April 18, 1952, Friday Evening, Denver. Major Anna Petrova sat in the car with a clear view of the front of the Museum of Natural History. She had been watching the main entrance since 7:00 PM, closing time, waiting for the last people to leave for the evening. According to her source the item was inside. Exactly where inside, she didn’t know. She looked at her watch. It was 10:45 PM. The sun had set almost three hours earlier. The light over the main entrance shone brightly behind the four massive columns. The windows in the building were now dark and there hadn’t been anyone exit the building for nearly an hour, except for the janitorial staff. Everyone should be gone by now.
She eased open the car door and stepped out, carefully looking in all directions before guiding the door shut without a sound. There was no one that she could see in the area. The only sounds were from traffic off in the distance. The museum was located in the downtown area, across from a park, typically quiet with almost nonexistent traffic flow at this time of the evening. Dressed all in black with her long, silky black hair tucked under her cap, the Major quickly sprinted across the street onto the museum grounds, merging into the shadows of the trees nearest to her. In the shadows, she remained motionless for a few moments, listening and watching. From there she spotted her goal, the inset in the west side of the building, only one hundred or so feet away. It would be the side entrance she had been told about. If she could make it there, it would conceal her from anyone passing by. She waited for the right moment and took off, darting from shadow to shadow until she reached the inset. Her heartbeat and breathing had increased only slightly, controlled as a result of years of training and experience. She still felt the adrenalin rush, satisfying the craving she had for the thrill that came with the risk.
Once again she remained motionless in the shadows, calm and alert, listening for any indication of being detected. She needed to be quick, but she needed to be cautious too. The Major would do whatever needed to be done; she had volunteered for this mission and would follow her orders, even though she, of all people, had a reason not to do so. She pulled out a small tool kit from her waistband. Calmly, she picked at the lock until she heard the mechanism release. She looked around again, then pushed the heavy steel door, slowly at first to check the door for creaks. Noiseless, she swung it open, slipped inside and lightly supported the door as it shut behind her. It was completely silent and pitch black in the lower level. She waited, motionless, as her eyes adjusted to the dark. The information provided by her source had led her to this point. From here on she was on her own. The Major had no idea where to search in the building, but her instinct was to find the directory. She made her way down the corridor until she came to a staircase leading up to the main level. At the top of the stairs she headed toward the main entrance, slipping behind exhibits as she went. If there was a directory, that is where it would be. As she predicted, it was just inside the front door in the center of the foyer. Shining a small flashlight over the listings, she became aware of the sound of someone walking in her direction; their shoes clacking on the marble floor, becoming louder the closer they came. She had also been told to expect at least one night guard to be on duty. She crouched down behind the directory. Her plan had been to get in and get out, quickly and undetected, with the item. Maybe he had seen the reflection of her flashlight. The guard approached the front entrance, shining his flashlight at the front doors and pushing on them to make sure they were still locked. He circled the perimeter of the foyer. The Major worked her way around the directory, staying on the opposite side, out of sight. The guard, deciding the front was secure, continued with his rounds. As the sound of footsteps faded away, she resumed her search of the directory. There was a listing for an archeological exhibit on the second floor. That would be a good place to start. The ‘You Are Here’ map next to the directory showed her where the nearest staircase to the upper level was located. As she started to ascend the stairs, she heard footsteps coming in her direction once again, this time from above. She backed down the steps and ducked behind a large pottery vase, remaining motionless, waiting for the footsteps to pass. They descended the stairs and stopped at the bottom in front of the vase. Fearing that she had been discovered, she pulled a knife from her boot and prepared to pounce. Just a split second before leaping out to confront the guard, the footsteps began to move away. Peering around the edge of the vase, she watched the guard disappear down another corridor. She remained there, listening closely, until the sound of the footsteps had faded away completely. Proceeding up the flight of stairs to the second floor, Major Petrova located the archeological exhibit. Using her small flashlight, she systematically searched all of the display cases in the exhibit one at a time, becoming more frustrated as she went. It wasn’t in any of the cases. There didn’t appear to be any items from the Middle East. She cursed under her breath. She wasn’t sure where to try next. The search had already taken longer than she had anticipated.
At the back of the room, there was a door almost closed with a sliver of light shining through the partial opening. Someone, perhaps another guard, must still be there. Cautiously, she peeked through the crack into the room. She hadn’t seen the light in the window from outside earlier because the room had blackout curtains. A small, older gentleman with thinning gray hair was sitting on a stool, leaning over a worktable, facing away from the door. Perhaps he would know something about the amulet. She slowly pushed on the door with a resulting ‘c-r-e-a-k’. The gentleman stopped what he was doing but didn’t look up. “Carl, is that you?” The Major carefully stepped sideways to a position in the room where she could see that he was examining a small pottery piece with a magnifying glass. The wood floor of the old building creaked as she took a step. “Carl?” She moved in closer until she was directly behind him. She stood there silent for a moment, observing the items around the room. The amulet didn’t appear to be out in plain sight here either.
Sensing someone’s presence, he looked over his shoulder, expecting to see the guard, but was startled to see the Major standing there instead. He did a double take and spun around on his stool, starting to stand. He removed his glasses and let them hang on a chain around his neck.
“Stay right where you are,” she said forcefully.
Her tone caught him off guard, as he dropped back down onto the stool. The first thought to cross his mind was ‘how did she get in here? There shouldn’t be any visitors in the museum this time of night.’
“You startled me,” he said with a nervous laugh. “The museum is closed, you know.”
“I know. But I’m looking for something.”
He looked her over from head to toe. The way that she was dressed and her body language told him she meant business. He swallowed hard. Something wasn’t right and he was nervous.
“You really shouldn’t be here. The guard will be along soon.”
“I’m not worried about the guard. Now, who are you?”
“My name is Peter Wingate. I’m the curator of this museum.”
“Then I’m sure you can help me. I’m looking for an amulet.”
“If you could come back tomorrow, I’d be glad to show you all the amulets we have. But for now I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Again, he attempted to stand.
“Sit!” she demanded. “Put your hands in your pockets and keep them there.”
He hadn’t noticed the knife in her hand until that moment. Without actually threatening him with it, the intensity in her eyes revealed that she had every intention of using it, if she had to. Surprise just a moment earlier had turned into fear for his life. Panicking, he glanced around, searching for anything that he could use for protection. The only thing within reach was a small statue on his work table. He dismissed it immediately. He was no hero. Another option was to make a run for it, but she blocked the only way out of the room. He knew he was no match for her physically, so he decided to stay put. This shouldn’t be happening. Where was the guard? Peter hoped the intruder hadn’t done something to him.
“What does this amulet look like?” he asked, hoping to give her what she wanted so she would leave.
“It’s one you received recently. It may be part of a Middle Eastern collection. It is metallic with pitch on one side and inscriptions on the other.”
“I know exactly the one you are describing. The Ark amulet. However, it’s not here anymore.”
The mention of the amulet confirmed she was in the right place. “Then where is it?”
He didn’t answer, shrugging his shoulders.
“You’re going to tell me one way or another,” threatened the Major. “You might as well make it easy on yourself.”
He just shook his head ‘no’.
“It’s just an amulet. It’s not worth getting hurt over.” She had decided to try reason first, not wanting to hurt the old man except as a last recourse. But now she was starting to loose her patience and she was running out of time. The guard could come along at any moment. The fragile old man was an unexpected complication, but perhaps she could make this work out in her favor. He had already admitted that the amulet had been there. She couldn’t leave without finding out where the amulet was now. Her orders were clear; to return with the amulet at all costs.
The old man didn’t really believe she would do any harm to him over a piece of jewelry. He knew the piece; it was worth more for its potential historic value than for its monetary value.
Obviously she wasn’t getting through to him. She stepped closer and repeated, “Where is the amulet?”
He shook his head again.
“I want you to remember, this was your choice,” she said.
She took another step closer to him and struck him hard with a straight left to the nose, snapping his head back, blood immediately flowing down and around his mouth. Peter’s eyes filled with pools of tears. From his reaction, she knew he had been caught completely by surprise. She hoped that it would be enough to convince him to cooperate.
He hadn’t thought that she would actually do anything. It turned out her bite was just as bad as her bark. He didn’t notice that moisture was also developing in the corner of her eyes.
The old man reminded her of her own grandfather. She wouldn’t have wanted anything like this to happen to him. She turned away briefly as she wiped away a tear as it began to run down her cheek. She was a soldier and she had been trained to do whatever was necessary. She knew how to put her emotions aside, but this time was different.
“Now pay attention, Peter. Let’s try it again.” He looked like he might pass out. She shook him. “You don’t want me to hurt you any more do you?”
“No,” he said softly as he shook his head, shoulders slumped. She offered him a handkerchief, which he held over his bloody nose.
“Then tell me what I want to know. I don’t have time to put up with this. Where..is..the..amulet?”
He began to shake his head again, but she stepped forward preparing to deliver another blow.
Peter stopped her, “Okay!” he blurted, grimacing and closing his eyes as he anticipated the blow. “Please don’t hit me again,” he pleaded softly.
The Major stepped back. “So where is it?”
“I don’t know exactly,” he began. Figuring that he was stalling, she hesitated then struck him again. He moaned and slumped on the stool, raising his arms to ward off any further blows.
“Why are you doing this?” pleaded Peter, his face now red and bloody. One eye was beginning to swell shut.
“I want that amulet and you know where it is. If you tell me, this will end right now.”
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, swallowing hard, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
“That depends on you,” she answered bluntly.
Peter let out a sigh. “I don’t know exactly where it is right now, but it’s on its way to Durango.”
“And where is this Durango?”
“Peter, you don’t want to go through that again, do you?”
“The southwest part of the state,” he mumbled. “Please tell me why this amulet is so important. I don’t understand. It can’t be worth all this trouble.”
“If you have seen the piece as you say, then you already know its significance. That should be enough. One more question, Peter. Where in Durango can I find it?”
“I don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”
“I think I’ve been very patient with you so far.” She placed her hands on his knees and leaned in close until they were nose to nose. “Don’t push your luck, Peter. Now, answer me. Where is it going?”
Major Petrova took a deep breath and paused, then changed tactics and calmly in the friendliest voice she could muster, “Now, Peter, I don’t want to hurt you any more, but I will if I need to and you know it. Tell me where I can find the amulet and I’ll leave.”
“It’s being taken to a fellow by the name of Jack Trader. He lives in the Durango area. I don’t know where exactly.”
“That’s okay. I’ll find him. You’ve been very helpful. Thank you, Peter.”
Swiftly she grabbed the small statue off his worktable and struck the old curator across the side of the head with a resulting dull ‘thud’ sound. She caught him as he started to fall forward, unconscious, from the stool and swung him around laying his upper torso across the worktable.
“Sorry, Peter. I couldn’t risk you warning Mr. Trader,” she whispered in his ear.
She took a sweater that had been hung over a nearby chair, folded it and placed it gently under the curators head. The Major turned off the light to the office, locked the door and began to pull it shut until she saw a light entering the other end of the exhibit hall. She slipped back into the room and pulled the door shut, attempting to do so quietly.
Carl, the night guard for the museum, was making his rounds around midnight. He strolled through the archeological exhibit. He had been walking these halls for the last fifteen years. It was easy money to supplement his pension, because nothing ever happened. He went to the examination room at the back of the exhibit hall and noticed that the door was closed. He remembered that Dr. Wingate had been in there working late. The darkness at the bottom of the door told the night guard that the light was off. Carl hadn’t seen Dr. Wingate leave. He grabbed the doorknob and tried to turn it but it was locked. It wasn’t like the curator to leave without letting him know. He pulled out his keys, unlocked the door and opened it. Flipping on the lights, he saw Dr. Wingate slumped over his work table. He shook his head from side to side while smiling to himself. The old fellow had fallen asleep. He’d better get him up and send him on home. Then he asked himself, ‘who turned out the light’ and ‘who locked the door’? Carl gave the curator a slight nudge on his shoulder. Peter didn’t move. He gave him a slightly harder shake, calling out his name, “Dr. Wingate, Dr. Wingate, are you all right?” Still no reaction. Now concerned, he came around to Peter’s side. Immediately, he saw a small pool of blood on the table. “Oh, no!” he yelled out. He quickly checked for a pulse by placing his fingers on the curator’s neck. It was weak, but it was still there. He carefully turned the curator’s head towards him. He couldn’t believe what he saw. Dr. Wingate’s face was swollen and bloody and there was a nasty looking gash on his temple. Under his head there was a neatly folded sweater, soaked in blood. He had never seen anyone in this kind of shape up close before. He needed to get help, and quick. Then it occurred to him that the person that did this may still be in the museum or even in this room. He turned around just as Major Petrova stepped out from behind the door and swung the statue, striking him firmly across the side of his head. The guard collapsed unconscious to the floor.
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