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“I need you to tell me what this is worth.” Emma looked up at the man that held out a little box to her. If it was in her power, Emma would gladly have punched him in the nose. But she also knew that he’d hit her back, and it would be ten times more painful than anything she could do to him. “Now, Emma. And he said for you not to dally. He needs it now.”
“So, you do it. I’m in the middle of something else you told me to do.” She knew as well as he did that Bart could tell the worth of an item almost as well as she could. Not quite as good as she could; practice had made her better and faster at it. But they’d both been trained to know how to do it. “I’m in the middle of—”
She should have known better. Whenever she pointed something obvious out to her brother, he would resort to violence if he didn’t care for her answer. Which was usually all the time. Emma wondered if she’d ever learn and doubted it. Now she found herself on the floor with her mouth bloodied and her head hurting. Not the first time for that either.
He put the box on the desk, then pulled out his gun and laid it on her desk with it as if that was all he needed to make her comply. The punch to her face had done that pretty good, she thought. Emma wished she could pick the gun up and blow his fucking head off. Instead, she lifted her hurting body up and got back to her desk. Emma didn’t even bother wiping the blood off. He’d just hit her again to show he could.
Picking up the small box, she opened it. Inside was a small blue bag, tied at the top with an equally blue string. There were no markings on the bag or the box, but she knew quality when she felt it. And this bag wasn’t it. She started to ask Bart what kind of joke this was when she realized that he’d not answer her. He’d more than likely do what she’d wanted to do to him and shoot her. She’d be dead and he’d be standing over her demanding that she get up and do what he’d told her to do. There was no love lost between the two of them, and hadn’t been for a very long time.
Dumping the contents out into her hand, she was first surprised at the weight of the ring, then at how big it was. But the ring itself was what had her holding her breath. It was simply the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. The work on it—and there was a great deal of it—had been done with a steady hand and an even better eye, for the art looked to her like the person who had made this loved the person who was to receive it. For a second she wondered if she would ever have someone love her that much. She looked up at Bart when he snorted at her. He looked pissed.
“It’s just a band. Nothing but a damned gold band that is worth less than my fucking shoes. I wonder if it’s even gold plated. Fuckers.” She looked at the ring, then back at him as he continued. “Fucking bastard said it was worth millions. It’s not even worth the box it came in. Why the hell do I even bother with robbing people if they’re going to lie to me about what I’m taking? Huh? And then to have fought so hard to
keep it? As if it was worth his own life? Dumbass probably believed that it was worth the money I was told it was.”
“Are you kidding me? This isn’t just a band, dumbass. This is a work of art.” She started to show him, but Bart picked up his gun and slid it back into his holster before slamming his hands down on the table, his face level with her. She leapt back from him. Which, she supposed, was what he had wanted her to do anyway. Then he laughed at her. “Don’t hurt me, Bart. Please? I’ll tell Daddy.”
“Like he gives a shit about you. I mean, look where he has you working. In the basement of a piece of shit building that has nothing to go for it but a toilet that is ten feet away.” He snorted again. “Go to him, Emma, see if I’m not right. And when he tells you to go away, I’m going to come back down here and blow your fucking brains out for bothering him. We have more important things to do than to listen to you whine about how badly you’re being treated.”
After he left her, she put the ring back in the little bag and started working on the chains that had been tangled up when Bart had simply tossed them into a bank bag. He’d told her when she asked him that it wasn’t his job to make sure that things were neat and tidy, that she would be out of a fucking job if he did. She estimated that she had about ten hours in untangling the chains so far and she wasn’t any closer to getting them straight than she had been before. Emma was pretty sure that he’d done it on purpose. It was something he loved doing, making her job more difficult.
Her father and brother had dumped her down here six years ago, pulling her from college and telling her that she had to earn her keep. Of course Emma hadn’t seen her father in all this time. Words, harsh and mean, had come from him via her brother. She was going to have to find another job soon. This one just wasn’t making it for her any longer. Of course, she blamed that on Bart too. He took money from her cash envelope every week, and he was taking more and more all the time. He called it a living tax. If he didn’t get it, she didn’t live. And she believed him too.
The ring called to her. She knew that was silly. Rings or other things didn’t talk, but she could almost hear it telling her that it didn’t belong to her and that she needed to return it to the owner. She would love to do that, but she wasn’t going to. Not that she’d have the chance to get out of this place with the thing. Being patted down and wanded every time she left would have made it impossible, but she knew that if found out, she’d be dead. Emma looked over at the desk next to hers.
Sebastian Logan had been her friend and co-worker, and the nicest man she’d ever known. Polite, hardworking, and a man who had loved his family more than he did his own life. And it was what had gotten him killed.
A diamond ring had been brought in a month ago. Bart, of course, had deemed it unworthy and had told her and Sebastian they could have it. She’d thought it was pretty but thought that Sebastian could sell it for a few dollars, and knew that it would help out in their situation. His only child was sick and that money would have gone a long way in helping him. So he’d taken the ring home to sell.
He’d come in the next day, saying that he’d gotten enough to buy a prescription that was much needed, and they had both sat down to work. An hour later, Bart and his
friend, Mark Whitaker, had come in to question Sebastian about it. Apparently a fence that they knew had mentioned that Sebastian had brought it in.
“You said I could have it. You told us it was worthless and that we could have it. Tell him, Emma. Tell him he said that.” Bart, of course, denied that, and even told Emma that their father wanted to make an example of Sebastian. Bart had pulled his gun free and had killed her friend right there in front of her, despite her begging him to let it go.
Blood had sprayed over her face and clothing. Bart had set Mark in front of her for the rest of the day while Sebastian was lying in his own blood, and told her that if she wiped her face he would put the blood back. But this time it would be her own.
All Emma wanted to do was get out of there and be her own person. Live her life as she wanted on her own terms. As soon as she could save enough money to get away, anyway. Looking at the ring again, she wondered what would happen if she were to get it to its owner. What sort of reward would there be? Because at the rate she was saving money, she’d be too old to run when she did manage to get enough to go on.
At ten after twelve, she pulled out her lunch. It was only a jelly sandwich; the peanut butter had run out a few days ago. Emma wanted to cry about what her life had become, and knew that it was as set in stone as the sword was that she’d read about so long ago.
“Put that shit away. I want you to look this over.” She only glanced at the paperwork that Bart had tossed in front of her. Her lunch time was her time, not his. She’d told him that before. Not that it mattered, but she had told him. “Now, Emma. I want to get it to Dad before the end of the day, and you fucking around is gonna make me late.”
“I’m eating. And in the event that you missed that part, I’m entitled to have one hour for my lunch. So come back when I’m done.” He drew his fist back and she tilted out her chin. “Hit me, and see if I don’t go home because of it. Go ahead, Bart, knock me around and you’ll never get this.”
“He wants it now.” Emma took a bite of her sandwich and said nothing. “You fucking cunt. You think this is going to win you any points with me? Who do you think is going to run this place when Dad finally kicks the bucket? You? Not fucking likely.”
He slammed his fists on the table again, a thing he did when he wasn’t winning an argument. Well, she’d had a shitty day so far, and right now she really did want him to hit her. She would go to her father this time.
Sweeping everything off her desk in his fit of anger, he stood over her, watching. Emma reached for the little box and the ring that had fallen out of it by bending over and leaning under her desk. Just at that moment an explosion rocked the room. There wasn’t time to think, not even to wonder what Bart had done now.
Emma felt it singe her arms and legs even as the ring slipped over the tip of her finger. She and the desk went flying back; she felt it hit her several times as heat poured into the room with her. Screams filled the air…not just hers, but her brother’s as well. Then everything went black.
Wake up. She felt rather than heard someone telling her to wake. The pain over her body told her that she’d be better off just letting things fade out again, but the voice in her head…it felt like it told her again to wake up.
“I hurt.” The voice, calmer now, told her that she’d be better if she got up and moved. “I don’t think so. I think I’m broken.”
You are not broken. Not too badly, that is. Come on now, get out of this place before the others come to find you. She had no idea why that would be a bad thing when the voice spoke again. Should they find you, then all will be lost. Come on now, Emma, you must get moving. Moving will be good for us both. No one must find you here with me.
“Both? Who is here with me? Hello?” No answer. But then she thought there shouldn’t be because as far as she knew, there was only one of her. Giggling hurt a little, so she tried to tell herself that she really did need to move.
Every time she moved something off her, there seemed to be tons more atop her. Wood and bricks. Glass surrounded her, and it seemed to be in her as well. The desk, she knew, had more than likely saved her life. Had she been sitting at it instead of nearly under it, she would have been killed. She did pause a moment to wonder if Bart had made it, but found that she really didn’t care. Bart was on his own for now.
The debris was thick around her too. Papers were everywhere, most of them still smoldering. The chair that she’d been in was a broken mess imbedded in the wall above her head.
Once she cleared herself of what she could to move, Emma could see the street beyond. Whatever had blown up had taken out the five floors above her sublevel work station. Gingerly, she made her way to the opening, only to be stopped by the voice again
No, no, not that way. Go to the back of the ruin. I’ll guide you. She turned then, not even sure why she was listening to the voice instead of common sense, but she was hurting too badly to argue with herself right now. There were people out there in front of her. She had no idea what she’d find behind her. But she made her way out the way the voice told her.
It seemed to take her too long to get out. Falling twice, she bumped her head again and had to lay there for a long time to let the dizziness stop. Emma was sick too, her belly not liking the way her vision kept going in and out all the time. And she knew that the long gash in her leg wasn’t good. The blood pouring from it was thick with dirt.
As soon as she was out of the building, she lay back against the one across from it and looked at where she’d been. There was no way she should have survived that, and she was sure that anyone else in the building hadn’t. Emma wondered who besides her brother and her were there, if anyone. And again, she wondered how the hell she had survived.
The building had been one of the oldest downtown. At five stories, it had once been the home to a textile company that had gone under in the twenties. Her father had acquired the building, along with several more, a few years ago, and had taken this one to use as an office of sorts. It was a front, like most of her father’s businesses, Bart had told her.
Emma didn’t know. Her brother never put her dad in the best picture when he talked about him. He was ruthless, a murderer, and even a thug when necessary. If he was as Bart said, he had changed a great deal since her mother had died a few years back.
The building now looked like it had never been there. A deep hole—a crater, she figured it would be called—was where it had once been. Nothing had survived on either side of it either. The two buildings that were used as storage units for whatever her father had acquired were leveled. Even the one across from the building had suffered some major damage. Emma watched as the first firetruck pulled up in front of the mess.
Your father is dead, I’m afraid. She nodded at the voice, then regretted that immediately. Your brother is alive, but he is badly burned. He and another man, his bodyguard, will be pulled from the wreckage soon, but they will not mention you are here. But they will come for you now. The others will come.
“Who will? Why?” The voice told her that it was because of him. “Him who? I don’t know anyone. I don’t date, I’m not allowed. I don’t even know why I have this voice talking to me. Do you? Am I…I don’t know, am I dead too?”
You are not dead, Emma, but they come for me. And the rest of us now that I’m awake. There will be more coming now that I’ve been found. She stood up then, determined to go and see if someone could patch her up. You do and they’ll kill you where you stand.
“Why? What did I do? This was…it was more than likely a gas explosion.” The voice told her she knew better. “No, I don’t. I don’t know a damned thing. For all I know, I could be lying there dead in that thing and this is all a dream.”
I’m not a dream, Emma Gentry. I am part of the dragon in the ring. Emma stopped moving and looked down at her hand. There it was, the ring. Just on the tip of her finger. When you slipped it upon your finger, I knew then that you were the one to carry me. The one that would take me to my owner. You will, won’t you? Take me home to the one that awaits me? The rest of me will follow now that I have found you.
“No. In the event you didn’t notice, I’m out of work, no money, and I don’t even know what is wrong with me that I can hear you talking to me. I’m hurting, injured, and you won’t let me go and find someone to fix me up.” He told her that she was the one, and that he would see that she had such riches if she did this for him. “The one what? I’m just a woman trying to get along in this world my family brought me into. Can’t you just leave me alone? Please?”
I can keep you safe. And if you promise to take me to my owner, I will help you in ways that you will need. I will, as I have said, make you a queen that will never have to worry for money again. I am but a part of the whole. A dragon that must be brought together with the other pieces of my set. Emma just wanted to take a nap. Forever. No, you will need to keep moving. The man that your brother stole me from, he will come for you because of the ring. He will want you dead because of the ring.
“Why?” He didn’t answer her and she realized that she’d been asking that a lot to the unknown. “Fine. I’m going to do this for you, but you’re going to have to do something for me. I want you to not do a damned thing for me unless it’s to guide me. I
know better than most that nothing in this world comes without consequences. So tell me where to go and nothing else.”
Nothing? She told him again that she didn’t want to owe him anything when this was done. All right. But I think that you will come to regret that soon enough.
She already did. Moving in the direction that he told her, she felt like she’d broken more bones than she knew she had. While he told her that she needed to go north, Emma told him that she needed to go to her home. There she’d get cleaned up and retrieve the last of her funds. She had no idea where she was going, but wherever it was, it wasn’t going to be a free ride. Emma thought that whoever was coming for her would think she was dead long enough for her to get out of her apartment to rid herself of the voice.
Emma knew on some level that the voice was her own. There simply wasn’t any way for her to be talking to the dragon of the ring. She wanted out and this was her subconscious getting her there. So what if the world thought her dead? She was fine with that as well. Emma Gentry was dead as far as she was concerned too, and she’d have to come up with a name that would work. As she showered and changed, cleaning up as much of the wounds on her body that she could, Emma thought of what her life would be now.
“Anything I want.” She smiled at herself and winced. The cuts on her face made even doing the simplest things hard. She did worry over the wound in her leg, but at least it was clean, and the bleeding had stopped as well…for now. As she moved out of her home, she looked around. There was nothing there, not one thing she would miss. This Emma was dead.
“Twenty-four dead and several dozen more injured in the blast that is still under investigation. There was some talk of gas leaks, but that was ruled out when it was said that the building called Shipley Textile was the epicenter of the explosion, and there were no gas lines to that building.”
Baldwin Franks wanted to throw something at the television but refrained. He was a man that prided himself on control. But the newsperson was not giving him the answers that he craved. He wanted to know if Bartholomew Gentry and his son had survived, not the dozens of nameless fucks that meant nothing to him. When the news anchor paused, pushing her finger to her ear, he wanted to scream at her that no one believed that she was listening to a fucking thing, but then she turned to the scene behind her.
“There is news just in that Mr. Bart Gentry, Junior has been pulled from the wreckage, along with another man by the name of Whitaker. That is all that we know right now. Mr. Gentry is the son of Bartholomew Gentry, Senior, a man who owned a great many of the buildings in the downtown area. Mr. Gentry and his son have been under a great deal of scrutiny for the last several years, starting with the death of the senior Mr. Gentry’s wife, Anderson Franks Gentry, some years ago. Mr. Gentry, Senior’s body, along with five more, was pulled from the building about an hour ago, I’m told.”
Baldwin leaned back in his chair as the anchor continued about the things she had little to no real information about. Gentry Senior was dead. Baldwin thought that they both should have been dead, but was sure that the man who’d survived, a man he’d come to hate more than anything, would land on his feet. Or in this case, flat on his back. The sooner the entire family was dead, the happier he’d be. They’d killed his little girl.
He looked over at his man, Steward Jefferies, and told him to get someone on it. Steward’s phone rang before he could answer Baldwin.
As the other man listened to his call, Baldwin thought of all the ways he’d wanted to make both Gentry men suffer. There had been times when he’d had Bart in his sights, but something would always come up. This time he knew he’d taken drastic measures, but the man was just where he wanted him. It was way past time to kill Bart, and he was going to be the one to do it, even if he had to do it in front of a bunch of cops.
When Steward hung up, he looked pale as he leaned back in his chair. Baldwin was almost afraid to ask him what it was, but wasn’t going to seem as if he cared. He not only was in control of things around him, he also never gave the appearance of caring much about it.
“Apparently Emma Gentry isn’t dead, as we’d been told, and was in the building when it blew.” Baldwin nearly screamed out his frustrations. Would this family never fucking end? “So far they’ve not found a trace of her in the number of dead, and she’s not on the injury list, either, that they can find. I don’t…someone saw her climbing out of the sublevel of the basement just as the police arrived. I have a man on it.”
“How do you know it was my granddaughter and not some rat climbing out of her hole after a night of fucking whatever had a dick?” Steward stood up and went to his briefcase. Pulling out the file that was on top, he handed it to him. “What is this?”
“I told you several days ago that there was rumor that Emma was alive and hiding out somewhere. We could never confirm nor deny that information, so you told me to keep on it. I had someone follow her and she lives…lived in a poor neighborhood that catered more to the people that her father worked with than his type of wealth. There wasn’t any reason to believe that she was this person, due to her living conditions, and I nearly tossed it away as just that, rumors. But then we got a picture of her just this morning. I forgot until just this minute that I had it.” Baldwin looked at the picture and felt his heart twist up in his chest. “They have some of her DNA that I’m running, but so far I’ve not heard back. But the girl in this picture looks like your daughter Anderson, doesn’t she? I don’t know why she’s been hiding out the way she has, but I intend to find out.”
“Yes.” Baldwin looked at the blurred picture of the woman. Even with the poor quality of the picture, he knew that it was her. “Call them up, rush it. I want to know now.”
He looked at Steward when he said nothing. There was more, he just knew it, and when he got the information, his well-controlled temper was going to detonate. He told him to tell him.
“The ring was in the building.” The fucking ring. The motherfucking ring was there and not where it was supposed to be. Which was with him. “Bart, the younger, took it from the courier this morning. Killed him and three other men while they were en route to us. He took not just the ring, which was the most valuable piece, but he also took the money they were bringing here. I’m guessing that it, as well as the cash, was in the building when it went up. I’m going to have his home searched, of course, but I’d not hold out much hope. The kid, for all his stupidity, seemed to know just when to lay low.”
“Why wasn’t I told about this before now?” Steward told him that he’d only just found out too. “And how do we know that it’s him? And not some random fuck that is going to die too?”
“He left you a note. Well, not you, but the person he was robbing.” Baldwin asked him what it said. “It says thank you for the money, that he really did appreciate it, and that when you sent some more this way for him, to make sure that you made the pick-up easier, as in boxes and not suitcases.”
Baldwin was happy to know that Bart had no idea what he’d found in the ring. Few ever would, and when he had all the pieces, he’d be the wealthiest and the strongest man in the world. He had only to find all six pieces to make that happen.
The legend, one as old as the earth, had fallen in his lap some time ago and he’d been searching for the pieces since. He and two other people, enemies of his, were the only ones that had an inkling as to what the jewels were really for.
“Kill him.” Steward nodded and asked about the girl. “Her too. If she is Gentry’s daughter, then she’s just as guilty for killing my daughter as the rest of them.” No witnesses were the only way to ensure that he got what he wanted in this.
It hurt him to say that, almost as much as it had when he’d been told that his lovely little girl, Anderson, had been killed when they’d thought she was her husband in the car. But the entire family needed to be purged from the earth, and if he had to murder his own flesh and blood to do so, then he would. When Steward left him, Baldwin picked up the picture again and looked at it. It was as if he were looking at his little girl again before she’d been pulled into the life of crime with her husband.
Anderson had been…well, willful didn’t begin to cover what his little girl had been. She had a mind of her own, and damn the person that had any other opinion than hers. Even he had butted heads with her from time to time, and had, in the end, decided that it was easier to give in than to fight with her. That was how she’d ended up married to his worst enemy. Bartholomew had been a thorn in his side then, and had been placed on his list of ones who needed to die when his daughter had called him from the accident she’d been in that night so long ago.
“Someone hit me. I think…I’m hurt badly.” He asked her who’d done it, his mind not fully awake when the call had come to his home in the middle of the night. “Bartholomew. Help me. I don’t know yet what’s going on, but I don’t want to die.”
Baldwin could hear the sirens then, the men coming to rescue his little girl, knowing that it was going to be too late for her. She told him that she was sorry that she
couldn’t hang on for him. Then the line had gone dead; his little girl was gone from him forever.