Murder At The Museum
A short story from my sci-fi/fantasy/horror collection
HE NEVER CAME BACK
It was freezing outside. Jeffrey Cummings made his way across campus against a stiff northern breeze. He was going to be late if he didn’t hurry. Too much studying and too little time. He had begun his job as janitor at the University’s Natural History Museum as a way of funding his senior year trip to Maui. Now 90 days away from picking up his masters it had paid the bills and kept him afloat these last two years. The Museum had closed an hour ago and the staff was probably already gone. Just Doctor Grey the museums head would still be there awaiting Jeffrey’s arrival. He trudged on into the teeth of a gale until he turned the corner in front of the dental college and the wind suddenly stopped almost causing him to fall on the slippery sidewalk. Down the block and across the street he could see the two black lion statues that guarded the front entrance to the museum. Dodging a new VW beetle as he crossed the street brought him out of his, I’m late to work trance, and back to reality. As he walked up the sidewalk between the lions he could see Doctor Grey standing by the door looking a bit impatient.
“Good evening Doctor Grey, sorry I’m running a little late.”
“Listen Jeffrey, our present from the JPL and NASA is up and running. I’ve just finished opening the display but I’m afraid I’ve left you a bit of a mess.”
“I’ll get right on it Doctor Grey, first thing.”
“Goodnight Jeffrey,” Doctor Grey mumbled as he hurried from the building.
The present that Doctor Grey had mentioned was a rather large meteorite that had been found in the Antarctic several years ago that an alumnus had steered toward Doctor Grey. Since it’s arrival the good Doctor had been all a-twitter for the last five months about this prized specimen.
Jeff made his way to the meteor exhibit overlooking the University’s excellent Dinosaur collection. A large packing case overflowing with foam peanuts and bubble wrap greeted his eyes. Fifteen minutes later the exhibit hall had been returned to it’s former pristine condition and Jeffrey took the time to study the Museums newest exhibit. To the layman a chunk of space debris, burned black by its fiery entry into Earth’s atmosphere. To the Doctor another fascinating piece of the great puzzle of life. To Jeffrey, just another thing to dust. With the cleanup complete, he went down to his closet to get a floor buffer and wax to start his regular duties.
He mopped and buffed the big front lobby, ramps and stair cases and when he turned the machine off he thought he heard a feint clicking noise but put it down to the high winds. He turned on the lights to the main exhibition hall and began buffing the marble floor to a bright shine. For the next two hours he cleaned the great hall and as he finished he suddenly had a strange feeling come over him that something was missing? He couldn’t quite place what it was but after two years he knew the floor plan like the back of his hand and something had changed. As he turned off the machine he heard it distinctly. A sound like someone walking with taps on their shoes on the hard marble floor. But it stopped almost as soon as he heard it.
Someone was in the building. The alarms hadn’t gone off so they had to be hiding here since closing. Very casually Jeffrey started to the office to call the campus police. Out of the main hall down a long dark corridor to the behind the scenes area of the Museum. Halfway down the darken hallway he heard the clicking sound again. This time though, it was a lot faster and it was getting louder. Jeffrey lost all pretenses as he ran to the office and began struggling with his great key chain. Under normal circumstances he could have opened the door in seconds but his hands were shaking.
As he found the key something hit him hard from behind and sent him crashing through the office door. Fortunately he hit his head on the marble floor and knocked himself unconscious. This was very lucky because Jeffrey never felt himself being torn in two.
“Let’s go over your story Doctor Grey one more time,” said Lt. Osbourne of the campus police force as he checked his sergeant’s notebook . “Says here, that you say the Cummings boy was a little late coming to work tonight. Is he often late Doc?”
“Jeffrey was a good employee, a good student and a good friend, he was seldom ever late Lt.”
The Lt. continued to scan the notebook as he said, “Did he mention why he was running late tonight?”
“No, as I told the sergeant and before him the patrolman, I asked Jeffrey to see to the mess on the second floor and then left him to his duties. We hardly spoke at all.”
At this point their conversation was interrupted by the sergeant who announced that they had finished the search and the building was secure and empty. Now they were waiting the arrival of the State Police and their tracking dog.
When Jeffrey had been driven through the office door he had set off a burglar alarm. A police cruiser was barely a block away and was at the museum in no time at all. He parked so he could see three sides of the building and waited for backup to arrive. When two other cars came the officers checked all the doors and windows on the ground floor and found them all to be locked. The sergeant had then sent Officer Patterson to retrieve the Doctor and had him open up the doors. By this time the entire campus security force had arrived and they began a systematic search of the building and surrounding area. It wasn’t very long before they came across Jeffrey’s remains, half of which had been dragged several yards down the hallway from the office. Since then, Doctor Grey and been both instructor and star witness to the sergeant and now the lieutenant. The medical examiner had just finished his examination of the body when the lieutenant arrived.
Lieutenant John Osbourne had been a policeman since his enlistment in the army during the Viet Nam war. In the 35 years since he had been a big city Homicide Detective eventually rising to prescient Captain. He had retired after 30 years as a deputy chief and had sought to spend his time hunting, fishing and playing cards with the boys. After 6 months of that he had found himself bored to death and desperately wanting to go back to work. Besides 53 was hardly the age to retire. Four years ago he became the second in command for the University’s Security Forces behind the Captain who was due for retirement himself at the end of this semester. Lt. Osbourne had already been given the nod as his replacement.
This was good and bad. It meant another large raise but it also meant turning the running of the day-to-day affairs of the department to sergeant, soon to be Lieutenant Brown. This might be his last real case as nothing like this had ever happened on campus and probably never would again. The detective inside him was dying to get out and run amok. Something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Something was way out of line here. It wasn’t only the state of the body. He had seen worse in the Nam and almost as bad in the city. But since crime knows no boundaries he wasn’t surprised that it had happened here.
No it wasn’t the state of the body but something was amiss. Jeffrey had been torn in two by something and someone. His dealings with Colombian gangs had introduced John to the effects a chain-saw could have on the human body. And a chain-saw was obviously the murder weapon here although they hadn’t found it. Nor could
anyone give a reason why anyone would do such a thing.In the 162 years of the university existence there had only been two murders both of which were quickly solved. John knew that this one wouldn’t be that easy, but solve it he would, he had no doubt of that. By now the sergeant had interviewed all the employees and was correlating his notes. The employees were making a pains-taking search to see if any of their exhibits were missing, but so far everything seemed intact. John knew that if he could find the reasons behind the murder, he could solve it.
John had worked that morning and afternoon and about 6 p.m. got the call he had been waiting for from the Medical Examiners office. The autopsy results were in and they were as strange as the case had become. The ME said that Jeffrey had been bitten in two and not by anything the ME or any of his assistants had ever seen. They had submitted their findings as well as the body to the State Police Crime Lab to see if they could shed any light on the mystery? Jokingly John had asked if maybe one of the dinosaurs had done it and was surprised to hear the ME say perhaps they did. They both had a laugh before they hung up.
At eight o’clock the lieutenant called off the search and interviews and sent his investigators home as he went back to the station to write up his reports for the Captain and more important the board of regents. As he left the museum he was approached by two local reporters whom he brushed off with a no comment as he swept passed them on his way to his cruiser.
Doctor Grey sent his staff home except for his secretary Janet who he asked to stay after and help him search for anything missing. She agreed to stay and help but since she hadn’t eaten all day begged off to go to get a burger or something. Doctor Grey realizing he hadn’t eaten since yesterday told her to keep looking and he would go to Morey’s and get them both a good meal instead. Morey’s was one of the classier restaurants on campus brought a big smile to Janet’s face and she readily agreed. Grabbing his hat and coat, the Doctor went out the door locking it behind him.
Janet Whitelaw was a grad student like Jeffrey, working on her MBA and Doctor Grey’s “Girl Friday.” She was the real motivating force at the museum. She ran the everyday affairs leaving the doctor free to follow his research. In return the doctor went out of his way to please her and keep her happy. He knew a good thing when he saw one. Besides being an administration whiz Janet was a knockout. She had a figure and legs that wouldn’t quit, long blonde hair and bright sparkling blue eyes and an IQ that passed 200, a very deadly combination in a 23 year old. She had the doctor and most others wrapped around her little finger but seldom abused that privilege.
Right now she was on the fourth floor of the museum going through the gemstone collection, checking what was in her catalog with what was on display. The death of Jeffrey had knocked her for a loop but somehow she kept her nose to the grindstone in order to keep her mind off the murder. She was about halfway through the catalog when she heard the noise, a sort of scratching sound from somewhere down below. She froze in place and her blood ran cold before she realized it was probably the doctor returning with her dinner. She put her work down and walked out of the room and down the hall where she could see the staircases and ramps that wound their way up to the fourth floor.
There was nothing there, she put it down to jangled nerves, nothing more. She turned to go when she heard a clicking sound from down below, as if someone walking with taps on their shoes? She turned and looked down the staircases and thought she saw out of her peripheral vision a shadow on the second floor. A shock ran through her body from her toes to her head and left her hair standing straight up. She knew what she saw but refused to believe it. She just stared at the second floor landing hoping to see it again to prove that she wasn’t going mad. Praying not to see it again because if it were true, she was as dead as Jeffrey was and there was nothing she could do about it. There was no way down, no escape except down those steps. There was no way to call for help from the fourth floor. Above the second floor offices only the fifth floor planetarium contained a phone. She would look very foolish if she called 911 over a hallucination, but then the vision of Jeffrey entered her mind. They had covered up his face and upper torso but she would forever remember his legs and his intestines spilling out down the hallway. The way the lower part of his legs was missing and the fact that who ever did it was still on the loose. She must have been crazy to agree to work here alone. Foolish or not she would call the police.
As quiet as a mouse Janet crept up the steps toward the fifth floor she turned at landing between floors and peeked over the edge. There was nothing down below. Up she crept pausing half way up when she realized she wasn’t breathing but had been holding her breath. She took several deep breaths before scampering up the remaining steps to the fifth floor. Her wild fears were starting to subside as she looked at an open planetarium door but just to make sure she looked over the edge of the railing and into the eyes of death staring up at her from the second floor.
She screamed at the top of her lungs as she ran in blind panic through the planetarium doors and over to the office and the telephone. The office door was locked. In the background she could hear deaths approach as he passed by the third floor. She looked around and grabbed the velvet rope holder and threw it through the office window and crawl through and across the floor to the phone just as death passed the fourth floor and turned for the fifth. She frantically dialed for an outside line and then dialed 911 as death joined her in the office.
Hello 911 operator, how can I help you? Hello 911 operator how can I help you. Hey Marty I got a 911 call from the planetarium but nobody responds. Should I send someone out there.
“Which one Stella?
Let’s see…. it’s the one at the Natural Science Museum Marty.
Ah Stella, isn’t that the one where that student was found cut in two?
Oh my god……911 dispatch to campus police we have problems at the Natural Science Museum, dispatch an officer immediately over…
Officer on the way 911 dispatch…..
Lieutenant Osbourne was just sitting down to diner with his son and his sons fiancee and the Reverend Vaughn who had just agreed to marry them this June when the happy couple graduated. They’d just drunk a second toast to the good Rev. when John’s silent beeper went off. He tried not to jump when it did.
John excused himself and took the phone in the den. It was Sergeant Brown who had beeped him.
” Lieutenant I’m sorry to bother you at home but we’ve had another murder at the museum.” It was Doctor Grey’s secretary Janet Whitelaw this time, and it’s worse than the first one.”
I’m on my way Sergeant, ETA in ten minutes.”
“There’s no hurry Lieutenant. We got the killer this time!”
“Well who is it man?”
“It’s Doctor Grey sir. Found him covered in her blood.”
“Don’t move a muscle sergeant I’m on my way. Keep the doctor there I wish to question him. Have you called the lab?”
“Yes sir, State Police crime Lab is on the way.”
“Has the Doctor confessed sergeant?”
I think the doctor is trying for an insanity defense sir. He claims to have seen two juvenile allosaurus’ kill Ms. Whitelaw.” He keeps repeating they’re alive, they’re alive.”
I’m on my way sergeant, keep the students out of there and for God’s sake don’t let the press get a hold of this until we can get a handle on things.”
He hung up the phone and returned to the dining room to explain as little as possible to his guests. Yes there had been another murder at the museum but apparently they had a suspect in custody. He told them not to wait as he would be late and left them to their meal. He retrieved his service revolver and took a double shot swig of some Kentucky Bourbon, grabbed his coat and hat and headed across campus to the museum.
When he arrived he was met near the entrance with half a dozen microphones shoved in the direction of his face and asked in half a dozen voices for a comment. He declined and made his way between the uniformed officers at the door where he was joined by Sergeant Brown.
“This way sir, I’ve got him parked in the office on the second floor. Mind the blood stains sir.”
The white and black marble floor was awash in a crimson swath as is something bleeding very badly had been dragged down the stairs and across the lobby towards a basement door. There by the door a body lay covered by a ME’s blanket.
“Just a minute sergeant, I want to view the body.”
“Ah, no you don’t sir. It’s worse than the boy She was about 5 months pregnant and he cut out the baby!”
The sergeant was correct. When Lt. Osbourne turned back the blanket what he saw forced his bile towards his throat. The first thing he noticed was the nose was missing and so were the ears. As he pulled the blanket further back he barely noticed her exposed breasts for his eyes were pulled toward the gaping hole in her stomach! As if to answer an unasked question the sergeant pulled a plastic bag from his coat at the bottom of which lay a tiny little hand! John covered up the remains not even looking at her legs that were torn here and there all the way to her ankles.
Instead he stood and made for the door to gain some fresh air but pulled up short remembering the reporters outside and silently cursed the gods under his breath. The girl had sent his mind spinning back to the Nam where he remembered the village that had joined in the US inoculation program.
He had been escorting a group of Doctors and corpsmen back to a village that they had previously visited. What they found there still haunted him after all these years. Instead of the 112 people they had inoculated they found a pile of 112 arms. The Viet Cong had left a message and the people of surrounding villages got the message. A message that was not lost on the medical personal or a 19 year old MP. At that moment John knew that we had lost the war and he lost any plans for reenlistment.
“You going to be okay Lieutenant?”
John snapped out of it. “Yeah I’ll be fine just give me a minute to catch my breath. Let’s go talk to the Doctor,” John said, shaking off the old memories.
As they climbed the stairs; to avoid the blood on the ramp, John noticed two bloody footprints descending the ramp from the third floor. “Doctor Grey’s foot prints, Sergeant Brown?”
Yes sir, they match exactly the shoes he was wearing, they have already been removed from him and sent with the rest of the evidence to the State Police Crime Lab sir.”
Very good Charlie. You know the regents have told me the new pecking order here after the Captain retires. My recommendation for you to replace me has been approved by the board and you should be getting the official word very soon.”
“Why thank you sir for you kind words. I won’t let you down sir. He’s in here sir, mind the blood sir. That’s where the attack began in the other office.”
As Lt. Osbourne entered the second office he saw a man sitting in the middle of the room staring off into space. He bore no resemblance to the mild manner, immaculately dressed, middle-aged doctor of natural history that John had met on several occasions. Gone was any pretense of humanity any sign of intelligence. The man was obvious mad, quite insane by any standard. He had seen to many similar faces in the Nam that he could never forget.
“I want this man taken to the hospital immediately for observation,” John said to the sergeant as he rolled his eyes and looked toward the ceiling.
“Yes sir, I’ll get the “medics” here at once,” said the sergeant as he grabbed the phone
Doctor Grey never said a thing that day or ever again. Until the day that he died which was barely a month later. After learning that the prosecutor wouldn’t charge him with the murders; as everyone thought him insane, he seemed to lose the will to live. An airborne virus attacked the doctors weakened system and he was dead from a viral infection in a week’s time. The murder investigations were officially closed, and life returned back to normal on campus.
The semester ended and Johns son and now daughter-in-law graduated and were married on campus and were soon off on their honeymoon. The Chief retired amid much pomp and circumstance and for the second time in his life John was promoted to Captain.
He had almost forgotten about the questions he had about the murders. What with the murders stopping after Janet’s and the removal of the Doctor, life in the last four months had returned to its small town charm. The only problems were generally drinking related but hey it was a college town. It was a rather bad shock to hear the request for a policeman at the Natural History Museum. Something made him turn his car around and tell the dispatcher that he would take the call.
It all came back to him like the adrenaline rush of a punch in the nose. His mind focused on all the doubts he had to the doctor’s complicity to the murders. As he entered the building he was met by the new museum head.
Doctor Marcus Tiberious Hoover took John’s hand in a hearty handshake and welcomed him into the museum.” I’m surprised you came so quickly Captain to our little loss. A patrolman could have taken care of this. You needed have come for the theft of two eggs. Please come with me and I’ll show you what we found.”
John followed the doctor up the stairs to the second floor Dino exhibit. Down the rows, past fossilized statues of creatures beginning with a Woolly Mammoth and Saber Toothed Tiger barely 20,000 years old backwards in time past various and sundry monsters from the little UtahRaptor, past the Allosaurus, beyond the giant duck bill and the head from the T-Rex. To where there was a dinosaur nest exhibit. Doctor Hoover stopped and knelt down to a nest and pointed to where two eggs where missing.
“According to our records there were two more eggs in this nest. When I took over here we did a complete inventory and this was the only thing missing. We called our insurance and they said to have someone make a police report. Captain do you think this has anything to do with my unfortunate predecessor?”
That’s hard to say Doctor Hoover. Tell me, what would these eggs be worth on the “Black Market?”
“To a private collector? Prime eggs from Orintholestes, that’s hard to say Captain? Upwards of six figures I’d guess? Oh, here is a copy of the photo showing the nests configuration when it was assembled.”
“What’s this blue stuff where the eggs were Doctor, it’s not in the photograph. It’s looks like some sort of acid?”
“We don’t know as yet Captain? We sent a sample over to the labs to have it analyzed. Hasn’t come back yet? My Grad student Mary thought someone might have poured it over the eggs and somehow loosened them from the rest?”
When he heard the word poured something caused John to look up above the nest site to the balcony above. The same blue shiny substance was glinting in the overhead lights on the edge of the balcony. “What’s directly above us Doctor?”.
“Directly above is our gem and mineral displays. Various displays from petrified wood to meteorites Captain, but why?”
“Lets take a walk up there shall we doctor I have a hunch about this.”
As you like Captain, let me turn the lights on up there, wouldn’t do to fall over that balcony! Ah, that’s better, now follow me.”
As he walked down the hall John could already see what he was looking for. Sitting beside the end of the wall by where a balcony over looked the displays below sat a large blackish object. From the bottom of this rock was a tell tail blue stain that ran down hill from the meteor over the edge of the balcony. When he peered over the edge he found himself starring at a clutch of dinosaur eggs. Perhaps doctor we may find that your eggs weren’t stolen but were dissolved….or hatched….”
No that would be impossible Captain, Orintholestes or as you call him Allosaurus has been extinct for over a 130 million years. It could hardly have hatched because…….t
That was as far as the doctor got before the creature had grabbed him, pulled him up to it’s mouth and bit him in two and the doctor was gone. It shoved the rest of the doctor into its maw, threw its head back again and swallowed the rest. It then turned to Captain Osbourne, who was lining the creature up in the site of his Mac 10, and lowered its head for a bite.
When Mary, Doctor Hoover’s ‘Girl Friday’ reported for work the next morning she knew something was wrong but couldn’t put a finger on it until she went to see why the lights were on, on the third floor. She found that the new meteor had been knocked over which seemed impossible as it weighed about 700 lbs. There seemed to be a pool of blue liquid, foaming around on the balcony. When she looked into a display room she found all that was left of Captain John Quince Osbourne. His right arm and hand, still holding a now empty Mac 10. The VC would have loved the irony.
The two Allosaurus had grown in the steam tunnels that crisscrossed the campus. Something in that meteor had tripled their growth rate. First rats and pets became their prey, then bums and junkies, until they returned to the museum. That night the pair hopped aboard a stopped freight train loaded with Angus cattle and bound for Florida. By the time the cars were cut to the siding outside Miami all of the cattle were gone and the Allosaurs; now accompanied by a hungry brood of 12 hatchlings, headed out into the Everglades and that warm Florida sun.
The murders were never solved and in the coming years the campus gained a certain reputation ala Jack the Ripper, and was the subject of much talk and an increase in wealth for many local businessmen.
John’s arm was given to the museum by his family and now resides in the justly famous “taxidermical section” of the Museum of Natural History, still clutching the Mac 10.
(c) 2001/2010 Ernest Stewart