See the Story Index for a chronological guide to the previous stories.
March 23, 2010. 2:30 am.
San Francisco, California
Katrina lay on the ground, trying – and failing- to still her trembling muscles.
Her head pounded with the pain of the bullet wound. Skinny Kid – Muhammad – sat beside her. He laid the jacket over her torso and applied pressure to her wound, his head swiveling from side to side as he looked about nervously.
“Easy, Muhammad,” Katrina said in a shaky voice. “I haven’t heard any more gunshots. I think it’s over.”
He looked at her and nodded. “I won’t be nominating today for Gun Appreciation Day, though.” He was smiling, but tears had formed in his eyes. As she watched, the tears streaked down his face.
“The man who was shot,” Katrina said. “Is he your friend?”
“He might be okay. Don’t assume the worst.”
Muhammad nodded, but said nothing.
“What is all this about? Who are these gunmen? What do you know?”
“Me? Nothing! Less than nothing. Any more nothing and my brain would be a vacuum. Anyway, shouldn’t you rest?”
“You’re right.” She let it go and focused on her breath, trying to get a handle on the pain. “Cop’s gotta be a cop, is all.” There would be time for questions later, and other people, perhaps, to ask them.
A moment later she heard sirens and saw red and blue lights reflected on the wall of the nearby hotel. Immediately she heard the sound of many running feet approaching. Voices shouted, “Inspector Sanchez!”
Pierre Safra could not believe how far sideways this entire operation had slid. Putain, what a disaster. Un désordre épique. Obadiah and Pashi were dead, one of the targets they were supposed to capture was dead or dying, and at least one police officer was on the scene. How in Maron’s name had the cops responded so quickly? That one car had arrived in seconds. Just bad luck, he guessed. The Crow – what a demon that man was, like a hyena with the soul of a snake, or maybe simply a crow from hell, as his code name implied – had insisted on a fast, quiet operation. Instead they’d created a battlefield in the middle of downtown San Francisco.
To make things worse, the Palestinian girl had escaped on foot. It was vital that he capture her. If he did, maybe the Crow would not kill him on the spot when he returned.
As for Maurice and the two operatives from L.A., they would have to salvage what they could and get out.
And for what? He did not know. Pierre’s family held large real estate holdings. He had grown up attending the finest French-language schools in Lebanon, and summering with his family at their villa in Marseilles. Those were the days. Windsurfing at the Plage du Prado, playing football on the beach and drinking San Pellegrinos around a bonfire at night.
And yet, in spite of their wealth, the Safras had worked in service of Lebanon for generations. Pierre had been raised to be a man of honor. He’d been first in his class in officers’ school. The motto of the Lebanese Armed Forces was Sharaf, Tadhia, Wafa’. Honor, Sacrifice, Loyalty.
And now he was chasing an innocent girl, so that she could be used as a pawn to lure an apparent civilian to his death! Ça me soule, it was insane. But Pierre was a soldier, and he knew he was in over his head. There was nothing to do but follow orders.
He would either find this girl or the Crow would finish him, he was sure. And if he found her, then what? He had nothing on him but a gun, a single syringe of the knockout drug, and a radio. Carry her back to the scene, which would be awash with police in a few minutes? Steal a car? Radio HQ for assistance? He didn’t know. Une chose à la fois. One thing at a time.
Jamilah’s mind was like a firehouse during a four-alarm fire, with bells going off everywhere, and there was only one idea she had amid the clamor: run back to Hassan’s building. Warn him. When she glanced back, however, she saw a masked man pursuing. On a panicked impulse she cut into Yerba Buena Gardens, a huge complex of landscaped lawns, cafes, shops and museums.
She’d been here many times, sometimes to lunch on the grass while she waited on standby, and other times to see a movie at the Metreon, or to bowl with Shamsi at the little bowling alley upstairs. Now all the shops were closed, and Jamilah dashed madly through the complex until she came to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial waterfall.
It occurred to her that maybe the sound of falling water would disguise her ragged breathing, which sounded as loud as a bellows to her. The corridor beneath the waterfall was brightly lit. Staying well away from the lights, she ducked down behind the concrete lip of the pool into which the waterfall poured. Breathing through her mouth, trying to stay quiet, she slipped her phone out of her pocket. She had only one thought: I have to warn Hassan.
Pierre could not find the girl. This park complex was huge, and he’d never been here before. There must be dozens of places to hide, even at night. He had to call for help before the target escaped completely. With a sense of resignation and impending doom, he keyed his radio. “Team Two to Team One,” he said.
With trembling hands, Jamilah scrolled through her phone contacts. She tried to select Hassan from the list, but her hands were shaking so badly that she accidentally selected Hala, a friend from Madera. The phone beeped once when she pressed the select button, and she chastised herself for not putting it in silent mode. She did so, then managed to select Hassan’s number. She was about to press the call key when a man spoke from the darkness nearby.
“Team Two to Team One,” the man said.
Jamilah was so startled that she dropped her phone. It bounced off the concrete lip and fell with a splash into the pool.
She heard the man’s radio crackle and another voice bark out, “Team Two, report! What is your status?”
The man came running across the dark lawn straight toward her. He had something in his hand – Oh my God, Jamilah thought – a syringe! She leaped into the water of the pool, which glowed yellow from underwater lamps. The water came up to her thighs and was terribly cold, but Jamilah paid it no mind.
The masked man vaulted into the pool and splashed after her. Jamilah was almost to the other side. She leaped onto one of the slabs of slate that studded the pool. She was not prepared for how slippery it was. Her feet shot out, and her head struck the stone.
Her last thought was, “Hassan. Must warn…”
Pierre hustled through the park with the girl’s unconscious body on his shoulder. She’d knocked herself out with the fall on the rock, but he’d injected her with the drug anyway, just in case. There was no way he could return to the scene of the shootout at 4th and Mission. He could hear sirens approaching from all directions. Looking around, he spotted an exit on the other side of the esplanade, near the Center for the Arts, and ran to it.
He emerged onto Mission near 3rd and looked around. To his immense relief – la vache! – this stretch of Mission was still deserted. The unmarked police car was still parked down at the scene of the battle, lights flashing, but no other police had yet arrived.
Just as he thought this, a pair of headlights came in his direction. At first he shrank back toward the park, but as the headlights neared he saw it was one of the white vans they were using for the operation. Quelle chance! Pierre stepped into view and waved frantically. The van slowed and pulled over, but instead of stopping, it ran right up onto the sidewalk. Pierre had to leap back to avoid being run over. The van crashed into the garden railing, skidded, and finally came to a stop. The horn sounded and did not stop.
Pierre ran to the side door, slid it open, and dumped the girl unceremoniously on the floor. Then he ran to the driver’s side and yanked open the door. It was Maurice, the junior op who’d been paired with Pierre for this operation. The man was slumped onto the steering wheel, his forehead pressing the horn. Pierre pulled him back. The front of his jacket was soaked with blood, and his nose was broken. The man’s eyes were closed and he didn’t seem conscious.
Pierre cursed and slapped the junior op’s face. “Maurice! Can you hear me? Can you move?”
Maurice opened his eyes and groaned. He managed to focus on Pierre. “I’m gutshot, Pierre. It hurts so bad. The cop shot me. And there was a ghost, Pierre. A ghost.”
“What about Bernard and Louis? The two new guys from L.A.?”
“Dead,” Maurice groaned. “Take me to the hospital. I need a doctor.”
“C’est bien,” Pierre said. “You did good. Just hold on.” He ran around to the passenger side, muscled Maurice across the gap between seats and into the passenger seat, and then ran to the driver’s side, where he sat in a pool of Maurice’s cooling blood. He would get the girl and Maurice back to the warehouse. That was his only job right now. Surely Sarkis could get a doctor to help Maurice.
Jamilah walked through a dark dreamscape. Where was she? She felt panic rising like a moonless tide, threatening to overcome her senses. Steeling herself, she forced the panic down. She’d been attacked… but she couldn’t remember the details. She felt dirt beneath her feet and realized that she could see. It was night. She walked down a dirt track passing through a meadow. Lines of trees formed natural barriers on both sides. The moon hung low and glowed a dull blood red. She heard the sound of panting behind her and turned to see a pack of wolves running up the path, their tongues hanging out and their eyes reflecting the vermillion cast of the moon.
On the path between her and the wolves stood Hassan. He waved to her and shouted, “Run!” Then he turned to face the wolves, assuming a fighting stance. The lead wolf – a huge white-furred creature whose eyes gleamed green in the dim light – leaped at Hassan, its fangs bared to tear out his throat. Hassan sidestepped as he struck the creature and it tumbled to the ground.
Jamilah turned to run and saw that behind her stood the entire Palestinian nation, millions of people spread out on a vast plain. Refugees, prisoners, women and children, young and old, rich and poor. As one they looked to her, and then to Hassan beyond, waiting to see if he would stop the wolves.
Jamilah turned back to Hassan as the wolves launched themselves, one after another. He fought like a hero, or like the captain he once was. The spectacle of the savage wolves, their fangs bared in the moonlight and saliva dripping from their mouths, filled her with terror. Nevertheless, it was Hassan fighting for her life as behind her the people of her poor beleaguered nation silently watched. She would not abandon him or them. She gritted her teeth and ran straight at the wolves, a shout rising from her throat.
When she finally came to consciousness, she felt as if she’d been fed poisoned food, beaten, then drowned in a river. She had a queasy feeling in her belly, pain in her cramped muscles, a pounding ache in her head, and the sensation of cold. She’d never felt so miserable, not even when she contracted the measles at the age of thirteen. Where was she? What had happened?
Memories flooded in. There was a moment in which she hoped that the events of the night – from the long afternoon and evening at Hassan’s apartment, to the assault on herself, Layth and Kadija, to fleeing into Yerba Buena Gardens, to apparently being kidnapped herself – had been a nightmare. Maybe she was still home in her Sutter Street apartment, her muscles merely cramped from a long day on the bike.
That wishful fantasy lasted only an instant before even greater pain from every part of her body blasted into her awareness. Her arms and legs were frighteningly sore and cramped, as if she had just escaped from the old Alcatraz Island prison and butterfly stroked across the San Francisco Bay in a rainstorm. She was deeply nauseated and thought she might vomit.
Continuing to orient herself, she realized to her dismay that she was bound hand and foot, and her mouth was sealed with tape. Her clothes were wet and her skin was chilled. The air contained a strange coppery smell that she could not identify.
La ilaha il-Allah. It was real. Where was she, and what did these people want with her? And what of Layth and Kadija? Were they alive or dead? Had they been captured as well? And Hassan? She had been unable to warn him.
She was afraid to open her eyes. Afraid of what she might see, and of what might happen to her when the kidnappers saw that she was awake. She heard men talking. Keeping her eyes closed, she listened.
Pierre stood in the strangely remodeled office of the West Oakland warehouse. The walls were covered with ribbed black soundproofing foam, giving the room a dark and oppressive feel. The only sound was Maurice’s agonized moaning. The injured operative lay in a fetal position on towels spread over the steel interrogation table, clutching the wound in his stomach. The towels were soaked with blood, which dripped onto the floor in a steady stream. The plastic tarpaulin on the floor collected the growing pool.
The man needed help. He was bleeding to death as they watched. Wasn’t anyone going to do anything?
The Crow – or Mr. Green, as he was supposed to be called – paced up and down the floor of the office, moving smoothly and silently as a jungle cat. As for Emil, he stood a little behind Pierre, near the door. The senior operative was silent and still as the Sphinx, as usual.
Four operatives had been killed in the operation on Mission Street. Two consulate guards had been called down and now stood watch, one each at the warehouse’s front and rear entrances. There was no one left to run this operation but the Crow, Emil Dadurian, the absent Sarkis, and Pierre himself.
Though the op had been botched beyond belief, it was not Pierre’s fault. If anything, he had salvaged it by snatching the Palestinian girl. He glanced at her. The young woman lay on the floor in one corner of the room, still unconscious from the knockout drug. Her wrists and ankles were bound with zip-ties. She lay on her side, her cheek pressed against the cement floor. Once again Pierre felt the prickings of his conscience. What would his father say? Suppressing the thought, he tucked his chin into his chest. There was nothing he could do. The situation was what it was.
Sullenly, Pierre watched the Crow. The enigmatic assassin spoke little. With his lean frame, close-cropped blonde hair and finely tailored suit, he could pass for any of the investment bankers who crowded the streets of the Financial District. His eyes, though… they were a dead, icy green, like pools of frozen wastewater. And the way he moved… watching him with a trained eye, Pierre could see a subtle grace and power in the man’s walk, as if he’d been trained to make every movement count. Being in a room with the Crow was like standing in a tiger’s cage at the zoo, watching the ferocious beast pace the cage. Pierre considered it prudent to follow Emil’s example and remain silent.
Each time the Crow paced up and down the floor, he passed the unconscious Palestine girl. On one of his pass-bys, he gestured to her.
“Remove the tape from her mouth, fool. The sedative causes nausea. What do you think will happen if she vomits with her mouth sealed?”
The soundproofing material on the walls absorbed the Crow’s words, making his voice sound even flatter and deader than it was. Pierre bent over the girl and removed the strip of electrical tape in one swift movement. The girl’s eyes flew open and she uttered a startled cry.
“She is awake,” Pierre observed, and realized immediately that it was a stupid comment. To his dismay, the Crow stopped pacing and turned his withering green gaze on him.
“She is a cockroach,” he hissed. “I do not want to hear anything out of your mouth, you idiot. What were you thinking? Shooting a police officer? Every law enforcement agent in this city will be looking for you. The incident will be front page news. This is precisely what we were trying to avoid. If your uncle were not an MP, I would kill you where you stand.”
Pierre stood at attention, not meeting the Crow’s gaze but not looking down either.
“I did not shoot the police officer, monsieur Cr – monsieur Green,” Pierre said. “Maurice did. However, I take full responsibility. But monsieur, Maurice needs help. He needs a doctor vite fait!”
The Crow stared at him coolly. “Since you take responsibility, take responsibility for this.” In a swift motion, he drew his handgun from a shoulder holster. It was a P226 Sig Sauer provided to him by the consulate. The Sig Sauer, Pierre knew, was a well-designed weapon that had no manual safety, so it could be drawn and fired in a single rapid motion.
Pierre tried not to flinch or cower. If the Crow were about to kill him, he could at least die with dignity.
Instead of killing Pierre, the Crow took two rapid steps toward the table where the gut-shot operative continued to moan and bleed around his clutching fingers. He placed the barrel of the Sig against Maurice’s temple and pulled the trigger. The gun emitted a loud report that cracked like a whip in the confined space of the warehouse office. Pierre heard a loud, “spang!” and knew that the bullet had passed all the way through Maurice’s head and embedded itself in the steel table. An instant later there came a small metallic tinkle as the ejected cartridge hit the ground and skittered into a corner. Maurice’s body fell still, his agonized expression unchanged.
The Palestinian girl screamed, and even Emil Dadurian stepped back in surprise.
Pierre’s eyes widened and his nostrils flared. “Mon Dieu! You didn’t have to do that! We could have gotten him help. He has a family back in Lebanon.”
The Crow shrugged. “They will receive his pension. That’s more than he deserves.”
Pierre turned to Emil, but the man had recovered his poise and stood stoically as ever, his face blank as stone. Damn him!
The office door banged open and the two consulate guards who’d been stationed at the warehouse doors came running in, guns drawn. “Was that a -” one began to say, and stopped as they saw Maurice’s dead body. They gaped in shock, then looked to Emil, who shook his head subtly. The men lowered their weapons and holstered them.
The Crow shot Emil Dadurian an annoyed look. “So much for soundproofing.”
Dadurian shrugged. “I bought the best material I could find on such short notice.”
The guards began backing out of the room. “We barely heard anything sir,” one of them said apologetically. “It would not have carried beyond the warehouse.”
The Crow waved a hand in dismissal. “Very well. Return to your posts, and take this worthless sack of meat with you.” He wagged a finger to indicate Maurice’s body. “Dump it in the walk-in cooler.”
The Crow turned to Emil. “In your opinion, will the police locate this warehouse?”
Emil shook his head. “No, sir. It’s owned by an offshore corporation. It has no direct connection to the consulate.”
“And the men who were killed?”
“They carried no ID, and neither their fingerprints nor dental records are on file in this country. That’s SOP for operatives on foreign soil. I’m sure the police will eventually make a connection to the consulate, but it will take time.”
“Very well.” The Crow rubbed his chest, thinking. “Dadurian, I want you to make two calls. First, contact Sarkis and tell him to get his inflated belly in here. Second, call Hassan Amir. Tell him we have Jamilah Al-Husayni, and unless he surrenders to us, we will torture and kill her.”
The Palestinian girl struggled into a sitting position with her back against the wall. She cleared her throat and spat, then spoke in a hoarse voice. Pierre expected her to plead for her freedom or her life, but she lifted her chin and met the Crow’s eyes.
“You’re a fool.”
The Crow gave her a look of cool contempt. “How so?”
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with. Hassan is a superman. He’s going to tear through you like a flaming sword through butter.” She looked around the room, pinning each of the three men with a stare like a thrown dagger. “You’re all dead men. I’m looking at a room full of walking corpses. Hassan’s going to put a bullet in your head – “ she pointed her chin at Emil – “and yours, and yours -”
The Crow opened a leather case that sat on a small table next to the larger steel table. He removed a scalpel, closed the case, then strode to Jamilah, who continued to denounce the men in the room. Seizing her jaw in one hand, he made a rapid cut with the scalpel, opening a deep horizontal wound across her cheek. The wound began to pour blood instantly.
Pierre watched in dismay as the Crow then pushed the girl’s head down to the ground and put his boot on her wounded face.
“That was a taste of what is to come,” the Crow said calmly. “You do not speak unless you are spoken to. Your opinions and thoughts have no value. You belong to me. But feel free to struggle. Your humiliation pleases me.”
“You’re wrong,” Jamilah spat from between gritted teeth. “I belong to Allah. Nothing you do can humiliate me. Allah is the One who raises people up and lowers them down.”
“Is that right?” The Crow’s tone was amiable. “Let’s see how defiant you are once I put you on my table and slice you open like a fish. This is my domain. I know just where and how deep to cut into you, in order to cause maximum pain without killing you.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“Then you are the fool.” The Crow twisted his foot one way then the other, grinding the sole of his foot into the young woman’s cheek until she cried out in pain.
“Tape her mouth again,” the Crow instructed Pierre. “Little idiot.” He wiped the bloodied scalpel on Jamilah’s hijab and replaced it in the case.
Pierre was horrified, but did as he was told. As he bent to apply the tape, the girl spat in his face. “Please, miss,” he whispered. “Cooperate.” He taped her mouth firmly.
“When will you kill her?” Emil asked. His face was unreadable. He might have been asking the time of day.
“Later,” the Crow replied. “I will wait until we have Amir, and do it in front of him. That will be more enjoyable. Now, what do you suggest as a meeting place between you and Mr. Amir?”
“Obviously not here. How about China Basin Park in SF, south of the 3rd Street bridge? It will be deserted at this time of night, it has tree cover, and it’s a short ride from the freeway. We pick him up, bind and blindfold him, and bring him here.”
The Crow nodded. “Do it. Tell Amir to bring the black briefcase. He should know what that means. Take Pierre with you and do not underestimate Hassan Amir again.”
Hassan ran through Yerba Buena Gardens, sweat beading on his skin then evaporating in the night air, chilling him. There was no sign of Jamilah. As he dashed past the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial pool, the glint of something metallic caught his eye. It was small and round, sitting atop the slate stones in the fountain, reflecting the light. He picked it up. It was a pin with the colors of the Palestinian flag and the words, “FREE PALESTINE”.
It was Jamilah’s. He’d seen her wearing it on her windbreaker back in the apartment. He snatched it up and ran off, slipping the pin into his pocket. He searched the entire park, but it was no use. Jamilah was gone.
He went to one of the park’s trash cans and lifted the lid. Using a few dirty napkins, he wiped his fingerprints from the gun, then dropped it in the trash and replaced the lid.
Returning to the scene of the attack, he found the street jammed with emergency vehicles. Red and white lights played across the surrounding buildings like strobes in a disco. The cops were just beginning to put up cones and barriers and push back the handful of spectators. The law enforcement presence was growing by the minute as vehicles from all manner of agencies arrived.
He skirted the perimeter until he reached the Audi. No one stopped him. Barefoot, wearing nothing but a pair of knee-length shorts, he must look like one of the many homeless people who inhabited the alleys and hidden corners of this neighborhood. He was beginning to shiver from the cold.
He needed so badly for Layth to be alive. Layth had become his best friend and confidant. Of course he loved Muhammad as well, and regarded him as family. But Muhammad was very young in some ways. Layth, on the other hand, was someone who understood him, someone he didn’t have to pretend with.
There was something else in his mind, and he was ashamed to admit it. He had to ask Kadija not to tell the police about Sarkis, the Crow, and his own true identity. It was likely that the Crow was still out there. If Jamilah had been kidnapped and the police got involved, it could jeopardize her life. They would certainly not allow Hassan to trade his life for hers.
He knew that Kadija would probably not appreciate such a reminder at a time like this. It would seem cold and self-serving. But it was necessary.
When he arrived at his own half-destroyed car, there was no sign of either Layth or Kadija. An ambulance was pulling away. Another ambulance pulled up and the paramedics hustled off with a wheeled cot, leaving the rear bay doors open. Hassan helped himself to one of the emergency medical blankets in the back of the ambulance, wrapping it around his shoulders to stave off the cold, and to hide his scars and tattoos. It was a medium weight fleece blanket, colored forest green. His shivering stopped almost immediately as the blanket insulated him from the chill and fog.
He got the attention of a cop who was studying the Audi and making notes. He pointed to the departing ambulance.
“Was that a tall white guy with blonde hair? Name of Louis Hedstrom?”
The police officer studied him critically. “You a family member?”
“No, a good friend.”
“Let me see your ID.”
Hassan held his hands out, palms up. “I don’t have any,” he said truthfully. He’d run out of the apartment without his door keys, wallet or phone.
The cop’s face hardened. “Sir, I can’t release information. This is a crime scene. Move along, or I’ll run you in for loitering.”
Before Hassan could say anything further, he saw Muhammad waving at him frantically from across the street, next to the Palisade’s garage entrance.
Making a conciliatory gesture, Hassan withdrew and circled around the closed-off intersection. As he approached Muhammad he found himself limping, and realized he had cut the bottom of his foot on the Audi’s broken glass.
“What happened?” Muhammad said. “Where is she?”
Hassan showed him the pin. “Gone. Disappeared.”
“What are we going to do? We should tell the cops.”
Hassan tipped his head back, closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. Breathing the cold night air, he could sense Muhammad’s eyes upon his tattooed and ruined body. He knew the brother had a million questions, and rightfully so. He felt the fires of grief and fear for his friends mounting inside himself. He felt the rage sputtering, wanting to flare up into a great blaze. He pushed it all down, shut it in an airtight box, and locked it.
He was a former combat soldier and a veteran of one of the most brutal wars of the twentieth century. He’d lost more friends and compatriots than he could count. You couldn’t fight and mourn at the same time, he knew. Sometimes grief, anger and even fear simply had to wait.
This insanity had to stop: Layth injured and possibly worse (though he did not want to consider that possibility), Jamilah kidnapped, a cop shot, other men dead in the street… It had to stop, one way or another. He could not could not allow anyone else to be hurt or killed because of him. He had to finish it tonight – at least, as much as he could without killing Boulos himself.
Hasbi Allahu wa ne’m Al-Wakeel, he mouthed silently, his eyes still closed. Ya Allah, I am Your servant, and my forelock is in Your hand. Make the Quran the light of my heart and my life. Show me the way, Ya Allah.
He took a deep breath, opened his eyes and met Muhammad’s anxious gaze.
“Let’s go upstairs. I don’t have the apartment keys, but the concierge keeps a spare in the safe.”
Muhammad reached into his pocket and jingled something. “I grabbed the keys on the way out.”
“Alhamdulillah. Good man. Let’s go clean up and wait.”
“For the men who took Jamilah to contact me.”
“How do you know they will?”
“That’s what this was about. Her for me.”
Hassan could feel the truth of this statement in this belly, like a hot ball of lead. He’d underestimated how far the Crow was willing to go. He’d been outplayed.
Upstairs in the apartment, Hassan picked the slivers of broken glass from his foot and disinfected the wounds, while Muhammad paced the living room agitatedly.
“What happened when the cops showed up?” said Hassan. “Did Inspector Sanchez tell them anything about me?”
“No. She was out of it, barely conscious. The paramedics took her, then a uniformed cop took my statement. I said I couldn’t sleep, heard the gunshots, went downstairs to see what was going on, saw the Inspector, tried to help. He took my contact info and let me go. The guy shook my hand, said I was a hero, but that next time I should run away from gunshots, not toward them.”
“That was quick thinking. Everything you said was true, technically.”
“Forget about that, Hassan – what are we going to do? Call the FBI, do something!”
“I am doing something.” Hassan dressed in warm messenger gear and clipped a small folding knife to the back of his waistband.
Then he sat down to eat an apple and a box of raisins. He would need energy for what was coming, he was sure.
Muhammad snatched the raisins out of his hand. “You’re eating? This is Jamilah we’re talking about! Why haven’t the kidnappers called yet?”
On the verge of snapping at Muhammad, Hassan restrained himself. The brother didn’t mean anything. He’d just seen his best friends killed or taken, and he was shaken up.
Hassan closed his eyes. He was shaken up as well. His mind was churning. It had been a long time since he’d seen this sort of down and dirty combat, where friends and family were targeted, and death could fall on anyone like lightning from a clear sky. And the truth was that he was not the same man he’d been then. He’d never been the same since Lena’s death. Fighting and killing… he wanted no part of it.
He closed his eyes and began to breathe zazen. Bring your attention to the nose and the entry of the breath. Inhale… exhale with laaa… inhale… exhale with ilahaaa… inhale… exhale with il-… inhale… exhale with Allahhh. Slowly, his mind stilled.
Kidnappings had been extremely common occurrences in Lebanon during the war. People went missing every day. Some were quietly executed and either burned or dumped in mass graves. Others were held for ransom or trade. Kidnappings for ransom followed a predictable pattern. The kidnappers typically delayed the ransom demand in order to allow the family’s anxiety and desperation to build. When the demand came, it was often exorbitant, priced deliberately out of the family’s range, to push them to sell every asset they owned.
Hassan was sure this kidnapping would be different, and that the kidnappers wanted one thing only – Hassan himself. Involving the police or the FBI would only make the situation worse. He was also sure that the call would come quickly. Sarkis could not be happy about the carnage on the street below. It would bring unwanted attention to the consulate and whatever illegal operations Sarkis was involved in – and yes, he was certainly involved in something. He always had been.
The phone rang.