Read an Excerpt
A Delta jumbo jet from the United States passed over Saudi Arabia, heading east for the United Arab Emirates. The descending flight, full of passengers, made its way into the airspace of the city of Dubai in the early afternoon, passing over an inspiring landscape of new and still- developing properties. The opulent construction of Dubai included five-, six- and seven-star hotels and resorts, the largest shopping malls on the planet, and the tallest building in the world, along with an advanced transportation system of high-speed rails. There were state-of-the-art sporting complexes, international gold, diamond and clothing markets, an inside ski resort and hundreds of tourist attractions. Scores of new apartment buildings and villas housed the hundreds of thousands of immigrant citizens of the world who had traveled there to help design and build this emerald city in the sand and live in its splendor.
Abdul Khalif Hassan breathed heavy with anxiety as he stared out of his large office window at the steady stream of flights arriving and departing from Dubai’s international airport. He stood at the corner window in his office on the twenty-seventh floor of an elaborate downtown building near the waterfront of the Persian Gulf and Dubai’s famous, man-made Palm Islands. A young Arabian businessman of royal lineage in his late thirties, Abdul wore a fine designer suit with a striking white shirt and a colorful silk tie. He was a wealthy and confident member of the Emirati, the ruling class of local families of the Middle East, who had benefited from their ownership of abundant oil property. The Hassan family and many other Arabian businessmen had now moved into the tourism, hotel and retail industries, where Abdul’s recent plans were not proceeding as scheduled. Construction of his new hotel had fallen nearly a year behind completion.
Abdul’s smooth, light-brown forehead tightened with concern as he ran his hand through his dark mane of thick wavy hair and sighed in frustration.
“When will the next genius design robots to do the work of construction on time?” he asked rhetorically.
In the advertisements, brochures and worldwide promotions for Dubai, every building was complete, where in reality, many of their grand-scale projects remained in feverish construction, with cranes atop buildings and unfinished streets below.
Hamda Sharifa Hassan, Abdul’s regal wife, stood in his office not far from him. Hearing her husband’s impatience, she walked over to comfort him, placing her hand on the small of his back.
“You cannot rush time, Abdul. Everything will happen when it is supposed to, Allah willing,” she told him calmly. In her mid-twenties, Hamda wore a knee-length white dress with tiny, vertical red stripes. Around her neck was a thick gold necklace and seashell amulet that held a large ruby, accented by matching gold seashell earrings. She was a stunning young queen with dark, straight hair past her shoulders, and she was college educated and mature beyond her years.
“We should go out to eat at the Promenade,” she suggested. “It will take your mind off your worries about construction.”
Abdul nodded to her proposition, but he could not take his mind off of his projects.
“Anything you want,” he responded with tolerance. He leaned forward and kissed his wife on the cheek.
Hamda frowned and eyed her husband, knowingly. She said, “Your stress will not make anything better. Relax, and leave it all up to Allah. The Magnificent will see all of your plans through. Has Allah ever failed you before?” she challenged him.
“Of course not,” Abdul objected fiercely. Such a charge would be considered dishonorable and blasphemous.
His wife reached forward to hold his hands in hers and to face him, taking his attention away from the landscape in the window.
She told her husband with conviction, while staring into his dark-brown eyes with hers, “Abdul, you will be successful at everything you do, and so will our children. So stop wasting my visit with you and let’s go do lunch.”
Finally, he grinned and loosened his demeanor. He said, “Hamda, don’t you know we cannot rush time.”
She tapped his arm gently and chuckled at his mocking sarcasm.
“Come on, let’s go,” she demanded. “Call for the car.”
She then moved to cover herself in a white abaya, the traditional Muslim garb for public viewing, and added a royal, red-trimmed khimar to cover her head and shoulders.
Abdul stepped quickly away from his wife and toward his desk.
“First, let me call my management.”
Hamda eyed him again in irritation. Men will be men, she thought. My husband has the heart of a bull.
Abdul picked up the office phone from his desk and made a call to the management of his various developing properties as his young wife watched him and took a seat with superior patience.
At one of the hundreds of construction sites owned and financed by the Emirates of Dubai, a project manager, wearing a red turban over his traditional white throbe, nodded with a cell phone to his ear.
“Yes, praise be to Allah.”
He hung up his phone with urgent new orders to speed up his crew, moving immediately to inspect a group of workers who had taken their lunch break on the dusty ground floor of a rising skyscraper.
“How many minutes you been on break?”
The dark-brown men with thick dark hair, dressed in identical light-blue uniforms, were startled. The imposing man in the long white garb seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
“We, we just took our break,” a well-respected worker responded for all of them. He was a soft-speaking native of India.
“Are you sure?” the manager questioned.
The Indian man nodded respectfully. “Yes.”
Some of his co-workers were not as cordial. They looked on at the Emirate overseer with disdain, tired of the disrespect they received as immigrant workers. The large population of multicultural immigrants did the majority of the building in Dubai. These were immigrants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Taiwan, Egypt and Ethiopia, with architects and engineers from Germany, France, America and Australia. They had come from all around the world to work and live here. These hard-working men with wives and families felt they should be allowed to eat at work in peace, especially on a job where many of them had been bused in to give their all from sunup to sundown.
“What are you looking at?” the manager asked a particularly stern-faced worker. He was a tall and rugged Pakistani, who leaned against an iron pole with his bowl of rice and lunch bread. The Pakistani could care less about respecting a man who did not respect him. Nevertheless, he needed the job, so he looked away to avoid a confrontation.
The manager attempted to bully him anyway. “You heard me. What are you looking at?”
The Indian co-worker spoke up to support his crewman. “He is okay. He is just tired and hungry. A man gets cranky when he cannot eat,” he joked with a chuckle.
The manager continued to stare down the rugged Pakistani, unafraid of his superior size. He even walked in closer to crowd his space.
“You tell him not to look at me like that again,” he informed the Indian to translate. The manager assumed the Pakistani worker could not speak English.
When the Pakistani looked his Indian co-worker in the eye, the Indian man became hesitant to relay the message. Instead, he turned back to the Muslim overseer.
“Yes, I, I will,” he stammered.
“You tell him what I said now,” the manager demanded.
Suddenly, the tension between them all became apparent. The Pakistani man met the overseer’s ire and refused to back down. He stepped forward against the restraints of his co-workers, who frantically jumped in between the two men to hold him back.
“No, no, stop it!” the Indian peacekeeper pleaded.
A serious altercation seemed inevitable.
“You dare to hit me?” the Muslim man challenged the Pakistani. “Hit me then. You will be fired. You are already fired.”
The Pakistani man cursed him in his native language, no longer caring about the job.
As the scuffle continued below, a crowd of workers watched from the floors of above which had not yet been enclosed with walls. One of the workers standing on a steel beam slipped and lost his balance.
The light-blue, uniform-wearing worker fell headfirst from twenty stories up.
The Indian peacekeeper rushed into action as if he were a superhero, attempting to catch the falling worker. But as he ran to predict the landing of his freefalling co-worker, he tripped over a water bucket and fell to the ground himself. By the time he had climbed back to his feet, his co-worker had met a ghastly ending.
The shocked Muslim manager fell to his knees in the dirt and immediately began to pray.
“Oh, Merciful Allah …”
The Pakistani man and his co-workers looked on and shook their heads in disbelief. Some of them covered their eyes from the horror. As the overseer continued to pray, the Pakistani had seen and heard enough. He cursed the spiteful overseer and spit to the ground in front of him before he walked away from the job.
“Saleem, what are you doing?” the Indian peacekeeper ran from behind to ask him.
Saleem stopped and stared at him incredulously. “What are you doing?” he responded in English of his own. “I no longer work here,” he spat. He had chosen to fake ignorance to save himself from daily defacement, but it became too obvious that he could no longer work with such disrespect from his bosses without killing the man in authority. And as he began to walk away from the scene of the tragedy, a number of his co-workers followed behind him. The men could no longer ignore the contempt of their services.
In the woods of Northern Virginia, less than an hour away from the U.S. capital in Washington, Gary Stevens hustled down a dirt road trail toward an open grass field, wearing long gray sweats. Over six feet tall and well-built, the thirty-one-year-old reached the open field where four shooting stations awaited him with loaded pistols. Paper targets stood fifty feet away in front of him, shaped like fugitives and carrying assault weapons.
Gray grabbed the black nine-millimeter pistol at the station and aimed with sharp-green eyes, firing two shots that zipped through the knees of his target. He then slammed the gun down and ran toward a finish line to his left.
Special Command Officer Howard Cummings waited behind the line with his stopwatch in hand. A stout military veteran in his fifties, wearing camouflage hunting gear and a matching cap, the officer grinned.
“You’re twenty-seven seconds behind your record,” he stated.
Gary keeled over to catch his breath in the frost of October. He chuckled, shaking his head of short-cropped hair, and said, “Yeah, I got a little too comfortable.” Beads of sweat dripped from his four-day-old mustache and beard, making him appear more rugged and mannish than he had looked in his college years.
Cummings nodded and told him, “You would have made a great military man, Gary.”
“Not while my mother was still alive,” Gary countered. “She wouldn’t have allowed it.”
The office continued to grin. “Well, you’ve come a long way since we first met.” He had expressed his confidence in the young man more than a dozen times in the three years that he had gotten to know him.
“Thanks to you guys,” Gary admitted. “I have no idea what I’d be doing right now. I’d probably still be running a record store and chasing tail in Louisville.”
“You mean, as opposed to chasing tail in Virginia?” Officer Cummings quipped. “You’re still unmarried, right?”
Gary smiled sheepishly and didn’t bother to answer.
“Yeah, I know, you’re gonna try to hold out for as long as you can.”
Gary chuckled. He appeared sharp and determined with the maturity of life experience behind him.
“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings until I’m really sure,” he said.
Before Cummings could respond, they both looked back at a second man and a woman, racing out of the woods toward the shooting station. The man was slightly in the lead, but only slightly, with less than two hundred yards to go to the finish line.
“Fox is gonna catch him at the end,” Officer Cummings predicted.
Gary grinned and watched as his mentor, Jonah Brown, a nearly forty-year-old African-American woman dressed in black, ran behind the slightly younger guy in dark green. They reached the shooting station simultaneously and aimed the pistols to fire at their targets. With three rapid shots to the stomach, chest and forehead, Jonah Brown was off and running again toward the finish line. However, the younger man struggled to control his gun with weary arms and shoulders, needing more time to steady his aim. By the time he connected with a single shot to the chest of the target, Jonah had crossed the finish line.
“Great comeback,” Gary told her.
Jonah hunched over with hands on her knees and gasped for air while rolling her eyes. Her loose ponytail draped over her right shoulder.
“Are you kidding me? I was trying to catch you.”
Officer Cummings laughed. “Yeah, well, get in line.”
The third runner crossed the line and said, “You two need to try out for the Olympic pentathlon team for Brazil.”
“Maybe he can, but I’ll be too old in twenty-sixteen,” Jonah huffed.
“You can do anything you put your mind to, Fox,” Officer Cummings interjected.
Jonah looked at Gary and nodded with an approving smile. She was proud of him.
She said, “So can he. He’s come a long way now, right?”
“I tell him that every day,” Officer Cummings said.
“Yeah, but I see he still won’t shoot to kill,” their third runner commented. “He shot twice at the knees.”
“And he hit ’em both,” Jonah argued.
Gary said, “I think it’s much harder to target different parts of the body.”
“Of course it is,” Officer Cummings agreed. “That’s why you’re the Eagle and he’s the Beaver—you’re sharper.”
“Yeah, but a beaver still gets it done,” the man retorted.
“It just takes you a little longer,” Jonah joked.
The Beaver looked back in the woods at a fourth man, dressed in dark blue, who was just making it out into the open greenery.
“Yeah, but I’m not as slow as him.”
They all shared a laugh as Cummings shook his head, concerned about his latest recruit.
“That’s what happens when you allow yourself to get out of shape.”
Later that evening, Gary strolled into a downtown Arlington, Virginia, bar to meet up alone with Jonah. Dressed comfortably in a long black wool coat, the wandering eyes of young women followed Gary, just as they always had. His handsome mystique begged for attention, even though he no longer asked for it.
Jonah Brown sat at the bar in a conversation with a tall black man in his late twenties who stood beside her. He looked huge and well groomed, like a professional athlete with money to blow. But when Jonah spotted Gary approaching her, she dismissed the young man.
“All right, I may call you. But my business partner just walked in, so you’ll have to excuse me.”
“You may call me?” the well-groomed man questioned. He didn’t budge. After buying her a drink at the bar, he felt slighted.
Jonah eyed him with measured authority. “That’s what I said,” she told him. “Now have some respect for your elders. As I told you earlier, I have a business meeting.”
The towering man paused and grabbed his drink from the counter. He nodded to her and said sarcastically, “You have a good night,” before walking away.
“Did I just break up something important?” Gary asked Jonah, picking up on the tension.
Jonah smiled. “Not at all. You know my dilemma with men. There are other things that are more important.”
Gary grinned, marveling at how young and vibrant she continued to look. Dressed professionally in a black skirt suit with her hair done, she didn’t look a day over thirty, and that was only because he knew how old she was.
“Well, they seem to continue to line up for you,” he hinted with softness in his eyes. Any man would line up for a woman so attractive, professional and confident if they could handle her intimidation factor.
But Jonah would have none of the conversation. “Anyway, getting back to our business, because no one gets more attention than you do,” she commented lightheartedly.
“Tell me about it. I need to get away from one right now,” Gary hinted. “I’m thinking about taking a much-needed trip out of the country.”
That gave Jonah a moment of concern. The last time Gary had been out of the country, he had lost his best friend to a murder at point-blank range.
“Are you ready for that yet?” she asked him.
Gary sighed. “I told myself years ago that you have to face your fears to live the life that you ultimately want to live. So after spending the last five years of my life to finish school and complete this military training, I now have to figure out who I am and what I want out of life. What I am I even here for, you know? I still haven’t answered those questions of myself. And I still haven’t met my father,” he added.
Jonah looked away momentarily, feeling a semblance of guilt.
She said, “You’ve been great about that. You’ve really shown a lot of patience and maturity.”
“Yeah, too bad I can’t say the same about the old man,” he jabbed.
As an intermediary between a father and his estranged son, Jonah had become leery of the wait as well. How much more did Gary have to prove to show that he was trustworthy enough to meet his overly secretive father? Maybe his acceptance of the matter had even served to prolong the issue. Nevertheless, Jonah was the consummate professional, who would continue to carry out the orders of the man who had hired her, no matter how close she had obviously become to his son.
As usual, Jonah quickly changed the subject. “So, where are you planning on going?” she asked him.
Gary shrugged and answered, “I’m thinking I’ll fly out to Dubai in the Middle East. The place looks awesome, and I understand it’s a tourist haven for the world now.”
Jonah nodded and was not troubled by the idea. Dubai was considered safe ground as an international tourist destination in the middle of the desert. The Middle East literally connected Africa, Europe and Asia.
“Good choice,’’ she said, always caring about Gary’s safety. “Are you taking your lady friend from D.C.?”
She took a sip of her drink, anticipating an interesting answer from Gary. She knew he would have one. In the half-dozen years that she had watched over him, the young man had been as allusive with the opposite sex as she had been in her own personal life.
Gary paused and grinned. “That’s where the problem is,” he answered. “I really need to get away and find myself before I can truly commit to anyone like that. I don’t think it would be fair to her to have a man who’s obviously still searching to find himself.”
“I bet she wouldn’t agree with that, especially after you tell her you’re traveling there alone.”
“Yeah, well, at least I’m going to a place where all of the women are covered in sheets,” he joked.
Jonah chuckled and said, “Not all of the women. I’m sure they have enough tourists over there who are not in sheets.”
“Well, that’s not what I’m going there to look for. I just need to clear my mind for a minute. And I haven’t done that in a while.”
“You sure have the money to do it,” Jonah hinted with another sip of her drink. “Are you gonna stay at one of their seven-star hotels?”
Gary had barely spent any of his inheritance from his mother’s estate, let alone the millions more that he would get from his father. Money would never be an issue. He never liked to talk about it. But he had definitely been spoiled, and he knew it.
He frowned and said, “I may spend one night at an ice hotel just to see what it feels like, but for the rest of the time, I’ll just stay at a four-star place or something.”
Jonah chuckled and joked, “Yeah, a Motel 6 in Dubai, right? As if that even exists over there.”
Gary laughed along with her. He joked, “Maybe they call theirs Motel 16.”
Jonah asked him, “Does this girl even know how well-off you are?”
“Oh, of course not,” he answered. “Look at how I’m dressed.”
Jonah looked over Gary’s typically casual dress code and grinned.
Gary was more embarrassed and apologetic of his windfall, especially in light of the recent economic struggles in America and around the world. So he never bragged about it, contributing more than a million dollars to foundations for charity. After the tragic deaths of his mother, Gabrielle, and his best friend, Taylor, Gary was always thinking about ways to help others. His humility had been strengthened by his painful losses.
Jonah said, “Well, whenever you want to buy a top-grade suit and shoes, you just go do it. That’s definitely how your father would want to see you.”
“Yeah, when he finally agrees to it.”
Jonah changed the subject again. “Okay, so let’s get to the hard part now. Do you want to change your name for this trip? I can help you do to that if it’ll help you to feel safer.”
After what happened to Gary and Taylor in Colombia, Jonah was very cautious of his travel out of the country. But now he had years of military training and instruction in mixed martial arts to help protect himself.
Gary joked and said, “What, and become Jared Heath or something?”
He laughed out loud at the idea.
“If that’s the name you want,” Jonah responded seriously. “Of course, we would have to search it first to make sure there’s nothing crazy attached to it.”
Gary frowned and said, “Yeah, but I’m not a spy or anything. That would be more of a liability than me using my own name. What if someone asked me some hard questions?”
Jonah said, “I’m just trying to protect you.” She paused and added, “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
Her comment forced Gary to think back to his painful visit to Colombia again, five years ago. He could still hear the Colombian man’s voice in his head: Now you can travel alone in pain and fear. Those words were followed by the single gunshot to his best friend’s head.
During his training, Gary had often shot at targets with the Colombian in mind. The torture in South America was his main purpose for receiving military instruction, to learn to protect himself at all times and in any given situation. But he also knew that he had to move on and let it go … unless he ever came face to face the Colombian man again.
Shaking off his thoughts of pain, fear and revenge, Gary wanted to imagine a beautiful time of healing, discovery and wonder in Dubai instead.
“All I have to do is mind my own business and behave myself like a respectable tourist, and I’ll be all right,” he stated. “So I’ll book a room at the most obvious place and do what every other tourist does to stay out of trouble.”
Jonah nodded, agreeing with his strategy. “You do that. So when are you planning to go there?”
Gary shrugged, thinking spontaneously. “I don’t know. Next week, maybe.”
Jonah nearly choked on the last of her drink. “Next week?” she repeated. “Well, that’s not enough time to—” She stopped herself. “Oh, I forgot. You can afford the last-minute travel. It must be nice.”
“Well, if you need to fly over there and save me from something, I’m sure my old man can afford to get you there,” Gary teased.
Jonah grilled him and said, “That’s not funny. And if I have to fly somewhere to save you, your butt’s not going anywhere but Disney World from that point on. So stay out of trouble and leave the exotic women alone.”
Gary chuckled, attempting to keep it all light. “Yeah, I’ll do my best.”