by Mary Louise Van Dyke
Jeff Hansen paced through the empty kitchen, tuning out all the kitschy 1950s knick knacks scattered around the room. The highlight was a Formica-top table and matching metal framed chairs that Dorothy claimed brought back memories of her grandmother rolling out apple pies.
Yeah, yeah, what freakin’ ever. Not that he didn’t like apple pies, his ample stomach was testament to that. And roast beef dinners on Sundays with extended family.
But the only kids to sit there belonged to siblings.
Jeff groaned as he plopped down on the green ’60s style recliner in the living room.
Yeah, no kids. He and Dorothy had blamed each other for years until a simple (well according to the doctor) test that showed it was Jeff’s fault. With that announcement, Dorothy moved into the guest room, filling it with 1950s décor. Jeff redid the master bedroom in neutral shades.
He picked up the remote, one of the few modern conveniences Dorothy permitted. Click soap opera images appeared on the screen. Click the rerun of a Seattle Seahawks game from five or seven years ago when the Legion of Boom reigned. Click. Ellen DeGeneres floating out her famous humor for the audience.
He envied Ellen, her smile and easy way of talking. Yeah, he had anger management issues. Maybe he should call…
Nah. Didn’t he have a right to be angry? After all Carmen had used his bankcard lavishly. Including the camisole she wore when she sent him packing.
His stomach groaned. Yeah, maybe even envied all those football players who’d really accomplished something spectacular with their lives.
Him do anything spectacular? Hah. He tossed the remote onto the floor. He would be the last of the Hansens running the bank, starting with great grandpa Theodore Hansen. Unless his sister’s kids wanted to take over. Which they probably didn’t.
The phone rang. “Yeah,” he growled into the receiver.
“Did you hear the news,” said Sally Knowles who lived across the street. “My kids are talking about their trip to the museum today. There were dinosaurs moving around and a bird—I think a hawk—getting friendly with a manatee.”
What kind of weed was Sally smoking—and her kids too? Naw, kids weren’t allowed marijuana.
“Jeff, are you there?”
“Erm, yeah. Yeah. Sounds really exciting, but I have to go,” he lied.
“Tell Dorothy hi from me!” Sally rang off.
What the freak? Why hadn’t director Lindsay DeMan called him, called the board for a meeting to discuss weird happenings?
Sometimes she took too much on herself, for all that she was running the museum. She was supposed to report all strange occurrences to the museum board. They were the backbone of Walker Museum, the ones who’d lived here in the city of Subdued Excitement for decades.
Backbone. He wished he had one.
He heated up a microwave meal for himself and set it on a tray table in the silent living room. Dorothy was away for the night, supposedly at a work retreat. And maybe not. He peeled the film off and picked up his fork.
The chicken was all right. He dug his fork into instant potatoes and chewed. Ugh. Tasted like paste but he continued eating until the white goo was gone. A hungry man was a hungry man, right?
He should call Lindsey and find out what was going on. He would in the morning between meetings and trying to find creative but trustworthy solutions to people’s money woes.
Theodore Hansen would allow no less, not even for the last of the Hansen bankers.
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Images of Carmen floated through his mind, alluring in that skimpy cami, telling him to go to hades.
He expected to feel angry. Instead sadness snaked through him. He hadn’t told Carmen he was incapable of producing children, the way a real man should be. No, it had been all show and bluff with her, trying to find some release in pleasure.
Maybe she’d find someone else. Hades, of course she would. Prime-looking woman like her. He stopped for a moment. Was that considered sexual harassment to think those words? But she’d liked being complemented for her looks during their times together. Probably. He’d faced one sexual harassment suit when a brief affair with an employee went south.
Yeah, Carmen was a beauty and she didn’t want diddly squat from him. Neither did Dorothy, really, beyond not caring how she decorated the house.
Sleep claimed him, sucking him into depths of oblivion as if he was on an elevator. Descending down down down into dream land.
The doors whooshed open and cold air surrounded him. Jeff stepped off frowning as he stared around him here in a cave?
What the what? A man dressed in old fashioned clothing of high collared shirt and a vest perched over a rounded stomach, walked toward him, holding a lantern in one hand and a large droopy bag in the other.
“Grandson, you’ve arrived finally!”
Jeff stared at the man, shaking his head hard. “Who are you?”
The man’s walrus shaped mustache drooped. “How could you not know who I am? Is your brain as muddled as your life?”
Jeff’s fists came up. He wasn’t going to let anyone else trash him. “My brain is just fine. So who are you and why are you saying I’ve arrived finally.”
“You have work to do.” The man tossed the bag at Jeff’s feet and Jeff instinctively stepped back. “You’re supposed to be looking for these.”
The dream man poofed into nothing and Jeff gasped. He bent over to lift the bag, opening it—and feeling the weight lighten. He plunged his hand in and found—nothing. Except one solitary coin, about the size of a quarter, but strangely smooth-edged.
He wished he’d thought to bring a light to show him what the smooth metallic disk was—but none appeared.
He slipped it in his pocket and stared into the gloomy blackness. There was a light over there, two lights, like eyes? Huge red eyes high up expanding into deep red fire.
As if Jeff was in Hades. Fear washed over him—too many broken ends—and the voice inside his head yelled RUN!
Jeff bolted, gasping with each stride. He would purchase a freakin’ gym membership. Soon.
Lindsay hurried up the museum’s exterior staircase the next morning, excitedly thinking of the work ahead for her and for Catherine. How tall was the museum’s extension ladder or would they need to purchase another ladder?
She shivered and pictured the museum’s plunging into deficit finances. Where would she find funds for a taller ladder or renting scaffolding? She and Catherine needed a safe base to stand on when exploring the crack in the dome.
Meanwhile, groups of fourth graders were scheduled to tour the museum today; and she could only hope that the museum exhibits would remain still. The Great Awk at its post, Victorian dolls posed in their cases. She smiled and headed into her office. Not that yesterday hadn’t been exciting! Almost like a Halloween play with costumed actors.
She laughed and felt the floor rise slightly underneath her knockoff Louis Vuitton pumps. She stiffened. Surely not another earthquake, please.
“Lindsay? How was your night?” Catherine asked behind her.
Beyond her usual work, scratch together dinner, sleep, rinse and repeat? Lindsay whirled around. “I have a marvelous idea! What if we could replicate yesterday, only with people posing as dolls and mother wolf and her cubs. The Great Auk! As a story museum volunteers act out for classes when they come for tours. I mean,” she laughed nervously, seeing Catherine frown. “We can’t count on having an earthquake every day and the kids really liked hearing the dinosaurs roar.”
Catherine’s eyes shifted away from Lindsay. “One word. Funds.”
“But it would be exciting! Schools from all around the county would sign up for their students to tour here, not just classes from Subdued Excitement.”
“Hmmm,” was all Catherine would say.
Lindsay wished her co-worker was still as excited as yesterday when they’d seen the huge crack. Her enthusiasm dimmed. She wilted. “Well, it’s just an idea. But it would be a living exhibit of all we have and nothing I’ve ever heard of any other museum doing. I think it could guarantee our survival!”
Catherine sighed and slipped off her coat. “At least its back to being warm in here. And sorry, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer. But this morning Mother was…” She stopped. “Sorry, TMI as my neighbor’s teenager would say.”
“Well,” Lindsay struggled to sound positive. “We can discuss my idea later. Today, after the fourth graders tour is over, let’s get out the extension ladder and see if we can discover something more about that crack over the grand staircase!”
“About the crack? What about it?” Banker Jeff Hansen strode into the office, arms crossed across his chest. He glared at Lindsay and Catherine.
“It opened up,” Catherine said and the floor shook.
“Really? And when were you going to call a museum board meeting about that interesting fact?”
Lindsay watched the floorboards rise and fall as if someone was pushing from underneath. Jeff grabbed the edge of her desk for ballast.
If this was an earthquake, it was the strangest one she’d ever encountered. “I was going to work on a memo today,” she lied.
His brown eyes narrowed. “Well, my neighbor shared the news with me. Seems like it’s hard to keep a secret when scores of third graders tell their families what happened.”
The floor rippled again, harder and higher, bearing Jeff up with it. He floundered, lost the battle with his balance and smacked down on the floor. A heavy vase slid off Lindsay’s desk and clunked his head.
Lindsay and Catherine stared at the unconscious man and at each other. “I have the feeling something’s not pleased that he’s here,” Catherine murmured.
“I know I’m not,” Lindsay agreed.
This was their quest, hers and Catherine’s. Deep inside, Lindsay realized the museum wanted them and no one else to find its treasures. If the museum was sentient that is and not just rock and wood and glass.
“What do we do with him?” Catherine leaned over and felt for Jeff’s pulse. “He’s alive but I’ll bet he has a tsunami of a headache. What do we do with him? He isn’t part of the plan. None of the museum board is.”
Lindsey glanced out the window and saw the first of a line of yellow buses pulling up. “Swell, just swell. The kids are here.”
The line between Catherine’s eyebrows pinched together. “We can drag him down to the basement and leave him there. Hopefully he’ll take the hint when he wakes up and amscray.”
The bus doors opened and kids streamed off the first bus. “Fine, I guess we can drag him there via elevator and let him chill out for an hour or two.”
The two women heaved his unconscious body forward. “This man definitely needs to diet,” Lindsay grunted.
“He needs something,” Catherine agreed and punched the basement button.
The doors refused to open when reaching—and passing the floor. “Dratted elevator,” Lindsay fussed as the doors finally opened to the shame totem’s subfloor. “To leave him here is almost mean.”
“Almost.” Catherine huffed. “He’ll be fine. We need to get back upstairs pronto.”
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