When Michael Andrews’ friend disappears, he is lured into tracking down a person from his past that he thinks was behind it. Once again he must cross paths with the criminal mind of Martin Garcia. However things are not at all what it seems and Michael finds himself in the mist of a conspiracy that stretches from Georgia to Vatican City. He will have to choose between putting an end to his past or disrupt a plot that could destroy everyone’s future. With so much uncertainty one thing is for certain, pious power and bitter souls are forever tortured by Darkness Left Undone.
January 11, 12:45 p.m.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan stumbled as he rushed into the back seat of the dark gray Peugeot 405. Agonizing thoughts pressed flowing sweat through his pores drenching the surface of his tanned face. Salted moisture seeped from his scalp, trickling under the frame of his wire-rimmed glasses till descending through his neatly cropped jet-black beard. He wiped the condensation away more than once, lifting the thin frames then patting a small handkerchief on the drenched areas just below his baggy eye sockets.
Time – in the extended seconds after leaving the office – towed in a sluggish tempo. The entire environment felt off beat and dark as he stole a glance at his watch. He could have sworn that the second-hand ticked to the left instead of to the right. He shook his head with a quick jerk then tightened his eyes.
More sweat followed the lead of his forehead by rising through the sun touched skin across the rest of his body. His pure white cotton shirt clung to his slim frame as if it were glued to the epidermis. The clammy palms of his hands were soaked much like the back of his neck as if warm water had been slashed across it.
He slapped his damp hand against the back of the driver’s headrest. Sweat clouded eyes darted in every direction. Aside from a dark clothed man watching from a nearby intersection, virtually no one was around. At least not anyone I can actually see, he thought. He urged his driver to pull away. “Go Amin! Please go…go now!”
Mostafa took a precious moment in the mist of the chaos to think about what he just saw. A black overcoat in this temperature? He took another look at the man fully dressed in dark clothing. He stood in the same spot looking on with a calm but curious interest.
A small white square now appeared on the front of the man’s collar. Hadn’t noticed that before. The dark clothing was actually a robe, a priest robe. Mostafa stopped breathing in mid inhalation. My God…it’s him. The black robe swayed in the reluctant breeze atop of his tall, slender frame.
Before Mostafa could fully process the sight of the priest his attention drew away. Oddly enough the distraction evolved around what was not happening with the car. Why aren’t we moving?
His driver placed the car into gear, but when their eyes meet in the mirror his foot remained on the break pedal. Although Mostafa tried to hide it, the image that Amin saw was enough to raise serious concern. The friendship portion of their relationship took precedence over the business side. His driver was about to place the camaraderie hat on and not remove it; Mostafa saw it in his eyes.
Amin swiveled his body around narrowing his eyes with genuine disquiet at Mostafa. He understood the concern, but there just wasn’t enough time to explain…not now and not later, if ever. This act of silence wasn’t a choice it was a necessity. He had to keep that part of his life the way he always kept it, far away from everyone including Amin.
More then anything he feared this moment. The highly off limits part of his life had finally bled into the known areas. The act of keeping anything remotely related to his occupation away from his family had run its course, but he should have been ready for it. Denial pushed his coherent thought process aside. That was entirely his fault because common sense should have told him to prepare for the inevitable.
Before any of this, Mostafa made a personal vow with his soul standing as the only witness to the private conversation. As far as his family was concerned, none of them would ever know. The vow of self-secrecy not only excluded family but also the people he considered as family. The few that fell in this category dwelled on a remarkably short list with Amin at the very top. With the enlightenment of the current circumstances, he admonished the fact that he intentionally ignored the all too clear signs. Day after day it became more difficult to maintain his secret as well as the promise to keep it.
Mostafa managed to go on for a long time keeping his private life hidden, but Amin was about to end it. His eyes said as much as the silence. He made a stand and Mostafa knew better than anyone that his friend’s resilience was legendary.
Amin stuck to issues, opinions, and even the planet itself like glue. He had more close calls with death then any mortal alive, which became an inside joke. Mostafa often said that, at the end of the world, the only things left would be Betty White, the ocean, and Amin.
Today Amin drew the virtual line in the sand. He refused to allow Mostafa’s secrecy to continue as he lifted a judicious eyebrow at him.
“Just drive Amin! I know you have questions but for now, just drive!”
Little hope existed that Amin would actually listen , but he had to try. Unlike past incidents, this one commanded immediate attention, and Amin could not just look the other way. This time his unyielding glare remained in place.
He wanted more than anything to bypass this moment but that option had been dissolved forever. Amin didn’t ask the question hovering above them simply because he didn’t have to ask it. He placed his large foot down but not out of casual curiosity; this stemmed from authentic and admittedly justified apprehension.
Amin’s part in the family consisted of multiple roles. Aside from being Mostafa’s close friend Amin’s roles also included the Godfather to his son, Mostafa’s personal driver, and the protector for the entire family. Amin also – unknown to him till that instant – served as the family’s unofficial bodyguard; a position that he had no idea was even needed.
No matter how much Mostafa attempted to rationalize the need for concealment, he could not lie to himself. He handled the situation all-wrong. Of all people in Mostafa’s life, Amin had the right to know not just a portion, but everything. In fact, when he truly thought about it, the entire family should have known so they could also be on guard.
But where could it have ended? Cousins, in-laws, Amin’s relatives, should they have also been told? There had to be a stopping point.
Amin’s only blood relative lived far away. He seldom spoke of his sister , but when he did anyone could hear the pride in his voice whenever he mentioned her. She is a journalist in northern Africa who is an avid fighter against injustice, he would say with swelling pride.
Aside from his sister, Amin made it no secret that he considered the Roshans as his true family. All family functions included Amin’s jolly presence. To Mostafa’s son he was simply Uncle Amin, but no matter the title, the entire family felt as close to him as he felt to them.
The bond began from the day they first met mere weeks after Mostafa graduated from Sharif University. Initially Amin’s work consisted of odd jobs around the home of the Roshan’s. His duties quickly expanded till the relationship transformed into what it became today. In the months that followed he became without a doubt, family; not friend or employee but true unconditional family.
“They saw me. I think they saw me,” Mostafa grabbed his head with both hands, “No, I know that they saw me!”
He spun around looking out the back window for a fifth time. He then paused recalling the other even much more disturbing sight then scanned to the exact spot where the priest stood. This time no one was there. He’s gone. “Go Amin! Just go…that’s all I can say now!”
“Ok Ok! I’ll go, but after this we need to talk. I’m not here just for the fine times Mostafa, you have to let me help you.”
Amin twisted his body forward then griped his meaty hands on the steering wheel.
A loud thump followed Amin’s words as his heavy foot slammed the gas pedal to the floorboard. The back tires rotated over the solid surface for only a split second before gripping the crack-riddled concrete and launching the car forward. The scent of burning rubber filled the car’s interior as it rocketed away from the curb. The Peugeot shot down Ferdosi Avenue like a gray flash of fleeting steel.
Amin maneuvered the car through the light Northern Tehran traffic till he pulled ahead of the other vehicles that occupied the road. Within minutes, they were far away from their initial starting point at the office. Even at the safe distance Mostafa felt compelled to look out the back window. If anyone lurked around they managed to remain out of view, but that was hardly enough to settle his anxiety. Out of sight…inside of mind.
Amin cut his eyes into the rearview mirror. “Relax, I can assure you that no one was able to follow us.”
Just as he spoke a car emerged from a side street nearly colliding into them. Amin swerved the Peugeot to the left bouncing on the far curb. He jerked the steering wheel hard to the right bringing the car back on the level surface. Once in control, he grunted frustrated words at the other passing car.
Mostafa eyed the vehicle as it moved by them. He peered inside at the driver , but the person behind the wheel remained facing forward with a look of discomfort. The car then sped away.
“I hope you’re right Amin,” Mostafa said with an unsure tone.
Amin took a quick left at the next intersection . He turned the car so fast that the Peugeot briefly tilted on two wheels. Like a professional driver, Amin repeated the maneuver for several more turns till they arrived far away from the main streets.
The car’s speed decreased to a slow, casual roll. Amin waited till his eyes connected with Mostafa’s again in the rear view mirror. “Mostafa, what is this about?”
When he opened his mouth he planned on telling Amin the truth , but out of condition, the truth just wouldn’t come out. “It’s nothing. Just paranoid but it’s nothing.”
Amin lifted one furry eyebrow as he glared at his friend. “Nothing?” Amin tightened a thick hand on the back of his neck to massage it.
“I should have just moved my family to America,” Mostafa said under his breath.
Amin shot a glare into the mirror. “America?”
“Yes, I want my son to have more options. Here, even with my degree, there are very few,” he said then reached up to grip Amin’s meaty shoulder. “Amin, if anything happens to me, will you look after my wife and son?”
“You ask me this? You already know this. I would watch over them even after my own death. What…is…going…on? Tell me,” Amin said as he eased of the gas peddle taking the car to an even slower pace.
Mostafa leaned forward with his hand still on Amin’s thick shoulder. “Amin, I think someone leaked information on me. They know what I do now.”
Amin’s thick eyebrows lifted with alarm. His normally dark even keel expression transformed into gaunt worry. “La hawla wala quwata illa billah,” he said.
Mostafa nodded in agreement. “I know. I’m dissatisfied also but what can I do?”
“And what exactly was leaked?”
“My job Amin, working with things every day that could cause much sorrow in the wrong hands. I accepted a position that I’m too ashamed to tell my own family.”
Amin shook his head. “No,” he said. He wagged a bulky finger in the air. “Do not be ashamed of what you do. You are a scientist, and that is something to be proud of Mostafa.”
“Nuclear scientist,” Mostafa said.
“What’s the difference? You’re just doing a job. Is that why we are driving like fools? You think that someone will harm you for that?”
“Not think…know. Two of my co-workers have already been killed, and I don’t think it was a coincidence. That’s why I insisted that I remain anonymous when I accepted the position.”
“And why do you think you are not anonymous now?”
“A reporter contacted me, some online journalist or something. She told me that she read my name in a Hungarian and American newspaper. After she told me that, I pulled up the article on line. She was right. It gave inside information on me, even listed my full name as head of the program. Since then I’ve been noticing people…people, not with the company looking for someone, I know it was for me. Just before I left today I know that I saw two men lurking outside of the office building.”
Amin groaned heavily. “Uhh, I understand now. You should have told me this before. It’s ok Mostafa I have my own circle of connections. As long as I’m around no one will harm you or your family. La ilaha illa Allah.”
“Yes…yes I know. But although there is no good but Allah, there is a lot of bad out there.”
A black motorcycle with two passengers pulled out from between two buildings. Just like the car did minutes before, the bike also barely missed a direct collision into them. Amin rolled his driver’s side window half way down. “Idiot! Watch where you are going!!” He threw his hand out with a clinched fist grumbling angrily beneath his breath. The black motorcycle slowed down as it veered to the far right allowing their car to pull up next to him. Amin lowered the window the rest of the way down.
“Let it go Amin!” Mostafa urged.
Amin cut his glance into the mirror. “You’re right Mostafa, and I can not be upset for you keeping the information about your work away from me. I have a small confession of my own.”
“The mysterious monthly trips?”
Amin’s face enveloped with surprise. “You know of this?”
“I never pried into your affairs Amin, but I was aware that you would vanish from time to time.”
“Ok Mostafa I will tell only you. Aside from working with you, I also…”
Amin’s words were cut off when he became distracted by another two passenger black motorcycle. It pulled up on the opposite side of the Peugeot.
The metal to metal clinging sounded off on both sides of the car.
“What was that?” Amin said looking back to make sure Mostafa was ok.
“It was them,” Mostafa said pointing at the motorcycles. “The people riding on the back of each of those bikes just attached something to the car!”
“What is this? What’s going on here?” Amin protested out of the driver’s window as the motorcycles speeds away.
Mostafa sat up straight. After a serene realization, he leaned back into the back seat. The mystery ended; he now knew what just happened to them recognizing the uncommon but highly effective tactic. Mostafa listened as the high whining engines of the two motorcycles speed away. He then saw them cut between the buildings far ahead before vanishing out of view.
This time when their eyes met in the mirror, Mostafa saw the reflection of his own internal fear in Amin’s eyes. Even he now knew that something was seriously wrong. The muffled hum of Amin’s voice hung in the air like a balloon that was just about to rupture.
“A-ozu billahi mena shaitaan Arrajeem,” Mostafa whispered.
The Islamic prayer came into his head although it had been years since it was taught to him. He remembered the prayer word for word just as his mother had embedded into his psyche from as far back as he could remember. Although his mother had passed away years ago he could now hear her reciting the phrase with an angelic voice that was as alive and vibrant now as it was when she had actually recited the prayer many years before.
His mother’s voice vanished along with his ability to hear the sounds around him. Amin’s voice, the car engine, and the distant whining of the motorcycle engines vanished. All surrounding sounds were replaced by a loud, steady buzz.
A-ozu billahi mena shaitaan Arrajeem, he said again. But he could only hear the words internally where even there they struggled to rise above the fixed buzz.
His mother’s voice somehow elevated over the maddening noise. Her words murmured in his head , and this time he not only hears her but also sees her.
She stood there directly in front of him so close that he reached out to her. Along with her was the vision of him as a young boy. She leaned over him as she taught him the sacrosanct prayer. Whenever you feel unsafe Mostafa recite these words for your mother ok? Use them to seek refuge in the arms of Allah.
Intense heat consumed his body as flames filled the vehicle’s interior. Weightlessness followed as the entire car lifted into the air. If it were not for the burning pain across this skin, he would feel like an angel in flight.
His mind cleared, free of worry, free of all worldly matters.
“A-ozu billahi mena….” he started uttering the phrase one more time but only got half way through. The full force of the explosion propelled the car higher into the air. The car detonated as the second thunderous explosion hit. The scent of ignited fuel and burning flesh consumed his nostrils.
The heap of mangled metal crashed back to earth. Along with the inflamed car, gray metal pieces tainted in crimson blood cascaded across the multi colored cobblestone street.
Copyright© Carl Henegan. All rights reserved.