Reaching further deep into the mysteries of Cairo, our team have stumbled across something darker than they expected. A sudden death also propels them into another layer of horror.
So near, so Najjar
Wednesday 25th Feb
The Street of Potters
McTavish threw a few coins to Mahmoud, causing the boy to run off to spend the money as quickly as he got it.
Stepping into the cool of Najjar’s shop was a comfort after the dusty street outside. Looking around at the many items lining the shelves the group couldn’t see anything of note. Most of the stock seemed to be trinkets and the kind of artefacts that unknowing tourists would buy under the impression it was an ancient treasure. From behind a curtain at the back of the shop, a portly man dressed in a djellaba and turban came bustling out, greeting the four visitors to his humble shop. Najjar began showing different things in his shop to each of the group.
“Look at this, it’s a beautiful piece. Look at the exquisite workmanship. It’s a bargain at this price, I feel like I’m almost giving it to you.”
Throughout his sales pitches, Najjar kept his face turned away so he never turned it directly towards anyone he was speaking to, it seemed strange at first but it was possible to see why. The entire of the left side was ravaged with burn scars and he was trying to keep that side away from too much scrutiny.
After some time of politely declining his wares, Constanza started asking about more esoteric items. Najjar looked confused at first, explaining this was all of his finest merchandise available. After pressing him further on more specialist goods, Najjar grew a little irate and began asking who would say he had anything else hidden away. The conversation began to get more and more heated with the group trying to cautiously get information out of the shopkeep but at the mention of the name ‘Carlyle’ Najjar few into a rage. His eyes bulged and he started waving a large plaster statue of Ra at them.
“GET OUT OF MY SHOP!” he roared while swinging the statue around. “LEAVE NOW YOU SONS OF DISEASED CAMELS!”
More insults flew in Arabic but Singh was only able to catch some bits about donkeys and a baboon due to Najjar’s thick accent. Constanza tried to calm the man but only received a faceful of spittle for his efforts as Najjar shouted more insults in his face.
Outside a group of locals had started to gather to watch the shouting inside. A few began to jeer as well, joining in with the abuse. Singh attempted to scare some calm into Najjar but the shopkeeper was obviously scared of something else which was more terrifying than what he was currently facing.
McTavish turned to a more subtle means to calm the man. Pulling a handful of notes from his wallet, he thrust them towards Najjar and offered to pay a large sum for the statue that was being waved in their faces. At the sight of such a huge amount of money Najjar stopped mid insult. His face had gone a bright red and he was panting hard. Snatching the money with a free hand, Najjar thrust the statue into McTavish’s hands and eyed them suspiciously.
“Why do you use that name in my shop? What interest is it to you?” he breathed.
It took a little careful explaining without giving too much away but at the end Najjar had returned to a more normal colour.
“This is not the place to talk of such things. Meet me in a few hours at the al-Hussein Mosque. There are things that should only be said on holy ground and I will not do it here.”
Shooing them out of the shop, Najjar pulled the blinds down and there was a click as the door was locked.
Close to the mosque was a coffee shop, so they settled in there with drinks and watched the passers-by in the street for a few hours. As the time got close to 8pm, the figure of Najjar was spotted with his head down walking across the street and heading up the steps into the mosque.
Finishing drinks and following shortly behind the group found Najjar talking to someone just inside the doorway in a low voice. As they entered, Najjar turned and beckoned them over.
“I have asked to use a room here. Please, follow me.”
Removing their shoes, the four followed Najjar along a corridor into a small room where the only furniture was a few mats on the floor. A small window let in air but the rest of the room was unfurnished save for an oil lamp on a table. Its weak light threw shadows over the walls as they filed in and sat on the floor.
It took some time to get any information out of Najjar. He was scared of something and he finally explained what it was. He had stolen a number of artefacts connected to the Black Pharaoh from a local businessman called Omar al-Shakti who owned a large cotton plantation outside the city.
A man called Besart had approached Najjar a few weeks before looking for anything to do with the Black Pharaoh and Najjar knew of al-Shakti’s collection. It had been tricky to steal the items but Najjar had stolen a scroll about the tomb of the Black Pharaoh, a bust, a small drum and a small circlet set with a zircon said to be the crown of the Pharaoh and held the key to his triumph over death. Najjar mentioned that if they wanted to know more about the Black Pharaoh and the Brotherhood, they should seek out a woman called Nuri.
It wasn’t until he had stolen the artefacts and sold them to Besart, that Najjar found out al-Shakti was a high priest of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh. Members of the cult had come to him and threatened to kill the shopkeeper if he didn’t return the items, but it was too late. They had been sent to Besarts client, Carlyle. When he didn’t return the stolen goods, the Brotherhood said he would be killed and, several days later as he was in his shop, Najjar heard a sound. Turning to look he saw fire just appear out of nowhere. Najjar explained how his shop burst into flames and he was blown out of the window by the blast but managed to stumble away before the Brotherhood came to check if he had survived or not.
He knew the Brotherhood was still active in the city as there was a number of stories about them carrying out thefts and murders over the years. He had even heard they were responsible for the theft of a mummy from the Clive expedition which was currently digging in the desert. He has also heard that the Brotherhood wants an item located in the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, but he does not know what it is or why the Brotherhood wants it. It can’t be for any noble purpose, that’s for sure.
As the conversation lulled for a moment, there was noise outside that made their heads turn. Shouting and some screaming could be heard coming through the closed door. As they turned to glance at each other the door suddenly burst open and a group of men armed with short swords ran into the room. Constanza lept to his feet and brought his club down on the first through the door with devastating effect.
The thugs head exploded into meaty fragments with bone and gristle flying in all directions. Singh also dispatched one of them before the thug had a chance to attack but several more pushed through the doorway leaping to attack Najjar. McTavish tried to pull a sap from his pocket but was too slow, he took a savage jab from one of the short swords and winced as it sliced into him. Constanza wasn’t doing as well now that the attackers had got fully into the room with them. He was cut with a wicked slice as he turned to face another thug.
Bolan pulled the pistol Constanza had lent him. Firing at point-blank into the body of the nearest attacker, he blew meat and blood out of the back of the target. Singh turned to help Najjar who, at this point, was on the floor with sword blows slicing into him. Stabbing one of the thugs in the back as he was attacking Najjar, Singh advanced, but the thug wheeled and lashed out at Singh. The fight in the room grew in intensity with blows landing on everyone but there was suddenly a sickening thud noise and the cultists started to shout and back away, heading for the door. Singh realised that Najjar had been beheaded and the attackers had achieved what they wanted, even at the cost of a number of their own.
The last two cultists struggled as they left, one was felled but the last was grappled to the ground by Constanza while McTavish, bleeding for his own injuries, knocked the man out with a savage punch. Singh was in the corridor outside helping the wounded in the mosque and watching the door incase the attackers returned in greater force.
Surveying the carnage, Bolan spotted a jewelled necklace by the body of Najjar which had been tucked inside his clothes before falling out when he was attacked. The mosques Imam was moving among the injured helping, where he could but he turned and began to berate the four investigators, blaming them for bringing the violence to his peaceful mosque. He spotted Bolan scooping up the necklace and began to scream at Bolan, accusing him of robbing the dead. Bolan backed away but tucked the blood-soaked amulet away.
They hurried away before any police could arrive and cause more trouble, the unconscious attacker was taken along as well to try and interrogate, much to Singh’s objections. They headed to Najjar’s shop to question the prisoner. McTavish picked the lock on the door and they slipped into the darkness inside. In the back of the shop was a rough bed which the unconscious prisoner was lashed to before throwing a bowl of water over his face to wake him up. After a lot of spluttering and shouting, the prisoner just proceeded to curse them in the name of the Black Pharoah and told them they would die slowly.
Singh impassively watched the futile attempt to question the raving madman tied to the bed. In the meantime he started patching up some of the group’s wounds. Constanza started to see the futility of their actions but they pressed on. McTavish though he would search the man. Leaning over, there was a sudden crack as the post which one of the ropes was tied to, broke with all of the struggling. He reacted quickly, lashing out as a fist headed towards him but he struck too hard. The cultists head snapped back and hit the edge of the bed with a sickening crunch.
“That was self defence.” McTavish blurted but they all knew it was probably the best result.
With nothing else to do at the shop, and the evening coming on, they headed back to the hotel to try and rest.
Thursday 26th Feb
The next morning Bolan planned to study the amulet he had taken from Najjar, McTavish and Constanza wanted to try and find some leads to where Janwillem Van Heuvelen and Warren Besart may be. Singh offered to stay and keep an eye on Bolan.
It took quite a few hours waiting in lines for different parts of the French Embassy but McTavish and Constanza managed to get an address for the last known location of Besart.
Speaking to Dr Kafour also got them an address for Van Heuvelen. It turned out that Van Heuvelen had been to the museum a few times to use the library to assist with some translation work. Because he was accessing some of the rarer books, his address was required before they would let him into the archive. While there was the risk it was a fake address, it was something.
Back at the hotel, Bolan had settled down to examine the necklace. As he studied it, he realised there was a shape in the metalwork. The necklace was shaped like some kind of winged serpent. There was a long slender body with a pair of wings. Part of the body was made up of the large opal in the middle.
He slipped into the trance he had become more and more skilled at entering as he drew on the history of the objects he examined. His mind opened but, rather than seeing the history of the object, he found himself floating in an empty void. All around him wasn’t just black, it was a total absence of anything. There wasn’t even any sound.
As he tried to adjust to this emptiness, he started to hear a flapping noise behind him. As he did, Bolan was suddenly aware of a warm feeling coming from the amulet in his hands. It wasn’t an unpleasant heat, more a comforting warmth. The flapping grew louder and he resisted the urge to turn and look. As the noise got closer, the warmth grew stronger but never to the point of being painful. It was like being wrapped in a cozy blanket on a cold winters day or being held by someone who loved you. Suddenly there was a screeching noise behind him and Bolan snapped round to look instinctively.
He found himself face to face with something out of a nightmare. It was a huge winged serpent, similar to what the amulet appeared to be modeled on. Its mouth was almost swallowing him whole but somehow it wasn’t able to reach him. Teeth, dripping with saliva snapped and chewed near his face but couldn’t reach, as if something held it back. The amulet hummed and vibrated with power in his hands and he suddenly found himself screaming and sitting up with a start in the hotel room with a startled looking Singh staring at him.
To be continued.