“And before I adjourn this meeting,” Hawkman said to the assembled Justice Society of America, “I want to remind everyone that I will not be present for the next monthly meeting. I gladly turn the gavel over to our able second chairman, Green Lantern.”
“That’s right, you’re going on an archaeology dig, aren’t you?” Doctor Mid-Nite asked. “You and Kent and Inza.”
“Right,” Hawkman said. “Shiera would come, but you forbade it.” Hawkman said this good-naturedly.
“And she’ll never let me forget it,” Mid-Nite said. “But if she tries exploring ruins in the desert, she’s sure to aggravate that injury she sustained last week fighting the Human Fly Gang.”
“She understands, but she’ll find some way of getting back at you, I’m sure,” Hawkman joked.
“Taking along your usual crew, Carter?” the Huntress asked. “I’ve always been fascinated by Egyptology; my mother’s influence, mostly.”
“We’ve got a couple of newcomers this time,” Hawkman said. “Kent discovered a very brilliant young assistant professor at Cameron University, and invited her along.”
“Shiera told me the museum sponsoring the dig is forcing someone on you, too,” Red Robin said.
“Yes,” Hawkman sighed. “Some dilettante English aristocrat with a fondness for mummies. I’d almost rather have the Gentleman Ghost along, but as Carter Hall, I really can’t kick about it.”
“Well, enjoy the dig, anyway,” Green Lantern said. “Everything will be OK in your absence, never fear.”
“I never doubted it,” Hawkman said. “And now… meeting adjourned.”
At a private airfield in Long Island, the museum expedition prepared to leave. Carter Hall and Kent Nelson supervised the loading of equipment and supplies. Inza Nelson was inside the plane, overseeing preparations for the long flight.
“Will His Lordship be traveling with us?” Carter asked his lifelong friend.
“No, I understand he’s taking a private flight,” Kent said. “He’ll meet us in Egypt.”
“I still think we should have exercised a little pull there,” Carter said. “This is the last place for tourists.”
Kent shrugged. “His money supports the museum,” he said resignedly. “Without his contributions, it might have to close.”
Carter heaved a sigh. “Reaganomics.”
“Dr. Nelson?” a timid voice piped up. Kent turned to look, and saw a mousy-looking, olive-skinned young woman staring up at him, pursing her full lips. Her wooly black hair was tied back in a severe bun; she wore large glasses, with lenses so thick they could probably stop x-rays. She was dressed sensibly — so sensibly, one could hardly tell her gender.
“Ah, Joanna,” Kent said warmly. “I’m glad you made it! Carter, this is Joanna Andre, the assistant professor I told you about. Joanna, this is Carter Hall, a fellow archaeologist and a good friend of mine.”
“How do you do?” Joanna said meekly, extending her hand.
“The pleasure is mine,” Carter said, firmly shaking her hand. “Kent tells me you’re his most promising protégé he’s come across in years!”
“Oh, well,” Joanna said, blushing, “I hope I can live up to his praise!”
“I’m sure you will,” Kent said.
The expedition arrived in Egypt at the international airport in Cairo with no difficulties. Two days after landing, their campsite was set up in the desert some eighty miles from the nearest city. The heat was sweltering; tents were set up to provide shade. In the main tent, the Nelsons, Carter Hall, and Joanna Andre pored over a map laid out on a folding table.
“This is where the piece of pottery was found,” Inza said, indicating a red circle. “If our assumption is correct, it will lead to an even greater find, possibly even the lost treasure houses of Hatshepsut!”
“Hello there,” a friendly voice with a British accent called from the front of the tent. “Hope you haven’t started without me.”
All heads turned to see a man in his early thirties, dressed in a white linen suit and holding a glass full of ice cubes and some bluish liquid. His straw-colored hair hung down to his neck, and he smiled ingratiatingly. This was Robert, Lord Sennet, the scandalous playboy whom society columns had taken to calling Lord Arsenic.
“We were beginning to think you wouldn’t show, Lord Sennet,” Carter said, with barely disguised sarcasm.
“Oh, never fear for that, old chap!” Sennet said amiably, missing the sarcasm (or choosing to). “Always count on a Sennet to come through! Just not always when you expect, eh?” The dilettante burst out giggling at his own joke. “Now then, when will the digging start? Anxious to get a look at those mummies, you know!”
Inza sighed audibly. This was going to be a long expedition.
The dig began in earnest. Carter Hall and the Nelsons, rather than being mere supervisors, actively participated in the clearing of earth. Lord Sennet watched this with undisguised disdain, obviously feeling that they were setting a poor example for the laboring class.
“Professor Hall!” Joanna shouted enthusiastically one morning two weeks into the dig. “Professor Nelson! Look at this!”
Carter and Kent came running to where Joanna was digging. They had been searching the area for a fortnight, and had come no closer to finding the actual chambers they sought. Lord Sennet had never left the shade of his tent the entire time.
“What is it, Joanna?” Kent asked. “Have you found something?”
“I have!” Joanna cried triumphantly. “Look at this!” the young student held up a piece of pottery, a small urn or vessel, brightly decorated with symbols and hieroglyphs. It had a couple of small chips out of its rim.
“My word,” Carter gasped. “Unless I’m very much mistaken, that’s an early canopic jar. Sixth Dynasty, at least! Quite a find, Joanna!”
“Indeed,” Kent agreed. “Look at the inscription there around the rim. Can you translate it, Joanna?”
“I-I don’t know,” the assistant professor said nervously. “I can try. Let me see.” Joanna held the jar up to the sun’s bright light, adjusted her thick glasses, and peered closely at it, turning it around in her hand. “It seems to be a standard prayer or invocation. Let’s see… ‘His sister was his protector, she who drives off the foe, who foils the deeds of the disturber by the power of her utterance. The clever tongued, whose speech fails not, admirable in the words of her command. Mighty Isis!'”
“Couldn’t have done better myself,” Kent said, beaming with pride in his protégé.
“A prayer to the goddess Isis, protector of her brother Osiris and enemy of Set, called the Disturber,” Carter added. “Joanna, you’ve made quite a find today! I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you’ve put us on the track to making the discovery we were hoping for!”
“Thank you,” Joanna said, lowering her eyes. She was unaccustomed to such praise.
“I say,” Lord Sennet said, coming up behind them, an ever-present drink in one hand. “What’s all the fuss? I heard the young lady’s shout clear back at my tent!”
“Nothing to get alarmed about, Your Lordship,” Kent said icily. “We haven’t come upon Christopher Lee in moldy linen bandages, or anything.”
“Dash it, Kent, I do wish you’d call me Robert, as I keep asking you to,” Lord Sennet said, choosing to ignore the sarcasm. “Here now, what’s this? Have we discovered something?”
“We think so,” Carter said, shortly.
“The professors think we’re on the right track at last!” Joanna gushed enthusiastically.
“Splendid!” Lord Sennet cried, returning her enthusiasm. “I jolly well can’t wait to open the crypt!”
Joanna’s find did indeed put them on the right track. Three days later, one of the diggers found the entrance to an underground chamber. Lord Sennet was all in favor of opening it right then and there, but Carter Hall and the Nelsons insisted it wait for further excavation and examination. Reluctantly, the nobleman deferred to their wishes.
That night, after the evening meal, Joanna was alone in her tent, reading a volume on pyramid construction by the renowned Professor Radcliffe Emerson. She was so absorbed in the book, she did not hear Lord Sennet enter her tent.
“Interesting book?” the nobleman asked in a sibilant whisper.
“Oh!” Joanna gasped, sitting bolt upright. “L-Lord Sennet! You startled me!”
“My apologies,” Lord Sennet said smoothly. “I only mean to offer you my company.”
“Company?” Joanna squeaked, confused. “I-I don’t know what you…”
“Oh, come now,” Lord Sennet said, sidling close to her cot. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you, hiding behind that severe hairstyle and those ludicrously thick glasses, which I’ll wager you don’t even need. Obviously you’re in terror of your own femininity. You need someone to introduce you to the finer concepts of hedonism, my dear. How lucky for you, a very experienced instructor is readily at hand…”
Joanna’s eyes were wide in terror behind her glasses. She was so horrified, she could not speak, as Lord Sennet settled himself down on the cot next to her.
“Yes, that’s right, my girl,” Lord Sennet whispered. “Don’t speak. No words are necessary…”
But when Lord Sennet placed his clammy hand on Joanna’s thigh, she let out a scream. His expression changed from a leer to a scowl, and he clapped his hand over her mouth.
“You silly little bint!” he hissed. “Do you want to wake the entire camp?”
Joanna struggled, but could not escape Sennet’s grasp.
“Ah, that’s it,” Sennet whispered in delight. “Fight back! I do so love a woman who fights back!”
“Then turn around, Sennet,” Inza Nelson’s harsh voice barked from the tent entrance.
“Mrs. Nelson!” Sennet gasped in surprise, then quickly recovered himself. “Do you mind, madam? Miss Andre and I wish to be alone.”
“That’s not how it sounds to me,” Inza said, firmly. “Get up, Sennet.”
The young nobleman looked genuinely surprised. “What did you say?”
“I said get up!” Inza barked. “There’s a lot we’re willing to put up with for the sake of the museum. A lot. But this isn’t among it — it doesn’t even come close. I’m sure I speak for Carter and my husband when I say we want you off this expedition right now! Be on the first camel out of here, Lord Arsenic!”
Sennet stood up, anger written large across his face, incensed at the use of the hated nickname. “Now, see here–”
“No, you see,” Inza growled. “If I tell Carter or Kent what just happened in here, fancy title or no, they’ll butter you all over the dig site like clotted cream, or whatever it is you English eat on your muffins. And make a formal complaint to the museum authorities, the English press, and whomever else will listen. You’ve got until sunrise to be anyplace else, or I’ll do just that. Capeesh?”
Lord Sennet stood there, fists trembling in impotent rage, for a full two minutes before replying, “You know, a hundred years ago, nobody would give a tinker’s damn about the welfare of a — a commoner like her!” He indicated Joanna, who still cowered in fear, with a nod of his head. “Anyone would have thought her honored that a nobleman chose her for his pleasures!”
“Sadly, you might be right about that,” Inza said coldly. “And thankfully, it isn’t a hundred years ago. Now get out.”
Without another word, Sennet stormed out of the tent.
Inza went to the horrified Joanna and sat down beside her. “Are you OK, honey?”
“I — I guess so,” Joanna stammered, lower lip trembling. “Thank you, Mrs. Nelson. Thank you so much. I — I don’t — I don’t know what I did to encourage him like that!”
Inza gasped in disbelief. “Encourage him? Joanna, he’s a pig! This wasn’t your fault! Don’t believe for an instant that it was!”
“I try to dress down, to make myself unattractive,” Joanna said, staring at her hands. “I wear my hair like this; I chose these big clumsy glasses instead of contacts. I’ve tried to gain weight, but my metabolism is too high or something. But still–”
Inza took Joanna by the shoulders and gently shook her. “Joanna, listen to me. You’re a vibrant, intelligent, special woman. You don’t need to hide your light under a bushel, or dress down, because of a few pigs like Sennet in the world. Most men aren’t like that, believe me. You owe it to yourself to make the best of all your gifts. And don’t ever blame yourself for the actions of a few two-legged reptiles like him, OK? If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else. You might as well blame yourself for getting struck by lightning.”
Joanna smiled a little. “Thank you, Mrs. Nelson. Thank you so much.”
Inza smiled widely. “Make it Inza, dear.”