Continued from Part One
Abbasi tucked his revolver into his coat and lead the way out into the hall. The brute shoved me and I followed Abbasi.
I waited until we were in the hallway with my apartment door shut before I drew the derringer from my coat pocket. The Persians had been foolish not to search the garment before putting me in it but likely were lulled into complacency by their total domination of our interaction up until that point. The pistol was small and light enough that neither man noticed it in my stiff, heavy overcoat. While it only carried two small caliber bullets it was quite deadly at close range and would, at the very least, even my odds against them. Being in the hallway offered me two advantages: First, the confined space would give them less area in which to avoid my attack once I produced the concealed weapon; second, the tiled hallway floor would be much easier to clean than the carpet in my room.
I spun and lifted the pistol to the brute’s left eye. His hands were coming up when I pulled the trigger. The crack of the report sounded like a hammer on hardwood and I turned back to Abbasi who himself was spinning to face me and pulling his own pistol free of his coat. The derringer was at his right temple when I squeezed the trigger. After verifying both men were dead I sent for the police.
Detective Dawson’s inquiries regarding Abbasi with local universities and the Iranian embassy in New York were met with firm denials. Both Abbasi and the brute were carrying expertly counterfeit identification and were never positively identified. Each man was also wearing a solid gold pendant around his neck. The design was of a triangle that contained five sets of twin emeralds surrounded by three jagged concentric circles. Local and state experts were unable to identify the design’s significance or place of origin but a professor of ancient history from Miskatonic University named Ferdinand Ashley identified the symbol as being a glyph representing an ancient Mesopotamian proto-cult that was active around 2100 BC called the Guardians of Atlas. As far as he knew, no information about them survived beyond their name and the strange symbol.
I sent word to Dr. Keith about my run in with Abbasi and warned him to be on his guard should the Persian have more accomplices on his trail. Early in April I received word back from him explaining that he knew of Abbasi and the man was no more than a common thief acting above his station. He congratulated me on dispatching the villain and suggested I should not concern myself further with the matter. In his correspondence he included an itinerary and travel bookings for me through to Cyprus. He asked me to make one last go of persuading Hawthorne to join us but Hawthorne would not be moved, and once again, urged me not to go myself.
Three weeks later I was in a breezy open room in Cyprus sipping a local desert wine and meeting the remaining members of our expedition over lunch. Professor Russell, soft and potbellied was our geologist. He had a particularly high pitched voice and loose wisps of corn silk colored hair ringing his otherwise bald head. His assistant De Pinto, whose boxer’s nose took an unexpected turn in the middle, was the youngest of our group. He had an athletic build and was generally the most enthusiastic of our group. He spoke with a Brooklyn accent and was wise enough to listen more than he talked which was not the case for our pinch-faced chemist, Bowers who didn’t have a college degree and was “damn proud of it.” Bowers had worked in his field for over twenty-five years and, by his own account, knew more about it than any chemistry professor anywhere. He was fiftyish, lanky and had a habit of checking his wristwatch whenever anyone else was speaking. Our European climbing expert was a mountainous swede named Tanner whose blond hair was so long it reached down to his shoulders.
The man who rounded out our party, and was to become my closest friend during the expedition, was a middle aged medical doctor named Martin Baker. He had a well-waxed moustache that curled up neatly at each end, was graying at the temples and looked to be very fit for a man his age. I knew we would get on famously when, during Bower’s first impromptu lecture to the group on why higher education was a waste of time, Baker looked me in the eye then looked over at Bowers and shook his head ever so slightly.
After lunch Dr. Keith informed us we would be delayed in Cyprus for a week or so while he secured final approvals for our expedition from the central government of the Soviet Union. Bowers grumbled about the inconvenience and we were all assured we would be remunerated for our time and told to enjoy the opportunity to get to know Cyprus and rest before we continued on.
Mr. Norman arrived a day later by way of England accompanied by his granddaughter Evelyn. She was twenty one, beautiful with long black hair and sapphire-blue eyes. She had a cultured air about her and a casual disregard for others that only comes from growing up with privilege. Dr. Keith informed us individually that she would be accompanying us on the expedition as Norman’s personal secretary and biographer. He also told us to keep away from her and that any transgressions would have “serious consequences.”
Dr. Baker and I decided to make the best of the delay by spending our time in cafes indulging in the local fare and enjoying each other’s company. We dined on kebabs and calamari. He drank Ouzo with water while I preferred imported beer. He’d served in the Great War but did not wish to talk about it. Instead, he told me of his exploits in Paris and Amsterdam and how friendly the women were to Americans after the war. He was greatly interested in my shooting skills and we discussed my training methods at length. He enjoyed hunting and was hoping to take part in a big game hunt in Africa after our expedition.
Four days after Keith received final approval for our expedition from the Soviets we were in Azerbaijan in the village of Kuzun which was eight miles north-east of Mount Shahdagh. It was there we completed our party with the addition of several locals who served as guides, porters, cooks, laborers, and translators. In foreign countries, the more locals you have on your payroll, the easier your life will be and they all seemed to be good, hardworking men, many of whom had families of their own. We set up camp west of the village, as there was no suitable lodging available among the native dwellings, and began our final preparations for the expedition.
The peak of Mount Shahdagh was clearly visible from the village. It loomed up over the other mountains in the range and looked like an enormous clenched fist ringed by thick white clouds. The villagers called it “solğun dağ,” – Pale Mountain purportedly because of its light limestone color but after our first supper together, and a good deal of wine, one of our translators confessed the mountain was so named because “pale is the color of death.” The mountain was nearly inaccessible and no one had ever reached the summit which was estimated to be close to thirteen thousand feet above sea level. Higher elevations were only accessible during winter when the many waterfalls that ringed the peak’s sheer cliffs would freeze solid allowing climbers to make their way up the walls of ice.
Dr. Keith’s map showed the mountain surrounded by a large earthen moat and our guides confirmed Shahdagh was encircled by two rings of tall sheer cliffs separated by a deep craggy depression. They explained the mountain was further surrounded by three more nearly concentric rings of marble and limestone outcroppings that demarcated two naturally occurring moats which had long ago been filled in with soft earth. Native folklore warned of ancient gods who slept beneath Pale Mountain and said they had carved the moats into the earth to keep the villagers from disturbing their divine slumber. While none of the natives in our group actually believed these bedtime stories, many in the village were apprehensive about our expedition and refused to trade with us, take our money, or aid us in any way.
After two days of planning and preparation we were ready to begin our expedition proper. We set out for Mount Shahdagh just after dawn the following morning and our caravan reached the outer cliffs around noon. It took us the rest of the day to make our way down into the wide ravine then up the other side. By sundown we had established a base camp at the foot of the Pale Mountain. Our party was in grand spirits and we celebrated the completion of our first day with dinner and much wine. The natives sang us songs from their land and danced around the large campfire. I still remember the faces of the four men we left behind to tend the base camp. They were happy and laughing and full of life and the thrill of adventure as we all grew closer that night, bound by our shared experience. I am truly grateful my final memories of them are happy ones.
The following morning we began our ascent stopping briefly to investigate a cluster of caves at the foot of the mountain. From there we climbed straight on until near sundown when we discovered the high exterior cave entrance that was marked on Dr. Keith’s map. It did our spirits good to be out of the stinging winds that buffeted the mountain. Our guides made camp around a turn in the cave so we were protected from the elements. We opened tins of kerosene and quickly built two camp fires. Professor Maxwell and Dr. Keith busied themselves with studying the artifacts collected from the lower caves earlier in the morning. De Pinto and the natives gathered pails of snow from outside the mouth of the cave. Two were set over the fires and a hasty stew was assembled from dried meat, beans and a few fresh vegetables. Four other pails were set aside to melt so we could refill our canteens in the morning.
After an hour’s rest and two cups of stew I collected and cataloged three vials of cave scrapings. Dr. Keith called an evening meeting of the expedition’s principals to discuss our future. Both Maxwell and Keith were highly animated and the heretofore irritable Norman looked positively giddy which seemed odd to me considering his age and strenuousness of the day’s climb.
Once we were all seated around the fire, Keith spoke. “Gentlemen, our course is set. Professor Maxwell has translated the runes discovered in the lower anterior caves and they confirm what I expected months ago. We are standing above the ruins of the richest and most famous lost city in all of antiquity. Tomorrow we continue on the most important journey in ten millennia. The next leg of our expedition leads us into the very heart of Atlantis.” There was silence as we each pondered his announcement.
Professor Russell cleared his throat then said “Dr. Keith, I’m no expert in Atlantean legend, but wasn’t Atlantis presumed to be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean?”
Keith nodded. “Plato thought it was west of Gibraltar at the gates of the Mediterranean Sea. Other scholars postulated it was in the middle of the Mediterranean, but their knowledge came from stories passed down orally for over nine thousand years. In Byblos, I discovered written documents from 2000 BC that spoke of this place, and the god of the oceans, and his human bride, and much more.”
Maxwell spoke up pointing to a glyph carved into a round stone. “Look, we found this in the caves this morning. It’s the symbol of Atlas encircled by another symbol that means island – the island of Atlas, known to the modern world as Atlantis.”
“Let me see that,” I said. Maxwell handed me the stone and I regarded the markings carved into it. “Back in the states I was attacked by a Persian man who called himself Abbasi. He wore an ancient symbol similar to this signifying membership in a group called the Guardians of Atlas…”
Keith interrupted, “In 9600 BC Atlantis was the ultimate power in this hemisphere. It had technology rivaling that of our own today, weapons of pure energy, means of transportation the likes of which we can scarcely imagine. Atlantis, where legend has it Poseidon carved a mountain into a castle for his human lover Cleito and ringed it with three giant moats, two eroded away over the millennia but the innermost remained and we ourselves traversed it yesterday to reach this very mountain.”
“But Atlantis was an island. How did it end up under a mountain?” asked Russell.
“We don’t know,” said Maxwell. “It’s one of the mysteries we hope to solve in the caverns below us. But the mountain was mentioned prominently in both Plato’s account, and the scrolls from Byblos.”
“What else haven’t you told us?” said Bowers.
“What?” said Keith. “What do you…”
Bowers stood and took a step towards him “You kept Atlantis to yourself, what else are you keeping?” He turned to Maxwell, “Exactly what else was in those scrolls of yours?” He looked around to the rest of us. “What did they tell you…” he pointed to Russell, “or you?” he pointed to Baker.
Dr. Keith spoke up, “I told each man why I needed him and nothing more. If you’d like an inventory Bowers, then here it is. I told Baker we needed a doctor, Tanner we needed a mountaineer, Russell, I needed an expert geologist because the scrolls speak of vast deposits of gold and emeralds, Strong is here to study the hordes of creatures that reportedly thrived under the mountain ten thousand years ago, Maxwell can read a dozen dead languages, you are here, Mr. Bowers, because of your knowledge of both chemistry and physics which I will need should we discover any ancient weapons or other amazingly advanced artifacts, Mr. Norman is here looking after his investment and I am here, in my capacity as an archeologist to discover the most import lost civilization of all time, and in my capacity as the leaders of this expedition, to make each and every one of us richer than you can possibly imagine.” The two were nearly nose to nose.
Bowers shook his head. “Nice speech, but I don’t buy it. I told you in Chicago I don’t like surprises. I don’t like secrets. It’s a sign of mistrust, or worse, disrespect.”
“You have my respect Mr. Bowers. Each of you does. If you prefer to divorce yourself from our expedition, if any of you do, you can go in peace in the morning. I’ll send a guide to take you back to Kuzun.”
“No more secrets,” said Bowers staring down Dr. Keith.
“I have none,” said Keith.
But the mountain had secrets, deep, dark, and ancient, and we were all at its mercy. Unfortunately for us, it had no mercy for the living. One man alone would make it out of that cave the next morning and he would never be seen again.
Continued in Part Three