Excerpt from THOUSAND DOLLAR PHARAOH
The Deception Series Book 2
by Sherry Morris
August 1945 in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Moaning as she regained consciousness, Chloe raised her head and twisted it from side to side, struggling to understand. Where was she? A jolt of searing pain in her upper right arm brought her focus back to the job. When she had signed on to become a United States Secret Service Agent in the counterfeiting division, they had neglected to mention all of the occupational hazards. She had quickly learned the missions providing an adrenaline rush always seemed to be accompanied by physical pain.
As she cleared her mind, she realized it was sometime after midnight inside an ancient tomb. On the dusty earthen floor next to her, Grover Cleveland seemed to glare ominously from the bloody thousand dollar bill stuck to a mummy’s severed arm.
Grabbing the three-thousand year old limb for leverage, she struggled to stand as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the flicker from a stubby red candle on the floor of the burial chamber. Oh God, no. Who desecrated this mummy?
Chloe remembered tripping down some wooden stairs and grunting on a landing. As she clambered up, two men appeared at the top of the steps and chased after her. She scurried down, rounded three corners and squeezed into a small breech in an earthen wall. Did I lose them? No, they must’ve knocked me out cold. But my head doesn’t really hurt. Did they make their getaway or are they lurking, waiting to finish me off after they interrogate me?
What’s that smell? I know that smell. From where? She closed her eyes tight. Remembering a winter night. A white fur coat and Bill…Hundred Dollar Bill. The printing room at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. The woman up on the catwalk. The flash. Six shots ringing out, the last one louder. The silhouette blowing smoke from the gun. The lithe shadow sashaying into blackness. Her lavender French perfume which commingled with hair lacquer and cigarette smoke. Bill’s assailant. . .his wife loomed there. Is here somewhere now.
Chloe you’re delusional. What would his American wife be doing in Egypt? Ha ha ha. Good one, Chloe girl.
She staggered over to the candle and grabbed it. A bead of hot wax dripped onto her ring finger. She drew in a short breath. Carefully cradling the mummy’s arm, realizing how sacred it was, she approached the three open stone coffins within the chamber. A female corpse had flowing red hair and a bent left arm. A black-haired male had his hands crossed at his groin. The third was a bald, one-armed female. Shivering at the sight, Chloe brooded over her mission and strategy. She gently replaced the arm on the mummy closest to her. Mummy! Yuk. It appeared to fit. Staring at the thousand dollar bill, her mind kicked into analytical gear.
Chloe examined the ancient corpse. Double ear piercings. Tight banding around the forehead where the headdress would have been. No trace of hair whatsoever. Bent right arm. Henna on the long fingernails. Fingers curled in, as if gripping a scepter, which some evil tomb robber had probably helped himself to. This mummy was a royal woman and was in bad shape. Her mouth and chest had been bashed in on the left side. Right arm ripped off. Hacked off. Chloe’s stomach contracted as the bile churned. What kind of people could do such a heinous deed? The bad guys could. But who were the bad guys? Two of them surprised me in the upper burial chamber. One or both no doubt responsible for. . .
She grabbed the wound in her right arm. Her fingers slipped in the coagulated blood. Pain shot up her arm, all the way to her teeth.
I’ve been shot!
Anger seethed through her. Great. I’m going to die. Alone in a creepy crypt. But wait. I’m not dying yet. I’m up and about. The bleeding seems to have stopped. So it’s either a flesh wound or else the bullet is lodged in my arm. Fine. Take it like a big girl, Chloe. You’re the one who volunteered to jump right on into the boots of one of our boys at war. You are an American and you will see this mission though. The fire of her resolve manifested itself in the nerve endings of her wound.
Chloe flinched and stumbled backward as a cat pounced from a stone ledge onto the mummy’s chest. Larger than most cats she’d ever seen. Tawny yellow-gray fur, a long tapering tail and striped markings. A Sand Cat. It kneaded and dug into the bandages before circling three times, nesting in the chest or what was left of it inside the shreds of black, tan and red burial wrappings.
Now that is just wrong.
“Here kitty. Nice kitty.” She held her fingers to its nose. The cat sniffed and turned away. Not even a lick. Chloe petted and stroked the shaggy soft fur.
“Come on kitty. Come on girl. Come out of the coffin. Out you go.” Gently tugging on the cat near the back of its neck, it wouldn’t budge.
Dates. I have some dates left. Where is my bag? Chloe spun around until she spied it near the hole in the wall where she’d penetrated the chamber. The cat kept an eye on Chloe as she shoved her arm into the tapestry carpet bag and fished out a date. “Here you go kitty.” Chloe offered the sticky sweet fruit. Allowing the cat one lick before pulling the date away, “No, no, no girl. I guess you’re a girl. Let’s play fetch.” Chloe tossed the date on top of her bag. The cat leapt after it, with a piece of currency stuck to its tail.
Chloe petted the feline as it licked the date and even gave her one scratchy lick of thanks on her hand. Swishing back and forth, the tail betokened gratitude.
Hmm. . . A U.S. thousand dollar bill. She removed it from the tail. These haven’t been minted since 1936. Well, isn’t that a coincidence. That’s just the date on here.
Trying hard to examine the bill for authenticity in the dim candle light, it appeared real enough. She rubbed her fingers over a tacky patch. What was making the bills sticky? Taking the candle back to the stone coffin, Chloe shoved her left arm inside, cringing, feeling around. The brittle bandages crinkled. Or was that the currency?
Peering inside, she found a stash of thousand dollar bills. Chloe dashed over and coaxed the cat off of her bag, more or less yanking it out from underneath the animal. She stuffed it with the cash, filling it one third full. Feeling around the bottom of the sarcophagus, her ring bumped something metallic and clanked. Her wedding ring. She smiled and remembered the National Cathedral where Momma had walked her down the aisle. It still seemed like a dream. Did it really happen?
Chloe sighed. Her whirlwind action-adventure romance had culminated in marriage to fellow agent, Mike Taurus. In the picture dictionary of life under the listing for man was his photograph. Perfect in every way, except when he opened his mouth and said something completely inappropriate. What a mouth. Firm lips. Slightly crooked two front teeth. Hot probing tongue. The world’s best kisser. Oh Mike. I wish you were here on this mission with me.
The cat meowed three times. Chloe turned to see the fur standing up along its spine. It must sense danger. Chloe spun around, but saw nothing. She returned her attention to the coffin and dug deep, running her fingers over the metal. They had to be plates. Plates to print currency. Shazam. Holding the dwindling candle between the mummy’s legs, she verified her deduction. Her stomach settled and she smiled.
Chloe gasped and nearly dropped the candle as the cat pounced on the mummy’s face. Hissing and with fur bristled up on its arched back, the agitated creature leapt across the three sarcophaguses, onto her carpet bag and then circled back to retrace her route. Conspiring voices from elsewhere in the tomb loomed in the distance. Speaking English.
Relieved she didn’t set the mummy on fire, her pulse raced while she scanned the chamber for a weapon. She hurriedly dug through her bag and extracted her revolver.
Now what? Think Chloe, think. “All mighty God, forgive me and be with me.” She reached into the next gritty stone coffin, grabbed the mummy’s straight right arm, closed her eyes and yanked. Oh did that hurt. Then pain in her arm shot both ways, up to her brain and stinging into her fingertips.
She focused on her disgusting task. Eww. . .just like trying to carve the leg off of an over-baked dried out chicken. Like the one she’d ruined for Uncle Edmund’s wake. That incident was why Daddy had insisted she get her degree in Home Economics.
Chloe waved her hands in the air, shaking off the disgusting creepy task she was performing. Her injured arm screamed in pain. Tears of agony ran down her face as she likened it to the pain this mummy might be feeling in the afterlife, having his arm ripped off. Inhaling the stale air, she looked up at the low stone ceiling and prayed, “And all mighty God of the sun and whoever else these poor old people believed in, whom so ever is guarding this tomb, please, please, please, forgive me.”
She tugged and twisted until the limb finally snapped off. Opening her eyes, she blinked and sneezed as dust flew. Dust and dead bugs and mummified flesh. Shoot! She had to unwind the bandages to get the arm loose. Eww! Ancient flesh and bones. Stop looking at me! Why did they have to perform an eye and mouth opening ceremony after they’d prepared the mummies? They’re all watching me do these horrible things to them. Tears trickled down her dusty face. She shuddered. Good grief, she was desecrating a pharaoh.
Somehow, she had to focus on this task and convince herself she wasn’t actually tomb robbing, abusing a corpse and touching a dead person. This was just another day at the office…out in the field. Just doing her routine job in a routine way. Concealing the identity of this royal mummy, in order to protect her. What was left of her. And in the process, desecrating the mummy’s boyfriend here next to her. Great, just great. Now two spirits can’t rest in peace and enjoy the afterlife.
Shaking off the spine-chilling assignment, literally by shaking her head, Chloe positioned the straight arm on the mummy with the bashed in face and the sarcophagus full of dough. If her research and hunches happened to be correct, these were the remains of a very important royal mummy. A pharaoh. A lady pharaoh. How divine. Wow. Chloe felt humbled in her presence. And more determined to protect the mummy and see that the counterfeiters were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
As she placed the bent right arm in her carpet bag, the cat somersaulted into it. Fine. Come along. Together they squeezed through the two foot breech in the earthen wall and into main chamber of the tomb. The air wasn’t as dusty, but it sure was muggy and hot. Who’s great idea was it to traipse off on a counterfeiting caper in the Egyptian dessert in August? Orpha’s. Well, yeah, Orpha had volunteered for this mission, but Chloe had been drafted because the brass knew she had minored in Egyptology.
Breathless, Chloe scurried up the wooden stairs in the tight passage way, pushing the wall with her left hand, painfully hugging the carpet bag handles and candle with her right. Zigzagging through the ancient passages, she suspected the eyes on the hieroglyphics loomed judging her. As she briefly read the simple curses, she realized they were dooming her to be eaten by a crocodile, hippopotamus and then a rhinoceros. Yet some of the characters bespoke to urge her onward, as if history depended on her to complete this chapter. If circumstances had been different, Chloe would have loved to have lingered and examined the hieroglyphics. Maybe even buy an animal symbol necklace thingy at the gift shop. What do they call those? Take photographs with her Brownie camera. Mug and pose and what a fun honeymoon this would be. Mike. . .
Chloe forged onward and upward as fast as she could. When the main entrance of the tomb spit her into the black Egyptian night, she extinguished the flame. Climbing the steep steps, she gasped for breath before making a sharp right at the top. She huffed her way through the sand hurrying toward the thunder of approaching hooves. Chloe stifled a scream as a camel rounded the next corner in her path.