Robert Parsley listened and watched as the rotor of the phone click-click-clicked from each of the numbers he dialed back to the black 0 at the top. After a short conversation with the operator, she connected him with another location on the switchboard. The dial tone droned in Robert's ear.
“Quantico Taxicab & Livery, how can I help you?”
“Yes, I need a pickup at the Evergreen Apartment complex,” Robert said. “On the double.”
“That'll be fifteen to twenty minutes, sir,” the bored attendant said, accent imperceptible.
“That's not going to do,” Robert said. “I'll need it in no less than seven minutes and thirty five seconds, at the outside.”
Several moments passed. They need to get on the god damn ball already, before the operator gets suspicious, Robert thought to himself, chiding himself for the mental blasphemy. Not all of these guys understand how things work in America.
“We can do that, sir,” the attendant said. “Have a good day.”
The driver of the taxi got out and opened Robert's door for him, as would be expected of someone in his station. Robert gave a curt nod and ducked into the running automobile without another glance at the man holding his door, as would be expected of someone in his station.
What was not expected in this situation was the man sitting in the driver's side rear seat. “Hello, brother,” the elfin, brown-skinned man said. “Peace be unto you.”
“Peace be also unto you, imam,” Robert said. “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me. I have been in need of much guidance lately.”
“This is understandable, my son,” Imam Farahani said. “Your path is a difficult one to walk. You have been tasked by God with a mission of great importance, but I can sense already that your heart is troubled. Tell me of your worries.”
If the driver of the taxi was disturbed by Robert's burst into tears, he did not show it. If he was any more surprised by the blubbering confession coming forth in the back of the taxi, he likewise possessed enough discretion to avoid commenting on this. Robert vented for nearly twenty minutes, rambling on disparately about the constant fear of being detected, about the stress of living his double life, about the horrors of American society around him and his awareness of it, his fear of – oh merciful God, his fear of Edgar Hoover finding out what he was. What he was really doing.
The imam listened at length as Robert vented his spleen. After he finished, there was silence in the taxi for quite a long time.
“Is this road too hard for you, child?” the imam asked.
“Does it matter if it is?” Robert asked. “Do any of us have a choice? We are the Slaves of God, imam; it's in the name.”
“We all have a choice,” Imam Farahani said. “And your Arabic is flawed, son. 'Muslim' translates literally as 'one who submits to God'. The linguists would call that an active verb, I believe. It requires an actor, requires action. An active participant. A maker of decisions. You have become a Muslim as an act of faith, an act of choice. But whatever it is, it is an act. You have not fallen into Islam; no one does, no one can. It is a hard road for all. Yours, yes, is a harder road than many. But the paradise that awaits all faithful Muslims is greater than any of the tribulations in this world. And the world that we Muslims seek to build will help guide millions, even billions into that paradise.”
The imam shook his head. “You weep like a child. That is an observation, not a critique. Children weep because they spend years learning what the world is, learning these rules for living among other people through trial and error. And they spend much more time in error than not. Becoming a Muslim as a grown man, especially in the home of depraved, Godless capitalism? This is as a second childhood for you. So long as you keep the tears confined to right here and keep the truth confined to your heart, there should be no shame here.”
Robert sniffled further, wiped his nose on the tissue offered to him by the imam. “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't tell you how grateful I am for everything you've done.”
The imam's face brightened. “Ever since I met you, ever since you walked into the masjid in Memphis, ever since I saw the look on your face, I knew. I knew you were truly enlightened, or at least capable of it. So many of these Westerners cannot see the decadence and depravity of their home. But you, you were strong enough to see the truth, and strong enough to work with us to help strengthen our cause. Even at the cost of your personal self-confidence. Even at the cost of your safety, you risk everything for the truth. Risk everything for what is right, son. There is no greater cause.
“The Prophet Muhammad, praise be unto him, this is what he dedicated his life to. Like you, he fought a war against every institution he had ever known and built something greater than this world has ever seen. Unlike you, he did not have the help of an elder, a man he could talk to for guidance.”
The taxi came to a stop outside Robert's house. “We are out of time, child,” the Imam said. “Please, keep in mind the things I have said, and walk always with God.” He pushed a butane lighter into Robert's hand. “This is empty and will open into flat metal. The usual code is written on the inside. This is your next mission. Remember, serve first the world of God always. Let the world of men catch up to you.”
Robert nodded, collected himself, kissed his imam on the cheek quickly (to avoid being seen by people nearby), and stepped out of the taxi. He walked quickly up the steps to his apartment complex's door, up the stairs to his apartment.
“Hey, handsome,” Robert's neighbor said. The neighbor that Robert knew had immoral designs on him, the one who disgusted Robert more than nearly anyone he saw in his day-to-day relations. He saw her as the encapsulation of everything that sickened him about what his country had become, about the West. Fat, promiscuous, lazy. “You got back quickly.”
Polite Smile #1 said “Just went for a stroll” as the man wearing it ducked into his apartment.
The tab on the file read "RECENT DECODES" as Bethany laid it on her employer's desk. The first page in the file had a photocopied message on top.
ORGANIZATION FOR THE RECLAMATION OF ISLAMIC ARTIFACTS
PROJECT 013 CODENAME: "WESTERN LIGHT" PROJECT LEAD: "UMAR" PENETRATION CONTINUES AS EXPECTED. PACKAGE DELIVERED. OPERATIVE EN ROUTE.
AUTHOR: "UMAR" DESTINATION: "JANNAH" MEMORANDUM 099 | P1/1
J. Edgar Hoover would be back from lunch soon.