Thursday, June 9, 2011

16314--A Knowledge of Heather (Ch. 7)

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 7

     Heather opened her door and let us in, but she looked upset, almost panicked, saying, “Brick, oh, thank goodness you’re back. And you brought Lance, too, good.”
     That was odd. First, she was terrified that one of dearly departed Jack’s partners made Jack depart and was coming to send her along after him, but after a little alone time she couldn’t be happier to see this guy and had gotten past her grief, too. I think this one’s in the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) under “wacko”.
     “Is Whitney here yet?” I asked.
     “No,” Heather said. “The storm must be slowing her down.”
     “Well, let’s wait for her,” I responded. I wanted Whitney and Lance to get the news together.
     “Drinks?” Heather offered.
     “Whiskey,” Boyle said. “Neat.”
     “Nothing for me,” I said. I was pretty sure I was skipping anything she was serving up. And then, the doorbell rang out.
     “That must be Whitney,” Heather said. “I’ll get it.”
     “Hey, sexy,” Boyle greeted the new arrival with a leer. “What’s shakin‘?”
     “Keep it in your pants, slime,” Whitney told him coldly. Then she looked at me with smoldering azure eyes and said, “Hello, Brick. I’m glad you made it here. Could you help me?”
     She glided over to me and opened her coat as though she was offering herself to me. I immediately noticed that she had changed from the track suit she was wearing earlier into a dress that was much more evening than gown. I reached to help her out of her coat, unable to take my eyes off her as I took the wet garment. Both catching light and glowing with a gentle warmth, the amethyst heart pendant still rested just above the cleavage of her perfect breasts. When she stepped to me, all I could smell was flowers. It was a sweet and heady scent that threatened to lift me off the floor. “Still glowing, I see.”
     “What, again?” she said, looking down at it like before. “Actually,” she whispered, “it stopped just after you left and just started again. How’s your stomach?”
     “Great,” I replied in a hushed tone to match hers. “The ginger really did its work.”
     “Well, then I’m going to need to borrow you later,” she told me. “I really want to figure out what this thing’s about.”
     “Two whiskeys,” Heather announced, handing a glass to each of the others. “Let’s go on into the study. Jack‘s waiting to see you all.”
     That was either impressive acting or very disturbing. If I hadn’t seen the corpse myself, I’d expect to see him upright and breathing when I followed her in there. I was getting a worse feeling than the one in my stomach. From the look on the faces of Lance Boyle and Whitney Gregg, I could see that they were more than a little stunned to see Jack’s body slumped over his desk in a pool of blood.
     “Is…Is he d-dead?” Whitney stammered, dropping her glass and clutching at my arm.
     “Very,” I answered. “That’s really quite perceptive of you. I don’t know why people say you’re so dumb.”
     “Oh, no, not Jack, too! How many--? Hey! Who says I’m dumb?” she demanded.
     “That‘s not important right now,” I said.
     “Yeah, for cryin’--! What about the diamonds?” Boyle asked. “I mean, I liked Jack, too, really gonna miss him, but where are the diamonds?”
     “Who did this?” Whitney asked. “Whoever killed him probably--!”
     “--has the damned diamonds!” Boyle ranted. “Where are our diamonds? And the…the…damned magic--?”
     “Oh, no,” Whitney said, “it probably killed Jack like it did the others! It is cursed! I knew it!”
     There it was again: the mystery magic thing…that was killing people, yet people still wanted it. And it had something to do with a fortune in diamonds. Somehow the whole case was continuing to make both more and less sense at the same time. People wanting diamonds, that I got. Deadly magic items I always thought it smarter to keep at a distance. Of course, the handbook said to stay clear of situations like this, too. There was a whole chapter about ten-foot poles. I think the saddest part was that the evil wizard crime lord had been straighter with me than anyone else had been in the last two days.
     “Alright,” I said, “if everyone will calm down--”
     “Do you have the diamonds?” Boyle asked.
     “No, I--”
     “So, why are you talking?” he interrupted again.
     “Because I’m not done with what I have to say,” I told him, “Now, you need to shut your hole before I ventilate your skull to let some good manners in. Anyway, turning our attentions back to the dead man, Jack had problems. He had a shiny pile of diamonds he wasn’t sure what to do with, a boosted box that other people were after and he didn’t know who to trust. You all wanted the diamonds and things were heating up so much that sticking your necks out for more didn’t seem worthwhile. As greedy as he is, even Boyle was loyal enough to Jack to be happy with just splitting up the diamonds and walking away.
     “For most people, that and being upset over Jack’s death would be plenty on their mind. Some people might’ve called the police and tried to find out who’d killed the poor guy. You were more concerned with cashing in, though, Heather. You were all too eager to get these others out of the way and get the diamonds all to yourself. You couldn’t even be bothered to notice that your husband was turning to stone or to hire a butler to pin your husband’s murder on! What were you going to do: let me find the stones, make it look like they killed each other and blow town before anyone got wise?”
     “You think I murdered Jack?” Heather asked seemingly shocked and indignant.
     “Well, yeah,” I said. “I think I can safely say--”
     “Not that safely, fool,” she said, her tone suddenly changing as she produced a black .38 from I don’t even know where.
     Wherever it came from, Whitney’s hands went up as quickly as her eyes glazed over. Boyle started to squirm and sweat even more than he had been already. It was obvious that these two weren’t gonna be any help in this. Did I mention I had a bad feeling about this?
     “How’d you figure it out, Stone?” Heather asked me.
     “I think I was just explaining that,” I said. “What does it take to get people to pay attention?”
     “She killed Jack?” Boyle asked. “You probably killed the twins, too!”
     “No, that wasn’t me!” Heather protested. “I swear it wasn’t! Jack said they must’ve opened the box. All I ever wanted Jack to do was…If he would‘ve just taken the diamonds and…we could‘ve left…He just couldn‘t forget about that box…”
     “Again with the box. What’s in that thing?” I asked. “Whatever it is, it’s gonna have a bigger body count than smallpox at the rate it’s going.”
     “I don’t want to have anything to do with it,” Heather continued. “I just want to know where the diamonds are, Stone.”
     The dame’s attic door was coming off its hinges. She was going down in flames and she was determined to take all of us with her.
     “Don’t give me that look, Stone,” Heather said. “From your reputation, I expected you’d not only find the diamonds, but shoot anyone who got in the way while you were looking.”
     “So you left Jack’s notebook behind,” I said. “You didn’t need it, but you thought I might. Anyone else would’ve taken it, though.”
     “Whatever. Bringing them here for me to finish works almost as well. Now, I just need the diamonds. Please.”
     “Assuming I know where they are,” I said, “why would I tell you?”
     “Tough guy, huh? Nothing I can do to you to make you talk? What about them?” she asked, turning her gun on Boyle.
     “Lady, you’re nuts!” Boyle told her, the fear obviously getting to him.
     “That’s your opinion,” Heather smiled. “Everyone’s entitled to a few last words, I suppose.”
     “Yeah, him you could probably make talk,” I told her. “Fortunately, he doesn’t know anything.”
     “Wait a sec!” Boyle protested.
     “Don’t make a puddle, skinny. Let your stupidity work for you. She can’t break me with threats.”
     She roared angrily and fired her pistol at Boyle, taking out his right knee. He screamed like a little girl and dropped to the floor whimpering.
     “I’ll talk! My God, I’ll talk! I’ll tell you anything you want!” he cried.
     “Y‘see, that‘s the problem with torture: you‘ve got no guarantee of getting reliable information. In your case, Lance, we’ve already established you don’t know anything,” I reminded him.
     “So shut up!” Heather yelled, shooting him in the other leg. “Just shut up!
     “That doesn’t scare me, lady,” I told her, ignoring Boyle with a steely coolness as he fell to his side and rolled about moaning in his own blood. He sounded like he was ready to sell his mother to Charnelspawn the Demented. “You were going to kill him, anyway. Hang in there, guy. Be a trooper.” He whimpered again, but just a little more quietly. That stuff the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) said on being reassuring and sincere was coming in handy.
     “You’re tougher than I’d imagined, Stone,” Heather said.
     “I know,” I told her. “I’ve heard that before.”
     “I-I don’t think I’ve ever come across…anyone else quite like you.”
     “A real man, you mean?”
     “Yes, a real man,” she echoed dreamily as she fired two bullets into Boyle’s skull.
     “Yeah, you do,” I assured her.
     “Come with me.”
     “What now?” I asked, glancing at Boyle as he breathed his last. “I don‘t think I quite got that.”
     “Nothing will break you. You’ll stand up to anything,” she said, starting to walk toward me. “Come with me.”
     “Me and you?” I asked. Heather Morgan was showing a twisty mix of moxie and madness. “That sounds like a dangerous combination, doll.”
     “So you feel it, too,” she said, still coming at me with wild-eyed calm. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth from the start, Brick. No more lies. We’ll find the diamonds together and leave this crazy town behind us.”
     She took a last slow step and pressed her warm body against my wet private eye trench coat (standard issue). Heather reached up to my neck and pulled us together into a hot, hard kiss. I could imagine her having gotten her way with kisses like that a thousand times before, but I managed to keep my wits about me well enough to wrestle for her gun. The struggle was short, ending with a muffled bang. She collapsed against me, but I let her fall to the floor like a marionette with cut strings. My luck was holding. I managed to avoid getting blood on my clothes, but that carpet was a lost cause.
     That would be the end of it. Did I feel a little bad for her? Maybe a little. Did I play her for a sucker, anyway? If I couldn’t take advantage of the mentally unbalanced, then who could I? She’d chosen a path with a bad end a long way back. Too many secrets. Too many lies. I was sure, whether she knew it or not, that she was lying right to the end.
     Like granddad used to say: women.
     “Whitney. Whitney, you can put your hands down now.”
     “It’s…Is it over?” she whispered.
     “Yeah, I think so,” I said, steering her out of the study.
     “There was a bunch of shooting.”
     “Sort of got your Clint quota in-person, huh?”
     “I guess so,” she said. “Five people go in a room and three get shot.”
     “Your math is indeed correct, miss.”
     “You saved me, tough guy,” Whitney observed.
     “All part of the service, doll.”
     “Well, thanks. Where are we going?” she asked.
     “We’ve got to find some diamonds,” I reminded her, “and a mysterious box.”
     “I like the sound of that first part,” she said. “I always wanted to be rich. I don’t think I want anything else to do with that box, though. It’s been an awful lot of trouble. I think it must be cursed or something.”
     “That happens sometimes, doll, when you ‘find’ things that belong to other people.”
     “Details, details, details,” she said. “If you’re going to cloud the issue with unpleasant facts, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
     “Well, the person you ‘found’ the box from wants it back,” I told her as we stepped back outside into the rain. “Jack must’ve been having a really wild day when he decided to go after that thing. Hey, maybe your pendant has been protecting you. You are the last one left.”
     “We can talk more about it over breakfast,” Whitney said. “I think we made an agreement to that effect.”
     “Yeah, I suppose we did,” I said. “Maybe you can also explain to me what a girl like you is doing in a nice story like this.”
     “If you’ll tell me who says I’m dumb.”
     “Never mind,” I said. “Instead, just be warned that, at breakfast, I’m going to be staring across the table to see how many shades of blue I can find in your eyes.”
     “OK, tough guy,” she said, “but if you see more than three, I’m going to have to call my mom with an update.”
     I turned up the collar on my private eye trench coat (standard issue), tugged down on the brim of my private eye hat (standard issue) and steered her down the sidewalk toward my car. We still had an hour till sunrise and the downpour was still going strong, but my stomach had finally gone quiet and life was right enough for the moment.


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