“Samad, is it?” smiled an aging bear of a man stuffed into a jacket a couple sizes too small for him. It was hard to tell whether he borrowed the jacket and tie from the restaurant to meet its dress code, or if he had just put on a few unacknowledged pounds.
The younger man smiled in return, but it was weak and faltering. “Yes, my name is Samad.” He had an Egyptian accent, with just a hint of Oxford at the edges. He was Egyptian. He knew that much, and that his name was Samad, but he had no idea where he was, aside from the obvious—a posh restaurant at the top of a skyscraper with a view of the ocean. He also knew that he felt like puking. Something was making him extremely nervous, but he didn’t know what it was. He shook the big man’s hand.
“I’m Max Hartwell, Chicago. Have you tried the ham?”
“I’m a Muslim, Mister … ?”
“Hartwell. From Chicago.”
“Yes. I don’t eat pork.”
“I thought that was just Jews.”
“Jews. I thought that was just Jews. My daughter is married to one and whenever they visit us, I’m not allowed to eat bacon. In my own house. Can you believe it?”
“Your son-in-law is Jewish?”
“Here’s a picture,” said Hartwell, fishing his wallet out of his back pocket and flipping it open with one hand. Hartwell and his wife, a handsome woman in her late 50s, were surrounded by several grandchildren, a young man and two grown women.
“What time is it, Mr. Hartwell?”
“Do you have the time, sir?” asked Samad, the sweat creeping up at his collar.
“Its time to eat, son,” laughed Hartwell, coughed it down when he saw how panicked the other man looked. “Its about 8:45,” he mumbled, looking at his wrist. “Not quite 8:45.”
“There’s still time.”
“Time for what?”
Samad found Mr. Hartwell to be obtuse, even dense, but there was a clumsy affability to the man, a grandfather of three and father-in-law to what appeared to be a very nice man. Hartwell was someone Samad might have befriended at the university, if things had been different. But things were never going to be different. They were going to be the same. Forever.
“You’ve got to get out of here, Mr. Hartwell,” said Samad, grabbing his sleeve. “Something bad is going to happen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Something bad is going to happen here … ”
“Here? In this restaurant? On a beautiful Tuesday morning like this? The sky is so clear you can almost see London. We’re up high enough.”
“Mr. Hartwell, I’m not interested in the view. You’ve got to leave this instant!”
Nearby patrons were starting to stare, but not for long, because almost the next instant, a nervous wave of murmuring swept across the room, starting at the windows. By the time it had reached the kitchen doors, people were screaming and pointing. Out the windows. At the twinjet airliner, banking and swooping toward the building, carrying about a hundred people, including the pilot, a young Egyptian man with the maddened, tooth-grinding face of a religious zealot. Samad knew what the face looked like, not just because he could see it, if only the briefest glimpse through the cockpit windshield, but because it was his own.
© Christian A. Larsen
Christian is a high school English teacher in Grayslake, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1997, and spent 15 years as a radio host, including stops at WMVP-AM (1000) and WIIL-FM (95.1) in the Chicago market. He lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin with his wife and two sons. His short story “The Plagiarist’s Wireless” appears in the Winter 2011 issue of Golden Visions Magazine of Science Fiction.
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