As Good As Can Be
Dave Knight is on his toes peering through a playroom window at the snow. It fell overnight, but there are already tracks in the fresh powder. They lead to the shallow end of the swimming pool. Several servants have gathered there, and now Dave sees why. “Uh-oh, Haji fell into the pool again,” he exclaims.
“Let me see,” Melissa says, shoving Dave aside. Haji Baba is her donkey, and she watches with concern as two houseboys cling to his tail. The driver, Mahmoud, is partway on the ice holding the animal’s neck. “Stupid donkey,” Melissa says. “Now he’s stuck.” She allows the curtain to close and goes out.
Soon Melissa is back holding a Coca-Cola bottle. “This is for you,” she says and gives the drink to Dave. He takes a swallow and immediately gags. As he regurgitates his breakfast, Dave’s nurse, Farah, rushes over and looks at what’s left of the drink. “You give brother soap water,” she says to Melissa. “Bad girl.” Farah spins Melissa around and gives her two bops on the behind. Then she takes Dave on her hip and carries him down the hall to the master bedroom.
Lieutenant Colonel David S. Knight Jr. answers Farah’s knock. He belts his uniform jacket while listening to Farah describe what Melissa did. Then the officer wrinkles his nose. “What’s that smell?” he asks.
“He throw up,” Farah replies.
“Well, get him changed, we have to leave,” Knight tells the nurse. “Stop sniveling,” he barks at Dave.
“You don’t have to holler at the poor child,” Bobbie Knight says to her husband. She’s still in bed, propped up on pillows having breakfast. “I wonder why Melissa takes such delight in tormenting him.”
Farah carries Dave into the bathroom to clean up. Then she takes him to the bedroom he shares with his brother, Dan, who’s sitting on the floor playing. The toddler looks up and blinks his brown eyes curiously as Farah gets Dave into a fresh set of clothes. Dan’s the only one of the children to inherit Knight’s dark good looks. The others all have Bobbie’s fair hair, light-colored eyes, and Celtic complexion.
While Farah gets Dave ready, Knight goes downstairs to the kitchen. His youngest child, Marie, is in a high chair being spoon-fed breakfast by the family’s cook, Aliya. “Where in the hell is Mahmoud?” Knight asks with an impatient glance at his watch.
“Haji fall in pool,” Aliya replies.
“Not again,” Knight exclaims. He stalks to the front door past Oscar, who’s wagging his tail in anticipation of a pat on the head. Knight ignores the dog and goes outside, where he’s momentarily stunned by the sight of the Alborz Mountains rising in front of him. With the sun just up, only the peaks are illuminated, so the icy spires appear to be floating. It’s a captivating illusion, but Knight now turns his attention to the swimming pool. “Where’s the goddamn rope?” he shouts after a quick assessment.
“I get,” Mahmoud hollers back. He beckons a gardener to take his place holding Haji’s neck.
As the driver makes his way to the stable through deep snow, Knight lights a cigarette. He watches Mahmoud return to the pool with a length of thick rope, loop it across the donkey’s chest, and then organize the other servants to pull on the ends. They quickly haul the animal out. “Put Haji back in the shed and lock the gate,” Knight directs. “What idiot left it open anyway?”
Flicking the cigarette away, Knight reenters the house to see Farah coming down the stairs with Dave who is once again properly attired. Melissa follows, holding the hand of her nurse. Knight shepherds both schoolchildren outside and into the backseat of the family car. Mahmoud closes the door behind his passengers then gets behind the wheel. “Don’t you people ever learn?” Knight asks as the vehicle gathers speed.
“No, you don’t, or you would’ve got the rope right away.”
“That’s what I mean,” Knight laughs. “You forget what worked last time and go back to what was not working last time; pulling on the poor creature’s tail, for Chrissake.”
Knight relaxes now that they’re on the way, and soon the vehicle is passing through the outskirts of Tehran. At first, there’s little traffic, but as they near downtown, the streets become congested. Wagons drawn by horses or donkeys intermingle with bicycles, pushcarts, automobiles, and trucks. Businesses housed in rudely constructed cinder block buildings line the road. In between are rubble-strewn vacant lots that shabbily dressed pedestrians cut through on their way to work.
Once past the commercial district, the neighborhood improves, and soon Mahmoud is turning onto the treelined street that leads to the United States embassy. It’s in a compound that takes up an entire city block. Enclosed within the walls are the ambassador’s residence, an apartment building, a dinner club, barracks for the Marines, and the multistory embassy building, which is topped with an antennae array. This electronic gear was installed by Knight and his command to spy on the Russians.
As the Knights’ car approaches the embassy entrance, a crowd chants anti-American slogans. Many of the protestors carry signs while others shake their fists. They crowd around the front gate, so a squad of Marines comes out to clear the way. Then a sergeant waves the vehicle through, and now, despite all the chaos at the house this morning, Mahmoud pulls up to the embassy building right on time. He springs out of the driver’s seat to open the back door, and the Knights go inside. Once past more Marine security, they approach a bank of elevators. Melissa and Dave take one down to the basement schoolroom, while their father goes up to his spacious corner office on the sixth floor.