READ SOME PAGES FROM A FEW McCALL BOOKS…
Published in December of 2020, a timely political thriller that feels uncomfortably real in light of the dangerously divisive politics of America today, and imagines where things will lead…
By M. Rutledge McCall and Eric Elmburg
“Feels like ‘Homeland’-meets-‘Yellowstone’… a political scenario that seems frighteningly real. …draws you in and keeps you transfixed. …McCall (who wrote the book from an original story idea by Elmburg) paints rich, compelling word pictures. …a maddening cliffhanger.”
– Shane Baéz, President, CAM Artistic Management, Los Angeles
“Great book! Well written.”
– James Elroy, FBI Special Agent, retired; investigator of some of the most infamous cases of the 20th and 21st centuries
To buy an autographed copy of this book at 20% below retail, click here.
Whenever Ben Cannon goes out in public, he goes with two, maybe three vehicles at most, depending on the situation. Never travels in a convoy or motorcade; doesn’t want to draw attention to himself or get bunched up.
The follow vehicle, or vehicles, are civilian cars. Older model Fords or Chevy sedans, tan, white or black, nondescript, blend in with traffic.
In two-vehicle situations, Charlie Winrock, the Comanche, drives the follow vehicle, and White Sky, Charlie’s cousin with the foot-long braided ponytail, rides shotgun. They trail behind Ben’s armored Humvee a bit. Close enough to catch up and intervene if there’s a problem, far back enough that it isn’t obvious they’re together.
If it’s a high security op like this one, they use three vehicles. The follow car hangs back, and the third vehicle shadows on a parallel route the next street over or as near as possible, so the team will be virtually undetectable, yet close enough to assist one another if they encounter trouble. Which they always expect.
All three vehicles keep in regular radio contact. All six men have their mobiles set to walkie-talkie function so base and travel team can hear everything that’s happening at all times.
Everyone wears body armor on every op, no exceptions. SOP—standard operational procedures.
Today, Marine Staff Sergeant Don Gray is driving Ben in the old first-generation diesel Humvee. Sky and Charlie are each driving a separate follow car, and each have a Marine guard with them, riding shotgun. Charlie and his Marine guard are following Ben’s Hummer. Sky and his Marine guard are shadowing Ben’s car from a block over.
The route was mapped out in advance, and the exact plan detailed and rehearsed—who Ben is meeting, when, where, and for how long.
A time and place has been set up for this meeting with four leaders of the Patriot Crusaders in a rough section of OKC, at the Sierra Crossings housing complex on North Gardner street. This situation is considered a high-security high-risk op because the PC group is well-armed and their intent is unknown.
This particular meet is set for six in the morning. Ben requested that because he usually starts his day at four and wants sufficient prep and travel time. So they were underway at five.
Ben always wears a Corps baseball cap and battle fatigues to these type of meetings, carries a sidearm—a 9-millimeter Glock 19 automatic—in a shoulder rig beneath his brown leather bomber jacket, so he won’t alarm the citizens.
A couple miles from the projects, a dented cruiser rolls past and the two mustached cops inside nod at Gray, recognize Ben and smile. Ben and Gray nod back, simpatico.
They slice through grungy hoods with cluttered dirt alleys behind shotgun houses not much wider than their own front doors. Wary sunrise workers perched in a diesel-puking, graffiti-slathered bus eyeball the Hummer as they drift past.
The sun is just cresting the horizon as they approach Sierra Crossings on North Gardner. The air is crisp. Not many people on the streets. Practically none.
The projects are a haphazard maze of worn, block apartment buildings, six and eight stories tall, in need of paint and repair. Unkempt dirt yards strewn with litter and broken toys. Big Wheels, many with broken axles, seem to be the most popular toy. Plus the odd matted old teddy bear here and there.
Ben rereads the jacket on the Patriot Crusaders group as they drive. Intel had determined that there’s at least a fifty percent chance the group is more sympathetic with the United States government. Ben wants to meet them personally because they’ve been ramping up their mayhem and he wants to see if he can quell their possible anxiety about what the clean break is all about.
Ben is surprised to read that the group is comprised mostly of Army Rangers based at Canon Air Force Base in New Mexico, and that there are civilians in the group as well.
He looks over at Sergeant Gray and says, “These PC guys are Rangers?”
Gray glances at him, says, “Most of them, sir. I mentioned that at the briefing the other day, the day Curt left. But you were…”
His voice trails off.
Ben looks at him a moment, then back at the road ahead and says, “Yeah. I guess my head was out of the game that day. If they’re based in New Mexico, why are they in OKC?”
“My guess, sir? It’s either a big group, or they travel around a lot, doing their shit.”
“Report says they’re sympathetic with the federals. Do you think they are?”
Gray lets out a breath, thinking and checking road signs as they near the site.
“I got a hunch they don’t like you, sir. They’re Rangers. You had that big thing a few years back when some Rangers got killed on an op.”
Ben pauses, says, “Right. The Cole op.”
Some things you pretend to forget.
He says, “But that’s no reason to hold a grudge. Not against me anyway. Cole’s the one messed that up.”
Gray says, “World doesn’t know that, sir. They only know the cover story he put out.”
Ben nods, instinctively reaches his right hand to his left pit holster, feels the butt of his Glock.
From his car a block over, Sky’s deep, distinctive voice, in his ever-so-slight American Indian accent with its clipped enunciation, comes over Ben’s and Gray’s phone mics, “Be careful over there, boss. Sounds like a bunch’a crazies to me.”
Charlie’s voice follows on the mobile, “All white men are crazies.” A pause. Then, “Not you, Ben.”
Oh… I did some crazy shit in Recon—worse in MARSOC, Ben thinks as his eyes scan the road ahead.
Ben says, “We’re good, Chief. Quick in and out six pack.”
He glances in the side rearview mirror, sees Charlie’s car inch up from seven to five car lengths back.
Out of habit, Ben taps his right knuckles twice against his chest to feel the Dragon Skin SOV-2000 body armor he wore on every field op back when he was in the Corps.
Gray looks over at him, says, “You worried about this meet, sir?”
“Naw,” Ben lies. “Just habit.”
The skin can dead-stop rounds fired from weapons like the AK-47s all the way to the HK-MPs, and slugs ranging from full metal jacket to steel core and just about any 9mm, so Ben knows he’ll be fine if something happens involving flying lead. But it makes no sense for his internal alarm to be nagging at him like it is. What can happen at a meeting with a bunch of rabble-rousers who probably just want a seat at the big boys’ table?
That’s when he sees the woman on the right side of the road, standing next to an old 1970 Chevy Impala with the rear driver-side tire lifted up on a ratchet jack, waving them down for help.
Gray slows a bit, looks at Ben, says, “Sir? Should we help her?”
For a chilly not even six o’clock in the morning, she’s sure dressed light, Ben thinks.
He nods at Gray to go ahead and pull over. “Don’t want the citizens to think we’re a bunch of louts who don’t help damsels in distress.”
Gray slows and they roll toward her.
She’s rail thin and shivering in the cold.
As they pull in behind her, Ben wonders how a skinny girl like her managed to jack up that old hunk of iron.
“Sergeant, stop—stop!” he yells at Gray.
Gray slams on the brakes and the Hummer skids to a stop and six armed men swarm them, three on each side.
“I gotcha, boss!” Charlie calls in on the walkie from behind as M-14 auto rounds thud into Ben’s Humvee.
Ben yells into his phone, “Sky, get your ass over here!”
“On my way, boss!” Sky’s voice thunders on the line from a block over.
The slugs aren’t getting through but they’re spidering up the Hummer’s windows pretty bad.
Ben and Gray have their weapons up and they duck toward the center console as the automatic gunfire continues.
“Out back!” Ben yells and they both roll over two seat rows behind them and spill out the back door, right and left.
Charlie’s car, behind them, hits the gas, rams up onto the sidewalk with him and his Marine guard hanging Glocks out the windows, shooting at the three guys and hitting one.
The other two guys run back into the building they had rushed out of on Ben’s right side. Ben shoots one of them in the left leg just as he’s clearing the entrance, spinning him clockwise and dumping him onto the sidewalk.
“Drop the weapon and stay down!” Ben yells at him, aiming the Glock at his head and treading to him, two hands on the Glock, eyes flitting to the buildings around them.
Guy drops his gun, spreads his arms, lays back, breathing heavy.
Meantime, Sky’s car appears out of an alleyway in front of them on the left, slams to a stop in the middle of the road and he and his Marine guard are up and out, firing at the three guys in the road, hitting two of them.
As the third guy runs to the building on the left side, Ben’s driver shoots him in the left shoulder, which propels him in through the building door, but he stumbles and drops his weapon as he disappears from their sight.
All is suddenly quiet.
From flag-down to dust-settling, maybe ten, twelve seconds.
The girl is gone.
“Report!” Ben yells.
Four All clear sirs ring out, plus Gray, who’s at the back of the Hummer, covering their six.
“Casualties!” Ben calls out.
Charlie yells, “Missed us clean, sir. Covering one down on the south sidewalk, shattered left knee—hurt like hell for a few months. Two escapes, one hit lower right back, missed the spine—he’s damn lucky. They went inside the building.”
Sky says, “We weren’t hit, boss. Covering two down in the road, north-center, one shattered right elbow, he’ll survive. One lower right lung, pretty serious. One escape, left shoulder hit, he’ll be okay, ran inside the building, sir.”
This is the projects, rough area, lots of graffiti, low income housing. Six in the morning isn’t a traditional wake-up time for this particular zip code. A couple of people here and there are standing in the doorways of ground floor apartments, and a few curtains are pulled aside in others. Other than that, it’s quiet. These residents know better than to come rushing out to the sound of gunfire at dawn.
The two Marine guards are kneeling behind the fenders of their vehicles with M4 Colt carbines, covering the upper windows on the side of the building the other three guys ran into. But they won’t be in these buildings. They’re the wrong color. And judging by the gang graffiti everywhere, white guys in battle fatigues and full-auto assault rifles in this neighborhood will probably be outnumbered and outgunned by prison-hardened black and brown guys who’ll want them to get lost fast. They may have ducked back into the cover of the entrance hallway where they were hiding in wait, but they’ve definitely hightailed it out the back by now, after losing half their hit squad in less than a quarter of a minute against Ben’s team.
A lone crow squawks. The sky is a rich blue. The air crisp, fresh. It’s a nice day.
Other than the assassination attempt on Ben Cannon.
They sweep the buildings to make sure the other three perps fled the area, then zip-cord and dress the wounds of the three captives, apply tourniquets and compression packs, and syringe the worst two with painkillers. Gray pulls out his mobile phone and snaps photos of each guy’s face, head-on, right profile and left.
Then they huddle up in front of the bullet-pocked Humvee.
They’ve been thrust into new territory. Ambushed by six guys, captured three of them, mid-20’s to mid-30’s, all members of the PC militia group Ben is supposed to have met here in five minutes.
“What’re we gonna do with these guys, sir?” Sky says, nodding down at the three prisoners sitting, leaning, lying against the curb, hands tied behind backs, except for the guy with the shattered elbow, who has his ankles corded.
“Call the cops?” Charlie says.
“I think we sorta are the cops right now,” Ben says.
He looks down at the guy he shot in the left leg, says, “Who are you guys? You with this Patriot Crusaders crew?”
Guy says nothing.
Ben notes an Army Rangers tatt on the guy’s right forearm, says, “You active duty, Ranger?”
“Why’d you guys do this? We’re not your enemy, Ranger.”
“Not what I heard, Captain.”
Oh. You’re one of those.
Calling Ben “Captain” gives them away cold and means two things. One, they know of Ben Cannon. And two, they’re federals, or at least on the side of the US government. Which means the PC is against the breakaway. Armed enemies in their midst. Had Ben not seen the incongruities with their scantily-clad decoy, they would have pulled up, offered assistance to the damsel in distress like any good Marine would have done, and boom—four shots to four heads, close range, like that. Sky wouldn’t have reached the scene before the shooters ghosted.
We were damn lucky. No doubt about that.
The Ranger looks up at Ben and says, “You’re not better than us, you know.”
Ben says, “If you’re talking about in general, you’re probably right. Most people are no better than anyone else, really. But if you’re talking about this firefight, we’ll never know if we’re better than you. But we sure were luckier. Which would you rather be right now, Ranger? Lucky? Or you?”
A crowd begins to gather on the sidewalk half a block away. Not a large crowd, five, six people. All smiling and cheering them on. Problem is, they’re adjusting and aiming mobile phones to video Ben and his team.
“Should we call an ambulance, sir?” Gray says to Ben.
“Be faster if we take them in local,” Ben replies. He looks at his team, nods his chin in the direction of the prisoners, says, “Load ‘em in the Humvee and let’s move out.”
Ben and his men smile and wave to the locals, and load the trussed-up Rangers into the Hummer.
As Ben is sliding in, he winces and grabs his left side just above his hip bone. It’s wet. He looks down.
“Shit,” he says. “I got hit.”
Gray looks at him. “What? Where, sir?”
“Drive, drive. It’s nothing. I’m okay.”
He slams the passenger door, smiles and waves to the residents while pressing his hand to the wound, which he can feel is only a flesh wound, in-and-out, through the love-handle.
Not much love there.
They drop the banged-up army Rangers off at the local police precinct with instructions to charge them with attempted murder, get a doctor for them, asap, and hold all three for future prisoner exchanges. Which experience tells Ben might start happening soon.
Because it’s starting to look like it might not be such a clean break after all.
As the bullet-riddled convoy heads home to base, Ben thinks back to a little more than thirteen months earlier. To the last day of April. The evening just before President Cole’s 100th day in office… and the incidents that changed America permanently.
The Road To Nablus
Published in 2019, the harrowing true story of a boy’s escape from a Palestinian refugee camp…
By Dr. Bassam Hadi and M. Rutledge McCall (McCall wrote the book as well as the screen adaptation)
“I love this story of triumph against all odds. Lots of highs and lows. …[a] reminder of the horror unleashed onto the Palestinians…Well done, McCall!”
– Neheda Barakat, Award-Winning Documentary Producer, TV Bureau Chief & Executive Producer, Journalist; BBC; ABC-TV/Australia; U.N.; U.S. Dept. of State
To buy an autographed copy of this book at 20% below retail, click here.
“Being a refugee is much more than a political status. It is the most pervasive kind of cruelty that can be exercised against a human being. You are forcibly robbing this human being of all aspects that would make human life not just tolerable but meaningful…”
Late in the night on Sunday, July 11, 1948, eight year-old Abed Abdulhadi lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling.
His world had become upended lately with the recent violent destruction of Qula, the small Palestinian town where he was born and his grandparents had lived until the death of his beloved grandfather. Which is why Abed’s grandmother was now living with them in Lydda. Along with his cousins. And his aunt and uncle. And his mother’s dad.
Abed did not know why the violence was being visited upon the towns to the west of Tel Aviv, but he was a perceptive boy, he got the gist of it. A plague was coming. One that threatened to wipe his kind from the face of the Earth. For no reason he could piece together in his young mind.
Tears welled up in Abed’s eyes and he angrily wiped them away with the sleeve of his thin cotton pajama robe as he was overtaken by feelings of memories of summers in Qula with his grandfather.
Why is the world so mean? he thought. Then he corrected himself out loud in Arabic, “Why are people so mean?”
“What, Abed?” the voice of his four-year-old brother Waleed announced in Arabic from his bed across the dark room. “What did you say, brother?”
“Go back to sleep, Waleed. It is nothing.”
Suddenly, the house was shaken by a thundering high-pitched whine outside, as if a violent windstorm had hit.
“AHH!” their two-year-old brother Khaled cried out from the bed he shared with Waleed.
Abed’s eyes went wide and he leapt up and ran to the window, followed closely by Waleed.
The boys peered out into the darkness.
“What was that, Abed?” Waleed said fearfully.
In another bedroom, just down the hallway, Hammudah Abdulhadi was also abruptly awakened by the whine of Spitfire fighters streaking over the house. He raised up to an elbow and listened as the whining noise diminished, and the house violently shuddered from four nearly simultaneous explosions.
Hammudah was out of bed and making haste for the window when his wife Amina awoke with a start and sat upright in the bed.
“What was that, Hammudah?!” she cried out. “Is it them?”
Hammudah yanked back the drapes and saw four fireballs in the distance, and farther away the silhouettes of a brace of disappearing fighter planes screaming low to the west.
An infant began crying and Amina threw off the sheets, got out of bed, grabbed a cotton robe hanging from one of the bed’s wooden posts and slid it on. She stepped to a bassinette at her side of the bed and lifted the child from the crib, rocking him in her arms and gently cooing his name—Ibrahim, Ibrahim—as her frightened eyes studied her husband’s face.
“Is it happening, Hammudah?” she said.
He looked at her and said, “Calm down, Amina. Allah will protect us.”
Hammudah Abdulhadi was a slender man, of average height, had dark brown hair and a rugged, bearded face that displayed a rigorous life for a man of only thirty-seven years. His left eye had a permanent squint from having been rendered useless in a childhood accident. His face, which appeared to be equal parts Arabic and European—both distinguished and fierce at the same time—was that of a man whose mind and heart were in constant turmoil, as if he were perpetually watching his own brother thrust a knife into his stomach, over and over. But why…why? his face seemed to be pleading sadly.
It was a question he had often found himself asking during the past year.
Hammudah had heard rumors that British Royal Air Force Spitfires were recently handed over to the Israelis, who were flying them out of nearby RAF Station Lydda. So it made sense that they were now under air assault from the Israelis. In British fighter planes. If he was right, it would be the first time the nascent Jewish state had used air power to drop bombs on a town in the aftermath of their declaration of the new state of Israel less than two months earlier.
Hammudah heard even stronger rumors that Lydda might come under attack, because five weeks earlier the IDF’s 3rd Battalion and the Yiftah Brigade had decimated a few towns in the region, including the one in which he was born and raised, and from where the remnants of his family had fled to Lydda.
He grabbed a pair of pants that were draped over the back of a chair next to the window and pulled them on. As he stepped into his shoes, he glanced out the window and saw the fireballs consuming the brush near the outskirts of Lydda.
A stout man a couple of years younger than Hammudah, with a wild mop of black hair and a thick black beard, appeared in the doorway, pulling on a shirt.
Hammudah said to him, “Mahmoud, make sure your wife and the girls and—”
“Amina can take care of that. I am going.”
Mahmoud gave Hammudah a look and nodded slightly toward Amina.
Hammudah said to Amina, “Quickly, Amina, go get the kids up, and make sure your sister, father and my mother are okay.”
“Yes, yes,” she said and turned to the door with Ibrahim in her arms.
But there was no need to awake the boys. The patter of six feet slapping the bare wooden floors revealed Abed, Waleed and Khalid as they burst into their parents’ bedroom.
“Yaba,” Abed said anxiously, “what happened?”
“Boys, get dressed—now,” Hammudah said and pointed at the door.
Waleed ran back out.
Khalid ran to his mother, and she led him out.
“Yaba, what is happening out there?” Abed asked his father again.
Now two little girls, Ra’afa and Salmi, six and seven-year-old sisters, and their mother—Amina’s noticeably pregnant sister and wife of Mahmoud, gathered in the doorway. Followed by Amina’s father, an older man with a full, dark beard and white hair, and Hammudah’s mother, a small woman with black hair and hazel eyes.
Mahmoud kissed his wife and girls, hugged his sister and father-in-law, and stepped to the doorway.
His wife blocked him and said frantically, “Mahmoud, where are you going, my husband?”
“I’ll be back,” he said, kissed her again and walked out of the crowded room.
“What is happening to us?” she called after him frantically as the girls clung to her.
But his heavy boots were already thudding down the wooden stairs as he made his way to the living room below.
“Wait, Mahmoud,” Hammudah said, and followed after him.
They went down the narrow staircase, talking as they walked to a back door.
“Where are you going, Mahmoud?” Hammudah said. “The town is swarming with soldiers.”
A sudden burst of machinegun fire outside made them flinch.
“Brother, you hear what’s happening,” Mahmoud said. “The same thing as Qula and the other towns.”
“Mahmoud, we must stay put. You go running outside and we will all be shot.”
“All I am saying, Hammudah, is that come what may, I will not allow myself and my family to be killed. And if I am with them, I will be shot and they probably also. You know what the Jews want to do with us.”
“Mahmoud, let’s wait until they give instructions. We’re civilians, not militia.”
“They don’t care, Hammudah! They are here to eliminate threats. Our father-in-law is over the age. You are diabetic and have that kidney problem. Not to mention your eye—you can’t even see to aim a weapon. They will not consider either of you a danger. But I am a man of fighting age and ability, my brother. They will shoot me on sight and say I am with the Arab Legion.”
“Better to face them like a man than be shot in the street like a dog, Mahmoud.”
“Don’t be naïve, brother. Even a dog can outrun these devils. All of you are safer here without me. Trust me on that.” He lifted a dark jacket from a hook near the door, shrugged into it and said, “I will hide in the ravine until it’s safe.”
“They will expect people to hide there, Mahmoud.”
“Not in the cave—they’ll never find the cave, but I have to slip in while it’s still dark.”
Hammudah thought for a moment, then wagged his head and said, “You’re right. No one will find the cave. Please, brother, watch your back.”
Mahmoud looked at Hammudah, said, “Take care of them.” Then he kissed him on both cheeks and added, “I will find you, my brother.”
He slipped out the back door and disappeared into the darkness.
Outside, Lydda had been “softened up” by the pounding air-strike. Now, the 89th Commando Battalion, led by a 33 year-old commander named Moshe Dayan, was sweeping brutally into town, shooting at anyone they saw as a threat. Soldiers were tossing grenades into houses suspected to be harboring Arab Legion militia fighters or snipers. Families ran screaming out of their burning homes and into the darkness only to be shot at like pop-up targets in a shooting gallery.
For forty-seven minutes, in an assault the Israelis called Operation Danny, Commander Dayan rode in an armored car nicknamed “The Terrible Tiger,” commanding the ruthless blitzkrieg and terrorizing the few defenders of Lydda and her civilian population as they fled in every direction trying to avoid the maelstrom. For forty-seven minutes the violent surge rained down hell and blood, confusion and fear, shock and death on the people of Lydda.
At minute forty-eight, the rampage stopped.
Bodies lay strewn along streets and at doors and windows of houses. The death toll of the initial “shock and awe” assault on the town convinced the remaining residents to surrender immediately to Moishe Dayan and his 89th commandos.
By now, all of the residents knew exactly what was happening to them: the IDF. They had arrived to continue their plan to take possession of Palestine and move the Arab citizens out. At any cost.
What the residents did not know was that earlier that night, after the Abdulhadi family and everyone else in town had fallen fast asleep in their beds, Glubb Pasha, the British commander of the Arab Legion, had ordered the quiet withdrawal of AL troops from Lydda and the nearby town of Ramle in a secret pact between the Israelis and the Transjordan leadership.
Assured that he would be confronted by virtually no militia opposition, Dayan had been eager to prove his method of lightening blitzkrieg warfare, reminiscent of Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps during World War II would win quick results against the Arab population. At that, he succeeded. And then some. In well under one hour the entire population of Lydda was cowed under shivering submission of the ruthless thumb of the IDF.
Thus was set into place the beginning of the demise of the peaceful existence of the Abdulhadi family.
And the carnage was only beginning.
In Pursuit Of Jubilee
Published in 2017, the riveting true story of a man’s epic battle to retain his share of his multi-billion dollar oil discovery in the West Cape of Africa…
By George Owusu and M. Rutledge McCall (McCall wrote the book as well as the screen adaptation)
“A great read and a thrilling ride! …a tale of dogged human aspiration, invention and the capacity to believe in the impossible. …This book is a testament to what people can achieve if their will never falters.”
– Rachel Boynton, Emmy and Tribeca Film Festival-nominated, Edward R. Murrow Award-winning Director; “Our Brand is Crisis”; “P.O.V.”; “Big Men” (Executive Produced by Brad Pitt)
To buy an autographed copy of this book at 20% below retail, click here.
After waiting nearly two hours in a small, nondescript room at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters in Accra, a group of uniformed and plainclothes police officials entered and escorted me and my lawyer to another room, where several dozen more police officers were waiting. One of the investigators informed me that, as part of their inquiry into various activities involving my company’s acquisition of offshore oil exploration rights in Ghana five years earlier, the court had issued search warrants for my home and my office. They were to be served immediately.
Numb and disbelieving, I was escorted across town to my office in a convoy of police cars and a bus filled with armed, uniformed officers and with blue lights flashing and sirens wailing all the way.
As we sped through the sweltering streets, Accra’s perpetual crowds of street beggars peered in through the windows, trying to get a glimpse of the criminal in the back seat.
I was ordered to wait outside while investigators descended en masse into my office to the confused looks of my staff members. My attorney’s objections were ignored as officers confiscated files, computer hard drives, and countless documents.
When they had taken what they wanted from my office, the speeding police convoy took me all the way down the Tema Motorway to my house, where my wife and our young grandson watched, frightened and helpless, as a phalanx of armed, uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives stormed in. Every room was searched, personal items pawed through, more computer drives taken, other documents seized, and every item photographed.
It was embarrassing and degrading. I protested, of course, as any innocent man would who was being victimized by his own government. But it was no use.
The day had not started out this way.
* * *
Tuesday, June 16, 2009, had been a seasonably humid day in Accra. I had just entered my attorney’s office when his phone started ringing. He waved me to a chair and answered the phone. I sat down.
As he listened to the caller, a look came over his face that I’d seen enough times recently to know who it was.
I mouthed the words, the CID?
He nodded to me and said into the phone, “No, inspector. Mr. Owusu cannot come in again. Not today.”
I felt my blood pressure begin to rise. I had just returned from an appointment with my doctor and here these guys were again, requesting another interrogation. I had been through a grueling session with the CID just the previous day. And the week before. These officers weren’t giving up.
My lawyer listened again, then said to the investigator, “No. I told you. Mr. Owusu is on medication for high blood pressure and is under doctor’s orders to rest.”
He covered the mouthpiece and whispered to me, “It’s about a form you forgot to sign after they questioned you yesterday. A minor matter. He says it will only take you a minute to drop by and sign it.”
I shook my head and muttered something in Twi, my native Akan language.
In Ghana, a country where the police were often seen as corrupt, nothing was a minor matter when the CID was involved.
The officer on the phone was probably one of the same ones who had interrogated me several times during the past few days—sessions that had driven my blood pressure to deadly levels. They had questioned me over and over, about things I hadn’t done, crimes that had never happened, rumors I knew nothing about, and false accusations having to do with the efforts I had initiated five years earlier that resulted in the largest oil discovery in the history of Ghana.
A discovery worth billions of dollars.
Fittingly, as frightening as it was to be ordered in for interrogation by the police in relation to a series of felonies I was being accused of, the start of my career in the oil business had been even more terrifying.
Nearly two decades years earlier and thousands of miles away, an explosion ripped through the Atlantic Richfield Company plant in Channelview, Texas. I was there and saw it all.
It happened on a Thursday, July 5, 1990, at 11:15 p.m. during my shift at the ARCO plant. I had stopped to talk to another worker for a few minutes. While we were chatting, I received a call on my walkie-talkie from my supervisor.
“George Owusu,” my radio squawked. “Come in, please. Over.”
I grabbed my radio, clicked it on, said, “This is George. Over.”
“I need you to check a valve on a tower on the plant grounds. Over.”
While I received instructions on which tower and valve I had to go check on, the man I had been talking to got in his van and drove away.
I pedaled over to the tower on my bike.
No sooner had I climbed to the top of the tower and put my hand on the valve, when the plant erupted in a violent explosion and a fireball lit up the night sky. The plant looked as if a bomb had been dropped on it. Flames and thick plumes of smoke shot a hundred feet into the dark sky. Warped steel and wreckage was strewn all over the grounds. The explosion was felt several miles away, shattering windows in nearby houses and blowing out street lights. Neighbors a mile away reported a “flash like an atomic bomb.”
The man I had been talking with just moments before the blast had arrived faster at his area because he was driving. As soon as he had gotten there, the explosion occurred. It would take days to find all of his body parts.
I watched from the top of the tower a couple of hundred feet in the air as the horrific scene played out, terrified, not knowing what had happened.
Trembling and stunned at the devastation around me, I somehow made it down the tower and got to the office, where I was warned that the explosion could be followed by a violent chain reaction. So we waited to make sure there wouldn’t be anymore blasts before we evacuated the plant.
The plant’s fire brigade quickly arrived and began fighting the blaze. Hazardous materials units began arriving from the nearby Shell Oil Refinery. Harris County fire trucks were all over the place. Firefighters, ambulances, and police cars were pouring into the plant.
Four dozen people had been on shift at the plant that night. The initial death toll was reported as 14. The total body count would reach 17, and would include several contract workers, and a tanker truck driver who burned to death in the cab of his vehicle as he tried to flee the scene. Five other people were badly injured, as well. Two cooling towers, a steam generation facility, a pipe rack, and two tanks were damaged.
When I finally arrived home, my wife was waiting in the driveway. I fell into her arms and sobbed.
I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and was admitted to therapy. It would be a year before I would be ready to return to work.
The incident had literally been the explosive start of my new career in the oil business. The start of a nearly two-decades journey that would lead to police investigations thousands of miles away in Ghana, inquiries by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), charges of fraud, multiple interrogations by the CID, and half a decade of fighting for my very life and freedom.
For me, the ARCO explosion was the beginning of one hell of a career.
And now, 19 years later, with the police in Accra hauling me in for questioning again, the explosive end to my career had begun. My life was about to enter a long and bizarre battle as the new government of Ghana bore down on me, determined to see me behind bars, unfazed by the fact that I was also an American citizen.
I suspected a couple of people who were probably behind the government’s relentless pursuit of me. People whose motives were not difficult to discern. One hundred and sixty billion dollars worth of premium grade crude oil was a powerful incentive.
But what was surreal about what was happening to me now was that just six months prior to start of the CID interrogations, I had been basking in the euphoric glow of being fêted as a national hero. And the previous year, I was awarded the coveted Order of the Volta (an honor equal to the US Presidential Medal of Honor), bestowed on me by the government of Ghana for outstanding service performed for my country.
As the police investigators pawed through my family’s personal belongings on that fateful June day in 2009, a hopeless feeling of government oppression settled over me at the realization that my own father had experienced something similar when a previous Ghanaian government had destroyed his life exactly fifty years ago that month.
Shoot The Moon
Published in 2018, the impossible but true story of a sole walkaway survivor of a horrific plane crash…and how he did it.
By Dr. Carl Giordano and M. Rutledge McCall (screen adaptation also written by McCall)
“…terrifying… gripping tale….”
– Martha MacCallum, Anchor; “The Story”/Fox News
“…a book that argues in favor of drawing upon your deepest self to confront life’s toughest battles. A primer in both how to instill – as well as how to access – excellence, this book should be read by everyone.”
– Marion Roach Smith, Author; NPR Commentator; former Staff, New York Times
To buy an autographed copy of this book at 20% below retail, click here.
“…death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
Surgery is nothing like crashing an airplane. But if you’re an experienced surgeon, in a plane hurtling helplessly toward the earth at a speed of one mile every thirty seconds or so, you have it in you to know what it might take to at least be the sole—maybe even walk-away—survivor the instant that plane becomes a slab of twisted, melting wreckage.
But you would always wonder: was it prescience that I survived? Or was it a plain miracle.
* * *
It was a beautiful summer day on the East Coast the 16th of August in 2015. Joe was the pilot, as usual, and I was seated to his right. We were less than twenty-four inches apart.
The single-engine Beechcraft C35 Bonanza v-tail was sleek and sturdy. We had departed from Francis Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, New York, taking a scenic Sunday flight destined for Morristown, New Jersey, just a hop away.
Ten or twelve minutes into the flight, we heard a loud pop coming from the engine area. Then a flicker of bright light flashed from under the motor cowling, followed by a puff of smoke and a distinctive oily odor. Then, like a once-graceful albatross pierced by an arrow in flight, the plane shuddered, and the engine growled and spit and bucked.
Instantly ready to deal with the sudden treachery of the bird, Joe and I instinctively arched up in our seats as if we were anticipating the vertical drop of a roller coaster as it crests a peak and begins its descent down the other side.
But what do you do when you’re more than a mile above ground in the cockpit of a sputtering two-seater missile that is bowing to no will but gravity? What did Buddy Holly think when he was in the same predicament in an older version of the same plane that took his life on February 3, 1959? And how could anyone possibly prepare to survive a violent and fiery plane crash beyond the standard commercial airline admonition to “bend forward and put your head between your legs”—and what good would that do anyway, at more than 100 miles per hour?
Whatever we would do, we’d have to do quickly—we were less than two minutes away from slamming into the earth.
And trust me, you do not have the time or luxury of your life flashing before you when you are facing imminent, violent death.
On Borrowed Time
Published in 2012, the harrowing true story of a dying US Marine…and how he beat the same disease that took the life of American football superstar Walter Payton.
By Bryan Donahue and M. Rutledge McCall
If you ever want to get fast, first-class service at a hospital, forget the emergency room—walk in the front door and collapse.
I hit the floor in a dead faint and was instantly swarmed by orderlies and nurses. They instructed us to go to the ER, but I couldn’t move. When I came to, Lia was in tears, crying out for a wheelchair. For the second time in two months, her husband was dying.
They rushed me to a room on 4 North and began running a battery of tests. I vomited and passed out on the CAT-scan table. The scan indicated that there was nothing wrong. Clean bill of health, right there.
Even professionals make mistakes.
When I came to, I was in such unbearable pain that I asked the charge nurse not to keep me alive.
“Forty-eight over twenty-six,” another nurse was calling out my blood pressure.
“What? Scan says he’s okay!”
When your blood pressure is forty-eight over twenty-six, you are below comatose and barely above dead.
That night after the medical team stabilized me, my wife dozed fitfully on a cot next to me. She awoke abruptly every so often and checked to see if my chest was rising and falling.
When I came to early the next morning, the charge nurse was reviewing my charts and lab reports. She became increasingly agitated as she read through the file. She hurried out and returned moments later with a doctor.
The doctor’s demeanor was somber as he analyzed the CAT scan and checked my vitals.
Suddenly, he dropped everything and told the nurses, “We’re taking him in—now,” and began yanking cords and calling out orders.
He wheeled my bed out of the room and into the elevator, where another doctor jumped on the bed and sliced into me with a scalpel. “Sorry about this,” he apologized tersely and ran a line into me. There was no time for pain killers.
A few years earlier, when I was in the Marine Corps, my closest friend in boot camp had given me some advice that would echo into my future. One day at the end of a particularly grueling week of training, when I was feeling I couldn’t take much more, he said to me, “It’s all a game, Bryan. Don’t let them break you—if you break, you lose.”
On the operating table that day many years later, I fought to recall his words as the anesthetic dragged me under and the world sank away from me.
I was diagnosed with a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (“PSC”), a progressive hardening and scaring of the bile ducts that filter toxins out of the body through the bile. When the liver is badly damaged, it can’t re-grow enough tissue to heal itself—and you can no more live without a liver than you can without a heart. …Actually, no, you can live without a heart, if you have a mechanical pump. But there are no mechanical liver replacements. You do not live without a liver. Period.
As a young man barely launching out into life, it was a frightening challenge to try to maintain an optimistic attitude while facing a life or death battle. Not to mention trying to remain hopeful that a cure would soon be found and that I might actually have a shot at living a long and enjoyable life.
Instead, I was given three to six months to live. Talk about being hit in the chest with a sledgehammer. To put things in perspective, in February of 1999, just eight months after I was diagnosed, Super Bowl-winning running back Walter Payton—one of the top-five-ranked football players in the history of the sport—was diagnosed with the same disease. And he was dead by that Thanksgiving.
If this disease could put a superman like Walter Payton in the grave in just months…what chance did I have?
It takes a lot to make a Marine cry. All I could think about was the wonderful life I’d had on this amazing planet. I was going to miss it. Best 22 years a man could ever have.
What I faced next was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life: telling my family and friends. I cried like a baby, because I didn’t want to see them sad. And, I’ll admit, I was scared. Not so much because I was dying…but because I had just begun to really live.
Slipping Into Darkness: A True Story from the American Ghetto
Published in January of 2020, the updated 20th Anniversary Edition of McCall’s critically acclaimed first book, about the sixteen months he spent living in one of America’s most violent ghettos (screen adaptation also written by McCall)…
© by M. Rutledge McCall
“Utterly incredible…a fascinating story…a great writer.”
– Susan Bymel, Founding Partner, Talent Entertainment Group; Founding Partner, Management 360; Producer, “Game of Thrones”
“…‘dirty realism’ [takes] the readers to gritty places and slices of life… described unflinchingly… with a rich but clean writing style. …unanticipated personal descent into darkness. …any reader would be amazed at what [McCall was] able to accomplish without getting killed… took some guts and naïveté…”
– Dr. Wilbur J. Scott, Ph.D., Professor; US Air Force Academy, Dept. of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership
To find out what the book is about, click here.
To find out why McCall wrote this book, click here.
To buy an autographed copy of this book at 20% below retail, click here.
“Gangbangin’a be around forevah…we don’t die, we multiply.” – Bookie; ranking member, Blood Stone Pirus, east side south Central
It was Friday night, October 18, 1991. Bookie and BeFase, two young warriors from the Blood Stone Pirus had invited me to a midnight gathering of scores of Blood gangsters from several different sets. There, I would finally be introduced to the gang leaders.
I had put several painstaking months into my field research and had yet to get near the real meat of the story: the elusive OG’s, the feared “original gangstas” of “America’s Most Wanted,” “COPS” and Nightly News notoriety. It was a huge break. My patience in building a rapport with the G’s had paid off. It would be downhill from here.
The party was in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, across the tracks from the Pueblo Del Rio housing project, two minutes north of Compton. A monthly get-together of the Pirus, the Outlaw Bloods, and one or two smaller Blood outfits, and the Pueblo Bishop Bloods—sets that occasionally get together for some drug-fueled, drunken fun.
Most gangs, whether Crips with Crips, or Bloods with Bloods, don’t usually click up. They’re too busy battling each other over turf control or drug deals gone sour or violent incidents that went down so long ago the current members know only from lore and instinct who they’re supposed to hate.
But these Blood sets know there’s power in numbers. And power is their currency.
A chill was biting the wind as I left my Westside bungalow and stabbed east in my beat up little bucket, a dented gray Datsun. Manchester onto Florence, past Normandie, cut over to Slauson.
I didn’t dare dress in blatant red, I was no Blood. I sure as hell wasn’t black. My one wardrobe acquiescence to being among Blood gangsters was to bundle my chest-length hair behind my head with a strip of red cloth. I wore a leather jacket, black jeans on my drainpipe legs, and black high-tops.
G’d down white man.
The sparse Slauson Avenue traffic was mostly non-descript sedans packed with young blacks or Latinos. There was less light and more blight as I burrowed toward South Central. Fewer street lamps, less traffic, dwindling signs of humanity. Patrol cars were scarce; pedestrians nonexistent. Through Rollin 60’s territory. Under the Harbor freeway. Through an East Coast Crip ‘hood. To the destination, a desolate strip of land north of Watts. A steel forest of salvage operations, manufacturing and construction firms, and packing warehouses.
Jagged, leviathan machinery resting in dark junkyards cast eerie shadows of frozen gargoyles. Bristle-eared pit bulls and Dobermans force bared fangs through openings in flimsy sheet-metal gates, hungrily sniffing for trespassers.
The Five Deuce Pueblo Bishop Bloods held sway over the surrounding turf. I knew nothing about them except that they were descended from The Slausons gang of the 1950’s and 60’s, and that most Bloods and all Crips harbored a deep mistrust and hatred of them.
By the time I reached Pacific Avenue, I realized I was lost. The razor-fenced railroad tracks on Long Beach Avenue zippered the industrial section to the rundown Pueblos housing project, preventing most streets from going through and creating a trap for the unwary.
Suddenly, the cacophony of nerve jangling South Central night sounds stopped. The hairs on my neck tingled. An uneasy hush blanketed the moon drenched realm. No helicopters overhead. No dogs barking. No screeching tires. No breaking glass. No sirens, no screaming, no gun shots. Nothing.
I doubled back around. My imagination riveted itself to the probable fate of a white man with the bad luck to run out of gas at this time of night in the very heart of Gang Motherland, where every human being alive had better be in a police car or carrying a loaded weapon or be safely tucked into bed in a house with iron bars on all the windows.
I felt an irrational measure of security in locking the car door.
I cut down Santa Fe, over to Alameda and up 55th. Ahead in the dark I could make out the familiar, flimsy, mustard colored boxes that represented housing for the county’s lesser privileged.
The projects appeared deserted. I slowed down and peered into the veils of darkness between the barrack-like buildings, and detected hazy forms. Small pockets of men, standing, talking, drinking, waiting.
I was too late. The party had broken up. Dejected, I crossed the Metro Rail tracks to head back home.
Then I spotted them: a crimson sea of gangsters—more than a hundred—clad in hellfire red, flowing out onto the street in front of a drab, cinderblock bar.
Men so hard they didn’t have to act it. Bottles were clutched in fists. Olde English 800, Cisco, Colt 45 Malt, Jack Daniels, wine coolers. Liquid keys to unlock the Beast. Whet the anger and slake mean thirsts. Rinse smoky mouths blowing primo, sherm, bud, bo, chronic—anything to neutralize the conscience and put more bricks in the wall between Us and Them.
Mean glares speared me as I rolled slowly by (“The fuck you lookin at?”) trying to pinpoint Bookie and BeFase. That was the first time I had seen so many gang members together in one place. I’d never even seen that many black men all at once. At long last, I was about to meet the dreaded leaders, the Original Gangstas. With my contacts there, I’d feel at ease being the stranger in the vicious looking horde of street thugs—and I had no doubt every one of them was strapped to the teeth with firearms ranging from .25 automatics to Tech-9 machine pistols.
A subdued exhilaration came over me (To boldly go where no whitey has gone before). I was thrilled to have finally made connections that would allow me to get this close to an element of society that was shunned, hated, and rarely seen up-close by Caucasian civilians.
Attitude and body language, in the world of men, are as important as makeup and shaved legs to women. After months of being with guys who survive daily in a virtual war zone, I had the attitude down. Assured saunter, don’t grin, don’t look confused or eager or lost or amazed or dumb. Look cool and calm and in command and together and semi-detached. And not too white.
I parked and trudged toward the swarm. A tall, heavyset man in his early 20’s was pulling his muscle-bound bulk out of a Pontiac Catalina across the street. His maroon sweatshirt had the sleeves ripped off, revealing arms the color and thickness of telephone poles.
He casually turned and faced me…and froze in place. His nose pumped steaming rods of hot breath into the cold air.
“Whas up,” I nodded.
He straightened stiffly and his eyes nailed into me as I glided past in a measured, assured stride.
As I neared the party, conversations ceased. Jaws dropped. Eyes locked onto me. Bottles held ready to sip were slowly lowered.
“Damn…thas a white boy!”
“The fuck’s he doin down here?”
The mass of gangsters was so thick I had to slice through them shoulder first.
“Scuse me. Pardon. How ya doin, man. Pardon me.”
I felt little concern as I stepped onto the sidewalk. After all, my friends and their big brothers, Blood OG’s, were there. Somewhere.
The air was heavy with marijuana smoke and the pungent, clinical odor of sherms. Drinking, smoking gang members deep in the crowd who hadn’t seen me arrive, suddenly stopped talking as I shoved past with my bold scuse me’s, audacious blue eyes, and impudent blond ponytail…the only white skin for forty square miles. Alone in the dead of night when G’s geared up for a weekend of mayhem and cold murder.
As I plowed ahead, I began to feel resistance. Then more. The deeper I hewed into the throng, the harder I had to lean. It became shoving and pushing against me but I took the blame.
“Oop, sorry man.”
“Well watch yo ass then, mu’fucka.”
Soon I was cutting a wake of stony silence. My eyes swept back and forth, desperately searching, searching. It took every ounce of self control to stifle the numb panic rising beneath my calm exterior. Adrenaline gushed through my body. I felt short of breath but forced myself to breathe like I was strolling through a park in the sunshine.
These were no young warriors climbing the ranks of gang hierarchy. These were the ones who cursed me in the ‘hood and warned their younger homies away from me. These were the founders, the leaders. Street hardened men who’d spent more time in hospital emergency rooms, jail cells and funeral parlors in their teens alone than most white men did their entire lives. The guys I was looking for were a bit younger, a little further down the totem pole—almost children by comparison…and teetering on the edge of the yawing chasm of aimless, drifting humanity before me.
My friends weren’t there.
Utterances grew louder and took on menacing tones.
“Hello, uh, officer.”
“Whachu doin down here, boy?”
“Who you lookin fo, man?” a brawny guy on the corner asked me. He had a 40-ounce in one hand and a reefer in the other.
I didn’t dare let my anxiety show. Seeing my fear would be the spark to bring on sudden mob attack. I tried to act like I belonged there.
“Coupla friends,” I answered. “They told me to meet them here.”
“Whata they names?”
“Bookie and BeFase.”
That drew a blank from the big guy. Tension mounted.
“Boy, you in the wrong neighbahood.”
“White ass mothafuckah.”
As I talked with the guy, other G’s pressed close and sized me up like some strange creature at the zoo.
“Where they from?” he demanded.
“Blood Stone Pirus,” I answered coolly, ignoring the increasing jostling against me. I felt a fleeting sense of relief that I had chosen not to slip the microcassette recorder into my pocket when I got out of the car moments earlier.
“Who are you? How you know them?” he persisted.
I wasn’t sure how Bookie would have explained my presence there and I sure as hell wasn’t about to go into a long-winded discourse on how I had tricked my way close enough to gang members to learn about this get-together.
RUN! my mind shrieked.
I stood fast and lied lamely, “I’m just a friend.”
By that point, it really didn’t matter who I claimed to be. To them I was the Blue Eyed White Devil himself. With no badge, no gun, and no one to vouch for me. To them it was laughable I would know any gangbanger for any reason. Worst of all, I was in an area controlled, dominated, practically owned by these hated Pueblo Bishop Bloods. I was in their den without an invitation.
“Owww, man…somebody fuckin witchu,” the big fellow smirked.
Subtly, the gangsters began to shift away from us. An unnerving quiet settled over the crowd.
The Blood turned his red-clad back to me.
“Man, you betta take yo ass outta here. Real fass.”
My mind streaked for words, answers, explanations. Why hadn’t Bookie and BeFase showed up? Was it all a setup? Over the months, I had developed a budding friendship with them and several other gang members. I’d gone to bat for them when the only white men they knew were trying to put them behind bars. I learned a lot about the world they traversed and the crimes they committed, and never judged them.
What went wrong?
I had to decide quick. Hope to connect with a couple of solid punches before the stomping turned to a blood frenzy? Run? Or let it happen.
A man behind me asked, “They Piru?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer. The fist that CRUNCHED into my jaw made a sound in my head like chewing gravel. I didn’t see who landed the first blow. Nor the last. I stood my ground as long as I could.
Welcome to the world of gangbanging, white boy. You’ve thrust yourself into a world you don’t belong. Your punishment is only beginning.
The Christ Box
Published in October of 2020, an international mystery thriller set in the Middle East…
© by M. Rutledge McCall
“Intriguing, provocative, unpredictable. …‘Da Vinci Code’-meets-‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ … unique layering of richly-conceived characters … unforeseeable plot twists and turns, this riveting journey progresses from mystery and drama to thriller and adventure. …a tough, iconic protagonist … a world filled with dark and powerful, deadly and even fun antagonists. McCall has written one big, surprising splash of a debut novel…”
– Kenneth Ulmer, Ph.D.; past-President, King’s University, Los Angeles; Adjunct, Magdalene College, Oxford University, UK
“A wild romp… begins on low boil, then takes off like a rocket ship. …a refreshingly unique storyline that cleverly overlays the religious with a brush of secular reality. …A word of advice to McCall: sequel!”
– Shane Baéz, President, CAM Artistic Management, Los Angeles
To buy an autographed copy of this book at 20% below retail, click here.
The tiny living room is trashed. Sofa facedown. One arm of an overstuffed chair torn off. Wooden floor lamp broken in half. Fist, foot, and head size dents in three of the four walls. Bottom hinge of the front door ripped out of the wood, door hanging precariously from the top hinge, door jamb splintered at the latch.
An orange spike of late afternoon sunlight stabs through sparkles of disturbed dust where faded curtains come together over a large window, scratching the face of a big, muscular Black man sprawled on the floor. He’s late twenties, has American gang tattoos on his telephone pole arms, breathing shallow and erratic, chest soaked in blood, eyes fading as he looks at two white men standing over him.
The two men, dressed in black, head to toe—disheveled sports jackets, t-shirts, loafers, slacks—are leaning against a wall, breathing heavily, favoring ribs, pained looks on cut and bruised faces. Each has a police badge visible on his belt and an automatic pistol gripped loosely in one hand. One of them, Aaron Hoffman, is early forties, large and sturdy, has gray eyes, and blond hair with black roots. The other, Daniel Stern, is mid-thirties, shorter, powerfully built, bald, and has green eyes.
At the sound of a car door slamming outside, Hoffman pushes off the wall and steps over the lifeless body of a fourth man, also white, dressed in black, badge clipped to his belt, left side of his head caved in, blood flowing down his neck, chest, and onto his lap. Which holds a large tin of fruitcake with a cranium-shaped dent in it.
Hoffman slides the curtain aside with one finger and looks out the window.
“Him?” Stern asks in Hebrew, shoving his pistol into a hip holster as the sound of footsteps approach the broken front door.
A white man, early fifties, also dressed in black—jacket down to shoes—ducks cautiously under the broken door and enters the room, holding an automatic pistol against his thigh. Average height, compact, has short red hair, a broad nose, and piercing light-blue eyes.
The redhead taps the pistol against his leg as he scans the fresh carnage. After briefly studying the dead cop’s body on the floor, his eyes fall on the Black man.
He juts his chin toward the Black man, says in Hebrew, “He do this?”
Stern nods and responds with a pained lisp, “Tough bastard.”
Redhead pulls back the left side of his jacket, revealing a pit holster and a badge clipped to his inside breast pocket.
He shoves his pistol into the holster, says to Stern, “Why are you lisping?”
Stern opens his mouth, shows his cut and bleeding tongue, and replies, “Bit my tongue when he hit me.”
“Was he armed?”
Hoffman nods in the direction of the dead man, says, “Yeah. With that fruitcake on Stein’s lap there.”
“Where’s the box?” the redhead says.
“The old woman probably took it with her,” Hoffman says.
“Where did she go?”
“She ran out the back door with a nun,” Stern lisps.
“She had a gun?”
“No, a nun,” Hoffman says. “You know, black shroud, grandma shoes.”
“Why didn’t you stop them?”
Hoffman uses his pistol like a pointer, indicating the Black man, and answers, “Because this guy here was keeping us pretty busy before he killed—” he swings his gun over to the dead cop’s body, “Sergeant Stein there. So I had to shoot him, and they got away in the meantime.”
The Black man, laboring for breath, looks at each of the three men in turn, then up at the ceiling.
Redhead steps to the man, stands over him, demands in Israeli accented English, “Where is it?”
A faint smile appears at the corners of the Black man’s mouth.
“I said, where is it?” Redhead repeats.
Black man tries to speak but it comes out garbled as he coughs through the blood in his lungs.
Redhead’s eyes follow the man’s line of sight to the ceiling.
He turns to Hoffman and Stern, says in Hebrew, “You check the attic?”
“There is no attic,” Stern says.
“Storage space? Anything?”
Hoffman shakes his head, says, “Empty crawl space and the roof.”
Redhead squats down, leans in close to the man’s face, says, “What is it? What should I see up there?”
“Home,” the Black man wheezes as bright pink blood bubbles from his mouth. His smile widens a little. Eyelids drift.
Redhead looks at him a moment. Then retrieves a mobile phone from his jacket pocket and punches a number.
He speaks calmly into the mouthpiece in Hebrew, “Officer down. Send an ambulance immediately. There are two bodies.”
He gives an address in the Old City in Jerusalem, clicks off the call, pockets the phone. He stands, brushes off his pants with his palms, looks at Hoffman and nods.
Hoffman aims his pistol at the Black man.
Black man laboriously raises his head a couple inches off the floor, looks defiantly into Hoffman’s eyes, mumbles, “He’s comin’, cracker. You better run.”
Black man’s head snaps hard to the wooden floor as the bullet cracks into his skull, just above the bridge of his nose.
Redhead looks around the small room, taking in the details.
He bends down, searches through the Black man’s pockets and discovers a small scrap of paper with handwriting scrawled on it.
* * *
In Jerusalem, few people notice older women trundling over ancient roads, carrying bundles, purses and packages. Marie Rose Cayihsam and Sister Martha Louise aren’t much different. Except that they steal fearful glances behind them every few moments as they stride quickly down the stone path.
Marie Rose is slender, average height, appears to be late fifties to early sixties, has a pretty face, warm amber eyes, and smooth-toned skin with a Mediterranean hue. She’s wearing a long, floral print dress, and a colorful silk scarf on her shoulder-length light brown hair. Under her right arm is a white linen satchel containing something square and bulky.
Sister Martha looks nearly a decade older than Marie Rose, is shorter by a couple of inches, a tad overweight, and has earnest brown eyes and white skin. She’s wearing thick, round glasses, the calf-length black habit of a nun, and black gum-soled lace-ups.
At the faint sound of a gunshot a few blocks behind them, the women jump with a start, stop walking, and look back in the direction from which they came, panting heavily, eyes wide.
“Dear God in heaven,” Sister Martha exclaims in Hebrew, touching the fingertips of her right hand to her forehead, down her torso, up to her left shoulder and across to her right, in the sign of a cross. “That’s the second one.”
“Third, I believe,” Marie Rose responds, clutching the folds of her dress.
“We must summon the authorities, Marie.”
“They were the authorities, Martha—that awful man summoned them. …Wait,” she says, patting the folds of her dress. “The big one pushed something at me when the door came down.”
She fishes in her pockets, pulls out a compact mobile phone and a key ring.
“A telephone and a motel key,” Marie Rose says, opening the phone. “We must get hold of Case before they find us.”
As she’s about to dial, a wailing ambulance turns onto the road ahead of them.
“Holy Mother of God,” Sister Martha exclaims and crosses herself again.
The ambulance reaches them and its siren burps. The women crowd to the side of the narrow road to allow the vehicle to maneuver around them. As it speeds past, they read the Hebrew words emblazoned around an official seal on its side.
“Coroner!” they say in unison.
Marie Rose’s eyes study the ambulance as it rolls down the road and disappears around a corner.
She looks at the phone in her hands, presses buttons. The phone remains dark.
“The battery appears to be dead,” she says.
“The key,” Sister Martha says. “What motel is it?”
Marie Rose looks at the key ring, reads the name on the plastic tag, says, “It’s here in the Old City. Not far. Less than a mile.”
They flee down the cobblestone lane as fast as their legs can carry them.