The Hundredth Meridian

Witness Un-Protection Program

Abdul Kahn’s face had remained entirely expressionless throughout the forty-five minutes required to get the wireless router that connected the three computers in the house back up and running, yet Héctor felt as certain that he had been recognized by the other man as he was in making his own identification.

He’d experienced an excruciating three-quarters of an hour, therefore, tinkering with the settings on each of the three machines, the router, and the cable modem, while endeavoring never to turn his back on Kahn while he worked, keeping him in sight at all times.  Even so, he was expecting, at any moment, an ornate dagger in the back, a jeweled scimitar across the base of the neck.  Who knew how many terrorists were numbered in this cell, and whether there might be others lurking in the rest of the house, around corners and in the darkened hallway?  The place resembled exactly the grim dens whose images were broadcast periodically by Al Jazeera after a kidnapping followed by a threat of beheading: blankets pinned behind the windows; minimal furniture; bare, grimed walls; a few thin bamboo mats scattered about on the floor; and, off in the corners here and there, a hookah or a cezve surrounded by cups and saucers.  Had Héctor been familiar with “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” the house might have reminded him of the brigands’ cave in the forest, minus the heaps of...

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