Chapter 40

Several Heartbeats

Oliver stepped into the library of the Société de la tête de mort and gave a soft whistle of appreciation at the collection of wealth on display. The walls to the left and right were lined with tall bookshelves, which marched upwards into the dark recesses of an invisible ceiling high above. At a glance he could see that nearly all of the books were bound in light, tanned leather. A whole shelf appeared to be occupied by membership ledgers and minutes of gatherings. On another shelf Oliver spotted the names of several books that he recognized as principal to the history of various European death cults and secret societies, their spines embossed with a variety of occult symbols. Above, at the center of the room, a heavy ironwork chandelier hung about a foot above the level of Oliver’s head, the electric bulbs giving off a soft yellow-red light. At the center of the room, directly beneath the chandelier, was large tan leather chair, beside which sat a round-topped table constructed from some dark, heavy wood.

“Get the gem, quickly,” Oliver said.

Jeanne prodded the priest with the knife and said, “My gem. Now.”

The priest nodded and gestured around the rear of the chair with his good arm. Jeanne stepped around him and saw a heavy wood and glass display case resting on a sideboard that stood against the rear wall of the library. Within the case, resting upon a black velvet display bust, was a large blue diamond hanging from a silver chain.

This was it. The culmination of so many years work. So many generations of quietly waiting, gathering information, and searching for any sign of where the family gems had been taken. Over a hundred years of passing on the shared sense of betrayal at their ancestor’s exile from European under the pretext of discrimination against Protestants.

She stepped up to the display case and raised her arm to smash the knife through the glass and retrieve her family gem, when Oliver shouted, “Stop!”

She turned and saw the priest’s face fall.

“What is it?” she asked.

Oliver did not reply. He grabbed the collar of the priest’s robe and pulled him around the chair and table to stand in front of the display case, beside Jeanne. “You open it,” he growled, shoving the priest towards the case.

“I would sooner die.”

Oliver pressed the barrel of his gun against the priest’s left knee. “That can happen, I assure you, but as the lady said, you’re going to suffer first. How about I offer you a deal? You want to die so badly, open that display case incorrectly and do the work for me.”

“Oliver, what are you talking about,” Diana called from her position by the door.

“Our master if ceremonies looked a little too pleased when Jeanne reached for the gem. I’d guess that the case is trapped somehow.”

Jeanne stepped back from the display case, frustration etched into the lines of her brow as she examined the sideboard. “I don’t see anything.”