Chapter 13 – A Killer Christmas.
December 25, 1986 – 0325
I awoke In my burgundy pajamas refreshed, re-energized, and very hungry. I don’t know how I got out of my clothes and into pajamas. I had a feeling Naser had something to do with it. There was a Polaroid photo on Tam’s dresser mirror frame.
I walked to the dresser, the photo it was a picture of me snuggling with the teddy bear Tam had shipped to me. I had a very peaceful expression and a smile on my face. I didn’t care about how I got into my pj’s anymore. I was however gonna hurt Naser for taking the photo. I just got 10 wonderful hours of recuperative sleep. I also realized that I slept through dinner. My tummy rumbled again.
I raided Tam’s mini kitchen. There was a plate in the fridge with a note “You missed dinner.” I devoured the contents without reheating them. I needed food. After killing the plate and the other nibblies in the kitchen, I was still happy, and very hungry. I donned my slippers and broke my connection to the protocal machine, after recording my vitals for Fahima. Then I set out for the kitchen.
I quickly acquainted myself with the main kitchen. After polishing off a fair bit of the leftovers, I was startled by a familiar voice behind me. “Baby bear what in the fuck are you doing up?” I spun to find Nessa wiping the sleep from her eyes. After seeing the empty platters, she answered her own question, “Hungry?” I nodded. “It’s about fucking time!” She said with a smile. “Daliyah was starting to think I was lying about your recovery appetite.”
The light bulb finally lit over my head, “Why you up mama bear?”
“Missing bama’ a bit. You do remember what today is right?” She replied then asked, “You know what I am craving right now?”
I almost answered with Najib or bacon, but I went with a shrug and a head shake.
“Sugar cookies. I thought I would bake a batch for you and Najib.” I pointed out the ingredients for her as she needed them. I also did the metric conversions for her. The first batch had just been set out to cool when we got busted.
Daliyah spoke, “Why is my husband’s son out of bed!” She saw the platters from the fridge drying in the rack. She pointed at me and asked, “You?”
She shot a knowing look at Nessa who responded with, “A hungry Jono is a sight to behold, a true force of nature.”
Of Omar’s three surviving wives I liked Daliyah the best. “I am sorry Momma Daliyah I was very hungry.” She and the older wife both hugged me saying it was an answer to prayers. The ladies liked how Nessa and I were always polite when addressing them and offering to help. We both said it was part of being raised in the south.
The older wife, Naima picked up a cooling cookie and nibbled at it. Nessa told her, “Ma’am, we know they have no nutritional value. We wanted to share a sweet taste of the season back home with the family.”
Daliyah bit into one of the cookies and smiled. Naima shocked us both when she kissed Nessa’s forehead, “My Najib will love them. He likes sweet things.”
“I am going to teach her my grandmother’s recipes for ghiraybah (shortbread cookies) and kleeja (cardamom-wheat cookies) at some point.” I smiled remembering my Tamam feeding me kleeja on our first ‘date’ in the hotel cafe.
The last batch of cookies were put out to cool, and the wives shoo’d us out of their domain. It took me a bit longer to move. I had to take a moment to record my vitals and unplug from the kitchen protocal machine. This was getting old, but I knew it was the cost of being here. Both ladies could see right through my smile, they knew I was frustrated.
After my morning workout with Naser and Waleed (and a vigorous tongue lashing from Fahima) the family gathered for breakfast together. This was the tradition for them when on the ranch. They gathered for first and last meal and ate as a family. Papa used to insist on that quality time with his boys.
I don’t think it was a regular part of Nessa’s life as a child. In her world meals were something to be done in passing between tasks. She was enjoying the change, seeing a family living their love, one for another.
Papa Omar displayed a look of astonishment (and perhaps concern) with the volume and speed of my consumption. “It is how my body heals Papa, I am okay really. This is a very good sign.” Both Naser and Nessa nodded in agreement. He rubbed my head and smiled, taking our word.
After the meal Naima presented a small plate with two sugar cookies to her son. He ate one quickly and kissed his mother. “Do not thank me my son. Vanessa made these for you.” He kissed her forehead.
Papa Omar spoke, “Then this is a morning for surprises. If the two little ones will follow me.” he said playfully. We followed him into his office. Hanging on his mantle were two red stockings the first had Vanessa’s name written in Arabic script. The other said ‘Under a Lucky Star ~ Light of the World’
Nessa asked, gaziantep escortlar “Wow baby bear, my name is so much shorter in Arabic but your tiny 4 letter name is huge! What does it really say?”
“Only two people in this family, to my knowledge, know the story of my name. You will have to learn the language or marry into the family to find out.”
I noticed mine was far heavier than Nessa’s. Papa made a simple request/statement, “Jono, you will NOT tell the Imam about this during your studies.” I told him I understood.
Most of the contents of the top portion were the normal Christmas type stuff. I knew the Hassan’s were far from normal people. Nessa opened a tiny package from Naser half way to the toe. She opened the box to reveal opal and diamond earrings. The opal stones were arranged to look like a magnolia bloom.
I looked at Najib and asked in Arabic if my gift was ready. If her lost “item” had been found. He smiled and nodded, handing me a bound dossier. I scanned the contents and started to weep with joy. Nessa asked, “What is wrong baby brother.”
I apologized to the Hassan’s for showing such emotion. “Nothing mama bear, nothing at all. I asked a favor of Najib. I put up every cent I had at the time to find something you lost. Something I knew you needed to find again. Merry Christmas mama bear.” I handed her the black leather dossier embossed with the name ‘Calvin Gilmore.’ Her trembling fingers outlined his name.
“My Cal, you two found my Cal. Oh, baby brother I am so gonna hurt you.” She opened the folder and began reading. I was behind her rubbing her shoulders. Half way into the folder she turned to a page with it had large Arabic words on it. It was repeated on the next five pages. “Jono, what does this say?”
I turned her towards the door and answered her question, “TURN AROUND!” Najib one upped me and I didn’t care.
The sweet as honey bama’ drawl of Cal Gilmore filled the room, “Merry Christmas baby sister.”
As Nessa flew into her big brother’s strong arms, I leaned against Najib. “You know you are gonna have to negotiate a bride price with someone else now?”
He hugged my shoulder replying in a low tone, “Already done, I have his blessing. For the record, their father is an ass. I so wanted to make this perfect for my princess, but his heart cannot see past his hate. He actually called me a damned camel jockey. Our family has neither raised, nor raced the beasts in generations.”
He opened a velvet box containing a matching set of wedding rings. The twisted vine pattern was almost identical to my father’s ring. “This was Nessa’s request, because you brought us together. If you take offense or have objection, I will have them redone.”
I rested my hand in the center of his chest, “Papa would have been honored. I am overjoyed, of course you have my blessing to use the design my brother.”
Nessa dragged her Cal around the room introducing him to the whole family. When she reached me he said, “You must be Jono. Happy to meet you, I remember your from the news growin’ up. It was Jamaal who taught me the rest of your story. I understand you’ve been lookin’ after my baby sis. I cain’t thank you enough. It’s nice havin’ a baby brother again.”
“It was my pleasure Mr. Gilmore. Nessa and I are battle buddies. We watched out for each other.”
“Jono, just call me Cal. Mr. Gilmore was the sperm donor who gave me life. Hell, I tried to sneak in to Richie’s funeral service, he and my Mom had the sheriff trespass me from the funeral home and cemetery. They trespassed me from our house. Got the local Judge to issue a restraining order to keep away from the ‘squirrel’ here on the grounds of ‘moral corruption.'”
“Squirrel?” I teased Nessa. I came to realize although I only had my parents ten short years, I had probably had seen and experienced more real family love then Cal, Richie, and Nessa combined. Thank you God for the blessing of my family.
Cal introduced us to Jamaal his partner of 5 years. I hated that euphemism “partner,” as if their love was less just because they didn’t have a fucking piece of paper. Cal worked the rodeo circuit. Somehow he managed to find the only black, country music rapping, bull riding, Muslim I ever heard of.
Jamaal was outgoing, and Cal was so restrained. They were both beautiful to look at, a perfect match. “Jamaal has not stopped raving about your family. Based on the news stories, I thought you was Baptist till he told me about your daddy.” There was something very familiar about Jamaal, I just couldn’t put a finger on it.
Jamaal’s wore a woven dark gray kufi on his shaved head. He nearly buried my hand in his as we shook hands. I learned he was from Cairo… …Cairo, Georgia that is. He knew my story, his knowledge was not from just the news, he actually knew my family.
He said, “Mike was a great athlete. I always admired his form on the gridiron. He was a tough opponent. Wherever he was, you were somewhere around cheering on your big brother.” This was such a great gift. Someone from my past I didn’t remember. He was from my first life. The time I referred to as BC (Before Crash). The time that was before the gift/curse of near perfect memory.
He showed me a photo of his family. Papa was shaking his father’s hand. His father was a regular at the mosque in Tallahassee Papa went to. “You still look so much like your mother. I admired your father and his service to the community. The Imam and the Muslim community tried to reach out to you after the tragedy. Your uncle stopped us, and ordered us away.” Our handshake became an impassioned hug like that of old friends.
Turned out Najib had them hidden in one of the guest houses on the estate. We talked for a bit until Papa asked us to continue opening out gifts. Nessa was content with her greatest gift, reunion with her brother. Even the ornate matching magnolia blossom necklace in the toe of her stocking could not top that joy.
My gifts were far more practical. In the middle of the stocking was a telemetry device for the protocal machine. Fahima told me it would relay my stats no matter where I was in the house to the kitchen unit. She then told me my last gift in the toe of the stocking and the telemetry device might interfere with each other.
It was wrapped with a simple card, “I love and miss the sound of my baby bear…” I opened the package to find a DynaTAC 8000x. I grumbled to myself, “One does not waste $3000 on a fucking phone!” Naser and Najib let out a low envious whistle. I quickly assembled the unit and powered it up. Fahima was right, it did interfere with the telemetry module.
I scrolled through the 30 programmed numbers. Tam Loft, Tam Office, Tam Car, Tam Cell, Tam Home, Omar Home, etc. on it went through the rest of the family. He left ONE slot for me, ONE. I was gonna hurt that man.
Cal looked at the card, “Jono, He does know a baby bear is a ‘cub’ right?”
“Thank your sister. She had TSgt Sasquamo looking out for her when she arrived in Germany. His call sign was Sasquatch, his DO in Nam thought it was funny because of all his body hair. Nessa started calling him Papa Bear. When I arrived she and Sas started running interference for me. The section labeled her Mama Bear and me Baby Bear.”
The sound of joyful conversation filled the house the rest of the day. What a great Christmas. The only thing I wanted was my Tam with me. Each hour that past I reminded myself was one hour closer to his arrival.
Jamaal and I sat in the corner of the lounge. He said the reunion was a double blessing, it got them away from their troubles. Cal was just recovering from an injury on the circuit. As a result of the injury in a few other financial setbacks they lost their ranch in Wyoming. They were looking at other options. I started having an idea, need to talk to Tam, Najib, and Mehrdad first.
I stepped out to the balcony and called Tam on my new phone from the patio at 4PM to find out how things were going. They were on a skeleton crew and just about to shut down and hand off to the forward units for the weekend. He was about to walk into the DO’s office for the official stand down order. “I must go, I will see you very soon.” The whole call lasted two and a half minutes, wow what a good return on that investment.
December 25, (1630 hours)
Tam called me on the ‘bone’ phone. “Jono, something has happened. I cannot go into detail on this line. Tell Vanessa, Ben told her to pack a bag, she has been recalled to Riyadh. Let Najib know this is urgent, ask him to fly her.”
I asked if my leave was cancelled. “No, you have been grounded. Yours is medical leave. Your duty station is there, getting better. I am deploying from Riyadh in a few minutes, I wish I could tell you more. Jono, you are part of me, keep that part safe for me. For now do as I ask.”
I hit the end button and ran back into the main house. I breathlessly passed on Tam’s request. Najib grabbed the phone on the side table and called to have the chopper ready. Then called to file a flight plan.
While Najib was on the phone I made a call myself on Tam’s gift. Prince Aziz’s numbers were 22-24 in the bone phone’s memory. He said my request would be honored. When we completed our calls Najib asked me, “Would you like to fly as family escort for Vanessa?”
I replied, “Yes, I would loved to but two things are stopping me.” I pointed at Cal. “First, You and Jamaal get packed. You have a family suite at the hotel courtesy of the Royal Family. So you can spend some time with your sister when she is not on duty.”
The men departed to gather their bags. Nessa kissed my cheek, “I’ll be back. No matter how this day ends, this is my best Christmas ever.” Then she ran upstairs to gather her things.
I turned back to Najib “Second Tam told me my place was here. Medical leaves have not been cancelled. I can imagine the options are here or the embassy. He wants me here, and I will obey him.”
Najib rested his forehead to mine, “You are a good brother. My brother made a good choice with you.” He handed me a golf foil box. “This is my gift to you. Please do not open it until after we leave. There’s a note that will explain everything.”
Fahima entered the lounge and interrupted. “Najib, all hospital staff have just been called in for duty. We have burn casualties in bound. A jet crashed in Arar. Can you take me to Riyadh. I am sorry Jono, I am needed by many.”
I kissed her cheek. “Fahima, I understand duty. I will keep up the journal.” She started to say she would arrange to have a local doc stop by. I asked her to focus on her new patients. She kissed my forehead and ran to pack a bag.
When we heard the Bell Helicopter take off Papa Omar pointed at the package from Najib. I opened the gift box and discovered a credit card folio and wallet. There was a note inside the folio:
“Jono, I took the money you gave me for the private investigator, together with your back pay, and opened a bank account in your name. In the pile of paperwork that you signed was a new direct deposit slip for your military salary and eventual pension. It will go into the Bank’s New York office. You have debit and credit cards that will work around the globe.
This was your money Jono. Finding my love’s family was my responsibility not yours. I do appreciate the gesture and idea my brother. I hope that you will stand with me as a witness for the bride and later in the groom’s hall when we are wed. The wallet contains your driving license and a local bank card tied to your allowance from the estate. I am still deeply in your debt baby brother.
Papa Omar and I returned to the lounge and turned on the TV, it just showed local programming. After an hour I turned on the feed from the big dish. New York was reporting a failed hijacking of Iraqi Airways flight 163. Failed hell it was broken in two and burning. They reported it was flying from Baghdad Iraq to Amman Jordan 106 people were aboard Hezbollah took credit for the hijacking.
The final shot was the Saudi forces securing the scene. The horrors they must be seeing, what my Tam would be seeing.
Three hours in, the local media was not giving it much coverage. Sadly Papa Omar and I were learning more from Walter Cronkite. Iraq was blaming Iran. That did not surprise me, it was as if they blamed Iran for there being fleas in the desert sand these days. My uncle taught me to hate the Iranians after the embassy crisis. Mehrdad showed me that blind hate was just as wrong.
I caught a brief glimpse of Tamam on the local coverage. He looked so tired very. He was directing air ambulances on a make shift landing zone. The severely wounded were being shuttled to Amman, Riyadh, and back to Baghdad. I also saw the faces of many of our Saudi trainees carrying covered litters, I assumed the dead.
Papa Omar asked why Vanessa was needed. I told him until everything could be resolved it was likely the base was on full alert. US Air Force personnel would be sliding into the positions had normally held by the deployed Saudi personnel. It takes about 80 people to run the 91 in manual operations on a 24-Hour schedule. He knew where I wanted to be, and gave me a comforting rub on the back.
The last four days past slowly I was missing my friends. I was missing my Tam. The ladies let it slip about a party that the family was going to host on New Year’s eve. If I was cynical I would assume that it was something to distract me from how lonely I felt. Apparently all of Papa Omar’s children would be coming back to the ranch. I prayed a selfish prayer that Tam would be one of them.
Yesterday, the King asked Najib to help with the logistics of the relief efforts. Naser and Omar did what they could but I was feeling lonely and useless. My days became monotonous, full of range of motion exercises, snacks, workouts, meals, fitness shakes, vital signs, and doctor’s reviews. I was so lonely Papa started letting me walk to the quarantine yard ‘alone’ just to spend time with my girl.
The term ‘alone’ is a subjective one. If I went outside, security was watching. I might not see them but they could see me. I know that because my food and meds always found me on schedule even if I wasn’t where I should be.
Naser took me riding a few times on one of the tan Arabians. Juno (AKA Habeeba) was being sired, in hopes of producing another white. The breeding was not going well, I was starting to wonder if the white stallion was gay. Then again, who knows what a horse finds sexy in a mare.
Today’s ride was to the far side of the reserve. He took me to one of the ‘cabins.’ It was wrapped by dunes that were kept at bay by ten foot retaining walls. We rode up an inclining ramp to the 60’s modern style house. It looked like Frank Lloyd Wright dropped one of his creations in the middle of the dessert. Naser called it the playhouse. As the boys went to college it became a place to assert their independence.