The Eye Of Ra by Vincent V. Cava
Jay Bennett hadn’t noticed the chubby man sitting alone in the corner booth until it was nearly time to close. He had been wiping down a couple of pub tables in the bar area when he spotted him, noshing on a plate of Big Buck’s En Fuego Jalapeño Poppers and watching Division III college football highlights play on the television mounted on the wall. There was nothing particularly interesting about the chubby patron. His brown, argyle sweater vest and khaki trousers didn’t exactly command attention and his plain unassuming features did nothing to accentuate his remarkably ordinary appearance. Yet still, there was something curious about the man that Jay couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Closing time meant Jay would soon be spending the next hour and a half mopping puddles of urine off the bathroom floor and hand drying dishes in the kitchen, while Trevor, his nineteen-year-old zit-faced assistant manager, played Flappy Bird and browsed Facebook on his phone. Jay hated closing the restaurant – mostly because he despised answering to a lazy, community college washout almost half his age. From where he was standing, he could see Trevor sitting in the office at the back of the restaurant, staring into his phone and giggling away like an acid-dropping rave bunny at Burning Man.
Any minute, Jay thought to himself. Any minute the little shit’s gonna stroll his pimply ass out here and force me to scrub the toilets ‘till they fucking shine. I just know it-
“Um, Excuse me?” The voice that interrupted Jay’s pity-party was soft and sophisticated. Right away he could sense an air of intelligence in its tone – something not commonly heard at Big Buck’s Wings & Beer. Jay looked up to see the man in the brown argyle sweater vest waving him over to his booth. “Yes, you sir. Excuse me, but may I speak to you for a moment?”
Jay glanced back towards the office. Trevor was busy furiously tapping away at the screen of his iPhone. He let out a sigh and sauntered over to the booth.
“You need the check? We’re closing soon.”
“Not necessary,” replied the chubby fellow. “I already cleared my tab with the pretty young thing who works behind the bar.”
Jay tossed the towel he was holding over his shoulder and folded his arms across his chest like a nightclub doorman. “Then what can I do for you, mister?”
“Well,” the man paused briefly to collect his words. “You’re Jay Bennett, correct?”
Hearing his name come out the mouth of a total stranger felt like an unexpected punch to the gut.
“I am,” Jay said, doing his best to appear unmoved by the chubby man’s inquiry. It was defense mechanism he had developed during his stint in prison. Jay found out very fast while serving his time that the best reaction to an unforeseen predicament was typically having no reaction at all. “And you are?”
“Oh yes, where are my manners?” The man in the sweater vest extended a sweaty palm out towards Jay. “My name is Robert Wilkins. Uh, Doctor Robert Wilkins.” Jay remained silent, stonewalling the doctor, causing him to retract his hand. The chubby man studied the ex-con silently before continuing on. “FYI, I’m not the kind of doctor who went to med school. My degrees are cultural anthropology and archeology – Ancient Egyptian studies to be exact. My colleague and I have published hundreds of papers on the subject. Feel free to look me up if you don’t believe me. A quick Google search should confirm my claims.”
“Honestly, I don’t really give a shit,” grunted Jay. “What is it that you want, already?”
The doctor neatly folded his napkin and used it to dab his brow – a mannerism reminiscent of a 19th century plantation owner. “Right. I suppose there’s no further need for introductions. Might as well get right down to it. Jay Bennett, I’m here tonight because I have a job for you.”
“I already have a job. And if you’re trying to hire me to do something illegal, then look elsewhere. I’m on parole and I don’t plan on going back to prison any time soon.”
Jay snatched the towel from his shoulder and started towards the bathrooms.
“Wait! Please!” the doctor desperately blurted out. “This job pays well I promise!” Jay spun around with every intent to tell him off, but froze when he spotted the sly smile that had crawled its way across the chubby man’s face. “ Besides, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than scrubbing toilets.”
The doctor waved a hand, inviting Jay to sit across the table from him. With two pudgy fingers he nudged his plate of Jalapeño poppers aside then bent over to retrieve a black leather briefcase that had been sitting at his feet. Jay scooted in to the other side of the booth. He swiveled his head to glance back at the office. Trevor was still gawking like an idiot into his phone.
“How do you know my name?” Jay asked.
“My associate gave me your information,” he said. “Who you are. What you do. Where to find you. He told me about your criminal record. Twelve counts of burglary, three counts of drug trafficking, and assault with a deadly weapon. He said you beat a man with a crowbar?”
“I was defending myself. The guy shot my partner.”
“Yeah, after the two of you broke into the man’s house. You’re lucky he made a full recovery or else you’d probably still be locked up. I’m surprised you even found a gig at a hole like this.”
Jay glared at the doctor, his lips twisted into a frustrated scowl.
“I’m not here to judge though. Afterall-” the chubby man popped the latches of his briefcase and lifted the lid, “I was hoping to encourage you to break the law one more time.”
He removed a red envelope from his briefcase and placed it on the table, pinning it with his index finger. “What do you know about Egyptian mythology, Jay?”
“I know a little.”
“Have you ever heard of Ra, the sun god?”
“I think so,” answered Jay. “He’s the one with the bird head, right?”
“Very good!” a proud light beamed in the doctor’s eyes. “That is correct. Ra is the most important god in Egyptian mythology. He was believed to have ruled over the sky and earth. And his head wasn’t just that of any bird. Most often, it was depicted as either a falcon or hawk. Now, this was no accident. You see, birds of prey have the keenest of eyesight and legend has it, the Eye of Ra could see all.”
He scooted the envelope across the table towards Jay then lifted his finger, releasing it before renewing his spiel.
“There’s three thousand dollars cash, a photograph, an address, and a phone number in that envelope, Jay. The money is yours whether you take the job or not. If you do accept my offer, there will be an additional $7,000 in it for you. The photograph is of an artifact I’m asking you to steal for me. It’s called the Eye of Ra. It’s a very rare gold coin with an extremely special engraving in it. It was excavated during a dig I helped oversee one year ago and I want it back.”
“And the address is where I can find it?” Jay was already thumbing through the envelope’s contents.
“Yes. It’s the home of an ex-colleague of mine. He’s the one who has taken it. It shouldn’t be too difficult for a man like yourself to retrieve. He doesn’t own a gun and I’m certain he never turns on his home security system. Plus he’s blind. I mean all you have to do is keep your mouth shut and there’s no way he could ever identify you. Call the phone number once you have the Eye of Ra in your possession. We will arrange a rendezvous point and I will gladly pay you the rest of the money when you hand it over to me.”
“This artifact is worth a lot of money?” asked Jay.
The doctor laughed. “No monetary value other than the gold it’s made from, which by the way wouldn’t get you as much as I’m willing to pay. However, for me the artifact is priceless.”
The doctor snapped his briefcase shut, quickly securing the latches before standing up from the table.
“Hold up, where are you going?” asked Jay. “I still a lot of questions. Why me?”
“Every single one of your questions will be answered soon, Jay, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to stick around right now. You’re a skilled thief. This job will be a cinch for you. Call me tonight when you have the Eye of Ra.”
The chubby man in the brown argyle sweater vest flashed him a haughty smile.
“Goodnight, Jay. Hope to hear from you soon.”
Jay tucked the envelope into the waistband of his pants as he watched the peculiar patron amble out the door. A shrill high-pitched screech suddenly broke the silence of the now empty restaurant floor.
“Bennett!” Jay twisted around in his chair to see Trevor’s lanky frame hovering in the office doorway. “Big Buck doesn’t pay you to sit on your ass! Get in the bathroom before I call your P.O! I want to be able to eat off those toilets!”
The rest of Jay’s shift seemed to fly by as he mulled over the doctor’s proposition. Every now and then he’d run his fingers across his waist, feeling for the contours of the envelope still stuffed inside his pants, just to make sure he hadn’t dreamed the whole conversation up. The doctor had told him the gig paid $10,000 – more money than he made in three months wiping down tables and washing dishes. He thought about how degrading it was working under Trevor. There was only four months left on his parole and he had already decided he was going to quit his humiliating court appointed job as soon as he was out from under the thumb of the justice system.
That kind of cash would go a long way until I could find a new way to make some money, he thought to himself while puffing on his after work cigarette in the parking lot of Big Buck’s.
Jay tugged the envelope from his jeans and searched through it until he found the photo of the artifact. An icy cold chill swept through him as he gazed down to the picture in his hand. The design etched into the face of the coin was breathtaking – a pattern so mesmerizing Jay didn’t even notice the cigarette fall from his mouth while he ogled it. All at once, he felt the urge to hold the coin – to grip it between his fingers.
“The Eye of Ra,” Jay whispered.
His decision had been made. Not more than a minute later he was punching the address into his GPS as he pulled his car out of the parking lot.
The clock on Jay’s dashboard flashed 2:00AM by the time he pulled up to the house his navigation system had directed him to. He killed the engine and stared out the window at his target for what felt like an eternity, watching for signs of life. With any luck, the doctor’s former colleague was out of town and Jay would be able to search the residence at his leisure. He slipped his hand into his sweatshirt pocket and gripped the handle of his butterfly knife – a safeguard he hoped he wouldn’t need to use.
Jay exited his vehicle and crept around the back searching for an open window. The home was in a fairly secluded area with no visible nearby houses, virtually eliminating the possibility of nosy neighbors and unexpected eyewitnesses. It was the kind of place that a cat burglar dreamed of hitting.
Jay slinked his way through the shadowy yard towards a wide arched window in the back of the house. With a gentle nudge of his hand against the glass it swung open, allowing him to slip inside.
The doc just might have been right about this being an easy job, Jay thought. This guy doesn’t even lock his windows.
He was now standing in a living room decorated with expensive looking furniture and ostentatious art. Hanging on the wall was a replica of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman. Jay examined it closely, trying to discern if it had any value, even going so far as to lift it from its hanger, before he noticed the Aaron Brother’s Art Mart sticker tag that was still attached to the back of the frame.
“No need to hang it back up, Mr. Bennett, I never liked that piece anyways. My ex-wife decorated the place.”
The voice stopped Jay dead in his tracks.
“Yes, Mr. Bennett. I know you’re down there. Won’t you please join me in my study?”
Jay leaned the painting against the wall, and scanned the room searching for the source of the voice.
“The study, Mr. Bennett! I’m in my study upstairs.”
He located the staircase in the foyer. Without a word, Jay removed the knife from his pocket and tiptoed up the steps. The voice had identified him by name. Panic shot through every inch of his body. Visions of once again donning an orange jumpsuit began swimming through his mind like deformed, mutant goldfish in the New York City sewers.
“Second door on the right,” the voice called out when he reached the top of the stairs.
The floorboards squealed under Jay’s feet as stepped down the dark hallway towards the door the voice appeared to be emanating from. He paused when he reached it and squeezed the handle of his knife tight in his fist. There was no hint of light leaking out from underneath the door. Whoever was waiting for him in the room was doing so in pitch-blackness.
“No need to knock, Mr. Bennett.” answered the voice. “I’m already expecting you.”
Jay pushed down on the handle and cracked the door. Its hinges seemed to scream as he opened it just wide enough to poke his head through. There was no visibility. With his free hand he yanked his cellphone free from his back pocket, turned on the screen, and waved it in front of him, bathing the room in a pale blue light.
Floor to ceiling bookshelves lined both sides of what looked to be an office. At the wall directly opposite Jay was an elegant cherry wood desk. Sitting behind it in a leather office chair was an elderly bearded man. Jay cringed when he looked closer to see the upper half of the man’s face completely wrapped in bandages.
He turned his head in Jay’s direction. “Come on in, Mr. Bennett. I promise I don’t bite.”
Jay pushed the door all the way open and took a couple timid steps inside the room.
“I hear you’re looking for the Eye of Ra,” said the old man – a perverse smile warped on his wrinkled face. “Well, it must be your lucky day because you’ve come to the right place.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” warned Jay, “but I’m prepared to. Just give me the coin and I’ll be on my way.”
The old man scoffed.
“Ha! You don’t want to hurt me!? Unfortunately that’s not for you to decide!”
“Quiet, Mr. Bennett!” the old man snapped. “You’ll be leaving with the Eye of Ra tonight. There’s no question in that, but I figured I’d at least disclose to you a little about the Hell you’re about to unleash on yourself first. My associate, Dr. Wilkins, already told you about the coin. We excavated it a year ago during a dig of an ancient unmarked tomb recently discovered 53 kilometers outside of Cairo.”
“Dr. Wilkins?” asked Jay.
“Yes, Dr. Robert Wilkins, my associate – the man who hired you to steal the artifact. Who do you think requested him to seek you out? I’m afraid you’ve been set up, friend. I know that must come as a bit of a shock.”
“I’m not shocked,” replied Jay. “I just don’t believe you.”
The old man smirked.
“Oh you will in time. Now, where was I? Ah yes, the dig. Wilkins and I were able to recover quite a bit from the tomb – most of which is currently touring the country, travelling from museum to museum. The exhibit is quite lovely and I’d advise you to give it a visit next time it stops back in town, but that won’t be necessary.”
Jay darted towards the old man and swung his knife downwards, burying it in the desk’s polished wooden face.
“That’s enough! Just give me the coin or the next time I stick this knife in anything it’s going to be your neck!”
The old man opened the drawer of his desk and extracted a small leather pouch from it. Now that he was closer, Jay could make out brown splotches speckling the bandages that covered his eyes – dry crusty blood. It looked like the wraps hadn’t been changed in ages.
“The coin is right here, Mr. Bennett, but I hope you don’t think you’ve intimidated me into giving it to you. It will be yours in time, but I will finish telling you my story first.”
“Listen I don’t care about-”
“Not all of what we recovered from the tomb made it to the exhibit though,” the old man continued. “You see, the coin in this bag conveniently went missing without anyone else even knowing it existed. I discovered it myself, in the hand of one of one of the mummified corpses we found in the tomb – a young priestess no older than sixteen when she was buried. It goes against my code of ethics to take “souvenirs” from an excavation, but the coin…well just look for yourself.”
He reached his fingers into the pouch drew out a gold coin about the same size as a fifty cent piece then placed it on the desk in front of him. Jay held his breath. The design etched into its face was hypnotic – far more captivating in person than it was in the photo.
“The Eye of Ra,” the old man whispered.
Jay reached out an arm, but the old man snatched it up before he could grab it.
“Not yet!” he shouted. “I’m not done with my story! I discovered something fascinating about this artifact very soon after taking it in my hand. It passed on to me a strange ability – a sort of clairvoyance if you will. I could sense things, Mr. Bennett. I knew what others were thinking before they said it – what things would happen before they actually occurred. Soon after, these powers took on other attributes. I learned I could read minds, anyone’s I wanted. I didn’t’ even need to be in the same room as them – hell the same continent even! That’s how I discovered my wife was having an affair.”
Jay tried to say something, but he couldn’t find the words. His eyes remained glued to the coin in the old man’s hands.
“Dr. Wilkins was the only other person I ever shared this secret with, but even he doesn’t understand what my powers would eventually become. He thinks they just drove me mad, but he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand that the Eye of Ra really does see all!”
“Give me the coin,” muttered Jay. “I…I need it.”
The old man laughed.
“Of course you do! I knew that the power was getting to be too much once I realized I couldn’t turn it off. The thoughts of billions of people all streaming through my mind was maddening in its own right, but that was just the tip of the iceberg really. The Eye of Ra’s true power is much more horrifying. Imagine, Mr. Bennett. Imagine being able to see everything! Everything that ever did exist and everything that ever will exist! My eyes no longer perceived the world the way that you do. My mind no longer experienced time in a linear fashion. I’ve seen it all; all the good, and yes, Mr. Bennett, all the evil as well. I witnessed Vikings rape and pillage civilizations that no longer exist. I viewed countless genocides occur throughout the course of human history. I looked through the terrified eyes of a 12-year-old Pakistani girl in the year 2087, as the heat of a nuclear bomb engulfed her and her schoolmates in flames.
The old man whipped his hand up to his face and began tearing away at his bandages.
“I couldn’t take it anymore, Mr. Bennett! I couldn’t bear to look any longer! That’s why I did something about it! That’s why I dug my eyes out of my face!”
Jay recoiled at the horrid sight now in front of him. Two gaping blood caked craters sat in place of eyes on the man’s mutilated face.
“Dr. Wilkins believed he was helping me con you into transferring the curse, but he doesn’t realize it doesn’t work like that. It won’t transfer; it will spread. Even removing my eyes has only given me temporary relief. The visions are already starting to come back to me. Soon, they’ll dominate my every thought again. The only way to be rid of it is to die.”
“You’re fucking insane!” shouted Jay.
“And you’re in denial. There’s no point trying to convince you anyways. You’ll learn the truth soon enough. You see, you’re the next man to bear the burden of this power. I’ve already seen it. That’s why I had Wilkins convince you to come here. There is no escaping time, Mr. Bennett. Tonight you will wield the Power of Ra just as I have and I…tonight I will die and finally be free of this wretched curse!”
The old man stretched an arm out and ripped Jay’s knife from the desk. Without warning, the maniac dove at him, slicing the blade wildly through the air. Jay grabbed hold of his arm knocking the blade away, but dropped his cellphone as they wrestled to the ground. With Jay’s only source of light gone, darkness once again enveloped the study. The old man was stronger than he had anticipated. Jay gagged as the blind lunatic wrapped a hand around his throat. It felt as though he was crushing his trachea. Jay reached his arm out, desperately searching in the blackness for something to strike his attacker with. A hard plastic object brushed up against his fingertips and instantly he knew what it was. Jay wrapped his hand around the handle of his knife then thrust his it upwards until he felt it penetrate flesh.
The grip began to loosen around Jay’s neck and with a thud the old man slumped to floor. Jay could feel the warmth of his blood begin to pool around both of their bodies. He pawed around on the ground for his cellphone, eventually finding it underneath the cherry wood desk. A pale blue light swam back into the room when he powered the screen back on.
The old man’s body lay motionless on the floor, the point of Jay’s butterfly knife submerged deep within the side of throat. Jay leaned against the desk and gasped for air. Under the light from his cellphone the blood still spilling from the old man’s neck took on a deep purple hue. Jay bent over, yanked the blade from his throat then wiped it down on a part of the carpet the old man hadn’t gushed on.
In the dead man’s hand Jay spotted the coin. He pried the artifact from the corpse’s fingers and stumbled out the door. An ice-cold shiver ran up his spine, causing his body to tremble when he looked down to the bewitching artifact resting his palm. There was something strangely comforting about holding it.
When he made it outside to his car, Jay searched through the red envelope the doctor had given him until he located the phone number then dialed it into his keypad.
“I’m sorry, but the number you’re trying to reach has been disconnected. Please hang up and try again.”
Jay cursed into his phone at the automated message. He had been given a fake number. He sighed and started up the engine of his car. At least he still had the doctor’s name. It wouldn’t be hard to look him up. Now that Jay had a homicide on his hands, he figured he’d pay the doctor a visit in order to tie up any loose ends. As Jay pulled away from the house he reflected on what the crazy old man had said to him.
The Eye of Ra see’s all. What a crock of shit. He thought.
A pair of headlights approached in the distance from the opposite direction. Ever so briefly, Jay felt his brain go numb as a static image appeared in his head – a picture he could see in his mind’s eye.
“It’s a blue Dodge Neon,” he unconsciously blurted out.
A 2005 marine blue Dodge Neon drove past his car.