Author:William Johnstone

    “I don’t think there’s going to be anything else good on tonight,” she told Nate. “You go on to your room. I’ll be in to read a story to you in a few minutes.”

    “I can read to myself, you know.”

    “I know you can.” She put an arm around his shoulders and hugged him to her. “But I still like to do it.

    Let me do it for a while longer, okay?”

    “Okay.” He trudged off toward his room. He didn’t have far to go because the apartment was so small.

    Allison leaned back against the sofa cushions and watched the last few minutes of the President’s speech.

    It was full of flowery rhetoric about respecting the rights of sovereign nations and abiding by the rule of law and not allowing ourselves to descend once more into barbarism. All that stuff meant that the President didn’t want to go to war. Everybody knew that. The woman’s antiwar credentials went way back. And everybody had seen what had happened in Iraq as soon as she took office, too. She had cut and run, choosing sure defeat over possible progress someday. Allison couldn’t really fault her for that; that war had been poorly run, from what little Allison could see from her civilian standpoint.

    That was just it, she thought as the President signed off with the usual “Good night, and bless the United States of America.” She, Allison Sawyer, was a civilian.

    All this stuff going on didn’t have anything to do with 38

    her. She worried about her son, and her job, and coming up with enough money to pay all the bills at the end of the month . . . with maybe a little left over for an occasional treat. Christmas was coming up after all. It was only a few days until Thanksgiving, and then it would be less than a month until Christmas, and Allison hadn’t even started her shopping yet.

    But luckily, there was a new MegaMart, one of those giant UltraMegaMarts, only a few miles away, on the Interstate between Fort Worth and Denton, and it was about to have its grand opening on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. There would be a lot of sales and specials—there always was on what was traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year—but the prices would be even better at the UltraMegaMart on that day. Allison tuned out the talking heads on TV and started thinking about what she might be able to get Nate for Christmas. There would be a huge mob there, of course, but she might have to brave it anyway.

    She would do whatever was necessary to make this a good Christmas for her son.


    Although the Prophet had taught his followers to practice moderation, Hamed al-Bashar’s reaction to what he was hearing and seeing on the television had no moderation to it.

    Indeed, he wished he were there in the Oval Office with a sword in his hand—the holy sword of Islam—so he could kill that Zionist bitch.

    Hamed had little use for Iranians, of course—they were Shiites, and he was Sunni—but right now his hatred for the Shiites was subordinated to his even greater hatred of the filthy Jews. At the training compound in the hills of Pakistan, his superiors in Hizb ut-Tahrir had taught him that tribal differences had to be put aside for now, because all of Islam faced an even greater threat. It was the goal of the West to wipe out the entire Muslim world, the leaders said, to obliterate all the Prophet’s holy teachings, and that was why the cause of jihad was so important. That was why the inf idels had to be wiped out first.

    The Jews’ attack on Iran was just one more example of lawless aggression against the Muslim world. And 40

    instead of condemning it, the American President was supporting Israel. In fact, she was sending warships to the Persian Gulf to further suppress the Iranians and interfere with their right to enforce their will in their own waters.

    It made Hamed seethe with outrage. He wanted to pick up one of the new Adidas shoes he had bought earlier in the day and throw it through the television screen. Instead, he sat in his apartment in Kansas City and fumed.

    After a while, his anger faded and was replaced by depression. He had been in America, living and working with these godless devils, keeping to himself and not doing anything that might make anyone suspicious.

    Those had been his orders, and he had followed them faithfully. He assumed that the other members of his cell, scattered through the Midwest and the South, were conducting themselves in the same manner. They were probably feeling the same frustration he was.

    He was ready for action, ready for the call that would summon him to his mission, whatever it might be.

    Ready to strike back against the Great Satan.

    Ready to die for his holy cause. Eager to die. Eager for the day when he would inflict the same sort of pain and suffering on the Americans as they had inflicted on his people. On his brothers—using the word loosely—

    in Iran, and in all the other places where Westerners had attacked Muslims. Eager as well for the beautiful virgins who would be waiting for him in paradise, but really, that was just a minor consideration. What was important was striking back against the Jews and the Americans. The same thing really. They were all Zionists. Filthy Zionists.

    The shrill ringing of the cell phone in his pocket made Hamed jump.

    He had bought it in a drugstore in Crosby, North JACKKNIFE


    Dakota, not far from the Canadian border, on his first day in the United States. Along with it, he had bought a time card that was good for a year, and had activated both the phone and the card from a computer in the public library that was connected to the Internet.

    Then he had written the phone’s number on a piece of paper, put it in a get-well card he had also bought at the drugstore, sealed the envelope that came with the card, addressed it to Bob Wilson at a post office box in St. Petersburg, Florida, bought a stamp from a coin-operated machine in the local post office, and dropped the card in the mail.

    There was no Bob Wilson, of course. Well, there probably was, almost certainly was in a country like this, but the owner of that post office box in St. Petersburg most assuredly was not really named Bob Wilson.

    But once the get-well card arrived, he would have the number of the cell phone that Hamed had carried with him at all times ever since.

    But it had never rung, not once, until now.

    Hamed fumbled the phone out of his shirt pocket and checked the little display window. UNKNOWN CALLER, it read, just as it should have. He opened the phone, thumbed the button to answer the call, and said, “Hello.”

    “Hey there, boy. It’s your Uncle Billy down in Fort Worth.” The male voice was . . . what was it they said on television? As American as apple pie? “How y’all doin’?”

    “I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number,” Hamed said. The words were burned into his brain. “I had an Uncle Billy, but he passed away a few years ago.”

    “Aw, I’m sorry to hear to hear that. Sorry to bother you, too. Y’all have a good evenin’ now, hear?” The connection cut off. The call had lasted only a few seconds. But it had accomplished its purpose. Fort Worth, 42

    Hamed thought. That was in Texas. He had studied maps of the United States for endless hours back at the training camp. He knew where every major city in the country was located, and which highways to take in order to get there.

    He would start tonight. His tiredness from the day’s work was gone. It had vanished in an instant. The call to action had come at last, and further instructions would be waiting for him in Fort Worth. If he drove straight through, stopping only for gas, he could be there in less than a day. Some of the other members of his cell were probably even closer to the rendezvous point. Hamed was already looking forward to seeing them again.

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