The Silenced Shooter - Prologue & Chap. 1

MedAir Series #3

382 pgs

Available in paperback and eBook

Prologue

An omen? Abdul Aleem Malik Fawaz exited the black government sedan and straightened the kuffiyeh covering his head as he glanced at the residence to his left. The building’s planners had designed it first as the Presidential Palace, but budgetary constraints were common even in that day. He recalled his first visit there and how disappointingly small the building seemed compared to its reputation. This evening its façade glowed a dull orange, reflecting the brilliant sunset to the southwest, and reminiscent of the desert sands. The effect made it seem even smaller.

The sun setting on that building. Was that an omen of what was to come for the country as well?

Today, he wore a charcoal grey suit rather than his customary thobe and bisht, robes appropriate for his role as a Senior Fellow. Today, he had an important meeting at the highest level. Today could possibly mark the beginning of a new era, the time for the emergence of a new world order ordained long ago. Yet, at no time had the pieces been in place to make that happen. Until today.

Fawaz accepted his briefcase from the driver and turned toward the main doors to the lobby of the building where his meeting was to take place. He entered the building and welcomed the warmth and the respite it provided from the frigid January day.

“Credentials please,” requested the security officer clothed in a dark blue, wool suit. The lapel mic and earpiece of his communication device were not obvious, unlike the bulge of a handgun inside his jacket.

For the second time, Fawaz presented his creds. At the gate, the car had undergone a thorough inspection. This time it would be his person, his travel mug, and briefcase, so he handed those items to the officer without a word. He’d been here often enough to know the routine.

The officer in turn lowered them behind his desk, and ran them through the scanner Fawaz knew was there. The man glanced at the monitor before him, and raised the case again to place it on top of the desk. He lifted the mug, opened the travel lid and sniffed. Satisfied that its contents were innocuous, he handed it back to Fawaz and extended a white plastic tray toward him.

“The contents of your pockets, please.”

Fawaz emptied his pockets to reveal only two items, his wallet, and a chain holding two keys, one to his apartment and one to his office.

“Step over here, please.”

Fawaz moved into the whole body scanner, similar to those used at some airports. The guard frowned.

“Please step back. What is in your coat pocket, Sir?” He again extended the tray toward the Fellow.

Fawaz sighed. He’d forgotten the ornate, and expensive, pen his sister had given him to celebrate his promotion to Senior Fellow. He removed it from his jacket’s inside pocket and placed it in the tray. A second officer appeared from a doorway behind the desk.

“So sorry, I forgot it was there.”

The second officer inspected and scanned the items in the tray, while Fawaz returned to the body scanner and successfully passed through. He reclaimed his personal items, and without words, followed the second officer. They already knew whom he was to meet.

The guard ushered him directly into the office of Roberta Faris, an advisor on national security affairs. She was the third such advisor in her position and had the ear of their leader, but she was the first to embrace Islam openly. Her predecessors had been secularists, with no religious leanings, unless one viewed human secularism as a religion unto itself. She had been the one to recommend Fawaz for his promotion and for that, he overlooked the fact of her gender.

“Abdul, it is good to see you again.” She extended her hand, which he shook before taking the chair across from her where she motioned him to sit. In the past, she had relegated him to the wooden chair across the desk from her. Today, they sat as equals in an informal sitting area.

“I read your report and Imam Mahdavi has confirmed your conclusions. Have you anything to add?”

Fawaz nodded. “Indeed, I do. There were names and locations I did not feel comfortable placing in writing.”

“I understand. Please keep them to yourself right now.”

He gave her a questioning look.

“I think you understand why I ask that.”

He did. Plausible deniability. The United States’ CIA had coined the phrase during the Kennedy administration and it again became “popular” during the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980’s. The concept rarely, if ever, worked, so he was surprised that Faris would even think to rely upon it.

Nevertheless, who was he to question a superior, someone who had direct influence on his career?

They discussed his written report and he offered three distinct courses of action to initiate their response. All of them focused on the political aspects of the problem, as requested. It was, after all, an election year for the United States. The man they worked for was the consummate politician, who saw governing as a game of politics and himself as the ultimate competitor. To Fawaz, it appeared that the man’s need to win superseded the needs of the people. Yet, that flaw, that lack of true leadership, fit perfectly with the goal of Islam, to make the world an Islamic state. The man’s popularity polls had plummeted and his standing among world leaders had become fodder for the European tabloids. The man was a classic narcissist, who continued to believe himself infallible. Yes, Allah could use him.

Ms. Faris nodded and looked thoughtful as he laid out his case and recommendations. At the end of his presentation, she stood, walked across the room, and proceeded to place his report in the shredder behind her desk. She turned back to him and said, “I expect you to remove all traces of this report as well. Shred any hard copies and wipe clean any electronic versions, as well as any correspondence pertaining to it.”

Fawaz nodded. He had expected as much and would comply. Mostly. Direct order or not, he would make sure he had personal insurance. If he would somehow end up in a U.S. Federal Court, he would need leverage and he knew these people well enough to know how rough they played. There were few places in the world where he could hide, and none of those locales were particularly hospitable or welcoming. He took a sip from his mug and with care, positioned it on the table beside him with the digital recorder’s mic pointed toward Faris’ chair.

Ms. Faris retrieved something from her desk and returned to the sitting area to join him. The envelope in her hand seemed thin.

“Your recommended options are all quite reasonable, but we have discussed a different course of action, in light of waning popularity polls. Here is what we would like you to do.” She handed him a single sheet of paper from the envelope and watched as he read.

“I believe you have contact with people in Detroit and elsewhere who can accomplish this. Yes?”

Fawaz couldn’t believe what he read. Were they really willing to take such a step?

He looked up at her and tried to read her eyes, only to see his own reflection in the ice.

“Y-yes, I have such contacts.” He wanted to question her, but something held him back.

“Good. How soon can we expect it?”

He tried to think, but the potential ramifications of this plan flooded his brain. He struggled to pull his thoughts together.

“One month perhaps. It will require planning and perfect timing. I can give you a timetable, if you wish, after I’ve made contact with these people.”

She shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. In fact, the less we know the better. Just make sure it’s completed before the spring primaries.”

Chapter One

The groundhog had failed. Whether or not he had seen his shadow was irrelevant to the fact that Punxsutawney Phil had died during his long winter nap, and his handlers hadn’t noticed until it was time to rouse him for his day in front of national television. They’d had no time to call up a replacement rodent while Buckeye Chuck and Canada’s Wiarton Willie took the stage to provide conflicting forecasts.

Not that either prognostication made a difference to Fawaz. Detroit seemed stuck between the two, just as it was geographically between them, and at the moment, was encountering a historic, and freak, storm. After the storm arrived from the north and dumped over a foot of snow on the area, an unexplained warm front from the south moved in to turn the precipitation to sleet that added over two inches of ice to already hazardous roadways. Roads were impassable. Trees, broken from the weight of the ice, made navigation of local roads like a maze, if you had chains for your tires and the raw nerve to venture outside. The ice had destroyed the power grid as well, taking out major substations and power lines in a one-two punch that would take weeks to replace.

Worse, information was hard to obtain. With no power, local radio and television stations operated on limited backup power with what seemed like an even more limited broadcast radii. The Internet was intermittent at best, but totally gone at his current location. Powerless cell towers dumbed down the smartest of phones.

Fawaz stood at the window of the Islamic Foundation’s office and stared at the bleak scenery. The hum of the mosque’s back-up power generators seemed distant, yet they had provided the electricity needed to keep the facility warm. Hundreds of followers had braved the storm, when it was first snow, to seek refuge there. For that, he was grateful. Why he was there was a different matter.

He turned his head as someone placed a hand on his shoulder. He had not heard anyone enter the office.

“Be at peace, brother. All will happen in Allah’s timing.”

Fawaz shook his head and turned to face the man. He gave a curt bow in respect to the imam.

“I did not hear you come in, Imam.”

The older man gazed into Fawaz’s eyes and furrowed his brow. “I suspect it is not the storm that truly bothers you.”

Fawaz knew that to be true, but did he dare to confess his real concerns to the man? He did not want to appear weak before this man.

Imam Al-Bashara had founded the Islamic Foundation and this masjid, or mosque, and guided it to become one of the nation’s largest. He, also, had served time in federal prison for directing money to Al-Queda, a mission he continued using much more discrete methods. Fortunately, the United States’ current Justice Department turned a blind eye toward such activities these days as part of an administration that favored Islam while giving lip service to Christianity in order to appease the progressives who kept it in power.

He decided it would do no good to hide things from this man. “Imam, you are correct. Please understand. I am not a coward. I am willing to give up my life for Allah. It’s just that I have finally attained a position of influence and I do not believe I am destined to play such a direct role in the coming jihad. I can be much more effective in my role as a Senior Fellow and policy analyst. I do not understand why I have been tasked to take part in this.”

The imam nodded. “I suspected as much. All I can say is that there must be some reason. Allah has something to teach you here. What that is, I cannot say.”

Fawaz wanted to believe that, but he suspected he had been set up to become the scapegoat, the one who would take the blame in order to keep his superiors out of trouble. If so, the surprise might be theirs.

“I am also worried about the delay. We have a timetable to keep if we are to have maximum effect on our target. We are now a day late, and are likely to remain held up by the weather for another two. More, if this bankrupt city’s street department is unable to clear our way out.”

The imam smiled. “I cannot control how much longer this storm will last, but I can assure you a safe road out. It pays to have brothers-in-Allah in positions of control in the public works office. I have been assured that you will have a direct road out of the ice as soon as feasible.”

Fawaz returned the smile and gave the teacher a curt bow. “Thank you, Imam.”

“No, thanks be to Allah,” said the man in his habitual reply.

A knock at the door caught both men’s attention. One of the congregants bowed at the door, a fearful look on his face.

“Imam, you must come quickly. The ice has cracked the western half of the main dome. It looks like it may collapse at any time.”

The imam’s visage became stern. “Do not panic. Start moving people into the education wing. We can –”

Another man appeared. “Imam, part of the dome has just collapsed. We have injuries, and the cold has already dropped the temperature in the building. I don’t think our generators can provide adequate power to compensate.”

The imam took a deep breath in exasperation and rushed from the office.

*     *     *

Bradley Graham paced the small front office of his son’s elementary school. During the middle of the night, he had awakened and felt an unease he was not accustomed to. That, of itself, would have made it difficult to return to sleep, but his mind became troubled over the safety of his family.

“Brad! To what do we owe this honor?” Principal Harris Burke emerged from his back office and extended his hand in greeting. Brad and Harris had been friends since college, and Brad had, on more than one occasion, used his contacts and influences to benefit the school.

“I’m sorry, Harris. I know this is an imposition, but Cara and I have decided to pull Mark from school and take him with us to Florida.”

Harris gave him a quizzical look. “Oh? Decided to take a little side trip to Disney World, eh? I sure would, if I was headed to Orlando on business.”

Brad smiled. He hadn’t even considered that option, but maybe the diversion of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ was just what he needed. They needed.

“Look, I know you ask for a week’s notice, to give the teacher time to prepare any assignments, but, well …” He paused and shifted to a whisper. “… I think God is warning me about his safety. I woke up about 3 a.m. with him on my heart and feeling very unsettled.”

Harris gave a knowing smile. “Then, by all means, he should go with you.”

The principal personally went to retrieve Mark from his third grade class on the second floor of the building, along with any homework assignments expected of the boy for the next four days. Brad appreciated the accommodation of both Harris and Mark’s teacher, Leslie Fairley, who would have to drop everything to write out the upcoming obligations for the boy.

As he waited, his cell phone rang, with a distinctive tone assigned to but one person.

“Hi, dear.”

“Any problems?” asked his wife, Cara.

“None. Have you packed?” This trip had been a surprise for her, too.

“Of course. Who do you think you’re talking to?” She laughed.

Brad should have known better than to ask. His wife was the detail person. Organization personified. She had probably finished packing her bag and one for Mark before he’d even arrived at the school.

“And, since we’re all going with you, I looked into admission to The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Universal Studios.”

It was his turn to laugh. While his mind focused on his upcoming speech and half a dozen meetings to raise money for his U.S. Senate bid, she thought first and foremost about them, her family. No, he realized, Disney was not the ‘Happiest Place.” Wherever they were together took that title.

“We’ll see. That will depend on how the fundraising goes.” He paused. “Look, we’re running close. As soon as I have Mark, we’ll head back for you. I’ll call when we’re a couple of minutes away and meet you at the garage.”

“I expected as much. The bags are already by the garage door. See you soon.”

He slipped his phone into the cell pocket of his jacket.

“Dad?”

He turned to see Harris and Mark entering the office. Mark looked worried.

“Hey, big guy. Surprise! Hope you don’t mind a short vacation to Florida.” He tousled his son’s sandy brown hair, before grabbing the extra books and papers Harris had extended to him.

The boy’s eyes widened. “All right!” He pumped his fist in the air.

Brad looked at his friend. “Thanks, Harris. I owe you one.”

Harris huffed. “Not on your life. After everything you’ve done to help Northgate Christian Academy, we all owe you more than we could ever repay. Have a great, and successful, trip, Senator.” Harris smiled.

As the father and son walked toward their car, the boy looked up at his dad. “Dad, why did he call you Senator? I thought the election’s supposed to be in November.”

Brad chuckled. “It is, Mark, it is. Mr. Burke was just being optimistic.”

Mark crunched his brow for a moment. “Oh. I get it.” He placed his arms out in front of his chest and pretended to hold something in both hands as he moved his torso up and down and around from right to left and back again.

Brad smiled but remained puzzled by Mark’s actions. Finally, he asked, “What in the world are you doing?”

“Being optimistic.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, practicing for Space Mountain. I’m tall enough to ride it now.” The boy kept up his strange movements as he now ran toward the car.

Brad laughed. He knew when he was outgunned.

As he climbed behind the wheel, he glanced at Mark in the back seat to make sure he was buckled in. Cara and Mark would be with him, where they would be as safe as he could possibly make them. Why did he still feel unsettled?

*     *     *

“Slow down, Muhab. We cannot afford to be stopped,” said Fawaz. This was the third time he had warned the man since their departure from Detroit.

Muhab eased up on the gas pedal and brought their speed down to three miles over the limit. They now blended in well with the traffic flow.

“Trust me. This speed will not make our trip that much longer.”

The driver gave Fawaz a steely gaze.

“That is not why I am annoyed.”

“I do not care why you are annoyed,” replied Fawaz. “We’ve been given a task to do, and I do not wish to fail before we even get there.” Fawaz had no doubt that a police traffic stop would escalate to a full-fledged search, which would result in a one-way trip to jail.

“We won’t,” said Naji from the back seat, where he and Sabir had been talking in hushed tones. “We are taking the fight to the heartland of the infidels. Allah is on our side. We will succeed.”

Fawaz turned in his seat and looked at the younger man, unsure whether to praise him for his confidence or chide him for being impudent.

“Do not get overconfident, Naji. Did you not notice what we saw in Detroit?”

“Sure, snow and ice. It’s winter.” Sabir, sitting next to Naji, looked equally as smug.

Fawaz frowned.

“Do either of you believe in omens?”

Fawaz did. Perhaps it had been the influence of his grandmother. She had always credited this or that as a sign of things to come. She would have a premonition of some family tragedy or a feeling about something good soon to happen. Fawaz could remember as a child when she would boast of her accuracy, reminding everyone in the family when something happened, good or bad, that she had forewarned them of the event. He’d been in awe of her fortunetelling ability, her sixth sense. In adult hindsight, he now realized she’d only boasted when she’d been correct, and had said nothing when she’d been wrong. Her batting average was more like one fifty, not good enough to put her in the major leagues – or to even warrant her own 1-900 psychic hotline. Still, her superstitions had rubbed off on him, despite his advanced degrees in public policy and mathematics.

“Don’t you find it strange that the ice storm only hit parts of Detroit? The imam received reports of a dozen masjids damaged by the ice. We saw a number of them as we left. Did you see a single Christian church with damage?”

The four men sat in silence for several minutes. Muhab broke the ice. “Abdul has a point. There was no ice south of I-94. We could have left two days ago, on schedule. All we had to do was push the car a mile down Highway 39 until we reached ice-free road. Don’t know if that’s some kind of omen, but …”

Fawaz nodded.

Naji piped up. “The imam would just tell us that it was Allah’s timing and not to worry.”

Fawaz nodded at that, too. That is precisely what Imam Al-Bashara would say. Yet, as much as Fawaz wished to believe that, to have such a great level of faith, he couldn’t help but see things as his grandmother would have seen them – as another omen.