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“Let me ask it a different way then. You were trained to think tactics. Did you think I had things handled back in Iowa . . . at the house? Did you feel he needed to step outside and shoot them?”

“What if they had been police?”

“If they had been police, we would be dead right now. Shooting them would have solved nothing. The best course was to wait and see. Besides, the police don’t use young boys. They were simply a father and son looking to do some hunting.”

“But we did not know that at the time,” Ahmed said.

“We?” Hakim asked. “You mean you and Karim did not know, and you did not know because you have spent no time in this country. You do not understand America the way I do. So you do not see what is obvious. You blindly follow him, and where does he keep leading you? To another house where he kills a husband and wife. Two people minding their own business, breaking no law, and doing nothing to offend Allah.”

Ahmed looked out the window for a moment and said, “These are strange times.”

“Tell me . . . why couldn’t he have tied them up?”

“I don’t know. He has his reasons.” Ahmed turned his attention to the TV and a moment later added, “It is not my place to question him.”

“You keep saying that, but if you ever want to see Paradise, you had better start thinking for yourself. Allah does not condone this. The people who lived here were not infidels. They had done nothing to provoke his wrath.”

“This is different. We are in the land of our enemy, thousands of miles from any support. We must do whatever it takes to survive.”

“Whatever?” Hakim questioned Ahmed’s choice of words. “Now you sound like him. You know what pleases Allah, and you know what displeases him. Tell me . . . do you think Allah will condone what was done here last night in his name?”

Before Ahmed could answer Karim entered the house through the front door. He stood in the foyer and looked suspiciously at the two men. “What have you been discussing?”

Ahmed quickly said, “I was telling him that the White House has announced a major press conference.”

“About what?”

“The media is saying their president is going to discuss what happened in Washington last week.”

“What is to discuss?” Kakim holstered his pistol and took off his jean jacket. “We won . . . they lost.”

Ahmed flashed Hakim a nervous look and then said, “They are speculating it is about the investigation.”


Ahmed was confused. “I do not understand.”

“Who is speculating?”

“The reporters. They are citing sources inside the administration.”

“Good,” Karim said, “we could use some information.” With that he moved down the hallway to the kitchen.

Ahmed gave Hakim a worried look and whispered, “Be respectful. Do not upset him.”

Hakim watched his Moroccan friend follow Karim into the kitchen. He turned his attention to the TV and wondered how much longer it would be before they had their final confrontation. A minute passed before Karim came back into the room. He was holding Hakim’s black backpack. He placed it on the coffee table and opened one of the side pockets.

Karim withdrew three mobile phones and said, “Why did you not tell me about these?”

Hakim looked at the three prepaid phones he had purchased months earlier. “I did.”

“You did not.”

Hakim eyed him cautiously. His friend was looking to provoke a fight. “I thought I told you while we were at the farmhouse . . . back in Iowa.”

“You did not.”

Hakim swallowed. “The day after we arrived I made sure they were charged. They were in the kitchen. On the counter.” Despite being beaten unconscious he remembered it clearly. Karim had questioned him about the phones.

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