Declare

9,197
07.03.2019

Hale laughed. "They do sound like Bedu," he said, correcting Theodora's pronunciation.

"'Half-devil and half-child,'" said Theodora, quoting Kipling. "Today is Tuesday-you'll have a day or so to go hiking with the Khan, and he'll explain the mountains to you, and Ararat in particular. The big picture. Do listen to him. By Thursday your meteor stone should be in place-you certainly did choose a heavy one, didn't you?-with its explosives attached and an Anderson bomb shelter set up nearby, and then you'll be helicoptered to the plain below Ararat, where you'll brief the commandos who'll be going up with you-demolition experts from the war-good men, hard to surprise."

"When is the Russian team going to arrive?"

"No sooner than Friday night, it seems. Ankara Station has been keeping track of a train that's been moving south from Moscow, with clearances south all the way to Erivan on the Turkish border-it's in Stalingrad now, bound south through Rostov and Tbilisi. Two known Rabkrin directors are aboard, as well as two renegade Catholic priests, ex-Jesuits-and there's a prominent Marconi radio mast over one of the boxcars that happens to be in the shape of an ankh."

Hale shivered in the chilly wind. "That does sound like the right lot."

"You and your commandos will be waiting for them. And when this Russian team arrives on the mountain, and has 'opened the gates,' as you put it, of your djinn colony, you will detonate your, your exorcism." He peered at Hale. "In your proposal, you said you plan to summon them, down to where your meteor is. How do you plan to do that?"

"Blood," said Hale, trying to speak lightly. "Medical supply blood, a couple of bags of it. The Magians in the Hejaz mountains use fresh blood to call the creatures down for their worship, from out of the sky, and in Berlin the Arab ship was full of freshly dismembered bodies."

"Lovely," said Theodora quietly. "Well!-And once that little chore is over, back you'll go to your Kuwait haunts."

"Nothing to it," said Hale.

"I think it's a good plan," said Theodora. "If it works, we'll be able to put paid to Declare, and you can subside wholly into SIS. Face the challenging new postwar world, instead of grubbing about in-" He spread one hand, reluctant as always to refer to the supernatural.

"Devoutly to be wished," said Hale, nodding-but he was remembering the effort of dragging an ankh through the attention field of a djinn, as if the ankh were a scepter; and he remembered the shudder of awe at the sight of the angels bowing before him, or breaking-Sin by pride, and you sin as the angels!-and he wondered what secrets the king of Wabar might have been able to tell him. What castles in the clouds…!

"But in the meantime!" said Theodora, "there is a SDECE team in a hotel in Dogubayezit, roughly fourteen miles southwest of Ararat. You remember that the French secret service was in Berlin too, three years ago. God knows what their sources are-perhaps some other fugitive like our poor Volkov walked into a French embassy somewhere, and got a better reception-but I assume they too are aware of the imminent Russian expedition on the mountain. One of their team is a woman-"

Hale just nodded, keeping his eyes on the dirt road.

"-probably the Ceniza-Bendiga woman"-Theodora went on, and Hale could peripherally see that the old man was looking at him-"of fond memory. If you should meet her…try to stop the SDECE from interfering on Ararat, delay them at least, and try to find out what they know, what their source is. And tell her-she won't believe you, I suppose, but just for style-you can tell her the cover story about the fictitious Armenians you're supposed to be running, tell her just as much as Philby knows. The orders and the names and biographical details of the Armenians are in your room. Learn them, even though you won't be revealing them. Live your cover, right?"

"I'll fill out the orders," Hale said dutifully, "and learn their names and backgrounds…"

Hale was jolted out of his memories by a name that he had just recalled. He blinked around his room in the Normandy Hotel in Beirut -the sea beyond the fluttering white window curtains was indistinguishable from the night sky now, and the spools of the wire recorder were still slowly revolving. Hale gulped some of the soapy arak, and he wondered how many times Mammalian might have refilled the glass while Hale was lost in reminiscences-and how many times he might have changed the wire spools. The night breeze was chilly, and this strange new 1963 seemed like a year from a science fiction story.

Hale frowned across the polished table at Mammalian's impassive, bearded face in the lamplight. "One of the Armenians," he faltered, "one of the fictitious Armenians-"

"Was named Jacob Mammalian."

"Yes." Hale thought the other man too was shaken by this development. "Hakob, Jacob-did you cross the Turkish-Soviet border, then, in a train?" Hale asked.

Mammalian stood up to look out the window toward the muted roar of the invisible surf, and for a few moments Hale thought he wouldn't answer. "Yes," Mammalian said finally, "precisely then, in May of 1948. I had been an illegal Soviet spy working against Turkey, running agents in the military bases around Erzurum, until I was arrested in 1947. I had thought, until now, that it was the Soviet State Security who broke me out of the prison in Diyarbakir, and smuggled me onto the Kars train." He turned to face Hale, frowning. "And by God it was! When I got across to the other side, I was met in Leninakan by Soviet soldiers! Does your Theodora work for the KGB as well as the British Crown?"

"He certainly could have had planted doubles among the Soviets, secretly working for England. But why would he want to free you and repatriate you?"

"He must have wanted the Russians to try their Ararat approach, while you and your meteorite were handily in the area-and the Russians needed me in order to do it. I was their guide on the mountain then, as I am to be again now." He returned to the table and sat back down in his chair. "When I was twelve, Andrew Hale, the Ottoman Turkish Army invaded the Kars and Van districts of eastern Turkey and drove out all the Armenians they could catch, herded them like cattle south to what's now the SaudiArabian desert. More than a million of my people died on that forced march. My family eluded the Turks and fled across the Aras river to Yerevan, on the Russian side; but Armenian fathers had been taking their sons up the mountain for centuries, each generation showing the next the location of Noah's Ark. I had seen it on several occasions by the time we fled, and as a young man I twice stole across the river, past the border guards, to climb up that gorge again."

Hale stared at the tanned, black-bearded man sitting across from him; and for a moment in his exhaustion he forgot about things like the whirlwind in Berlin, and the half-stone king of Wabar, and the djinn in the pool at Ain al' Abd. Instead he was remembering the day he had stumbled upon the church of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in 1941, and how, in spite of his atheism, he had been awed to comprehend that some drops of Christ's blood had once supposedly been kept behind those stained-glass windows. And he remembered illustrations of Noah's Ark from his religious textbooks at the St. John's boarding school in Windsor, when his mother had still been alive.

"You," he said hoarsely, "have seen the Ark?" In 1948, Hale's expedition had not ascended high enough, before disaster had struck, to have any hope of glimpsing some trace of the fabled vessel; and they had gone up the gorge at night. "It's still up there, visible?"

Mammalian frowned impatiently. "Yes, Mr. Hale. Why would Theodora-"

"What-Jesus, man! What did it-look like?"

Mammalian reached toward the recorder, then visibly thought better of leaving an interruption on the wire. Instead he snatched up his glass of arak and drained it. "It looked-like a God-sized black coffin," he said, "with one end, about ninety feet of it, sticking out of the ice, over a cliff with a lake at the base. I suppose the Ark was about six stories tall. My father shot a musket at it."

Hale sat back. "Your father, Hakob, was a vandal."

"The wood was petrified," Mammalian said. "The shot bounced off. Now-"

"Why would he shoot at it?"

"It is inhabited, Andrew! Like a shell taken over by a hermit crab, a clan of hermit crabs. There were-voices, very loud voices, not human; and a face looked at us over the top. A-very big face."

"Oh." Hale nodded impassively, all thought of Sainte-Chapelle and his days at St. John's school dispelled. Somehow it had not ever occurred to him that Noah's Ark might still be whole and accessible; and the news that the holy vessel was the dwelling place of things like the monsters he had seen in those past years was inordinately depressing. "You were," he said, "asking about Theodora."

"Yes." The Armenian nodded and rubbed his forehead. "I wonder why Theodora led you to believe your Armenian infiltrators were imaginary."

Hale sighed, remembering one item from the list of his cover-story crimes as Theodora had summarized them in the conference room at Number 10 Downing Street five days ago: Oh yes, and you took money from a now-deceased Russian illegal to break a couple of their agents out of a Turk prison and smuggle them safely back across the Soviet border; the illegal kept no records, so it can't be disproved. There's a good deal more, you'll be briefed in Kuwait.

He did it so that my name would be on the SIS orders, Hale thought; I would certainly have been more circumspect if I had known that this "infiltration" was not only real but in effect a cooperative deal with the Russian secret service! Even back then, in 1948, the old man was laying the groundwork for my eventual disgraceful cover story, in case it might one day be needed!

And he remembered again his suspicion that Theodora intended to "establish the truth about him," have him assassinated, after this operation was completed.

"Why would he lead you to believe that?" Mammalian repeated. The man's hands were clenched into fists on the table. "And why would he nevertheless give you my correct name?"

"Well, since it turns out you were a real person, I suppose I needed your correct name to put through the SIS paper-work consistently," said Hale. "As to why he let me believe you were a fiction, invented to fool the SIS-I don't know. I suppose so that I'd know as little as possible, if the SIS or the KGB were to question me."

It chilled him now, in this disorienting 1963, to realize that he had been hiding from both services, in 1948. And he was even more of a fugitive from both now.

"But he deluded you," Mammalian said, "and freed me, so that the Russian Ararat operation could take place. You weren't to know that he wanted the operation to happen, wanted your men to run into opposition! Perhaps he was working for the KGB! Perhaps he is still!"

"No, that wasn't it." Hale rubbed his hands over his face. "He did want the Russians to awaken the djinn, but I'm sure he didn't know about your…about the ambush you set up for us." Set up with Philby's help, he thought. "Theodora believed that our Shihab meteorite couldn't kill the djinn until they had…opened their gates to your party, and in that way become vulnerable to our attack. The possibility of effective opposition from-you-was a regrettable necessity."

Mammalian was nodding, but skeptically. "That was and is true, that about the opened gates. Even buckshot bounces off, when the gates are closed. But I wonder if he is still deluding you-I wonder if he stage-managed it so that you would kill those two men last week in England and predictably flee to Kuwait, where we would predictably approach you."

Hale's chest was cold, for Mammalian was getting far too close to the truth-and he forced himself to frown as if at a difficult chess problem. "You think he's running me now?"

Mammalian laughed softly. "And perhaps for the KGB! I don't accuse you of dishonesty, my friend. I'm confident that if he is running you now, it is without your knowledge. I will certainly make sure that your Shihab stone is ground to powder and sifted into the sea! And even so, I may advise that we abort the operation. What did you learn from the Kurds?"

Hale's mouth was dry at the thought that the operation might be canceled, that he might not get a chance to avenge the men he had led to their deaths on that wild night fourteen years ago-in spite of what he had told Mammalian earlier this evening, he did want vrej, vengeance-but he forced a laugh. "How could he have had me followed-"

"That is my worry, Andrew. What did you learn from the Kurds?"

Hale wished for hot coffee, but didn't dare ask for it directly after a hard question; he had learned about Cassagnac's precious amomon thistle from the Kurds, and he was sure that Theodora did not want him telling this Rabkrin agent anything at all about the amomon.

"First I went to the train crossing at the border. Let me tell it in order. Guy Burgess was there, with Philby."

"Ah! I was there too, but hidden in the undercarriage of the baggage car." Mammalian topped up their glasses with the clear liquor and clouded it with splashes of water.

The railway line that crossed the border by Kizilçakçak had been the only train crossing along the entire eastern Soviet border; the rails had been laid for the old Russian five-foot gauge, and the nineteenth-century locomotive that traversed it twice a week ran from Kars to a station only three miles into the Soviet territory, after which it retraced the route in reverse, with the locomotive pushing from behind.

The train had come chuffing up from the west on that chilly spring Wednesday morning, white smoke billowing up out of its Victorian smokestack and trailing away over the three cars it pulled, and it screeched to a steaming halt on the Turkish side of the iron bridge that marked the frontier-the tall barbed-wire fence stretched away to north and south on either side, strung down the center of a broad strip of dirt that was kept plowed to show the footprints of anyone who might cross.

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