sent me a message requesting I met you here.” He replied.
“By here you mean Gral Street?”
He looked a bit confused, “No, it said to meet you here at this café.”
I was now truly perplexed as I knew I had not sent the message and whomever had – how were they aware that I would stop at the café across from bookshop?