by Noelle Davenport
“Oh dear,” I say to myself, not wanting to worry the children, when I feel a disturbance down below. Someone was fighting to open my back door. She preferred to be sweet talked a little, finessed before allowing passage into our sacred home. Even for a person with the key, without the right technique, she would only give way after a serious struggle, a bit of profanity and a loud screech that alerted the whole family to any visitors. There were two visitors tonight and even at this unusually late hour, the children didn’t pay them much attention. They were familiar with both these visitors, one more so than the other. Plus after dark was their time, not to be wasted on the Living Ones downstairs. There was only a brief lull as they acknowledged the presence of the visitors before resuming their activities. The stuffy old men in the portrait gallery went on arguing over the establishment of law and order in the frontier states, crossing their arms over their chests and huffing defiantly. Charles the manatee was yet again attempting to create a ramp with his body for Margaret to scale in her never ending quest to look out the second floor window. Unbeknownst to her, Charles confided in me some forty years ago that he had a bit of a crush on Margaret. And I could see why. She definitely put the Great in Great Auk. And the Victorian dolls were out of their cases and in a tight circle, dusty foreheads touching, giggling like school girls. I don’t even want to know what they are going on about!
“Oh dear, oh dear!” I just couldn’t think of anything else to say as I watched Professor McNair and his sneaky companion make their way in the dark to the locked door. This just can’t be! I would have to accelerate my plan to capture the attention of Catherine and Lindsay. I must get them to the Grand Staircase—they must notice me! They must find the treasure before McNair. Subtle nudges in that direction simply won’t do any longer.
Catherine finding the elevator key was a stroke of good fortune. And perfect timing too. Catherine’s trust in Lindsay had been building since she realized the dreams she had been having, the ones where her dad or Josiah or even Mr V were leading her around the museum, had begun right around the time when Lindsay had taken the position as Director of the Walker Museum. Her dad and I both knew that these two, Catherine and Lindsay, needed to trust each other and work together if we were going to preserve not only the historic treasures inextricably bound to Josiah Walker and his family, but also the very literal treasures buried within me.
Yes, trust took Catherine directly to Lindsay with her discovery at the end of that terrifying elevator ride. My hopes were high in that moment for these two deserving women to uncover what mysteries lie within me. I believed that they alone could be trusted with everything. I believed they could be the keepers of the secrets that needed to be kept, while sharing others that might ignite the curiosity of the public and bring relevance and new energy to the Walker Museum. I didn’t dare even imagine what could be done with a plentiful bank account! New wiring, spiffing up of all our various coverings, air conditioning! And most beautifully, new adopted children to welcome into our family.
So crestfallen was I to hear Lindsay’s excited voice almost yelling into the telephone, “Professor, I’m here at the museum, with Catherine Walker. There’s something we need you to see!”
No, no, no. Please not that man!
“Hey cuz! What’s with the burner phone? I almost didn’t answer.”
“I thought it would be better that way. The less connection, the better. You still have to live with these people after this is all over. Did you get rid of that sleazy, good for nothing banker?”
“The first chance I got! He was sleazy all right, but he was good for one thing—“
“Hey I gotta go.”
Carmen heard a muffled, “Oh hi Lindsay!” before Andrew hung up the burner phone.
She put her phone back down on the night stand and snuggled back in under her big down comforter and warm flannel sheets. She smiled when she remembered that she had purchased all of it, plus a few sexy nighties, with Jeff’s bank card only last week knowing full well that by the time everything was delivered, she would have gotten what she needed from him. At that point…bye, bye Jeff. “Stupid shmuck!” she said out loud and hunkered down even further under her new comforter. She thought about her cousin Andrew and Jeff and how after all this time, their plan seemed to be moving into its final phase.
Although Andrew was the one with the Planning Consultant title, which he had graciously given to himself about eight months ago, she was the true genius behind this plan. They had grown up on adjacent farms in rural Pennsylvania, he four years, but only three grades, ahead of her. They were both average in every way. Average grades, average popularity, average ambition. Both went to average colleges, but this is where things shifted, and their paths diverged. Carmen graduated with a Bachelor’s in history and went on to grad school. She still wasn’t very driven or creative, so she just stuck with what she knew, history. Andrew, on the other hand, dropped out and begrudgingly went back to Pennsylvania. They went on with their lives of mediocrity and their communication just naturally fell off.
Carmen was at the end of her master’s program when she called it quits. She had had enough! The head of her department was a pompous ass misogynist who’s only complaint about her work was that it was too emotional, just all around too feminine-driven. What the hell did that even mean?
He was doing some very specific research that interested her, the historical preservation of Native American artifacts, in particular the little-known shame totem poles created by the Tlingit community of Alaska. At first, he had been excited about her interest and her willingness to “collaborate,” which really meant that she did the bulk of the initial research and picked up his coffee and lunch orders. She didn’t mind so much; this was the first project that had really grabbed her, and she wanted to learn all she possibly could.
They were digging deep into the Seward shame pole, even toying with taking a research trip to Alaska. Although Carmen wondered how the professor’s wife would feel about that. He was pretty old, but not that old for it to be inconceivable…gross, she didn’t want to think about that. She wouldn’t have to worry about such a thought for long though because he had abruptly cut her out of his research. Just when it was getting really juicy! They had uncovered a mystery player in the Seward story. There was something about a millionaire logger, a second shame totem pole that had been hidden away and a legendary treasure. She had actually experienced the propulsion of drive that she heard others speak of. Finally felt passion for her work deep in her bones, only to be ripped away.
When she complained to Dean about the professor, he started an all out character assassination campaign on campus. So she quit. She packed up her belongings into her light blue ’77 Cutlass Supreme, pointed it toward the Pacific Northwest and didn’t look back. She vowed that day to never again set foot on the campus of Southwest New Mexico A&M, and to find a way to make that professor suffer as she had. To let him get excited and filled with hope, only to rip it away from him.
“Almost there, professor, almost there,” she thought as she closed her eyes and smiled, rolling over to get some more sleep. “God I love these sheets.”
I noticed Momma wolf cleaning up her three adorable cubs. “Come on boys, we need to get you looking sharp for the third grade tour tomorrow. You are always such a big hit with the under 10 crowd,” she said with pride. The school tour tomorrow! I had forgotten all about it. This is my opportunity to get Catherine and Lindsay to the Grand Staircase! If I play my cards right, I can get the children screaming…or laughing, you just never know what you’ll get with them these days. The children are sure to get Catherine’s attention. Come to think of it, I really should try to make the children scream rather than laugh. Screaming children are more likely to get Lindsay running in to see what happened. I need her here too. I just need to make sure I can get both of them to look up at the dome. I need them to see the crack, or more specifically what is on the other side of the crack. I think it’s wide enough now.
“Josiah Disparais Walker! Are you paying attention? If you want to save the treasure that you so lovingly placed within me, and maintain your legacy and that of all the Walkers after you, I sure hope you’re listening! And that persistent old professor is on to you after all these years, or at least he thinks he is. And did you notice his duplicitous little accomplice? I am very frightened. And I need your help tomorrow.”
I hoped this last bit would land with the appropriate gravity to elicit a response. I waited in silence. The only noise I heard was the rumble of the dinosaurs playing on the old wooden stairs. Children! I thought to myself. I’ve told them a thousand times not to play on those stairs. One night they’re going to crash right through.
Preoccupied as I was with the dinosaurs on the stairs, I didn’t notice the screech of the door as the visitors made their way out into the pre-dawn darkness. Thankfully Josiah was paying attention. He was always paying attention.
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