Lake 33 Killing Relic
Chapter 10.75

Note, this is the First draft, I put it up including typos and poorly thought ideas, to be fixed later or just delete the chapter.

A note on the chapter numbers. As a discovery writer, ideas and thoughts change and at least for this temporary site, the chapter numbers will change until the last word......

Chapter 10.75

I cleaned the toilet, mopped around the urinals, scrubbed at the yellow stains, and pulled chewing gum from the catch cups with only a few choice words.

When I opened the restroom for use, I noticed a tall man walk into the museum and involuntary compared my janitor shirt to his expensive suit tailored across broad shoulders, a tie, cuff links, his shaved head, and dark Celtic features could be called hawk like.

I knew his type from the service. No matter where you were on the planet, the ladies took notice when his archetype walked through the door.

The stranger pivoted smoothly; his movements screamed Aikido at me, and I briefly considered his actions on the dojo mat in the human chess match called combat.

Too big and too smooth, I thought. Too confident, his only weakness?

I would require a 1911 to beat him.

The stranger addressed the museum receptionist, and the older woman smiled. Her face lit up like a sunflower, and she pointed at the Director's door.

Had the receptionist ever even said good morning to me?

He strutted to Director Liu's door and knocked softly. The Director came out of her office and smiled at the stranger. Following a million years of evolutionary programming, I could tell she was attracted to the newcomer.

I could not hear the conversation, but their laughter echoed across the interpretive center, grating like fingernails on a chalkboard. The Ice Queen is melting? They laughed again.

Fuck, I went back to cleaning the toilets. What had Rob's paper said? That chalkboards and fingernails represent an ancient fear of hearing panther claws on rocks, from when our species had moved from the refuge of trees to the open grasslands.

Now and then, I glanced at the happy couple, and the Director caught me looking and caught me averting my eyes like a middle schooler.

The very thought of me having to duck enraged me.

Suddenly, Amber's face had a quizzical expression, and she looked at me. She looked back at the stranger and me again and then pointed at me!

"What the fuck?" and I stepped into the bathroom to finish up. A new parole agent? No one else would be looking for me.

There came a soft knock on the door jam. I turned to meet the stranger while wearing elbow-length, blue plastic gloves.

"I have been looking for Bruce Ryba," said the stranger.

"I'm innocent," I said.

He had an infectious, feral grin from someone who knew the power of his smile.

"I sure as hell hope you're not innocent," said the tall man.

He held out a business card and waited until I washed and dried my hands.

"I don't know what you're here for, sir," I said, taking the card.

"Interesting, I'm looking for Bruce Ryba, the artifact collector."

"Oh? I'm Bruce Ryba, the Janitor," I said.

"You are the man I'm looking for then. Air Force vet? JTac?

Over his broad shoulders, I saw Director Liu staring at us.

"Let me introduce myself: Bradley Mullins of Mullins Wiring & Cable. My company cables the Mississippi River, Ohio, Missouri, and even the carp-infested Illinois River. People or companies need slings for their river barges, tugs, or sand collectors; I'm the man to see. I will admit I stay away from the Kansas City and Chicago areas, as those boys, well, let's say those boys play rough.

Mullins held out his hand, and we shook. I was shocked by the power of his grip—not gym or prison fake muscles, but someone who had spent a lifetime twisting wire cables.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Mullins; you may have the wrong man." 

"I see by your reaction that you have not heard of me, which I find odd for a collector."

"Mr. Mullins, I have been in prison for the last three years and overseas before that. Been slightly out of contact with the normal world."

Mullins looked around the museum.

"I am arguably the largest collector of Native American artifacts in North America. Luckily, my business allows me to pay top dollar for the best and most unique artifacts. I purchase entire collections and unique finds. My banner stone collection alone makes the Washington museums weep in shame.

Mullins looked a foot wider and taller with his simple bragging.

"Mr. Ryba, my sources tell me you may be in possession of more of the deathhead pots that have been on the St. Louis market lately. You may also know the location and source of certain artifacts."

"I know a setup when I see one," I said; "The Taliban were clever; lessons learned the hard way.

I scrolled through my phone and showed Mullins a photo.

"That's me and an Afgan warlord. Do you see how I am holding his hand? That's not because I had a crush on him, but I did not trust the Soviet pistol in his belt. Standing before me, I see another warlord not to be trusted when close."

Mullins smiled at the photo.

"Nice. Did you get any artifacts from the Hindu Kush?"

"And you are wearing a wire," I said. "But for who? Dale Ford?"

"You were at the funeral of one deceased person named Buck, who has been putting Death Heads pots on the market? Were you aware that I purchased all of the warrior pots this Buck supplied? Oh, that's right, you were in prison for another person's meth."

Mullins flashed the feral smile of a jaguar or panther.

"Let me explain how I obtained your name; I pay the full scholarships and stipends for archaeology and anthropology degrees for certain attractive, drop-dead gorgeous students. White trash strippers from southern Illinois, all they have to do is sleep with the Missouri State Archaeologist, Dale Ford, and for that exorbitant fee, or rather, I consider my investment, I get pre-released information on collections and discoveries in Missouri and the surrounding states' archaeological sites, from the Ice Age to the De Soto expedition.

Did you know that Mr. Ford has been raging about you and one Mr. Buck feeding items onto the black market?"

Was my mouth still open?

"I have been in prison for the last three years," I finally managed to squeak out.

"Ford was raging that you were at the funeral of the pot hunter who was digging into a Temple mound or burial mound with some type of Cahokia connection based upon the arrowheads on the market."

The Director was looking at me from across the museum. Did I look as ill as I felt?

"It's an interesting twist to learn that I have acquired every single pot. After the first pot went on the market, I found the mule, and with a few greenbacks, he brought all of them straight to me. He has sick children. I want to know whether more death head pots will appear on the market. I'm willing to pay top dollar for the death heads. I've also been searching for another one of the Missouri shell gorgets with the Jaguar. You know the one that I'm talking about? The Missouri State artifact?"

I was thinking about the death head pot stored near Dardenne Creek. Dale Ford was after me?

When I did not answer Mullins, his tone changed: "See, I have to give a warning if I find that you have sold one of those death pots to another collector. I have friends in Kansas City who like to break bones—maybe not yours, but family members, cousins, brothers, and nieces.

I felt my blood pressure rising and hissed a mantra, "Calm, breathe, do not return to prison."

"Mr. Mullins, we have to set something straight. You scare the fuck out of me. In combat, the fear never goes away; you try to ride it like a wild mustang and hope it's not your turn to get thrown.

You scare me, and I know you have the money not to lowball me, but if you want to start a war, a vendetta, or Hattfeilds and McCoys, you are in for a world of shit. I wasn't a sniper, but I can put a round in your chest at 500 yards and will never know when the bullet is coming. But more importantly, every death head pot and jaguar gorget I find, I promise I will take a photo and then crush them to fine powder and mail the dust to your ass."

Mullins smiled.

"I heard you had spunk from that war. Well, all right, we have a gentleman's agreement; I'll buy what you find," said Mullins. "No threats implied from either direction. You have my card."

Mullins returned to the Museum Director's office and knocked softly on the door.

"Bradley," said the Director.

"Hey Amber, I'm asking again when is our dinner date? Drinks?" said Mullins"

"I think your persistence has worn me down," said Amber with a dazzling smile.

Watching Mullins and Director Liu, I was overwhelmed an unknown emotion hopeless jealousy. Where that come from?

They did not see me walk behind them. "Excuse me," I said and walked past the two. Their body language mirrored each other, as did their smiles and eye contact. I hunched over in embarrassment, thinking about my Atomic Janitor shirt, but I made a decision, turned, and interrupted the two.

"Mr. Mullins, a word outside, please?" I said.

The panther in the suit smiled at Amber and then me, "Excuse me for a moment; hold that thought."

When Mullins walked out of the door, I held up my cell phone. "See the photo? The last artifact Buck discovered was the best death head pot and he kept it as a gift for me. I have had it appraised. Do you know what the problem is? I have been warned the pot is priceless. If I try to sell it at auction, I will bring Interpol down on me like some gunship and get ten years in prison. This pot can only go to a private collection that the State does not monitor.

"Here, expand the photo. See the how the burnish makes the the facial tattoos come to life? With research, I bet one of your archaeology students could even determine what tribe or clan the warrior came from. What if there is DNA in the pot? This vase is also full of Cahokia points.

The words "I can't sell it on the market" had his attention.

You're addicted when you're addicted. You're going to pay top dollar for the best of the stuff. That's how addiction works.

"I have never seen anything like the pot in any museum. It is the Mona Lisa of death pots and an important part of Native American history. I would like to see this go to a collection, or if you don't want it, I was going to call up Ford and offer it for the state museum," I said.

"A poker player!" said Mullins.

"Do you know Ford would not have the sense to turn it over to a museum? My girls tell me about all kinds of artifacts he has funneled onto the collector's market because archaeologist pay is shit.

Ford would sell it to me, no less. However, as the state archaeologist he has contacts, the bastard would alert a couple of dozen illicit artifact buyers, some in Japan and the Arabian Peninsula.

The price would be doubled or tripled, and Interpol would have its hooks out.

I think we can dispense with the middleman, hey?" said Mullins. His hawk eyes were bright with excitement.

"My price is one hundred thousand dollars," I risked. "And part of the deal is that you back away from Director Amber Liu."

Mullins began to laugh. "Oh damn, when you get tired of wiping shithouses, I will offer you a job. I need someone honest, who is not scared to tell me the truth.

One hundred thousand? And back off of Amber? The deal is agreeable, contingent on my inspection of the artifact and your judgment of the quality is correct. There is nothing wrong with your judgment of women's quality. But you have quite the challenge with her."

We shook hands.

"Mr. Mullins. You will not regret this artifact. It puts the Jaguar to shame in both its uniqueness and quality. "I will throw in a map of the cave where the artifacts come from. There might be more pots, but the value of your artifact just went up by twenty percent if you know the source."

That's how addiction works.

Director Liu frowned at us through the entrance doors. When I looked at the door, she dropped her eyes, unaware that the millionaire and the janitor had concluded a bargain that included her.

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