society of them all. Our tradition has been on the Earth for thousands of

years, with knowledge passed down from generation to generation,

millennium to millennium. We were old when Sumer was young. What the police discovered in the bayou in 1907 was just a preliminary invocation of the Ancient Ones. And, yes, there were bodies. Dead bodies. But they weren’t dead when they were brought there, I can assure you. That came later.”

“Ma’am … Mrs. Galvez … what you’re telling me …” “Yes, yes, dear. I know. It’s quite surprising, I suppose.”

“Surprising? You’re talking about mass murder. Human sacrifice.” She sighed and looked away.

“I suppose.”

“And you’re saying that the ritual in 1907 and the property we found this week are related in some way?”

At that point Mrs. Galvez dropped any pretence at good breeding and etiquette. She looked straight into Cuneo’s eyes.

“Detective, how dense can you be? The proof is right in front of you. You found the ‘box’, the one buried under the house. You saw what was in it. You saw the crime scene photos of 1907, at least I assume you did or you wouldn’t be here. You know the two things are connected, and now you know that I am living proof of that.

“I am a high priestess of our Order. I have been since I was a child. I was born into it, and raised within it. My mother was a high priestess, and her mother before her. My grandmother was present at that ritual in the bayou. She was only sixteen. She was possessed by six men before she was possessed by the High Priest. I am descended from that union, for she gave birth nine months later to my mother.

“The High Priest was my grandfather. He was also my father, for he possessed my mother, the high priestess, nine months before I was born. I have the blood of the Ancient Ones in my veins, Detective.

“We called on the High Priest in 1907, but that wasn’t the first time nor was it the last. The High Priest has been with us since the very beginning, since before humans walked on the face of the Earth. When Christians talk about the Alpha and the Omega, they don’t have a clue as to what that means. We do. Our High Priest represents the Alpha, the beginning of all life and all time, before humans were created in order to serve him and his gods, the Ancient Ones. He is also the Omega: he will wipe this planet

clean of the filth that have infested it, the humans who revolted against him and tried to create their own history.

“The fools.”

Cuneo now knew that the old lady was insane. She had lost her mind somewhere along the line, and this inquiry was triggering all sorts of weird psychotic fantasies, or something. He knew the answer to what happened in the Lower Ninth and who killed those people in the underground chamber was here, somewhere, but he was sure he wouldn’t get a straight answer out of this old broad. He had to find a way to extricate himself and leave without closing this particular door behind him forever.

He got up, and started putting away his notebook, when a question occurred to him.

“Ma’am, you’ve been very helpful. Thank you. I just have one more question. What does this … tradition … call itself? Does it have a name?”

“Of course it has a name. We’re not sleepwalkers. We know what we’re about.”

“Of course. I didn’t mean to imply …” “Dagon.”

“Pardon?”

“Dagon. We’re named after one of the incarnations of the Ancient Ones.”

“Ah. Okay, thank …”

“And the High Priest. Certainly you want to know his name as well?” “Well, sure, if you don’t …”

“Cthulhu,” she said, pronouncing it Kutulu. “He may be dead, but he sees everything.” And she started to laugh, and kept laughing as Cuneo left the house, got in his car, and left the neighborhood. He kept hearing that laugh all the way back to the station. All the way back home. All the way into the deepest sleep he had had in years.

All the way into his dreams.

Monroe got off the secure channel with Aubrey in Baghdad. He had known this would be a long shot, but it was one he had to take. He had no alternative, no option, but to enlist Angell. There were reasons beyond Angell’s own obvious intelligence, knowledge of the region, linguistic ability. There were even reasons beyond Angell’s family connection to the

material, although that was important. And now he had sent Angell into the most dangerous place in the world.

Sure, there were other dangerous places. The Sudan, for instance. Syria, now that the rebels were carving out chunks of real estate for themselves. Libya. Yemen. But Nuristan? The old Kafiristan? It was like walking into a viper’s nest. The Nuristanis hated everyone who wasn’t Nuristani, and even then they had their doubts.

Monroe stood up and looked at the map he had pinned to his wall. He traced Angell’s route thus far. Where the hell were they taking him?

By drawing an imaginary line between Tell Ibrahim to Yazd and then to Kamdesh he was starting to see a pattern. He knew that others were looking for the Book as well. He was getting reports on electronic traces and physical activity that pointed to a core group of the Dagon cult making its way across Central Asia, a group that had been in Nuristan only days earlier. That meant Angell might be headed in the same direction.

But where?

Angell was tied up in the back of a truck heading north out of Kamdesh towards Mandagal, a town on the border with Pakistan. There were two men in the front seat and another two sitting on either side of him. His bonds were not too tight, more of a reminder than anything else. He knew he would not survive sixty minutes on his own in the Hindu Kush and, anyway, he still needed to find the Book. The only question was what he was going to do with it when he found it.

The sense of isolation was heavy on him. Not only was he in a strange and forbidding part of the world, replete with terrorists, pagan cults, and the ever-present threat of violence, but he had lost his comrades to Omar and his crew, and had no idea what was happening to them. Or even if they were still alive.

Outside, the view was of mountains, trees, a rapidly running river, and buildings that seemed carved out of the cliff face. They passed an Afghan on the road who didn’t even look up as they passed. Another time, under other circumstances, Angell might have found some peace in these mountains and in a simple life far from the constant pressures and demands of modernity. But one look at the faces of his guards and he realized that was a dream that had no basis in any kind of reality. Life here was nasty, brutish and short.

They arrived in Mandagal without fanfare. They drove down a dirt street with a tremendous view of the mountains and parked outside a nondescript mud-colored building with a narrow doorway and no windows.

They hustled Angell out of the truck and into the building, removing the rope that tied his hands in the process. The interior was dark, with some sunlight coming in from the far end. He could smell rancid cooking oil and cordite.

They made him sit down on the carpet in the center of the room while his guards stood outside the building and smoked cigarettes.

Fifteen minutes later, another man entered the room and sat down next to Angell without introducing himself. He spoke an Indian-accented English and got down to business immediately. He unfolded a well-worn map that was printed in English and which looked like an old gas station map, the kind one used to see in the pre-Internet days.

“The route we use goes through Pakistan and then to Kashmir,” he said, tracing the route in broad strokes. “It’s used by everyone in the region, including by Lashkar-e-Taiba, and is well-known to ISI, the Pakistani security agency. I won’t lie to you; this will be a dangerous journey. We have to blend in with the local traffic and not arouse any suspicion. There is no problem when we are in our own territory, of course, but there are many who will want us to pay a tax to go through their territory if we are carrying an American. So you are not to speak in the presence of anyone except those in our vehicle. Others will make you for an American no matter how fluent your Urdu or Pashtu may be.”

Angell looked around at the men who had come in and were sitting around them, then looked back at his host and nodded.

“We are going as far as the Pakistan border, and then we will be picked up by our people using a somewhat heavier vehicle. The passage will be rough, but we expect no attacks from either side, unless there are units of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the region at which point there may be some difficulty. They are not always aligned with us. Sometimes they make their bed with Al-Qaeda, and their interests and ours do not always coincide.”

The sheer number and complexity of all these movements and armies and groups was making Angell’s head spin. He knew things were worse in Syria and Iraq, but that was cold comfort.

These were all basically independence movements, or at least they were in the beginning. The Taliban fought the Soviet invaders and then tried to take over Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was set up to drive the “Crusaders” from Saudi Arabian soil, and then became a worldwide terror operation with an ill-defined strategy and an unrealizable goal. Then there were Hamas and Hezbollah: anti-Israel groups allegedly fighting for the liberation of Palestine and the Gaza Strip, but funded by Shiite Iran. Not to mention al- Nusra, fighting to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. And now something called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, that was organizing all over the region.

Lashkar-e-Taiba was the radical Pakistani group that was responsible for the bombing of the hotel in Mumbai a few years ago, as well as an attack on an Orthodox Jewish building in the same city. They were believed to have adherents within ISI, which made everything more complicated and inaccessible to reason.

Throw in at least three separate Kurdish movements, plus the fringe religious sects, and you had an ever-shifting jigsaw puzzle of agendas, missions, and alliances. Angell knew it was this tremendous diversity of interests and goals which contributed to their failure as political movements and which naturally resulted in a resort to violence. Add to that the criminal gangs who were enabling these movements with smuggling operations involving drugs and guns, and you had a world—an entire reality—that was so alien to Western conceptions it might as well have landed here, rather than developed organically. Yet, they all seemed to be on the same page when it came to a virulent hatred of humanity, a hatred that permitted them to mercilessly and joyously slaughter innocent men, women, and children wherever they were found.

Maybe Monroe was right, really right, thought Angell. Maybe this is all evidence of something much darker behind the scenes. Muslim groups are destroying each other, and it makes no sense. They are advertising their hideous executions on YouTube. This is the culture that gave the world suicide bombers, after all; maybe they, themselves, just want to die. Maybe this mass media approach—the heavily-televised and video-taped beheadings—was a plea to the rest of the world to end it all for them. How could they believe their message would be taken any other way?

He was reminded of that line from the movie, Apocalypse Now: “Even the jungle wanted him dead.” Maybe it was the same thing. Maybe even

the desert wanted them dead.

They bundled Angell back inside another vehicle as they made their way to a rendezvous point on the Pakistani side of the border. He heard the word “Chitral” mentioned once or twice, and assumed that was where they were going. Chitral is in the heart of Kalasha country, the same people as the Nuristanis except they are allowed to practice their indigenous religion unmolested. More “People of the Book,” but not of the Qur’an.

As they bumped and jostled their way along the dirt track into the Pakistani frontier, Angell was alone with his thoughts.

What if, he pondered, the Book is some kind of pre-Islamic or non- Islamic text that questions the validity of Islam in some way? Like it was believed the Dead Sea Scrolls were going to do where Christianity was concerned. Evidence that could not be denied, but which could threaten the very existence of the faith? And now its existence has come to light, and the Muslim faithful of every sect and denomination have a vested interest in making sure it never sees the light of day. If it did, it would take the wind out of the terrorist movements completely because they claim precedent in the Qur’an and the Hadith. They could lose their legitimacy, at least among some elements of the population.

It made sense, to a certain point. The Yezidis are not Muslim; they claim descent from Sumer and Babylon. The Nuristanis were pagan until a hundred years ago, and even now they are considered to be kafir, unbelievers. The Kalashas fled across the border when the Muslim armies came, and preserved their pagan traditions. These are the ones they’ve been going to for information, not to Muslim scholars or specialists in Islamic history and literature. They’ve been going to these antinomian groups the whole time. They’ve been isolated, surrounded by enemies. And now they’re the center of attention … by Muslims. By terrorists professing an Islamic faith, or at least one with Islamic trappings.

Jesus, thought Angell. Lovecraft … that racist, anti-semitic bastard … had seen all of this coming. He wrote about the Yezidis, about the “Mad Arab,” about rioting Levantines. About a book written by a Mad Arab. About gates opened to the other side, of alien forces coming down and destroying the world. And what has been the defining meme of the last thirteen years since 9/11? Mad Arabs.

If Lovecraft had been right about that, was he right about the book, too? If he was, if he was even half-right, then Monroe had a point: this book

must never see the light of day. More importantly, it must never fall into the hands of terrorists. It was a weapon with enormous explosive potential. It was an IED planted in consciousness that could go off at any time.