Ahmed’s voice crackled over the radio. “I have the shot. Do I have your permission?”
Hakim looked up the staircase and yelled, “No. Do not shoot.”
Anger flashed across Karim’s face. “It is not your place to give such orders.”
“They are hunters.”
Karim’s eyes narrowed. “What if they are agents posing as hunters?”
Hakim hadn’t thought of that, but he wasn’t about to admit it to Karim, so he looked out the window and studied the two men. They were now just fifty yards away. They’d made it up the long, straight stretch of the driveway and were now entering the large gravel square that sat between the house and the barn. The man on the left was half a head taller and quite a bit heavier than the other man. A few seconds later Hakim realized the shorter man was a teenager.
“They are not agents,” Hakim said assuredly. “One of them is a boy.”
“It could be a trick.”
Hakim didn’t even have to think about this one. The Americans would never try such a stunt. In a voice loud enough to carry up the stairs he said, “Both of you stay calm and keep out of sight. I will see what they want.” He bent over and set his gas mask on the floor.
“No,” Karim ordered.
“Trust me for once, you fool.” He slid his gun into the back waistband of his pants and covered it with the tail of his black long-sleeved T-shirt. As he started to open the door he heard Karim hissing obscenities at him. Hakim stepped onto the front porch and put a warm smile on his face. Holding his right hand up in a casual, friendly gesture, he said, “Good morning. Can I help you?” His English was near perfect, with only the slightest accent. If a stranger had to guess, he was more likely to think he was Indian or Pakistani than Saudi.
“Sorry to bother you,” the older of the two said. “My name is Ted White . . . this is my son, Hayden.”
“Hello, my name is Harry. How can I help you?”
The two men stopped about twenty feet from the front porch. “Well . . . I’m sorry to intrude, especially this early. I saw the No Trespassing signs.” The father looked over his shoulder back down the long drive. “But I didn’t know what else to do . . . you see, I’m a cousin of the Terwilligers . . . the family who used to own this place. I assume you’re the new owner.”
“That is correct.”
The man smiled a bit awkwardly. “Do you like to hunt?”
Hakim smiled back and said, “No . . . but I have nothing against it.”
“That’s nice to hear.” The man looked at the ground for a moment and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Hakim was extremely calm. He looked down the driveway and saw nothing but open gravel road. These two were not the advance element of some larger force. It was obvious the man had a question on his mind. “So what brings you out here at this early hour?”
“Well, I was wondering if you would give us permission to hunt down by the river. You see, I’ve been hunting turkey on this land ever since I was a little kid, and so has Hayden here. I promise you we won’t disturb you. We’ll just be using little .22s. Nothing more than a little pop really.”
Hakim nodded. Things were beginning to make sense. “How early do you like to start?”
“Well, that depends.” He gestured at his clothes. “We were hoping to get some in this morning. Got the rifles back in the truck. But if now’s not a good time I don’t want to disturb you.”
“I suppose now would work,” Hakim offered, already thinking the best way to handle this was to be nice. They had monitored the media closely, and while Karim’s photograph had been everywhere, Hakim’s involvement had yet to be reported.
“Thank you,” the father said and then pointed at him and asked, “You a Hawkeye?”
Hakim looked down at his black University of Iowa T-shirt and its bright yellow lettering. “Yes. I went there for graduate school. Their writing program.”
“You an author?”
“Yes. That’s why I bought this place. Nice and quiet.”
“I understand,” the man said, holding up an apologetic hand. He seemed to sense this would be a good time to leave. “Well, we really appreciate you letting us use the land. We’ll just skirt the creek down there and make our way down to the river. You’ll never see us. Really appreciate it. It means a lot.”
Hakim waved and said, “No worries. Be safe.” Right as he said it, he heard the door open behind him. Hoping he had imagined it, he kept his eyes on the father and son. They were turning to leave but then they suddenly stopped. Hakim watched the expression on the father’s face turn friendly before his entire demeanor changed. Hakim felt the old porch boards sway under the weight of an additional person. He pulse began to quicken.
“Hello,” the man said in a nervous voice.