See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.
Jamilah wanted to know what the heck was going on. She’d received a call from Layth, insisting that she meet him and Kadija at 640 Mission. She was baffled, but Layth said it was urgent, so she radioed Jen and told her she had a family emergency. She could hear the frustration in Jen’s voice, but the dispatcher could not refuse.
Jamilah was annoyed as well. What was so important that it couldn’t wait until the end of a hectic workday? Over the last few months she’d grow very fond of Hassan, but his cryptic nature still confounded her.
Then she’d met Layth and Kadija in the lobby of this glittering tower. At first glance it seemed to her that Kadija had gained a little weight, which seemed odd since she’d seen her only a few days ago, but that wasn’t something you could say out loud to a person.
She’d hardly had a chance to look around the building’s sumptuous lobby when along came Muhammad, striding through the sumptuous lobby and waving to the building staff like Donald Trump. He escorted them to one of the top floors of the building and into what must have been a multimillion-dollar apartment high above the City. To Jamilah’s surprise, Muhammad’s father was there, sitting in the walk-in closet of all things, talking to himself quietly and reading a martial arts magazine. The man did not look like the terrible abuser Muhammad had described. He looked unkempt and broken down.
Jamilah had a thought that maybe this was all the setting for some kind of elaborate marriage proposal by Hassan. Maybe he had borrowed this luxurious but strangely empty apartment from one of his students, and maybe he would appear in a dark suit, drop to one knee, offer a diamond ring, and ask for her hand in marriage. The thought was frightening and thrilling at the same time. How would she respond? Would she take a chance on this handsome, fascinating but mysterious man? Or would she insist that he answer all her questions about his past?
She had once asked her cousin Shamsi how she would know when she had met the right man, and Shamsi had said, “When I can picture myself waking up every morning for the rest of my life and seeing his face, then I’ll know it’s right.” When Jamilah thought of seeing Hassan’s face every morning, it made her happy. But it could never happen unless he was willing to trust her. She would never marry a man who kept secrets. She loved Hassan, but on some level she did not fully trust him. That was a huge problem.
She loved Hassan, but on some level she did not fully trust him. That was a huge problem.
All Muhammad could tell them was that Hassan was out of town, but on his way.
“Hassan is in serious trouble of some kind,” Layth said. “He can be a difficult man to get close to. But all of us here owe him in one way or another. He’s our brother. I think we should try to help him with whatever it is he’s going through.”
So it wouldn’t be a marriage proposal. Jamilah felt disappointed and relieved at the same time.
She and Kadija stepped onto the balcony. A cold, steady wind blew from the west, ruffling Jamilah’s hijab. The view was stunning. Directly below, a few hardy souls picnicked in the wide green meadow of Yerba Buena Gardens. In the foreground were the Metreon Center, Moscone Convention Center, and the Museum of Modern Art. From there the view swept out to include everything from Twin Peaks in the west, to Bernal Heights in the south, to the San Francisco Bay in the east,where huge container ships glided across a blue expanse. She could even see across the bay to Alameda, Oakland and the East Bay hills, draped in fog on this winter day.
“Do you think we’ll have another earthquake?” Kadija said.
Jamilah shrugged. “No way to tell.”
Kadija laughed and shook her head. “I don’t know how y’a’ll can be so nonchalant about it. In North Carolina we had hurricanes and tornadoes, but at least the ground stayed still. I went under the desk at work yesterday when the quake hit and I wouldn’t come out for five minutes.”
A cloud passed overhead, casting a shadow on Yerba Buena Park below. Kadija gestured to the cloud, and recited: “Have they not seen that We drive the water in clouds to barren land and bring forth crops from which their livestock eat and they themselves? Then do they not see?”
“What is that?” said Jamilah.
“Quran,” Kadija replied. “Surat as-Sajdah. There’s so much wealth out here in California. Y’all have farmland, forest, cattle, everything. But where does it come from? From Allah.” She waved her hand to indicate all that lay before them. “You’d think people would see that, and be grateful. But they don’t.”
“They’re not Muslims.”
“Does one have to be Muslim to be grateful?” Kadija asked. “To think? To look around and ask, ‘Where did all this come from?’”
At ‘Asr time they all prayed together on the thick living room rug – all except Muhammad’s father, who would not leave the safety of his roost in the closet.
After prayer they sat on the floor, each saying his own dua’ or dhikr. Muhammad sat with his legs crossed, eyes closed, and hands turned palms up on his knees.
Jamilah watched him for a moment, feeling slightly annoyed at his sangfroid.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying Hassan’s meditation trick,” Muhammad said. “Right now I’m at the Presidio bluffs, sitting beneath a grove of pines, looking over the Pacific. The waves are crashing on the beach below. I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sailboat heading toward the sunset. The wind is so crisp you could drink it.”
“I’ve never been out there,” Jamilah said. “It sounds like heaven.”
“No,” Muhammad said. “Just San Francisco.”
The tranquility in the apartment was broken by the click of the front door locks turning.
Layth moved quickly. He drew a large, evil-looking handgun from his waistband – where it had been hidden beneath his shirt – and strode to the door, pointing the gun directly at it.
Jamilah was stunned. Had Layth lost his mind?
Kadija cried out, “Honey, what are you doing?”
The door opened and there stood Hassan, carrying his messenger bag and a battered black briefcase, and looking as haggard as Jamilah had ever seen him. He had dark circles beneath his eyes and a two-day growth of beard surrounding his normal goatee. His long hair was bedraggled. Worst of all his face was badly swollen on one side. It looked much worse than it had last night. Jamilah also noticed the way he carried his arm close to his side with his elbow bent, as if hanging from an invisible sling.
When he saw the gun, however, his weariness seemed to vanish. He reacted instantly, shifting his body to the side and swinging the black briefcase into Layth’s arm. The gun went skittering across the hardwood floor. Hassan advanced on Layth and looked as if he were about to strike him.
Jamilah screamed, and Kadija shrieked, “Hassan!”
Hassan stopped, freezing in place like a statue of a warrior in battle.
Layth backed up. “Easy akhi, it’s me!” he blurted.
Hassan relaxed, and the fatigue seemed to rush back into him like an avalanche. He put his back to the wall and slid to the floor, his hands buried in his hair. Muhammad walked to the entryway and stepped over Hassan to shut the door and punch in the alarm code. Jamilah wished she could comfort Hassan in some way, but more than that she wanted answers. Had everyone gone mad?
Layth kneeled beside Hassan. “It’s alright, akhi,” he said reassuringly. “Everything’s good here.”
Hassan looked up. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s been a long couple of days. Why are you all here? I asked you to leave town, not gather here.”
Jamilah was suddenly furious. “Who do you think you are to tell me to leave work and do this or that? You’re not my father or my husband. I’m here because Layth said it was important, and it had better be, or I’ll shoot you myself.”
“Get in line,” Hassan said wearily.
“What do you mean?” Jamilah demanded.
“I’ve already been shot twice this week, and now one of the most vicious assassins in the world is after me. So if you want to shoot me, get in line.”
Jamilah was speechless. This felt like a dream. Any minute she would wake up and tread wearily into her own kitchen, where Shamsiyyah would be brewing her morning coffee. “Shamsi,” she’d say, “you’ll never believe the dream I just had…”
“Are you serious, akhi?” Layth said. “Muhammad, let’s get him up.” They each took one of Hassan’s arms to lift him from the floor but Hassan winced in pain and pulled away.
“Not the left,” he said.
Curling an arm around Hassan’s right side only, Layth helped him to the sofa.
Kadija stood with arms akimbo, glaring at her husband. “Louis Carl Hedstrom!” she declared. “I can’t believe you’re carrying a gun. You know how I feel about that.”
Layth made an apologetic face. “Sorry guys,” he said sheepishly. “Hassan told me we were all in danger.” He turned to Hassan. “That’s why I gathered everyone here, akhi. ‘Innam al-mu’minoona ikhwa,’ right? Surely the believers are brothers’. You taught me that. If one feels pain, all feel pain. Now tell us what’s going on. Have you truly been shot?”
“Yes.” Hassan indicated his swollen face and arm. “Here and here.”
“Who shot you?”
“It’s a long story. Let me rest for a minute and catch my breath.”
“Is this real?” Muhammad asked. He’d retrieved the gun and now held it curiously, turning it this way and that, then staring down into the barrel. He’d obviously never held a gun before. Neither had Jamilah, but she had no desire to do so.
“Don’t do that!” Layth snapped, taking the weapon from him.
“What is it?” Muhammad asked.
“M1911 A1 Colt,” Hassan said. “Light recoil, major stopping power. Semi auto, seven shot mag. I’m surprised you have one of those. I thought they swapped them all out for Beretta M9’s back in the ’80’s.”
Jamilah stared at Hassan. He sounded like a gun salesman. Layth must have been surprised as well, because it took him a moment to answer.
“Uhh, yeah, you’re right,” he said. “They did swap them out, but a lot of guys kept the 1911 because the slides can fail on the Beretta. Chop your hand right up.”
“That’s only if you use the wrong ammo. Can I see?” Hassan held his hand out, and Layth passed the gun to him. Hassan passed it from hand to hand, then spun it on the palm of his hand like a top. “My mistake. Eight shot mag in this one. Or one in the chamber, which I seriously doubt.”
Layth stared at him. “You can tell that by holding it? I’ve never seen that before.”
Hassan shrugged. “Long story, bro. I used to say that guns were the only thing I was good at.” He handed the gun back to Layth.
Kadija glared at her husband and held her hand out as if she meant to confiscate the weapon, but to Jamilah’s surprise Layth wordlessly tucked the gun away beneath his shirt. He was the husband of course, but it was odd to see anyone defy Kadija, who had a matriarchal personality that seemed to brook no argument.
“Hassan, is this your home?” Jamilah demanded, voicing one of the many questions spinning in her mind like dust devils.
Hassan opened his hands on his lap, palms up, in a quietly apologetic gesture. “I know, it’s a lot for one person,” he said. “I bought it as an investment, at a friend’s suggestion, along with several other properties. I used to live at 6th and Market – right above Tu-Lan, actually. But I had a problem with the tenant here – wild parties and such – so I evicted him. Kind of lost my taste for property management. I’ve been selling my other properties one by one. Made a good profit, Alhamdulillah. My friend was right about that.”
Jamilah stared at Hassan blankly. His explanation – which explained nothing – only spawned more questions. She went with the obvious one.
“I don’t mean the space,” she said, using the acerbic tone of voice she imagined she would use if she were a district attorney interrogating a murder defendant.
“I mean how can you afford this place?” She waved her hand at the huge flat as if indicating a piece of incriminating evidence.
“Oh,” Hassan said, nodding his head.
Jamilah suspected that he had known exactly what she was asking.
“My father left me money,” Hassan said, “and I invested it well, with the help of the friend I mentioned. Alhamdulillah.”
“But then,” Jamilah objected, “why do you work as a bike messenger? It is some kind of bizarre hobby? You want to see how the working folks live? You need the exercise? And what was that thing you did with the gun? How do you know all that?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk about last night,” Hassan said. “There’s something happening, and I think you all need to be careful. Jamilah, if you can take some vacation days and go to your mom’s house that would be best. Layth, Kadija, if you guys have been thinking of getting out of town for a while, now would be good. Muhammad, you and your dad can stay here if you like. Building security is good.”
Jamilah’s expression had grown steadily more incredulous. Finally she could not contain herself. “Are you nuts, Hassan? You haven’t given us one straight answer.”
Hassan sighed. “Is there any chance that you all would just take my word and get out of town?”
Layth spoke up. “I would take your word on anything, akhi. Wallahi, if you told me you were the king of Siam, I would believe you. But if you’re in trouble then the only place I’ll be is here, by your side.” Kadija said nothing, but she looked troubled.
“Same for me,” Muhammad said. He grinned. “I might take you up on your offer to stay here, though.”
Jamilah’s face grew hot. She felt like the only doubter in a room full of true believers.
“Believing you is not the point,” Jamilah said angrily. “I care about you. But everyone here is acting like you’re Reverend Moon and they’re your adoring acolytes. All I see are unanswered questions, and I’m sick of it. I want the whole truth. If you don’t care about me then by all means, keep your mouth shut and I’ll be on my way. And yes, I’ll go to Madera. But if you do care – in any capacity – then you need to come clean.”
Hassan looked at everyone, seeming to gauge their resolve, then sighed audibly and nodded his head.
“Okay,” he said. “Ma-sha-Allah. Pull up some chairs. Is anyone hungry?”
“I’ll order from Zach’s,” Muhammad said, as he retrieved the folding chairs from the kitchen and set them up around the sofa. “Best pizza in the City.”
“I need to do my salat,” said Hassan.
Twenty minutes later Hassan settled on one end of the sofa, with Layth in the middle and Kadija on the other end. Jamilah and Muhammad sat in folding chairs facing them.
“I should tell you first,” Hassan said. “Alice has been stabbed.”
Jamilah listened in shocked silence as Hassan shared what little information he had.
Muhammad spoke up. “We should go visit her.“
“Not now, akhi,” said Layth. “There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do. Let’s deal with Hassan’s situation first.”
The group sat in silence, watching Hassan expectantly.
“I don’t know where to begin,” he said finally.
“It’s a cliche,” said Kadija, “but start at the beginning.”
Hassan nodded. “At the beginning. Okay. Can we all recite Surat al-Asr first? Everyone join me.”
He began with Aoothoo billahi min-ash-shatyan ir-rajeem, and everyone joined his recital, including Jamilah. Fortunately this was one of the handful of short Quran chapters that Kadija had taught her over the last few months. She even knew the meaning: “By the time. Surely humankind is in loss; Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, and strive together for truth, and strive together for patience.”
She did not know the significance of the group recital and was embarrassed to ask. When they were done, Hassan began his story with a question that caught Jamilah completely off guard.
“So, have any of you heard of Antoine Haddad?”
“Sure,” Jamilah replied, grimacing at the sound of that hated name. “The singular power broker of twentieth century Lebanon. Co-founder of the right-wing Christian Phalange militia, modeled after the Nazi party. If Lebanon ever had a king, it would have been him. Boulos Haddad, the current president of Lebanon, is his son. The Haddads have always been enemies of the Palestinians. Ruthless killers.”
“Right,” said Hassan. “Well. I was born in East Beirut in 1975…”
Questions popped up immediately in Jamilah’s mind. 1975? That would make him 35 years old. She had always thought he was in his late twenties. Not that it mattered – he was fit and strong. But Beirut?
“Didn’t you tell me once that you were Syrian?” she said.
Hassan pursed his lips and nodded. “A little lie, or a half-truth,” he said. “I mean, my people came from Syria ages ago.”
“Why lie at all?” Jamilah demanded.
“Old habits,” Hassan shrugged. “I’ve had to conceal my identity for so long.”
Kadija broke in. “Let the brother speak, Jamilah. You’re not a lawyer yet. Don’t cross-examine him.”
With an effort, Jamilah checked herself.
“I’ve had to live under four different names in my lifetime,” Hassan continued. “But my birth name was Simon Haddad.”
“Haddad?” Jamilah interrupted again. “Wait a minute. You’re not saying that you’re one of the Haddads of Lebanon. Are you related to that clan?”
She held herself very still, awaiting the answer, hoping it would be a ‘no’, but knowing otherwise. She felt a terrible rage growing inside her, expanding like a giant sponge soaking up a lake of blood.
Hassan spoke softly but clearly. “Antoine Haddad was my paternal grandfather. Boulos is my uncle.”
Jamilah exploded out of her chair, striding toward Hassan. Her vision was a field of red: the red blood of her grandfather, shot by the Phalangists at Tel-Az-Zaytoon. The red of the thousands of innocent Palestinians killed by the Haddads and their minions. And Hassan was one of them. Everything about him was a fabrication. He was an impostor, a traitor, an enemy. It was unthinkable. He had played with her heart and it was all a lie.
She raised her hand and slapped Hassan across the face as hard as she could.
“Jamilah!” Kadija cried, rising from the sofa.
Hassan accepted the slap without trying to defend himself, then brought his gaze back to meet hers, undaunted. Infuriated, she backhanded him across the other side of his face – the swollen side. Hassan cried out in pain as the large, flesh-colored bandage came off and hung from his cheek, ripping the scab from his wound. Blood poured down his face and Jamilah saw that the wound was quite bad – a deep gouge in his cheek. She was ashamed, but her rage was greater. She lifted her hand to strike him again, when Kadija leaped off the sofa and grabbed her arm.
“Stop!” Kadija exclaimed. “Are you out of your mind, girl?”
“He’s a Phalangist!” Jamilah shouted. “A Nazi! Do you know how many of my people they killed?”
“Let her go,” Hassan said to Kadija. “Jamilah, hit me again if that’s what you need. But I’m not a Phalangist. I’m a Muslim.”
“Is that how you see me too, Jamilah?” Kadija demanded. “I’m a convert too, remember? And so is Layth. Do you see us as kuffar? Are we not real Muslims to you?”
“You’re not being fair!” Jamilah protested. “You don’t understand.” She glared at Hassan. “Is that how you can afford this place? With money from your corrupt uncle?”
“No.” Hassan peeled the dangling bandage from his face. “Muhammad, could you wrap some ice in a towel and get me a fresh bandage from the bathroom? Jazakh Allah khayr.” He addressed himself to Jamilah. “In fact, if Boulos knew where I was right now, I’d be dead.”
“Can I go back to the story? It will make more sense if I tell it in order.”
“Do whatever you want,” Jamilah spat. “I’m not interested.” Walking away, she opened the sliding glass door and stepped onto the balcony. She felt angry and humiliated. How could she have been so stupid as to fall in love with a Phalangist? Any man who kept secrets was bad news – she knew that – and yet she had gone right along, letting herself get involved.
A fire truck – looking like a toy from this height – sped down 4th Street a block away. Out in the bay she saw a massive Maersk shipping liner plowing its way beneath the Bay Bridge, heading for Asia or Europe she supposed. She wished she were on it. She wished she could leave this rotten San Francisco existence and go somewhere far away, where she could start over and forget. Gripping the balcony railing, she noticed a red smear on the back of her right hand, and realized it was blood – Hassan’s blood.
Her sensible mind reminded her that Hassan had already told her he used to be Christian – back in Fresno, in the hospital. Furthermore, her mind argued that Hassan could not be held responsible for the actions of his relatives. Her heart, meanwhile, wanted to forgive Hassan for everything, and follow him to the ends of the earth.
Her soul, however, was outraged. Her soul lived in Tel-Az-Zaytoon with her grandfather. Her soul was tied to the hills of Jerusalem. Her soul felt lied to and betrayed.
“What are you doing, akhi?” she heard Layth say. Glancing inside, she saw Hassan standing at the kitchen counter, holding an ice pack to his face with one hand and writing on a yellow legal pad with the other.
She moved closer to the door to hear Hassan’s response.
“I’m writing my will,” he said. “I own a number of properties and I want them to go to the Islamic Society. There’s a storage unit with a case full of cash. I’m not putting it in the will, so split it three ways between you, Muhammad and Jamilah. Muhammad, I’m leaving you this apartment. Do what you can to help your dad.”
“What do you mean, your will?” Layth demanded.
“I told you, there’s an assassin looking for me. I’m going to make a deal with him. That’s the only way you’ll all be safe.”
The others tried to protest, but Hassan continued writing. When he was done he slung his messenger bag over his good shoulder and picked up the black briefcase.
“Also, there’s a lawyer named Melanie Carter with an office in the Marina District. Layth, please contact her in a week or two and pay her fee from the cash in the storage unit. Ask for her help in executing my will. Tell Jamilah that I’m sorry I lied. Get out of town for a while. I don’t think I’ll see any of you again. I… I’m grateful for your friendship and your brotherhood. May Allah reward you all.”
Layth grabbed Hassan’s good arm but Hassan was too strong. He shook Layth loose and turned the front door locks. Jamilah watched in amazement. Was he really going to leave without telling her what was going on? Was he serious about never returning?
She stepped inside the apartment. “Hassan Amir!” she barked. “Where do you think you’re going?”
He turned and looked at her. “You lied too,” he said.
“That first time we met at Jackson Park for dhuhr prayer. (Author’s note: see “The Deal” part 6). I said that if you knew everything about me you would hate me.”
Jamilah stared at him. “And I said that I could never hate you.”
“But you do.”
“I…” She faltered. Did she hate him? She was angry and felt betrayed. “You promised me the whole truth,” she said lamely, “and I expect you to keep that promise.”
The doorbell rang and she jumped. Layth drew his pistol again.
“Easy, dude,” said Muhammad. “You gonna shoot the concierge? It’s the pizza.” He went to the door and squeezed past Hassan to look through the peephole, then opened the door and paid for the pizza and a two-liter bottle of soda.
“I guess you definitely have to stay now,” said Muhammad. “Nobody walks away from a Zach’s pizza.”
“Did you tip him?” Layth asked.
“Of course!” Muhammad raised his eyebrows. “I believe in tipping generously with Hassan’s money.”
Hassan stood in the entryway, looking uncertain. Then his face hardened and he turned away. “As-salamu alaykum,” he said, and walked out the door.
In shocked silence, Jamilah watched the door swing shut. She couldn’t believe it. Hassan was gone.
The Crow stood on the sidewalk near the building’s entrance, dressed as a blind homeless man, complete with dark glasses, a cane, a cardboard sign and a cup for spare change. He could have stayed in the surveillance van or even back at the warehouse, but there was no substitute for personally acquired intelligence.
The surveillance van was parked in a commercial parking structure on Mission, a block from Hassan Amir’s building. The capture team – consisting of Pierre and Emil – sat in another van (this one stolen) in the same garage.
Another operative was stationed in a hotel room on Fourth Street with a clear line of sight to Amir’s apartment balcony and a telescope focused on his large picture window. The informant had been kind enough to give them Amir’s apartment number. The surveillance expert reported five individuals inside, three men and two women. One was Hassan Amir himself. Two others were employees of HC – Jamilah Al-Husayni and Muhammad Saleh – while the final two were unidentified.
Even a highly skilled sniper could not make a shot from that distance. And the goal here was not assassination, but information gathering first, then termination.
The Crow had reached a decision. A frontal assault made no sense. The building was too secure, and the Crow had no way of knowing what armaments the inhabitants carried.
Instead, they would wait for any of the five individuals to exit the building, then capture them and hold them hostage, offering to trade them for Amir’s surrender. The Crow remembered Boulos’ words: “He cares too much. That is his weakness.”
Of course in reality all five of the individuals in that apartment would soon be captured, interrogated and killed. Boulos had given him leave to do so, and that was exactly what he would do. Killing Muslims was like eating Chinese food – delicious in the moment, but an hour later you were hungry again. Killing a Husayni, however – that would be a sweet dessert. It wasn’t every day that one got to kill a member of the Palestinian nobility, inasmuch as such a thing could be said to exist.
As the Crow considered the logistics of monitoring Amir’s building and attempting to capture so many people, he realized that the San Francisco consulate’s piddling team would be insufficient. He would need reinforcements.
He had Sarkis call the Los Angeles consul, make introductions, and hand the phone over. At first the L.A. consul was surly. Send two of his own men on an undisclosed mission? Outrageous! When the Crow let slip the word “Kopis” in a discreetly threatening tone, however, the effect was sorcerous. The consul hurriedly promised to send his two best operatives post haste. Stuttering, the man then claimed to be late for a birthday party, and hung up the phone.
The Crow didn’t know why Boulos cared so much about this courier. He would of course do his duty and fulfill his assignment. He did wonder, however, what was in this black briefcase that Boulos wanted so desperately. In fact, he planned to find out. Knowledge was a form of power, and he intended to learn what was happening here, and what the briefcase contained.