Read an Excerpt
By Gwen Hunter
MIRACopyright © 2005 Gwen Hunter
All right reserved.
Sunday, 11 a.m.
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 jeweler's 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-andgem 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, wrapping 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, scrubbing 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 want."
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 successful door.
"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 nineteen-seventies 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 price — a really good price — for Longworth's sterling-silver-and-labradorite anniversary gift in a design that would be created just for Emily Sue, his long-suffering 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 free-form. 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 un-hooked 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 left in 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 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 EMT 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 from happening.
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 incident took place in a location not covered by the security 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, detailing his startling observations for posterity I'd guess.
"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 painful.
"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 security 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's 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?" Tommy asked.
"My money is in a wad in my jeans, along with my driver's 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 seven thousand dollars."
I agreed. It sucked an ostrich egg. "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 his daddy's cop clothes. He was holding up my canvas backpack, the straps dangling.
"Yes!" I leaped down from the table, strawberry-blond braid flying, unsuccessfully trying to hide a grimace of pain. The paramedic sighed, a resigned 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 T. said.
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 asked.
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 sizable hunk of rare African bloodstone rough was safe, still in its newsprint wrappings. More surprising, the small bag of ruby cabs and predrilled focal 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 hotel and talk to security there to keep an eye out." Tommy T. picked up the old-fashioned phone. "What's your hotel 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 police? 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 name tag. "I like you, Winston."
"Ditto, little miss."
I punched his arm and we both laughed, engaging 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 wasn't 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 safe."
Excerpted from Bloodstone by Gwen Hunter Copyright © 2005 by Gwen Hunter. Excerpted by permission.
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