chapter seven: jihad
Fasil was on his way back to the farm when a police car overtook him, its lights flashing and siren wailing. When it turned up the road to the farmhouse, Fasil slowed his car. There was no doubt as to the other car's destination; that road only led to one place.
Fasil turned the car around. His brother must have made a mistake somewhere along the line, he thought.
Or maybe Allah was punishing him. There had been a moment, looking at the woman, that Fasil had felt the stirring of desire. That was why he'd told Hassan to fetch clothing for her. Yet even covered, she was attractive. It was her spirit that fueled his interest, but her body that he wanted.
Fasil was struggling with his own jihad – an inner war to rid himself of his lustful thoughts about the woman.
He worried about his brother. Hassan was weaker than he was. The woman had probably seduced him and managed to escape.
There was still time to please Allah. He could still go through with the plan. The woman wasn't necessary.
As Fasil drove, he thanked Allah for the chance to redeem himself.
Kilmer paced up and down the waiting room, glancing every few seconds at the doors on the end of the corridor. They'd taken Frankie through them, the doctor promising to return as soon as there was news. Kilmer had listened to Angel and brought Frankie to GW Memorial, one of the hospitals cleared to treat the president. And if it was good enough for the president, it was good enough for Frankie.
He hoped the doctor knew what he was doing. When they'd taken Frankie away, he'd explained to Kilmer what they had to do. While Kilmer waited, the doctor's words ran endlessly through his mind. Raise her body's core temperature . . . extent of the dehydration . . . concern regarding her head injury . . . uncontrolled shivering is a symptom of mild hypothermia . . . don't worry . . . is there a chance your wife may be pregnant? . . . chest x-rays . . . don't worry . . . it's a good sign that she's alert . . . don't worry . . .
Don't worry. Kilmer couldn't do anything but worry. Where was that doctor? Surely it wasn't supposed to take this long.
"Agent Kilmer, why don't you take a seat." A nurse smiled at him from behind the reception desk. Kilmer shook his head, she didn't understand. He couldn't relax until he knew for sure that Frankie would be okay.
A few minutes later the doctor appeared, smiling. That was a good sign, Kilmer thought.
"Agent Kilmer, we've stabilized your wife. As I suspected, she is suffering from mild hypothermia. The chest x-ray revealed she's also contracted pneumonia. We've put her on an IV to rehydrate her. The CAT scan was clear. The rest are minor injuries; two cracked ribs, and an assortment of bruises. She should recover completely."
Kilmer felt as guilty as if he had caused each injury himself. "When can I see her?"
"Now, if you're ready."
Kilmer nodded. He followed the doctor to Frankie's room, stopping just inside the door. Frankie looked so small and fragile in the bed. There was an IV hooked to her arm. Red, blue and green lines ran across the screen of a monitor, tracking her vitals. Her face had been cleaned and Kilmer could see the stitches in her temple. It was close enough to her hairline that the scar would be hidden. Forgetting about the doctor, he crossed the room and took Frankie's hand.
"I'm sorry I didn't find you sooner."
Frankie's eyes fluttered open and she gave a drowsy smile. "Hey."
Kilmer couldn't help himself. He lay next to her, and held her close. Frankie turned, seeking his mouth with hers. She grabbed his shirt, and kissed him hungrily. Kilmer realized she was crying, and broke the kiss.
"I don't know if you're real."
"You feel real, but then you always do."
"I am real."
"You always say that. But they'll come for me and then you'll go away."
"I'm not going anywhere."
For some reason, that made Frankie cry harder. Kilmer didn't know what to do, so he just held her.
Hassan hunched forward in his chair. His wrists and ankles were shackled. Worst of all, he was being questioned by a woman. He refused to look at the redhead.
"Where is your brother?"
He said nothing.
"Hassan, I can help you. You have to help me first, though."
"Will the woman live?"
Hassan nodded. "Good. I did not want her to die. She is very brave."
"But you don't have a problem with all the other people your brother is going to kill."
"I do not know them."
"That doesn't mean their lives have any less value than Frankie's."
Hassan fell silent again. Then, "Fasil believes it is Allah's will to sacrifice those people. Our countries are at war. In war, people die. Sometimes they are innocent. Allah will deal with them all."
"Is that what Fasil told you?"
"Fasil is wiser than I am."
The woman sat down opposite him. "Is Bethesda Naval Hospital the target?"
Hassan looked up. These people knew everything!
"It is, isn't it? Hassan, tell me where your brother went. If he succeeds, you will be an accessory to murder. Life in prison, maybe the death penalty."
"If it is Allah's will—"
The woman stood. "Guard, I'm done here."
Lark gently shook Kilmer's shoulder, waking him. For a moment he forgot what had happened; Frankie was asleep in his arms and everything was as it should be.
"Kilmer, Fasil's missing."
Kilmer was instantly alert. "What?"
"He never went back to the farmhouse. Angel spoke to Hassan for a while, but he wouldn't say where Fasil might have gone."
Kilmer carefully climbed off the bed. "Where's Angel now?"
"At the Vault. Jelani and Holly are running a search of all his known acquaintances. I'll stay here if you need to go back."
"Yeah." Kilmer glanced down at Frankie and bent to kiss her forehead. He let his lips linger for a moment then straightened. "Thanks, Lark."
Lark pulled the visitor's chair closer to the bed when Kilmer left. "I know I'm your friend, but I don't think we're at the cuddling stage." She smiled. "Looks like you and Kilmer have got something to talk about when you wake up though. I noticed he's wearing his ring again."
"Hey, Kilmer. How's Frankie?" Jelani asked.
"She'll be okay. She was still asleep when I left." Kilmer sat at the conference table and looked expectantly at his colleagues. "What have you got for me?"
"Bethesda was the target. Atkins has cancelled the president's visit and put the hospital on high alert," Angel said.
"Good. Now we just have to find Fasil." Kilmer saw Angel's closed expression; she was hiding something. "What's wrong?"
Angel glanced at the other team members. Jelani nodded. She took a deep breath. "Promise me you're going to stay calm."
"Okay. We found blueprints at the farmhouse. Fasil had jotted down notes for what he wanted to do . . . Kilmer, they were going to strap the bomb to Frankie and wheel her in on a gurney. They gave themselves two minutes to escape."
Kilmer felt distanced from it all. "Was she going to be alive when the bomb went off?"
Kilmer stood and swiped the table clean, throwing files, pens and notepads to the floor. Then he bent forward, his palms flat on the tabletop, staring at his reflection in the glass. Frankie, blown up. Oh, God.
I've got a hit!Holly tapped a few keys then sat back so everyone could see. Hassan had a dorm mate at Georgetown – Ali Iyad. He dropped out two weeks ago.
Kilmer read his current address, committing it to memory. "Angel, let's go."
Ali Iyad now rented a small apartment in Alexandria. Angel arranged for backup, but Kilmer made them wait outside. "If we take them by surprise, we'll be fine," he said.
Angel knocked on the door while Kilmer stood out of sight. A young man answered, his expression sullen. "Yes?"
"I was wondering if you could help me. I'm moving in next door, and there's a box that's too heavy for me . . ." She smiled.
Iyad nodded, stepping into the hallway. Kilmer grabbed him, pressing down hard on his pressure points. He sank to the floor, unconscious. Kilmer and Angel entered the apartment, their guns drawn.
Kilmer found Fasil in the kitchen, studying ground plans. "Stand up. Keep your hands where I can see them."
Fasil stood, kicking the table over. Kilmer fired a warning shot. Fasil raised his hands. Kilmer stepped closer, then backhanded him. Fasil fell to the floor. Kilmer put his gun on the counter and bent down, grabbing the collar of Fasil's shirt.
And all Kilmer could see was Frankie as he'd found her in that cellar – delirious, broken, bruised. His only thought was that Fasil had to pay for hurting her, for wanting to kill her. His hands tightened around Fasil's neck.
Fasil saw the hardness in Kilmer's eyes and gave a bitter laugh. "You Americans are pathetic. You would kill me for the love of a woman! Where's the nobility in that?"
Kilmer froze. He hadn't stopped to wonder why he'd come after Fasil with such rage. He'd automatically attributed it to his protectiveness of Frankie. If it had been Lark, Holly or Angel, he'd have reacted the same way.
But he wouldn't have lain awake all night, missing her with an ache he'd never thought possible, pleading with God to bring her back . . . He'd put his wedding ring on.
Yes, he still loved Frankie.
Fasil laughed again. "You didn't know, did you? Shall I tell you how she called for you? How—"
Kilmer punched Fasil, cutting off his sentence. "Shut up!"
Suddenly Angel was at his side, her hand on his shoulder. "He's not going anywhere, Kilmer."
Kilmer thought of Frankie in the hospital bed, thin and pale. "I don't know if you're real."
He hit Fasil again and again and again. Angel had to forcibly pull him away.
"Kilmer! Don't do this. Don't make him a martyr."
"She's fine. Go back to her. She needs you now. Fasil will get what he deserves."
Kilmer nodded, then knelt at Fasil's side. Bending his head to Fasil's ear, he said, "There's nothing pathetic about love. But I don't expect you to understand that."
He stood and turned to Angel. "Let's get him out of here."
Frankie was awake when Kilmer returned to the hospital. She smiled when she saw him enter. Lark stood. "Guess that's my cue to leave."
Neither Frankie nor Kilmer heard her. "Where'd you go?"
Kilmer crossed to her side and held her hand. He was glad to be back with her; glad everything had worked out. "We found Fasil."
"Oh." Frankie's smile disappeared. "And?"
"He's in custody." He couldn't bring himself to tell her of the encounter. Fasil's words haunted him: "You would kill me for the love of a woman!" What scared Kilmer was that he would have. If Angel hadn't been there . . .
"Also in custody."
Kilmer studied their joined hands. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been hit by a planet."
He suddenly needed to be touching more of her. Reclaiming his earlier position, he wrapped his arms around her. Instead of protesting, she returned the embrace.
"You scared me, Mrs. Kilmer."
"Sorry," she mumbled into his shirt.
"It's okay. Don't do it again."
Her laugh turned into a cough.
"Aw, shit, Frankie. Can I do anything to help?"
"Just stay with me."
Kilmer had no desire to be anywhere else. It would take nothing short of a presidential order to tear him from Frankie's side. And even that might not be enough, he thought as he studied her face. She smiled when he cupped her cheek in his palm. In that instant, his mind was made up: he was going to do whatever it took to win back her heart.
Thanks for reading! And because I'm enjoying this storyline too much to stop here, look out for the sequel "tabula rasa" coming soon.