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"Ask it," I said, "and I promise to do what I can."
"Just this," said Mr. Norbert. "If I were to lose my other hand, would you still meet me here from time to time, and swap stories like we always have?"
"Of course I would! But why on earth should you lose your other hand? It almost sounds like you're going to cut it off yourself."
He regarded me balefully.
"My daughter," he said, "was born with a heart defect. She was not supposed to live out the year, as frail as she was, but she was a fighter - stronger than we were, I can tell you.
"'Pray for her!' said the priest and we did, but she only got sicker. Prayer was failing. Medical science was failing. Her days were numbered. So I threw down my Bible and picked up a different sort of book that I had acquired in my travels. It was in ancient Greek, though it was found in a cave in the Horn of Africa, surrounded by the headless skeletons of various northern Europeans in Templar armour - or so the story goes. It's an ancient book all right, and a strange one almost beyond value. And yet I never sold it or showed it to anyone."
"What is this book?" I inquired.
"It's a book of witchcraft, Mr. Arlen. And inside was a recipe for summoning a certain demon named Alziel, who has the power to grant wishes."
"It's all true," he insisted. "And I was desperate. She was - is - my only daughter. My wife could never have another. And I would have done anything to save her. Given anything.
"And so I followed the instructions, made the incantations and summoned an actual demon to my home."
He chuckled, fidgeting nervously with his hook.
"It was not all fire and brimstone, I can tell you, like it is in Faust. It was like inviting a corpse into your house, raining dirt and maggots onto your floor. And I asked this, this... apparition... to spare my poor daughter's life. Told him I would give anything in return. Well, Alziel pulled out a golden scimitar from a sheathe and took my left hand from my side in his own cold hand.
"It didn't hurt," Mr. Norbert added quickly. "Not at first. You see the blade was as hot as whatever hell I summoned the demon from, and it cauterized the wound cleanly as the sword passed through flesh and bone. 'Is it done?' I asked to the demon (in ancient Greek of course) 'is my daughter safe?' But he shook his foul head and said in a voice that sounded like the grating rocks, 'it is only half done, half of your reach for half of her life. I will return when she reaches forty years... for her or for your other hand.' He disappeared then, crumbling into a pile of black dirt onto the floor. I collapsed into a chair where I passed out in the sudden agony until my wife ran in, telling me that there had been a miracle at the hospital."