How could a man be dead a week, but buried for a thousand years?
|"I love it when I am right!"
I looked up in time to catch the hurled newspaper full in the face. "Especially," Moon grinned at me, "when it means everyone else is wrong!"
My companion had the high forehead of a genius, and the narrow face of a criminal; when he grinned, malice invariably lit up his eyes. Children instinctively recoiled from him, and even brave men were known to cross the street when they saw Moon striding down the sidewalk at them on a winter's evening.
We were all lucky, I counted it, that instead of the ruthless criminal mastermind he seemed cast to be, Derleth Moon had made himself the best operative in the Intercontinental Gendarmerie's employ.
I hurried after as Moon strode out onto the pitching deck of the steamer. "What's bitten you?" I asked.
"The newspaper article you showed me," he snapped back. "About the mummified body they fished out of the East River."
We were five days out of New York, and the article was already a week old when I showed it to him, and I had shown him that curious item only because I was worried he was growing dangerously bored. "What of it?"
"Ask rather," he retorted, "how did a mummified body get into the East River? Ask rather, Whose mummy is it?"
"Not that of Pharaoh Thamphthis!" That was the mummified pharaoh whose touring exhibition we had visited only a few days before embarking, and who was returning to Egypt on our very steamer.
Moon's backward glance was tinged with cruelty. "What other mummies were in Manhattan the day we sailed?"
"But surely Dr. Bayoumi would know if his mummy had been stolen!"
"He would know if the mummy case had been stolen. Do you think our Egyptologist checks every night to see if the mummy is inside it?"
"This is positively indecent!" Dr. Bayoumi mopped his face. "Captain, I renew my protests!"
"Renew them all you like," the captain of the S. S. Aldine growled back. "See if they have an effect." He nodded at the burly sailors who waited on either side of the mummy case.
"Don't mind my pistol, gentlemen," Moon said as he lifted the weapon. "Only the man inside the case might have some fight in him."
"The man inside," Dr. Bayoumi retorted, "has been dead three thousand years!"
"Are you sure?"
"If the state of his corpse didn't suggest it, the wound on the side of his head—"
His words were lost in the creak of the lid being lifted. We pressed around.
"I'll grant you were right about his being dead," Moon said after a moment's shocked silence. "But were Egyptian pharaohs ever preserved in brown wool suits?"
"So you were right that Lasky was leaving the country on the Aldine," I observed later that evening. Alone of his colleagues, Moon had guessed the fugitive gangster would try smuggling himself out on the steamer bound for Port Said. "But we've a new mystery. Who killed him? And why stuff him in a mummy case?"
Louis Lasky, the head of a powerful crime syndicate, had been laid out by a terrific blow to the head; a bloodstain the size of a saucer stained the bandage that wrapped his head. The ship's doctor opined he had been dead at least a week, which meant he had been killed before the Aldine even left port.
"But maybe," I added when Moon didn't answer, "you figure it was just someone in the gang."
"No, they're the last people I suspect," he retorted. "His gang told the police that Lasky regularly converted their loot into jewels and sent it out of the country, to only he knew where. They wouldn't kill the goose that knew where the golden eggs were being laid up."
"Then maybe he was killed by whoever received them?"
"Why would the overseas receiver be in New York?"
"To receive them!" I jocularly retorted.
Moon's lips twisted into a baleful frown as he glared at me.
"Unless he was a very special kind of courier," he said, "one who would never be suspected of smuggling suspicious jewelry out of—"
Then his gaze went distant, and he stiffened all over.
"Gods of the Nile!" he roared as he leapt to his feet, and in sympathy I leaped up as well. "You're right! That has to be it!"
He didn't explain, though, but only tore into our luggage. After feverishly examining his saved copy of the guide to Thamphthis's exhibit, Moon hurried to the radio room, where he sent to the Manhattan police a cryptic query about the physical condition of the mummy they had fished from the river.
An hour later, Dr. Bayoumi was in the brig.
"It was brilliant," Moon explained at the captain's table, where we dined the next night. "Of course it would look like theft if jewels were disappearing from the exhibitions that Dr. Bayoumi brought over every year to New York. But no one thought to check if any jewels were being added to the exhibits when they left the country again. Similarly, when Lasky needed to leave the United States in a hurry, Dr. Bayoumi suggested smuggling him out in the mummy case."
"He would have suffocated," the ship's doctor said.
"Probably he had the same thought at the last minute, which is why Dr. Bayoumi coshed him in the side of the head before stuffing him in the case. The professor, of course, knew where the loot was secreted. He didn't actually need or even want Lasky around."
"What put you onto the professor?" the captain asked.
"We saw Lasky at the exhibition," I said. "Even at the time, Moon thought it an odd place for a fugitive to visit."
"But I was only convinced," Moon added, "when I remembered that the professor referenced a wound in the side of the pharaoh's head. The pharaoh had no such wound, as Dr. Bayoumi would have known perfectly well. But he was so rattled that he momentarily confused the corpse that ought to have been in the mummy's case with the corpse that actually was!"
Prompt: Cover image