Two Ways About It

The Stealing of Things [Chapter 4]

That morning after breakfast, just after the kids had got up to ready themselves for school, and just before Jamison plopped his newspaper down, I nearly spoke up. Jamison glanced up, apparently noticing my attention on him before I even noticed myself staring.

“Something on my face, love?”

I jerked myself to attention and shook my head. “No, just staring off into nothing,” I answered without thinking.

Why haven’t I told anyone about the strange woman, yet? Anything to get it off my chest. No, if I tell Jamison before the people at work, they’ll wonder why I had been holding onto it for so long.

“Oh, so I’m nothing now?” My husband teased, smirk on his face and hands pressing the ruffled paper across the edge of the table.

“Of course not!” I patted at the back of his hand. He took my hand in turn, before I could retract, and laid several little kisses at the back of it, working his way up beyond my wrist.

Several pattering footsteps found their way across the linoleum and into my ears. “They’re doing mommy-daddy things!” Jamie cackled from the doorway, James not far behind.

Jamison pulled his head up from my arm and stomped the ground to do his bear-like imitation, ready to strike at the little ones. “Well, you got ready real quick, didn’t ya’,” He said, arms out wide. “If it smells like you didn’t brush your teeth, you’re gonna get eaten!”

The two boys shrieked and ran off down the hall toward the front door. Jamison leaned out into the hall after them. “Get your shoes on and we’ll be out the door.”

“’Kay!” the call returned.

I watched the clock pass from one minute to the next, counting down my quiet sleeping hours. With the husband’s own time being eaten up as well, I pushed myself up to clear the dishes from the table. My hands were full when I felt a tug at my waist, something a little more forceful to turn me around. Jamison appeared in my vision, taking advantage of my tableware predicament to plant a heavy kiss on my lips.

As my air supply and balance were drained, somehow in unison, I used the tip of my toes to counter. “Whoa, mama,” Jamison pulled back, feeling the sudden, albeit padded, tip of my slippers on his shin. “Okay, I shall be going now. Have a good sleep.”

There was a faint remnant of coffee on my lips, but when I blinked, it wasn’t Jamison’s face that popped into my head.

Night came and my shift began. I don’t think I ever put on my uniform faster than I did that night. What was I so excited for? As soon as I stepped out of the locker room, the thought of having to explain this multi-day predicament to my superior caught up to me. I slowed my step, running the possible patterns of words through my head, but I was already being chatted up at the front security desk before I could come up with something.

The swing-shifter waiting to pass his responsibilities to me was chatting up Hank, already settled into the desk chair behind the tall counter.

“You’re here early, sweet-cheeks,” he said, glancing at his watch. “This mean I can kick off early?”

Hank leaned back and stretched his arm up behind his head. “Fine. Might as well, since you’re stuck here for the weekend crowd tomorrow, opening day for the Tomb exhibit too.”

“Lovely,” came the shrug and reply. “But, you don’t have to tell me twice.”

Hank yawned and nodded and shifted back to face the front entrance, the doors already closed, but not yet locked at that time of night. “Well,” he welcomed my presence as he often did. “Aren’t we lucky to not have to deal with the crowds?”

“I can’t complain,” I sighed and shrugged, glancing at my wristwatch to make sure I made the first patrol time. “But my family wanted to come see the new exhibit during the week. So I will be getting a taste of it, nonetheless.”

Hank nodded and huffed. “Ah, the business of a young family. Still don’t know how you manage it. You had boys, eh? Why a museum? The school of theirs not have a sports team?”

“Well… they’re in elementary. They get physical education for now.”

“Good,” Hank grunted. “Toughen them up while you can,” he added, turning back to me, “Well, seeing their mom, sure they’re pretty tough anyways.”

I took the comment as a compliment and glanced at my watch one final time. “Well… better go off for the patrol, now, huh?”

“Ah, you’re right there.”

My feet took me forward about my winding path through the various wood-laden rooms of the museum, but my mind was elsewhere. I kept looking toward the windows, unsure if I was hoping or dreading to see something outside. So distracted I was that I nearly stumbled right over the unsuspecting person in my path.

The white-coated curator, one of the older ones, looked back and up at me, leaning back at first, and then stepping away like a guard giving way to a king. “My apologies, was I in your warpath?”

“Huh?” I composed myself. I noticed I had stopped right at the entrance to the Anthropology hall, where the new exhibit had been set up. Then I noticed the wide, messily-folded cloth on the ground, held at the far end by the night custodian.

Sahir was usually pushing around a wide broom at the end of the night, cleaning the last bits of mess from the day. It was the first time I had seen him at another task. The curator shook his head and leaned down to pick up the dropped end. “How can you secure this place if you cannot look where you are going?”

“It is my fault completely, I should be certainly paying more attention,” I said, lowering my head, even if it was still above the curator’s height.

Sahir, from some country somewhere far away where the people were tanned and spoke with a rattling accent, shrugged and laughed. “She was probably keeping her eyes on the jewel there,” he said, jerking his head to the display case. “Worth more than me, I heard you say.”

The curator huffed and took up the mostly folded square of cloth from the custodian before stomping off. Sahir stepped back to the far wall and retrieved his tool from the corner, pushing it all the way up to the new display case. I settled in beside him, looking at the fairly normal-looking, blue, mostly transparent stone inside the thick glass case. “If it’s worth more than you… that means it’s worth more than any of us,” I said with a shrug.

Sahir chuckled and returned to his sweeping. “Aye, so it could be, so it could be.”

At last, the hour hit when I was to travel outside to the relative dark of the gardens. I began early, ready to move about at a slower pace than normal, maybe to see if I could get the jump on anyone before they did the same to me. I held my flashlight in my hand, not illuminated, but ready to turn on, or even to strike if the need arrived.

I couldn’t help but notice the sound of my footsteps on the concrete paths. Warpath, the curator had said. I attempted to walk more silently, perhaps more ladylike, to keep myself from being heard. Alas, the heavy boots of my uniform didn’t wish to cooperate. To be able to fully abreast of my surroundings, I would have to stop, listen, and watch. Just like that Sean Connery as James bond, I would hug every corner and scan every direction before acting or moving. But it didn’t take being a secret agent to come across my nemesis once again.

The bushes outside the anthropology exhibit rustled and breathed. With a few quieter-than-usual footsteps, I moved forward, then pounced, flashlight beam suddenly tackling the darkness of the planter. “Don’t move!” The owner of the dark hair stood and shifted back to face me. “I said don’t move!”

“You’ve caught me,” her eyes teased, looking me up and down and up again. “I thought I was going to have to break in there to see you.”

I studied her face, took in her words, then jerked my light down to her feet where a dark sack lay on the ground. “If you’re breaking in, it certainly isn’t for me.”

“Ah, you did catch me. Of course, I can already meet up with you out here.”

I sent the strange woman back against the wall of the building with a shove to her slim shoulder, enough to get at her bag of supplies. I held her at bay there with the heft of the flashlight while I bent down to kick it open. Inside, I found a small crowbar.

In a swift motion, I picked up the tool and presented it incriminatingly before her eyes. “So, you are trying to break in?”

“It was worth a try,” the woman shrugged.

“The windows have alarms, you know.” That was a lie. Some of the displays had alarms on their cases, but most windows were just held with a simple lock.

“If that’s the case, why do they need folk like you?” She smirked.

I waved the tool back and forth in my hand. “So we can stop people before they cause property damage.”

The woman took a step forward, placing her hand on the head of the flashlight. “So, what happens now? Do you call the police? I’m not technically breaking and entering. And I don’t think I’m trespassing, since you’ve been so kind to allow me to stay here before. Are you going to hold me here somehow, or just carry me over your shoulder to a phone?”

“Talking isn’t going to get you out of this,” I said, tossing the crowbar back onto the path with a clank.

The woman smirked. Before I could react, her hands found my shoulders. I can’t remember if she pulled herself up, or she pulled me down, but my body felt heavy and our lips met somewhere in the middle. It went on longer than the first time, or maybe it was just the lingering moisture on my lips, but in the middle of it, my eyes had closed. When they were open once more, the woman had ducked under my arm and escaped my grasp entirely.

“That’s better than talking, now, isn’t it?” She called back, disappearing off into the night once more.

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