1965-08-31 - A Most Convincing Forgery
Summary: After hearing that the scroll he lifted a week or two back is on display at Columbia - impossibly! - Ambrose returns to campus to make this copy vanish as well. Out of pique? Revenge? Like as not, simply because he can. What he doesn't expect is encountering Halgrim yet again. Your campus indeed, Professor! No faster way to scare off a Jackal than to set the campus guard-beast on him.
Related: Theft of a Scroll
Theme Song: None
halgrim ambrose 


It's late in the Butler Library, the night before the first day of the fall semester, and finally, the last of the regular faculty and staff have all departed to take their rest before the real show begins. The irregulars, determined to squeeze a little more blood from their respective stones, move about in distant corners and reading rooms, but none of them has appeared for at least thirty minutes.

The late Babylonian scroll, a list of goods to be delivered to Gimil-Sin, sits on display in a large case devoted to numerous other Babylonian-era artifacts. The rest are for context; it's the scroll that's the real prize, carefully unrolled and supported so there's no chance of it being torn. The tempered museum glass protects it, as does a series of locks around the case itself. The incoming archaeology and ancient history students will get a first-hand look at it tomorrow, and for a few days after the rest of the world will be allowed to examine it as well. Then it will go back into the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, six floors up, for safe-keeping once more.

*

Patience pays off. Ambrose looks up from a battered and dog-eared copy of "War and Peace" he found stashed away in the maintenance closet on the bottom floor of the library. The janitor is still sleeping one room over from when the Jackal ambushed him earlier in the day, just when the doors were open. He's shed his rather scholarly disguise for the clothes of the man himself. He makes his way upright, sets aside the book, and stretches. Joints pop here and there and he brushes off the clothing a little - not too much, because no janitor is spotlessly clean. He takes up a small carrier of cleaning bottles, tosses a clean microfiber rag over one shoulder, and then pulls a hat over his head. A tuck here and there gives him a different-enough look than medium-long hair hanging about his face.

Lockpicks, check. Second poster sleeve slung inside the jacket of the janitor clothing, this one far higher grade for a far more delicate scroll. Oh yes…this will be good.

Ambrose makes his way at a shuffling pace, his chin moderately tucked as if he were weary…and to hide his face behind most of the hat's bill. He scans the room for where precisely folks are once he enters and then…his eyes slide to the display. Ooh. He makes his way over to it and pauses, hands in his pockets and stance entirely dogged. Inside? His heart is pounding. That is absolutely…the real thing. He snorts silently to himself; all that fuss earlier for a fake on display.

*

It definitely looks like the real thing. Impossibly so; after all, Ambrose held in his own hands the real thing not less than a week ago. Yet here this scroll sits, in defiance of an entire evening's work, ready for a new pack of hopeful relic hunters to oggle and goad them into finding more. Is it possible there'd been a copy in the Library as well? Maybe that's what's sitting out now?

A door opens overhead, and two people exchange words in German, one a native speaker and the other with some sort of lilt to their Berliner dialect ('You need to go home.' 'Said the pot to the kettle, eh?' 'Seriously, Victor, your wife—'). They're cut off when another door shuts; it has the echo of a stairwell door. It's quiet down here, with no movement and no lights in the study rooms or back offices.

*

Ambrose swaps immediate focus on the fine details of the scroll before him for listening to the passing scholars. Once he's certain that their direction is away rather than towards, he sets down the collection of cleaners. Taking up the buffing cloth, he then kneels and sprays on some Windex. Gotta get those fingerprints off. Squeaky-clean. Soooooo squeaky-clean…and all the while, as he's working, he's sussing out precisely what kind of locks are keeping him from handling this scroll. Again.

Ah….hah. Single-unit CPU, like as not the latest of its kind. He scans the room around him again before setting aside the bottle and reaching into a pocket with his lockpicking kit. Out come the necessary tools and then he sighs.

Drawing upon the Bane to increase the speed of his actions and finesse, he goes about disabling the system in a shockingly short amount of time - at least, visually to anyone unknowing of his abilities. He halts and listens once the last wire is cut.

No response. Excellent. Slipping on gloves from within a sealed plastic bag inside the jacket, he then opens the glass case itself and reaches within.

*

A stairwell door opens and shuts, perilously close, though not in direct view of Ambrose. The sounds of footsteps echo away, rather than towards this central point of the building; someone has come downstairs from above, and stepped into a hall leading to one of the side exits. That door opens and shuts with the pause of someone locking it on each side.

*

The thief swallows hard and slowly glances over his shoulder towards the sound. He waits, watching for any sign of movement via reflected lighting. Once he's certain that the person is nearby but not approaching, he looks back to the scroll. It feels…just as delicate and real beneath his gloved touch as the last copy he touched and he sighs almost shakily as he begins to roll it closed. So very carefully, centimeter by centimeter, the antique finally reaches a rolled state. He removes it from the glass case and it's the same process as last time. Within the museum-quality plastic-lined protective sleeve it goes and he screws on the lid carefully.

Back goes the glass, close goes the door to the security system, and Ambrose zips up the jacket after adjusting the poster sleeve to lie comfortably on his body. He buffs at the glass for a little longer out of pique and laughs to himself even as he stands up straight. The archival gloves are peeled off and stuffed away into a pocket. The microfiber cloth is thrown over his shoulder and back towards the hallway door he goes. The nearest way out is like as not this way, found in an emergency door and he can just utilize the Bane to run at a far faster pace once outside, heedless of sirens. Sounds like a good plan to him!

*

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 3

*

"Hey." The sharp call rings out like thunder in the silent, dark library. Perhaps twenty feet to Ambrose's right, just coming in from a side hall, is the silhouette of a security guard with a flash light—*the* security guard, since this is the last night of the summer, officially, and so he's still the only one. Tomorrow there will be more. Right now, it's just him: a tall, strapping man with a thick New York accent. "Just who the hell are you?" And he starts moving towards Ambrose with a speed that suggests he's doesn't expect Ambrose to be a professor who was just leaving late. No, he does not.

*

Ambrose immediately puts up his hands as the beam shines on him and tucks his chin, wincing at the flashlight. Hopefully, the bill of the baseball cap will make it difficult for the man to identify him as stranger until he's close enough…

"Whoa-whoa, easy there. Just the janitor," he replies, trying very hard to mimic the harsh nasal tones of the Bronx borrough he hears every day. "Making sure the place is neat for tomorrow." Thank God he shucked the gloves after replacing the glass; those would have given him away immediately. The Jackal mentally congratulates himself on remembering the fine detail even as he feels the Bane begin to buzz low beneath his skin in readiment.

*

|ROLL| Halgrim +rolls 1d20 for: 18

*

"Like *hell* you are," the security guard says as he approaches, close enough now that Ambrose can see the patch on his jacket reads 'Navarro'. "Ully's crew went home half an hour ago—I know, because *I* locked up after them. Get your damned face up and show me some ID. Swear to God if you're some punk brat pulling a goddamned prank…"

*

Ambrose keeps the bill of the hat tucked even as he says,

"Okay, okay! God, hold on, I'll find my ID." Now he's slipped into something more akin to a Jersey accent, upped his pitch as if he were about as young as he visually appears. "The boys over in Alpha Delta Phi bet me that I couldn't sneak in after hours." He pretends to fumble with the pocket of the janitor pants, feeling around within, certain to leave one hand open and free…just in case he can make a sharp snag at the guard's wrist once he's close enough.

*

"Jesus *Christ*," Navarro mutters as he pulls out his walkie-talkie from his back pocket. "Every year, one of those idiot houses pulls this shit. You know you kids can get expelled for this, right?" He gestures back at the case, no doubt unaware that anything is missing from it. "They got some precious shit here, the deans do *not* fuck around." The walkie-talkie bursts with static, and another man's voice says, "Navarro, you about done in Butler?" He's in range now, and maybe more importantly, distracted with the voice on the radio.

*

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 16

*

"I'll bet the deans don't," comments Ambrose quietly even as he apparently finds what he's looking for within his pocket. Out comes a business card with clean and crisp black typing on it. It gives the details for one Lindon Mills, Archivist, New York Public Library, and a number. "Here you go." He says, holding the card at an angle where the flashlight won't easily reveal its contents.

Even as he does, he makes a quick snag for the guard's wrist. It's not an easy task, but he cements the hold after a second. Pins-and-needles leave numb-cold in the handprint of his grip and then comes the return flush of life-energy buoyed along with a little Suggestion of his own: "Mister Navarro. I Suggest that you are indeed done with Butler and found nothing of interest. I Suggest that you forget that I was here at all after you've given me back that business card. Furthermore, your evening is complete and I Suggest you go home and put up your feet. After all, you've had a long day," says the Jackal in his nuanced British accent. It's a mocking sympathy he puts forth.

*

|ROLL| Halgrim +rolls 1d100 for: 36

*

Joe Navarro reaches for the business card, saying, "What the hell is this, kid, you giving me ya—" Ambrose's hand lands on Joe's and Joe jerks in surprise, freezing up. He stares at Ambrose, blinking, his eyes gone hazy. Presently, he says, "Yeah, I'm, I'm done, that's right." He lifts up his walkie talkie and clicks it on. "Yeah, just wrapping up. All clear, and looks like even those night owls finally left. Should be solid for tomorrow. Gonna swing by the Archaeology building then call it a night."

*

"Good man," Ambrose says softly by way of agreement. "Now…I Suggest you turn around and go about your business. Don't mind me following you, I'm simply your shadow until we reach outside." Releasing the man's skin, he then shakes out his hand; pins-and-needles dance through his fingers briefly as the Bane smacks his metaphorical knuckles for not drawing on the guard's life-energy. "Lead on." He rolls his shoulder to better rest the strap of the matte-black poster sleeve across his body beneath the jacket. No point in taking the carrying bucket full of cleaner now; he intends to leave it behind on the floor with the micrfiber rag tossed uncaring atop the bottles.

*

"Yeah, my shadow—just like Kim at Normandy," Joe says, his tone pleasant. On their way to the exit he checks a few last doors, says, "Locking down Butler," into his walkie talkie (Pott replies, "Copy"), and closes up behind them. The courtyard is silent and empty, the white gold facade of the library unmarred in the cool summer night. This is probably the last time it will be like this for another three months.

A few of the buildings around them have lights on; in particular, the Archaeology building does, and Navarro heads unerringly in that direction. "Don't these people ever sleep," he says to himself, probably in reference to the three office lights still on.

*

|ROLL| Halgrim +rolls 1d20 for: 18

*

"Like as not, they will eventually rest." It's a near-whisper from Ambrose after he slips from the library and into the shadows of a nearby tuck of architecture. He watches the guard go as he stands there, intensely still, and only when he's absolutely certain that the Suggestion stands, does he slump against the wall. He pulls off the baseball cap and ruffles fingers through his hair, muttering to himself, "Good God, Atherton, you're getting rusty. A damn security guard nearly caught you."

Still…he considers the distant lights in the Archaeology building…and weighs his options. Scarper with the scroll or…see what else is being kept under lock and key on the campus? Hmm. Tough decision.

Certainty in his own skill-set wins out and he makes his way carefully over to the building. But how to get in…?

*

As Navarro is entering the Archaeology building via a side entrance, an older woman carrying a purse and briefcase is exiting. Navarro sighs, exasperated, and says, "Professor, go *home*, get some sleep, you can't teach if you're falling asleep at the podium," and the woman's husky, German-accented voice replies, "I'm going, I'm going, Joseph, see? I'm leaving the building, even now." An auburn-haired, birdlike woman in her prime emerges from the doorway's shadows; Navarro pauses in the act of heading inside to point at the library. "And you're not going in there, I just closed it up."

"I'm not," she assures him, holding up a hand in self defense. "I have a bottle of wine and a stack of student CVs that will occupy me for the rest of the night." Navarro makes an annoyed sound and waves her off, muttering about workaholics and how he's sure 'that other guy' is still in there. Then he's disappeared inside, his flashlight through the windows suggesting he's going towards the front of the building, rather than the back.

*

Back of the building it is. Ambrose waits in the shadows until he can see that both women are not going to look his way, even accidentally, and then sprints for the nearest drain pipe. Up his shimmies, a human squirrel, until he reaches the level of one of the windows he can see that's cracked. A stretch, and one almost questioning his own ability to plank along one side of his torso, and he manages to shove it up a little higher yet. A foolhardy little push-off and pull-up onto the outer ledge and…

He ducks to enter the office proper. Carefully of his placement of feet, he steps from desk to floor and then over to the door. Feeling in the dark, he turns the small dial that locks the door and then opens it a sliver. Light from the hallway shines in and he waits in a crouch behind the door, listening as hard as he can to see if the guard is going to come up all of the way to this level — in turn, if the guard is going to speak with anyone else on the floor.

*

Navarro's footsteps continue to carry him to the front of the building; there's a brief pause, and Ambrose can hear the security guard mutter, "Of *course* he's still here, that maniac," and then he's gone down the long hall, out of sight and sound. The office Ambrose is in seems to be the only one in this hallway, as the rest of the doors have frosted glass and artifact collection titles; at the far end is a pair of double doors with the label EQUIPMENT STORAGE stenciled on it. Two of the other rooms in particular have lights on in them: Norse/Scandinavia and Etruscan/Greek/Babylonian. There's no movement in either, though, at the moment.

*

|ROLL| Halgrim +rolls 1d20 for: 3

*

"…who on earth is still at their desk at this time of night?" Ambrose asks himself sotto-voce, his amusement rounded out by the many years of seeing individual habits. He pokes his head out of the room once the guard's footsteps retreat again and glances both ways. And then at a specific room in question. And then back towards where the guard disappeared. He frowns and sucks at his teeth silently.

Then, light of boot, the Jackal makes his way over to the room bearing the stenciled title of 'Etruscan/Greek/Babylonian' and tests at the door handle. It's unlocked and he swings it open to reveal…oh be still, his heart. He steps into the room and closes it and, in his excitement, forgets entirely to lock the door from within.

*

The room is crowded with tall roller-drawer cabinets, each stenciled with numbers and letters and a sheaf of papers to describe their contents. This is the collection room housing items which don't quite rate the museum, which is to say items that aren't deemed as the most valuable, or which are only fragmentary. This doesn't make them invaluable, of course, but the university can only devote so much money to security.

The first two drawers in the first cabinet are all pottery shards; after that, things become more interesting. There's plenty of examples of tiles and masonry, rubbings of clay tablets and a few pieces thereof (intact tablets would be in the museum, of course)…and it keeps going.

*

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 17

*

Ooh, pottery shards. Ambrose pauses to pull out each flat glass-plated drawer and look within. He licks at his lips, eyes flying back and forth across the pieces. Dates and eras fly through his brain as he recognizes bits and pieces here and there. On to the tiles and masonry next. Delightful, that example from the 8th Century B.C. He takes some time to read the text on one of the rubbings and smirks. How rude.

It's when he hears that first footstep outside of the room, in the hallway, that he freezes up. Eyes gone wide, he attempts to dive behind one of the shelves before the door opens completely. Cycling his breath as to be completely silent, the Jackal waits with back pressed against metal…and tries desperately to remember if he saw any windows in the room.

*

The door to the room opens a mere handful of seconds after Ambrose has made his bid for cover. The person who comes in doesn't call out, which is probably a bad sign. Their footsteps are easy enough to hear, sturdy work or hiking boots of some sort on the cool, concrete floors of the building as they pause, then begin to look between the cabinets. There's no window in this room; no way out but the door. The person who's come in is staying close to that door, however, at least to look through the first row of cabinets.

*

Ambrose scrunches his eyes shut tightly for a second as he realizes that he can't remember seeing a window. He swallows, keeping his breathing as even as possible as he listens to the movement of the person beyond sight. How to get out of this, how to get out of this…

As quietly as he can manage, he stoops and feels at the bottom of each of his military boots. He comes up with a small pebble stuck between the deep grooves of the sole and straightens. A silent blown sigh is released before he turns about. Biting at his tongue in the corner of his mouth, he then hucks the pencil eraser-sized bit of concrete up and over the shelving, aiming for the far corner of the room itself.

*

|ROLL| Halgrim +rolls 1d20 for: 10

*

The sound draws their attention, and the person moves away from the door, though not all the way into the back of the room. Their footsteps stop another row in. Not the easiest rush to the door, but not the most impossible either. Depending, of course, on how likely they are to give chase. Not everyone wants to engage with prowlers.

*

|ROLL| Ambrose +rolls 1d20 for: 13

*

Ambrose listens hard. He moves to counter each step, placing himself nearer to a meridian in comparison rather than tucked back behind the length of shelving. He waits a few heartbeats more, each a clangor in his ear, before he makes a sudden break for it. The edge of his boot bounces off the base of the shelving; even rubber can't mask the sound of impact or the rustle of clothing rubbing briskly against itself. He dives out into the main aisle and along the short distance before grabbing for the door handle. He yanks it open and pauses in the doorway, if only to see who he's so narrowly avoided.

And goes a shade pale. His mouth moves as he recognizes that face. Oh God. Of all the faces here on this campus tonight!!!

*

That mad scramble for the door is impossible to miss, and Halgrim turns and locks eyes with Ambrose. He blinks, expression going from mild surprise to a kind of vicious satisfaction. "I didn't actually expect you to put my promise to the test this quickly," he says, his accent much heavier than usual. And he starts moving towards Ambrose with a purpose. "I suppose you just couldn't help yourself." It might be Ambrose's imagination, but those words are starting to sound too deep to be entirely human; almost like a growl.

*

Now enacts the motto of the thief: those who fight and run away live to fight another day — and it's time to run.

"Preserve me, God," the Jackal whispers loudly in Persian as he turns and outright books it away down the hallway. He's headed for the one office on the floor, with its door that he left unlocked and the window he knows is still open. Sliding down the drainpipe might be hell on his palms, but a few scrapes it worth escape. He's fleet of foot, Ambrose, adrenaline standing in for the Bane at this moment, but he's still panicked.

*

Halgrim doesn't waste time with further idle threats—he gives chase. For a man one year out of the field, he hasn't lost much, yet he's not a match for Ambrose; he's a bit too tall and heavy, a bit too tired from overworking himself, and of course, whatever else is going on with him, it doesn't seem to have given him superhuman abilities to speak of (except for being superhumanly terrifying). He's chasing Ambrose like a normal person would, if normal people could growl the way your childhood nightmares did, and had eyes that turned savagely yellow when they got upset. He has to get the door Ambrose has shut in his face out of the way, and follow him down the long hall, and there's no way he'll get up to that window after him in enough time.

*

Thank god for traction on the boots. Ambrose doesn't skid past the single office door when he stops and with a high-pitched grunt of effort, slams it shut hard once he's inside. He locks the door for good measure — not that it's going to keep whatever's haunting that hallway away from him for long. He risked a glance over his shoulder during his flight.

He saw those eyes. He heard the noises coming out of that man who, at one point, looked entirely human.

Never mind the contents of the desk now! He pays them no heed as he leaps onto it and then works himself out of the window. Balance shifts precariously and he chokes down a yelp as he rises onto his heels…before launching himself back over to the drain pipe. Down he goes, as fast as can be managed, looking the part of some urban coconut harvester. There's no mistaking his fleeting figure as he then books it out across the campus proper — or how there's definitely a poster sleeve flapping about in plain sight now, easily seen by someone sharp of eye even at height.

*

Somewhere in his mad dash onto the desk and out the window Ambrose can hear a jingle of keys and the door to the office open, but as he slides down the drain pipe and across the walkways and plantings between the buildings, Halgrim only watches from the window. He makes no attempt to squeeze himself through that space (he's just not that flexible now), or to go to another side door and follow. And he doesn't look nearly as mad as the night Ambrose stole the first scroll; in fact, he almost looks pleased, in a fierce and smug sort of way. 'Get off my campus' is writ plain on his face.

*

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