Exiled heart, p.19

Exiled Heart, page 19


Exiled Heart

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  “You are sure?”

  Why had the mother’s eyes widened? “Of course.”

  “I will see what I can do with it. It will not be admissible, but maybe it can help us know where to look and what questions to ask.”

  “I’ll start on it as soon as I get home tonight.” Ziad again caught the young mother’s gaze. She had her phone to her ear as she watched him.

  Like he was some sort of terrorist or something.

  “Ziad, thank you, my friend.” Ben drained the rest of his coffee. They stood and did the Guy Hug again before turning to head downstairs. Once in the oppressive humidity, they paused on the sidewalk. “Hey, Em wants to have you and Claire over for supper sometime soon.”

  With effort, Ziad forced his mind to more pleasant things. “I would like that. I am sure she would as well. We are having supper together at her house tomorrow night, so I will ask.”

  “She’ll probably talk to Claire too.”

  Ziad’s pulse began hammering as two uniformed officers approached. He didn’t know them, and his heart nearly seized when neither smiled. One of them even put his hand on his gun as if expecting trouble.

  Ben straightened.

  “Is there an issue here, Officer?” he asked as he stepped away from the entrance.

  “We got a report of suspicious activity here,” the taller one replied. “Like some information was being exchanged.”

  Ben slowly pulled out his cred pack. “FBI Special Agent Ben Evans. And this is my friend, Ziad al-Kazim, who, by the way, is a reserve officer with you guys. He’s helping me keep my Arabic up. And he’s helping me on a case.”

  Ziad also pulled out his ID that showed his status with the police department. “If you have a question, Eddie Davis is my mentor.”

  Both officers finally smiled. The taller said, “That’s all we needed to know. Ziad, glad to have you onboard.” As if to assuage their concerns, he added, “Just doing our due diligence. See something, say something, right?”

  “Understood. Have a great day.” Ben watched them go.

  The mother had come out with her son. Her cheeks reddened before she hustled the child away.

  “Our informant,” Ben muttered. He sighed. “Let’s meet back here tomorrow. Same bat time, same bat station.”

  Ziad managed a nod. As he retreated to his 4Runner and settled behind the wheel, he glanced at his hands. They trembled a little, the only indication of the way his encounter with the officers had rattled him. As if I’m the enemy simply because I speak Arabic with a friend in public.

  He put the 4Runner into gear and headed home. On the way, he stopped for gas. No receipt. He headed inside. As he waited in line, his gaze slid to the racks of cigarettes behind the clerk. He bought a pack. Once inside the SUV, he ripped off the cellophane, shook one out, and lit it. So what? The case had brought back old memories, and with old memories came old habits.


  Tuesday night Bible study. Normally one of Claire’s favorite times of the week. Not tonight. For some reason, she hadn’t slept well, and now all she wanted to do was crawl into bed. As she curled up on the couch in her den, she muffled her yawn.

  “I saw that,” Elizabeth said as she smiled at her. “Rough week already?”

  “Somewhat.” Claire sighed. “We lost another kid to Zap yesterday. We couldn’t get him airlifted to the ED in time. DOA when we arrived. The second one in two weeks, which Ziad said makes thirteen since March.”

  “Oh, darlin’, I’m sorry.” Elizabeth sighed. She gazed around at the other four ladies present. “You and Sonja need to give updates. How’s Mr. Ziad?”

  Despite her best efforts to keep it in check, a small smile crossed her face. She ducked her chin. “He’s good. It’s his third week on his own as a reserve officer. Right now, he’s in your neck of the woods, Sonja.”

  Her friend perked up. “Off Clements Ferry?”


  “Guess I’ll have to watch myself. Although it won’t be for much longer since I’m closing on my old townhouse on Monday.”

  “Sounds like we need to pray for your sanity.”

  At least they’d deflected to Sonja.

  Elizabeth focused on her notepad. “Okay, Miss Claire. Back to you.”

  Rats. No avoiding the topic of Ziad anymore.

  “We’ll keep praying Ziad comes to know the love of Christ. Things between you two are better?”

  “Finally—after the Skin Incident.” Her pride still smarted from their argument a couple of weeks before.

  Everyone started giggling. “The Skin Incident.” Elizabeth peered over her reading glasses. “I must have missed something by going to the mountains. Fill me in.”

  Claire relayed the events of that day. Did she dare say anything about the following evening? No. Not when she wouldn’t let anything happen between them. But who was she fooling? And why had he snapped that Saturday like that? “I feel like he’s hiding something.”

  “Leave it be, darling.” Elizabeth scribbled something down. “We’ll pray he feel comfortable enough to share that with you. How’s his other job?”

  “I think he’s bored with it. He’s determined to take the GED in December.”

  Elizabeth smiled at her. “I’m sure he’ll pass. Anything else?”

  Time to confess. “I care about him.”

  Sonja peered at her. “As in?”

  Claire sighed. Not willing to admit anything else, she shrugged.

  Her friend’s dark eyes narrowed. “Be careful, Claire.”

  That was all she said.

  Point well taken.

  Elizabeth frowned. “Sonja’s right. Guard your heart, sweetie.”

  “But how to do that and stay friends?”

  “I wish I had an answer for that,” her mentor said. “You’ve been good for him, and that’s what makes it hard. Take one day at a time.”

  Claire nodded. She would. Really, she would. “I’m done with me.” She offered a weak smile. “Sonja?”

  Elizabeth seemed to catch the hint. “Okay, Miss Sonja. What about you?”

  Her friend sighed, and the levity left her pretty face. She toyed with her pen. “Pray for my friend, Annette Mubarak. I might have told you about her a few times.”

  “She’s the one who married that Egyptian, right?” one of the others asked.

  “Yeah. She and I were roommates at UGA. She got a job in Dallas after graduation, and that’s where she met Kamil. They got married eight years ago.”

  Claire nodded. “Oh, yeah. I remember her.”

  “They had a son and then another a couple of years later. Annette quit work to take care of them.”

  One of the others asked, “What happened?”

  Sonja fingered her necklace. “She said things started heading south in their marriage, like all of the sudden, he got snippy with her and very demanding. Far from the sweet, respectful, kind guy he’d been when they’d dated and first married. And he suddenly ‘got religion,’” she jabbed her fingers in the air in the form of quotes, “and began taking the boys to the mosque. At first he insisted she go, but she refused.”

  “Why do I see where this is headed?” Elizabeth asked.

  “Because it’s way too common.” Sonja sighed. “To make a really long, convoluted story a little shorter, a few months ago, Kamil stayed with the boys while Annette came to my wedding. I got back from my honeymoon to find a voice mail from her. She got home Sunday evening, and they were gone—along with their suitcases.”

  Claire’s pen, which she’d been tapping on her notepad, stilled. “He took their sons to Egypt?”

  “You got it.” Sonja’s eyes filled. “It’s so sad! I mean, she called me up frantic, as if I knew how she could legally bring them back.”

  “What’d you tell her?”

  “That it probably wouldn’t be viewed as kidnapping, to be honest.” One of Sonja’s shoulders rose and fell. “And if it were, it’s not likely she could get them back under Egyptian law. But
I’m no international lawyer or custody lawyer, so not my area of expertise.” She lowered her gaze and swiped at the corner of her eye. “It’s been three months now, and she’s had almost no contact with them. It makes me so sad.”

  Claire stared down at the Bible, which sat open on her lap. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. How could she? That man had taken his children away from their mother. Most likely, he’d say, “I divorce you” three times and be done with it. And Islamic custom dictated that the children stay with the father. How cruel was that? Her jaw clenched.

  Ziad’s face flashed across her conscience. Would he have ever done something like that? Would he have divorced his wife and taken his sons away from her?

  How dare Muslim men think they can tear a home apart like that! She shook her head.


  “Huh?” Uh, oh. She’d completely missed everyone else’s requests.

  “Will you close for us?” Elizabeth asked.

  “Uh, sure. Thanks. I, um, will.” As they bowed their heads to pray, she shut down that line of thought. She had to avoid it. Before anyone realized she could harbor such ugly things.


  Pitch black surrounded Ziad save for a cone of light blasting from the halogen desk lamp in his study. His eyes burned as his pen moved across a yellow notepad. He stared at those scribbles of cursive English. Only thirty of fifty-plus pages translated. So much information, more than he remembered collecting during those few short months he’d worked the case for the SANG.

  His watch beeped. Eleven passed. He’d completely forgotten his last prayer of the day. He flipped the page. Loud, almost like he ripped the sheet apart. He came to yet another word he couldn’t translate and located it in his Arabic-to-English dictionary.

  Ziad yawned. He needed something to wake him up. Without looking, he reached for his cigarette pack and lit one. Smoke hung in a blue haze above him. Who cared if he coughed from it?

  Finally. He ripped the last sheet from his notepad and clipped everything together. Those, along with a data stick containing copies of everything he had, went into a manila envelope.

  Once he crashed into bed, he thought he’d immediately fall asleep.

  Not to be.

  “Sami, take photographs of those tattoos,” he’d ordered in what seemed to be another lifetime.

  “Guards, remove him!” Prince Yasin shouted.

  Sabirah’s tender words couldn’t soothe his soul. “It’s not your fault.”

  So wrong. So very wrong.

  Ziad’s eyes flew open. He lay on his back, whispered air from the ceiling fan cooling the sheen of sweat coating his chest and arms.

  Wide awake at two in the morning. Not good when he had to be at district headquarters at seven for his shift as a reserve officer.

  With a groan, he rose and headed downstairs. He eased onto the couch and picked up the remote. Nothing on television, not too surprising seeing how late it was. He needed to find something to make him sleepy. He began flipping through channels.

  Animal Planet—Claire’s favorite but not his.

  The Learning Channel. Nothing there.

  News wouldn’t work.

  Sports didn’t interest him at this hour.

  Finally, he landed on The Reality Channel. What was this? He moved to turn it off, then stopped.

  On the screen, young men and women cavorted on some sort of resort patio. Ziad stared at the women, who were practically naked in their thongs and string bikinis. And how the men pursued them! Caressed them. Fondled them.

  What filth! I can’t believe people here encourage this! He conveniently scooted past conversations he’d had with Ben about modesty and what it meant in different cultures. Or the way Claire had challenged him a couple of weeks before. No. Women asked for what happened to them by what they wore.

  Before he realized it, he sneered. Reality television. What trash. More like pornography in his book. Not something he’d ever tolerated, not even when many of his relatives had watched it while abroad.

  Now, he couldn’t rip his eyes from it.

  With superhuman effort, he turned off the television.

  Forget sleep. The case and that had stolen any vestiges of it. He wound up brooding by staring out the French doors at the creek. Finally, the first vestiges of sunlight began lightening the sky.

  Pride filled him as he did his first prayers. He’d do those good works required by Islam.

  So what if he’d forgotten his last prayers the night before?

  He pulled on his uniform and attached his badge.

  Like it or not, rested or not, he faced the day.


  Oh, did she ever want to go home. She couldn’t. Not for a bit. Claire glanced at the time at her computer screen in the nurse’s station for the outpatient clinic. Almost lunchtime, meaning no rest for another eight hours or so. With a sigh, she focused on inputting the information related to the latest case she’d seen in the clinic.

  One of the nurses tapped lightly on the counter. “Claire, hey, you got a second?”

  She straightened and winced. Oooh. Tight back. “Sure, Mandi. What’s up?”

  “A guy came in with a cut on his hand, and we need someone to get it cleaned up and ready for the doc. Can you do that for me?”

  “Sure.” Claire’s gaze shot to her radio, which sat beside the computer. Thankfully, it had been a quiet day so far. “Hopefully, I won’t get a call.”

  Mandi smiled at her. “Thanks, girl. If you do, let me know. He’s in room ten.”

  She turned on her heel and bustled down the hall to another room.

  Claire clipped her radio to her belt, followed, and paused outside an exam room. A folder sat in the slot on the door. She flipped it open and skimmed the information scribbled by an intake specialist. Daoud al-Rashid. Age twenty-two. Truck driver for a local shipping company. Deep cut on the palm of his left hand from a metal truck frame. He needed stitches, maybe surgery. At least a tetanus shot since she didn’t see evidence of one on the chart.

  She gazed through the glass.

  A young man sat on an exam table. His feet swung back and forth a little. Gauze enshrouded one hand, and he rubbed his good one back and forth on a pair of dirty fatigue pants. A wispy beard coated his jaw.

  She pushed through the door.

  He glanced up with eyes reflecting pain.

  “Hi, Mr. al-Rashid. I’m Claire Montgomery. I’ll be helping Doctor Fairmont today.”

  He stared at her flight suit. “Are you a nurse?”

  “Flight nurse. We also work in the clinic.” She perused the chart again. “It says here you have a pretty nasty cut.”

  He nodded.

  “What happened?”

  “I was delivering a load of steel rebar to a job site.” His voice had a faint accent to it as if he’d immigrated to the States when he was a child. “They were getting ready to start unloading it when someone released the wrong strap. I jumped out of the way before it crushed me.”

  “Quick thinking.” She leaned against a nearby counter. “Except you got cut.”

  He nodded. “On the truck frame.” He winced as if remembering. “Is it bad? It feels like it.”

  “I’ll let the doctor make that call. Right now, I’ll take your vitals and get it cleaned up. It says here you don’t remember the last tetanus shot you had.”

  “I don’t.”

  “Then I’ll take care of that as well. Are you allergic to any medication?”

  He shook his head.

  “Noted. Let me take your temperature.”

  That took a moment, though she noticed an elevated respiration rate. She made a note and pulled the blood pressure cuff off its holder. “Now for blood pressure.”

  He tensed.

  “Just a squeeze, I promise.” She wrapped the cuff around his arm and pressed her stethoscope to the bend in his elbow. Blood pressure normal, despite his recent scare. She lowered the earpieces of her stethoscope and pulled on
some nitrile gloves. “Good blood pressure. Let me take a look at your hand.”

  He hesitated.

  “Promise I won’t hurt you.”

  Wordlessly, he held it out.

  Claire carefully cut the knot someone had tied in the gauze. It fell away to reveal a dirty hand with a definitively deep cut. This one would take some time to ensure the wound was clean. She gently touched the skin near the cut.

  Daoud drew in a sharp breath.

  “Does that hurt?”


  She cocked her head. “You’re sure?”

  He nodded but wouldn’t meet her gaze.

  She turned his hand over. Nothing there but smeared blood. The same thing between his fingers. She noted a tattoo between the ring finger and pinkie finger. Interesting. “Are you able to move your fingers without pain?”

  Another nod.

  “I’m going to get the blood off your hand with some water. Then the doctor will—”


  “It’s fine. I promise I won’t hurt—”

  “Don’t touch me!”

  At his vehemence, she drew in a sharp breath. “Mr. al-Rashid, I’ve already—”

  “Don’t touch me.” That came out almost like a hiss.

  Her eyes narrowed. Don’t bite back. It’s not worth it. “Is there a problem?”

  His gaze fixated on her neck. Suddenly, she realized what he stared at.

  Her cross. The one she always wore. She’d unzipped the neck of her flight suit, which had revealed it.

  “All right,” she drawled. “May I ask why?”

  “I don’t want you touching me! You’re a—”

  “Woman? Infidel? What?” She jabbed her fists onto her hips. “I’m a nurse, all right? First and foremost my—”


  “Fine.” She opened a cabinet and slapped a roll of gauze onto the table. “Wrap this around your hand. Dr. Fairmont will take care of you.”

  She stomped into the hallway and leaned against the wall. Her mind ran back through the conversation. Had she been rude? No. Hurt him? No. He, in his Islamic maleness, couldn’t even stand the idea of a Christian woman touching him, even if that woman desired to help him.


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