Ali sat there on the front porch, looking up to greet them as Johnny pulled his van into his driveway. Lucas noted the little Muslim kid’s forlorn demeanor as he peered at them with tear-glazed eyes. “What’s up?” Lucas asked, clambering out of the van and setting Goblin on the ground at his feet.
Johnny busied himself letting his dogs out of the van, then led them to his fenced yard at the back end of the driveway. When he returned to the front porch, Ali handed him the two thick envelopes he’d carried from home. “Here,” he said, “from my father. So that he does not end up in jail like Lucas’s father.”
Puzzled, Lucas said, “Why don’t you start making sense, Ali?”
“Shhh,” came from Johnny as he gestured at Lucas to remain silent. “What’s wrong, Ali? Has something happened to your father?”
Ali sniffled. His small nose scrunched up as worry lines creased his brow. “It is not what has happened, but what is soon to happen.”
Tucking the envelopes under his arm, Johnny said, “So, your father is in danger?”
“Yes,” Ali said. “But not the danger you are thinking. He is the Hound, a title he earned as an Agent of Phantom. He is a very dangerous man. He portrays himself as a kindly man devoted to his faith, one who is scholarly, educated, and well-refined. But he is a badger when cornered. And if Waziri and his companion invade our house, to assassinate the Hound, it is they who will die.”
Johnny said, “So, what is your fear, Ali?”
“Having a future,” Ali said, “with my father. If he kills this terror cell, what will your courts do with him?”
Khalid sat in his reclining chair in the living room of his house. Beside him on the end table was his Mosin Nagant. It was a powerful weapon and would do considerable damage to a human target. Khalid was confident he would only need one shot to eliminate the threat that Waziri posed. As an agent of Phantom, he was an expert with firearms, and knew exactly where to place a bullet in an enemy, to either wound or kill. In the case of Waziri, he had determined his one shot would be fatal.
As an Islamic Extremist, Achmed Waziri had left a trail of blood and tears in his wake on his own personal jihad, and there was no chance of de-programming a Muslim man like him.
And yet, he glanced down at his dragon-headed cane resting on the other side of his chair. Yes, Khalid thought, the green light has been given. I can wholly justify taking a mad dog’s life, considering all the tragedies in his lame belief that causing such catastrophes is pleasing to Allah. But then again, allowing him to live may result in gaining a treasure trove of pertinent information in the war on terror.
Khalid had always been conflicted when it came to his sworn duty to take another man’s life. He often thought it ironic how easily some misguided Muslims could kill in the name of Islam, as though doing so fully justified such an act, when in fact, he was never certain Allah condoned such killings. Having been a devoted believer in Islam, he knew there were millions of faithful Muslims who had never taken the Quran so literally that they took someone’s life.
What separated these Muslims from the Islamic Extremists was something Khalid referred to as ‘Good Sense,’ meaning that despite the sword verses, there had to be something more meaningful in the way he conducted himself. If he’d devoted himself to be a jihadist, carrying out commands to kill all infidels, where did that leave him in regards to other aspects of his life?
Islam had inspired him to be a good person. A devoted worshiper of Allah. A good husband. A good father. And that had been where he drew the line, not at all feeling obligated to carry out senseless killings because someone else believed differently than he did. And now that he had two men possibly coming to his house to eliminate him, what choice did he have? Muslims have been killing Muslims since the 7th century, which to him had always seemed so contrary to what the faith was all about. Yet certain flaws in the reasoning of believers resulted in him having absolutely no choice in the matter.
He would kill.
Or be killed.
Khalid heard a noise. It came from the back patio. Earlier, he had considered moving out there to await the arrival of those coming to kill him. Any confrontation he had with Waziri was going to be messy and bloody. After an encounter with him, he also knew that replacing the carpet in the living room would be necessary. If the exchange of gunfire between them became too intense, he would need to find a new house afterward.
Slowly picking up the pistol beside him on the end table, Khalid now wished he had taken up a defensive position outside on the patio. He was confident. As an expert marksman, he would place his bullets skillfully with headshots to avoid sending hot lead flying into any of the nearby neighbors’ houses creating collateral damage. He did not wish to place any of his fellow neighbors in danger.
In a manner of speaking, he had brought this fight to the suburb of Havelock, and the last thing he wanted to do was to cause harm or create a tragedy in an American city he had chosen for their home.
The noise came again.
It sounded like someone had bumped into one of the three metal lawn chairs situated on the open-air patio. The scrape of metal on concrete was barely audible, and yet Khalid was sure he’d heard it. He looked toward the two glass doors leading to the patio. He’d opened the shades as an open invitation to Waziri to try the unlocked door.
Flicking off the safety on his pistol, he arose and swiftly moved down the hallway and into his bedroom. Holding the gun out to one side, he peeked outside through a crack in the curtains. Movement came from the back of the garage. Khalid spotted the large figure of Fariq Abdullah trying to blend in with the thick shrubbery at the back of the patio. Fariq, second in command of Waziri’s cell, was an expert in hand-to-hand combat. The man could move with lightning speed, using fists, feet, or knives to exact damage on his victims. But today, Khalid saw that the big man was armed with a silenced pistol. He could even see the dragon engraved on the end of its barrel from his place at his bedroom window. Fariq was lean with a hawkish nose, reminding Khalid of a weasel. He gestured at someone near the house. He wasn’t, however, signaling his accomplice to advance, but rather that he stand down.
Which seemed very odd to Khalid.
A faint whoosh! of sound came from the kitchen.
Khalid knew at once the sliding glass door had been opened, and seconds later, footsteps could be heard as someone entered the house.
Khalid took his pistol in a two-fisted grip and started toward the kitchen. As he cautiously made his way forward, he said, “Achmed, one of us will not survive this encounter. If Allah is willing, I will give you a quick, clean death. You do not deserve it with all the harm you’ve caused, but it shall be. I am an honorable Muslim. If it is me who walks away from this, I assure you I will get a message to your son, letting him know your passing was swift. I give you my word.”
He paused, then added, “How odd isn’t it, that we both traveled here to America, and our sons end up in the same school? And yet one being Sunni, the other Shiite, they could never get along. Just think, if us fathers had adapted here and assimilated, maybe our sons could have one day played together as most boys do.”
The voice that came from the kitchen startled Khalid: “Shut up, you Shiite dog! Come to me! Be prepared to eat a bullet!”
Khalid entered the kitchen, his pistol raised and prepared to fire. He looked into the dark eyes of the assassin that had come to kill him and froze, unable to pull the trigger.