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INCIDENT AT THE PREMIERE
“The Exhibit Party”
LIEUTENANT RICHARD AGAR – Canoe Cop
I’ve just finished one of the longest shifts in my career as a Canoe Cop, and—you know what?—I’ve got a funny feeling it’s not over yet.
You might say my long, long day started last night when the Talbot Waterfront Hotel collapsed into the lake. What a mess! An incident like that is enough to fill up anybody’s work schedule.
So that killed last night, and most of today, too. Naturally, I happened to be the officer on duty when the disaster took place—because it seems like ever since the captain went on vacation, I’m the only Canoe Cop staffing the Phantom Lake HQ.
Okay, that’s not fair. Sorry. I didn’t mean to grouse. I’m just tired, is all.
Sergeant Gustavson was actually there, too, finishing up some paperwork from the late-afternoon shift. (Though why it took him so long, I can’t imagine.)
Anyway it does seem like most of the overtime and emergencies have fallen to me lately. (I guess that’s a hazard of being single—Lt. Patrick having a new baby and all.) And the Talbot crashing into ruins definitely qualified as an emergency.
So, that’s pretty much all I did from last night until 5 PM this evening—emergency management along the shoreline, an obvious Canoe Cop responsibility. The work fell to me, Sgt. Gustav, and one of the night shift guys. I guess I could have called in Lars and Uli—they were on duty at the time—but after they bollixed up reporting the disaster… Well, let’s just say that I wasn’t sure those two would do the job properly.
Acting Chief Nikki Sheridan and the Sheriff’s Department, on the other hand, did a fine job keeping away the landside rubberneckers. The water, of course, belongs to the Canoe Cops.
Eventually the scene was secured, the body—only one, thank goodness—got taken away, and Nikki’s crew had sorted through the wreckage. At that point, I could finally go home.
The clock struck five as I reached my place, and I hadn’t slept for going on thirty-six hours. So, naturally I hit the sack… but only for an hour.
If I didn’t have a date tonight… (I guess it’s safe to call going to Corman’s Premiere Party with Julie a date, even though he invited a lot of other people, too)… Anyway, if not for that, there’s no way I’d have gotten out of bed again.
But how can a guy resist going anywhere with Miss Browning? Julie’s the kind of girl that a dead man would climb out of his grave for. So Mama Agar’s little boy wasn’t about to let a tiny thing like lack of sleep get in his way.
So, this is how the date goes…
I offer to pick up Julie at her place, but she says she’s got some stuff to do in town, so it’ll be easier just to meet me at the docks where Corman and Hawas are throwing this shindig. She’s packing some free tickets to the event, because the two of them want to display that jewel-encrusted necklace the Egyptian gave Julie a couple of days back.
With a scant hour of sleep under my belt, I put on my best outfit and meet Julie at the docks next to the Lady Newbury, just before seven.
Julie looks like a movie star, decked out in a long white dress that sparkles in the light of the paper lanterns hanging from the pier. The bauble around her neck sparkles, too—all gold and green and red. (I guess the ancient Egyptians knew how to make jewelry that looks good by firelight.)
“Glad you could make it, Rich,” Julie says, flashing me that million-dollar smile.
I feel like a fish out of water when I take her arm, but I know nobody’ll be looking at me, anyway. Together, we march up the gangplank onto the Lady Newbury. I have to admit the refurbished showboat looks great; it’s amazing what Corman has done with it in just a couple of days.
Corman and Hawas—our hosts—meet us at the top of the gangplank. Both men beam at Julie.
“Miss Browning, how delightful to see you again,” Hawas says, kissing her hand.
“Now that the star of the show’s here,” Corman says with a sly wink to my date, “we can really get this party started!”
Julie blushes slightly as the two exhibitors lead us into their makeshift floating museum.
I gotta admit that the inside of the boat looks even more posh than the outside. It’s all done up like an Egyptian tomb, with Hawas’ artifacts—recovered by Julie from the bottom of the lake—scattered around the room in glass display cases. It’s seems like there’s a lot more stuff here than could fit in one small truck, though.
“Like the way the place looks?” Corman asks, noticing my roving eyes.
“I can hardly believe this boat was dry docked yesterday,” I reply. “And where did all this other gear come from?”
He grins, the promoter who ate the canary. “Hollywood magic, my boy! Of course, she’ll look even better once we’re out on the lake.”
“Oh, are we going out tonight?” Julie asks.
“Nah. We’re staying tied up for the premiere,” Corman replies. “Still got a few kinks with the ‘seaworthiness’ to work out. Don’t worry, though, we’ll get ’em solved in a day or two, before we open the attraction for the general public. And, speaking of attractions…” He glances at Hawas.
The Egyptian gives a little bow. “Miss Browning, may I have the honor of placing the necklace in its proper resting place for the duration of the exhibit?”
Julie dips her head in assent, and Hawas reaches up and undoes the necklace from around her throat. The red and green gems set into the 24-carat gold sparkle brightly as the little Egyptian fastens the clasp around the neck of a dummy torso in a nearby display case. As Hawas sets the bauble into place, all the people around us applaud.
Now it’s my turn to go red in the face, as I hadn’t noticed the crowd gathering as we moved through the exhibit. No way am I used to this kind of attention. I’m like a hayseed who’s crashed a swank party on Chicago’s Gold Coast.
I feel only a little bit better when I notice that Julie’s blushing as well. I guess neither one of us is used to being at the center of the action.
“Hey, let’s get you some food, and then I’ll give you a guided tour,” Corman offers after the applause has died down.
“Sounds great,” Julie says. She looks like she’s dying to get away from the spotlight.
“I would be delighted to—” Hawas begins.
“Maybe later, Ardath,” Corman says, cutting him off. “Right now, I need you to mingle with the guests and explain all your doo-dads to the press and such. You know I’m still getting up to speed on the artifacts we’re presenting. I’ll get it eventually—don’t you worry. And you can join us later, for snacks. Okay, buddy?” He slaps the smaller man on the back.
The Egyptian winces from the blow. He doesn’t look very pleased, but he bows and heads toward the first display case, where some reporters are talking to the mayor.
Corman smiles and watches him go. Once Hawas is out of earshot, the promoter turns back to Julie and me.
“I hope you don’t mind me running him off like that,” he says, “but he’s been bending my ear for the last day and a half about this stuff—making sure that all the replica tomb furnishings were put in just the right places, setting up the displays to his specifications, and all that kind of stuff. If I had to listen to any more of it tonight, I’d just burst!”
“No,” I say, ’cause, truth to tell, I’m glad Hawas is gone. I’ve tried to like the guy, but something about him just rubs me the wrong way. And I don’t like the way he eyes Julie every time he gets near her. “We don’t mind at all.”
Julie shoots me a quick frown—a reminder that I should not be speaking for her without permission. She lets it go, though, and says: “You’ve done a wonderful job here, Mr. Corman—amazing, given the short time frame.”
Corman nods, pleased with his work. “Not bad, if I do say so myself. And Ardath tells me that the set-up—minus the glass cases, of course—is an exact replica of the tomb of Amunisis in Egypt. And minus the princess, naturally; her mummy is still in Minneapolis.” He rubs his chin. “Hmm… I wonder if that might change. Now that Zucco’s dead, maybe we could borrow her for the summer.”
Julie looks slightly aghast. “That’s a bit cold, Mr. Corman.”
“Oh, sorry,” he says. “You’re right of course. You can take the boy out of showbiz, but you can’t take the showbiz out of the boy. Terrible tragedy, Zucco dying in the hotel and all. Lucky nobody else got hurt too badly.”
“Yes, lucky,” I agree. But, at this point, I’m distracted by a couple of things I’ve noticed around the room.
I point to an empty coffin standing near what looks like a stone altar. “Is the missing mummy supposed to go in that sarcophagus?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Corman replies. “Our missing guy—Rahotep—was one of Amunisis’ guards, as I understand it. I ordered a replica to replace him, but it hasn’t arrived yet.”
Is it possible that Lars and Uli really saw a mummy last night? my tired brain wonders.
Julie sighs. “I’m so sorry that we couldn’t locate that mummy, Mr. Corman. If you want, I could—”
He waves away her concern. “No problem. We’ve got it covered. And, remember… Call me Bill. We’re friends after all. Hey, try some of this caviar—I had it shipped up special.”
He offers us both some crackers covered with black fish eggs. Never been a favorite of mine, but both Julie and I eat the goop politely.
“Your decorations really are wonderful,” Julie says around a mouthful of cracker. “Very authentic looking.”
“So is the model wandering around in the scanty Egyptian outfit,” I add. (She was the other thing I noticed.) “Nice touch—though maybe a little risqué for this crowd.”
“Model?” Corman asks. “That sounds like a great idea, but—I have to admit, Rich—I didn’t hire anyone.” He looks around, trying to spot the girl.
“She’s right over there, by the necklace case,” I say, hooking my thumb in that direction. But when I turn and look, the girl’s not there. “At least, she was.”
“Maybe she’s somebody the papers brought up,” Corman suggests. “Some of those news guys will do anything to catch a good photo—or snap a pic of a pretty girl.” He hands Julie and me each a glass of champagne. “Drink up while I go check. I better make sure that Ardath hasn’t gotten in over his head, either. I’ll catch you both later. Enjoy!”
And with that, the promoter is bustling through the crowd to where we’d last seen Hawas and the reporters.
“Alone at last,” Julie says, clinking her glass against mine.
“Alone at last,” I repeat softly, gazing into her baby blues.
And that’s all I care to report about my date this evening.
Let’s just say that from that point on, Julie and I have a very good time—at least until I almost fall over from exhaustion. (Champagne doesn’t mix well with lack of sleep, apparently.)
In any case, she drives me home in her car—won’t trust me behind the wheel of my own; “too tired” she says—and then she heads to Ankers’ Boarding House for some well-deserved rest of her own.
And here I sit, dear tape recorder, talking to you and sorting out my thoughts.
Because, naturally, now I cannot fall asleep.
’Cause there are a few things about this whole last day and a half that don’t sit right with me—like: What’s going on with this mummy business? And: Was that Egyptian girl I spotted the one Gustav reported two days ago? And…
“Dear tape recorder…?” Did I actually just say that?
I really do need some sleep.
Hang on. Somebody’s on the phone. I’ll switch off now and try to figure out all the mysteries swirling around in my head later.
Extra-special thanks to these wonderful patrons at Credit Creature level and above:
Shawn P. Conlin – Wolvesbane Accademy
David Lars Chamberlain
Rich Chamberlain – Monster Movie Kid
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