“The Saint Francis de Sale Biblioteque appreciates the return of our stolen materials.”
“Of course,” Detective Lawrence Oulette said with a practiced smile. “Everything in its rightful place, eh?” He fidgeted with his father’s ring; a gift for graduation from the police academy. It’d been his grandfather’s before and great-grandfather's as well.
The library curator nodded in his habit, brown as the vellum binding of the booms he placed below the counter. “We were concerned to have a theft of such historic relevance. We are blessed to have such vigilance amongst our police force.” His eyes hadn’t risen to meet Lawrence’s since he’d walked in. Ain’t that the Irish way, he thought of the red-headed bespectacled monk.
“Were you born here or immigrated,” the detective asked.
“Immigrated,” the Archivist said. “The accent garnered… uncomfortable attention, so I worked to manage it.”
“Explains the library.” Lawrence and the Archivist turned towards Lawrence’s younger partner, burning red under their spotlights. “Not much talking allowed…”
“True,” the monk said. “It seemed an appropriate choice.” A grunt came from a table stacked with papers and books. The scratching of pen nib on notebook evoked a red that only the nose of he who wrote and read knew smelled of rose and wine.
“Still,” Detective Oulette said in earnest lowered volume. “It was unexpected. We only identified the thief by chance a few days ago.” The monk looked up to regard the detective in stillness.
“Is that so?” he asked, hands waiting to move under the counter.
“Hard to identify someone with no face or hands,” the youngster said. “No wallet or ID on him, so we ruled out robbery. The place was rented in cash without a lease. No name there either.” The pen scribbling stopped.
“We’re lucky his DNA was on file in the States,” he continued. “Trespassing. Burglary. Robbery. Then…nothing. Maybe he turned himself around after the last stint on jail. Made a new life in Quebec.” He motioned towards the books kept safe under the counter. “Until now, at least.”
“Poetic,” the Archivist said. “Perhaps we’ll be seeing your stories on our shelves someday as well.”
“You keep an eclectic selection,” the veteran detective said. “I hadn’t expected Catholics kept such detailed records of Philistine cult practices.”
“Brutal stuff,” the fledgling officer added.
“’Know thy enemy,’” the monk said, hands running along leather edges. “Can we be of further assistance, officers?”
“Perhaps,” Detective Oulette said, digging into his blazer’s lining. He produced a handful of photographs, placing the stack face down on the counter. “I warn, these are graphic, but given the deceased’s interests, your knowledge may lend a perspective we’re missing.”
He slid the stack forward. The monk looked down for a time, still and poised, before the singular “amen” escaped his aged lips. Sighing, his scarred hands lifted the images to face them, digesting details.
Blood and brutality aside, the post-mortem amputations were clean. The face itself was cleaved away, leaving a single flat cross-section of skull and sinuses. The forearms showed similar swift planar cuts leaving flat stumps above the wrists. The floor was red with lost life and coagulation papers.
“Odd,” the monk said. “It looks professional, but clearly personal. The room itself, though bloody, seems otherwise untouched.” He pointed to the desk drawers. “Not even touched. The deceased seems the sole subject of the assailant.”
“The face stumped us at first,” Oulette said. “No marks of hesitation or resistance. Just one quick motion with a very large, very wide, blade.”
“Wide?” The monk regarded the man again. “Like a cleaver?”
“Like an ax,” the younger one said, smiling. “Seriously medieval, right?”
“Quite…” the monk said, hands taught under the counter. “You suspect it means something? The ax?”
“Given his interest? We’re confident it’s related.”
“Imagine,” the grinning detective said. “Ancient occult activity in the city!”
“Seek the abyss,” the monk started.
“And it’ll stare back,” Lawrence finished, fighting with his ring again. Silence hung between the four scriptorium denizens. Shadows creeped between lamps against probing flickers of candlelight.
“If we can be of assistance, don’t hesitate to ask,” the monk said. “You’ve done a great favor in your retrieval and we extend our appreciation in kind. This is exactly the nature of evil our shelved wisdom was compiled to bulwark against.”
“I’m sure,” Lawrence said. “We’ll leave you to finish up.”
“Bon soir, friar.” The young man turned to the quiet back of the scribe at his table. “Sorry for the interruption.” Together, the detectives left, Lawrence’s thumb sliding along the smooth band of his father’s ring adorned with sharp-edged signet inset with a compass with capital G. The heavy door echoes like a gavel against walls of history.
The remaining two sat in silence. Five minutes. Then ten. After fifteen, they heard an engine turn over in the parking lot. Headlights through stained glass windows traveled across walls like inquisitors’ eyes before passing as the car left.
Another ten minutes passed without rustle of branches or bushes. Five more for good measure. Writing stopped as heavy pen was laid to rest, sounding like gravestone on hardwood.
“Fountain pens makes scribing so much easier,” the man said from his table. The monk’s trained response rang back: “It’s work best done in solitude.” The scribe turned to regard his elder.
“Well it’s about time they brought our materials back,” The young olive-skinned man said. His coy smile and light tone belied his well-trained musculature. “If I hadn’t been so crudely interrupted by that dope fiend shambling through the building, I’d have scooped them up myself. Who’d have thought he’d report the scene before I could get back?”
“Young men ought remember temperance,” the elder said.
“What can I say?” The young man capped his pen. “I’m a traditionalist.”
“An ax though?
“It seemed fitting; execution and all.”
“’Furtive sentencing.’ Emphasis on furtive. Clandestine. Nondescript. Secretive.” The monk dropped a tome, heavy with crossed blades in thick leather and history, before opening to a blank page. “For their own good, if nothing else.”
The Azrealite rolled his eyes. “They don’t even know what they’re chasing.” He crossed his arms. “You worry too much.”
“Too much!?” The Archivist, shoulders hunched, stared at his compatriot with hanging jaw. “They were inside the scriptorium!”
“After fifteen minutes waiting for us to break character!” He held the bridge of his nose. “Did you not notice the ring?”
“The one the old guy kept fiddling with?” The monk sighed, considering the detective around the same age as himself. “I saw it in the window’s reflection.”
“The masonic ring,” the monk explained, to the sound of the youngster sucking his teeth, before scribbling on the latest page. “Add them to your record and I’ll make the requisite citations in the codex before addressing the magistrate.” The young man stood, arms still crossed, before the monk stopped to address him. “Anything else?”
“Does this mean no mor-“
“Axes? Correct. No more axes.” He marked his page with a ribbon from the binding before closing it. “And no decapitation other than at the neck.” A click below the counter ushered two bookshelves apart.
“You can’t constrain art.”
“And you can’t get sloppy,” the elder said, ushering him through a sconce-lined hallway that hadn’t been there before.
“Sloppy?” The tanned man said. “Were the pictures blurry? You saw what I brought back. Those cuts were pristine. My best work.”
The monk pressed another button on the wall as the bookcases slid shut behind them. The boasting wasn’t wrong. Even he couldn’t replicate the younger associate’s elegance. “We’ll report the latest cultist’s demise and the findings in our report. Perhaps the magistrate will recognize the sigils on his face.”
“And why they were glowing.”
The continued along stone-hewed hallway into the red and gold sanctum flanked by two floors of gilded bookcases, glass counters of artifacts and lit candelabras atop tables and desks interspersed amongst the inner scriptorium sanctum.
A fireplace, already lit, sat opposite the entryway along the wall. A screen descended from the ceiling, wide as the wall could accommodate. A geriatric clergyman on screen nodded his acknowledgement of their arrival.
“Magistrate,” the monk genuflected. “We have a report to make. Current events may have become… complicated.”
“Tell me more, Brother Ro’emael.”