History’s Secret

Sunlight shone over the two story building, white exterior blinding me as it did every day. I sighed and covered my eyes. Sometimes I wondered why I ever left Egypt to return here. Deserts and scorching heat beat any meeting with the director.

Another day, another lecture, I thought and walked through the museum’s front door. I entered into the lobby and stopped, staring around at the exhibits. The civil war heroes commanded attention upon first entering. The shiny buttons, the military uniforms, the old weapons all gleamed in historic pride.

Straight forward lead into the local history, to the right the world history, and upstairs held the dinosaur and caveman displays. A small museum, but one I cared about somewhere deep down.

I headed left towards the staff elevator behind the mahogany desk.

A repair man dressed in a blue jumpsuit stood at the elevator doors. He looked up when I neared. “Sorry miss, this here elevator is broken. I think something got stuck down there,” he said, pointing to the bottom of the shaft. “You’ll have to take the stairs.”

I groaned. My office rested in the basement with the artifacts, with only one exit to the main floor: the stairs. I pushed open the metal door and descended one flight, my boots echoing across the narrow staircase walls.

I exited the stairwell and walked across the nature exhibits. Tigers, bears, and even colorful birds lightened the room but not my stress.

A large golden arch loomed to my right, and I paused. Red rope blocked the wooden doors, barring entrance from wandering viewers. “Egyptian Exhibit Coming Soon” stated a large sign above the arch. Somedays I wanted to write “Evelyn’s” in front of the words. The curator and director seemed to forget that most of the time.

After six months in Egypt’s deserts I’d found a lost pharaoh’s body, but most of the artifacts had been missing or broken. Back in the States, I spent most nights piecing them together and readying the exhibit.

I checked my watch. I still had five minutes till our meeting. I pushed back the rope, unlocked the padlock and opened the door.

Sunlight streamed in from the skylights. I padded through the small room. Boxes, swords, signs, and glass cases of small artifacts scattered across the floor. The exhibit was still fresh, up to me to finish. Most of the artifacts sat one floor lower in the basement.

The only display near completion was the mummy. My mummy.

I walked to the large glass pane. A golden sarcophagus stood against the back wall, facing the imaginary audience. Inside rested a bound skeleton, bandaged bones shining in the faint sunlight. I’d insisted he be placed first, deserving a real home rather than sitting somewhere in the basement amongst broken pieces of his treasures.

I turned to leave, slipping through the door and rope.

I stopped outside an office and checked myself in the shaded window’s reflection. My ponytail held my light brown locks back, though my bangs had slipped through and now flopped against my forehead, almost covering my eyes. I’d been out of Egypt for a few weeks now, yet I still dressed for a dig. Tan boots, khaki cargo shorts with tools stuffed in pockets, and a white T-shirt. Air conditioning was so foreign on my skin after six months in the desert heat.

I took a deep breath and knocked.

“Come in,” called Mr. Randall.

I entered, noting how his office was bigger than mine. Unlike him, I actually needed and filled the space with real work.

Mr. James Randall sat behind his large desk, looking like a principal. His glasses teetered on the tip of his nose precariously. He leaned forward on his elbows and said, “I hear from George that you haven’t made much progress with the artifacts.”

George Jones was the head curator, and a big pain in my ass.

“George moves my artifacts and my glue,” I replied through gritted teeth, “and takes the tablespace. I cannot finish a piece if he puts it somewhere I cannot find it.”

“You are an archaeologist. You should keep better watch on your time and work,” Mr. Randall said. “You have three days to finish the pieces, then we need to finish the displays.”

“But, sir, I can’t do it alo—”

“You can and you will, Evelyn,” Mr. Randall interrupted. He sat back in this chair, shoulders straight. “With a closed exhibit we are losing money, and we need a great deal of it now. Finish your work or your exhibit will be displaced for another.”

I squeezed my hands into fists.

“Yes, sir.”

I stood and left with heated steps.

Down the second flight of stairs, the basement loomed, large and wide and filled with boxes both open and taped shut. Artifacts, ancient weapons, and jewelry sat on top of the cartons, or tables, or in glass cases.

Sighing, I sat in my uncomfortable metal chair and got to work.

Not one hour passed before a shadow appeared to my right.

“Done yet, Evelyn?” a voice asked.

“Hello, George,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “No, I’m not done yet.”

I looked up, pottery shard in hand, glue in the other.

George leaned against my desk in a tweed jacket, brown slacks, and loafers. His brown hair parted just above the Band-Aid on his left eyebrow. I’d accidentally dropped a box when he’d been holding the ladder for me in my mummy exhibit. Oops.

I motioned to the piles of semi-sorted pottery on my desk. “There are over a hundred pieces here and not all go to the same piece.”

“Don’t let Randall catch you slacking off,” he said, picking up a piece from the pile nearest him and examining it.

I snatched it back, annoyed.

“I have to sort, clean, catalogue, and match each piece,” I replied. “Then glue just enough to hold them together, but not too much that it seeps to the outside. Leave me alone,” I said, raising my glue bottle threateningly, “or I’ll glue your precious little convertible top shut.”

George’s mouth stiffened into a line, but he retreated.

Hours and four glued pottery pieces later, a hand tapped my shoulder.

I jumped, grabbed the knife in my shorts, and turned.

Julio, the night guard stood behind me, uniform in pristine condition.

“Sorry, Evie,” he said. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“No, you’re fine, Julio,” I replied.

I tucked the knife away. In the deserts, grave-robbers had prepared me for action and defending myself. A hard habit to break even back in the quiet museum.

“Looks like it’s just you and me tonight.”

I glanced at the clock. Ten. The museum had closed. “Why?”

“Budget cuts,” Julio replied. “They can only afford one guard at night now.”

“I guess that makes sense,” I said, sighing. “No one else stays as late as me.”

“I’ll be out and about if you need me,” Julio said, and left.

I returned to the 3-D puzzle of an urn. I spent almost as much time here at night as Julio did. Our paths crossed many times, and we’d developed a sense of friendship. We’d check up on each other or bring a snack or drink.

Two hours later, the urn missed only one piece, lost somewhere in my piles. I stretched, yawning, and decided I needed some coffee. I listened to the quiet of an empty museum.

The clock read a few minutes after midnight. I paused, arms stretched above my head. Julio hadn’t come to see me in two hours. That’s odd, I thought. Maybe he wanted to leave me to work.

I pushed my chair in and headed to the snack and drink machine down the hall near the stairwell. I sipped the strong, hot coffee from the Styrofoam cup and headed back to my desk.

I scooted my metal chair back and stared at the newspaper clipping I’d taped on the wall. “Local Archaeologist Finds Pharaoh in Egypt” the headline read. The picture captured me and my two man dig crew here in the basement standing around my mummy in his sarcophagus. I smiled, missing the recognition I’d earned that day.

Then I glanced down. On top of my pottery piles lied a note. The handwriting scrawled, “Nice mummy. Want to see mine?”

Was Julio playing a game with me? Trying to scare me? We were the only two in the entire building. I grabbed the note and started off to the stairs.

I flung open the door, stomped across to the arch and opened the unlocked door. I paused. Unlocked? I wondered. Julio wouldn’t leave it open.

“Julio?” I called.

I crept inside, my boots echoing. Looking over my shoulder, I made my way to the pharaoh’s sarcophagus.

“Julio, where are you—”

I turned to face my mummy and screamed.

Where my pharaoh had rested just hours before stood a fresh body, bandages so soaked with blood that it dripped onto the bottom of the sarcophagus. The eyes had been gauged out of the skull, skin peeled back from the face.

Through the bandages shone the name tag marked “Julio.”

I stepped backwards.

He’d been alive when the museum had closed, the doors locked and sealing us inside. Someone had killed Julio and mimicked mummification sometime afterwards. They were probably still inside the building.

The dripping blood’s pace matched my heart rate: fast and unsteady.

I lifted the note  and reread it. The killer wanted me to see this, I thought. He wants me to know he’s here.

The intercom beeped, then a male voice rang across the exhibit, “Do you like my mummy? Yours was so…old. I thought a new one might spice up the exhibit.” The man laughed.

I gripped the knife in my pocket. I’m tapped, I thought. I have to get out of here! How do I get out? I asked myself. The elevator’s down, leaving only the stairs to the lobby.

“This here elevator is broken, Miss Evelyn,” the man said, mimicking the country accent of the elevator worker before.

That was him? I thought, stomach seizing. I’d come face-to-face with him earlier?

“Yes, I broke it. And I’ve locked the stairwell door.”

“What do you want?” I asked, knife hand shaking.

“Your assistance, Evelyn,” his voice boomed across the almost empty exhibit. “See, if I want to stay anonymous, I can’t touch evidence. That’s what I need you for.”

“You’ll kill me either way,” I called. “Won’t you?”

“No, actually,” he replied. “I need someone to take the blame for poor Julio’s death. Who better than the underappreciated and underpaid archaeologist?” His chuckle came over the loud speaker. “I can see the headline now, “Stressed Archaeologist Kills for Pharaoh’s Jewels.” You can put that on your cell wall.”

I ground my teeth, then yelled, “So it’s jewels you want?”

“Very clever, Evelyn,” he said, sounding pleased. “Very clever.”

“You’re out of luck,” I said, stepping back from Julio’s body. The stench wafted with the air conditioning, overwhelming my sense. “There were no jewels in the pharaoh’s tomb. They were stolen before.”

“But you’re wrong, dear Evelyn. What I want, you haven’t found yet.”

“I searched and cataloged every piece—”

“But you’re an archaeologist,” his voice boomed. “You preserve pieces. Not break them. You wouldn’t think to look inside.”

My fear twisted to anger. I turned, gazing up to the ceiling until I found a camera pointed at Julio and me. “I will not break history just so you can find some jewels. If you want that, do it yourself.”

The air stayed silent. Then static rang over the intercom, and I covered my ears. A muffled, familiar voice said through the speakers, “Who goes there?” Then a thud, and a scream.

Julio? I wondered. He recorded Julio?

“That,” the killer said, “was your friend’s last noise. Do you want to live, Evelyn? Do you want justice for his death?”

He paused, and I gripped my knife tighter.

Julio’s blood dripped, pooling in the sarcophagus.

I turned away.

“Where’s my mummy?” I asked.

“With me,” the man replied. “You’ll get him back, and proof that you never left your desk, if you do what I say.”

What choice did I have? Resist, save artifacts, and die. Or, do what he said, maybe live, maybe not go to prison, and destroy artifacts.

I looked over to the sarcophagus. Julio’s empty sockets gazed back, black pockets peering into his skull. Was he alive or dead when the man did that, I wondered. I hoped I didn’t find out.

Five open crates, two smashed urns, and one unlocked chest later, I slammed a wooden lid down on a crate, a thud reverberating across the basement. I had followed his orders and returned to my basement office to search for nonexistent jewels, all to find nothing.

“It’s not here!” I yelled, staring at the crate filled with the broken urn’s remains. “I told you there are no—”

“Did I tell you to stop, Evelyn?” Julio’s killer replied calmly.

The wood creaked beneath my strengthening grip. What’s he going to do, I wondered, when I don’t find what he wants?

“Why do you think the pharaoh hid these jewels?” I asked. “Egyptians wanted their treasures near then, displaying their power. Hidden, they accomplish nothing.”

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Evelyn,” he crooned, voice booming trough the basement. “Your pharaoh had a secret, and these jewels prove it. He wanted them close, but not to destroy his legend.”

“What are you talking about—” I started to ask, then stopped.

I recalled the history behind my pharaoh. There was a myth that he’d held a lover, a concubine, whom he’d cherished more than his wife. The myth alleged that he’d given her a necklace originally meant for his queen. A necklace with a large emerald scarab dominating the piece, a symbol of both royal status and rebirth. Legend was, the queen discovered the concubine and killed her, and the pharaoh had taken the secret, and the necklace, to his grave.

“I know what you’re looking for,” I said to the ceiling, anger bubbling. “That’s a myth. You killed for a myth!”

His laughter barked over the speakers. “Very good, Evelyn, very good. I was starting to think I was the only history buff here,” he said, a smile in his voice. “To outsmart an archaeologist on her own mummy, that would’ve been so embarrassing for you.”

My hand shook, rattling the crate’s lid. I stepped away, trying to control my fear and my anger.

“Why do you think the jewels are here?” I asked. “Not stolen?”

“He would have wanted them close, in his chamber,” the killer replied. He paused. “On his person. Where are his staffs?”

I turned, gaped at a camera.

“No.”

“Evelyn,” his voice was flat with tension.

I brushed my bangs out of my face, fingers shaking. How far will I go for this? I wondered. Urns I could glue back together, though they would take time. A staff…that was different.

“Tell me,” his loud voice threatened, “or I’ll show you just how much I know about mummification.”

Damn it, I thought. Damn me. Damn him.

“It’s in…” I started, and my voice shook. I cleared my throat. “It’s in the exhibit.”

“Are you lying to me, Evelyn?”

I wished he’d stop using my name, his voice was starting to make me hate it.

“No,” I replied. “It’s in a glass case. I have the key.”

“Then go.”

I nodded, and headed for the stairs. I didn’t want to see Julio’s mangled face again, the ruined sarcophagus holding a body it wasn’t meant to preserve.

Taking a deep breath, I entered my exhibit, eyes away from the sarcophagus display. I removed the key-ring from one of my cargo pockets and sorted until I found the right one. I lifted the glass lid and stared at the crook and flail staffs. Two rods, one curved like a Shepard’s staff, the other with three beaded strands hanging from a short chain. Both scepters were bound in blue and gold stripes running their lengths. Symbols of royal power, they had been buried with the mummy. To destroy them was a crime to history.

“Take them out, Evelyn,” the man ordered.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and did as he said, grabbing the flail.

“See if there’s a false bottom,” he said. “If not, break them.”

I felt the bottom, pried at the smooth, rounded edge, picked with my nail even. Nothing. I tried with the crook. My nail lifted the thin bottom plate. I gasped.

“Go ahead, Evie.”

Slowly, I removed the crook’s bottom piece and tilted the staff. A sheet of papyrus slipped out into my palm. I unrolled the yellowed paper, and found a necklace on top of a map of Egypt.

“Good job,” the killer said over the intercom.

I laid the papyrus flat on the glass lid, reading the hieroglyphs spanning the edges. The necklace’s scarab shaped emerald dominated the front piece, as legend had said. The gold was inlaid with lapis lazuli, the gem of rebirth to the Egyptians.

The door to the exhibit creaked.

I turned, hand dropping to the knife in my pocket.  I surveyed the room, taking in the possible weapons: the pharaoh’s staffs, shattered pottery, and a sword from the past pirate exhibit. My knife and the sword were my best type of defense, and offense. But what if he had a gun? I hadn’t checked to see how he’d killed Julio, whether by stabbing, suffocation, or bullet.

“Stay where you are,” he ordered, voice less booming but still as controlling in person.

He stepped out of the shadowy entrance, a tall man dressed in jeans and black, long sleeve shirt. Gloves and boots matched his clothing, but nothing covered his harsh face and brown hair. He appeared similar to me, almost fresh out of the desert, with dark tanned skin and a wildness to his hair and eyes.

“Give me the map and the necklace, Evelyn,” he ordered, tone calm. “And I’ll leave this tape of you sitting at your desk all night.” He waved his hand, holding a VCR tape.

I readied my grip on my knife, and stepped between him and the artifacts. “I won’t let you take them. They change history, now that they’ve been discovered.”

The man stopped his advance, appraised me with brown eyes. “Ah, I see. You want to take the credit,” he said. “Leaving with your life isn’t enough for you?”

My heart thudded. This man had killed a security guard, Julio had been trained in self-defense to some extent. What did I know? How to glue pottery and search tombs. Not much help here.

You scoured Egypt, I thought. You defended yourself against grave robbers. You can survive this.

I brandished the knife.

“You’re not leaving with them,” I repeated. “I don’t care about credit, I want the artifacts safe.”

“Well then,” he replied, “you’ve made your choice.”

He lunged, gloved hand reaching.

I jerked backwards, swinging the knife out. The blade missed his arm and I stumbled to the side, out of his reach.

He chuckled, a deep rumble, and knocked the knife away.

“I didn’t want to do this, Evelyn,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re a fighter, I know. It seems we’ll have to do this differently.”

I gripped my hands into fists to stop their shaking. If I go down, I thought, I’ll fight. I raised my fists and planted my feet.

He laughed again and said, “You’re the feistiest historian I’ve ever seen, Evelyn. That’s earned you some points. ”

His gloved hand swung, and I tried to block, but his leg swiped my feet out from under me.

I fell, landing hard on my back, breath gone. Gasping, I rolled over before he could hold me down. I sprung to my feet, reflexes kicking in from months in Egypt. I resumed my fighting stance, hands in front of my face. He won’t knock me down again, I thought.

“I might let you live,” he said, smiling, “but only because you amuse me. You’ve been good, Evelyn.”

I slowly stepped to the side towards some crates, an idea sparking.

His eyes followed me, and I felt a hint of obsession in his gaze. He’d left me a note, watched me on the cameras, and kept repeating my name.

Maybe I can distract him, I thought.

“How did you know about the map?” I asked, still moving.

“I was wondering if you’d ask, Evelyn,” he replied, flexing his gloved fingers. “I’m a historian, I study pharaohs and history of the past. Knowledge is power.”

“But only when it comes to jewels?” I guessed, stopping behind the crate.

He chuckled, walking forward. “Gold, too.”

I waited for him to advance closer, then grabbed the wooden crate’s lid and swung it around, smashing into his side.

He bent inwards, holding his arm and stomach.

Using all my strength, I brought the wood down on his head. It vibrated in my hands on impact, and a loud crack reverberated.

He moaned and his feet crumbled under him, landing in a lump on the tile floor.

I dropped the lid, panting, and stepped back. I looked around, then grasped some rope discarded from a display. Slowly, I crept to the man, toeing his leg to check for consciousness. I crouched behind him and bound his arms tightly, then his legs, and his waist.

I ran to a wall near the exhibit entrance and called the cops. Then I leaned against the wall and concentrated on my breathing. Over, I thought. It’s over.

Once my heart rate slowed, I kept a good distance from the unconscious killer and made my way over to the map and necklace. I placed the staffs in the case and shut the lid, laying the map out on its surface.

Police will be here soon, I thought, and I’ll have to explain how I found these.

These changed history, proved a legend true. All I have to do is find the lost mummy and—damn, I thought. I’ll never leave the museum if the two idiots have any say.

I sighed, stopping my hopes. If the director—or worse, George—discovered these artifacts, they would take them. Display them or confiscate them for their own greedy needs. They’d ignore my pleas for a dig. Even if they liked the idea, they’d never pick me to search. This map, with the emerald as an aid, could lead me to the concubine’s burial site. Her body would alter history for my pharaoh tremendously. She would prove the legends true. If I started a dig for her I could find her.

Showing these to the director or the curator would halt those plans immediately. I thought about my desk, the one drawer with a lock I alone held. I could keep them there until things died down. Then, I could start another search.

My thoughts traveled to the newspaper clipping above my work-space, to my old dig crew staring back from their picture with me. Those two never could turn down a favor from me, I thought. They were always up for another adventure.

I looked at Julio’s dripping body, still in the sarcophagus, then to his killer, unconscious and tied up on the floor. Did I really want another adventure?

Sirens blared outside, weak through the walls and floor. They’d reach me in minutes. I had to make a decision.

Despite the staffs, the urns, the chests, the pottery, even the sarcophagus, this museum couldn’t stand up to my dreams or my memories. Being surrounded by treasures of the past and my pharaoh couldn’t compare to finding secrets and changing history. These boxes and crates held artifacts, but my heart craved more.

The skylights showed a dark night, stars shining through the glass. Oh, how I longed for the stars in the open deserts of Egypt. The emerald necklace and the map had sparked my need. I studied the map again, feeling the tug inside my chest.

The hieroglyphs on the papyrus seemed to dance in the moonlight. Egypt and history called me.