The ball came in with a slight arc, and I stepped into it, adding a bit of weight to the strength I put into my swing. The black bat hit with a resounding PING and I heard my teammates shout with excitement as I scampered toward first, then rounded and slid into second just below the tag. “SAFE” shouted the umpire; a seventeen year old working for the Parks and Rec department for the summer.
David Pettingill dribbled a grounder toward third. The alert young 3rd base player scooped up the ball, looked me back, then threw David out by a good three feet. I sighed, wondering how he succeeded in playing football so well in college.
The rest of the inning didn't fare any better and I died on second, ending the game with the Goldline team coming up short 3-2. I schlumped back to the dugout and began putting my stuff into my game bag.
“We're going to The Cobra Pit to commiserate, Athena,” said David. “Do you want to come?” I shook my head.
“That place is usually too loud for me David,” I said. “Besides, I have a lot to catch up on at work. I think I'm going back in for a couple hours.” I waved and lugged my bag to the Jeep. I heard soft footsteps behind me and I smiled.
“Hello Diana,” I said to my younger sister.
“You're not going back to the museum, are you?” she asked accusingly.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“You're going out to do your other job, aren't you? Is there something big going on?”
I looked at my sister like she'd grown another head. “Diana, I have no clue what you're talking about. The Museum is still in a mess after Dr Chatterjee's arrest, and I am behind on my current exhibits too. I'm trying to get the work of two people done. So what's this you're talking about?”
“You know,” she said. Then she mimicked a mask and pointy ears.
“Where did you get the idea I'm Batman?” I laughed. I set the bag in the back of the car and climbed up into the seat. I waved at my sister and left the Big Bend park, heading back toward town. Though it had been a cool April night, I was still warm in the glow of the game. My mind drifted back to my meeting with Annabell Morgan, though, and I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something I was supposed to do for her.
Foster was at the desk when I signed in, and he gave me a friendly nod. I asked how things were going that night. “Not bad, Dr Nikos. We've had several more...well...ACTIVE nights.”
I nodded in agreement, shuddering slightly as I remembered the night Doppler robbed the museum and the previous evening that had ended so badly for Ajay. I walked down the hall to my office, and paused briefly at the Wonders of India Exhibit. The hall and room seemed empty and I passed by, slipping the key into my lock. The door turned easily and I crossed to the workbench. I picked up the Carthagenian Cuirass and studied the engravings, wishing it could speak to me. It was not complete of course; archeologists tend to sift through the refuse piles of the world, but it definitely had come from the Libyan deserts and was aged about right for the final Punic war. I turned on my recording device and began dictating as I did the cursory study.
I didn't hear Foster as he made his round so I jumped when he said, “Is everything OK Doctor?”
“GAHHH!” I said, spilling my iced tea all over the workbench and my jeans. “Well it WAS,” I said smiling.
“Oh let me get some towels or something,” said Foster, all flustered.
“Its OK, I have them on my desk,” I said.
“Well at least let me get you another iced tea.”
“All right, I think there's another jug of it in the refrigerator in the staff lounge.” Foster smiled, doffed his cap and took my glass. I watched him go down the hall, then made my way to the director's office.
The tumblers on the safe turned quickly and easily, and two minutes later I was back in my office, with the real Citrine. The substitution had gone flawlessly. I was just putting the towels into a plastic grocery bag when Foster returned. “Here you go Dr Nikos,” he said amiably
I thanked him and took a sip.
“Welp, I'd best be makin' my rounds,” he said, backing out of my office. “Don't work too hard!”
“I won't,” I promised. I just have one more thing to do tonight.”
After an hour, I finished my work in the lab, then said goodbye to the security team. My watch showed 11:30, and it was almost time for White Owl to patrol I walked out to the Jeep and drove home, where I stopped to pet Daisy, then headed up the stairs to transform for my nightly peregrinations.
I swept out of the balcony and launched my way north over the city. The night was cool and I shivered in my NuSilk leotard, wishing that I'd added heating filaments to the costume. The city was quiet though, and I could find no trace of suspicious activities. Captain Winslow had left no messages to meet, so the riverbank was bare as well. Then I felt a compulsion...call it an intuitive leap.
I flew to the old Basin area of town,landing near Park; where I'd met Ms Morgan earlier in the day. But something pulled me off course and I found myself standing still in front of an old brownstone The door opened and I felt compelled to enter the dark passageway. It led to a cheerful room, decorated in manly tones with leather chairs, dark paneled walls and several bookshelves, lined with many leather tomes. A fire burned gently in the fireplace and though I was alone, I felt I was being watched.
“Come in, sit down,” said a voice. It was deep and warm, filled with the velvet of smoke and whiskey
Warily I took a seat in one of the leather chairs.
“So she's back, eh?” I heard from everywhere and nowhere at once. “I thought the last time I'd banished her for good. Of course she probably thought the same about me.” I heard a cheerful laugh and couldn't help looking around.
“Excuse me, but where are you? For that matter, who are you?”
“Oh I'm sorry kiddo. I sometime forget you people can't see all the dimensions like I can. Watch the other chair.”
I stared as a man in a rumpled suit slowly materialized. His suit was roughly 20 years out of date and ill-fitting. He had a large muffler around his shoulders, big heavy shoes and well worn, knitted fingerless gloves. A mop of thick gray hair peeked out from a rainbow colored turban and beneath all that keen black eyes twinkled .
“Oy, that takes a lot out of a soul,” he said.
I gasped in disbelief. “Professor Kismet?” I asked in shock.
“In the ectoplasm, White Owl. You don't seem too impressed to have a ghost for a host?"
"I see goddesses, so a ghost isn't too extraordinary. But how do you know my name?” I asked. “Our paths never crossed. ”
“Are you kidding? Mr M can't stop thinking about you. Well you and Crimson. Though I shouldn't want to tell you HOW he thinks about you. But then, hey, you've seen each other in your birthday suits, so maybe its not so surprising.” He shrugged, looking down at that.
“And what do you mean, she's back? Who's back?” (I wanted to ask about his Mr M comment, but I refrained.)
“Who indeed! Hoo hoo Hoooo!” He laughed, at his own comment, then caught himself. “I sound more like an Owl than YOU!”
I smiled, remembering from Guild records that Kismet was never quick to get to the point.
“Do you know how I died, White Owl?” he asked.
“I seem to remember it was something very simple according to the police.
“NO!” He said, jumping out of his chair for emphasis. “It was HER! Morgana the witch! Oh she used underlings; innocents under her control, The shooter was someone I couldn't stop. My counter-spells had no affect on the kid's mind. She uses them like that White Owl—controls their minds to get what she wants, then tosses them aside like a used Kleenex. You know why the police couldn't find my killer?”
I shook my head.
“Because after he killed me, she melted him. I watched him melt away to nothing as my life blood poured out, and there was nothing I could do!”
His body shimmered in and out of view, and I saw him rack with sobs. “Its why I can't close yet White Owl. As long as Morgana survives, my job is undone and I can't go on—at least that's what THEY tell me.” He rolled his eyes upward and pointed toward the ceiling. I realized he was talking about the unseen realms that I'd heard Father Tim discuss before.
“Well I know she's waiting on you. But let's take a minute to plan some counter strategies, OK?” Kismet seemed to regain control of himself and he held out a meaty, translucent palm.
“Let me see the Citrine,” he said. I reached into my tool belt and found the stone in one of my pouches. I gasped in surprise seeing it.
“Yeah she got you. That's how I knew she was back. Your mind—I can tell when someone's controlled, though my apprentice is still learning.”
I heard a key rattle in the lock and I started. Kismet placed a finger to his lips and smiled. “That should be him now.”
To be continued...
(sorry so long between chapters--I really didn't know where this chapter was going--but I seem to have picked up a little steam...)
Crimson Valkyrie (mentioned by the good professor) Is an OC of
and Mr M (Also mentioned) is the OC of