Active Measures: Part I | Chapter 1

Tehran at Night

There is great power in letting go.

But no one had taught him that. No one had plunged down their hands to dig up the shards and piece him back together. No one had ever tried.

Not yet.

Jack Galloway weighed his surroundings with a wary intent: a few muted women, their bodies engulfed by the deep, black, obscuring fabric of a chador; the cliques of men, young, old and plenty lost somewhere in the gap between; and their voices — the usual voices, the normative patterns — at times exuberant toward the cricket match on the television suspended from the far wall, at times silenced by an assuaging drag on a water pipe, at times hushed in acquiescence of the CCTV camera suspended to the other; at no time content. Their faces were unfamiliar to him yet their patterns, their movements, their fleeting glances, their questioning eyes were not — all caught by his own, all measured, processed and stored lest his eyes ever fall upon them again. Then he would know. Then he would vanish. Familiar faces in unfamiliar places were deadly in the denied corners of the world.

Jack took his cuff and wiped down a ceramic cup. He hadn’t seen his potential minder since he ducked into the café, although that was likely by design. In Moscow it was called “dolphin surveillance” — now you see me, now you don’t. The KGB would tail the subject with a sloppy team, making the surveillance obvious and then promptly pull the team off, replacing them with a much more skilled unit, of which the subject wouldn’t be granted the slightest hint. It was meant to deceive the subject into a false sense of security — the illusion of reality: an unreality — like the shadows dancing over the cave wall before the captivated prisoners, chained and ignorant of the raging fire at their backs. All mere projections; charades; lies in the dark.

Jack left the café, averting his face from the CCTV camera — the security services had unfettered access to the hard drives — and returned to the street under a gentle fall of rain.

It was just as his father had shown him in the front room of their embassy housing in Hampstead. His father would extend his arm and on cue, four coins would drop from his sleeve onto the table. He would count them and smile, “Are you with me?”

Jack continued down the street toward Tajrish Square, the hub of the affluent neighborhoods of northern Tehran. The streetlamps lit the way before him, and behind him. His minders hadn’t made themselves known, if they were even there. He hailed a passing cab. It pulled to the curb, splashing through the runoff that had gathered into shallow lakes of light. He directed the cab three blocks south, then promptly ordered it to stop, hopped out and doubled back five blocks north where he arrived at Ammar Street, a quiet, leafy residential lane flanked by distinguished walled homes. Here even the most capable surveillance unit would be pressed to find cover. Jack wasn’t keen to make it easy for his shadows. He kept on down the street.

His father would place the coins in a line on his right palm and count out each one, again, deliberately. Then, he folded his fingers on both hands, the right one touching the edge of the coins. He smiled again. “Are you with me?” Jack would nod. His father sharply flipped his hands, the backs turned to the ceiling. He smiled, turned over his right hand and opened it. Three coins. He turned over his left hand. One coin. “Did you see it jump?”

On the opposite side of the street, Jack saw a white, stone villa surrounded by a high wall and a manicured garden. The lights inside were doused and the curtains drawn — save for one. Suspended in a window on the upper floor was the soft orange flicker of a candle. Jack took note and walked on. He would wait for contact. That candle in the window was all he could concretely know, the only static light in a field of shifting shadows, flickers, projections and charades — lies in the dark; a solemn sign his father had shown him twenty-five years before.

That candle had been snuffed out. But no one had ever taught Jack why.

Not yet.

“Timely, gripping, and unbelievably authentic…” Active Measures: Part I is available for purchase on Amazon.

Published by H-Hour Productions, LLC. Copyright © 2016 Matthew Fulton. All rights reserved.