Tuesday, October 23, 2012

100TWC - Day 88: Possession

"He is dying, my friend. He does not have long. But... in a moment of clarity... he asked me to show you this."

The rag-clothed old man pulled a stained oil cloth from inside his shirt. Unwrapped it. I couldn't believe my eyes. I had found it at last.

"He cannot tell me from whence he acquired it," the old man continued. His breath reeked of methylated spirit. I turned my head away. "He has not had it long, I know that. He showed it to me not a month before the sickness started in him."
"How much does he want for it?" I asked. It occurred to me that the man lying on his death bed would not see a penny of the price, whatever it was, but I didn't care. I had been looking for this prize for fourteen years. I wasn't about to give up on it now. He would be dead anyway inside the day.
The tramp looked furtive. "Five thousand," he said. Before I had chance to object, he went on, "but personally I think that is... shall we say... a little steep."

He gave no clue what he considered a more realistic price, but it was immaterial. I would gladly have paid ten times that amount.

"If it will make him comfortable in his final hours," I lied, "I will agree to five thousand."
"You are a good man my friend. Cash?"
"Of course."

I handed over an envelope. He handed over the amulet. It shone a deep red in the light from the brazier. From the filthy cot by the wall, the dying man coughed weakly. I took hold of the chain, avoiding any touch of the gem itself. Its legend was infamous in certain circles -- the circles I had sought out over the years -- and although naturally I was sceptical, I did not want to tempt fate. For a man less certain of how the world worked, the sight of the amulet's previous owner coughing up his lungs in a beggar's bolt hole might have given cause for concern.

I reached a velvet purse from my coat pocket and slipped the jewel into it. A shock of pleasure coursed through me as I drew the cords tight. It was mine!

"Is there anything I can do for him? Drink? Food?"
"Leave him to me, sir. I will tend to his final moments."
"Very well. Make sure he knows I am grateful to him."

The derelict smiled, exposing his rotted teeth. "That I will sir. That I will."

I left. There was no more to be done for the man, or his friend, and I was expected elsewhere. My excitement at the discovery of the precious stone had tightened my stomach. It almost felt as if I was going to vomit. Or perhaps I'd caught a chill in this fell place. For a moment I lost my bearings among the ruins and empty houses, but then I caught sight of a familiar neon sign and remembered I had parked close by. The familiar leather smell inside my car replaced the unpleasant odours of the last hour and as the door closed with a satisfying clunk, shutting out the memory of that awful place, I began to feel human again.

The freeway lights flashed past faster once I'd cleared the edge of town. It was unusually hot inside the car and I wondered for a second whether the heating had developed a fault. Even at its lowest setting the air was still stiflingly hot. I lowered a window to clear the air and my head. I needed to be on my best form for the meeting ahead. Sir Patrick had been waiting for this day even longer than I. Had worked his way through several finders before me. He had no notion that his life-long dream was about to be fulfilled.

I was wracked with a sudden fit of painful coughing. A trickle of saliva had found its way into my lungs, as occasionally happens to me. I pulled onto the verge until the attack passed. The dashboard clock shone its green nine-oh-five pm at me. Plenty of time. My client was not expecting me until ten. I pulled a bottle of water from the glove box and took a deep drink to ease the tightness in my throat. The pain in my chest subsided a little. I could feel the weight of the ruby amulet in my jacket pocket. It pressed against my ribs, held in place by the seatbelt. I adjusted my position and patted it. Mine. If only briefly. And soon I would be, once more, a very wealthy man.

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