John Conway walked the dusty halls of the government building on el-Sharab in old Tehran – his feet falling silently on the old Persian pile that stretched endlessly down the high corridors. After fifty or so metres a turbaned man appeared at his approach, waited, then turned so John might follow through double doors to another corridor, with even thicker carpet, lined with doors embossed with mythical figures from early Islam. He was shown into a reception room where a tall man, bearded, but in western dress, rose to meet him.
“I am Ramin Khorasani, the minister’s private secretary. Please feel free to contact me for any need.” He handed John his card then opened the door to the minister’s office indicating that John should enter.
Sayed Mandana Kavoosi remained seated as John entered, as did Sir Nigel Harper. Israel Ali Aku extended a hand as he rose to greet him. “Good to see you again Commander. No doubt you have been wondering where we went and what we’ve been doing. How are things out at Qasr-e-qand?”
As he took the offered hand John looked around Kavoosi’s huge office. A large desk sat in the centre before the tall widows of dusty glass in dark wood frames over ornate sills each padded in scarlet felt with tasselled cushions in blues and gold. The desk looked old, probably an antique, but the telephone, wireless keyboard, and LCD screen were modern – Singapore stockbroker modern. Kavoosi sat upright on an elegant teak chair with leather arm pads that held him a little higher than Sir Nigel, Israel and, surprise, surprise, Bill Brown. They each sat on small sofas across from each other
John looked hard at Bill who seemed unmoved by his arrival; he didn’t look at his boss. It was a second or two before he recognised the signs – the dull fixation of the pupils; the half lowered eyelids; the beaten slump of a body taken well beyond its capabilities. Bill Brown had been tortured into submission. John sat beside him and looked down to see Sir Nigel’s familiar black oxfords, and Kavoosi’s highly polished brown army officer George Shoes from Silvermans in London. Israel wore black casuals. Bill’s feet were bandaged under thick grey socks.
“I suspect,” began Kavoosi, “that there is either a misunderstanding, or a communication breakdown, between you all gentlemen. I have no interest in that beyond seeing that the President’s wish that you be allowed to explore part of my country in your search for water, and that your activities remain within the confines of the polite behaviour of guests.” He paused to read the reactions and to gloat in his elegant use of the English Language. The Englishmen, he could see, were impressed – not all though, as the prisoner was beyond reaction. “I am given to understand Commander that you are working with Sir Nigel here to find, and develop, water sources throughout the Middle East.” Kavoosi waited for John to acknowledge. He continued, “I cannot permit the presence of your own security forces in my country so they will remain here, in my care, until your mission is complete.” He waited for that to sink in, perhaps to provoke a reaction, but none came. He continued. “The accident that befell Israel Ali Akul’s party could have been prevented had my staff been in charge so, to prevent a recurrence, I will provide a team to oversee your needs while you concentrate on your work.” Again he stopped.
“I need my research team,” Sir Nigel said quietly – his eyes avoiding Kavoosi. “I need scientists, analysts, support staff.”
“Of course you do Sir Nigel, and you will have them. The financiers too, I’m sure, will want to keep watch on how their money is being spent and they in turn will need support.” Kavoosi waited – then continued. “All the security though, comes through me. You will not bring security staff, and you will not bring arms and munitions into my country.” He stood; the meeting was over.
John & Nigel in Tehran – last meeting
John Conway walked into the bar of the Tehran Hilton. Nigel Harper had positioned himself at the far end of the counter facing the entrance. John sat, ordered a gin and tonic, and opened the conversation. “I haven’t worked out what you’re doin’ yet but you be careful. If I find you done what I think you done you’ll be killed.” Even as he said it he knew that not to be true. Nigel Harper would be killed regardless of the outcome of this conversation. He couldn’t have his people deceiving him. His father’s words echoed through the ages, Don’t make sense that – working with people who lie and cheat you. You can’t ‘ave that.
Harper was quick to reply, “What you heard, and saw, in Kavoosi’s office is not indicative of the situation Commander. I’m sure you understand that.” He paused to measure the reaction on John’s face. There was none. He continued. “Kavoosi needs to think he is in complete control so I let him take the initiative, hold a few prisoners, have him watch the wrong people while we get on with business.
“How does telling him where to find my people help us find water?”
“Oh, he already knew that. Your exploration team in Qasr-e-qand were under surveillance long before I came on the scene which begs the question John – when were you going to tell me about that?”
“Never. That team was my business. It had nothing to do with our arrangement.” Externally he appeared calm; internally he was seething.
“I beg to differ old son. We entered an agreement for water research and marketing. You surely should have let me know you were already in the business. We have to be honest with each other John. Without honesty we are nothing – don’t you agree?”
“Has the company been formed?” John had made his decision; he needed only gather information from here on in.
“Yes indeed. Registered in Perth, Australia Perth that is. They have lots of companies springing up there and do they ever need water.”
“I’ll need a copy before we go any further.”
“I’ll see to it. Are you staying here?”
John nodded. “I’m here – will be for a while.” He stood, gave Nigel a last look, and slowly walked away.
Back in his room the phone rang. “John Conway.”
“Meet me in the souk, by the coffee stall. Don’t sit unless I’m there. Extra care.” He put the phone down. Bill Brown would be able to take anything the Guard could hand out but he didn’t know about the others. It was likely Ben would cope – he was tough, and trained. Never mind his pale skinny skin and light feet, that boy was a trained operator. The mad professor might drive them crazy before they cracked him but Meira wouldn’t be able to deal with those bastards. She may have already cracked – if she had, what was Kavoosi up to? If she hadn’t she would soon. He hadn’t given Kavoosi anything when he saw Brown. He hadn’t attempted to communicate with him, or ask about the others, he had, he knew, appeared indifferent throughout. If Kavoosi was looking to measure the value of his prisoners he was disappointed. He, John Conway, hadn’t given him anything – still, something was missing?