A Night in the Park
They called her “the woman”, never addressing her by name unless she were in their presence.
“She is falling apart.”
“She is no longer of any significant use.”
“You may discharge her at any time after the Smith contract is completed.”
“It is done.”
The interview had not gone as planned, at least from the networks perspective. Gary Smith had answered the questions honestly. The difference was the network had scripted an ambush. The Holy Spirit led Gary through the verbal minefield. The show's producer and director would have loved to have killed the interview siting technical difficulties. They didn't have anything queued up to replace it and it was late night. No audience, or so they thought. They had been assured by the “reporter/interviewer” and her staff that this was going to be a “slam-dunk”.
Let the Feds grovel at Smith's feet for the next “word from on high”. Smith had to have inside information. The Feds were concocting crises to maintain the closest thing to martial law and Smith was their dupe. The terrorists threats were a figment of Beltway imaginations and military delusions. The Islamists were a handy foe since the Soviets folded. So what if Smith had been the oldest doctoral student of mathematics, winner of both the Abel and Wolf prizes. They weren't like a Nobel. This Bible prophecy mumbo-jumbo just made it seem more pathetic. At least it had not been a call-in like WNN. What a fiasco! They thought the host was going to have a coronary right there on live television.
Nobody was watching the stage manager as she slipped to a quiet spot and made a phone call. Cell phones had a habit of messing with other electronic equipment even if just sitting idle, let alone ringing, at really bad times.
“Elvis has left the building,” she whispered.
They ambushed him as he exited the ground floor entrance to the studio complex. They grabbed Smith's arms and guided him to a waiting limousine, as if it were an everyday occurrence for the trio. Inside on the rear facing seat sat a woman dressed for an evening out. His guards would not have stood out either because of their well fitting suits. Only their size would have hinted at their true vocation. The limo pulled away from the curb and entered very light traffic.
“Please, Mr. Smith, sit down and relax. No harm will come to you, unless you attempt to escape before we reach our destination,” stated the woman as if she were discussing the weather. With that she picked up a small automatic hidden by her purse laying on the seat to her left.
“You have been most troublesome to a friend of mine. He would like to have a discussion with you to see if he might persuade you to see things from his perspective. It will be most enlightening, and no doubt you will have a change of heart.”
“I doubt that. My change of heart took place long ago.”
“I take you to be a reasonable man, not influenced by emotion as many of your followers are.”
“I consider myself reasonable, however, I don't have any followers,” responded Smith.
“I would disagree. You seem to have an army of fanatics willing to do your bidding.”
“I would also disagree. Yes, there are those who parrot by words without understanding. I have attempted to dissuade mimics, but one can only do so much without hindering the primary message.”
The woman joined the rest of the occupants in silence.
The driver seemed to be in no hurry as he turned left here or right there. He never exceeded the speed limit nor rushed through a caution light. It seemed the purpose of the drive was to burn precious gas, not a drive with an ultimate destination.
It seemed as if an hour or more had passed when the guard on Smith's right gave a little shudder, and cleared his throat as if to speak. The Holy Spirit was moving on Smith.
“Your friend, Mahmoud, is not in this country, Ms. Hopkins.”
The intake of breath by the women was followed by a whispered expletive and a narrow eyed stare. She laid the automatic down and removed her jacket. Picking up the automatic, she seemed to grip it with more intensity than would seem to be required. The muscles of her exposed arms seemed to relax.
“I don't know what you are talking about,” Hopkins spat.
“Please, don't insult me or the one who provided the information to me. I realize you are an unbeliever, but...”
“I was wondering about your pubic stance on gun control.”
“Only in the hands of the ignorant masses, if they would just kill each other.”
“I'm sincerely sorry for your loss.”
“It's your kind who killed my brother, religious fanatics doing God's will.”
“I take it Mahmoud and his crowd are somehow different doing Allah's will.”
She did not take the bait. Obviously, one of the occupants was Mahmoud's representative.
“Ms. Hopkins, only one of you is going to get out of this alive,” spoke Smith with a touch of sadness in his voice.
The woman seemed ready to throw herself at Smith with a vengeance. She settled back in the seat relaxing her arms once again.
“I would suggest one of two options: release me now, turn yourself in to the authorities and live to see another day, or follow through with your plan, fail, and die anyway. Sooner than you imagine.”
Hopkins tensed again, only to relax again, reluctantly. Things were not going as planned.
Smith spoke again, “I don't wish to antagonize you. I'm simply relaying a message given to me. I am, at this point, talking to Mahmoud via his messenger.”
“I can see this is a waste of our friend's time. But, you have some time before the appointment, so babble away. We'll see if anything of significance is worth passing along.”
Smith proceeded as if he didn't notice Hopkin's slip of the tongue. “I am a prophet. I realize to Mahmoud this is blasphemy. The odd thing is he has twelve prophets under his nose.”
With this the guard to his left stirred slightly as if controlling a startle reflex, and then continuing as shifting his weight. Hopkins simply glared at Smith.
“Yes, Mahmoud has twelve prophets under his nose. Not within his inner circle. Those are all faithful lieutenants, but any attempt to flush them out will only cast doubt on those faithful to Mahmoud. And he shouldn't bother. There are many more in his country to take their place. Each is a representative of the twelve sons of Ishmael.”
Hopkins laughed nervously. “You are insane.”
The guard to Smith's left shifted again.
“Mahmoud's plans have failed repeatedly because God is not on his side. However, one plan may succeed in the future. It depends on his willingness to sacrifice someone he dearly loves.”
“NO!” blurted out Hopkins. Before she could say any more, the guard to the left caught her eye. She closed her mouth. They were definitely losing control.
“If he chooses to sacrifice his beloved, he'll meet with success, however, short lived. Mahmoud must understand his days are numbered. He will stand in judgment one day, as we all will. The choice rests with him.”
The limousine pulled onto a boulevard through one of the city's many parks. Midway through the park, the limousine suddenly slowed. The driver then pulled to the curb. The guard on Smith's left glanced at the driver, but said nothing.
Hopkins screamed at the driver, “What's wrong?”
Another voice, male, from the right front, repeated, “What's wrong?”
The driver simply put the limo in park and started clutching his chest.
The male voice from the front, “Your heart? Is it your heart? My God, he's having a heart attack!”
Expletives spewed from Hopkins' mouth. “Where's the backup?” she screamed?
The guard on Smith's left spoke, “It is following as I said before. If they have been detained, I need only call.” Little did Hopkins know the second limousine had been a ruse. It was now sitting in it's garage, more minutely detailed than ever before, ready for it's next hire the following morning. Backup was a black sedan that had been tailing the limo, and now parked waiting for instructions. It only had room for two more passengers.
Smith could only wonder why they they did nothing for the driver. He said a mental prayer on the driver's behalf. A small glint of reflected light caught his eye. The nearby street lamp reflected off a pistol in the hand's of the front passenger.
Were they going to kill the driver and dump his body, thought Smith? The instant the thought was complete, a small arms explosion went off in the front seat. Hopkins and the guard to the right immediately clawed at their ears. The doors of the limousine popped ajar for no apparent reason. The man on his left seemed tense, but remained motionless. He and Smith seemed to be in a bubble, while the other two screamed and writhed, but didn't attempt to get out.
The guard spoke, “The sonic devices did not work.”
Smith replied, “You mean Hopkins was going to pull the trigger in this confined space?”
“It can only mean Allah has spared your life. Why?”
“Your name is Said. You work for Mahmoud. You are the one to deliver the message God gave me to pass on to your master.”
Said started, but remained seated.
Smith continued, “The cell phone to be used to trigger the explosives is dead.”
Said reached inside his left coat pocket and brought out a cell phone. He knew without opening it, it was dead. He opened the flip phone any way pressing the power button. It was indeed dead.
“Don't leave it here. It is a witness. The lithium-ion paste has been turned into sand and clay. Everything I said to you before is true. It is time to leave.”
Said pushed the door fully open and waved the backup car forward. Smith followed Said out the door. He then pushed it out of his way and moved forward toward the driver. He knelt down in the street beside the driver, held up by the seat belt and shoulder strap. Smith asked the driver his name.
“Ibrahim,” whispered the driver.
Smith spoke softly and quickly, half in English, half in Arabic, a language he did not know, about Jesus, Isa.
The black sedan stopped behind the limo. Said opened the rear passenger door and stepped in. The occupants were surprised and agitated. The driver spoke first, “What is wrong with Ibrahim?”
The second occupant asked before Said could respond, “Isn't that the infidel?”
“Silence!” barked Said. “Ibrahim is dying. It is not God's will for the infidel to die today.”
“But what of the woman, the others?”
“They are as good as dead. The one called Toms shot himself. If I had not seen it myself, I would not have believed it. The prostitute exposed her arms. I saw the ligaments of her left forearm tense. She tried three time to pull the trigger.”
“But the explosives?”
“The trigger device is dead.”
“But we can still...?”
“Silence!” Said barked even louder. In a subdued voice, “Leave.”
As the sedan pulled away Ibrahim said with his dying breath, “Isa is Lord.”
Smith rose from where he had been kneeling, stepped back from the limo, and watched the retreating taillights of the other car. He followed it's progress until it braked, turned and was swallowed up by the city.
Smith looked around the park. They were in the heart of it. In better times it would have been alive with people, even at this late hour, strolling or riding in the trademark carriages. But, not tonight or for the foreseeable future. He stretched and started walking in the direction the sedan had taken. There was an all-night diner across the street from the north entrance of the park that had been permitted to stay open in spite of the curfew. If one had the appropriate pass to be out, one could get a good meal. Smith started singing and praising the Lord.
The failure of the cellphone to detonate the explosives in the limousine, also failed to trigger an alarm. Four men had been waiting to delay any emergency response to the explosion. Their master needed as much evidence burned or destroyed as possible. This had been a rather hurried action, atypical of the methodical planning and execution of past forays. Their responsibility now was to clean up any loose ends.
The tradesman van advertised emergency plumbing services. It was the genuine article loaned to a “cousin”, as the owner was “sick”. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, although the authorities would have frowned on the “cousin's” activities. The van and its occupants pulled up behind the limo. Two men in the back jumped out the side door and called out as if asking if anyone needed help.
“Anyone there?” the first man called out.
“Need help?” the second shouted.
The first man approached from the left; the second from the right. Had it been daylight, an observer would have noticed the similarity of these two approaching the limo like two police officer's performing a traffic stop. The first touched the left rear fender. The men looked at each other and nodded. The first pulled out a flashlight and started sweeping the interior. The second stepped forward producing a semi-automatic pistol with a silencer attached. He tracked his partner to avoid shooting him. The sweeping flashlight found the guard in the right rear seat slumped over, seemingly asleep. The first man motioned for his partner to stand ready, pointing to the location of the guard in the rear. He then stepped forward to the still open driver's door. He froze at the sound of weak whimpering. He glanced at the man in back. There was no movement. He motioned his partner forward and stepped back. The rear door was slightly open. He should have noticed it. He slowly opened it and saw the woman curled up in an impossibly tight ball, shivering on the floor board. This could not be the woman he was told about. He quietly closed the door as it was and quickly moved to the driver.
He was startled by the hint of a smile, a look of peace, on Ibrahim's face. He checked for a pulse. There was none. He gave a shudder. Ibrahim was a hardened soldier working under Said, therefore under Mahmoud. He turned the flashlight toward the passenger side. Toms was sprawled with his head at an odd angle. The beam played over Toms head. The man had smelled blood, but not thought anything of it. Now he could see the telltale signs of blood and brain matter on the headliner.
He waved his partner off and signaled for someone in the van as if directing traffic. A third man jumped out of the van and quickly headed toward the the limo. The first man reached in and popped the trunk lid. The third man produced a meter from a bag he carried and proceeded to check out the contents of the trunk more like a mechanic than an electrician. He pulled a cellphone out and waved it at the first man. He placed it back in the trunk. He busied himself as if cleaning up, then closed the trunk. As he turned around, the first man signaled the second, and all three headed back to the van. Once in the van they discussed the best exit strategy as their original delaying tactic was no longer required. The driver made a U-turn and headed back the way they came.
The first man dropped out of the discussion of what had happened. He knew more of the details, but did not need to share them with the others. The woman had been a last minute addition to actually perform the execution of the infidel, Smith, then conveniently die herself. Toms was not supposed to be there at all. The man in the back, likely an additional guard, was simply collateral damage. Ibrahim was supposed to be with Said. Instead, it was likely Said had taken the infidel.
No one had noticed Smith in the distance walking away from the limousine.
In the meantime, Smith had made good time in reaching the diner. Once inside, he asked to use a phone and made a call for a ride. As he waited over coffee and a piece of apple pie, an explosion worthy of the best Hollywood could produce in sight and sound occurred. A patron standing near the door was so startled, he fell backwards. It was if he had been knocked over by the pressure wave which nudged the door open and rattled the windows.
The cook had rushed out of the kitchen to see what the commotion was. Everyone else was sitting or standing in stunned silence. He rushed to the patron on the floor asking if he was all right. The patron assured the cook he was physically fine just bowled over. The cook helped the man up.
“Has anyone called 9-1-1?” the cook asked.
A customer sitting at the end of the counter near the door roused out of her trance, produced a cell phone from her purse and began dialing. The cook turned and asked if everybody else was okay? There was a smattering of responses and nods. The quiet that prevailed minutes before was now replaced by chatter. Smith sat and stared at the fire of the burning limousine and a few trees close to it. If the Lord had not intervened he would likely have been in the limo, all ready dead from a bullet or burned alive.
“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” he thought.
As the cook started back to the kitchen, a look of recognition came over his face. He stopped beside Smith.
“You're Gary Smith,”
“Yes, I am.”
“You have been on my mind since your interview earlier tonight.”
“You were watching?”
“Yeah, anytime I can enjoy the tables turned on those media jerks.”
“You think they're all jerks?”
“No, not really. Misguided, misinformed. Lord knows. It's hard to be charitable to some of them.”
“Do you know Christ as your personal savior?” asked Smith.
“Yes, I do, brother. I'm new to this Christian walk, although my momma would be proud to know I'm a believer now.
“I'm sure she knows.”
“I think so, too.” added the cook.
“You said you were watching the interview tonight.”
“Never miss a chance to see or listen to whatever God has placed on your heart.”
“Why's that? I'm just a human being.” stated Smith.
“I know. But, some times I hear this quiet voice speak to me. Like my momma did when I was sick or before I went to sleep when I was a kid.
“That's the Holy Spirit,” replied Smith.
“That's what I was thinking.”
“It's not just that. When you talk and quote scripture, I look it up. When you say something that can't be found in the Bible, you say so. You say you're just one of many prophets, but you don't call those who call you a liar, a liar back.”
“What's your name brother?”
Smith stood up and shook hands. “May God bless and keep you safe.”
“I'm praying for you, Brother Gary.”
“I'll be praying for you too, Brother Chuck.”
They both turned toward the front as a man in a dark gray overcoat stepped through the door.
“Here's my ride.” With that Smith nodded to Jones and walked to the door. Smith turned before closing the door. Jones smiled and raised his hand in goodbye. Smith nodded again.
Smith and the new man stood outside the diner for a moment looking at the flashing lights of fire and emergency vehicles in the distance.
“Ready for a debrief?”
“What about the local cops, Tony?” asked Smith.
“Although, you're a material witness and the likely target, we'll pass the information on when necessary. We'll get a call when they realize this is terrorists, not a local mob hit.”
Special Agent Antony Cordoba, FBI, stepped to the passenger door of his sedan and opened it for Smith. The car didn't look like government issue or GSA procured.
Once both were inside, Tony asked, “Want to pray first?”
“Why's that?” smile Gary.
“I've learned God has His hand on you, and I want to get in the habit of having His hand on me, too.”
“You expecting trouble?”
“Like what happened here? Maybe. It's more like having the assurance I'll walk away, if it's God's will. Having His peace when it's my time.”
“Well said, Tony.”
Each prayed before Tony started the car and drove off in the dawning of a new day.
The young woman at the end of the counter had not seen “Elvis” enter the diner. It had taken awhile to settle her nerves after making the cell call in the studio to be able to eat. She had been about to leave when the explosion happened. It had unsettled her. Had she been a part of that, she wondered? Then, seeing “Elvis” leave with the other man really shocked her. Would someone be looking for her? Toms, the police or worse? She waited for the sedan Smith had gotten into to leave. She hurriedly paid for her meal, and tried her best to leave on legs that might give out at any moment.
“The contract was not completed.”
“What?” The rage was almost palpable through the phone. Said remained silent, until Mahmoud had regained his composure.
“What?” The rage was almost palpable through the phone. Said remained silent, until Mahmoud had regained his composure.
“It was necessary to discharge a number of the contract employees because of the failure. I will provide a full report when I return.”
“It is critical that we conclude the Smith contract.”
“Yes, I agree, but it would be wise to wait for my report before entering negotiations again.”
“What?” the anger flared again.
Said gritted his teeth and waited for Mahmoud to calm down. In a low voice, “As the on-scene representative of this company, I strongly suggest my council be heard in person.”
Mahmoud did not hear this side of Said often, but it gave him pause. Said was his faithful adviser; the older and wiser brother he never had. “I await your return.”