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“But Mom said I couldn’t go. I have an English test third period, and I have a game tonight.”

Hayden was headed to the University of Northern Iowa on a baseball scholarship. “You’ve worked hard enough over the past four years. I think you’re entitled to a little turkey shoot with your dad.”

“But Mom . . .”

“I know,” his father cautioned, shushing him with his hand. “As long as I have you back in school in time to take that test everything will be fine.”

“Coach doesn’t like it if . . .”

“I already talked to your coach. He likes to turkey hunt just like me, and he knows they’re randy as hell this week. He said it was fine just so long as I have you back in school in time for the test. We’ll head out to my uncle’s old place. Fifteen minutes out and fifteen back. If you get your butt in gear we should have no problem getting in a few good hours.”

Hayden untwisted himself and put his feet on the floor. He raised both arms above his head and groaned. “Mom’s going to be pissed.”

In a hushed yet forceful voice, White said, “I’m going to be pissed if you wake her up. Now get moving. I’ll make us a couple of fried egg sandwiches. We can eat them in the truck.” With that, White left his only child’s room and made it down the hallway to the kitchen. He started the coffee and warmed up the frying pan. Next came the hard part. He found a notepad and a pen and leaned over, placing his right elbow on the counter, and wondered how best to admit to the crime. Like most things in life he decided it would be best to be brief and hold his ground.


I checked with Coach last night. He says it’s fine if I take Hayden hunting. I will make sure I have him back in school for third period. This is probably our last spring shoot. Next year he’ll be away at college. Where did all the years go?





HAKIM closed the door to the bedroom, and despite wanting to clear his mind, he began to think of the attacks. The lunchtime explosions, the bomb that had decimated the emergency personnel who were sifting through the rubble of the Monocle—a restaurant that was a favorite haunt of U.S. senators and lobbyists—and then the final bold move. Hakim considered it a stroke of genius. For all his recent disagreements with Karim, he had to admit that the audacity of the plan was impossible to ignore. Karim had asked Hakim to locate America’s National Counterterrorism Center—the nerve center for the Great Satan’s illegitimate war on terror, as he called it. Without telling any of the senior al Qaeda commanders, they put together a daring plan to assault the building. Karim wanted to turn the hunters into the hunted. They would hit the National Counterterrorism Center while the Americans were in disarray and focused on the initial attacks and the secondary explosion.

Hakim had been there with Karim when their six comrades, dressed in SWAT gear, burst into the building. Having spent a decent amount of time in Washington, Hakim knew it was not uncommon to see big black SUVs driving down the street loaded with menacing men armed to the teeth. With the confusion created by the initial blasts, they would drive right up to the gate of the counterterrorism facility and easily dispatch the light security.

The men had been trained for months in every detail of the plan, and from what they saw it had worked perfectly. The Suburban drove over the curb and right up to the front door with its emergency lights flashing. The men poured out of the vehicle, formed up in a single-file line, and entered the building engaging targets as they went. They were to avoid the elevators and take the stairs to the top floor where the nerve center was located. In addition to the M-4 rifles and Glock pistols, each man wore a custom-made suicide vest that was packed with C-4 plastic explosives and half-inch ball bearings.

Karim had predicted that the attack on the facility would cripple America’s ability to effectively attack al Qaeda for years to come. And it couldn’t happen soon enough. The hunter-killer teams and the unmanned aerial vehicles with their missiles had decimated the upper ranks of their group. They expected casualties to exceed one hundred, but something had gone wrong. Either that or the Americans were lying. So far only eighteen individuals had been reported dead in the assault on the counterterrorism facility. Six days later, Karim still refused to believe the reports. He was convinced the Americans, in an effort to save face and reassure the public, were covering up the true damage.

Hakim had noticed one little problem with that theory, though. News crews had been able to get shots of the building’s upper floors from outside the security fence, and they were still intact. If the suicide vests had gone off as planned, every window would have been blown out and there was a better than fifty-fifty chance that the roof would be nothing more than a jagged hole. He had mentioned this to his old friend and had suffered a harsh rebuke. He was told he was naïve in the ways of the world and the West’s ability to manipulate the media.

Hakim was growing tired of his friend’s inflexibility. He was the one who had traveled the world, while Karim had done little more than hang out at cafés and mosques surrounded by like-minded men. He had done almost no traveling outside Saudi Arabia. There were things Hakim would like to say to his friend, but he knew the timing was not right. They needed to find a safe way out of the country and then, when things had settled down, he could confront him.

When Hakim was done washing his face and brushing his teeth, he faced east, knelt on the floor, and began to pray. For most of his life he had prayed the required five times a day, often spending a total of two hours prostrate in an attempt to prove himself a good Muslim. It had been several years since he’d been that devoted, however. To accomplish his mission he’d been forced to abandon many of his habits and rituals. His travels to America and other countries required that he draw as little attention to his faith as possible.

Even now, in the secrecy of his room, in the middle of America, with not a person in sight, he rushed through his prayers. He offered himself up to Allah and asked for his guidance on this dangerous journey, and then, as was increasingly the case, his mind began to wander. He was still talking to Allah, but instead of asking for guidance he was asking questions. He was trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. He stumbled through it, as he did so often lately—asking the question, giving half the answer, and then moving on to the next thing before completing the thought. Doing so prevented him from having to face the truth. These shortened prayers were turning into bleak sessions. Almost as if he were jotting down notes with Allah and saying, when I get through the hardest part of this journey, you and I will sit down and sort our way through this mess.

Hakim still believed in Allah. That was not the problem. His lack of confidence had more to do with his followers—the men who claimed to know exactly what Allah wanted. As he slid under the covers, he tried to clear his mind. His faith, he realized, was not in crisis. It was his faith in his friend that was causing the problem. Hakim thought back to the day they had met, but quickly stopped himself. He had spent too much time wrestling with this of late. He was tired, and if he was ever going to sit down and discuss his concerns with Karim he would need to be rested. Using an old trick, he picked one of his best memories and began to replay it in his mind.

The sun was glistening off the familiar cool blue water of the Florida Keys. Hakim leaned back in the chair and then let himself come forward almost as if he were praying to Allah, but he wasn’t. His right hand went round and round in tiny circles on the reel, drawing in as much line as he could in the few seconds he had, and then he leaned all the way back. Despite the strain of wrestling with the great big marlin for the better part of an hour, he had a look of childlike elation on his face.

The trip to Cuba had been inspired by his reading The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. For Hakim, it had been the single greatest experience of

his life. A day didn’t pass without that beautiful marlin jumping into his thoughts, and rarely did he fall asleep without a glimpse of it. He knew it was a coping mechanism. There had been a lot of death and dismemberment—bullets and bombs that did horrific things to friends, strangers, and enemies alike. He’d seen men literally shredded by the shrapnel of an artillery shell. So bloody and fleshy and cut to pieces that you’d swear there was no way on earth they would ever survive, but by God’s mercy some of them did, and if they’d had the medical facilities that the enemy had, even more would have lived. And then there were other times where you would find a comrade after an air strike and you would swear he was simply knocked unconscious, because he had not a blemish on his body. You would nudge him, even splash some water on his face, and there was no bringing him back. Hakim learned later it was the concussive blasts of the big two-thousand-pound American bombs. The shock wave from the explosions would cause blunt trauma to the internal organs of individuals without leaving any outward mark of death.

These were just some of the images Hakim tried to suppress every time he attempted to sleep. Like the six well-trained men assaulting the counterterrorism facility. Hakim did not like the casual way they convinced other followers to throw their lives away. That was why he clung to the memory of his trip to Cuba and the unforgettable day he spent chasing the marlin, fighting and eventually landing the huge fish. The chasm between the two worlds, however, created a paradox. He had either been halfheartedly trying to reconcile the issue, or trying very hard to avoid it. Whichever was the case, Hakim knew he couldn’t put it off much longer.

Now is not the time, he told himself. He quieted his mind by thinking of the warm sun on his face. He remembered the humid salt air and the soft breeze, the balletic dance of the big blue fish as it sailed through the air. Hakim began drifting off to sleep, hopeful that he would someday return to Cuba. That familiar voice in his head was calling him a fool.

He had no idea if he had been asleep for two minutes or two hours. He was still on his back, his eyes closed, when he heard the heavy footsteps of someone running in the house. The door to the bedroom burst open with a thud, and Hakim, startled, sat up in complete shock. His mind, numb from its deep state of REM, couldn’t quite place the face of the burly man standing in the open doorway.

“They are coming,” the man said with genuine fear in his voice.

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