The Willie Button Series



Dark Bible

by

Albert J. Manachino


GOD POINTED TO WILLIE'S BLUE CANVAS BAG. "I CAN'T ADMIT YOU WHILE YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF THAT." HE WAS REFERRING TO ITS CONTENTS, NOT THE BAG ITSELF.

WILLIE UNDERSTOOD. "YES, LORD" WEARILY HE PICKED IT UP AND RESUMED HIS JOURNEY.

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EARLY MORNING FOUND HIM ON THE VERANDA OF AN ENORMUS OLD MANSION. AN IMPRESSIVELY CARVED OAKEN DOOR CONFRONTED HIM. WILLIE DREW THE BELL PULL AS FAR AS IT WOULD EXTEND AND THEN RELEASED IT. HE WAS REWARDED BY THE MELLOW CHOIR OF ANTIQUE CHIMES.

A HEAVY-LIDDED UNSHAVEN BUTLER OPENED THE DOOR. EVIDENTLY HE HAD BEEN INTERRUPTED AT COFFEE. "I'M GORDON, SIR. MAY I ASSIST YOU?"

"WILL YOU PLEASE INFORM MR. ARMENIUS THAT I HAVE SOMETHING HE WILL BE INTERESTED IN?" WILLIE TAPPED THE BLUE BAG SIGNIFICANTLY.

GORDON UNDERSTOOD. HIS ORDERS WERE TO ADMIT ANY SUCH CALLERS AT ANY TIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT. "OF COURSE, SIR. WILL YOU FOLLOW ME?" HE STEPPED BACK.

MR. ARMENIUS WAS A THIN GENTLEMAN. HE HAD WHITE HAIR, A THIN HIGH-BRIDGED NOSE AND THIN LIPS. HE GREETED WILLIE WITH A THIN SMILE. HE WAS APPROACHING HIS NINETIES.

HE RECEIVED HIS CALLER SEATED BEHIND A CARVED MAHOGANY DESK. ON ONE SIDE LAY A NEAT PILE OF FRESHLY STAMPED OUTGOING MAIL. ON THE OTHER SIDE, A NEAT PILE OF UNANSWERED CORRESPONDENCE. THERE WAS A LETTER IN HIS HAND.

"I LIKE TO ANSWER MY PRIVATE MAIL. RETAINS A MORE PERSONAL FLAVOR THAT WAY." HE WAVED THE LETTER. "THIS IS FROM A CATHOLIC PRIEST, FATHER O'SHEA, OF ST. CLARA'S." HE REQUESTS A DONATION FOR THE PURPOSE OF MAINTAINING HIS PRIVATE PET, A HOME FOR AGED AND INDIGENT MEN AND WOMEN.

"HE DOESN'T KNOW THAT I HOLD THE MORTGAGE ON THE PROPERTY AND THAT UNLESS HE IS ABLE TO RAISE $1,000,000 BY THE END OF THIS MONTH, I WILL FORECLOSE THE MORTGAGE."

WILLIE WAS INTERESTED. "AND THE AGED AND INDIGENT MEN AND WOMEN?"

MR. ARMENIUS WAVED THE LETTER NEGLIGENTLY. "I'M SURE THAT OTHER ACCOMODATIONS CAN BE LOCATED FOR THEM. AFTER ALL, ST. CLARA'S IS NOT THE ONLY CHARITABLE INSTITUTION IN THIS CITY."

GORDON HAD LEFT THE ROOM. "WHAT IS THE NATURE OF YOUR BUSINESS?"

"I HAVE AN OLD BOOK WHICH I THINK WILL INTEREST YOU."

"AN OLD BOOK? DEAR ME, I HAVE A FIRST EDITION OF ALMOST EVERY BOOK, WORTHY OF THE NAME, THAT HAS EVER BEEN PRINTED. NO ONE IN THIS ENTIRE WORLD CAN APPROACH MY COLLECTION."

"YOU DON T HAVE THIS ONE."

MR. ARMENIUS SMIRKED. "WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I DON'T HAVE IT?"

"THERE IS ONLY ONE COPY."

"AND HOW MUCH ARE YOU ASKING FOR IT?"

"ONE MILLION DOLLARS."

"RIDICULOUS. YOU HAVEN'T EVEN TOLD ME WHAT IT IS. LET ME SEE IT."

WILLIE PLACED THE CANVAS BAG ON THE DESK. HE UNFASTENED THE ZIPPER AND REACHED INSIDE. THE BOOK HE PLACED IN FRONT OF MR. ARMENIUS WAS INDISPUTABLY ANCIENT. ITS COVER APPEARED TO BE OF A YELLOW, MILDEWED FELT THAT WAS SOMEHOW SUGGESTIVE OF A SUPPURATED DISCHARGE. AN UNPLEASANT ODOR, THAT WAS ONLY PARTLY SUGGESTION, SEEMED TO HOVER AROUND IT. ITS COVERS WERE BOUND TOGETHER BY A HAND-WORKED BRASS HASP AND SECURED BY A VERY OLD THOUGH TINY LOCK.

MR ARMENIUS' EXPRESSION DRAINED INTO A NEUTRAL PALLOR. HIS LIPS WORKED SOUNDLESSLY FOR A MOMENT, THEN, "DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS?"

"YES," WILLIE RESPONDED. "IT'S THE DEVIL'S BIBLE."

"AND YOU WANT $1,000,000 FOR IT?"

"YES."

WORDLESSLY, MR. ARMENIUS PRODUCED A CHECK BOOK. "WHO DO YOU WISH TO HAVE THIS MADE OUT TO?"

"TO FATHER O'SHEA OF ST. CLARA'S. PLEASE PLACE IT IN AN ADDRESSED ENVELOPE."

MR. ARMENIUS WROTE. HE PERUSED THE LETTER HE HAD BEEN HOLDING AND TRANSFERRED FATHER O'SHEA'S ADDRESS ONTO A STAMPED ENVELOPE. THE CHECK HE PLACED INSIDE AND THEN SEALED IT.

"HOW DO I KNOW IT WILL BE HONORED?" WILLIE ASKED

"ALL OF MY CHECKS ARE CERTIFIED, MR. …?" (WILLIE DID NOT PROVIDE HIS NAME.) "I OWN THE BANK. NO ONE QUESTIONS ANY OF MY PERSONAL CHECKS IN ANY AMOUNT TO ANY PERSON I MAY CHOOSE TO DESIGNATE AS PAYEE. HIS HAND PAUSED A FEW INCHES FROM WILLIE'S. "HOW DO I KNOW THE BOOK IS GENUINE?"

"IT'S GENUINE."

"I'LL HAVE TO EXAMINE IT."

"EXAMINE IT."

"THAT TAKES TIME. I'LL NEED AT LEAST TWENTY FOUR HOURS."

"OF COURSE,

MR. ARMENIUS PLACED THE ENVELOPE HE HAD BEEN ABOUT TO GIVE WILLIE ON THE DESK. "YOU WILL HAVE TO LEAVE THE BOOK WITH ME. COME AGAIN TOMORROW AND I WILL PAY YOU IF IT IS GENUINE."

"IF YOU WISH." WILLIE TURNED AND LEFT THE ROOM.

FOR A MOMENT MR. ARMENIUS WAS STUNNED. THEN HE BEGAN TO LAUGH. THE LAUGHTER BEGAN AS A SLIGHT CHUCKLE AND BUILT ITSELF INTO A HYSTERICAL CRESCENDO. TEARS STREAMED DOWN HIS FACE. "OH THE FOOL … THE UTTER UNBELIEVABLE FOOL."

MR. ARMENIUS WAS LAUGHING SO HARD THAT HE WAS FORCED TO SIT. HE LAID HIS HEAD IN HIS ARM ATOP THE DESK AND SHOOK CONVULSIVELY. "I WOULD HAVE GIVEN MY SOUL FOR THIS AND HE LEFT IT WITH ME WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A RECEIPT… OH, THE FOOL."

FINALLY HE RECOVERED TO THE' EXTENT THAT HE WAS ABLE TO DRAW THE BOOK BEFORE HIM. A TINY KEY WAS FASTENED TO THE HASP BY A TINY CHAIN. MR. ARMENIUS INSERTED IT INTO THE LOCK.

* * * * * * * *


EARLY THE NEXT MORNING WILLIE RELEASED THE BELL PULL. THE CHIMES HAD BARELY CEASED WHEN THE DOOR OPENED. A DROWSY GORDON RECOGNIZED HIM.

"YOU WISH TO SEE MR. ARMENIUS?"

"IF YOU PLEASE."

"THIS WAY, SIR."

"NO NEED TO DIRECT ME, I KNOW THE WAY."

"AS YOU WISH, SIR."

WILLIE FOUND MR. ARMENIUS IN THE LIBRARY AS HE KNEW HE WOULD. THE BOOK COLLECTOR WAS STILL SEATED BEHIND HIS DESK BUT HE WAS VERY, VERY DEAD. HIS FACE BORE SUCH AN EXPRESSION AS MIGHT ANYONE WHO HAS JUST LOST HIS SOUL.

WILLIE PICKED UP THE ENVELOPE AND ADDED IT TO THE PILE OF OUTGOING LETTERS. THEN HE CLOSED THE BOOK AND RETURNED IT TO THE CANVAS BAG. HE HAD PREFERRED NOT TO LOOK A THE OPENED PAGE.

THEN WILLIE DEPARTED FROM THE MANSION AND RESUMED HIS JOURNEY.

- TO BE CONTINUED -

Copyright by
Albert J. Manachino

Illustration
Copyright by
Kevin D. Duncan

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