Exiled heart, p.34

Exiled Heart, page 34

 

Exiled Heart
 



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  “Ziad?” Ben asked, his voice now deadly calm.

  Ziad slowly straightened. Grabbing the bag of vegetables, he hurled it at his ambusher’s face.

  His attacker cried out.

  Ziad bolted toward the studio.

  Someone slammed into him!

  He tumbled to the floor and rolled toward the darkened foyer.

  His phone went flying.

  He kicked out.

  Another yelp.

  Ziad staggered toward the kitchen. He made it to the counter and reached for a knife from the lineup on their magnetic strip.

  A gun muzzle rammed into his head. A third attacker growled, “I suggest you get onto your knees with your hands on your head.”

  No choice now. Ziad obeyed.

  “Get him up!” the man snapped. A strange accent, one he didn’t recognize.

  His first attacker grabbed him by the jacket and hauled him upright.

  Ziad kicked the man with the gun.

  The Beretta flipped away to parts unknown.

  He slammed the heel of his hiking boot onto his captor’s foot.

  The man’s arch snapped, and he howled.

  Suddenly free, Ziad dove after the gun.

  There!

  In front of the fireplace.

  He lunged for it.

  Something slammed into his head and shattered. Wet spilled across him. Claire’s vase of flowers.

  With a moan, Ziad collapsed onto the floor. Ben, we need you. Come quickly!

  “Get him upstairs!”

  Burning spread on his skull as one of his attackers grabbed his hair. Ziad stumbled upright to relieve the pain.

  Something ran down his scalp. Water? Blood? Who knew?

  Once upstairs, his captor jerked him left and shoved him through the double doors leading to the master suite.

  Claire.

  She huddled on the bed, blood on her chin from a split lip. Her face pinched in pain.

  His heart dropped. No escape for either of them.

  His captor kicked him behind the knees.

  Ziad collapsed in front of the chair next to the French doors leading to the terrace.

  A push between the shoulder blades sent him to the floor.

  “Stay down!”

  Another kick to his side sent a wave of agony along his spine.

  He groaned.

  Someone yanked him upright and twisted his arm behind him. He moaned as his shoulder burned.

  The man with the Beretta paced in front of him. In that same strange accent, he said, “We must finish this. Now. Go get the knife.”

  His pal with the broken foot gaped. “What?”

  “Get the knife, you idiot!”

  Oh, no. Flashes of Sabirah’s lifeless body formed. They weren’t…

  He stared at the monkey lamp he’d given Claire last spring. Someone had already unplugged it so it could be smashed on his head. Add that knife and gun, and…

  No. He couldn’t let that happen.

  The leader sneered at Ziad. “We have orders that you are to watch, Ziad al-Kazim.”

  He thrashed, then cried out as another yank on his arm sent more ripples of pain down his spine.

  The remaining man twisted Claire’s arm behind her back.

  She moaned, then whimpered.

  As his guard forced his arm up, Ziad sank to his knees. Ben, come. Come fast!

  #####

  As Ben and Emma headed onto Ravenel Bridge toward Mount Pleasant after their first meeting on the peninsula with their Realtor, Ben flipped the radio to a country station. The windshield wipers of his Subaru Forester beat a monotonous rhythm against the rain that had moved in from the Atlantic.

  Beside him, Emma remained uncharacteristically quiet.

  He took her hand. “You feeling okay?”

  “Yeah. I’m fine.”

  “What’s up?”

  Only the strains of “Alright” by Darius Rucker filled the air. Her grip tightened on his fingers. “We need to tell Ziad.”

  She didn’t have to say anything else. He knew. “I’ve been praying about that a lot lately—ever since he converted.”

  “We shouldn’t hold what we know back.”

  “I agree. You want me to call him?”

  “Now?” she gasped. “Ben, we need—”

  “No, to see if they need anything from the store.”

  She nodded and tucked further into her parka.

  Ben dialed his friend’s number.

  “Ben, my brother.”

  Oh, what a joy to be called brother by him! “How’s it going?”

  “I just arrived at Claire’s house. How are you?”

  “Good. We’re on our way right now.” Ben cut a glance at Emma, who stared out the window. “We had our first appointment with our Realtor.”

  “Fun?”

  “I’m not ready.”

  Ziad laughed. “It is like having children, my brother. Are you ever ready?” A car door shut. “You will have to tell us about it tonight. So, are you ready to stand outside with me while we grill the meat?”

  Ben groaned. “Maybe if Claire has some golf umbrellas we could use.”

  Footsteps echoed on Ziad’s side. “At least the ladies will be dry.” A pause. “Strange. It’s unlocked.”

  Ben frowned. “Maybe she forgot to lock it.”

  “Possible. Claire?”

  “She around?” Ben asked.

  “I do not know.” More silence, as if Ziad searched for his love. “Claire? Habibti?”

  No answer.

  Ben’s hand tightened on the phone. “Should she be downstairs?”

  “The doctor told her to go upstairs and downstairs once a day. You know how stubborn she can be.” Something clunked. Ziad drew in a sharp breath. “That is strange.”

  “What?”

  “Orange juice and a glass on the floor. And,” worry energized his voice, “Ben, something is wrong. There is blood on the floor.”

  Ben stomped on the accelerator. “On my way.”

  Emma glanced at him.

  “Be care—”

  “Get your hands up,” someone ordered.

  Oh, no. Immediately, Ben’s mind switched into work mode. Quietly, over the pounding of his heart, he asked, “Ziad?”

  The phone clattered as if falling somewhere. Then it cut off.

  “Ben?” Emma whispered.

  With one eye on the road, he punched in Angie’s number. “Angie, we’ve got a situation at Claire’s house.” He rattled off the address. “I need an assist.”

  “Don’t do anything until—”

  “No time. Someone’s there. A hit squad or what, I don’t know. I’m going in.” He guided them onto the exit for Coleman Boulevard, then blew through a red light. He cut around a couple of other cars. He hung a hard right into Claire’s neighborhood and cut off the headlights as they skidded to a stop.

  Ben cut the dome light off and hopped out before scurrying to the police cruiser parked in front of her house. He pulled out his key chain and turned on the Maglite hanging from it.

  Two cops inside.

  Both with holes in their heads.

  He muttered under his breath and returned to the Forester.

  Emma stood in the open passenger door. “Ben, you should wait for backup.”

  “No time for that.”

  “What?”

  His heart pounded. “Get into the car and drive as far away from here as you can.”

  “Ben—”

  “Claire and Ziad are in trouble. That’s all I know.”

  “But—”

  “Go!”

  She shot him a white-hot look before running around to the driver’s side.

  He darted toward the house and stuffed his silenced phone into the inner pocket of his leather jacket before drawing his Glock.

  Crouching, he dashed between Claire’s Mustang and Ziad’s 4Runner. Gun at ready, he stole upward.

  No sound downstairs.

  He peeked around the c
orner.

  Someone limped into the dimly lit room and turned toward the kitchen. He reached for a knife on the magnetic strip.

  Not on his watch.

  Ben slipped inside. Softly, he called, “Hey, dude, drop it.”

  The man froze.

  “Now.” Ben nodded downward. “Put it down.” He came closer. “On your knees. Hands on your head.”

  The knife clattered to the island, and the man sank to his knees. Ben wasted no time. He closed the gap and clonked him on the head. Once he cuffed him, he grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter and stuffed it in the man’s mouth to keep him from crying out. “Here. You need some fiber.”

  He needed to tie his legs. Opening drawers, he came to a junk drawer. He pawed around until he located a charger cord. The box cutters he found would also come in handy.

  Once he tied the man’s ankles, he ran onto the porch.

  Forgive me, Claire. He cut through the screen and hopped onto the railing before grabbing the supports of the terrace’s railing. For a moment, he dangled two stories above the ground. If he fell…

  He shut down that part of his brain. With superhuman effort, he swung his legs upward and snagged the cross piece. He pulled himself to a crouch on top of the railing, then dropped silently onto the terrace.

  Claire screamed!

  Without a second thought, Ben bolted forward.

  #####

  Ziad’s chest heaved. His head swam, and his shoulder burned. He tried to rise.

  A jerk on his arm kept him on his knees.

  His soft breaths sounded like roaring gasps in his head.

  Ba-bump, ba-bump, ba-bump. The guard he’d injured hobbled down the stairs.

  Then came a small noise from the other side of the French doors.

  Had anyone else heard it?

  Maybe Ben?

  Ziad’s heart thumped.

  The leader must had heard something as well. He stepped to the door. Gun held at ready, he peered into the hall, then turned. “We do this now. Get her ready!”

  Claire’s guard slapped her hard across the face.

  She cried out and tumbled onto the mattress next to the nightstand with the monkey lamp.

  “Claire! Fight!” Ziad shouted. He somehow got a foot underneath himself so he took a knee.

  She struggled. The guard yanked her toward him.

  Claire grabbed the lamp. She smashed it into his face.

  He shrieked and tumbled backward off the bed.

  She cried out as she brandished it in front of her.

  The leader ripped it from her hands and threw it against the wall, where it shattered.

  He pushed her onto the mattress.

  She moaned and writhed against his hand around her throat.

  A switchblade flashed in the light.

  “No!” Ziad cried.

  Glass shattered! Gunshots blasted as Ben blew through the doors.

  Ziad’s guard loosened his hold and reached for his gun.

  Ziad ripped his arm free as he shot upright and knocked the man’s arm upward.

  The shot went wild.

  He hurled a fist in Ziad’s direction.

  Ziad groaned as it connected with his cheek.

  His guard leapt toward Claire.

  Ben flew through the air.

  He slammed into him.

  The guard flipped and landed a hard right on Ben’s nose.

  Ben yelped and tumbled to the floor.

  Ziad jumped the guard.

  He looped his arm around his neck.

  They fell backward onto the carpet, and he didn’t loosen his hold.

  The man thrashed.

  Then nothing. He sagged to the floor.

  Ziad shoved him aside and rolled to his feet. “I need something to tie him.”

  “Scarves.” Claire crawled to her dresser and yanked several from her top drawer.

  His guard began stirring.

  Ziad tied him up.

  Ben checked the leader’s pulse. “This guy’s gone.” Then he collapsed against the bed. His nose sat at an odd angle. “Team Evans and al-Kazim does it again.”

  Ziad eased down beside him. “Your case, your glory.”

  Claire crawled over to him, and she laid her head on his leg.

  Ben managed a grin. “No. Our case. Our glory.” He picked up a piece of the shattered lamp. “O monkey lamp, you died saving our lives.”

  That got a weak laugh from Ziad.

  Footsteps thundered on the stairs, and three SWAT team members burst into the room, followed by Angie. She stopped short and stared. “Looks like we arrived too late to the party.”

  Ben groaned as he touched his nose. “Uh, yeah. That was one party. Right, Ziad?”

  Ziad’s cheek had begun throbbing in time with his shoulder. “Of course. One big party.”

  He stroked Claire’s hair.

  She mouthed, “Thank you.”

  He took her hand.

  Safe. Finally.

  42

  Five days later, Ziad sat on the couch in the suite above David and Allison’s garage. He rubbed Claire’s feet. “Habibti, you are doing well? Your back is not hurting? Or your lip?”

  “I’m fair to middlin’.” Her smile twisted thanks to the stitches running from her lip down her chin. “I hate this brace.”

  “The doc said your back will be okay, right?” Emma asked from where she curled up in a recliner.

  “Fortunately. I’m glad they kept me in the hospital for observation. I really thought I’d re-injured it. I guess they did too if they put me back into the brace.”

  “Hey, Ziad, can you massage my feet like that?” Ben grinned from where he sat at the kitchen table and finished off the last slice of pizza. He rubbed Sherlock with his toes.

  Ziad scowled. “I think not.”

  “How’s your shoulder?” Emma asked.

  He rotated it and winced. “It will heal with some physical therapy. I believe Claire’s house is more of a mess than we are.”

  “Speak for yourself.” Ben touched the tape holding his broken nose in place. “I look like I got into a bar fight.”

  Claire winked. “More for juicy office gossip.” She cocked her head. “My carjacker’s in jail, along with the remnants of the death squad. What about Prince Yasin?”

  Ziad’s mood darkened slightly. “He cannot be extradited for his crime.”

  “If there is any.” Ben shook his head. “No definitive link means no convincing a US attorney.”

  She took Ziad’s hand. “At least Mama and Daddy are putting me up until the cops are finished with the house and the cleaners and carpeting guys can get in there. And the porch guy. I thought the insurance guy would freak when he saw the scene.”

  Ben shut the lid to the pizza box. “Hey, Em, at least you don’t have war wounds.”

  “I’ve got them mentally.” She scowled at him. “You scared me to death, Ben Evans. I could have lost husband and sister—”

  She clapped her hand over her mouth as her gaze shot to Ziad.

  Ben rose and eased onto the floor so he leaned against the recliner. “That reminds me of something.”

  Claire struggled to sit up until Ziad helped her right herself. “What?”

  Ben’s gaze switched to Ziad. “Actually, it’s about you. Or Sabirah.”

  Ziad frowned. “I am not understanding.”

  “I know.” Ben looked down.

  Emma touched him on the hair.

  He raised his gaze. “Sabirah knew Christ.”

  Ziad stared. “How could she? She was Muslim the day she died.”

  “No, she wasn’t.” That came from Emma.

  His heart sped up. “Please do not joke about this.”

  “No joke, Ziad.” Ben’s face remained solemn. “I promise on that one.”

  Emma rose and knelt before him. “One day last fall, I took a half day off from work and was at home. Sabirah invited me over for lunch in the majlis hareem. Do you remember?”

&nbs
p; Ziad sifted through the memories, now so far and distant, like another lifetime ago. “No, I do not.”

  “I think you were hard at work on a case.” Emma looked down, then met his gaze. “She’d begun having these dreams. She described them to me and wanted me to interpret them for her.”

  “What about?” He choked out those words.

  “She sat across from a man with a set of scales between them.”

  Ziad reeled as if she’d slapped him. He jumped up and began pacing from one side of the room to the other. He raked his hands through his hair as the seven dreams he’d had over an almost two-year period flashed across his mind. He whipped around. “The man was Isa, yes?”

  Emma stayed where she was. “At first, I didn’t know. I told her I wasn’t sure what it meant. But then, after I did some more reading on Islam while on vacation, I discovered the importance of scales and works. And in March of 2009, she told me that she’d seen nail scars and a wound on his side. I—I knew then. She’d seen Jesus.”

  A buzzing began in his head. Would he faint? He couldn’t. He braced his hands on the kitchen counter and hung his head.

  From far away came Emma’s voice again. “I couldn’t not tell her. I knew she’d seen Jesus, especially after she described him and the way he knocked over the scales.”

  He began shaking his head. Hope blossomed.

  Someone touched his shoulder. “I promise I never meant to turn her from Islam. That was never my intention.” Her blue eyes wide and pleading, Emma stood next to him. “I told her to weigh the consequences. She knew them. She was so scared to tell you. Terrified.”

  He straightened.

  Emma backed away and returned to the recliner as if seeking protection. “That Friday afternoon when I visited her in the majlis hareem again right after your last bust. The day before she died.” She lowered her head. “That was when she told me about the dream and that she trusted Christ as her Savior. She confessed she didn’t have the courage to tell you. She was so afraid you would view it as a breach of trust.”

  Ziad wobbled to the couch. He sank onto the cushions as he tried to envision what would have happened. “I would have—how do you say it?—had it out with her. Perhaps disowned her. Cast her out, even.”

  “She’s with Jesus,” Ben murmured. He put his hand on his shoulder.

  Claire wrapped her arms around him.

  He leaned into her. “My boys. Muhammad Amir. Tariq. Basil. Little Khalid.”

 
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