Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:07:59 pm

The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim was a cautious man. It was all very well for Rudmetkyn, sitting safely in Moscow, to issue his orders. Rudmetkyn did not know the realities of the situation. No one could be trusted here. Give an order and maybe it was obeyed and maybe not. And everyone watching everyone else, waiting for the chance to even old scores. All it took was a word in the right ear and an enemy was tried and shot.

The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim was better placed and moved more quickly than his enemies. The enemies of Rashad Hassim had been among the first to go. But an important man like himself had to always be on guard. Who could know when some maniac might think he had been wronged? Hassim had enough troubles without this American agent popping up. What did Rudmetkyn want from him? Dangle him as bait, Rudmetkyn had ordered. Hassim had done this, while keeping himself at a respectful distance. When he learned the route that this rescuing American would take, had he not set trap after trap? How could he be faulted if nothing had worked?

Well, it was nearly over now. He could stall no longer. The death of this Mohammed Parsee had been promised and it was time to deliver.

Still, the Ayatollah Rashad Hassim could not help being intrigued by the man standing trial here in his courtroom. There could be no doubt that he was an important American agent. The Americans themselves said so. Rudmetkyn believed them. But was he?

They were devious, those Americans. All the time they had negotiated for the release of this man, Mohammed Parsee. Never had they mentioned his partner, Ali Saranesh. Even the Ayatollah's Kurdish informant, a man who must be listened to and believed, had said the Americans were going to try to rescue Mohammed Parsee. That source had never mentioned anyone else. Yet it was this man's partner, Ali Saranesh, that the Americans had rescued from Sanandaj and flown out of the country this morning.

Perhaps all the time it was the other man who was the agent. Why else would they go through with the rescue once they had discovered it was the wrong man? Wouldn't men of judgment simply have left him where he was? Why take the risk of getting the wrong man out? But they also went through the trouble of rescuing the two miserable tribesmen. Surely they weren't agents.

The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim had been told of the sentimentality of the Americans. It was legend. But like most legends, he tended to dismiss it as folklore. A country that came to be a great power could never have achieved it with such sentimentality; with such weakness.

He went on another train of thought, making a determined effort to think methodically. If the Americans had wanted the release of Ali Saranesh, why would they negotiate for the release of Mohammed Parsee? Perhaps they had thought, if the negotiations were successful, then Ali Saranesh would also be released. It was not hard to imagine. Ali Saranesh was, after all, a very unimportant person. The Americans, through their Swiss intermediaries, could have requested such a very unimportant addition. Who would have objected?

On the other hand, if the negotiations were not successful, which they should have foreseen, the Americans by requesting Mohammed Parsee would have diverted all suspicion from the man they really wanted: Ali Saranesh. They could have also foreseen that all attention would be diverted from Ali Saranesh, making his rescue possible.

The evidence was here in court, right before his eyes. He had done all he could to make this person, this Mohammed Parsee, look like a menacing figure. He had him dressed in an American combat uniform, fatigues he believed they were called, complete with the chevrons of a non-commissioned officer. Hassim had insisted that the man not be tortured, at least not so much that his will would be broken and the bruises showing. The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim wanted an upright, arrogant figure in court so that there could be no doubt that they were trying an American agent.

But despite his careful planning, the Ayatollah got this miserable, diffident Iranian peasant. Even the most ignorant tribesman could see that this wasn't an American. The man was a complete loss. The uniform hung loosely on him. He had no spirit whatsoever. He stood with his head bowed, ready to accept anything that Allah, represented here by the Ayatollah, might decree. He couldn't be play acting. What would be the point? He was already a dead man. The time for the charade was over.

The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim burned to know the answer for sure. He wished now that the public execution hadn't been scheduled for noon. A few hours of torture could work wonders. The execution could be postponed but at what cost? People were already gathering in the square. His position of leadership among the Kurds was tenuous now. A postponement would be taken as a further sign of weakness. That he could not afford.

There was one more chance. When the man, this so-called Mohammed Parse, actually faced the firing squad, when he saw that all hope was gone, then he might break down. The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim had seen it happen many times. Some men would do anything, say anything, to delay their death by a few days or hours or minutes. This could be one such man. There was nothing else the Ayatollah could do but be present at the execution. He wanted to hear the confession for himself from the man's own lips. Then he could watch him die with satisfaction.

The two guards were bringing the prisoner toward him. The Ayatollah had not been following what was happening in the courtroom. He looked to the recorder for help.

The recorder stood up, walked behind him and whispered in his ear, "Time for sentencing, sir."

He nodded and looked at the prisoner. The Ayatollah wished he had asked for smaller guards. They wee not especially big men but they towered over the prisoner, slumped down as he was. One of the foreign press snapped the picture of the guards bringing the prisoner forward. The flash caught the Ayatollah unaware, making him start. They made a terrible picture like that.

"Have him stand up straight," the Ayatollah ordered.

The guards seized the prisoner under his armpits and lifted him up. Mohammed Parsee then dragged his toes behind him, making the scene look worse.

"No, no," the Ayatollah said, 'not like that."

The guards let him back down and then had to halt while Mohammed Parsee regained his feet. He slumped as before while the guards brought him in front of the Ayatollah.

"Can't you stand up straight?" the Ayatollah complained. The prisoner was taking all of the drama out of the scene. He was cheating everyone out of the show that had been promised. Worst of all, he was making the Ayatollah look foolish.

Mohammed Parsee straightened his legs slightly which raised his height less than an inch. His head and back were still bowed.

The Ayatollah gave up the effort.

"Where do you come from?" the Ayatollah suddenly asked in English.

Mohammed Parsee raised his head and looked at the Ayatollah, an expression of complete bewilderment on his face.

Rashad Hassim shook his head and consulted his notes. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?" he asked, this time in Farsi.

For the first time during the trial, Mohammed Parsee spoke. "Iran is my country," he said. "I love it very much. I do not know what I have done to become and enemy of my people but if the court says that I am, then it must be true. If my death will help my people, then I go to it gladly, even though I cannot understand how this could be so."

No! no! the Ayatollah thought, wrong! Wrong! "Silence!" he shouted when it appeared that Mohammed Parsee was going to say more. "You are an American spy! That has been proven here. It is in the records and documents." He waved airily in the general direction of some papers on a table off to the side. "It is on this subject that I wish you to speak."

Mohammed Parsee shook his head slowly. "I have seen some Americans. I tried to speak to a few. They could not understand me. I could not understand them. None of them could speak our language."

The Ayatollah saw many nods among the spectators in the courtroom. The Americans were known to be generally ignorant of any language except their own.

"Perhaps," Mohammed Parsee continued, "someone saw me trying to speak to an American and thought I was a spy. But that was several years ago. I have seen very few Americans since then. How could I tell them anything when they cannot understand me?"

There were some murmurs from onlookers.

"Silence!" the Ayatollah shouted.

The crowd quieted. They were mostly Iranians.

In a normal voice the Ayatollah asked, "If you are not a spy, then why have the Americans been trying to gain your release?"

Mohammed Parsee's answer, as reported in the papers the next day, was destined to become a CIA legend. "I have thought very long on this," he said, making his expression fit his words, "and the only thing I could think of is that perhaps they have me mixed up with another Mohammed Parsee."

The conversations in the courtroom became general while the Ayatollah searched the prisoner's face for any sign that he might be lying. Mohammed Parsee met his gaze for a fleeting moment before dropping his eyes. In that millisecond the Ayatollah though he saw a calm challenge there, but then it was gone and he couldn't be sure it ever happened.

"Silence!" he shouted again, regaining control of the courtroom. "Mohammed Parsee, you have been convicted of being an American agent. This has been acknowledged by the Americans themselves, which is all the proof needed. You will therefore be taken out to the square and shot at once. We shall see how you face your firing squad."

Mohammed Parsee was about to say something else but the Ayatollah cut him off. "At once, I said. Anything more you have to say to me you can say when your firing squad is in place."

The Ayatollah motioned to the guards. The half led, half dragged him off through a side door. The Ayatollah Rashad Hassim followed behind.

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