… The King of Hades has decreed
Tomorrow I shall be his slave.
Gray walked down the elaborate hallway to Craiter’s office wondering what he could say to make the situation sound less dire than it was. He wore the uniform of his prior occupation: comfortable black slacks and long sleeved black tee shirt. Both articles of clothing molded closely to his trim form. Sleek muscles flowed beneath soft cotton.
Outside the office, he still hadn’t come up with anything to explain the loss of the second stone. He paused with hand on the doorknob, to look into the menacing face of one of the stone gargoyles that guarded the engraved entrance. “Damn, you’re ugly,” Gray said. He couldn’t understand why his temporary host wanted to surround himself with such horrors. He had always done his best to surround himself with beautiful things: cars, paintings, women. Mostly wealthy. Some weren’t physically attractive, but it was amazing what money could do for a woman’s looks.
Gray took a deep breath in through his nose and opened the door; he was quick on his feet and there was reason he couldn’t come up with something on the spot. Yes, he was ready to face this. He entered the opulent room called the “home office”. It was a misnomer as he had never seen Craiter leave this house. Craiter waved him in, but Gray entered cautiously as he wanted the maximum amount of time to flee if his life was in danger. He needn’t have worried because Craiter wasn’t in the mood to punish. He was in the mood to talk.
“The stories about the stone are true, Gray. They are dangerous.”
Gray remained silent, although his professional interest was piqued.
“I saw them for the first time thirty years ago. The black market for jewels, as you know, can make you rich overnight. The old shopkeep knew why I was looking at them and told me I would feel the wrath of the stones if I tried to use them for evil. ‘They will get their revenge,’ he said. I just laughed and left. Later I sent one of my guys to steal them.” The older man shook his head at the memory. “The kid came in with the stones in a bag. I wanted to be sure he didn’t pull any switcheroo on me, so I made him wait while I examined the stones with a jeweler’s lens.”
Craiter stood and came around the desk to stand in front of Gray. “It was the third stone that did it. The third one did this to me.” He pointed at the eye bulging from its socket. The flesh around it was seared smooth as though it had been burned and healed too tightly. It was impossible to determine the color of the iris; it quivered and pulsed and it drained constantly, making him a disfigured Pagliacci.
Gray suppressed a shudder as Craiter continued. “I’d tossed aside the first two stones as worthless. I cursed them for wasting my time. The third stone felt warm in my hand. A golden thread ran though it that I hadn’t noticed in the others. When I held it up for closer inspection, the brightest light I’d ever seen pierced my eye; I was frozen. No more than a moment passed, but I nearly collapsed from the pain.”
He leaned closer to Gray, eye to horrible eye. The stench of death leaked from the trail of tears that ran down his cavernous cheek. “I will have those stones. Find the missing two or you never leave this island.”
Gray made sure to keep his face and voice expressionless. Of course, he knew that another stone was gone. How could he have thought he was breaking the news? There were times he wished he could just kill Craiter and leave this indentured servitude. But Craiter alone held the secrets to leaving this place. There were no boats or planes that he’d seen in his years here. No cellular phone service. He tried to bring up a logical reason for leaving, at least temporarily. “We have to leave the island if we are going to search for the girl.”
“No!” Craiter spun on him. The eye vibrated now, its putrid liquid hitting Gray’s smoothly shaven cheek. “You will not leave here until I release you. The girl will be back. She can’t stay away. Find out how she’s getting in and stop her. Don’t tell me the Graymalkin can’t figure out how to break into a house.”
This wasn’t a house. It was a fortress. He was the best cat burglar the east coast had ever seen. That is, until he messed up and trusted someone he shouldn’t have. A woman he shouldn’t have. Never mind that now, he had to come up with a way to save the Collection and save his neck. He shook his head. There way no way he was a match for her fighting skills. But perhaps…
“So what are we supposed to do now?” Jahlil was frowning, not pleased with the idea of a trap. He wanted to confront “the female” head on.
“We’re no match for her weapons, but maybe we can disarm her. Make sure you carry plastic guns from now on. When she gets into the room, we won’t have a lot of time before this wall magnetizes. Once it does, rush her and subdue her.” Gray admitted it wasn’t the most elaborate plan, but he was used to seducing women, not fighting them.
Blackjack purred, “Ummm. Subdue her. I like that.”
“Don’t hurt her.” Gray gave his words their full weight.
“Hurts so good. C’mon baby, make it hurt so good.” Blackjack sang the lyrics off key and punctuated each word with a pelvic thrust.
Gray ignored him. “Any questions, Teddy?”
Teddy blinked twice before asking, “Uh… what’s Craiter gonna do with her?”
“I don’t know.” He turned away from the enormous man’s guileless eyes before he could notice the truth. She wouldn’t survive the night.