Read Khomeini's Boy: The Shadow War with Iran Online
Authors: Bryce Adams
Copyright © Bryce Adams 2015. All rights reserved.
The Middle East
Western Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Israel
President of Syria. Decried as a war criminal for the actions of his army since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011.
Battalion commander in Hezbollah’s “Syrian Brigade.”
Former State Department officer. Served tours in Thailand, Oman, Tajikistan, and Iraq. Currently a freelance journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia, and sometime-associate of Wayne Shenzo.
Ayatollah. Guardian of the Faithful, Master of the Revolution, and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. Personally oversees Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
Grand Ayatollah. Simply called “The Imam” by many Iranians. Inspired the Iranian Revolution that overthrew Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, then transformed Iran into the Islamic Republic. Led the Iranian war against Iraq, 1980-1988. Died 1989.
Consultant for the W.H.O. Mossad covert operative assigned to the Mediterranean. Vanished near Aleppo, Syria.
Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps. Deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 15
Marine Expeditionary Unit. Later transferred to embassy security.
Lieutenant Colonel, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Assigned to Quds Force Special Operations under Qasem Soleimani. Typically operates under deep cover.
Spymaster. Nominally attached to Mossad. Rank unknown.
Colonel, U.S. Army, retired. Final tour resulted in a career-ending injury in Iraq. Currently an independent contractor for the Defense Intelligence Agency, specializing in emerging threat management.
Brigadier General, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Director of Quds Force Special Operations. Described as “the most powerful operative in the Middle East” by unnamed CIA analysts.
Sergeant, Syrian Regular Army. Diplomatic liaison to Iranian embassy.
Mullah. Acting Iranian ambassador to Syria.
A fixer based in Latakia, Syria. Grudgingly supports Assad’s regime.
Wayne attacked Gideon from his left side, where the Israeli bastard’s blind left eye wouldn’t see the attack coming. It didn’t work; the old assassin still
the punch, somehow, and he was ready for Wayne’s swing. He bobbed away from it lazily, like a reed bending in the breeze, and turned the same backwards motion into a counterattack.
Wayne Shenzo had a lot of composure. It didn’t come from being a retired colonel with five purple hearts and it didn’t come from some innate sense of dignity, either—Wayne would drink and swear in front of preschoolers if the situation called for it. No, he had the composure that came from growing up poor and knowing that nobody would give a shit if he broke down crying in public because he was cold and hungry and living in his dad’s car again.
That composure broke when Gideon Patai used his backwards momentum to cave in the front of Wayne’s gimpy right knee. Wayne wore a brace that hid the limp well, most of the time, but you couldn’t hide fatal weaknesses from a man like Patai, any more than a gazelle could hide its throat from a leopard in the dark. So Wayne collapsed to the ground with a surprisingly high-pitched gasp, which just made him land on his bad knee and bash it up worse.
Gideon didn’t give him any time to contemplate his bad fortune. The Israeli’s iron fingers had grabbed Wayne by both sides of the head in preparation for a knee that would cave the colonel’s face in. It didn’t matter that they were allies, or that their field agents would be dead in a matter of minutes if they didn’t act together. They were killers. Old ones, which meant they couldn’t turn off their reflexes and they no longer believed in “allies.” But a sliver of Wayne’s reptile brain remembered those agents, which gave him an edge over Patai: he was fighting for three, not killing for one. It gave him the strength to do what his throbbing knee begged him not to try.
As Gideon tried to shatter his skull, Wayne roared like a train going off its tracks and made himself jump upward. Even with his bad knee he was a keg of a man with a weightlifter’s body, which meant the colonel had damned strong legs full of fast-twitch muscles. Those muscles exploded in perfect harmony, ignoring the pulse of impossibly cold, Antarctic pain emanating from his bad knee.
Gideon had limbs that struck like cornered vipers, but he was also a 6’4” scarecrow that couldn’t stop 230 pounds of angry half-Japanese, half-Mexican brawler spearing him below the waist. The Israeli’s knee bounced off Wayne’s shoulder, then he went down on the hard baked tiles of their Ottoman villa with Wayne on top of him. The colonel’s Christmas ham-sized fists were cocked and ready to make Gideon part of the tile work.
Gideon didn’t try to fight back. He wasn’t afraid—the burning hate in his dark shining eye made that obvious—but he was a sly old wolf who knew when a fight was over.
It had been an ugly seven seconds.
“Call off the airstrike, Gideon. Call it off before I put you through this fucking tile,” Wayne growled.
The Israeli scowled, crinkling the white scar tissue around his dead left eye. “No. Your plan failed. My planes will not.”
“This isn’t a discussion, Gideon. That’s
man out there, and that’s
girl he’s working with, and they’re both making it out of Syria alive.”
“No.” Gideon reared up as far as Wayne’s bulk would allow him to. The strain showed Patai’s cadaverous Adam’s apple and hollow cheekbones in exquisite detail. “Those chemical weapons are
reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon, and I’ll burn all of Syria to keep them out. If that means killing your agent, my agent, or this Iranian Jamsheed Mashhadi, I consider it an acceptable loss.”
“I don’t buy that. Not even from you.”
Gideon grimaced, revealing yellow teeth with sharp canines. “Best get on that radio and say goodbye to our agents, Colonel. Tell Cherub I’m sor—”
“Shuddup, Gideon.” Wayne Shenzo groaned as he pushed himself upright. His throbbing knee barely let him hobble over to the main table in the room, where a monolithic Soviet-made radio transceiver the color of dirty water sat like a discarded Chevy in a hillbilly’s front yard. Christ, Wayne felt old.
Wayne picked up the handset and said, “Lemark: I’m in control, but be advised that Gideon will not stop the strike. That leaves you, soldier. Get Hayes out of there, then stay the hell away from the northern half of the castle until the airstrike is done. I’m sending a bird to your location immediately. Be alive to catch it.”
“I’ll save Hayes even if it means killing the Iranian myself, Colonel. Send that bird,” a tired woman with a dusky continental accent replied.
“We set them up to fail, Shenzo. Can’t you see that?” Gideon said from the ground. He was breathing heavily and not getting up. Wayne hoped he’d broken a rib or two. “Jamsheed Mashhadi was too powerful. Neither of our agents was capable of stopping him, and now the ayatollahs have us by the throat: if my planes kill Mashhadi, Iran has a casus belli against Israel. If my planes fail, all of Mashhadi’s sarin goes to Hezbollah, and those animals can gas Tel Aviv at their leisure.”
Wayne Shenzo had been using a bottle of Dewar’s scotch to hold down the focal point of his recent life, a marked-up, oversized topographic map of western Syria. Purple circles and exes marked locations across half of that war-torn nightmare of a country, from the great Mediterranean port of Latakia to the burning city of Qusair, and even a single desolate hilltop in the middle of the wilderness. He took a pull from the bottle, frowned, and set it back on the map before a sea breeze could blow the map over. An autumn storm had rolled across the Mediterranean towar
ds their villa on Cyprus. Its electricity permeated the warm ocean air that blew into their lounge through the open terrace doors. The smell of that warm, salty breeze could have arisen from a sea of blood.
“Jamsheed Mashhadi? Five bucks says Hayes has already killed that handsome son of a bitch.”
It was the spring of 1984, right after Persian New Year. Jamsheed Mashhadi stood in the exercise yard outside his school in south Tehran. There was unruly grass everywhere, choking the outlines of a soccer field and a pile of half-buried athletic equipment. Even as a boy of twelve, he’d semi-consciously learned to use the state of Iran’s grass as a barometer for how badly things had gone to hell during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the war with Iraq that began in 1980. This grass hadn’t been cut in a year, as he could recall. Something had happened to the groundskeeper, although none of the staff would say what. Sometimes things happened to staff, too.
He stood in the green field with ranks of other boys (all of the girls had been expelled by then, of course). They wore matching little olive fatigues, though their shoes were a hodgepodge of sandals, boots, and beaten sporting shoes. He remembered that the boy next to him was actually wearing soccer cleats. Each of them had a bright red bandanna across their foreheads, bearing a common slogan: “God is Great” written in bold yellow Arabic letters. Their new teachers, heroes of the Revolution with big black beards, had passed out the bandannas and tied them around each child’s head. Jamsheed’s was too tight and gave him a headache, but he wasn’t about to complain. He sensed the day was special, and he refused to ruin it by whining.
The men with beards had them stand in straight rows like soldiers for an eternity. No one could speak, no one could move, no one could go to the bathroom. The boy with the soccer cleats was fidgeting, but not Jamsheed. He was standing in the front row, and Jamsheed sensed that being in front brought with it a new set of responsibilities. His headband hurt, his feet were sore, and he did not move.
Then black sedans rolled right onto the soccer pitch and more bearded men showed up with rifles in their hands. They wore black uniforms emblazoned with Arabic calligraphy and full bandoliers of golden ammunition. Their eyes were ferocious, sweeping back and forth across the yard like lions hunting as they took up positions around the boys’ perimeter.
Then an old man in long black robes got out of a sedan and walked onto the soccer pitch alone. He carried a heavy-looking wooden box in his hand, but despite the sun, the box, and his old body, Jamsheed didn’t remember the man stumbling or even shuffling. There was something inside those black robes that lifted the old man up and made him powerful. It was him. It was Imam Khomeini, the greatest of ayatollahs, father of the Islamic Revolution that toppled the hated shah and his secret police who tortured men to death in Evin Prison. Some said that He was actually the Hidden Imam, the coming messiah of Shiite Muslims like those of Iran, but Khomeini rebuffed those suggestions. He was mighty enough without needing to play by a messiah’s rules.
The great ayatollah’s black eyes scanned over them like fire eating dry grass. Each of them felt his heart flutter as they imagined the Imam looked only at him, dissecting the boy’s soul and sniffing out his wickedness. Other than the eyes, Khomeini’s face gave away nothing. It was locked in a permanent scowl sealed in place by the canyon-like worry lines stretching across His massive forehead. He had prominent lips that stuck out through the edges of His grey beard, but they did not move, or show any emotion at all. Khomeini had gone beyond petty human emotions. He was a mountain covered in storm clouds, shrugging off the thunder and lightning.
Khomeini reached into the wooden box and pulled out its contents: a golden key on a string. The key sparkled in the light, and Jamsheed heard a rattling sound from the box that told him it was full of similar tokens. He remembered hearing a collective intake of breath from the boys as Khomeini held that first golden trinket up into the sunlight.
Khomeini spoke. “Peace be upon you, young heroes. Praise be unto God for bringing us all here today, and glory be upon the Hidden Imam for shining his light on Iran and producing this army of martyrs.”
Jamsheed didn’t know what a “martyr” was.
“And glory be unto all of you, for the blessing that God has bestowed on you. I envy the way that God has called upon you to serve him. Would that I were not an old man, that I could stand shoulder to shoulder with you against the infidels who threaten holy Iran and the servants of the Islamic Revolution. Would that I could join you, so that I could earn one of these.” He held the key up again, so all the boys could see.
“This key, this simple little piece of gold, is more precious than anything on earth. It is a key which unlocks the only door that matters: the door to the gates of paradise, where the Prophet Muhammad, praise be upon Him, and God’s martyrs await anyone brave enough to die in the name of Islam.” He replaced the bauble then held up the entire box. “For the bravery you are about to show, you have earned these keys, my children. God already smiles upon your sacrifice, and will count you among his most beloved martyrs. Now collect your prizes!”
Then He moved among them, handing out individual keys to every one of the assembled boys. He knelt and spoke quietly to each of them, never breaking eye contact. They all turned pale as the Imam whispered, unnerved by whatever mysteries He shared with them. Jamsheed tried to maintain the same discipline he had earlier, but Khomeini’s presence was electric, and he couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder from time to time, desperate to see how close the Imam was to him. It was like sitting outside in the moments before dawn, waiting for the first sliver of morning to light the dark afire.
But it did happen, at long last. After the boy with the soccer cleats got done mumbling and shivering under Khomeini’s gaze the Imam finally reached Jamsheed. He towered over the boy like the angel of death, and Jamsheed was swallowed by his shadow. Then Khomeini knelt in front of him and set down the almost-empty box of keys.
Khomeini’s eyes stabbed right through him. Jamsheed couldn’t even blink, let alone move away from that stare. Then the old man spoke in a quiet voice that sounded like dusty leather stretching, saying, “What is your name, Sir?”
“My name is Jamsheed Mohsen Mashhadi. I’m twelve years old, and I’m from here in Tehran,” Jamsheed said.
“Jamsheed was a great hero. And Mashhad is a great city. And twelve is a glorious age to die,” the Imam replied.
Jamsheed forgot his pretenses of discipline and asked, “I…I’m going to die?”
The old man’s face was unreadable. “Does that frighten you?”
“Yes. I don’t want to die.”
“Cowards say that, Jamsheed Mohsen Mashhadi. God called you here to fight for Islam and the Hidden Imam, so I know you are not a coward. This,” the Imam held up a golden key in front of Jamsheed’s eyes, “Is not for cowards. Only the great and the righteous ever see such a thing, and none of them see it until they die. Because you are so young, God has told me that you and you alone deserve this prize while you still live.
is how much God and I love you. Will you take this key and do honor to God and his Hidden Imam?”
Jamsheed wanted the key,
, how he wanted it. He wanted to believe everything that dark angel told him. But still, to his undying shame, he was twelve and he was afraid. “How am I going to die?” he whispered.
By this point Jamsheed noticed that the other boys were fidgeting around him. He was taking too long. He was saying something awful to the Imam, but Khomeini didn’t seem to care. He held the tip of the key against Jamsheed’s headband, right over the word “God,” and said, “You are going to run into a minefield. Do you know what mines are?”
Mashed had heard of them, but that was all. He said, “They kill people. They’re like a bomb in the ground.”
Khomeini nodded. “Yes. Bombs that the infidels of Iraq’s army have buried underground to stop our glorious soldiers from bringing God to the people of Iraq. The demon who rules Iraq; have you heard his name, Jamsheed?”
Jamsheed shivered at the thought of the monster’s name. “He’s Saddam Hussein. He says he’s going to kill you.”
“He does. He wants to kill me because he knows that I am bringing the glory of the Hidden Imam back to this earth, after hundreds of years of godlessness.” Khomeini said, making His hand into a fist. “Saddam Hussein is like Satan, a deceiver and a killer. He will stop at
to destroy Islam and the faithful. He does this because of his allies: Israel, the Little Satan, and America, the Great Satan. You know them, don’t you?”
“America is the root of all evil. America will make the entire world evil, like it is.”
Khomeini nodded again, saying, “Yes, and we are all that can stop it. America knows this, so it is using its slaves to destroy our Revolution while it is still new, before Iran is powerful again. So America told Saddam Hussein to invade Iran and kill us all. They gave him the mines to hide beneath our feet…and they gave him worse weapons. Weapons that turn the air itself into a poison.”
Khomeini held up the key again, continuing, “We cannot match those weapons, Jamsheed. We have old guns, and broken planes, and tanks with no treads. All we have is you, and your heart. We need you and the other boys to be brave, and to attack the minefields with your feet, clearing a path for the adults to attack after you. By then, the Iraqis will be filling the air with those poisons I mentioned, and thousands of adult martyrs will join you in paradise immediately. You will see them come, one-two-three, to join you in the shade of God’s beautiful gardens. There is no other way.”
“Will we win, Imam?”
Khomeini’s black eyes opened up like pits as he said, “Will we win? Take this to your grave, Jamsheed Mohsen Mashhadi: you were born to fight for God, and that fight will not end until you die a glorious martyr, no matter whether fools with their history books decide that you ‘won’ or ‘lost.’ Until the moment that death happens, you and your golden key stand among the angels. Anyone who stands against you is a slave of Satan, and you will kill them all.”