Born on 9/11
Version 5.05 5/11/09
Version 5.05 5/11/09
62 Chapters - 305 pages
Chapter 11: Rachel
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 0915 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 0915 Hours.
The sun's rays peeked over the top of the stage, lighting her way into the history books and warming her heart with its huge welcome carpet. She would remember this moment forever.
"It's almost time mom," Rachel spoke softly into the cell phone. "I'm too nervous, I think I'll clam up."
Suddenly someone grabbed her shoulders and jerked her backwards. Rachel almost lost her balance. "What the hell?" It was Adam. He appeared worked up about something. What did he want?
At five feet, three inches, Rachel was six inches shorter than Adam and at least fifty pounds lighter. She had a full figure with long eyebrows, wide eyes, a straight nose, slightly elongated chin, and narrow cheeks. She wore heavy makeup and considered herself appealing.
Adam dug into her shoulders. "There are police at your house. I want to know what's going on."
Rachel was surprised. "What happened?"
"I don't know, but when I arrived at the school, I learned they're expecting terrorists here as well. I mean for Christ's sake, Rachel, how come you've gotten me involved with in this?"
"I've no idea what you're talking about. Things were fine when I left early this morning. You saw that. Please, I'm on the phone with my mom."
"But Fatima begged me to help--."
Rachel tried to release herself from his grip. "I don't care what you and Fatima did. Stop it. You're hurting me. It's obvious you care more about her than you do for me. Please, I can't discuss this right now. I have to give the--."
Adam held her firmly. "We simply get along, what's wrong with that? Forget it. Are you renting to illegal aliens? What else are you doing there?"
"Please Adam, you're embarrassing me."
A few people had begun to notice them and a man inquired, "What's going on?"
He stared down the onlookers. "Don't worry, I'm her brother." He faced Rachel. "Fatima is missing, there's police everywhere, and I'm trying to get some answers. I'm here for you but you're too busy to talk to me. What's wrong with you?"
Rachel flipped the phone closed and stared angrily at him. "Me? What about you? How many times do I have to tell you that I don't know anything?"
Rachel had enough. No one ever called her a liar. Her brother was always a macho bonehead but he had apparently graduated into a major jerk. She needed to tell him off.
"Are you plain over zealous or a closet bigot? I'm your sister by blood, yet you're acting like I'm a terrorist. You're the one with the problem here."
Adam appeared more upset and shouted. "How come you're not taking this more seriously? What are you concealing? Police are at your house. You should be a bit more concerned."
"I am, but I'm here for my graduation, so what do you expect me to do?"
"Talk to the police here."
There was no use trying to reason with Adam, he was completely brainwashed. The war had made him paranoid and psychotic. "This has gone too far. Let me go now."
Suddenly, the loudspeakers blared, "Calling Rachel Ali, calling Rachel Ali."
Adam looked surprised, as if he could not believe his ears. "They're searching for you. You are involved in some kind of trouble."
"It’s the principal."
The loudspeakers blared. "Rachel Ali, we need you. Please come to the stage right now."
People looked at them and Adam finally released her. Rachel pulled her arm away and felt like slapping him. But there was no time for that. She darted off to the stage and as she stepped up to the platform, there was loud applause and a chant that made her more nervous, "Rachel, Rachel, Rachel."
The tall, middle-aged school Principal beamed. "And now it gives me great pleasure to recognize Dearborn's valedictorian and hometown queen, Rachel Ali." The crowd erupted in catcalls and loud cheers. Most of the students stood and sung the school's theme song as she stepped on stage.
Valedictorian? Adam had no idea he had such an accomplished sibling. She should have said something. Tired of standing, he searched for a seat in vain. He walked to the center aisle, stood by a group of photographers, and looked around for Xavier. Did the old man make it over to witness his daughter honored as hometown queen? Why was Fatima not there? Did the police at the school's entrance spook her?
The Principal motioned Rachel to step next to him.
"In 2002, Rachel became the first freshman head of the Arab American club and led it for four years. The club sponsored dozens of community events and became an integral part of the Arab American community of Dearborn."
A section of the audience applauded.
"They brought in Arab women to teach cooking classes, elders to teach Arabic and English, and professionals to serve as mentors for students. And, we can all remember the big controversy she started by inviting radical Islamic scholars to after school events."
The principal paused and looked at Rachel, who stared straight ahead with eyes fixed slightly above the audience's head.
Adam listened intently as he made clicking sounds with his throat to break up phlegm.
"She insisted the discussions would not be anti-American in any way, and would only serve to remove prejudices and fears. When she got the ACLU to send us a letter, we had to give in or hire a lawyer."
Short applause followed by a brief chant of, "Rachel, Rachel, Rachel."
Adam reviewed the audience with slight apprehension.
The principal smiled at her, but Rachel avoided his gaze. "She was right all along. We found out that we all want a safe, clean environment and good education for our children."
The entire audience broke out in applause.
"Everyday, more and more Americans are becoming tired of the fear-mongering here, and the unequivocal defense of apartheid over there."
Adam scratched his head. This was America's most naive principal. Freedom of speech was fine, but giving extremists a platform at taxpayers' expense was way out of line.
"Condemning whole nations of oppressed people as terrorists for the desperate actions of a few fighting for their freedom is hypocritical since our own patriots would be considered suicidal."
A few whistles punctured the crowd's rapt attention.
Adam fanned his face with a program to cool down. America's patriots died for religious freedom and justice, not for an Islamic state.
The Principal shook Rachel's hands and presented her with a framed award. "Rachel Ali, It is an honor to give you this award as Dearborn High's most outstanding citizen." He handed the microphone over to her.
"I accept this award on behalf of the entire class of 2006. Dearborn High rules."
"We are America's children, the future of this great nation. Like all previous generations, we have to earn our respect and fight to make this land ours. We must continue the march for greater justice and freedom for all."
"We must resist extremism from all corners, and support the will of the people. Hamas and Hezbollah run hundreds of free schools and medical clinics in refugee camps. They've helped generations survive everything from cluster bombs to eighty percent unemployment. There're democratically elected governments, not the nepotistic dictatorships we prop up."
She paused for a moment and the audience remained quiet.
"America's founding fathers gave the people of this world their greatest gift, the hope of freedom. Each generation of Americans has the responsibility of keeping this gift alive."
Loud applause. Rachel flashed two victory signs and walked off the stage smiling. A group of students mobbed her and the group slowly moved to the left of the stage.
Adam could not talk to her alone. He decided to sit close and wait until the crowd left. He marveled at her popularity as she signed yearbook after yearbook. She was his sister yet he knew nothing about her. He had willfully ignored her all these years, not because he hated her or her religion. It was because he hatred the Loser, Xavier. He could not stand being close to anyone who reminded him of his absentee father.
An Anglo man with a microphone walked over from the camera pool and spoke to Rachel. Adam was curious to learn more about his dodgy sister, and sneaked closer to listen in on their conversation. He stopped ten feet behind her and sat on the ground. He could not see her face, but he heard her clearly. She was being very chatty. Why did she refuse to talk to him before? Was she hiding one of her extremist friends at the house?
Chapter 12: Alice III
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 0930 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 0930 Hours.
Colored dust trailed into the pipe around the protruding wire as the bomber shifted the paper over the small opening. A few more mixes and it would be full.
He wanted to use a detonator to make a shaped charge, which would enable the devices to cause a lot more damage. However, the small amount of powder he needed to make the more powerful explosive were mainly agricultural ingredients and these stores were closely monitored. He had been given less than a week after the target was identified to plant the bombs, and so had to keep the design simple, portable, and efficient.
He stared at the television for a moment, tuned to a local Detroit station. A reporter stood in a downtown plaza, talking about the First Lady's visit tomorrow. The area was crowded and there was no visible security presence yet. They had to plant the bombs tonight. He had to hurry and get his ready. He re-focused his attention on the powders and started mixing another batch.
Soon he was thinking about his nemesis again. According to many, it was a woman who turned Al-Fredah into the Godless Satan he had became. The bomber never believed it. The woman they talked about was smart and persuasive in her own way. However, Al-Fredah was a mastermind and it would take a lot more than the guiles of a woman to convert him. What else could have caused this misguided genius to change? He could not figure out the reason.
He poured powder into the metal tube until it topped off and moved to the right to put down the mixture. His hands shook slightly and a few grains fell inside the threads of the pipe.
The bomber cursed loudly. He wanted to punch the table to release some tension, but both he had to keep both of his hands steady. He stopped ranting, hissed for a while, and took a breath. He had to relax. He looked over the table at his handiwork. He was making good progress.
To correct his error, he had clean the threads out carefully. Otherwise, they would cause friction when he tried to screw the cap on. He took a miniature soft hairbrush and cleaned the top thread.
Suddenly, he heard a loud scrapping noise outside. He carefully placed the bomb into the vise grip and tightened it until the metal pipe was secure, then turned the television off. The noise had stopped. He peered through the kitchen window and saw nothing. Probably the neighbors came home and closed their garage.
He was almost ready to start loading Alice. Two bombs were complete and he was getting close on the last one. Where was his friend with the two backpacks he needed? What was keeping him? A delay would put him further behind schedule.
No, it had to be something deeper than a woman. Something related to Al-Fredah's father. That was what Al-Fredah was trying to say in the story. It was doubtful Al-Fredah's father had molested his own son. So then, what did Al-Fredah's father do to him as a boy and young man? Why did Al-Fredah hate his dad so much when he grew older? It was perplexing and the more the bomber thought about it, the more confused and frustrated he became.
He had one thread cleaned. There were five more to go.
Chapter 13: Identity
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 0930 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 0930 Hours.
Rachel sat across from her interviewer at a small table to the left of the stage. The table had an umbrella for shade and a wireless microphone that transmitted to a camera operator ten feet away. A group of friends stood around listening, and the ceremony continued in the background with the announcement of graduates receiving their diplomas.
John Prescott, a middle-aged man with a rotund figure, clipped a microphone to his tie. He worked at a local television affiliate of a major network, and his report of the graduation was going to end the six o'clock news show. He was in a rush to return to the studio but wanted to include a short interview with Rachel.
She had a completely different agenda for the interview. She wanted to explain the lives of Muslim Americans to his wide audience. She knew how the game was played, and to avoid being reduced to another superficial, personal success story, she had to convert the personal interview into a political one. She had to focus on her message one hundred percent of the time.
That would not be easy since John would soon catch on and try to trick her. If he got her to discuss her personal life for even a few seconds, he would be able to spin the story. However, if she refused to deviate from her message, he might become upset and end the interview. It was a risk she had to take.
Was he the kind of reporter that preferred controversial sound bites? Maybe she should start with short, outrageous proclamations. She was confused but gave a thumb up to indicate she was ready. It would be a battle of wits and will, and she needed to win, not for herself, but for the entire community.
"How has this school influenced your life?" John asked. His clothes and breath reeked of cigarette.
"Very little really. I learned nothing about Arabs in twelve years of public schools. I got the impression Middle Easterners were primitive people who just happen to be sitting on top of oil, not worthy of much study."
John shook his head slightly. "The Middle East is in the news everyday. Don't you pay attention to current events?"
That was a low blow. He did not have to be so condescending.
"From the media I learned basically two things. Number one, Muslims hated Christians and Jews. Number two, Arabs were either terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. Coverage in every single one of the media markets is 99 percent biased against Islam, and one percent slightly neutral."
John examined his watch, which was not a good sign. Was the interview over already? It was hard to read his face.
He took a sip of water and continued, "So it was the lack of education that turned you into a leader."
Why did she allow herself to become so angry? Since he ignored her comment, did that mean he was tuning her out? Her lips tightened as another friend's name was announced. She had to go through with the plan.
"Yes, curriculum is power. Our invisibility in textbooks is mirrored in society. I was born here and I refuse to be invisible. But it's also about respecting different cultures and values in our schools. We pay tax just like--."
"Don't we already do that?" John closed his notebook, drained his cup, and stared at her.
The interview was pretty much over unless she came up with something quick. What could she use? She had to give him a personal example with her message. He tossed the cup under the table and it gave her an idea.
"From the age of eight, I fasted each day during Ramadan," Rachel said. "Yet, schools make no special accommodations for Muslim children and many teachers view Muslim parents as negligent for allowing their children to fast all day."
John frowned and asked accusingly, "Isn't it a harsh regimen to put a child through?"
He was questioning a fundamental part of her culture and religion. Why was she so sensitive? She struggled to remain calm.
"It's hard for anyone to do, but that's the whole point. Each day of fasting, you become stronger. Its a time for religious contemplation, like Lent for Christians."
John tapped his fingers on the table. "You can't expect active, growing bodies to go without food twelve or more hours a day, for an entire month."
"School staff don't make it easier. They encourage us to snack during school breaks, and to eat lunch."
"You haven't answered my question." He appeared upset.
"Its not easy and each year, more broke fast at school."
"Doesn't each child have a choice whether to fast or not?"
Grandfather warned her about this great Western illusion. Truth was not a choice, he often reminded her; truth was the only path. If she could make John understand, she had better chance of getting her views on air.
"Everyone in my house observes Ramadan. I fast as a sign of respect for my grandfather, a Shiite Imam, who attended the Mosque each day here in Dearborn. I test of my strength and will power by seeing how many days I can upkeep each year. I am part of--."
"What about students who did not want to fast for one reason or another? Should schools refuse to serve them anyway?"
That was a good one. He took the gloves off and became engaged, but that meant she had a fight on her hands.
"These students sometimes try to deceive their parents and tell them they fasted."
"A harmless lie."
"Parents are our legal guardians. They want us to follow their culture."
"Schools should try not to contradict them."
"Public schools must serve all students."
John scoffed. "Its majority rule. For example, most parents don't have a problem with pork. If we choose to go down your road and try not to offend anyone, we would be left with raw fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria."
"That may not be a bad idea," Rachel said.
She looked at him and they both laughed.
"But what if Muslims are the majority in the neighborhood? Why can't schools support our culture and diet then?"
John glanced at his watch and exchanged glances with the camerawoman. It appeared they were stopping for the day. Rachel had failed. Another friend's name rang from the loud speakers. She sighed and peered into the crowd.
Democracy was more than simple majority rule. Larger majorities at the county, state, or national levels had veto power over local ones, and they often used it.
John shrugged his shoulder. "I have to go. Do you have anything else to say?"
"I would like to talk about what it's like growing up as a young Muslim in Michigan."
"Alright, I only have a minute."
Rachel smiled. "Most of my Arab American and Muslim friends have conflicting feelings about their identities. We have conversations about it all the time."
"What are you confused about?"
"We receive mix signals from home, school, and society, and become disoriented as a result."
"Can you give me an example?"
He seemed interested. Maybe he was simply going through the motions.
"My close friend is legally changing her name to make it less Arabic."
John chuckled. "That's an American rite of passage."
"Being Arab American and Muslim is very difficult right now. I don't blame anyone for choosing to change any part of their cultural or religious affiliation in order to escape from that most dreaded of labels, ‘terrorist.'"
"How do you feel about your name?"
"I don't hide the fact that I am Arab American or Muslim, but many do."
"Why are you different?"
"They lack knowledge about their own culture. They lack pride and self-confidence. This causes them to choose mainstream identities. Some pretend to be Anglo, Asian, Latino, and African, anything but Middle Eastern or Arab."
"You have a problem with this."
"They do. When they turn their backs on Arab Americans, they suffer from self-hate. That's not good for anyone."
Her minute was up but John did not seem to care. He scribbled some notes and asked, "How do you feel about your own identity?"
That was a good question. She should be more open.
"At times I saw my Arab American family and house as weird, like stepping off an American street and entering the Middle East. The television was permanently showing Arab videos. Arabic was spoken almost exclusively, and Arabic writings filled the walls. We lived in a cultural bubble. Our lives were immersed in an inner-circle of Middle Eastern relatives, friends and community."
John rubbed his chin and said, "You're lucky though. Americans move many times and often don’t have that same sense of community. Many live alone, isolated, while others stay trapped behind nuclear walls. You've recreated a community here, thousands of miles away from home. That's remarkable."
They were having a conversation. That was encouraging. She listened to a few names on the public address system. It was her last day in high school. It felt like a dream.
"As kids, we retreated to the children's room and escaped back to American culture, music, and television."
"You adapted to American culture."
"Yes. After a while, it mattered less. I preferred interacting with the adults outside the room."
"You were comfortable switching between the two cultures."
"No. I began to appreciate the insular life my family lived."
He glanced at his watch again. "Really?"
She did not get him to understand. Or did she? It appeared that he liked her enough to splice her in for a few seconds. Should she stop and preserve the small gains she made? Or push on with her agenda.
Rachel glanced around and stared in disbelief. Adam was on the ground quietly listening to their conversation. How long was he sitting there? She used to like Adam, but then he joined the army, and he started paying more attention to Fatima than her. He was acting weird, which was expected, but why was he there alone? Where was Xavier? Or Fatima?
"I cherished my family's complete avoidance of the inane American 24-hour news cycle. Home was the only escape I had from the constant media frenzy and corporate-influenced spin dominating American culture, much of it negative against Muslims."
"You can't blame the media for reporting the facts."
He sounded defensive. She had to be careful not to ruin everything.
Rachel frowned and asked, "What facts?"
"While most Muslims are not Islamists and most Islamists are not terrorists, all Islamist terrorists are Muslims."
He was clever, but her grandfather learned her well. She knew how to answer this one.
"I'm sorry, but that's a circular argument. It's like saying all males are men. The implication you make, and the impression you leave, is that all terrorists are Muslims."
"Since 9/11, more than one group a month has been arrested."
Rachel's lips quivered and she struggled to maintain self-control. She dared not say, 'Most were framed by the media.' Then, she would never make it off the cutting floor. She tightened her jaws and said, "That number indicates a target for unwarranted arrests, and is not a valid indication of the problem."
"Prove it." John appeared angry.
"I can't prove anything and I'm too busy to follow up on each case, but I hope someone, somewhere is documenting these convictions to show how many innocent people are being framed."
"Making accusations you can't prove does not sound like a valedictorian to me." John appeared angry.
"Why do Americans consider every Muslim to be a terrorist?" Rachel shook her head and swallowed. "Alright, you win for now."
"Now you have to do the interview."
"What would you like to know?"
John beamed. "I still don't understand why you became active on this campus."
He went back to his personal success story. Soon he would start that darn patronizing and give her fake pity. She had to keep trying though. At least he was more interested now.
She took a deep breath, and held it for a few seconds.
Understanding was the only way to save America, the country she loved.
Rachel exhaled and smiled. "I always wanted to do something about the problems of identity and culture I faced. During the first week of high school, I learned the Arab American club was non-functioning and decided to take up the challenge of turning it into a vibrant student organization."
John moved closer to her. "What were the challenges you faced?"
She made a face and said, "Too many to count. But since the club was already dead when I found it, I had no fear of failure. I did things my own way by going out on a limb and taking risks that eventually paid off in a huge way."
"Can you give me an example?"
Before she answered, she signaled to some friends and pointed to Adam, who appeared to be nodding off in the hot sun.
Chapter 14: Fight
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1000 hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1000 hours.
It was a scorching mid-day sun in Iraq. An American armored personnel carrier slowly made its way down a main road scanning for improvised explosive devices. A small red taxi trailed in the rear.
Suddenly, it came up fast at the back of the APC, and tried to pass on the right. Taken completely by surprise, the gunner riding on top opened fire with the machine gun and kept firing until the red car came to a complete standstill behind them.
The APC pulled over. The gunner stayed up on the APC and provided cover and heavy fire for his team while six soldiers dismounted and commenced to fire at close range into the vehicle. After ten seconds, they stopped and checked inside. A couple of pilgrims, along with a driver, were dead. On the floor was a tattered briefcase containing US passports, plane tickets, and twenty thousand US dollars in cash. They grabbed the money as the car bust into flames and exploded in a huge fireball. The Americans scurried away and failed to report the incident.
Each time he fell asleep, the same pattern of dreams occurred as his subconscious wrestled with conflicting thoughts of duty and morality. Even though military teams often failed to report the attacks and expected them to go unnoticed, Adam always felt guilty. And scared. He could never be one hundred percent sure of immunity. If someone really wanted to find out what happened, she or he could easily do so. For example, ammunition rounds had to be accounted for, or some grunt at base might notice the spent rounds and say something. Moreover, there was always a risk of rookies squealing. Should he?
Suddenly, Adam awoke to sharp pains in his right foot, as if someone kicked him.
Adam opened his eyes and felt grass. "What the heck?"
His eyes slowly adjusted to the bright sunlight. Was he under interrogation? Where was he? Alone, in a large crowd. Where was backup? Christ, he had to get moving. Adam scrambled to his feet and caught his bearings. He was still at the graduation. How much time has passed? He glanced at his watch. Five minutes. He looked up at five Arab American males surrounding him in a semi-circle.
The burly leader in the center announced, "I'm Khalid." He pointed to the sides to acknowledge the other men. "We saw you mistreating Rachel."
Tired and upset from the nightmare, Adam was in no mood to be harassed. Khalid must have been the guy who kicked him and Adam wanted revenge. He stretched his spine upright to square off against a man a few inches taller and at least twenty pounds heavier.
"Back off sport, I'm her brother." Adam waved the group off. "She has some explaining to do and it's none of your business."
"You're not going to be a nuisance to Rachel any more today," Khalid said.
Adam scoffed. "Who's going to prevent me from talking to my own sister?"
Khalid pushed him in the chest. "Me. I'm going to stop you."
Bored with the silly game of chicken, Adam extended a hand forward. "Alright, tough guy, let's get this over quick, shall we?"
"Follow me." Khalid took off to the right and Adam trailed.
Maybe he should he stop and try to de-escalate the situation? That would make him appear weak, but who cared? He was dog-tired and had no idea what he was getting himself into. He needed to talk to Rachel not fight some guy and waste more time.
Khalid taunted, "What's the matter, chicken?"
The group laughed and taunted him. Hurt by their hazing, and angry because they were interfering with his personal business, Adam was ready to let off some steam. Bring `em on. He would talk to Rachel afterward.
He followed Khalid to the edge of the campus and across the road to an isolated soccer field. Several of Khalid's friends trailed not far behind talking on cell phones, no doubt inviting others to view the fight. Khalid stopped at the rim of the soccer field in front of a spectator stand with three rows. His four friends and a rapidly expanding group of onlookers took seats to watch them brawl.
Fatima happened to see the exchange between Adam and Khalid, and followed them to the field. The two men removed their shirts and took up positions ten feet apart in the morning sun. She tried to enter the ring formed around them and grab Adam's arm, but the others refuse to let her in.
"Don't fight Adam," Fatima yelled, "He's a top karate champion."
She pleaded with Adam to stop, but he could not hear her above screams for his blood. He was too focused on the fight to see her, and then it was already too late. Khalid started his attack.
Khalid punched rapidly with both hands and Adam evaded by back-pedaling. Khalid garnered crowd support with each harmless jab and they continue this dance for a minute. Whipped into frenzy by Khalid's unrelenting attack, the bystanders cheered when their hero performed a difficult move with lighting speed. Khalid spun and made a swift, left roundhouse kick to Adam's head, immediately followed by a powerful, low sweep with his right leg aimed at knocking Adam off his feet.
Taken aback by the high kick, Adam hurriedly bent his upper body backward to avoid a hard shin. The low sweep, however, caught him completely off guard and Adam struck the ground hard on his back.
The crowd roared its approval as Adam rolled to his right and narrowly avoided Khalid's stomping feet.
With his face buried in the grass, Adam's allergy started up and he struggled to prevent sneezing. He rolled a few more times, bounced to his feet, and faced his opponent in a defensive stance.
"That's a nice move." Adam said. "Will we be seeing more of that?"
"Maybe." Khalid made a couple of fast front kicks to Adam's chest, a swift sidekick to his head, and a slightly tired roundhouse at his mid-section.
Adam evaded the blows and saw the sluggish roundhouse coming. It was the moment to act. He caught his opponent's right foot in mid-air and swung it around using Khalid's own forward momentum.
Khalid flew fifteen feet into the air, slammed into the crowd, and fell hard to the ground. Three bystanders struck by the collision jumped into the ring to fight Adam.
"Stop right there." Khalid lay crumpled on the ground and got up slowly to face his rival. "He's mine, so back off."
The three men stepped out of the ring.
Khalid's face contorted in anger. "I'm really going to hurt you now." He inhaled deeply and moved in with a fast left combination kick to the mid-section. Adam remained in a defensive posture and blocked the attack. Khalid made a powerful jab with his right hand to Adam's chest.
Adam stepped to his left, grabbed Khalid's arm, hauled him forward, and kicked backward and up with his right heel hard into Khalid's face. The Arab's eyes glazed over, and he rocked unsteadily, arms lowered to the side. The sky turned red and Adam was back on patrol.
The warrior seized the moment and barreled into his enemy's limp frame. The insurgent flew into the crowd and injured some bystanders. The warrior rushed in, hauled the man's heavy body over his right shoulder, and flipped him backward into the air. The enemy fell awkwardly on his head and did not move.
The warrior stared coldly at his injured opponent, then stooped down on his knees. He was going to jump high in the air and finish the man off with a stomp to the neck. He paused for a split second, transfixed at a familiar pair of eyes that bore into his. A hint of recognition flashed across his mind. It was Fatima. She screamed at him but he heard nothing as he prepared for the final strike.
Unexpectedly, someone behind struck him hard with a bottle. The glass broke against his skull and knocked him to the ground. Fatima ran toward him but the angry horde swarmed above and prevented her. The warrior turned on his back and used his legs to deflect their blows, and then counter-attacked.
He connected with a swift kick to a man's groin, then took a couple of blows to his upper body, before he kicked a man's shin with his right foot. He injured his toe again. In pain, he turned into a ball, rolled away from his attackers, stood up, and then started to run.
He got about twenty feet before the crowd knocked him down and stomped on him. He took down a few men and crawled among a pile of bodies. After a minute, he managed to roll away for a second time. He leaped up and sprinted toward the perimeter fence, followed by a line of twenty young men.
Hurt and unable to climb the fence fast enough, one man seized his left leg while three others grabbed him and pulled them both down. He fell to the ground, fought himself free, and jumped up to face a chorus line of legs with his back against the fence. Trapped, he reacted like a wild animal and expended his energy.
Fatima screamed when she saw the men attack Adam. She rushed to intervene and restrained a few. After an eternity, she was able to pull two men aside and get to her injured friend on the ground. She hopped on top of Adam and protected him with her body, receiving several blows as a result.
"Stop or you'll kill him." Fatima screamed.
Her attackers recognized her and stopped right away.
Adam laid facedown on the ground, motionless, his naked torso baking in the hot sun. Some of the men begun to kick him, and Fatima called out their names.
"Aftab, stop, Imtiaz, no, Fize, Sammy, stop it now." The men obeyed Fatima's request and began to move away. She continued calling out the names of anyone who stuck a blow until most of them left, taking Khalid with them.
"We needed to give him a good lesson," one of them yelled.
"He is unconscious and bleeding." Fatima pointed to Adam. "You've done enough." Fatima stood up and looked at the four men who remained. "He needs medical attention. I will take care of it. If you leave now I promise none of you will get into trouble. Tell Rachel everything is alright."
A last holdout said, "He might be dangerous. You should leave with us."
"That won't be necessary," Fatima said. "I'll call 911. Please leave before the police get here."
After the last man left, Fatima sat next to the abused figure on the ground.
"Adam, this is Fatima, are you okay?"
Adam lay motionless on the dry grass and did not reply.
"Adam, can you hear me? This is Fatima."
His eyes stayed shut and he appeared lifeless. Fatima placed her ears against his moist chest and heard low, labored breathing.
"Adam, please I can't take this. Please wake up.
Terrified, she scanned the empty field for assistance.
Did anyone see what happened to Adam? Why did someone not come to his assistance?
Fatima wrung her hands and cried out, "What have they done to him? Please Allah, help him."
Chapter 15: Detector III
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1015 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1015 Hours.
The small office felt like a storage closet. In fact, that is exactly what it was, but most of the files were scanned into computers and keeping them was pointless. Joe dumped the empty cabinets, installed shelves for the communications gear, dragged in a spare desk, installed a lock, and posted a private sign on the door.
The small desk sagged from the weight of two large computer monitors, a phone, LCD television, scanner, copier, printer, stacks of books and papers, and cups of coffee. It appeared as if one more paper clip would cause it to collapse completely. He could do little about it. There was barely enough space in the room for him to slide around the desk and scrunch into one of two folding chairs.
Joe slammed his knees under the desk again. "Ouch. Hey Roger, come here and take a look at this."
Roger continued to stare at his own computer screen. "What have you got there?"
The two sat on opposite sides of the desk in the windowless room. They were both members of "the Family," a powerful 60-year-old, conservative, Christian group dedicated to ending the traditional American separation between religion and politics. They met at a Prayer Breakfast organized by Frank in Detroit to introduce Joe to local members, and the two hit it off immediately.
Joe was excited, and wished he could smoke a cigarette. "Come and see for yourself."
Roger stumbled around and looked at the contents of Joe's screen. "It's older and the quality is bad."
"That could work to our advantage."
Roger stood upright and edged back to his side. "Yes, I know, but we need a bigger hook. One minute, I'm checking something."
"What is it?"
"You'll like it, don't worry. Praise the Lord."
Joe slapped his hands together and gave his collaborator a thumb-up. "Thanks a million Rod. I have a lot riding on this, as you know."
"No worries buddy. Leave it to me. It's why you called me in, right? What's the number on that form?"
Joe read him the number. He was lucky Roger was there. The man knew what needed to be done and did it. Joe liked that about him. The younger man ceded his life to the authority of the group, and was a firm believer in their goal to create a government built by God, and in honor of Jesus. Joe admired his colleague's faith, and on the surface, he agreed with their principles of biblical capitalism and using the military to wage spiritual war.
However, Joe had his own demons and sometimes doubted the Holy Spirit. The most important thing for him was not the afterlife, but the here and now. He was driven by money and power. He could use a guy like Roger in his group. The guy was smart. But then again, maybe too smart. Joe could do without the competition.
Things were fine just the way they were inside his Detroit nest. Joe talked. Everyone listened or paid lip service. Useless idiots, the whole bunch, each and every last one. Joe made it this way, of course, with his policy of nepotism and taking on sycophants, so there was no sense in bemoaning how bad they were. He tapped away on the computer, searching for a foreign currency to short the dollar. He was obsessed with the stock market and had to recover some of his losses for the week.
Roger was excited. "It's a miracle, I swear. The Lord works in mysterious ways."
Joe became curious. "What have you got?"
"It's Memorex baby. Praise the Lord. I've sent a copy to you. Tell me what you think."
Joe made a few clicks and beamed. "Oh my god, are you for real? Christ, what a brilliant idea. Can you make it work?
"Piece of cake. Amen."
"I'd kiss you but you're a guy. Send a copy to Frank immediately. Finally he has something good to feed his monster."
After a moment Roger announced, "Done. Hey, why don't we get coffee?"
"Wow, super job, Rod. Sorry, I have to pass. I have to set up the next outing. We need to catch a lot more fish, my friend."
"I'd love to stick around and go fishing with you guys. I really miss that can't you tell? I haven't been on an expedition in a while."
Joe laughed. "Fun times. You're welcome to ride shotgun, but it's going to be crowded with locals."
"I love getting my toes wet, man, you know me. Hallelujah."
"We'll probably leave around eight or so."
Roger nodded. "How'd you select the spot, sir?"
"We caught some there before, plus we've had someone working the area for a while."
"On the roll?"
"To the tune of two thousand a month."
"Yup." Joe shrugged. "He's really excited. He's been working overtime to lure them in."
"What’s the plan?"
"We'll hit them fast and hard and sort the bodies out later."
Roger smiled. "Praise the Lord. Dude, I can't wait."
Chapter 16: Wounded
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1015 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1015 Hours.
Fatima had a terrible headache. The afternoon sun felt like a hair dryer, and her arms throbbed from the blows she received. In tears, she frantically scanned the wide campus across the street, searching for help.
How critical was Adam's condition? There was not much blood, but he could be bleeding in areas she could not see. Was there damage to his internal organs or bones? Did he suffer from a concussion or was he momentarily unconscious? Why was he not responding? Was it a spinal or neck injury? Then only trained medical personnel could move him otherwise she ran the risk of causing him permanent paralysis or other injuries.
Adam struggled to breath and it sounded like he was choking.
When an unconscious person is laying face upwards, there are two main risk factors that could lead to suffocation. First, the tongue could fall to the back of the throat, due to loss of muscular control, and obstruct the airway. Second, fluids, possibly blood and vomit, could collect in the back of the throat, then flow down into the lungs, causing the person to drown.
Fatima struggled to get Adam into a recovery position, but every time she got Adam seated, he slid right back down. She had to get him to breath better. Many fatalities occurred because the unconscious person suffocated, not because of the original injury. She exhausted herself pulling him up again. It was hard but she had to keep trying.
She had known Adam as a teenager and always had a huge crush on him. Why did she allow them to hurt him that much? It was all her fault. She could have done more to save him. She could even have done something to prevent the fight, like jump into the ring and stop them before they got started. Why didn't she do more?
She shaded her eyes and kept looking. A line of cars exited the student's parking lot on the left and several graduates emerged outside. The ceremony was over, but she did not see anyone she knew.
Maybe she should run up to any car and plead for help, but who could she trust not to harm him further?
She could not contact security since she promised not to report Khalid's friends. And if she used her cell phone to call an ambulance, her number might be traced. She knew there was a pay phone near the crowded entrance. She would call 911 from there.
Why did Khalid pick on him? Was it because Khalid was Iraqi American and knew Adam served in Iraq? That was not fair. No one knew what Adam did over there and therefore Khalid had no basis to judge him. Then, they kept saying something about Rachel. What did Adam do to Rachel that made them so angry? She did not understand the sequence of events so it was confusing.
However, she would have to find that out later. Right now, she had to focus on the present. She had to get him help immediately. Fatima made another check on his breathing.
"Adam, where are you hurt? Come on say something." With a lot of effort, she pulled him forward and looked at his back for injuries but found nothing.
She listened to his chest. "You're breathing is normal."
Fatima raised her arms in the air. "Thank you Allah." She shook his face gently. "Adam, It's Fatima. Can you hear me? Are you alright?"
He did not respond.
"Hang in there. I'll go call emergency and return shortly, okay?"
Adam choked and Fatima immediately dropped to his side and quickly gave him CPR. He did not improve. She straddled his legs, compressed his chest harder, and continued CPR for a minute.
Then she noticed Adam was becoming aroused. His eyes were closed but he had a slight grin on his face. Fatima got off his legs immediately.
If he could was excited that meant he was fine, Praise Allah. But how sneaky, playing possum when he was not injured. He had her fooled, but she would show him a trick of her own.
Fatima held Adam's lower jaw open, and said, "It looks like you need more CPR." She grabbed a handful of grass and sprinkled a few blades on his tongue.
Adam slammed upright and spewed. "What are you doing to me?"
"I thought you were hurt." Fatima stood up. "If you try that again I'll call the posse back."
"No problem. I was just waiting to make my move."
"Yea right." He was a good sport. She expected him to be angry and resentful, but he had a sense of humor about the fight. He had always been playful. Perhaps too playful.
Fatima punched him in the arm. "That's for taking advantage of a good Samaritan." She threw his tee shirt and wristwatch at him, pouted, and feigned anger.
Adam grabbed his shoulders. "Ouch, that's a sore spot." He smiled and offered a hug, "Thanks for saving me. I should not be fighting. I have no idea what came over me."
Fatima helped him up. "Well, I'm glad you're okay. I was worried about you. How do you feel?"
"Sore all over." Adam held her hand. "I'm so glad to see you. I was worried that you wouldn't make it here. Where were you?"
"I have a huge headache from that bottle. Remind me to drink light beer next time."
"Islam forbids alcohol so it must have been a soda bottle. Here, let me see your head."
Adam bent over and Fatima said in a slightly clinical voice, "One-inch gash, left of temple, bleeding slightly. You're lucky it's not worse."
"Mom tells me I have a hard head. You know, I really miss her today. I wish she came here with me. I've got to call and tell her all about the graduation."
Fatima shook her head. "You were brave to take on Khalid and his friends. Khalid is the toughest guy in the area, and you easily beat him. But one against twenty doesn't stand a chance."
"Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better."
She wiped bloodstains from his forehead and neck. "You were rolling around in the dirt. We should disinfect the wound and put a bandage on it."
"It's not a big deal. Don't worry about it."
"It'll take only a minute to treat it. There are first aid kits in each classroom, but they are locked today." Fatima pointed to the end of a row of bungalows. "That one is open, the Arab club room, but it is risky going there."
"What's the deal?"
Some of Khalid's friends may be hanging out there, and we don't want any more fighting, right?"
"The fight is over as far as I'm concerned. But if something comes up, I'll take care of myself."
"No doubt you can." Fatima thought for a moment. "On the other hand, I know everyone in the room. We'll be in and out in five minutes." She tapped Adam on the shoulder. "Let’s go and get you cleaned up."
They darted through the traffic and crossed the wide street over to the campus.
Fatima opened the door of Room 34B. "Welcome to the Arab American Club."
They entered a cool, air-conditioned room covered with flags and large posters of the Middle East. There were about twenty people inside talking and working on computers in the front. Two of Khalid's friends stood chatting against the left wall.
"Hi guys. This is Rachel's brother, Adam," Fatima announced.
"I guess by now you heard about the fight."
The room remained quiet.
"Well, Adam is hurt and I have to bandage his wound."
"Hello," some students chorused, and a few rushed to help.
"Thank you, but I'm fine, really." Adam took a step backward.
Fatima held her hand out. "We don't need any help, thank you." She led the way to the rear office area, pausing to talk to Khalid's friends. "No more fighting, understand? If there is anymore trouble, I'm calling the police who are right at the entrance."
Khalid's friends made faces and spoke among themselves. One slipped out of the room, most probably to get others. She had to work fast to treat Adam's wound and leave before the whole gang returned.
Fatima grabbed Adam's arms and he broke out of his recollection as his eyes focused on the photograph of the intact mosque in the classroom. Fatima led him to the back of the room and opened a file cabinet. She stepped behind a blackboard that served as a room divider and beckoned Adam with her right index finger.
"Sit down." Fatima pointed to a chair next to the file cabinet. He sat hidden from the students' view in the front by the cabinet and blackboard. Fatima took a couple of paper towels and wiped off the remaining blood.
Adam closed his eyes and inhaled deeply to take in her perfume. He felt calm and relaxed, like a quiet walk on the lakeshore in the moonlight. She bent forward to wipe the back of his head and her chest rubbed slightly against his face. Hormones flooded his brain.
Fatima turned around to remove two alcohol pads from a first aid kit, and Adam admired her hips. She dropped an alcohol pad on the floor and bent over to pick it up. Adam strained to control himself before she stood up.
Fatima placed the pads on his wound and squeezed it firmly. "This will burn for a second."
Adam winced in pain as his romantic longings briefly evaporated. He pulled her close, his head firmly against her chest, and grabbed her for support. She placed a small bandage across the cut, fussed with his hair to hide the bandage, and announced, "Wound treated."
Unable to resist his desire any longer, Adam pulled her body down on top of his legs and hugged her. "Thank you for saving me out there."
Fatima returned his hug. "Now we are even. You saved me and I saved you."
She released him, stood up, stepped around the divider, and froze.
"Oh no," Fatima said.
"Khalid's gang is here."
Chapter 17: Pizza
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1100 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1100 Hours.
Three angry-looking young men gathered inside the open doorway of the Arab American Club. A few more stood outside, forming a gauntlet with the injured Khalid sitting in a wheelchair at its end. Adam pushed Fatima aside and rushed to the door.
Fatima screamed, "Adam, Stop," but he kept moving ahead. Students in the clubroom started to congregate at the entrance. Fatima was determined to prevent further violence. She ran in front of Adam and threw her body against him. "Let me handle this."
She stared at a man by the door. "Karim, how is your brother?"
"As you can see, he'll live," Karim replied. "I'm not so sure about your friend though."
Fatima stepped into Karim's path. "Please let us speak to Khalid." She pointed to Adam. "He has an apology to make."
Karim stared at Adam. "You can leave but not him."
"What are you waiting on?" Adam pushed against Fatima to get through. "You're the one who hit me with the bottle. You'll regret doing that--."
Fatima interrupted him. "If there's anymore trouble, the police will get involved, I swear. I'm sure no one wants that." She struggled to restrain Adam. If she did not do something quick, it was going to be too late. She addressed the students in the room. "Please help us. We have to leave but they wouldn't let us go."
The club members quickly gathered around Fatima and Adam, and they comfortably out numbered Khalid's gang.
Fatima moved to the front and faced the men outside. "Anyone who touches Rachel's brother will have to personally answer to me, understand? Please let us talk to Khalid peacefully."
The members of the club formed a wall of protection against Khalid's gang. Fatima pulled Adam along as they headed out the door.
The group paused in front of the wheelchair. Khalid's head and wrists were bandaged and he had a huge bruise above one eye.
Fatima pleaded with Adam. "Please say you're sorry."
Adam stared at the injured figure. "What for? He started it first and got beaten fair and square."
Khalid smirked. "I'll get you bitch. You can run but you can't hide."
After being escorted to a side gate, Adam and Fatima stepped onto the sidewalk of the school campus and ran across the street. The gang launched several bottles at them.
They raced five blocks toward Adam's car with parts of the gang in hot pursuit. The rest of the men headed off in the direction of the parking lot, probably to get their cars and continue the chase on wheels.
Fatima ran as fast as she could to stayed close to Adam who led the way, until she became very tired.
"Where's your car?" Fatima shouted out of breath. "I can't go any further."
Adam turned left. "Just around the corner. Come on, we're almost there."
A missile landed near her feet and shattered. She found some reserve and sped up.
They reached the car and Adam clicked the doors open and jumped in the driver's seat. He turned the ignition on, revved the engine, and hesitated.
"Which way do I go?" Adam asked.
Fatima pointed straight ahead. "Just go."
Adam pulled out and swerved the car to the right to avoid an attacker, then made a hard left turn. The Mustang spun out of control and Fatima banged her head against the side window. He slammed on the brakes as a bottle shattered on the hood and instantly went into a flashback.
Two members from his company were on an Iraqi roadside. They were trying to remove an injured soldier from a Humvee. He smelled the burnt flesh of his fellow soldier who clawed on the driver's-side window of the vehicle, trapped by flames after a bomb set it afire. He made a great effort to save the man but the raging flames prevented him from opening the jammed door. All Adam could do was stand on the road and listen to the screams. His vision blurred, turned deep red, and he begun to black out.
In the darkness, Adam heard an unseen voice.
Fatima screamed, "Watch out, we're going to crash."
Adam snapped out of the flashback and slammed his foot off the brakes. The automobile slid toward a light pole, then steadied. He swerved right to return to the lane and they pulled away from Khalid's gang quickly.
Adam made the first left, then the second right. No one trailed behind. He felt sick and drove quietly for a minute, reminding himself he was home on leave.
He had witnessed many horrible incidents in the war, but none worst than watching friends die. It was just a flashback, he reminded himself, an incident that occurred two years ago. Each American killed affected him deeply and he vowed every day to make their sacrifice worthwhile.
Nonetheless, he had to let go and move on. He would be back there soon enough, and he needed to appreciate being away more.
Adam touched Fatima's arm softly. "How is your head?"
"It's got a bump but I don't think there's any blood. Now we are the same."
Adam rubbed his stomach. "I didn't eat breakfast. I would love to have some home style potatoes and pancakes."
"My favorite breakfast place is a few blocks away." Fatima pointed her thumb to the right. "I know the Lebanese guy who runs it. He'll make whatever you like."
"Then why don't we stop right here and walk. That'll be a relief."
Adam parked the car and they walked two blocks to the front entrance of an Italian and Middle Eastern restaurant, keeping an eye out for the gang. The green and white building had huge columns along the facade and a high arched entryway overgrown with bougainvillea. Fatima asked the host to seat them at an inside table, far from the sidewalk.
A basket with small loaves of bread arrived and Fatima ordered pizza and strong Turkish coffee. Adam felt relaxed for the first time since he left the house. They devoured the bread and soon afterward, their pie arrived.
Fatima took a slice and bit hungrily into it.
She was so beautiful. She showed no sign of being resentful that he had abandoned her earlier. Going to Dearborn was good for him.
"I haven't had a date like this in a long time," Adam said.
Fatima blushed. "Who was your last girlfriend?"
Adam was quiet for a moment. "There was someone for a little while, but it was never convenient and we rarely saw each other."
"Really? Where's she from? How long were you dating?"
"Maine. About five or six months."
Adam shrugged. "Her tour was up. She had a family to return to."
"I'm sorry." Fatima paused for a moment. "Were you hurt badly?"
Adam turned away. "Life of a soldier."
"It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it."
"There is nothing else to say." Adam thought for a second then reached for another slice. "The battlefield is no place to look for partner. I knew she was married. I should not have pursued her in the first place. I have a lot of guilt over it."
"Why did you do it? Were you that desperate?"
Adam nodded and they both started laughing. He stopped and stared at Fatima. "It's funny, but when I first heard your name, I thought of Our Lady of Fatima."
"I'm no saint, believe me."
"You are to me. Thank you for everything."
Fatima smiled. "Now you realize why I couldn't miss Rachel's graduation, right? That school is her life and she practically runs the place."
"Including the goons?"
Fatima was quiet. Why were Khalid and his gang so tenacious? What kind of nest did he stumble upon? There were many questions and loose ends. He had to find the underlying cause of it all.
"What happened at the house when we left?"
Fatima's face sunk. "I told you, probably an immigration raid. We'll find out for sure when we get back." He knew there was something going on back at the house with the immigration raid. She was not being honest with him. Nevertheless, he was not going to press her on it. He would find out for himself soon enough.
"Alright, let's finish eating and we'll head over there." Adam ate hungrily for a minute and noticed Fatima's mood appeared to improve.
"Do you think people from different cultures can love each other?" Fatima asked.
"It depends on the individuals, on how much they care for each other."
"So you don't think culture is important."
"It’s more than culture. They each have to be happy. You have to do what drives you. Life must have purpose. Then culture doesn't matter as much."
"You're so dedicated. I like that about you." Fatima finished her slice and pushed her chair back. "I have to go to the girl's room." She got up and walked to the rear of the restaurant.
Adam grinned from ear to ear. He was eating banana pancakes, drinking coffee, and watching a recap of football games. What a sharp contrast to the hatred and ugliness he faced earlier, and it was all thanks to Fatima. Later, he would have to find a way to show his gratitude. He focused his attention on the game, which featured one of his favorite teams, the Buckeyes.
On the table, Fatima's cell phone vibrated repeatedly for ten minutes. Adam turned it around to face him and noticed a text message on the screen: "Tomorrow we change forever. Allah is our guide."
It there was something important going on tomorrow, why did Fatima not mention it? Adam was curious to read more but did want to invade Fatima's privacy. He pushed the phone across the table and ignored it until Fatima returned.
They left the restaurant. Adam was feeling healed and energized. He held Fatima's hand and ignored the roasting heat outside as they wandered along the shaded side of Main Street, window-shopping.
An electronic arcade loomed on the right, just before the corner. The youth inside him wanted to go in and play video games, but he avoided even looking at the store. Besides football, violent video games and paintball had been his passion, but now playing any video game could easily trigger a stressful episode.
Fatima paused outside the noisy arcade. "Khalid's friends are over there."
"On the other side, and they just spotted us."
A group of men darted across the street, dodging cars to rush at them.
Fatima scampered inside the arcade. "Let's hide in here."
"No way. I'm way too--."
"Come on before they kill you."
Adam hesitated to follow Fatima inside the dark, noisy interior.
Chapter 18: Alice IV
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1100 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1100 Hours.
The bomber drilled a perfect hole in the center of the cap and carefully brushed the threads. There was nothing on the cap. He cleaned it out of habit.
Once, bits of filings in the threads caused friction with the pipe when he screwed it on, and it almost set the whole thing off. Luckily, he smelt it and stopped just in time. He had to destroy the almost completed pipe because removing the cap would have been too dangerous. He cleaned them every time since then.
Was it sibling rivalry and jealousy? Was Al-Fredah mad at his father because the old man gave the business to Al-Fredah's elder brother instead of him? His brother was two years older, and only twenty-eight years old at the time. Al-Fredah was the most brilliant son by far, and his father's favorite. If anyone deserved the worthless business it was Al-Fredah, the genius in the family. His father's action must have been a shock.
Maybe Al-Fredah wanted his father to maintain control so he didn't have to live under the shadow of a detested brother. After all, his father was still in his fifties and would live another dozen years. Why did he give up the reins so early to such an inexperienced son? It did not make sense to the bomber.
Did the hatred start in being denied by his father the power and control Al-Fredah craved so much? Maybe his mother was the only one who supported him in the family at the time. This might explain why his nemesis drew closer to his mother and took care of her for the rest of her life.
The bomber paused for a moment and played with his long beard.
Did Al-Fredah have an Oedipus complex? He certainly exhibited strange behavior when he was young. Is this what made him desired to give up doing business altogether to become a writer? Such feelings may have caused him to remain a confirmed bachelor for life.
The bomber placed the hole over the wire and pushed the cap down the fuse until it rested on the pipe. He engaged the threads, nudged the cap, and paused. This was the area of most friction, where most people fall short. However, you only fail once. The end was the hardest part. It required skill and dedication.
The bomber worked for God, of course. Unlike the non-believer, his mission was not a business enterprise. The bomber and his cell were engaged in an ideological struggle. It was life or death for them. Their God was the only god. They had to win since being ruled by Satan was the alternative. The bomber hated Satan to an unusual extent and vowed to battle him to the end. It was a dangerous existence since Satan lurked everywhere. He brushed another thread.
Family grudges tend to last a lifetime and may have driven Al-Fredah to become a mastermind. The man had to prove his father and brother wrong, which he did until as irony would have it, his brothers stumbled into a more lucrative trade and made Al-Fredah more money from his small investment in their business than he would personally make on his own. Each dollar he received from them must have been a slap in the face to this genius.
If the bomber's conjecture was true, Al-Fredah hated his brothers more than he hated his father. However, his nemesis wrote about his father, not about his brothers. It did not make sense. It had to be more than sibling rivalry, which could make a person upset, but would not cause he or she to lose faith. What was it?
He nudged the cap and paused.
Chapter 19: Ice Cream
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1145 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1145 Hours.
Adam's eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. The Arcade was hot and muggy. It smelt moldy with traces of burnt electrical wires. Green Day's 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' blasted over the sound system, drowning out the games. Apart from the monitors and screens, streaming lights on the ceiling and floors provided the only illumination. Adam focused on the back of Fatima's head as she darted down a row of engrossed gamers to the right.
Five Arab men appeared outside. They briefly exchanged words and fanned into the dark interior. Two more loomed near the doorway. Which one should he take out first? Christ, he was doing it again. He had to stop.
Adam hastened after Fatima, surrounded by virtual explosions and gunfire on both sides. Images of absolute mayhem flooded his brain and he made a great effort to keep his fears at bay. A few weeks prior, bizarre, spine-chilling scenes were normal and he performed extreme acts of violence without a thought. But he was home now and had to suppress his warrior instinct.
A bright flash appeared out of the corner of his left eye. Where did it come from? Was the flash from an arcade screen or a real gun? Adam's head reeled and the room started to recede. The warrior's eyes darted feverishly. His body tensed into a spring ready to snap. He reached for a gun and found none.
Damn. He had to stay in control. There were mostly civilians present. If he lost it, he had no idea what he would do. Another flash appeared on the right. He darted forward and bumped into Fatima. She whispered in his ear, "There's one of them over there."
A man approached along the next aisle, and Adam pulled Fatima to the floor.
"They're blocking the exit." Adam said. "We need to find another way out of here."
Fatima crawled ahead, paused to check the corridor, and scampered across to the next aisle. Adam tagged along, passing rows of virtual explosions until Fatima stopped in front of a side exit.
Adam's head was aflame. He clawed at the sides of his face, pulled his eyelids apart, and tugged at his hair. The fire inside raged and threatened to engulf him.
"The alarm will sound if we--."
Adam stepped around Fatima, opened the door a crack, peeked into the blinding light, and took a deep breath. Two-story brick buildings lined a narrow street. He loved old brownstones. Their presence meant he was definitely at home.
The alarm did not go off. It was probably on a delay or disabled. But the Arabs might have seen the door open so they had to hurry.
He sneaked through the door to the sidewalk of a side road off Main Street. Two pedestrians strolled toward him on the left, and a woman pushed a stroller on the opposite side.
"Where are we parked?" Adam asked Fatima when she joined him.
She pointed to the left. "Back there."
"They're waiting that way. We'll have to circle around."
They went right and jogged to the corner. A white SUV turned from Main Street and approached fast from the direction they came.
"That looks like Karim's car," Fatima said and she ran to the right.
There were shops of both sides of the street and several pedestrians wandered in and out of stores. They raced up the block. She stopped in the middle of the block and darted to the entrance of 'Beirut Kosher Restaurant.'
"What are you doing?" Adam asked.
"Come on, they'll never think of looking for us in here."
Adam paused by the entryway and saw the SUV round the corner. He ducked inside and watched it slowly pass by, then joined Fatima at a small table in the crowded restaurant. There were many people having lunch.
Adam sat and nodded toward the door. "I hope we've lost them."
Maybe it was extreme to go after Khalid when he was already down. Adam was sorry, especially for all the trouble that resulted. He understood why some of the Arab men felt insulted. So why did he refuse to apologize? Why was he acting defensively? Was he trying to take out his frustrations with Arabs on Khalid?
Fatima reached across the table and held his hands. "We're safe as long as we stay here."
"I should call the police."
"Just relax. After a while, they'll give up and search someplace else. What would you like to have?"
"Sorry, I can't take another bite."
"You'll have to order something or we wouldn't be able to stay. Let's order dessert."
"It's too early in the day to eat sweets."
"You've got a lot to learn about how to please a woman."
"Yes, and I suggest you start right now. I'll get us some ice cream." Fatima walked over to the counter to order.
The restaurant had the colors of the Israeli flag, blue and white, and there were three flat screen televisions, in the center, right and left of the entrance. A Hebrew channel occupied the center. The one on the right had Oprah, and on the left, CNN. The Hebrew channel displayed graphic images of violence in Palestine and Adam repositioned to face the American news channel close to him.
CNN was doing a follow-up story to a terrorist attack that occurred in the U.S. on March 3rd 2006, when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, a 22 year old, Iranian-born graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drove a rented sports utility vehicle into a crowded part of the campus, and injured nine people. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. After the incident, Taheri-azar drove to a nearby street, called 911 to confess, and gave himself up when police arrived.
The CNN reporter spoke to a female survivor. "We're talking to Cindy. Where did the SUV hit you?"
"In the back. I fell to the ground and got a few bruises."
"How does it feel to be attacked by a terrorist?"
Cindy shook her head. "He was just an angry guy. Many people do stupid things around here."
"Aren't you at least a bit upset? You're a victim--."
Cindy waved her arms in the air. "I'm mad at the guy, obviously, but I am not going to let him ruin my life. He did not cause me to become any more scared about terrorism or anything like that."
"Do you know why he did it?"
"He's crazy. He said the attack was to avenge the deaths of Muslims worldwide, and to punish the United States government."
"Doesn't that make him a terrorist?" the reporter asked.
"By ramming his car into pedestrians? That would turn many traffic accidents into acts of terrorism. Look, if the guy was serious, he could have done a lot worse like the other crazies at school. He is an American, and he acted alone."
"He had connections with other Muslims. He attended a mosque--."
"But he was not part of any foreign or local terrorist cell." Cindy swung her arms wildly. "Why's the media trying to make this into something it's not?"
"But we don't know that for sure," the reporter said.
"Hate can drive normal people to do crazy things, you know."
Adam shook his head. What was wrong with that woman? Was she in love with the guy or what? He may not have been a terrorist, but he certainly wasn't a nice guy. People who commit random acts like these are obviously in a lot of pain. What can society do to help these people before its too late? Is it racism and hazing that drives these guys insane, or is it coming off psychological medication?
The revisit to Chapel Hill was part of an International news program about terrorist incidents that occurred in the last six months. It was trailed by an Israeli reporter stationed at the reopening of the Rosh Ha'ir Shawarma restaurant, near the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. This was the site of a deadly attack on April 17th by a 21-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber, Sami Hammad, who killed eleven people and injured seventy. His mother said Sami dropped out of Al Quds University because they could no longer afford to support him.
Adam stared at the television. Playing the victim can be dangerous. The guy learned to be helpless and was angry when the handouts ended. He probably was not even religious. Most of them are not before joining the suicide brigades. Extremists prey on Samis all day, and pessimism drew him into their trap.
Hope is a precious thing. Regardless of how grim the situation, the guy should never have given up. He was far too young to lose hope. Environments are not static and there is always the possibility of change. The glass is half full, not half empty. Adam recalled the movie, 'The Secret' and its message about the power of positive intentions. The universe returns whatever he puts out in his thoughts.
Fatima returned with a tray filled with ice cream and water. She sat and re-arranged the table setting.
Adam eyes stayed glued to the television. "You know, this was not such a bad idea."
"I used to like coming here. They are nice people, and they make the best humus."
"They do? Too bad I'm full." He gazed at Fatima. "You're so beautiful."
Fatima blushed and savored a spoonful of her dessert. "What were you doing with Rachel?"
"It had to do with the police at the house." He started on his ice cream.
"What's the big deal?" Fatima nibbled at her dessert. "Raids are common in immigrant communities. If she talked to the police, they might get her into trouble. Why are you so concerned?"
"I wanted her to explain what's going on, and just for that she set her dogs on me. I am beginning to wonder about her."
Fatima laughed. "Why are you accusing your sister of setting you up? You don't know anything about her, do you?"
Adam folded his arms. "I am really impressed by her accomplishments, but she is young and naïve. Terrorists could be using her without her realizing it."
"She's very patriotic, and way too smart to be used for anything like that, trust me."
"And why not? There were rumors of terrorists showing up at the graduation today."
Fatima made a face. "Because Rachel believes in changing the system from the inside, and she is successful at it. You heard the Principal this morning raving about her, didn't you?"
Adam slammed his fists on the table causing a spill. "He said Rachel gave extremists a stage to spew hatred against America. How could she invite Hamas? They're terrorists." A small stream flowed onto the table and dripped to the floor.
Fatima grabbed some napkins and quickly mopped the spill. "Hamas was founded by the Israelis to undermine Arafat, but now they prefer the PLO. This is the nasty underbelly of colonialism."
Adam glanced around the restaurant worried his outburst might have attracted attention. No one paid him any notice.
"That doesn't excuse Rachel from promoting extremism."
"Rachel invites extremists to reveal themselves for the hypocrites they are. She is a moderate comfortable, with her faith and political beliefs. She tells the radicals, 'My father and great-grandfathers had been Muslim for 1,400 years, so you can't tell me how to practice Islam.'"
"They're Shia, right?"
Fatima nodded. "This usually shuts them up. You really ought to give your sister more credit, Adam."
"Why? She's still giving them a platform."
Fatima licked the last of her ice cream and smacked her lips. "The Imams debate a youth panel who challenge them to make the religion relevant to the lives of American Muslims. Most extremists are ignorant of American culture, and therefore have nothing of substance to offer first and second generation Muslims. Its all about numbers."
"What numbers are you talking about?"
"Muslims are a small minority in this country, around five million--."
"This makes us vulnerable if there is any kind of terrorist backlash, right?"
"I don't think they have anything to fear, though."
"Why do you say that?"
Adam sighed. "They were dancing in the streets after nine-eleven. Americans are a tolerant people."
Fatima's face changed. She looked like she saw a ghost.
Chapter 20: Dancing
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1215 Hours.
Dearborn, MI June 25, 2006 1215 Hours.
The take-out line at the counter grew and a chatty group waited by the door for a table. The restaurant was packed with an average American lunch crowd of office workers and retirees. The clatter of steel utensils on china filled the air, and the room smelled of fresh baked bread.
Close to tears, Fatima made great effort to preserve her composure. She wanted to let Adam know how hurt she felt from his sharp verbal arrow, but she was already too emotional. She sniffled and remained quiet.
Why did most Americans use this event as a stick to beat up Arabs? Their moral high ground was a charade since America has been the biggest supporter of terrorism in the Middle East, from Israel and the Shah, to Saddam and Mubarak. Popular American evangelicals applaud Israel's daily bombings, apartheid, and forced starvation of millions as the will of God. The majority of Americans have never been on the side of justice for the poor Palestinians.
Adam appeared sad. "Besides the dancing, Palestinians fired guns in the air and rejoiced in the streets, and I've heard many Arabs celebrated privately in cafes and in their homes. How could they make merry of this American tragedy?"
Fatima remained quiet.
Adam was not finished. "Americans gave their lives to save the world from fascism, communism, and racism. We've brokered peace between Egypt and Israel, and were tolerant after they invaded our embassy and held Americans for over a year. We helped secure the peace in Lebanon until they blew up hundreds of GIs. We've stopped dictators like Khomeini, Saddam and Gaddafi, who threatened the whole region. We deserve better than that."
A few people at the side tables nodded their heads. Was she part of a theatrical lunch performance? Fatima sighed. She had to go through the rigmarole again. For the umpteenth time, she had to debate whether Arabs belonged to the fold of human society. The offensive nature of these questions, sweetly phrased with fake ignorance, made her sick to the stomach.
Queries like, 'Why are Arabs so different from others?' What did this imply? That Arabs were not like other humans? This meant they must be inhumane or savages, right? And how about, 'Why are Muslims so serious about their religion?' What did this one insinuate? Can someone ever be too serious about God? These questions were totally ridiculous.
Fatima despised having to account for anything larger than herself, much less an entire religion, ethnic group, tribe, sect, or geographic region. Hardly in control of her own mind, how could she possibly know what a billion other people thought and felt like? But if she refused to answer the impossible questions placed upon her, people concluded she shared the worst sentiments they accuse Muslims of possessing.
What should she do? Each time she was placed in the position to defend her Arabic identity, Fatima felt she had to justify her entire existence as a woman, friend, student, neighbor, whatever. She loathed being reduced to just one thing. She could not win over hypocrites, and when she failed, her life was proved worthless and evil. It was a lot of stress to put oneself through, and why bother when she was damned if she did, and damned if she did not?
She could not take it anymore. She wanted to escape from these inbred attitudes, to get up and run far, far away, but if she felt this way in Dearborn, there was no safe haven. Going back to the Middle East was also not an option. She came to America when she was six years old and spent her life here. She was like other Americans, perhaps more than she cared to admit. Although she was born there, going back would be difficult.
Adam stared as if expecting her to say something. If she cared about him, she had to try.
Fatima shrugged and said calmly. "Shamaatatul aadai, which is rejoicing at the calamities of ones’ enemies is explicitly prohibited in Islam. Close to one hundred percent of Muslims condemned the 9/11 attack and Arafat himself donated blood the next day to the victims."
Adam shook his head as if he was prepared to disagree with whatever she said. "That cuts to the bone. It was a horrendous act and--."
The waiter showed up suddenly looking annoyed, and asked Adam if he wanted anything else. He declined. Fatima interjected and ordered coffee for both.
Fatima knew Adam would never comprehend why they celebrated. Unless he was prepared to walk in their shoes, he could never empathize with the Palestinians. Even though he resided in the Middle East for years, Adam did not live like an Arab, and in fact, still had no idea who Arabs were, how they felt, or what motivated them.
Adam was returning to serve in Iraq for another two years, a place she loved. Maybe she could make a difference in him. It was important to keep trying.
Fatima sighed. "They were commemorating a strike against Israel, not the loss of innocent lives."
"Why didn't they hit Tel Aviv instead?"
"America is Israel's biggest collaborator. They never dreamed we would pay a price for that support. It was like a strike against Goliath, and after America got a taste of what they've had for decades, they hoped Americans would stop supporting their oppression."
A couple from the next table got up in the middle of their meal and left the restaurant noticeably upset. A few others gawked uncomfortably at Fatima.
Adam appeared oblivious to the reactions around them. "Why do Arabs despise Americans so much? We used to be strong allies against the communist not so long ago, remember? What caused us to start going down this hateful road? We didn't change, you did. Why?"
Fatima did not want to cause more of a fuss. She should never have engaged in this conversation in the first place. It was ironic that Americans started asking this question after 2001. Arabs have asked a similar question for a century to deaf ears, yet it seemed as if most Americans now expected Arab Americans to answer it daily.
"Who knows who did what?" Fatima said. "The twin towers were a symbol of technological accomplishment and progress for the entire world, not just America. Muslims everywhere shared our loss. We were all re-born on September 11."
Adam shook his head in grief. "It was a major tragedy, the largest attack on American soil ever."
"In addition to the cost in lives, it may also kill the Bill of Rights."
Adam sighed. "Don't be so melodramatic. Our sacred documents are still there. The Patriot Act only affects terrorists. If you're a law-abiding citizen, no changes were made to your freedoms."
"It caused a deep wound that no one wants to talk--."
"Wounds heal. People have to go on with their lives. They aren't that affected anymore."
"Psychological scars last much longer." She paused the continued. "The fear the collapsing towers evokes in each of us provides an excuse for world governments to the label any nonconformist a terrorist."
Adam stared at the television. "We're at war against Muslim extremists, not the world."
She was getting nowhere. Adam ignored what she said, kept cutting her off, and was now brandishing the familiar hyperbole. He was not listening to her and was only interested in proving his rightness. She was getting tired of playing this game.
The day so far with Adam had been so different. She had dreaded going through it and needed the distraction he offered, but now it seemed it was not going downhill last. She was beginning to feel nervous. The conversation was not doing them any good.
The day so far with Adam had been so different. She had dreaded going through it and needed the distraction he offered, but now it seemed it was not going downhill last. She was beginning to feel nervous. The conversation was not doing them any good.
She wanted to stop but she could not leave his statement hanging in the air. It was just too ludicrous. But she had to end the conversation soon. She wanted to preserve her feelings for him.
Fatima frowned. "A couple of crazies do not a war make."
"Easy to say when you are not on the receiving end of an IED."
"You can't be serious? You're the cause of the IED phenomenon."
She had to calm down and not take it too personal. His arrogance was typical of those spoon-fed media spin in the land of make believe.
Adam gave her a blank look. He didn't get it.
"Look, the first war slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, right? But the poor Iraqis never retaliated. Not a single American was harmed until we invaded their country again."
"I understand what you're saying, but we had faulty intelligence--."
Adam shifted position in his chair. "Everyone makes mistakes, and we're not perfect. Still American is the freest country in the world."
Fatima glared at her companion and struggled with her emotions. She loved her adopted country but could not fathom how most of her fellow citizens were so callous about the lives of other people in the world. Each mistake killed millions of Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Iraqis. If September 11 did not make Americans feel the pain others faced under America's heels, what would it take to wake them up? She shuddered at the thought.
Fatima shook her head and gave a wry smile. "Fear has become a foundation stone of American identity, much like Jewish culture. Many people define what it means to be American largely in terms of perceived threats to national security, whether it is communism, Muslim terrorists, or immigrants. They have become used to anxiety, and without an enemy to fight, they would be plunged into an identity crisis."
"That's not true. Americans are free to go about their business. A longer line at the airport is the only difference in people's lives."
"Before 9/11, a small paper or plastic bag forgotten on a train, bus, building, or street was simply a lost package. Now it's automatically considered a bomb and most Americans cower secretly in shame. They are willing to burn the Bill of Rights to feel secure again."
"I'm not worried. Americans value freedom above all else and will never give up democracy."
"Don't be so sure. Maslow's hierarchy of needs puts safety right behind food, water and sleep."
Adam shook his head. "Be careful not to get taken in by the 'blame-America-first' crowd. Jefferson's document was not carved in stone. In the age of fast changing technology, we may have to lose some individual privileges in order to protect all of our interests. The founding fathers could not have anticipated these far reaching changes when they wrote the original documents. That's why they included amendments."
"And you be careful not to be seduced by the 'my-government-right-or-wrong' crowd who don't understand that protecting the constitution and the rule of law is the highest interest of our national security."
Adam chuckled. "We're still a democracy last time I checked."
"But for how long? Humans naturally crave stability and are willing to sacrifice freedom, fairness and democracy to obtain it."
Adam nodded. "I agree with you that terrorism is not America's biggest problem. We have far greater challenges to deal with, and we need to come together in order to solve them."
"But the terrorism issue is divisive."
Fatima suddenly realized a waitress was standing over them. The woman did not look happy. "You have to leave now. Many customers are uncomfortable."
Adam stared at the woman in surprise. "We're not done yet, and we're having a private conversation. They should mind their own business."
"I don't want to rush you but it's our busy hour and we need the table."
Adam's face reddened. "We're paying customers and this is a free country."
"We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
Fatima had to intervene. Khalid's gang was outside and they needed the protection of the restaurant. She pleaded with the waitress. "I'm sorry. We'll be quiet, I promise. Right, Adam?" She grabbed Adam's hand for agreement.
Adam appeared to be seething but said nothing.
The waitress thought for a moment, then nodded. "Alright, but look, if there is another complaint, you have to leave." She moved to another table.
"Can you believe these people?" Adam asked. "Why are they discriminating against us? Is it because you're Muslim?"
"Please, Adam, take it easy. We need to spend ten or fifteen minutes in here."
Adam drank coffee and watched television for a minute.
Abruptly, he tightened his jaw and stabbed a finger at Fatima. "You guys support suicide bombers." His cup shook and he stopped to take a swill before it spilled.
Someone applauded and Fatima shushed him.
Adam whispered, "That's aiding the enemy."
Fatima hushed, "If your democratic rights are denied, resistance is justifiable."
"When you blow up a café like this one, packed with innocent civilians, that's terrorism."
"A single nail bomb in a backpack does not compare to an F-15 jet dropping hundreds of cluster bombs on entire villages for a weekend. Who are the terrorists when innocent kids are blown apart decades later by unexploded munitions?"
Adam's voice returned to its normal tone. "How can you justify using women and children as shields and bombs? That's not resistance, it's terrorism." There were a few applauses from the elderly group at the side of their table.
Fatima stared at Adam. "Because they don't have tanks and body armor, that's why. Arabs love their children no less. Using them as shields show their desperation and children like Muhammed al Dura want to protect their parents as well."
Some of the patrons hissed. It was insulting and Fatima felt miserable.
Adam frowned. "Why can't these terrorist protest peacefully?"
"Rachel Corrie tried to prevent them from demolishing the home of a local pharmacist. She was an American and they still ran over her with a bull dozer."
More hissed and a few jeered.
"If you resist, you have to follow the rules of war and the Geneva Convention. Jihadis and suicide bombers don't follow any rules. This makes them terrorists." There were loud cheers.
The waiter, accompanied by the manager, stood over their table.
The manager tugged at Fatima's seat. "Get out. You are no longer welcome here. Many customers--."
Adam interrupted the manager. "Free speech is a first amendment right buddy, not a privilege."
"Not to shout fire, or make threats it isn't," the manager barked. The angry crowd that surrounded them applauded and cheered.
Adam pushed his chair back. "We weren't even talking to any of you." He grabbed Fatima's hand. "I'll file a complaint. This is discrimination."
Fatima had mixed feelings. She wanted to hug and kiss Adam for standing up for her, but she was mad at him for getting them kicked out. She held her breath as they left the restaurant. There were many people on both sides of the street. Were Khalid's friends among them?