Authors: William Mirza,Thom Lemmons
Tags: #Christian, #Islam, #Political, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Historical, #War & Military, #Judaism, #Iranian Revolution, #Cultural Heritage, #Religious Persecution
“No, your honor.”
“Why were you absent?” pressed the cleric.
“I was one of millions who didn’t go to the airport to—” began Reuben.
“The prisoner has confessed his disloyalty to the Imam Khomeini,” interrupted the mullah. “What is the verdict of the committee?”
“Death.” “Death.” “Death.” “Death.” Barbar held his head high as he pronounced the word, his face a mask of solemn duty. Ezra turned away in disgust.
“Reuben Ibrahim,” pronounced Mullah Hassan in a sepulchral tone, “you have been tried by this committee of the Holy Revolution and found guilty of treason. I sentence you to be shot.”
Reuben’s eyes pleaded silently with Ezra as he heard his doom pronounced. Ezra shook helplessly in outrage and grief. How had such madness so swiftly infected an entire nation? Iranians had never been so cruel to their fellow countrymen.
came to escort Reuben to the prison yard. The wretched man threw himself on the floor. “Please, don’t!” he screamed. “For the sake of my wife and child, I beg you!”
lifted him to his feet and shoved him toward the door. Just before he was pushed outside, he whirled about and faced the room. “Long live His Majesty Mohammed Reza Pahlavi!” he shouted. “Long live the monarchy! Death to the butchers! The day will come when an outraged nation will avenge the blood of innocents like me!” One of the
violently jerked the man backward by the shirt collar, and he was gone. Moments later, from just outside the window, a burst of rifle fire was heard. Reuben Ibrahim was dead.
“Ezra Solaiman, rise, bow to the committee, and take the witness chair.”
Nathan Moosovi parked the Volvo in front of his shop. Moosa looked at the storefront—its windows boarded up, a heavy new chain and padlock anchoring the grille that guarded the front door. Nathan got out of the car and walked around in front, motioning with a jerk of his head for Moosa to follow.
They went inside the darkened shop. The shelves were back in their places, but many of the stolen wares had not been replaced. They walked to the back of the store, to the small office space beside the steel strongbox still displaying the jagged hole cut by the burglars only days before.
Nathan reached above him and switched on an incandescent light beneath a shade hanging from the ceiling. As he looked across the scarred wooden table at Moosa, the shadows moved back and forth across his features as the lamp swung like a pendulum. Moosa saw Nathan’s eyes now in light, now in shadow. The two men looked at each other for perhaps thirty seconds, Nathan unsure of how to begin, Moosa unsure of what Nathan would say.
“Moosa, we Jews cannot any longer depend on the government to protect us from the hostility of the Muslim majority,” said Nathan at last. “Look at what’s happened. My father is dead, and your father is imprisoned. These men were not criminals, Moosa, as you know full well. Their only crime is being Jewish. And then, of course, my shop was looted—and that’s just the part we know about. The country is destroying itself.” He rapped the table with his knuckles to emphasize his last words. Moosa looked down, nodded slightly, then looked back up as Nathan continued.
“And it isn’t just the Jews, Moosa. Anyone with a grudge against anyone from before the revolution has to do no more than whisper in the ear of his uncle the mullah, and the accused finds himself sitting in a tribunal, as often as not with the accuser as one of his judges.”
Nathan ran a hand through his hair, then stood up, pacing back and forth as he spoke.
“The mullahs and their
apes have a stranglehold on us all, Moosa. They are drunk with power as long as Khomeini sits on his mat in Qom, spouting Shiite slogans and egging them on. And now some of the college students are joining the parade. Have you noticed? The crowds outside the American Embassy are getting bigger and noisier.”
Moosa shrugged. “You’re right—but so what? What can we do?”
Nathan stopped pacing and stared at Moosa. “Some of us think that the only language the mullahs understand is the language of force.”
Moosa’s eyes widened. He had such thoughts himself, but hearing them spoken aloud was, at once, heady and terrifying. Cocking his head sideways, he asked quietly, “How far are you prepared to go?”
In answer, Nathan pulled from atop the ruined strongbox a newspaper, several days old. Opening it on the table in front of Moosa, he tapped with his forefinger at a headline.
Killed in Night Ambush,” it read. Moosa felt his face growing stiff with apprehension. His eyes locked with Nathan’s. The lamp had almost stopped its swinging, and the harsh light of the bulb etched the lines and shadows of the other man’s face in a stark relief of light and darkness.
Something indefinable was speaking to Moosa, far down in the dark places of his soul. Something obscure and terrifying and intoxicating. Something he had not, until this moment, suspected himself of harboring.
Living in the warm congeniality of America, he would never have entertained such a possibility. But the brutality and unfairness of his father’s arrest, the casual injustice visited upon Nathan by the
and the death of his father—all of these events were chanting within him, evoking something dark and violent. He could imagine the general shape of the invitation being extended to him by Nathan Moosovi. One way or another, Moosa knew, his next words would be a turning point, a Rubicon.
Taking a deep breath, he said, “Who else knows what you are doing?”
Ezra walked to the chair. His legs felt as if they might give way. He turned around to take his seat and stiffened when he saw Firouz seated at the back of the room. His former employee’s face was unreadable, but something in his eyes let Ezra know that his suspicions in the days before the Shah’s leaving were truer than he had guessed.
What does Marandi stand to gain from my death?
How much does he know of the dealings with Ameer Nijat?
“In the name of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate,” recited Hassan. Turning to Ezra, he asked, “What is your profession, Solaiman?”
For several seconds Ezra could not make his voice heard. “I am—a druggist, your honor,” he said.
“And for how long have you pursued this line of work?”
Ezra looked confused. Where did these questions lead? Would they shoot him for selling his business, or merely for being a Jew? His brow furrowed as he tried to anticipate the shape of the frame the mullah was constructing.
“Answer the question, Solaiman,” threatened Hassan.
Ezra began panting. His panicked eyes raced from the mullah to Firouz’s hostile face. As he was opening his mouth to reply, the door to the courtroom opened.
Nader Hafizi entered the room, his eyes riveted on Ezra’s stricken gaze. It was Hassan’s turn to look confused. Mullah Hassan stared blankly at Hafizi as the older cleric walked up to Ezra and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry to be so late, my friend,” Hafizi said quietly. “We returned from Isfahan only this morning. I read the note left by your son, and I came as fast as I could.”
,” huffed the presiding mullah at last, “we’re running a trial here. What right have you to intrude on these proceedings?”
Hafizi turned to face the committee. “Mullah Hassan, I am here to appear as a witness for the defense of Ezra Solaiman,” he said firmly. “I have evidence which will prove that he is emphatically not an enemy of Islam.”
An astonished murmur rippled through the room. Ezra glanced back at Firouz and saw annoyed surprise splashed across his angry face.
Hafizi held Hassan’s eyes a moment longer, then turned back to Ezra. “Give me the receipt,” he said.
Ezra fumbled at the watch pocket with numb fingers. In a moment, he had ripped loose the basting and opened the pocket, withdrawing the receipt for his donation. His eyes embraced Hafizi with a look of gratitude as he placed the paper in the older man’s hand.
Hafizi turned to the committee. “I hold here a receipt, personally signed and stamped by
Ayatollah Kermani, for a donation of one million
”—a quiet gasp hissed among the audience—“for the expansion of a local Muslim cemetery. The money was given by the man you see here,” he said, pointing to Ezra.
Mullah Hassan’s cheeks reddened as he inspected the document placed in front of him by Hafizi. Angrily he glanced up at Marandi, then down again. He would take this Tudeh fool severely to task for placing him in such a ridiculous position.
Hafizi continued, “Ezra Solaiman is accused of being an enemy of Allah and Islam. Yet he donated a large sum of money to honor the hallowed martyrs of our nation. How can this be? I urge you, brother Hassan and members of the committee—release this man. He is no criminal. He has done more good deeds for our people, though he is a Jew, than many Muslims who have the reputation of being devout.”
Hafizi stared pointedly at Hassan, who reddened even further. Without looking up, he handed the receipt down the line of the committee for inspection. When each had given the appearance of careful scrutiny, the paper was passed back to the presiding mullah.
Hassan cleared his throat. Sill unable to meet Hafizi’s eyes, he turned toward the other judges. “Members of the committee,” he mumbled, “since this … new evidence has come to our attention, I recommend that we … that we release Ezra Solaiman and absolve him of the charges brought against him. How do you vote?”
“Agreed.” “Agreed.” “Agreed.” “Agreed,” came the rubber-stamp replies.
Ezra let out the breath he had been holding in a moan of relief. He held his face in his hands as tears of jubilation started from his eyes.
“This tribunal will take a short recess,” continued Hassan, rising from his seat. His eyes roved the room, looking for that idiot, Marandi. But he was nowhere to be seen.
Firouz bounded through the door of the pharmacy, staring wildly about him. The mullahs would be after his skin now, he knew. He would have to hide until their anger dulled with the passing of time. But first he intended to destroy this place. He should have anticipated the cunning of the old Jew—enlisting the aid of a mullah, of all things! But if Firouz could not have this store, neither would anyone else. He remembered an old hatchet Solaiman kept in a dark corner of the storeroom. Quickly Marandi ran to the back of the shop.
As Firouz entered the storeroom, Ameer Nijat, clipboard in hand, looked away from the stacks of merchandise he was inspecting, eyeing the intruder quizzically. Marandi froze, shocked into immobility by the unexpected sight. Just behind Nijat’s shoulder was a younger man, looking confusedly from Nijat to the agitated Marandi. Calmly, Ameer Nijat handed the clipboard to the younger man, placing his hands on his hips. Perhaps a full minute passed in silence as the two men stared at each other.
“Ah, yes!” said Nijat at last, “I remember now—you are the helper! Marandi, isn’t it?”
Dumbly, Firouz nodded.
Nijat smiled, but his eyes looked as dangerous as a stalking panther’s as he spoke again. “And what may I do for you today, Marandi?”
Firouz’s brow wrinkled in confusion. Dropping his glance to the floor, he cast about furiously for a suitable answer. “
Nijat, I … I work here,” he mumbled.
Nijat chuckled, shaking his head. “No, Marandi. You don’t work here anymore. I am not so trusting as Solaiman.” The amusement left his voice, replaced by a tone as hard-edged as a knife. “I now own this pharmacy, Marandi. And there is no place for you here. Get out.”
Marandi glared at Nijat’s feet, unable, even in his rage, to meet the other man’s gaze. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he felt his face burning with humiliation. So—the old Jew had tricked him again. Solaiman had won twice today, but there would be other days, Firouz vowed silently. Nostrils flaring in sullen anger, he slouched out of the pharmacy.
Nijat watched him go, never changing his position. When the bells over the door clattered at Marandi’s exit, he spoke to his son without turning his head.
“Yusef, make another note. We will need to have the locks changed on these doors. And perhaps we should install a burglar alarm.”
Ezra got off the bus, gazing about him as if he had never before seen his own neighborhood. His chest pounding with the joy of his release, he almost ran down the sidewalk toward his gate.
He pressed the button in the wall. Marjan’s head yanked erect in his kennel, his nose testing the air for the identity of the person at the gate. Slowly, he got to his feet. Just as slowly, the heavy black tail began to wag.
Esther was lying on the divan in the sitting room, so beaten down by depression she was barely able to summon the energy to rise and answer the buzzer. If the
were back, she reflected, it was probably to arrest her; or, perhaps they had found out Moosa was here. She was so laden with despair she hardly cared which. She parted the curtains in the front windows and peered out toward the gate. A bedraggled fellow stood there. What could he want? She looked closer. Her breath caught in her throat.
Can it be … ?