Thursday, May 5, 2011

16279--A Knowledge of Heather (Ch. 2)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

A Knowledge of Heather is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
Chapter 2

     Jack Morgan, Heather’s husband, worked with four partners at treasure hunting. On their last expedition, they uncovered a big score: diamonds. Every gem was worth plenty, but together they could finance several very comfortable lifetimes. Heather’s husband, the leader of the crew, had kept the gems secured and was going to split the take. Jack’s plans were changed when he developed a fatal hole in his head. Somebody had gotten greedy. They must not have found the gems because they were still trying to get their hands on Heather. That put her into my lap, really kicking my indigestion into high gear.
     “Poor Jack had been acting so strangely the last few days,” she said. “I’d never seen him so nervous or agitated before. After two of the others died he was just going on about some kind of curse or evil spell. He said he just wanted us to get out of town.”
     “Why didn’t you?”
     “He said there were a couple of details left to deal with,” she said, “like squaring up with the others. He was very loyal to his partners. He wasn’t going to just run out on them without giving them their share of their earnings.”
     Staring at Jack Morgan’s corpse, slumped over the oak desk in his ransacked study, I pretended to concentrate on the crime scene and thought of happier, less complicated times. I thought back to an hour ago, in my own office, when I still could’ve shot her and made it look legit. “So…the maid and the cops both have tonight off?”
     “This is where I…found him,” she said weakly, her voice cracking as tears began to stream down her soft cheeks once more.
     “And then called the cops.”
     “I…I was scared,” she said. “I heard noises. I ran. I…This isn‘t my life, Mr. Stone! You solve mysteries and fight crime! Jack and the others do research and run off on adventures! I live a normal life! I make sure the bills get paid and the house stays nice and the shopping gets done! Sometimes, I like to go out dancing and have a fun night out! None of that prepares me for dead bodies and pools of blood and running for my life! I‘m sorry if I made some mistakes!”
     “Alright, doll, take a breath. Since you claim to be new to this and you’re paying for my services, let me clue you in: statistically, when there are dead spouses laying around, live spouses make great suspects. But you invited me over, so I’ll check it out,” I told her. “Make yourself scarce.”
     “Blow,” I insisted. “Get some dry clothes. Check your hair and make-up. Do something elsewhere.”
     “Oh…I really don’t feel up to wandering the house alone right now,” she said. “Couldn’t I just stand back? I’ll stay out of your way.”
     Out of the way in another room would’ve been better. “You think you can manage to scare me up a drink?”
     “I…suppose so,” she said nervously. “What--?”
     “Surprise me.”
     I watched her sashay out of the room. Impressive. I told myself not to blame her too much for having not called the cops yet. In a town where forensics could be as iffy as the wave of a wand and some fool cursing at you could actually mean something, those of us who weren’t involved with magic had to learn to listen to our instincts. That frequently involved not running to the cops nor expecting them to come running out on a stormy night just because somebody was face down when they shouldn‘t have been. Whether it was going to do any good or not, they were gonna be involved sooner or later. For the sake of tradition, at least, they’d go through the motions and might eventually even come up with something worthwhile. I had no doubt that my best chance to get anything accomplished would be without them in the way. With Heather out of the room, I was able to begin my real work.
     It was an average, truly unremarkable study. It had windows for good lighting and a nice view, wood paneling…book-lined walls…with gaps. Coffee table…books on…quantum mechanics, Handbook of Thaumaturgy and Alchemy…string theory, history, Magic and Lore of the Third Age…hmmm…notebook. Half this stuff I wouldn’t understand and the other half I didn’t care about, but there was no doubt these folks were doing more than following an old treasure map and digging some holes. My own latest forays into literature included busty elfin girls of Summer and some magazine article offering a detailed explanation about Cleveland being a hoax. If I was ever going to be a rich guy, apparently I was going to have to change my reading choices. Who knew?
     There were also no signs of forced entry. There was a glass of brandy on the desk beside Jack’s corpse and a dark spot on the carpet beside the desk. I touched the spot. It was wet. I was repulsed for a moment, then realized that they didn’t have a dog. I sniffed my finger to find it was more brandy. Odd, but…there it was: another glass had rolled under the desk. Everything else looked clean and dry.
     Alright, so somebody supposedly friendly came over. Feet were wiped, pleasantries exchanged, drinks poured…Jack took one between the eyes. Hmmm…no powder burns and no exit wound. He fell onto the desk, plenty of blood, knocked over the brandy glass. One hand was clutched tightly. Clutching…AHA! A blood-stained key that he thought he should hold onto. Well, that was really odd…I almost hadn’t noticed that, even though his hand was still flexible, his face was more than just rigid. Some of his skin had petrified. The man’s body had been changing to stone. What’d she say? Curse? Evil spell? Who had this guy pissed off? I worked the key out of his lifeless hand and wrapped the bloody clue in a handkerchief and slipped it into my pocket. A souvenir like that could make the difference between being worth more alive than dead for a change. How comforting.
     Pulling a pen from the cup on Jack’s desk, I poked at his cheek. I might as well have been poking at a marble statue. Freaky. I moved around the desk and poked at different parts of the corpse’s torso, then each thigh. As I pushed at the body with the pen, where the body remained flesh, there was give and, where it had changed, I was met with a tapping sound against an unyielding surface. Somebody or something had done a nasty number on this guy.
     I stood tall as Heather glided back into the room.
     “I made you some lemonade,” she said, holding a glass out to me.
     “Interesting choice,” I said, taking the glass. “Thanks, doll.” How’d she know I was a lemonade man? Lucky guess?
     “A little hostess-pocus. Did you find anything?”
     Of course, commerce magic. “Yeah, you might’ve mentioned that your husband’s body was half-petrified.”
     “Wh-What?” she stammered, looking at the body with widening eyes. “It is? I didn‘t…”
     OK, so a surprise for her, then? “Yeah, the coloring looks pretty normal, but he’s about half-garden gnome,” I said. “You said he’d been acting strangely. Maybe you spotted a limp or a loss of appetite? If it was a gradual process, it probably would’ve killed him slowly, but the bullet finished him first.”
     “Do you think this was from the curse or the bullet--?”
     “I don’t work with magic,” I reminded her. “I shoot it, like somebody did Jack. I suppose it’s possible that somebody could’ve hexed a bullet to do this, but it seems a little overkilly to use it for a lethal shot at close range unless you just want to screw with forensics and slow down an investigation. Whatever happened, obviously, he stepped on some wrong toes and ended up having a crap week, that’s for sure. I’ll go through his notebook and see if he said anything more about it.”
     “Jack‘s notebook?”
     “Yeah, and I‘m going to go see if I can get some people to lie to me.”
     “Oh, you‘re leaving me alone?”
     “Do you have a butler?”
     “No, but I could hire one if you think that would help.”
     “At this time of night? Don’t trouble yourself, just lock up and stay out of the study. Drink this,” I said, giving her the lemonade. “If you haven‘t heard back from me by dawn or if you think somebody’s coming back after you, go ahead and call the police. Or maybe somebody who‘ll actually show up and do something for you.” My mind raced and my stomach churned. It was going to be a long night.

That's it for chapter two.  Look for more next week or sooner at the links above.
Thanks for stopping by.

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