In the Hour Before Midnight

In the Hour Before Midnight by Jack Higgins Read Free Book Online

Book: In the Hour Before Midnight by Jack Higgins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack Higgins
Tags: thriller, Suspense, Mystery
turned into the palm of my hand. So, it had come to this? Stacey the satyr—fill one half of his bed for him and keep him happy. The rest was easy. Just like my English breakfast—Burke thought of everything. Only the piano was missing and he’d probably tried hard enough to get hold of one.
    I went to the French window and stood looking out at the flickering sky. Suddenly, and for no accountable reason, the whole thing struck me as really being very funny—a monstrous game for children with motive laid bare to such a degree that it was ridiculous.
    Burke wanted me—needed me. In exchange I got twenty-five thousand dollars and all my more carnal needs supplied. Now what well-bred satyr could complain at that?
    I nodded slowly. Right. Let it be so. I would play his game through as I had done before, but this time perhaps a rule or two of my own might be in order.
    Behind me was the softest of movements and I sensed her presence there in the darkness. I reached out and pulled her close. She was still naked and shivered slightly. I could smell the mimosa, heavy and clinging on the damp air. The whole electricworld waited for a sign. It came and the heavens opened, rain falling straight from sky to earth.
    The freshness filled my nostrils, drowning the womanly scent of her. I left her there, moved out on the terrace and stood, face turned up to the rain, mouth half-open, laughing as I hadn’t laughed in a long, long time, ready to take on the world again and beat it at its own dark game.

FIVE

----
    I T WAS H OLY Week when we arrived in Palermo, something which I’d completely forgotten about. We drove in the thirty-five kilometres from the aerodrome at Punta Raisi and the black Mercedes saloon which had met us bogged down in the crowded streets. It finally came to a halt in deference to a religious procession which wound its way through the crowds, an ornate Madonna rising on a catafalque high above our heads.
    During the whole of the run from Crete, Burke had been moody and irritable and now he lowered the window and looked out with ill-concealed impatience.
    â€œWhat’s all this?”
    â€œA procession of the mysteries,” I told him.“This kind of thing goes on during Holy Week all over Sicily. Everything else grinds to a halt. They’re a very religious people.”
    â€œIt doesn’t seem to have rubbed off much on you,” he commented sourly.
    Piet Jaeger glanced at me anxiously. How much he knew of what had been said between Burke and myself, of the hardness of the bargaining, I wasn’t sure, but the change in our relationship had been plain enough during the past three days.
    â€œOh, I don’t know,” I said. “Didn’t you notice the Virgin had a knife through her heart? That’s Sicily for you—the cult of death everywhere. I’d have thought I fitted in rather nicely.”
    He smiled reluctantly. “You could be right at that.”
    I turned to Piet. “You’ll love it. It’s one hell of a place. On All Saints’ Day the children are given presents from the dead. The graves are probably the best kept in the world.”
    Piet grinned, obviously relieved, but Legrande who was sitting beside the driver was hot and tired, his eyes tinged with yellow which didn’t look too good. Maybe one of the several fevers he’d picked up in that Viet prison camp after Dien Bien Phu was about to plague him.
    â€œWhat is this, a conducted tour?” he demanded.
    I ignored him and leaned out of the window as the Mercedes pushed its way through the crowd. The girls were a little more fashionably dressed than when I had last been here and so were the younger men, but I could smell incense and candle grease, hear voices chanting beyond the square. The crowd parted and the penitents appeared looking remarkably like the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in pointed hoods and long white robes.
    No, nothing had changed—not

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