The Mask of Romek - Chapter Two
Chapter Two: School's Out
March 21st 2009. 0400hrs
Office of Prof. Lockhart
Miskatonic University, Arkham.
An hour later we were sitting in the austere surroundings of Marcus's office in the Miskatonic University, Arkham. One of the few places on this earth that I feel comparatively safe.
The level of protection afforded by those walls is considerable. There are unseen runes inlaid in the floors, esoteric eldritch symbols in the woodwork and totems and fetishes secreted in the oak paneled walls at key locations. As if all that wasn't enough, Marcus had been known whip up a mean spell or two when he had to. Sure some nut could walk in and shoot us both, but frankly, given our career path, that’s the least of my worries.
I had tried to persuade the Doc to change his name but he insisted no one in their right mind would even think he was the same Marcus Lockhart who was the Coroner in Arkham in the 20's.
But then our paths crossed such folk, especially these days.
I began doing the Cop thing making suitably illegal use of the Doc's computer access to the Miskatonic's security system while he made a pot of coffee. I spooled through the CCTV for the museum floor.
“There’s Beman and the girl,” I paused the recording. It showed a still life of them in the act of arranging exhibits and checking notes. I let the images run again.
“What’s he doing?” said Marcus from over my shoulder. Beman seemed transfixed at one of the exhibits.
“He's looking at the carvings,” I said.
“Oh my,”said Marcus. I knew that tone and it always meant trouble.
“The fools not just looking, he's reading them aloud!”
As we watched Beman's body language changed. He stopped slouching and stood a little more upright. He seemed to stride from carving to carving with more purpose. He swept up the pieces of stone and started to lay them out on a display case. He stood back a moment as if in deep thought then he began to gesture with his arms and despite the lack of audio I could see he was shouting. Beman then made for the mask exhibit.
Marcus discovered it in an off the books auction in Morocco six months ago. He told me he bought it as part of a job lot of antiquities more on a whim than anything else. If only he had put it in the Vault, the Doc's private safe deep under the University which serves as our paranormal toxic waste dump.
The mask was supposedly a Mayan ceremonial item. An ugly grinning thing, which being Mayan was of course made of gold, covered with intricate carvings and inlaid with bone which Marcus was convinced was human. The mask’s most disturbing feature was the two large gold spikes about 4 inches long, directly behind the black jewels in the eyes. To wear it would mean plunging those solid gold skewers straight into your brain.
Beman held the mask high in the air, shouting in his silent madness, then, put the mask on.
“Christ,” I muttered.
Beman, instead of dropping stone dead, flew into a rage, blood running down his face behind the hellish mask, staining his once pristine shirt. He began smashing display cases, knocking over the girl as he did so. He stopped and looked down as though seeing her for the first time. We both stared, transfixed as Beman took an obsidian dagger from it's stand and slit her throat like she was livestock. I spooled the footage forwarded as Beman ransacked the exhibits, taking some and discarding others. In the background the girl was bleeding out, body convulsing erratically. He then turned on her again, mutilating her in some unspeakable way that I'm pretty glad wasn't clear. As he strode for the exit Beman stopped, transfixed.
“What’s he doing? What's he looking at?” I asked, pausing the recording.
“Looking at me John,” Marcus said, pointing to the poster on the museum wall showing a smiling Marcus standing on the steps on the Miskatonic. Beman tore the image from the wall ran out of the cameras sight. I stood up, turning to see Marcus slouched against a bookshelf.
“I told him before I left it was for research and not for display, the fool,” I could hear the guilt in his voice.
“Stay here, get some sleep. I’ve got some work to do.” I threw on my overcoat and headed for the door.
It was a short walk to the crime scene. The Upton Hall Museum wing was the University's pride and joy, built to replace the old wing in 2003 it was a mess of glass and concrete. It won awards for architecture but to me it was just plain ugly.
I mulled over Beman's behavior. What put him over the edge? Some combination of all those creepy relics maybe. I had seen cursed objects at work before but this felt different. And why the rush to do away with one of my oldest friends? So much for my career break.
The circus that normally accompanies a murder had mostly stood down from the Upton Hall. The well lit foyer always reminded me of a dentist’s office, I followed the line of grubby footprints that accompany police at these kind of incidents, upstairs to the exhibit hall. By now there was no media, no hangers on, just a bored uniform cop protecting the scene and dealing with dumb questions from the public. His name tag read “Kinder” but his face said otherwise.
“Detective Swaggart?” I asked.
The cop, who had tried his damnedest to ignore me as I approached, rolled his eyes in barely concealed contempt.
“He's busy. Whatever it is report it at your local office pal,” he drawled. Shit, whatever happened to protect and serve. I flashed the badge that I was supposed to have returned a month ago. That got his attention.
“Sorry agent, what can I do?” I pushed past him and under the barrier tape.
“Get a job you like kid.”
Inside Swaggart was pacing out the scene as the forensic techs were packing up their gear. It looked worse up close.
The girl’s remains had been removed with only a tell tale human shaped gap in the blood stain to show where she died. Dark blood.
Swaggart turned as I crunched across the broken glass toward him.
I don't usually like cute aliases but Agent Julius H. Marx was a rare lapse. Only a handful of people these days understood the reference anyway.
“I thought you might show up. Don't you have a friend who works here?” he asked.
“Yes that’s right Detective.” I liked to be formal in front of the others, after all this was Swaggart's crime scene and I was a guest.
“Mind if I look around?”
Swaggart just grinned and went back to sketching. An old school detective, he didn't trust all that high tech CSI bullshit, he preferred sketches and diagrams in a notebook to help keep his facts straight.
I looked around taking in the tags on the smashed display cases. The four smashed cases all once containing ancient carvings and one with an obsidian dagger. The stand that once held the mask lay at my feet.
“Mask of Romek, High Priest of Xibalba” read the card. This was old news, I already knew what happened, I wanted to know how and why.
I drifted through the museum floor past the carnage and police tape to the service corridor leading to the curator’s office. Professor Archibald Beman, said the sign on the door. I eased it open. An unremarkable workspace, neat to the point of obsessive. Diplomas, some sculpture, pens lined up on the desktop. Boy was this guy wrapped tight. If I was in a post office rather than a museum, I'd be looking for an assault rifle about now.
I thumbed through the paperwork on the desk. Looked like delivery notes for the artifacts. Three shipments from Madrid, two carvings and a dagger. Then another carving. The shipping address was a PO box from Haiti. Strange, Marcus would have mentioned Haiti.
He had a bad experience there, bad even by our standards. Swore he would never take anything to do with the place ever again. Even mentioning the name Haiti gets him a little twitchy.
My eyes drifted over to a steno pad and a digital camera sitting to one side. It looked like a girl’s handwriting. Judging by the notes it had been the notepad Sarah Gerber used for composing the captions for the exhibits.
After a casual glance to make sure Swaggart wasn't looking over my shoulder I popped the memory card from the camera and palmed it into my pocket. After all it wasn't relevant to his investigation and technically this office was outside his crime scene.
Trying to look nonchalant I wandered back to the still scribbling detective.
“So what do you think happened?” I asked.
Swaggart didn't look up.
“Beman's screwing the girl, she either gets pregnant or tries to blackmail him. Then boom he snaps, kills her, and steals some old shit to fence off and disappear to the Bahamas,” he replied. Life is so simple for a homicide detective. Murder generally boils down to sex, money or drugs. Sometimes all three.
“Sounds like you don't need my help. I'll leave you to it buddy.”
Swaggart stopped scribbling and fixed me one of his patent detective what are you not telling me shithead looks.
“Don't lay any of that voodoo bullshit on me Marx. This is a straight up and down robbery homicide and you know it,” I smiled at him and walked back out the way I had came in, fingering the memory card in my pocket.
Back in his office, I found Marcus tapping away on his laptop, pausing occasionally to flip over a page on one of the many large tomes strewn across his desk and floor. I helped myself to his good scotch.
“Have a look at these pictures Doc,” I tossed him the memory card. A moment later his laptop screen showed the card contained a large collection of photo's of the museum's latest acquisitions.
“Look at the later images,” I pointed to the most recent time stamps. Marcus opened five images. A dagger, three carvings and that hellish mask..
“Do you recognize all of these Doc?” Marcus shook his head.
“These are the property of Madrid University,” his well manicured finger pointed to the first two carvings and Beman's weapon of opportunity.
”But this carving I don't recognize.” The last image was an irregular shaped piece of stone.
“I think this is the piece that came from Haiti.” I took another sip of Marcus's excellent whisky.
Marcus turned to look at me, his left eye fluttered just a little. I had said the secret word.
“Beman was talking about a surprise package before I left for Boston.” Marcus had that far away look when he was talking to you but thinking about something else.
He turned back to his laptop and started manipulating the carving images. By rotating the images the carving all roughly fitted together into a circle. The edges had been eroded by time but they were a definite fit.
“John I can see complete glyphs that weren't there before. This is fascinating.”
“No Doc. This is trouble. Serious trouble.”
At the centre of the newly formed circle the surprise carving completed a squat figure that was all too familiar. A figure with tentacles for a face.