After having met with a defrocked priest in Holstein for a translation of the Latin message from Dr. Steve, the details of which I will not relate in this post as per my promise to Richard, I found myself sitting in the Priceville Cenotaph at twenty minutes to midnight. I was in a fog, literally and figuratively, wondering what malevolent being had transported me into an Algernon Blackwood story. I sat nervously on the park bench, watching the swirls of dense fog around me, under the very faint glow of a streetlamp, in the process of becoming a Van Gogh painting. It was eerily quiet. Every four or five minutes, a car would pass apologetically along Highway 4, intent on not offending the silence. In the distance, well south, the stillness was broken by a pack of coyotes, yipping the celebration of a kill. I shuddered as a sudden chill flowed through my body. I tried to remain motionless, tried to focus on the tiny domes of distant light that the fog occasionally coughed up, tried to convince myself that this wave of trepidation I was feeling was the product of my imagination. It had just occurred to me that my quarry might simply have opted out because of the weather, and I would be within my rights to leave, when I was startled by a muffled cough beside me. I turned, and he was there.
“Do you have the package?” Dr. Steve asked, eyes staring straight ahead.
As instructed, I had wrapped the Hartley book in brown paper. I indicated it on the bench beside me.
“Do you have the quote?” I responded.
From inside his jacket, he withdrew an envelope.
“Don’t read it,” he cautioned, still not acknowledging me.
“Why not?”
“It’s for his eyes only. Meddling eyes could dissipate its importance.”
“How will I know that it’s the right quote?”
“You won’t. He will.” He paused, sensing my uncertainty, then for the first time turned to me. “I’m an academic. I’ve spent my entire life poring over cryptic texts to ascribe meaning. I think I know it when I find it.”
“I believe I’m entitled to be skeptical,” I returned.
He considered this for a moment, then replied.
“It’s on page 147, but I won’t say any more than that.”
We had reached the moment of truth in our interaction. To delay any longer would create an impasse, and likely jeopardize the exchange. I picked up the Hartley book and extended it towards him. He mimicked my action with the envelope and for an instant, each of us grasped the object of our desire while maintaining control over what we brought. Suddenly, he tugged the book from my hand, and I did the same with the envelope.
“Missed you last Thursday night,” he offered. “The pemmican was good.”
“I had a previous engagement. Some other time.”
There was a long silence between us, eventually interrupted by some sort of night creature. An owl perhaps.
“Tell Richard that books are meant to light the way and are not the way itself.”
I was pondered his observation briefly then turned back to him to make my own, but he was gone. I sat on the bench a few minutes more, twirling the envelope in my hands, under the watchful eye of an unseen statue a few feet away in the fog. It was that of a young boy standing at the grave of a fallen soldier.