A Mystery Tale set in Ancient Egypt.
|‘It is with the pharaoh’s blessing I not only set my pen in motion to solve this most heinous act, but also I set my mind in motion to tread carefully among the dark rivers of a killer’s heart. These scrolls will hold daily, or almost daily, accounts of all interviews, evidence, and my thoughts, as I work to separate truth from fiction.’ Minkah, the
, moistened his reed pen, dipping the tip of the brush into the ink on the small, wooden palette, and then proceeded to write in the he used more often when writing letters for the pharaoh and recording everyday information. ‘I will begin by stating the known facts of the case, so far.’|
‘The victim is Kasiya, a farmer, husband of Jamila, and father of two young daughters. Yesterday, as he was on his way to take part of his harvest to the temple, to honor the nobleman, Omari, and the gods for a successful harvest, someone bludgeoned Kasiya about his head, and stabbed him several times in his torso with an adze, a carpenter's sharp tool. Kasiya was attacked with a tool, places every carpenters in the village on my suspect's list. However, I will begin my investigation more closely to Kasiya's home.
‘Accompanied by several field hands, Kasiya was last seen by two of the younger field hands, Paki and Sadiki. After noticing Kasiya was no longer journeying with them, Paki and Sadiki thought to go check on Kasiya, which resulted in Paki finding Kasiya attacked and unconscious about a half mile back on the path they all were traveling.
‘It appears a heavy pottery type container was shattered against Kasiya's skull. This inflicted considerable injury upon Kasiya, but the stabbing is what appears to have subsequently caused his demise.
‘I have asked Kasiya's corpse be preserved in the ibu without undergoing embalming, yet. The embalmers have agreed to do so by covering Kasiya's body with sand. However, before the embalmers washed Kasiya's corpse with palm wine and river water, I observed traces of kohl on Kasiya's hand and torso.
‘Besides the broken pottery, and traces of kohl, a broken amulet of was also found near Kasiya’s body. They have been collected and are being kept for further examination.
‘Kasiya’s death is the first killing we have experienced in the along the Nile, among our own people. As an intelligent man, I cannot let this injustice go undone. It is why I wrote the pharaoh for permission to go forth with what I have in mind. And what I have in mind is uncovering Kasiya's killer. I pray his spirit will be at peace, soon. I pray I will be victorious in my quest, soon.
‘Night has fallen. It is late. I should get proper rest, for tomorrow I begin my investigation by going to visit Jamila.’
Minkah replaced his pen, laying it flat on the palette, then blow out the small oil lamps surrounding his writing table, leaving the scroll unrolled to allow the ink to dry.
Crackling outside his window startled him as he blew soft breath onto the flame of a second lamp.
He stood still, for a moment, listening for the sound of movement, barely breathing as he did.
A gentle snap landed on his ears.
Minkah rushed to his doorway. He squinted to adjust his eyes to the thick darkness of nightfall as he peered past the mat he’d hung in the doorway to keep out the flies, dust, and heat. The lamps lit outside his doorway lent a small amount of light to his view. Still, he saw no one.
Thinking whoever, or whatever, had been near his window might be lingering. Minkah eased away from his doorway, hoping if it was a man or woman outside, he or she would believe Minkah was gone and come out of hiding.
He discovered his train of thought was correct. Another sound of movement fell on his ears.
Minkah rushed through the doorway. From the corner of his right eye, he saw a shadow whoosh by. “Who’s there? Show yourself!” He grabbed one of the lamps outside his doorway, and then began to circle his home.
He paused when he spotted a crouching figure. “Come out,” he yelled. “Or I will be forced into unpleasantness against you!”
The figure remained frozen. Minkah stepped forward. The shadow rose, at last.
Minkah sighed in relief as a familiar, young, olive skinned face appeared out of the darkness. His relief quickly turned into frustration. “Paki! What on earth are you doing?”
“Is it true, you are looking into Kasiya’s death?” Paki’s eyes danced in their sockets. “Then, I think you should know Sadiki is missing,” he went on without waiting for Minkah to answer.
“I am not keeping tabs on Sadiki,” Minkah snapped. “I’m sure he’s about, somewhere, perhaps hiding from you.”
Paki shook his head from side to side. “No, I don't think so. We were to meet, earlier, but he did not show. I have looked everywhere I could possibly look. He is missing, I tell you.”
“I’m sure he’ll turn up,” Minkah tried to reassure, despite the sinking feeling in his gut. “I have an appointment in the morning. If you haven’t found him by the afternoon, then seek me out again. I’ll help you do some additional searching.”
“Thank you.” Paki beamed.
“Now, go. Get home before I’m left to search for two young men instead of one,” Minkah insisted.
Paki grabbed Minkah’s free hand and shook it before running away.
Minkah strode back to his doorway. He returned to blew out the flames of both sconces. He gazed up. Lightning streaked across a starless sky, seeming to stretch down to the tips of the temple and the pyramids stood in the distance. A storm brewed as Thebes slept.
Minkah lowered his eyes. “A storm is brewing in more ways than one,” he mumbled to himself, retreating into his home.
The thunderstorm raged overnight, dwindling into a light shower by dawn before the rain finally stopped, and the sky cleared. Glancing out his window, Minkah observed how the sun now sat almost directly above the horizon, signaling the approach of afternoon.
Expecting Paki to arrive, soon, Minkah decided not to wait until the evening to write. Instead, he sat at his writing table to recount his morning activities before the details escaped his mind.
He dipped his reed pen into the ink, then he wrote on a scroll.
‘Determined not to allow the disagreeable weather to deter me, I made my way through a morning rain shower to visit Jamila at an hour I deemed proper. With the family's main provider dead, now, I feared no hour would be proper for my intrusion. But to my surprise and delight, I found Jamila being assisted by her younger sister, Rashida. I must admit it was a treat to watch the two women keep the household going strong. The time I spent alone, talking with Rashida proved more fruitful, however... ’
Minkah paused to wet his pen, then he replied, ‘I led Rashida outside the house to question her. After eluding most of my questions, she expressed to me quite a secret once her frustration toward me overwhelmed her…’
The memory of Minkah’s brief chat with Rashida replayed in his mind. A vivid recollection Minkah swore he could once again smell the rain-drenched soil outside of Jamila’s home. The scent played upon his nose as Rashida talked.
“Kasiya was not as honorable a man as he led everyone to believe. He did not deserve a good woman like my sister.” Minkah had widened his eyes and lifted his brows at Rashida’s implication. “Come now,” she’d told him, seeing his shock. “Do not tell me a man like you with a knowledgeable eye cannot see it—how one of Kasiya’s daughters looks more like Jamila while the other resembles me more strongly.” Minkah had parted his lips to speak, and Rashida had prevented him from doing so by going on with her confession. “I was dishonorable to my sister, yet Jamila cares for my daughter as if she is her own. In fact, my daughter thinks Jamila is her mother. It’s just something Jamila and I have agreed to do.”
As the memory faded, Minkah remembered how Rashida’s voice trembled as she fought back her tears.
He returned his attention to his writing. ‘Although Rashida shed tremendous new light on Kasiya, it was Jamila’s revelation shook me to my core. For after I revealed to Jamila the was found near Kasiya’s corpse, and I questioned her about whether she owned a piece of jewelry, Jamila answered yes. . .but Rashida wore it on the day of Kasiya’s death. This greatly disturbed me, and left me with no choice but to isolate Rashida and have guards place her in confinement among the slaves as though she was a captured prisoner of war. Despite her cries of innocence, I consider Rashida the main culprit, at the moment, in the death of Kasiya. She claimed Kasiya broke the amulet as he shoved her aside in attempts to ward off her slaps. Perhaps, Rashida did more than just deliver a few slaps.’
Incessant knocking at Minkah’s doorway startled him as he set down his pen. “Who’s there?” he called out, and received only the continuous knocking for a reply.
Minkah blazed a trail to his doorway.
“I found him,” Paki breathed, from the other side of the hanging mat.
“Very well,” Minkah responded, a hint of frustration in his voice.
“No.” Paki shook his head in desperation. “You do not understand. I found Sadiki. But I fear he’s dead!”
‘Only the boats sailing up and down the Nile seem to comfort me, today,’ Minkah wrote by lamplight, at his table. He’d spent the day more in thought rather than actively investigating. As night fell, darkening the sky and village, again, he’d returned home. ‘After following Paki to the spot in the field where Sadiki lay dead,’ he continued writing. ‘I requested Sadiki’s body to be treating in the same manner as Kasiya’s, for now, in the .
‘When I first laid eyes on Sadiki’s corpse, he seemed to be doing nothing more than sleeping, although my palm against his nose, and my fingertips against his still neck soon confirmed he was dead. Bruises around his neck lead me to believe someone squeezed his neck until he died. Could Sadiki have known something more about Kasiya’s death than he shared with Paki or me? If so, then he has taken his secrets with him to the next life.
‘With the matter of two murders on my hands, now, I am left with more unanswered questions. A deep-seated churning in my stomach no bread, wine, or beer can pacify. Only the boats gave me a measure of inner peace before I retired for the day. I wondered why as I walked a short distance along the river’s bank, and the answer my mind offered was perhaps it was because a part of me longs to escape this investigation. I fear I will not solve this most troubling puzzle. With the chance of more killings to come, with Kasiya's corpse in growing need of burial, and with the approaching flood season, I feel I am beginning to race against the clock, even as the priest keeps track of time by the water clocks in the temple...’
Minkah stopped writing. After a heavy sigh, he dipped his into the ink, and then returned the pen to the scroll. ‘It is time I paid a visit to the nobleman’s home. Omari owns the land on which Kasiya and Sadiki farmed. I suspect it was his wife’s left on Kasiya’s corpse. Jamila and Rashida do not wear eye makeup. Perhaps, Kasiya was also involved with Omari's wife, Anippe, and Rashida was not the only woman being dishonorable with Kasiya. I shall see, hopefully.
‘Rashida remains locked away. My list of suspects has grown to include Omari, Anippe, and Jamila.
‘When I visit Omari's home, I do not expect the nobleman to be as cordial to me as he has been in the past. To perhaps make the situation better for me, I will visit Omari, Anippe, and their household of servants tomorrow night when they entertain guests with an evening banquet. They are more likely to be distracted by the crowd, and perhaps easier to question and catch in non-truthful answers.
‘To help assure my safety, and to aid in making arrests, I have sent a request to the pharaoh for two guards to accompany me. I expect the pharaoh to comply.
‘As for poor Sadiki, perhaps I should have kept tabs on him. He was, after all, the one who found Kasiya's corpse. He could have known more, seen more...
‘Yet, what is done is done. I should get some rest, and try not to let my inkling of guilt over Sadiki's death weigh me down. I must remain alert enough to capture his killer, or killers, also. ’
Minkah blew out the oil lamps, and abandoned his writing table for his bed. Nightmares plagued him as he slept. He dreamt of a shadow wrapping its hands around his neck and squeezing until he died.
As Minkah approached Omari’s large, mud brick home, he instructed the two guards at his sides to blend in with the other guests while trying to stay close to him. Wearing kilts and fine linens, the guards resembled most of the men in attendance at the banquet, including Minkah.
Knowing a killer lurked at the gathering gave Minkah a nervous stomach. The spurts of laughter amid the music, and flowing wine and food worsened his nausea. He shook his head in refusal toward all the servant girls' offerings of wine, meat, bread, and cake as he headed for a seat.
He sat in a far corner, eyeing the other guests, and Omari and Annipe when he caught sight of them. At six feet tall, Omari towered over Minkah's five feet, four inches frame. Minkah noticed how the nobleman blinked incessantly when carrying on a conversation. Annipe was known to be as intelligent as she was beautiful. Minkah recalled when she'd gone to school to study to be a scribe, giving up her study when she married Omari, two years ago.
As much as Minkah enjoyed indulging in his observations of the hosts, he became particularly interested in the servant who seemed to cater to Omari and Anippe's needs.
Omari, Anippe, and their mutual servant left the room, and Minkah turned his gaze onto the other guests as his thoughts raced. If no one could place Omari or Anippe at the scene of Kasiya's death, then perhaps it was because someone did their bidding for them, he thought. But it didn't make sense both Omari and his wife would conspire together to murder Kasiya. They each had their motives—Omari would have wanted revenge against Kasiya for the affair he had with Annipe, and Annipe could have possibly been scorned, recently, by Kasiya deciding to abruptly end the affair, but . . .
Minkah paused in thought as if a bolt of lightning struck his mind. Why hadn't he thought of it before?
He rose. He sidled his way through the crowd, heading for the doorway leading out of the room.
Anippe grabbed him by his arm when he reached the doorway. Her eyes were wide and she was breathless when she spoke. “Omari has gone mad. Come with me, quickly, please,” she told Minkah.
Before Anippe led him away, Minkah caught the guards’ attention with a wave of his hand, urging them to follow.
Minkah allowed Annipe to guide him down the hallway and past several other rooms until they arrived at the room where Omari held the servant hostage.
“I know your true reason for being here, Minkah,” Omari shouted. “I will not be imprisoned and enslaved for any crimes!”
Minkah focused his eyes on the shaving razor Omari held beside the servant’s neck. Where were the guards? he shouted in his mind. The razor dangled closer as Omari’s hand trembled.
“I’ve known of Anippe and Kasiya’s affair for weeks, now,” Omari went on. “I am only guilty of having Kasiya assualted. And the person I sent to do my bidding will now tell you all about it.” He lowered the razor and then shoved the servant forward. “Tell him,” he ordered.
The servant stood silent. Minkah guessed the look on the servant’s face was one of confusion and fear.
Minkah gazed to his left, at Anippe, observing the silent, narrowed-eye warning she was giving the servant.
“Speak,” Omari yelled, shoving the servant, again.
Minkah snapped his gaze forward. “I believe you,” he blurted, attempting to keep Omari from becoming more erratic. “It was not you who ordered your servant to kill Kasiya.” Minkah returned his gaze to his left. “It was Anippe,” he stressed. “Correct, servant?”
Music echoed from where the banquet was being celebrated as Minkah awaited the servant's answer.
From the corner of his eye, Minkah spotted a guard in the doorway behind him. He looked straight ahead, and saw the other guard towering in the doorway behind Omari. “Correct?” he yelled, again, at the servant.
“Yes!” the servant answered, this time. “As I was carrying out the assault, Anippe showed up.” His words came in a single breath as he spoke in excitement. “I thought she’d only gotten there, but I'd noticed the eye makeup on Kasiya, and figured they had already been fighting. While Kasiya staggered from the pottery I’d broken over his head, Anippe gave me the and ordered me to plunge it into Kasiya’s torso.
"It was the same with Sadiki. He'd seen what happened and demanded money from Anippe in order to keep his silence. She was to meet Sadiki in the fields. She took me along with her, and while she distracted him I grabbed him from behind. He fought. But I . . . killed him with my hands.”
“Traitor!” Anippe grabbed a small pottery vase from nearby, and then flung the vase at the servant.
The servant ducked, and the vase shattered against a wall.
“Take them into custody, now!” Minkah ordered the guards.
The music died abruptly, and the guests fell silent. Everyone stared as the guards escorted Omari and Anippe out of their home and as Minkah escorted the servant out.
Minkah left the servant with the guards, and then turned back to the frozen crowd. “There won’t be any more celebrations here for quite a while,” he announced.
‘Both Kasiya and Sadiki have undergone proper embalming in preparation for appropriate burial. I hope their journeys through the underworld go smoother than their lives and their deaths. Jamila has asked I, instead of the embalmers, place the upon Kasiya's wrapped corpse. While I do not condone the type of man Kasiya was in life, I have agreed to place the amulet since it was Jamila who asked, and since it is Jamila who wishes for her husband to have more balance in death than he had in life.
‘Kasiya's corpse will be fully prepared for burial within forty days or so from now. I will lay the Plummet amulet, then.’
Minkah dipped his pen into the ink, and then continued writing his last scroll concerning his first case. ‘Omari, Anippe, and their servant have all been sentenced to confinement and hard labor for the rest of their lives. They will live among prisoners of war, and be treated as slaves. Some have wondered why the pharaoh did not put them to death, or exile them to the Red Land. But the pharaoh knows, as do I, a life as a servant is a much more befitting punishment for a former and woman like Omari and Anippe.
‘This has been a most strange episode of my life. Yet, I feel I and the world will see much stranger things in the days ahead.’
Minkah stored his pen on its as he rose from his writing table. He left the ink to dry on the scroll, and stepped outside for an afternoon walk.
It was not too long before a woman's scream echoed in the distance.
A young man ran toward Minkah.
Minkah stood with widened eyes as the young man yelled, “Please, sir. Come quickly. There's a man. I fear he’s dead.”
The young stranger tugged Minkah's arm. Minkah hesitated. He continues to stand still, at first. Then, he walked fast behind the other man.
Minkah followed the trail to what was to be his second case.
Detective Fiction written for The Strange Setting Challenge (2004). "February 25, 2004: kimmer"