A Time to Love in Tehran

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A Time to Love in Tehran

Before there was a revolution, there was a time to love in Tehran.

''The lever had no design flaws. The eight prisoners dropped instantly. Several of the men writhed and kicked and gagged. The black flag had been raised and it now flapped inside a breeze. I watched until the limbs stopped twisting and fighting and the silence returned to hover over the living and the dead. I can assure you, there was no reverence in any of it.''

A Time to Love in Tehran is in the spirit of The Spies of Warsaw and The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis, and The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene.

“C.G. Fewston has penned an extraordinary love story and expertly woven it into a gripping tale of espionage, deprivation, and revolution. A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN takes you on a remarkable journey into pre-Revolution Iran which escalates into a finale that will leave you breathless and wanting more.” Kelly Stone Gamble, author of They Call Me Crazy

“This novel gives us the excitement of Le Carré and Fleming, but its soul is found next to Márquez and Hemingway. You will be drawn in by the espionage and intrigue. You will stay because of the humanity.” Darren R. Leo, author of The Trees Beneath Us

John Lockwood is a spy who witnesses an execution in Cairo in 1966 and seeks to unlock the mystery of such devotion to faith and punishment in an anti-American world he has yet to understand. He is thrust into the Vietnam War and later works as an undercover CIA officer in Iran when he meets and falls in love with Leila Bakr, the daughter of a wealthy exporter and dissenter, only to find that her family is caught in a deadly maelstrom of death and deceit.

Lockwood and his partner Tom Bremer are then caught in a power struggle between Leila's father, Farrokh, and Colonel Vaziri, head of Evin Prison, home to hundreds of political prisoners. When Bremer is killed and Farrokh is imprisoned, Lockwood must join forces with the French Secret Service and Jean-Luc Marcel, a man who clings to a profound secret, and attempt to save the father of the woman Lockwood has grown to love before the man is executed.

‘A Middle Eastern romantic adventure that takes your breath away with every page.’ Michelle Berthiaume, author of The X X Club

‘A fantastic cloak-and-dagger novel with realistic, breath-taking visages of pre-revolution Iran.’ Emily McNamee is a substitute school teacher, Hospice volunteer, and a strong member of the community of mankind. She is the neighbor who helps you carry in your groceries or watches your kids when you have to run out at the last minute. The quiet woman at a table in the corner of a crowded restaurant, eating alone, taking notes, and creating fictional relationships when she gets home.

‘A heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep you up all night.’ Fyrecurl at Fyrecurl.wordpress.com

A Time to Love in Tehran is an anti-heroic tale of finding a way to survive and to love in a world filled with lies and corruption.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - A Time to Love in Tehran

Submitted: November 10, 2014

Reads: 770

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Submitted: November 10, 2014




A Time to Love in Tehran


Chapter One



It was a deceptive word to me and that was the first word out of Leila’s mouth. Welcome. The one word that caused me to shiver on the last night of 1973 and it greeted me on the hill at the Bakr villa, a small mansion in the northern, wealthier pooldar part of Tehran. It had surprised me, to say the least. 

I stepped up the stairs leading to the entrance—the cedar doors were twice my height and I stood at least six-three—stomped my wingtips on the welcome mat, and lowered the hood of my sheepskin coat down around my neck. Before ringing the doorbell, I turned to see the valet drive my Dodge Challenger into the shadows at the edge of the circular drive. I had forgotten my lucky cashmere scarf around the rearview mirror and the envelope of cash in the glove compartment. Things were already not going well for me.

My finger hovered in front of the buzzer as I recalled an old gypsy from the night before. In the southern, poorer part of Tehran, the gypsy’s prognostication had been one of the instruments that led me to consider my early retirement. In the candlelight the gypsy had studied her Tarot cards and consulted me on the prediction of my death. The final portent: I should be forewarned of ministers and warriors. But the gypsy was convinced in the truth before her on the table. 

I looked at the buzzer once more before deciding not to go in. I turned to go back to my car when the front doors opened and a young woman on her way out ran into me. I caught her in my arms and we locked eyes for a moment.

‘Leila?’ I said, pronouncing the name slowly as ‘Lay-la’. Tom Bremer, my partner at the U.S. Embassy, had showed me a Polaroid and told me my first contact would be an Iranian woman named Leila Bakr. The woman from the picture and the woman in my arms looked to be the same. Even in the low light from the lamp over the door she looked to be twenty-something and beautiful and I was glad to have waited to tell Dr Steele and Bremer of my retirement from the CIA.

‘Get your hands off me,’ she said. She stepped back and fixed her hair away from her face. ‘Who do you think you are?’ She smoothed out her dress. Her purse dangled on her arm.

‘I did not mean—’ my voice caught in my throat when I saw a slightly older woman of a similar but greater beauty appear behind the young woman at the door. I shivered when I heard the second woman’s voice. 

‘Welcome, Dr Fiske,’ the second woman said. She looked to be in her mature twenties. Her evening gown sparkled about as much as her dark eyes and the emerald necklace she wore. ‘I am Leila. Please forgive my baby sister, Dorri, for her rudeness. She was just leaving.’

Dorri’s face filled with what could have only been scorn for her older sister. Without another word, Dorri rushed by me and into a waiting car. The car sped out of the gated villa and into a dark street down the hill. 

I turned back to Leila. Her shoulders were of an olive tone and were exposed to the cold night.

‘Shall we?’ she said.

Leila did not shiver in the slightest when she held a hand with a diamond bracelet out to reveal the foyer. A sweeping staircase curled up both sides of the room lit in a shine of gold I had seen only twice before. Once had been in the glimmer of Higher Shields Pond near my childhood home in Cornish, New Hampshire and the other time out on a mountain overlooking the Mekong River where the sky would go bright at noon. But days and years past were the least of my worries. The gypsy’s warning weighed heavy over my thoughts.

And now the Tehrani estate, the villa, and the door that framed Leila and her hourglass figure beneath the silver gown. I finished wiping my shoes free of snow and grime on the mat.

‘Forgive me,’ I said. ‘I had no idea.’

‘No idea of what?’ Leila asked. She cocked her head to one side, waiting for my answer.

‘That the party was almost over,’ I said.

‘We have a few hours until midnight,’ she said. ‘Please come in. My father is expecting you.’

I hesitated before I finally accepted Leila’s invitation to enter. After a much closer look at Leila, I began to believe the gypsy from the night before had been wrong and misled. I stepped inside the Bakr home for the first time with a dumb smile on my face. The gypsy’s omen held me back while Leila’s eyes pulled me forward. I obeyed the greater of the two forces.

A porter slinked back as I entered into the antechamber. Another doorman skillfully retrieved my heavy coat and dusted my new tuxedo free of lint and string. I could hear a low murmur from people talking and a piano playing. The noise from the party rose inside the belly of the mansion and the excitement stirred my blood to flow.

Before I knew it I was following Leila through the foyer and across an image of a lion embedded into the center of the marble floor. And as I did I watched how her shoulder blades shifted in the light beneath the chandelier.

‘What is your specialization, doctor?’ Leila said, half turning her head. She spoke as if she were uncertain as to the meaning of each word. She slowed to allow me to get alongside.

‘I’m sorry?’ I said.

‘Your field of study?’

‘People,’ I said. When I walked I had a bad habit of looking down at my feet and holding my hands behind my back.

Leila seemed to like my answer because she tilted her head to one side, gave me a full-on look from head to toe, and then laughed. ‘Really?’ she said. ‘You are joking, right?’

‘Sociology,’ I said and left it at that. My shoes were stained from the snow. I looked for the nearest water closet to get them cleaned and shined and to restore partial order to my wardrobe. Leila and I were alone heading toward a room full of people. How many? From the sounds of the party one would guess no less than fifty. But the slush on my shoes, I felt, would make me stand out and I didn’t like to stand out, to be noticeable for any reason. 

When Leila placed a strand of hair around her ear, I could see how lean her neck was. She continued to lead the way and said no more.

At one side of the foyer open doors showed a carpeted den. Inside, ivies draped down pillars which led up to a second floor balcony which over looked the center of the den where a stone angel stationed in a fountain titled a pitcher towards a pool which, come spring, would be full. The angel’s eyes seemed to plead and call out a warning to me as Leila and I passed by the room.

Through the double doors beneath the staircase, I followed Leila to the left down a hall decorated with several expensive vases. Conversations flowed in abundance now. A woman laughed so loud Leila turned back to me and said, ‘Someone is having a grand time.’ Then Leila made a right which led me into one of the largest New Year’s parties I ever had the pleasure to attend.

I had mistakenly thought I would have the evening alone with Farrokh. Leila’s father, Farrokh Bakr, the plump exporter of military weapons and priceless artifacts from Persepolis, and the divisive writer the Agency, or rather my partner, Tom Bremer, had sent me to get a handle on. I expected a nice quiet conversation. Smooth out the problem of dissension against the Shah. Against the United States of America. With brandy or cognac. A delicate conversation in Farrokh’s study perhaps. Suggest to him to put his political writings on the back burner for a few months. Let things cool. Offer some hand-rolled Montecristo cigars I had tucked away in my vest pocket. A fat envelope slid across the table. The envelope that was still in my car.

Tomorrow would be 1974. Tomorrow would have been Byrd’s birthday and I had forgotten. Not quite seven years since Byrd’s death in the Mekong. But that was a long time ago. As many other things that happened during the war. Many awful things that should stay buried. I quietly cursed myself for being talked into the assignment. Of all nights, no less. I had no desire for large, extravagant parties that night. Just one night, Bremer had said. Take one night and reconsider that boring weight called retirement. After all, he had said, you’re only thirty-four years old. Bremer did have a point.

From across the ballroom, the size of a small soccer field, Farrokh waved his right hand with the missing ring finger—Bremer had said the SAVAK, the Shah’s secret men, took it—and Leila’s father maneuvered through the crowd of various German and French and Australian lawyers and emissaries and expatriates. In an Italian designer suit, Farrokh held a champagne flute neck high. His gold Rolex acted as a beacon in all the delightful confusion of the party. Many patrons, some Iranian actors and actresses that I recognized from local TV, chatted and munched on crescent rolls and mini pikelets topped with smoked salmon and crème fraîche. Balloons in red, white and green, the colors of Christmas and Iran’s national flag, rested against the ceiling. Farrokh was indeed having a smash of a time.

Khosh amadid,’ Farrokh said, welcoming me in Farsi, and striding up with a boisterous voice over the noise of the music and the other guests. ‘Khoshteep! Isn’t he stunning, Leila?’

She kept one hand on my forearm and placed her other hand on Farrokh’s shoulder and drew him close to us. Quite cozy, just the three of us in that tight circle.

‘Levi, is it?’ Farrokh said to me. On a silk tie a gold clip had the initials F.B. and the same letters were on his matching cufflinks as Farrokh tugged at the end of his jacket sleeves. Grabbing my elbow lightly, Farrokh leaned in close. ‘The stuffed new potatoes with caviar will give that scowl of yours a grin. Perk up, boy, you are my honored guest tonight. Honored I say.’

I tried to smile, and maybe I did, but instead I was thinking of the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, starving all across Iran. Vietnam. Even India. Africa. But I had not been to Africa so that did not count and still, I thought, it was nothing like Iran’s Great Famine during War World I. Regardless, the open, bare-chested opulence concerned me. Concerned Bremer and the Agency. I was told, however, the CIA needed Farrokh. Regardless if Farrokh was to be an asset to the Agency, I was from humble origins and no matter what I would always feel guilty for watching Farrokh, or most anyone, enjoy lascivious parties that reminded me of New York and Paris and Tokyo. But to some degree I was my own worst enemy, a hypocrite, and I sure loved those parties. 

‘I must be going, father,’ Leila said. She leaned around me and dusted some crumbs from Farrokh’s grizzly beard. ‘Fiske, it was certainly a pleasure to meet you.’ Her hand slid down my other arm and I felt her pinch my pinkie finger. For a moment there I felt uncomfortable sandwiched between the giddy father and nubile daughter.

‘Likewise,’ I said. ‘Are you free later?’

She clasped her hands together, bowed her head and said, ‘Baleh,’ yes she was. Leila slid off into the crowd and greeted a man who looked to be Dr Steele, who was sporting a new cane and a French-made suit by the looks of it. What was he doing there? And what connection did he have to this Bakr family?

Farrokh stood for a time drinking the champagne and pointing out his various friends, comrades, business partners as the band played the kamanchehs and dombaks and a singer sang Persian songs in the background. Farrokh introduced a cousin to the family by the name of Ali ibn Abu Muhammad who smoked Camel cigarettes and twirled one hell of a mustache that made me glad I was clean shaven that night. Ali parted us by wishing to meet with me later.  As usual, I offered my most sincere apologies. I told Ali that I would be busy cleaning my shoes later. Ali was not at all amused.

Farrokh further mentioned to me there was a colonel somewhere at the party and his name was Vaziri, and that this man was the governor to Evin Prison. Farrokh wanted me to meet the Colonel but it appeared I would have to wait. Others were also mentioned by name and spotted. A few Savakis from the Shah’s secret police stood over by the drapes eating boiled shrimp by the plate full and their sullen faces were dulled from apparent apathy.

Jean-Luc Marcel, stemming from the Latin ‘Marcellus’, leaned against the fireplace with a roaring fire and I was told this man of some fifty plus years owned a famous winery or vineyard in France and that years ago he had had a plantation in Vietnam where his great love Nadia had been killed during the war. I put my hands behind my back and listened to Farrokh tell the story and shook my head and reminded myself to take note of Jean-Luc.

‘He mourns for Nadia still,’ Farrokh whispered to me. His voice adopted an air of seriousness and morbidity. ‘Nadia was the name Jean-Luc gave the young Vietnamese girl. Some say she was twenty. Others sixteen. Who is to know? From the time Jean-Luc first met eyes with Nadia to their nuptials three months had passed. True amour, no?’

Farrokh had a way with words.

‘What happened?’ I asked, forgetting the party around us. I touched the cigars in my vest. From all the casual smokers filling the room, a craving for a cigar caused my mouth to water before going dry. I rubbed my mouth and bent my ear closer to hear over the noise.

‘Something terrible,’ he said. ‘Dreadful. I cannot even speak of it.’ Farrokh waved his hand to break the spell and shook his head. ‘No. Tonight let us enjoy ourselves with songs and making merry.’ He laughed and continued to introduce me to his guests.

Jean-Luc’s film producing niece, Ancilla, was also there beside Jean-Luc and in what must have been the ringing of her ears she turned and stared at me the moment Farrokh began to mention her. Her red hair, as red and as bold as I had ever seen on a woman, curled down around her eyes as she turned to scowl at us. Farrokh paid no attention to her glare but went on, elaborating and boasting on his time in the old days.

Farrokh told me he had bought the villa in northern Tehran after returning from a three-year exile. But the ascetic part of the Iranian never called it an expatriation. He had said that he’d been momentarily excused from Iran in order to seek out better business opportunities abroad. Leila’s father appeared the optimist. From the looks of the party I knew Farrokh’s international contacts had paid off. A little too well.

With his arms spread wide for effect he told me that when he and his family reentered his native land, they were greeted and welcomed with an abundant array of flowers and family—no less than a parade caravanning from Mehrabad International Airport to the Bakr’s newly acquired villa with its pontifical ceilings.

‘Come,’ Farrokh said. His hand guided me on by the elbow. ‘I have someone for you to meet. His name is—’

‘I can’t,’ I said. I searched the room for a way out. ‘I really must be—’

‘Nonsense,’ Farrokh said. ‘Now where is that greedy, British devil?’ Farrokh stood on his tiptoes and leaned against me, using my arm for a good push up. ‘There he is over by the panko chicken,’ Farrokh said with slight vehemence in his tone. ‘That Brit eats his fill, I would say.’

‘If I must,’ I said. I tried to remove Farrokh’s hand from my arm but failed. I didn’t want to be rude to my host. 

‘You must.’

‘Carry on then,’ I said, not liking the overly welcome welcome.

‘The émigré’s name,’ Farrokh said, pointing a finger ringed with a large ruby, ‘is Aaron Lee Harwood.’ Then softly, ‘He is your enemy.’ Farrokh rubbed the ruby on his finger.

‘What?’ I said, taken aback.

‘Kidding, my boy,’ Farrokh said. ‘Only kidding. Bremer suggested that your abilities could settle a few things for me. What do you say?’

Whether it was the ruby that blinded me for that brief moment, triggering in my subconscious an impulse to inflict sweet pain that would likely produce the color of blood, or the effects of the extravagant party I could not decide. But enough with excuses. I turned from Farrokh.

Harwood wore a light blue suit with red lines crisscrossing. He held a pink doily beneath his cocktail glass and joked or flirted with a small crowd that surrounded him. I made up my mind to spare the man. That was certain. And I suddenly understood the real reason why Bremer had sent me to the Bakr villa after all.

‘I’d be glad to do this favor,’ I said. I slapped Farrokh on the back, causing my host to spill his drink. ‘But I’m recently retired.’

‘Ask anything of me.’ Farrokh looked worried beneath his furrowed brow and thick gray eyebrows. He bit down on one of the sausage rolls and chewed slowly and looked up at me. He was a good six inches shorter. ‘Man nokaretam,’ he said. Meaning: he was my servant.

‘Why is this Harwood so important?’

‘We were partners once,’ Farrokh said. He waved me closer. ‘What he stole from me has traveled round the world. Canada. Japan. India. And now it has returned to Iran, its rightful home. I have invited him here tonight as a peace offering. He believes I am leaving the past in the past.’

‘I know how partners can be,’ I said, trying to make light of the situation. What I wanted was to disappear. But something was drawing me in to Farrokh’s nasty, little scheme. Was it the sound of his voice? Had it been the intensity of his passion? ‘What did this Harwood take?’ I asked.

‘A priceless Iranian artifact,’ Farrokh said. His eyes grew hard as he concentrated all his mental powers in the direction of Harwood. ‘A solid gold lion. Ruby eyes. Diamond teeth. Emeralds for a collar.’ Farrokh’s mouth appeared to water, his eyes burn. ‘It is called the King of Panthera.’

‘Must be worth a fortune,’ I said. ‘Wish I could help. Really I do.’

‘Bremer has told me the skills you possess,’ Farrokh said. He focused now all his attention onto me. ‘You do not have to do any harm to the man. Consider this a favor. A handsome severance package?’

‘Bremer talks too damn much,’ I said. Feeling better and my doubts relieved, for I knew what was now asked of me, I grabbed one tumbler of many around a bottle of Drambuie whisky from a passing waiter and raised the glass in the form of a toast and said, ‘You’ll owe me. You can be sure of that.’

Farrokh left me to enjoy the party and I drank on in a light ecstasy of good things to come. I felt delighted to be in such good company.

After a while the crowd began to count down from ten, to a brand new year. I joined in. My voice unified along with the chant of the crowd. We joyfully clutched on to the waiting seconds ahead of us.

Then Leila and those dark eyes in a calm face emerged, appeared from a sea of blurred faces chanting the count of eight, no seven, and I instinctively pulled her close, feeling the energy between us come alive. 

Sarnevesht,’ she said in Farsi. Her hands on my chest and the count on four. How natural we must have looked together.

Falak,’ I said. ‘No such thing as destiny.’

One. Lips touching. Happy New Year.

© Copyright 2019 CG Fewston. All rights reserved.


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