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Bone From a Dead River
Bone From a Dead River

Bone From a Dead River

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He checked that no one else was around, then entered the building via a back window. His stomach churned with fear and anticipation, it felt as if you could've made butter in it. After months of preparation the end was near. Nausea rose in his throat. The man slipped into a lobby he recalled from an earlier visit. It lay between the kitchen and a store room. He pulled a door to but left a chink to see through. A young man in uniform, clearly a security guard, walked past but didn't check the lobby.

"You fool," thought the man in hiding.

The guard entered a large room with glass cases mounted on tables. Some held stone tools, others leg bones, but one contained a skull. It was smaller than a modern human's and its forehead was much lower. Grey bone was patterned with black cracks for it had lain buried for three million years. Its owner was of a species called Kenyanthropus platops. It was central to a travelling exhibition that had arrived in Britain. White walls carried paintings depicting East Africa in prehistoric times. Museum staff did last minute checks; the building would soon open to visitors. The manager came in and our guard stepped aside to avoid her. There was a bump and the guard felt something on black clad buttocks. He had nearly knocked some leaflets off off a side table. His cheeks turned red. He spluttered an apology but the boss hardly noticed. Instead she muttered to a colleague "that guy's driving me crazy, demanding last minute adjustments. Heaven preserve us from perfectionists." This must refer to the fossil hunter who found Kenyanthropus. The youngster noticed a brown skinned man standing in a corner. This man chuckled but then changed his expression to a warm smile.

"Don't worry, it could've happened to anyone." He extended one hand and said "I'm Kabero Gatura."

The guard thought "it was you who discovered that skull. Why are you talking to me? I usually become invisible when I don this uniform." Out loud he said "I'm Jack Palmer. Pleased to meet you."

They shook hands and Kabero's grip was powerful. There was a large photo behind them. It showed an ariel view of bare earth dissected by dry watercourses. The skull came from one such riverbed.

Jack wanted to resume pacing corridors but the older man started a conversation.

Kabero asked "are you a young man at college?"

"University," Jack replied. "I'm studying performing arts. This is my summer job."

"I studied here in Britain. There were no facilities for paleantology in Kenya so I did so in your country."

"Did you enjoy that?"

"Yes, even your climate. Dry seasons are long and harsh back home. The longer they lasted, the more likely it was that cattle would die." The corners of his mouth fell as he added "my parents lost cattle that way. When the rains returned, they saved up and kept me in school so I would have it better. When it rains we're not glum like you are."

Jack furrowed his brow trying to imagine this. He had intended to strut across reception while flashing a smile at one pretty young intern. He grew impatient to do so,

Kabero asked "are you all right? You seem to be pulled two ways."

"I'm fine thanks. I've only been on this job a few days, so I'm still a bit nervous about getting it right." It was true he was new there.

"Did they tell you to check that lobby near the kitchen?"

"Well, no." His face went red again and he shifted his weight on black shoed feet.

"Let me show you," said Kabero. He marched off, past pictures of bipedal apes and elephant-like creatures.

Jack wondered what made this man an expert on security, but he couldn't see why not and so followed Kabero. Their reflections obscured the skull. A label explained that it was only the second of its kind ever unearthed.

Kabero held a door open and said "its not your fault Jack, the older people should've trained you better."

They passed under square ceiling lights and by a collection of minerals. They stopped at the lobby. "This could be a hiding place," the scientist explained. He opened the door to it and both of them had a shock.

Another man stood in the lobby. Explosives were strapped to his torso. A wire ran from those to his right hand. On seeing Kabero and Jack his jaw dropped and dark eyes popped.

Kabero moved like lightning. He grabbed the bomber's hand and slammed it onto the wall. The terrorist cried out and dropped his trigger. Kabero ripped the explosives off their opponent. At first Jack couldn't believe it. Then what training he had kicked in. He plunged into the lobby, grabbed his enemie's left arm and, helped by Kabero, wrestled him to hard floorboards. The museum's receptionist appeared, gasped, stepped back and raised both hands to her mouth.

"Go and ring the police!" Kabero ordered, and she obeyed.

The opening of that exhibition had to be postponed until tomorrow. Police officers arrived quickly.Their sirens threw noise around like a hurricane scattering branches. They arrested the terrorist and interviewed all staff. Of course they questioned Jack and Kabero in particular detail. People stood around as though frozen in blocks of ice. Others rang their families to explain and reassure them. Some employees sat down and wept; friends tried to comfort them. For a while Jack felt numb as he needed time to take things in. He felt sure he could smell fear. Then he flung himself into a toilet cubilce and threw up his last meal.

The police drove away, taking the terrorist with them. Later they discovered that their prisoner had religious objections to the teaching of evolution, and these had motivated his attack.

Jack went looking for that pretty intern, but the receptionist told him she was in the Ladies room. He sat down in the reception area. Toy mammoths pearched on shelves. The guard felt tempted to cuddle one, anything to draw comfort from. He wished himself ten years younger, then he could've wept without shame. Then fury rose up inside him, like boiling water in a gyser. Next came self-recrimination for not checking more carefully. Only now did he feel bruises sustained while wrestling.

Kabero brought him some coffee. Sweat dripped off the scientist's nose. His palms were so wet they might've been in an oil slick. Jack thought "you're under stress too, but you don't want to show it in front of me." He sipped through cracked and dry lips, then said "thanks mate. Thanks for saving us all." He drank again and felt warmth flowing into his stomach. Next he asked Kabero "why did you come and talk to me earlier? My workmates are nice but most visitors hardly notice me in uniform."

Kabero answered "when I was a young man, at university, I needed to pay my way so I found work as a security guard. I never worked at this museum, but I noticed the door to that lobby as I came in. When I saw you, a young and untried male as I was then, I could relate to you completely."

Author Notes: Kenyanthropus is a real species of extinct homimin, but only one fossil of it has been found. Kabero and the second fossil are fictional.

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21 Mar, 2021
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