Hotel Buenos Aires

October 15, 2006 at 4:39 pm (Borjes Society)

 
It was the end of November and I was passed out in a hotel room next to a woman who did not appear to be breathing. If  I could have remembered anything of the night before it would perhaps have helped to clear things up, but then, sometimes it is better not to remember.

 I have learned in situations like these it is best to leave as quickly and as quietly as possible, without calling attention to myself. I looked about – found some clothes that fit, and a wallet in the pocket of the pants and within a couple of minutes, I was out on the street.  

Sometime later I found myself at the bar of the Hotel Buenos Aires. I was finishing my second drink when a man sat next to me and introduced himself as Senor Novalis. I did not know who he was, but I knew for a fact he was not the noted scientist, Senor Novalis for I had buried the good Senor some years ago in an empty monastery in Uddiyana.

And yet there was something in the eyes and manner of the strange gentleman who stood before me that suggested more than a chance resemblance. I stared at him a moment and then went on drinking. After some time, we went into the dining room. The waiter had just taken our order when a tall, pale woman with long black hair arrived.

 “Countess Tegre,” Senor Novalis said, standing. I stood along with him.

 “Who is your friend?” she asked with more than casual interest

“This is Dr. Gelupka.”

“My pleasure” she said, “I have heard so much about you.”

 “The pleasure is mutual,” I replied and our eyes met.

 We sat down and ordered several bottles of Argentina’s best reds.

 Are you now in the rare book business like our friend Senor Novalis?,” she asked.

 “Not really,” I replied, “Senor Novalis traffics in a large number of books. There is only one book that interests me.”

 “Is that so?” she smiled, “What book is that?”

 “You must know,” I replied. Otherwise, why would we be conversing? It must be close at hand, since we are all stumbling into one other.”

 “But where?” she asked.

 “I don’t know,” I answered. “Perhaps Senor Novalis knows.”

 “It doesn’t exist,” Senor Novalis replied smiling, “If it did, I would have catalogued it by now.”

She laughed, “How could you? I don’t think it would stay still enough for your efforts. It is just as well you haven’t found it.  There are less than a dozen people alive who know what this text is, and each of them would give their life to protect it. They would also take life to obtain it.”

 “It is kind of you to warn me,” Senor Novalis replied.

 “It is only fair since I am one of the interested parties.”

 “When do you intend to kill me?” he asked.

 “I am not in a hurry,” she said.

 “I do not know what Dr. Gelukpa would say, but it would not be so bad to die in hands such as yours. But we speak prematurely of such matters. I do not have the book. In fact I’ve never even seen it.”

“I have seen it many times,” she said, “I have been to libraries where it lies forgotten on some dusty shelf.  I have been to churches where a strange copy of it, with all the parts out of place is read. And I have been in rooms where the text was used to conjure apparitions. But all of this has been while I’ve slept. I’ve never seen it in the clear light.”

 As she talked I felt her leg brush against me. She sipped her wine slowly and said, “And Dr. Gelukpa, you are so quiet. Surely, you have seen it.”

 “Only once, a long time ago,” I answered, “It was late at night and I was with the girl I would later marry for the first time. We went to the theatre with a friend, then to a party.  We met some other friends there and went to another party, and then another.  Sometime, near dawn, I was in a small library and caught a glimpse of it. But I had to leave suddenly.  I never saw it again.”

 “On the shelf in the library, what was the book next to it?” she asked.

 “The book next to it?” I thought back, “A blue encyclopedia.”

 She smiled her best. “That is wonderful. We have shared the same dream then…”

 At this point Senor Novalis interrupted, “So you have both seen the book. That is very sweet. But what is it?”

 I turned and said, “As you may imagine, there are many different views on what the book is, and to the manner of its existence, if it even exists. My own feeling is that it is a book of infinite dimensions, and unlimited pages. And yet it is all contained in a single manuscript.  The best account of it is in Grunwald’s Texts of the Ancient Church.

 “The 1789 edition with the red spine?” the Countess asked.

 “Yes.  He claimed that when the Church Council put together the ‘Book of Life’, a second book came into existence at the same time. It was never intended to be read.”

 “The text is said not to even have words at all, or to have words that always change, or to have words one time and not another, or to swerve in and out of words, or to consist only of mirrors, that by reflecting back and forth on each other bring entire languages into being.”

 “It has also been called the ‘Book of Death’. It is said that anyone who opens the text instantly dies.”

 “Why would anyone want such a book?” Senor Novalis asked.

 “It has its purposes. The Church has had many enemies. The ‘Book of Life’ is not enough to sustain it. It also needs the second book. If it weren’t for the second book, no doubt Julian would have succeeded in making the Church a mere historical footnote. Or perhaps an altogether different faith might have arisen.”

 “I thought Julian died at the hands of Persian cavalry?” the Countess said.

 “No,” I replied, “His wounds were not serious. The book was.”

 “Supposedly, it has come to the aid of the Church on any number of occasions, the last being about thirty years ago. You will remember the Pope who died a few weeks after his election…It disappeared after that. Something went awry and the Church lost control of it. That is why finding it is now a matter of some interest.  The fact that our paths have intersected suggests that the book may be very close. I suspect it is even in one of the rooms of the Hotel itself.”

 “Since none of us represents the interests of the Church,” the Countess said, “Can we assume there may be others who will arrive soon?”

 We looked around the room. At the table next to us, sitting alone, an elderly white haired Priest smiled.

 “Ah, Father Lessant,” I said, standing up and extending my hand, “It has been a long time since we’ve talked.”

 “Always a pleasure, Dr. Gelukpa.” He seemed even frailer than the last time we met.

 He pulled his chair up to the table. “You are wrong about the number of those who are still searching. I think it has shrunk to just us four. It will be interesting to see which of us the book favors.”

 “So it is in the hotel,” she said, “But this is a large hotel. How do you intend to search all the rooms?”

 “I don’t,” I replied, “People always assume that to find things you have to go where they are. You can also ask them to come to you.”

 Senor Novalis nodded, and the Countess poured me a glass of wine.

 “You have a plan?” she asked.

 “You are all acquainted with numbers or you wouldn’t be here. So you know as well as I the combination that must occur for the book to appear. It will be midnight in just a couple of hours. At that time we can retire to my room. I have arranged things appropriately.”

 This seemed to suit everyone and we continued to drink and converse among ourselves. There were still some loose points left to be clarified. It is unfortunate that due to the wine I can’t remember exactly how the conversation flowed. I’m sure a transcript of it would be of some value. At the appointed time, we went upstairs. The room I had prepared was empty of all furniture and every surface had been replaced by a mirror.

 We did not have to wait long for the text. Within an hour it appeared precisely in the center of the circle we had formed. The text did not appear as a book. Rather, it appeared as a thin black bottle. 

 “What is this?” the Countess said surprised.

 I walked over and touched it. “This is the text. Look at the label.”

 I turned the bottle. At first we saw a drawing of a small map. But then as we looked closer, a swirling vortex opened up. We could only gaze for an instant and then our eyes were forced away. In the vortex was everything – all the natural elements – wind, water, fire, earth and space – and all the unnatural elements as well.

 “I understand,” she said with a hint of something transcendent in her eyes, “We are to open the text here.”

 “That is right,” I replied and the others nodded.

 She took the bottle from me, lifted it up and took a long drink. She then handed it to Senor Novalis who did likewise. Senor Novalis handed it to the good Father who drank, and then to me.

 I brought the bottle to my lips, but then suddenly a strange chill ran across my back.  My hands trembled, and I dropped the bottle which shattered in this and a thousand other worlds. When I looked up, Senor Novalis, Father Lessant, and Countess Tegre were gone.

That is all.  I went back to my room, saw that there was now a thin manuscript laying by the bed, bound in faded leather. With such a significant history, it was not a particularly striking object – it was hard to imagine that opening it would cause such fortune as was alleged to occur. But I was not one to put it to the test.   Bundling it tightly in old newspapers, I gathered my belongings and checked out of the hotel. For I have learned in situations like this it is best to leave as quickly and as quietly as possible without calling attention to oneself.

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