Wasserman led the way to Angell’s door. The two patrolmen were standing behind him, one with his gun drawn and aimed at the door, the other with his crowbar at the ready.
Wasserman heard the chanting clearly through the apartment door. He knocked.
“Mr. Angell! Open up, please. Police!” The chanting continued.
“Angell, we’re coming in!” The chanting continued.
Wasserman turned to the patrolman with the crowbar and nodded, stepping aside but keeping his gun drawn on the door.
The crowbar easily slid through the jamb and the door, and the cop slowly pried the door open. It had been locked, but there was no chain so there was a good chance there was no one inside.
Just as the door was pried loose, the patrolman stopped. Wasserman changed position so that he was on the right side of the door. The other
patrolman, gun raised, stood on the left. Wasserman looked up and down the door jamb, trying to see if there were any trip wires or booby traps, but it was too dark. Instead, the sound of chanting only grew louder.
He motioned to the other patrolman for his flashlight. Aiming it through the slightly opened door he could see inside the entire apartment. It was bleak, barely furnished. No sign of a trip wire, timer, or anything vaguely electrical or mechanical. It could have been a monk’s cell on Mount Athos. But there was movement.
Something was spinning on the tabletop.
Monroe got through to one of his network, an FBI agent in New York City who worked in counter-intelligence on the China desk. After a few minutes of waiting on the line he found out that the call had to do with noise coming from an apartment at that address. Strictly a nuisance call. Nothing vaguely terrorist or intelligence related as far as could be seen. There were three officers at the scene, one a detective and two patrolmen. The agent promised to let Monroe know if there were any developments, but that it was probably a radio playing too loud or a party getting out of control.
Monroe thanked the agent and hung up, but he was worried. He didn’t believe in coincidences. Someone was sending a message. Or something.
Wasserman and his two patrolmen dropped to the floor and covered their heads and necks with their hands. And waited.
Nothing happened. The chanting started to wind down just as it was getting light outside. The sound of an object spinning could now be heard along with the chant, and it was slowing down as well.
Wasserman raised his head and peered into the room. He got up and motioned to the two men to follow him into the apartment.
As they stood there, guns drawn, the Syrian incantation bowl, the “demon trap,” began to end its spin in a wobble on the table. As it did so, the sound of chanting also dissipated. The bowl wobbled … wobbled … and then came to a stop.
The chanting stopped.
And then the spirit bowl cracked right down the middle.
It was a loud report, like a rifle shot, and the three police officers stood there, dazed. They had no idea what had just happened. But behind them, Mrs. Abadi stood in the doorway to the apartment and stared at the cracked bowl, a look of absolute horror distorting her features into a Halloween mask.
“Allahu akbar,” she said. “Allahu akbar.” Wasserman turned at the sound of her voice. “What is it, Mrs. Abadi?”
She pointed at the bowl.
“What is this doing here? I don’t ever see this before.” “What is it?”
“From the old country. From Syria. This is very old, it is not … it is
haram. Forbidden. You understand?” Wasserman smiled in spite of himself. “You mean, it’s not kosher?”
She either did not get the reference, or the joke, or was ignoring it.
“It is for black magic. Sihr. It is for holding the … what you call it … the bad spirits. The jinn.”
One of the patrolmen made a quiet remark, something to do with
Wasserman ignored him, and instead asked the Syrian woman: “So, what now? Is it okay now? It seems to be broken.”
The woman simply shook her head, back and forth, saying over and over again “Allahu akbar.” God is great.
Then she broke out of her reverie and told the old detective, “It is not okay. It is broken. The trap is broken. The spirit has escaped.
“Poor Professor Angell …”
THE GATE TO THE UNDERWORLD
There are vocal qualities peculiar to men, and vocal qualities peculiar to beasts; and it is terrible to hear the one when the source should yield the other.
—H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
Tell Ibrahim South of Baghdad April 30, 2014
“The Day the Bear Hangs from its Tail in the Sky”
It had been a harrowing journey from the refugee camp on the Turkish- Syrian border to Baghdad, in Iraq. Turkish troops had arrived at the camp, alerted by the rocket attack and the return fire from the Kurds, which led to a stand-off between the two groups. The relationship between the Turks and the Kurds was problematic, to say the least. Some Turks favored working with the Kurds against both Assad’s Syria and the Islamic State. Other Turks favored removing the Kurds completely from Turkish territory. It was a mess, and represented a constantly shifting political and military landscape that only someone with years of experience in-country could hope to understand, let alone anticipate.
Unknown to either Aubrey or Angell at the time, the identity of the attackers was a mystery. The assumption was that they were Islamic State soldiers, testing the security situation at the camp, but that was by no means a safe guess. It could have been anyone, for any reason at all.
Only Jason Miller knew the truth, and he was already on the move.
Aubrey calmly led their little mission back to Diyarbakir, which still was largely under Kurdish control. There were no flights back to Istanbul that night, but Aubrey had no intention of returning there now that he knew where his prey was heading. In his pocket he held the scrap of paper that Fahim had given him just before the attack started. It gave him the name and location of a Yezidi contact in Iraq living underground, a member of a network of Fahim’s clan that was spread from Turkey to Syria, Iraq, Iran, and all the way to northern India.
Angell was silent in the car on the way back along the road to the city. As far as he knew, they were going back to the airport and taking a flight home. Aubrey would have to disabuse him of that notion, and he was not looking forward to it. The mission, however, took precedence over everything else, and they were running out of time.
Oddly, it was Angell himself who suggested that they continue in their search for the book.
The lights of Diyarbakir were coming up. The minarets of mosques could be seen in the distance, while along the dusty road there were small shops, cafes, and newsstands. Motor scooters and minivans were everywhere, and it seemed like a semblance of normal life. Angell found himself staring out the window, not believing that only a few hours earlier there were people shooting at them.
“We’re not going back, are we?” he asked Aubrey, who had been silent, too, up till now.
“Do you want to go back?” Clever, Aubrey. Very clever.
Angell turned back to the window and the street scene before answering.
“Yes. Fahim, Jamila, gunfire, that file in your briefcase … everything I’ve seen and heard the past … what? Six hours? Twelve? … tells me I ought to get the hell out of here. We have no real allies here. We can’t trust the Turks, and we sure as hell can’t trust the Syrians or the Iraqis. Even the Kurds … even the Kurds …”
He turned to face Aubrey.
“I don’t want to see any more bloodshed. I saw enough of that in my life. I know you … all of you … you … that’s your job. You’re used to it. You’re trained. You’re calm under fire. You’re warriors. I’m not. I’m a college professor. I’ve seen enough of this part of the world to last me a
lifetime. I don’t need to see more sand, more marsh, more broken cities, more spent cartridges, more crazed prophets. I’m not Lawrence, or Woolley. I’m not CIA. I’m nothing. But I have something you want. Something you need.
“You guys walk through real mine fields like you’re tip-toeing through the tulips. But I walk through theological and archaeological mine fields, where a wrong word said the wrong way can ignite a holy war. You need me to finish your job. I get that. I even get why your job should be my job. There’s too much at stake. I can see that now. Someone wanted to kill us over this thing. This book. This book that doesn’t even … that can’t really exist. Back there, at the camp, the real world and the imaginary world collided. Right in front of my eyes. That’s religion, isn’t it? Some kind of religion, anyway. Some kind of fucked up psycho-spiritual bullshit. There’s something deeply sinister taking place here, something sickeningly wrong, and not just here but on the whole friggin’ planet.
“So, yes, I want to go back. I want to go home. Lucky for you, I don’t know where that is. So until I find out, I’m with you for the duration.”
So there they were. Using Monroe’s networks and his own expertise, Aubrey got himself and Angell from the airport at Diyarbakir to a military airfield in the south of Turkey. Diyarbakir serves as both a commercial airport and a military one for the Turkish Air Force; they were able to hop a transport for Incirlik where the US Air Force had a base. From Incirlik they flew to Baghdad where they were greeted by members of an American mercenary group that would serve as their Iraqi security escort. Aubrey bid the first three men goodbye at Incirlik from where they would proceed to other destinations, other missions.
Angell never even knew their names.
It was afternoon when they landed in Baghdad. Aubrey had shown Angell the paper that Fahim had handed him the previous day. It gave the name of their contact and a location: Tell Ibrahim, an archaeological site south of Baghdad on Route 8. The road was somewhat safe, according to their escorts. The group known as the Islamic State had taken Fallujah and Ramadi, to the north and west of the ancient city of Babylon, in January but the road as far south as Hillah was secure at the moment. It might not be for long, however. Mosul was being threatened, and it was not clear
how long it could hold out. There was dissension in the Iraqi Army leading to a general consensus among the mercenaries that the army would not put up an energetic resistance. If Mosul fell, then the Yezidis were in danger of extermination, not to mention the Assyrian Christians who were their neighbors.
The mercenaries were employees of a private American security corporation that was hired to provide both protection and intelligence for foreign missions in the region. The men were wearing Kevlar vests and helmets and carried a variety of weapons, most of which Angell did not recognize. The only member of the security detail who did not wear a helmet was their own driver, who was dressed like a local.
They passed Kevlar vests to both Aubrey and Angell, with the instruction to put them on immediately. Attached to each was a lapel mike and commset which linked all the members of the team together. The mercenaries looked like rock stars with their earplugs and mikes, about to give a concert in hell.
As the men bundled into their armored vehicles for the trip down Route 8, the leader of the escort passed a secure satellite phone to Aubrey.
It was a call from Monroe. Aubrey stepped outside the car, out of earshot of the others and especially of Angell, to take the call.
“Angell’s apartment was broken into last night by NYPD. There were sounds that frightened the neighbors. They found nothing, but the situation is worrisome.”
“Should I tell him?”
“No point. Nothing was taken. We’ll have the door fixed, and the place watched. What do you know about the girl?”
“Jamila? She disappeared after the rocket attack on the camp. Fahim told me.”
“To Kutha.” It was practically a code-word. No one called it that anymore. Not in the last two thousand years, anyway.
“It’s a war zone.”
“Should be okay tonight. We won’t be there for long.” “Is the book there?”
“No. Well, I don’t know. But we have a contact waiting for us. It’s possible Jamila went there as well. That’s what Fahim is hoping for, anyway.”
Monroe was silent a moment, thinking. Aubrey was used to it, and waited.
“Jason Miller was sighted in Turkey a few days ago.” “Confirmed?”
“No. But it seems likely. No one else has claimed responsibility for the attack on the camp. He might have been trying to flush you out. Or the girl.”
It was Aubrey’s turn to keep quiet. Then:
“The girl. Or the book. We have to assume he’s after the same thing we are.”
“Then … you’re a stalking horse. He’s going to use you to get to the book.”
“But can he use it without Jamila?”
“The bigger question is: can he use it without Angell?” “By the way, he’s on board. Officially.”
“We knew he would be. What choice does he have?”
The armored car carrying Angell and Aubrey followed a lead car containing more mercenaries as they made their way down Route 8 from Baghdad, through a region dense with burned-out vehicles by the side of the road, mosques with the call to prayer loud and insistent from tinny loudspeakers, people walking aimlessly around looking like zombies in caftans. There was a risk of IEDs—Improvised Explosive Devices—and the escort was prepared for the eventuality. The road was busy with trucks and cars and they followed carefully behind the traffic. If there was a bomb planted in the road they would not be the ones who triggered it. However, if the device was more sophisticated—controlled by a cell phone or other device—then the lead car would probably take the hit. It had better armor plate than anything the American troops had, and was specially constructed with a steel reinforced undercarriage designed to resist a blast from a typical IED. It was a very visible Humvee, whereas the car Angell was in looked nondescript even though it was heavily armored as well. Their driver was wearing Arab dress—kaffiyeh and agal