Book of Souls by Glenn Cooper

BOOK: Book of Souls by Glenn Cooper
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Book of Souls

 

 

Only a handful know it exists…

 

It holds the world’s most astonishing—and terrifying—information…

 

But the one book that is the key to the greatest secret of all time…is missing.

 

Former FBI Special Agent Will Piper solved—and survived—the “Doomsday Killer” case…and his reward was a forced early retirement. But the shattering truths he learned about the government’s most covert operations won’t let him rest—and now he’s on the trail of a mysterious volume that’s been lost for six centuries. This is the book that inspired Shakespeare and the prophecies of Nostradamus, and once Will gets his hands on it his life will be worth nothing—his death sentence a top priority handed down from the very highest levels of power.

 

Because there are some truths too dangerous for anyone to know—those that concern the future, world domination…and the end of everything.

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK OF SOULS

 

 

A Novel by

 

 

Glenn Cooper

 

 

 

Book 2 in the
Will Piper Series
Copyright © 2010
by Glenn Cooper

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

After thirty-odd years in the rare-books business, Toby Parfitt found that the only time he could reliably and deliciously muster a frisson of excitement was the moment when he would delicately stick his hands into a packing crate fresh from the loading dock.

The intake-and-catalogue room of Pierce & Whyte Auctions was in the basement, deeply insulated from the rumbling traffic of London’s Kensington High Street. Toby was content to be in the silence of this comfortable old workroom, with its smooth oak tables, swan-neck lamps, and nicely padded stools. The only noise was the pleasant rustling of handfuls of shredded packing paper as he scooped them out and binned them, then, disconcertingly, asthmatic breathing and a thin-chested wheeze intruded.

He looked up at the blemished face of Peter Nieve and grudgingly acknowledged him with a perfunctory bob of his head. The pleasure of discovery would, alas, be tainted. He couldn’t tell the youth to bugger off, could he?

“I was told the lot from Cantwell Hall was in,” Nieve said.

“Yes. I’ve just opened the first crate.”

“All fourteen arrived, I hope.”

“Why don’t you have a count to make sure?”

“Will do, Toby.”

The informality was a killer. Toby! No Mr. Parfitt. No sir. Not even Alistair. Toby, the name his friends used. Times had certainly changed—for the worse—but he couldn’t summon the strength to buck the tide. If a second-year associate felt empowered to call the Director of Antiquarian Books, Toby, then he would stoically bear it. Qualified help was hard to find, and young Nieve, with his solid second in Art History from Manchester, was the best that £20,000 could buy nowadays. At least the young man was able to find a clean shirt and a tie every day, though his collars were too generous for his scrawny neck, making his head look like it was stuck onto his torso with a dowel.

Toby ground his molars at the deliberate and childlike counting-out-loud to fourteen. “All here.”

“I’m so glad.”

“Martin said you’d be pleased with the haul.”

Toby rarely made house calls anymore. He left them to Martin Stein, his Deputy Director. In truth, he loathed the countryside and had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of town. On occasion, a client would have some real gems, and Pierce & Whyte would try to wheedle itself in to snatch business away from Christie’s or Sotheby’s. “Believe me,” he assured his Managing Director, “if I get wind of a Second Folio or a good Brontë or Walter Raleigh out there in the provinces, I will descend on it at warp speed, even if it’s in Shropshire.” From what he was led to understand, Cantwell had a trove of fair to middling material, but Stein had indeed told him he would enjoy the diversity of the consignment.

Lord Cantwell was typical of their clientele, an elderly anachronism struggling to maintain his crumbling country estate by periodically selling off bits of furniture, paintings, books, and silver to keep the taxman at bay and the pile from falling down. The old boy sent his really good pieces to one of the major houses, but Pierce & Whyte’s reputation for books, maps, and autographs put it in leading position to land this slice of Cantwell’s business.

Toby reached his hand into the inside pocket of his form-fitted Chester Barrie suit and extracted his thin white-cotton specimen gloves. Decades earlier, his boss had steered him to his Savile Row tailor, and, ever since, he had clothed himself in the best fabrics he could afford. Clothes mattered, and so did grooming. His bristling moustache was always perfectly trimmed, and visits to his barber every Tuesday lunchtime kept his gray-tinged hair unfailingly neat.

He slid on the gloves like a surgeon and hovered over the first exposed binding. “Right. Let’s see what we have.”

The top row of spines revealed a matched set. He plucked out the first book. “Ah! All six volumes of Freeman’s
History of the Norman Conquest of England
—1877–1879, if I recall.” He opened the cloth cover to the title page. “Excellent! First edition. Is it a matched set?”

“All firsts, Toby.”

“Good, good. They should go for six hundred to eight hundred. You often get mixed sets, you know.”

He laid out all six books carefully, taking note of their condition before diving back into the crate. “Here’s something a bit older.” It was a fine old Latin Bible, Antwerp, 1653, with a rich, worn, calf binding and gilt ridges on the spine. “This is nice,” he cooed. “I’d say one fifty to two hundred.”

He was less enthusiastic about the next several volumes, some later editions of Ruskin and Fielding in dodgy condition, but he grew quite excited at Fraser’s
Journal of a Tour Through Part of the Snowy Range of the Himala Mountains, and to the Source of the Rivers Jumna and Ganges
, 1820, a pristine first. “I haven’t seen one of these in this state for years! Marvelous! Three thousand, easily. My spirits are lifting. Tell me, there wouldn’t be any incunabula in the collection?” From the perplexed expression on the youth’s face, Toby knew he was tapping a dry hole. “Incunabula? European printed books? Pre-1501? Ring a bell?” The young man was clearly stung by Toby’s irritability, and he flushed in embarrassment. “Oh, right. Sorry. No incunabula whatsoever. There
was
something on the oldish side, but it was handwritten.” He pointed helpfully into the crate. “There it is. His granddaughter wasn’t keen on parting with it.”

“Whose granddaughter?”

“Lord Cantwell. She had an unbelievable body.”

“We don’t, as a habit, make reference to our client’s bodies,” Toby said sternly, reaching for the broad spine of the book.

It was remarkably heavy; he needed two hands to drag it out securely and lay it on the table.

Even before he opened it, he felt his pulse race and the moisture dissipate from his mouth. There was something about this large, dense book that spoke loudly to his instincts. The bindings were smooth old calf leather, mottled, the color of good milk chocolate. It had a faintly fruited smell, redolent of ancient mold and damp. The dimensions were prodigious, eighteen inches long, twelve inches wide, and a good five inches thick: a couple of thousand pages, to be sure. As to weight, he imagined hoisting a two-kilo bag of sugar. This was much heavier. The only markings were on the spine, a large simple hand-tooled engraving, incised deeply into the leather: 1527.

He was surprised, in a detached way, to see his right hand trembling when he reached out to lift the cover. The spine was supple from use. No creaking. There was a plain, unadorned, creamy endpaper glued onto the hide. There was no frontispiece, no title page. The first page of the book, the color of butter, roughly uneven to the touch, began without exposition, racing into a closely spaced handwritten scrawl. Quill and black ink. Columns and rows. At least a hundred names and dates. He blinked in a large amount of visual information before turning the page. And another. And another. He skipped to the middle. Checked several pages toward the end. Then the last page. He tried to do a quick mental calculation, but because there was no pagination, he was only guessing—there must have been well over a hundred thousand listed names from front to back.

“Remarkable,” he whispered.

“Martin didn’t know what to make of it. Thought it was some sort of town registry. He said you might have some ideas.”

“I’ve got lots of them. Unfortunately, they don’t hang together. Look at the pages.” He lifted one clear of the others. This isn’t paper, you know. It’s vellum, very-high-quality stuff. I can’t be sure, but I think it’s uterine vellum, the crème de la crème. Unborn-calf skin, soaked, limed, scudded, and stretched. Typically used in the finest illuminated manuscripts, not a bloody town registry.”

He flipped pages, making comments and pointing here and there with his gloved forefinger. “It’s a chronicle of births and deaths. Look at this one: Nicholas Amcotts 13 1 1527 Natus. Seems to announce that a Nicholas Amcotts was born on the thirteenth of January 1527. Straightforward enough. But look at the next one. Same date, Mors, a death, but these are Chinese characters. And the next one, another death, Kaetherlin Banwartz, surely a Germanic name, and this one here. If I’m not mistaken, this is in Arabic.”

In a minute, he had found Greek, Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish, and English names, and multiple foreign words in Cyrillic, Hebrew, Swahili, Greek, Chinese. There were some languages he could only guess at. He muttered something about African dialects.

He pressed his gloved fingertips together in contemplation. “What kind of town has this population diversity, not to mention this population density in 1527? And what about this vellum? And this rather primitive binding? The impression here is something quite a bit older than sixteenth-century. It’s got a decidedly medieval feel to it.”

“But it’s dated 1527.”

“Well, yes. Duly noted. Still, that is my impression, and I do not discount my gut feelings, nor should you. I think we will have to obtain the views of academic colleagues.”

“What’s it worth?”

“I’ve no idea. Whatever it is, it’s a specialty item, a curiosity, quite unique. Collectors like uniqueness. Let’s not worry too much about value at this stage. I think we will do well by this piece.” He carefully carried the book to the far end of the table and put it on its own spot away from the others, a pride of place. “Let’s sort through the rest of the Cantwell material, shall we? You’ll be busy entering the lot into the computer. And when you’re done, I want you to turn every page in every book to look for letters, autographs, stamps, et cetera. We don’t want to give our customers freebies, do we?”

In the evening, with young Nieve long gone, Toby returned to the basement. He passed quickly by the whole of the Cantwell collection, which was laid out on three long tables. For the moment, those volumes held no more interest to him than a load of old
Hello!
magazines. He went straight for the book that had occupied his thoughts all day and slowly laid his ungloved hands on its smooth leather. In the future, he would insist that at that moment he felt some kind of physical connection with the inanimate object, a sentiment unbefitting a man with no inclination to this kind of drivel.

“What are you?” he asked out loud. He made doubly sure he was alone since he imagined that talking to books might be career-limiting at Pierce & Whyte. “Why don’t you tell me your secrets?”

 

 

WILL PIPER WAS never much for crying babies, especially his own. He had a vague recollection of crying-baby number one a quarter of a century earlier. In those days he was a young deputy sheriff in Florida, pulling the worst shifts. By the time he got home in the morning, his infant daughter was already up-and-at-’em, doing her happy-baby routine. When he and his wife did spend a night together, and Laura cried out, he’d whine himself, then drift back to sleep before Melanie had the bottle out of the warmer. He didn’t do diapers. He didn’t do feedings. He didn’t do crying. And he was gone for good before Laura’s second birthday.

BOOK: Book of Souls by Glenn Cooper
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