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INCIDENT AT THE DINER
“Grudge Match, Sunny-Side Up”
For Aunt Hazel and Uncle Mac, reunited in that Great Green Farm in the sky just after I wrote this chapter. We love you and will miss you always
PATROLMAN SVEN SVENSON – Canoe Cop
I’m telling you, Gustav, ol’ pal, this is starting out as a pretty weird day.
“Weird in what way, Sven?”
Weird in the way that your canoe trip yesterday was weird.
“Oh? Do tell!”
It’s early in the morning, right? And I’m up with the birds, like I usually am just before Summer Season. I take my morning constitutional and then decide to break my fast before settling into my shift, out on the lake.
So, I stroll toward the center of downtown Phantom Lake, trying to decide to whom I should give my custom. When—all of a sudden—what do I spot?
“I give up. What?”
Now, I can’t be sure of this Gustav, but I would swear I’m seeing a slender, tan girl with golden jewelry wearing a very flimsy dress.
“The girl that vanished from my canoe, yesterday, after I rescued her?”
That’s what I’m conjecturing myself—though from such a distance I can’t be sure.
Perhaps my old chum was not in the throes of sunstroke after all, I think. And I proceed to follow said alluring bit of pulchritude.
But before I can catch up with her, she reaches the Bridgewater Diner, and proceeds inside.
This is a fortuitous coincidence, I think. For now I can, as the Greeks say, “kill two birds with one stone.” I.E., I can find out who this woman is for my friend Gustav, and I can also secure the morning repast for which my belly is yearning.
“Who is she? How did she vanish from my canoe so suddenly?”
I enter the Bridgewater but, much to my surprise, I don’t see the girl. Indeed, the only patron who seems to be in the diner is the little Egyptian, Mr. Hawas, whom you and I encountered at dinner last night.
“We saw him more than encountered him, Sven. But, pray, continue.”
“Excuse me, Miss,” I say to the girl behind the counter.
She bustles over and greets me warmly. “How can I help you?” I see by the tag on her blouse that her name is Hazel.
“The girl who came in just now…” I say craning my neck and continuing to look around. “Where did she go?”
Hazel looks at me, puzzled. “No girl came in here,” she replies.
“Perhaps she slipped in to use the restroom,” I suggest.
“If anybody’d come in, I’d have heard it,” says Hazel. She points to a bell attached to the front door, which I now recollect ringing as I entered. “Nobody’s come through in the last ten minutes except you, Sven. (Clearly, though we haven’t been introduced previously, Hazel has heard of me because of my prowess in law enforcement.)
“Or perhaps she read the nameplate on your Canoe Cops uniform.”
Perhaps. Either way, she continues. “Now, do you want to order, or are you on some kind of snipe hunt?”
“Perhaps both,” I reply. That seems to confuse her, so I add: “I’ll have two eggs, crispy bacon, buttered English Muffins, and coffee—black.”
“What kind of eggs?”
“Sunny-side up,” I say.
“Sure thing,” she replies, jotting my order down on her pad. As she goes to fetch my coffee, she hollers to the cook: “Hey, Mac! Fry two, let the sun shine. Burn two bacon, then burn the British with axle grease.” How she manages this tongue twister around snapping her chewing gum, I don’t know, but she does.
“Comin’ right up!” Mac calls from the kitchen.
Having failed in my quest to find your strange-but-alluring lady friend, I settle in for my morning repast.
“But, Sven, where did she go?”
Unless she concealed herself in Mr. Hawas’ valise, I have no idea, Gustav. I can only conclude that what I saw must have been a trick of the sun. That’s not the end of my tale, though.
“Oh. Well, then, please, continue.”
I take a seat at the counter, and Hazel brings my coffee. I must admit that it is damn fine coffee. This would go well with a slice of cherry pie, I think.
Just then, the tinkle of a small bell—which means someone has opened the door—fills the diner.
I look over, in case this new customer turns out to be the girl I was following. Perhaps I only thought she entered, I think, when she actually went into the shop next door—and now she’s come here for breakfast.
But no such luck.
Instead, a tall, suave-looking middle-aged gentleman enters. He’s impeccably dressed and wears wire-rim glasses perched atop his hawk-like nose. As the door closes behind him, he exclaims: “Why Ardath! How good to see you!”
Mr. Hawas, sitting at a table in the corner, looks startled. He stands, and the man crosses to him and shakes his hand vigorously.
“Why… Director Zucco,” Hawas says. “What are you doing here?” The Egyptian looks nervous, like a squirrel caught in a trap.
“When I heard about your tragedy, I just had to drive down from the Twin Cities and see what I could do,” the guy called Zucco replies.
The way he carries on, I get the impression he’s probably the little guy’s employer.
“That’s possible, Sven. I seem to remember an article mentioning a Dr. Zucco as director of the Minneapolis Museum of Antiquities. If I recall the incident report from the causeway accident, Dr. Hawas was traveling through Phantom Lake to take a position at that venerable institution.”
Indeed. I recollect something like that, as well. So, this Zucco guy’s sudden appearance in town is like the boss dropping in for a surprise inspection. I can hardly blame Mr. Hawas for looking nervous.
“My… tragedy?” Hawas says, puzzled.
“Your personal collection, of course!” Zucco replies, sliding smoothly into the booth and taking the seat across from the Egyptian. “How tragic to lose it when you were so close to your destination!”
“Oh… Yes. Needless to say, the sentimental loss is incalculable,” Hawas tells him. “But divers managed to salvage a few pieces.”
“Good. Good,” says Zucco, reaching across the table and clapping the smaller man on the shoulder; Hawas winces.
“I’m just glad that the Princess Amunisis wasn’t on that truck,” Zucco continues. “Lucky thing that I had her shipped off to the museum ahead of time, isn’t it?”
Hawas goes red in the face. “Yes… Lucky,” he replies, though he doesn’t look very happy about this bit of good fortune.
“How soon will you be raising the rest?” Zucco asks.
“I had not considered—” Hawas beings.
Zucco cuts him off. “Nonsense! Nonsense, my boy! The museum will cover the costs—provided, of course, that you let us add the items to the museum’s collection. Rahotep was one of Amunisis’ guards. Don’t you think it would be fitting that he be displayed in the museum near her? After all, he might have been one of her paramours.”
“Amunisis had no paramours,” Hawas snaps. “The princess died a virgin.”
“So you insist,” Zucco replies with a chuckle. “But other scholarly accounts portray her as anything but sweet and innocent. Some even say that she was a schemer, a backbiter, and a wanton. They say she did not die of a fever, a you insist, but of poison dispensed by her political rivals—or perhaps by a jealous lover.”
“They lie!” says Hawas, and now he looks like he might burst a blood vessel. “There is no proof of such scandalous accusations!” He picks up that jackal-headed cane of his and shakes it at the bigger man.
I know I ought to turn away and mind my own business, Gustav, but the drama of the whole scene kinda sweeps me up.
“Now, now,” Zucco says, patting Hawas’ shoulder patronizingly. “No need to get all worked up. I’m sure that once both mummies are installed at the museum, we’ll have plenty of time to research and ferret out the truth of it.”
“Both mummies…” Hawas muses.
“Yes, Amunisis and Rahotep,” Zucco elaborates. “Once the museum has rescued the princess’ guard from his unfortunate, watery grave.”
“That mummy and the other pieces were to be mine alone,” Hawas says hotly. “They are mine alone!”
“Why, yes,” says Zucco. “Of course they are. For all the good they’ll do you at the bottom of this godforsaken lake. Wouldn’t it be better to let the museum raise them from the murky depths and share them with the rest of the world? We can even put up a plaque: Generously donated to the museum by Dr. Ardath Hawas.”
“But those artifacts compose the entirety of my compensation for what you stole from me after the expedition!” Hawas blurts. “The Princess Amunisis is also rightfully mine, as are numerous other pieces on display in your so-called museum!”
“‘Stole’ is such an emotional word,” Zucco says flatly. “And not entirely accurate. As I have noted, if not for my … intervention, the princess would lie at the bottom of Phantom lake alongside her param… her guard. And need I remind you that here in America, possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
Hawas is on his feet now, almost purple with rage, and shaking that stick of his as though he might hit Zucco with it. “I would rather those artifacts rot at the bottom of the lake than let you take them, too!”
“Now, now, Ardath,” Zucco says. “Don’t be hasty.” He shakes his head and makes a “tsk-ing” sound. “I never would have hired you if I’d know you had such a temper.”
“And I never would have consented to be hired had I known that thievery was your common method of business!”
Zucco stands, and gazes down at the smaller man. “Think before you turn me down, Ardath,” he says. His eyes gleam like those of a muskie about to gobble up a minnow. “Consider your options.”
“That, my good sir, is exactly what I am doing!”
And with that, Hawas tosses a couple of bills on the table to cover his tab and storms out the door, slamming it shut behind him.
Zucco turns and—with a smiling nod to Hazel—throws an extra bill onto the table, though he hasn’t eaten anything, or even drank any coffee.
Then he quietly exits.
“My, my,” Hazel says, propping her hands on her slender hips, “such a lot of drama so early in the morning!”
“It’s almost like your afternoon soaps, Hazel,” Mac adds from the kitchen.
“Takes all kinds,” she says to me. “Doesn’t it?”
“Indubitably,” I reply.
She slides my breakfast down the counter to me. “Eggs are up.”
I smile and dig in. Sure, I didn’t catch the weird girl, but it’s not often that you get both a good breakfast and a front-row seat at a grudge match before 8 AM.
Next: Raising the Mummy
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