Caleb crept across the floor, hiding between the shelving units, until he came up behind Mrs. Constantine. He noticed the blood pouring down from Ronilyn's head and could see her moving slightly. He struck the museum curator in the head, the container shattering with the blow, liquid spilling out onto the woman.
Mrs. Constantine clutched her hands to her face, crying out, "My eyes!"
As Caleb hunched down on the floor next to Ronilyn, Mrs. Constantine flailed about blindly, stumbling into one of the shelves. Caleb watched as an avalanche of bones crashed down upon her and she tumbled to the floor in a heap. The boy turned back to Ronilyn and, touching her face, asked, "Ronilyn, are you all right? Ronilyn?"
Her eyelashes fluttered and she finally opened her eyes, squinting at the harsh light. Ronilyn put a hand to her throbbing head, took it away and looked at the blood coating her fingers. "Son of a bitch," she said with feeling.
Caleb helped her to her feet. "You sure you're all right?" he asked, frowning at her.
"I got hit with a -" she spotted the object on the floor "- bone?" She shook her head, then thought the better of that movement and stopped. "So no, Caleb, I'm not all right, but I will be."
Ronilyn looked at the shelves lying on top of Lydia Constantine, then at Caleb. "You saved my life, Caleb."
He shrugged. "Yeah, but I hurt a woman." He gazed at the pile of debris. "Maybe even killed her."
"So?" Ronilyn straightened her clothes, frowning at the blood that would surely stain her shirt.
Caleb's eyes widened slightly at her nonchalant response. "So that means I'm no better than Lucas."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Caleb," she said, examining a long tear on her shirt sleeve. "You did it to save me. Doesn't matter if you hurt someone if you're doing it to protect someone else."
"That makes it all right?"
"It does in my book. Of course, Lucas wrote a lot of those chapters early on, so I might not be the best person to talk to about things like this." Ronilyn leaned down and looked at him. "Let me ask you this, did you enjoy hitting her? Do you want to do it again? Did it make you feel powerful?"
"No!" Caleb answered. "I was afraid she was goin' to kill you. I just wanted to stop her."
"Then you're fine." Ronilyn straightened and patted his shoulder.
"But…it…uh…didn't bother me a whole lot to hit her," the boy admitted.
"It wouldn't bother me either," Ronilyn said. "But then she whacked me in the head with a bone, so I'm not exactly objective."
Caleb took a few steps toward the shelves, peering closely at the wreckage. "Do you suppose she's dead?"
Ronilyn shrugged, the movement speeding the flow of blood down her neck. "I bet I'll need stitches," she muttered, carefully probing the wound on her head. She tore the rest of her sleeve off and began folding the cloth into a makeshift bandage when the shelves suddenly clattered. Caleb scrambled backwards as they heard a muffled groan. "I guess that answers your question," Ronilyn said.
She seized Caleb's arm. "Get out of here," she told him as the pile of metal and bones shifted and a shrunken head rolled across the floor to stare up at them.
"Go," Ronilyn insisted and gave him a push toward the stairs. She kicked the shrunken head aside as she turned back to the wreckage, narrowing her eyes. "I'll be just fine."
The boy dashed up the stairs and flung himself through the double doors at the top. He raced down the short corridor, slamming into something as he turned the corner into the main exhibit area of the museum. As Caleb stumbled back, hands grabbed his shoulders to keep him from falling.
"What's goin' on, son? You all right?"
Caleb looked up at a tan vest pinned with a badge and blurted, "Boy, am I glad to see you."
Lucas raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? And what brought about this change in your attitude?"
"Mrs. Constantine," Caleb said, pointing at the corridor behind him. "She's got Mr. Porter's body down there and she tried to kill me and Ronilyn," he babbled as Lucas flicked a glance at the corridor, "but I hit her and I thought I might've killed her, but then she started gettin' up and…"
"Go wait outside, Caleb."
"But Ronilyn made me leave and she's down there all by herself," he protested. "Her head's all bloody…"
"Caleb." Lucas shook the boy slightly. "I'll handle it, understand? Now go outside, so I don't have to worry about you too."
He waited pointedly until Caleb was halfway across the exhibit area before heading to the basement.
Ronilyn looked up from her seat on top of the flenser and watched as Lucas descended the stairs. She removed the bloody cloth from her head wound and watched while he strode across the floor, boots crunching through the debris, eventually coming to a stop in front of her. Lucas glanced around the basement until his gaze came to rest on her. They stared at one another, the skittering of beetles sounding loud in the silence.
"So," Lucas finally said, clearing his throat. "Understand there was some trouble here."
She gave a slight shrug. "It's taken care of."
He surveyed the mess in the basement once more, then rapped at the lid of the flenser with his knuckles. "Mrs. Constantine?"
"Taken care of," Ronilyn said, stressing each word.
He made a noncommittal sound as he shook his head.
"What?" she demanded. "She hit me in the head with a bone! A bone, Lucas." She waved the blood soaked cloth for emphasis. "I knocked her out before I put her in there, so it's not like she's getting eaten alive. I mean, she is, but she doesn't know it."
"You surprise me," Lucas said.
She raised her eyebrows at his comment. "Why? Someone does something to me, I get them back. You're the one who taught me that."
"I believe I also taught you not to get caught and look at where we're at." He tapped the flenser again for emphasis.
"Sorry. I'll try to do better next time." Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
Lucas boosted himself up onto the flenser next to her and she slid over slightly to make room for him. "So you plannin' on there bein' a next time?" he asked.
"I guess it'll depend on whether anyone gets in my way." Ronilyn looked at him. "You know how that is."
He sighed and, lifting a hand, ran his fingers lightly over the bruising on her left arm, exposed by the torn sleeve. She steeled herself to keep from pulling away. "That was a mistake," Lucas said so quietly that Ronilyn wasn't sure if he was talking to her or himself.
He dropped his hand, but continued staring at her arm while he spoke. "I normally don't lose control like that. It's not me. Never a good thing to lose control. It's just…when it comes to Caleb…" Lucas looked up at her. "He's mine."
Ronilyn met his gaze. "As apologies go, that –" she searched for words "- doesn't even come close. In fact, it almost sounded like a threat at the end."
"Wasn't a threat, just a statement of fact." Lucas pulled a white handkerchief from his vest pocket and pressed it gently against the wound on Ronilyn's head. "That any better?"
"Are you asking about my head or your poor excuse for an apology?"
He moved away from her and Ronilyn grabbed the handkerchief before it fell from her head. "Well, I see there's nothin' wrong with your mouth."
"Nope, just my head."
"How is it?" Lucas asked, then pointed a finger at Ronilyn before she could answer. "No smartass comments, you hear? Serious question, serious answer."
"It hurts," she admitted.
"Come on." He slid off the flenser and held his hand out to her. "We ought to get you to the hospital. That hasn't stopped bleedin'." Lucas indicated her head. "You're goin' to need stitches."
"Figured I would." Still holding his handkerchief to her wound, she hopped off the flenser. "Hope they don't have to cut off any of my hair."
"If they do, you'll just have to start wearin' those fancy hats like the old fashioned Southern belles." Lucas laughed at the glare she directed at him and they started across the floor. "Now let's go. Caleb's probably paced a big ol' hole in the ground by now."
She touched his arm and he looked down at her. Ronilyn said, "You know I'm not trying to take him from you, right?"
Lucas searched her face. "Let's leave that conversation for another time," he finally said and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her against him, as they walked across the basement floor to the stairs.