Authors: Harold Robbins
Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure
The most spellbinding novel from America’s master storyteller…
“Harold Robbins is a master!”
“Robbins’ books are packed with action, sustained by a strong narrative drive and are given vitality by his own colorful life.”
The Wall Street Journal
Robbins is one of the “world’s five bestselling authors… each week, an estimated 280,000 people… purchase a Harold Robbins book.”
“Robbins grabs the reader and doesn’t let go…”
Copyright © 2014 by Jann Robbins
Cover art, special contents, and electronic edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover design by Alexia Garaventa
ISBN Mobipocket edition: 9780795341328
Many thanks to the man who wears the hat, Bradley Yonover.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Abundance diverts you,
Until you come to the graves.
Nay, you will soon know,
Nay, again, you will soon know.
Nay, would that you new with a certain knowledge!
You will certainly see hell.
—THE HOLY KORAN
From Chapter 102,
The Abundance of Wealth
Book One: The End of Spring, 1973
Book Two: The End of Summer, 1973
Book Three: The End of Autumn, 1973
Harold Robbins titles from RosettaBooks
It was the eighth day of the storm. There had never been a storm like this one before. Not even in the memory of old Mustapha, the camel keeper, who was himself an old man when all the others in the caravan were boys.
Holding his ghutra close to his face, he made his way laboriously toward the tent of Fouad, the caravan master, pausing every few moments to peer through the narrow cloth slits, to make sure he did not lose his bearings and wander away from the tiny shelter of the oasis out into the ripping, swirling sand of the open desert. Each time he stopped, the grains of sand tore into his face like so many shotgun pellets. He hawked and summoned up his spit to clear his throat before he entered the small tent. But there was no moisture, only the grainy dryness of the sand.
Fouad looked up at the camel keeper from his chair next to the small table on which the oil lamp flickered, lending only shadows in the darkness. He did not speak. A giant of a man, he was not much given to words.
Mustapha drew himself up to his full height of almost five feet as he always did when talking to the caravan master. “There is sand in the eyes of God,” he said. “He is blind and has lost sight of us.”
Fouad grunted. For once he found words. “Ass,” he said. “Now that we’ve made the journey to Mecca, do you think He would lose sight of us on our way home?”
“There is death in the air,” Mustapha said stubbornly. “Even the camels can smell it. For the first time they are nervous.”
“Put blankets over their heads,” Fouad said. “If they cannot see, they will dream their camel dreams.”
“I have already done that,” Mustapha said. “But they toss the blankets away. I have lost two blankets in the sand.”
“Give them some hashish to chew on then,” Fouad said. “Not enough to make them crazy. Just enough to make them quiet.”
“They will sleep for two days.”
The caravan master looked at him. “It does not matter. We are not going anywhere.”
The little man stood his ground. “It is still a bad omen. How goes it with the master?”
“He is a good man,” Fouad answered. “He does not complain. He spends his time tending to his wife, and his prayer rug is always turned toward Mecca.”
The camel keeper smacked his lips. “Do you think their prayers will be answered now that they have made the pilgrimage?”
Fouad looked up expressively. “All is in the hands of Allah. But her time is growing very near. Soon we will know.”
“A son,” Mustapha said. “I pray Allah to give them a son. Three daughters are enough of a burden. Even for such a good man as he.”
“A son,” Fouad repeated. “Allah be merciful.” He rose from his chair, towering over the little man. “Now, donkey,” he suddenly roared. “Go back and tend to your camels or I will bury your old bones in their dung.”
The large tent pitched in the center of the oasis between the four giant palm trees was aglow with light from the electric lamps placed strategically in the corners of the main room. From behind one of the curtains came the faint sound of the small gasoline-powered generator that supplied the electricity. From behind another curtain came the sweet smell of meat roasting on tiny charcoal braziers.
For the twentieth time that day Dr. Samir Al Fay lifted the curtain and went to the outside wall of the tent and peered out in the storm.
The sand tore at his eyes through the tiny crack and he could not even see to the tops of the trees fifteen feet above the tent nor to the edge of the oasis, where the swirling sand seemed to form a wall that climbed up into the sky. He closed the opening and rubbed the sand from his eyes with his hand as he walked back into the main chamber of the tent. His slippered feet moved soundlessly as they sank into the soft woven rugs that completely covered the sand floor.
Nabila, his wife, looked up at him. “No better?” she asked in her soft voice.
He shook his head. “No better.”
“When do you think it will stop?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “At any rate there are no signs of it letting up.”
“Are you sorry?” Her voice was gentle.
He crossed to her chair and looked down at her. “No.”
“You would not have made this pilgrimage if I had not insisted.”
“It was not because of you that I made this pilgrimage. It was because of our love.”
“But you did not believe that the pilgrimage to Mecca would change anything,” she said. “You told me that the sex of a child is determined at its conception.”
“That is because I am a doctor,” he said. “But I am also a believer.”
“And if the child is a girl?”
He did not answer.
“Would you then divorce me or take a second wife as your uncle, the Prince, wishes?”
He took her hand. “You are being a fool, Nabila.”
She looked up into his face, shadows darkening her eyes. “It is almost time. And I am growing afraid.”
“There is nothing to be afraid of,” he said reassuringly. “Besides, you will have a son. Did I not tell you the child’s heartbeats are those of a boy?”
“Samir, Samir,” she whispered. “You would tell me anything to keep me from worrying.”
He raised her hand to his lips. “I love you, Nabila. I do not want another wife, another woman. If we do not have a son this time, it will be the next.”
“There will be no next time for me,” she said somberly. “Your father has already given his word to the Prince.”
“We will leave the country. We can go to England to live. I went to school there, I have friends.”
“No, Samir. Your place is at home. Our people need you. Already the things you have learned are helping them. Who could ever have dreamed that the generator you brought from England to light your operating room would lead to a company that is bringing light to our land?”
“And more wealth to our family,” he added. “Wealth that we do not need, since we already have everything.”
“But it is only you who can see to it that the wealth is used for the good of all rather than just the few. No, Samir, you cannot leave. Our people need you.”
He was silent.
“You must make a promise to me.” She looked up into his eyes. “If it is a girl, you will let me die. I cannot bear the thought of life without you.”
“The storm,” he said. “It has to be the storm. There is no other explanation for the crazy thoughts you have in your head.”
Her eyes fell before his gaze. “It is not the storm,” she whispered. “The pains are already beginning.”
“You’re sure?” he asked. According to his calculations, it was about three weeks early.
“I have had three children,” she said calmly. “And I know. The first one was about two hours ago, the last one just now while you were looking out into the storm.”
Mustapha was sleeping, sheltered from the storm by the three blankets over his head and warmed by the heat of the camels on either side. He dreamed of paradise filled with golden sunshine and lovely houris of the same golden color, with fat breasts and bellies and buttocks. They were beautiful hashish dreams, for he would not have been selfish enough to refuse to share the hashish he gave his camels and let them wander alone into paradise without his guidance. Without him the poor creatures would be lost.
Above him the storm raged and the sand blew on his blankets, then blew off as the wind changed. On the edge of paradise a camel shifted and a sudden cold crept through to his old bones. Instinctively, he moved toward the heat of the animal but it moved farther away from him. Pulling the blankets around him, he moved toward another camel. But that one, too, had shifted and now the cold was attacking him from all sides. Slowly he began to awaken.
The camels struggled to their feet. As usual, when they were nervous, they began to defecate, then urinate. The spatter from one of them on his blankets brought him wide awake. Swearing angrily at having been torn from his dream, he scrambled away from the hot acidy stream.
Raising himself on hands and knees, he peered out from beneath the blankets. And suddenly the breath froze in his throat. Out of the wall of sand came a man riding toward him on a donkey. Behind that man was another donkey whose saddle was empty. The rider turned to look at him.
It was then that Mustapha screamed. The man had two heads. Two white faces on one body fixed him with their baleful glare.
Mustapha leaped to his feet. Forgetting the sand that bit at his face, he ran toward the caravan master’s tent. “Ai-yee! Ai-yee! It is the angel of death coming for us!”
Fouad came out of his tent like a thunderbolt, caught Mustapha in his giant arms and held him in the air, shaking him as he would a child. “Shut up!” the caravan master roared. “Has not our master enough on his mind with his wife in labor to listen to your dope-ridden dreams?”
“The angel of death! I saw him!” Mustapha’s teeth were chattering. He pointed. “Look. By the camels!”
By now several of the other men had run up to them. They all turned to look in the direction of Mustapha’s pointing finger. A collective sigh of fear was released as the two donkeys came out of the darkness and blinding sand. And on the first donkey was the man with two heads.
Almost as quickly as they had come, the other men disappeared, each vanishing into his own private shelter, leaving only Mustapha still struggling in Fouad’s arms. Involuntarily, Fouad loosened his grip on the camel keeper, and the little man slid from his grasp and dove into the tent, leaving him alone to face the angel of death.
Almost paralyzed, Fouad watched the donkeys come to a stop before him. A man’s voice came from the rider. “As-salaam alaykum.”