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The Museum Mystery: Fortyone

Colonel Waheeb hides away to hear a conversation which reveals a great deal about the murder in the museum.

John Waddington-Feather continues his enthralling mystery tale.

Meanwhile, Mordecai Waheeb had let himself into the laboratory where the Egyptians worked. Locking the door behind him, he rummaged through the trays on Riad and Mukhtar’s benches. Like Hartley, he noted the cuff-link with the cobra motif. He also came across a penknife smothered with black candle wax. He scraped samples of it into an old envelope and pocketed it. Barely had he finished when he heard a key turning in the lock. He hurried to the other end of the lab and ducked behind the benches there.

Three men came in speaking Arabic. He recognised the voices of Riad, Mukhtar and Whitcliff.

“We’ll be all right here,” Riad said as soon as they were inside. The door closed behind them and they moved to Riad’s bench where Waheeb had been moments before. “But why do you want to come here, sir?” Riad continued. “I thought you wanted to speak to Listerton.”

“Because the place is lifting with police, that’s why,” growled Whitcliff.

He was nervous and the moment they were inside he lit one of his Turkish cigarettes. Its smell drifted across to Waheeb. The bench which he hid behind stood obliquely to Riad’s at the other end of the lab. The colonel peered cautiously round it.
The three who’d just come were seated at the front by a demonstration bench. They had their backs to him and Whitcliff sat twisting the thick gold rings on his fingers and puffing at his cigarette. He dabbed his forehead from time to time, though it was cool in the lab.

“For starters, why are Hartley and his sidekick here? They must be onto something. But what?” he said.

Riad shrugged his shoulders. Mukhtar sat mute.

“Edwards invited them. That’s all. He was impressed when they came about Manasas. Hartley has some kind of amateurish interest in Egyptology,” said Riad.

“Nothing more? Hartley’s not as daft as he looks, believe me. He needs watching all the time,” said Whitcliff.

“You worry too much, sir. Like I said, Hartley showed some interest in our work and Edwards took a liking to him. Especially when he turned up with the Fahid character. He’s loaded, they say. And you know what academic politics are like. Anyone loaded is fair game for a touch. Mr Fahid will be Dr Fahid, when he’s shelled out enough money.”

Whitcliff gave a short laugh. “And Hartley? What will they give him…a B.A? Bobby’s Award for snooping round the Mausoleum with Fahid.”

Riad laughed. “They were caught,…how is it the English say?…they were caught with their trousers down. No, sir. It was all too amateurish. Hartley went one step too far there with his local history research story. I doubt if they’ll return after their experience with Roxley’s dog. It’ll do more than take a piece out of their trousers. It’s a killer!”

Whitcliff wasn’t convinced. He drew heavily on his cigarette.

“Hartley’s got his teeth into the Manasas business. It doesn’t surprise me what he does now, where he turns up. I said from the start we should never have taken Manasas back to the museum. We could have buried him in the crypt.”

“He paid the penalty of desecrating divine Hathor,” said Riad brusquely. “You as her High Priest know that, sir. Anyone touching her sacred body dies. It is written so.”

Whitcliff said nothing for a moment. He seemed lost in thought. Then he said,” You are right, Gamal. It is written.”

He got off his stool and began to pace up and down. Colonel Waheeb thought he was going to come to the back of the lab but he returned to the others. He switched the subject and talked about some consignment arriving safely in Leeds. Sir Jeremy had informed him. “The arms and the coffin together. An apt escort for our sacred sister,” he commented, adding, “You’ve paid Listerton in full, Gamal? We don’t want any hitches now.”

“Yes, sir,” said the other.

“And you’ve checked the shipping times? It’s a new run. It must all go smoothly.”

Mukhtar spoke for the first time. “Yes, sir. The consignment leaves next Wednesday from Listerton’s warehouse at Canal Road. It will be barged to Hull then shipped to Amsterdam. Our people there will truck it overland to Cairo by the usual route.”

“Good,” said Whitcliff. “Once she arrives, our sister will be placed in the Court of Hathor among the daughters of Hathor. She will live in the Great Temple of the Dead awaiting the Day of Hathor at the end of time. Listerton’s whore is greatly favoured!”

Then Whitcliff said they should return to the reception. “I don’t want to alert Hartley,” he said. “That man has eyes like a hawk. He misses nothing.”

Fortyone smiled. “How right you are,” he murmured, and once they were clear, he, too, rejoined the reception.


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