EPISODE ONE: THE HEART OF ZAGROS
EPISODE ONE: THE HEART OF ZAGROS
"What is it, Uncle?"
Professor Stern held up the object, letting the dim lights of the gentlemen's lounge catch on the silver casing.
"Well, Lilly, unless I'm very much mistaken, what we're looking at here is the Heart of Zagros."
The eyes of Lilac Stern went a little wider as the name was mentioned. She leaned from her armchair, almost falling off it as she peered at the locket. It was about the size of her hand, decorated to look like two angel wings overlapping at the clasp. The back of it was engraved with hieroglyphs, clearly Sumerian, but she was too awed to start interpreting them. For now she just stared, then looked up again at her uncle in the adjacent armchair. "It can't be..."
"Well, Professor Harold certainly thinks so. The old boy sent it to me by courier - said he didn't trust anyone else to have it."
Lilac scowled. "Professor Harold? Wasn't he in Florida?"
Stern set the locket down on the table, half-wrapping it in his handkerchief. "Yes, still studying the Bermuda Triangle, if I remember."
"But the Heart of Zagros should be buried in the Iranian Desert! What on earth was it doing in the Atlantic Ocean?!"
"That, my dear Lilly..." said the Professor, tapping his niece on the nose before she fell out of the chair, "... is indeed the question."
The Hodsworth Gentlemen's Club was over a century old and nestled in a sidestreet just off from Picadilly Circus. The sounds of pedestrians and automobiles barely made it through the old walls and then were drowned by the grand piano that played from dawn till dusk. This early in the morning there were only a few old gents in the lounge, some smoking while others read the newspapers (which today were plastered with news of Bulgaria signing a treaty with the Axis forces). Waiters in tuxedos floated between the customers, bearing cigars and brandy glasses.
"They're late," muttered Hobbs again. The butler was hovering behind the armchairs where Lilac and the Professor sat. A tray of freshly poured sherry glasses barely stayed in his hand as he fidgeted and complained. "I told you the letters were a bad idea. They're probably all dead. Yes, captured by the Gestapo no doubt. I warned you."
"Nonsense, Hobbs," replied the Professor, taking a glass from the tray before sitting back down. "These chaps are the cream of the crop. They're probably having trouble with your directions."
"My direc--!" Hobbs frowned at the professor, almost spilling the rest of the sherry on him as he leant over his chair, "Sir, those letters we sent out were death warrants - death warrants I tell you! There's Nazi spies in every port! U-boats in the waters! I hear Hitler even has trained pigeons - PIGEONS, SIR! He sends them out to spy on the mail ships. And as for that silly code you made, well let me tell you, Sir - it won't delay the German codebreakers for long!"
Hobbs stared at the lounge door, straightening his bowtie. "Oh yes, I can see it now. They're all in some Gestapo prison somewhere, getting the thumbscrews, having their toenails pulled off. This whole operation is doomed. Doomed!"
"Stiff upper lip, Hobbs," said the Professor as he sipped his sherry. "Now's not the time to be panicking. We have a long expedition ahead of us, old sport. I need you in tip-top shape."
"Oh no!" protested the butler, rolling his eyes, "That's what you said in Cairo when that camel sat on me. I'm not doing this again, Sir - not on your nelly! And besides, there's a war on now, don't you know? It's far too dangerous to be going anywhere will-nilly. Her Majesty will just have to find someone else to get killed for her!"
"Do be quiet, Hobbs."
Meanwhile, Lilac was kneeling by the table and ignoring Hobbs's tirade. She studied the back of the locket, muttering a little as she interpreted the hieroglyphs. "Beneath the earth he waits for me. My heart will open his sleeping place."
She looked up at the Professor and saw her excitement reflected in his eyes. "It's the key..." she whispered, "They key to the Tomb of Ishtar!"