Five years later
.bedded beneath the screw-on cap of her Gatorade bottle. Dana Landau had always loved the beach, but after three months in Iraq she’d be more than happy to never again feel the grit of sand between her toes.
“A few more minutes and I’ll have the rest of the footage,” her cameraman, Rusty Sutherland, called out.
“Make it fast.” Dana glanced warily around as he panned the wreckage yet again. She’d seen enough. And every minute they were out here, away from the fragile security of the Green Zone, they were in the devil’s hands.
Her chest tight, Dana picked her way across the bomb-torn terrain in search of a patch of shade.
Another day, another car bombing, ..panied them, their driver, and their interpreter to this grisly scene. The strike had taken out two truckloads of newly trained Iraqi soldiers.
.day’s chapter in this ongoing odyssey of death, which they’d edit down to a sound bite that could never reflect the enormity of the carnage.
Dana had busted her buns to snag this assignment. She’d fought for it harder than she’d ever fought for anything, but she had to concede that when she left Iraq next month she wouldn’t miss this danger-fraught nightmare—the thunder of bombs puncturing the night, the stench of burned flesh and rubber, the thin high wails of the children. She’d gladly trade the sandbags piled against the windowsills of the MSNBC villa, the razor .tainty of life in a war zone for some humdrum assignment covering schoolteachers on strike.
.tioned her and her sister about shedding tears for answered prayers. This stint in Iraq was what she’d wanted, and it was establishing her as a prime-time contender right alongside all the big boys—the older anchors who’d cemented their careers covering battlefields and the world’s hotspots.
But I won’t miss it—and I damn well won’t ever be able to forget it, she thought, gulping warm Gatorade as she leaned into the meager shade of a date palm. She’d miss Rusty, though. Having been in Baghdad a full month before Dana had arrived, her cameraman was leaving in the morning for two weeks R & R stateside.
“Done! Let’s get outta here.” Rusty slammed the trunk of .sioning his reunion with his wife and kids back in Connecticut.
After Baghdad, American suburbia would be paradise.
“Coming.” She pushed herself away from the tree, eager to be on the move as quickly as possible. A quick cell call from an insurgent spotting them out here would be enough to bring a car bomb speeding this way with their names on it.
As she straightened, the Gatorade bottle cap slipped from her fingers. Swearing, she stooped to retrieve it from the hot sand and spotted something peeking out of the explosion-rocked earth a few feet away. A patch of weathered leather, half buried in the sand. Even from a distance she could see it was decorated with a painted eye.
Dana crouched and tugged it from the sand. Yep, it was most certainly an eye. A blue eye, rimmed in black, painted on a leather pouch half the size of a playing card. A blue eye was a familiar talisman, especially in this part of the world; it was used as protection against the evil eye.
Just like this one, she thought, touching the dainty silver charm shaped like a downturned open palm dangling at her .thysts edging her hamsa amulet to find the turquoise cloisonné eye painted in its center and dotted with a single pearl—her mother’s pearl. Natalie had sent this necklace to her as an olive branch right before she’d left for Iraq. The hamsa was a perfect going off to war gift from her sister, since if anyone knew about protective talismans and good luck mojo, it was Nat.
.toral thesis on the history of ancient Mesopotamian protective amulets, charms, and talismans. Now she was a curator at New York’s Devereaux Museum of the Ancient Near East, and though her specialty was Mesopotamia, she could rattle off just about anything you’d want to know about protective charms .ated with them.
Not only everyday customs, like your typical knocking on wood or carrying a rabbit’s foot or four-leaf clover for good luck, but esoterica like Arubans recoiling if a black butterfly .cient Greeks believed that owls flying over battlefields were a sign of imminent victory, while ancient Romans thought their cries foretold death or disaster. Owls were downright terrifying to the ancient Chinese, who named the summer solstice the Day of the Owl and believed children born on that day had a propensity for violence.
But she hadn’t teased Natalie about anything in a long time. They were barely back on speaking terms.
Hurrying toward the convoy, Dana flicked sand from the ..nished pendant on a gold chain. The egg-shaped pendant was decorated with blue, red, and yellow stones arrayed in the same distinctive “eye” image as on the pouch.
“Yo! Ms. Landau!” The handsome young army officer in charge of their convoy barked over the engines. “Time to move!”
Dana dropped the trinket back inside its pouch and broke into a run, stuffing her find into the pocket of her olive cargo pants. Maybe some poor tourist’s loss will be Natalie’s gain, she reflected as she ducked inside the armored car.
She didn’t give the pouch or the pendant another thought until she reached into her pocket for lip gloss after dinner in the villa.
“Damn. I almost forgot.” She tugged out the pouch and eyed Rusty Sutherland across the creaky dining table. “How’d you like to do me a little favor and deliver a fabulous treasure to my sister when you get home?”
“What do I look like, a pack mule?” Rusty wadded up his napkin and stuffed it into his plastic cup. At forty-two, he sported a Yul Brynner dome, which he achieved by ruthlessly shaving any straggling strands of the reddish-blond hair that had earned him his nickname. He was solidly built but quick on his feet, and he’d been nominated for the Pulitzer not once, but twice. Dana was certain the bags under his somber brown eyes had doubled since he’d stepped foot in Iraq.
When she dumped out the pendant and held it aloft, his brows lifted.
“Worth all of two bucks max, but Natalie might get a kick out of it. You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“No sweat. You never know—that thing could turn out to be the centerpiece of her next exhibit. We’ll see if anyone can tell the difference between trash and treasure,” he snorted.
“Natalie knows her stuff. She’ll know exactly what this is. I’ll stick a note inside tonight and give it to you in the morning. What time are you choppering out?”
.men. Linc jumps off the plane at three—you won’t like him nearly as much as you like me, by the way—and an hour later I get on. And get out.” He shoved back his chair and stood up, stretching his arms over his bare head. “So I’m passing on the high-octane coffee tonight. If I don’t hit the sack now, I may as well pull an all-nighter.”
“See you in the morning, Rusty. Don’t forget to knock on my door before you leave.”
She lingered at the small table after he went up to his room, swallowing down an unexpected surge of homesickness. The green-tiled dining room was empty save for the skinny young Iraqi who worked in the kitchen and kept the place in some semblance of order for the network staffers bunking there. To.grance of the lush vegetation outside and the proximity of Saddam’s former palaces.
Villa. The word conjured up images of wealth and splendor, palm trees and servants. But now this villa was anything but idyllic. Would this country ever again know any luxury—even the “luxury” of peace?
After the hotels had been bombed, MSNBC and other news agencies had been forced to rent headquarters in assorted villas or large private homes within the Green Zone. All of them were in various stages of disrepair, yet they were still safer bases of operations than the hotels, which were far more visible targets.
Not that any place was actually safe here.
She thought for a moment of countless dinners in New York, ..ward to snag a taxi or jump on the subway. She flashed on all the Friday nights she’d met Natalie for dinner after work, and the .denly Dana became nostalgic for grass damp with dew. And for ..pings and beheadings.
You wanted this, .dant from the table, jangling the chain in her hand. And in only a few more weeks you’ll be done—choppering out at four a.m. yourself. So suck it up and smile for the camera, baby.
“Excuse me, Miss Landau . . .” Duoaud, the young Iraqi, leaned in to set a small cup of thick black coffee before her. “Is there anything else you need this evening?”
“I’m set for tonight, Duoaud.” She glanced up at the thin young man with the movie-star eyelashes who hovered at her elbow. “I’m turning in for the night, too.”
She angled the pendant back into its pouch as Duoaud gathered up the plates and napkins. As he worked, his gaze followed the glint of the chain as it slid into the hollow of waiting leather.
“A most beautiful amulet, Miss Landau. Almost as beautiful as you,” he added with a flashing grin. “My girlfriend, she would enjoy wearing one like that. Did you buy it here in Baghdad?”
She scraped back her chair and turned toward the stairs. “Actually, it found me. G’night, Duoaud. Please tell Wasim the lamb was amazing this evening. The best I’ve ever tasted.”
But Duoaud didn’t tell Wasim a thing. As soon as Dana left the dining room, Duoaud raced through the kitchen and out the back door, tearing down back alleys stinking of garbage and dog piss, past tall and vacant hotels, past gas stations and trinket shops, until he stood at a stately home near the far outskirts of the Green Zone. At the door of Aslam Hameed, who was paying him to keep an eye on the Americans and to keep an ear out for whispers about the Eye of Dawn, he pummeled the thick wood with the side of his fist.
“It’s true. It exists—it’s here. The Eye of Dawn. I saw it with my own eyes. Tonight—at the villa.”
The words poured out of him faster than the sweat sliding down his dark, razor-sharp cheekbones. The obsidian eyes of Aslam Hameed pinned him.
“Inside.” The heavier man jerked Duoaud into the stone entryway of his comfortable home, quickly scanning the street in both directions before he stepped back inside his residence and slammed the door.
“Tell me everything. But first, tell me who has it.”
Duoaud was still panting, yet exhilarated by the full attention of Aslam Hameed.
And when Hameed reports my discovery to Hasan Sabouri himself, insha’allah, I, too, might be in line for an important position with the Guardians of the Khalifah.
“A woman has it. She is a reporter. For an American television network—MSNBC. Her name is Dana Landau.”
Excerpted from The Illumination by Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori.
Copyright © 2008 by Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori.
Published in December 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.