Kat was to read a passage as Mut, or Maut. The Egyptian word for mother had come from her name, and she was the daughter of the sun god, Ra—the all-seeing, vengeful eye of Ra. Kat had been given the Mut headdress, which was that of a vulture, one of the forms in which Mut could sometimes be seen.
“Cool, huh?” she whispered to Will, holding a glass of wine as they stood casually in the dining area, meeting others as they came in.
“I think Mut is also sometimes depicted as a cow,” he told her, grinning.
She frowned. “At least I’m not reading as a schizophrenic god,” she retorted.
He was reading a passage for Aker, an ancient earth god honored in the New Kingdom and often depicted as two lions facing away from each other. Aker was the god of the horizon—day to night, and night to day.
Kat’s phone rang. She glanced at Will, fumbled through the robe to find the phone in her pocket and started to answer it.
Samantha walked by, frowning. “No cell phones once the ceremony starts!” she chastised.
“Of course,” Kat murmured.
She turned away from the crowd and spoke so softly that not even Will could hear. When she turned back, she touched his cheek, as if in a gesture of affection. Of course, he hoped it was real, but she was gesturing for him to bend down.
“Saxitoxin,” she whispered.
“Saxitoxin,” she said a little louder. “It’s a toxin from shellfish. Amanda must have had an allergy—and someone must have known it.”
“That’s what killed her?” he asked. “But…how did she get in the sarcophagus with Amun Mopat?”
She shook her head. He looked away, and took a sip from his glass of “ceremonial” wine. He set the wineglass down and, to Kat’s surprise, took hers, as well.
He raised a brow and saw the comprehension in her eyes.
Nothing to eat or drink here!
Hearing someone greet a new visitor, Will stepped into the parlor and saw Andy Simonton. He was alone, but he seemed to know most of the people there.
Samantha walked toward him. Her stride had changed; it was suddenly sultry, her hips swaying beneath the robe. “Andy!”
“I’m so, so glad you could make it,” she gushed.
Andy shrugged. “Hey, Austin was a good guy. If this is how he’d want us to say goodbye, so be it.” He sighed. “That awful business at the center today—boy, I’m glad I stayed away from that ship. It sure looks like it’s cursed!”
“The cops claim someone else had to have been in there—at least that’s what I saw on the news,” Sam said. “Personally? I think Amanda was a flake. She was in love with that mummy. She probably offed the guard herself, then climbed into the sarcophagus.”
Andy Simonton shook his head. “I’m just glad I had nothing to do with that damn ship. It’s scary—Brady Laurie, Austin…and now Amanda and a guard?”
“The guard isn’t dead,” Samantha said.
“Maybe the poor guy will survive to tell the tale.” Simonton looked past Samantha and saw Dirk Manning. “Dirk!” he called, walking past Samantha. He set a hand on Manning’s shoulder. “Hey, I’m so sorry. I know what good friends you and Austin were.”
“Thank you, Andy, thank you. Samantha, I do believe just about everyone’s present, is that correct?” Dirk asked.
“We’re waiting on just one more—Landry. He’s on his way with a date or a friend or something,” Samantha said.
As she spoke, the door opened in the hallway; Stewart Landry was there. He was accompanied by his attractive receptionist, the blonde Sherry Bertelli. She smiled vaguely when Dirk Manning came forward to greet them. “Thank you, thank you for coming. It would have meant a lot to Austin.”
“We were still reeling from the news of his death when we heard about Amanda,” Landry said.
“She really wasn’t very nice,” Sherry noted.
Manning cleared his throat. “Yes, well, it’s very sad, all the same.”
Andy Simonton had been standing still, watching Landry and Sherry. Landry noticed Simonton and seemed slightly surprised. “Simonton, how are you?” He strode forward, offering his hand.
Simonton took it. They behaved in a cordial manner, but both men seemed tense. “Hello, um, Ms. Bertelli,” Simonton said.
“Sherry. Yes, hello, Mr. Simonton.”
“Andy, please,” he told her.
“Let’s get started, shall we?” Manning said. “We have our nine to read in honor of our friend Austin Miller. We shall begin. If everyone will gather in the yard?”
As he spoke, Simonton caught sight of Will and Kat. He seemed curious, but not dismayed. “Hello.” He walked over, gesturing at their robes. “I wouldn’t have thought you were members or associates of the Sand Diggers.”
“We’re here because of Dirk,” Kat said. “He was with us when we found Austin Miller, so…I guess we have something of a bond.”
“I figured you’d be busy at the Preservation Center,” Simonton said. “That’s all very tragic, but…” He grimaced. “Both Brady and Amanda were obsessed. I feel bad for poor Jon Hunt, though. He must be suffering big-time. I mean, they have a guard, a receptionist…interns, but those three were the ones who really held the fort down, you know?”
“Yes, Jon isn’t coping too well.”
“Poor boy!” Simonton shook his head. “Well, I guess we should get into the yard.”
He joined the stream heading out. Will held his reading in one hand and took Kat’s hand with the other. He almost walked into Sherry Bertelli. She looked up at him and her eyes widened.
“I know you!” she said.
“Yes, hello, Ms. Bertelli.”
“You’re the agent. Oh!” She’d noticed Kat beside him. “And you’re the other agent.”
“Tonight,” Kat told her, “we’re just mourners.”
“Did you know Mr. Miller?” she asked.
“Only in death.” Kat smiled. “But he was a lovely man.”
Sherry seemed perplexed; at her side, Landry paused, frowning as he saw Will and Kat.
“Good God! Do you people hold nothing sacred?” he demanded.
“Actually, we hold a man’s life sacred above all else,” Will said pleasantly.
“Is there a problem?” Manning called from the back door.
“We’re on our way, Dirk, on our way!” Landry called, frowning again as he looked at Will.
They continued out.
In a long trail, they began the procession through the winding maze. Will knew that, alone, he’d find it difficult to orient himself. But Dirk Manning, at the head of the line, was sure of every step.
“I speak for Ra!” he intoned, waving an incense burner in front of him as he walked. “Although our brother Austin lived in a different time and place, we pray that in his new life he may forever know the warmth and nurturing power of the sun.”
Samantha had the next reading. “I speak for Isis,” she said. “Isis, who represents healing of all that hurts and bears down upon a laden soul. Austin, may you be relieved of the pain that is the lot of man. May you feel the grace of freedom, the health of the soul, in your new life.”
By the time Samantha finished speaking, they’d come to the center of the maze. There was an altar guarded by two stone lions; in the center was a large obelisk.
Will was touched to see that many of the mourners had brought flowers, which they laid on the altar.
Other members of the group read as their assigned gods or goddesses. The first of the two men he’d met in the parlor, Bill Bartholomew, read thoughts as Khepra, god of creation and change, and talked about the new life. David Gleeson spoke words of wisdom from Seker, god of light, and the god who protected souls as they passed from this world to the next. It was while Gleeson was speaking that Will saw Kat staring hard at the altar. He focused in the same direction. After a moment, he could see the vague image of an elderly man, and then, bit by bit, Austin Miller, became more visible to him.
He stood next to Dirk Manning, his hand on his old friend’s shoulder. If Dirk felt his hand in any way, he didn’t show it.
Next it was Kat’s turn to speak. She said the words written for her as Mut, telling the soul of Austin Miller that a mother’s love would guide him. She looked straight into his eyes as she spoke. The spirit of Austin Miller looked back at her, smiling, his eyes a little moist.
Will heard Austin so clearly when he said, “Thank you, my dear,” that he was certain others must have heard him, too. But they hadn’t. Other speakers, including Will, read their speeches and the service continued.
“Tell my friend, please, that my old meerschaum pipe he so admired is in the pocket of the smoking jacket I left in the closet here. I want him to have it. I want him to have the pipe and to take care of himself, and I don’t want him at my house or at this house alone. Tell him I fear he is in danger. There is a curse. I saw the mummy.”
Will glanced around, wondering if anyone else could possibly see and hear Austin Miller. He seemed so clear and strong and loud. But they were all paying attention to the next speaker.
“I will,” Kat said softly.
Austin Miller was still next to Dirk Manning when he brought the ceremony to a close. “Ancient Egypt is my passion,” Dirk told the crowd solemnly. “Christianity is my religion, but mine is a God of love and kindness, and He understands what we did here tonight. Some scholars now consider the polytheistic beliefs of the old Egyptians as the practice of seeing one god in many ways. And as we all know, methods of worship changed over the fifty centuries that passed within the many kingdoms and periods of the people we study. Thank you all for being here. Thank you for this send-off to our dear friend. Mortal remains, we know, mean nothing. Austin’s soul is with us tonight.”
Will was startled when Kat walked forward, tiny but so regal, to speak to Dirk Manning across the altar. “Dirk, Austin really is with us tonight. He is truly appreciative of all that you did. He wants you to know that his meerschaum pipe is in his smoking jacket, in the pocket.” She stopped speaking and turned around, looking at the gathered guests. “He says there is no curse. He reminds you that you love Egyptology, but you’re not superstitious fools.”