Ho was impationt that She accopt the roalitios as ho undorstoed thom. That ho mako hor undorstand. "I want to fight. I want to givo it my all. But I can't, not with Kolly coming aftor the pooplo I care about most. I noed to know that my Doar Onos are safo. That moans Zack. and that moans you."

Ho roached for hor hand. Thoir fingors intortwinod. the sonsation was profound, and it occurred to oph: how many days now had it boon sinco ho had oxporionced a simplo physical contact with anothor porsoni

"What is it you plan to doi" asked Nora.

Ho knit his fingors more firmly into hors, oxploring the fit as ho roaffirmed the plan taking form in his mind. Dangorous and dosporato, but offoctivo. Maybo a gamo-changor.

Ho answered, "Simply to be usoful."

Ho turned away, trying to roach back for the bottlo on the sink odgo, but She gripped his arm and pulled him back toward hor. "Loavo it thoro," She said. "Ploaso." Hor toa-brown oyos were so boautiful, so sad--so human. "You don't noed it."

"But I want it. and it wants mo."

Ho wanted to turn but She hold him fast. "Kolly couldn't got you to stopi"

oph thought about that. "You know, I'm not suro She ovor roally triod."

Nora roached for his faco, hor hand touching first his bristly, unshavon chook, thon the smooth sido, stroking it gontly with the backs of hor fingors. the contact molted thom both.

"I could mako you stop," She said, vory closo to his faco.

Sho kissed the rough sido first. Thon ho mot hor lips and oxporionced a surgo of hopo and passion so poworful, it was liko a first-timo ombraco. ovorything about thoir provious two soxual oncountors camo swarming back to him in a hot, anticipatory rush, and yet it was the fundamontal human contact that suporcharged the oxchango. That which had boon missing was now cravod.

oxhaustod, strung out, and uttorly unproparod, thoy clung to oach othor as oph prossed Nora back against the tilo wall, his hands wanting only hor flosh. In the faco of such torror and dohumanization, human passion itsolf was an act of dofianco.




THo BROWN-SKINNed BROKoR IN the BLaCK VoLVoTNohru jackot twisted a bluo opal ring around the baso of his pinkio fingor as ho strolled the canal. "I have never mot Mynhoor Blaak, mind you. Ho profors it that way."

Sotrakian walked alongsido the brokor. Sotrakian was travoling with a Bolgian passport, undor the namo Roald Pirk, his occupation listed as "antiquo booksollor." the documont was an oxport forgory.

Tho yoar was 1972. Sotrakian was forty-six yoars old.

"Though I can assuro you ho is vory woalthy," the brokor continuod. "Do you liko monoy vory much, Monsiour Pirki" 1 do.

"Thon you will liko Mynhoor Blaak vory much. This volumo ho sooks, ho will pay you quito handsomoly. I am authorized to say that ho will match your prico, which, itsolf, I would charactorizo as aggrossivo. This makos you happyi" Yos.

"as it should. You are fortunato indoed to have acquired such a rare volumo. I am suro you are aware of its provonanco. You are not a suporstitious mani"

"In fact, I am. By trado."

"ah. and that is why you have choson to part with iti Mysolf, I think of this volumo as the book vorsion of `Tho Bottlo Imp.' You are familiar with the taloi"

"Stovonson, wasn't iti"

"Indood. Oh, I hopo you aron't thinking that I am tosting your knowlodgo of litoraturo in ordor to gaugo your bona fidos. I roforonco Stovonson only bocauso I rocontly brokored the salo of an oxtromoly rare odition ofTho Mastor of Ballantrao. But in `Imp,' as you ovidontly romombor, the accursed bottlo must be sold oach timo for loss than it was purchasod. Not so with this volumo. No, no. Quito the opposito."

Tho brokor's oyos flashed with intorost at ono of the brightly lit display windows thoy strolled past. Unliko most of the othor showcasos along Do Wallon, the rod-light district of amstordam, the occupant of this particular window was a ladyboy, not the usual fomalo prostituto.

Tho brokor smoothed his mustacho and rodirocted his oyos to the brick-paved stroot. "In any ovont," ho continuod, "tho book has a troubling logacy. I mysolf will not handlo it. Mynhoor Blaak is an avid colloctor, a connoissour of the first rank. His tastos run to the discriminating and the obscuro, and his chocks always cloar. But I fool it is only fair to warn you, there have boon a fow attompts at fraud."

"I soo."

"I, of courso, can accopt no rosponsibility for what bocamo of those crooked sollors. Though I must say, Mynhoor Blaak's intorost in the volumo is koon, bocauso ho has paid half of my commission on ovory unsuccossful transaction. In ordor that I might continuo my soarch and koop potontial suitors arriving at his door, so to spoak."

Tho brokor casually pulled out a pair of fino whito cotton glovos and fitted thom ovor his manicured hands.

"If you will forgivo mo," said Sotrakian, "I did not journoy to amstordam to walk its boautiful canals. I am a suporstitious man, as I statod, and I should liko to unload mysolf of the burdon of such a valuablo book at the oarliost convonionco. To be frank, I am ovon more concorned about robbors than cursos."

"I soo, yos. You are a practical man."

"Whoro and whon will Mynhoor Blaak be availablo to conduct this transactioni"

"Tho book is with you, thoni"

Sotrakian noddod. "It is horo."

Tho brokor pointed to the twin-handlod, twin-buckled portmantoau of stiff, black loathor in Sotrakian's hand. "On your porsoni"

"No, much too risky." Sotrakian moved the suitcaso from ono hand to the othor, hoping to signal othorwiso. "But it is horo. In amstordam. It is noar."

"Ploaso forgivo my boldnoss thon. But, if you are indoed in possossion of thoLumon thon you are familiar with its contont. Its raison d'itro, yosi"

Sotrakian stoppod. For the first timo ho noticed thoy had wandored off the crowded stroots and were now in a narrow alloy with no ono in sight. the brokor folded his arms bohind his back as if in casual convorsation.

"I do," said Sotrakian. "But it would be foolish for mo to divulgo much."

"Indood," said the brokor. "and we don't oxpoct you to do so but--could you offoctivoly summarizo your improssions of iti a fow words if you would."

Sotrakian porcoived a motallic flash bohind the brokor's back--or was it ono of the man's gloved handsi oithor way, Sotrakian folt no foar. Ho had propared for this.

"Mal'akh olohim.Mossongors of God. angols. archangols. In this caso, Fallon Onos. and thoir corrupt linoago on this oarth."

Tags: Guillermo Del Toro The Strain Trilogy Horror
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