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This chapter was originally published as a stand-alone story in both the Mihmiverse Monthly Podcast and (later) in Zen of the Dead, from Popcorn Press. So, really, this is the story that kicked off the whole Canoe Cops vs. the Mummy novel, which I’m serializing for you, here. Featuring actual Canoe Cops!
And now, on with the show! (After this brief commercial message.)
THE INCIDENT IN THE LAKE
“The Mummy’s Ring”
LT. RICHARD AGAR – Canoe Cop
“You must help me, Officer Agar,” the guy pacing my office says in a thick accent. I can’t quite figure out where he’s from, but I know it’s a long way east of Wisconsin—maybe Brooklyn.
I give the visitor my best professional Canoe Cop look. “Exactly what can I do for you, Mister…?”
“Oh, forgive me,” the guy says. He’s short and squat with dark skin and eyes. He’s wearing a natty suit and one of those—what do you call those stovepipe hats without a brim?—oh, yeah, a fez. “I am Hawas … Dr. Ardath Hawas.” He gives me a little bow, then goes back to pacing.
“Pleased to meet you, Doc,” I say. “Not from around here, are you?”
“I have recently sojourned to America from my native land of Egypt,” he replies. “I was on my way to join the staff of the Minneapolis Museum of Antiquities when I chanced to pass through this benighted hamlet.”
I grin, because my bet about him being from east of here is dead on. “Like I was saying … How can I help you, Dr. Hawas?”
“The drivers I hired to transport my possessions were imbeciles,” he tells me, “and perhaps drunkards as well. They never should have taken a truck that size over such a narrow causeway. No wonder they ended up driving over the side and into this accursed lake!”
“Now you just hold on a second there, mister,” I say. “Some pretty weird stuff may happen around Phantom Lake, but we’re still an Eastern Wisconsin tourist destination. Plenty of people love to come here. Fishing’s great, winter or summer.”
“Yes, of course,” he says with another little bow. “Forgive me. I am merely upset. But these cretins drove all of my possessions into the lake, and the police tell me they can do nothing about it. They say you … Canoe Cops are the only ones who can help me.”
“That’s true,” I tell him. “The police may be the law of the land, but their jurisdiction ends at the shoreline. If it happens on the water, we Canoe Cops take care of it.” I hook my thumb at my chest because, you know, I’m proud of the job. “Don’t know that we could drag a truck out of that part of the lake, though. Water’s pretty deep near Gordon’s Causeway.”
“I have forsaken any hope of regaining most of my possessions,” Hawas explains, “but there is one thing I must recover: a fabulous ruby ring. It has been in my family for over a thousand years. Please, Officer Agar, can you help?” He looks pretty forlorn at his prospects.
I scratch my head, because this is a little out of line with what we ordinarily do—but you know us Canoe Cops: faithful and true and always game for whatever it takes to get the job done. “We’ll give it a shot, Dr. Hawas,” I reply. “Can you tell me about where we might find this trinket?”
“It is in a carved wooden jewelry box, contained within a larger shipping crate in the back of the truck,” he says. “The container was marked ‘Fragile.’ There are only two such crates in the truck.”
“What’s in the other one?” I ask. “Your mom’s china?”
For a moment, the guy seems like he doesn’t want to answer. Then he says, “Merely some ancient artifacts. Nothing to be concerned about. If you could bring me the jewelry box containing the ring, though, I would be most grateful.”
“We’ll see what we can do,” I say, shaking his hand. “How can we reach you?”
“I will be staying at Banning’s Boarding House for the fortnight. I hope that you will be able to recover my ring before I need to move on to the city.”
“We’ll do our best, Doc,” I assure him.
He bows and leaves, and I get on the phone.
Usually, in a case that involves some SCUBA work like this, I’d call on Officer Kelton to dive with me. I’m a good frogman, but only an idiot dives alone in these waters; the undertow can be wicked near Gordon’s Causeway, and once you’re caught in it … Well, nobody’s going to see you again.
Anyway, normally, I’d call on Ed Kelton, but after that scare he had earlier this summer, I’m not sure he’s up to it. With him out of the running, there’s only one person in Phantom Lake besides me to make that dive: Julie Browning. Her father runs the local dive shop, and I’d trust that girl with my life, even if she wasn’t in the Paddle Girl Auxiliary—which she is.
So I give Julie a buzz and, because she’s a good egg, she agrees to do this treasure hunt dive with me right away.
An hour later, the two of us are standing at the edge of Gordon’s Causeway, where the truck went over, hooking up our SCUBA gear. I hadn’t seen Julie this summer, and I’d almost forgotten what a dish she is. She looks a lot better in a skintight white wetsuit than I do, that’s for sure.
“Ready?” I ask, making sure my mouthpiece is clear and my regulator’s working properly.
“You bet,” she says, doing the same.
We finish checking our gear and then jump into the chilly embrace of Phantom Lake. The water near the shore starts out reasonably clear, but like I told Hawas, it gets fairly deep near the causeway, so the deeper we go, the darker it gets.
Pretty soon, Julie and I break out the underwater flares, so we can get a better look around. The flares cast a creepy reddish light everywhere, but they get the job done; we’d have a real hard time spotting the truck without them.
Spot it we do, though, lying on the lake bed, half on its side. It’s one of those canvas-covered jobs, and the back gate is hanging open. A bunch of boxes have spilled out from inside and are lying in the mud amid the lake weeds.
Julie and I swim down to the cargo, our flares casting eerie shadows across the truck and all around the lake bottom. The two big boxes Hawas mentioned are easy to find; they’re about seven feet long and four feet square on top and bottom. They’re sticking up out of the mud like big, crooked tombstones.
My dive partner gives me the thumbs-up and starts prying open the first crate with her diving knife. I use my knife and do the same on the second box. We set our flares on the lake bottom, sticking them upright so the silt doesn’t smother them, while we work.
I’ve just about got my crate open, when I hear some kind of muffled sound, and—all of a sudden—Julie’s flare goes out.
I turn, and in the flickering light from my flare, I spot Julie struggling with this weird figure. It’s hard to make out through the underwater semi-darkness, but the thing looks like a man made out of seaweed. Julie’s all tangled up with it, and, though she’s still got her regulator in her mouth, I can hear her strangled cries mingling with the hiss of her tank’s air bubbles.
My heart’s pounding as I swim over to her, as fast as I can.
I slash at the thing’s weedy arms with my knife, but I’m so rattled, that I nearly stab Julie instead.
Her eyes go wide behind her SCUBA mask, and I know she’s screaming at me, too, now—because I’m a dope—as well as at the monster. She must have dropped her knife, ’cause it’s not in her hands, but she’s pounding away at the thing with her fists.
I fight down my nerves and slash again, taking better aim this time.
With a quick stroke, I cut through the fibrous tendrils once…
Then she’s free! And both of us are swimming away from the monster as fast as we can.
I turn back to see if the thing is following us, but it’s just bobbing there in the current.
I tap Julie on the leg, and we both stop and take a better look.
Sure enough, the thing’s just swaying gently in the undertow.
When it doesn’t come after us, we swim back … slowly … cautiously.
I nearly laugh when I see what it is, and—though I can’t hear her underwater—I think Julie must be laughing, too.
She lights another flare and then digs around in the muck near the crate. Pretty soon, she finds her knife, next to her old flare, which she must have knocked over when she was struggling with the “monster.”
She points at my crate, and the two of us make a quick job of searching it. It doesn’t take us long to turn up Hawas’ jewelry box. We check to make sure the ring is still inside before ascending back to the surface.
“I tell you,” Julie says as she’s pulling off her gear, “when I got tangled up with that thing, I thought I was rasslin’ the Monster of Phantom Lake!”
I chuckle and smile at her. “C’mon, Jules, you know there’s no Phantom Lake monster. But if I were in your position, that’s probably what I’d have thought, too. How’d you get so wrapped up with it?”
“I just opened the box and it practically fell on me,” she says. “I was so startled that I dropped my knife, and next thing I knew…”
“Good thing I was there to help you.”
“My hero,” she says. She flashes me a dazzling smile, and I feel like a million bucks.
“Hey,” I say, “you think that maybe later we could go out for coffee or something?”
“First things first, Tigershark,” she says. “The two of us still have a job to do.”
So we call up Banning’s Boarding House, and, quick as a wink, Dr. Hawas meets us back in my office at Canoe Cops HQ.
“Why didn’t you tell us that you had a mummy in that other box?” I ask him.
“I did not think it important enough to mention,” Hawas replies.
“Not important?” Julie says, incredulous. “That thing just about scared us half to death when it fell out of that box and on top of me.”
“Julie got tangled up in the wrappings,” I explain. “I had to cut her free.”
“How unfortunate,” Hawas says. “I apologize most deeply for the misunderstanding. The mummy is Rahotep, a minor Egyptian official from the Thirteenth Dynasty—not even worth rescuing from the lake bottom. I’m sorry it gave you such a fright.” He bows deeply, just to make his point. “Now tell me… Did you get the ring?”
“We got it all right,” I say, handing the trinket to him. It’s a beaut: heavy gold inscribed with hieroglyphs and set with a ruby the size of my fingernail.
“We brought up something else as well,” Julie adds. “This came off from around the mummy’s neck during our tussle.” She holds out a pendant covered with Egyptian symbols and semi-precious stones. I can’t say for certain that it’s gold, but it sure looks like it.
Hawas bows again. “I cannot tell you how delighted I am with your success,” he says, grinning like the cat that ate the canary. “As a reward, why don’t you keep the pendant?”
I shake my head. “All in a day’s work,” I remind him. “Canoe Cops can’t take rewards for doing their jobs.”
“But Miss Browning is not a cop,” Hawas points out. “Perhaps she could keep it.”
“Could I, Rich?” she asks, her blue eyes all big and irresistible.
I scratch my head. “Well, there’s nothing in the regulations about Paddle Girls not accepting gifts…”
“It’s settled then,” Hawas says. He bows once more and heads for the door.
“I guess you’ll be leaving town, now that you’ve found your ring,” I call after him.
He pauses at the threshold. “Perhaps,” he says. “Though it seems a waste not to spend at least a few more days in your charming bucolic community.” Then he smiles and steps through the door.
“Funny little man,” Julie says after he’s gone.
“Yeah,” I reply, eyeing the jewelry in her hand. “Generous, too. Though I’ve got a funny feeling we haven’t seen the last of that guy.”
Julie drapes her new present around her neck and looks at me with those killer baby blues. “Could be,” she agrees. “But first, I hope we’ll have time for that cup of coffee.” She holds out her arm, expecting me to take it.
I loop my elbow around hers and grin.
Personally, I’m hoping we’ll have time for a lot more than coffee.
Special Thanks to Christopher R. Mihm, creator of the Mihmiverse and the Canoe Cops!
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Another great chapter. ….