“What’s your name?” he asked her.
She paused a moment to light her cigarette, the flame sparkling like fireworks in her hazel eyes. “Brianna.”
“No,” he said. “Not your stage name. The real one.”
Smoke curled up and out from between her lips. “Your money buys my time,” she said. “That’s all.”
“It’s a lot of money.” She said nothing to this, only quietly smoked her cigarette. “Okay,” he said finally. “Brianna it is.” He leaned back in his chair and tapped his fingers against the surface of the wooden table. “You’re not what I expected.” Still, she said nothing. “You’re more beautiful than I had thought.”
“Is there a purpose to this meeting?” she asked. “I have better uses for my time if not.”
“I need you to get something for me.”
She flicked the ash from her cigarette onto the kitchen floor, ignoring the ashtray on the table in front of her. “And what is this something you need?”
He hesitated, and then said, “A book.”
“Perhaps you should go to the library, Mr. Charles. I understand they have quite a collection there.”
“Not like this. Not in any library I’ve ever seen.”
She put her cigarette to her lips again. “Go on.”
“There are only three copies of this book in existence. One is rumored to be hidden in the Vatican library, although of course there is no definitive proof of this, and the Pope isn’t talking. One I’ve tracked as far as Berlin during the war, but there’s no record of it beyond the point where the Russians rolled into town. Perhaps it was destroyed in the shelling, but then again perhaps not. It may have been taken to Moscow, but again, there is no proof of that either.”
“So far you are telling me nothing that I have any interest in hearing,” she said. “Your time is almost up.”
“The third copy is in France. The price I paid you for this meeting is pocket change compared to what I’ve spent tracking down that book. I mean to have it, and I need you to get it for me.”
“It must be a very good book,” she said.
“No,” he said. “It’s not a very good book at all.”
“Does this book have name?”
“In Libro de Sanguine et Os.”
“In English,” she said.
“The Book of Blood and Bone.”
She sighed and stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray. “Written in blood, bound in human flesh, right? Just like in the movies?”
“So they say.”
“Of course they do,” she said. She put her hand on her pack of cigarettes as if contemplating lighting another, but didn’t take one out. “Where in France do you think it is?”
“There is a manor outside of Beaujeu, near Lyon. The book is there. I am certain of it.”
“Then why do you need me, if you know where it is?”
“The man who possesses this book will not give it up willingly. Neither will the men guarding it.”
“How many men?”
“At least ten at any given time. They will of course kill to protect it.”
“What’s the name of this man who has the book?”
“His name is unimportant,” he said. “I’ll pay you twice your asking fee to bring it to me.”
“His name,” she said again.
“Séraphine Sauvage. Do you know him?”
She ignored his question. “Tell me about the manor.”
He leaned forward and put his arms on the table. “It’s old, a few hundred years. There’s a stone wall around the property, motion detectors, dogs. The usual security walking the perimeter. The manor itself is three floors and a cellar.”
“Any way into the cellar without going through the house? Tunnels?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. The information I was given didn’t specify anything like that.”
“Who gave you the information?”
He grinned. “Sauvage’s mistress. She has expensive habits and questionable loyalties. It’s a combination I find very appealing.”
“Where is the book?” she asked.
“He keeps it in a safe in his study. Cliche, I know, but very secure. And before you ask, I don’t have the combination. He is understandably reluctant to share that sort of information.”
“Anything else I should know?” She picked up the pack of cigarettes and slipped it into her coat pocket.
“Only what I already said, that I will pay you double your fee for the book. Triple, if you kill Sauvage before leaving the manor. I’d prefer him dead rather than trying to steal it back from me.”
She nodded. “I’ll consider your offer. May I have some water?”
“Sure,” he said, and pushed away from the table. He stood and walked to the cupboard, took down a glass.
“I should kill the mistress as well,” she said. “If you’re trying to tie up loose ends.”
He filled the glass at the sink. “Trying to up your fee even more?”
“If you want to be secure on your end,” she said, “the fewer people who can be linked to you in this, the better.”
“I see your point.” He walked back to the table and held out the glass to her.
“You’re sure there’s nothing else you can tell me before I start?” she asked. She took the glass from him.
“No,” he said. “That’s all I have.”
“Okay,” she said, and then without warning grabbed his arm in her free hand and threw herself backward in her chair, pulling him down as well. As they fell, she drove her knee into his stomach and flipped him over her body, above her head, and slammed him onto his back on the tile floor. She allowed the momentum from the fall to carry her through a roll, and she slipped over him, ending her move by straddling his chest. She smashed the top of the water glass off against the cabinet beside them, and then in one vicious swipe slashed it across his throat, opening a tear that began gushing instantly. She rolled off and away from him before he had a chance to do anything more than put his hands against the wound, futilely trying to hold it shut. In less than a minute, his thrashing had stopped.
She was irritated to see that as quick as she’d been to get off of him, she hadn’t been fast enough to keep from getting speckled with blood down the front of her shirt. She would change once she got back to her car. She kept a spare outfit in the trunk for reasons such as this.
She took a cell phone from her pocket, speed-dialed the one number she had programmed into it. Momentarily, the call was picked up.
“I know where it is,” she said. “It’s going to be harder to get than I’d anticipated. Your bill is going to be higher. Don’t call this phone again. You won’t be able to reach me on it.”
She hung up and put the phone into her pocket. She would dispose of it later, when she burned the clothes she was wearing now. She picked up the broken pieces of glass and cigarette butt from the ashtray and put them in her coat pocket. She hadn’t touched anything else in the house.
She would make flight arrangements in the morning, and decide which of her dozen passports would best suit her needs. Her French was rusty, but it would suffice.
Once she had the book, she would decide if her fee was high enough. If not, maybe she would keep it for herself.
The more she was learning about the book, the more interested she was becoming.
Very interested indeed.