Siege of the Capital

Chapter 1

January 18, 1973

 Hamaas Abdul Khaalis recognized it as soon as the needle hit the groove:  Sonny Rollins’ Oleo.  He put his palms together and nodded at Omar.

“You have exquisite taste, my friend.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

He did more than like it.  He loved it, and when he was Ernest McGhee, he loved to play it, especially that three-minute drum solo that raced along so fast and smooth it felt like only three seconds when he finished.  Omar must have been paying attention when he told him the story about the night he sat in on it with Sonny at the Five-Spot, down in the Bowery in ‘59, and how the whole house gave him a standing O when he finally settled back into the groove.  Now he only drummed his fingers on the arm of Omar’s shabby easy chair but the feeling was still there, all the rhythm jumping through him one more time.

Omar sat cross-legged on his bed, the only other place to sit in the apartment, and slapped the mattress in time to Hamaas.

“Hamaas still got that Ernie in him!” he howled.

Hamaas didn’t hear him.  He was listening to Max Roach bang the skins on the record and thinking one more time about that night he kept right up.

“You miss it, huh?” Omar asked.

Hamaas shrugged.  “It’ll always be in me,” he said, “but like Sonny used to say, the jazz business is always bad.  And as much as I loved it, I love Allah more.”

“I know you do, and I thank you again for showing me the way, brother.”  Omar lifted his palms and nodded.  “Shokran.”

A little shiver ran through Hamaas.  He thought about asking Omar to raise the heat but he knew the brother was on hard times, so he kept his coat on and rubbed his hands.  He dropped by for a reason so he got to it, in his way.

“So, how are things now with you and Salimah?” he asked.

“They’re good, man, good,” Omar said.  “She’s a righteous woman.  I am blessed to have her in my life, truly.”

He took a moment to think on it a little longer, then shook his head at Hamaas.

“It’s just me, man.  A man’s a man, right?  I’m out and about, I see things, women, you know?  I know you know what I’m sayin’.”

“I know,” Hamaas said, “and Allah knows.  That’s why the Qur’an says the sisters have to cover up their temptations.  Surah 24, The Light, right?  That’s why it says women are not to display their charms in public, not even to ‘swing their legs when walking’, huh?, gotta draw their hijabs over their breasts.  Allah knows what you’re going through and that’s why he said a righteous sister shouldn’t put you through it.  You need to stay away from those harlots on the street, get your mind straight, not your dick, huh?”

“Yeah, but that’s a tough thing, man, at least for me it is.  Shit, you got a wife, you got two wives, man.  Whole different thing for you.”

“Fair enough,” Hamaas said,“but let me ask you, brother, how’s your business doin’?”

“My business?  I thought we talkin’ about pussy, man,” Omar said.

“Hold on a minute.  Surah 4 tells you why.  An-Nisaa, Women?  If you can afford ‘em, you can marry two women, three women, even four women if you want.  But if you don’t think you can provide for more than one, then that’s all you marry.  But if you don’t marry no one, you can’t have anyone like you want to, man.  That shit’s out the window, huh?  You got to wear the garment of righteousness, man.”  He tapped his temple.  “Discernment, man, Surah 7.  C’m’on, you know that.”

“I know it, man, I do know it,” Omar said,“but it’s hard to find a righteous sister out there, hard to know I can provide for anyone else.  Have enough trouble providin’ for me.”

“You still up at that restaurant?” Hamaas asked.

“The Luau Hut?  Yeah.  Sometimes.  Hard to get worked up to go up there every day though, man , sloppin’ shit and what-all.”

Hamaas waited for Sonny to fade out.  St. Thomas jumped up next, but this was his shot at getting Omar on the righteous side.

“Hey listen, man,” he said,“I hear you.  Let me talk to Abdul, my son-in-law, you met him up at my place?  He’s got a jewelry shop down in Georgetown.  Maybe he could fix you up with something.”

“That’d be fine, but I don’t know nothin’ about jewelry.”

“You got a driver’s license?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” Hamaas said.  “Maybe you could do some drivin’ for him.  He’s got a van, makes –”

A hard knocking on the apartment door interrupted them.

“Who’s there?” Omar said.

“Khadyia.  Hamaas’ wife.  Is he there?”

Omar shot Hamaas a quizzical look.  Hamaas pushed himself up out of the seat.

“I told her to come by when she finished her grocery shopping and I’d take her back home.”

Omar popped up and opened the door to see a woman standing in the hall, probably about thirty-five from what he could see, big brown eyes shining out from beneath her black khimar, a brown jibab cloaking the rest of her.

“Salaam Alaikum.  Is Hamaas Khaalis –”, she started to ask, then saw Hamaas over Omar’s shoulder.   Hamaas saw sweat gleam on her forehead.

“Khadyia,” he asked,“how far did you walk?  The Giant’s only a few blocks.”

“No, it’s not that.  Oh, it’s so, so – oh!  Exasperating!”

Omar gestured for her to come in.

“Come,” Hamaas said, and directed her to the chair.  “Come sit.”

She fell into it and covered her eyes with her hands, then shook her head.

“I was in the check-out line fifteen minutes!  It took forever.  I finally get to the counter, I unload the bags and I reach into my pocketbook and I don’t feel my purse.  I go through it, go through it again – not there.  Nothing.  I figure I must have left it at home.”

“You sure nobody took it?” Hamaas asked.

“Not up there, at the Giant?,” she said.“And I had the bag locked up tight.  So, I can’t find my purse, but the man behind me, a brother named Abdul, he sees me going through all this and he asks me what happened and I tell him and that I have no car and he very nicely says he’ll drive back to the house for me and get the purse.”

“Did you give him the house keys?”

“No,” Khadyia said.  “Hamaas, please.  I told him there were people there who would let him in and give him the purse.  I told him to ask for Amina or Bibi so they knew he was telling the truth.”

“And?”

“And –,” she slapped her hands on the arms of the chair — “he never came back!  I would have been here a half an hour ago but I was waiting and waiting and no Abdul.  He never came back!”

“All right,” Hamaas said, picking his brown leather cap off the corner of Omar’s bed.  “Come.  I’ll drive you back to the store.  We’ll buy what you need and go home.”

She covered her eyes again and shook her head.

“No, please,” she said,“I just want to go home now.  I’ve had enough of that place for one day.”

Hamaas and Omar exchanged glances.  Hamaas reached down to help her up.

“Come, my pearl, we’re going home.  Omar, will I see you at salah tonight?  Sunset’s 5:13.”

Omar looked at the clock next to the bed.  3:18.

“Hamaas, I can’t,” he said.  “My shift starts at 4.  I ain’t even got space to lay out a mat there.”

“You’ll catch up in your own time,” Hamaas said.  “Peace be with you.  And I will call Abdul Aziz and let you know what he says.”

When they got in the car, Hamaas asked again, “Khady, do you want to go back to the store or home?”

Khadyia’s stare gave him all the answer he needed.  They rode 16th Street the ten minutes down from Omar’s place.  Hamaas made a right on Jonquil and turned left down the alley to the driveway behind his house.  When he passed behind the synagogue next door, he was surprised to see four black men on foot, all in dark long coats, heading down his driveway in a hurry.

“Who are they?” Khadyia asked.  “Do you know them, Hamaas?”

Hamaas sped up and drew abreast of the men now heading his way in a line along the side of the alley closest to the house.  Their grinning faces whizzed by.  As he turned into the driveway, one of them yelled back at him.  “Don’t mess with Elijah Muhammad!”   Then they took off running.

Hamaas’ throat constricted and he turned the car up the driveway fast.  A car he didn’t recognize was already there, blocking him from pulling into the garage, so he jolted his car to a stop behind it, leaped out, and ran to the right, up the steps and onto the walkway along the side of the house.  He tried to place the key in the lock but his hand kept jumping.  Khadyia knelt down to look under the shade covering the window to the left of the door.

“Hamaas, there’s a man!” she yelled.  Suddenly he felt the door pull away from him.  He pulled back on the doorknob with all his might.

“He’s trying to get out!” Khadyia called out from her knees.

“No!  You’re not! You’re not!” Hamaas yelled and bent back, straining to keep the door closed.  The man inside tugged it open, an inch then two.  Hamaas couldn’t see his face.

“No!  No!” he heard himself say.  The door lurched toward him, then away.  Khadyia moaned.  She pushed herself to her feet and ran back down the walkway and the steps, hiking her jibab up to keep from tripping.

“Khady, no!” Hamaas screamed, and hurtled down the steps after her.  He missed a step and fell face first into the concrete at the bottom, his cap tumbling across the grass.  He tasted blood in his mouth and heard a loud, hard smack behind him.  He spun his head to see the front door bouncing back off the wall and a running black man in a hat disappear towards 16th Street.  He scrambled back up the steps to give chase, then stopped and tumbled to all fours.

Khady!  What if there were still more of them in there?  He leaped to his feet and reeled back down the steps, then around the corner, and staggered across the driveway, banging into the garage door and pushing his way off onto the stone steps up to the back patio.

“Khady!” he screamed again, frantic at where his wife may be, who may be with her.  He dashed up the steps until he saw the bushy brown hair of his daughter Amina spread across the stone deck up to his left, Khady’s head buried in her chest.

“Ay!” he cried out and bounded ahead up the steps, then saw his daughter’s blood drenching the deck, oozing towards him down the stones ahead.  The shock knocked him off his feet back to the driveway,.  He lay there on his back, screaming indecipherable sounds until the keening of Khadyia brought the world back to him in all its horrific truth.  He rolled and pushed himself to his feet and stared, disbelieving, at the sight of his wife pleading with their bleeding child.

“Amina!  Mina!  Open your eyes!  Mina!” Khadyia cried.  Mina gave no response.

He spun around, and around again, not knowing whether to tend to his daughter, run into the house to see if the others — the children! — were harmed, or to go after the men that did this to her.  His body made the choice for him, lurching back to the car.  He threw the door open, leaped into the driver’s seat, roared back down the driveway, and sped up the alley.

They were gone, nowhere in sight.  At Jonquil, he looked left, then right.  He spied two men rounding the corner to the right on 16th, back in the direction of his house.  He screeched right onto Jonquil.  The light at the intersection with 16th was red and two cars sat ahead of him, waiting for it to change.  He leaned on the horn, then swerved to the right and up onto the sidewalk.  Blaring his way down the concrete, he lurched right, onto the sidewalk in front of the synagogue, and bumped over the curb onto the street.  Another car honked from behind him but he paid it no mind.  He leaned forward, still pumping the horn, scanning, searching for some sight of them somewhere.

He saw two black men dart across the lawn of the other synagogue across the street, towards Juniper, which was roaring up in front of him.  A line of cars approached the intersection from the other direction, coming up 16th.  The first car crept through the crossing, oblivious to his relentless honking, and the second one kept coming too, but screeched to a halt when Hamaas cut him off.  Too late, he saw a car come up at him in the right lane, but he was not stopping and the oncoming car fishtailed into the left lane.

Hamaas saw no one ahead.  He floored it across an alleyway that ran parallel to 16th, swiveling his head left and right as he went across, then stomped on the brake when he saw a pack of men running down the alley to the right.  He threw the car into reverse, spun the rear back, then floored it down across Juniper in pursuit.

He made up the distance quickly, blasting the horn all the way down.  Ten yards from them, he saw the group duck away from a man at the front who turned and lifted a gun right at him.  Hamaas ducked his right shoulder into the steering wheel, spun the wheel to his left, and flattened the brake, all in one motion.  The windshield shattered.  Glass sprayed everywhere but he kept his head down, hearing another shot and another one zip by.  The car spun back up the alley, flattening a chain link fence on his right.  He lifted his head up high enough to steal a peek at the rear view mirror and saw the men flying down the alley towards Iris Street.

He threw his head back and let out a low guttural roar that turned into a jagged high whine then a wordless scream.  He slammed his head into the steering wheel, then again and again.  His brain reeled, exploded.  By the time he looked back up into the mirror, the alley was empty.

The words he heard that jackal yell back at him rose again in his fevered mind.  Were they true?  Did Elijah Muhammad send these animals?  What other carnage did they wreak, all in the name of the God they profaned?

He raced back up the alley and swung left on Juniper, then barreled onto 16th, hammering the horn as if he hoped the noise would wipe away his fears and visions.  A police car headed towards him down 16th.  He made a left turn in the middle of the road to block its way and scrambled out of the car to flag it down.  As the cruiser slammed to a stop, he ran to the driver’s side window.

“My family’s been attacked!” he screamed, pointing up the street.  “My daughter is bleeding to death!”

“Slow down, sir,” the policeman said.  “Take a breath so I can understand what you’re saying.”

“I can’t!  I can’t!” Hamaas shrieked.  “Follow me, follow me!  I beg you!”

He jumped back in the car, circled around the cruiser and tore back up 16th, waving at the cop to follow him.  In his rear view mirror, he saw the car make a U-turn, lights flashing.  He thanked Allah and made sure the cop stuck with him back up the driveway, then beckoned him to follow him up the steps to where Amina still lay, her head cradled in Khadyia’s lap, Khadyia’s hands clasping her right hand.   She was still breathing, praise God!  He stroked her forehead and cooed softly to her.

“Mina, Mina, please stay with us, please.  If you hear me, squeeze your oummi’s hand, please.”

Her fingers did not move.  He heard the cop talk into his walkie-talkie.

“Yeah, this is Levow,” he said.  “My twenty’s a house at the corner of 16th and Juniper Northwest.  We need rescue.  Woman’s been shot.  She’s on the landing at the back.”

He laid a hand on Hamaas’ shoulder.

“Sir, what’s the address here?”

“7700 16th.”

Levow repeated it into the handset.

“Don’t know,” he said.  “I’m going in now.”  He listened for a few seconds.  “No.”  Then, “Standing by.  Roger.”

He put the phone back in the holder on his belt, then walked past Hamaas and gestured at the storm door before him.

“This go into the main house?”

“Yes.”

“Any other way in or out other than the garage doors or the front door?”

Hamaas stood up and approached him.

“No,” he said, then leaned in to Levow and said as quietly as he could, “Other people are in there.  My family.”

Levow turned to Khadyia.

“Ma’am,” he asked,“have you heard anyone?  Seen anyone else?”

Khadyia shook her head no without taking her eyes off of Mina.

“Have you heard any noise coming from inside the house?” Levow asked.

Khadyia shook her head again.

“Please, Officer,” Hamaas said, “may I go with you?  There are children, babies in there, probably scared out of their minds.”

Sirens wailed in the distance.  Officer Levow drew his revolver from his holster.

“We’re both going to wait for the backup,” he said.  “Give us a minute to walk through.  If everything’s cool, I’ll bring you in.”

Hamaas nodded.  He leaned into the window next to the door, cupped his eyes, and peered in until Levow gently pushed him back.  He saw the table next to the sofa was knocked to the ground and papers strewn about, but no one was in the dining room or the hallway to the living room.  Maybe Bibi took the children out for a walk.  Maybe the babies slept through whatever happened to Mina.  Maybe.

The sirens grew nearer, then a police car and a rescue squad van pulled slowly down Juniper past the house and parked at the curb.  Two medics jumped from the van, each with a big metal box in his hand, and ran up the alley and the driveway to where Amina lay.  Two cops right behind them jogged up the stairs to Levow.  The taller one’s name tag read Hague; the other one’s Jandorf.  Levow nodded at them, then raised a hand to Hamaas.

“Wait right here,” he said and they went into the house, revolvers in their hands.

Hamaas’ mind began to reel again.  He raised his hands to the top of his head and walked in small circles on the patio, his closed eyes shutting out everything swirling about him.  ‘Don’t mess with Elijah Muhammad!’ filled his head, over and over again.  Was that it?  His letters to the devil Muhammad and his followers, so-called Muslims?  He wrote what was in his heart, what he knew to be true.  He dictated the first one to Aly in one sitting.  That was what, three weeks ago?  And he instructed him not to sign either of their names, out an abundance of caution.  But then, with the rage still burning in his soul, the fire in his head unceasing, he abandoned caution and signed his full name to the next letter, in large flowing letters.  That one, he dictated to Aly a week or so later, maybe two weeks ago.

“God, what have I done?” he moaned and fell to his knees.  He smacked his hands to his eyes and began to weep.

“Bismillahir rahmanir rahim,” he cried, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the dispenser of Grace, oh please, my Lord and God, please, I beg of you, spare my babies!”

The fear, the guilt that overflowed him, pinned his head to the stone.  He dreaded hearing Officer Levow tell him what he already knew in the marrow of his bones.  He had worked for Elijah Muhammad for years.  He knew what he and his deceivers, just like those he saw fleeing up the alley, were capable of.  He prayed to Allah for his bountiful mercy, then turned his head to look across the stone to where Mina still lay.  The rescue squad people kneeling at her side blocked his view of her but he could see Khadyia still stroking his daughter’s hand, and murmuring a prayer for her survival.  He pushed himself to his feet and looked into the open doorway to his house.  He hear a sharp guttural noise from the window above him, then nothing.  He could wait no longer.

He quietly entered the house through the space that served as his family room and the prayer center for the Hanafis who gathered there for the daily prayers and the wisdom of his counsel.  He drew back at the sight of the still glistening streaks and drops of blood on his carpet and floorboards.  He heard coughing and talking from above him up the stairs.  He moved quietly to the staircase and  stepped on the carpeted section of each step to keep the cops from knowing he had disobeyed their orders as long as he could.  When he could see the upstairs hall, he saw Officer Jandorf on his knees facing him, wiping his mouth with the back of his uniform jacket sleeve, a pool of vomit on the carpet in front of him.  Jandorf raised his gaze to see Hamaas come into view and waved him away with the back of his hand.

“No, no, please, sir.  Get back down there now, for your own good.”

Hamaas knew he now had no choice.  He ran up the rest of the steps and through the doorway just past Jandorf on the left.  Officer Levow was on his knees by the bathtub, blocking his view.

Levow whipped his head around, his eyes brimming with tears, his face pallid and contorted.

“Sir, I told you to stay down there!”

But it was too late.  Khady, Mina’s beautiful baby girl, stared back up at him from the water with lifeless eyes.  Her stepbrother Abdullah spread his little wings next to her, face down.

Hamaas sunk to his knees again.  His head crashed onto Levow’s shoulder, his eyes shut in anguish, trying to blind himself to what he had just seen.   Levow patted his back slowly and gently.

“Sir,” he said.  “Sir.  There’s more, I’m afraid.”

Hamaas opened his eyes and saw Tasibur, his nine-day old grandson, rolled on his side towards him, beads of water still dripping off his little tummy to the floor.

“I – I thought he was a doll,” Levow said.  “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Three beautiful babies, none older than fourteen months, the lights of Hamaas’ life, dead and gone forever.  He went weak and fell back onto Levow, the millions of thoughts crashing in his brain rendering him unable to speak, sit up, or do anything but shudder and breathe.  How he wished he was with them, in the presence of Allah, the most gracious, the sustainer of all the worlds.

Levow was the first to move.  He pushed himself back and held Hamaas by the shoulders, then rose and helped him to his feet.  Hamaas kept his eyes averted from the children, hoping he could shut the sight from his memory forever, knowing he never would.

Jandorf had made it to his feet and met them at the door of the bathroom.  He held Hamaas lightly by the elbow and brought him to the doorway of Rahman’s bedroom at the end of the hall.

“Sir?” Jandorf said.

“Hamaas,” Hamaas quietly said.  “Hamaas Khaalis.”

“Mr. Khaalis,” Jandorf said.  “I need to tell you.  I’m sorry but there’s a body in here, a man, and a lot of blood.  If you can do it, we need you to identify him.”

“A man?  That’s my son’s room.  Rahman.  He’s only ten, only ten!”

Jandorf put a hand to Hamaas’ chest.

“This is not a ten year-old, Mr. Khaalis.  This is a man, in his twenties, I’d guess.”

My God, Hamaas thought, Daud, my other son, is 26.  Can it be?

“Are you ready, sir?” Jandorf asked.  “Do you think you can do it?”

“No,” he said, “no, no,” but he let Jandorf lead him in anyway.  They entered the bedroom and saw a dresser with the drawers pulled out, clothes flung in every direction.  Hamaas rounded the corner of the closet and turned to the bed.  A man lay there facing him, vomit caked on the pillowcase and the gag in his mouth, his hands and feet tied.  Dark red blood, still wet, drenched the blanket.

Hamaas exhaled and shook his head.  “I don’t know who that is.”

“He doesn’t live here?” Jandorf asked.

“No, and I’ve never seen him at prayer, or anywhere else.  I don’t know him.”  Hamaas remembered the strange car in the driveway.  “Maybe he’s the man who drove here to get my wife’s purse from the Giant, I don’t know.”

“Okay, is she the lady outside?”

Hamaas nodded.  “Khadyia.”  The memory of her stroking Amina brought the tears back in a cascade flowing over his cheeks and spilling to the floor.

“Okay, we’ll ask her to take a look.  I need you to come down the hall with me,” Jandorf said.  “There are more.”

Hamaas fell back against the closet door and stared out the window across from them.  The sky was light and peaceful, a pale gray silhouetting the bare branches of the large oak tree on the front lawn.  Young Jewish children played on each side of 16th Street, waiting for their schools to start.  Were his children even alive?  Rahman, only their age, Daud, his son by Bibi?  Where was she?

He let Jandorf pull him gently back up the hall to the bedroom closest to the steps, on the left.  When they crossed the doorway, Hamaas saw Rahman’s sneakers first, then the blood on his khaki pants.

He shrieked “My son!  My son!” and spun around the corner and threw himself next to Rahman, then wrapped him in his embrace, rocking, weeping, cursing the infidels, praying to Allah that this nightmare was only a test of his faith, his humility before God, but his boy’s blood sticking to his face and hair was too real to be only a nightmare.

He heard heavy footsteps run up the stairs just outside the bedroom door, then hushed quick conversation between two of the cops.  He sensed their presence but couldn’t release Rahman to turn their way.

“Mr. Khaalis.” It was Levow’s voice.  “There’s a woman downstairs,” he said, “in the basement.”

Hamaas howled to the moon and the stars and the sun.  His body trembled.

“No, no, no!”

“She’s alive,” Levow said.  “She’s still breathing.  We’ll take care of your son if –”

Hamaas kissed Rahman over and over, wailing his distress in Arabic and English until he finally let Levow and Jandorf help him up.  Levow led him down the stairs to the living room, then down the second set of stairs to the basement and back to the furnace room.

It was there he saw Officer Hague standing over two men from the rescue squad huddling over Bibi, his younger wife, even younger than Amina.  She too was gagged and bound, head and foot.  Blood surrounded her.  Hamaas fell to his knees again, cradling his head, shaking it to try to deny the existence of all the horrors he had witnessed.

“She’s still alive,” Hague told him, but her breathing was the only sign of life.  Her eyes were closed like she was sleeping the sound sleep she always did, and nothing else moved or even twitched.  Pieces of skin and bone laid on the floor next to her.

From the big sink at the back wall, a rescue squad man came towards him gingerly, holding something wrapped in a wet white towel, a red stain spreading through it.  Hamaas saw him look at Hague, who nodded to him to go to Hamaas.  The rescue man knelt in front of him.

“Sir?  I need to –” but Hamaas didn’t hear the rest.  The top of little Bibi’s nappy hair peeked through the top of the towel at him.

“Bibi!  Oh my little one, my Bibi!” he moaned, and fell on to his back.

Did the Prophet inflict this upon him in His name?  Was he Job, forced to suffer to prove his faith?   He recited the passage from Surah 21 aloud, his eyes closed, his body trembling.

“And we remember Job!” he cried out, “When he cried out to his Sustainer, ‘affliction has befallen me: but Thou art the most merciful of the merciful!’”

He remembered the next verse as well, but he said it to himself, wavering, afraid to believe its truth.  “Whereupon We responded upon him and removed all the affliction from which he suffered; and We gave him his family, doubling their number as an act of grace from Us, and as a reminder unto all who worship Us.”

He strove to believe but in this moment of his darkness, he pleaded with Allah, don’t give me what you gave Job, give me back what I had.

When he opened his eyes, Levow was kneeling at his side, rubbing his arm.  He was as white as a marble statue.

“Mr. Khaalis.  Can you hear me?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Okay.  I think you passed out.  You didn’t answer me the last time.”

Maybe it all was a dream, Hamaas let himself think, until he turned his  head and saw the blood surrounding Bibi still closer to him.

“There’s one more.”

Hamaas was beyond thinking of who still might be accounted for.

“Alive?” he asked.

“No,” Levow said, gripping his arm tighter.  “He’s dead, too.”

He?  Hamaas thought.  Daud.

“Daud?  My son?”

“About twenty-five, thirty years old?”

Hamaas laid there, wide-eyed.  “He’s twenty-six, my son.  Daud.”

“I hate to do this,” Levow said, his shoulders slumping, “so help me God, I hate it, but can you look at the body and tell me for sure?”

It was Daud.  Shot through the head, slaughtered like the others, like sheep.  Not for a sacrifice to God, but for what?  To please Satan?  Hamaas had no tears left to shed.  He whimpered and rocked his oldest boy for what seemed to him like hours.  Finally, he felt Levow’s hand on his back, where it had probably been for a long time.  The bedroom was nearly dark, the air thick and humid with blood and sweat.

Hamaas let Levow gently push him forward and back down the two flights of steps back to the first floor.  At the bottom of the landing, he heard voices murmuring on the patio through the closed front door, then silence.  He made himself walk to the window next to the door, where Khady had knelt outside, and pushed the curtain to the side.  Hague’s back was to him under the arch, and past him he watched his pupil Saleem walk away from him down the concrete walkway, a prayer mat rolled under his left arm.  Hamaas glanced up at the sky and saw that the light had melted away into a slate gray, streaked only by narrow clouds and the red streaks of sunset, turning darker still.

He let the curtain fall back in place and pushed a deep breath through his lips.  He lifted his hands to his eyes and left them there for a long moment, then dropped them and turned to his left.  Levow moved back a step to let Hamaas cross in front of him and watched him enter a bathroom off the hallway to the dining room and close the door.

Hamaas stared at the red eyes looking back at him in the mirror, the drawn brown face framing them, the gray hair in tight curls that circled his ears and flecked the tight natural above.  Without breaking his stare, he turned the spigots on and waited for the water to get warm, then dipped his head to wash his face and hands.  He dried himself, and stroked his hair with a brush that he laid back on the edge of the sink.  He pushed the door open and crossed back in front of Levow to a closet at the near side of the doorway.  He opened the door and reached up for a white cap that he fitted snugly on his head, then reached back in and came out with a rolled rug.

He walked into the living room to his left, turned to his right, and unrolled the rug in front of him at a slight angle towards the window across from him.  It was red, fringed in brown, decorated with a mosque and a lamp.

He stood with his hands at his side, closed his eyes, and murmured “I offer Magrib, the sunset prayers, three rakats, seeking nearness to God, in obedience to him.”

Levow heard Jandorf’s steps on the stairway near the door.  When he saw him, he pointed at Hamaas.  Jandorf looked over, then back at Levow, who gestured at him to come to him, then they both moved back a few steps into the hallway where they could only hear him.

Hamaas lifted his hands beside his ears.  “Allah hu akbar,” he said, then lowered his arms.

“Bismillahir rahmanir rahim.  In the name of God, the most gracious, the dispenser of grace.  All praise is due to God alone, the Sustainer of all worlds, the most Gracious, Lord of the Day of Judgment!  Thee alone do we worship, and unto thee do we turn for aid.”

The tears ran down his cheeks again but he spoke the words of his faith clearly and firmly.  He reddened as he saw the face again of the fraud he once served, the conjurer who sent those men he saw in the alley, the men who spat at him, “Don’t mess with Elijah Muhammad.”

Then he clenched his fists and lifted his head and shouted with all that was left of his being.

“Guide us the straight way, the way of those upon whom Thou has bestowed they blessings, not of those who have been condemned by thee, nor of those who go astray!”

Jandorf looked at Levow.  Levow stared at the wall across from them, streams of tears flowing down his cheeks.