"A pivotal work in the history of mystery fiction." — The Guardian
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
In addition to a pair of modern noir classic novels, Marc Behm (1925–2007) wrote several screenplays, including Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, and the Beatles' second movie, Help! His acclaimed mystery The Eye of the Beholder has two different film adaptations.
Read an Excerpt
The Eye's desk was in a corner by the window. Its single drawer contained his sewing kit, his razor, his pens and pencils, his .45, two clips of cartridges, a paperback of crossword puzzles, his passport, a tube of glue, a tiny unopened bottle of Old Smuggler scotch, and a photo of his daughter.
The window overlooked a parking lot two floors below. There were eleven other desks in the office. It was nine thirty.
He was sewing a button on his jacket and watching the lot, where an old guy in overalls was rifling a yellow Toyota. The bastard seemed to have keys fitting all the cars and had already hit a Monza V8, a Citroen DS, and a Mustang II. He took a carton of cigarettes out of the yellow Toyota now, closed and relocked the door. Nobody could see him from the street because he was crawling on his hands and knees. He scampered over to a Jag XJ6C.
The Eye dropped the sewing kit into the drawer, pulled on his jacket, picked up the phone, and called the basement. A few minutes later three thugs from the guards' squad closed in on the thief. They took his booty and the keys away from him, dumped a bucket of water over his head, and threw him out of the lot.
It was ten o'clock.
The Eye did the last four crosswords in the paperback, finishing the book. He tossed it into the wastepaper basket.
At ten thirty he borrowed Le Figaro from the girl sitting at desk eight, read the headlines, the Cornet du jour, the Vincennes racing results, and the Programmes radiotélévision. He tried to do the French mots croisés but gave it up.
The young swinger at desk nine passed him Playboy, and he looked at the nudes. All the girls were lying askew, playing with themselves slyly. 'MISS AUGUST, far-out Peg Magee (left) is turned on by Arab movies, skin diving, Mahler, and zoology.' 'MISS DECEMBER, demure Hope Korngold (right), admits her erotic fantasies often involve subways, buses, and ferryboats. All aboard!'
He watched the parking lot again for a while. Then, at eleven thirty, he took the photo out of the drawer and studied it. He usually did this for a half-hour or so every morning he was in the office.
It was a group shot of fifteen little girls sitting at tables in a classroom. His wife sent it to him in sixty-one, in a letter postmarked Washington, D.C. 'Here's your fucking daughter, asshole! I bet you don't even recognize her, you prick! P.S. Fuck you!'
It was true – he had no idea which of the children was Maggie. He'd flown to Washington and spent two months looking for them, but there had been no trace of them there. Watchmen bureaus all over the country tried for ten years to locate them, then had just put the file away in the dead archives.
He set the photo against the telephone on the desk, leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms.
Fifteen little girls with camera-shy faces. Seven- or eight- or nine-year-olds. One of them was his daughter. She would be twenty-four years old this July.
His favorite for a long time had been the uncombed moppet in the white sweater sitting under a crucifix hanging on the wall. She was holding an apple and scowling. Then he'd switched to the blonde with the ponytail sitting by the blackboard at the opposite side of the room. She was biting a pencil. On the board was neatly chalked the beginning of Psalm 23: 'The Lord is my shepherd, I ...' Then, for years, his choice had lingered on the pale narrow visage with the bangs in the last row. Her hands were tightly clasped and she looked terrified. Then the girl next to her had attracted his fancy. She wore glasses and was grinning ...
But he no longer had any preferences. He knew them all by heart now and loved every one of them.
The classroom was the most familiar decor of his life: three walls, crucifix, tables, blackboard, the psalm, the apple. And the fifteen lovely faces, like infantile mug shots, the myriad of gazing eyes ... and in the far corner a door through which he knew he would one day enter and call her name. And out of the multitude would rise his lost child.
He was absolutely certain of this.
He stared through the window. The old man in the overalls was back in the parking lot, looting the glove compartment of a Thunderbird.
The telephone rang. It was Miss Dome, Baker's secretary, summoning him upstairs.
It was noon.
Watchmen, Inc. filled two basement levels and the second, third, and fourth floors of the Carlyle Tower. Baker's office was in the northeastern corner of the fourth floor, an enormous salon with two Van Goghs, three Picassos, and a Braque covering one entire wall.
Baker was only twenty-nine years old. He had inherited the agency from his father a year ago. The old-timers downstairs ran the business, but he always handled what he called 'the thousand-dollars-a-day clients' himself.
Two of them, an elderly man and woman, both in tweeds, were sitting in Hepplewhite chairs facing the refectory desk. Baker introduced them to the Eye: Mr. and Mrs. Hugo.
The Eye knew the name. Hugo shoe stores. Old-fashioned 'booteries' (Founded in 1867) on downtown streets in all the big cities. He remained standing and tried to anticipate the squeal. A family problem, surely. A son or a daughter straying off the beaten track.
He was right.
Baker struck a pose, looking grave and professional. 'Mr. and Mrs. Hugo have a son,' he announced. 'Paul. He graduated from college recently and is unemployed for the moment.'
Mr. Hugo laughed nervously. 'He's been unemployed for the last ten months!'
'He's made no effort at all to find a job,' Mrs. Hugo said. 'He's just loafing.'
'He has a girlfriend,' Baker continued. 'His parents want to find out something about her. They want to know just how deeply the boy is involved. You follow me?'
The Eye nodded. A college boy and a hustler. Dad and Ma desperate. A big retainer. He turned to Mr. Hugo. 'What's the girl's name, sir?'
Mr. Hugo twitched. 'We don't know. We've never met the young lady.'
'She's been calling him up at the house,' Mrs. Hugo whined. 'That's how we found out about her.'
Baker emerged from his chair, ending the session (he had a squash date at the Harvard Club at one). 'Establishing her identity won't be any problem,' he said. And he walked around the desk and stood staring at the front of the Eye's jacket. 'They would like a preliminary report within twenty-four hours. Is that possible?'
'Yes.' He fingered his buttonhole. The goddamned button was gone!
'Can we hear from you this time tomorrow?'
'That's all, then. Thank you.'
The Eye bowed to Mr. and Mrs. Hugo and left the office. He wondered where the hell the button was. He found it out in the corridor, on the floor by the elevators.
On his last assignment he'd followed an embezzler named Moe Grander to Cheyenne, Wyoming. (The guys downstairs called him 'Grander the Absconder.') He'd cornered the Eye in an alley one night and tried to brain him with a hammer. The Eye had shot him in the stomach. Watchmen, Inc. did not approve of killing suspects, and he'd been confined to his desk ever since. The Hugo job meant that the interdiction was lifted. The idea of escaping from the Tower and going out on the streets again elated him. He decided to skip lunch.
He took his sewing kit from his drawer and checked a Minolta camera out of the supply room. He went down to the second basement and asked the motor pool girl if he could have a car. She gave him the keys to the yellow Toyota.
He went out to the parking lot. The old thief in the overalls was still there, but scurried off when he saw the Eye coming.
It was a quarter to one. The sky was like greasy golden dishwater, the air tasted of hope and glee, the glittering windows of the Tower almost blinded him.
He climbed into the yellow Toyota and drove across the city.
The Hugos lived on Neatrour Avenue, in a house that looked like a gingerbread donjon.
He parked across the street. While sewing the button on his jacket he suddenly remembered the nudes in Playboy. Christ! Maybe one of them was Maggie! Miss August or Miss December. Why not? A superb nymph lounging naked on a page, caressing her thighs. Would he disapprove of such a thing? Probably not. In his fantasies he always pardoned her faults. Once he imagined finding her in a cellar with a rat pack of junkies. Her arms were festering with abscesses, and all her teeth were gone, but it never occurred to him to scold her. In another melodrama – he called it Silent Night, Holy Night – she was a whore who tried to pick him up in a skid row dive on New Year's Eve.
She was wearing a mangy fur coat and looked positively ghastly. Tied to a string around her neck was a brass tiepin.
Where did you get this pin?
It's a souvenir. It belonged to my father ...
He took her to a sanatorium, and a week later she was cured and looked twenty years younger, glowing, green-eyed, clean, divine ... and he finally recognized her. She was the moppet in the white sweater sitting under the crucifix in the classroom.
Daddy, I'm so ashamed.
Don't be silly.
Can you ever forgive me?
He did the paper's crossword puzzle. Eight across, Abundance of bread. Nine letters. Bakery. Bake shop. No. Affluence. This was going to be an easy one. The Hugo job was going to be easy, too. He'd have to fake it, make it last. He didn't want to go back to that fucking desk for at least two weeks. He was always at ease out in the city, in the streets, in the traffic, moving through the labyrinth like a ghost, watching the tide of crowds, peering into crevices, looking for secrets ... Eight down, Rex's daughter. Eight letters. Antigone.
One of his very favorite reruns was called Madame Agamemnon. Maggie was the widow of a Greek tycoon, Kosta Agamemnon, 'the richest man in the world.' She'd met him in Iraq or somewhere (she was a student, studying archaeology at the University of Antioch). After a whirlwind courtship, they'd eloped to Paris where he'd dropped dead in their bridal suite at the Ritz on their wedding night. He'd left her a fleet of tankers and several banks and railroads and private islands. She came back to America immediately after the funeral and went to the Carlyle Tower. Baker called the Eye up to his salon and introduced him to her.
This is Madame Agamemnon. She wants us to locate her father.
The Eye gaped at the client. She was an exquisite young woman, almost a child, dressed in Vogue black, wearing glasses. Her hair was tied in a ponytail, and she was eating an apple. Baker was obviously impressed.
She wants us to put our entire staff on the assignment. The matter is extremely urgent and the expense is of no importance whatsoever. You'll be in charge of the case. Don't bother about the paperwork. You'll make all your reports to Madame Agamemnon in person. (Aside) Goddamn it! You need a shave!
May I ask ... what is Madame Agamemnon's first name?
What the hell difference does that make?
Is it – Margaret?
Madame Agamemnon stared at him, her splendid green eyes blazing with surprise. Yes, it is! How in the world did you know that?
Horseshit! He finished the crossword puzzle, and he threw the paper into the rear seat. Madame Agamemnon indeed! He'd been letting himself glide for too long.
One of these days young Baker would put the finger on him, and they'd take the .45 away from him and offer him a job emptying ashtrays and polishing the doors of the elevators. Not that he really gave a rat's ass. Where the fuck was Maggie, anyway?
At two o'clock Paul Hugo came out of the house.
He was in his early twenties, long-haired, skinny, wearing a suit and tie, smoking a cigar. He got into a Porsche and drove uptown.
The Eye followed him.
The traffic carried them along Lafayette Boulevard and through the underpass into Second Avenue. Paul found a parking space at the corner of South Clinton. The Eye rolled past him and squeezed snugly into a slot in front of the Globe Building. He walked back down Second, twenty paces behind Paul. They went into a drugstore. Paul ate a sandwich. The Eye had two milk shakes and a slice of pie. Then, one behind the other, they walked over to Broad Street. Paul stopped in the lobby of the Lincoln Theater and looked at the King Kong stills. He lit another cigar. He crossed the street and entered the Capital Bank. The Eye was almost abreast of him, but invisible, as unobtrusive as the dot of an i in a paragraph. A guard, glancing at him, saw only a gray smear in a dapper landscape of passing suits. Not one note jarred, nothing blared, he left no spoor in his wake. If it hadn't been for the motherfucking button – he glanced at it, expecting it to drop off his jacket with a clang and roll across the marble floor like a wagon wheel – he would have been perfectly neuter.
Paul withdrew eight nine ten eleven twelve – the Eye counted the bills from the other end of the counter – thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen seventeen eighteen thousand dollars from his account. Christ Almighty! He put the money in an envelope, pocketed it, left. The Eye got to the door first, five paces ahead of him. Paul followed him along Broad Street, passed him, cut through the Plaza Arcade to South Clinton. He stopped before a Hugo shoe store (Founded in 1867). The window was filled with wooden sabots, the latest rage in footwear. The kids called them clodhoppers. Twenty dollars a pair. He stopped again farther on, in front of a poster at the entranceway of the Cine Club. Dracula's Daughter (1936). He lit another cigar. The eighteen grand baffled the Eye. What the hell was he going to do with all that cash? Frau im Mond (1928). The Cat People (1942). Paul walked on. Eighteen thousand dollars! The Eye kept his distance – there were bad vibes here, and his radar kept hitting a mysterious splotch out in the abyss. A fraction of a second before Grander the Absconder had tried to pound him with the hammer, he'd jerked the .45 out of his belt, took one step backward, and pulled the trigger. At that precise instant Grander appeared and the hammer missed him. He felt exactly the same unease now.
Paul sauntered to Second Avenue and climbed into the Porsche. The Eye started to run toward the Globe Building. He slowed down, strolled. He boarded the yellow Toyota just as the Porsche rolled past him. Bad vibes!
They drove across Independence Circle and swung into Constitution Boulevard, passing the glass façade of the Air Terminal. That's where he'd met his wife. She worked there in fifty-two. The year the hydrogen bomb went off. Atoll H, eight letters. Eniwetok. Maggie was born in fifty-three. The year Stalin died. They'd both disappeared in fifty-four. The year ... The Porsche floated into an opening at a curbside on South Park. There was room for two. The Toyota swerved in neatly just behind it.
It was four o'clock.
Paul walked into the park. The Eye took the Minolta XK and fell in behind him. Ragged boys and girls were strewn across the lawn like litter, playing flutes and guitars. The Eye snapped a picture of them. They jeered at him. He took a picture of the fountain. Paul sat down on a bench and lit another cigar. The Eye took some pictures of the playground, swarming with children. He bought an ice cream cone from a vendor over by the pavilion. On one of the pathways a hurdy-gurdy was playing 'In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree.' He snapped a picture of a little girl with a balloon. Christ! How did God plot the destinies of all these kids? You! You over there – you! You shall compose nine symphonies. And you shall be a taxi driver and you a mailman and you a private eye. You a typist, you a secretary of state, you a fag, you an embezzler. You shall write Coriolanus and you shall die in the electric chair. In the basement of the Police Center on Fair Oaks Street there was a map of the city, as vast as a dance floor, covered with flashing lights. Green for rape, red for homicide, blue for stickups, yellow for accidents. Maybe there was a map in Heaven, too, an almighty plotting board keeping track of everyone.
Hey, what about that eye in the park?
Do you read him?
Loud and clear, Lord.
What's he doing?
Eating an ice cream cone. Vanilla and chocolate.
Is he cool?
Negative, Sire. He's got a bad vibes problem.
Shake him up!
And the girl appeared.
She came down a lane toward the bench. In her twenties, wearing a beret and a dark raincoat, carrying a valise. Closer ... closer ... lithe, supple ... closer ... closer ... fair, gray-blue-eyed ... closer ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Eye of the Beholder"
Copyright © 1980 Marc Behm.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.