By: Tami (email@example.com)
Ra-Hok, Chief Priest of Amenophes V, took one last look around the burial chamber. Tomorrow completed the seventy days of beautification, and Amenophes would be entombed forever, taking his place with the gods in Amenti.
Taking a torch from one of the holders, he shifted the weight of the leopard skin on his shoulder and prepared to leave. He was tired, and he missed his friend.
In the distance he heard footsteps as another torch shed its light down the passage.
"Ah, Ra-Hok! Still checking arrangements? Don’t you ever sleep?" The large, jovial man made two of Ra-Hok.
"Only once to do it right, Ja-Far," he laughed. "And I might say the same of you, good friend vizier."
The big man sighed. "True. Egypt is much poorer with the passing of our Pharaoh. May he pass the weigher of hearts with ease."
"Of that I have no doubt."
"Come, my friend." He clapped him gently on the shoulder. "Ra rises in his sun boat sooner as we get older."
Ra-Hok looked up at him with a mischievous grin. "Are you speaking from experience?"
Ja-Far’s laughter echoed hollowly off the walls as they entered the passage.
The days of burial ceremonies were over, and at last it was time to seal the tomb. As a last duty, Ra-Hok raised the small cedar box from beside the sarcophagus. As he opened it, the dim torchlight touched the crystal scarab set in gold, sending rainbow flashes around the chamber. Lifting it reverently from its place, he put it on Amenophes’ mummy, over where the heart had been. Making a sacred sign, he stepped back and nodded. Slowly the granite lid began to lower, and eventually the ponderous "thud" of stone on stone echoed through the cavern. He closed his eyes a moment, drained of emotion and energy. At last he turned and led the procession from the chamber.
"Case #361-154, Connor Doyle reporting. Our team has been summoned to Cairo, Egypt, to examine an ancient crystal scarab unearthed in the recent discovery of a new tomb a few miles south of Giza. Reports have been varied and conflicting as to the purpose of our mission here."
Connor stopped the tape recorder and rose from the hotel room desk to gaze out the window. Outside, the hot wind was stirring the ever-present dust, causing a fine haze. He sighed and stretched out on the bed, grateful for air conditioning. He would just close his eyes for a minute. . . .
Someone was knocking on the door. "Connor? You all right? Connor, it’s Peter. Answer me."
He hurried to get up and take the chain off the latch. He blinked as he let his friend in. "Must have fallen asleep," he said a little sheepishly. "What time is it?"
"Dinner time. Everybody’s downstairs in the dining room but our Chief."
Connor laughed a little. "Chalk it up to jet lag. I hate changing time zones and days. Maybe I ought to lobby for a Universal Time."
"Sure, Connor," Peter responded. "But what ya say we have dinner first?"
"Good idea." He put on his shoes, ran his fingers through his hair a little, and they joined the others.
The dinner conversation had to do with the case. As Connor had stated in his report, there was no clear picture as to what this case was about.
"What I wonder," Peter speculated, "is why they sent us here at all with so little to go on." He looked at Connor, seated next to him. "Have you heard anything we haven’t?"
Connor shook his head. "Maybe that’s what we’re here to find out. Nobody that filed the report wanted to talk about it, but they made it clear that it was something extraordinary. The request came from both the Egyptian and the United States governments."
Anton’s eyebrows shot up. "That is extraordinary."
"Where is the scarab, Connor? Do you know?"
He looked across at Lindsay. "Right now it’s in the Museé de Antiquites," he answered. After that statement, he said nothing else until he rose from the table. "Well, good night, people. We meet in the lobby at 7:00 a.m." He gave one of his rare smiles and left the room.
He was the first one down the next morning, followed by Anton and Peter, then Lindsay, and lastly Natasha Constantine and Sandra Miles. Natasha was an anthropologist, Sandra a Chemist.
"Did everybody sleep well?" he asked, and there was a chorus of affirmatives. Lindsay yawned a little and added, "I’ve been awake since five. I think one of those Moslem towers that call the faithful to prayer is right outside my bedroom window."
Connor laughed lightly. "Sorry about that. If it becomes a problem, we’ll get you another room." Then–"Okay, people, let’s go."
They all climbed into the dark green transportation van and headed out to their immense white mobile lab that was parked near the Great Pyramid.
"Now there’s something I wish we could investigate," commented Lindsay to Connor, nodding in the direction of the structure. "What a fascinating mystery!"
"And big, too," added Natasha, "In more ways than one."
Lindsay glanced at her and they both laughed. "Maybe we can explore it before we go."
Although there was a fair perimeter established around the vehicle, the local tour guides crowded in as close as possible, all of them calling at the top of their lungs as the small group hurried past.
Peter was on the outside flank, too near one of the camels, and made the mistake of stopping to look up into his face. Before anyone could shout a warning, it was too late! The women laughed hysterically as Peter made a mad dash for the lab and its bathroom. He emerged 10 minutes later, deodorized and wearing a set of scrubs. A glint in his eye and a set jaw defied anyone to make a comment. There were a few occasional suppressed squeaks, but no direct outbursts.
Connor gave everyone their assignments, then sat at the large, oblong table in the conference room doing some paperwork. After a few minutes, Anton tapped on the glass and Connor nodded for him to come in. "What’s up, Anton? You look serious." There was just a note of wariness in the tone of his voice.
Anton settled in a chair on the opposite end of the table. "I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do, Connor."
"Yes. I’m a little worried about you. Something’s bothering you, and if there’s anything–"
"Is it that obvious?" he asked quietly.
"It’s my job to notice. But you’re also my friend, and I can tell you have something on your mind."
Connor half-smiled, half-frowned as he concentrated momentarily on aligning his pen on the paper. At last he glanced up. "Yes, Anton, there is something. More than one thing, actually, but–"
Just then Lindsay burst in, furious, slamming the glass door shut with a bang. Connor looked up at her and laughed outright. "Who shot you?"
"Nobody! It’s who I’m going to shoot! Connor, is this or is this not the ‘90s?"
"Yes; why?" and then it began to dawn on him. "Oh. I should have thought of that."
"Thought of what?" Anton asked.
Lindsay started and looked in his direction. "Oh. Hi, Anton. Sorry. I didn’t see you there."
"Obviously." He was more than a little amused, too.
Calmer now, she again addressed Connor. "Those–MEN–I am supposed to interview won’t talk to me because ‘I am merely a woman,’" she finished, her tone heavy with irony.
"I’m sorry, Lindsay. I wasn’t thinking."
She looked at him with a puzzled expression and he added, "Anton, see if you can make any headway with them."
"But Connor, that’s my job!"
"I know, but–let Anton try. I was just about ready to leave for the Musée de Antiquities about this artifact. Why don’t you come with me?" His magnificent grey eyes flashed teasingly. "Perhaps he is more enlightened about ‘mere women.’"
Her eyes and lips held an answering smile as she nodded. "I’ll tell you one thing–he can’t be worse!"
Both Connor and Lindsay were quiet most of the way into Cairo. At last Lindsay broke the silence.
"What do you think of Egypt?"
Connor flashed her a smile. "Like you said, fascinating. There are a lot of mysteries here. Do you remember that artifact of Anubis in Alexandria? That’s one we never solved."
She laughed. "You scared poor Sandra out of a year’s growth when you pulled her out of the lab."
Connor laughed, too. "Better than the alternative."
"That’s for sure. You saved her life."
They were within sight of the museum when she spoke again. "Connor," she began cautiously. "Can I ask you something?"
His eyes flicked toward her. "Of course."
"Connor, are you–you’re not sick, are you?"
He parked and shut off the motor, then sat with his hands on his knees, not looking at her. "No, Lindsay. I’m not sick."
"Then–then what’s wrong? I know something is, and if I can help–"
He looked at her then, and smiled. "Don’t look so worried. I’m just trying to–think some things through."
She nodded a little. "Okay, but–just remember–I’m here. All right?"
"I’ll remember." He smiled again. "Come on. Let’s go see if we can get to the bottom of this mystery."