Monday, 29th May 2023 - 15:56:22 pm

Ali Saranesh went on to explain that he meant brother in the emotional not familial sense in that they were not born of the same parents. "He has been my salvation and I have been his doom." He struck his breast dramatically as if driving a knife home. "I reward his goodness with his death." He leaned forward and started sobbing over his knees.

Kincaid slapped his shoulder with the back of his hand. "Cut the horse shit," he said roughly, "and tell me where he is."

Ali Saranesh peered up at him with watery eyes. "He is dead," he said. "And it is I who has killed him. The same as if I had pulled the trigger." He got mixed up in his imagery and again drove the pretend knife into his breast.

Kincaid pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the jeep. They were still inside the town but there was no sign of life here. With the engine idling he heard the sound of an airplane.

He reached over and shook the Iranian. "If you can't talk straight you're no good to me," Kincaid told him. "I need information. Either you give it to me or you get out right here."

The bluff worked. The man turned even more pale than he had been. "Anything, anything," he said.

An army truck came hurtling down the road toward them from ahead. Kincaid kept the Jeep where it was and turned his head away. Then he thought, "What the hell." He turned back to let them have a good look at him. When the truck got close he smiled and waved. The two men in the front seat looked at him curiously but they waved in return. The back of the truck was filled with troops.

Kincaid put the Jeep back on the road and drove on at a leisurely pace, now and then checking the mirror for pursuers. "Tell me about Mohammed Parsee," he said.

Ali Saranesh had been a construction contractor in Hamadan. The biggest contractor in a hundred mile radius, he boasted. He did all the work for the government besides most of the large buildings in town. And even if someone else was to get a big job, for materials they had to come to Ali Saranesh. His brick kilns were the best in Iran. His quarries produced...

Kincaid rapped his shoulder hard with the back of his hand.

Ali Saranesh had several government projects under construction when all the trouble started. All these revolutionaries came into power and they started talking about building bombs. Under the previous regime, Ali Saranesh was always paid. If the payment did not come in time, at least it would come eventually.

With these new people who, it was said, were putting the money into "other things," he was paid only occasionally and things got very difficult. He had to close some projects. He had to cut back on others. He wanted to shut down all of his government projects.

The new District Chief summoned Ali Saranesh to his office, an office, by the way, that Ali Saranesh was in the process of improving while the work of the government continued. The District Chief told him that he must not shut down any job and that he must start up the others that he had previously shut down.

"Gladly," Ali Saranesh told the District Chief, "if the government would pay what they owe me."

"Is this story getting anywhere?" Kincaid interrupted him.

"In a moment," Ali Saranesh assured him.

Ali Saranesh was about to show the District Chief all the unpaid bills which he had conveniently brought with him.

"All of that will be taken care of in due time," the District Chief said, waving the papers away.

"But in the meantime," Ali Saranesh protested, "how do I pay my men? How do I buy material?"

"You pay," the District Chief told him, "with the people's money that the previous government has been illegally funneling into your pockets for all these years."

"He thought I was a rich man," Ali Saranesh complained to Kincaid. "If I were a rich man would I still be in Iran? It is true I have made a profit here and there, but with that money I bought equipment and land as any far sighted businessman would. I knew many who bought gold with their money and smuggled it out of the country. These men would laugh at me. 'Ali,' they would say, 'set something aside for hard times.'

"They were right but I wouldn't listen. When the hard times came, they went out of the country to their Swiss bank accounts and I had to stay here with my investments. And what good is land and equipment if there is no one to sell them to?"

Kincaid shook his shoulder. "Mohammed Parsee, damn it!" he said. "Tell me about Mohammed Parsee!"

"I am coming to that," Ali Saranesh said with as much dignity as he could muster. "Let's see, where was I?"

A boy was washing down a water buffalo in a ditch alongside the road.

"In the office of the District Chief," Kincaid told him.

"Ah, yes, the District Chief. A terrible man."

The District Chief had told him that if he didn't continue the projects that had been started, he would be shot. Then a new contractor would be brought in and if the new contractor wouldn't do the work then he would be shot and so on. The workers had to be employed and the work finished.

"I didn't know what to do. I had no money to pay the men and if I didn't pay them they wouldn't work and if they didn't work I would be shot.

"That night Mohammed Parsee came to my house. He was my foreman for the work at the office of the District Chief. He said he happened to overhear my conversation with the District Chief, though how he could do that I don't know because he wasn't in the room at the time."

Ali Saranesh's watery eyes peered questioningly at Kincaid.

"Get on with it," Kincaid said gruffly.

Mohammed Parsee told him that night that he admired him very much and he wanted to continue working for him at the office of the District Chief. To that end, he knew of an investor who would be willing to meet Ali Saranesh's payroll on two conditions: The investor wanted one half of the profits when Saranesh got paid and the investor must remain nameless and there be no mention of his help.

Of course Ali Saranesh jumped at that offer. Sure enough, Mohammed Parsee came through with the money every month.

"How much?" Kincaid asked.

"A great deal," Ali Saranesh replied. "In your money it would amount to over seven thousand dollars a month."

Kincaid whistled. It sounded like chump change.

"Yes," Ali Saranesh said, "I told you it was a great deal of money."

"That was the whole payroll?" Kincaid asked.

"Well, yes, plus some materials." Ali Saranesh suddenly became defensive. "I kept nothing for myself. I can show you my books. It all went into the projects. I didn't even take pay for myself."

"Okay, okay, then what happened?"

"What happened? Why thanks to Mohammed Parsee I stayed in business and I wasn't shot. That's what happened."

"But they were going to shoot you."

"Ah yes. But that was another matter. They discovered that many years ago I and my father were friends of the Shah. It had nothing to do with this other business."

"What about Mohammed Parsee? How did they get him?"

"Torture!" Ali Saranesh wailed. "I held out as long as I could but they made me confess that I had a partner."

Kincaid looked him up and down. He saw no indication that the fat man had been tortured.

"They have their ways," Ali Saranesh assured him, seeing his expression. "The strongest man cannot stand up to them. They are demons."

Kincaid had his doubts. "So where is he?" he asked again.

"I am coming to that," Ali Saranesh said. "They held us together in a jail in Hamadan, awaiting our trial and execution. He was a... What is the word?... a saint! The man was a saint! He didn't blame me for telling them about him. He knew how they tortured people. He was a saint!"

Kincaid gripped his shoulder, digging the fingertips in. "Where is he?"

"Oh my, sir," Ali Saranesh wailed. "That is very painful, sir."

He let go.

"I am telling you as best I can, sir. While we were waiting in Hamadan, they suddenly accused him of being a spy, and agent of the United States. Is that true?"

"Will you get on with it!"

"It is hard to believe. He was more Iranian than I am."

He saw Kincaid's look and moved the story along. "They moved us here to Sanandaj to be tried by the Kurdish Shi-ite Ayatollah. We and these two Kurds were to be tried and shot this morning. Then yesterday they came and took Mohammed Parsee away without a word. The guards told me later that they took him to Kermanshah to be tried and shot. They didn't know why. They made jokes about the Americans coming in helicopters to rescue us, except the helicopters always burn. They thought that was funny."

"Did they say when he was supposed to be tried?"

Kincaid found the little airstrip. It was near the main road He drove the Jeep out onto it and parked where it couldn't be seen from the road.

"Today," Ali Saranesh said. "They said he would be tried today. At noon."

"Then he is not dead? Why did you say he was dead?"

"It is the same thing," Ali Saranesh wailed. "And it is all my fault." He hugged himself. "But they tortured me," he added as an afterthought to Kincaid.

"You could have told me all that in the first place. How far is it to Kermanshah?"

"Eighty kilometers, more or less."

Fifty miles, Kincaid thought. It was a long shot, but"

Yasin rode up. He brought some horses with him including the one with Kincaid's pack. "Where is Ahmed?" Yasin asked.

"Ahmed is coming," Kincaid told him. "Mohammed Parsee wasn't there. They took him to Kermanshah. Is there an airstrip like this near Kermanshah?"

Yasin thought for a moment, then he said, "No."

"There is one near Shahabad," Ali Saranesh said. "The Americans built it years ago. I did some work for them there. I remember."

Kincaid silenced him with a strong grip on his shoulder. He looked at Yasin.

Yasin nodded.

"Where is Shahabad?" Kincaid asked.

"South of here," Ali Saranesh said. "Where the road to Kermanshah turns east, Shahabad is to the west. It is twenty kilometers from Kermanshah."

"There's nothing closer to Kermanshah?"

Yasin and Ali Saranesh spoke a few words to each other.

"No, nothing," Ali Saranesh said.

Well, Kincaid thought, it might just work out.

"Can the horses get your men to Shahabad by mid-day?" he asked Yasin.

Yasin waved to the town. "Many horses here," he said. "Fresh horses. Can do."

"Talk to these men," Kincaid told Yasin, indicating the Kurds in the back seat. "They can stay with you or leave on the plane."

Kincaid got a roll of white plastic and some wooden pegs from his pack horse. He again heard the far away drone of a plane.

"They stay," Yasin told him.

"What about me?" Ali Saranesh wailed.

"You leave on the plane," Kincaid said.

As Kincaid rode out on the airstrip he heard Ali Saranesh whining, "What about my land" What about my equipment?"

The airstrip looked worse in the daylight. It hadn't been built with a crown. It sloped from one side to the other so that water had urn across its entire width, cutting it badly. Kincaid looked for the smoothest stretch. He finally settled on a thousand foot stretch on the high side. He pinned the plastic panels down in the shape of an "X" in the middle of that area.

He could only hope there was enough strip for landing and taking off. They'd soon find out. He was glad it was Bob Douglas doing the flying.

By the time Kincaid returned to the Jeep, Ahmed was there with the two riderless horses. He was talking to Ali Saranesh.

"Mohammed Parsee wasn't there," Kincaid said.

"So I heard, old boy. Well, it was a good try."

"Are your men ready to secure the airstrip?"

"Yasin is making the rounds now," Ahmed said. "What does this do to our arrangement with the missile launchers? The information we gave you was correct when we gave it to you."

"I"ll tell them that but it's out of my hands. It's up to the big brass."

Ahmed didn't look happy with that answer. "I suppose you"ll be leaving now," he said.

"Not quite yet."

"Not quite yet? Surely you don't mean to try again. There's no way we can ride to Kermanshah by noon."

Kincaid dismounted and checked the gas gauge in the Jeep. It was nearly full.

"In the Jeep?" Ahmed asked. "On the highway? What will you do when you get there? If you get there? It will be broad daylight, old boy."

Ahmed looked at him, then at the Jeep.

The sound of the plane grew louder. Kincaid couldn't see it yet.

"Well," Ahmed said, "I suppose you"ll need a driver."

"That would help," Kincaid replied, "and the rest of the missile launchers."

Ahmed was deep in thought. "Yes, he said. "Well, old boy, I've seen you this far. If we pull this off do we get the full order of weapons we've agreed on?"

Kincaid grinned. "If we pull this off you"ll get that and a lot more. You"ll get them if I have to steal them myself and carry them to you on my back."

"I believe you would, old boy, I believe you would."

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