Lake Victoria Uganda, Africa
Waheem was already bleeding when he boarded the crowded
motorboat. He kept a bloodstained rag wadded up and pressed against
his nose, hoping the other passengers wouldn’t notice.
Earlier the boat’s owner, the man islanders called Pastor
Roy, had helped Waheem load his rusted cage stuffed full of monkeys
onto the last available space. But not even a mile from shore and
Waheem noticed Pastor Roy glancing back and forth from his
wife’s tight smile to the blood now dripping down the front
of Waheem’s shirt. Pastor Roy looked like he regretted
offering Waheem the last seat.
“Nosebleeds seem common on these islands,” Pastor
Roy said, almost a question, giving Waheem a chance to explain.
Waheem nodded like he had no idea what the man had said. He
understood English perfectly but pretended otherwise. There
wouldn’t be another charcoal or banana boat for two days, so
he was grateful for his good fortune, grateful that Pastor Roy and
his wife allowed him on board, especially with his cage of monkeys.
But Waheem knew it would be a forty-minute trip from Buvuma Island
to Jinja and he preferred silence to the pastor’s chatter
about Jesus. All the others had boarded first, so Waheem was stuck
sitting up front, in salvation range. He didn’t want to
encourage the pastor to think he might save one more soul on the
trip across the lake.
Besides, the others --- a sad assortment of women and barefoot
children and one blind old man --- looked much more like they
needed saving. Despite the bloody nose and the sudden throbbing
pain inside his head, Waheem was young and strong and if things
went as planned, he and his family would be rich, buying a shamba
of their own instead of breaking their backs working for
“God is here,” Pastor Roy called out, evidently not
needing any encouragement. He steered the boat with one hand and
waved the other at the islands surrounding them in the distance,
beginning one of his sermons.
The other passengers all bowed their heads, almost an
involuntary response to the man’s voice. Perhaps they
considered their reverence a small fee for passage on the
pastor’s boat. Waheem bowed his head, too, but watched from
behind his blood-soaked rag, pretending to listen and trying to
ignore the stink of monkey urine and the occasional spatter of his
own warm blood dripping down his chin. He noticed the blind
man’s eyes, white blurry globes that darted back and forth
while his wrinkled lips twitched, but there was only a mumbled hum,
perhaps a prayer. A woman beside Waheem held tight the top of a
burlap bag that moved on its own and smelled of wet chicken
feathers. Everyone was quiet except for three little girls on the
back of the boat who smiled and swayed. They were singing softly in
a whispered chant. Even in their playfulness they were evidently
aware that they shouldn’t disturb the pastor’s
“God hasn’t forgotten you people,” Pastor Roy
continued, “and neither will I.”
Waheem glanced at Pastor Roy’s wife. She didn’t seem
to be paying any attention to her husband. She sat next to him at
the front of the boat, rubbing her bare white arms with clear
liquid from a plastic bottle, stopping every few seconds to pick
tsetse flies from her silky, long hair.
“All of Lake Victoria’s islands are filled with the
outcasts, the poor, the criminals, the sick --- ” He paused
and nodded at Waheem as if to differentiate his handicap from the
rest of the list. “But I see only Jesus’ children,
waiting to be saved.”
Waheem didn’t correct the pastor. He didn’t consider
himself one of Buvuma’s diseased outcasts, though there were
plenty of them. It wasn’t unusual to see someone sick or
covered with lesions, open sores. The islands were a last resort
for many. But not Waheem. He had never been sick a day of his life,
at least not before the vomiting started last night.
It had gone on for hours. His stomach ached from the reminder.
He didn’t like thinking about the black vomit speckled with
chunks of blood. He worried that he had thrown up pieces of his
insides. That’s what it felt like. Now his head throbbed and
his nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. He readjusted the rag,
trying to find a spot that wasn’t soiled. Blood dripped onto
his dusty foot and he found himself staring at the pastor’s
shiny leather shoes. Waheem wondered how Pastor Roy expected to
save anyone without getting his shoes dirty.
It didn’t matter. Waheem cared only about getting his
monkeys to Jinja in time to meet the American, a businessman
dressed in equally shiny leather shoes. The man had promised Waheem
a fortune. At least it was a fortune to Waheem. The American had
agreed to pay him more money for each monkey than Waheem and his
father could make in a whole year.
He wished he had been able to capture more, but it had taken
almost two days to secure the three he had shoved together into the
metal cage. To look at them now no one would believe the struggle
he had gone through. Waheem knew from experience that monkeys had
sharp teeth and if they wrapped their tails around a man’s
neck they could slash his face to shreds in a matter of minutes.
He’d learned that much from the two short months he had
worked for Okbar, the rich monkey trader from Jinja.
The job had been a good one, but there were nets and
tranquilizer guns that Okbar had provided that made it seem simple.
Waheem’s main responsibility was to load up the sick monkeys
the British veterinarian expelled out of the shipments; shipments
that included hundreds of monkeys that would go onto a cargo plane
destined for research labs in the United Kingdom and the United
The veterinarian thought Waheem loaded up the monkeys and took
them away to be killed, but Okbar called that an “outrageous
waste.” So instead of killing the monkeys, Okbar instructed
Waheem to take the poor sick ones to an island in Lake Victoria and
set them free. Sometimes when Okbar came up short of monkeys for a
shipment he had Waheem go out to the island and get a few of the
sick ones. Oftentimes the veterinarian didn’t even
But now Okbar was gone. It had been months since anyone had seen
him. Waheem wasn’t sure where he had gone. One day his small,
messy office in Jinja was empty, all the file cabinets, the metal
desk, the tranquilizer guns and nets, everything gone. No one knew
what had happened to Okbar. And Waheem was out of a job. He’d
never forget the disappointment in his father’s eyes. They
would have to return to the fields and work long days to make up
for the job that Waheem had lost.
Then one day the American showed up in Jinja, asking for Waheem,
not Okbar, but Waheem. Somehow he knew about the monkeys that were
taken to the island and those were the ones he wanted. He would pay
the premium price. “But they must be the monkeys,” he
told Waheem, “from the island where you took the
Waheem wasn’t sure why anyone would want sick monkeys. He
looked in at them now, hunched over, crowded together in the
rusted, metal cage. Their noses were running and caked with green
slime. Their faces were blank. They refused food and water. Still,
Waheem avoided eye contact, knowing all too well what good aim a
monkey, even a sick one, had when he decided to spit in your
The monkeys must have sensed Waheem examining them because
suddenly one grabbed the bars of the cage and started to screech.
The noise didn’t bother Waheem. He was used to it. It was
normal compared to their eerie silence. But another monkey joined
in and now Waheem saw the pastor’s wife sit up and stare.
There was no longer a tight smile on her perfect face. Waheem
didn’t think she looked frightened or concerned, but rather
she looked disgusted. He worried the pastor might make him throw
the cage overboard, or worse, make Waheem go overboard with them.
Like most islanders he didn’t know how to swim.
The throbbing in his head joined in with the monkeys’
screeches and Waheem thought he could feel the boat rocking. His
stomach threatened to spew up again. Only now did he realize the
entire front of his shirt had blossomed into a huge red-and-black
stain. And the bleeding continued. He could feel it inside his
mouth, filling his throat. He swallowed and started coughing,
trying to catch the chunks of blood but not quite successful. Some
splattered the pastor’s leather shoes.
Waheem’s eyes darted around but avoided Pastor Roy.
Everyone was watching him. They would vote to throw him from the
boat. He had seen them bow to the man’s words. They would, no
doubt, do whatever he asked. They were too far away from the
islands. He’d never be able to stay afloat.
Suddenly the pastor’s hand waved down at him and Waheem
winced and jerked away. Only after he sat up and focused his eyes
did he see that Pastor Roy was not getting ready to shove him
overboard. Instead, the man was handing Waheem a white cloth,
brilliant white with beautiful, decorative embroidery in the
“Go ahead, take it,” the pastor said in a soft
voice, this not a sermon meant for any of the others. When Waheem
didn’t answer, Pastor Roy continued, “Yours is all used
up.” And he pointed to the dripping rag. “Go ahead, you
need it more than I do.”
Waheem’s eyes darted around the small boat, all still
watching, but none like the pastor’s wife whose face had
twisted into an angry scowl. Only, she no longer looked at Waheem.
Her eyes, her anger now directed at her husband.
The rest of the trip was quiet except for the singsong chant of
the little girls. Their voices lulled Waheem into a dreamlike
state. At one point he thought he could hear his mother calling to
him from the approaching shore. His vision became blurred and his
ears filled with the sound of his own heartbeat.
He was weak and dizzy by the time the boat docked. This time
Pastor Roy had to carry the cage for him while Waheem followed,
stumbling through the crowds, women with baskets and burlap bags,
men loitering and bicycles looping around them.
The pastor put down the cage and Waheem grunted his thanks, more
a groan. But before the pastor turned to leave, Waheem dropped to
his knees, choking and heaving, splattering the shiny leather shoes
with black vomit. He reached to wipe his mouth and discovered blood
dripping from his ears, and his throat already full again. He felt
the pastor’s hand on his shoulder and Waheem hardly
recognized the voice calling for help. The calm authority that
preached sermons had been replaced by a panicked screech.
Waheem’s body jerked without warning. His arms thrashed
and his legs flayed in the dirt, a seizure beyond his control. It
was difficult to breathe. He gasped and choked, no longer able to
swallow. Then he felt movement deep inside him. He could almost
hear it, as if his insides were ripping apart. Blood seemed to pour
out from everywhere. His brain registered no pain, only shock. The
shock of seeing so much blood and realizing it was his own, seemed
to override the pain.
A crowd gathered around him but they were a blur. Even the
pastor’s voice became a distant hum. Waheem could no longer
see him. And he wasn’t even conscious of the American
businessman who slipped his gloved fingers around the handle of
Waheem’s rusted monkey cage and then simply walked away.
Two months later
8:25 a.m.Friday, September 28, 2007
Maggie O’Dell watched her boss, Assistant Director
Cunningham, push up his glasses and examine the box of doughnuts
sitting outside his office as if the decision might impact lives.
It was the same intense look she saw him make when determining any
decision, whether choosing a doughnut or running the Behavioral
Science Unit. His serious poker face, despite the weathered lines
in his forehead and around his intense eyes, remained unchanged. An
index finger tapped his thin --- almost nonexistent --- upper
He stood with a rod-straight back and feet set apart in the same
stance he used to fire his Glock. A few minutes after eight in the
morning and his well-pressed shirtsleeves were already rolled up,
but meticulously and properly turned with cuffs tucked under. Lean
and fit, he could eat the entire dozen and probably not notice it
on his waistline. His salt-and-pepper hair was the only thing that
hinted at his age. Maggie had heard rumors that he could
bench-press fifty pounds more than what the recruits were doing
despite being almost thirty years their senior. So it wasn’t
calories that affected his choice.
Maggie glanced down at herself. In many ways she had modeled her
appearance after her boss. Creased trousers, a copper-colored suit
that complemented her auburn hair and brown eyes but didn’t
distract or draw attention, a lock-n-load stance that conveyed
Sometimes she knew she overcompensated a bit. Old habits were
hard to break. Ten years ago when Maggie made the transformation
from forensic fellow to special agent her survival depended on her
ability to blend in as much as possible with her male counterparts.
No-nonsense hairstyle, very little makeup, tailored suits, but
nothing formfitting. Of course, the FBI wasn’t an agency that
punished attractive women, but Maggie knew it certainly
wasn’t one that rewarded them, either.
Lately, however, she had noticed her suits were hanging a bit
loosely on her. Not necessarily a result of that overcompensation,
but perhaps from simple stress. Since July she had pushed her
workout routine, going from a two-mile run to a three-mile then
four, now five. Sometimes her legs cramped up, but she continued to
push it. A few sore muscles were worth a clear head. That’s
what she told herself.
It wasn’t all about stress, but rather an accumulation of
things that had fogged up her mind the last several months. She had
a logjam of files on her desk and one file in particular, a case
from July, kept creeping back to the top of her stack: an unsolved
murder in a restroom at Chicago’s O’Hare International
Airport. A priest stabbed through the heart. A priest named Father
Michael Keller who had taken up plenty of space in Maggie’s
head for too many years.
Keller had been one of six priests who had been suspected of
molesting young boys. Within four months all six priests had been
murdered, all with the same MO. In July, Keller’s murder was
the last. Maggie knew for a fact that the killer had stopped
killing, had promised to stop for good. Maggie told herself that if
you make deals with killers you can’t expect to keep a clear
That was the dark side of the fog. On the bright, or at least
the flip side of the fog, there was something --- or rather
someone else who preoccupied too much of her mind. Someone
named Nick Morrelli.
She snatched a chocolate-frosted doughnut out from under
Cunningham and took a bite.
“Tully usually beats me to the chocolate ones,” she
said when Cunningham raised an eyebrow at her. But then he nodded
as if that was explanation enough.
“By the way, where is he?” she asked. “He has
court in an hour.”
Normally she didn’t keep tabs on her partner but if Tully
wasn’t there to testify then she would get stuck doing it,
and for once she was taking off early. She actually had weekend
plans. She and Detective Julia Racine had scheduled another road
trip to Connecticut. Julia to see her father and Maggie to see a
certain forensic anthropologist named Adam Bonzado, who showed some
hope of taking Maggie’s mind off the e-mails, the voice
messages, the flowers and cards that a very persistent Nick
Morrelli had been showering her with for the last five weeks.
“Court date’s been changed,” Cunningham said
and Maggie had almost forgotten what they were talking about. It
must have registered on her face, because Cunningham continued,
“Tully had a family situation he needed to take care
Cunningham finally decided on a glazed cruller. Still examining
the box’s contents, he added, “You know how it is when
kids get to be teenagers.”
Maggie nodded, but actually she didn’t know. Her family
obligations extended as far as a white Labrador retriever named
Harvey who was quite happy with two daily feedings, plenty of ear
rubs and a place at the foot of her queen-size bed. Later this
afternoon he’d be sprawled out and drooling on the leather
backseat of Julia Racine’s Saab, happy to be included.
She found herself wondering what Cunningham knew. She
couldn’t remember her boss ever being late because of a
“family situation.” After ten years of working
alongside him Maggie had no idea about the assistant
director’s family. There were no pictures on his clutter-free
desk, nothing in his office to give any clues. She knew he was
married, though she had never met his wife. Maggie didn’t
even know her name. It wasn’t like they were invited to the
same Christmas parties. Not that Maggie went to Christmas
Cunningham kept his personal life exactly that --- personal. And
in many ways, Maggie had modeled her personal life after him, as
well. There were no photos on her desk, either. During her divorce
she never once mentioned any of it while on the job. Few colleagues
knew she was married. She kept that part of her life separate. She
had to. But her ex-husband, Greg, insisted it was some kind of
proof, another reason for their divorce.
“How can you possibly love someone and keep such an
important part of your life separate?”
She had no response. She couldn’t explain it to him.
Sometimes she knew she wasn’t even good at
compartmentalizing. All she did know was that as someone who
analyzed and profiled criminal behavior, someone who hunted down
evil on a regular basis, who spent hours inside the minds of
killers, she had to separate those portions of her life in order to
remain whole. It sounded like a convenient oxymoron, separate and
divide in order to remain whole.
She found herself wondering if Cunningham had to explain it to
his wife. He obviously had been more successful at his explanation
than Maggie had been at hers. One more reason she had adopted his
No, Maggie didn’t know Cunningham’s wife’s
name or if he had children, what his favorite football team was or
whether or not he believed in God. And actually she admired that
about him. After all, the less people knew about you the less they
could hurt you. It was one of a few ways to control collateral
damage, something Maggie had learned the hard way. Something she
had learned perhaps too well. Since her divorce she hadn’t
let anyone get close. No need to separate personal and professional
if there was no personal.
“Wait.” Cunningham grabbed Maggie’s wrist,
stopping her from taking a second bite.
He tossed his cruller on the counter and pointed inside the box.
Maggie expected to see a cockroach or something as lethal. Instead,
all she saw was the corner of a white envelope tucked on the bottom
of the box. Through a doughnut hole she could make out bits of the
block lettering. A box of doughnuts was a familiar congratulatory
gift amongst the agents. That one should include a card and
envelope didn’t warrant this kind of reaction.
“Anyone know who brought in this box of doughnuts?”
Cunningham asked loud enough to get everyone’s attention but
keeping the urgency Maggie saw in his eyes out of his voice.
There were a few shrugs and a couple of mumbled noes. They all
went about their daily routine. This was not a shy bunch. Any one
of them would take credit where it was due. But whoever had brought
in the box had not stayed and that realization set the assistant
director’s left eye twitching.
Cunningham took a pen from his breast pocket and slipped it into
a doughnut hole, lifting carefully to reveal the envelope. Maggie
did think it suspicious someone would place a note at the bottom of
the box where it would only be discovered after most of the
doughnuts had been consumed. A sour taste filled her mouth. It was
only one bite, she told herself. Then just as quickly wondered how
many of her colleagues had already devoured several.
“Sometimes one of the other departments sends us down a
box with a congratulations card,” she made one last attempt,
hoping her explanation would prove true.
“This doesn’t look like a regular congratulations
card.” Cunningham pinched a corner of the envelope between
his thumb and index finger.
“MR. F.B.I. MAN,” was written in block printing
across the middle of the envelope in what looked like a first
grader’s attempt at practicing capitalization.
Cunningham set it down on the counter gently as if it would
shatter. Then he stepped back and looked around the room again. A
few agents waited for the elevator. Cunningham’s secretary,
Anita, answered a ringing phone. No one noticed their boss, his
darting eyes and the sweat on his upper lip the only signs of his
“Anthrax?” Maggie asked quietly.
Cunningham shook his head. “It’s not sealed. Flap is
The elevator dinged, drawing both their attention. But only a
“It’s too thin for explosives,” Maggie
“There’s nothing attached to the box,
She realized both of them were talking about this as if it were
a harmless crossword puzzle.
“What about the doughnuts?” Maggie finally asked.
That one bite felt like a lump in her stomach. “Could they
have been poisoned?”
Her mouth went dry. She wanted to believe their suspicions were
unwarranted. It could be a prank between agents. That actually
seemed more likely than a terrorist gaining access, not only to
Quantico, but all the way down into the Behavioral Science
Once he made the decision, Cunningham took less than two seconds
--- maybe three --- to untuck the flap, barely touching the
envelope with a butter knife. Again pinching only a corner he was
able to pull out the piece of paper inside. It was folded in half
and each side was folded over about a quarter of an inch.
“Pharmacist fold,” Maggie said and her stomach did
Before nifty plastic containers, pharmacists used to dispense
drugs in plain white paper and fold over the sides to keep the
pills or powder from falling out when you lifted them out of their
envelope. Maggie recognized the fold, only because it was one of
the lessons they had learned from the Anthrax Killer. Now she
wondered if they had been too quick in simply opening the
Cunningham lifted the paper, keeping the folds intact, making a
tent so they could see if there was anything inside. No powder, no
residue. All Maggie saw was the same style block printing that was
on the outside of the envelope. Again, reminding her of a
Cunningham continued to use the end of his pen to open the note.
The sentences were simple and short, one per line. Bold,
capitalized letters shouted:
CALL ME GOD.
THERE WILL BE A CRASH TODAY.
At 13949 ELK GROVE
10:00 A.M.I’D HATE FOR YOU TO MISS IT.
I AM GOD.
P.S.YOUR CHILDREN ARE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE AT
Cunningham looked at his watch, then at Maggie. With his voice
steady and even, he said, “We’ll need a bomb squad and
a SWAT team. I’ll meet you out front in fifteen.” Then
he turned and headed back to his office as casually as if this were
an assignment he issued every day.
Excerpted from EXPOSED © Copyright 2011 by Alex Kava.
Reprinted with permission by Mira. All rights reserved.