The voice was as scratchy as the static on the telephone line that connected them across continents.
“I never make a mistake. I know it is him; your uncle. He’s working for us now.” The voice was rushed. The information came in staccato-like bursts.
British News’s star foreign correspondent Michael Shea gripped the phone in his hand tight and pressed it hard against his ear. The noise of the London newsroom that usually reminded him of why he liked to report from the field was lost, shut out. He was focused on the words coming through the phone. Shea was consumed by the possibility that for once he might be able to catch his uncle, Sean O’Shaughnessy, in the act, the act of terrorism.
“My uncle is in Chechnya?” Shea asked quickly, fearful the line would go dead.
He needed a location. He began to write things down. He’d get there, wherever his uncle was.
“Dac, no. He’s in Iran. A meeting is set. I have the details. I can tell you…”
He was standing across the road. In plain sight. Seemingly unarmed. An easy target. After more than a decade and through the dozen countries he had been chased, Shea’s uncle now stood within a stone’s throw.
His informant had been right. “Lake Urmia. Northern Iran. Just over the Turkish border.”
Shea had sneaked into the country easily.
His uncle was standing next to one of the more powerful Chechen rebels, the commander, it was reported, who was directly responsible for the infamous Moscow subway bombings.
It was no secret within certain underground circles that Iran was supplying Chechen rebels with arms and training. But why remained something of a mystery. Moscow had been a staunch ally of Tehran in the face of international criticism over Iran’s nuclear power program. And as the world knew, Russians and Chechens were enemies.
Shea snapped another photograph of the Chechen commander, Alu Abramov, standing next to his uncle. It was difficult to see much of the Chechen’s skin. He had a full beard that curled down to his chest. His dark hair covered much of his forehead, too, touching down to meet his unibrow, and fell below his shoulders. His eyes looked black. The fur on his hooded parka blended in so much that Shea had to focus his lens on Abramov’s flat nose to find anything remotely light-colored on the Chechen’s face.
He pressed the shutter on his Canon PowerShot SX20 that he had switched off auto mode to make sure he got the shot. Click, the face. Click, Alu shaking hands with his uncle. Click, his uncle.
He and his uncle looked frighteningly alike, despite the twenty-year age difference. Shea, thirty-three, his uncle fifty-three years of age. They both had dark brown wavy hair. They both were six feet tall and about the same weight: one hundred eighty-five pounds. Solid. Muscular. Their strength also resided in their chiseled cheekbones, and their eyes. Their eyes were deep-set and smoky. They were tools that could stare a man down with a flash, or, with a twinkle, catch a woman’s fancy.
Shea zoomed in on his uncle’s. He tried to gauge them. Chariots to the soul, he thought.
His uncle’s eyes were searching.
Shea often wondered how two people who physically looked so alike could see the world so differently: Shea, a prominent correspondent for the leading British news service, and his uncle Sean, one of the most famous terrorists alive. One trying to enlighten the world, the other trying to light it afire.
He zoomed the lens back out and took another wide shot with his camera. Click—nothing but black. Shea took the camera away from his face to see what had blocked his view.
A twenty-four-vehicle motorcade had arrived in front of the single-story brownish stucco building that looked as if it dated back to the Ottoman Empire. Shea’s uncle and Abramov were standing in front of it, and a motorcade had pulled up. The black cars waving the Iranian flag and the black sunglasses of the security team that jumped out were giant clues to who had just arrived.
The Iranian president’s arrival was unexpected and just landed Shea the biggest story of his career. It also put him at unexpected and extreme risk.
Shea began to rub the back of his neck.
“Down!” Shea barked, slumping in his seat. Munjed, his cameraman, was seated next to him on the driver’s side. Shea pressed on Munjed’s shoulder, urging him to quickly duck low.
He and Munjed had been almost inseparable for the past three years, coworkers and best friends. An unlikely pairing—Munjed being a short, fat, and disheveled Palestinian whereas Shea was obsessively neat and well dressed—they covered each other’s butts. They had saved each other’s lives too many times to count—one cautioning when the other became careless. In the Middle East, danger, like a desert wind, was sudden. And it often took more than one set of senses to feel it, see it, or hear it.
Munjed did what he was told and crouched lower in his seat. “Wow, is that who I think it is?” he asked.
“’Tis. The president of Iran. In the flesh.”
Munjed whistled softly. “And here during Ramadan when he is supposed to be at home with his family praying. Tsk-tsk. What a bad Muslim.”
“I hear he is really a secret Jew,” Shea quipped.
Munjed laughed. “Don’t let him hear you say that.”
Shea thought, If he could hear me I’d say something much more offensive. Perhaps I’d ask him if he’s ever visited a concentration camp.
Shea’s mind sometimes wandered like this. He’d have entire conversations in his head.
Shea angled his camera lens so he could see across the street. The battered old Mercedes he and Munjed were in was parked no more than fifty yards away from the motorcade on the roadside. The Iranian president had stepped out of the back of his car and was standing on the road.
Shea and Munjed were vulnerable where they had parked. They had picked a location appropriate to spy on a clandestine meeting between two terrorists, not one that would hide them from a presidential security detail. And if they were found, they were as good as dead.
Munjed decided that he just couldn’t sit there without filming. Shea apparently was thinking the same thing. “Too bad we aren’t getting this,” he said to Munjed, lightly masking his request.
“You got it, boss. Let’s show the world.” This was something Munjed said whenever he and Shea uncovered a big story. And this was no doubt the biggest story they had ever uncovered: the president of the Iranian Republic clandestinely meeting with two very dangerous international villains. The world would demand to know why.
Shea had in mind a different demand: retribution.
Copyright © 2012 by Thomas M. Kostigen