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What Lies Beneath the Bandages
About the Author: Richard Zwicker is an English teacher living in Vermont, USA, with his wife and beagle. His works have appeared in "Penumbra," "Hybrid Fiction," "Heroic Fantasy Quarterly," and other semi-pro markets. Two collections of his short stories are "Walden Planet" and "The Reopened Cask."

In celebration of concluding a case, Igor and I were walking off a late dinner. A light rain began to fall when we’d reached Geneva’s most notorious waterfront street. In the dark, it looked deserted, but I knew prostitutes, thieves, and vagrants lurked among the old, misshapen buildings. At seven feet tall, with a flat head and hulking shoulders, no one ever accosted me more than once, while Igor was more at home here than the room I subsidized for him. Yet we both hesitated when a scream shattered the silence. Thinking someone needed help, we ran toward the cry and saw a young woman slapping away the bandaged hands of a mummy.

“Hey!” I yelled. The mummy turned stiffly in our direction, shook its right fist, then fled. Igor and I pursued the assailant for about 100 feet, but for a mummy he was fast, and we weren’t. As we clumped back to the woman’s side, she saw Igor’s hunchback and my protruding electrodes and screamed a second time.

“I assure you, we pose no threat,” I said, backing off. “My name is Frankenstein. I’m a detective, and this is my assistant Igor. Are you all right?”

She looked us over, something that rarely did us credit.

“I think so.” She was short, wearing a hood and overcoat. While it wasn’t expensive, it looked warm and fashionable, not the type of thing worn by the lower classes. Her eyes flashed anger instead of fear.

“Why were you being attacked … by a mummy?” I asked.

“You’re really detectives?”

“I swear on my creator’s laboratory,” I said.

Her eyes widened, but perhaps because of my earnest look, she then relaxed. “His name is Het Omari. He works in the Egyptian room of the Musee Histoire.”

“As an exhibit?” asked Igor.

“No, he’s in charge. I am his assistant.”

“Are you sure it was him?” I asked. The man was completely covered in bandages.

“Yes. He wears a distinctive perfume that I noticed immediately.”

Igor nodded. “I imagine odor is a concern for mummies.”

She glared, not sure what to make of him. I knew what to make of Igor, but I couldn’t make him be polite. “We’d like to help,” I said, “but I still don’t understand why you were attacked. Or why you are out here alone this time of night.”

She appeared about to cry. “My husband—you may have heard of Thomas Chastain?” Our blank faces revealed our ignorance. “In certain circles he’s an acclaimed Romantic poet. Unfortunately, those circles aren’t lucrative, so I work at the museum to defray expenses. It was a satisfactory arrangement until Omari started objecting to my husband’s poetry.”

“He’s an expert on poetry, too?” I asked.

“His objection is not with the quality but the subject matter. Many of my husband’s poems extol my beauty.”

Though her hood obscured the top of her head, even a monster such as I could tell this woman possessed a natural attractiveness, unlike the painted faces one normally saw on this corner. “He disagrees?” I asked.

“He doesn’t believe a husband should publish intimate details about his wife. It’s as if he’s from another time.”

“Do you need someone to bring him up to 1825?” I asked.

Her eyes widened. “No! Please, I can’t lose this job.”

“So your husband lets you work and walk alone at night?” asked Igor.

“He is ill. The one thing that helps is a certain medication available only from unorthodox sources.”

I wondered if her husband had a drug dependency. If so, that problem would rival being attacked by mummies.

“Can we walk you home, then?” I offered. “Mummies aren’t the only dangerous things loose at night.”

“All right.” She lived a mile out of our way, but I had wanted to walk. We learned her name, Renee, but not much else. We dropped her off at an old, two-story building, next to a pawnshop. I gave her my card and wished her well. She thanked us and vanished inside, though her features stayed in my mind. I turned to Igor.

“What do you make of that?”

“Her or the mummy?”

“The mummy. I can guess what you think of her.”

“I try to avoid men who dress up as mummies. They’re either crazy or dead. Also, if I was going to accost someone, I’d do it in something less conspicuous, like an Easter Rabbit outfit.”

“Wearing telltale perfume is equally foolish. It could be a setup.”

This story appears in our OCT 2020 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Loved this story. Hope to read more of his work.
By Bonnie Hearn Hill

Very interesting ideas. Complicated and fun plot!
By Susan Rickard

Wow! Very cleverly written! I truly enjoyed this story! Bravo!
By Tina Jude

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