Authors: Gerald Seymour
Now she confronted him. He was dressed. He wore polished shoes, trousers with a crease, a clean shirt and an old but cared-for jacket. She had no office diplomats with her, ready with advice. Her boss was in the UK, and by now would be on his way into Central London. She had not been able to raise the head of Iran Desk, and the dogsbody was waiting for a train and hadn’t a secure link with him. So far she had spoken only to a duty officer: ‘Sorry and all that. ’Fraid I’ve never been where you are. We’re trying to put together some sort of task-force. Best I can do is suggest you dominate him. Pretty obvious. Keep him unsettled and off balance, and wait for the cavalry to get there. Apologies for being so inadequate, but good luck.’
She sensed the Iranian was broken. His eyes were red, his fingers worked continuously and his breathing was erratic. He had been in the cubicle with the Slav woman when they’d arrived. He’d sat on the bed, with her on a chair, smoking. One of the marines had taken the man’s wallet from his pocket and passed it to Katie. He was Mehrak, al-Qods, a corporal. He was thirty-four a driver. He was stationed in Tehran and his card gave him access to a barracks in the centre of the city. He was . . . What? A
? She remembered her grandfather exploding when he was fishing on a Lancashire river. A fly had been taken and a rod arched. Not a salmon or a sea trout, just a ‘bloody vermin pike’! He’d calmed down, taken the fly from its jaws, slipped the fish back into the current, swigged from his hip flask and remarked that it had made his day.
How to make hers?
‘Dominate him.’ She stood in front of him. She wore jeans and a loose blouse. Her arms and head were bare, and back in her apartment her dinner was cooling on the table beside the beer she had looked forward to for most of a dull day. She had come out too fast and wasn’t dressed to confront an Iranian zealot, with God and hell-fire spilling out of him. Now he would be frightened.
She took hold of his chin and jerked it up.
. ‘Why couldn’t you screw the hooker, Mehrak?’
She saw the misery in his face, the shame, and the gold ring on his finger. She spoke good Farsi, colloquial and vulgar.
‘Adultery. Cheating on your wife. How would the Qods view that? Here on duty, are you? Spending your time in a whorehouse!’
She thought him barely worthy of her time or the expense of the honey trap so carefully fashioned by the station chief. But the Qods was top of the heap . . . His ID said he was a corporal, a driver . . . and he was in Dubai. ‘Who do you drive, Mehrak?’
Those who knew Katie from home, university or the Buenos Aires station, her initial posting, or from the canteen at VBX wouldn’t have recognised her: she oozed authority. She had no boyfriend in either Dubai or London, and had minimal knowledge of brothels or the men who patronised them.
She said, ‘Well, Mehrak, if you’re going to play dumb I’ll play rough. There’s a film, with soundtrack, and I promise it’ll be on the Internet by morning. We’ll make sure the site doesn’t go down with the number of hits it’ll take. You’ll be the biggest laugh from Cairo to Sana’a and Khartoum to Istanbul. Couldn’t get it up. Do you want to get on the plane and face the music at home? Your people will be thrilled with your behaviour, but I doubt your wife will be very forgiving. Now, did you hear my question?’
He looked up.
‘Who do you drive, or are you in the pool?’
She was told. Katie could have punched the air. She knew the name. There was a restricted file. She nodded.
They pulled him to his feet, hustled him through the door, down a flight of stairs and into the car. He was on the back seat, squashed between the guys, and she drove along the coast road towards the embassy.
She was a small, hunched figure. She came off the bus and walked fast along the pavement, the stalled traffic in the road belching fumes. Little of her was visible, certainly not her ankles or wrists; she would have been held up as an example to others by the modesty police. Men worshipped her beauty, they said. Farideh had hidden her face with a veil, which kept her warm and acted as a filter against the smog that hung over Tehran in the winter. She wore cotton gloves and the handles of her shopping bag, heavy with vegetables, cut into her fingers.
She hadn’t met the boy that evening. Married for seven years, unfaithful to her husband for four, she was never reckless in her liaisons. She didn’t know when her husband would return from his journey. Now, she would walk to the four-storey building that was their home, climb the stairs, unlock the door and enter the loveless apartment.
Love was outside Farideh’s front door. The boy would have walked on hot coals to be with her, but she had refused him that evening.
She was twenty-five, had been married a week after her eighteenth birthday, and the boy wanted to be her third lover in the last four years.
Her eyes, high cheekbones and full lips were hidden under the headscarf and veil. If she was careless, she might be arrested, taken with her lover to a gaol and hanged. When she thought of hanging, her hands trembled and she had to clasp them so tightly that her wedding ring gouged into her finger. She wanted to be loved, but not loved by
She hated her husband, despised him. He was abroad. Farideh had not been told when he would return, whether it would be late that evening or the following day; neither did she know what he did for the brigadier, or the duties assigned to him by al-Qods. She knew nothing because he had told her nothing before he left for the commercial flight to Dubai out of Imam Khomeini International. She knew nothing because she had asked him nothing.
On the stairs she met a neighbour from the floor above. He was a bus driver, but his son worked at the university and gave him money so he could afford an apartment in this block. The man ducked his head and didn’t look into her covered face. It was a nervous reaction, shared by the others on the staircase, because her husband was in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and drove a man who had significant authority. Sometimes a big polished Mercedes saloon was parked on the kerb. The man flattened himself against the wall, where the paint needed renewal, and didn’t speak.
If she was careless, any of her neighbours on the staircase would revel in the chance to denounce her, the wife of a corporal in a prestigious unit.
She climbed the final flight, rummaged in her bag for her key and went inside.
The heating was turned down, a sensible economy. She stripped off her coat, headscarf and veil, looked around and saw that his bag was not dumped by the bedroom door and the washing-machine in the kitchen wasn’t on. She went into the bedroom and saw that he was not lying on their bed. They did not make love, but they slept there, back to back. Often she placed a bolster between them so that he couldn’t touch her. He didn’t know that she had taken two lovers in the last four years. He would have killed her if he had found out. Her husband, Mehrak, whose advances she had refused for many months, had punched her and closed her eye. She had gone to work the next day, at the insurance company, and in the office, where she was on Reception, she had offered no explanation. He had not been violent since. She would hang by the neck if she were careless.
She switched on the television, clicked though the channels: a documentary on Zionist brutality in the Gaza Strip, a programme on abject poverty in the land of the Great Satan, and a mullah discussing public morality as written in the Holy Book. She left it on. Her husband would never divorce her. It was said she was beautiful, a judgement passed by men and women, and he would be humiliated to accept – in public – that he had failed to hold on to her. Could
? It was impossible. And there could be no life with any of her other men. She began to unpack her shopping.
Farideh barely acknowledged her parents and elder brother, who worked at her father’s stall on the edge of the bazaar, selling good-quality linen, and rarely saw them. She was polite when her husband’s mother and the remainder of his family visited on a festival or birthday, and she appeared dutiful. The family that mattered to her was small and tight-knit: two elderly men, skilled mechanics, who wore oil-stained overalls and could repair any engine – car, motorbike or scooter – and had a room over their yard. She was tied to her new, hidden relations, not by blood but by dependence and survival. Their safety rested on her being always careful. She had been with them tonight and had drunk their juice but had not welcomed the man who yearned to be her newest lover.
Her supper, alone, would be bread, goat’s cheese and a tomato. She didn’t know when her husband would return, or where he was.
She didn’t care.
It had not been a good year for the opium farmers of Nimroz province. There had been a plague in the poppy fields so that much of the cultivation had failed and many of the laboratories for the refinement to raw heroin had been idle. The origin of the plague was greed. In past years many farmers had rotated their crops, planting wheat one year and vegetables another, sometimes going for barley or maize, then ploughing and sowing poppies. Without rotation, the crop had withered. The cause of the greed was the reward that opium and refined heroin provided. They were hard times for the farmers of Nimroz, but the suffering was relative. The insurgents were reasonable and took a cut in trafficking fees on the crops’ movement by lorry to the hidden refineries where the chemicals waited, brought in from mainland China. Poppies needed fertile agricultural land and well-irrigated fields. The water-filled ditches were of good quality in Nimroz, and provided the best growing conditions; American taxpayers had funded their construction through USAID in the 1950s. For all the difficulties, the refining of opium into heroin continued.
At one refinery two men, working with cleaned oil drums and a portable generator, had completed the process of refining fifty kilos, then had divided the brown resin into two-kilo slabs. Each was wrapped in waterproof paper, and bound with heavy tape, then packed in a cardboard box.
The farmers made a bigger profit from poppies than from any other crop, and in the refinery the self-taught chemists received higher rewards than if they had prepared drugs for the Charsad Bestar hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan’s best. But they, the traffickers, lorry drivers and camel herdsmen would earn a fraction of the sum the consignment would be worth, once it had been transhipped across the border with Iran, then Turkey, over the strait and into Western Europe. The huge sums involved meant that many sought to work in the trade.
The first leg, from a hut with wooden walls and a corrugated-iron roof, was on rough tracks, requiring a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the men escorting it were heavily armed, prepared to shoot and kill to ensure that their consignment reached the next stage in the long chain. In the darkness, using only sidelights, a Nissan drove towards the west where, hours before, the sun had sunk.
Tadeuz Fendon was first into the VBX building, the yellow and green monster squatting beside the bridge that spanned the Thames. There was always a whiff of expectancy when big men strode through the security gates, flashing their entry cards. He didn’t stop to pass the time of day with the uniformed guards, but made for the lifts. Sara Rogers was a couple of minutes behind him.
They seemed to have arrived from separate starting points, as they had intended. Inter-office relationships, for senior staff, were frowned on. She was his ‘squeeze’, and his gatekeeper. She took a lift to the fifth, south-east wing.
Tadeuz Fenton ruled Iran Desk: he knew what he wanted, where to climb, and it was difficult, almost impossible, to find his footprint on a contentious matter. He understood what his superiors wanted and what resonated with the more junior in the outer work area. Principal on the wish list was an ‘enemy’. He could have said that it was not for the Service to sit on its backside and churn out analysis: that was left to the hacks of
; the Foreign and Common-wealth office was stuffed with classics graduates capable of the same output. He believed that the new breed of young people in the Service wanted something worthwhile to
and something rotten to change for the better. He liked to say to the new breed that the ‘ethics crap’ FCO spouted put a ball and chain on the ankles of Service officers, that they were not hired to be ordinary. Could the men and women of VBX survive without an enemy? Hardly. He had elevated Iran to the status once enjoyed by the old Soviet Union in Cold War days. There had been the fallow years, with the Irish, organised crime, and the supposed weapons threat of the Iraqi buffoon. Even al-Qaeda had proved a dream opponent. Thank God for an ‘enemy’. May the Lord bless Iran.
Dunc Whitcombe was there by the time the coffee had been made, and Mandy Ross. The girl in the UAE was coming through on the secure link, and Petroc Kenning was in a taxi from Paddington. He sat down, stuck his feet on his desk, spoke his thoughts – Mandy took notes – and Sara was on the phone, with the scrambler. He would have called it a ‘high-octane time . . . what we’re here for, and what we do best’. God, after all these years of being bereft, Fortune had blessed them with an ‘enemy of value’.
The reinvented Soviet Union, with or without short-range missiles based in Kaliningrad and capable of striking any NATO capital, would never have the same clout as the original, and personnel had been driven to drink by studying the drones’ aerial views of mud-walled compounds in north Waziristan. Important to him: success in Iran would distance the Service from the shambles of the dossier and Iraq. He had spread the word, galvanised the young people, flattered and cajoled his elders, and had wrung resources from them. Because he now stood face to face with the respected opponents in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (Vezarat-e Ettela’at va Amniyat-e Keshvar or VEVAK) and had on his wall the satellite photograph of its buildings in the parkland complex to the south of the Shahid Hemmat Highway, north Tehran, he had carved for himself a place of importance in the building, and was envied for it.