Bronte's Inferno VII (Art for Art's Sake)
We sat silent for a while. Then The Editor stood, his white-wine spritzer still half-full, as my pint of stout was. He gave me a brusque nod, for all the world like some character from a long-running soap leaving “t’ pub”. On the way out, he slapped the side of the computer-juke, by the time he was gone, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Mr Martin were listing all the reasons why they wanted to be a paperback writer.
My latest burner phone trilled, an SMS. It was a dumb phone. It couldn’t read e-mails, Whatsapps, Tweets, Facebook, or palms; much less fingerprints. Nobody had the number. I’d only bought the ‘phone that morning in town, at the computer and mobile shop next door to the last independent optician’s for fifty miles around. I knew Raj, the owner, at least well enough to nod at in the street and he knew me well enough not to ask many questions about why I needed yet another phone. I didn’t recognise the number, why would I? I had put no-one in the address book, which was actually just a directory for phone numbers and names, if they were short enough.
I thumbed the unfamiliar keypad. A matter-of-fact message appeared on the tiny screen.
‘Meet Enoch 06.30 at the Cricket Ground. Bring contract. Kobold.’
The Guinness downed, I shouted through to the main bar that I wanted another, but not before pressing buttons on the computer-juke until I found the song I was looking for. I sang along, bellowing out ‘Gimme your body, gimme your mind’ to the accompaniment of 10cc’s usual chord complications. By four o’clock I was drunk and had been “offered outside” twice by people who didn’t care for my musical taste, much less my singing. I went home to sleep it off.
At one o’clock in the morning, I was wide awake, listening to night-time soundtrack of the M62 traffic hum on the hill top, punctuated by the sound of sirens further down the valley. I went downstairs, keeping my head very still. In the porch, on the mat, was an A4-sized packet. It must have been a tight-squeeze through the letterbox. The address was hand-written in the kind of copperplate that hadn’t been taught in schools since the teachers stopped hitting the left-handed’s knuckles with a ruler. Why it had been addressed at all was a mystery, since it had clearly been delivered by hand whilst I was asleep. I made some coffee. Whilst the pot was on the gas, I inspected the packet closely. There was no return address on the reverse. It appeared to contain both paper(s) and something shaped like a book. The coffee made the racket that always reminded me of a well-known breakfast cereal’s reaction to the pouring on of milk, recorded at low-level and blasted out on a speaker turned up to 11. It hadn’t used to be so noisy, when I’d bought it. I poured myself a large mug and let it stand on the occasional table next to the sofa. It would be too hot for another fifteen minutes.
As I had guessed, the papers in the packet were the contract. Boilerplate written in copperplate. It was odd that Charnel House had Kobold and some beyond-the-cutting-edge tech at their disposal, but chose to draft a fifteen page contract by hand, in ink, on some very expensive paper. A slip of paper was enclosed, the kind of thing printed up to put a short note in some official correspondence that doesn’t merit any real communication.
‘Be there.’ It read, and next to these two bare words, there was something that might have been initials, or a stylised drawing of a goat’s head.
The book - of course it was a book – was handsomely bound in cloth and leather, There was no dustcover, no garish picture reducing the contents to the lowest common denominator. The book was called Bronte’s Inferno, and the name underneath it was Valteri Mitie.