Cautiously, Philby allowed himself an indulgent laugh, and it came out convincingly enough; but when he tried to speak he found that he was babbling nervously: "Oh, th-that successive-that's excessive, surely-you s-seem like a couple of clean-cut Woodminster-I mean, Midwestern-"

"But we're not under Applewhite," Dr. Tarr went on almost in a snarl. "We work directly for the Office of Special Operations in Washington. And our boss"-he pressed his lips together-"our boss is very aware of your father, your pet fox."

Philby felt as though the man had punched him in the stomach. The CIA knows that my father's ghost was inhabiting that fox? But they can't know much more than that, they can't even know that, not with any certainty.

He had raised his eyebrows, and now he tensely opened his mouth to try to express…weary puzzlement, impatience, mounting irritability…

But Professor Feather stepped well back from Elena and delivered another punch: "While you're dickering with the SDECE, ask Miss Ceniza-Bendiga to show you where she lay prone on the roof of a Rue Kantari office building Tuesday night, across the street from your place. She brought the rifle in a saxophone case, and I guess she must have joggled the telescopic sight a little during the taxi ride."

"You two have a pleasant evening now, hear?" said Dr. Tarr cheerfully, and the two CIA men strode out of the bar.

Philby had snatched the revolver out of his coat pocket and was now pointing it under the table directly at Elena's abdomen. "Dum-dums," he said evenly, though he was breathing hard. "Paralysis, peritonitis-those would be good news."

He was remembering last Tuesday night-the stunning blow to the head while he stood in front of the toilet in his bathroom, and then his own drunken, confused effort to bash his head again, against the radiator, to conceal from his wife the fact that he had been shot-his wife dragging him half-conscious to the bedroom, with blood jetting from his scalp and spattering the wall and ruining the pillows-and then the Lebanese doctor that poor Eleanor had somehow got to come over to the apartment, and Philby's inarticulate reluctance to be taken away to a hospital while an assassin might be waiting outside for a second shot-

Elena smiled at him coldly and slowly lifted the palms of both hands from the table. "I don't have the rifle now. And that was just…personal regards, Tuesday night, disobedience-not my orders. France is willing to buy you-even if France 's temperamental emissary would rather have seen you dead, that night-and you do still need a nation that will give you protection and immunity. You don't dare go up the mountain with the Russian expedition, do you, now that your protector and shield is all the way gone? You told me that your father's body died two years ago-when did the fox die?"

"September," whispered Philby, lowering the barrel of the gun. "Somebody p-pushed him over the railing of our apartment. Pushed her, if you like-the f-fox was a female. Fifth floor."

"I'll deny having shot at you," she said. She took a deep breath, and then, her eyes bright with tears as she stared straight at him, she added with clear deliberateness, "And what would have been the point of trying to kill you last Tuesday, in any case?-since"-she visibly braced herself-"since during our talk tonight I've gathered that January first isn't your true birthday after all? Your real birthday, the real day on which you're mortally vulnerable, is the date when something happened to nearly kill you in '37, right?"

The barrel was up again, leveled at her, but he made himself lift his finger out of the trigger guard. No, he thought, she's only giving you the truth: you will not be permitted to keep any part of you opaque; in the end you will be left with no secrets at all. "You-nearly got it, just then," he said, his whisper very shaky now. "Did you-know you were attempting suicide, by saying that to me?"

"I-I know you're solicitous of suicidal women." She exhaled on a downward whistling note, and her shoulders sagged. "And so you leave me with a different person to try to kill."

Philby nodded slowly, comprehending. "Andrew Hale," he said.

Chapter Twelve

Beirut, 1963/Wabar, 1948

The child turned on the cushion of the huge corded arms and looked at Kim through heavy eyelids. "And was it all worthless?" Kim asked, with easy interest.

"All worthless-all worthless," said the child, lips cracking with fever.

–  Rudyard Kipling, Kim

Earlier in the evening, when the sky had still been gold beyond the blowing gauze curtains, Hale had reluctantly pulled up a chair at one side of his hotel room desk.

He stared without enthusiasm at the glasses of arak that Mammalian had poured before sitting down in the chair opposite him; and as Hale watched, Mammalian topped up each glass from the water pitcher on the desk, and the clear liquor was abruptly streaked with milky cloudiness. Hale had never been seasick or airsick, but he was sweating and nauseated right now with a profounder sort of deficiency in traction. The Mezon wire recorder at Mammalian's elbow hissed faintly as its spools turned.

"You are ill at ease," said Mammalian quietly, stroking his black beard as he looked out the window at the purple Mediterranean sea. "You are like a man nerving himself to climb a steep mountain, anticipating all sorts of chasms, hard challenges, muscles flexed to cramping. But it is not a mountain-it is a flat beach, and you are only going to walk into the surf." He shrugged and rocked his head. "It will be cold, and the breath will perhaps seem to stop in your throat at times, but you will get through it by relaxing. All your adult life you have kept up a tense guard, a tight, clinging posture-your task tonight is simply to lower the guard, let your fists unclench." He turned away from the window to look at Hale, and he laughed softly. "Drink, my friend."

Hale nodded and lifted one of the glasses with a shaky hand. The liquor was sharp with the taste of anise, but when he had swallowed it he was glad of the expanding heat in his chest.

"What," said Mammalian thoughtfully, "has the British secret service learned about our plans involving Mount Ararat?"

"We-got the first hints of it when-Volkov-tried to defect from the Soviet NKGB, in Istanbul in '45," said Hale. He clanked the glass down, and a few drops flew out and beaded like pearls on the polished dark wood. In spite of what Mammalian had said, he was so tense that it was a conscious effort to breathe. Somehow it didn't help that he had gone over this same ground four days earlier with Ishmael. Ishmael's subsequent death had been a reprieve, a negation of it.

"But the NKGB killed Konstantin Volkov," said Mammalian, "before he could defect."

"True," said Hale. He forced his shoulders to relax, and he spread his hands on the desktop.

"Just wade slowly into the surf. It is cold, but still very shallow."

Hale nodded. "Volkov was a walk-in," he said. "He apparently just went to the British Consulate General building one day in August of '45, and said he wanted to sell information; he had a lot of-names of Soviet agents, even of doubles working in the British service, but the-the big item-was details about a most-secret impending Soviet operation in eastern Turkey."

"Go on. Take your time."

Hale filled his lungs, and then just let the words tumble out in a rush: "Volkov was the NKGB deputy resident, under cover as the local Soviet consul general, and in exchange for his full deposition he wanted a lot of money and a laissez-passer to Cyprus for himself and his wife. Unfortunately our ambassador was on vacation, and his charge d'affaires didn't approve of espionage, so he didn't relay the offer to Cyril Machray, the SIS station commander. Both Machray and the ambassador had been indoctrinated into the outlines of our fugitive-SOE operation and would have relayed him to our man in Turkey. As it happened, though, Volkov's offer was simply sent by diplomatic bag to the SIS Section Nine in Broadway, in London, where Kim Philby was in charge. Philby took control of Volkov's case and somehow didn't manage to drag himself down to Istanbul until a month had passed since Volkov's visit; and by that time Volkov and his wife had been loaded into a Moscow-bound airplane-on stretchers, wrapped in bandages."

He had been unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice, and Mammalian smiled sympathetically. "Ah, well, Philby was one of ours, you know. He couldn't let Volkov talk to you people. In fact he told his London handler about it immediately, and Moscow Centre took care of the rest."

Hale wiped his damp forehead with his shirtsleeve and took another sip of the arak. "But!-our consulate office had taken routine photographs of the contents of Volkov's samples-package, the documents he had brought in to show his authority, before sending the originals to Philby in London; I was stationed in Kuwait then, and prints were eventually circulated to me for study."

"Why to you?"

"Because during the war I'd become one of the listed referees in the topics the documents dealt with-Volkov's samples included aerial photographs of Mount Ararat, with maps of the mountain's Ahora Gorge indicating the locations of what he called 'drogue stones,' which are-"

"Anchors," said Mammalian.

Hale nodded uncomittally; then he went on, more easily than before, "Or the five points of a pentagram, say, if there's a ring of these drogue stones, as there appeared to be on Ararat. A containment, an imposed ground state." The sea breeze from the window was chilly on his sweaty face, but now he felt as though a fever had broken; and he recalled that he had felt this way with Ishmael too, after a few minutes of talking. "It was autumn of '47 when the neglected Volkov prints were finally relayed to my office in the British Embassy at Al-Kuwait, and by that time I had got to know the local Bedu tribes-I had even traveled with the Mutair during the previous winter, and I had-"

Hale paused and took another sip of the candy-flavored drink. He was always vaguely but specifically humiliated to refer to experiences with the supernatural.

"I had by then met several of the oldest inhabitants of the desert," he said flatly, not looking at Mammalian. "Do you know the creatures to whom I refer."

He shivered as he remembered at times cowering before tall sandstorms that boomed out the old rhythmic syllables across the dunes, and remembered at other times actually conversing in cautious, archaic Arabic with depleted or confined members of the unnatural species: by means of radios carried down into wells too deep to receive human broadcasts, or with codes plucked by box canyon winds on Aeolian harps, or in flocks of caged birds that generally died in the stress of conveying vigorous answers to questions. Never surprise them, he had learned; never reason with them.

Mammalian reached across the hotel room desk to squeeze Hale's shoulder with one big brown hand, and his bearded face was creased in a wincing smile. "They are angels, Charles Garner!" he said earnestly. "Fallen, yes, but they are nevertheless pure spirits, who must take up the physical matter at hand in order to appear to us at all. They are a bigger category of thing than we are, and their proximity must needs diminish and humble us, by comparison."

Hale sat back in his chair, freeing his shoulder from the other man's hand; sympathy in this, even companionship, seemed perverse. "I had seen one of them in the summer of '45," he said in a resolutely matter-of-fact tone, "in Berlin . And from my wartime studies I knew that the drogue stone that had drawn it there had ultimately come from Mount Ararat in 1883. So Volkov's long-delayed information did two things for me: it bolstered my suspicions that a colony of djinn existed on Mount Ararat, and-"

"A kingdom," said Mammalian.

"Very well, a kingdom of djinn. And it let me know that the most-secret agency of the Soviets was planning to go again to the Ahora Gorge on Ararat-perhaps to fetch out another of the creatures, perhaps to establish some diplomatic alliance with the whole tribe." He smiled. "Perhaps both."

"It is both," said Mammalian. He looked away from Hale, out the window at the darkening sky. "And ultimately it will be an alliance with mankind, rather than with this nation or that. You, and even Kim Philby, and even myself, are in fortunate positions in this transcendent work. We will live forever, and we will be like gods." He blinked several times, and then looked back at Hale. "Your Operation Declare-it was a frustrated attempt to kill the angels on the mountain. How was it intended to work?"

And here we are at last, thought Hale. "It was," he began, and then he paused, waiting to see if God would provide an interruption; but the wind kept fluttering the curtains, the wire spools rotated steadily, and Mammalian simply stared at him. "Oh well." He sighed deeply. "I was trying to forcibly impose upon the djinn the experience of death."

"Yes, of course. But how?"

"It was a refinement of a technique the wartime French DGSS had used to try to kill the one in Berlin. Their scientists in Algiers had cut a cylinder from what was allegedly a Shihab meteorite, one of the spent 'shooting stars' that has knocked down and killed a djinn. Our SOE was able to get the specs on the operation, and the meteoric iron the French had used did have a peculiar internal structure: fine straight fissures-something like the Neumann lines that are found in ordinary meteorite cross-sections, and which result from interstellar collisions-but these were all at precise right angles, and the French had concluded that this configuration was a unique result of fatal collision with a djinn. The scientists believed"-how had poor old Cassagnac put it?-"that the iron 'contained the death of one of these creatures,' and that firing the death into the Berlin djinn would kill it."

"We had not known all this," said Mammalian softly. "We knew only that someone had fired some sort of gun at the angel."