When I pulled around to the side of the museum the idiot, underpaid janitor was waiting for me alongside a trio of Irish immigrants. Some big fellows, there, the type nobody with any sense would try to bare knuckle box. They looked a bit fat but they also looked like that fat was merely a protective covering for about ten men’s worth of muscles. Probably former dockworkers, who were some of the toughest men around. The strongest man I’d ever met was an aged bare knuckle boxer named Sullivan — and when that man died in a few years ago, the world became measurably less manly. Even when I met him in his latter days he seemed like the type who would destroy the average man with a punch.
“You has it?” Biran asked. The man wasn’t good with talking, writing, or reading but he could clean a toilet and do other women’s jobs like nobody else.
“In the truck,” I said, with a thumb point over my shoulder.
The three Irishmen started toward my truck and stopped me from trying to help. “We have this,” one said with a hell of a thick accent.
“Well, I guess I’ll go surprise Miss Garfield.” Miss, I hoped — there hadn’t been a ring.
Upon approaching the door to Doctor Baker’s office I hesitated and listened. Sure enough the good doctor was boring the poor, crazy reporter to tears talking about his collection. The supposed Wolf-Man we found in France, the Romanian duke… now, the mummy, and soon, the German giant buried in the arctic. Lela was listening more than speaking but that wasn’t saying much given a man like Baker. He talked more than he breathed once he started going. Eventually he’d start having little gasping fits while his tongue tried to keep up.
When I strode purposefully into the man’s office Baker sort of trailed off, losing his thought as he saw me and probably worrying about how he was about to part with a small fortune to pay me and my crew, plus the larger fortune for our upcoming adventure up north. At first, Lela didn’t stir — her back was to me and she probably assumed Baker just needed a breath. But when the pause went on longer than Baker had since his last nap, she turned her head and looked over her shoulder at me.
“Your boys are bringing in the mummy now,” I said.
Lela looked from Baker, to me, and back again. “You really were transporting a mummy?”
“You two have met?” Baker asked.
“Seems she had a little car trouble on the way up, and I happened by,” I said.
“Excellent!” Baker was more enthusiastic than merited, but that was his usual reaction to the slightest bit of good news. It made it hard to hate him. “And my David?”
I laughed. “See, there’s Michelangelo’s David, who is a nekkid guy in decent shape, and then there’s Baker’s David, who is thousands of years dead wrapped in bandages inside a gold box.”
“I paid a fortune to find him, he’s mine. History forgot all about him, but I found him.”
Well, your money and the Dorns’ brains found him. But I didn’t say it.
“Can I see him?” Lela asked. Anything, even a corpse, was an improvement on conversation with the Doctor.
“Why not?” I asked. “By now he should be all shiny in the dungeon.”
“Dungeon?” Lela asked.
“AJ’s colorful way of referring to my laboratory,” Baker said. “It’s in the basement, as we ran out of room…”
He was about to start, and as much fun as putting Lela through the doctor’s rambling was the idea of putting myself through it was somewhat distasteful. I gestured for Lela to stand, a social motion beyond the comprehension of the man with all the world’s best education. Of course, I had as much as he did, but my social graces were somewhat better than your average turnip. Lela caught on and stood. That, at least, got Baker moving.
“Yes, yes, it’s been so long.” Baker moved with surprising speed but little grace as he practically ran down the hall toward the lab.
“Thank you,” Lela said.
“Was just as much for you as me,” I said, taking up a position that required her to walk in front.
“You were in Egypt, then? You actually were there and pulled the mummy out of the tomb?”
“Me and my crew. It took a lot of doing.” I wasn’t about to explain the stone guard that attacked. “Whoever put him down there didn’t want him out, but Baker did, and he’s the one who paid.”
“Why didn’t they want him brought up?”
“Well, the Egyptians didn’t look kindly on anyone disturbing the dead. But, Baker didn’t tell you the specifics yet?”
“He mentioned sin.”
The lighting in the lab was almost as stupid as the janitor. It gave Baker the appearance of some sort of madman as it flickered and flashed, bulbs popping and buzzing, blinking incandescence making his movements appear more awkward and jerky.
“Well, I won’t deprive him of that lecture series. You’ll just have to get him to tell you after I get my pay day. I’ve got a fearfully hungry midget to feed.”
Lela grabbed my wrist. “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t leave me with him rambling on.”
I grinned at her, my best grin. My confident grin. “You thought I was just some bumpkin out for a spin, and here I am, knowing more about why you’re here than you do. How does it feel to be taken down a peg?”
“Not good,” Lela said.
“Well, I’ve got just as much schooling as the doctor, and I don’t insist anyone call me Doctor Nash. The difference between the two of us is that he works here and I work in the field, because I like adventure. He likes dust and dead bodies, and old stuff that isn’t even shiny.”
“Shiny determines value?”
“Value is overrated, but why have something to look at if it isn’t something good to look at? Nobody marries an ugly woman just to show her off, why have ugly treasure? At least ugly women can still do all the other things women can do. Treasure just sits there and takes up space.”
“What about ugly men?” Lela asked. Her tone was accusatory and a bit hurtful if I do say so myself.
“What about them? They exist. I’m not concerned with how ugly or pretty a man is; that’s for women to decide. I’m not, as a rule, a fan of nekkid men.”
“But naked women,” Lela said.
“A whole lot.”
But by then, Doctor Baker had gotten everything ready in the lab and was clearing his throat to get our attention. Fun time was over. “More than he likes treasure.”
Both of us stood in the lab so as to not touch the walls. They were dirty and the entire room smelled, not the clean smell of other laboratories. A disgusting smell like one would expect in a filthy bathroom or old outhouse. Something in the air smelled of a farm, and the air was warmer in this room than the rest of the museum. It was a small room in the basement, just enough room for us to stand comfortably apart on one side of the table that took up most of the room.
The large, gold coffin sat on the table. Someone, likely one of the Irishmen, had draped a kerchief over the face of the devil at the front. Baker had peaked under it twice and still chose to leave it in place. Even he had limits. The man was currently running his hands around the seam between the top and bottom of the coffin like a young man fighting his first brassiere. His determination eventually bore fruit and he made an excited noise, his fingers working something out of our view. I could have helped, but…
Once he unlocked the coffin, Doctor Baker struggled to lift the top.
“All right,” I said after watching him struggle longer than was charitable.
Together we were able to lift the lid of the coffin, exposing for the first time the twisted, angry devil face for Lela to see. She gasped audibly as we carefully set the priceless gold slab on the floor opposite where she stood. For the first time, then, the three of us peered into the shallow coffin to see the mummy himself. More well preserved than anyone expected; whatever they’d used to preserve him blackened his flesh and browned the linens, as usual for a mummy near this age. But the shape of him was remarkably ghosting the body so many years later. Most of him was covered by the linens giving him the appearance of an insect wrapped in a spider’s silk, only these wrappings were a ghastly shade. His mouth hung open in an eternal scream.
The light flickered again and Lela jumped, grabbing my arm as I walked around to her. “What was that?” She asked.
“You’re jumpy, girl,” Baker said.
“What was what?” I asked, covering her hand with mine.
“There, under the wrapping on his chest…” She pointed.
I took out my long knife and gently lifted some of the wrapping, ignoring Baker’s visible fidgeting and distressed noises. Something under that wrapping glinting in the light. My jaw began to hang down as the mummy’s had and I sheathed my knife and instead reached into the chest of the mummy with my right hand. “What are you doing!” Baker grabbed my arm, his fingers digging in. When I pulled my hand free I was holding a perfectly clear emerald the size and shape of a human heart.
Lela spoke first. “My God…”
“I think our payday just got bigger,” I said.
“We can’t sell that!” Baker tried taking it from me.
“Why the hell not? We could retire on this, even though none of us would.”
“It’s history! It’s a part of David! I paid you for the mummy, and that includes the contents of his chest!”
“You underpaid,” I said. “And you can’t just hire anyone to do what we do in the future.”
“Fine. I’ll get it appraised and pay your share. Please, let me have it.”
“Don’t ever put your damn hands on me again, Kristoff,” I said. Then I pushed the emerald into his chest hard enough to knock him back a few steps.
Then the lights flickered completely off, paused for a moment, and then flickered back on. Lela screamed and didn’t stop until her lungs were out of air. She took a gasping, ragged breath and screamed again. Kristoff’s reaction was less than useless: he ran up to her and shook her. This only seemed to intensify her panic. Without much other choice I shoved him against the wall and away from Lela, bent forward, and picked her up over my shoulder. She stopped screaming at the top of the stairs.
“It looked at me,” Lela said. “The mummy. It looked at me.”
“The mummy is dead,” I said. “It can’t have.”
“It did.” Lela said. “And it was like it was looking into my mind, too… it sounds crazy, but Andrew, that isn’t just a dead body down there.”
“Stay here,” I said.
Kristoff was standing over the mummy with his back to me back in the lab and didn’t even notice my presence. It sounded like he was singing to the mummy under his breath. One look was all it took to see what Lela meant: the skull of the mummy had turned toward the door. Probably disturbed by my removal of the emerald and being exposed to the relatively damp conditions here at the lab. After telling Kristoff I was going to leave I tried explaining that to Lela.
She was having none of it.