No Replacement

The Stealing of Things [Chapter 8 – Final]

The woman walked briskly out the bathroom door, departing to who knows where before I straightened my appearance and hid the fake gem. I brushed against its form several times in my breast pocket during the continuation of my patrol, my mind wandering from my duty.

I had attempted to push its presence out of my mind during my time at the security desk, my eyes fruitlessly moving over the pages of the book I had brought. My stand-in partner listened to the late-night radio broadcast in the corner, rolling his fingers and attempting to not drift off. Suddenly, somewhere in the deep echoey reaches of the museum, there was a loud hollow clack, followed by a half-hearted distress call. “Security lady, a moment, please? Can I get some help here?”

My coworker sat up with a tired grunt. “Doesn’t sound quite like trouble, does it? Well, might as well stretch my legs and see what’s up.”

“No, uh,” I said, jerking up. “I think I heard him asking for me. I need to get up and… attend to… some feminine business… soon, anyways.”

I received a slightly disturbed look up and down as I stood before he slumped back across the arm of the chair. “Uh, that’s nice. I’ll leave it to you, then.”

I rushed, likely more than necessary, to the hall I expected. The janitor was at the center of the Anthropology exhibit, the bucket cart for his mop turned over in the middle of the room, the water and suds cast across the wood floor. “Ah, Mrs. Lizabeth. Do not come any closer, please.”

“Had an accident, Sahir?”

He pointed simply to the middle of the puddle where a floor plug was complaining with tiny electric crackles. “It is dangerous. Will you wait here, so that nobody is injured?”

I glanced about, looking for the anyone he might have been referencing. “We’re already closed, Sahir, but sure. How do you even fix this?”

“I will flip the breakers before mopping. Late night, late night. I shall return, Mrs. Lizabeth!”

Before I could say anymore, he rushed off stiffly. I backed away from the electric water, glancing out the window behind me out of habit. Not a minute later, the already dim lights above shut off. The display and floor lights went next, and likely somewhere in between, the power to the plugs was turned off as well.

In the low glow coming from the adjacent hallways, there was only one thing that could catch my eye: the blue jewel inside the display case. Before I knew it, I was unlatching the guard rope, then had my hands on the smooth, untouched glass of its case. Tilting the heavy box from its base didn’t cause the release any sort of loud siren as I was expecting. My fingers trailed across the smooth velvet lining the box, then across the silk pillow supporting it. The jewel itself was cold and smooth. The one from my breast pocket was slightly warmer, but it did look just close enough from the distance behind the rope barrier.

By the time Sahir was back, I was also in the same place he had left me. “You’ll be fine cleaning in the dark here? I have a flashlight you could borrow.”

The custodian smiled at me. “I shall be fine here. Go do what you need to do, Mrs. Lizabeth.”

I swallowed, nodding, then made my way for the back entrance to the garden. I picked up my pace as I unlocked and passed through the doors. Despite my hurry, I could still hear the rustling of the brush deep in the darker sections outside.

“You’re out here earlier than usual.”

I held my hand to my chest over the valuable that I had just stolen. “And I’m sure you know why. What happens now?”

The woman touched her finger to her lips. “Well, you can get your prize now, or after.” I held my breath, my feet planted and hand still stuck against my chest. “Or do you suddenly not want anything from me before I go?”

I let out a breath, just in time for her to reach up towards me, pulling me down without my body offering any resistance. Her lips were warm in the cool of the night. Her hand was upon mine, over my heart. When she pulled away, I felt the need to finally present the jewel and be done with it.

“What… is this feeling running through me right now?” I asked, perhaps to her, perhaps to the world at large.

Her soft fingers grabbed at mine, pulling the jewel from my grasp. “It’s called crime. Don’t get used to it.” With those words, her back met my eyes, ready to exit the garden altogether.

“Wait!” I caught the gleam of her eyes glancing back behind her. “Will I ever see you again?”

“Only in the newspapers, and only if I get caught. And I won’t. So whatever you’re feeling, know you’re better off staying with that happy little family of yours. Thanks again, Mrs. Lizabeth.”

The Sudanese Tomb exhibit remained for another week and a half at the museum, no one the wiser to what had happened. When it came to be moved, the fake jewel was finally discovered. Police came to check for fingerprints, but there was not a spot of any sort anywhere on the replacement jewel or its case. Likely unrelated, Sahir, the custodian, quit soon after, leaving without notifying a soul.

All of us working at the museum were questioned. All that I could say was that I had no idea where the jewel could have gone. No word of the crime was printed on the news, local or otherwise. The last I heard, the touring exhibit went off to another city and another museum, the patrons there none the wiser about the legitimacy of the gem.

As for me… well, of course, I never saw the strange, overly-close woman again, be on the museum’s premises, or in any newspaper or report. There were a few times, however, when sharing a kiss with my husband, that it was her lips I did imagine.  

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