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The Ring

...And the Envelope

By Alex CaseyPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 10 min read
1
The Ring
Photo by Bas van den Eijkhof on Unsplash

“This has to be a mistake. I know it’s a mistake.”

Several Minutes Before the Present

Sleuthing had never been Navya’s forte, and she reminded herself of this while carefully ransacking Aminata’s dresser drawers. Socks, undergarments, jewelry, gloves, tank tops, headscarves, and–for some reason–blank index cards.

No tiny box.

She checked the top shelf in the closet. The toes of Aminata’s sneakers. The back of the nightstand.

Nothing.

She’d heard Aminata whisper about “gold” and “platinum” when she called her sister. Navya knew there had to be a ring hidden in this house. She just knew it.

Staying as flat as possible, she pushed herself to the edge of the bed frame and used her left hand to feel the wooden slats.

Yes! She felt the thin velvet, and plucked it, duct tape and all, from the slats. (How she’d return the box undetected was a challenge for later.) But as she removed it from its hiding place, her fingers brushed against something else.

She set the ring down and carefully felt under the frame again.

It felt like paper, and it was held in place between the wooden slats. In a tortured version of cobra pose, she balanced herself while using both hands to slowly push the corners of the paper and gently pull it from under the bed.

She held her breath, waiting for the paper to tear, but it didn’t. She removed it in one piece and smiled when she saw it.

It was a standard manila envelope, and in the corner was a tiny blue heart.

She rubbed her fingers over it and let herself remember that day.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

The Past

The week after Navya had completed her PhD in Chemistry, she was recruited to work for Ginger’s Gems, owned and managed by Jeffery Revaz (and named for his youngest daughter). The company specialized in creating lab-grown gems, and Revaz wanted to expand the company to include world-class cubic zirconia.

Within eight months, Navya had created a stone so strong and pure that it was indistinguishable from a diamond. Any size, shape, or etching was possible. She had even surprised herself with the brilliance of the light; these stones would fool almost any expert.

“You know what this means?” her assistant, Meera, had asked her. “We can now make conflict-free diamonds indefinitely. Imagine.”

Navya had imagined. She felt that she had done something great for humanity, that all the prioritizing her studies over any kind of social life had finally paid off.

She was quickly promoted, and within three years, she was Vice President of R&D. She had been in that position nearly a year when Revaz had hired Aminata in the IT department.

With her curls forever cascading from her messy bun, her smart suits, and her refusal to wear uncomfortable shoes, Aminata was one of the most beautiful people (inside and out) that Navya had ever known. Aminata spoke softly, laughed easily, and made everyone around her feel welcome and comfortable.

Except Navya. Navya was constantly tongue-tied around the new hire, often tripping over her words and losing the cool facade she had mastered. But Aminata would simply nod and smile a knowing smile.

Seven months later, Aminata had fixed Navya’s uncooperative computer. As a thank you, Navya had printed information on Cooking for Two classes that weekend, slipped it into an envelope, and drawn a tiny heart in the corner. She’d set it on Aminata’s desk before leaving that night, hoping Aminata would understand.

Nine months after Navya had burned the cookies, Aminata had asked her to move in. And eleven months after that, Aminata had whispered the words “gold” and “platinum” to her sister.

By Mae Mu on Unsplash

The Present

Rubbing her fingers over the heart, Navya grinned and sighed. With the exception of a few minor tiffs, their relationship was a love story fit for fantasies. Navya had quickly let go of her awkwardness, and staying in love had been just as easy as falling in love.

And this ordinary envelope was the symbol for that extraordinary beauty.

She pinched the metal clasp and peeled back the flap. She pulled the single sheet of paper from the envelope, still grinning.

But it wasn’t information about their Cooking for Two classes.

Instead, it was a spreadsheet with handwritten, penciled numbers.

Table created by the author

In ten rows, every column was filled, but other rows were missing information. The last four rows were completely blank.

It was Aminata’s perfect handwriting, and Navya rubbed her face, contemplating what this could mean.

“This has to be a mistake. I know it’s a mistake.”

Her senses heightened, listening for the sound of the key in the door, she stood, took a picture of the sheet with her phone, and returned the sheet to the envelope.

Using a delicate touch, she slipped the envelope back between the slats.

When she heard the alarm system beep, she pushed the ring box under the bed, placed her phone in her pocket, and took a deep breath.

Six Hours in the Future

Navya couldn’t sleep, and once Aminata was gently snoring, she pulled back the covers and crept to the living room with her laptop, phone, and notebook.

Photo by Bich Tran

As the hours passed, she slowly deciphered the information (she thought anyway). The first column was filled with dates from 1997 to 2003. The second column was locations, and she suspected Sierra Leone and Liberia were the best options. Or Russia. Or São Tomé and Principe. Or, her most common result, somewhere in the massive ocean.

The third column could really be anything, and the fourth column completely eluded her. She looked for patterns, tried alphanumeric substitution, and half a dozen other things before setting down her pen and rubbing her eyes. She remembered a brief report she’d watched on Kryptos and shook her head. Cryptography was also not in her repertoire.

“Aminata has never lied to me; I should just ask her about it. If I’m honest with her, she’ll be honest with me.”

But just as she closed the laptop, a thought came to her, and she re-opened it to try one last code: hexadecimal.

Carefully, she typed in the strings of numbers and letters into a translator. When she finished, she closed the laptop, leaned back in her chair, and stared at the notebook.

The pattern was clear: Date --> Location --> Amount --> Message

She looked at the cracked bedroom door; the love of her life slept peacefully in their bed. This was not the woman she knew.

For nearly 20 minutes, she looked between the notebook and the bedroom.

Finally, she walked to the laundry room, changed into wrinkled clothes, and left, setting the alarm behind her.

22 Minutes Later

The entire building was dark with only the moonlight illuminating offices and hallways. But Navya knew this building better than her own home, and even while her mind drifted, she silently walked down corridors and climbed up staircases.

She clicked on her computer, and the screen’s blinding light allowed her to read her notebook.

As the only disturbance to the silence, her keystrokes seemed to reverberate in the office.

She typed the first date, then the second, then the third. At least one of the orders on each date contained an engraving.

She typed in the other dates and found the same pattern.

By Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Before she arrived, the engravings had been primarily on sapphires and emeralds. After she arrived, they were on cubic zirconia.

However, the actual messages that were supposed to be engraved were missing.

Because the laser engraving equipment was so expensive, employees were required to sign when they used it for an order, and all of these orders had the same engraver: Revaz.

Navya sighed heavily as she looked around the room. For nearly an hour, she considered what–if anything–to share with Aminata.

Finally, she completed one more search, cursed herself as she hit “Print”, and grabbed the warm piece of paper. She shoved it into her pocket, turned off her computer, and left the building as silently as she’d entered.

Another 38 Minutes

“She knows.”

Revaz was standing in his doorway, a satin robe tied tightly over his pajama set. He stepped aside in a gesture to let Navya into the house.

“What happened to your system, Jeff? Huh? You hire everyone at the company specifically so this won’t happen. How did you miss this?

Revaz poured himself a cup of coffee and passed the other to Navya. “How much does she know?”

By Alex Padurariu on Unsplash

“She’s still putting the pieces together, but she knows plenty. More than enough to take you down and me with you.”

“Who do you think she works for?”

“How should I know? FBI? CIA? Or–”

Can’t be the CIA.”

“Right, well, one of the other alphabet agencies maybe. She’s got to be federal. Or maybe international.”

“You think she works for INTERPOL?!”

Navya narrowed her eyes. “This is over right? Since 2003, right?”

Revaz nodded. “Once Taylor was exiled, and the Kimberely Process began, there wasn’t a viable way to continue.”

“And all the engraved stones are gone?”

He shrugged. “I assume they’re still in Liberia or Sierra Leone.”

Navya took the paper from her pocket. “These are all the stones you engraved in those years. You need to figure out a way to delete the records without Aminata finding out. She’s an incredible IT guru; it’ll take some work for you to delete them without her just reviving the dead files.”

Revaz set the list on the kitchen counter. “I’ll take care of it.” He raised his eyebrows. “You’ll have to take care of Aminata.”

“If she can’t find more information, she’ll likely just give up.”

“Every day she doesn’t give up is one day closer to you going to prison.”

“To us going to prison,” Navya corrected him. “We’re in this together.”

His smile was crooked. “Are we?”

The Final 41 Minutes

When Navya arrived home, Aminata was standing in their kitchen, staring at the percolating coffee pot.

“Hey, babe. Where you been?” she asked while plucking two clean mugs from the dishwasher’s top rack.

“Had to go to the office,” Navya responded, setting her keys on the desk. She sat on one of the barstools and held the full, hot mug that Aminata placed in front of her.

“Yeah?” Aminata responded absentmindedly while adding a splash of whole milk to her coffee.

“You know how Revaz can be.”

Aminata sipped her coffee, closed her eyes, then opened them. “I certainly do.”

Long seconds passed as the two women silently sipped. Then, Aminata picked up her phone from the counter, typed in her code, and pressed the screen.

Navya’s voice shattered the silence.

These are all the stones you engraved in those years. You need to figure out a way to delete the records without Aminata finding out. She’s an incredible IT guru; it’ll take some work for you–

Aminata hit the screen again and stared at Navya’s wide eyes. Aminata took a deep breath, then shook her head. “I can’t believe you were a part of this. Literally. I can’t believe it. I was 100% sure it was Revaz and maybe Meera. But you? How could you do this, Navya? How?”

Navya opened her mouth, closed it, then took a sip of coffee. She tried to steady her voice. “How did you get that?”

“Revaz figured out who I was last week, and instead of firing me, he claimed he could show me the real mastermind. Tonight, he called me; apparently, it’s you.”

Navya took a deep breath. “It wasn’t my idea.”

Aminata scoffed. “I know that. Revaz started this horror before you were recruited, but it was all sapphires and emeralds. They didn’t blend in; they were easy to detect. Your cubic zirconia made everything simpler.”

“I didn’t know he would use them for that.”

Aminata sighed. “Oh, Navya, no one is going to believe that. You’re too smart; maybe you didn’t know when you made it, but you knew better within a few weeks, right? And you still went along. You had access to the records. You saw there were large shipments going in and out of Freetown and Monrovia. I bet you even engraved some of the messages and logged it under Revaz. And in the process, you made the shipments easier to overlook and left the real diamonds more valuable.

“You knew, Navya. And because of you, it was easier to fund atrocities by Taylor, Sankoh, Taylor’s son, and whomever else. You strengthened the blood diamond trade.”

Navya shook her head. “My creation did a lot of good, too. I’ve done a lot of good.”

Aminata stared into the eyes of her lover whom now looked like a complete stranger. Her voice was hard, cold. “No amount of good can ever absolve you of those crimes.”

Navya glanced around the kitchen, weighing her options. Finally, she scoffed. “That recording doesn’t prove anything. You don’t have enough evidence to arrest me.”

Aminata raised her eyebrows. “Arrest you? I’m not the police.”

“What?!” Navya squeaked. “Then who are you?!”

Aminata shrugged nonchalantly. “An investigative reporter.”

Distant sirens grew louder, and Aminata tilted her head toward the door. “Those are the police. My ‘sister’ editor must have called them when she didn’t hear from me.” She held Navya’s gaze. “It’s over, Navya.”

“It is not over!” Navya screamed as the flashing blue lights pierced the kitchen windows. “We are–I was–this is not over!” She stood, overturning the barstool and coffee mug. Startled, she watched, as if outside of herself, as Aminata opened the door, police entered, and she was handcuffed.

Photo by Tamas Marton

“But you can’t–I–you were–you were going to propose! I found the ring box!”

“This ring box?” Aminata asked coolly as she held up a sealed plastic bag. “Oh, this ring wasn’t for you.” And she gently tossed it to one of the officers.

The Present

Rubbing her fingers over the heart, Navya grinned and sighed. With the exception of a few minor tiffs, their relationship was a love story fit for fantasies. Navya had quickly let go of her awkwardness, and staying in love had been just as easy as falling in love.

And this ordinary envelope was the symbol for that extraordinary beauty.

She carefully tucked the envelope back into the slats, then opened the ring box.

An exquisite sapphire, equally gorgeous emerald, and tiny diamond topped a titanium band.

No gold. No platinum.

But she smiled anyway. It was perfect.

Author's Note: The story and main characters are fictional, but the blood diamond trade is real. You can learn more about conflict diamonds here.

Short Story
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About the Creator

Alex Casey

I'm a full-time educator and part-time writer. My best ideas usually end up on Vocal.

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