On the Streets
June 15, 10:34 a.m.
I cut through the streets in a random pattern. I used glass storefront windows to check behind me and across the street. I went into stores and out the back, I cut through alleys. If there was a tail I did not see it.
My cell rang and when I saw who it was I ducked into an alley to answer the call. Bug doesn’t speak Persian.
“About frigging time,” I growled into the phone.
“Hello to you, too, man,” said Bug.
“What the hell have you been doing? Playing Halo?”
“No-though the new version of Halo is pretty badass. They got this one level that-”
“My whole body is a lethal weapon, you know,” I said. “I know more ways to kill you than you know how to die. Are you aware of that?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I promise I’ll faint when I take my coffee break. I wanted to get back to you on those books you had me look up. Are you sure you have the correct titles?”
“It’s word of mouth from an unreliable source.”
“I know, Rasouli. King Dickhead of all the world.”
“That’s the one.”
“The thing is, I can’t see how the Saladin Codex can be connected to the nukes or anything related to nuclear science.”
“Well, it’s a math book that was written in the twelfth century based on an even older book, and I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty sure the whole nuke thing came later than that.”
“And,” added Bug, “it’s not even a good math book.”
“It’s a rewrite of a classic book called Al-Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-gabr wa’l-muqabala.”
Bug murdered the pronunciation, but I could make out what he meant. “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing,” I translated.
“Right. It was written by some dude named Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who was a noted mathematician of his time. Apparently ‘ al-gabr ’ is the original word for algebra, which is what the book is about. One of the earliest books on the subject, or maybe the earliest book on the subject.”
“Algebra,” I mused. “Physics is all about math, isn’t it? Physics and nuclear technology are kissing cousins…”
“Well-sure, but this is pretty basic stuff. Nothing that gives us direct insight into nuclear science. I mean, c’mon, I learned this stuff in tenth grade.”
“Okay, what about the Saladin Codex?”
“That was written in 1191 by someone named Ibrahim al-Asiri. He was a diplomat who worked for Saladin.”
“Rasouli mentioned Saladin,” I said, and explained what he’d said.
“Huh,” grunted Bug, unimpressed. “Anyway, al-Asiri was also a mathematician, but apparently not a great one. His book attempted to refute some of the theories from the earlier work. No one was buying it, though, because algebra isn’t a theory. Math is math.”
“Tell that to my tax attorney,” I muttered. “How’s this help us?”
“That’s what I’m saying, Joe, I don’t see how it does. Al-Asiri’s book was largely discredited. At most it’s a footnote in the history of math.”
“If it was dismissed, then why is it even a footnote?”
“Discredited,” Bug corrected, “not dismissed. And it was only that particular book that was discredited, not the author. Al-Asiri was a very important man from a very, very important family. He was second cousin to Saladin and was involved in many of Saladin’s most historically significant treaties during the Crusades.”
“Saladin’s name keeps coming up in this. Rasouli made a point of mentioning it, so maybe there’s a clue there,” I mused. “What about the word ‘Saracen,’ I know that relates, but how exactly?”
Bug tapped some keys. “Easy one. During the time of the Crusades the Europeans called all Muslims Saracens. Later that changed to Mohammadan and then Muslim. Purely a European word choice.”
“Okay. What about the other one? The Book of Shadows?”
“Yeah,” said Bug slowly, “that’s where we go out of the blue and into the black. And by black I mean magic. Or, maybe it’s white magic. What do I know from magic?”
“Uh-huh. the Book of Shadows is the book of spells for witchcraft.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Serious as a heart attack, Joe. What the hell are you into over there? I mean… is the DMS suddenly at war with the forces of darkness?”
I thought about the freak with the fangs.
“Right now, Bug, I’d believe just about anything. Look-keep digging and get back to me with anything you find.”
I hung up and lingered in the alley for a moment wondering if Bug’s information moved me forward toward understanding or pulled a bag over my head.
“Witches. What do you think?” I asked Ghost.
He lifted his leg and peed on the wall.
“That’s what I figured,” I said.
We kept moving.