Illustration by Winnie T. Frick.

Please, of course you can, please touch. Touch.

And listen, each of these keys, each and every one was replicated.

Due to the electronics. Exactly. It’s smooth to touch, this red one?

Well, I had a professor at Harvard, a wise professor, and he once gave me this valuable lesson. “Your investor, Sina,” he said, “will be persuaded by his senses. Your words and his senses crisscross and become alive. The senses exchange.” He paused for a second, “Then his money exchanges.”

Oh, that’s excellent, excellent, I’ll send him an email to revise his thinking. If he wants to exchange with Iranians, they’ll skin him through. Yes, go on, please keep examining the rest. Yes, their design and appearance are lovely. Enjoy.

Only please bring me up to date on what brings you here.

Real estate. High-rises. All in Monaco? Markets as they are now, up, down, up, down, your wealth must be kept safe.

But my ties are in Monaco as well, sure, Monaco. At the meeting yesterday my men didn’t go over that with you? I gave them strict orders, and friend, consequences will come, my investors are kept in the know. On all aspects. At all times. Why I’m there every three months or so. No, not for business, not strictly, it’s the casinos, not to aimlessly play, of course, but I enjoy myself there. The locale is enough. My ties to Monaco are more spiritual in nature. From here? Oh, please, no worries. An easy flight, yes, easy, come now, airline, no, we’ll have you by jet so you’re fully private, and intimate with style and luxury, and they leave out from Khomeini International every night, and the next morning your fingers are down grazing under someone’s yacht—well, well, you own one already?

At Harvard he’d say business appears in shape.

Yes, fire away, by all means.

Fire away. Fact-check me. Yes, American Iranian, that’s right, from Connecticut. I’m a dual national, so you’re safe both ways, my name is right there on the back of the card in the center of our display. Go to, flip it. Well, that’s good. One arrived at the hotel early? Well, I’ll congratulate my guys on the timeliness there at least, it’s there in bold on the back: Sina Khalehpour, Whitestone Global Securities. Yes, look it over.

I’m in charge of the futures division, I short futures but now I’m expanding our tentacles to electronic devices. I bring those cards back from the States.

Last time I was there?

Last fall I was in Washington, celebrating the four year anniversary of TARP and its getting approved. I sat in Congress at the initial hearings and breathed a sigh of relief when their folders closed and the committee stood up and left and I went out into their large hall and underneath this bust of George Washington with my BlackBerry tucked by my ear talked to my partner and he was screaming, “Sina, now! Do something now! No one knows what the banks are holding, the mortgage-backed securities, we’re losing our holdings! They’re bleeding out, you asshole.” “OK,” I said, they’re in free fall with no end in sight, and I made a few more calls and pulled the trigger then, right then, sure, it wasn’t a roulette table in Monaco, like you, it was about security. So I made a few more calls, had our stake moved to Zurich, where their landing was soft and secure. Then I came to Tehran. To keep safe.

Very kind of you to ask. No, not at all. Our terms to the bailout were sustainable. My guys handled it fine.

Wait, my phone. I have to take this. Farhnaz is trying to reach me again. Stay here with the display.

* * *

Sorry. She was nervous and I had to calm her down. And back to the matter at hand. Shit, hold on, she’s texting me again. But she seems to have settled things. Here, look. “He’s on the phone with his attorney!”

Who is he? A prospective client from Thailand who got in this morning. Enough with these formalities.

Take two of these keys in your hand. Yes, take two of them, any two, you pick. Good choice, my two favorite colors as well, red and black. Both start a Mercedes.

The same exact Mercedes.

So, let’s see which the real security is? Hold both up. That red one in your left hand is made, or re-phrased, re-made, beyond my windows out there in the back of a pastry shop directly across from my high-rise—your senses are wide awake? Well, Cambridge is smiling. That is Vali Asr out there, Tehran’s Broadway, which starts way up north and stretches down to the south.

Yes, the south, right below is the south, where our bazaar is, and toward the left, the north, where Tehran’s mighty Alborz mountains rest, and just below them is Elayieh. That’s the Upper East Side of Tehran. Where the real money is.

The pastry shop, my boulangerie, is beyond those heavy glass windows, across the street at a large roundabout, listen now, and at the farthest corner is an upscale confectioner’s store, and back in there, this whole display of keys is made—yes, that roundabout, yes, where the youth clashed with police late last night. How did you see that?

Where are you going? Come back. Hold on. Calm, calm man. Breathe. What danger? To who? Please calm. Listen. Calm, sit down. Please, I’ll explain, sit down, hold on, it’s no danger, no, because we’re in line with them, so success is imminent, yes, in line with them—they too exchange in the shadow world, listen it’s not to worry at all; I’ll explain everything. They’re just venting out their inner air, from the elections four years ago. I know, yes, still. It’s admirable really, their tenacity, still fighting for a slice of life. Last night they had fires? Friend, those Tehran fires keep them warm, and any warmth in any form always equals health for the community, always, sure they’re holding up signs, where’s my vote! I know, I know, and over in New York, it’s the same with Occupy. The world is indeed convulsing in 2011. “Our system is rigged from up high and democracy lives here below!” But look, it’s better this way, yes, I say let those kids go at it. I’ll tell you why, because hearing all that out in the open just makes it feel better and you’re young—when you’re home again and getting ready for bed and you’re so relevant, laying there thinking about and watching in your mind’s eye that smoke you caused, rising high from a garbage bin.

Only that smoke disappears.

Can I ask how you saw them? I was watching the television last night; there was no coverage on Iranian state television. Please, walking? You arrived at the hotel and wanted some fresh air and go out on the streets and then you see this. I watched most of it from those windows myself, yes, those high ones there, I was perched up high and watched them, and the security forces chased them around and they hid.

Only those fires burned value out.

I’m glad you raised that topic.

Let’s go to the window.

Look. There.

That awning, at the far corner, no, no, behind the policemen standing guard, hold on, this damn window is dirty. You’ll see better when it’s open. One moment, I’ll unlatch it down here and get it open from the bottom—one moment, but if I can just turn—these damn Afghans, every time the same. Yes, Afghans, they clean our bedrooms, most of these rooms really, and even when Fahrnaz insists they cover their hands fully, right up to their wrists, with non-rubber gloves, they don’t listen. Their cheap plastic gloves smear and rub the polish for these ten-foot-high mosaic ceilings and so they leave these windows stuck in every time. See, that’s it. You grasped it in a second, the polish smears into the lining and leaves it glued, but they aren’t smart enough to remove their gloves. Hold on, there, hold on, it’s yielding, I’ve just got it—

Yes, open.

Oh, what a breeze tonight, oh, Tehran, you fly tonight and allow us to breathe your mystery. What’s that? Very well put, well put indeed, one breathes Middle Eastern air only at the dead of night, oh, there’s more, please. My, that is even better, and true: “Breathe her in darkness for light is chased far away by darkness leaving a sky clear and long, for patience you are requisite for Iran.”

So, your mind is more poetic than I thought. Let’s talk money. For poetry we’ll exchange one for the same.

There, now see that awning at the far corner—exactly, the large red sign with those streaks along it? Those black stripes are from the fires last night along with the marks on the ground and the windows. They torched up a handful of bins and then sprung them around before flipping each one over just as the police took charge, yes, before they ran away down that back alley. That’s where you saw them during your walk? Well, walk with me here, follow along this path. See that beige brick wall tucked inside those large buildings, not the fresco of the blindfolded soldiers being led off in some desert, forget the bearded soldiers, to the right, the red storefront, why, very good, an art sign is jammed within its glass, beyond its glass, my friend, exchange and evasion, my modern arbitrage men run the day. Those eyes of yours are better than I thought: a man is indeed praying to the right of the broken glass, he’s my shop owner in fact, and his brother is out in front, bent down and sweeping in the glass shards and ashes among the night crowd. Why, yes, he does have sandals on.

Clear vision sees more than it should, they say.

So our topic. Value and fire.

The fire blew the front window out, I was in there with both of them this morning, and they explained how inside it ran all across the front and once we came outside we followed its traces up the side of the building. They carried all the way to that building across, that largish balcony there. Right across, no, the left, and yes. There indeed. You hold the same image in your sights as I do, yes, a balcony, where a young girl is standing against a plant and her hair is full open, taking in this Tehran breeze.

And she doesn’t have a headscarf covering her head, but where is it? In all likelihood, on the bathroom floor next to her underwear and make-up kit, and there now watch, she’s cupping her hands, yes, indeed, smoking secretly and blowing it around the plant and now waving it far off upwards, that’s right, blowing toward a satellite dish above her head. That dish, by the way, was mounted there by us, yes, by my friends, and your returns will also stem from there, yes, imported and installed by us as well, just beneath the heavy streaks to her glass windows, our wires run in.

Not at all, those streaks have got nothing to do with last night’s fires, they’re for the parties she throws inside. She works inside. At her parties.

I know her, in fact. Yes, her name is Leila. We’re acquaintances.

But back to business. Our electronic keys on that display back there are made down below under that burned-out awning. All the way in the back inside, a back door from a side street leads you into this largish space, this bright wood room stacked around high and low with lights and screens, and wires and paper scraps stuck on the floor around, friend, I’m more impressed by the moment, why, yes, your MBA has served you well, it’s a trading floor in essence, that’s a good analogy, no? You started out on the trading floor—well, our praying man and sweeper run large trades back there and all decided by a close acquaintance, that sandaled man’s nephew, my God, the timing, on cue as always, there he is. Right there, the nephew, no no, forget the bearded guy, in his all-gray suit pushing through the crowd, no, him, he’s speaking to his uncle—there, he just took the broom for him, he—yes with headphones loose on his head and the spiked hair—just a kid?

That kid is a genius who will seal stitches around those keys and then encode them like a surgeon bent at his operating table. My friend, a Manhattan surgeon would envy his intake. Yes, finally! I’ve been waiting to hear that come out of your mouth. See, over at Harvard celebrate by ringing your bells! His senses are kicking and alive.  So let’s move on—picture him inside that back room, on the flip side of a black thick curtain inside that pastry shop, beneath screens and wires tangling at his feet that genius is strangling and holding a new market. Enough, man, yes, him, that youngster with his jeans tugging down his ass, he’s a leader of Tehran’s most ruthless start-ups, an e-gang par excellence, and the whole gang is led to and fro, ball and chain by him, and a genius he is, yes, an e-gang, or maybe I should say an advisory board and he’s their CEO. Counterfeit Electronic Operator.

* * *

Here, a drink. No, no. Cheers to you, my friend.

Oh, you were? Intrigued there? By arbitrage and evasion? Yes, well, one has to be—our world is run by nothing else. That’s exactly right, in the developing countries they grasp that better than most. How I met Leila? You liked her? I’m glad you bring her up. She ties back to that lovely part of town my guys took you too last night.

Iran Zamin.

What? They didn’t. But how.

Now, grab your coat, let’s head there right now. You have to see it. It’s like a racetrack, a long circular road. Nonsense, what smell. It was just a little whiskey. They won’t pick up the smell out there. Here. Hold on, there’s gum if you’re that worried. I’m serious. I gave those idiots instructions and they said you were current. Iran Zamin, you must see it. Please grab your coat.

It’s to the east of Tehran, right where the Mild Tower is. That huge towering needle in the Iranian sky.

A primer first, before I take you.

Yes, cheers again. Apologies for this irrational exuberance but the undercurrent to our market is there.

I discovered it by car. Yes, one night, out of nowhere. In the snow. No, not the M-Class they picked you up in last night. The G-Class. The windows are black tint. It’s Fahrnaz’s car, we left the apartment early, around seven in the evening.

Fahrnaz was behind the wheel and all around was snow. It was December and in the week of the religious festivities, I could barely make out anything outside but the shape of the road I saw clearly.

And how could I not, Fahrnaz kept driving around it, slow, three or four times.

Like in Monaco, excellent. She enjoys driving there too.

Only here it was flat.

We pulled up on the side of the street and on the opposite side was a large slope. She grabbed my hand and said, “Hurry, walk up there. I’ll be here. And the view is incredible with them.”

“Who is them?”

Them. Go.” So I left her and crossed the street.

Around were these snowflakes, and as I went up along this steep, rocky slope all surrounded by magnificent high-rises, I hit this group of boulders, but I climbed it and head along this small wall of brick that stretched for a good 100 feet, and always climbing, I got to this larger wall, and as I was lifting myself over the ledge, and sliding right down the flip side, all this white crazy snow swirled around me and then rose up and away. I watched it move on and I bundled into my Prada jacket, and heard something ahead.

And in the dark I saw their shadows.

They turned suddenly as I walked up.

The asymmetrical web. Know what that is?

No. No. Not that kind. That’s CNN news talk, that’s something else, yes, yes, the warfare raging in the television screen, those newsmen telling us, Oh, God, asymmetrical, asymmetrical warfare, hey, look beyond Baghdad, at that battlefield where military generals in our armies, they’re helpless against these crazed lone wolves, and the threats they’re posing out there.

Posing, yes. Threats, yes. But spun with a difference.

These threats hide inside shadows everywhere.

Behind a simple-looking pastry store out there in Vali Asr, in the back there. And look over in the doctor’s office, yes, a doctor’s office, walk into his working space and take off your jacket and unbutton your shirt and then sit up on his little table. Now lie down.

So, where do they all find common ground? A mechanic’s garage, an electrician’s studio, you, me? We all work within the logic of the web.

A Worldwide Web.

Listen, imagine a spider, and you’ve fallen in its web, running across you this spider sees a precise execution point to your center, the spider pierces you as you kick away but its web has you trapped, and as it comes over you, it rises above you—in its belly, a tiny little thing, a baby named Import, kicks and kicks, sticking out its head—as hidden action, hidden service, and as it stares at you, it says to you, “I am your unknown knowledge.” Then, enticing others to you, our spider scurries around your face with crawling arms and spins fancy threads, enjoying its weave more and more until the work gets heavy and thick, it’s like a cast moving down around your body, as the spider now has the power to undo you and spin you out. Now multiply that spider and we are under systemic risk, and the choice to unravel its work or hold that tension tight, tight, is leverage.

That’s an asymmetrical web.

So I’m looking down at Iran Zamin with these shadowy figures along this ledge and down there it’s all bright with its arching streetlights as if on display and out in the open. These cars, all these cars. Audis. Benzs. All black. And silver, silver rims, and circling and circling, in and around a tank, good, like a shark tank all a swirl, swirling into and around each other, another car entering, car after car, each car was deceit, was cunning, there’s subterfuge. Arbitrage and evasion, every spin and turn, hands extending out from windows, driving, and papers were exchanged as three-four-five kids in a car.

I looked behind me and up, and another group of kids was sitting watching and they had their phones held up, with the lights flashing.

Leverage was taking shape slowly, asymmetry was taking shape all around us.

My Prada jacket was too thin, and my arms were shivering and then I caught sight of these kids huddling under this large tree around a small fire, and I went over. Yes, I moved away from the ledge.

And the snow was whipping around my head again in crazy swirls and I hurried over to them, and as I approached through the snow I saw it. Behind them, it came into view between the buildings, between the smoke from the fire.

The Milad Tower. My God, Tehran’s media tower. The utter inverse of their asymmetrical web. Their organization of information disseminated. This was Tehran’s might, its invisible chain swinging a message around and around, traveling through the nation inside television screens, its message hiding as national surveillance.

Up there I could see the signal flashing out like in all media towers, where the signal replicated the inside of a newsroom somewhere, replicating, replicating, some woman, from head to toe covered in a black sheet, reading out world events, staring through the camera lens and dispersing to the state its union and the frequency of it circling and circling high above a virtual prison ground, the inmates in the courtyard down on Iran Zamin, they’re at work to have their cars rocking back and then forth and have very different ideas to state and union, they’re at work to mate and mate in those cars, the inmates! That’s their union, their state. The state of the union.

Above was media.

And below arbitrage.

I grabbed one of the guys around the fire and he stared at me with this curious look in his eyes. I said to him, “The media eye of the Islamic Republic. It’s there. There.” And I was shivering, and pointing up as the snow was driving into my eyes.“Is it not?”

He put his arm around me and said, “It’s down below,” he said, just like that, “Below.” And he took out from his jacket a phone, his face was close to mine, and I watched his hand scroll and scroll until he raised it in the air and this music started coming out. Electronic music, and his buddies around him started dancing, then he scanned me and scrolled again and raised it up. The light was flashing out of his smartphone and the media tower’s needle with the round bubble of the Milad Tower like Berlin’s Alexanderplatz tower above us, suddenly it was exchange, yes, my magnun modernicus was grunting and stretching his arms, and suddenly I saw it as a bloated silver sibling to the Seattle tower. Another exchange. We were evading authority, even semantic authority.

Alireza Mortezai

Alireza Mortezai was born in Tehran, Iran, but grew up in Houston, Texas, and northern New Jersey. His writing draws on his travels through Iran in recent years. He earned a graduate degree in modern European literature from Columbia University, where he was a student of Orhan Pamuk. He has studied creative writing at Harvard and with Fiona Maazel. He is presently completing his first novel and is based in New York City.

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