Doumbek and depravity, the rhythm of the jinn.
He is the most miserable he has ever been in his life. Alone in this city seething with foreigners and their imported nightmares, as if his own Anglo-Saxon dreams were not enough, abandoned by his wife who has left him for some backwater Midwestern burg in her quest for money and acceptance. She should have known that when she married him, a gentleman after all, that such pathetic pursuits as employment and intercourse were not priorities in his life. He came from delicate English stock, a family heritage that traced it roots to the earliest settlers of the
New England frontier. The proper occupation for a Lovecraft (and a Phillips, don’t forget) was literature, the arts, music, and travel. His aunts were positively horrified by his choice of spouse: a tradeswoman! A … a … a hat maker! A milliner! They didn’t understand that he hadn’t done the choosing.
After the death of his mother from a botched surgical operation—a merciful death, for all that, for she was quite mad—Sonia Greene had come into his life as if sent to pick up the slack. She ordered his life and took charge of everything. She understood his special needs, his sensitivity to the things of this world.
Or he thought she did.
But when her business went bad and they were suddenly broke, everything changed. She changed. It was a disruption to his life—to the thirty-year-long train of thought that had come perilously close to being broken—and he could not have that.
To make matters worse, a few months ago he had stolen that file from old Professor Angell.
He didn’t know why he had done that. It was completely out of character for a Lovecraft to do something so … sordid as stealing. But there was something about that library. It reminded him of one he had lost so long ago, with the death of his grandfather. His beloved grandfather. The only human being who had ever understood him, and the only one of his relatives with a massive and excellent library. By stealing from Angell’s library he was recovering his own past.
He spent hours among those books as a child, immersed in Burton’s Thousand and One Nights, and books on ancient cities and lost civilizations. It was his refuge from a world that had mocked him, even as a child. His own mother thought he looked freakish. And he was sickly. Stayed home from school. Lay dreaming, like now, in bed and listening to the sounds of life taking place all around him like a blind man divining the time of day from the noise of the street and the passage of birds and the buzzing of insects.
Then his grandfather died, and they sold off his estate. And all his books.
He was not sure, some days, which he missed more. The grandfather who loved him, or the books that he loved.
If only he could find a book that could love him back.
Sleep came slowly, but surely. When Lovecraft slept, it was like a stone lost in thought. His dreams were his entertainment, and he looked forward to them. At times he would fall asleep giddy, in anticipation of what that night’s offering might be. Would it be a voyage to the wastes of unknown Kadath? Would it be a mysterious search in the bowels of some abandoned church? Would he commune with alien beings from some distant galaxy? Or would it be that damned Arab again, Abdul Alhazred and his cursed book of black magic and alien contact? With that music pounding from next door, he feared it would be the latter.
He drifted. His mind loosed its grasp on his mortal sheath and began to wander. He saw things in distant places, could make out cyclopean architecture in cities sunken beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean. He walked among creatures that had been dead for aeons, creatures he could see and hear but knew that when he awoke they would be impossible to describe in human terms.
And that is how he liked it.
It was while deep within the embrace of an eldritch temple in a country he did not recognize that someone came into his apartment with a key and stole his suits, a suitcase, some odds and ends of radio equipment he was storing for a friend …
… and, to his waking horror, the Cthulhu file.
When he awakes the next morning, it seems as if he is not completely awake. His eyes seem to be open, but the room around him has changed while he slept. Things have been moved. Things have been changed. Things are missing.
He gets out of bed gingerly, as if afraid to jostle the dream from his head. If it is a dream. If it is, it is truly one of his least impressive.
The door to his wardrobe is open. He would never have left it that way.
He reaches over to close it but at the last moment looks inside.
It’s gaping blackness greets him, and it is more horrible than he could imagine. His suits are gone. His overcoat is gone! How will he survive a Brooklyn winter without it, especially in that apartment with a landlady who denied him heat?
A box is missing. Oh, no. Loveman will be quite upset. A suitcase is missing, too. The thieves evidently packed all their stolen property in his one and only suitcase.
It is only then that he thinks of the file marked CTHULHU CULT.
He has hidden it, cleverly he thought, under his bed. With the duvet draping down to the floor, he was certain no one would think to look there. He was conscious of the fact that it was the only object he had that anyone might conceivably want to steal, and the sight of it reminded him of his guilt anyway, so he took pains to make sure it was well-concealed.
Taking a deep breath, he bent down and lifted the heavy duvet and was greeted by the same yawning darkness as he was at his wardrobe.
The visit by the police was perfunctory. The interview with the landlady even more so. No one liked Lovecraft in the building. The thief could have been anyone, including even the landlady herself. Whoever had entered his apartment had done so with a key. There was no sign of forced entry, and anyway they had come in and robbed Lovecraft clean while he slept in the same room. It was obviously premeditated and executed with assistance from someone in the apartment building.
Nothing could be done. Lovecraft would have to save money and buy another overcoat. It would take months. In the meantime he had another very real problem.
He couldn’t tell the police about the missing Cthulhu file, obviously. The stain of it would have to stay with him for a very long time. He had stolen it, and now someone had stolen it from him. In fact, they seemed to know where to look and he wondered if the theft of the other objects was merely a way to disguise the real object of their crime.
Consumed with a growing sense of panic, Lovecraft decided he had to write down everything he remembered from the file. This would be important, and later might even help to figure out who stole the file back from him. It could not have been Professor Angell. The man was quite old and one could not imagine him as some kind of cat burglar. Then … who?
He had no time to waste. He would write down all the data from the file and include with it his own story about the visit to Angell and the situation with Wilcox and how it reminded him of his own mother’s insanity and the possibility that he, too, would suffer the same fate as his parents.
Maybe he would find some way to make amends to Professor Angell. That thought warmed him and gave him the energy to complete his task, writing feverishly in his now somewhat roomier apartment. He would go to Providence and interview old George Angell soon. He would find out what he knew.
But Professor Angell would be dead within eighteen months, murdered by a Nazi agent on the Providence docks. An agent who was looking for the stolen Cthulhu file.
April 2014 Brooklyn
Gregory Angell’s apartment in Red Hook has become something of a mystery. There are sounds of chanting coming from the rooms in the middle of the night, but no one has seen Angell in days. No one has come into or out of the apartment since he left with James Aubrey. Yet, every night since then, the chanting begins in a language that his Syrian neighbors do not recognize as Arabic or Farsi.
Finally, the disturbance has become too much. Mrs. Abadi from upstairs decides it is time to call the police.
An officer from the seven-six showed up at her door at 3:50 am and introduced himself as Detective Wasserman. He was nearing retirement, and his wavy gray hair and handlebar mustache were grown out enough to signal that he just didn’t care anymore. He had a gold shield and thirty years on the job, in every department from vice to homicide. He would put in his papers in another few weeks and the only reason he was answering this call was because he was in the neighborhood at 3:50 in the morning having just come from some junior officer’s bachelor party in the Heights. He had not been drinking; he gave that up years ago, as well as smoking, red meat, and the missionary position, but he liked to show support for the younger guys who would become cynical on their own soon enough.
“Please, sir, officer …” “Detective, ma’am.”
“Detective. He has been gone for several days but there are strange sounds coming from his apartment.” She was about forty-five, wearing a headscarf, but that might have been to hide her curlers rather than her hair. He couldn’t tell anymore. Couldn’t keep it all straight. She was plump and
earnest and not a little fearful of dealing with the cops, even this long after 9/11.
From somewhere in the back of her apartment he could hear someone else moving about.
“Are you alone, Mrs. Abadi?”
“That’s my husband, Detective. He doesn’t sleep very well at night. And this just makes it worse.”
Wasserman paused for a moment, holding up his hand to silence Mrs.
He heard a kind of soft pounding, a vibration that came through the floorboards, and then something that sounded like Gregorian chant. But in a weird sort of minor key. Hell, what did he know from Gregorian chant? Last time he heard anyone chant, it was at his son’s bar mitzvah.
“Is that what you mean?”
“Yes, but now is more quiet. More soft. Before it was very loud and … and sharp.”
Wasserman nodded. He wondered what he had gotten himself into. “Did you try to knock on the door, Mrs. Abadi?”
“Yes, of course.” She nodded, wringing her hands. “And?”
“And it became worse. More noise. More … singing.” “What language is that? Arabic?”
“No,” she shook her head vigorously. “I never hear that language before.” But there was something about her denial that didn’t ring true. When she said that, her eyes darted away and back, like she was trying to hide something.
“Do you have a key to the apartment?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I mean I have a key but it … is not … workable.” “You mean he changed the locks?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“But you’re the landlady, right? You have ownership of this place?” “Yes, sir, Detective.”
“Okay, well, that’s all I need. If you give me permission I will try to force the door.”
“Yes, of course. Yes, please.”
For a moment he wondered if he should call it in, ask for backup. But that sounded stupid even as he thought it. What would they think? The old geezer had lost his touch? It was a radio or something, maybe on a timer.
He stopped halfway down the stairs to the apartment and turned. The landlady was a few steps above him.
“Mrs. Abadi. What is the tenant’s name?”
“He is a very nice man. A professor. His name is Angell. Gregory Angell.”
Didn’t sound Arab. But it did sound phony. An alias, maybe. Angel? “Professor? What does he teach?”
“Um, at the Columbia University. He teach religion.” Religion?
Yeah, better call for backup.
A patrol car parked half on the curb, lights flashing, radio squawking, and two officers walked up the tenement’s steps to meet Wasserman in the doorway, adjusting their belts and batons, one of the men carrying a crowbar.
It was just after shift-change so these guys were wide awake and alert. “What’ve we got, Detective?”
“I don’t know what we have. You hear that sound?”
They listened, and could vaguely make out the chanting from the street. “It’s a lot louder inside, right by the door to the tenant’s apartment.
Landlady says he hasn’t been seen in days. Could be he’s lying on his
kitchen floor dead from a heart attack. But the guy teaches religion and his landlady is Syrian or Egyptian or something. And the music only comes on late at night. Like on a timer.”
“Detective, if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you should maybe want the bomb squad.”
“I thought of that. But if it was a bomb, it shoulda gone off by now. The music has been coming on every night for days. And if it was a bomb, why announce it with the whole MTV routine?”
“Never mind. I just want backup in case there’s something squirrely going on in there. I’m gonna knock on the door, and if the mope doesn’t answer I’m gonna ask you two nice gentlemen to open the door. You have the crowbar I asked for?”
“Right here.” “Okay. Follow me.”
Mrs. Abadi had used her landline to dial the police. Dispatch had put out the call on the radio and Wasserman heard it in his car and responded. When Wasserman called for backup he used his cell phone to contact the precinct. Then dispatch used the radio to send a patrol car to Angell’s Red Hook address. Between the landline, the cell phones and the radio the address raised a discrete flag which roused Monroe from a fitful sleep. Monroe knew Angell’s address but no one else would suspect anything or, if they did, it would be hours or days before they put anything together. Still, Monroe had to know why NYPD was being called to Angell’s building.
He sat on the edge of his bed and thought for a second, then reached for his own phone.