“I’ll bet,” said Janet. She wriggled like something cold was walking down her spine. “I’m not good with rats. Or mice for that matter. My parents got me a gerbil once and I made them get rid of it. Yucky things.”
Marie smiled gently. “Don’t worry, the traps will see them off pretty quickly,” she said. “There’s not much in the museum to attract vermin anyway, but sometimes they come in when it’s cold outside.”
“It’s May,” said Janet. “It’s hardly cold outside anymore.”
Marie laughed, thinking of her wardrobe that morning. “Not for all of us,” she said. Her eyes caught sight of Janet’s watch on her wrist, and she twisted her head to look at it properly. To her surprise she realised that she’d read it right the first time, it was just after three.
“Where did the time go?” she said. “I’m sure I wasn’t on the computer for that long.”
“Hours,” said Janet. “You didn’t go to lunch unless you sneaked out when I went to the toilet. As if cued, Marie’s stomach rumbled. She rubbed it.
“Didn’t you go for lunch then?”
“Got mine with me, I’m on a diet.” Janet’s diets tended to last about five days then disappear for three weeks, and reappear again when her magazines came out with the next fad that celebrities were engaged in.
“What is it this time?” asked Marie. Janet shrugged, her eyes averted.
“Oh, it’s a fruit thing,” she said, and then when Marie watched her, waiting in silence she tossed her hair and flushed. “Kiwi fruit,” she said. “You eat fifteen of them a day, and it’s all you’re allowed from when you wake up until tea-time. Then for tea you can eat anything you like so long as it’s no more than 800 calories, and then you’re allowed green fruit between then and bedtime. So apples, grapes, and kiwis.”
“That’s a lot of kiwi fruit,” said Marie. “Does it taste good?”
“Not really.” Janet pulled a face. “It’s a bit chewy too, and I don’t like the black seeds.”
“Are you losing weight?”
“Oh loads!” She cheered up as quickly as the thought of kiwi fruits had dampened her mood. “I was a whole kilo down from the weekend when I weighed myself this morning!”
“That’s good!” Marie meant it; her infrequent attempts at dieting usually ended when she realised that she was slowly gaining weight instead of losing it.
“Tickets!” Jimmy flung the main doors open, both of them bouncing off the little door stops there to protect the walls from his dramatic entrances, and shuddered on their hinges. “I’ve got two return tickets to London, and we shall be visiting Mr. High and Mighty himself tomorrow and telling him all about my statue!”
Marie had jumped, but Janet was unperturbed. She smiled. “No ticket for me, boss?”
“Hah, someone has to man the fort,” he replied, his white teeth brilliant in his broad smile. He came over and put a muscular arm around her shoulders, squeezing her slightly. “And you do such a wonderful job of it that I couldn’t possibly take you away. No-one would do it as well as you if you weren’t here. You have to teach Marie and myself how you do it sometime.”
“Stop it,” said Janet, but she didn’t try and wriggle free and she was smiling almost as broadly as Jimmy. “It’s not like we get anyone in here most of the time anyway.”
“That will change!” He spread his arms expansively. “That will change when we can tell the world that we have better exhibits than the de Havilleau collection! When I have humiliated Oscar, when he bows down and kow-tows at my knees, then we will get the attention and acclaim that we deserve! This is our moment girls, this is our hour in the sun. And like Jacob, we shall sit there and hold it motionless until the battle is won!”
Janet raised her eyebrows at Marie, who shook her head back. Jimmy caught the shake and roared, “Oh but it will be true, little chickadee! The important people all know the de Havilleaus, and now they will learn of the Grices as well! We shall show them all tomorrow!”
He stood back from them both. “Smile a little more, girls! This is good news! This is fantastic news! This is the best news I had since Terrapin House called four years ago! Now, I shall go and take some suitable photographs of our statue, so that we can exhibit them tomorrow and show Oscar too-good-to-be-true what we have!”
He marched off, his head held high and his coat flapping about his skinny frame. Janet laughed, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Oh, I shouldn’t laugh,” she said, trying to control herself. “But he’s just so funny when he’s in a good mood.”
“I think he’s been taking something,” said Marie, staring after him. “Why is he coming with me now? He said I’d be going by myself tomorrow.”
“What’s Terrapin House?” asked Janet, lowering her hand at last. “I don’t think I’ve heard him talk about that before.”
“It’s the sheltered housing complex his mother lives in,” said Marie. “She moved there after his father died; she’s a bit of a recluse, I think.”
“So what happened four years ago?”
“I don’t know.” Marie mulled it over in her mind. “I don’t remember him even talking about it to be honest. He told me about his parents when his father died, but that was at least six years ago.”
“How long have you been working here then?”
Marie grinned. “And have you figure out my age? Not likely!”
“You sound like Jimmy when you say that,” said Janet.
“Marie?” Jimmy’s voice floated through the still air of the museum, and the two women looked at each other. He sounded nervous. “Marie!”
“Coming,” she called, and left Janet to go back to manning the desk like no-one else could. Jimmy was holding a camera in one hand, and standing half-in, half-out of the catalogue room. He appeared to be looking at something with a little trepidation.
“Marie, what were you looking at on the computer?” His voice was so odd she actually questioned herself and wondered if she’d been looking at anything that might have offended him. She remembered the de Havilleau website, and wondered how deeply his jealously of Oscar ran.
“The de Havilleau website,” she said. “I wanted to see more about what they say about –“
“After that,” said Jimmy. “What did you look at after that?”
“Nothing,” said Marie. “That’s all I was looking at. Why?”
“Look at this, said Jimmy. He moved out of the catalogue room so that she could stand in the doorway and see the computer screen. On it was a website written in a language that she didn’t recognise. Some of the text was in bright red letters and boxed on a black background, while much of the rest was black text on a lurid green background. It hurt her eyes to try and focus on it. In a sidebar on the right-hand side things slid up and down, but she couldn’t make out what they were; they were dark,murky images and the contrast between them and the background was poor.
“I don’t know what that is,” she said, looking away. The afterimages burned in her eyes for a moment before fading into cyan rectangles that gradually dissipated. “I didn’t go there.”
“The language,” said Jimmy. He seemed to be able to look at it without any trouble. “Do you recognise that?”
“No,” said Marie. “Should I?”
“No,” said Jimmy. “But I do, and it definitely shouldn’t be here. Are you sure that you didn’t go to this website? You didn’t click on some link without checking what it was first? Or open an email and click on a link in that?”
“I’m not stupid!” Marie glared at him, annoyed at the implication that she’d be caught out like that. “I was looking at the de Havilleau site and checking their pictures of their statue against ours. I didn’t click on anything except to enlarge the pictures, and I think I can tell the difference between that and an ancient statue!” She pointed, her arm shaking and her finger quivering.
“Could Janet have done this?”
It took her a moment to realise what he’d asked, and then she felt a sudden chill. Jimmy wasn’t angry with her, she realised. He was scared of something, and this website had somehow woken that fear. She remembered suddenly realising that nearly four hours had just disappeared, and wondered what she’d been doing in that four hours. She remembered looking at the pictures, but losing track of four hours just looking at pictures seemed… well, very unlikely.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “I was either in here or in the exhibition room all morning; I don’t think she could have crept past me without me seeing her. And I don’t see why she’s do this anyway.”
“How about lunchtime?” There was an urgency to his voice that seemed out of place.
“I didn’t go for lunch yet,” said Marie. “I’m on a diet,” she said to forestall his questions.
“Get rid of it,” said Jimmy, turning away, and hefting the camera. “I’ve got pictures to take. Oh, and don’t bookmark it either, I don’t want you going back to that site again.”
Marie bit her lip, annoyed at the implication that Jimmy thought she’d gone there and was lying about it, but she closed the browser down anyway. It took a couple of clicks before the computer recognised the mouse, almost as though the browser were sticky somehow. Then she went back out to the hall where Jimmy was walking round the display case like a predator stalking prey.
“The de Havilleau collection seem to have a cage of wires in their display case,” she said.
“Probably alarm wires,” said Jimmy. He found an angle he liked and photographed the statue. Marie nodded, wishing she’d thought of that herself. The alarms in Jimmy’s museum were mostly pressure sensors as they were cheaper, and no-one came in, let alone tried to steal things. He snapped another picture and then frowned.
“Were its arms like this when I brought it in?” he said. He pointed. Marie looked at the statue and for a moment couldn’t remember what it had looked like that morning. Its arms were upraised as though it was trying to grab someone by reaching over them.
“Yes,” she said. She wasn’t actually sure, but she didn’t want yet another accusation from her boss.
“Oh,” he said. “Odd. I could have sworn they were wider, like it was trying to embrace you. Funny how you misremember these things, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Marie, not thinking it funny at all. What Jimmy said resonated with her; she thought the statue had been in an embracing posture that morning now as well.