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Authors: Sidney Sheldon

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Memories of Midnight

BOOK: Memories of Midnight
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Memories Of Midnight<br/>

Memories Of Midnight

Memories Of Midnight<br/>

Sidney Sheldon

Memories Of Midnight<br/>

*

Greece, 1948.

In the seclusion of a remote convent a young woman emerges from the trauma of memory loss. To Catherine Alexander, Larry's widow, Demiris seems a benefactor, the man who helps her build a life again. She knows that Larry and Noelle are dead but not who was responsible. Nor that Demiris' desire for revenge is unquenched; that there is a last, unsilenced victim.

In this atmosphere of deception, Catherine's move to London seems just another example of Demiris' good nature. Set down in a strange and unsettling environment she cannot guess the fate her benefactor has in store, or that her life is inextricably bound up with other victims of his mighty ego.

Moving from the exotic shores of the Mediterranean to postwar London, Memories of Midnight is the compelling portrayal of one woman's fight against a terrifying destiny. Sidney Sheldon's genius as a master storyteller has never been more powerfully displayed.

Kowloon May 1949

'It must look like an accident. Can you arrange that?' It was an insult. He could feel the anger rising in him. That was a question you asked some amateur you picked up from the streets. He was tempted to reply with sarcasm: Oh, yes, I think I can manage that. Would you prefer an accident indoors? I can arrange for her to break her neck falling down a flight of stairs. The dancer in Marseilles. Or she could get drunk and drown in her bath. The heiress in Gstaad. She could take an overdose of heroin. He had disposed of three that way. Or, she could fall asleep in bed with a lighted cigarette. The Swedish detective at L'H+|tel on the Left Bank in Paris. Or perhaps you would prefer something outdoors? I can arrange a traffic accident, a plane crash, or a disappearance at sea But he said none of those things, for in truth he was afraid of the man seated across from him. He had heard too many chilling stories about him, and he had reason to believe them So all he said was, 'Yes, sir, I can arrange an accident. No one will ever know.' Even as he said the words, the thought struck him: He knows that I'll know. He waited They were on the second floor of a building in the walled city of Kowloon that had been built in 1840 by a group of Chinese to protect themselves from the British barbarians. The walls had been torn down in the Second World War, but there were other walls that kept outsiders away: Gangs of cut-throats and drug addicts and rapists roaming through the rabbit warren of crooked, narrow streets and dark stairways leading into gloom Tourists were warned to stay away, and not even the police would venture inside past Tung Tau Tsuen Street, on the outskirts. He could hear the street noises outside the window, and the shrill and raucous polyglot of languages that belonged to the residents of the walled city The man was studying him with cold, obsidian eyes. Finally he spoke. 'Very well. I will leave the method to you.' 'Yes, sir. Is the target here in Kowloon?' 'London. Her name is Catherine. Catherine Alexander.'

A limousine, followed by a second car with two armed bodyguards, drove the man to the Blue House on Lascar Row, in the Tsim Sha Tsui area. The Blue House was open to special patrons only. Heads of state visited there, and movie stars, and presidents of corporations. The management prided itself ori discretion Half a dozen years earlier, one of the young girls who worked there had discussed her customers with a newspaperman, and she was found the next morning in Aberdeen Harbor with her tongue cut out. Everything was for sale in the Blue House: virgins, boys, lesbians who satisfied themselves without the 'jade stalks' of men, and animals. It was the only place he knew of where the tenth-century art of Ishinpo was still practiced. The Blue House was a cornucopia of forbidden pleasures The man had ordered the twins this time. They were an exquisitely matched pair with beautiful features, incredible bodies, and no inhibitions. He remembered the last time he had been there . . . the metal stool with no bottom and their soft caressing tongues and fingers, and the tub filled with fragrant warm water that overflowed onto the tiled floor and their hot mouths plundering his body. He felt the beginning of an erection 'We're here, sir.'

Three hours later, when he had finished with them, sated and content, the man ordered the limousine to head for Mody Road He looked out the window of the limousine at the sparkling lights of the city that never slept. The Chinese had named it Gau-lung nine dragons, and he imagined them lurking in the mountains above the city, ready to come down and destroy the weak and the unwary. He was neither.

They reached Mody Road The Taoist priest waiting for him looked like a figure from an ancient parchment, with a classic faded oriental robe and a long, wispy white beard 'Jou sahn.' 'Jou satin.' 'Gei do chin?' lYatchihn: Vow.' The priest closed his eyes in a silent prayer and began shaking the chim, the wooden cup filled with numbered prayer sticks. A stick fell out and the shaking ceased. In the silence, the Taoist priest consulted his chart and turned to his visitor. He spoke in halting English. 'The gods say you will soon be rid of dangerous enemy.' The man felt a pleasant jolt of surprise. He was too intelligent not to realize that the ancient art of chim was merely a superstition And he was too intelligent to ignore it. Besides, there was another good luck omen. Today was Agios Constantinous Day, his birthday 'The gods have blessed you with good/ung shui.' 'Do jeh: 'Hou wah.'

Five minutes later, he was in the limousine, on his way to Kai Tak, the Hong Kong airport, where his private plane was waiting to take him back to Athens.

Chapter
1 -+ loannina, Greece July 1948

She woke up screaming every night and it was always the same dream. She was in the middle of a lake in a fierce storm and a man and a woman were forcing her head under the icy waters, drowning her. She awakened each time, panicky, gasping for breath, soaked with perspiration She had no idea who she was and she had no memory of the past. She spoke English but she did not know what country she was from or how she had come to be in Greece, in the small Carmelite convent that sheltered her As time went by, there were tantalizing flashes of memory, glimpses of vague, ephemeral images that came and went too quickly for her to grasp them, to hold them and examine them They came at unexpected moments, catching her off-guard, and filling her with confusion In the beginning, she had asked questions. The Carmelite nuns were kind and understanding, but theirs was an order of silence, and the only one permitted to speak was Sister Theresa, the elderly and frail Mother Superior 'Do you know who I am?' 'No, my child,' Sister Theresa said 'How did I get to this place?' 'At the foot of these mountains is a village called loannina You were in a small boat in the lake during a storm last year The boat sank, but by the grace of God, two of our sisters saw you and rescued you. They brought you here.' 'But. . . where did I come from before that?' 'I'm sorry, child. I do not know.'

She could not be satisfied with that. 'Hasn't anyone inquired about me? Hasn't anyone tried to find me?' Sister Theresa shook her head. 'No one.' She wanted to scream with frustration. She tried again. The newspapers . . . they must have had a story about my being missing.'

'As you know, we are permitted no communication with the outside world. We must accept God's will, child. We must thank Him for all His mercies. You are alive.'

And that was as far as she was able to get. In the beginning, she had been too ill to be concerned about herself, but slowly, as the months went by, she had regained her strength and her health.

When she was strong enough to move about, she spent her days tending the colorful gardens in the grounds of the convent, in the incandescent light that bathed Greece in a celestial glow, with the soft winds carrying the pungent aroma of lemons and vines.

The atmosphere was serene and calm and yet she could find no peace. I'm lost, she thought, and no one cares. Why? Have I done something evil? Who am I? Who am I? Who am /?

The images continued to come, unbidden. One morning she awakened suddenly with a vision of herself in a room with a naked man undressing her. Was it a dream? Or was it something that had happened in her past? Who was the man? Was it someone she had married? Did she have a husband? She wore no wedding ring. In fact she had no possessions other than the black Order of the Carmelite habit that Sister Theresa had given her, and a pin, a small golden bird with ruby eyes and outstretched wings.

She was anonymous, a stranger living among strangers. There was no one to help her, no psychiatrist to tell her that her mind had been so traumatized it could stay sane only by shutting out the terrible past.

And the images kept coming, faster and faster. It was as though her mind had suddenly turned into a giant jigsaw puzzle, with odd pieces tumbling into place. But the pieces made no sense. She had a vision of a huge studio filled with men in army uniform. They seemed to be making a motion picture. Was I an . actress? No, she seemed to be in charge. But in charge of what?

A soldier handed her a bouquet of flowers. You'll have to pay for these yourself',vhe laughed.

Two nights later, she had a dream about the same man. She was saying goodbye to him at the airport, and she woke up sobbing because she was losing him.

There was no more peace for her after that. These were not mere dreams. They were pieces of her life, her past. / must find out who I was. Who I am.

And unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, without warning, a name was dredged up out of her subconscious. Catherine. My name is Catherine Alexander. Chapter 2 m -+ -+

Athens, Greece The empire of Constantin Demiris could not be located on any map, yet he was the ruler of a fiefdom larger and more powerful than many countries. He was one of the two or three wealthiest men in the world and his influence was incalculable. He had no title or official position but he regularly bought and sold prime ministers, cardinals, ambassadors and kings. Demiris' tentacles were everywhere, woven through the woof and warp of dozens of countries. He was a charismatic man, with a brilliantly incisive mind, physically striking, well above medium height, with a barrel chest and broad shoulders. His complexion was swarthy and he had a strong Greek nose and olive-black eyes. He had the face of a hawk, a predator. When he chose to take the trouble, Demiris could be extremely charming. He spoke eight languages and was a noted raconteur. He had one of the most important art collections in the world, a fleet of private planes and a dozen apartments, chateaus and villas scattered around the globe. He was a connoisseur of beauty, and he found beautiful women irresistible. He had the reputation of being a powerful lover, and his romantic escapades were as colorful as his financial adventures Constantin Demiris prided himself on being a patriot the blue and white Greek flag was always on display at his villa in Kolonaki and on Psara, his private island but he paid no taxes He did not feel obliged to conform to the rules that applied to ordinary men. In his veins ran ichor the blood of the gods.

Nearly every person Demiris met wanted something from him: financing for a business project; a donation to a charity; or simply the power that his friendship could bestow. Demiris enjoyed the challenge of figuring out what it was that people were really after, for it was rarely what it appeared to be. His analytical -1/2i^t mind was skeptical of surface truth, and as a consequence he \ believed nothing he was told and trusted no one. His motto was ^ 'Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer'. The reporters who chronicled his life were permitted to see only his geniality I> and charm, the sophisticated, urbane man of the world. They I ? had no reason to suspect that beneath the amiable fagade, I1 Demiris was a killer, a gutter fighter whose instinct was to go for ++ the jugular vein He was an unforgiving man who never forgot a slight. To the ancient Greeks the word dikaiosini, justice, was often synonymous with ekdikisis, vengeance, and Demiris was obsessed with both. He remembered every affront he had ever suffered, and those who were unlucky enough to incur his enmity were paid back a hundred fold. They were never aware of it, for Demiris' mathematical mind made a game of exacting retribution, patiently working out elaborate traps and spinning complex webs that finally caught and destroyed his enemies He enjoyed the hours he spent devising pitfalls for his adversaries He would study his victims carefully, analyzing their personalities, assessing their strengths and their weaknesses At a dinner party one evening, Demiris had overheard a motion picture producer refer to him as 'that oily Greek'. Demiris bided his time. Two years later, the producer signed a glamorous internationally known actress to star in his new big-budget production in which he put in his own money. Demiris waited until the picture was half finished and then charmed the leading lady into walking out on it and joining him on his yacht 'It will be a honeymoon,' Demiris told her She got the honeymoon but not the wedding. The movie finally had to shut down and the producer went bankrupt.

There were a few players in Demiris' game with whom he had not yet evened the score, but he was in no hurry. He enjoyed the anticipation, the planning and the execution. These days he made no enemies, for no man could afford to be his enemy, so his quarry was limited to those who had crossed his path in the past. But Constantin Demiris' sense of dikaiosini was double-edged Just as he never forgave an injury, neither did he forget a favor A poor fisherman who had given the young boy shelter found himself the owner of a fishing fleet. A prostitute who had fed and clothed the young man when he was too poor to pay her, mysteriously inherited an apartment building, without any idea of who her benefactor was.

Demiris had started life as the son of a stevedore in Piraeus. He had fourteen brothers and sisters and there was never enough food on the table From the very beginning, Constantin Demiris showed an uncanny gift for business. He earned extra money doing odd jobs after school, and at sixteen, he had saved enough money to open a food stand on the docks with an older partner. The business flourished and the partner cheated Demiris out of his half. It took Demiris ten years to destroy the man. The young boy was burning with a fierce ambition. He would lie awake at night, his eyes bright in the darkness. I'm going to be rich. I'm going to be famous. Some day everyone will know my name. It was the only lullaby that could put him to sleep. He had no idea how it was going to happen. He knew only that it would.

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