Through the doorway which led from her receptionist-secretary's office into her own, Catherine Morris Perry instantly noticed the box on her desk. It was bulky--perhaps three feet long and almost as high. The legend printed on it said it had originally contained a microwave oven manufactured by General Electric. Strips of brown tape had been wrapped erratically around it. It was a crude box, incongruous amid the pale pastels and tasteful artifacts of Catherine Perry's stylish office.
"How was the weekend?" Markie said.
Catherine Morris Perry hung her raincoat on its peg, hung her rain hat over it, removed the transparent plastic from her shoes, and said, "Hello, Markie."
"How was Vermont?" Markie asked. "Wet up there, too?"
"Where'd that come from?" Catherine said, indicating the box.
"Federal Express," Markie said. "I signed for it."
"Am I expecting anything?"
"Not that you told me about. How was Vermont?"
"Wet," Catherine said. She did not wish to discuss Vermont, or anything else involving life outside this office, with Markie Bailey. What she did wish to discuss with Markie was taste. Or lack of taste. Putting the big box, brown and ugly, on her antique desk, as Markie had done, was typical of the problem. It squatted there, ugly, obscenely out of place. As out of place as Mrs. Bailey was in this office. But getting rid of her would be almost impossible. Certainly a huge amount of trouble under federal civil service rules. Mrs. Perry's specialty in law was not personnel, but she had learned something from the efforts to get rid of Henry Highhawk, that troublemaking conservator in the Museum of Natural History. What an unending fiasco that had been.
"You had a call," Markie said. "The cultural attaché's office at the Chilean embassy. He wanted an appointment."
"Later," Catherine Morris Perry said. "I'll return it later." She knew what that problem would be. Another Indian-giver problem. General Something-or-Other wanting artifacts returned. He claimed his great-grandfather had only loaned them to some big shot in United Fruit, and he had no right to give them to the Smithsonian, and they were national treasures and must be returned. Incan, as she remembered. Gold, of course. Gold masks, encrusted with jewels, and the general would probably decide they were the general's personal treasure, if he could get his hands on them. And seeing that he didn't meant a huge amount of work for her, research into documents and into international law, which she should get working on right away.
But there sat the box taking up desk space. It was addressed to her as "Museum Spokesperson." Catherine Morris Perry didn't like being addressed as "Spokesperson." That she was so addressed probably stemmed from the statement she'd given the Washington Post on museum policy. it had been more or less an accident, the whole thing. The reporter's call had been referred to her only because someone was sick in the public affairs office, and someone else was away from his desk, and whoever had handled the call had decided a lawyer should deal with it. It concerned Henry Highhawk again, obliquely at least. It concerned the trouble he was stirring up about returning aboriginal skeletal remains. And the Post had called and identified her incorrectly as spokesperson, and quoted her when they should have quoted the museum board of directors. The policy on skeletons was, after all, official policy of the board. And a sound policy.
The Federal Express shipping order attached to the box was correct except for the erroneous title. She was "Temporary Assistant Counsel, Public Affairs" on loan from the Department of the Interior. She sat and flipped quickly through the remainder of her mail. Nothing much. What was probably an invitation from the National Ballet Guild to an upcoming fund-raiser. Something from the American Civil Liberties Union. A memo from the museum maintenance director telling her why it was impossible for him to deal with a personnel complaint as the law required him to. Another letter concerning insurance for borrowed items going into an exhibit opening next month, and three letters which seemed to be from private outside sources, none familiar.
Catherine Morris Perry put all the envelopes aside unopened, looked at the box, and made a wry face. She opened her desk drawer and extracted her letter opener. Then she buzzed Mrs. Bailey.
"Mrs. Bailey. When packages arrive like this, don't bring them in and put them on my desk. Open them and get the contents out."
"Okay," Mrs. Bailey said. "I'll open it now. It's a heavy thing." She paused. "Mrs. Paterson always wanted all the mail put in on her desk."
"I'll open it," Catherine said. "I meant from now on. And Mrs. Paterson is on leave. She is not in charge now."
"Okay," Mrs. Bailey said. "Did you notice the telephone messages? Two of them? On your desk, there?"
"No," Catherine said. They were probably under the box.
"Dr. Hebert called and just said he wanted to congratulate you on the way you handled the skeleton thing. On what you said in the Post."
With her free hand Catherine Perry was slicing the tape away with the letter opener. She thought that this box was probably a result of that story in the Washington Post. Any time the museum got into the news, it reminded a thousand old ladies of things in the attic that should be saved for posterity. Since she was quoted, one of them had sent this trash to her by name. What would it be? A dusty old butter churn? A set of family albums?
"The other one was somebody in the anthropology division. I put her name on the slip. Wants you to call. Said it was about the Indians wanting their skeletons back."
"Right," Catherine said. She pulled open the top flaps. Under them was a copy of the Washington Post, folded to expose the story that had quoted her.