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The Museum Mystery: Fortyeight

...“I know they will, my friend,” said Waheeb. “They’re fanatics - crazy. They value their sacred dead far more than the living. What’s more, I’ve a feeling Whitcliff is expecting us. By now he’ll know they have the fake mummy and he’ll want to do a deal. That’s why they’ve snatched Miss Anwar. I’m sure of it.”...

John Waddington-Feather's murder mystery story moves towards a dramatic climax.

Inspector Hartley was on his way to the Super’s office when Khan’s call came through. Donaldson was about to give him another roasting. He’d attended the dinner at Whitcliff’s place the previous might and Blake’s name had cropped up. It amazed - and dismayed - Donaldson how often it did.

He told the inspector his attitude at the Lodge had ruffled Sir Jeremy. He hadn’t gone into details but he was clearly upset. And he told Blake Hartley yet again to steer clear when Dunwell invited him into the Lodge.

“It’s all a matter of professional etiquette,” said Donaldson. “I don’t want to pull rank, Hartley, but I like to relax when I’m off-duty. I mean, you wouldn’t want me elbowing my way in if you were speaking to the bishop, would you?”

Hartley raised his eyebrows. The cheek of it! That’s exactly what Donaldson had done more than once when they’d happened to be at some diocesan jamboree. Donaldson was churchwarden at an up-market church in an up-beat village near Ilkesworth. He was on the diocesan synod and being a bishop’s son, he was also on first-name terms with the archbishop and the rest of the hierarchy in the province. So Hartley wasn’t exactly happy by the time he returned to his office and his sergeant phoned to tell him of DWC Anwar’s disappearance.

“Are you telling me she’d been snatched?” said Hartley.

“Yes, sir,” Khan replied. “She must have blown her cover. There’s no sign of her.”

“Get back here straight away, Khan,” said the inspector. “I’ll call Colonel Waheeb. But whatever you do, don’t say anything to Donaldson. I’ll tell him myself.”

Hartley put the phone down and found himself praying. There were times when unvoiced prayer rose spontaneously within him. This was one. He sat quietly at his desk his eyes closed, his brow furrowed. The unthinkable had happened. He needed more than human help now.

There was a knock on his door and when he opened it Mordecai Waheeb stood there. He’d been in town and just dropped by to see how things were. Hartley ushered him in quickly and explained the situation. Not long afterwards Sgt Khan arrived and repeated what had happened. He pulled out the cuff-link he’d found. The other two recognised it at once.

“It’s the El Tuban group!” whispered Waheeb.

The three detectives stood grim-faced in silence. So heavy was the silence, the Town Hall clock startled them when it struck.

“What are we going to do?” asked Sgt Khan, who was the first to speak. “We’ll have to inform Superintendent Donaldson.”

Inspector Hartley looked drawn. “Any suggestions before I go in and tell him?” he asked wearily.

He looked across at Colonel Waheeb. He was studying a map of Keighworth on the wall. He didn’t answer Hartley’s question immediately, but asked if he could use Hartley’s phone. The inspector pushed it across the desk. The colonel asked the duty clerk to put him through to Saniyya Misha at the Institute. When she answered there followed a rapid conversation in Arabic. Then he hung up.

“It seems the birds have flown,” he said. “Riad and Mukhtar handed in their notices two days ago and have left the Institute. Professor Edwards is furious. They’d been packing for days unknown to him and have taken several of the objects they were studying with them.”

“Wherever they are, they’ve got DWC Anwar as well,” said Hartley miserably.

Colonel Waheeb turned again to the map. “In my country, we have a saying,” he said. “ ‘A snake that has eaten returns to its pit.’ My guess is that our two snakes have taken their prey here or here.” He pointed to High Royd House and Pithon Hall. “We’ve got to flush them out and make them disgorge.”

“But how?” asked Khan.

“By trading the dead for the living,” said Waheeb. “The mummy for Miss Anwar. Their goddess for our colleague. We still have the real mummy in store. Remember?”

“D’you believe they’ll take?” asked Hartley, a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

“I know they will, my friend,” said Waheeb. “They’re fanatics - crazy. They value their sacred dead far more than the living. What’s more, I’ve a feeling Whitcliff is expecting us. By now he’ll know they have the fake mummy and he’ll want to do a deal. That’s why they’ve snatched Miss Anwar. I’m sure of it.”

“And they’re all at Whitcliff’s place?” said Hartley, looking more and more hopeful.

“He’s their man up front now Mukhtar and Riad have gone to ground. He’s using our policewoman as a pawn. They all badly want their goddess to take back with them to their temple in Egypt. Yes, I should contact Whitcliff before he contacts you That will upstage him. But be careful, my friend. One false move and Miss Anwar will finish up like poor Manasas.”

“In that case, I’m saying nothing to Donaldson. He’ll panic completely!” said Inspector Hartley.

“But we’ll have to tell him something, sir,” said Sgt Khan. “We can’t just leave him in the dark over something like this.”

“Tell him just as much as he needs to know,” advised Waheeb. “Tell him that the mummy trade-off is our only hope if we’re to get Miss Anwar back alive. I’ll speak to him myself, if you wish, my friend.” And Inspector Hartley decided that was best.

When Colonel Waheeb broke the news Donaldson threw a wobble. He wanted to call in the Anti-Terrorist Squad. Wanted to tell the Chief Constable. Wanted to cop out. But he knew he couldn’t when Waheeb explained what would happen if he did.

He sat at his table with his head in his hands for some minutes then looked up. He had the stare of a snared rabbit. “My God, Hartley, you’ve landed me in it this time. If anything happens to DWC Anwar we’re in it up to here.”

“We’ve reached that point already, sir,” said Hartley, dismally.

Donaldson got to his feet, plucked his moustache and fiddled with his watch-chain. “And what exactly do you propose we do, Hartley?” he asked.

“I’m going to see Whitcliff,” said the inspector.

The Super was brought up short. “But you can’t just go rushing into his place, Hartley. You’ve done that already - and look what a mess that got me into!”

“I shan’t go rushing in, sir. I’ll phone him. He’s expecting me, sir.”

“But why?” asked, Donaldson perplexed.

“Because we’ve got what he wants, sir. What his bunch of crazies have snatched DWC Anwar for, their Eblis.”

“Eblis? What d’you mean, man?” asked the Super, frowning.

“The object of their worship. The very reason for their existence, sir,” said Hartley.

Donaldson’s amazment gave way to impatience. “Don’t beat about the bush, Hartley. Explain yourself.”

“The mummy in the museum,” he replied. Then he and Waheeb spent the next half hour explaining all about it.

“You’re not going alone,” Hartley,” said Donaldson finally, and for one horrible moment the inspector thought he was going to say he would accompany him. “Take Khan with you. I’d feel happier if he were there.”

“I didn’t know you cared so much about me, sir,” said Hartley with the hint of a smile.

Donaldson went up on his toes, so Blake Hartley guessed it was time to leave.


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