Diamonds in the dust, p.1
Diamonds in the Dust, page 1
Titles by Kate Furnivall
The Russian Concubine
The Red Scarf
The Girl from Junchow
The Jewel of St. Petersburg
The White Pearl
Diamonds in the Dust
Berkley Books, New York
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DIAMONDS IN THE DUST
A Berkley eSpecial / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2012 by Kate Furnivall
Excerpt from The White Pearl copyright © 2012 by Kate Furnivall
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Berkley eSpecial / March 2012
Diamonds in the Dust
Excerpt from The White Pearl
Hatti Hoot. What kind of fool name is that?
Hatti Hoot glared down at her own signature. Each letter of it shot away in different directions as if trying to scuttle off the form in front of her. Sometimes she practiced other signatures, made up better names for herself, names that sounded elegant. Her favorite was Bette Hepburn. Real classy. It was Hatti’s theory that a good name goes a long way toward getting you a good life. Why else would so many film stars pull on shiny new names along with their shiny new smiles in front of the camera?
Hatti Hoot. What kind of fool life was that gonna get her?
She pushed the form across the counter to the woman on the other side, who glanced through it with a look on her face like she was sucking on a lime. Her mouth was tight and her eyes were narrow and sour.
“Right, Mrs. Hoot.”
“You’ll let me know if—”
“Of course.” She said it snootily. Just because she was in uniform.
That was the trouble with living in Darwin now. It was August 1942 and the damn war had come to Australia to stay. The town was fair busting at the seams with military uniforms, worse than the mosquitoes, and if you weren’t wearing one, well, you became invisible. Hatti stood nearly six feet tall in her stocking feet, weighed fourteen stone, was proud of her big fat curls that were brighter than a red roo’s pelt, and at thirty-nine years old she didn’t like being invisible.
The woman sucking on the lime started to turn away. Job done.
It had happened before and it would happen again; the usual indifference. But this time, for no good reason other than if you keep poking a mule with a stick it will one day kick back at you, Hatti gave the counter a wallop with her boot. It made the woman jump clear off the floor.
“Now, look here!” Hatti yelled. “Captain or corporal or whatever the hell that stripe on your skinny little arm means,” she didn’t stop to draw breath, “you can tell your boss from me that I mean to find out—”
The wail of an air-raid siren cut right through her words. Not again! Hatti cursed her luck as everything shut down around her. Counters were closed, blinds were yanked down, people scurried out of the building, running like jackrabbits for the air-raid shelters. Hatti found herself out on the street and the doors of the office slammed behind her, but she was too fired up now to want to sneak off down a stinky burrow somewhere. Instead she marched off into the brilliant sunlight, stamping her boots in noisy defiance, feeling heat rise up her face and the familiar churning in her stomach.
Damn the Japs!
They had brought fear to the easygoing inhabitants of Darwin, spitting death from the skies and streaking its untidy streets with blood. The first air raid last February had caught them all off guard, 188 planes leaving hundreds dead and wounded.
She looked up now and saw a formation of twin-tailed Japanese bombers roar overhead, skimming down as usual in the direction of the naval base over at Stokes Hill Wharf, but there were always a few stragglers who liked to play cat and mouse with Darwin’s citizens. A bomb sent whistling down on a house one day, a bunch of shops obliterated the next. Worse were the fighter planes, the buzzing Zeros that amused themselves by strafing the streets with their machine guns, vying to knock down as many pedestrians as they could, like a game of skittles. It ripped the heart out of Darwin each time. Hatti could feel it bleeding into the dirt as she strode down the street.
The shops on Cavanagh Street were locked up and deserted, even the ice cream parlor she liked to visit for a three-penny cone, so it came as a shock when the door of one of them burst open as she passed. Two men crashed into her, stomping on her feet and banging her shoulder.
“Whoa!” she scolded. “Look where you’re going.”
But she was the one who did the looking, and it was a moment that set her red curls quivering. The two men, regaining their footing after barging into her, looked like scrawny crow-eaters from down south. Their four hands were so loaded up with jewelry that strings of pearls trailed down from their fingers, glistening in the sunshine like threads of drool from a sick dog’s jaws. She blinked and looked again. No, these weren’t men. These were raw-boned boys, no more than fourteen or fifteen years old. White, with scared faces, and both with pale jumpy eyes. Brothers, she thought first off. Looters, she thought second, and it was that second thought that got her all riled up again. She seized hold of a sleeve on each of them.
“What the hell d’you think you’re up to?” she yelled. She straightened up to her full height so that she towered over them. “Stealing is a sin,” she declared. “And you’ll go to prison for it, as well as hell.”
One set of pale, scared eyes got more scared. The other pair grew flat and cold, and Hatti could feel in her bones that this one may be smaller than she was but he was working himself up to taking a damn good swing at her. She saw his c
“Drop that stuff,” she ordered.
“Stay out of this, lady,” the scared one hissed.
“My brother here is a trained boxer. He’ll—”
Hatti didn’t wait for more. First these no-good kids go looting a jewelry store and then they threaten her with violence. Well, they’d chosen the wrong day to get on her bad side. She released her grip on the sleeve of the scaredy-cat and swung her handbag—which contained a can of corned beef for her supper—straight at the other brother. It landed fair and square on his jaw, so that his head jerked back and for a split second his eyes went walkabout in their sockets. He stumbled. His brother had to drop the jewelry to free his hands enough to prop the boxer up on his feet—he was swaying alarmingly and his fingers slithered open, releasing the brooches and rings.
“Now get out of here!”
“You’re crazy, lady.”
“I ain’t crazy enough to let you take what’s not yours.”
“You don’t scare me.”
“Oh, yes, I do.”
The rabbity one backed off fast, dragging his wobbly-kneed brother with him, rattling off insults under his breath. Before Hatti could line up for another swing at him, they were gone, scuffling down a nearby alleyway. She took a good long breath and only then stared down at the ground. In front of her feet, in a sparkling heap, lay the equivalent of more than five years’ worth of her slim earnings. The diamonds winked at her. Just asking to be picked up.
* * *
“You looking? Or you taking?” a young voice asked.
Small brown hands started to gather up the rings with quick feral movements. Like a starling stealing grapes. A curtain of poker-straight black hair hid the face of the girl crouched on the ground. Where had she jumped up from?
“Put them back.”
Hatti heard the words and was surprised to realize they’d come from her own mouth. What she really meant was, Give them to me.
Not far off down the street, a bomb exploded and the girl mewed. When she looked up with huge, fearful eyes, Hatti realized the girl wasn’t much older than the thieving brothers. But her fingers were still hooked on the jewels. She was Asian, with dark, velvety skin and hands as dainty as little koala paws. Hatti felt like a ten-ton truck standing over this slip of a creature.
“You looking? Or you taking?” the girl asked again.
“I taking.” Her little paw closed around as many rings and gold chains as it could grasp.
“No!” Hatti said.
“Yes, mem, I taking it before—”
Her slender shoulder twitched as Hatti laid a ten-ton hand on it.
“We’re gonna give it back, missy,” Hatti told her.
Slowly the girl rose to her feet, the jewelry stuck tight as a second skin to her palm, her black eyes fixed fiercely on Hatti’s freckled hand on her shoulder.
Hatti refused to let her eyes be drawn to the winking diamonds. No one was in the street, everyone sheltering from the planes. Explosions from the docks ripped through the silence at intervals.
“No, mem,” the girl said once more, real soft.
“These don’t belong to us,” Hatti insisted.
“They belong now.”
“Not stealing. I find all on ground. I pick up.” She attempted to edge her shoulder out from under Hatti’s grip, but Hatti was having none of it. “Not stealing. Just finding.” The girl sneaked a little smile, showing fine white teeth that Hatti envied. “You find too.”
Hatti felt her gut turn over and her mouth go dry. The girl saw it. Her eyes were quick. She ducked to the floor, scooped up another handful of temptation from the dirt, and thrust it into Hatti’s free hand. They both stood there in Darwin’s morning sunshine, hypnotized by the flashes of blue and green and gold in their hands, by the swaying of a string of milky pearls, by the scintillation of a diamond brooch in the shape of a swan that seemed to swim up in a shimmer of light toward them. They stood in the heat, sweat beading their upper lips, staring and smiling, staring and smiling.
“What have we here, ladies?” a harsh male voice demanded at Hatti’s elbow. “We don’t take kindly to looters in this town.”
She turned and found herself face-to-face with another uniform. This time it was the police.
* * *
Cheek-scalding shame. It was drowning her. Hatti couldn’t look the desk sergeant in the eye. She mumbled her damn fool name—Hatti Hoot—her age and address, and he wrote them down.
She gave him her boots and watched him remove the laces before returning them to her. He took the belt from her waist too. In the interview room, a man with hard eyes and angular contours to his face listened to her story of the two youths who barged out of the jewelry shop, dropping their booty on the ground before running off. The hard eyes narrowed. The contours sharpened. Hatti knew he didn’t believe her.
He made her tell her story so many times it started to sound like a lie even to her, but she wouldn’t change it, not one single word. Not even when he made his mouth stick on a sympathetic smile and suggested that if she confessed to breaking and entering, he would put in a good word for her to get her a short sentence. Only then did she clam up. Only then did she realize she needed a lawyer.
When the hard mind behind the hard eyes became convinced nothing more could be extracted from Hatti, she was marched down the hall to a police cell. It had drab brown walls and the stink of disinfectant was so strong it caught at the back of her throat. But it wasn’t until the door clanged shut behind her and the key turned in the lock—a terrifying and lonesome sound—that she allowed her shoulders to slump. Her legs felt as though the strings in them had snapped. She crumpled onto the end of the narrow bed and was disgusted by the moan of self-pity that squirmed out of her mouth. At the far end of the bed the tiny Asian girl was hunched in a ball, knees to her chest, wary and stiff. Her eyes glittered, black and angry, behind the long silky veil of her hair. She looked awful close to using those fine teeth of hers if anyone strayed too near her.
“You okay, girl?” Hatti asked.
“I okay fine.”
The girl had her hands pressed down on her knees and had clamped her chin on top of them, but it didn’t stop the shakes that were rattling through them.
“What’s your name?”
“Well, g’day, Maya. Looks like we’ve landed ourselves in a whole bucket of pig shit. We’ve gotta think what to do about this.”
“Yeah, you and me.” Hatti eyed the girl sternly. “You got a problem with that?”
“Don’t call me mem. That’s for smart show ponies. As you can see, I ain’t no show pony.”
The girl looked confused. “But you white. White ladies is mem.”
“Not here in the Northern Territory, they ain’t.”
“So what I call you?”
The girl ducked her head so that her silky hair sprang across her face once more. “Hello, Plain Hatti,” she said from behind it.
A laugh scrambled up Hatti’s throat and felt a whole lot better than the cold chunk of lead that was stuck there.
“What did you tell the police?” Hatti asked.
“I say nothing.”
“Nothing at all?”
“I say I speak no English.”
One black eye reappeared. “That bad?”
“No, Maya, I think that’s good. You want to hear what I said to them?”
A nod was all Hatti
“I told the officer out there the truth—that two kids barged out of the jewelry store with an armful of loot, tripped over me, dropped the stuff, and ran. I was just picking up the jewelry to return it like a good law-abiding citizen.”
There was a painful silence in the dismal brown cell. The room was hot and airless, no window, just a dim lightbulb flickering behind a grille in the ceiling. A faint scratching sound pecked at the silence. A cockroach, most like.
“And me?” the girl whispered.
“And you what?”
“You say Maya take jewel?”
Hatti uttered a snort. “Course not. I told them you were hurrying along the street away from the air raid and that, like the purehearted little maiden you are, you helped me pick up the jewelry, ready to turn it over to its rightful owner.”
Two black eyes glared at her. “Do all those words mean no?”
Hatti leaned over and patted one of the shaky little knees. “It means no. I told them you are honest.”
Blank eyes fixed on hers.
Hatti sighed, unsure how much the little chit understood. “Honest means good,” she explained.
Maya nodded. “So we get out?”
“Too right, we will.” She paused and chuckled softly. “That means yes.”
To her horror the girl started to cry.
* * *
Hatti was busting to use the bucket in the corner, but no way would she bare her fat arse in front of the skinny runt sharing her cell. Time had crawled past but she had no idea how much time. The air was even hotter now, and sweat had seeped from under her breasts, soaking the front of her blouse. Sitting. Waiting. Thinking too much. It was driving her crazy. She wiped her face with her sleeve. Maya had taken to pacing the cell, four quick steps one way, four steps the other, and Hatti was sure that any moment now it would be four steps up the wall.
“Maya,” she said heavily, “we gotta get ourselves a lawyer. Not a shonky one neither, not one pissed as a maggot. One who knows how to talk good.”
by Kate Furnivall / Historical Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes