“Your job is to get it back.” The lady curator, browny-blonde hair pulled back in a bun and wearing a shade of lipstick that might have been magenta when she put it on, looked annoyed. Having heard the whole story, Harrison was prepared to believe it was her default expression when she was puzzled and perplexed, partly because very few things in her life were allowed to puzzle or perplex her.
“So, the statue was here, on the podium,” he indicated the stand in the middle of the circular, vaulted room, “when the museum closed last night. This room isn’t covered by closed circuit TV but all the rooms leading into it are, and there was no movement last night in any of them that shouldn’t have been there. The guards made their rounds and neither saw nor heard anything unusual. None of the external or internal door alarms were tripped. Yet, this morning it wasn’t here.”
“As you saw from the picture, Mr Harrington, the statue is over 200 pounds of grey marble. It can’t just have disappeared.” The curator shook her head. “We’ve still got the room closed off to the public but it can’t stay that way for ever.”
“It’s Harrison,” he corrected mildly as he walked across the Victorian tiled floor to the plinth. “The missing statue is grey marble, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I just said so.”
“Should marble be shedding this much dust?” He drew a finger across a small section of the plinth and made a difference to the colour of both the plinth and his finger.
“No. I’m worried that the statue might have been damaged somehow by whoever took it.” She looked at her watch. “Do you have any more questions, Mr Harrison?”
He was looking up towards the ceiling high above them, dark except for a few clear panels in the roof to let in the light. “It’s very dark up there, have the lights been turned off?”
The curator sighed. “There are no lights in the top section. According to the architect, the clear panels in the roof were to light the entire room right down to the floor. However, he got his angles wrong or our neighbours built us out faster than he anticipated so the room is only sunlit for a few hours a day in the middle of summer.”
“But there are beams or bars across the space up there, aren’t there?” He was squinting. “Is there any way of getting up there to see them?”
“There is an access door at that level that leads in from the Bird Gallery.”
“Can you take us up there? Oh, and was there anything strange in the Bird Gallery last night?”
She sighed. “I can certainly take you up there if you insist, Mr Harrison, but there was nothing strange up there last night. The door in question is kept locked and alarmed with both functions being centrally monitored – it is four floors of sheer drop from a small balcony, after all.”
“As you say,” he acknowledged, “but if the statue didn’t leave the room then that’s the only place it could still be.”
“I know it has wings, Mr Harrison, but it can hardly have flown up there and be hovering.” They’d reached the lift and she led the way into it, pressing the buttons for the appropriate floor.
“I was thinking more of a rope and pulley system myself.”
The lady curator blinked. “That could do it, couldn’t it? If so, I hope they’ve used strong rope. It’s one of a set of thirteen from a site in Koblenz, a chamber that was found when they were digging the foundations for a skyscraper. They all had to be relocated, of course, and it took a great deal of wrangling to get one. No-one’s seen work like them before which is why we’re displaying it as a piece without historical context – we simply don’t know what it is.”
“Valuable to unscrupulous private collectors then?”
“Probably, but we’ve had it less than a month. That hardly seems time to have organised something like this. Ah, this is our floor.” She led him out of a lift and into a gallery of skeletal and taxidermied birds. “Our door is at the far end here.” The door was painted to match the walls of the gallery and the lady curator produced a key that unlocked it with a snick.
Beyond the door was a balcony little bigger than the top of a dining room table, ringed with more than waist high railings. Beyond the railings was a four storey drop. Across the depth of the railings was a sparse network of beams and metal rods which, apparently, served some architectural function. Harrison thought the function might have been to project a pattern on the floor below in the sunlight that hadn’t eventuated, but hanging from one of those beams was a man-sized grey object.
“You were right!” The lady curator sounded surprised. “But why have they tied it on upside down? And what have they done to the head? It’s supposed to be looking at its feet…” She trailed off as Harrison pulled a small flashlight from his pocket and shone its light on the beam where the statue was secured.
“That’s not rope or cord holding it on to the beam,” Harrison said quietly, “that’s part of the statue itself. I thought your photograph showed it had flat feet.”
“It does. Strange feet, but flat on the ground.”
“Well, right now it’s got three toes, or claws, clutched around that beam.” He moved the light down towards the thing’s face, a face that was looking straight ahead and wasn’t bent to look at anything. A face that had gravity pulling its upper lip down to reveal teeth. “I wish I had a stronger torch, but have you considered that this might not be a statue?”
“Statues don’t move themselves. But, you ask, why didn’t it move itself before? Good point.” The lady curator looked at him with her mouth open. “Why last night?” He clicked his fingers. “Full moon. I was outside last night and it was a bright, clear, high full moon. Maybe it can only move in moonlight?”
“Then why didn’t it get out? Couldn’t it break the transparent panels?” The lady curator was looking at her charge with a now horrid fascination.
“May be it didn’t have time, you said the sunlight wasn’t in here for long when it was here. Maybe this is as far as it could get, last night.” Harrison, too, stared at the thing in fascination.
“So, what do you suggest, Mr Harrison?” Now the lady curator looked frightened. “I’m not a zoo keeper or a gaoler.”
“Cover the transparent panels with something dark before close of business today. Contact everyone else who got one of these things and warn them.” He took another look at the teeth revealed by the fallen upper lip, “And hope that it’s only moonlight that lets these things move around.”