The Jewel

The Stealing of Things [Chapter 3]

Was I failing at my job, I asked myself, after letting the strange woman leave the garden once more without intervening? What was she there for? Certainly not me. It didn’t seem like she was trying to break in, but then again, I’ve heard of people checking out a place before breaking and entering. Casing, is that what it’s called? I suppose maybe I was being cased myself, allowing such a perpetrator to know exactly when my patrol schedule was.

The uncertainty kept my mind moving back and forth like my more regular nightly patrols, mostly finding nothing. Before I knew it, I was at home at the breakfast table, having scrambled eggs passed around.

“Liz?” Jamison was holding the pan out, ready to deposit the golden curds on my plate. “I can’t feed you if you’re hovering over your plate, dear.”

“Mama’s got her el-bows on the table,” James enunciated carefully, trying his best to replicate my scolding.

“I do, huh,” I said, pulling myself up and allowing myself to be served. “Where are my manners?”

My older son, paused shoveling down his own eggs for a moment to quip. “Did you leave them somewhere?”

“Maybe in my work clothes, Jamie,” I attempted to joke.

Jamison chucked and sat down the now empty pan on the stove to begin eating his own food. “Your mom has to act big and scary to make sure any thieves who try and break into the museum at night get tossed back out. Although knowing her, she would still thank them for the visit.”

I nodded with a sigh and began eating up. Jamison pulled the newspaper up off the table and hid himself behind it, taking in the news continued off the front page. After the shoveling of food off plates had died down, James spoke up, finger jutted across the table at the back of the paper. “It’s da jewel! From the… from the…”

“From the Tomb,” Jamie finished his sentence.

I found my eyes trailing up to the carefully crafted advertisement for the museum itself, a cartoon depiction of a multi-faceted jewel, surrounded by caricatures of ancient royalty and stone pillars. Not just Egypt- The Ancient Sudanese Tomb and its Riches Unveiled, read the title.

Jamison flipped the back page around before him. “So it is, your mom’s very own museum. Let’s see,” he hummed, studying and reading the smaller text at the bottom. “The tomb of an ancient princess unearthed, her riches untouched by grave robbers. Come see the exhibit before it leaves us! Opening day this Sunday.”

“This Sunday!” James bounced in his seat. “The jewel! The jewel! What day is it today?”

I sighed and shook my head, but James was quick to answer before me. “Well, I don’t know if this Sunday will work. Your mom works the night before.”

“I do,” I nodded, trying to not commit to anything.

“And it will be busy that first opening day,” my husband added, looking at me. “Tuesday… you don’t work that morning, and there will be less people during a weekday afternoon. Right?”

I took in a short breath, nearly inhaling the last spoonful of eggs. “Well. I suppose we can make that work. Alright boys, go and wash those faces and get some socks on so you’re ready for school!”

Clattering their seats around, the boys scattered and left the kitchen to me and my husband. I stood, grabbing my own plate along with the boys’. Jamison spoke up as I got them to the sink, not ready to respond. “Should I not have suggested that? I guess heading back to your work on your day off isn’t the most exciting thing…”

“No.” I answered curtly at first.

Jamison folded the paper down and jumped to help me. “I only suggested it because they’ve heard plenty about the museum all these months, but haven’t gotten a chance to see it. I’ll tell you what, I can take them by myself and leave you here to sleep.”

“No, no,” I forced a smile across my face and into my voice. “I want to go, see it with the guides and all the lights on. And it’s only one time, especially with this tomb exhibit only being temporary too.”

That night, I took my first patrol as normal, just before closing. I felt myself being extra careful, for some reason, even within the nice, evenly-lit halls. My eyes kept trailing off toward the windows, perhaps hoping— or fearing— to see the strange suspect, tracking yet another of my patrols. Yet nothing but the well-maintained hedges and topiaries could be seen in the low light outside.

Thinking about the outing here to the museum on my upcoming day off made me realize that, some time during my weekend, another of my coworkers would be out taking my patrols. Now, ever since my employment started, I had been the one to consistently go about and check on things while the other guard manned the post at the main entrance, reading the paper or listening to the radio. Frankly, it didn’t faze me to stretch my legs and get a few bouts of exercise during the night, so the informal arrangement was maintained. But what if the strange woman was spotted by one of them, exposing my failure to keep watch of the grounds?

By the end of my first round, I was ready with my carefully-chosen words to explain that I may have possibly seen a strange woman perhaps skulking around the garden if I had not been there to shoo her off. But fate decided that I was not able to pass on that sleight of words.

Aside from the other guard, the slightly older and thinning-haired Hank, some of the curators were marking their territories in the main entrance hall. “Ah, good timing, Liz. Everything look good out there?”

“Yeah, Hank, same as always,” I nodded and lied so easily. “Is something going out tonight?”

“Man… or woman the desk here, would you? The boys here have asked me to help them… escort this thing. Get it in place all nice and secure.”

Up from the basement elevator beyond the normally locked and blocked double doors there in the hall came a rolling metal cart, pushed by one of the young, university-fresh curators. The older expert types helped guide it effortlessly through the opened doorway. Sitting on the cart was a waist-height display case draped in a sheet. Through the bright ceiling light, I could see the silhouette of something boldly geometrically shaped on a fine, thin stand.

“Sure, Hank. Do your thing,” I said, shifting back around the desk to take up his well-used wooden seat. He nodded at me, and I offered him his preferred military-style salute to send him off with the other staff.

As my hand left my brow, I swear I saw the flash of a face through the side window of the hall. By the time I stood, whatever I had seen was long gone. Waiting for the rhythmic sound of the rolling cart on the marble floors to disappear down the hall, I jumped back out from the security desk and searched the darkness beyond the windows for any signs of… whoever it could have been. With no remnant of anything, really, I returned back to my duty at the desk.

By the time Hank had returned from his task with the curators and the new installation, the regular time for my exterior patrol was over. Hank shrugged and tried to explain why it wasn’t a big deal, but something— my responsibility, maybe something else, forced me to run outside to complete it as usual. Would you be surprised to hear me say that not a single oddity was found that night?

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Lingering Touch

The Stealing of Things [Chapter 2]

I did not go searching any further for the individual after they disappeared from sight. The entrances around the block into our gardens are guarded only by the discouragement of chain barriers with hangings signs on them noting that the facilities are closed for the night and that they are indeed patrolled by someone like myself.

I was sure it was a woman… maybe because of how petite she… they were, or maybe the softness or delicate smell of her approach.

I did not mention the woman to my coworker at the security booth, nor did I make a report in my written log. Why did I not record a report? She was likely just someone living on the street, trying to find a bathroom. But she didn’t seem like someone homeless. That wasn’t the feel or smell of one of those people. What was she wearing? I can only recall seeing the small, plain face and only for a moment before she… She must have been wearing all black because I couldn’t see her until she was in the light of the flashlight. Her hair was all black, as well.

The thought of the… indignity imposed upon me by that person kept me distracted all throughout the remainder of my shift. When the morning light brought about my second and final patrol of the grounds, I passed by the spot I saw the olive woman earlier in the night. Not a sign remained there of the struggle I had undergone, nor of any other wrongdoings the woman may have been attempting there in the dark hours of the night.

By the time I was home and making breakfast for my family, somehow the thought had been pushed to the back of my mind, replaced by the undeniable fulfillment that only being a mother and a wife can bring. Not long after, I was in bed, drifting off with all my cares on hold.

Some might worry that with my odd work schedule, I don’t have much quality time with my family. It is quite the contrary, with my parental blessings beginning with the two little ones serving as my alarm clock most afternoons. Don’t worry, Jamison makes sure that they don’t come barging in too early.

After dinner and family time, there is plenty of evening left over to read bedtime stories, tuck the kids into bed, and get one-on-one time with my better half. Being… intimate is hard with different bedtimes, but at the same time, we feel as if the two little ones we have so far are plenty.

Jamison and I were watching Johnny Carson on the living room sofa when a grasp of his hand on my shoulder and a kiss to the cheek brought suddenly back the memories of the night before. The hair stood on my neck and I reflexively pulled away. Jamison gave me a downtrodden look while I tried to calm my goosebumps. “Something the matter?”

I gritted my teeth and leaned back against his arm. “I don’t… look like a man, do I?”

“Liz,” He said with a concerned grimace, ready to defend my honor, shaking his head. “Was it someone from work who said that?”

“It was… It’s something I’ve heard before.”

Jamison’s lips curled up into a grin, and his arm snaked around my back and under my arm, taking up my breast to pump and gyrate it in his palm. “All it takes is one little look at these puppies and there’s no way they can say that.”

Despite the flattery, I pushed his arm away before I slid across the cushion slightly further away. “Yeah, sure, but I hope those men can see a woman for something other than her chest.”

Jamison shrugged. “I don’t take it your uniform at work is terribly… flattering.”

I looked down at my body, imagining the dark tan shirt. “Well, they obviously didn’t have one to fit a woman. And to fit these… puppies, as you say, I have to wear a terribly large one, tucked into my slacks for miles.”

“Oh, lovely,” Jamison said playfully, dragging his hand down my thigh.

“You stop that right now,” I said, the sound of the late show still going in the background. “Just let me relax and watch a little bit more before I have to go.”

Later that night, my shift at the museum began like any other. My evening patrol put me past the hallway where, just outside, I had been violated the previous night. I stood at the thick-paned windows, looking for any sign of… anything outside. The bushes glowed slightly in the hallway lights. They stood, rooted, completely still and certainly absent of any wrong-doers.

Right there was the hallway just outside the new exhibit with the things from the tomb— still behind curtains and heavy barriers and carefully-worded signs to redirect interest. The assumed resident of the tomb and what their origin or significance was had yet to be explained to me and I assumed that it never would be, being simply one of many to guard it. The workmen had been there several nights previous, setting up the display cases, most likely still empty there under the dusty and sun-aged curtains.

The centerpiece of the upcoming display, a fact much circulated by the museum, was the royal jewel that had come out of the tomb, something quite large and impressive if I had to guess. It had been delivered a week or so before, in the dark hours, complete with its own security outside our employ. I had to guess it was in the Museum’s vault at that point, being prepared to be shown off, but to me, it was just another thing to look after.

If I were ever to come back during the day for a normal tour, with Jamison and the two kids, I might even be able to be somewhat of a tour guide, even if it were only to know of the layout, free of any knowledge of the exhibits. Not that the chances of waking up before noon and returning to my place of work were that enticing. Maybe once the kids were older, I told myself in that moment.

Watching the clock at the security booth for midnight prepared me to head out on my patrol of the grounds. What was usually a quiet stroll in the fresh air under the stars had me tense, flashlight in hand with the beam shining across my field of view. Bathed in shadows, the flower beds and topiaries and statues were more imposing than normal, and I had to remind myself that it was not the dark I was supposed to be afraid of, but the things or people that lurked inside it.

Not far from the previous meeting spot, I slowed. The bushes were silent, leaving only my heavy footsteps to make a sound. The interior lights shining through the windows were just enough to affect my eyes which had adjusted to the dark. And I think they knew that as well.

“You’re right on time,” a silky but low voice spoke behind me, hiding an implacable accent.

I jerked back, flashlight in one hand and instinctively covering my mouth with the other. “Time… for what?” Were the only words I was able to get out past my hand.

The beam caught the face of the person— the same olive face as the previous night— causing her to step back out of the glare. She spoke up with what was none other than a woman’s voice. “So, do you patrol the gardens at this time every night?”

“That’s… not something for you to be worried about.”

“I’m not worried. You’re not armed,” she said under her dark clothing and dark, smooth-looking hair, arms at her sides in a relaxed state. “And this is a public space, isn’t it?”

I waved the flashlight out in front of myself like a lion tamer with a wooden chair. “Not down in the bushes. And certainly not if you’re going to… going to… attack people!”

“Attack?” She laughed, head leaning back slightly. “Silly. There is nothing going on like that. I will go now.”

With a flash of shiny hair in the beam of the flashlight, she waved about, the darkness seeming ready to swallow her up as if was where she had always belonged.

“You— you wait there, right now!” I said, imitating a tone I had taken before with my children.

A sliver of a face, like the crescent moon, glanced back but said nothing.

“Don’t think I am a man or something! I’m a woman, you know!”

A set of thin fingers found her lips, before a kiss to them was sent my way through the night, halting my approach. “I can see that quite plainly.”

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The Lady in the Garden

The Stealing of Thins [Chapter 1]

Society still has a difficult time taking in the idea of a woman being the main breadwinner for her family. Even harder to grasp is that I, a woman with a husband and two kids, could and does do so working the graveyard shift. The other ordinary, and comparatively boring nuclear families that ours associates with, or attempt to associate with— and mind you, it isn’t that many— always ask how it works. And I tell that it is in fact, quite simple.

I get home in the early morning hours and make breakfast. Well, the breakfast that the three others in the house eat before heading to school and work. It serves as my dinner if you can be flexible with labels. It’s all food to me.

I go to bed not long after. Sometimes wine is taken before the brushing of my teeth and showering. The house is quiet and the blackout shades are drawn. I made them myself, because what sort of woman would I be without knowing how to sew? I am open to sharing how I did so, but the idea of such monotone home apparel doesn’t stick with the diurnal wives from the neighborhood.

While the world passes by outside, I get my shut-eye. The kids get back first, then the husband not long after, and they all know not to be loud and wake mommy. At first, this was by threat, but since a long time, it has become a clear habit. They manage to get along fine playing outside instead of just sitting in front of the TV set like other kids their age seem to do these days.

Dinner comes after, sometimes by me and sometimes by the husband. Yet another concept that baffles our current-day society, to make the man of the house cook. But he certainly isn’t bad. We all eat together, catching up like a normal family would do.

The question of the evening came up like it so often did, and this time I had an answer that warranted me putting down my coffee to answer properly.

“Are you guarding anything cool tonight, mama?” Jamie, the 7-year-old asked.

I leaned forward in the seat and picked up the fork, tapping it away while I answered. “Well, they actually brought in a big old jewel. From an ancient tomb!”

“What’s a… toom… mama?” James, the 5-year-old, puzzled.

“It’s where they… bury people. Old, dead people.” Jamie explained proudly in my place.

“Where they bury rich and powerful people,” I added, waiving my arms out to my sides. “It must have been, or else they wouldn’t have buried this person with such a big diamond. Or was it something else?”

“Like your ring.” Jamie pointed at the simple band and singular, meager faceted rock on my finger.

“Like that,” I nodded, “but much bigger.” I folded my arms into a ring in front of me to make an unfounded approximation of the size.

Jamison, my husband, laughed. “Next, your mother will want an upgrade to match.” I laughed and shook my head, and the kids joined in to match the mood.

It’s not long after the meal that I go off to work, somewhere between putting the kids to bed and Jamison going to sleep himself. The museum is a ways from where we live, but at least at that time of night, the roads are mostly serene and empty. When I arrive, I enter through the back entrance, gab a bit with the swing shift workers, and leisurely get dressed to start my night. And not to brag, but those next few hours are not much harder.

Yes, despite what my little boys think, my job is certainly not as exciting or dangerous as it sounds. Frankly, to say I am a guard is a stretch. I do guard things. Alas, I have no badge, nor a weapon. My supervisor does allow me the use of a heavy flashlight that could be used to give a potential burglar or thief a nasty clunk on the head. That is, if I were not directed first to shine the bright beam in their eyes to, quote, spook them off. Not that I’ve ever come that close to a conflict, though. But I am sure that I could handle such a thing if it came up.

I have heard from my male colleagues not-so-quietly behind my back refer to me as imposing, perhaps scary by some definition of the word. I am indeed taller than some of them. I’m sure it was with good intention, as well, when they said that with my short hair, I could be mistaken for a man if encountered in the dark on one of my midnight patrols.

The patrols themselves are the core of my guarding duties. They begin after the doors to the public close, just to make sure there is nobody intentionally or otherwise still inside. Occasionally there are folks who overstay their welcome or get lost or find themselves in the bathroom for longer than expected. I am more than happy to escort them out.

Later in the night, I patrol the grounds outside. This is to prevent the teenagers from defacing the statues with bathroom tissue or strange articles of clothing. It has not happened during my time yet here, but I have been warned that it has occurred before.

That night on patrol, I couldn’t help but hear the rustling of bushes outside the hallway of the anthropology exhibit. My imagination turned to a stay cat, even possibly a raccoon. With flashlight in hand, I dutifully stepped off the path to determine whatever cute little intruder we had.

The beam of my light caught the rustle of something in the hedges, indeed, which caused it to stop. Moving up closer, a face, shielded by a hand, popped up in my view from beneath the sill of the window. “Hey-“ I called out, lowering the light.

The face, belonging to a human, one with fine olive features at that, stared back at me from between a pair of neatly rounded shrubs. I blinked several times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.

“You can’t be-“

Before I could continue the warning, the person rushed up before me, taking the side of my face in her hand. Their soft fingers tugged me lightly by the hair down to her level, not with force but by some sort of magical allure, as if I were smelling a delicate flower. Their lips came to rest upon mine, pressing with a firm but soft touch, and the caress of their hand continued. Just when it felt like my breath was at its limit, the olive-toned individual pulled away, dashing off past me and into the night, a lithe silhouette against the low lights coming through the windows. The moisture from… it was unmistakably a kiss… remained.

My collar was tight, holding onto my body heat underneath the thick uniform. Finding my way off the grass, I turned the still-illuminated flashlight back, hoping to see one last trace of the woman.

Next Chapter –>

The Color of Houm: White Flag Burning on Sale!

Book Two of my ‘Color of Houm’ series is available for preorder right now, available to read this Saturday the 12th! Find it on Amazon right here.

The once silent defiance finds itself unable to hold back any longer. Both sides head towards an emboldened opposition, victories both small and large piling up, yet neither side is willing to make concession. Book Two in the Color of Houm series: White Flag Burning

The startling and triumphant attack by the Sanguine Tears in Akresh City crippled the Moon’s infrastructure and means of commerce. The inhabitants of the city are forced to rely on the Nest Corporation’s Security forces to offer a sense of safety and a hopeful return to normalcy. After receiving a threat and a promise of future action from the rebel group, authorities on Houm as well as the Corporation are forced to decide how they will proceed, rehashing the debate between Houm’s self-determination versus The Nest Corporation’s humanitarian efforts.

Those who carried out the attack hide out still in Akresh, planning their next move while the city remains under the strict control of the security forces. Their focus remains on Veema, who gave herself up to Nest just before the attack, creating a loose end for both sides. Her father, Major Corbin Skye of Nest Security, can’t help but blame himself for her senseless actions. Despite his efforts to reconnect with his daughter, the reticent girl all but refuses to divulge any information about the organization that had enraptured her into their movement.

When the Corporation delivers to the system more forces to secure Houm and its Moon, the division between the local populace and the offworlders deepens, pulling at the seams of the already strained society.

If you haven’t checked out book one yet, you can get it for free right now as well. Click here to get it now!

Clothes Make the Man

Clothes make the man, he thinks to himself.

The little man at the front of the bus has to wear the little blue hat and tight little blue suit because he drives it.  Or does he get to drive it because he wears those things?

The blue-suited man tells them they have to get off, it’s the end of the line.  There’s one other passenger, a young woman, wearing tight, pleasing clothes, who hadn’t dared look at him for the entire ride.

The clothes making him that day were old and certainly out of style, very nearly exactly ten years so.  No wonder the woman didn’t want to look at him.  They weren’t even nice when he wore them the last time he was a free man, but at least they fit.

The only other thing on him was a wallet, full of cards long expired, the stub of a one-way ticket, now served its purpose, and lastly the one thing provided to him out of the kindness of the judicial process.  A prepaid visa for one hundred dollars, to get him back on his feet, they said.

His feet, though, are just as well covered, and suit him just fine.  And so carrying that card of finite subsistence, he finds his way from the bus station to the counter of a fast food restaurant, where the people there are made out of red and yellow stripes and grease and uniformity.  

Then next door, taking however much was left on that card, and subtracting the pack of cigarettes at the convenience store, the workers more smoke and petrol fumes and old coins than most.

They, the cigarettes, were much more expensive than he remembers but certainly a trade more fair than bartering for bathroom supplies, extra food, or unmentionables.  The people behind him in line, regardless of their components, make his gaze turn back repeatedly, but that feeling will go away in time, he tells himself.  The thing to take his mind off of the sensation involves dressing himself in the fresh smoke and fumes, inside and out.

Now, if the ten years had been kind, he would have a place to shed his old layers and fix himself anew.  But the ten years changed more than him.  That old block of houses, stripped down and dressed up into condos.  

Condos with women and their torn jeans and little purses and chihuahuas on limp leashes and men with shiny sunglasses resting in their tight vnecks instead of on their faces, nothing like the friend who was there, more loose and old-fashioned.  Doesn’t matter where they are now, he tells himself.  He is on his own, on his feet, and ain’t nothing wrong with that.

The rest of the card, or what is likely enough to push the balance against the red, is spent on a motel room. One night.  And despite the shower and the remotely clean sheets, he is back into the same clothes the next day, feet back into the old shoes, and back to square one.  But he is himself.

A week on the streets means there’s more than just the young women avoiding turning his way, but just about everyone else as well.  He can’t decide if the cold is from their singular glances or the turning weather, but bundles of newspapers inside the sweatshirt he finds on a bench help stave off the feeling.  

Suddenly those shoes– the socks underneath as well– aren’t as fine as they seemed, and it’s not just the cold eating at his toes, but the moisture.  He finds someone willing to toss their socks his way from a gym bag, and he wears both because it would be a waste otherwise.  

A second jacket comes his way after a fight and a calling of the police, and the person who used it now gets a nice warm cell for however long the dark blue ones decide.

Someone knitted hats and left them out on fence posts, not for people like him, but he figures he and his cold, painful ears would look made up in one.

People throw away plenty of things, things that don’t deserve it, he makes sense of the dumpster.  Those behind stores are full of things like that, which means the contents get taken away unless people like him choose to save them.  Sleeves cut away from a proper, good coat because it couldn’t be sold.  But just those sleeves serve their purpose nevertheless, stretched over the other layers he has on.

When the rains come, and eventually the snow, it’s about all he can do to stay dry.  Plastic bags do the trick, as noisy as they are, but he would never be considered a quiet person either way.

The winter wind will push its way through everything else regardless.  When he can do nothing but conserve heat and energy, the plates of discarded cardboard make him a set of armor, protecting him from the cold ground and frigid air.

Clothes make the man, but none of the layers seem to make him the man that others want to see in any place they would be.  And so the men in dark blue come.  And they tug and pull.  But when they begin to pull back the layers, they find that there is nothing but more and more layers of clothes all the way down.