by Frank G. Murdock
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.:
Stepping from the rental car, Adam and Julia Kadmon followed John Constantine up to the door of a large mansion. Constantine lit another cigarette with his Zippo and knocked on the door.
“So this is Wintersgate Manor, home of the infamous Baron Winters,” said Adam, amazed. “Nice place.”
Julia nodded in agreement. “I wonder what the Baron pays in taxes for it.”
At that point the door opened, and a large man with broad shoulders answered the door. His features showed signs of Semitic ancestry with eyes that held the intensity of a man who had witnessed a great deal in his time. “Greetings,” said the man in a deep voice. “The Baron has been expecting you.”
Constantine said nothing as he moved past the man into the foyer beyond. Adam and Julia introduced themselves before stepping in.
“I am Zadok Grimm. I serve the master of this house — we share a common goal.” Zadok then gestured for the Kadmons to follow him through an archway into a hall. The couple could see that Constantine was ahead of them. At the end of the hall, Constantine disappeared through a set of double doors where Zadok followed.
Inside was a large library with several chairs and sofas, the room seemingly taken out of an old 1940s film portraying the extravagance of nineteenth-century British earls and statesmen.
Around a short table surrounded by sofas and a comfortable-looking straight-back chair sat a man and a woman. The two sat apart on one of the sofas. The woman appeared to be in her early twenties and had short, curly blonde hair. Julia thought she looked a bit like Amanda Bearse in Fright Night, but in a more lonesome and withdrawn way.
The man was slightly older and had brown hair and investigating eyes. He was a grim-looking man whose face showed a hard and pessimistic demeanor. Julia thought he looked like a young Robert Mitchum playing the part of a down-and-out reporter with his cheap suit and trenchcoat. He came off as uninterested in their arrival as he sipped at a cup of coffee.
“Mr. and Mrs. Kadmon,” began Zadok, “Jack Gold and Vanessa Van Helsing. The master will be with you briefly.” And with that, Zadok left the room.
Adam and Julia looked at one another before introducing themselves to the other couple in a less formal manner. “My name’s Adam, and this is my wife, Julia.”
“I don’t mean to be coy,” said Julia, “but did I hear him right? He said your name was ‘Van Helsing’? As in Abraham Van Helsing, from…?”
“Yes, you heard Zadok correctly,” admitted Vanessa. “Abraham was my great-grandfather. And before you ask — yes, the stories are true.”
Julia sat down and began to pour herself a cup of coffee from the silver decanter on the table. “I think I’ll need a cup of this…”
Adam looked over at Jack. “I know your name from somewhere… maybe we’ve met?”
Jack gave Adam a sidelong glance. “No. I don’t believe we’ve ever met. I’m a reporter for the–”
“National Chronicle!” said Adam matter-of-factly. “I thought I recognized your name, but couldn’t place it! Do you guys make that stuff up, or what?”
“Not all of it,” responded Jack snidely. “Sometimes we hire professionals to write the rag.”
“Really,” said Adam, reaching for the pot of coffee. “So you’re a real-life version of Carl Kolchak, and she’s a vampire slayer?”
“That’s funny… not,” snapped Jack.
Unsure how to take Jack Gold’s retort, Adam reached for the coffee decanter as well. “Perhaps I should have a cup of this, too. Honey, pass the sugar, would you?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Who are you two supposed to be — the Hart to Hart of monster hunters?”
Adam and Julia looked at one another and smiled. “Yeah,” they answered back simultaneously.
Vanessa said nothing, but looked at Jack as if passing some unsaid message to him. Jack merely closed his eyes and shook his head dismissively before taking a drink from his cup and lighting another cigarette.
“Great,” mumbled the reporter.
As Adam poured the coffee into his cup, Zadok returned to the room. Behind him walked John Constantine and an older man wearing a Gothic Victorian-era suit. Over the suit the man wore a high-collared cloak that fell just past his waist. He stood facing the Kadmons, leaning on a walking stick with an ornate silver hand piece.
The man looked around the room and said, “We are missing but one. It matters not. We can begin without her.” He turned to the Kadmons. “Greetings, Mr. and Mrs. Kadmon. My name is Baron Winters.” He let his hand drop down onto the head of a large cheetah at his side. “And this is Merlin, my familiar. Welcome to Wintersgate Manor.”
The Baron had gray hair and a small goatee that covered his chin. His gray eyes were vast pools of knowledge that equaled the depth of emotional detachment that seemed to carry on his words. Julia Kadmon felt intimidated as she took in the older man’s high-cheeked and gaunt features.
At Baron Winters’ side sat Merlin, a large cheetah with a black-jeweled collar. The large cat’s green eyes looked at the Kadmons as if studying them with semi-human intellect. The large cat’s gaze made Adam feel uncomfortable. He slowly took a sip from his cup to relax.
“Pleased to meet you, Baron,” said Adam. “What exactly is it that you believe we can do for you? And first and foremost, what does this have to do with the Necronomicon?”
The Baron took a seat in the large straight back chair at the head of the table between the two couches. Merlin drew up to his right side and sat beside him, never taking his eyes off the Kadmons.
“I believe your knowledge of the Necronomicon may be a crucial asset to the team as you embark on your mission,” replied the Baron.
Julia looked up at the Baron, perplexed by the man’s words. “Mission? What mission?”
Adam furrowed his eyebrows and turned to Constantine. “What’s he talking about, Constantine? You never said anything about a mission.”
John Constantine was looking over a row of books along the far wall when Adam asked his question. Turning around as if he was having an afterthought, the occultist lit another cigarette before looking up and saying, “I didn’t? Bugger.” Nodding his head toward the Baron, he added, “Maybe you should ask him.”
Jack Gold turned toward the Baron, gritting his teeth. “What’s this all about, Winters?”
Baron Winters looked at his guests stone-faced. “Someone broke into the Widener Library on Halloween and stole the Necronomicon.”
Jack stood silent for a moment in contemplative awe. He licked his lips as if taking in what Winters had just said before grinning and smugly saying, “You mean to tell me somebody went into the Widener Library, took the Necronomicon off one of the shelves, and just walked out?” He gave an unbelieving chuckle. “Tell me this…” started Jack with a sardonic timbre, “…what idiot places the most diabolic tome of all creation on the shelves of a college campus library for just anybody to check out on a whim? You’d think someone would have placed it in a government warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant for safe-keeping!”
“That’s quite enough, Mr. Gold,” said Baron Winters firmly. “Desist your sarcastic expletives.”
Jack gritted his teeth and did as he was told. He looked back at Constantine as he lit another cigarette.
Constantine continued without missing a heartbeat. “From what I’ve been able to gather, the head librarian arrived at work early this morning and found the library in a right state. Books were strewn all over the place, and the security guards were out of it with thousands of books discarded over ’em. No one would have even realized something had been taken from the library except for the security cameras. Apparently, a black-robed figure was caught on film rifling through the library book by book and chucking them aside before locating one in particular. Cameras showed the cops it was a copy of Qanoon-e-Islam until it was nabbed by the thief and, to their amazement, transformed to another book entirely.”
Julia gasped. “The Necronomicon? But how?”
Adam cleared his throat before cautiously pushing forward with a question. “Julia has a point, but Mr. Gold’s question is a good one, too. I’m confused as to how or why a copy of such a book would have been so carelessly left among the stacks of circulations. Wasn’t anybody aware of the tome’s location — of the potential threat it might cause in the hands of the wrong person or persons?”
Constantine lit another cigarette with the butt of his prior one and pressed the butt into the ashtray beside Jack Gold. “The copy of the Necronomicon that was taken is no typical book, Mr. Kadmon,” started the chain-smoking Englishman. “The book nicked from the library was actually the Al Azif, the first and original of the tomes that would later be known as the Necronomicon.”
Silence hung over the air of the Wintersgate Manor library for several seconds.
“The Al Azif?” inquired Jack. “So this is the original printing of the Necronomicon in its original Arabic translations. Other than its value on the black market to occultists, who cares?”
“Unlike most tomes of paper and leather bindings, the Al Azif was scripted in human blood and bound upon human flesh,” replied Constantine matter-of-factly. “It was made into a living document through the use of dark magicks from before the time of this universe… and it chooses where it will be when it wants to be there.”
“Are you suggesting the Al Azif is… alive?” Julia said slowly.
“To answer your question…” Constantine nodded.
Adam spoke up. “But we haven’t been gathered here by the Baron to just locate a stolen book. There’s more.” His eyes fell on Constantine. “You say the book chooses where it will be and when — are you suggesting the Al Azif somehow wanted this person who stole it to find it? For what purpose?”
Constantine shrugged. “I don’t know, mate. I’m guessing that’s what Winters has gathered you blokes together to uncover. Me, I’m just the deliverer of bad news.” He grinned. “And provider of fill-ins. I’ve got other things on my plate right now and can’t join you on this holiday.” Constantine then moved over to the Baron and put out his hand.
Baron Winters nodded and waved his hand, gesturing from Zadok to Constantine.
Zadok Grimm reached into his vest and handed John Constantine an envelope. The occultist opened the envelope and pulled out what looked like a pair of tickets.
Constantine gave a lop-sided grin. Holding the tickets up, he said, “Pink Turns Blue tickets. I’ve got a convention to attend to.” And with that, Constantine strode out of the library.
Adam and Julia looked at one another. Adam shrugged as he poured Julia another cup of coffee and then one for himself. “At least he didn’t invite us.”
Julia nodded before sipping from her cup. “No kidding. This is over the top as is.”
Jack Gold stamped out his cigarette and turned to Baron Winters. “So let me get this right. We’re looking for the original version of the Necronomicon — the Al Azif. Other than being alive, what makes the Al Azif any more dangerous than any other copy of the Necronomicon?”
Baron Winters looked at Jack Gold for a moment before answering the reporter. “The Necronomicon and all copies thereafter are nothing more than translations of numerous incantations and arcane rituals that enable a person to call upon demonic entities or evil spirits to do their bidding. They are but extravagant automobiles without gas — so much potential, but still needing fuel to operate.” The Baron looked at the Kadmons and Vanessa Van Helsing before continuing. “The Al Azif, on the other hand, is a tome of pure evil and chaos. The very blood that spells out the incantations and rituals within its pages draw upon those dark and malevolent magicks that bound it together. It is literally power incarnate — chaos magic of the most vile and corrupt. For not only is the magic alive within the very writings of the tome itself, but it takes control of he who calls upon its power, uses the controlled to perform the evils within its pages, and — in most cases to extents that a rational mind would never consider — then turns on he who called it forth. In comparison, Mr. Gold, the Al Azif is like the previous car I mentioned, but without fuel restrictions and possessed without compassion for mankind!”
“Are you saying we’ve got a nuclear-powered Hurricane Christine on our hands?” said Jack, literally shaking with rage. “Do you have any idea who might be powerful or crazy enough to think he or she could use this thing without bringing his own demise?”
Just then, the pounding of the door knocker could be heard coming from down the hall. Zadok exited the room.
“I believe your questions are about to be answered, Mr. Gold,” said Baron Winters.
Jack, Vanessa, Julia, and Adam looked at one another in anticipation. Several minutes passed before Zadok returned to the library. With him came an elegant-looking woman in her mid-thirties. She looked regal in her manner as she allowed Zadok to take her coat.
Lustrous black hair fell down from under her scarf as a single white lock framed the dark blue eyes and red lips that accentuated the Germanic features of her face. The woman was both a vision of sensuousness and intellectual intensity if there ever was one. There was no doubt she came from a line of enigmatic aristocratic blood.
Baron Winters stood and bowed to the woman before gesturing for her to take a seat in the chair opposite him. He then spoke. “Allow me to introduce you to the person for whom I have brought you all together. Jack Gold, Vanessa Van Helsing, Adam and Julia Kadmon…”
The four members of the Baron’s newly assembled Night Force faced the woman with anticipation.
“…meet Victoria Frankenstein.”