Cole took it out of basic politeness and carried it over to the mahogany desk, sat down and placed the leather briefcase on the floor.
His host joined him moments later, a glass in his bony hand.
He sat down in the high-backed red leather chair behind the desk, eyeing Cole in a way which made him feel vaguely uneasy.
Cole thought of the briefcase, thought of the book and thought of the pistol hidden inside. The old fool. No-one was going to pull a fast one on him.
“Perhaps you’d like me to tell you a little more about its history, Mr Cole?” Blevins smiled.
“Hell no,” Cole grunted, taking a gulp of wine. “I got the damned thing for you, Blevins, just like you wanted. All I want’s the money.”
Blevins tutted like a maiden aunt upset at the bothersome behaviour of a misbehaving nephew.
“Really Mr Cole, must you be such a philistine? The Liber Daemonicus is a masterpiece of its kind, one of the greatest black magic books the world has ever seen.”
Cole fidgeted in his chair. Blevins was doing another of his long boring lectures. Great.
Cole wasn’t used to this kind of work. When people hired him, it was usually a lot more straightforward. A guy wanted rid of his wife. The wife wanted rid of her husband. That kind of thing.
Every now and then he’d work for bigger clients but by and large the syndicates normally used their own guys. Cole wasn’t bitter. He liked being freelance, it gave him plenty of options. He was making plenty of cash and life was good. Soon, thanks to the gullible Blevins, he’d make a whole lot more.
Meanwhile, his host was still talking.
“…of course, the inquisition caught up with its author in 1666 – quite appropriate, don’t you think? Needless to say, the poor fellow was burned at the stake along with most known copies. I think I told you there’s only about a half-dozen known to exist, didn’t I? Mostly in the hands of private collectors like myself, a few of the more esoteric museums and of course, the – ah – late, unfortunate Mr Penny.”
Cole grunted. Penny had been the former owner of the large, handsome black leather-bound book before Cole had liberated it from his extensive library. It hadn’t been easy. Although probably far easier than breaking into a museum for it.
Cole hadn’t been chosen for his charm, after all, he’d been picked for his reliability. He’d posed as a third-party looking to buy the book on behalf of a private collector (which was more or less true), gained Penny’s trust and organised a meeting at his home.
He’d gone along on the day, gun well-hidden, with a briefcase full of money to keep Penny off his guard. It had worked like a charm.
Penny had shown him into his huge library and give him a quick tour. He’d brought out the book, let him admire the merchandise and done the standard thing of talking around the price. Cole could see the greed in his eyes. Anyone could see he wasn’t bothered about the book, he just wanted to sell it to the highest bidder.
“Of course I’ve had other offers,” the old sucker had told him.
“Yeah,” Cole thought cynically to himself. “I’ll bet you have. Here’s another two-million on the price tag for you, ya blood-sucking leach.”
Eventually, a price was settled on, there was the handshake and then – something usual happened.
Penny had got up to pour them both a drink. Cole’s hand had gone to the shoulder holster, the .38 with suppressor had been primed and ready and –
Penny had clutched his chest and fallen over in a heap, his face burning red, gasping and choking.
A heart attack. Cole couldn’t believe his luck. He didn’t even have to kill the old bastard himself or hand over any dough.
He grabbed the book, wrapped it in the protective cover then delicately placed it in the briefcase. Behind him on the floor, Penny gasped and scrabbled at his ankles, and whispered something inaudible. Help me? Call an ambulance? Cole didn’t care. He stepped over him and out he went, book and all, into the cold dark night.
Back in the present, Cole was getting twitchier by the minute and it was time to shut Blevins up.
He unfastened the briefcase and gently removed the book, placing it on the expensive mahogany desk.
Blevins eyed it like an eagle would a field-mouse. He’d stopped talking, abruptly, and his eyes were fixed on the bulky, beautiful object which was slowly unwrapped in front of him like a Christmas present.
“Remarkable,” cooed Blevins. “It will be the jewel in my collection.”
He pronounced the word slowly, as if enjoying it.
“It’s worth a lot then, yeah?” Cole asked. He slugged the last of the wine.
Blevins gave a throaty chuckle. His thin, skeletal face seemed amused by the question.
“Yes Mr Cole, we’ve already established it’s the money you’re after. Never fear, you shall get what we agreed, no more, no less. I promised you £50,000 for taking the job and £150,000 on delivery. Now you’ve delivered, you get the money. I’m a man of my word, after all.”
Cole said nothing, as Blevins fumbled in a desk drawer and brought out two slim metal keys. He got up and walked across the book-lined office walking over to a large painting showing a thin-looking guy dressed in Elizabethan costume, small beard and large white ruff around the neck.
“Sir Evesham Morley, a minor occultist” Blevins said absent-mindedly. “One of my ancestors – he dabbled a bit, you know.”
The painting swung off the wall to reveal a massive safe. Cole rolled his eyes. A safe behind a painting. It was typical of stuffy old fools like Blevins. They always needed their little taste of the theatrical. He probably had a secret passage hidden behind the wine cellar or something.
The keys went into tiny slots on either side of the safe and there was a loud click before a combination lock was revealed. Blevins twisted it umpteen times before it sprang open. He pulled out a briefcase as sturdy-looking as Cole’s.
“It’s all here, Mr Cole,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”
Cole felt hot around the face and neck. At last, the moment had come.
He fumbled with the case and out came the pistol. In his mind’s eye it was so simple. Give Blevins two in the head. Take the money, take the book. Sell the book. Make a pile of cash. It was beautiful.
The gun felt heavy in his hand and as he raised it to fire, his hands felt damp and prickly.
The pistol fell from his hand and rattled across the floor. Blevins looked vaguely amused.
“Dear me, Mr Cole, you should be more careful with your things,” he remarked. Then, conversationally, he added “Would you like some more wine?”
Cole tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. He tried to stand up and go over to the gun, but he fell awkwardly and started crawling on his hands and knees. He felt drunk, sick and the black metal weapon was tantalisingly near yet getting it felt impossible. His vision lurched up and down like a swimming pool.
“No,” Blevins mumbled, his voice sounding like it came from far away. “That one glass you’ve had should do the job. And I’ve kept you talking long enough, I think, it should be swimming around your system nicely.”
Cole’s eyes were starting to go and in desperation he staggered to his feet, made one last lunge for the gun, missed and went sprawling, knocking a chair over as he went. His eyes closed and his breathing became shallow and then shallower until it stopped altogether a few moments later.
Blevins, unconcerned, stepped over the body, wandered over to the desk and pressed a hidden button underneath.
A minute later, the man appeared, right on cue. The dead man. The actor. The man who owed his heart attack to nothing more than a tiny bit of amyl nitrate.
“I thought he’d never go,” said Penny, as he wheeled a gurney into the room.
Blevins and Penny hoisted the body on to it and wheeled it through the corridors until they got to the freezer room. Blevins typed in a code and in they went.
Inside, there were nine freezers, all but two occupied by a body. There were four men and three women. Like Cole, they had been hired by Blevins to retrieve the Liber Daemonicus and like him, they had been successful. Now they were enjoying their reward.
“Eight down, one to go,” said Penny cheerfully as they stuck Cole’s body into the eighth freezer and switched it on.
“Nearly there,” smiled Blevins, as nonchalantly as if he’d been hanging a picture.
They both knew the rules. There had to be nine, that’s what the book said, each a non-believer, each devoted to the cause of evil, each willing to kill to obtain the book.
They closed the door and went back to the office where Penny carefully retrieved the book ready for the next would-be thief.
Minutes later he was walking back to his car, briefcase in hand, book secure inside. Blevins would soon find them a ninth and then it could begin in earnest.
Once they were all collected, the chosen sacrifices would be thawed out, drained of their blood, dismembered and the ritual performed. The dark powers would be conjured from the bowels of the earth and a new era would begin.