As they walked across the room and passed behind the pillar that held the ladder, their flashlight illuminated a partial skeleton. The skull was cracked and a stone knife was lodged in it. The limbs were scattered all around it. Miss Holland put her foot on the skull and pulled the knife free. The handle was some kind of bone or petrified wood while the blade appeared to be the same black stone that the altar was made of. The carvings reminded her of the carvings on the altar. She examined the bones and saw that they were all cracked open and appeared to have tooth marks upon them. She guessed that someone had gnawed on the bones as well as cracked them open and sucked out the marrow.
She tucked the knife into her purse.
Bryan walked back over to the altar. He looked it over without touching it but saw no words carved upon it. He walked over to Bertelli, who was still following the wall and writing down what was written there.
â€œWhatâ€™d you find at the altar?â€ Bertelli asked Bryan.
â€œNothing really, just chains and weird stone,â€ Bryan said.
The acoustics in the room sent their words all the way to the ladder, where the other two heard them. They echoed strangely but the words were still clear.
McKeefe was worried about losing the ladder and didnâ€™t want to let go of the rope. Miss Holland suggested that she walk in a straight line while he wait there. She did so, eventually coming to the curved wall of the strange, shiny black stone. She walked along the wall, moving to her right until she came to the place where they had first found the wall. The words continued all along it though there were no other entrances or exits, nor anything that stood out as unusual. McKeefe joined her, still holding the rope.
The thudding still came from above. The horrible echoes rolled around the room.
They came to the realization that the alter was in the very center of the room.
Miss Holland soon caught up with Bertelli and Bryan
â€œDid you find anything?â€ Bryan asked her.
â€œUm â€¦ found some bones,â€ she replied. â€œThey looked like they were chewed on.â€
She noted it was a single skeleton and Bryan said it wasnâ€™t enough for Carlsen to live down there for years then.
â€œWeâ€™ve only found the two skeletons, but â€¦â€ McKeefe said. â€œMy question would be: would we necessarily be able to find all of them without being able to light up the entire room. If there are any more than just two?â€
â€œIt was probably just luck that we found this other one,â€ McKeefe said.
Their voices echoed strangely and almost musically.
She bypassed them and continued around the perimeter of the room. The words seemed to create a long string that started at a spot directly opposite of the altar from where the ladder came down. Bertelli soon reached that spot as well, but it would take him a while to accurately write down all of the words.
There were no other entrances to the room.
Bertelli finally finished copying the words nearly a half hour later when the thudding from above stopped.
â€œIs everything all right down there?â€ Silversmithâ€™s voice called down.
The echoes were strange.
â€œEverythingâ€™s all right!â€ McKeefe called back. â€œWhy have you stopped hammering?â€
â€œBecause Iâ€™m tired.â€
â€œYouâ€™re free to take a break!â€ Bertelli called back up.
â€œIâ€™m taking a break!â€ Silversmith called down.
* * *
Silversmith was tired, Heâ€™d been at work on the floor a half hour since they discovered the trapdoor and was ready to stop. He sat down on the edge of the opening with his feet hanging over the edge. He was surprised how well he could hear the voices that came up from below.
* * *
Miss Holland went to the altar and laid her hand upon it, examining it more closely. She felt slightly drained and the stone itself started to glow with an eerie, purplish light. It grew in intensity to a degree that actually illuminated the entirety of the room. They could see that their initial estimates as to the roomâ€™s size had been correct: It was some 200 feet across. The floor was clean except for the corpse near the ladder and the scattering of bones behind it.
Bryan slid the Thompson sub-machinegun from his shoulder and tucked the borrowed flashlight into his pocket. He looked around nervously.
â€œWhat did you do to the altar?â€ Bertelli asked.
â€œI just touched it,â€ Miss Holland said.
â€œOh,â€ Bertelli replied.
They all moved to the altar and looked it over. The markings all around it were strange and when Miss Holland touched it a second time, they noticed she put a hand to her forehead as if she were tired.
They all started to look over the altar, Bryan being careful not to touch it. The other three all almost simultaneously found a spot where there appeared to be a stone pressed into place that could be removed. Bertelli grabbed it and pulled it free. In the glow of the altar, they could see that there looked to be a musty, crumbling manuscript within. Bertelli put down the stone, and reached in, carefully pulling out a manuscript, roughly the size of a dictionary, bound between copper plates set with human bones in a pretty mosaic.
Miss Holland glared at Bertelli.
â€œHey, why donâ€™t we take a look at this all together?â€ McKeefe said.
â€œOh yeah!â€ Bertelli said.
He put it down on the altar and carefully opened it up. It appeared to be written in Middle English, just like the words on the wall. It would probably take some time to study and comprehend.
â€œI can hold onto it for you,â€ Miss Holland said quietly.
â€œSince this is going to take us a bit, Iâ€™d rather us not study it in this basement,â€ Bertelli said.
â€œLetâ€™s bring it back upstairs,â€ McKeefe said.
â€œLetâ€™s go to at least the first basement,â€ Bertelli said.
â€œI can bring it to where you keep all your tomes,â€ Miss Holland said. â€œWhereâ€™s that again?â€
â€œI would just like to point out to everyone that we found all of this on my property,â€ Bertelli said.
Miss Holland frowned.
â€œBy the way, if youâ€™ve found anything on my property, if you wouldnâ€™t mind bringing it to my attention, Iâ€™d actually give you monetary value for it because you found it and I might not have found it for a good while,â€ Bertelli said.
Miss Holland started to say something but then just closed her mouth.
â€œWhat were you going to say?â€ Bertelli asked.
â€œNothing,â€ she replied.
They climbed up the ladder and left the strange place. Silversmith, when he saw them coming, pretended to close the trapdoor with a laugh. Once they were out of the place, Silversmith went to close the trapdoor but Bertelli stopped him and then climbed back down to sketch the altar.
â€œCan you watch that book for me?â€ he called back up.
â€œWhatâ€™s in it for me?â€ Bryan replied.
Then he laughed.
â€œHopefully it doesnâ€™t go away,â€ Bertelli said uncertainly. â€œFuture business? Iâ€™m always going to need an investigator. I was talking to everyone but â€¦ apparently you want something out of this.â€
Bertelli returned several minutes later. He had not done a very good job of sketching the altar.
Miss Holland had, meanwhile, started to read the book. She learned that it was written by someone named John Hafnirsson, son of a Saxon earl who, in the Year of Our Lord 1302, found himself outlawed by a petty Norman baron who coveted Hafnirssonâ€™s daughter. That Norman baron was Guillaume de Pont-Voisy.
Bertelli returned and Miss Holland guessed it would take days to actually read the book.
They talked about reading the book by taking shifts and Miss Holland noted that she had changed hotels. She said she would take it back to her hotel room so she could read it. Bertelli remarked that it would put a lot of strain on her and it would take her all day. He said it would be easier if several people read it.
â€œDo you want to come back to the other hotel?â€ Bertelli asked as they rode back to town.
â€œNo,â€ Miss Holland said. â€œSorry, Iâ€™m a lady. I want my own space.â€
â€œNo, youâ€™d have your own room,â€ Bertelli said.
They returned to town.
* * *
McKeefe took Bryan aside after they returned to town.
â€œHey, thereâ€™s a book that might be in the university library,â€ he said. â€œIt might be in Arabic and it might not. It might be of interest. Itâ€™s called the ibn Abbas.â€
They went to the college library and found that it was closing shortly. They found a listing of the paper by Hardy Carlson but did not find it on the shelf where it was supposed to be. There was no sign of any card catalog listing for ibn Abbas, which McKeefe remembered was a name, not necessarily the name of the book.
* * *
Miss Holland, back at her hotel, used the telephone in the lobby to telephone the Charing Cross Inn. She asked for Mr. Bertelli. After a few minutes, he picked up the other end of the line.
â€œI know you have something of mine,â€ she said cryptically. â€œAnd I have something of yours. So, maybe we can make a trade.â€
â€œWait, what do you mean I have something of yours?â€ Bertelli said, sounding genuinely confused.
â€œI think you know what I mean.â€
â€œWait, youâ€™re trying to â€¦ trade â€¦â€
â€œYou donâ€™t know what I have, but it is yours.â€
â€œSo wait, you want to trade me my own book for another of my books?â€
â€œItâ€™s not your book.â€
â€œAh, according to a contract that I have madeâˆ’â€
â€œI was talking about the other book. The book you stole.â€
â€œI did not steal a book. I purchased a book.â€
â€œYou purchased a book?â€
â€œI paid John McKeefe $1,000 for the book.â€
Miss Holland found it hard to catch her breath. Her jaw hung open.
â€œWhat!?!â€ she said.
â€œYes, I signed a check and he gave me the book,â€ Bertelli said. â€œWait, I signed the check and then I went and picked up the book.â€
â€œIt was not his book to give away! It actually belonged to me.â€
â€œSo, technically, itâ€™s still mine.â€
â€œThatâ€™s true. I could give it to you back. I just would need the thousand dollars back.â€
â€œWell, I will convince Mr. John McKeefe to give you back the one thousand dollars.â€
â€œWould you mind â€¦ Iâ€™m assuming that since you wouldnâ€™t mind giving that much money back away â€¦ that the book isnâ€™t for sale?â€
â€œThe book is not for sale. It was my book and he sold it without â€¦ without â€¦ it was my book!â€
â€œOh yeah, no no no. I know that it was not his to sell, but you would not wantâˆ’â€
â€œYou knew that?â€
â€œNo no no no. Since youâ€™re saying it wasnâ€™t his book to sell.â€
â€œNo, the book is not for sale. I want it back and Iâ€™m going to make John McKeefe give you back your money.â€
â€œThat sounds very reasonable. Um â€¦ if I could also get back the thing that you have of mine?â€
â€œFine. Iâ€™ll give you the thing I have. If you let me have half of the other book.â€
â€œUh, I wouldnâ€™t want to mess up the book. Iâ€™m not opposed to you borrowing it. But would you also mind sharing the knowledge of apparently your book with me?â€
â€œYes, we can be in mutual sharing of knowledge. But I want my book back still!â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s perfectly fine and reasonable.â€
â€œDammit, John McKeefe!â€
â€œI am appalled by his behavior.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m sorry. I did not know that this was going on.â€
â€œAs soon as we get back to Providence, I can give you back your book. Actually, if you want, I could go for it while youâ€™re studying. Would you want me to bring it to you here?â€
â€œYes, that sounds good. Iâ€™m sorry I had such a bad impression of you.â€
They rang off.
* * *
Bertelli packed his bags and noticed that his diamond cufflinks, which he kept with him to wear on certain occasions, were missing. He had noticed that it looked like someone had been through his things and was a little irritated, thinking it might be the maid. He took his luggage down to the taxi, which he had told to wait, and intended to approach either the owner of the hotel or one of the maids. He went back to his room for one last look and was surprised to find the cufflinks right on the side table where his luggage had rested. There was no way he wouldnâ€™t have seen it before. He was certain that no one had time to enter the room in the time heâ€™d been gone either.
It was odd and a little disturbing.
* * *
Miss Holland went to John McKeefeâ€™s room but no one answered her knock. She cursed his name.
She left the hotel and went looking for him, finally finding him as she walked down the street, angry. Her hands were curled into fists.
â€œHey, how you doing?â€ he asked.
â€œHi!â€ she said, grinning fiercely. â€œI assume the experiences we shared mean nothing to you!â€
â€œWhat are you referring to?â€
â€œYou sold my book!â€
â€œI did not sell your book. No.â€
â€œYes, you did. I just called up Bertelli and he told me everything!â€
â€œWhat exactly did he tell you?â€
â€œHe told me that you sold him the book for one thousand dollars.â€
â€œNo, I did not sell the book for one thousand dollars.â€
â€œYes, you did.â€
â€œHe wrote me a check after I told him my address. I guess that maybe from talking to you he was like â€˜Hey, maybe John McKeefe has this book.â€™â€
â€œGive me the check.â€
She held out her hand.
â€œBecause heâ€™s on his way to go get that book right now and bring it back to me,â€ she went on. â€œAnd I told him that you would refund him the one thousand dollars.â€
â€œAh, so youâ€™re playing around with my money,â€ he said.
â€œThis is my property. I own that book.â€
â€œAnd you sold itâˆ’â€
â€œâˆ’without my permission.â€
â€œI did not sell it.â€
â€œGive me the one thousand dollars right now unless you want to get hurt.â€
â€œThey stole the book. They stole the book. They went in, broke my lock â”€ I had to pay a whole five dollars to get a new lock and then I get laid out when theyâ€™re coming up and Iâ€™m â€˜Hey, why the hell are you stealing this book?â€™â€
She narrowed her eyes.
â€œI can tell youâ€™re not telling the truth,â€ she said. â€œI know youâ€™re not telling the truth. You better â€˜fess up. I swear. Youâ€™d better â€˜fess up.â€
â€œWell â€¦ you see what happened â€¦â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m going to go ahead and tell you the exact truth. So, I was at the bar one night, after having poured over the book. I was able to make no heads or tails of it. Oh well. So, this weird old guy in the corner calls me over and says â€˜Hey. I know who you are. You donâ€™t know who I am. But I heard youâ€™re into occult stuff.â€™ So, I figured heâ€™d maybe talked to Miss Holland, who told the whole town about our weird little experience that I thought we were going to tell no other living soul about â€¦ ever.
â€œSo, he says â€˜Iâ€™m kind of interested in this stuff. Can I get your address so that maybe we could talk about this sometime?â€™ I said â€˜What? Youâ€™re a weird guy.â€™ So he gives me a thousand bucks. I said â€˜Okay.â€™ So I give him my address because â€¦ you know â€¦ a thousand bucks for an address: easy peasey. Then, next thing I know, I get home. His weird manservant or something lays me out. I didnâ€™t think anything about it. Put it into my little mutual fund at the stock marketâˆ’â€
â€œAre you â€¦ dense?â€ she interrupted him. â€œWhy would you give some weird old guy your address for one thousand dollars?â€
â€œBecause he mentioned you by name.â€
â€œHe mentioned you by name. He said â€˜Mary-Jane Holland. Iâ€™ve been speaking to Mary-Jane Holland.â€™ And said that you were interested in occult things so I figured heâ€™s already been to her apartment so if I donâ€™t give him my address, heâ€™s probably going to come storming in there anyway someday. â€˜Hey! Whatâ€™s happening? You remember me? You remember the guy whoâˆ’â€™â€
â€œYou got my book stolen! I want it back!â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t mean that I gave him the book. I didnâ€™t physically hand him the book.â€
â€œYou still took money. Why did you take the check?â€
â€œIt was a thousand bucks for an address, sweetheart.â€
â€œWell, give me the thousand bucks right now.â€
â€œItâ€™s in my stocks.â€
â€œGive it to me.â€
â€œItâ€™s in the stock market.â€
â€œWrite me a check!â€
â€œItâ€™s going make five thousand dollarsâˆ’â€
â€œWrite me a check!â€
â€œâˆ’in like five weeks.â€
â€œDo it. Right now. You either write me a check or you go to Bertelliâ€™s room and you tell him to give me my book back right now. And I donâ€™t care if you get shot.â€
â€œAnd what will you do if I donâ€™t.â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t what?â€
â€œIf I donâ€™t go?â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t â€¦â€
She glared at him again.
â€œIf you donâ€™t get the book back, the book that I let you borrow, the book that you sold to Bertelli for one thousand dollars, the book that you left in your house unattended?â€
â€œWhoâ€™s gonna steal an ancient musty book?â€
â€œIt has power! You know it has power!â€
â€œItâ€™s got silly power!â€
â€œYouâ€™ve seen the power!â€
â€œItâ€™s power is silly!â€
â€œWeâ€™ve done the powers! The powers have been done by us!â€ she lowered her voice. â€œWe brought some guy back from the dead.â€
â€œAnd then we killed him at the same time.â€
â€œHeâ€™s still in my apartment, okay?â€
â€œWait! Whyâ€™d you keep the saltes? I get nightmares every now and then from that!â€
â€œMaybe Iâ€™ll bring him back!â€
McKeefe shook his head.
â€œNow Iâ€™m going to pull out my gun,â€ she said calmly to him. â€œIn three â€¦ two â€¦â€
â€œTell you what,â€ McKeefe said. â€œTell you what.â€
â€œHow about I go speak with Mr. Bertelli,â€ he went on. â€œAnd I wonâ€™t pay him no damned thousand dollars for a book that I did not sell him for a thousand dollars, but I will talk with him and I will make sure you get your precious, sweet little black-bound Douglas Timmons book back and we can all go home and be happy.â€
â€œAnd you tell him heâ€™s not getting his property from me until I get my book back,â€ she said.
â€œDid you steal property from him? And youâ€™re accusing me of being a thief! Youâ€™re accusing me of selling somethingâˆ’â€
â€œI did it for reasons that are normal! I did it for a bargaining chip, okay? I had a reason behind it. You just gave some guy your address for one thousand dollars!â€
â€œThat was entirely reasonable. I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œNO, it wasnâ€™t !â€
â€œHeâ€™s some rich weird guy who was going to break into my place anyway, because he was sureâˆ’â€
â€œAll right, you go and tell him to give it back.â€
She turned and walked away.
* * *