THE RAVEN AND THE ANCIENT: PART ONE by J.B. Dane
Updated: Jul 23, 2019
THE RAVEN AND THE ANCIENT
I was trailing kraken spit as I staggered up onto shore south of Detroit. Never ever wanted to see anything with tentacles again in my life. To play it safe, I was prepared to go off seafood entirely. All I wanted was a hot shower, preferably a large steak and numerous tumblers of Evan Williams. The shower I could afford, otherwise what I’d get would be a burger from a fast food joint (I had a coupon for a meal deal) and generic bourbon.
In any case I was not looking for another case.
Which is probably why one found me in the form of a chubby guy in a clearance rack suit, age grayed shirt and a tie featuring hieroglyphics.
“Mr. Farrell? Bram Farrell of Raven Investigations?” he asked. The only tells his voice carried were those that told me he was a local, otherwise, it had just enough education showing to indicate some college and possibly a middle management job. A low on the scale, middle management job. I base this on the fact that he didn’t say, “Yo, dude, ya dah Raven?” as so many others had croaked at me in the past. Yeah, I travel in really highbrow circles.
“And who might be asking?” I queried wearily. Hey, I’d just done battled with a monster with more limbs than I’d brought to the engagement. It had been a lot bigger than me, too.
He reached in his suit jacket and fumbled a business card into sight. I no longer had any that hadn’t been drenched by Lake Erie. Behind me the lake waters were calm, but gulls were diving on kraken sushi. Since I could see a couple smokestacks pumping white clouds into blue skies, it looked like I’d washed up in Brest Bay though not close enough to the marina or housing to draw much attention. Except from the guy with the business card extended my way.
I took it. Pushed dripping hair out of my eyes, then looked at him.
“The G.G.M. Ancient Past Foundation?” I’d never heard of it.
“Oh, sorry. My name’s on the reverse,” he said. That didn’t answer my question, but I flipped it over anyway. If you’d asked me ahead of time what a Dooley Galway looked like, he wouldn’t have been it.
“Listen. I’m not exactly in the right frame of mind to listen to your problem,” I said. Well, I was dripping wet, in dire need of everything – including cash considering I’d got suckered into killing the kraken for free – and just not in the mood, ya know? But I was curious about one thing. “How the hell did you find me?” Let’s face it. This was nowhere near my usual hunting grounds or my office.
“Madam Wassowitz told me you’d be here at this time.” He sounded quite happy that I’d cooperated with her foretelling.
“You went to a gypsy?” I might have been gaping at him. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was.
“A psychic,” he corrected, “though she does use a crystal ball in her searches.”
Sounded like he used her quite regularly. “What exactly do you do at this…er…foundation.” Yes, I’m man enough to admit I’d already forgotten the name of the joint. Had a very good reason for being forgetful though. I was friggin’ dripping wet!
“I’m head of security,” Galway confessed. It sounded like he was embarrassed to admit what he did for a living. But then he was seeking outside help if he’d come to me. “Despite the name, we’re more of a museum, just not a well-known museum. The problem is one of our artifacts has gone missing and one of our scholars as well.”
A slight swell rose behind me on the lake but as it washed my abandoned-in-the-heat-of-battle leather jacket up behind me, the day wasn’t a complete loss. I love this jacket. “It doesn’t sound like this is the sort of job I usually handle, Galway. It’s not that I’m not interested –” Which I was, sorta. Sounded like a drop in the bucket case. No magic involved and all the players generic humans. “—but I’m not exactly available to take it on immediately.”
There was that shower, meal, and washing the memory of kraken breath away to see to yet.
“No, Mr. Farrell. You’re the man for the job. The only man for the job, actually. You see, the missing artifact? We believe it has special magic qualities.”
Ah. Well, I was the only PI in the area who threw magic around like it had been on a half-price sale. “And why do you think this artifact has magic qualities?” It seemed a logical question.
“Because nearly everything in the collection belonged to a very powerful Sumerian king who was deified 4,600 years ago. The missing item is the Scepter of Anûtu, said to bestow godhood on those who possess it.”
Oh, hell. I tilted my head back, stared at a cloudless blue sky. It kept lake water from dripping in my eyes. “My office. Three o’clock. With the possibilities of godlings involved, there will be a hefty bit of front money required.”
‘Cause the chances of not surviving had just increased by…well, one heck of a lot. I wasn’t up to doing math quite yet. Too much kraken juice in my system.
Galway’s face could have cracked from the width of his contented smile. “Three o’clock,” he agreed. “Will a check suffice, or would you prefer cash?”
Because I’m a considerate sort – and also didn’t want those who didn’t know things like kraken existed learning that one had been awfully close to home – I dropped a shield over the remains of my tentacled opponent. The gulls could see the carcass and probably smell it, but humans would be clueless. Also ensured than in about an hour the entire thing would vanish from the shore. Not just dematerialize but head out to deep water and sink to the bottom where it would serve as lunch for underwater snackers. Then I ordered up a whirl of wind to dry me off and hiked to the nearest road to thumb a ride.
Galway hadn’t even asked if I needed transportation but had skedaddled. Even if I owned a car, motorcycle, 10-speed, or skateboard, it wouldn’t be handy. It would be back where I’d gotten dragged into the water, which was a long way from Brest Bay.
I made it to the office, which was serving as living quarters temporarily thanks to a downsized income. At least I hoped it was temporary. My secretary took one look at me and handed over the key to her place. There wasn’t, after all, a shower available at Raven Investigations.
Made it back by the three o’clock deadline to find not only Galway but a woman who I guessed was Madam Wassowitz simply from the eccentric outfit she’d donned. Very drape-y, colorful, and so far removed from the outfits in the fashion magazines my secretary poured over that she clearly went for drama rather than up-to-date when it came to her wardrobe. She liked jewelry, too. Lots of chains with crystals weighting down a chest that served as quite the display shelf. Her hair was more the finger-in-the-light-socket type of crimp than naturally curly and a suspiciously overt shade of yellow. Surprisingly, she was around my own age, which is still on the underside of thirty – barely, but all business.
“Mr. Farrell,” she said, hand out for a shake. “It’s a pleasure to at long last meet you. Doing so has been on my bucket list for months.”
Never having heard of her, I couldn’t say the same. Doubted that even if I had, she would have deserved a note on my bucket list. Mostly because I didn’t have one.
Galway held one of the two straight backed visitors chairs to settle her in a spot before my desk, then took the other one. He grinned widely at me. “I’m so glad you’ve decided to take this on, Mr. Farrell.”
“I haven’t yet, Galway,” I cautioned, reclaiming my own chair. It doesn’t merit the term executive, doesn’t swivel, and actually isn’t in the least bit comfortable. Which is probably why I rarely see clients at the office. “It takes more details than just godling’s magic wand and missing to convince me this is worth my time.” It didn’t really, but one shouldn’t look too eager. It makes siphoning a hefty bit of front money from a client’s pocket difficult if one does. And I sure the hell wasn’t going to find myself stiffed again on a case.
Wassowitz let Galway do the talking, but then it was his museum job on the line, not hers. I’ll admit I’m a bit jumpy when anyone mentions the long dead past in the part of the world from which the missing artifact hailed. Not long ago I’d had a case that involved an immortality formula that used harpy blood, the recipe jotted down on Assyrian cuneiform tablets. Galway’s mention of Sumerian leftovers had been enough to chill me to the bone earlier. Though that could have been the breeze off the lake hitting my drenched form, too. Still…
“Perhaps I should explain a bit about what the foundation does,” he said.
“We are both the repository for Sumerian artifacts collected by Professor Gilbert G. Mensch during excavations in the 19th century but also a research facility engaged in translating and piecing together a vast number of pieces of documents pressed into clay. You may have heard of cuniform?”
Oh, yeah. I could even recognize it, though not translate it. It looks a lot like Norse runes in that it is lines going this way and that and some circles pressed into damp clay as tallies and such. Predates the Egyptian hieroglyphics Galway’s tie sported.
I nodded sagely. “Go on,” I urged him.
Galway sat forward in his seat, obviously excited to be sharing his enthusiasm for what his workplace did, though he wasn’t engaged in the academic side of things. “Professor Mensch – well, the original Professor Mensch, chose to honor Detroit with his collection and fund it for the future, as well. We’re open to the public, though few find us. Not everyone is interested in a collection that contains only information on one ancient civilization. We don’t have impressively large statues of kings or gods, merely small ones of rams, bulls, fish, griffons, and women, plus the usual spear heads, bowls, lyres, and, of course, all those pieces of clay tablets.”
“And this missing Scepter of Anûtu,” I added. “How big is it and is it made of something valuable?” You know, like gold, silver, decorated in giant chunks of diamond, emerald, ruby. That sort of thing would be easily broken up or melted down by a low-life thief or sold on the black market to rich folks with secret collections.
“Yes, it is. Solid gold, in fact,” Galway said. “It isn’t as tall as a walking stick. More the length of a cane but thicker. The inventory description says it has a diameter of two inches, is thirty-six inches tall and topped by the alabaster head of a griffon with embedded emerald eyes.”
“Not just any griffon, but the god or monster Anzû,” Wassowitz inserted. Well, we could tell who the enthusiast – or stickler – was. “I believe that is important.”
“You think your missing scholar made off with it?” Seemed logical considering they’d both gone missing.
“No,” Galway said. “He would have no reason to steal it. In many ways, it already belongs to him since he is a descendant of the foundation’s founder.”
Founder and first thief to plunder from their home country the items on display in the cabinets at the museum. But then that’s what 19th century scientists did best.
“But you’re sure he’s missing? He didn’t mention taking vacation time, heading to a conference?” I asked.
“Our current Professor Mensch is very considerate and punctual. He was scheduled to give a short lecture then guide a group of visiting scholars through the exhibits. When he didn’t arrive when expected, we sent one of the staff to his home, thinking he had overslept or had car trouble. The door was unlocked, and his home had been ransacked. When the police were called, they found a trace of blood in the bedroom, so naturally we fear the worse,” Galway said.
“The worst being that he was kidnapped and forced to abscond with the scepter?”
Galway nodded like a bobblehead.
“Which is when you visited Madam Wassowitz?”
More head wobbling but with a vocal affirmative added for further affect.
I turned to the psychic. “According to Galway here, you zeroed in on where I’d be earlier today. You couldn’t find either the artifact or Mensch?”
“Things,” she said, putting undue emphasis on the word, “are not my specialty, and for some reason Dr. Mensch’s location is eluding me. I feel as though the moment I draw close, something interferes to direct me away from his location.”
I drummed my fingertips on the desk, musing. If a psychic who could pin point where I was going to wash ashore couldn’t locate a guy with her talents, there was no guarantee that I could find him. My sort of magic was mostly battle, confrontation stuff. I didn’t do spells, didn’t have a tracking system in my hoodoo repertoire. What were the chances I could find either the professor or the ancient magic wand? Did I really want this case?
The answer came when I looked up and caught sight of my secretary standing in the open doorway behind our guests with the company checkbook in her mitt. The red lacquered tipped fingers of her free hand were indicating that our balance was a goose egg. Yep, I was taking the case. We couldn’t afford to lose the shower facilities at her apartment and both of us did like to eat at least once a day.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a photograph of the missing item or the missing professor?” I asked Galway.
“I do indeed, Mr. Farrell,” he said and turned to Madam Wassowitz. She dug into the huge satchel that served as her purse. A brochure appeared, already folded open to a specific page. Galway took possession and stood up to place it before me on the desk. “This is the scepter,” he announced, poking a stubby finger at the photograph of a man grasping something long and dazzlingly ornate.
Galway hadn’t mentioned that the golden staff danced with reliefs of some sort as well. Whether or not it bestowed godhood on a person, it could deliver a whack on the skull guaranteed to allow the whackee to see both stars and tweeting birds circling their head.
“And that is Gilg holding it,” Wassowitz added in case I forgot she was in the room.
The man was in his mid-thirties, sported dark hair, sun warmed skin, a full beard and mustache, was wearing the prescribed tweed jacket with elbow patches, the sort of tie that said old school in England, and the kind of wire framed glasses that looked either a hundred years out of style or very hip for a Steampunker. His expression was one of amusement, which struck me as odd for an academic. I’d thought they were always serious. Intently serious. Well, unless they were astrophysicists. Those guys thrive on giving things wacky names. But archaeologists? Not so much.
Then what Wassowitz had called the missing dude caught up with me. “What did you say this guy’s name is?”
“Professor Mensch,” Galway said.
Wassowitz was smiling though. “Well, to his staff, perhaps, but we had dinner together a couple times.”
That grin she wore said it was more than dinner. A lot more.
“What’s his full name,” I persisted.
“Dr. Gilbert Galga Mensch VII,” she said. “There is something in the foundation’s charter that specifies the heir must be named after the founder, and the current one is the seventh descendent to be so named.”
“And he told you to call him Gilg? Not Gil?” I had a bad feeling about this.
“Yes. With so many men in the family with the same name, it would be far too confusing if they didn’t answer to different designations. Therefore, subtle variations of the name are used,” she explained, sounding like she was lecturing a kindergarten class.
Wassowitz wasn’t finished though. She laughed softly, as if in memory of a private moment shared with the missing professor. “Our Dr. Mensch felt he was fortunate not to be called Bert as his father was, or Cinco, which his grandfather answered to.”
I really doubted our absent archaeologist’s ancestors had answered to either of those things. Didn’t believe he was actually an archaeologist either.
Turned what I hoped my visitors would see as a gaze of idle curiosity their way. “Your Dr. Mensch an expert in anything other than ancient Sumer?”
Galway showed diversity by wagging his head in a different direction. “Not that I’m aware. Madam?” he asked turning to the only person who might know what else the missing Mensch specialized in.
“The concept behind specializing in something, Mr. Farrell, implies that no other field is of interest,” she insisted. Sounded like she was irritated that I’d even suggest her honey needed to widen his range.
But I was putting together a scenario that wasn’t making me the least bit happy and doing so just from what they’d told me.
What did we have? A magic stick that bestowed deity. A collection of artifacts from only one place, belonging to one civilization. One that had thrived so long gone, little remained to show it had ever existed. And that kingdom had been ruled at one time by a fellow with the reputation for being a hero. One whose derring-do got him accepted into the God Club.
The cherry on top was this ancient guy’s name. One that sounded suspiciously like that of the missing man who might or might not have the Scepter of Anûtu.
Yeah, I was guessing here, but it sounded like they wanted me to find Gilgamesh, and just didn’t know it.
To Be Continued
Next Episode is posted