Authors: Gina Conroy
Tags: #Christian Fiction, #mystery, #Cozy Mystery
When I opened the door, Peter didn’t look up, but sat stooped over his desk, his glasses resting on the bump on the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I hoped we could talk.” I eased the door closed.
He motioned me to the chair in front of his desk. “Sure, sure. Come in.” He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ve been preoccupied today.” He shuffled some papers.
“Yes, it’s terrible what happened.” I sat and picked more acrylic off my pinky nail.
“Bad news travels fast, doesn’t it?”
“How could it not? Lyndon isn’t a big university.”
He leaned back in his chair and tee-peed his fingers, the tips bouncing off each other as he stalled, decided. On what? “I’m sorry, Mari. I wanted to be the one to tell you.”
“Tell me? I was there.” I choked on my apprehension. “So were you.”
“Me?” He straightened.
“I overheard you arguing with Professor Henderson in the hall before he was murdered.”
“Murdered? Henderson had a heart attack.”
“The detective doesn’t think so. Someone was blackmailing Henderson.” I clutched my tote bag. “He asked me about Henderson and who he was with before he died.”
“You didn’t mention our little incident in the hall, did you?”
“No, I wanted to talk to you first. But I said I saw you with Henderson before the show.”
Peter’s face scrunched as he rubbed his forehead. He grabbed a bottle from his drawer and swallowed some pills with a drink from his mug. “Thanks for informing me. I guess I should expect a visit from the detective. What’s his name?”
He scribbled the name on a yellow sticky note. “Is there anything else I should know?”
I inhaled, an ache radiating across my torso. Maybe I should see a doctor. “I found letters that might link to the blackmail. I also found others to the tenure review board … from you.”
“Those letters are on public record, and I stand by every word. I even have affidavits to prove the accusations. Do you want to see them? I’ve got copies right here.” He reached for the lower left desk drawer.
“No, Peter. I’m not accusing you of anything. It’s just that—the fight in the hall. Henderson breaking up your marriage. If the autopsy shows evidence of foul play, I’m afraid—”
“It’s sweet of you to worry about me, but don’t.” Peter leaned forward and clasped his hands. “I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s no secret Henderson and I were at odds, but I’m over Susan. And I stand by my letters to the review board. Henderson has a long and sordid history of taking advantage of women. Susan wasn’t the first or last to fall for Henderson’s deceptions.”
“If the detective questions me about the argument in the hall, what should I say?”
“What did you hear?”
I rewound the day’s events. 8:00 a.m. seemed like weeks ago. “You argued about his tenure.”
“Like I said, that’s public knowledge. Tell them what you heard, and stop worrying.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Peter’s eyes clouded. “Besides, we have bigger things to worry about.” He pulled a manila envelope from under a stack of papers. “Mari, I don’t know how to tell you, but there’s a problem with the heart scarab Jack sent home from the field.”
“Don’t tell me it got damaged or misplaced.” I grabbed the armrest and re-crossed my legs. “We both know how significant a find that rare Jasper stone is. Egypt entrusted it to the university. Our credibility with Egypt will be jeopardized if we’ve—”
“It’s not that. It’s in perfect condition.”
My grip relaxed. “So what’s the problem?”
Peter cleared his throat and took a drink from his mug. “The artifact is a fake. And Jack was the last one seen with it.”
Archaeology Professor Peter Kipling’s Office
IN ONE A-BOMB MOMENT, all the day’s anxiety detonated. Peter’s silent stare burned through me, leaving a charred hole in the aftermath of his accusation. Though he never said the words, Peter Kipling thought Jack was guilty. I knew firsthand the man was culpable of abandonment and unfulfilled promises, but of stealing and forgery? The thought of the allegation spreading and smearing Jack’s professional reputation turned my stomach. In spite of everything, he was still my children’s father.
I straightened in my chair, chewing the acrylic off my nail while Peter went into detail about the preliminary lab findings on the heart scarab Jack sent from the Valley of the Queens.
“See for yourself.” Peter handed me the manila folder, then fiddled with a picture frame on his desk as I studied the photos in the report.
By all appearances, the large, green, eight centimeter long Dung Beetle scarab looked authentic. The flat side showed probable traces of gold and well preserved hieroglyphics—most likely the prayer to the heart of the dead, to persuade it not to tell lies when weighed against the feather of Ma’at on the scales for final judgment. If the heart was lighter than the feather the deceased was worthy to enter the presence of the gods for eternity. If the heart proved heavy, the crocodile jaws of the monster Ammit devoured the dead, wiping him out of existence.
On the rounded side of the scarab, a cartouche with the name ... I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I held up the photo to Peter. “Is that who I think it is? And the name is still intact?”
“Remarkable, isn’t it?” But Peter didn’t sound excited.
“Didn’t Jack say he was digging in the Valley of the Queens?”
“That’s where he found the heart scarab.”
I stood and started to pace. “Then that means this could only belong to Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and if this was indeed her heart scarab, and it was placed on her heart before they wrapped her then—”
“The mummy Supreme Council Zahi Hawass found in the Cairo museum in 2007 is not Hatshepsut as the world presumes.”
I sat. “This is incredible and actually possible. DNA evidence never concluded without a doubt that the mummy found in the Cairo museum was actually Hatshepsut, though the evidence was compelling.”
“Hardly.” Peter shook his head in disgust.“A tooth in a small chest with the cartouche of Hatshepsut? Though the molar fit the mummy, there was no conclusive evidence the mummy was Pharaoh Hatshepsut.”
“Even the experts admitted the chest could have been emptied and reused by someone else.” I stood again, my legs tingling as I paced. “Traces of Hatshepsut are all over the Valley of the Kings. In tombs KV20 and KV60. It’s been Egypt’s biggest round of hide-and-seek.”
“Maybe this time we’re nearing the end of the game.”
“It’s logical to assume that when Hatshepsut’s stepson, Thutmose III, went on a rampage, etching out her name on monuments for the humiliation he received when she crowned herself Pharaoh in his place, he also moved her body to the Valley of the Queens. In his eyes that’s where she rightfully belonged.”
“That’s an interesting theory.” Peter sipped from his mug.
A theory that seemed to fit. Scratching out Hatshepsut’s name would erase her from history and deny her eternal existence. Talk about your ancient dysfunctional family. Since Thutmose III couldn’t send Hatshepsut to an early death, he devised the ultimate payback for stealing his throne. An
“This discovery is huge. A find like this will change Jack’s career overnight. It’s his dream come true.” The reason he couldn’t be hindered by a family.
“The world has a right to share in this rare treasure.” Peter straightened in his chair. “That’s why it’s imperative we find the real artifact, no matter who is involved in the theft.”
I stopped pacing and turned to Peter.
“I don’t believe Jack would, or could do something like this. You know as well as I do the Egyptians micromanage the crew. I’m sure the government inspector hovered over Jack every chance he could get. There had to be at least twenty people on site from grad students to local workers. I’m surprised the Egyptians let a find like this out of the country.”
“It was in the contract they have with the university, which will be in jeopardy—”
“That’s Jack’s fault?” Heat bubbled. “Where’s the evidence that he stole the artifact?”
“Jack had the key and access to the artifact storage area.”
“That’s not evidence. I still don’t believe the heart scarab is a forgery. It looks authentic.” I picked up the photo of the heart scarab on Peter’s desk. “The inscription lines show wear and aren’t white like they’d be if it was recently inscribed.”
“I wish I were wrong, but read the report for yourself.” He slid the file to me.
I scanned Peter’s findings on the soil found on the scarab. His soil analysis didn’t match the dirt from the excavation site. Of course there could be a dozen reasons why the soils didn’t match. Maybe the sample from the field was labeled wrong or got contaminated.
“There’s no record of further testing in this report.” I slid it to Peter. “Even an undergrad knows enough to run a micromorphology test. There’s no conclusive evidence the artifact is a forgery.”
“I planned on doing the test today, but Henderson refused to give me the keys to his precious lab and then, well, he couldn’t.” He studied the photo.
“I’m sure the secretary has a spare key. Let’s go down right now. I’ll go with you.”
“Mari, I know how you’re feeling—”
“How can you possibly know how I’m feeling? It’s just not true.”
“That’s what I thought when I first learned about Susan and Henderson’s affair.” Peter’s jaw tensed.
But this was different. “Jack had nothing to do with this.” I slapped the file down. “Let’s say it’s a fake. Why would he steal it? It makes no sense. Last time we emailed Jack mentioned a big find. I had no idea how big, but he wanted Henderson to test it right away. It was the break he was hoping for in his career. Why would he steal it, have it forged, then want it tested?”
“At first, I didn’t believe it either. But I’ve been over it a hundred times. He had opportunity.”
“Do you hear yourself?” I pointed to the photo on Peter’s desk. The one of him and Jack, arm and arm after winning the eighteen-hole golf scramble tournament at the country club. “This is Jack we’re talking about. You’ve been friends for years.”
Peter squirmed in his seat and shook his head, reaching for the phone. “I’m sorry, but I have to do what’s right regardless of my history with Jack. I thought you of all people would understand.”
“No, I don’t understand. Sure, Jack is ambitious and self-centered. I knew that when I married him, but I was willing to live with it. But to ruin his reputation on conjecture and take away his future?” Take away my children’s father? I slammed my palms on his desk. “No, I won’t let you do it. Jack couldn’t have done this. And I’m going to prove it.”
TREMORS SHOOK MY HANDS as I stomped to my office. I thought I was done caring for Jack. That I was over feeling like a helpless child. That nothing could ever hurt me again. I thought I had buried all those emotions, but the knot in my stomach held on like cancer.
Gulping in a breath, I pushed up my sleeves. I wasn’t a scared little girl anymore cowering in the corner, fearful of my father’s drunken rampage. I wasn’t powerless. I couldn’t protect my mother then, but I could help my children’s father now. I didn’t know how, but I would put aside my personal feelings and prove his innocence. For Ben and Hattie. And Matt.
I stomped across the office for a cone of water. Fletcher walked in carrying a half-eaten chili dog. I crushed the cone and tossed it to the trash. I missed. Fletcher bent to retrieve it and threw it in the trashcan along with the rest of his hot dog.
“Mari, what’s wrong?”
Scanning the empty room, I sat on the couch to catch my breath before I found Matt. “My life. That’s what’s wrong. First, my marriage falls apart after what I thought were eight happy years, but no, Jack had been restless the whole time. Never really wanted to settle down. Just married me right before Hattie was born because he got me pregnant, and he didn’t want to leave me like ...”
“Well, you know.” I fought the tears, my head straining under the pressure. “I thought midlife crises came at forty. I thought I had another six or seven years before I needed to worry about Jack. I did everything I could to make sure he didn’t trade me in for a newer model. Who knew his new Egyptian mistress would be so old?”
Fletcher put his arm around me. I didn’t shrug him off. Instead, I let my body melt into his, indulging in the comfort of a man, something I hadn’t experienced in years.
“Mari …” Fletcher paused.
I stiffened, not sure I was ready to hear what he had to say, but not ready to leave his arms.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there before. But I’m here for you now.”
Sitting up, I faced him. “It wasn’t all your fault. I’m sorry I blamed you. I was so hurt and you were right. I did push you away.”
“What’s done is done. We can’t go back. But we can move forward.” He reached for my hand.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to move forward with Fletcher. I stood and stepped away. He remained in front of me, hands in his pockets, the perfect picture of self-control. “So now what?”
“I’m not sure.” I smiled. I was starting to like this honest, in-control Fletcher. Maybe he had changed.
I left Fletcher in the lounge; my steps lighter. His attention had almost made me forget my real problems. I swung open the door to my office. Matt sat in my chair, his feet propped on my desk, listening to music from his earbuds.
“I thought I took away your iPhone.”
“You did, this is my iPod Touch.”
I inhaled deeply, contemplating whether to take it from him. “I thought you left.”
“Well, I’m back. Couldn’t find a place to work.”
“I can see you’re getting a lot of work done here. Mind moving and turning that down?
have a lot of work to do.”
He harrumphed as if I’d asked him to move the Great Pyramid, turned up his music, and plopped down on the floor in the corner, though a very comfortable chair sat in front of my desk. The beat from his music pounded in my head, nibbling on my last nerve.