The Ninth Gate Movie Script
Writer(s) : Arturo P�rez-Reverte, John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, Roman Polanski
Search IMDb : The Ninth Gate
The Ninth Gate (1999) - Dean Corso... A Roman Polanski Film
Written by...Enrique Urbiz, Roman Polanski, and John Brownjohn
Telfer House, Library. Night. Andrew Telfer, a scrawny seventy-year-old, is writing a note at his desk in one corner of a big, book-lined room. Dangling from the central chandelier is a noose. A chair stands beneath it. Telfer looks up for a moment. Blankly, he eyes a framed photoportrait on his desk: a beautiful, thirty-something blonde returns his gaze with an enigmatic smile. He stops writing and folds the sheet, scrawls something on the back, and leaves it on the desk. Then he walks to the centre of the room and climbs on the chair. He puts his head through the noose and tightens it around his neck. He kicks away the back of the chair, but it doesn't fall. Frantically, he tries again: this time the chair topples over. The chandelier squeaks as it swings on its hook, but it holds. Fragments of plaster come raining down. His neck isn't broken: he starts to choke. His feet perform a convulsive dance in mid-air only six inches above the floor; one of his shoes comes off. The camera leaves the dying man and moves in on the bookshelves. To the accompaniment of choking sounds, it pans across the rows of volumes until it reaches a gap that shows where one of them has been removed. The choking sounds cease. The camera enters the black void left by the missing book. The screen goes dark.
Manhattan apartment. Day. Manhattan skyline seen through a picture window. Above it, reflected in the windowpane, the face of an old woman seated with her back to the room. Her expression is impassive and self-absorbed, her twisted mouth suggests she's a stroke victim. She seems quite uninvolved in the action behind her.
Corso: (Off screen) An impressive collection. You have some very rare editions here. Sure you want to sell them all? (Dean Corso, a tall, lean, rather unkempt man in his 30's. Steel-rimmed glasses, crumpled old tweed jacket, worn cords, scuffed brown oxfords. He replaces a book on a shelf. Standing beside him is the old woman's son, a middle-aged man with a puffy red face. Her daughter-in-law looks on, one hand cupping her elbow, the fingers of the other playing avidly with her lower lip. The son is cuddling a large Scotch on the rocks like it's an integral part of his anatomy.
Son: They're no use to Father, not anymore -not now he's passed away. His library was his own little world. Now it's just a painful memory for Mother here.
Daughter-in-law: Unbearably painful.
Corso: (glances at them over the top of his glasses, then at the old woman. It's clear that the old woman's true source of pain is their desire to convert her late husband's library into hard cash. He picks up a notebook, adjusts his glasses with an instinctive, habitual movement, taps the notebook with his pencil) Corso: Well, at a rough, preliminary estimate, you have a collection here worth around two hundred thousand dollars.
Daughter-in-Law: (almost jumps): Two hundred thousand?!
Corso: Or thereabouts.
He smiles sweetly at the Daughter-in-Law. The old woman continues to stare blankly at her reflection in the window. Behind her, the son sidles up to Corso, who indicates the volumes in question.
Son: How much were you thinking of...
Corso: Hmm... I couldn't go higher than four grand - four-and-a-half tops. (takes an envelope from his shoulder bag and starts peeling off some bills)
Manhattan Apartment. Corridor. Day. Corso walks along the corridor toward the elevator with the canvas bag slung from his shoulder. He's grinning to himself. The bag is obviously heavier than it was. The elevator doors open just as he's about to press the button. He almost collides with a bespectacled, briefcase-carrying man in a three-piece suit and bow tie (Witkin).
Witkin: (caustically): You here? You didn't waste much time.
Corso: Hello, Witkin. There's a small fortune in there. (smiles sardonically) Help yourself.
Witking: (eyes Corso's beg suspiciously): You're a vulture, Corso.
Corso: Who isn't in our business?
Witkin: You'd stoop to anything.
Corso: (brushes past him into the elevator, turns and pats his shoulder bag) For a 'Quixote' by Ybarra? You bet I would.
Witkin: (indignantly) Unscrupulous, thoroughly unscrupulous!
Corso: (thumbs the elevator button): Good hunting! (The elevator doors close on Witkin's face.)
Bernie's Book Store. Day. A sign says "CLOSED." Corso pushes open the door of an old fashioned semibasement bookstore - 'BERNIE'S RARE BOOKS' - and enters. He walks up to the counter and deposits his bag on it.
Bernie: (Off Screen) Witkin just called me. He's spitting blood.
Corso: (looks around. The voice came from ten feet up and three bookcases along. Bernie Feldman, a man around Corso's age with dark, curly hair receding at the temples, is perched at the top of a spiral staircase) What's his problem?
Bernie: (replacing some books): He says you're a double-dealing, money grubbing bastard. He says he had that sale tied up, and now you've queered his pitch.
Corso: (grins to himself): He should be quicker off the mark. (Bernie starts to descend. Corso goes over to a wall cupboard and opens it. An assortment of bottles and glasses come to light.) May I?
Bernie:Your valuation was way over the odds it's brought those people out In a rash. They're now asking twice what the books are worth. (Corso, still grinning, pours himself a slug of Scotch. Bernie reaches the ground) He's talking about suing you. Well, let's face it: you screwed him. That's what it's called.
Corso: I know what it's called.
Bernie: (comes up close) He also says you snaffled the 'Don Qui ... (he stops when Corso shows him the four volumes of the 'Quixote'. He bends over to examine them, whistles appreciatively) The Ybarra 'Don Quixote', 1780, four volumes. Fantastic! (opens one) Sonofabitch, you're the best in the business. Definitely.
Corso: And the most expensive. (smiles slyly) That client of yours, the Swiss, is he still interested in this edition?
Bernie: (smiles back, then redirects his attention to the books) Sure, but Witkin will blow a fuse. I told him I had nothing to do with this operation.
Corso: (knocks back his Scotch in one gulp. Takes out a crumpled cigarette from the pocket of his overcoat, he sticks it in his mouth and lights it) Nothing except your ten percent.
Bernie: Twenty. The Swiss is my client, remember.
Corso: (shakes his head): No deal.
Bernie: Fifteen. (cynically) For my children's sake.
Corso: You don't have any.
Bernie: I'm still young. Give me time.
Corso: (eblows out a stream of smoke, unmoved): Ten.
A taxi pulls up outside an opulent building downtown. Corso gets out, dodges a persistent beggar, and enters. The sign above the entrance reads: 'BALKAN PUBLICATIONS'. Inside, he nods to the security guard at the desk and makes his way across the lobby to a door at the back. Beside it stands an easel-mounted announcement: 'Demons and Medieval Literature, by Boris Balkan, Ph.D.' It's adorned with a medieval engraving of an Inquisition torture scene. Enter Lecture Room. Boris Balkan, standing at a state-of-the-art lecturer's desk, is a bulky, imposing figure of a man around 50 years old. His thick gray hair is slicked back to reveal a domed forehead. Wearing a pair of heavy hornrimmed glasses, he speaks in a deep, slow, almost monotonous voice, but with great authority.
Balkan: Relevant information may be found in Antoine Martin del Rio's 'Disquisitionum Magicarum', Louvain 1599, and earlier, in 1580, in 'De la d'monomanle des sorciers' by the Frenchman, Jean Bodin...
His eyes flicker in the direction of the door as Corso enters. His entrance has also been noted by a girl in jeans and white sneakers: childlike face, short hair and green, feline eyes. He sits down in the same row, but on the other side of the aisle, settles himself in his chair and scans the audience, most of whom are middle-aged and female. He gives the girl a cursory glance, then concentrates on Balkan.
Balkan: Bodin was probably the first to attempt to establish a system - if the term system may be applied to the Middle Ages - for classifying the contemporary perceptions of evil. In Bodin we find one of the first definitions of the word 'witch'. I quote: (cocks his head for a better look at the text) 'A witch is a person who, though cognizant of the laws of God, endeavors to act through the medium of a pact with the Devil...'
As Balkan continues the lecture, Corso's eyelids begin to droop. We pan over the faces of the audience (the girl is still observing Corso). Balkan's voice drones on, fades away. Later...Corso's fast asleep.
Balkan: (Off Screen) I see you enjoyed my little talk, Mr. Corso.
Corso: (gives a start and opens his eyes. He takes a moment or two to focus on Balkan, who's standing over him. Peering around, he sees that the lecture is over. The last of the audience are filing out. We glimpse the girl making her exit.) Did I snore?
Balkan: Nice of you to ask. No, not that I noticed. Shall we go? (He gestures at the door with a cold and impassive air. Corso gets to his feet. Balkan walks swiftly across the lobby to the elevators with Corso at his heels. They leave behind a buzz of conversation from members of the audience who are still discussing the lecture. ) Don't you sleep nights?
Corso: Like a baby.
Balkan: Strange, I'd have bet a brace of Gutenberg Bibles you spend half the night with your eyes peeled. You're one of those lean, hungry, restless types that put the wind up Julius Caesar - men who'd stab their friends in the back. (They reach the elevator. Balkan presses a button and turns to Corso, who yawns.) Not, I suspect, that you have many friends, do you, Mr. Corso? Your kind seldom does.
Corso: (calmly): Go to hell.
Balkan: (is unruffled by Corso's words. The elevator doors open. He stands aside to let Corso pass, then follows him in. He punches a code number on the elevator's digital keyboard. The elevator starts to ascend. )You're right, of course. Your friendships don't concern me in the least. Our relations have always been strictly commercial, isn't that so? There's no one more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.
Corse: Hey, Balkan, I came here to do some business, not shoot the breeze. You want to expound your personal philosophy, write another book.
Balkan: You don't like me, do you?
Corso: (shrugs) I don't have to like you. You're a client, and you pay well.
The elevator doors open into a spacious room faced with black marble. The walls are bare save for a big, back-lighted photograph of a ruined castle overlooking a desolate valley. Two huge windows in the right-hand wall extend from floor to ceiling. Visible outside on the building's floodlit facade, gargoyles gaze out over the city with their monstrous heads propped on their claws. The centre of the room is occupied by a rectangular block of tinted glass resembling a big black monolith. Vaguely discernible through the glass are shelves filled with antique books in exquisite bindings. Balkan leads Corso over to the 'monolith' . He gestures at it proudly, soliciting admiration.
Balkan: You're privileged, Corso. Very few people have ever set foot in here. This is my private collection. Some bibliophiles specialize in Gothic novels, others in Books of Hours. All my own rare editions have the same protagonist: the Devil.
Corso: (impressed but does his best not to show it) May I take a look?
Balkan: That's why I brought you here. (Balkan goes over to the 'monolith' and punches a keyboard on a control panel, gestures to Corso to come closer. Corso puts out his hand. Before he can touch the glass, it glides aside with a faint hum. He fixes his glasses and glances at Balkan, who looks on calmly. His eyes roam along the spines of the books. Balkan comes and stands beside him.) Beautiful, aren't they? That soft sheen, that superb gilding... Not to mention the centuries of wisdom they contain - centuries of erudition, of delving into the secrets of the Universe and the hearts of men. I know people who would kill for a collection like this. (Corso shoots him a quick glance) The Ars Diavoli! You'll never see as many books on the subject anywhere else in the world. They're the rarest, the choicest editions in existence. It has taken me a lifetime to assemble them. Only the supreme masterpiece was missing. Come.
He accompanies Corso on his tour of the collection. They come to the end of the 'monolith'. Gesturing to Corso to follow him, Balkan goes over to an ultramodern, brushed steel lectern standing beside one of the huge picture windows. As he approaches the lectern, Corso briefly glimpses the sheer drop beyond the window, the twinkling lights of traffic passing in the street far below. Reposing on the lectern is a black book adorned with a gold pentagram. Corso opens it at the title page, which displays the title in Latin and a pictorial engraving.
Corso: (not looking at Balkan) 'The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows...
Balkan: You're familiar with it?
Corso: Sure. Venice, 1623. The author and printer was Aristide Torchia, burned by the Holy Inquisition, together with all his works. Only three copies survived.
Corso: The catalogs list three copies surviving in private ownership: the Fargas, the Kessler, and the Telfer.
Balkan: True. You've done your homework, but you're wrong nonetheless. According to all the sources I myself have consulted, only one is authentic. The author confessed under torture that he'd hidden one copy. Only one.
Corso: Well, three are known.
Balkan: That's the trouble.
Corso: (resumes his inspection of the book) Where did you get it?
Balkan: I bought it from Telfer.
Corso: (surprised) Telfer?
Balkan: (looking out the window): Yes, he finally sold it to me. The day before he killed himself.
Corso: Good timing.
Balkan: (ignores this. Corso turns the pages with care. He lingers over an engraving of a knight in armor riding toward a castle with a finger to his lips as though enjoining the reader to silence. Below it is a caption. Balkan draws closer and reads over Corso's shoulder) Nemo pervenit qui non legitime certaverit.
Corso: You only succeed if you fight by the rules?
Balkan: More or less. Ever heard of the 'Delomelanicon'?
Corso: Heard of it, yes. A myth, isn't it? Some horrific book reputed to have been written by Satan himself.
Balkan: No myth. That book existed. Torchia actually acquired it. (he returns to the window overlooking the sheer drop. Gazing down, he goes on) The engravings you're now admiring were adapted by Torchia from the 'Delomelanicon'. They're a form of satanic riddle. Correctly interpreted with the aid of the original text and sufficient inside information, they're reputed to conjure up the Prince of Darkness in person.
Corso: You don't say. (he continues to turn the pages)
Balkan: Are you a religious man, Corso? I mean, do you believe in the supernatural?
Corso: I believe in my percentage. I also believe that books grow old and decay like the rest of us. Don't you get dizzy, standing there? (Balkan continues to stare down at the city) What the hell do you want from me, Balkan?
Balkan: (leaves the window and confronts him) I want you to go to Europe and play the detective. The other two copies are in Portugal and France. You must find some way of comparing them with mine: every page, every engraving, the binding - everything. I'm convinced that only one can be authentic, and I want to know which one it is.
Corso: Could be an expensive trip.
Balkan: (takes a folded check from his pocket and hands it to Corso, who slips it into his breast pocket unexamined) That's to get you started. Spend what you need.
Corso: What if I find your copy's a forgery?
Balkan: (stares at him coldly) It's quite on the cards.
Corso: (seeming mildly surprised. He looks at the book again, 'listens' to the quality of the paper by putting his ear to the pages and riffling them with his thumb) Really? It doesn't appear to be. Even the paper sounds kosher.
Balkan: Even so. There may be something wrong with it.
Corso: (continues to examine the book. He smiles)You mean the Devil won't show up? (shuts the book and replaces it on the lectern)
Balkan: Don't be flippant. (quotes) 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'
Corso: Hamlet believed in ghosts, not demons.
Balkan: If all three copies turn out to be bogus or incomplete, your work will be done. If one of them proves to be genuine, on the other hand, I'll finance you further. (Corso stares at him, then unfolds the check and glances at the amount - a substantial sum, from the way he raises his eyebrows) I shall want you to get it for me at all costs, never mind how.
Corso: Never mind how sounds illegal.
Balkan: It wouldn't be the first time you've done something illegal.
Corso: Not that illegal.
Balkan: Hence the size of the check. Do a good job, and I'll double it. (He picks up 'The Nine Gates' and holds it out. After a moment's hesitation, Corso replaces the check in his pocket and takes the book) Be careful, Corso.
Corso: What do you mean? (indicates the book) With this?
Balkan: Just be careful.
Corso's Apartment. Night. A small kitchen. Corso, one hand wrapped around a Scotch, uses the other to remove a TV dinner from the freezer compartment of his refrigerator and insert it in a microwave. He shuts the door, sets the timer, and strolls out into the living room. A plain apartment. No pictures, ornaments or photographs, just books on every available shelf and surface. Against one wall, a desk with a computer on it. On the floor beside the desk, Corso's shabby canvas bag. On the desk itself, 'The Nine Gates'. Corso goes over to the desk. He stares down at the book for a long moment, meditatively sipping his Scotch. Then, without putting his glass down, he opens the book one-handed and idly turns a few pages, pauses at the engraving of the knight in armor riding toward the castle. The camera moves in slowly until the screen is filled with the image of the knight with his finger enigmatically raised to his lips.
Telfer House. Library. Day. Corso, canvas bag on shoulder, is standing in the middle of a sitting room. The decor, which includes a smiling portrait of Andrew Telfer, is very rich. He's looking up at the portrait when the door opens. He turns to see Liana Telfer on the threshold with a business card in her hand. His appreciation of her looks is evident. Liana is a very sexy, thirtyish blonde. She gives Corso the once-over, then enters, closing the door behind her.
Corso: Mrs. Telfer? (gestures at the business card) Dean Corso. Sorry to trouble you at a time like this. (Liana comes over and sits down on a sofa, motioning Corso into the armchair that faces it over a coffee table. She puts his card down, crosses her legs, and waits. Corso sits down with his bag between his feet. Opening it, he produces 'The Nine Gates'. Liana stiffens at the sight of it.
Corso: It would be very helpful, ma'am, if you could tell me what you know about this book.
He holds it out. After a momentary pause, Liana slowly reaches for the book, opens it at random, turns a page or two. She speaks with a slight French accent.
Liana: (casually) Isn't this one of my husband's books?
Corso: Right. It was in his collection until very recently. He sold it to a client of mine. I'm trying to authenticate it.
Liana: He sold it, you say? How strange. It was one of his most treasured possessions.
Corso: He never mentioned the sale?
Liana: (late in answering. Corso spots her hesitation) No. It's news to me. Who bought it?
Corso: A private collector.
Liana: May I know his name?
Corso: I'm afraid that's confidential.
Liana: I suppose he has a bill of sale?
Corso: No problem there.
Liana: Is this your job, authenticating rare books?
Corso: And tracking them down.
Liana: (smiles): You're a book detective.
Corso: (smiles back): Kind of. (pause) Do you recall when and where your husband acquired this book?
Liana: In Spain. We were vacationing at Toledo. Andrew got very excited -- paid a great deal of money for it. He was a fanatical collector.
Corso: So I gather.
Liana: (puts the book on the coffee table and rises) I'll show you.
Corso rises. Then a thought strikes him: picking up the book and his bag, he follows her to a door at the far end of the room, which she opens.
Liana: (cont.) Look.
She walks on ahead into the library in which Andrew Telfer hanged himself. Corso is eyeing her from behind.
Corso: Magnificent... (He drags his eyes away from Liana's figure and surveys the crowded shelves) Really magnificent...
He goes over to inspect the bookshelves. In passing he glances up at the chandelier, which is still hanging slightly askew.
Liana: Andrew used to spend many hours in here.Too many.
Corso: Did he ever try it out?
He asks the question with an air of spurious innocence, looking around the room as he does so. Liana frowns.
Liana: I don't understand.
Corso: The book - did he ever use it to perform some kind of ritual intended to... well. produce a supernatural effect?
Liana: Are you serious?
Liana: A Black Mass, you mean?
Corso: More or less. An attempt to conjure up the Devil.
Liana: Andrew was a trifle eccentric, Mr. Corso, but he wasn't insane. It's true he'd been acting strangely those last few days. He shut himself up in here - seldom emerged except for meals. (She draws a deep breath, glances at the chandelier) That morning I was woken by the screams of the maid: he'd hanged himself. (pauses, looks at him) Whatever he was up to, I certainly can't see him chanting mumbo-jumbo or trying to raise the dead.
The flippant tone of the last few words sounds rather forced. Corso smiles at her faintly over his glasses, pats his shoulder bag.
Corso: The Devil, Mrs. Telfer. This book is designed to raise the Devil.
Corso exits the Telfer House and crosses the forecourt to the street. A man with a mustache and a scarred face is leaning against a limo parked outside the house, smoking a small cigar. They eye each other briefly. Corso reaches the sidewalk just as a cab sails past. He raises his hand too late to flag it down, looks around for another. The mustached man's cellphone beeps. He reaches into the limo and picks up the receiver.
Reference Library, Day. Numerous readers are occupying the rows of tables in the central area. Corso is seated at one of the tables with the 'Nine Gates' in front of him. Beside it reposes a large catalog and his notebook. The 'Nine Gates' is open at the frontispiece, which displays the title - 'De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis'- and the words 'Sic Luceat Lux' separated by an emblem consisting of a tree encircled by a snake devouring it's own tail. As we move in on the coiled snake, we hear Corso translating to himself in a low voice:
Corso: (Off Screen) Sic Luceat Lux ... Thus let the light shine...
The day goes on. Many of the tables are now deserted and Corso shuts a catalog and gets up to replace It in the wall of books behind him. He runs his finger along a shelf till he comes to another fat tome and removes it. He's startled to see, framed in the gap where the book just was, the face of the girl at Balkan's lecture: short hair, green, feline eyes. The face recedes and disappears. Corso quickly rounds the end of the bookshelf: no sign of her. He looks both ways, but the aisles are deserted. Puzzled, he resumes his seat and opens the second catalog. Then, sensing that he's being watched, he swings around. Nothing outwardly suspicious, just two students comparing notes, whispering. He scans the reading-room at large: still nothing. He turns some pages in 'The Nine Gates', comes to an engraving of a naked woman riding a seven headed dragon with a castle ablaze in the background. He consults the second catalog, which displays a small reproduction of the same scene with text wrapped around it, and jots something down in his notebook. Tired, he straightens and stretches, removes his glasses, pinches the bridge of his nose. As he scans the room, his vision gives him an unfocused glimpse of the girl looking down at him from the gallery overhead. By the time he replaces his glasses, she's gone.
Corso's Apartment. Night. It's raining hard. He trudges up the steps of his brownstone with the canvas bag on his shoulder and a bag of groceries in his arms. He rides the elevator up and walks down the passage to his door. He puts his key in the lock and tries to turn it but finds that it's unlocked already. He tries the second lock and turns it. This is unlocked as well so the door opens at once. It takes him a moment to digest this but then he hears a muffled crash from inside the apartment: and a window has been flung open in a hurry. He bursts into the living room. No one there, but the light is on. Dropping his shoulder bag and groceries, he dashes into the bedroom. The window is open and the curtains are billowing out into the room. He darts to the window, flings one leg over the sill and climbs out on the fire escape. Feet can be heard clattering down the fire escape. He peers over the rail just in time to see a dark figure head into the side street beneath him and sprint off through the rain.
Corso: (yells half-heartedly): Hey, you!
He gives up and climbs back inside, and scans the living room. The only immediate sign of the intruder's presence is that the chair has been pulled away from the desk and one of the drawers is open. He pushes the chair back into place and shuts the drawer.
Bernie's book store. Next day. 'The Nine Gates' is lying open on Bernie's desk. He's reverently turning the pages with Corso at his elbow.
Bernie: Son of a bitch... Where did you get this?
Corso: Balkan. He wants me to research it.
Bernie: Balkan owns a 'Nine Gates'?
Corso: Recently acquired from the late lamented Andrew Telfer.
Bernie: Trust Balkan. What does he need you for? I don't suppose he plans to sell it.
Corso: He wants me to compare it with the other two surviving copies in Portugal and France. I'm off to Europe.
Bernie: Compare it?
Corso: Yeah. Only one of the three is authentic, he says.
Bernie: Well, this one looks genuine enough. Must be worth a million. Jesus! Take good care of it.
Corso: That's why I'm here. I need you to stash it for me. I'm starting to see things.
Bernie: (stares at him) Like what?
Corso: Uninvited visitors, unfamiliar faces. I don't trust anyone, not even Balkan. (reflects for a moment) Come to think of it, I don't even trust you.
Bernie: (a mixture of affection and cynicism) That's mean, buddy. You know I'd never screw you without a damn good reason: money, women, business. Anything else, you can relax.
Corso: (taps the book with his forefinger) You'll answer for this with your balls, Bernie.
Bernie: (still engrossed): Sure, man, sure. You can castrate me personally.
Corso: I'll pick it up on my way to the airport.
Bernie: No problem. (He continues to pore over the book, turns another page, reads aloud) 'Virtue lies vanquished', huh? These engravings are terrific.
Corso: (leans over his shoulder): Or horrific, whichever.
Bernie: (nods absently. He smiles to himself with an air of enchantment) Beautiful, just beautiful...
Visible through the bookstore's semi-basement windows, the legs of passerby accelerate as they scurry past: it has started to rain. A pair of man's legs in dark slacks come to a halt. The butt of a small cigar falls to the sidewalk, the legs walk on. Two white sneakers come into view. They step on the butt and extinguish it.
Corso's apartment. Night. In the bedroom, Corso packs some articles of clothing and toiletries in a small suitcase lying open on the bed. The doorbell rings. Somewhat startled, Corso straightens up, dumps a handful of socks on the bed and goes out into the lobby. He peers through the spyhole: Liana Telfer is standing outside. He pauses for a moment, thinking hard, then opens the door.
Liana: May I come in?
Corso: (steps aside and lets her in) This way. (he shows her into the living room. She starts to unbutton her coat) Allow me.
He helps her off with her coat and drapes it neatly over a chair. She's dressed to kill in a black, lowcut cocktail gown.
Liana: Thank you.
Corso: Sit down, won't you?
Liana: (sits gracefully on the sofa, taking in the decor of his bachelor apartment as she does so) I've come to talk business.
Corso: Great. Everyone's talking business to me lately.
Liana: (takes a slim gold cigarette case from her purse, and lights it) Yesterday, when you came to see me about that book, I was too surprised to react as I should have done. I mean, it really was one of Andrew's favorites.
Corso: So you said.
Liana: I'd like to get it back.
Corso: That could be a problem.
Liana: Not necessarily. it all depends.
Corso: On what?
Liana: On you.
Corso: (stares at her, absorbing the lines of her figure) I don't understand, Mrs. Telfer. The book isn't mine to dispose of.
Liana: (She sits back, showing off her legs) You work for money, I take it?
Corso: What else?
Liana: I have a great deal of money.
Corso: I'm happy for you.
Liana: You could stage a theft. I'm sure your client is well insured.
Corso: I'm a professional, ma'am.
Liana: You're a professional mercenary. Mercenaries work for the highest bidder.
Corso: I make a living.
Liana: (huskily): I could throw in a bonus.
Corso: This has happened before someplace.
Liana: I know. In the movies.
Corso: And she had an automatic in her stocking top.
Corso watches, mesmerized, as she slowly, very slowly, slides her skirt up her thighs to reveal her stocking tops and black lace garter belt.
Liana: No automatic.
Just as slowly, she smooths her skirt down over her thighs. Corso swallows hard. He rises and goes to his drinks corner, a shelf with an array of bottles and glasses on it. Over his shoulder:
Corso: Want one?
Liana: Why not?
Corso splashes some Scotch into two tumblers and carries them over to her. Liana sits motionless for an instant, looking up at him. Then, very slowly, she stubs out her cigarette, extends the same hand, and fondles his crotch. Corso, with the tumblers encumbering both his hands, can only stand there like a bird hypnotized by a snake. His Adam's apple bobs some more. Holding his gaze, Liana withdraws her hand and rises. They're only inches apart now. She takes one of the tumblers and clinks it against Corso's, then drains it. He does the same, while in a kind of trance. Very deliberately, Liana relieves him of his glass and puts it down on the table with hers. Then, cupping his face between her hands, she proceeds to kiss him. Corso responds. He pulls up her skirt, she reaches for his zipper and yanks at it. He bears her backward and downward onto the sofa. The gown slips down over Liana's left shoulder, revealing a small tattoo in the shape of a snake devouring its own tail. Later. Liana's hand reaches across the floor for Corso's canvas bag. She searches in the bag, then inverts it, spilling the contents: a couple of packs of Luckies, a notebook, an envelope full of bills, a Swiss Army knife, an expert's magnifying glass, some pencils, etc. Corso and Liana on the floor, their clothing dishevelled. Corso is lying back, still panting and sweating from his exertions, Liana is sitting up.
Liana: Well, where is it?
Corso: Where's what?
Liana: Don't fuck with me, Corso.
Corso: I thought that's what we were doing.
Liana's eyes narrow. She goes for his face with her nails and teeth. Corso turns his head away just in time and scrambles to his feet, pulling up his trousers. Liana, beside herself with fury, flies at him with both hands extended like claws. He manages to grab her wrists and immobilize them, so she sinks her teeth in his chest. With an agonized yell, Corso releases her wrists, clasps his chest and staggers back, he's hobbled by the trousers that have slumped around his ankles. Liana looks around wildly for a weapon of some kind, catches sight of the Scotch bottle and seizes it by the neck. Corso, one hand holding his trousers at half mast, the other raised in supplication, comes shuffling toward her.
Corso: Hey, look, be reasonable...
Unmoved, Liana raises the bottle and smashes it over his head.
Sometime later. Corso recovers consciousness, gingerly feels his aching head. Some blood has trickled down his face. He surveys the room, which is in chaos and has obviously been ransacked. He goes into the bathroom and inspects himself in the mirror, takes a hand towel and gingerly dabs his scalp. Holding the towel to his head, he returns to the living room, where he picks up the phone and punches out a number. We hear a recorded announcement:
Bernie: (Voice Over): Hi, this is Bernie's Rare Books. I'm not available right now. If you want to leave a message, please speak after the beep.
Corso: (into phone): Bernie, you there? Bernie? Pick up!
No response. He hangs up.
Bernie's Book Store. Corso, bag on shoulder, is lurking in a doorway across the street from the bookstore. The place looks silent and deserted, but a dim glow indicates that a light must be on somewhere inside. Corso quits the doorway and hurries across the street. He walks down the steps to the door and tries the handle. The door opens. Only Bernie's desk light is on. No sign of Bernle himself. He listens intently, looks up at the top of the spiral staircase, which is in shadow, calls in a low voice:
No response. He listens some more: nothing but the sound of a passing car. He makes his way cautiously along the bookcases and rounds a corner, then stops short with a look of horror on his face. Bernie has been lashed upside down to the handrail of the spiral staircase. His mouth and eyes are open, and his battered face is streaked with blood.
Corso: Jesus Christ!
He puts out a hand toward Bernie, but the man is so obviously dead that he withdraws it. He looks around in an involuntary, apprehensive way. Then, satisfied that he's alone, he starts to climb the staircase. Once past Bernie's corpse, which he studiously avoids touching, he climbs faster. The staircase creaks and sways. Reaching the third tier of bookshelves, he presses a hidden button. With a faint click, a panel springs open to disclose a recess filled with books. Corso expels a deep breath. There it is, safe and sound: 'The Nine Gates'. He looks down at Bernie.
Corso: Thanks, man. I'm sorry...
Airport. Corso, ensconced in a window seat, is moodily gazing out at some passing cloud-castles. The sun is setting. Wearing his overcoat and carrying his suitcase, threads his way through them with the canvas bag on his shoulder. Weary and unshaven, he stares straight ahead with an abstracted expression, adjusts his glasses. His footsteps echo as he walks, bag on shoulder, along one of Toledo's narrow medieval streets. Very few people to be seen. The sun is shining brightly, but there's a strong wind blowing. Rounding a corner, he heads down an alleyway flanked by scaffolding swathed in protective netting and blue tarpaulins. It's completely deserted. No sound but that of canvas billowing in the wind like a ship's sails. He consults a street sign, turns another corner. He reaches a doorway leading to an inner courtyard, bumps into a boy who comes running out. We hear the strident cries of a woman.
Boy: Si! Si, mama!!!
A flight of steps in one corner of the courtyard leads down to the basement. Corso descends them and stops outside a door. A grimy window beside it serves to display some old books and religious prints. The sign on the door reads Hermanos Ceniza Restauracion de Libros. Below it: 'On parle Francais' and 'English spoken'. He opens the door, which creaks and enters. A gaunt, bent-backed old man (Pedro Ceniza) with a pair of glasses perched on the end of his big nose looks up from an old hand press. Everything about him is as gray as the cigarette ash that rains down on his clothes and the books he's working on. He's a chain-smoker.
Corso: Buenas tardes.
Pedro: Buenes tardes.
Pablo: (Off Screen) Buenas tardes.
Corso turns to see another old man (Pablo Ceniza) surface from behind some stacks of paper. His resemblance to Pedro is such that they can only be twins. Pablo wipes his inky hand on a rag before shaking Corso's. Pedro follows suit. Corso hesitates briefly, as Pedro and Pablo look him up and down. Their movements are slow and serene, their expression carries a hint of mockery, and they often exchange knowing smiles.
Corso: You speak English? (They nod simultaneously. He produces 'The Nine Gates' from his shoulder bag) I'd appreciate your opinion on this.
Pedro takes the book with tremulous hands. Pablo quickly clears away some parchments on the workbench to make room for it. Some ash from Pedro's cigarette falls on the cover. Pablo clicks his tongue and blows it off.
Pablo: (reprovingly) What a habit for a bookbinder! (smiles at Corso) 'The Nine Gates...' A superb edition. Very rare.
Pedro: (opens it): The Telfer copy.
Corso: You used to own it, right?
Pedro: We used to, yes.
Pablo: We sold it.
Pedro: We sold it when the opportunity presented itself. It was too...
Pablo: too good to miss. An excellent sale.
Pedro: An excellent buy - impeccable condition.
Pablo: Impeccable. You are the present owner?
Corso: A client of mine.
Pablo: (over his glasses): I would never have believed she would part with it.
Pablo: (without looking up): Senora Telfer.
Corso reaches into his overcoat pocket and extracts a crumpled cigarette. He's raising it to his lips when he stops short, produces the equally crumpled pack and offers it to Pedro, who has just discarded his butt. Pedro helps himself to a Lucky, breaks off the filter and jams it in his mouth. Corso lights both of them.
Corso: I understood it was Mr. Telfer that bought it.
Pablo: He paid for it.
Pedro: It was the senora who made him buy it. He did not seem particularly... (glances at Pablo)
Pedro: (finished examining the text. He looks at the spine) A superb specimen.
Corso: (hesitates briefly): Could it be a forgery?
Pedro: (suspiciously, almost indignantly) A forgery? (turns to Pablo) You heard that, Pablo?
Pablo: (wags his finger reprovingly in Corso's face) I took you for a professional, senor. You speak too lightly of forgeries.
Pedro: Far too lightly.
Pablo: Forging a book is expensive. Paper of the period, the right inks.... (makes a dismissive gesture) Too expensive to be profitable.
Pedro and Pablo assess the effect of their words on Corso, who digests them.
Corso: I'm aware of all that, but could some part of it be forged? Restorers have been known to replace missing pages with pages taken from another copy of the same edition. Have you never done that yourselves?
The old men look at each other, then turn to Corso simultaneously. Pedro, looking flattered, nods.
Pedro: Of course it can be done.
Pablo: It requires great skill, naturally, but yes, it can be done.
Corso: Couldn't that be the case here?
Pablo: What makes you ask?
Corso: My client wishes to satisfy himself of the book's authenticity. (The brothers eye each other over their glasses. Corso adjusts his own) His name is Balkan. Boris Balkan of New York.
Pablo and Pedro exchange another glance. Corso detects the hint of a smile that passes between them.
Pedro: All books have a destiny of their own.
Pablo: Even a life of their own. Senor Balkan is a noted bibliophile. He's no fool. He must know this book is authentic.
Pedro: We know it.
Pablo: So must he.
Pedro: This book was with us for years.
Pablo: Many years.
Pedro: We had ample opportunity to examine it thoroughly. The printing and binding are superb examples of 17th century Venetian craftsmanship. (he picks up the book and riffles the pages under Corso's nose) Finest rag paper, resistant to the passage of time! None of your modern wood pulp!
Pablo: Watermarks, identical shades, ink, type faces... If this is a forgery, or a copy with pages restored, it's the work of a master.
Pedro: A master.
Corso: (contemplates the brothers with a smile) Did you study the engravings? They seem to form a kind of riddle.
Pedro and Pablo reopen the book and look at the engravings.
Pablo: Well, yes... (another glance at Pedro) Books of this type often contain little puzzles.
Pedro: Especially in the case of such an illustrious collaborator.
Corso looks at Pedro with sudden interest, then at the book, then back at Pedro.
Pedro: (shrugs, Pablo refocuses on Corso) You cannot have proceeded very far with your research. Come, look closely.
He takes a magnifying glass and holds it over one of the engravings, which shows a hermit with two keys in his hand and dog and a lantern beside him. A microscopic inscription can be detected in the bottom right corner. Corso bends over it, looking mystified. Pedro grows impatient.
Pedro: Don't you see? Only seven of the engravings were signed by Aristide Torchia.
Corso: And the other two?
Pedro: This is one of them. Look.
Corso: (peers through the magnifying glass once more. We see the insert 'Invenit L.F.') 'L.F.'? Who's that?
Pedro: (he and Pablo chuckle heartily) You're a clever man, senor. Torchia was not alone when they burned him alive.
Corso: But that's absurd! You don't honestly believe...
Pedro: The man who wrote this did so in alliance with the Devil and went to the stake for it. Even Hell has its heroes, senor.
Corso looks from one to the other, trying to figure this out.
Toledo Alleyway. Day. Corso walks back along the narrow alleyway with the canvas- covered scaffolding. He glances over his shoulder. Not a soul in sight. The blue canvas flaps in the wind, the scaffolding creaks and groans. He walks on. He hears a sudden rending sound, looks back and up. There's little time to react: the scaffolding has come away from its mountings. It's starting to buckle and fall out into the street. He breaks into a run. Behind him, collapsing like a house of cards, the mass of canvas and metal gains on him as he sprints for the end of the alley, summoning up all his energy for a final burst. The last of the scaffolding hits the ground only inches behind him. He looks back at the tangled mass that has only just failed to engulf him.
Train. Dining car. Night. The dining car is deserted save for Corso and a Steward, who is lolling against the kitchen bulkhead at the far end. Corso, with a coffee cup and a brandy glass at his elbow, has 'The Nine Gates' lying open in front of him at the engraving of the hermit with the keys, dog and lantern. There's some cigarette ash trapped between the pages. Smiling faintly, he blows it away. Then he reaches into his bag for his magnifying glass, pushes up his steel-rimmed specs, and screws the glass into his eye. He examines the engraving at close range. We see again the insert of the inscription 'Invenit L.F.' He straightens up and removes the glass from his eye. He finishes his brandy and beckons the steward.
Corso, with bag on shoulder, crosses the sliding floorplates that connect one car to another. He enters the next corridor and stops short: there's a lone figure leaning against a window, looking out: it's the girl we saw at Balkan's lecture: short dark hair, catlike green eyes, slim, athletic figure, jeans and white sneakers. Corso sets off along the corridor. When he reaches her, they eye each other's reflections in the windowpane.
Girl: (softly): Hi.
Corso: (pauses to look at her, unable to make up his mind) I've seen you before, haven't I?
Girl: Have you?
Corso: Yes, somewhere.
A brief silence.
Girl: Are you traveling in this car?
Corso: The next one.
Girl: The sleeper. (smiles) I travel on the cheap.
Corso: Are you a student?
Girl: Something like that. (looks out the window again) I like trains.
Corso: Me too. What's your name?
Corso: (shrugs, smiles): Greeneyes.
Girl: That'll do. What's yours?
Girl: Strange name.
Corso: Italian. it means 'I run'.
Girl: You don't look like a runner to me - more the quiet type.
They look at each other's reflections once more. Corso nods.
Corso: Well, have a good trip.
Girl: And you.
Corso walks on down the corridor. There's something weird about this chance encounter, but he can't figure out what.
Girl: See you around, maybe.
Corso: (pauses and looks back. He nods) Maybe.
Sintra Station. Day. Corso with bag on shoulder, gets off the train. A horse-drawn carriage drops him off in front of a massive gateway flanked by stone walls thick with ivy. Corso pushes open the gate, and beyond them is a neglected drive. Dead leaves litter a gravel driveway flanked by crumbling statues, some of which have toppled over onto the long-neglected, weed-infested lawn. His muffled footsteps are the only sound. Near the house is a dried-up, dilapidated fountain faced with tiles and topped by a mouldering cherub. The waters of the ornamental pond beside it are dark and coated with dead leaves and water lilies. The Quinta Fargas is a gloomy, four-square, 18th century mansion. Corso walks up the steps and tugs the old-fashioned bellpull. He waits, glances at his watch. Echoing footsteps approach. A sound of bolts being withdrawn, and the door opens to reveal Victor Fargas. Tall and bone thin, he has a drooping white mustache. His baggy trousers and oversized woolen sweater contrast with a pair of old but immaculately polished shoes.
Corso: Dean Corso, Mr. Fargas. (Puts out his hand) How do you do.
Fargas: (hesitates before shaking hands.) Corso, ah yes. Please come in.
Fargas, who has a slight limp, leads the way through two reception rooms, entirely bare and empty. Corso observes the patches on the walls that indicate the former location of paintings, curtains, pieces of furniture, etc.
Fargas: Home, sweet home! (he ushers Corso into a large but sparsely furnished drawing room. ) You won't say no to a brandy, I take it?
He goes over to a side table and pours some cognac into two fine crystal glasses. Corso, meantime, is surveying the room. At the far end is a huge open fireplace. Two armchairs, a table, a sideboard, some candlesticks, a violin case - and books. They're neatly stacked on the floor and the few pieces of furniture. Corso has just discovered them when Fargas comes over with the glasses. He puts his bag down and takes one.
Corso: Thanks. (admiringly) Handsome glasses.
Fargas: These are the only ones I have left.
Corso: (looks around the room) Must have been a beautiful place.
Fargas: It was, but old families are like ancient civilizations: they wither and die. (he raises his glass in a silent toast. Corso does the same. Fargas gestures towards the books) There they are, eight hundred and thirty-four of them. A pity you didn't see them in better times, in their bookcases. I used to have five thousand. These are the survivors.
Corso: (runs his fingers caressingly over a book) So this is the Fargas collection. Not quite as I imagined it.
Fargas: C'est la vie, my friend. But I keep them in perfect condition, safe from damp, light, heat and rats. I dust and air them every day. it's all I do do, in fact.
Corso: What happened to the rest?
Fargas: Sacrificed in a good cause. I had to sell them to preserve the others. Five or six books a year. Almost all the proceeds go to the state in taxes.
Corso: Why don't you sell up?
Fargas: Sell the Fargas family estate? It's obvious you're an American, my friend. There are things you can't be expected to understand.
Corso: (continues to survey the books, fascinated) If you sold all these your financial problems would be over... (picks up a book and examines it) Look at this, Poliphilo, for example: a real gem!
Fargas: (Corso replaces the book. Fargas leans over and carefully adjusts the book until it's precisely in its original position) I know, but if I sold them all I'd have no reason to go on living. More brandy? (he heads for the bottle on the side table without waiting for a reply.)
Corso: What about 'The Nine Gates'?
Fargas: (puzzled): What about it?
Corso: That's why I'm here.. I told you on the phone.
Fargas: The phone? (pause) Yes, of course, I remember now. Forgive me. Of course, 'The Nine Gates'. (he looks around several times as if trying to collect his thoughts, drains his cognac, and limps over to some books on a rug near the fireplace. They both kneel on the rug side by side. Corso examines the books, which all deal with magic, alchemy and demonology) Well, what do you think?
Corso: Not bad.
Fargas: Not bad indeed. These I will never sell. At least ten of them are exceedingly rare. Look, Plancy's 'Dictionary of Hell', First Edition, 1842, Leonardo Fioravanti's 'Compendi di Secreti' of 1571... But this is what interests you, no? (he picks up a black book with a gold pentacle on the cover - the second copy of 'The Nine Gates' - and holds it out. Corso takes it carefully and gets to his feet. Fargas rises too) There it is, in perfect condition. It has traveled the world for three-and-a-half centuries, yet it might have been printed yesterday.
Corso: (takes the book over to a window. Fargas follows) Is it in order? You haven't detected anything unusual?
Fargas: Unusual? No. The text is complete, the engravings too. Nine plus the title page, just as the catalogs state - just like the Kessler in Paris and the Telfer in New York.
Corso: It isn't the Telfer anymore. Telfer killed himself, but he sold his copy to Balkan first.
Fargas: Balkan... If he sets his heart on a book, no price is too high. It's strange he should have sent you here, if he already... (breaks off as something has just occurred to him. He points to Corso's bag) You have it with you? May I see it? (Corso gets the book, and they go over to a table. Fargas places the two copies side by side, bends over them) Superb, beautiful, identical. Two of the only three that escaped the flames, reunited for the first time in over three centuries. (he turns the pages of each book, caressing the yellowing paper with his fingertips) Look at this imperfection. In the fourth line here - the damaged "S". The same type, the same impression. (turns both copies of 'The Nine Gates' over to reveal their backboards.) You see? If it weren't for this slight discoloration on the back of my copy, one couldn't tell them apart.
Corso: If it's all right with you, I'd like to stay awhile and study them in detail.
Fargas: (eyes him keenly): What are you looking for, Mr. Corso?
Corso: I wish I knew.
Fargas: (looks suddenly grave) Some books are dangerous. Not to be opened with impunity.
Corso: Very true.
Drawing Room. Evening. A fire burns on the hearth. Fargas is seated at a window, practicing the violin. He repeats the same short piece over and over again, occasionally pausing to take a sip of brandy. Corso is sitting at a table with both copies of 'The Nine Gates' open in front of him at the engraving of the knight with a finger to his lips. He compares the two copies with the aid of his magnifying glass. They look identical. He turns over several pages in each book until he comes to the hermit with the keys, dog and lanter. He compares the two copies. Again, no apparent difference. He proceeds to a third engraving: a wayfarer approaching a bridge with two gate towers and an angelic archer in the clouds overhead. Another seemingly identical pair. Then he stops short and returns to the second engraving. it looks the same, but then he spots it: in Balkan's copy the keys are in the Hermit's right hand, in Fargas' copy, they're in his left. Fascinated by this discovery, he peers closely at each signature in turn. Balkan's reads 'AT', Fargas' ... 'LF'. Corso turns to an engraving of a jester outside a maze with two entrances. Comparison of the two copies reveals that in Fargas' copy one of the doorways is open; in Balkan's it's bricked up. The signatures, too, vary: 'AT' in one, 'LF' in the other.
Corso: (excitedly, under his breath): Now we're getting somewhere
An old-fashioned telephone bell starts ringing somewhere in the house. Corso looks up. Fargas doesn't hear the bell immediately. He plays on for a bar or two, then pauses and listens while the telephone continues to ring. He gets to his feet. He puts the violin down and limps out. Corso's open notebook now displays a chart consisting of two horizontal rows of nine boxes. One row is marked 'BALKAN', the other 'FARGAS'. He is busy filling in the boxes with either 'AT' or 'LF'. Fargas reappears. He gives Corso a friendly nod, returns to the window and launches into the same old piece on his violin. Corso has now filled in all the boxes. He studies them for a moment, then circles all the 'LF's in red ink.
Outside. Corso exits and shuts the gate. His breath is visible as steam in the chilly night air. After a last backward look at the statue-bordered driveway and the neglected garden, he turns up his overcoat collar, settles his bag on his shoulder, and sets off down the road toward the lights of Sintra, which are visible in the distance. His footsteps re-echo from the wall that bounds the Fargas property. He hasn't gone far when two headlights snap on behind him. Simultaneously, the car starts up and takes off with a squeal of tires. Corso spins around. He stands there transfixed for a moment, then dodges behind a projecting buttress as the car hurtles past, missing him by a hair. The car, a big dark sedan, skids to a halt some twenty yards away. The driver' s door opens and a tall man gets out. He momentarily hesitates when he sees Corso still on his feet. Just then we hear a motor vehicle - a noisy one - rounding the next bend. The tall man is captured by a beam of light. Corso has seen him before: it's the mustache. The man dives back into the car and takes off fast. Corso, trembling with shock, watches the tail lights recede and disappear. The sound of the approaching vehicle increases in volume. Corso turns to stare at it. Wobbling unsteadily along the road comes a lone peasant astride a ramshackle motorbike with a blown exhaust. The peasant honks as he goes by. Corso retrieves his bag from the roadside.
Corso enters a small hotel, collects his key from the reception desk and sets off in the direction of the elevator. Visible in the background is the hotel lounge. Two elderly female tourists, are quietly conversing at one table while an overweight German couple sip cocktails. Corso, idly scanning the lounge as he makes for the elevator, stops short: a pair of legs in jeans and white sneakers are jutting from an inglenook fireplace in the far corner. He goes over to investigate. The girl is snuggled up in an armchair with a book on her lap. He hesitates for a moment. She looks up.
Corso: Hi. You didn't say you were bound for Sintra.
Girl: Neither did you.
Corso: What are you doing here?
Corso: I can see that.
Girl: And bumping into people unexpectedly.
Corso: Unexpectedly is right.
Girl: Are you on a business trip? (indicates his shoulder bag) Is that why you always carry that thing around?
Corso: (doesn't answer, adjusts his glasses. He looks at the book she has. She hands it to him. We see the title: 'The Devil in Love' by Jacques Cazotte) You like Gothic novels?
Girl: I like books. I never travel without one.
Corso: Been traveling long?
Corso: (eyes her, intrigued) You said you were a student?
Girl: Did I? (shrugs) So I am. In a way.
Hotel Porter: (appears at Corso's elbow) Excuse me, senor. Phone call.
Corso: (surprised): For me? Are you sure?
Hotel Porter: Si, senor. (he leaves.)
Corso: (turns back to the girl) Well, sorry I disturbed you. (hands back the book and turns to go. Corso goes to the hotel phone and picks up the receiver with a puzzled frown) Yes?
Balkan: (Voice Over) Mr. Corso?
Corso: (startled): Balkan? How did you find me?
Balkan: Made any progress?
Corso: Progress? You could call it that.
Corso: I've examined the Fargas copy. It's authentic. At least it looks that way. Like yours. But there are discrepancies.
Corso: In the engravings. Like keys in different hands, doorways open in one copy and bricked up in the other.
Balkan: I see.
Corso: And there's another thing.
Corso: The ones that differ are ail signed 'LF'. Seems like some kind of riddle. ( A long pause) Are you still there? Where are you, anyway?
Balkan: I think you'd better get it for me.
Corso: The old man wouldn't sell it to save his life - he said as much. (Another long pause) Balkan?
A click, and the line goes dead.
Corso's hotel room. Corso's lying fast asleep on his back in bed, one limp arm trailing over the edge. A knock at the door. He grunts and props himself on one elbow.
Corso: (sleepily): Just a minute. (He rolls out of bed and wraps the bedspread around his waist. Then he opens the door and stands there, a tousled figure with Liana's teeth marks clearly visible on his chest. The girl stands outside his door.
Girl: You left your phone off the hook.
Corso: Jesus... (peers blearily at his watch): What time is it?
Girl: Early, but you have to go.
Corso: (bewildered): Go where, for God's sake?
Girl: The Fargas place.
Corso: Fargas? I already saw Fargas.
Girl: I think you should see him again.
Corso: What is this, a practical joke? Who the hell are you? What do you know about Fargas?
Girl: Better get dressed. I'll wait for you downstairs.
Fargas Driveway. Corso and the girl walk in silence up the driveway. He eyes her, mystified, as she strides briskly alongside him. Corso goes up to the front door and yanks at the bellpull.
Girl: Don't bother. He isn't there.
Corso: (sarcastically): Really. So where is he?
Girl: Over there.
She points in the direction of the ornamental pond. Corso stares at her, then walks over to it and freezes: Victor Fargas' corpse is floating face up among the dead leaves and lily pads. An empty brandy bottle is floating alongside.
Corso: (mutters): God Almighty!
Girl: (Ignoring her, Corso tries the door handle, but it's bolted) You want to get inside?
Corso nods, too shocked to trade words with her. She looks up at the facade. Then, with surprising agility, she shimmies up a drainpipe beside the door and climbs onto the balcony above it. One of the French windows is broken. She reaches inside, releases the catch, and disappears from view. Corso waits, casting occasional glances at the ornamental pond and its occupant. There's the rattle of a bolt being withdrawn, and the girl opens the front door from the inside.
Corso: Wait here. (he enters the house and reaches the drawing room. His foot crunches on something as he crosses it on his way to the rug on which the occult books were stacked: it's the remains of one of Fargas' treasured brandy glasses. He pauses long enough to identify it, then walks on. The books are lying scattered across the rug: no sign of 'The Nine Gates') Shit! Shit, SHIT!!!
He looks around helplessly. Then he sees it: the last of the fire is still smoldering on the hearth, and lying open among the ashes, charred around the edges, is Fargas' 'Nine Gates'. He picks up,the mutilated volume, looks at it for a moment, shaking his head, and stows it in his canvas bag and emerges from the house.
Girl: Well, did you find it?
Corso: You know too damned much. More than I do. Why do you keep following me around? What are you, a groupie or something? IRS, CIA, Interpol? Who are you working for?
Girl: You're wasting time, asking all these questions. We'd better get out of here. There's a flight from Lisbon to Paris at noon. We should just make it.
Corso: What's with the 'we'?
Girl: There are two of us, aren't there?
Airliner cabin. The girl is drowsing with her head on Corso's shoulder. He looks down at her.
Corso: Somebody's playing a game with me.
Girl: (drowsily): Of course. You're a part of it.
Corso: What exactly happened back there?
Girl: Fargas caught someone stealing, I guess.
Corso: And what do you guess happened to him?
Girl: He drowned.
Corso: With a little help from who?
Girl: (shrugs): He's dead. Who cares?
Corso: I care. I could wind up the same way.
Girl: Not with me around to take care of you.
Corso: I see. You're my guardian angel.
Girl: Something like that.
She removes her head from his shoulder, turns away, and snuggles up against the window instead.
Paris Airport. Corso makes his way across the bustling arrivals hall. The girl, is trailing along in his wake. He glances back at her occasionally. Corso takes out his US passport in readiness to show it. He looks around for the girl, but there's no sign of her. A taxi drops him off in front of a modest but respectable three-star hotel. He hands some money through the driver's window and heads for the entrance. He walks up to the reception desk, which is presided over by a desk clerk (Gruber).
Corso: Hello, Gruber.
Gruber: (looks up, acknowledges Corso's presence with a curt nod of the head) Welcome, Mr. Corso. Delighted to see you again. (consults his computer screen) We don't have any vacancies, but I'm sure I'll be able to organize something.
Corso: Thank you, Gruber. (discreetly, he slides a 100 franc bill across the desk. Gruber makes it vanish and smiles)
Gruber: Thank you, sir.
Upstairs in his room, a bottle of Scotch and a glass on a small desk, along with Balkan's 'Nine Gates' and Fargas's charred copy. A cigarette is smoldering in the ashtray beside them. Corso is turning the pages of what remains of Fargas' copy. He pauses at a page of text bearing a distinctive ornamental capital, peers at the gutter, and detects that the page facing it has been torn out. He runs his finger along the rough edge. Then he opens Balkan's copy at the same place. What is missing from the charred copy is the engraving of the hermit with the keys, dog and lantern. He takes a swig of his Scotch and leans back with the cigarette between his lips, thinking hard. Then he glances at his watch and stands up.
Corso, canvas bag on shoulder as usual, strides across the bridge toward the Left Bank. He walks up to the entrance of a tall, well-preserved old building overlooking the Seine. A grim-faced concierge is sits in her cubby-hole. She eyes him inquiringly.
Corso: The Kessler Foundation.
She jerks her head in the direction of an old-fashioned elevator like a gilded cage.
Kessler Foundation. The secretary looks up at Corso with an inquiringly.
Corso: Dean Corso. I have an appointment with Baroness Kessler.
Secretary: (consults her appointment book and her watch and rises) This way. (She walks ahead of him down a paneled corridor and stops outside a heavy wooden door.) You have thirty minutes.
She knocks on the door and opens it to reveal a spacious room filled with luxuriant potted plants. Beside the window, a large desk is covered with papers and books, some of them open. Corso follows the secretary in. Baroness Kessler, an elegant little white-haired old lady with a scarf draped around her shoulders, turns her electric wheelchair to face him. She speaks with a pronounced German accent.
Baroness Kessler: Mr. Corso? Come in. I've heard a great deal about you. (She approaches with her left hand extended. We see that her right arm has been amputated at the elbow.)
Corso: Nothing good, I hope. (They shake hands)
Baroness: (to the secretary) Merci, Simone. (to Corso) You hope right.
The secretary exits, closing the door behind her.
Corso: (dryly.) I'm reassured, Baroness. In my trade, to be spoken well of can be professionally disastrous. (He surveys the room. Visible through some open double doors on the right is a vast library. He focuses on it. The Baroness follows the direction of his gaze.)
Baroness: Yes, there it is: the Kessler Collection.
Corso: Very impressive too. I know your catalog almost by heart.
Baroness: Strange we haven't met before. Your name is a byword among dealers and collectors but I imagine you know your own reputation better than I do.
Corso: It keeps the wolf from the door. (smiles to change the subject) Were you in the middle of something?
Baroness: (beckons him over to the desk. He looks at the array of books and papers) My latest work: 'The Devil: History and Myth' - a kind of biography. It will be published early next year.
Corso: Why the Devil?
Baroness: (laughs) I saw him one day. I was fifteen years old, and I saw him as plain as I see you now: cutaway, top hat, cane. Very elegant, very handsome. It was love at first sight.
Corso: (chuckles, doing his best to charm the old lady) Three hundred years ago they'd have burned you at the stake for saying that.
Baroness: Three hundred years ago I wouldn't have said it. (They both laugh) Nor would I have made a million by writing about it. (abruptly businesslike) What is it you wish to discuss, Mr. Corso?
Corso: (adjusts his glasses) There's a book in your collection I'd like to examine. (she smiles as if that were already obvious) It's 'The Book of the Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows'.
Baroness: (unsurprised): The Nine Gates? An interesting work. Everyone's been asking about it lately.
Corso: (stiffens almost imperceptibly): Really?
Baroness: (eyes him for a moment) Come with me. (Swinging her wheelchair around, she steers it toward the double doors and into the library beyond them. Corso follows) You really believe in the Devil, Baroness?
Baroness: Enough to devote my life and my library to him, not to mention many years of work. Don't you?
Corso: Everyone's been asking me that lately.
Baroness: (looks mildly amused. She sends her wheelchair gliding over to a bookshelf and removes the third copy of 'The Nine Gates') This book demands a certain amount of faith.
Corso: My faith is in short supply.
They both go over to a small table in the centre of the room. The Baroness opens the book and turns a few pages. There are handwritten slips of paper inserted throughout.)
Baroness: I know this book extremely well. I studied it for years.
Corso: Do you have any doubts about its authenticity?
Baroness: (glances at him suspiciously) None whatever.
Corso: You're sure?
Baroness: My knowledge of this book is profound. I wrote a biography of its author.
Corso: Aristide Torchia?
Baroness: A courageous man. He died for the sake of this very book in 1623. He had spent many years in Prague, a centre of the occult. While there he studied the black arts and acquired a copy of the dread 'Delomelanicon'. This is his adaptation of that work, which was written by Lucifer himself. After they burned him at the stake, a secret society was founded to perpetuate its memory and preserve its secrets: the Brotherhood.
Corso: The Brotherhood?
Baroness: Yes, a kind of witches' coven. For centuries they have met to read from this book and worship the Prince of Darkness. Today they've degenerated into a social club for bored millionaires. I myself belonged to the Brotherhood many years ago, but time is too precious at my age. I told them to go to the Devil. She laughs at her own little joke.
Corso: They still meet?
Baroness: Every year.
Corso: And you say they read from this book?
Baroness: No, I took mine back when Liana Telfer acquired the one in Toledo. Victor Fargas is an unbeliever - he has always refused to participate, so naturally they use the Telfer copy. Not that it has ever worked. (pause) They never do, to be honest.
Corso: So Andrew Telfer never took part?
Baroness: Never. He knew nothing of these activities until that creature Liana de Saint-Damien married him for money. She used his dollars to buy the book and renovate her chateau. An old and aristocratic family, the Saint-Damiens, but penniless. They have dabbled in witchcraft for hundreds of years.
Corso: Telfer hanged himself last week.
Baroness: (A brief silence. She looks stunned for a moment) I see. And Fargas?
Corso: He was alive the last time we spoke.
Baroness: When was that?
Corso: Two days ago.
Baroness: (digests this, looks at him keenly) Who exactly are you working for, Mr. Corso?
Corso: My client's name is irrelevant, Baroness. I'm simply trying to authenticate his copy - the one Telfer sold him before he died.
Baroness: (catches on): How stupid of me! I should have guessed! (Angry now, she swings her wheelchair around to face him full on) You've outstayed your welcome, Mr. Corso.
Corso: I was hoping to examine your copy in detail.
Baroness: Certainly not. Tell your client, who can only be Boris Balkan, to come and examine it himself - if he dares. Tell him not to send any more wolves in sheeps' clothing. And now, kindly leave. (she points to the door with her stump. Her wheelchair hums as she shepherds him out through the office. He opens the door to the corridor) You don't know what you're getting yourself into, Mr. Corso. Get out before it's too late.
Corso: I'm afraid it already is, Baroness.
Baroness: Some books are dangerous, and this is one.
Corso: (smiles wryly): So people keep telling me. Thanks for your time.
The Baroness watches him exit. He's hardly out the door when she picks up the phone.
Corso walks back along the corridor. The secretary gives him a curt nod as he passes. He emerges from the building. As he does, he catches sight of the mustache man leaning against the parapet of the riverside promenade across the way. The man stiffens and straightens up. Corso, with one eye on him, starts walking. The man starts walking too, keeps level with him on the other side of the street. Corso comes to a cafe. For want of a better idea, he goes inside, sits down at a table, orders a drink. Looking out the cafe window, he sees the man leaning against the parapet in his former pose, watching. The man lights a small cigar without taking his eyes off Corso. Corso is still sitting at his table, which now has several checks on it. The lights come on, blotting out his view of the street through the window. All he can now see is a reflection of the cafe's interior, including his own seated figure. He drums his fingers on the table, glances at his watch, and deliberates. He adds up his check and puts some money on the table. Then, settling his bag on his shoulder, he makes for the door. He peers across the street, sees no sign of the man, and exits. Still no sign of the man. He sets off along the sidewalk, glancing across the street as he does so. Then, over his shoulder, he catches sight of a car with dipped headlights - a dark-colored sedan - crawling along the curb some twenty yards behind him. On impulse, he darts across the street to the riverside promenade and dashes down the flight of steps that leads to the quay. The car's headlights blaze up. It accelerates, tires squealing, and swerves across the one-way street in pursuit. Corso races down the steps, hears the car skid to a halt, and sprints off along the quay. A couple of hundred yards along the quay he runs out of steam and slows, turns to look: no sign of the man, no sound of pursuing footsteps. Relieved but still wary, he leans against the embankment wall to catch his breath and light a cigarette. Then, with a final backward look, he walks on to the next flight of steps. He's halfway up them when the man, a tall, menacing figure, appears at the top. He turns to flee, but the man is too quick for him. He darts down the steps and Corso misses the last couple of steps and lands face down on the quayside. The man is on him in a flash. He bends down and yanks the strap of the bag off his shoulder. Corso resists, hugs the bag protectively, gets kicked in the stomach, doubles up and hangs on for dear life. As he lies there with the man kicking him repeatedly and tugging at the strap, he sees, silhouetted against the yellowish, misty glow of the nearest streetlight, a ghostly figure flying down the steps: It's the girl, with her duffel coat streaming out behind her like Superman's cape. The man has finally gotten the bag away from Corso. Just as he straightens up and turns to go, the girl performs a flying leap and kicks him. He grunts and goes sprawling on his back, dropping the bag. The girl is stooping to retrieve the bag when the man scrambles to his feet and lunges at her. He throws a punch at her head. Although she blocks most of its force he catches her a glancing blow on the nose. She reacts like lightning, kicks him in the groin. He yelps and goes into a crouch. Then, with a spin kick, she floors him once more. He lies there, spitting blood and glaring up at her. She seems to have knocked the fight out of him at last. With one wary eye on the man, the girl picks up the shoulder bag and turns to Corso who's struggling to his feet. Beyond her, he sees the man get up and make for the steps.
Corso: Hey, he's getting away!
The girl merely turns to look. Corso sets off after the man, who has already started up the steps, and just manages to grab one of his legs. The man kicks himself free and continues up the steps with Corso clumsily following a few feet behind. Waiting at the top of the steps, engine idling and passenger door open, is the dark sedan, a Mercedes. Corso reaches street level in time to catch a glimpse of the glamorous blonde behind the wheel: it's Liana Telfer. The man jumps in and slams the door. The car burns rubber as it accelerates away. The girl calmly climbs the last few steps with Corso, bag in one hand and his glasses in the other. She hands them to him.
Girl: They're broken. You should be more careful.
Corso , leaning back against the promenade wall and breathing heavily, stares at her with his mouth open. He slides down the wall and subsides into a sitting position on the sidewalk. One lens of his glasses cracked, is still sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the wall. The girl is sitting beside him. He produces a crumpled cigarette and lights it. It takes him quite a while, his hands are shaking so badly. The girl's nose is bleeding. She wipes it on her sleeve. Corso produces a handkerchief as crumpled as his cigarette and hands it to her.
Corso: When did you learn all that?
Corso: (aims a feeble kick in the air) That stuff.
Girl: (casually): Oh, ages ago.
Corso: No shit.
She gets up and holds out her hand. He takes it and rises with an effort. He flicks his cigarette over the parapet. They walk off along the promenade side by side and head for the hotel. Corso goes up to the reception desk, where Gruber is on duty.
Corso: I need a favor, Gruber.
Gruber: (looks up, registers his broken glasses and disheveled condition and the girl is standing in the background) Certainly, Mr. Corso.
Corso: Liana Telfer, maiden name Saint-Damien. Thirtyish, blond, dishy. Probably accompanied by a big man with a Clark Gable mustache. (Gruber make some notes on a pad) I want to know if they're staying at some hotel here in Paris.
Gruber: It could take a little time.
Corso: Of course. Start with the five-stars. They're the best bet.
Gruber: Very good, sir. (pause) Are you feeling all right?
Corso: I've felt better. Thanks, Gruber. Let me know if you locate them.
Gruber watches Corso and the girl walk to the elevators. In his bedroom, Corso is filling a plastic laundry bag with ice from a tray in the minibar. The girl is sitting on the bed with her head tilted back and a bloodstained handkerchief to her nose.
Corso: Here, hold this against your neck and lie back. (sits down beside her and hands her the ice pack. She applies it to the nape of her neck, lies back and shuts her eyes) You were great down there by the river. I haven't really thanked you. (She opens her eyes and smiles at him) Like to tell me what's going on?
Girl: (shrugs faintly): Someone's after your book.
Corso: They didn't have to kill Fargas to get it. They didn't have to mutilate his copy, either. They tore out the engravings and ditched the rest. There's got to be more to it than that.
Girl: (her nose has stopped bleeding) Do you believe in the Devil, Corso?
Corso: I'm being paid to. Do you?
Girl: (smiles): I'm a bit of a devil myself...
She reaches up, removes his glasses, and puts them on the bedside table. Corso eyes her uncertainly. Her nose starts to bleed again. She puts her fingertips to it and inspects the blood on them. Very deliberately, she dabbles them in the blood some more, reaches up, and gently draws four vertical lines down his face from his forehead to his mouth, where her fingertips linger. Corso's face approaches hers. They melt into a passionate kiss, then she pushes him away, rolls him over on his back, unbuttons his shirt, and rests her palms on his chest. Playfully, she runs her forefinger over the imprint of Liana's teeth.
Girl: (smiles mischievously): Would you know a devil if you saw one?
Hotel lobby. Day. Corso, tieless and unshaven, descends the stairs to the lobby carrying his beg. The junior desk clerk, a spotty youth, is dozing on a chair behind the reception desk. Corso goes over and raps on the desk. The junior desk clerk springs to his feet like. Corso jerks his chin at the door behind him.
Corso: Do you have a photocopier back there?
Clerk: Er, yes, monsieur.
Corso: May I use it? Clerk: Are you a guest, monsieur?
Corso: You mean I don't look like one?
Clerk: Of course, monsieur. This way, monsieur. (He lifts a flap and shows Corso into the back office)
Corso: Room 35. And get them to send up breakfast for two.
Corso deposits his bag beside the photocopier and takes out Balkan's 'Nine Gates'. He opens it at the first engraving - the knight with a finger to his lips - and inverts it. Positioning it on the photocopier, he shuts the flap and presses the start button. The photocopy glides out into the tray. He goes back to his room, quietly closing the door behind him. The girl is lying sprawled among the rumpled sheets, fast asleep. Her clothes are draped over a chair with her backpack alongside. Stealthily, Corso takes Balkan's 'Nine Gates' from his bag and places it behind the minibar, then goes into the bathroom.
Corso, with his hair damp from the shower and a towel around his waist, is halfway through shaving when there's a knock on the bathroom door. One cheek daubed with foam, he opens it to find himself confronted by a floor waiter, check pad and ballpoint in hand.
Waiter: Bonjour, monsieur. Votre petit d,jeuner.
Corso: Oh. Sure.
Taking the pad, he emerges into the bedroom and scribbles his signature, then stops short: there's a breakfast cart in the middle of the room, but the bed is empty and the girl's clothes and backpack have disappeared.
Corso: Where is she?
Corso: Madame, ou elle est?
Waiter: Je ne sais pas, m'sieur.
He makes for the door and exits. Corso catches hold of the door just as it's closing, puts his head out into the corridor, looks right and left. No one in sight but the floor waiter, who casts a puzzled glance over his shoulder as he walks off. He steps back into the bedroom and shuts the door. He stands there for a moment, frowning at the empty bed. Then, abruptly, he dashes over to the minibar and looks behind it. His fears are groundless: 'The Nine Gates' is still there. Just then the phone rings. He picks up the receiver and puts it to his ear on the clean-shaven side of his face.
Balkan: (Voice Over) Come down. I'm in the cafe across the street.
Corso, wearing his crumpled overcoat and carrying his bag, emerges from the hotel and crosses the street to the cafe opposite. He enters and looks around, catches sight of Balkan's sleek gray head at a table in the corner. He goes over to him.
Corso: You sure as hell get around. (he sits down with the shoulder bag between his feet. A waiter appears at his elbow) Un caf, noir, s'il vous plait.
The waiter nods and withdraws. Balkan studies Corso's face through his glasses, notes the glasses with the cracked lens.
Corso: Yeah, like someone tried to total me a couple times. Aside from that, three people have died on me since I took this job. (thinks for a moment) Well, two. Telfer was dead already.
Balkan: I don't follow you.
Corso: It's simple enough. You give me 'The Nine Gates' and they start dropping like flies. I'm thinking of giving it back.
Balkan: Who are you talking about?
Corso: My pal Bernie Feldman, for one.
Balkan: The book dealer? He's dead?
Corso: Murdered. He was holding your book for me. Someone was after it. He wouldn't give it to them.
A moment of silence. Then Balkan emits a chuckle. The chuckle becomes a guffaw, the guffaw gives way to peal after peal of uproarious laughter. He slaps his thighs and rocks back and forth, his face turns puce, his eyes fill with tears. His hilarity is so deafening that the cafe's other customers turn to stare. Corso, too, stares at Balkan as if he's gone crazy. Balkan's mirth gradually subsides. He removes his glasses and mops his eyes. Eventually, still chuckling.
Balkan: Poor fellow. Very creditable of him.
Corso: (refrains from commenting on this outburst) Then there's Fargas.
The waiter brings Corso's coffee. Balkan waits for him to put it on the table and leave.
Balkan: What about Fargas?
Corso: Dead too.
Balkan: How do you know?
Corso: I saw him - and his copy, or what was left of it. Someone had snatched the engravings and tried to burn the rest.
Balkan: (stares at him for a moment) How tragic. What about the Kessler copy?
Corso: The old woman says it's authentic, but I didn't get a chance to look at it closely. As soon as she guessed you were behind my visit she threw me out. You aren't her flavor of the month.
Balkan: You must see her again. You must get me that copy - or examine it, at least.
Corso: (derisively): Are you kidding? I'd have to be the Invisible Man.
Balkan: (reaches into his black briefcase and produces a big manila envelope) Try this.
Corso takes the envelope and looks at it. It's addressed to 'Baroness Friede Kessler'.
Kessler Building Lobby. Day. Corso, canvas bag on shoulder as usual, hands the envelope to the secretary, who takes it and walks off down the corridor. A black and white photo fills the screen: it shows a young and beautiful Baroness Kessler flanked by two men in SS uniform. One of them is Heinrich Himmler. Baroness Kessler is scowling down at a wartime number of 'Signal', the Nazi propaganda magazine. It's lying open on her desk with Balkan's envelope beside it. The secretary shows Corso in. The baroness addresses her crisply.
Baroness: Merci, Simone.
The secretary nods and exits. Fixing Corso with a cold, challenging stare, Baroness Kessler feeds the magazine into a shredder beside her desk. She no longer looks such a dear little old lady. In the Kessler library, Corso is seated at a table on which reposes the Kessler copy of 'The Nine Gates'. Beside it lies his notebook and the photocopies of Balkan's engravings. His shoulder bag is hanging on the chairback, his overcoat draped over it. He reaches into his pocket and produces a cigarette, takes out his lighter.
Baroness: Blackmail doesn't entitle you to smoke in my library, Mr. Corso.
Corso stops short and looks back through the double doors into her office: she's seated behind her desk like a graven image, watching him intently. He reinserts the cigarette in its pack and pockets his lighter. Getting down to work, he opens 'The Nine Gates' and extracts one of the Baroness's handwritten slips, reads it to himself in a low voice.
Corso: 'I will recognize your servants, my brethren, by the sign that adorns some part of their body, a scar or mark of your making...'
He replaces the slip. The Baroness cranes her body largely obscures her view of the table. Corso turns some pages and comes to the engraving of the knight with a finger to his lips. He compares it with the photocopy: the castle has three towers instead of four. He examines the margin of the engraving through his magnifying glass to ascertain the presence of something he already knows will be there: an 'LF'. He turns to the chart in his notebook, which has already acquired a third row of nine boxes. He writes 'Kessler' beside it and enters an 'LF' in the first box. The second engraving - the hermit with the keys - appears to be identical and the signature is 'AT'. An 'AT' goes down in the second box. The third engraving is different: the angelic archer has an arrow in his quiver, whereas the photocopy of Balkan' s counterpart does not. This one, too, is signed 'LF'. Corso enters an 'LF' in the third box. Camera moves in until the chart fills the screen. A long shot of Corso from behind. He leans back and stretches, glances in the direction of the office: Baroness Kessler is no longer at her desk. Absolute silence reigns. He resumes work, turns to the ninth engraving: the naked woman riding the dragon with a castle ablaze in the background. There's a loud thud, and the engraving sways and blurs. The screen goes black. Fade back in. An electrical hum, punctuated by a strange, rhythmical series of clicks and thuds: click-thud, click-thud, click-thud. Corso, sitting slumped over the table, comes to. He groans and laboriously straightens up, feels his head and winces. The strange sound impinges on his consciousness: he looks around vaguely for its source and discovers it: Baroness Kessler's wheelchair has been left in forward gear. Complete with occupant, it's colliding again and again with the wall beneath a window on the other side of the room. Corso, who can just glimpse the top of the old lady's head from behind, sees it jerk forward at each impact. He struggles to his feet.
No answer. Unsteadily, he makes his way over to the wheelchair and swivels it around, starts back with a muffled exclamation. Baroness Kessler has been strangled with her Hermes scarf: her cheeks are blue, her eyes and tongue are protruding. Unobstructed, the laden wheelchair takes off across the library and heads for the double doors, which are now closed. It runs into them full tilt, bursts them open, and continues on its way. Instantly, smoke comes billowing into the library, accompanied by a crackle of flames. The wheelchair disappears into the murk. Corso wildly scans the table for Baroness Kessler's 'Nine Gates', but it's gone. Snatching up his notebook and abandoning his shoulder bag and overcoat, he makes for the office at a run. The office is thick with smoke and illumined by a fiery glow. Corso pauses in the doorway, shielding his face from the heat with one hand, and surveys the scene. The Baroness and her wheelchair have come to rest in the midst of a bonfire of books and papers. Corso can just make out her copy of 'The Nine Gates' on top. The flames are already engulfing it. Corso takes a last look, then dashes through the smoke to the door and exits. With smoke billowing after him, Corso dashes along the corridor, through the lobby, which is deserted, and out onto the landing. On the landing Corso bumps into the secretary, who has just emerged from the elevator. She gives a little shriek and drops a paper bag. Half a dozen oranges go bouncing ahead of Corso as he races down the stairs. In the hallway he almost upends the concierge, who's wielding a broom in her curlers. Leaping aside with a startled yell, she speeds him on his way with some choice words, then peers up the stairwell: the upper stories are already wreathed in smoke, and tenants have come out onto the landings. The secretary comes pelting down the stairs, screaming at the top of her lungs. Outside, Corso douses his head in the basin of a fountain, shakes off the drips and massages his face. Then he leans against the basin and looks around. He's all alone in the little square. He takes out a crumpled cigarette and inserts it between his lips with dripping fingers, gropes for his lighter, and vainly tries to light it. Wearily, he removes the cigarette from his lips and tosses it away. All at once, he spots a huge Great Dane watching him from the mouth of an alleyway. Corso and the Great Dane stare at each other. Then the silence is broken by a fire engine's siren, faint at first but growing louder. He reaches an intersection and looks around the corner. The Kessler building is ablaze. Tongues of flame and clouds of smoke are issuing from the windows of the upper stories. Fire engines and squad cars are drawn up outside, firemen are directing their hoses onto the flames, cordoning off the street and keeping curious spectators away.
Corso, looking wrung out, crosses the street and makes for the hotel entrance. He's just going through the revolving doors into the lobby when the girl appears on the inside. Hooking her arm through his, she steers him around and back outside again in one continuous movement.
Girl: (mutters): Just keep going. (still firmly gripping his arm, she takes him out onto the Sidewalk)
Corso: (baffled): What are you playing at?
Girl: See those men talking with your friend Gruber? (Corso turns to look. Inside the lobby, two men in trenchcoats are standing at the reception desk in conversation with Gruber) Police.
Corso: (at that moment, Gruber looks past them at Corso. He briefly locks eyes with him but shows no sign of recognition) Shit. (He turns and walks off with her at his side. He goes to enter a glass phone booth)
Girl: You look better without that old bag and coat of yours. They didn't do anything for you.
Corso: (shuts the door in her face. He picks up the receiver, inserts a coin, punches out a number. The girl pulls a funny face at him through the glass. Corso's only response is to turn away and cup his hand around the receiver. Into the phone) Gruber? It's me, Corso. Can you talk?
Gruber: No, sir.
Corso: But you can listen?
Gruber: Certainly, sir.
Corso: I'd like you to do something for me.
Gruber enters a restaurant/bar crowded with lunchtime customers. He spots Corso at the far end of the bar with the girl beside him. She's sucking up some colorful beverage through a straw. Gruber acknowledges her presence with a formal nod.
Corso: You don't have it?
Gruber: There was nothing in the place you described, sir. I'm sorry.
Corso: Goddamit! (He turns to the girl) I suppose you didn't take it?
Girl: You still don't trust me, do you?
Gruber: (clears his throat) I think I may have the answer, sir. Someone visited your room earlier on, while my young colleague was on duty: your wife.
Corso: My wife? I don't have any wife.
Gruber: That's what I told him.
Corso: Could he describe her?
Gruber: (nods): Thirtyish, blond, dishy.
Gruber: Which reminds me, sir: the lady and gentleman you mentioned - they're staying at the Hotel Crillon, Suite 236-238.
Corso: Good for you, Gruber. Thanks a lot.
Gruber: Always glad to be of service, Mr. Corso.
Corso: I owe you one for those cops, too.
Gruber: Ah yes, sir. Interpol.
Corso: Interpol! What exactly did they want?
Gruber: They expressed an interest in your whereabouts.
Corso: And? What did you tell them?
Gruber: That you were out.
Corso: Anything else?
Gruber: They asked if I knew whether you had recently visited Portugal.
Gruber: I said that our guests do not make a habit of providing us with their itineraries.
Corso: (extracts a 500 franc bill from his billfold and slips it into Gruber's hand. Gruber acknowledges this with a gracious inclination of the head) For what it's worth, Gruber, I don't know what they think I've done, but I'm innocent.
Gruber: (impassively): Naturally, Mr. Corso. All our guests are.
Hotel Crillon, Forecourt. Day. A cab drives up to the entrance. The doorman opens the door, Corso and the girl get out. Corso turns to pay the cabby, the doorman twitches an eyebrow at the girls's jeans and sneakers. Corso and the girl enter the lobby which is bustling with activity. They stand aside as an elevator door opens and some camera-toting tourists emerge.
Girl: What'll you do when you see them?
Corso: (dryly): Hide behind you, probably.
They enter the elevator. The doors glide shut. They walk down the corridor, checking numbers as they go. They've almost reached the door of Suite 236-238 when it opens abruptly. They jump back in alarm. A bellhop emerges backside first, towing a baggage cart laden with suitcases. Corso and the girl hide in a passage a few feet to their rear as the bellhop sets off down the corridor in the opposite direction, leaving the door open. Corso pads silently up to the door and enters with the girl at his heels. A deserted sitting room with an old 'Herald Tribune' lying abandoned on the floor and two dirty coffee cups on the table. The bedroom door is ajar. The girl stands watching as Corso tiptoes over pushes it open. The room is empty, the bed unmade.
Corso: Downstairs, quick!
They use the stairs for speed's sake. Panting, they halt at the foot of the last flight and scan the spacious but crowded lobby. It's a moment before they catch sight of the man standing at the cashier's desk with Liana beside him.
Corso: C'mon. Better grab a cab or we'll lose them.
They thread their way across the lobby and make for the exit unobserved. Corso and the girl have stationed themselves at the cab rank on the island. Corso sees a cab approaching amid the stream of traffic and tries to flag it down, but it's taken.
The doorman hands Liana into the passenger seat of the Mercedes sedan while the man supervises the bellhop as he stows their baggage in the trunk. A Rolls pulls up behind the Mercedes, closely followed by a yellow Lamborghini driven by a smartly dressed, mustachioed Arab with a blond bombshell beside him. The Arab gets out, leaving his keys in the ignition. Nonchalantly signaling to the doorman to park his car, he disappears into the hotel with the blond in tow. The doorman acknowledges his gesture before smilingly accepting a tip from the man, who gets in behind the wheel.
Girl: They're going!
Corso sights another cab approaching and cavorts into the roadway, waving his arms like a madman. The cab honks and swerves to avoid him, obstructing some other vehicles, which honk in their turn. It's empty.
Frustrated yet again, beyond him, we see the Mercedes drive off. With a screech of tires, the yellow Lamborghini takes off fast in reverse. Skirting the island, it backs out into the oncoming traffic. Then, slammed into first, it skids to a halt beside the curb at Corso's elbow. The passenger door opens, the girl cranes over and looks up at him from behind the wheel.
Corso stares at her for an instant, then jumps in. The Lamborghini sets off after the Mercedes, which is not far ahead. It threads its way into the stream of traffic, pursued for a few yards along the sidewalk by the wildly gesticulating doorman. The girl is expertly piloting the Lamborghini through heavy traffic. The Mercedes can be seen a few cars ahead.
Corso: Couldn't you have pinched something a bit less conspicuous?
Girl: Don't be so picky. Most people would give their eyeteeth for a ride in this.
Corso surveys the car's luxurious interior, opens the glove compartment, removes the contents and inspects them: some CDs, the car papers, a pair of expensive wrap-around sunglasses, an Arab keffiyeh. Visible through the windshield, the Mercedes is cruising along several hundred yards ahead of the Lamborghini.
Corso: We can't sit on their tail forever. They're bound to smell a rat.
A long shot of the Lamborghini accelerating to draw level with the Mercedes. The Man, with Liana at his elbow, glances sideways. The Man's point of view: the Lamborghini with a figure in shades and a keffiyeh at the wheel. It's the girl. She looks straight ahead as she passes. No sign of Corso. Corso, who has been hiding below door level, sits up. After a quick glance over his shoulder, he settles back in his seat and lights a cigarette, covertly eyeing the girl.
Girl: How do I look?
Corso: You look like a million. A million barrels of oil.
The Lamborghini passes an exit. The girl, who has discarded the keffiyeh and shades, is driving with one eye on the rearview mirror. The Mercedes indicates right, slows, and turns off at the exit.
Girl: Sit tight!
The girl pulls over onto the shoulder and stands on the brakes. Throwing the car into reverse almost before it's stationary, she hurtles backward along the shoulder. A couple of cars flash their headlights and blare as the Lamborghini reaches the exit and skids to a halt, narrowly missing a large truck that has beaten it to the exit. The Lamborghini crawls along behind the truck as it grinds up the single-lane exit road.
Corso: (impatiently): C'mon, c'mon!
The girl blasts the truck with her horn and flashes her headlights. The truck's only response is to slow still further before pulling up at a T-junction.
Corso: What in hell's the matter with him?
Clearly visible in the glare of the Lamborghini's headlights, an arm emerges from the truck's cab window and gives a prolonged, one-fingered salute. The arm disappears, the truck moves off at last and turns left across the bridge spanning the freeway. The Mercedes is nowhere in sight. The Lamborghini moves up to the T-junction and stands there, engine purring.
Girl: Take your pick.
Corso: No, you. You know everything.
Girl: If you say so.
She turns off right. It's dark now, and the Lamborghini is speeding along an avenue of poplar trees. No sign of the Mercedes.
Girl: We lost them.
Corso: Not at this speed. They must have gone the other way.
Girl: You mean I don't know everything after all?
Corso: Turn around.
They pass a small intersection on the right. The girl backs into it but doesn't complete the maneuver. Something catches her eye.
Girl: Thirtyish, blond, dishy - what was her name again?
Corso: Telfer. Liana Telfer.
Girl: No, her maiden name.
Corso's point of view. The Lamborghini's headlights have illuminated a signpost. One of the signs reads: 'ST.-DAMIEN 2 Km.' It points the way they were going. The girl turns out into the road and drives on in the original direction. The girl slows as they pass the 'ST.-DAMIEN' sign at the entrance to the village itself.
Girl: Should we drive straight in?
Corso: In this thing? We might as well hang a bell around our necks. Park here.
Corso and the girl walk gingerly down the old village street. A faint glow emanates from a few windows in the time-worn houses, but the street itself is utterly deserted. They pause at the mouth of a small, equally deserted square, church on one end, village stores shuttered and in darkness, two or three parked cars, none of them the Mercedes.
Corso looks around irresolutely, sees light coming from the basement window of a baker's shop. Side by side, Corso and the girl look down through the basement window. inside, a flour-smeared baker is deftly preparing a tray of croissants for the oven.
Baker: (looks up, wipes his hands on his smock, and walks over to the window.) M'sieur?
Corso: Nous cherchons la maison de Madame de Saint-Damien.
Baker: Le chateau, vous voulez dire.
Corso: (to the girl): Chateau! That's it - got to be. (to the baker) Ou il est, le chateau?
Baker: (gestures): La route aprSs '',gllse, m'sieur.
The girl is driving slowly along a country road flanked on one side by woods. A pair of ornate wrought-iron gates and a gatehouse loom up on the left.
Corso: Keep going.
There's a light on in the gatehouse. They glimpse the gatekeeper leaning against his door, smoking, as they cruise past. The Lamborghini backs into the mouth of a farm track. The girl and Corso get out, cross the road, and strike off into the woods. Hugging the trees that border it on one side, Corso and the girl are making their way up a long, straight, graveled driveway. The lighted gatehouse is to their rear, the lights of the chateau can be seen ahead. Hearing the sound of a car behind them, they turn to see its headlights swing in through the gates. They quickly take cover in the trees and watch the car - a big limo - glide past, then emerge and walk on. They observe the chateau, a substantial 17th century mansion, from the edge of the trees. The forecourt, in which come 20 expensive-looking cars are parked, one of them the Mercedes, is illuminated by the the lights inside the building. The limo has pulled up at the foot of the steps, and the occupants, a smartly dressed elderly couple, are being greeted by a tuxedoed butler while their suitcases are removed from the trunk and carried in after them by a manservant. Corso and the girl have worked their way around to the side of the chateau. One of the lighted windows gives them a view of the upper reaches of the chateau's great hall, with its minstrel gallery and lofty, vaulted ceiling. They climb on a stone bench for a better look. Inside, overlooked by an array of ancestral portraits, some 50 guests are inaudibly conversing in groups. Men and women alike are attired in long black robes resembling monks' habits, and all have silver pentacles suspended from their necks on silver chains. Their cowls are thrown back to reveal the heads and faces beneath. A motley assortment of people, most of them middle- or late middle-aged, one or two of oriental origin. No sign of Liana or the Man.
Girl: See them anywhere?
Girl: They aren't there.
Corso and the girl continue to make their way around the house, cautiously. Peering through a semi-basement window, they see two chefs chopping vegetables at a big kitchen table. They pause, at a loss, and look up at the house. Several of the second-floor windows are illuminated, and one of them has some creeper-covered trelliswork running up to its balcony. The girl, with Corso close behind her, has just reached the top of the trelliswork. She clambers over onto the balcony. Corso scales the last few fact, reaches for the balustrade, straddles it and joins her. Together, they peer through the French windows. With them, we see a bedroom decorated in a very feminine style. Two of Liana's suitcases are on the floor near the bed. A third, with her discarded clothes beside it, is lying open on the bed itself. Liana has stripped to her panties. They watch as she slips them off, goes to a wardrobe, and takes out a black robe and silver pentacle like the ones we saw downstairs. Pulling the robe over her head, she smooths it down, dons the pentacle, and inspects herself in a mirror in the corner of the room. Corso takes advantage of her preoccupation to try the French windows. They won't budge. He turns to the girl and shrugs, then raises his foot and kicks the glass in. Liana spins around with a terrified cry and stands there transfixed. Corso reaches inside, turns the knob, opens the French windows and steps into the room. The girl follows.
Corso: Where is it?
Liana: How dare you!
Corso: That book isn't yours, Madame. 1 need it.
Liana: Get out of here, both of you!
Corso goes over to the bed and empties the suitcase onto the floor. Among its contents is 'The Nine Gates'. Liana instinctively lunges for it, but the girl blocks her.
Corso: (to the girl) Careful, she bites!
He's stooping to retrieve the book when the door opens and the Man, robed and barefooted, stands framed in the doorway. Corso turns quickly with the book in his hand, The girl stiffens. Liana makes a dive for the bedside table and produces a chrome-plated automatic from the drawer, flips the safety catch.
Liana: (to Corso and the girl) Don't move, either of you. (to the Man) Get the book, Bruno.
Corso takes a tentative step backward as Bruno approaches him with his left hand extended. He reluctantly surrenders the book. Bruno rewards him for his co-operation with a vicious right hook to the jaw. Corso goes down, losing his glasses yet again. Groggily, he crawls around in search of them. Bruno joins Liana, steering well clear of the girl. He hands her 'The Nine Gates' and carefully transfers the automatic from her hand to his.
Liana: Take them downstairs and lock them up. We'll deal with them later, there's no time now.
Bruno: (to Corso, Italian accent): Turn around.
Corso, who has scrambled to his feet, complies. Bruno applies the muzzle of the automatic to the nape of his neck.
Bruno: (to the girl) You. Go first. Any trouble, I blow his brains.
The girl makes for the door. Bruno prods Corso into motion. They exit. Liana stares after them for a moment, clasping 'The Nine Gates' to her chest. A long passage lined with more ancestral portraits. The ancient floorboards creek as the girl obediently walks ahead of Corso and Bruno, whose automatic is leveled at Corso's back. They reach the end of the passage.
Bruno: Go left. Down the stairs.
They descend a staircase to ground level. Another long passage confronts them, much like the first but floored with marble.
Bruno: Avanti, avanti!
A door at the end leads into a stone-flagged passage with whitewashed walls. They make their way along it until they reach a heavy oak door.
Bruno: (to the girl) Open it!
The girl does so to reveal a small landing and a flight of stone steps leading downward. She stops short: the steps have no guardrail and the cellar beneath is shrouded in darkness. Bruno prods Corso through the doorway until all three are on the landing, then throws a light switch. Bare bulbs shed little light on the steps but illuminate a large vaulted chamber below. It's the chateau's wine cellar: oak barrels and racks of bottles thick with dust and cobwebs are housed behind an iron grille with a door in it. The door is ajar, the key in the lock.
Bruno: (to the girl) Move!
She sets off down the steps. Corso follows with Bruno at his heels. Halfway down, Corso pretends to stumble: he crouches and turns in a single movement. Bruno, following close behind, trips over him. Corso seizes his robe and yanks at it, helping him on his way.
Corso: (to the girl) Watch out!
She plasters herself against the wall to avoid Bruno's somersaulting body. The automatic escapes from his hand and slithers across the flagstones as he comes to rest, with a sickening thud, at the foot of the steps. The girl follows him down and picks it up. Corso reaches the foot of the steps and rolls Bruno over on his back. He's out cold, with blood oozing from a broken nose.
Girl: (faintly admiring) I didn't know you had it in you.
Corso: Another thing you didn't know? (He takes hold of Bruno's ankles and, with the girl's assistance, hauls him through the grille into the inner cellar. He stares down at the man for a moment) Hey, give me a hand. I want his gear.
He starts to peel off Bruno's robe, shuts the grille door, locks it, and tosses the key into a corner. They cautiously retrace their steps along the marble-floored passage. Corso is wearing Bruno's robe and pentacle over his clothes with his shoes and trouser bottoms visible below the hem. They pass the stairs they descended and continue on their way, turning a corner. As they do so, they hear a faint, intermittent hum. They pause to listen, then walk on. The sound grows louder and more distinct: somewhere in the chateau, voices are chanting in unison. Turning another corner, they find themselves in an anteroom that terminates in two massive double doors. The chanting is coming from beyond them. Corso walks over to the doors with the girl at his heels. He grasps the handle.
Girl: (hisses) No! Up to the gallery.
The chanting is even louder now. They reach the top of some uncarpeted stairs and cautiously open a small door. A wave of sound hits them. They steal through the doorway into the shadowy gallery, and peer over a balustrade. At the far end of the huge room in a dais draped in black with some shallow steps leading up to it. On the wall above the dais hangs an inverted silver crucifix; on the dais itself, which is flanked by a pair of outsize black candles in three-foot silver candlesticks, Liana stands facing the hall from behind a silver lectern on which reposes 'The Nine Gates'. Arrayed in the body of the hall are the 50 guests, each holding a lighted black candle. Liana and the guests are taking it in turns, like priest and congregation, to intone passages from the Latin text of 'The Nine Gates'.
Corso: (quietly, to the girl) You stay here and cover me. I'm going down.
Pulling the cowl over his head, he sneaks down the spiral staircase, secretes himself in the rear rank of guests, and concentrates on Liana and the book as the litany continues. All at once, unseen by us, the doors swing open with a crash and Balkan's deep bass voice punctures the air on a derisive note.
The guests stop chanting, and fifty cowled heads turn to look for the source of this unseemly interruption. Up on the dais, Liana freezes.
Looking over-life-size in his dark and elegant double-breasted suit, he strides toward the dais. Any guests who fail to get out of his way in time are brusquely elbowed aside. Liana watches him, transfixed, as he climbs the steps and turns to face the guests.
Balkan: Look around you - yes, all of you. What do you see? (they involuntarily turn to look at each other) I'll tell you: a bunch of buffoons in fancy dress. What are you expecting, an apparition? I'm the only apparition you'll see tonight. You really think the Prince of Darkness would deign to manifest himself to the likes of you? He never has and he never will - never! (He closes 'The Nine Gates' with a snap and holds it up) You read from his book, yes, but you have no conception of its true power. I alone have grasped its secret. I alone have fathomed the Master's grand design. I alone am worthy to enjoy the fruits of that discovery: absolute power to determine my own destiny.
Liana: (finding her voice at last) You're insane, Boris. (puts out her hand) Give it back at once!
Balkan: (rounds on her) As for you, Liana de Saint-Damien, you're even guiltier than the rest of this pathetic rabble. You have at least some idea of what this book can do in the right hands, yet you lend yourself to these farcical proceedings, these orgies of ageing flesh conducted in the Master's name. You're a charlatan!
Liana tries to grab the book, but Balkan holds it above his head. She claws his cheeks in desperation. He clasps his face, dropping the book. Liana makes a dive for it, but Balkan pounces on her. They roll over, struggling fiercely. Balkan grabs her by the throat. She tries to break his grip, but he redoubles it. Halfway down the dais steps with Balkan on top of her, she fights for breath. Her suffocated, agonized face is turned toward the hall. The guests shrink back in horror, some of them dropping their candles. Hysterical screams rend the air. Corso comes to life. Hampered by his robe, he makes for dais as fast as he can, scattering frightened guests in the process. He takes hold of Balkan's shoulders and tries to haul him off Liana. Balkan, still throttling her, turns to look. He glares at Corso through his heavy glasses, his features contorted with rage. Then, removing one hand from Liana's throat, he deals Corso a backhanded blow that sends him reeling. Liana seizes the chance to break free. She crawls away, but Balkan is too quick for her: grabbing her pentacle chain from behind, he proceeds to garrotte her with it. Liana, now on her knees, scrabbles at the chain that is biting into her neck. Her face turns purple, her tongue begins to protrude. Corso looks around wildly for a weapon. He seizes one of the three-foot candlesticks and raises it over his head. Suddenly:
Girl: (Off Screen) Don't, Corso!
Startled, he lowers the candlestick and looks up. The girl is perched on the gallery balustrade just above him. Too preoccupied with Balkan and Liana to wonder what her game is, Corso raises the candlestick once more. The girl lands on top of Corso, bearing him to the ground, and immobilizes him with a hammerlock.
Corso: Get off me! He'll kill her!
Girl: Leave them!
Balkan completes his grisly work: Liana's purple face is all too reminiscent of Baroness Kessler's. With a final tug at the chain, he plants one foot in the small of Liana's back and sends her limp body sprawling across the floor of the hall. Screams and cries of horror go up from the guests, who have recoiled still further. Balkan straightens up, a somewhat dishevelled but still imposing figure despite the scratches on his cheeks. Even his glasses are still in place. He leans forward, eyes narrowed in a mock menacing way, and stamps his foot.
Balkan: (in a voice like thunder) Boooh!
With more hysterical screams and cries of dismay, the guests turn tall and flee the hall like a herd of panic-stricken cattle, jostling each other in their eagerness to get out the door. Calmly, without so much as a glance at the girl, Corso, or Liana's corpse, Balkan smoothes his hair down, picks up 'The Nine Gates', and strides majestically after them. Silence falls. The girl releases her grip on Corso's arm, gets off him and rises to her knees. He sits up, nursing his elbow and staring at her with blank incomprehension.
Corso: Why did you do it?
Girl: Some things are meant to happen. That was one of them.
Corso: Don't give me that crap again! You were working for him all along!
Girl: Funny, I thought you were.
Corso: You played me for a sucker, the two of you. I don't intend to take the rap for that maniac.
Girl: He just murdered someone with a roomful of witnesses. That lets you off the hook for the other killings. You should be grateful.
Corso: I'm ecstatic. (He gets to his feet. The girl rises too, starts to pat the dust off his robe. Corso impatiently evades her hand) Where's he off to?
Girl: What do you care? Your job is done. This is as far as you need to go.
Corso: The hell it is! The sonofabitch owes me the other half of my fee.
Girl: (ironically) Of course, it's just business. I thought your curiosity had gotten the better of you.
Corso: Okay, so what's meant to happen next?
Girl: You really want to know?
The girl, with Corso, red-eyed and unshaven beside her, is driving along a country road bordered by rolling fields wreathed in gray mist. They've appropriated Liana's Mercedes sedan. Corso has taken over the wheel. The girl is fast asleep with her head on his shoulder. Sunset. The girl is back behind the wheel, Corso smoking. Dazzled by the setting sun, she lowers the visor. The Mercedes rounds a bend. Visible in the distance, crisply silhouetted against the afterglow, is a castle. It's the one of which we saw a backlighted photograph on Balkan's wall. The girl pulls up some distance from the archway that was once the castle gate. A dark green Range Rover is already parked beside it. Corso and the girl get out and briefly survey the derelict building. A glimmer of light is issuing from the arrow slits in one of the turrets. They cross the deserted courtyard, which is littered with fallen masonry. They climb a dilapidated flight of stone steps to the battlements and walk along them to the tower. They pause outside the moldering old door and listen. A man's voice is faintly audible. Corso puts his hand on the handle. The girl gropes in the pocket of her duffel coat and produces the chromium-plated automatic, holds it out. Corso hesitates briefly, then stuffs it in his jacket pocket. He opens the door and enters, followed by the girl. They are looking down into the interior of the turret, which forms a cylindrical chamber. They're on a small landing from which a steep flight of unprotected stone steps curves down and around the inner wall to the floor of the chamber. The floor, littered with debris including worm-eaten beams that have fallen from the ceiling far above, consists of massive, age-old planks. A large circle has been chalked in the middle of the floor, and within it a square divided into nine boxes numbered 1-9. Each box contains some unrelated object: a rusty knife, a piece of cord, a stone, a gold ring, a serpentine bracelet, a glass vial, a small pile of earth, a quill pen, an hourglass. The chamber is illuminated by half a dozen kerosene lamps located around the circle but outside it. Also near the circle is a camper's collapsible table with various objects on it: a black briefcase, 'The Nine Gates', a magnifying glass, a vacuum flask and mug. On the floor beside the table is an open suitcase with more books spilling out of it. The voice we heard from outside is that of Balkan, but a Balkan unlike any we have seen before: no jacket or necktie, shirt sleeves rolled ' up, vest half unbuttoned, strands of gray hair falling over his scratched and sweating face, cheeks flushed, eyes ablaze with excitement. He's kneeling in front of the numbered boxes and babbling to himself in an expressionless monotone:
Balkan: ... eight doors come before the Serpent that guards the word, Teth, Enea, Novem, Oded, the number nine, which holds the final secret, the mystery of mysteries. The Serpent is the beast that always sleeps with one eye open and is reflected in the Mirror of Knowledge. (giggles triumphantly) Eight engravings plus one, or one plus eight, which coincides with the number that St. John of Patmos attributed to the Beast: 666...
Corso: (to the girl) He needs therapy.
Balkan: (proceeds to scrawl some numerals on the floor with a piece of chalk) Six plus six plus six equals eighteen. One and eight. (even more triumphantly): One plus eight equals nine!
Corso starts to descend the steps. The girl stays behind, sits down on the top step, props her chin on her hand, and watches the proceedings. Balkan rises with chalk dust all over the knees of his pants. He goes to his briefcase and takes out a sheaf of torn engravings. Corso has reached the foot of the steps. Balkan, turning to resume his place in the circle, catches sight of him. He freezes in disbelief, and a long moment passes before he speaks.
Balkan: What are you doing here?!
Corso: I thought I'd drop in before they put you behind bars.
Balkan: Go away!
Corso: We had a deal, remember?
Balkan: A deal?! What impertinence! You bungled it, damn you! You failed me all along the line! Thanks to your lack of initiative, I was compelled to do my own dirty work. And I did it! I got these myself! See, here they are! (brandishes the engravings, speaks with mounting vehemence) Nine engravings or nine doors, and only an initiate can open them. Each door has two keys, each engraving discloses a number, a secret element and keyword to be interpreted in the light of reason and the Cabbala, the one true philosophy!
Corso: I want my money.
Balkan: Don't you understand what's going on here? (returns to the circle, kneels down again, and deals out the engravings like playing cards, one to a box, leaving three boxes Empty) You have before you the mystery of which men have dreamed throughout the centuries. Thousands have died an agonizing death in hopes of just a glimpse of what you're about to see!
Corso: Yeah? What's that, Old Nick in person?
Balkan: Don't be ridiculous! He has never appeared to anyone, never! He's a spirit - the spirit of pure evil. He manifests himself through his servants, of whom I'm proud to be one! (rises, walks quickly over to the little table, and opens 'The Nine Gates' . Turning over several pages, he tears out an engraving) Three copies, but only nine of their twenty-seven engravings hold the key, and I have them all! (tears out two more engravings in quick succession) I have only to complete the sequence. Then the Serpent will enter the seal of Saturn, and I - I shall enter the Ninth Gate!
Corso: Cut the crap and write me a cheque.
Balkan returns to the circle, kneels down once more and neatly positions the three engravings in the empty boxes. Then he rises, goes' to the table, and pours himself a drink from a flask. He gargles with it, swallows, and shakes himself like a wet dog. Whatever the flask contained, it seems to have invigorated him. He dribbles gasoline around the circle, then picks up one of the kerosene lamps and hurls it at the floor. The lamp smashes and ignites the gasoline. Instantly, he's ringed with fire. He draws himself up and stands erect in the center of the circle with flames dancing all around him.
Balkan: I give you my allegiance, Master. I surrender myself unto you body and soul. Let me fear neither noose, nor sword, nor poison. Let me walk unscathed among lepers and the plague-ridden. Erase me from the Book of Life and inscribe me in the black Book of Death. Let it be no! Let it be so now! (ecstatically) Yes, master, yes! Oh, thank you, thank you! I can feel the power flowing through me like an electric current, rendering me capable of any achievement, mental or physical! I could float on air, walk on water. (He stoops and dabbles his hands in the ring of fire) See? I plunge my hands in fire and feel no heat. (picks up the gasoline can, holds it over his head, dousing himself in the contents, then hurls it aside)
Corso: Hey, don't be stupid!
Balkan: (unhearing) Admay, Eloy, Agla, Zatel, Gebal, Elimi, Ashtoreth, Moloch, Shamash, Dagon... (With a whoosh, he himself catches fire. Flames play over his ecstatic figure) It's miraculous! I feel nothing, nothing at all!
He emits another triumphant laugh that soars up the scale until it becomes a high-pitched scream of agony. He starts to caper around, slapping at his clothes, his face, his hair. Corso has regained his feet. He takes the automatic from his pocket and sends it slithering across the floor and through the ring of flames.
Corso: Here, you idiot!
He retreats up the steps with horror written on his face. The girl has risen to her feet. He takes her hand and, with a last backward glance, hustles her outside. Balkan's wild screams reverberate around the walls as Corso and the girl hurry across the courtyard. They are standing beside the Mercedes. Smoke and tongues of flame are issuing from the arrow slits of Balkan's tower. His screams rise in a crescendo. Then a gunshot cuts them off like a knife.
Corso: He really thought it would work.
Girl: He wasn't to know it wouldn't.
Corso: (stares at her, momentarily puzzled, then at the blazing castle, then back at her) You didn't do anything to help him, Greeneyes, not this time.
Girl: I'm your guardian angel, remember?
She lays her palm against his cheek, then crooks her hand around the nape of his neck and draws his face toward hers, kisses him tenderly on the lips. Corso returns her kiss. He folds her in his arms and holds her close. The fiery glow dances over their entwined figures. The castle is now ablaze. The flames have spread from Balkan's tower to the rest of the building. Smoke and flames are now belching from it. The sky overhead is tinged with crimson.
Paris Hotel room. Corso's hair damp from the shower and a towel around his waist, is halfway through shaving when there's a knock on the bathroom door. One cheek daubed with foam, he opens it to find himself confronted by the floor waiter, check pad and ballpoint in hand
Waiter: Bonjour, m'sieur. Votre petit d,jeuner.
Corso: Oh. Sure.
Taking the pad, he emerges into the bedroom and scribbles his signature, then stops short: there's a breakfast cart in the middle of the room, but the bed is empty. No sign of The Girl or her clothes.
Corso: Where is she?
Corso: Madame, ou elle est?
Waiter: Je ne ''ai pas vue, m'sieur.
He makes for the door and exits. Corso catches hold of the door just as it's closing, puts his head out into the corridor, looks right and left. No one in sight but the floor waiter, who casts a puzzled glance over his shoulder as he walks off. Corso, now dressed but unshaven, hurries over to the reception desk, where Gruber is on duty. Gruber greets him with an almost imperceptible inclination of the head.
Gruber: Good morning, Mr. Corso.
Corso: Morning, Gruber. The young lady I came with, have you seen her?
Gruber: Yea, sir. She went out not long ago. (He reaches behind him and produces a folded message slip from one of the pigeonholes) She asked me to give you this.
He hands the slip to Corso, who opens it. With him, we read: 'See you around, maybe.' And below that: 'PS. The 9th Engraving was a forgery.'
Toledo Street. Alley. Day. Corso's footsteps echo as he walks along one of Toledo's narrow medieval streets. The steel-framed glasses with the cracked lens have been replaced by a new pair with gold frames. He's wearing a smart new overcoat and has a new leather bag slung from his shoulder. He rounds a corner and heads down the deserted alleyway we saw in an earlier scene. No scaffolding, just sandblasted walls and freshly painted window frames and grilles. He reaches the doorway leading to the inner courtyard, hears a woman's strident cries, bumps into the boy, who comes running out as before. Corso crosses the courtyard to the steps that led down to the Cenizas' workshop. He stops short and stares. The old door - 'HERMANOS CENIZA - RESTAURACION DE LIBROS' - has been taken off its hinges and propped on its side against the basement wall. The display window is just a gaping hole: the window frame has been ripped out, exposing the masonry surrounding it. The whirr of a power tool can be heard. Corso, looking puzzled, descends the steps. He pauses in the doorway and surveys the interior. The hand press has disappeared and the floor is littered with debris. Pale rectangular patches on the grey walls indicate where counters and cabinets have been ripped out. Two Spanish workmen are busy detaching an old cabinet from the wall with an electric screwdriver.
He has to repeat himself before they interrupt their activities.
1st Workman: Senor?
Corso: Los Hermanos Ceniza?
1st Workman: Los Ceniza? (glances at the 2nd Workman) Estan muertos.
Corso: Como muertos? Quando?
1st Workman: Oh, hace anos, anos.
2nd Workman: Ingles?
2nd Workman: Ah... They dead, many years.
Corso: (more and more puzzled): But they were here not long ago - I spoke with them.
The 2nd workman looks at his colleague, shrugs and chuckles as if to convey that Corso is crazy, like most foreigners.
1st Workman: Disculpe.
He indicates that Corso is in the way. Utterly disconcerted, Corso backs up as they manhandle the cabinet away from the wall and tilt it forward prior to laying it face down on the floor. As they do so, a dusty piece of paper slides off the top of the cabinet and seesaws to the floor like a falling leaf. Instinctively, Corso stoops and picks it up. He looks at it idly, then more closely. His eyes widen. It's the Ninth Engraving: The woman riding a seven-headed dragon with a castle ablaze in the background. The woman's face bears a strong resemblance to that of The Girl.
Corso walks back along the alleyway with the engraving in his hand. His receding figure dwindles to a speck.