Poughkeepsie, New York, August 20, 2008.
It was raining as I left the house on Raymond Avenue in my beat-up 1998 Jeep Cherokee, the smell of the fried food emanating from the Acropolis Diner enough to clog my arteries from five hundred feet away.
A kid from one of the local colleges tried to beat the light. I slammed on the brakes just in the nick of time-- that was the last thing I needed, to kill a college kid. Probably from Vassar. Probably a fag, and wouldn't that be just my luck; they'd probably try to pin in on me as a hate crime. He was wearing Birkenstocks. Damn hippie.
It was still raining as I reached my dilapidated office, the kind of thick, heavy, grey rain that pelts you like rocks and leaves bruises if you haven't got an umbrella. I'd seen the last of my umbrella three weeks prior, chasing that small-time donut crook who was having an affair with the mayor's wife. What a case that had been.
But that's what it was coming down to. Donuts and marital infidelity. There's not much work for a private eye in the Mid-Hudson Valley. And that's what I am. The name's Dursley. Dudley Dursley, Private Investigator. Fortunately, there were still enough dames who hired me just to listen to my sexy English accent.
Anyway, on that particularly rainy day, as I headed up to my clunky little office, the last thing I expected was that a ghost from my past would walk through the door.
Well, not so much walk. I suppose she had walked through the door, but she was already sitting there, ass as tight as Michael Phelps' swimsuit and twice as slippery. I didn't recognize her at first, not all those years later, and sure as hell not in that slinky little black dress that didn't leave a thing to the imagination.
The first words out of her mouth? "Duddles!" Nobody but my mother calls me Duddles. Nobody. So imagine what I'm thinking when I hear it out of the lips of some kinky dame.
"Mum didn't write the dating service again?" I asked her, as I divested myself of my wet coat.
"What? Oh, no," she replied, lighting up her cigarette.
Without a lighter.
"Shit," I said, even though I knew better than to swear in front of a dame. "Pardon my French, lady, but I--"
She grinned, flashing a whole mouthful of the pearliest pearly whites this side of a poster of the cast of High School Musical II and held out a hand. "You don't remember me," she said.
"I sure as hell want to," I said.
"Nymphadora Tonks. But shh--" and she held up one perfectly-manicured finger to her lips. "I'm supposed to be dead."
"Don't worry," I assured her. "So am I. And anyway, living in Poughkeepsie almost qualifies. What can I do for you, N--" I hesitated. I wasn't sure how the hell to pronounce her name, even when she'd just said it to me not thirty seconds before.
"It's Tonks," she answered. "And I'm here for a friend. We've got five thousand dollars cash for you if you can retrieve a particular...item."
"If this is about somebody's wand being left in a whorehouse, you can take it down the road to Archer's office," I informed her, stepping forward to get the door.
"Oh, no, nothing like that." She took a long, slow drag on her cigarette, and blew a smoke ring in my direction.
The thing about wizards? Their smoke rings don't stay rings. They turn into hearts, moons, stars, clovers, diamonds, iand/i purple horseshoes. And don't even get me started on the smell. She had the Lucky Charms marshmallow smell down, too. If there was ever a reason to pick up smoking...I tried to keep a clear head, though, but this dame was messing me up, bad. And I never thought I'd say that about one of ithem/i.
But I was still waiting for her answer.
"It's an eye," she said. "A glass eye. Originally crafted in Malta in sixteen-eleven by the great wizard Edaps Mas, and stolen from him shortly thereafter, the eye has left a path of destruction in its wake. It was seen in Marat's bathtub in seventeen eighty-nine, and at Waterloo in eighteen-fifteen. It was nearly burned at Atlanta during the American Civil War, and can be seen in the background of publicity stills from Teddy Roosevelt's third presidential campaign under the Bull Moose party. And now..."
She paused again. For dramatic effect.
"Let me guess, you're going to say it's here in Poughkeepsie."
"Better," the woman said. "It's here in this office."
"A Maltese eyeball? Lady, I don't know--" I was going to tell her I didn't know what the hell she was talking about, and break my rule about swearing again, but before I knew what was happening, she had one of those goddamn isticks/i pointed at me. You know. Wands.
"One false move, and I'll give you back that cute little piggy tail," she warned, extinguishing her cigarette on the centerfold of my nudie magazine. "Stay where you are."
I did what I was told. With my hands in the air, I backed up against the door to my office. She opened up my desk drawers, dumping out back issues of Playboy and Sports Illustrated onto the carpet, then moved onto the file cabinet, where she found my secret stash of Little Debbie snack cakes.
And ate two of them, before she located the safe behind the cheap framed print of Whistler's Mother. Me, I thought it loaned an air of dignity to the place.
"Look, lady, I'm the only one who's got the code to that safe, and there's confidential information in there. My clients have a right to their privacy, and I already got my phones tapped for eating at the Afghani restaurant."
The broad poked her damn wand at the lock, said something in Hawaiian, and bang! The safe popped open like a cheap whore who's just been handed a twenty.
And there it was. The eye.
But it wasn't so much the glass eye that got me. It was more the hand that was holding it. And the gruesome remains of the mauled corpse attached to the hand.
"Shit," I said, forgetting that I wasn't supposed to move as I stepped up to the body. It had...half-moon cuts all over it. Real, big gouges. Like toothmarks. "Who the hell did that?" And there I was, swearing in front of a lady. Again.
"I don't think it's so much a iwho/i as a iwhat/i," said Tonks, as she took the eye and gave it a casual toss.
"Look, lady, I don't know who you are, but number one, I don't think you should just be walking around with that...thing...in your pocket. And number two, I don't believe you're giving me five thousand dollars for something you just plucked outta a hole in my wall."
"That's right, Duddles," she answered, looking cheerful enough you'd think she'd just won at the slots. "I didn't. I'm giving you five-thousand dollars to help me figure out who's after the real one."
"And who killed that poor sap. This one..." She gave the eyeball another toss and held it up to her own eye. "Is a decoy."
"You're forgetting one more question, Sister," I reminded her gravely.
"Oh? What's that?"
"What the hell are they doing in Poughkeepsiei?"