But the card in his hand was real enough. He turned back to the two glasses certain that there was no way he’d ever ordered water. Finally he shoved the whiskey aside and took a slug of the cold clear liquid.
Strangely it had a more soothing effect than the liquor.
Two hours deeper into that abysmal night the city that never slept appeared to be dying. There were no cars on upper 5th Avenue by the time Trace parked in front of the brownstone, and Trace stared curiously up and down the residential street and then back at the business card. If Ezekial had opened a rare bookstore here he was keeping it under wraps because the zoning board sure didn’t know anything about it, and there was no sign out front. Even if there had been the store would certainly have been closed by this hour, but Trace wasn’t here to shop. He had been unable to sleep after the weird encounter in the bar had stirred his investigative juices.
The building had no doorman and no buzzer, and the glass door to the entryway was unlocked. Trace wasn’t a native New Yorker–in fact he disliked cities in general and this city in particular–but he was street smart enough to know that even in this trendy area an unlocked door was an invitation. But there was none of the usual evidence of invasion inside the foyer, no graffiti on the walls, no brown paper bags or broken bottles, no discarded needles. In fact the small area was elegantly appointed with black marble floor and an expensive cherry side table holding what looked like–but certainly could not be–a Ming vase filled with fresh roses.
To Trace’s right there was an elevator and to his left a single door. The card read Flat 1, and figuring that had to be this floor, Trace tried the door. Locked. He started to turn away and then on impulse he knocked. A buzz sounded, then a click. He swung the door into a narrow room lined floor to ceiling with unpainted wooden racks sagging beneath dusty hardcover books. A bare incandescent bulb in the ceiling slashed shadows across the narrow aisles.
“Hello?” he called, jerking as the door clicked shut behind him.
There was no answer, and the sound of his voice told him the room was much larger than he had imagined. As he passed down the center aisle–his shoulders brushing books on both sides–he noticed some of the titles. The Devotional Diamond Pocket Bible, Australian Flora in Applied Art, The Martial Achievements of the Scots Nation. On inspection the splines of the antique works were barely worn, the cloth covers hardly frayed, and yet a thin layer of dust revealed that no rare book lovers had perused the shelves in months, perhaps years.
The store had the ambiance of some crazy hermit’s library. Why it had taken up residence in such a plush area of residential Manhattan Trace had no inkling, but more than likely the little man was a kook. Trace had had ample dealings with the species over the years, but something about this guy and his strange collection touched a nerve. He reached the end of the first long row of shelves at an equally narrow cross-corridor.
“Anybody here?” he called as he started up the next aisle. “Ezekial?”
“Yes, yes,” said a familiar voice back amid the stacks. “This way. Hurry up. We don’t have all night.”
Trace followed the voice to another crossing. Down its length he spotted an open door through which a dim lamplight trickled. He strolled to the door and peered inside. Unlike the stacks outside, this equally windowless space was barely larger than the average bedroom. And although the walls were lined with more floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, most of the room was taken up by a large oak desk covered in reliefs of pentagrams, crosses, and some sort of hieroglyphics that seemed vaguely familiar. Trace noticed that the titles on the shelves along the walls were all more esoteric in nature than those in the other room. Psychic Gifts in the Christian Life, Chronicles of Golden Friars, History and Practice of Magic.