The Mummy's reach
A Jack and Colette Messer Short Story
"So that's a Sarcophagus?"
Jack Messer grinned at the sight of his teenage daughter standing in front of an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, head craned back to look it in the eye.
A new Egyptian exhibit had opened at the New Ophelia Museum of Priceless Historical Arts based on the recent discoveries made in the land of the Pharaohs.
Jack and his wife Colette had gone to see it, and had taken Evie Rose and their son Connie with them. They intended on making a day of it.
She'd been instantly taken, her curious mind causing her to flit from one exhibit to the next. Behind her, Jack could only smile at his wife, grateful for days like these, easy days without threat of crime or criminal.
Stepping up to her, he pointed at it. "That is. When a pharaoh died, he was mummified and placed in one. It's like the coffins we bury our own loved ones in only…shinier."
The girl turned and fixed her father with a flat look, her red hair falling over one eye.. "Well gee dad. You can read the sign."
After a moment, the grin she shot him revealed the jesting in her words.
Next to her, her brother Connie whistled as he studied the sarcophagus. "They didn't spare any expenses did they?"
He shook his head. "And all we get today is a wooden box."
Jack tried not to flinch as he remember watching a small wooden casket being lowered into the earth. That was decades ago, a lifetime ago. Not something to burden his children with.
"Do you think he was buried in the sarcophagus?" Jack inquired to take his mind off of it.
His wife shook her head, bending in close to read the plaque. "I don't think so. It says here he was a servant of the pharaoh, buried with him."
"Hope he was dead when they did." Jack muttered, glancing at his daughter to make sure she hadn't heard. She seemed too interested in the other things around the room to hear him.
Jack had never been much for history (if the Bard or Poe hadn't covered it) so he had to admit a bit of a blind spot when it came Ancient Egypt. Still he had to admit after reading (some of the gorier parts of the mummification process, he was glad no one was buried that way anymore.
It did not seem the most pleasant way to go.
The lights dimmed momentarily and Jack called his children back to him, regrouping with Colette as the two stood, hands on their children's shoulders. They stared up at the stage as two elderly men walked to the front, each of them beaming at the applause.
"Thank you all for coming today." The taller, thinner man called out into the crowd, sweeping his arms wide in a grand theatrical gesture. "As the Museum of Priceless Historical Arts is proud to debut its new Egyptian Wing."
"I am one of but many curators, George Graves."
He held up a hand to forestall the next round of applause. "However. We cannot take credit for this find alone, as if it were not for the efforts of William Lunn, none of this would have been brought back."
Applause roared again as the shorter, thicker man bowed, subconsciously adjusting his thick mustaches. Straightening up, he beamed at the crowd. "Thank you so very much for coming to view the fruits of my labor."
"All of this is the result of five years spent digging and carefully extracting pieces from the tomb of the nobleman Kheper-Ra He was buried there, as was his servant Netos, where they lay until we found them."
"So we carefully removed and extracted both mummies as well as the other effects found around the tomb. After cleaning them and making sure we weren't bringing anything extra back with us, we decided to put them on display here and host this little party."
The man's grin widened "And the party isn't over yet."
He clapped his hands and a box was brought out on stage. Reaching down into it, Lunn produced a large gem.
"We found this buried not far from the tomb, and though that, after several thousand years, it was time to reunite it with its owner. This is the Jewel of the Nile."
Growing distracted and sweeping the room with his eyes, Jack saw a man in a sharp black suit, eying the jewel intently. His eyes, deep set in his pale face, seemed to be fixated solely on the object, gleaming with its light, and he was mouthing something.
The necklace was lowered down onto the plaster neck of a facsimile of an ancient Egyptian woman. It was fastened around her neck with a clasp.
"There." Lunn proclaimed, stepping around and admiring the statuette. "Everything is as it should be."
That was when the lights cut out.
In the ensuing panic, Jack managed to keep a hand on his daughter's shoulder, his other hand wrapping up in Colette's. He pulled all three of them to him, becoming an immovable rock in the chaos that surrounded them.
Finally after several minutes someone managed to turn the lights back on, and Jack heard a gasp from up front. Looking up from checking to make sure Evie and Connie were all right, he saw it.
William Lunn lay at an angle against the back of the stage, a bronze, Egyptian dagger buried in his chest. His eyes stared sightlessly up at the ceiling as he futilely gasped for air.
A crowd rushed up onto the stage, thankfully obstructing the view of him before Evie could see. Colette took the opportunity to propel both her children towards the door over theirrr protests.
"I can help mom! I can help you and dad find out who did this!" Evie protested, tossing her red hair.
Colette ran her fingers through her daughter's auburn locks. "Not now sweetheart, not here. It'd be too easy for something to happen to either of you. If the lights cut off again…"
"I'll be back as soon as I've put her to bed and found someone to watch them." She promised Jack, whispering to him under the girl's mounting protests. "Make sure they don't escape.
Jack nodded and watched as she walked out of the door, relieved that they were at least out of danger. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped towards the stage, preparing to go to work.
"NOCPD, we received word that something happened here?"
Jack Messer glanced up as a pair of suited men stepped into the room. They each held up a badge showing that, yes indeed, they were New Ophelia Detectives.
Striding up to them, Jack nodded. "Good of you to make it."
One of the men, taller with a thin black mustache, frowned. "I'm Detective Ford, that's Detective Reeves…and you are?"
"Agent Jack Messer." Jack fished his own badge-kept with him for cases such as this-out of his pocket and showed it to them.
Reeves frowned at him, shifting his larger frame. "Prohibition Bureau? You're a bit out of your jurisdiction Prohi. Unless that sarcophagus is full of bootlegged booze."
A wistful expression floated across his features. "Say…do you think it might be?"
Scowling at him, Ford hit the man on the shoulder. "No, I doubt that box is full of illegal booze. We're here to solve a murder remember, not get drunk."
"Especially not in front of the Prohi." He eyed Jack up and down before turning fully to address him. "I still don't understand why you're here. This isn't exactly Prohibition Bureau business."
Jack nodded. "It isn't. I was on the scene when it happened. Came here to see the exhibit with my family. The lights cut out in the middle of it, and then he wound up dead."
"Where are they?" Ford asked, his eyes sweeping the room.
Jack shrugged. "We didn't want our son or daughter to be around this, so my wife took them back home. Colette-that's my wife-'ll be back in a bit."
"You let her leave?" Reeve seemed stunned. "But…but what if she's the one who did it? You'd just let the culprit leave?"
Studying the man with a flat expression, Jack shook his head. "I doubt my wife killed anyone. I can personally vouch for her."
This quieted the two detectives for a moment before Reeves spoke again. "How do we know you didn't do it?"
Jack again opened his mouth to respond, when a throat clearing caught their attention. "Excuse me gentlemen."
The three men turned, seeing the fourth join their midst. Jack recognized the man as the one he'd seen eyeing the jewelry.
Up close, the man was obviously foreign, chestnut skin and dark eyes all but confirming it. He stood straight backed and tall, almost regal as he eyed each of them in turn.
"I was wondering when we might be able to leave and go about our business, I have things I need to attend to."
Reeves glanced at Rod and the other man shook his head. "Afraid we're not allowing anyone to leave yet Mr…"
"Saab." The man responded. "Ibrahim Saab."
He shrugged. "I understand the need to keep everyone where they can be seen. I merely wondered how long we would stay here, as I have many things I need to see to."
Pausing, he seemed to weigh his next words carefully. "Would it make things faster if I went ahead and submitted to an interrogation?"
"Not that I did it." He added quickly, cutting off Reeves' question. "I just assume you'll interview everyone in here, so I might as well get mine out of the way."
Jack saw Reeves glance at Ford, who shrugged. "Sure thing buddy. Right this way."
They led Ibrahim out of the room just as the door to the outside opened. Looking over, Jack saw Colette enter, changed from her dress into a more sensible blouse and pants, a light jacket draped over her.
She walked over to Jack, her hands nervously adjusting the cloche hat she held in her grip. "Find anything out new?"
Jack shook his head. "No. One of the guests seems really eager to get through this as soon as possible, but I can hardly blame him."
He grinned at her, the fear gone out of him now that Evie was far away from harm. "So…want to go take a look around?"
"I thought you'd never ask." She grinned back at him. Together they moved to the outside of the room, beginning to step around the circular walls and examine all that had been placed there.
"Why would someone kill that archaeologist?" Jack mused aloud, bending in close to read the description of one of the pieces on display. "Was it for the money? Did he owe money to somebody that funded the expedition for him?"
"Seems like bad business to kill your client before you've got your money back." Colette responded, before lightly chuckling. "Remind me to get you a magnifying glass for Christmas…either that or eyeglasses."
"Throw in the pipe and deerstalker cap and then we'll talk." Jack snarked back at her.
Colette rolled her eyes. "You know he didn't actually wear that hat in the books."
Nodding, Jack couldn't help but throw in one more. "Elementary, my dear Watson."
"Didn't say that either." The woman sing-songed from the other side of the room.
Jack opened his mouth to respond, when something caught his eye and left his jaw hanging in the wind. "Doll…the mummy's gone."
"So's the necklace." There was a pause. "Wait…the mummy's gone?"
Nodding, the man stepped out of the way so she could see it. "Out of its case and everything. Clean gone."
The two stood, pondering for a moment. Jack had worked his share of thefts as both a police officer and a detective, but had never heard of anyone smuggling something as big as the mummy out of such a crowded room.
It would have been the equivalent of sneaking a corpse out of a crime scene with dozens of cops swarming the place. It was, he believed, almost impossible.
"I don't know." A woman's voice floated over to them. "I just think it's a waste to keep such a beautiful piece of jewelry behind a glass case. Something that beautiful should be worn, not stared at."
Her voice turned wistful. "Oh, if only I could wear something like that. If only I could own something like that"
Sensing a possible lead, Jack stepped towards her, only for Colette to get there first, "You're right, it's a beautiful jewel. Do you think a queen might have worn it?"
Eyeing the younger Colette, the fifty-something year old woman huffed. "Maybe. I don't see what the purpose of that is. All of those pharaohs are gone, they're not going to do anything with that necklace anyway."
Colette chuckled easily and Jack felt a wave of deep appreciation and awe for her ability to lie. "Right. It's a shame it went missing. Could have been better served in an auction for the benefit of the museum or something."
The woman nodded, pursing her lips. "I know if it was up to me I'd do anything to keep that necklace to my-"
A shrill scream rent the air, full of pain and terror.
Almost before it stopped ringing through his ears, Jack jumped up and began sprinting towards the back, and towards the sound of the scream. He pushed past several of the people who had frozen in fright and burst out of the room and into the hallway.
He heard footsteps pounding behind him as Colette began running in the same direction after her husband. They moved in towards the sound of the scream.
As they ran past one of the doors, Jack saw the two detectives exit through the door, glancing around confusedly with Ibrahim Saab between them.
Ford glanced around, his brow furrowed. "What's…?"
"Somebody screamed." Jack shouted back at him breathlessly.
They joined the chase and the five of them ran down a hallway as another, weaker scream burst from one of the doors. Putting his shoulder to it, Jack broke through the door, seeing a figure slip through an adjacent opening.
On the floor lay the body of the curator, George Graves. His windpipe had been crushed, and he gasped out his last breaths, choking.
Jack was by his side in an instant, gingerly turning the man's head and examining the marks. It looked like someone either really strong, or really angry had crushed his throat.
"Who did this?" He asked softly, watching the man's blurring gaze trying to fixate on him.
Graves coughed, reaching out towards Jack. His hand extended past the detective's head, shaking from the effort of it.
With one, final, rattling gasp, the man's head slumped backwards, his hand slapping against Jack's shoulder before sliding off.
"Is he…" Ibrahim Saab's voice seemed too loud in the silence of the dark room. "…dead?"'
Jack stared down at the dead man, seeing the fear still reflected in his empty eyes. This was no longer a simple robbery. This was worse.
This was someone murdering for far more than simple gain.
Footsteps crept up next to him and he felt someone crouch down, putting a hand on his shoulders. "You okay Jackanapes?"
Nodding, the man took a moment to collect himself, staring down at the body. The murderer had been in the room with them, had been in the room with his children. Whoever it was could have easily taken his daughter's life from him in the dark.
After saying a quick thankful prayer for his children's safety, Jack swore that the only ways the murderer would be leaving that museum would be in handcuffs or a bodybag.
"He didn't get Evie." Jack could hear the reassurance in Colette's words as she murmured softly to him. "She's at home, she's safe. I promise."
Jack nodded. "I know…I know. Thank you…thank you so much Doll."
He stood up, adjusting his tie and jacket, slicking one hand through his hair. "Now let's get to work."
Turning to Reeves and Ford, he produced his shield. "I'm taking charge of this investigation, from this point forward you both answer to me."
Ford coughed, staring at Jack wide eyed. "I'm sorry? But you're…you're just a Prohi, a prohibition agent."
"Which technically makes me an agent of the government." Jack asserted. "Which means that, to some degree, I outrank you."
The two detectives stared at each other, gobsmacked. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see his wife smiling at him proudly.
"Not to mention the fact I'm at the most two decades older than the both of you, with the experience that brings."
His expression softened. "No offense gentlemen, but this man was in the same room as my children. I'm not about to stand by while someone else looks for him."
The two detectives looked at each other, before Ford finally sighed. "What do you want us to do sir?"
Jack nodded. "Interview the others, see if anybody knows anything. That necklace was still taken, whether it was stolen to make us think it was a robbery, or whether it really was a robbery."
"It's an important detail, whatever the reason for it."
The two men trooped off as Colette strode up to him, grinning. "What about me detective?"
"I need you to stick with me." Jack reached up, cupping her cheek in his hand. "I think it's a bad idea for us to get separated."
She nodded once, a quick jerk of her head. "Roger."
Jack smiled relievedly, knowing his wife could take care of herself but happy to know she'd be safe and with him. The woman's sharp eyes and keen mind would come in handy as well.
Things always seemed to go smoother when the two of them were working together. No criminal could stand up to the combined strength of their wits. None had yet.
"And what do you need me to do?"
The man's voice almost elicited a startled jump out of Jack, who had completely forgotten about Ibrahim Saab. The man stood, wringing his hands nervously as he glanced around the room.
Jack stared at the man, thinking. "Go back with the others. We need all of you in one place."
He glanced back and motioned at the dead man. "This…this whole thing…it'll be a lot easier if we know where everyone is…"
His voice trailed off as he saw something on the ground. Frowning, he walked back and picked something up.
It was old fabric, linen or something, and worn. It might have at one point been white, but age had dulled its color, and had frayed its edges.
He knew it immediately for what it was. It was a clue, something linking the murder of
Graves to the theft and other murder.
It was a piece of the mummy's wrapping.
The pieces began to fall into place in Jack's mind. When the lights had gone out, whoever had done it had hoisted the mummy and snatched the jewel. Either Lunn had tried to stop them, or they'd knocked into him, realized who he was, and killed him.
In the ensuing confusion after the lights came back on, they dragged the mummy back here, and were in the process of hiding it when Graves came in and found them. He went to accuse them, or to yell, and so his throat was crushed.
The only thing that left open was the crushed throat and the deepness of the driven knife. Though the set up to the murders might have been accidental, the murders themselves weren't. No one did that, that forcefully, by accident, in an instant.
There was no force on earth that could crush a man's throat that effectively by accident, or drove a knife that deeply by mistake. The theft was not random, and the killing was not accidental.
Whoever had done it had some connection to either the tomb or the excavation, and had wanted revenge just as much as they wanted the artifacts on display.
Jack rubbed the piece of fabric in between his fingers before pocketing it and glancing back at Ibrahim Saab. He opened his mouth to say something, but then his eyes fixed on something for only a minute and he fell silent.
Smiling, he nodded. "Actually, why don't you stick with us? We could use an extra set of eyes. Killer could be lurking anywhere."
He caught Colette's confused stare and nodded at her, trying to tell her silently that he had everything under control. It would all turn out all right.
"Whoever did this." He commented, glancing at Colette. "They had an awful lot of hate in their heart, to crush a man's windpipe like that, or to drive that knife as deeply into that man."
Colette nodded, her face troubled. "I've…I don't feel good about this one Jackanapes…This one feels wrong. Its like…it's like we're missing something. Something big."
Her eyes flitted to Ibrahim Saab, and then back towards Jack and he nodded, relieved. She'd noticed it too.
"Let's go interview some of the other guests." Jack advised, turning to Colette and winking. "See if any of them saw anything."
The woman stared at him for a long moment before nodding. "You're the boss Jackanapes."
Her smile turned coy. "Wonder how long you've been waiting to hear that."
"Not as long as you're probably going to make me wait to hear it again." Jack quipped, grinning at her.
She grinned back. "Oh don't worry Jack, It'll be a long time. Makes it more special that way."
The man felt himself grow easy. He knew what she was doing, and loved her all the more for it. Their normal back and forth drew him into a familiar space, a familiar pattern. It helped calm his nerves.
If she was able to be routine about it, then the whole thing would be routine.
Reaching out, he extended his hand and she took it, the two walking back into the main room. Inside, the rest of the guests were still talking, segmented into small groups.
"Divide and conquer." He muttered to Colette and the other two detectives. "We'll get more information that way."
The other three split off and Jack went to follow them. He was stopped short by a hand on his sleeve.
"Excuse me sir." Ibrahim Saab stood at his elbow, looking concerned. "You said you were solely in charge of this investigation?"
Jack nodded, feeling his pulse quicken. This might be the break they were looking for.
The answer seemed to satisfy Saab. "Then follow me, I think I might have found something."
Hesitating, Jack looked to where Colette was busy interviewing a couple of the women. He would prefer it if she was there with him.
"Please sir, there is no time." Ibrahim Saab tugged expectantly on his sleeve again. "There is no time."
The shorter man sighed as he nodded. "Take me to…whatever it is, Saab."
Nodding, the man took him through a hallway and into a smaller room, with no back exit. Jack quietly closed the door behind them, following Ibrahim Saab to the middle of the room.
The room was empty.
Saab glanced around, before turning to Jack. "Sir…I promise you I thought I saw something in here."
"Cut it Saab." Jack snapped, allowing the unknowingness to finally fall away from his voice. "I know you killed them. Both Graves and Lunn. You killed them and then stole the mummy and that jewel."
The man blinked at him confused. "What are you talking about sir? I don't know anything about the robbery, honest."
"Don't lie to me." It was surprisingly easy, Jack found, to use the tone he'd become accustomed to during interrogations as both a cop and detective. Talking to Saab now was just another one.
"I don't know if you're some sort of nationalist taking revenge because they took things out of your country, or if you're a treasure hunter trying to sell this on the black market. You killed them, and you're going to prison for it."
Pulling the soiled linen out of his pocket, he lifted it up into Saab's vision. "Check your pocket."
With his free hand he pointed at the piece of similarly soiled linen poking out of Saab's jacket pocket.
In the ensuing silence, Saab's entire demeanor changed. He stood up straighter, moving the slight hunch out of his back, his face grew colder as his eyes burned with hatred.
"You're right Detective Messer, You're right about everything." His voice had changed, growing colder and more serious. "Except one."
"I never stole the mummy."
Jack took a step back, his mind whirling. Something was wrong, something was, very, very wrong.
"Netos." The man's voice was clear, pronouncing something in a language Jack didn't understand.
He looked up, sneering and pronouncing it again for Jack's benefit. "Kill him."
Lunging towards Saab, Jack went to restrain him. A moment later, something grabbed him by the back of the coat and hauled him backwards.
He caught the smell of rotting flesh before he was thrown backwards. Slamming into the wall, Jack caught a glimpse of Saab standing and eyeing him, with a much larger man standing behind him.
It wasn't a man, Jack realized as he caught a second glance at it, and it was wrapped in bandages. Red light burned from where his eyes should have been, and his breath heaved, taking huge toxic gulps of air.
Jack immediately recognized him for what he was, the missing mummy that had been on display. It was moving, breathing, and looked at him with intent to kill.
"Do you understand now Detective Messer?" Saab intoned. "You've gotten in over your head. This is the end for you."
Fumbling in his coat, Jack pulled his Smith&Wesson Victory revolver free, opening fire and sinking two bullets into it.
The mummy didn't seem to feel it, only reeling back slightly, before growling deep in its throat. Lunging forward, it cleared the distance in seconds, moving far more nimbly than Jack would have expected. With a sweep of one hand it easily batted the revolver from his grip.
Hands closed around Jack's throat as he raised his own to try to push them away. The mummy was far stronger than he was though, effortlessly lifting him by his throat and dangling him in the air.
He could feel the grip crushing down on his windpipe, making it harder to breathe. He could begin to feel his neck creak.
"Let go of him!"
The bullet cracked into the mummy and, just with Jack's it didn't seem to faze him. Jack heard two more gunshots from Colette's revolver and he thought he could see her through his fading vision, standing in the doorway.
"Do not bother Mrs. Messer, there is no way you can possibly save your husband. Nothing can stop Netos, he is invinci-"
He suddenly let out a scream of pain as the revolver cracked again. He hissed a word and the mummy dropped Jack, air suddenly rushing back into the man's lungs.
Glancing up, he saw Saab holding his bleeding arm as the creature moved towards Colette. There was only a moment and Jack moved solely on a hunch.
He opened fire on Saab, striking him in the shoulder and knee, bringing him to the ground with the force of the bullets. As soon as the man's attention slipped, the mummy stopped moving, inches from his wife.
Saab groaned, pulling himself upwards and towards Jack, absolute hatred and loathing in his eyes. His voice rattled from his lungs. "Kill…him."
His eyes flitted towards Colette. "No…her."
The mummy's head snapped around and he began moving towards the woman. In that moment, Jack made a choice. He didn't feel like the man would go to prison anyway.
He fired one last bullet into Saab's head. The man let out one last gasp of air, before sinking onto the floor.
The mummy stopped moving and Jack dropped the revolver with a clatter. Colette stumbled towards him and the two embraced, her fingers playing across his throat.
"Are…are you okay?"
A moment later the door was flung open as Ford and Reeves rushed in. They took stock of the situation and froze, their eyes locked on the dead man.
"That, gentlemen." Jack said, his voice still rough from the near strangulation. "Is your murderer. Ibrahim Saab."
Talking got to be too much for him and he turned his head, hacking into the air.
Ford frowned. "But Saab was with us at the time of both murders…it couldn't have been him."
Nodding, Jack stepped forward and put his hand on nonmoving mummy's shoulder. "It's a strange tale, gentlemen. It's going to be difficult to believe."
"But I promise you all of it is true."
Jack practically collapsed into his armchair by the time they made it into the house. Barely a moment of peace had come to him before the sound of a creaking doorway came quietly from down the hallway.
A moment later and his daughter, Evie Rose, stuck her head into the room. "Dad. You made it back!"
Relief was evident in her voice. "You're okay."
"Hey there Spitfire." The man chuckled, his voice still sounding reedy from the night's events.
Frowning, the girl took a step back back. "Your voice sounds weird."
"I know." He held her close to him, stroking her hair. "I know. but it's fine. It's okay. We're all okay."
Glancing up, he saw Colette smiling at them from the doorway and felt a surge of peace overwhelm him. No matter how many times they'd come up against something they couldn't explain, there'd always be this to come home to.
This was easily explainable
This was family.
The only thing that mattered.
The Messers. T