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Two Hands One Heart Prologue Franklin Xavier Langdon had an epiphany on September 11, 2001. His life had been wasted on the pursuit of greed. It took missing the subway train by thirty seconds that very morning to change his point of view. On September 12th he began his life a new. Ruth Frances Reynolds was late for her Christmas Day 2004 flight to Bangkok by twenty minutes. Luckily for her it was the last flight of the evening. The other six members of her sorority who made the trip to Phuket would be swallowed up by a giant tsunami a day later. When her Christmas break ended she dropped out of medical school and joined the Peace Corps. Samira Mahalia Bryan spent the five years after graduating from the University of Georgia traveling across Europe with her boyfriend Gerald. A mix up in train schedules brought her connection into Madrid three hours after his. The date of March 11, 2004 would haunt her forever. Ten days later she touched down in Macon, Georgia determined to bring peace to the world. Kendrel Horace Williams was a bad child. He grew up quickly into a bad teenager. Most recently he had graduated into a bad adult. Three years spent at Lompoc federal prison transformed him into a good man. He was released onto the unsuspecting world on March 17, 2005. Khadif Bahrain His mother claimed he was born with a golf club in his hand. Over the first eighteen years of his life the golf clubs never left him. Then on his eighteenth birthday he was called into service with the Iraq army. It was six weeks before operation dessert storm began. The country club he belonged to was bulldozed for an airstrip. Falling American bombs killed both his parents and two of his siblings. When the war was officially ended most of his friends went underground to continue the fight. Khadif purchased a second hand set of clubs and pick up truck then headed west for the dessert. Human beings feel infinitesimally small on this planet of six plus billion. The concept that one man or woman can change the world has evaporated into our own sense of inadequacy. “What can I do just one person?” Well here is a news flash for you; the revolution has to start somewhere. Why not be the one who starts it? Excluding tragedies and revelations the four people who make up this story had only one other thing in common. Every one of them heard a song. I’m gonna make it a brighter place I’m gonna make it a safer place I’m gonna help the human race With my own two hands I can hold you with my own two hands I can comfort you with my own two hands But you got to use your own two hands How many songs do you listen to on the radio in a day? When was the last time you really took the time to listen to the lyrics? Have you ever taken them heart? Have you ever changed your entire life because of them? Our deepest thanks go out to Ben Harper for his words of encouragement. You too can change the world with your own two hands. So what are you waiting for? Chapter 1 Known simply by a single initial, X was a commodities broker by trade. He was a millionaire so many times over he could not remember the first one. September 12th 2001 he walked into the fifty-second street office of his brokerage firm, and handed in his resignation. Despite the attempts of several of the higher ups to woo him into staying, he simple shrugged his shoulders and said. “I don‟t want to.” Another nasty east coast winter was on its way to the Big Apple, and X could no longer stand idly by while thousands of his fellow New Yorkers froze to death on its streets. The three apartment buildings cost him his life savings. Refitting and refurbishing them cost him his entire retirement package. However, like a MasterCard commercial he gladly gave them all for one thing. A single smile from a six year old that for the first time since birth had a place to lay her head at night…priceless. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Ruth came from a sacrilegiously privileged background. Old English money perverted her mother and father‟s sense of worth. They could not fathom her desire to want to help the rest of the world “So give them money. I‟ll write you a check right now.” “You just don‟t get it Dad.” Joining the Peace Corps was much more in depth then she anticipated. She expected the process was much like joining the military. “I want to join.” “Okay sign here.” It was not nearly that simple. There was an application that needed to be approved. All of your financial obligations had to be met. Professional background was one of the biggest determining factors. They wanted to know what she expected to bring to them. What can you do? What languages do you speak? It was not enough that she wanted to help. They had to know if she could help. In the end her premed collegiate background, and family influences outweighed her lack of any useful talent. “We would like you to be a teacher. Do you think you can do that?” “I can do whatever you need me to do.” Her excitement was squashed in short order when they explained her assignment. “You want to teach people about safe sex?” When she signed on to help save the world, she was thinking more along the lines of feeding hungry children. “In some areas of Malawi HIV/AIDS infection rates are nearing 50% in children over the age of twelve with an average life expectancy of thirty five years of age.” Her sponsor seemed annoyed by her response to the offer. “Don‟t get me wrong I would love to help in anyway I can. What was making me a bit nervous is that I am going to have to talk to people about sex?” Even as she said it her face blushed. “You‟re going to do just fine honey.” Her sponsor a very touchy feely sort of woman took her cheeks in hand and squeezed them. It reminded Ruth of a scene from a bad Italian movie. …………………………………………………………………………………………… Samira came home to world she no longer familiar with. The anger and violence she experienced first hand in Madrid gripped Macon with a conflict she had only seen in 1960‟s movies and documentaries. Modern day hippies staged sit ins and carried signs around saying “Make love not War” and “Give Peace a Chance.” Vets and soldiers cried for blood in response to the “War against America” promised by the Bin Laden‟s of this world. It was a mess. “Gerald died because of these sick bastards. How could you possibly be opposed to the war?” One of her good friends from High School fired off her drunken mouth once too often triggering an unusually harsh response from the normally pensive youngster. “Which bastards are those Patrice? Do you even have the slightest clue what you are talking about? Do you even know the difference between Morocco and Afghanistan or are all members for the Nation of Islam the same to you?” Slamming down her beer she stood up and walked for the door. “What the hell is wrong with you bitch?” Patrice was on her feet in a defensive position. “This country, your ignorance, senseless war and hatred; you go ahead and take your pick.” Five hours later she was on another plane. This was one was headed to Washington D.C. Someone was going to listen to her. War was wrong. The killing had to stop. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… It was not Kendrel‟s intention to ever return to the Bronx again. However, it was not his choice where the parole board would agree to release him to. “The influence of my home town would be dangerous.” In the past he may have thrown a temper tantrum or copped an attitude in response to their defiance. Prison taught him a lot, but perhaps the greatest art he mastered was that of patience. “Do you have any relatives outside the Bronx?” There was little doubt that they were going to release the man. His time had been served in full. The only question now was where would he be least likely to stray? Despite his apparent reformation, there was a better than fifty-fifty chance that he would end up right back in jail again. “I have an uncle in Manhattan he owns a grocery store. He sent you‟ll some paperwork yesterday. He‟s agreed to sponsor me.” Of course he neglected to say that he refused to give him a place to stay or a job, but who could blame him. His son was dead at the very hand of his nephew. Trusting him was something he would never do again, no matter what the extenuating circumstances were. “Do you understand the rules of your parole and that you will not be allowed to leave the state of New York for the next three years?” It was one of longer paroles they had assigned. The judge simple stated; “You have been a crook since the age of five. Even after you have served your time in jail you will not be a private citizen. Quite frankly Mr. Williams I just don‟t trust you.” “Yes mame I understand.” The money he received barely got him a bus ride and a meal. He was none-the-less grateful to be back out in the real world so much so that he had to fight back the urge to hug the bus driver as he stepped outside into the “fresh” city air. “Hello Big Apple.” One of the Jesus freaks with his sign and blaring radio responded to his rhetorical statement. “Hello to you and God bless.” Normally Kendrel wouldn‟t have given the man a second look, but today was anything other than normal. Reaching out his hand he dropped his last two quarters in the dirty man‟s cup, nodded and went on his way to nowhere. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… On any given day Khadif would hit two or three thousand golf balls. In the middle of what many called a dessert oasis he carved out a four-hole golf course. It was a quiet nomad‟s existence. In a week he saw maybe two or three cars or camels go by, depending on what background they came from. Today however was a banner day. A full battalion of America‟s finest came upon this quiet little retreat. “Do you mind if we play through?” A young G.I. laughed in spite of himself. “Feel free.” Two years of school in London left him with more than a good grasp of the English language. “Smitty, if you‟re going to play, than let‟s play already. We‟ve got a leave for twenty- four hours.” And so it began. “Khadif‟s Oasis” grew quickly. People from all over the country mostly Americans flocked to his ever expanding course. Old army equipment was used to dig out the new holes, one by one. The new government seeing the opportunity to make money sold the land to Khadif for beautification. They dug wells for water and brought in the finest sods from the banks of the Tigris. The whole project took nearly a year, but when it was finished no one could believe the transformation From out of a grubby piece of dessert land had grown a full eighteen-hole golf course. Chapter 2 Do not fret or worry about Xavier. He was not going to starve to death. Even without his savings and his retirement fund he was still quite well off. The stock market had been kind to him in way that very few could measure. It is important that you understand this because despite his great sacrifice he was still a very rich man. “We are running at about three quarter capacity right now due to our latest evictions.” The building super Max was giving his daily review. “How many were there?” Unfortunately, running the equivalent of a half way house brought in a lot of bad elements into his establishment. There were regular sweeps completed daily of the rooms to make sure everyone was following the rules. 1) No Drugs 2) No Alcohol 3) No open Flames 4) No Violence 5) No Weapons 6) No Loud Noise 7) No Sex It was not hard to remember the rules because they were stamped on both the inside and outside of every door in the building. Considering there was no rent to pay it should have been easy for the residents to keep from being evicted, and yet like clockwork someone broke the rules at least once a day. “How many do we have waiting to get in?” From the moment X notified the city of his intentions he was met with strict opposition. The local neighborhood did not want “degenerates and hoodlums” living next door to them. Despite the cries and complaints he had a waitlist of a dozen or more qualified applicants at all times. “You mean that actually meet the criteria? That would be zero applicants.” It was a running joke amongst the security and janitorial staff that none of them could actually live here. After all, the seven rules alone removed every one of them from the running. Amongst the other requirements were a full time job (no matter the pay), cleanly appearance, and a willingness to put in at least an hour of work on the premises every night. Of course since their rent was free they were not to be paid for this hour. “So we have fifteen available apartments and no one qualified to stay there? That‟s highly inefficient.” His focus was drawn to a young man standing outside the door. His stomach churned quite unnaturally as he looked into the young man‟s very cold eyes. “Can I help you?” Dangerous. When asked later what he thought of Mr. Williams it was the first word that came to mind. “Yeah I heard you might have a place available to live in.” Everyone he talked to said there were no jobs available in Manhattan. They told him as an ex-con that he had no chance getting anything legitimate and he should just go home. In the forty-eight minutes since he stepped off the bus he acquired a stock job at warehouse for seven dollars an hour, and a line on a free place to stay. It had been a good day. By his standards it had been perhaps the single most encouraging day of his life. “You have a name.” His first inclination was to go with his gut and send the man packing. The potential downside fully outweighed any upside he could possibly have, but than again that was this place was for. “Kendrel.” This man before him was black. There was no mistaking it, but he had the mannerisms and speech of a white man. As a youngster he would have labeled him quickly and moved on his way. “Do you a job? Full time.” Although quite conservatively dressed there was a swagger to this man. At one time he could have been a dealer or just hard case. “Yes sir.” He handed him the paperwork he got from his new employer. It was an incredible stroke of luck that he happened into the warehouse. Even more fortuitous was the owner‟s past troubles with the law. He liked to help ex-cons when he could. He did warn the young man though that he did not tolerate trouble. This was not the kind of man who called the police if something went wrong. It would be handled internally. “You just got out today and you have a full time job already.” Kendrel didn‟t notice that he had handed him his release papers along with his proof of employment. “Yes sir.” Reaching back out to take the papers he was already walking for the front door expecting to be rejected. “Here are the rules; learn them and live them. No one stays here longer than six months. Max here will get you set up. Here‟s a meal voucher. You get one a day for the first week to get you on your feet. After that meals are available for purchase. Do you have any questions?” It may have been a mistake but he was going to give this kid a chance. “I‟m sorry sir, but I can‟t read.” His embarrassment was hidden behind his clenched jaw, but he felt very uncomfortable about even mentioning it. “No drugs, no alcohol, no open flames, no violence, no weapons, no loud noise, and no sex. I see you are working a night shift. During the day you will have to volunteer one hour to this facility. Max will tell you what your detail is.” Seeing how uncomfortable he was about his illiteracy, X moved right on. “Thank you for the opportunity sir, I will try not to let you down.” “Show Mr. Williams to his room, we will continue this later Max.” Even though he was scared, it always felt nice to see that look in a young man‟s eyes. The moment he realized someone was giving him a second chance. It was even more impressive when he could tell that the young man in question did not feel he deserved it. “Don‟t mind the Mister. He‟s a bit short with the way he talks to every one, but he has an absolute heart of gold.” It was the second part that attracted Max to this position four years earlier. Also fresh out of prison, he was convinced he would never find a productive position in society again. Then along came Mr. X. “It‟s all right.” He had come to expect nothing less. Compassion and respect were something he had not known for quite sometime. “That does not mean though that he will bend even a little bit on his rules though.” Max was quite adept at sizing up a person especially when it came to his ability to handle himself in a brawl. This young man was dangerous. “I don‟t drink, do drugs, don‟t smoke, ain‟t got no woman, and I don‟t make a lot of noise.” His two changes of clothes were the only things he carried into the room with him. It was a lot cleaner than he expected it to be. In fact it was spotless. “I wasn‟t really worried about those five.” Perhaps it was not right for him to be this candid with a man he didn‟t know, but he was just that sort of person. “I‟m not looking for trouble.” Kendrel did not mention the weapons or the violence on purpose and this man caught it right away. His eyes met right away with the bathroom and the mini-kitchen. Was this place for real? Even the bed had clean sheets and a real mattress. “Just try to make sure trouble doesn‟t come looking for you. This place is very important to all of us here. It‟s the last stop for some and the first stop towards recovery for others. But mostly it‟s our home.” Patting him on the back with one hand, he handed him the key to his room with the other. “Thanks.” It was as if someone had stomped out his consistent nightmares and replaced them with “Leave it to Beaver” dreams. “No problem.” Was that a smile he saw deep within this young man? “No man I mean it. Thanks.” Fear was not something he had a lot of experience with. Incarceration never frightened him. Dying and violence were all he really knew, but kindness scared the hell out of him. A nod and smile from the old Russian warmed a part of him he never knew existed. Like the tin man at the end of the Wizard of Oz Kendrel finally had a heart. …………………………………………………………………………………………… It was a typical morning for Samira. In ten minutes she would be arrested and thrown in jail. After twenty-four hours they would release her, and so the pattern would go. Demonstrating against the war was becoming a full-time endeavor. “Miss Bryan, It is so nice to see you again.” Every time she had been removed from the Whitehouse gate it had been by the same police officer. A very pleasant man named Craig. He confessed to her that he had done the same thing in the late sixties. “I am exercising my right to speak out against the evil practices of my government.” Today was something different; she had actually chained herself to one of the side gates in hopes to draw attention to herself. “Can I make a suggestion young lady? Construct these demonstrations somewhere that actually might help the cause. Write to your congressman or go the newspapers. Because standing in front of the house of the president and complaining about war is about as useful as pissing in the wind.” Very respectfully, Craig pulled her down off the fence and placed the handcuffs loosely on her wrists. “I will be heard Craig. I will be heard.” It frustrated her to know that he was telling her the truth. “How successful is the person that shouts at the back of a deaf man?” He tapped at his temple trying to say that she should use her head. Twelve days she had been at this, and was getting nowhere. Only once during that time had she even got one line of press. He was right. This was not the way to get things done, but what was? …………………………………………………………………………………………….. Nothing could have prepared Ruth for the beauty of Malawi. Known as “the warm heart of Africa” it was exactly that. Nestled between Mozambique and Zambia this country of nearly twelve million people was simply a breathtaking site to behold. Whether she was walking along the lake from which the country got its name or hiking through the Nkhotakota Game preserve, Ruth thought her new home was heavenly. It was unlike anything she had ever known. Most of her life was spent in a penthouse in England‟s Knotting Hill, so backwoods Africa was a stretch. It was a stretch that she embraced willingly and appreciatively. From the moment her plane landed in Lilgongwe until this very moment nearly two years later, she felt alive in way she could never have at Oxford. In spite of her reservations about discussing sex with total strangers she found herself to be a natural teacher. People listened to her and her interpreter with open minds and open hearts. Although English was the official language in the major cities and towns most of the villagers spoke one of several forms of Bantu, Chichewa, Chitimbuka and Chiyao. Everyday was a new adventure in her new home. Her group moved from tribe to tribe and brought their knowledge and contraception to the masses. Everything she did felt like a gift from God that was until today. They were just leaving the port city of Kaporo and moving their way towards the Tanzanian border when she got her first taste of the “New Africa”. “She would like to know how she is supposed to ask the man who is raping her to put one of these rubber things on his penis.” Kitaru was a young man of very little words. In the past though, he had been very pleasant and kind to work with. Today he was very much on edge. “I‟m sorry I must have misunderstood what you said.” Obviously he meant the man she is having intercourse with. “No miss, you understood me correctly.” The young girl not more than fifteen or sixteen was at least ten months pregnant. Her voice sounded like that of a small butterfly rather than a mother. “These people here in this camp are from Rwanda. They are refugees.” Although an educated young lady, she was quite embarrassed that most of her knowledge of the tragedies from that country came from watching the movie Hotel Rwanda most recently. “The child these girls carry in the bellies comes from being raped by Rwandan rebels. We have taken them in here at these camps.” His head ducked down into his chest out of shame for what had been done. “Have they been tested yet?” Even though the young ladies would not understand what she said, Ruth whispered. “Yes mame they have.” Kitaru never raised his eyes to look at her. “What did they find?” Was he not telling her on purpose? “That is the reason they are here mame. They are all infected. We are supposed to teach them how not to pass it on.” Before she could even react, he held up his hand. “There is nothing that can be done.” The AIDS epidemic in Africa was growing to Biblical proportions. One in every three people in this camp had been infected. Yet, it was deemed that nothing could stop the onslaught. There was no way to prevent the well armed guerillas from carrying out their deadly raids. The men in the villages were shot, the women raped and infected. “What do you mean there is nothing that can be done? Someone has to stop them!” Her childish beliefs of right and wrong jumped to the forefront. “Who will stop them?” One of the young ladies stepped forward from the rear of the classroom. From her face one would have thought her barely thirteen years of age, but her voice was quite strong. “What about the government?” “Whose? The Rwandan government is fighting a costly battle against the rebels. They are interested in control and money, not in the virginity of tribeswomen.” Her English was incredible clear and succinct. “Do you think I am talking about these girls‟s virginity? This is not about the rape itself. You have been infected with a disease that will kill you. This is the equivalent of attempted murder.” Normally being a young lady of a proper upbringing her last few statements would have been filtered from being spoken publicly, unfortunately her sense of etiquette had been overwhelmed. “We are casualties of war mame. No different than the dead Iraqi children your British armies are responsible for.” How bitter her words were? They carved at Ruth‟s heart like a steak knife digging through a nice sirloin. “That can‟t be! There must be justice.” “With all due respect, we don‟t live in your Western world miss. The only justice we live here can be found at the barrel of a gun or in the pocket books of our government.” With this the young lady and several of her friends walked out of the tent. They smiled respectfully and left her alone with Kitaru. “How can this be?” Her lips trembled with exasperation. “It just is mame. It just is.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… It was the biggest day of Khadif‟s life. Finally he had an opportunity to showcase his golfing skill to the world. The tournament of fifty players was being broadcast around the globe via AFRS. There were several celebrities and high profile Iraqis in the field, and he was ten strokes ahead of all of them with six holes to play. “Today is my day.” Turning to his caddy, he put forth an ear-to-ear grin. No one knew where the fifteen-year old boy named Proti came from. He claimed to be the son of a local official, but in the confusion of the day no one checked his credentials. Along with fifteen golf clubs and several balls, the bag he was carrying was laden with twenty pounds of plastic explosives. As he approached the twelfth green with the Iraqi police chief by his side, he screamed out in his native tongue. “Traitors beware” Khadif was a mechanic in the National Guard. In his four years of service he never had to fire a weapon in anger, and he was never once fired upon. The loss of his family although incredibly tragic, had not dimmed his lust for life. Most people would have harbored anger against the world and the people that killed them. However Khadif liked to think of himself as being above it all. He could not in good conscience condemn the entire western world for the actions of a few. In fact, he welcomed the coalition forces into Baghdad with open arms. His hope was that the world could live together in peace, and he longed for better days. This was supposed to be the start of those better days. Standing two hundred yards behind the police chief he never even heard the young man scream out his warning. “What happened?” The next morning he awoke in a bed at the army hospital. Although his lips were moving, he could not hear a word he was saying. Using a chalkboard to write down her request, the nurse explained to him what had happened in great detail. There was only one detail for which he was eager to get the answer to. It was not the answer he was looking for. Khadif was deaf, and it was not a temporary malady. He would never hear again. With the assistance of an uncle in New York, he left his country three days later. His plane touched down at JFK on March 28, 2005 at 2:29 p.m. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… They assigned Kendrel to the loading dock for his first day. Surrounded by a dozen ex- cons he was not sure if his decision to work there was a good one. “If you want to be avoid going back to jail, then avoid the elements that got you there in the first place.” These were the first words his PO officer spoke to him; ten hours later ex-drug dealers and pimps were his constant companions. “So what did you do to end up here?” A young man named Phillip could not stop trying to talk to him. No matter how much Kendrel tried to distance himself, the kid just did not get the hint. “I applied.” There was a need amongst cons to act tough. Better to be an asshole then a punk. In his case, Kendrel just wanted to be left alone. Prison was yesterday; his new life was the future. “Hey kid let the man work.” The supervisor was an elderly man named Sam. Despite his age, he worked as hard as anyone. They were required to move thirty boxes an hour, and he averaged fifty. No one brought into question his authority because of his work ethic. “At this job you lead by example. If you want to make more money then you do more. It‟s that simple.” In his speech when Kendrel first showed up at the warehouse, Sam stressed his point over and over again. It was not the kind of work he wanted to be doing, but it was better than not having a job at all. One of the best things about manual labor was the reward of seeing your work completed. The room was filled with boxes, and the truck was empty. When he was done, the room was empty and the truck was full. It was that simple. “Don‟t mind the kid; he‟s just trying to fit in.” Holding out a can of Coke, Sam sat down beside Kendrel. “Thanks.” There was nothing more to say. He was not looking to make friends. He was not looking for someone to explain the world to him. For the next hour of their lunch break the two men sat in silence. When the whistle sounded his super spoke out. “Just keep working hard man. At the end of the day live a good life, and then come back tomorrow and do the same thing.” The week flew by as if it were just a couple of hours. Friday he received the very first legitimate paycheck of his life. It was not a big one. Barely enough to pay for his food and some new clothes, the paycheck went right into his bank account. “Congratulations. You took one small step for mankind today.” Always one for encouragement Sam patted him on the shoulder. “What do you know about X-men towers?” That was the name someone had come up for the half way house he had been living in. For one hour a day, he swept and mopped floors. It was well worth it to have a stable roof over his head. Everyone was very nice to him. He liked it there. “It‟s a Godsend. That‟s what I know about it. Without X I would still be living on the streets man. It probably saved my life.” Sam lit up when the young man finally spoke to him about something completely unrelated to work. “They seem like good people.” Where had all of these people been when he was a kid? Maybe he could have gone to college and made something of his life, instead of wasting away in prison. If only he had some better role models. “The very best my friend. They are the very best.” Sam was one of the very first tenants of the new project. After being there for his six months he and two other employees saved up enough money to rent a three bedroom in Queens. “Do you know why he did it?” “I asked him that same question once.” A big smile filled his very being. “You know what he told me.” Kendrel shook his head. “I wanted to make the world a better place.” They nodded to each other and then went back to their lunch. That next morning when Kendrel was just getting home minutes before the sunrise, Xavier was walking in the front door. “So how are things going with you?” Max had been instructed to keep a watchful eye on the young man, and his reports had been nothing but spectacular. It had only been a week, but everyone spoke very highly of his manners and work ethic. “It‟s all right.” That was all he was planning on saying, but something stopped him from going up the stairs. “What do you want to know?” There was something in the way he looked at him. He had seen that look before. “What do you get out of it?” “I attain redemption for past sins, and a really good tax break.” X winked at him and walked for his office. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 3 “You know I give you guys‟ breaks because of what you are doing here, but there are regulations you have to meet.” The county commissioner‟s office sent over someone at least once a month to check on “X-men” project as it had become known. “We‟re a non-profit organization in the purest sense of the word. The upgrades you want me to do would set us back millions.” It was an on ongoing battle between the city and himself. They did not want his facility to be there. This was not exactly prime real estate, but it could still turn a tidy profit with the right ownership. Mr. Langdon was not the right ownership as far as they were concerned. He didn‟t charge rent. “The fire exits need to be more clearly marked. Each domicile must be fitted with a smoke detector. The fire marshal gave you six months to get this done, it‟s been a year. Technically we could force you to put halon extinguishers in instead of water as well. We have been more than fair about this.” It was a bluff on his part. Honestly considering the age of the building and its occupants they kept everything in phenomenal shape. “Your first two requests are being implemented as we speak.” This was not a lie. One of the tenants, an ex-electrician, was wiring in the detectors. Unfortunately he was in his late sixties and working on his own. “I has to be done by next Friday Franklin. One week, if it‟s not done we close your doors.” His boss who was a real estate fanatic had been eying this property for two years since the renovations were completed on it. Knowing full well that the changes could not be done in a week, he would run back to his office and announce that they had finally won. Walking out of Mr. Langdon‟s office he could not help but smile “Max, get together as many of the tenants as you can.” It took two hours but they had gathered a dozen people in the lobby. “We need your help here folks. I need every apartment to have a fire detector in it by the end of the week, and we don‟t have the money to pay someone to do it.” Not another word needed to be spoken. All of them went right to work. When the daytime workers got home from their jobs they joined right in with the night time workers. By the time Monday morning came around every apartment met the code. Such was the life an X-men towers. “Give a man a second chance and he will stand by your side against any enemy.” Max patted Kendrel on the back. He had not slept for nearly three days trying to help with the project. “So this kid is for real?” X could not have been any happier with the effort everyone put forward to help with this project. It was only the third time he had asked for assistance from the patrons since the beginning, but each time they came to his aid without question. “It‟s only been a week, but yeah I‟d say he has potential.” Max was not going to jump on the reformist bandwagon just yet. Several of the young men just getting out of prison had shone this kind of drive only to fall back into a life of crime. “Keep him busy. Talk to Sam over there at the warehouse. Make sure he keeps on eye on this one. I see his potential, but I also see his downside. He‟s one step from sainthood, but only the same step away from disaster.” He made it a practice never to check the background of past offenders. It was none of his business what they did with their past, only what they did with their future. This one was different though. “I have never agreed with you more completely.” …………………………………………………………………………………………….. Although Samira was never one to be mistaken for a joiner, it occurred to her that trying to stop the war in Iraq and bring peace to the world, were not endeavors that one person could do on their own. In light of this revelation she researched organizations big and small to find the one doing the best work in the field of anti-war protesting. “Peace & Equality Begin with You” It sounded like an organization that would fit right into her set of beliefs. The fact that they were based out of San Francisco did not disturb her plans, nor that they were on an FBI watch list. She even managed to laugh at their claim that training camps for these protestors should be monitored by the department for Homeland Security. To her it sounded too much like the “Red Scare” of the 1950‟s. Her plane touched down in California about nine in the morning, and despite her jet lag, she was at one of those “training camps” outside UC Berkley but eleven thirty. “Despite what you have heard we are not a terrorist organization. We do not encourage violent attacks against anyone or anything. That type of behavior totally goes against the very principals by which we exist. Peace at all costs is not peace at all.” The child of former hippies, Peter was an activist since birth. No matter the legitimate cause, his parents were there to protest it. It was in his blood. “We use exposure to accomplish where others might use force. When I talk of exposure I do not mean we are nudists here.” Every one laughed and looked up at him at once. “Good now that I have all of your attention. Exposure means getting your face on the television and your name in print. What good does this do? No one in Washington is going to respond to „John Doe for Peace‟. With exposure comes pull with the lobbyists. Today I am here to teach you how to get your selves exposed so to speak.” This time every person in the circle laughed wholeheartedly. They spent four hours learning what the First Amendment entitled one to do, and what it did not. It was mostly activist rhetoric but some of it was quite fascinating. Most of the time Samira and several of the other girls spent staring at a quiet young Frenchman named Phillipe. No one could take their eyes off him. His features and physique were memorizing. She was embarrassed when the speaker called out to her. “Samira what brings you to us?” Peter pulled her aside. “Madrid.” For some reason, she had never been fond of white people. It seemed quite strange to her, considering her continuing struggle for equality for her own people. One of the side effects of her indifference was her tendency to be short when talking to them. “I see. Well it‟s good to have you on board. Hopefully we can work together for a better world.” There was something in her demeanor that said “Leave me alone”, but Peter was not about to do that. Peace could not be accomplished with one person. “Yeah right” Under her breath, she whispered. Wondering what she was doing here with this bunch of wanna be hippies she started to walk away. “If you really think we are that useless than what brings you here?” His words struck her right under the chin. “Excuse me!” Attitude was her defense against attack. “You don‟t mask your contempt for my methods not even a little bit, yet you don‟t leave. What‟s the deal?” Peter sucked back his bottled water, looked at the people coming back from break, and walked towards the stage. “I think this whole thing is worthless. You‟ll never stop war with these pansy ass protests.” If he wanted her to leave that was exactly what she was going to do. “Run away if you must, but I pose these questions to you. How long have you been fighting to stop war? Has it stopped? Why do you think that is?” Already back on the stage Peter was talking into the microphone and everyone looked at him and then at Samira to hear her response. “Six months. No. I don‟t succeed because they don‟t care.” Turning back around, she walked towards the podium defiantly. “Why do you think they don‟t care?” His question was directed towards her, but he looked at everyone in the group. “They like to wage war. It‟s good for business.” There were gasps from some of the more timid around her. “That is a fair point. However, I see a little something more than that. Would you care to hear my take on it?” He expected a resounding “No” for an answer, and was pleasantly surprised when she sat back down. “If everyone in America went to their congressman and said we don‟t want war. Make it go away. Do you think the president and congress would still continue forth with it?” His point was well made. “This group of twenty of us is not going to convince the four hundred million American‟s that war is bad. However, we might convince two hundred. It‟s like a pyramid scheme. Amway at it‟s best.” More laughs from the gallery only fueled his fiery speech. “What if one of those initial two hundred was a member of congress? Think of what one vote can do in a tight situation? We will not win this overnight, and it pains me greatly to know how many will die because of this. However, I know my limitations and I accept them and move on. Peace takes togetherness and resolve. How many of you have enough of both?” There were several claps and “I dos” from amongst them. “I do!” Samira settled in the on grass and let Peter continue. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… The regional director of the Peace Corps was quite aware of what was going on in central Africa. He spent hours upon hours on the phone with the state department to no avail. The United States had no official position on Rwanda. That was the answer he received when all was said and done. “So what do we do now? Go to the rebels and ask them to wear condoms when they are raping these little girls?” Her supervisor was not sure he should bring Ruth along with him to this meeting. After her latest statement he really wasn‟t sure. “It wouldn‟t help. Unlike most cases of rape, the rebels actually have ulterior motives behind there activities. Its not just about control and power, it‟s about changing the bloodline.” Bob Franklin knew she was trying to be sarcastic, and rather than engage in an emotional episode he chose to make this as professional as possible. “As they aware that they are signing the death warrants of the girls and the children they will bare?” How could he be so smug about this? The man sitting across the table was a good forty years her senior, but she felt nothing but contempt for his attitude. “No. Most of them are not aware, but if they were it would not change a thing.” Every time her supervisor, a weasel named Junior, tried to add something in the director held up his hand. Junior had not been his choice for the Malawi project. His father had pull with the pentagon, and basically bought him the assignment. “So that‟s it? Nothing more that can be done. Sorry but your dead?” Ruth was pulling off her sweater and standing up to leave. “Don‟t you think you are being a bit overly dramatic?” Finally Junior was able to say something. “No I don‟t think she is. She has every right to be furious about this. I am incredibly livid about it myself and have been for quite sometime. Here we are trying to help educate people to stop the spread of AIDS, and yet in many cases all we are doing is educating someone who is about to die on the method by which they will die.” His outburst stopped Ruth in her tracks. “Then let‟s do something about it.” Pushing Junior aside she took back her chair. “What would you have us do? We are the Peace Corps not the marines. These are armed insurgents who invade refugee camps and tribal homes in the dead of night. They strike without warning and are gone before the light of day. How can we stop it?” This was designed to be a rhetorical question, but Ruth jumped right in. “Talk to the Rwandan government. Get them involved. Appeal to their sense of right and wrong. These are murderers!” Her palm slammed down on the desk so loudly she actually made herself blush. “They have been talked to. Honestly despite what the papers say they are fighting a courageous battle to try and stop the brutality. Yes there are rare occasions where military officials and politicians have been paid off to turn the other way, but that is not the position of the government. They want the violence to stop but the enemy is too numerous and too widespread. Stopping terrorists as we have seen recently is very difficult to do with conventional warfare.” A veteran to two wars Bob was all too familiar with what he was talking about. “It‟s just not fair. I mean I know how childish that sounds, but it just is not fair to these children to have to endure that kind of hell.” Everything he said made sense to her suddenly and that hurt more than anything. “I have to fly to Kigali a week from tomorrow for talks with the local supervisor. How would you like to join me?” Instantly he could see the jealous green monster erupt from inside of Junior. In stark contrast Ruth lit up. “I would love that.” Perhaps she had misjudged the man. “Junior can you arrange it for us? With the holiday coming up you shouldn‟t be left too short handed.” He was enjoying the anguish of the man far too much. “Well sir…” “Great thank you for your time.” One thing he disliked about his job was the lack of fighting spirit he had seen throughout his “troops” as he liked to call them. This girl had the spirit he was looking for. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Lying in the middle of the street was an old woman of at least eighty. She was screaming out in vain for help. Taxi drivers and early morning commuters laid on their horns and swerved around her fallen body. Not one of them stopped to help. Kendrel ran across the street towards her. “Are you all right?” The answer was obvious but he wanted to let her know he was there to help her. “Someone stole my bag and ran off down the street. I can‟t get up.” Having just been attacked moments earlier by a young black male, she was not sure what to think of this one walking up to her. “Let me help you up.” Despite her diminutive size he had difficulty getting her back to her feet, and getting her cane in hand. “I‟m sorry about your bag mame.” It was too late for him to chase the perpetrator and even if it weren‟t this was something he could not get involved with. Inside he felt guilty for what was happening. In his younger days the person running down the street could very well have been himself. “Wait till he opens my bag and finds a bunch of tissues and a can of hairspray.” Reaching down into the front of her blouse she produced a roll of cash. Kendrel could not help but laugh at her as she winked. As soon as he heard the sirens and saw the blue lights his smile vanished. This was exactly the situation he was trying to avoid. Two officers jumped from their cars with their hands on their side arms. “Thank you so much young man.” In an obviously staged display she hugged Kendrel to show the officers what was going on. “This young man just helped me up. The asshole that attacked me went that way.” One of the officers grabbed his radio and called in a quick description he was given. “What is your name?” “Kendrel” Hopefully this was not going to get ugly. “Do you have any identification?” “No sir. All I have are my papers.” His PO officer told him that in a situation like this he should be very open. Present them everything up front so they did not think he was hiding anything. The officer read everything carefully. Jotting down a couple of things from the papers he asked two more questions. “Where are staying?” Although he was concerned by the paperwork he was reading he was impressed by the young man‟s willingness to give it up right away. “The Franklin Xavier Langdon towers.” “If we need to can we contact you there?” Another one of X‟s kids, that was enough information for him. “Of course you can.” “Thank you for your assistance. You can go.” Second chances were rare in the world, but from what he saw of this young man, he was taking advantage of his. In the normal world that Kendrel was used to, somehow this would have gone dreadfully awry. Somehow despite doing nothing wrong he would have ended up back in jail, but nothing was normal about his past few days. Looking skyward he thanked the lord for his good fortune. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Other than the permanent damage done to his eardrums Khadif was otherwise unharmed. At first the doctors tried to assure him that they would try their best to restore his hearing, but several meetings later he realized the inevitable. He would never hear again. Typical of his demeanor, he shrugged his shoulders and moved along. His uncle worked at a grocery store in the Harlem section of New York City. It was a far cry from the engineer‟s position he held in Baghdad before the first American operation of the early 1990‟s. It was a job though just as respectable as any other. “How are you feeling?” They exchanged notes to each other on a piece of paper. Although the blast had not affected his speech, Khadif felt uncomfortable speaking when he could not hear himself. “I‟m ok. Need to get back out on the golf course.” His doctors had cleared him to play again, and with the money he inherited from the sale of what was left of the Oasis, he had the money to do so. “The owner‟s son used to work as a caddy at Musholu in the Bronx. I told him about you, he made a couple of calls. They open up next weekend and they need some help. How would you like to work the driving range?” His anticipation grew and grew as his uncle wrote down the works. “Would I? I‟d love to.” Built in 1914 Mosholu was one of the original public golf courses in the United States. Having watched PGA tournaments for years he head about this little jewel of a nine-hole course in the middle of New York City. To work there would be a dream come true for him. “Thank You.” He mouthed the words to the man before him. “You‟re welcome.” Thomas Franklin Williams moved to this section of Harlem when he was twenty-two years old. He met his wife the day he stepped off the bus. Totally by accident on the day after they were married Thomas came across the notice for the bankruptcy of a local mom and pop grocery store. With lots of help from his three brothers he secured a loan to buy the store. In the twenty-five years lots of things changed in Harlem but not “The Thomas Corner Store.” It remained a cornerstone of Harlem society. Soon after his original good fortune, his wife gave birth to two sons and they were raised with love. To the eyes of the neighbors they were the perfect family. Everyone wanted to have the Williams‟s life. It was a farce. Elizabeth the mother had a number of illicit affairs. The eldest son Thomas Jr. was a crack addict who died at the hands of his addiction. Then there was Thomas III. A model student and citizen no one ever had a bad word to say about him. This only bright light in an otherwise lifeless family was accidentally shot by his cousin during an attempted robbery. Thomas now divorced was all that was left of a picture book fairy tale gone astray. Since the death of his youngest he strived to be a better man. To help the world in anyway he saw fit, even going so far as to sign for his nephew straight out of prison so that he could live in Manhattan. Now with the opportunity to help his long time employee Thereh he jumped at the chance. One phone call was all it took for him to get a job at the golf course where Thomas III used to shine. “You are more than welcome young man.” He wrote the words down on the paper and tried his best to hold back the tears welling up inside him. Another day another good deed done; how many would it take to fill the void. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 4 It was Easter Sunday and Xavier was dispensing some more of his holiday cheer. The small café on the first floor of buildings two and three was opened to the public for the entire day. No one paid for a meal. Most of the food was donated by local business. The residents of the towers volunteered their time, without even being asked, to feed any and all that came through those doors. “Hello Charlie, have some more ham.” It was amazing to Max the way that X remembered everyone‟s names from the years gone past. Some say that he volunteered at the local shelters in his spare time, but Max never knew the man to have any spare time so he doubted the validity of the claim. The man simply had the memory of an elephant. “Hello Gentlemen what brings you here today? Have some soup.” Unfortunately the two men standing in front of him were not here for a meal, they were with the New York City Health Department. Every year they showed up on Easter to oversee this event. Using very sanitary methods they collected samples of the food, and used cotton swabs to check the countertops. “Why don‟t you leave it alone?” For the first time in long while, Max lost his patience with them as they took a cotton swab to one of the patrons. “Have you no hearts at all?” His voice was growing louder. It took a nasty glance from Xavier to ease the growing tension. “It‟s all right Max. They‟re just doing their job.” The statement was partially true. They were after all charged with maintaining the public health. However, their yearly visit was driven by a much higher purpose. They were charged to try and find something wrong. Certain members of the local government would stop at nothing to get this establishment shut down. “We‟ll be in touch.” One of the men pointed a nasty finger at Max and they made their way back towards the restroom. Xavier looked back nervously. “Don‟t worry we just cleaned them about five minutes ago.” A good foot taller than his assistant Xavier put an arm around Max‟s shoulder. “You can‟t let them get to you. There is always someone who has it in for you especially when you are trying to make the world a better place. They feel guilty for their own lackadaisical greedy attitude, and try to make you into a monster to try and make up for it. That aspect of the world will never change my friend.” His heart swelled with pride on days like these. Watching people who otherwise would go hungry or spend their holiday alone were here interacting. It was dream come true. “Why don‟t you relieve a couple of the boys over there so they can get some grub?” A quick nod from the little Russian was all that he got. Five years ago he would have been at home with his ex-wife pretending to be paying attention to her family, while his brain would be focused instead on money. How could he make some more of it? The markets had been closed since Thursday in most of the major markets, and he was pulling at his hair in anticipation of Monday morning. “Hide your contempt with a smile.” This was his motto in those days. He hated his money grubbing wife. Her family was a bunch of dead beats living off of him like leeches to the fat sow. He hated them too. Even now he ground his teeth thinking about them. Then to look at these folks before him he could not help but giggle at the contrast. “Is there something funny?” Kendrel thought at first that X was staring at him, but realized instead that the man was lost in thought. “I was just recollecting on a bizarre life that‟s all. Happy Easter by the way.” Holding out his hand he was amazed at the grip from the youngster. It was like steel “Tell me about it.” Easter with his family was welcome to funhouse time. All five of father‟s brothers and four of his sisters‟ siblings came with their families into the city. Here they would pig out at Uncle Thomas‟s. It was his gift for the help they gave him establishing the corner store. Then when dinner had been vacuumed down most of the adults would drink would get drunk. In the later years he and several of his cousins would sneak out back and get high. Occasionally his aunt would join them. They were one big stoned happy family. Denial was not just a river in Egypt anymore. As a child the experience was a lot more enjoyable. When he got past the age of fifteen he realized something was wrong. Only by that time he didn‟t really care; not about Easter or his family or anyone other than himself. Thinking back now, he probably didn‟t even care about himself either. “Now you‟re the one who looks lost.” Kendrel snapped back to reality and looked up at Xavier. “Reflection sucks.” Quite often he heard people say they did not regret anything they had done in their past. As far as he was concerned that was a crock of shit. Everyday in the joint all he could do was regret. The only thing that kept him alive was the knowledge that maybe just maybe he would get another shot. “Here‟s to the future instead.” They toasted each other with a glass of apple juice. “Hear that.” Standing at the front door to the café was a police officer. Unfortunately, Kendrel recognized the man from the day before. He walked right up to him. Shaking his head he turned to X. “Before you say anything I didn‟t do anything wrong.” “Kendrel Williams?” “Yes sir.” You know who I am you just saw me this morning. “I would like to ask you some questions about the incident this morning with Marilyn Peters.” This was not a social call. “I don‟t know that name.” He did not want to be led into anything. Talking to the police made him understandably uneasy. “The woman you helped up off the ground after she had been attacked.” Hopefully the young man was not going to be this difficult about everything they discussed. “Did you find the guy?” “Not at this time.” “Not sure what more I can do for you then.” Why were they here? “She‟s dead. Two hours after the attack she died of internal bleeding from several cracked ribs.” He looked at the young man for a reaction and he got one. It was not necessarily one of shock or even sadness. “It figures.” Anything that he touched withered and died. So much for his streak of good luck it was after all just a farce. “Will he need council of any sort?” Xavier had been standing next to him the entire time they were talking. “No. There are no charges being brought against him. Ms. Peters verified everything he said. We just wanted to ask if he saw the man who attacked her. “ “No I didn‟t see anything. By the time I got to the corner he was gone.” “Have you ever seen this man?” Holding up a photo in front of him, he realized his answer right away. “Why do you ask?” There were only two people‟s faces he never wanted to see again; his cousin because he felt guilty for his death and Richard “Tiny” Johnson. “So you know who he is?” They were incarcerated together eight years ago so he expected the answer would be yes. “Yes. What does he have to do with all this?” He did not want to be a snitch, but Tiny was no longer an associate. When they went into the clink together they were the best of friends but once on the inside they grew apart. Tiny relished his time inside using it to form alliances and hurt people. Kendrel avoided everyone and tried his best to keep out of trouble. Being alone on the inside was a lonely dangerous place. Without eyes in the back of your head one could end up in a box or party toy for a large group of skinheads. In his case Kendrel had to fight them all. ”Here‟s the sketch we got from Ms. Peters description.” The picture was quite detailed considering the woman was nearly eighty years old. “How‟d you tie in the picture to him?” Who ratted out Tiny? Only one name came to mind when he asked himself this question. “Do you know who this is?” Again another photo was shoved in his face. He shook his head not because the answer was no. Speaking of snitches here was the ultimate snitch. “Louis.” “Yes Louis Armstrong. No relation.” Scoffing at the statement Kendrel shook his head some more. That was just how the man introduced himself. “Hi I‟m Louis Armstrong. No relation.” Two years ago he was busted for trafficking narcotics. Instead of going down for the crime he bent over for the police. A snitch extraordinaire he was paid well for his efforts. Protected from prosecution he was not protected from Bronx rule. Had he not escaped to the island of Manhattan his obituary would have been the last anyone ever heard about him. “He spotted your ex-friend running down the street with a couple of other people.” There were more photos to show. Unfortunately, Kendrel knew them all. “Louis seems to think you had nothing to do with it. Says you got Jesus in the joint. Talked to a couple of other inmates incarcerated at Lompoc. They drew pretty much the same picture. Say you had a very hard time on the inside because you stuck to your guns.” The more he talked the nastier look he got in return. “Where are you going with this officer?” Max could see something was wrong and joined in the conversation. “Mr. Williams did you see anyone when she was attacked?” “No I did not.” Every single time he tried to do the right thing someone ruined it. He would not feel sorry for himself though. In the past he caused most of his own misfortune. “Would you tell me if you saw Tiny there at the scene when you arrived?” “Don‟t answer that.” Xavier stepped between the young man and the cop. “It‟s all right man. The answer is no probably not, but in this case I didn‟t see anyone. I didn‟t see him not anyone else, just the old lady.” The angrier he grew the more his old self came shining to foreground. “Okay, I don‟t think we will need to talk to you again.” He finished jotting the some notes in his folder and then left the café. Several of the people inside including people living in the towers looked at him with a sense of uncertainty. Guilty until proven innocent was the way of his world. “I‟ll get my stuff out now.” Folding up his apron, Kendrel walked towards the door. “My friend has a place on the East side. He could use a roommate. He only speaks Russian but other than that he‟s a good man.” Max wrote down the address on a napkin and handed it to him. As much as he believed every word he said, he knew the rules. No trouble. “No, this isn‟t right. You‟re not going anywhere. You did nothing wrong.” It was Xavier who came to his rescue. “I appreciate it man, but I can‟t bring this down on you folks. Trouble follows me no matter what I do. It‟s just a matter of time before something else or someone else in my past shows up.” Reaching out his fist he met with X and then walked out the front door. “Do you want me to call my friend?” Living on the streets was a hard existence. Max had done it, and wished it on no one. He hoped the young man took him up on his offer. “Nope thanks for the offer. I‟m on my own.” His chin dipped down into his chest as he walked back in the door at building number four. “You paid for your mistakes Kendrel. Don‟t throw away your chances now.” Xavier had followed him. “You can‟t pay for what I‟ve done. Not with a hundred lifetimes in solitary.” Inside his heart he felt that this was true. “If you go onto the streets now, you‟ll never come back. Don‟t walk out that door please.” “What do you know of it? Have you ever been there?” It occurred to him suddenly that despite his skin color, Xavier lived a very privileged life. Hard times were something he never really had to endure. “No. But I have seen dozens of young men in similar situations and none of them survived it alone. Take Max up on his offer.” Getting on the elevator Kendrel shook his head again. “I don‟t claim to know you or anything about your past life, but I have seen the man you are now. Please?” His hand was holding the elevator door. “Fine, you can make the call.” He knew X was right. Sooner or later on his own he would fold. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Easter in Africa was not unlike the holidays she had enjoyed in the past. There was a very high concentration of Christians in this region of the country she was traveling through. They started the morning with service at the church then came home for a large feast. Granted the two menus were a bit different, but the general flow and sense of family were much the same. Today they were dining with one of several Timbuka tribal settlements in the northern portion of the country. She had been invited back to the domicile of a village elder named Bikili for Easter dinner. From the moment she sat down at three p.m. until she left at midnight they kept presenting her with more and more food. Every time she emptied her plate it was full again. Nsima and ndiwo, although filling, were not the tastiest of meals. After eating enough for four people, she was left with a nasty stomach ache. However, she had been told to try and eat whatever food was given to her. Malawians are brought up since birth to keep putting food out for guests until they stop eating. It was a bad combination. Just when she was about give up they brought out dessert. She munched on Mandasi while playing Bao into the wee hours of Monday morning. Bao is known as the African chess but it seemed more like Chinese checkers with stones to Ruth, while Mandasi reminded her of plain Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Her benefactor had four sons, of varying ages. They all spoke English surprisingly well given their small town education. The eldest of the group was a devastatingly handsome boy name Charley. That wasn‟t his real name, but he felt it was much easier to pronounce. His chestnut eyes warmed her up in way she had not felt in quite sometime. It had only been three months since she left college, but her lack of sexual encounters since then was starting to show up in her everyday life. “Maybe we could take a walk? One of my cousins could chaperon.” Unfortunately for her, he was far too well mannered to be the kind of companionship she was looking for. “Although I greatly appreciate the offer I must most respectively decline.” ”You are betrothed?” “Yes you could say that.” The sadness in his eyes alerted her to the fact that he did not understand. Cultural differences kept her from going further. She thanked her new friends for their generous hospitality and then made her way back to the Peace Corps tents. “Look at the little ho getting in at four o‟clock in the morning.” Junior had been on her case ever since the meeting with the director. “Leave her alone pen dick.” Johan was from Sweden. His English in everyday conversation was outstanding. However, when he tried to speak slang or any form of it everything came out all wrong. “I was playing Bao. That‟s all.” Unfortunately, that was the truth. “Bao; I‟ve never heard of that one before.” The only close friendship she had really made since she got here was with a girl from Australia name Petunia Flowers. Yes her parents were very cruel people. “Is it somewhere between lotus and missionary?” For a girl who had such issues discussing sex with strangers she had no trouble talking to her friends. It pained her though that every time the two of them laughed together she thought of college. Everything ended with Tsunamis in her life. “You‟ll find one soon.” Patting her friends back she could see the pain in her eyes. It hurt her to be happy. Sometime soon they would have to talk about that. “She already found one. He‟s about fifty five and his name is Bob.” Junior was convinced that the only reason Bob wanted her in Rwanda was because Bob wanted her. “Shut up pen dick.” This time it was Petunia who fired back at her boss. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… The training lasted two whole days, and Samira was tired of talking about all of it. When her plane finally landed back in D.C. she was so not looking forward to the twelve hour drive down to Macon for the holiday. When she did arrive, she fell asleep for the better part of twenty four hours. Her mother had to practically break down her door Easter morning to get ready for church. As much as she enjoyed services especially around the holidays, Samira was not happy with how her day was going. Every other person expressed their condolences for Gerald, and by the time dinner was served she was practically in tears. “I know its hard honey but try to hold it together today. We have guests.” Her mother Jane was always the epitome of southern grace. Have your breakdowns but do it in private with a lot of alcohol, like a good girl. This was how she saw the world. “Honestly, I haven‟t thought about Gerald in three weeks. I‟m not upset by my feelings for Gerald. I‟m upset by all of this. People and their condolences are worthless mom. What do they do for anyone?” With that Samira walked right out the front door, got back in her car and began the twelve-hour trip back up north. No one in her family understood what she was feeling. Staying there would only lead to more sad feelings. Washington D.C. was where she belonged. Hopefully her new friends would help her to fit in. Hopefully the world would seem less hopeless through their eyes. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… For nearly a minute, Kendrel looked down at the napkin in front of him to make sure he was at the correct address. Although he couldn‟t really read, the numbers themselves were something he was comfortable with. The posh apartment building on the Upper East Side was even swanker then he expected it to be. “Can I help you?” The doorman had watched him to see what he was doing. It appeared the young man was lost. “I‟m looking for Alexi Krushny?” Max tried to help him pronounce the name, but he butchered it anyway. “You must be Kendrel?” Holding out his hand he waited for the young man to shake it. Slightly confused he took the man‟s hand gingerly. “Alex is up on the fourth floor letter D in the back of the quad. My name is William if you need anything. Welcome to the Atlantic Towers.” They warned William that his new guest might be a bit reserved, but that he should treat him well. That was the only way he knew how to treat people, so it was easy. “Thanks.” Never in his life had someone in a place like this ever treated him with such respect. It was more creepy than comforting. Everything around him was immaculately kept up. He could have slept on the elevator couch with was so comfortable. Not knowing what to expect he knocked on the door to letter D. Someone screamed something inside that sounded like “come in”, and so he did. Walking towards the door was a severely tattooed white boy dressed only in a towel. In his mouth were two cigarettes. One had ashes practically dropping off towards the ground the other looked freshly lit. Considering his appearance the rest of the apartment was hospital like in its cleanliness. “Are you Kendrel?” Holding out his hand he smiled confidently. “I am if you‟re Alex?” They shook each other‟s hands and then Alexi walked over to a room, and pointed to it. Kendrel gulped as he looked inside. His four brothers shared a room this size before. For three hundred dollars a week he was going to get this room. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a very naked young lady walking across the room. She walked right up to Alexi and kissed him he patted her on the butt. Pulling a dress from a hanger on the doorframe she slipped it over her head. Then said something to Alexi in what he could only assume was Russian. Dropping his towel, his roommate did exactly the same. It was obvious neither of these two believed all that strongly in either modesty or underwear. They said something to each other and then both turned to look at him. It was the young lady who finally spoke. “Sorry we must go. Late.” “Good meet you.” Alex reached out his hand again to Kendrel, and the two of them were gone. “What in the hell was that?” Standing completely perplexed in the living room the door flew back open and the young lady walked back in with a key in her hand. She gave it to him and then kissed him on both of his cheeks, winked, waved, and went right back out again. With work starting in about two hours he did not have time to try and understand what was going on here. He had to get dressed and hop on the bus. Harlem was a long haul from here. When the shock of his encounter wore off, he started laughing. His coworkers looked at him as if he had lost, his mind, but that only made him laugh some more. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Standing at the tee on the first hole, Khadif could not help the anxiety he was feeling inside his belly. Golf had never been a source of fear, but after his last experience it felt very strange to him to be holding a club again. The lack of noise of any sort should have made it easier to concentrate on his game instead it caused all sorts of concentration problems. The three older folks he was playing with were watching him. Was he going to swing or not? Finally he closed his eyes concentrated on his grip then opened his eyes and swung. To his amazement the ball flew down the long narrow par four and found its way to the fairway. From there the rest of his day was easy. Playing the nine-hole course twice made getting comfortable with his new home club easy. Par was 71 and he shot a 68; not bad for his first time. One of the old men wrote down on the back of the scorecard. “Are you a pro?” “Not yet. But I will be.” Everyone at the club was very respectful, and they barely seemed to notice his handicap. They merely wrote down everything they wanted him to do. Out at the driving range the patrons were not so forgiving. A couple of times the manager had to stop by and explain that he was deaf. At the end of the day Khadif expected they would let him go, but instead the head pro called him into his office. Using a white board they “talked” to each other. “You shot a 68 today?” One of the older folks he played with was a regular and he could not stop talking about how incredible this young man was with a golf club in his hand. “Yes.” Although the course was narrow, he did not really think it was that difficult. It was scenic and beautiful in way he had never seen. Most of the courses in the Middle East were carved out of desert. They were manufactured. This was built right into the countryside like the links course of Europe. “And this is the first time you have ever played this course?” At last years course championship the winning score was a 68 and that included a field of some of the best golfers in the New York area. Granted the conditions were a lot less ideal, but still the course record was only a 63. “Yes.” Maybe this was a harder course than he thought it was? “What is your handicap?” Even after he wrote this down, he hoped the young man understood that he was talking about golf. “No handicap.” “0.” If he was trying to brag he certainly wasn‟t doing a good job of it. “I normally shoot in the mid to upper sixties on a par 72 course.” Most of the good golfers he played with shot around the same; usually in the upper sixties. “Can you come back here tomorrow morning say around 8 a.m.?” If what he was saying was true Joe Patrino was looking forward to playing with him. “I would be happy to.” Were they mad at him? Had he done something wrong? “Good I will see you then.” On the subway, Khadif tried to think of what he might have done. Other than not getting a couple of buckets of balls right away, because he could not hear the customers asking him for help, he thought he did a good job. “Oh well my dream will have to wait.” Little did he know his dream was so much closer than he could ever imagine. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 5 Sitting in front of his computer X was wondering what good deed he could do today. His goal was to try and do something good for someone new each day. On the Google search bar he typed “World Peace”. Even as he pushed the keys he laughed in spite of himself. The first entry was a website. www.peacecorp.com “Maybe I need to get away from it all.” He read their credos and mottos, and was just about to move away when he spotted the new recruits section of the site. Right in the center of the photo from Malawi was someone all too familiar to him. “This can‟t be. Ruth Frances Reynolds would never join the Peace Corps. Her blue- blooded family just would not allow it to happen. Reginald could never allow his precious flower to associate with those “Third World Freeloaders” as he once called them during one of the company meetings they had. Her father was one of the founding heads of the London based brokerage firm Xavier used to work for. The man was an asshole. Yet, there was his only daughter on a photo from Lilongwe, Malawi. Surrounding her in the photo were hundreds of African children. The only thing every one of them, including Ruth, had in common was an honest to God smile on their faces. She looked genuinely happy. “This must be some kind of publicity stunt.” Looking through a listing for volunteers he came across an e-mail address for the young lady. There was a little star next to her name saying that she had instant messaging. “What the hell?” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Back at the tent the annoyance of talking to people like Junior finally got on her nerves. Feeling incredibly tired but unable to sleep she logged in on the computer and was surfing the net when someone requested an instant message conversation with her. “XFLBENHARPER@aol.com” Being a huge Ben Harper fan she could not totally ignore the request. However, she had heard horror stories of people using IM to hack into computers. Looking around the room, she realized everyone else was very much asleep. She accepted the new entry. “Ruth?” Xavier could not believe that she had accepted the chat. “Who are you?” Her stomach churned a bit when the IM addressed her by her first name. Considering her e-mail address was just her first initial with her last name, she thought it a little spooky. “I don‟t know if you remember me, but I came to visit you in London once a few years ago. I worked for your father in his New York office.” Hopefully he was exchanging information with the correct person. Looking the address again, she tried to figure out who this could have been. As many employees as her father had, he very seldom invited anyone back to the house. “Which house?” It would only take a couple of questions to weed out if this was some sort of psycho or not. “I‟m referring to the townhouse in Nottinghill.” She was a careful girl. Trying to place the initials with something else, she finally gave up and typed. “Okay, I am baffled what is your name?” “Franklin Xavier Langdon.” He felt funny typing his full name, but no one knew him by his surname anymore. “X?” Her heart went all a flutter. About ten years ago, this extremely attractive young man came back to the house with her father. He claimed it was a show that his firms were up with the times. “See I can have a black man in my home.” X was the beginning of crush that had lasted a decade. For some reason she was incredibly attracted to black men. Not that white men were unattractive to her, but it was just not the same. There was something about their strength and builds that just made her shiver to think about it. Despite her feelings she never had the opportunity in her circle of friends to ever date a man of color. “Yes you do remember me.” Looking at her photo now on the screen reminded him how cute this young teenager had been. Then he shook his head when he remembered she was only eight years older than his own daughter. That would make her twenty-two, and make him way too old to be trying to do the math. “I heard you quit the firm to save the world.” Knowing that the man had a good sense of humor she typed away. “And I heard you gave up English aristocracy for African education.” They were both very unlikely candidates for humanitarian efforts considering their backgrounds. “What a pair we make?” Closing her eyes she could picture him sitting at her father‟s desk in his office, in his Armani Suit. There was a knock at this door, and Xavier had to turn away from the screen for a minute. “Hey hate to bother you, but we have a leak in building three. Laundry room looks like a river. Need you to get me a check for the plumber. Randy still doesn‟t take credit cards.” Max was soaking wet, so he jumped to his feet to help out. “I have to run. Work emergency. Call me sometime 212-555-1313 or join me for a chat again online.” “OK.” That sucked, she wanted to talk to him. Hopefully he was not just being polite and trying to get away. Maybe his girlfriend or new wife caught him chatting online. Well he might not have either, but that was the way she pictured it anyway. Suddenly she felt really sleepy again. That night she had the most wonderful dreams filled with men; X, Charlie, and many more. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “What are the chances that this man is Congressman Green?” On her way to her meeting with the D.C. chapter of P.A.E.B.W.Y, she spotted the man in Jefferson Park. Unlike most organizations of this sort their initials spelled absolutely nothing. “I think that‟s him.” Inside her head she was trying to picture hundreds of photos she had seen of the man in the Macon gazette. “Well now is as good as any to get arrested again.” Walking straight up to him, she coughed a bit to get his attention. “Hello do I know you?” He always liked when people recognized him. It led to dozens of interesting conversations. However, as he read the young lady‟s tee shirt he suddenly wished had not said hello at all. “Are you Congressman William Green?” His eyes scanned over her tee shirt. This was the man she was looking for. “Yes I am.” He could have lied but what good would it have done. She knew it was he. “My name is Samira Bryan I am from Macon.” Holding out her hand, she decided being pleasant was a better tactic here than direct attack. “It is nice to meet you Samira. How can I help you today?” If he was going to be attacked by an activist he wanted it to be quick and painless. “I wanted to talk to you about your stance on the war in Iraq.” Samira did not candy coat her intentions. “I stand behind the president one hundred percent on his decision.” Hopefully this would end this conversation rather than spark a debate. “Might I be so bold as to ask you why?” In her notebook she pulled his profile very stealthily to the forefront. “My stance is outlined on my website. I encourage you to go there, and e-mail me with any concerns you might have.” Not usually a rude man, he did not want to simply say I don‟t want to talk to you about this. “I happen to have read it already. Have a copy right here in front of me.” Holding it out for him to see, she smiled confidently. “And you disagree with it?” Come on let‟s get it over with you hippie wanna be. Clobber me with your anti-war jargon. “He lied to you. He lied to all of us. Sold us a bill of goods, and then launched a personal family vendetta against a familiar foe.” Even though she was not asked she sat down on the bench next to him. “I‟m going to let you in on a little secret.” Leaning in a little closer than she was comfortable for, he spoke quietly. “What you see on CNN and read in the newspapers is bullshit? The president did not decide to start this war. We did. The information released to the public was not the information we based are strategies on.” Everything he said seemed to be in the greatest of confidence and yet he said nothing she didn‟t know. “Like I didn‟t know that?” Here she thought the least he could do if he was going to get that close to her was tell her something worthwhile. “Have a good day Miss Bryan. This conversation was truly enjoyable.” Walking towards the two of them were three very large men. The FBI was in charge of watching over members of congress, so she guessed that‟s who these three were. “How do you sleep at night congressman? I mean knowing that your bombs kill innocent children, and your soldiers die needlessly. How do you sleep?” Leaning in close to him she whispered in his ear. “I‟m sure much better than you do.” His bodyguards surrounded him, and Samira stepped back a foot or two to show that she was not threatening the man. “Did you know anyone at the World Trade Center Miss Bryan? Somehow I doubt that you did, otherwise perhaps you might have a clue about what the right thing to do would be?” Perhaps he should have left it alone, and walked away, but he felt the need to set her record straight. “That‟s the problem with this country congressman. People have been taught that it‟s better to persecute a patsy than to actually take the time to find the guilty party.” Samira took two steps to walk away, and then stopped. “Not that it‟s any of your business Mr. Green, but my boyfriend was killed in Madrid. I held his bleeding body in my arms while he died, and yet I did not declare war against the national of Islam. Racism causes ignorance and vice versa. It‟s too bad someone of your educational background has never figured that out. Perhaps you‟re just too stupid to see truth. If that‟s the case I feel sorry for you.” “Ok that will be enough.” One of the men took the congressman by his arm and tried to lead him away. “Who in the hell do you think you are talking to?” His anger boiled over in a tirade. Samira merely held up her hand behind herself. “I‟m done wasting my time with you. You‟re worthless.” The old man was yelling at her back but she had already shut off her ears. “No wonder the youth of this country is so fucked up.” Whispering to herself, she looked up the Jefferson memorial and shook her head. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Not sure what he would find at home, Kendrel waltzed up to William the doorman with a smile. “Good Morning sir” “Good morning to you Mr. Williams. You had a visitor not so long ago.” His smile turned down into a bit of frown. “Did they leave a name?” William spoke English well, and it made Kendrel desire to do the same. It felt strange for him to struggle with a language he‟d spoken since birth. “His name was Tiny something or other. Forgive me for saying so, but he was a very rude young man.” “Tiny? How the f….” Trying hard to think of anyway he could have been tipped off, Kendrel could only think of one thing. His ex-friend was following him. “I‟m sorry if this seems to bold, but at the request of Mr. Langdon I called the police. He stated that the young man was wanted for questioning.” The patron‟s secrecy was important to him, so to have called the police was an egregious violation of his duty. “You did the right thing. What else did he say?” What did Tiny want with him at this point? He had to understand that Kendrel wanted nothing to do with him. “He will find you sooner or later.” William looked disappointed to be delivering this information. Max had some many nice things to say about this young man it was a shame that his past could not leave him alone. “Thanks.” By the time he got to the door, he had forgotten everything else from the night before. Lying on the couch when he opened the door was a young lady who was naked from the waist down. The nightshirt she tried to cover up with ended somewhere around the small of her back. For a second or two, Kendrel looked at her. “I don‟t know if I can handle this.” Four years since he had the opportunity to see a naked woman. Now he had seen two in twelve hours. His hands longed to reach out and take her. She was not the same one he had seen with Alexi earlier. “What the hell are you thinking?” Realizing how rude he was being, Kendrel walked into his bedroom. On the desk was a box of Cuban cigars with a note. “Welcome here. I am sorry for earlier.” It was signed by Alexi and someone else whose name he could not read. On the inside he smoked the occasional cigarillo, but made it a practice of not smoking on a regular basis. After the day he had, he walked quietly back through the living room and out onto the balcony. It was a bit chilly to be outside, but as the sweet smoke filled his mouth he warmed right up. “Now this is all right.” Looking at across the Hudson, he could see the sun just start to move up over the horizon. Try as he may he could not get the shaking suspicion out of his head that Tiny was right; sooner or later they would meet again. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Khadif did not know the other two men he was playing golf with on this morning. They handed him a scorecard with the names Frank and Dave etched on it, but he did not make any connection. By the end of fifteen holes all three men were tied at three under par. More than once he caught a glimpse of them out of the corner of his eye. They were watching his every movement and than talking to one another. This was the first time since the explosion that he really wished he could hear what they were saying. His frustration caused a pang of anger in him, and on the sixteenth hole he opened up and smacked the driver as far as he could hit it. When he turned around all three of them were clapping in unison. After driving the cart down to the balls, Joe handed him a sticky note that read; “You hit it three hundred and twenty three yards.” To the best of his knowledge, Khadif had never hit a ball that far before. His second shot into the only par five on the nine- hole course dropped to within fifteen feet. The subsequent putt found the bottom of the cup. “That was impressive.” Another note from Joe was given at the end of the route. “Three under par through fifteen and then three under on the next four holes for a six under par 65. That‟s only two strokes away from the course record?” The last part of the note brought a smile to Khadif‟s face. “How would you like to play some competition golf?” Jotting down the little pieces of paper was not the most efficient way to do business. “I would love to sir!” He was so excited that his hands shook uncontrollably. The pencil nearly fell out of his hands. Turning to Dave and Frank, he shook their hands, and they handed him a bunch of paperwork. “How would you like to play a PGA event this week in Atlanta?” “I‟m not a member of the PGA?” “You don‟t have to be a member to play. You can even be an amateur and play in a professional tournament you just can‟t receive money.” “Well I am not an amateur at this point in time. I was the head pro at my country club back home.” “Good. That way you can win some money then.” “Don‟t you have to play a qualifier at least to get in?” “You are receiving an invitation from one of the head sponsors.” “How is that possible? I don‟t know anyone.” “Those two gentlemen you just beat today. David Russell is a regional vice president for BellSouth Communications. Frank Richardson sits on the board of Bank of America. Believe me you know someone now.” Bank of America paid to fly him down to the TPC at Sugarloaf. They paid for his accommodations and his entrance fee in the tournament. He was embarrassed on the practice tee to be swinging his five-year old golf clubs. Every one around him was dressed in sponsors clothing with thousands of dollars of new custom fit clubs. His sponsors left the task of procuring a caddy up to him. They explained that a group of roaming caddy‟s arrived at all the PGA tournaments. If a regular caddy was unable to attend or was sick these “rovers” would fill in for the week. Tina Mitchell was the daughter of a legendary club pro golfer at St. Andrews in Scotland. Growing up around the game as she did, she was only destined for only two professions; golfer or caddy. From the first time she swung a golf club until today, it was obvious she would do better as a caddy. On this rainy Monday afternoon she was the only rover standing outside when he arrived. Not sure if he was in the wrong place or not he walked up to the practice tee chalkboard, and started writing. Tina would tell him later than she thought he was some renegade fan looking to leave some graffiti for one of the players. They hit it off right away. It took all day Tuesday and Wednesday to get over the immense inferiority complex that he was feeling. One of the young British players and his caddy finally broke him out of his funk. It took him a minute or two to realize that Khadif was deaf. When Tina pointed out this fact to him, he laughed at himself picked a piece of paper and started writing. “My name is Christian. I noticed your name on your bag. I am playing with you on Thursday and Friday.” “Khadif it is a pleasure.” The two young men shook hands and then returned to hitting balls. It did not take much but little bit of camaraderie reminded him that these were just people. They were no different than he was. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 6 One of the Xavier‟s professors in college compared him to a young Sydney Poitier. It was not just the physical appearance, but the way in which he conversed. There was something very deliberate about the way he pronounced every word. Also like Mr. Poitier he was a chameleon of sorts. He could fit into virtual any role or any situation, and still never lose his individuality. People from all over the campus would come to his political science class just to hear him give a book report. Young ladies lined about outside his room with floating hearts in their eyes. Still he turned almost all of them away. Money was his only motivation. The better he did in school and the more contacts he made, the more money he would have. His father was one of the smartest men he ever knew. A scholar first and foremost he never took the time to arrange his finances. At the age of sixty three he died a very poor man owing more than his house was worth. Xavier swore he would not meet that same end. The problem with being totally motivated by the all mighty dollar is that you lose track of what is really important in this world. In later live he was in fact, a horrible father and an even worse husband. His personal relationships were based solely on favors. You rub my back and I‟ll scratch yours. In the end we will both get rich and be very happy. Only one thing was missing from his dream life; the happiness. Twenty five years out of high school he was a tired and bitter man. None of his friends were anything more than acquaintances. His remaining family wanted nothing to do with him, and people on the street spit on his arrogant ass then came that fateful day. Never in all his years was he happier than he was right now. Still there was something missing. The once handsome Xavier Langdon needed love. Not the kind that Max and his other employees showed him. He needed a girl. Not the kind he used to run away to during his miserable married days. He wanted a lady. Someone with similar interests to what he had now. It had been two days since he exchanged that instant message with Ruth, and still he kept looking down at his messenger hoping to see her online. In the cruelest of worlds it remained unchanged. “What is on your mind Xavier? You look lonely.” One of the custodial staff an older Jamaican fellow named Bernard looked up at him as he was emptying the trashcan. “Even I get down every once in a while my friend.” “My mutter used to say. The sun will come out tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there be sun.” The two men began laughing uncontrollably. “Thank you man I needed that.” “Good things will find you. The world owes you so much you can not imagine.” For that matter Bernard owed him his life. Two months ago he had severe pains in his lower stomach, but kept getting rejected from the local hospital. Without insurance they would not admit him, saying that it was not an emergency. It was not until Xavier took him to local physician and paid for the visit, that they realized his had a serious gall bladder ailment. If it had been left on its own for more than a day or two more, he most likely would have died. “The world owes me nothing and anything I have done for others it was because I could. Reward or redemption has nothing to do with it.” In his heart he really believed this was true, but Bernard knew differently. Partially he did this to make up for a life he felt had been wasted. “Ok well Karma should be your mistress than. Is that a better?” They exchanged a handshake and smile. Nothing more was said. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Before her trip to Rwanda Ruth went to the “CIA Worldfact Book” to find out what they had to say about the history of this war torn nation. What she found did not encourage her. In 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus, overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were killed, and some 150,000 driven into exile in neighboring countries. The children of these exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and began a civil war in 1990. The war, along with several political and economic upheavals, exacerbated ethnic tensions, culminating in April 1994 in the genocide of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994, but approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the former Zaire. Since then, most of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but about 10,000 that remain in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo have formed an extremist insurgency bent on retaking Rwanda, much as the RPF tried in 1990. Despite substantial international assistance and political reforms - including Rwanda's first local elections in March 1999 and its first post-genocide presidential and legislative elections in August and September 2003, respectively - the country continues to struggle to boost investment and agricultural output, and ethnic reconciliation is complicated by the real and perceived Tutsi political dominance. Kigali's increasing centralization and intolerance of dissent, the nagging Hutu extremist insurgency across the border, and Rwandan involvement in two wars in recent years in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to hinder Rwanda's efforts to escape its bloody legacy. The numbers were staggering but nothing like the feeling of watching movies like “Hotel Rwanda” or documentaries such as Frontline‟s “Ghosts of Rwanda.” To think that nearly a million people were murdered in just over three months shocked her sensibly. It was a naive perception on her part. There were thousands who tried to do something to stop it, but their names like those who died simply were erased with time. In order to understand the horrible descriptions of the Tutsi girls she met the other day, Ruth had to try and understand the thoughts of the Hutu rebels. What was their motivation? What did they hope to accomplish? The more she read and the more perspectives she investigated, the more troubled she became. Much like the troubles in the Middle East, she had a hard time finding a right or wrong amongst it all. Who did the land really belong to? Who started the fight? Who was right? Who was wrong? There was no black and white answer to any of it. None of this should have mattered to her. Raping and infecting innocent girls with HIV was all that should have mattered, and it was her only motivation for going to Rwanda. However, all she could hear was her father‟s voice in the air. “Know your advisory‟s motivations better than your own. Only in that way can you do battle and win.” Despite the arrest of and trial of 60 of the most wanted members of RFP, there were still hundreds on the loose. Most people believed these wanted men hid in amongst the refugees in Tanzania and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were waiting for the UN to leave, and then would return. Others believed that the genocide had not stopped at all. Only now it was moving at a much slower pace. Rebels were killing off the Tutsi population one dozen at a time. “What do you know about all this Kitaru?” There were certain subjects she was not sure how to bring up with her conservative translator. This should have been one of them. “Nothing; I only know what the people tell me.” “Do you believe what they say?” “I believe them for the most part. The evidence is more than overwhelming.” “If you were the president of the world; how would you stop it?” She tried to add some humor to a rather heartbreaking situation. “My mother is Tutsi, my father Bantu. If someone did to my mother what they did to these girls and their families, I would cut off their testicles every last one of them, so they could never again spread their seed. Death is too good.” To hear the normally reserved man talk so passionately and angrily made her rethink her upcoming meeting. Every evening for the last week she read more and more about the current situation and the history of this war torn country, and yet she was not nearer to understanding it. One of the professors in the World Studies department at Oxford was sending her information via instant messenger when she noticed the name. “What time is it over there?” UTC/GMT +2 hours that would put her one hour ahead of London and six hours ahead of the American east coast. “What time is it here?” As usual her youthful exuberance had her up way past the time she should have been. It was nearly one a.m. her time. “Seven p.m. his time and he‟s logged in. Do I want to continue to chat about genocide and rape for the fourth straight day?” Her answer was a simple one. Excusing herself from her ex-professor took ten minutes, but it was worth it. “Hey there stranger, how‟s your night going?” “Well nice to see you logged in finally. I was trying to get back to you for days.” Perhaps he shouldn‟t be writing this because she just might think he was some sort of a stalker or something. “One we‟re six hours ahead. Two normally I am online in the morning my time. Three I have been really busy researching a trip I am taking this week. Believe me I would rather be talking with you.” Perhaps she should not have written this last part, but she did not want him to think she was avoiding him. “If you are too busy I can come back to you later.” “No I really needed a break.” “Where are you headed?” “Kigali.” “Rwanda?” “I am impressed.” “Not a great place for a young lady to be going. Stick to the cities. I hope you are traveling with someone else.” Having watched way too many documentaries on this country, he had heard dozens of horror stories. “I will be traveling with several people. Don‟t worry about me.” It was kind of cute to have him worrying though. “AIDS prevention meeting?” “I‟m at a rape prevention meeting.” He must have read her profile on the website. Her heart was beginning to swoon. “Ouch. That is a very sore subject over there right now with the Hutu raids and all.” The history of Rwanda fascinated him. South Central Africa in general fascinated him. Before opening the towers he actually looked into starting a large reform project in that area. The risk and corruption squashed that idea before it got off the ground. “Someone‟s doing his homework.” Wow was he learning all this for her? “Someone‟s done her homework already. I almost ended up over there myself. Not with the Peace Corps though.” Although he was impressed with much of the work the organization had done recently, he still had problems with their previous indiscretions. “Well I should be pretty safe as things go.” She abandoned her childish thoughts that he was doing this research to woo her. “I could come over there and be your muscle if you would like?” That sounded way too much like flirting, but maybe that‟s what he meant it to be. “She‟s half my age.” No matter how many times he said these words, he could not convince himself it was important enough to give up hope. “Ok. Meet me in Kigali on Friday. I‟m staying at the Marriot. ” With that she signed out of her instant messenger. It was supposed to be a joke. Hopefully he would not get too upset by the prank. If not he was looking at this computer right now trying to figure out what the problem was. Either way it was fun for her to be playful with this man, it reminded her of a simpler time when she could play without pain. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… For the next two days, Samira swamped the congressman‟s e-mail box with wartime photos. Each one she captioned. “The president did not decide to start this war. We did.” It did not appear to be drawing any attention at all, until she finally got two e-mails. One of them was from the Department of Homeland security. “Harassing a U.S. Congressman is federal offense. You could be prosecuted to the full extend of the law.” The rest of the letter was lawn enforcement bullshit. Her response was very succinct. “I am an American. I am a Georgian. I am a registered voter. He is my congressman. I have the right to express my opinion to him. Can you spell First Amendment? Can you spell ACLU? Can you spell NAACP? Can you spell L.A.W.S.U.I.T? Strangely enough she got no further e-mails from them. Her second came directly from the congressman himself. It was an internet link to the official site for September 11th. In response she sent him an internet link to the official site for the movie Fahrenheit 911. There was no further correspondence between them. If she thought it would do any good, she would have continued her e-mail barrage, but it was useless. Today she and Peter had a personal meeting with a group of twenty Lobbyists. It was the largest group to ever meet with one organization in the history of the modern day anti- war movement. “I still don‟t understand why you chose me to do this.” For the past five minutes she kept trying to yank down her skirt. It kept riding up to her thighs. “You look good in a skirt. Why else would I do this?” Of course he was kidding with her but the look he got was not good. “For someone who works around very PC people that was not very PC.” Not once had he looked at her like a woman but his words suggested otherwise. “Honestly, I don‟t know why they chose me for this. I chose you because I think you have the fire that I need for this meeting. Fire and Ice works well with Lobbyists. It helps you cover both sides of a tricky equation.” Marching and speeches did not make him nervous. Standing before a room of lobbyists, had him feeling quite terrified. “I don‟t really know if I would use the word ice to describe you. You‟re really not that cool. You‟re kind of a nerd in fact.” Her wink did very little to dull the blow she just delivered to his psyche. “Thanks?” Wow that was kind of harsh. “I needed to do something to get your mind off whatever else it was on.” This skirt was going to drive her nuts. Short cotton skirts and black women‟s bodies did not go well together. Everything was trying to ride up to places it was meant to go. “Good morning Mr. Riley and you must be Miss Bryan.” The man who greeted them had had permanent smile lines on his cheeks. Their origin was obvious from the other people in the room. All of them were smiling quite obnoxiously. “So this is what two dozen lobbyists look like in a room together.” After exchanging the normal pleasantries, Samira leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Well you two are here to convince us that war is wrong? Fire away.” It was intended to be playful pun, but it struck Samira as tremendously inappropriate. “Mr. Spinner, have you ever had any firsthand experience with war before?” Peter put his hand on her shoulder to try and hold back any explosion she might have had. “Yes young lady. Long before you were ever born, I had more than share of experience with war.” Her snot nose question turned up the hairs on the back of his neck. “Korea?” The man looked too old for Vietnam and too young for World War II. “Yes young lady Korea.” “Did the war accomplish anything lasting?” Peter gripped her shoulder a little tighter than before. “It stopped the Chinese from taking over North Korea maybe from taking over all of Southeast Asia. Is that lasting enough for you?” There were several laughs from those around the room. “So you believe the threat of communism and danger from North Korea was lessened by the police action?” Where there was laughter there was no silence except for the gasps of few surprised people in the room. “Sometimes there is peace that can only be found on the other side of war. Have you ever heard that quote before?” Gregory Spinner was not going to make this personal. “Forgive me sir but the only thing found on the other side of war, is another war.” Letting up his grip on her shoulder Peter took over from there. “From Attila the Hun through George W Bush wars have raged and raged with the knowledge that tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow there will no longer be a need for war. If we can just resolve this last issue, we will never need another war. It‟s all a lie. The truth is some people want it; some people need it, to feel powerful. If we want to end the circle we need to empower the people who don‟t need it to feel strong.” It took a few seconds for him to gain the strength and momentum that Samira had already built up in her two-minute tirade. “Let‟s get rid of it then! Let‟s throw away the guns sit around the campfire and sing Cumbaia!” The man Peter was least looking forward to talk to in this group was one Alistar Mckenzie. Hardliner extraordinaire the man believed anything that involved killing and making money was a good idea. Everyone laughed louder than before. “Exactly Mr. McKenzie, I agree complete except for the Cumbaia part. Personally I prefer „Give Peace a Chance‟”. There was a giggle or two, but mostly people looked at him sideways. “You would!” Why Alistar had agreed to sit on this little meeting he had no idea. Someone told him that Peter Riley was worth the price of admission, so far he was just like all the other hippies he‟d been around over the years. “Who here truly believes in their heart of hearts that terrorism can be defeated completely with conventional warfare?” Looking around the room Peter got no takers not even from the former Alabama governor. “Come on show of hands.” Of course there was not one person who responded. “Now, who in this room actually believes that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are justified? Again show of hands.” Nearly half of the room raised their hands in affirmation. “Well now that simply makes no sense gentlemen and ladies. If you don‟t have confidence that war can stop terrorism than how can you possible justify these actions?” This was how his platform started off. For the better part of two hours he preached and prodded. At times they practically booed him out of the room. At other times some stood to their feet and clapped. “Most of you probably came here today expecting to hear a speech about how wrong war is? As a pacifist God only knows we could have battered you to death with reasons why war in general was an abomination. However, most of you know this already. Most of you if you could wave a magic wand would stop war in a second like a beauty pageant‟s dream come true. I did not come here to talk fantasy with you. Instead I brought you the truth about the useless war we as American‟s are raging against terrorism abroad. I challenge you to find one part of what I say that was not wholly and completely accurate. Terrorists cannot be stopped with bombs and bullets. There is a better way. Violence will only beget more violence. Please I implore you today, give my children and your children a tomorrow.” Several of the lobbyists clapped and nodded their appreciation while others looked as if they would fall asleep at any second. “Let‟s take a lunch break.” The speaker stood up and the room began to empty. Just as Peter and Samira were about to duck their heads in defeat they noticed that most of the people were emptying in their direction. “That was an impressive speech. Can I get some information sent over to my office?” More than half of the patrons wanted information on what they had to say. Some promised to put their full weight behind the cause while others were just curious as to where they got their information from. “I assure you. It‟s all public record.” Samira had supplemented the organization‟s lousy research with more of her own. It was government drivel to be quite honest, but with Peter presenting it, she looked like a genius in retrospect. Alistair was the last of the lobbyists left in the room. Clapping his hands quite loudly he stood up at the back of the room. With the high ceilings and empty room the noise echoed around them. “That was an incredible waste of my time.” Sitting back down in his chair, the man smiled at Peter and then nodded his head to Samira. “How is that exactly Mr. Mckenzie?” This was the part of this day he was looking most forward to. The battle with the indifferent or the receptive was monotonous and tedious at best. However to fight the staunch antagonist was a challenge that made his heart beat true. “War is inevitable like taxes my dear children.” It would be a good ten minutes before anyone returned from lunch or nicotine inhalation, Alistair decided to school some children the best way he knew how. “Funny I thought that was death?” Throughout the entire speech and questioning period this man had fired away at them and Samira was not sure why. “It‟s the same thing. You made quite an impression on Congressman Green from Georgia Miss Bryan. The man nearly had a coronary discussing how insolent you had been.” Peter turned wide eyed and annoyed towards his associate. She had neglected to discuss the encounter with her group. “People are greedy little bastards, hence the reason why a true Communist society has never worked on this planet. Despite our need to be social little creatures, we have this innate desire to have it all. War is inevitable as long as hatred and greed control society.” The long bony fingers of a modern day Ichabod Crane clamored on the desk in front of him. His stare and southern drawl were not nearly as imposing as the confederate flag flying attitude he threw around everywhere he went. “Speak for yourself sir.” Who was this man? Her partner smiled and walked up the stairs towards him. “I always speak for myself miss, but most of what I say applies to all of us. Or are you fixing to tell me you are not greedy?” Peter took up a seat two down from Alistar and then smiled. “You don‟t think people can change Mr. Mckenzie?” This was something he had been looking forward to for quite sometime. “A person can change quite quickly Mr. Riley, but people as a whole? That is a completely different story.” This was their second meeting. Their first was twenty years ago in front of courthouse in Mobile. Surrounded by his two mentally disturbed parents he was naked and chained to a door. He had always wondered what would happen to a child raised under that kind of influence. His answer was sitting before him. “Hatred and Greed are perceived notions. Change the perception and the notion goes away.” Trying to keep time with him, he tapped his fingers in unison. “Six billion people Mr. Riley?” “I‟ll get them one at a time Mr. Mckenzie one at a time.” “So you are the pacifist for the twenty third century generation then?” They looked at each other as advisories. No one wanted to break eye contact. “If there were only one teacher in the world, ignorance would abound throughout?” Samira saw the pissing contest begin, and she wanted a piece of it. Neither man was sexist enough to preclude her from the fun. Alistair relished the competition. “Ignorance is a by product of humanity. Only the man upstairs is capable of avoiding its bliss.” Making the sign of the cross on his chest sarcastically, Alistar pointed towards the sky. “What do you tell your grandson when he asks you about war?” Peter smiled and winked out of the corner of his eye at Samira. “That it is inevitable. There will always be bad people with bad intentions. Sometimes the only way to stop them is with a gun.” “Your grandson is three?” Hopefully he was just joking about this. “It‟s never too early to teach your children well.” This was something he truly believed. Children should not be hidden from the world. They should be taught to embrace it both the good and bad. “How old were you when your parent‟s chained you to that church Peter?” He knew the answer already before he spoke. “Teaching children about peace at the age of three is easy to do. Peace is something a three-year-old‟s brain can fathom and comprehend. War is an adult invention.” Samira wondered how these two knew so much about each other but was not about to ask now. “Oh young lady how naive you are.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “You can‟t stay in here all day.” Growing up as most Americans did with an uncomfortable feeling about nudity. Kendrel did not really want to go out into the living room. There was no reason he should feel strange about it. After all, the man was not virginal by any means, and he had seen his fair share of naked women both white and black. Still there was something about nudity without intimacy or implicit sex that made him a shy guy. This was something he was going to have to get over living in this place. Taking a deep breath he opened the door and walked out On the sectional couch were four young ladies and in the middle of all of them was Alexi. Kendrel went from being surprised, to impressed, all the way to unsure. What did his room mate do for a living? From the looks of things the man was a pimp. The look on his face said it all. All five people on the couch started laughing. “He‟s a photographer.” The girl all the way to the left spoke up. “That‟s why we‟re all here. You looked a little nervous so I thought I would clear that up.” Kendrel would have cut off his left arm to be on that couch right now. It was funny how now that all of them were dressed his mind set was different. The one who talked to him now could have been Hale Barry‟s younger sister. “I wasn‟t really all that worried.” Trying to play it cool got him through twenty years of his life. He saw no reason to stop completely. It was Alexi who said something to which two of the other girls laughed so hard they snorted. “Alexi wants to know if you thought he was a pimp. And if so which one of us you would have propositioned first?” Despite being obviously American with her accent and the way she talked, the young lady understood Russian. “I don‟t pay for it, so I wouldn‟t know.” He wasn‟t really expecting her to translate, but she did anyway. Alexi nodded and smiled at his new room mate. “You never did or not anymore?” This one was fiery. She would not let him off that easily. “I never did well at least not directly.” He wasn‟t sure if she would understand what he meant by that. “So dinner and a movie maybe a drink or two, but never direct payment for services rendered?” Okay that was impressive. This woman thought like a man. “Something like that?” There was definitely a moment being shared here. The young Russian girls talked to each other apparently not noticing it. Alexi though he did not understand a word watched intently. “Dominique.” Holding out her hand quite delicately she took Kendrel‟s fingers in hers. “Kendrel.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Thursday morning came and with it rain. The entire first round of tournament was washed out. Khadif could barely contain his disappointment. Again it was Christian who held him together. “Today or tomorrow is not going to change anything. How many years have you been practicing for this moment?” He was right; nothing was going to change by Friday morning. It was a mental thing more than a physical one. Tomorrow will be just fine. Unfortunately when Friday morning came around the weather was still not cooperating his ten-thirty tee time kept being pushed further and further back. It was two twenty when he finally stepped up to the first tee. There was a bit of a cheer when Christian teed it up. His first shot hooked wildly right into the couple of people in the gallery. “Oops.” He shrugged his shoulders and laughed a bit as he turned to his caddy. It was such a simple thing, but Khadif suddenly understood the truth. This was not life or death situation. It was golf. In his lifetime it had been so difficult to distinguish between the two. Winning and losing was not a life or death contemplation. His first drive of the day went very straight and very long landing softly in the mushy fairway. Christian pointed at him and clapped much louder than the rest of the people in the gallery who had never heard of him. The rest of the day was much the same. They exchanged good shots and bad with the same reactions. There was no pressure to speak of. When the first round of competition was finished Khadif was on the first page of the leader board only two shots out of the lead. In horrendous conditions with the pressure of his first tournament weighing upon him, the young Iraqi remembered that golf was just a game to play. He played it well. Chapter 7 Did she really expect him to buy a plane ticket to Kigali? Xavier highly doubted this to be so. She was merely playing a game with him. What kind of a surprise would it be if he did though? It was not least bit practical. In his younger days of excess and utter gall he would not have batted any eyelash at the idea, but not today. Then again, he had been planning to go over there. Humanitarian efforts in that part of the world were so corrupt and mishandled. Perhaps he could turn this into a business trip. “Where does it say in your contract to do good that you can‟t have fun in the process?” Xavier could always count on Max to make the absurd seem ludicrous. “She‟s in her twenties?” Guilt was trying to overwhelm him. “So you have something in common. You were in your twenties once.” There was an awkward silence while Xavier recalled his younger years, but than he laughed. “Was aid to Rwanda in amongst your requests for charitable donations and perspective humanitarian aid projects?” The two of them had discussed this before. Max had seen the same documentaries that his boss had. “Point in fact; I actually suggested this to you on a couple of prior occasions.” They nodded at this realization. “Yes but if it wasn‟t for her, I wouldn‟t be going over there now.” “True. However, sometimes you have to kill two birds with one stone, when you get the opportunity.” Max hoped his friend would take some time away. He worked incessantly, and had no life to speak of. Some of it was due to fear of any new commitment; the rest was a result of an overwhelming need to make up for previous imagined indiscretions on his part. “Okay I convinced myself. Thanks.” His ticket to Kigali could be written off for taxes so that it was not a needless expense. At the same time he printed his ticket he arranged a contact list of local charities he wanted to talk to while he was there. For the better part of four hours he sifted through hundreds of e-mails and websites. By two a.m. he had an itinerary established. “I‟m going to Rwanda in three hours?” He spent so much time researching the work he would be doing he almost forgot about packing. With an hour to pack and get to the airport he was cutting it close. Luckily he had been to equatorial Africa within the last four years so he had already received all of his shots and had the subsequent paperwork needed to travel there. His friend Carl at INS pushed through his Visa application and it was waiting for him at the KLM ticket counter. There was only one other question he had, “How am I going to find her when I get over there?” The only thing he knew was the name of her hotel. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Ruth was cursed with an unnaturally attractive body and the metabolism of an elephant. No matter what she ate and how little she did, she never seemed to gain an ounce. Why was that a curse you might ask? People, especially men, had trouble taking her seriously. The men tried more often than not to get into her skirt and the women shunned her as competition for men. Yet the truth was she was quite a bright girl, capable of doing anything she put her mind to. On this day her brain was not being addressed by the either the US minister for foreign affairs or minister for the interior. Both men were addressing the front of her blouse. No matter that she was dressed very conservatively or not, they still stared. “The issue here is not the responsibility of the women. It is the responsibility of this country to protect its citizens.” Bob was not at all happy with the manner in which these two gentlemen were looking at his assistant. “Yes that is the issue Mr. Franklin. We have a responsibility to protect them from these hated rebels. What we are trying to do is make sure they don‟t end up shot? This is our first priority.” Manish did not appreciate the way these two Westerners were telling him how to run his country. He had serious issues that the west talked about, but was not willing to help him solve. “With all due respect minister if they infect these young ladies with the AIDS virus they might as well shoot them too. With the health system you currently have in place in the tribal areas to the south and in the surrounding outlands, they are as good as dead.” Ruth made sure to make eye contact with the man to try and draw his eyes northward. “Don‟t you think you are being a bit melodramatic miss?” The US minister Marcus Obweli was a good politician, perhaps the most adept on the continent, but he was very dense when it came to life. “No she is not being the least bit dramatic. Of the fifteen thousand Tutsi‟s infected in the past decade who received little to no medical treatment all fifteen thousand are dead. This is not melodrama. This is fact.” Why had someone not briefed these two before the trip? Bob Franklin was furious that he was starting from scratch on this conversation. “Granted AIDS kills way too many of my brothers and sisters Mr. Franklin, and if I could I would eradicate it today. But I ask you, what would you have us do to stop the spread of it? We bring your people in for education and still the infection rate grows with each year. You told us it was about education and we listened to you. Where are we now?” The minister was tired of being told what should be done in his own country. They yelled fire in a crowded theatre yet provided no water to put out the flames. “Stop the rebels from killing your children and the future generations of children. The spread of AIDS should be given the same priority as the killing of soldiers because the results of both are the same.” Bob rubbed at his eyelids in disbelief. Tapping him on the shoulder Ruth took over. “If the rebels were educated to know that by having sex with these young ladies they could in fact be killing themselves as well, would it change their perspective?” Three sets of eyes turned to face her. “It might but I challenge you to find a way to let them know.” Attractive women could not be taken seriously. His mother taught him this while growing up, but there was something different in this respect to westerners. They had a certain power that the women of Rwanda had not mastered. It was a power of self-confidence. It was the by product of Democracy. It was bad. “Drop pamphlets. Have the missionaries who go into the villages in Tanzania and the Congo drop information pamphlets. Make them aware. Your government has peace meetings with their leaders explain this to them in those meetings. The former RFP members might not care about the well being of the Tutsi, but they might be interested to know that they are killing themselves.” Ruth handed them a pamphlet her and Kitaru had put together before she left. “You speak Chitutsi?” The minister looked shocked as he read through the brochure like it was for a travel show. “Here is the English translation.” Handing it to both the director and the ambassador she felt suddenly very proud of her efforts. “A) You expect that most of these rebels are able to read. B) You expect them to actual read. C) Lastly you expect that they are going to believe you. As it is, most Africans believe that AIDS is something the western world has concocted to kill them off. It wasn‟t until Mandela himself stood up and announced that his son had died of the disease that anyone on this continent even wanted to talk about it.” “Now who‟s being overly dramatic?” Ruth was less upset with the minister and his reluctance then she was with the American Ambassador. This man was educated enough to know that his excuses were lame and unwarranted. “Actually he‟s got a point. The lack of education of a lot of the rebels and their distrust of foreigners will make this difficult.” Not that Bob wanted to agree with the ignorant politician but he was right. Ruth did not look happy to be shot down by the one person who was supposed to be on her side here. “Thank you for your time director.” No one would have been surprised at all if the man stuck out his tongue he looked so proud of himself. “I do see promise though with this suggestion. Perhaps if we generated these flyers in local newspapers maybe even government manifestos it could give it more credibility.” The more the minister thought about what she was saying the more he realized it was not to his advantage to stop these attacks. Yes the villagers would be infected and yes they would more than likely die. However, they could also transmit the disease onto others. They could carry it to more and more. His head was spinning with ideas. Perhaps set up houses of prostitution right near the borders. Send infected women there to pass it on to the rebels. If they wanted genocide then let them bring it upon themselves. Education was the last thing he wanted. “Thank you sir” Ruth‟s pride returned to her. At least the most important man in the room understood what she was trying to do. At least he was interested. “Well this has been a very informative meeting. I hope they we can talk again perhaps tonight over dinner?” Taking Ruth‟s hand very respectfully he looked at her when he spoke. “That would be good.” Mr. Franklin was leaning in to speak. “Unfortunately though, I will not be able to attend. I thank you for the invitation though.” Her eyes met with those of her boss, he realized the reason for her reluctance and let it go without further questioning. “Well then Mr. Franklin would you join me at my residence tonight say around 7:30 p.m.” It was not his intention to invite this American, but he had committed to it already. “I would be honored sir.” The ambassador looked wounded by the fact that neither man thought to include him in the conversation. He thought about talking to the British girl after the meeting was over to see if maybe they could get a drink, but the look she gave him as he shook her hand, answered that question. He was not liked. When the two men had left the room, Bob turned to face her. “Before you get upset and start yelling at me hear me out.” In his forty-two years of marriage Bob knew what that look meant. He was in trouble. “What do you think the goal of the Tutsi government is here in Rwanda at this time, and I don‟t mean the official bullshit line either?” Her eyes still harbored a great deal of anger. “I would imagine the goal is to hold onto their political and economic position?” Everything she read suggested this was the answer he was looking for. “Yes. In other words their goal is to keep the old RFP out of Rwanda. Their goal is to eliminate the rebels to protect their own asses. Everyone here remembers what these people did to their families. They not only do not trust them, but in all honesty wish them ill. Many of leaders wish them dead.” This had been explained to Mr. Franklin in a meeting with the government‟s head military chiefs on several different occasions. They had requested that whenever possible the Peace Corps should stay out of the way. “If you get in the way you will get dead.” He remembered the powerful translation he received from his headphones. “So what are you trying to say they don‟t care about their own people because they are too busy trying to protect their own jobs?” Was this really the position these men chose to live by? “You have too good a heart for this conversation.” Perhaps she was more naïve than he previously believed her to be. “What was that supposed to mean?” She was plenty tough enough for anything that had been said so far today. “Why would they want to stop HIV infection if they can use it to their advantage instead?” Bob slammed back the last ounce of Scotch from the minister‟s glass. “Are you bloody kidding me?” Was he suggesting what she thought he was? “Perhaps in his mind if a person infected with AIDS is as good as dead, as you and I suggested than maybe infecting as many of the Hutu as possible was the answer to all his problems. Yes, some of his people would die, but they were only villagers after all. Now I assure you these are not my views, but don‟t discount the idea.” Ruth could not hide her shock and utter horror at these statements. “No one could be that cold.” It took all her power just to hold back the tears building up inside her. Suddenly she felt so sorry for herself to be considered part of the same human race that these people were from. “Don‟t look at me like that. These are not just the thoughts of the Rwandan government. Have you ever heard of biological warfare?” This was probably not a conversation he should have had with her. Still there was a time in every young person‟s life where they needed to grow up and face the fact that some people were just ghastly. “Maybe in Iraq and places like that during war time? There is no longer a war going on this country though?” Biological warfare was something out of a bad movie to her. “You need to go back to your hotel tonight and do some research young lady. Start with the American campaign against the Native Americans. Look up something called Small Box blankets. You would be shocked. When you are done with that, you may want to try researching England‟s experiments at the beginning of World War I. Rwandan politics are no different than those of the rest of the world. A dead enemy is better than a live one. An enemy that kills themselves is even better.” This time he did bring her to tears. She could not believe what her boss was saying. “I hate that I am a human being. I absolute hate it.” She stood up wiped the tears from her eyes and practically ran back to her hotel room. Knowing better than to try and explain the world to her, Bob went to the bar and ordered a drink. It would be a long night with the minister he did not want to be sober for it. “Now you know exactly how I feel every other day.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… For every reason why war was wrong, Alistair snapped back with a reason why it was inevitable. Even with the two of them firing on all cylinders, they were no match for the grizzly veteran. His thirty-five years of political background served him well. “You‟re making an emotional plea now. Simply saying that war is wrong does no one any service. Tell that to the IRA or the PLO. Their entire existence is built on the premise that if they fight long enough and hard enough they will win in the end. Winning in this case means that the land they claim is theirs will be returned. They know in their hearts that all the negotiations in the world will not grant them their freedom.” He had not intended this discussion to last as long as it had. The rest of his colleagues had returned to the room. Many of them had gathered around to listen to this round table. Truth be told, he was impressed with these two young folks. They were well prepared and did not seem to be surprised with anything he had to say. “So you do not believe that eventually diplomacy will be the reason for the end of conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East? You honestly believe it will be war and violence that ends it?” Samira was impressed with this man‟s extensive knowledge though she disagreed completely on his simplistic views of the world. “The British might very well leave Northern Ireland someday, but the Israelis will never leave Palestine. The West Bank, Golan Heights, and such, are merely bargaining tools. They have no intention of leaving and the Palestinians have shown not true indication of ever giving up the fight. In both locations there will always be violence in some form or another. Revenge is revolving door. There will always be a child or a parent or a cousin fighting on behalf of their slain brethren. It is simply unavoidable.” Many of the people around him nodded their heads. “Revenge is a straight line not a circle as most people make it. At anytime one of the points that makes up the line can chose to stop it. It only takes one person.” The other half of the room nodded at what Peter had to say. “What you are missing here young man is this; Revenge is a chain not a line. At anytime if one of the links is broken another can bridge the gap; one link in the chain is easily replaced by another and another. You have to treat the whole of society. It can‟t be done. Everyone needs a face on which to place their anger. In the absence of a logical enemy they will merely create one in the form of a scapegoat.” For the first time in the hour that they had been talking his fingers stopped tapping, and he stood up. “This has been enthralling, but we have two more groups waiting outside. Be assured though that you have brought up many valid points and we will pass them on accordingly.” “In other words thank you for your time, but piss off.” Samira moved her way back towards the door in huff. “Did you really think you were come here talk to all of us today, and peace on earth would happen tomorrow?” The young lady needed a filter between her heart and her mouth otherwise one of times she was going to get herself into some real trouble. “No we did not. We know peace takes time. I thank you for your...” In an effort to get out of there without further conflict Peter tried to intervene. “Peace takes time. It can‟t happen overnight. One person can‟t stop war. Go back through history gentlemen and tell me how many times this same shit has been slung around. The truth is you don‟t want it, because if you really wanted it you would fight every hour and every day for it. Peace should be like air. You should not be able to live without it.” They watched as she stormed out of the room. “Youth entitles one to see the world unclouded. As age and wisdom find us we grow cataracts that shroud us from the easy answer. There is no black and white only a darker or lighter shade of gray in the adult world.” An ex-tobacco lobbyist from North Carolina spoke out for the first time that day. His words hit home like hammer to anvil. “She feels that I betrayed her.” Peter tried to whisper the words, but Alistar heard him. “No son, she feels betrayed by God.” Peter shook the older man‟s hands and left the room. In his eyes they made progress in this room today. Unfortunately, progress did not equate to victory. To Samira victory was the only thing worth fighting for. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… For two hours Kendrel and Dominique talked about everything and anything under the son. Having grown up in Europe she was not used to the way in which American‟s interact when she moved here at the age of twelve. They harbored such anger and unhappiness and she could not understand why. “American television, movies, and music were my only companions when I was kid. To me it was the most fantastic place on earth. Everyone was so glamorous and happy. Then I get here and find out none of it is true. For two years I was so depressed.” It had been a decade since she first stepped off the plane and still she remembered the feeling. “I was born and raised in the Bronx. It‟s the only world I ever known. The rest of New York and this country or the world is like another planet to me. My whole life was spent in the same fifteen blocks from birth until five years ago.” This was a mismatch from the beginning. She was well educated and wholesome. He was an ex-con who couldn‟t read. Still despite their differences they felt very relaxed talking to each other. “Is that when you went to prison?” She probably could have presented the question with a bit more tact, but it did not feel right to ask it any other way. “Sort of.” Alexi must have told her he was in prison, which means either Max or Xavier mentioned it. In a small way he felt a bit betrayed, and yet at the same time pleased, because she knew he was an ex-con and talked to him none the less. “If you don‟t want to talk about it you could just say so?” They had plenty more to talk about, and if it made him feel uncomfortable she didn‟t want to discuss it. “One of cousins lived out in LA. He invited three of us from here over to visit. We got mixed up with some sh… One of my cousins got shot by accident. Five years at Lompoc later, I‟m here.” Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the time on the clock. He had to be at work in forty-five minutes. His train was leaving in ten minutes. “Do you have somewhere to be or are you looking over there for another reason?” Being a strikingly gorgeous woman she was not used to men not looking at her when they talked to her. “I‟m sorry no disrespect, but I have to catch the bus for work here in like ten minutes. Just realized what time it was.” “In that case it has been a pleasure. Hopefully I will see around here sometime.” “Are you doing anything on Saturday night? I‟ll cook.” The cocky nature of his younger days came from out of nowhere. “Honestly I don‟t really eat. Damn anorexic bitch that I am. But I would like to see you on Saturday anyway.” Dominique winked as she spoke about her eating habits. Unfortunately the statement was all too true. She barely ate anything at all. Professional models had a difficult dilemma between starving and not getting work. It had gotten better in recent years with more the more full figured look coming back, but it was still an industry of waifs and chain smokers. “Then you can I have a salad and I‟ll eat. Say around eight o‟clock?” There was nothing anorexic looking about this girl, but he knew what she meant. When he was sixteen he dated a model, and the poor girl never really got to eat. For black women in the fashion industry it was very difficult. In order to compete they had to meet the same general body shape and type of the average white model, and this really wasn‟t fair. It was however the reality of life. “Are you mocking my pain?” Leaning in very close to him, she whispered in his ear. The warmth of her breath sent shudders through his body from top to bottom. “No just playing.” They were inches apart from one another. Knowing he just did not have the time, Kendrel walked towards his bedroom to change. “Eight o‟clock works for me.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… BellSouth Classic Leaderboard Phil Mickelson -9 F Rich Beem -9 F Jose Maria Olazabal -9 17 Khadif Bahrain -9 17 “Who is Khadif Bahrain?” This was the question buzzing around the TPC at Sugarloaf. All of the sports reporters and players were trying to figure out three things; who was this kid, where did he come from, and how in God‟s name do you pronounce his name? The tournament was cut down to three days after rain delays. On a normal weekend on the PGA tour he would have been mobbed coming in to the 18th green on a Sunday. With the Monday finish and “The Masters” starting on Thursday there were less than a thousand people around the green as he approached. To Khadif it was the greatest day of his life. Never had he played golf in front of so many fans. There was only one thing that could have made it better, if he could hear the cheers and adulations going on around him. “If only I could hear them?” Tina tapped him on the shoulder and clapped. Then pointing at all the people in the gallery, she smiled. In response Khadif pulled off his hat respectively and bowed gently at this waste. Little could he have known but on NBC the story of this little known Iraqi golfer deafened by terrorists‟ bombs was being told for the first time. People around the country and around the world were getting their first view of this courageous young man. Then like most American fairy tales it turned sour. One of the very intoxicated patrons started yelling at the top of lungs. “Go back to the dessert you fucking sand rat. No turbans on tour.” Tina turned her head disgustedly towards the obnoxious heckler. “Do you want some Muslim terrorist bastard playing golf on your course? They bombed the Twin Towers. They murder our boys over there.” The man now went from being obnoxious and vulgar to walking out onto the course itself. He was going after Khadif. “What is wrong?” They had been communicating on a white steno pad throughout the day. Little notes of how far they were from the green and which direction the green would break covered the paper. “It was just a drunken patron being ignorant. It is nothing for you to worry about!!!!” She used the pencil to sketch out four exclamation points. Security surrounded the man and dragged him away. “What did he say?” Here he was on the greatest day of his golfing life, and he could only imagine, what names this man was calling him? It was Iraq all over again. His ears shot phantom pains through his body as he remembered the blast. “Are you all right???” Being from Scotland she was always amazed at the outspoken racism and prejudice in this country. It hurt her now to think of this redneck cracker yelling his racial insults at this poor young man. In the defense of the rest of the crowd, they booed him and yelled their support for the young man. ”Not all Muslims are terrorists you ignorant prick!” A woman who looked to be about ninety screamed from behind the green. Tina could not help but laugh at this. “The man said some bad things about you being from Iraq. However, the rest of the crowd is on your side. Just look.” Until she wrote these words down, he was seriously contemplating walking right of the course and never coming back. “You are telling me the truth?” As his eyes scanned the crowd he believed her. They were pointed at the man being led away by authorities and booing. Once the man was removed there was a large ovation as Khadif approached his ball. “Take your time now. One hundred and ten yards to the pin just a normal pitching wedge.” Tina was trying to get his mind back on golf again. Her golfer for the week was not paying her directly. However, his sponsor was paying her based strictly on his finish. Normally as a rover she would request a fixed fee instead of percentage, but for some reason she had confidence that a percentage would work out for her. If he won the tournament she would make nearly ninety thousand dollars for three days of work. If he finished in a tie for second place with the other three people she would make less than thirty thousand. As much as she liked the young man, sixty thousand dollars was a lot of money. As the ball left his club he knew it was going to be close, but he could not be sure how close to the hole. It took two bounces hit the pin and landed ten feet away. The crowd went absolutely crazy. His playing partner Jose Marie tried to hit his second shot to the green, only to have it land in the back left sand trap. Chances were he was going to finish tied with Michelson and Beem. This meant that if Khadif could make this put he would be the champion “We are venturing into an uncharted territory here. No newcomer has ever won their very first professional tournament on the PGA tour.” The television announcers were not sure what to think of this moment. Ratings were really their only goal, when push came to shove, they would get them anyway they could. However, a story like this one was unprecedented. “The first Iraqi, the first hearing impaired the first newcomer ever to win a PGA event. Why the hell could we not have a Sunday finish?” One of the producers was screaming at top of his lungs. This was one of the greatest storylines in the decade for sports made even more meaningful by the state of the war and Iraq. If only they could have had a larger audience for this. “With that shot by Olazabal, the young man from Iraq is now the only player with a chance to win this tournament. If he makes this putt he‟s the champion. If not we are going to a four man playoff.” No one really knew how to pronounce his name. If the head pro at Mosholu was not sure exactly how to pronounce his first name, then forget his last name. “Ba ha rain. Three syllables like the city.” They finally found someone in the New York office who had a clue. “First name Ka ha deer. Write it out phonetically.” Down on the green the commentator finally tried his name. “Bahrain has a five foot putt for the birdie. It should break about six inches to the left. This is a real tester with the nerves this young kid must be feeling right now.” A whisper of his voice held in the air. “Come on now. This is easy. How many ten-foot putts have you made before? Just hit it.” His hands were sweating so badly he could barely hold the club. At the point of contact he actually closed his eyes. A normal golfer could have kept his eyes closed and listened for the reaction of the crowd. In his world of silence he would have thought there was no way to tell the difference. He was wrong. The ground around him suddenly shook. When he opened up his eyes, the green was surrounded by clapping people. In a world where fairy tales were simply unattainable, this one wish upon a star had come true. Khadif Bahrain won a PGA tournament in his very first try. Tina wanted to hug him. She wanted to throw her arms around him and congratulate him on being a champion. Would it be right though? He was a Muslim man. How would he react if she tackled him to the ground and kissed him? Her need for celebration was oozing out of her pours. “You did it! YEAH!” Writing it down on the paper was the best she would do. Getting down on both of knees, he crossed his arms across his chest and bowed off towards the east. As he did it he wondered if anyone else had ever done the same. Then jumping back to his feet he walked over to the crowd and started shaking hands and signing autographs. Not with one or two of the people in the crowd but with everyone. “You have to go sign your scorecard, and then you can come back.” Tina had to drag him away to the tent. Having been a part of a lot of golf tournaments in her time, she had never seen anything quite like this before. Standing at the door to the scorer‟s tent was Phil Mickelson. Khadif nearly fell over and kissed the man‟s feet as he held out his hand. It was Tina who had to act as the translator. “He says congratulations and he looks forward to playing with you.” “Thank you. I hope to do that soon.” Phil patted him on the back and then walked away. “Would it have been too awkward for me to ask him for an autograph?” Tina scared the people in the tent with the loud fit of laughter, this last question elicited. Some ingenious person in the NBC studio got the bright idea to bring out a laptop and a projector so the sponsors could communicate with Khadif during the award ceremony. It worked like a charm. One of the interns typed as the NBC commentator and then the VP from Bellsouth spoke. Throughout it all Khadif smiled graciously. “So what were you thinking when you hit that last putt?” “Please go in?” With this everyone laughed as did the announcer. “There are so many firsts being accomplished here today which one do you think stands out as the brightest? The first Iraqi, the first newcomer, the first hearing impaired golfer which milestone are you proudest of?” From up in the tower he was being told to avoid talking about the war, the obnoxious spectator, or the death of his family. “We do not want any of that mentioned on the air.” “My family is what I am most proud of. I only wish that they could have been here today with me.” Khadif had to fight back the tears building up inside of him. “Also I would like to thank the fans out here this weekend. I might not have been able to hear your claps but I could still feel your love. Thank You.” Everyone around him was thoroughly impressed with his professional and respectful demeanor. This was a very well balanced well-spoken young man. “We thank you for a most memorable weekend of golf and wish you congratulations!” The reps from BellSouth were told exactly the same thing. Talk about his golf, but avoid talking about anything else. “Congratulations. This was a tournament we will all remember forever.” He did not spend much time with either the trophy or the large cardboard check for nine hundred thousand dollars. “What are you going to do with this big pay check Khadif?” This was a common question for first time winners. They should have known better than to ask him it though. “Give it to the children.” As Tina watched this show up on the screen she turned towards her golfer with a furrowed brow. “How many children do you have?” Obviously the VP did not understand what the young man was saying. “I have about three million.” There were some awkward giggles from the audience, but nothing further was made of it. Tina was one of them. When the young man winked at her, she assumed it was something you might or might not find out about later. Instead of standing around the winner‟s table, he was back in amongst the crowd signing autographs. Tina acted as his liaison to the people. They were out there for nearly three hours. Even with the onset of daylight savings time the day before, it was still dark by the time they finished. “Weren‟t you supposed to do an interview after the win?” It seemed strange that after all the congratulations from the masses and the reporters they were all of sudden completely alone. The silence was deafening. Even when “talking” with him if not from the noise around them she felt a bit peculiar. “After the comment about 3 million children, the PGA and sponsor thought it better that I don‟t do an interview.” “Do you want to write about it?” She thought herself very clever for the comment. “That is the number of children orphaned by the war in my home country.” He was one of them. “You can see why they might not want you talking about that. After all, the PGA is not supposed to be a political entity.” “And you truly believe that?” All he got in return was a shrug of shoulders from her. It had been a long couple of days; she was ready to relax now. “Do you drink?” Her hand was cramping up from all the writing she had done that day. “Alcohol?” “I didn‟t think so as you are a Muslim.” “That I am. Why?” Unlike most of the people from his town and his country he had become very westernized. He did not drink or date, but he could be around both openly without being offended. “I was going to go to the bar and have a stiff one.” Having caddied for twenty different golfers, she had never been on the winning side. It was not because she was a bad caddy. On the contrary she was one of the best. However, she had chosen to caddy for the younger players who needed her help rather than settle in with a winning golfer. This was the first time she had ever been around a winner of a professional tournament. It was incredibly exciting. “Well I won‟t drink one, but I could chat for a while.” Both of them giggled at the unintended humor on his part. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 8 “You certainly have grown up young lady.” It took nearly twenty-four hours of connections and flights to get him to Kigali; only to find a very intoxicated Ruth in the Marriott hotel bar. “Listen pal I don‟t want to be bloody hit on.” Men, she hated all of them equally on this day. Refusing to turn around, she took another sip of her third martini. “Ok but I just flew a couple thousand miles to see you.” Wow she really had grown up. “Oh my God!” Jumping up to her feet she landed in Xavier‟s arms with a thud. “You do not know you incredibly happy to see me. I have had the fucking day from hell.” Her voice was incredibly loud and the other patrons in the establishment turned to look at her. “Sorry for my condition. I have had a really bad day.” Every part of her being smelled of alcohol, but he didn‟t care. Her eyes were still the same bright blue he remembered only the rest of her features were no longer those of a little girl. “What are you looking at?” She knew exactly what he was looking at. Unlike the men from earlier in the day, he looked at her with admiration not lechery. “You are stunning and drunk as a skunk.” It was funny to see the heiress in such a state. “Peshawar!” “Wanna tell me about your day?” He was not sure if this was the right question to ask, but he needed conversation if he was going to stay awake much longer. “Do you know how many people in this damn country were infected with AIDS as a result of being raped last year?” Her anger and drunken stupor evaporated for a second as she looked deep into his eyes. “My guess would be too many.” He had heard the number once, but numbers did little to actually define the human terms of it all. “One person is too many. I keep wondering what I would do in their position? Knowing that not only was I going to die, but so was the child I was carrying. Plus I could never know the touch of another man without remembering the agony of being raped plus that they could be infected with the same disease that I have. I can‟t imagine it X. I just can‟t.” Her eyes were filled with large authentic tears. This was not the spoiled little princess that he once knew. This was a woman who cared more about the well being of the rest of world over that of her own. “What can I do to help? Tell me. If I can do it I will. You have my word.” They spent the next three hours talking about their causes to save the world. It was not the conversation most people have on a “first date”. There were no discussions about favorite color or how one takes their coffee. These were not the conversations of your average couple. “I‟ve lost more than I have saved, but even if I saved more than I lost it would not be enough. Every person who steps into my building needs a second chance. There are no exceptions. I want them to take advantage of that chance. I want them to succeed.” The scotch had entered his blood system by now, and the initial warmth was replaced by fuzziness. “I know the feeling, but we can‟t do it. We can‟t save everyone. The harder and harder I fight to do what I think is right, the more I realize it‟s a losing battle.” Even with her second cup of coffee in hand, she was still worn down by the day. From the corner of the room there came a fit of yelling. The manager of the restaurant was cursing at one of his workers in French. “Damn black Tutsi sloth. Get the hell out of my restaurant.” Xavier was on his feet and moving towards the two men, before Ruth could react. “Quelle est votre problem? (What is your problem?)” The manager seemed quite shocked to have one of the patrons approaching him. Realizing the man probably understood his racial slur and the color of the man, he felt ashamed as he should of his comment. “Forgive me monsieur. This young man has been nothing but problems since I hired him.” The young man in question turned his face down towards the floor. “Quelle a votre nom?” Xavier used his index finger to lift up the young man‟s chin. “His name is...” “Forgive me sir, but I was going to ask him if he speaks French?” Turning to the owner he cut him off rather abruptly. “They call me Rudi sir. I speak French and English sir.” Their eyes met for a moment. “As it appears you are now unemployed Rudi, would you like a job?” The manager stormed off towards his office cursing loudly as he went. “How many dialects of Tutsi do you speak?” The impressive and aggressive way by which he dismissed the Frenchman intrigued Ruth who walked over to see what was going on. “I speak six languages sir. What kind of job would it be?” “I am here for the week to try and set up a new foundation. I need someone who can translate for me and act as a liaison with the locals. Could you do that?” There he was again jumping in without taking much time to think. “Yes sir I can do that.” With his head raised high the young man beamed with pride at his new assignment. “Good meet me outside the hotel tomorrow at six a.m. and we will go from there.” With six meetings scheduled for the following seven days he needed as much help as possible. “Anything I can help with? I am here for another two days and my work assignment ended about three hours ago.” Her sobriety returning Ruth wanted to be a part of this adventure to save the world again. “Sure. Meet us outside at six a.m. and you too can be part of my quest.” The three of them laughed. A nasty look from the manager sent Rudi from the room with a handshake and thank you. “I think it‟s time that I go to bed now. I haven‟t slept in a while, and the Glenlevitt is kicking my ass.” Xavier rubbed incessantly at his bloodshot eyes. “That‟s okay with me. Will that be your bed or mine?” …………………………………………………………………………………………… “Samira Bryan?” Opening up her door at seven thirty in the morning she was being addressed by two men in dark suits. “Which congressman sent you this time?” It was a joke on her part but no one was laughing at what she had to say. “Yes I am Samira Bryan. How can I help you gentlemen?” They were much too serious for anything she had done in the past. Something was very wrong here. “We are here to bring you in for questioning for the early morning attack on Mr. Alistair Mckenzie and Congressman William Green.” Her throat went instantly dry and she felt very lightheaded. “My God.” They watched her every move as she sat down on her couch and picked up the phone. One of the agents was moving towards her when the other one held him back. “Peter?” She could not think of anyone else to turn too. “Where are you Samira? The FBI is looking for you.” “They‟re here at my apartment.” Her voice started to crackle with fear. It was not like her to fold like this. “Our lawyer will be there with you when you arrive. Don‟t say anything until then.” Peter was rushing to get himself ready to meet them at the local field office. “I didn‟t do anything. I was in my apartment all last night.” “Damn it, listen to me! Don‟t say anything until the lawyer gets there.” She didn‟t understand how this part of the system worked. “I‟m sorry.” She could not hold it together much longer. “Listen Samira, I know you didn‟t do anything wrong, but you should understand in this country that doesn‟t mean shit. Stay quiet and try to relax, I know you had nothing to do with this, and by the end of the day they will know the same thing.” He could only imagine how frightened she was right now. “OK. We can go now.” Just his couple of words of encouragement strengthened her resolve. She walked out the front door with her head held high. Her confidence was instantly shattered by the flashbulbs of hundreds of cameras. “We are here at the apartment of one Samira Bryan she is wanted for questioning in the apparent arson of the East Side café. Fifteen people were injured three of them critically in the blaze amongst them Congressman William Green from Georgia and former Alabama congressman Alistair Mckenzie. There is no indication as to what her connection is to this case. If you look to our right you can see her being lead away by two members of the FBI. This is Janice Waters of NBC news channel seven with continuing coverage of this National tragedy.” Her heart sunk deep to the bottom of her stomach and she felt as if she would throw up. Everyone was screaming out to her trying to get answers to questions she could not even begin to understand. Through it all she tried to remember what Peter had told her. “Don‟t say a word until our lawyer gets there.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Growing up in Mott Haven Kendrel was subjected to every form of racism, poverty, and drugs that can be imagined. Yet, he blamed his family for his lot in life more than society. If someone had truly taken an interest in his life perhaps he would not have sought out as much trouble as he did. It did not help that he was such an attractive young man with a very innocent face and stunningly chiseled features. He constantly conned his way through every aspect of his life. From not being able to read and receiving a high school degree to being arrested five times before he was finally charged with anything. In the end with the death of his cousin there was no escape partly because he was not looking for one. The feeling of guilt derived from Thomas‟s death he likened to being hollowed out with a spoon like a cantaloupe. “Where‟s your head?” Turning over on the couch he came face to with Dominique. She had stayed the night at his apartment after their date. Not in the way that you may think, they had both fallen asleep on the couch after watching three movies in succession. “I‟m just thinking about my life that‟s all.” It was true. He was feeling sorry for himself again. It had become an obsession on his part. “Sorry I fell asleep. I am still on European time.” She forgot about her trip to Rome when she agreed to the date. Arriving less than an hour before the date, she came straight from the airport. Kendrel nearly passed out when he saw her with her luggage at the door. They both got a big laugh out of it later. “That‟s all right. It was cool.” It was difficult for him not to fall back into his machismo way of dealing with women. He had to struggle to remember that his rep and his rap would not impress a woman like this. “I know what it‟s like to be tired. I nodded off about an hour after you did.” Her smile lit up the room. It warmed him up in a very non-sexual way. “How about we go out for some breakfast?” This meant a cup of coffee for her and too many cigarettes. “I can‟t.” The truth was he couldn‟t justify spending money right now. Now that he was paying rent he had to be careful on his cash flow. He only hoped she wouldn‟t ask him why? “Would you like a cup of coffee instead?” Remembering that talking about his lack of money last night had unsettled him she changed the subject. Offering to treat him to breakfast would only have wounded his pride. “Coffee I can do. I know a place that makes a really bad cup of it.” They showed up at the towers around nine o‟clock in morning. It was crowded with residents most of whom walked up and said hi to him. Max looked at his guest and shook his head. “A bright kid like you bringing a fancy lady like this to a joint this bad; what are you thinking?” He winked at Kendrel and played off his statement. “She wanted to see it.” When he told her about the X-men towers and what they did for the community she was very impressed. It was a bit of a dive to take someone to on a date. Not that the restaurant was dirty or anything. The problem was that most of the residents were a bit disheveled. They could not afford nice clothes. “This was the perfect choice. I could think of no place I would rather go.” Max took her hand and kissed it with extreme class. “Find your own girl, you old ruskie.” They poked each other and then Max left them to their terrible coffee. “So what do you really think?” For someone who just came from Rome and Versace photo shoot, she was being very kind. “Despite my current profession and associations, I actually prefer to go to places where the people are real. These people are as real as it gets.” She was trying to sound modest, but came off completely the opposite. They were so different these two. “Nothing is real anywhere. It‟s a fantasy world. The only reality is in here.” Tapping at the side of his temple, Kendrel threw fifty cents down on the counter. The waitress tossed it back at him. “Your money is no good here. You know that Kenny baby.” Gladys was a fifty five year old recovering alcoholic who had taken a liking to Kendrel. He smiled and stepped behind Dominique to pull out her chair. “Kenny?” Even as she said it, the waitress gave her the nastiest of looks. “Don‟t even think about calling me that.” His voice suggested he was kidding, but she could tell he did not like the name. “You don‟t believe that I know what real people are like do you?” They walked in silence back towards the bus stop before she finally spoke up. “Sorry your life just seems far from real to me. We come from two different places.” He liked this woman more than he wanted to let on, but he felt uncomfortable with her status. It was a shame too, because he felt very comfortable with her. “Somehow I don‟t think you are referring to Latvia and the Bronx.” They went for another half an hour without saying anything. “We are only as different as we allow ourselves to be.” With a kiss she stepped off the bus at her stop. It was only three blocks from his new home. “I wish that were true.” Kendrel knocked his knuckles sharply on the bus window. “She‟s too good for you bro.” The voice he heard behind him sounded all too familiar. Turning his head sharply, he came face to face with Tiny. “You don‟t look happy to see me cus.” They stared each other up and down for a second. On either side of him and in the seat behind him Kendrel spotted familiar faces. “Gang‟s all here.” There was more bling-bling than clothes on the four of them. “I‟m not part of your gang.” Although he was three blocks from his home, he pushed the signal button to alert the driver of the bus to stop when he spotted a crowd of tourists. “Where are you going? This isn‟t where you live. You forget I‟ve been there already.” The attempt to intimidate his old friend met with the expected reaction. There was none. “I don‟t to see you, be you or talk to you. Leave me alone.” Tiny grabbed his shoulder tightly for a second stopping his movement just briefly. “I‟m serious man leave me the fuck alone.” The three members of his “posse” moved their hands towards the jackets but a single shake of the head from Tiny reversed their intentions. “I‟ll catch you later than Kenny?” There was no response from his ex-friend who adeptly vanished into the weekend crowd. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Everyone and their uncle in the sporting community wanted an interview with Khadif Bahrain during the rest of the week leading up to the Masters. Perhaps the most vocal of the pursuers were the Islamic media. “See here is shining example of the Islamic superiority over the infidels to the west.” This statement alone caused him to respectfully deny their request. The Mosholu golf club was very disappointed at his refusal to do interviews to which he responded. “I thank you very much for your support and getting me entered in this tournament. As a sign of my appreciation I have paid you nearly three times the percentage of the requested purse that you and I had agreed upon in our contract. However, I respectfully decline to partake in any future interviews regarding my performance off the golf course that might otherwise lead to politically charged questioning. I am a golfer. I am not nor will I ever be a celebrity or a politician. Please respect that this both my personal belief and that of my faith. Thank you for your support and I will always appreciate that you gave me the chance to compete and win my first professional golf tournament in the United States.” To this end the golf club responded by saying. “You are fired. We no longer require your presence at our golf club. Please consider this to be a notice of your termination.” Bank of America sent him a bill for his hotel, his caddy, and his transportation. Khadif then stopped payment to both parties for the additional funds he had offered them. He paid them their exact 10% of the winnings that he had signed the one time contract for and all expenses incurred on their behalf. Knowing full well that they had stopped payment on the check to Tina, he paid her directly from his winnings. Luckily they did not have time to actually take back the nine hundred thousand they had paid him for winning. “I do not understand it uncle. Why would they respond in such a manner?” The two of them were sitting in front of the television watching Tiger Woods screaming up the leader board of the Masters on Saturday afternoon. “Athletes in the United States are required to be celebrities as well. It is not just enough to be a great golfer. You must also be photogenic and present yourself well before the media. It is no different than being an actor or a rock musician.” The look in his nephew‟s eyes said everything. He simply didn‟t understand. “All right, let‟s try this another way. Who do you think pays five million dollars in prize winnings for these tournaments?” The ways of Western democracy were still fairly new to the Middle East. Excluding McDonalds and television shows very few people could grasp the world as Americans new it. “The sponsors pay it.” His uncle was very good at explaining things without making people feel inept or stupid. “Correct. Why do you think the sponsors pay out all of that money?” What would seem like a simple concept to some was difficult to grasp for others. “They do it for exposure?” “Yes they want their name to be seen all over the programs, commercials, and advertising mediums. The truth is though; the final goal of any advertising media is to either sell more products or services. In the case of Bank of America, they want to get more people to use their banking services. Therefore the more times they get their name mentioned positively the more money they make.” Advertising and marketing 101 was a course he took at the local community college at the request of his boss. “What does that have to do with me granting interviews?” Perhaps he was missing the correlation here. “They paid your entrance fees and such so that you would be positively identified not just as Khadif Bahrain, but also as a Bank of America and Mosholu Golf Club representative. Your skill on the golf course is only part of that representation.” Again his nephew looked very confused. “Which golfer do you think of when you think of American Express?” “Tiger Woods” He did not even hesitate to say this. “Ford Motor Cars” “Phil Mickelson.” “Now do you see where the correlation lies?” The blank look continued. “I think I understand what you are saying but, how does my association of Phil Mickelson with Ford sell more cars?” “Celebrity endorsements make companies money. Don‟t ask me why that is, because I do not really know why. In fact, I don‟t think anyone can really tell you why Buick sells more cars when Tiger Woods is winning then when he is losing. But the truth is they do. This is even more likely when the athlete in question is very high profile. The more they are seen and the more people know their name, the more of the products they are endorsing that people buy.” He shrugged his shoulders and groaned as Tiger missed a four foot putt for par. “I guess I understand it, but honestly I just want to play golf.” His uncle messed up his hair a bit and patted him on the back. “If you want to play golf professionally over here, you will have to learn to juggle a bit. Not literally mind you.” They both laughed at his statement. “Reporters and annalists are going to ask you questions. Take your time and answer the ones you want. However, be very careful not to say something you cannot take back. A comment made to a friend may be forgotten, but a comment made on camera or audio tape to a reporter lasts forever.” The dim light in his eyes went on as he started to understand his role more clearly. “I am playing next week in South Carolina. The top five finishers from the PGA tournament the week before get invited to the next tournament. Of course the Masters did not count for that.” Deep inside him it hurt to watch this particular tournament on television knowing that he had won the week before. He felt he deserved to be there. “You will have plenty of time to play at Augusta in the years to come.” Hugging the young man, he picked up a glass of milk the two of them toasted. “If there is one thing my struggle in life has taught me uncle is that you may never get another chance. I am like a cat that used up eight of his lives. How much time could I possibly have left?” There was melancholy in his voice as he spoke. “Only Allah knows his plan for you. Do not dwell on humanity try to live in divinity instead?” It was not like him to quote scriptures or the Koran since he was not a highly religious man, but he did have words of wisdom of his own. “Thank you uncle as usual you have enlightened me.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 9 In his defense he had a couple of drinks, but Xavier still knew the difference between right and wrong. Even if he was trying his best to deny the angelic figure on his right shoulder, he could not justify taking this young lady up to his room. “Why Xavier Langdon I do believe I have embarrassed you?” It had been too long since she had a lover. She was cutting right past the chase. “Not embarrassed just stunned me a bit that‟s all. My brain, heart, and other extremities are fighting over what the next move is that I should make.” Honesty seemed like the best medicine for this quandary. “Can I get a rain check until tomorrow night perhaps?” The truth be told, she wanted him even more after he said that. She had forgotten how devastatingly attractive he was. Another ten years had done nothing to diminish his allure. “Why don‟t we see what the next three days bring? I don‟t like to make rash decisions.” The way she twisted her long dirty blond her with her finger had his insides twisting. “You mean like hopping a flight to see a girl you hadn‟t seen in ten years on the brash assumption that maybe the two of you might hit it off?” She was not going to bed alone on this night. Whether anything happened between them was irrelevant to their sleeping arrangements. They were either going to his room or hers. “You certainly do cut to the chase.” With each word they moved closer and closer to one another. “You get off on it don‟t you?” Her lips were mere inches from his. The warmth of his breath tickled her eyelashes. “Maybe later.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… People used to describe Samira as the rolley polley foly when she was younger. There was no doubt she had a propensity to bulk up in a hurry. However, she could run like the wind. In high school the local track coach caught site of her chasing Gerald on the playground. “How would you like to harness that speed of yours?” She laughed in his face. “Fat people don‟t run track.” Twenty-five pounds later she had a full scholarship to the University of Georgia where she excelled both on the track and off. When she graduated her propensity to put weight on began anew. Although not all of the twenty-five pounds returned most of them were there. After Gerald was killed she told herself she would try to find time to exercise, but it never happened. Standing there in front of those reporters and those cameras dressed in sweats was more uncomfortable for her, then knowing they thought she was a murderess. “Can we get going already?” The two men tried their best to get her through the throng. They had little too no physical evidence suggesting that this young lady had committed any crime. Therefore, they did not want her convicted by the press. “Watch your head.” They were very courteous for federal agents, and even lead her out without handcuffs. Then again they weren‟t charging her with anything either, they just wanted to question her. Samira wished she could have heard what the reporter from NBC was saying. Her phone started ringing in the front seat of the car. Both of the agents looked at each other, and then down at the phone. “We are not supposed to answer it?” They looked in the rearview mirror. “Would you mind?” Practically batting her eyelashes she looked at them. “Hello?” “Yes is Samira there?” Peter was very surprised to get anyone on the phone much less the voice of a man. “No I am sorry she is unavailable right now, can I take a message?” The agent was actually pulling out a note pad. “Can I ask who you are first?” This was very peculiar. “Agent Blackmon of the FBI and you are?” Now he was really wishing he had not answered the phone. “Peter Riley a friend of hers. I don‟t suppose you can tell me which local office you are taking her too so I can send her lawyer there.” He was grasping at straws but there were any of five local offices they could take her too. “The Metropolitan field office on 4th street.” Taking a very deep breath he spoke quietly. “Thank you so much. How is she holding up?” This had to be the most helpful agent he had ever had the pleasure talking to. “Not too bad. She looks a bit scared back there, but not as scared as she looked in front of the reporters.” Looking up into the rearview he smiled at her, and she smiled back. She was a full figured girl, but had quite a beautiful smile. “Thank you so much.” “Please don‟t answer that phone again.” His partner warned him sternly. As they pulled into Judiciary Square they could see that the press had gotten wind of their arrival here as well. There were trucks and cameras set up for two blocks. “Let‟s go in the back. Miss Bryan you might want to duck down as low as you can. Even with the tinted windows someone might spot you.” She did as she was told. Reporters pressed their faces up and cameras up against the glass like they were looking into an aquarium. When they arrived at the back door, there were six or seven men dressed in body armor and heavily armed waiting for them. “We have new plans. There has been threat called in on her life. Dress her, and then let‟s get her out of here ASAP.” As they outfitted her with helmet and vest, she started getting nervous again. “This is just a precaution miss. You‟ll be fine.” By the time they got her into the interrogation room, her lawyer had arrived. “Hello Miss Bryan I am Taylor Perkins the attorney for PEBWY.” They shook hands and she was encouraged that he was a man of color like her. “This is Thomas Carter with justice office, and April Feeley with the FBI. They are going to be asking you some questions. Please turn to me first so I can advise you.” Again there were handshakes and everyone was extremely pleasant considering the circumstances of their meeting. “Let me first start by saying you are not being charged with anything at this time. We merely brought you in here for questioning.” There was a nod on her side and smiles from the others in the room. “Can you tell us where you were last night between eight thirty in the evening and one thirty this morning?” It seemed a long shot that this young activist had been involved with the fire. However, given her e-mails and confrontation in the park with Congressman Green, and then her heated debate with Alistair Mckenzie, they had to investigate this lead. After all, these were two of the strongest advocates of the war in Iraq, and she was an anti-war activist. “I was in my apartment the entire time except for about ten minutes when I took out my garbage.” Turning first to the lawyer he nodded his head, she spoke up. On the car ride over she had been replaying her entire evening down to every minute detail in her head. “Can anyone confirm this?” They knew already that she lived alone, so they doubted anyone could directly confirm. Another nod from her lawyer had her talking again. “I called my mother at around nine thirty from my cell phone. When I was outside at the trash bin I saw my neighbor Bob.” Usually she ran into ten or fifteen people on her way to the trash, but not on this night. “Approximately what time would that have been that you took out your trash?” They were furiously taking notes and another nod meant they would here it. “Shortly after eleven p.m.” It was less than a minute or two after the hour in fact. “How do you know what time it was?” The woman from the FBI had been quietly jotting notes until that moment. “I had just watched Magnum PI on channel 47…” Her lawyer held up his hand as she was speaking and she stopped abruptly. “We understand your client does not have the atomic clock in her house counselor, we are just trying to establish time.” She seemed to know what he was going to say. “What else were you doing that evening with approximate time? We do not need to write down times Mr. Perkins if that would make you feel better.” Her sarcastic tone was quickly wearing on the advocates nerves. He nodded to his client. “From about seven to nine I was surfing the internet and working on my computer. Then from nine to eleven I watched television. At about even fifteen, I took a shower and was in bed right after midnight.” Looking at her lawyer she waited to see if he would cut her off anymore. “Is this the laptop you were using?” In a plastic bag the agent held up her laptop and the gentlemen from justice held up a search warrant for her lawyer. “How is my client possibly going to answer that question? Even if it were the same model she could never be sure if it were her computer. What is your next question?” They were really reaching at straws if this was all they had. “Can you confirm that the content of these e-mails was constructed by yourself and exchanged with the FBI and the congressman?” Her attitude garnished nasty glances even from Thomas Carter. Her lawyer took the papers and looked them over carefully, and then handed them to her. “I wouldn‟t respond to that.” The pictures of grossly disfigured children sent from Iraq and Afghanistan were only slightly more graphic then those sent in return from the Twin Towers. “Do you confirm or deny that any e-mails were exchanged between yourself and Congressman Green?” Thomas looked at the lawyer who nodded. “I can not be sure that it was the congressman sending me the information. I did send some e-mails to a person a believed to be him. Yes.” Mr. Perkins leaned in close to her. “No more about that for now on ok.” There was a brief bit of silence. “Do you recall the conversation you had with Alistair Mckenzie yesterday?” Now she was trying to make Samira sound stupid with her connotation. “I recall it vaguely.” They obviously didn‟t think she attacked the men, so what was this conversation all about. “Would you mind summarizing the discussion briefly?” He was so much more pleasant than his counterpart. A young intern came in the room, and whispered something into April Feely‟s ear. “He doesn‟t think we should give peace a chance and I do. In so many words that was the conversation.” Mr. Perkins shook his head at her response. “Please wait for the nod.” “He didn‟t think Miss Bryan. He‟s dead therefore it is the past tense.” This was an attempt to rile up the intense young lady. It was just announced that the former Congressman William Green died of his burns and smoke inhalation. This was now a murder investigation. “Thank you for the English lesson April.” Samira would like to have taken this bull dike bitch out to her woodshed in Georgia and kicked the shit out of her, but now was not the time for that. “At any time did you threaten either the congressman or the former one?” Mr. Carter knew this question would be shot down in a hurry. “Please don‟t answer that.” They were starting to get circular in their questioning which led him to believe there was not much more to ask. “What does she have to hide councilor? If she has done nothing wrong, why not talk to us then? What are you afraid of Samira?” There was no doubt who the bad cop was. “Idiots like you April. Ignorant bitches that don‟t know the first fucking thing about justice but run around waving their fake metal dicks in the name of America. That‟s what really frightens me. Ignorant dikes without the slightest clue frighten the shit out of me.” The only thing more shocking than what she said was the tone in which she said it. Not once did she sound even the slightest bit perturbed. No one got to the FBI agent in time; April reached out across the table and smacked Samira across the face. Even with the noise resonating around the room, the two men were not sure at all how to react. Instead of starting a brawl, Samira started laughing. “Are we done here than folks?” Her lawyer looked at her in shocking disbelief. “Miss Bryan I am so sorry for the behavior of my associate from the FBI. I can assure you there will be disciplinary action taken against her.” Even as he spoke a glass eyed Agent April Feeley was being led out of the room by two of her own people. “I guarantee you sir, you will be hearing from us again. If you want to talk to my client, you can contact me.” So it was that they walked out of that interrogation room with an FBI escort. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Running away from Tiny was not going to be the answer to Kendrel‟s problems. Eventually he would have to stare down his past. Today he was taking a big step towards that process. Part of the responsibility of those that sponsor an ex felon on probation is that they meet that person once a month and prepare a written summation of what is discussed. This meant Kendrel and his uncle had to meet each other. Excluding the courtroom it would be the first time since he shot little Tommy that the two of them had been together. The bus ride to Harlem reminded him of the olden golden times. His soul wished for those simpler days. “The Thomas Corner Store” looked in much better shape than it had last time Kendrel came through the neighborhood. During the divorce his uncle had let everything in his life fall apart. If not for his long time assistant Tehereh he probably would have lost the business. The old man stared pleasantly at him for several seconds, and then his mouth hung open for a brief moment. “Kenny?” They were not sure in anyway how to react to each other. At one time they had been very friendly acquaintances. Like most relationships of that time, they stopped communicating after the murder trial. “Good to see you Ta.” As a child he never learned to pronounce the man‟s name, so he came up with a shortened version of it. “And you sir? This is my nephew Khadif. This is Thomas‟s nephew Kendrel.” When the two young people shook hands Kendrel took several double takes. “Didn‟t you win some golf tournament the other day?” Not that he really paid attention to the sport, but he did watch a great deal of Sportscenter in the wee hours of the morning “Unfortunately he‟s deaf. You can write on this board if you want to talk to him.” They shook hands again and Kenny shook his head. “That‟s ok.” No one in his extended family knew that he couldn‟t read or write which to this day amazed him. “Does Thomas know you are here?” The old whispered this still not sure what to think of this chance meeting. “He does now.” All of the bad feelings and guilt came back in the form of a thunderbolt as he looked at Thomas Sr. walking across the façade towards him. “I thought we agreed that you weren‟t going to come around here.” Just to look at the young man‟s face, made his skin crawl. “I have to see you once a month to have you fill out the PO‟s paperwork. That‟s the only reason I‟m here.” He could not even look at his uncle in the eye. Mostly his face turned down towards the ground as he spoke. “Well it is good to see you. I guess we will be seeing you every month then. How are things going in your life?” Watching them both stare off in separate directions was weird for Tehereh. No matter what happened family should never treat family like this. “I got a steady job right here in the city. Plus I met some real good people.” It was nice to see that old man again. He had the biggest heart in the world. “Is Richard Johnson one of them? You remember Tiny right?” There was a fixture of sarcasm in his uncle‟s voice. “I have been ducking him for quite some time.” Obviously he came to see his uncle as well. “So you haven‟t seen them then?” Kenny could not be trusted. Five years of prison did not change that as far as Thomas was concerned. He was still a lying cheating stealing drug dealing thug in his book. No matter what he or anyone around him said. “Briefly for about five minutes. Told him I didn‟t want to talk to him, and then came here.” That‟s the problem when you lie so many times, no one believes you anymore. Trust is gained through history and Kendrel had not gained any. He could tell that his uncle did not believe a word. Even as he filled out the parole officer‟s paperwork he looked annoyed to be doing it. “Where are you working?” Why had he agreed to do this? His contempt for this boy was growing nastier by the minute. “I work at the Lattice Manufacturers building on a hundred and fifty second. It‟s right up the street from here.” “Yeah what are you doing for them?” Respectfully Khadif had been sitting idly by while they all had their conversation but now he was gently tugging at his uncle‟s shirt. He could not understand the animosity. “I work in the distributing warehouse.” He was a stock boy. It was not something he was ashamed of, but he did not need to point it out anyway. “What is you supervisor‟s name and telephone number.” His uncle did not want to hear it. “Samuel Turner. 212-555-1234.” Was there anyway to say I am sorry for killing your son? At the end of his trial during his sentencing he had tried to explain it, but it sounded more like a cop out then heartfelt regret. “Here it is. Try not to come on a weekend next time okay.” Then he walked off without another word. “Thank you.” It was all they would see together today. “Do you like your job?” Ta patted him on the shoulder. He could not imagine what Thomas was feeling, so he tried not to address it. “It‟s a job. It pays the bills. People there are good to me.” What the old man really wanted to ask was how does it feel to have a real job, but he did not want to offend. “Yeah but are they good people.” At one time this young man was like kin to him, and he hated that they had grown apart. “Most of them are like me. They had problems in the past, but they are trying to clean up, and do the right thing.” Even as he said it, he could not help but think of Spike Lee. “How‟s that going?” In order to include his nephew he was writing out what he said and what Kendrel said in response. “This does not offend you to have Khadif here. He is like a son to me.” “No man. You should know nothing really offends me. Besides I don‟t mind people knowing about my business anymore. By surrounding myself with people trying to live right, it makes me want to do the same. Stupid as it sounds.” Part of his parole involved watching videos from the state on anger management and reentering society. They were so sanctimonious that anybody he knew would have laughed the whole time. Strangely as he watched them he nodded his head and tried to relate. “Where are you living these days? Thomas was saying you were at the towers, but had to move.” Tiny must have talked to him recently then. “I moved up town with a friend of a friend.” What was going through his brain, he really wanted to know. “Wanna talk about the move?” Most people would have thought the man to be nosey; Kendrel knew he was just being his usual self. “Past is like a shadow sometimes. You can‟t ditch your shadow either.” A smile came across Khadif‟s face and he and Kenny nodded at each other. All three men knew what it was like to run away from a checkered past. “Khadif would like to get up town while he was here. Think you could show him around a bit.” He wanted so much to trust this young man, that he was willing to give him a chance. His heart pounded nervously in his chest as he entrusted his nephew to him. “I work nights?” How was he going to communicate with a deaf man? Still as he saw the disappointment on his face, Kendrel changed his mind. “What are you doing right now?” It was Sunday afternoon, and he had no plans for the rest of the day, the least he could do was show the kid around. Shrugging his shoulders he wrote down something on the piece of paper. “It sounds good to him. It was good to see you Kenny. Please come back again soon.” They hugged briefly and then the two younger ones headed for the bus stop. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Khadif could tell from the way that Kendrel looked at the piece of paper that he couldn‟t read very well if at all. Being saddled with him for the rest of the day was going to force him to speak, which he did not want to do. “I can‟t hear, but I can still speak. It just feels very weird.” Not being able to hear his voice was the most uncomfortable part about it. Did he sound like all those hearing impaired children he was exposed to as a kid? Was he really loud or perhaps really quiet? Kendrel just nodded at him. This was going to be a very quiet afternoon. It would have been easier if he knew what the kid liked to do. “If the weather is good, can we go to Battery Park and see the sphere?” Kendrel remembered hearing about the sphere being moved to there, but he had not been to see it yet. What did this kid want to do that for? Was he one of those sick war artifacts people? Suddenly he remembered the spot on Sportscenter. He was Iraqi. His mother and father were killed by coalition bombs. Was he going to clap and cheer at the site and say you got what you deserved? On the piece of paper around the young man‟s neck, he jotted down a single letter. “Y” “Don‟t know? Just feels like I should.” That was a very good question. Why would he want to go there? “OK.” Not more than twenty seconds later a bus pulled up to the stop written on the banner in the window was. “Battery Park.” …………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 10 When his six o‟clock wake up call greeted Xavier he was all alone in his bed. He did not start the evening out that way. Nothing happened though it easily could have. They merely lay next to each other and watched television until one or both of them fell innocently asleep. “Yes I know wake up call. Thank you.” Normally they only rang the phone once but whomever this was had tried several times to get him. “You‟re welcome X.” It was not the front desk calling him. “Hey where did you get off to?” “It didn‟t get off anywhere last night. Thanks to you. I did however, go home and take a shower this morning. We have a trip to take, get up and get ready.” Although she was being sarcastic, he could not tell from the tone of her voice how disappointed she really was. There was a knock at his door, when he got there a tray with Danishes and coffee awaited him with a smiling young woman. “Drink your coffee and get ready.” This was all she said when he got back to the phone and then she hung up. Twenty minutes he was down in the lobby. Ruth was nowhere in sight. When he went out to the valet station he saw her across the street with Rudi. Everyone was so overly polite in this country, even the young man he was driving his rented Rangerover could have broken his face with the smile on it. Could they really be this happy, or were they just that good at hiding their pain? “A job and money can make a starving man smile sir.” Rudi answered his question and then went onto answer several more. “Rwandan franc is the mode of currency approximately 600 francs to the dollar. I try to do business in dollars or francs. Take it to the bank and live off the exchange. Of course it doesn‟t happen much.” His bright happy smile lit up the truck. Unlike many of the Rwandans Xavier had seen on television and since he got to this country, Rudi was quite plump. “I really don‟t eat that much. Just don‟t do that much when I am not working or eating. I like to read; American comics mostly.” During the five hour drive into the Virunga Mountains, he dispensed dozens of what they would later call “Rudisms”. When they arrived at Gisenyi on the banks of Lake Idjwi they were greeted by dozens of children who had grown accustomed to aid workers bringing them chocolate. “Oh shit the children are revolting.” Having been in this area of the world, Xavier should have remembered this but it slipped his mind. The kids were hanging on the sides of the SUV. “Here you go.” Out of the side window Ruth opened a pack of gum and sent the pieces flying into the air. Rudi yelled something in a Bantu dialect that no one in the car could even begin to understand. “It means chew do not swallow. Lots of the kids think gum is candy.” Pointing towards his temple Rudi let loose one of his earth brightening smiles. The mood was much more somber as they pulled up to Congolese refugee camp on the banks of the lake. Thousands of Rwandans and Congolese fishermen traveled back and forth across the lake. Whether it was for food, work, political freedom, or raids of destruction, Idjwi was smugglers paradise. There was no way for the undermanned border patrols to truly control travel. Rwandan rebels mixed in comfortably with farmers and ranchers. They hid themselves in elaborate costumes and even disguised their voices to fit in with the locals. Out of fear the nomads and refugees said nothing of their aggressors‟ real identities. As of late the Rwandan government had been infiltrating these camps using locals as spies. It was effective campaign but if captured these spies often suffered fates worse than death itself. One such person had been crucified and his body left at a cross roads for fifteen days with a sign saying “Traitors Beware”. In general the aid workers had been spared these attacks. However in the last two months five young ladies had been sexually assaulted and two male members of the Peace Corp murdered while on humanitarian missions. Their contact for this excursion was a retired oil tycoon from Perth who had established a safe zone for refugees. This “Safe Zone” reminded Xavier more of a military encampment. Carter Firth arrived to meet them in a long red bathing suit and suspenders to match. With at least twenty pounds too much around the middle it was not a pretty site to behold. “You must be my new backer Mr. X. Put er there mate.” Holding out a big dusty paw he shook hands with an out of place Xavier. “And who are you little lady?” Leaning in he took a great big hug from the girl he had never met before this moment. “Godday son.” He rubbed Rudi‟s head playfully. “You can just call me X.” Most of the people he met were shy in this country but not this man. He seemed terribly out of place. “They call me Carter mostly because that‟s my name.” In spite of his weird eccentricities he actually ran a very organized aid camp. Eight out of every ten dollars he collected went directly towards the refugees. Whether it was food or medical care or education or housing everything was offered here. “One out of that remaining two dollars goes to security. These are mostly locals but I have some high-class retired mercs around as well. They coordinate everything.” It was amazing the way the man just opened up his books to them showing them everything. “Can I see the other set of books Carter?” Ruth and Rudi looked at Xavier wide eyed and confused. “Proportions are the same only the dollar figure is different. Rwandan governmental officials can be a bit greedy my friend.” Normally he liked straight forward no nonsense people but this man seemed a bit distrusting for him. “Is that were the other dollar goes? Or is it administrative costs?” Xavier asked Ruth to take notes on everything that was said. He was taping the conversation as well. “Yes.” Carter lit up a big fate Cuban cigar, and billowed smoke into the air. “Okay fair enough. Could we take a look around the facilities?” “Help yourself.” This man did not strike Carter as the philanthropist type. He was well organized and spoke quite bluntly. Most of that type spent extra money freely and did not want to know anything else. “I would be happy to show you around.” Taking Ruth quite delicately by the hand, he walked them towards an administration building with a cross on the side of it. Two men were arguing with one of the guards at the edge of the encampment. “Hutu tribesman.” Rudi spoke quickly before Xavier could comment. “Maybe they are or maybe they are Rebel spies? It‟s tough to tell the difference these days.” Carter looked at the young Tutsi man. “Not with those mannerisms. See the way he sways his head when he talks and the way her holds his walking stick. They‟re tribesman. Rebels don‟t match those things up.” All three people looked at Rudi. “Proper introductions excluded, who are you mate?” Most of the Tutsi he met from Kigali were oblivious to the goings on in the outside world. The rest of Rwanda was a whole other country to them these days. During the genocide of the nineties it was not until the battle moved into the city that they even acknowledged the danger. “I grew up out in these parts.” Looking to Xavier Rudi winked a gentle eye. “Check him for weapons and then let him in Jack.” Carter waved to the men at the gate. “Let‟s hope your right?” The inside of the infirmary was antiseptically clean in a way that Ruth had not known of African hospitals. Usually they tried so hard to make them smell nice that they had flies and bacteria running wild. “Mostly we have the usual here; fevers, cuts, and bruises. Lately we have had more and more HIV positives coming through though. That is the back half of the building. We tend to keep them closed off from the rest. Unfortunately medication for them is hard to come by and way too expensive. We try to encourage them to get to the city if they are not too far gone.” Despite his nonchalant way of addressing this, he seemed very concerned about the people. Two of the children hung on his legs like he was a big uncle of theirs. “And if they are too far gone?” A little boy with a broken arm in the far corner of the room caught her attention. She walked over toward him. A big sign at the foot of his bed was labeled; “HIV”. “Not much we can do for them then Miss. Mostly we have to send them back out again.” There was no more smiles and laughs from him as he spoke. “So what is the deal with Chucky here?” The boy was covered with lesions all over his body. Ruth wanted to cry just looking at him. “We fix his broken arm and then send him home.” “What so he can die there?” It hurt her to know that the most of the world had virtually forgotten about the AIDS epidemic. Especially when one considers that the percentage of those affected had actually gone up since the Western scare erupted into the limelight. Education does not necessarily translate to prevention. “Yes miss that is the reality of it.” “Shall we go see the rest of the camp?” Carter could see he had lost her. Xavier and Rudi though followed him towards the door. Each building was kept very clean and was freshly painted. Supplies seemed plentiful and Xavier was the first to mention this. “I just got a huge infusion of funds about three months ago and used it to buy up a little bit of everything. Refugees have been filing in consistently since then.” A gunshot cracked the air from outside. It was followed by several more. “Rebels! Rebels!” Dozens of people came charging into the building. Carter and Xavier pushed their way out past them into the virtually empty courtyard. Outside the fence three or four jeeps were lined up. Up in the towers around the camp people sat poised with weapons. “Not like them to make a run like this during the day.” Carter threw on a shirt and ran towards the gate. “We have three injured men who need medical attention.” There clothing was Congolese militia fatigues but Rudi recognized the voices. They were Hutu. “They can come in but not you. No weapons are allowed in here.” With a hand held metal detecting wand in his hand, Carter waved it over the injured men. Two of them were quickly disarmed and a third was held at the gate. “He has a live shell in his belly. It did not explode.” The man who talked to Carter‟s translator was very brash. His fatigues were dusty and covered in dried blood. Once about six years ago, a man was brought into the infirmary. He claimed to be injured but he wasn‟t. Instead he detonated a bomb he had hidden in his rectum. Ten people were killed including one of the best doctors Carter‟s money could buy. Since then he took no chances not even with the injured. “I‟m sorry I can not take him here.” Xavier looked at him with his eyes much too wide. “The shell could explode and kill one of my people. I can not take that chance.” The rebel nodded and began to back up the jeep to pull away. “Hold on a second.” Letting this man die was not an option for Xavier, no matter whose side he was one. “Listen Mr. X, you have to understand the way things work here. A healthy doctor is like gold around here. One can literally save hundreds perhaps even thousands in the case of epidemics. One man wounded in a gun battle which he may or may not have initiated is not worth that of a doctor.” For the first time since they arrived Xavier was seeing the powerful side of this strange man. “What type of shell?” Ruth and Rudi were now standing next to them. As she spoke the young man translated. “It‟s a mortar.” His eyes focused on the young pretty lady. They were rare in this part of the world. Very seldom did they come into the mountains of Rwanda. “Bring him back here. I am not a doctor, but I will try to remove it.” Two and half years into med school did not translate into surgeon, but it they were just going to drive away and let him die, she was better than nothing. “Are you crazy young lady?” Carter put his hand on her shoulder. “Yes. Do I get supplies or am I doing this with my bear hands?” One of the nurses came outside and handed her everything she would need. Two plus hours later with more than a little bit of hope, she had removed the mortar. One of the soldiers took it into a field and safely disposed of it. The surgeon finished closing up the wounds. “You do realize of course that the young man you just saved could very well have been responsible or at least a member of the parties that raped those girls in your encampment?” Not the Xavier would have reacted any different than she did, but he felt it important to mention this. “Why did you have to say that?” It hurt her to think of that. It pained her to think she might have just saved a man to go back out and rape again. “The reality of this world is one man‟s enemy is another one‟s child. You didn‟t see a monster. You saw a person in need. As well you should, but the truth is, they may very well be the same person. One person can be both a monster and a man.” Xavier leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. “What good did this little conversation have?” This was the kind of talk she used to have with her father. “You were hell bent last night and wanting to have every Hutu male castrated at birth. Now you have met a few. You even saved the life of one. I just wanted really to see how your perspective has changed.” Being prejudged by people for the color of his skin was something he grew up with, so he could see the same taking place for nationality. “It changes nothing. If I found out the man I saved today had raped one of those girls, I would have cut off his balls while I had him under anesthetic. Would have even kept them in a jar for him when he woke up so I could point out to him what I had done.” Xavier did not doubt her claim for even a second. “Be careful young lady. Crusades for justice can very easily become vengeful mistakes.” They left the camp just after the sun went down. There were two other places to visit tomorrow and they needed to make up some time. “Do you think you will give him money?” Rudi was not sure after all that had happened. “I‟ll give him something, but I am not sure this is the institution I am going through full weight behind.” Xavier was not entirely comfortable with Carter or his camp. “Why is that?” Suddenly Ruth wished she had taken some of her father‟s money. She could have given it to these people. “Have to put my limited funds where they can best serve the masses. Not sure if that was the place.” His definition of “limited” was of course relative to the scope of his project. When the sun went down they camped out with a group of Tanzanians headed back home. Everyone was very gracious and even offered them some food. When they realized their guests were better outfitted than themselves they ended up taking some supplies from them. “It was a good day today?” Rudi asked the question as he headed to bed. “Like most days it was good and bad. You were a great help though.” Xavier was very pleased he had given the young ex-waiter a second chance. “Do I get my own tent?” Ruth was still upset with the earlier comments made by her elder friend. “Of course, I can set it up for you right now.” He had hoped she would join him again. It felt good sleeping next to someone again, but he understood her reluctance. “Do you think money makes the world go round Xavier?” In retrospect, it may not have been the nicest way to ask her question, but she was slightly put off. “No. But I look at it like this; I am not a doctor, teacher, or farmer. So what else do I have to give to the world to make it a better place?” Leaning in, he gently kissed her eyelids one at a time. “Money” Whispering the word Ruth lay down inside his tent and fell quickly asleep. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… The deputy director of the FBI himself personally called to apologize for the behavior of April Feely. “You can be assured she will no longer have a position in this agency.” Mr. Perkins smiled graciously and thanked him for his concern. Then assured the man he would be hearing from him at a later date. “I‟m not interested in filing a lawsuit against the FBI or Miss Feely. That‟s not nor will ever be my intention.” Lawyers were all the same to Samira. The only thing she believed they really cared about in the end was money. “So why do what you did then?” Getting a grasp of who Samira Bryan was perplexed him to no end. “Perhaps I did it because I could. Maybe I wanted to prove a point. Take your choice.” Peter met her at the headquarters for their organization. Dozens cheered as she pulled up. “Fight the system.” “You go Girl.” “We love you Samira.” “These idiots have no clue do they.” Walking inside she handed over her badge and membership card to Peter. “I don‟t fit in here. Your war is against the government. Mine is actually against violence itself. Thanks for including me in that meeting the other day. I learned a lot.” Just like that she was out the door, and on her own again. Her college and part time job savings were starting to run low, but she tried to buy a plane ticket anyway. “You can‟t buy a one way ticket to anywhere in the Middle East.” The ticket agent looked at her and shook her head. “What is the closet you can get me to Baghdad for a thousand dollars?” In the end she was in a hotel room. There was no money left for her to run away. No more cause heads she could follow. Suddenly it dawned on her, Samira was going to have to try and reenter the real world. For the first time since Madrid she was genuinely frightened. Just then her phone rang. It was her mother. Without explanation she started crying. For the first time in a dozen years she let lose all the pain inside herself. When it was all over she was on a train ride home. Her life‟s circle had come to end. There were four messages from Peter waiting for her when she got there. “This could be considered harassment you know.” “What was that all about earlier today? Do you think I‟m to blame for you being interrogated today?” He was completely dumfounded when she walked out of his office. This was the last thing he expected from a fighter like her. “Can you stop the war Peter?” She was so fatigued after her outburst all she wanted to do was go to sleep. “No I can‟t, but I sure as hell can try.” From birth he knew this last statement to be true. His life was the perfect example of fighting a losing battle. “I can stop it Peter and I will. I‟ll go to the Whitehouse and tackle the president right there on the front lawn. I‟ll sit on him until he agrees to stop fighting. ” Resting her head on the pillow she was about to hang up. “Which war Samira? Iraq? Afghanistan? Terrorism? Angola? Israel? Northern Ireland? Taiwan? Korea? Tibet?” His words struck a chord within her now fragile psyche. “What do you want from me?” Her scream sent shivers down his spine. “I want you to fight for peace even if you lose. I want you to fight with every fiber of your being. Stand in front of the tank with only your guts to protect you. That‟s what I want Samira.” Peter yelled nearly as loudly as she did. “I can‟t lose Peter. Second place is for losers. I‟m not a loser.” Her personality now had meaning to him. “So then go through the rest of your life fighting the safe battles you can win then. Peace on earth is not one those battles though. It was nice knowing you.” He hung up the phone on her. Samira cried herself ever so helplessly to sleep. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “You don‟t read do you?” Standing in front of the plaque for the memorial, Khadif finally decided to address the issue. There was no response from the young man. Even if there had been he would not have heard it. His ability to read lips was getting better, but not that good yet. It was going to be a long uncomfortable day if neither of them could communicate. Luckily an unexpected ally came to his relief. “Max? What you doing here?” They bumped fists, and then Max turned to Khadif. “You won the BellSouth classic last week.” There were no introductions. “He‟s deaf. He can‟t hear you.” It had been a very uncomfortable couple of hours. Max did not hesitate to pick up the pad and pen from Khadif and wrote down his last statement. “You won the BellSouth classic last week.” For some reason Max got into watching golf on the weekends. It was a relaxing way to spend a Sunday. “Yes that was me.” This was the third person today who recognized him. He was very impressed by their congratulations. “You are Iraqi?” “Yes. Why?” “Seems a strange place to find an Iraqi?” “Despite what you may have been told the twin center bombings were not orchestrated by the Iraqi people.” As he wrote this note he dug in deep into the paper in a moment of anger. “That‟s fair enough.” Holding up his hands he mocked agreeing to surrender. “How have you been communicating with this guy?” Max was aware that Kendrel could not read or write. “I haven‟t been. He‟s a friend of a friend. I am supposed to be showing him around.” Something he was regretting now. Max went back to the paper. “Now that you have seen the depressing, how would you like to have some fun?” “What did you have in mind?” The look in the old man‟s eyes made him nervous. An hour later they were lying down in a lower east side massage parlor. Ten barely teenage Russian girls were rubbing them down in virtually every way possible without being obscene. “How come you never told me about this place?” Kendrel felt more relaxed then he ever had in his life. It was his very first professional massage. “I only get free massages once a month. The owner is my nephew. This is his answer to not visiting me.” Max groaned as one of the girls dug deep into his lumbar. “Thank you I needed this.” It was difficult for Khadif to write as he was being shaken by a Shiatsu therapist. Kendrel and Max laughed as his hands shook up and down and he tried to use the pen. Then he laughed in spite of himself. When they left, Max headed home and the other two hopped onto the bus. They both felt a well needed sense of relaxation. “Would you like to learn to read and write?” Although he didn‟t want to overstep his boundary, Khadif felt very strongly on the subject. Kendrel just shrugged his shoulders. On the paper Kendrel struggled to sketch the words. “Yes I wood lik to lern.” Instead of continuing on the bus up to Harlem, Khadif went uptown instead. For the better part of five hours they worked on the fundamentals of reading and writing. “It was hard enough to do this with a teacher who could fucking hear me.” Every once in a while Kendrel would get frustrated and yell out, but then his teacher would calm him back down, and they would start over again. “Next month we will do more.” “Thank you.” Kendrel sketched on the paper. “No, my new friend, thank you. This has been my best day in America.” He meant what he said. Winning the tournament was his greatest achievement but this was his best day. For once he felt useful. He felt like he fit in. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… The phone rang around ten thirty at night. Without Alexi there in the apartment Kendrel was not sure he should answer it, so he waiting for the answering machine. “Kendrel, its Dominique pick up the phone.” He raced for the phone and got it in time. “Hey.” “Listen I do not know what the fucking problem is, but tell your friends to stay away from me.” She slammed the phone down in his ear. Kendrel dialed *69. “Come on pick up.” It was his turn to get the message. “Listen I don‟t know who it was that came to you. I can only assume it was Tiny. He‟s not my friend. He‟s been following me around since I got out. I swear to you I didn‟t tell him where you live. Shit, I don‟t know where you live.” The more he talked the angrier he grew. Not at Dominique and not at Tiny, but at himself for all his pass indiscretions. “It‟s my fault. I apologize. You should have listened to me when I said we just come from two different worlds.” Someone picked up on the other end but was not talking. “Are you there? Come on you need to tell me it‟s you if it is?” If Tiny was in her apartment he was going to kill that son of bitch. Hunt down his ass and put a bullet in his sick little brain. “It‟s me. Who was that guy?” They talked for nearly two hours about Kendrel and his past life. The conversation seemed way too serious for this early in a relationship, but Dominique seemed to warm to it. “That‟s me. Now you know.” As good as it felt to talk about it. He figured he had just scared this young lady away. “Tomorrow night we‟ll talk about my life and you won‟t be so ashamed any longer.” Chapter 11 When Xavier awoke he was alone again. Someone was speaking right outside the tent, and it was not just Ruth. Opening up the window he was staring at four members of the Rwandan militia. “It‟s time to get up. These guys are saying there was rebel activity in this region last night, and they are suggesting that we move out of here like yesterday.” Truthfully they were not suggested. They were saying that everyone needed to pack up their tents and move on their merry way. “Aren‟t we headed right towards Kibuye?” It was Rudi who pointed out the obvious to the soldiers. “I wouldn‟t go there. There have been attacks all along lake Kivu in the past two weeks.” It was a suggestion his part but the soldier looked to be trying to intimidate them. “Well we are.” It was Ruth who stood in front of the soldiers defiantly. In ten minutes they had packed up everything and were on the road. The trip through the Virugas was breathtakingly spectacular. Equatorial Africa meets European elegance. People were scarce and the condition of the roads was deplorable. About five miles outside the city they came across a man by the side of the road. He was bent over several objects. “Oh sweet Jesus.” With her hand held up to mouth Ruth realized what the objects were. They were slaughtered goats, at least a dozen of them. As they drove by the frustrated herder screamed at them. Then he picked up several stones and through them helplessly at the ground behind him. “What did he say?” “Leave us alone. You bastards go home and leave us alone.” It was not like Rudi to curse, but he knew they would want his words translated completely. “I don‟t get it.” “They blame foreigners for the attacks on the locals here.” “No I mean I don‟t get it. Why would they kill the goats and leave them by the side of the road? Why not take them for food?” The practical side of Xavier took over from the emotional side. “My guess is they took what they needed and killed the rest. It makes a stronger statement.” They were done being surprised by Rudi‟s comments by now. The arrived a small bed and breakfast on the lake. Its eighteen rooms were run down to the point of being uninhabitable. “This is the hospice you were talking about?” There were two foundations to see on this day. The first one was run out of this very hotel. A single very round woman sat by the desk. She barely turned up her glasses enough to address them. “Bonjour.” Her name tag read Portense. “My name is Xavier Langdon. I believe I have a meeting with you today.” The lobby and surrounded grounds smelled of smoke, and were scattered with debris. Some of the wood actually had smoke coming out of it in places. “You‟re too late sir. As you can see they came through last night. “RFP?” Identifying the enemy was difficult in this country, and he wanted to know who to blame. “Whatever the Hutu are calling themselves these days?” To see her sitting there so calmly in the midst of what looked like war zone. “Maybe you shouldn‟t be here?” It was Ruth who approached the older woman. “Thank you precious young lady, but I have no where else to go. This hotel is my home and my entire life.” Her eyes were filled with pain but her voice sound right as rain. “Can we do anything to help? We could help you clean up.” His other appointment would have to wait until tomorrow. “Merci mais Je suis tres fatigue. (Thank you but I am very tired).” It may have been some form of post traumatic stress order, but she was bouncing from language to language. “See if you can get some water up here from the lake. Let‟s at least make sure all of this wood is not going to flame back up.” Despite her request Xavier sent Rudi off on an errand. Ruth picked up a piece of broom and started sweeping up broken glass. “Give me hand here for a second.” Xavier began cleaning up some of the larger pieces of debris. There were spent shell casings everywhere. “Portense how did you survive this?” The old woman took a few seconds to look up at her. There were no words exchanged for what seemed like an eternity. “You‟re a woman. How do you think?” Neither Xavier nor Rudi could possibly have heard what she said. Ruth leaned in to hug the old woman but was pushed away. “No one touches me anymore. No one, do you hear me?” Her powerful spirit began to break, and she shivered uncontrollably. “What‟s wrong?” It was Xavier who got their first. Holding up her hand Ruth pointed him back out the door again. “This one you won‟t understand.” They were there for ten hours or more. At least half of the rooms would have to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. In two of the rooms Rudi found inexplicable amounts of blood on the sheets. “I think I am going to be sick.” Running out to the lake, he vomited. Portense came to his aid. She wiped the young man‟s face and rubbed the top of his head. “What happened here Xavier?” Even after talking to the sixty plus year old woman for two hours plus she was still not sure what had taken place. “I don‟t know. Not sure I really want to either.” Coming back through the door the peeked Rudi started back in on his cleaning. “We‟ve done what we can here man. It‟s time to move on.” This was not something he wanted to do, but he knew there was nothing more they could do. “That‟s easy for you to say. In a week you‟ll be going back to New York.” Their eyes met in a battle of sorts. “What would you suggest that we do?” “Go back home. Leave us alone. Take all your guns and your wars. Take them all back with you and give us back our dignity.” The frustration of the day was too much for him to hold in any longer. He was lashing out at the nearest person to him. “We did not invent it Rudi. There were wars going on here long before we ever arrived here. Only the weapons have changed.” Xavier walked back out the door and got into the Range Rover. Laying his head down on the dashboard, he tried to remember what it is exactly he hoped to accomplish over here. “Sir.” The young man was knocking on his window. “What can I do for you Rudy?” It was hard to be angry with the kid. The tears in his very wide eyes caused Xavier to jump out the car door “What‟s wrong?” “We found something.” Terrified is the only word X could think to describe the look on his face. Despite his African roots he was actually pale. “What?” He could not imagine what it was that could cause this look. More precisely he did not want to know. “I can‟t …” They started walking back towards the dock where Ruth had been working. Both of her hands were placed over here mouth, and she looked as if she had seen a ghost. When he turned to look at the lakeside below the one remaining spotlight, Xavier realized what was horrifying his friends. There were at least three sets of eyes looking up at him from the bottom of the lake and several more body parts. “Ruth honey, what is the number for your Peace Corps director?” One of the resort owners along the lake agreed to let Xavier use his phone, after hearing what they had found. Three phone calls later he was told, to wait by the lakeside for the militia to arrive. It was shortly after midnight when the first wave of a dozen military transports arrived. “The owner of the hotel has positively identified five of the bodies. They were part of the hotel staff.” The lieutenant had been educated in the United States and trained in joint operation at Langley. He was very professional and highly astute. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” For Xavier‟s part, he knew he had never even seen a dead body before, much less ten. “I was part of the tribunal to investigate the Tutsi genocide of the nineties.” There was no need for him to say anything else. He had seen far worse than this. “You don‟t sound like most of the people from around here.” His accent was not Rwandan that was for sure. “I‟m South African I moved here from the Transvaal. My family came here when I was sixteen.” They nodded towards one another. “When will you three be moving on?” This was a nice way of saying you have done all you can do here now. It is time for your non-Rwandan asses to go home. “In the morning we are heading up the way to Rolfie‟s Fancy.” This seemed like an interesting enough name for a relief institution. It was run out of the back of a church and had direct ties to the Red Cross effort in the area. Truthfully it was the name that led Xavier to set up the meeting. “Rolfie yeah right” Several of the soldiers and the lieutenant scoffed at the man‟s name. “Why who is this guy?” They laughed even harder when he said this. “She is French and is one of the craziest women you will ever meet.” They nodded their heads in accordance. “Tell him about the machete.” One of soldiers laughed and the others were about to start when their commander shot them a very nasty glance. “What about a machete? Is this something I should know about?” Suddenly his meeting tomorrow did not sound so interesting. “In 1993 a whole group of RFP came rolling into town. They were looking for any Hutu they could find. They show up at the Fancy thinking they will take the staff in for questioning. The leader goes into the front office to let Rolfie know what they are planning on doing. About twenty seconds later he comes screaming out of the officer. There is blood running down both of his legs. Apparently Miss Rolfie pulled out a Machete and cut him on either side, about an inch or two from his privates. She told him if he came back she would make him a girl.” Again the men laughed to no end practically rolling in the grass. It seemed strange that they were able to appear lighthearted as two of them were carrying bodies out of the water. “A week later five men decided to take things in their own hands. They showed up in the middle of the night and tried to drag two of the cleaning girls out of their beds. The next morning all five are checking into the local hospital. Each of them had been crudely castrated with a Machete. Two RFP officials questioned Miss Rolfie but nothing ever came of it. Since that time even with all the rebel attacks in the area, on one has ever attacked the Fancy again.” “Sounds like a crazy old broad huh?” Strangely this story did little to convince him that he did not want to do business with her. “She‟s not an old broad. She‟s not old, and she is devastatingly beautiful. If it was not for the fact that I am scared to death of her, I would court her everyday of the week.” The nods were much more emphatic this time from his fellow men. “I can‟t wait to meet her.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “Why are you calling me again? I told you I am not interested any more.” It was before eight o‟clock in the morning and Peter was calling her already. “I quit the organization this morning.” He sounded very happy to be telling her this. “Why would you do that?” The man was the poster child for activism. For him to be without a group was like a solider without an army. “Come to Iraq with me?” “I‟m sorry what?” Had he just said what she thought? “You were right about the war. It can‟t be stopped from here. I want to go to Baghdad and stop it from there.” After listening to her rant last night he was agreeing with her. “That is the stupidest thing I‟ve ever heard.” Of course when she had said it the day before it sounded like a sane decision, but to hear him say it sounded like madness. “You can‟t be afraid to stand before the firing squad if you want to stop the violence.” For a man who had never even seen a gun fired, he sounded very brave. “I‟m not afraid!” This was the last thing anyone should ever accuse her of. “Then go with me. I can‟t do it alone.” The idea was simple and crazy but it had merit. There were more reporters right now in Iraq the anywhere else in the world. If they wanted exposure for an anti-war protest he could think of no better place. “Contrary to what you think, I don‟t really like you that much. Going to Iraq and getting shot by some gun happy marine or blown up by some bomb wielding terrorist does not sound like a sane way to stop war.” The first statement was not exactly true. She respected his intelligence. Yet, being stuck with him day in and day out in some Middle Eastern country was not her ideal prediction for life. “I don‟t really like you either, but we work well together. Come on take a chance with me. What‟s the worse that can happen? We end up dead. I could get hit by a bus this morning. At least this way we are trying to make a difference.” His exuberbance was not well directed. “You need to work on your motivational speeches. Any speech that includes; what‟s the worst that can happen? We end up dead; does not encourage many followers.” “And yet you want to come don‟t you?” He could tell from the sound of his voice that he had finally got to her. “Keep talking.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Hunting down Tiny would have been the most logical thing to do. Find the man sit down and have a talk with him. Try to reason with him and explain; “I am just not interested.” However like most real life situations logic had nothing to do with it. Obviously he could not avoid his ex-friend forever. If the man wanted to see him that badly he was going to see him. There was the option of calling the police. After all, his friend was wanted for the assault on the old woman. It might even turn into murder charges after the result was her death. Nothing in his life ever went well though when the police were involved, and he was not a snitch. Back to the logical again, he was going to have to face Tiny. ”What‟s wrong young man? You look perplexed.” It had been a week since Sam sat down with Kendrel on the job. Today he spotted the confused young man and decided it was time they started talking again. “Have someone from my past trying to reenter my life, not taking no for an answer, not from me or my friends or my family, and not sure what I should do about it?” Seemed strange that he should be talking to this man he barely knew about this. “Tiny?” Both the police and Max from the Towers had been here to talk to Sam about this young man. Tiny had been to the warehouse once as well. “Shit does anyone not know his name?” This was starting to get a bit embarrassing now. “Avoid him. He‟s nothing but trouble, and believe me I know trouble.” A big mitt patted him so hard on the back he nearly fell over. “He threatened a friend of mine last night. Don‟t think I have the option of avoiding him anymore.” Although he wished her could do just that. “You could call the police.” He knew the answer before he said it. Being part of the New York correctional facility himself, he would not have taken this option. The truth was without the police who knows which ditch he would have ended up in, but he did not see this when he thought cop. Too bad the bad apples ruined the whole barrel. “I could. I could shoot him in the head too. I don‟t like either option though.” Sam was not sure how much of what the young man said was for show or if he was playing but the sincerity of his voice was disheartening. “Did you like jail?” It was a reciprocal question. “Avoid him some more. I‟ll take care of it.” Sam was already dialing someone on his cell phone. “I can‟t have it. It‟s my fight. I don‟t need to owe anybody anything anymore. It‟s my fight.” His pride had been placed in check for a while, but it was not dead. “I know you like to do things on your own. Everyone in here and out there knows that.” It had been commented on by just about everyone. “If you try to handle this one on your own you will end up in jail or dead. Nobody is trying to punk you here, or say you can‟t fight your own battles. I know how strong you are. There is no question. But you are one man. Tiny and his cronies number in the double digits. You‟re not Rambo. Let me help you here.” His intentions were in the right place but his vernacular was well off. “Are you trying to punk me? Cronies? Rambo? What language are you speaking Sam?” Kendrel tried his best not to laugh, but Sam was not the least bit hip. To hear him talk like that made him start to sputter. “This is very serious situation young man.” “I know man, but to hear you talk like that. I have to admit that shit is funny.” Sam tried to chuckle but couldn‟t. “Your type of justice and mine are the same Sam. No police no courtrooms. Street decides street problems. But this time I have to find another way; one that doesn‟t get me or anyone else in trouble. There has been enough trouble surrounded my ass to last two lifetimes.” One of the coworkers came walking up and whispered something in Sam‟s ear. He turned to look at Kendrel and shook his head. “Let‟s end this now.” Sam slowly got up to his feet. “Come on kid your ex-friend is at your uncle‟s store.” His job and uncle were less than ten blocks apart from one another. When they got outside five cars were lined up in a row. A little pang in Kendrel‟s stomach let him know what was going on. “We can take care of this if you want.” Sam could see the reluctance in the young man‟s eyes. There was the possibility of some serious trouble. That was why he was traveling with such a large entourage. “No it‟s my past. Thank you for the support though.” He nodded his head towards the masses around them. “There is strength and safety in numbers. You boys are from the Bronx. This is Harlem. This is my turf. I don‟t need his kind on my turf.” As awkward as the old man sounded earlier he sounded right on now. Tiny was out of his element. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Bad dreams were a part of Khadif‟s life. “Without nightmares I‟d have no dreams at all.” There were not enough pysciatrists in the whole of Iraq to address all those affected by the throngs of war. Considering what he had seen, Khadif could have used some professional help. It was the same dream he always had. Clouds were falling from the sky in the form of a cotton blanket. People came out to see what was going on. Then as the clouds finally touched down on the earth they exploded. Like his life now there was no noise, only smoke and blood. When the smoke disappeared bodies were scattered on top of a now red cotton cloud. Amongst those bodies were his mother, father, and eldest brother Nasseri. As in real life his little brother Jassim was not there. Though he died in the blasts his body was never found. This fact alone haunted Khadif more than anything else. When he awoke he felt the strangest feeling that something was dreadfully wrong. Dressed in his bed clothes he ran down the stairs to the grocery store. His premonition was correct. Lined up in front of the building were three large SUV‟s. Two men appeared to be arguing with Thomas and his father. “Who is this half dressed fool?” Tiny pulled his piece out and pointed it at the man coming down the stairs. “That‟s my nephew. Please don‟t hurt him. He is deaf.” Tahereh could not believe he had somehow gotten himself in the middle of this. “Well you better get his dumb ass out of here before he dies of unnatural causes.” He knew threatening Kenny‟s life was useless. The boy had never been afraid to die before and chances are he still wasn‟t. The one thing he did care about though was his family. If he would not come to Tiny then he was going to bring Kenny to him. “Don‟t make any quick movements.” His uncle jotted down on a note on chalkboard out in front of the store. “Who are they and what do they want?” Knowing there was no time, he spoke quietly, or at least he hoped it was. “Kenny.” That was all he wrote. “Police.” He did not see this one aloud. He just mouthed the words. “I called them already.” His uncle did the same. Taking his uncle‟s had he sat down on the front stoop and dragged him down to it as well. “That‟s more like it. You two just sit your ass right there.” One of the men with Tiny was feeling very powerful with the Mac 10 strapped under his arm. “If you called him already where is he?” Just as Tiny asked the question three Suburbans rolled around the corner. Then a Ford Explorer and Blazer came from the other direction. Suddenly his confidence was dwindling. As the doors opened up a group of twenty or so men made their way towards his posse of eight. At the front of that group was Kenny. “This ends here today.” Opening up his jacket Kenny spun in a circle to show that he wasn‟t packing anything. If there was tension in the air, it had just tripled. “You three get out of here. I‟ll handle it.” Kendrel turned to his uncle. Instead of a look of disappointment it was more of an “I knew it” instead. “You had a second chance and look what you did with it.” Why had he agreed to sponsor this worthless young man? They should have locked him up and threw away the key. Then he saw Samuel Turner emerge from one of the trucks. The two men did not know each other socially but they recognized one another form the neighborhood. It was typical to see this man associating himself with ex-cons, but usually only the ones on the way up. “Listen you have no clue. So step back and shut up.” He had no time to explain what was going on here. Chances are the police were on their way already. A group this size in the middle of a crowded street was going to attract a phone call or two. “Ta. Get him out of here.” Khadif walked over to Thomas and took him by the hand and nodded towards the store. “Why don‟t you gentlemen go across the street and grab a pizza at Mickey‟s? Richard here is going to find Jesus today.” Normally Tiny would have tried to get the jump or intimidate the weaker force, but he was grossly outnumbered and outgunned. “You can park around the side of the building and hang out there. This won‟t take long.” This was not the way he envisioned this scenario. In his mind he would be in control. Knowing Kenny he expected the boy to come alone. By the time the police arrived five minutes later, Sam‟s group and Tiny‟s were in the pizza place. It was Tahereh who met them at the door. “There was mistake officer. They weren‟t looking for trouble just for pizza. See?” He pointed to the window across the street. “We will take it from here.” The three cruisers emptied and they headed for the parlor. “What seems to be going on here?” There was a strange grouping of people. One half was flashy dressed twenty somethings, and the other half were what looked like old time thugs. Despite what the old man across the street had said, there was something going on here. He smelled trouble. “Which one of you is Richard Johnson?” Looking around the room he got nothing but a bunch of shaking heads. “Okay how about Kendrel Williams?” Again not a single person reciprocated with an affirmative answer. His deputies fanned out to cover the room. “So that is the way we are going to play it. All right everyone identification and hands on the tables.” Without hesitation they all stood up and put their hands on the round tables and pulled out their wallets. No one showed the slightest sign of resisting. “Is anyone carrying a weapon of any sort?” Every head in the place shook side to side. He was amazed to find that they were telling the truth. They were all unarmed. Five of the twenty or so men in the room did not have identification, but none of them matched the description or mug shot given for Richard or Kendrel. “Have you seen either of these men?” It appeared they knew to stick together, because their answer still had not changed. “Samuel Turner you are a pillar of this community. This smells like shit. Tell me what is going on here.” Everyone knew Sam was into giving second chances, but he was also into being discreet. This was not the least bit discreet. “We‟re just eating pizza Jack. Would you like a slice?” They were by no means buddies but like everyone else of standing in Harlem they knew each other. “Most of you in here are on parole. You know how much trouble I can cause for you here? Somebody better start talking.” His threat went idly by. No one said a word. “These three are wanted for questioning. This one has an outstanding arrest warrant.” One of the officers returned with the rundown on the driver licenses. No one in Sam‟s group was being handcuffed. They all had clean records. It was a prerequisite that they stay clean. If anyone broke this rule, they were quickly unemployed. “Something tells me this is just the beginning here folks.” Four men were being led out one of them in handcuffs, and nothing changed. Sam raised a coke towards the four remaining members of Tiny‟s entourage. The odds had just turned decidedly in his favor. “Where is he?” The remaining men were growing impatient. Chapter 12 It was agreed upon that the three outsiders would camp out with the soldiers on this night. No one really liked the arrangement but it was the option that provided the highest level of security. “Are you okay?” Ruth had not spoken a word since she discovered the bodies. “What makes people do things like that?” There were no words to describe the feeling she had inside. Unlike the rape victims this was something utterly different. “Can‟t say I have an answer for you there?” Settling back into the tent Xavier grabbed her shoulders and pulled her in tight to his chest. Rudi‟s tent was settled right next to theirs and he was shuffling around in it. They both looked back over their shoulders. Poor kid might be scarred for life after seeing that. “You okay back their Rudi.” “Yes sir, just saying my prayers and going to sleep.” “Should we ask him to stay with us in here?” Whispering into Xavier‟s ear, Ruth was not sure what she should do. He shook his head though his heart was not sure it was the correct answer. No one slept well, but it did not stop the sun from rising. Outside their tent the soldiers were already getting ready to leave thought it was not even seven a.m. “Guess we should get going.” They drove less than five miles down the road when they came to Kibuye church. Both Rudi and Xavier knew the haunted past of this establishment. Excavations of the courtyard by the tribunal turned up the bodies of forty six men women and children. It was theorized by locals that there were anywhere from four hundred to two thousand bodies buried on those grounds. However, the investigators did not find them. Only three hundred or so yards from this notorious landmark was “Rolfie‟s Fancy”. They were greeted at the front door by a very pleasant gentleman named Paul. “She was expecting you yesterday.” “We had some complications.” It was all Xavier was willing to say. “With everything going on around here again, I can bet they were very complicated.” Once inside they were thorough awestruck. The hotel was in pristine condition. From the outside, it looked like a series of rundown shacks, but inside it was nothing short of amazing. An old world construction melded well with the African safari theme throughout. Only instead of animal trophies there were photos and murals in their place. “Si quel est que vous penser? (So what do you think?)” A young lady appeared from out of nowhere and approached Xavier directly. “C‟est magnifique? (It is amazing.)” Xavier was thoroughly impressed both with the hotel‟s condition and the young lady before him. In her mid-thirties this was a beauty to be compared with works of art. Her features so perfect European they seemed constructed from chisel and marble and her figure perfection. “Michelle mais toute les monde Rolfie a parler. (Michelle but everyone calls me Rolfie.)” Even her hands were dainty yet dignified. “Je m‟applle Richard mais toutes le monde Xavier a parler. (My name is Xavier but everyone calls me Xavier.)” His heart skipped several beats when she winked at him. He only wondered one thing, where was her machete? “This is Ruth and Rudi. She does not speak French, but he does.” An instant catty reaction occurred when the two women introduced themselves. Their beauty contrasted and separated like oil and water. “The hotel houses tourists and locals alike. We conduct most of our aid services in the church itself though lately more and more of us have been working in the meeting hall.” While they were walking she was talking. Rudi had no trouble keeping up but Xavier was losing words here and there. His French although still excellent had not been utilized in several years. Unlike the hotel the “meeting hall” was completely disorganized. The supplies were stacked haphazardly in corners and on top of tables. Only the infirmary section of the room was quardened off and sanitary. “Let me first start by apologizing, for the condition of the place. We just received two large shipments of aid and with all the traffic we have had in the past few days we are still catching up.” There were at least a dozen people filling out papers now as they walked through the room quickly. “Quand est le docteur arriver?” (When is the doctor arriving?)” One of the assistants pointed towards a young boy in the corner of the room. “Not until tomorrow. What do we have here?” Although Michelle was not a doctor she had taken care of her share of children in the past. Like most of them, he was not here with his parents. This usually meant one of two scenarios; they were dead, or he had gotten hurt doing something he was not supposed to be doing. “Porquoi tu as avec personne poisseur? (Why were you fishing by yourself?)” The child‟s injury was obvious from the get go. He had a fishing hook sticking out of the side of his head. “I wasn‟t. It‟s not my hook.” Turning his head towards the ground he whispered. “Relax little one we will have you cleaned up in a minute.” A set of rubber gloves slipped on her hands as though she had done it a million times. “Give me a minute or two here.” Ruth did not need translations to see what was being done. She placed on a set of gloves herself and took out a bottle of alcohol and some cotton swabs. “Ask her if she has a sutures and a needle.” Turning to Xavier, Ruth fell right into her place. “Be my guest.” The two women exchanged a glance, and than Rolfie bowed to the youngster. Turning to Xavier she nodded her head. “I like a girl that jumps right in to help.” Rudi held the young man‟s hand while the “doctor” performed her minor surgery. Without anesthetic the poor boy was in obvious and pronounced pain. “You are looking at me with a sense of reverence. What have they told you?” For the first time Michelle showed signs of girlish charm as flicked her hair back. “Who are they?” He was aware what she was looking for. “I don‟t take shit from people. In this country that is very rare. Most of the people are not willing to fight for what they want. I am.” As she spoke she was throwing fifty pound bags of rice into the corner of a room. Any other person Xavier would have asked if they needed help, but not this woman. She would have taken it the wrong way. “What do you want Ms. Rolfie?” Not sure if he should have this conversation, he remembered this was in essence interviewing her. “Peace, end hunger, good health systems, and equality for the world. Not much.” Her wink was so seductive it actually made him choke on the gum he was chewing. “Not too much to ask.” They both stopped moving for second and looked each other over in a professional manner. “Why do I want your money?” Something about his persona appealed to her, but she had no time for bullshit. “Why do I want to invest with your organization?” This was his interview not hers. “Because I say what I mean and do what I say. Okay it is your turn now?” They were sparring with each other. “I want to help people Ms. Rolfie. If I can help them with money then I will.” Turning his head he realized that they had walked all the way to the edge of the property and were now standing totally alone by the banks of the lake. “Why didn‟t you come here yesterday?” Being prompt was very important to her it was a sign of respect. “Petunia?” He was not sure what he should say and what he shouldn‟t. “So you were the foreigner who found the bodies?” Despite when many thought of her she was nothing if not alarmed by the goings on around her. “The young lady pulling the hook out of Charlie‟s face found them. I just did what I could to get the properly cared for.” It was difficult for him to talk about it. “There are lots of good people here in this country Mr. Langdon. Please do not base your decisions on the atrocities of a few.” Rolfie turned to walk back to the camp as one of her workers walked towards her at a hurried pace. “Everyone deserves help especially the repressed and the exploited.” Xavier stepped back so they could whisper something back and forth. “Forgive me Mr. Langdon, but I have to get up to the church. I will catch up with you in a few moments.” She was practically running as they talked “Anything I can help with?” Running was something he did a lot of but he could barely keep up with her. “Sure can you deliver a baby?” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “We might have trouble leaving the country. You were just questioned by the FBI for the murder of congressman.” In all their plans to invade Iraq they had forgotten this little tidbit. “So were you?” He was pointing a finger in his direction. “Besides according to my lawyer all of my alibis cleared. I am a free woman to do what I want to.” Her passport was growing more and more tattered with each passing plane ride. Perhaps she would start using her driver‟s license for domestic travel for now on. “Well here is what we have so far; two tickets and two visas applications into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. From there our path is still a bit unknown. Apparently getting into and out of Iraq is difficult at this time?” There was sarcasm in his voice. “This is not the least bit funny. Men, women, and children are dying over there.” The seriousness of this endeavor hit her with her morning coffee. They were going to Baghdad to fight for peace. It was not a comical pursuit. “When nervous I try to deflect fear with humor. Defense mechanism you know.” His cell phone rang. There was a brief discussion with lots of thank yous. “Apparently neither of us is on America‟s most wanted anymore. We have visas to Saudi Arabia.” He held up his hand for a high five. Although not thrilled at the strange show Samira granted him his wish. “Are we sure this is what we want to do?” Her mother nearly had a heart attack when she explained that she was going out of the country for a while. Had she told her the final destination it would have ended her life now. She could only imagine the call from the state department. In no short order her mother would deny it and say. “My daughter is stupid enough to go to Iraq!” “You are not going to back out on me now are you?” He had already purchased the ticket for her and had spent two days getting ready for this. When the first call for boarding started, she was biting her bottom lip nervously. “What‟s it gonna be?” He could not do this alone. “Sorry Mom.” They boarded the plane bound for the Middle East. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Being stuck in a back alley with a most definitely armed Tiny did not sit well with Kendrel. There was nothing from stopping the man from shooting him dead right there. However, if that was his aim he had plenty of time to do it. “Leave my family and friends alone. That ends now. You want something from me. You got me.” Playing it smart or trying to outwit the man would only lead to bloodshed. “You work for me and we‟ll consider the past past.” Gang land intimidation mixed with a sort of modern day mobster pose was the best way to describe the way Tiny addressed him now. “Not an option.” If mack truly was a verb in the English language that was how they pressed at one another. “Then nothing changes.” Kendrell had no contact with his mom and dad anymore, but the next visit he had planned was for them anyway. “No it changes. Cause if you go near anyone I know again it will be the last time.” Rolling up with twenty people made this threat possible. On his own this would have brought forth a laugh. “You want a war?” He wasn‟t frightened by anyone. “It won‟t be a war. Just one shot.” With the completion of his words, Tiny drew his nickel plated pistol right up to Kendrel‟s forehead. The silence seemed to last for an eternity. “It‟s your shot or mine. I got the drop.” He knew his ex-friend was not packing. This could end very quickly if he wanted to. “My life is my life now Richey. We‟re not fifteen anymore. Just leave it alone.” As children they had created more havoc then most people do in a lifetime. From stealing cars to B & E they had done it all to keep from being bored. It only turned into a business when they cracked the high school level. “You can‟t be someone you‟re not. No matter what they tell you. Peace is a word for white chicks at beauty pageant. Not for people like us.” Turning the barrel on the side of his temple Tiny growled. “Malcom, Dr. King, Rosa were they white chicks.” There was some nervous anticipation that the gun might go off, or that Tiny would just get bored, but mostly he was annoyed rather than frightened by his predicament. “Don‟t fucking move!” They were so focused on one another that neither man heard the two officer‟s approach. Not expecting any other participants in their conversation neither man was prepared to meet their new enemy. This did not stop the cocksure Tiny though. “We start together. We die together.” He turned to fire his weapon. Thinking that they had him in check the two officers were surprised at his bold move. Tiny got off the first few shots dropping one officer with two slugs to the chest. He was not fast enough to complete the trick twice though. One shot from police thirty eight struck the left side of his cranium. Kendrel knew right away that Tiny would not go surrender nor would he go back to jail without a fight. When the man turned to fire, he was already lying down on the ground. “This is officer 4512 we have an officer down at the corner…” At no time did he pull his eyes away from the apparently unarmed young man on the ground. “Don‟t move mother fucker. Just stay there.” His hands itched to fire another couple of shots at him, but his conscience got the better of him. “I have an officer down. Do you copy?” Screaming into his radio, he waited for a response but was getting nothing but static. “Damn radio!” What was he going to do now? If he ran out to the street this kid was going to be gone. His partner might even be dead when he returned. There was no time to cuff him and get to a better radio position. “Where‟s he hit?” Out of the corner of his eye Kendrel could see the fallen officer. From the other eye he surmised thatTiny was gone. The evidence of this fact was spread all over the alley wall behind him “What the fuck do you care?” What he didn‟t need was some smart con. “I‟m unarmed. Call 911 I can try to help him. Just leaving him there he‟s bleeding to death.” Even his cell phone was not dialing out. Calling 911 was his second option, and it failed as well. Not sure what he could do and deathly afraid that his partner of ten years was slowly bleeding to death; he disarmed the fallen man, and approached the two downed ones. “Keep one hand up and with the other pull down your pants three inches.” There was no weapon in the back of his pants. “Both hands back up and roll over.” He grabbed the weapon from the body of the man he shot. His stomach turned up when he saw the aftermath of his bullet. “What‟s your name?” There was very little time to spare. “My name is Kendrel Williams sir.” As the cuffs went on his wrists in front of his body Kendrel realized that the officer was going to trust him. “I have to make a call. I want you to sit here with him. Don‟t touch him and do not run. You run you die. Do you hear me?” He could not believe he was going to trust this kid, but he could think of no other choice. There was a loud coughing from the fallen officer and then intense wheezing. “His lung is collapsed. You have to get him a doctor or he is going to die.” A flashback to LA reminded him that he had heard this noise before. Only then it was his cousin lying dying there on the sidewalk. “What do I do?” All of the emergency training he received in the academy failed him right that moment. “Go make the call. I‟ll watch him.” No sooner had Kendrel said it, then the officer ran down the alley and then out into the street. In spite of the warning he pulled the officer up to a sitting position against the wall. Then ripping off his own shirt still in the handcuffs he pressed it against the man‟s chest. It did little to stop the bleeding but seemed the right thing to do. When the officer returned he thought the perp was trying to kill his partner. Luckily before he made a bad decision he figured out the reality of the situation. “I told you not to touch him.” Even as he spoke he dropped to his knees next to both men and pressed against the already soiled shirt. “If you want him to live then you need to keep pressure on the wound.” Locked in staring match they could not be sure what to make of one another. “Why do you care?” An anonymous source called in to say that the fugitive Tiny Richardson and ex-con Kendrel Williams could be found in this alleyway. Both were considered to be armed and dangerous. This man was neither. “I promised myself no one would ever die by my hand again.” Gripped by the terror that he might end up in jail again, Kendrel started to feel the need to flee. Open the cage door and the bird will fly away. Somewhere deep in its heart it remembers the pleasure of flying free on the wind. Even a captive animal knows the freedom of its ancestry. “Officer Riggins this is dispatch. Emergency services are two minutes away.” His radio crackled in and out. “Hear that Bob two more minutes. Hold on for me.” Both men shared the knowledge that in silence that two minutes or two seconds would not matter. “Tell Tilly that I love her. Tell her that ok.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “Tell her yourself.” Tears poured down this big man‟s face. Officer Robert Parks died on the way to the hospital. Tiny Richardson was pronounced dead on the scene. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… If it had been strictly up to Khadif, he would not have left his uncle and gone to South Carolina. After having guns shoved in their faces, he was not sure it was safe to leave his new family alone. However, they would not hear of it. “You have another golf tournament to win. Now win it!” Arriving on Wednesday afternoon he barely to play one practice round before the tournament began. “What‟s wrong today?” Tina began to think that the previous win was just a fluke. He was flailing shots to right all day long. “Wind is bothering me.” Twenty mile and hour winds were blowing his ball all over the place, but it was not the real reason why his game was failing on this day. “You have to be precise with these small greens.” The Harbour Town Golf links had some of the smallest narrowest greens on tour. Except for David Love III who owned five championships no one seemed to be able to get a full grip of the course. Therefore when Thursday came around and Peter Lonard went out and shot a ten under par no one knew what to expect. Khadif struggled through the first two rounds only posting six birdies and four bogies. He barely made the survived the cut to get to play on the weekend at two under par. On Saturday and Sunday morning it was more of the same with golfers shooting well into the red numbers. Then when it seemed the winner would be someone near seventeen or eighteen under par the leaders began to collapse. “You played well today that is nothing to be ashamed of.” Tina was trying to encourage her new friend. A two under par on Saturday and a three under part on Sunday left him at seven under when he finished his round some three hours behind the leaders. At that time was six shots behind them. An hour later the leaders were all the way down to ten under, only three strokes ahead. Coming in the seventeenth hole both Darren Clarke and Peter Lonard were at eight under only one stroke ahead. When Darren Clarke hit into the water on eighteen and Lonard bogeyed the previous hole Khadif was tied for the lead. “Can you believe this?” He had not played badly on the weekend but at no time expected to be in this position. When the birdie putt from Peter Lonard slipped by the top lip, Khadif realized he was going to be in a playoff. “No ladies and gentlemen that is not a typo you see on your screen. The Cinderella story from Iraq continues for at least another week. I would like to say that Bahrain has made a triumphant charge towards the forefront but the truth the leaders just choked. Now for the 2nd time in four weeks the hearing impaired man Baghdad has an opportunity to win his second straight tournament.” The analysts were lapping up the cream like kittens on the kitchen floor. It was the story they had been looking for. Until now television ratings were based on Tiger Woods and no other. This was what they had been waiting for. Not just a new face but a new true underdog story. When his drive cruised carefully down the center or the fairway on the first playoff the gallery erupted. “Come on Khadif.” Everyone knew how to pronounce his name by now. Those who didn‟t held up small placards with encouraging words written on them. There were no outbursts like the one in Georgia. No one had a discouraging word to say. Considering the noise and the pressure it was the veteran Lonard who cracked first. His second shot fell short into the sand trap. “He‟s on the beach. Aim for the center of the green?” It was a conservative play and Tina was not sure he would go for it. Although Kahadir played very smart golf, he took a lot of chances with his iron shots. “What is the distance to the flag?” He answered the question. Despite his playing partner being in dire straights he was going for the jugular vein. Rather than play for par assuming Lonard would get a bogey he was going for birdie. “One forty two. There‟s a hell of breeze kicking up. Are you sure about this?” Tina was only going to ask him twice on this. When he nodded she handed him the nine iron. “Hit it low under the wind about three quarters of swing. Keep the trajectory down.” Amazingly golf talk took into account physics more often then physical strength. Being able to chose a club and hit a ball the exact distance one wanted to hit it was nearly more important than hitting a three hundred drive. Being able to do both was even better. When the ball left his club Khadif thought he had hit it fat. It was going to be short and land in the same bunker with Lonard. Only within a hundred yards away the wind died. Both he and his caddies looked up at the sky. “Its there!” Quickly jotting down the note Tina knew before anyone. The tournament was over. Landing twenty feet from the hole, the ball took five short bounces and then checked up fifteen inches away. Never had she heard a roar like that it this typically quieter event on tour. People were high fiving behind the ropes and cheering like the Gamecocks had just advanced to the final four. It was a glorious site. “Holy cow can you believe the nerves on this kid.” Jim Nantz as usual was filled with accolades and admiration. “He got lucky Jim. If that wind holds up he loses this tournament.” Johnny Miller on the other hand told it like it was. “Everyone needs a little luck to win.” One of the reporters on the course whispered into her muted headset. When Lonard hit is shot out of the bunker to within twelve feet there were some rumblings in the gallery. Had the labeled the victor prematurely. The pressure was applied when he sunk the put for par. Looking up at the young man with a quiet sign of intimidation he pumped his fist in a Tigeresque show of emotion. “If I miss a two foot put?” There was no question when the ball left his club. He did not miss. Chapter 13 “Ruth!” Delivering babies did not hold the slightest bit of interest to Xavier. He spent the night his daughter was born in the waiting room. When his ex-wife started raving that a husband needed to be in the delivery room if he wanted to prove he was a man, he walked right out of the room. “I‟m coming.” Her kiss on the forehead of the young man eased most of his pain. He ran to his friends to show them his stitches. One of the nurses tried to explain the precautions to keep from his sutures from getting infected but he barely listened. “I know his mother. I will explain it to her.” There were ten people gathered around the young lady in rectory. If numbers could help this baby was going to come with no trouble at all. Unfortunately, only one of them had ever delivered a baby. “Chewy, Porquoi Tu ne vas pas a l‟hopital?” It was the second baby or the twenty three year old mother. The first one was born in her home. Two days later she began hemorrhaging and nearly died. Rolfie told her she could not be alone this time when she gave birth. “Mon auto est morte.” Her car breaking down was her excuse for everything. Late for work it was the car. Did not go to church this week, it was the car. Now not going to the hospital to give birth, you guessed it; the car. “Well Brit what do you think?” Everyone turned to face Ms. Rolfe. Never once had she shown the ability to speak one word of English. Suddenly she sounded as if she had been speaking it quite comfortably for a long long time. “I think you should stop calling me Brit. Get me the recliner in the other room. Need the surgery tray as well. Find out what her blood type is.” Everyone stared at her not understanding a word she said. “Come on people.” Looking at Rolfie she waited for a translation that never came. It was not until Xavier jumped in that anyone moved an inch. The end of their fourth day in Rwanda ended much the same as the other three. Ruth and Xavier were exhausted both mentally and physically. “I am looking forward to going back to work so I can get some rest.” The young lady looked more fatigued then her elder compatriot. Her words struck Xavier when he realized that she was leaving him tomorrow. Though he was going to be kicking around this tumultuous country for two more days she was going back to Malawi. “It has been a crazy past few days. I can‟t say I imagined it this way when I bought my ticket to come over here.” It had been three nights since they nearly tore each other‟s clothes off in the lobby. Since that time they had barely even thought of each other along those lines. “Neither did I, the romantic images of my youth don‟t mix well with adult responsibilities.” Even though she was so tired she could barely see straight, she too was feeling the finality of leaving. It could very well be now of never for the two of them. “In this world it‟s hard to imagine anyone feeling romantic.” With all they had been through, it seemed almost sacrilegious to even be talking about it now. Ruth realized there was only one way to get this going. Without notice she dove in and kissed him. Their lips collided with force and passion that seemed built up for a lifetime. All of the frustration and flirtation of their initial reunion exploded. Someone in the cabana next to theirs was playing the song “Oh What a Night.” As clothes flailed in every direction they both tried to singing. It was quite comical and they laughed in spite of themselves. In the morning Rudi could tell something was different about the two of them. They looked to each other with adoration rather than with longing. He may have only been with one young lady in his life, but he knew what that look meant. “Well what have you decided Mr. Langdon?” Michelle knew what happened between the two them as well. From across the cafeteria she could tell what that look meant. “I have a couple of meetings over the next few days.” For two people who usually went right to the point they were dancing around the issue. “I don‟t foresee any reasons while we couldn‟t do business together.” Business was not what he meant to say, but anything to do with money was business for him. “You didn‟t ask me what I do with your money.” It was not like an investor to leave out such important details. “Unlike most organizations I‟ve seen what you do with it. Hopefully you can do more of it with my help.” Her eyes told him a story with no ending. Someone had hurt this woman a long time ago. Instead of withdrawing into her pain, she had grown stronger because of it. However, despite her independence she longed for something more. “Hard work is easy when you are motivated enough.” Someone was trying to get her attention in the courtyard. Rolling up her sleeves and putting her hair up in a pony tail, she looked ready to be on her way. “Ms. Rolfie it has been a pleasure.” They kissed each other on either cheek with Michelle pausing slightly longer on the second cheek. The scent of his cologne was a welcome change from blood, sweat, and tears. “Are we ready to go?” They had another fourteen hour drive back to Kigali, and Ruth was leaving for Malawi in sixteen hours. “Packed up and ready captain.” At the edge to the Kibuye city limits, Rudi made the sign of cross and said a prayer for those lost in the last few days. Their memory and end would haunt him forever. It would haunt them all. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Looking for a ride from Hafar Al Batin across the border into Iraq was a great deal more difficult than either of them imagined it would be. All of the larger border roads had check points and without a visa there was no legitimate mode of travel to get into and out of Iraq. Most of the illegitimate ways cost money which neither of them had too much of. Just when they thought they might have to walk through the dessert on their own, they came across an old South African trucker named Phil. “I‟m going to Baghdad. No stops though. Have to be there in the next two days.” The cab of his truck had four obvious storage compartments and two not so obvious ones. From the remnants of candy bar wrappers and cigarette butts this was not the first time he had smuggled people in here. “It will be two hundred US a piece that gets you there no questions.” The entrepreneur would not bargain for the two “students” on a holy mission to see the old town. “Money, geld, argent, or dinero; these are the only words I want to hear.” In the end he took two hundred for the two them and shook his head at himself in disbelief. There was something about the look in the black woman‟s eyes. This was important to her. More so then the people in the past who were avoiding prosecution or persecution, she looked like this meant something more than her life and death. “I can‟t believe I let you talk me into this shit.” Phil was not kidding about not stopping on the way. Not for food, water, or bathroom breaks. You carry it all with you. They were not going to starve with their small stash, but trying to relieve yourself in a room with another person you were not too comfortable with yet was a chore. “I‟m not looking. Pretend I‟m not even here.” As a guy it was difficult to enough but for a woman peeing standing up into a coke bottle must have been downright impossible. “When I get to Baghdad I‟m going to throw this bottle in your face.” Her stern statement ended with a giggle. In seconds it broke into a full fledge fit of laughter that only ended when they slowed down for another checkpoint. It was their tenth in ten hours. They tried to imagine who was on the outside, by the language Phil chose to speak. Most of the time it was English, but once or twice it was something Arabic. Neither of them knew a word so they could not identify it. When the truck stopped for the final time, the door flew open and they were blinded by the Middle Eastern sunshine. “Welcome to the Jewell of the middle east.” The area they were in was obviously hit during several bombing runs. Nearly every building had some form of damage. “Center of town is that way. Green Zone is that way. Stay away from where you are right now other than that you should be okay.” With that he closed the doors and drove away quite quickly. “Ah where do we go from here?” Spur of the moment, impulsive trips should not be made to militarized zones especially when you only have a CNN view of the world. “Follow the Tigris to the July 14th Bridge for about five miles.” They were already starting to attract unnatural glances from the locals. Two armed men walked down in alleyway towards them then stopped suddenly and reversed their tracks. “I suggest we run not walk.” According to the map he downloaded from a website he came across they were five blocks away from the hotel he booked. It was established just outside the “Green Zone” and housed nearly nothing but journalists. Although it was not within the allied forces “Safe Zone” the website defined it as a nice place to inhabit while staying in Baghdad. “What do you think these two are doing?” Through a pair of field glasses two United States Marine privates watched the two people running down the road. “Don‟t know but they look like tourists.” The area they were running through was under anti-terror watch. Two small incendiary devices had been detonated less than a block away. Anyone who had been in Iraq for more than week would know better than be in this area. “Do we pick them up?” His radio was already up next to his mouth. “Two back packs? They look to be headed for the zone. Have to.” “Two unknowns suspicious behavior, please pick up. Sadam‟s highway is bout two clics south of the green. It‟s should not be hard to find. One white male six foot plus one black female about five eight. Hell of a caboose on this one might want to give it to Reynolds. He likes that sort of thing.” The two soldiers laughed. In the last week three of the men in their company had been killed. It was hard to watch anyone die, but even harder still when it was one of “your own”. There had been no occasion to joke or to laugh until right this moment. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Jail was the last place Kendrel expected to be visiting this soon after getting out. He could only imagine what the officer had said about him. Especially after watching his partner die there on the street. The only thing he could assume is that he was going back to prison for a very long time. “Mr. Williams please follow us.” Less than two hours in the cell and they were already escorting him to an interrogation room this was foreboding sign. “Normally I would tell you that you have the right to a lawyer. However, I will first tell you that you are not being charged with anything, and given Officer Riggins account of the events you will be going home today.” They could tell from his wide eyed stare that he was not expecting this. “We only have a few questions for you.” Watching the detectives settle in Kendrel was certain they were telling the truth. In his previous experience if they were trying to implicate you they tried to keep eye contact. When they were merely asking you questions they looked at each other and paperwork. “Before today, when was the last time you saw Mr. Richardson?” “Two days ago on a city bus.” Were they going to go after him now that they knew the truth? They were making eye contact now. “You are aware that he was wanted for the brutal attack on an elderly lady?” He was aware because he was there. “He threatened me. I escaped him. It was three minutes. Then he approached a friend of mine and some relatives. I managed to find him again this morning. I went there to end it with him. I had my friend call you folks, and from there unfortunately you know the rest.” Hopefully his recap would stop any retribution he was looking for. “Next time if faced with the same situation you should have called us the first time. Especially with your background you should not have tried to face him directly.” Instead of sounding like police officer he sounded more like someone‟s dad. He was not lecturing he was teaching. “Yes well I have issues with loyalties and mistrust.” They nodded their heads saying that they understood. “You shouldn‟t have loyalty to those who try to hurt you.” Both men were black and talked as if they might understand what they were saying. “Ever been beaten by your father with belt?” This was touching but he wanted to leave if he had the choice to. “Ok. Why don‟t you just give us your best recollection of the whole day from when you got the phone call saying where to find Mr. Richardson?” For an hour they tried to match up other descriptions with this testimony. Excluding a couple of small details all of the stories matched up well. “Thank you Mr. Williams you are free to go. We called your PO and let him know what the reason for your incarceration was. You should not have any problems. We thank you for your help. Please in the future though follow our advice.” From being pleasantly surprised, now Kendrel was thoroughly suspicious. There was something more here. Were they going to use him for bait? They were expecting reciprocal violence from Tiny‟s associates. They were idiots. What no one realized was Tiny hired mercenaries. Nothing the man did was based on loyalty. It was based strictly on monetary motivation and intimidation. These people would harbor no special ill will against Kendrel, because they were not his friends. They were not his boys. They were muscle for hire. This was something those in law enforcement had no understanding for. Everything was a fraternal order for them. Gang members would stand in front of a freight train for their fellow bloods. Mobsters would allow every one of their fingers to broken without breaking the code. Soldiers would throw themselves on a grenade to save their fellow mates. These were ideas that they grasped well. Kendrel understood them. When he was younger he would have stared the devil in the eye rather than snitch on his crew. Tiny never got it. To him there were only two things that made the world go round money and fear. “You‟re worried about the wrong things gentlemen.” It occurred to him that he could walk out of that room and be followed for weeks hoping to catch these men in some form of retribution. He would set the record straight. “Why do you say that?” Their quiet whispers stopped when they heard him. “Not one of them has the slightest bit of loyalty towards him. He was a paycheck.” Kendrel opened the door to the room, and started out. “What do you mean?” Perhaps the kid was brighter than they gave him credit for. “They won‟t come after me because they don‟t care. You throw my ass in jail or shoot my brother I seek revenge. You arrest my boss or shoot him in the head. I get another job. That‟s what I mean.” They did not get what he was trying to say and simply charged ahead in their plan to follow him after he left. “Amazing they ever catch anyone.” Muttering to himself he walked to the bus stop, standing there was Sam. “Thought I would join you for the ride home if that‟s okay with you. Boss gave you the rest of the day off paid I might add.” The meeting at the pizza parlor was fun for him. Watching the police scuttle around that room in total dizzied madness made his heart swell with pride. “Sorry to put you through this. Last thing I wanted to do.” Not that he knew this for certain, but he could imagine any other boss would have fired his ass and moved on. “Put me through what? You are trying to do what‟s right. It‟s not easy. It would have been easier to let Tiny drag you back in or just take him out. You chose to be better than that.” Listening to him say it made Kendrel smile with pride. “Day to day, I just live it day to day. My mamma didn‟t want to see me when I got out, but she gave me that little bit of advice anyway.” Not that he was sad to be separated from his family but going it alone was tough. They were on the bus and about five minutes before they spotted the man at the back. “Three seats from the back with his newspaper upside down. The guy is an idiot.” What type of a moron holds his paper upside down when he is trying to feign reading? “Yeah they just don‟t get it. If I said to; they won‟t come after me because they don‟t care. You throw my ass in jail or shoot my brother I seek revenge. You arrest my boss or shoot him in the head. I get another job. What would you get out of that?” He wasn‟t sure if they just didn‟t understand the words or the sentiment. “I‟d say you are smarter than I gave you credit for.” His sarcastic tone got Kendrel off guard and they chuckled a bit. “The police of today follow trends and paths. It‟s not based on instinct as much anymore. They‟re more like stock brokers than investigators. In some ways it‟s good I guess, but they seem to have lost some of their insight. If not for the innovations in technology criminology would have taken a step backward.” The man sounded more like a teacher than an ex-con the way he dissected modern day police work. “They caught you though? So they can‟t be too stupid.” It was meant to be a joke, but he got no response from Kendrel. “I turned myself in. No one caught me.” Turning his head away, he pulled down on the cable as they approached his stop. “What do you mean?” This was not what he expected to say. “I called 911 after the accident and waited for the police to get there. Stood up in court and declared myself guilty. Even a blind squirrel could have captured that nut.” Another one of his mother‟s expressions left his lips. “Feel like talking about it?” Sam could sense reluctance in his voice so he was not about to push at it. “This is my stop. Thanks again. I can‟t repay what you did today, but if you ever need a thing from me?” The reason he did not want Sam‟s help in the first place is that he did not want to feel obligated and now it was too late. He was not upset about this, and instead felt very grateful for his assistance, but it still put him back in the position of owing another human being. “What I did today was for me as much as you. You don‟t owe me shit. You hear me. You owe me nothing. Just come to work and do your job that‟s all I ask.” He could tell that his intention was being misconstrued. Although the young man nodded and left the bus he knew he felt obligated anyway. “Nothing good in my life comes free.” It was a whisper in him mind, but Kendrel believed in wholeheartedly. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… First time luck is something sport announcers have been referring to for years. However, in the sport of golf it was very seldom realized. Still they had chalked up the first victory of Khadif Bahrain to this very phenomenon. Therefore, they were quite unsure how to react to this second straight victory. Was this kid just that good? If so where the hell had he been? It was not like he was a teenager, and he did not exactly come out with the fanfare of the average prodigy. He just appeared one day and won. “Two weeks two victories to what do you attribute you relative ease in breaking into the PGA tour.” Unlike the first victory Khadif agreed to stay around for the press conference. A representative from the Golf Channel had the first question. “I had two one stroke victories one in extra holes. I would not call that easy?” There was a quick bit of laughter amongst the reporters as they looked up at the big screen projector. “Still, why have you been able to jump right into tour with such success?” No one would let him get a third question in so he had to be more specific this time. “I believe it is a result of faith. The faith I have in myself, in my game, in my family, in my caddy, and in Allah.” Instead of causing people to swish in their seats his comment brought lots of nods. After all thanking God and thanking Allah was the same thing in the eyes of those who were not too ignorant to see past semantics. “Where did this golf game of yours come from?” The ABC commentator asked a simple question everyone wanted the answer to. “It came as a result of practice. From the moment I could walk I could swing a golf club. Some people breath, I swing.” Again laughter and smiles were the response. “You have played two tournaments and won them both. What do you have for an encore?” Typing their responses was easier for some than others. The reporter from ESPN needed a bit of work. “I guess Houston is next for me.” Turning to Tina he verified which tournament was next on the schedule and she nodded at him. “Some would say that you have benefited from two of the weaker fields on the tour. How do you expect your game to hold up against golfers like Vijay Sigh next week?” It was the editor of PGA Tour magazine that took the first shot at controversy. “Any win is a gift. I look forward to competing against everyone. I look forward to competing against the new courses as well.” In his experience addressing individual competitors was not to his advantage. It took away from the game at hand. “How have you held your nerves together the past few weeks; the putt at eighteen in Atlanta and now here today? Others have choked in similar situations?” That was perhaps the most important aspect of this young man‟s game, the way he performed at his best with everything on the line. “I can handle anything that the world gives to me. Give me lemons I won‟t just make lemonade I will see the rind for zest and the seeds for medicine. Use everything that your are given the best way that you can.” He was not sure if the translation in his head made sense to them but a nod from Tina assured him it did. “Two more questions.” It was his caddy who recognized he wanted to get back out to his fans on the outside. “What has driven you past your past and physical challenges to get to where you are today?” It was not often the sports reporter from the Times to get a word in here. “I hate to use the same answer again, but faith. I never lost focus despite the hardships that have befallen my family.” His heart sunk a bit into his chest as he tired of this line of questioning. “Who would you most like to play golf with if given the opportunity?” Most of the reporters looked up and shook their heads, what a waste of the final question by someone from Esquire. Little did they know it was the question that would cause the most controversy of the day? “Myself. If I had the choice to play with anyone it would be me.” Khadif bowed slightly at the waist and then following behind Tina he left the room. People were no longer asking who Khadif Bahrain was, but instead they were wondering something else. “Is he for real?” They would get their answer soon enough. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 14 Kigali airport was packed for her return flight to Malawi. Most of commuters looked as if they could barely afford bus fare, but she felt closer to them then to the first class passengers she knew as a child. “Looks like an interesting flight?” During the entire drive they talked about everything from childhood toys to dating, and not once mentioned her leaving. “Yeah they are my type of people.” She did not want to say good bye now. Why did everything have to end with good bye? “It has been a pleasure miss Ruth.” With a hug and kiss Rudy left the vehicle and took a short walk. He knew the situation. “IM me when you get home. Let me know you‟re okay.” For a minute Xavier thought of asking her to come back to states soon, but he could not jump over his conscience to do it. Her work and his were too important to let a little thing like infatuation to get in the way of it. “Of course, next time you‟re in Africa look me up.” They played with each either but neither wanted to leave the car. “Your plane is leaving in a couple of minutes.” They leaned in for a kiss which was gentle and perfect neither could let go. It was in such contrast to their embrace the night before that they almost laughed in spite of themselves. “Come on Rudy.” Xavier was in no mood to sit around the airport all night. Tomorrow was another early morning for him. He doubted either of the other two charities could possibly touch him as much as Rolfie had, but he would be there anyway. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Sitting in the window seat Ruth could barely contain her disappointment in leaving. Rwanda had not brought her the kind of satisfaction she had hoped for. “I was sorry to hear about your experience in Kibouye. That had to be difficult.” The director was trying his best to politely ask her what exactly did happen without being impolite. “It was horrible. I have never seen anything like it in all my life. She fully expected to have nightmares for the rest of her days in response to what she saw. “Now can you see why men like the ambassador don‟t see the raping of those young ladies as their top priority?” He was surprised by her shaking head. “It may have been a more graphic murder but being raped by a HIV infected man is still the same thing. I can‟t understand why you people can not see that.” When she said you people she was referring to men, but did not preface it. “Don‟t loop me in your condemnation. I came hear with the same hopes that you had.” He was feeling completely unappreciated. “Sorry if I sound like a sanctimonious bitch, but it has been a very long week.” Most of her anger had to do with leaving Xavier, but she was still smarting from enormous stress on every front right now. “The idea with the flyers was excellent forward thinking, but incomplete. Writing a book is only good if people get the read it. Find a way to get the important information to be read and processed, than I will put the full weight of the corps behind it.” He could see she was disappointed and was therefore surprised when she did not brighten up. “I will put my best neurons on the job.” They giggled and then promptly fell asleep on the plane ride back to Malawi. …………………………………………………………………………………………… They thought they were moving along in stealth fashion. No one seemed to notice them running in and out of buildings. Therefore, both Samira and Peter were confused as the American soldiers closed in around them. “Are you armed?” Their weapons were raised at attack lever, and both of the tourists looked as if they would piss their pants. “No sir, we are just looking for our hotel. I got some bad directions.” Considering the situation Samira was very impressed with her partner in crime‟s reaction. “Where are your papers?” It sounded like a bad line from an old WWWII film but the sergeant was not laughing when he asked. Peter handed them over right away, but Samira fidgeted around looked for them in her pocket. They were already searching through their bags. “They‟re clean sir, just clothes and personal effects.” They really were tourists or if not they were packing like ones. “Visa says Saudi Arabia Mr. Riley. You are a long long way from Riyadah.” He was guessing that they were glory seekers. Despite warnings hundreds flocked to Iraq just to see what was going on and too may of them went home in body bags. “There is bus going back out at 3 p.m. You will be on it.” The lieutenant pointed towards his fellow solider who started escorting the young man away. “Still have not found your papers miss.” The way they looked at one another, they were traveling together. He was surprised that she had not given up her information yet. “No I must have dropped them while running over here.” Truthfully they were very uncomfortably wedged in her bra and panties. What made her think they would not deport her if she didn‟t have her paperwork? Watching Peter be led away, she was not sure how to react. He did not even attempt to fight them or implicate his friend. It was as if he was saying good luck as they loaded him into the personnel carrier. “You are an American?” The answer was obvious. She was from down south somewhere from the accent. “Yes. My name is Samira Bryant.” Hopefully they were headed where she expected them to go. “Rollins and Patrick please take the young lady to the consulate so she can file for a lost passport. You are going to be here a while Miss Bryant, hope it was worth it.” He did not believe a word the woman said, not even her name seemed to fit. “Believe me I would rather have it.” Her lies were piling up on top of one another. They loaded her into Humvee and moved towards the green zone. As discussed earlier private Rollins was trying his best to get to know the young lady in the short time they had together. Samira took full advantage of it. “So what do you guys do for entertainment during your downtime over here?” By no means was she downplaying the ongoing conflict instead she was trying to flirt. It was not something she was at all accustomed to doing. “We drive out in the dessert watch the sunset with a few beers. It can be quite beautiful.” Sargent Rollins was more interested in romance than serving his country though he did the later far better than the prior. Private Peterson was driving the Humvee and looked at his superior as if to say “Ah come on sarg.” “Really, when does the sun go down tonight?” Her little wink caught both men off guard for a moment. “I‟m sorry mame I am on duty tonight.” Even though Peterson said this, he was wishing he could go out instead. Standing guard in Baghdad during dawn patrol was one of the more dangerous shifts around. “Not me, I‟m just getting off. Well not yet.” Samira giggled playfully at the statement but inside her head she was thinking what a dumb ass. “Forgive me sir, but don‟t we have to take Miss Bryant to the consulate?” His pursuit of women never interfered with doing his duty so Peterson was quite surprised with his apparent need to do so. “Of course private I was by no means suggesting that we skip the consulate. We have about two hours before than. Lets get her paperwork filed and see what time it is then?” What a killjoy this young man was? The American embassy was closed for business at the beginning of the insurgency so passport issues were being handled at the consulate. A once proud building it looked more like a bomb shelter now. Sand bags and machine guns replaced splendid columns and mosaics. It was a sad sight to behold for anyone who knew better and an eyesore for those who didn‟t. “Fill these three forms out, take a number, and have a seat.” There were at least three dozen applicants for visas and post passports in the room. Most of them looked to be of Middle Eastern decent. “This is going to take forever.” Samira acted as though she were pissed off with the whole process. “Why don‟t we go get some dinner and come back? You have your number correct.” There was a look circulating between the two soldiers. “Lieutenant didn‟t say she had to starve did he?” Peterson shrugged his shoulders. The cafeteria in the consulate was better than the meals on the base. “You are a sweetheart.” Rubbing precariously close to the two men, she noticed that her womanly charms were winning the battle. They smiled and walked her away. If all went well, she would be free roaming around Iraq on her own. “Wonder how Peter is doing?” Trying to focus on his fate was difficult to do. A pang of guilt ate at her stomach as she ordered a tuna sandwich. Somewhere in Southern Iraq Peter was surrounded by dozens of very smelly people on the military transport bus that was entirely overcrowded. “So what did you do to get kicked out?” A young girl not more than fifteen tugged incessantly at his arm. He knew her name was Patricia as she had told him this, twenty times in the past four hours. “I had visa problems.” Her infatuation with him as the only other American on the bus was cute at first, by now it was grating on his nerves. “That was the lie my daddy told me to use too.” Bouncing up and down she tugged at his shirt some more. “This day could not possibly get any…” Before he finished the statement, there was a loud crackling noise, and then a boom unlike anything he had ever heard. It was followed by blackness. ………………………………………………………………………………………….. William the doorman rushed up to Kendrel and shook his hand. “I heard about your terrible ordeal. How are you feeling?” Normally a display like this would have seemed overly contrived but William truly looked concerned. “I‟m all right. I‟m just trying to relax after a bad day.” This was the understatement of the millennium. “Well you take care. There are some folks waiting upstairs for you.” Again he shook his hand with lots of passion. Coming up the stairs, Kendrel tried to determine what part of the Twilight zone he‟d entered in the past two months. People seemed to be different in this new world. It reminded him of a strange movie called “Pleasantville” that he had seen with everyone living in perfect harmony with not a care in their “Leave it to Beaver” lives. Parents and teachers care about their children and the status of the world. Everything is perfect. Then real life finds the people of Pleasantville. Greed and desire corrupt perfection and reality implodes in around them, and strangely enough everyone is happy about it. Would he be the one to corrupt this Pleasantville? Waiting outside his front door when he got home was Dominique. Her eyes were filled with tears, and they practically poured down her cheeks when he came up the stairs. “Are you okay?” In a strange unexpected sign of affection she embraced him and squeezed quite tightly. “I‟m sorry about my behavior last night. Violent people scare me anymore.” The way she said the words anymore alerted him to the fact that she had been hurt before. “There is nothing to apologize for. I warned you ahead of time that my world is a lot different than the one you live now.” The last part he added on since he felt perhaps she had not always been the prom queen. “Do you think you are the only one who‟s had a hard time with life?” She felt something brewing between the two of them, though they‟d known each other only a couple of weeks. There was a bond forming above and beyond their normal self-reliant egos. “Nope I don‟t corner the market.” His wink caused her serious side to evaporate if only for a fleeting moment. “Can you see yourself spending time with a stock boy ex-con? That‟s all I really want to know. Whether friends or whatever, can you see yourself with me?” The girl had not asked him to marry her and yet he felt the need to get this out of the way quickly. “No I can‟t, but I can see myself with you.” Her hand brushed by his face gently. “You are so much more than just what you do for a living, or the mistakes you have made in the past. Don‟t you see that?” Taking his chin with her palm she forced him to make eye contact with her. Suddenly the door flung open and Alexi popped a bottle of champagne into the lobby. He yelled something at Dominique kissed her on both cheeks and then did the same thing to Kendrel. His eyes opened wide and he backed up. “It‟s a Russian thing. Don‟t worry.” They laughed to avoid the awkward moment. “What‟s the party about?” Obviously this was not to welcome him home from his hard knock life. “Alexi got his first photo in Cosmo. I know how that sounds, but it‟s a really big deal for a fashion photographer. It is the Pro-bowl for a cameraman if you will.” Saying it now she was embarrassed to think someone else would even want to understand. “That‟s what I mean. Your friends are at the top of the food chain a tiger if you will. Me I‟m a slug.” One hand was up above his head the other down by his knees. “For someone with such incredible self confidence in his heart and in his resolve, you don‟t have the least bit in your future.” Tapping his chest with her finger nail she tried to inflate his ego. “Do you guys have anything besides champagne in there?” He promised himself that he would never drink or do any drugs again, but that did not mean he could not celebrate. Watching two men die before his eyes never would have seemed like a time to rejoice, but he felt different tonight. His glass was half full. He was happy to be alive and that seemed as good a reason as any to put on his dancing shoes. There were at least two dozen people in his living room when he got inside. A good twenty of them were sickeningly attractive women. “You sure Alex isn‟t a pimp?” Domique let loose one of those devastating smiles and then leaned in next to his ear. “I won‟t charge you.” The rest of the night was a blur to him. Maybe some of the smoke in the air permeated into his lungs maybe he was feeling relieved to be alive, but he felt high. His kite was sailing high above the stratosphere, and despite the fact that half the people were speaking in languages he could not begin to grasp. Kendrel was at home. “If I didn‟t know any better I‟d say you were relaxed.” His body molded into his pillow in his room. Dominique slid her way onto his bed and lay down. Her eyes focused in on his ceiling fan. “I needed to unwind. I am too uptight for my own good.” They were lying in his bed for several minutes before either one even were aware of this fact. What was once a very comfortable conversation ground to a fear of sexual intimacy stop. “Do you want me to get you a cab?” Having worked the night shift for several weeks already, he was not the slightest bit tired as he spoke. “Not particularly.” Turning over on her belly she pulled herself up towards the pillow he was leaning on. “You can stay if you‟d like.” His heart was beating a million miles a minute, as she cuddled her head into his chest. The smell of her perfume and her shampoo shot up into his nostrils like blow. “I would.” Her head rose up and their mouths met. Four years two months and fourteen days ago Kendrel kissed a woman, and it was nothing like that. For the first time since he was young, he really cared for someone other than himself. Her name was Dominique. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… After his first win, the newspapers avoided talking to Khadif for fear that he might say something about the war that they would have to publish. After the second win they could not wait to get his opinion about anything. “What do you think of the free elections in Iraq?” “Do you think the Americans should leave your country?” “Would Iraq be better if Sadam Hussein were still in power?” At every corner they gave him the opportunity to make a political statement, and each time he declined to comment. One of the nice parts about being a hearing impaired celebrity was that you didn‟t have to hear the atrociously stupid questions that reporters ask of non-qualified people. “I have fifty eight messages for you here most of them from possible sponsors; Titleist, Nike, Callaway, Mcgregor, and Topflite. All of them can‟t wait to get on the Khadif bandwagon.” His uncle was so overwhelmingly happy with his nephew he could barely speak about it. “Look at all of this.” The young man poured out an entire shoe box full of business cards and brochures onto the kitchen tables. “Ah America, you have to hate it don‟t you?” They laughed and hugged each other tightly. “How is Kendrel???” On the chalkboard, he dug in deeper as he wrote. “His friend was shot dead by the police right in front of his eyes along with a police officer. He was not picked up by the police, questioned, and released. Other than that there has been no news.” Even as he got near the end Khadif was already shaking his head and growing antsy to write. “Call him and find out?” There was hesitation from his uncle. “It was not your son, and you don‟t really know what happened. Do you?” Everyone in the neighborhood treated conversations about Kendrel as though they were top secret. Whispers rang around whenever his name was mentioned. “I will call him later. Right now I want to talk about you.” They hugged again. “I want to start sending money back home. Can you arrange that?” In two weeks he earned over one and half million US dollars in winnings. He did not need these kinds of funds in his life. “You know I would be happy to do that, but who would you like me to give it to?” Always a generous boy he was worried that the money would get spent by others on causes that were based on greed instead of need. “The Children‟s relief fund. Except for a couple of dollars for myself, I want all the rest to go to them.” His golf tournament in Iraq was arranged for more than just a chance to show off his skills. Every penny made by the contest and half the winnings were going to the fund. “Maybe you should investigate it? It is after all run by the state.” Democracy in Iraq brought corruption in much the same from as the previous regime. Only now instead of palaces and fancy cars for one, it went towards houses and fancy cars for several. Those willing to sell their souls to America could be bought into servitude. Many people were swallowed up in the greed including those charged with the rebuilding projects. “I know this charity. They are legitimate!” His pencil point broke on the paper. “Yes but even one lonely dog in a house full of chicks?” The translation for Arabic to English brought on a chuckle. “You are one lone wolf in a house full of hens?” “You know what I meant. A million plus dollars is a lot of money.” Not that his uncle wanted even a penny of it, but he did not want wealth like that to be wasted. “Perhaps I should open my own charity? Would that make you feel better? Then I could see where every penny was going.” It was meant to be a joke but the nod of his uncle‟s head surprised him. “I don‟t see why you couldn‟t? Several hundred thousand displaced children around the world. There are thousands right here in this country. So why couldn‟t you do that?” They stared at each other and than the paper. “What do I know about such things?” The idea was valid, but seemed farfetched. “I don‟t know anything yet?” Down came the encyclopedias from the book shelf, and Khadif shook his head and smiled. His uncle once said, “There is nothing one can not learn a little or a lot about that can not be found in these books.” It was a naive view of the world, but it was true to some degree. “Research it Khadif. With your heart and your skill you can do anything that Allah will allow. If a charity is what you are destined to create than do so. Your skill on the golf course is meant for more than just winning trophies and money. I have to think that he has a greater plan for you.” Thomas walked in the room as he finished his last line. Sticking out his had, he congratulated the young man. As the day went by dozens of patrons shook his hand and got his autograph. Even though Harlem was not known for its gold enthusiasts, his story touched their hearts. It was not just about sports when it came to him. It was about humanity. They felt a bond with his flaws rather than his skill. He was them and they were he. Chapter 15 His heart and head were not into the first meeting of the morning. Even with Rudy translating, he and the director of operations at the clinic in Kigali just did not seem to be on the same page. Besides this facility was well funded already and ran too much like a business than he wanted it too. Along with this he was not happy that they refused to open their books to him or discuss their donation to client ratio. “Where would my money go to?” When he asked the question the man simply pointed around the room. By noon he was on the road to the last organization. “It would go directly to Sister Mary of the Purple Heart?” Rudy questioned the name on the building. It was a convent. “Get yourself to a nunnery.” The young man giggled at his brilliance. “Ok Mr. Shakespeare lets not judge too quickly.” After ringing the bell they waited for several minutes before a nun he had to be pushing one hundred opened the door. She was so hard of hearing that Xavier had to scream just to get his point across. “SISTER MARY PATRICE PLEASE!” Another ten minutes later a nun of eight plus years strolled to the door. “I am here to talk to you about your charity.” How could he have had a much less productive day he could not even begin to imagine? “What about my cherry young man? It is growing in the courtyard.” Her sincerity released a flow of laughter that he could not even begin to hold back. Even Rudy trying to be polite could not help but laugh. “Forgive me, but I must go.” They drove directly to Rudy‟s village, where Xavier dropped him off. In his hand were two hundred dollar bills. “Sir I can not take this. It is far too generous.” Normally it took him six weeks to make that kind of money working three jobs. “Nonsense I would give you even more, but I don‟t want to spoil your for future projects?” They talked it over and Rudy would consider being his liaison between Kigali and Kibuye. He assured him that this would be a very important job, but the truth was he would be a delivery man for the most part. It was not a bad job and given his current situation Rudy would probably take it. “I must think it over sir.” There was a brief father son type hug and then Xavier went straight to the airport. His plane was not leaving for six hours, but he could not wait to get out of the country and go back home. In nearly two weeks he had only talked to Max twice via e-mail and was told both times not to worry about anything. Life was going on without him. “Yeah that‟s what I am afraid of.” Typing this at an internet café at the airport, Xavier prepared himself to return home. “What a long strange trip it‟s been?” The line from the Grateful Dead song stuck out in his brain like a splinter that just will not go away. “Mr. Langdon quell est une etrange coincidence? (What I a strange coincidence?)” Standing ten feet away dressed to the nines in a summer dress above the knees was Michelle Rolfie. He had to take brief moment to pull his tongue back up into his mouth. “Tres Bizare. (Very Peculiar).” There was something planned though in her demeanor as she settled into the chair next to him. “Where are you traveling to?” This would answer his question quite conclusively. “Pretoria. I have a rather large investor to talk to tomorrow.” All right maybe she wasn‟t here to see him. Stretching his brain he tried to remember if he had even mentioned when his plane would be leaving. Had he even discussed it with her? “Are you going home today? How silly of me, of course you are at an airport. You are obviously going home today.” Her words suggested that she was flirting and her mannerisms the same, but her eyes were everywhere in the room except on him. “Yes, I have to get back to the business that is my life.” When she crossed her legs he could not help but look. They were pure toned muscle from toenail to thigh. No one could possibly be that fit at her age. “Where is your friend?” Noticing his eyes move over her, she was not offended as she might have been by someone else. Instead she seemed to welcome it in a way. “She is back in Malawi.” He could only assume she meant Ruth and had busted him on his glances. “Ah, she is the Peace Corps girl. Go save the world one condom and bible at a time. They are so misguided I would have thought her bright than to fall for that drivel.” Her attitude simply screamed aristocratic Parisian bitch, and yet she said nothing that he totally disagreed about. “She‟s idealistic and kind hearted.” The things he loved about her. “She‟s naive and pig headed about it.” Her observations highlighted the things he did not like about her. “Plus she could be your daughter.” Ouch her last comment struck a chord. “Older gentlemen don‟t date younger women in Paris these days?” He flagged down a waitress his coffee was getting cold. “Please upgrade to some whiskey.” Turning to Michelle he held up the glass. “Why not, I have a couple of hours to kill? I‟d like a Tangueray and Tonic please.” Sitting down at the terminal next to him, she started playing a game of solitaire. By the time the plane was boarding for Miss Rolfie, she was blotto. Four drinks was two too many for her, and it showed. “I‟m a tough bitch. I am. Let no one doubt this. I once had a WWI bayonet shoved through my left breast.” Pulling back her dress she exposed the entire top half of her chest. “Nice scar.” Realizing where the night was heading Xavier did not refill his drink. He just continually added ice and water. In the last hour the conversation had steadily gone from cordial to bizarre. “But I am still a woman. Something the men of this country can not for the fucking life of them figure out.” Her French accent grew heavier and heavier by the minute. “Most men are intimidated by physically dominant women. That‟s just the truth of the matter whether it‟s Kigali, Rwanda or Kingston, Jamaica, or Kings Point, New York.” For Xavier it was an especially true statement. Although he appreciated women‟s physiques, he dated mostly emotionally independent women, but not physically dominating ones. “Do you think I have a nice body?” It was very funny to hear her talking like this, because it was so the opposite of her everyday persona. “Fantastic is more like the word I would use.” Even the waitress walking by nodded her head in agreement. „That‟s sweet thank you.” Tapping the young lady on the shoulder she turned back around towards him. “Is my personality all that daunting to the opposite sex?” The remnants of her drink nearly poured onto the carpet. “Honestly?” Drunken people don‟t usually like to hear the truth, but lying was no longer his strongpoint. “Come on. I mean I know you don‟t know me from Eve, but don‟t you see me as a woman?” Her eyes and voice pleaded with him for acceptance like a puppy who just wanted to be scratched behind the ears. “Right this moment you are more woman than I have ever seen.” Her frown turned upside down so quickly it caused Xavier to smile. With a gentle kiss on each cheek Ms. Rolfie stumbled out of the café towards her gate. There were no goodbyes or thank yous only smiles ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “Look its Ruth Granger. So did you finally jump Harry Potter or what?” Her kiss ass supervisor was chairing a meeting when she walked into the command tent. “I am overly partial to Weasly family. I decided to gang bang all five brothers instead.” All her friends and coworkers burst into fits of laughter. “Well now that you‟ve had your fun time to get back to work. Grab a pad and pencil; we are in the midst of implementing your asinine flyer program. Here is what you requested and here is what the South Central African Coalition and our beloved Peace Corps agreed upon.” Handing the English flyer to her, she nearly crushed it into her mouth. On the front cover was a graphic depiction of two stick figures engaged in a sexual intercourse and a photo of a condom next to them. The document was entitled HIV “the do‟s and don‟ts”. “Are they fucking kidding me?” All of the hard work and time she spent trying to design and effective program for AIDS prevention and this was what they made of it. “They‟re kidding all of us Ruth not just you.” Even though he hated to admit it her concept was a solid one, and the higher ups just pissed it away into a comedy. “The rebels will use this for toilet paper. They will literally rub their asses with this.” It felt as though someone had kicked her in the face. “Thank you for the visual.” It was Lucille who turned to her. Something was eating at her friend besides this abomination. Walking towards the door, Ruth did not stop when anyone called to her until she got right to the door. “Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.” They all looked at her and bowed their heads for a minute. “That‟s the motto JFK set forth for us, do any of you see that motto being fulfilled in this.” She spit on the paper and threw it on the ground. “Twenty seven months.” That‟s how long her initial contract of service was established for. She was currently in her twenty sixth month. Recently she had looked into reenlisting when her time was up. Now there was no chance of that happening. “Who wants to tell her it was just a joke?” Lucille was the one who had initiated the prank was feeling quite bad for it now. “Let her warm off first and then tell her.” As usual Anders had it all wrong, but they understood what he meant. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… The eight top table they finally settled in at was mobbed by nearly twice that many marines. They were fascinated with talking to Samira about the bombing in Madrid. It seemed quite morbid that young men and women who spent everyday avoiding suicide bombers would have such an interest in this. “Don‟t you get enough of this? Doesn‟t killing and avoiding being killed just make you want to sit down and say no more?” Until now she had been avoiding talking like the ambassador of peace. “It‟s our job mame.” One of the younger boys from Arizona chirped in. “Despite what you may have read, we‟re not all adrenaline junkies or murdering psychopaths looking for an outlet. This country really is fubar, and we are trying our best to change that. Give these people the freedoms that everyone back home take for granted.” Even though he wanted to get into her pants, Rollins had no qualms about telling her off if he had to. “So you think Iraq is better off now?” Raising her eyebrows she turned her head around the table. About half of them shrugged or shook their heads. “It may not be better today, but in the long run it will be. Yes, I think this country and its people will be better off because of what we have done here. I think the world will be better off. If I didn‟t believe that I could not in good conscience be here.” Corporal Rodriguez turned towards her and spoke out. Some of the surrounding tables stopped what they were doing to listen in on what they had to say. “How many of you were just looking for a college degree?” In order to pull this off she had to laugh really loud as she said it, and yet only a couple of people raised their hands. Most the men and women seemed a bit put off by her candor. “Have you ever really fought with all your might for something you believed in? Have you ever put your life on the line and said I am willing to die for this? If you haven‟t then you could not understand.” Mina Campbell was a civilian contractor, but she wanted a piece of this conversation. “I‟m here aren‟t I?” Turning around Samira was equal to the task. “Yeah you‟re here Miss Bryan, but I have to ask you something. Why?” Rollins would be the one who got the last word in. Private Peterson walked up to her and announced that her number had been called upstairs. “How many of you have held a loved one in your arms and watched them draw there last dying breath as they pleaded for you to turn back the clock so that they could live another day.” A few people bowed their heads and others acknowledged her statement with a nod or a raised hand. “Did you tell them, you‟re dying for a good cause my friend? You gave your life for the old stars and stripes. You should be damn proud. You helped protect our freedom.” Tears built in her eyes the longer she talked to them. “I doubt it. For those of you who did though, I got bad news for you.” Slamming back her last ounce of juice she wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. “You lied.” Peterson and Rollins led her away from the table towards the elevator. “The Revolutionary, civil, two worlds, Vietnam, and Korean wars made America the country you inhabit today. Where would you be young lady if it was not for the warriors and soldiers of this world? ” Rodriguez could not let his fellow soldiers stand by silently. “Same place you would be corporal, Africa. Truth be told, I‟d be a lot happier there too.” No one had a response for her this time. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… When he awoke the world around him was spinning quite uncontrollably. Try as he may to try and focus on anything, Peter could not. Finally he focused on a piece of rebel and had to struggle just to maintain a grasp on reality. “Oh my God.” That was not a piece of rubble he was looking at it was Patricia. The young girl of fifteen was lying next to him, or at least what was left of her. Peter passed out again and this time it would be quite a bit longer before he would see the light of day. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… For more than fifteen hours Kendrel and Dominique remained wrapped around each in other in the comfort of his bed. They talked sparingly about Manhattan and Brooklyn even delving into stories of their youth. Everything was beautiful and everything they said was careful and orchestrated. It could not last for long. “My father? I never really got to know my father. He was dead before I was three.” That was all she was saying, and he was not sure if he should try to push harder. “HIV? In case you were wondering. He was one of the first documented cases in Europe. According to his death certificate he died of pneumonia, but everyone and anyone knew better. Newspapers turned him into a homosexual drug shooting villain. Truth was he had a blood transfusion. Took nearly six years before anyone believed my mother, and by then it was too late. The damage was done.” Pulling her pillow tightly into her chest she heaved a large sigh. “Why did the papers care so much?” HIV infections were rare in the early eighties. He knew this from his time in school, but individual cases were usually swept under the carpet not put under the spotlight. “You never did ask me my last name?” Her moist eyes looked up at him from her cotton fortress. “Dominique Evangaline Biko.” The last name struck a chord with anyone who had followed the eradication of Apartheid in South Africa. Could it be she was talking about the same family? “Yes my uncle was Stephen Biko.” There was a minute or two of silence. “The South African government made it their sole occupation to try and discredit anything associated with my uncle‟s name. Even in Europe they kicked up a shit storm when they realized what he was dying from. It was awful. As a child I couldn‟t understand what the other kids were saying to me, so I really couldn‟t figure out why they seemed to hate me. My mother on the other hand knew. She knew and took it all every last ounce of criticism, every single snide remark; she swallowed it all without the slightest hint of anger or resentment.” The tears broke past the barrier and flew freely now in streams. “No one can hold in that much anguish. It was like a cancer eating her from the inside out. In the end it manifested it as such. She was dead by the time I was eighteen. Luckily she had already imparted me with her years of wisdom and grit. I sort of took care of myself from there.” The more Kendrel listened to her talk the worse he felt, not just for her plight but also for the comments he had made in the past. How could he complain about how hard his life was when it had been a cakewalk in comparison? “You did really well for yourself. I‟m impressed.” Although his eyes still searched over her beautiful physique from time to time during his conversations, at this moment he was focused on her eyes. The back of his hand wiped away her tears. “See our upbringings were not that unalike. Neither one of us had a picnic.” Her kisses fell softly on his bare chest. “You can say that again.” The phone rang and rang in the background finally Alexi picked it up and yelled from the other room. “Kendrel.” The way he said his name was quite comical. It sounded more like Kindril. “Hey.” “Hi this is operator 452 from the Telecom one. You have a call from one Khadif Bahrain.” At first he almost hung up the phone thinking it was some sort of sales call until the name finally kicked in. “Have you ever had a call from someone who was hearing impaired?” The voice of the young lady was incredibly pleasant to the point of being painful. “Nope.” What could be the difference though? “Please wait for me to finish talking and then please speak your response very slowly and clearly. Finish each response with the word stop so I know when to finish typing.” Dominique looked at him strangely not sure who he was talking to. Covering the receiver he gave her a quick summary. “Hello Kendrel how are you feeling today? Stop.” “I am fine thank you for asking. Congratulations on another win. Stop.” “Thank you. Would you be interested in another lesson today? Stop.” “Okay. Come over whenever you want. Stop.” “Great I will see you very soon. Stop” “Goodbye Stop.” When he got off the phone he shook his head. “What type of lessons are you getting?” Playfully she tapped at him and tried to make light of life. “I‟m taking reading lessons. He is teaching me how to read.” In the past his ego would not have allowed him to have a conversation like this, but he had grown so much since then. His confidence in himself outweighed any embarrassment that he would feel. “Cool. I could try and help you too if you would like?” Though she suspected that he had trouble reading she was not sure to what extent. At the restaurant he read the menus. In his room there was not one single book only magazines filled with pictures. “Thank you but it would be too weird for me.” Having a woman teach him would have been hard enough, but not someone he was dating. “And getting reading lessons from someone who‟s deaf is normal?” They both chuckled at the irony but the conversation went no further. “Do you know any of your family from South Africa?” It was a quick way to deflect the conversation from where it was going. “No. I never met or talked to any of my father‟s family. They sort of forgot about us even after the truth of my father‟s illness was revealed. We are the red headed step children of the family.” In some ways she never forgave them for their ignorance, but in others she could understand. Her father chose to leave his native country and pursue a safer life outside South Africa. In that way he chose to alienate himself. However, when her father died she expected them to be there for her mother and herself and they were not. When her mother died again they were absent. “Unfortunately I know what it like to be the forgotten kid.” More so than anyone in this world, he could unfortunately relate quite well. “So now do you think we still come from two completely different worlds?” Her face buried deeply into his chest and she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Yep.” Nothing had changed in his opinion. The Bronx and Latvia were still a million miles apart in his mind. “I can relate to you more now. Wish it weren‟t so. Wish you had the privileged life I sort of expected you to have had. Then again if you had you probably wouldn‟t be here with me?” His charismatic side had been in full display since the night before. It was his best side, and Dominique hoped it was last much longer. The door bell broke their serenity. Dressing quickly he made his way to the front door. Waving his hand, he beckoned Khadif inside. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… It was quite difficult to teach someone to read when you couldn‟t talk to them, or hear them when they were talking to you. Most of learning to read is like learning to speak it involves phonetics and annunciation to teach. This made the job of teaching Kendrel painfully slow and difficult. Luckily he was a bright young man who picked up things quickly. It astounded Khadif that he never learned to read. “Not that it is any of my business but how come you never learned to read?” He was the only person that got to hear his voice, and not once had he made a comment. This alone made him feel much less self-conscious. “You are correct it‟s of your business.” This process was starting to frustrate him, and he had very little patience left. “You are correct it is none of your business!” A smile and wink followed the correction. “Why do yu kare abot it?” Much the same as his uncle the young man just seemed to do nice things without any particular reason. “Why do you care about it? Do you have lots of friends?” As he wrote down the words he spoke at the same time. “A copel of them. Why?” Perhaps Khadif did not like him and was about to tell him. “A couple of them. Why? I have none. I like you.” Both men looked at each other strangely for second. “Not like that.” They laughed and despite his darker skin Kendrel could swear the Iraqi man was blushing. “I did not lik skool. Thot I was beter then everione.” He did not have to explain himself, and yet there he was going out on a limb. “I did not like school. Thought I was better than everyone. That‟s a very American reaction. The whole reading is fundamental thing never caught on. Most people learn to read because they have to. They need to be taught that reading is fun and so it learning.” The more gung ho he was with his teaching the more Kendrel just shook his head. “Sex, Money, Respect. All I cared about.” There was an awkward moment while Khadif thought of how to respond to this. “So which one did you get more of?” Both men busted out laughing, so much so that Dominique came out of the bedroom finally. “I guess that answers that question.” They laughed much harder than before. Kendrel could not even catch his breath under the strain. “That‟s not nice, what are you two talking about?” She was confused by the fact that Khadif could actually speak, she thought he was deaf and mute. Plus when someone laughs even harder when you step out of room, you expect that they are talking about you. “Honest despite how it looks, we were not discussing you directly. Forgive me my manners, my name is Khadif Bahrain.” Reaching out his hand the very polite young man was on his feet before; she even got to the couch. Holding up the pad and pencil he scratched out his message. “Dominique Biko.” They shook each other‟s hands and looked carefully at one another. “I‟ve seen you before?” “Likewise?” It was Kendrel who wrote down. “She is a modle, you have seen her in magasine. He won a cople of golf tornaments.” His fingers shook as he wrote on the paper. It took all his courage not to stop writing. Yet, the look on her face reassured him, Dominique actually looked proud of him. “That must be where I saw her.” This time Khadif did not correct him. “ESPN is my friend, so it would not surprise me.” Most of the women in her profession spent hours talking about make up and high heels. She preferred talking to the boys about the Knicks or The Giants. Hers was a strange combination of beauty and accessibility. Anyone could talk to her about anything, and she would more than likely jump in and talk about it. “Why don‟t you two come to the tournament?” It would so nice to have a familiar face in the crowd. “I wood not be abel to get off work.” The truth was he could not afford a ticket to wherever this week‟s golf tournament was. “I go to Milan on Wednesday but am back before the weekend. That would be great.” All access sports tickets were like gold to her. Getting behind the ropes or on the court was her biggest thrill. “Why don‟t you and I take the train down on Saturday?” She knew the truth it was a money thing. Finally Khadif got that point, and tactfully took care of it. “We‟re in Houston this week. I can fly you down there. My new sponsors want to surround me with whomever I wish to have there. They will pay your way and your hotel.” It was not in his nature to lie, but that was essentially what he had just done. His sponsors would be paying him and he would be paying for the trip. It was not an attempt to buy off his new friends by any means, but it did sound like a lot of fun. “I wil hav to see how things go.” For some reason, he did not like to receive the charity of others. If he was going to go, he would want to pay for it himself. “Please let me know, it would be so wonderful to see a familiar face or two in the crowd.” They melted quickly. How could someone argue with that logic? Shrugging their shoulders they agreed to go down to Houston on Saturday morning and watch the golf tournament. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 16 As he expected the Towers ran without incident while he was gone, but the bills piled up and there were a million messages on his machine. Amongst them was one from Sam. “Max, please come in here for a minute.” His friend ran in quickly. “What is this shit with Kendrel? How come this is the first I am hearing about this?” They had kept a lot of smaller items from him that he would find out about later. “Didn‟t think you needed to hear about it with everything you were going through over there already?” It was not like his boss to act like this. “Well I did want to hear about it. Has anyone been over there to see him?” Max bowed his head into his chest. “I haven‟t had the opportunity yet. He just got back yesterday.” Something was eating at Xavier and it was not just the bodies he had seen. There was more to it. “Well I am going to take the opportunity now.” Without another word, he packed up his lunch and ran downstairs for a taxi. Poor kid had been through hell and no one thought to go over and check on him. Jet lag was to blame for most of his sour mood. The rest could be attributed to a combination of Rwanda and a bad headache. It was the later that he could not get out of his head. In the little time that he did actually sleep the night before, he had the strangest combination of dreams and nightmares. The dead workers, Ms. Rolfie, Ruth, and even Rudi were all at a cotillion together. They were dressed in prom dresses slash tux and tails. Each one of them danced with Rwandan soldiers. Everything seemed bizarre but quite comical, until the soldiers stepped back and opened fire with machine guns on the partners. With a startle he awoke in a pool of sweat. Unlike most nightmares this one replayed over and over again each time that he fell asleep. Even after four cups of coffee he could still barely keep his eyes open during the taxi ride. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Ruth had not slept one wink since returning to Malawi, and even after her colleagues apologized for their practical joke, she still lie quietly awake. “Talk to me honey?” Her friend lay down on the cot next to her, and stroked her hair. “There was nothing to say really. I think its time for me to venture back out into the real world again. Africa is not my home. It never will be.” As much as she had enjoyed her time, and reveled in her good deeds, she was in essence still hiding from reality. “This is the real world Ruth. What you do here is more real than anything you could possibly do in a nine to five in London.” Everyone liked her here; she was perhaps the most popular person in camp. Whether it was the locals or her co-workers, everyone looked forward to serving with her. Her heart and mind always seemed in the same right place to be. “Not really. I‟m a year and half away from my medical license. You really think that as a doctor I couldn‟t do as much good for society as I do here?” In her mind there was no question she was wasting her talent. Her time at Rolfie‟s place reminded her where her real gift lie. “So let the corps pay to finish up your schooling. With a medical career you could chose your own assignment. Go anywhere in the world where you think you could do the most good. They will be standing in line.” She could not bear the thought of losing her only friend in the camp. With another fifteen months to go on her assignment without Ruth it would be dreadfully boring in that camp. “You maybe right.” It sounded like a good idea with her saying it, but she was just so worn out that nothing seemed to fit. Everything seemed tight around her, even her clothes seemed to sizes too small. “Do you want to tell me what happened over there?” Everyone heard about the bodies that she and her friends had found, but no one knew the real story. “Which part?” A strange kind of smile crossed her face when she thought about Xavier. “I can tell how the man part went. You miss him already. I was more worried about the violence part.” Burying her head her friends belly she turned her eyes up towards the top of the tent. “It was awful I have never seen anything like it. Not even in an emergency room. I don‟t understand how people can do that to one another. What else were you looking for?” Her response was kind of short winded and carried a bit of sarcastic aggression. “So you don‟t want to talk about then. Okay, let‟s talk about the man then. Did he have a big one or what?” Both women burst into short fits of laughter. “He‟s just as amazing as I remember him, and just as much of a pain in the ass as well.” Covering her eyes, she tried to shake his face out of her mind. “He‟s that small huh?” Again they laughed at the attempt to deflect attention. “He‟s just right. Everything about him is just right.” Sitting up quickly she was obviously not going to sleep again tonight. “Even the twenty year difference between your ages?” For her this would be the biggest obstacle to overcome. “That is my favorite part. He‟s an adult. Something I have yet to see in male until now.” It hurt just to talk about him. He was gone, and she had to accept it and move on. “You could be a doctor in New York too?” They looked at each other, only Ruth was shaking her head. “Never change your life for a man. If they really want you they can change.” It sounded just the opposite of something her mother would say, and perhaps that was why she felt that way. “Relationships are a series of compromises. That means in both directions.” Not that she would ever change herself for a man, but she was playing devil‟s advocate. “Normal relationships work like that. I‟m not normal.” Running to the computer, she sat down and decided to see if her was online, which of course he was not. “You can sure as hell say that again.” Clicking on the icon for tick tack toe, Petunia wanted to play games instead of going to bed. “Hey speaking of relationships, have you seen the new boy Philippe? He is gorgeous to the point of being pretty. It makes me want to give up being a vegetarian.” Licking her lips she winked at her friend. “You‟re not a vegetarian, and no I haven‟t seen him. Don‟t want to either.” Smacking her friend on the head, she rolled back over again. “Have you ever thought of joining the military?” It seemed a strange question for the rich beauty queen to ask, but by now she was not surprised by anything. “No thanks this is as close to servitude as I want to get before marriage.” They winked at each other. “Can‟t help thinking about those poor girls murdered by those soldiers. Someone needs to return the favor.” Punching her fist mockingly into the dirt, Ruth frowned. “Revenge is no different then the initial act itself. Just because you have a motive for killing does not make it right.” Her friend tapped her chest as she spoke. “Damn hippie.” By no means was she serious but she poked at her friend. “It‟s not my fault my parents named me after a fucking flower. The sixties sucked.” It was obvious she was joking, as she was dressed from head to toe in a flower power paraphernalia. “Maybe we should just smoke a big fatty and vegetate?” It was a joke on her part, but Petunia raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Why are you looking at me like that?” From the inside pocket of her reversible dungarees she pulled out a very tightly wrapped filter less cigarette. “Is that what I think it is? And if so how the hell did you get that out here in the middle of upper absolute fucking nowhere?” Shrugging her shoulders again, she laughed. “Let‟s go for a walk by the lake and discuss it there?” Having never talked about it before, Petunia hoped that her friend was okay with this. “I don‟t smoke though.” It was a truthful answer. Part of a privileged upbringing in her school meant drugs were prevalent everywhere she went, and yet she had abstained on every occasion. “Do you mind if I do?” People who smoke or smoked at one time or another are never sure how to approach the conversation with new comers. Anyone could be a narc or vehemently opposed to it, and that was the dreaded reaction they always worried about. “Am I your mother?” For the first time, since she was a fifteen year old, she had a strange craving for sisterly attention. Maybe she should smoke. What harm could it do? “No but I would never want someone to feel uncomfortable about it.” It seemed strange that with everything else they had discussed in the past this had never come up. In her day Petunia partook more often then she didn‟t. If she did not have a cigarette in her mouth she had a joint. Coming to the Peace Corps she had completely quite cold turkey, for the past six months. Therefore when she spotted the bag that the South African officer was carrying she had two feelings. One said, keep going don‟t smoke anymore. The other said, thank you Lord for creating the Hemp plant. May I please partake of your bounty? Her second urge fought right past the first in a thirty second battle of conscience. Her purchase was just as illegal in Africa as it was in the states. “To quote a couple of lines from my favorite artist… My choice is what I chose to do And if I‟m causing no harm It shouldn‟t bother you. You choice is who you chose to be And if you‟re causing no harm Then you‟re all right with me If you don‟t like my fire Then don‟t come around. Cause I‟m gonna burn one down. It was very funny to hear the little prissy London socialite singing a reggae tune. Though Petunia had never heard the song, she assumed it was Ben Harper as that was the only person Ruth ever seemed to listen to. “For someone who‟s never smoked before, you seem to listen to a lot of stoner tunes?” Her gentle nudge did nothing to change her friend‟s smile. “I appreciate the laid back life style even if I don‟t live it.” They exchanged a girl friends hug and continued their stroll past the lake. A large puff of smoke billowed up over the water, and Petunia fell into a trance of Babylonian proportions. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “What are you doing out of the country Ms. Bryan?” For the second time in four days she was undergoing some rather serious interrogation. “I‟m an activist for peace folks. Where else would you expect me to be?” Tired for cowering and hiding it was time to take back some of her dignity. “Who was Peter Riley?” A single man sat quietly in the corner until now. “Peter is one of my fellow activists.” Stressing the word is she was suddenly felt very nervous again. “Mr. Riley was killed this morning in Southern Iraq. A land mine took out the passenger transport he was traveling on. He‟s dead Miss Bryan.” He resembled most of the Iraqis she had met in her lifetime in every physical way. However, his accent was heavily British probably Sheffield from the sounds of things. “How did it happen?” Again someone got too close to her, and again they paid with their lives. What had she done to deserve this curse? “Iraq is a violent place. What did you expect when you came over here?” Although deep inside Grahm longed for peace as much as the next Iraqi he was a realist. The young lady he talked to was a dreamer. “This can‟t be.” Her head shook back and forth, as if trying to shake out the truth. “While you were over here the arsonist struck again in Washington D.C. Congressman from South Dakota and three of his aids were fired bombed in their limousine. They‟re dead.” Not sure if she was aware, he wanted her to know how serious the issues were. “We‟ve had three dead congressmen in three days. Some very upset people back in the United States are trying to figure out what happened. They are looking for you too young lady.” Though he spoke louder, he could see his words were not getting through. She was only thinking about her dead colleague. “Your mother and father have agreed to incur the cost of your plane ticket back to states. You leave in five hours. The two marines by the doorway will be taking you.” Nodding his head to the US state department and embassy employees they all emptied out of the room in unison. “I am sorry for your friend Miss Bryan, but I am going to ask you a question again, and I want you to think very carefully about it. What did you think you two would accomplish by coming over here?” It was important that she learn from this experience. “We wanted to help stop the war. What else do pacifists do?” Her eyes were glossed over and she could only think of one thing to do. Get the hell out of this place and continue the war against war. The life of Peter Riley would not be taken in vain. His legacy would be that of peace. Activists would cry out his name in protest. “You waste your time on foolish games. This game cost a life.” Handing a handkerchief towards her, he tried to lower his voice. “What is your name?” It occurred to her that she had no idea who this man was. “Lieutenant Grahm Balatash miss.” “Lieutenant, have you ever dreamed of a better world.” Finally she took his hanky and wiped her eyes. “Of course everyone does?” His childhood dreams were of nothing more. “Help me to realize that dream then. Open the door, and let me get back to work.” The serious look in her eyes stopped his response. It caused him to freeze in place. “Give me a chance. I can make it happen.” Feeling indestructible, she knew her path again. Sitting before all those soldiers downstairs, she had found the answer.\ “Send me out there to the Iraqis. Send me out there to the soldiers. I will convince them to stop the war if it takes me very last breath.” Slamming her fist on the table she stood up and walked to the door. “You are going home Miss Bryan. You don‟t belong here.” As determined and powerful as her speech was, he was neither convinced nor amused. “None of us should be. Unlock my handcuffs. Unlock the door. Let me go.” Holding up her obviously unbound wrists he understood she was playing to his heart. “No. I won‟t send you out the door to your death Miss Bryan. Not even though you are so willing to bring it on. Go back to America fight for peace there. Over here there is a war going on. There is no time for peace.” Opening the door, he signaled for the two marines to come back in. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… His living was slowly filling up as Xavier came strolling through his front door. “It looks like we have a party going on over here.” His eyes focused intently on Dominique. “What the hell are you doing here?” Even Khadif could tell what the man had just said; both she and Kendrel were on their feet quickly. “What the hell is she going here?” Such a come and quiet man with a heart of gold, he could not begin to imagine what had X so upset. “Did I miss something here?” The look in his eyes had Kendrel poised for conflict. “Is someone going to answer me here?” Feeling betrayed he backtracked for the door. “You two know each other or what?” Dominique lowered her head and would eye contact with no one in the room. “I am not sure which one of her many lies she told you here Kendrel but this young lady is my daughter.” Knowing the stories he had heard in the past, Xavier could only imagine what she had said. Her father died in a tragic water buffalo accident. He was surfing a tsunami in Bora Bora. It was no beyond this girl to say anything. Turning to face her Kendrel felt betrayed in a way he had never known. She lied to sleep with him. In some ways in made him want to laugh in others it ripped at his very existence. “So you are the little rich spoiled girl I thought you were? Aren‟t you?” Despite his disappointment he did not get angry with her, he just asked a question. Her eyes still focused down the on top of her shoes. “You don‟t know the half of it. In a city of twelve million people and you had to choose my daughter. What are the chances?” What he meant to say was she had to choose you, but it came out wrong. “I‟m not good enough for your daughter? Good enough for your rehab project but not your daughter?” This cut was deeper than the first one. “She lies Kendrel. She cheats. She steals. She‟s just like her mother.” Tears of shame poured down the young lady‟s cheek. “Are you not going to say anything?” They looked to her. Alexi came strolling out of his room, to see the conglomeration. When he saw, Dominique crying he yelled something in Russian. She shook her head and then responded with a confession. “I learn languages for the fun of it. Helps make my stories better. I never lived in Latvia.” Starting with the Russian she spoke her peace. “My dad didn‟t die. He left my mom and me. Yes Kendrel I am the spoiled rich girl you thought I am. Park Ave was my playground. The Trumps were my playmates.” Hanging her jacket over her arm, she sulked towards the door. “Are you really a model? Were you really in Europe?” Everything about her was suddenly suspect and he was not sure how far to go back. “A model? She‟s not a model, and if she were in Europe it‟s because her mommy sent her there.” Xavier could not believe the turn of events. Was this some grand scheme on his ex-wife‟s part or could this just be coincidence. The most confused party in this whole conversation was Khadif who simply stared on in horror, trying his best to read lips. Picking up a pen and paper Kendrel wrote it out quite simply. “She lied to me and got cawt.” ……………………………………………………………………………………………… When the young lady was leaving the building Kahadir had not idea what had just happened. Turning to him just as she reached the door, she mouthed something to him. “Your brother says hi.” In a rare show of emotion he dashed over and grabbed her arm. “What did you say? What did you say? What did she say?” Kendrel got to Khadif before Xavier could. He too had seen her lips move, but could not recognize what had been said. There was no sound from her lips. “What the hell is his problem?” Screaming Dominique tried to rip away and go out the door, but he had to tight of a grip on his arm. “Easy does it.” With a firm but not angry hand Kendrel tore him away from her. “Damn you all, what in God‟s name did she say!” Using a piece of paper he wrote it down. “She did not cay a thing out lod.” With this other hand he held back Xavier who had no idea what was going on. Dominique had slipped her way out the front door, and was now pounding the button on the elevator in the hallway. “What the hell is going on here? Is this the fucking Twilight zone or what?” Wanting some sort of explanation Xavier grabbed Kendrel by the shoulders and pleaded to him for an answer. Standing in the living room looking just as dumbfounded was Alexi. “What did you think she said?” X leaned down and wrote on the board. “Your brother says hi.” Rubbing his eyes and hair Khadif tried to get his grip on reality. Was the terror of his past finally taking its toll on his sanity? “What is wrong with that?” So she knew the man‟s brother you don‟t go grabbing and shaking a woman for that. “My brother is dead. He was killed by allied bombs in Baghdad.” In a strange form of communication, Xavier was reading out everything that was written down. It was Kendrel that put his hand on the shoulder of the flustered man. “Did you see her lips?” He wrote and talked at the same time. “I did but I do not no wat she sed.” Honestly he should have been the most confused person in the room, but he wasn‟t. “I did see her say brather though.” His writing skills were getting better and better the more he practiced it. After all he was able to write and read up to a fourth or fifth grade level at one time. It was not until junior high school really that he gave up on learning. “Are you sure?” Grabbing his hands, Khadif was excited to hear that perhaps he was not losing his sanity. They turned to Xavier who shook his head. “I can‟t be sure what she was doing. Honestly, I thought she was talking to herself.” Alexi was so confused by now that he had picked up the phone and called Max. “Max.” Handing the phone to Kendrel, he wanted to know what was happening in his house. Xavier intercepted the call. “Dominique showed up over here. Do you know anything about this?” His friend and coworker had nothing to say. “She knows Alexi. They‟ve known each other for years. I did not know she was hanging out over there though. Put him on the phone let me get some explanation.” Everyone in this room was feeling betrayed in one form or another. It was bizarre beyond imagination. “Dominique has been coming there for the past three or four months. She has friends in the industry. You know that side of it. It was totally by accident that she came to know anyone in this room.” Alexi shook his head as Max was explaining to Xavier the history on the phone. “With my daughter nothing is by accident. Not even what she said to this young man.” Pointing to Khadif he was talking to Max but relaying to everyone else in the room. “She could not possibly know my brother. How could she know my brother?” Mumbling to himself, Khadif could not understand any of this. “What happened over there Xavier?” From the moment Xavier left for Africa, everything had gone astray. It reminded him on an episode from the television show “Lost”. Nothing seemed to mesh into a coherent explanation. Everything was building towards a final episode. “My past Max, my past is what happened.” What did he really know about anyone in this room? Kendrel? Khadif? Alexi? Two of the three he met for the first time. How did they fit into his daughter‟s life? How did she fit into theirs? What had happened back here in New York in the ten days since he left for Africa? ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 17 Xavier paid for a taxi to get Kendrel to work. There was no way the bus would get him there on time. Max convinced Alexi that everything was okay and he could go out without further incident. Khadif also took a taxi back to Harlem. He was still the most shaken up of everyone. “My world is all upside down again Max.” The two men sat in an uptown bar and watched CNN on the television. Most of the day‟s news stories were about the congressman barbequed at a local diner in D.C. “The world is upside down. Look at this shit bombs killing our boys and girls in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our own congressmen are not even safe eating a Ruben.” The look on Xavier‟s face said it all. He was frustrated with the world today. “What happened over there in Africa?” It was the first drink Max had in month and it was going quickly to his head. “Death and destruction. Murder and mayhem. Take all the bad parts of the bible add them together. Then I come home to the daughter of the antichrist banging my poster child for the reformed. This prodigal son had himself been arrested for murder. Shit it just needs to start raining Max.” Not more than fifteen seconds from his last statement a few drops fell on the window. They were drips from a window washer but the point was made none the less. “Fire and brimstone is next.” They toasted each other and drank some more. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Ruth spent the morning chasing butterflies around the lake. Her first class was not until three o‟clock. It seemed a better past time then lying in her tent feeling sorry for herself. A certain fog from the night before hung over her own head, though she chose not to partake in the party. It matched the early morning smoke hanging on the water. So caught up in her own head she did not see the five hundred pound hippopotamus until it was much much too late. “Hello there big fella.” Trying her best to remain calm, she stood motionless mere inches from the fifteen foot behemoth. A low grumbling hiss grew from within its belly. It opened its mouth revealing two large tusks and a whole bunch of smaller teeth. “Ok now you are going to have to help me here, am I supposed to run or stand still? All that damn local training has suddenly left my head.” As demure as the hippopotamus looked it accounting for more deaths each year in Malawi alone then shark attacks had in the all the world for a decade. Most of the time attacks occurred in the water. “You‟re not helping me here.” Although the noise continued, the animal made no movement forward to attack or backward into the water. There were some loud splashes about forty feet from where the creature was standing. Spooked and confused it flew backwards into the murky brown and disappeared. Ruth did not take the time to find out what caused the noise she ran off towards the camp. It was two or three minutes of dead running before she felt safe again. “Damn it but I hate this fucking continent right now.” Her chest heaved in and out as she struggled back along the path. “I think you are safe now.” The addition of another voice nearly sent her into hysterics. “Who the hell are you?” In front of her on the path was a young man in his twenties. His accent was eastern European, but his features were those of an Arab. “Philippe, I‟m sorry if I frightened you. I was down by the water when you were talking to your rather large three toed friend.” Holding out his hand he attempted to help her back to her feet after he had scared her to the ground. “Do you always scare the living shit out of people when you first meet them?” Petunia was correct. This young man was unnervingly beautiful the kind of beauty that actually made women feel inadequate in their own attractiveness. “Not all of them. Only a select few.” His humor was sick but it appealed to her instantly. “So you scared the hippo away?” It seemed like a logical explanation. “I wasn‟t really sure if it was going to charge towards you or run away. Got lucky I guess.” Holding up his hands he tried his best not to smile. “Next time you might want to think a little more before taking chances with my life.” Acting her best to be perturbed she sashayed up the path. When she turned back around he was gone into the woods. “What a freak?” He was a very pretty freak though which made all the difference. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… “Do you know who this young man is?” They had been showing Samira photos for hours and hours. No one knew if she was involved with these attacks. They doubted it; however it was possible perhaps she knew the person or persons involved. There was a myriad of evidence to point these attacks towards an activist. “No I don‟t recognize him either. How much longer are we going to do…?” Then she stopped him and held up her hand. “…his one. He was in my orientation class in San Francisco.” It was hard not to recognize him. He was beautiful in a way that no boy should be. “Where did you get this photo?” It looked like a security camera. “It came from BWI airport.” Both the state department and the CIA representative shot their Iraqi counterpart a nasty look. “Do you remember his name?” It was the first lead anyone had. Of the fourteen thousand passengers in and out of the three DC metropolitan airports there were less than two hundred unidentified. This young man had been one of them. “French name of some sort.” It was on the tip of her tongue. “French? Looks like a damn sand flea to me.” The man from the CIA spoke very inappropriately and caught flack from everyone around him. “My cousin‟s names are both French. Neither one of them has ever left the city of Macon. For a well traveled man you are a bit ignorant don‟t you think?” It took Ruben to hold the man back in his place. “Don‟t mind this man, he obviously meant to keep his stupid opinions to himself.” There was a moment or two of hesitation. “Philippe, his name was Phillipe. I knew I would remember that eventurally.” Having been amongst the throngs of women drooling over him, she was surprised how long it took for her to remember his name. “Thank you miss Bryan.” Finally her expedition papers came through, and the two marines came in to escort her from the room. “Where was he going?” Not that it was any of her business, but the more she talked the more likely she felt for him to be getting in trouble. If he was going to go through what she was, she wanted to make sure it was warranted. “Africa. Do you remember what his last name was?” Again Ruben was being scolded from telling her anything. “No clue, when we all introduced ourselves it was first name only. Where was it in Africa?” Almost like the movie Silence of the Lambs, she would give him a piece of information if he gave her one. “Malawi. When he did his introduction what did he have to say?” There was a certain amount of information he was willing to give. “He said he was born with a heart for peace. Remember that one specifically and then he talked about his mom and dad dying a few years ago. They also had hearts for peace. It was his goal to stop all war if it took until his dying breath. His words stuck with me.” Peter had a similar goal. She wondered what he was thinking when the bomb blew up. Was he sad or scared? Did he feel that his life had been lived for nothing? “You can go now.” Although the two marines had been patient they were starting to shuffle waiting for the conversation to conclude. “We won‟t see you in Iraq again will we?” Just as she got to the door, he had one more question for her. “You never know Ruben. You never know.” Turning to him one final time, she winked and then disappeared out the door. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… The phone rang off the hook whenever Kendrel was at home, but he continually let it go to the answering machine. For the tenth time that day it was Dominique. She wanted to tell him her story. Alexi looked very upset, but not necessarily at him. Max told him the true story of what was going on, and he too had cut of his association with her. After completing his Friday night shift, he boarded the train for the airport. Though he had never been the Texas before, he was not really looking forward to the visit. His blow up with Dominique had him in the nastiest of dispositions. If not for the kindness and help he had received from Khadif, he probably would have skipped the trip all together. It did not help that his friend was playing very badly, barely even making the cut. After winning two straight tournaments it did not appear he was going to make it three in a row. Arriving at JFK, he was hardly able to keep his eyes open as he got to his gate. Thank God for the direct five hour flight. He would catch up on his shut eye then. “I see you decided to go anyway.” Even before he turned around, he knew whose voice it was. He feared this might happen. “You are not invited anymore.” Maybe he was not going to get his sleep after all. “It‟s a free country I can go where I want.” Flopping down on the chair next to him, she apparently did not get the point. “I don‟t want you near me. Just go away.” Normally he was not the type of person who would be down right rude, but Dominique deserved this and so much more. “You will not sleep with me and then not answer my phone calls!” Her loud voice carried across the terminal. Now every woman glared at him with the hatred of one force of nature. “Listen I don‟t know if you get off on these mind fucks, but I don‟t. Door, you ass, don‟t let them hit each other on the way out.” Quietly he let her know this was not going any further. Still she did not leave his side. Even after they called for his row to board, she stood up and followed him to the gate. To his dismay, she had a ticket of her own. Luckily they were seated some thirty rows apart. Only when they got on the plane, she walked right by her first class seat to the back where he was seated. Turning to fifty plus year old businessman sitting next to him, she made an offer he could not refuse. “I‟ll trade you a first class ticket for coach.” The man jumped up and was at the front of the plane before she sat down. “Some people would call this stalking.” Growling quite loudly in her direction, Kendrel closed his eyes and tried to sleep. “We are going to talk about this. Whether you want to or not, we will clear the air sooner or later.” Turned sideways in her seat, she stared down at him for less than a foot away. “I have not slept in two days. Talk to me in Houston. If you haven‟t murdered by rabbit between now and then we will talk.” What kind of luck he had, to have a psycho chick as the first woman he spent time with outside the pen. Karma. He kept telling himself this. It was Karma for all his past indiscretions. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Ever since that young lady mouthed those words. “Your brother says hello.” He could not focus on anything else in his head. Despite the excellent scoring conditions, he could not get his golf game going. “Where is your brain?” Tina must of have written this down ten times. “Sorry.” This was his most consistent response. Through blind luck he managed to shoot two rounds of even par, which got him into the weekend. The leaders were a good nine shots ahead of him though. He hoped when Kendrel got to the course maybe he would get his focus back. As such, he decided to surprise his friend and meet him at the airport. To his great shock, who was the young man arguing with as he got off the planet, but that very distraction. “After that bullshit you pulled at the apartment, Khadif is not going to want to see you.” Turning away from her, he could not wait to just get away. Standing there awe struck and confused was his friend. Holding up a sign, he had prepared up in New York, he could only hope the man would understand. “GO Khadif. You da man.” Despite his horror at seeing Dominique he could not help but smile at the sign. Holding up his pad of paper he jotted down a note. “Go Khadif. You are the man. ;o)” There was a moment of brief levity and then they addressed the witch. “Forgive my rudeness young lady, but you are no longer welcome as my guest.” Taking his friend by the shoulder, he led him towards the exit, and turned his back on her. His first instinct was to wrap his hands around her throat, and find out what it was that she had said. Thinking now, that it was just some sick game on her part, he walked away instead. “You hav ben plaing like shit.” They jotted notes down on the tram ride. What was amazing about it was Dominique‟s insistence to keep right on following them. She went as far as the taxi stand outside the airport. Even though she did not say one word, she continued to follow them all the way right up to the Redstone Golf Course. It was not until they reached the players section that she was finally held up by security. “You will not leave me and your baby alone out here. I am carrying your child in my belly Khadif Bahrain!” She started screaming at the top of her lungs. Kendrel shook his head and stopped walking inside. The reporters came from everywhere to hear what she had to say. “What is she saying?” “She is liing again. Very lodly. Making a seen.” “What does she want?!?! “Me I gess.” Shrugging his shoulders they both turned to look at her. “Let me tak car of this.” Taking the VIP pass from his friend, he walked back towards the front gate. “You will and your gay lover will not keep me from raising our child even if I have to do it myself!” Security was thwarted by the throngs of reporters, from removing her from the grounds. “Stop it already, what is it that you want?” Getting his face right up against hers, Kendrel wanted this to end. “Give me another chance.” Holding his hand tightly to her chest, she was not surprised that his eyebrows rose in disbelief. “I have a problem with lying. See I admitted it, but it doesn‟t make me a bad person.” The sincerity of her voice was totally contradicted by her very words. “What did you say to Khadif about his brother?” Realizing that the outburst was coming to an end now, the crowd dispersed. Holding up his VIP pass, he tried to dissuade the large security guard from removing her just yet. “Nothing, I didn‟t mention his brother at all.” Her eyes looked straight through him. She was being led away, and he just shook his head. “You lied again.” He had seen her lips move. Something had been mentioned about his brother, he was sure of it. Even as she called out to him, he walked away. Twice was one time too many for him. In his mind their relationship ended right there. “What is her problem?” The two young men took a seat the player‟s bar, and drank a soda. “She is compulsive liar.” He was not sure of the word as he scribbled it. “You spelled it right. Nice job.” That was a tough word for anyone to spell. “Forget abot her. Golf. Think abot Golf. Nothing but Golf.” With his index finger Kendrel tapped on the side of his head. Not that he knew the first thing about the sport, but he had seen plenty of ESPN shows on it. The one thing they talked about consistently was the mental aspect of the game. In order to have a consistent swing, and hit the same shot over and over again one must have the right frame of mind. “It may be too late this week for that. I am too far behind!!!” His heart was not on the game this week and it was obvious. “How many shots behind are you?” Trying his best to recall the simpler aspects of the sport he put on his thinking cap. “Nine.” They looked at each with raised eyebrows. “How many holes are left?” “36.” “That is one shot evry 4 hols. It is tht simple.” For the first time, Tina came and sat down next to the two of them. She waved at Kendrel and read the conversation they were having. One nice part about this form of conversation is that you could go back and see what you had talked about before. “It‟s not that easy Kendrel.” Closing his eyes it looked as though Khadif had already given up on this week. “No Khadif it is that easy. He‟s right. One shot every four holes. You can do that.” Grabbing her pencil she reached over Kendrel‟s shoulder and started writing. “Now let‟s get out to the driving range.” They were trying to pump him up like any friend or any coach would do. Yes the team was far behind, and chances were they could not win this one, but they would not quit. “Are you coming with us?” Kendrel did not get a chance to answer Tina grabbed his arm and pulled him out of his chair. ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Chapter 18 “What the hell is wrong with your daughter?” Since their divorce his ex-wife had taken up with one very rich oil tycoon named Martine. Though his name and accent suggested he was French, his physical appearance and mannerisms would suggest Middle Eastern. They had never married. She explained the reason for this was that he did not believe in it, but Xavier knew better. If she married him, she could no longer collect the outrageous alimony payment she had been awarded. On several occasions she had warned him that her new fellow had connections, so he should be careful what he said to her. “Be careful X-man. He‟s listening. Dominique is living her life, if your low life associates can not handle a modern day woman they should stick to what they are good at; hookers and drugs.” Given her family upbringing, it continued to shock him that she talked more like a sailor than the prim Donna she really was. “You‟re daughter is a lying wench, who you have obviously taught to well to be just like you.” Nothing intimidated him, and he would not back down at this point in his life. “I‟m not the one who left this family Xavier.” Always the actress, she tried to push blame over to him and sound quite justified in doing so. “What does she want with Kendrel?” There was an agenda here. “Maybe he has a big dick? How the hell am I supposed to know? Why don‟t you try talking to her yourself?” Sucking up a scotch and soda, while smoking her third pack of cigarettes, she still managed to talk in between. “She‟s not answering my calls.” In the past two months they had grown even further apart. The only time she called was to beg for money. Playing the poor daughter, used to work when he was blinded by paternal love. That time though was long past, and he turned her down every time. “Can‟t say I blame her, with how nicely you treat her. Millions of dollars and you‟d rather give them to your degenerates then your own daughter.” Martine opened the door to the room, and walked in past her. “Are we going to talk about this again? She doesn‟t need any money. I give her plenty. I give you plenty as well.” Looking down at the half empty glass, his third of the day, he found himself remembering the old Xavier. He poured out the remainder in the trash can next to his desk. “We‟ll see. My lawyers will be touch. Bye bye X-man.” Dropping the phone in trash can next to the sofa; she did not bother to hang up. He was just about to try dialing his daughter again, when another call came through. “Hello daddy, I‟m in jail. Can you send some money?” It was not the first time. He received a call just like this one. “No. Now why don‟t you tell me which jail you are in, so I can call the lawyer?” His eyes looked back at the wastebasket. Maybe, he should not have thrown that drink out after all. “Don‟t bother. Martine‟s lawyer is better than yours as we already know.” The phone went click, and his empty glass crashed against his door, shattering into a million small pieces. Drawn by the sound, Max threw open the door. “Stay there man, I just broke a glass.” His friend looked at him and then down at the ground, and then at the hole in the door. “Yeah I can see that. Wanna talk about it?” Stepping over the glass, he approached the desk without a response. “I swear that I my daughter was cloned from my wife‟s DNA without any attachment to me whatsoever. Is that possible Max?” His head was cleanly shaved. Otherwise, he would have ripped out his hair in anger. “Nope. She looks far too much like you.” …………………………………………………………………………………………… When she got back to the tent again just in time for her first lesson of the day, it was packed with young people under the age of twenty. “Sexual education for the teenager.” As she wrote on the chalkboard, she spoke out loud. Standing at the back of the classroom with half a grin on his face was Phillipe. For the first time since she came to Africa she was embarrassed to talk about protection. Her eyes kept falling on the pretty boy waiting in the wings. Even the laughter of the children could not pull her eyes from his. When her speech was done, she tried retiring quickly to her tent, but he was waiting right outside along with nearly everyone available woman within fifty miles. “I feel much more educated about sex then I did beforehand.” Even his face reddened up as he said these words. “Only way to be educated about sex is first hand experience.” It was Petunia that saved her friend embarrassment and stepped in. “Really? Someday when I find the right woman I will find that out. With a smile and partial bow, he turned back to Ruth. “I am supposed to be sitting in on your classes to try and learn from you. Perhaps I could stay after class with the professor, and she could explain her lesson plans.” It did not matter what he said or how he said it; his very being was sexy. He could have talked about popcorn or building blocks and every woman within five blocks would be fanning their laps with a hanky. “Certainly, here is the course material, why don‟t you read through it for a minute or two while I use the loo.” The last thing she needed in her life was another man even if this one was thousands of miles closer. She was going to make this a professional conversation and nothing more. Like most girls, Petunia followed her to the restroom. “Are you really going to turn that down?” Looking at her friend she could hardly wait until they were alone to tell her this. “He‟s not trying to strip off my brazere with his teeth my little flower child. It is his job to learn this you know.” Even though she was acting all cool about the situation, she was in fact unnerved by his presence. “Blah Blah Blah Blah I want to see Phillipe naked. Blah Blah Blah. That‟s all I am hearing out of your mouth.” Poking her friend even as she sat on the toilet, they both could not help but laugh. “He‟s much too pretty for my taste.” This was a true statement. She liked her men a bit more rugged, even if it was only in features. “Fine, I will take him off your hands then if I must.” They laughed some more. For the first time in a couple of days, Ruth felt alive again. ……………………………………………………………………………………………. The two marines she was saddled with this time were not nearly as talkative as the previous two. They would not discuss anything with Samira that did not involve her flight number and airline information. “So what do you do for fun around here in between the nastiness?” Again there was not a word spoken from the two of them. Even when they reached the airport, they stood stoically next to her, and spoke not a word. When the photo of Phillipe flashed up on the screen, she had to scream to get everyone to be quiet. Not used to this kind of reaction, everyone went silent. The CNN telecast was in English with Arabic subtitles, and she was going to hear it. “The young man seen here in this photo is wanted in connection with the fire bombings of two local DC eateries in which at total of six people died. Amongst the dead were two present members of congress and one former. Department for homeland security officials would not specifically say whether this young man known only by the name of Phillipe, was directly part of the attacks. He is merely wanted for questioning at this point. His last known whereabouts are not part of the report, but they do believe him to be somewhere in the southern half of the African continent. He may have or may still be impersonating a Peace Corps employee.” Realizing this information did not meet with the acceptable viewing for the airport in Iraq, the feed was suddenly cut off and replaced by a live view of an Iraqi news channel. “Come on people. I was watching that.” One of the marines could see that he screaming was making the other patrons uncomfortable. “Miss Bryan you are going to have to lower your voice.” Although his voice was quiet his tone was quite stern. “Fuck you! Was that quiet enough for you?” On her feet, she stormed off towards the ladies room, both soldiers followed closely behind her. “Miss, I am going to have to ask you take your seat again.” His fellow private was on the phone to headquarters. They had not been instructed how to react to the insurgent if she became uncooperative. He wanted to know his next move. “I am going to take a piss. You can come in there with me if you would like? Maybe you even wanna watch.” Raising her voice louder and louder, she was trying to draw as much attention as she could to her situation. “Sergeant says we can gag and restrain her if we have to. He is sending a liaison to fly back with her. Her family will be billed for both flights.” The once quiet young man now stared her down. There was no question that had the upper hand in this fight. “Can I go to the bathroom gentlemen? Or do I have to yell Abu Gharib? Maybe I can start talking about flushing the Quaran down the toilet or Sadam Hussein in his boxer shorts?” His hand reached out for her but was caught by his fellow soldier. “If your attitude changes when you come back out then you can go by yourself? If it does not then we will gag you? Then no matter what you try to yell it will go on deaf ears.” She felt bad because this one seemed to be a genuinely good person. He did not deserve what she was about to do to. Unfortunately, he caught her at a bad time in her life. Samira Bryan was walking back out of the airport again without her current escorts. This was something she was very certain of.
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