“Do you know what state we are in?”
Ahmed sheepishly said, “I thought I knew, but now I am not sure.”
Hakim was dumbstruck. The states in the middle of America were huge. “How can that be?”
“The river,” he said as if that would explain everything. “It turns like a snake.”
Now Hakim understood the confusion. The Mississippi River acted as a state line for almost all of its twenty-three hundred miles. The RV had two gas tanks, which Karim knew held seventy-five gallons. He also knew the tanks were full because he had topped them off with the reserves he had stashed at the farm. If they’d been on the federal interstate highway system and had driven at the posted speeds they could have traveled as far as seven hundred miles without refueling. That was almost ten hours of driving, and they had been on the road just eight. “How much fuel do we have left?”
“We are low.”
“Barely above empty.”
Hakim was hit by a pang of fear. How could that be? He had gone over the escape plans with both men. He had drilled it into their thick heads that if anything should happen to him, they should follow one of two escape plans, either to Chicago or Houston, and stick with whichever one they chose. Both involved getting on the interstate and blending in, getting as far away as possible, as quickly as possible, with the least chance of something going wrong. Like getting lost. “What happened to the escape routes I gave you? They were simple to follow. Even without the GPS.”
Ahmed made a gesture with his eyes as if he was looking over his shoulder while not wanting to turn his neck.
Hakim understood. “Karim, why did you not follow my plans?” He wished Ahmed would move so he could see the pained expression on Karim’s face.
“I made a tactical decision. When I looked at recent developments I decided we must adapt.”
“And how did that work for you . . . deviating from the plan?” Hakim asked, not caring if he upset him again.
After a long pause, Karim said, “I do not need your help. I can figure this out without you.”
“Is that why we are stopped? We should be halfway to Houston or safely parked under a bridge in Chicago if that were the case. You chose to ignore all of my hard work and once again, look where it has gotten you.”
“Ahmed, move!” Karim ordered.
The big man got up and walked to the front of the RV.
Karim gave his old friend a long, hard look and said, “I will not hesita
te to beat you again. I do not have the time or the patience to deal with your hurt feelings.”
“And I no longer have the time or inclination to condone your arrogance and stupidity.”
Anger flashed across Karim’s face. He pulled back his untucked shirt, showing the handle of a pistol.
Hakim smiled, his once-perfect set of teeth now ruined. “You talk of mission and faith and doing what is best for the jihad, but you can’t humble yourself for even a second.”
“I am your commander. It is not my place to humble myself before you.”
Hakim said, “Who gave you the rank of commander?”
Karim started to draw the gun.
“You gave it to yourself. I was never part of your little group that you trained in the jungle. You may have deluded yourself into thinking that I was, but deep down in your heart you know I am speaking the truth.”
“I am sick of all your talking,” Karim shouted as he stood.
Hakim remained calm. “And you think that justifies killing me.”
“On the battlefield it certainly does. Discipline must be kept.”
Hakim started to laugh, but it hurt too much and quickly turned to coughing. He spat up some blood that dribbled down his chin. His face was so bruised and numb, though, that he didn’t even feel it. He asked, “What would Allah think of this? You say that everything you do is to please Allah. How will your murdering me please Allah?”