Declare

9,206
07.03.2019

"Then go ahead and unsnap your harness," Mammalian called to him patiently, "but then grab the line again, and crawl backward."

Hale's hand was already on the carabiner, and now he squeezed the gate and freed himself from the link lashed to the rope; instantly his hand was back on the rope, and with infinite care he pushed himself backward, feeling his knees slide back up the slope behind him, inch by inch, until the edge of the ice crevasse was under the heels of his hands and he was able to crawl back across the glacier surface on all fours.

Then strong hands had grabbed him under the arms and pulled him back up the slope. He saw the shaft of an ice-axe standing up from the snow, and the taut uphill length of the rope was looped around it and then moored to a piton that had been hammered into the ice a yard away-clearly the Spetsnaz behind him had managed to use the axe as an anchor, and had then protected the mooring with the piton. Several of the commandos were on this side of the crevasse now, and Hale could see by their tracks in the snow that they had freed themselves from the lead section of the rope and walked around the uphill side of the hole.

Their faces were snow-dusted white masks below the crusted lenses of the snow-goggles, no more human-looking than their steel and nylon equipment, and Hale quickly pulled his own goggles up into place to hide behind a similar mask.

The rope was still bent sharply into the hole-Philby was hanging at the low point in the middle, and he was upside-down. All Hale could see of him was the baggy knees of his white climbing pants.

A new rope had been spliced onto the old one on this side, and now four of the Spetsnaz held it taut while another of them pried up the piton. Then they were slowly feeding the newly extended rope out, hand over hand, while their companions on the far side of the hole pulled the other end in; Philby's knees began to wobble away, toward where Mammalian sat.

The Spetsnaz who had levered the piton out of the ice now scuffed across the snow to Hale and stared at him through white-powdered snow-goggles. Then he pointed from Hale to himself and waved back along the tracks that led around the crevasse to the other men on the far side. "Hah?"

Hale nodded.

The two of them trudged uphill and along the crest of the glacier for several yards, and then back down to the snowy lee side. The Spetsnaz was leading, and by pointing he conveyed to Hale that they were to follow the already trodden track, presumably to avoid another collapse-which would be fatal, since the two of them were unroped at the moment. Hale nodded to show that he understood, but reflected that the bit of ice that had given way under Philby had already been walked over by ten pairs of boots. Like the Russian ahead of him, Hale walked in a tense crouch, with his ice-axe half-raised in his right hand.

By the time they got to where Mammalian was now standing, Philby had been drawn to the crevasse lip and pulled up onto the snow.

Mammalian glanced at Hale, and just from the set of his mouth Hale could tell that he was frowning. "Do you need a pill, a stabilizing drug?" Mammalian called to him. "It looked from here as though you were suffering from 'abrupt insanity'-trying to free yourself in order to drop down into the hole."

"Optical illusion," Hale assured him, speaking loudly enough to be heard over the wind. But in fact he suspected that it had been a supernaturally induced temptation that had seized him as he had hung over the gulf. And when the choice had finally been between breath and death, Hale had found himself saying the Our Father. Certainly he didn't want to talk about it now, and he looked away from Mammalian.

The commandos on the far side of the crevasse had walked back around and were laying the rope out across the snow on this side-to let the fibers relax, Hale guessed. Philby was lying on his back and panting steam like a locomotive, his drogue stone upright in the snow beside his head.

In Berlin in 1945, after Hale had crashed that truck back onto the western pavement of the Brandenburg Square and he and Elena had run back to the restaurant where they had met Philby earlier, Elena had asked Hale, But do you imagine that you are an atheist, still? He had said he didn't know, and she had said that he was not honest. Had she been right, had he simply not wanted to admit that he was at core still a believing Catholic? It was a terrible thing to admit, freighting an already difficult world with supernatural responsibilities and consequences. Was he actually admitting it now? The idea of facing some kind of judgment for the actions of his life set his heart thudding with an extra dimension of terror.

The Spetsnaz commandos had lifted sections of the rope and were lashing themselves onto it, and one of them marched over and clicked the first moored carabiner onto Mammalian's belt; then he glanced at the men near Philby and barked something in Russian.

Philby was hoisted to his feet, and he managed to limp over to Mammalian and Hale. His face was beet red under the glittering snow-goggles, and Hale was suddenly afraid that the man might have a stroke or a heart attack right here.

"Are you all right?" Hale asked him quietly, having to speak directly into his face to be heard. "You could call for a rest. It can't be near noon yet."

Philby just shook his head, swinging the drogue stone that hung at his chest.

A moment later Philby and Hale had been snapped into their places in the line, and one of the Spetsnaz said something to Mammalian.

"Now we descend the Parrot glacier," the Armenian told Hale, "to the ledge on which rests the Ark itself. The way is treacherous, and our Russians will cut steps in the ice for us."

The men in the front of the line began walking over the snow, stepping carefully up onto the shelves where the glacier had buckled, and eventually it was Philby's turn to move. He seemed to stride forward easily enough, and Hale fell into step behind him.

Hale touched the lump under his parka that was the derringer. Soon now, he thought. Should I be praying?

Though the helicopter that swept through the Seyhli valley east of Dogubayezit was painted mottled gray-and-white to match the sky, and bore no markings, by its sleek lines it was recognizable as a French Aerospatiale Alouette III-but the same model had been purchased by the military operators of many nations, including nearby Syria; and in any case it was racing over the grasslands at a height of only a hundred feet, and was not likely to show up on Turkish radar, nor to have been noted by anyone but the taciturn Kurdish mountain tribes when it had crossed the Turkish border in the remotest wastes of the Zagros Mountains to the south. It had taken off an hour ago from the bed of a truck outside Khvoy, in the desolate northwest corner of Iran, and two seven-tube 70-millimeter rocket launchers were mounted low on either side of the fuselage.

Acquisition and equipping of this particular helicopter, and transporting it to Khvoy, had taken the SDECE more days than it should have, but Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga had insisted on the Alouette III-three years ago one of these aircraft had made successful landings and takeoffs at a height of nearly 20,000 feet in the Himalayas, in midwinter. She had, after all, no idea how high up the slopes of Ararat the Rabkrin team intended to climb.

She sat on the corrugated-steel deck beside the armament control panel in the stripped cargo bay, rocking with the sharp lifts and descents of the racing helicopter, puffing a Gauloise.

The departure of the Rabkrin team from Beirut three nights ago had taken the SDECE by surprise; Elena had been monitoring the surveillance by radio from a motor yacht off the north Beirut shore, for since the night of January 12 she had not dared set foot in the city.

On the evening of the seventh she had encoded and tapped out a message to SDECE headquarters in the Quai d'Orsay in Paris, saying that Philby's defection offer appeared to be genuine, accompanied as it was by all the authentic signs of confusion and dislocated pride that one looked for in a ripely breaking defector; but then she had not been able to speak to Philby again until five days later, when he went into the Khayats Bookshop on Avenue Bliss, momentarily alone. He had been evasive then, too hearty in his greeting, and all the caution-warnings in her head had sounded when he proposed meeting her that night at the Pigeon Grotto cliffs.

She had kept the assignation, but she brought along a full covering team of SDECE street-play experts-known as gamins des rues-and she stood on the inland side of the street, on the entry steps of Yazbeck's all-night pharmacy. And even against the backdrop of a public building, she had been shot at.

She had made sure to maintain a six-foot distance from every pedestrian, and, on the frail theory that a sniper required two full seconds to bring the crosshairs of a telescopic sight to bear on a target, she had been moving constantly, with many abrupt about-faces. In such a crowded, public place, with the whole Rabkrin team still in town, any kind of full-automatic fire seemed ruled out. Her legs were twitching with the urge to tap out one of the old clochard nothing-right-here rhythms, but she was afraid that such a move would hide her from Philby's notice, if he did show up.

She had been wearing body-armor under her coat, and her hat weighed ten pounds with the steel-and-resin-and-ceramic laminate of its low-hanging crown-but this was as perilous a game as tightrope-walking, and she made herself do it mainly in atonement for having prematurely tried to shoot Philby eleven nights earlier, on the evening of New Year's Day. Surely this ordeal, putting herself in the way of a bullet, was adequate penance!

A rifle bullet would have penetrated any of her protections-but by standing on the inland side of the street she had apparently disrupted any plans for placement of a rifle, and so it was just three fast 9-millimeter handgun rounds that hammered her hat and punched her twice in the spine. The impacts threw her forward onto her hands and knees on the sidewalk, but the gamins des rues were on her in an instant, and dragged her limp body into the pharmacy. The body armor had kept the bullets from reaching her, but the shot to the head had stunned her.

She had been bundled into the backup vehicle, a flower-decked hearse, which accelerated away to a boat dock by the Place Cote d'Azur south of the city. Philby's status was switched from exfiltration-target to a proposed assassination-target; but orders for an assassination would have to come from the Quai d'Orsay, and anyway Elena had been the only assassination-qualified SDECE agent in Beirut, and she was ordered to control the stalled operation from a boat in the north-shore marina.

Philby had moved furtively after that, and the Rabkrin team had set up a protection cordon around his apartment building on the Rue Kantari, and the apartment's curtains were always drawn.

Andrew Hale had been kept even more secluded by the Rabkrin, after his arrest for public drunkenness on the morning of the eighth.

It appeared that Hale really had defected to the Rabkrin side; Claude Cassagnac had been killed at Hale's house in England three and a half weeks ago, and the SIS stations really did have Hale on their urgently-detain lists all over the Middle East. The cover identity the Rabkrin had given him must have been very solid, to get him through a surete interrogation. Oddly, the SDECE had not been able to get a transcript of the interrogation from the police.

According to protocol, she would also need authorization from the Quai d'Orsay to kill Hale-if she proposed doing it in Beirut. But the counter-Ararat operation had already been approved, and it included a provision that all members of the Rabkrin team might be killed, if they made it onto the slopes of Mount Ararat.

Elena had requested the Alouette III, with specific modifications, and she told the SDECE to get the French diplomatic corps to work on calling in favors from the Iranian Pahlavi government-the helicopter needed to be trucked to some remote spot in the northwest corner of Iran, near the eastern Turkish border.

The Iranian government had been hard to convince-a national election was scheduled for the twenty-sixth, and the progressive White Revolution party didn't want to provide any excuses for anti-Western sentiments-and so the helicopter, and the peculiar warheads in its four-nozzle 70-millimeter rockets, had not been ready and in place until the twenty-second; and on the very next night the Rabkrin team had surreptitiously left Beirut.

From the rain-swept deck of the yacht, Elena had actually seen one member evacuated.

Beirut had been a neon blur through the sweeping veils of rain on that night, and from the crackling speaker of her radio in the main cabin she listened to her surveillance agents out there in the city complaining about stalled cars and flooded intersections. They had lost Philby, but hoped to regain contact at a dinner he was going to that night at the house of the First Secretary of the British Embassy. Immediately after that transmission she had heard a motorboat laboring through the storm surf outside, and she had snatched up her binoculars, unlocked the cabin door and gone swaying out onto the deck.

She had barely been able to see the boat through the rain. It had been a flat-bottom inflatable Bombard rescue-craft with an outboard motor at the stern, and it was showing no lights. As she watched, the ponderous rubber boat rocked over the low waves and slid up the beach below the Normandy Hotel.

The Normandy was where the Rabkrin team had been staying.

Dimly in the reflected glow from the hotel windows she had seen two figures waiting on the beach; one of them got into the boat, and then it was pushed away, back into the whirling surf.

She had gone back inside and picked up the radio microphone. "I think your target won't show up at the dinner," she told the surveillance team. "I think he's bolted. I think they all have."

She had poured herself a glass of brandy then, for the Rabkrin team appeared to be on its way, after all, to Mount Ararat. The SDECE force had failed to stop the Soviet operation in Beirut, and she had not turned Philby-but the Alouette III was at last in place in Khvoy, and within a couple of days Philby and Hale would both be on the mountain.

She wondered if she had meant things to work out this way all along.

The Rabkrin party would climb to Noah's Ark-and then all of the witnesses of her shames would be together in one place: the djinn with whom she had participated in the deaths of her men in the Ahora Gorge in 1948, Kim Philby who had heard her secrets and been permitted into her bed, and Andrew Hale, whom she had loved.

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