An Egyptian tomb, an ancient curse, a unique bread recipe and a dietary fad; what could these possibly have in common? Very little at first blush, yet when joined they tell a strange story indeed. In order to secure the links of that peculiar chain, begin here, in this curious room, with sofas occupied about a table, the walls beyond adorned with weird and exotic ornamentation. Paintings of a fantastic and morbid cast, grotesque aboriginal masks from distant lands, figurines of fanciful animals and hideous, misshapen men, all suggested bizarre or eccentric tastes. The visitor, rapt in his own concerns, seemed oblivious to these sights.
Said Doctor T.K. Brock, “It’s like this, Professor Vorchek. I have a distinctive situation on my hands, one of supreme importance to me, and perhaps to the millions of people who rely on me. After some checking—I employ a fabulous team of brains for that—I learned that you’re the go-to guy for unusual stuff. You’ve earned quite a reputation for off-beat research. I figured this would be right up your alley.”
Professor Anton Vorchek stroked his short, well-manicured beard and replied in precise, slightly accented tones, “Perhaps so, Doctor Brock. I do specialize in the odd, the mysterious, even the uncanny, to a degree that occasionally antagonizes my more staid colleagues, but as yet I fail to see how that applies to the present matter. Your statements thus far, since you requested this appointment, have proved remarkably nebulous.”
This meeting was taking place in the parlor of Vorchek’s isolated home, a converted old ranch house far out in the desert north of the city of Phoenix, approached only by an infrequently maintained gravel road. Therefore, one might infer that Brock possessed an excellent reason for venturing there. The third member of the group chimed in now in more aggressive pursuit of clarification.
Theresa Delaney, Vorchek’s ever lovely but oft difficult assistant, lit a cigarette and with an irritated toss of her blonde locks said, “Meaning, Brock, get to the point. The professor’s time is money, and he doesn’t come cheap, you know.”
“Maybe you don’t know who I am—”
“I surely do,” Vorchek interjected smoothly. He was a tall, dapper man with hawk features and a cold smile. “Mr. Brock, author of that best-selling diet book, Eat Big, Lose Big, which my well-intentioned associate here informs me is all the rage. Millions of loyal customers rave with gratitude about the ‘Brock Diet.’ Having done very well for yourself, you no doubt are considered what passes these days for an important fellow. There, sir, I believe that sums you up. What it does not do is explain your interest in my services.”
Sighing, Brock frowned at an Easter Island style statuette on the coffee table that returned a lugubrious stare. Brock grew smug. “All right. Here’s what you don’t know, Vorchek. My phenomenal success has allowed me to indulge my desires and my hobbies to the fullest extent, sparing no expense. Lately I’ve done it all. This part runs up your alley: a long-time passion of mine, archeology, has borne fruit. With my—ha ha—ill-gotten gains I funded an Egyptian dig. An expensive, accredited team, first class equipment, and a daring local scholar (Hassan Bey, you’ve heard of him), all plunked down south and west of Cairo, way out in the middle of nowhere, old legend country, and I hit pay dirt. As it may be, literally. I’ve uncovered the tomb of Artocris.”
Theresa shrugged. “Who’s he? A pharaoh, I suppose. We’ve fooled with that stuff. Big deal.”
Professor Vorchek cleared his throat, puffed on his pipe and declared, “A big deal indeed, as you say my dear, if true. Artocris, the high priest and reputed mage of that ancient dynasty, an acolyte of the fabled Imhotep, looms large in tales dating from the very beginning of the historical era. Among other things, he is supposed to have perished in some undefined yet loathsome manner. If half the stories linked to that name are valid … well, Doctor Brock, you have earned my attention. Tell me more.”
Brock chuckled through his smirk. “So, I got you on board now? The tomb was just a rough rock chamber hidden in the sand, unfinished limestone with a granite plug in the entrance. There were no outer inscriptions; we didn’t know what we had until we hacked our way in. Chiseled hieroglyphs on the inner walls revealed the secret. The tomb of Artocris! Why, that should have been bigger than King Tut.