Can she get to the bottom of a mystery that's remained unsolved for thousands of years?
And just what is Geraldine Koliakov's involvement with wardrobes?
The Mummy Shrugged can also be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.
THE MUMMY SHRUGGED
by Stephen Walker
There were certain jobs in this life that you knew were rubbish without having to do them.
Official Government Occult Investigator was one of them.
If you did it, you knew you'd either be bored out of your mind because there was no such thing as The Occult to investigate or you were going to be in a regular battle for your life, with the forces of evil.
Unfortunately, in her first eighteen months in the role, Liz Sanford had discovered that both those things somehow managed to be the least of the job's drawbacks.
That Monday morning proved no exception as, the moment she walked into her office, she was hit in the face by something.
It was a carrier bag.
And, as it had hit her, she'd heard heard the words, “Betty, put this on.”
The twenty-six-year-old picked the bag up from where it had fallen, assumed it wasn't the thing her boss had just ordered her to put on, and opened it in order to study its contents.
Inside, she found two items of clothing.
She frowned at both of them.
“What're these?” she said.
The bag had been thrown at her by her boss Lou. From his chair behind his desk, he said, “That, Betty, is your brand new she-pharaoh outfit.”
“Your she-pharaoh outfit. It's what you're going to be wearing from now on."
“Why would I be wearing a 'she-pharaoh' outfit?"
“For your job. At the museum."
“What job? At what museum?"
“The Salford Museum of Antiquities."
“Lou, what the hell're you on about?"
The Department of Occult Investigation was based in a back office, up some stairs, in the middle of Sheffield. She'd have liked to have claimed that starting a working week in a state of total confusion was a new experience for her but, sadly, it wasn't.
Lou said, “The whole country's gone Egypt crazy.”
“Don't you read the papers?” he said. “The mummy of Shimankhtep has just been loaned to the museum, by some place in Germany. It's zillions of years old and everyone loves it. Therefore, as a special treat to everyone – yourself included - you're going to be spending the next week at that very museum, giving daily lectures to children about life in Ancient Egypt.”
Her sidekick Alison Parker was sat in the plastic chair beside his desk. She was twenty one, all in black, with purple hair, and a ring through her nose. The girl said, “You'll knock 'em dead, Liz. I've never met anyone knows more about Ancient Egypt than you do.”
“But to do that,” said Lou, “it's vital you get in character. Hence you'll be dressed as a she-pharaoh.”
“This is just a skirt and head-dress,” Liz pointed out. “Where's the top?”
“There isn't one,” he said. “I have it on good authority that she-pharaohs of whatever dynasty it is we're talking about didn't wear them.”
“So let me get this straight,” she said. “I walk into my office this morning and the first thing that happens is my total moron of a boss tells me to get my norks out? Does the phrase, 'Inappropriate requests of a female employee,' mean anything to you?”
“It's not my idea,” he said. “It's hers.” He pointed at Alison.
Alison said, “Liz, you have to face it. Since you punched the nation's favourite sculptress in the face, thinking she was a robot, the public mood's turned against you.”
“Not that they ever liked you in the first place,” said Lou.
“We need to sort out your PR,” said Alison, “and we need to do it fast. Nothing warms the public's heart more than the sight of a woman being nice to children. And everyone but the Secretary of State for Education thinks education's a good thing”
“And whipping my tits out is your idea of educational, is it?”
“It's the museum director,” said Alison. “He insisted. He said, 'Miss Parker, if Dr Sanford isn't historically accurate, the whole deal's off. Our reputation as a museum would be in tatters.'”
“Not only that, Liz but check this out.” Lou flung a huge lump of something at her.
She caught it and looked at it. “What the hell's this?”
“Anubis' head. At one point in the lecture, you put this on and tell the kids how the Egyptians dealt with the dead. Kids love all that stuff. It'll be like Horrible Histories.”
“But there is one slight problem with the head,” said Alison.
“One,” said Lou, “it doesn't let air in, which means you might find yourself passing out, and, two, thanks to a design fault, it'll only fit the human body if put on backwards.”
“So let me get this straight,” she said. “You want me to stand there with my tits out, my head on backwards and talk at a bunch of kids until I collapse?”
“Everyone loves a plucky loser,” he said.
“They won't love anything. Because I'm not doing it.”
“You don't have a choice,” he said. “The Minister's big on it.”
She planted both palms on the table, leaned forward and gazed a steely gaze straight into his eyes. “Lou. What am I? I'm the nation's Number 1 occult investigator. I save the country from paranormal peril. How does this help my image?”
On the desk, the phone rang. Alison answered it. “Alison Parker: Department of Occult Investigation. Yep? Seriously? You're joking! No, I don't suppose it is a thing you'd joke about. Don't do anything. We'll be right down there.” She hung up the phone and grabbed her coat from the back of her chair. “Emergency time, folks.”
“Now what's up?” said Liz.
“It's the museum's Director of Antiquities,” Alison told her.
“What about him?” said Liz.
“He's been murdered,” said Alison.
“Thank God for that.”
“You see. This is why people don't like you,” said Lou. “The correct response to, 'A man's been murdered,' is, 'Oh no! That's terrible!' Not, 'Thank God for that.'”
“Oh put a sock in it, sexual harassment boy. You're only upset because his death means you're not going to get an eyeful.”
Liz and Lou were at the museum, studying its Director of Antiquities who was lying dead, on the floor, several feet away from where an Egyptian sarcophagus was lying open on a stand. It was obvious from the marks on his neck that he'd been strangled.
“This is how I found him,” said the man whose phone call had alerted Alison. When they'd arrived he'd informed them he was Montefue Beesley; the place's Assistant Director of Antiquities. “Not only that,” he said “but the mummy's been stolen.”
Alison was over by the sarcophagus, hands resting on one side of it as she peered into it. “Liz,” she said, “what's this?”
“It's a sarcophagus,” said Liz.
“I mean inside it.”
Liz rose to her feet and went across to join her.
It seemed Alison had spotted a parchment lying on the casket's floor. It was covered in hieroglyphics.
Montefue Beesley said, “I've never seen that before. It must have been hidden beneath the mummy for all these centuries.”
“No one's ever had the mummy out of the casket?” Liz asked.
“Oh good gracious no. It's far too fragile for that.”
“Yeah its so fragile it's strangled your boss.”
“Miss Sanford, you can't possibly be saying...”
“I'm an occult investigator, Mr Beesley. When I find a strangled man, a missing mummy and a mysterious parchment, I leap to the only conclusion I can.” She pulled out her phone and, not wanting to disturb the parchment, took a snap of its arcane symbols.
Alison said, “Can you read it?”
“It's in some sort of code,” said Liz. “But fortunately for us, I know a man who can fix that.”
He might have known more ways to embarrass you at a party than any man she'd ever met but, she had to hand it to him, when it came to things no one understood, the man in question knew his stuff.
That was why she was now in the lab of the man both she and he knew as Science Dave. She'd met him at university, eight years earlier, when they'd both been studying there. Him, for some sort of science geeky thing she couldn't care less about. And her, getting the doctorate in demonology that no one ever took seriously because everyone knew demons didn't exist.
Admittedly, as, after a year and a half as an occult investigator, she'd never once encountered anything that even vaguely resembled a demon, they could have been right.
This instant, Science Dave was stood before a blackboard, studying the photo on the screen of the phone Liz had just handed him. He said, “Let's see. If we transpose every third symbol on your mystery parchment with every fifth one, assume that half the characters are just there to throw us off the trail, throw in a little Sumerian, turn it all upside down and squint a little, we should have a message that reads...” He grabbed a piece of chalk and started to write it out on the blackboard, a letter at a time, his chalk clacking vigorously with each stroke.
When he'd finished, he took a step back and admired his handiwork.
His handiwork read; ALL WHO POSSESS THE SARCOPHAGUS OF SHIMANKHTEP MUST DIE!!!
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