Icy water dripped off my fingers as I turned the jagged stone
into the light. I tilted the bucket that displayed uncut, unpolished
rocks and lifted a block of greenish rough from its water bath.
There were striations in the rough that might make it unstable.
I flipped open my jewelers loupe and studied the colors that swirled
through the mottled bronzed petzite. It was lovely rough, but
felt friable. It wasn't worth the risk to purchase it for cutting,
carving and shaping unless I could get it cheaper than the rock
hound was asking. A lot cheaper. I named a rock bottom price and
when the owner was offended, I moved on.
Across the makeshift aisle in the
old convention center, a man in a brown plaid shirt and khakis
moved with me. He'd been in my area several times since I arrived
at the rock and gem show, and I adjusted the backpack that was
slung across my shoulder. Though there was little chance of a
light-fingered theft in the crowded room, it paid to be cautious.
And in such a crowded space, I couldn't draw on my natural gifts
to read him. Too much emotional interference. The man in brown
stopped at a display and lifted two uncut agate nodules.
Maybe I was being paranoid, but
I was glad I'd left the spring designs in the hotel safe. Security
for the patterns was something new for all of us, but since the
Oscars last year, we'd had to be more careful. Bloodstone Inc.
became the hottest jewelry design company on the East Coast after
Evelyn Crosby wore one of my ruby necklaces when she accepted
her award. We were making money and competitors weren't shy about
trying to get advance notice of our concepts.
I smoothed down the Velcro closures
on my pack and checked the strap hooking it to my belt. As if
he knew he'd been seen, the brown man drifted away, but I got
a good look at his face. Scruffy. Ordinary. Medium brown color
scheme from hair to eyes to clothing to boots, as if he'd been
designed for dull. He ducked his head as he moved into the aisle
near the outer door.
In the next booth I caught a glimpse
of something different. The fine hairs along my arms lifted in
excitement. At the bottom of a white plastic bucket was a large
lump of dark charcoal-tinted stone with one bluish nub where the
owner had polished out a nickel-sized spot. When I pulled the
double-fist-sized hunk of rock from its water-bath into the light,
I found I was holding a slab of labradorite. Its color was an
unexpected deep shade of finely mottled blue, deeper than lapis
with pale blue swirls like water in the Mediterranean Sea. The
color softened into water-green, swirling around the blue like
a lover's arms, hues soft and satiny.
I kept my face impassive, but put
my canvas backpack on the display case and hefted the hunk of
stone from hand to hand, turning it slowly. It was free of cracks
and showed no evidence of damage from the elements. With a corner
of a cloth attached to my jeans belt loop just for that purpose,
I wiped the slab, scrubbed at its craggy surface. The blue swirled
through and through.
"How much of this you got?"
I asked before I even bothered to look at the booth proprietor.
"For you, Tyler, much as you
I looked up quickly. "How you
doin' Rett?" I asked easily, hiding my disappointment. I
figured the price had just gone up dramatically. That seemed to
happen a lot now as rock hounds followed the money to Bloodstone's
"Good 'nuff, I reckon. You
can have that at a reasonable price, long as you give me a good
deal back on a necklace and earrings set for the wife, cut from
that bluest part right there," Everett Longworth nodded to
the polished blue nub and scratched his belly with one hand while
punching numbers into a 1970's adding machine with the other.
"Emily Sue likes your work and I got me a twenty-five year
anniversary coming up in September. Lez you and me dicker some,"
he said with relish. Rett loved to dicker over stones. Any way
he could get out of paying sales tax or reporting earnings to
Uncle Sam was good by him. And Rett was enough of an emotional
projector that I knew he liked me. That always helped.
We dickered. We settled on three
lumps of rough labradorite for me and a good pricea really
good pricefor Longworth's sterling silver and labradorite
anniversary gift in a design that would be created just for Emily
Sue, his longsuffering wife. Once we agreed on a price, Rett threw
in several polished cabs of a lovely gray kyanite I could easily
use and some freshwater blister pearls in the same shade as the
cabochons. Two of the pearls were larger than the pad of my thumb
and had a spectacular shape, flat and freeform. Noelle would flip
over them. It was nice to know at least one of the rock hounds
of my acquaintance wasn't trying to take me to the cleaners.
Deal concluded, a promissory note
for an anniversary gift in Rett's hands, I pulled the backpack
to me to add in the twenty pounds of well-wrapped rough and cabs,
and unhooked the pack from its strap. I'd done well.
Pain slammed into me. In a single
instant, time snapped and stretched. I lurched, hurled slowly
forward across the labradorite. The world tilted. My breath grunted
out, a shocked spasm. I caught myself with both hands. Buckets
of rough flew, stone and water in the air. A second blow made
a one-two punch of pure agony. Piercing pain blossomed from both
kidneys. Paralyzing. My knees collapsed. The display table smashed
down beneath me. Air shot from my lungs. I had a glimpse of the
brown man's face as I twisted in midair and landed on the concrete
floor in a puddle of icy water, clattering stones, and a nearly
electric misery. I saw a boot coming at me.
Everett shouted and surged forward.
My backpack and canvas tote seemed to hang in midair for a single
moment. Then they whipped away. Bodies blurred by pain sped by.
Time wrenched back as I curled up on the floor, tried to remember
how to breathe, and wondered whose blood was on my hands.
It was mine.
I was patched up in first aid, the big red cross painted on the
wall next to the security sign. Spitting mad, I was left sitting
on a stretcher in a sterile cubicle, my hand in a bowl of icky-looking
brown cleanser instead of me being out on the convention center
floor looking for my assailant along with the security officers.
I was so mad I couldn't pick up
anything from anyone around me, even the EMS guy only two feet
away. It all was an emotional and mental haze. So much for the
St. Claire family gift. Psychics-R-Us had failed me again. As
usual, being a receptor for the mental and emotional feedback
of others hadn't saved me from danger or prevented bad things
I'd cut my palm as I fell, most
likely on a jagged piece of rough. I didn't tell the EMT that
I'd been kidney punched in addition to the flesh wound. He might
have made me go to the hospital to pee in a cup, and I figured
I could tell all by myself if my urine turned red and bloody.
The head of security, a pompous
off-duty cop with the unlikely name of Tommy Thompson, stepped
in from 'reviewing the crime scene' as he'd called it when he
slogged out the door ten minutes earlier. "You're lucky,
little miss." He wiped his shiny forehead and huffed two
quick breaths, winded by the thirty yard walk. "He could
have used a knife on you."
He could have used a bazooka too,
I thought, but I didn't say that.
"I've determined that the in-ci-dent
took place in a location not covered by the se-cu-rity cameras.
And further, that your backpack and canvas tote are both gone."
He spoke as he pulled a form from his desk and started writing.
I'd guess detailing his startling observations for posterity.
"Oh. Really?" I said.
"You could use a stitch or
two," the paramedic on duty said, grinning into my face as
if he had read my mind. Now wouldn't that be a change around.
"But if it was me, I'd just make do with the butterfly strips,
ointment and a bandage, and take it easy."
"I'll take the latter."
"Your call." He gathered
supplies and dried the icky-looking stuff off my hand prior to
applying butterfly bandages. I hissed a breath when he pulled
the first weird looking adhesive strip across my flesh and closed
the wound. It hurt like heck. The second strip wasn't any less
"You had seen the man several
times today, you said?" Tommy asked, dropping his bulk into
a tired-looking chair and peering up at me from under his brows.
When I nodded, he said, "And all you can tell me is he was
medium height, medium weight, and brown. Wonder why you didn't
report him to the se-cu-rity department? That's what I'm wondering."
"I saw several people various
times today. It's a pretty small crowd in an enclosed space."
You idiot. "You want everyone here paranoid and reporting
all the multiple sightings? It's a show for pity sa Ow!"
"Sorry," the paramedic
said, teeth showing in a grin. But he pulled a white elastic mesh
tighter still as he wrapped my hand.
"How much you think he got?"
"My money is in a wad in my
jeans, along with my drivers license and credit card." I
shrugged my shoulders to rearrange the wet shirt across them.
It was cold in the room and the cloth was chilling. "But
the value of the gems and rough exceeds $7,000."
"If you'll let me see the tapes
I'll be able to point him out. I'm sure," I said.
I looked up to see an elderly man
in the doorway, the red cross bright on the wall behind him. His
bald head seemed to rise out of a too large collar, the security
uniform making him look like a kid playing dress-up in daddy's
cop clothes. He was holding up my canvas backpack, the straps
"Yes!" I leapt down from
the table, strawberry blond braid flying, unsuccessfully trying
to hide a grimace of pain. The paramedic sighed, a longsuffering
sound that said he knew I was hurt worse than I had claimed. He
finished wrapping my hand as the tiny security man dumped out
my belongings on the stretcher.
"Good work, Lionel," Tommy
The tiny man grinned. "I fount
em in the men's room in section D. In the back stall. I gathered
em up and brung em here."
"Anything missing?" Tommy
I plundered through the pile. The
papers and notebook were still in the back pocket, which was surprising.
The receipts for the precious metals I'd ordered from a rep I'd
bumped into were still there. And the rough I had purchased earlier,
and which would have been harder to replace than ID or mere money,
was all tumbled in the backpack, including a hunk of green turquoise
with vibrant colors I had paid way too much to obtain. The double-fist-sized
hunk of rare African bloodstone rough was safe, still in it's
newsprint wrappings. More surprising, the small bag of ruby cabs
and predrilled stones I had picked up for a paltry $5,000 was
here as well. Relief washed through me. Forgetting my discomfort,
I counted the cabs. All fifteen were still in the pack. Either
the thief had been chased off before he finished looking or he
hadn't known what he had.
"What's missing? What's them?" Tommy T asked, and poked
the felt bag that held the rubies.
"Cabochons," I said, which
was the truth as far as it went. I pocketed the bag and pawed
through the pile again. "The card key for my room. It's gone."
And why would anyone take only a room card key unless they knew
exactly what it was and where it should be used?
"Maybe I better call your ho-tel
and talk to se-cu-rity there to keep an eye out." Tommy T
picked up the old-fashioned phone. "What's your ho-tel and
room number?" I told him and he dialed out.
I looked at my watch. Over forty-five
minutes had passed. I had deliberately chosen a hotel close to
the old convention center so I could walk back and forth to the
rock and gem show. If the thief had wanted into my room he'd had
plenty of time to be in and out by now.
Within minutes, Tommy discovered
that my room door in the hotel was hanging open and the place
had been tossed. "Spit and decay," I cursed as I listened
to the conversation, cuss words from my youth.
"We'll bring the little miss
right on over," Tommy said. "You'll meet us in the room
with the po-lice? We got an assault to report to them boys anyway.
Yeah. Good 'nuff. Hang on and I'll step in the hallway a sec."
Tommy T carried the phone into the hallway and closed the door.
"Important cop business,"
the EMT said. "Not for the likes of us lesser creatures."
I grinned at the man and read his
nametag. "I like you, Winston."
"Ditto, little miss."
I punched his arm and we both laughed.
Engaged in small talk as he secured the trailing end of the white
elastic mesh wrapped around my hand.
Tommy T reentered, hung up the phone
and looked at me hard. "You wadden by any chance carrying
any drugs, was you, little miss?"
"No," you caricature
of a hillbilly cop, I wanted to add.
"No. Not that I'd be stupid
enough to tell you if I was, but no. I'm guessing he was after
the spring designs. I'm Tyler St. Claire, of Bloodstone Inc. in
Connersville. And there are certain competitors who might resort
to theft if they thought they could get away with it."
"The designs are in the hotel
Tommy T just looked at me hard,
hands on his ample hips. I thanked the EMT, shook Lionel's hand
for finding my bags, and shouldered my belongings.
"My patrol unit is right outside
the front entrance. I'll be taking you to the ho-tel. Here, let
me carry that for you." Tommy reached for the backpack.
I jerked it out of his way. The
pack was staying on my person from now on. Tommy's face hardened
and I mentally backpedaled at his expression. "I'd rather
you run interference and, uh, keep your hands free to draw your
gun if needed," I said. And found a sweet smile to go with
the ridiculous words. It must have been the proper "little
miss" thing to say because Tommy's face cleared, he nodded,
adjusted his utility belt, and secured the butt of his gun in
Well goody. Big cop-man on the
scene. "Okay if we stop by the booth where I was attacked
and pick up the rough I had just bought?"
"I reckon I can keep a watch-out
for you for a couple minutes. But you tell me if you see your
brown man again. He might be back."
"Thank you, Captain,"
I said, padding his rank. I wanted to barf at my tone, but I had
to use what worked. Feminine dependence and obsequious servility
were the tickets to Tommy T's heart. And I didn't have time to
be as sincerely irate as I wanted nor to give the man a class
in behavior modification.
"Just a sergeant in the Sheriff's
Department, little miss. But we aim to protect."
I smiled, bit my tongue, and led
the way to Rett's booth. I was cold, wet, starting to hurt, and
an old-fashioned, red-neck, chivalrous man could be useful. I
happened to need a man with a gun and an entree to the po-lice
for safety. A ride to the hotel was mighty handy too, but I had
a feeling that if he knew I considered him a free taxi, Tommy
T would have balked at the lift.
Back on the convention center floor,
it was short work to convince Everett that I was fine, collect
my extra twenty pounds of rough and walk to Tommy's car. I settled
into the rear of the cop car without demur and laid my head back
for the short ride, thinking of a hot shower and clean, dry clothes.
Rather than talking, Tommy T whistled a breathy tune as we drove
and it was almost pleasant.
The hotel room was another matter
My room had been ransacked. I dropped the heavy pack in the doorway
and surveyed the mess. The hotel manager and a city cop were standing
in the middle of the room and met my eyes with anger and suspicion.
I just shook my head and closed my mouth. I'd be looking at me
like that now too, if I wasn't in my own shoes.
The tiny fridge had been left open,
its contents on the carpet, the small unit turned on its side.
The television set was pushed across the bureau, about to fall
to the floor. The microwave was hanging open. The one comfortable
chair had been upended, the bed had been stripped, the mattress
half off, sheets in the corner. My clothes had been ripped from
suitcase and closet and thrown across the room. One of my favorite
red cowboy boots was on the mattress, the other nowhere in sight.
The room safe had been ripped out
of the closet and was split open. It looked like someone had attacked
it with a log splitter and maul. It was in pieces of shattered
plastic and hacked metal. I was glad I had put my good emerald
earrings and my favorite necklace in the hotel safe along with
the designs. The emerald pendant alone was insured for nearly
5,000 bucks, but the replacement value would be much higher. I
usually just stored them in the room. That would never happen
again. As it was, the amethyst nuggets I had bought on the first
day of the show and stored in the room safe were clearly goners.
A female officer with a dog on a
leash entered and the manager went to stand in the doorway. The
mutt was a black terrier mix with long legs and a tendency to
quiver. It couldn't have weighed twenty pounds, and started to
tour my room instantly. My eyes narrowed and I glared at Tommy
T who backed up a step. I had flown often enough to know a drug-sniffing
dog when I saw one. "You have got to be kidding."
"Nobody took your valuable
cab-o-chons. Must a been looking for something," he defended
"I told you"
"I know what you tole me. Won't
take us but a few minutes to check out your story."
I rolled my eyes and moved into
the room, righted the chair and sat. The cloth of my wet shirts
and jeans stuck to the upholstery, a cold slime against my skin.
This was ridiculous.
"Anything missing?" the
I spotted my other red boot under
the bedclothes and my other pair of jeans. Two sweaters, a jacket
I hadn't worn to the show because the temps had risen overnight.
Undies. I traveled light. Bending forward in the chair, I leaned
over the safe to verify it was empty. I sighed. "Some amethyst
I got yesterday. Maybe six hundred bucks worth. I have a receipt
"And why was they in the room
safe and the other stuff in the hotel safe?" Tommy asked.
I scrubbed my face and counted to
ten. Remembered to breathe past the irritation. "Convenience,"
I said. "Laziness," and refused to say more.
Tommy made a snorting sound. "Might
want to check out the backpack too, while we got Omar here. Little
miss was greatly interested in keeping it to herself. And she
says nothing was stolen from it. Mighty strange, you ask me."
"You are a moron," I said
distinctly. Tommy's face darkened, but the female dog-handler
snickered, as if she might secretly agree. Omar just went on sniffing,
showing no particular attention to anything.
After ten minutes, the deputy brought
Omar to me. "Sorry, but would you let Omar sniff you?"
I sighed but slid to the floor by
the chair and held out my arms for the small dog. The deputy appeared
surprised by my action and maybe she hadn't intended for me to
get on the floor, but it seemed the quickest way to get this nonsense
over with. And besides, my back was really beginning to hurt.
I propped against the chair and Omar sniffed all around me, paying
particular attention to my shoes, but not acting very excited
about them. Which just proved that he was a male dog, because
they were the latest sport wear by Lorenzo Banfi and any self-respecting
female animal of any species would have been impressed.
"Nice shoes," the dog
I held up a foot and rotated my
ankle to show off the lace-up. "Thanks."
When Omar was done, I asked permission,
then ran a hand down his body and told him he was a good dog.
And he was. A sweet-tempered mutt with happy black eyes that looked
into mine with adoration. A dog who had never met a stranger or
an enemy. I could put away my hope that he'd pee on Tommy T's
leg for me. Omar went back to work.
"We'd like permission to see
your belongings stored in the safe," Tommy T said.
My temper shot into the royally
PO'd stage in a single instant. My mouth took over before I could
think. "And if I say no?" Tommy T's face went permanently
harsh, and I figured that meant he was tired of my glaring and
immune to any womanly wiles I might have faked had I not been
"I'd be forced to ask a judge
to provide a warrant. And we'd likely find the need to hold you
overnight for questioning."
"Let me get this right."
I levered myself up from the floor. My back was stiffening and
I was not exactly graceful, but anger gave me strength I might
not have had otherwise. "I'm attacked in a public place and
I'm the one being investigated?"
"Attacked. Hotel ransacked.
Nothing taken. Or not much. Mighty strange, you ask me."
He hitched his utility belt for emphasis.
My mouth opened to argue. I wanted
to tell Tommy T he'd rue the day he took me on. I really wanted
to slap him silly, but that would land me in jail. Instead, I
blew out a hard breath. The cop was bigger than I was both figuratively
and literally. Fighting him would take time and resources I didn't
have at the moment. And I had to face the fact that it did indeed
look weird to have been attacked and so little taken. I reined
in my temper, counting slowly to twenty with my eyes closed.
When I could speak without telling
him off, calling him a red-neck, under-educated, inbred hillbilly,
and getting myself into double trouble, I said, "Let's go."
When he started to reply, I said, "You call me little miss
again and I'll write a letter to the city or county board about
your needing a course in social adjustment or whatever the heck
they call it." The female cop laughed, a startled burst of
sound. I figured she agreed that a moment of politically correct
timeout would do the burly cop good. Tommy T just glared.
© 2006 Gwen Hunter