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James Clavell



  Copyright © 1995 by the Estate of James Clavell

  E-book published in 2018 by Blackstone Publishing

  Cover design by Djamika Smith

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Trade e-book ISBN 978-1-9825-3770-8

  Library e-book ISBN 978-1-9825-3769-2

  Fiction / Historical

  CIP data for this book is available from the Library of Congress

  Blackstone Publishing

  31 Mistletoe Rd.

  Ashland, OR 97520


  1600 - SHŌGUN

  1841 - TAI-PAN

  1862 - GAI-JIN

  1945 - KING RAT

  1963 - NOBLE HOUSE

  1979 - WHIRLWIND


  The novels of James Clavell’s world-famous Asian Saga (Shōgun, Tai-Pan, Gai-Jin, King Rat, Noble House, and Whirlwind) were each critically acclaimed major bestsellers and have been adapted into phenomenally successful, award-winning television events and feature films. James Clavell died in 1994.

  For Shigatsu



  February 9th, 1979

  Tehran—McIver’s Apartment: 8:30 P.M. The three of them were huddled around the big shortwave battery radio, the broadcast signal faint and heterodyning badly. ‘This is the BBC World Service, the time is 1700 hours Greenwich Mean Time. . .’ 5 p.m. GMT was 8.30 p.m. local time.

  The two men automatically checked their watches. The woman just sipped her vodka martini. Outside the apartment the night was dark. There was a distant burst of gunfire. They took no notice. She sipped again, waiting. Inside the apartment it was cold, the central heating off weeks ago. Their only source of warmth now was a small electric fire that, like the dimmed electric lights, was down to half power.

  ‘. . . at 1500 hours GMT there will be a special report on Persia, now called Iran, “From Our Own Correspondent”. . .’

  ‘Good,’ she muttered and they all nodded. She was fifty-one, young for her age, attractive, blue-eyed and fair-haired, trim, and she wore dark-rimmed glasses. Genevere McIver, Genny for short.

  ‘. . . but first a summary of the world news: The situation throughout Iran is still very fluid with well-armed, rival factions vying for power: Prime Minister Callaghan announced the Queen will fly to Kuwait on Monday to begin a three-week visit of the Persian Gulf states: in Washington, Pres—’

  The transmission faded completely. The taller man cursed.

  ‘Be patient, Charlie,’ she said gently. ‘It’ll come back.’

  ‘Yes, Genny, you’re right,’ Charlie Pettikin answered. He was forty-six, ex-RAF, originally from South Africa, his hair dark and grey flecked, senior pilot and chief of their helicopter training programme for the Iranian air force. Another burst of machine-gun fire in the distance.

  ‘A bit dicey sending the Queen to Kuwait now, isn’t it?’ Genny said. Kuwait was an immensely wealthy oil sheikdom just across the Gulf, flanking Saudi Arabia and Iraq. ‘Pretty stupid at a time like this, isn’t it?’

  ‘Bloody stupid, bloody government’s got its head all the way up,’ Duncan McIver, her husband, said sourly. ‘All the bloody way to Aberdeen.’

  She laughed. ‘That’s a pretty long way, Duncan.’

  ‘Not far enough for me, Gen!’ McIver was head of S-G Helicopters in Iran, a British company that had been servicing Iran for many years, mostly the oil industry. He was a heavyset man of fifty-eight, built like a boxer, with grizzled grey hair. ‘Callaghan’s a bloody twit and th—’ He stopped, hearing faint rumbles of a heavy vehicle going past in the street below. The apartment was on the top floor, the fifth, of the modern residential building in the northern suburbs of Tehran. Another vehicle passed.

  ‘Sounds like more tanks,’ she said.

  ‘They’re tanks, Genny,’ Charlie Pettikin said.

  ‘Perhaps we’re in for another bad one,’ she said.

  For weeks now every day had been bad. First it was martial law in September when public gatherings had been banned and a 9.00 p.m. to 5.00 a.m. curfew imposed by the Shah that had only further inflamed the people. Particularly in the capital Tehran. There had been much killing, and more violence, the Shah vacillating, then abruptly cancelling martial law in the last days of December and appointing Bakhtiar, a moderate, prime minister, making concessions, and then, incredibly, on January 16 leaving Iran for ‘a holiday’. Then Bakhtiar forming his government and Ayatollah Khomeini—still in exile in France—decrying it and anyone who supported it. Riots increasing, the death toll increasing. Bakhtiar trying to negotiate with the Ayatollah who refused to see him or talk to him, the people restive, the army restive, then closing all airports against him, then opening them to him. Then, equally incredibly, eight days ago on February 1, the Ayatollah returning. The revolution began in earnest.

  ‘I need another drink,’ she said and got up to hide a shiver. ‘Can I fix yours, Duncan?’

  ‘Thanks, Gen.’

  She went towards the kitchen for some ice. ‘Charlie?’

  ‘I’m fine, Genny, I’ll get it.’

  She stopped as the radio came back strongly: ‘. . . China reports that there have been serious border clashes with Vietnam and denounces. . .’ Again the signal vanished, leaving only static. More machine-gun fire, closer this time.

  After a moment Pettikin said, ‘I had a drink at the Press club on the way here. There’s a rumour that Prime Minister Bakhtiar’s preparing a showdown. Another was that there’s heavy fighting in Meshed after a mob strung up the chief of police and half a dozen of his men.’

  ‘Terrible,’ she said.

  ‘I wish to God they’d all settle down. Iran’s a great place and I don’t plan to move.’ The radio came in for a second then went back to emitting static. ‘It must be sunspots.’

  ‘Enough to make you want to spit blood,’ McIver said. Like Pettikin, he was ex-RAF. He had been the first pilot to join S-G, and now as director of Iran operations, he was also managing director of IHC—Iran Helicopters Company—the fifty-fifty joint venture with the obligatory Iranian partners that S-G leased their helicopters to, the company that got their contracts, made their deals, held the money—without whom there would be no Iranian operations. He leaned forward to adjust the tuning, changed his mind.

  ‘It’ll come back, Duncan,’ Genny said. ‘I agree Callaghan’s a twit.’

  He smiled at her. They had been married thirty years. ‘You’re not bad, Gen. Not bad at all.’

  ‘For that you can have another whisky.’

  ‘Thanks, but this time put some in with the wat—’

  ‘. . . deteriorating situation in Iran, a carrier force has been ordered to proceed from the Philip—’ The announcer’s voice was drowned by another station, then both faded.

  In silence they waited, very tense. The two men glanced at each other, trying to hide their shock. Genny walked over to the almost empty whisky bottle that was on the sideboard. Also on the sideboard, taking up most of the space, was the HF, McIver’s communicator with their helicopter bases all over Iran—conditions permitting. The apartment was big and comfortable, with three bedrooms and two sitting rooms. For the last few months, since martial law and the subsequent street violence, Pettikin had moved in with them—he was single now, divorced a year ago—and this arrangement pleased them all.

  A slight wind rattled the windowpan
es. Genny glanced outside. There were a few dim lights from the houses opposite, no streetlamps. The low rooftops of the city stretched away limitlessly. Snow on them, and on the ground. Most of the five to six million people who lived here lived in squalor. But this area, to the north of Tehran, the best area, where most foreigners and well-to-do Iranians lived, was well policed.

  She made the drink light, mostly soda, and brought it back. ‘There’s going to be civil war. There’s no way we can continue here.’

  ‘We’ll be all right, Carter can’t let. . .’ Abruptly the lights died and the electric fire went out.

  ‘Bugger,’ Genny said. ‘Thank God we’ve the butane cooker.’

  ‘Maybe the power cut’ll be a short one.’ McIver helped her light the candles that were already in place. He glanced at the front door. Beside it was a five-gallon can of petrol—their emergency fuel. He hated the idea of having petrol in the apartment, particularly when they had to use candles most evenings. But for weeks now it had taken from five to twenty-four hours of lining up at a petrol station and even then the Iranian attendant would more than likely turn you away because you were a foreigner. Many times their car had had its tank drained—locks made no difference. They were luckier than most because they had access to airfield supplies, but for the normal person, particularly a foreigner, the queues made life miserable. Black-market petrol cost as much as 160 rials a litre—$2 a litre, $8 a gallon, if you could get it.

  ‘You were saying about Carter?’

  ‘The trouble is if Carter panics and puts in even a few troops—or planes—to support a military coup, it will blow the top off everything. Everyone’ll scream like a scalded cat, the Soviets most of all, and they’ll have to react and Iran’ll become the set piece for World War Three.’

  McIver said, ‘We’ve been fighting World War Three, Charlie, since forty-five. . ..’

  A burst of static cut him off, then the announcer came back again. ‘. . . for illicit intelligence work: It is reported from Kuwait by the chief of staff of the armed forces that Kuwait has received large shipments of arms from the Soviet Union. . ..’

  ‘Christ,’ both men muttered.

  ‘. . . President Carter reiterated the U.S. support for Iran’s Bakhtiar government and the “constitutional process”. Throughout the British Isles exceptionally heavy snow, gales and floods have disrupted much of the country, closing Heathrow Airport and grounding all aircraft. And that ends the news summary. You’re listening to the World Service of the BBC. And now a report from our farm correspondent, “Poultry and pigs”. We begin. . .’

  McIver reached over and snapped it off ‘Bloody hell, the whole world’s falling apart and the BBC gives us pigs.’

  Genny laughed. ‘What would you do without the BBC, the telly, and the football pools? Gales and floods.’ She picked up the phone on the off chance. It was dead as usual. For months it had been completely unreliable, with no dial tone that would miraculously reappear for no apparent reason. ‘Hope the kids are all right.’ They had a son and a daughter, both married now and on their own and two grandchildren, one from each. ‘Little Karen catches colds so badly and Sarah! Even at twenty-three she needs reminding to dress properly! Will that child never grow up?’

  Pettikin said, ‘It’s rotten not being able to phone when you want.’

  ‘Yes. Anyway, it’s time to eat. The market was almost empty today for the third day on the trot. So it was a choice of roast ancient mutton again with rice, or a special. I chose the special and used the last two cans. I’ve corned beef pie, cauliflower au gratin, and treacle tart, and a surprise hors d’oeuvre.’ She took a candle and went off to the kitchen and shut the door behind her.

  ‘Wonder why we always get cauliflower au gratin?’ McIver watched the candlelight flickering on the kitchen door. ‘Hate the bloody stuff! I’ve told her fifty times. . .’ The nightscape suddenly caught his attention. He walked over to the window. The city was empty of light because of the power cut. But southeastward now a red glow lit up the sky. ‘Jaleh, again,’ he said simply.

  A few months ago, tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets of Tehran to protest the Shah’s imposition of martial law, particularly in Jaleh—a poor, densely populated suburb—where bonfires were lit and barricades of burning tyres set up. When the security forces arrived, the raging, milling crowd shouting ‘Death to the Shah’ refused to disperse. Tear gas didn’t work. Guns did. Estimates of the death toll ranged from an official 97 to 2,000 to 3,000 by the militant opposition groups.

  Unexpectedly the telephone jangled, startling them.

  ‘Five pounds it’s a bill collector,’ Pettikin said, smiling at Genny who came out of the kitchen, equally startled at hearing the bell.

  ‘That’s no bet, Charlie!’ Banks had been on strike and closed for two months in response to Khomeini’s call for a general strike, so no one—individuals, companies, or even the government—had been able to get any cash out and most Iranians used cash and not cheques.

  McIver picked up the phone not knowing what to expect. Or who. ‘Hello.’

  ‘Good God, the bloody thing’s working,’ the voice said. ‘Duncan, can you hear me?’

  ‘Yes, yes, I can. Just. Who’s this?’

  ‘Talbot, George Talbot at the British embassy. Sorry, old boy, but the stuff is hitting the fan. Khomeini’s named his own prime minister and called for Bakhtiar’s resignation or else. About a million people are in the streets of Tehran right now looking for trouble. We’ve just heard there’s a revolt of airmen at Doshan Tappeh—and Bakhtiar’s said if they don’t quit he’ll order in the Immortals.’ The Immortals were crack units of the fanatically pro-Shah Imperial Guards. ‘Her Majesty’s Government, along with the U.S., Canadian, et al., are advising all non-essential nationals to leave the country at once. . ..’

  McIver tried to keep the shock off his face and mouthed to the others, ‘Talbot at the embassy.’

  ‘. . . Yesterday an American of ExTex Oil and an Iranian oil official were ambushed and killed by “unidentified gunmen” in the southwest, near Ahwaz’—McIver’s heart skipped another beat—‘. . . you’re operating down there still, aren’t you?’

  ‘Near there, at Bandar-e Delam on the coast,’ McIver said, no change in his voice.

  ‘How many British nationals do you have here, excluding dependents?’

  McIver thought a moment. ‘Forty-five, out of our present complement of sixty-seven, that’s twenty-six pilots, thirty-six mechanic/engineers, five admin, which’s pretty basic for us.’

  ‘Who’re the others?’

  ‘Four Americans, three German, two French, and one Finn—all pilots. Two American mechanics. We’d treat all our lads as British if necessary.’


  ‘Four, all wives, no children. We got the rest out three weeks ago. Genny’s still here, one American at Kowiss and two Iranians.’

  ‘You’d better get both the Iranian wives into their embassies tomorrow—with their marriage certificates. They’re in Tehran?’

  ‘One is, one’s in Tabriz, Erikki’s wife Azadeh.’

  ‘You’d better get them new passports as fast as possible.’

  By Iranian law all Iranian nationals coming back into the country had to surrender their passports to Immigration at the point of entry, to be held until they wished to leave again. To leave they had to apply in person to the correct government office for an exit permit for which they needed a valid identity card, a satisfactory reason for wanting to go abroad, and, if by air, a valid prepaid ticket for a specific flight. To get this exit permit might take days or weeks. Normally.

  Talbot was saying ‘Fortunately we don’t have any squabbles with the Ayatollah, Bakhtiar, or the generals. Still, any foreigners are liable for a lot of flak so we’re formally advising you to send dependents off, lickety-split, and cut the others down to basic—for the ti
me being. The airport’s going to be a mess from tomorrow on—we estimate there are still about five thousand expats, most of them American—but we’ve asked British Airways to cooperate and increase flights for us and our nationals. The bugger of it is that all civilian air traffic controllers are still totally out on strike, Bakhtiar’s ordered in the military controllers and they’re even more punctilious if that’s possible. We’re sure it’s going to be the exodus over again.’

  Last month a rampaging mob went berserk in the industrial city of Isfahan, with its enormous steel complex, petrochemical refinery, ordnance and helicopter factories, and where a large proportion of the 50,000-odd American expats and their dependents worked and lived. The mobs burned banks—the Koran forbade lending money for profit—liquor stores—the Koran forbade the drinking of alcohol—and two movie houses—places of ‘pornography and Western propaganda’, always particular targets for the fundamentalists—then attacked factory installations, peppered the four-storey Grumman Aircraft HQ with Molotov cocktails, and burned it to the ground. That precipitated the ‘exodus’.

  Thousands converged on Tehran Airport, clogging it as would-be passengers scrambled for the few available seats, turning the airport and its lobbies into a disaster area. Men, women and children camping there, afraid to lose their places. No schedules, no priorities, each airplane overbooked twenty times, no computer ticketing, just slowly handwritten by a few sullen officials—most of whom were openly hostile and non-English-speaking. Quickly the airport became foul and the mood ugly.

  Adding to the chaos were thousands of Iranians, all hoping to flee while there was still time to flee. The unscrupulous and the wealthy jumped the queues. Many an official became rich and then more greedy and richer still. Then the air traffic controllers struck, shutting down the airport completely.

  At length most foreigners who wanted to leave left. The Ayatollah had said, ‘If the foreigner wants to leave, let him leave; it is American materialism that is the Great Satan. . .’ Those who stayed to keep the oil fields serviced, airplanes flying, nuclear plants abuilding, chemical plants working, tankers moving—and to protect their gigantic investments—kept a low profile.