From the Private Journal of Ric Havoc:
With a room full of Nazi goons, the best thing under the circumstances seemed like going down. The basement. Dark as the basement steps were, I saw no sign bearing the legend, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (the Jesuits back home at St. Ignatius Prep in Chicago would be proud of me for remembering that) so it had to be better than a room full of Aryan muscle.
Plunging down the stairs gave way to a cramped hall of shelves, reaching towards the ceiling and packed with the detritus o’ civilizations as far as the eye could see. I let the others out pace me up ahead and looked back to see Herr Templemann leading a horde of black trenchcoated heavies down the narrow stairs after us. Miss Barnes and I realized at the same time those goons were packing heat, and a pack of Lugers opened fire, pinging off vases left and right of us and ripping a button off the epaulettes of my Tweed driving coat. Yet another item to add to the long list of tailoring alterations for poor Mr. Yee.
Miss Barnes’ Derringer barked, winging one of the goons in the arm and I opened up with a full fusillade from ol’ Nora, watching the front three fellas crumple under a withering hail of .40 cal from my best gal.
About that time, Herr Templemann seemed to think discretion was the better part of valor, and started to bolt for it, but quick as Jack Flash one of the black coats flies off and under that dark fedora who do we see but Agent Alpha! Never worked with him myself, but his rep around the Society is sterling silver. Good to know Doc Pendragon is pulling out all the stops to back our play in this game. Thank God I seen him around the Chrysler building before, elsewise he would’ve got a belly full of lead with the rest of these Aryan jokers.
At this point, everything is chaos. Alpha and Templemann are struggling halfway up the staircase, Doc Totem is screaming some kind of mumbo jumbo that has the Jerries looking around like they don’t know what to think and I swear out of the corner of my eye I saw Doc Durant climbing one of the bookcases and grabbing a bronze funereal urn from the Middle Kingdom Period getting ready to brain anyone who got in tossing range.
One of the mooks kept coming, Luger at the ready so Nora barked in her angry voice with the underbarrel 16 gauge. That opened a hole in his ribs the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and I hollered at the rest to drop it. Templemann had an earful of Alpha’s gleaming .45 at this point, and Doc Totem pulled some kind of crazy invocation of Pele in Hawai’ian and the floor ripped apart, cracking the staircase. You ever been on the slopes of Kilauea when Pele is angry, you gain a healthy respect for that lady I can assure you.
Point to whatever you want, or even a little from column A, little from column B, at this point the fight was all out of the Krauts. Doc Totem wants ‘em dead, ’cause apparently he and the Jerries have beef going way back, but Alpha’s hearing none of that and frankly I’m with him on this one. Fella drops his gun and surrenders, you treat him right. If the world ever stops acting that way, we’ve gone the wrong way as far as I’m concerned. I volunteered to help him sort out the diplomatic business and keep watch on the clowns until they could be ‘persona non grata-ed’ with their embassy and shipped back to the Fatherland…of course, now that I think of it, maybe Totem’s way would at least have been swift for them. If any of the rot you hear coming out of Europe holds any water.
Anyway, at this point back at the hotel, Bets… excuse me… Miss Barnes has figured out something pretty amazing. Apparently the fight knocked loose some kind of crystal from the statue, and when you shine a light through it, you can see this crazy temple scene. The whole nine yards: sphinxes, ibises, Ibi, whatever you call the crane headed fellas, some kind of fort in the background. Doc Totem’s all excited because he thinks he knows where that is, some Ptolemaic fort somewhere in the west of the Egyptian desert. Pack your bags Ric, we’re off for Egypt. I remind myself to pack extra canteens.
Well somebody forgot to appease the appropriate animal-headed Egyptian gods, because pretty much like you’d expect, we’re sailing high above the desert when a nasty sandstorm kicks in and both engines stall out on the plane. I swear if it weren’t for bad luck traveling we’d have no luck at all. This is why I love my job. Tell me another job that gives your stomach that same punch when the bottom drops out as your plane heads for the dunes and another hard landing?
Yeah, that seldom works out well. Almost worked out horribly for poor Amir, our native pilot, who was working so hard with Agent Alpha to land the crate in the storm. If it hadn’t been for Miss Barnes yanking him sidewise out of his seat at the last minute before we hit, he would have been wearing his steering yoke as a cape on his back, and that ain’t pretty.
The plane is a lost cause, but we’re in the middle of nowhere and we have to get moving. Two brutal days of merciless heat later, we do finally come across an oasis. Sweet salvation. Except, nice resource like an oasis, that’s worth something in these parts. Can’t expect to find those places unguarded. There’s a host of locals on their camels, Berbers by the look of ‘em. They don’t take kindly to strangers and want us to surrender our weapons and go meet their chieftain. Now, if I didn’t surrender Nora to Capone’s gang, or Zulus, or half a dozen tribes in the Amazon down the River of Doubt I ain’t giving her up here and I tell him as much. If he’s surprised I talk a little Berber, he’s not letting on.
Doc Totem is singing some song about needing our weapons due to angry Djinn. Whether that works, or my platitudes and flattery, they shimmy off and we have some peace and quiet at the oasis. I make the suggestion we hold up until nightfall. You always travel better in the desert at night. Less water loss to heat. Easier to navigate with the stars. Everyone buys in to my logic and we shelter amongst the date trees until nightfall. Turns out maybe we shouldn’t have listened to me, because angry and company show up again and this time, we have to go with them.
Turns out their leader is holed up in a tent village around a larger oasis. Biggest honcho gets the biggest tent and so we’re sent there. Just as we’re entering, we see a dusky, sloe-eyed young lass leaving. Maybe there could be some decent ways to pass the time around here, come to think of it. I swear she was winking at me. I make a mental note to leave all my gear packed in case I need to bolt out of here quickly.
Caliph Ismail ibn Gazi actually turned out to be a pretty interesting chap. First off, he apologized for his brother Jousef, the grumpy fella from the oasis. Seems he doesn’t like outsiders much. Also, he probably didn’t get the all expenses paid education at Oxford that accounts for his elder brother’s impeccable English. Families are full of these little squabbles.
Agent Alpha laid out the whole tale for him, minus some embellishments I’m sure, but he got the gist. Apparently, according to our new buddy the Caliph, the area we’re talking about is cursed. Some folks may not hold much water with curses, but I’ve been enough places to know that some folks call places “cursed” for a reason. There are more things in Heaven and Earth Horatio and all that noise (again with a hat tip to the brothers at St. Ignatius). Napoleon, various pharaohs and potentates, they all sent thousands into the desert, and nobody comes back.
Well, given that the lovely and delightful Fatima (apparently the Caliph’s daughter…yeah, I’ve read THAT book before and it never ends well for me) is back and I’m walking into certain death in the morning, I’m think it’s time to gather my rosebuds as ye may. That and making sure the kukri is sharp and the guns are clean, because curses have a way of wrecking your day.