From the bestselling author of The Intruder and Slow Motion Riot comes a new, provocative thriller about a schoolteacher who becomes a celebrated hero--and then has it all taken away.
The New York Times Book Review
- Hachette Audio
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Abridged, 4 Cassettes, 6 hours
- Product dimensions:
- 4.19(w) x 6.84(h) x 1.11(d)
Read an Excerpt
By midnight, Church Avenue in Brooklyn was almost a dead artery. An old Chevy dragged its muffler down the middle of the street, and the sound echoed like tin cans falling in a canyon. Sodium street lights shined down on corrugated iron gates in front of a liquor store, a nail salon, and a shop specializing in wigs made from Real 100% Humas Hair. Only a check-cashing place was still open, with blue neon in the window and a giant dollar bill on the sign out front.
Across the street, two men sat in a bruised red '88 Plymouth, watching the door and the movement behind the window.
"Ayna hoa," said the one behind the wheel, a big bear of a man with an onion dome bald head, a heavy graying beard, and tinted aviator glasses. "Where is this guy? My ass is getting asleep."
"That's not a real expression, is it?" said Nasser, sitting beside him.
"Sure it is," said his friend Youssef, switching back to Arabic. "It means you're tired of waiting."
They looked like father and son, sitting there. Youssef was muscular but going to flab. A long crimson scar was visible though the buttons at the top of his shirt and the tails were out over the gun in his waistband. Nasser, who was now 22, had grown up thin and tense, with liquid brown eyes, soft prim-looking lips and an accidental hint of Elvis Presley in his pompadour. Thus far in his life, he hadn't been able to grow more than a weedy little beard to make himself look devout, so he'd just decided to stay clean-shaven. A rusty key dangled from a chain around his neck.
"Maybe we should go," he said.
"We're not goinganywhere," said Youssef, the Great Bear. "Remember what this is about. This is about jihad."
"Yes, I know about jihad." Nasser chewed his fingernails. "This is a Holy War. But I don't see why this is a Holy War here. This just seems like stealing."
"Everything is jihad." Youssef nudged him with his elbow. "Everything you do from when you get up in the morning. If you have a cup of Turkish coffee, instead of the instant American kind, this is jihad. If you tell a brother about the Holy Book, this is jihad. If you turn off a television, this is jihad in the mind. But the greatest thing you can do for jihad is to fight. Remember one hour on the battlefield is worth a hundred years of prayer."
"What we're doing here is like the caravan raids from the olden days, after the hijra. The Prophet himself allowed this."
Nasser took his fingers from his mouth. He wondered if this was wise, what they were about to do. Yes, Youssef could cite verses, whole suras, to support it, but words could be twisted and turned to mean anything.
"I still don't know. Can't we raise the funds another way? Isn't this haram?"
"Of course it's not haram." Youssef started to shrug but then suddenly grabbed Nasser's arm. "Okay, it's him," he said in a low heated voice. "This is the one we follow."
He leaned across Nasser's lap and pointed out a tall, thin Rastafarian in a camouflage jacket and a green knit cap, shambling up the street. The man walked with a lopping rhythm, as if there were music only he could hear.
"He always comes late, this one," said Youssef. "I've been watching. It's because he smokes the marijuana. I am sure of this. That's why he's never on time to relieve the one behind the counter. He's a pig, I tell you, this one. I've seen the way he eats. The jerk chicken and the jerk pork. Uch. I tell you it makes me sick just to think about it."
Nasser sat there, watching the Rastaman a moment, trying to hear the music. Then trying to imagine the man eating pork and smoking marijuana. Trying to work up some hatred for him.
The Rastaman went into the check-cashing store.
"Come on, let's go." The Great Bear reached for the door handle. "Remember what you're supposed to do and nobody gets hurt. When he opens the door to go behind the counter, we go in after him."
A passing livery cab almost sideswiped Youssef as he got out and put on a baseball cap with an X on it. Nasser put on his own X cap and climbed out on the passenger side, squeezing between two car bumpers to get to the curb. The .22 caliber pistol felt like a brick in the pocket of his maroon vinyl windbreaker.
He watched the glass door open and saw Youssef follow the Rastaman into the check cashing place, the bear pursuing a hound dog. Nasser hesitated for just a moment on the sidewalk, the humidity of the night enfolding him. He wondered how many blocks it was to the nearest subway station. His nerve. Where was his nerve? He saw the cracked glass door swing shut behind the Great Bear. Then he reached inside his shirt and fingered the key hanging from the chain around his neck, knowing he had no choice.
With blood pounding in his ears, he moved quickly across the pavement, pulled the door open, and stepped inside.
The check-cashing place was little more than a twelve-by-twenty room with scuffed black-and-white linoleum floors, scrappy woodpaneled walls, and a little stall in the corner for local jewelry-makers and incense sellers to peddle their wares. A bald-headed black man in shirt sleeves counted money behind a smudged bullet-proof glass partition. There was a tinge of ammonia and marijuana in the air and a radio was playing a raucous reggae song with a deep-voiced hectoring singer, a walrus of sound.
The Rastaman in the green knit cap was knocking on the chipped wooden door next to the glass partition, ready to go in and relieve the man behind the counter. Nasser prepared to reach for his gun. But then the door behind him opened and a stout young woman in a red beret entered the storefront, pushing a little boy in a strollerno more than two years old, wearing tiny black Nikes and a sheriff's badge made from tin foil. Nasser froze, looking at the woman and the child. What were they doing here so late? The place was supposed to be empty at this hour. He looked over at Youssef, expecting a signal to change their plan, but Youssef was standing at a tall side-table a few feet away, studiously ignoring him and pretending to sign a check.
"So I tried your remedy and I feel much better now," the woman approached the Rastaman. "But that aloe vera, it's disgusting."
"What did you do, child? Swallow it?" The Rastaman parted his hands.
"You mean, I was supposed to rub it on?"
The Rastaman laughed and knocked again on the door next to the partition.
And then everything changed. Time seemed to expand and contract simultaneously. The chipped door opened. The woman with the stroller bent down to tie the baby's Nikes. Nasser saw Youssef pull back his shirt tails and reach for his gun. Ile had to remind himself to breathe. Youssef was charging at the Rastaman and pushing him through the partly opened door some ten feet away, shouting: "Open the cash drawer or someone will get hurt!"
Back in the main room, Nasser took out his gun and pointed it at the woman reluctantly, tentatively, as if they both knew he had no intention of using it. He thought of saying something to reassure her, but decided against itYoussef would be too angry. Instead, he stared at the little boy's tin foil badge, with its five points, wondering how long it took the woman to make it.
Then he heard the shot in the room behind the glass. A ferocious little sound like a balloon bursting. Part of him shriveled inside, hearing it. The room suddenly became warmer. The air closed in around his ears. The woman with the baby started to scream, knowing someone was dead. Nasser tried to say something to comfort her, but then the gun in the other room went off again.
He moved quickly into the doorway and saw the Rastaman splayed across the floor like a rag doll, arms and legs tossed around him, head turned, blood staining the front of his camouflage jacket and puddling on the floor next to him. Youssef was pulling the bills out of the cash drawer and stufffing them into the little blue laundry bag he'd had folded up in his back pocket. He didn't see the bald black man in shirt sleeves rising up behind him, his face covered in blood, pulling out a small silver handgun.
Nasser saw his own hand rise with the .22, as if floating up through water. The impulse to squeeze the trigger came from somewhere besides his brain. The gun jumped and bucked in his hand and the noise bit into the air. A small part of the bald black man's head flew off as he wobbled, fell against a stool, and slid down to the floor, still holding his gun. An angry black-red splatter remained on the wall panel behind him, with long spindly lines dripping down.
The woman in the other room scrambled, trying to get out the front door with the baby in the stroller. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this moment. Whereas everything had prepared Nasser. It was his destiny to be here and to do the things that would come afterwards. So why did he still find himself paralyzed?
Youssef finished with the money, passed Nasser in the doorway, and came back into the main room. The woman turned away, not daring to face at him. She understood that looking at either of them meant death. But it was too late. Youssef stepped up calmly and shot her in the side of the head.
She fell away from life, without even a chance to look back at her baby. And for a moment, this struck Nasser as unutterably sad, not at all part of the natural order. He knew these people were infidels and deserved to die, but he couldn't help himself. When Youssef turned the gun toward the boy, who was screaming in his stroller, Nasser gently nudged him from behind.
"Come on, sheik, we have to go," he said.
Two minutes later, as the car sped down Flatbush Avenue, Nasser still kept feeling the kick and burn of the gun in his hand. Slowly he tried to get back into the proper flow of time again. He fingered the key on the chain around his neck as headlights washed over the windshield and police sirens sounded from far away.
"Don't worry, my friend, they are not following us," said Youssef, one hand on the wheel, the other fumbling for the little amber bottle of nitroglycerin pills in his shirt pocket. "We are going home. "
"What do you mean 'happened'? We were successful. I am so excited, I think I'm going to throw up. I don't have a chance to count yet, but I'm sure we have enough to finance the next stage."
Nasser realized he was still trembling from the force of events. "Sheik," he said, using the word the way Americans called each other "sir." "There's something I have to ask you."
"Were you really going to shoot him? The little boy."
"This is jihad." The Great Bear stared straight ahead into the on-coming traffic. "If it was God's will, I would have."
"But I was the one who pushed you out of there." Nasser let go of the key and looked once over his shoulder, to make sure they weren't being pursued. Youssef shrugged. "Then that was God's will too."
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