"Nothing’s going right." Omen complained to Kahn. The two were still in Baghdad, reluctant guests of the Iraqi regime. "This anthrax thing is killing me."
"You sound like that engineer kid of yours, Aymen Halaweh. Stop bellyaching. I’ve got my own problems."
"I just spent an hour with a bunch of sheiks. Praise be to Allah that’s over."
"Be nice. Without them, well, you know...."
"Yeah, don’t remind me. We’d have no people, no money, no bombs."
With Halam Ghumani behind bars, the leadership of al-Qaeda was floundering. Omen lacked charisma and Kahn lacked self restraint. And while they could have managed the far-flung international network if they had combined forces, they had succumbed to bickering instead. Other Islamic clubs were now prospering at their expense.
"Work with me, Kahn. Once we finish the city conditioners, we can deal with your atoms."
"But I’m ready. Between sweet-talking our Pakistani members and kissing up to the Iranians, I’ve got everything I need to make the dirty bombs work. And after I switched from rubles to dollars, even the Russians came through on tuning up the hot ones."
"One mission at a time, Kahn."
"But yours is taking forever. And here we sit in this pit of a country. Everybody hates everybody here. Iraq loves Pakistan like Alafat loves Jews. And Iran? Let’s not go there," Haqqani snarled at his comrade.
"Not my problem. I’m out of here, off to Egypt, then Palestine," Omen said to a dejected Kahn. After letting him stew a minute, he put him out of his misery. "I’ve arranged for you to follow me in a few days."
That was enough to make the terrorist smile. The women were prettier in Palestine. "But first things first. After all, compared to my blowers, your atoms are a piece of cake."
"Yeah. We just sail ’em into the yacht harbors. From what you’ve told me, the U.S. Coast Guard only inspects a sailboat if the skipper calls ’em in advance. And even if they checked ours, the cargo’s hidden. A little of this stuff goes a long way."
Although Quagmer was preoccupied with his own problems, he thought that spending a little time with Kahn might be good for the cause. "Listen, in my spare time, I’ve done what you wanted. I’ve found plenty of Muslims in the Bahamas. They’ve already identified the customs officials they think can be bribed. They say it’s no big deal. The big, bad Americans are on the lookout for drugs, not nuclear weapons."
"Good, ’cause like I said, I’m ready."
"Look, I’ve made the arrangements. The guys in the insurance sector bought twelve sailboats. They’re in slips in the Abacos, on Andros, Grand Bahamas, Bimini, Exuma, Eleuthera; there’s even one on San Salvador."
"As in Columbus’ San Salvador? The New World was discovered in the same place we’re gonna sail from to blow it away?"
"I thought you’d like that. See what I do for you? I’ve even had our Florida contacts buy registration numbers and decals so your boats won’t look out of place when they cruise in."
"You know, for a terrorist you’re not a bad guy." Kahn yanked his chain. "And I’m sure you heard, I’ve got the sailors lined up. Twenty-four of them. Half of ’em speak English. Some even claim they can sail. I found them in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Turkey."
"My, my." What about our Palestinian brothers?"
"Sorry, no. No yacht clubs in Palestine."
"What do your sailors know? You haven’t said too much, have you?"
Haqqani gave him a condescending look. He didn’t like Omen very much, and he hated it when he talked down to him. "Please."
"Alright then, with your nukes ahead of schedule we can focus on distributing my anthrax." Omen was worried. "We’re set to roll in three, but the boys are acting up. They say the trucks are hard to drive. Something about air brakes and ten-speed transmissions. I’ve got a conference call with Halaweh and Abu," he said glancing down at his Rolex. "They’ll be calling any minute. Help me out. Put the fear of Allah in them. You’re better at that than I am."
"You sound troubled. You don’t think the Americans are gonna find the trucks before you’re ready, do you?"
"I’m concerned, that’s all. Nothing’s going like I planned. Two cities had to be scrubbed because the supplier wouldn’t ship any more blowers. Even the weather is working against me. It’s expected to rain in three of the ten cities, and in three others the wind is howling. The spores won’t stay airborne long enough to...."
Before Omen could finish, the phone rang. The voices on the other end sounded panicky, just as Quagmer had predicted.
"They’ve been to the mosque!" Abu said, in high-pitched voice. "They found our warehouse. We barely got out in time."
"Did you move everything, like I told you?"
"Yes, we leased the new space in the Shenando...."
"Don’t say it, boy," Haqqani interrupted.
"Sorry. We’re all here in...where you asked us to go."
"We used different names." Aymen, being more religious, was less frightened. "The trucks are all inside. Most left yesterday. The last of them went out before dawn. Two had to be towed in. They broke down en route. The air brakes are giving our men fits, sir."
"And the confetti?" Kahn inquired in a derogatory tone. He was miffed at Anwar Abu’s lack of discipline. He shouldn’t have said where he was.
"It’s here too," Anwar assured him, "I rented a U-Haul truck. Drove it myself. We loaded mine with the confetti and our tools. Aymen drove another. He carried the powder."
"We had some girls from the mosque sanitize things after we left. Then we had a couple of our guys drive the rental trucks on to Kentucky. They turned them in there to throw the Feds off."
"Did you leave the rest of the office blowers?" Omen inquired.
"But they’re on to us," Anwar interrupted Aymen. They know we were there. I’m sure of it."
"Shut up, you worthless piece of garbage! You sound like a girl." Kahn was just doing his job.
The boys were stunned. Abu was afraid, Halaweh intimidated.
Quagmer took over. "Here’s what I want you to do. Go to a local WalMart. Buy a sleeping bag, towels, and bib overalls for each of your twenty crews. I don’t want them or my trucks outside the building - period. You go out to McDonalds. Buy ’em bacon cheeseburgers for all I care. Just don’t let ’em out." Omen had it all figured.
"Rent some prostitutes," Kahn suggested. "Keep ’em busy. Tell ’em they can use what they learn on the virgins. Read the babes-in-paradise verses from the Qur’an. Sprinkle in some of the ‘infidels will roast their weenies in hell’ surahs, especially the good ones that tell us to hurry them on their way. Give ’em the Prophet, peace be unto him, pep talk. My personal favorite is: ‘I have been made victorious with terror!’ But there are so many good ones to choose from."
"Yes! I know them all, sir," Aymen boasted.
"But nobody calls home, nobody so much as moves outside that warehouse until I say so. Is that clear?"
"Yes," Anwar Abu said sheepishly.
"Sir," Aymen began with some trepidation, "do you want us to get gas masks for the crews?"
"Are you crazy, boy?" Kahn kind of enjoyed this ‘bad-cop’ role. "That’ll give us away for sure."
"No? They’re gonna die. They’ll inhale enough...well, you know. It’s going to kill ’em."
"And you don’t want us to tell them they’re gonna be martyrs?" Halaweh was considerably braver than he should have been.
"Allah will sort it out in the end," Haqqani said callously. "The Prophet says Allah’s always ready to harvest martyrs."
"Praise be to Allah." Aymen swallowed hard.
Omen got back to business. "Did you deal with my fax before you left, Anwar?" He had provided the boys with the paint schemes and logos of the various refuse companies in each of the ten cities. Now that much of the deliveries needed to be made during the day, when people were at work, they would have to look official.
"Yes sir. I bought the paint, the spray guns, and the masking materials yesterday before we left. But we’re not gonna fool anybody putting new paint on old trucks. They may pass from a distance but the crews will need to get in and out in a hurry." Halaweh was envisioning all sorts of evils: speeding, forgetting to use turn signals, rolling through stop signs. Air quality violations.
"Sir, I’m worried," Aymen confessed. "The drivers need more practice. They’re awful. These things aren’t like driving Toyotas. And we need to test the mixers and blowers, especially with the spo...confetti. They aren’t all going to work." Halaweh desperately wanted more time to tune and debug the beasts. He, like any engineer worth his pocket protector, realized that things went wrong when management pushed too hard. Complex equipment got cranky when forced to do new things.
"Enough already." Omen held up his hand as he spoke, silently telling Kahn to lay off the boy. He sensed they had pushed him to the breaking point. "Finish up there, son. Then it’s time you came back home. We’re working on another project...."
"One that’s a whole lot more exciting," Haqqani interrupted.
"And we need you back here," Omen concluded, glaring at Kahn. "I booked an e-ticket. Your flight leaves tomorrow afternoon, four o’clock. It’s under your school name. Use that passport."
Still in the mood, Kahn got in a few parting shots before he hung up.
They were not altogether comfortable entering sections of the West Bank or venturing toward Israel’s northeastern border with Syria and Lebanon. While Adams feared no man, there was something in the air, something that caused him to cringe inside. It may have been the game the Palestinians had made of randomly ambushing unsuspecting infidels.
But throwing caution to the wind, Adams, Nottingly, and friends decided to hit the road in their borrowed armor-plated van. Shortly after sunrise the more ambulatory crusaders crawled into their seats while Moshe and Joshua were rolled into position. They began their journey with a long decent along the slopes east of Jerusalem down toward the Dead Sea, the lowest place on planet earth.
This was to be a two-day excursion. Isaac had warned them that there would be places along their route where they would not be welcomed. They were entering the breeding ground of Muslim militants.
Adams was astounded at how quickly the vibrancy of the city faded into the bleakness of the desert. Moments after leaving the vitality that permeated the reborn Jerusalem, the cheery glow of its white stones, they were confronted by the starkness of the Judean wilderness.
Suddenly there was brown, an all encompassing brown, punctuated here and there by a patch of tan. The bold mountainous terrain looked as invincible as the spirit of the Jews themselves. But there were no Jews here, only the occasional Bedouin, living as they had for centuries.
Large flocks of sheep under the watchful eyes of young shepherds carefully traversed the steep slopes. What they found to eat was a mystery to all aboard the van.
The Bedouins lived in shanties, though they were people of some affluence. Hastily erected near springs, their homes were as tasteless as they were temporary. Yet their children seemed happy, as did their wives, often four to a man. While they were all Muslims, none were militant. They were at peace with themselves and this land.
In the distance far below, Team Bandage occasionally caught glimpses of the valley floor. The bleakness was overwhelming. A lot can change in 3,500 years. When Moses led his people here, it was called "the land of milk and honey." Now it was the land of silt and Hum-vees.
Moshe recounted the Exodus story. "M-moses had a s-stuttering p-problem, y’s-see. So when G-God asked him w-what land he wanted, he had a little trouble saying it, ‘C-Caa, C-Caaann....’
"‘Oh,’ God said. ‘I understand. You want Canaan.’ But w-what he was trying to say was ‘C-Canada.’"
Isaac shook his head. He had heard it before. Thor, riding shotgun, doubled over laughing.
"What really happened," Sarah chuckled, "was that Moses, being a guy, got lost in the wilderness. But rather than stopping to ask a woman for directions he wandered around until he ended up here, in this place."
"This place," Isaac repeated. "The Promised Land. Our sweat and blood has turned deserts into gardens. Without that, no one would want, much less fight over, this pile of rocks."
It was a bleak, dry, and foreboding place. There were no trees, no shrubs, no grasslands, no softness to bring pleasure to the eye. Only brown. Here, a scorpion would starve.
Reaching the valley floor, they were 1,300 feet below sea level. Yet the Mediterranean shoreline was only forty miles distant. Turning north, they found themselves within a deep rift, one formed by tension between three great continents, Asia, Europe, and Africa. This is where the world had come together, and this is where it was being torn apart. Politics and geology made strange bedfellows.
"Isn’t it magnificent?" Isaac said cheerfully. "The most beautiful place on earth." The Israelis all seemed to agree. Thor thought it must be something in the water until he recognized that the only water here was undrinkable. The Dead Sea wasn’t called dead for nothing.
"Beauty must be in the eye of the beholder," Adams said, searching out the window for something to compliment.
"What’s that over there?" Sarah asked. "Is it Jericho?"
"Yes, b-but we can’t go there. It b-belongs to a fellow named Jube," Moshe shared. "He’s the local w-warlord."
"Following the Oslo accords," Isaac explained, "towns like Jericho were turned over to the Palestinian Authority. As you’ve heard, it didn’t work out so well. Their leadership was better at terrorizing than they were at governing. They built slums, so we built fences. They made terrorists, so we made barricades. Had no choice, really."
"We took this road around the town," Josh explained. "Then we dug a trench. There’s only one way in and out, a checkpoint. See it up ahead?" A series of concrete barricades blocked the two-lane road, not to stop traffic, just impede it, slow it down to a crawl.
"Hey, didn’t you guys tell me at dinner that we couldn’t stop terror by walling ourselves in?"
They said nothing as they headed toward a half dozen soldiers dressed in green IDF uniforms. They were patrolling the checkpoint with M-16s strapped to their sides. Like those in the city, these men and women were well armed. Unlike those in the city, they were ready for trouble. Their ammunition clips were inserted rather than just strapped to the sides of their weapons.
As Isaac approached, he rolled down his window and spoke to one of the border guards in Hebrew. Thor thought he heard his name and Sarah’s mentioned. All eyes turned in his direction. They were heroes to these folks. Not knowing what else to do, Thor snapped an appreciative salute, but his admirers simply stared. In Israel, authority is earned, even admired, but it is not acknowledged in this way.
"We don’t salute," Josh said. "But I’m sure they’d like an autograph."
Adams rolled down his window. With Sarah sitting on his lap, more or less, they shook hands, exchanged greetings, and signed something for each soldier. Then they were on their way. There was no perusal of passports, no checking of identifications, only a good word and a wave.
That experience, however, would not have been true if the car belonged to a Palestinian. Their license plates were different. At the insistence of their own leadership, Palestinian plates bore the letter "P." Adams thought maybe the "P" stood for patience - something they needed.
"Why are they being delayed?" Thor asked, looking at the long line heading in the opposite direction.
"Just to harass them," Isaac responded abrasively. "The more difficult it is for them to travel, the less they’ll do it. The less they travel, the less they’ll molest us. Simple as that."
"Maybe," Sarah observed, "all you’re doing is making them mad."
There was no answer. The Jews had grown to distrust Arabs. Bitter experience. The hatreds were old, deep, and unforgiving.
As the comrades sped northward, Jordan’s mountainous terrain loomed large on their right side. Closer still was the famed River Jordan, now just a trickle. No one would have mistaken it for the Mississippi. In fact, calling the Jordan a river was an exaggeration.
Gradually at first, the validation of Israeli pride began to emerge. An elaborate system of submerged drip irrigation and moisture-retentive tenting had transformed the arid surroundings into something remarkably productive. This was a wasteland worth owning, albeit one they were being told to give away.
Everything imaginable was being grown here. If Henry Ford had been into gardening, this would have been his idea of a plant plant. Farm after neatly aligned farm was being run with mechanical precision. Men and women in equal numbers, mostly young, worked the fields with equipment that would have turned a John Deere dealer green with envy.
"The land of milk and honey," Yacob announced with considerable pride. "There was nothing growing here prior to the Six Days War. After we reclaimed this land, we made this happen."
"I’ve been noticing," Sarah interrupted from the back seat, "that every few kilometers or so, there are a couple of farms that don’t look like these. They’re messier, less organized. What’s up with that?"
"What else did you notice, Miss Intelligence Analyst?" Isaac posed.
"Um, women and children. There are mostly children working in the fields. The men are all sitting around off to the side."
"Very astute. Those are Palestinian fields. They have copied our methods, our irrigation systems, but not our work ethic," he shared. "Nor our love for the land."
Then why are they so bent on killing you to possess it? Sarah wondered as she pondered the all-too-obvious contrasts.
Team Bandage drove on in silence as they made their way north through the West Bank. Thor wondered just how yesterday’s decision would change him.
There was less to see now. Their view was impeded by electric fencing, razor wire, and signs warning of minefields. Whatever alliances had been formed with Jordan were uneasy ones. But none of this compared to the war zone that awaited them on the rise ahead. Looming above them along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was the Golan.
The life-giving substance that makes this desert bloom originates in here - a third of Israel’s water supply. Recognizing that water was more valuable than gold, the Syrians tried to divert these sources in the ’60s, starving Israel. But in the ’70s, they grew impatient with that plan, and....
"Back in ’73," Isaac broke the silence, "on Yom Kippur, Syria caught us off guard. Knowing ninety percent of our armed forces were on leave with their families, they attacked with over 800 tanks."
"Syria, like every Arab nation surrounding Israel," Josh said, "is a dictatorship. They’ve never recognized our right to exist."
The Syrians had attacked the fledgling nation in 1948 and again in 1967, losing badly both times. But that didn’t deter them.
"From independence through the Six Days War, Syria has made a hobby of provoking us; they kill Israelis as if they enjoy it."
And it wasn’t for elbow room. Syria and Jordan are relatively small for Arab countries, yet they dwarf Israel. The nation is tiny, just 8,500 square miles, including the Golan. It’s about the same size as Massachusetts. Syria is massive by comparison at 71,000 square miles. Even Jordan, at 35,000 square miles, is four times larger. Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined are giants, a hundred times bigger. When the Middle East was partitioned between Arabs and Jews, the Jews were cheated, getting only one five-hundreth - two tenths of one percent - of the land occupied by Muslims. Yet as history had proved, even that wasn’t acceptable to the Arabs. This made trading land for peace a fool’s proposition. Considering how many were still trumpeting the "Peace Process," the world apparently had no shortage of lemmings.
Moshe charged in. "Syria’s dictator, excuse me, P-President Hafez el-Assad, ruled the Sunni m-majority because he was more r-ruthless than anybody else. He, and his s-son after him, headed one of the world’s m-most evil regimes - more oppressive than you can imagine."
"And that’s saying something in this part of the world." Seraph held little regard for the drug-dealing, terrorist-supporting, bloodthirsty Syrians.
Sarah had read the mountain of files the CIA had collected on these bad boys. "The President’s brother, Rifat Assad, and T’llas, his Defense Minister, have made big bucks selling heroin in the States."
"We give them nearly a billion dollars in foreign aid, and they thank us by selling our kids heroin?" Thor turned around and looked at Sarah.
"’Fraid so. The DEA says that their rulers are directly involved in about twenty percent of the heroin trade in the U.S."
"We are soooo stupid. Makes me crazy."
"Well then, this’ll toast your cookies," Yacob said. "Did you know that in February ’82 the Syrian army, at the direction of the President himself, carried out one of the most gruesome mass murders in history?"
"At least it w-wasn’t on us," Moshe said. "The g-government of Syria m-massacred its own citizens. They k-killed everyone in the city of Hama. Twenty thousand men, women, and children were m-murdered."
"The Muslim Brotherhood, the same group that ran afoul of Nasser, was unhappy with his regime, so he had the Army of the free, peace-loving democracy of Syria seal the doors and windows of every house - with the families inside. Then, in full compliance with Islamic Law, they filled each home with cyanide gas. Does that remind you of any other freely elected, legitimate-government leader in the Muslim world?"
"Saddam Hussein." Sarah knew more than she was at liberty to say. This was her beat. "Mr. My-Heroes-Are-Hitler-and-Stalin gassed his people too. Even King Hussein, in September 1970, slaughtered seventeen thousand innocent Palestinians in a series of attrocities. You sure know how to pick your leaders in this part of the world."
Yacob explained it by paraphrasing the Torah. "‘They will be wild asses of men; their hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against them; and they will live in hostility with all their brothers.’ God said this of Ishmael’s descendants, the Arabs, forty centuries ago. They’re just acting out their part."
"It’s true," Thor observed. "They really do live in hostility, and with most everyone, even their brothers.
"Think about that for a moment, Admiral. You’re a historian. Has there ever been a people that have risen up against everyone, or a people that have had everyone against them? Ever?"
"No. Well, not until today."
"Interesting, isn’t it? While the Muslim death machine can find plenty of rogue nations willing to partner with them for a buck, they have no real friends. Their ‘wild-ass’ terrorism has made enemies the world over. It’s Islam against the infidels. In fact, the Muslim view of the world has only two parts: the house of Islam, dar al-Islam, also known as the ‘house of peace’ or dar us-salam, and the house of war, dar al-harb, which includes every as-yet unconquered nation, in other words, non-Islamic states. The house of war will continue until it is consumed by the house of peace."
"Starting with us, right here in this van." Isaac reminded them. "Americans and Jews are at the top of the ‘Infidel Hit Parade.’"
"Let m-me give you an example. In a s-speech to the Syrian Parliament, Defense Minister T’llas p-praised a Syrian soldier who, and I quote, ‘annihilated t-twenty-eight Jewish soldiers, s-severing several of their heads with an ax.’ He was particularly p-proud to report, ‘The heroic Syrian soldier ate one of the Jews in the p-presence of his c-comrades.’"
"It was all reported by the Algerida Rasmiya newspaper," Josh said.
Adams quietly sent God a line. Lord, if I’m supposed to love ’em, you’ve got to give me somethin’ to work with here.
Isaac chuckled. "I still laugh when I think of what Bush had to say. Remember his ‘Provisional Palestinian State’ - the one without borders? Bush wanted neighboring Arab nations to help establish their democracy and work to ensure human rights. Since every Arab state’s a dictatorship devoid of human rights, how was that supposed to happen?"
"Yeah. The only f-freedom they have is the right to h-hate us."
"And free elections?" Sarah smirked. "Look at their political parties. I can almost see the campaign slogans: Fatah - I like Yas. Hamas - A Bomb in Every Bus. Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade - A Few Good Boys."
Mercifully, Isaac interrupted Sarah before she embarrassed herself further. "I hope you appreciate just how absurd America recognizing a Palestinian state inside Israel really is. Imagine Mexicans in Texas and California terrorizing American citizens. It gets so bad, Mongolia tells the terrorists that they’ll give them those states if they’ll swear off killing for a month or two and promise to elect one of their gang members president. That’s not unlike what Bush proposed."
"Now, that’s not nice. We stole Texas and California fair and square."
"Swell. And I suppose when Jefferson bought the American West from Napoleon, he checked the title deed to see if he’d paid the Sioux for it?"
"Isaac," Nottingly said, wanting to change the subject, "you were going to tell us the story of the 800 Syrian tanks." The van rumbled up the southern slopes of the Golan.
"Oh yeah. On Yom Kippur, 1973, eight hundred state-of-the-art Syrian tanks, Russian-made, of course, crossed the border and surprised thirty-six outdated Israeli machines."
"Tough odds even if God is on your side," Adams remarked.
"Worse than that, they had air cover, Russian MIGs. We had none. All of our planes were down south in the Sinai trying to keep the Egyptians at bay. As they had in ’67, the Arabs coordinated their attack."
"So they had the element of surprise, they held the high ground here on the Golan, they attacked on a Jewish holy day, you had to fight two enemies on two different fronts, they had total air superiority, they had better equipment, and they outgunned you twenty-five to one. Is that about it?"
"No, not quite. As the battle raged into night, we learned that all of their tanks were equipped with infrared night vision. We had no such thing. So after dark, we were blindfolded, fighting an enemy with twenty-twenty vision."
The Mossad Major pulled the van into a small gravel parking lot. "This," he said, surveying the land before him, "is where it all took place."
"Then why are we here, not them?" Thor asked the obvious question.
"We won." With that Newcomb put the van in gear and drove away.
"Good God...." Thor caught himself thinking out loud.
"It got my attention, too," Yacob said. "I had read all the Bible stuff about God giving us this land and his prophecies about bringing us back. But this was more miracle than I could handle. Here we are, surrounded. Six million Jews against a billion Muslims. Roughly ten times the odds of the Syrian tank battle. And their religion specifically tells them to hate us - to kill us. Just being here is impossible."
"But the odds have made no difference," Thor observed. "Come hell or high water, nobody but nobody is going to boot the Jews out of this land." Adams was becoming an expert, but more importantly, he was now a believer. "When God makes a promise...."
"He keeps it," Yacob knew. "But we’re a stubborn, hardheaded lot. It’s amazing he puts up with us."
"After all the promises, after all he’s done, you’d think we’d get it by now." Joshua just shook his head.
The newly ex-agnostic Admiral expounded, "The greatest mysteries to me are that so many Jews remain agnostic; that so many Arabs have been conned into believing Allah wants them to kill; and that we Christians are so tepid about it." He smiled to himself. Good grief! I’m sounding as evangelistic as an ex-smoker!
Once again, Isaac pulled over to the side of the road, this time just above an old Syrian bunker. A thousand feet below, the Sea of Galilee sparkled in the midday sun. "With the high ground, the Syrians used to shell us from up here." He pointed to his right. "The ruins of Capernaum are over there. Your Jesus spent more time there than anywhere else. The Mount of the Beatitudes is to the right of the old city." He was back in tour-guide mode.
"The most revolutionary speech ever given was spoken on its slopes," Sarah explained to the un-Sunday-Schooled Admiral. "Jesus found his disciples here, fishermen and tax collectors. He calmed the seas, walked on water, fed multitudes with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread. Here he healed lepers, cured a Roman Centurion’s son, returned sight to the blind. Just below us, he drove Satan’s demons into a herd of swine - or as Isaac calls ’em, ‘short cows.’ It was here, right here in front of us, that he lived the life and proclaimed the message that forever changed the world."
"The Witch has declared war on us. I can’t believe it," Alafat told his henchmen. "After all the promises, after all the times I kissed her rear. After all the times I had to grovel at the White House, now we’re the enemy." The Chairman was fuming. "You can’t trust Americans, especially politicians."
Secretary Ditroe, on behalf of the administration, had just announced that America was suspending the peace negotiations and was preparing for war. She said, "Those responsible for the anthrax attack will soon feel the sting of American retribution." The CIA had learned that these terrorist acts had been the handiwork of militant Muslims, though the Administration had been careful not to report their findings in such precise words for fear of upsetting the fragile sensibilities of America’s oily Arab friends. Nonetheless, she had said, "The American flotilla is steaming east."
"We’re going to have to take matters into our own hands," Alafat snarled. "If the American infidels won’t hold the bat in the middle, we need to punish them with the fat end."
He was in his element, ranting and scheming all at the same time. He raged, "We must make the American Government pay for betraying us." Pacing like a caged badger, he nearly wore a hole in his Persian carpet.
"And how do we achieve this goal?" queried Mamdouh Salim. He was the senior PA Minister, Alafat’s most loyal lieutenant. "We’ve called the third intifada. Under your leadership we have united the parties. Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas are working with our Fatah and Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades - at least here in Palestine. We’re killing Jews faster than ever."
"What more could you want?" Talib Ali asked the boss.
"The PLO was once international," Alafat reminisced. "Remember the Muslim Brotherhood and Black September? We called the shots around the world. We struck wherever and whenever we wanted. Airplanes, cruise ships, the Olympics - we hit them all. We were al-Qaeda before there was such a thing. Bigger, even." Alafat loved to muse about the good old days. "But now we are only equipped to fight here, in this godforsaken place."
"But this is our land," Talib protested. "Our Muslim brothers, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Iraqis, and especially our Saudi kinsmen support our cause. They give us the munitions we need to kill Jews. Thanks to Allah, we have rifles, anti-tank rockets, surface-to-air missiles, land mines, and plastic explosives." Talib Ali, unlike most at Alafat’s side, had swallowed Islam whole. He was a true believer.
"Yes, but we’re no longer equipped to carry our battle elsewhere," the Chairman complained.
"Even so, sir, our people are in power. Al-Qaeda was started by a Palestinian and now, with Halam Ghumani in prison, two Palestinians head the network again. They will soon be here, here with us - in your country."
"Yes, Mamdouh, I know, but it isn’t the same. I have known what to do for some time. I have just needed a reason." Alafat spoke through the quivering of Parkinson’s. "I am dying the death of fools." He lowered his eyes. His massive lips followed. Looking up again, he said, "I wish to die as I have lived."
"Your legacy is assured, my leader," Mamdouh protested. "Your people love you for having fought the Jews. You have united the Arab world around our cause. Don’t do whatever it is you are contemplating."
Ali didn’t agree. "The Prophet says that the best places in paradise are reserved for martyrs." Having memorized the Qur’an, he quoted from his favorite surahs: "We are to ‘seize them and fight them wherever they are...banish them from the land. Fight in the way of Allah...until they grow weary of fighting.’ ‘Allah commands us to fight the allies of Satan.’ He tells us to ‘prepare against them whatever arms we can muster to strike terror into the hearts of His enemies.’"
Mamdouh Salim rolled his eyes but the Chairman listened intently. He found Allah’s words stirring.
"How do you wish to do this, my leader?" Talib Ali placed his hands together in prayerful fashion. He recognized the look that had swept across Alafat’s face. His suicide bombers had worn the same smile as they prepared themselves for entrance into paradise.
"No!" Salim screamed. "This is nuts. You don’t believe that."
"Look at me, Mamdouh. Am I not hideous? This infernal disease has stripped me of what little dignity I once had."
"No!" he lied.
"With Jewish occupation, I’m but a prisoner here. The situation is impossible. If I rein in Hamas or Hezbollah, or even my own Fatah Party, they’ll kill me. If I don’t, the Jews will. We have no economy. We survive on charity. This is no way to live. Look around you, Mamdouh."
"We’ve just received our first shipment of C-12 from the Iranians, Mr. Chairman." Talib wanted to seize the opportunity.
"How much?" Alafat asked.
"Seventy-five one-kilo bricks," Ali answered. C-12 was like C-4 plastic explosive, only on steroids. Pound for pound it was fifty times more destructive. "Would you like us to prepare a suit?"
"Yes. Then use the rest to make four additional bombs," Alafat growled. "Something that can be carried in a backpack."
"Five? That stuff’s powerful. Are you planning on blowing up the whole city?" Mamdouh snorted.
"Five, sir," Ali responded. "No problem. I’ll make the suit in your size." Talib Ali was the most devoted Muslim in the Chairman’s cabinet. Suicide bombers were his specialty. While Alafat ruled over his Fatah terrorists, Force 17, and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, he used Ali to impose his will on the real crazies, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. The job brought Talib great satisfaction.
"There will be two targets, two missions." The Chairman placed both hands on the conference table and stood up. "I am a tired old man. I will take out the first target myself," he said to an astonished Salim and supportive Ali. "With the American Government, it’s personal. I will have my revenge."
"No! Ali has boys for that." Mamdouh Salim didn’t understand.
"We are accused of being cowards, of sending our children."
"So?" Ali questioned.
"But Mr. Chairman, we only have one of you," Mamdouh pleaded. "There are many boys. Remember your last election? You received eighty-seven percent of the votes." The PA was a one party system, like Communist states. Alafat’s "election" had been as popular as Stalin’s. The party, Fatah, ran the schools, the media, the courts, the military, the police, the government, and the constitution - as well as the terrorists, the flow of money, and most every job. Imagine running against their "candidate."
"Spare me. I ran against a seventy-five-year-old woman."
"Next time then, how about a seven-year-old boy? A Jew perhaps?"
Alafat laughed. "As my critics in Ali’s circle of friends like to point out, I’m an Egyptian, not a Palestinian." He didn’t know that as descendants of Ishmael, all Arabs were at least three-quarters Egyptian. "Hamas is more popular than I am." Still standing at the end of the sleek black conference table, the portly leader folded his arms across his chest. "You all sound like you want to vote on this." He looked sternly at both of them. "I suppose you think this is a democracy!"
Neither Salim nor Ali dared speak out further. Poles apart, they simply stared blankly at their leader, awaiting his instructions.
"I know that the Shin Bet has been killing our engineers as fast as we can recruit them. Do we have anybody who knows anything about C-12?"
"Omen Quagmer of al-Qaeda recruited one of ours, a Palestinian. An MIT graduate," Talib explained. "I know him. He’s a good boy, a smart engineer, and a devoted Muslim. His name is Aymen Halaweh."
"Aymen Halaweh," Alafat repeated. "Isn’t he the boy that made the cameras work at the crucifixions?"
"Al-Qaeda captured some high-tech Israeli uniforms, didn’t they?"
"There were nine crucifixions. I suppose they did."
"See if we can buy the Jewish ones from al-Qaeda. Call Quagmer. Offer him whatever he wants, and have him bring them with him when he comes. Ask for the boy, too."
"Yes, sir. Word is he’s currently in America, working on something big. But I’m told he’s about to be recalled. Haqqani’s on the warpath."
The Chairman wasn’t listening. His mind was elsewhere.
The day ended with a tour of Moshe’s kibbutz. The children’s wing had been converted into a motel of sorts, and the Israelis thought their guests might enjoy a taste of commune living.
"Nothing’s the same," the director grumbled as he began the tour. "When I came here we were all so idealistic."
"What’s changed?" Sarah asked as they strolled through the grounds.
"Many of us came from Russia. Like Lenin, we were Communists, secular Jews, ready to change the world."
"And now?" Thor led the witness.
"We’ve had to change to survive. For example, when I was younger, the children lived together, apart from their parents, in the buildings you’re in. Moshe grew up there. But today, kids live with their families. Back then we were all atheists; now most attend synagogue."
"You sound saddened. Why?" Nottingly inquired.
"Kibbutz members were once eight percent of Israel. Now we are less than three percent. This isn’t as popular as it used to be."
"What else has changed?"
"We don’t eat together anymore. Every family has a food allowance, and they prefer to cook at home. Most everybody is married, too. We used to just live together. Today, we even earn wages, and they differ depending upon the importance of the job."
"So much for, ‘From each according to their ability, and to each according to their need.’"
"‘Fraid so. Didn’t work. We used to have communal cars, but now everybody owns their own. Once our clothes were provided, but now we get an allowance and buy whatever we want. It just isn’t the same."
"Excuse me for being blunt," Thor said, "but it sounds to me like the same things that caused Communism to fail in Russia caused it to falter here in your kibbutz."
The director just stared grimly. Old dreams died hard. He managed an affirmative nod, nothing more.
"Madam President, Chairman Alafat just called." The President was on the phone with her Secretary of State.
"What does that foul creature want now?"
"He wants a meeting with you, me, the Vice President, your Cabinet, and the leaders of Congress, both sides of the aisle."
"He does, does he? What makes him think we’re all going to drop what we’re doing to listen to him whine? ‘I’m so mistreated. You just don’t understand my problems. The Jews are the real terrorists.’ It gets old."
"He wants to be a peacemaker. Says he’s ready to deal."
"Who got to him?" the President asked.
"Maybe he got religion. Then again, it could be the armada sitting off his coast."
"You think he’s allergic to aircraft carriers?"
"I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this; he and his staff are dialing all the right numbers. They’re looking for a crowd, and they’re gonna get it. Nobody wants to miss out."
"If he actually signs something, it’s the photo op of the century."
Team Bandage was headed back toward Jerusalem, by way of Nazareth. The night’s stay at the Kibbutz hadn’t been comfortable, but at least they had learned something. They had been reminded that, even without a homeland, Jews had managed to stay at the center of world events. As the nineteenth century crashed into the twentieth, atheistic and idealistic Jews, liberal, secular, and well educated, had led the world to Communism, which had in turn provided much of the impetus for World War II. In an ironic twist, Hitler had been empowered by Germany’s corporate elite in an effort to thwart the growing red menace to free enterprise. As it transpired, the top positions in Germany’s Communist Party were held by Jews, amplifying the Nazis’ rage. And now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, Communist Jews were admitting defeat. The kibbutzim were in full retreat, or at least their founding ideals were. Another myth had died an ugly death.
Isaac, Moshe, Yacob, Joshua, Thor, and Sarah took a long last look at the Sea of Galilee as they climbed the hills on its western shores, making their way southwest. The conversation, not surprisingly, turned to the news report they had all read in the morning’s paper.
"Another ship full of bombs and rockets. Can you imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t stopped it?" Isaac drove on, frowning.
"No, but I’m amazed the Mossad found it," Sarah said. "You guys are good. How’d you know it was carrying death?"
Isaac just smiled.
"Death. That’s a g-good name for it. Why don’t we j-just call a spade a spade?" Moshe asked.
"No one believes us, that’s why," Yacob said. "The Associated Press story today looked identical to the one several years ago. They can’t seem to put two and three together. Let’s see, why would Yasman Alafat need that kind of weaponry if he’s a peacemaker, not a terrorist? Fact is, he’s signing the checks that buy the explosives his boys strap to their bodies."
"Remember the first of these ships?"
"I do." Thor had a memory for such things. "Fifty tons of weapons - about the same amount that was on this one yesterday. The ship was owned by the Palestinian Authority, and had a Fatah captain and crew."
"That’s right," Joshua replied. "The captain didn’t much like the idea of spending the rest of his life in prison as a terrorist so he squealed, said he was a military man, just following orders."
"The PA begrudgingly acknowledged that they owned that vessel, as they will this one, but said that it was just a cargo ship. They admitted that the captain worked for them, but they denied any knowledge of what he was carrying, right?" Sarah shook her head.
"Sure, I believe that. Just like I’d trust Alafat’s signature on a peace accord. The peace wouldn’t last thirty seconds," Newcomb moaned.
"But if he gets statehood, this will be the last of these boats you’ll ever seize," Sarah observed.
"Makes me sick. The Iranians said they were blind, deaf, and d-dumb, too, though all of the m-munitions were made by them. In fact," Moshe added, "Hezbollah t-terrorists loaded the boat on the Iranian coast."
"I read the CIA files on the Karine A. The shipment was coordinated by Hajj Bassem. He works for one of Alafat’s pals, Imad Mughniyah. He’s the guy who engineered the attack on our Marines in Beirut."
"Imad? I’d be mad too if my last name were Mughniyah."
"Yeah, me too. But the moral is, there’s no distinction between Palestinian terror and international terror. I’ve never understood why your government is willing to negotiate with Alafat."
"The rockets, missiles, mines, sniper rifles, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and C-4 explosives were given to Yasman to kill Jews," Joshua explained, itemizing the inventory. "But Iranians claimed the whole thing was staged by the Mossad, of all people, to derail the peace talks."
"That’s the story. And that’s the way it was reported. Screw the facts. If it wasn’t for lies, your Muslim friends wouldn’t have much to say." Thor sat up a little straighter. Today he was sitting in the back and Sarah was riding shotgun. "Truth is, we’re fighting the same enemy."
"If I recall, that first ship carried three thousand pounds of C-4, similar to the cache on this one. Aside from a perverted religion and a gullible young man, isn’t that the main ingredient in making a modern suicide bomber?" Sarah’s question was rhetorical.
"That’s enough explosive for several hundred boy bombs," Isaac explained. "And that wasn’t the worst of it. There were sixty Iranian Katyusha rockets on that boat. They would have killed thousands of Jews."
"But the world stuck its head in the sand. Rather than recognizing that Iran was ground zero for terror, we chose to pretend that they were on our side, reforming their repressive Islamic government and fighting terrorists. Bull pucky! Excuse my French, Sarah."
"No apology necessary, Thor. But the correct technical term for this kind of deception is ‘camel dung’."
"Excuse me." Thor shook his head. "Y’know what bugs me? After 9/11, America could have rid the world of terrorism, but Bush lacked the courage to take the fight beyond the easy targets. Bombing the Twin Towers was no different than bombing Pearl Harbor. Have we sunk so far in sixty years that we no longer care about defending ourselves?"
"Some might protest that the bombers came from different countries," Sarah said, "but that’s not a valid excuse. Muslims call themselves the ‘Nation of Islam.’"
"It’s just that our war got in the way of Bush’s war," Isaac shrugged, "and his war was making him popular."
"What’s really sad about that, sweetie, is that the people who live in countries like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria - the list goes on and on: Egypt, the Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Morocco, and God knows how many others - would have been better off if we had gone after the terrorists running the Nation of Islam."
"When will we learn? Dictators, whether Communists, Fascists, or Islamic, never respond to dialog or embargoes. They only respect power and the will to use it." Thor was thoroughly disgusted. "Like you said at dinner, Bush even invited terror’s biggest benefactor to his ranch!"
Sarah was miffed. "We aid and abet our enemies. It doesn’t seem to make any difference whether the administration is liberal or conservative. I’ll give you an example. The dictators in China knocked down our planes, stole our nuclear and ballistic missile technology, murdered Christians, denied their citizens human rights, and we just smiled. Then we rewarded them with permanent most-favored-nation status because some bright-eyed idealistic fool in the State Department said we could use it to influence them. That worked great."
"About as well as giving Hitler Czechoslovakia. As I recall, appeasement made the world a whole lot safer." Europe’s democracies were unwilling to face Nazism until the fight cost the world fifty million souls." Thor didn’t much like fighting, but he, like his hero Douglas MacArthur, knew that when you had to fight, you lost fewer men when you chose the time and place of the battle. "Dictatorial megalomaniacs just love the ‘peace process’."
Isaac shifted the van into a lower gear as they coasted down the western slopes and into the valley. There was a lull in the conversation. The rhythmic vibrations of the drive soothed their wounded bodies. But these were gabbers, not a shy one in the bunch. By the time they were rolling up the northern outskirts of Nazareth, the dialog was back on full boil.
"Sure, this thing began as a family feud, but thanks to the legacy of Muhammad, it’s grown well past that now." Joshua wanted to share what his studies had revealed. "The more you learn about the Prophet, the more similarities you’ll find between him and the worst terrorists today."
Thor had more questions than answers. "How do you really know that, Josh? Sarah said that Ibn Ishaq was Muhammad’s first biographer. But he didn’t compile his bio until a hundred and twenty years after the Prophet’s death. I’m told there are no surviving copies; all we have is Ibn Hisham’s edits, done eighty or more years later. By that time, four or five generations had come and gone. He could have made everything up."
"In a way, you’re right," Josh agreed. "But the best they’ve got is this bio, the Hadith, and the Qur’an. And even then, there’s only one Hadith that all Muslims seem to trust, the one by al-Bukhari. It’s called the True Traditions. If they’re not accurate, everyone’s clueless."
"But let’s face it," the Major said. "Since Muhammad has been sandals up for fourteen centuries, all we really care about is what the terrorists read and believe today. And when you read this stuff the message is crystal clear. Muhammad and Allah speak the same language: death."
"And y-yet, Muslims tell us infidels that their religion is p-peaceful. They know we’re too lazy to read and think for ourselves. It’s a r-recipe for disaster."
"Islam," Isaac moaned. "It was born ugly and grew up hideous. What you’re going to learn, my friend, is that Islam will never be popular among rational men."
"Let’s begin by examining Arabia at the time of the Prophet’s birth." Josh was itching to get down to business. "A few years before the Messenger began to see and hear things, they knew it was high time to stop worshiping the pagan stones in the Ka’aba. The rest of the world had long since gone monotheistic, thanks to the Jews and Christians."
"That’s r-right. They said that the Allah s-stone ‘was of no account.’ They c-claimed it ‘could not hear, see, hurt, or help.’ The Bedouins told their p-people, ‘Find yourselves a religion, for by God, you have none.’"
"So even before the Messenger gets started, the Arabs figure it out. Their moon rock is no better than moonshine. A source of money and false hope - nothing more."
"According to w-what I’ve read, Admiral, we Jews told the Arabs that they were d-descendants of Abraham."
"Muhammad sure took that rock and ran with it," Sarah agreed. "As you know, he changed most everything Abraham did to fit Arab sensibilities. With a flourish for revisionist history, Mo claimed that Abe was ‘neither a Jew, nor yet a Christian,’ and that he offered to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac. He even told his followers that the almost-offering took place at the Ka’aba in Mecca, instead of on Mount Moriah in Israel."
"Actually," the Major said, "the revisionist history is a great deal more sinister than it appears at first blush. Muhammad didn’t bastardize our history by accident. He didn’t do it because he was illiterate and didn’t know any better. He was purposely trying to cover something up." This was getting interesting. "What do you suppose it was?"
There were no takers. "Okay, let me tell you a story from the annals of Islam. Abdul Muttalib, a wealthy pagan worshiper born two generations before Muhammad, was the custodian of the Ka’aba. One day he vowed to the rock gods that if given ten sons, he would sacrifice one to the stones. Bad move, ’cause eventually he had ten. Foolishly faithful to the rocks, he rolled the dice to determine which son would die. His youngest, Abd-Allah, lost. By the way, who remembers what the name Abd-Allah means?"
"Slave to Allah," Sarah answered.
"Clever girl. But now, ask yourself why would someone name a kid ‘slave to Allah’ a generation before Muhammad claimed Allah was the supreme creator-god of the universe?"
Sarah again: "Because all Muhammad did was promote the Moon God. Allah had been the top pagan deity for centuries. He not only lived in the biggest rock, but as top dude, he was said to have been the father of the rock goddesses al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza, that’s why. But all of that is embarrassing to Muslims because it means their religion is regurgitated paganism."
The Major was impressed. "How do you keep up, Admiral?"
"Hey, I thought you were telling us a story," Thor grumbled.
"Yes, well," Isaac said, clearing his throat and winking at Sarah, "Papa Muttalib started having second thoughts. So he goes off and consults with a sorceress, hoping to get the ‘right’ advice."
"Sorceress, as in devil worshiper?" Sarah asked.
"Bimbo," Isaac grinned. "And she turns out to be worth her weight in camel dung."
"Yeah. She tells the proud papa to offer the pagan gods camels instead of his son, Abd-Allah. She says that he should keep increasing the number until the gods say enough already."
"Is this story going somewhere?"
"We’re not getting testy, are we, Admiral? Just because I said your girlfriend was smarter than you were."
"I already knew that. But I need to take a leak. Pull in there, would ya?"
"Yes, sir," the Major answered, steering the van into a service station.
In about as much time as it took to top off the van’s tank, Adams emptied his. "Thanks," he said, climbing back in. "Now, where were we?"
"Camels," Isaac smiled. "This whole charade was played out at the Ka’aba itself. Abdul Muttalib followed the sorcerer’s advice and started offering camels in groups of ten. But by the time he’d sacrificed several sets, not a single rock had so much as stirred. Not even a wiggle."
"Then a diviner, another occult fellow, says, ‘The gods want a hundred camels to release you from your vow.’ So Abdul Muttalib acquiesces, and the stones, diviners, and sorcerers come to an understanding. Abd-Allah’s life is spared. Still with me, Admiral?"
"Yeah, what you’re saying, if I read you, is that our pal Muhammad isn’t comfortable with the truth, with the real almost-sacrifice story that took place at the Ka’aba, because it’s a pagan ritual, probably Satanic, or at least stupid, right? So he decides to convolute the story in the Hebrew Bible instead, to vindicate the Ka’aba."
"Oh, I’m afraid that the truth is much more sinister than that, my friend. You see, Abd-Allah, the boy who was nearly sacrificed - he was Muhammad’s father."
"Oh, yes. Muhammad knew the truth. He knew exactly what happened at the Ka’aba - pagan sacrifices, rock worship, sorcery - yet he chose to continue worshiping there, bastardizing Jewish history to justify the practice. There was no misunderstanding. The deception was purposeful - and that’s really bad when you’re trying to start a religion."
"So he knew all along that Allah wasn’t a real god." Sarah was suddenly short of breath. "He...he had to know that Allah was just a...a rock. His own father was named ‘slave-to-the-rock.’"
"But it was an easier sell, a slipperier con, because Arabs already loved the moon rock."
"Oh, no. Please, no." Thor was in misery. "Good God, please don’t let Islam be like this." He didn’t know if he was talking to himself, God, or his friends. I can’t tell this story to the American people. They’ll think I’m looney.
"If I tell ’em this, they’ll say I’m a hateful narrow-minded bigot with an over-active imagination. There has to be another explanation."
"No, sorry. Actually, it gets even uglier. You don’t know the half of it yet." Josh pulled out a copy of the Qur’an from his daypack. He opened it to surah 21:57. "Allah is speaking for Abraham. ‘I swear by Allah I will do something to your idols when you have turned your backs and gone. He smashed them to pieces, with the exception of the biggest one, so they might turn to it.’
"Situational scriptures, sir. First, in the context of history, Abe could never have done such a thing, and Muhammad did this very thing. When Mo stormed Mecca at sword point at the end of his life, he tossed every rock except Allah’s from the Ka’aba. That one he kissed. Then to make his silliness look Prophet-like, and to make the Allah-rock look god-like, he invents a similar story for Abraham."
No one could speak for the longest time. They all wanted answers, but not these answers. The words of Muhammad’s biographers - his own words - even Allah’s words in the Qur’an, had condemned him. They revealed that from the very outset, Islam had been a hoax. Muhammad had just cut and pasted his religion together, combining his own pagan past with a purposely altered version of Jewish traditions.
Yacob gazed out the window. "Before Muhammad started his ‘I-want-to-be-important scheme,’ he married money - a twice-married woman about twice his age."
Thor chuckled. "There you go. My dad used to tell me a boy could marry more money in five minutes than he could make in a lifetime."
While the others laughed, Sarah simply turned and stared. She wasn’t pleased. Her folks were rich, but Thor didn’t know it. Or did he?
Sensing that his remark had somehow landed him in Sarah’s doghouse, Thor backpedaled. "Wasn’t somebody talking about Muhammad?"
"Yes, like I was saying, Muhammad was forty years old, which means his wife was in her sixties, when he received his first vision. Guess where it happens?" Isaac asked his friends.
"In a cave," they answered in unison.
Team Bandage was in downtown Nazareth. The city reminded Sarah of San Francisco, only without the bay. Every house seemed to be clinging tenuously to one hillside or another. Even its pastel tones and sense of energy were similar. So was the eclectic mix of people.
The one thing that really struck Sarah, though, was how much this place had changed over two millennia. It had once been a hick town, a social backwater, the home of zealots and nobodies. It was said that nothing good ever came out of Nazareth.
The heroes-turned-tourists quickly paraded into a church that had been built over the town’s well. As the only well, it had to be the place where the angel Gabriel told Mary that she, an unwed virgin, would bear God’s son. But the well was now encrusted with tasteless religious décor. Sarah sighed. What she wouldn’t have given for the site to be unmolested, a simple well still open to the sky.
As they stepped outside, criers were calling the Muslim faithful to prayer. The sound was mournful, depressingly off-key. And as the various mosques vied for attention, the cacophony seemed out of place, out of character, with the town where Jesus had been raised.
Fortunately, the irritating melody was short lived. Within minutes Team Bandage was out of town, headed down into a valley, one encompassing a broad plain and stretching as far as the eye could see. It was anchored by Megiddo, a four thousand-year-old battle-ravaged town. According to the Hebrew Prophets, this place was ground zero for the final war to be fought on planet earth: Armageddon.
It had been prophesied that as a prelude to the final battle, the descendants of Gog and Magog, from a land far to the north of Israel - Russia, according to the ethnologists - would launch an attack on the tiny nation. And it, like those of the Arabs, would fail no matter how badly the Jews were outgunned.
"Look." Sarah observed, "It’s the perfect battleground for men, tanks, and aircraft. There’s plenty of maneuvering room."
The revelation of John was well beyond them, and Sarah knew it. The Bible predicted that seven years after a peace treaty was signed with Israel guaranteeing her sovereignty, an army of 200,000,000 men would march into this valley from the east, from the land where Muslims now live. God would even dry up the Euphrates, making it easy for them. Sarah quietly pondered the horror of it all. The battle would be so horrific, only Jesus’ return would save the world from total destruction - an unfathomable concept when the prophecy was written.
The prophetic descriptions sounded to her like a combination of nuclear and biological war. Sarah knew that both Muslims and Jews had these weapons. Pakistan had developed theirs several years before, and it looked to all the world, certainly to the CIA, like Iran was on the cusp. What’s more, the Muslim nations could rally a couple of hundred million men with ease. What had once seemed impossible now looked downright likely.
Sarah quietly pondered Thor’s mission. Was his, like that of Jonah before him, to delay the inevitable judgment?
By late afternoon they had made their way back to Jerusalem. Their next meeting was scheduled to begin promptly at five o’clock, downtown in the Knesset. There would be no time to freshen up.
A thunderous explosion ripped between the buildings in front of them. The shockwave and shrapnel shattered the surrounding storefronts. Cascading shards of window glass began to rain down, adding to the terror. People screamed. Cars rammed into each other. As the debris and smoke began to clear, they all saw what had happened.
A bomb had detonated on the sidewalk, not thirty feet from them. The area was littered with broken bodies. There was blood everywhere. Sarah opened her door and rushed out; Thor ripped open the sliding side door of the armored van and ran after her. The only other ambulatory members of Team Uniform stayed put. It wasn’t that they were cowards. But they knew better. At the top of their lungs, they screamed out, pleading with the Americans to stop.
Sarah’s head told her that what she was doing was foolish. Suicide bombers often operated in pairs. And there were usually trigger men milling in the crowd just in case one of the boys came to his senses, got religion, grew a heart, changed his mind. There had been one blast. There might be another.
Yet her heart, like Thor’s, could not resist helping. Innocents lay shattered, splintered, and bleeding, right in front of them. They knew from the way their van had collided with others following the explosion that rescue workers would be delayed. And a delay could cost a life.
Thor caught up with Sarah as she made it past the bloodied spectators, those who had been far enough away to escape death. Then it happened. The second boy bomb blew up among a group who were desperately trying to flee. The blast knocked Nottingly off her feet. Adams, still holding her hand, looked down in horror. Blood covered the front of her dress.
"Sarah!" he screamed.
She didn’t answer. Sarah looked shocked, hollow, as if the life had been blown out of her. "Sarah, no!" he screamed again as if he could will her back to life. This can’t be happening.
Thor fell to his knees at her side. She made a horrid gurgling sound, struggling to breathe, gasping for air. He didn’t know whether to pick her up or leave her lying on the sidewalk. She was covered with blood. Thor’s anguish was more than he could bear. His soul felt pain greater than anything he had ever known.
Slowly, agonizingly, signs of life started to return. Air entered her lungs in short, gasping breaths. She began to move and moan. Just looking at her nearly killed him.
Sarah tried to tell him that she was going to live, but she couldn’t form the words. She tried to push herself up, but didn’t have the strength. Thor was frozen, useless, unable to move. Sarah closed her eyes.
"Noooo!" He reached down and hugged her for all he was worth. If she had been near death, his squeeze would have killed her.
"Thor," she whimpered, letting him know that she was still alive.
"Oh Sarah, Sarah, don’t die. Please."
"Oh, God. No!" she cried.
He lightened his grip, moving her far enough away to look into her eyes. They had grown large, staring blankly over his shoulder. He tried to analyze the look. Was it pain, horror, shock? He turned around. Not ten feet away were the mangled bodies of a woman and her child. This was unlike any war he had ever witnessed.
Sarah tried to wiggle her way out of Adams’ grasp, falling as she lunged forward. Crawling on her knees she reached the child - a beautiful little girl, perhaps seven or eight years old. Thor, still in shock, knelt down next to her mother. Neither of them were moving.
Adams turned her over. The woman looked horrible. Her body was lifeless. He now knew the source of the blood on Sarah’s face and dress. The woman was young and beautiful, but she was bleeding profusely from the chest, throat, and mouth. Her body had taken the brunt of the bomb’s shrapnel. Parts of nails protruded from her skin. She reminded Adams of men who had tripped a mine. There were no words to describe the horror, the terror that unfolded before his eyes.
Gradually regaining his wits, Thor instinctively felt for a pulse. There was none. He moved so that he could administer CPR, but as he placed his hands on her chest they found little to press upon. Her chest cavity was a crater. His hands were soaked in her blood. The precious little girl now lying near death in Sarah’s lap was motherless.
"She’s dead," he whispered into Sarah’s ear, making sure the child couldn’t hear him. Nottingly had had the good sense to turn the little girl away from her mother’s shattered and nail-ridden corpse. Even if she lived, the sight of her mother’s shattered body would haunt her.
Adams turned his attention to the child. One of her arms was bleeding and appeared to be broken. He removed some of the shrapnel from her arms and legs. She had contusions and deep gashes on her head and face. Her breathing was labored and sporadic. She was too terrified to cry.
The first of the sirens could be heard in the distance. Thor looked toward the sound - it seemed to be coming from behind their van. Isaac and Yacob were out, tending to the sea of wounded bodies. Joshua was yelling into a cellular telephone. Moshe sat in his wheelchair, staring straight ahead, seething. Rage consumed him. The memory of this happening to him, disfiguring his parents, rose inside like molten lava.
"I need to carry her out of here," Thor said.
Sarah looked up with a mother’s gaze, one that pleaded with Thor to be gentle. He picked her up, making sure not to put any strain on her injured side. She tried again to cry, but couldn’t.
Thor looked at Sarah. "Can you pull yourself up by grabbing hold of my arm?" He turned so that his left side was nearest her. He was running on adrenaline.
Using Thor as a brace, Sarah slowly rose to her feet. The three hobbled in the direction of the sirens. Sarah was now cradling the little girl’s wounded head. Slowly, trying not to jolt the child, they made their way past the growing crowd, past their van to the first ambulance. The medics jumped from their seats and rushed to the back of the vehicle. Opening the doors and quickly removing the gurney, the paramedics motioned for Adams to set the child down. They looked at his bloody hands, then stared at Sarah, spattered red, her hair, face, and arms, all soaked in blood. And they noticed what Thor had missed - nails protruding from Sarah’s arm and leg.
Their eyes screamed, What demented doctrine causes such pain?
"One of you can go with us and ride in the back with your daughter. The other is going to have to follow in another ambulance."
This wasn’t the time to explain what had happened to the mother. Nor was there time for a debate.
"I’m going," Sarah said. "I’ll see you after the meeting, at the hotel. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine."
"I’m not going to the meeting, not after all this!"
"Yes you are! If we’re going to be a couple, then we need to act like one. I can do more to comfort her than you can. And you need to find out what causes bastards like these to maim little girls."
"But nothing. That’s an order, Admiral. Go."