Friday, September 6, 2013

From "Hell City"

The hubbub on the street spilled into the lobby and the first floor corridors, but died down some as I made my way up to the second floor. I walked past glass cases filled with ancient Sumerian tablets and sculptures, stopping to marvel at a Volkswagen-sized statue of a winged horse with a man’s head. Funny looking people, those Sumerians. But man, did they know how to grow a beard.

At the end of the corridor was a sign that read, “Museum Staff Only.” I glanced around once or twice before opening the door and letting myself in. The first two or three offices I passed were empty, but I heard a cough come from the last one on the left. The door was open. I knocked anyway and watched Dr. Philip Moskovitz glance up.

“Hey, Doc,” I said, smiling. “Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”

“Dear Lord, not you—” he began. I get that a lot.

“Now, Doc,” I said, holding up my hands. “Calm down. I won’t take long, I promise. Hey, did you get the birthday card I sent? Had balloons on it, I think.”

I guessed he hadn’t, because he stood up and pointed toward the door.

“Londergan,” he said. “I’m only going to say this once. Get the hell out of here right this second or I’ll call security!”

It was time to play my ace in the hole. Reaching into my slicker, from the secret compartment I withdrew the dagger that had been there since I yanked it out of the stiff yesterday.

No surprise that as soon as he saw it, his eyes went wide. But for some reason, he raised his hands and began stumbling backward.

“I’ll do anything,” he said. “Anything you want. Please. Just don’t . . .”

I knew it would have that effect on him. The guy was a sucker for ancient artifacts.

“Thanks,” I said, taking off my hat and throwing it on the corner of the desk. “You’re a real peach.”

After taking a seat in one of his visitor chairs, I couldn’t help but notice he hadn’t moved an inch. Still had his hands up too.

“Siddown, Doc,” I said. “Take a load off.”

It took a moment, and he still couldn’t take his eyes off the dagger, but eventually he sat down. Since I had the knife out anyway, I picked it up and took the opportunity to clean my cuticles.

“Now, Doc,” I said, working a particularly stubborn hangnail. “I can’t tell you much. Suffice it to say I got a real humdinger of a case going on. Know what I mean?”

I looked up at him and winked. His face was still blanched, but it looked like some of the blood was coming back. That was good, I thought.

“Anyhow, Doc,” I went on. “What I need from you is any information you can give me on this here knife. I think it might be right up your alley.”

After completing the elective surgery on my right thumbnail, I grabbed the knife by the blade and set it down in front of him. For a moment, his eyes went back and forth between the knife and me, the knife and me, as if he were judging the distance between. Curious.

Just as he seemed about to grab the knife, I started reaching into my pocket. He froze in place and let out an anguished wail.

“You all right, Doc?” I asked, very concerned now. It took a while, but he eventually nodded. From my pocket, I pulled out my deck. “Mind if I smoke?” I asked.

I’d have sworn he looked on the verge of tears, just before something like resignation set in. I took that as a yes.

“Go on, Doc,” I said, lighting up my smoke. “Have a look. It’s important.”

With shaking hands, no doubt excited by my find, he reached into his breast pocket and removed a pair of specs. After putting them on, he reached down and picked up the knife.

"Hell City" is available in ebook and paperback format from Amazon.Com and all your favorite online booksellers by clicking the link to your right. Thanks!

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