Part 8

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Tehran's Old Ghosts

A short story set during the Iranian Revolution in 1978. Eight westerners find themselves trapped in their hotel. Little do they realise that the trouble on the streets is the least of their problems.

(Part 8)


Friday and the soldiers were talking about the Shah finally declaring martial law. The TVs in the hotel still worked, but only showed the happy smiling announcers from Iranian state TV. For any genuine news, Harrison was relying on making friendships among the soldiers.

"Tanks are entering the city." One whispered to him. "No one wants to kill our own people."

The police were muttering about major demonstrations and that there had already been several civilian deaths. All that before Harrison had properly woken up after breakfast.

"It's like we're inside a snow globe." Nathan had told him. "A war going on outside, yet we're isolated from it all. I've yet to hear a single gunshot and as for the TV news....."

Military helicopters were the only sounds of war heard inside the insulating structure of the Wilkinson Hotel. Most helicopters were dots in the distant, but occasionally one would thunder past the hotel, causing the windows to vibrate with the noise.

"The problem with being in a nice cosy snow globe." Said Harrison. "Is that someone may decide to give it a good hard shake."

"You have a strange sense of humour my friend."

"Someone else recently told me that."

The morning drifted on, the only bright spot had been mid-morning coffee with Rachel. They were deliberately trying not to be in each other's company twenty four hours a day, but they were now sharing a bed at night.

"Women have been killed by tanks..... Here in Tehran."

He heard one of the waiters say to another, though they went quiet when he asked for details. It looked bad, yet the TV news just showed happy looking soldiers, saying the troubles were under control.

Just after lunch and Harrison was back by the main desk, chatting to Nathan. A large helicopter landed outside the hotel. Not where helicopters were supposed to land, it put down between the armoured cars in front of the doors. The noise of its rotors filled the lobby with almost unbearable noise, for a good two minutes.

"Another general come to tell us everything is fine."

Said Nathan, once the helicopter's blades had stopped whirring. A group of men in strange uniforms left the helicopters. Most of them looked like marines, but dressed in uniforms he'd never seen before. A tall thin man was in front of them, stomping into the hotel and heading straight for the front desk.

"Arvid, good to see you." Said Nathan.

Arvid Trolle husband of Ruth and a Norwegian diplomat who seemed to have far more power than his lowly position implied. Victor insisted that Arvid was a spy, but Victor thought just about everyone was a spy. Harrison had only seen him twice, in all the weeks he'd been living in the Wilkinson. Arvid was carrying a Harrods bag of all things, stuffed with cream coloured envelopes.

"I have letters from various embassies and consulates, which I was asked to deliver." Said Arvid. "Can I leave them with you ?"

"Yes of course."

"Have you had any trouble outside your embassy ?" Asked Harrison.

"No, I don't think most Iranians know where Norway even is. So far at least, we've not seen a single demonstrator outside. I have a feeling that won't last."

Arvid didn't look as though he'd been sleeping well. Dark lines around his eyes and a gaze that avoided eye contact. At that moment Harrison realised that Arvid hadn't known about Ruth and Gary. Poor bastard, the police report must have turned his life upside down.

"The soldiers tell us some of what is going on outside." Said Nathan. "It's knowing what to believe. Are there really tanks attacking demonstrators in the city ?"

"Oh yes and there have been civilian deaths..... How is Ruth after the.....Death of that poor cleaner ?"

"We don't know." Said Harrison. "The police have kept her in her room since it happened."

"Really ?!"

Arvid was in indignant diplomat mode in an instant.

"They even have an officer sat outside her door at night, sometimes two." Said Nathan.

"Preposterous ! Is she still in the same room on the 9th floor ?"


"I'll soon get this nonsense sorted out."

Off he stomped and Harrison briefly wished he'd been born a Norwegian. Nathan began to put the envelopes in pigeon holes for the few rooms still being occupied by paying guests. He dropped one of the cream coloured envelopes on the desk in front of Harrison.

'Private and Confidential – Only to be opened by Harrison H Thistle.'

Had been written on it, in a female hand, by someone with perfect handwriting. His own always looked as though a spider had fallen into an inkwell, before crawling over the page.

"Are you going to open it ?" Asked Rachel.

She had that gift, for appearing unnoticed, in a busy public space.

"I know what it says.... I can guess what all the letters say." He replied.

Nathan handed an envelope to Rachel, which she didn't open.

"Ok, tell me what's in mine ?" She asked.

"It'll be full of diplomatic gobble-de-gook and at least two pages long." He said. "All of it will boil down to Her Majesty's Government recommending that you remain in the hotel, under the protection of the Shah's soldiers. Just until the trouble dies down of course."

Cream paper inside cream envelopes, the embassy's expensive stock of stationery. Rachel read the two typed pages and gave him a slight bow.

"Spot on, now read yours."

"It'll be the same."

She gave him a look which threatened trouble, so he opened his envelope. Two typed pages saying exactly what he'd predicted, but using twenty words where one would have done.

"Not fair, you have a handwritten note in yours." She said.

"Just to say they've had contact with my employers in London. It appears that EVO Engineering are also recommending that I stay put until things settle down."

"I don't think the army would let you leave anyway." Said Nathan.

"I have a view to the south from my room." Said Rachel. "We can see what's going on from there."

Of course they never did watch the helicopters circling the demonstrators. They were too busy enjoying each other's bodies, until it was time for dinner.

~ ~

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