Ravens’ Cry: Secrets of the Black Book

“Oh Hell,” cursed Destrehan to his brother, Destrian in the rain.  “The tire’s burst.”

The two stepped from the stolen Rolls-Royce into the rainy rural by-way and locked the door on the girl in the backseat.

Crossing to the forward-right wheel, which clearly had a gaping hole, the brothers huddled together to plan their next acts.

Inside, Annie Jump-Cannon petted the spaniel in her lap.  With her other hand, she clutched a brown-paper package to her chest.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Destrehan. He walked to the far side of the road, where a gravel driveway spiraled up the mountain.  On either side of the drive, was posted a sign reading:

Private Property:
No Hunting or Trapping
Will Be Shot

“Then what do you suggest?” asked his brother, emphasizing the word you.  “Our tire has burst, and we have no spare.  Our license plate will soon be recognized by every cop, state trooper and highway patrolman in the county and probably the next two as well.  It is raining, and we have a kidnapped heiress in our backseat.”

I opened the aperture to my house on the mountain at the knock on my door, the first in four and a half months staying there.

“–damn heavier door,” Destrehan was saying under his breath, shaking water from his coat.

“Excuse us, Sir, please.”  Destrian announced, taking off his hat.  “I’m afraid our tire has popped out on the road across from your drive.  We haven’t a spare and were hoping to use your phone, if you don’t mind.”

“Don’t receive too many strangers out here,” I replied.  “Specially not in the rain, at the middle of the night.”  I fidgeted with the door chain a moment before letting them in.  “I’m afraid,” I told them, “that the phone is out of service.  Has been for three weeks.  But I’d be happy to put you up till morning. Could give you a ride to town in my truck then.”

A glance passed between the brothers.

“Yes,” Destrian answered.  “I think we have no choice but to stay.  I thank you again for your hospitality.”

“Think nothing of it.”

“There is a girl in the car, and her mutt.”

They fetched her in, and she was indeed beautiful.  I introduced myself to her, taking her hand in mine.  But the brothers kept their hands in their pockets.

“Annie,” she said.

“Please,” I smiled, “make yourself at home.”  She walked from the front hall—opening to the kitchen on the left—into the next room to the right, past the table—seating twelve—and into the largest room of the house.  A grand fireplace—stretching up three stories to the roof—met her, and across from it a wide stair—leading up into shadow.

Furious, the spaniel’s name, scurried from behind his mistress’ legs to wrestle with the rug.  Across the house’s foremost floor, she clutched her brown-paper bundle, tied with thin cotton string outside the wrapping, and thick leather straps inside, keeping the book securely shut.

“Oh, here,” I stammered, pushing chairs around the fire.  “Sit down, warm yourselves.  Are you hungry?  Would you like some tea? or coffee, maybe?”

“Coffee—black.”

“Yes, two coffees—black.”

Annie hesitated.  “Do you need any help, Sir?”

“Destrehan will help you.  Come here, Anne, we need to talk.”  She remained in her chair, but Destrehan jumped to his feet and bustled me toward the kitchen.  There was something in his brother’s eye, something about the way he sat in the chair with one hand still in his pocket, something about the way he stared at her and her bundle, something that made me desperately want to know what those two—the young woman and the tense middle-aged man with the slightest accent—would find to talk about.

I filled the kettle and deposited it on the stovetop.  Destrehan’s bulk kept me from returning from the kitchen, so I gathered the coffee and its press, then sat back, pretending to wait for the water to boil, pretending not to strain my ears, thirsty for every syllable.

They were certainly arguing.  Destrian was adamant about something, cutting her off in mid-sentence and barking at the girl as the dog barked at him.  She seemed calm at first, answering whenever she could find a gap in his ranting tirade.  Soon both their voices were raised, and I could snatch a few fragments of phrase:

“There’s no two-ways about it.  You’re gonna give it too me, and I then I won’t…”

“I’m not afraid of…  You cannot intimidate me…”

“WHAT do you think this is, a game?  You are… ”

“Ha, you couldn’t kill me in the Romanian wilderness; you’ll never have the nerve now.”

“Don’t push your luck, Princess Anne.  My brother and I can fix your pretty looks quick enough.  Hahhahheh, not the sort of facial surgery you’re acquainted to I’ll wager.  Now, if you was ugly like me or my brother here, why then we’d have to kill you.  But something lovely to look at, like you, we don’t have to kill you.  Just carve up your face good-‘n-proper—“

“NO,” she did scream this time running into the kitchen with her arms flung up over her face.  “Get away from me, you–”  Destrian chuckled to himself, pulled his chair closer to the fire, lighting a cigarette.

“Mr,” Annie’s voice still trembled.  “You have to help me, these men—“  Destrehan knocked her to the floor with a single blow, as she tried to rush past to me.

“Hey Destrian,” the brother called.  “I’ve got the book.”  As the girl pulled herself together, Destrehan pulled the package from between her arms and chest.

“What’s going on here?” I sniveled.  “You just struck this poor women?  Who are you men?  What do you want with her.”

“Good, very good.  Give it to me—quick.”  He grabbed the bundle and swiftly tore away the brown wrapping paper.

At first it seemed unremarkable, a black volume, bound in leather, with gold trimming on the edges of its pages.  He unbuckled the leather straps and paused, staring at the cover.  He broke into a wide, toothy smirk, still staring at the book before him.  “Do you realize,” he yelled, “fools?  Don’t you realize what we have right here in our hands?  HAHHAHHeh-hack-hock-cough, cough.”

Destrehan pulled his pistol from a jacket pocket, “we have the book.  Now, we don’t need you.”  His brother was transfixed by the black and golden cover, but at these words he raised his head.
“Good idea, Destrehan.  Take her outside, him too.  Execute them.  They will not be found till thaw.”  As the brother reached out his arm to pull her from the floor, he motioned to me with a nod.

“You too, old man.  I do thank you for the use of your home.  We must be leaving soon, I’m afraid, but first I must pay you what we owe.  You will be rewarded for sheltering strangers from the rain.  Outside, NOW.”  He pushed the girl hard against the door, then opened it.  As I reluctantly stepped toward him, he grabbed me as well and shoved both of us outside, to fall down the few steps and into the wet snow.

The dark figure pressed his gun to my head.  When suddenly he rolled his eyes upward and slumped to the ground, I stared at the pistol falling from his limp hand for a moment, before looking up to see another dark figure where the first had stood.  The masked man looked at his axe, still stuck in the back of my would-be-assassin.  Then he raised his head to stare at the girl.

Inside and unaware, Destrian opened the Black Book to a random page in the middle.

 

 

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