Antiques are so cute, a fun waste of money with an educational flavor... Unless the history is dark and gruesome... and EVIL.
The Black Museum by John Oak Dalton
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They were taping the Halloween special at the visitor center in Ipswich because they couldn’t afford Salem at Halloween but fuck it, Steve thought, the rumor was this was the last season of the show anyway. He would just say in the cold open they were in Salem and who would know the difference. There was a guy with a Jim Abbott rookie card which wasn’t worth much, but the guy was telling a good story about seeing him play at the University of Michigan, so they’d probably use it in the episode. They only had a trickle of people here wanting their junk to be appraised for the show so they would have to take what they had. Junkin’ Coast to Coast had been broadcast for seventeen years on a second-tier cable channel and had been steadily declining in viewership since the original host had the temerity to kill himself. It used to be called Junkin’ with Joe but Shit with Steve didn’t have the same ring to it so there you go. The bitch of it all, in Steve’s mind, was fucking Joe died with a belt hanging around his neck and a bunch of furry porn around his feet, but all of that has been conveniently forgotten and Steve was never going to be considered as good as the original guy. His videographer Yvonne had the baseball card guy squared up on a head and shoulders shot and was half turned away texting somebody. She had been his primary shooter on the East Coast, and since the budget of the show kept shrinking year over year they traveled less and less and stayed closer to New York, and Steve’s other videographers in other parts of the country dropped away. But even though they spent a lot of time together when they were shooting the show, and stayed at the same hotels and ate together every night, they had never hooked up. Never even brushed hands. Yet Steve felt like Yvonne was breaking up with him. This old lady comes up with another fucking Blenko vase and then after that was a lull, and Yvonne stepped out into the cold fall night and called somebody. Steve watched through the windows of the visitor center. When she hung up Steve went outside to confront her. “Are you looking for another job?” “It’s the last show of the season, Steve.” “Yeah, but we’re starting again in Portsmouth in January and people have always cleared out a bunch of shit over the holidays.” Yvonne shook her head. “I’m hearing this is it. Even if it isn’t I gotta keep an eye out for me.” Steve pointed at her cell phone. “Who was that?” Yvonne just shrugged. “It was Rich, he’s on that dive bar show now where they show people how to fix them up, make a new drink menu, that kind of thing.” “Where he went when he fucking cut out on Junkin’, yeah.” “That’s not how he sees it but yeah.” “The asshole who hosts that? We were at the upfronts in Boston with the network guys, and he was a douchebag to everybody.” “Yeah, but Rich says that’s only when he drinks.” “The whole premise of the show is him fucking drinking!” “Well, Rich says he needs a second shooter, so…” “So you’re the first shooter on my show!” Yvonne just looked at him, then slides her eyes back through the window of the visitor center. Steve follows her line of sight and sees a guy in coveralls with a little book under his arm, and fuck my life if that isn’t probably a Civil War diary about somebody nobody gives a shit about. So Steve just set his jaw and Yvonne followed him back into the visitor center. A blast of warm air and close smells hits them. “Hey, thanks for coming out to the show, if you’ll sign this release we can sit down and I can check out what you have there.” The guy looked pretty nervous up close and only gives a little bird-like nod. While he is scratching his name on the clipboard Yvonne holds out to him the fake smile dropped from Steve’s face. “Hey, can I look at this while my videographer sets up real quick?” “Sure, man, that’s why I brought it.” the guy said. “I found it when I was cleaning out my uncle’s attic. He passed over the summer.” Steve swallowed hard and takes the small, soft-edged book while Yvonne gets ready to clip a lavalier mic on the guy. Steve frowned with distaste and puts the book down quickly on a nearby table. Both Yvonne and the guy look at Steve with surprise. “Take that mic off, we can’t talk to this dude.” Steve said with finality. The guy in the coveralls raised his hands in mock surrender. “Hey, man, I just want to know what I have there.” Steve looked at him steadily. “It looks like you have a diary bound in human skin, and I don’t dick around with shit like that.” Now the guy looked more surprised than he did before. He holds his hands open wide. “I-I didn’t know that.” “You said you got that from your uncle? Maybe you should turn that over to the police.” “The police? What? It ain’t like that.” Steve just shrugged. “I don’t care what it’s like, I’m not going on camera with a book made out of somebody’s skin.” Yvonne retreated behind her camera and doesn’t check her cell phone, for once. The guy in coveralls looked through the window of the visitor center to the darkness beyond, where nobody else is coming to bring their old crap tonight. Then he looked square at Steve. “Okay, this is the straight story, man. I’m a plumber, okay, I work for the city, we get this call there’s water running out of this old abandoned building, way down by Choate Bridge. We go down there, water running across the street, eventually I gotta break into the place, look for a busted pipe, see?” “This is the most boring fucking story that involves a diary made of human skin I have ever heard.” “Okay, okay, so wait a second, I get in there, I shut off the pipe, I start looking around a minute. This old boarded up place is full of all kinds of shit. It looks like medieval torture shit and a bunch of other stuff I don’t know what it is, but there’s probably some money in all that, right? But I can’t haul all that out with my partner just outside so I just grab this book off a shelf and thought I would bring it here tonight, see if this shit was worth anything. My grandma watches your show, you know?” Steve is actually able to ignore this comment because his mind is working, working. “What’s your name, dude?” “Why you got to know my name?” “I’m not calling the cops, I just want to know what to call YOU.” “Jimmy. Jimmy Corey.” “So what other kind of stuff was in this place, Jimmy?” Jimmy shrugged. “Maybe some other weapons, some guns and shit, but I’m not touching somebody else’s guns.” “I have a feeling that was a good idea. Just hang loose a second.” Steve lifted his chin, and Yvonne follows him to the corner, out of earshot. Yvonne looked at him like he was crazy. “Yvonne…I think this dude here found a Black Museum.” Yvonne arched a brow at him. “A BLACK Museum?!” “Jesus, not that kind of Black, calm down a minute—“ “Now I have to calm down?!” “It’s not that kind of Black Museum!! The original was in London, but now it refers to any place where somebody has collected artifacts from various crimes…on the circuit, you know, the world I live in…sometimes you hear about private collectors…” “You mean people that want like, a picture a serial killer painted, shit like that?”
“I mean, that’s a mild example, but yeah.” “We’ve never seen anything like that come through. You sure that is human skin?” “Yeah, it is.” “So what do you want to do?” Steve looked back at Jimmy. “We need to get this guy to take us to that place.” “What? Why?” “Just trust me. And when we get there, don’t stop rolling tape for anything.” “My contract says I’m done at 7:30.” Steve shook his head angrily. “Forget about 7:30! We’re looking at Season 18! Believe me.” “Uh-huh,” Yvonne said flatly. “Season 18.” A few minutes later Steven and Yvonne piled into Jimmy’s panel van and headed towards the river. “You oughta do a whole show on the Choate Bridge,” Jimmy offered as they got closer. “It’s one of the oldest bridges in the United States, if not THE oldest.” “Can someone take that bridge down and bring it into the Ipswich Visitor Center? No? Then it can’t be on the fucking show.” Jimmy just shook his head. “It was just an idea. And when did you shave your beard?” “What?” “He’s talking about Joe,” Yvonne threw in. Of course he’s fucking talking about Joe, Steve thought. “Never, Jimmy. I never shaved it.” Jimmy blinks owlishly, then steers the panel van into a gravel lot next to a large, dilapidated building with the bridge looming close by, close enough that brackish water seeped up through the gravel all around them when they stepped out. Steve looked around. “Somebody could urban renew this shit, put in a boardwalk, turn this into something.” “ It’s gotta fit in with the history, it’s how we do things around here,” Jimmy answered, as he fiddles the latch where a snapped-off combination lock hangs. Yvonne crowded in closer to Steve. “There’s some sort of shape over there. Looks like a dead raccoon or something.” Jimmy doesn’t turn around. “I’m a plumber for the city. If it ain’t got at least one shoe sticking up we don’t check it out.” Steve was about to ask Yvonne if she was rolling, get her focus back, when something came out of the darkness ahead with a sound like THWIP THWIP THWIP and suddenly the blackness around Steve was total. When Steve next opened his eyes something warm was running down his face, and he knew it was blood because Yvonne was directly in front of him and blood was running from a scalp wound on her head, too. Near her was a guy dressed all in black, with an ugly face tattoo, and fuck if the guy wasn’t swinging a bola from one hand. Jimmy stood stiff-legged off to the side watching as Yvonne stumbled in a loopy circle and carefully put the camera on the ground, seemingly in a daze. Then the man in black uncoiled like a serpent and let the bola go, and the rope wrapped around Yvonne’s neck, and the two steel balls at the end clapped against Yvonne’s skull and her legs went out from under her, and she quit moving. Steve’s vision swam. Jimmy’s voice, growing shrill, cut through the gathering dark clouds. “You said you’d let her go!” The man turned his gaze on Jimmy, who took an involuntary step back. But he kept on with his protests. “You said you’d let my girlfriend go if I got him here!” The man in black’s voice skipped down Steve’s spine. “I did set her free.” It was the last moment you have before reality sets in. Jimmy licked his lips. “Where is she, then?” “Over there.” Jimmy didn’t want to look. “Behind them boxes?” “Behind them…what didn’t fit in them….” Jimmy fell to his knees, his eyes rolling back in shock. The man in black took a step forward, pulling a six-inch blade from an unseen sheath and opening Jimmy’s now-convenient throat from ear to ear. Steve watched the blood make a bright red arc before he passed out. When Steve awoke this time the man in black had been busy. He had strapped Yvonne, still only semi-conscious, to some sort of torture device that Jimmy had described as medieval. But the strained part awake in the back of Steve’s mind told him, despite the terror flooding all the other parts of his brain, that it wasn’t built that long ago, maybe as recently as the 70s. Could have been a sex toy somebody built in their garage, or a prop from a chintzy b-movie. Steve’s mind snapped clear when the cold eyes of the man in black sought him out. “You’re back with us, junk man,” the man said, and Steve thought, oh, we gotta do this shit like that. Steve got to his hands and knees, then slowly to his feet. He surveyed the torture device from a short distance, with a critical eye. “So this is a Black Museum.” “Your unfortunate friend Billy did not lie about that. I’ve been quietly working on my kingdom here for some time, and the pieces are almost complete.” “That bola?” “It was used by a teenager in Mexico City in the early 2000s. He threw it off an overpass through a bus window, killing the driver and causing the bus to flip, killing a dozen children. He was listening to a band called Clowns Eat Little Girls and he said in court the music told him to do it.” “And the knife?” “It’s a Korshun with the serial number filed off, of course. Translates to ‘Kite Bird.’ A former Russian Special Forces soldier used it to kill more than 20 prostitutes in the Balkans throughout the 90s before INTERPOL caught up to him.” The man in black lifted Yvonne’s chin with one pale hand and studied her skull like you would a piece of fruit in the produce aisle. “We will start with this device,” and something in the voice now made Steve’s hair stand on end. “It was built and used in the early 70s by the man who became known as the National Road Killer, and many a poor hitchhiker with fewer prospects than this young woman spent their last hours here.” He turned his eyes back to Steve again. “But you can set her free. All you have to do is assist me with the final pieces of my red puzzle.” “So I can end up like Jimmy? Thanks anyway, dude.” Yvonne mumbles. “Steve…” The man in black frowned, and his disapproval is like a hand closing around Steve’s throat. “The simplest switch on this device starts moving joints in ways they should not go. Then it gets more complicated from there for your friend.” Steve barked out a laugh. “You got this shit all wrong. She’s not my friend. She works for me. And you can get camera people by the bagful in New York.” “Fuck you, Steve!” Yvonne cried out, her voice warbling with desperation. “It’s the gig economy,” Steve shrugged. Steve’s comment even brings this stone cold killer up short. “Do you not even want to know what I want you to do?” “Lay it on me, scribble face.” The man in black waved the Russian blade in a slow, lazy arc. Then it disappeared with a whisper back into its sheath. “This is a grand blade, one that has taken many lives, but several years ago, an elderly man brought a knife to your show, and you sent him away after telling him that the blade was worth very little. That man was named John Wallace Hansen, and he died last year. On his deathbed it was alleged he revealed he had killed a dozen women with that blade, but was never caught because he had made a pact with the devil. He was probably never caught because of his fabulous wealth, which he also ascribed to his pact. I believe that knife now rests with his daughter. I want—I need—for you to reach out to her and offer to re-evaluate that knife. Then do what you have to do to bring that knife to me.” “Where does she live? If it’s Peoria, it’s gonna be a minute.” “As it happens she lives very nearby in Salem, where you taped the program her father appeared on.” Steve shook his head. “You got something wrong. We never taped a show in Salem. We couldn’t get in there this time either.” “You had a beard back then.” The pain in Steve’s skull cleared, but his eyes began to see a red haze. “I never had a fucking beard.” “It was many years ago now.” “I’ve hosted this show seven years.” “No, before that.” “Before that…” Anger flooded through Steve’s rubbery limbs. “That…was…THE OTHER GUY!!” Without realizing what he was doing, Steve lunged at the man in black. His hand instinctively went to where he had seen the tattooed man slip the knife away and suddenly Steve had it by the handle and was pushing the blade upward, upward, and it went under the man’s chin and through his tongue and stuck somewhere in the roof of his mouth before blood began gushing out through his teeth. He fell to his knees as Steve had watched Jimmy do, and with that in his mind he picked the bola up from where it lay on the concrete floor nearby and pulped the other man’s skull with it until even the twitching stopped. Steve started undoing Yvonne’s bonds with blood-slicked hands and as he looked closer at the device it was a fucking good thing it never started up, he might have puked. “Yvonne, what I said, it was bullshit. That guy was never going to fucking let us live after I did what he wanted.” “Steve, what I said? I meant it. Fuck you, Steve.” “Fair enough, I got you into this. We both got hit in the fucking head, that’s not great, we both said some shit.” “But I did what you told me to. I never stopped shooting. “ Steve stops untying her for a short, surprised moment. “What?” “I never stopped shooting.” Steve looked over at the camera Yvonne set on the ground when they first walked in. “Oh shit.” Eighteen months later everything was working out fine for Steve. He wasn’t charged with anything, and the footage made him a kind of hero. There was renewed interest in his show, but Steve got too big for it and now was about to host a special on a major network, live from the original Black Museum in London, with the current curator from New Scotland Yard answering his questions. He had invited Yvonne to join him as a producer but she didn’t want to leave the dive bar show. She had ended up hooking up with Rich, so maybe that was part of her plan all along. Rich and Steve had mended fences, and Rich told him Yvonne hardly ever woke up screaming any more. Of course, as soon as Steve was cleared by the cops he went to Salem and found the daughter and bought the knife with what savings he had left, though the daughter had heard the rumors too and was happy to get rid of it. Not for fucking free or anything, Steve noted. The first couple of days Steve didn’t do anything with it, but eventually he went down to the dumpsters behind his Astoria apartment building at night and waited for rats. A couple of nights after that and he finally hit one after getting pretty good at throwing the knife, and also having plenty of targets. The very next day a woman who had dumped him came back into his life and they went to bed together right away and then she moved in a few weeks after that. But before she decided to move in Steve was able to kill another rat with the knife and the next day an aunt he never fucking saw anyway left him a couple grand. So fuck it, he started figuring out this dark web shit and advertised the knife for sale to collectors. And he zeroed in on a guy in Philly who bragged about having his own Black Museum. Steve drove out there one weekend and this dweeb started showing him all the stuff he had squirreled away before he showed him any money. Steve’s trained eye instantly saw his Hitler stuff was lumpy bullshit but the serial killer paintings were probably real so as soon as he killed the guy with the knife he took the paintings and a couple other things. The next day the network called about the live show. So he was going to go back to the dark web. These creeps shouldn’t be buying that shit anyway. And guess what, he didn’t have to sign his name in blood in a book or go to the crossroads in some Southern town at midnight. And if he actually did make a deal with the devil it was like he told Yvonne, TV was the gig economy, he’d probably already sold that shit.
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