"Look out for that crocodile, darling. The most dangerous creature in Egypt, the embodiment of the essence of evil." Jake held out his hand to lower me down as I tossed a few quarters in the water, for good luck. The ebony croc mocked the gesture, his gaping mouth posed for eternity, seeking something meatier than the quiche that was being circulated around the room.
I kissed Jake's cheek, which was already covered with the shapes of pursed lips in a variety of colors. "I don't mind that you're in loco husband for Nina, but who's the rest of my competition?"
"That last woman? Just one of the trustees. Didn't catch her name. Gushing about how exciting the joint show is going to be and asking whether the networks are covering the fireworks tonight."
"There's supposed to be a preview, a five-minute sound-and-light show to kick off the news about the bestiary exhibition. Here comes Thibodaux. He'll do the honors."
Instead, the director walked straight toward us, smoothing his jacket with one hand and his hair with the other. "Nina, may I have a word with you? Do you know where Quentin is?"
"I'll find him for you. Pierre, I'd like you to meet my -- "
"Enchanté." He greeted us tersely but his eyes searched the room over my shoulder. He and Nina broke away, retracing our steps to look for the producer.
I glanced at my watch. "Soon as we tear her loose, think you'd treat your two dates to burgers at '21'?"
"My chariot awaits you, madam."
Nina, Quentin, and Pierre had their heads together at the top of the stairs. The director did a double take over his shoulder as Quentin pointed down at me. Nina was shaking her head in the negative and trying to block me from Quentin's line of sight. You're right, pal. Whatever it is, keep me out of it.
Pierre Thibodaux didn't wait for the others to descend the two tiers of steps.
"Miss Cooper? Mr. Vallejo just told me that you're a prosecutor. May I have a moment with you, alone, for some advice? Do you mind, Mr. Tyler?" This time, no guard admonished us as Thibodaux led me back up to the platform, removed the rope between the two pillars at the entrance of the Temple of Dendur, and stepped into the quiet archway.
"You're a bureau chief in the Manhattan district attorney's office? I need your help in dealing with the police tonight."
"Here, at the museum?"
"No, actually, in a freight yard. I'm going to make a few remarks to close the evening and send all these people on their way. We'll forgo the drama of the UniQuest Productions pyrotechnics. The last thing we need tomorrow is any bad publicity linked to our splendid new show."
"Perhaps I can make a call to the proper -- "
"There's a shipment of exhibits going abroad, stored in containers for transit. It's a very routine occurrence for us. Crates go in and out of the country all the time. Exchanges with other museums, items we've deaccessioned or loaned to foreign institutions. Happens regularly."
"I doubt there's anything that I can help you with. If you've got a problem with Customs -- " I said, as Thibodaux continued to speak over my objection.
"What doesn't usually happen is that one of the ancient sarcophagi was opened for inspection a few hours ago. There was supposed to be a mummified princess in the coffin, Miss Cooper. Twelfth Dynasty, Middle Kingdom. A couple of thousand years old and quite valuable. Instead, there's a corpse inside. Someone has substituted a body, I'm afraid. A few centuries younger than my princess, no doubt, but just as dead."
Copyright © 2003 by Linda Fairstein
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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