The Spider Killings (14)

“Ah well” she sighed to herself “Where will all this cloak and dagger stuff lead me in the end?”


The Spider Killings (14)
by laleh haghighi

A fictional series based on real events that happened in Iran known as the "Spider Killings". [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]

When Roxanne finally got back to her hotel room, she realized something was amiss as soon as she entered. To a non-observant eye, the room looked just as she had left it: Her suitcase open in the corner with half the clothes still inside, unpacked; Her laptop open on her desk, with some papers and pens strewn around; and her handy coffee mug and ashtray full of cigarette butts still on the windowsill, her favorite spot in any room to have a quiet smoke. Roxanne looked around and she was sure that someone had been in her room. She could not put her finger on it but she just knew it was a fact. Had someone searched her room in her absence? Searched it looking for… what?

She looked down at the file folder she was carrying, the one she had brought back from Peyman’s place, enclosing the most important contents of that box he had been hiding in his basement. Had Peyman been right? Were they on to that already? And if so, why search her room? Why not go through Peyman’s house? Then she realized, they may already have done that, unbeknownst to Peyman. They obviously had taken a great deal of care to ensure that she would not suspect any intrusion in her living space. They probably would have done the same with Peyman. The dear boy. He would be oblivious to a family of ducks nesting in the middle of his living room, much less some clever policemen going through his clutter, so messy his quarters were.

She picked up the phone to dial Peyman’s number but thought better of it and replaced the receiver. As soon as she did so, the phone rang, startling her. She picked it up and to her relief, the voice of the desk clerk, Mr. Homayoun, greeted her.

-- “Khanoom-e Joneidi, bebakhshid, oz mikham, I am sorry to disturb you at this late hour but the gentleman said it was very important to give you your message as soon as you returned.”

-- “Good evening Mr. Homayoun. Ummmm… Could you slow down a bit? What gentleman? What message?”

-- “In your absence this afternoon, a gentleman came by with a letter for you. He left it at the desk and said it was extremely important that you receive it as soon as you got back.”

-- “And who was this gentleman?”

-- “Errrr… I don’t know for sure but….”

-- “But what?”

-- “I believe. I believe he was a police officer Ma’am.”

-- “I’ll be right down.”

As Roxanne took the envelope from the nervous clerk’s hand, she asked, casually:

-- “Aghaye Homayoun, did you send the maid to clean up my room today?”

Mr. Homayoun wiped his brow, which was always sweating profusely, and replied in his usual defensive, whiny voice:

-- “Aye bebakhshid Khanoome Joneidi, I am sorry Ms. Joneidi, you gave special instructions not to enter your room unless you specifically called for service and so…”

-- “That’s fine, Mr. Homayoun.”

-- “Would you like me to send her up right now?”

-- “Of course not, it is too late. I will call myself tomorrow.”

Roxanne went back up to her room, and as soon as she closed the door behind her, she opened the envelope. It was a formal request to appear for an audience with Ayatollah Kazemi at the Ministry of Justice the next day.

Roxanne immediately went to the phone and dialed the number she knew by heart.

-- “It’s me. No. Don’t be alarmed. I think though that you should come over tomorrow morning. I have a… a new batch of Chinese tea I want you to try out. Okay, see you tomorrow Peyman jan.”

Before placing the receiver back, Roxanne waited a few seconds, her ear still stuck to the receiver, her hand muffling the other end of it. After a long silence during which Roxanne mentally told herself she was being paranoid, there it was, undeniable. A clicking sound. Like that of someone hanging up the phone. But Peyman had got off the line long time ago.

* * *

-- “I am sorry, so sorry. I am weak. I am a failure. I should die of shame right now before you, oh Great One.”

Sharif was weeping, his face pressed hard against the golden grid of the mausoleum, the tips of his fingers white with the pressure he was applying against it, like he wanted to force his way inside.

-- “Sharif, I thought you were a solider. How could you let yourself weaken at the decisive moment? How could you make yourself so vulnerable? Leave without finishing your job!”

-- “But she was the mother of a Shahid, a martyr. I saw his photo on the wall. There could be no other reason she would have placed it there. And I thought…”

-- “Thought what? Did she deserve any less of your help than if she was the mother of a baker? It’s all the more reason why you should have pressed on. Think of the shame that poor soul is feeling, looking down seeing his mother reduced to what she has become. Don’t you think he was looking down upon you in approval, waiting, hoping for you to put her out of her misery?”

-- “But… when I looked back, I thought I saw myself and the woman…She… She…somehow, she looked like…”

But Sharif couldn’t bring himself to finish his sentence, to actually verbalize what he had witnessed or rather, thought he had witnessed. That whore’s face morphing into that of his own, late mother, before his very eyes.

-- “Those were just hallucinations brought on by the demons to fool you. And you fell for it, you weak-minded, pitiable soul. I was wrong about you. You are not worthy to fight the battle like I had to. You are not worthy of me or of any of the martyrs.”

-- “No, no, please. Don’t leave me alone again. I am so, so alone.” Sharif was sobbing. “Give me another chance. I will prove it to you. I will prove it to you beyond a doubt. I will never get tricked again. This all happened because I went against my instinct. I followed the demon to its lair and it proved too shrewd for me. But never. Never again!”

Sharif had been at the Imam Reza Shrine all morning. He would not leave until he had found his resolve again. And he would do just as he had said, to prove to his Guiding Angel, just how worthy he really was.

* * *

At her hotel, Roxanne was getting ready for her meeting with Ayatollah Kazemi. Peyman came to pick her up and on the way there, she explained what had happened.

-- “I am so sorry Roxanne.” Peyman said contritely, “I got you into a mess. I have been a terrible friend. Let’s just get you out of here. You don’t have to show up if you’re back in Tehran, outside of his jurisdiction.”

-- “Nonsense! I actually can’t wait to meet this character. And don’t worry about the stuff. I put it in a safe place and I will make sure it gets to Tehran and in a safe place there. No, Peyman jan, running away now would only arouse their suspicion more. Let me play their game until I am out of here. I promise, I’ll be out of here by tonight.”

The two friends continued arguing until they reached the Ministry of Justice.

-- “Stay here, there is no reason for you to accompany me and I want to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible.” Roxanne ordered her friend.

He had no choice but to acquiesce.

After showing her letter to several persons in the building, she was guided from floor to floor, room to room, until she finally reached the Ayatollah’s waiting room. As she conferred with his secretary, she was more than surprised to see Ramin walk out of the office at that very moment. She wondered if he had something to do with this little meeting and if he was going to sit in but he just exchanged the same puzzled look with her and kept on walking until he was out of the office.

It only took a few more minutes for Kazemi’s secretary to show her in.

The office of the Ayatollah was decorated in extreme good taste. Only the best, nothing was spared for the comfort of the Ayatollah and his guests. The modern Italian leather and abstract paintings on the walls were intermingled with the more traditional touches of the beautiful silk Persian handmade carpets and a dazzling silver tea set that had been placed on an elegant hand painted coffee table that seemed to be a French antique from the Napoleon era. Yet the mix of all these cultures and epochs, far from clashing together somehow blended together in harmony, creating a soothing and refined ambiance destined to make any visitor at ease.

The Ayatollah himself, though dressed in the traditional garb of the Iranian Islamic clerics, had seemingly taken great pains to give himself the appearance of someone who was not one of those country bumpkin clerics who abounded in the city. He sported a thin mustache, trimmed and styled to perfection. His designer eyeglasses would have completed the chic air of an Italian fashion designer had it not been for the turban and robe denoting his real role.

For all that show however, Roxanne couldn’t help noticing with a smirk that the Ayatollah obviously dyed his hair and that, as he was talking to her, he was trying very discreetly to dislodge a piece of candy that had seemingly stuck itself to his palate with his tongue. Roxanne intently kept her eyes fixed on her host in order to make sure he wouldn’t be able to avail himself of a more useful instrument, such as his index finger, to aid him in this arduous task, as the Ayatollah was probably dying to do.

Kazemi was nothing but the perfect gentleman, polite and soft spoken, explaining to her that this meeting was designed to “welcome” her into his city and to leave himself open to any questions or comments she may have in the course of her endeavor here.

-- “I am certain, Ms. Joneidi” the Ayatollah cooed “that your Tehrani readers will be apt to discover one of the hidden gems of their country. Though we have our fair share of pilgrims year round to visit the glorious Shrine to Imam Reza, as well as our numerous other landmarks and cultural attractions, we are hoping to draw more people from the urban centers as well, as our tourist industry has somehow been limited to the gentle countryfolk of our nation.”

-- “Well, Your Honor,” Roxanne retorted with aplomb, “I am not exactly here on a mandate from the Ministry of Tourism.”

The Ayatollah’s eyes quickly flashed but the rest of him did not otherwise betray any annoyance at Roxanne’s cheeky response.

-- “Well, if I may be so bold as to ask, Ms. Joneidi” Kazemi chuckled, “What exactly is it that brings you to our lovely city?”

-- “As I am sure you have discussed with the eloquent chief of police, I came here on an anonymous tip that there may be a serial killer in Mashad targeting pro… mmm… targeting the good women of your lovely city.”

The Ayatollah paused to add another sugar lump in his tea glass and daintily swirled his tiny spoon in the glass.

-- “I am afraid you have wasted considerable time then” Kazemi finally uttered “since there is no such thing here and I would be in the right place to know. But I hope at least you have taken advantage of this trip to take an educational tour of what our city has to offer.”

-- “You are quite right, Your Honor.” Roxanne agreed. “There is indeed no crime here that would not be found in any other urban center, to borrow from the police chief’s words. But you are right, I should get some advantage from this trip.”

-- “I am glad we are in agreement, Ms. Joneidi.” The Ayatollah smiled. He had finally succeeded in dislodging that little piece of candy, and he could now smile in relief.

After saying the formal goodbyes, Roxanne exited the governmental building. She looked for Peyman but to her surprise, she saw Ramin instead, leaning against his Jeep. He had obviously stuck around until she was done with her meeting. She was both annoyed and also, to her own surprise, the tiniest bit delighted by this.

-- “I think your husband went somewhere but he will probably be back.”

-- “I am sure he will but he is not my husband.”

She was shocked at his nerve. Was this his "subtle" way of finding out if she was married or not? For God’s sake, this was the chief of police and she was a woman journalist he had just met. She hated herself for feeling elated, like a giggly teen-aged schoolgirl. Could it be possible that she had… something as puerile as a crush on Ramin?

-- “May I ask… How did it go… up there?”

-- “You may ask, and I will answer that it went swimmingly, thanks.”

-- “Ms. Joneidi.” His tone was dead serious. “I don’t think you… I don’t think you should take this too lightly.”

-- “Why whatever do you mean by that Mr. Brigadier-General?” teased Roxanne.

-- “Only that, you should be careful. That’s all.”

Roxanne saw Peyman’s car turn around the corner and she waved at him.

-- “Thank you Mr. Rohani, I will carry that priceless piece of advice wherever I venture in your delightful and safe city.”

As she tried to move past him, she suddenly shuddered. He had gently posed his hand on her arm. She looked back at him and he was smiling kindly at her.

-- “Before you go, here is my card, with my private cell phone number on it. If ever you … were in need of some assistance, I would urge you to call me directly.”

-- “Thank you.” Roxanne replied simply.

She had initially come up with a hundred stinging, smart-ass replies to the chief of police slipping his number and doing this damsel in distress routine but the utter genuineness of Ramin overcame her initial instinct.

She put the card in her purse and decided she would remain mum about this last detail if Peyman questioned her. She realized she had involuntarily already created a bond between her and Ramin through this secrecy.

-- “Ah well” she sighed to herself “Where will all this cloak and dagger stuff lead me in the end?”

* * *

A few moments after Roxanne’s departure from Ayatollah Kazemi’s office, a cleverly masked back door opened and Majid stepped out. Kazemi looked at his nephew lovingly.

-- “You remember when I used to tell you about my eminent uncle, Dayee Jan Doctor, when you were a boy, Majid?,” Kazemi stated, twirling his mustache, “He would always say, you have to destroy the bacteria before it spreads. One casualty is always less costly than a plague. I believe in that, what about you?”

-- “Of course uncle, you taught me well, as always.”

-- “Well, do you agree with me then that it is time to destroy this particular bacteria?”

Majid’s blue eyes shone brightly.

-- “Yes, uncle. I will take care of it.”

The young man turned towards the back door to make his exit but Kazemi called him back. The old Ayatollah stood up from his chair and walked towards his handsome nephew.

-- “Koochooloo, my little one, I missed you. You don’t visit me much these days. Busy with the wife and kiddies, uh?”

Majid blushed but he did not respond.

Kazemi playfully dipped his thumb inside the dimple on the young man’s chin, circling it softly. Then, securing Majid’s chin between his thumb and index finger, he lowered his nephew’s head towards his, until he could reach his lips with his mouth. The old man shivered visibly with delight as he delicately kissed those soft lips. Majid did not budge. He did not even close his eyes. When it was over, he simply turned around and walked out the door>>> PART 15
PARTS [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21]


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