Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. September Interviews 9/1 Carol Perry 9/8 Nupur Tustin 9/15 Maggie Pill 9/22 Veronica Bond 9/29 Rhys Bowen Guest Blogs 9/18 Mark Leichliter -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, December 29, 2013

At Midnight

09:40 p.m.
Sneaking into her sister’s hotel room and searching for stolen jewelry was not how Valencia Lancaster had planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Val turned her head left then right to make sure she was alone in the hallway. She inserted the keycard she had swiped from Sienna’s purse into the slot and heard a click. As she slowly turned the door knob, Val noticed that her hands were still dry from the winter weather. With grim humor, she thought that the night began innocently enough when she borrowed a jar of hand cream from her sister’s purse. What she found inside the jar, had changed everything.

Val held her breath and quickly entered the room. She exhaled and leaned against the closed door. Sienna would kill her for this. Val pulled a flashlight from her purse and pressed the button. She didn’t want to turn on the overhead light in case Sienna, who was at the New Year’s Eve party in the interior hotel courtyard, would see her room illuminated.

She pawed through neatly folded clothes and eyed a cute camisole in her favorite color. Better leave it. Regretfully, she closed the drawers then searched the bathroom and closet. Nothing. Both suitcases were empty too. Her hunch that the rest of the stolen jewelry was in Sienna’s room was either wrong or she had overlooked a hiding place.

Perhaps she was just jealous of Sienna’s quick rise in the family jewelry business. Val thoughtfully nibbled her lower lip as she sat on the bed. Did she secretly hope that her sister was guilty? Yes, maybe…no. Admittedly, she had been hurt that her father was grooming her sister for the CEO position. Plus, Sienna had begun relying heavily on her new assistant, Gemma, relegating Val to outsider. Hurt feelings aside, she knew something was very wrong. That something could damage her family and their business.

She stood up, turned toward the door, and stubbed her toe against an object. Val clenched her hand into a fist, trying not to cry out. Moving the flashlight to examine her foot and the open toed, black Ferragamos she had borrowed from Sienna, her light shone on the offending object she’d tripped over. A backpack? She knelt on the carpet and pulled it completely out from under the bed, unzipped and folded back the cover. Val frowned as she saw a large battery operated drill and several drill bits. Odd.

A sudden loud knock at the door followed by a gruff voice, froze her. “Anyone there?”

Immobilized by the ache in her knees from kneeling, she listened. Beads of sweat formed under her Christian Dior dress.

Val heard the familiar click of the door being unlocked. Hastily she shoved the backpack under the bed and dove behind an arm chair. From her vantage point she saw the outline of a man with a flashlight reach under the bed and pull out the backpack. He picked it up and left.

There was silence except for the sound of Val’s teeth chattering like clinking castanets.
10:05 p.m.
Val limped into the hotel’s glass atrium lobby. Her toe still throbbed from ramming it against the backpack. She paused to watch the crowd enjoy the party in the magnificently decorated room. It was a beautiful sight; imitation snow fell slowly from the sixty foot high ceiling onto a Christmas tree. Lights from the harbor twinkled through the floor to ceiling windows. The band played their rendition of the Seals & Crofts song, “Diamond Girl”. Sienna knew how to throw a New Year’s Eve bash.

“Good evening. I believe you’re Sienna’s sister, Valentine?” A well-dressed dark haired man looking like he belonged in a fairy tale walked up to Val.

She went weak at the knees. “Yes, I’m Sienna’s sister. My name is Valencia.”

“Charmed. I’d kiss your hand but...” He shrugged, and Val saw he held a glass of champagne in either hand.

“I’m at a disadvantage since I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Pardon me. I’m Alexsandr Cerovic, Gemma’s significant other. Shall we join them?”

Val nodded, then sagged. This incredible man was dating Gemma? Life really was unfair. Alex led the way as they walked past happy partygoers, heading toward Sienna and Gemma who stood with a group of people.

“Victoria, have you seen the ice sculptures?” Alexsandr nodded his head toward a door with a short line of people outside.

"Va-len-cia. I haven’t had a chance to walk through the exhibit. Too busy with the jewelry show and the aftermath.”

Alexsandr looked at her. “Sorry to hear about the theft. That must have been a blow to your business. So many pieces of white glass, I mean diamonds, were stolen including the Derouin Diamond.”

Val nodded and frowned when she thought of last week’s unsolved theft including the famous pink Derouin Diamond set in a ring, worth a cool half million dollars. Captivated by the famous ring, she’d even purchased a replica. The news media referred to the gang of professional diamond thieves as the Pink Panthers after the Peter Sellers comedy movies. But, according to detectives, they weren’t a joke since they had already stolen about half a billion dollars’ worth of jewelry and committed five hundred robberies. Val sighed. She wished her father had stayed in town, but he left after the detectives concluded the thieves were in another country and the jewelry permanently gone.

Alexsandr pursed his lips. “It was clever of the Panthers to put a ‘wet paint’ sign on the bench so nobody would sit on it and witness the robbers leaving. I heard the police don’t have any leads on the jewels or thieves although it’s rumored that they lost the ring.” He gazed intently at her. “Do you know anything about that?”

Val felt a sudden chill. She hugged herself and rubbed her arms with her hands. Probably delayed nerves from sneaking into her sister’s room and almost getting caught by an unknown man.

A “thwack”, hit near her eye then tickled as it retracted. She jumped.

“Tharpy New Thear!” A drunken man stumbled off, blowing his pink-feathered noisemaker.

Idiot. This night couldn’t end soon enough.

Alexsandr shook his head. “How bourgeois.”

Val easily spotted the back of Sienna’s floor length dress. It was an elegant Zhang Zhifeng haute couture contemporary version of a traditional Chinese dress made from red silk with applique flowers scattered across it. While Val preferred wearing a simple black dress, Sienna liked elaborate clothing.

Alexsandr said, “Look who I found on my way back with drinks. Valarie.” He handed Gemma then
Sienna a glass of champagne.

Val didn’t bother to correct him and elbowed her way into the tight knot of admirers surrounding her sister. Most people ignored her, only referring to her as Sienna’s sister.

Sienna grabbed Val’s arm and pulled her close. “Where the hell have you been?” she hissed. “Where’s my purse you took without asking? I noticed you’re wearing my shoes.”

Val shook her arm from Sienna’s grasp. She smacked her sister’s rhinestone clutch into her arms. “I borrowed the jar of lotion from your purse. I’ll give it back later.” She watched to see if Sienna showed signs of being scared or panicked.

“Fine.” Val noticed that Sienna looked upward as if asking the heavens for patience to deal with her annoying sister then clasped her purse to her side. But she didn’t seem nervous.

“That cream is expensive.” Gemma folded her arms across her body. “You’d be wise to return the jar.”

Sienna raised her hand. “It’s okay, Gemma.”

Val reached into her own purse and took out the cream. She started to hand the jar to Sienna but Gemma intercepted it.

“I’ll put it in your room, Sienna, since I still have your second key card.” She tucked the jar into her satchel.

Alexsandr raised his eyebrows and gave Gemma a long, considering look.

Val needed air and began walking away. Sienna turned toward her. “Don’t you dare leave the party, Valencia Lancaster. You’re never there when I need you.” She turned back.

10:30 p.m.
Val stood on the patio next to a bench, the outside entrance to the now cancelled jewelry show behind her. White lights twinkled on trees surrounding the peaceful harbor. Decorated boats, moored to the wharf, gently rocked on the water. It looked magical.

To her left she saw Alexsandr and Gemma walk on the dock and stop under a light. A large man stepped off a nearby speedboat and met the pair. He looked like the man who had been in her sister’s room! Her intuition on high alert, Val stood in a half crouch behind a planter so she could see the trio without calling attention to herself.

As snippets of their conversation drifted close, she heard Gemma mention white glass. Wasn’t that the expression Alexsandr had used to refer to diamonds? Other words didn’t make sense like birdwatcher, violin, and lizard. But it sounded like their plan was to take the speedboat to an airstrip then fly to Montenegro.

The boat captain handed Alexsandr a backpack. Then he gave Gemma a small rectangular card. Was that the extra keycard to Sienna’s room that Gemma had mentioned? A cold chill slid down Val’s spine. She bet these three were the jewel thieves and they were using her sister’s room to hide incriminating evidence. How dare they set up Sienna and rob her family.

10:45 p.m.
Alexsandr and Gemma left the harbor area. Val followed. If she was correct, they would lead her to the stolen jewelry. They walked through the lobby and into the ice sculpture exhibit entrance. She waited, then walked in the anteroom containing warm clothing for guests. Grabbing a thermal jacket and pants Val threw them over her clothes then kicked off her shoes and pulled on a pair of boots. She slipped on heavy gloves.

Ready for the bracing nine-degree cold, Val opened the door and entered. As the door swung shut, the clamor from the party ceased. Most people viewed the sculptures during the day so the exhibit was deserted. The beautiful and whimsical sculptures glistened under bright lights like shiny jewels.

Val followed the carpeted path winding its way through the sculptures and saw Alexsandr and Gemma walk into a room containing ice sculptures depicting New York City. They stopped in front of a large red apple obviously meant to represent the Big Apple.

Alexsandr shrugged off the backpack and set it down. He pulled out the drill and began boring into the apple around the crystal clear ice stem. Val gasped and threw her gloved hands over her mouth. Small pieces of ice flew out shimmering in the light. He stopped and removed the stem. Gemma reached in the hole, pulled out a clear bag, and set it on the ground.

To get a closer look, Val crawled on the carpeted floor and up—onto a taxi bench inside an oversized ice taxi used for photos. She lay down out of view, but where she could still peek out of the doorless taxi. It looked like loose diamonds in the bag. They must have taken the diamonds out of the settings before hiding them. According to the news, the gang’s usual modus operandi was to immediately take a motorboat and get away after a theft, but apparently they had altered the plan.

11:10 p.m.
Sienna! What was she doing here? She watched as her sister slowly stepped out from behind a
reindeer made from ice and bumped into a snowman sculpture. Her elbow hit his carrot nose. It fell off and shattered on the ground. The jewelry thieves turned around.

“You,” Gemma yelled at Sienna. “Give me the Derouin diamond ring. I know you have it. It wasn’t in your hand cream where I hid it.”

Alexsandr started. “Gemma, you took the ring? You double crossed me! You’re the reason we didn’t leave on time. You’re dead.” He threw the apple stem on the ground which splintered.

His fairytale shine disappeared. He turned into a thug.

“Sorry, darling. You’re not as clever as you think.” Gemma continued advancing on Sienna.

“I don’t have your ring.” Sienna backed up further, holding her hands in a defensive position in front of her face.

“Liar.” Gemma pushed her.

Sienna hit a sculpture, twisted, and fell to the ground clutching her ankle.

Frozen with fear, Val couldn’t move, but Sienna was in danger. She had to act. With an inner strength she hadn’t known she possessed, Val sat up. “Gemma. Stop! Here’s the ring.” She flung it out of the taxi. It pinged off the Empire State Building sculpture and rolled across the ground. Gemma leapt after the ring, grabbed it, and ran toward the exit.

Charging toward Val like an angry bull, Alexsandr spit out, “You’ve ruined everything. You will pay.”

Val slid out of the taxi, scooped up the bag of diamonds from the floor, and bolted up a nearby ramp. At the top she hesitated realizing she was on the second floor with an ice slide the only way down.

Taking advantage of her pause, Alexsandr caught up to her. He grabbed her right arm twisting it backward. “Give me the diamonds.”

“Take them.” With her left arm she hit him in the face with the diamond bag. He winced and let go of her but grabbed the bag kicking Val behind her knees. She fell backward onto the ice slide, hurtled to the bottom, and landed in a heap.

Alexsandr held up the bag and waved it. “I won.”

Over-exuberant, his foot slipped on the ice. Lurching and swaying to maintain balance, he dropped the bag. It opened upon impact and diamonds spilled out, rolling and plinking down the slide. As he
reached down to collect them, Alexsandr slid on loose diamonds. He fell face down, hitting the ice with a “crunch”. His still body started to slide down the icy chute.

Val somersaulted to her feet to get out of the way.
Alexsandr came to a stop at the bottom, diamonds continuing to roll around him.

Val holding onto an ice wall for support yelled at his body, “My name is Valencia. V-a-l-e-n-c-i-a. Don’t forget it.”

11:45 p.m.
Val walked back to the atrium lobby, Sienna leaning heavily against her. She told security about Alexsandr and Gemma and instructed them to call the police. Then she helped Sienna to a chair and propped her foot up on another chair.

Sienna said, “I can’t believe we made it out alive. I went looking for Gemma because I needed help with my speech and saw the three of you go into the ice sculpture exhibit. I just wish Gemma hadn’t gotten away with the ring.”

Val smiled. “She didn’t.” Taking her glove off, she twisted a ring on her finger. This is the real Derouin. I threw her my replica. If she’s lucky, she’ll get ten dollars.”

Turning serious Val said, “You need to see a doctor for your ankle, Sienna.”

“Not until after the opening speech.”

“You can’t stand and give a speech in that condition.”

“I know, Val, but you can.”

Val snapped her mouth shut. “I’d rather die than give a speech. I…I can’t.”

“If you can save us from a notorious group of jewel thieves, you can give a speech. I have faith in you. Look, Val, I do things even though I’m scared. Most days I feel like a fraud trying to run a business—a cubic zirconia among diamonds.” Sienna patted her arm. “Go.”

11:55 p.m.
Valencia walked onto the stage nervously fingering the speech that Sienna wrote. A spotlight shone in her eyes momentarily blinding her. The music stopped although the chatter continued. She felt everyone looking at her and couldn’t decide whether to faint or throw-up. Sienna nodded and smiled encouragingly.

With lowered head and in a quiet voice Valencia began reading from Sienna’s speech. “Welcome…” She paused and gulped.

Someone yelled, “Louder.”

The chatter grew as people became restless. Val straightened, then dropped the speech to the ground.

Gaze fixed on the audience, she said, “The New Year is a time for new beginnings so I’ll start again. My name is Valencia Lancaster. My sister, Sienna, and I are happy and honored you are with us tonight to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the grand opening of our East Coast headquarters.”

She paused until the clapping died down.

“Some moments are life changing. Tonight was one of those moments for me. A few hours ago I never would have been brave enough to speak in front of a large crowd. So, face your fears that hold you back. If I can, you can. Let’s celebrate this year of new beginnings together. Everyone ready?”

A small diamond ball began to slide down a pole.

Val pointed to the crowd. “You know what to do. 10, 9, 8…3, 2, 1.”

At Midnight
“Happy New Year!”

The crowd went wild with noisemakers. Through the floor to ceiling windows, Val saw fireworks explode outside in the harbor, lighting up the night sky. Sienna gave her a thumbs up. Valencia grinned and felt like a million bucks.

Disclaimer: While there is a group of professional diamond thieves referred to as the Pink Panthers, the characters and situation in this story are fictional.

Photo of boats in the harbor courtesy of Christopher Martin.

Thank you to my niece for playing the part of Valencia Lancaster.


E. B. Davis said...

Fun story, Kara. I loved the ice sculptures and the relationship of the sisters and how it changes. Good crime story for the New Year! Thanks for the read.

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you, E.B. I enjoyed seeing the ice sculptures and setting part of the story in the exhibit. Talented artists from the "ice city" of Harbin, China carved them for the Gaylord Hotel at the National Harbor.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Wonderful story, Kara. I love starting the new year with a jewelry heist suspense story. The pictures are terrific and your niece looks like a natural. I hope you'll be writing more stories about these interesting characters.

Kara Cerise said...

Paula, I hadn't considered writing more stories about these characters. But, I think issues (drama) between sisters can easily lead to story ideas.

I'm glad some pictures of the ice sculptures turned out. It was nine degrees inside the tent and the cameras kept freezing up.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, I loved the plot and the characters especially the interaction between the sisters. Someday, I'd like to see the ice sculptures, too. I agree with Paula that you should consider writing more stories with your characters.

Shari Randall said...

What a fun story! Thank you, Kara! Happy new year!

Kara Cerise said...

Thank you, Gloria. I'd enjoy writing more stories about Valencia and Sienna.

The sculptures were beautiful. I enjoyed the multi-colored ice sculptures but my favorites--the Empire State Building, the nativity scene, and the ice tunnel--were made from clear ice.

Kara Cerise said...

Happy New Year, Shari! Here's to a productive and successful year of writing in 2014. Cheers.

Gloria Alden said...

I hope you do, Kara. They are good characters. Happy New Year to you, too, and all the Writers Who Kill.