XIX. First Circle
Of course the first thing I want to do
With a naked woman is [seduce] her,
But once that’s out of the way,
The tension dissolved,
We can turn to other work.
God, if this world were truly human,
We’d all just go to bed together
Whenever we felt like it and wonder
How people could think it normal
To suffer continual raging thirst.
I arrived at Brendan and Megan’s at the appointed hour, carrying a large salad, purchased at Lucky’s, for the potluck. I hadn’t done much cooking since Janet left.
“Hi, Eddie,” Megan called as I appeared at the door. “Come on in. Stick that out in the kitchen.”
“Hi, Megan,” I replied. I carried the salad into the kitchen and was back in a few seconds, trying not to show how revved up I was.
“Are you looking forward to this?” Megan asked in a casual tone.
“I expect this to be interesting. I’ve read about how a circle is conducted by the Gardnerians, but I’ve no idea what your circle might be like.”
“We do just about what Gardnerians or any other Trads might do. It’s the words that are different; Apollo wrote some nice verse for us when we were getting this together. You’ll see. Most of the coven is here already,” Megan said. “Let me introduce you around.”
I had already identified some of the members from hanging around her house for our literary salons or whatever they are. Bill Kennedy, of course, Tom and Helen. . . Megan introduced me to Athena, who was tall, intelligent, and attractive, and to Hermes, who was slim, vivacious, and African-American. Just then two more people arrived, an older woman, roughly my age, and . . . Andrea! She came over and gave me a quick peck on my cheek.
“I didn’t know you’re in this coven,” I said.
“No one would have told you if I didn’t,” she replied. “Eddie, this is my mother, Deena.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said politely.
“The same,” she said shaking my hand, with a friendly but odd smile.
Megan had been going in and out of the temple room, doing things with candles and various objects on a small table. Finally she announced, “Five minutes to ritual! Time to get naked!” I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle this.
Everyone began stripping off their clothes and piling them in corners, then putting on necklaces, cords, and other paraphernalia. I looked around, hoping for a dressing room, then began taking off my clothes. I tried not to look at Andy, who was even more spectacular with no clothes on.
Everyone began joining into a circle, holding hands. I took care to stand next to Andy. That way I didn’t have to avoid looking at her. It still was work to not look down at her breasts.
The ritual was much like what you can read about in many books now, and describing the differences might infringe on the coven’s privacy. There was a circle dance in the middle of the ritual, whirling about as fast as it could in the available space. Andy kept bumping into me; I could feel her breasts against my arm. There were about a dozen in the circle, but it felt as if there were many more. I kept glancing outside the circle to see who else had come in. In the midst of the singing and dancing it was hard to know what I was or should be perceiving.
Soon a cup was being passed around the circle. Andy presented it to me, saying, “Blessed be.”
I hesitated. “What is it?” I asked.
“It’s just juice.” Andy said. “Dionysos persuaded us to have two cups after he got himself to AA.”
“Ah, saves my ass too,” I said. I took a sip and passed it on.
While a plate of cookies was being passed around, Megan asked, “Is there any work to be done?”
I wasn’t sure I should say anything.
Brendan said, “Our friend Eddie is here tonight because he needs our help with a very serious problem—as well as for other reasons. Eddie?”
I looked around the circle of skyclad bodies and tried to compose myself. “I’m sure you all know that Bob Marlowe was killed, apparently because of the apocryphal gospels he sent to me. You can all have copies of them, if you like, and of our translations. We’re dealing with people who are operating outside the law. From the moment the gospels arrived here there have been efforts—at least four—to steal them. We have no idea why, or who might be behind all this. Megan told me that maybe you could give me a clue.”
Athena looked thoughtful. “These breakins must have some sort of local connection. If we can pinpoint a location, that might tell us something about who is involved, and from who you can sometimes get to why.”
I replied, “That sounds logical . . . but how do you do that?”
Athena said airily, “With a piece of string and a lump of lead. Hermes, old buddy, could you hand me the pile of maps? And is the pendulum still there?”
“Yes, here they all are,” he replied, handing them to her.
Athena spread out a large map of the Santa Theresa area, held the pendulum over it, and began letting it swing. Whenever it established a clear pattern, she marked the edges of the map with post-it notes, moved the pendulum, and began again. After a while, she commented, “This is focusing in on the peninsula area. I’m going to switch maps.”
She unfolded another map, on a much larger scale, and laid it over the first one. She began her routine with the pendulum again, saying, “It’s hard to get this to focus. It’s as if there’s another center of danger, but it’s not local, so it just sort of distorts the reading.”
After a few more minutes, she said, “Eddie, I have a clear location, but I don’t know what it is. Do you want to have a look?”
I peered at the spot she was pointing to. “That’s the University of Santa Theresa. I used to teach there.”
Brendan said, in a brogue like Seamus’s, “Sure now, and it’s a Jesuit plot again. We all know them Jesuits is allus up to no good.” This called forth a burst of laughter.
“How could Jesuits be involved in this? That makes no sense at all,” I said in exasperation.
Athena broke in, “As carefully as I can plot it, the pendulum is indicating this little cluster of buildings off to the side, over here.” Her finger moved slightly to the right.
“Oh! That’s the Aquinas Institute! Maybe that does make sense.”
“What’s the Aquinas Institute?” Andy asked.
“It’s an ultraconservative Catholic think tank,” I replied, not looking at her. “The head of it, Jerry Fonzarelli, is the local rep for the CDF.”
“What’s the CDF?” Athena asked.
“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They’re in charge of trying to enforce their version of orthodoxy on all other Catholics. Before Vatican II, it was called the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Apparently they think they can disguise it by changing its name. But they didn’t change any of the rules.”
“You mean the Inquisition still exists?” she asked.
“Yes, ‘fraid it does. Not that long ago, Cardinal Mauzapper tried to get our friend Miriam fired from her job at Holy Spirit, which certainly would have caused her great financial and professional harm. The man has no concept of what American legal rights and religious freedom are all about. So, yeah, the Grand Inquisitor did literally attack a Witch, here, only ten years ago. Anyway, Fonzarelli’s in bed with the CUF, the Right-to-Lifers, the Blue Army, and every other reactionary faction in the American church. They would definitely feel threatened by these gospels. They also have friends in the higher circles in Rome.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Tom asked.
“I’m going to go confront him tomorrow. See if I can get him to back off,” I replied.