Sean sat in the darkened theater with the group as they watched Sam Stone and the Curious Case of the Egyptian Museum. He tried to remember everything he knew or had heard about the movie.
He’d seen it before—in this very theater. He’d seen it with Eddie and Alistair and a number of the other employees at the studio.
It certainly wasn’t the most famous of film noir movies. It had done well in its day, but both of the leads—John De La Torre and Audrey Grant—had died soon after its release, de la Torre in the service and Audrey in a plane crash as she was flying out to entertain the troops. After that, Sam Stone had somehow slipped into the pile of the “mostly forgotten.” He wondered why. Probably because neither of the two performers had really had a chance to become a big name. There’d been an accidental death on the set as well—a bit player had been electrocuted. These days it seemed that such things would make a movie more popular; in the middle of World War II, there was already too much death. Sean remembered the first time he’d seen the movie; he’d thought it was excellent because there were only two suspects in the murder of Dianna Breen’s husband—the priest, Amun Mopat, and Dianna herself. But the writing, direction and action scenes were so effective that it wasn’t until the very end that you knew the widow was innocent, and you knew because the evil priest killed her just as Sam Stone discovered the truth and killed him. There had been a scene in which the mummy was brought to life…. But as Sam Stone fought the thing to save himself, he figured out that it was mechanically run and the priest was a sham. Alistair had loved the movie so much because he’d wanted to direct and produce from the time he’d been a little kid. This movie had exceptional special effects for the day—done at this very studio—and that, too, was part of its appeal.
They were almost at the final scene. Dianna Breen cried out in horror, and Sam rushed in, pulling the priest off Dianna, nearly insane to save the woman with whom he’d fallen in love. Amun Mopat went flying into another of the museum’s displays, a lifelike statue of a warrior carrying a dagger. Mopat was killed, dying dramatically, but when Sam went to help the fallen Dianna, she opened her eyes for a moment, told him she loved him—and died.
The credits rolled. Eddie rose to go back to the projection booth and stop the movie. The lights came on.
Knox stood and looked at Sean.
“So. What did this do? Any good at all?”
Sean stood, too. He wasn’t sure why Knox was trying to intimidate him, but he was taller than Knox, so at least he had a physical advantage.
“It did a lot of good,” Sean said.
Eddie was coming back from the booth. “What? What did you see in the movie that could possibly help?”
“I don’t get it,” Mike Greenwood murmured.
“You don’t notice it, Mike—or you, Andy—because you haven’t been down in the museum since the crime. And you didn’t,” he said, turning to his team, “because you’d never seen the tableau before and wouldn’t know what had changed. Helena, I’m not sure how familiar you are with the tableau—”
Before he could finish his explanation, Madison jumped up with a gasp.
“You know?” he asked her.
Her eyes met his, brilliantly blue.
“Tell them,” he said.
“The dagger is gone—the dagger in the hands of the ancient Egyptian warrior. It’s gone.” She looked at Sean again. “That’s why it seemed just a bit off. The mannequins were all turned slightly, not back exactly where they should’ve been. The sarcophagus was at an angle, the big jackal was too close to the warrior. But the dagger, the dagger that killed the priest in the movie—it’s gone!”
“It was a real dagger?” Knox asked.
“Those tableaux have been up for nearly fifty years,” Eddie said. “Yes, it was real. Not from a tomb of course, but a replica. The sarcophagus is real, too—made in Egypt by Egyptian craftsmen to the correct proportions and rules of funerary art.” He walked over to Madison, taking her by the shoulders. “Madison, you’re sure? Is there anything else? I have to get down there myself. I’m probably the only one who’d know if anything else was different.”
Before she could respond, Helena stood, coming over to Eddie and speaking in a low voice. “Eddie, the dagger is gone, but…how does that help? So now the police know that a prop was stolen from the tableau. All that does is tell us what the murder weapon was—or might have been.”
Eddie looked sick for a minute, but turned to Sean hopefully. “It helps, doesn’t it? It helps?”
“Anything we know helps,” Sean assured him.
“You’re sure it’s not there—somewhere?” Knox asked.
“Detective, you don’t think your team of forensic experts would’ve missed a dagger?” Sean said with more than a hint of sarcasm. “Even if it had been precisely where it was supposed to be, they would have taken it for testing.”
Knox seemed embarrassed. “Would the dagger have been sharp enough after all these years to have slashed the young woman’s throat?”
“I need to go down there,” Eddie muttered again. “I need to go down to the tunnel.”
Knox said, “There’s no way I’m going to have everyone traipsing around in that tunnel. When we release it, teams have to come in to clean. We can’t allow it to become a health hazard. We—”
Logan broke in. “Benny, why don’t you and Sean take Eddie down there? With Madison. We’ve already been, but Eddie Archer might see something else that’s amiss.” He looked at Eddie. “You definitely didn’t go in when you came here the night of the murder?”
Eddie shook his head. “It was a crime scene, cordoned off. I just listened in complete disbelief when Detective Knox briefed me, and then…then I was with Alistair.”
“I—I can come if you need me, Eddie,” Helena said.
He smiled at her. “Thank you, dear, but no.”
“We’ll wait in the lobby with Helena while you go down,” Logan said, indicating the team.
Kelsey stepped forward smoothly. “Mrs. Archer, you’re an actress in your own right, aren’t you?” she said smoothly. “I’d love to hear about the roles you’ve played!”
She glanced back at Sean, linked arms with Helena and started walking her toward the lobby.
“Mike, Andy—Madison did a terrific job showing us the studio. Perhaps you two could fill me in on what goes on here, day by day. Andy, you and Eddie have been partners since the beginning, right?” Logan said, leading both men out, followed by the others.
“Let’s do it,” Knox said grimly.
“Madison?” Sean asked.
“You don’t have to come, my dear,” Eddie said.
“Eddie, I’ve been down there,” she reminded him.
Sean took her arm as they walked from the cinema to the office and through the door that was usually covered by the poster. They went down the steps and started passing the displays. Knox stopped suddenly in front of the Casablanca exhibit. “Is that a real gun in Bogie’s hand?” he demanded.
“World War II–issue, yes,” Eddie said. “But there are no bullets in it. I swear. Check it out if you don’t believe me.”
“I don’t believe anything around here,” Knox muttered. He jumped up into the exhibit to check for himself.
Sean ignored him, and continued down the tunnel, to the scene of the crime. The smell was growing worse. He made a mental note to tell Logan that they needed to bring in the crime scene cleaners the next day. The answers they needed, he now knew, were behind the tableau, not in the tunnel.
With Madison at his side, he stared at the tableau.
“You figured it out the minute I did,” he said, and they both looked at the statue of the warrior, standing at an angle, pushed back behind the jackal.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it before,” she told him.
He shrugged. “Madison, I’ve walked this tunnel as many times as you have, and I’ve supposedly been trained to be observant of details, but I missed it, too.”
“Alistair wouldn’t have missed it,” she said.
Sean moved the cord aside and entered the display. He headed straight to the statue of the warrior and turned him around. The way the warrior stood, his shield held high in the other hand, it was easy to see how they’d missed the obvious. They had concentrated on the mannequin of the priest and hadn’t focused on the shelves and canopic jars, the sarcophagus, the cobras in their various positions on the floor—slithering and rising in strike mode.
“Gloves!” Knox called to him. He walked over, handing Sean a pair from his pocket.
Sean said, “Thanks,” and put on the latex gloves. It wasn’t going to matter. The killer had dressed in the black face and a robe—and he’d worn gloves when he killed Jenny Henderson. But it was procedure, and God knew, he’d probably already blown enough procedure that day.
“May I have a pair?” Madison asked. “I can help Sean go through the tableau.”
Knox grumbled that the FBI should have carried their own, but he produced a pair of gloves and gave them to her. Eddie stood just beyond the cordoned-off area, outside the chalk marks and the blood. He was ashen as he studied the tableau.
“You see anything else?” Knox asked him.
“No, but I should’ve come down.” Eddie shook his head. “I think I would’ve known. I’m sure I would’ve seen that the dagger was gone.”
“Hard to say,” Knox said kindly before turning back to Sean. “I have no idea what you could possibly find. Our forensic people are good. We’ve learned to be detailed and make sure the chain of evidence is solid. We’ve learned the hard way.”
Madison had bent down by the mummy that lay on the floor—in pieces. She glanced back at the sarcophagus, frowning.