Kent Howard dropped from the fire escape ladder. He landed with flexed knees and turned. Walking to the opening, he pinched his nose shut as he passed the fly-ridden dumpster. A shiny object grabbed his eyes on the ground, next to the China Panda restaurant’s back door. Bending over, he snatched it off the wet pavement. Rubbing it on his worn jeans, he brought it closer to his face for inspection.
It was a silver-colored ring. The setting carried a round orange stone the size of a fingernail. “I need to get to Mick’s and get this pawned. Get Vince off my back about the bet I made. Maybe get extra and give it to Sandra for the kid.” The hole looked bigger than any of his fingers, so he slipped it on his right thumb and spun it. After the first complete revolution, it stopped with the jewel on top. The ring shrank in size and latched to Kent’s thumb.
“What the fuck?” Kent gripped the ring and pulled. It didn’t budge. “Shit. How’m I supposed to pawn it now?” He looked around for anything to help, but this was an alley between apartment buildings and stores. Anything useful here was in a dumpster or had a price tag. “I’ll get something later. Maybe some ice or cold water at the fountain in the park.”
Kent continued on his path but kept his thumb tucked into his fist. Outside of the alley, he turned and walked towards the bus stop. Glancing down the street, he saw the twenty-four was slowing down to stop. Picking up his pace, Kent reached the sign as the bus halted and opened its doors. He slid his pass through the magnetic reader and it beeped once. Shuffling through the aisle, he sat in the first empty seat facing forward.
The bus rolled through the city, stopping at every other block. Kent randomly tugged on the ring, it didn’t budge. Stealing glances at the people around him, he licked the ring. His tongue deposited a good coating of saliva on his thumb and the smooth metal of the ring. Using his t-shirt, he wrapped it around the ring and pulled. Nothing happened. “Shit!” He looked at the person next to him. Her head nodded and swayed with the bus and her eyes were closed.
“Downtown,” the electronic voice said over the speakers inside the bus. Kent reached up and touched the bell strip, signaling the driver to pull over at the next stop. When it did, Kent hustled off the bus.
Making his way to the intersection, Kent crossed with the crowd and headed into the large park. He worked his way through the morning runners and cyclists. Following the sidewalk, Kent stopped at the large fountain. Glancing around, he stuck his hand in the water at the base. It was cool on the surface and colder as he reached down putting his elbow into the water. He kept his eyes scanning around and waited. “That should do it.” In a smooth motion, Kent pulled his arm up, dried his hand on his shirt, and tugged on the ring. Still nothing. “Dammit!”
Rolling his hand over, Kent looked at the underside of the ring. “Hmmm..Perhaps I could cut it.” He sat on the basin of the fountain and thought about who would have the tools to do it. “Nope. I don’t know anyone that could cut this without cutting me or breaking the ring. Plus, how would I sell it?”
Kent stood from the fountain and traced through the park. On the far side, he stood near a bus stop in front of an outside restaurant. A television aired the afternoon news. “With the high-tech robberies that have been happening most of the morning, people are wondering where is Topaz.” Kent turned and watched the broadcast. “As you can see, the heavily armored robbers walked away from the small branch with the ATM tossed over their shoulder.” The footage shows large figures pull an ATM from a wall in a shower of sparks. One figure hefted the device up on its shoulders and walk, then run, from the scene. The video is replaced with an image of Topaz in his costume. “It is speculated that Topaz is on a mission, either in another country or possibly off-world.”
“Weird,” Kent said. “Topaz is normally on top of these things.” He shrugged and stepped to the bus as it stopped. Going through the regular routine, he took a seat and rode in silence.
“Market Street,” The female sounding electronic voice said over the speakers. Kent stood and waited for the bus to stop. He peered out the large windows at the throng of people moving on the sidewalk.
“Fuck!” Kent’s mouth formed the word, but he didn’t put any voice behind it.
The bus lurched to the stop, and the doors opened. People milled out of the back door, pushing Kent with them.
“Kent,” a voice called over the bustling noises of Market Street. “Kent! Get your ass over here.” A man wearing a white t-shirt with a dark suit coat over it and jeans hooked an arm towards Kent.
Kent continued walking and moving with the flood of people off the bus.
A shrill whistle from the man and two other figures moved towards Kent. The one wearing dark glasses and a porkpie hat reached a hand out and intertwined it in the t-shirt Kent wore. With a strong yank, Kent changed direction and stood next to the man with dark glasses. His bald-headed companion stepped in behind Kent.
“Vince wants to see you.” Dark glasses flashed an oily smile and moved Kent toward the wall of a building.
Kent stumbled from the last shove and put his hands on the wall.
“What do we have here?” A thick-fingered hand clamped on the wrist of Kent’s left hand. “This isn’t your style, Kent.” A round-faced man with a gold tooth in his smile locked eyes with Kent. “You owe me two g’s and you have a pretty ring like that.”
The bump in Kent’s neck bobbed. “I just found it this morning, Vince. I promise.” He licked his lips.
Vince cocked his head. “And I suppose you were on your way to sell it.” He let Kent’s arm go. “Then you were headed my way. Like a good boy.”
“Sure, Vince.” Kent straightened and massaged his wrist. “Mick would give me top dollar for it. Let me go and I’ll be right back with your money.”
“Sure you will,” Vince said with a snort. “Street trash like you gets money in their pocket and they can’t spend it fast enough. I have a better idea. How about you give me the ring and I’ll consider your debt paid in full.”
“But it’s worth more’n what I owe you,” Kent said. The man with dark glasses laid a heavy hand on Kent’s shoulder, his fingers dug deep into Kent’s shirt and skin. A grimace flashed across Kent’s face.
“Interest.” Vince jerked his head toward the corner and turned. The man with dark glasses pushed Kent in the direction and the bald-headed thug followed behind them.
When the group reached the corner, they turned and ducked inside a back door. Bald head stayed outside and leaned against the wall.
Dark glasses shoved Kent to a chair, then pulled a knife from somewhere. Kent’s knees bent, putting him in the chair.
Vince snapped his fingers and held out a meaty hand. “Give it.”
Kent swallowed hard again. “You see,” he said with a stammer. “It’s stuck. I can’t get it off.” Holding up his right hand in a thumbs-up gesture.
Vince tilted his head and squinted at Kent. With a quick motion, he snatched Kent’s wrist in hand, making his fingertips meet. “We’ll see.” He gripped the ring and pulled. Kent hissed sharply in through his teeth. The ring didn’t budge.
“Ahhhhhhhh,” Kent shouted. “You’ll break it.”
“What exactly is your point?” Vince locked his eyes with Kent’s. “You owe me.”
“Boss,” Dark glasses said. “If you break it, it’ll swell. Then it’ll never come off.”
“Cut the metal.” Vince forced Kent’s arm to the table, palm up.
With a cracking voice, Kent looked up at Vince. “You won’t get as much for it.” His breath caught in his throat.
“I have a better idea.” Dark glasses handed his knife to Vince, handle first.
“What?” Kent’s face drained of color and he pulled back.
Vince shifted his grip and pinned Kent’s wrist to the table, leaning heavy on the arm. “Blood washes off.” Teeth showed large in Vince’s grin as he took the knife.
“No no no no,” Kent pleaded and pulled back, using the table for leverage.
Dark glasses stepped forward and put a fist across Kent’s jaw, stunning the sitting man.
Vince lined the beveled edge of the knife with the back edge of the ring. “Here goes everything,” he said with a laugh and inhaled. Pushing on the handle, Vince grunted.
And nothing happened.
“What the fuck?” Vince gritted his teeth and pushed harder. “What the hell is this?” He looked up at Dark glasses.
“I keep a sharp knife,” Dark glasses said. “Maybe you ain’t pushing hard enough.”
“It ain’t even cuttin’ him.” Vince stopped cutting and showed the bloodless, line-less thumb of Kent. “Not even a mark.”
“What?” Kent leaned over his hand and looked. His jaw slacked and his eyed widened.
“Turn it point down and stab.” Dark glasses mimed stabbing downward. Vince nodded and switched his grip and raised his knife hand above his head. Shoving it towards the table, he let out a loud noise.
“Nnnnoooooo!” Kent closed his eyes
Kent opened his eyes. His thumb was still attached. No mark showed on his thumb. Yanking his hand back to his chest, he flexed all his fingers.
“Your knife broke,” Vince said, staring at the piece of metal in his hand. “Piece of shit.” He flung the hilt and handle across the room, making it clatter to the floor.
“That’s not possible,” Dark glasses said. “That thing has been with me in the desert. It’s got a lot of blood on it.”
“I don’t care.” Vince ran his coat sleeve over his mouth. “What do we do now?”
Kent stood and moved for the door.
“No you don’t,” Vince lunged at Kent’s back, wrapped his sausage fingers into the collar of Kent’s t-shirt, and pulled.
Kent gasped and twisted around, flinging a fist back at the heavy man holding him. A dark orange glow covered his fist as it connected with Vince’s jaw. Vince’s form lifted from the ground and slammed into the brick wall. Listing to one side, the heavy body slid to the floor and didn’t move.
“Holy shit,” Dark glasses said and moved in on Kent.
Turning, Kent aimed at the slim figure of the thug. His glow covered knuckles connected with the bridge of the Dark glasses nose. In one strike he broke both the plastic shades and the cartilage of the nose. Dark glasses bounced on the floor and stayed where he lay.
Kent rushed the door as the bald-headed thug opened it. Without stopping, Kent pushed the man back, sending him sprawling to the pavement. Kent ran until he reached the main walkway. He dived into the nearest bus and scrambled for a seat.
During the ride, Kent kept looking at his ring. The glow stopped as soon as he sat in the hard plastic seat. He shook his hand several times, all to no avail.
When the bus exited the market district, Kent got off at the next stop. He transferred to another route and worked his way back to his apartment.
As he stepped off the bus, he saw a dark-skinned man with an athletic build lurking at the mouth of the alley. “Crap.” Kent kept his eyes on the ground and moved into the alley.
“Excuse me,” the athletic man said. “Do you live around here?”
Kent kept walking.
“Look,” the man said. “I’m not a cop. I’m looking for something. It’s important to no one but me. I’ll even pay you for it.” The man held out a roll of bills. Kent stopped and looked at the wad of money.
“What are you looking for?” Kent lifted his eyes to the face of the man.
“It’s a ring. Been in my family for years.”