Jackson Elias Journal
13 March, 1916, Bucharest — Overnight a winter chill had moved in from Russia. A cold wind they call the crivetz which is reputed to have ‘biting teeth.’ I am not sure about the teeth but it certainly did bring tears to your eyes. And more than tears, it brought with it the beginnings of a light snow, which whipped up a hoary dusting along the Calea Victorie — before it grew worse.
I was dressed in a long black skirt with a double breasted waistcoat, a grey French blouse, and a petite black hat, adorned with a small, single black feather. As well as a pair of amazing black pumps (which resembled a pair I most reluctantly had to leave behind on Corfu) , fashionable, sleek, black leather gloves and a 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 had been up early. Perhaps much too early for having been writing most of the night, but I was eager to start the day. Only, in selecting my ensemble I found myself perhaps a bit too lethargic – uncertain of which blouse to wear, the grey French or the solemn British white with the high mother-of-pearl buttoned collar (which could only made me think too much of Aunt Ellen – why ever did I purchase such a thing?) as well as in finishing my toilette.
And so out the revolving door into the melancholy morning, 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 absolutely 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 under the tutelage of M. Bélissaire Boissier, the most famous Parisian confectioner and chocolatier. An education which not only culminated in Grigore 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 immediately given an most envious invitation to become a confectioner to the French Imperial Court. An invitation which of course he most graciously refused seeing as how it had always been his plan to return to home in order to help his brothers turn their petite ‘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 at first it had been nothing more than a dream of Grigore’s and was in fact little more than a guest house for out of town members of parliament. But, with the acquisition of a French manager – one who had formerly managed the Hôtel Café Anglais in Paris – the Capșa Hotel soon became known as 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 place for wealthy entrepreneurs and visiting aristocratic families, for high ranking politicians and foreign diplomats to stay whenever they came to visit the Little Paris. And even now, to come to Bucharest as an artist, as a writer, as a journalist one simply had to visit its famous coffee shop – which was the 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, pipes, and cigarettes and the heated air of the boisterous arguments regarding the course of the war and the state of the Balkans amidst the rather vociferous disagreements concerning Romania’s possible entry. And if so, upon which side.
So I made my way through the lobby, stepping beneath a most spectacular chandelier and past the monumental staircase to enter the hotel’s dining room, which was known as the ‘tomb of the pharaohs’ owing to its being adorned in red marble and accented with rich, heavy velvet, red drapes.
The young waiter spoke far too perfect French – 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 some from Germany. “There are only a very few members of staff from Romania – very few.” Inquisitive, I asked how the French and the Germans managed to work together – what with the war, 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 endless fighting.”
“Although there are those who are of the opinion that the Athene Palace has supplanted the Capșa as the finest hotel in Bucharest, it is still maintained, even by those of such an opinion Mademoiselle, the Capșa Hotel’s kitchen is still the best in all of Bucharest,” the waiter assured me and in fact I was able to get a marvelous 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 dining room’s crimson décor). Being as I was less concerned about the safety of sitting before a window and the possibility of another assassin’s bullet then I was about the chill which may accompany such a seat, I had taken a table in the center of the dining room – for I must say the tomb of the pharaohs to me felt decidedly cold. Still, through the parted drapery, I could watch the snow falling as I occasionally glanced up from the broadsheet of the illustrated French language newspaper I had 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 at all as the Central Powers had hoped. The French were making a fight of it. Having finished with my breakfast and the newspaper and my second cup of the most wonderful coffee, I asked to sign the back of one of Casa Hotel’s famous menus. Written, printed, and painted by hand, each was known to bear the signature of some of the hotel’s most illustrious patrons – for along the local parliamentarians, there members of royalty, foreign ministers, dignitaries, and several famous artists. With a wry smile I made of request of the waiter if were at all possible he could find the one signed by John Reed and after a few minutes he returned with it.
As I signed, I happened to glance once more at the very striking gentleman sitting at the far corner of the dinning room. His table was situated in a slight niche before a window, where, with the drapes having been pulled back and the morning light providing a bright background, he seemed to sitting in a considerable haze. What with the smoke of his cigarettes a swirl within his niche as 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 – so much so that his hand reaching out for his cup of coffee dis so more from recollection than in looking up to find it. He held the most recently 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. And he may have felt my gaze for he looked up for a moment and smiled most charmingly at me 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 with a location. Gral Street.
As I watched the snow slowly covering the streets of Bucharest. I sat back wrapped up in my greatcoat and reflected upon the fact that this early morning investigation was taking time from my reason for being in Bucharest, but, I was more than certain Lord Cyril had given me the name of M. Turcanu with the expressed expectation that I would make inquires. He has certainly come to know me rather well. 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 with some branch of 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, this café must certainly have been the one various witnesses had reported M. Montague of having used to sit and observe the bookstore. In that a well place hat pin may not have proved sufficient in this Russian wind, I placed a hand atop my hat as an angry gust blustered down the narrow street.
I entered to the jangle of the bell above the door and welcomed the warmth. 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, a 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?”
“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 replied, turning my attention away from the bookcase to regard him. “Well then, when will he be, available?”
“M. Turcanu is unfortunately no longer with us.” His deep voice, slow and articulate.
I gave him 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 cautiously bopped it, allowing my fingers to barely turn the pages, as if caressing them, as I knew M. Rákócz as observing me with intense wariness: it was in Russian with engravings that were beautiful, with a sensual elegance, “I had no idea that M. Turcanu was thinking of selling his shop.”
“You were well acquainted with M. Turcanu?” He asked with his deep, drawn out voice continuing with it’s odd lack of emotion.
Within the dimly lit, gloomy bookshop is cold, detached attitude gave the place a palatable air of melancholy. I instinctively knew there was more to this bookshop, this bookseller, as I knew this was the moment. It was either adieu, with a turn and cautious departure, or I press on with my sly deception. I smiled, “He made certain acquisitions for me.”
“I was unaware he had any dealings with American clients.” M. Rákóczi made his first probe at my subterfuge, “I was of the understanding he dealt exclusively with similar dealers of esoterica in America.”
“Yes—well, in America money has a way of obtaining direct access where normally it is denied.” I said rather off-handedly.
“And you have such wealth?”
“Oh, yes.” I said closing the book careful – aware he was judging me by the way I handled the book.
“And if so, you feel safe – venturing alone the streets of Bucharest?”
I turned to him, “Who said I was alone?”
This produced the first sign of a reaction, which was a slight elevation of his left brow. “And so, I too can provide such access.” He replied without any deviation in his languidness.
“Well, you see the book I am interested in obtaining is rather . . . well let’s say it has a certain reputation . . . and as such, I feel I would have far better luck obtaining a copy through him.”
“There are many books with reputations, some of which are even considered quite dangerous. I am capable of procuring such books. Most capable, of that, I am. I can assure you.” He replied though his manner seemed now for the first time oddly distracted.
“Perhaps—but, I would really like to discuss the matter with M. Turcanu.” I continued to press the issue for he had as yet, for some reason, and perhaps, entirely owing to the gruesome death having taken place here, somewhere, 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 added a hint of irritation to my voice.
“He is now, most regrettably – among the dead.” He finally revealed in a level voice and with a countenance that continued to bare little expression.
I feinted sudden shock and continued on 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.”
And now, a sight smile 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 book of some reputation. And a most rare volume. To be sure. Indeed.” His eyes now seemed to gleam or was it merely the reflection of the light upon the glass of his spectacles. “Most rare. Yes. As I said. But alas, I have no copy. Truly, there is perhaps none within Bucharest less of all in Romania, and perhaps there never has.”
“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 common affiliations. 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 – one more confirmation of my worst suspicions regarding the far too lovely Bobinette.
“You are aware such a volume will have . . . a most substantial value. Yes. Most substantial. Is there any preclusions as to remittance?”
I gave him a knowing smile, “If you find a copy please forward the purposed remuneration to Mademoiselle Doulenques. I will communicate my decision through her.”
“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 an wealthy American woman out alone on the Bucharest streets. 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 abstracted, “He did keep far too many valuable books about.”
“He did.” M. Rákóczi agreed and there was that glint again 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 irregular, I would have thought his property and in particular, his 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. We shared common affiliations – as I said. He and I were members of a fraternal organization with connections to one much similar in London. As an affiliation, they had interests. Here.”
“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 will be most reluctant to relinquish.”
I smiled and nodded, “Yes – well, everything has a price, doesn’t it?”
He remained standing in his aloof manner, “Some such say. To be sure.”
I turned to make my way to the door. As I was about to the reach for the latch he suddenly 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. Indeed 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, certainly 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 strikingly attractive, tall, slender, dark-haired woman, wearing an expensive, and without a doubt straight from a Parisian shop, grey dress, with the most exquisite lace cuffs and a small hat, with a fall of smoky tulle sweeping 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 captivating and she spoke with a most decidedly 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 appeared at the corner of her mouth.
“A school of sorcery?” I asked
“Black magic.” Her green eyes were turning 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—Marx says it is the opium of the people. But for myself, 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 at her artful play of the bible. “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 was totally captivate not only by her eyes but her voice – the silken sultriness with the merest hint of a subtle crack upon certain syllables.
“Bribery for one.” She said with a deft lift of her brow.
“Bribery?” I repeated, owing to it bit being such an abrupt change of topic.
She leaned slightly forward, with a quick conspiratorial glance, “How else would a property of some considerable value be transferred without proper legal procedure and adjudication?”
“From what I understand, there was some purported 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 all rather suspicious. The Pimander Club having interests in some obscure bookshop in Bucharest. After all It is not as if there aren’t any number of furtive and unscrupulous bookhounds sniffing about London all too eager to fetch an esoteric eccentricity. And the Club’s library is already considered to be quite respectable. They do after all publish the Journal for the Occult.”
“The Pimander Club?” I looked over the rim of my tea cup into those marvelous eyes, within which you could find your way very, very easily lost – and of which she was quite aware. Eye to eye: we had the same proclivities.
“Yes. A rather exclusive West End establishment.” She explained, as I had to concentrate on what she was saying for I could have sat and watched those exquisite lips as she read the menu. “It was established in 1887 as a response to the Golden Dawn. There are you see certain members of English society – those with certain outré interests – who are rather unwilling to associate with the ever pretentious parvenus. Whereas, of course, communing with the dead – not so much. But – what of you?” She raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
I placed my tea cup down, “Me?’
“How do you feel about communing with the dead?” She asked with the marvelous return of her wry smile.
“Well—there is life and then there is death. And the dead—they are rather uncommunicative. For all the drums and trumpets. For the dead, are dead, of that, I can assure you.”
Her bemused eyes suddenly turned playful, “Then you don’t believe in the poet?”
I gave her yet another quizzical look – uncertain as to what she meant. Of which poet.
“For the poem has it the dead travel fast.”
“I sorry,” My own wry smile reappearing now to match her own, “You don’t look like someone who would believe in such fanciful superstition.”
“And you do not look like one who should be forewarned to do so,” She replied now with all the flirtatious mischievousness abruptly transformed into an earnest seriousness, “Perhaps, Elisa Louise Bishop, you should not be here in Bucharest.”
Although she had sat down at my table and knew about the bookshop and my interests in its regard, I was suddenly startled by the fact knew my name: “I’m sorry? 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 I had sat at the front window of the café in order to watch the bookshop, she was already stepping out of the narrow entrance and into the falling snow. I watched through the window, for as she did so, a motor cab pull to a halt – almost as if it had been waiting just out of sight for her to step out of the café. I must admit to a certain anxiety – for as captivated as I had been by her, the last few moments of our conversation had suddenly turned rather sinister. She knew me by name and had entered the café to sit at my table for the expressed purpose of warning me away from my interest in M Rákóczi? Which on the whole was so very reminiscent of the informant in New York, who had met me at the delicatessen to advise me it would be in my best interest to drop my investigation into several murdered prostitutes as my inquires had begun to garner the attention of certain criminal interests – who would be no more adverse to killing a nosey journalist than they would a troublesome whore. But no – her warning was more in regard to my flippant disregard to something she considered far more ominous – something to do with the occult and her apparent outré beliefs: The dead travel fast. Whatever that meant. I need to look up the source. As well as the Pimander Club – which was I believe her true motivation for taking a seat at my table – to provide me with that lead.
Who was she?
But, I was further astonished to take note of Mr. Richmond, arriving just as the raven-haired beauty was entering the cab. I saw him glanced at her and then opened the door of the café. I stood at the window watching as the motor cab pulled off into the wet flakes falling to gather its growing accumulation 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, smiling brightly said 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, “She apparently knew M. Turcanu and M. Rákóczi.”
“The new owner.” He nodded as he stood looking out the window.
“Yes, she spoke of their connections with a club in England.“ I continued as I sat more comfortably in my chair, “And then she made some odd references to the dead –“
He smiled, “Well, this is Bucharest. Welcome to Eastern Europe.”
I looked up at him, “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 as he sat in the chair the raven-haired beauty had vacated 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. So, tell me, 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 meet you here.” He replied.
“By here you mean Gral Street?” I asked, a bit worried of what I suspected may be his response.
He looked at me 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?