Authors: Margaret Truman
“Another delightful example of Margaret Truman’s keen observation of the town she used to call home.”
“Margaret Truman has settled firmly into a career of writing murder mysteries, all evoking brilliantly the Washington she knows so well…. She comes up with a totally new way of poisoning.”
The Houston Post
“In this book, Miss Truman has definitely moved toward the international spy genre. She’s up to the minute. And she’s good.”
“Truman’s strong suit is her thorough knowledge of the Washington scene and her understanding of the perquisites of power, which she describes with enviable panache…. A good writer… in her fifth mystery novel she demonstrates an understanding of the genre which demands not simply an absorbing puzzle, but also engrossing and exotic details.”
The Washington Weekly
Murder on Embassy Row
Copyright © 1985, 2015 by Margaret Truman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Electronic edition published 2015 by RosettaBooks
Cover design by Brehanna Ramirez
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795344992
To all those many friends and colleagues in the world of publishing who have helped produce it, this book is gratefully dedicated
. Sunday morning, April, 1981,
The Iranian Foreign Ministry,
Foroughi Avenue, Teheran, Iran
Geoffrey James, British ambassador to Iran, drew deeply on a gold-banded Turkish cigarette and slowly released the smoke toward a lethargic ceiling fan. On the other side of a leather inlaid desk sat the Iranian foreign minister, Falik el-Qdar. He, too, lit one of the cigarettes and inhaled.
“I shall miss these, Mr. Ambassador,” Qdar said.
“No need to, Mr. Foreign Minister,” said James. “Among many instructions I’ve left for my successor is that Sullivan and Powell continue sending their best Turkish in the daily pouch. I’m certain you’ll be well supplied.”
“I appreciate that.” Qdar leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. James took the opportunity to shift his long, slender frame in his chair and to adjust a sharp crease in his trousers. His charcoal gray pinstripe suit
was one of a dozen identical suits tailored for him by Henry Poole of London. His shirts, all white, were of Sea Island cotton and he wore only ties sanctioned by the three exclusive London clubs to which he belonged. His membership certificates were on file at Harvie and Hudson, London’s famed tiemaker; such proof was demanded before any of the firm’s six thousand different club ties could be sold.
Qdar opened his eyes, rubbed them, then looked across the desk at a man who’d become a friend of sorts, as possible as that could be considering Iran’s recent turmoil. Qdar had succeeded Ibrahim Yazdi on November 6, 1979, forty-eight hours after the take-over of the American Embassy. A close confidant of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Qdar had been at the center of months of negotiations leading to the release of the embassy employees, negotiations that were carried out for the most part in deep secrecy and that involved diplomats from numerous countries, including Geoffrey James. Although Qdar was a loyal and vocal spokesman for the new regime and a dedicated foe of the deposed Shah of Iran, he secretly envied diplomats from Western nations, particularly the tall, well-educated, handsome, and urbane James.
“You have many pieces to put together,” James said.
“Yes. There is the economy, reestablishing relations with those we’ve angered, and, of course, Iraq. We have lost much.”
James nodded and touched his gray hair, which he combed up from a part low on his temple to cover a growing bald spot. He affirmed that the knot in his tie was where it should be, reached down and picked up a thin leather briefcase. “I must be going,” he said.
Qdar held up his hand. “Before you do, you must
allow me one final gesture of friendship.” He spun around in his chair, unlocked a cabinet, and withdrew a half-filled bottle of Glenmorangie single-malt Scotch whiskey. Since the Ayatollah’s rise to power, it was virtually impossible to find liquor in Iran unless, of course, you knew members of the diplomatic corps who received their sacrosanct diplomatic pouches from home. “See?” Qdar said as he poured a tiny amount into each of two glasses. “I have been prudent with your last gift.”
James smiled, accepted his glass, and held it up in a toast.
“Not quite yet,” said Qdar. He turned again, opened the door on a small refrigerator in the cabinet, removed two tiny silver cups, and placed them on the desk. James leaned closer and examined their contents. In each was a spoonful of golden Iranian sterlet
“Oh my,” said James, his face an open reflection of his appreciation of what was in front of him. Of all the world’s caviar, the tiny gold eggs from the sterlet variety of sturgeon was the most prized. It was seldom seen outside of Iran or Russia, so limited was its supply, and what was found invariably ended up on the tables of those nations’ royalty, just as it had for the czars years ago when it was rushed to their tables wrapped in sable.
“To peace,” Qdar said, raising his glass.
“Yes, quite,” said James. He sipped the Scotch, licked his lips, picked up a spoon Qdar had supplied, and tasted the caviar. “Superb,” he said, finishing the small amount of roe.
“It’s always a pleasure providing something precious to one who has a true appreciation of it.” Qdar again raised his glass. “To my friend, Geoffrey James.”
“And to my friend, Falik el-Qdar. It’s been an interesting experience this past year.”
Qdar laughed. “British understatement at its finest. But I am glad you have found it so.”
James finished the Scotch, placed the empty glass on the desk, and stood. He was considerably taller than Qdar, something they’d joked about before. They shook hands. “I’m certain we’ll meet again,” James said as he walked with the easy lope of someone at home in high places. James had what his wife sometimes termed “a socialite slouch.” Erect posture was for soldiers and men unsure of themselves. James’s club friends also slouched and seemed to fit into their leather club chairs as though they’d been their cradles.
Qdar opened a door leading to a long corridor. Two armed soldiers who sat in straight-back chairs across from each other twenty feet from the office stood as Qdar and James passed them and proceeded down a set of stairs that led to the basement.
“My sincere best to Mrs. James,” the Iranian said as they reached a secret and secure garage where James’s limousine was waiting. Without Persian rugs and wall hangings to soften their voices, their words came back to them as harsh reflections off the hard gray concrete.
“I shall tell her,” said James. “I spoke with her last evening. She says things are well in London—wet, of course, but acceptably so.”
“I enjoyed your wet weather when I was in London. What will you do now?”
“Hard to say.”
“The ambassadorship to the United States? That rumor persists.”
“It would please Mrs. James. As you know, her mother was American.
“Yes, she has told me how much she would like to live there.”
“I have considerable business interests to tend to in London.”
“I know, but the foreign service has its advantages.”
“Of which we’re both aware, Mr. Foreign Minister.”
An armed guard unbolted a door with considerable vigor. Qdar and James stepped into the garage. Two armed soldiers snapped to attention. A handsome young Iranian in a black suit, who’d been leaning against James’s limo, opened a rear door and casually stepped back. He was six feet tall. Large soft, serene brown eyes were set in a finely etched face. His hair was thick and black and curly, like hundreds of tiny, shiny black ribbons bunched together. His name was Nuri Hafez. He’d been Geoffrey James’s personal valet and driver for the past year and James had arranged for him to immigrate to London.
James and Qdar looked at each other for a moment, then extended their hands. “You fly directly home?” Qdar asked.
“No. I have business in Copenhagen.”
Qdar smiled. “Miss Lindstrom is well?” he asked, his smile not fading.
James’s face indicated pique, then softened and he, too, smiled. “Quite.”
“My best to her.”
“I have been privileged to know you, Mr. Ambassador,” said Qdar. “You return home a hero. I have known few heroes in my life.”
James glanced across the garage at Nuri Hafez. “‘No man is a hero to his valet,’” he said.
“Madame de Cornuel. Be well.”
“Allah be with you.”
James climbed into the rear of the limo and Hafez
closed the door behind him. The guards opened the overhead door. Hafez started the engine and pulled into an alley behind the Foreign Ministry. James leaned forward, slid open a Fiberglas partition, and asked, “You have everything?”
“Yes, in the trunk.”
They drove to Mehrabad Airport, where they were met by representatives of the Ayatollah’s internal security staff, who took the limousine, scrutinized their baggage, and escorted them to a Pan Am flight to Paris. James settled into his first-class seat. Hafez flew coach.
., Saturday, November 5, 1983,
The British Embassy,
3100 Massachusetts Avenue, N. W.,
“Even Shakespeare wrote of caviar,” Geoffrey James told a small group gathered around a table in the ballroom of his residence at the British Embassy. On the table were silver trays of smoked Scottish salmon, pâté of pheasant, partridge, and grouse, a coulibiac of salmon with a delicate butter sauce, tiny filets of haddock in a white cream sauce, and two trays heaped with glistening black beluga caviar surrounded by bowls of chopped egg whites and yolks, onions, chives, capers, and pimiento slivers. A separate tray held piles of thin toast and lemon wedges.
“What did The Bard say?” someone asked.
“He said, ‘The play, I remember, pleased not the million; ’twas caviare to the general.’
, Act Two.”
“I’ve never understood such reverence for fish eggs,”
the wife of the Canadian ambassador said, shaking her head and laughing.
James looked at her over half-glasses. “Fish eggs? Rather, God’s gift to the educated palate.”
“You must miss Iran, Mr. Ambassador,” said an American under-secretary of agriculture, “having all that Iranian caviar within arm’s reach.”
“Yes, quite,” said James. “The Iranians certainly are on a par with the Russians when it comes to”—he paused and looked at the Canadian ambassador’s wife—“when it comes to fish eggs. Excuse me.”
He moved gracefully through the hundreds of people attending the party to celebrate his first anniversary as British ambassador to the United States. He’d discouraged large gatherings during his first year, despite his wife’s penchant for them. Marsha James, who carried herself regally and who always demonstrated an appropriate amount of British reserve, also possessed, as Geoffrey often said, “that damnable American love of frivolity she got from her mother.”
The difference between them was grist for jokes among the household staff. Meg, the Irish head of housekeeping, often said that Mrs. James acted up when “the old man is too much gravel in her craw.” Meg’s perception of the ambassador was shared by most of the staff: a somber, calculating, mirthless stuffed shirt who held himself aloof from everyone except those to whom he was expected to display charm and wit.
James’s appointment as ambassador to the United States had come as no surprise. There had been a stream of stories in the American press about his behind-the-scenes role in negotiating the release of the American hostages in Iran. He sat on the boards of numerous London banks and companies that had extensive dealings with America. And there was his wife’s parentage.
Her mother was Philadelphia Main Line and had devoted considerable time and money to charitable organizations. Finally, Ronald Reagan, America’s fortieth president, had eagerly accepted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s suggestion that James be named Britain’s representative to the United States, saying to his secretary of state, “I think James will see things our way.”