Street of Five Moons
A Vicky Bliss Novel of Suspense
I was sitting at my desk doing my nails when the door opened and the spy sneaked in. He was wearing one of those trench coats that have pockets and flaps and shoulder straps all over them. The collar was turned up so that it practically met the brim of the hat he had pulled down over his eyebrows. His right hand was in the coat pocket. The pocket bulged.
"Guten Morgen, Herr Professor," I said. "Wie geht's?"
Wie geht's is not elegant German. It has become an Americanism, like chop suey. I speak excellent German, but Herr Professor Doktor Schmidt was amused when I resorted to slang. He has a kooky sense of humor anyhow. Schmidt is my boss at the National Museum, and when he's in his right mind he is one of the foremost medieval historians in the world. Occasionally he isn't in what most people would call his right mind. He's a frustrated romantic. What he really wants to be is a musketeer, wearing boots and a sword as long as he is; or a pirate; or, as in this case, a spy.
He swept his hat off with a flourish and leered at me. It breaks me up to watch Schmidt leer. His face isn't designed for any expression except a broad Father Christmas grin. He keeps trying to raise one eyebrow, but he can't control the muscles, so they both go up, and his blue eyes twinkle, and his mouth puckers up like a cherub's.
"How goes it, babe?" he inquired, in an accent as thick as Goethe's would have been if he had spoken English—which he may have done, for all I know. That's not my field. My field is medieval Europe, with a minor in art history. I'm good at it, too. At thispoint it is safe to admit that I got my job at the museum in Munich through a certain amount of—well, call it polite pressure. Professor Schmidt and I had met while he was under the influence of one of his secondary personalities—a worldly, sophisticated crook, like Arsene Lupin. We had both been looking for a missing art object, and some of the good doctor's activities toward this end might not have struck his scholarly colleagues as precisely proper. No, it was not blackmail—not exactly—and anyway, now that I had been on the job for almost a year, Schmidt was the first to admit that I earned my keep. He didn't even mind my working on my novel during office hours, so long as I took care of pressing business first. And let's face it—there are few life-and-death issues in medieval history.
Professor Schmidt's eyes fell on the pile of typescript at my right elbow. "How goes the book?" he inquired. "Did you get the heroine out of the brothel?" "She isn't in a brothel," I explained, for the fifth or sixth time. Schmidt is mildly obsessed by brothels—the literary kind, I mean. "She's in a harem. A Turkish harem, in the Alhambra."
Professor Schmidt's eyes took on the familiar academic gleam.
"The Alhambra was not—"
"I know, I know. But the reader won't. You are too concerned with accuracy, Herr Professor. That's why you can't write a popular dirty book, like me. I'm stuck for the moment, though. There have been too many popular books about Turks and harems. I'm trying to think of an original example of lust. It isn't easy."
Professor Schmidt pondered the question. I didn't really want to hear his idea of what constituted original lust, so I said quickly, "But I distract you, sir. What did you want to see me about?"
"Ah." Schmidt leered again. He took his hand out of his pocket.
It didn't hold a gun, of course. I had not expected a gun. I had expected an apple or a fistful of candy; Schmidt's potbelly is the result of day-long munching. But at the sight of what emerged, clasped tenderly in his pudgy fingers, I gasped.
Don't be misled by the gasp. This is not going to be one of those books in which the heroine keeps shrieking and fainting and catching her breath. I'm not the fainting type, and not much surprises me. I'm not that old (still on the right side of thirty), but my unfortunate physical characteristics have exposed me to many educational experiences.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I am not kidding when I refer to my figure as unfortunate. I'm too tall, almost six feet; I inherited a healthy, rounded body, from my Scandinavian ancestors, along with dark-blue eyes and lots of blond hair; I don't gain weight, so the said body is slender in what are supposed to be the right places. As far as I'm concerned, they are the wrong places. All you Ugly Ducklings out there, take heart; you are better off than you realize. When people love you, they love the important things about you, the things that endure after wrinkles and middle-aged spread have set in—your brains and your personality and your sense of humor. When people look at me, all they see is a blown-up centerfold. Nobody takes me seriously. When I was younger, I wanted to be little and cuddly and cute. Now I'd settle for being flat-chested and myopic. It would save a lot of wear and tear on my nerves.
Sorry about the tirade. But it isn't easy to convince people that you've got a brain when all they can see are curves and flowing blond hair. Nor is it easy for a woman like me to get a job. Intellectual women mistrust me on sight. Intellectual men are just like all other men, they hire me—but for the wrong reasons. That was why meeting Professor Schmidt was such a break. Bless his heart, he's as innocent as he looks. He really thinks I am brilliant. If he were six feet four and thirty years younger, I'd marry him.
He beamed at me as he stood there in his spy costume, with his hand outstretched; and the object on his palm glowed and shimmered, almost as if it were smiling too. Street of Five Moons
A Vicky Bliss Novel of Suspense
. Copyright © by Elizabeth Peters. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.