by Seán Dwyer
1735 words

Catherine paused a moment to see if Lindsay would speak up, then she replied to Ted’s question.

“Josiah is talking about himself. He feels shame over the way he dealt with the Tlingit people whose land he scarred, and with the workers he cheated.”

“How do you know?” Ted asked, a bit of his previous snarkiness coming out.

“He has told me many things in dreams. Lindsay can confirm it, because she has had similar dreams.” She turned to Lindsay, who nodded vigorously.

“Sorry to sound combative,” Ted replied. “So there’s my shame coming out. I’ve been unhappy for a long time, and now I am ready to seek joy. Tell me how I can help the Museum.”

“Josiah told me to call you to this meeting, so I think your role will become clear soon enough. First, let’s see what Josiah wants us to do about his shame.”

Carmen spoke up. “The Shame Totem is in his image, and it’s remarkable for its craftsmanship and its condition. Even if we have to confront his misdeeds in public, displaying his Shame Totem for all to see will bring in locals, draw tourists, attract historians and,” she paused to take a breath, “start to heal the rift with the local indigenous groups.”

Excited murmurs arose from all in the circle. The candles glowed brighter, as if the Museum had squeezed out an extra blast of oxygen.

Lindsay almost bounced in her seat with excitement. “I’ll see what we can do to get the totem upstairs as soon as possible. We’ll need a media campaign ready before we unveil it. Andrew, you were thinking along those lines. What do you say?”

He laughed. “My turn to show my shame. I came out here because Carmen asked me to. We’re cousins. This trip is the only thing I’ve ever planned. I design websites. But I’m not the only one.” He turned to Sunburst. “I detect a bit of knowhow in your non-barista life, eh?”

“True enough. And while I won’t go into everything I do with my tech knowledge, I think you and I can make a digital splash for this Shame Totem. Deal?”

She held out a fist for a bump, and Andrew bumped it. “Wait a minute,” he said. Sunburst cocked her head. “Are you vaccinated? I am. If you are, we can actually shake hands again.”

“Omigod, yes!” She grasped his hand firmly in hers. “Wow, that felt good.”

“Get a room, you two,” Catherine said. Andrew and Sunburst looked at each other, holding their gaze for several seconds.

“Josiah’s shame is taken care of,” Lindsay said. “What else do we have on our plate?”

Sunburst held up the sheet that said, “Better To Do The Right Thing At The Wrong Time Than To Do The Wrong Thing At The Right Time.” The candle warmed the invisible ink, and everyone could read in a large script, “There is never a right time to do some things. Babies are always too expensive. Yet we have them when we want to.”

“Well, what the hell does that mean?” Ted said.

Again, Catherine knew what her ancestor meant. “Dude, you don’t have to ask every time. I promise I’ll give you an interpretation.”

“Cool,” Ted replied. “So, what the hell does that mean? Uh, sorry.”

Catherine sighed. “You’re a goofball, Ted. An occasionally adorable one, thank goodness. So, what is our baby?”

Archie spoke up. “The Museum!” Murmurs of comprehension this time, plus a rustling as Margaret the Great Auk lay her head on Charles the Manatee’s rounded shoulder.

“Right!” Lindsay and Catherine shouted in unison, loudly enough to rattle Lydia’s bones.

“And if it’s never a good time economically to have a baby,” Lindsay continued, “it’s really not a good time to shore up this building and make it an Eighth Wonder. But it’s the right thing to do.”

“We’ll have to start a capital campaign as soon as we tote the totem upstairs,” Jeff said. “We—”

“Helloooo?” A loud male voice called from above, the word echoing through the various pathways to the totem room. “Josiah told me to come. Not sure why.”

Everyone looked at Catherine for an answer. “Sounds like Pete Masters. Do you think Josiah wants him here now?”

“Helloooo?” came the call again.

“I want him,” Josiah’s deep voice rumbled. That was good enough.

“Pete?” Lindsay yelled.

“Yes!”

“Take the elevator down. You’ll find us when the door opens.”

Carmen frowned. “Why isn’t he at the hospital, or whatever?”

The elevator stopped rattling, and the door opened. Pete stepped hesitantly toward them, peering into the pale light.

“Josiah. He’s dead. But believe me, he talked to me when I was identifying Toni’s body.”

“Oh, we have no doubt,” Catherine said. “Pull up a chair, and we’ll see soon enough why you’re here.”

Archie filled Pete in. “We’re going to display the totem, and we’re going to renovate the building, if we get enough money from a capital campaign.”

Lydia’s bones rattled loudly and long enough that everyone turned to her. But Pete spoke up.

“I’m not sure capital is an issue,” he said. All heads jerked in his direction. “Toni has put aside a ridiculous amount of money,” he continued. “It’s obviously mine now.” He sighed, but he didn’t shed a tear.

“I’m really sorry about Toni,” Catherine said, and everyone concurred.

“You don’t need to be,” Pete replied. “Toni had it in for this place. She thought she was Goddess, knowing what was best for the building—and for her. A juicy commission so she could walk away from this looming mess even richer. As if she had the right to find a buyer.”

Lindsay nodded slowly. “That’s what led to the accident with those developers. And, I don’t want to say it, but I think the Museum may have had a hand in the weird accident that suffocated her.” She put her face in her hands. “I’m sorry to be talking about her, Pete.”

“Go right ahead. She kept me as a lap dog, one she mostly ignored, one that should have bit her and run away several years ago. I’ve been so lonely and bored.” And now he covered his face and began to sob.

“Oh, Pete,” Carmen exclaimed. She hurried to his side and put her arms around him.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I’m not sure why we don’t need a campaign,” Jeff said.

Pete sniffed and said, “I can front up to five million as an interest-free loan.”

“That’s wonderful,” Archie said, “but I’m not sure much of your money will be needed.”

“That’s true,” Jasmine said. Her eyes glazed over. “Lydia here. Those quarters bear a Carson City mint mark. They are uncirculated, and even if the market price drops a bit because of this bag of quarters, they may fetch you $20,000 each. I did the right thing, yes?”

Everyone sat, stunned. Lindsay spoke up finally. “Very much so, Lydia,” she said. “How was it that you bought these quarters?”

Jasmine again spoke for Lydia. “I wanted to flee, and I wanted my son to have an inheritance. This building is that inheritance, along with the coins.”

“The coins are great,” Archie said. “But the building isn’t much of an inheritance for now.”

“Nonsense,” Lydia replied. “I know several of you have seen what lies under the dome.”

“Gold leaf?” Catherine asked.

“Gold bullion,” was the reply. “I fully expected the house to go to my boy. The entire dome has a lining of bullion. It should go to his heir now.”

Everyone turned to Catherine. She paled and grabbed Lindsay’s arm to steady herself.

“I suspect my mom’s the heiress.”

“My grandson, your father. As he is now on this side, either she or you will be viewed as his next of kin now. Either way, welcome to your new life, Moneybags.”

Everyone applauded, but Catherine held up a hand.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As I see it, we have these quarters to sell on behalf of the Museum. But my mom may claim them as her property. And heaven knows what she’ll want to do with the gold.”

“A bigger, long-term question is what you, Catherine, will want to do with the gold and the coins.” Lindsay looked frankly into her eyes. Everyone murmured assent again.

“I think the proceeds from the metals belong to the Museum,” Catherine said. The heat came on, and the Museum sent a warm breeze swirling around the committee, a tender caress.

Lydia spoke. “Use what you need to repair the structure and give the rest to my great-granddaughter.”

Jeff was now in his element. “Absolutely. We’ll create a trust, and if Catherine is willing to support a portion of the reno, the Museum should not question the notion that the rest of Lydia’s money goes to her.”

“Hear, hear!” Archie said. “Would this arrangement suit you, Catherine?”

She burst into tears. “I love this building. Nothing would make me happier than to have a share of the treasures hidden in it serve to keep it alive and well.” Lindsay hugged her, and Catherine sobbed freely.

Jeff added, “We should still hold a capital campaign to lower the personal cost to the Walkers for the improvements. The family is not responsible for the dilapidation over the decades.”

“I’ll kick in half a mil,” Pete said. “The Museum gave me my freedom. Sorry to sound so cold.”

“We get it,” Catherine and Lindsay said in unison again. They laughed.

“First up,” Catherine said, “we create an ADA-friendly ramp. And we house Margaret and Charles together, despite their differences.”

“Oh, heck yeah,” Andrew said. “How about a diorama with Charles in deep water, and Margaret standing on his back, facing the sun?”

Margaret fluttered her wings just enough for everyone to notice.

“Ya got a winner there, Andrew,” Ted said.

“This is insanely cool,” Andrew said.

“Or just insane,” Jeff replied wryly. “But seeing is believing. I think we have this under control so far.”

“Let’s see what the other messages among the pearls say,” Sunburst said. She looked at the remaining pages:

“It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn.”

“Follow Your Dreams.”

“You Never Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors.”

She held “It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn” up to the candlelight.

The clock in the tower struck 5 a.m. Suddenly, the she-wolf sat up and howled.

To read the story in its entirety, click here.

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