Sunday, 24 July 2016

Imminent Baby Challenge Day Three: "Just the Shine"

T-minus 24 days until blast-off! Or less! Or more!

Today's word has given by my very lovely and heavily pregnant wife Lyn - it is "shine" and the random genre picker gave me "crime". There are far, far worse combinations than crimes involving shiny things. Actually, come to think of it, the majority of crimes revolve around shiny things.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you - "Just the Shine".

 Tomorrow's word is 'bannister' and the genre is 'folk tale'. No, I don't know either.

If any more of my blog readers want to chip in a word, I'll write you a story too!

Just the Shine

She searched through the crowd desperately for the diamond, but it couldn't be easily seen – that was the point of hiding it. Curse Sandness! Of all the times he could've barged in!

He was slinking through the cocktail party too, peering and staring at everything down that long nose like it was a rifle sight. At least he'd not found it either.

It'd been a damn close thing, though. Two steps out of Duchess Tingwall's state cabin and she'd bumped straight into Sandness. He'd smiled thinly in that reptilian way of his before stepping around her. He'd never liked her, ever since she'd joined the security detail last month. So far on this cruise, he'd never left her alone in the Dunrossness Suite by herself. Every time she'd gone in to fetch something for the Duchess, even something entirely trivial, he'd been at her elbow, scrutinising her broad honest face for any spark of duplicity.

Never mind the dear boy,” the Duchess had said florally. “He sees thieves and bandits everywhere, poor thing.”

In this case, his perception was entirely true: Amy Fetlar had only applied for the Duchess' personal staff so she could steal something and she suspected it was the broad honest face which got her past the interview. Technically, she realised, this made her a 'bad' person, but she reasoned she was still infinitely better than the people she owed money to. Besides, the big, fat Duchess had so many diamonds that she'd never notice one missing.

Sandness, on the other hand, would. She'd left a fake in the velvet bag in the stateroom's safe, but the shine was all wrong. As she walked quickly away from the stateroom and her suspicious colleague, she realised that he'd spot the replacement immediately. What to do?

Amy checked her watch. Twenty minutes until the boat docked. She could force her way off the cruiser liner and lose herself in the crowd, but only if she was still free. With growing relief, she realised there was a crowd already forming on the boat: the party! She remembered that there was a cocktail party going on in the Maven Lounge at the north end of the boat. It was strictly for the liner's richer guests who professed a desire to see the approaching coastline but needed flowing champagne to appreciate it properly. A large, drunken crowd would be perfect to hide in for twenty minutes.

There were quick steps behind her and a yell. A glance over her shoulder revealed Sandness exiting the cabin, a calculated smile playing across his bloodless lips. Her adrenaline began to pump; the walls began closing in around her.

It took Fetlar a few more seconds to work out his angle. One word on his radio to Sandsting Security would've sent a pincer of elite security guards around her in seconds. Except that he was after the diamond himself now. There would be evidence linking her to the diamond's theft but if Sandness lifted the stone off her now, he could claim she'd thrown it overboard and who would believe a thief's protestations?

He moved damn fast along the corridor, like a snake across the surface of the water, all smooth confident motions and mesmerising eyes. He'd almost caught up to her before the trance broke and she did the only thing that came to mind.

A waiter scurried past, bearing a tray full of elegant champagne flutes.

She dropped the diamond into one with a smooth motion.

It sank through the bubbles and clinked to the bottom of the glass.

The waiter, unsuspecting, continued on into the cocktail party.

He reached her seconds later, having seen what she'd just done. His pale eyes narrowed.

Problem, Bress?” she asked innocently, knowing that the use of his first name would infuriate him even more than failing to catch her with the stone on her person.

He curled his lip, but kept silent, having decided that speaking to her would be a waste of energy now that the diamond was gone.

Bress Alan Sandness – where's that name come from?” she said. The only thing that irritated him more than his unusual first name was his prosaic middle name.

He shoved past her roughly and slid through the big double doors into the party; Amy followed. Near simultaneously, they flashed their security badges at the maƮtre d', who admitted them both with an insincere smile.

Amy immediately felt out of her depth: the lounge was impossible opulent. Everywhere was midnight black, burnished gold and gleaming silver. The carpet alone had more gold thread than she'd seen before in her life. Light dripped from the ceiling in luminous glass strings and everywhere, everywhere stood people wearing clothes she couldn't afford with a lifetime's wages.

There were a dozen waiters moving around with hundreds of champagne glasses. At the bottom of one nestled a flawless pea-sized diamond, but all the waiters were dressed identically, with identically slicked hair and identically passive expressions, carrying identical trays of champagne. Where was it?

She immediately started pushing her way through the crowd towards the nearest waiter, craning her neck to see the glasses. Before she got close, the waiter served the last glass of champagne, snapped the empty tray under their arm in a single neat movement and departed discreetly. Amy approached the man with the last glass, eyeing up the expensive fabric of waistcoat and the exacting cut of the jacket. He was alone, looking out of the lounge's long windows distractedly. He took one sip and then another. Was the diamond in his glass? Just a glint was all she needed, just the shine.

Good afternoon, sir,” Amy began, opening her security badge. “I believe that the champagne you have been served is accidentally of an inferior vintage. You've been served the Unst '89 rather than the Lerwick '94.”

The man turned to her in surprise. It was Max Delting, sole heir to the enormous Delting Aerospace fortune. He could've bought everything that she'd ever owned without noticing, without losing that intrinsically confident look off his handsome, if flushed, face.

Good grief, you security types are sharp!” he smiled and handed the glass over.

All part of the service,” Amy smiled broadly. He really was rather attractive, but there was no time for that. Across the room, Sandness was trying his own ruse to lift glasses off guests. Being devoid of charm, he was finding it very challenging.

Amy looked into the glass: no glint, no shine. She took a few steps to the sculpture in the centre of the room – a big bird and a little bird rendered in metal – and went to pour the champagne out through her fingers into its hollow base.

A rather ugly sculpture, I thought,” interrupted a pleasant voice from behind her. “A little bird inside a big bird – a weak pun on nesting, probably.”

It was Max Delting again, still smiling. He was following her.

I'm sorry, sir. I've love to chat, but I'm on assignment,” she muttered and pushed past him.

There were dozens of champagne glasses in motion at this party, all glinting and shining and bubbling. Which one just had the shine?

From across the room, she could see that Sandness was searching around for another glass. However this played out, he'd win. If she found the stone, he would just call security: prison for her, but nothing for him. If he found the stone, prison still for her and riches for him.

There had to be a way to change the game.

Actually,” Amy began, whispering conspiratorially. “There've been reports of an intruder harassing female guests. He's described as having a thin face, a sharp nose...”

That man there!” gasped Max, pointing at Sandness who'd just grasped a lady in a scarlet cocktail dress by the elbow and was pulling at the glass in her hand. “There'll be none of that sort of behaviour here!”

Gallant as well as handsome, Amy thought, watching him fight his way angrily across the crowd. And gullible too, she concluded, watching him punch Sandness squarely on the nose.

Now, she could search the glasses without interference, without panic. As she watched her foolish knight in shining armour knock Sandness out to the floor, she took a long, satisfying drink from her glass.

That victory caught at the back of her throat when she realised.

*** a little bit of fun for my wife as she's a Shetlander, I hid the names of all twelve of Shetland's civil parishes in the text - some easy and some tricky. The list is here. I thought it might be like trying to find a diamond in a thousand champagne glasses.

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