I sat up when a man appeared on the far side of the square. Of medium height and build, he had a neatly trimmed gray beard and wore jeans, tennis shoes, a collarless shirt, and a black suit jacket. A black ball cap topped off the mix of casual and professional. He stood motionless as he scanned the restaurant patio. I leaned forward, into the sunlight. When he saw me, he smiled and made his way across the square.
I stood when he drew near.
“Ms. Parnell?” he asked in unaccented English.
“Sydney. And you are Mr. Zarif?”
“Ehsan. Please.” We shook hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet someone from my home country.”
“You’re American?” I asked.
“First generation. My parents fled Iran for the U.S. in 1979, after the shah was deposed. I grew up in San Diego, but I went to college in Boulder, not far from your hometown of Denver.”
Of course he had researched my background. “You speak like a native.”
“You’re kind. But not completely truthful. Still, I try.”
“And now you live here. In Mexico.”
“I still have my American citizenship. But I’m an expat. Or, as I prefer, a man of the world.”
“Most people are running in the opposite direction.”
The skin around his eyes crinkled. “What do they know?”
He held my hand for a moment, cupped in both of his in the Persian manner as we took a moment to inspect each other. He was not what I expected. Most people who work security are physical, almost overbearingly so, and they carry themselves with an aggressive body language designed to discourage anyone from getting close to their clients. Zarif’s gentle gaze and frameless glasses gave him the look of someone more comfortable running Google searches than chasing bad guys.
But appearances could be deceiving. And there was the matter of the gun he was packing; I’d taken note of the outline of an ankle holster beneath his jeans as he approached. Possibly there was another gun in his back waistband.
He released my hand.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” I said.
“Of course. Although you were very mysterious.” He smiled. “But then, maybe that’s why I came. Who can resist a mystery?”
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