The Stealing of Things [Chapter 7]
After that meeting at the restaurant, inside the cramped bathroom, back against the wall, her lips to mine… no, her daring words attacking my ears, I certainly couldn’t focus on anything the museum had to offer. I held Jamison’s hand while he shouted at the kids to focus and not touch anything or run off, but I couldn’t get past what I was urged to do.
I practiced like I was on one of my nightly patrols, looking about. Was she here somewhere, waiting for me to act like I wasn’t going to do the task asked of me? Was she going to pop out and attempt to blackmail me like how she had described?
“I’m sorry, this is probably terribly boring for you,” Jamison spoke up, pulling on my hand and bringing me back to my senses. “You’ve seen all these things countless times, no doubt.”
“Something like that,” I laughed, looking out for the children hanging on a rope barrier, looking at the stuffed likeness of a grizzly, complete with surprised-looking fake eyes. “Don’t lean on that thing, you’ll knock it down!”
“That’s right,” Jamison said, backing me up. “Your mom knows just what to do with the trouble-makers, even if they’re her own little boys!”
James and Jamie were too distracted to fully listen, ducking around my legs and the rows of displays on the other side of the room. I too was distracted once again, wondering if any of the other guards were around, if they had noticed me, and if they dared to think that I had raised my kids to be foolish and indignant. So far, I think my flattering dress had put any of my coworkers off my trail.
We finally arrived at the busiest room of the museum, the bane of my past week, the Tomb Exhibit for the Sudanese Princess. “Let’s find the jewel, James!”
“This is the toom! The toom, mama!” The little one called back, finding the signs and glass display cases at the center of the room.
The jewel was still there, its shiny blue self, the focus of several other museum guests. It belonged to her and her family, so said the overly-close woman, the would-be thief. It wasn’t my problem that some museum had taken it, but the problem found its way to me nonetheless. Was she really who she said she was?
Sudan, a place I had certainly heard about once or twice, but its location on the map of the world never came up in any of my studies. The woman looked like someone not from around here, and she had an accent as well. Among the collection was a print of a picture taken of the Tomb’s inhabitant. The roughly-preserved inhabitant was certainly shriveled like an old raisin, draped with rags. To say she bared any resemblance to the young, pretty woman out in the garden was too much of a stretch.
“Mama! Let’s keep moving,” said little James, suddenly pulling on my free hand.
“You’ve seen enough of the Tomb, then? Me too, I’d say.”
That night I was back, certainly less sure about how I would move forward with the strange demand. At the very least, my family wasn’t there to take part in a blackmail scheme.
Hank was off for the night, leaving me with his replacement, one of the day shifters who drew the short straw to take the graveyard shift. It was no stretch of my courtesy to leave him at the desk to sip coffee while I did the rounds like normal. I wished for a quiet night to perhaps sort out my feelings, but God didn’t seem to have that in store for me.
In one of the back corridors where there was but a fire exit, a water fountain, and a pair of bathrooms, I heard a rhythmic clicking, like metal on metal. I traced it to the woman’s restroom, igniting my anxiety from earlier in the day.
“Excuse me,” I said, poking my head in, “the museum is closing in 10 minutes—“
The dainty hand inside the darkened room grabbed and yanked me in. I jerked away and flipped the switch near the door, revealing my nemesis. She was dressed the same as at the restaurant, and had a toilet paper roll holder in her hand, slowly tapping away at the side of the stall with it.
“Put that away,” I demanded, “What if my partner had come this way instead of me?”
She smirked. “Then I would be just another late-running guest doing her business. Besides, there is only one lady guard at this location who would dare come in here.”
“If you think you’re going to accomplish anything here, tonight—“
“No, but you are.”
I put my foot down. “And why do you suppose that?”
“Because I saw you and your nice family drive off in your car after your trip here earlier today. Got the numbers on the back.”
“That’s it, I’m going to the police.”
“And prove what, with what information?” she whispered sweetly, leaning in closer to me. “Maybe prove that you are a poor guard? Or maybe I am kidding about everything.”
“You should leave. Now. I need to do my job. This situation with the jewel is yours to deal with. I don’t have the slightest idea about how to go forward with this.”
“So you have thought about it?” She smirked again.
I found my back against the door. “I’ve thought about how fired I would be.”
“Not to worry. An opportunity will reveal itself. You will not be fired. You are just helping. And to convince you…” Her fingers touched against her lips, then reached out for mine. I nearly accepted the gesture but grabbed her wrist out of the air.
“No? Perhaps you want the real thing?”
I arched her arm back, further away from my face. “This is the restroom. I have no idea how clean your hands are.”
“Well, these are quite clean,” she said plainly, eyes low. Without warning, her lips had found their way to mine once more. Before we pulled away, I found that my hand, once on her wrist, had taken up her delicate fingers. “It seems like you like this more and more.”
I caught my breath, but couldn’t find the words to say. “No, uh…”
“You’ll get one more when all is said and done. Here, take this.”
Forced into my opposite hand was a trinket, a similar form and color as the jewel in the display case. “What is this?”
“Cheap glass,” she said, pulling away, licking her lips. “It will take some time for them to tell it is not real. Oh, the museum is closing, you say? I shall be gone from here.”
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