The Post-Modern Masks of Nyarlathotep

Episode III: Night Comes On (Part 6)

Freddie asks the hotel to contact Omar Shakhti and let him know that they would be delighted to have dinner with him that night.

The group heads down to the morgue to check out what happened to Dr. Kafour; Peakes uses his deep knowledge of the Colonial government to waive objections.

The autopsy report seems ordinary at first; Dr. Mwimbe, who proves to be a MD as well as a PhD (“I studied medicine at the London School of Tropical Medicine, then spent some time with Dr. Jung in Switzerland. I thought I would be a psychologist, but it turns out Anthropology interested me more….”) translates the medical Arabic.

The report seems ordinary—Dr. Kafour died of a heart attack; this syncs up with the English version of the report.

Freddie notices, however, that Dr. Mwimbe isn’t reading the rest of the Arabic report. When he points that out, she dismisses it as superstition. “It says that when they did the autopsy, they did not find a heart. Ridiculous Egyptian nonsense; you can’t trust these people.”

As they leave the morgue, Freddie asks Dr. Mwimbe to help him find a gift to bring Shakhti Bey. Flattered, she takes them to the antiquities market where they buy a cuneiform tablet with a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh on it.

However, as Freddie had planned, this gives Alphonse a chance to check up on Dr. Mwimbe. He sneaks into her room. While the Dagger of Thoth is kept in the hotel safe, she has the artifacts they retrieved from the Ju-Ju House in Harlem in her room. The strange devil mask, the circlet, and the bowl of “copper.” The scepter seems to be missing.

Examining the bowl carefully, Alphonse finds a little dried blood on the inside. He can’t tell if it’s recent or if it had been there since they got it.

Suddenly he hears footsteps approaching. Slipping into a closet, he watches as an Egyptian man enters the room and leaves some books on the bed. The man looks around for a moment, as if he had noticed something, and then slips out. He’s wearing something around his neck, but Alphonse can’t tell what it is.

After the man leaves, Gilbert slips out of the room and tails him. It takes some time, but he finally sees the man enter a tea shop. Casing the place for a while, Gilbert sees several other men come in and talk with his target. Some of them wear an inverted ankh around their neck.

A member of the British Colonial Office drops by the hotel to ask Pearkes to not go to the dinner in uniform, to avoid offending Shakhti, and to try and stay out of trouble but report back what he learns.

Evening comes. The group drive out of Cairo, crossing the Nile and heading into the setting sun. Soon they reach the plantations of Omar Shakhti. The vast fields are golden in the sunlight. As they drive along, the evening prayers begin, and rows of men bowing in unison are silhouetted against the red sun.

As they approach the house they come to a long, low wall. As they arrive at the gate, a group of horsemen gallop towards them. They rein in at the gate, blocking the road.

They are obviously Bedouin.

“English, stop!”

“We have an appointment with Shakhti Bey,” says Freddie.

“They are at prayer now.”

“Really? We saw everyone praying as we drove up. They should be done by now, yes?”

“They pray at different times in the house.”

Soon after the horsemen open the gate. As they drive in, the leader of the Bedouin trots his horse next to the car. “Are you truly here to see the Sheikh?”

“Yes, we’re to dine with him,” says Freddie.

“Ah! The Sheikh is a great man. He lets us hunt on his lands in return for our service. And when men of his try to run, he lets us hunt them too! A very great man!”

“I see! Yes, sounds very great.”

“What are you called, English?”

“Freddie.”

“Ah, Freddie of the English, it is good to meet you. I am Wazim.” He reins in his horse. “Good-bye, Freddie of the English. May we meet again.”

Shakhti’s house turns out to be a very large villa in the Turkish style, but with numerous Egyptian touches, such as gold-leaf covered lotus columns and graven hieroglyphs. They leave the car and are led by the major-domo to a sitting room. “Shakhti Bey will be with you momentarily.”

Some time passes. Eventually a door opens and two men step out—a middle-aged man in an elegantly cut European suit, and an older man wearing a fez and loose Turkish clothing.

Freddie stands up. “Shakhti Bey, a pleasure.”

“Ah, you must be Mr. Blakely! The pleasure is all mine. And may I introduce His Majesty.”

King Fuad nods gravely. “Good evening, Mr. Blakely. I am always happy to meet an English gentleman, and an English officer, Colonel Pearkes. Sadly, I cannot remain for dinner as matters of state call me away. I hope to meet you both again.”

After the King leaves, Shakhti claps them on their shoulders. “Come, let me show you my home. Mr. Blakely, Colonel. And who is this delightful woman?”

“Dr. Mwimbe,” she says smoothly, offering her hand.

“Dr….Mwimbe! Yes, I believe I’ve heard of your work. An honor to have an expert like yourself here. Come. Let me show my house, and then we will have dinner. Tonight there will be no question of rank or sex; you are all welcome at my table.”

Shakhti leads them on a dizzying tour of his house. Each room is decorated with artifacts of a different period of Middle Eastern history, starting with Mesopotamia and then quickly concentrating on the dynasties of Egypt, Roman and Greek periods, the French invasion, the age of the Mamelukes, Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, etc. Shakhti displays a deep knowledge of every period of history. “This, this here is Julius Caesar’s sword, that he drew when he came to Alexandria.”

Freddie notices a bust of Cleopatra in the corner. The face is disturbingly familiar, but he can’t place it.

They come to the end of the tour and meet in the sitting room. “While I am a faithful Muslim, I appreciate that my guests may not share my devotion. We have a full complement of wines and liquors for your pleasure.”

Over drinks and dinner, they engage in a long, rambling conversation with the urbane and unfailingly polite Shakhti. Mostly they talk of politics and history. Shakhti is an unabashed Egyptian and Muslim patriot; he often makes references to the great accomplishments of various Muslims, of Babylon under the Caliphs, of Egypt under Muhammad Ali. Although he adopts Turkish stylings, he has little respect for the period of Ottoman rule.

However, it is clear that no matter who ruled Egypt, Shakhti and his family have always gotten along well with the rulers, whether they were Turks, Mamelukes, or the British. He is a royalist, and dismissive of the Wafd and popular rule in general.

Before dinner, Freddie gives Shakhti his gift. He is surprised and delighted.

“Dr. Mwimbe helped me pick it out, you know.”

“Did she?” Shakhti’s eyes flash at the professor. “Very appropriate gift, Doctor. I am honored.”

They adjourn to the drawing room after dinner. Freddie tosses his coat to Gilbert, and his valet silently leaves the room. Shakhti, who despite saying rank would not be an issue that night had mostly ignored Alphonse, seems not to notice.

Gilbert slips through the house, avoiding servants. He notices that there must be many secret passages in the villa allowing servants unobserved access to the rooms.

He finds Shakhti’s study, and the large safe in the corner. Using Najir’s tale as a guide, he is easily able to open the safe.

Inside, he finds some money and some rather ordinary ledger books. One ledger, however, details illegal shipments of antiquities to countries outside of Egypt, mostly to a Ho Fong Imports of Shanghai. There is also a letter from “A.P”—Sir Aubrey? The letter does not seem very old.

He copies the ledger entries down as best he can and then slips back into the drawing room.

After their brandy, Freddie and company make their farewells. “We really must get back to Cairo.”

“Ah, of course. Please, let me see you out.”

As they approach their car, they notice a figure slumped beside it—their driver, dead drunk.

“How unfortunate!” cries Shakhti. “You can’t trust these fellahin. How terrible.”

“No problem, Shakhti Bey,” says Freddie. “The Colonel here can drive us in to town.”

“Please, you are free to stay with me if you desire.”

“No, can’t put you to any trouble.”

Pearkes gets behind the wheel. The car resolutely refuses to start. He opens the hood.

The distributor is missing.

“Those Bedouin thieves! I will have them whipped immediately. Unfortunately, my own driver is in town tonight, getting spare parts. I am afraid that you will have to stay after all.”

And the night comes on. It is very calm, as they enter the house. The storm has yet to break.

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