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By:Jeff Abbott

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” Ben took a step back from the gun.

Kidwell lowered the gun toward Ben’s legs. “I’ll shoot you in the knee-caps and we’ll take you out on a stretcher.” He gestured with the gun. “Your choice.”

Ben stared at the gun and then slowly turned and followed Vochek to the front door.

Outside the two guards waited in the backseat of the government car. The wind and rain from the brief thunderstorm had passed; the wind gusted a cooling breath.

Ben got into the car. The guards sat on either side of him, Vochek driving, Kidwell in the passenger seat. As Vochek pulled the sedan away, Ben glanced back through the tinted windows as his lawn sprinklers surged to life and began to shroud his house in mist, like a vanishing memory.

One of the guards stuck a gun into his ribs. “Sit straight, eyes ahead, don’t move.”

This isn’t right, Ben thought and through the shock a horrifying notion occurred to him: Maybe these people weren’t with Homeland Security after all.

Khaled’s Report—Beirut

Nothing is as it seems. That idea is the deepest truth in this sorry world. And now I am about to live this truth, because my whole life is going to become a carefully constructed lie.


Because I write these words with my brothers’ blood on my face.

Oh, I washed the stains off weeks ago. No remnant of their loss remains on my skin for anyone to see. But their blood is there. Always, an invisible mark on me.

The only cure is to avenge them.

My bosses want me to write my story as to why I have taken on this most dangerous work. I can assume that my words and my handwriting will be analyzed, to see if I’m worthy, to determine my loyalty, to do a psychological evaluation to see if I’m made of—to borrow an Americanism—the right stuff.

I am an unlikely candidate, I know, to become a fighter. I was the baby of the family, the one who my brothers Samir and Gebran always tried to protect, to shield from the bully, to walk home from school, to give advice so I didn’t make an ass of myself. Which I am, confession time, prone to do. I do not think I am particularly smart or brave. I am angry.

My bosses should know exactly what they are getting in me. I studied chemistry for a while, then changed to business and finance. I like the cleanness of math; it is much less messy than life. I am too formal in social settings (and probably in my writing) but too easygoing with those that I love. I don’t like loud people. I love old Westerns. I can be a fool but I am not foolish. I can be angry but I am not mad.

And now, I think I can kill and not weep.

Let me say this about my brothers: I do not blame them. They both always did what they felt was right in this world. Gebran was a music teacher, a talented guitar player. Samir worked at a bank, generous to a fault. They had no idea of the danger they were getting into, I suspect, but I am walking in, both eyes open, facing paradise.

Samir and Gebran were two and five years older than me, and they had a different set of friends. More political, more fiery. I was more concerned with video games and girls than defiance of Israel or Palestinian statehood or the Islamic struggle. No one in Beirut is surprised that I am supposedly moving to Europe for school, not after what happened to my family.

No one can ever know that I’m actually going to America to do my work.

So here is what happened: Samir and Gebran had, as I said, a different set of friends, far more firebrand than my lazy loafing clique.

I don’t want to go when my brothers invite me to go see a buddy of theirs named Husayn who lives near Rue Hamra—but my brothers are insistent and I have, sadly, nothing better to do.

On the car ride there from the southern suburbs in Beirut where we lived with our parents, Samir turns to me in the backseat and says, “Husayn works with a special group.”

We are driving past buildings bombed out in the last fighting with Israel, mounds of rubble slowly being cleared so the buildings can rise again before they are bombed back down to their foundations. An endless cycle. Will it take twenty days or twenty years? It doesn’t matter, it will happen again. The cycle never ends. “A special group,” I say. I do not think my brother means the Special Olympics or volunteering with the elderly or any other helpful pastime.

“Yes, a group. Called Blood of Fire.”

“Sounds like a charity,” I say sarcastically.

Samir ignores the edge in my voice. “It has been dormant for several years. Husayn is bringing Blood of Fire and its ideas back to life. It is not a charity but it . . . does good work.” Samir peers at me through his glasses, as though my reaction might be printed on my head, like a news feed.

Good work. I’ve heard that term used before, a justification for bombing and killings and terror. Fear worms through my guts. That sunny afternoon, I had no use for violence. None. What did it ever accomplish? The knife in the hand doesn’t buy security when the other man has a bigger knife. Perhaps you get in one stab and then you’re done . . . unless that stab pierces to the heart.