The Character: ‘Rustam’

I thought I would tell you about some of the characters in my novels: how they came to ‘life’, and something about their personality and the role they play in the book.  I’m going to start with the character ‘Rustam’ in The Iranian Scorpion. 

Rustam appears for the first time as the boy who lays out a carpet for his father, Wahab, and Azizullah to sit on while they negotiate the price Wahab will pay for the cakes of opium which Azizullah has brought with him to Wahab’s opium-to-heroin conversion ‘factory’.  I hadn’t planned that an Afghan boy would have an important role in the novel: he just grew into it.  At first, it seemed logical that Wahab would have his two sons working with him at the ‘factory’.  It is an important element in the story that Robert, the Drug Enforcement Agency operative, understands how opium is converted to heroin in rural Afghanistan.  I had planned that Azizullah, the opium grower, would have a falling out with Wahab and would capture the ‘factory’.  But what adult male Afghan would be willing to leave Wahab’s village, relocate to Azizullah’s village, and manufacture heroin there?  The solution: the boy Rustam is taken prisoner when the adult males are killed in the fire fight during the capture of the ‘factory’.  Rustam is saved from execution by Robert (in disguise as Abdullah, an Afghan field hand).  Robert questions Rustam and finds that he knows the conversion precess, which is unknown to Azizullah and his field hands.  So Rustam is taken prisoner, and to prevent him from fleeing back to his village, he is chained to Robert, who has every incentive to treat Rustam well.  The boy begins to trust the disguised DEA agent, and a psychological bond begins to form between them.  Rustam tells Robert about the girls of his village and discloses his sexual longings.

Robert wants to enter Iran, illegally, to trace the flow of heroin.  Once again, Rustam has the knowledge: he has entered Iran several times with his late father, and knows that someone called The Scorpion is the principal buyer.  But how can a chained boy be brought into Iran illegally?  Robert decides to persuade Azizullah to unchain the boy and give him a powerful incentive to stay with Azizullah’s team: a wage and a wife.  Rustam becomes engaged to a 23 year-old war widow.  He is overjoyed, but he lacks the mahr, the mandatory gift from husband to wife in an Islamic wedding.  Robert provides a ruby ring, and the wedding takes place between Padida, the 23 year-old widow, and Rustam, the very eager young man.

Rustam accompanies Robert into Iran, and having learned his true identity, travels with him to meet The Scorpion, to attend a celebratory orgy arranged by the Scorpion, to travel secretly to Kerman (where the heroin is packaged for shipment) and on to Bandar Abbas (where the shipment leaves for New York).

Rustam grows from an insecure and frustrated boy to a knowledgeable family ‘man’ whose wife is expecting a child, and who is facing important decisions about his future.  His relationship with Robert is vital in the story.  It is Rustam who discovers the method of packaging the heroin for shipment to the US, and it is he who saves Robert’s life.  He can be naive, as when he asks Robert, at a fast food restaurant in Bandar Abbas: “What kind of animal is a ‘burger’?”  He can be deadly serious as when he foils a robbery attempt by slashing a thief with a concealed knife.  And he can be whimsical as when he jokes with Robert about working with him “on the Rio Grande”.

I hope you like Rustam as much as I do!

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