My thanks go out to Zach and Spencer for their efforts to make this piece the best it could be. It unfortunately was not selected for inclusion into the coming volume of Machine of Death, but I still hope that you will enjoy it. I'll post my second, rejected submission sometime next week.
The evening call to prayer rose across Paris from ten thousand mosques and swallowed the city. All conversations paused in respect and deference to the superior sound. Before the last call faded, the city’s rich and powerful began to make their way to La Grand Mosquée.
Opposite its entrance Dismas knelt among the Christian beggars who hoped that the penitent would remember another pillar of their faith when they completed their prayers. Like them Dismas wore layers of ragged clothes that offered too little protection from the autumn chill and let his hair and beard grow long and tangled, but where they averted their eyes and lifted only their outstretched hands, Dismas stared and searched the swarm of Muslims. They wore silk robes whose fields of white were embroidered with gold thread and not marred by a single mote of dust. At another time, on another night, Dismas would have felt jealousy. They could still worship. They could still pray.
There he was. There was Abdul Rahman, already having completed his prayers and walking away from the mosque. He had come directly from the security offices and still wore his uniform and the violet sash of an officer first class. That was good. It would be difficult to lose him in such distinctive clothing. Rahman left the mosque in the company of two other men, admirers who wanted to hear the officer’s stories of killing Zealots. Rahman was polite, but he did not oblige them. Outside a café, the two tried to entice him to join them for tea and a water pipe, but Rahman refused.
Rahman left alone in the direction of the 16eme arrondissement. Dismas rose and followed him. They walked past halaal butcheries where stripped cow carcasses hung in display. There were posters for a coming action film in which a former football player starred. Some newspapers still reported on Rahman’s seizure of a small arsenal of explosives and rifles, a security action during which fifteen Christians were killed, but most were not interested in dwelling on the continuing troubles and reported political and celebrity scandals instead. The Muslims they passed paid no particular attention to either of them except to give Dismas a wide berth. They passed no Christians. In all this time Rahman never looked behind him and noticed Dismas following him.
The officer finally entered an apartment building too modest for a man of his rank and reputation. There would be no security. Dismas continued past the building to the end of the street; counted to one hundred, enough time for Rahman to enter his rooms; returned; opened the front door; and walked in. Dismas found Rahman’s name on the door farthest from the stairs on the third floor. He rested his hand lightly against the door, knocked and called out in perfect Arabic, without the trace of a Christian accent, “Delivery for Abdul Rahman.”
When he heard Rahman approach, Dismas tensed his body. When he felt the door begin to move back under his hand, the Christian kicked it in. The door struck Rahman full in the face, and he fell backward. Dismas pounced on top of him and pressed against Rahman’s throat with his forearm until the officer became unconscious. Taken so completely by surprise, the Muslim only offered token resistance.
Dismas stripped Rahman naked, bound his hands and feet behind him, threw his mobile and pistol out of reach, and went into the kitchen. Dismas had not eaten since midday when he took his position across from the mosque and was ravenous. There was a pot of couscous, already spiced, cooking. There were slivered almonds and golden raisins on the table. Dismas threw them into the pot and ate it all before he heard Rahman's first groan of pain.
Dismas drew a knife from deep within his clothing, its blade kept to a perfect edge, dulled only by the throats of security officers and government officials, and knelt in front of Rahman.
“Do you believe that you will die here tonight?” Dismas asked when Rahman's eyes were able to focus on him. “Do you believe that you will die by the blade of this knife?”
This was important. If a knife was not Rahman’s death, if he was too confident and showed no fear of Dismas, something was wrong. The bindings were loose, or there would be a visitor. Dismas would have to leave immediately.
Rahman looked away. He did not struggle. Acceptance.
Dismas waited for Rahman to say something. When the officer did speak, his voice was firm.
“You will not escape. Security will not permit my murder to go unpunished. There will be an investigation. You will be caught and executed.”
Dismas shook his head and answered in an equally firm voice.
“No, I will not. For the many, many men I have killed, the only punishment is death, but my death is by crucifix, and your government will never crucify me.”
“Then that is why you were sent to kill me? Because your superiors do not believe that you will ever be caught?”
Dismas nodded, and they were silent.
“Would you like to pray?” Dismas asked. “I know that you have already recited the evening prayers, but perhaps you would like to pray something different knowing that you will never again have the opportunity.”
Rahman looked at Dismas hard.
“I do this only as a courtesy for you. It is not something I am able to enjoy for myself since I cannot enter a church without approaching a crucifix and risking my life and mission.”
“Would you bring me my prayer mat? It is in my bedroom.”
Dismas found it beside the bed and brought it back. When Rahman struggled against his bounds to assume a reverent position, Dismas helped him into it, careful to avoid stepping on the mat. When Rahman finished, Dismas helped him off of the mat.
“What did you pray for?” Dismas asked after he returned the prayer mat to the bedroom where it would not be stained by Rahman’s blood.
“I prayed that my soul be prepared for the next life and that my sister-in-law and her children be provided for.”
“Did you pray for forgiveness?”
“Did you ask forgiveness for the Zealot lives you took in the raid last week?”
“Yes, and for other things as well.”
“Did you, as is rumored, plant the weapons to justify killing Zealots meeting peacefully to discuss nonviolent protests against the Christian curfew?”
“I believe you. Maybe five years ago, I would have believed the rumors. I would have sworn to avenge the death of every Christian brother with ten Muslim heads and every Christian sister with twenty Muslim heads. I would have been the first to volunteer to carry explosives into the heart of the security offices and detonated them myself, but I do not feel that way anymore. This is only my mission.”
“I did not plant weapons then, but I have. I asked forgiveness for those times. It was my mission, as well. I had no choice.”
The two waited in silence. Dismas was in no hurry.
“How do you think you will die?” Rahman finally asked. It was the first time anyone had ever asked Dismas that.
“I have never imagined it.”
“Perhaps the Zealots will succeed. The Christian zones will be eliminated, the churches will be returned to you and the laws against public Christian displays will be repealed. It will be impossible to avoid a crucifix if you step outside, and one will fall upon your head.”
Dismas smiled at the image.
“How do you think that will happen?”
“Perhaps my government and people will grow weary of this constant war and give in to your demands, or moderates will come to power, and our people can live as equals.”
“Perhaps your death will hasten that future.”
“Then it would be worth it.”
“If that day does come and my mission is finally completed, I only wish that I will be able to visit confession again and be told that I did right and all is forgiven. I want to know, like the Good Thief, that I will enter Paradise.”
They were both quiet, not entirely unlike two old friends who understood the thoughts of the other despite the silence.
“Is there anything else?” Dismas asked.
Dismas walked behind Rahman. He put one hand on top of the man's head to pull it back and expose his throat. Rahman did not resist.
“Do you forgive me for what I am about to do?” Dismas whispered in Rahman’s ear.
Dismas nodded and slid the knife across Rahman’s throat in an easy, familiar move.
The man died without any sound but for the blood pouring from his neck.
2 years ago