The dark figure seemed to materialize out of the fog. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. Then again, I hadn’t had my morning coffee, and it was still early enough that it was dark out, the streets filled with a dense, wet fog that muffled sound and made it hard to see more than a few feet ahead. It was the time of day I loved best, if I could get myself out of bed to enjoy it. The streets quiet and not yet filled with delivery trucks and people rushing on their way to work, and that famous San Francisco fog, blanketing the city and smoothing out all the sharp edges.
Except for when it obscured everything and made even familiar shapes seem unfamiliar and a little scary. I’d just been to Fog City Coffee two doors down and was returning to the rundown building on Jones Street that I called both home and office. I was carrying two tall coffees and trying not to burn my fingers when I saw the figure hovering near the front door. Something about it seemed menacing. I fumbled for my keys and forabout the thousandth time, I cursed San Francisco’s sky-high rental prices and my lack of foresight for not buying when prices were lower (like I’d had money then, anyway, but that’s another story). I’d lived my entire life in San Francisco but, watching the cost of living soar during the first Dot Com boom, and then soar even higher during the second, might have been one of the most depressing things I’d ever witnessed. All those fabulously successful tech companies sitting 20 minutes south of the city just meant higher prices for the rest of us.
I was still trying to find my keys. It wasn’t easy, with both hands full of hot coffee, so instead I pressed the first dial-back number that came up on my contact list.
“Hi, it’s me!” I chirped into the phone, glancing around nervously. The figure, a man I could now see, was just a few feet away, a hood obscuring his face. He was walking right at me.
“Tanner?” The voice on the other end picked up immediately, sounding annoyed.
“Yes, it’s me, and I’m sorry to be calling you this early, bu-“
“You’re late.” The voice interrupted.
“You said you’d be here at 7”.
I’d reached the front door and could now see the man, looming in the window’s reflection. He was directly behind me, so I had a chance to appreciate his size. And while I was no dainty miss, this man made me look positively petite. I was almost inclined to be nice to him for this reason alone (the last time anyone had called me petite I’d been in diapers), but then common sense took over. He looked menacing as hell, judging by the narrowed eyes and lips set in a scowl. I was just trying to decide if I should scream into the phone for help or make a run for it when the door in front of her suddenly flew open and my business partner, Lola Seville, pulled me inside.
"Why are you late? We’ve only got 15 minutes before the call. Come on!”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry I’m late,” I hated how breathless I sounded. “Where is he? Where did he go?”
The question was barely out of my mouth when the man brushed past and through the door that Lola was still holding open, his figure quickly disappearing into the dark of their building’s gloomy hallway.
“Don’t let him in our building!” I pointed at his rapidly disappearing figure. “That guy was stalking me, that’s why I called you.”
I followed Lola into our tiny office and shut the door, noticing for the first time that the glass was missing.
“Hey, what happened to the door?” A split second later I felt a distinctive crunch underneath and glanced down at what used to be our front door window. Dropping my backpack on the floor, I heard a distinctive jingle coming from one of the pockets. My keys. Nice to know where they were, at least.
“I’m pretty sure he wasn’t stalking you.” Lola was already seated at the double desk they shared in the small room, which served as both their office and general waiting area for any clients willing to dodge the druggies, drunks, and prostitutes to make it to our now windowless front door. “And to answer your question, someone tried to break in again. I must have come in right after they’d done it, because I saw somebody running out the back door. That weird guy you saw at the front door was there, too, but I don’t think he was involved.”
“I told you he was dangerous.” I glanced around, feeling a burst of pride despite the rough neighborhood and shabby office, the broken glass all over the floor. In addition to the main room with their double desks, a printer along one wall, and two rickety-looking chairs, the office also had a small supply room (more of a closet, really), and a tiny kitchenette. Maybe it didn’t look like much to the clients I worked for, but to me it represented all the years of hard work and scrimping and saving, even if the end result was a dingy office in a crappy part of town. It was still mine. Well, mine and Lola's, technically.
“I’ve seen him around here before, actually, and I don’t think he’s dangerous.”
“What makes you say that?”
“DeeDee is calling us in ten minutes. Are you ready?” Lola was making an effort to clean up the dingy space, as if our most demanding client would be able to see our messy office through the telephone.
She was the agency’s first customer, and for that reason alone I would always think of her with a certain fondness. Besides that, though, she was a real pain in the ass.
“Why does DeeDee think it’s okay to schedule a 7am call?” I already knew the question was pointless. I just wanted to gripe.
“She’s in Europe and they’re eight hours ahead of us. Tanner, would you plug that back in? I can’t reach.” Lola had the end of an extension cord in her hand, pointing it at me like a gun.
I grabbed it and leaned over, pushing the desk out of the way, grumbling as I went. How the hell had they been able to make such a mess so quickly? And what had they been after? It didn’t look like anything was missing.
“Speaking of Europe, did you see the news this morning?”
“No, I was too busy buying overpriced, organic coffee for us.” My voice was muffled as I bent over, trying to squeeze between the desk and wall. Nothing like office calisthenics at 7 in the morning to wake me up, I thought. “What happened?”
“They found a copy of The Witchhammer. Well, part of it, at any rate.”
“Wow, really?” I stopped ineffectually jabbing the plug at the outlet from too far away. “Wait. Only part of it? How did they find it? Where did they find it?” I gave another shove and the desk suddenly moved with a horrid, screeching sound, finally giving me enough room to maneuver so I could fit the plug into the socket. I heard the comforting hum of office equipment starting up as Lola read from the article.
Vinci, Italy – The body of a still-unidentified man was found today in this tiny medieval town 20 kilometers north of Florence, clutching pages from a rare and valuable illuminated manuscript that had been missing from the Vatican Archives for over 50 years.
According to Commissario Pietro Donata, detective with the Florence Police, the man was unknown to residents of the town. An autopsy revealed death by strangulation. Police continue to question locals, but so far have no leads.
The manuscript found with the man was a 1519 printing of the Malleus Maleficarum, roughly translated to mean ‘Hammer of Witches,’ a medieval handbook for hunting witches and those engaged in the practice of witchcraft. Written by the Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer under the name Henricus Institoris, the manuscript had been reported missing by the private Rodenegg collection in South Tyrol in 1964. The manuscript is controversial for its emphasis on torture to extract confessions from suspects. First published in 1487 in Speyer, Germany, it was a bestseller for nearly two hundred years, second only to the Bible in terms...