Chapter Thirty

Golden Oasis Hotel

Tehran, Iran

June 15, 9:42 a.m.

I kept expecting the woman to call back, but she didn’t.

Violin.

I went into the bathroom to pack my toiletries. Ghost came and sat in the doorway, watching me in case I happened to discover a beef bone in my shaving kit.

As I puttered around, I tried to make some sense of the pieces of the mystery I had, but it was like trying to assemble one picture with pieces from four different puzzles. There was the hikers thing. That’s why I was here in Iran. There was no intention or even possibility of any interaction with the Iranian government. I don’t think I had ever spoken Rasouli’s name aloud before today; until now it was only a name in news stories and in a handful of CIA field reports that crossed my desk.

Before Rasouli, there was not even a whisper of rogue nukes. I mean, sure, everyone knows about Iran’s nuclear project-which is not even a “leaked” secret. Iran was behind the first press stories. They wanted the fear of it to give them leverage. What the general public didn’t know was that their program was about eighteen months ahead of the timetable predicted in the press, and that the whole thing had been kicked off with technology sold to them, and overseen, by the Russians. The Cold War was far from over-it simply had a new mailing address.

The CIA analysts were convinced to a high degree of confidence that Iran already had nuclear bombs. Maybe ten of them. But those bombs would be much smaller than the unit in the photo. They would be tactical nukes built into warheads. It was a scary fact of political life, and it’s why the United States did absolutely nothing in direct support of the various waves of antigovernment unrest. And, it’s why they let the hikers rot for a year. If it wasn’t for the danger posed by leverage on Senator McHale, Echo Team would never have crossed the border.

So… okay, look at that. The hikers were collateral in the nukes thing; but the nuke in the picture isn’t an Iranian nuke. It was probably of Russian manufacture, in whole or part, but the Russians were sharing a sleeping bag with Iran and if Rasouli wasn’t lying, then this bomb was positioned as a threat against Iran.

“So whose nukes are they?” I asked Ghost.

He wagged his tail because that’s what dogs do. They’re too polite to interrupt.

Blowing up the Mideast oil field was a pointless act of destruction. Where was the advantage? How did that make a political statement useful to anyone involved in either the oil wars or the religious pissing contest?

And Violin? Who and what was she?

The fact that Rasouli knew Hugo Vox made all of my math fuzzy. This whole thing could be a Seven Kings beach party, in which case trying to sort through the lies to find the truth would be like trying to pick fly shit out of pepper.

I sighed. I had way too many questions and so far… not one single answer.

Ghost suddenly turned at a sound and then trotted into the other room. I didn’t hear a knock, but Mr. Church’s asset was due any minute. Maybe Ghost heard him on the stairs.

I reached for a clean shirt and was pulling it on when I suddenly heard two sounds that chilled me.

The first thing I heard was Ghost letting out a single savage bark of warning.

Then I heard a sharp yelp of pain. The sound was instantly cut off.

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