Travel Thursday: The Girl With Three Left Feet, Part 5

While we waited for the museum to close, with me having nothing to do but answer her occasional absent-minded mutterings as she caught up on ignored work, I ruminated on things I’d put on my brain’s back burner the last couple of weeks. Like the news item that some students had invented an alarm clock that monitored the user’s brainwaves and worked out the best time to wake you up. I didn’t know how good an idea that was: what if the damned thing thought the best time for me to wake was around four? Or noon, on a day I had to be at work by nine? Plus having to wear a headband equipped with electrodes tended to get in the way of romance. . .
No better wake-up than the way Shan had done this morning, of course; you’d think students would know that, but if they were the scientist egghead type. . . wait a minute, Shan was the scientist egghead type.
I glanced over, but she hadn’t been able to read my mind this time.
A possibly better, and certainly funnier, idea was the alarm that rang and then ran away and hid, so that the sleeper had to get up to turn it off. No snooze button there, but considering how slowly some people woke up, they might be late for work by the time they chased the little critter down. And the batteries would run down quickly. . .
I was startled out of my reverie of imagining my little travel alarm skittering away on tiny sneaker-soled feet by her sudden jump out of her chair. “Time to go!”
I grinned as I realized I’d successfully distracted myself long enough, but that didn’t last as we went out, especially when the elevator door opened. “I knew it.”
“What?”
“Museums are fuckin’ creepy in the dark. Scary.”
She laughed.
“Hey, I saw a vampire movie that was filmed here. I didn’t think reality would be worse, but it is.”
“Think about the blonde in that movie. You’ll feel better.”
I brightened, more than she’d hoped, so she smacked my shoulder to bring me down.
“Typical female, scientist or not. Playing both sides.”
“You’re talking your way out of sex, buddy.”
“With some women that might be true, not with you.”
“So that’s the downside of letting a guy know me so well!” she mourned.
“Yeah, now I know you watch vampire movies. That ‘Enchanted April’ crap you tried to pull last time–”
“I’m versatile in my viewing habits!”
There were other things she was versatile in, but it wouldn’t do me any good to mention that now. Maybe later. “Hey, As long as we’re here, let’s go borrow the gold exhibit.”
“Vault’s probably closed,” she grinned.
“Gold’s not in the vault.”
“True.” She still had her downloaded notes in her pocket, so she checked. “More than two thousand gem and mineral specimens are on view in the Gem and Mineral Hall.”
“Good name for it. Couldn’t they find a jewelry store to sponsor it, like everything else here?”
“My office isn’t sponsored.”
“I’ll call Hustler.”
“Ha ha. The hall features one of the largest gold exhibits in the world, and includes over three hundred pounds of natural gold along with gold mining artifacts and other memorabilia.” Patting me on the shoulder, she soothed, “All that gold would be too heavy to carry out.”
“You’d like the gems more anyway, right?”
“Abso-tively! The walk-through Hixon Gem Vault–see, that one’s sponsored!–houses such spectacular treasures as exquisite star rubies, emeralds and sapphires.”
“Emeralds are so much better than diamonds.”
She beamed. “Glad you agree! Now steal some of those to match my eyes.”
“Your eyes are already emeralds.”
“Party pooper.”
“Besides, there’s probably a permanent guard there.”
“You were thinking of checking it again?”
“Not really. Too deep into the museum, especially since no one saw the guy running through the halls.”
“With that reasoning,” she pointed out, “he probably wouldn’t have gotten to the second floor.”
“Elevator.”
“Still. . .”
“What is it you don’t want to check out again up there?”
Knowing she shouldn’t have bothered trying to fool me, she mentioned the bird exhibit. “It was spooky even in the daytime.” She checked the papers. “Begun with two hundred fifty specimens in 1913–”
“Right when it opened? First curator musta loved the feathery things.”
“The Museum’s ornithological collection now numbers more than 104,000 birds, including more California condors than any other institution in the world. Yippee!”
“But that wasn’t the exhibit. Doesn’t that one have a name and/or sponsor?”
“Probably not a sponsor, but someone who loved birds enough to donate enough money to get it built.”
“Like a guy donated to have gems in a vault?”
“That is kinda weird. Here it is! Animated birds, three walk-through habitats and twenty-seven separate learning stations are featured in the popular Schreiber Hall of Birds.”
“Ah, Schreiber, I knew her well.”
“I’m not Horatio, and how’d you know it was a woman?”
“Don’t know this Schreiber, and the only one I do know is a woman. Nice Shakespeare catch, by the way, Little Miss Scientist.”
She looked proud of herself. “More than five hundred birds from around the world are on display. Didn’t seem like all that many.”
“You didn’t go into the treetops.”
“Oh yeah, I was flirting with those tourists.”
“The birds could learn lessons from you.”
She didn’t know where I was going with that, but had to of course pretend she did. “I thought we were going straight to Ken’s clue.”
“Yeah, let’s do that. Do you know where it is?”
“Um. . . no. In one of the animal exhibit halls, obviously, but I don’t remember seeing it.”
“Great, the biggest exhibit space, just what my legs need.”
The halls with the animals were even more spooky, so we refrained from speaking. . . until I ruined it with, “That silverback is staring at me!”
She turned quickly, then just as fast jumped behind me. “Shit, he is!”
“It’s gonna be a long night. . .”
And it was, with plenty of surprises, like the chimps on the ceiling that neither of us had noticed before. I had spotted the doors in the dark corridors by the lonely stairs that might lead to the animal enclosures, though there might be corridors behind them too; I’d forgotten to ask. Though I couldn’t mention that, or else I wouldn’t be able to continue joking about her kudu thing. {It should not be considered hypocrisy by any means.}
“Isn’t it kinda funny how some of the animals are behind glass and others in the open?”
“And it’s not the dangerous ones behind glass,” I smirked, pointing to the lion. “Ah, look there on the wall near the floor.”
“What am I looking for? Oh, that little round thing?”
“Yeah, looks like a sensor. But it’s so low it’d be easy enough to step over. . . unless they’re expecting that and the real alarm is higher–”
“Okay, that’s a never-ending argument. Check out that Arabian oryx thing.”
I squinted to read the plaque in the dim light. “From Arabia, supposedly the foundation for the myth of the unicorn. Hey, this should be your favorite animal.”
She put her fists on her hips. “Am I that much of a girly-girl?”
“Yes.”
She squealed, clapped her hands together near her chest like a cheerleader, and snuggled up to me. “You really DO know me!”
I gave her a little smack on the ass to keep it from getting too romantical, and also because she had a really cute squeal I wanted to hear again.
A few minutes later we reached the huge bison exhibit at the end. “Good thing we don’t have to search all of that thing,” she muttered. “Is that real dust or just light-brown carpet?”
“Be glad they didn’t go too realistic and put browner stuff on the floor.”
“Yeech! Downside of animals, huh?”
“Not too many hundreds of years ago it was the same for humans.”
She didn’t see any reason to answer that, so we stayed quiet for a few minutes, until she proclaimed, “Standing is tiring too. Let’s start back.”
We’d been up and down just about every corridor and stairway sometime during this long day, and this one more than once, so I was starting to drag again. Her natural perkiness, however, was making up for whatever her volleyball thighs had lost. And her natural clumsiness, which had so far not been evident during the day, came back with a vengeance as she leaned forward to frown at something in the leopard exhibit when she took a header into it. Finding herself unhurt, she heaved a heavy sigh of relief as she kneeled up and stretched, accidentally hitting the feline’s ass, but not enough to knock it over. “I spanked the kitty,” she giggled.
“Sounds naughty. How loud did you scream?”
It took her a while to get it, then she blushed. “Not THAT!”
From there we enjoyed the comfortable silence as we continued walking down the long hall, then passed through the connector to the other side of the exhibit. The little dome at the top of the connecting hall made me think vampires would love to roost there, and I was too done in to get any help from the blonde in the movie, but as long as I didn’t hear any flapping wings. . .
“Maybe grandpa was just being poetical about the kudu thing, greater or not,” she groused, “cuz I don’t remember any such name.”
“I suppose we can press every eye in the damned place,” I muttered, trying to keep on topic.
And suddenly, there it was. . .
In an appropriately hushed and reverential tone, Shannon actressed, “The gosh durn thang do exist!”
Needing to control my excitement, curiosity, and for some reason mounting horniness, all at once, I took a deep breath and read the educational board in front of the exhibit. “The greater kudu is considered by many to be the most handsome of the tragelaphine antelopes, which includes the bongo, eland, nyala, bushbuck and sitatunga.”
“Well, what else need be said?” she sarcasted, a little nastily.
“Kudus, both the greater kudu and its close cousin the lesser kudu, have stripes and spots on the body, and most have a chevron of white hair on the forehead between the eyes.”
She checked the dead animal in front of her; yep so far.
“Greater and lesser kudu males have long, spiral horns. Yeah, watch out for those, you ballerina, you.”
She spared a moment to show me her favorite finger.
“These beautifully shaped horns have long been prized in Africa for use as musical instruments, honey containers and symbolic ritual objects. In some cultures the horns are thought to be the dwelling places of powerful spirits, and in others they are a symbol for male potency.”
“Damn, I hate assholes who kill animals because they can’t get it up!”
“They obviously never met you. The horns are seldom used in defense against predators, nor are they an impediment in wooded habitats–the kudu tilts the chin up and lays the horns against the back, moving easily through dense bush. Kudus frequently use their horns in wrestling matches, locking them together and then trying to push or wrestle the opponent into submission. They have also been observed in a form of play, tossing broken branches into the air with their horns and catching them as they fall.”
“That’s cool!” she squealed. “Wonder how it got its name.”
“I remember one time in Kenya when the guide pointed out an antelope-type being that he called a Kirk’s dik-dik. You don’t have to be a Trekkie to get why that one’s so funny.”
She actually was a Trekkie, so she laughed for a while, telling me she’d dreamed of fucking Spock, but not the captain.
“I took you for more of the Picard type.”
“Give me a wig and I’ll be your Dax,” she smiled sweetly. Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she stepped into the exhibit and immediately started poking and prodding the eyes. I tried not to check out her ass, even though it was pointed right at me, so I kept reading.
“They have a bluish-gray, grayish-brown or rust hide, with lateral white stripes, a crest of long hair along the spine, and a fringe under the chin.”
“I like fringe,” she said in as high a voice as she could manage, tickling the fringe in question. The animal had no response to that.
“Their cryptic coloring and markings protect kudus by camouflaging them. If alarmed they usually stand still and are very difficult to spot.”
“That sounds dumb,” she mused, but didn’t let it distract her.
“Farmers in areas inhabited by the kudu must take into account, when building their fences, the animal’s ability to easily leap obstacles two and a half meters in height. Hmmm, volleyball mascot,” I joked. “How depressing must it be to be a lesser kudu?”
For once she didn’t answer, and even told me to shut for a moment, which hardly mattered as her hand acted like a hammer on the poor kudu’s eyes. . .

To be continued. . .

;o)

Advertisements

Travel Thursday: The Girl With Three Left Feet, Part 4

We didn’t have to face any particularly knowing smiles as we walked through the reception area, so small favors there. She pretended not to hear my slight groan when I lifted my foot over the strolling backpack of an absent-minded office dweller, and I didn’t mention her leaning wearily against the elevator wall. For a second I contemplated telling her I’d like to slide down the banister on the big stairs connecting the second floor to the first, but it didn’t seem worth breaking our communal exhaustion.
The rose garden seemed to be walking away from us, considering how long it took us to trudge to it. “Hey, what’s with all the traffic?” She did her usual wrinkled nose thing.
My sharp eyes caught plenty of Mexican and club flags flapping from the cars. “Must be a soccer game at the Coliseum, probably a doubleheader, if past events hold. I’ve been caught in these traffic jams before.”
“I thought you didn’t like men’s soccer.”
“I don’t, but it’s a really good place to meet an informant, particularly in Europe or Latin America. Better than bullfights, anyway.”
“Yeah, I can imagine that.” She shuddered beautifully.
“Hey, a redhead!” I smirked at the five-year-old who was walking toward us with a smirk of her own, as well as her mom; redheads were usually advanced in this way.
“Future redhead,” she warned.
“She’s already red.” I smiled at the mom, who smiled back but not too much, not being a redhead herself, as well as having gotten a good look at Shannon. Women were confusing in this fashion, at least to me.
Very willing to let that particular conversation go as we took the steps down into the rose garden, Shannon went right up to a huge black guy on a bench that somehow managed to hold him up. He looked like an offensive lineman, or rather, like he’d eaten one. He was wearing shades, and next to him on the bench was a blonde cheerleader in white sweater and skirt.
Really, were there any kind but blonde here?
“Hi, Ken,” the no doubt much smarter blonde chirped.
“Hi, Barbie,” I couldn’t resist as I checked out the cheerleader.
She gave us a murderous look. “He’s asleep!” Then she gave Shan an extra look, basically saying, I know who you are, and it ain’t worth shit, slut.
Women. . .
Channeling the one and only Edison Carter from Max Headroom, I sweetly yet somberly told her, “Well, it really is too bad he’s asleep, because if he were awake, I’m sure he’d want to talk to us. But if he really is asleep, then I WOULDN’T WANT TO WAKE HIM!!!!!”
The guy laughed; so did Shannon. The cheerleader didn’t get it, which didn’t seem all that unusual.
Not wanting to give Ken too much time to wonder who I was, or what I got to do with her, Shannon immediately asked, “Kenny baby, know anything about secret entrances into the museum?”
“Really subtle,” I muttered.
Ken smiled at her, then looked the competition over. “You here because of what happened the other day?”
“Yep.”
“FBI?”
“They wish.”
That got a chortle from Kenny baby, who reached a hand out absently into the cheerleader’s hair and twisted a lock around his finger. The ditzy blonde shuddered, and not in the way Shannon usually did, but didn’t complain.
“Yeah, my grandpa told me there was a tunnel from the museum to one of the buildings in Barbie’s campus over there.” Everyone ignored the “My name’s NOT Barbie!” screech. “There was a professor there who also worked at the museum, and he was so white he didn’t want to be seen on the street.” Ken grinned. “Didn’t know things were like that so long ago.”
“So where does the tunnel come out?”
“I asked Gramps that, but he just grinned and went all poetical on me.”
“What’d he say?”
“‘The eye of the greater kudu will guide you.’”
“The what?”
Sounding a bit defensive, Ken repeated grandpa’s statement, then glanced over at Shannon and grinned. “So this is the guy who keeps you from sleeping with me?”
“I am not her keeper,” I intoned solemnly, just to keep everyone’s fires burning.
Shannon threw me an arch look, then laughed and bent down to give Ken a quick kiss on the cheek, straightening up and taking a step back before he could free his hand. “Thanks, buddy. Gotta go find out what the fuck a kudu is. . . oops, sorry big guy, didn’t mean to say fuck!”
She dashed away back to the museum, seemingly no longer tired.
Looking for all the world like a carameled Buddha, Ken laughed loudly, his stomachs jiggling in an almost fascinating way. Not at all like a belly dancer, I would be quick to assure you, but interesting to see anyway. . . for a few seconds at a time.
“Dude, she hot in the sack?”
“She ain’t no Barbie.”
The guy laughed at the look on the cheerleader’s face. “Yeah, brains do count for sumthin’ after all, huh?”
Apparently Shannon’s burst of energy had burned out quickly, for she was waiting for me on a bench outside the building.
“Did you know my aunt had twenty-three kids? That’s a lot of cousins to get Christmas presents for.”
“Twenty-three? Tell her you want her uterus on display here when she’s done with it!”

;o)

Travel Thursday: The Girl With Three Left Feet, Part 3

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 gaps?”
“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.”
“Hmmm?”
“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!”
“Ah!”
“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?”
“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.”
“And?”
“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?”
“Check.”
“Chaparral exhibit?”
“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. . .”
“Ichthyology?”
“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.”
“Yeah, check.”
“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?”
“Could be!”
“Well, put half a check on it.”
“How do I do that?”
“It would look like a little v.”
“Oh, right!”
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. . .

;o)

Travel Thursday: The Girl With Three Left Feet, part 2

The guard at the employee and handicapped basement entrance smiled at seeing her and did not ask for her I.D. “And guest,” she singsonged, but I already had my own special ID for the occasion, which made the guard roll his eyes. She grabbed for my hand and read it, then seemed to scowl, but at least she didn’t say anything.
“You want to join me in a private villa on a small Caribbean island, once I get my bonus for solving this?”
She gaped for a few seconds, very cute on her. “Carib, right on the beach? I’d give my ass for that!”
Snort. “Yeah, like that’s anything special.”
Sparing the time for a quick pinch to my stomach, she led me through the hallways and luckily took the elevator to the third floor. Perhaps still dreaming about tanning on the beach, she was quiet until she opened the door and entered the reception area leading to her office. Said office being empty at the moment, devoid of repairmen but not dust, she picked up a phone and called a gal she knew in some department who could bring up blueprints of the place. “Official business, wink wink,” she winked, although the friend couldn’t see it over the phone.
Trying not to yawn, I glanced over at the corner of her office and saw a fishing pole; she saw my glance and grimaced. “I’ve spent over a thousand bucks on new equipment and have yet to catch anything, not even a cold.”
“I hope when you do it’s extremely tasty.”
“Thanks for the thought. You’re such a nice guy.” Unfortunately, she was grinning hugely as she said this, and also didn’t tell me she was a catch-and-release kinda gal.
I looked out the window and saw something I didn’t like, if the expression she could see on my face was any indication. . . which it usually was. She once told me I could be a champion poker player, but when something DID show on my face, it meant I wanted her to see it.
Sighing, she went for it. “What is it?”
“You’ve been to UCLA, right?”
“Sure.”
“How big is the campus?”
She had a vast repertoire of sighs. “I took a little tour one day we were playing there, and I couldn’t jump during practice, I was so tired.”
“The point is, it’s big, right?”
“Right.”
“And hilly?”
“Yes.”
“And $c?”
“Tiny and flat, not unlike the girls who go there.” She smiled broadly to let me know she was getting into the game.
“In comparison to UCLA?”
It took her a moment to remember they were discussing campuses, not college babes. “No, completely. It’s really small.”
“And yet everyone’s got a bike! It’s a few seconds from one side to the other. These people are lazy!” A moment’s thought. “No, they’re spoiled!”
“That was rather redundant, wasn’t it?”
“Glad you’ve learned to agree.”
“How could I dare not to?”
Still killing minutes, since the new air conditioner hadn’t made a dent yet and there wasn’t enough time to start even a quickie, I got that look that she said always made her gulp. “So what were you looking up on the computer when I ran into you?”
“You said you came to see me, so you didn’t run into me.”
Her blush told me why she was evading the question. “So I was right? Another online dating thing? Good thing you don’t have to spend a lot of money on cosmetics and such, with all the dough you must waste on those websites.”
“Talk about a backhanded compliment!” she gasped, then tried, “ever notice guys of a certain age are known as ‘Eligible bachelors,’ but much younger women are referred to as ‘Old Maids?’”
Timing as usual being everything, the knock on the door saved me from having to answer. We poured over the building diagrams for a straight fifteen minutes, me concentrating on the non-public-access parts and she not able to concentrate on anything, partly because she had no idea what to look for but mostly because I was breathing on her ear and causing her to shudder and close her eyes involuntarily, which she hilariously thought I didn’t notice.
Already formulating a plan for searching tomorrow, I took a break and reached for the fishing rod. Stretching my arms out at an angle, the butt–of the rod, not the blonde–gripped in both hands, I lowered the tip slightly until it just touched a leaf on a low-hanging branch through the window above the tall blonde. Three times I lifted the rod away, and three times I lowered the tip delicately until it touched the same leaf, without touching any others, of course, giving a little nod of satisfaction each time.
“Would it be possible for one to ask what you’re doing?” one asked politely, a little uneasily. She knew I hated fishing, so I obviously didn’t have much experience with the thing, “I really liked having two eyes, it makes looking through a microscope much easier. And losing one would hurt too, I’d imagine. Plus it’s my favorite rod, and you have a tendency to break stuff I like.”
Then she winced as she read my smile: stuff you haven’t broken yourself, you mean.
But what I said was “Just thinking.” My eyes were still intent as I touched the leaf again, my tongue out the corner of my mouth like a certain famous basketballer.
“Yeah, but I was kinda curious about what you’re actually doing, hon.”
She hardly ever brought out the pet names, so I came back to the room with a little laugh, handing her the rod. “Just an academic exercise. Muscle control and stuff. Zen and Yoda, or is that yoga? ”
“I see. . . no, I don’t. You’re baffling me again.”
“Sorry. I don’t mean to.”
In other words, college girl, you’re not smart enough to get it, she told herself, even while knowing I would never mean such a thing.
“Tell ya what, fishing guru. Why don’t you try it, and then maybe you’ll understand.”
So she tried it, somewhat defiantly. And even though she was a pro with a quick cast, to actually do it slow seemed a lot harder. And soon enough she did understand.
Checking my watch, I told her there was nothing else for me to do here right now. “I assume you drove. . .”
“Indeed.” She took a quick look around the room, then at the desktop computer. “I got nothing else to do here either, and I’d love a walk to my car. In this neighborhood–”
“Gotcha. Gear up, little filly.”
She pouted. “I hate it when you call me. . . little.”
“I don’t trust media guides, so I have no conclusive proof you’re actually six feet tall.”
“At least I don’t wear heels. And don’t give me that, you’re just a middle-blocker typa guy.”
“At least you weren’t a setter, and being a lefty gets you extra points.”
“Now THERE’S a pleasant thought,” she murmured happily as she dumped everything she needed into her bag, regardless of fragility. I didn’t hear anything breaking, so I made no mention. For some reason she added the fishing rod to her take-home stuff.
Some guy in the outer office saw the pole and asked, “What exactly are you hoping to catch?”
She shrugged. “6 foot 2, dresses GQ, knows how to take his time. . .”
Proving I was still in the conversation, I tried, “Think you’ll find that in a river?”
Feeling naughty, and remembering all the times she’d made dates blush with a well-turned phrase in public, she suddenly starletted, “I still can’t believe you don’t know about that particular sex act!”
“Maybe I just don’t live in that world as much as you do.”
Her face fell as the laughter surrounded her. He did it to me again!
Once in the hall, I shook my head in mock reproof. “You never learn, do ya?”
“Real men don’t taunt,” she pouted, then grinned nastily and shoved me against the wall. But before she could follow up, I winced as my head hit a light fixture. “Oooo, sorry, darling!”
“It’s one thing for you to be clumsy, but when it starts being dangerous to–”
“I’ve learned my lesson,” she promised. “From now on I’ll let you take the lead any time you want to fuck. Well, I’m the one most likely to start it, so I’ll tell ya I’m ready and you can. . .”
She finally noticed I wasn’t walking beside her to the elevator. Turning around, she saw me still checking for blood, having banged it harder than she’d obviously thought. Suddenly she glanced to the sides and wondered if anyone had heard her speaking to what turned out to be herself. All the doors were closed and no one was laughing, so she thought she might have gotten away with this one as she waited for me to finally join her.
She couldn’t help but laugh at the way I stuck to the other side of the elevator, then waited five seconds before exiting after her. “I got it already! I promise, I’m never going to hurt you again.”
I didn’t have much to say as I followed her a step behind, until she threw her bag into the back seat and hopped behind the steering wheel, automatically reaching over to turn on the air conditioner.
Standing way back, I told her, “I wish you were still playing volleyball.”
“Why?”
“When I saw you rolling around the court, I always got dirty thoughts. . .”
“Good,” she purred as she slammed the car door, luckily missing both my digits and clothes. “That’s why I played. . .”

;o)

Travel Thursday: The Girl With Three Left Feet

Beautiful non-beach blonde with six-foot body, blue eyes, and a soft smile.
There, that was a good start, she sighed. Should she mention her job? Even if she wrote “scientist” without anything more specific, would it help or hurt with today’s guy?
This internet romance stuff was harder than she’d thought. . .
But did she really want romance? Sex she could get any time, more often than she’d admit even on a fake online profile, and so far she’d been pretty truthful. Okay, she hadn’t written “beautiful klutz,” but that was possibly too much information before even a first date.
There were plenty of things she wanted to mention about herself, but knew most guys wouldn’t be interested in: how she was salutatorian in high school, for example, but then she’d have to write an explanation of what that meant, because it’d be silly to just write “second in class” or “runner-up grades-wise.” Or how. . .
She panicked and deleted the page immediately as soon as the shadow fell over her.
“Are you ever off the computer? Still looking for your dream guy?”
“Of course not!” she laughed when she saw who it was. “I know it’s you. You’re the one who doesn’t know it.” That said, she stood up to hug me, but as her arms swung up to surround my neck, she smacked her hand on the armrest and knocked over the water bottle, yelping and sucking on her bruised knuckle.
Moving carefully, lest she knock over, or suck, something else, I went in for the hug, plus a kiss. Seeing how slowly I was moving made her laugh, and she mimicked it as she gently shoved me down till I was sitting on the park bench so she could sit on my lap and snack on my lower lip.
“Hey, what’re you doing here?” she squealed after the requisite lip-noshing. “This is enemy territory for you.”
“Usta be a spy,” I replied absently. “Still got an office, or did they finally realize you faked your way through college?”
“Got a bigger office,” she snickered, “but don’t expect any privacy for what you obviously have in mind. The air conditioner’s broken, and I’m spending my time outside so I don’t have to put up with all the racket as they fix it. It’s hotter in there than out here, and I wouldn’t think you’d be comfortable with all that reddish color around.”
“Tell me about it. We are pilgrims in an unholy land.”
She grinned, recognizing the quote, so it didn’t have quite the effect I wanted.
“Here” was Exposition Park, an expanse of greenery south of downtown Los Angeles that contained such touristy attractions as the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, African-American museum, IMAX theater, an incredibly old death-trap of a football stadium, a kinda-old smaller sports stadium, swimming stadium, rose garden, and so on. One need not mention the so-called university across the street, though perhaps one should, because it did have a little bit of bearing on. . .
“That’s so cute!” Shannon squealed, as usual easily distracted. “You’ve got Bubbles on your zipper!”
I looked down. “Thought I’d cleaned that.”
“No, silly, your briefcase zipper! And of course I am referring to the lovable cartoon character, although real ones can be fun too, though not in that particular place.”
“I never found Bubbles loveable, unlike the redhead. Bubbles is a blonde airhead who’s only. . . oh, I see.”
She tried to look outraged, failed miserably.
“I’ve always liked that your intelligent enough so that I don’t have to explain my smack downs to ya,” I sighed.
“Good save,” she chortled. “I think.” When she saw me starting to grin she quickly added, “Yes, I’m confused, but it’s not the absent-minded scientist thing, so don’t go there!”
“Don’t have to. You already did it for me.”

BIG PORTION OF THE PLOT CUT FOR LENGTH–YOU’RE WELCOME

“Anyway, he ran out of $c in this direction. Some of the FBI suits got into cars and tried to cut him off, only to see him coming out of the Natural History Museum.”
“Well, it is a big place. I work on the third floor, so–”
“So how did this guy get in without anyone seeing him?”
“He couldn’t have! There are guards at the doors in case someone tries to get in without paying. . . unless it was free day.”
“It wasn’t.”
“And the employee and handicapped entrance has a full guard desk. So how did he get in?”
“Hey, I just asked you!”
“Sorry!” She did her momentarily contrite look that worked so well on dopey frat boys.
“Anyway, they caught him, but without the evidence. And I have to find that briefcase or he walks.”
“And you think it’s in the museum?”
“The park surrounding the museum has been searched. The university has been checked. The street between them has been checked. Unless he dumped it one second and someone picked it up the next–”
“Which, in this neighborhood, is possible.”
“Too true, but it doesn’t help me. I have to assume it’s somewhere inside that big building you work in. Nothing has been turned in to lost and found, and there haven’t been any bomb scares, right?”
“Of course not.” Her frown told me she didn’t get his meaning there, but it only lasted a couple of seconds. “Oh, you mean unattended packages? Nope.”
I gave her a quick kiss, since she’d always said that was her preferred form of recompense for showing her intelligence, then helped her up off my lap. She wondered–loudly–why I was being so rude to an always-love-starved girl as I also got up, gathered my things, gathered her things, and took her hand to walk us to her office.
“Did you know the Natural History Museum was also the museum of art when it all started?” She was getting into perky mode, as she usually did when I was around. For some reason it never happened when she was talking to others, so I’ve been told, though I suspicion she paid those people off to say that.
“Yep, I did. A relatively pretty short-haired brunette with an anthropology degree said that in a lecture. The Museum of Art got its own place on Wilshire in 1965.”
“How do you manage to remember all these facts?” she murmured with her patented and self-named smirky-smirk.
“Well, I remember where the museum of art is, having passed it so many times. As to the year–”
“No, I mean which babe told ya.”
“My brain has a very cross-referenced little black book. Did you know when the Museum of Art was being made, William Randolph Hearst asked the curator ‘Is there anything you want?’”
“Wow! I doubt any curator had ever been asked that before!”
“Exactly. But when was this museum built? That info I could not find on the internet.”
“1913, so I’m told.”
“Who told ya?”
“Ken.”
“Oh, him.”
“Ken is a, shall we say, local institution. He’s this guy who’s always sitting at the rose garden, surrounded by beautiful blonde cheerleaders from the, um, unmentionable college across the street. I don’t know where he lives, but I can’t help wonder how he makes a living.”
There were so many ways I could have gone with that, especially considering how blonde she was, but before I could chose just one, she went on.
“He tries to impress me with stuff about the building. I guess he figures the way beyond a scientist’s panties is through her brain. His granddaddy was a custodian there, back when they were called janitors, so he knows all the secrets. And since he says I’m the only woman who’s ever said no to him, he tells me a lot of secrets.”
Skipping the usual “Since when do you wear panties?” joke, I went with “I may need to talk to him, then.”
“I’m ready to sleep with him if that’s his asking price.”
I looked over to her; she was grinning hugely while squeezing my hand.
“In that case, I’ll wait till tomorrow to ask him. I assume you’re coming over to my place tonight.”
“I am now! But make sure you leave something for him, if you really desperately need the info.”
“I love how you overestimate me. You think just me is gonna tire you out?”
“I’m not used to men thinking logically,” she semi-apologized. “Did you know my museum is second in size, only to the Smithsonian, in all this country?”
“Nice segue. Well, not really, but it beats the blonde joke I was thinking.”
Shannon sighed, then looked at the stadium to their right, still huge despite being quite a green walk away. It made her sigh more. “I hate that thing.”
“It’s not in the best of shape, yeah.”
“Compared to the Rose Bowl?” she winked.
“Compared to the Coliseum in Rome!”
“And they’re so modest too. The Coliseum. What a crazy town. Who do they think they are?”
“It’s a u$c thing,” he assured her.
“What about the Forum?” She was grinning now, at least.
“That might still be better than Staples. Never going back there.”
“Isn’t your baseball stadium in Elysian Park? Not exactly paradise, from what I’ve seen.”
“I always wondered if Tennessee Williams was talking about a real place when he named it Elysian Fields in A Streetcar Named Desire,” I replied sweetly.
She laughed, acknowledging her home town was not much different ego-wise. “On the other hand, you don’t see anyone from Tulane or UNO acting so high and mighty.” If there was a way to my heart, it was obviously through Trojan-bashing. “Hey look, a horsey just came out of the stadium!”
“They’re probably fertilizing the grass on the visitors’ side.”
“They’d do that?”
“Haven’t you been paying attention all these years?”
“Right! But don’t they have a horse mascot? Maybe they’re getting him ready for the start of the season.”
“Heard somewhere they might not allow that anymore.”
“Wonder why. I mean, Texas and Colorado have live animals on the field.”
“Whatever. Still, it’s a shame they may have to do without their beloved pony. He’s a critical part of the team. He may not be as big or as fast as most of the players, but he is smarter, attends more classes, helps pull up the GPA, though with these–”
“Shut. . . up!” she whispered furiously, looking around furtively while giggling. “I have to work here!”

to be continued. . .

;o)