An ambitious young Brit drives his dumper truck to Syria with a contract to supply gravel to a wealthy client in Surrey.
Near the Citadel of Aleppo in northern Syria, archaeologists have recently discovered the temple of the ancient storm god Hadad, who was central to the belief systems of the Canaanite and ancient Mesopotamian religions to which scholars have found references in Cuneiform clay tablets, to the Amorites, a Semitic speaking tribe of nomads who came to dominated parts of Syria.
From the 21st century BC a large scale migration of Amorite tribes escaping a major drought usurped long-extant native city-states as well as establishing new ones, the best known being Babylon. For the next 2500 years, Aleppo suffered a succession of conquests resulting in rule by 42 different empires, republics and multitudinous caliphates introducing every religion or variation on a religion known to man, with the possible exception of the Flat Earth Society.
Hardly surprising then that the Ancient City of Aleppo became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Sweeping high above the mountain ranges a huge vulture peers majestically down using thermal currents and a 3.3 metre wing span to effortlessly reinforce its reputation as a messenger of the gods, occupying the space between heaven and earth. According to the well documented Eagle Condor prophesy, there will come a time when one will overwhelm the other to herald a union of heaven and earth, a great spiritual springtime that will cleanse the pain of the colonial past and ancestral wounding on all lands.
The eagle represents the north, the indigenous people with their message and knowledge, a masculine energy that discovers, invents and makes things happen. The condor represents the south and its indigenous people, and is a softer, more heartfelt feminine energy, deeply connected with the earth. The prophesy is not only predicting a reunion of the condor and the eagle but a reunion of the entire human race.
Until that happens, the Syrian Civil War between the Ba’athist Syrian Arab Republic led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with help from domestic and foreign allies, notably the Russians, and various domestic and foreign groups who oppose the Syrian Government, and each other in many cases, will rage on.
Driving Into this arena of muddled myths and meddling militias came an optimistic ambitious Brit, bound for the Turkish City of Kilis which is as close as he could get to Aleppo and still expect help from HM Foreign Office should his mission go awry. He had allowed four days for the drive which had taken him through France, Germany, Hungary, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria and into Turkey at Istanbul.
He was a scion of a family who, counter to the accepted entrepreneurial wisdom of the time, had emigrated from New Zealand to the UK and made a name for themselves in financial services immediately after WW2. His great Uncle had made enough money to settle in Jersey and the family business was eventually sold to a Merchant Bank when the family name was absorbed by an even larger city enterprise.
His own business idol as a teenager was Eddie Stobart whose logistics lorries with their distinctive green livery ruled the motorways for twenty years before running out of profitable fuel. The contract he had in his pocket was his chance to emulate his hero.
All he had to do was pick up a dumper truck of decorative gravel and drive it back to Guildford. Even if the assignment looked eccentric, to put it mildly, he had already been paid half of the fee, a sum on its own sufficient to sustain him in work for twelve months, with the second half payable on delivery back in Guildford.
What could possibly go wrong?
Victor Lowndes sat up in his hospital bed barely able to focus on anything, let alone the porcelain tray which had been strategically placed by a Red Crescent Nurse to catch any of his remaining teeth that he spat out. His eyes were swollen, the stitched scar on the right side of his face baring witness to the interrogation techniques of his captors, which he had endured for several hours the day before being rescued.
In a stream of Arabic invective they had accused him of being, at the very least, an investigative journalist if not a paid agent of the Russian Federation or the hated Free Syrian Army comprising disparate foreign groups from Sunni Muslims, Shia Alawites, Druze, Christians, Kurds and Palestinians.
In the garage attached to his rented house was an Ashok Leyland Comet dump truck with a full load of decorative gravel bound for the driveways of upwardly mobile middle class houseowners in the leafier parts of the Surrey stockbroker belt. At least, that was as much information he had given his inquisitors before a vigilante group had intervened and handed him over to the Red Crescent organisation, who had managed somehow to get him admitted to Kilis State Hospital.
Sir Dominick John Chilcott KCMG, Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, waited patiently by Victor’s bedside until he judged him to be compos mentis before starting his inevitable interrogation. Educated at Oxford University, where he read philosophy and theology, Sir Dominick had previously served in Iran, Ireland and the USA as well as serving two former foreign secretaries as private secretary. He had also been director of the Iraq Policy Unit, so, of all serving ambassadors, Sir Dominick was as well qualified as any diplomat to ask his first question of the rousing Victor Lowndes
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
Victor hauled himself up on one elbow, asked for and took a sip of water from a plastic cup which Sir Dominick handed to him before croaking his response
“Who the fuck are you?”
With the diplomatic formalities now dispensed with, the two men went on to exchange information over the next three hours which established the circumstances of Victor’s situation to each other’s satisfaction.
Victor had gone to Aleppo in his dumper truck accompanied by two employees of the Kilis builders merchants who were parties to the contract. There was only one quarry which specialised in the gravel specified in the contract. It had been an operational subsidiary of the Kilis company before the Syrian Civil War. The risks had been explained to Victor, but the round trip of three hours had seemed worth it, given the fee involved on completion.
All had gone well but Victor had been jumped on by two masked men after parking his truck full of said decorative gravel in his own garage. They bundled him into the back of a Mercedes, placed a handkerchief soaked in chlorophyll over his nose, and drove off. He had very little recollection after that of anything until he woke up in the hospital bed.
In a supreme effort at genuine reconciliation, Sir Dominick, who in truth wanted Victor up and away and out of his diplomatic hair as soon as possible, suggested that, sadly, he must have been the unfortunate victim of mistaken identity. There were so many diverse groups in Syria fighting each other it was hard to keep up. His client in Surrey was clearly part of the diaspora; who felt he needed to bring home something of his homeland if he could no longer visit himself for one reason or another.
“A case of Mohamed and the Mountain …. Ha … Ha!” He concluded weakly without much faith in his attempt at jocularity.
Two days later, stiff and sore but able to see clearly, Victor set off for the return journey with his passport in the glove compartment and a letter of identity signed by Sir Dominick in his official ambassadorial capacity which he assured Victor would help him at border check points if officials tried blocking or delaying him in any way.
Victor’s client had already anticipated the potential log jams on the return journey and given him a supply of local currencies to use “to oil the wheels of commerce” as he termed it. US dollars seemed to be the universal currency of corruption, but a Hungarian border guard accepted 38,000 Forints and his Serbian counterpart 13,000 dinars in lieu of $US 150.
Having taken a lesson in rudimentary religious dogma from Sir Dominick during his enforced confinement, Victor found himself thinking back to his own nominal education in the Church of England as twelve year old boy. Seeing the entry barriers going up every time the folding notes changed hands, he thought of the disciples given the gift of speaking in tongues to facilitate the spreading of the gospel. Was that a euphemism for bribery he wondered?
Judging by the number of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples he passed on his journey back to London, it certainly looked, he mused, as if the gift had turned out to be good for business.
After five days of largely uneventful travel, Victor Lowndes finally turned into the East Lodge Gates of Sutton Place, on the north side of the A3, three miles north east of Guildford in Surrey.
Sutton Place is a Grade 1 listed manor set in 775 acres of parkland. It was built in 1525 by a courtier of Henry the V111. Its current owner, a billionaire Russian oligarch, acquired the property from J Paul Getty, in his time the richest private individual in the world, who had lived there for the last seventeen years of his life.
Victor drove his somewhat battered but beloved dumper truck slowly up the two mile long tree lined approach drive and was surprised to be greeted by his client personally who was waiting in the huge courtyard fronting the magnificent Tudor façade. The Russian businessman was genuinely overjoyed to see Victor safe and sound but equally anxious to conclude the contract as quickly as possible.
Alisher Usmanov, a Muslim, was born in Uzbek when it was part of the old Soviet Union but now the independent state of Uzbekistan. In 1992 he married Irina Viner who is Jewish and who was then a top rhythmic gymnastics coach who introduced Vladimir Putin to his second wife. They have never had children themselves, but Irina is the mother of Alisher’s step son, Anton Viner. Together with Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Usmanov remains part of a highly influential group of oligarchs within the Kremlin.
Sutton Place had a great twentieth century garden designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe for Stanley J Seeger, a previous owner. With his developing interest in Jung, Jellicoe saw the design as an allegory of human evolution, with creation, life and aspiration. He made a Paradise Garden, a Moss Garden, a Music Garden, a Surrealist Garden and one of the finest features in any English garden: the Ben Nicholson Wall which became the largest piece of abstract art on display in an English country garden. Getty had added an Ellipse Garden and an orchard on a slope where Jellicoe had intended a cascade.
Alisher Usmanov was determined surpass his illustrious predecessors in acquired status in every way possible, which is why Victor found himself backing his truck slowly and carefully into a newly constructed building set in a clearing in the forest immediately behind the imposing Tudor Manor House. Under Usmanov’s meticulous hand signals he waited until his client was satisfied with his exact position inside the structure then activated the hydraulics enabling truck to shed its load in a neat-ish heap in the centre of the floor space. He then advanced slowly until Usmanov was able to close two huge curved doors behind him.
His client thanked him profusely for the successful completion of the mission and confirmed that the second half of his fee plus a bonus to compensate for the facial injuries he had suffered would be placed in his bank account forthwith.
As he drove away, Victor watched Usmanov through his rear view mirror enter the structure via a discrete side door and was struck by the emerging outline of the new building as it receded in his mirror. It reminded him of a mini Albert Hall or a cross between a mosque, a synagogue and an Eastern Orthodox Christian temple. Still, he thought to himself, his was not to reason why. He was now feeling the strain of the last seven days and opted to go straight to bed when he finally arrived home in Brighton at 5.00 in the afternoon.
Alisher Usmanov began by raking carefully through his decorative “shingle” as he preferred to call it, which consisted of small pieces of mosaic fragments which his associates had salvaged from the destruction wrought by ISIS and other marauding hordes over the years on a variety of holy places in the middle east including his homeland of Uzbekistan, Turkey and Syria. This was not your average consignment of Blue Slate Chippings from Wickes; some were over 2500 years old. He located what he was looking for and gingerly removed a steel box which had been placed in the middle of the load for safe transportation.
He levered off the lid to reveal an exquisite artefact in the form of a condor inside, wrapped in thick lamb’s wool which had further protected it well.
Usmanov held it in his cupped hands and marvelled at the craftmanship of his ancestors. It was a gift from one of the Amorite tribes to Alexander the Great to show their appreciation of his superior strength in taking control of the city of Aleppo in 333 BC.
They also intended it to be a reminder to their conqueror that the Condor was a messenger from one of their most important Gods.
It had been on display at the Aleppo Museum, but it was stolen by unknown elements for safe keeping when the Syrian Civil War entered a particularly anarchic phase with massive indiscriminate shelling from all sides in the conflict.
One month earlier, Alisher Usmanov had been the successful anonymous bidder for another important relic which went on sale at auction in New York. These were two of Nasreddin Mahmud’s minted dirhams from the 13th century, discovered during an archaeological dig at Konya in central Turkey.
This was yet another discovery which illustrated that the Muslim world had adopted the Eagle as readily as Western culture and way before its obscene perversion by the Nazis.
For the Usmanov’s, who had developed an obsessive interest in genealogy once the science of DNA testing had matured, it was proof positive that the ancients could teach us all a thing or two about spiritual matters.
Alisher Usmanov was determined to go one step further. He wanted to provoke the Eagle Condor prophesy to his advantage by creating his own modern temple to the storm god Hanan, using materials from the past.
He knew the condor was considered one of the most sacred birds that tied the earth and heaven together. It was the king of the skies who carried the dead to the underworld. Condors represented the gods of the air to the Incas, who believed that condors carried prayers and received answers from the gods. Native Americans believe that the condor represented goodness, justice, leadership, and wisdom – the four values. It was believed to be able to spread its great wings to gather clouds and fertilize the land with rainwater.
Most importantly, Usmanov knew the condors part in the Eagle Condor prophecy, which states that the people would be divided. Some would follow the eagle, and some would follow the condor. They would live apart and then reunite. When they reunited the eagle would almost destroy the condor, but not quite. They would separate again. Later they would meet again and join as one in unity.
At one minute to midnight that very evening, Alisher and Irina Usmanov stood inside their newly created Temple, looking up at a twenty foot totem pole arising from the centre of the circular floor which was imaginatively strewn with decorative shingle.
At the top of the column sat the Condor artefact which appeared to be holding the two coins in its talons and was about to take off through an aperture at the centre of the domed ceiling through which the night sky was clearly visible in all its glory.
Victor Lowndes had slept like a log and woken at around 7.30 feeling ravenously hungry.
He went into the bathroom and doused his face with cold water. When he looked in the mirror he couldn’t believe the sight that greeted him. His Kilis scar had disappeared completely. He still retained an old faint one under his left eye, the result of an accident with a metal edged bucket when he was four years old, but the Kilis injury was fully healed.
He looked inside his mouth. All his teeth were in place, his mouth fully healed. He went to his laptop and interrogated his bank account. There had been an overnight payment from Sutton Place plc of £100,000 as agreed.
At midday, the Premier League was thrown into turmoil when Liverpool FC accepted an offer from Everton FC to join together as one club and play in a new stadium to be built on Merseyside docks. The new Chairman was to be Alisher Usmanov.
Decamot inspired by the following items: Syria, investigative journalist, stream, hospital, porcelain tray, Victor, garage, condor, dump truck, mountain range