In Leah’s Wake
70 Rave Reviews from Amazon Readers!
70 Rave Reviews from Amazon Readers!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers discusses her abiding passion for crime fiction, both as an author and as a reader.
After spending months writing about a bleak future, I found myself feeling depressed and negative. I even considered giving up writing gritty crime novels—if that’s what it took to stay positive. Then while working on a nonfiction book, I came across my notes for a talk I gave at the library called Why I Read and Write Crime Fiction. It reminded me of the genre’s value and why I should continue to write it and why it’s good for readers too, including the president. Here’s a shortened version of my talk.
Crime fiction confronts the realities of life across various cultures more often and more honestly than mainstream/literary fiction does. Crime novels are suited to exploring provocative social issues and showing how those hot-button subjects affect various people’s lives, often from diverse perspectives.
Crime fiction can be surprisingly poignant and analytical about problems such as illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug use. These novels highlight deep-rooted cultural ills such as racism, sexism, bigotry, and the dangers of stereotypes. Sometimes a mystery will show a stereotype in all its glory, reminding us of why stereotypes exist and how we all fit into one … at least a little bit. The crime genre often forces us to see the world from perspectives that make us think outside our comfort zone.
As crime writers and readers, we get to make sense of things that would otherwise haunt us. We learn why the family next door disappeared one day or what’s really going on in the creepy warehouse across the street. Sometimes that knowledge helps us sleep better and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least we learn one version of the truth.
Police procedurals and thrillers give us a medium through which we can experience the triumph of good over evil. For short while with each story, we get to be the good guy, the hero who rescues the kidnapped child or saves the president’s life. We get to drag the bad guys off to jail or shoot them dead if “they need killing”— fantasies we can’t act out in our everyday lives. The real-world events around us can be unjust and inexplicable. It’s important to our collective mental health to experience justice, order, and revelation through fiction.
Novels with well-written protagonists and antagonists bring us to terms with the duality within ourselves. Humans are all deeply flawed, with the capacity for great goodness as well as for deceit, jealousy, schadenfreude, addiction, selfishness, and often worse. When crime fiction heroes—detectives, FBI agents, and prosecutors—possess such flaws, we not only relate to those characters, we forgive ourselves for the same shortcomings. When a killer calls his mother or pets a stray dog, we hate him a little less and remember to look for good qualities in everyone.
Crime novels explore relationships in a way that few other genres can. What better mechanism to test a bond between husband and wife, parent and child, or lifelong friends than to embroil the relationship in a crime, either as victims, suspects, or perpetrators. Similar to natural disasters, the aftermath of a crime can bring out the best—or worst—in humans.
The genre is also rich with possibilities for exploring the complexity of the human condition. Victims become predators; predators become victims. A person is guilty, but not in the way we’ve been led to believe. Most of all, crime fiction is full of surprises, and we readers love the unexpected. When was the last time a reviewer used the word twist when discussing a literary novel?
Why do you read and/or write crime fiction? Does it ever get you down?
This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on Crime Fiction Collective.
Jens E. Huebner’s The Mummy Maker’s Daughter:
Big Boney, an ancient Nile crocodile named as such by the locals because of its deformed spine and protruding vertebrae, had a hard time fitting the torso of a man into its extra wide mouth. A few large teeth had broken off through the years but there were plenty enough left for it to keep itself from starvation. This family of reptiles often live a hundred years or even more, and Old Boney had seen a good number of Nile floods pass by. It even survived several severe inundations, after finding refuge in a winding cave where the floodwaters weren’t able to climb any higher than its perch.
As soon as the conditions were more suitable for hunting and the Nile waters became calmer, it ventured out into the wide expanse of the mighty river. There were a lot of animals which had succumbed and it always eagerly anticipated the Nile flood season each year.
The decayed body part it was concentrating on now, was still strong and sinewy even though it was putrid, and the remaining flesh, soft. In the early morning light, the Nile’s riverbanks were peaceful, except for this black lump of rotting flesh providing contrast to the lush backdrop of papyrus reeds and water lilies. Black and white mottled Egyptian geese flew overhead to their morning feeding grounds – their red beaks providing a stark contrast to their bodies.
A flock of Ibis waded in the mud, stabbing at various frogs and other things they saw in the muddy water, while trying to get vegetable matter from the bottom, and keeping a wary lookout for the crocodiles which reigned supreme in the Nile. A hippopotamus and her baby were nearby, creating a large mud puddle as they waded along the bottom of the river. The sun was just at the horizon and as soon as it appeared, everyone and everything seemed to spring to life.
Clearly evident in the remains of the man which Old Boney was eating, was an enlarged hole in the torso where the heart had been. This hole had ragged edges which were still visible, even though the torso was badly decomposed. After using this body part as its main course, Old Boney moved sluggishly along the rich soil of the river’s side, swishing aside papyrus clumps with its massive and tail, as it discovered a few more remains lying close by. There was a human leg minus a foot, and then another a few yards further along the bank.
Hidden under some bushes were the two arms and hands, and buried in a shallow grave was the man’s head, which it uncovered last by poking a long and tooth-filled snout into the mud and after making a satisfied grunting sound, the croc tossed the head into the air then swallowed it whole. Old Boney raised up on his legs to look across the expanse of mother Nile, as puffs of moisture – visible because of the cooler morning air along the river – emerged from nostrils at the end of his elongated head.
This particular human head had been there for some time and there was much decay and a certain grotesqueness about the flesh, which had distended and turned purple and black and slimy, like forgotten meat.
Breakfast complete and eyeing the competition which had smelled the croc’s meal and were headed its way, the reptile slid into the warm Nile waters and swam off, weaving its enormous tail, half sunken into the mud-swirled warm water, back and forth for navigation. It would not need to eat again for weeks.
Right after the croc’s departure, a few locals came down to the riverbank to wash clothes and bathe. They yawned and stretched out their arms, and spoke softly with neighbors who were also arriving at the edge of mother Nile. Far off, someone was playing a morning hymn on a lute and the soft sounds floated over the early bathers and washer women, combining with the amber dawn light to create an Old Masters painting.
A light mist rose from the warm waters of the Nile, and this hid the surface of the water, as well as the bathers’ legs. One woman waved to a passing fisherman who was pushing his boat along close to shore, looking for a few fish who liked to make their homes in the weeds close to the bank. He stopped for a few moments, cast his net, then brought in three fish and held them aloft proudly.
Shading their eyes, the group looked to the pyramids and as the sun rose, its brilliant rays hit the white limestone covering and golden cap, sending beams of light across the Red and Black Land.
“I see Ra is about to Go Forth By Day,” commented an old woman.
“Let’s do the same, daughter.” They all moved on to the day’s business, as life in Ancient Egypt resumed its vibrant rhythm.
(It begins and ends)
I am this pure lotus which
went forth from the sunshine,
which is at the nose of Re;
I have descended that I may seek it
for Horus, for I am the
pure one who issued from the fen.
My name is Meryneith and my father is a great maker of mummies. He was the best mummy maker in the whole of Egypt and he has shown me many things. Father and mother called me Mery, because they said I made them smile. I loved them so much, with every part of me. It has always been so, except for the dark time which I remembered only in my dreams, and which came a very long time ago when I was four Nile floods old.
I wanted to learn everything I could about what father did, because one day, I wish to perform the same rituals – so our citizens may enter the afterlife and enable Anubis to weigh their hearts against a feather lighter than a desert breeze. I wanted to become a doctor, too, and help the sick – especially the children. I loved children!
Even though I am already eight Nile floods old this day, father said it will take a good while to learn everything about preparing my people for the afterlife. He also told me that there has never been a woman mummy maker before this, but this knowledge does not draw me away from my chosen profession.
“When the time comes,” I told him fiercely, “I’ll write to the government department in charge of mummy makers and get my permit. You’ll see!”
Father just smiled and patted my short, black hair.
“Yes, yes, daughter. When the time comes we shall apply for the permit so you can perform the rituals,” father told me. “I know you can do anything your little heart wishes. You were always that way, and may you remain in the gods’ favor for your entire life. As well as getting the permit you need, I’ve no doubt you’ll tell those old blowhards in the government just how much you need that permit and where to go to get it, as well!”
That made me laugh. I thought about everything that was around me constantly, and about wanting to do so many things that sometimes, I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I thought about when I grew up and who I would marry and who my friends would be, and about our country of Egypt. I would even thought about how people would live in Egypt many lives into the future, after perhaps, the Nile has grown wider and even after it didn’t flood anymore. That our mighty river wouldn’t flood every year was a horrific thought to all of Egypt’s citizens. It was our lifeline to food and transportation and everything we needed to live.
The annual inundation was at the core of every citizen’s life and I had a hard time imagining what it would be like without it.
We often sat in granduncle’s garden and when he spoke the words, he would guide my hand so that I could learn how it was put onto paper. He told me that making the hieroglyphics correctly was so important because later, I would try and read them and be unable to remember what on earth I had written, and that would be a big waste of time! Granduncle had a fountain in the garden and I felt the cooling spray on my face as we sat there and I studied and practiced for hours and hours at a time.
Granduncle said that those who came after us could learn from our mistakes, but unless we were able to let them know how we came to do what we did, that our great Egyptian civilization would come to an end! I cried when I heard this but he told me quickly, “Not right away, my child. It won’t happen immediately.”
Father did not share the mistrust, even hatred, which most Egyptian citizens had against Nubians. Kemsa’s skin was the rich color of ebony wood and Thoth’s was like mine – a shade lighter than my parents and much lighter than most other Egyptians.
Father also told me that he doesn’t know why people are different colors. He supposed that is was so in all of nature, and forever will be until the end of time, and that Ra designed everyone and every creature that way, because each of them has a purpose in Egypt and each had to make its own way in the world.
Father also told me that it doesn’t matter what your skin color is and that it’s very important to live a pure life, and be fair and just and kind, and respectful in all of your actions. He told me that if a person does that, when they are ready to cross over the river Styx, Anubis will be able to weigh their heart justly, and they will join those who have passed before them.
I wrote down everything I listened to and looked at and learned about, in one of my books, so that I remembered every word mother and father taught me.
Then, I imagined that perhaps, far in the future when the Nile has flooded hundreds of times, someone will find my papyrus scrolls and books, and wonder who wrote about such important subjects such as mummification and the afterlife, and how a mere girl would know such things!
Father says that even the knowledge we have now about the cosmos and death and life and love is a mere sliver of our knowledge. He said that what we know now, just leads us to the future and so much more. My father was a great man and I loved him so much!
As I was thinking about all of this, I figured out how to make a new thing to store my own stories and knowledge in. I called it a book and the name came to me suddenly as did the idea, when I decided to cut pieces of papyrus into squares, lay them on top of each other, and then bind them with a couple of thongs of leather, one on each end of the stack of papyrus sheets. It took up a whole lot less room than rolls of papyrus scrolls and it was easy to write in, as well.
When I first showed this to father he told me he had never seen such a place to keep words before! People may use my ideas to store their knowledge and I could be famous! Perhaps pharaoh will invite me to court to read my stories!
I wanted to teach so much that I would set a few stools outside when Ra started to go down each day and before supper, and with my book on my knee, would tell the other children stories as they gathered around, often squatting down onto the sandy soil of the alleyway or on lintel stones in the doorways of their nearby houses, as children often do.
The houses which surrounded us were owned by other mummy makers, as we had our own special neighborhood. A few of the children would come into our neighborhood, but I didn’t know where they lived.
Sometimes my friend Thoth was there, but a lot of times he was not. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to learn to read, or if he just wanted some company and a friend to talk to. I loved to talk! That older boy Kemsa was always there. A few times a girl whose skin was the same as Kemsa, showed up, but she only stayed for a while, then would disappear. Perhaps her family took her away to another nome in Egypt.
One day, after the other children had left, Kemsa brought me a beautiful flower. I looked at him in awe as it was the first time we had actually been face to face. When my skin started to feel clammy and my heart beat faster, I told myself that perhaps he was attracted to me as I was to him, and that this must be the ‘alluring’ that mother told me about.
He was as shy as I was when he handed the beautiful flower to me. His smile was so infectious that I smiled, too. Finally, he introduced himself as Kemsa, and I, making a short bow, said ‘Meryneith’, but I then added that ‘my friends call me Mery.’
‘Well, little one,’ he had told me – ‘I shall call you Mery.’
After a quick salute, he ran off but looked back before disappearing around the corner. My heart raced and I made a short prayer to Isis that I would keep Kemsa as my friend for all eternity.
I remembered that time how my other friend, Thoth, got jealous at this and jumped on Kemsa’s back when he passed by Thoth, and they fought. I tried to break them up by pulling Thoth away from Kemsa because I didn’t want either of them to get hurt, but couldn’t, and my dress got ripped.
When I asked mother about it later she just told me it was the way of boys, and to not worry about it. We sat together afterwards and talked about boys and girls, as she helped me to repair the hole in my dress.
Suddenly, father coughed to catch my attention, and I looked up. “Watch, Mery. See how this heart is the center of a man’s soul and the seat of his intelligence.”
“Is it the seat of a woman’s intelligence, too?”
Father gave me a stern look. “Yes, child, now help me with the herbs and linen and sawdust so we may make our neighbor look good for his family.”
I picked up a sweet smelling jar of herbs and took it over to father, after laying down my stylus and book and getting up off of the low stool. The herbs were made by a group of women who lived close to the temple complex, but I had never seen them because father told me one day that mummy makers were not welcomed by the priests there.
I asked him why and he told me ‘because I think that they want to get as much money from the grieving families as they can, first.’ Then he just shook his head and pretended not to care about the subject.
At one time, I tried my own mixture of herbs at home and pounded and pounded them with a pestle and mortar. When father was in the mummy room one day I carefully took the jar in to show him, but he sniffed it then stepped back, with his eyes watering.
Hail to you, you having come as Kehpri,
even Khepri who is the creator of gods.
You rise and shine on the back
of your mother, the sky, having appeared
in glory as king of the gods.
Your mother Nut shall use her arms on
your behalf in making greeting.
Mery and Kemsa – the latter having achieved the status of police chief and prefect of a city quarter because of his popularity with city officials and most police officers, along with his officers and a couple of government officials, were all huddled around a narrow, dark alley located in the dingier part of the neighborhood.
Thebes was one of the largest cities of its time and neighborhoods varied between old and rundown, all the way to middle class and beyond, to pharaoh’s Ramesseum and a multitude of palaces. The Valley of the Kings lay across the Nile.
In this particular alleyway in Thebes, garbage lay in heaps in various corners and the fine dust and sand had blown in and covered it all. Very old stones form the walls of homes and buildings along the narrow street.
Even though she’s intently focused on the two bodies sprawled awkwardly halfway up a wall, Mery looked up at the surrounding adobe and stone bricks of the old building and then at the ground below the two men, slumped above their own blood which had slowly seeped into the hard-packed sand and dirt of the street.
She’s a young woman now, as eight years have passed since she started to study the rituals of her father the mummy maker, and she remained intensely involved in why death occurs, and why people kill other people. Mery’s goal is to become a mummy maker or a doctor, because why death and sickness happen, fascinated her.
While she studied the scene clinically, Kemsa split his attention between the active crime scene, his officers, the investigation, and Mery – who for the moment remained unaware that he’s looking at her. Kemsa was a few years older than Mery and has grown into his manhood well, and he’s both handsome and fit. He wore his Nubian-styled linen kilt at a jaunty angle – a fact which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mery, throughout their childhood years and into adulthood.
A banner showing his rank is slung across one shoulder, making him look like a Phoenician pirate. He loved to wear a couple of gold earrings and this made him even more like a rogue in her eyes.
Kemsa inched towards Mery, but very focused, she wandered off to study a patch of the sandy-colored wall and her attention was drawn to an oddly-shaped pattern of blood. Some of the blood had dried differently and there were various parts of the victims’ skulls embedded in it in a circular pattern.
It looks just a circle of stones, she told herself. I’ve heard sailors tell stories of a far Northern land that has many circles of large stones. Using a pair of tweezers, she picked up the fragments and deposited them carefully in a finely-woven piece of linen and after twisting the white cloth, now rapidly turning pink, she put it in a satchel slung over her shoulder.
Mery’s satchel had become part of her being, now she’s an adult, and it rarely left her shoulder or side. This is my fifth one and I’ll need another soon, she told herself as she looked at the battered one she’s currently using.
Major Aapep gestured with his hands towards Mery, who had squatted down and was digging in the hard-packed sand and dirt of the alleyway with a small, copper-bladed trowel. Aapep was Kemsa’s second in command and works, albeit grudgingly, under Kemsa’s command.
Mery kept a lot of implements neatly tied into a roll of cloth like a surgeon and frequently changed out one for the other throughout her investigation.
The major was loud and obnoxious, covered with blotches like a lizard, and sweat ran down his forehead like tributaries of the Nile. Every now and then he wiped a filthy cloth over his face and neck and head, trying to rid himself of these odorous patches of dampness.
Mery moved closer to Kemsa and whispered into his ear. Her five feet didn’t match up well to his six plus height. “Would you like to come over to my house tonight? I think I can persuade mother and father to go to bed early. We can sit on the roof and I’ll cut some barley bread and feed it to you, because mother makes the best barley bread in the city, and she makes it with honey and sesame and…”
“Stop! My stomach is rumbling enough already! Can I bring some barley beer?”
Mery kissed him quickly and shyly on the cheek. “As long as you don’t bring the major, too.”
“I promise. No major. I’ve had enough of him for the day.”
“If you can stay awhile, we can talk about some of your unsolved cases. Perhaps…”
“Little one, I can most assuredly tell you that if I bring some barley beer and we sit on your roof until we’re stuffed with your mother’s bread and baked fish, and linger in the embrace of the moonlight and who knows what else, that I will definitely not be talking about unsolved cases!”
He turned with a smile and saluted her, just as he did when they were children, and Mery watched him until his strong and muscular back disappeared around a corner. She blushed as her gaze hung on to the last possible glimpse of his back, and then she blushed even further as her gaze slipped to his lower torso and legs.
About a half hour later, she turned right, then left, and is at her front doorway. Entering the house, which is in a tidy and middle class neighborhood, she immediately plopped her satchel onto the floor, turned to a burnished copper mirror hanging in the entryway, then made a small blessing and offering of fruit to the gods. An intricate and beautifully-carved statue of the ibis-headed god Thoth sat on a small table. The body was dark wood carved into a feather pattern and the head and legs were made from antiqued bronze. She fingered it tenderly, then returned it to its rightful place.
Almost next to this table was another, where Mery and her mother kept their cosmetic pots. They were all knocked over and powder and oil were stuck to the table. In the half light, she peered at the copper mirror on the wall. There’s a crude and badly written message on it and she could barely make it out. She peered closer. “Only gods…may… enjoy eternal…love.”
“What in Egypt…” she asked herself, as she continued to look for her mother.
She called out to her parents, but when there’s no reply, Mery wandered through to the back part of her house where her mother had her ceramics studio. It’s almost dark and Mery turned the corner to the pottery kiln and stumbled over something which was sticking out from a corner.
She looked down and saw that the object on the floor was her mother’s leg. She screamed, and pulled her mother’s body out from behind a cabinet.
Her father was behind her mother, so she screamed again and pulled his body out as well. It’s a struggle, but in her grief she has found superhuman strength. Both of her parents had been horribly murdered. Their hearts had been gouged from their bodies and blood had spurted up the walls as far as the ceiling, and across the room in a eerie but unusual pattern similar to shooting stars.
Her analytical side was already thinking about the scene, while her emotional side poured out scream after anguished scream, over and over again. After lighting an oil lamp to search the area, her screams settle into a ragged sobbing.
Don’t worry, beloved mother and father. I’ll find your hearts so you can find joy with Ra in the afterlife. There’s no doubt that after Anubis weighs your heart against the lightest of feathers, that you will be able to enter into your new lives over the river Styx. I promise you – I’ll search for your killer until the day I die.
Then, she collapsed over her parents and their coagulating blood started to seep into her clothing. After a few minutes she revived, composed her parents’ bodies, straightened herself up and walked out of the door like a zombie, heading for the police station.
Mery looked down and noticed in a detached way, that her dress was no longer a transparent white linen, but soaked with a sticky red gore – and that it’s turned into a horrific pink color, as the stain spread out and took on a life of its own.
O my heart which I had from my mother!
O my heart which I had from my mother!
O my heart of my different ages! Do not
stand up as a witness against me!
Meryneith sat restlessly at the home of her mentor and granduncle, Suten Anu. The first room of his house had a couple of settees and a chair, plus a desk where he conducted his business. They sat in the second room, which was usually the living quarters in a family’s household. Her granduncle was the one who had taught her to read and write since she was a child, and who had stimulated her interests in the sciences, along with her deceased father who showed her many mummification rites and rituals and methods.
Mery put her head in her hands frequently and sobbed loudly. Her eyes were reddened with tears and she hadn’t slept in many hours. She picked at the cloth covering on the ottoman which she was sitting on and occasionally looked around the room.
A tall and wiry young man – with uneven dark hair which had been hacked off raggedly as if by a mad barber, and who was covered with bruises on the backs of his legs, and whose disturbed eyes constantly followed Mery, sat off to one side and slouched against the adobe wall. This was Mery’s childhood friend, Thoth, who was slave to merchant Quasshie.
“Is that a new scent?” The wax cone maker was already absorbed in her work and didn’t reply. Mery’s voice wavered, then disintegrated into sobs.
Thoth reached out and placed his hand on her arm. His whole body leaned towards her and as well as comforting his friend, Thoth was also in love with her. This was evident in the way his eyes often seemed to bore into her very soul, to the exclusion of everything else. At first, Mery let Thoth’s hand rest on her arm for a few moments.
She looked at Thoth and noticed his bruises, both old and new. They seem to be weeks, if not months old. I hope he’s all right.
The young man was tall, but not quite as tall as Kemsa was, and his shoulders were perpetually stooped. “My master says I’ve been bad, so I deserve punishment every day. I’ll learn, I know I will!” he often told her in their rare moments alone together.
Thoth reacted to loud sounds instantly, like an abused animal. When Anu’s wife reentered to gather up the teacups and plates and makes a clatter, he shook and looked up with fear in his eyes and this gradually subsided into a smoldering resentment, seemingly burning deep within his thin body, because he frequently showed this by a shaking rage.
He inched his chair a little closer to Mery and put his arm around her shoulder.
Thoth and Meryneith were the same age and a couple of Nile floods previously, on one hot and long summer evening, they made love in a cool grove of palm trees on the edge of the city. It was right after a festival and Thoth was both drunk, and drunk with love. They had exited right before curfew and found themselves wobbling around outside in the desert, and then collapsing into a heap, with Thoth on top.
Mery was laughing because she was also drunk on too much flavored beer. I drank beer since I was very little, but none like that. She suspected that the vendor had spiked the beer so that his customers would keep coming back for more of ‘that better brew for a cheaper price’. A crudely written sign stated that, anyway. Mery had pulled Thoth up as they were looking at which beer to buy, read the sign to him, then taken out a few coins as Thoth, being a slave, rarely had any money.
Mery, Thoth, Suten Anu and Asim, the mummy maker friend of Mery’s parents, were at Suten Anu’s house the next day as there’s to be a will reading. “I’m glad you could be here, friend Asim. I feel like you represent my father, because he’s…gone.” Mery’s eyes well with tears, almost to overflowing.
Thoth had more fresh bruises on the backs of his legs. And, for the first time in a long while, there are severe ones on his back, and these appeared to be raw lash marks. Mery touched them softly and taking a damp cloth, sat down beside him and patted the soothing coolness onto his skin.
After shaking uncontrollably at Mery’s first touch, Thoth calmed down quickly. He remained jittery though, and constantly scanned the room, the ceiling, his fingernails, and his battered legs. He nervously raked his fingers through his patchy hairstyle over and over until Mery put her hand over one of his to make him stop.
Suten Anu coughed and unrolled the papyrus scroll containing Mery’s parents’ will. He read part of the will first which deals with inheritance and it gave Mery, because she was the sole child in her family, all of the family’s money and possessions and home, plus the mummy making business.
She and Thoth appeared very pleased.
Thoth even smiled. Perhaps now she’ll be able to love me. Perhaps now she can even buy my freedom with her wealth. What’s it like to live in a real home and be loved by a wife and real family again? Perhaps we can take the oath of marriage together, he told himself.
Mery and Thoth’s expressions changed rapidly when Anu read the next part of the will.
“I hereby declare that Meryneith shall be married to merchant Quasshie, and therefore, find the contract signed by both parties below.” Suten Anu looked up as he read the marriage contract part of the will, and found both Thoth and Mery frozen in shock.
Thoth got up angrily. “Bastard! This cannot be! I won’t let it happen. That monster won’t have Mery. I won’t let him have her…” He choked off his last words and hobbled from the room.
Mery was surprised at the suddenly violent outburst from Thoth, who had been reticent to say almost anything since they were children. She got up to go after him, but Suten Anu restrained her gently.
“Child, let him be. Prepare your household for your marriage. I’ll do my best to help you try and rid yourself of the obligation, but I cannot promise anything.”
Asim muttered to himself, but not loud enough for Suten Anu and Mery to hear. “She’ll need someone to run her father’s mummy making business. Mery will never get that mummy maker permit. No one will give such an important permission to a mere woman. This could work out for all concerned. I’ll talk to her when she’s in a better frame of mind. There’s no dealing with a woman who’s both angry, and sad. Perhaps I need to see merchant Quasshie and discuss this marriage contract further.”
He wrung his hands indecisively, then said his goodbyes and left the room.
Mery and Suten Anu were busy consoling each other and barely noticed.
Outside, Asim ran into Thoth who’d been listening to Mery and Suten Anu inside. Asim bumped the broken young man, muttered ‘sorry’, and tried to move off.
Thoth grabbed Asim by his arms and held the shorter man off the ground. He shook him like a dog does with a bone, then let him fall back with a thud.
“Don’t you ever help that bastard, Quasshie. Understand?”
Asim quivered with fear because Thoth looked like he wanted to heave Asim against the hard wall of the building. With a parting kick to the older man, Thoth stormed off.
Hail to you, Bull of the West.
I am the great god, the protector.
I have fought for you, for I am one of
those gods of the tribunal which vindicated
Osiris against his foes on that
day of judgment
Mery sat on a stool next to Kemsa’s table which was in a corner of the simple police station, her elbows on it when not gesturing about her mother’s lapis amulet. The police station contained several rooms – one in the front was where the public could come in and complain, or report problems in their neighborhood. A few middle rooms were for the officers, and Kemsa had a tiny apartment there. Suspects were kept in the back in a secure area until they were dealt with. There were none in the cells at the moment. The stables adjoined the police station and because Kemsa had a small precinct, there were only four horses and a beaten-up old chariot in there – which he’d mooched off a lower-ranked aide to the pharaoh.
Kemsa’s falcon, Horus, perched on the back of a chair and looked around with his intelligent raptor’s eyes. He’s a beautiful animal and Kemsa made use of his rodent-catching talents to keep the police station vermin free. Horus would only let Mery and his owner hold him, and Kemsa’s officers keep their distance from the small bird with large talons.
Kensa cannot keep a smile from his face when he looked at Mery, and was, if anything, overly attentive almost to the extreme. Whenever he talked to her or looked at her, he radiated a sensuous energy. “Would you like some pomegranate juice? There’s a vendor in the market that I get it from. They say it gives you energy. I keep it in the cellar, in one of the dark cells, and the taste is quite refreshing. It also keeps the drink cool.”
He stopped for a moment and stuck out his hand with the cup of juice in it. “Look at me, I’m babbling and sound like the vendor himself trying to sell it.”
Horus the falcon screeched, because he saw someone passing by the street through the open door of the police station. Kemsa looked up. “He’s a great help in letting us know when a stranger enters. Plus, he’d caught more than his dinner of mice. I have to patrol the station every now and then in case there are any ‘leftovers’.
Mery took the drink offered by Kemsa, looked at the hieroglyphics on the cup, and after chugging it down, continued on with her lost amulet saga. “And I know mother had it on right before she died.” She looked up at Kemsa then blurted out, “You should take that cup back to the vendor. Instead of ‘to your good health’ it reads ‘to your good foot’.”
Switching gears without missing a beat, Mery continued on but lost color suddenly. “What if the killer took it? What if mother’s killer has it right now? I hope he burns in all of the fires in the River Styx!”
She got up and paced for a moment, as Kemsa followed her every move. “What if one of the mummy makers took it? What if one of them did it!”
“My little crime solver. You have some great ideas, and most are better than my officers.” Mery has gotten Kemsa as fired up as she, and he got up from his chair and gave orders to the officers who were in the room trying to look busy, to go out and bring in all of the mummy makers in the area. When they started to mumble and complain that it’s too hot to go out looking for results of a girl’s random musings, Kemsa stretched taller and simply pointed to the door.
“By Pharaoh, if you aren’t all out of here in a few moments, I swear, I’ll drag you all down to the Nile and leave you for the crocodiles. Old Boney will call in his friends and there will be a banquet! Now, go!”
Horus got agitated and flapped his wings and then flew onto an officer’s head. The other officers stopped and laughed at the situation but Kemsa scowled at them and they ceased immediately. The man with the falcon on his head tried to bat the bird off, but did so very carefully. Revered by Egyptians, both Horus the falcon and Horus the god were protected by ancient laws and conduct. Kemsa went over to his bird and took it carefully onto his arm. Horus screeched for a few minutes, just to show who’s in charge.
After that, the officers scattered as quickly as lightning over the dessert, because it’s just about as rare that Kemsa showed any kind of temper.
The men have gone, leaving Mery and the police chief all by themselves. He leaned down suddenly and kissed her, then caressed her breast. “I thought they’d never leave. Now, tell me more about when you last saw your mother wearing that lapis lazuli amulet. I want to know everything.”
Kemsa put the falcon onto its perch and the bird, duty done, fell asleep. As he asked Mery to tell him more about her mother’s amulet, he traced over the top of her dress with his finger and made her blush.
When he touches me like that it’s all I can do to not drag him into his apartment and make love. How long can I bear it, not being married to Kemsa?
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Monday, November 28, 2011