used with coutesey of Daily Script
THE NINTH GATE
A Screenplay by Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn and Enrique Urbizu
Based on a novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte
1. TELFER HOUSE: LIBRARY INT/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.
TELFER’s 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
serried 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.
Absolute, abysmal DARKNESS.
3. MANHATTAN APARTMENT INT/DAY
The 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 (O.S.) An impressive collection. You have some very rare
editions here. Sure you want to sell them all?
We now discover the speaker, BOB CORSO: a tall, lean, rather
unkempt man in his 30′s. Steel-rimmed glasses, crumpled old tweed
jacket, worn cords, scuffed brown oxfords. He could almost be a
shabby university teacher if it weren’t for the street-wise glint
in his eye.
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. His tone is too lugubrious to be true.
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 rapacious desire to convert her late husband’s library into
CORSO picks up a notebook, adjusts his glasses with an
instinctive, habitual movement, taps the notebook with his
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)
4. MANHATTAN APARTMENT HOUSE CORRIDOR INT/DAY
CORSO strides briskly 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)-a cross between an
intellectual and a business executive.
WITKIN (caustically): You here? You didn’t waste much time.
CORSO: Hello, Witkin. There’s a small fortune in there. (smiles
sardonically) Help yourself.
WITKIN (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
CORSO: For a ‘Quixote’ by Ybarra? You bet I would.
WITKIN (indignantly): Unscrupulous, thoroughly unscrupulous!
CORSO (thumbs the elevator button): Good hunting!
The doors close on WITKIN’s indignant face.
5. BERNIE’S BOOKSTORE EXT/INT/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 (O.S.): 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.
CORSO: 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.
The spiral staircase judders as BERNIE starts to descend.
CORSO goes over to a wall cupboard and opens it. An assortment of
bottles and glasses come to light.
CORSO (cont.): 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
CORSO, still grinning, pours himself a slug of Scotch. BERNIE
reaches the ground.
BERNIE (cont.): 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.
BERNIE: He also says you snaffled the ‘Don Qui –
He breaks off as CORSO produces the four volumes of the
‘Quixote’, bends over to examine them, whistles appreciatively.
BERNIE: (cont.): The Ybarra ‘Don Quixote’, 1780, four volumes.
Fantastic! (opens one) Sonofabitch, you’re the best in the
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.
BERNIE: 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. Extracting a crumpled
cigarette from the pocket of his overcoat, he sticks it in his
mouth and lights it.
CORSO: 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 (expels a lungful of smoke, unmoved): Ten.
6. BALKAN BUILDING EXT/DUSK
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’.
7. BALKAN BUILDING: LOBBY INT/DUSK
CORSO nods to the SECURITY GUARD at the desk and makes hit 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
depicting an Inquisition torture scene.
8. BALKAN BUILDING: LECTURE ROOM INT/DUSK
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. The eyes
beneath it radiate keen intelligence through a pair of heavy
hornrims. 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 demonomanle des sorciers’ by the Frenchman, Jean
His eyes flicker in the direction of the door as CORSO enters.
CORSO’s 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 (cont.): 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’s lecture proceeds, CORSO’s eyelids begin to droop. We
PAN over the faces of the AUDIENCE (THE GIRL is still covertly
observing CORSO). BALKAN’s voice drones on, fades away.
9. BALKAN BUILDING: LECTURE ROOM INT/NIGHT
CLOSE on CORSO fast asleep.
BALKAN (O.S.): 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
through his steel-rimmed glasses, he sees that the lecture is
over. The last of the AUDIENCE are filing out. We glimpse THE
GIRL making her exit.
CORSO: 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.
10. BALKAN BUILDING: LOBBY INT/NIGHT
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.
BALKAN: 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.
BALKAN (cont.) 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 discourtesy. The elevator doors
open. He stands aside to let CORSO pass, then follows him in.
11. BALKAN BUILDING: ELEVATOR INT/NIGHT
BALKAN punches a code number on the elevator’s digital keyboard
With a subdued hiss, the elevator starts to ascend.
BALKAN: 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.
CORSO: Hey, Balkan, I came here to do some business, not shoot
the breeze. You want to expound your personal philosophy, write
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 reaches its destination, the doors open.
12. BALKAN BUILDING: COLLECTION INT/NIGHT
The elevator opens straight 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
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 is impressed but does his best not to show it.
CORSO: May I take a look?
BALKAN: That’s why I brought you here.
He 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 adjusts 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.
BALKAN (cont.): 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 has accompanied 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
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.
CORSO: 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:
BALKAN: 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:
BALKAN (cont.): 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
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,
BALKAN continues to stare down at the nocturnal cityscape. CORSO
CORSO (cont.): What the hell do you want from me, Balkan?
BALKAN leaves the window and confronts him.
BALKAN: 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.
BALKAN: 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 for a moment.
BALKAN: It’s quite on the cards.
CORSO seems 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.
CORSO: Really? It doesn’t appear to be. Even the paper sounds
BALKAN: Even so. There may be something wrong with it.
CORSO continues to examine the book. He smiles ironically.
CORSO: You mean the Devil won’t show up?
He 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.
BALKAN (cont.): 1 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
CORSO: Not that illegal.
BALKAN: Hence the size of the check. Do a good job, and I’ll
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
BALKAN (cont.): Be careful, Corso.
CORSO: What do you mean? (indicates the book) With this?
BALKAN: Just be careful.
13. CORSO’S APARTMENT INT/NIGHT
A diminutive kitchenette. 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
A bleak bachelor pad: 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.
We slowly MOVE IN until the screen is filled with an INSERT of
the knight with his finger enigmatically raised to his lips.
14. TELFER HOUSE: SITTING ROOM, LIBRARY INT/DAY
CORSO, canvas bag on shoulder, is standing in the middle of a
luxuriously furnished sitting room. The decor, which includes a
smiling portrait of Andrew Telfer, is extremely opulent.
CORSO is 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 (whose photoportralt we saw in Scene 1) is a very sexy,
thirtyish blonde with milky skin and a figure whose generous
curves are far from concealed by her ultra chic black costume.
She gives CORSO the once-over, then enters, closing the door
CORSO: Mrs. Telfer? (gestures at the business card) Bob Corso.
Sorry to trouble you at a time like this.
LIANA comes over and sits down on a sofa, simultaneously
motioning CORSO into the armchair that faces it over a coffee
table. She puts his card down, crosses her lovely legs, and
CORSO sits down with his beg between his feet. Opening it, he
produces ‘The Nine Gates’. LIANA involuntarily stiffens at sight
CORSO (cont.): 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
CORSO: He never mentioned the sale?
LIANA is fractionally late in answering. CORSO spots her
LIANA: 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
CORSO: So I gather.
LIANA deposits ‘The Nine Gates’ on the coffee table and rises.
LIANA: I’ll show you.
CORSO rises likewise. Then a thought strikes him: swiftly
retrieving ‘The Nine Gates’ and his bag, he stows one in the
other as he follows her undulating hips 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 still eyeing her delectable rear view.
Reluctantly, he drags his eyes away from LIANA and surveys the
CORSO (cont.): 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 (cont.): The book-did he ever use it to perform some
kind of ritual intended to- well. produce a supernatural
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
She gives a mournful shrug, every inch the recent widow.
LIANA (cont.): It’s true he’d been acting strangely those last
few days. He shut himself up in here-seldom emerged except for
She draws a deep breath, glances at the chandelier.
LIANA (cont.): That morning I was woken by the screams of the
maid: he’d hanged himself. (pauses, looks at CORSO) 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
CORSO: The Devil, Mrs. Telfer. This book is designed to raise the
15. TELFER HOUSE EXT/DAY
CORSO 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 MUSTACHE’s cellphone beeps. He reaches into the limo and
picks up the receiver.
16. REFERENCE LIBRARY INT/DAY
The big reference library is divided up by freestanding
bookshelves and has a gallery running around it at second-floor
level. NUMEROUS READERS are occupying the rows of tables in the
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 ITS OWN TAIL.
As we MOVE IN ON THE COILED SNAKE, we hear CORSO translating to
himself in a low voice:
CORSO (O.S.): Sic Luceat Lux – Thus – let the light -
17. REFERENCE LIBRARY INT/DUSK
Many of the tables are now deserted, and the shaded reading
lights have been switched on.
CORSO shuts a catalog and gets up to replace It in the wall of
books behind his chair, runs his finger along a shelf till he
comes to another fat tome and removes it. He’s startled to see,
framed in the resulting gap, the face of THE GIRL at Balkan’s
lecture: short hair, green, feline eyes. The face recedes and
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 BESPECTACLED STUDENTS
comparing notes In sibilant whispers. He looks right: a
scattering of READERS. He scans the reading-room at large: still
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.
Wearily, he straightens and stretches, removes his glasses,
pinches the bridge of his nose. As he Idly scans the reading
room, his astigmatic 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.
18. CORSO’S APARTMENT HOUSE EXTINIGHT
It’s raining hard. CORSO trudges up the steps of his brownstone
with the canvas bag on his shoulder and a bag of groceries In his
19. ELEVATOR INT/NIGHT
CORSO rides the elevator up.
20. CORSO’S APARTMENT HOUSE: PASSAGE, APARTMENT INT/NIGHT
CORSO emerges from the elevator and walks down the passage to his
door. He inserts his key in the mortice lock and tries to turn
it. Nothing doing: It’s unlocked already.
Next, he inserts his key in the second lock and turns it. Not
being double-locked, the door opens at once. It takes him a
moment to digest the significance of this fact.
Just then he hears a muffled crash from inside the apartment: 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. CORSO darts to the window, flings one leg over the sill and
climbs out on the fire escape.
21. FIRE ESCAPE, SIDE STREET. EXT/NIGHT
Feet can be heard clattering down the fire escape. CORSO peers
over the rail just in time to see a DARK FIGURE emerge 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.
22. CORSO’S APARTMENT INT/NIGHT
CORSO 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.
CORSO pushes the chair back into place and shuts the drawer.
23. BERNIE’S BOOKSTORE INT/DAY
ON ‘The Nine Gates’ 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.
BERNIE: 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 registers a mixture of affection and cynicism.
BERNIE: That’s mean, buddy. You know I’d never screw you without
a damn good reason: money, women, business. Anything else, you
CORSO taps the book with his forefinger.
CORSO: You’ll answer for this with your balls, Bernie.
BERNIE (still engrossed): Sure, man, sure. You can castrate me
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
BERNIE (cont.): ‘Virtue lies vanquished’, huh? These engravings
CORSO (leans over his shoulder): Or horrific, whichever.
BERNIE nods absently. He smiles to himself with an air of
BERNIE (cont.): Beautiful, just beautiful-
Visible through the bookstore’s semi-basement windows, the legs
of PASSERSBY 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
24. CORSO’S APARTMENT INT/NIGHT
CORSO is in the bedroom, packing some articles of clothing and
toiletries in a small Samsonlte suitcase lying open on the bed.
The doorbell rings. Fractionally 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.
CORSO pauses for a moment, thinking hard, then opens the door.
LIANA: May I come in?
CORSO, rather bemused, steps aside and ushers her in.
CORSO: This way.
He shows her Into the living room. LIANA starts to unbutton her
CORSO (cont.): 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 sinks gracefully onto the sofa, taking in the decor of his
bachelor apartment as she does so.
LIANA: 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, extracts a
black Russian, and lights it with a gold Dupont. Meantime:
LIANA: 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, the slim
legs sheathed in sheer, black silk stockings.
CORSO: I don’t understand, Mrs. Telfer. The book isn’t mine to
She sits back, showing off her superb legs to even better
LIANA: 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
CORSO: I’m a professional, ma’am.
LIANA: You’re a professional mercenary. Mercenaries work for the
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 the creamy flesh between 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
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. CORSO, 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 eat him alive.
CORSO responds. Re pulls up her skirt, she reaches for his zipper
and yanks at it. He bears her backward and downward onto the
sofa. Their bodies coalesce into a heaving mass. The gown slips
LIANA’s left shoulder, revealing a small tattoo in the shape of a
snake devouring its own tail.
25. CORSO’S APARTMENT INT/NIGHT
ON LIANA’s hand reaching across the floor for Corso’s canvas bag.
it gropes 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
We discover 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. Then, with an animal cry, 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 – hardly a dignified proceeding, because
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.
26. CORSO’S APARTMENT INT/NIGHT
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.