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And now, the story continues! (After this brief commercial message.)
THE INCIDENT IN MALT SHOP
“A Date with Destiny”
JULIE BROWNING – Salvage Diving Expert
Jumping catfish, Kay, it’s been one heck of a day. Pull up a chair and I’ll tell you about it. Want a Grape Nehi? No, don’t get up. I can get it. Be back in a moment…
So, it all began while I was working at the shop with Dad this morning. It started out as just another summer day—you know, prepping boats and canoes for tourists, selling a few swimsuits, filling the dive tanks… Then we get a call from the Canoe Cops:
“A truck drove off of Gordon’s Causeway last night,” the voice on the phone says. “Can you come down and help do a recovery dive on it, Julie?”
“Sure thing,” I reply. Dad hasn’t done any diving this season; his leg isn’t the same since that skiing accident last winter.
So, just a standard SCUBA recovery job, like I’ve been doing for the shop since Mom died back when I was fifteen. No problem, right? That’s what I thought, too.
And it really wasn’t much trouble—aside from getting tangled up in soggy mummy wrappings for a moment. That was pretty scary… until Rich cut me free.
Yeah, Richard Agar, freshly minted lieutenant with the Canoe Cops. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Kay, not some soggy old mummy.
I agree! Rich is a dreamboat—in most ways.
So at the end of the whole incident, he asks me out for coffee. Well, actually, I asked him out because, you know, he’s got that kind of manly, shy thing going, and if I had to wait for him to ask—well, I was afraid it would never happen.
Anyway, he and I decide to go up to the Attic Malt Shop for some coffee and conversation. I was hoping for somewhere a little more private, but just getting him to go out at all is a red letter day in my book.
And, of course, the Attic is crowded, because it’s not a very big place. Plus, it’s almost the dinner rush hour by the time Rich and I change out of our work clothes—Yes, separately, Kay, you devil!—and get to the restaurant.
We still manage to get a nice pair of seats under one of the gables, fairly near the main entrance. It’s not very secluded, but a girl’s gotta take what she’s gotta take.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention this, and it’s pretty important: Burl—you know, that big guy from the gas station?—he’s there, too, sitting right next to the doorway, and he just leers at me as I come in.
I know, right? Total creep. He’s tried to play grab-hands with me a couple of times before.
But he doesn’t dare to do anything but stare, ’cause I’m with Rich, the manly Canoe Cop. And I’m almost disappointed, because I’ve been working on my right-cross since that time Burl’s hand “just happened” to brush against my rear-end in Flagg’s Pharmacy, and I’d really love the opportunity to deck him.
I don’t get the chance today, though, which I guess is okay, ’cause brawling is probably not the best way to start a first date.
Yes, I said date, though I’m not entirely sure Rich sees it that way. But let me keep telling the story.
No sooner do we get our orders in with Maggie, the waitress, than this ruckus starts up in the doorway.
At first, I think it’s maybe Burl hassling someone—one of his favorite pastimes—but then I see this strange little Egyptian gentleman I’d met earlier, Mr. Hawas. It was his possessions that Rich and I recovered from the sunken truck.
Yes, that’s where this necklace came from. Pretty great, isn’t it? Mr. Hawas gave it to me as a reward. I wasn’t really sure if I should take it, but it’s sooo beautiful. How could I turn it down?
Anyway, Mr. Hawas isn’t very tall, but he’s jostling in the doorway with a gent who looks like he could give Burl a run for his money in the size department. In fact, this new guy looks like he’s even taller than Burl by an inch or two, but not nearly as heavy. Hawas doesn’t seem too interested in talking to him, but the guy is very insistent.
“I’m telling you, Mr. Hawas, this could be the greatest thing that ever happened to you,” the stranger says. “Forget this museum stuff; you stick with me, and you’ll be raking in the dough by the cartload.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Hawas says, “but I do not even know you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the stranger says, extending his hand, “I’m William Corman, but my friends call me ‘Bill.’”
“‘Wild Bill’ Corman, the man who makes those dreadful horror movies?” Hawas asks.
“That’s me,” Corman says proudly. “Make ’em, promote ’em, and collect all that lovely green. I just happened to be heading home through town, after finishing publicity on my newest film—Castle of 7 Specters—when I heard about the unfortunate accident that had befallen your collection.”
“My… collection?” says Hawas, puzzled.
“Yeah,” Corman continues. “It was all the talk down at Flagg’s soda counter: crashed truck, lost trove of Egyptian antiquities—and maybe even a mummy—all in the drink. Darn shame.”
“And what has this to do with you, Mr. Corman?” Hawas asks.
“Well, like I said, I just finished marketing my latest flick, and I’m looking around for a new project. I’m a promoter by trade, and do you know what I found when I set foot in this town?”
“Dog doo!” Burl pipes in from his seat nearby.
“Exactly the opposite!” Corman declares. “What I saw was—and is—potential! This sleepy little bucolic town has everything it needs to become a major tourist attraction except a major tourist attraction. That’s where you and your mummy come in, Mr. Hawas. You team up with me, and we can raise your lost treasures from the bottom of Phantom Lake and build them into something that people will flock from miles around to see.”
Mr. Hawas looks skeptical, but I can see the wheels are turning upstairs—and Corman’s pitch has me, Rich, and pretty much everybody else in the restaurant hanging on every word.
“Imagine this,” Corman continues. “Usually, people have to travel to a big city to see genuine Egyptian relics, but now they can come here to do it—and have a boffo vacation as well! It worked in Niagara, and it can work in Phantom Lake. ‘Corman & Hawas Present – The Lost Treasure of the Mummy!’” Corman rainbows his hand above his head when he says this, like the phrase will be up in lights. “Whatta you say?”
Hawas shakes his head. “I do not think so.”
“‘Hawas & Corman’ then,” the promoter suggests.
“No, Mr. Corman,” Hawas says, turning to go. “I do not believe that I am interested in such a venture.”
“Think about it, at least,” Corman tells him. “I’m down at the Hotel Talbot if you change your mind. Drop by anytime, day or night.”
I’m pretty sure that Hawas is going to walk away without answering, but—just as the Egyptian is about to leave—Burl sticks his foot out.
Hawas trips, and nearly falls on his face, but manages to prop himself up with his walking stick, just in time.
He rounds on Burl, red-faced, “Why… you …!” He raises his jackal-headed cane, as if to hit somebody.
Burl lurches to his feet, knocking over his chair, and glares at the smaller man. “Why… what, pipsqueak?!”
“You did that deliberately!” Corman says, stepping between the two of them.
And for a moment, I think that the whole place is going to erupt into one big brawl.
But then, of course, Lieutenant Agar has to take a hand.
“Break it up!” Rich orders, standing and walking toward the three men.
You know, Kay, I’m not a sucker for that kind of macho bluster, but the way Rich takes command… Well, I gotta admit, it makes a shiver run down my spine.
Canoe Cops don’t really have any authority on dry land, but I guess Hawas and the rest must be buying Rich’s act, too, because all of them take a step away from each other.
“Officer Agar,” Hawas says, “how opportune to see you.” And catching sight of me, he adds, “And how lovely to see you as well, Miss Browning. As for you…”—and here he glares at Burl—“you and I shall settle this insult at a more convenient moment.”
Burl sneers at him. “Anytime, runt.”
The two of them scowl at each other for a moment. Then Hawas turns on his heel and hurries out of the restaurant before Corman can catch up to him. Burl settles back into his chair by the door. Rich returns to our table.
Corman’s eyes light up, and he walks toward us. “Well, that was almost fun, wasn’t it?” he says, grinning. “Do tempers always run so high here Officer… Agar, was it?” He offers his hand, and Rich shakes it.
“Usually, things are pretty quiet here in Phantom Lake,” Rich tells him.
“Unless you count the lake monster—and the mummies,” I put in. (Me and my big mouth!)
“There’s a lake monster as well as a mummy?” Corman asks, curious. “Mind if I join you?”
Without waiting for an answer, he pulls up a seat to our table.
Corman flashes a disarming smile at me. “What can you tell me about this lake monster, Miss…? I’m sorry; I didn’t quite catch your name.”
“Browning,” I say, offering a handshake. “Julie Browning.”
He takes my hand and kisses it. And you know, Kay, even though I know he’s something of a phony (his movies aren’t very good), I can’t help but feel flattered.
“Would you by any chance be related to the Brownings of Browning’s Dip ‘n’ Dive?” Corman asks.
“Yes,” I reply. “It’s owned by my father. How did you…?”
“I happened to pass by it on my way into town,” Corman says. “It looks like a nice little business. I make it a point to notice things like that when I come to a new city.”
“Phantom Lake is more of a town than a city,” Rich says, folding his arms over his chest. He’s not looking too happy about our coffee and conversation being put on hold. Not that I blame him.
Corman grins. “Town or city, never too small to make a fortune—that’s what I say. Speaking of fortunes… That’s a lovely necklace you’re wearing, Julie. Do you mind if I call you Julie? Is it really Egyptian …?”
And that, Kay, is how my attempt at a first date with Lieutenant Richard Agar ends.
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