Minerva set the butt of the rifle on the floor and tried to shine a snake light into the barrel.
“Is it loaded?” asked Tilly the intern slowly backing away.
“Oh, probably not,” said Minerva. She held a wooden dowel up against the rifle barrel and put tape marking the appropriate length.
“Didn’t you say that you’d found chambered rounds in guns on display?”
Minerva leaned the rifle and dowel against her leg and readjusted her nitrile gloves. “Well, not me specifically, but yes, they found several guns with chambered rounds on display.”
“Well,” said Minerva, “those were handguns and shotguns mostly. Self-defense weapons. This is a muzzle-loaded rifle. The chances of someone keeping it loaded in storage are pretty slim.”
“It must be pretty old.”
Minerva turned over the tag tied to the rifle’s trigger guard. “1880 or so, it says”
“Weren’t you telling me that the older the gunpowder is, the less stable it is?”
“Well, the old primers in WWI era bullets can become unstable and set off the powder. If there’s black powder in here it is loose, probably all damp and won’t work anyway. Smokeless powder is what causes problems, not black.”
The intern took another step back toward the door. “What if someone put smokeless powder in it?”
“Well, they’d be an idiot.”
Tilly made a face meaning “Have you been outside where we live recently?”
Minerva looked at the inventory tag again. “Donated in 1992, last used in the 1920s. Let’s hope Mr. Smith’s grandfather wasn’t an idiot.”
Minerva placed the wooden dowel in the barrel of the gun and slowly lowered it down until it met resistance. It stopped a good four inches before reaching the mark on the dowel.
Tilly stepped back to the doorway and put the door jam between herself and Minerva. “That’s bad right?”
Minerva forced herself to take a deep breath. “That might be the reason they stopped using it. Projectile is jammed.”
“So what are you going to do?” asked Tilly.
“You’re going to go downstairs and call the gunsmith to ask how to clear the obstruction. I’m going to secure this somewhere.”
Tilly scampered downstairs without needing to be told twice.
Minerva sighed and grasped the end of the dowel. As she pulled the dowel out it slipped from her fingers just before the end cleared the barrel. She leaned forward over the rifle trying to grab the dowel, catching it in the chest as the barrel exploded.