Relieved to have his 50th birthday celebration behind him, Timothy Lynch poured a generous amount of brandy
into a snifter, took a sip, nodded his approval and headed for the library. Birthdays were for those that had
friends or family with whom they wished to make merry. He cared for no one and nothing other than his work
and his collection of rare books and antiquities. Having dismissed his staff for the evening, he luxuriated in the
silence and freedom provided by solitude. As he passed through the dining room he reached above a pear
shaped, bombe chest, and turned on the lights. Gold glistened on the walls, the furniture, even on the laurel
leaves adorning the wide moldings that framed the painted ceiling. Tonight, however, besides the gleam of
gold, the lights revealed one final reminder of the day, sitting by itself at the end of the long, formal table.
"Another gift?" he sighed.

The sparkling, white package loomed like an iceberg on an otherwise empty sea. Figuring it was from a member
of his house staff, perhaps Bradley Herrington, his long-time, head manservant, he smiled. It was a thin smile
of simple acknowledgement, not to be mistaken for one indicating any warmth or caring. Setting his drink
down, he eased into the end chair and tugged on the beautifully tied ribbon, undoing the elaborate bow. After
tearing away the glossy wrapping paper he whistled with mild surprise and whispered, "Well, will you look at
that." It was a book.

Being the President and CEO of Pierson - Thompson, one of the largest and most successful publishing
companies in the world, he wouldn’t normally have been impressed by a book, but this wasn’t just any book. He
slipped out of his jacket, draped it over the nearest chair and leaned forward to take a closer look.

“That’s not a restored cover,” his eyebrows arched in appreciation, “that’s an original; probably late eighteenth
century, maybe older, maybe much older.” The book’s cover was ornately adorned with swirling, gold engraved
scroll work on rich, dark red leather. “Mint condition,” he thought and then spoke out loud, “No title and no
author listed either; Hmmm.” With no one around to play yes-man, his words hung conspicuously in the air.

The moment he lifted the book’s cover to see what lay therein, the lights above the table flickered and
dimmed. He’d be sure to mention that to Herrington. A wiring problem could lead to a catastrophic fire. The
subdued lighting and the silence of the empty house cast an atmosphere that was decidedly different from the
festive one that had existed earlier. With barely enough light to read, Lynch began turning page after thin
milled, gilt-edged page, puzzled by the fact that the first six or seven leaves of the book were blank. Mild
curiosity became major annoyance as he rifled through the rest. The thought struck him; was this somebody’s
sick idea of a joke? Who would dare do such a thing?

“Not one word,” he muttered. Illuminated by the ceiling’s recessed halogen bulbs that brightened as soon as he
closed it, the book lay on the formal dining table like a lone, charismatic performer on an intimate stage. It
tempted him, as if it might be able to provide answers to the questions its presence presented if he would only
take another look.

Never before had he felt a sensation similar to the feeling he experienced in the fingers of his left hand as he
drummed them in frustration on the table. As the tips made contact with the wood they thumped appropriately
and his well manicured nails clicked on the polished tabletop, but something was different. Rubbing his thumb
across his fingertips he noticed an odd numbness and a papery texture to his skin. Lynch shrugged and
reached up to loosen his collar while contemplating who might possess the wherewithal to perpetrate such an
elaborate hoax. He ran the thumb of his left hand across his fingertips once more. Satisfied that the odd
feeling was receding he reached up, brushed his dangling hair out of his eyes and rose to go to the bathroom.

Strolling through the library, he passed by his favorite acquisition; the world's most expensive book. In the
middle of the room, housed within a special climate controlled glass enclosure, sat Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex
Leicester, a notebook filled with the master's original drawings and scientific writings. Microsoft's Bill Gates
purchased it for $30.8 million in 1994 and subsequently sold it to Pierson - Thompson's CEO for a cool 50 million
in 2015. The Da Vinci notebook wasn't the only noteworthy item in this library. In 2011 Lynch had paid 17.3
million dollars to obtain one of the original Gutenberg bibles.

In obtaining insurance for the crown jewel of all privately owned book collections, as well as the other priceless
antiquities interspersed throughout his home, Lynch had complied with the Lloyd's of London representatives
when they insisted he employ a fulltime security force of no less than ten guards to patrol the sprawling
grounds of his French countryside estate. They were outside, on the grounds at this very moment. As he
emptied his bladder he considered calling the chief of the security team to see if any light could be shed on
tonight's unsettling development. "This could be more than a sick joke," he murmured.

Zipping up, he thought about the countless individuals he had fired from the publishing company as well as his
own personal staff. As he washed and dried his hands he admitted that some of the firings were undeserved.
Some had come as the result of sexual liaisons, but, he shrugged, what multi-millionaire wasn't guilty of a few
minor indiscretions? The affairs didn’t concern him; most had ended with generous financial settlements and
the signing of legal waivers. There were other skeletons in his closet, skeletons whose bones he didn't wish to
see rattled about in public.

On his way back to the dining room he passed through the library again. This was the room he loved above all
others in his mansion. He stopped for a moment to admire his copy of the Gutenberg bible. Only 48 copies
existed, not all of which were perfect, but the Lynch copy was. When the opportunity to obtain it had
materialized, he had immediately seized it. "Carpe Diem", he whispered. The purchase had been widely
publicized and was hailed by his public relations team as being a stroke of genius. The public's perception had
been that he must be a righteous man of great conviction to pay so much for the word of God. "Humpf," he
shook his head, amused by the thought. "If they only knew."

Sitting back down at the end of the dining table he reached for the wrapping paper he had previously tossed
aside. There was no card and nothing was written on the paper. "Too bad," he thought. He tossed the paper
aside again and reached for the book. It was slightly bigger than the Gutenberg bible, which was roughly 41
centimeters tall and 30 centimeters wide, or a little under one-and-a-half-feet tall by nearly one-foot wide.
Grunting slightly with the effort of lifting it, he guessed its weight to be about three quarter stone; about ten
pounds. Turning the book over, he found nothing of interest; only the dark, red leather with none of the
elaborate scroll work.

Shaking his head, he set the book down and opened it once more. There, on the very first leaf, where nothing
had been before, was a boldly printed title; "The Murder of Adele Badeau." Goose flesh formed on his arms and
the hairs on the back of his neck began to rise up. Beneath the title, the author’s name appeared; “by Timothy
Lynch." Suddenly he felt invisible fingers tightening about his throat exactly as his had closed around Adele's.
Panicking, he jumped up, spilling his brandy and almost knocking the chair over in his haste. He was
overwhelmed by the feeling that if he hadn't closed the book, his fingers and hands, which felt strangely numb
again, would have been turned to paper and would have been dragged right into the book where the hounds of
hell waited to devour his soul. Keeping his eyes on the book, fearing that it might fly open at any moment,
Lynch backed awkwardly away from the table.

Trembling and breathing hard, he stood there trying to make sense of what he had just seen and felt. Was his
mind playing tricks on him? It was late. He had been drinking. He knew there was only one way to be sure. He
had to look again. Lynch took a tentative step towards the table and stopped. Hell no, he wasn't going to look,
he decided. He shuddered and retreated one step further. Then, because that one step made him feel no
safer, he took yet another. Digging his cell phone out of his right pants pocket he hit the speed dial number to
ring the head of his security team.

“Delaflote here,” the chief of security answered. “Is there a problem?” Lynch never called unless there was.

“Oui, Francois, we have a problem; gros problème.”

“Has something been stolen?”

“No, quite the opposite, monsieur, something has been delivered.”

“Something has been delivered?” Francois repeated Lynch’s words, not understanding how this represented a
problem.

“It would be easier if you came inside. Bring a couple of your men with you, s’il vous plait.

                                           ~ ~ ~

Lynch halted about five feet from the end of the table and pointed at the book with a look on his face that
clearly indicated this was why he had asked Francois and his men to come inside.

Seeing the confused faces of his two guards and still having no idea what was going on, the chief of security
spread his arms and complained, “Monsieur, what is it that you want us to do? Clean up the spill?” Delaflote
produced a handkerchief from within his jacket and dutifully began to dab at the puddle of spilled brandy.

Annoyed, Lynch pointed again. “The book; when did it get here and how did it get here?” Before Francois could
begin to answer, Lynch added, “and where did it come from?”

Again, Francois reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, this time pulling out his I-phone. He touched the
screen and pulled up his notes from the entire day. “Let me see, there were a lot of deliveries today. I don’t
believe Monsieur Herrington kept us up to date on everything that came in, but that is understandable. Today,
things got a little hectic.”

“You mean you weren’t checking everything and cataloging it as it arrived?” Lynch was mortified. “My God!
Someone could have delivered a bomb!”

“No, no monsieur, I assure you, we sent everything through the metal detectors and had the explosive-sniffing
dogs check everything out. We opened and cataloged every single item that set off the detectors, but we did
not open all of the items that contained no metals.”

“What about plastic explosives and…?”

Delaflote interrupted before Lynch could finish. “The dogs would have detected any plastic explosives,
monsieur. They’re trained to sniff out C-4, dynamite; any explosive powders. We were very thorough.”

Unconvinced, Lynch pointed at the book again and said, “If you were so thorough, tell me where that came
from and who sent it.”

Unable to answer, Delaflote asked a question of his own. “Monsieur, may I ask, why are you so concerned
about a book?” He stepped towards the table and was about to open the book when Lynch stopped him.

"Don't do it. Don't open that book!" Lynch cautioned. He couldn’t allow Francois to see the story of the first
murder he had committed and he couldn't voice his fears that the demons and hounds of hell might come right
through the pages of the book and devour their souls. A statement of that nature might be just as likely to get
him locked up, although in a different kind of institution.

"Search the mansion," Lynch ordered. "I don't think we're alone, and I still want to know where this book came
from."

Delaflote turned and ordered the two guards that had accompanied him to begin searching. As they briskly
walked away, each in a different direction, Francois turned back to his employer and asked, "What is going on,
monsieur?"

"Blackmail," Lynch replied. "Blackmail or something worse; my life may be in danger."

"Come with me, monsieur. If what you are saying is true, you should not be alone." They walked out of the
dining room together, leaving the book where it had been found at the end of the table, waiting to be
reopened.

                                           ~ ~ ~

Nearly an hour later, climbing the stairs that led up from the wine cellar, Lynch remained steadfastly
unconvinced. "Somebody has to be here, Francois. I don't know where they could be hiding, but I know
somebody has to be here." He opened the door to the main floor of the chateau and headed up the hallway
towards the formal dining room.

"What makes you so sure, monsieur Lynch? We have looked everywhere."

Lynch stopped just short of the room where it had all started and turned around. "I've done some things,
Francois. Things of which I'm not particularly proud that might give someone a reason to, uh, well, to try to
get even."

"What kind of things?" Delaflote asked; his eyebrows rose.

"Never mind," Lynch refused to take the bait, "but suffice it to say, there are those who could cause me a
great deal of trouble if they so desired."

Lynch pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and pressed the button that would ring Herrington's home phone.
Waiting for the call to be answered he remembered where he had heard the phrase, ‘Hounds of Hell.' It was the
title of a best-selling novel that Pierson - Thompson had recently published. In “Hounds of Hell,” demons and
saber-toothed mongrels from hell existed within an ancient book, supposedly penned in invisible ink by Satan.
The hounds devoured the souls of all unrighteous individuals who attempted to read the book.

"Bonjour," Herrington answered on the third ring. Even when he spoke French he sounded profoundly British.

"Bradley, is that you?" Lynch asked.

"Master Timothy? Yes, yes of course it’s me. Is something wrong?"

"This is your home phone, right? I mean the land-line, not your cell?"

"Yes sir, why?"

"Because there's a book on my dining room table that I think you know something about, and I wanted to be
sure you weren't still here, somewhere."

"I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that." Herrington sounded confused. "Did you just say you were making sure I
wasn't still there, instead of being here, at my home?"

"Yeah, that's what I said. Where'd the book come from, Bradley?"

"Book?"

"Yes, Bradley, the book, B-O-O-K, you know, one of those things we publish at Pierson - Thompson." Delaflote
was standing next to him with his arms crossed, listening intently.

"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't know..."

"Oh for Christ's sake, Bradley, you know what book I'm talking about; the one on the formal dining table. I
found it, just as you intended, after everyone left. Ding, dong; ring any bells?"

"That was a book? I wouldn't have thought that. It was rather heavy."

"Oh, so you do know what I'm talking about, after all?"

"Well, I laid a fairly large present down on the end where you normally sit."

"And then what?" Lynch asked.

"And then I went back to the kitchen to make sure..."

Lynch interrupted, "To make sure someone knew they needed to switch the books? Is that what you did? You
had to make sure someone stayed behind and replaced the one with no writing in it for the one that had a
certain, incriminating title and a story that would put..." Remembering he was not alone, Lynch stopped in mid-
sentence. Delaflote's eyebrows arched with interest.

"Timothy, I'm an old man. I've been your employee for over 40 years and I worked for your parents before that.
While I don't think I've completely lost my mind, I am not at all following what you're telling me. Not at all."

"Over the years I've paid you a lot of money for your loyalty, Bradley, and for your silence."

"And I've never once complained or given you any reason to doubt my loyalty, have I, sir?"

Lowering the phone, Lynch thought about that for a moment. He’d been only eight when he inherited the
estate. As his mother and father lay dying in the field near their smashed Bentley, Bradley had promised them
he would look after young Master Timothy. Nodding, Lynch conceded that the butler had lived up to his oath,
though not without significant compensation. He had made up his mind. Bradley Herrington was either
blackmailing him or punishing him. He was a wickedly perceptive businessman who rarely jumped to a wrong
conclusion. That was how he had risen to the pinnacle of the publishing industry. He raised the phone to his
lips and replied, "Not until tonight."

"Herrington sighed heavily into the receiver and asked, "What time would you prefer me to be there in the
morning, sir? Perhaps we can reconcile our..."

"No. There's no need for you to come in, at all, Bradley. You're fired, and this time I won't be changing my
mind. I'll have legal draw up the papers.”

“Sir, you don’t mean that. You mustn’t; you can’t do that, sir.”

Lynch said nothing. Closing the phone, he smiled thinly at Delaflote and said, "There, that should take care of
that."

"You fired Herrington? Mon dieu," Delaflote couldn't believe what he had heard, "I thought he was like a father
to you."

"Not hardly; he's been blackmailing me for years. He worked for my parents, although not in his current
capacity. While I was at Oxford a young co-ed named Adele Badeau went missing. Herrington said he would go
to the police and implicate me unless I made him the head manservant and paid him an exorbitant annual
salary. I guess he wanted one big, final payoff. Let me show you what he did with this book. I suppose there
must be several of them."

Just then, the other two guards came into the room and reported what Delaflote already knew. "There's no one
here but us."

Francois directed them to return to their duties, outside. Once they were gone he turned to Lynch and said,
"Now, what about that book?"

Lynch sat down and scooted up to the table again. The earlier shock having dissipated to no more than a
distant memory, he explained, "I was impressed when I saw the engraved scroll work..." As he opened the book
the lights flickered and dimmed again, but that wasn’t what sent an icy shiver down his spine. The title page
had changed! Now, instead of "The Murder of Adele Badeau," the words in large print were, "The Murders of
Adele Badeau and Jennifer Bell Lynch."

With shock frozen on his face like a mask, Lynch shouted, "It isn't the same!" He felt a sudden jerk at the ends
of his fingers where they clutched the book. The tug graduated into a strong, insistent pull as his skin began
to transform, disappearing within the pages and the wine-red leather. Someone or something was dragging him
in; trying to yank him into another dimension buried deep within the book. At the same time, instead of invisible
fingers tightening around his throat, he witnessed a dark head of hair exploding in a slow-motion puff of red
mist and realized it was the back of his long-dead wife's head as seen through the sight on his favorite hunting
rifle. The healthy tan he worked so hard to maintain drained from his face along with the last vestiges of
composure. “Get if off of me!” he cried out. “It won’t let go! Get it off, get it off!”

Delaflote broke Lynch’s vise-like grip on the book, and pushed it aside, wondering why he had been unable to
let go. He grabbed Lynch’s shoulders, shaking him to get his attention and shouted, “What is different; what is
happening, Monsieur?”

Seeing the book lying open on the table, Lynch slammed it shut the way someone would slam a door to keep a
threatening intruder out of their home. He shuddered and cried out, "The title!" Attempting to regain his poise,
he gasped for breath while rubbing his hands together; shaking them as if they had gone numb. “It started
pulling me in. It wanted my soul," he explained, wide-eyed, his voice husky with fear. "For a second I thought I
saw Jennifer, and then I heard a growl, not a normal, dog kind of growl, or even a wolf, but a sound so
profoundly vicious..."

While Lynch spoke, Francois managed to get a shoulder under his arm and got him up on his feet. "You were
hallucinating. You need rest, monsieur. Très fatigué, you are exhausted. There is a sofa in the parlor that
should be long enough to allow you to stretch out."

Stumbling towards the parlor, Lynch couldn’t understand why he felt so tired, so weary to the very depths of
his soul. It was as if his energy or a sizable portion of his life force was gone; seized by the ravenous pages
that had tried to consume him. He kept mumbling, "Is the book closed? Did it stay closed?" By the time
Delaflote had answered yes for the third time they had reached the sofa. Lynch collapsed onto it like a
marionette puppet with no strings to hold him up.

Intending to take a closer look at the book, Francois left the parlor. Headed back down the hallway, he saw
Herrington hurrying towards him from the other end wearing what appeared to be a blue, flannel pajama top
that hung, untucked, over black slacks. The butler was moving as quickly as could be expected for a man in his
late seventies.

"Late for you to be up, is it not, Monsieur Herrington?" Francois glanced down, noticing Bradley was wearing
house-slippers rather than the polished wing-tips he normally sported.

"Yes, it is," the butler responded, "but some things can be left to simmer while others need to be brought to a
boil, you understand. This is one of those things, Francois. Where is he?"

"In the parlor, on the sofa," Delaflote replied. "I was standing next to him while you were talking to him on the
phone. Monsieur Herrington, I heard him fire you."

"Yes, well, this isn’t the first time that’s happened; we've had our share of disagreements over the years. I'll
let you know when we're done with our little chat, if he's even up to having one, that is. I shouldn't need more
than half an hour. Hope you don't mind."

"I'll check in with my men, outside. Good luck." The two shook hands again before Delaflote continued down
the hallway and out the door.

Fifteen minutes later, Bradley gave a final tug on the rope he had brought up from the cellar. Relatively certain
his employer would be unable to escape, he stared down at the man who murdered Adele Badeau and Jennifer
Bell Lynch, both of whom he had known and liked. He’d been forced to bury Adele, who had been pregnant and
hinting she would sue for child support. He remembered being threatened with death if he went to the
authorities or wealth if he remained silent. He had chosen wealth, but felt as if he had sold his soul to the devil.

Years later, Herrington’s perjured testimony regarding the "unintentional" shooting death of Jennifer Bell Lynch
in a hunting accident was what saved Timothy from prison and further damned his own soul. Tormented by
these incidents for many years, Bradley concluded that the book offered his only chance for absolution. Rather
than an act of revenge, this would be one of atonement. He believed the lord, in all his infinite wisdom, had
provided him with an opportunity to wash away his sins and administer justice.

"Read any good books lately, Timothy?" Herrington spoke as if his captive was alert and could hear and
understand every word. When Lynch stirred, but didn't answer, he sighed, "Oh, come now, I've watched you
sleep since you were a baby. I've always been able to tell if you were awake."

Lynch opened his eyes and squinted up at his head manservant. "So there wasn’t a second book? This is really
happening?” he asked, sounding groggy, but lucid.

“Incredibly, yes,” Herrington replied. ”My goodness, look at you, Timothy, all trussed up, the way you bound
those little animals when you were a boy. Herrington paused to see if Lynch would respond before continuing,
"When I discovered the book and god’s plan became clear to me, I thought, how very ironic that you would be
killed by an exceptionally rare book; the very kind of thing you're famous for collecting? Actually, I had hoped
the book would pull you in and finish the job for me. I almost feel as if I'm breaking my promise to your parents."

"Where’d you get the book, Bradley? I have to know."

"From Japan. I purchased it from Tatsuo Takahashi, your best-selling author. "

"Ah yes, the horror story writer." Lynch had been straining to see if he might be able to break free of his
bonds. Deciding that he wasn't going to be able to, he began to shout.

Knowing that nobody outside would hear him, Bradley waited patiently, almost nonchalantly. When Lynch finally
relaxed after a coughing spasm brought on by nearly five minutes of uninterrupted screaming, Herrington said,
“Now, where were we? Oh, yes, 'Hounds of Hell' was so... so vivid I was compelled to contact Mister
Takahashi. He confided that although published as fiction, his story was based on fact and that he was
actually in possession of the book. Did you read his novel?”

"I scanned the liner notes.” Attempting to stall, hoping that Delaflote would return, or that the butler’s resolve
might weaken, Lynch inquired as to how much he had paid for the book.

"Yes,” Bradley nodded, “you would be interested in that, wouldn't you? I paid fifty-thousand Euros for the
book, Timothy, but I can afford it, thanks to you."

"Fifty thousand; that's all?" Lynch was obviously disappointed. “Did you open it up?”

“Yes, and I saw nothing.”

Lynch shook his head and said, "Bradley, you'll never..."

"If you're about to tell me I'll never get away with it, you may well be right, but I want you to know something.
This isn’t an act of retribution, my boy. I’m far more interested in trying to save my miserable soul, than
punishing yours. Now, if you’ll pardon me for a moment, I’ll go fetch the book." Lynch’s verbal assault followed
him down the hallway to the dining room.

Less than two minutes later, Herrington held the instrument of dispatch above his prisoner, whose hurled
insults had now diminished to nothing more than feeble whimpers for mercy. Lynch listened numbly as his
executioner delivered the sentence. “I thought, perhaps, that I might hold the book down on your face, you
see, as if I were smothering you with a pillow.” Inspired by the horrified look on Lynch’s face, the butler
explained further, “Actually, I would imagine that would be quicker and somewhat more humane than starting
at your fingers and having the book pull you in from there. That would take a while, I suspect; might prolong
the agony.”

He began to lower the book, holding it open with both hands; the pages dangling, straining, seeming to reach
out for their victim. The book was intent upon gathering him in. It had gotten a taste earlier and was eager to
finish the meal.

Timothy Lynch stared into the jaws of hell, begging, “Bradley, don’t; you can’t…” As words failed him, he
reverted to screaming, hysterically.

When the chief of security returned to the parlor he found the chateau’s head manservant sitting alone on the
sofa with the book on his lap. “Where has he gone?” Delaflote demanded.

The butler’s response was grim, yet tinged with the slightest hint of relief. “To hell, I should think."

Suspected of foul-play, Herrington was interrogated and released. Even though he passed a polygraph test,
nobody believed his preposterous contention that the missing CEO had been consumed by a book; nobody
except Francois Delaflote. Subsequent searches and inquiries produced no compelling evidence upon which a
murder case could be built. No trace of Timothy Lynch was ever found.

What happened to the book? If you wish to inspect it and feel confident regarding the condition of your soul,
you'll find it right next to a bible on a shelf in Bradley Herrington’s comfortable home, waiting patiently for a
new owner and a new opportunity to feed the hounds of hell. Satan's book next to the Lord's; Bradley had no
problem with that. He had witnessed the fact that sometimes the two do work hand in hand.
The Book
by George Lasher