A seven-part mystery written in first, second, and third person. (known as a symetrina)
The Bartimaeus Symmetrina
I hold little faith in enchantments—put no stock in magic spells, charmed objects, for good or for evil. But I found this coin on Bartimaeus Street: it looked like it was made of lead—heavy, old and tarnished, as if it had been hand carved instead of actually minted from a form. On one side was an etching of an imp—long faced, flattened nose—horns like a goat. On the other side of the coin, as though cut with a dull knife, it read, LUCK.
When I picked it up, it felt warm to the touch, as if it had been in a pocket for a time, or gripped tightly in someone’s palm. I rubbed at the lettering hoping that it might be made of some valuable metal, and then as I studied the coin curiously, I stepped out into the street.
A car slammed on its brakes and came screeching to a halt—its bumper barely tapping my knees. Stunned, I found myself gawking at the driver through the windshield. He was a business man in a blue suit. He screamed profanities at me as he stuck his arm out of the side window and flipped me off.
I stumbled away from the car, and then realized there was nothing in my hand—I had dropped the coin. Desperately, I searched the road, zigzagging across the street toward the opposite side when a taxicab hit me from behind.
You are cold and hungry—your guts ache for another drink, yet your attempts at bumming money prove unsuccessful. Staggering along the sidewalk, your clothes stiff with filth and grime, you look down and see a coin in the gutter. Quickly you bend down and snatch it up, tightly gripping it in your oh-so-lucky hand. The coin feels heavy and itches in your palm, or maybe it is your craving for another drink. Ever so slowly, you open your hand to look at your prize. It is not like a regular coin, and as you rub away the dirt, the face of a horned-man stares back at you.
Right in front of you is Lucky’s Coin Shop, you hurry inside and ask the man how much it is worth. The storekeep studies the coin for a time, and then tells you he has never seen anything like it before—reluctantly, he offers you twenty dollars for it. You take the money, make your way to the liquor store and buy a bottle of Jack Daniels from a smiling clerk in a blue suit.
It is 9AM and the first drink burns through your body like liquid fire. By 10AM, you stumble out of the alleyway mumbling and drooling, your body shutting down from the overdose of toxins. You wobble through the crowd bumping into people who push you out of the way, and then you collapse, convulsing on the sidewalk like a baited worm.
Lucky Williams searched through his books of rare coins trying to find a match to the engravings on the odd token he held in his hand. In his twenty years of collecting, it was the strangest thing he had ever seen, and as he expected, his antiquated coin books showed nothing even remotely similar.
Giving up on the books, he grabbed his magnifying glass and meticulously scrutinized the coin again in the hopes that he would find a name or some small clue as to its original coinage.
The bizarre devil head intrigued him. The face appeared to be smiling wickedly, as if the creature had just accomplished some foul mischief, or held some ominous evil secret. Its nose was flat and wide—bulbous, nearly hanging over the top lip of its hairless head; its ears large and extending upward, came to a sharp point at nearly the top of the skull and were pierced with two loops or earrings on either side.
And then there were the horns. There was no mistaking what they were: budding little eruptions just above the forehead. “This has clearly got to be some kind of talisman or good luck charm,” he said aloud.
Just then, a customer entered the Coin Shop and interrupted his thoughts. Lucky quickly stuffed the coin into his pocket. “Yes sir, can I help you?”
The man was young and broad-shouldered, dressed in a nice blue suit and tie. “Yeah, I’m putting in a new bar at my nightclub, 'The Silver Dollar', and I want to cover the top of the bar with silver dollars and then cap it with a thick heavy glass. I just wondered what a large collection of silver dollars like that would cost me.”
“I’ve got just the thing for you,” Lucky said, smiling at his luck.
They quickly struck a deal, and the man immediately wrote Lucky a check for eleven thousand dollars.
After the man had left, Lucky flipped the talisman into the air and caught it in one hand. “You’re lucky for me already. But I think I’ll take you over to see Madame Lucinda, she can tell me what you really are.”
He closed up shop and hurried down the street to the fortuneteller.
Madame Lucinda’s Palmistry was probably the oldest building on Bartimaeus Street. Lucky rushed in and dropped the coin on the table in front of her. “What duya make of that, Lucinda? Ever see anything like it before?”
Lucinda Jones was ever so old—her long hair gray at the roots and black where the dye still held most of its color. She wore a wrinkled green muumuu and her fat neck was bejeweled with several strings of gaudy necklaces.
She wiggled her portly body up straight in the chair and gazed at the coin upon the table. “Well, let’s see here…” she croaked, and then coughed raggedly to clear her tortured Marlboro throat. “Aiiee!” she shrieked, crossing herself several times and mumbling some ancient prayer. “Where did you get this?”
“An old bum brought it in about an hour ago. Duya know what it is? Is it valuable?”
“It is evil—evil and vile! It has his mark upon it. I will not touch it! Take it away!”
“Come on, Lucinda, it can’t be all that bad—it says ‘LUCK’ on the other side. Flip it over.”
“It is a curse to whoever touches it. My advice is to get rid of it!”
“I can’t do that—it has already brought me good luck.” He fished the check out of his pocket from Mr. Devoe and shoved it in front of her face. “Does this look like a curse to you?”
“Eleven thousand? Perhaps you are right, Mr. Williams. Sometimes giving away a cursed item can be as deadly as possessing it. These things must be handled delicately. Leave it with me for now. I will look through some of my old books on charmed objects.”
Lucky was hesitant to leave the coin. “Well, all right, but I’ll be back first thing in the morning. I gotta get back to work anyway. You keep an eye on that thing. Don't lose it. It's my good luck charm.” He slammed the door on his way out and hurried back to his store.
When he reached his shop, he noticed the front door was open. He looked in through the window and saw Mr. Devoe inside—standing behind the counter and looking through all the coins. “What the hell….” Lucky burst through the door, “Stop! What duya think you’re doing? Are you robbing me? You son-of-a-bitch—get the hell outta here!”
Devoe appeared thrilled that Lucky had returned. He was grinning gleefully. He reached into his coat pocket and brought out a small gun. Pointing it in Lucky's direction, he pulled the trigger.
Lucky Williams caught the bullet in his heart and crumbled to the floor.
Madame Lucinda Jones stared at the coin in front of her. She had never seen anything like it before and wondered just how old the damn thing really was. So, she did what all good fortunetellers do when they run up against something beyond their realm of comprehension—she broke out her laptop and Googled it.
She searched for over an hour when her attention was drawn toward the window where she saw several cop cars go racing by—their sirens screaming. Curious, she stepped outside. In front of Lucky’s Coins, a crowd of people gathered. Police officers were trying to push them back away from the front door while paramedics entered. “Lucky?” Fearing the worst, she hurried up the street. “Oh, no…not Lucky, please, not Lucky.” Her rapid walk turned into a desperate run.
“Lucky!” she screamed, trying to push through the crowd. “Please, let me through. Get out of my way!”
She was shoved from behind, and heard someone yell, “Shaddup you old coot.” She fell through the crowd at the feet of a policeman who helped her to her feet. “You all right, lady?”
“What’s happened? Where’s Lucky?” Just then the paramedics came out with a body on a stretcher. It was covered with a sheet. “No! Lucky! Lucky!”
“Did you know this man, lady?” the cop asked her.
Did you know, she thought, past tense. And then she felt the loss—he was gone—Lucky was dead. She swooned as if someone had sucker-punched her. Sighing deeply, she whispered, “Oh, Lucky….”
“Please, lady, if you knew this guy, we’d like to talk with you for a second.” He gently led her into the coin shop. “Captain Hanson? This lady here can ID the deceased.”
“Lucky,” she corrected him. “His name was Lucky Williams. This is his shop.” She spoke as if in a dream.
“And can you tell me what your name is?” the Captain asked.
She scowled angrily at the man. “I am Madame Lucinda Jones,” she said, as though the man should have known her by reputation. “I own the fortuneteller’s shop just up the street. Lucky and I were friends for over twenty years.”
“So you would know if he had any enemies or anything.”
“Lucky? No, he had no enemies. He was a fair and honest man—a good man.”
“Well, it looks like a simple case of robbery then.”
“Simple?” She couldn't believe how callous this man was. “He was murdered—you call that simple?”
“Sorry, lady—I didn’t mean it like that. We’ll do everything we can to find out who did this. Can you tell me the last time you spoke with Mr. Williams?”
“Yeah, he stopped by my store about an hour ago.”
“What did he say? Was he upset?”
“No, as a matter of fact, he was thrilled. He had just sold a silver dollar collection for eleven thousand dollars. He showed me the check. It was in his pocket.”
The Captain thought about that for a moment. Then turned to the other officer, “Roberts, go through his clothes and see if you can find a check.” The young cop left the store and began talking to the paramedics. They opened the back door for him and he climbed inside the ambulance. Lucinda could see Lucky’s shoes sticking out from beneath the sheet; she watched as the cop removed the cover and searched Lucky's pockets. After a couple of minutes, he looked through the window at the Captain and shrugged.
“Well, there seems to be no check. It's possible the thief took it. You wouldn’t happen to remember the name on the check, would you?”
Lucinda closed her eyes and tried to remember. She pictured the moment in her mind—tried to freeze-frame it—she was looking at the check—saw the amount, the name…. “Devoe!” she said opening her eyes again. “Yes, it was Devoe. But the first name is not clear. The writing was scribbled.”
The policeman wrote the name on a small pad. “All right, we’ll get on this right away. Where can we reach you?”
“Just down the street—Madame Lucinda’s Palmistry. I live in the back.”
“Okay, we’ll be in touch.”
Lucinda slowly walked toward the door—dazed and broken. As she closed her hand around the doorknob, she sensed something—a man in a blue suit flashed into her mind. She turned to face Captain Hanson again. “I think the person you’re looking for wore a blue suit. In fact, I’m almost positive of it.”
“Blue suit, huh. Thanks, that might help.”
She turned again and left, gradually slip dragging her feet back to her shop. Twenty yards from her front door, she saw a man in a blue suit step out of her store.
“Hey! What are you doing there? Stop!”
The man hurried down the street and was soon lost in the crowd.
Lucinda entered her shop and looked around. Everything seemed to be the way she had left it. Breathing a sigh of relief, she sat down at her table for a couple of minutes before it came to her—the coin was gone.
Captain John Hanson scratched at his head. “What duya make of it, Roberts? Ya ever seen anything like this before?”
“No sir, can’t say as I have—but it is Friday the 13th. If it was ever gonna happen on any particular day, this’d be the one.”
“Yeah, I guess so. But, man, we pulled three dead ones out of here today. That’s gotta be a record somewhere.”
“I’d say so. Three different deaths from three completely different cases—and all on the same street.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but I tell ya, if we get another call to come down here to investigate a death, I’m gonna close the whole neighborhood down—and let nobody in or out of Bartimaeus Street for a week.”
Roberts chuckled. “How about that old lady—now there’s a piece of work.”
“Yeah, but she’s harmless. She did mention a guy in a blue suit though and came up with a name. It's not much, but its something.”
“She never actually saw the guy, Captain. She just felt there was a guy in a blue suit here—like a premonition.”
“I know, but that’s the third time we’ve heard about a guy in a blue suit. The cab driver said he saw one drive away from the scene of the accident—and the clerk at the liquor store said a guy wearing a blue suit pulled a gun on him and locked him up in the bathroom, but didn’t steal anything—and now this. Does everybody that comes to Bartimaeus Street own a blue suit?”
Roberts laughed uneasily. “Good question. The killer didn’t rob this place either—and what better place to steal some cold-hard-cash than a coin store.”
“And don't forget the check is missing. Our killer was definitely looking for something.”
“Yeah, but what?”
You are at Madame Lucinda’s Shop. Desperately, you search the shelves and drawers. You can feel the coin’s presence and know that it is here somewhere. You look at all the junk the soothsayer has collected to divine the future with: tarot cards, astrology charts, even good luck charms. You almost laugh aloud because you know the old woman thinks she has real power. But she doesn't know what real power is; she is old, and will soon have to answer to the Master for her meddling ways.
Finally, you see it, right out in the open, sitting on the fortuneteller’s table. You quickly snag it up and shove it into your pocket as a smile spreads across your lips. This was all too easy. Your only thought now is to dump the body you have struggled to keep control of for the past several hours. But where? Where can you release Mr. Devoe that will be the most satisfying—the most enjoyable? A malicious thought comes to you, and a devious cackle escapes your lips as you head out the front door.
You hear the fortuneteller yell at you from behind, but you hurry away, rushing down the street to your car. The old woman has been a pain in the ass, but she sees her life headed down a dark road and can do nothing to stop it. You wish that she had touched the coin so that you could have severely dealt with her. But, no matter, you have retrieved the token and it is time to go home. The Master will be waiting.
I feel a sharp pain on my forehead and awake in my car. I must have been in an accident. There is an ambulance and police cars all around—I have crashed into one of them, but I don’t remember anything. What has happened?
Two policemen run out from the inside of a Coin Shop brandishing their guns and badges. They are yelling at me, but I can’t understand what they are saying. I try to get out of my car to talk to them—tell them I’m hurt and need help. I throw my shoulder against the door and it opens. As I climb out, I realize I have my gun in my hand. Why? What is going on?
I hear a shot and the window of my car explodes. I am startled, and run. They are yelling at me to stop. Why? I didn’t do anything. What the hell’s going on?
I hear another shot and it feels like a burning hot poker was thrust into my chest. I can’t breathe, the pain is overwhelming. I collapse upon the street.
I see the faces of police officers bending over me. Above them, something evil floats over their heads. It looks like a devil or a demon, and it is smiling at me. He knows. He knows I can see him and he gives me a big wink and then disappears down Bartimaeus Street.