Emerald Green 12

Dido had to force herself to relax.  She was gripping Scipio’s arm and a smile had broken out under her mask.  She was supposed to be fashionably disinterested.  Luckily Scipio hadn’t noticed because he was still taking everything in himself.  As she slipped her arm free, the watchman came back to his senses.

“Thanks,” he said.  “I never got your name.”

“No,” Dido said.  “You didn’t.”

Officer Scipio gave her a bow anyway, despite the evasion.  He caught her hand and planted a kiss on it.  Dido turned and melted seamlessly into a passing knot of dancers so Scipio couldn’t see her blush.  She might not know all the steps, but years of running over wet, narrow rooftops had given her an effortless grace.

Dido let the dance pull her to the other side of the party.  A tidal wave of aromas stopped her in her tracks and threatened to set off a waterfall of drool.  She’d never seen a buffet table in person before.  Mammoth was an understatement.  Her brain had trouble absorbing all the bowls of punch with their own miniature fountains, pyramids of quivering jellies and puddings, mountains of thinly sliced meat in every variety, and stacks of miniature cakes that could fit in teacups.

She’d moved three steps closer before she was fully in control of her body again and could bring herself to a halt.  Food had been a little tight, especially the last couple days.  Jobs were scare.  She’d been counting on that ruby job to turn her fortunes around, and it would take more than a few hunger pains to make her give up her promise to never steal from her fellow Docks residents.  Most of the families in the Docks had even less than Hannibal and her.

Deep breaths.  Her steps were light as she crossed the rest of the distance.  She allowed herself a dainty cake to nibble on, though she did take a single slice of meat.  The pastry was sweet enough to make her eyes cross, but the beef was rich and flavorful.  She had a feeling the animal had eaten better than she ever had right up till it was time for slaughter.

Her stomach was angry at her as she moved away from the buffet.  But she didn’t have a choice.  She might be the only woman in the entire party who’d eaten anything.  The fear of staining dresses or seeming greedy kept them at bay.  Maybe if she got her hands on the emerald, she’d steal a plate of food to go with it.

She’d just put her dishes on a nearby cart when her scalp started itching.  Her carefully constructed hairdo was the only reason she could keep herself from scratching.  She settled for waggling her eyebrows to work her scalp around.  It gave a little relief, but also earned her some weird looks from a couple of the men at the buffet.

Turning around to get away from the stares and check the rest of the party, she realized her scalp had been trying to tell her something.  She saw a man leaning against a potted fern, his eyes locked onto her.  His suit was jet black, contrasting the bright colors that most of the other men were wearing.  His tie, carefully knotted to appear slightly messy, was orange.  His bright eyes flashed behind a tiger mask crossed with orange and black stripes.

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