Hale's nose stung with the vodka fumes, and his eyes were watering. "I'm worse'n useless now," he said, carefully pretending to be more drunk than he was. "And I don't wanna be Charles Garner. I wanna be Tommo Burks."
Mammalian frowned and stirred his coffee, and Hale recognized, from the other side now, the agitation of a handler dealing with a skittish agent. Mammalian appeared to decide something, and stared straight at Hale. "Have you ever," he asked, "met a woman, an Arabic woman, with a string of gold rings around her neck? She would not have spoken."
Not bad, Hale thought. Last night I didn't bother to mention the woman I saw by Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin in '45, but I do remember her, and it's interesting to learn that she figures somehow. Apparently I was likely to meet her!
But he had to get onto the street, get his briefing, before he met Philby.
He stood up, so unsteadily that the table rocked and nearly spilled Mammalian's coffee and arak. "I won't-incidentally-work with Kim Philby. See. He told the Russians-he told you-where my SAS team was going to be, in the Ararat Gorge. The Ahora Gorge. Know, O Armenian, that I quit. Sod you all."
He walked quickly away between the other tables, artfully bumping one with his hip; he heard a glass roll and then break on the cement deck as he reached the top of the stairs that led down to the hotel driveway; a chair's legs scraped as it was pushed back, and hurried footsteps were coming up from behind him, but two uniformed surete officers were even now tapping briskly up the steps from below.
Hale deliberately snagged his shoe behind his calf and tumbled forward, driving his shoulder into the midsection of the officer on the right; somehow all three of them wound up sitting and bumping and flailing down the steps to the parking lot pavement, and before Hale could even pull his legs down off the bottom two steps, he felt the ring of a handcuff close on his wrist and ratchet shut.
While the policemen were barking questions at him in French-through the ringing in his ears he caught the word ivresse, drunkenness-Hale squinted back up the stairs; but Mammalian had apparently decided not to interfere in a civil arrest. The only person peering down was a tanned woman in big sunglasses and a towel wrapped around her head.
The Beirut Municipal Jail was in one of the modern buildings at the Place des Martyrs, only seven blocks south off of Weygand Street, and when the police car rocked to a halt in an alley beside the Direction of Police, Hale was pulled out of the back seat and marched in through a side door.
Briefly he glimpsed a crowded yellow waiting room, with civilians and uniformed officers standing in lines before a row of windows under fluorescent lights, and then he was pushed along a narrow beige-painted corridor and around a corner.
This stretch of the corridor was momentarily empty except for a brown-haired Caucasian man in a damp white shirt, who stood with his hands open at his sides and stared straight at Hale with something like apprehension; and in the same instant the two surete officers let go of Hale's arms and took hold of the stranger's, and a door was pulled open at Hale's right.
In the dimly lit office beyond the door, a bald man in a jacket and tie beckoned to Hale impatiently. "Here's a bloody list," he whispered, "one-two-three-four."
Hale heard a scuffle ahead of him and looked up in time to see one of the surete officers drive a fist into the face of the brown-haired stranger who was now being led away. Hale took a long step sideways into the office.
The bald man winced at the sound of the blow as he pulled the door closed behind Hale.
"They hit him?" the man asked. "Sit down," he said, waving toward a wooden chair beside a gray metal desk. The smell of hot coffee drew Hale's attention to a chugging urn on a nearby table even before the man said, "Or help yourself to coffee."
Hale nodded and stepped to the table, and he looked around as he held a ceramic cup under the tap-the room, lit by an electric lamp on the desk, had no windows-and he sat down in the chair while the bald man turned a key in the door lock and walked around to the other side of the desk.
"Yes," said Hale, setting the steaming cup on the bare desktop. "They hit him."
"I am sorry." The man shrugged and smiled. "Verisimilitude!"
Hale nodded sourly and touched his own left cheek, wondering when and how he would be given an identical blow. Soon, probably, since bruises change appearance quickly.
"Somebody will shortly be bringing in a photo of his face," Hale guessed.
"I expect so-well, a drawing, probably. To make it match. You gave the Rabkrin all the '48 math?"
Hale only became aware that his shoulders were stiff with tension now that his muscles began to relax. "That was the orders," he said, watching the man carefully. "Yes, I gave them everything."
The man nodded. "I'm heartsick," he seemed to say, and Hale's face was abruptly cold; but the man quickly added, "I'm sorry, that's my name, H-A-R-T-S-I-K. Polish. You're Hale, I know. Pleased to meet you. No, you did the right thing, all that math was bad. And if you gave them some extra stuff too, we can afford it; it'll just enhance the look of the old math, and with luck Declare is within a week or so of shutting down for good."
"They're going to destroy the Shihab stone," Hale said. "They may be on the mountain now, to get it. Mammalian said it's still up in the gorge, on Ararat."
"They're welcome to it, now," said Hartsik. "Two months ago we sent a team of undercover agents up there to make rubber castings from it. They had to go up with a truck, and winches, to make it seem that their purpose was to retrieve the stone itself. They did get the rubber molds safely down, though several of the men were killed by the Turk oscars." He raised his eyebrows. "More verisimilitude-the Rabkrin was strongly led to believe that we went up to fetch the stone. It's been guarded, since."
More deaths on my account, thought Hale. "What," he asked wearily, "did I do wrong? In '48," he added, seeing Hartsik's incomprehension.
"Oh! Convex versus concave. You mistook the mold for the bullets." He pulled open a drawer of the desk and picked out a couple of irregular gray metal balls, which proved to be lead when he spilled them from his palm onto the desktop and they thudded and didn't bounce. "These were cast from the mold they took on Ararat in November."
One of the balls wobbled across and clinked against Hale's coffee cup. He slowly reached out and picked it up between his thumb and forefinger. It was egg-shaped, and though it was heavy it forcibly reminded him of the black glass pellets he had found at Wabar and had later thrown down in the bomb shelter below Ararat.
Peering more closely at the thing, he noticed that it was incised with two fine equator lines at right angles, one around the middle and one around the ends.
"Three-dimensional crosses," said Hartsik, "or wheels buggered out of usefulness by being folded into three dimensions, if you like, completed-on an oval, which is a sphere with two internal hub-points, two foci. Mathematical severance of the geometric core. It's the experience and expression of end-of-message, for djinn, and it will impose shut-down if it's delivered spinning clockwise fast enough to match their own rotation, so that it becomes an integrated part of them. They can't help but take it in-they're hypnotized by right angles and ovals, like the shape of an ankh. Morbid of them, really."
"If-my team-had been able to blow up the stone-"
"It would have been useless. For one thing, the open bubbles on the stone wouldn't have created reciprocal balls, just…bumps, even if they struck impressionable mud. These leaden balls have been finished, trimmed. Djinn cast this shape when they die, they become hundreds of these balls, of all sizes, made out of whatever's at hand; it's as if they crystallize terminally into this configuration. The concave impressions in the Shihab stone are just the molten stone's plastic response to the death-shape. You know what the djinn tend to be made of, from moment to moment-wind, dust, snow, sand, agitated water, swarms of bugs, hysterical mobs. All that stuff is already thoughts in fluid motion. You need to intrude a new memory-a seed-crystal, the physical experience of death." He opened another drawer and hiked out a half-full bottle of Laphroaig Scotch. "Your exploded stone would have done no good-but a plain chicken's egg, with the crossed-parallel lines scratched into the shell, might have worked, if you'd thrown it up in the air so that it was spinning." He waved the bottle. "Purify your coffee?"
Hale was dizzy with the vodka he had bolted half an hour ago, and he shook his head.
"I'm to bring-those," he said, waving at the lead balls, "up the gorge, this time? Will we be going all the way up to the Ark itself?" He was still depressed at the thought that the djinn were occupying Noah's vessel.
"Well, it's not the Ark, it seems," Hartsik said, clunking the bottle down on the desk; "not Noah's ship."
"It's not?" Hale was surprised at the extent to which this news cheered him. "You're sure?"
"We've been busy on all this since you've been in storage. The situation has been clarified by study of overflight photos and a couple of furtive expeditions. In '43 the Americans were flying provisions from the U.S. air base in Tunisia to the Soviet base in Brivan, and Ararat was right in the flight path, and we've got hold of films the pilots took; and then the Geodetic Institute of Turkey did an aerial survey in '59, and our Turkish station was able to get prints of the relevant area. The American National Security Agency even consented to what appeared to be a most-secret request from the Foreign Office, and sent along some recent photos taken by their Ryan 'Firebee' drone. Of course, even with the Foreign Office the NSA is circumspect-a photo of Ararat isn't intrinsically secret, but the mere fact of an overflight photo-survey of that area, the Russian-Turkish-Iranian border, is; and they often employ less-than-their-best photographic equipment on such flights because anybody can deduce the specifications of the camera that was used, by examining the photographs-resolution and instantaneous-field-of-view and so on. Still, altogether we've been able to establish that a formation in the Anatolian Akyayla range, some twenty miles southeast of Ararat, is probably the real, Biblical Ark. It wasn't visible in the wartime photos-we believe it was exposed by the earthquake in '48." Hartsik gave an uncertain wave. "Which you doubtless recall."
Hale ignored the mention of the earthquake. "Twenty miles south?" He shook his head slowly. "But…what's the thing Mammalian saw on Ararat?"
"Well-according to the old Arabic Kitab al-Unwan, at least-the Devil, or Iblis as the Arabs call him, survived the Flood because of clinging to the tail of the ass, who was in the Ark; and some rabbinical writers claimed that the giant Og, king of Bashan, saved himself by hanging onto the ship's roof eaves. We think that when the Flood started"-Hartsik shrugged deprecatingly-"something malignant had a boat of its own, and hooked a tow-rope onto the Ark. "
"And ran aground on Ararat and cut the tow-line, while the real Ark went down with the floodwaters and landed farther south."
Hale was glad that Noah, at least, was safely out of this. "But what am I in all this?" he asked. He remembered the djinn at Ain al' Abd saying, This is the Nazrani son. "Who is my father?"
Hartsik sighed. "More relevant is who is your-" he began, but he was interrupted by a knock at the hallway door. "Excuse me." He stood up and crossed to the door, his hand darting inside his tweed jacket. In Arabic he said, "Who is it?"
From the hallway a man's voice replied, "Farid, Hartsik."
Hartsik turned the key in the lock and stepped back, then relaxed and let his hand fall to the desktop when a short man in a blue Lebanese surete uniform stepped in and closed the door behind him. Hale saw that the Arab was holding a childish pencil drawing of a man's face with a ring drawn below the left eye. The Arab's eyes narrowed to slits as he gave Hale a grin that exposed many gold teeth. "Smite you now," he said in English.
"Don't put the whiskey away," Hale told Hartsik. Then he turned around in his chair to face the Arab, and he closed his eyes. "Right," he said through clenched teeth. "Go."
For a full two seconds nothing happened, and Hale was about to open his eyes in a squint when the man's bony fist abruptly crashed against his left cheekbone. Hale's head snapped back, and for a moment his headache, and nausea induced by the metallic taste of the impact, made thought impossible; finally he took a deep breath, swallowed, and opened his eyes. His left eye was blinking rapidly and was too full of tears for him to see out of it.
The fist had been turning as it hit, and Hale could feel the sharp burn of a cut below his eye and a hot trickle of blood running down his cheek.
"Too hard," said the Arab. "Other man not bleed."
"Well then, go hit him again," said Hartsik impatiently in Arabic. "Now get out of here."
The Arab bowed and left the office, and Hartsik closed the door and turned the key. "Your double is being questioned," he said as he crossed to the desk and resumed his seat opposite Hale. "You'll get a transcript of the interrogation, but he's been coached to say he's Charles Garner, an expatriate British journalist, and to deny being in Beirut for any purposes other than business and dissipation. We happen to know that one of the clerks here is in the pay of the Soviets, and that clerk has been called in to work on his day off, so that Mammalian will be told by an eyewitness that you revealed nothing and were told nothing."