Megan Montgomery is looking forward to a nice, quiet Easter holiday. No school, no homework, time with her friends. Then her father informs her Mr. Hemmlich, a potential client and archaeologist, is coming to stay with them for the entire week. Her dreams of goofing off go up in smoke--until Hemmlich arrives with his handsome teenage son in tow. Things are definitely looking up.
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from The Ankh of Isis by Christine Norris
Megan went to her closet, rifled through her clothes and picked out a crisp light blue blouse and a pair of khaki pants. After a quick scrub of her face and a check of her hair, she got dressed and dashed downstairs to look for her father and his guest.
She found them in the parlor. The silver tea set sat on the coffee table, along with a plate of cookies. Her father sat in one of two overstuffed wingback chairs; he sipped his tea and munched on a cookie, all the time nodding to the two people who sat on the blue velvet-covered loveseat on the other side of the table.
Two people? I thought Dad said there would only be one guest.
The person on the left looked to be in his midfifties, with short salt-and-pepper hair and a well-groomed moustache. Ice blue eyes peered from behind round wire-framed glasses perched on the bridge of a long, thin nose, centered in an angular, lined face. He said something to Megan's father, and Megan recognized his voice--it was the one she had heard on the landing, outside the secret door.
Next to him sat a boy about Megan's age. His hair was dark, a bit longer than the man's. His face was thin, but not pinched. His eyes were the same shade of ice blue, his nose the same shape as the man. The boy held a teacup in one long-fingered, well-manicured hand, a look of polite boredom on his face.
Megan realized she was staring at him, and looked away. She shuffled her feet and cleared her throat to announce her presence. Her father turned his head and smiled brightly.
"Ah, there you are." He finished his cookie and waved her over. "This is my daughter, Megan. Megan, this is Herr Josef Hemmlich, and his son, Diedrich. Diedrich is also on a school holiday, so Herr Hemmlich asked if it was all right if he came along. I figured you'd be able to show him around."
Megan gave Diedrich another quick appraisal. So here's the third voice. Not an unpleasant surprise. I can totally live with it. Having a guest or two might not be so bad after all. She gave the visitors a small wave. "Hello. It's nice to meet you."
"We are most happy to meet you," Hemmlich the elder said in a heavy German accent. He set his cup down on the table. "You have a beautiful home. Such a lovely country too--my son and I had no idea it was so..." He waved one hand in small circles, searching for the right word. "Quaint."
Megan sat in the empty wingback chair, next to her father. "Uh, thank you."
Mr. Hemmlich continued. "I was just telling your father that I am most interested in the history of your home. He tells me that it has been an asset of his firm since Sir Gregory's death. It has an odd name, don't you agree?"
Megan took a cookie from the plate on the table and slowly prepared herself a cup of tea. Her father said Mr. Hemmlich was a fan of Sir Gregory's, but the question still surprised her.
"Yes, I guess," she said, and took a sip of tea. "But Sir Gregory liked Ancient Greece, so then again, I guess not."
"No, I suppose not," Mr. Hemmlich replied with a thin smile. "Your father doesn't seem to know much about Sir Gregory beyond what is public knowledge."
Her father laughed. "I'll readily admit it. I don't have much time for leisurely pursuits. I sleep, eat and spend the occasional day in my home office, but otherwise I'm in the London office, doing my best to keep my clients happy."
Megan gave her father a look that said subtle as a brick, Dad.
Her father took another cookie and tried to regain lost ground. "Megan is here by herself most of the time. Well, her and the staff, of course."
Mr. Hemmlich fixed Megan with a pointed, piercing gaze. "Do you know much of Sir Gregory, Miss Montgomery?"
Megan tried not to choke on her tea. "Uh, not really." She reached for a napkin. "I know a little more than my father, and that I learned from the servants and books. He was a prominent archaeologist in the thirties and forties. He also loved antiques and was an avid art collector. The big painting in the entrance hall, for example. The one by the front door, of the ballerinas? That's an original Degas. He found it in a small curio shop in Paris."
The elder Hemmlich cocked his head to one side. "How do you know that? Sir Gregory's personal art collection is well documented, so I know the piece. I don't recall ever hearing anything about how he acquired it, however."
Her father looked puzzled. "Yes, Meg, how do you know? I don't remember hearing that before either."
"Uh, Miranda must have told me." Megan stuffed the rest of the cookie into her mouth and chewed. Inwardly, she kicked herself. She had almost slipped up. Miranda had told her the painting had been Sir Gregory's favorite, but not where he had found it. That bit of information she discovered in Gregory Archibald's own journal, hidden with the key and poem beneath the hearthstone in her room.
Mr. Hemmlich nodded. The light reflected off his glasses and threw little beams around the room.