This is an alternate, happier ending to the same story so it says exactly the same thing (disclaimers about my proficiency in Arabic, stuff with triggers and ownership included) as Chapter 6 up until the dividing bar that separates the new and the old content. Re-read or scroll with confidence, it's up to you! It's an era of deleted scenes and special features DVDs. What can I say? I got caught up in the razzle-dazzle of it all. Here's your picket fence Bianca!
Abaya: an over-garment worn by some Muslim women.
Keffiyeh: a traditional Muslim headdress for men often held in place by a rope circlet called egal.
Alone in the drawing room, Mustafa looked from the handful of hair in his fist to Jamila slumped on the sofa gagging and coughing as she strained to breathe. The blood oozing from the scalped patch in her head began seeping into the upholstery. Mustafa looked at his hand again and recognition crept into his eyes. He discarded the hair with a shudder, careful to drop it in a sewing basket to spare the rug and reclaimed his cane from the floor. He used the long carved stick to poke her.
"Get up whore. You are soiling my house." Jamila stirred at the sound of his voice and tried to prop herself up on one hand. The cane fell on her arm with a thwack. "You heard me," he almost sang, pushing Jamila into an upright position with his cane. He took her face in both his hands.
"You still think he was worth it?" He asked in a harsh, menacing whisper. Jamila searched for his eyes, busy appraising the extent of the damage to a favorite toy and held his gaze with renewed strength.
"Yes," she replied bracing herself for the blow she knew was coming.
His right hand curled into a fist and struck in a fraction of a second, between her nose and lips and glanced off her face to sink into the couch. Raging again Mustafa pulled Jamila to her feet twisting both arms inwards until the need to scream and the pain of doing so made her begin to choke. He struck the back of her legs with the cane and watched her fall to her knees. Jamila ducked as he raised his arm to strike again and wailed when the cane came down on her forearms. She opened her eyes when the blows stopped and shivered at the sight of the cold black eyes looking down at her.
"I'm not done with you." Mustafa announced. He centered his tie on his collar and unhooked the cane from the crook of his arm. Leaning on the crutch and his bad leg, Mustafa kicked Jamila squarely in the belly and turned around on the left over momentum. Hunched over on the floor from the pain Jamila wiped the blood dripping from her nose with one hand and used the other to keep herself from falling, knowing she'd never be able to get up any other way.
Outside, Lt. Hunter was pacing the width of the courtyard having counted each of its tiles and looked at his watch more than he could bear in a single day. He'd lasted less than three minutes inside the office. It annoyed him to be missing the action one town over where some other platoon with some other, far luckier lieutenant combed the town for suspected insurgents. He had tuned out the muffled cries from the adjacent room to review his five year plan while he waited for Mustafa. His ears perked up like a dog's as the General reappeared from behind closed doors.
"General Al-Shahrani," he gestured lengthening his stride to reach the man sooner.
"Lt. Hunter," Mustafa acknowledged nodding politely. "Thank you for waiting. A domestic matter," he added shrugging as a Boy's Club smile bent his face. "Surely you understand?" He asked.
"Your bodyguards," he said ignoring the question and opening the office door for Mustafa "are on their way from Baghdad." Inside, neither man took a chair.
"Those are great news."
"The army is willing to post troops outside your home and office until they get here, at your discretion," he recited, as if the sound of each word were source of physical pain.
"I felt very secure among my new staff Lieutenant; I see no reason to keep your boys around any longer when they could be useful to democracy at another location." Mustafa said approaching the door. "Sit. I must get you tea," he said managing to sound a bit more natural the second time his mouth opened.
In the span of a sentence Lt. Hunter had calculated how much time they'd need to join the action in Al-Shuyukh and in less than ten words his timeline had been turned on its head. One door closed behind Mustafa as another opened into the room. His mouth fell open.
Jamila's nose was still bleeding and the cuts on her chin had reopened during the struggle. Blood had begun to coagulate in her head, matting the hair around it into a stiff, sticky mess. The collar of her dress was stained brown from the blood dripping on the bright green fabric. Her neck above the livid bruises shaped like Mustafa's powerful hands was dotted with round purplish spots and random scratch marks where his nails had dug into her skin.
"Help me," she managed hoarsely. Hunter closed his mouth, biting his tongue in the process. The person crying next door was now undeniably human and that was not on his five year plan. She looked at him like a hungry stray dog might if he were the kind of person to notice that sort of thing.
"Please," Jamila tried again. Hunter flinched; startled by the urgency in such a tiny word, and the way it had affected him. "I can pay you," she sobbed, giving him the excuse he needed to walk away. Jamila reached out to point at a framed picture of Mecca hanging over the office safe.
"My integrity is not for sale," he said standing straighter to take full advantage of his height. "I am a soldier in the United States Army and this is a domestic matter you should resolve amongst yourselves."
Jamila looked at the empty office through dazed eyes and knocked the picture in front of the safe with a swat of her hand. She punched an eight digit combination into the keypad and waited for the door to hiss open. She stared at the $50,000 dollars inside, divided into ten stacks worth $5,000 each. On a higher shelf, her passport and Mustafa's were crammed into a pocket protector too small for either document and beneath them the remaining passports for Fatima, Raja and Zukia. Together within such easy reach, they seemed to be mocking her. Jamila closed the safe door and held onto the nearest chair for support. She slipped between the armrests and gave in to the pain trying to sit as still as she could to avoid the sting of movement; unable to do little more than whimper on a throat too raw to speak above a whisper.
Silas was the first to look up when Hunter walked in and as such the first stand in acknowledgment. Tariq and Angel managed a halfway stand before the Lieutenant's gruff 'as you were' released them from the need to complete the gesture.
"Let's go. Third squad is clearing out Al-Shuyukh and they need help." Silas cleared his throat.
"What about the bodyguards?" He asked.
"Ahab the Arab turned down your services but don't worry, you'll get more room service in Qatar when you're up for R&R," Hunter said pointing to the covered food trays left over from lunch. "Let's go men."
The trip to the car was quick and unsupervised. SSgt. Silas looked around sensing the strangeness of such autonomy when they'd been shadowed almost every other time for the past twenty four hours but nothing seemed out of order or at least, he had no way to compare. Hunter was sitting shotgun before anyone else had reached the doorway and Silas looked one last time hoping to see Nadim. The boy had disappeared and the stool where he sat by the door was turned upside down. The light had gone quickly painting the sky in a sickly yellowing light that was dying fast. Tariq climbed on the driver's seat taking the keys from Dumphy who gave no objection preferring to sit out of Hunter's sight. A woman scurried out of the kitchen as Silas, King, Dumphy and Williams took their places in the back seats. She opened the door and peered inside the car giving free rein to her curiosity with no one looking over her shoulder to suggest she do otherwise. Dumphy and Williams, sitting closest to the open back of the humvee as the lookouts, waved goodbye as she closed the door. The greeting seemed to offend her and she dashed off closing the door only halfway.
Ahab the Arab had been sitting in the dining room waiting for the pitter patter of six pairs of adult feet to get away from his house. He'd had no plans to entertain any longer when the possibilities with Jamila were endless but had simply wanted to give the impatient Lieutenant an easy way out under the guise of fetching tea. He rushed back to the drawing room as the last booted foot stepped over the threshold and peered into his office through the open connecting door. He went inside delighted.
"What happened to prince charming my little slut? You mean he didn't care?" He mocked taking in the uncovered safe and the broken glass from the picture. "Did you hear them leave without you?" He roared closing a hand around her neck when she didn't answer. "Let's go see."
Mustafa pulled Jamila up by the hair and she followed unable to care anymore. He pushed her across the courtyard using his hands and cane interchangeably. Outside, Hafsa who was closing the gate, scampered back into the kitchen at the sight of the upcoming attractions. Jamila stumbled to a stop five feet from the gate where she focused on the Humvee's dirty brake lights and the outline of the people in the back. Mustafa pushed her hard between her shoulders and she howled a low, pitiful yelp that carried no further than the security bars she was holding to steady herself. The words were trapped in her mouth. Anything she could have said Mustafa would have had a hard time hearing let alone prince charming now over block away.
"Hey, look, they came out to say goodbye," Dumphy said glancing up at the house before the sheer idiocy of his declaration had time to sink in. Williams looked up at the outlined figures against the gate and Dumphy with him paying closer attention to what they could see in the fading light.
"I think that's her. The woman Sergeant, he just threw her against the fence," he cried out tensely. Silas peered over his shoulder pushing Frank aside and in front of him; King looked through the scope in his rifle.
"She's covered in blood Sergeant," King said.
"Stop," Silas shouted in Tariq's ear as the word 'blood' left King's mouth. "Turn around," he added as Nassiri stepped on the brakes. Each man jerked forward and Hunter's helmeted head took the worst hit when it slammed against the windshield producing an oddly hollow sound.
"Don't you dare turn around soldier," the latter boomed in Nassiri's right ear. "That is a domestic dispute," he spit out derisively, needing to believe his own speech more than anyone else. "If they need help they'll call the police."
"He's the motherfucking chief of police." Silas said having long ago managed the art of yelling through clenched teeth in a pitch like a pit bull's growl. The car fell into a silence as charged as the loudness before it and Tariq, not bold enough to disobey a direct order, shifted the Humvee into reverse. He stepped on the accelerator, backed into the alley and the hum in his throat became a scream. In the back, four pairs of hands held on to what they could in anticipation of kissing the fence. Behind it Mustafa whitened visibly when the roar of the Humvee's engine made it clear he had done a very stupid thing by going outside. He overpowered Jamila fighting to pry her fingers from the bars, and dragged her back with him by whatever he could grab; suddenly protective of his toy. The gate gave as the Humvee crashed into it the first time. The frame absorbed the bulk of the shock and six butts slammed into their seats hard enough to bounce back up as if on springs.
Mustafa backed into the house as fast as he could while still holding on to Jamila. For the first time since he'd married her, as Silas loomed closer, he grew thankful to have his wife to use as a shield.
"Let go of her," Silas ordered standing three feet in front of Mustafa, slipping his index finger into the trigger.
"You have no authority here Sergeant. This is a domestic matter," Mustafa said trying to control the fear in his voice as he held Jamila closer to him. She grimaced in pain as his arm around her throat pressed harder and Mustafa saw the menace slip from Silas' face when he looked at her. All day at work, he had pictured Jamila with the younger man, Williams, and had until a second earlier thought him to be the culprit.
"Let go of her you sadistic fuck," Silas repeated aiming.
"So it was you all along." Mustafa spoke into her hair not wanting to lose the built-in protection of an innocent body covering every inch of his. Unlike lesser cowards, he knew that the smallest vulnerability would be exploited. "I thought the little cunt would go for the younger one but I should've known she'd never put out for a private," he said backing into the living room. Silas matched him step for step and behind him, even Lt. Hunter stepped closer.
"You know how much I paid for this?" He asked patting her crotch, "twenty million Iraqi dinars. Do yourself a favor and think with your head Sergeant," Mustafa continued as he slipped his free hand into his suit and retrieved a snub-nosed .38 special that he pressed to the nape of Jamila's neck. He cocked the gun. "This woman will be tried for adultery in our courts. Do you want to be tried with her? You can't do anything Sergeant," Mustafa taunted taking a step back. "I am an elected official. Do you really think this," he added shaking Jamila "is worth your entire career?"
"Yes," Silas roared without hesitation firing instead with his service pistol a warning shot that singed Jamila's abaya and disappeared into the floorboards less than an inch away from Mustafa's left foot.
She pulled the arm around her neck up to her mouth when Mustafa faltered in the resulting chaos and bit the exposed wrist until her teeth broke the skin. He dropped the revolver and pushed Jamila, his only ace, off him startled by a move he'd never anticipated. Dumphy and King closed in. Jamila collapsed onto her hands and knees and Silas kicked the feet out from underneath Mustafa all in the span of a second, if that. He was on the floor blubbering despite his home field advantage with the barrel of Silas' M4 pointed at the center of his unibrow. Dumphy turned Mustafa on his side with one boot and secured a pair of Flex Cuffs on his wrists. Several covered heads were peeking in from the hallway at the spectacle inside the room. The floodlights in the front patio came on as they had the previous night shining bright light on the room through the window, upsetting the artificial calm. Jamila lunged for the abandoned revolver in the split moment the light worked as a distraction. She stood without looking away from Mustafa.
"Gun," Dumphy yelled as she closed her index finger around the trigger and used her left hand to steady her grip on the handle. "Gun," he repeated. Six pairs of eyes focused on the level .38 and the muzzles of six M4s rose to address the threat.
"Did he do this to you ma'am?" King asked in a soft, strong voice that was naturally composed on the worst of days but even calmer with the capability of fully automatic lethal fire on its side. "If you tell us this man hurt you, we can take him into custody." On the floor Mustafa laughed.
"You don't have the jurisdiction," he said in a voice that sounded unduly arrogant for a man in his position. He repeated the statement in Arabic for the benefit of the curious staff. Jamila's chin quivered as she pulled back the hammer with her left thumb a second time. A boot, Silas' or Dumphy's smacked Mustafa in the side of his head. He went limp.
"You can't," she said shaking her head.
"He's wrong ma'am. What he did to you is a crime and we can arrest him right now."
"He'll come back."
"He won't if you put that gun down. He'll be in jail for hurting you but you need to put your gun down now ma'am," King urged seeing the uncertainty in Jamila's green eyes.
"He always comes back,"
"No way ma'am."
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"Do you promise?" She asked childishly.
Shaking, Jamila unclasped her hands from around the grip, lowered the barrel towards the floor and dropped the cocked, one pound revolver with a clunk making the six men around her cringe. It didn't go off. King reached for the loaded weapon. He put his thumb between the hammer and the frame and pressed the trigger to release the hammer which he eased forward. He exhaled relieved and beside him, no doubt feeling equally relaxed, Mustafa wet his pants. King pressed the thumbpiece to swing the cylinder open. Pointing the barrel at the ceiling, he pushed the extractor rod through and counted the five live rounds inside. He pocketed them separately from the unloaded gun.
"Are you okay?" Chris asked looking at Jamila, unsure of what to with hands that just wanted to touch her, to make sure she wouldn't fall to pieces, to make sure she was truly really okay.
"Can I come with you?" She asked in return. Her hands were frozen at her sides and she focused on Silas' chin as if afraid of what he might say. Stunned more by a lack of options than reluctance to answer, he gave Lt. Hunter the opening he needed to jump in and regain control of the situation.
"Absolutely not. Sergeant I don't know what the hell you told this woman but I guarantee you this is going on your performance report and as for you missy, the United States Army is not your travel agent."
"Laitohom ragado." Jamila said as loud as she could manage, glaring at Hunter through narrowed eyes.
"Translate Nassiri. I still don't speak mongoloid," Hunter barked.
"Um she said she wishes your parents slept that night, Sir," Tariq said biting his lower lip to keep a straight face.
"I think she means the night you were conceived, Sir," Nassiri added forcing himself to cough in an effort to disguise his laughter. Silas had to count to thirty before he could trust himself to open his mouth. Counting to ten had ceased being effective the first week under Hunter's command.
"I think it's clear she fears for her safety if she stays here sir."
"You should count yourself lucky you are not under arrest right now for insubordination, adultery and conduct unbecoming Sergeant. You have commandeered government property for your personal use and assaulted an elected official why I have a mind to…"
"You have a mind Sir?" He interrupted seething, counting be damned. Hunter's head reddened visibly lacking only foam at the mouth and smoke at the ears. Jamila looked at the escalating situation and tried to scream over the noise to be heard. Again she could manage only a raspy 'hey' that got lost in the racket. She walked around Mustafa who was following the exchange above him with interest and kicked the wet, pleated front of his trousers like one would a football. His high pitched wail succeeded in defusing the argument between Silas and Hunter. Mustafa squirmed like an obese worm taking shallow breaths through clenched teeth.
"You promised," Jamila said seeking King's eyes. A stuttering Avery was unable to respond fast enough to keep Hunter's mouth shut.
"He did no such thing."
"You promised he wouldn't be able to hurt me."
"And he is already under arrest," the Lieutenant said answering for Pvt. King a second time and pointing at the pathetic writhing figure on the floor for emphasis.
"He's the Chief of Police. He won't even have to post bail." Jamila pointed out.
"A most unfortunate turn of events but one beyond my control ma'am," Hunter countered almost civilly as the lawyer in him kicked in. Jamila opened her mouth to respond to Hunter across the room but was startled speechless by Silas who slipped one plastic Flex Cuff around her wrist and brought her free hand behind her to secure them there.
"Jamila Al-Shahrani you are under arrest for the assault of Brigadier General Mustafa Suqur Al-Shahrani." Silas struggled with the Flex Cuffs. "Make a fist for yes," he whispered into her hair getting as close to her ear as he dared go. "Do you have a passport?" He asked still fussing with the cuffs. She closed her right hand. "Get a maid to bring it to you. That ring of yours too and any cash you may have." Jamila closed her hand again. "Goddamnit private these fucking cuffs are defective. Secure the prisoner for transport," he added loudly for the benefit of the room. Dumphy took over for Silas and nearly smiled as he looked at the perfectly good, unclasped cuff he'd left around only one wrist. He took a fresh pair from his pocket and tied them loosely.
"Sergeant what are you doing?"
"I'm preparing the prisoners for transport Sir." He answered stating the obvious, knowing how much this annoyed Hunter.
"What transport?" Hunter snapped.
"The General and his wife, Sir," Silas answered enjoying himself. "We can hardly leave his prosecution up to him and Al-Hadith is not equipped to handle female prisoners; looks like they are hitching a ride to Mosül with us Sir." Lt. Hunter processed this information.
"Pfc. Nassiri, search the General for identification," SSgt. Silas ordered turning his back on Hunter. "Mrs. Al-Shahrani, do you have your identification papers on your person?"
"Please have someone fetch them for you." Jamila nodded to signal understanding. She walked across the room, past Hunter, and stood before the doors that led to the courtyard looking at the maid lined up along the hallway.
"Soraya, find Nadim please." The woman Jamila spoke to looked to her right and then her left probably wondering why she'd been singled out for duty among the seven maids. She turned around like a toy soldier and began calling the boy like a herald. Nadim darted out of the dining room and hugged Jamila's legs. She gritted her teeth as he pressed her sore stomach. His eyes were red and his face wet with tears. She knelt down in front of him.
"Look at me," she said with authority though each word felt like she was swallowing nails. "I'm okay. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum remember?" Nadim smiled.
"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum," he echoed.
"I need you to get my passport and my ring from upstairs. Some of the money too. You know the combinations right?" She whispered in his ear. Nadim took off before Jamila stood up. She watched as Mustafa was escorted out by Williams and Dumphy with Hunter behind them watching like a hawk. King and Nassiri stood behind her as Silas walked outside to the courtyard where he followed Nadim's trajectory from the office to her room in the second floor and back down the stairs in record time. The boy caught his breath at the foot of the stairs and took calm measured steps to stand before Jamila.
"I'll hold on to her identification papers," Chris said tapping Nadim's shoulder. The boy turned around and looked him up and down. He furnished the identification card as asked, turned his attention back to Jamila and hugged her legs again, this time slipping the money and the passports into one of her side pockets and the ring in the other with such subtleness and expertise, only Silas who was closest noticed the exchange.
"Listen to your mother," she said smiling through her tears, knowing it improbable she'd ever see Nadim again.
"Ana behibek," Nadim sobbed.
"I love you too," she said tussling his hair. Nadim let go of Jamila and fell back in line with the maids next to his mother. It was Fatima's turn.
"For later," the woman whispered wrapping a clean headscarf around Jamila's shoulders then hugged her lightly because they were almost best friends and she still remembered the days when Mustafa took out his frustrations on her.
"Assalamu'alaikum," Fatima said kissing Jamila's forehead.
"Wa alaikum assalam," Jamila smiled. Silas cleared his throat to get the women's attention.
"We need to get going," he said.
Jamila followed him still unable to shake disbelief from her head and at the same time basking in the relief of knowing Mustafa was out of her way. King and Nassiri followed her, each man as lost in their own thoughts as self-preservation allowed. Mustafa was sitting on the floor of the Humvee's cab with Williams busy tying a red Keffiyeh around his eyes. Lt. Hunter was sulking in his favorite seat next to Dumphy at the wheel. Both men turned around for a better view when they heard the approaching remnants of the fire team. King climbed in first and Nassiri second leaving SSgt. Silas behind Jamila. He cut her handcuffs with his knife and climbed into the car himself. He held out a hand for her, blocking Hunter's view of her lack of restraints. Jamila sat next to Silas and looked at Tariq in front of her. The engine turned over and they jerked forward as the car began moving. Mustafa fell onto his back and turned to his side as if divorced from his dignity.
"What did you say to kid back there ma'am? It sounded like Latin." Tariq asked as the Humvee blended into the light traffic heading home before curfew.
"Don't let the bastards grind you down," Jamila answered tying her headscarf to secure her hair in place.
"Technically, it's only half Latin," Dumphy said from the front seat. "It was General Stilwell's motto in WWII."
"Shut up Dim," Williams cut in. SSgt. Silas couldn't help laughing at the reassuring familiarity of the moment. Beside him Jamila slipped a hand into her pocket and the huge diamond ring into her index finger. She pushed the diamond free from its setting with her thumb glad all the weeks she'd spent weakening the jeweler's work had not been in vain. She threw the naked platinum band out the back of the truck, watched it get lost in the darkness and smiled mysteriously to herself.
'Assalamu'alaikum' means 'peace be upon you.' 'Wa alaikum assalam' means 'and on you be peace.'
Yours respectfully: The Author.