Questionable Donor

Minerva walked over to the end of the pier and peered down at the water slapping against the barnacled pilings twenty feet below. She pulled out her phone and checked the time. The donor was late.

She sighed and Tweeted:

Standing on the dock in the bay, waiting for a man with no name. #nothowthatsonggoes #workisweird

Despite efforts by herself and a coworker to convince their boss this was a horrible idea, here she was waiting for an “anonymous donor” who was bringing artifacts of questionable origins. Her boss had decided that getting the items out of private hands was worth the headache and ethically gray area. Minerva was pretty sure there were rules or laws or something that said otherwise, but liked her job, and knew that in the long run, her boss was probably right.

A chill wind blew across the bay. Minerva zipped up her museum logo jacket and muttered, “Summer, my ass.”

The weather app on her phone said 63 degrees but here on the water with the wind, it felt much cooler.

Footsteps reverberated through the pier. Minerva tucked her phone in a pocket and fingered the envelope her boss had given her. While she technically didn’t know what was inside, it wasn’t hard to guess.

The man walking toward her was carrying a wooden box. The probably illegally obtained artifacts were supposedly from a local archaeological site. Minerva extended the smile most people misinterpreted as friendly, and took a step toward him. The sooner they got this over with the better for everyone.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “You from the museum?”

Minerva nodded.

The man looked back toward shore. There were few cars in the marina parking lot, most of them over by the boat launch. “Green car yours?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I talked with a man on the phone.” The man shifted the box to one side.

Minerva smiled more to cover up her irritation. She was used to being dismissed or ignored because of gender in this community, but it never failed to get under her skin. “My boss. He had a family emergency and couldn’t make it.” She pulled out the envelope. “He sent this.”

“How much?” asked the man, confirming her suspicions.
Her smile faltered. “Look, I don’t want to know. I can’t know. Don’t tell me.” She stepped forward with the envelope outstretched.

The man took the envelope and stepped back, as he ripped it open and counted the contents.

Minerva looked away, across the water toward the rhythmic noise from where they were doing experimental drilling, looking for bedrock under the sediment on the bottom of the bay. She strongly doubted they’d find any. The drilling must be scaring the fish. There weren’t any fishermen on the pier.

“Gimme your phone.”

“Huh?” Minerva turned back to find a gun pointed at her from under the wooden box. Most of it was obscured, but it looked like a .22 automatic. For a moment she considered arguing, then pulled out her phone.

He took it out of her hand. “You a good swimmer?”

“No.” Minerva looked back toward shore, which suddenly looked a lot further away.

“Get up and sit on the rail.”

Minerva raised her hands up next to her head. “Just take it. I’m not going to stop you.” Her uncle was totally going to kill her for not having her concealed carry permit if she got out of this.

“You got any cash?” The man was visibly perspiring, his eyes twitching all around.

“Just cards.” Minerva reached for her wallet.

“Get on the rail!” He switched the gun to his other hand.

Minerva stepped backward until the railing pressed into her back. It took her three tries to push herself up backward so she was sitting on the wide wooden rail. Her brain randomly speculated that the rail was probably totally coated in bird crap as she held on to it with both hands.

Movement on shore drew her eye, and her head followed her gaze. A police car was slowly cruising through the parking lot.

The man turned. “Goddamnit, I knew it.”

A loud pop echoed over the water, and a sharp impact slammed into Minerva’s gut. “Shiiit,” she said doubling over, one hand going to the wound.

A second shot hit her in the leg.

Aw hell, if she was going to get shot, why did it have to be with a smaller caliber? This wasn’t even going to kill her.

“Fucking bitch,” said the man, shoving the box into her midsection. “Fall.”

She hooked her uninjured leg around the railing and slapped him in the face with her blood covered hand. He pushed the box harder into her midsection trying to unbalance her. She grabbed his collar. He hit her in the head with the box.

As Minerva fell backward off the pier, she suspected there weren’t even any artifacts in that box.

Minerva’s No Good, Very Bad, Terrible Day

Minerva turned the crank that moved compact shelving along tracks in the floor. Now was military stuff on row five or row six? She could never remember. She walked part way down row six, moved the shelves over one more space and started to scan the carefully labeled banker boxes that lined the shelves of row five.

She started at the top looking for the word “patches”. Someone off the internet was looking for a picture of an 86th Air Division patch and the catalog said they had one… somewhere. That was the problem with having records that were only partially digitized and no complete inventory of collections since the early 80s. Card catalogs and ledger books provided often incomplete or outdated information about the location of objects. This was how Minerva had once managed to misplace a moose and then when she went looking for it, found four. Damn taxidermy was breeding when she wasn’t looking. She was sure of it.

Her eyes scanned over the boxes, Naval Hats, WAVE Uniforms, Books Military, Ordnance. Wait, what? She looked again at the box on the second to bottom shelf. “Ordnance, Rockets, Bombs, Projectiles – US” which was sitting next to “Bombs, Projectiles – Japanese” and a third box labeled simply “Ammunition”.

There was absolutely no way these boxes were labeled correctly, was there?

Minerva tried to lift the lid to peek inside without moving the box, but there wasn’t enough light. Verrrry carefully, she slid the box out, holding it level and slowly lowered it straight down to the floor. She didn’t breathe as she lifted the lid off the banker box. Her breath escaped in a long pursed breath as the light showed a jumble of canisters, metal cones, and rocket-shaped objects.

“Oh boy,” she breathed. “That’s not good.”

She pulled the inventory list out of the box and looked for indications in writing that everything had been disarmed. Some of the items hadn’t even been properly identified. Every single item had, however, been carefully labeled with a museum accession number.

“Who the hell would label a bomb, write ‘bomb’ in the catalog, stick it in a box and label the box ‘bombs’?!” Minerva rubbed her hands over her face and consciously forced herself to breathe.

Minerva really hated her predecessors. Really, really hated them.

One of the rocket-shaped items in the box seemed to be previously fired. At least it was charred around a hole in the bottom and looked empty inside. Maybe they’d all been drilled out?

She picked up one of the metal cone-shaped projectile and looked for indication it had been disarmed. It felt heavy in her hand and when she looked at the back-end, there was no indication that it had been modified in any way.

Her hands were sweating. The metal felt slick beneath her fingers. Crap, she really should have grabbed some nitrile gloves. She tried to readjust her grip. The grenade slipped from her fingers and dropped. She reflexively tried to grab it, flipping it end over end in the air. It struck back-end down on the metal tracks in the floor. Smoke and flame rippled through the row completely engulfing Minerva before she had time to react.

The grenade detonated in the far wall of the building, taking most of the olive-green baby grand with it.

//author’s note: Sorry for the later than normal posting, even if it’s still Monday in PST! I have new-puppy brain and haven’t slept longer than 4 hours at a time in 12 days now. I feel like I’m thinking through oatmeal.//

Fishing for Trouble

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Minerva set the heavy tray on the table with a thump. A puff of white dust blossomed upward and made her sneeze. These old fishing weights certainly were dusty. She sneezed again. 

Somedays she really hated her predecessors. Whoever had thought it was a good idea to just throw these weights in a box without any kind of protection and stuff them up in the attic, was really making Minerva’s life difficult. 

She started pulling weights out of the box, white powder coating her fingertips. Some of them had numbers, but most seemed to be unmarked. Well, bugger. Hopefully the genius who put them in the box at least catalogued them.  

Minerva wiped her hands on her slacks and went over to the card catalog behind her desk. She pulled out the cards for “Fishing” and sat down to flip through them. As she sat down, her computer screen popped to life and indicated new email. She set down the cards and clicked on her inbox.  

After answering two research queries and one “What happened to the box of photo albums by the front desk?” email, Minerva grabbed two ibuprofen and washed them down with energy drink. She unwrapped a sticky nut bar and slowly ate it while checking other internet things on her computer. 

Minerva picked up the index cards and flipped through them scanning for the word “weight”. on “Fishing p.3” she found a listing for “144 Lead Fishing Weights from Todd Sanders estate.” She looked down at the powdery film still coating the backs of her fingers.  

“Damn it.” 

She googled “Poison Control Hotline” and started dialing. 

In Surprising Dark Places

Minerva jerked her hand, out of the map drawer, in pain. Blood dripped down her palm and spattered the old wooden floor.
“Shit! What the hell!”
She wrapped her other hand around the wound. Something had cut her. Cut her bad. Blood welled between her fingers and soaked her shirt sleeve.
Well, that was a lot of blood but nowhere near fatal. What was it, 2 maybe 5 liters depending on body size before someone bled out? Do non-writers have these kind of facts off the top of their heads? wondered Minerva as she opened the first aid kit on the wall leaving bloody smears on its pristine white plastic. She grabbed a gauze pad and ripped it open to press to the wound. Well, this was a fine start to the week.

Six stitches, 2 hours in the ER (who says there’s no benefits to living in the middle of nowhere) and a unscheduled lunch break later– Minerva went back up to the attic to figure out what had cut her. This time she pulled the drawer completely out. Inside was a cloth bundle with a glinting blade sticking through the gray canvas. Minerva turned over the attached tag. It read, “Veterinary Equipment CAUTION Knife is sharp”.

Museum Mishap #10 – Jabbed By A Nail

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“Ow!” Minerva dropped the dirt-encrusted wooden crate, with errant nail back down on the table, and sucked her punctured finger. Thank God this day was finally over.

She grabbed a band-aid and covered the puncture wound. It wasn’t the best, but it’d keep her from bleeding all over on the drive home. Minerva stacked up her paperwork and grabbed her keys off the desk as her computer shut down. Another workweek done.

#

Minerva wiped sweat off her forehead as she tried to stop clenching her jaw. Just a few more form letters and this week would be done. She rubbed under her ear where the muscles were spasming. It really was warm upstairs. Had someone turned the heat on today?

Her vision swam and she felt faint. Lack of oxygen? She’d just used her asthma inhaler twenty minutes ago. Minerva felt her pulse racing. Why wouldn’t her jaw quit spasming?

Museum Mishap – Insect Sprayer

“What is it?” asked Tilly.
“Hmm?” Minerva had been too busy flipping through Pioneer portraits to notice the metal cylinder her intern had picked up. “What that? It’s an insect sprayer.”
“Sprayer? How does it work?” Tilly peered at the device dubiously.
Minerva went back to looking for the portrait of Mr. & Mrs. Elmore
T . Johnsen. “You pull back the handle and pump it.”
“Pump it?” asked Tilly.
“Yeah. Pull back that ball on the end and shove it forward real fast.” Minerva found the portrait and pulled it down from the shelf.
“Like this?”
Minerva turned and caught a cloud of insecticide residue in the face.

Museum Mishap: Ghost Examiners Part 3

(Part One & Part Two)

“My battery just went dead.”

“Mine too.”

Minerva coughed back a disgusted noise as she watched the Ghost Examiners “surreptitiously” turn off their handheld cameras. One of the audio guys shot her a dirty look.

“Let’s get Eddie on a corded camera now.” The director waved over a tech guy with the “conveniently” already prepared camera. Eddie was apparently the big guy Minerva had scared earlier. The larger professional camera looked almost like a camcorder one in his oversized grip. “Ok, the guys will come in from the east side of the basement while the crew will film from the west. Everybody ready?”

Minerva followed behind Eddie, as it became quickly evident that he wasn’t paying any attention to the heavy cord dragging behind him. She fed him cord and kept it from snagging or damaging any artifacts along the way. When he followed his fellow examiners into the jail, Minerva tossed the cord up over the two-thirds-wall between the exhibits so the dwindling cord would stretch.

She leaned back against the railing of the fish-cannery exhibit and tried to tune out the driveling nonsense Napoleon Examiner was spouting about cold spots and feelings of oppression.  Minerva heard someone walking on the main floor above. Damn it, which one of the crew had slipped away? She really wished one of her coworkers had been here to help supervise.

Half the lights flickered on for a second. The half controlled by the light switch in the room right… oh crap.

A loud thud came through the floor directly above the jail.

Eddie sprinted out of the jail and ran past Minerva, knocking her half-way over the railing, her balance precarious.

She heard the cord as it came loose from the wall and felt it thwap into her neck. The impact was just enough to send her over the railing, twisting the cord. There was no time for a breath. No time to call out.

Minerva was going to haunt the crap out of those assholes.

Museum Mishap: Ghost Examiners Pt 2

Minerva dragged one of the benches over against the basement wall and sat down out of the shot. The Ghost Examiners had only been shooting for an hour and she was already exhausted.  She closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall as the Examiners traipsed up and down the stairs doing multiple takes of their intro to the supposed spirits that resided here. All the overhead lights were off and the crew were only lighting the Examiners.

“Almost forty years ago a prisoner hung himself while awaiting trial,” the lead Examiner said for the eighth time as he tried to look suave coming down the stairs.

Minerva sighed. There was no corroboration of that story in the records. Hell, there wasn’t even any mention of it in the records. It was just an old rumor probably made up by a long dead museum tour guide for the purpose of terrifying fourth-graders.

“Is that a real coffin?”

Minerva opened her eyes. One of the Examiners—physically largest but clearly least intimidating— was pointing at an object to Minerva’s left.

“Uh huh.” Minerva stuck her hand in the pocket of her jacket. “They used it to transport the bodies.” Her voice dropped slightly. “Sometimes you can still hear the scratching of the ones who weren’t quite dead.” She dragged her closed pocket knife against the metal chain behind her.

The Examiner jumped back with an unmanly squeak and Minerva bust up laughing.

“That’s not funny!” He recovered quickly and shifted his beefy arms out to take up more space. “This is serious business. This is a scientific inquiry!”

“No.” Minerva rose to her feet and poked the man in the chest. “This is storytelling with all the plot left out. You guys are like short fiction from the New Yorker turned into a reality show.”

The man took a step back and bumped into the smallest Examiner— the one with the napoleonic issue. Tiny t-shirt Napoleon put a hand on Minerva’s shoulder. She straightened to her full height forcing the little man to look up slightly, wrapped her hand around his wrist and removed his hand from her person.

“Go film your show,” she said and pointed into the darkness of the basement. “The Jail is that way.”

TO BE CONCLUDED…

Museum Mishap Monday: Ghost Examiners Pt 1

Ok, well I apparently mentally lost days last week and forgot to post an entry, so instead I’ll put up multiple entries this week covering Mishaps #7 and #8

Ghost Examiners: Museum Edition

The “ghost” box squealed. Minerva rolled her eyes. Sh wished her boss hadn’t agreed to these TV shenanigans.

“Did you hear that?” one of the “examiners” said to his equally well-groomed and tight t-shirted companion.

“That’s the fire signal,” Minerva muttered. “It proceeds messages from the fire dispatcher. You’ve got your CB between channels.”

The men ignored her. They’d edit her out of the footage later but she’d done her best to make it as difficult as possible to cut her out. Filming was only allowed with her supervision.

A producer came over. “Hi, I don’t suppose you can help me find an extension cord we can use?”

Minerva sighed. They didn’t really need an extension cord, they just wanted her not screwing up the audio for as long as possible.

“I feel a chill,” said one of the ghost hunters.

“You’re standing under the air conditioner vent,” Minerva shot over her shoulder. She showed the producer into the utility closet and its staircase leading into the basement workshop. “The extension cords are kept in here.”

“Wow,” said the producer. “Creepy. Can we film in here?”

“No. Public areas only.” Minerva pulled an extension cord down off the wall.

“What about still photographs?”

“No.”

The producer peered down the steps. “Where does this go anyway?”

“Exhibits workshop and the freezer where we keep the bodies.” Minerva held back a grin as the producer’s eyes widened.

“Bodies?”

“Yeah, taxidermic specimens. The cold kills insect activity.” The producer’s eyes lit up and Minerva immediately regretted telling him this bit of information. “No. You can’t film my freezer.”  She blocked off the stairs with her body and urged him back out toward the filming.

One of the Examiners was talking into a camera. “Now we’re headed down into the underground area where the jail once was.”

“We call it the basement,” Minerva offered loudly enough to be picked up on the Examiner’s lapel mic.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Museum Mishap #6

TURN LEFT

My phone’s female navigation voice instructs me to turn off the highway and on to a barely paved road leading up into the hills.

STAY ON UNNAMED ROAD FOR THREE MILES.

Unnamed road, that’s vaguely disconcerting. Well, at least the road isn’t named after the man I’m supposed to meet. It still weirds me out after five years of living here to meet people who have stayed on the same land long enough to have all the roads and creeks named after their family. It also weirds me out to have people only give me four numbers when I ask for their phone number. I mean, I get that each town has its own three digit prefix and you only really need the last four numbers, but it still makes my brain lock up.

The road quickly turns into a one lane gravel trail with holes large enough to be called “Charles” instead of “Chuck”. I steer around them as best I can and wish I was driving a car with better clearance. After about a mile the road starts winding through trees up into the foothills. I turn off the radio and hug the right side of the road at every turn. I’d rather not get hit by some jackass in an off-road truck treating the road like his own personal race track.

DESTINATION IS ON YOUR RIGHT

I almost missed the driveway and had to back up to make the tight turn. About 500 yards off the road is a clearing with a house and a large outbuilding, the kind people usually keep RV’s in. I parked between a raised truck and a late-model hatchback. I grabbed the camera and put on the fleece jacket with the museum logo. A large German Shepherd jumped up to put his paws on my window barking excitedly. I rolled the window down and put the back of my hand up to the nose that snuffled into the crack.

“Hey there, pup,” I said in an unconcerned voice. I used to be terrified of big dogs as a kid. I can’t remember what changed or when. Now I’m the kind of girl who sticks her whole hand into a wolf’s mouth to keep it from eating gravel. Though technically I didn’t know it was a wolf until AFTER I did that.

I pocketed my keys and opened the door. An inquisitive snout runs up and down my leg as I got out of the car.

“Sprout Come!” a man’s voice ordered.

The dog reluctantly headed toward its master.

“Hello.” I waved. “I’m from the museum. You called about a cranberry beater?”

“She’s not vicious,” the man said, as the dog started to bounce and bark in front of me.

I made a closed fist and held it over Sprout’s nose. “Sprout Sit.” She sat and I scratched behind her ears.

“Machine’s in the barn,” the man said leading me around the house toward an old gray barn hidden by the outbuilding. “Don’t think you have room at the museum, but maybe you could park it outside or something.”

“Did you raise cranberries?” I asked.

“Me? No, it came with the property. We just moved here from Idaho last summer. Neighbor told us it had some historical significance so we called you.”

“Yeah, several farms were started in the area few decades ago, but they all failed. Turns out there’s a fungus in the ground that caused all the crops to fail.”

He pulled back the doors of the barn. “Surprised no one sold it for scrap.”

I was too, but I didn’t say it out loud. “I’m just going to take some pictures for now. I’ll present it to our collections committee in about a month. If we decide against it I know a couple of groups that might be interested.”

He nodded. “My daughter’s home sick from school I’m going to go check on her. I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll just take some pictures and be on my way.” I tried my best confident smile. What this? Of course I drive out and take pictures of rusted old farm equipment every day. “I’ll let you know before I leave.”

He called Spout and headed back to the house leaving me alone. The cranberry beater was a large piece of mid-century machinery about the same size as the larger tractors they showcased at the county fair. The kind Aaron joked would cut our two acres of lawn in fifteen minutes flat. It was up on timbers and the beater wheel was in an upraised position. My friend James made me tour the cranberry museum in Long Beach once, so I’d seen pictures of this kind of thing in action. The cranberry fields would be flooded with water and the beater would run across the rows with the wheel churning the berries into the water where they’d float to the top.

I took pictures from every angle. I seriously doubted we’d accept it for the museum collection, but there were other local organizations who loved this sort of thing.

It was a pretty wicked looking piece of machinery. The people on Twitter would love this. I pocketed the museum camera and took out my cell phone. I crouched down in front of the beater wheel and pointed my phone camera up.

I grinned as I reviewed the picture. Perfect. I sent it to Twitter with the caption: Now I know what it feels like to be a cranberry. It uploaded almost immediately. Why was it that I got 3G out in the middle of nowhere and only 1G in normal places?

My foot bumped the timber under the machine as I got back up. Or rather, my foot went through the timber. It disintegrated into a mess of powder post beetle leavings and the machine tipped forward. The beater wheel hit me square in the chest and pressed me against the barn floor. The air went out of my lungs and I felt ribs snap. I couldn’t seem to inhale with the weight on my chest.

As I blacked out, I inexplicably visualized being surrounded by the platypus I would never get a chance to swim with.