If you haven’t read Part I, please do so here.
Sunday and the knock on my door came quicker than expected. Major Mahmoud had arrived with two uniformed soldiers at his side.
“Apologies for coming myself, but I completed my work at the office and felt that it would be quicker to collect you myself.”
When I met him in my office, he was not in uniform and didn’t seem as daunting as the stories I had heard, but now standing in full uniform, I was intimidated. Probably why he wore the uniform, I thought.
“Not at all, Mahmoud. It’s a pleasure to have you in my home,” I replied. “I apologize for the state of my quarters, but I was not expecting guests. Please have a seat. Can I get you a cup of tea? Maybe some coffee?”
“Thank you, no,” said the Major. “If you are ready, we can get moving. There are many things I would like to show you.”
Leaving the two soldiers at my door, Mahmoud descended to the ground floor. Soldiers surrounded a black SUV, much more than would have been necessary for a simple dinner and tour of the city. Every instinct I had was telling me not to get into the car, but there was little that I could do right now without confirming any suspicions he may already have.
We got into the SUV and as we pulled away, the Major told the driver to head to the Palace.
I had visited the Golestan Palace Complex when I first arrived in Tehran; seventeen palaces, museums and halls built during the 200 years of Qajar rule. The Major took great pride in walking me through the palaces and sharing its history, stopping to introduce me to the different functionaries that came along to shake his hand. We went to the Takht-e-Marmar from there. As he told me of its history and construction, through the paintings and carvings that adorned the walls, he stopped and looked at me.
“This place disgusts me at times,” he said. I was shocked, no need to hide that—anyone would be shocked.
“In 1925, when I was just a young boy, I watched Raza Khan Pahlavi’s coronation as King of Iran here. He brought a Western mindset to the Irani people and dealt great damage to the Islamic civilization that we had lived under for centuries. We can never forgive the Pahlavi’s for that injustice.
“As Head of the Culture Ministry, all of these come under my purview,” he said with great pride. “We could spend the day traversing these buildings and sharing the history of the Irani people, but we have other things to see. Next stop, the National Jewels Museum, where the Peacock Throne is housed,” said the Major. “Have you ever seen the Throne in person? Twenty-six thousand seven hundred thirty-three gems built in 1798 for Fath Ali Shah. It is a religious experience to stand in the same room with it.”
The Major was not wrong. As we stood in the great decorative hall, my eyes were drawn to each of the gems that were handcrafted to fit on the throne. It truly was a sight to take in.
“What do you think Aftab? How would you like to be the King that sat upon this throne?” he asked.
“I honestly could not think of having an honor that great bestowed upon me, Mahmoud. I don’t think that I could ever do anything that would be worthy of such a gift.”
He chuckled, “Do you think those American slaves in Jeddah do anything special for the thrones they sit on? They fly in expensive jets committing haram with white women in return for selling the Muslim soul and homeland to those oppressors. Kings do nothing special and are greatly rewarded for it. People do great things, but are never rewarded.”
I didn’t know how to answer that without setting myself up.
He glanced at his watch saying, “We have some time, I would like to show you where I spend my time,” as he led the way out of the museum.
Climbing back into the SUV, the Major turned to me, casually. “I have been trying very hard to get information about you from the embassy, with no luck. Then I tried to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they were able to give me some information. One thing that I found very interesting is that you are a graduate of Burn Hall. That is a wonderful school. My nephew completed his education from there.”
I felt the hairs on my neck stand up, as I struggled to maintain an expressionless face. Burn Hall? That wasn’t in my legend, at least…
“I asked my nephew if he knew you and he said that you had met. His name is Saeed. Do you recall him?”
I was pinned, trying to search my memory for someone that I might have met in the past. Burn Hall was a large campus with many students, but could I give this man that answer without raising another question? How did Burn Hall show up on my profile at Foreign Affairs?
“Saeed said that you were an outstanding cadet at Burn Hall, but he lost contact with you when you enrolled at PMA,” and he paused to measure my reaction. “Mr. Aftab, how does a cadet enroll at PMA and then not serve in the national armed forces? You say you are a government servant. Your records at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs say you are a government servant. But there is no history of any past postings in the last four years since graduation.”
And there was the trap! My mind raced with possible answers that wouldn’t incriminate me further. “Always craft a story from real life encounters. It is more believable and you are able to tell it with some emotion,” my strategic maneuvers instructor had taught. In other words, lie but do it with enough truths that it holds up. Saeed? Burn Hall? PMA? Government service? I took my time answering him—don’t jump into anything too quickly.
“Mahmoud, I don’t recall Saeed. Burn Hall was a large campus and there were many students there,” I started slowly weighing my words. “As far as PMA, I was a student there. Greatly enjoyed my time, but I made a few indiscretions that made it difficult for me to continue in the military.”
“What indiscretions could a cadet make that could not be forgiven by the commanding officers?” asked Mahmoud. He was still casual, still relaxed, talking to me as if we were on a leisurely drive, and not heading towards what looked like a military complex.
I fidgeted a little, pretending to be reluctant. It gave me a little more time to think. “I don’t like to tell the story but since you have asked, I had a habit of being too friendly with the females at Ayub Medical College. I started a relationship with one of the young doctors there. A physical one. And, I wasn’t too subtle about bragging about it around campus.” I said, significantly. “We were out one evening having dinner and were late returning back to the hostel. Her father was waiting there for her when we returned. I was unaware that she lived in Abbottabad, since I always collected and returned her to her hostel.
“Her father was my Commandant at PMA, who demanded that I either marry her immediately or suffer the consequences. To make a long story short, I was asked to leave with immediate effect. My father enrolled me into a small college in Karachi to complete my Bachelor’s degree and I forgot my time there. You could say that I barely escaped with my head.”
As we pulled to a stop in front of an ominous building, he said, “Well, maybe we can have a more detailed discussion about what happened to you. I have invited Saeed to join us since he knows your background. I don’t seem to think that your account of the events is entirely correct and I have asked Saeed to find out more information through the Burn Hall network.”
The soldiers opened the door on either side and stood awaiting the Major’s command. I didn’t know what to do. There was nowhere to run. I only had one option. Hold the story and withstand whatever came my way. This man is a master quizmaster and had broken senior operatives, a young one like myself would be simple work, I thought.