Monday, June 16, 2008

Powder Burn Flash # 85 - Michael Knowles

The New Face of Terror

MacDonald stood beside his Ford in the middle of a field. He had found a path leading off Highland Road just minutes away from the car wash. He was in the shade of a tree watching the car, moving his eyes only to check the second hand on his watch.

Birds had settled near MacDonald and the car. They ventured closer and closer to the still figures until a series of pops sounded from under the hood. Smoke billowed out from the car obscuring the birds as they flew away.

“Eight minutes twenty-three seconds,” he said to himself before opening the driver side door, turning off the engine, and walking to another nearby tree. He sat in the shade and opened the plastic wrapper on a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. MacDonald relaxed in the shade chain chewing the gum. As soon as the flavour was pounded out of the piece in his mouth, he spit it out and started on another. He finished seven pieces under the tree before he got up to feel the hood of the car; it was cool. He popped the hood and reached into the engine; his hand disappeared into a cavern that was just big enough for his fist. He dragged a tinfoil pouch from the warm cave and dusted away the spent smoke bombs inside. He pulled eight more of the smoke bombs he had bought at a nearby convenience store out of his pocket, put them inside the dusty pouch, and slid the pouch back under the hood.

MacDonald slammed the hood, set his watch for eight minutes, and got behind the wheel. He drove the Ford out of the field and onto the road making sure to stir up as much dust as possible.
One minute and eight seconds later, he felt the tires bounce over the curb of the Hamilton mosque parking lot. The mosque was set back from the street and shared its parking lot with Hamilton Mountain Bowl. On any other day, the building was quiet and unassuming. Today, the building was a hub of activity.

Young children held signs decorated with cartoon bubbles and prices. Fourten dollars, the children would wash a car; SUVs cost five dollars extra. It was an expensive car wash but another sign, designed by an adult hand, explained that all proceeds went towards a private Muslim school in Hamilton. Only the public and Catholic schools in Ontario received provincial funding, so the other faith based schools had to drum up financial support any way they could. It wasn’t unusual to see children on the streets raising money for some activity or cause every weekend of the year. None of the children working the car wash looked to be in need of money themselves. The hijabs on the young girls were made of expensive fabrics with intricate patterns, and they boys all wore high-end running shoes. They beamed perfect orthodontic smiles at him through the windshield as they waved him in.

MacDonald pulled up to the rabble of children and got out of the Ford, leaving the engine running.

“Your car is still on,” a young girl in a red hijab said.

MacDonald bent to the tiny girl and smiled. “I don’t want it to get hot while I wait.”

“We can wash it?” She smiled a little brighter at the prospect of a sale.

“That depends little lady. What is my money going towards?”

“We are trying to raise five thousand dollars for new uniforms. All our teams need new ones. When we play the other teams from Burlington and Mississauga, we look so gross. I had to wear number five last time and it…”

“Little lady, school uniforms are important and I would be happy to help. Give the car the works.”

“Yes, sir.” She flashed one last hundred-watt smile then motioned the crowd of waiting children over. They attacked the car like jackals on an antelope. Some of the children were even bold enough to climb on top of the trunk to reach the roof.

MacDonald checked his watch; four minutes eighteen seconds had elapsed. He caught the attention of the girl in the red hijab and motioned her over.

“Do you know a Mr. Zarar?”

The little girl shook her head. “Not Mr. Zarar, Mrs. Zarar. She is in charge of our car wash. She runs all of our fundraising. She’s so nice.”

MacDonald stared at the girl for a second until he noticed that his mouth was hanging open. He closed his mouth and asked the girl, “Could you point her out?”

The little girl pointed with a tiny finger. “She’s over there. In that lawn chair.”

MacDonald followed the pointing finger and saw an old woman alone in a lawn chair. She was beside the building so that she was shielded from the midday sun.

“Thank you, little lady.” He looked over her head at the Ford. “The car is looking better already.”

“We’re not even done yet. You just wait!”

The little girl ran back to the car while MacDonald walked over to the woman in the lawn chair. As he approached, the old woman caught sight of him and raised a hand to shield her eyes from the glare coming off the wet car. When she could see him clearly, she squinted at him as though she were deciphering an eye-test chart.

“Yes?” Her tone was serious.

“Ma’am, I hear you’re the one in charge of this event. I just wanted to pay up for the car wash.”

She squinted a little less. “I’m sorry young man, these hands aren’t nimble enough to count money anymore. The children’s teacher will collect your money when you leave.” She gestured to a woman in her thirties watching the children from a shady patch of pavement.

“I will do that ma’am. If I can’t pay you, I’d just like to tell you what a good job I think you’re doing. It’s a shame the government doesn’t give you more funding. Sometimes I hate my bosses; they can be so unfair.”

“You work for the government then?”


“Yes, they can be unfair.” She was squinting again and her tone was quiet and distant as though it were trying to follow her mind to whatever memory it had gone to.

“Fundraising like this is hard to do, but sometimes people have to take it upon themselves to make things right. I am a firm believer that the government isn’t perfect, and that on occasion people have to take things into their own hands to do what’s right.”

“You are very right, young man; very right indeed.”

“Don’t I know it. I hear this isn’t even your first fundraiser. Six months back you almost made ten thousand selling chocolate door-to-door all over the city. Those poor kids must have worked hard for that. Before that, you raised a couple thousand by having a walk-a-thon. I bet everyone must have walked plenty for that kind of money.”

“It seems little Jameela told you many things about our charities.”

“Oh, I already knew some things. I also know that things can be expensive these days. Gas is up, grain is up, heck water is a dollar twenty-five a bottle. You know what I’m talking about, I mean school uniforms are five thousand dollars these days. That kind of money could buy an African village food for a year. It could even buy a crate of RPG’s for a group of rebels in Afghanistan.”

Mrs. Zarar squinted harder at MacDonald and her lips moved a silent curse.

“Yep, five grand will get you a crate of circa 1980’s rocket propelled grenades. Perfect for cooking soldiers and dignitaries inside their Humvees. The Afghan rebels don’t have government funding, so they have to beg, barrow, and steal. And they’re not picky about who they get their money from.”

MacDonald turned his head to look back at the car wash. The car was being hosed off. Little Jameela waved to him and he waved back. His sleeve rode up his arm as he waved and he saw seven minutes had passed.

“They are not rebels.”

MacDonald turned back to Mrs. Zarar.

“They are soldiers fighting an unjust occupation. Afghanistan is a sovereign land and your country tramples it in order to install its own Western puppet regime. We Afghani people have never surrendered to anyone. My husband died forcing the Soviets off the sand and back to the Russian snow. And when the West crushed our homeland under its boot, my son went home to make sure his father did not die just to see another superpower take our home. I will not let my son perish as his father did; in the mountains, hiding like a rat. I do what needs to be done. I raise funds so that he and the other Mujahideen can make sure our land remains ours.”

“My teacher says it is time to pay.”

Both MacDonald and Mrs. Zarar turned to look at the young girl who had snuck up behind them.
MacDonald slid his hand inside his suit jacket. “I got my wallet right here little lady. But I need your help. I have to leave pretty soon. Can you go back over there and supervise your crew? I need you to make sure they hurry up and dry off the car.”

“Okay,” Jameela said as she ran, screaming orders, back to the other workers. “Hurry up everybody!”

MacDonald looked back at Mrs. Zarar and watched her stare at the little girl running back to the car. He kept his hand inside his jacket.

“I met your boy.”

“Faisal?” Her eyes found MacDonald. There was no squinting anymore; they were open in terror.

“Yeah, I caught up with him after he took out a convoy I was in with a mortar your walk-a-thon paid for. Those mortars took out a high-ranking government official and four soldiers; the kids would be so proud. I tracked down your boy and he and I got to talking. It took some sweating…”


“It’s a technical term Mrs. Zarar. I put some effort into getting your boy’s story.”

“Oh, God.”

“Like I said, it took some sweating, but he eventually told me that he was the one who paid for the mortars; he even let slip that he had funded some RPG’s that were on the way. Faisal showed me that the battlefield was much bigger than I thought. Long story short, I had some time off after your mortars did their job, so I decided to follow the money. I gotta admit, I didn’t see you or this car wash coming, but that’s the wholepoint isn’t it? You’re part of the new face of terrorism.”

“I am no terrorist.”

“But your not honest either. How many bake sales went towards killing infidels instead of books? You might not consider yourself a terrorist, but I think you’re smart enough to know what side of the board you’re on.”

“Then I am to be arrested?”

“No, no arrests. Just a new game, and a new face for our side.”

Low pops came from the car and the kids screamed. Mrs. Zarar shot a worried glance to the children. The final pops made the FUPP, from ten feet in front of her, inaudible. She barely felt the bullet enter her heart.

MacDonald holstered the gun and jogged back to the car. He had his phone in his hand by the time he reached the Ford.

“Get the kids inside the mosque! I don’t know what that smoke is, but it doesn’t look safe. I’ll call for help. Move!”

The children and their teacher ran into the mosque as MacDonald slid behind the wheel. None of the children noticed the body slumped in the lawn chair in the shadow of the building. The smoke dissipated as the Ford picked up speed. Rapidly disappearing in the rear view mirror, MacDonald saw the empty lot littered with hoses, buckets, and the lone body of Mrs.Zarar.

He was on the expressway within two minutes; moving away from the car wash and onto the next name.

BIO: Mike Knowles is a Canadian writer. His first book, Darwin's Nightmare, is out this year under ECW press.

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