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INCIDENT AT PHANTOM LAKE
“Chaos on the Water”
LIEUTENANT RICHARD AGAR – Canoe Cop
My head is ringing like the inside of the Liberty Bell, and my whole body aches, but I know I can’t bail out at this point, ’cause if I do, Julie Browning is a goner—and there’s no way I’m going to let that happen.
I watch Sven Svenson’s Dodge pull away, but only for a moment. Then I turn and run as fast as I can through the buildings nestled along the waterfront, heading for the pier where the Lady Newbury is docked.
I pray to God that Sven will follow my last order and bring every Canoe Cop he can round up to help me rescue Julie. Svenson’s a good patrolman, but he seemed a little skeptical of my story.
I can hardly blame him. A living mummy kidnapping people in Phantom Lake? In this day and age? I gotta admit, it doesn’t seem very plausible.
Hell, I wouldn’t have believed it myself, if I hadn’t seen the thing with my own eyes.
But I did see the mummy, and I’ve got the bumps and bruises to prove it. I was lucky to get out of that flipped patrol car pretty much unscathed. My best pal, Nikki Sheridan—Acting Chief of the Phantom Lake PD—wasn’t so lucky.
As I run, I hope that Sven gets her to the hospital safely, and that she’ll be okay.
If she’s not, I’ll make sure that mummy sees her in Hell! I think.
I’ve got the same infernal intentions toward that bandage-wrapped brute if he’s harmed a single hair on Julie Browning’s pretty head.
Stay positive, I remind myself. Whatever that thing’s got up its rotting sleeves, you’ll get there in time. You have to!
But is the mummy itself responsible for this kidnapping, or is someone else pulling its strings?
I don’t have time to figure that out right now, because Pier 55 is dead ahead, and…
The Lady Newbury is gone!
I stand there for a few seconds, gaping like an idiot, the canoe paddle I borrowed from Sven hanging limply in my clenched fist.
The dock where the big showboat sat—where just earlier this evening Julie and I attended Wild Bill Corman’s Premiere Party—is empty, totally empty, like the entire shindig was just some big Hollywood show, and now they’ve struck the sets and carted the whole thing off.
Could Corman be behind the kidnapping? I wonder. Could it be some kind of publicity stunt?
Then I shake my head. No.
Publicity stunts don’t flip police cars over like they were a box of Cracker Jacks.
That realization clears my cloudy head a bit; a boat—especially one as big as the Newbury—doesn’t just disappear.
I turn my eyes out to the glassy, black waters of Phantom Lake.
The crescent moon peeks out from behind a cloud, and I spot her.
There she sits, big as life, out near the center of the huge body of water. Somehow, the Lady Newbury has gotten loose and drifted away from the wharf.
Or somebody cut her loose!
She looks like a black leviathan, looming out there—like the mythical Phantom Lake Monster. And there’s something red and glowing inside—torch light?—which makes the ship’s windows seem to blink as I peer at her.
I’m in trouble, now. Because the Newbury’s a long way out, and though we’re in early summer, the lake water is still pretty darn cold.
Sure, I’m a strong swimmer—all Canoe Cops have to be—but if my lady love is in danger of her life on that boat, there’s no way I can swim to her before things get dire—or maybe even fatal.
To make matters worse: there are no canoes stationed up at this end of the wharf, and it’s too early in the season for a night patrol to paddle by, and Canoe Cops HQ is more than a mile down the lakeshore.
I don’t have time for any of these complications!
But at least I still have my trusty borrowed paddle.
Frantically, I start looking around. I mean, this is the waterfront, right? There has to be some kind of skiff or something I can commandeer—doesn’t there?
My rotten luck keeps running true to form, and I find zip.
Until I hear something bumping against one of the pier’s big wooden pylons. I look down, and there it is, half-hidden under the dock: my “salvation.”
It’s the worst rowboat I’ve ever seen. It looks like it’s made out of driftwood, and there’s at least two inches of water in the bottom. I think it belongs to Burl, that guy that got killed—maybe by this same mummy—a couple of days back.
At least I know the previous owner won’t be needing it anytime soon.
Beggars can’t be choosers, so I untie the wreck from the dock and hop in. The splash-back as I do soaks me pretty thoroughly, and the dang thing nearly overturns, but I manage to keep the dinghy on an even keel, somehow.
Naturally, this heap doesn’t have a motor or sail or even any oars. But I’ve got the paddle I borrowed from Sven. The only thing a Canoe Cop needs in this world is his paddle (and his best girl), so I’m set on one and heading out to save the other.
I dig in like I’m trying to win the Canoe Cop International Paddling Championship and head for the drifting showboat.
Burl’s crappy skiff begins shipping water immediately, but I press on; I don’t have time to sit and bail.
My arms feel like lead and the boat is full of water nearly to the gunwales by the time I reach the Lady Newbury.
The big vessel’s still not under power, just drifting, and the only light is the torchlight—or whatever it is—flickering from inside. The whole thing looks like some kind of ghost ship.
The rowboat literally disintegrates as I step off of it, and the waterlogged pieces sink into the black depths of Phantom Lake.
At least it got me this far.
The moon peeks out from behind some clouds again as I board the showboat, so at least I’ve got enough light to see by. The reflection of the moon off the water casts eerie, dancing shadows all around me.
I quickly find the door that Julie and I used to enter the exhibit room earlier in the evening. It’s not locked, thank heaven, and I slip silently inside, my weapon at the ready, grateful for all the hours I spent training in paddle-based combat (another Canoe Cop specialty).
I see now that the flickering red illumination isn’t torches, but a big brazier set into the center of the exhibit hall. In the firelight, the whole thing looks like an Egyptian tomb, or maybe a temple.
On the far side of the brazier sits a big wooden table, all decked out in gold and ancient-style paintings, like an altar. Two people are standing near it. One is Hawas, dressed in a jazzy red robe like he’s a high priest or something. Right next to him is that scantily clad Egyptian girl I saw at the party earlier. Around her lovely throat dangles the necklace that Hawas gave to Julie two days back. The nearly naked girl is smiling like the cat about to eat the canary.
And tied to the altar, in front of the two fiends, lies Julie Browning.
She’s awake and struggling, and shouting stuff like: “Get away from me, you so-and-so! When I get out of these ropes, I’m going to kick your… backsides!”
I can’t blame her for the harsh language, ’cause just as I enter the room, Hawas raises this jeweled dagger high above his head as he chants some crazy mumbo-jumbo.
It looks like he’s about to plunge that knife right into Julie’s lovely bosom—and I’m too far away to reach them before he does!
So I throw my paddle.
The well-tempered piece of lumber wooshes across the intervening space and clobbers Hawas smack-dab in the face.
The insane archeologist gasps and reels backwards. He falls to the floor, knocked for a loop.
The knife tumbles out of his hand and spins through the air, falling right toward Julie…
It lands point-first in the wooden altar, about an inch from her forearm.
Julie’s baby blues go wide. “Rich!” she cries.
“Hang tough, babe! I’m comin’!” I call back.
“Kill him!” the Egyptian dish yells, pointing at me.
I take a quick step forward, almost laughing, because if she expects Hawas to do the job, she’s going to be disappointed; I clobbered that creep but good!
Without warning, powerful hands grab me from behind.
The smell hits me almost as hard as the grip: a weird blend of ancient spices, old linen, and mold…!
The mummy! I’ve forgotten about the damn mummy!
“Kill him, Rahotep!” the evil girl in the nightgown commands. “Prove your undying love for me, and kill him!”
The mummy begins to squeeze. The world starts to spin.
And I know that this is all she wrote.
Julie and I are going to die here, at the hands of folks who should have perished three thousand years ago.
And the only one who’s gonna hear this particular confession as to how it all went down… is Almighty God Himself.
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