Our Right Trusty and Right Well-Beloved Cousins
There wasn’t any doubt in Qabeel Alaaeddin’s mind. Today, this evening, he was a bad Muslim, and not in the sense of his friend Hashim, who had once told a Belgian diplomat at a State dinner, “I’m a bad Muslim, so just give me a pork chop.”
But as he stood respectfully, facing Mecca, hands beside his head, palms forward, he was nowhere near to putting the world behind him. While his voice carried the music of Heaven, the words “Allahu Akbar,” his mind was in the dimly-lit basement, with two brave men he did not hate, but would soon kill.
He moved smoothly through the steps and stages, the Qiyam and the Fatiha, the Ruk’u and the Qauma, his voice clear and steady in prayer and praise to Allah. But this was not to be a performance. This was not for others to see or hear. This was a time for Qabeel Alaaeddin to give himself over to his God, his mind only on the Almighty and his duty to him, and instead, instead....
Instead he was contemplating his place, not in the eyes of God, but on the chessboard of international intrigue. He had nothing in particular against Khadra, and some admiration for Abd-al-Salaam – all the more so since this stratagem of sending these Americans after him! – but his Sultan burned for vengeance, and Qabeel Alaaeddin was his Fist. So he had set about the boy-king’s destruction. If he bore no ill-will for Abd-al-Salaam, still less did he bear for the young Queen, but she was the ideal path to her husband’s destruction, so he had built his trap around her.
And then these Americans! They had attacked swiftly and cunningly, and had kept their heads and their counsel so well that while he was congratulating himself on their capture, their compatriots were undoing his plans. It was only a delay, of course, the printing plants in Qumar were working, and the King and Queen were walking dead, corpses that simply had yet to fall. And Scott and Robinson had kept silent under questioning, and under torture, their accomplices long gone to safety. He wished he could call back to the Palace, learn if they had done more mischief than stopping his initial release of the pictures, but this secondary safe-house, a mere bolt-hole, smelling of the manure of the desert reclamation project, had no telephone service.
He had gone, without even being aware of the words or motions, through the Sudjood, the Qu’ud and back into Sudjood again. No honor to himself nor Allah in prayers unfelt, but God was good, and knew perfection was His realm, not Alaaeddin’s. One day’s failure would be forgiven in a heart that was true to Allah.
How could he not respect these men, who could be bloodied, but somehow, even in the abject state the Mountain had left the Negro in, never bowed? Their courage and humor, the laughter that covered an iron discipline. These were worthy men, true professionals, men who he’d be proud to share a table with, share stories of missions gone awry, and victories snatched through force of will.
Qu’ud again, then body and voice proceeded to the second and fourth Rakats. He had had a full station in the main safe-house, but with Hassan left injured in the street, with the others not cleared for deeper knowledge of affairs in Khadra, he and the Mountain had been forced to relocate – let’s not kid ourselves, Qabeel, you fled! – with their prisoners, and now they were hunkered down in this harbor of last resort, undone by the swift, decisive action of a King they had all clearly underestimated, and by the daring of these Americans, seen and unseen!
He didn’t even know how he’d reached the Tashahhud and the Salawat. Possibly what was bitterest to him was that he Russian’s advice – orders, orders to the Sultan himself! – had, in the end, been right. The King had not been defeated, he had gone swiftly on the offensive, and these Americans, seen and unseen, had been the destruction of the entire Khadra station. All he was left now was this last bolt-hole, and his orders, to be carried out after Evening Prayer.
He looked over his right shoulder, acknowledging the angel who recorded what good he did, and over his left, to the angel recording his sins. Each time, he spoke softly: “As Salaamu 'alaikum wa rahmatulaah.” “Peace and blessings of God be upon you.”
Then he wiped his face with his palms, and stood, rolling his prayer-rug as he did so, and turned and strode to collect Kefenste, and then kill the Americans, and go home.
Kelly hissed as he tossed the light-bulb back and forth between the pads of torn tee-shirt on his fingers.
“Careful, there, Hoby,” murmured Scotty. “We’re gonna want that!”
“I know, I know, Duke, this precious glass bubble shall, in and of itself, deliver us from the hands of friend Alaaeddin!”
Scotty’s voice tightened. “Well, it’s more useful if we have it than if we don’t. And it’s not like this thing isn’t just as hot!”
Kelly could barely see him in the dark, as he pulled the socket from the ceiling, trailing wires up into the asbestos insulation on the ceiling. He reached up with his other hand to pull the wire from the staple, and then followed the wire back to the next one.
“Just don’t short it out, Stanley,” said Kelly. “It’s not much good to us if you do.”
“Thank you, Mother.” Scotty carefully pulled out the next staple, wrapping slack wire around his hand. “And, don’t worry, I did put on clean underwear this morning in case I get in an accident.”
Kelly grunted. “You know this has, oh, maybe one chance in twenty-seven of working, right?”
“Yeah,” the chuckle was there in Scotty’s voice. “Because you, Diamond Jim, you never like to play at long odds!”
“Well, if I’ve gotta,” Kelly agreed, “this is the stake I like to put on it: the kind where if I lose, I’m no worse off than if I didn’t play the hand. We’re just as dead if we go out sitting on our duffs.”
Scotty pulled loose the last staple, and moved over by the door. “So let’s see if I can deal us some slightly better cards.” He checked the length of free wire he had in hand, and felt around in the insulation over the door itself. “Come on, come on....”
Kelly watched, his mouth a firm line, his eyes narrowed in the near-darkness.
“Gotcha!” Scotty reached up with the wire, and tucked it up into the insulation, where the ceiling met the wall over the edge of the door-frame. He rolled the wire down, and swung it sideways, hooking the wire around the doorknob, so the socket hung perhaps eight inches below.
“Now the fun part,” offered Kelly.
“Oh, boy, oh, boy! Better than Coney Island!”
Scotty knelt and pushed the cheap metal sleeve up the wires by feel, then felt carefully for the slot of the the screw on the nearest of the two wires. He pressed his thumbnail into the slot and slowly began to turn it.
Kelly clamped his jaws over the desire to tell Scotty again to be careful, not to shock himself, not to get himself killed at this point, not to short out the wire, rendering the whole thing moot. Man’s got enough on his mind.
Scotty pulled the first wire free, bent it carefully back away from the socket, and then slowly rotated the fixture to reach with his thumbnail for the other screw. “Easy, there....” he breathed. “Slow and easy, that’s right....”
Doing fine, babe. Kelly’s mouth actually shaped the words, but with no voice to carrying them to his partner.
Scotty's hand shifted, and the socket fell, bouncing from his bare belly, while he carefully bent away the other bare wire. The two bare twists of copper looked blue in the deep twilight, barely leaking into the room. Scotty moved back slowly, shuffling on his knees, his hands up and out by his sides, willing the bare wires not to shift.
As he got near, Kelly reached down to help Scott to his feet. “Not long now, Melvin.”
Scotty swung his arms and shoulders, wincing as he loosened the tightening, bruised muscles, carefully avoiding the hand in which Kelly held the bulb. “Uh-huh. Dark as it is? Any time at all, Hoby. Any time at all.”
Later, writing up their report, he’d agree with Scotty that it was less than five minutes. But while they stood there, side-by-side in the dark, staring at the black-against-black rectangle of the door, Kelly thought it might have been longer than he’d spent with Alaaeddin, Kefenste, and the car battery.
“Man, this is worse than waiting for the next episode of Terry and the Pirates!” he breathed.
Scotty just hummed his music, just loud enough for Kelly to hear: “NanananaNanananaNaah! NanananaNanananaNaah!”
The corner of Kelly’s mouth twitched in a hint of a smile.
Scotty’s voice cut off in mid-Nah, and Kelly heard the ghost of a noise in the hall outside. They stared at the dully-shining doorknob, and it turned smoothly. The Mountain was starting to taunt them as the door moved, the bare wires sliding up toward the knob as the door pushed in.
“Ah, Little–” Kefenste’s voice was cut off by its own scream, as blinding blue sparks arced around the doorknob.
Scotty stepped forward, watching grimly as the sparks exploded, listening to the involuntary quaver of Letsego Kefenste’s scream, until the short circuit blew its fuse or breaker, and as darkness fell again, he kicked the door wide.
Kefenste roared again as the knob was torn from his hand. Kelly thought he smelled cooked meat along with the ozone, and hoped the knob was taking parts of the Mountains’ palm with it.
“Move!” Alaaeddin’s voice was sharp and commanding. Kelly slid sideways, focusing on the sound. “You’re blocking my shot!”
The Mountain stepped in through the door, and Scott shuffled to his left, keeping the huge body between himself and the open door, as Kelly, now to the right, went down to a deep, painful crouch.
“I will enjoy killing you,” growled Letsego.
“Woo!” Scotty gasped as the Mountain’s breath washed over him. “You’d enjoy anything with that much scotch in you!”
There was muzzle-flash in the doorway, as Alaaeddin followed his henchman into the enclosed space, and Kelly drove himself quickly up toward him, his right hand, holding the still-hot bulb by its threads, driving toward the grim face the gunfire had lit.
“Bad news for you,” Kefenste grunted. A pile-driver of a fist rocketed toward Scotty. “I am a mean drunk!”
Scotty shifted slightly, and the punch sailed past. “Yeah, y’see, the worse news is that I’m a mean sober guy. And that’s why I’m going to beat the stuffing out of you!”
Across the room, Alaaeddin cried out as the glass bulb broke against his cheekbone, and the jagged glass in its center drove into his left eye. Kelly’s left arm wrapped around him, trapping Alaaeddin’s gun-hand against his hip, and he drove the bulb up again, tearing a jagged rip in Alaaeddin’s nostril.
Scotty ducked under a roundhouse left, and threw two sharp jabs over Kefenste’s kidney, and shuffled back a step, drawing the larger man off-balance.
Alaaeddin swung sideways, pulling Kelly with him, slamming him against the wall. Kelly’s grip loosened, and as the Qumari pulled his gun loose, he dropped onto his side on the floor, driving his foot up. Alaaeddin’s gunshot went high as the kick drove his wrist up, and Kelly spun, bringing his other foot in a swing that caught that wrist, and the pistol dropped from slack fingers.
Scotty’s hands were quick – Kelly, seeing from the corner of his eye, cringed inwardly at the pain it must be causing him – as he slapped Kefenste across his face, left and then right, before dancing back and sideways.
Alaaeddin started to lean down, attempting to recover the Tokarev, as Kelly rolled to his feet, And as he came up with it, Kelly’s hands wrapped around his forearm and swung him back to the door-frame as hard as he could.
Scotty punched the large, solid belly, and danced back toward the still-swinging door, Kefenste following him, huge arms windmilling almost un-aimed.
The pistol fired again, bullet thudding into the floor, and then the wrist struck the wooden door-frame with all the weight and speed Kelly could get behind it. The splintering bones sounded like breaking celery, and the pistol fell again.
As The Mountain lowered his head and charged him, Scotty reached up and grabbed the trailing, dead wires, pulling them loose from the ceiling, and swinging them forward in a circular, whip-like motion. The cord circled Kefenste’s neck, and Scotty jumped a flailing arm and circled behind him, pulling the wire tight.
Kelly bulled Alaaeddin out into the hallway, punching his trunk as hard as he could.
The Mountain’s large, stubby fingers scrabbled at the cord but found no purchase as Scotty kicked at the back of his knee, driving him off his feet.
Alaaeddin kicked up savagely, but Kelly had turned sideways, deflecting the blow with his hip. He reached with a casual hand for the Qumari’s uselessly-flapping right.
Kefenste had got no higher than his knees when Scott’s right knee landed between his huge shoulderblades, and Scotty pulled with both hands on the wire, The sausage-fingers flailed helplessly to get under the wire, but were too large, too calloused and clumsy.
“Go to sleep, man,” Kelly Robinson gasped, as his fingers closed around Alaaeddin’s right hand, and he began to twist, savagely. Alaaeddin shrieked, his good eye rolling back in its socket. “Just, go to sleep.”
Kefenste’s large hands tried to reach back for Scotty, but the smaller man stayed carefully out of reach. The swinging of the arms slowed, slowed.
Alaaeddin’s eye fluttered closed, and he sank against Kelly’s chest, his scream faded to a curious sigh.
Kefenste’s huge form lurched forward, and he fell, face-first onto the floor.
The two Americans stood, panting, looking at one another.
“Yours dead?” Scotty managed to gasp.
Kelly shook his head. “No. Yours?”
Scotty shrugged. “Dunno.”
There came a sound of pounding feet on the steps, and Kelly threw himself backward into the room, as Scotty threw himself forward, both scrabbling for the fallen Tokarev.
The pistol rose clasped between both their hands, Kelly’s finger on the trigger with Scotty bracing his wrist at a perfect firing angle aimed toward heart-level as a flashlight stabbed around the corner and toward them.
Kelly’s finger pulled in the play on the trigger, poised against the tension, and almost, almost, pulled it tight when Bashik’s voice called, “At ease, men! Our friends seem to have made a rescue unnecessary!”
“That,” said Jed Bartlet, “was, without a doubt, the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen.” he turned to his best friend. “Wasn’t that amazing, Leo?”
Leo adjusted the collar of his tuxedo, looking around the crowded reception hall. “Well, remember, I’ve seen napalm attacks.”
“You are just the enemy of fun, aren’t you?”
“Only yours, Jed,” said Leo, and then drew to attention as the King approached. “A very moving ceremony, Your Majesty,” he said by way of greeting. “Jed was just telling me how impressed he was.”
King Bashik reached with one long finger behind his ear and under his heavy ceremonial turban. “Primarily, I imagine,” he said, “because I didn’t scratch under this dreadful thing until afterwards!”
“Oh, Biko, stop complaining!” The Queen’s approach was like a spring breeze. “Tomorrow morning, you can declare it a historic artifact, and consign it to the Royal Museum forever!”
“Your Majesty!” greeted Jed and Leo in unison, as Bashik slid an arm around her waist.
“Mr. Bartlet, Mr. McGarry! I’m so glad you stayed for the reception!”
Leo bowed. “We may not be statesmen,” he said, “but we know better than to say No to a King in his own country!”
“Truly,” Jed added, “This is better than I could have hoped when I planned my vacation for this week. My best plan was to see the ceremony from the back row!”
“Your Majesterialness! Your Magnificence!” The voice was a little hoarse, but filled with warmth, and Alexander Scott’s gait may have been stiff as he approached them, Kelly Robinson actually limping behind him, but both men’s smiles were broad and approving. Their tuxedos were identical except for the jackets: Scotty’s was pink, Kelly’s pastel blue.
Bashik’s answering grin was like a sunrise. “Kelly! Scotty! I was wondering where you’d got to!”
“The bathroom, your Majesty,” said Kelly. “We needed to raid a medicine cabinet. We may have exhausted Khadra’s supply of aspirin.”
“I’ll order the import of more instantly!”
“How does it feel, man?” asked Scotty, very quietly. “Now that your uncle is just a relative, and you’re running the show?”
Bashik’s grin didn’t fade as he answered, “Terrifying.”
“Still,” said Kelly, “One problem you’re not likely to have to deal with any time soon: I don’t bet Qumar will be making a lot of noise for a few years after the trials!”
“Don’t be so sure,” said Jed Bartlet. “There’s not much more obstreperous than a corrupt country caught with its hand in the cookie jar. If I’ve read my history right, there’ll be parades for Alaaeddin, with his arm in a sling, and a very piratical eye-patch.”
The Queen shook her head sadly. “I fear you’re right, Mr. Bartlet.”
Leo half-smiled. “It’s distressingly common, Your Majesty.”
“And, you may yet get a breather,” added Leo. “I suspect the Sultan’s going to have his hands full with the Bahji.”
At this, Jed Bartlet’s expression grew still, and he and Leo exchanged a glance. The Queen watched this with solemn eyes, nodding slowly, and her husband cocked his head at her, his own eyes questioning.
“It’s nothing, Biko,” she said. “Messrs Bartlet and McGarry saw something, between the Blind Imam and his son.”
“Not to worry,” Bartlet told the King. “But it didn’t leave me with much of an opinion of Amr Hassan.”
Bashik nodded. “He is a cut-throat. He may be troublesome, but I doubt he can command enough loyalty to last.” He clapped a hand on Jed’s shoulder. “My guess is, if the Bahji last as a political power for more than five years, it will be without him, and someone from the Sultan’s family will be in charge. Possibly Shareef or his son.”
“I have to wonder, though,” said Leo McGarry, thoughtfully, “what grows from the seeds we’ve planted here.”
Oval Office, the White House, Washington DC
May 17th, 2002, 1:03 AM
“It's almost 8:00 AM in Qumar,” continued Leo. “You shouldn't cancel the trip. You should tell me to call the State Department.”
President Bartlet's eyes narrowed at his Chief of Staff. “Why?”
Leo's face was serious. "What are the alternatives?"
Bartlet hesiated. “What are you...”
“What are the alternatives? Are we going to attack Qumar?”
“Maybe,” the President replied.
“Now?” asked Leo. “We could kill all the armed teenagers we want, we still won't have Shareef. Let's get some more intelligence, let's get some more counsel.”
Josiah Bartlet's voice was bitter, “More counsel is going to help me violate international law.”
“It's pretty easy to say this is a war scenario.”
The president shook his head. “It's pretty easy to say anything is a war scenario.”
Bartlet rolled on as if he hadn't spoken. “The war on poverty. It's a slippery slope.”
“Stop it,” Said Leo.
Leo sounded, if anything, tired. “Just stop it already. This is the most horrifying part of your liberalism. You think there are moral absolutes.”
“There are moral absolutes,” replied the president.
“Apparently not,” said Leo. “He's killed innocent people. He'll kill more, so we have to end him. The village idiot comes to that conclusion before the Nobel Laureate.”
“Il Principe has justified every act of oppression–”
“This is justified.” Leo was firm. “This is required.”
“Says who?” challenged the President.
His chief of staff didn't give an inch. “Says me, Mr. President. You want to go ask some more people, they'll say so, too.”
“Well, a mob mentality is just–”
“Not a mob,” Leo told him. “Just you. Right now. This decision. Which, by the way, is one of self-defense. Let Shareef come here and we have options. Cancel the trip and we have none. That's all we're talking about right now.”
"There are moral absolutes," said Jed Bartlet.
Their eyes locked, and for a moment Jed Bartlet was twenty-four years old again, looking over at a Leo who was infinitely younger as well, two pairs of eyes wide as Amr Hassan rattled the stiff cardboard from the new dress-shirt's box, and told his father, “It is another photograph, I can tell it is fake. She is pleasuring him with her mouth.” Jed and Leo, staring, saying nothing.
"Make the call," the President said.
Leo's eyes were dark. "Thank you, Mr. President."