Friday, April 27, 2012

SAECULUM (A Novel: Part 32) – DILUCULUM III



SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset)  Monday, 19 September, 2011
CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)

I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)

I.  Sunday, 23 October, 2011
II. Sunday, 30 October, 2011
III. Wednesday, 9 November, 2011
IV. Monday, 14 November, 2011
V. Monday, 14 November, 2011

CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)

I. Thursday, 17 November 2011
II. Sunday, 20 November, 2011
III. Friday, 25 November, 2011
IV. Thursday, 1 December, 2011
V. Thursday, 1 December, 2011
VI. Thursday, 8 December, 2011
VII. Sunday, 11 December, 2011

INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)

I. Sunday, 1 January, 2012
II. Thursday, 5 January, 2012
III. Saturday, 7 January, 2012
IV. Monday, 16 January, 2012
V. Sunday, 29 January, 2012
VI. Sunday, 29 January, 2012
VII. Friday, 3 February, 2012
VIII. Friday, 3 February, 2012

GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)

I. Sunday, 12 February, 2012
II. Saturday, 18 February, 2012
III. Wednesday, 22 February, 2012

MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)

I. Monday, 27 February, 2012
II. Sunday, 4 March, 2012
III. Sunday, 4 March, 2012
IV. Friday, 9 March, 2012
V. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VI. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VII. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VIII. Friday, 16 March, 2012
IX. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
X. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
XI. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
XII. Friday, 23 March, 2012
XIII. Friday, 23 March, 2012
XIV. Friday, 23 March, 2012

DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)

I. Monday, 16 April, 2012
II. Monday, 23 April, 2012
III. Friday,, 27 April, 2012
IV.
V.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)




DILUCULUM

DAWN TWILIGHT

III

Very little was said between the two men as they drove along the sharply twisting road that took them across the valley and up to the smouldering wreck of Alexander’s villa. It was only when the last of those bends was safely negotiated that Michael Mara turned to his companion. He rubbed his jaw which was still was very sore and any movement or pothole in the road had made it worse. In addition a gold crown had worked its way loose and he could feel its wobble with a bruised and swollen tongue. “Why did you have to hit me so hard, Dave?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“I’m sorry, Michael but I was afraid that you might hurt yourself. You were really freaking out!” the agent replied as he kept his eyes straight ahead, focused on the gates of Alexander’s villa. He stopped the car just in front of them. Two grim-looking and gun-carrying gendarme approached and Dave pressed the automatic switch to lower the driver’s window.
Avetene identification, s’il vous plait!” the older of the two policemen barked as the younger man circled the jeep tapping against the glass with his gun.
Merci, Monsieur. Attendez ici.” the senior gendarme instructed and then withdrew to inspect Dave’s credentials. He then spoke into his walkie-talkie and scowled as he returned to the car. “Basta!” he shouted at the younger man as he handed back Dave’s card. “Ouvre la porte!
The iron gates swung back and Dave drove the jeep slowly up the gravel road. He parked behind one of the fire tenders and turned to look at Michael. “Michael. You don’t need to do this. By all accounts it’s not a pleasant sight.”
“Dave. I need to see what happened. I need to be sure,” Michael insisted.
“OK! Stay close to me. The gendarmes are being very sensitive about our presence here and our involvement in the gunfight. It has taken a lot of urgent diplomatic manoeuvring to calm their annoyance. The National Park officials and firemen are on the warpath. This is this worst time of the year for forest fires and they have an exploding house spraying its crap over the area. Do not answer any questions, Michael. Is that understood?”
“That’s easy. I won’t be able to talk . . . Thanks to you.”
“As I said . . . I’m sorry. Now let’s go!”

Michael Mara followed the agent out of the car and up the narrow driveway towards the villa. The ascent was steep and the gravel surface was seared by the rivers of brown-black water that flowed in torrents down the hill to meet them. Everywhere, like wriggling snakes, fire-hoses jerked and squirmed. Most of the fire fighters still wore breathing apparatus and as they approached one of them handed a pair of masks to Dave. “Do you get a peculiar smell?” Michael asked as he strapped on the mask.
“Napalm,” Dave said bluntly.
Michael followed him into a tent that had been hastily erected near the burnt out shell of Mallory’s jeep. As they passed he saw that there was still a figure slumped over the wheel of the jeep, half-covered by a plastic yellow sheet. In the tent about ten corpses were laid in a row on the ground. Most were hideously burnt, with features missing or congealed by the force of the explosion. Three or four were were charred beyond recognition. On the other hand Rod Mallory, the meerkat Sancho and even the athlete Zoë were all there, all very dead. He could recognise them still. Zoë’s body was in two parts and Sancho had lost an arm. Ironically, Hertzog’s body was almost pristine it its completeness; it had been protected in the trunk of the car. He carefully looked at the other bodies. Most of the women all had peculiar, and near identical, defects of their left ear lobes, like the type he’d first noticed on Zoë and the blonde Scandinavian at the bath-house in Granada. The women were otherwise anonymous in death, he thought as they left the tent accompanied by a gendarme captain. There had been no sign of either Alexander or Isabella’s body. Michael asked him about their possible whereabouts. The captain, with a blunt appraisal, replied that the areas of collapsed masonry around the villa had all been checked and there was no sign of any more bodies. “Evaporated, I suspect,” he added with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders.
Michael knew then, as he stared down the valley, that Isabella, like Caroline, was also probably dead and that nothing he could do would bring her back. He hurried back towards the jeep with Dave in close pursuit and tore off the mask to suck in great gulps of air. His stomach heaved and he began to puke. One of the gendarmes from the gate laughed as he walked past.
“Are you ok, Michael?” Dave asked.
“Yes. I didn’t see Alexander’s body. Where is he? Is it one of the charred ones?”
“I don’t know. We all saw him falling over when he was shot, but the area he was in was partially obscured from our cameras behind some trees. Only Mallory’s and the girl Zoë’s bodies were recovered from the balcony area.”
“You mean he got away!”
“I doubt it. I’d say one of those bodies is his.” Dave pointed back towards the tent where the row of blackened corpses lay. The firemen were removing the dead man from the jeep and a large portion of the leather seating remained stuck to the charred corpse’s back as it was peeled out. “Dental and DNA forensics will confirm.”
“I didn’t see Isabella’s body either, Dave. Do you think she got away?” Michael asked hopefully.
“I doubt it, Michael. She had just gone back into the villa when it started exploding,” the agent replied a little hesitantly.
“But, there is some hope?” Michael latched onto his hesitancy.
“Perhaps! If she did, Michael, she was one lucky dame and . . .we’ll have to track her down. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes!”
There was a long silence as thoughts raced through Michael’s head. Suddenly he pulled away from Dave and began to walk back towards their car.
“What are you doing, Michael?”
 “Let’s go, Dave. I must contact Caroline’s brother in England. Bring me back to the villa. I need to make the phone call in private. I have to make some arrangements.”
“Sure, Michael but we don’t have much time.”
“We?”
“Yeah. I’m coming with you to Mexico. For your own protection! General Arnold asked and I volunteered.”
“Thanks, Dave.”

As the jeep drove through the gates Michael spotted through the thinning smoke that the lammergeyer he had seen earlier now circled high above Alexander’s villa. He thought again of Alonzo’s story of the sacred fire and the Hekamaad horse sacrifice in the high valleys of Nuristan long ago. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

SAECULUM (A Novel: Part 31) – DILUCULUM II


SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset)  Monday, 19 September, 2011
CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)

I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)

I.  Sunday, 23 October, 2011
II. Sunday, 30 October, 2011
III. Wednesday, 9 November, 2011
IV. Monday, 14 November, 2011
V. Monday, 14 November, 2011

CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)

I. Thursday, 17 November 2011
II. Sunday, 20 November, 2011
III. Friday, 25 November, 2011
IV. Thursday, 1 December, 2011
V. Thursday, 1 December, 2011
VI. Thursday, 8 December, 2011
VII. Sunday, 11 December, 2011

INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)

I. Sunday, 1 January, 2012
II. Thursday, 5 January, 2012
III. Saturday, 7 January, 2012
IV. Monday, 16 January, 2012
V. Sunday, 29 January, 2012
VI. Sunday, 29 January, 2012
VII. Friday, 3 February, 2012
VIII. Friday, 3 February, 2012

GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)

I. Sunday, 12 February, 2012
II. Saturday, 18 February, 2012
III. Wednesday, 22 February, 2012

MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)

I. Monday, 27 February, 2012
II. Sunday, 4 March, 2012
III. Sunday, 4 March, 2012
IV. Friday, 9 March, 2012
V. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VI. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VII. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VIII. Friday, 16 March, 2012
IX. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
X. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
XI. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
XII. Friday, 23 March, 2012
XIII. Friday, 23 March, 2012
XIV. Friday, 23 March, 2012

DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)

I. Monday, 16 April, 2012
II. Monday, 23 April, 2012
III.
IV.
V.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)


DILUCULUM
DAWN TWILIGHT

II




Francisco Carrillo sat in the small pavilion, which was situated at the far end of the swimming pool. From there, high on the southern ridge of mountains, which enclosed the valley, he had an uninterrupted view of the twinkling night-lights of the city of Medelin far below. Plumes of soft smoke drifted into the night air from a large cigar that he held with hard fingers. Behind him small children giggled and squealed as they chased each other into and out of the jet spray of the lawn irrigation nozzles.

A white-suited dark-haired man approached. “Papa.”
“Yes, Domingo. What is it? I thought you were in the city tonight.”
The younger man pulled out a chair and sat down facing the older man. “I have some –”
“Have you no kiss for your father. Remember your manners!” Francisco scorned without looking at his son.
“I’m sorry, Papa. Of course.” The younger man flushed as he meekly leaned forward and kissed his father on both cheeks.
Francisco smiled, satisfied with the formality of obedience observed. “What is your news, Domingo? It must be important to drag you away from the casino whores.”
“It is!” Domingo looked up to see that nobody was listening. His children and his wife were on the veranda of the house and he waved over at them.
“Well, get on with it?” Francisco’s tone was intolerant, as if fully aware of the charade being played out behind his back.
“Fabio Ochoa is at this moment on his way to Miami to be handed over to the Americans.” Domingo Carrillo announced.
“Shit. It was expected. We are lucky though that many of his functions have been already assumed by Rod Mallory. The cartels will survive.”
Domingo Carrillo could not prevent a satisfied smile from creasing his face. He gave a loud snort before he addressed his father with a mixture of pity and smugness, “Papa. Your great amigo, Rod Mallory was killed in Corsica about ten hours ago.”
What happened? How do you know?” The cigar fell to the floor as the older man’s eyes flared.
“Jorge Quintana, one of my men, was there. There was a gunfight and an explosion. They were surprised when about to attack the villa of the man called Alexander. Jorge managed to escape and contact me.”
“Surprised by whom, Domingo? Alexander’s security.”
“No. Americano. Probably CIA or the like.”
“What happened exactly, Domingo?”
The younger man paused for a moment as if trying to control his thoughts. When he spoke again his voice was cold and analytical. “That moron, Mallory, apparently decided on a frontal assault. There were two teams on the perimeter and one hidden in the car that had brought him, waiting for a signal. Jorge and his partner, in moving into position, unexpectedly encountered an American special-ops team observing the house. There was a gunfight and Jorge managed to escape. Alerted by the gunfire, the house security reacted and set off a sequence of events that resulted in the loss of five of our men as well as Mallory.”
“All dead.”
“Yes.”
“Shit. What is your assessment, Domingo?” The older man slumped in his chair. He suddenly looked defeated. Too much was going against them.
“The fact that an American special-ops unit was at the villa worries me.”
“Their presence in Corsica might have been a coincidence. They may have been targeting the other man . . . eh . . . Alexander.”
“Sure,” the younger man said dismissively. “They might have been watching Alexander, but we must also consider that they might have been expecting our teams. That would imply Mallory was being watched and that creates a problem for us. They will have known about the meeting in Miami.”
“There was nothing to suggest that. You were there, Domingo.”
“We cannot take that chance.”
“No.” Francisco hesitated. He put out his hand and rested it on his son’s arm. “You are right, Domingo. We’d better discuss our future plans. Arrange a time with Miguel Mendoza and the others for a meeting.”
“Yes, Papa.”
There was a long silence between them until Francisco Carrillo broke it. “They are drawing in around us. We must counteract.”
“Who? The Americans?”
“Yes. And their Mexican fox cubs.”
“What do you mean, Papa?”
“There are some specific problems that Rod Mallory and I were discussing, that you now need to be aware of, Domingo.”
“Go on.”
“Since the arrest in June of our contact in the Juarez cartel, the supply of potassium permanganate from that source has dried up. The Mexican president, Vicente Fox is doing all he can to suck as much milk from the big Americano tits as possible, by targeting Mexican cartels with Columbian connections. Our customers are beginning to complain about the lack of high quality oxidised cocaine. The specific targeting of the production and supply of potassium permanganate is hurting us.”
“Operation Purple.”
“Yes, and now the shipment-tracing activities of Operation Topaz are beginning to bite as well.”
“Topaz, Papa? I don’t understand.”
“In October of last year, the International Narcotics Control Board announced the targeting of the international trade in the chemical acetic anhydride which we use to purify our heroin. We need to start fighting back, otherwise we will be out of business.”
“What do you suggest, Papa.”
“Mallory and I had begun discussions about a detailed plan to use his international banking expertise to discredit Fox. Remove Fox and we remove a major obstacle. Now that Mallory’s gone we will need to think of another way.”
“Good riddance to the faggot.” Domingo spat out the words. “I never trusted him and tried to warn you. Now look where it has got us.”
“Don’t you ever question my . . .” An angry Francisco Carrillo shot out of his chair and hovered over his son as if about to strike. “You had nothing to do with warning the Americans about Mallory, did you Domingo?”
The younger man did not flinch and stared with cold, murderous eyes back up at his father. “No . . . of course not . . . but, I’m not unhappy about his death, if that’s what you want to know. We should never have given so much control to a gringo. That was a mistake, Papa.”
For a moment it seemed that the older man would actually hit his son but then, just as suddenly, Francisco wilted. The fight had gone from his eyes. He was tired. “You . . . You are right, Domingo. Mallory was a danger to us and my judgement was faulty. I will inform the cartel families that you will be taking over the operational decisions from now on.”
“Thank you, Papa. I will not betray your trust.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not! In the meantime, there is much to be done. You had best get started.”
“Good night, Papa.”
“Good night, Domingo.”

The two men parted without the formality of an embrace and the older man sank disconsolately back into his chair.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rihla (Journey 28): Göbekli Tepe, Sanliurfa, Turkey: Gods or Governance?

Rihla (Journey 28): Göbekli Tepe, Sanliurfa, Turkey: Gods or Governance?



Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This one is about Göbekli Tepe, Turkey.




The scientific descriptive language of prehistoric archaeology and geophysical chronology contains such an overlapping melee of terminology that, for me at least, it often creates far more confusion than any intended clarity. In simplistic terms I understand that the Late Pleistocene glaciation or Last Major Ice Age ended finally around 11,000 BCE and at its end Neanderthals and large megafauna became extinct and adaptive homo sapiens hunter-gatherers occupied the savannahs and ‘open’ woodland at the margins of the receding ‘cold climate’ forestation. This era in human terms, the Upper Paleolithic, was associated with the refinement and development of specific purpose stone tools, and the social organisation required for the pursuit of large animal prey on their annual migrations and for the foraging of fruit and wild plants.

The transformation of a ‘cold-climate’ afforested landscape in the southern Anatolian peninsula to an open savannah would have taken thousands of years and the developing society would have mirrored the Natufian culture of the Levant. Pottery, polity, philosophy, protectionism and protagonism would have evolved it what was called the Neolithic Revolution and with it a requirement for a formalised structure of dispute resolution; with the known and with the unknown.


Göbekli Tepe from the South East

Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) is an elevated mound sitting at the apex of a two-finger limestone outcrop that juts into a barren landscape about 15km to the north-east of the city of Sanliurfa (medieval Edessa) in southern Turkey close to the Syrian border. Since 1995 excavations of five, so-far, of sixteen ground radar detected circular pits have exposed an extraordinary ‘temple’ complex of carved stone pillars and polished limestone floors that pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by 6,000 years has revolutionised our understanding of Neolithic society.

Or has it? Was the complex built for the Gods or Governance?



Cisterns and Platforms on Polished Limestone Slab
to Right of Entrance of Göbekli Tepe

I travelled to Göbekli on April 7th to see for myself. A road takes you through farmland benefitting from a new irrigation scheme and the humidity caused by the damning of the nearby Euphrates to a small rough car-parking area mid-way up a low hill. The Turkish antiquities authorities have not yet designated Gobekli as a museum and there is no entrance fee. There is a small hut to the left of the site-entrance where the local Bedouin farmers and now guardians busied themselves killing a goat. To the right of the entrance is a smooth-polished limestone floor with two large carved cisterns at the northern end, two low rectangular hollowed-out platforms in the centre, and four carved-out circular post-holes at the corners. Assuming that this access point was always the entrance to the complex it strikes me that this area was used as a butchery, either sacrificial or celebratory, depending on one’s assumptions of activities on the site on a sunny day 13,000 years ago. It would have been roofed.






Carrying on up the site you quickly come on the excavated main pit where the excavators have constructed a horseshoe-shaped elevated wooden walkway that affords a wonderful view of the excavations. There are two main pillars of stone-carved limestone weighing an estimate 60-70 tons surrounded by a circle of smaller pillars, with stone seating between them and a stone-wall surround. On the pillars there are the most exquisite carvings of birds, wild boar, leopards, foxes, snakes, bison, and on the large pillars, the animal-skin belt and arms of an anthropomorphic figure. The fact that these delicate, accurate and vibrant carvings were created by artisans using only stone stools is breathtaking. All of the animals are those of open woodland-savannah and not of the mega fauna of an earlier age and some of the carvings have been covered by crude wooden boxes to prevent erosion by the elements.




Stone Carvings on Pillars at Göbekli Tepe

One peculiar aspect to the carvings is that on top of one pillar and also on the edge of one of the cisterns near the entrance to the site is a series of closely bunched cup-shaped carved out niches. If the cistern area is sacrificial then it might not be a leap of the imagination to suppose that the cup hollows served to wash and separate certain animal parts, which were then transferred to be placed as offerings to the top of the complex pillar. I would also suggest that the two central pillars (? Perhaps a representation of a man and a woman) had no role in the structural support of the roof but were the central deities as in Egyptian, Greek and Roman temples of much later years.

The most extraordinary aspect to Göbekli is that it exists at all. The fact that it does is due to a deliberate backfilling (not destruction) by the society that created them when they abandoned the site circa. 7,500 BCE. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal deposits on the polished limestone floor date the origins of the main complex to about 9,000 BCE, but the site is thought to have existed since about 11,000 BCE.

Two further pits around the main central one have been excavated as well as the beginnings of further work on the northern and western margins. Atop the mound is a single tree and two stone graves of the Byzantine era.


Mining Site of Gobekli Tepe Limestone Pillar
150m to South East of Complex

I walked out the limestone outcrop to the south-east to see where the huge pillars were mined. Beneath my feet an endless amount of carved flint tools and arrowheads. Looking back at the Tepe I wondered at the incredible stone-age industry and organisation required to construct the complex and realised that if lasted for at least 1500 years to be backfilled rather than destroyed then it must have been very good at whatever function it provided for the hunter-gatherer society it served.

But was it for the Gods or Governance?

This is a question that 11,000 years later we still ask about our institutions and their purpose. In Göbekli’s case there needs to be an urgent granting of UNESCO status and the construction of a formal museum and interpretative centre to cover the hill to protect its unique and critically important discoveries.


Monday, April 16, 2012

SAECULUM ( A Novel: Part 30) – DILUCULUM I




SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)

I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)

I. Sunday, 23 October, 2011
II. Sunday, 30 October, 2011
III. Wednesday, 9 November, 2011
IV. Monday, 14 November, 2011
V. Monday, 14 November, 2011

CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)

I. Thursday, 17 November 2011
II. Sunday, 20 November, 2011
III. Friday, 25 November, 2011
IV. Thursday, 1 December, 2011
V. Thursday, 1 December, 2011
VI. Thursday, 8 December, 2011
VII. Sunday, 11 December, 2011

INTEMPESTIUM (Midnight)

I. Sunday, 1 January, 2012
II. Thursday, 5 January, 2012
III. Saturday, 7 January, 2012
IV. Monday, 16 January, 2012
V. Sunday, 29 January, 2012
VI. Sunday, 29 January, 2012
VII. Friday, 3 February, 2012
VIII. Friday, 3 February, 2012

GALLICINIUM (Cock Crow)

I. Sunday, 12 February, 2012
II. Saturday, 18 February, 2012
III. Wednesday, 22 February, 2012

MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)

I. Monday, 27 February, 2012
II. Sunday, 4 March, 2012
III. Sunday, 4 March, 2012
IV. Friday, 9 March, 2012
V. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VI. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VII. Friday, 16 March, 2012
VIII. Friday, 16 March, 2012
IX. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
X. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
XI. Wednesday, 21 March, 2012
XII. Friday, 23 March, 2012
XIII. Friday, 23 March, 2012
XIV. Friday, 23 March, 2012

DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)

I. Monday, 16 April, 2012
II.
III.
IV.

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)


DILUCULUM
Dawn Twilight

I


To the east, the first glow of a rising sun was just about visible on the horizon and a warm wind swirled in the charcoal-laden morning twilight. Michael Mara sat in sullen silence on the observation deck and watched the frantic activity across the valley. Multiple butts of half-smoked and discarded cigarettes lay scattered at his feet and he constantly used his shirtsleeve to wipe moist soot particles from his face as he tried to distinguish between the numerous gendarme and fire fighters, from the National Parks service, that swarmed over the charred wreckage of Alexander’s villa. From where he sat he could still hear the roof tiles crackle as they split and every now and then see tongues of spitting, hissing flames erupt. He did not look up as Arnold joined him.
“How are you doing, Michael? You didn’t come back downstairs,” the General asked in a concerned way.
“Ok, Bob . . . I think.” Michael kept staring at the smouldering villa. A facial twitch caused blackened and bloodstained crease lines to distort his otherwise impassive features. “What’s happening over there? Did you find Isabella?”
“No. No sign of a woman’s body with her description yet. There is however, a part of the building where the walls collapsed inwards and it will be a while before they can move the rubble. She might be there.”
“I see. I just need to know, Bob. You understand that don’t you? Caroline, Alonzo, Rod, and now Isabella. All of them are fucking dead. Is all this my fault?” Michael asked despairingly.
“No. Of course not!” Arnold pulled up a chair. He said nothing for a while as he watched what Michael watched. Suddenly there was a crashing noise as something solid hit the decking wood. They both looked down. It was a large rabbit whose life quickly ebbed as they watched. “What the hell. Where did that come from?” Arnold asked.
“Look up there.” Michael pointed upwards. “I wonder if it’s a lammergeyer.” A huge eagle-like bird patrolled the sky above the valley. There was too little light to make out its colouring. Michael thought he could hear a shrill whistle of annoyance. “It’s very weird. There was a lammergeyer in Alonzo’s story of the Voices.”
“What are these voices are you keep talking about, Michael?”
“Oh. Nothing, Bob … just a story Alonzo told me. Like something from the Arabian nights.”
Arnold stood up and kicked the lifeless corpse of the rabbit into the ravine below them. A trail of blood smeared across the decking. He looked back at Michael whose attention was still captured by the majesty of the soaring bird. “Michael there is something else I need to . . . ” he hesitated.
“Go on Bob. You were going to tell me earlier before being called away. What is it?” Michael said without diverting his eyes from the sky above him.
“It’s about Caroline’s death and your partner Rod Mallory.”
Dead partner!” Michael rasped. “What about them, Bob?”
Arnold’s face was a picture of concern and nervousness as he retook his seat. “We . . . we feel reasonably certain that Mallory might have killed Caroline.”
“What . . . Why? I don’t fucking believe you. They were friends, tennis partners for God’s sake.” Michael stood up and glared down at him.
Arnold shifted uncomfortably in his chair and kicked out at the butts on the decking. “It appears that Mallory might be . . . might have been, a major figure in the Mexican drug trade and that Caroline was caught in the crossfire of an internal dispute. He couldn’t afford to have her knowing about his connections. He killed her.”
“How do you know that?” Michael said coldly.
Arnold said nothing for a considerable time. He didn’t look at Michael but instead pretended to be distracted by the activity across the valley. He fingered the collar of his shirt nervously.
“How do you know that, Bob? Answer me!” Michael demanded.
“One of our agents was tailing him.” The army general’s voice was almost inaudible as he spoke.
“What? Why?” Michael shook his head as he began to pace across the balcony.
“Once the results of the field trials on the cocaine virus started coming through so positively, everyone who had anything to do with its development, and that included your colleagues in Hoxygene, were placed under surveillance. These orders came from the very top. We had great concerns over security and safety.”
“Well you certainly made a great fucking job of that, didn’t you, Bob! In case you’ve forgotten, you prize prick, Hertzog, Alexander, Mallory and . . . Caroline are all dead. Some fucking protection! Why did you not protect Caroline? Why the fuck could you not save Caroline, if you were watching her. She knew nothing about my work for the Army on the virus.” Michael’s tone was venomous.
“Listen, Michael. This was all breaking very fast. The order to throw a security blanket over you and the virus work was only issued last Monday, when the first results of the field trials started coming through. We were just getting our surveillance schedules up to speed and could not have suspected that Mallory was such a loose cannon. He was your partner and financial controller in Hoxygene for God’s sake!” Arnold paused then continued, “We knew he had very little access to the scientific work you were doing for us and his initial security screen gave no cause for concern. We considered him low risk and the tail put on him was of minimal intensity. Caroline was already with secret service agents and we were satisfied that we had that ground covered.”
“Were they alerted?” Michael stopped pacing.
Arnold hesitated again and appeared to blush. “No! Not in any specific way. When Mallory flew to Mexico, we thought that they, your wife and Mallory, had arranged to meet there. You know! We wanted to be discreet.”
“You thought that they might be lovers.” Michael said quietly as he remembered that he had thrown the same accusation at Caroline. “Is that why?”
“Yes. It’s not unusual and from what we had heard they were very close. No one could have expected something like that to happen.”
“Why didn’t you pick up the bastard, if you are convinced he might have killed her?”
“Very soon after arriving, Mallory left Mexico again, in a private jet. The agent assigned to tail him only arrived in La Paz as his aircraft took off. He didn’t realize what had gone down in the hotel and was busy trying to determine Mallory’s next movements. The jet’s pilot had filed a flight plan to Miami so another of our agents was quickly assigned to pick him up on arrival there. It was then, and only then, that we first became aware of the drug people he was dealing with. It was also about that time that the agent in Mexico found Caroline. By the time the news was relayed to Miami and we could react, Mallory had disappeared again.”
“How can you be so sure it was Rod Mallory?”
“Somebody saw him stupidly dump a package in an airport hanger garbage can shortly after landing. It was recovered and a gun found. The ballistics matched the crime scene in Mexico!”
“Luckily! That’s a loose fucking description of what’s happened. I thought Caroline’s post-mortem was not done yet.”
“Michael. Please sit down. This is very hard for me.” Beads of sweat began to appear on Arnold’s forehead.
Michael stopped pacing and retook his seat. “I’m sure it is, Bob, but it’s not your wife that’s dead.”
Arnold was visibly stung by the rebuke. “My own wife has ovarian cancer. She’s likely to die in the next two years. Knowing it will happen makes the pain worse.” He was about to get up when Michael put his hand on his arm to stop him.
“I’m very sorry, Bob. I didn’t know. Explain how you know about the ballistics.”
“They come from the body of Diego Rios . . . The man found with Caroline. There is no reason to expect otherwise. It was a clinical kill. Similar modus.”
Michael said nothing. He had all but forgotten about the Mexican, Rios and he suddenly felt his chest tighten. He couldn’t breath and wanted to gag. He needed to scream out. He needed the air. Michael began to cry with an uncontrollable sobbing that jerked his body into spasms of pain. It was all Arnold could do to stop him falling to the ground as he knelt beside Michael’s chair holding him as hard as he could. The spasms continued for what seemed an age until just as suddenly they stopped again and Michael’s muscles relaxed. “Let me go, Bob!” Michael’s voice was hard and clear.
Arnold recoiled at the intensity of it. “Are you OK, Michael?”
“Yes.” Michael stood up and leant against the balcony railing. Across the valley the burning timbers and roof-tiles of Alexander’s villa hissed and jumped as the water cannons sprayed into their flaming embers. He could hear more sirens winding their way up the narrow valley road from Corte. The scorched wind was scented with the aroma of mountain pine. At that instant, Michael Mara’s head suddenly arched back and as he looked up at the sky with wild staring eyes he began to laugh. It was an intense laughter of such visible violence that tears were forced from his eyes and began streaming down his cheeks. Its loudness echoed off the walls and across the valley floor. He turned to Arnold and began wildly shaking the older man’s shoulders. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! This is all just a fucking game. Isn’t it, Bob?” he shouted.
The general looked puzzled.
Suddenly, Michael’s grip on Arnold’s jacket eased as quickly as it had begun. The frenzied peels of ghoulish laughter shuddered abruptly to a halt as he glared at the Army man with red raw eyes and streaming cheeks. “Well you can stop it right now, Bob. Enough is enough. Tell Rod Mallory that he’s won!”
“What are you talking about, Michael?” Bob Arnold was suddenly very confused.
The Game! The Silicone Valley game. Rod Mallory set me up for this. I’ll kill him when I see him.”
“What game Michael? Mallory is dead.”
“You’re very convincing, Bob but you can stop it now. You can stop messing with my mind. I give in. The game is over.”
“You’re making no sense, Michael.” Arnold stood up and moved slowly backwards towards the doorway where the telescopes were set up. He picked up a walkie-talkie from where it hung on the side of one of the tripods and after depressing the transmit button whispered urgently into the microphone. Michael was looking at him and began to laugh again.
“Ha. Ha. You were all really bloody good, Bob. Even down to Alonzo calling me the last Magus. Isn’t that the plan? Manipulate the victim. Obscure his tenuous reality with tangible fantasy. I can see it all so clearly now. The happenchance meeting with Isabella and then Alonzo! The story of the Voices and the apparent sex in Isabella’s apartment to suck me in! Alexander’s villa, Caroline’s reported death. I never saw the clues.”
“Michael! Get a hold of yourself. What are you talking about?” Arnold started walking slowly towards where Michael was standing.
“The game, Bob! This shit! All this playacting shit is just part of Bellfiore’s and Allen’s game for bored millionaire nerds. And I’m fucken’ Michael Douglas. It must have cost a fortune! You tell Mallory to stick the obelisk up his arse.”
“What’s going on out here?” Dave shouted as he brushed past the telescopes. He saw Michael laughing hysterically near the balcony with Arnold standing close by.
Suddenly, the general lunged and pinned Michael’s arms behind his back. Mara began to struggle. “He’s flipped, Dave.” Arnold looked very frightened as he shouted. “He’s ranting on about some friggen’ game. I’m afraid he might hurt himself. Get over here!”
“Fuck off, Dave. You and your Zoroastrian shit. Jesus I should have guessed,” Michael spat out at agent.
“Com’on, Mike. Calm down.” The agent walked with his hands extended and palms outstretched towards where the two men struggled. As he got closer, Michael suddenly lifted up his feet and lashed out at him. The sudden movement caught the agent in the chest and he recoiled backwards. “Jesus, Mara!”
“Take him out, Dave! I can’t hold him much longer.” Bob Arnold was losing his lock on Michael’s arms.
“Are you sure?”
“Certain. Do it now!”
“It’s over, Dave. The game is over. I give in. Let me go, you bastards,” Michael screamed, as he lashed out again.
This time the agent was ready and ducking first to one side then surged forward. His fist came up in a fast uppercut that caught Michael full on the chin. Michael’s head flew back to crunch into the bridge of Arnold’s nose before rebounding forward again to follow his collapsing legs to the ground. Arnold and Michael fell together in a heap at Dave’s feet. Bob Arnold slowly disentangled himself and gingerly stood up holding his nose. Blood poured from behind his hand and down onto his shirt. “Jesus H Christ! I think it’s fucking broken.”
“I’m sorry General. Go down stairs, Sir and get it seen to. I’ll look after things here.” Dave stooped down and turned Michael into a recovery position on the decking.
Arnold stared at the prostrate body. “He really lost it, Dave. Didn’t he?”
“Yes, Sir. You never know how someone will react to bad news.”