Issue #24: Love Like Mad

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

“Welcome to the Dayspring College Arts and History Museum, if you need any information, please don’t hesitate to ask.” Juniper beamed with her brightest smile. The middle aged man on the receiving end gave her a polite smile of his own and accepted the museum pass she held out for him.

Juniper watched him swipe the pass and enter one of the glass elevators that ferried patrons up to the museum proper before sitting back down in her chair. “He seemed really nice.” She commented.

“You’re really good at that.” Warrick was transferring some pamphlets from a box to their proper slots in the kiosk beside the admissions desk. The desk was a large semicircle with a low counter filled with cubbyholes for mail directed to the curators and other employees of the museum. It faced the large, glass, half dome the made up the entrance and the tiled floor bearing a giant sized image of the Dayspring College seal; a phoenix with an astrolabe clutched in its claws.

“Good at what?” Juniper asked, turning idle quarter circles in her swiveling chair.

“The greeting thing.” Warrick said.

“It isn’t hard.” The brown haired girl noted. “You just smile at people and say what our little script card says.”

“Yeah, but most people make it sound fake.” Warrick pointed out. “Not a lot of people are really comfortable smiling at strangers. Me included, it just feels…”

“Weird?”

“I was trying to find a nicer word…”

“You don’t have to though.” Juniper shrugged. “I know it’s weird. Cyn tells me all the time in case I forget.”

“You know she doesn’t mean that right?” His task completed, Warrick started breaking down the box as he came around and took his seat at the other end of the desk’s arc. “Cyn likes you. Really. It’s just how she is.”

“I know.” Juniper smiled a quiet, reflective smile this time. “But she’s also right. I like being weird. And usually, people smile back.”

“Maybe you should look into making a career of this.” Warrick suggested.

“Nah.” She shook her head. “As good as this feels, being in Snackrifice has shown me that I really want to be on stage. Maybe not singing, but something in entertainment, you know? Hey, you told us you were in plays; I guess before you went to the Academy?”

“Yeah, Freshman and Sophomore years of high school.” Warrick nodded.

“Maybe you can… give me some pointers or something?”

Warrick raised an eyebrow. “You want to go into acting?”

“Maybe. It’s pretty early to think about a career or anything, but I’d love to see what it’s like. I’m even thinking of signing up for Ms. Weis’s Drama class next year.”

“I was actually considering it myself.” Warrick admitted. “The school doesn’t have any higher level art classes.”

A door behind them, off to the side of the elevators opened and a man in his early sixties appeared, wearing a dress shirt, tie and slacks.

Juniper saw him before Warrick. “Professor Demetrius!” she called. “Thank you so much, again, for giving us this job.”

The professor smiled and came over to them. “Miss Taylor, you don’t have to keep thanking me. I’m really glad to have the help and Miss Keyes’s recommendation was proof enough for me that the two of you are the right people for the job. She was the best teacher’s aide I ever had when I taught at Columbia.”

“But still, it isn’t as if you had to.” Juniper said, “There were probably dozens of people lined up for this job.”

“During the regular year this is true.” Professor Demetrius conceded. “But during summer session the students that normally work for me are at home and the summer students have no time or a reliable enough schedule. You fit the bill perfectly.” He glanced at the clock on the computer screen in front of Warrick. “Say, shouldn’t you kids be at lunch?”

“Ms. Keyes and Mr. Smythe should be here to pick us up.” Warrick said, “all of us from the… uh, boarding house are going out to celebrate our first day on the job.” He looked around. “But… well, we’re the only ones here. We can’t both go to lunch at the same time, can we?”

“There’d be no one to watch the desk.” said Juniper.

“Hmm…, that is a bit of a problem.” The professor said, “You see, normally, the students that ran the desk took lunch here.”

“But the sign says ‘No food or drink in the museum’.” Juniper pointed to the sign posted at the elevators.

Professor Demetrius smiled. “My, you two really are as conscientious and responsible as Miss Keyes said, I see. But don’t worry about that; the ground floor and the sublevels are research and work levels. The museum starts on the second floor, so don’t worry about eating here. In fact, there are takeout menus in the upper right hand drawer there.” He indicated with a vague gesture.

Warrick opened the drawer and was confronted by a pile of menus.

“I recommend Otto’s Gyros, personally. They have good prices and they use real lamb.”

One of the glass doors up front opened, causing a tiny light to flash behind the desk, in case those manning it weren’t paying attention. All three glanced up to see Alexis coming across the floor.

“Of course, those won’t help us today…” Juniper murmured, dejected.

Professor Demetrius smiled widely. “Ah, Miss Keyes, good afternoon.”

“Professor.” Alexis returned his enthusiasm. “I didn’t know you’d be around. I just came o take the newest members of the staff to lunch.”

Before the professor could answer, the door he’d entered by banged open. A man dressed in a slick grey dress shirt, black tie and designer trousers came through amid a bluster of palpable frustration. He blue eyes blazed as he compulsively ran his fingers through his heavily moussed black hair.

“You. Desk clerk.” He snapped his fingers in Juniper’s general direction. “Did a package come for me today?”

Juniper looked behind her to the shelf beneath the cubbies. Several packages had come in that day. She had no way of knowing if any of those were his, but she felt a sudden need to just hand them all to him just to make him go away. “Uh, I’m sorry, I’m new here, sir.” She said with all the sunshine she could muster. “What’s you name?”

“Madigan.” The man snapped. Then his eyes settled on Alexis. “Madrigal Madigan.” His tone softened dramatically. Striding up to her, he took her hand like the most stereotypical male lead in the most stereotypical romance movie in mankind’s history.

Professor Demetrius gave him a withering look. “Alexis Keyes, this is Dr. Madrigal Madigan, head of our restoration department. Madrigal, this is Alexis Keyes, my former teacher’s aide and the caretaker of the young girl you just roared at.”

Dr. Madigan’s eyes widened a bit with shock as Alexis forcibly extracted her hand form his. “Oh… uh, y—“he turned and did a little bow at Juniper. “You have to excuse me, young lady. I’ve got eight different restoration projects, a staff that all took their summer leave at the same time, and this scepter was supposed to be on my desk a week ago. I am, understandably, stressed.”

“Stress really doesn’t excuse rudeness, Dr. Madigan.” Alexis said curtly.

“Oh, I know, I know.” Madigan shook his head, “I have no excuse. None at all. I mean even though I was also distracted by the sight of an incredibly beautiful woman, I should have—“

“Madrigal!” Prof. Demetrius spoke up. “Professionalism, Madrigal. I know you aren’t my subordinate, but I will speak to the board about your manner if it comes up.”

Madigan huffed and ran a hand through his hair. “As if they’ll care. I’ve garnered more acquisitions for the university than any other staff member—any two staff members in fact.”

“Found it.” Warrick set a wooden crate as long as his arm and two hands wide on the desk. There were bits of straw sticking out of it. “At least I think this is it, the address is to ‘Mad-Mad’.”

“That would be me, yes.” Madigan, ground his teeth at the mention of the nickname. “Shelley Michaels, an old college friend of mine is in charge of a dig in Greece.” He rapped his fist on the crate. “Yet another acquisition, I might add.”

“You have your package, Madrigal, just get back to work.” The professor sighed.

“In a moment.” Madigan said, eyes still fixed on Alexis. “Ms. Keyes, I’m terribly sorry if I offended you or your lovely children… Perhaps I can make it up to you over dinner?”

The light behind the desk flashed and Warrick and Juniper looked up in unison, exchanged a glance, and started snickering.

“Parking here?” Ian announced to no one in particular as he came in, “Sucks. A lot.” He looked the place up and down for size, and then smiled at the kids. “Congratulations on the first day, by the way. I’m proud of you two. Really.” He made his way to Alexis’s side and put an arm around her. “Hey, Alex? Why are they laughing?”

“No reason.” Alexis stifled a laugh of her own.

“None at all.” Juniper grinned.

“Oh, Ian Smythe, I’d like you to meet Professor Demetrius. Professor, this is my boyfriend, Ian.” The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. “And this…” Alexis said, nodding in Madigan’s direction, “Is Dr. Madrigal Madigan. The professor was just introducing us.”

Madigan took Ian’s proffered hand. “Boyfriend? Huh.” He said flatly.

Ian quirked and eyebrow and returned fire. “Madrigal Madigan? So… you’re Mad-Mad?”

The quiet distain in the man’s eyes became hatred. “Yes, apparently. Only by the grace of my grandfather did I escape with the relatively normal middle name, ‘Adam’.”

“You should use that one.” Ian quipped and turned to Alexis. “So are we ready to go?”

“We can’t go.” Juniper pouted. “Someone has to watch the desk.”

Professor Demetrius chuckled. “You know what, don’t worry about it, Miss Taylor, I’ll take your place until you get back.”

“Really?”

“Of course.” The professor said, “This is your first day and the two of you didn’t realize this was going to happen.” He made a shooing motion. “Go on.”

The teens thanked him profusely and headed out with Ian and Alexis. Moments later, only he and Madigan were left.

“Getting a bit soft on the hirelings, aren’t you, Demetrius?” he smirked. “Or maybe you’re starting to realize that you belong behind a desk.”

“Just get back to you work, Madigan, and I’ll worry about this.” The professor snapped.

“Of course.” Madigan chuckled, “but we know its true. One day, I’ll have you chair as Director.” With that, he took up his crate and headed back down to the restoration wing.

***

Despite being a neat dresser and thinking himself to be suave, Dr. Madigan’s actual office made most disaster areas look like they belonged on the cover of magazines about good housekeeping. The tables were covered with pieces in need of restoration and in some cases reconstruction, his desk was awash in paperwork and both had begun to colonize the floor with their castoffs some time ago.

Fuming, Madigan made his way to his desk, threw aside some papers, and set the crate on it. For a few minutes, he just sat in his chair and stared at it. At some point in the distant past, he’d been excited to receive it, but now it was just another museum piece to authenticate and put in the queue to eventually be restored.

Eventually, because all of his staff had went on vacation at the same time and immediately afterward, acquisitions had come poring in. And because they’d come pouring in, he hadn’t been able to duck out for the week like his staff had.

Taking a pry bar off the sideboard behind him, he started to open the crate up. As he did he imagined he was levering off that smug prick, Ian Smythe’s head off. His mind wandered. Clearly, he wasn’t worthy of the pale jewel he’d managed to snare.

Just by looking at the man, Madigan could tell he didn’t offer Alexis any sort of intellectual stimulation—he was probably a drop-out. The poor woman was just deluding herself if she thought that Ian Smythe was what she deserved.

The top of the crate popped off, carrying with it a layer of straw. It also revealed the scepter. It was about the length of a man’s arm with an arrow straight shaft that terminated in a dull spike on one end and a scrolled column at the other. Attached to the column was a pair of grime covered olive branches that held an even grimier sphere in place. The sphere was a separate piece, freely movable in the space between the branches.

Sighing at the sad state the device was in; Madigan gingerly extracted it from the crate and set the crate aside. Reaching into his desk, he brought out some cleaning tools. He might as well get started.

He started with a light brush to dislodge the looser pieces of dust from the branches. It wasn’t fair, he ruminated, Ian Smythe never had to sit in what was essentially an underground tomb and do work his underlings should be doing. And if he did, his tomb would be properly ventilated.

An errant stroke of the brush pushed a layer of grime away from the central sphere, revealing a glint of amber stone. His interest piqued, Madigan brushed away more of the detritus covering the sphere until he could clearly make out what looked disturbingly like the pupil of some huge cat in the center of the stone.

Somewhere in his brain, he was noticing that the room had suddenly cooled to a comfortable temperature and he was breathing much easier. But he didn’t have time to ponder it.

Because the eye blinked at him.

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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