THE INCIDENT AT THE WHARF
“The Missing Mummy”
LON TYLER – Warehouse Guard
“This is unacceptable, Mr. Tyler! Unacceptable! This is not the mummy I was expecting! It is not the right mummy at all!”
That’s what the old guy is sayin’ to me as he stands inside this very office and shakes his nasty lookin’ walkin’ stick in my face.
Well, I guess he’s not really old, but he’s short, and dark, and has a little beard, and he’s wearin’ one of those round hats that Egyptian guys like—’cause I guess that’s where he’s from. His accent’s not too bad, though, and he’s dressed like some Upper East Side swell.
“Look, buddy,” I say, “don’t shake that dog-headed cane at me! It’s barely 8 AM, and this ain’t my fault! Do you want my help, or not?”
“It is not a dog,” the gent tells me. “It is Anubis, guardian god of the underworld.”
“Well, dog or god, shake that mutt at me one more time, and I’m gonna snap that stick like a toothpick! This ain’t no underworld; it’s Brooklyn, and we don’t get what we want here by bein’ rude to guys what’re tryin’ to help us out!”
He backs off at that, and gives me a little bow, though his eyes are still burnin’ mad. “I am terribly sorry, Mr. Tyler. I’m afraid my temper momentarily got the better of me. Please accept my humblest apologies.”
“If that’s your way of sayin’ you’re sorry, I accept,” I tell him. “Now, what’s all this about your mother bein’ missin’?”
“Not my mother,” he says, “my mummy! The earthly remains of Princess Amunisis, the Fairest of the Fair. She was to be in the consignment shipped to this squalid dockside warehouse. Yet, when I arrived here to inspect my possessions, what did I find? The Eternal One missing, and in her place this miserable specimen fit only for duty as a guard dog!”
“Your mummy’s been replaced with a guard dog?” I ask.
“Not a literal dog you … my good man. The mummy Rahotep, a member of the royal guard put to death so that the princess should not go alone into the underworld.”
“Jeeze, that’s rough,” I say. “Imagine bein’ capped if your boss bought it! That’s some kind of tough break.”
“Indeed, though I doubt that the ancient Egyptians considered it so. To many of them, it would have been a form of high honor.”
“Well, it’s an honor I’m glad we ain’t got nowadays,” I tell him. “So, instead of your mummy, I guess you got a daddy, right?”
I smile at him and laugh, but this Hawas guy… Did I mention that’s his name? Ardath Hawas. He said he was a doctor, or a professor, or somethin’ like that. Anyway, this Hawas guy doesn’t seem too amused.
“The important thing is,” he says, nearly shakin’ his stick at me again before rememberin’ himself, “that the princess be returned to me post haste. I did not recover her from the sands of Egypt, and ship her and her funerary items to this country, only to lose her now!”
“No, I suppose you didn’t,” I reply, tryin’ to sound all sympathetic. “That shipment is in Warehouse Nine, though, right? Nobody’s come through there on my watch lately. But let me see what I can find…”
So, I rifle through the warehouse office records—’cause, you know, I’m not just a guard, I gotta do stuff like that when the boss is out (which is most of the time)—and pretty soon, I turn up exactly what I’m lookin’ for.
“See here?” I say, pointin’ at the lines in the register. “There’s only been one visit to that warehouse lately—a week ago.”
“A week…?” he says, interruptin’. “But I was still in Egypt then, arranging the final details of my visa…”
I continue (ignorin’ him rudely cutin’ me off). “And it wasn’t me who checked it in. It was Ralph Norton—our night guy. Hey, that’s funny… The signature for who Ralphie let into the warehouse is missin’. We’re in luck, though, Ralph ain’t punched out from his shift, yet. We can ask him.”
So, I use the PA system to ring up Ralph, and in two shakes he comes through that very door in front of which you are now standin’, officer.
“Hey, Lonny,” he says to me. “What’s up?”
“Mr. Hawas here seems to think that some of his property has gone missin’,” I reply.
Ralph crosses his arms over his chest, lookin’ real skeptical. (Ralphie don’t much like foreigners, y’see.) “Oh, yeah?” he says. “What took it on the lam?”
Hawas looks annoyed, ’cause Ralph don’t seem to be takin’ this seriously. “A very valuable artifact,” Hawas says. “The mummy of Princess Amunisis.”
“Oh, that wrinkly old dame?” Ralph shoots back. “She ain’t missin’. Her owner come an’ got her.”
“What?!” Hawas goes so red, I think he’s gonna burst a blood vessel.
“Sure,” Ralph replies. “He stopped by about a week ago. Had all the right papers. So he picked up the old gal an’ took her home.”
“How come it don’t say that in the book here?” I ask, tappin’ my finger on the line where the visitin’ person’s John Henry oughta be.
Ralph shrugs. “See, it’s like this: The guy what came by, he tipped me a Lincoln to maybe … fill out the form later. Somethin’ about avoidin’ unnecessary alimony or somethin’.”
“Something about larceny you mean!” Hawas says, shakin’ ol’ Anubis at both of us. “Who is this infidel that dares to kidnap the princess?!”
“This guy wasn’t inta infidelity,” Ralph tells Hawas. “I don’t think he was even married. In fact, he was a very respectable gent—Dr. Cecil Zucco, of the Minneapolis Museum of Antiquities. He showed me his ID papers and everythin’.”
Hawas is really cookin’ now. Veins are bulgin’ on his neck, and his face is nearly purple. “Zucco was not to take the princess!” he fumes. “Rahotep was to be his museum’s allotment from the two mummies recovered! Can you not tell the difference between a male mummy and a female one, you cretin?”
“With their wrappin’s on, they all look the same to me, doc,” Ralph says, flashin’ me a wink.
I can see that Hawas wants to hit Ralphie with ol’ dog-face-on-a-stick, but he doesn’t. The little guy gets points from me for holdin’ back.
Instead, he just stares daggers at Ralph and says, “Dr. Zucco has made a very grave error. A very grave error indeed. I shall send a truck around in the morning to collect the remainder of my possessions—such as they are. Please see to it that nothing more goes missing in the interim.” He gives a little bow to me again, and turns to go, but Ralphie calls:
“Hey, is that nutty chick what’s been roamin’ around the place with you, too, doc?”
Hawas stops. “Nutty … chick?”
“Yeah, that chippie dressed up like she’s from Egypt or somethin’. I seen her wanderin’ around near Warehouse Nine last few nights. Couldn’t catch her, though. She’s one quick twist.”
Hawas looks puzzled for a moment, but then he smiles. “No. That … twist, as you call her, is not with me. Perhaps she is one of your … working-girl friends.”
Ralph scowls at him. “Not this dame. She’s real high class broad: tanned skin, made up to the nines, sportin’ this almost-nuthin’ dress that’d get you arrested if you wore it up in Boston… Looks… Egyptian, like someone you might hang with, pal.”
“Maybe she’s a buff,” I suggest.
Ralphie laughs. “She was nearly in the buff, all right!”
“A … buff?” Hawas asks.
“You know, one of those people who takes too much of a fancy to somethin’—like those UFO contactees. Maybe she heard you had your Egyptian stuff stashed here, and she dropped by to give it a look-see.”
“That seems highly unlikely,” Hawas replies. “Good day, gentlemen.” And with nothin’ more than a nod, he leaves.
Ralph leans on the office desk. “I don’t care what that mook said; he knows that dame.”
“You think everybody knows every dame,” I reply. “Why don’t you punch out, brother? We ain’t authorized for no overtime, you know.”
Ralphie laughs and heads for the time clock.
And that’s the last I seen of him until I found him dead this mornin’.
It was awful—him lyin’ there with his neck snapped and his eyes gouged out.
“Scratched out,” the officer says, scribblin’ a few more notes on his pad. “Not gouged out. And no other signs of violence on him.”
I shake my head, tryin’ to wipe the memory of my pal’s twisted corpse from my brain. “You think it was that Hawas guy?” I ask. “He didn’t seem too pleased with what Ralphie had done.”
“Our boys put the time of death around midnight,” the cop tells me. “Hawas was at a party at the Met until well past one. Hundreds of people saw him. A photographer from the Post even took his picture.”
“Maybe it was that weirdo girl, then,” I suggest. “I ain’t seen any sign of her, but Ralphie swore he had. Maybe she’s some kind of psycho.”
“We’ll look for her, I promise you—though this doesn’t seem like the type of a crime that a girl would—or could—commit.”
“You ain’t sayin’ it was me, are you? ’Cause I loved Ralphie like he was my own brother! Besides, I was playin’ poker in the back room at Sheldon’s Tap until almost three. You can ask anybody there.”
“I assure you, you are not currently a suspect, Mr. Tyler.”
“So, what, then? You think it was some kind of supernatural hoodoo curse? You think Ralph got skragged ’cause he sent the wrong stiff off to Minnesota? You think the mummy done it?”
The cop laughs and shakes his head. “No, Mr. Tyler. The supernatural is the one possibility that I’m totally sure we can rule out!”