THE MONTRESSOR METHOD


By Hugh J. O'Donnell



Everything would have been simpler if we lived in an age that accepted the gentlemanly sport of dueling with pistols. If only I could have put a bullet in Roberts' malformed brain, or stabbed the boor in the heart. The whole affair with his death would have been far simpler. Unfortunately, I was forced to rely on more subtle and intricate methods to exact my revenge.

There was not one single incident that I can recall that led to my decision to murder him. I cannot even remember a moment where I consciously reached a unified state of mind on the matter. It was a thousand little injuries, an endless stream of minor slights and overlooked mistakes. Somewhere, in the dark recesses of my brain, I kept the tally, and one day, I simply realized I was already planning the grim deed.

Roberts was a curator of rare books. His interest was primarily first editions, special collections, and that sort of thing. The lout somehow became a senior librarian in the public university system, specializing in eighteenth and nineteenth century horror. I myself have an interest in the genre, and studied library science before becoming independently wealthy. I continued to pursue the field as a hobby, and quickly amassed an enviable private collection.

It was through this shared interest that our fates became intractably linked. Unfortunately, I quickly discerned that he was the most lax, careless, and downright foolish librarian I have ever had the fortune to meet. I had personally seen him stack first edition copies of Mary Shelly, Le Fanu, even a copy of Tamerlane and Other Poems, on their sides, one over the other. His carelessness did such damage to the spines that they soon cracked, and needed extensive repair. Again and again I saw him err and walk unscathed from the ensuing damage, from job to job, promotion to promotion.

More offensive than his lack of professional skill, was what could be charitably called his social graces. The man was a slack jawed lack even sober, and he was very rarely without drink in him. But others claimed him to be friendly and charming, perhaps the same way that one would be enamored with a large, shaggy dog, which he resembled. He was always openly cheerful to me, though almost instantly, thoughtlessly cruel. Perhaps it was the fact that he was unaware that was most maddening. I would, if such a thing were possible, have simply been the gentleman and extricated myself from the situation, but the man seemed as though he were following me! It soon became quite apparent if I risked an open confrontation with the boor, it would cost my social standing dearly. Thus it was that I wore a smiling mask and plotted the deed, first in the back of my mind, then the front. It did not take me very long to find the perfect opportunity.

It was during the carnival time known to the less interesting literary minds as "convention season," and I was obliged to make an appearance as a member of the literary community. I endured the event as best as I could, bearing the unwashed masses and their outlandish costumes and fashions. I knew that Roberts was there. He would seek me out. He always did at these things, then subjected me to his ridiculous theories and opinions about Robert E. Howard and the New Deal or some such nonsense. He was always so pleased by the thought that he had hit upon some new revolutionary idea that no one else had before. It never occurred to him that the ideas were so foolish anyone else would have been too embarrassed to even write them down, much less expound upon them.

Unsurprisingly, I found him at the hotel bar on the last night of the convention. He was seated at a small table at the back, alone for the moment, but it was clear by the way he swayed in his seat, and the empty bottles lined up in front of him, that he had been holding court there for a good portion of the evening.

"Alex!" he shouted, beckoning with huge, red waving fists, nearly punching out nearby drinkers by accident. "Come, have a drink!" He had half a beer in his hand, but made a rather extensive, and somewhat rude, gesture, and a waitress arrived, looking put-upon and world weary. Roberts asked for a beer. I ordered a glass of red wine. She disappeared without a word, taking a portion of the empties with her.

"You don't drink red wine," he said in the authoritative voice of a man already too far gone to care. I smiled, imagining the hangover he would have in the morning. Then I remembered that if all went well, he'd never have a hangover again. I couldn't help smiling even wider.

"Rarely," I said, "but I'm in the mood for it tonight."

"Why's that?" he asked, slurring. I heard a faint sound of jingling bells, and saw an odd little painted bell on a string had been tied to his badge. It had been meant to resemble Cthulhu, I believe.

"Oh, I'm just thinking about something. I bought a new first edition recently, but I'm having my doubts about it now."

"So you're drowning your sorrows, eh? Whiskey's better for that kind of thing, ya know?"

"I was actually looking around, seeing who's still in town for the con. I was hoping I could get Dr. Laurence to take a look at it before she heads back to Seattle."

"Laurence?" He asked, offended. "I've got twice the experience of that bit, uh..." He was interrupted by the return of the waitress. He didn't want to swear in front of the young woman, although courtesy didn't extend to not staring down her blouse, I noticed. She glared at us, practically slammed our drinks on the table, and retreated again. I watched him watch her go over the rim of my glass.

"The piece is a magazine. She mostly archives 19th century periodicals, so I thought I should go to her."

"The only think you could get out of her is a cheap fuck." My eyebrows shot up. He was even more drunk than I had thought. If I wasn't careful, he would pass out before I got him out of the hotel. "What magazine is it?" he managed.

"Well, if you must know, it's a copy of Godey's Lady's book, circa 1846."

"Godey's Lady's book?" He asked, perking up.

"Yes."

"1846, you said?" Even he knew that the magazine regularly featured first printings of Edgar Allan Poe.

"Yes," I admitted. He drained his beer.

"An extant copy?"

"It looks good, but I have my doubts. I'm worried it's a forgery."

"What month?" There was a gleam in his eye.

"November, but what does that matter if it is a fake?"

"The Cask of Amontillado?"

"I have my reservations, but yes. You were busy, and I arranged it on short notice."

"I should say so. And you were going to have Laurence verify it." His buzz was being edged out by manic excitement.

"I couldn't find you. I didn't know you were still in town."

"My plane leaves in the morning."

"There you go," I said. "I'd hate to make you miss your flight."

"For a first magazine run, complete, of Poe's 'Cask of Amontillado?' I'd walk home." He shrugged into his coat. "Let's go take a look at it."

"What, now?" I asked, my smile slipping.

"Certainly. This isn't something you run across every day. This is a first edition Poe for chrissake."

"But it's nearly one in the morning!"

"Still early enough. Finish your wine." I let him bully me into leaving the bar with him. We managed to get into my car, his eyes shining, a huge grin on his face, and that damn bell ringing with every lurching, drunken step. I could hear him mumbling "Amontillado," and chuckling the whole way.

I sighed, rather theatrically, and made a show of resigning myself. I took an effort of being seen leaving with him, both of us two sheets to the wind.

The length of the drive, for my estate was a good hour from the hotel, I begged him to reconsider. He would miss his plane, I said. It was already very late, and who would want to be working on the last night of a convention? Roberts dismissed all my protests. He said that getting a good look at a fine condition copy of a hundred and fifty year old magazine, with a Poe story, no less, was worth it. I told him that I could get Dr. Laurence to authenticate the piece, to which his response was a stream of profanity that I won't repeat here.

It was just past two when we reached the estate. I had, at the very least, managed to keep the man from worming his way into my home, so this was the first time he had ever seen the mansion. He whistled. "Not bad, Johnston." I thanked him, and punched in the automatic code for the gate.

"The whole place is state of the art. Electronic locks, automatic light and temperature controls, the whole bit. And wait until you see the library." I hurried him inside, and, realizing that he was starting to sober after the long drive, I offered him a drink. He took it, and we headed for the library.

"Sherry, huh?"

"I thought it might be apropos, considering."

"The thought occurs," he said wetly, "That this is a lot like the story." He grinned. I choked on my drink.

"What do you mean?" I asked carefully.

"Well, here we are, alone in the dark of night, in your mansion, to take a look at this macguffin of yours? How do I know that you aren't planning on bricking me up in your basement like poor old Fortunato, eh?" I blanched. Had the ignoramus seen through me so easily? Were police already on their way?

He broke into a fit of laughter that went on for nearly a minute. "Man, Alex. You should see your face! Even drunk, you're so serious. Loosen up, man! Now, let's go take a look at that little prize, shall we?" He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. I smiled weakly.

We made our way to the library, a sizable portion of the house. It was a specially designed, three story room with shelves stretching from floor to ceiling. He took in the scene with awe, only spilling a bit of sherry on the carpets. "So where is the Amontillado?" He asked, looking this way and that.

"I put in the vault, further on. The piece is very sensitive, given the quality of the paper, and its age. It needs better protection than I can give it out here."

"Didn't you say this was state of the art environment control?"

"The stuff above ground is good, but wait until you see what's down below." I grinned, and took a sip of sherry. It was excellent stuff. "Can I top you off, Dave?" He readily assented.

"Now, then," he asked, glancing around again like the attention deficient ape he was, "Where is this vault of yours? I don't see a staircase down." I strode to a bookshelf, which looked no different than the others, and waggled my eyebrows.

"I hope you'll excuse my flair for the dramatic," I said, reaching out for a hardback copy of Doyle's The Lost World. The hidden switch was activated, and the door swung inward on its hinges. Roberts brayed another laugh.

"Lay on, Macduff," he said. We descended a flight of stairs, overhead lights snapping on ahead of us and off after we had passed. He paused several times and backed up, testing the system. "There's one thing we have on old Montressor and Fortunato," he giggled. "We don't have to worry about carrying torches."

"Or trowels," I smirked. He thought that was a good joke.

The climate controlled vault was set in the wall behind a sheet of glass. There was a computer station set up just outside the sliding door. Within was a table for examination and repair of my rarest books, kept at the back in row of sliding inset shelves. The humidity, light, and temperature could be controlled perfectly, so that the precious contents would be preserved forever. The books in the library were mere curiosities. This was where I kept my treasures.

Roberts stood impatiently at the door, shivering with anticipation. "The Amontillado?"

"In there, old friend. The system is very complex, and requires that an operator stay outside and man the controls," I said, gesturing to the console. "It's a safety feature." He leaned over to examine the complex displays, nearly spilling his wine on them.

"Don't you have a guard or something?" He asked.

"I have people who come during the day, but no one on staff now. Why don't we head back. You have a plane to catch, right?" Roberts almost screamed at me.

"After we've come this far? With only a thin glass wall between us and our treasure? You can operate the controls? It'll be fine." I affected trepidation. I had made a point of being profoundly disinterested in the workings of the device whenever my assistant attempted to demonstrate them. I eyed his cigarette. He cursed, and stamped it out on the tile floor.

"If you are sure. I really think we should call this off."

"Just open the damn door, Johnston!" I pushed the button. A panel of glass slid sideways, and there was a rush of even colder, drier air. Roberts stepped through, and the door slid shut behind him. He laughed at that joke.

"I need to keep the temperature and pressure constant." I said over the intercom. "Nothing to get alarmed about. You'll find the 'Amontillado' in drawer seven." He lumbered over. The wine glass was still in his hand. I wondered how much damage he could do in the vault with that little glass of wine. I checked the console. Drawer seven was unlocked, all the others were shut tight. It slid open at his touch, and revealed a single sheet of typed paper. He looked at it stupidly, while I pushed the button that started the halon fire detection system. My revenge had already begun. He pulled it out, barehanded, and squinted at it in the light, reading aloud the single question typed upon it.

"For the love of god, Montressor?"

"Yes," I said. I had imagined this day for months, years, but it was still more delicious than I had dreamed. "For the love of god." He crumpled up the note, and only then did he notice the fans, and the heavier than air gas that they were pushing into the room. He coughed.

"Is this some kind of joke?" He went to the door, and it gave a satisfying rattle when he walked straight into it after it didn't open for him. I turned the fans up. The air pumped out of the room faster. His damn bell jangled merrily as he beat his fists against the glass.

"Again," I said, slipping further into the role of Montressor the assassin. "I must insist we do this another time. You'll miss your plane at this rate." He shouted, but I pretended not to hear him. He beat more desperately on the glass, searched for something he could throw into it. I watched patiently. The oxygen was nearly gone, and the sheets were specially treated three inch thick plates. They could stop a small car without shattering. I chose them specially, for security. I watched him pull at the door in vain. His face was turning such interesting colors. At that point, I couldn't open the door again if I wanted to. Once the fire suppression system had been activated, they wouldn't open for twenty minutes, to allow for the gasses to cycle through. It was a safety feature. I sat and watched for the full twenty minutes.

* * *

Sadly, things were not so simple for me as they were for Montressor. After the gas had cleared, I entered and arranged the scene, removing the note and placing another cigarette in his hand. Then, I called the police and I told them that Roberts was dead. My vault was made of glass, and no brick on earth could cover the fact that we had been seen leaving the hotel together. I had planned for this as well, of course. I explained how this horrible tragedy happened, how the staff had the night off, and I thought I could use the machine, and oh, god, what had I done? We had had a bit to drink, and I let Roberts into the vault. I hadn't noticed his cigarette until it was too late. The halon fire suppression system activated, and I couldn't turn it off until it was too late. What a tragedy. No one who knew the curator's methods even questioned the story. It was just like him.

It was a good performance, but it was not without its critics. Roberts' widow absolved me, but I was still put on trial. My name was nearly wrung through the mud, but I bore it well, in silence and solemn dignity. Eventually, the charges were dismissed. They could find no evidence that it had been nothing more than an accident. I had been careful that in spite of Roberts' transgression against me, none were aware of it. I had no motive to kill such a good friend and colleague.

So in the end, I got away with it, set up a memorial endowment "to carry on the legacy of a friend lost too soon," and went on with my life. I certainly never felt guilty about it. But sometimes, if I'm in the vaults at night, alone, I can almost see the fog of his last breaths on the glass, and hear the faint chime of a tin bell. In pace, requiescat, indeed.


Hugh J. O'Donnell is a writer and podcast producer living in Western New York. He is the host and editor of the Way of the Buffalo podcast which features stories as well as interviews from new media writers and artists. His fiction has appeared in "Bards and Sages Quarterly," the "Method to the Madness" anthology, and "Flagship Magazine," among others. In his free time, he plays eight-bit video games, listens to 90's rock music, and keeps the neighborhood kids off his lawn. He can be found online at hughjodonnell.wordpress.com.


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