This is one of my favourite stories, and it is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Middle Eastern terror, Iran, ship-hijacks and hostage-taking are sadly still headlines every day.
The original legend of the ‘Old Man of the Mountains’ was brought back to Europe from Persia – now called Iran – by Marco Polo and by the Crusaders. Al-Hasan ibn-al-Sabbah was a strange religious and terror leader attributed with having magical powers.
He would turn fine young men into his fanatical followers by allowing them to
experience Paradise. It is believed that drugged wine and compliant lovelies may have played a role, within the scented walled gardens, in allowing Sabbah’s warriors a glimpse of the Paradise for which they were destined. They were indeed, the Pessarane Behesht, the Sons of Heaven.
Understood to have gone on their murderous operations while high on drugs, they were known as hashhashins, from which the word assassins derives.
Fast-forward to today, and the legend lives on within various Middle Eastern terror groups.
When a consignment of French arms – destined for the Pessarane Behesht – goes missing aboard the Clarion Call in the Gulf of Oman, I had to learn how to hijack a freighter at sea and how best to defend it. Who better to teach me that than my old friends from the Special Boat Service?
It also necessitated a visit to the wonderful and exotic Sultanate of Oman. Wonderful perhaps, but not a country too keen have thriller writers snooping around. A little light subterfuge was needed to allow me access where I required it, including some government departments.
Oman has an unforgiving and dessicated landscape under a hammering sun. It also has a long history and association with the SAS (British Army’s Special Air Service Regiment). In the 1970s, some 60 elite SAS soldiers trained and fought with Omani troops to drive back Communist intruders from neighbouring Yemen, using tactics that sadly seem to have been currently forgotten in Afghanistan.
While in Muscat, I grabbed the opportunity for a one-day crash course in scuba-diving. Morning in the hotel pool, afternoon in the shark-infested waters of the Gulf. When diving there are only three things you have to remember to do and, in my panic, I forgot two of them. One of them was to breathe. It is said that writers make a little knowledge go a long way – it was never truer than just then.
Less stressing was my week to get under the skin of Paris and discover what makes it tick. How every married Frenchman (it is claimed by many) leaves work at 5pm on Friday and visits his mistress for two hours on his way home. His own wife, a little flushed herself, makes no amorous demands upon him on his arrival home, as her own lover has just left. Both parties are happy and marriages last forever. Or so the story goes.
In desperation to recover their missing arms shipment, the Pessarane Behesht seize the ship’s owners family hostage. It was here that I had to enlist the help of Britain’s top leading private and police hostage-negotiators to learn this dark, dangerous and intriguing art.
When that telephone first rings and you speak to the hostage-takers you think you have nothing, no cards to play with. You are wrong. You must turn the tables in the most scary poker game of your entire life.