How does she move her tongue so fast?, ponders the little round fellow in the long fur coat. No matter how many times he hears the trilling wail of zaghruta singing, Tanuki is always amazed. The scantily clad performer of the oryantal dansi approaches the fruit stand where Tanuki clutches half a dozen small crates of dates, undulating her body in seemingly impossible ways beneath her bedleh costume of shining gold and turquoise. An ensemble of musicians huddle against the stone cliff in an empty space between vendors, fervently playing reed flute, drum, fiddle and lute. The shapely mtoto female circles Tanuki, whose ample cheeks could be seen to blush if he didn’t have a dense, close-cropped beard of the same peppered tan as his fur coat and the Russian ushanka-style hat he wears with the ear flaps up.

The dancer’s braceleted arms move serpentine above her shoulders. She lightly brushes the fur of his hat and his beard with her fingers then backs away, her pelvis gyrating so quickly the beaded rainbow belt above her scanty skirt is a blur. She smiles at him, lets loose another shrill zaghruta wail. Between her staccato hip movements, the gem in her navel and her vibrating tongue, Tanuki is captivated.

“Master Tanuki?”

Tanuki snaps out of his musing as a distinguished looking, elderly mtoto woman approaches. “May I take that for you?” she asks in modern Turkish. She is the High Abbottess of their sect, the Order of The Bull, in charge of day-to-day management of the monastery, as well as an Apis High Priestess...




The White Watcher watches.

It’s one of those nights with a flawless sky of the deepest black, the stars tiny pin-pricks of light, the full moon a pure white circle hole-punched in the ceiling of the world.

Circling high above what the watoto call Somerset County, in the South West of England, The White Watcher sees for miles in every direction, and his sight is good, perhaps the best in all this world for distance, in both the light of day and dark of night...




The cavern pool is dark and still, the only movement the flickering reflection of amber torchlight and feathery mist that crawls on its surface. With barely a ripple, Ao Guang’s bald head and long angular face rise until his nose is just above the water. Breath escapes in a slow huff, dissipating the mist, and he sniffs the humid air. His lime-green eyes scan a domed chamber of glassy purple obsidian. Wide chiseled steps lead up and out of the pool. In the middle of the straw-strewn floor above squats a roughly hewn altar of stone. Torches jut from the walls, held by crude sconces of pounded gold. Ao cuts through the water and trudges up the steps, a lumbering giant, long-limbed and intimidating.

Baphomet emerges next...




Sixty miles north of Toledo, the full moon is a gray smudge in a murky Detroit sky. Tinted beams of searchlight wave at it lazily from the rooftop of a sold out concert hall. The heavy thump--thump of the bass can be felt for a quarter mile around.

Inside the auditorium, Kabir stands with his arms crossed near the roped off hall that leads backstage. Six feet two inches tall with a thick mane of gray hair combed straight back and sideburns speckled black, Kabir is built like a linebacker, in spite of his age--all shoulders, pecs, and biceps tucked into a finely tailored gray Armani suit, with a silk heliotrope tie.

Kabir is a bodyguard. It’s what he does. Always has...




Blue-silver moonlight bathes slate rooftops of aging Victorian and Edwardian homes in the Old West End, a neighborhood near downtown Toledo, Ohio. Neglected maples and oaks line streets of cracked asphalt like weary crooked sentinels, nudging up worn flagstone sidewalks with their roots--which doesn’t help Fiona Megan Patterson because she’s clumsy, and tonight she’s mad as hell...