Authors: William Meikle
Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Occult & Supernatural
THE MIDNIGHT EYE FILES: THE AMULET
THE MIDNIGHT EYE FILES: THE AMULET by William Meikle
Black Death Books, an imprint of KHP Publishers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, save those clearly in the public domain, is purely coincidental.
The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet Copyright (c) 2005 by William Meikle
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the Publisher, except for short quotes used for review or promotion. For information address the Publisher.
Print ISBN: 0-9767914-6-3
Cover art by KHP Studios
The day started like any other. I dressed, I smoked two cigarettes and I sat in my empty flat, waiting for the phone to ring.
I felt bored. I hadn't had a case for more than a month, and that had been someone looking for a lost cat. I had sat through hours of stories of gangs of kids stealing cats to sell to far-eastern clothing manufacturers, of Chinese take-away shops with bulging freezers, and even weirder tales of devil worship and ritual kitten slaying. I still hadn't found the damned cat.
At least the view from the window kept me distracted. Students walked along Byres Road, hand in hand, oblivious to the world around them. Old bedraggled men waited for the pubs to open, little old ladies in heavy woolen coats carried bags of shopping that were too heavy for them, and old Joe from downstairs continued to sing "Just one Cornetto" at the top of his voice every ten minutes. At ten-thirty I went through to the office, opened the desk drawer, took out the whisky bottle and prepared for the long slide down to bedtime.
Just another lonely day in paradise.
An hour later I eyed the last of my whisky, wondering how long I would be able to spin it out when the knock came on the door. I almost dropped the bottle getting it back in the drawer and just had time to tighten up my tie before the door opened and all other thoughts were swept away.
She was more than beautiful, she was awesome.
I could see that from the cut of her clothes, the way she carried herself, the way her deep black hair was oh-so-carefully tousled. I tried not to stare at her legs as she walked across the office. Her stiletto heels clacked on the hardwood floor as she walked towards me, and I tried, almost successfully, to raise my eyes from her legs.
"Adams? Mr. Derek Adams?" she asked, and her voice sounded just right.
The dream of the Bogart case began to take shape. I stood to shake her hand, noticing how cool hers felt, how sweaty mine had suddenly become.
"That's right. Adams Detective Agency-ADA for short. First name in the book, first when it comes to providing personal service."
I was rambling. I closed my mouth-maybe that way she wouldn't see me dribbling. I motioned her to the threadbare chair in front of my desk and sat down in my own, hoping that, just this once, I could pull off the air of studied nonchalance I'd practiced in the mirror.
"You're not first in the book anymore," she said. "I've already tried 'Abracadabra-we can do magic'. It's in a warehouse over in Maryhill. There's a little man in an office even more ramshackle than this one. I think I intimidated him, though. He turned me down."
She smiled at me and I guessed that a dentist had been paid a lot of money for all that sleek whiteness.
"I know who you mean. Jimmy Allen. He was upset when my entry went in the book above his," I said.
"Maybe it's time you became 'Aardvark Associates'," she said, and laughed.
Something warm and interesting nestled in my stomach.
"No. I'd get more car breakdowns and alcoholics than cases."
She settled herself in the chair, making herself comfortable. I hoped she might stay for a while.
"So what can I do for you?" I asked.
I sat back in the chair and watched her talk-it wasn't hard work.
"We had a burglary two nights ago," she started. "My husband doesn't know about it yet-he's out of the country. The thief knew what he was looking for, and only one piece of jewelry was taken-a most valuable piece. It was a wedding present from my husband and it has great sentimental value. I want you to get it back for me."
Her mouth worked beautifully, but she hadn't told the whole truth. I'd seen it in her eyes as she spoke.
My bullshit detector was working overtime, but it was a fairly standard request; I had handled such work before. Besides, she could lie to me all she wanted-I could handle it for a while.
"You realize how little chance we have of recovering a piece of jewelry?" I asked, trying not to notice the expanse of thigh that became visible as she shifted in the seat.
"I don't think you'll have much trouble with this one," she said. "It's a very distinctive piece."
She dug around in her handbag-which on its own would pay my rent for months-and removed a photograph that she passed over the table. I picked up the picture, and almost dropped it straight away. Suddenly I didn't want anything to do with this, I didn't want this woman in my office, and the whisky in the drawer was screaming to be let out.
Then she smiled at me, and I turned the picture over.
It was a pendant, but unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It consisted of a figurine on a heavy gold chain. There was nothing in the picture to indicate size, but it looked big. Big and ugly. The figure was of an animal, but not any known to me. The hindquarters were feline and striped, like a Bengal Tiger, but from the waist up it looked grotesque, an amorphous blob of black stone with long suckered tentacles streaming from a spherical blob that could have been the head.
"Nice wedding present," I said as I put the photograph down. "If it was mine I think I would be quite glad to lose it."
I pushed the photograph away from me, turning it face down on the table, and rubbed my fingers on my tie, but I couldn't get rid of a feeling of being dirtied by having touched the thing.
"You wouldn't want to lose it if you knew it was worth half a million pounds," she said, and I sat back hard in my chair. "It is very old-Ancient Arabian, I think. Arthur is very fond of it and he'd be very upset if he knew it was gone. That's why I'd like you to find it before he gets back."
I still wasn't getting the whole truth, but I had the scent of money in my nostrils and my dream of the big case in my head.
250 pounds a day, plus expenses. Two days in advance," I said, then wished I'd asked for more when she agreed instantly and, taking a book from her bag, wrote me a check.
"Just keep a record of those expenses," she said as she handed it to me. "My husband and I like to pay attention to the detail." She smiled again, as if at a private joke.
"I've got an up-to-date book-keeping system," I said, lying and thinking about the old typewriter in the back of the cupboard. "You'll have itemized bills down to the last penny."
She looked round at the cupboard, and back at me.
"Computerized, is it?" she said, and this time the smile was full force. Somehow she knew about the typewriter. I could see it in her eyes.
"Oh yes," I said, digging an ever deeper hole for myself. "All mod cons, Internet link to the tax office and the VAT man, automatic production of bills, there's nothing that little baby won't do."
"And I bet you don't have to change the ribbon more than twice a year," she said.
I let that lie. I was confused enough already without adding another layer of intrigue. Besides, mind reading wasn't one of my specialized subjects.
"Tell me more about the burglary," I said. I took a cigarette from the pack beside me, and she took one when I offered. As I leant over the desk to light hers I got a heady whiff of her perfume-strong, musky, and as sexy as hell. I tried to pay attention as she spoke.
"As I said, it was two nights ago. I got back from the theatre at just after midnight."
"You were alone?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"Shame," I said, before my brain had time to catch up with my mouth. That got me another smile, but she tapped on the wedding band on her left hand.
"Do you want to know about the burglary, or would you rather flirt with me?"
"Is that a trick question?" I said, then settled back in my chair with a sigh. "No, go on. I have a rule against mixing business with pleasure anyway."
"Shame," she said, and gave me a smile that would have melted a glacier.
"Touche. Please go on," I said. I tried to blow a nonchalant smoke ring, ended up getting smoke in my eye, and spent the next minute or so squinting at her. At least she had the good grace not to laugh.
"As I said, I got back after midnight. At first I didn't notice anything untoward, but then I found that the kitchen door had been forced. I did a quick search of the house, and that was when I found that the amulet was the only thing missing."
"You have other valuables?"
"Oh yes. Arthur is something of a collector, and we have many other pieces of equal, if not greater, value."
"And the amulet was all that was taken?"
Something still didn't feel right. It wasn't the stealing on demand that was wrong-that happened all the time. She was lying about something else, and I couldn't pin it down.
"And what about the police?"
"I would rather handle this discreetly," she said. "If the police were involved, Arthur would get to know, and I'm hoping that you can recover the piece without that kind of fuss."
And there was the lie-it was in her eyes, and the tightening at the corners of her mouth. I let her have it for now. My guess was that the husband knew already, but that there was something inherently dodgy about the amulet that precluded official police involvement.
"Insurance?" I asked, and she shook her head, strengthening my hunch.
"Well, as I said already, I don't want to get your hopes up," I said. "I'll do the rounds and ask around. And I may have to visit your house at some point. But you should start preparing your excuses for your husband-we may never find it."
"Just do your best, Mr. Adams," she said. "Who knows? It might be sitting in some high class antique dealers rooms even now, just waiting for you to walk past and see it."
The way she said it made it seem like she was dropping a hint, giving me a clue. But when I looked in her eyes all I got was a small smile.
"Okay," I said. "I'll start straight away. Do you have a number I can get you on?"
She got up and put a business card on my desk beside the photograph and my advance check. With one last smile she left, taking most, but not all, of her perfume with her. I realized that I didn't know her name.
The card didn't yield any clue either-"A&F Dunlop, Dealers in Antiquities", and a posh address out in the suburbs. I assumed "A" was for Arthur, her husband, but "F", "F" could be for anything. I resolved to ask her the next time I talked to her.
I resisted the urge to play with the check and put it away in my wallet alongside her card and a lonely
10 pound note. The photograph went into my jacket pocket and I went to work for the first time in a month.
* * *
Old Joe at the tobacconist on the corner had my two packs of Marlboro ready for me before I even got to the counter.
"I saw your visitor this morning," he said to me by way of a hello.
"Aye," I replied. "She'll keep me in fags for a while."
"She could keep me for as long as she wanted. She was a stunner, was she not? I don't know what she wanted, but I know what she needs," the old man said, and made an obscene gesture with his thumb and forefinger.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," I said, but laughed anyway. "A man of your age."
"Oh, there's still lead in the auld pencil," Joe said. "And when I take my teeth oot, I can still give them a good gumming."
"Away and don't be so disgusting," I said.
He waggled the top plate of his false teeth at me until I laughed again.
"Seriously, though," he said, "I've seen her before somewhere. I can't remember where though."
"Well if it comes back to you, let me know."
He charged me nearly thirty pence more than the day before for my two packs. That in itself was enough to make me think it was time to give up again. But my new client smoked, and I wanted to appear sociable with her, didn't I? I lit a new one from the butt of the old as I left the shop and made my way across Byres Road.
My first stop was Glasgow University. I didn't have far to go. Five minutes walk and nearly twenty years of my life, that was all. The mock-gothic buildings still loomed ominously over me, just like they did all those years ago, and, for maybe the thousandth time since then, I wondered if I'd made the right decision when I turned my back on it all.
Then, as I made my way down gloomy corridors and stairs to the dark sub-basement where the smartest of my contemporaries worked, I realized, for maybe the thousandth time, why I'd done it.