Look Who It Is (An Excerpt)
Blue jeans and a t-shirt. A light jacket. It gets cool at night in Bandar Abbas. Winds from the desert.
Habib drove himself in his black Khodro Dena Samand four-door sedan. Habib had ridden in a Mercedes Benz and a Lexus many times, of course, but he thought that the Iranian-built Dena was just as quality.
He drove from his home just blocks from the Persian Gulf in the posh, palm tree lined neighborhood of Hoseyn Abad and headed east along the coastal highway before turning north toward the Chahestaniha neighborhood.
There was no direct route into Chahestaniha. It was a casbah in the northside of town, with winding, narrow streets, surrounded by other casbahs.
But at 2:45am, the roads were deserted, which made it easier for Habib to navigate.
He followed Modares Road north alongside a channeled wadi that cut through the eastern side of town when a flash like lightning lit up the sky ahead, then a brief orange fireball erupted in the hills north of the city.
What the hell.
A delayed KA-BOOM, loud enough to wake the whole city, washed over his car and rattled his car windows.
"Fuuck," Habib cursed.
Several more lightning-like flashes from behind him lit up the night sky, in quick succession, balls of fire momentarily suspended above the city before quickly cooling and fading, followed by more deafening BOOMs.
Car alarms blared and their parking lights flashed on and off. Practically every car Habib passed was flashing and its alarm going.
House lights were coming on all over the casbah.
Air raid sirens began to blare, loud, near and distant.
Random black wisps of ash drifted lazily down from the abyss of the night sky above.
Habib snaked his way through the narrow streets and came to the address.
He hopped out of his car and banged on the main door of a front gate.
After banging for at least a minute, Habib heard the door unlock. The door opened just a peep. A large, unshaven burly man in a wife beater t-shirt peered at him from the crack in the open. He was an Arab, Habib could see.
Well this was unexpected.
"Leila," Habib shouted over the sirens and car alarms. He stood ramrod straight, his arms folded across his chest.
The burly man didn't budge. No expression crossed his face in the slightest.
Even the air raid sirens didn't faze him.
The ground shook and the rattling of doors and windows reverberated through the neighborhood.
Habib pointed skyward and tilted his head to listen to and emphasize the BOOM that then followed.
"I'm here for Hashemi, not Leila. He's needed," Habib said, hoping to dispel what reservations the burly Arab obviously held.
Jets roared invisible in the darkness above.
Habib's phone began to vibrate incessantly in his jacket pocket. He ignored it.
The burly Arab opened the gate further, enough to allow Habib in.
Habib looked around, then reluctantly stepped inside.
Habib was led into a courtyard and then a walkway that curved around two walled-in rundown three-story homes. The homes appeared to be divided into multiple apartment units.
Women of various ages and in various stages of dress cloistered at their entrances, looking skyward with their faces contorted in fear and curiosity.
What is this place?
A massive KABOOM made Habib stagger as he approached a basement unit that the Arab gestured to.
It was only six steps down to the basement, and Habib entered a musty, moldy basement full of rolled-up rugs and lit candles and ...
Habib recoiled and flinched.
A shirtless young man sat glassy-eyed among the rugs, staring into space.
And the rugs weren't rugs.
They were people beneath blankets. Maybe twenty people in all, and all mostly asleep. Others, like the boy, sat upright, their eyes, too, glassy and dull amid the flickering candlelight.
And then Habib realized that somebody was laughing hysterically.
HA HA HA HA ... HA HA HA HA ...
It was coming from a room at the far end of the basement and around a corner.
The whole house shook from another explosion, and dust fell from the low ceiling.
WOO-HOO ... HA HA HA HA HA ... AHHH HA HA HA ...
Habib rounded the corner and stepped through a curtain of beads.
A shirtless man with a bushy mustache sat with his back against the wall. Tears streamed down the man's face.
HA HA HA HAAAA ...
A topless young woman snuggled against him, her head resting on his wiry chest. She seemed to be asleep despite the heaving of the man's chest as he roared with laughter ... or was he crying?
"LOOK WHO IT IS," the man bellowed. "AHHH HA HA HA ..."
The man's face glistened in the candlelight.
"LOOK WHO IT IS," the man repeated. "HA HA HA ... AHH HA HA ..."
It can't be.
But it was.
It was Rear Admiral Hashemi Ghavam.