Finding a friendlier, and female, guard at the museum entrance the next morning, I got through with a wink and a quick flash of the I.D. without breaking stride a few hours after Shannon. Now knowing where the elevators were, and not feeling guilty about not taking the stairs because she’d left me delightfully exhausted, I quickly made my way through the anteroom and into her office before most people could look up.
“What’re you up to?” I had indeed learned my lesson about hugging her from behind, especially now that she was bent over the microscope.
“Building a bomb,” she replied absently.
“Well. . . I’ll be seein’ ya, then. . .” I backed away carefully.
“It’s a genetic bomb,” she laughed. “Inside.”
“Ouch even more.”
“This bomb kills the bad guys, don’t worry.”
“What about collateral damage?”
She thought about ignoring me, but figured it might be something worth knowing. “What’s that?”
“When someone wants to kill a particular person with a bomb, there’s always a chance that innocent passerby might also be injured–”
“Oh! No, this’ll leave all the good cells alone. You know I’m a humanitarian scientist.”
Not having anywhere to go with that, I stayed quiet.
“Unlike that Swedish redhead floozy you’re always panting after. . .”
“Are you still mad because of that one time she slipped me the tungsten?”
The blonde stuck hers at me, then giggled. “I love how you always play along.” Then she let out a sigh that was different from all the other ones I’d heard recently. “I need exact timing. One minute, forty-three seconds. . . exactly.”
“Exactly?” I thought about it, rejected the obvious sex joke, then grinned and went over to the microwave.
Less than two minutes later she was muttering, “There are no experimental failures, just more data.”
I leaned over, now that the smoke had cleared, and wiped the soot from her face with a harsh napkin. Luckily she’d been wearing goggles, so at least her blonde eyebrows were clean. “Science strikes again, huh?”
“Hey, you scientific imbecile!” She jabbed a new test tube at me, for some reason. “I could show you some cells that would have you crying in wonder! Now sit in the corner and ponder your mistake in not being supportive to your girlfriend. . . of the day.”
“C’mon, at least of the week. And can I ponder your ass when you bend over the scope?”
“That’s what I meant.”
“Instead I’m gonna go talk to security.”
“Ooo, wait, I wanna go! Time to learn something new.”
“So it’s not only when you’re unclothed?”
“My curiosity knows no bounds, no matter the subject. After you, dearest.”
We made our way down quickly, and for a change I was the one who led, since she’d never had cause to visit the security office before and therefore had no idea where it was. The people who normally inhabited the room were cold to the interlopers, but not more so than usual. Well, maybe the women, on seeing Shannon and particularly her perkiness, but on the plus side it did defrost the guys a bit.
Unfortunately, the liaison to the investigation was female. Fortunately, I knew how to do some defrosting of my own, which in this case meant nothing more than treating her like a fellow professional. Women seemed to like that.
“It’s been confirmed,” she told me as soon as she saw I wasn’t going to be a typical male superior asshole. “Surveillance cameras show no sign of him coming in through the three main entrances.”
“Are there any other doors?”
“Yes, but they can only be opened from inside.”
“So he called someone to open it.”
“There are security cams on each door.”
“No sir. No one used the doors all day.”
So the security people weren’t completely useless.
“What about windows?” Shannon piped, causing the female to roll her eyes and the males to think she was just adorable. Too bad she had a rule of not playing with people where she worked, or she might have been able to knock another fantasy off her list.
“But there is video, as well as witnesses, that have him coming out, right?”
The security lady admitted this was so, though you could tell it pained her.
“Okay. Thanks.” With a sigh I led the way out, Shannon making the guys, and even the woman, laugh as she pretended to be following her master out, leash pulled and tongue panting. She was quite a ham.
“As long as we’re here, let’s take a look around the areas accessible to everyone.”
“Luckily I don’t have a supervisor who checks in to see if I’m actually doing what I’m paid to do,” she mused, then realized we were right next to the cafeteria. “How ‘bout lunch first?”
“Now you’re thinking like an investigator.”
Chortling to herself, she led the way. “You know I’ve always been a dessert first kinda girl. As you found out last night.”
“That may be why your taste buds don’t discriminate anymore.”
“The problem with eating dessert first is that it makes the rest of the meal taste horrible in comparison.”
“Ah, I see.”
“There is one logical way out of that trap, though.” I let her think about it as I looked over the menu above the ordering area.
“Nope, don’t get it. What?”
“Eat only dessert!”
“Wait, they seriously want more than four bucks for a burger?”
“My treat today.”
“Doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ll just have dessert.”
“Then try the meat loaf sundae. It looks like a brownie sundae, but it’s made with meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy.”
It made me think of a beautiful musician who used the phrase “brownie sundae” in one of her songs. “Don’t like meatloaf, though.”
“Ah well, let’s gorge on the desserts then.”
Which we did, for unlike the burger, the desserts were oversized enough to justify the price. Thus fortified, we were able to start the first preliminary search.
The basement, in addition to having the cafeteria and security office, was also home to the members’ lending library, work lockers, and staff lounge, along with the cultural part of the museum’s mission, which consisted mostly of the history of California.
“Most people don’t know that there’s stuff down here,” she ruminated as she led the way into a small temporary gallery which today housed a collection of ship-filled bottles. I let her ooo and aaah and wonder how they managed to stuff those ships through the narrow openings–a really simple trick that I had seen once, but also something most people didn’t know–as I checked the temporary walls of the exhibit. There did seem to be enough room to put something up there, since the walls didn’t reach to the roof, but it was too high to do it on a whim, and there were docents/security wannabes/whatever they were called watching everything carefully. I made a mental note to check later and followed her out, telling her I wasn’t going to explain the ships into the bottle thing until she’d had at least a day to cogitate on it.
The corridor leading past the elevators and to the work locker room had several doors, but all were secured very high-tech-wise. Again I left that as a last resort, thinking that unless the guy had everything planned out from the beginning, there was very little chance he’d gotten any access codes for these rooms. An arrogant guy like that–had to be full of himself for no reason, if he worked at that play school across the street–confident he would never be found. . . very doubtful he would have thought that far ahead.
No one had reported their lockers being broken into, so I stood up on the benches to see the top of the lockers, finding all manner of stuff but none that was useful to the investigation. Shannon spent these moments revisiting the new fantasy she’d thought of last night, but luckily wasn’t given enough time to put it into the planning stages.
The big room down here lodged the History of California exhibits, in chronological order if you started at the right place. Not much on the pre-nineteen hundreds, which wasn’t a surprise, but it did have the biggest exhibits sizewise, what with huge prairie schooners and the like. On the side I spotted a 3-D montage of downtown several decades ago, but it wouldn’t do to take things out of order, so I continued on century by century.
Next to the conquistadors exhibit I spotted a very old looking door, which didn’t look at all like the ones I’d previously found that led to the back stairs. I noticed scratches on the rudimentary lock, but that could simply mean the key had been lost sometime in the past almost-hundred years. Picking the lock easily, I looked into what turned out to be a janitor’s closet. Still checking everything closely, I got out of there with clean hands as well as the certainty it had nothing to do with the case.
Walking along, she happily pointed out one of her favorite exhibits, but I found my mind wandering to its more usual musings. “Check out that mom. Nice.”
She checked, and agreed. About twenty-five, dark blonde, slim. One cute little girl walked next to her as she pushed a stroller. “That coulda been me,” she mulled.
“Still could be.”
“Doubtful. Do you really thing I could go through all those months of not having sex while I was pregnant?”
Rather than pointing out ways around that, I settled for, “You have such a tender heart I’m sure you’d adopt.”
“Now that’s a lovely thought!”
Done with the basement, for now, we mounted the stairs to the main floor, sharing an amused glance at the tiredness in our legs. I told her we should concentrate on seeing things from the bad guy’s point of view, and since we had no evidence yet that he was in cahoots–she called it “Cahooties!”–with anyone in the museum, that meant basically a tourist’s viewpoint. Besides, I didn’t want any curious visitors to wonder why these people, who were dressed just like them, got to go to restricted places and they didn’t.
Not mentioning that she had no other way of thinking about it, not being a trained investigator, she tried, “I suppose that means checking back after closing hours if we don‘t find it before?”
“If necessary, yes.”
“Had I known it would involve all this walking, I woulda just lay back and let you do all the work last night.”
“Then I’d be too tired to do the job. You’re not saying you’d be better at it, are ya?”
She didn’t bother answering, figuring I was joking again. So far nothing had happened to make her feel like she was contributing to this case, although she did enjoy the few times we’d busted in on people hard at work and she got to say “Security audit,” with a wink.
Hours and seemingly miles later, starting to feel a little bored, she looked at the lit she’d collected off the internet, where she’d been crossing off the places as we checked them out, but now she was actually getting around to reading the stuff.
Not asking if I wanted to hear it, she read aloud, paraphrasing when it would do the most good. “The museum’s mission is to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds.”
“Hmmm, someone’s thinking outside the box, not saying ‘resources’ at the end.”
Figuring this was going to make wonderful snarking material for both of us, she read on in a more jovial mood, practically skipping along as I continued to check the surroundings. Though skipping made it hard to read accurately. “The vast and diverse collection has more than thirty million specimens and artifacts–”
“They must be counting each of your study molecules.”
“–Covering four and a half billion years of Earth and human history.”
I let that one pass without a comment, much to her disappointment. Apparently she’d forgotten she was going to snark too.
“ Free admission to school groups, community outreach programs, monthly lectures and classes, yada yada yada. Adventures in Nature, that sounds like it might be fun. Interactive Discovery Center and Insect Zoo, where children can learn first-hand about natural science and history.”
“Let’s leave the insect collection for the very last,” I begged.
“You’re the boss,” she reminded.
“Only when it suits you.”
Ignoring my latest lie, she read on. “Hey, did you know that big dinosaur exhibit actually has a name? ‘Dueling Dinosaurs!’” She beat me to it. “Hmmm, I was hoping for something a little more poetical than that. Sounds like a 50s movie.” Not getting any response, she tried, “Who do you think would win in a real battle between a Rex and a Triceratops, even though I think they’re not called that anymore?”
“I prefer descriptive anyway, so I’ll keep calling him that. This is the age-old sports question of whether offense or defense wins championships.”
She frowned. “When I played basketball in high school, coach said rebounding wins championships.”
“So he was obviously no help. But what about volleyball?”
“Kills as opposed to blocks and digs?”
“Don’t forget the serves. No, that doesn’t apply anyway. Try football.”
She tried, but it didn’t help her much. “So Rex, being mobile and fast, relatively speaking amongst dinosaurs anyway, is on offense. Three Top, being slow and heavy, but having armor and spikes, is the defense.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe this conversation has lasted this long! Moving on. . .” She checked her papers, wondering why she didn’t just use her laptop. “Three world-famous habitat halls that showcase African and North American mammals in their natural environments. Okay, we did all we could with that, but we’ll have to come back tonight and actually go into the exhibits, right?”
“Yep. That’ll be fun.”
“You say so.” She didn’t have to do her famous dubious face, since her voice conveyed it well enough, but it was fun to watch. “Hey, here’s something I haven’t heard of: Megamouth!”
“C’mon, don’t leave it so easy for me!”
“Hmmmph. You better smile when you say that, or I’m never doing that to you again.”
“Most women would have said no more sex of any kind. You are so different.”
“That would have been worse for me, and you like me being different, so anyway, Megamouth is a shark, the world’s rarest. This one’s over fourteen feet long and the only one of its kind on public view in North America. Yeah! Countin’ coup on my buddy at the Field in Chicago. Woo-hoo!”
“You take this more seriously than your college pride. Notice you’re not wearing purple today.”
“That’s because you gave me a green fishing shirt, silly. More than eight hundred pieces from the permanent collections of the Hall of Native American Cultures. . . hey, remember those beaded sneakers? Woulda loved to play in those! ”
“And slipping on the beads that came off?” Knowing that was far too logical for her–at least when she wasn’t in her lab coat–I quickly added, “They were beautiful, though.”
“Knew you’d like them,” she giggled, then uughed, “Madagascar hissing cockroaches! A fully-stocked refrigerator of insect delicacies and interactive displays? I can see why you didn’t want to go into Insect Containment.”
“Yeah, that’s one door I’ll never open. And they put that office so it comes out in the rotunda.”
“So if the insects escape, they’ve got the biggest empty space in the place to play wild goose.”
“Hmmm. . . remember that guy we met in England whose last name was Wildgoose?”
“He got married.”
“Changed his name to Wildgeese.”
“Liar!” She laughed and smacked me on the shoulder, luckily hitting her target this time. “So I guess you don’t like snakes either.”
“You suppose correctly, but how’d’ya know?”
“The pilgrims in an unholy land line from Indiana Jones. He didn’t like snakes. Plus you’re an archaeologist.”
“Only as a hobby. But the snake thing was from the first movie, and the pilgrims were in the third. Probably not the same writer.”
“So how come you don’t like snakes?”
“Most recent example? I was hiking in the Angelus Crest, on a slight animal path along the tall grass, when I hear a rattle.”
“Oh no! That’ll do it!”
“Both my body and my blood froze, and I looked around for the snake, but of course didn’t spot anything because the grass was too tall. Then I heard it again and realized it was in my headphones. Why Libbie Schrader decided that was the best place to put that particular brand of percussion, I’ll never know. My heart started beating again the next morning; my shorts are a different story.”
She was laughing much too hard for the next few minutes to make a comment, gosh durn it. By the time she came back, the moment was long gone.
“I really need to check your music collection. You always know what I like.”
“Hmmm, if I hadn’t said ‘we have the same great taste,’ you woulda smacked me.”
“I must be more tired than I thought.” She rested her head on my shoulder, but only for a moment. “Hey, you still are buying CDs, right? Or do you just download now?”
“I’ve bought downloads, but only when I couldn’t wait to get a CD, especially if I’m in a foreign country. If your computer crashes or you lose the music somehow, it’s better to have the CD there just in case.”
“Good thinking. But what’s to keep you from bootlegging?”
“What’s to keep anyone from bootlegging once they’ve downloaded it?”
“Okay, I am officially too tired to even think! Let’s go to my office and rest.”
“Have we missed anything? Besides the insects? Run a check.”
She took a moment to throw me a mock salute, then went to the pages. “Discovery Center?”
“Hasn’t burned yet.”
Giggling and happy I wasn’t going to let this get boring, she continued on down the list. “Marine Hall?”
“We came back up without getting the bends.”
“I’ll be bending over my desk soon enough, I hope. Ich. . . um, ichthy. . .”
“Don’t look so damned innocent!” she groused. “Like you know what it means!”
“Fish, of course. Your favorite animal even before you met Megamouth.”
Seeing she wasn’t going to win that one, she tried, “Herpetology?”
“Why’d it have to be snakes?”
A little chortle at that, nothing more. “Too bad butterflies are included with insects. I wouldn’t have minded checking those out.”
“You’ve never seen a butterfly up close, have ya?”
Best to ignore that, she told herself. “Marine mammalogy? I didn’t see any whales!”
“There was that narwhal tusk, but that was in the special exhibits, director’s gallery, or whatever it’s called. Mark that one to see later.”
“Okay-doke! Marine invertebrates? Biggest collection of West Coast watery no-spines in the world, crabs, starfish, water snails and worms from Antarctica to the Galapagos.”
“Largest catalogued vertebrate fossil collection in North America? And sixth largest invertebrate?”
“Not much room to hide a briefcase in one of those. Check.”
“Hey! According to this, there’s still an art collection here! More than five hundred works by American artists, though I don’t recognize the names on the painters. Drawings and prints by Currier and Ives, Audobon–”
“Well, that figures.”
“True. Western History Research?”
“Don’t remember it, so don’t check it.”
“What about the History Collections?”
“Didn’t see any room called that. Is it more specific?”
“Textiles, scientific instruments, armor, firearms, dolls, toys, games. . .”
“Could that be the basement stuff?”
“Well, put half a check on it.”
“How do I do that?”
“It would look like a little v.”
We passed through the dinosaur exhibit for the second time, the one that actually had its own room, not the big skeletons at the entrance. Having checked all I could on the previous runthrough, this time I was able to give my attention to the little workshop full of early instruments used by ancient paleontologists I’d given the skeletons and models as much consideration as I could, considering I was mentally running down as well.
Reaching the next exhibit room, I checked my watch as I saw the cleaning lady furiously squeegeeing the exhibit glass. “She’s getting an early start.”
“Think of all the glass she has to do.”
“True. Buenas tardes.”
“Como esta?” Shannon asked with her trademark pretty smile.
“Bien, gracias.” The lady smiled back and scrubbed all the harder.
“When did you learn Spanish?”
“Glad three years in high school retained something.”
I was prevented from replying to that by a pompous voice behind us. “This part of the museum is closing. Thank you for joining us today.”
She turned and laughed when she saw who it was. “Work on the sincerity, Brad.”
The guy scurried off.
“Now he knows he’ll never have you,” I sighed melodramatically, and walked away before she could say he already had. . .