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Thursday, September 14, 2006

First Three Chapters of JACOB

I feel pretty comfortable with these 1st three chapters of my new novel JACOB. Not great, but comfortable. So here they are.


Professor Kestine heaved the course book above her head, held it for three beats, and hurled it down. The THWACK made people jerk in their seats.

“Pay attention now,” she said. “Now, if at no other time in this class, or at this University. The problem is not the outside world you face in your everyday life. The problem is the inner world you created for yourself, which you have never faced at all. Which 99.999 percent of the people on this planet never will face. This is what shapes your perceptions. This is the world that tells you what the outside world truly is.”

She had them now. This was the stuff. They were part of that .0001 percent, or they could be, if they paid attention.

“I’m not talking about whether my dress is black,” Professor Kestine continued. “We can all agree on that, we can trust this basic perception. I’m talking about value judgments. When someone says something is good they are saying it is good compared to something else. That is a judgment shaped by their inner world, not a reflection of reality. When another says something is bad, that is, again, a reflection of what is inside them, not of what is outside of them.”

She surveyed her ranks of students, and knew from experience which would come to her after class. The heavy earnest girl and her prettily confused friend would likely visit. The angry young man who sat in the front and sneered all the time would want a word as well. But they were the easy ones, the marks. The tough ones, those who might be worth something someday, were harder to find. There was little use in preaching to the choir if you were preaching that people should not believe in something. She wanted people who were able to believe with passion. She wanted to create a vacuum she could fill, not talk to people who were incapable of believing in anything. Cynics were no use to anyone.

“What is the difference between liberalism and conservatism? Both philosophies see the world the same way, or nearly enough in the same way, but they make different, opposing judgments, about value. A liberal, because of their inner nature, sees the faults in a society and therefore wants to make change. That is the simple definition of liberal. A conservative, because of their inner world, does not see these faults, and fears change.”

She told herself to slow down. Bluntly informing people, even college freshmen, that their country was an evil blight was counterproductive.

“Regardless of what you believe today, it is your inner world that has made you believe it. Maybe you are a conservative by today‘s standards, maybe you are a liberal, but regardless, you must give the liberal mind set credit.”

Telling them they should consider whether their country was evil or not, and that they must have an open mind about it, worked better. But telling them, in so many words, that those who loved their country were vain, blind, and cowardly, was most effective.

“The conservative loves who they are and has no motivation to fight, to change, to progress, to improve. The liberal is able to love the dream. To love who they could be, what their country could be, and so has the courage, the crazy courage, to hate who they are. And through that hate they find the necessary motivation to change. To progress. To fight.”

She picked the textbook up and raised it over her head again.

“Three thousand years ago a man named Moses brought ten commandments down from a mountain and said these were the law. He was a liberal. He hated what the Jews were and wanted to change them, to make them better. When the conservatives of that time ignored those laws Moses threw them onto the ground LIKE THIS!” Nobody jumped when the book bounced off the dais. They were enrapt. “Two thousand years ago another Jew named Jesus said the Roman world was wrong, that the Pharisees, the conservatives of the Jewish world, were wrong, that the Jews who went along with it all were wrong, and the conservatives of the time crucified him for hating the world and trying to make it better.”

Two months of three classes per week were left before summer break. Professor Kestine thought about half of these students would see their families in an entirely different light by then.

“You must face your inner world and shape it. You must create it. I’m not telling you to be liberal or conservative. I couldn’t care less about politics. I’m not asking you to make any judgments about the outside world. I want you to face the inner world you have never seen, and decide what that world is, and if it is what it should be. And I dare you to have the courage, if you can first have the strength to acknowledge that it is not what it should be, to change it.”

Their parents would seem ignorant because they lacked education, or else willfully ignorant because they were greedy or vain. And these kids would be immune to any argument. They would identify themselves as elites due to their political beliefs. These beliefs would be a primary source of self worth. No argument would matter because anyone who disagreed with them was not important, obviously, since they disagreed with them.

“Thank you.” A few students clapped, and for a moment she thought she might get an ovation. It wouldn’t be the first time. But the applause died off and kids began to shuffle out.

It was difficult to teach virtue. You could not simply tell people the truth. You had to make them available for it. You had to make a hole. You had to batter their hearts. And this survey class of fifty-eight, five of whom had not shown up, would produce ten or fifteen people who were ready to begin the journey. And maybe one or two of them would continue until they were ready for real instruction.

The sneering one was moving toward her instead of the exit. She smiled and he smiled back uncertainly. The two girls paused on their way past her, unsure of what to do. She caught one’s eyes and said “If you have questions, feel free to stay, girls.” They stayed. Two more girls and one boy also stopped. It was just over a handful, but it was just the first day.

Her beeper, hidden against her right hip, vibrated. Paranoia was a virtue in her vocation. There was only one reason that beeper would signal now. Without a word she walked out.

Rodney, the graduate student who purchased her pager, quickly stepped into her place.

“There must be an emergency or something,” he said. He spoke with an acolyte’s fervor- “Professor Kestine isn’t like your other professors, or anyone you’ve ever know for that matter. Trust me. She definitely wants to talk to you and she’s not being rude. She’s just, you know, on another level.”

Kestine forced herself to walk rather than run to the nearest bathroom. Once inside she entered a stall, sat down and uncovered the beeper. The page was a number:


Though she sat motionless, and her mind was calm, her heart hammered in her chest. The pores in her back and chest and brow opened and moistened with sweat. Her stomach felt acidic and her thighs and calves and jaw trembled. In 19 days she would be dying, and thousands, or hundred of thousands, would slowly die with her. Her life’s great dream was about to come true.

It was a bittersweet moment, though. Rodney would also have to be killed, and ASAP. He had been a loyal assistant, a great lover, and her best friend for the last four years. She loved him.

Chapter 2: Jenny is Assigned to Jake

Special Agent Day refused to tell Mr. Bukhari his son was decapitated by an IED in Tabriz. She borrowed a military chaplain, an Imam originally from Detroit, to do it. Mr. Bukhari arrived at the San Francisco headquarters building at 10:00 am and was escorted to the conference room and the waiting Imam. After two hours the chaplain came out to speak with Jenny.

“Mr. Bhukari is handling it well,” he told Jenny. “He believes Javi died fighting for Islam.”

“72 virgins?” Jenny asked.

“I certainly hope so, but Mr. Bhukari hates the Salafists for defying Islam. Virgins are secondary. He wants to know why he’s here.”

“He’s not a suspect or anything. We want him to do something for us. I can’t say what.”

“No offense, but he’s rather old-fashioned. Maybe a man should be asking him?”

“Political correctness,” Jenny answered. She meant the FBI recognized it would be better for a man to ask, but could not act accordingly because to acknowledge Mr. Bukhari’s cultural chauvinism would be to acknowledge the FBI’s cultural bigotry. The chaplain understood. “Can you prep him for me? I mean- let him know I’m not the bad guy.”

“I came here to comfort a fellow Muslim, a man who lost his son. I’m not going to help you talk him into doing something if I don’t know what it is. I’ll be here if he wants me.”


Jenny entered and expressed her condolences, but Mr. Bhukari wasn’t having it. He had been crying, obviously, but his face was hard and suspicious now.

“This is the second time I’m being questioned by the FBI and my only crime is being a Muslim in America. Even after my son dies for this country-” He took a deep breath, trying to control himself.

“Your son was a patriot, Mr. Bhukari. No different than my Grandfather. He was a soldier, too. He died fighting the Nazi at Normandy. Except, unlike my Grandpa, your son can fight on, even after death. We need American Muslims if we’re to defeat the Salafists, sir. We can’t win without them. The record of Javi being in the Army can go away, for a time. Your son was a 2nd generation American and a devout Sunni Muslim. The terrorists don’t know he was a patriot, and would have a hard time believing it if someone told them. We brought you here, and told you about his death this way, because we can use his identity to infiltrate Salafist organizations.”

Jenny’s sales pitch had begun. She’d had twelve such conversations in the last year.

Two hours later Jenny walked into SAC Denton’s office. Denton had joined the FBI after serving in the Marines for 10 years. Though he was 54, he retained his Marine posture, haircut, physique, and aggressiveness.

“Will he do it?” Denton asked.

“Yes sir, but it is conditional.”

“He bargained with you. Hard.”

“How did you know?”

“Most Americans, if they aren’t lawyers, don’t feel comfortable bargaining while grieving. But Khubari’s first generation from Iraq. We pay out millions of dollars a year for wrongful killings over there. Different culture. What’s he want?”

“Scholarships for his other children, all eight of them.”

“Let’s hope we’re talking community colleges.”

“His son chose the military instead of Harvard, sir.”

Denton whistled. “It’s the least we can do for the poor bastard, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But I’ll tell him. I have another job for you.”

“Sir, I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”

“Stop. I know you don’t like this. But you look like Meg Ryan and you have a certain quality, I don’t know how to explain it, that makes older men want to help you. You bring out the knight errant. You walked in the door a year ago and I almost asked you what you wanted to be assigned to. By now you know how out of character that is for me, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“My first instincts about rookies usually involve the desire to inflict a humbling dose of pain and humiliation. Right?”

“That’s what I’ve heard, sir.”

“Right. So natural talent plus the heuristics training has made you thirteen out of thirteen, and nobody else is above fifty percent. And it is an important job, right?

“Yes, sir.”

“Right. And besides all that, this is your job. So you’ll do it as long as I tell you to, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, having said all that, you’re approaching burnout, so if you talk this last guy into helping us I’ll transfer you to any assignment you want. Deal?”

“Yes. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Jenny. This is irregular, and it was brought to me in an irregular way. And I’m giving it to you in an irregular way. We’re in Indiana Jones mode on this.” This referred to the last scene Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which a small box is laid down in an endless warehouse. It was SAC Denton’s favorite way to express that the FBI knew something big might be going on, but had no idea what, when, where, how, or who.

Chapter 3: Who: Intro to Salahuddin

Achmed Mohammad was 41 years old, just under six feet tall, slender in a patrician, graceful way, and attired and groomed like a Wall Street lawyer. He was brainy, honest, decent, and exhausted. He had to excuse himself from the meeting.

If the fatigue were from jet lag, (he had clocked over seventy hours in flight in two months) he would have ignored it. If it had been due to sleep deprivation (he only required five hours a night, but had not had a full five once in three weeks) he would have put sunglasses on, and catnapped during the meeting itself. But the fatigue was in his soul. It was depression, hopelessness, and the crushing weight of failure brought on by having more things to do than anyone could get done.

The eight men at this meeting were important; more important than he was. None of them were as sincere, nor as effective, but they were known, and powerful in that way. And they all wanted peace, or at least wanted to be known to want it. But Mohammad was useless in this condition, and he had to meet more famous, more sincere, more important men tomorrow.

He napped in the taxi on the way to his hotel, and the elevator jolted him awake when it reached his floor. The temptation to flop on the bed, unwashed, was strong, but he knew he would feel dirty when he woke so he forced himself to take a shower. It was a mistake, though it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.

Exiting the shower, ready to sleep a sinfully extravagant seven or eight hours, he thought the bathroom doorway was a mirror. But his reflection was not naked, dripping water, but clothed in a bellboy‘s suit. His hair was not wet, but dried, gelled, and parted on the left. He parted his hair on the right.

When the reflection moved toward him he was staring at his own face, so that he never saw the blade snake beneath his rib cage to strike up into his heart. It hurt but there was no breath for a scream. He had time to wonder whether his assassin had timed the blow between breaths so he wouldn’t be able to scream, before the shock and pain made thought impossible. It took his body some time do die, but that was his last thought.

Salahuddin had, in fact, timed the blow to kill silently. Salahuddin was an exceptional assassin, as well as an exceptional bomber, infiltrator, evader, and torturer- everything a terrorist should be except leader and visionary. He reached under the bed (where he’d hid when his victim entered the room) and dragged out a large garment bag. The bag held a large blue tarp, several gallons of acid in long cylinders, and an assortment of butcher blades.

Eight plastic surgery operations had transformed Salahuddin’s face and body, including his fingertips, so that he could travel freely in the west using Mohammed’s identity. The match was nearly perfect. This was most likely overkill. But it would not be enough for Salahuddin to complete the attack. He had to succeed and make certain that Mohammed and those he worked for were blamed for the attack. The Americans might retaliate with nuclear weapons.

Salahuddin undressed and sighed. It would take four or five hours to get Mohammed bled out, dismembered, and separated for transport. He unrolled the tarp until it covered the entire bathroom floor, including the bathtub, and dumped Mohammed’s body atop the tarp inside the bathtub. He taped the tarp high along the bathroom walls, then slashed a gash in it so blood would flow to the bathtub’s drain. Later he would use the acid to scour the tub and clear the pipes of evidence.

The tarp reflected the heat of his body back to him. Soon he was sweating as he sang lightly under his breath. All work, all physical labor, at least, had a rhythm to it. Salahuddin found that singing made the exertion easier and the time pass faster. In the end it only took four hours to erase Mohammed from the room. His remnants were sealed in polyurethane bags which were then stowed in the duffel.

Salahuddin took a long, cold shower. He was too tired to dump the duffel. He thought about ordering some food and coffee from room service, but decided against it. He could get rid of the duffel in the morning. The only cure for this kind of exhaustion was sleep.


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