IRAN, 1953

The rules were different over there. The CIA gave orders: kill this one; let this one live with no discernable reason for the distinction. The objective was to meet the objective, to live to meet the next assignment, and not to ask the hard questions if you weren’t sure you wanted the hard answers.

His father had approved of him joining the army—told him it would be good preparation for the law: on the surface all precise order and specifics, on the inside a complete SNAFU that comes down to who you know. His father's connections with Bush had kept him out of Korea and landed him here, in Iran, instead.

Everything was different here: the plants, the birds, even the air smelled different. It brought to mind exotic visions of flying carpets, magic genies, 1001 Arabian nights, Scheherazade, and belly dancers—voluptuous women who knew how to please a man. Women who had trained for years in nothing but that art, women who lived for it, wanted it, felt good through making men feel good.

The rules were different there, wild and free, but some things would never change. Like a twenty-one year-old boy pumped up on guns and testosterone and too much sitting around and waiting with not near enough combat in between going half crazy with unspent energy.

The troops selected for Operation Ajax were sworn to secrecy. They were good at keeping secrets—both those of others and their own. Don't ask; don't tell is hardly a new thing. It was just like Clinton to steal credit for ideas and policies crafted by better men before him. He had to go and make it all about homos, though.

Denny supposed that was how you got the votes in blue states these days.

The Arab came to them after sundown, leading her behind him on a chain. Though the man knew no English, the offer was clear enough. Denny had never been one for the mixing of the races, but this secret could be kept too. And at twenty-one, seven weeks with no female companionship but Rosy Palm and her five limber daughters seemed like the trial of a lifetime.

The rag-heads were good at keeping secrets, if nothing else. Besides, did it matter? Who would they tell in Iranian? A few weeks of gossip around Tehran about some particularly well-dressed US serviceman wasn't going to affect his life.

Denny looked her over and fell under the sway of Scheherazade's sensual land and customs.

She was soft and brown with doe-like eyes, and she bowed her head and knelt before him as if this were her appointed place. Up close, in the glow of lantern light, he could see that she was no longer young and her life had not been easy. It made him desire her all the more.

Her owner looked over the fistful of rials that Denny offered, picked out a few but pushed most of them back. That bothered Denny more than anything else. While he had paid for it many times before, he had always paid the women. It was they who did the work, and fair was fair.

But this was not his land, and everything was different here. The man barked a command at her, and she dropped low on all fours. He tugged a reminder on the choke around her neck, but she gave no complaint. In fact, she seemed content to stay and be used.

Denny undid his trousers and thrust.

He supposed she couldn't understand him, but he muttered soft words to her regardless: soothing words of false praise that mattered even less than they had any time before.

She reeked of sweat and sex--all the men that had gone and come before him--possibly she was still warm from them. That thought should have disgusted him, but it turned him on all the more. He thrust harder and deeper, yet still she didn't respond.

He wasn't her first--probably not even her first tonight. He certainly wasn't her largest. He supposed that to her he was nothing special, nothing but the price of her next meal, but still, he was Denny Crane, and that should mean something even here.

If only she would react to him. Pulling her hips to him, he pounded her faster, slapping her ass with each lunge, determined to make her feel him, acknowledge his manhood in her. Her indifference spurred him on with the need to be felt.

Then, finally, mercifully, she groaned and shifted her ass against him.

The victory sent him over, and his eyes rolled back as he choked on his tongue and emptied his body into her. In a moment, he gathered himself and zipped his uniform back up.

The owner jerked her chain, and the camel rose obediently and trotted off behind him without complaint. Denny wished he'd gotten her name, not that that made any sense.

But what sense did any of it make?

Fifty years later it made even less sense. Mossadeq was bad and had to go; the Shah was good; the Shah was in. The Shah was bad and had to go; Khomeini was in; Khomeini was bad and had to go-the only constant being the oil.

Oh, there was the turmoil and the fighting as well, but it wasn't Americans dying, so that had nothing to do with us. Even though we made damn sure we had a hand in all of it. Where did five minutes of a young man's harmless pleasure fall on a cock-eyed scale like that?

He remembers her now not proudly, but with neither regret nor shame. Sex is like snowflakes, each orgasm at first blush the same, but up close each distinctive and unique. That one stands out as an elegant ice crystal to a young boy that first stung but then melted deliciously on the tongue.

And he would never look at a camel hair coat the same way again.