Nojoom and his thugs led me back into the house. This time I was in a room where the furniture was mismatched in periods. The decor had evolved slowly through actual use, having been acquired over several phases of life. An antique Isfahan rug carried memories of big spills by little people. A bookshelf with titles ranging vertically and horizontally from classical Persian poetry to French impressionism girded the room. The walnut coffee table in the center was old, no doubt having hosted each book in turn. Most importantly though, the walls and mantles had photographs.
Several portraits were of an old man, posing by a rose bush, sitting behind a mahogany desk, posing proudly next to a young Dr. Nojoom. The father, I guessed. He was dead. Deceased recently, judging by the cut of the suit in his most recent photo. Leaning on a cane, the emaciated old man looked like he had help dressing himself. He stared into the camera as though he knew those eyes would soon have nowhere else to confess all they had seen.
The largest and most elaborately framed photo, was of a young woman who had died a long time ago. Her picture was not on the wall, but centered on the mantle. The wind in her dark, wavy hair seemed to be carrying away her spirit. Every other object on the mantle had been placed, shrine fashion, around that picture. The Doctor worshipped her. The room grieved. How had she died? I wondered. Her riding outfit suggested adventure. Was it an accident?
Dr. Nojoom read my mind. “May God be kind to her,” he said with a sadness that had grown older with him.
“Your wife?” I asked.
“Have a seat. Let’s talk about the ghost that haunts my hospital. The tall one you upset so much.” He replied.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know he would react that way.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” he said waving away my apology. “We got the impression he was a certain someone you knew.”
Briefly, I sensed greediness about the way he waited for my reply. He covered it up quickly by casually ordering some tea.
“I was just curious as to his name,” I said with the same indifference.
Dr. Nojoom turned his palms up and shrugged. “We don’t know. Last time we got him to talk, he said something about being into law enforcement.”
“Does that mean something to you?”
“It’s just sad to see a policeman addicted to narcotics,” I said, stalling for more information.
“He said his job was to find and report opium patches in remote villages. But the police were the ones who brought him in; they say he is not one of them. Do you know who he might be?”
Why couldn’t I just tell Nojoom? After all, he was the director of a reputable institution. Yet I couldn’t put behind me the subterfuge he had used to lure me into his house. And I certainly couldn’t forget that one of his servants carried a gun. If the patient was Golbaz, he was no village patrol. They don’t send policemen to train secretly for months in Europe, then assign them to find opium patches in far-flung villages. On the other hand, what if Aunt Mehri had just glamorized her husband, who really was a lowly patrol. Could she have gone so far as fake the letters he had sent her from Europe? And if Golbaz were with the Isfahan police, why would they deny knowledge of him? No, his mission was almost certainly as top secret as Aunt Mehri had claimed. I had to be careful.
“There was a shopkeeper in my grandfather’s neighborhood who was supposedly an addict,” I said. “Your patient looked a lot like him, though the shopkeeper was even taller.”
“Maybe he is your shopkeeper.,” the Doctor insisted, “You were younger then, perhaps he just looked taller to you. Please believe me, extraordinary circumstances warranted the actions I have taken. The patient has...”
The headlights of a car coming up the driveway lit up the room through the windows, animating a confused flurry of shadows. Too early to be Nojoom’s driver, I thought. But I hoped it was just fear throwing off my sense of time. “Oh well,” I interrupted, getting up to go. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Dr. Nojoom pressed a hand on my shoulder urging me back down into the sofa. “As I was saying, the patient is not well.”
“He’s an addict. Of course he’s not well.”
“Cancer,” Nojoom said. “He has a few months at the most. If there’s a chance to reunite him with his family, it’s my duty as his doctor to pursue any lead. If you can help in anyway.”
“I wish I could, only we’re leaving for Tehran early tomorrow.”
One of the goons appeared at the door. A curt bow of his head signaled that a certain task had been completed.
The Doctor sighed and gestured a go-ahead to him, then turned to me and said, “I thought you wanted to see the records.”
“But you just said you didn’t know anything about him,” I replied. “How could you have records?”
“A deal is a deal, isn’t it young man?” Nojoom smiled. “How would you like to meet the person you are so curious about? Ask him any question you want.”
“You had him brought here?” I said flabbergasted.
“In the flesh.”
The ghost was escorted in and placed in the sofa across from me. He had been cleaned up and given new clothes. Golbaz’s handsomeness had returned in a grayer color. Now he looked like a mature though emaciated Hollywood actor. Putting two fingers together, he asked for a cigarette. One of the henchmen stuffed a whole pack into the ghost’s shirt pocket.
“He’s all yours,” The Doctor said. Then he left us.
The bodyguards followed behind, but the one who Fournier thought had a gun, winked at me reassuringly, so as to say, “I’ll be right outside.”
The first thing I did after the ghost and I were alone, was whisper, “I’m not part of any of this. I had no idea talking to you would lead to trouble.”
I expected him to bolt and hide behind the sofa, but he got up and took his time perusing the bookshelves, ignoring me. He’d had his fix. An old paperback caught his interest. He pulled it out, and sat down with it. Then, lighting a cigarette, he said in a clear, magnetic voice, “How old are you, son?”
“Seventeen,” I said.
“What month were you born in?”
He did the calculation without pause and said, “1332, or do you go by 1953?”
I saw his meaning. “I was born and raised in Iran. Those were just my classmates at the institution.”
He tossed the paperback on the coffee table. Le conte de Monte Cristo. “How do you know Nojoom?”
I explained how I had just met the Doctor that morning. The ghost then grilled me in great detail as to what had led up to my cornering him at the rehab facility.
While I told my story, he kept cross checking my statements against each other, but it seemed to me he was using the interrogation technique to mask his curiosity about how everyone in my family was faring. We went into the greatest detail about Aunt Mehri. If her house was so small, why didn’t she build a second story? I guessed maybe she didn’t have enough money. He asked why. Didn’t her husband’s life insurance pay the claim?”
“What life insurance? I didn’t know there was one.”
He appeared upset. “There must have been one. You should ask her to check.”
After the cross-examination was over, I wanted to ask him about his illness, but knew that wasn’t wise. Terminal patients in Iran are rarely told of their condition. Supposedly people live longer if they are not told. So instead, I went right to the point and asked him once again if his name was Golbaz.
He lit his third cigarette and began, “If Nojoom could trace me to my family, he would torture and kill someone very dear to me and make me watch, so you’ll pardon me if I start somewhere else.”
Heroin paranoia or reality? I couldn’t tell. The thought of Nojoom torturing and killing Aunt Mehri seemed outrageous. On the other hand, Fournier had a point: there were guns and goons. Whether there was also a Marquis de Sade, was something the ghost would have to convince me of. “Start anywhere you’d like” I said.
The ghost exhaled a fog of smoke, enveloping us in the mists of the past. “Two years before you were born, something important happened in Iran. Is your head full of Churchills and Roosevelts, or do you know your own history?”
“Mossadegh?” I hazarded.
He nodded approvingly. “When he became prime minister he knew Iran needed an independent secret service in order to protect our constitution against foreign enemies. So he quietly planned an organization made up of the most trusted people. ”
Ah, the top-secret classification, I remembered. “Did the Shah know of this?” I asked surprised.
“Made up of the most trusted people,” he repeated with emphasis. “Besides, His Majesty had to be protected from such knowledge. We knew our chance of success was small. In those days you couldn’t trust your own little sister. But it was worth a try. When the UN started making noises about wanting Iran to pass anti-narcotics laws, we saw our chance for a cover story for the organization. We would start training as a narcotics unit in preparation for the laws. Pretending to be a police unit, we could go abroad and get expertise in infiltration, interrogation, coding, weapons, counter-intelligence, everything a secret service needs to operate.”
“I hadn’t realized narcotics and intelligence were so much alike,” I said.
“Not just alike. If the CIA wants to stick a knife in a guy in Isfahan, do you think they could send a freckle face from Kansas?”
“No, they’d have to have Iranian operatives,” I said.
“And those operatives sprout like weeds the moment a country passes anti-narcotics laws. They grow naturally, complete with organization, management, accountants, payroll, transportation, safe houses, informers, lookouts, forgers, assassins. Now all the Americans need to do is contract with the organized crime in that country. They were already doing that with what little crime organizations we had in Iran, the bazaar thugs you could find hanging around in any sports club. In fact we already had a few of our own people in those places as a counter force. But narcotics was going to be something on a different scale. If we managed to put our own operatives into this international network, then for every Isfahani with a blade in his belly, there would be a guy in Kansas with a dagger up his ass, the motherfuckers.” He caught himself swearing in front of a youth, then decided to chalk it up as an initiation rite. “That was the long term plan. No more just defensive intelligence; we needed to develop covert strike capability. They go after us, we’d go after them. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” I said, cozying into the sofa like a child listening, enthralled, to the war stories of an old uncle.
“We knew Dr. Nojoom’s father, the Khan, was a major opium landowner. He had already begun negotiating with foreign organized crime in anticipation of the new anti-narcotics laws. By the time I returned from my training in Europe, the Khan had been identified as the perfect infiltration target. My first big mission was to become part of his household staff. All I had to do was to get rid of one of the staff so that I could replace him.” The ghost snuffed his cigarette butt in the ash tray, forcefully smearing charred tobacco against the glass.
“You snuffed a poor servant?”
“No,” he smiled amusedly. I was glad to see I had entertained him. For the first time since I met him, I had seen him in warm spirits. “How would it look if a servant disappears and a total stranger shows up to apply for the job?” He said as he lit another cigarette, refreshing the thick haze in the space between us.
“I made friends with the Khan’s driver at the downtown bus station tea house, and after a couple of weeks told him an uncle had lined me up a great job with salary, benefits, retirement, and low interest home loans. Only I couldn’t go back to Tehran because I owed somebody a lot of money. I could get my uncle to get him that job, if he would vouch for me as a long-time relative and recommend me as a replacement. So the driver went and told the Khan whatever lies we’d worked out together. We, in turn, got him a job as a gopher driver for the Justice Ministry. He had no idea. Nice guy, probably retired by now.”
“Crumpled suit, no tie, stubbled face?” I said.
That jolted him, making me feel stupid for trying to impress him with my cleverness. He didn’t need to be reminded of how Aunt Mehri had been given the news of his death. “I apologize,” I said. “Thoughtless of me.”
“Does she…?” he badly wanted to finish the question. Tears ringed in his eyes.
“Of course,” I said. “She brings orange blossoms to the grave every spring.”
The ghost shook his head disapprovingly to silence me. If I had mentioned the location of where Golbaz was buried, Nojoom would know to look for the woman with the orange blossoms. Realistically, it was already too late, and the ghost was in deliberate denial. My very presence at Nojoom’s house would have told Golbaz that Aunt Mehri was now as good as dead>>>Part 5
Note: I have no historical evidence that Mossadegh ordered a secret service initiative. Indirectly, a defensive—and local--intelligence effort can be reasonably speculated.
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