Dozens of body parts lay scattered across the room like the aftermath of a bomb.
Tamsin sneezed, then sneezed again as dust motes danced in the beams of yellow light glowing from recessed bulbs in the dim hall. Mood lighting. Decisively spooky. Probably more so now, in the grisly disarray, than when the wax exhibit had been open to customers.
Trying to hide her dismay, Tamsin surveyed the long, narrow chamber. Limbs from discarded mannequins jumbled alongside moth-eaten costumes, their musty odor sending her into another sneezing fit, loud in the stuffy space.
"You said you wanted the display ready by Halloween?"
Vanessa Bradley, of the family-operated Costumes & Curiosities, gave a brisk nod. "Yes, we'd like to host the grand re-opening of our Chamber of Horrors on Halloween."
"That gives us less than three weeks."
An acid voice cut in. "I told her it couldn't be done." Ingrid Bradley, matriarch of the business and holder of the reins.
Tamsin glanced at Kurt, her employer, but he didn't meet her eye. "We can make this happen," he said, "but we must begin immediately."
"Of course," Vanessa said. "Today, if you wish."
Kurt pursed his lips. "Is the original designer still alive?"
A short hesitation, then Vanessa said, "No. The sculptures were created twenty years ago by Irina Rostova. She was very good, and claimed to be descended from Rasputin, which gave her a certain cachet. As you see," she swept an arm toward a corner of the hall, "his is one of the figures you'll be restoring."
Tamsin walked closer to the tall, hulking form. Shadows obscured most of the face, but the acrylic-painted eyes peered out with startling intensity. She shivered. Half dread, half delight. This job would be creepy, but fascinating.
"Why was the display shut down?" she asked.
Another pause, longer this time, spread through the dusty air. Vanessa drew an audible breath to begin her answer, but before she could speak, a browsing couple stepped into the far end of the hall, the woman's harsh, nasal exclamations blotting out all else.
"Look at this, Frank! Isn't it marvelous?"
Vanessa rushed forward. "This area is off-limits to customers," she said, trying to herd them back out, but the woman was not to be stopped.
"A wax museum," she squealed. "How wonderful!"
She ran her hands over a brocade ball gown and Tamsin gasped at the woman's lack of simple manners.
Ingrid sputtered, her cheeks turning an angry red. "Get that stupid cow out of here," she shouted. The man turned and made a rude gesture, taking offense for his partner's sake.
"Really," Vanessa said, "it's not safe here. This area is for staff only—"
But it was too late. The woman dislodged some anchoring item from a towering stack, starting an avalanche. A mannequin leaning against the wall turned, knocking down a pair of crossed swords. One fell harmlessly, skittering to a halt at Tamsin's feet.
The other sliced through the woman's sleeve, drawing blood as it passed, its point skewering her designer bag to the wooden floor like a stuck pig, its guts spilling out as the blade quivered in place.
The woman screamed.
Paramedics stitched and bandaged the wound. Amid a fluster of apologies and threatened lawsuits, Vanessa escorted the wayward customers off the premises. Tamsin tagged along behind Kurt. Despite the distraction, she sensed her boss champing at the bit, wanting to get the paperwork squared away on their new project so they could dive in and try to meet that impossible deadline.
They stood inside the glass storefront, waiting, and Tamsin stared out the rain-streaked windows at the movie theater across the street, a lump the size of a plum forming in her throat. Last July, Jason had taken her there to see the Michael J. Fox film, Back To The Future, exactly one week before their scheduled wedding.
And exactly one day before he'd broken off their engagement.
She turned away, avoiding Kurt's sympathetic eye, and pressed her lips together, humming along with Huey Lewis and The News as she perused a shelf stocked with gag items and magic tricks. She looked up when Vanessa approached, a man and woman in her wake.