“The Israeli ambassador gave that scarf to our mom. In fact, he gave scarves like it to all of the women on his senior staff,” Noah says. “If anyone sees that up there …”
Lila grabs Megan and the two of them move toward the trees. Most of the others have already started the climb down the overgrown path.
“So don’t let anyone see.” I shrug. “Go get it.”
“We can’t!” Noah snaps. He’s not mad. He’s scared. And I know that being friends with me is already far more trouble than he bargained for. “We can’t just traipse into Iran anytime we feel like it.”
“I can get it,” I say.
“Really, Grace?” Noah asks. I can hear his impatience, his nerves. “What can you do?”
“This,” I say.
I don’t stop for anything. Not for protests, not for logic. I don’t care about the height of the cliffs or the rocks that line the shore.
I run as hard and as fast as I can toward the ledge and then I reach out my arms, swan-diving into the sea.
Adria has the deepest shoreline on the Mediterranean, and that’s how I know the fall won’t kill me. Still, my stomach stays on the cliffs even as my body hurtles through the salty air. I feel free and just a little bit aware that I might be wrong. I know, deep down, that I should be terrified. But I’m not. So I close my eyes and breathe out as I hit the water. Cold swallows me. My lungs burn. And that is how I know I’m still alive.
By the time I crawl out of the water and onto the sandy beach, they’ve turned off the music. Or maybe I just can’t hear it from here. There is nothing but the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach and then receding slowly back to sea — like an infantry trying to take the shore, pushing against it wave upon wave, going nowhere.
The wind is cold, and it hits me, chills me through my jeans and wet shirt. I push my hair out of my face, and realize that I survived the fall, but pneumonia might totally get me. And I decide that that’s okay.
Noah was right. The Iranian embassy’s property actually stretches right out to the beach. I stumble along soft, wet sand fit for a five-star resort. When the clouds shift I see a crumbling fence failing to keep the world at bay.
The boards are rotting. A weather-beaten sign announces Keep Out in five different languages as it dangles by a single nail over a place where the sand has been washed away. This is where I cross, crawling slowly, carefully, on my stomach like all new recruits are taught to do during basic training. I used to run that obstacle course just for fun every chance I got. It feels strangely just like coming home as I slowly slither, inching into the sovereign nation of Iran.
Inside the fence, I wait for something to change. A light to flip on. A siren to sound. For a moment, I stand silently in the dark, heart pounding in my chest, but nothing changes. No one comes. I am alone as I cross the final stretch of private beach toward the high stone wall that surrounds the entire city and, with it, the back of the mansion.
An iron gate hangs between the wall and the base of the cliffs. There is an arching doorway that actually leads through the massive wall that rings the city. This old passageway is why the Iranians are the only embassy on the row with private beach access. The passageway was probably well hidden five hundred years ago, but the Iranians were no doubt more concerned with reaching the beach than keeping out invaders, so they left it there, exposed for all the world to see. Whatever guards were once posted there are now long gone.
Once I break that barrier, I know there will be no going back, no good excuses. It should bother me, I’m certain. If I had good sense. If I had the proper amount of fear and respect for authority. But I’m not thinking about Ms. Chancellor and her warnings; I’m too busy thinking about Lila and her smirk.
I step into the courtyard.
There are a few chairs and tables. Trees line the wall, but mostly the space has been taken over by grass and weeds and bushes that have grown, unchecked, for decades.
I hear a flapping noise, the gentle metallic sound of a chain banging against metal. Even in the dark, it’s easy to see the blue-and-white scarf that has wrapped itself around a flagpole on the very top of the building.
I search the back of the four-story structure, but there is no fire escape, no ladder that I can see. There’s not even a drainpipe or tree that I can scamper up. But there is a broken window. A few stray shards of glass cling to the inside of the frame, so I’m careful as I reach to unlock it, slide the broken section up, and ease my way inside.
The floorboards are rotten, at least in the place where I’m standing. I have no way of knowing when the window broke, but it’s probably been years. Decades even. Rain and sand have collected here, and when I start to move, I feel the floorboards shift. I smell mold and dust and abandonment. I almost feel sorry for the building.
When I ease away from the window, the floor starts to feel more solid. There are once-marvelous chandeliers above me, dusty and dim. Part of me wants to reach out and try a switch but I know better. At best, there is no electricity to the building. At worst, there will be and the sight of a light burning will bring about all the things I’m here to stop. So I creep on carefully, silently, through the dark.
I pass through a long room with a dining table that seats thirty. In the parlor, there are dusty paintings and furniture covered with dingy white sheets. Room after room I see, all of them furnished and lived in, empty and abandoned. It feels as if a very large family simply picked up and left for the season, as if they were going to come back just as soon as some mysterious drama were over. But, I guess, some dramas never do end.
When I reach the broad, sweeping staircase I move faster. It feels like the US embassy, so my feet grow more certain as they run, taking the stairs two at a time.
The full moon slices through the windows, the only light in the dark, dusty space. I break through cobwebs as I reach the second story and then the third. That’s where I find a smaller, more utilitarian staircase, so I take it to the highest floor.
Here the ceiling is lower, the rooms smaller. If I’m right, then the flagpole is directly above me. There has to be a way to reach it, so I glance out a window and find a small metal landing. I ease carefully outside and see a ladder rising from the landing to the roof.
I’m careful as I climb. The ladder is old and hasn’t been used in ages, but it holds my weight. The worst part is that I’m now on the side of the building. Someone could see me from the Italian embassy next door; I could be spotted from the street. So I move as quickly as I dare up the side of the building, then climb out onto the flat section of roof where the flagpole stands.