The Emerald CrossChapter 2

As soon as Emily Gallagher entered the large room where the opening party was being held, a tall, good looking man caught her eye. He was on his own by the drinks table, looking at a painting. To stand out in that crowded room was not easy. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion and most people were immersed in animated conversation, glass in hand. They were grouped around the glass cases where the exhibits were displayed. Works of art mounted on the walls of the room also attracted the attention of the party-goers. Many faces were familiar to Emily and she soon found herself in a group of friends.

The occasion was the opening of the Dublin Kendo Museum. Emily had started to train in this Japanese martial art to keep fit and lose weight, but soon the twice weekly sessions at the dojo had become an important part of her life. This new museum, though small, contained many beautiful and fascinating objects as well as an impressive antique weapons collection donated by the Sensei. In fact the whole museum would not have existed without his commitment to the project. Housed in a newly built extension to the dojo, the items on display celebrated the glorious past of Kendo, the age of the Samurai warriors. Magnificent katana, the long Japanese swords, were mounted on the walls, and an impressive suit of leather and metal armour was displayed in a glass case. Japanese paintings and scrolls of calligraphy decorated the large room.

Helping herself to a glass of wine from the table, Emily saw that the Sensei was now talking to the attractive man she had noticed earlier. His fair, slightly untidy hair and athletic body looked at odds with his elegant dark suit. Then the Sensei noticed her. She was one of his favourite students, having made excellent progress in the past few months.

"Hello, Emily, I am glad you could come, it's good to see you."

"Hello, Sensei. The museum looks amazing. Congratulations!"

"I was just telling the Sensei, I have never seen a finer selection of katana," the tall, fair man said with a smile.

"Jason, you should meet Emily Gallagher, she is one of our best students. Emily, this is Jason Doyle, he has just arrived in Dublin and is joining our dojo."

Introductions performed, the Sensei left Jason and Emily and departed to mingle with the appreciative crowd.

"Isn't that beautiful?" Emily was admiring an antique screen painted with cranes and monkeys.

"I prefer the swords. I'd like to get the chance to fight with a real katana, just once. Even to draw one out of the scabbard and hold it for a few seconds would be amazing."

They admired a beautifully made katana with a scabbard of black lacquered wood inlaid with gold chrysanthemums, and a hilt covered with rayfish skin and bound with crimson silk.

"Of course it's not the look of the sword that's really important, compared with the balance and the sharpness of the blade," Jason said, "the Sensei was telling me he sharpens these regularly. He said that the Samurai warriors were proud of keeping their swords sharp enough to cut a feather as it fell. He likes to keep them in the same condition."

They walked around the room together, looking at all the exhibits. Emily introduced Jason to a few of her friends as a new member of the Kendo club.

"I'm looking forward to training with you," Jason said to her.

Emily left the party a few hours and several drinks later with the feeling that the evening had been a big success. The opening had been well attended, she had enjoyed the evening and met an interesting new man, and, thank goodness, no one had asked about her job. Proclaiming herself an Inspector with the anti-terrorist unit of the Garda Siochana did not always go down well at parties. People seemed to assume she was there to catch them out in their tax fiddles or they blamed her for the parking tickets they had incurred. She was tired of the endless discussions about rising crime rates that inevitably followed the question, "What do you do?" She loved her job but it did feel good to completely forget about work for one evening.

Jason was driving his black sports car to a late night appointment at a large house just outside the city. At this time of night his was the only car on the coast road and he drove fast, eager for the end of his journey. As he rounded the final bend in the road he could see the tower at the top of the house, a light in the high window. Belle must be waiting for him there.

He drove through the wide gate and up to the door but before he could knock, the door opened and there she was. She must have heard the rumble of the car engine or seen its lights on the road. As always when he saw her he was struck by her imperious beauty, her jet black hair and pale skin set off by an ivory silk dress.

Belle Mahoney led the way to her immaculate sitting room. Her pearl earrings shone in the light from the crystal chandelier. "A drink, Jason?" she murmured.

"No thanks, I had a bit too much at the party."

"It was a good party, wasn't it? I can tell. If you were bored you would have been here sooner. Were there any nice girls there?"

"Just a few women who go to the Kendo club. No one as lovely as you, Belle."

"At least one of them must have been pretty, to keep you away from me for so long."

"I was thinking of you all the time. Belle, you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

Belle walked to the big mirror over the marble fireplace. For a long moment she and her reflection stared at each other. Then Belle laughed lightly. "So you'll be my lover until someone more beautiful comes along!"

"Don't pretend you don't know how I feel! I'd do anything for you, you know that!"

"Well, do you know, Jason, there is something I want you to do for me."

"Just name it and it's done!"

"You know I sold my emerald cross? I really wish I hadn't now. I don't usually regret the decisions I make, but that was my favourite piece of jewellery and I miss it. I keep looking in my jewel case when I'm dressing, thinking I'll wear my cross and then I remember it isn't there. I want you to get it back for me. The money's gone, I can't buy it back. I want you to steal it, Jason!"

Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin 2007