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Authors: Gerald Seymour

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HOME RUN

BOOK: HOME RUN
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HOME RUN

Gerald Seymour

GUILD PUBLISHING

LONDON • NEW YORK • SYDNEY • TORONTO

Prologue

[ June 25, 1982]

She was led down the iron steps and across the hallway and out into the chill of the morning. She would have gone on her toes to protect the rawness of the wounded flesh on the soles of her feet, but the guards on either side of her held her firmly above her elbows and she was hurried across a chipstone yard.

She did not cry out. She did not flinch from the pain that burst into her body from her feet.

There was a jeep parked on the far side of the yard. Beyond it four posts in front of a sandbagged wall. There were two groups of soldiers lounging on the ice wet grass between the jeep and the stakes and some were cleaning their rifles. She saw the ropes that were knotted to the posts. They were waiting to do their work, but she was not a part of that work.

At the back of the jeep she was handcuffed, then lifted roughly inside under the loose canvas. Her escorts climbed in alter her. She was pushed to the floor where the fuel fumes merged with the sweat stench of the black and hooded
chador.

The jeep lurched forward. She heard the exchange between the driver and the sentries at the gate, and then she heard the early morning choking whine of the street traffic. She closed her eyes.

There was nothing to see. She had learned when she was taken to the gaol. three months before, that her ears were to be her eyes.

It was an hour's journey to the airfield.

The canvas at the back of the jeep was raised, the tail dropped. She was levered out of the jeep. For a moment she
was
slumped on the tarmac, before the guards hoisted her to her feet. She saw no pity in their faces, she thought that they hated her as their enemy. She knew where she was. As a child she had many times been brought here by her mother to welcome home her father from field exercises away from the capital. She could remember soldiers and junior officers, ail polished and creased and snapping to attention to salute her father as he passed them. She could remember the disciplined laughter all around her as she had broken free from her mother's hand and raced forward to jump at her father's chest.

Precious memories now. She was shepherded by her guards up the rear ramp of the aircraft.

As she was taken forward in the closed cave of the aircraft the light of the morning died and the soldiers tucked in their boots and shifted their rucksacks and their weapons to allow her and her escorts to pass. They took her to the front of the aircraft to where some seats had been curtained off with sacking. The guard who fastened the seatbelt across her waist leered into her face, and his breath was heavy with chillis.

The engine pitch rose, the aircraft stumbled forward.

The flight from Tehran to Tabriz, a distance of 350 miles, took 75 minutes. She did not turn her head. She did not try to look out of the small porthole window behind her left ear.

She did not need to see the gold sun streaming from behind the great mountain of Damavand. She sat still, unmoving, unspeaking. She found a place on the cabin floor in front of her, a place amongst the ammunition boxes and the ration crates. She stared down at the place.

It was an old aircraft. She heard the rumble of the engines and sometimes the cough of a missed stroke, she heard these sounds above and dominating the reading of the Qur'an from beyond the sacking screen. Her guards talked quietly and kept their eyes from her, as if contact with her could contaminate them, taint their souls. She tried not to think. Was her short life an achievement, was it wasted? Better to shut her mind to thoughts.

The pitch of the aircraft changed. She closed her eyes. She had no God, she willed courage into her body.

The transporter rattled down onto the long strip of the Tabriz field and the interior was flooded with light and the squeal of the tail ramp going down. After the pilot had braked and the aircraft had stopped, she was kept in her seat until the last of the soldiers on the far side of the sacking screen had gone with their kit and weapons and ammunition and food. Their voices trailed away from her. She wanted so much to be brave. She wanted so much to be worthy of her father. The guards un-fastened the safety belt. They made her stand. From a plastic bag one of the guards took a loose white robe, with open seams and tapes under the armpits. The white robe was lifted over her head, and the tapes were tied at the sides. She was alone. In four days she would have been eighteen. She had been brought to the second city of her native country for public execution.

They led her down the echoing interior of the aircraft, out into the bold crisp sunlight of the morning. She was a small, waif figure amongst the men. She wanted to think of her father, and she could not because the pain of her body had crept through to her mind. She wondered if her father, at his same moment, at the moment when he was lashed to the post in the garden of the Evin gaol, had thought of her, his daughter. A short and hazed thought, and then gone. The lorry waiting a few feet from the aircraft ramp spilled out its exhaust fumes over them. A guard on each elbow, half walking her, half carrying her to the back of the lorry, and a small knot of men waiting there for her arrival. The young Mullah was there. She had stood in front of him in the courtroom high in Block One of the Evin gaol in the late afternoon, only yesterday.

Perhaps he had travelled from Tehran to Tabriz last night, after he had heard the case against her, weighed it, passed judgment, announced sentence. Perhaps he had boarded the aircraft after her and sat away from her and amongst the soldiers. It was of little matter. The Mullah stared into her face. She tried to stare back at him, but her guards pulled her forward to the back of the lorry and lifted her bodily up and inside. The Mullah had taken a very few minutes to hear her case. She had not spoken in her defence. She wanted it over. She did not know how long she could stay brave.

The lorry drove into Tabriz. She was not innocent of the crime of which she had been convicted. Yes, she had thrown the grenade. And yes, her regret was very keen that it had not killed more of the pigs. She knew why she had been brought to Tabriz, she knew it was the custom of the regime to exact retribution and punishment at the scene of the crime.

Sometimes the lorry was held up in traffic that not even the bellow of a siren could clear. Slow, jerking progress. She pictured in her mind the road they were taking. It was the same route that she had travelled with the two boys into the city, the heart of the city and the offices of the
pasdaran.
To her mind, the
pasdaran
were the symbol of slavery, repression, bigotry. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards were the embodiment of an evil that had consumed her nation . . .

The lorry stopped. The hands of the guards rested on her arms. She saw that they watched her, eager to see how she would be, in the last minutes. They lifted her from the wooden seat of the lorry, propelled her towards the open end of the lorry. Numbness in her mind, a quivering weakness at her knees. She heard the bellowing of a tannoy, and realised that it was the same voice, hushed and musical then, that had sentenced her to death late yesterday. She stood at the edge of the lorry's floor. There were people as far as she could see.

A roar greeted the sight of her. The sound of the voices came at her as waves across shingle, repeated and again. Impossible to make out what was shouted because her ears were still confused by the pressure drop of the aircraft. The faces told her. The faces were shouting their hatred, their pleasure at what was to happen to her. As far as she could see, faces of hate and faces of pleasure. She could not see the Mullah but she heard the excitement in the shrillness of his voice.

Hands reached up for her. She was lifted down from the lorry. No pain in the soles of her feet now. Her guards dragged her forward, and men in uniform forced a passage clear ahead of them.

She saw the crane.

The crane was on a platform behind the cab of a truck. The truck was outside the front gate of the offices of the
pasdaran.

The truck was parked where she had thrown the grenade, where the two boys who had been with her were shot down, where she had been captured. There was a table of heavy wood under the lowered arm of the crane. There was a noosed rope hanging from the crane, and beside it a man in the combat uniform of the
pasdaran.
He was stout, heavily bearded. At the side of his leg he held a long strip of leather.

The guards lifted her very easily onto the table. She gazed around her. She was aware that the executioner now crouched beside her and she felt the tightness of the leather strip at her ankles. So ridiculous. So ridiculous that so many had come to watch the putting to death of so small a person, so young a person. So ridiculous, all of those people in front of her, below her. So ridiculous that she smiled. Her face broke into a smile.

The smile of her youth. The smile of her puzzlement. She heard the Mullah's voice above all the thousand other voices in unison. And then suddenly the shouting had gone.

A great booming quiet around them as the executioner draped round her neck the string that carried the white cardboard sheet on which was spelled out in large characters her crime. His fingers fumbled with the noose of the rope. He pulled the noose over her head, tightened it under her chin.

He had never known such quiet.

They would all remember her, all of those who watched the handcuffed girl in the white robe, standing alone on the table as the executioner jumped down.

The arm of the crane surged upwards.

She died painfully, struggling, but quickly.

For two hours, high above the street, her body hung from the arm of the crane.

The old man made his way along the corridor.

He was an institution in the building, a throwback really to the days before the Service had been equipped with consoles, software and instant communications. In his own way the messenger was something of a celebrity at Century House because of the time he had been with the Service. He, almost'

alone, had known intimately the warren of the former offices that spanned Queen Anne's Gate and Broadway; he had been on the payroll under seven Director Generals, and it had become difficult for any of the older people at Century to imagine being able to cope without him. His approach was slow. He had never quite mastered the artificial limb fitted below the right knee cap. He had been a young man when he had lost his leg, a corporal of infantry on garrison duty in Palestine when he had stepped on a crude anti-personnel mine.

He was paid for a 38-hour week, and not a week went by when he was inside Century for less than 60 hours.

Across the Thames, muffled by the sealed windows of the tower block, Big Ben struck nine thirty. The steel toe and heel caps of the messenger's shoes scraped along the composite tiles. There was silence around him. Office doors locked, rooms darkened. But he could see the light at the distant finishing post of the corridor. This evening, every weekday evening, the messenger performed a personal service for Mr Matthew Furniss. He carried by hand the transcript of the main evening news bulletin on the Home Service of Tehran Radio, monitored and translated at the BBC premises at Caversham, relayed by telex to Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and thence to Century.

He paused at the door. The transcript was gripped between his thumb and a nicotined finger. He looked through the dusk of the open plan area and towards the light shaft that was the door into the inner office of Mr Furniss. He knocked.

"Come."

The messenger thought that Mr Furniss had a lovely voice, the sort of voice that would have sounded lovely on the wireless. He thought Mr Furniss with his lovely voice was also a lovely man. He thought Mr Matthew Furniss was the best of the Old Guard at Century, and a proper gentleman.

"You're so kind, Harry . . . Bless you, and you should have been home hours ago."

It was a sort of a ritual, because the messenger brought the transcript every weekday evening, and every weekday evening Mr Furniss seemed so pleasantly surprised and grateful, and he thought that evening that Mr Furniss looked rotten, like the world was on top of him. The messenger knew enough about the man, plenty, as much as anybody at Century, because the messenger's wife in the years gone by had baby-sat, minded the girls, for Mr and Mrs Furniss. The room stank of pipe tobacco and the ash bowl was brimming. That was not usual, nor was the bottle of Grants that was on the desk and had taken a beating.

"No problem, sir . . ." The messenger handed over the transcript.

Twenty-four hours earlier, to the minute, the messenger had delivered the previous monitored and translated news bulletin from the Home Service of Tehran radio. It was all very clear in the messenger's memory. Mr Matthew Furniss had given him his chirpy and conspiratorial smile and eased back in his chair to gut the resume, and the chair had snapped forward, and the paperwork had flaked down from his hands onto the desk top, and he'd looked as if he'd been hit. That had been last night. . .

BOOK: HOME RUN
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