Tehran's Old Ghosts

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"I'm tired and want a shower and dinner back at the hotel." Said Harrison. "Drive anywhere you want to make that happen."

There did seem to be more demonstrations every day, more hold ups getting away from the hotel and back to it at night. The threats against foreigners had become actual attacks in some places. To Harrison, the most worrying thing was the way the police had slowly begun to look like soldiers. Gone were the old ornate, reassuring uniforms and in were military fatigues, body armour and serious looking weapons. No matter what the press might be saying, he didn't think the trouble on the streets was going to end soon, if ever.

"I see what you mean by narrow."

They were going down an alley at speed. So narrow that he doubted if there was room to open the car's doors. Not that he wanted to get out; all roads away from the main roads were considered too dangerous to be used by westerners.

"Watch out." Said Kris.

Kris actually had his hand on his gun, as they saw two men standing right where the alley came back out into a main road. It was a classic trap, the kind Harrison had been taught to avoid. A risk management company had spent three days in the Hotel, advising everyone on how to stay safe.

"No matter what.... Don't stop." Said Harrison.

"I won't boss." Said the driver.

It looked like a very unfair game of chicken, as their heavy car hurtled towards the two men, the driver's hand holding down the car horn. The men might be well armed though and they might have friends in the buildings either side. There had been rumours of attacks with grenade launchers near the airport.

"Move you fools !" Said Harrison.

They did, stepping back through an open door, as the car left the alley and slewed onto the main road. Their driver was actually grinning, as they narrowly missed a parked van and carried on up the road.

"I told you I'd get you there.... And in time for dinner... Look." Said the driver.

His hotel rose above the buildings in the distance, the four star Wilkinson Hotel. Ten floors with a helipad on the roof and bullet proof windows. The Wilkinson was where all western expats tended to stay, as long as they could afford it of course. Harrison was lucky, EVO picked up all his bills, including air fares for his regular trips home to London.

"Thank you, can I book you for tomorrow ?" He asked the driver.

"They've got me on the airport runs. Not good for our faces to be seen too much in the same places, so they move us around. I'm sure they'll give you someone just as good."

Harrison doubted it, but he had no control over which driver he had each day. They rotated the local drivers around to lessen the chance of them being recognised or followed home. Driving round westerners was no longer the safe cushy job it had once been.

"More soldiers, always more soldiers." Said the driver.

"These are police, you can tell by their arm bands." Said Kris.

They all looked the same to Harrison, men in body armour carrying assault rifles. There were more of them than there had been that morning and two new concrete barriers. The barriers were there to stop anyone from driving a truck into the hotel lobby. No one wanted to use the word terrorist yet, but the government seemed determined to keep the hotel safe.

"Is it a start at nine in the morning Boss ?" Asked Kris.

"Yes, we're heading east tomorrow, out to Pardis."

The driver opened his door for him to get out and then drove off. Kris actually ran over to where a staff bus was waiting. His bodyguard lived in a rented house with another four South African ex-soldiers. Harrison could never decide if that had to be the safest house in Tehran, or the most dangerous.

"Home sweet home from home." He muttered.

No one stopped him or even seemed to take any notice of him, as he walked through the open front door of the hotel. He was known, one of the few westerners brave enough, or stupid enough to still be using the Wilkinson Hotel. There were currently eight westerners left, only seven if Stainton had decided to fly home. All of them given rooms on the 9th floor.

"Good evening Nathan. Any messages for me ?" He asked.

Nathan Rinella was the manager of the Wilkinson and he tended to look after the reception desk in the evenings. Nathan was a Londoner with a local wife, which had to bring its own problems. Nathan seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face.

"Just a message in the book..... 14.15 – David West will call you about 8, tonight."

"Are there just seven of us now ? Did Stainton's wife get him to go home ?"

Poor Nathan, the scowl deepened. It had to be hard running a hotel in what was fast becoming a war zone and of course, bad for business.

"Yes, he checked out just after lunch." Said Nathan. "There is another matter we need..........."

He didn't find out about the other matter. A very agitated customer began to shout at Nathan in Persian, so Harrison headed for the elevators. His room wasn't that brilliant, but it had a shower and a change of clothing. He spotted Rachel Stott sat at the rear of the lounge and she spotted him. Her hand began to move, waving him in her direction.

"Oh Harrison, did you hear the news ?" She asked.

When he'd become the internal auditor for EVO, things had been very different. Tehran had been a playground for the rich and famous and nearly all the westerners in the hotel had been men. Now the local situation looked depressing to say the least, but there were women among the eight remaining expats. Two women and six men, five now Stainton had gone. Rachel was a sales executive for a major car company, sent to sell British made cars to the wealthy locals.

"No, Nathan was interrupted. What happened ?" He asked.

"Bijan was found dead today.... Murdered according to the police."

"But.... He was with us, in Gary's room until about two this morning."

He hugged Rachel; it seemed the right thing to do. Harrison had never strayed, never given Janet any cause to worry that he might have an affair. He did enjoy hugging Rachel though, perhaps a little too much.

"What happened to him Rachel ?" He asked.

"No one really knows, the police are hinting at something brutal though. Just about everyone has been interviewed."

Poor Bijan, he had been almost one of their gang. It always seemed to be him bringing them wine and nibbles in the early hours. He'd even joined in with a few of their daft games.

"I need a shower.....Where are we meeting tonight ? Is it my room ?" He asked.

"No it's Adam's room tonight, we can talk then. I think the police will want to see you too."

"I'm not hard to find.... See you tonight."

For some reason he kissed her on the forehead, before realising that was a mistake. She was attractive and likely to be feeling a little lonely. He knew that he was beginning to really miss the Sunday morning unhurried intimacy with Janet. If only human libido had an on off switch.

Harrison pressed the up button on the elevator and waited. The hotel lobby looked quieter than usual, even the business people from other Arab states were moving out. So far both the government and the demonstrators had treated the foreigners in the hotel with respect, but he wondered how long that would last. The elevator arrived and he had it to himself, for the journey up to the 9th floor.

"I do hope poor Bijan wasn't punished for being our friend." He muttered to himself.

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