The skyline loomed large through the open window and Harry sat back just looking at it. It had been days since the case file was left on his table. He and an army of investigators had hit it. They had hit it hard for five days, but had nothing to show for it -- and with a case like this, the longer it went, the colder the trail got.
It was late, past nine, and Harry was still in the office. He had spent the past hour staring at the file on his desk, and the facts seemed to stare right back at him. A man named Ronald Preston had started this whole ruckus. Preston was the source of Harold's frustration, the reason for his sleepless nights. Even if the detective wanted to do something about it, there was no way he could get a hold of Mr. Preston.
That was the whole problem. Ronald was gone. Vanished into thin air.
It was all pretty straight forward up to a certain point. It was at that point that nothing made sense. Ronald Preston was a bookkeeper for a company that sold time-shares. At a quarter past 4 PM, he said he needed to go to the photocopy machine on the second floor, because the one on the first floor (where his desk was) was out of order. His colleagues watched him step out of the office, and through the open door watched him enter the elevator. The staff on the second floor, who also kept their door open, swear the elevator did come up, but with no Ronald. The only thing they found were the papers he was carrying, left in a small pile in the centre of the lift.
Ronald was a quiet young man who lived alone. He had been in trouble only once in his life, when he had an accident driving drunk. He had survived, but lost an eye -- and had never repeated his mistake. Now the press were all over the disappearance. Preston’s colleagues had blabbed the whole thing to the papers. As a result the PD were under a lot of pressure to get results.
Harry shook his head for the thousandth time.
"There’s got to be something I'm missing..."
At that moment the phone rang, momentarily dragging the investigator away from his problem.
"Hello, Hernandez speaking."
"Hello, is this Detective Hernandez?" An older man’s voice inquired.
"Yes, with whom am I speaking please?"
"Sorry, my name is Grover, Dr. Alan Grover. I'm with the Archaeology Department at Hudson University. I'm sorry to catch you so late, you must have been on your way out..."
Harry smiled over the telephone,
"No, not really. I've been working late these days. How can I help you Dr. Grover?"
There was a pause, and what Harry thought was a long exhalation of breath from the other end.
"Actually, maybe its better if we met face to face. Would it be possible for you to come by the university, maybe this weekend?"
Harry's brow furrowed at the request. He was tired and didn’t really want to get into anything other than the problem he was trying to tackle.
"Well, Dr. Grover I don't think so, I'm up to my eyeballs with a missing persons case and..."
"It has to do with the Ronald Preston disappearance."
Dr. Grover let that hang for a moment or two before continuing, "If you come, I don't think you'll be sorry..."
Harry was dumbfounded. A lead after five days. Maybe this Dr. Grover and his students had come across some evidence doing a practice dig or something.
"Why don't I just come down tomorrow? If you have anything on the case, we’ll have to act on it immediately --"
"It'll have to be this weekend, Mr. Hernandez, and please, bring an open mind."
The drive to HU was pleasant enough. The institution was almost a hundred years old; it had been built to serve as a men's university far away from the city, a place where young men could develop strength of mind, body, and spirit without the distractions of city life. Rowing on Lake Lemon, wrestling, boxing and athletics were heavily encouraged along with the normal academic activities associated with seats of learning. It was an open secret that the founder, John Edgar Wallace, was a closeted homosexual, but by all accounts, he was a kindly man who kept his personal life as much to himself as possible. With time, urban sprawl had slowly erased the open lands between campus and metropolis; now, the suburbs were only a half hour drive away. Today's HU was a mid level co-ed university with an abysmal basketball team -- but an award-winning cheerleading squad.
Spruce trees lined the gravel-strewn driveway up to the main entrance. Even Harry's rubber-soled loafers crunched on the tiny white stones as he walked toward the glass doors. As he was about to approach the reception desk to enquire on the whereabouts of the archaeology department, a voice spoke up behind him.
Harry recognized the refined, educated voice immediately. He turned and saw a man roughly 10 years his senior, dressed in a polo shirt and slacks. His hair was a deep brown with slight graying on the sides. Dr. Grover was fair skinned, but seemed to have an almost Oriental look to his features. They shook hands heartily.
"Mr. Hernandez --"
"Please call me Harry."
"This way then, Harry."
Dr. Grover led Harold out the way he'd come in, and toward a midsized two story brick building roughly two hundred yards away.
"We share this place with Paleontology..."
The door opened into a dark, dingy, musty smelling corridor that had at least 4 doors on either side of it. At the end of the corridor Harry could see a stairwell.
Dr. Grover led Harry through the first door to the left into a small office. The room was a little overcrowded, but neat. It was decorated in a way that easily spoke volumes about its occupant, with various artifacts (real or copies? for the most part, Harry couldn't tell), on the walls, shelves, and desktop. Harry sat down in front of a battered oak desk and toyed with a small-scale replica of the Rosetta stone. Dr. Grover pulled out a file from a cabinet near the door and then moved to sit in front of his visitor.
"Well Mr. -- er, Harry, I am glad that you could make it."
Harry shifted in his seat to face his host.
"If what you told me on the phone was true, I'm happy to be here, Dr. Grover."
The Doctor smiled as he removed his glasses.
"Now you must indulge me. I am Alan to my friends."
"Well Alan, I'm here like you asked. You said you had something for me?"
Alan nodded and indicated the files in front him.
"Before we get into what’s in the files, let me get started on something else. Harry, I'm an archaeologist. Now I'm a lecturer, but in my younger days I was a field man myself. I worked for a few museums on the east coast and was actually funded for two years by the Egyptian department of antiquities."
Harry sat cross-legged on the vinyl covered chair. He felt a little uncomfortable in his suit and started to loosen his tie.
"Okay, but what does this have to do with the Preston disappearance?"
Alan nodded again and continued, "I'll get to that in a second. It was during my stint in Egypt that something happened. We were at a dig about 70 miles east of Luxor. It was a small temple complex at what had once been a small oasis. The dig was going pretty well. We had been there about 3 weeks and had found many artifacts, most in fine condition. Some old carvings, weapons and furniture were recovered at the upper levels, but when we went on to the lower levels, we discovered something else..."
Harry pursed his lips in anticipation, trying to hide his impatience. Alan opened his file before continuing.
"We discovered what turned out to be a burial chamber. The exciting thing was that it was undisturbed. We thought at first that it was unremarkable, a very poorly decorated crypt if you compared it those found in the Valley of the Kings, but what we found out about its occupant quickly dissolved all doubts we had about the importance of our find."
Harry's eyebrows furrowed again as he used his fingers to comb through his wavy hair. He was beginning to feel like he was on candid camera.
"The crypt belonged to a man named Hapu. He lived roughly 2500 years ago, Mr. Hernandez, but he was a man, one would say, a little ahead of his time.
"In his burial chamber along with the few knickknacks that made up his life, we found 106 wax sealed clay pots. All perfectly undisturbed, arranged in the same way they were when he was buried."
The inspector had had enough. He could think of better ways to spend his Saturday. If he hurried back he could catch the matinee.
"Listen, Dr. Grover, I don't know where this is going but I can't see any possible connection between this Happy character and --"
"Please, Mr. Hernandez! Bear with me a few more minutes. I did ask you to bring an open mind, didn't I?"
Harry took his hands off the armrests, and slumped back into his seat. A few more minutes wouldn’t kill him.
Dr. Grover continued his narrative. "The clay pots, as I said, were all sealed. They were painstakingly transported back to Alexandria, where at the university there I was put in charge of trying to decipher them. Over the next year or so, they revealed some extremely interesting facts. It turned out that Hapu was a priest of sorts as we had suspected, but the complex we were excavating was not really a temple. It was actually more like a hospital. A hospital, Mr. Hernandez, for the mentally insane. You can imagine our surprise when the scrolls we uncovered revealed themselves to be nothing more or less than 2500 year old case files. Each pot contained scrolls documenting cases that could have been easily diagnosed today as dementia, schizophrenia and just plain old depression. The fact that an Egyptian priest would undertake such a task at time when the mere hint of insanity branded you as being possessed or worse is remarkable."
Harry, sick of the conversation being totally one sided, decided to speak up.
"Listen, Dr. Grover. I don't appreciate anyone wasting my time. Your story is fascinating, really, but I think you really should excuse me, I mean this has gone on long enough. Did anyone put you up to this?"
Grover smiled a sad, lopsided smile, and held his fingers up to his mouth in a steeple. His Oriental eyes, (his father had met his mother during the Korean war), studied the lawman seated opposite him. He said nothing but just pushed the file toward Harry. It slid easily across the polished wooden surface. Harry scratched his head and looked out the offices small dust filmed window. A single spruce tree was visible and a bird seemed to be building a nest in it. Harry looked down at the file and picked it up.
When he opened it, it contained snapshots of scrolls covered in hieroglyphics. Included with them were typewritten notes. These were all signed off by Dr. Alan Grover, or a Dr. Hannan Ezzat of the Dept. of Antiquities. Harry quickly closed the pale pink file to read the cover. It was blank save for a small type written label on the top right hand side that simply read; POT 62. He opened it again and started skimming through the pages. Most of the material in the file had to do with the preservation and the cataloguing process. It was only when he had been through over half of the file that he found something different:
TRANSLATION Scrolls – 112A,B,C – POT 62,
'In the evening of the second day after the feast of Horus, a man named Prissa was brought to our temple. He was strong and healthy and though no longer a boy still possessed all of his teeth. He was brought here by Ebbe who took him from a slaver on the delta. Prissa was from a ship that came from Atla, one of the few that came to bring good bounty. He stayed for many seasons and at first could not talk but only spat nonsense. After understanding our way he said he came from a land in Atla but not the same. His people had terrible enemies. One day they attacked them from the sky and destroyed the two palaces of his king. His land was called Oot-sen and his people all disappeared. He wandered for many nights to the coast and fell into the hands of the Tooua. Prissa could not understand how to speak but made many wonders. He was a man but not. He was blessed by the gods. Instead of eyes he had jewels and he never fell ill. Before his hair turned white he left us and wandered to the land of Ararat . In this land he fought as a soldier and married a blue eyed slave-girl named Saya. He returned to the court of the Pharaoh’s son and died in Luxor. I wept many tears for him and prepared his body myself. He lies with his lord and will protect him in the afterlife.'
Harry put the file back down and drummed his fingers on the table. He was at the end of his rope. This had to be some kind of joke. Some clown had put this so-called doctor up to this, and now Harry Hernandez looked like a big jackass for being there in the first place.
"Well, Dr. Grover, I can't argue with your evidence. I mean this Hapu guy seems to have solved my case for me. Now listen Doctor if you’re really a doctor or whatever the hell you are, did Bob Simmons from vice put you up to this?"
He stood up from his chair and regarded the still seated Alan with malice. He was upset and didn’t care who knew it.
"One more thing, Harry," Grover said. "This pot basically ruined our find. Do you know why? Because it was supposedly contaminated. You see, if you find something from the modern world with an artifact, or in this case inside an artifact, you can safely say that someone came in and messed with the site. Maybe grave robbers or hoaxers or whatever. Do you know what was in the jar, Mr. Hernandez?"
Dr. Grover stood up and opened his desk drawer. He threw out what looked like a clear plastic, sealable sandwich bag on the table. Harry leaned over and looked at it, shading his eyes from the glare of the setting sun coming through the window.
"What is that?" He asked himself more than anybody else.
He put his hand down and picked it up.
"It’s a credit card, but it’s worn to hell. I've never seen one that looked this -- old."
The once smooth and shiny plastic had long since faded to white, and had even turned so brittle that the edges cracked and crumbled even though Harry handled it carefully. The bank's logo had vanished and even the embossed lettering had eroded away, save for a few letters and digits. The letters "Ro" were still clear at the beginning of the where the name should have been, as well as the last three digits of the account number, "431".
"Do you know Ronald Preston's credit card number, Mr. Hernandez?" Dr. Grover's voice shook Harry awake bringing him squarely back into the archaeologists little office with the light blue walls and a worn bulletin board behind the desk.
"Yeah, along with his shoe size, brand of deodorant, driver's license number, Social Security number, and spinster aunt's zip code." The detective knew everything about Preston. The credit card number in particular was branded into his memory after a weekend spent poring over Preston's credit card receipts. Preston had several cards, but the one he used most had a number that ended with -- '431'.
Alan picked the file up off the table and walked towards the filing cabinet.
"We had that carbon-dated. It matches everything else, but who's going to believe they had credit cards in ancient Egypt? The Egyptians wanted to have all the scrolls destroyed, but I played along and said that only this one pot was contaminated. I lied and said the seal was broken. I agreed not to mention it in the final report. In the end Dr. Ezzat got all the credit and I came back to the States. The scrolls that are in my possession don't exist -- officially."
Harry did not notice himself sit back down.
"Now Detective Hernandez, what about that credit card number?"
Harold Hernandez did not like to fly and usually avoided it if he could. This time, it was different though. It had been two months since he got the e-mail from the archaeologist who had 'solved' the riddle of Ronald Preston's fate. Dr. Grover had returned to Egypt and was involved in excavating the tomb of an obscure Old Kingdom pharaoh. They had not been at it for long, but they were confident the dig was leading somewhere. Now Harry was six miles over the East med. anticipating descent (as the captain put it) in one hour. He was looking forward to seeing Alexandria.
Things were different as well in Harry's personal life. He was dating now. A woman in forensics had her eye on Harry for years, but he always let his work get in the way. A month ago though he finally asked her out, and to his great surprise, they had really hit it off. She was attractive, funny, intelligent and a real tiger in the bedroom. It was still early days but things looked to be getting serious. It was funny how things worked out. He had totally lucked out with this woman and had almost forgot what had attracted him to her in the first place -- her in-depth knowledge of DNA identification.
And as Dr. Grover had suggested in his e-mail message, a mummy with a glass eye definitely warranted a closer look.
© 2005 by Sohrab Koohpaima
Sohrab Koohpaima lives in Dubai with his wife (but no kids -- yet!), and spends his spare time reading, playing football (soccer to us North American types), and writing music and short stories. At least some of his short stories keep winding up here in Aphelion: Exile, March 2005; and Atraxes the Bold, May 2005.
E-mail: Sohrab Koohpaima
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