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Lady Scarlet Silvestre Diamond marched down the dark hallway of the second floor eastern wing of the mansion, a woman on a mission. Far from being upset, as the tears running from her green eyes down to her nightshirt suggested, she was in a rage that she never knew possible. Each breath was deep but slow as she made her way to the staircase, her eyes holding steady focus through the rustled red hair that flowed free of its usual braid. Anyone who knew Lady Diamond, either in the boardroom or at the many social functions she attended with her father, would be alarmed at her silent fury this very moment. And if her rigid stride and piercing glare were not fearsome enough, the blood spattered on her nightshirt and the smoking rifle clamped in her hands emphasized her mood. Fairly petite, she was still a formidable presence in business negotiations, and anyone who assumed that this red-haired woman, barely five feet high in heels, was not a professional threat would be sadly mistaken. She was also striking in appearance – her thirty years had been gentle to her delicate features and light skin, betraying her commanding presence in the boardroom. Right now, marching down the hallway, it was well beyond a matter of business. It was a matter of family, of honor and betrayal, and most importantly to her, it was a matter of love. It was a mission that had been years in coming and would be settled on this Sunday night.
Pressler – 2 ***
The sun just touched the horizon late Sunday afternoon as Lady Diamond handed the reins of her horse to the stable hand. Her long, elegant riding jacket carried two days of trail dust, and her leather satchel bulged with hunted rabbits from her weekend ride across the vast estate. Rifle slung over her shoulder, she headed toward the mansion. While brushing a few hairs away from her eyes she caught the glimpse of Smiley, one of her father’s bodyguards, leaning against the rear doorway to the kitchen entrance. He pushed off from the doorframe and stood upright when Lady Diamond showed up. “Ah, good Lady Diamond, the boss wants to be speakin’ with ya in short time. He wanted me ta take ya to his office all personally and such.” Even when trying to speak in a formal manner, Smiley’s tone always suggested sarcasm. A part of it was undoubtedly from the scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to just above his right ear, cocking his upper lip slightly and making a sneer out of every look. But his role as a bodyguard required a sense of smug, defiant bravado rather than politeness and formalities. “Mr. Smiley,” Lady Diamond replied in her ever-polite tone, “I hope you have not been waiting long for me. I made it clear to the house staff that I would not be back until sundown.” He stretched out, cracking his back and reaching both arms to the sky. His tall, wiry frame was built to move, not stand and wait. He eased his shoulders back, his black canvas jacket opening to expose the two automatic
Pressler – 3 pistols secured to his hips, and sighed a deep breath of relief. “What’s a ‘long’ wait? When the boss-man says wait for ya, it don’t matter how long the wait is – it’s all part of the job and that’s what I do.” “I will grant you that, Mr. Smiley. And for what it is worth, I will also ask again that when speaking to me, you refer to the ‘boss’ simply as my father.” He shrugged. “Again, the boss don’t want me gettin’ all friendly and family-like. He says call him the boss, so I just do my job – which now is escortin’ ya to his office.” He stepped aside, clearing the way to the door with a polite wave. “We stop by the kitchen first,” she said after looking up to meet his eyes. “It might be too late for supper, but these rabbits will make a fine stew for tomorrow.” She wrested the satchel off her shoulder and walked into the mansion and toward the kitchen. He shrugged again. “If we don’t take no detours, drop ‘em off wherever ya want.” He cleared his throat abruptly. “And Lady Diamond, I just wanna say that for my opinion, it ain’t at all sportin’ to blow rifle slugs through no rabbits. Birdshot or buckshot is a little more proper, don’t ya think? And ya don’t blow ‘em to pieces.” She unloaded the satchel onto the nearest counter of the spacious kitchen and waved for the young cook to attend to them. Indeed, some of the game had been pulverized by a well-placed shot, but none of them were hit more than once. “Mr. Smiley, I appreciate your concern for the local rabbit populace, but
Pressler – 4 rest assured I care for them too. I feel it is far less a challenge and far crueler to scatter shot throughout a thicket to catch one of these furry creatures, not knowing if one may have only been wounded and left in agony before its death. While rabbits are tasty, they are kind little beasts and should not suffer. Even the worst creatures are entitled to a swift death. And I also despise the taste of buckshot in my stew.” “I’m just sayin’ – that’s all.” He watched the young, blond-haired cook gather up the dead rabbits while casting a secret glance toward the lady of the house. “And I’m sayin’ that some cook people should keep their eyes on their job.” “Mr. Smiley!” Lady Diamond spoke loud enough to claim his attention. “Young Willam here can glance at me if he wishes. He is a fine cook and has earned my respect. And I assume that is why I have your respect.” “Ya get my respect from the boss. He says respect ya, so I do. If you’re done with the cook-boy, we’ve got an office to go to.” He ticked his head toward the hallway, his scarred cheek emphasizing the impatient smirk. “Then we go, Mr. Smiley.” With a last turn and wink to the young cook, she went with the bodyguard to her father’s office, which was on the other side of the mansion and a fair walk to get there. Smiley remained two paces ahead, always in the lead to protect the lady and to open every door. Smiley rapped on the open office door before walking into the room and letting Lady Diamond enter. He shut the door behind them and walked to the liquor cabinet to pour a tall glass of straight scotch, then moved to the couch to
Pressler – 5 sit with the other bodyguard, Ogre, who cleaned his nails with a heavy-bladed knife. Walter Dunworth Diamond sat at the exact middle of his broad mahogany desk, work piled about in a highly-organized fashion with every space used effectively. It was the end of the day but his hair still maintained its perfect, slicked-back style with a sheen only a shade lighter and just as bright as the polished desk. His mouth held its usual tight frown, a pucker standing out on a face that bore few wrinkles for a man of almost sixty years. It was his business face – even on a Sunday at home speaking with his daughter. Lady Diamond spoke first, already knowing what the conversation would be about. “I assume this meeting means that the Meridian Financial acquisition was completed without issue and we have controlling interest.” Her father maintained a steady gaze at her, his unblinking business stare enough to unsettle lesser people. “Meridian settled this morning. You will be the family’s representation on the board and be introduced in short time.” “As long as it doesn’t conflict with my meetings with the investors for our offshore interests, I see no problem. Is that all? I really wish to wash up after a weekend out hunting.” “There is a greater matter to discuss – particularly, your socializing of late.” Walter stood up from the desk and stepped around, bypassing his bodyguards who sat slouched on the couch. “There are rumors about that you have been seen privately cavorting with someone, and making a poor attempt to hide this affair.”
Pressler – 6 “Heh, he caught us, babe,” Ogre exclaimed with a laughing tone while picking his nails. As appropriate as Smiley’s name was to his face, Ogre’s name was an equal match. His uneven jaw, oft-broken nose and protruding forehead gave the bald man a menacing appearance that likely remained even when he slept. His crude manners only added to the image, and he never held back a comment even in poor taste. Walter shot a piercing glance at Ogre, who just chuckled and switched the knife to his other hand to clean the rest of his nails. Turning back to his daughter, his voice dipped an octave as his intensity grew. “I think you should seek my approval before you go off in pursuit of a partner. Many fellows out there would gladly use you as a stepping stone to get into our family’s empire, and I will not have that.” She took a deep, calming breath before speaking. This topic had come up before but never so strongly. She now addressed him not as a business partner, which is what their family ties amounted to, but as a daughter to her father. “First, you truly underestimate me if you think I would let my heart blind me to the realities that come with our wealth and power. Surely you can give me credit for knowing the difference. Secondly, and far more to the point, who are you to lecture me when it comes to negotiations of the heart?” “I am your father and more importantly the head of Diamond Holdings, and therefore have a vested interest in seeing that you eventually marry in a way that befits our interests and our investors.” He retained his position in
Pressler – 7 front of his desk, arms straight at his sides. Her eyebrows rose in consternation. “And love is only an afterthought? What makes you think I would agree to some arrangement? I will not yield to such a demand! Despite our looks, I am not like mother – I will most certainly not make her mistakes! I will stand my ground and be with the man who loves me and who I love as well!” “Tell me then,” he said, his tone still balanced and eyes unblinking. “Who is this man who you have been seen with? Is it that young McPherson? He is a philistine who has no more business sense than my slippers. It is him, yes?” She tossed her head back in a laugh. “That hapless nit? Never! I have the heart of a far more honorable man – a man who I both love and respect.” “Who?” Holding her head proud and high, she fired out the response like a rifle shot. “Willam! The cook!” Smiley gagged on his scotch and broke into a fit of coughing while Ogre laughed aloud, unconcerned about any critical glares. Walter did not look at the two, but stared blankly at his daughter. He was silent, his jaw locked and his skin turning reddish purple as the aggravation built.
Rifle by her side, the hall only illuminated by the midnight moon, Lady Diamond turned the corner and headed for the stairs when she heard footsteps
Pressler – 8 approaching from the ground floor. Nobody turned on any lights, but in the murky shadows she knew who it was. At this point, it did not matter who was coming up the stairs – she would not be stopped. She did not even break stride. Smiley came up the last few steps, both guns drawn. He turned toward the hallway and saw Lady Diamond just ten feet away, walking through the shadows in her blood-spattered nightshirt. “I heard shots, uh, Lady…” She fired from the hip, striking Smiley high in the chest. The window behind him shattered from the round exiting his back, and he staggered on weak legs then collapsed to one side and tumbled down the first flight of stairs. She pump-loaded the gun without thinking as she headed downstairs. The rifle hung at her side from one hand as she passed by Smiley on the stairway landing. He gasped for air, coughing up blood and clutching himself with both hands just below the neck. She walked past, passively firing the rifle one more time when it passed over his head. She did not acknowledge the blood and bone that spattered onto her bare feet. “Even the worst creatures are entitled to a swift death.”
“The cook? Your dalliances have been with the cook?” Walter’s explosion shook the room, even to the point of startling Smiley and Ogre. “A simple
Pressler – 9 servant? And you expect him – some penniless fool – to somehow ignore your wealth and holdings? Absurd! Insane! Unacceptable!” Now she was the one with the steady expression and cool voice. “I know him, and as opposed to you, I know the truth of love. He has given me his heart, and I have found it to be true. You see some ‘penniless fool’ but I see an honorable man. You see a mere servant, I see a man with hair spun like gold and with eyes like crystal stars. He writes poetry, and draws, and sees beyond the wealth and power. He loves me despite my wealth. I could never ask for more.” “This shall not do, young lady! You will obey me and…” “I am not Mother!” Her shout rose above her father’s ranting, bringing him to silence. “You speak of obedience, I speak of love – something you know nothing about! Was it your love that left mother lonely and despondent? Was it your love that kept you away on business for the funeral of my brother – your son? Was it your love that made mother finally embrace death rather than live with you? A head for money brought our family an embarrassment of wealth, but without love it is emptiness!” She raised a hand commanding her father to be silent while catching her breath. “Say what you will, but I have spoken my peace. I am going to go upstairs, withdraw to a warm tub and try to forget how after thirty years you insist on treating me like a child.” Turning hard on one heel she headed for the door, turning her head toward the bodyguards. “Mr. Smiley, Mr. Ogre, I apologize on behalf of me and
Pressler – 10 of my father for that exchange.” She ignored Walter’s protests and marched out of the office, back straight and head held high as she slammed the door behind her. She would not let anyone make up her mind for her.
The dark house that she had known all her life now looked different as she walked through the downstairs hallways that led to her father’s office. Each little curio and affectation now stood out from the shadows, trying to grab her attention. An antique hallway table with an ornate porcelain tea service now spoke of dreams left unfulfilled so it could be acquired. The open armoire displaying family heirlooms shouted out the desperation so many people must have felt in their hearts as they pursued more items, more wealth. Without these items, each elegant room and endless hallway in the mansion appeared painfully empty, a horrible reminder of what was lacking in the lives of its inhabitants. These bits of art and furniture relieved the house of this lonesome feeling, but they could do nothing to fill the empty souls of the people forced to live here. Lady Diamond crossed through the courtyard to the opposite wing of the house on her steady march, and another voice called out to her from past memories. The granite span just before the coy pond felt cold under her bare feet, and the chill reminded her of the morning she came out to find her mother lying broken on its surface. She was in her finest evening dress, awash in her
Pressler – 11 best jewelry, eyes staring straight up toward the fourth-story balcony from which she had fallen. Only slightly taller but very thin of build, her mother once looked like her. But years of loneliness had extinguished the fire in her red hair even though there was no gray. Her green eyes had grown sunken and distant, and her face was wrinkled from too many unhappy days. Lying on the granite in a darkened pool of blood, there was almost a happiness to her lifeless face as she looked up to the heavens beyond the mansion. The note on mother’s evening table had made everything clear – she had been consumed by the emptiness of a life full of riches. Not surprisingly, Walter had been away on business when it happened. He attended the services out of social obligation and did not break a tear at any point. He even scheduled a business meeting to be held in the mansion during the gathering, in a room next to where the services were held. The memories did not break her stride toward father’s office – they only added determination to each step and straightened her path that led to his door.
After a warm bath, Lady Diamond had washed the trail from her skin and eased her mind of such an infuriating argument. Now, clean and relaxed, she sat in the drawing room for a more calming task. Alone at the table, the
Pressler – 12 one desk lamp providing a solitary cone of light, she laid out her rifle on a broad cloth. Proper maintenance of her favorite hunting rifle calmed her hands and let her mind unwind. Seated at the table in only her nightshirt, her red hair unbraided and falling in every direction, she was no longer Walter’s daughter and the lady of the house but just a woman lost in simple work. Just as she locked the carbine back together, a noise at the doorway broke her trance. Ogre stood in the open doorway, only offering one rap on the frame before stepping in. “Lady Diamond, da boss sent me here.” His face remained obscured by shadows, yet his presence was ever-menacing. “Oh, Mr. Ogre,” she said with a start. “I did not hear you – my apologies. I was just finishing my rifle work. Is this an urgent matter? I have cleaned and reloaded, but is there time to put away my supplies or must father see me right away?” “Nothin’ urgent.” “Good,” she answered, putting the rifle on her lap to clear off the wool cloth and oiled rags. “You could have sent house staff if it is just a matter of getting a message to me.” He took a step forward, his outdoor jacket becoming visible along with her hunting satchel slung over his shoulder. “Da staff’s been sent into town for da night. I’s come here to relay you a personal message. Da boss wanted me to tell ya that he offered your boyfriend a load o’ money to leave.” “He what?” She froze, amazed he would do such a thing.
Pressler – 13 “Yup. Ten grand to hit da street and not come back. And your li’l boy accepted.” His tone sounded like he was about to laugh. Her eyes widened for a moment, and just as quickly narrowed to thin slits as she stared at the bodyguard. “Willam did not accept – it is a bluff, Mr. Ogre, and even if you will not admit as much, I already know your message is a lie.” Ogre chuckled briefly. “You are good, Lady. Your li’l cook-boy didn’t take it. Da boss though it might happen, and already had another offer ready. So I’s told that li’l guy that da boss knew all ‘bout you two and would offer twenty-five grand.” Her shoulders sank and she leaned her head back in disbelief. “Father thinks all matters can be settled by money.” Looking back at the bodyguard, she replied with a modicum of disgust, “And Willam turned it down. I know him and know that already.” “Yup.” Ogre leaned back against the doorway. “Dat kid’s either real stupid or real in love with ya. Pro’ly both – there ain’t much difference.” “He is in love, Mr. Ogre. I hope father realizes that young Willam has many fine traits that he may never understand.” “I’m sure dat boy is full o’ traits. He can’t take a punch though, but he’s pro’ly good for somethin’.” His casually-spoken words and dark demeanor set off alarms in her heart. “What do you mean by that?” “I mean, da boss upped da offer to forty grand, again sayin’ he knew
Pressler – 14 about da two of you. He told da kid that if he didn’t take da money he’d get a real good poundin’. Me and Smiley, we was there to make that real clear.” Fear set her hands to trembling, but in her heart anger built. “Mr. Ogre, if there is any truth to what you say, I will see to it that your stay here is quite limited.” He dismissed her threat with a snorting laugh. “Da boss pays my wage – you can’t do much of nothin’. Anyway, that little brat didn’t take da money no matter what we did – and we did a lot. Anyways, he just swore his love to ya. Pretty brave kid, y’know.” “Where is Willam now, Mr. Ogre?” Her voice was stern and direct, with a lethal glare aimed the bodyguard. “I’ll tell ya,” he said, not concerned about her distress, “after how we beat him like we did, he still only talked in all that poetry-talk. Dat’s why I came up here. He said he wouldn’t leave because his heart belonged to you… so here it is.” Ogre slung the satchel from his shoulder and tossed it toward Lady Diamond. It landed on her lap unevenly, fresh blood leaking from underneath the flap and onto her nightshirt. Eyes wide with disbelief she grasped the satchel, wanting to open it but knowing all too well that what she would see would destroy her. Gripping the leather tightly in both hands, she clutched it for a moment as if it was Willam himself, and that her contact could save him. Then she heard the sound that fractured her soul. A laugh.
Pressler – 15 Ogre had started snickering to himself, holding one thick hand up to partly cover his misshapen mouth. “Boss said you’d take this pretty weird, but the look on your face is for da books.” Her arms went limp, the satchel falling to her lap then rolling over her rifle and onto the floor. The pain in her heart and the boiling rage in her mind collided, collapsing the framework of her emotions. The confusion, frustration, and disbelief of Ogre’s gestures melted away. Free of the conflicts and fears, her mind suddenly focused the entirety of awareness on one concept – vengeance. With both arms on her lap, lying across the rifle, the solution now felt obvious. She grasped the weapon quickly and firmly, and without lifting the weapon she pulled the trigger. There was only half of a thought regarding whether or not the gun was aimed at Ogre. Her instincts said it was pointed his way, and when the bodyguard howled in pain as the shot went through his hip her feelings were validated. Now rising from the chair she pumped the rifle once to reload, not saying a word at the man who now appeared to be the very incarnation of evil. Ogre had placed his weight against the door frame now that one leg was unable to support him, and his left hand tried to hold back the bleeding. He looked back at Lady Diamond with a confused expression on his distorted face, and for a moment there was no malevolence in his glare. Then he reached for his own sidearm. The second rifle shot hit his right shoulder and the arm went limp at his side. His groan of pain worsened as he slowly slid down the door frame, no
Pressler – 16 longer having the strength to support himself. He came to rest on the floor, legs straight out before him as he tried to hold his right arm in place. His face was growing pale already, the two gunshot wounds bleeding profusely despite his efforts to stay alive. The sound of the carbine reloading drew his attention and he looked up only to see the gun barrel barely a foot from his face. “Lady Diam…” Between the time she had grabbed the gun on her lap and the moment that she felt the splattering recoil from the third shot, Lady Diamond never said a word. Her eyes had flooded with tears in those few moments, but she had not screamed oaths of revenge against the world and its wicked ways or wailed in unbridled anguish. As she stepped over Ogre’s corpse and into the hallway, it was as if her own heart had been torn out and left in a satchel. She was now on a mission that would be strictly business – the business of vengeance for a lost love.
Stepping into her father’s office, she saw him in his desk chair, back turned toward her. There was no work piled on his desk or documents to be signed. It was him alone, his back to the door. “Turn and face me,” she said in a cold, stoic voice while she raised the rifle to her shoulder and looked down the sights, aiming at where his face would soon be. “Face me and see what you have brought upon yourself.”
Pressler – 17 Without turning around he spoke in a relaxed voice. “Is it fair to say that my bodyguards will not come to save me?” “No guards. Face me!” “Is it fair to say you would like to know where I am holding your boyfriend?” She raised her eyes from the gun sights, breaking from her trance of vengeance and questioning whether his words suggested something she deeply hoped for. “What do you mean by ‘holding’?” He turned about slowly in his chair, facing his daughter with a glass of scotch in his hand that was apparently not his first. His eyes drooped, his head bobbed slightly after the chair stopped turning, but he maintained an air of smug dignity. “I am speaking of your young suitor, Willam.” He sipped his scotch, gauging her appearance for a moment. “I know Ogre brought you something – I needed to know how you would respond.” “You needed to… what?” She lowered the gun, confused by everything he said. “I needed to see if you would respond with your head or with your heart.” He sipped the scotch again. “From what I have heard in this house and from the bloody sight you have become, I think it is best said that you were not very rational tonight.” She paused in disbelief then raised the gun again. “Tell me Willam is alive.”
Pressler – 18 “Let me tell you this, Scarlet, then I will tell you where Willam is. Have you ever considered the implications of our family name? Have you ever thought about what it means to be referred to as Lady Scarlet Diamond?” Her anger rose further, but she did not want to have an outburst of emotion before her father. Resisting every impulse, she lowered the rifle to her side. “It’s a name that is dignified and carries the history of our family in every letter. It represents a family of significant wealth and power, and…” “No, no, no,” Walter responded as he waved a hand lazily before his face. “It’s not about Diamond Holdings or about the gem that founded this family’s wealth. It’s all about carbon. Carbon is the simplest thing in the world. It is truly base – the stuff of oil, soot, grime and common matter. It’s like people – people are just lumps of stuff. But when that carbon is purified, refined and freed of all other things – when it is in its perfect form, mere carbon becomes the most beautiful and perfect of all substances. It becomes a diamond. Diamonds equate to perfection – our family aspires to always be at that point.” She took in his metaphor but her mind was still simmering with hostility, tainting everything he said. There was a burning need to challenge him, with words if not a rifle. “A diamond is hard and unyielding. Is that anything to be proud of, father?” “Being unyielding granted us all these things, Scarlet.” She cocked her head for a second. “But we are not rocks, father. We’re humans. We’re flawed, and in those flaws there is beauty. We get angry, we get sick… and we fall in love.” Tears fell anew.
Pressler – 19 Walter’s voice stayed even and dispassionate. “Flawed things are not beautiful, Scarlet. Flawed things are flawed… and that is it.” He took another deep sip. She sniffled once then regained her composure. “I’ve listened to you. Is that all you have to say? If so, tell me where Willam is.” Walter took in a mouthful of scotch, relishing its flavor for an extended moment before swallowing. “Smiley and Ogre took that boy out by the stables. They strung him up in a tree, gutted him and threw the corpse in the river.” The worst of her fears now realized, all at once she was consumed with hatred. As the blood rushed to her temples and her face became hot with anger, she raised the rifle to her shoulder and was quick to fire. Walter did not even flinch as the discharge resounded through the office. The shot killed him instantly, his head rolling back and to one side. The twitching in his hands was involuntary, as was the brief fluttering of his eyelids as blood ran over them. He never felt the second shot that quickly followed. Lady Diamond pumped the rifle and pulled the trigger a third time only to hear the disappointing click from an empty chamber. She wanted to continue firing into the body, but inside she felt there was not enough lead in the world to ease her pain. For that matter, there was nothing in the world that would heal her. Everything about the mansion disgusted her. Every fixture and accent in the office offended her. She swung her rifle in anger, breaking the desk lamp with one blow. The destruction felt necessary – it was demanded. She wanted
Pressler – 20 to destroy every piece of furniture in the office. Her next swing shattered the crystal drink service, soaking the floor with liquor. She instantly knew what to do. Everything that offended her had to be burned – every relic of the wealth that had poisoned her family would be reduced to ashes – incinerated, leaving only the carbon from which it came. It was only response she felt would be a fitting memorial to the only man ever worthy of her love, and the last way to spit in the face of her father. Room by room she set the mansion ablaze, no care for content or purpose. There were no servants to be concerned about or pets to spare. There was only a testimonial to create a lasting statement about the Diamond family that would last well after the last embers were extinguished. The world was not about refinement and perfection at all costs, but of the most basic elements. People and things were not what defined life – it was all about something as simple as carbon. Wealth and prestige did not keep the planet spinning, but rather something far more powerful, yet something as simple as love.