Part 2 of my husband’s short story. You can catch up with Part 1 here.
The Matriarch – Part 2
Behind her pursed lips, Ursula’s teeth clenched together as she turned the glass cylinder over in her hands. The elongated grey, many-segmented worm-like creature that floated in the yellowish liquid was not something she recognized, but then she’d only been researching parasites since the unwelcome task of dredging them up from archival storage had fallen on her lap.
The parasite made her skin crawl. It would be perfect for the special exhibit. But the glass cylinder was unlabelled. She’d have to do some digging to find out what it was a specimen of and then get some brain-bleach to make her nightmares go away. Still, it was exactly the kind of repulsive-but-facinating thing that the Museum Director wanted for the exhibit.
She began shuffling through the faded, crumpled newspapers in the box the glass cylinder had been packed in. Maybe the specimen label had come loose.
“Miss Thelstein?” Ursula looked up from the box and cursed under her breath at the sound of the Director’s voice. “Are you in here?”
“Over here,” she said.
“Right this way.” The Director’s only sounded like that when he was talking to someone important. Like a donor.
Ursula heard two sets of footsteps making their way down along the disorganized aisles of shelves, crates, boxes, and display cases that sat in the sub-basement archives.
As they came around the corner, Ursula nodded in greeting to the salt-and-pepper haired Director, and a russet-haired fellow with the ugliest pair of horn-rimmed glasses ever made and an expression that warned his sense of humor had been surgically removed. Before she could say anything, the Director’s eyes lit up and a smile curved the left side of his mouth.
“Well, now,” he cooed. “That’s certainly an interesting specimen! Looks like something out of a horror movie. Are there any more like that?”
Ursula blinked at the strange conversation. “Not that I’ve found yet. Besides this one, just some tapeworms and African earwigs. Creepy, yes, but not enough to make a full special exhibit out of.” Ursula figured besides the real specimens, he’d also want full-color displays illustrating their life-cycles and how they infected their host organisms. That would go a long way towards making the exhibit complete. But she didn’t make the suggestion for fear of being put in charge of it.
The stranger spoke. It sounded to Ursula as though he was having difficulty unclenching his teeth. “Where did you….find that?”
The Director beamed at him, then back at Ursula, then at the stranger again. “I’m terribly sorry. I haven’t made introductions. “Miss Thelstein, this is….Doctor…Greg Allen. He’s a…” The Director hesitated.
“A Veterinary Parasitologist,” said Dr. Allen. His tone suggested that the words left a nauseating taste in his mouth.
“Yes!” The Director seemed oddly delighted. “And this is Miss Ursula Thelstein, one of the archivists from our research department and Ad Hoc Display Coordinator for the upcoming Special Exhibit!”
Ursula gave a pained-but-polite smile. “Ad Hoc” was Latin for “this title comes with neither a promotion nor a raise.”
“And to what do I owe the pleasure of Dr. Allen’s visit?” she asked.
THURSDAY NIGHT, PREVIOUS
The boy’s shark-grin instantly turned to a frown. “There are troublesome elements I need dealt with.”
Greg made a slight tilt of his head toward Baldy. “Isn’t that what he’s for?”
The boy’s grin returned. “There are times to use a wrecking ball and times to use a set of lockpicks. I want them all rounded up before they realize we’re onto them. That calls for quiet footsteps and quick hands.”
“Quiet footsteps and quick hands?” Greg pursed his lips. “It sounds like you want someone in better shape than me. Some shadowy ninja-type guy.” He managed to keep a straight face.
“I have plenty of those.” The boy flicked his wrist.
Greg pondered the timing of the limo’s arrival minutes after his tire blew out. If he was ever able to return to his car, he was positive any trace of a sniper’s bullet would’ve already been long removed.
“Sounds like you’re all set. Thanks for the lift, and you can drop me off right…” Greg’s words cut off as a muscular hand suddenly squeezing his larynx.
“You,” scowled the granite-slab voice, “will show respect.”
Dr. Allen pointed to the odd specimen-without-a-label that the Museum Director was so excited about. “I’m here for that, actually. Where did you get that? Do you know what it is?”
Ursula shrugged. “A few decades ago, the State University apparently donated a box from their Bio department to the museum. Looks like it got shelved in the archives and forgotten about before anyone got around to cataloguing it.”
Ursula thought that odd. She’d had heard that museums in London had an enormous backlog in their archives yet to catalogue and were still finding treasures from ancient Egypt that British archaeologists had brought home with them in the nineteenth century. But that didn’t make sense here. It wasn’t that big of a box, and it’s not like this museum had ever been overwhelmed by a sudden influx of inventory that it couldn’t be catalogued in less than a day.
Dr. Allen turned to the Director. “Thank you. I’ll take it from here.”
“Are you sure you don’t need my help?” The Director’s eyes flicked from the specimen, to Dr. Allen, then to Ursula.
“No,” said Dr. Allen more curtly than Ursula expected. “I’m sure you’re very busy. I’ll help Miss…Thelstein?…with the…star…of the exhibit.”
Ursula was getting an odd feeling about all this. All alone in the museum sub-basement with a stranger?
“Oh, I’m certainly not too busy.” The Director smiled. “I think it would be best if I….”
The Director’s sentence was cut off as Dr. Allen swept behind him and gripped the base of the Director’s neck and struck him with the other hand in the kidneys.