If he hadn’t been such an emotional wreck, Anwar Abu would have engaged his ten prostitutes and had himself a ball. After all, the boys were gone, delivering the goods. The girls, however, were not. This was a matter of prudence, not perversion. Back on duty, Omen thought the lusty ladies might climb into bed with the authorities and tip them off.
Abu knew that five cities were going to be dusted just before dawn. The remaining five would have to wait for the arrival of their people. The timing had been based upon the nature of the towns. Most folks commuted to places like Los Angeles and San Diego. But they lived in Boston and Chicago.
The weather was a concern. Wind was not his friend. It had blown all afternoon in Miami, San Diego, and, of course, in Chicago - it wasn’t called the windy city for nothing. Dispensing the spores up and down Michigan Avenue would be a grand endeavor but wasted if they simply blew into the lake. Nightfall was expected to bring some relief, but there was no question death would be seriously impaired.
Thank Allah it was spring. The stifling humidity of summer would have made the mission impossible. Rain was his worst nightmare. Showers would wash his dreams away. Anwar knew Echo 4 was already in trouble in Atlanta and Dallas. Storm clouds were on the horizon. Abu watched the Weather Channel religiously.
The night deliveries were supposed to be fairly simple. The trucks would come and go without being noticed, without being suspected of foul play. That was the plan, anyway. They were scheduled to arrive at two o’clock and be gone by five, before most arose from their final night’s peaceful slumber. Within hours, life would be a nightmare. Within days, death would be a reality.
The excursions into the workday were expected to be considerably more difficult, especially in Los Angeles and San Diego, where they had scheduling conflicts. In those cities, an elaborate plan had to unfold: the real trucks had to be hijacked, hidden, and then replaced.
There was also the problem of the dust plume. The spores were microscopic, but the particulate they were hitching a ride on was not. It was quite possible that one or more of the daylight deliveries would be stopped before they were through.
Worried to death, but with nothing to do, Abu looked over at the prostitutes. They were calling him, and he was tense. Perhaps a back rub would be just what the doctor ordered.
Holding a flashlight in one hand and a map in the other, the crewman in Echo 4 Chicago 2 was having a tough time. He was a long way from his programming cubical in Research Triangle Park. It was even farther from his madras school in Pakistan. No matter which way he rotated the paper, he was lost.
"We need to find the Ritz. Our first set of barrels is hidden behind the hotel," he said to his compatriot. The driver thought it was miracle enough that they had found Chicago.
They had been spewing death for twenty-five minutes. If they didn’t find the powder soon, they’d be out of business. And it was all he could do to keep the three-axled, ten-wheeled behemoth on the road.
"That thing over there," the driver pointed, "it’s all lit up. Must be some sort of a landmark."
"Are we going north or south?"
"South, I think." Looking for signs, the driver had lost his bearings.
"I know where we are. Turn left!" the crewman screamed.
The driver slammed the airbrakes to the floor, overdoing it. Man and machine skidded to the outside of the turn. The old tires lost their bite, screeched, and then bumped abruptly into the curb. Now rolling precariously along the sidewalk, the driver spun the wheel to the left, taking out a streetlight before regaining control. Sparks lit up the night sky as a transformer exploded. The crackling and popping sounds of ripped high-voltage lines shook the windows.
Even light on powder, the garbage truck’s weight was sufficient to ride up over the pole, pulling wires behind it. They were hardly inconspicuous.
Hoping to find a place to hide, the crewman bellowed, "I think the hotel’s on the left."
Ducking in behind the Ritz, they parked the truck and caught their breath. Relieved, they looked up as if to Allah. The grand hotel loomed before them in unsuspecting majesty.
The tall tower was nestled between the black pyramid-shaped offices of Hancock Insurance and the white elegance of the Standard Oil Tower. The pricey shopping center nestled in the hotel’s bottom floors was quiet at this hour, as were the guestrooms above. Good thing. They felt as if their hearts were pounding loudly enough to wake the dead.
Re-focusing on their task, they discovered the trash cans exactly where they were supposed to be, around the back of the building.
"Praise be to Allah. There they are." The driver did his best to back the truck into position. It took so long its "beep, beep, beep," reverse warning had become obnoxious. "Close enough." He took it out of gear and set the brake, but forgot to push in the lever stopping the blower. As they stepped out to feed the machine, a swirling gust of wind roared between the tall buildings. The two "trash men" were immediately blanketed with enough spores to wipe out a score of villages back home.
"Push in the lever, stupid. You’re going to get us killed."
"Shut up and help me lift this can. We’re going to die anyway. What’s the difference?" Religious piety didn’t necessarily bring peace and harmony.
Standing in the predawn air, covered from head to toe with anthrax spores, the crewman of Echo 4 Chicago 2 pondered what his partner had said. He has a point. The faster they became martyrs, the sooner they would be in Paradise practicing what they’d learned in their Shenandoah Valley truck stop/brothel. And the way he was driving, they’d be there soon enough.
The old narrow streets of Alexandria were tough on a rookie driver. The first two ten-square-block sections of town had taken Echo 4 DC 1 almost twice as long as Omen had planned. Not knowing how to sweep wide into the cramped turns, they’d had to stop and back up, then move ahead again what seemed like a hundred times. Their reverse gear was getting a workout.
Looking at their watches, they started to worry. "Our next pickup is behind a church, right?" the driver asked, arms shaking with fatigue.
"Right. It’s between here and Georgetown." Then the crewman laughed. "The place is called Foggy Bottom."
"Foggy Bottom," the driver repeated. "You’re joking, yes?"
"No, I swear to Allah; look here," he said, holding out the map.
Distracted by thoughts of bottoms yet to come, the trash pilot veered across the street.
"Look out!" the crewman shouted, covering his face with the map.
Desperately trying to find the brake and clutch, the driver found neither. The giant beast surged forward as his panicked foot stomped the accelerator instead. Pushing harder and instinctively jerking the wheel to the right, bad things began to happen. The left bumper clipped the rear of a parked car, tossing it into a storefront, shattering the glass façade.
Bad got worse. The accelerating machine snapped off a fire hydrant, sending a cascading fountain of water forty feet into the night air. Enough of the torrent found its way into the collection bin at the truck’s rear to thoroughly gum up the works. The mixing device ground to an ignominious halt as the towering plume of water washed the diabolical machine of all obvious signs of its offensive cargo.
Now completely out of control, the truck raced across the street precariously balanced on its left-side wheels. Finally succumbing to gravity, it bounced and rumbled toward the shops on the far side of the street.
The impact of 20,000 pounds of steel going from fifty to zero in a microsecond was horrific. The truck slammed into a brick and glass storefront, flipping onto its left side and coming to rest upside down. The bearing wall separating a drugstore from the neighborhood watering hole next door instantly crumbled, turning everything to rubble. Three stories of bricks, merchandise, glass, drugs, steel, and booze fell upon them in a tremendous crash. Fire erupted from broken gas lines as smoke, dust, and debris mushroomed skyward.
Through for the night, the boys were immediately whisked into Allah’s presence. Still surrounded by fire, the scenery hadn’t changed.
Allah may have been pleased. Omen Quagmer was not. The moment the disaster was reported on FOX News, he exploded in rage. The Alexandria truck had been assigned one of the most important routes. Its final two ten-block grids were in the District of Columbia, right downtown. The highlighted route of their now-burning map had been Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues.
When the news hit, Omen was half a world away, preparing his lunch. For some reason, the Islamic organizer and fundraiser extraordinaire lost his appetite. He now knew that the spores he had so carefully nurtured to infect the very lair of the Great Satan were themselves dead. He mourned, as for a lost child. Far fewer would suffer. He felt ill.
The winds were still strong in Miami. But it didn’t matter anymore. Hardly anything was working. Even though it was early spring and still before sunrise, Florida’s legendary humidity had fouled things up. The powder particulate had swollen, seizing the blower’s impeller. The only thing that kept the mechanism functioning, even sporadically, was the power of hydraulics. An electric blower would have burned up hours ago.
"What do you think?" the driver asked his partner, struggling with the ten-speed gearbox.
"The gauge shows we’ve still got most of our second load. We’re supposed to be done, you know."
"I say we dump what’s left and bail."
"Sounds good to me. If we stay out much longer, it’ll be light."
"Let’s head downtown, toward those tall buildings. We’ll do the most damage there."
Returning from the casual yet elegant decadence of South Beach, they crossed the Venetian Causeway Bridge. Yachts bobbed in the marina off to their right. Lights from the hotels, apartments, and office windows sparkled in the quiet waters of Biscayne Bay. It all looked so peaceful. Of all Muslims, they were closest to Paradise.
Atlanta and Dallas were rainouts. The drivers had pulled their trucks off to the side of the road, hoping for a break in the weather. They prayed to Allah, whom Muhammad had said was responsible for rain, but to no avail. Cooped up in his depressing black cube-like shrine, Allah didn’t get out much. What did he know of the American South? Life would go on in Dixie. Heaven would have to wait.
The two San Francisco teams were down to just one. Crossing the vast continent had been harder on both man and machine than they had expected. Not up to the challenge, the older of the refuse haulers coughed, choked, and sputtered to a stop just below the Eisenhower Pass. In the rarified air of the Rockies just west of Denver, the beast died.
The fatigued crew of Execution Team Echo 4 SF 1 was having problems of their own. They were antsy and jumped the gun, prematurely ejaculating their spores into a city that was still asleep.
They got lost near Beacon Hill and again in the fog along the wharf. Their sleep-deprived minds were so numb, they drove their second grid without the mixer engaged. The particulate barrels weren’t where they were supposed to be following the third section. But it no longer mattered. Their driving technique was no match for the challenge of San Francisco’s fabled hills. The clutch was all but shot.
At least the crew was having a good time. Even in these pre-dawn hours, there always seemed to be something entertaining to gawk at as they prowled the back streets. Although the boys dispensed their full quota of jeers at the decadent infidels, their words were considerably less deadly than the spores they were not dispensing. Hate speech wasn’t lethal, after all. San Franciscans would live.
The operations in Philadelphia began simultaneously with San Francisco’s. Four in the morning in the city by the bay was seven in Philly. One city was cloaked in darkness; the other was wide awake, with the long shadows of the morning’s first rays streaking across its proud boulevards.
In Philly, the boys behaved themselves, and so did the spores. The air was dry and still. Both machines worked perfectly, spewing great plumes of anthrax-laden powder high into the air. Unfortunately, as the morning sun poured down the east-west streets, its light fell upon the deadly clouds, making them glow.
Carlos and Manuel, the real ones, were half asleep at this ungodly hour. As they had done a thousand times, they picked up their BFI trash truck from the depot and were heading north on Wilmington Boulevard. The streets were deserted. By the time the coffee kicked in, they would be in downtown Los Angeles, the City of Angels.
Stopped at the last light before their 405 Freeway onramp, they were still dazed, listening to a Hispanic station, rocking to the music’s beat. Suddenly, they were startled by men in jumpsuits similar to theirs. The intruders stood on the running boards, hammering the windows with the butts of guns. They looked like the crazed Islamic militants they had seen on TV, but without the turbans. Que paso? they wondered. What do they want with us?
Carlos was slow to roll down his window, so Abdul simply shot him. Frightened half to death, Manuel was taken the rest of the way by Mohamar’s bullet seconds later. The windows shattered, the Muslim brothers lifted the latches and opened the doors. They scooted inside, pushing the dying men to the center of the bench seat.
At this early hour, 6:15 A.M., there was no one around. It was barely light. Abdul put the truck in gear and made an illegal u-turn. Several hundred meters south of where they had exterminated the crew, he drove the trash truck into the staging area of a large warehouse. Several football fields long, it must have been nearly a half million square feet. The gate to the ramp area was wide open. They were expected. Some local al-Qaeda operatives, those who had been responsible for the particulate deliveries, had bribed a security guard.
As they drove alongside the vast facility, the murdering Muslims honked their horn. A drive-in door at the top of a cement ramp flew open, allowing them to take the refuse truck into hiding.
The idea was to exchange vehicles. There was no way to dust cities during the day without being noticed. However, if they looked like they belonged, like they were making their appointed rounds, no one would be suspicious.
Once inside, Abdul drove the beast to the back corner of the giant building. His partner removed a tarp from his pack and placed it over the nearly lifeless bodies of Carlos and Manuel. Pleased with their work, they jumped out and climbed into the truck they had driven across the country. They were impressed by how similar they looked. But there was no time to gloat. Within moments, they were back on the road again.
Across the Southland three separate hijackings were unfolding simultaneously. The others, however, hadn’t been as effectively choreographed. Things were beginning to unravel.
In San Diego, gunshots had alerted a policeman just ending his duty shift near the eastern shores of Mission Bay. Spilling his coffee and donut as he sped in the direction of the menacing sound, the officer motored north on Morena Boulevard. Within moments, lights flashing, he found himself trying to pass a painfully slow trash truck. He flicked on his siren for a second, hoping to catch the driver’s attention, hoping he would notice the lights, pull over, and let him by. Instead, all he heard was the grinding of gears. The transmission of the stolen truck was different from the one the hijackers had driven west. They were struggling and confused.
Frustrated, the cop hit his siren again as he tried to nose alongside. It was difficult because the driver, focused on the gearbox, was taking his half out of the middle of the road.
Finally catching a glimpse of the lights in his side mirror, Hassam swerved to his right, hoping the officer would pass. He tried to look cool, but as he did, he went too far, scraping the left side of a parked car. Unnerved, the navigator pulled out his gun and leaned over the two murdered men to see what was happening. That just made matters worse.
Unable to see, and with the crewman’s weight pressing on him, Hassam lost control. The truck careened into a corner gas station. Heading directly toward the pumps, the driver’s eyes became round as full moons. Leaning into his murdering friend, and against the lifeless bodies of his victims, Hassam yanked the wheel right for all he was worth. Launched up on three wheels by striking the concrete island that supported the gas pumps, the giant machine rolled, tumbling over onto its side. They braced themselves for an explosion. But miraculously, the rear end of the massive machine missed the pumps. "Allahu-akbar!"
Although the truck was now skidding on its side, the terrorists breathed a sigh of relief. Even as they lay against the crewman’s door in a tangled mass of dead men’s arms and legs, they relaxed, believing disaster had been averted. Still sliding and spinning across the asphalt, the truck continued toward the back fence. They never saw what killed them. The belly of the beast slammed into a propane tank. The explosion and fireball that ensued lifted the ten-ton monster into the air, cartwheeling it backwards, hood over fender, then slamming it to earth a few feet from the pumps it had missed on its way in. The officer held his breath.
All was not well in the City of Brotherly Love. There were no route conflicts with other trucks this morning, so the crudely painted vehicle moseyed down the sun-drenched boulevards in broad daylight. It didn’t fool anyone. While people don’t usually notice trash trucks, these looked plenty peculiar. For one thing, they weren’t stopping to pick up any trash. Besides, they were out on the wrong day, and speaking of day, they were supposed to be doing this at night when they were less of a menace. And then there was this little issue of a glowing four-story dust plume following them down the street.
Some nervous-nellies had called the cops. The dispatcher tried her best to keep a straight face as she took their reports. She knew she would catch lip from the units who responded. Even in Philadelphia, there’s something odd about asking an officer to check out a suspicious trash truck. But she did her job and so did they. Racing off, nearby police units searched the streets for the offensive vehicle.
Mahoney was the first PPD officer on the scene. As he approached the refuse hauler, he saw nothing out of the ordinary, other than the timing being unusual. He was as unaccustomed as anyone to seeing trash trucks roaming city streets during the day. The officer uncradled his radio and pushed the talk lever on its side. "Dispatch, this is Unit 13. I have the suspect vehicle in sight. I can’t see anyth...." His eyes widened.
"Oh my God," he said, dropping the mike into his lap. The officer turned on his lights and activated the siren. Heading south, the truck had crossed an east-west intersection. Sunlight hit the plume of doom, and it became immediately apparent. Mahoney’s gut told him what his mind begged him to deny. Philadelphia was being introduced to the legacy of Muhammad.
Adams closed his eyes. So many conflicting thoughts vied for his attention. He had just converted to one faith and was about to justly condemn another. He had fallen in love with a woman and had come to hate a man. He was now a father, yet he would never know the mother.
Along the way, the Admiral had found what he was looking for. He was prepared to deliver on his promise. But he had also discovered something he hadn’t expected, something that would make his proclamation sound hateful to many, bigoted to some, though it was neither. Perhaps strangest of all, he had found peace at a time when America was awakening to war.
The new parents had reluctantly left their new daughter behind. The hospital needed her to stay another few days. So did the authorities. Yacob’s wife, Marta, had risen to the occasion. She was on duty, virtually living at the hospital. She even volunteered to escort young Mary to America when she was ready.
The lovers had elected to stop in London on their way home. The Brits wanted to talk, to share what they had discovered, and hear what the Admiral had learned. But they still had plenty of time. Heathrow was three hours away, although it wouldn’t seem that long. They were flying west, so by the clock they would land shortly after they took off.
Sarah began, "Back in the suite you said that you knew the answer. What is it?"
"Do you have that little Bible with you?" Dumb question.
He had the strangest feeling.... "Uh oh!" he chuckled.
"What’s so funny?"
"I think I’m being told to read."
"Well, at least you can," she laughed, making her own sideways reference to Mo’s encounter with the molesting cave critter.
"I’m not sure this is the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Tell me I’m not crazy, Khadija."
"So now you’re calling me old? Or are you just begging for some cuddle time like Muhammad did?" She played along.
He seemed agitated. "Y’know Sarah, I’ve never run from a fight. But this mission...a guys gotta be nuts to do this."
"Yep? I was looking for a bit more inspiration - maybe even a little support." Now he was begging.
"Taking on Islam will be the fight of the century. You’re gonna get pounded from every side. It’s not politically correct."
"No. It’s just correct. That used to count for something."
"It still does. But not with the people who have the microphones."
"That’s scary, isn’t it? The most irresponsible folks are the ones with the biggest responsibility."
Sarah shook her head. "Journalism attracts more zealots than most any other profession."
"And they’re not gonna like what I have to say."
She sighed. "Problem is, by telling the truth, even by using the term evil to describe Islam, you’ll be taking on evil’s principal advocate."
"Evil has an advocate?"
"The Devil," Sarah said. "But fortunately, his adversary is going to be with you all the way."
"But I’m not prepared. I’m a rookie at this faith thing," Thor confessed. "I’m going to get creamed."
"Yep, but you’ve got no choice."
Thor shook his head. "I used to think I was pretty good at what I did. I made a career out of taking on bad guys. And I’ve even seen my share of devils out there, but not the Devil."
"He’s a formidable foe. And he fights dirty." She gently stoked his arm. It was her way of telling him he wasn’t alone. "Satan’s the ultimate counterfeiter."
"Smart. I can’t think of a better way to fight God than deceiving people with this bogus bill."
"Yeah. So how do we beat the beast?"
"What do you mean ‘we,’ paleface?" Sarah said, trying to keep a straight face. "Okay, just kidding.... ‘We.’ Are you asking me how we beat Islam, or beat Satan?"
"Satan." Adams smiled, not knowing why. His enemy had just grown wings. "Muhammad created Islam all on his own."
"You’re right. If Satan had helped write the Qur’an, it would have been coherent."
"I guess this blasts another perfectly good illusion to smithereens."
"What’s that?" she asked.
"The Devil’s not a cute little red guy with horns and a pointy tail."
"No, not hardly," she laughed. "And virgins aren’t all ugly grade-schoolers. Do you know who he was? Satan, I mean?"
"He was the most beautiful being God created - the highest of the angels. But that wasn’t enough - not for him."
"The insecurity thing again."
"Right. He became jealous, coveting what didn’t belong to him. He wanted to be like God, so he rebelled."
"By deceiving man." He rubbed his forehead.
"I was right about you."
"You are on God’s errand."
"Great. The best mission I’ve ever had has the lowest chance of success. Heck, my adversary won’t even come out and fight like a man."
"Be thankful for that. You can’t kill him with bullets. Without God’s help, he’d eat you for breakfast."
"I feel better already."
"He doesn’t want to be seen because he’s most effective when he’s misleading people, corrupting the truth, chipping away at the edges. And he’s done a great job. Even the terms good and evil have become suspect - they’re considered narrow-minded, judgmental, and moralistic."
"If people really knew what he was up to, they’d hate him." Thor was starting to get it.
"Yes. But he’ll do anything to keep that from happening."
"Then by reporting the obvious, that Islam is merely recycled occult practices, streamlined paganism, and a purposeful counterfeit of Judaism, I’m going to be labeled a fanatic. When I say that it’s only being touted because men profit from the delusion, they’ll slime me."
"Yep. Just another hatemongering, narrow-minded religious nutcase morbidly preoccupied with a relic of a less inspired and enlightened generation," Sarah agreed, smiling.
"That sounds bad," Thor groaned.
"Your new enemy doesn’t like the spotlight. He’s much more effective lurking in the shadows. He wants people to be tolerant, open minded, and most importantly, deceived. Heaven without hell. Indulgence without guilt. That’s why there are so many religions, so many isms. They’re his best camouflage."
"They’re his SFGs," Adams quipped. "Satan’s Fallacy Groups."
"He’s hiding in plain sight," she laughed. "But just because you can’t see him doesn’t make him any less real. Thor, Muhammad was fixated on Satan. And that’s because from beginning to end the Bible tells us all about this bad boy, the Prince of this world. Remember, Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world."
He nodded, recalling what little he knew. The battlefield was taking shape.
"Bottom line: if the Bible is inspired by God - and I think we’ve established that - then Satan exists, and he’s a formidable foe."
"Once again, being correct and being politically correct have nothing in common."
Sarah squeezed his hand. "In this battle of values, reason will triumph. Truth wins out. The last chapter has been written. No matter how loudly those with the microphones whine, God prevails in the end. Besides, you’re not being called to convince people - just warn them."
"So how do we survive in the meantime?"
She looked at her leather Bible. It had been sitting in his lap. "With that, and with this." She pointed to his heart. "There’s a reason you were told to read. Your bullets are words. But they have to be ‘fired’ in love."
"In the Garden of Gethsemane, you said that Jesus in his last prayer asked God to protect us from this guy." Thor shifted in his seat. "Can I count on that?"
"Read," she said in her best "God" voice.
They both laughed as she helped him find the book of John, where he read, "My prayer is not for you to take them out of the world but to protect them from the evil one. Sanctify them...." He stopped.
"It means to make holy, to set apart."
He nodded. "‘Sanctify them with the truth. Your word is truth. Just as you sent me on this mission, I now send them.’ And here’s the good part. ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.’"
"Sounds like you’re in good hands."
"Are there any more of these?" Adams asked naïvely. "That’s cool."
She bit her lip, nodding. "There was one that leaped to mind the moment you were asked to read. I think maybe he had you in mind when he inspired King David to write these words." From memory she recited the Psalm: "‘He who dwells in the shelter of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in him I trust. For it is he who delivers you from the snare of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence."’ Does that hit close to home, or what?’"
"Yeah. Isaac and I were the only ones spared from the trap. So is he now saying we’re going to be spared from deadly pestilence - anthrax?"
"That’s pushing it. Although I’ll grant you, the correlation is a little freaky. But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Let’s not read too much into this."
She did. ‘"Under his wings you will find refuge. His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. You will not be afraid of the terror by night, the arrows that fly by day, the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, or the destruction that lays waste. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. No evil shall befall you, nor will any disaster come near your dwelling; for he shall give his angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways.’"
"Deadly pestilence is repeated. I wonder if that’s important? We’ve already been hit once with anthrax. Do you think there may be a second attack - also at night? Is this a clue?"
"What do you mean?"
"Can we put the pieces together and figure this thing out? David was predicting terror. We’ve got terror. He predicted deadly pestilence. We’ve got that too. Arrows by day could be military hardware, a missile, a bomb, or some such thing. Then in the second pestilence attack he gives us two more clues. It stalks in the darkness. That means it’s moving, unlike the first blowers which were fixed inside the HVAC ducts. And this attack lays waste, killing thousands right near us - as in Washington, perhaps."
"Whoa, big boy. You’re reading way too much into this."
"Waste," he repeated out loud. "Stalking - moving waste. Pestilence a second time - anthrax. In darkness."
"You think we’re going to be trashed with anthrax?"
"I need to call somebody. Warn the authorities."
"Forget it. You’re being impulsive. If you tell people where you came up with this idea they’ll put you in a white jacket and carry you away."
"Alright. I’ll let it lie for now. But just so I know, what does he want in return for this protection thing?"
"Love. He only really gave us two commandments: that we love God with all our heart, soul, and might, and that we love one another as we love ourselves."
"That love thing," he said, looking at her. "Even Muslims?"
"Especially Muslims. Love is the most irresistible force in the world."
Sarah reached for her Bible. She found her favorite passage, reading it slowly, lingering over every phrase:
"‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a clanging bell. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
"‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’"
"So what I have to do is love Arabs while hating Islam and the evil that flows from it."
Bimbo. Thor’s mind involuntarily raced back to that night, to Sarah lying next to him in bed, holding him. He smiled.
"Don’t go there," she said, reading his mind. "I was vulnerable. It had been quite a day."
"Are you always going to be able to read my mind?"
"Then what am I thinking now?"
"That you’d like to fall asleep in my arms more often. And...."
"And..." he said looking around, "if you really can read my mind, keep it to yourself."
She reached for his hand again and squeezed it gently. They flew that way for some time, imagining.
"The Crusaders weren’t Christians," Thor said, interrupting the silence.
"I beg your pardon."
"They couldn’t have been."
"What in the world are you talking about?"
"Well, I went from thinking about loving you to thinking about love. Then I thought, if God is love, how did the Crusaders go off and conquer in his name. Then it dawned on me. They weren’t Christians."
"I presume you’re going to explain this.
"To be a Christian, you have to know what Jesus said and did. And then you have to act upon that knowledge, right?"
"For a thousand years the Bible was unavailable. Most people had no way of knowing these things. The scriptures were translated into a dead language, Latin. The sermons were delivered in the same dead language. Only the clergy had Bibles, and their goal was to suppress the people, keep them ignorant and dependent so they could rule over them." Thor was out there, thinking.
"The clerics told the people that the bad guys, the Great Satan, was out there, not among them. And how would the people know? No serf, tradesman, farmer, teacher, or soldier had a Bible. They had no way to know what it actually said. They were kept in the dark, purposefully duped."
Sarah stared at him. She was impressed, although it was a little weird that he’d transitioned from thinking about falling asleep in her arms to sending misguided soldiers off on some bloodthirsty crusade.
Thor continued to unravel the mystery. "There are striking parallels to Islam here, Sarah. The preponderance of Muslims haven’t read Ibn Ishaq or al-Bukhari any more than the medieval Catholics had read the Bible. I’d bet my life on it. Religion for them is just like it was for the poor saps in the Dark Ages. Ritual, ritual, and more ritual. Just mind-numbing repetition, group bowing, and mass mind conditioning.
"Nonconformity is treated now exactly as it was then. People are Muslims only because in their situation, not to be one is fatal. But remove the threat of death, give Arabs access to the truth, and a great many will discard the delusion. Of course, thanks to centuries of conditioning, it won’t happen as readily as Germans discarded Nazism, or even at the pace the Russians said nyet to Communism. But it will happen. And when it does, a great pall of oppression will be lifted from their lives, and from the world."
"Wow. That’s pretty profound, for a flyboy. That may be the most rational explanation I’ve ever heard." Not to be outdone, Sarah reached into her carry-on. She pulled out a page she had photocopied from an old book written by Alexander Hislop. "I’m going to read a paragraph and you tell me who this sounds like: ‘If it had appeared at once in all its hideousness, it would have alarmed the consciences of men and defeated the very purpose for which it had been conceived. The object was to bind all mankind in blind and absolute submission to a hierarchy entirely dependent on the clergy. In the carrying out of this scheme, knowledge, sacred and profane, came to be monopolized by the religious leaders, who dealt it out to those who were initiated in the faith exactly as they saw fit. Thus the people, wherever the doctrine spread, were bound neck and heel to the clerics. They were the only depositaries of religious knowledge; they had the true tradition by which the writs and symbols of the public religion could be interpreted. And without blind and implicit submission to them, what was necessary for salvation could not be known.’"
"That’s a dead wringer for Islam, but I suppose the author could have been writing about the kind of Catholicism that led to the Crusades."
"Actually, it was written to describe the original Babylonian religion. It was the ultimate manifestation of the occult. Satan was king."
"Well it sure explains the hows and whys of organized religion."
She nodded. "And based on that, I think the Dark Ages were dark because God’s light was hidden, covered up by a politicized clergy. It’s remarkable Christianity survived."
"What’s more amazing is that Islam survived. Think about it. It grew out of idol worship. Allah was the Moon God, for cryin’ out loud."
"But surely re-marketing rocks does not a religion make, at least one persuasive enough to fool so many," Sarah protested.
"No. Delusions are never that simple. They need to be infused with just enough truth to make the lies seductive." Thor’s mind was churning. "That’s why Muhammad ripped off Judaism."
Sarah was right with him. "In his search for legitimacy, he latched on to the world’s best documented, most credible monotheistic faith, Judaism," she agreed. "He usurped its moral lessons, its laws, and theology - just enough to make Islam seem rational at first blush."
"Finally, he turned his faith against its foundations, against itself, claiming that the Jews got it all wrong. He said that the scriptures upon which Islam was based were corrupt." Thor was connecting the dots.
"Then in typical megalomaniac fashion, Muhammad had a tizzy fit when his silly ‘revelations’ were scoffed at. He retaliated, as is the custom among maniac types, by killing, raping, enslaving, and plundering. Then for good measure, he imbued his demented doctrine with the gift that keeps on giving - terror," Sarah said. "Muhammad’s character fell while his ‘religion’ rose."
"When you read this bad boy’s biographers or his speeches, it becomes obvious that he was a pathological liar, a pedophile, a womanizer, a rapist, a coward, a kidnapper, a thief..." she paused for a breath.
"...a murderer, an assassin, a slave trader, a warmonger. He was even genocidal, although," Thor observed, "by the time his bio was edited, these may not have been considered bad things."
"In short, he was a terrorist," Nottingly concluded. "It shouldn’t be a surprise that those who follow him, those who know what he said and how he lived, are terrorists, too." It was all starting to come together.
Sarah looked up at Thor. "His ‘religion’ gained substance through war. It spread at sword point; it’s maintained at gun point."
He reflected, "We’ve been told that Muslims who kill are following a corrupted form of their religion. We’ve been told that that terrorists are criminals who have perverted Islam. But the truth is just the opposite: the religion condones, even commands deception, fighting, and murder."
"You’re right," she said. "From Muhammad’s own lips."
"In our folly we have gone after the terrorists, not the thing that makes them terrorists. We’ve made more of the very thing we were trying to eradicate."
"By obfuscating the source of the problem, we have allowed it to grow out of control. This is one of those times when doing something, the wrong something, was worse than doing nothing."
"Yes," he squeezed her hand. "But doing nothing isn’t the answer either. The cancer of terrorism will infect everything unless we kill it at the source."
"So the questions are," Sarah said, "does America have the will, or even the ability, to wrestle with this unexpected reality? And do we have the courage to stand up and deal with it? Islam is a deadly cancer. And it’s growing at an exponential rate."
"The surgery to remove it, the chemotherapy needed to drive it into remission, will be painful," Thor knew. "But it’s the only treatment that has any chance of preventing this disease from consuming everything."
He turned to Sarah and confirmed his mission. "The thugs that rule the Muslim world must be neutered. Islam must be exposed. And we now know that this disease thrives on money. Money allows mullahs to build madrases that manufacture murderers."
Their faces said more than words could have.
"Guys, what’s wrong. What happened? I thought you’d be happy to see us," the Admiral was puzzled.
"You don’t know, do you?" Major Huston asked.
"Know what?" Sarah searched their eyes.
"First things first." Blake opened his arms and gave Adams a hug.
Stepping back, he asked, "May I?" nodding toward Nottingly.
Thor smiled, so Huston enveloped Sarah as well, squeezing her as if they were long-lost friends. "Any friend of this bloke’s a friend of ours."
"Who ever said the British were reserved?" Adams chided his pal.
"By Jove, it’s good to see you." His face brightened. "Every morning, the first thing I do is thank God for Thor Adams. If you hadn’t saved our sorry assets we’d still be hanging on those infernal trees."
Before he could finish, the other three hobbled forward. Although hurting, they were ambulatory. Group hugs and warm smiles were the order of the day.
"For dead men you guys don’t look half bad, especially you, Sullivan. For a while, I didn’t think you were going to make it."
"For a while there, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make it, Cap...I mean Admiral. Don’t mind telling you, crucifixion hurts."
"Right," Cliff agreed. "But that’s ancient history. We survived, which is more than...."
The Major held up his hand, asking Powers to wait. As he did, Sarah fixed her gaze on the scar on his wrist.
"We’ve sequestered a private room, down the hall a bit," Lieutenant Sullivan said. He motioned in its direction.
"How long do we have with you, Admiral?" Lieutenant Childress inquired. They had plenty to discuss.
"Layover’s an hour and a half."
"What aren’t you telling us?" Sarah tried again.
Blake explained as they walked. "We’ve known for a couple of hours now, but now I think it’s beginning to hit the telly."
"They’ve gone and done it again."
"Muslims, of course. This time they may have killed millions."
"They’ve enlarged their anthrax blowers. Put ’em on wheels."
"America. Six cities for sure, maybe more."
Suddenly ill, Adams stopped in his tracks. "‘The pestilence that stalks in darkness, the destruction that lays waste,’" he said just loud enough to be heard. "Trash trucks, wasn’t it?" The sheer enormity of the evil his people were enduring overwhelmed him. It was as if a million voices were crying out for help. He felt his strength evaporate. With his back against the wall, the Admiral slid to the floor.
"Thor!" Sarah screamed, kneeling beside him. Expressionless, he just stared across the hall.
Mustering the strength they had displayed freeing their comrades from the crosses, the injured Brits lifted his limp body. Halfway up, he seemed to regain consciousness.
"The pain...," he tried to explain.
"Right," Major Huston said, pointing. "A few more meters. We’re nearly there."
Once inside the private lounge, Lad Childress soaked some napkins in water and placed them on Thor’s forehead. Ryan Sullivan found the remote control. Turning the television on, he scanned the channels. They were all reporting the story. He settled on FOX Satellite News.
Their anchor, Trixi Lightheart, had already begun her report. "...initial details are sketchy. We know that at seven fifteen eastern time this morning a Philadelphia police officer arrested two men driving a refuse truck. The vehicle had allegedly been reconfigured for distributing inhalation anthrax. The suspects have denied responsibility, saying they had no knowledge of what they were dispensing."
She held her hand to her left ear. "A second truck, I am told, also in Philadelphia, was apprehended just a few minutes ago. The driver and crewman have been taken into police custody."
The studio cut to video. Viewers were getting their first look at what appeared to be the rear end of an overturned trash truck buried under a pile of bricks, glass, and other debris. "This morning, in the Alexandria suburb of Washington, D.C., a third trash truck, similarly equipped, went out of control and crashed. Authorities believe these incidents may be related."
"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock," Sullivan interrupted.
"...another truck was detained in downtown Chicago after toppling a street lamp and dislodging power lines. The Chicago Police Department has confirmed that this vehicle was loaded with what may be anthrax spores. Two suspects are under arrest.
"Moving on to San Diego, we bring you this live report. Monique, good morning."
"Good morning, Trixi. I am here at the Exxon service station on Morena Boulevard just north of San Diego. In a bizarre story, a Western Refuse truck was involved in what witnesses are calling a high-speed police chase. The driver apparently lost control blasting into this gas station. The garbage truck blew up after colliding with a propane tank. Moments later, as you can see, the truck careened back over to these pumps and ignited a second fireball. It’s a scene right out of hell.
"This is Captain Frank Finley of the San Diego Fire Department and Steve Mathews of the SDPD," Monique said. "Captain Finley, Officer Mathews, what can you tell me about what happened here this morning?"
The British contingent of Team Uniform listened intently even though they were privy to more than FOX was reporting. They knew that a truck had been discovered in a Carson, California, warehouse. Blood dripping on the floor and the arm of a dead man hanging out a window had caused an observant security guard to investigate. Alerted, the LAPD had detained two trucks spewing spores in downtown Los Angeles. They had found one in San Francisco. The Brits knew that the San Diego truck had been hijacked and that its crew had died along with the perpetrators. The police were scouring the city looking for the converted death truck, one they now knew had to be hidden somewhere.
The Brits had been on the line with MI-6 - England’s famed intelligence agency. The Major had been informed, not only because he was Britain’s leading expert on Islamic terror, but also because he was now the Tory Party candidate for Prime Minister.
MI-6 had been briefed by the CIA. They knew that anthrax had been found in eight cities. But pending absolute confirmation, the agency didn’t want to release the tragic news, fearing residents and workers would panic and try to flee these metropolises, putting even more lives at risk.
The Brits filled in the details, none of which made Adams feel any better. Sarah didn’t know if she should throw up, give up, or simply cry. She chose option three.
"Sorry to be the bearer of such awful news, sir." The Major rested his arm on the Admiral’s shoulder. "But at least I’ve got some good news."
"Please," Thor begged his friend.
"My party, the Tory Party, has asked me to run for PM. The polls say I might give it a go."
"A go? Unbelievable." Cliff laughed. "The Major is leading Labor by twenty points."
The Admiral stood up. Wearing the biggest smile that would fit on his rugged face, he held out his right hand. "Mr. Prime Minister, congratulations. Now, sir," he said as the smile vanished, "let’s save the world from this scum."
Back on the plane, they were headed home. Their heads were spinning, their stomachs were churning, but their resolve was never stronger.
The Admiral reached for the phone alongside his seat. From memory he dialed the Pentagon and asked to speak with Chairman Hasler. There was a long delay. Adams knew that meant he wasn’t in his office. From experience, he knew that the boys in the basement were scrambling to track him down. A smallish room jammed full of computers, electronics, and sophisticated communications systems was manned twenty-four seven. Their only job was to keep track of the nation’s most important souls. Hasler was high on the list. They would find him.
In less than a minute they patched him through. "What can I do for you, Admiral?"
"I’m headed back to Washington and thought you might like a briefing. I know what’s behind the killing, sir."
"Sure, I’ll meet with you. But it won’t do much good. I’m not exactly Madam President’s favorite General, you know."
"I heard she asked you to relieve me. Thanks for...."
"My pleasure, son. It’s about the only thing I’ve done right since I took this job. When do you arrive?"
"Fifteen thirty at Dulles, sir. British Airways. I’ve got Agent Nottingly with me."
"I’ll have someone pick you up and bring you to wherever I am. As I’m sure you know, we’ve got a crisis brewing here. I’m headed to the White House now."
"Tell them it’s not over, sir. The next attack will come during daylight, a bomb or a missile. Just don’t ask me how I know. But if Secretary Ditroe pins you down, tell her I met with al-Qaeda." Caution wasn’t Thor’s long suit.
"You did what?"
"I had tea with terrorists. Met some swell boys: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Aqsa's Martyrs’ Brigade."
"You’re nuts, Admiral."
Meeting arranged, Adams returned to reading Sarah’s Bible, taking notes as he did. He had to be productive. Wallowing in the moment, no matter how painful, wasn’t going to do anyone any good.
"Sarah," he said, rhythmically tapping his pencil on the paper. "It’s all here. Yacob was right - a four thousand-year-old-family feud. The motivations, the very nature of everybody involved in this calamity was laid out chapter and verse. In the beginning, no less, in Genesis."
"I know. It’s been there all the time."
"All the time, as in forty centuries. Why didn’t you tell me?"
"You weren’t ready to hear it, or at least understand it."
"You’re probably right." He looked back down. "The first time this feud rose its ugly head, Isaac’s mom sent Ishmael’s mom away into the desert empty handed."
"But God sent Hagar back. He didn’t like the idea of her being treated so callously, sent off to die. You know, like Muhammad banished the Jews from Yathrib."
He read on. "I’ll be." He pounded his fist on the armrest.
"The answer. God gave us the answer."
"Separate the warring children," she knew.
"Yeah, but not just separate. Supply them. Help them. As much as I hate what they do - God still loves them."
"He told us how to solve this problem. First, he doesn’t want them together ’cause he knows they’ll hurt each other. Second, he’s picked out places for both Jews and Arabs. But the third thing, and the most important, is he wants Arabs treated kindly in spite of their behavior. Here, read what God said to Abraham." He handed Sarah the Bible.
"‘Do not be distressed about Ishmael and Hagar. I will make the son of the maid into a nation also, because he is your offspring. So early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Abraham set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy.’ Oh, and it also says to ‘listen to your wife Sarah and do whatever she tells you.’" A big grin erupted on her face.
"Yeah I know. I saw that part, too. Man, this is a tough religion. But nothing some situational scriptures couldn’t fix. Where’s Mo when you need him?" Thor deflected a feminine fist. "I know, I know," he said, holding up his hand, laughing. "It’s a relationship, not a religion."
"I didn’t know you were so easily trained," Sarah smiled. "This holds promise." She gazed down, continuing to read. "‘Ishmael’s descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.’" She handed the Bible back to Thor, pointing out the passage.
"The answer is: South of Gaza, going southeast along the Sinai. For five billion dollars, what is the question?" Thor loved Jeopardy.
"Where does an independent Palestinian state belong?" she answered.
"We have a winner. The Genesis account gives us the answer."
"But love," she added, "If we flip back to the end of Numbers...." She held out her hand. "May I have my Bible back?"
He pretended to covet it, and then thought better of it. She might find another "mind Sarah" verse.
"While I’m looking, remember God told Abe that his offspring would have all the land from the Great Sea to the Euphrates River."
"Well, these accounts are different. Here, read this," she said, pointing to the 34th chapter.
"The Lord said to Moses, ‘Command the Israelites to pee facing Mecca.’ No, I read that wrong. Must have gotten it confused with the Hadith."
If looks could kill, he would have been wearing a toe tag.
Thor looked down. "He tells Moses, ‘Command the Israelites, "When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance will have these boundaries: Your southern sector will include the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. On the east, your southern border will start at the end of the Salt Sea, cross south of the Scorpion Pass to the ascent of Akrabbim and continue on to Zin. It shall go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt, and terminate at the Sea."’"
He thought for a moment. "This sounds real specific, Sarah, like a surveyor was laying it out. And, what’s more, archeologists have to know were these places are, or were."
"You’re not done." She pointed back down at the book.
"‘Your western boundary will be the coast of the Great Sea. For your northern boundary, draw a line from the Great Sea to Mount Hor and from Mount Hor to Lebo Hamath. Then the boundary of your nation will go to Zedad, continue to Ziphron and end at Hazar Enan. This will be your boundary on the north.’"
"‘For your eastern border, draw a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham. The boundary will go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of the Ain and go down along the slopes east of the Sea of Kinnereth,’ that’s Galilee, right? ‘Then the boundary will continue along the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea. This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.’"
"No question. No ambiguity at all."
"None. God intended the Jews to have all of the land that they currently occupy, including the West Bank and much of the Golan."
"Exactly. That northern border falls just a little north of Beirut, Lebanon, but it doesn’t include any of Syria. The boundary goes right down the eastern slopes of the Ain mountain range. The current Jordanian border is right on the money, as is the border with Egypt." Sarah had worked all this out.
"A couple of decades ago, when Ariel Sharon fought the Syrian-backed Palestinians in Lebanon and took a big hunk of the country as a buffer from the Hezbollah terrorists...."
"Yes, he was not overstepping his bounds. Never should have given it back. They were correct, by the way, giving the Sinai back to Egypt. Anyway, now flip back to Genesis. Read the last few verses of chapter 15."
Thor read, "‘The Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates."’"
"All right, smart boy. What’s up with that?"
Thor smiled. "Thought you had me, but no. It all fits. Abe’s offspring include the Arabs and the Jews - Ishmael and Isaac. Notwithstanding Muhammad’s confusion, Moses was a Jew. Israel was God’s gift to the Jewish people. The rest - the lion’s share, by the way - was his gift to the Arabs, it belongs to them - all the way to the Euphrates."
"And it’s still that way," she shared. "Between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, it’s mostly Jews. Between the Jordan and the Euphrates, it’s Arabs. East of the river, there are still are still bazillions of Muslims, but racially they’re Persians and Indonesians. The Muslims in the north are Turks, and in the south they’re Egyptians and Africans."
"So that means the area south of Gaza running diagonally southeast toward the Gulf of Aqaba is not only where God sent Ishmael, and where Muhammad claims the Earth’s navel was found; it’s not part of Israel’s inheritance, although the Gaza Strip may be within those boundaries."
"So, separate the warring children and provide the means for them to prevail. We even know where he wants them."
The Admiral laughed. "Y’know something, Sarah?"
"I like to think so. Why?" she smiled.
"Our boy Muhammad left his faithful high and dry."
"In more ways than one," she chuckled.
"Muhammad not only said that he was a prophet just like Moses. He also said that the Books of Moses, the Torah, were inspired by God. Moses wrote both Genesis and Numbers."
"Read it and weep." Sarah smiled. "They can’t claim that Israel is their land without making a mockery of their Prophet’s revelations."
"Worse, they can’t even claim foul play. Muhammad waltzed into Yathrib and systematically booted out the Jews. Two mass migrations and a mass murder."
"So you help them leave Israel. Give them everything they need to be successful. Including the means to feed themselves and a source of water."
"It shouldn’t come as a surprise, Sarah, that the Jews are the foremost authority on growing crops in the desert and the leading manufacturer of water desalinization equipment. Nor that the Arabs have plenty of oil to power the energy-thirsty machines."
"When they scream bloody murder, you politely explain that you’re just following the fine example their Prophet set."
"Madam President, what are we going to do?" Secretary Ditroe was a mess. She had spent the night at the White House and thus hadn’t been contaminated. But it didn’t seem to make a difference. She and her President were dying - if only politically.
The President stared at the report. Stared through it, really.
It was late morning, the day of the Great Offensive. She and her Secretary of Defense had been joined in the Oval Office by Chairman Hasler from the Joint Chiefs and Director Barnes of the CIA.
"How many are we going to lose, Director?" she asked.
"Here in Washington, officials, elected or otherwise, probably twenty percent. All they missed in town was the area around the mall. They dusted most every important residential area except Georgetown. Those bastards knew that Congress was in session. They got us good this time."
"How many Americans, Director Barnes?"
"We don’t have an estimate yet. Hundreds of thousands have been, or at least will be, infected. It’s really bad."
"The worst part is, now we have a refugee problem. Everybody’s packing up and leaving the cities," the General said.
"But nobody wants them. They think that they’re covered in anthrax spores. It’s like when the Irish came here after the potato famine." Ditroe was in her usual position, swallowed by the large burgundy sofa.
"I’ve got an idea, Madam President."
"Why not open some of our bases for them. We’ve pared down our military to the point they’re just sitting empty."
She stared at him. She hated the military, now more than ever.
"It’d make you look generous, ma’am. Like you’re giving the people something. Since we’re dying in the polls, it couldn’t hurt."
"All right. What else. How are we going to survive this thing?"
"The disease or the political fallout?" Barnes didn’t really have to ask.
"The disease will take care of itself. All we can do is give people drugs and clean up the mess. The politics could be far more deadly."
"We’ve already threatened war. What else can we do?" Susan asked.
Just then a voice came over the intercom. A secretary announced that the Speaker of the House was on the line.
"Mr. Speaker," the President said, "what’s happening over there?"
"Best we can tell, nearly two hundred Members were poisoned. They’ve all been given Cipro. But based upon the office experience, the majority may die - most are over forty."
"And the Senate?"
"Even worse. More than a third of the Senate was exposed."
"Do you have a party breakdown? How many were Republicans?"
"We got it worse than they did, I’m afraid. Our guys seem to prefer the commotion of living close to the District. The way it looks, they’re going to regain control of both Houses."
"Then we need to hold some special elections, don’t we? It’s not right to let people go unrepresented."
"Of course not, Madam President. And it’s a brilliant strategy. I’ll set the wheels in motion, then find some way to justify it Constitutionally."
"Good. Report back when there’s something I can announce."
"All right. But Madam President, I’m afraid I have some disturbing news. Admiral Adams is returning from Israel. He’s ready to deliver his report. Republicans are proposing a Joint Session of Congress."
"When? Can they do that?" She cast a quick glance toward the General. If her instincts were correct, his fingerprints were all over this.
"Yes, sure they can," the Speaker said over the phone. "In fact, it’s scheduled for Friday afternoon. But you can order us to boycott the speech. Or better yet, you can upstage him. Give a speech yourself - announce something big."
"Boys and girls, you heard the man. We need a big kill. We’ve got to upstage that meddling Boy Scout." She opened an ornate box on her desk, extracted a cigar, and lit it. The smoke wafted through the air. "I think I may have just the ticket." She took another puff. "Suzzi, call Chairman Alafat back. Tell Yasman we’re willing to sign his peace accord. And then arrange to have everybody that’s anybody at Camp David - first thing Friday morning."
Turning back to face the speakerphone, she said, "Mr. Speaker, invite the whole Hill, what’s left of it. You can even invite the Minority leaders. Let’s make this look bipartisan."
It was late, but the aging Chairman was still up. He was rehearsing, trying to look casual with the additions to his wardrobe. But try as he might, it wasn’t happening.
His team had been unable to blend ten kilos of C-12 and an additional five of skin-piercing shrapnel into a garment without compromising its tailored appearance. Looking into the mirror, the portly terrorist saw an ugly man, flabby and stiff, not the least bit comfortable. He was disappointed, knowing he wasn’t going to look good in the pictures.
"Call for you boss," Mamdouh Salim said, rushing into the room. "It’s from the White House. Susan Ditroe."
The old terrorist moseyed over to the phone. He waited a good long while, picking at his nails. Quietly, he was sending a message. "This is Chairman Alafat," he finally muttered in his most demeaning tone.
"Mr. Chairman, the President asked me to call to invite you to Camp David. She wishes to sign your peace accord. You and your ministers will be our guests, starting tomorrow, Wednesday, if you wish." Even talking to Alafat on the phone turned the Defense Secretary’s stomach. She didn’t know how she’d endure the better part of three days in his presence. "We’ll be holding a dinner in your honor Thursday night. The President has scheduled the signing ceremony Friday morning."
It’s not enough, the veteran terrorist thought. After all, Bush had promised the Saudis, Syrians, and Egyptians this very thing, including withdrawl from the Golan and all of Jerusalem, in return for their support in the Gulf War. But with a return to the ’67 borders, Tel Aviv, with seventy percent of the Jewish population, will be trapped between our pincers. Yes. Another step toward the total annihilation of Israel.
"Who’s been invited?"
"Every Congressional leader will be there, sir, including the committee chairs." Although most hadn’t been called yet, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know they’d all be there. "All of us on the President’s Cabinet, the Vice President. Oh, and um, with your permission, I would like to invite Israel’s Prime Minister."
"Yes, by all means. Perfect. And the press?"
She wanted to say, "Like fleas on a camel," but didn’t. "Every major news anchor. Pretty much the entire Washington news corp."
"I’m sure no one will leave disappointed," the Chairman said.
"I hope not. The President is counting on this peace accord putting an end to the violence. I trust you’ve received our acknowledgement of your most recent requests."
"Yes. I’ve gone over the final draft, and it’s better, but it’s less than my people deserve." Secretary Ditroe’s heart fell a foot.
"B-but, Mr. Chairman. We’re counting on you to honor your pledge."
Alafat laughed. Americans, he thought. They’re so trusting. What is it with them? "Yes, Secretary Ditroe. I will sign it. Someone has to put an end to the killing, don’t you think?"
"Yes. This morning we awoke to the horror of war."
"Today your people tasted what my people have endured for decades. Ten of your cities have been infected with anthrax, just as all of mine have been infected with Jews. We Palestinians understand your suffering."
"I’ll pass your sympathies on to the President. She, like you, is committed to stopping the victimization of innocent people. We too have suffered from radical right-wing hate groups. It’s time we gave peace a chance."
"I couldn’t have said it better myself."
"Mr. Chairman, you are one of the world’s great peacemakers," America’s Secretary of Defense told the once and future terrorist.
"Yes, I know. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon. I will be flying in with several ministers. We will be expecting full diplomatic status while we’re in America, status befitting my people as their elected head of state."
"Yes, Mr. Chairman, of course. As President of the soon-to-be sovereign nation of Palestine, you and your ministers are entitled to such standing."
Hanging up, Alafat danced an ungainly jig. It was quite a sight, especially since Talib Ali and Mamdouh Salim knew what he was wearing. The dance of death had never looked so bizarre.
"One plan hatched. One to go," he said, rubbing his hands together excitedly. "Now where is that Palestinian engineer you promised me?"
"Waiting outside. His flight from Hamburg arrived in Tel Aviv about three hours ago. I was planning to meet with him this evening and check him out. But if you’d like, I’ll invite him in." Salim walked toward the door.
"We can trust him," Ali added. "I know this boy. He’s a good Muslim."
"And a good terrorist. Remember, he was in on Kahn’s crucifixions."
"I’ve just learned he was the genius behind today’s anthrax trash trucks," Talib shared. "Credentials like that speak for themselves. He’s one of us," the Palestinian Muslim told the Egyptian Communist.
"Splendid. Bring him in." The Chairman sat at his sleek black conference table, a bit out of breath.
Aymen Halaweh walked nervously into the Chairman’s office. He was in awe. While the office was nothing to look at, Alafat was his hero.
"Sit down, boy. May we get you some tea?" Alafat motioned toward the porcelain pot on his left.
"Thank you, sir. Meeting you is such an honor," he gushed. Talib Ali poured him a cup. Aymen shook, spilling half of it into the saucer.
"Do you know why you’re here?" Talib asked.
"To do Allah’s work."
"Yes. And let me show you what Allah wants." The Chairman unrolled detailed blueprints of the Dome of the Rock. He wiped his hands across the sheets, flattening them. Feeling proud, he smiled as he saw his darkened reflection in the table’s mirror finish.
The founder and Chairman of Fatah reached down into one of the three large boxes at his feet. With a dramatic flourish, he lifted the contents. He could see Aymen’s eyes grow large.
"That’s one of the Special Forces uniforms we captured in Afghanistan," the young engineer exclaimed. "Do you have the backpack and helmet-cam?"
"Three of them," the Chairman said as he dove into the box a second time. He set the Israeli SFG helmet next to the suit. Both bore the symbol that inflamed his rage - a small, blue, six-sided star.
"That star cursed the Jews in Europe and now, thanks to you, boy, it will curse them again, this time in Jerusalem.
Growing more comfortable wearing twenty pounds of C-12 explosive, Yasman Alafat explained his intricate plan for turning the tide of public opinion.
"Did anything go the way you planned?" Haqqani teased his partner.
Omen Quagmer was miserable. For a guy so obsessed with detail, he was a mess. Only eight of the ten cities he had planned to infect had been dusted, and none had lived up to his expectations. Only one truck made every particulate pickup and actually finished all five ten-block sectors.
"What do you say we have some fun, loosen up, give atoms a try?" He slapped him playfully on the back. "Maybe they’ll behave better."
Kahn’s sense of humor was as twisted as his mind. But neither was a match for his soul.
Omen was still shaking his head. "I understand. To keep our alliance pieced together, we need victories."
"That’s my man. Now you’re back in the game." Kahn Haqqani was the devil’s own cheerleader.
"I’ll tell you what: give me a few minutes to clean up after the boys. I need to work the press. Before we begin Alpha 5, Bravo 4 needs to look like a rousing success."
"Just tell them that the angels didn’t show up. Tell ’em Allah wanted to scavenge for martyrs."