Friday, May 20, 2011

Born on 9/11 Chapters 41-50

Born on 9/11

a novel

Moses Seenarine
Version 5.05 5/11/09
62 Chapters - 305 pages

(chapters 41-50) 

Chapter 40: Impact
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1800 Hours.
Bukowski shaded her eyes to follow Adam as he walked to the restroom. Afternoon light streamed through huge windows behind him, blinding her for a moment. On television, the debate over civil liberties and national security raged on. Bukowski tuned it out. She felt so alone. She turned her police radio on and cringed. There was an All Points Bulletin for Adam's arrest.
Why was the DHS still trying to arrest the grunt? Damn. What should she do? She had to remain calm. And, she had to avoid a showdown at the station at all cost.
Bukowski stared at the restroom. Crossroads was a restaurant frequented by cops, but the APB did not mention a car. She relaxed a bit, but she had to be careful not to blow Adam's cover. And she had to get him out of Dearborn before the military showed up.
The Sergeant looked around. The restaurant had gained a few more customers since they came in, including a couple of state troopers at the counter. Darn. The troopers did not recognize Adam when he passed them on his way to the bathroom, so he was safe for now.
Bukowski walked to the front door and checked the parking lot. There was a Dearborn patrol car pulling in, but she couldn't make out which one. They had to remain inside.
The Sergeant smiled at the Michigan State troopers and sat down. Why was Hartman calling the military's bluff? She couldn't figure it out.
The grunt returned and sat opposite her. Bukowski said nothing for the moment. It was better to keep him uninformed.
Adam frowned. "What's wrong with Hartman?"
Bukowski decided to share her feelings about the department. "It's not him. Hartman's directives come from the top of DHS."
Adam seemed unconvinced but said nothing.
Bukowski scowled. "Sometimes I feel like he's trying to meet some kind of quota. Arrests tend to peak at mid-month, like now. I guess it gives them enough time to complete the necessary paperwork for monthly reports."
Adam stared at her with disbelief in his eyes. "You're kidding, right? Like the way you guys write traffic tickets?"
The Sergeant gave the grunt a wry smile. "But what they're doing affects all aspects of local life, from effective government to our economy. The hardest part to bear is our future security."
Adam shrugged. "But with re-organization under DHS, aren't we more secure now?"
"Scare mongering for political reasons could end up costing many lives."
Adam nodded. "When the national threat advisory for a terrorist attack is set at elevated risk, no one pays attention to it anymore."
"That's why guys like Hartman carry a lot of weight. Their arrests show that terrorism is taking place." 
"We have to prevent another 9/11."
The Sergeant was worried. Where were the cops using drive-thru, the parking lot, or headed inside? If they showed up, she needed to explain the grunt's presence.
Bukowski stared at the door. "Yes, but these trumped-up charges give the city a bad name. Dearborn lost most of its life by 1980, and would be dead were it not for the growing Arab American community."
"There's a lot of them here, that's for sure."
"It should grow a lot more. But with the terrorist alarm blaring on high, people are scared to come to Dearborn now." Bukowski waved her arms around at the mostly empty restaurant. "This affects tourism, which is a huge part of the local economy."
One of the state troopers stared in their direction. Was he interested in her or Adam?
"Where are the Arabs going?"
"To Canada and other countries more friendly to Muslims, taking skills and money with them. Even American-born Muslims are choosing to leave the country for good."
"These are Muslim fundamentalists though. We should be glad to see them leave."
"Some, but not all. Muslim professionals and investors abroad no longer look to America as their first destination. We lose out nationally as a result."
"The same thing happens in Iraq. The educated and rich leave for greener pastures."
Bukowski gave the trooper at the counter a broad smile. He nodded acknowledgment and turned away. Did he suspect something? And where were the Dearborn cops from outside? She wanted to check the door, but that might tip someone off.
The Sergeant leaned back in her chair. "This country is not in a civil war with Muslims. They shouldn't feel insecure and afraid to raise their families here."
"A few innocents like myself getting caught in a security net by mistake is acceptable. There're a lot of sympathizers out there supporting terrorist organizations."
Bukowski rolled her eyes. "Cultural misunderstanding. Adam you should know better. Muslims make annual donations if they can afford it. Their religion requires that they distribute two and a half percent of their net worth each year."
"Net worth, or annual income?"
"Net worth. So they have to donate to charity and religious organizations. But the government considers most Muslim organizations as supporters of terrorism."
"Aren't they? Muslims ought to look more closely how their money is being spent by these organizations."
"Actually only a few aid organizations actively support terrorism. The vast majority of charities are education and service oriented."
"But some support terrorists, right?"
The two Michigan state troopers finished their coffee, got up and left. Bukowski went to the door and checked the parking lot. The Dearborn police car was parked right up front, and it had two rookies from her precinct. Darn. They would recognize the grunt in his fatigues immediately. Maybe she could explain that she was trying to arrest him.
Bukowski returned to the table and smiled. "Really, how serious is the problem of Islamic terrorism in America?"
"No one knows."
"There are thousands of pipe bombings each year."
Adam appeared vindicated. "See, and that's probably only the tip..."
"White Americans in the middle states commit the vast majority of these acts of terrorism."
Adams eyes widened, and he became speechless. Bukowski enjoyed watching the grunt's reaction.
The Sergeant continued, "From 1980 to 2000, U.S. citizens carried out over 250 of the 335 incidents suspected as terrorist acts."
Adam recovered. "Really? But they're not even on the radar of our anti-terror efforts."
"Three thousand people died on 9/11. Plus, unknown numbers of illegal workers. So let us double that number and say 6,000 people."
"Illegals? I never thought of them before."
"No one ever thinks of the illegal workers in the two buildings. They were the backbone of the Twin Towers, yet they are invisible."
Bukowski stood up as a couple entered the diner. She thought they were the rookies and was relieved to see they weren't. She played it cool and sat down. She had to get the grunt out of the restaurant somehow. And she had to be careful not to alarm Adam.
For the moment, the Sergeant decided to continue their conversation. "We must not forget that many Muslims died in the twin towers as well. Muslim families suffer the same as other Americans."
"They must not be happy to see their fellow Muslims hounded as a result of their deaths."
Bukowski waved her hands wide. "From September 11, 2001, to now, over fourteen million Americans have died."
"Compared to how many who died as a result of terrorists?"
"Some of these people died agonizing deaths on emergency room floors because they did not have health insurance." Bukowski shifted his seat and continued, "A quarter-million were killed in car crashes alone. Around 200,000 shot to death. Several thousand died of acute alcohol poisoning."
"That many shootings in five years? That's about the same number of people killed in Iraq."
"It's not hard for someone to walk in to a mall and buy a gun."
"I had no idea we were as violent as Iraq."
"Many deaths are preventable at a reasonable cost for health care, car safety, gun control, and drug treatment. The half-trillion dollars spent fighting terrorism at home and abroad could have saved many lives. What benefits have we derived as a result?"
Adam smiled. "We haven't had any attacks since 2001."
Where were the two rookies hiding out? Were they already spotted and reported by the troopers?
Adam pounded the table. "The one thing that really bugs me is the lack of standardization of car bumpers. If they were all double-reinforced and at the same level, thousands of lives would be saved each year."
Bukowski paused for a moment. "You can feel good about being part of something like this. The community is deeply afraid."
"A few may have cause for concern."
"Just a few days after the September 11th attack, Federal agents arrested four dishwashers from this area. They were convicted on terrorism charges based on the testimony of one witness, a career con man. The convictions were eventually overturned and the men set free after the judge learned the prosecution had withheld evidence in the case."
"Why would he do that?"
"After the Siraj case, many feel they could be targeted for entrapment. No one feels safe anymore. Even if they know nothing about an accused, they can be charged with lying to officials, like Hekmat Dahabi of Dearborn."
"Who's Siraj?"
The Sergeant took another look around. She could not take the suspense any longer. She got up and checked the door. The patrol car was gone. The timing was perfect.
She placed five dollars on the table, and said. "Let's go."
The grunt followed her outside. No other cops or troopers were in the parking lot. She turned on her radio and told the grunt about the APB. He was surprised, but confident he could evade capture.
Bukowski advised caution. "No so fast. They have everyone on the roads looking for Wisconsin plates. You need to stay undercover for a couple of hours."
"I don't know anyone besides Rachel. I guess I could hang out in a bar, or check into a hotel."
The Sergeant shook her head. "You can't go to the house, and they'll have those areas covered."
Adam thought for a moment then smiled. "I met someone earlier today. Jasmine. She gave me a number. Let me see." He checked his pockets and pulled out a piece of paper.
Bukowski offered her phone. "Here, use this."
Adam walked off for a minute and returned. "She's at a mosque not far from here." The grunt gave her directions to a familiar mosque.
"Follow me, and then stay off the roads. You got it?"
"Yes, Sergeant."
Bukowski took the side streets and grunt tagged her closely. She reached the mosque without incident and stopped a half block away. The grunt parked the car walked over to the patrol car. He was grateful and she promised to get in touch with his base if he was re-captured. The grunt waved goodbye and headed off toward the mosque.
Suddenly, Adam stopped and asked, "Who's Siraj?"
Bukowski rolled her eyes. She got angry every time she thought of the case. "Shahawar Siraj is the young man arrested on August 28, 2004, along with James Elshafay, for planning to bomb the 34th Street–Herald Square subway station in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention."
Adam scratched his chin. "I remember hearing about that incident. What happened?"
"The defense alleged New York police engaged in entrapment by influencing Siraj to commit an act of terrorism. They attacked the credibility of the prosecution's lead witness, Osama Eldawoody."
"Because he was paid over $100,000 for his work as an informer." He received $25,000 during the year he talked with Siraj."
"Eldawoody got paid because he was on to something."
"The defense argued that it was the informant's salary that encouraged Eldawoody to put Siraj into such a predicament."
"Well, a few thousands bucks is alright, but paying informants that kind of money for doing their patriotic duty is ridiculous."
"The defense also questioned the validity of the surveillance tapes, which was a major issue for jurors. The tapes might have been selectively edited to leave out statements of encouragement and 'entrapment' by Eldawoody."
"What happened to the case?"
Bukowski raised four raised fingers. "Guilty on all counts." 
"Siraj's friend, Elshafay, who was schizophrenic, pled guilty to all charges and testified against Siraj. The court dropped all charges against Elshafay, and he walked out a free man."
"If three people were planning a terrorist attack, why do we lock one up and release the other two?"
They paused and watched people streaming into the mosque. The Sergeant probably knew most of them. They were good people.

Bukowski huffed. "The community feels Siraj's case sets a precedent. It gave the police complete license to instigate and eavesdrop on unfairly targeted people, especially Arab-Americans."
"Like Hartman."
"Coupled with lucrative opportunities for informants, I fear for them. I have no idea why we let our fears of nine-eleven change us into this kind of rash and hateful society?"
Bukowski turned her car on to leave. "Good luck."
Adam held his arm out. "Wait, what about Xavier? That man is more innocent than me. What will happen to him?"
"They found a map in his pocket, and they claim he was planning an attack in Detroit."
"He picked up that map at a rest stop. What's the big deal?"
"I know. It's the same as the other charges. What was he doing with the map?"
"I needed directions. I’ve been away too long, I’ve forgotten even how to drive here."
"A lot of Iraqi Vets have trouble remembering."
"The map is not part of terrorism or anything. Are you going to let them put an innocent man away?"
Bukowski pulled the car out from the curb. "What happens to your father doesn't depend on what I can or cannot do."
"Why not? You can help to set him free, like you did for me."
"You have the military on your side and Hartman is still determined to get you. Xavier's freedom will be a lot harder. It can only be achieved by one person."
Bukowski smiled and drove off. She had to get back to the police station to see what Hartman was up to. She wondered if she was too late.

Chapter 41: Alice VIII
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1800 Hours.

The bomber could not believe gas cost so much. It was the most expensive item in the explosive device. The petrol was a supplement to the main explosives, yet it cost more than the pipe bomb itself. He filled up two cans and went inside the convenience store in the station to pay.

The bomber asked, "Do you sell jars of hand soap?"

The older Anglo clerk stared intently at him. "We have automotive degreaser, a mechanics' best friend."

The bomber grew upset. These people never listened and were so arrogant. "Plain, unscented soap. Bubbles, clean..."
The clerk pointed to his left.
There were a few tiny bars on a toiletry rack. The bomber needed many large jars of soap. He would have to drop off the petrol at the apartment and walk three blocks in the opposite direction to the supermarket.
The bomber handed the clerk a hundred-dollar bill. "Take it out of this."
The clerk gave him change and a stare. The bomber held a metal can in each arm, and hurried out the door. It was hot and he felt exposed. He stared at the ground and headed home.
Did Al-Fredah hate his father for being such a failure? The second bankruptcy was hard on the entire family and they all became familiar with poverty. However, more than money, his father was eclipsed by the competition many times.
It may be what drove his nemesis to work so hard, to jeopardize life and limb over and over. Not only his life, but also that of his family and many others. His nemesis wanted to make sure he never faced the poverty he experienced as a child. Even after he became successful, Al-Fredah worked tirelessly, with poor health most of the times. Did hatred for a father he outshone cause him to lose faith?
It was boom or bust in Al-Fredah's household. They were rich, poor, rich, poor, rich and maybe soon to be poor again. This state of insecurity and loss may have triggered a subconscious schizophrenic personality. Al-Fredah admired and hated his father. He wanted women and could not trust them. He longed for joy and lived in feared. He was an artist inside a specialist exterior. He wanted freedom but could not leave his mother. He was either schizophrenic or a riddle far too complex to understand.
The bomber unlocked the door and placed the gas inside the apartment. He glanced up at the clock. Soon it would be time for prayers. The bomber smiled and started for the supermarket.

Chapter 42: Mosque
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1830 Hours.
It was hot outside, about 85 degrees.
Adam stared at the mosque. The huge, three-story structure was at least thirty years old. A flat roof, and what seemed like a fresh coat of white paint, topped the concrete exterior. The wide entrance in the center parted for a concrete stair to the upper floors. An American flag hanged above the entrance, accompanied by a green Islamic flag.
Adam learned how to look and act Muslim in Iraq. He spent weeks inside mosques on security detail, and gained a basic understanding of their layout and operations. There was a main section for men and a separate area for women. Restroom areas are separate, and so too are eating areas, if any.
Most mosques have private rooms for meetings and private consultations. Some have a residential section for clerics and religious scholars. Others have classrooms and libraries. Adam knew the rhythm and motions of prayer as well. He practiced the routine as part of covert training but never actually joined a group of Muslim men in prayer.
Adam strolled into the crowded plaza. He placed his right arm against his chest in return to the greetings of other men. Someone handed him a white prayer cap and her used it to blend in further with the worshipers. Men, women, and children of all ages milled about. Everyone appeared clean and neat, like the graduation, and he was surprised again to see a few GIs in uniform in the crowd. Dearborn Arabs were joining the military in numbers it seemed. He did not see Jasmine anywhere and grew tired of looking. Adam sat on a bench near the back of the plaza and took in the colorful scene.
He studied a little boy, about a year and half, and played peek-a-boo game with him for a minute. Adam wanted to have kids, but his Mom insisted he was too young. He gazed at the boy and his mother. He may not have time. Time to be old enough for Mom. Time was his worst enemy. He wished...
It was announced that evening prayers were about to get started. He hoped to find Jasmine before they started and she went into the female section. He caught a glimpse of someone who looked like her and hurried to get a better view. The woman was someone older.
The female prayer area was wide open and dozens of women sat inside the large room. A few chatted and the rest quietly listened to the Imam. He stopped at the threshold and backed into the corridor after a few women gave him stern looks. He lowered his head and waited until a group of women approached from a door further on the left.
"Hello, I'm looking for Jasmine."
A young mother asked, "Which one?"
Adam wished he knew Jasmine's last name. "She graduated from DHS today."
The woman pondered for a second. "I don't know her." She and her companions shook their heads and the group moved on.
Adam started to ask another group when he noticed a group of teenagers inside the room. Jasmine was among them. He had completely forgotten how interesting she was, and by a stroke of luck, there she was again.
Adam tapped her shoulder. "Hi Jasmine."
Jasmine took a second to recognize him then laughed that sweet smile of hers. Her long hair showed through the thin headscarf and bounced off her slender frame.
"Oh, Adam. You made it over. I didn't think you'd come here."
"I dropped by to see you."
Adam followed Jasmine outside. The plaza was half empty.
Jasmine pouted. "I'm not so sure. I saw you leaving with Fatima at the graduation earlier."
Adam felt his insides freeze. The mention of Fatima's name had a powerful effect on him. "Have you seen her?"
Jasmine shrugged. "She's here with her boyfriend, Muhamma."
His rival's name felt like a heavy blow to his chest. "I really need to talk to her."
Jasmine appeared upset. "Why? Muhamma is very serious about her. No one likes him though."
"Why not?"
"He's always preaching. Plus, he's Persian, not Arab like most of us."
"That's no reason to hate a person."
"He and his friend are always talking about explosives. It makes the rest of us nervous."
"Some Persian guy, Fazal. We haven't seen him in a while. I guess he went underground."
"What does he do?"
"Fazal? I don't know."
"No, Muhamma."
"He studied chemistry in college. I think that's how he met Fazal. Now I don't know. He's become very secretive recently."
"About what?"
Fatima shrugged. "Fatima's got a lot of problems you know."
Adam grew concerned. "What kind of problems?"
"Her whole family is gone now. She lost her parents a while back, then last year, she lost her grandparents."
"I didn't know that. She didn't said anything about it..."
"Rachel's mom took them in a long time ago. She's always doing things like that. They're from the same--."
"What happened to Fatima's grandparents?"
"It was sad. Everyone was affected when they heard what happened. After completing a short religious pilgrimage to Mecca, they were supposed to return to Dearborn. But they decided to visit relatives in Iraq. They arrived in Baghdad and planned a trip to..."
The call for prayers blared over loudspeakers and Jasmine broke off the conversation and rushed towards the women's section.  "I'll tell you more later."
Jasmine disappeared inside the building and Adam found himself alone in an empty courtyard. He decided to join the others inside. He was bound to see Muhamma in the prayer hall.
He removed his shoes and placed them in a sea of other pairs outside the main entrance. He washed his hands, face and feet, walked toward the back of the large hall, and stood in a line of about twenty men. The packed room had nine rows of worshipers. Adam didn't see Muhamma, but it was difficult to see beyond a few rows.
The room lacked air-conditioning, but Adam felt relaxed and cool as he went through the motions of prayer. He thought only of Fatima.
Adam was not surprised at what Jasmine said. He knew Fatima was sad, but now he knew it was because she had suffered such personal loss.
He was the king of loss. Being at war gave him a completely different perspective on losing loved ones. He could help her cope. But what if Fatima returned his affection? Would he would he marry her? What if he had to convert to Islam in order to marry her, would he still go through with it? Adam felt like he was in a dream. It was like he was back in Iraq, but both he and Iraq had changed. Iraq had become more American, and he had become more Iraqi.
Unconsciously, Adam's movement synchronized with everyone in the hall and he felt connected to the other worshipers in the room. This strong feeling of unity lasted until prayers ended and the Imam's English commentary on the importance of prayer started.
Adam took five minutes to squeeze his way to the exit of the prayer hall, and rushed down a wide corridor to the women's section. There were no signs of Fatima or Jasmine. Did Fatima leave already? He dashed to the plaza and searched around until most people left to the parking lot across the street. The mosque was emptying fast. Where were they? He saw someone in the parking lot that looked like Jasmine. Did she Fatima? But what if it was not Jasmine and she did not see Fatima?
Adam scurried back inside and examined the rooms on the Mosque's main floor. She and Muhamma had to be inside since they were nowhere outside. Adam saw nothing beside a few puzzled faces. The plaza was almost empty as he climbed the huge staircase to the second floor.
There were many doors on both sides of a wide center aisle. The Imam's monotone voice echoed in the hot walkway. A diverse handful of people sat in a small room on the right. The other doors were closed. He tried a few knobs and found them locked. He reached the stairs again.
He would hate to lose both Fatima and Jasmine. He needed to search the third floor quickly and check the parking lot. Christ. He should have done that in the first place. At the top of the stairs, there was a long passageway with corridors on the left and right. Loudspeakers on the ceiling carried the sermons of the nasal speaker. It felt hotter than a steam room.
Adam went left along an empty corridor, and passed several closed doors to a hallway at the end. He saw a figure and quickly retreated, then peered around the corner. In the middle of the hallway on the left, stood a young man, with a prayer cap and beard, outside a closed door. He talked on a cell phone, and had an obvious bulge of a gun under his shirt. A gun.
What was he guarding?
The Imam's sermon blared from a speaker situated above his head. Adam could not stand in the corridor too long. He appeared suspicious. He tried to hear what the guard was saying, but he spoke only Arabic. A door slam shut behind him and he turned to see a man walking away from him, toward the stairs. He decided to follow the man out to search the parking lot.
Just then, he overheard a group of people talking from the stairs. He hurried to see who it was, but at the same time tried not to catch up to the man walking in front. The voices grew louder and then more faint as the party went right at the top at the stairs.
Adam reached the end of the hallway and peered at the empty corridor. They had rounded the corner by the time he reached the stairs. Adam raced back to the end of hallway, looked around the corner, and waited. Voices led shadows and then a man emerged from the far right corner, followed by two men and a woman dressed in traditional Arab clothing.
Adam's heart exploded into a thousand emotions. He found her.

Chapter 43: Detector VIII
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1830 Hours.
Joe had his feet on the desk with the phone to his ear. He hated when Scully had him on hold. The woman moved at a glacial pace.
The lights in the cave flickered for a second.
The computers were overheating again. Freaking crap. He needed them to find the grunt. If they crashed again he would more loose precious time.
Scully came back on the line. "OK, here's Mackin's old registration." She read him a number.
Joe proposed. "Can you make it over to my place tonight?"
"I would love to, big guy, but not tonight. I can't." Scully paused as if thinking of an excuse. "I have to be at the train station in a few hours."
His assistant did not sound convincing. Joe decided not to push her and hung up the phone.
He was mad at Scully. Earlier, he told her to send out an APB for the grunt in Detroit, but she screwed it up. The bulletin never left her desk and she did not even tell him about it. He checked the cue online and it was empty. He had to do it himself, but the grunt might be long gone.
He needed more funding to turn the Nest into a twenty-four hour operation. If the terrorists weren't sleeping, why as America's front line of defense in bed at 5:00 p.m.?
Joe grimaced and started to input the Detroit APB.
Someone knocked on the door.
"Who is it?"
What does that broad want? "Not now, I'm busy."
"It's important sir. It has to do with that terrorist."
Joe almost fell off the chair. "Hold it. I'm coming." He ran out of the cave to speak to Bukowski in the hallway. "Where is he?"
The cop spoke rapidly. "Someone phoned in a tip on that guy who..."
"What? Where?"
"He was spotted at the gas station on James Street."
"Why aren't you after him?" These local cops were so lame.
"But this falls under terrorism. Isn't that--?"
"We issued an APB. Just follow orders."
Bukowski seemed confused. "For the bomber suspect?"
"The who?"
"The guy threatening to blowup mosques, you remember? A few months ago, a group called American Crusaders left a bomb at the Third Street mosque..."
Joe motioned with his hand for her to stop. "Why don't you guys check it out?" He turned to leave.
"The tip seem credible, Sir."
"Drop it, Sergeant. We're busy at the moment, and that's not our priority."
"I'll file it away, Sir."
"Oh, and there is one other thing. I'd like you to stake out the Pine Street house tonight.
The sergeant stared at him. "He wouldn't be that dumb, Sir."
"That's an order, Sergeant."
Joe slammed the door shut. The cave went pitch black. Freaking computers.

Chapter 44: Meeting
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1900 Hours.
Adam watched as the foursome approached the protected door and the guard went inside. Fatima stood behind Muhamma and shifted her feet. What she was doing in this situation? She looked so unhappy. There was something really sad about her, what was it?
The guard returned to the door and waved the group into the room. Fatima glanced into the corridor before disappearing behind the closed the door, as Adam felt his heart sank. The guard stood outside the door and resumed his conversation on the phone.
What is the group up to in there? They appeared like Afghan warlords on a heroin drug deal with Fatima acting the part as the unhappy lookout. Adam had to find out, but how could he slip pass the guard? Before he could come up with an idea, the guard started walking toward Adam. What the heck? Was he discovered?
Adam rushed back toward the stair. Maybe he would be able to go around the other side before the guard turned the corner. Adam ran left pass the stair, then along the empty right hallway, down to the end, and peered around the corner to his left. The guard paced back and forth, still on the cell phone. Damn. What could he do to get inside? On the far wall of the corridor, there was a door closer to Adam.
The guard turned to walk the other way and Adam immediately sneaked across to the opposite side of the hallway. He edged along the wall to the door, tried it and found it unlocked. He pushed the door open and it squeaked. He stared at the back of the guard's head. The man continued talking on the phone. Adam nudged the door, stepped inside, and closed it before the guard turned.
He flipped the light switch on the right wall and examined a large storage room with cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling in some places. A wide sink on the right stood next to what appeared like a broom closet at the rear. The room was boiling hot and the Imam's drone penetrated from the hallway.
Adam groaned as he pushed a large, heavy box by the door. What did it contain, metal? Did he discover an arms cache?
Adam tore at the lid and ripped the top open. Schoolbooks. He grabbed another box and found more textbooks. Box after box contained only book. Toys were dumped into two bins in the rear. If these boxes were meant for a charity in the Middle East, then there was no harm in giving textbooks to poor students. They were outdated books most Americans simply tossed anyway.
Adam placed his ear against the back wall and heard a faint echo of voices. Was it Fatima and the others in the adjacent room? It had to be. He had to find out what Fatima was doing there. He listened intently. Different voices spoke rapidly in English and Arabic.
Words echoed in the adjacent room and he heard the speakers' last and next words at the same time. Worst, each syllable they spoke was accompanied by the Imam's sermon that echoed throughout the building. Adam strained to listen and found it impossible to determine who was saying what.
After a while, he heard a repeated pair of words that sounded like 'Detroit' and 'bomb,' and another that sounded like 'contract.' He became alarmed and tried to listen more closely. The harder he tried, the more befuddled the words became.
Were the person saying, 'carry the bomb to the Detroit hideout,' or 'be clear about what you want?' Was the female saying, 'I cannot carry out this contract,' or 'I couldn't get the Al Qaeda contact?' He listened more carefully, and then heard footsteps shuffling outside the door.
Was he discovered?
Adam scrambled to find cover and considered hiding behind a stack of boxes. The sounds outside got closer and he dashed into the small broom closet, and squeezed inside. He pulled the door shut, then opened it a bit. The closet was too hot with the door closed as sweat began pouring out of his skin.
Two boys entered the room and started rummaging through boxes on the left. The boys talked about a video game, then the smaller one looked up and stared directly at the closet. Adam steadied himself for action. He did not know how he would react. The teen started toward his direction. He searched boxes along the way and got within ten feet. Adam jammed into the closet trying to melt into the wall. Then, the boy turned around and searched closer to his friend upfront.
Adam exhaled deeply. He was safe for the moment, but what should he do about them? He decided to wait for the boys to leave and tried to get more comfortable. His body cooled against his wet clothes and he started having a mild allergy attack and soon developed a strong urge to cough. Damn. Adam clenched his fist, stiffened his body, and screwed up his face to prevent himself coughing. Finally, the taller boy found book they were looking for and announced it to the other.
The two teens stood by the door and talked for an eternity while Adam squirmed in the steaming closet. A minute later, the taller boy opened the door and exited the room. The smaller boy followed his friend out, but gave the closet a last look. Did he hear something? The room door closed at long last.
Adam coughed to relieve his scratchy throat and jumped out the closet. He slammed his body against the wall and strained his ears to understand the garbled voices in the next room. A male speaker repeated a phrase several times.
Was he saying 'you have to send a strong clear message to America,' or 'you have to spend to have a marriage in America?' Adam was not sure. He heard footsteps and voices from the hallway. Damn. Were the teens back?
Adam jammed himself inside the closet again and held a tight fist. The noises remained outside the room, and Adam let his guard down and resumed his post on the wall.
If they were talking about a bomb, then this group was dangerous. What should he do?
Adam jammed his ears into the wall and heard nothing. The meeting was apparently over.
What did they mean? Another Al Queda bomb in Detroit to send a message to America? No. Not again.
Xavier insisted the next attack would really change America. Did he know something about this? Damn it. His father was involved with them. He should inform the police about this bunch. It was Fatima's own fault if she got herself involved. Adam paused. He would have to inform the police anonymously. He had enough problems with Hartman already on the hunt for him.
He walked to the front of the room and stood behind the door listening to goodbyes. Should he let the terrorist know their plans were discovered? Adam wanted jump into the hallway and shout, 'Got you!' Just to see their reaction, however he stood little chance against a group with guns.
Plus, he was suspicious many times the day before, and it seemed each time he got it completely wrong. He appeared like a fool throughout the day, and regretted the incident with Rachel. He hated the episodes while driving the most and realized he was too paranoid. In addition, wrong or right, Hartman would have a field day at the mosque with his story. Heck, whole families might simply disappear and Bukowski would become upset if she later found out that he was the source of another bridge to nowhere. Not good.
But what if he was right this time? He had to be responsible and inform the authorities. Footsteps retreated into the distance until he heard only the Iman's voice over the speakers. Was the guard still in the hall?
Adam opened the door a crack and peeked out.

Chapter 45: Alice IX
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1900 Hours.
The bomber placed a shinny aluminum bucket on the kitchen floor. He had everything assembled to start his next mixture. He grabbed a bar of soap from a stack on the table and used a twelve-inch hunting knife to slice shards into the bucket. The bomber enjoyed making the shards drum against the metal, but he had to be careful not work up a sweat. His hands perspired easily, and if the soap slipped, the sharp knife was could cause him serious injury.
A team of Harvard chemists developed napalm in World War II as a thickener to mix with gasoline to make a sticky incendiary gel. It was part of a long history of incendiary materials used in warfare. Greek fire was a burning-liquid weapon that quickly became one of the most fearsome weapons of the medieval world, used by the Byzantine Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and Mongols.
Chemists in Constantinople invented it in the seventh century. The Byzantines used it in naval battles to great effect as it could continue burning even on water. It was largely responsible for the Eastern Roman Empire surviving as long as it did. The formula was a secret and remains a mystery to this day.
The bomber only used household ingredients to make his napalm. He had to heat the bucket until the shards melted, then add another household ingredient he brought from the supermarket. He had to pour the thickener into gasoline, stir, and transfer the gel into glass containers. Loaded into the second Alice backpack and placed next to the one with the explosives, it would cause extensive damage to the target. The simple synergy of napalm and dynamite was something his nemesis would appreciate.
In Al-Fredah's writings before the last one, he hardly mentioned his father. He spent many hours writing on everything from depression to bliss, but his father is noticeably absent. Maybe his father had nothing with his conversion to Satanism.
His nemesis questioned God repeatedly: "But what to the Great Principle of things is human prayer, or is human worship more than empty air?" And again in: "Who made the World? Religion answers: 'He!' But who made Him? Was it eternity, or Space, or Chaos that produced the seed of that immortal essence?"
What blasphemy to think that God emerged from the chaos of space. God created space. Why did Al-Fredah question a belief that was so basic? What was wrong with this misguided genius?
The bomber grabbed another bar of soap but it slipped out his hand.

Chapter 46: Stalker
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1900 Hours.
Adam sneaked out the room. The guard was gone and the hallway was empty. He heard voices coming from the far end of the corridor and ran toward them. There was no one at the top of the stairs. Adam rushed down two flights of stairs and stared into a courtyard with a few dozen people. There were no signs of Fatima or Muhamma.
Adam stepped onto the wide plaza, topped by bright sunlight in a cloudless sky. He realized he was barefoot, then scrambled to find his shoes in a messy pile outside the main door. He located his left shoe and hopped around looking for the other side. Maybe, he should take any other pair that fits. He tried a pair of uncomfortable sneakers, and then saw his right shoe hidden behind a milk crate. He pulled it on and ran to the fence.
Fatima was in the parking lot across the street. She seemed to be arguing with her boyfriend.
Adam's pulse raced. Why did he feel an urge to save her? Maybe, she did not need saving? She told him to leave her alone, so why was he wasting time with her?
Muhamma threw his arms in the air, got into a blue Toyota pickup, and two men standing next to the vehicle joined him in the front seat. Fatima staggered behind with head lowered and sat in the back seat.
Adam paced to his parked car and trailed the Toyota's taillights as it headed east on Warren Avenue. It was foolish to follow them after the Sergeant warned him to stay off the road.
The traffic signals operated in unison and they drove quickly. Adam was unperturbed by the occasional pile of trash.
He did not believe what he heard in the room at the mosque. The sounds were indistinct and he had no idea who or what was being discussed. They may have been talking about something innocent.
Adam smiled as he thought of Fatima. She held strong views, but she wasn't violently anti-American. Adam wanted to finish what he and Fatima started, before his sister interrupted them. He needed Fatima to help him resolve a lot of feelings about Iraq. And, he wanted to find out what she and Muhamma had planed.
Adam shadowed the pickup all the way to Pine Street and parked the next street over, on Cedar. He ran to the top of Pine and saw the four entered Rachel's driveway on the left.
He walked down Cedar Street, to the house behind Rachel's. Two cars were parked in the driveway and several lights were on inside. He tiptoed along the slides of the house and crawled underneath the windows to the back of the house. He opened the gate and it rattled.
The dog charged from the left, barking loudly. Adam stood by the fence and reached out to the animal with both hands. The dog barked softly, sniffed his hands, and wagged its tail. Adam hugged the dog and it licked his face like an old friend.
No one stirred in the house, and Adam headed for the wall with the dog's long shadow following closely behind. After a quick pat to the head, Adam jumped up and peeked into Rachel's backyard.
He half-expected to see some police in the yard, but the lawn was empty. Some figures moved in the kitchen of the house, but there were no one outside.
Adam jumped, landed in the grass, and quickly crept to the right of the house. He snooped along the side and peeked around the corner. Two Arab men stood on the porch and a police car was parked on the opposite side of Pine Street.
The police were waiting to arrest him. Adam felt stupid for neglecting to call his base. He could have used the Sergeant or Fatima's phone. Maybe he could use the phone inside the house. He crept along the side and back looking for an opened window. He found nothing.
Light streamed through the kitchen window ahead. He got close to the window and hid in the shadow of some bushes with a good view of the inside. Muhamma and Fatima were animated. He tried to read their lips but was unable to determine the reason for Fatima's flailing arms and Muhamma's pointing.
Abruptly, Muhamma left for the front door. Fatima remained in the kitchen and cleaned for a few minutes. After a drink of water, she turned the light off and left the room. A moment later, a light went on upstairs in her bedroom. It was the moment to act. Adam sneaked along the right side of the house to check on Muhamma.
The two men were gone from the porch. Adam crawled along the front under a hedge, and peeked down the driveway. Muhamma and his two friends were gone, but the police car was still across the street. He could not to risk the front door. He went back around and tried the back door, but it was locked. Lights streamed from Fatima's room upstairs.
Fatima's widow was open, but it sat on the second floor. Adam ran to the right side and looked up a drainpipe. He held the aluminum gutter to climb but it started to come apart in his hands. There had to be an easier way. On the left side of the house, he saw three basement windows and tried each one. The second one was unlocked and Adam stared into a dark room.
The soldier crawled through the narrow window and rolled forward to listen at the door. Except for the noise of a fan, the house was quiet. After Adam's eyes adjusted, he observed a small mattress on the right and a crammed bookshelf on the left. Posters of the periodic table and other aspects of chemistry lined the walls. 
He exited the room and entered a dark corridor that led to a staircase. Upstairs, a small amount of light penetrated the interior of first floor from the windows. Adam bounded the stairs and checked the front door. It was locked. Above his head, on the second floor, a slither of light escaped from Fatima's room.
Adam's heart and feet raced to the second floor. The floorboards creaked with every step but he did not care. He paused at the top, heard nothing, and then tiptoed over to Fatima's door. The doorknob was unlocked and he entered Fatima's bedroom without knocking.

Chapter 47: Rapture
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1930 Hours.

Fatima sat on the far side of the bed listening to soft music on the CD player. Sunlight streaming through the open window onto the bed was starting to turn yellow. The afternoon was coming to a close and she felt relieved that her great internal struggle was over. Even though she resisted Muhamma at each step, she had made up her mind to go though with their plans and sacrifice herself for them.
Something moved behind her and Fatima turned and screamed when Adam entered the room. He quickly closed the distance between them and covered her mouth with his hand.
Adam pleaded, "Please calm down, I want to talk to you."
Fatima nodded. Why was he still here? She thought he left Dearborn yesterday.
"Are you okay?" She nodded her head again, and he released his grip over her mouth and sat next to her.
"What are you doing here?" Fatima pulled her robe closer to her body and pushed Adam away.
"I needed to see you."
"You scared me half to death, you know."
"I'm sorry, Fatima."
"Why are you here? I already told--."
"Look, the police are waiting outside to arrest me. I'm crazy to be here, but I can't get you out of my mind. From the moment I left you, I felt lost. I had to see you again."
Fatima laughed nervously. "You're just another huge disappointment."
"How can you say that? You don't know how I feel about you."
The widow framed his head like a famous European portrait. "You can't make my dreams come true, Adam." She gave him a serious look, and asked, "Why didn't you just leave?"
Adam smiled and stepped closer to her. "We have unfinished business, remember? Come on, let's pick up where we're..."
Fatima took a step back. "So predictable. What about the police outside?" What was wrong with her? Why was she allowing herself to become vulnerable again? She had a fiancé after all.
Adam stared at her. "What's bothering you? Why don't you let me cheer you up? Can we go somewhere for coffee?"
"Sorry. And no free lap dances this time either." Why was she drawn to Adam so much? Was she running from commitment, or was it just her bad luck?
"Aw, come on. It's not like that. I really like you. I need to talk to you."
"Yea, right. I'm not a fool. You're no good for me. We all know what you are up to."
"Cut me some slack, will you? I had a long couple of days, most of it weird."
"Sounds like mine." She hated uncertainty and refused to let feelings of doubt creep into her mind again. She had already decided what to do.
"Do you want to hear the best part about it?"
Fatima shook her head. "No, not really."
Her heart felt like it was struck by lightening and her whole body vibrated. Before she knew it, Adam stepped forward and kissed her deeply.
She pushed him off. "The police could barge in at any moment. What are you thinking?"
Adam tried to grab her but she spun away. "They don't know I'm here."
"Yes, but they could come after me."
He moved closer. "They would have done that already."
Adam pulled off his t-shirt and tossed it on the ground. He looked like a model and his modesty made him hotter.
"Can you turn this song up, I really like it." Adam started to dance.
"You're such a good liar." Fatima went over to the CD player and blasted Sean Paul's "Give It Up To Me."
"Its not perfect but its filled with such passion and longing. I get goose bumps listening to it."
She avoided his gaze, played with her fingernails, and pouted. Then, she slowly started to move her waist and head to the rhythm. Fatima bumped him a couple of times and lip-synched the words of the song.
"hey pretty girl, say me love fi see you walk; you no habla ingles but just listen me when me a talk; this ya one yeah from me heart, woman you got me caught; you ever inna me thoughts and no left me inna the dark."
Adam held her, stumbled backward to the edge of the bed, and sat down with her on top of him. He started to undo his pants and Fatima tried pushing him away but she did not want him to stop.
Adam hugged her and slipped the robe off her shoulders. Fatima slid to the top of the bed and lay on her back with eyes closed.
She should not worry since a temporary romance was insignificant for both of them. It was no more than a last act of freedom and abandonment before they sacrificed their lives. They were strangers in a dream drawn to posters that meant nothing to each other.
Adam crawled unto the bed, placed his protection under a pillow, and laid his head on her chest. "God, you're so beautiful. How did I get so lucky?" He bent over and kissed her.
His odor was strong and his grip firm. Fatima felt safe and secure in his arms. If she was not in heaven, she could not imagine a better place.
Adam lay on top of her until he collapsed in satisfaction and rolled over to her side.
Fatima played with his hair and started to feel nervous again. Could Adam be the real thing? Why was she throwing her life away following Muhamma? Could she dare separate her life from them?
Adam sat up suddenly. ""Hartman must be closing in. I need to call my base and leave Dearborn fast."
Fatima buried her face into a pillow and cried.

Chapter 48: Detector IX
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 1930 Hours.
Joe snubbed his cigarette outside the police station, and stretched his hand to greet Roger. Soon it would be dark and he could use the night to heighten the tension of the scene. It was show time.
Joe beamed. "Thanks for coming on such late notice, partner. I'm a little short of hands right now."
Roger smiled apologetically.  "Sorry I couldn't come earlier. The wife..."
"I've increased the threat level and issued a terrorism alert to the department. I'm waiting for the media to inform them of the threat we received."
"What's going on?"
"They've threatened to free Atta's friend."
Roger looked surprised. "Mr. Ali, that guy from Chicago?"
Joe nodded.
"Who?" Roger asked.
"A local group, Hands of Allah."
"Did you rule out a prankster?"
Joe shook his head. "Highly credible. They're linked to the Taliban. We're still decoding their message."
"Another Dearborn sleeper cell? Didn't we bust some recently?"
Why was Roger acting suspicious? He probably hated coming in today. Tough.  
"We need to deal with each terrorist threat as it arises, Roger. You know that."
"Yes. They could strike us again, anytime." Roger winked. "Plus, you've got a monster to feed."
Joe smiled, and then became serious. "There's something else you need to know. I haven't told the station yet."
Roger stared expectantly at him.
"A few hours ago, a general threatened to free Ali's son. I released the terrorist's accomplice, but we're trying to re-capture him. So military personnel and a terrorist cell could be headed here."
Roger looked stunned.
Joe grabbed Roger's shoulder. "Whoever shows up, we must be prepared. I want you to coordinate the station's defense. I will handle the media."
Frank would be proud. Grasshopper was learning.
"What if brass shows up in force?"
Joe waved his arms. "You will already have the station cordoned off. The general will have to stand down."
"I hope you're right."
"Then we'll say they're here to defend the station. So it works to our advantage."
Roger appeared puzzled. "Why are you going so far out on a limb on this one, big guy?"
Joe clenched his fist. "I hated the way brass ignored my security concerns. They don't get it. I backed down earlier, but it's payback time. I will teach them a lesson on who's in charge of security here."
"Plus, you'll surpass Miami by a mile or two."
Joe smiled. Roger was no fool. He realized what was at stake.
"Let's go and inform the cops. I'll leave you to coordinate efforts inside while I organize a press conference."
"What if the grunt can't be found?"
"He couldn't get too far and we know his whereabouts. Tell Bukowski to raid the Pine Street house and arrest anyone they find."

Chapter 49: Trapped
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 2000 Hours.
Amber sunlight filled the room from the open window. It was her favorite time of the day. The warm colors reminded Fatima of long playful days in the sands of Baghdad.
Fatima sobbed. She couldn't help it. She was falling apart again. Why did Adam have this effect on her?
"I can't stand being hurt anymore." Fatima repeated the phrase many times.
Adam got dressed, waked over to the bed, and hugged her. "Let's go get something to eat."
"I'm not hungry. You go ahead."
"I'm sorry, but if I don't leave soon, I'll be spending the rest of my life in prison here."
"Yea, right." It did not matter. If she got her hopes up, she will still be alone. Come Monday, Adam will be gone.
"You wouldn't believe what happened to me after Rachel kicked me out yesterday."
"I don't care. I understand you have to go."
"Listen. I went to the police station asking for Xavier, and they kept stalling me until homeland security arrested me for aiding and abetting terrorists. They threw me in jail next to Xavier."
"I thought they only wanted the men downstairs." Fatima shook her head. It did not make sense. "How did you get out? Once the department seizes someone, it's not easy to break free."
"It took a two-star general to spring me loose."
"Where's Xavier?"
"Still in jail. He claims this guy, Hartman, has it in for him."
"The whole community knows about Hartman. He's been terrorizing us for two years now. We've written higher ups in the department to get him reassigned, but nothing has happened."
"Why don't you have to contact your local representatives in Washington?"
"Washington? Are you serious? Politicians across the entire political spectrum are using the Muslim card to score brownie points with Christian voters."
Adam sighed. "You've got to follow the process. Look, we should get out of here."
Fatima nodded. She slid off the bed, walked to the closet, opened the door, and grabbed a pair of jeans and blouse.
"We did many times. We have Mark Siljander, a former Michigan Republican congressman, trying to help the community get rid of Hartman. Siljander will probably be charged with terrorism as well."
"Why would the government charge him?"
"To send a message to white professionals who represent Muslims, like Attorney Lynne Stewart. She was convicted for supporting terrorism and face thirty years in prison."
"That's a scary prospect for lawyers."
Fatima stared out the rear widow and saw the lights of a police car on Cedar Street. They had the back covered so she was trapped.
"This was a bad idea."
Adam smiled. "Well it may not lead anywhere, but at least we forgot our pain and troubles for a while." He stepped into the closet and looked around.
"I don't like what you do, but deep down inside I know you've got a good heart."
Adam stood by the door. "That means a lot to me."
Fatima applied light makeup in the mirror. She did not need it. She had natural good looks. That was the only luck she had. Where could she run? Muhamma?
"I'm really depressed, Adam." 
Adam held her hand. "If we don't like our reality, we can always change it." 
"I'm just a sad, overgrown dog. No one wants me shedding tears around them anymore."
"You're in college trying to be a doctor, right? That's really--."
"I dropped out a few months ago. I couldn't take going to class anymore. I'm tired from crying all the time..."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"My life doesn't matter anyways." Fatima closed her eyes. "I'll be a martyr for my religion."
"What are you talking about?" Adam gripped her arm and stared intently at her. His terrorist radar appeared to go up.
Fatima turned away. "Everything was confirmed earlier at the meeting. Tomorrow is the momentous day."
"At the mosque? The one on Warren Avenue?"
Fatima's heart pumped faster. "How do you know I was at that mosque?"
"I followed you."
"Are you spying on me?"  She knew she could not trust Adam. Hartman never released anyone. Was he wearing a wire?
"Fatima, please it's not like that. I didn't want to go through with the whole--."
"Why are you spying on me?" She bit her nails. She really knew nothing about Adam. Whose side was he on?
"I’m not. I was trying to find you, that's all. Please tell me what is going on. I want to help you."
"Help me how? You'll be gone in a minute. In a few hours, Dearborn will be a faint memory."
Adam edged closer to her. "What is it Muhamma and the others want you to do?"
Fatima stared at him. "What do you think it is?"
"I don't know," Adam said. He paused for a moment, then added, "At the mosque, I hid in the room next door. I listened through the walls and overheard some plans being discussed, but I'm really not sure what the meeting was about."
Fatima threw her arms in the air. "I can't believe you're suspicious of me after all we've been through together. Go ahead and think what you want. You're not going to be my knight in shinning armor."
"Why do you need one?"
"Because I lost the rest of my family a year ago." Fatima broke down again.

Chapter 50: Revelation
Dearborn, MI June 26, 2006 2015 Hours.
Fatima's eyes filled with tears. She ran to the window and scanned the cloudless sky for the evening star. The last of the sun's rays fanned over a dark blue sky, but her favorite star was nowhere to be found. Why did Allah deny her this small mercy? Did she not dedicate herself to him enough? Was it because she wavered in her commitment to Muhamma?
The police car was still in the back.
Adam asked softly. "What happened to your grandparents?"
"My mother died when I was three years old."
"I'm sorry to hear that. You must have--."
"I don't remember her so I don't miss her. My dad and grandparents raised me."
"So you were close to grandma."
Fatima nodded. "Baghdad was nice at that time. Then came the war with Kuwait and the Americans. My father was an Iraqi soldier. He died on the way to Basra."
Adam raised an eyebrow. "On the Highway of Death?"
Fatima sat at her dresser. "I moved with my grandparents here in 1992."
Adam tapped on the door. "Come on, we have to leave now."
"This will just take a minute. For many years, my grandparents said that after my high school graduation, they would go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Iran and Iraq."
"What about all the violence there?"
"They longed to see those sites and they weren't getting any younger. My grandfather had arthritic knees and grandmother was losing her eyesight to diabetes."
"Time was a factor, but it's still not a good idea. Maybe Iran, but definitely not Iraq."
"They wanted to visit relatives after years of being away. They missed a lot of funerals." Fatima paused for a minute, then continued. "They took most of their savings and planned to help some relatives escape across the border to Syria."
"That's very noble of them, but there are other--."
"They were killed in Iraq." Fatima broke into tears.
Adam hugged her. "I'm so sorry."
I miss my family very much. It's been hard this past year having to deal with their debts and unfinished business. I am so confused."
"In only natural considering what happened to your family."
Fatima hugged Adam's shoulders. Why was she unfortunate? What had she done to upset Allah? 
Adam stared into her eyes. "How did they die?"
Fatima looked away. "They were killed by American soldiers."
Adam stood upright and pointed a finger at her. "We get blamed for everything. They all use our uniforms. Cowboys from Blackwater, Eastern, Paratus, Halliburton, the insurgents, militias, police, army, everyone..."
Fatima said nothing.
"What happened?"
"They rented a taxi to go to Najaf."
"From Baghdad? Okay."
"They were running late for a meeting. They got stuck for half an hour behind a slow moving column of American military vehicles. The driver tried to pass but the Americans in the back opened fire, killing everyone inside the taxi."
"Jesus." Adam appeared stunned. He wiped his brow and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"I guess that's partly why Rachel's mad at you. She sees you as part of the same war machine that killed my family."
Adam appeared offended. "I can't believe what you just said. What do you think?"
Fatima stared at him. "I like you. I don't think you're the kind of person who would do something like that."
Adam threw his arms into the air. "How do you know for sure it was Americans? It could have been anyone."
"We know they were U.S. Army, but we're not sure from which company or unit."
Adam's eyes flared. "But you weren't there."
"There were a good number of people who saw bits and pieces of what happened." Fatima paused for a moment then added, "But those in the second vehicle witnessed everything."
"There was a second vehicle?" Adam's jaws opened wide. He stepped back and hit the doorframe.
"The group was traveling in two cars. The day before, my grandfather had arranged for a taxi to take some members of his family. Then, six other relatives wanted to go. So, before he left, he arranged for another taxi."
Adam grabbed the doorframe with one arm. "Where was the other car?"
"The second car caught up. It was a short distance behind them. They watched the Americans mowed my grandparents down like weeds and burned their bodies to destroy the evidence."
Adam's knees buckled. "What?"
"They saw the Americans shooting at the car until it stopped." Fatima took a deep breadth and continued. "Then they got out and shot at the inside of the car at close range."
Adam spoke slowly. "A second vehicle." He exited the room.
Fatima followed Adam down the stairs. "They finally stopped shooting, checked the car and stole their passports, plane tickets, and cash."
Adam staggered to the front door. "American passports?" His eyes opened wide and he held his hands over his ears.
What was wrong with him? Was he feeling sick?
Fatima nodded. "They tossed a grenade into the taxi and they drove off."
Adam slipped to the floor and grabbed the doorknob for support. "Why didn't the people in the second stop them?"
Fatima spoke through tears. "They were afraid. If they intervened they would have been killed as well. People who file complaints get killed. There will never be any justice for my family."
Adam opened the door slightly and looked outside. He quickly pulled back, closed the door, and crawled to the kitchen. He opened the back door and lurched outside.
Adam screamed. "What was the color of their taxi?"
"It was a red car, why?"
Adam stumbled down the stairs and collapsed on the lawn. He got up on his knees and started crawling away toward the back wall.
"Why are you going? Here, let me get you some water."
Adam stared at her blankly, shook his head, and continued crawling away.
Fatima sat on the steps with her back against the wall and sobbed.

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