“I represent white man’s law in River Street,” stated the Texan coldly as he stood outside the threshold of the apartment. “You foreigners should respect my authority.”
“I’m not a foreigner. I’m an American citizen. My ancestors may have hailed from Kurdistan, but my skin is the same color as yours,” answered Aga.
“But your soul is as black as night. You’re a filthy Yezidee—a Satanist!”
“That’s a lie! The Ottoman Empire libeled my people in order to butcher us like the Armenians!”
“What about the children that your Yezidee buddies butchered in Brooklyn! You may call yourself Aga Morad now, but your real name is Aga Barzini! You were convicted of kidnapping!”
“I was innocent! Governor Smith knew that! He pardoned me!”
“That fool! Thank God he never became President!”
“I don’t have time to discuss politics! Do you have a warrant to search my home?”
“No, you foreign devil.”
“I’m not a foreigner. I’m an American citizen. I’m not a devil. I’m a man. Without a warrant, you have no reason to stay. I suggest you leave.”
The plainclothes detective laughed. “You may have fooled Smith, but your guilt will be broadcast to the world. Listen to the radio tonight at nine.” The Texan left the slum tenement.
Fifty years earlier, this area of California had been uninhabited countryside. The red soil of the land had caused it to be christened El Rojo by Hernando de Estrada, the famed Spanish explorer. In the 1890’s, wealthy Simeon Gerard began construction of his private residence there. He imported workmen from the Middle East to build his sprawling mansion. Hearing of Gerard’s new estate, Jonas Wiltshaw, the steamship magnate, had recognized the surrounding area as an ideal site for a small city. Wiltshaw employed Chinese immigrants to erect the community. The city also became known as El Rojo. The foreign laborers working for Gerard and Wiltshaw became inhabitants of a segregated ghetto inside El Rojo. Named River Street, the slum area soon became riddled with crime. After his daughter was kidnapped and nearly slain by criminals from River Street, Wiltshaw prevailed upon the City Council to hire a Texas lawman to police the neighborhood. Although he technically reported to the chief of police, the Texan was a virtual law unto himself.
Aga toiled as a longshoreman on the El Rojo docks to support his wife and child in River Street. After returning from a day of hard work, he had received an unexpected visit from the Texan. Once the lawman departed, Aga immediately called his best friend, Dagh Ziaret, to join him for dinner. The Kurdish-American desperately needed advice.
Dagh Ziaret was a Persian immigrant who ran an art shop in River Street. He was a thin man with a white beard. When Dagh recently purchased a new radio, he had been kind enough to give Aga his old one.
After they had finished dinner, Dagh had a question for Aga’s eight-year old son, Faro.
“Your father tells me you’re very devout. Prove it to me. Tell me about the Peacock Angel.”
“God created the world and seven angels. The greatest of these was Melek Taos. His name means Peacock Angel. When God made Adam, He summoned the angels and insisted that they kneel before his new creation and acknowledge his superiority. Arguing that Adam would not be able to resist temptation, Melek Taos persuaded God to realize His own folly. Adam was far inferior to the angels. As a reward for his wise judgment, Melek Taos was given the Earth to rule as God’s surrogate. It was the Peacock Angel’s duty to guide mankind away from sin.”
“How often do you pray during a day?”
“Three times, sir. After the third time, I kiss the ground. May I ask you a question?”
“You may,” replied Dagh.
“Are you a Yezidee?”
“No, I’m a Zoroastrian. My people believe that the divine Ahura Mazda protects us from the evil Ahriman. Christians would call Ahriman the Devil.”
“Devil?” Faro looked at his father. “What is this Devil?”
“Some religions feel that all evil stems from a sinister force fighting God in a never-ending war. We Yezidees believe that evil comes from man’s own selfish nature. You’ve been a good boy, Faro. Why don’t you read the comic strips? Mr. Ziaret and I need to talk.”
Once Faro left them, Aga told his companion about the Texan’s visit.
“What radio program could he be talking about?”
“There’s a new program about real-life crimes debuting tonight at 9 o’clock. It must be about your arrest in Brooklyn.”
When the radio program began, Aga’s wife, Gazin, was reading a bedtime story to their son. In another room, Aga and Dagh listened to the radio.
“Crime is always punished,” stated the authoritative voice of the announcer. “The Murphy Arms Company proudly presents the first installment of The Crime League, a weekly program devoted to actual criminal cases which are the subject of controversy. I am your host, Thomas Agnew. On this night of September 30, 1938, we are broadcasting from a unique location. Memories of sensational crimes are preserved in wax museums. We are gathered in one such establishment. One of the most prominent institutions in New York City is Dr. Cream’s Museum of Crime. The owner, a retired surgeon, has graciously permitted us to broadcast from here.
“Tonight’s episode involves the 1925 Red Hook Murders, perhaps the most monstrous crime spree in the history of this great city. Was Brooklyn really at the mercy of a Satanic cult? How did newlyweds Robert and Cornelia Suydam actually die? What horrors did the police encounter in the catacombs beneath Parker Place?
“To answer these questions, we have three extraordinary guests. With me are retired police detective Thomas Malone, famed world traveler William B. Seabrook, and Professor Albert N. Wilmarth, a noted expert on folklore.”
Malone proceeded to tell a harrowing story of how the New York Police Department followed a trail of kidnapping and murder to a decaying church in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn. Masquerading as the refuge of an obscure Christian sect, it was actually the base of a Satanic cult. Eventually Malone discovered the corpses of a wealthy socialite and his young bride. Even more horrific were the unearthed remains of countless children. Many cultists died resisting arrest, but two Kurdish-Americans were arrested. They were the only individuals apprehended in connection with the whole ghastly affair.
“They were brothers named Aga and Eco Barzini,” explained Malone. “We couldn’t link them to the murders, but we were able to tie them to the kidnappings. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Eco had his throat cut by a fellow prisoner in Sing Sing. After losing the 1928 presidential election to Herbert Hoover, Al Smith pardoned Aga. That was the most foolish decision that Smith made as governor of New York.”
“Professor Wilmarth, you have a different opinion,” mentioned Agnew.
“The trial of the Barzini brothers was a travesty of justice. The prosecution offered no evidence that the accused were kidnappers. The prosecution merely proved that the defendants were guilty of being members of the Yezidee religion. The Barzinis had no connection to the church investigated by Mr. Malone. They merely led private prayer meetings in their shared apartment.”
“But aren’t the Yezidees devil worshippers?”
“No, Mr. Agnew. They believe that God deputized a benign angel, Melek Taos, to watch over the Earth. The misconception that Melek Taos was synonymous with Satan was a falsehood spread by Muslim bigots. This lie grew from the fact that the respective origin stories of Melek Taos and Shaitan, the Islamic Satan, are similar. In both religions, an Angel of the Lord criticized the first man, Adam, for being imperfect. The Muslims believe that the Angel was found guilty of the sin of envy and cast into Hell. The Yezidees believe that God entrusted the Angel with the mission of guiding Adam and his descendants towards salvation. Melek Taos has more in common with St. Michael than Satan.”
“Mr. Malone, your response?”
“That’s a load of hogwash! The Yezidees are Satanists. If you don’t believe me, ask Mr. Seabrook. He has actually visited the Yezidees in the Near East.”
“Mr. Seabrook, you documented your experiences with the Yezidees in your book Adventures in Arabia. Are they Satanists?'”
“They are indeed, Mr. Agnew. During my lengthy travels, I encountered several people who told me about the Seven Towers of Evil that the Yezidees erected on mountaintops from Kurdistan to Manchuria. These Towers broadcast occult vibrations spreading evil throughout the globe.”
“Professor Wilmarth, what is your opinion of the Seven Towers?”
“Mr. Agnew, with your permission, I would like to ask Mr. Seabrook several questions.”
“Do you have any objections to the Professor’s proposal, Mr. Seabook?”
“None whatsoever, Mr. Agnew.”
“Mr. Seabrook, did you actually see one of these Seven Towers yourself?” ask Wilmarth.
“Were any of these individuals who told you about the Seven Towers a Yezidee?”
“No. They were all Muslims.”
“If a Nazi told you that a Jewish secret society was trying to take over the world, would you believe him?”
“Of course not! That’s utter rot! I don’t see how your question has anything to do with Yezidees.”
“My point is just as there are bigots spreading lies in Europe, there could be bigots spreading lies in the Near East.”
“If you read the sacred text of the Yezidees, The Black Book, you would have no doubt that this cult praises Satan.”
“I learned Kurdish a few years ago in order to read the genuine version of the Yezidees’ religious scripture. The translation that you cite in your own book, Mr. Seabrook, is full of distortions and insertions.”
“I assure you, Professor, that the Yezidees are guilty of abominable rites.”
“Can you be more specific about these so-called abominable rites?” asked the announcer.
“I brought actual evidence of an unspeakable practice. Mr. Agnew, I’m handing you an object. Please describe it for the audience.”
“It’s a silver girdle decorated with jewels.”
“That is one of the notorious corsets of the Yezidees. Anytime a young virgin marries a Yezidee, the high priest of the cult, the Mir Said Beg, has the authority to bed the woman before the groom. The vile tradition is called the Right of the First Night. This corset is a chastity belt that only the high priest can remove.”
“How can you assure our audience of its authenticity?” said Agnew.
“When I was first told of the existence of this corset by an Arab Muslim, I didn’t believe a word of his story. After I actually found the wretched object, I had it authenticated by several Yezidees.”
“As you noted in your book,” added Wilmarth, “the same Yezidees revealed that the Right of the First Night hasn’t been practiced in the twentieth century.”
“So what! Only devil worshippers would engage in such an abomination!”
“Not true. In the course of its history, a predominantly Christian nation has allowed traditions similar to the Right of the First Night.”
“I’m not a fool, Professor! You’re referring to the droit du seigneur. In feudal times, noblemen in England, France and Germany exercised the Right of the First Night with peasant woman. That despicable tradition has been extinct for centuries.”
“I wasn’t thinking of any country in Europe. I was referring to the United States of America before the Civil War. Slave owners legally exercised a property owner’s right to rape their female slaves.”
“You can’t deny that the Yezidees are idolaters. They bow down before the statue of the Brazen Peacock.”
“The Yezidees believe that their Angel can assume the form of a peacock. This is very similar to the Christian belief that God sometimes assumes the form of a dove called the Holy Ghost.”
“Your sophisticated retorts can’t hide one salient fact, Professor,” declared Seabrook. “If the Yezidees didn’t commit those crimes in Red Hook, then who did?”
“My researches have revealed the existence of a Near Eastern cult called the Hidden Ones of the Yellow Sign. These fanatics mask their atrocities by pretending to be Yezidees. The Hidden Ones have even altered their own rituals to be travesties of legitimate Yezidee ceremonies. For example, they refer their own dark god, Zukala-Koth, as the Peacock King in mockery of the Peacock Angel. Zukala-Koth is also known as the King in Yellow.”
“Unfortunately, gentlemen, our time has run out,” decreed Agnew. “You have been listening to an account of crime run rampant. Remember, the only proper way for an American citizen to protect himself from crime is to own a handgun. There is no better weapon suited for a law-abiding person than the Pulverizer Pistol manufactured by the Murphy Arms Company. If you want to properly defend your family and property, buy a Pulverizer Pistol from your local gun store now!
“Next week, we will be broadcasting from Willman’s Wax Museum in Detroit, Michigan. You will hear the horrifying tale of Jake Wragge, a man who slew dozens of people with a machine gun. After his arrest, Wragge claimed to have been demonically possessed by the Little People. Join us then, and remember a fundamental truth: Crime is always punished.”
Aga turned off the radio.
“You have an able champion in Professor Wilmarth,” observed Dagh.
“It’s a pity that he wasn’t a witness at my trial. How did that Texan know about this broadcast? How did he know my new identity?”
“It’s obvious. Malone must have followed your trail to River Street, and informed the local police.”
“It must have been midnight in New York when The Crime League began. I’m surprised that the program was broadcasting so late.”
“We were listening to a show recorded much earlier. The Murphy Arms Company appears to be pouring a lot of money into this show. Not only does The Crime League pre-record, but it’s traveling all over America.”
After leaving Aga’s apartment, Dagh Ziaret returned to his shop. Going to the back of his establishment, he walked down steep stairs and unlocked a massive wooden door. The Persian entered a room which smelt of exotic perfume. Lighting an oil lamp, he illuminated a room filled with shelves containing books as well as bottles and other glass containers.
In the center of the chamber was a table upon which rested a crystal ball covered by a black cloth. Pushing the table to the side, Dagh revealed a trap door, which he opened. Carrying an oil lamp, he descended a ladder into a secret basement. The Persian stood before a marble altar with a long post at each of its four corners. On the ceiling above the altar was an oblong mirror. Two jars labeled “Devil’s Whisper” rested in front of the altar. Dropping to his knees, Dagh stared upward into the mirror. Each of Dagh’s hands dipped into a jar.
“I curse you, Albert Wilmarth in the name of Ahriman, the King in Yellow. Soon you shall gaze into the Mirror of Thune and behold the horror beneath the flesh.”
Slapping his hands together, Dagh created a blinding light.
In a house in the New England town of Granbury, an Asian butler escorted a visitor into the study of his employer, Gaffarel Whateley. The host warmly greeted his guest.
“This is quite an occasion, Grand Magus Noyes. Never before has a Repairer of Reputations welcomed one of the Dark Brotherhood of Ahriman into his home, let alone their supreme leader.”
“For good reason, Repairer Whateley. The Hidden Ones and the Brotherhood have been rivals since the Roman Empire.”
“That dispute stemmed from a foolish doctrinal dispute that is totally meaningless in the modern age. My late mentor, John Grymlann, always dismissed the whole Ahriman controversy as irrelevant.”
“I totally disagree. Your predecessor, as Zukala-Koth’s high priest, should have fully tutored you in ancient history. Let me summarize the facts. According to the Book of Skelos, the universe was created by Ahriman, the Soul of Chaos. During the reign of Emperor Nero, Zarog of the Hidden Ones proclaimed that Ahriman was another name for Zukala-Koth. Your cult wrongfully expropriated the true name of Azathoth.”
“I’m confused. Don’t you believe Ahriman to be the true name of Nyarlathotep? All members of your Dark Brotherhood have the image of Nyarlathotep tattooed on their chests.”
Noyes opened his shirt revealing a tattoo on his chest. It depicted a dark face without eyes. “Ahriman is both Azathoth and Nyarlathotep. The Demon Sultan and his Messenger share the same soul. The Mi-Go of Yuggoth have an identical doctrine. They believe Nyarlathotep to be the other name of Azathoth.”
“Ah, I understand. Just as the Holy Trinity of Christianity portrays God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, your doctrine of the Soul of Chaos asserts that Azathoth and Nyarlathotep are different facets of Ahriman. This argument over the interpretation of a passage in the Book of Skelos has no relevance to our efforts to achieve the Second Coming of the Great Old Ones. Surely there is room for compromise. All the cults of the Old Ones accept Satan as a shared alias that any deity can utilize.”
“Satan is merely a Judeo-Christian construct.”
“No, Grand Magus. The origins of the name Satan can be traced to the lore of the Yellow Sign. Satan is a shortened form of ha-satan, a Hebrew term that means ‘the accuser.’ Ha-satan is a derivation of Hastur, a name frequently used for the Unspeakable Feaster from Afar.”
“If Zukala-Koth’s master wishes to share one of his many names with his fellow Old Ones, it’s no concern of mine. There is only one true interpretation of the Soul of Chaos.”
“You are taking a short-sighted view. The cults of the Old Ones must resolve their differences and unite in an ecumenical movement aimed at granting our gods dominion over Earth. I have spoken to one of your colleagues, Sister Bowen of the Starry Wisdom Church, and she supports my efforts.”
“Asenath Bowen is a heretic. Within a short amount of time, Nyarlathotep will punish her betrayal of traditional doctrine. Once she is gone, her Church will be absorbed into the Dark Brotherhood of Ahriman.”
“Since you refuse my offer of an alliance, then I must negotiate with you in the traditional manner.”
“Is the Repairer of Reputations proposing a Scarlet Ceremony to cement a temporary alignment?”
“Yes, Grand Magus.”
“Who have you chosen to be the Red Offering?”
“Professor Albert Wilmarth of Miskatonic University.”
“I’m not surprised. He recently exposed the Hidden Ones as the true perpetrators of the Red Hook crimes. Your vendetta against him doesn’t concern the Brotherhood. I deny your request.”
“Why? You have every reason to wish Wilmarth eliminated. He knows all about the activities of your Mi-Go allies.”
“How did you learn about that?”
“After The Crime League broadcast, Wilmarth had too much to drink. Alcohol compelled him to empty his soul to a drinking companion. The professor never suspected that he was talking to a member of the Hidden Ones.”
“Exactly what do you know?”
“Ten years ago, a Vermont farmer named Henry Akeley discovered evidence that beings from the planet Yuggoth had mining colonies on Earth. He communicated his findings to Professor Wilmarth. With your help, those alien miners neutralized Akeley as a threat. On the other hand, your efforts to lure Wilmarth into a trap failed dismally.”
“But Wilmarth has never gone public with his information about the Mi-Go. He has been frightened into silence.”
“Wilmarth has merely been biding his time. He’s taken a full year’s sabbatical from the English Department at Miskatonic University. Wilmarth is more than just a one-shot guest on The Crime League. He’s a regular panelist heavily involved in the show’s planning. Here’s a prospectus of the planned 1938 season.”
Whately handed Noyes a couple of typewritten pages stapled together.
1938 SCHEDULE FOR THE CRIME LEAGUE
1) 9/30 – “The Red Hook Murders.” Broadcast from Dr. Cream’s Museum of Crime in New York, NY. Special guests: Thomas Malone and W. B. Seabrook.
2) 10/7 – “Jake Wragge and the Little People.” Broadcast from Willman’s Wax Museum in Detroit, MI. Special guest: M. A. Axford.
3) 10/14 – “Did Jack the Ripper Come to America?” Broadcast from Ferguson’s Wax Museum in New Orleans, LA. The program will discuss the similarities between the Whitechapel Murders and crimes committed in Cimmaron City (December 1888), the Storyville district of New Orleans (1901) and New York City (1908). Special Guest: Sir Guy Hollis.
4) 10/21 – “The Coffin Club and the Curse of the Crocodile God.” Broadcast from Ferguson’s. Special Guest: Etienne-Laurent de Marginy.
5) 10/28 – “The Plague of Dr. Clarendon.” Broadcast from Monet’s Wax Museum in San Francisco, CA. Special Guest: Philip Hastane.
6) 11/4/38 – “Professor Malaki the Monstrous Psychic.” Broadcast from Monet’s. Special Guest: Michael Leigh.
7) 11/11 – “The Lake Michigan Horror.” Broadcast from the Field Museum in Chicago, IL. Special Guest: John Tennant.
8) 11/18 – “The Music of Maurice Zann.” Broadcast from Beckham College in Beckham, VA. Special Guest: Frank Baldwyn.
Note: There will be no broadcast during the Thanksgiving holidays.
9) 12/2 – “The Elephant Idol Atrocities.” Broadcast from the Manhattan Museum of Fine Arts in New York, NY. Special Guests: Algernon Harris and Roger Little.
10) 12/9 – “The Petrified Mummy of Mu.” Broadcast from the Cabot Museum of Archeology in Boston, MA. Special Guest: Stuart Reynolds.
11) 12/16/38 – “The Disappearance of Henry Akeley.” Broadcast from Miskatonic University in Arkham, MA. Special Guest: William Dyer.
Note: The Crime League goes on hiatus for the Christmas holidays. New shows resume in January.
“As you can see, Grand Magus, Wilmarth intends to bestow on you an early Christmas present. Clearly his account of Akeley’s disappearance will focus on a well-dressed fellow with a thin mustache. If my memory serves me correctly, the gentleman in question has the same surname as yourself.”
“Don’t be coy with me, Repairer. Who gave you this document?”
“The same man to whom Wilmarth foolishly confided his Vermont experiences. He’s the owner of the establishment which hosted the radio broadcast.”
“I fully understand now. Dr. Cream was an accomplished plastic surgeon before he retired to run a wax museum. He must have undergone training at the Asian monastery of Yahlgan. The monks there have advanced facial surgery to amazing levels. The monks refer to themselves as the Sons of Erlik. I’ve long suspected the Sons of Erlik to be a branch of the Hidden Ones.”
“Like Malik Taos and Adam Redflame, Erlik is merely an alias of the King in Yellow.”
“Is your Chinese butler a Son of Erlik?”
“Yes, but he is far more. Here is the notorious Commissar Yah, the Communist warlord who seized a northern province by killing General Yen Tso-Chong. Yah was a major threat to the Nanking government, but he made the mistake of redeploying his army into his native Manchuria in 1931. When the Japanese decided to take control of that territory, Yah’s forces were easily crushed. The Commissar was forced to flee Asia. I provided him sanctuary. He shares my ecumenical views.”
“Is this Chinaman your Slayer of Souls?”
“No, I have selected a traditionalist to serve as my chief lieutenant. In order to maintain unity in the cult, it was necessary to form a coalition with the more orthodox worshippers.”
“Why isn’t The Crime League broadcasting their Akeley expose sooner? They are currently in New York. A trip to Massachusetts would be quicker than one to Michigan.”
“Wilmarth has devised a clever strategy. He wants to build up his audience. The early episodes deal with murders committed by cultists. All of those episodes are being broadcast from wax museums. Once the radio show has established a following, it will shift gears and broadcast from prestigious museums and universities. The remaining episodes will deal with killings done by non-human entities. Wilmarth must establish his credibility before making claims even more extravagant than Charles Fort’s.”
“Wilmarth’s activities threaten both our groups. My old enemy will undoubtedly use the findings of Dyer’s Antarctic expedition to prove that the Mi-Go exist.”
“Yes, Grand Magus. He has already damaged the reputation of the Hidden Ones. I must repair it by tarnishing Wilmarth’s own. The meddling Professor must disappear from the face of the Earth, but there must be a logical reason for him to disappear. I have a plan, but it will only succeed if a person familiar with Wilmarth’s behavior is involved.”
“I agree on one condition.”
“The Scarlet Ceremony must not conclude in the traditional manner. I want to bestow on my Mi-Go allies a prize that eluded them in Vermont. You must allow me to extract the living brain of Albert Wilmarth. The Mi-Go will take this trophy to their Citadel of the Green Pyramids on Yuggoth.”
The two conspirators conferred for hours. Once Noyes had left, Whateley summoned his Asian servant.
“Yah, did you telephone the Slayer of Souls in El Rojo?”
“Yes, Repairer. Dagh Ziaret has engaged the services of the Ghost of River Street to build the bomb. The explosive is potent enough to destroy an entire building.”
“Excellent! The plan is proceeding quite well. We have totally outwitted the Dark Brotherhood of Ahriman. The Grand Magus doesn’t suspect the real reason for drawing him into this affair.”
Three days after the radio broadcast, Aga Morad answered a knock at his apartment door. He found the Texan waiting outside.
“I was born and raised in the Lone Star State. People there believe that when you make a mistake, you should admit it. I reviewed newspaper accounts of your case after listening to that radio show. Professor Wilmarth was right. You were railroaded. I apologize for my earlier conduct, sir.”
Aga extended his hand. The Texan shook it.
“That’s a big scar on your hand, Mr. Morad. If you don’t mind, may I ask how you got it?”
“I got it at Belleau Wood while serving in the American army. A German soldier attacked me with a bayonet.”
The first episode of The Crime League had received rave reviews in newspapers across the United States. The second episode garnered an even larger audience. Listeners were treated to the tale of Jake Wragge, a mobster who belonged to the notorious Moran-Weiss Gang of Chicago. Visiting relatives in Scotland during 1926, Wragge had found a large black stone in the hills called the “Scarts o’ the Muneraw.” Returning to Chicago, he went on a murderous rampage with a Thompson machine gun. After killing nearly thirty pedestrians, Wragge fled the city. He was eventually captured in Detroit. Upon being sentenced to the gallows, the murderer claimed he had been ordered to commit the massacre by the Little People, a subterranean race living in Scottish caves. Wragge ranted that he had received orders from the Little People through the black stone. The authorities ignored his ravings. Public outrage over Wragge’s murders helped fuel the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 which severely limited public access to machine guns.
It was during this broadcast that Albert Wilmarth cemented his position as a radio star. His compelling comments cited the theories of Graves and Conrad that the Little People of British lore were the descendants of either the Picts or an ancient tribe of serpent worshippers. Wilmarth even speculated that the Little People were the snakes chased out of Ireland by St. Patrick. The academician even noted striking parallels between the Little People of the British Isles and similar underground dwellers from Texas folklore.
In the weeks that followed, Wilmarth became a major celebrity. His voice became as well known as President Roosevelt’s. The professor’s photo appeared in newspapers throughout the nation.
Aga Morad was a regular listener of The Crime League. Dagh Ziaret dropped by regularly to listen to the program alongside the Kurdish-American.
“The guests with whom Wilmarth converses are quite erudite,” noted Aga after listening to the episode that aired on October 28. “That Hastane fellow really researched that mad doctor from the 1890’s very thoroughly.”
“I wonder if the One-Eyed Mystic will ever be a guest,” said Dagh.
“Who’s the One-Eyed Mystic?”
“A reclusive scholar who resides in China Alley. Surely you know of him. His real name is Anton Zarnak.”
“I’ve never seen the man, but I’ve heard rumors. Wasn’t he killed in a tong war?”
“Anton Zarnak is alive,” affirmed Dr. Wong Kim Tien; the speaker was a Manchu with black hair. He was six feet and three inches tall. His frame was lean and athletic. “Soon my classmate from the lamasery of A’alshirie will be back in this house. My role as caretaker of his abode in this community is about to end. The Suchin Society now desires me to return to China.”
“But Zarnak was severely wounded during our battle with the Black Tong,” recalled the Texan. ”He fell to the ground, and then completely disappeared.”
“In order to survive, Zarnak teleported himself to the Realm of Thune.”
“The Realm of Thune?”
“A dimension where time stands still. It was named after its discoverer, a sorcerer belonging to the Elder Race of Kuen-Yin. After spending months in that cosmic limbo, Zarnak was finally able to perform the Ritual of Return. For the incantation to succeed, Zarnak had to focus his mind through a mirror made from Loki’s Glass. That mirror was a dangerous occult object that my colleague had secreted in his New York residence. The mirror was shattered when Zarnak’s physical form succeeded in returning to this dimension. Our mutual friend is currently safe and sound in New York. His faithful servant, Akbar Singh, is at his side. So is Zarnak’s young apprentice, Htoo.”
The Texan often found Wong to be needlessly esoteric. The detective would have been totally distrustful of the Manchurian if Akbar Singh, Zarnak’s Sikh assistant, had not personally vouched for him. Akbar had identified Wong as a resident of New York’s Chinatown who belonged to the same mystical order as Zarnak. After Zarnak’s apparent death during the Black Lotus case, Wong had moved into the scholar’s house. “When will Zarnak be back here, Doctor?”
“A police lieutenant has requested Zarnak’s assistance in a New York case involving the Sons of Erlik. Once that matter is settled, he shall return to El Rojo. Our friend may even be back by Halloween.”
“The children of this city would very much like that. Zarnak always prepared special candy for them when they went trick-or-treating.”
“Better that the children partake of Zarnak’s homemade chocolate than the Black Lotus drug which the two of you prevented from flooding the city.”
Leaving China Alley, the Texan pondered the destiny of the small city in which he lived. Would El Rojo continue to exist as a separate entity? Or would it be eventually incorporated into nearby San Francisco in the same manner that Los Angeles had swallowed San Pedro in 1909?
The Texan passed a small group of children playing jump rope. They were reciting a nursery rhyme.
“One, two, three, four, five. Shall I skin a hare alive?”
A robed figure sat before a crystal ball. A turban adorned his misshapen head. His extended arms ended in huge claw-like hands.
“I must congratulate you on your statue of Malaki,” said Albert Wilmarth.
“Thank you, Herr Professor,” replied Rudolf Polden. “I based it on this book that you lent Madame Monet.” The sculptor held up a copy of Hendrick Von Heller’s Black Cults.
“I tried to get Von Heller as a guest for next week, but he declined. Fortunately, Michael Leigh had thoroughly studied this 1890 murderer as well.”
“Hopefully, your program will draw more customers to Monet’s Wax Museum just as the prior episode. The replicas of Alfred Clarendon and his assistant have been a popular attraction.”
“A further testimony to your artistic skill. Were you a sculptor of wax statutes in your native Germany?”
“No, I was far more before settling in San Francisco. I was a respected plastic surgeon in Berlin until the Nazis decided to persecute me.”
“Why did the Nazis pick on you? Was it because of your politics or…”
“You hesitate, Herr Professor. You were going to inquire about my religion. I’m not Jewish. Nor did I engage in politics. I was only interested in my patients. It was my misfortune to resemble someone else. Are you familiar with the Night of the Long Knives?”
“It was a brutal series of mass executions that Hitler organized to consolidate power.”
“I bear a striking resemblance to a man who was targeted for death that horrible evening four years ago. You’ve probably heard of him. His name is Paul Joseph Goebbels.”
“The Nazi Propaganda Minister! But he’s one of Hitler’s closest aides!”
“Hitler left the details of the Night of the Long Knives to Goering and Himmler. Both of those Nazi leaders hated Goebbels as a rival. They intended to have Goebbels killed and then tell Hitler that the propagandist’s name was put on the execution list by mistake. Goebbels learned of the plot against him, and forestalled it by placing himself in close proximity to Hitler. Nevertheless, I found myself pursued by SS executioners who mistook me for Goebbels. Fortunately I was able to flee across the French border and eventually immigrate to America.”
“Why didn’t you practice as a plastic surgeon in the United States?”
“The Nazis successfully destroyed my medical reputation. I had a patient, a wealthy dowager. She wanted to look younger. Her bandages would have come off the week after the Night of the Long Knives. My flight from Germany caused her to remain neglected in a private sanitarium. She grew impatient and removed the facial bandages prematurely. In order to damage my credibility, the Nazis blamed me for the result. Arriving in America, I tried unsuccessfully to resume a surgical practice. Eventually I was recommended to Madame Monet. Now I sculpt wax instead of flesh.”
Wilmarth looked around the workshop. He noticed a headless statue dressed in a dark suit of the nineteenth figure. “Who will that figure be?”
“That is poor Erik, the Phantom of the Opera.”
“Madame Monet specializes in real-life figures. Why does she want to display a fictional character from horror fiction?”
“If you were French like Madame Monet, you would know that Erik really haunted the Paris Opera House. Gaston Leroux’s novel clearly stated that it was based on fact.”
“I’ve read the book. Wasn’t Leroux just using a literary pretense?”
“No pretense whatsoever. Leroux was a journalist who conducted exhaustive interviews with the people directly involved. Erik’s figure remains unfinished because I haven’t done justice to his face. My earlier efforts have either been too horrific or not horrific enough. All my failures ended up in the furnace there.”
“You could make Erik look like Lon Chaney in the silent film.”
“That would be merely slavishly imitating a masterpiece of makeup. I intend to create a totally original artistic triumph. Remember how Leroux mentioned Erik’s time in Persia?”
“Erik was an advisor to one of the Shahs.”
“Nasr ed-Din to be exact, Herr Professor. A Persian manuscript exists with a drawing of Erik’s face in the nearby community of El Rojo. A dealer in rare antiquities there is trying to arrange for me to view the manuscript. It’s in the private collection of a wealthy recluse. I may drive over there.”
“A friend of mine lives in El Rojo. He has quite a collection of antiquities.”
“His name doesn’t happen to be Simeon Gerard? He’s the man who owns the manuscript.”
“No, my friend is someone else.”
“I forbid it,” decreed Aga sternly.
“Papa, all the other kids go trick-or-treating!” protested Faro.
“The other children aren’t Yezidee. Children dress up like devils on Halloween. The Yezidees can’t be seen with people dressed like the Devil. You will not go trick-or-treating!”
“Maybe I can take Faro to the movies instead,” suggested Aga’s wife.
“No, Gazin. We can’t afford to waste money on the movies.”
There was a knock on the door. Answering it, Aga was surprised to see Dagh Ziaret holding two tickets.
“I have wonderful news,” announced the Persian. “As you’re aware, one of my customers at the shop is Simeon Gerard. He’s a film collector. Gerard has rented the Albee theatre to show two films on Halloween to a select group of guests. He gave me two tickets. I have another engagement that night, but maybe you could use them.”
“What sort of movies are these?” asked Aga.
“They’re horror movies. One of the films was released by Summit Pictures earlier this year. It’s called Torture Master. Despite the lurid title, the film is very tame. The movie is an adaptation of the acclaimed short story by Robert Blake, a writer whom Gerard greatly admires.”
“I read a review of that movie,” divulged Gazin. “It’s about a real-life French soldier who fought alongside Joan of Arc. He was actually a Satanist.”
“Yes, his name was Giles de Rais,” observed Dagh.
“What about the other film?”
“That’s a real rarity, Gazin. It’s a British movie featuring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The plot is similar to The Black Cat in that Karloff is a devil worshipper opposed by a heroic avenger played by Lugosi. Karloff’s character is a British nobleman, and that fact caused an uproar in the House of Lords about the movie slandering the British aristocracy. The movie was never released, but somehow Gerard got hold of a copy.”
“What’s the name of this movie?” asked Aga.
“I’m not sure. Something like Hour of Fear or Power of Fear.”
“You’re very generous, Dagh,” acknowledged Aga, “but we must decline your offer. Yezidees don’t go to horror movies.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, husband,” interjected Gazin grabbing the tickets from Dagh’s hand. “I am taking Faro to see those movies. It will be a valuable educational experience for him.”
“In what way?” challenged Aga.
“Faro will learn that the true devil worshippers of this world have never been Kurds, as the detractors of our religion proclaim. The true devil worshippers have always been corrupt European aristocrats. Besides, Faro deserves some amusement as a reward for mastering the teaching of our sacred Black Book, the Meshaf Resh.”
Looking into his wife’s eyes, Aga concluded that it was impossible for him to win this argument. In order to maintain peace in his household, Aga had no choice but to accept his spouse’s wishes.
At noon on October 30, 1938, Thomas Agnew and Albert Wilmarth had finished their preparatory work at Monet’s Wax Museum for the next episode of The Crime League. They were about to go to lunch when Madame Monet interrupted them.
“Telephone call for you, Professor.”
“Did the caller say who he was, Valerie?”
“No, but he sounds exactly like Bela Lugosi.”
“That can only be one other man.”
Wilmarth walked into Madame Monet’s office to pick up the phone.
“Let me guess. I’m speaking to Anton Zarnak.”
“Quite correct, old friend. Since I didn’t identify myself to the enticing lady who fetched you, I can only conclude that she made reference to my charming Hungarian accent.”
“Exactly. It’s been years since you earned your doctorate in metaphysics at Miskatonic University. What’s up?”
“I found out something in New York that we need to discuss in person. Could you spare a couple of days to visit me in El Rojo?”
“I could come there right now. Is that okay?”
“What’s the address?”
“13 China Alley. It’s between River Street and Levant Street.”
After the telephone call concluded, Wilmarth requested a favor from Madame Monet.
“Of course, Professor. Rudolf can drive you to El Rojo. He’s been wanting to go there for days to check on the Persian manuscript.”
Hours later, Wilmarth and Polden were walking along River Street. They heard children performing the same nursery rhyme that the Texan had heard the day of his visit to China Alley.
“One, two, three, four, five. Shall I skin a hare alive?”
“That’s odd,” noted Wilmarth. “I learnt that Mother Goose rhyme as a child. The correct phrase was ‘catch a hare alive.’ Why it is different here?”
“It’s closer to an old German rhyme that predates this English variant. In the German rhyme, the word herren was used instead of the English hare.”
“That means ‘gentleman’ in English. Who would skin a gentleman?”
“An innkeeper in the Black Forest. He allegedly slew scores of travelers who rested at his tavern during the sixteenth century. Some he killed outright by cleaving their skulls. Others he flayed alive. According to legend, he recited the German version of that rhyme before slicing his victims and feeding their flesh to wolves.”
Madame Monet received a telephone call that evening.
“Valerie, it’s Albert. Rudolf and I are staying in El Rojo for another day. We’ll be back in San Francisco on the first of November.”
At the docks the next day, Aga was interrupted by his supervisor. “There’s a telephone call for you, Morad. Sounds urgent.”
Aga ran into the small building that served as the supervisor’s office. He picked up the telephone receiver lying on top of the desk.
“Hello, this is Aga Morad. Who am I talking to?”
Aga Morad was shocked upon recognizing the voice of the man whom he had heard several times on the radio.
“Professor Wilmarth, it’s an honor to talk to you. I listen to you on The Crime League.”
“I’m in El Rojo, Mr. Morad. I’m staying at 13 China Alley. Do you need to write that down?”
“No. It’s very easy to remember.”
“I must see you as soon as possible. Don’t tell anyone that you’re coming to see me. Not even your wife.”
“I’ll come straight there as soon as my shift ends at five.”
Normally Aga would have gone promptly home, but there was no need since Gazin and Faro had gone to the movies. Aga arrived at Zarnak’s house at a quarter to six. The Kurdish-American was surprised to be greeted by a tall Asian in a green robe with a raised hood.
“I am Dr. Wong Kim Tien.”
“I’m here to see Albert Wilmarth. My name is Aga Morad.”
“Come in, Mr. Morad. This is the home of Anton Zarnak. He and Professor Wilmarth shall greet you shortly.”
“You’re a Manchu.”
“You have an astute eye, Mr. Morad. Most Americans can’t tell the difference between a Chinese and a Manchu.”
“Years of working alongside Asians on the River Street docks have taught me to distinguish ethnic differences. Did you leave Manchuria because of the Japanese invasion?”
“No, I was sent to the United States in the 1920’s by the Suchin Society to be Mr. Zarnak’s collaborator.”
Aga was escorted into a room whose walls were lined with massive bookcases. “Wait here,” instructed the Manchu. The Kurdish-American stood on a luxuriant Isaphan rug. On a small table rested a statue in the shape of a dragon with a worm-like body, three horns and large bat-like wings. Next to the dragon was a large dagger and some books stacked on each other. The dagger had carved on its handle the same dragon image. Aga examined the titles: Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled, Mycroft’s Commentaries on Witchcraft, Wickwire’s The Cult of the Witch in Assyria, Dostmann’s Remnants of Lost Empires, Fremling’s Devil Worship and Ancient Rites Among the Nomadic Tribes of Central Asia, and The Black Book: A Translation of the Kitab ul Aswad by Captain John Rankin.
“The idol and dagger are representations of Le Drac, a god worshipped in medieval Averoigne,” said a voice with a thick Hungarian accent. “Le Drac is another name for Slidith, the Lemurian deity whose acolytes drank human blood. Do you find such matters disturbing, Mr. Barzini?”
“Please use my current surname. Since you know my real name, you must know that I’m more disturbed by the books on this table. They all defame my Yezidee faith by misrepresenting it as devil worship. All of these books were quoted by the New York tabloids during my trial.”
“Those authors were fools who were misled by centuries of distortion about the Yezidee religion. I, Anton Zarnak, am not a fool. I am writing a book that will tell the truth about your beliefs.”
The speaker was a lean man with an aristocratic bearing. His jet black hair contained a long white streak that began at his right temple and zigzagged to the base of his skull. His left eye was covered by a black patch.
“Forgive my Cyclopean appearance, Mr. Morad. Although I had a glass eye made to hide my facial injury, I often wear the black patch to make a more dramatic entrance.”
“You seem to be a man who enjoys playing games, Mr. Zarnak. I do not. I came here to see Professor Wilmarth. Where is he?”
“Right here!” said a crisp voice with a Massachusetts accent.
“Professor, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Aga recognized Wilmarth’s face from his photographs in the newspapers. The two men shook hands. “Why did you summon me here?”
“I will let Dr. Zarnak explain.”
“While in New York, I recently tangled with the Sons of Erlik, a branch of the Hidden Ones of the Yellow Sign.”
“The same people who were really responsible for the Red Hook murders.”
“Yes, Mr. Morad, the cult responsible for sending you and your brother to prison,” confirmed Zarnak. “During my struggle with the Sons of Erlik, I learned of a plot to murder Professor Wilmarth while he was in San Francisco. The Hidden Ones are not amused by his revelations on The Crime League.”
“How does that involve me?” asked Aga.
“All that I was able to discover was that the Hidden Ones intend to use an assassin living in River Street to slay the Professor. The assassin is an expendable pawn who will be coerced into committing the murder.”
“How can a man be coerced into becoming a murderer?”
“Usually the Hidden Ones used drugs like hashish or the Black Lotus to cause a man to be gripped by homicidal frenzy. Sometimes they are more diabolical. They may even use a man’s family as hostages in order to transform him into an assassin.”
“That doesn’t explain why I was summoned.”
“Dr. Wong and I have a lead on the cultist in charge of manipulating the assassin. While we are searching for him tonight, someone must guard Professor Wilmarth. Normally, I would delegate such an important task to my Sikh bodyguard or my youthful apprentice, but they are currently tying up a few loose ends in New York. Necessity requires me to choose someone else. He must be a man who can be trusted absolutely. That man is you, Aga Morad. You served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Therefore, you have experience with firearms.”
Pulling a handgun out of his coat pocket, Zarnak handed it to Aga.
“It’s a Pulverizer Pistol,” revealed Wilmarth. “One of the perks of working for a radio show is that the sponsor gives away free samples of the product.”
Carrying a bowl of candy, Dr. Wong entered the study. “You will also need this, Mr. Morad. While you were conversing, I was greeting children at the door.” The Manchu placed the bowl on the table next to the stacked books and the Slidith statue.
“I had totally forgotten that it was Halloween,” admitted Aga.
“The top portion of the front door is made of Argus glass,” emphasized Wong. “You are able to see any visitors on the doorstep, but who can view only their own blurry reflections.”
“My residence may be watched by the Hidden Ones,” said Zarnak. He pulled a book slightly forward on a bookcase that completely covered one of the walls. The case moved forward on a hinge. A secret passageway was exposed. “Dr. Wong and I will leave by this route.” After Zarnak and his colleague entered the dark passageway, the bookcase shifted back to its normal position. Aga was left alone with Wilmarth.
“I’m curious about the Hidden Ones, Professor. When I was a young man in Kurdistan, there were rumors of a group with that name being behind the assassination of Prime Minister Shevkhet of Turkey in 1913.”
“The Hidden Ones also orchestrated the fatal shooting of the Shah of Persia in 1896 and the secret poisoning of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1911. Nevertheless, the Hidden Ones have always used scapegoats to mask their crimes. When Nero was indoctrinated into their cult, he immolated the Roman populace to gain the favor of his new masters. The Emperor blamed a then obscure religious group, the Christians, for his atrocity. Once Christianity started to become a major religion, the Hidden Ones focused on other minority faiths. Unfortunately, your Yezidee faith was chosen for the weird tales they were weaving.”
“The Hidden Ones transformed their barbaric rites into mockeries of my religion.”
“Just as the Satanists modeled the Black Mass on the legitimate celebration of the Eucharist, the Hidden Ones manufactured grotesque peacock images and false versions of your sacred book, the Kitab ul Aswad, bound in human skin. The cult even forged a travesty resembling a Yezidee chastity belt to be worn by their high priestess, the Consort of Zukala-Koth. Such grotesque paraphernalia originally just circulated in the Near East, but eventually surfaced in both Europe and the United States.”
“Why wasn’t this campaign of distortion exposed long ago?”
“Because human beings are blinded by prejudice, and the Hidden Ones know how to use prejudice. Perhaps their most monstrous endeavor was the campaign to contaminate Islam with criminal ideas. A member of the Hidden Ones, Hassan ibn Sabbah, invented the Hashishîn heresy in which the name of Allah was invoked to condone suicide and murder. For two centuries, Hassan’s assassins terrorized the Near East.”
“How are the Hidden Ones organized?”
“There are two high priests. The senior is called the Repairer of Reputations. The junior is known as the Slayer of Souls. The Repairer is the chief authority in the cult. The Slayer is in charge of implementing the Repairer’s directives. When he created the Hashishîn murder cult, Hassan ibn Sabah was also secretly the Slayer of Souls. His superior was an immortal sage named Zarog. This ageless Repairer of Reputations eventually perished in the Chicago Fire of 1871. His then Slayer of Souls, John Grymlann, succeeded to the office of Repairer. Both Grymlann and his last known Slayer of Souls, Prince Dena ibn Zodh, died in 1930. Neither Zarnak nor I have been able to identify the current Repairer of Reputations or Slayer of Souls.”
Under normal circumstances, Aga would have dismissed Wilmarth’s claims as paranoid ramblings. Yet the Professor’s impassive manner of speaking made his utterances appear to be cold, hard facts. Suddenly the doorbell rang. Looking into the Argus glass, Aga saw the faces of laughing children.
“You better feed the kids,” advised Wilmarth dryly.
Placing the gun on the table, Aga reached for the bowls of sweets. “I beseech the Peacock Angel that all our visitors tonight will be as benign as they.”
“May Malik Taos answer your prayers.”
“What did you just say, Professor?”
“May Malik Taos answer your prayers.”
Seizing the pistol, Aga grimly pointed it at his companion’s head. “You’re not Albert Wilmarth!” Aga’s left hand grasped the skin beneath the other man’s hairline and peeled off a mask. The eyes of Grand Magus Noyes stared hatefully at his captor. “You were very clever,” stated Aga, “but you made two mistakes. First, you referred to the sacred Black Book by its Arabic name, the Kitab ul Aswad. The real Wilmarth knows Kurdish. He would have cited the Black Book as the Meshaf Resh. I would have dismissed that error as a minor lapse on the Professor’s part if you hadn’t compounded it by mispronouncing the name of the Peacock Angel.”
“I’ve seen the Angel’s name in Arabic texts like Ibn Khallikan’s biographies. I pronounced it properly.”
“In Arabic and other related languages, the identical word is used for both ‘king’ and ‘angel’ in print. However, the meaning of the word differs based on the pronunciation. Melek means ‘angel.’ Malik means ‘king.’ The real Wilmarth used Melek Taos throughout his radio broadcast. He also mentioned that the Hidden Ones refer to their god as the Peacock King. You were able to mimic Wilmarth’s voice but not his knowledge.”
The doorbell rang again.
“The children won’t be getting any candy,” decided Aga. “What’s in it? Poison?”
“The Black Lotus. If not taken properly, a dose can be fatal.”
“I should shoot you like a mad dog. Your plan was to frame me for the murder of children on Halloween. Recently I was visited by the police detective assigned to River Street. Someone told him about my Red Hook past. One of your associates must have been the informant.”
“Quite correct,” said a voice with a New England accent.
The bookcase covering the secret passageway had opened revealing the man who had identified himself as Zarnak. A patch no longer covered his left eye. His right hand gripped another Pulverizer Pistol.
Aiming his gun at the intruder. Aga pulled the trigger. No bullet issued forth. The gun just clicked harmlessly.
“The firing pin of your weapon is defective,” stated the false Zarnak pointing his pistol at Aga. “Unlike mine, it won’t shoot. Drop your gun.”
“You didn’t tell me that you were giving this Kurd a faulty gun!” complained Noyes.
“Must have slipped my mind.”
“Don’t get coy with me, Whateley! You were listening to everything behind that bookcase! Why didn’t you and Yah intervene earlier! Where is that Chinaman anyway?”
“He’s disposing of the real Dr. Wong. We couldn’t leave him bound and gagged forever.”
Commissar Yah then entered the study from the secret passageway. “I’ve heard you talking, Noyes. I am not Chinese. I am a Manchu. Why must all Asians look alike to you Americans?”
Blood dripped from Yah’s mouth. When posing as Dr. Wong, the Son of Erlik had been careful not to open his mouth wide in front of Aga. The Kurdish-American now saw that the Manchu’s canine teeth had been filed to sharp points.
“You let that cannibal feast on Wong?” asked Noyes.
“He merely ripped open Wong’s jugular vein,” declared Whateley.
“The wounds on Wong’s throat may cause complications when his body is discovered. Yah should use the Dagger of Slidith to behead Wong’s body. The police will conclude that Wong was killed with a knife.”
“An excellent suggestion, Noyes. We will put the knife in Morad’s hand after we kill him.”
“You may kill me, but the real Albert Wilmarth will one day expose your crimes!” predicted Aga.
Noyes laughed. “Wilmarth’s being held prisoner not far from here. He’s in no condition to cause any trouble. Examine the mask in your hand.”
Aga looked at the mask very closely. Shocked with horror, he dropped the disguise. The mask was made from human skin.
Bound spread-eagle on the altar in Dagh Ziaret’s basement, a naked Albert Wilmarth beheld a skeletal countenance in the mirror overhead.
Rudolf Polden held Wilmarth’s head straight in order to prevent his gaze from shifting away from the mirror.
“You wish to close your eyes, Herr Professor. You can’t. You no longer have any eyelids.”
“You bastard! You will burn in Hell for this!”
“I will never burn in Hell or anywhere else. You really shouldn’t complain. You felt no pain during the operation. I used the proper amount of anesthetic. If the image in the K’n-yan mirror overhead troubles you, do not fret. Soon, my patient, you will be transported to Heaven.”
“If you intend to kill me, do it.”
“I wasn’t referring to the afterlife of Christian myth. The Heaven of legend supposedly exists in the clouds. The Heaven of reality exists among the stars. Heaven is a place named Yuggoth.”
“Yuggoth isn’t Heaven. It’s Hell.”
“Your friend Akeley thought the same about the Mi-Go’s planet. Now he believes otherwise. Once a devotee of Nyarlathotep arrives to perform the medical procedure, your mind shall be free of the mutilated carcass that imprisons it.”
“You claim to be a victim of tyranny. How could you swear allegiance to the Great Old Ones?”
“I was raised as a Lutheran. I regularly thanked God for my success. When my career as a surgeon was capriciously destroyed during the Night of the Long Knives, I lost my faith in a benevolent Almighty. I had met a prominent American surgeon at a medical conference in Vienna. I sought his help to find employment in the United States. That surgeon was secretly a member of the Hidden Ones. In exchange for swearing allegiance to Zukala-Koth, the Hidden Ones promised to repair my reputation. With the help of another cult member, a theatrical agent who handled publicity for Monet’s Wax Museum, the surgeon arranged for me to embark on a new career as a wax sculptor.”
“Who are you talking about? It can’t be Dr. Cream!”
“I am indeed discussing Dr. Cream. After inducting me into the Hidden Ones, Cream taught me the surgical techniques of the Yahlgan monks. I used one of those techniques to remove your face. It is now being worn as mask by your old acquaintance, Noyes. Dressed in your cloths, Noyes left this shop yesterday for China Alley.”
“Gloat while you can, Polden. Anton Zarnak will realize that Noyes is an impostor. Once Zarnak traces me to this shop, you’ll be brought to justice.”
“It wasn’t Zarnak who called you on the phone. His voice can be easily imitated. He talks like Lugosi. Almost anyone can pretend to be Zarnak. The real Zarnak is in New York. The Sons of Erlik deliberately stirred up trouble in New York to keep him there while my River Street cohorts seized control of his inner sanctum. If you hadn’t agreed to accompany me first to this shop, you would have been captured at 13 China Alley.”
Dagh Ziaret, the Slayer of Souls, climbed down the ladder from the room above. “You should rest, Dr. Polden. I’ll watch Wilmarth.”
“Before I leave, I want to take a photo of the professor. His face will be the model for my masterpiece in wax: Erik, the Phantom of the Opera.”
“If I’m going to die, I should know the reason,” demanded Aga. “Why do you want to frame me for murdering children? Why did your cult frame me in Red Hook?”
“Your request is not without merit,” concluded Whateley still holding his gun. “The Hidden Ones hold no animosity against you. In Red Hook, you were merely a convenient Yezidee scapegoat to distract the police from pursuing our cult. Here the real target is Wilmarth. It isn’t enough to remove him. His reputation must be annihilated. He took a risk defending you in the first broadcast. If you are perceived as a murderer, Wilmarth would be dismissed by the public as a man easily fooled.
“Unlike the batch in the bowl, the candy that Yah dispensed earlier wasn’t poisoned. The plan was to let you unknowingly give poison to groups of children within a time frame of twenty minutes. Then we would all overpower you. The Black Lotus would be forced down your throat. The police would eventually track the child poisonings to 13 China Alley. They would find your corpse and the slain Dr. Wong. The logical conclusion would have been that you killed Wong, unleashed the poisoned candy, and then took your own life.”
“What about Wilmarth?” said Aga.
“He would simply disappear. His fate will be an unsolved mystery, and unsolved mysteries always lead to bizarre speculation. Look at all the theories about the Whitechapel Ripper’s true identity. The initial assumption would be that Wilmarth was murdered like Wong. Slowly a whispering campaign will grow putting forth the theory that Wilmarth has been driven mad by his study of arcane cults. Wilmarth would be identified as the main architect of the crimes committed tonight in China Alley. A certain contingency plan will now be implemented. Do you know of the Ghost?”
“Everyone in River Street knows of him,” answered Aga. “He was the Black Tong’s chief executioner.”
“Zarnak’s decimation of the Black Tong had left him unemployed. He now works for the Hidden Ones. He has orders to blow up the Albee theatre if he doesn’t hear from me by seven o’clock. If you want to save your wife and son, you will pick up that bowl of poisoned candy and answer the door.”
In a bar across the way from the Albee theatre, the Ghost sipped a beer. After raising his eyes to look at the big clock over the bartender’s head, he gazed down at the deadly satchel laying at his feet. Inside were sticks of dynamite tied to a clock. If Gaffarel Whateley didn’t phone the bar by the designated time, he would set the timing device for ten minutes, walk across the street, leave the bag in the theatre lobby, and then get as far away as possible.
The telephone next to the cash register rang. The bartender picked it up.
“Hello…No, Cronin ain’t here. Harrison? He ain’t here either.”
As the bartender hung up the receiver, the Ghost doubted that his employer would be asking to speak to him that Halloween night.
Two young girls stood on the doorstep of 13 China Alley. Yet Kwai wore the Chinese Mask of Tragedy with drooping eyes and lips. Liu Man wore the Chinese Mask of Comedy with wide open eyes and mouth. They were ringing the doorbell, but no one answered.
Watching from a short distance was their chaperon, Madame Tatong. Both girls were students at her finishing school. The formidable schoolmistress was one of many chaperons that night. Madame Tatong had organized a community vigilance group to reduce crime in the River Street neighborhood. As a result, nearly every youngster going trick-or-treating was supervised by an adult.
Gaffarel Whateley was counting on that fact. He wanted ample witnesses to Aga’s distribution of the poisoned candy.
Unaware of Whateley’s scheme, Madame wondered why no one answered the door. Someone was clearly inside the house. Lights could be glimpsed in the windows. What was going on inside 13 China Alley?
“You’re bluffing, Whateley.” said Aga
“Am I? How could I possibly know your family’s whereabouts unless they figured in my plans?”
“This is a waste of time!” protested Noyes. “We don’t need the poisonings! Wong’s murder alone is sufficient to defame Wilmarth!”
“Perhaps you’re correct, Grand Magus. Yah, perform the execution!”
The smiling Yah pulled a packet of candy from the bowl resting on the table. Unwrapping the candy, he grabbed Noyes. The Son of Erlik pushed the candy into the mouth of his captive. Yah slammed Noyes against the wall. The stunned Grand Magus swallowed the candy.
“Whateley…” gasped Noyes. “What have you done?”
“Merely removing an obstacle to my proposed ecumenical alliance. As a result of a case in Texas, the authorities are well aware of your Dark Brotherhood. The tattoo on your chest will lend credence to the conclusion that Aga was a devil worshipper when both your corpses are discovered. You will be labeled Aga’s accomplice. Your death will be judged an additional suicide.”
“Nyarlathotep will punish you for this.”
“The Faceless Messenger will be amply appeased. I lied to you about a drunken Wilmarth telling the Hidden Ones about his experiences in Vermont. We learned about those events from the Starry Wisdom Church. Obviously you will not be performing Wilmarth’s transition to Yuggoth. I struck a deal with your rival for Nyarlathotep’s favor. Sister Bowen will be arriving soon to perform that honor. Your death will lead to the disbanding of your Brotherhood. It will be absorbed into the Starry Wisdom Church.”
“Watch, Mr. Morad,” commanded Commissar Yah. “The death of this bungler should serve as a warning that we are not to be underestimated. The poison will take effect in five minutes. Your family will die even more horribly if you refuse to cooperate.”
“What guarantee do I have that you’ll keep your word?” said Aga. “Even if I obey your orders, you could still blow up the theatre.”
“Because it would then be in my interest to stop the bombing,” clarified Whateley. “I want tomorrow’s newspapers to focus solely on the child murders. The bombing would be a totally unwarranted complication.”
Aga’s hand rubbed against his coat pocket. Inside was the Dagger of Slidith that he had surreptitiously pocketed when Noyes had mangled the name of the Peacock Angel. None of the cultists had noticed because his back had been turned. Ever since Whateley had re-entered the study, his steady gaze hadn’t shifted away from Aga. The ex-soldier was waiting for the proper opportunity to strike.
After a few minutes had elapsed, Noyes fell forward. Expiring on the floor, the Grand Magus pulled on Whateley’s pant leg. Whateley’s eyes shifted downwards as he kicked Noyes away. This was the opportunity that Aga had been waiting for. Pulling the knife from his pocket, Aga threw it. Slamming into Whateley’s forehead, the Dagger of Slidith killed the Repairer of Reputations instantly.
A vengeful Yah leaped at Aga. Locked in each other’s arms, the two men rolled on the floor. They smashed into the table causing it to spill all its contents. With his arms locked around Aga’s throat, the Son of Erlik quickly gained the advantage. The ex-soldier was sprawled on his back with Yah on top of him.
Yah’s teeth bit into Aga’s left shoulder. The ex-soldier screamed in pain. Raising his head, the Son of Erlik spit out clothing, flesh and blood. “Ai! Hastur! Ai! I’m going to chew out your eyeballs!”
Opening his mouth, Yah lowered his head slowly in the direction of Aga’s face. The ex-soldier’s right hand reached for a weapon lying on the floor. Finding the idol of Slidith, Aga smashed it into Yah’s head. The Son of Erlik fell sideways. Aga kept striking the idol into Yah’s head. The blows ceased only when the ex-soldier was convinced that his opponent was dead.
Responding to Aga’s telephone call, the Texan and four policeman arrived at 13 China Alley.
“We evacuated the Albee theatre successfully after your call,” said the Texan. “Your family’s being guarded by two patrolman. They should be back in your apartment soon.”
“We have to save Wilmarth,” pleaded Aga. “He’s being held prisoner.”
“Do you have any idea where?” asked the Texan.
“Whateley confirmed that a member of the Hidden Ones divulged my Red Hook past to you. Who was your informant?”
“Dagh Ziaret. He even told me about the radio broadcast.”
“I feared as much, but it all makes sense. He gave my wife and son tickets to the movies in order to put them in jeopardy. Wilmarth must be at Dagh’s shop.”
“Sgt. Matthews, you and Rafferty come with me,” decreed the Texan. “We need to get Judge Armstrong to sign a search warrant! Harper and Hanson, stay here with Aga. An ambulance will be coming to take him to the hospital. Also call the morgue to pick up these corpses.”
In the Morads’ apartment, Faro was crying in bed. The young boy was sad because the theatre was evacuated before the Karloff-Lugosi film was screened.
His mother tried to console him. “Don’t worry, Faro, that movie will be shown again. We’ll go see it then.”
Gazin was wrong. The movie was never publicly shown anywhere. It remained locked up in a vault belonging to Simeon Gerard and his heirs for decades.
With its siren blazing, a police car arrived at the art shop. As the occupants exited the vehicle, a taxi cab coming from the San Francisco railway station pulled up. The passenger inside was a woman dressed in a nun’s habit.
“I just realized that I forgot something,” said Asenath Bowen to the driver. “I was supposed to pick up a parcel at the train station. We need to go back there.”
While the police were knocking at the door, the cab turned around.
A man answered the door. “What do you want? The shop is closed.”
“We’re here to see Dagh Ziaret,” declared the Texan. “We have a warrant to search his shop.”
“You’re making a big mistake. Mr. Ziaret is saying his prayers downstairs.”
“To quote Nick Carter, if I’m wrong, I’ll apologize. Who are you anyway?”
“I’m Mr. Ziaret’s house guest. My name is Rudolf Polden.”
“Rafferty, keep this house guest company while Matthews and I search the premises.”
The two investigators hurried downstairs. Finding the door locked, Matthews and the Texan burst it open. No one was inside the room. The Texan stomped on the wooden floor. A hollow sound replied. “There must be a basement below. Matthews, help me push this table aside.”
Once the table was pushed aside, a trap door with a metal ring for a handle was revealed. Lifting the trap door, a blinding flash greeted the Texan.
“Are you okay?” asked Matthews.
“My eyes need to adjust to normal light,” responded the Texan.
Matthews pulled out his gun. “This is the police. If there is anyone down there, come out now or I’ll open fire.”
Using the ladder, Dagh Ziaret climbed up into the room above. His hands were bleeding “I misjudged the potency of the chemicals,” mumbled the shopkeeper. “I damaged my mirror. Shards of glass cut my hands.”
“Where’s Albert Wilmarth?” replied the Texan.
“Wilmarth? Why would he be here? He left my shop yesterday. Ask Dr. Polden.”
“I’m going to check down there,” said Matthews.
After spending some minutes in the underground chamber, the police sergeant returned. “It smells like brimstone down there. That room has an altar and a broken mirror above it. The blast that blinded you must have broken the mirror. I think Ziaret incinerated Wilmarth’s body with some chemicals. I found two jars labeled ‘Devil’s Whisper.’ There were some powdery substances inside.”
“I only used those chemicals to cause a burst of light to honor Ahura Mazda,” professed Dagh Ziaret. “I wanted the mirror to reflect his glory.”
“Tell that to a jury,” mocked the Texan.
Dagh Ziaret and Rudolf Polden were arrested. They were charged with the murder of Albert Wilmarth.
The police found no trace of the Ghost; when the police arrived to evacuate the Albee before the deadline, the killer had judged it prudent to abscond with the explosive.
The apparent demise of Professor Wilmarth caused the temporary suspension of The Crime League broadcasts. In an effort to cut costs, the producers radically reorganized the show. Rather than travel around the United States, The Crime League would now record its programs in a regular location, Dr. Cream’s Museum of Crime in New York City. Dr. Cream assumed Wilmarth’s role as the show’s regular panelist. The program shifted its focus from religious cults to gangsters. To avoid the expense of prerecorded broadcasts, episodes would air live nationwide at eight o’clock on the Eastern seaboard. In its new format, The Crime League was scheduled to resume in 1939.
During January 1939, the trial entitled The People vs. Rudolf Polden and Dagh Ziaret was held in El Rojo. The presiding judge was Wesley Armstrong. The prosecutor was Frank Bronson. The defense attorney was Edgar Seward. A series of excerpts from the transcript of the trial follow.
From the Testimony of Aga Morad, Witness for the Prosecution: Cross-Examination Phase.
SEWARD: Is your real name Barzini?
MORAD: As I testified earlier, I had it legally changed following my release from prison.
SEWARD: Were you convicted of kidnapping?
MORAD: Yes, but I was pardoned.
SEWARD: Isn’t a pardon a commutation of sentence?
SEWARD: Was your conviction overturned?
SEWARD: Are you still technically a convicted kidnapper?
SEWARD: Do you worship Satan?
MORAD: No, I worship Melek Taos.
SEWARD: What is the true name of Melek Taos?
MORAD: As a Yezidee, I cannot utter it.
SEWARD: Is it Shaitan?
SEWARD: Do Muslims believe Shaitan to be the same being as Satan from the Christian Bible?
MORAD: Yes, but I’m not a Muslim. I’m a Yezidee.
From the Testimony of Earl Dawson, Witness for the Prosecution: Examination Phase.
BRONSON: What is your profession, Mr. Dawson?
DAWSON: I’m the forensic specialist for the El Rojo Police Department.
BRONSON: Did you analyze the contents of People’s Exhibit L and M, the two jars labeled ‘Devil’s Whisper?’
BRONSON: What were your conclusions?
DAWSON: The jars contain two different chemicals. When mixed together, they cause a chemical reaction that results in an explosion.
BRONSON: In your opinion, would that explosion be powerful enough to incinerate a human body.
BRONSON: Did you develop the film inside People’s Exhibit O, the camera found at Dagh Ziaret’s shop?
BRONSON: With the court’s permission, I would like these three items to be tagged People’s Exhibits Q through S and shown to the jury.
ARMSTRONG: The clerk will do so.
BRONSON: Mr. Dawson, can you identify these three items?
DAWSON: They are the three photos that I developed from the camera found at Dagh Ziaret’s shop.
BRONSON: Can you describe them?
DAWSON: Having been to Madame Monet’s Wax Museum, I recognized the first two photos as those of wax statues displayed there. One is of the infamous Dr. Clarendon. The other is Surama, his assistant. The third and final picture on the roll of film is that of a man whose facial skin has been removed.
BRONSON: In your professional opinion, could this be a photo of Albert Wilmarth?
From the Testimony of Valerie Monet, Witness for the Defense: Examination Phase.
SEWARD: Did Dr. Polden call you on the telephone during the evening of October 30?
SEWARD: What did he say?
MONET: Dr. Polden said that he would be staying as Dagh Ziaret’s guest in El Rojo while negotiations proceeded to see Simeon Gerard’s manuscript.
SEWARD: Did Dr. Polden also call you during the early evening of October 31?
MONET: Yes. Around five o’clock.
SEWARD: What did he say on the second call?
MONET: Dr. Polden said that he would be returning to San Francisco the next day because negotiations had broken down.
SEWARD: Was Dr. Polden working on a statue of the Phantom of the Opera?
SEWARD: Can you describe the Phantom of the Opera?
MONET: He’s a man with a skeletal face.
SEWARD: Did Dr. Polden have any difficulty with the figure?
MONET: He couldn’t get the face right. Dr. Polden made five attempts at a face, but he consigned all of them to the furnace in my wax museum.
SEWARD: Did you see all of these rejects?
MONET: I saw three of them, but two he refused to show me.
SEWARD: On what grounds did he refuse?
MONET: Dr. Polden said that the two rejects were too hideous.
SEWARD: I ask the court’s permission to show the witness People’s Exhibit S.
SEWARD: Could this photo be one of those two rejected faces for the Phantom of the Opera?
From the Testimony of Williams B. Loring, Witness for the Defense: Examination Phase.
SEWARD: In your long and famous career as a stage magician, Mr. Loring, have you ever come across a product called Devil’s Whisper?
LORING: Yes. In fact, I am the chief manufacturer of Devil’s Whisper in the United States.
SEWARD: What is the purpose of this product?
LORING: It’s two chemicals that cause a blinding flash when mixed. Stage magicians like myself use it in their illusions. I’ve sold my product to such famous fellow magicians as Valentine Varno, Frederick Rhadini, Alex Gregor and the late Chardo the Great.
SEWARD: Did you ever sell your product to a client who wasn’t a magician?
LORING: Yes. One of the defendants, Dagh Ziaret.
SEWARD: How did you meet Mr. Ziaret?
LORING: I was performing at a theatre in El Rojo last year. After the show, Mr. Ziaret approached me with the intention of buying Devil’s Whisper.
SEWARD: Weren’t you suspicious since Mr. Ziaret wasn’t a magician?
LORING: I was until Mr. Ziaret gave his reasons.
SEWARD: What reasons did he give?
LORING: Mr. Ziaret identified himself as a member of the Zoroastrian faith. He accurately described the deity of that Persian religion as Ahura Mazda, the God of Light. Mr. Ziaret wished to use Devil’s Whisper to invoke the power of light when he concluded his prayers in his private chapel.
SEWARD: Did Mr.Ziaret tell you the where his private chapel was located?
LORING: Yes. In the basement beneath the curio shop.
SEWARD: Did you then sell the defendant Devil’s Whisper?
SEWARD: How is Devil’s Whisper properly used by a magician?
LORING: The most proper way is to put a very small amount on your hands and slap them together. Some magicians throw a portion of each chemical into the air. When they mix, they briefly create a ball of light.
SEWARD: What happens if too much Devil’s Whisper is tossed together into the air?
LORING: A dangerous blast could result.
SEWARD: At my request, did you examine the basement of Mr. Ziaret?
SEWARD: In your professional opinion, what would have happened if Mr. Ziaret had mixed enough Devil’s Whisper to incinerate a human body in that room?
LORING: The resulting blast in that confined space would not only have severely damaged everything in the room, but killed Mr. Ziaret as well.
SEWARD: What is your professional opinion concerning Mr. Ziaret’s usage of Devil’s Whisper on the night of October 31, 1938?
LORING: Since the defendant is among the living, he must have only tossed into the air an amount large enough to shatter the mirror.
From the Closing Statement of the Defense
SEWARD: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there is no evidence linking Albert Wilmarth’s death to the defendants. Valerie Monet’s testimony proves that the photo was of a wax reproduction of the Phantom of the Opera. Williams B. Loring’s testimony proves that Devil’s Whisper couldn’t have been used to cremate Albert Wilmarth’s body. The prosecution’s case solely consists of the testimony of a convicted kidnapper who worships Satan.
The jury found the defendants “Not Guilty.” Dagh Ziaret was quite pleased with himself. He had originally purchased Devil’s Whisper to impress Simeon Gerard and other credulous clients to whom he sold genuine magical talismans. Real sorcerers like himself couldn’t always afford to perform impressive acts of true magic since the Great Old Ones always enact a price when invoked.
Devil’s Whisper had the extra benefit of being able to shatter the Mirror of Thune.
The day after the verdict, the Texan visited Aga in his apartment in River Street.
“I hear that you’re leaving River Street,” said the detective.
“I have no choice. All the publicity over the trial caused me to lose my job at the docks.”
“You could find another job.”
“No one would hire me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. The City Council just passed a new budget. It contains a provision that allows me to hire a chauffeur.”
“How can a cop have a chauffeur?”
“I was a cop in Texas before I moved here. Technically I’m no longer a cop. I’m a private investigator who acts as a consultant to the El Rojo Police Department. Being my driver won’t pay any more than you were making at the docks, but you get free room and board.”
“How did you swing that?”
“Part of my original contract with the City Council requires them to provide me a free residence. They gave me a house over on Canton Street. It’s too big for a bachelor. You and your family can move inside.”
“My wife is very proud. She’s refuse to accept charity.”
“Oh, she’ll be earning her keep. The budget allows me to also hire a housekeeper.”
“When do we start?”
“Right now. I’m going to introduce you to a friend of mine.”
Anton Zarnak had returned to El Rojo after defeating the Sons of Erlik in New York during a battle that lasted months. He was now once more entrenched in 13 China Alley.
“In case you’re wondering, Mr. Morad, I’m wearing my glass eye. I realize now that a mere eye patch together with a streak of white hair dye makes it very easy for an enemy to impersonate me.”
“What happened to Professor Wilmarth?” asked Aga.
“He must have been teleported to the timeless Realm of Thune by Dagh Ziaret,” replied the genuine Anton Zarnak. “The acolyte of Zukala-Koth then destroyed the mirror to prevent me or another Suchin mage from using it to bring Albert back.”
The Texan was skeptical. “How could you possibly know that?”
“In China, the Hidden Ones are called the Kuen-Yin because their founders came from the subterranean kingdom of the same name. Those founders were sorcerers led by Thune, the fashioner of several unusual mirrors. All those mirrors were supposedly destroyed in the Great Cataclysm that decimated Thuria and Atlantis, but Les Chroniques de Nemedea states that one survived. I believe that this last Mirror of Thune was the one suspended in Dagh Ziaret’s basement.”
“Can you rescue Wilmarth from this strange limbo, Dr. Zarnak?” beseeched Aga. “The world needs men like Professor Wilmarth.”
“I can only try, my Yezidee friend.” Zarnak turned towards the Texan. “Did you recover any of the glass from the basement of Ziaret’s shop?”
“Yes. There are fragments in the evidence room back at police headquarters.”
“Get them for me. Combined with some other ingredients, I may be able to build another mirror from these shards. I must be blunt. My chances of success are extremely remote.”
Albert Wilmarth was floating in air. Time had lost all meaning for him. He could barely move his limbs. The ropes that had bound him to the altar posts were still around his wrists and ankles. He felt neither hunger nor thirst. Wilmarth only felt a vague sense of peace.
Suddenly his tranquility was interrupted.
“Albert, this is Anton Zarnak, the real Anton Zarnak. The man who impersonated me is dead. So is Noyes.”
“Anton! Where am I?”
“You are suspended in the Realm of Thune! Ziaret sent you there using a K’n-yan mirror. Do not worry! I was trapped there once! The ether surrounding you is like water! You can move through it if you swim! Follow my voice! It will lead you home!”
“I’m not sure that I want to come home. It’s peaceful here. What future can a man without a face have on Earth?”
“I, Anton Zarnak, will give you a new face. The Suchin masters trained me in the arts of skin grafting. I will operate on you!”
“Skin grafting! That means someone must give us his face for me to have one!”
“Yes! I robbed a grave! You will have the face of Noyes! He stole your face! Now you shall steal his! It’s an irony worthy of Edgar Allan Poe!”
“I’m not enthralled with that idea, but beggars can’t be choosers! His face is better than none!”
“Then follow my voice! Come to me, Albert! Come to me!”
Suddenly Wilmarth found himself sprawled on his back. He was surrounded by darkness. His back was rubbing against something that felt like a rug.
“I can’t see. Where am I?”
“You are lying on the Persian rug in my study in China Alley. It will take a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the light. Akbar, help me remove these ropes from Albert’s limbs.”
“Thank you, Anton and Akbar. What day is it?”
“It is April 30, 1939.”
“It’s been six months since I was trapped by the mirror. Why did you take so long to locate me?”
“Forgive me, my friend. In order to rescue you, I needed to create a special mirror from ashes found only in the ruined city of Chaldabad. My creation is not as reliable as a Mirror of Thune, but it proved sufficient.”
“Hey! What are you doing? You aren’t removing the ropes!”
“Dagh Ziaret and I are tying them to the posts of the altar,” purred Dr. Polden. “I told you that anyone could impersonate Zarnak’s voice. Even me.”
Wilmarth finally regained his full vision. The professor saw his naked body reflected in the newly constructed Mirror of Chaldabad overhead. Everything else was identical to his previous confinement in the basement room except that a Persian carpet was wedged between his body and the hard surface of the altar.
“You’re going to send my brain to Yuggoth,” moaned Wilmarth.
“There has been a change of plans,” revealed Dagh Ziaret. “The prior Repairer of Reputations negotiated that arrangement concerning Yuggoth with the Starry Wisdom Church. With my elevation to the office of Repairer, the agreement has been nullified. I disown the ecumenical views of my predecessor. As a traditionalist, I abhor the disciples of Nyarlathotep for refusing to accept the King in Yellow as the true Ahriman. Your facial flesh was removed as part of a Scarlet Ceremony. Tonight on Walpurgis Eve, the remainder of that ritual will be performed in accordance with The Book of Skelos. This time, Professor, there will be no anesthetic.”
Dr. Polden reached into a bag of surgical instruments. The surgeon began to sing a German rhyme that originated in the Black Forest.
“Ein, zwei, drei, vier, fünf…”
Rick Lai is an authority on pulp fiction and the Wold Newton Universe concepts of Philip José Farmer. His speculative articles have been collected in Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Daring Adventurers, Rick Lai’s Secret Histories: Criminal Masterminds, Chronology of Shadows: A Timeline of The Shadow’s Exploits and The Revised Complete Chronology of Bronze. Rick’s fiction has been collected in Shadows of the Opera, Shadows of the Opera: Retribution in Blood and Sisters of the Shadows: The Cagliostro Curse. Rick also regularly appears on the Lovecraft eZine internet chats.
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Story illustration by Stephen Lillie.
Well done on bringing together several of Lovecraft’s and the Mythos’s threads. That’s not as easy to do to do as it might seem.
This story is also an interesting commentary on current events, ie, schools of thought battling over who’s the purest of the pure.
Another cross-over-filled thrill ride! There admittedly some I couldn’t get even after reading the Notes; who are those boarding school children and their chaperon?
You really put Wilmarth through the ringer! Good; he’s had it coming. Excellent job on the Yezidee issue. Religious tolerance has never been the forte of the American justice system… or any other system.
The trick or treating kids and their chaperon are from Joseph S. Pulver Jr.’s “The Door in the House of Never Slumbering Demons” and “Zarnak’s Guest” in the LIN CARTER’S ANTON ZARNAK anthology edited by Robert M. Price. Zarnak’s young apprentice and the assassin known as the Ghost are also from these stories.
Very impressive! Zarnak is a character that is sadly forgotten by mainstream. I’d like to see more of him from Rick in the future.