Wednesday, May 18, 2011

16286--A Knowledge of Heather (Ch. 3)

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 3

     Heather said she didn’t know where the diamonds were, but that’s why she hired me. Jack’s notebook was a font of information regarding the whereabouts of his partners. She was kind of a jittery wreck, but Heather seemed suspicious of nearly all of them. Two of them were brothers who had died in a car crash several days ago, apparently made more odd by the fact that they had drowned first…in the car. It narrowed the suspect list, but it left me with two fewer opportunities for target practice.
     Usually racing through the streets in my dependable old Charger got me as revved as the engine. Rainy nights could be especially exhilarating and always head-clearing, forcing me to focus. By the time the Charger had carried me over to the west side and the first address, where I found a modest apartment building, I realized it was gonna take more than some fancy driving to settle my churning belly.
     The rain soaked me as I stood in my private eye trench coat and hat (both standard issue) and stared up at the face of the building. Morgan’s info put a woman by the name of Whitney Gregg in apartment 327, a short elevator ride away. On the third floor, I knocked firmly. It seemed odd that she opened the door wide and without caution, but it was refreshing in its own way and not the least of which was the view. She was five feet, eight inches of dangerous curves. Her hair was a cascade of platinum. Whitney Gregg was clearly the “After” that every “Before” wanted to be.
     “Well, hello, handsome,” she said through full, moist lips. “A little late for a delivery, isn’t it?”
     “Stone, miss. Brick Stone. There‘ve been complaints that you‘ve been distracting people by…looking so unbelievably stunning. 38-25-38, right?”
     She smiled and said, ”You’re cute, sugar. What is it you need?”
     “Words to describe those eyes…but I never was one for poetry and you‘ve probably heard it all before, anyway.”
     “Twice,” she said with a laugh that trailed off to a sigh.
     “What I have for you is a message,” I told her. “What I need, if you have some you could spare, is ginger.”
     “Aww, does the sexy messenger man have a tummy ache? Well, come on in, I suppose,” she said, brushing her hair back behind her ear. “You’re all wet and we sure wouldn’t want you to catch a chill in that drafty hallway.”
     “Thanks, you‘re sweet,” I said, my eyes scanning the apartment as she closed the door.
     “No problem, sugar,” she said, turning toward the kitchen. “Just try not to drip too much. I just had the carpet cleaned.”
     “Sure, I get it,” I said. “Nice place you have.” It wasn’t really my style, but it looked like she put a lot into decorating, probably clothes and shoes, too. Just one picture hanging that I could see. It was a nude, but arty not dirty. Classy. I noticed that she and Jack Morgan must’ve belonged to the same bizarre coffee table book club. Curses and Protections. Gemstones and Precious Metals. Let’s see…History of--
     “Thanks, I try,” she said, coming back to me with a candy jar. “Here. Try this.”
     “Ooh, crystallized ginger,” I said, taking a few pieces from the jar. “Like candy.”
     “Better,” she said. “It should settle your stomach.”
     “Oh, wonderful,” I said, sucking down a piece of the tonic herb. “So, you can’t sleep?”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Lights are on, jogging suit without jogging, hair’s perfect and the smell of hot chocolate is lingering in the air.”
     “You caught me,” she said. “I keep late hours with books and classic movies.”
     “Which tonight?” A little late hexing? High society spellbinding?
     “Eastwood marathon,” she said with a guilty smile.
     “The touchy-feely stuff?”
     “Nah, body counts, bloodshed and tough talk.”
     Did I feel my heart skip a beat? “Impressive,” I said.
     “Now, you say you have a message for me.”
     “Oh, right. The message is…from Jack Morgan.” I gauged her response and she was either a very cool killer or really didn’t know yet that he was dead. I tried to remind myself to stay objective. She couldn’t be clean just because I wanted her to be.
     “Well, what is it?” she asked, excitement suddenly showing on her face.
     I should‘ve thought further ahead. “Ummm…He’s ready to split the diamonds and wants everyone to meet at his place in an hour.”
     “Finally. Easy street, here I come!”
     “No, East 124th. You’ll probably want to drive yourself. Even those legs would have a hard time getting a cab in this weather.”
     “Whatever you say, sweet-talker,” she said, reaching out a slender hand for one of my lapels. “I’ll have to give Clint a rain check. I’m just glad Jack came to his senses and decided to play it safe. You don’t dabble, do you? You don‘t seem the type.”
     “Y’know, with magic. That‘s what they call it.”
     “Me? No, I don‘t work with magic. I shoot it.”
     “Good man,” she told me. “It’s bad news for folks like you and me.”
     “You say that,” I said, raising my index finger to a point of almost touching her jacket’s zipper just above where it threatened to reveal cleavage, “and yet your breasts are glowing.”
     “What?” she asked, looking down to her chest to see the soft purple light coming from within her jacket. Lowering her zipper a bit, Whitney exposed an iridescent, heart-shaped amethyst hanging from a slender golden chain. “Wow,” she said. “It’s never done that before.”
     “Why’s it doing it now?” I asked her.
     “Well, I’m sure I don’t know,” she said, lifting it a bit and turning it in her nimble fingers. “I found it years ago, but all I’ve ever learned about it is that it’s called the Monarch‘s Hope, supposedly cut from an even larger gem called the Monarch’s Heart.”
     “Either one supposed to do anything really special?” I asked. I was still soaking wet, but I could feel a warmth rising in my chest.
     “Like I said, this one’s never glowed before,” she explained, “and I don’t know why it is now. It could be detecting your upset stomach for all I know. I hope it’s something better than that. I always thought it was sort of a lucky charm, but I may really have something worthwhile here. There hasn’t been a documented sighting of the Monarch’s Heart in over a century, though.”
     “This happen to your crew a lot?” I asked her. “You go around finding magic stuff you don’t know much of anything about? Sounds like dangerous work.”
     “Yeah, that’s what I was saying,” she said, her tone getting defensive. “Making money takes risks. We took risks and this time we hit our jackpot and we need to just be happy with that and get out. Enough people have died over this craziness already, y’know?”
     “Well, I’m new. Just hired help.”
     “Well…Let’s just say that everybody’s got to go sometime, but nobody needs to go out like those poor bastards.”
     “The twins?”
     “Oh, you heard about that, huh? Yeah, like that and worse. They’re just the tip of the iceberg.”
     “That bad, huh? Sounds pretty grim.”
     “It’s a chance we all take, I guess, stirring things like that up that somebody saw fit to box and bury. I’ll tell you what: we can talk more about it after we finish at Jack’s, just you and me and a little private celebration. Maybe we can get a great big breakfast.”
     “I should be free,” I told her, “and I have been known to indulge my appetite.”
     “Ooh, I’m looking forward to that, Mr. Stone.”
     “Likewise,” I said. “That should give me a chance to figure out who you remind me of.” I’d told her the truth when I said I didn’t mess with magic. I didn‘t care how many jokers were trying to sling spells in this town, it all brought on too much trouble as far as I could ever see. For my money, the reliability of my .44’s solid steel and the generous use of the right bullets could solve all sorts of problems.
     As I left Whitney’s apartment, I checked my Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue). While she was, of course, obviously attracted to me, she was still able to resist pawing me. The book said that possible reasons for her resistance were:
  1. She was being held captive in her home.
  2. She was one of the baddies (Watch your step!).
  3. She was hiding something…or
  4. The butler did it.
     Making note of that, I decided to move on to Lance Boyle, the last surviving partner. First, though, I needed to swing by my apartment for some dry private eye clothes (standard issue) and to give the ginger some time to settle my stomach.

That's it for today.  As always, thanks for your time.  Come back soon.


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