Amanda Wuenschel’s “Blood Orange” won second place in our latest short story contest.
While reading the paper, Chappy happened upon an interesting ad.
“Serious curiosities collector in search of gallimaufry’s crowning jewel.
Will compensate in kind. No demand is too high.
Will meet in dark alleyway of your choosing.”
“So, I’m a little hurt,” she said when he noticed her and froze mid-step between the bookshelf of first-edition books and the Pollock.
Iris was hard to miss from her position seated on top of his wide mahogany desk. Feet swinging, she tossed an orange from one hand to another, and his eyes followed it, body tensing during each arc until it was safely in one hand or the other.
“I’m a little hurt that you didn’t trust me,” she pouted. She stopped tossing the orange and cradled it with both hands.
He let out a catch of breath and relaxed his shoulders. She dug a fingernail into the peel and watched as he flinched.
She began to peel the orange. She freed a hexagon of the peel and set it on the desk, biting down on the inside of her lip to hide her smile as he took one jerky step forward. His hand reached out until she fixed him with a glare.
“I told you I could get the job done, and you had to go and hire a two-bit hack like Elijah Bary.” She added another piece to the pile.
He stepped forward again, eyes wide and fixed on the small pieces of orange peel. “Now, miss, please get down—“
“And I guess I can understand not trusting a short, pink-haired girl you met in the dankest, most disgusting alley I could find, but, well, let me remind you, you were the one who specified that it needed to be a dark alley. I would much rather have met you at, say, the Cheesecake Factory and made you pay for the most expensive thing on the menu.”
“We’ve never met. I don’t know who you are,” he protested, but it wasn’t confusion she saw in the white of his eyes or the rise of his shoulders. “Could you just—“
“Did you know,” she continued, “that the ‘crowning jewel’ of Gallimaufry, the Blood Star, if you will, was a gift? A gift to humans from the Gall.” She carefully placed a piece of the peel down on the desk, dull-side down, and pressed the oil into the finish just to watch the horror that crossed his face. “The Gall, in case you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon, is a race of beings that enslaved more than a thousand star systems over the course of about five hundred years.
“Now, the Gall, when they were first investigating the planet—you know, to see if they wanted to use it for resources or just destroy it after they made us into their slaves—they sent emissaries down to Earth to do research. And they were so impressed by what they found—by our ability to kill each other—they decided that we were their ally.“
The orange was finally free, so she pried it apart and said as she caught his eye, “I can’t believe you didn’t see any of this on the news over the past few months.”
He’d given up his pleading glare at the pile of peel on the desk and had turned to gape at her.
“I mean, the US got this thing in the late forties, and the government kept it hidden so when the Gall came back to check on us and didn’t find it displayed, they were,” she scrunched her nose as she thought of the correct phrasing, “understandably perturbed when it didn’t have a place of honor. They almost destroyed the planet. Don’t you remember any of this?”
He stepped forward, and she shook her head with a frown. He could play dumb all he wanted, but she’d done her research. And she was very good at research.
“It took good old Kimmy-boy giving them a personal tour of North Korea for them to let us live. So now they’re besties, and the jewel is on display there with about a hundred different security measures in place to keep it from being stolen and causing an international—no, sorry, intergalactic incident.”
Another slice went into her mouth, and she paused her narrative to chew. The thing of it was, she was only a little peeved at him hiring another thief. That, she could understand. At four-foot nothing with bubblegum pink hair and a penchant for hoodies, Iris didn’t look like someone who had much experience with shoplifting let alone complex heists that took her halfway across the world.
She was angrier about being lied to: this was no simple “curiosities collector.” He might like rare items, but he liked money more. His company had been making war into money for decades.
“Now, I know that the,” she picked up a heavy name plate and read from the title under his name, “CEO of Armaco is interested in maintaining peace, so when I saw Elijah just take it without leaving anything in its place. Well. I couldn’t just let that stand, and I already had the right replacement.” She shrugged and ate the last piece of orange then pulled the Blood Star from her hoodie pocket.
She’d lifted it from Elijah moments after he stole it. He’d been distracted wondering why an alarm hadn’t gone off, and she used the advantage of her height to take it from his pocket and slip out of the museum.
“You know, I used to laugh about how much this looked like an orange. It’s what gave me the idea, actually.”
She pulled an envelope from her hoodie pocket then set it and the Blood Star down on top of the desk. “You’ll find my itemized receipt in here.” He’d told her she could ask for anything. She was asking for cash. She hopped down and headed for the door.
She stopped before she left the room. He’d watched her leave, frozen. She left with one last dig, “By the way, I charge extra for saving the world.”
Think you have what it takes to be a 7th Titan contest winner? Our Short Story contest is currently open! See the Contest page for prompts and submission details.