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If only they would act as his apprentice sorcerer and hold his hand, for he felt like death himself. In that stifling basement, he alternately sweated and shivered; for eight eternal days and nights he had not touched alcohol, not even through his skin with aftershave lotion. Now he had the shakes and his tongue felt too big for his parched mouth. But he must hold out. Hadn't he promised Danny Inglis, his Alcoholics Anonymous confidant, that he'd stay sober this time and break the habit for good?
So, he toiled on, cursing Sheldon Wright, Director of the Aspenwall Foundation, who had wished this job on him. Nine months hence, the Foundation museum upstairs would hold an exhibition entitled The Great Pharaohs, and Chisholm was cataloguing exhibits from six different foreign museums and writing captions for them. In two weeks, he had listed more than a thousand scarab seals, papyrus scrolls, hieroglyphic panels and cuneiform tablets; he had spent so long in this purgatorial hole he had almost forgotten what life upstairs looked like.
For a moment, he paused at the wooden sculpture of an Egyptian chariot purportedly found in Ramses II's tomb. A phony if he had ever smelledone. And this faience head of Nefertiti he dated no further back than twenty years, its providence most likely Cairo's Khan el Khalili bazaar. Yet, he catalogued them faithfully. Sheldon Wright wouldn't know a junk-shop chariot and a flea-market Nefertiti from a sacred bull's foot.
As he bent over the crate, something hard hit him on the shoulder and he spun round as though he had seen a ghost. Sheldon Wright's secretary, Jenny, was standing grinning at him, a flask and two cups in her hands
"Jenny, you scared the shit out of me creeping up like that. It's spooky down here."
"My, but you are jittery, Ewan. What did you think I was--something out of a sarcophagus?"
Jenny looked at him quizzically then laughed. "But you know Beelzebub, in the skin of Seldom Right lives aloft, and he sent me down here because he wants to see you pronto." As she spoke, she unscrewed the flask top, handed him a cup, then poured them both milky coffee and dropped two sugar cubes into each steaming cup. "That's to wash the pharaonic dust down," she said.
Jenny knew his problems. Who in the Aspenwall didn't? However, she never referred to them, even when he guessed she wanted to offer her shoulder, or her mouth or herself. Well, she wasn't to be spurned, he thought, looking at her as he sipped the tarry, bitter coffee. She was blonde, nubile, eager, and still the right side of thirty.
"What does Seldom want?"
Jenny shrugged her ignorance. "All I know is that he took a call from a Mrs. Seagram, genuflecting and licking the handset mouthpiece, then sent me into this nether world to fetch you."