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Chapter 19

Jeep Zendawi labored for more than an hour over his final meal. He prepared a dish of Labneh and Hummus, with pita bread. He also stuffed Grape leaves with ground lamb, fresh chard, rice, and pine nuts with spices from his home and stewed them in oil and tomato. Beside the colorful plate sat a tall glass of Turkish coffee, thicker and richer than the watery American version.

He ate slowly and savored every bite, thanking Allah for each morsel as it passed his lips and entered his mouth. After his dessert of yogurt and fresh fruit, he ventured out for the Mosque to pray his fourth Salat and consult with the Iman Ali.

Iman Ali supported his mission and relayed messages from his handlers in the Middle East. With his Uncle Abud engaged in his Jihad against the enemy, Iman Ali watched out for him and guided him in his spiritual journey.

Jeep entered the beige brick building into the foyer. The smell of incents and curry wafted across his nose and gave him a warm feeling in his stomach. Light music played in a room at the back of the building. But an odd and unsettling quietness pervaded the usually bustling gathering place.

Jeep stepped through a curtain to the main prayer room and was stunned to find it empty. On any given evening, he would join more than a dozen other brothers in prayer.

“My brother, good Senjeep,” Iman Ali appeared from an adjoining room. “You are here my friend. You have served Allah with great honor and dignity. Your reward will be truly great. Always remember that, my good friend. Always remember. And do not lose faith in God. For God is great.”

“Yes Iman, thank you,” Jeep bowed his head and glanced about. “Where are the other worshipers? Why are they gone tonight?”

“Senjeep, there is not time to explain it all to you,” the Iman spoke more hurried. “Your Uncle Abud has not succeeded in his mission. He was slaughtered by one of the American soldiers that protect the infidel. You are the last known member of our cell in America dedicated to this Jihad.”

“I will bring honor to our mission,” Jeep pronounced. “I will destroy this Melanie Horniday and the American family Johnson.”

“No Senjeep,” the Iman’s eyes drooped for a split second. “Allah has a new mission for you. Abud would want you to perform this task. I counsel you to follow God’s wishes. Do not forget your reward for living the life God provides to you. And honor him with your obedience.”

The Iman walked toward the back door of the complex with his arm around his shoulder.

“This mosque must remain beyond suspicion,” he continued. “The Americans would have traced you from your Uncle. They must believe the cell has been eradicated. You must not question the will of God. And you must not lose faith no matter how long you live. God is great.”

At that, Iman Ali opened the door and escorted Senjeep out to the back steps. As the fading light of the evening sunset streamed through the clouds, Jeep found himself peering down at a full complement of American police agents, some only a few feet away, others on the sidewalk and still others by the dozens of police vehicles parked along the road. Nearly all of them pointed long shotguns at his head.

He studied the scene without comprehension at first. It looked like a video game or a feature film had unfolded in real life before his feet. He turned back at Iman Ali. He saw him engage in eye contact with the leader of the Americans and make a nodding gesture. With sad eyes, he glanced quickly at Jeep and slunk back into the Mosque.

Jeep turned to open the door but heard the lock click just as he clutched the brass doorknob. Behind him, he sensed the Americans moving in.

“Senjeep Zendawi?” the American leader called out in sharp staccato from behind the opened door of a police car. “We have you surrounded. Do not attempt to flee or engage us. We will shoot to kill.”

He had been betrayed. His Iman, who had cared for him and showed him how to live, had turned him over to the enemy. Iman Ali had said the betrayal fulfilled the will of God. It would protect the Iman from suspicion and allow him to continue with his mission. Jeep resisted the impulse to question this turn of events and put up his hands in surrender to the Americans.

He would not smite the infidel family this night or any night. He would not see Allah or the angels or his parents in Jaddah on this day. Instead, he would languish in an American prison with nothing to guide him but the opening of the Koran and nothing to keep the flame of his hopes alive but his daily prayers to Allah.

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