Authors: William Mirza,Thom Lemmons
Tags: #Christian, #Islam, #Political, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Historical, #War & Military, #Judaism, #Iranian Revolution, #Cultural Heritage, #Religious Persecution
As they hurried down the corridor toward their departure gate, Ezra noted
stationed at ten-meter intervals, nervously fingering their weapons and looking over the heads of the crowd as if awaiting a signal.
“Ezra,” Esther whispered as they paced quickly along, “why are there so many
about? Are they always here in such numbers?”
“Quiet,” he urged, “and don’t look at them. If they read doubt or fear in your face, they will stop us for questioning.” Ezra was beginning to feel a cautious confidence: the Ayatollah’s signature was like a magic talisman, granting them safe passage through the maze of customs. Was it actually going to work? Were their trials nearly over?
Ahead of them, Hafizi had also noticed the inordinate number of guards. “There is a mullah arriving today from Iraq for a conference with the Ayatollah,” he explained over his shoulder as they walked along. “Security is somewhat tighter because of this, no doubt.”
“No doubt,” agreed Ezra, his eyes steadfastly fixed toward the space in front of his striding feet. “Just keep walking,” he tersely whispered to his wife and daughter. “And don’t look at them.”
Surely they couldn’t get this close to their destination without being successful,
he thought. Surely …
“Which gate is ours?” panted Sepi, pulling the strap of her shoulder bag back into place.
Ezra consulted the boarding pass. “Twelve,” he said, replacing the paper in his pocket as he walked. “Our plane boards from Gate 12.”
Ari closed the trunk and nodded to Moosa, who started the engine of the black Ford and backed the car into the concealed bay at the rear of the warehouse.
After the fiasco on Abbasabbad Street, they had abandoned the Volvo in the city’s outskirts. One of the men found this aging Ford Fairlane on a dark side street and summarily appropriated it for use by the group.
Aziz had proved as good as his word. Locked in the boot of the car was a box of gleaming rifles and automatics. They had crept into the center of the city late last night and found the cache still concealed where the newest member of the band said it would be.
Unfortunately, as they exited the area, they had met a patrol of
. Moosa drove slowly, as if he had no reason for alarm, but still the jeep swung around in a U-turn and zoomed up behind them, its searchlight raking across their rear window. As Moosa pulled over to the curb, the two men sitting beside the front and rear passenger-side doors rolled out onto the sidewalk and came up behind the Ford, firing their pistols at the
from point-blank range.
The gunfight was quick and deadly, for the guerrillas had the advantage of surprise. Three of the occupants of the jeep fell onto the street, their bodies riddled with bullets. One of the
somehow managed to get the jeep into reverse and screamed away backward down the street, the gunfire from Moosa and his accomplices following him in a deadly farewell salute until the vehicle squealed out of sight around the street corner.
When the jeep had gone, and just before they left the scene, Ari had ordered them to strip the dead
of their guns and ammunition. Moosa had hurried to the nearest bloody corpse. In the red glow of the Ford’s tail lights, he saw the face of the one he plundered. It was a boy—not yet old enough to grow a beard. Swiftly Moosa unbuckled the bandolier of cartridges from the lad’s torso and tugged it free. He grabbed the pistol from the youth’s gory fingers and rushed to the car, trying to forget that here too was some mother’s son, some sister’s brother.
The face of the slain boy still haunted him as he switched off the engine. Handing the keys to Ari and waking toward the warehouse office, he wondered how many more children would die—with or without guns in their hands.
The men gathered about the table. Smokes were passed around. “Those
pigs never knew what hit them,” bragged one of the men who had been in the car the night before. “The stupid fools didn’t even have their guns cocked.”
“Most of them are morons,” agreed another. “They think a uniform and a gun is all the protection they need.”
“All right, enough,” called Ari. “Let’s get down to business. We’ve got an operation to pull off in three days, and it’ll be a lot tougher than ambushing
in a jeep. Let’s get started.”
The room quieted. “Manuchehr,” called Ari, “what have you found out about the arrival arrangements?”
“He’s coming in at Gate 13,” Manuchehr responded, unfolding a schematic drawing of the main terminal building of Mehrabad Airport. “Here,” he said, putting his finger on the map. The men gathered behind him to look over his shoulder, studying the map silently for a few moments.
“Gate 13 will be unlucky for him,” jested one of the men’s sotto voice. Some chuckles greeted the joke.
“The plane is supposed to land around 10 in the morning,” finished Manuchehr.
“Not too far from this service road here,” mused Ari, his finger tracing a possible escape route.
Moosa nodded in agreement, chewing his lip in thought. “Better to cut across the runways here than back out the main gate. If we hit quickly and keep moving, we can be almost to the Tarasht Highway before the
can mount much pursuit.”
“Very well, that’s it, then,” announced Ari decisively. “Everybody sit down.” The men shifted slowly back to their seats, waiting to hear Ari’s further orders.
“The car stays here until 9:30,” he began. “We don’t want anyone recognizing it from our little scuffle last night. Aaron will drive it to the service road beside the runways, where we will regroup after the action. Manuchehr and …” Ari’s eyes roamed the group. “… and Hafez will have the other cars waiting there. Everyone is to take a bus or a cab to the airport. And make sure there aren’t more than three of you together on any single bus.” The men nodded, taking in the instructions.
“When you get to the airport, don’t cluster together. Stay in ones and twos, until …” Ari looked at the center of the table with a calculating expression, “… until 9:45. Then start moving toward Gate 13. When the Iraqi mullah comes through the door and greets the first member of the delegation, that will be your signal to act.”
With a sinking feeling, Moosa realized that he was included in the group inside the terminal. This time he would not be waiting in the car when the shooting started. He would be in the thick of it.
Firouz Marandi was impassive as he evaluated the probabilities.
It could be chancy
, he thought.
But not impossible.
“I’m sure I need not say this,” finished Ari, “but caution compels me. If anyone here says anything to anyone outside this group—be they wife, mother, sister, father, or brother—we could all be dead.” He paused as the finality of his words reflected leadenly on each face in the circle. “Trust no one. Confide in no one.” For ten heartbeats his will gripped them with the severity of the upcoming mission. “That is all,” he said at last. “You may go.”
Ezra Solaiman and Nader Hafizi walked out of the escrow office. Ezra turned, smiling, to the mullah and gripped his hand. “Congratulations! You are now the owner of a fine house which will serve you well for many years to come!”
Hafizi shook his head in wonderment. “I still cannot comprehend such good fortune,” he breathed.
“It would be a great convenience to us,” Ezra said, “if we could remain in the house until the day of our departure for the airport—three days from now. Will that be possible?”
The mullah looked at Ezra reproachfully. “How can you even ask such a thing?” he scolded. “When a diamond falls from heaven into a man’s lap, does he upbraid Allah because it is not an emerald?
Ezra laughed. “I apologize,
And thank you for your kindness.”
“I’m sure I don’t need to caution you,” said Hafizi, as they walked toward the nearest bus stop, “not to tell anyone else about what I have done for you. When you have gone, I could still be accused of accepting a bribe.”
“I will tell no one,” promised Ezra. “But,” he added after a pause. “I would beg of you a final boon.”
“What else is left, my friend?”
“Would you and your gracious wife accompany us to the airport? It would be a tremendous comfort to us to have your companionship and—I will say it—your protection until we are finally on our way.”
The men took several paces as Hafizi mulled the idea. As they reached the bus stop, he looked up and gripped Ezra’s hand. “I will come with you, at least,” he said. “Akram dislikes noise and bustle, and I would not willingly compel her, but I will come. I promise.”
,” said Ezra gratefully. A bus roared up, and Ezra glanced at its placard. “This is my bus,” he said, turning to go. As he stepped into the dark interior, he turned again toward the mullah. “I will never forget this,” he promised.
“Go in peace,” answered Hafizi, as the doors closed, and the bus pulled away.
As Esther folded the clothes into her suitcase, she suddenly realized that she ought to be crying or at the very least feeling despondent. She felt nothing. She watched her hands as if they were the hands of a stranger: folding the clothes, arranging them, like the faded souvenirs of a forgotten holiday, into the valise atop her unmade bed.
Something final had left her at the relinquishment of the house. As if realizing at last what the departure from Iran was to cost, she had looked deep within herself and found a part of her that was reluctant to pay the price. The knowledge by turns sickened her at her own weakness and angered her at Ezra and the events that forced him to such desperate generosity.
She wanted to take the samovar, but Ezra said it was too cumbersome to lug on and off the airplane. The heavy kerosene-heated samovar had been a gift from her mother on the day she and Ezra wed. It had belonged to her grandmother, and Esther begged as much as her shredded pride would allow, but Ezra remained adamant. “Nothing we cannot carry with us, he had said. “One valise and one shoulder bag apiece. I will check nothing except the carpet….”
The carpet! That ridiculous Trojan horse of a box with all their money hidden in such a childishly obvious fashion! Esther wanted to shout aloud at him, “You fool! Do you imagine that your stupid little plan is going to work? You will succeed only in having all remaining sustenance confiscated and ourselves arrested as smugglers!”
But the numbness within her would not allow such a venting of rage. He was locked away from her, inside the shell of his futile machinations. She, in turn, was frozen into the barren cocoon of her depression. Their worlds did not intersect. She went along with his plans as one riding a raft over the edge of a cataract: she could hear the roaring of the falls, feel its death-mist on her face, but she was too surely snared in the current to resist.
She heard the bell downstairs announce the presence of someone at the front gate. Her heart turned to ice.
Someone knows! They’ve come back for us!
Her breath trembling in and out of her chest, she crept to the window and peered around the curtain. Even as she did so, the bell rang again, evidencing the impatience of the unknown caller.