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Chapter 7 – The King & I
Once we were safely in the limo and safely underway from the hotel , I voiced my concern. “Tam, why do I have the place of honor? You are Captain, I am just an Airman. Hell you both are princes; here I am, just a fucking nobody. God I need a drink!”
“Jono, you are far from being nobody. You are the son of a great hero, the honored guest of our King… You drink alcohol Jono?”
“Surely you don’t think that Nessa and I have been hanging around the Canadian embassy for the poutine? I had my first taste of whiskey when I was eight. Momma was hoping I would hate the taste, boy howdy I tells you was she wrong. On one trip my Papa discovered I had a taste for ogogoro and sodabi. I take it that’s something I shouldn’t share with the King?” Reza laughed out loud.
Tamam replied, “Let us just say for the rest of your stay in the Kingdom you shall be abstaining from consumption of alcohol, at least in public. In my presence you will not consume that West African filth.” I dropped my head and pulled my lower lip into my mouth. I had disappointed him with my low palette. “There is no shame Jono, I simply wish to expose you to the finer things that life has to offer. Much of that African palm wine can rob you of your sight, and these beautiful gems have much to see.”
My God I wanted to crawl in his lap cuddle and kiss him all over. I did not know the driver, so I figured that was probably a bad idea. Instead I reached down and softly squeezed his hand; he smiled at me and returned the gesture. Reza was grinning like an idiot, as usual. The limousine paused only for a second as we were waived through the gates of the Royal Estate. I guess the four motorcycles that were screaming on each corner of the vehicle were subtle hint we were expected.
God I really did need that drink. I asked Tamam when the last time he was here. He told me never. No pressure I thought my mind. We pulled up to the main house and the doors flew open. My military training was once again getting in the way as I waited for Tamam to exit the vehicle. My hesitation was showing, because Tamam reached down and pinched my still tender butt cheek to remind me that I was the honored guest and should leave the vehicle first. I have so much to unlearn.
Prince Aziz was standing by the front door awaiting us. He kissed both my cheeks in the traditional greeting. Then he greeted Tamam and then coolly acknowledged Reza. This was starting to get on my nerves. We were led through into the throne room the king had already risen to greet me. I forgot all that Tamam had taught me and fell back on a lesson from Papa. I dropped my head and said, “My life for my King.”
“Jono, your greeting is unexpected, but appreciated. Aban taught you well. Still, your family has given more than enough blood for my throne.” He kissed my cheeks, and I his.
He took my arm and led us into the banquet room. He led me to the chair to his right. Tam and Reza were down near the foot of the table. The King introduced me to his sons as Jono “Son of Aban” Al-Amin, all had an impressed expression. I got the feeling I was the only one at the table who didn’t know my Papa’s whole story.
Dinner was a long drawn-out affair. The King’s sons kept me entertained with stories of their business acumen. The son to my right, Usef was a Colonel and a fighter pilot with ego to match. He boasted about graduating with top marks from F-15 flight training. I could see Tamam’s jaw grinding. It was Aziz who gave me an opportunity to address a concern.
“Jono, how do you like your new accommodations?”
“I am more than a little overwhelmed by your family’s extreme generosity. I am also grateful beyond my ability to express. A simple thank you is so inappropriate. Still, I don’t know what I’ll do with all that space. I kind of got used to barracks life this year.”
“I was fortunate Omar Hassan loaned me his sons to help teach me more about Papa’s culture and keep me from being so alone. It does make me more comfortable. I lived with thirteen foster brothers and sisters at the group home. Spending time with Tamam, Naser, Najibullah, and Reza has been like having a family again. This weekend I have felt like I was truly at home. I haven’t been this happy in years.”
I knew I was tempting fate, but I decided to openly flirt with their precious ‘polite secret.’ “Reza has even offered to stay in one of the rooms until he returns to school.” A flurry of panicked looks flew around the table. Tam shook his head.
“Najibullah is looking into whether my Saudi passport is still valid, or if my status died with my father. The U.S. government will never accept it, but it was important to Papa.”
The King rested his hand on my arm. “I and so many owe our lives to Aban Al-Amin. It is my responsibility to protect his sole heir, while you are in my kingdom. I know it can be isolating, and I am grateful my nephews are caring for you as family. Family is everything; you are as much casino oyna a part of my family as Aban was. MY sons will make sure you have current paperwork.”
He smiled and rested his hand on my arm, “You are home, we are family. When it comes to OUR claiming you as citizen, the American government’s acceptance does not matter. You are a lost child of Islam. It is both our delight and our obligation to care for the last son of one of our mightiest defenders.” His sons nodded in agreement.
After dinner the king took me into the courtyard garden. We talked about the happy string of miracles that brought me to the kingdom. After a few moments I screwed up the courage to ask the question, “My King, I have never been told the substance of my Papa’s story. Could you tell me what happened? Papa said he would tell me when he thought I was old enough to understand. That day was taken from me.”
“That would be my pleasure little one. The region we were in was in dispute for generations, the Saudi claim has always been the stronger one. We entered the city and engaged the Yemeni loyalists. We had the numbers to carry the day; still they tried to even the odds. The enemy loaded explosives into a cargo truck and drove toward our lines.”
He rested his hand on my shoulder, “It was Aban who recognized the threat ran out from cover into the road shooting at the vehicle. As the driver succumbed to his wounds, the explosives in the vehicle detonated. We believe based on the devastation that the bomb had no less than 600 kilograms of explosives.”
His eyes closed and he swallowed hard, “If the truck had gone any further it would have killed me and every member of the senior staff.”
“Because of your father’s courage, only four people died and three others were injured. We won the day because of him. Between the concussive impact and the shrapnel, we were convinced your father was dead. As soon as we realized he was still with us, we had him rushed back to the field hospital. From there he was stabilized and flown to Riyadh.”
We sat on a bench next to an ornate fountain, “Your mother was a student nurse there. She stayed by his side the entire time he was recovering. She told him of her family in Florida. She shared stories of her father and older brother’s famous horses, champions all. She continued her ceaseless prattle, talking to him non-stop until finally his eyes opened and he commanded her to be silent. The hand of the Prophet truly walks alongside your family.”
He smiled, “By the point when he was able to walk, the die was cast and your father was smitten with his beautiful American nurse.”
He continued, “A couple years earlier, it was I who told my father of a lovely woman I met while traveling to America with my cousin Omar. Father arranged a nursing scholarship for her. It was hoped she could be seduced and even agree to marry me. You must remember the times; women such as her brought a degree of glamour and status to the throne rooms in the old empires. He was seething that she would fall in love with Aban, even though he had saved his son’s life. I told Aban that he should continue healing overseas.”
“In time my father’s anger cooled. By that time Aban was established in Florida, and in your family. I loved hearing him boast about his sons. He clearly favored the little one that his Nan loved so. You were the one he enjoyed traveling with. He once said to me, ‘Jono is a blessed boy. He has the gift that builds peace between bitter enemies.’ He was amazed with your gift learning new languages and music. I was crushed when I leaned of the death of your family. I mourned your death as if I lost my own children”
He put his arm around my shoulders. “More than anything Aban wanted a sons. He thought his injuries protecting me and his fellow soldiers took that from him. You were his second great blessing from God. I did not know my old friend’s son was alive, let alone could not afford to finish his education until the son arrived in my kingdom. I feel as if I failed both Aban and you.”
“You did not fail neither him, nor I, my King. The most important lesson Papa taught us boys about life is the need to learn to stand. In spite of the odds, stand. In spite of the pain, stand. In spite of the burden, stand. Even the strongest of men will get knocked down, no recovery can begin until we learn, or relearn, to stand.”
“Aban would be proud of you Jono. You are indeed worthy to carry his name and legacy.” He hugged me again, and we returned to the others.
Reza watched on as I defeated Usef in backgammon. Two of the King’s other sons chose to make fun of the rings around Reza and my eyes. I apologize for our appearance. Then I reminded them that even the prophet encouraged the use of kohl to protect vision. “Our Prophet himself would put kohl on his eyes three times every night, before he went to sleep. He would put kohl three times on his right eye and two times on his left.”
The King praised my wisdom, canlı casino and knowledge of the texts. His words took the sting out of their comments, as they retreated like scalded animals.
I could not help but notice when Tam was pulled aside by the King and Prince Aziz. Security officers joined them. They appeared to be in a deep heavy conversation. I was curious but, I had no doubt if it involved me Tamam would tell me later. In hindsight it was as if the men were playing games with me for no other reason than to distract me from the conversation across the room. I was starting to get irritated but I figured I should keep my hand close to my chest. I think Reza I picked up on my darkening mood.
After about an hour, Tam approached me with the King. The King spoke, “Jono, I look forward to seeing you at the embassies this week.” He kissed both of my cheeks and then Reza, Tamam, and then I re-entered the limousine.
Once in the limo, I asked Tam what they had been discussing all evening, he simply said we would discuss it later. As we left I noticed there were two other limousines leaving at the same time. Both of them had a security escort of eight police motorcycles each. I couldn’t help but notice the security detachment on our limo had doubled from four to eight police motorcycles as well.
I could see the tension in Tam’s face. I knew he needed me to be patient and calm. Once out the gate all three limousines headed off in different directions. Fifteen minutes later we were pulling in to the garage of the hotel. We were led through the kitchen, to a service elevator. Hotel security was everywhere. The service elevator dropped us at one of the mezzanine levels to transfer to the private elevator.
Once in the private elevator we were whisked back to our penthouse level suites. When the doors opened OSI Special Agent Ramirez was there to greet us. “Airman Banks, I hope you had a good evening. The technicians have finished installing STU-IIB extensions in both Captain Nelson and your suites. Are you in for the night?” I replied in the affirmative.
We walked across the penthouse mezzanine to the door of my suite. We were joined by Captain Nelson. Agent Ramirez turned to Reza. “Mr. Hassan, please stay here with security for the moment.” Tamam nodded at his brother, who took a chair by the door. Once inside and behind closed doors, I asked the question “Is someone going to tell me, what the hell has happened?”
“There is credible intelligence that a tactical operation may be in place, threatening the American forces in Riyadh.” Agent Ramirez continued, “The King has tripled security on every member of the detachment. He has requested additional assistance protecting you specifically. The Central Intelligence Agency has collected intel from their assets, which included a photos of you, and information about your foster family in Florida.”
I turned and shouted at Captain Nelson, “Sir, if I am putting other members of our team at risk, please send me back to Germany! I do not want to be responsible for even one of them dying or becoming injured. I am NOT that important to the mission. I am not irreplaceable.”
Tamam spoke, “Jono, because of your father, you are a symbol. Add to that, the King values you greatly, as does our family. You are more indispensable than you know. The King was alerted to the security threat against you shortly after dinner. I was requested by him to remain by your side as your personal guard when we are not on duty. I, Captain Nelson, or Agent Ramirez will be by your side at all times.”
He rested his huge hand on my quaking shoulder, “Keeping you here in country is the only way we can keep you safe. We’re going to limit your public exposure, and thus limit their targeting opportunities. This attempt is not so much about killing you, as making our respective countries look weak. The Yemenis and their allies will stop at nothing to make our two governments look foolish. We cannot allow this to happen. You have a foot on two sides of the ocean firmly planted in two nations. You would be a powerful public symbol for propaganda if suddenly removed.”
“Is the Ghorbani family protected? When I call them what can I say?”
Agent Ramirez replied, “The US Marshall Service is working with the local Sheriff to keep them safe. I would prefer you not contact them just now,” he must have realized by the expression on my face that he was not going to get his wish. “Since you are going to call them no matter what, please keep the conversation general in nature.”
Suddenly, I had a flash of memory to a point earlier in the day, as I muttered, “There were six crappy suits.”
Agent Ramirez simply responded with “Excuse me Airman?”
I continued. “When we came back from Al-Umran, there were six men in the lobby with really bad suits, five of them where your team members. Who was the guy with the dirty-blonde hair, pasty white skin, thick lips, with the really poorly cut brown suit, kaçak casino buff shirt, and wide faux silk brown tie leaning against the piano?”
I looked at Tamam, “With THAT skin tone, I know he wasn’t one of yours.” I turned my gaze to agent Ramirez, “I doubt he would be a member of your team since he didn’t have an earwig.” Both men shook their heads no. I continued, “No self respecting businessman would wear a suit that bad in such an affluent environment. That leaves a spy or a cop.”
A now very self-conscious agent Ramirez looked down at his suit and crossed his arms defensively. “I’m sorry sir; I know what you guys get paid for your clothing allowance. I also know they don’t teach you how to buy off the rack to make inexpensive items look expensive. Once we’re done with this I’ll gladly help you out. I also know the world of James Bond is fiction and spies don’t look like jet setters. That guy had to have been Eastern European, possibly Russian.”
Agent Ramirez replied, “That leaves me two questions for you Airman. If you noticed the sixth person why didn’t you speak up? Second, why do you assume Eastern European or Russian?”
“I have been traveling with my family, and doing business with people from around the world, since I was a small child. My time in Turkey taught me the only people I have met who wear a five-year dated clothing were from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Given how pale he was, I’m assuming northern tier.”
I continued, “As to your first question, if I had known what was happening in the first place, my attention would have been focused in a different direction. Number six would have had my undivided attention. I may have even sat down and played something on the piano, striking a conversation with him to find out where he was from, just by listening to his accent. Because of my size and appearance most people tend to dismiss my powers of observation and intelligence. My curse is on rare occasion, one of my greatest gifts. Perhaps both governments would keep that in mind in the future. If the hotel has video surveillance, do you want me to go down to security and review the footage?”
“No, I think I can do it from your description he should stand out. I know this will be difficult for you Airman, but I need you to stay in this suite unless you have duties elsewhere. I can guarantee you your surroundings are far better than what my team and I have.”
“Sir a cage, even one this beautifully gilded, is still a cage. But I will adapt. I put myself in your hands.”
Tamam led the agent to the door, as Captain Nelson introduced me to the STU-IIB. I hated the STU-II; it made people sound like Donald Duck through five miles of garden hose. Then he led me to the office and taught me how to secure the key, and open and closed the safe. I looked at him and apologized. “I am sorry sir; you shouldn’t have to deal with all my baggage. I have put every member of our team in jeopardy.”
“Jono, this is NOT your doing. This is NOT your baggage. You may have inherited it from your father but, you did not create it. No one on this team or in the command chain holds you responsible. You are a natural linguist, which is a resource we cannot afford to lose. The fact you are also a good trainer is the bonus as far as the general and I are concerned. By the way, General Mallory will be here in the morning, he will be on hand for the delivery of the first five Eagles. I know these three suites are technically yours but, would you mind if we put both he and his adjutant up in two of the rooms in my suite?”
“I am cool with it. Maybe you could move in here. I do have two more empty rooms. That way the General could have the whole suite next door, if he doesn’t mind joining us in the bull’s-eye. Sorry for the bad joke, I just can’t live like this, constantly looking over my shoulder. I knew putting on the uniform came with risks but, I never imagined someone I never knew would want me, specifically dead.”
“Jono, that’s when you need ‘battle buddies’ watching your back. We got your back lil-buddy. I’ll start haulin my shit over.” With that I walked back into the living room. Reza, Tamam, and I were alone at last.
I walked to Tamam and rested my head against his sternum. “Is it okay if I stop being brave for a moment?” He wrapped his arms around me and told me softly three little words, “I have you.” I wrapped my arms around his waist burying my face in his massive chest just shaking. After my arms finally connected around the small of his back, I could feel the 45 caliber he had tucked in his waistband. After what felt like an eternity I turned my head up, resting the bottom of my chin on his chest and looked into his eyes. “If you are staying here you need to get more clothes you run home and pack.”
He picked me up, and then kissed me ever so sweetly. He let me suck his bottom lip between my own. When our lips finally parted he lowered me to the floor and told me he could send for his things. I reminded him that anything that someone else packed would probably be opened inspected and shoved back in the bag. If I was not safe in this hotel, with all its security, I was safe nowhere. He acknowledged my wisdom on the matter.
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