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Authors: Jay Brenham

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Fall of the Seven Cities Saga (Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: Fall of the Seven Cities Saga (Book 1)
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Sam gave Jack a friendly wave as he got out of the car. Jack and his wife, Theresa, had been the first to welcome Sam and Jill to the neighborhood. He was the closest thing Sam had to a friend on the street: Jack was a Navy man who’d stayed in Norfolk after he retired.

Inside, Sam’s black work boots slid off easily as he pulled at the laces, watching his distorted reflection in their polished shine as Jill rolled her suitcase into the living room. Grant trailed behind her, a stuffed monkey in one hand.

“What does the monkey say?” Sam asked, wiggling a finger under Grant’s chin until he laughed. Grant couldn’t say many words yet, but he loved imitating animals.

“Ooooo oooooh ahhhh ahhhh.”

“What does the cat say?”

“Meeeeeeooooooow.”

“What does the dog say?”

“Dowga.”

Sam laughed at how Grant pronounced dog with a W. “I wish you didn’t have to go right away,” he said as he hung his uniform and put his boots in the closet for the last time.

“I know, but it’s my little brother’s birthday and you’re leaving in a few days anyway.” She smiled at him as she zipped up the diaper bag she’d packed for Grant. “I’ll miss you.
We’ll
miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. I guess it’ll be good for your family to spend time with Grant. They haven’t seen him in a while.”

“I know. And this will be the last time we’re apart for any length of time.”

“Only a couple of weeks. Nothing compared to deployment.”

She smiled again and wrapped her arms around him. “No more of those. Ever.”

It was a four-hour drive north to where Jill’s parents lived in southern Maryland, a rural area about an hour south of Annapolis.

Sam picked up Jill’s bags and followed her out to the car. She stood for a moment, smiling up at him before turning to strap Grant into his car seat. Some people would find it strange that they were smiling and happy even as they prepared to spend two weeks apart, but they saw things differently. They’d spent a lot of time apart over the past five years; a few weeks was a drop in the bucket compared to a deployment. And spending a couple of weeks on the Appalachian Trail was something Sam had talked about before he enlisted, before they were married even. It was a good way to symbolically end his time in the military.

Jill closed Grant’s door and slid into the driver’s seat. The wind blew through the window, pulling strands of brown hair away from her ponytail. Sam leaned in and kissed her, then opened the back door and kissed Grant on the forehead.

“Don’t share your tent with any trail bunnies,” Jill warned, starting the car.

Sam laughed and kissed her again. “No trail bunnies for this sailor. It’s 11:30. You better hurry up or you’ll hit beach traffic.”

He pressed his face against the rear window briefly, contorting his face against the glass to make Grant laugh. Jill waved and shifted into first gear.

His son’s laugh. His wife’s smile. Those were things he wouldn’t forget.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

 

 

The alarm rang as Khalid’s watch switched from 11:44 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. He silenced the noise, drained the last of his coffee, and got up from his table. A young couple with three children walked past, carrying beach umbrellas and folding chairs. The woman had long hair and wore nothing but a two-piece bathing suit. Khalid’s eyes lingered on her for a moment before he looked away in disgust. Despite his piety, he was still subject to the same temptations as any other man; he hated American clothing, even as he found the women who wore them attractive. Still, his wife would have never dressed like that—in Yemen or in America.
His wife
. Khalid forced himself not to push the thoughts away. He wouldn’t have many more opportunities to remember her. They hadn’t actually been married, just engaged, but Nadiya was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Many people disliked arranged marriages and Khalid and Nadiya had been no different. At their first meeting they’d been standoffish, eying each other awkwardly while Nadiya’s aunt chaperoned. Tea was served and Khalid had knocked his cup over. Embarrassed, he’d begun hurriedly soaking up the tea with whatever he could find, but when he looked up Nadiya was smiling. Then she started to laugh. It was probably just nerves, but they’d both laughed so hard it hurt and, with the awkwardness finally gone, they’d talked.

Khalid left that first meeting with hope in his heart. Making him laugh was not something he expected his future wife to do. In his wildest dreams, he’d never thought she would be funny, but she was. The meetings continued and so did the laughing. Khalid couldn’t believe his good fortune; he was going to marry a woman he loved.

He winced at the memory. A week before the wedding, Nadiya had been killed in a drone strike. It was supposed to have targeted Al-Qaeda leaders, who were meeting in the same apartment building. Nadiya and her family were collateral damage.

Khalid had burned with the need for revenge. He still did. Fundamentalism had never interested him before; he’d been content to mind his own business and let the West tend to theirs. But now that Nadiya was dead

no, not dead,
murdered
——Khalid’s goals had changed. He would bring America to its knees.

But he couldn’t just blame America. Before Nadiya’s murder, he’d supported American drone strikes. He thought they’d seemed legitimate, necessary even. He’d regretted that every day since her death.

Al-Qaeda was glad to have him. During the years he’d spent with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the organization had become one of the most lethal Al-Qaeda affiliates. A few years ago, they’d sent someone to detonate a suicide belt, killing nearly 100 Yemeni soldiers, dogs of the West. Khalid had begged to be chosen to wear the explosive belt but he’d been turned down. Be patient, his handlers had said. Allah had other plans for him. Because of Khalid’s middle class upbringing, he’d had the opportunity to learn English and he spoke it well. That was why he’d been chosen to come to America; soon he would strike at the heart of the great Satan.

When he entered America, Khalid, along with his friend Ali and the other men who’d been chosen, were each given a bag of supplies: mostly blue jeans, t-shirts, American money, and fake documentation. A man had walked by with an electric razor and shaved off each man’s beard. Then they were given a small mirror, a disposable razor, and a bowl of water and instructed to shave.

One by one, they were escorted from the shed and into waiting cars. The sun was blinding as Khalid walked to his designated vehicle. The inside of the Mercedes sedan was upholstered in black leather, something that would’ve probably been unbearably hot if not for air conditioning. The driver was Yemeni but he dressed like an American. Khalid noticed the driver’s phone was sitting in the cup holder with its battery next to it, a precaution so no one could eavesdrop or track them.

“Listen carefully,” the driver said in a solemn voice. “There are rules you must follow in America. Do you understand?”

Khalid nodded.

“Good. First, shave every day. Even twice a day, if you need it. Keep your face smooth, like a business man, an American. Second, dress in the clothing we give you and nothing else. You do not know how to dress like an American, no matter what you may think. The clothing in the bag was selected specifically to make you look anonymous.”

This was nothing new to Khalid; he’d been briefed in Yemen about how to conduct himself during the mission. Everything was planned months in advance, right down to the shirt on his back.

The driver handed him a piece of paper and Khalid scanned it. The paper had a list of hotels in a place called Virginia Beach. Khalid’s lips formed the name silently, testing the familiar words. He’d been told by his handlers that he would be given a list of budget hotels at which he could stay, selected for their high volume of customers and frequent turnover.

“Rent a hotel room from this list. Stay there every night until it’s time. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Fourth, there will be no drinking alcohol and no strip clubs. You will not act like the September 11
th
hijackers. There is no room for a mistake.”

“Of course.”

The driver reached behind the seat and picked up the suicide belt.

“The fifth and final rule: You will keep this belt on at all times. There are no exceptions to this rule. If you are in danger of being discovered detonate the device.” He placed the suicide belt in Khalid’s lap.

“We were briefed on this earlier,” Khalid said, annoyed at being spoken to like a child.

“I understand, brother, but I was told to review the rules again,” the driver said in an even voice. “I have been living in this country undetected for years.”

They pulled into the parking lot of the train station. Khalid put his hand on the door but paused at the sound of the driver’s voice.


Fi Amanullah
brother. Because of you, our fight may soon be over.” The driver handed Khalid a ticket.


Fi Amanullah
,” Khalid said as he stepped out of the car.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

 

 

Sam stared down at the camping equipment carefully laid out on the floor of his bedroom. He could almost taste the freedom of the trail. For the first time in five years he didn’t have to report where he was going or for how long.

It was exhilarating.

He’d come into the Navy with high hopes of fighting in the War on Terror. It was a cliché, but he’d joined to serve his country. His grandfather had been a Navy man and spoke fondly of it, so that’s the branch Sam joined, but he hadn’t done the kinds of things he thought he would.

When he enlisted he was 24 years old. Soon he was chipping paint and taking orders from 18 year old kids, but he was faithful that a chance to serve in the way he had imagined would present itself. Sam kept up the good work even if it was not work he enjoyed.

He volunteered for a joint tour with the Army but was denied because his rank was too low. When an earthquake struck Haiti, he volunteered for that too. That time he was denied because his command wanted to transfer the worst performers first.

There was a running joke among Sam and the rest of the low-ranking sailors. “What are you doing,” one sailor would ask another, as they paused in their endless rounds of painting, sweeping and swabbing. “Just serving my country any way it needs me,” the other would reply.

Sam
was
serving his country, he knew that. He wasn’t ashamed, exactly; he’d volunteered when his country needed him and continually sought out opportunities to actually help people. But the fact remained that some people were on the front lines, making more than their fair share of sacrifices. He just wasn’t one of them.

The thought of the last five years made him restless, even a little angry. He needed to relieve some stress. Sam put on an old pair of shoes and some mesh shorts, and headed out to his garage.

The garage door creaked as he lifted it and rolled a big rig truck tire outside. A few moments later he emerged, gripping the hickory handle of a sledgehammer.

Twenty minutes later Sam lay on his back, sweating and breathing hard. The sky was beautiful, a cloudless blue that stretched as far as he could see. His chest heaved from the effort of striking the truck tire with the sledgehammer. It was a therapeutic activity for him. People who box often talk about how they were angry people before they took up boxing, before the sport gave them an acceptable place to focus their anger. Sam had never been an angry person but the tire was still a great place to vent his frustrations.

The sound of footsteps brought him back to the present. Sitting up, Sam saw his neighbor.

“When I was young, we used tools for what they were made for. Don’t you know what that thing is for?” Jack crossed his arms, but he was smiling. His face was wrinkled and spattered with dark sun spots.
White hair lay carefully parted to one side, a temporary thatching for his balding head.

“Yeah, I heard about that guy John Henry you worked with,” Sam said, still slightly out of breath. “Took on the steam engine, didn’t he?”

Jack chuckled and stuck out his hand to help Sam to his feet. “Hell of a day, huh? I thought I’d wander over to see if you regretted leaving the finest institution this country has ever known.”

“I’m feeling pretty good, Jack. This is my first day as a civilian in five years. Check back in a month when the budget gets tight and those steady paychecks stop, maybe then I’ll feel some regret.”

“Are you still planning on heading out to do some camping for a few days?”

“Yeah. I should be gone for a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to following no one’s schedule but my own.”

Jack grinned and Sam knew he was about to hear a wise crack.

“Your own schedule. What you need is a Navy Chief to tell you what to do and when to do it or you won’t know when to eat or which direction to go.”

“I told you that you can come along,” Sam said. “Resurrect your Navy Chief roots and direct me.”

BOOK: Fall of the Seven Cities Saga (Book 1)
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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