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Better Wear Your Flak Jacket
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Year 2047, City of Samarra, capital of the Republic of Islamic Provinces & Territories
Fifteen American travelers have vanished. Surrendering to Mayor Aamir’s demands, Captain Sharif becomes the reluctant keeper of his city’s bloody secret – and the witness, Eliza MacKay. The devout Muslim is horrified to discover that if he exposes the cover-up, his family will suffer dire consequences.
The CIA has the lying Sharif in their cross hairs. Sharif’s only hope is to prove his country’s government is free of guilt. Secretly, he hunts forensic evidence. Cryptic messages, backstabbing informants, and corruption threaten Sharif’s resolve to see justice served. When he discovers the shocking truth, he and MacKay become the targets of a ruthless killer.
Sharif is tortured by his attraction to the impetuous Eliza MacKay. In spite of her struggle with PTSD, he’s drawn to her vivacious personality. Islam forbids the intimacy he craves. In desperation to save Eliza, Sharif plots an act most forbidden and fatal.
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TODAY’S FEATURE IS – A Vicious Attack
City of Samarra, Republic of Islamic Provinces & Territories
Feigning sleep, Eliza listened to the sound of Sharif making coffee in his kitchen at the end of his shift. A breeze from the open window carried the scent of his clothes toward her. The distinct smell of gun-fired residue and blood made her gag. She decided not to wait for him to kick the bed to wake her. She got up and dressed in the bathroom. Without saying a word, Eliza zipped out to the hallway.
She listened as the ancient city of Samarra woke up to harmonic sounds. The city came to life each morning at six o’clock with the first call to prayer: Fajr, the prayer before sunrise. The haunting musical sound of the Muezzin called the devoted. Dogs, roused by the earnest supplication, barked. Even Eliza, who had no religious convictions, sat in quiet contemplation, deeply moved. She stilled her mind’s chatter and waited.
Waited for a thread of wisdom to be shared by The One Most High. Waited for merciful revelation of why she had survived and her little boys had suffered and died. Waited alone in the heavy silence.
With each of the four daily prayers, Eliza had watched in awe as the city’s ambiance shifted during prayer. Even within the compound walls, the Muslim faithful halted their activities for prayers. An air of tranquility was palpable. Even those who appeared less devout and ignored the religious practice slowed their pace. The Muezzin’s melodious voice reminded the devout of their connection with Allah, of the teachings of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.
She had learned that everyone regardless of rank, wealth, sins, or honor stood shoulder to shoulder and intoned their praises to Allah, the forgiver of sins, the lord of peace and harmony. Women were segregated to the rear of the prayer hall, the musallah – for sake of modesty, Eliza had been told.
She eavesdropped on Sharif’s prayers. The change in his demeanor struck her. He became like a child singing songs of praise to an adoring father. His devotion to Islam and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad appeared to be based on genuine love, rather than fear of Allah’s punishment.
When Sharif had gone to bed, she listened and watched as the city’s soul burst forth. From her high vantage point, she could see the insane rush of traffic, businessmen competing for a cab, and women ushering their children to school. The vibrancy of the scene reminded Eliza of the excitement of Cairo. Old men bravely pushed carts of vegetables and fruit, others skillfully herded their goats among the passing vehicles. An air of expectancy, anticipation, even urgency in the way the citizens walked and talked spoke of their eagerness to get on with day.
She opened the kitchen window which offered view of the city. A few blocks away, a wide river rushed toward the Persian Gulf, a few thousand miles to the south. A treed park bordered its banks. She spotted a soccer field, possibly a school, and a two-story mall. Tall office buildings and luxury hotels in the distance dotted the downtown section. The four minarets of the city’s ancient Guardian Mosque reached high into the morning’s tangerine sky.
In so many ways, Samarra appeared like every other urban center stuck in the 1990’s, with a strong agricultural element. Adapting over thousands of years, the city had endured countless invasions and survived as a phoenix rising from the ashes time and time again. The land possessed a soul. It emanated an energy of an untouchable guru – indifferent and yet passionate, unconquerable and yet benevolent.
Eliza felt a connection to the land, its history, and its people. It was more than the exotic culture’s sensory seduction of spices, architecture, and mystical landscape. As the human race migrated out of Africa thousands of years ago, tribes had settled in the Middle East. Perhaps the ancient bones of her ancestors lay in unmarked graves beneath her feet. She sent a prayer to the old ones, just in case they were open to favor her with a miracle.
Eliza began making breakfast. She placed the frying pan on the little stove, careful to not wake her keeper. She made scrambled eggs with peppers and onions mixed in. Aromatic coffee infused a feeling of home.
Sharif had bought her a jar of blueberry jam. “For good behavior,” he had said as he set the glass jar onto the old wooden table with a smack, and left.
A white cloth covered the small worn table. Well, it used to be white. It looked as though it had been used for multiple tasks, perhaps wiping up spills from the floor and soaking up blood from a wound. It appeared clean.
The aromas of street food vendors blended with the car exhaust, her eggs, and the blueberry jam on her bread. Eliza settled in for another long day keeping her distance from Sharif, and dodging her PTSD triggers.
She glanced around the room. It was getting smaller. Her heart pounded. She forced her shoulders to relax. I’ve got to get out of here, she thought as she forced down a mouthful of her breakfast. Yesterday she had pressed Sharif for time outside. His reply remained steadfast, “Not today.” When she had continued to push for more freedom, he threatened to put her in a regular cell and build a cement wall to keep her out of sight.
Over the past four days, she had developed a routine to pass the time. Yoga, meditation, snack, repeat. However, today she had reached the outer limits of controlling the PTSD, triggered by the walls closing in.
While Sharif slept, she planned to inform the day shift officer, Captain Khizar, she was going for a walk. She shivered. When Sharif had introduced him to her, Khizar barely acknowledged her. She had detected the smirk on the senior officer’s thin face. Her intuition emphasized the need to tread carefully around the officer who walked with a limp.
Eliza wore the required black uniform, put on her polished work boots, and pushed her hair up under the black cap. At the bottom of the stairs she listened for sounds of the men. She approached Khizar’s office and sighed with relief to find he had left. Going down a short hallway, Eliza turned right towards the crew quarters’ door. She hesitated, listening for sounds that indicated the mood of the cops.
Belly laughter and smacks against the wall made the door shudder. The men were absorbed in their amusement and might not be interested in challenging her request.
Eliza knocked on the door, careful to sound neither cowardly, nor aggressive. The door was swung open by a constable.
She held her breath. Skilled at hiding her emotions, Eliza looked into the officer’s eyes. The officer relaxed a little. An intimidating smirk grew on his face. Three other men in the room gathered behind him.
The day sergeant, a heavy-set man, came forward and said in a trivializing manner, “The whore is mine. Leave her to me.”
The sergeant sauntered up to her. His eyes lit up like those of a child about to open a birthday gift. He lowered his gaze to her dark boots, and then raised his focus to her mid-section, then to her chest. Finally, he looked at her eyes.
Eliza did not change her expression from that of bland indifference to his suggestive piercing stare. He had called her a whore, but she repressed the impulse to admonish him. She resisted the urge to put her hands on her hips. That would be sexually suggestive and body language might defeat her faster than the wrong choice of words.
“My apologies for the interruption,” she said in Arabic, her voice trembling despite her resolve. “I’m going for a walk.” She swung around toward the exit door.
The officers chuckled as the sergeant stepped forward and blocked her. His face came uncomfortably close to hers. He spoke with a grin, accompanied by the rhythmic flexing and gyrating of his hips.
“Welcome. Come in.” The three men cheered as the sergeant grabbed her shirt and pulled her into the room.
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Author Feather Stone / F. Stone / Judy Weir:
On our cattle ranch, when an animal was in distress or injured, I was put in charge of nursing it back to health. Never mind that I was just a kid and hated the sight of blood, but I had to muster up the courage to apply home remedies. My survival rate was pretty good. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that I would progress to nursing – humans. After one year into nurses training, I bolted. Bed pans and chronic diseases pushed me in different direction; a career of dealing with drug addicts, murder, suicide, fatalities, and biker gangs. In 1983 I graduated with honors as a paramedic and worked in the City of Edmonton’s Emergency Services.
For the next twenty years, I came face to face with scenes most people would rather not think about. I loved it. Having experienced life in the most deadly and gut wrenching events, and work alongside the police service, I gained the fodder for creating intense novels.
My first novel, The Guardian’s Wildchild, was published by Omnific Publishing in 2011. The setting is on a naval ship, under the command of a surely man who is under suspicion of treason. When a battered woman is brought to his ship for execution, he has no idea that she is about to turn his disciplined life into chaos – and that she is no ordinary woman. The Guardian’s Wildchild has a rating of 4.1 at Amazon.
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