We all stood just inside the door of the long-closed sanctum. Lady Domine took a few steps forward from us. She wore a charcoal floral-print tunic, pale red leggings and stylish hiking shoes; she stood with a regally erect posture. But the way her hands cupped her sides with fingers spread, and the manner in which her right foot was set forward, suggested she was better prepared for a spirited game of hide-and-seek than the more serious matter at hand.
I remembered Crutch’s comment when he first told me about our company’s top benefactor. “She’s sort of stuck somewhere between a duchess and a tomboy.
“Well, one thing is for certain,” she said after a pause of a half-minute, “For this sort of undertaking, the old meeting room of a secret society really fits the bill.”
“Didn’t I tell you, it’s perfect!” Crutch spoke with an eagerness that was a bit out of character.
“Oh, don’t you worry, Charlie Crutchfield. At $90,000 we’re definitely going to buy it.”
I nudged Hannah with my left elbow and nodded. She replied with a discreet thumbs-up.
Domine turned to look at me. “Asbestos?”
“Well, there is some, mostly in the basement. But it’s not a very large building.”
Crutch piped in. “The Parabolic Society was never a large fraternity. More like a watering hole for utopian sky-watchers. Have you heard of them?”
She lifted a little crooked smile that lit up her still largely-unlined face. “Not at all. I always rely on you guys in the Ministry of Dark Tourism for my esoteric learning.”
“I doubt that, but thanks” Crutch said and they walked over towards the apse, with its formal arrangement of three chairs.
Hannah turned to me confidentially. “When she says ‘we’re’ going to buy it, should I take it literally to mean all of us? I don’t exactly have twenty-two grand lying around.”
“Don’t worry, that’s her way of being inclusive. She’ll probably take the $90,000 out of her petty cash drawer.”
Lady Domine approached the chairs and lightly patted the larger one in the middle. A light puff of dust rose up, but she took a seat anyway. Then it occurred to me: who would sit on either side, if anyone? The rough idea was a political rally under the guise of a MODT event featuring a re-creation of a 19th century mesmeric performance. I hoped that my late career switch didn’t turn out to be more than I had bargained for.
She leaned forward in the big chair. “Oh, Crutch, I don’t know. What are we supposed to be doing here? Advocating for the partition by having me do parlor tricks? This town is probably crawling with red-caps. It could even get dangerous.”
Crutch turned to look at us and nodded towards the back area. We stepped on bits of shattered tiles, past the apse and into a hallway. I peeked back and Domine had moved off the chair and was peering thru a cracked Palladian window down at the street. I paused with Hannah to look at some parabolic diagrams that remained on the wall. After a moment I suggested she should check out the old member’s lounge and kitchen. When she did, I lingered in the hall.
“the hopheads won’t bother us,” Crutch was saying. “We’ll put up a sign saying ‘Private Event’ and get Ike’s friend Jason to work the door. You remember Jason—about six-foot eight and two fifty, with fists like pile drivers?”
“That must be the gentleman who checked tickets at our ‘Satan’s Skyline’ fiasco last October,” Domine replied. “Let’s limit alcohol sales for this event.”
“Anyway, let’s have a soft opening. We’ll invite maybe 25 of our best customers for free and maybe a few college kids from the town. See how it goes.”
“Do you want to hear a bit of what I’ve been working on”
Hannah had just poked her head out of the kitchen, probably to show me the double dumbwaiter. Rookie enthusiasm. Instead, I motioned her towards me. Once Lady Domine sat back down in the big chair and started speaking, Crutch waved us back into the main room.
“Now let’s spin back down the years to the autumn of our discontent in 2016. When PFF came to power, it was like a little piece of me died. I’m sure many of you felt the same. And when he met his maker, that piece of me was not re-born, it stayed dead. I can only hope to replace it with a new inspirational spirit derived from a wholly new source…”
Her eyes were wide open and stared straight ahead as if into nothing and everything. The effect reminded of the “Glass-Eyed Goddess of Union Mills” whose visage had recently become the MODT emblem.
The good Lady continued. “There is a new righteous power that is forming behind the scenes of everyday life. Anyone with a good heart can tap into it. But we must be careful with it. The retrogressions of this century have been shocking—the vile and needless hatreds, the bloated ignorance, the flagrant racism and the emptiness of forfeited souls that have led to countless brutalities.
“I know the desire for retribution is great with some in this current political vacuum. But we should never resort to violence in any of its forms: physical, economic, mental or whatever else. Instead, we should smite our enemies with the three Ls: Logic, Learning and Love. And the smite shall feel like a kiss.”
Lady Domine leaned back in the chair and rolled her eyes as if to say “who me?” I realized I had just snapped out of a little trance of my own.
“Well, that’s sort of the end of it. I’ll build up to it.”
After a brief silence, Hannah practically slapped her cheek with her right hand. “Omigod, that was amazing! You’ve got to do it. I know I’m new and have no clout… but if we don’t do this event I’m going to die!”
Domine smiled at her, then turned back to Crutch. “I’m still not sure. Why wouldn’t I just start a pro-partition action fund?”
“Because that’s boring and would fizzle out quickly. We’ve already talked about this—sensational gambits and star power is the only thing that’s works now. We’ll hash out the details at the next staff meeting.”
“I’m not really a mesmerist, you know, but I could wing it and see what happens. Soft opening, yes. Or else I won’t do it. Don’t be putting me down for a definite “yes” just yet. No, I have to do it, just look at this country. Can we have drinks later?”
Hannah gave me a side look. “Huh?”
“Don’t worry. You get used to it after a while.”
Crutch took Lady Domine to see the other rooms, Hannah tagged along. I looked out the front window into the town center, where the light was failing. Down below was a stonework mass of once-proud mercantile buildings, their civic ideals mostly forgotten. Beyond that was the triangular common, with its’ patchy lawn and statue of a Union soldier, standing prematurely at ease. A few guys were gathered around a bench at its far side, next to an old pick-up truck with a flag mounted behind the cab. They had bagged drinks and a couple of them were shin-kicking a third, playfully at first but then not so much.
I exhaled uncomfortably. The place with the drinks was only three doors down so I kept quiet and let it pass. But I knew it couldn’t stay that way forever.
This is an excerpt from an in-progress illustrated or graphic novel called The Ministry of Dark Tourism. If interested, follow this blog to get updated or friend me in Facebook, Rick Ouellette.