Signs & Portents





Chapter 28

The Ball no Question Makes of Ayes and Noes



Hazrat waited nervously for the last child to be picked up. He had grandly offered to fill in for Harriet, the afternoon teacher, in order to be, he had hoped, the last to leave the school. Now he saw that his intention was about to be thwarted. The head teacher sat determinedly at her desk and occasionally favored him with a smile. Either she did not trust himself, or it was her normal policy not to entrust the locking up to anyone else.

He scowled at the small yellow Volkswagen across the street. The idiot Ezzedin was again dressed in his caftan and not content to remain in the car, he had gotten out and was now leaning against it, smoking. Why must he call attention to himself, and worse, now was indirectly calling attention to Hazrat, who would certainly be seen getting into the car with him. For a man who had supposedly had special training in Beirut, Hazrat thought, he was a complete fool.

The last mother arrived and departed with the last child in tow. Still Hazrat searched the yard, hoping against all hope that one had been overlooked. Well, he would try waiting about, perhaps he would get lucky. He began to pick up toys and place them in the bin, trying to look busy.

"Oh, that's all right, Hazzy," called Mrs. Oliphant, "You can go home now."

"Yuh," responded Hazrat glumly. "Oh yes, thank you, Missus Al Phan. Good night, Missus."

He sauntered into the yard, praying the idiot Nefaric would give no sign. Studiously, he kept his eyes averted from his partner and casually he began to move toward the object he had been able to secrete earlier in the day. There was simply no way he could get it under his coat, so he elected on a bold policy of quickly picking it up and holding it directly in front of him, crossing the street in a straight line. If the heavens favored him, Nefaric would respond to the cue and start the car and bring it down to meet him.

Out of the window, Mrs. Oliphant watched the maneuver, mildly disturbed. Why on earth is he taking a basket ball, she wondered. Well, she thought warmly, I suppose the poor boys have to have something to do in their off hours. And she knew that Hazzy did not earn a lot of money.

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Benevolently, she decided to turn a blind eye to it, if it went no further than that.

Deftly, Hazrat dropped the ball into the vehicle and climbed in after it. "Drive," he instructed.

He had procured the ball for a test of Ezzedin's planned bomb run. Although he was a bit dubious of the idea, Nefaric had assured him it was an old trick used most successfully by World War II bombers. It was called the "bouncing bomb" and had been used to destroy bridges by bouncing the bomb off the water beneath. The idea was that the two would be able to drive past the sewage treatment plant and without stopping the car, bounce the bomb over the chain link fence onto the water striking the building. Ezzedin assured him that more than enough high explosives could be packed into a basket ball to do the trick. Hazrat was willing to give it a try, but if it failed, and Hazrat had the dismal feeling that it would, he had other plans, the favorite alternative being parking at a safe distance and sending Nefaric, who after all was the explosive expert, down with the bomb.

The bomb itself had not yet been fabricated, Hazrat was carefully hoarding his capital for the purchase of the ingredients. There must be no scrimping on those, he had decided, recalling his previous disappointing results. He had already been in touch by long distant telephone with a dealer in such goods who was situated in Nevada and who had been highly recommended to him by a member of a sympathetic and similar group to his own. Tonight's mission was therefore a dry run using only the basket ball.

If all went well, things could, however, soon go forward. Hazrat had also been assured by Nefaric that Westerners would take no notice of finding such a harmless thing as a basket ball around the plant. On the contrary, even if they witnessed the whole operation, they would only believe that the ball had been lost accidentally from the car. That was the beauty of it, Ezzedin stated.



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Before he reached the target, Hazrat instructed Ezzedin to slow down and he tossed the ball from the car for practice. Ezzedin parked and was sent to fetch the ball. The ball didn't go the way it should and Hazrat was about to have another try, but Ezzedin pointed out the fact that throwing a ball repeatedly from a car might alert suspicion as they were nearing the target. Hazrat wanted to be sure that no one particularly noticed the vehicle which would have to be used again for the real mission. As the target approached, ordered Ezzedin to park, and to wait for the cover of darkness.

Hazrat was gloomy, altogether too much rested on Nefaric for peace of mind. More and more, he had come to distrust the man. Ezzedin was clearly under the spell of the decadent Western life styles. When Hazrat visited him at home, he was forever watching television and the gadgets he employed to amuse himself and the foodstuffs he consumed were scandalous, not to mention that, Hazrat suspected, he was even a secret imbiber of alcohol. Hazrat had tried to stiffen his moral fiber, but Nefaric was a package of excuses, whining, and complaints.

Hazrat had been planning to make the crucial trip to Nevada himself to procure the explosives. But oddly aggressive, as contrasted to his usual procrastination, Ezzedin had announced that his wife would take him on a trip any time he wanted and volunteered for this job himself. Now Hazrat frankly wondered if he dared to trust such an important transaction to the man.

At the sewage plant, Farlan Jessup, who worked the swing shift, took his first stroll around the outside area to see if the filtration was working as it was supposed to. The machinery was completely automatic and on the whole, there was little to do except check to be sure all was going well. He knew very well that the other men often skipped this part, and simply sat with their feet up, glancing rarely at the board for any red lights that signaled the need for human attention. But Farlan was conscientious and methodical at everything he did.

It was thus that he spotted the approach of the yellow car. Cars on this road were fairly rare at this hour, so he stared at the vehicle. Funny, where it was parked, there was no view, but he guessed, there was no accounting for taste.

When the ball flew over the fence and struck the filtration runs, he ducked, baffled at the suddenness of it. Damn, he thought, that s.o.b. threw that on purpose. Remembering himself, he stared after the departing car but it was much too far and too dark to see the license plates.

Not that it would do any good, he grumbled to himself. Damned police would just let them go. He reached for a long retrieval fork and started down the walkway with it. The outside lights along the fence had given him a brief good look at the two swarthy occupants of the car. Mexican, he decided, from the look of them, now what in the bloody hell did they think they were up to?

Hazrat in the departing vehicle had not seen Farlan lurking in the building's shadow. But he had not been completely satisfied with the result of the bouncing bomb. It had skidded along the water rather than bounding onto the building. He expressed this to Nefaric. But Ezzedin began to explain that this did not matter, that any place within 25 to 30 meters would be more than adequate to destroy the structure completely. And he went on with his stories about how it had worked with great success against bridges that had sustained direct hits and still remained standing in World War II. Ezzedin had seen this on TV, in fact, but he kept silent about that, implying it was something he had learned in Beirut.

Hazrat was not sure about these stories and their applicability to the present situation. However, he was clearer on Nefaric's first claim. That, he knew, could be true, provided that he saw to it that Nefaric manufactured a suitably powerful bomb. And that he resolved to do, even if he must call in outside help. He had made some good contacts now, ones that would be safe and trustworthy, even though the best policy, of course, was always to trust no one.

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The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss'd Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all—He knows—HE knows!


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
as rendered into English by Edward Fitzgerald

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