Authors: Austin S. Camacho
Copyright September 2014 by Austin S. Camacho
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, and photographic including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction, based on characters and a concept by Warren Murphy. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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THE START OF THINGS
In one brilliant cataclysmic flash, Ferooz Hassan saw his entire world collapse.
It had been meant to be a day of joy. Hassan had flown into New York City the night before to surprise his son, Yasser, whose friends in America all called him Jesse.
It was Yasser's 25th birthday and he would not have expected his father to do more than to call him with birthday greetings but Ferooz Hassan had personally arranged to take over an entire middle Eastern restaurant in the shadow of the World Trade Center, two blocks downtown and forty stories below the WTC offices where his son worked as a midlevel manager in one of Hassan's oil production companies.
Of course, these days, Ferooz Hassan had people who got paid to handle such mundane details as renting a restaurant, but the man thought this was too personal a matter to let staff handle. Yasser was his only son, a good, bright, religious young man who had never complained about the long hours, the sweat, or the irritation of learning the family business from the bottom up.
And today, on Yasser's twenty-fifth birthday, his father planned to tell him that his apprenticeship was over, that now he would be moving into running the company's day-to-day operations. And someday, but not too soon, Allah willing, may his name be praised, the entire Hassan dynasty would be the boy's to run.
Today would be a great day for the Hassan family.
It was September 11, 2001.
At 10:05 a.m., Ferooz Hassan was headed for his limousine to drive the two blocks from the restaurant to the
World Trade Center, where he planned to surprise his son with birthday greetings and then invite the whole office to the luncheon celebration.
But then he felt, more than heard, the impact that made his bushy eyebrows arch in surprise. Then fear. Even as he looked uptown toward the World Trade Center, three muscular men, his personal protectors, closed around him and moved him back toward the restaurant's front doors.
Ferooz's breath came short; he looked about but there were no answers, just the terrible walls of smoke rising over the city. Then he heard someone call out that an aircraft accident had occurred at the center's north tower.
But Yasser was in the south tower. Ferooz felt a brief moment of guilty relief.
Inside the restaurant, he tried to call Yasser's office but phone calls would not go through. He tried his son's cell phone but there was not even a ring. He kept trying to call, even as a restaurant worker had turned on a small television that showed the destruction of the north tower. And then, as Ferooz watched in heart-stopping disbelief, another plane flew directly into the south tower.
The tower where Yasser worked. Yasser, who was twenty-five years old today, who was a good, bright, religious young man.
“I have to get there,” Ferooz said and leaped toward the door with more energy than anyone who knew him casually would have expected. His three burly assistants stopped him again.
“Sir, it's no use. Local police will already have every approach to the area sealed off,” one of them said. Ferooz stared at him, knowing he was right, hating the truth. Then he ran to the manager, gripping the man's shirt in both fists.
“Do you have binoculars?” he asked. His voice was hard but his eyes were pleading.
“Please. I must see it.”
Moments later Ferooz Hassan stood on the roof of the twelve story building that housed the small Middle Eastern restaurant. He hardly felt the sun on his swarthy skin as his deep-set eyes stared through the borrowed binoculars at the ground level entrances to the smoking building.
It was a mass of humanity, of confusion, of horror, and Ferooz stood there, searching into the heart of the chaos for a look at one face, the face that since the death of his wife nine years earlier had held his entire future, his life, his world.
He saw every face that raced out of the building and every uniformed man who disregarded his own safety to run inside, into the mouth of danger and death. Had it been for this that he had come to the United States twenty-five years earlier to give his son the gift of American citizenship? Had he brought Yasser to his doom?
Then the world shook again as the tower began to fold in on itself like a man whose spine had been suddenly broken. That was the moment that Ferooz Hassan began to pray.
He prayed that an angel would sweep down from the heavens and rescue his son from this disaster. He prayed to all the gods who might be to intercede for his boy who was truly one of the world's innocents. He swore on the soul of his beloved son that he would pay any price, do any penance, dedicate his life to whatever mission Allah had for him if only his son could be saved from this terrible tragedy.
And then, in one of those insane unbelievable coincidences that nevertheless sometimes happen, he saw Yasser in the doorway. He knew him by his long thin frame and his wavy black hair, cut a little too long. He was barely walking, dragged forward by a pair of angels.
Angels in blue uniforms, with grim expressions. New York's finest, they were called. They were running powerfully, racing against a tide they knew would engulf them.
Ferooz watched in terrifying slow motion as the cloud of debris belched forward, erasing the front of the building and covering the area with a deadly white dust. The tidal wave of debris reared up behind them, like a giant gray hand poised to swat any insects in its path.
He saw Yasser stumble. Ferooz's eyes ached but he could not blink. Just as the cloud seemed destined to swallow them all, he saw one of the police officers go down. But before the officer disappeared beneath the gray wave, his final act was to push Yasser forward. His partner, a little ahead, dragged on Yasser's arm.
And then the flowing gray lava of destruction began to slow down, to lose its forward momentum, and Yasser kept moving away, away, away toward safety.
Ferooz tasted the salt of tears that ran down his face onto his lips.
Yasser, who was twenty-five today, who was good and bright and religious, was safe. The angels had come. The angels were always there.
But one of them was lost.
Ferooz Hassan looked skyward and swore to Allah that he who was lost would never be forgotten.
On a morning in late September, even before daybreak, much of the city that never sleeps was up and about its business. Prehistoric garbage trucks vied with darting taxicabs for space on Manhattan's wire-narrow side streets. Pretzel and chestnut vendors were already setting up their umbrella-topped pushcarts on the busiest corners. Beneath them, subways hummed through dark tunnels, delivering grumpy early-shift workers to their jobs.
At the southern end of narrow Manhattan Island, down on Fulton Street, the seafood vendors had their ice-covered stands set up even before the darkness gave way. The first rays of the sun glinted rainbow-sparkling off the scales of fresh fish. Chefs and cooks from all over the city picked their way between the stands, selecting the cheapest fish that could fill the space on their menus reserved for the always overpriced “catch of the day.”
The whole fish market scene was so busy and chaotic that Lorenzo Lucania had to park the car two blocks away. He wore a black leather coat and gloves against the morning chill. The two larger men who had accompanied him blew into their hands, but Lorenzo hardly noticed the cold. He ignored the buzz of haggling chatter around him, and tried not to notice the slimy puddles that his wingtips occasionally slopped through.
So abruptly did Lorenzo turn between two of the huge fish display tables that the men following him stumbled into
each other. Lorenzo fixed his obsidian eyes on a graying man in apron and plastic gloves who stood behind the piles of fresh fish. Without a word, Lorenzo stood at the display table until the merchant snapped, “You come to buy or to look?”
“I've come about your last payment,” Lorenzo said softly. “I think it'll be better for business if we take this into the office.”
The merchant's hand crept toward a wooden-handled flat cleaver. He shook his head. “Not much point in talking,” he said. “What I gave the boy is what I had. That's all you get.”
Lorenzo could see his breath and smell his fear. Around him, he sensed the other fish peddlers edging away from them, exercising the native New Yorkers' eternal right not to get involved. He swung out quickly, slapping the merchant hard and grabbing his wrist to shake the cleaver from his hand. Then he pulled the man forward and thrust him toward the little shed that served as his office.
Over his shoulder, Lorenzo called to the two other men. “Stay out here. Make sure nobody steals any fish. We may own them soon.”
Inside the shed, he pushed the merchant into the folding metal chair alongside the card table that doubled as a desk.
“Look, Pop, you know it don't work that way. You want to do business here, you pay your fair share. You don't, things happen. Now, which finger do you use the least?”
“No,” the man cried. “No.” He shrank away in his chair.
“Hey, we were told to bring back a finger. Now maybe I can squeeze you out one more day. But that's all. You have the rest of the money tomorrow or you be damned sure you know which finger you want to donate to charity. Because if you don't pick, those two guys outside will pick, and they can't even count. Two to them is the same as one.” He leaned forward until his face was very close to the fish peddler's. “Do yourself a favor and have the dough
Lorenzo stepped outside the shack, pulling the door closed behind him.
He looked at the other two men. “He'll have the money tomorrow.”
“I wanted to get some fingers,” one of them said.