The Baghdad postmaster stole another glance at the postcard lying on top of the pile of incoming mail. On the front was a glossy picture of the Mosque in Jerusalem at sunset, and on the back, in scrawled letters, a typical greeting: Isn’t the Dome of the Rock beautiful at night? Hope you’re enjoying Iraq. Send me a picture of Ar-Ramadi.
But something about the message, particularly the wide spaces between the lines, aroused the postmaster’s suspicion. He held it up to the light but saw nothing unusual. Placing it in the appropriate PO Box, he kept his eye on it over the course of the day. His suspicion was confirmed when a young American man retrieved the mail from the box.
The postmaster gestured to the guards on duty.
Jase walked through the narrow streets of Baghdad aware of the Islamic soldiers who tailed him. He casually strode to an outdoor café, and despite the sweltering heat, ordered a hot tea with a side of lemon. He found an empty table and tossed the mail beside him. The postcard lay on top. He thanked the waiter who brought the tea and proceeded to squeeze lemon juice into the hot beverage. Some of the juice squirted onto the postcard. Feigning annoyance at his clumsiness, Jase wiped the postcard on his jeans. As he waved the postcard in the air in an attempt to dry it, he let steam from the tea waft onto the card. The heat revealed an encrypted message.
Jase read it without a flicker of emotion crossing his face. The guards walked towards him. He retrieved a lighter from his pocket and set the postcard aflame. The guards pulled their weapons. Jase ran.
But not before the message had been burned.
He slunk through the city streets and managed to reach his hotel. As he pulled off his clothes, his body revealed a host of scars; rectangular burns on his chest, long slashes across his back. He donned traditional Arab garb and waited until nightfall.
Silver moonlight cast a myriad of shadows over the city streets as Jase slipped into the night. He slid into his rental car and drove until he reached the city of Ar-Ramadi. Ditching the car, he followed the winding streets till he found the old abandoned building he was looking for.
He stood by a wrought-iron fence in the dark and waited. It wasn’t long before Maryam, a pretty young Arab girl, appeared on the other side of the fence.
“The Dome of the Rock is beautiful at night,” Jase said in perfect Arabic.
“So it is,” the girl whispered.
“Look for Mikhail where the four angels are bound,” he said.
He turned to leave but Maryam reached through the bars and grabbed his arm. “Jase, when will I see you again?”
Jase avoided looking into her deep brown eyes. “I don’t know if you will,” he said.
With a slight tremble she let go of his arm and fled into the darkness.
Jase crept back along the gravel road but stopped abruptly when he heard the sound of a pistol cock. A spotlight shone in his face and he shielded his eyes from the glare.
“Well, well, the infidel from the café,” a voice said. “Know this, you filthy Nasrani: The People of the Book who do not believe in Allah, the vilest of all creatures, shall burn forever in the fires of hell!*”
Maryam stifled a cry as the sound of a bullet shattered the silence. Jase was dead before his body hit the ground.
Streaks of gold and pink arched through the sky as the sun rose over the Euphrates River. Maryam stood on a bustling pier, scanning the crowd, looking for anyone who would approach her and identify himself as Mikhail.
She was about to give up when a boat sidled up to the dock, a boat bearing its name in chipped letters across the side: Mikhail.
“The Dome of the Rock is beautiful at night,” she murmured.
“So it is,” the brusque fisherman replied. He swung a duffle bag onto the pier and continued on his way.
Maryam slipped into the milling crowd, clutching the bag close to her body. The veil covering her face helped to hide the terror that gripped her soul. She forced herself to think only of the tears of joy she would soon see as she passed out the Arabic New Testaments to the grateful members of the underground Iraqi church.
*Qur’an Surah 98:6
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