Connor smiled and extended his hand. "That’s right. And this is my associate, Lindsay Donner."
The Egyptian man was slightly smaller than they, with large eyes, dark, curly hair, and a moustache. His skin was the color of café latte. Lindsay extended her hand, also, but instead of shaking it, he bestowed a courtly kiss on the back. "You are indeed fortunate to have such a lovely lady by your side, Professor Doyle." Lindsay flushed with delight, and they all sat down.
"Mr. Mahmed-Bey, isn’t it?" Connor began.
The man bowed slightly. "At your service. I know you are here about the scarab, and I know that you have been told little about it. Allow me to explain why. It is because it seems that everyone who handles it has a different reaction. Some see things, some hear things–there is no consistency about it. I have never seen anything like it, and do not mind telling you, I refuse to touch it. It frightens me!"
Connor and Lindsay exchanged glances. "I see. Well, we’ve come to pick it up and take it back to our lab for study."
"And welcome you are to take it." He rose and drew a mid-sized box from a wall safe, handling it gingerly, as if he could sense something even with the lid closed. "If it were my call, you could keep it and never return it."
"Thank you." Connor stood up and accepted the box, slipping it into his jacket pocket.
"Ah, but you must not leave so soon!" His voice was slightly distressed. "You have neither eaten nor drunk!"
Again Connor and Lindsay exchanged glances. "Well-we would appreciate some coffee."
"Delighted! Delighted!" He pressed a bell on his desk and almost immediately a wizened, elderly male servant entered with a samovar and tiny cups. Both had tried the Eastern style of coffee the night before, and knew what they were in for. A few more minutes of conversation and refreshment, and they were allowed to leave.
As they settled in the van Connor looked over at her, smiling. "Well. It seems you made quite a conquest. So. Did he make up for those others?"
"Get out of here!" Peter commented excitedly when they had told him their story. "A scarab with properties like the crystal skulls? I’ve always wanted to study one of those things ever since the Mitchell-Hedges was found in Belize!"
"Well. Now’s your chance, Peter," Connor said, handing him the box. "Give me a full report on it as soon as possible."
Next he turned to Natasha. "Did you get that information on where it was found?"
"Yes. Right here," she answered, handing him a paper.
Anton was ready with his report, too. True to form, he had gotten conflicting stories, but was convinced all of them were telling the truth, as they saw it.
"Which leaves us right where we started," Connor summed up.
Moments later there was an outburst from the lab where Peter was working. They hurried in to find him furious.
"Peter! What’s the matter?!"
"Connor, I don’t know what kind of a game these people are playing, but this scarab is a fake!"
"It isn’t even crystal," he added miserably. "It’s cubic zirconia. Probably manufactured–" he shook his head, "I don’t know–yesterday. Well, you get what I’m saying. Connor, these things–. Those skulls are so intricate, you can’t imagine! Show a light through one at the right angle, and you see remarkable things! They’re manufactured across the grain, carved with tools we can’t begin to identify, and the only way they could have polished it back then would have taken 300 years! And–"
"I understand, Peter. And I’m sorry."
Lindsay had been watching Connor’s face as Peter had been talking. At first it was angry; his first thought had been some kind of bait-and-switch on Mahmed-Bey’s part, but his fear of the object had seemed genuine. Then his face changed and became unreadable, as another thought crossed it. "I have to report this to headquarters," he said, and shut himself in the conference room.
His next call was to Mahmed-Bey. "My friend, I have no idea what happened to it." He was genuinely distressed.
"How much do you know about its discovery and what happened to it before it came to you?"
The Egyptian drew in a deep breath, and began. "It was discovered about a month ago, in the tomb of Amenophes V. They found it when they opened the sarcophagus. It was lying on his chest. Those who touched it had very strange and varied reactions."
"Who brought it to you?"
"No one. That is, I was summoned to the tomb, and took it from there to the museum."
"Has anyone else seen it since then?"
"Oh, yes. Many. But I have always been there."
"I see. Thank you, Mahmed. Will you make a list of those you can remember?"
"But of course. And–I hope you solve this mystery, Professor Doyle."
Connor smiled at the picture on the large screen. "I hope so, too."
An hour later they held their daily round table discussion of the case. Connor briefed the team on his conversation with Mahmed-Bey, and added: "I think our next move is to go to the tomb and do an onsite investigation. See if anything shows up on the EM scan, etc."
"Sandra’s doing some extra tests to see if she can pinpoint how and when it was made," Peter added.
Connor nodded. "Then you and Natasha will make up one team, Lindsay and myself the other. I want to leave as soon as possible."
When they next met, they were all dressed in light Khaki outfits. As they walked to the van, Peter gave the tour guides a wide berth. The offending camel made a grunting, moaning sound when he saw Peter, who took one look at it and quickened his pace to a fast trot. Lindsay fell into step with Natasha. "That camel would walk a mile for him," she whispered. Natasha nodded, laughing.
The tomb was about 25 miles west of Giza, and heavily guarded. Connor talked with the soldiers, showing them a letter, and they were given every courtesy.
Electric lines had been strung along the passageways, and Connor indicated to Peter and Natasha to follow one, while he and Lindsay entered another.
"I hate places like this," Connor whispered, his jaw tense.
"I know. I’m not fond of them, either."
"Coffins, and tombs, and graveyards–" he muttered.
"Lions, and tigers, and bears," Lindsay shot back, laughingly.
He glanced sideways and bit his lower lip to keep from laughing, then snorted. "Okay. You win."
She smiled brightly at him, but he saw her steps start to hesitate as they approached the chamber.
The door of the tomb was horizontal, held open by supporting beams on each side.
"The things we do for the O.S.I.R.," he sighed.
As they stepped into the vault, Connor pushed the button on his communicator. "Peter, do you copy?"
"Copy, Connor. We’re in one of the antechambers. Natasha’s having a field day. I have the feeling we’ll have to tie her up to get her out of here." He heard Connor laugh, then added, "They still have a lot of cleaning out and cataloguing to do here. How’s yours?"
"The chamber’s not very big, but the sarcophagus is. There’s still some miscellaneous things in here, too. Anything on the EM meter?"
"All right. Keep in touch. Contact me if you find anything significant."
While Connor had been talking to Peter, Lindsay had been slowly walking around the room, fascinated by the frescoes on the walls.
"Look at this, Connor. These could have been painted yesterday!" She bent for a closer look at one of the royal couple, reminiscent of the one in King Tutankhamen’s tomb.
He glanced up and nodded in appreciation, then returned his focus to the EM meter he held.
"Are you getting anything?"
"Y-eah. It’s spiking just a little in this direction," and he approached the sarcophagus.
Although there were electric lights in the tomb, their wattage wasn’t very high, and most of the heavy structure lay in darkness. He looked at it, frowned, and looked again. "Lindsay, look! The lid is open!"
Connor directed the beam of his flashlight beneath the lid, and with Lindsay beside him, they peered into the opening. There on the mummy’s chest lay the scarab!
Slowly, carefully, centimeter by centimeter, he reached his hand in to pick up the artifact. The hand holding the flashlight trembled a little, and only when he held the scarab in his hand did he realize he had been holding his breath.
He looked at it in amazement. It was about the size of his fist, and as he flashed his light on it, the object gave off myriads of rainbow flashes all around the room.
"Ooohhh, it’s so beautiful!" He glanced at Lindsay, whose face had an awestruck quality about it. He smiled to himself. "It is, indeed," he thought, momentarily forgetting the object he held. Then he looked back down at his hand. "I can see why Peter was so upset. He’ll have a heart attack when he sees this! I’d better contact him."
"Can I see it while you do?"
He handed it to her, then drew breath as he pushed in the button, but the words were never uttered, for an ear-shattering scream echoed and reechoed off the stone walls! "Lindsay–!"
She looked at him in horror, and lobbed it toward him as if it were on fire. "Get him away from me! Get him away! He’s coming after me! Stop him!"
Confused, he made a grab for her arm, but she was just out of his range. "Calm down, Lindsay! For heaven’s sake, calm down!"
But Lindsay was momentarily beyond reason. She started backing away, uttering between a whimper and a scream, her eyes wild!
All of a sudden he realized the danger. His eyes widened. "Lindsay! Stop! Now! Don’t take another step!"
If she heard him, it didn’t register, and in her backing away, she fell against one of the supporting beams of the door, knocking it aside. The opposite beam snapped, and the door crashed down, trapping them!