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Black Forest Cafe
Near the Limmat River
Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf checked his watch as the meeting adjourned.
Quarter to twelve. Good.
Enough time for a little walk, maybe some sightseeing, and perhaps even lunch and a couple of drinks before summoning his pilot for the return flight to Riyadh.
He donned the jacket of his Armani business suit and stepped from the front door of Barclays onto the sidewalk beside Zurich's world famous,
charming Bahnhofstrasse. Squinting into the bright sunlight,
he slipped on a pair of designer sunglasses. Around him bustled serious looking businessmen speaking into cellular phones, young mothers---or perhaps au pairs; he could not tell the difference---pushing prams, laughing young lovers, and groups of beautiful women carrying smart bags from expensive clothing boutiques. On either side of the street, flower vendors displayed profusions of colorful bouquets, and halfway to the corner, a group of students crowded around a bakery window.
A cool breeze hit his face, and he closed his eyes, drawing the pristine
Swiss air into his lungs. He breathed in, almost smiling at the invigorating result.
Why did Allah place the great cities of the faith in the middle of a scorching, God-forsaken desert rather than in a place like Zurich? At home, survival was impossible without air-conditioning. Here, nature provided it. But the Great Faith had spawned where it had, and Allah had his purposes. Perhaps to avoid distractions, which abounded here.
Abdur headed south down the Bahnhofstrasse by foot in the direction of the Arboretum and Burlki Plaza on Lake Zurich. A traffic light stopped him just before he reached the Swiss National Bank Building,
and he turned left toward Stathausquai, on the east bank of the Limmat
The deep blue waters of the river, fed by the melting snow from the
Alps, flowed into Lake Zurich a few blocks to his right. Abdur never grew tired of this view. If paradise was like any city in the world, surely Zurich would be at the top of the list. He watched two tour boats churning south toward the lake.
The sounds of laughter---young and feminine---broke into his thoughts. He turned toward a sidewalk cafe across the street, on the bank of the river.
There were four in the quartet---or perhaps he might say the bouquet---
of exquisite Swiss fr™uleins. They sat giggling under an umbrella at a white wrought-iron table. He did not need to blink even twice to see they were blond, well figured, and perhaps in their mid-twenties. They were all blue-eyed.
They were Swiss; how could they not have eyes the color of a summer alpine sky?
One of the fr™uleins, the prettiest, with shoulder-length hair and wearing a navy business suit, seemed to sense his gaze. She shot him a coquettish smile, tilting her head slightly toward an empty table next to hers.
The outdoor cafe on the riverbank would make a perfect spot for lunch and a cocktail. And who knew? Perhaps this was his lucky day. A
successful business session in the morning. An unanticipated rendezvous in the afternoon before leaving the country?
Blond European women seemed to be inordinately attracted to clean-shaven Arab men in expensive business suits. This trend had been established, luckily for him, by the late Princess Diana of Great Britain and Dodi al-Fayed. Or so he had been told when he studied at Oxford.
Abdur sat at the table next to the foursome. They spoke German,
which was no impediment to his eavesdropping. He was fluent in the three official languages of Switzerland---German, French, and Italian---
in addition to having mastered English and, of course, his native Arabic.
Such were the privileges of an educational pedigree for which money had been no object.
He inched his chair closer to the pretty one, and now she was only a stone's throw from him. When the wind shifted, he caught a whiff of exquisite perfume. Is it hers? He couldn't tell.
As he listened, he heard her speak in a low, velvety tone as she announced she had ended her relationship with her boyfriend. She sighed deeply---for his sake, perhaps?---then went on to tell her friends she would have to take holiday this year in Monaco without him. 'He deserved it. Such an unfaithful dog.'
An unfaithful dog.
Was that a calculated message, intended not only for her attractive fr™ulein companions, but also for his ears? Or merely coincidence?
Nothing is coincidental. Everything is calculated.
Abdur ordered a cocktail and contemplated his next move. Perhaps a round of complimentary cocktails for the fr™uleins would attract their attention. Or maybe he would trail her home when she left.
'Ahff wun, yah eff.' The sudden deep sound of a man's voice over his shoulder distracted Abdur. 'Excuse me, mister,' the man repeated in
Arabic. 'Her name is Marta.'
Abdur turned, frowning. The man was handsome, Middle Eastern,
and perhaps in his early thirties. He wore an expensive suit, tie, and shoes, all of which were white.
'You contemplate luring her to your hotel.' The man's Arabic was flawless. 'Except you did not reserve a room, because you had planned on flying back in your Cessna Citation this afternoon to report to Riyadh.
But now, with the bat of her eyes, the scent of her perfume, the crossing of her legs, you are contemplating, shall we say, a slight change of plan?'
Abdur rose to his feet and met the man's black eyes. The penetrating quality of the man's gaze was instantly gripping, as if he had the power to hypnotize. Abdur felt a chill shoot down his spine.
'Do not fear, my brother,' the man continued. 'And I assure you,
my sudden intrusion has not compromised your opportunity with this
Swiss maiden. You will have your opportunity, if it is what you want. She will cooperate. Trust me.'
'Do I know you?'
'I have been searching for you, my brother.'
'You look familiar.' Abdur frowned again, trying to read the other man's expression. He was unsuccessful.
'I am Hussein al-Akhma of Kuwait.'
'Un hum del Allah. Praise be to God.' Abdur had seen Hussein's picture in Arab newspapers. But this was the first time he had seen the man in person. 'Of you I have heard much, Brother Hussein.'
'And I, of you.' Hussein inclined his head. 'But then, we are a small brotherhood, are we not?' Hussein gave Abdur a friendly pat on the shoulder, and Abdur relaxed. But not much.
'When I was at Oxford, you were at the London School of Economics.
But we never met.' Abdur was getting his voice back.
'An unfortunate crossing in the night. But Allah has his purposes and his timing. And this moment has to do with the latter.'
Abdur pointed to the chair across the table. 'Please, be seated.'
He studied the mysterious man, rumored to be both a billionaire playboy and a stalwart man of the faith. Was this an oxymoronic combination?
Perhaps not. Abdur felt the same tug-of-war within. The prophet
Muhammad himself---Peace be upon him---certainly had felt the same struggles.
'Brother Abdur, though we have never met personally until now, I
have known you for some time.' Again, a fiery, magnetic flash lit Hussein's eyes.
'What do you mean?'
'You are searching for the purpose of life. I believe Allah has called you. Like me, you have been entrusted with much at a young age. But it is all meaningless unless we are called to a higher purpose.' Hussein's voice was smooth, hypnotic . . . as if he saw through the windows of
How can he see my struggles? My demons?
'Next to the prophet Muhammad---Peace be upon him---there had been no greater Muslim to walk the earth than the servant of Allah,
Osama bin Laden,' said al-Akhma.