by Christine Morgan
firstname.lastname@example.org / www.christine-morgan.org
November 8, 1996
"Refresh my memory," Matt
Bluestone said. "When, exactly, did we become the official Moldy Oldies
Captain Chavez looked evenly at him over the pen she held pinched between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands. One eyebrow cocked.
"I wasn't aware you'd been promoted to Police Commissioner, Bluestone," she said. "Until that day, which will hopefully happen long after I've retired, you take what assignments you get."
"Easy, Matt," Elisa Maza murmured, giving her partner an elbow-nudge. "I volunteered us for this one."
"Gee, thanks," he said. "Much as I enjoy your company, Elisa, standing around a museum all night isn't why I became a cop. I could have just gone the security guard route."
"You still could," Chavez said.
He checked himself, gave Elisa a look that told her he'd want to talk more about this later, and settled sulkily into a chair opposite the captain as she laid out the details of their new case.
Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
May 12, 1960
"And, as you can see, the
ladders were used to ascend and descend from one level of the city to the
"Bo-ring," John muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes.
He crossed his arms and felt cellophane crackle around the pack of smokes in his shirt pocket. He wanted to light up, he wanted a cold pop – or better still, a cold beer – he wanted out of here.
The rest of the class looked rapt as their teacher droned on. Or maybe they were just dazed and glazed over. They'd spent all of yesterday on a bus just to get to a motel that made the cliff dwellings look posh by comparison, and another long, hot, bumpy bus ride over rutted gravel roads this morning to get to the site. Three of the girls and one of the guys had thrown up, and though the mess had been cleaned up, the smell would still be there, steaming in the bus.
They had brought sack lunches like little kids, brown bags and canned apple juice that would be as warm and appetizing as piss by the time they got around to eating. It was a miracle Miss Whitefawn hadn't made them pin their permission slips to their shirts.
Permission slips. How stupid was that? He'd forged his mother's signature with practiced ease, having perfected it on the absence notes. What they didn't know – his parents, the school – wouldn't hurt them.
Next to him, Pete let out a dragging, grumbling sigh. "I'd give my left nut to be at the pool parlor," he said.
"Same here," John said. "For that matter, I'd give your left nut to be at a Garden Club show."
Pete threw a mock punch at him, which John blocked. They cuffed each other on the shoulders, kicking up dirt, grinning, until they realized that the rest of the class and Miss Whitefawn were all staring at them.
"Boys, do you mind?" Miss Whitefawn asked. "Some of us are here to learn."
They subsided, grunting apologetic noises. The teacher eyed them sternly, nodded to herself, and resumed her lecture.
"This is dumb," Pete whispered. "What's the point, anyway? It's like living in Denver and going on a ski trip to Vermont. Big diff; we could have stayed home."
"But that wouldn't be educational, Petey-boy," John said.
"And this is?"
Whitefawn's fellow teacher and bus driver, Mr. Gorman, was giving them the eyeball now. John stuffed his hands in his pockets and tried to look like he gave a damn.
All he knew was that he sure as heck wouldn't have wanted to live here. Baked mud houses, ladders that looked like they'd fall apart in splintery wrecks if you bumped them wrong, sheer drops. And it still hadn't done them any good. In the end, they'd been beaten back by the white man anyway.
"… truly an amazing, accomplished people," Whitefawn said. "Why don't you take half an hour or so to look around, and then we'll climb back up to have our lunch."
The students fanned out among the structures. They stooped to pass through doors meant for people much shorter, peered through square windows, ambled near the edge to look at the dizzying plunge or up along the rickety ladders.
John and Pete slouched against a cave wall. The stone was rough, wind-carved into ridges where the softer parts had been eroded. Pete hooked his thumbs through the belt-loops of his jeans and scoffed.
"Are we supposed to be proud, or what? So they built houses. Big deal."
"Like we're much better off now," John said, nodding. "Living in shacks and peddling rugs, fireworks, and junk jewelry by the side of the road."
"I can't wait to get out of here."
"You and me both, Petey-boy." John watched Miss Whitefawn stride past, and raised an eyebrow. "Then again, there are a few good things to be said about school."
She glanced disapprovingly at him as if she'd heard what he said, though he knew she was too far away. With a shake of her head, she walked on, the long braid of her inky black hair swinging against the back of her Western-style shirt, her legs long and shapely in faded brown denims.
"Don't get your hopes up," Pete said. "Or anything else."
"You saying she wouldn't go for me?"
"You're sixteen. She's got to be twenty-five at least. You're just a kid to her, Johnny-boy, and that's all you'll ever be."
"What, like she's going to go for you?"
"I didn't say that," Pete said.
"But you were wishing it."
He jabbed at Pete's belly, one-two, knuckles just brushing his shirt. Pete retaliated with a backhand cuff that disarranged John's carefully slicked-and-combed hair. Then they were sparring, pushing each other back and forth, taunting and laughing and jeering and saying things about each other's mother.
As John's mother might have said, if she was sober, it's all good fun until somebody loses an eye.
Pete didn't lose an eye. But when he lunged, and John sidestepped, and Pete's foot hooked over John's ankle, he plowed face-first into the cave wall. His nose crunched and began to bleed. He reeled back, cupping his hands over an eye that was already bruising, and swore.
"Oh, man, Petey," John said.
He was sure it was an accident. He reached to help Pete at the same moment Pete swung around, and Pete's other arm smacked John hard across the face.
Staggering back, he collided with the cave wall himself. It felt like being hit by a truck. The back of his head struck smartly on stone. John heard something crack and was sure it was his skull. He slid down the wall, scraping his back when his shirt rucked up to his armpits.
Sand and gravel rained down on him, catching in his oiled hair, making it gritty. John rubbed the back of his skull, wincing, searching for the split bone. A chunk of something bounced off the top of his head. He swore in pain and surprise.
"Boove id, Johd," Pete said. His voice had taken on a clogged, sinusy quality, and the flow of blood was wrecking his shirt. But he leaned in, caught John by the arm and the collar, and yanked him forward.
"Ow, hey!" John protested. He had a head wound, maybe a whiplash too, and …
And the wall was collapsing behind him.
Black zigzags raced across the dusty pink-orange rock. Pieces fell out, first small ones and then larger ones and then a slab the size of a refrigerator, toppling outward and shattering on the ground. A choking cloud engulfed Pete, John, and the students who'd rushed over to see what was happening.
Everyone coughed, waved futilely at the dust cloud. John could hear Miss Whitefawn demanding to know what they had done. She shoved her way through to them and drew back in disgust when she got a good look.
John glanced at Pete. His best friend's face was a muddy mess of blood and dirt, the nose bent, one cheekbone abraded, both eyes swelling. Looking at himself, John saw that he was so coated in dust and grit that he might have been rolled in it, like a pork chop in flour. Bright flickering spots spun across his vision, and the back of his head ached like someone had taken a hammer to it.
"What is the meaning of this?" Miss Whitefawn cried. "Look at you. Look at the wall! This is a national monument, boys, and some fine respect you show to it by going around like hoodlums!"
"Miss Whitefawn?" one of the girls in their class ventured, raising her hand.
"Not now," the teacher snapped. Her gaze, sharp as arrow-points, stabbed from John to Pete to John again. "Well?"
"We didn't mean to," John said.
"Id wad ad accidedt," Pete said, cradling his nose as if he feared it would fall off.
"Miss Whitefawn!" the girl said, more insistently.
"What is it, Nina?" she barked.
She turned, and stopped with her mouth open. John looked, too.
The wall against which he'd fallen had crumbled away to reveal a rectangular opening in the side of the cave. The edges were too even, too regular, to be the work of nature. And the mound of debris at their feet was painted plaster, brittle and old.
Beyond was a dark space, dry and musty and cluttered.
"Oh … boys … what have you done?"
November 8, 1996
"At least we get free eats,"
Matt said, helping himself to another few cubes of ham and cheese speared
on flounced toothpicks.
"Remember, we're supposed to be working," Elisa said.
She always felt uncomfortable when she had to swap her familiar jeans and red jacket for more formal wear. The iron-grey velvet sheath dress hugged her form, leaving little to the imagination and nowhere convenient to carry her gun. She had to settle for a holdout pistol in a holster on her sleek nyloned thigh, and hope for the best.
Too, these high heels were murder. And having her hair swept up and pinned like this made her head feel heavy and off-balance.
But she did have to admit, she looked pretty good. She'd gotten a smoldering once-over from Goliath as the rest of the clan hooted, cat-called, and wolf-whistled their appreciation. And with Matt spiffy in his tuxedo, they fit in with the rest of the milling crowd in the lavish museum foyer.
"Our back-up's in place?" Matt asked, lifting a flute of champagne from a passing waiter's tray with the deft hands of a pickpocket.
Pretending to fiddle with her necklace, Elisa lifted the microphone jewel toward her mouth. "Guys?"
"Right here, Elisa," Lexington replied. She heard him through the matching clip-on earrings that dangled from her lobes. "Nothing yet."
"Keep an eye out," Matt mumbled.
"What's he eating?" Broadway's voice came from off-mike, as if he was leaning over Lex's shoulder.
"Never mind," Elisa said. "Where's everyone else?"
"Me and Hudson have the parking lot covered," Brooklyn said into her ear. "Xanatos's limo just pulled in."
"Angela and I –" the deep rumble of Goliath's voice sent shivers through Elisa – "are keeping watch on the back entrance."
Matt finished chewing and sipped champagne. Elisa scowled at him to remind him that they were on duty, and he shrugged boyishly. "Got to stay in character," he said. "So, from whom are we expecting trouble? Not Xanatos, I hope; I thought you had a truce."
"In theory, but I still trust him about as far as I could throw him," Elisa said. "And you know how these things go. It could be anyone. Demona, Macbeth, the Pack, Tomas Brode … pick a number."
"We can probably cross off Macbeth and Brode," Matt said. "I just don't see them as being interested. They're both strictly Euro-snobs and somehow I think they have about as much interest in pre-Columbian artifacts as I do."
She gave him a narrow look and a dangerous smile. "Bear in mind, partner, that not all of our ancestors came over on the Mayflower."
He flinched. "Sorry. Did I just put my politically incorrect foot in my mouth?"
"Though you are probably right about those two," she said. "As for the Pack, we know Jackal and Hyena will work for anyone –"
"And Hyena stole that sun-stone thing," Broadway said.
"Right," Elisa said.
"What about Tony Dracon?" Matt suggested.
"Not really his deal. If Tony's going to pull a heist, he'll go for diamonds or guns or cash, or something easy to re-sell and dispose of. He wouldn't have any use for one-of-a-kind archeological goodies."
"That leaves Demona." Brooklyn uttered a low and eager growl. "I hope she does try something, I'd love to get my hands –" Angela made a prim little throat-clearing noise that shut him up.
"Here comes Xanatos," Matt said.
The circulating people were the rich, the beautiful, the famous. Xanatos added more than a dash of notoriety to the mix. He strolled in as if he owned the place, as if he'd never been brought up on assorted criminal charges. Fox was on his arm, wearing a sparkling gown of midnight blue and enough diamonds to make Tony Dracon reconsider crashing this party.
Elisa caught just a glimpse of the straight-backed figure of Owen Burnett leaving with their cashmere coats over his arm. Then Xanatos caught her eye, and offered her a wry little grin as if the two of them shared an amusing and scandalous secret. Fox's expression was cool and aloof. One could almost believe she'd never done time in prison.
A few reporters, who were supposed to be behaving themselves until the man of the hour put in his appearance, were unable to resist flocking around Xanatos. As many of the others in the room turned to observe, Elisa saw Captain Chavez moving smoothly toward them. She, too, was dressed for the occasion.
"And here comes the captain," Matt said, for the benefit of the eavesdropping gargoyles.
Though Chavez probably knew that Elisa had arranged for some additional winged surveillance of the museum, neither of them would mention it. Handy as it was for the police to occasionally find muggers and drive-by shooters trussed like turkeys and deposited on the station steps, there was something a little too vigilante about it for Chavez to truly feel one hundred percent at ease.
She purposefully avoided noticing the champagne glass in Matt's hand. "Well?"
"Everything's peaceful so far," Elisa said. "The exhibit hall is locked, and the only one in there is the assistant curator, who will be waiting to give the tour when Mr. Dyami finishes his introductory speech."
"No other ways in or out?"
"Taken care of," Elisa said evenly.
Chavez nodded. "Good. Are your parents coming?"
Elisa laughed. "Dad says that Mom forced him to attend so many African exhibits that it's about time for some payback."
"They just came in," Matt said, gesturing with his chin toward the entrance.
The Mazas gave Xanatos a wide berth. Elisa knew that they still didn't, and probably would never, forgive him for all the meddling he'd done in the lives of Elisa and her brother Derek. She sometimes wondered, though she would not in a million years say so aloud, whether Mom and Dad even blamed Xanatos for bringing Goliath here in the first place.
As she moved to meet them, she was passed by a tall and very striking man with burnished copper skin and backswept silver hair. Mr. Dyami, the man of the hour himself. His surname meant 'eagle,' and it suited him with his piercing eyes and proud beak of a nose. He swept in on her parents like a striking bird of prey.
"Pete? Peter Maza?"
Her father grinned devilishly. "Surprise!"
"I don't believe it!" Dyami said, seizing Peter's hand in both of his and shaking it with such vigor he might have broken both their wrists. "Petey-boy!"
"Johnny-boy," her father gave it right back. "Welcome to New York. Took you a few years longer than me, but you finally made it."
Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
May 12, 1960
Sara Whitefawn had never
been so tired. All she wanted was sleep, a great dreamless chunk of it.
Ten hours, or twelve.
At the same time, she'd never been wider awake.
The find. The find was incredible.
Adrenaline kept her going long after exhaustion should have shut her down. This was a once in a lifetime event, the kind of thing that every historian – no matter how amateur – yearned for.
Everything was in perfect condition. Everything.
Right down to the body.
It wasn't a mummy in the sense that most people thought of. There were no spices, no wrappings, no canopic jars full of preserved organs. The brain hadn't been pulled in pieces out through the nasal passage.
But the body was mummified, all right.
The weather had done that. The arid desert heat. Hundreds and hundreds of years of it had sucked the moisture from the corpse's tissues, shriveling them close to the bone and giving the skin a tough leathery consistency similar to that of beef jerky.
The cliff dwellers didn't usually bury their dead like this. Hidden, concealed, in a secret room cleverly painted to blend with the rock wall … and the ruse had worked. Until Pete and John had cracked the façade with their rough-housing and let light and fresh air into a chamber that had been sealed for centuries.
Sara shook her head, briefly distracted from thoughts of the mummy and the artifacts. Boys would be boys. Troublemakers, the both of them. She could understand it in John. His family was poor, mother an ill-tempered alcoholic. But Pete? His father was a respected elder, a wise man with nothing but respect for the old ways and traditions. She would have expected better from Peter Maza.
Still, they had discovered this treasure trove of the past. Even if they had practically killed each other doing it.
The field trip had come to an abrupt end after that. The boys needed someone better qualified than Sara Whitefawn with her basic first aid training to take a look at their injuries. And there were people to call. This was big. This was important. This could lift her career out of high-school teaching and into something more. University teaching, maybe. The lecture circuit.
She had taken the protesting students back to the motel. The kids hadn't wanted to go. They had, and quite naturally enough, wanted to stay and explore the find. John and Pete even argued at some length that they, having found it, should be able to claim it. But the last thing Sara wanted was to have to answer to some archeologist's review panel as to why she'd let this unique site be pawed over and ransacked by a bunch of sixteen-year-olds.
Besides, she wanted it all to herself.
Once she'd gotten the kids settled, with massive orders of take-out, she'd left Hank Gorman in charge and returned to the park. It had been a simple matter to find a spot to secrete herself until dusk.
She'd told Gorman that she had already informed the park rangers, had done so while he'd been herding the kids onto the sourly vomit-smelling bus. A little white lie in a good cause.
She would inform them, of course she would. The rangers would then cordon off the site with sawhorses and warnings. They would make all the necessary calls. Tomorrow, this site would belong to the experts.
Tonight, it belonged to Sara Whitefawn.
She didn't have a full array of tools, but she had a flashlight and a camera and that would do for a start. Putting on a hard-hat she'd borrowed from the ranger station, she ducked through the rectangular opening that John and Pete had exposed.
It had been a gamble, leaving it this way. There was every possibility that another school field trip or small group of family vacationers would happen along and find it. But she had banked on it being early enough in the year, and late enough in the day. Odds were good that the site would remain undisturbed until she returned.
The odds had been in her favor. She saw no signs that anyone else had attempted to explore the opening. No newer tracks in the dust. The mound of rubble in the same configuration as before.
Sara climbed gingerly over. The space was small, a room not much larger than the kitchen of her apartment. The beam of light touched and illuminated item after item.
No gold; this wasn't the tomb of a pharaoh. But the objects that were here were in excellent condition. Beautiful clay pots painted with symbols. A feather-topped medicine staff. A horn and sinew bow with bundles of pristine arrows. Baskets with patterns of mountains and sky woven into their design.
And at the center of it all, laid out in a long wooden box, the body. The mummy. Dehydration had drawn it into a fetal position, the tendons shrinking as they dried. The head was bent to one side, the withered lips peeled back from the yellowed ivory of teeth.
Sara swept the flashlight down the length of the body. A beaded loincloth hung slack on bony hips, covering the shrunken genitals. Sacred signs were still visible on the leathery skin. Once bright red and yellow, they had faded to ghosts of rust and ochre.
She aimed the light at the head again. Black hair tied in a topknot. Unusual. A headband that was now too large for a head that had contracted so close to the skull, and drooped over one hollow eye socket.
"Who were you?" she whispered.
He had been set to rest on a deerskin, marked with the residue from whatever fluid had seeped from his body. There were no obvious injuries, nothing that might have indicated symptoms of disease.
By the teeth and the color of the hair, he had been a young man when he died. He must have been of special status to be accorded this sort of treatment. A warrior? A chief? A shaman?
Thinking that she might find more clues as to the mummy's identity amid the other things that shared his tomb, she turned away to begin a purposeful but careful search. She didn't want to damage anything and have to answer to the experts, but she had to look.
The white pops of her flashbulb were dazzling in the pitch darkness. Anyone seeing the cliff dwelling burst into brief light from the outside could have easily suspected spirits or magic at work.
As she was examining an arrangement of baskets, all of them watertight and with lids that had been sealed with pine resin – the contents rattled and she wanted desperately to open one up – she heard a tenebrous creak from behind her.
All at once, Sara's heart sprang into her throat. All at once, she was frightened. It was as if the fear were some lurking beast that had spied an opportunity, and sprang.
The flashlight beam jittered up the wall as her hand trembled.
Slowly and very much against her will, Sara turned.
She knew what she was going to see and shouldn't have been surprised.
The mummy was sitting up in the wooden box. The head had rotated toward her. The drooping headband over one eye gave it the macabre impression of winking at her. The grin of strong yellow teeth seemed to have widened.
The flashlight fell from her nerveless hand. It struck the ground and rolled. In the sporadic flicker before the bulb hit a rock and smashed, Sara saw quick shadowy movement and felt a dry hand close around her wrist.
November 8, 1996
"My goodness, Pete," John
Dyami said, finally relinquishing Peter Maza's hand and focusing his exuberant
greetings on the others. "You've done very well for yourself. A beautiful
wife, a stunning daughter … and is this young man your son-in-law?"
Matt Bluestone nearly choked on a canapé. "No, sir. I'm Elisa's partner."
"Partner? Business partner or …?"
"I'm a detective," Elisa said, smiling pleasantly, enjoying the way Dyami's eyebrows shot up.
"A detective? Your daughter, Pete? A police officer? How on earth did that happen?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," her father said.
Dyami peered closely at him. "You?"
"Ran away to New York and became a cop?"
"Amazing, isn't it?"
"Absolutely unbelievable!" Dyami said. He leaned conspiratorially toward Elisa and hissed in a loud stage whisper, "Do you have any idea what a hellraiser your dad used to be?"
"A little," Elisa said, while her mother chuckled and slid one arm around her father in a hug.
"Well, we all do change, don't we?" Dyami sighed expansively and spread his hands. "Look at me … once a poverty-stricken young tough, and now, dare I say, a wealthy and respected businessman."
"Wealthy, anyway," interrupted the sardonic drawl of David Xanatos. "Respected? I think you and I both have a long way to go in that regard, J.D."
"David!" Once again, the ebullient handshake. "What a small world this is turning out to be!"
"You two know each other?" Peter Maza asked, incredulous.
"I was going to say the same of you," Xanatos replied. "J.D., this is my wife, Fox."
"She certainly is," Dyami said, affecting a leer that was as charming as it was bogus.
Fox tossed her head and laughed throatily. "Mr. Dyami, how nice to meet you."
"I saw you on the news," he said.
"Arrest, early parole, wedding, or birth?" Fox asked.
"All of the above."
"There's no such thing as bad publicity."
As they bantered, Elisa and Matt withdrew a few paces. The gargoyles were clamoring in her ear, all set to distrust anyone who was an old chum of Xanatos' and never mind that he was also an old friend of her father's.
Then again, Coyote the Trickster was an old friend of her father's, so who knew?
"So far, so good," Matt said. "Dyami's quite the guy, isn't he?"
Elisa frowned. "Something about him bugs me."
"Me, too. He seems too slick. Too comfortable in a tuxedo."
"You don't trust him, either."
"Thanks for reminding me."
Matt grimaced. "Okay, okay, forget it. So you volunteered us for this because he knows your dad?"
"Yeah. Dad asked me if I would. On the plus side, I was able to get him and Mom on the invitation list."
Technically, the gig was supposed to be the responsibility of museum security. But given the recent rash of problems in area museums over the past few years – the Eye of Odin, Titania's Mirror, the Scrolls of Merlin, the Guatemalan sun-disk … even a few other incidents with which she and the gargoyles hadn't been directly involved – the museum had requested a little extra help from the NYPD. She and Matt were here on a semi-formal basis, just to keep an eye on things and help out if something did go wrong. As extra added insurance, she had her back-up team posted on the nearby rooftops.
"You guys catch all that?" she asked into her necklace.
Their replies were all in the affirmative. Elisa and Matt circulated through the upscale crowd of museum patrons, Matt continuing to load up on snacks and champagne. At his insistence, Elisa allowed herself to sample the crab-stuffed mushrooms, the wafer-thin crackers heaped with caviar, the petit-fours.
At eight o'clock sharp, the canned music – Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" – switched off and all attention was drawn to a dais near the closed double doors that led into the exhibit hall. Above the doors was a banner that read "Sacred Southwest – A Native American Journey Through History."
The museum's chief curator, a severe-looking grey-haired lady in a severe dress that made Elisa think of dour governesses, mounted the steps to the dais. She accepted a cordless microphone from a skinny museum intern in a white jacket that made him look like a waiter, and smiled a thin, humorless smile.
"Here we go," Matt said, finishing off a bit of marzipan. He dabbed his lips and the corners of his mouth.
The curator began with the typical gushing thanks to all the museum patrons whose so-very-generous donations made events such as this possible, the responsibility of the museum to educate and inspire future generations, yadda-yadda-yadda. A speech designed to make the guests reach for the old checkbook, and a collection box had been none-too-subtly situated next to the doors.
When the curator introduced John Dyami, he took center stage like he'd been born to it. Elisa knew about his public background – respected Hollywood producer and director – and had a hard time reconciling it with her father's descriptions as a punk from a broken home of alcoholics.
The Mazas had taken advantage of the opportunity to get away from Xanatos and Fox, and now joined Elisa as Dyami began speaking. She noticed that her father's expression was troubled.
"Dad? What's wrong?"
"Did you get much of a look at the exhibit while they were putting it together?" he asked.
"Sure. We did several walk-throughs with the museum security people. Why?"
"There isn't a … a body, is there?"
"Yeah," Matt said. "A mummy. At least, I think it's a mummy. Not wrapped up, though."
Peter Maza's face darkened with concern.
"Dad, what is it?"
"I didn't know he'd gotten that for his collection."
"Why, is it cursed or something?" Matt started to smile, but it fell away as Peter's dark look deepened.
"Oh, come on, Dad," Elisa pleaded. "Don't tell me we've got some curse on our hands."
"I don't know," he said. "I just don't know."
"What do you know?"
"Shh," he said, and pointed to Dyami.
"—school field trip," Dyami was saying. "A friend and I were goofing around, roughhousing, the way teenage boys do –" He spared a brief but brilliant grin at Peter, and rubbed at the back of his head. "And we broke through a fake wall that had been painted to match the ordinary cave surface. In the hidden room on the other side was where I made my first acquaintance with Chief Akando."
Elisa saw her father wince and touch his nose, which had been broken a few times during his life.
"—the time I had no idea of the importance of what we were seeing," Dyami went on. "Only later would I come to realize how rare and precious a find it had been. I was not, if you can believe it, very into history when I was sixteen."
A mild laugh rippled the room.
"But that day did serve to awaken something in me. A fire, an interest, that I'd never known before," Dyami said. "If not for the mysterious occurrences that took place shortly after the find –"
"Mysterious," Peter muttered. "That's an understatement."
"—stories about a curse," Dyami said. His eyes glinted as if he and the crowd knew how silly such stories were. "But the teacher's disappearance, and the subsequent hushing-up by the authorities, marked it in my mind. Years later, when I had outgrown my youthful hoodlum stage, I found myself becoming more and more fascinated with the history of those ancient peoples, my forefathers."
"Peter, are you all right?" Diane asked. "Here, drink something before you have a stroke." She pressed a champagne glass into his hand.
Dyami's smile became intimate and crafty, and he leaned over to whisper into the microphone as if conveying a secret. "Of course, I had no illusions about the income and job prospects of your average archeologist or historian."
This made more than a few people, museum staff by the look of them, bristle and mutter darkly. The wealthier patrons of the arts laughed the complacent laughs of those who've never had to work a day in their lives.
"So I went to California and got rich in the movie industry," Dyami said, his tone so casual, so matter-of-fact, that he made it seem like anyone could do the same.
Fox, standing nearby, scoffed loudly and tossed back a martini in a single, aggressive gulp. Elisa saw her bite the olive in two with a vicious nip. Xanatos patted her elbow-gloved hand in a manner so condescending that it wouldn't have startled Elisa to see her nip off the end of his nose next.
"But my love of history never left me. Over the years, I built up my collection of Native American artifacts and antiquities. Then it happened that I was invited to an auction, and imagine my astonishment to find Chief Akando among the items destined for the block. His body and the various accoutrements that had been interred with him had somehow come into the possession of a private collector rather than a university or museum."
"This Chief Anaconda," Matt murmured. "He's our curse-of-the-mummy guy?"
"What's this all about, Dad?" Elisa asked.
"The teacher who took us on that field trip," Peter said. "Sara Whitefawn. She disappeared that day and no one ever saw her again. We – the kids in her class, I mean – always suspected that she'd dumped us off at the motel with the bus driver, and gone back to the cliff dwelling to explore the site herself."
"And the government kept it quiet?" Matt brightened. Conspiracies of any sort never failed to cheer him up.
"—much more than I'd planned to at that auction," Dyami said, with an appealing little shrug that probably melted the hearts of half the women in the crowd. "But we all know how it is when you see something you just cannot live without."
Xanatos snickered, reminding Elisa that his usual way of getting what he wanted went a little beyond breaking the bank at the auction house.
"I acquired the entire collection and added it to my own." Dyami gestured grandly at the doors, and a hum of anticipation filled the room. "And now I am delighted to share it with you."
At this prearranged cue, the skinny intern and another who could have been his twin – graduate students from NYU, Elisa surmised – pulled the massive doors open. The banner belled and undulated in the draft. The spacious room beyond was dramatically lit by spotlights situated to showcase the exhibit cases. Objects too large for the cases hung from the ceiling on invisible wires, a canoe and a buffalo skeleton and a travois and others.
The crowd surged forward, not in a mad rush but with an eager anticipation and a rising babble of chatter. The museum curator rubbed her hands together as some veered off-course to deposit checks in the donation box. John Dyami stood on the dais with his hands folded behind his back, beaming proudly.
And then somebody screamed.
Red Rock, New Mexico
June 20, 1982
Henry "Hank" Gorman lifted
the tea kettle off the burner when it started to whistle, and poured a
stream of boiling water into the mug that already held the dehydrated powder
and noodles of instant soup. A billow of steam wafted up, bringing him
the scent of reconstituted chicken broth and sodium.
He stirred, watching the orange flecks spin and whirl and gradually soak up enough liquid to become something vaguely resembling bits of carrot. Holding the mug carefully in an unsteady, palsied hand, he shuffled in bedroom slippers to the folding table set up between the swaybacked couch and the television.
It was good to be back. Good to be home. He didn't know why he let himself be talked into attending these things year after year. He was retired, and he harbored no delusions about the extent to which he'd affected and influenced the lives of the students who'd passed through his classrooms over the years.
Reunions. What was the point? He'd attended a few of his own and as far as he could see, it was nothing but a pathetic parade of everyone trying to act young again. Trying to pretend that they hadn't gone bald, or gotten fat, or married some shrew and been screwed out of everything in the inevitable divorce.
It was better, now. Now that he went to the reunions not as an alumnus, but as a former teacher. Mr. Gorman. History, American Government, Social Studies, Debate Club. Seeing students who'd been snotty teenagers, full of themselves and sure that they would become rich and famous.
He liked seeing them come slinking back to their old home town, failures dragging after them like cans tied to a dog's tail.
The girls who'd boasted they would be Miss America or movie stars or supermodels, and twenty years later they were fat-bottomed housewives or butch feminists in Birkenstocks.
The boys who'd all been so sure they'd become race car drivers, astronauts, or professional football players … coming back as used car salesmen, plumbers, ex-cons.
Seeing their shattered dreams made Hank Gorman feel good. What he didn't like were the ones who actually had made something of themselves. Oh, it wasn't so bad when the class brain went on to a professorship at MIT, or the girl who'd volunteered as a candy striper ended up a surgeon. Those kids worked hard, those kids deserved it.
But the ones who'd been rotten as teenagers and came back as successes? Those were the ones Hank Gorman really hated.
Peter Maza, for example.
He remembered Peter Maza, all right. Arrogant strutting thug, all black leather and chains wrapped around the insoles of his boots. Swagger and brash talk and hiding cigarettes in his locker. Sneering at his father, sneering at the whole tribe, sneering at the world.
Peter Maza, coming to his twenty-year reunion as a police detective. How in the name of the good Lord almighty had that happened? He'd turned up, with a wife and three kids in tow, and the only consolation Hank Gorman took from it was that Maza did not seem at all happy to be there. And that people in these parts weren't as understanding of mixed marriages as people in New York evidently were. As pleasant as the wife had been, as adorable as the kids were, they'd gotten the cold shoulder from a lot of Maza's classmates.
His soup was cool enough to drink. Hank slurped it while thumbing through the TV Guide. His gaze happened upon Thunder River, one of John Dyami's movies, and he made a face.
Dyami, there was another one who didn't deserve to be where he was. John Dyami should have been in prison somewhere, or maybe eking out a living as a blackjack dealer in Nevada. Not in the lap of luxury at some Beverly Hills estate, eighteen-room mansion and six car garage. He'd brought some blonde slut half his age to the reunion, all dolled up in mink and jewels.
Maza and Dyami. It was enough to curdle a man's stomach.
The way they'd looked at him, too. Pity and contempt for poor old Mr. Gorman, who'd stayed a teacher until he retired and lived in the same two-bedroom tract home. They thought they were so much better than him, the little punks.
Well, maybe he still knew a thing or two that they didn't. Maybe he still had something they never would.
Finishing his soup and finding nothing on television that sounded even remotely appealing, Hank heaved himself out of the couch and went through the kitchen to the back door. It was sliding glass, opening onto a yard that had once been landscaped with hardy native ground-covering plants that didn't need much water or care. Now it was a weed patch, all brambles and coarse tufts.
His patio was concrete, cracked from temperatures that fluctuated more than a hundred degrees over the course of a year. It was deep winter now, the desert night so cold it could cut like a knife. Patches of ice-packed snow hunched along the bottom of the fence and on the north side of the single car garage he'd long since converted to a storage area.
A smile, thin and avaricious, crinkled his face into a mass of lines. His was a sour amusement at best, the glee of a covetous criminal who knows he can never sell his ill-gotten gains but takes a certain pleasure in gloating over them in private.
Ah, but if he could have sold them!
He hadn't dared to before he retired, sure that it would lose him his job and probably get him sued into the bargain. Now, though, it wasn't like he had much to lose. What would they do to him, throw him in jail? He was seventy-three and at his last check-up the doctor had found a blot on the x-ray. Cancer. What with the snail's pace of the courts these days, he'd be dead long before a judge had a chance to bang a gavel.
The urge to go out there was strong enough to make Hank slide the door open a few inches, but the rushing icy draft of winter air swiftly changed his mind. He closed it again and peered through the glass, his breath fogging it, at the garage.
Something moved out there.
A quick, black shape against the stucco of the garage wall.
Hank twitched. His heart lurched against his ribs.
He squinted. Whatever it was had vanished into the shadows of a struggling juniper tree, beyond the reach of the patio light's one wan bulb.
Though sour, his reputation had not quite reached grouchy curmudgeon stage. The neighborhood brats despised him enough to egg his car or string toilet paper all over his front yard, but did not fear him sufficiently to refrain from using his property as a shortcut. Too many of them knew he'd been a teacher, and therefore thought him too wimpy to take potshots at them the way mean old hermits were supposed to.
Well, he'd show them. Show them that he didn't need a shotgun. The threat of calling their parents, or calling the police, should do.
He couldn't have them snooping around his garage. They might even try to get in, though the door was padlocked. Kids had no respect for anything these days.
And if they got into his garage …
Cursing, Hank bundled himself into a heavy woolen bathrobe. He had a joke paddle hanging on a hook in the kitchen, long and flat with holes drilled through it and 'Board of Education' stenciled across it as somebody's idea of wit. A gag gift from so long ago he couldn't even remember.
He'd never used it to dole out a hefty dose of corporal punishment, but what these brats didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
The paddle swung at his side as he opened the sliding glass door and stepped out into the frigid night. The air was so instantly cold that his fillings hurt, and the mucus in his nostrils crackled into a fine rime.
"I know you're out there, you kids," Hank called in his most menacing tone, which wasn't very since his voice had gone waspish as he'd aged. It was a high, petulant whine that nobody would mistake as threatening. "Get out of my yard or you'll get what's coming to you."
He heard stealthy movement behind the garage. As he headed that way, slippers crunching through brittle, frozen foliage, he saw that the padlock was missing from the garage door. And the door itself was ajar, an inch-wide slice of blackness.
"All right, that does it!"
Anger warmed his blood, and his pulse thumped furiously in his temples as much out of temper as alarm. Had they gotten in? Had they found what he kept hidden in there?
The padlock was on the ground, its steel U of an arm sheared off and twisted. Hank kicked it aside, stubbing his toe on the hard metal and not caring. He pushed the garage door open and reached for the light switch.
The one in here was as dim as the one over the patio, a weak yellow from a bulb both flyspecked and cobwebbed. It cast a feeble glow over the sheet-draped furniture, crates of moldering old textbooks, and other junk.
No kids sprang out at him. Just as well; even though he was expecting it, the shock would probably give him a heart attack.
He moved toward a wall of old newspapers, tied with twine into bales and stacked, their edges tattered from the gnawing of rats or mice. Behind the newspaper wall was a lumpy heap covered by a waterproof canvas tarp.
Hank Gorman leaned over the newspapers, pinched the edge of the tarp, and drew it back.
Sara Whitefawn's face filled his mind as he did so. She had been so beautiful. Even after what had happened to her, even with the hideous things that had been done to her body, her face had been unmarked. Only her wide and horrified eyes had ruined it.
She had been dead when he found her. Dead there in that little chamber, fingertips worn away to bloody sticks as if she had tried to claw herself along the stony ground to escape her killer.
Dead when he found her, but Hank knew nobody would believe that. They'd say that he had done it. No matter how much he protested innocence, they'd find some way to blame it on him.
The truth would be too terrible, too insane to accept. Far easier to claim that Hank Gorman had done it, and put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
So he'd gotten rid of her body. He knew he couldn't risk leaving her there to be found by the park rangers; he'd told the students that he was going out to look for her when she hadn't returned to the motel by ten that night. He'd have to say he never saw her, and hope that she was never discovered.
The chances of that were pretty good, at least. The fall from the edge of the cliff dwelling compound was a long one, into dense forests lining a deep and fast-moving river. The canyon was inaccessible by road or helicopter, and most hikers who came to this area preferred the dramatic scenery atop the mesas.
While he'd been watching her tumbling rag-doll of a body vanish into the darkness, Hank had suddenly become sure that he would feel a hard push from behind, and plunge helplessly into that same open space. Sara's killer wouldn't be content with just one death, oh, no. To avoid discovery, to protect the unthinkable secret, Hank Gorman would have to die too.
He had turned from the brink, fully expecting to see the mummy standing there and grinning its awful withered grin at him.
But it had still been in its box, smeared with Sara Whitefawn's blood.
Hank had worked as quickly as he could, tossing Sara's camera and flashlight and the shredded remains of her clothes into the sack she'd brought, and flinging the sack after her into the canyon. He'd kicked and scuffed dirt over the stains and scrabbling scratch-marks on the chamber floor. All the while, he'd kept one eye on the mummy, waiting for it to sit up, come at him.
It hadn't. It had remained perfectly motionless as Hank rolled it onto a woven blanket and secured the whole thing with his belt.
Only now, as he slowly lifted the tarp away from the battered old steamer trunk, did he stop to wonder why he hadn't destroyed the thing.
Maybe because he hadn't really believed it would be that easy. If he'd smashed it, broken its dry bones like kindling, even tried incinerating the beef-jerky flesh, somehow it would still come back. Madder and hungrier than ever.
The trunk was latched, but the lock was gone. And a corner of that same ancient blanket hung out of the seam between the trunk and its lid. Hank knew that he hadn't left it that way. He felt nauseous, clammy.
He touched the lid.
A freezing spike of numbness shot down his left arm. His frantically pounding heart stuttered.
Hank hammered his right fist against his chest. He fell against the wall of newspapers, knocking them every which way. Twine snapped. Papers fanned out, displaying headlines dating back five years or more.
His breath snagged like a fishhook in his throat. He could see the fingers of his left hand jittering wildly, could see them but not feel them.
The dim light of the single bulb was blocked out by a shape, a shape that leaned down toward Hank Gorman, reaching for him.
In the instant before his vision went black, in the instant before the clawlike hands closed on his neck, Hank saw the dark face, and the lips pulled back from the teeth in a vicious, hungry grin.
November 8, 1996
The crowd that had been surging
eagerly, happily, toward the open exhibit hall doors like a group of well-dressed
and well-behaved children on their first trip to Disneyland stopped in
a confused jumble as more screams were added to the first.
Those at the back were pushing ahead to see what was wrong, those at the front were trying to retreat, and in the tumult several people were knocked sprawling to the floor. Two waiters were among them, and the sparkling fizz of spilled champagne sent others slipping.
Dyami, still on the dais, looked bewildered and uncomprehending. The museum curator, positioned by her donations box, had gone stock-still and was gaping into the room. The two grad student interns stood there holding the doors open, too stunned to even think about letting them swing shut.
Elisa and Matt exchanged a grim, meaningful look, and went into action. Elisa skirted the chaos in front of the doors and came up alongside one of the interns. She saw a man in the uniform of a museum security guard rushing in the same direction. She momentarily lost sight of Matt's red head bobbing past elegant coiffures, just one more tuxedo in a black-and-white sea.
"Close those doors," Elisa said, as she went past. "Close them and don't let anyone in but cops and security people."
Secure the scene. First order of business no matter what the crime.
She wasn't even sure what the crime was yet, though she had the sinking feeling that it involved a dead body. Those screams hadn't been due to any vandalism. She didn't care how dedicated a museum patron was, they wouldn't shriek like that if it had been anything as simple as a slashed panting or defaced statue.
Matt and the security guard joined her, ducking through the doors just as the interns finally maneuvered them closed.
A low obscenity escaped Matt's lips. Elisa echoed it.
No point even checking. Dead as anything Elisa had seen in her entire career.
"Elisa," Goliath said, urgency and concern for her warring in his voice.
"Looks like a murder," she said, for the benefit of the listening gargoyles.
Their responses ranged from Angela's soft cry of dismay to Brooklyn's immediate protest. "But we've been watching the place! Every exit!"
"Good God," the security guard said. He was pale as cottage cheese. Clearly no ex-cop, this one.
Matt took a series of mincing steps that got him closer to the body without letting his glossy black shoes come near the spatter. His attention, though, was not on the corpse but on the rest of the room, gaze darting from exhibit to exhibit.
Elisa had her stupid little clutch-gun in her hand with no recollection of hiking her skirt to grab for it. Her nerves were pinging like sonar. A quick glance up reassured her; Broadway's earnest blue-green face peering anxiously down through one of the skylights, Lex's olive-green one at the other. They could be down here in a flash if she needed them.
"It's Molly," the security guard said. Not being a cop or even an ex-cop, he could only think about the dead woman. "Molly Palin."
"The assistant curator," Elisa said. "The one who was supposed to give the tour."
"But she was alone in there," Broadway said. "The doors were locked. Nobody else went in or out."
"A locked room mystery," Matt said, with markedly less enthusiasm than he showed for any sort of conspiracy theory.
"So the killer must have been hiding in the exhibits all along," Elisa said. "And must still be in here."
"I hate this." Matt had his gun out, too, and his cell phone.
Trusting to her friendly eyes in the sky to warn her if anything moved in the exhibit hall, Elisa spared a look at the body.
It was Molly Palin, all right. Elisa remembered her as a plain girl whose cheerful manner and ready smile made her seem almost pretty. There was nothing pretty about her now, though.
She was positioned in a spot where overlapping lights made an oval of brightness, like someone's idea of a grisly addition to the exhibit. Her clothes hung in blood-soaked rags.
"You didn't hear anything?" Her question was for the gargoyles but she looked at the security guard anyway.
"I was on front-door duty," he said, his chest and gullet hitching.
Meanwhile, six denials came from above.
"If you're going to puke," Elisa said, with intentional harshness, "do it away from the scene so you don't mess up any evidence."
Nodding, hiccuping wet meaty sounds, the guard stumbled off and retched in a corner.
"There's nobody else here. There can't be anybody else here." Matt had completed a circuit of the room, and now his normally mild features were set in a snarl of frustration. "How could he get in and out without being spotted? How come she didn't scream?"
"I don't think she had the chance," Elisa said, crouching outside the spatter. "That looks like a head wound. He must have hit her from behind, dazed her. Maybe knocked her out. I hope he knocked her out."
"Yeah," Matt said. He held his phone to his ear.
Behind them, the door opened and Chavez came in, somehow managing to be ashen and livid at the same time. The museum chief of security and the curator were with her. Outside, sirens wailed in the city night.
Beverly Hills, California
March 31, 1993
Sometimes she woke up thinking
she was Hilda Munz again, near-sighted, flat-chested, buck-toothed Hilda
Munz, and it always sent her running for the bathroom in a cold sweat to
turn on the lights, look in the mirror, and prove to herself that she wasn't.
Laser corrective surgery, breast implants, cosmetic dentistry, a dye job to turn dishwater-drab to Malibu blond, a rich tan, and color contacts to give her the smoky green eyes she'd always wanted.
No more Hilda Munz. Not now, not ever. And if it broke her parents' hearts back in East Buttcrack, Ohio, well, so what? If they had really cared about her, they would have supported her and helped her attain her dreams. They wouldn't have trotted out that endless line of bull about how beauty was only skin-deep, when really they were just too cheap to pay for her improvements.
She leaned on the marble bathroom countertop, with its gilt basins and faucets shaped like leaping dolphins, and studied her reflection to make sure that nothing had been undone while she slept.
No sign of Hilda Munz at all. She was Crystal now, Crystal Leigh Monroe, a name she'd chosen for herself when she was eleven years old and imagining a fabulous life in golden, sunny California.
Crystal shuddered out a sigh. She splashed water on her face, dried with a fluffy towel, and ran a brush through the satin of her hair.
Wide awake, the wine they'd had with dinner having only temporarily counteracted the pills she'd popped as an appetizer. She tiptoed through the dark bedroom where John still slept, taking a light silk robe from the hook on the back of the door as she went.
His house was amazing. She sometimes wished that she could bring her parents here and rub their noses in it, telling them, "See? See? See what I have? See what I got all on my own, no thanks to you?"
But that would mean contacting them, and she wasn't about to do that. If they came crawling to her, fine. Good. So much the better. They knew where she was. They had to. She'd been pictured in all the best entertainment magazines, and the article in VIP had included captions like "Movie mogul John Dyami and rising star Crystal Leigh relax poolside at their Beverly Hills home."
All right, so it was John's home, not hers, but she spent more time here than in her condo. She might as well be living here. He would probably ask her to marry him before too much longer, and they would have a magnificent Hollywood wedding. Everybody who was anybody would clamor to be on the guest list.
Restless, she roamed the big house, trailing her fingers over his collection of priceless antiques and Southwestern artifacts. He sometimes talked about donating it all to a museum and redecorating, and Crystal could hardly wait. She envisioned ultra-modern, everything a clean white. And rid of all these nasty old pots, arrowheads, and baskets.
She went from room to room, thinking of the changes she would make. No plants; she didn't care for plants. Or pets. Living things needed too much time and effort. Like children. But lots of water features and subtle lighting –
Something thumped in a nearby room, making her catch her breath in surprise.
The sound seemed to have come from John's private study. It was the one space in the house that he asked her to stay out of, but he didn't forbid her to go in, he didn't keep it locked, it wasn't like that gruesome little room in Bluebeard where he kept the severed heads of all his previous girlfriends. Nothing like that.
Crystal listened at the door. Yes, there was someone in there. Someone moving around, quietly, but not so quietly that she couldn't hear the scuff of feet on carpet.
"John?" She tapped on the door.
The sounds immediately ceased. The fine downy hairs on the back of Crystal's neck prickled, for no reason, no good reason at all.
The office was where John kept the most valuable pieces in his collection. She'd been in there – with him, of course, and with his permission – a couple of times at least, and knew that some of the items were priceless. Not that she would have paid one thin dime for any of it.
Her parents had kept a few antiques, heirlooms they called them, and as far as Crystal could see, they were good only for collecting dust. You certainly couldn't use any of them, sit on them, cook with them, anything. Just clutter up the house with them, be constantly worried that fire or flood or tornado might wipe them out, and then burden your kids with them.
Ha. Let them try. She was Crystal Leigh now, and the last thing she wanted was a bunch of Munz history dating back to the Stone Age.
Maybe that was why John's collection gave her the creeps. Being alone down here, at night, with the house so silent … it was more like a museum than a home.
She suddenly felt sure that someone was standing directly on the other side of the door. Standing there, not breathing, not making a sound, just waiting.
It couldn't be an intruder. The security system was too good for that.
But if it was John, he would have answered her.
"John?" She tapped again, though by now it wasn't just the hairs on the nape of her neck that were prickling. Her entire skin seemed to be drawing tight and hunching up, the filaments of hair quivering and alert.
Still no reply. Still the sense that someone was there.
Crystal steeled herself. She wasn't helpless, wasn't weak. She'd spent eight months in daily sessions with a personal trainer, getting ready for her role as a cyberpunk warrior-chick in an upcoming movie. If there was someone in the study, she'd kick the living crap out of him before he knew what happened.
She opened the door.
The mummy loomed out of the darkness, dry lips split, hollow sockets glaring.
Crystal could smell it, and all at once she was little Hilda Munz again, eight years old and exploring the attic on a bakingly hot summer day.
The stale air had been hazy with the dust rising from old upholstery. Then, she had set her foot with a fragile crunch onto the fragile corpse of a bird. It must have gotten trapped in the attic, bashing itself to death in a fluttering panic, and now it was only thin bones and feathers that puffed up in a powdery cloud.
How she had sneezed! Until she thought she'd die! Her eyes and nose had gushed, and with each gasping inhalation she had been aware of sucking more of the dust and dead-bird powder into her nose and mouth.
This smell was like that, sour and old, and Crystal sneezed more from the strength of her memory flash than anything else.
Even as she did so, she was spinning from the door and the shriveled horror. Spinning and running, blindly and not caring, chipping her shins on low tables. She screamed, but it was a frail and pathetic cry.
She ran full-tilt into the sliding glass door that led from the family room onto the deck. Jolted to the very bone, she rebounded and fell over a chair and lay for a moment on the carpet, dizzied and trying desperately to catch her breath. She could see under the chair to the glass door, the deck, the hot tub, the view all twinkling and faraway city lights in a hollow of blackness.
Something touched her bare foot. Scratchy, hard as a twig.
Crystal lunged to her knees, then her feet. She clawed at the door, raked it open, felt the balmy March air wash over her.
She was seized from behind. Fingers dug into her arms. She was yanked backward. A strong semicircle of teeth sank into her shoulder. Crystal flailed and thrashed and tried again to scream.
But something was wrong, terribly wrong, with her throat.
November 8, 1996
The coroner's wagon had come
and gone, and come back again when a hapless janitor opened a closet and
made a gruesome discovery. One of the security guards had been stuffed
in among the mop buckets and cleaning supplies.
It was a zoo, a circus, absolute pandemonium. Reporters who'd come to cover the event – and they'd probably done so grudgingly, arts and entertainment not exactly being the choicest of assignments – got far too many and far too graphic photographs before things could be brought under control.
Captain Chavez had her hands more than full with damage control alone. The rest of the museum security people were already trying to place the blame on the NYPD, the curator was demanding answers, and many highly-placed civilians seemed to think it was their God-given right to know everything that was going on.
Uniformed officers now swarmed the place, along with crime scene investigators. Elisa had warned the gargoyles off, figuring that the last thing they needed right now was to be spotted by a police or news helicopter.
Goliath hadn't liked that one bit. But he had thankfully seen the wisdom of it, and agreed that Elisa probably wasn't in any immediate danger. The crime had already happened. The blood trail was hours old. It wasn't likely that the killer was still hanging around the museum.
But what she was thinking was craziness.
Okay, so she'd had more bizarre experiences in the past two years than she had in her entire previous life. That had understandably skewed her perceptions a little.
Still, it didn't mean that she should look for the weirdest possible explanation for everything.
"He kills the security guard to get in," Matt said. He had shed his tuxedo jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt, and his tie was long gone. "But why the assistant curator? She finds him trying to steal something? Nothing's missing from the exhibits, so why would he kill two people and leave without what he came here for? What did he come here for?"
"Maybe it wasn't for robbery," Elisa said. "Maybe it was a personal beef against the Palin woman."
"The way she was staged, on display," Matt said. "But from what we saw of her before, she was about as offensive as oatmeal. Some world we're living in when someone like that has enemies."
"Would you like a random serial killer better?" Elisa asked.
"I don't like any of this. How'd he get out? That's what I want to know."
"You and me both, partner."
"And nobody saw anything?" Matt gave a significant head-tilt toward the now-vacant skylights.
They were standing well back out of the way of the various traffic. An onlooker might have thought they weren't doing their job, little knowing that this was their job. The crime techs were gathering the evidence that would help them along, their blue lights lending an uncomfortable eldritch mood to the exhibit hall as they scanned for bloody footprints leading from the scene of Molly Palin's murder.
The light also cast eerie shadows leaping and capering among the exhibits. Elisa couldn't help finding her gaze drawn toward the case that held the prize of John Dyami's collection. The Mesa Verde Mummy. Chief Akando.
What had Dyami said? Something about a curse?
"Knock it off, Maza," she told herself. "Conventional police work first."
Matt, with the telepathy that all good partners eventually developed, followed her gaze. "Conventional police work first, inexplicable voodoo investigations later?"
"It's hardly voodoo, Matt."
"You're not thinking –" He checked to see that they were relatively alone. "What, that the old bundle of sticks and beef jerky over there had something to do with this?"
"Of course not."
"Want to spray him with Luminol, look for traces of blood?"
"We've got to rule out every possibility."
"Which is why," Elisa said, more sharply than she intended, "we're starting with the realistic possibilities."
"Okay, okay. So where do we start?"
"The security guard wouldn't have let just anyone in here. Not with the exhibit about to be unveiled. It had to have been someone he knew. Someone who works for the museum, maybe."
"Which could explain why the Palin girl was targeted. I've heard that these academic types can be pretty cutthroat when it comes to grant money and tenure."
"So we talk to the other security guards and see if we can get a list of people they'd let into a locked exhibit hall."
Matt snorted. "Their first instinct is going to be to cover their butts. They'll say that no matter who it is, they never admit anyone without radioing it in and getting confirmation. That the dead guy clearly broke protocol and they're shocked, just shocked at such a breach."
"You think they'll stonewall us when one of their own is dead?"
"Stonewall us? You heard Chavez. They're already trying to blame it on us. I don't get the feeling they're going to bend over backwards to be helpful."
Officer Morgan approached, pausing a discreet distance away until they noticed him and made it clear it was all right for him to come closer. "Some night, huh?"
"Tell me you've got something," Elisa said. "Anything. A bloody guy with a knife would be good. Already in custody would be better."
"Hate to disappoint you," Morgan said, removing his cap and scratching his wiry cap of hair. "Your dad asked me if I could run a message in. Says he and your mom are going back to the hotel with the Big Cheese, but that he wants to talk to you a.s.a.p."
She looked at the mummy again, a tingling sensation unfolding around her sternum. It was the same sense of dawning awareness – cop instinct – that she got when the pieces started to fall together.
Elisa tried to reject it this time. She was not about to be the one to suggest, not even jokingly to Matt and absolutely not to Captain Chavez, what was running through her head.
"You go on," Matt said. His look was piercing, as if he was reading her mind. Sometimes that partner-telepathy could be a bad thing. "I'll hold down the fort. Maybe you can get some information from Dyami. See if he's got any enemies."
They had come in Matt's car, hers being a little too quirky for a valet-parking gala such as this, so she got Morgan to give her a ride in a black-and-white. First to the station, where she changed into her familiar jeans, black tee shirt, and jacket. She couldn't help a sense of relief when she snugged her real gun into the shoulder holster. Then Morgan drove her to the hotel where Dyami was staying.
She kept the necklace and earrings on, the former tucked into the collar of her tee shirt, the latter concealed when she unpinned her hair and shook it out over her shoulders.
As Morgan pulled away, she stood on the grand front steps of the hotel and asked in a murmur, "Guys? Anybody there?"
"Here, Elisa," Goliath replied instantly.
"Where are you?" She knew he had to be close; the range on these things wasn't much.
"I left the others near the museum and followed you."
She played like a tourist, looking up at the impressive tinted glass, wrought iron, and decorative stonework of the Blackstone Hotel. A large shape, wings folded, crouched on a ledge. She could see the pale gleam of his eyes.
The doorman watched her with an amused smile that was on the verge of becoming flirtatious, but froze and turned professional when she flashed him her badge. He let her in and directed her to the elevators, and a few minutes later she was knocking on the door to Dyami's suite.
Her mother let her in. John Dyami and her father were in plush indigo armchairs on either side of a low, glass-topped round table by the window. They were both leaning forward, Dyami with his head cradled in his hands, Peter Maza with his elbows on his knees and his expression full of concern. Two tumblers, one full of untouched Scotch and melting ice, the other drained, sat on the table.
"How drunk is he?" Elisa asked her mother in an undertone.
"He's just had the one," Diane said. "But he didn't waste any time on it."
Elisa moved toward the men. "Dad? Mr. Dyami?"
John Dyami looked up. Elisa had rarely seen such misery and desolation on a human face. Earlier in the evening, he had been polished, suave, elegant. Now he was old and haggard. His hands shook as he reached for his drink. He stared into the empty tumbler as if not quite sure how it had gotten that way.
"Whatever it is, John, you can tell us," Peter said. A faint smile touched his lips. "Trust me, we're not going to think you're insane."
"But it is insane," he said. "And how can you say that, Pete? I know you. I remember how hard-headed you always were. So grounded. So focused on the real world. No patience, not a drop, for anything that even brushed the mystic, the paranormal."
"You used to be that way, too," Peter said.
"I've changed. I've had to change."
Dyami shook his head, unconvinced. "Not you, Pete. Your own father couldn't bend you. If you never believed him, why would you believe me?"
Peter winced a little, but didn't avert his gaze from Dyami's hollow, reddened eyes. "I've seen things. With my own eyes. Things I would have thought were impossible. I'm not the same as I was. I was a stupid, stubborn kid back then. I've had to rethink the way I look at the world."
Elisa took the third chair while her mother withdrew unobtrusively to the far side of the room. "We know things aren't always the way they seem, Mr. Dyami. We know that there's more to the world than meets the eye. If you have something to say, I promise, we'll listen."
"I hoped," Dyami said brokenly, "that by donating him to the museum, I'd be rid of him."
That tingle came back on her, stronger than ever.
"Who, John?" her father asked.
Dyami tried to speak, and couldn't.
"The mummy?" Elisa asked gently. "Chief Akando?"
"You do know," breathed Dyami, relief making his entire body sag as if someone had loosened dozens of invisible wires.
"I don't know," Elisa said. "Tell me."
"He killed that woman tonight. And … and she isn't the first."
Haltingly, clutching the empty glass like a talisman, he told them how he'd wakened one morning three years ago to find his live-in lover dead. Elisa remembered seeing Crystal Leigh in a movie or two, but couldn't recall anything about her being killed.
"She was … she was there, on the floor," Dyami said, his voice hoarse. His throat clicked as he swallowed. "Bitten. Chewed."
Diane Maza made a soft involuntary noise and might have said something, probably along the lines of how he shouldn't torture himself like this, but Peter and Elisa both shook their heads at her. They were cops, and they had to hear it.
"And that … that damned thing … was with her. Beside her. As if … as if once he was … full … he had curled back up and gone to sleep. Him. Chief Akando."
"What did you do?" Elisa asked.
"I … I didn't know what to do. Poor Crystal … Crystal dead … who would have believed me? They … they might have said that I … that I killed her. So I … it's a large property, you see … I buried her. I said … when people asked where she was … I said she was at a spa in France. They knew …" He laughed, a ghastly cackle. "They thought I meant she was either at a rehab clinic, or having plastic surgery."
"And you returned the mummy to your collection?" Peter sounded like he was trying to keep the incredulity from his words. "You kept it? After that?"
Dyami nodded wretchedly. "I wasn't sure that … well, that I could destroy him. I thought he might … rise again. Come after me this time. I felt … I felt so trapped. My own home … it got so I … I hated going there. Made excuses to spend time away. Went … on location … as much as I could. New Zealand. I spent sixteen months in New Zealand. When I got back, I thought … I thought that if only I could find a place … a museum … not one in California, but all the way across the country … I'd be free."
"No one ever wondered what had happened to Crystal?" Elisa asked. "They bought the spa story?"
"Why wouldn't they? She … she was never much of an … an actress anyway. Minor-league star power at best. People forgot … forgot about her, you see."
"But now your mummy's killed two more people."
"Two?" He gaped at her.
She described how the security guard had been found dead in a puddle of blood and bleach and 409.
"I thought … that was what he wanted!" Dyami wailed. "I thought he wanted to be in a museum. That it would be more … respectful, somehow. But maybe I've been wrong. Maybe what he really wants is to be back where he belongs. Back in the cliff dwellings. That's why he killed Sara Whitefawn, for disturbing him."
"What?" Peter Maza said.
"And Hank Gorman. Do you remember Mr. Gorman, Pete?"
"Wait, John, slow down. How do you know this thing killed Miss Whitefawn? And Mr. Gorman, are you sure?"
"I bought the mummy from Gorman's estate." John Dyami flapped his hands in bafflement. "How he got those things … he had a collection of his own, but just stashed in this shed … or maybe he killed Sara Whitefawn. She stayed behind that day, and he took us to the motel, and we had pizza, remember?"
"Yes," Peter said.
"But later that night, Gorman was gone. He could have resented being nudged out of the discovery. They could have had a fight, and he killed her, and hid her body, and stole the mummy for himself. And kept it all those years, until Chief Akando finally dealt with him."
"All right, so what do we do?" Elisa asked. "How do we stop this thing?"
"I don't think we can," Dyami said. He sprang from his chair, as if telling his grim tale had removed a weight both literal and figurative from him, and refilled his drink at the mini-bar. "He'll kill, and kill, and kill. Until he gets what he wants."
"Which, you think, is to be taken back to Mesa Verde. After almost forty years?"
"Don't expect me to understand this." He threw back a shot of Scotch like it was Perrier. That release of a weighty burden had left him almost humming with distracted manic energy. "Maybe he can be destroyed."
"How? Stake through the heart? Silver bullets? Dad, any lore at all that might be helpful? No? Great. That's just great."
"I will destroy this monster," Goliath rumbled in her ear. She could picture his massive fists clenching, the muscles standing out in sharp relief on his thick forearms, biceps, shoulders, and chest.
"The museum isn't going to be very happy with you, or me, or anyone else marching in and destroying a priceless exhibit," she said.
Dyami shrugged and poured another dollop of Scotch. He was rapidly becoming drunk, and Elisa knew she wasn't going to be able to get much more out of him tonight.
Her parents agreed to stay with him while she went back to the museum. She didn't have a car, but ducking out onto a fire escape was easy enough. Moments later, the sturdy iron structure groaned as Goliath landed beside her.
Once she was in his arms, borne safely above the bustling city streets with the wind blowing cold in her hair, she couldn't help feeling that, whatever else might happen, all was right with the world.
November 9, 1996
Matt's prediction about the
security guards had been proven correct. They swore up and down that none
of them would let an unauthorized person into an exhibit, and not even
an authorized one without confirmation.
Preliminary reports from the coroners showed that Molly Palin and the guard, Bill Brascoe, had died from severe blood loss as a result from multiple bite wounds.
The newspapers were having a field day with the latest museum crisis. They had gory pictures, eyewitness accounts from many of the guests, and piles of speculation.
Elisa had been up all night and passed the day in a sleep so deep it could have rivaled the stone hibernation of the gargoyles. When she awoke, she found Goliath standing sentry outside her apartment.
She had six messages, and listened to them as she brewed coffee and found something to eat in the take-out container wasteland of her fridge. Cagney came meowing around, reminding her that she wasn't the only one who hadn't eaten since the night before.
Her father had called to say that Dyami drank himself unconscious around six in the morning, and that they would call her again in the evening. Captain Chavez wanted Elisa to stop by her office at the start of her shift. An intrepid reporter had somehow gotten hold of her number and wanted an interview. A political supporter was reminding her that the elections were coming up and that the candidate really wanted her support. One hang-up. And Matt.
"After you told me what Dyami said," his tape-recorded voice said as she ate a melange of lemon chicken, fried rice, and sesame beef, "I sweet-talked one of the CSIs into staying after hours. Nothing like a crime scene to put people in the mood; we've got a date for Saturday. Anyway, she let me spritz her Luminol –"
"Go, Matt, you dog," Elisa said through a mouthful of food.
"—and sure enough, that mummy lit up like a Broadway marquee. Not much visible blood; most looked to have been wiped off and the mummy's skin is so dark and crinkled anyway that you'd have to look real close to notice. But my date for the weekend says that it looks like several layers. Fresh stuff and old. She agreed to come back tonight and try to take a dental impression. If they match the wounds … well, damned if I know what we do next, but we'll have some sort of proof."
Elisa wolfed the rest of her meal, rushed through a shower, and was combing her hair when a roar and the patter of stone fragments told her that Goliath was awake. She found him trying to look dignified as Cagney twined, purring loudly, around his feet.
The museum was closed pending the outcome of the investigation. Elisa drove, aware of her shadowy guardian gliding above – it made her think of those silly bumper stickers, wondering if she should get one that read "never drive faster than your gargoyle can glide."
She saw Matt's car. Her partner had been busy. In addition to the crime tech, who was a chipmunk-cute blonde with huge blue eyes and a giggle like something out of a Disney cartoon, he had rounded up the head of museum security and permission from the curator to let them in.
Goliath, meanwhile, had stationed himself by the skylights again. Elisa had tried to tell him that it was overkill, that she and Matt probably could handle one brittle husk of a mummy. She could just imagine the reactions of the security guard and the crime tech if a gargoyle dropped in amid a hail of broken glass.
"Here's the problem," the crime tech, whose name was Tessa, said. She spoke with a disconcerting perky somberness. "We got back two sets of bite marks from the bodies."
"Whoa," Matt said. "Wait a minute. Two sets? Two biters?"
Tessa nodded. "Each body has one bite, only one, shallow impression from crooked teeth. The rest of the bites, and there's a lot of them, more on Molly Palin than on Bill Brascoe, are from someone with good teeth. Nice and straight."
The security guard, Ken Danielson, was clearly unhappy to be here. He didn't say anything, only opened doors as they came to them, and showed his nervousness by jingling his keys and staring around into the dimness.
In the "Sacred Southwest" exhibit hall, everything was still criss-crossed with yellow police tape and the chalk outline on the floor showed where Molly Palin's body had lain. Ken Danielson waited by the door, sometimes turning to look behind him with such jerky speed that Elisa thought he'd give himself a whiplash.
Matt, with an aplomb born of a lifetime of explaining nutty theories to people, told Tessa their suspicious. Her big sweetheart-blue eyes got bigger, and she looked like she was waiting for Dick Clark to pop out and tell her she was on "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes," but something in Matt's earnestness must have gotten through to her.
Elisa wasn't wild about approaching Chief Akando. The mummy was locked in a fetal position inside a wooden box, the whole thing enclosed in a glass case. The brass lock was shiny, new, and undamaged.
Danielson forked over a key, but would come no closer. Matt had to unlock the case. Elisa put her hand on her gun. She didn't know what she believed, but if that wizened thing made a move on her partner, she wanted to be ready.
Nothing happened. The door opened, releasing a smell like yellowed paper and brown leaves. Matt looked into the wooden box with morbid fascination, then stepped back and beckoned Tessa.
She gingerly examined what she could see of the teeth. "I'd have to pry the jaws apart to take a cast," she said, "but … well, darned if they don't look like they'd fit the impressions we got."
"Go ahead and pry," Elisa said. "Carefully, though."
Tessa looked insulted at the implication. She prodded at the hinges of the jaw with the tips of her gloved fingers.
When the mummy's mouth fell wide open, Tessa squeaked and leaped back into Matt. The tendons had given a rusty groan and the lower jaw just hung there, mouth agape, chin resting on the sticklike ridge of the collarbone.
The teeth were caked with reddish-brown stains.
"Ohboy," Tessa said, running it together into one word. She pinched a swab as far toward the end as she could and poked it against the stains, her posture saying that she was just waiting for the mummy to chomp the swab in half.
It didn't. The swab went into a bag, and Tessa took out a pliable block of material that she inserted between the rows of snaggled ivory teeth. The mummy didn't bite down on that, either. She had to push the chin up, forcing the teeth to sink into the block.
When this procedure was done and she was able to retreat, Tessa blew out a shaky breath. "Creepy," she said.
"Yeah," Matt said. "How does it look?"
"I'd want to compare it at the lab to be a hundred percent sure," she said, "but to me it looks like a match."
"For one set," Elisa said. "The single bite. What about the other ones?"
"Elisa," Matt said.
She closed her eyes. "Oh, my God."
"You better call."
"Yeah." She spun and raced toward the door, shocking Danielson into nearly wetting his pants. "Phone, I need a phone and I need it now."
"There's one in the office –"
"Perfect. Let's move."
She called the Blackstone Hotel and asked for John Dyami's room. The clerk, eager to protect the privacy of a big-name client, wasn't cooperative, and she couldn't shove a badge in his face over the telephone. By the time she finally convinced him, a dark whirlpool was churning inside her. A terrible feeling of being too late, too late …
Her mother answered, sounding worried. "Peter?"
"Mom, it's me."
"Elisa, have you heard from your father?"
"No … isn't he there?"
A crash, a thump, and a high-pitched scream came from the direction of the exhibit hall. Elisa let the phone fall, swinging at the end of its cord. Ken Danielson was frozen in the doorway, white as a ghost. She shoved past him and ran.
Another crash, louder, the tinkling of glass raining down from a skylight seeming to go on and on. A heavy thud, and another short scream, quickly muffled.
"Let the woman go!" Goliath growled.
Elisa burst through the doorway, gun in hand.
She could see Matt Bluestone, laid out on the floor with thick shards of pottery forming a chunky clay halo around his head. She could see Goliath, wings flared, tail lashing.
A figure stood beside the mummy's wooden box, holding Tessa like a shield between himself and the gargoyle. He wore a beaded loincloth, a headband, and little else aside from red and yellow painted body-markings.
She almost couldn't recognize him as the urbane John Dyami.
He only needed one arm to hold Tessa, who was petite and paralyzed with fear. With the other, he had reached into the box and brought Chief Akando into a semi-sitting position. His thumb clacked the mummy's jaw with a ventriloquist's skill. Dyami's own teeth – straight, white, and perfect – were bared.
"Let her go," Elisa said, moving up until she was at Goliath's side. "Let her go, Dyami, it's over."
But she couldn't shoot, and Goliath couldn't attack, without risking Tessa.
She understood everything now. The mummy couldn't move on its own, couldn't kill. He had used it, maybe even believed it in his madness, but it had all been Dyami.
His eyes glittered bright with insanity. He leaned Tessa and the mummy toward each other, working the mummy's jaws in preparation for that first bite.
Goliath tensed and Elisa knew he meant to go for it, better to act than stand and do nothing as those hideous teeth closed on Tessa's shoulder.
Before he could, before Elisa could shift position to get a clearer field of fire, Dyami lunged forward a step. He grunted. He let go of Tessa, who fell to her hands and knees and scurried away.
Dyami slowly turned. A spear, its haft decorated with a clutch of eagle feathers, protruded from his back. The chipped stone head was buried deep between his ribs.
He reached around to grope for it, but his hands slipped away. He tottered another few steps. His hip slammed the wooden box, knocking it from its stand. The mummy fell out, landing on its head, the gaping jaw snapping off and skidding toward Elisa.
Peter Maza emerged from the shadows. His face was torn with grief but the set of his mouth was grim.
"I'm so sorry, John," he said.
John Dyami sank to his knees. He raised his head to Peter. Blood ran from the corner of his mouth. He coughed, tried to form Peter's name, and could not.
The expression in his eyes as he finally collapsed was one more of gratitude than anything else.
In the distance, sirens howled. Danielson must have had the presence of mind to call the police. Elisa touched Goliath's arm and looked at him urgently, and he nodded in understanding. He couldn't be found here. There would be too many questions even without the presence of a gargoyle.
She checked Matt – alive but unconscious. Checked Tessa – scared but unharmed. Checked Dyami – dead. Finally, she went to her father.
He stood over Dyami's body, head down, gazing blankly at the spear he had thrown. Elisa put her arms around him. He held her, drawing and releasing long quavering breaths.
"I had to," he said.
"I know, Dad."
"He killed those people. Sara Whitefawn … all the way back on that bus ride he was so angry at her for trying to claim what he thought was our find. Hank Gorman went out that night, but so did John. We were sharing a room. I woke up and he was gone."
"It's okay, Dad."
"Gorman died right after our twenty-year high school reunion. It was the first time John and I had both been back. He must have figured out, somehow, that Gorman had the mummy. So he killed Gorman, too."
"Yeah. And Crystal Leigh, and the two people here last night. Of course the security guard would have let him in unchallenged."
"And who knows how many others over the years."
"It's over now, Dad. It's done."
August 3, 2003
The other interns might have
thought it was a crap assignment, stupid make-work that wouldn't really
accomplish anything or get a person noticed. But Bobby Runningdeer couldn't
have asked for a better way to spend his summer.
Cataloging the museum's collection of Native American artifacts, how cool was that?
All right, so it was a little spooky. The museum had subterranean rooms and catacombs so vast and so full of two hundred years' worth of stuff that nobody really knew for sure what was down here.
He found the room easily enough, though. It had been untouched for almost six years. The items had been stacked hurriedly and haphazardly on shelves. Not organized at all.
One of the curators had told him that these things had been part of an exhibit that never opened. That there had been some deaths, including that of the man who'd donated most of the collection. The museum board decided it was all too controversial, and put everything away.
Bobby prowled the shelves happily. He was a recent graduate with majors in both American History and Native American Studies. He would have been lucky to find any sort of work in his field, but this! This was his dream job!
It took him almost two hours to discover the long wooden box. Something was in it, wrapped in a faded but still colorful woven blanket.
He folded back the blanket's edge.
A withered, eyeless face stared up at him. The ring of crooked ivory teeth seemed to be grinning.
February 2004 / email@example.com / www.christine-morgan.org