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The Next Target


In the great expanse between the dimensions of space and time, a
luminous form arched itself above a spiritual universe. The transparent, multifaceted figure consisted of three faces, parallel planes ablaze with the power and glory of the eternal love that begat the genesis of humanity. Above the figure shone a brilliant white light. Its name, Truth. Below the figure, a spectrum of refracted light. Rays of incandescent color: ruby, sapphire, lapis, amethyst, amber, emerald, and gold, each forming an angelic being. They were called Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, and Faith. Each purposed to serve humankind.

Love heard his name called. Love, ruby red, the color of the blood shed at Calvary. Strengthened by the spittle, steeled by the nails, girded by the thrust spear.

He rose.

The air was thick with prayer. Words imbued with deep emotion and sustained by the fervent pleading of a small spirit-filled army. Followers of Christ. Devotees of the Word of God, they had discerned that the end times spoken of in the book of Revelation
had begun to unfold. Persecution of Christians had begun, and the
polarizing of nations was under way for a great final battle. A battle
between good and evil. A battle between love and hate. Ushering in
the day of judgment for all people. Their voices raised, petitioning
the Lord, asking that He tarry just a little longer. Just a little longer
so more might be saved.

Suddenly, Love, the only force able to defeat the principalities and powers and the demons of darkness coming against the kingdom of God, the only answer to the prayers of the saints, was lifted up by the wings of Mercy and released.

Now, unfettered by time or dimensions, transported by the
Spirit already indwelling every believer, Love stands ready. Waiting
only for the surrender of the human heart, the act of volition that
empowers the Lord to work through the lives of His people and
touch the hearts of His enemies. Changing the heart of humanity.

Desiring that none die lost.


Chapter 1

Sabirah’s heart pounded as she felt in the bottom of her purse for
her car keys. Finally, locating the blade of the ignition key, she took them in hand. Her grip tightened. “Oh, Jesus, protect me.” Then she slipped out the employee exit of the restaurant, pulling the door shut behind her.

A crescent moon provided the only light as she scanned the
parking lot. She’d been careful that her family didn’t know where she lived or where she’d found work. Still …

Seeing no one, she felt her heartbeat slow. She took a deep breath
and raised her eyes heavenward. There was nothing to be afraid of.

A gentle breeze kicked up, teasing her with the scent of ocean air
and turning her thoughts to the church picnic planned for Saturday.
Paul was meeting her there. She felt heat rise in her cheeks at the
thought of the handsome young man who led the singles’ group. She lowered her eyes. The idea of dating was still new to her. And …well … She just didn’t know what to expect. Her arm dropped to
her side and a smile touched her lips as she made her way to her
car. She’d decided to bring baklava, the sweet Middle Eastern pastry that Americans seemed to love. She was making it from scratch so it would be fresh. Pastor John had said she could use the church kitchen since—The hairs on the back of her neck rose as an almost tangible malevolent energy manifested in the air around her.

A shadow fell across her shoulder.


At the sound of her uncle’s voice she whirled to face him. Her
eyes darted to his hands. Empty.

“Don’t be afraid. Your mother has sent me with a special message.”

As his words hung in the air she tried to process them.

“Your baby brother is sick.”

“Uncle?” She studied his face. The man who had favored her
with bangles for her wrists, the one who had tenderly taught her the
daily prayers to Allah. She had been his favorite of all the nieces …
until she told her family of her conversion to Christianity.

“You should be at home caring for your brothers and sisters, Sabirah.”

“How is that possible, Uncle? My father has rejected me.”

His face contorted with anger and his eyes hardened with hate.

“Why have you shamed us? You know these Christians are infidels.”

He stepped closer to her, his voice rising. “Look at yourself. Look
how you’re dressed. Out here exposing yourself to the eyes of men.”

She touched the top of her modest scoop-neck sweater. These
were the lies of the Enemy and they no longer had power over her.
She stood her ground and held his gaze. “I found Jesus and true

His eyes widened with rage as he slapped her. “You shame your
father. Disgrace your family. You disgrace Islam.”

He grabbed her wrist in one hand and with the other pulled
a gun from his pocket. He jabbed the muzzle of the gun into her
temple. “Who is it that corrupted you?”

The certainty of death sucked her breath from her lungs and
terror ran riot through her. But she would not speak. She would not
betray another.

Silence was her answer.

“Tell, and save yourself. You know I have ways of finding out.” He spit on her. “And you know I will.”

She lifted her chin. “I love you, Uncle. I love my parents and my
whole family. But I also love Jesus.”

“Then death to you.” He jerked her to her knees. “I will restore
your family’s honor. It is my duty before Allah. Allahu akbar.”

The cold metal tip of the gun pressed into her scalp and asphalt
cut into her legs. “Jesus, help me. Jesus—”

The rush of a mighty wind encircled her, drawing her from her
body, gathering her with dominion and power to eternity and the
presence of the Father. Leaving but an empty shell in the hands of
her accuser.

The sound of a gunshot echoed far below as a legion of angels
fanned out before her and the heavens unfurled like a scroll.


Chapter 2

Austia Donatelli couldn’t shake the intense sense of foreboding that
had kept her awake most of the night. She closed her eyes a moment, trying to get in touch with the vague, disquieting feeling … an aching… a whisper … it eluded her. Releasing a deep sigh, she settled back under the covers.

She’d gone to bed early because it was going to be a long day at
the Career Center. Besides dealing with the usual demands of running her employment agency, she would be interviewing a number of Arabic-speaking men to act as interpreters for the job applicants.She caught her lower lip between her teeth and bit down. It would be challenging, as it always was. She was a single Christian woman living in a Muslim neighborhood on the south side of Los Angeles, running a business that required her to deal almost exclusively with men whose culture frowned upon men and women mixing in public. A job that flew in the face of the Islamic traditions that taught men a woman’s place was in the home tending to the family’s needs.

Rolling on her side, she brushed her long dark hair from her face
and let her gaze rest on the framed photo next to the clock. David.

It didn’t matter that the moonlight from her bedroom window
caused a shadow over the picture. She knew every detail. She closed her eyes, bringing the image into focus. Alone with him, she barely breathed, searching her memory for his voice, his smile, his scent.

The truth was, she was lonely. The days were long … and the
nights longer. How she yearned for strong arms around her, security, and whispered words of comfort to soften the rough spots of this uncertain world. But the Lord’s answer to her prayers had seemed elusive, the men she met unremarkable, and the memories of her husband still too precious.

Her eyes drifted open, slowly letting in the real world. Austia, it’s
God’s timing. The fields are ripe for harvest. After her husband’s death, she had dedicated herself to carrying on his lay ministry to Muslims.

It was an agreement she’d made with God.

Throwing back the covers, she rose. Then, after stopping at the
front door for the newspaper, she headed to the kitchen and made a cup of hot cinnamon-spice tea.

Taking the paper and steaming beverage to the living room, she
then set the cup on the coffee table so the tea could cool, and opened the morning paper.


Woman Murdered Leaving Local Diner

The headline covered the entire width of the front page. Her
grip tightened as she leaned into the paper. The account was sketchy.The young woman was an immigrant from Saudi Arabia with no friends or family that her employer was aware of. She had worked at the restaurant only a short time and appeared to be living in her car. Two men in a blue Toyota had been seen driving from the parking lot at the time the shot was heard. Austia glanced at the picture accompanying the article.

Her breath caught in her throat.

She recognized the car behind the police tape. She knew the
young woman who owned it.

Austia covered her mouth as a wave of nausea washed through her.

Saudi Arabia. A young woman. A blue Toyota.

Swallowing hard, Austia rose. “No.” Letting the paper slide to
the floor, she stormed across the living room and back to the couch.

“No, God. Please, God. No.” Sabirah.

With sickening certainty, truth settled over her like a shroud.This was an honor killing. The murderous Islamic tradition of family
members killing one of their own for bringing dishonor to the family

Tears burned her eyes and her heart ached. Sabirah. The beautiful
young girl who had attended the English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes that Austia and her business partner Annie Lundgren taught in the evenings at the Career Center to the Muslim community.

Sabirah had sought out Austia in secret over the last few months,
wanting to know more about the Jesus who Austia said loved all
people. And over time Sabirah had fallen in love with the Savior who
died for her sins and set her free from the judgment of Allah.

Tears streaming down her cheeks, Austia remembered the day
she’d given Sabirah a special Bible. There was no bond on earth like the one formed when the Holy Spirit ministered His love and life
through the heart of a believer. One body, one blood.

Austia was the one who had led Sabirah to the Lord.

Would she be the next target?

Chapter 3

With cold resolve and renewed commitment, Zaki opened his bedroom door and stepped into the hall. He’d had the dream again. The hot sun of the Arabian Peninsula beating down, drying his sweat before it could bead. Bloody, lifeless bodies of American soldiers scattered across the broken mountain terrain … The images feeding him, stoking the fire in his belly for his mission. He pulled the front door shut behind him and headed across the street to meet with his boss, Hussein al-Ansari.

The area was a mix of commercial and residential buildings.
Hussein had chosen the neighborhood because Hancock
Community College, nearby, and the ordinary traffic of neighboring
businesses allowed the comings and goings of the cell’s Islamic
members, most of whom were in their twenties, to go unnoticed.
Hussein had purchased a modest two-story duplex on a corner lot
where he, his wife, Fatima, and her sister, Najah, lived, and all other female members of the extended household could gather and take care of the family. The other side of the duplex housed his frequent visitors. The arrangement allowed him to monitor the activities of everyone, family … and friends. He’d then purchased other homes within a two-block radius to house the men who worked for him, and finally he’d built an office over the garages of the duplex. It wasn’t a coincidence that any route in or out of the neighborhood went past that corner or that the home’s security cameras recorded every car that passed by.

Zaki knocked on Hussein’s door. After a moment, Hussein’s
sister, Rasha, opened it. Lowering her eyes, she moved to the side as he entered.

Zaki removed his shoes, stepped into the entry, then bounded
up the stairs to Hussein’s office. Hussein was not a man to be kept
waiting. He was on the front end of jihad. Everything and everyone
was expendable.

At the top of the stairs, Zaki heard two men speaking Arabic. He
recognized the voice of Shaykh al-Ansari, Hussein’s father, who was the imam of the local mosque. “Does the courier have it?”

The distinctly nasal voice that answered belonged to Hussein.
Insha’allah, he will contact us when he reaches Yemen. We’ll coordinate with him from there to get passports for the men coming out of training.”

Zaki knocked twice. “It’s Zaki.”

The door was opened by Faisal, one of Hussein’s brothers. The
scars on the right side of his face gave him a dark, sinister aura. It
had served him well on a number of occasions when persuasion was needed. He closed the door as soon as Zaki stepped in the room.

Zaki nodded to the three men. “Al salamu alaikum.”

As the men responded to his greeting of peace, he took a seat in
one of the chairs that surrounded Hussein’s desk. The room was full of state-of-the-art computer equipment, tables, and filing cabinets. Maps of the Middle East, Yemen, and a detailed map of Los Angeles hung on the walls, while a huge computer screen, in view of Hussein’s desk, silently streamed Al Jazeera, the Arabic news satellite TV channel.

Hussein turned his dark, penetrating eyes to Zaki. “My sister,
Rasha, has been bothering me to let her go to the English classes
that the American woman gives at the Career Center. Fatima and her sister want to go with her. I will tell them yes.” He coolly narrowed his eyes. “My sister’s request got me to thinking about that place.” The line of his mouth tightened a fraction.

Zaki held his gaze, waiting for him to continue.

“Many of the men who move here go there looking for work.”
It was true. In fact, many of the men who worked for the cell had
found jobs through the Center. Busboys, janitors, construction workers.Menial jobs that originally gave them income but now gave them cover as they carried on activities for Hussein’s terrorist organization.

Leaning forward, Hussein slid a folded newspaper in front of

Zaki recognized it as a page out of the Help Wanted section of
the local Arabic language weekly. Several lines were boxed in yellow highlighter. A glance told him it was an ad for an interpreter.
Something his American education and Arabic-speaking parents
made him uniquely qualified for.

“I think you should apply. You’re looking for men who want
to work.” Hussein’s tongue darted across his lips, removing the perpetual white crust that formed in the corners of his mouth.

The inference in Hussein’s words was clear. Zaki’s mission for
the cell was to recruit young disenfranchised men from the community for training in Yemen and jihad in America. By working at the Career Center, Zaki would be in a position to meet Muslim men and offer them the opportunity to be part of the worldwide effort to bring down the West.

Hussein continued, “The Career Center will want references. Give
them Omar’s name and the phone number at the Cultural Exhibition.”

Zaki smiled broadly. “As you say.” He picked up the paper and
rose. “Now, with your permission, I shall attend to this.”

Alhamdulillah,” Hussein voiced his approval as he settled back
in his chair.

As Zaki headed down the stairs, he glanced at the ad again, then
took out his cell phone and dialed the number given in the paper. A
woman answered.

“The Career Center.”

“This is Zaki ben Hassan. I’m responding to the ad for an interpreter
in today’s paper.”

“You can come in anytime. There is a short written test to take
and then an interview.”

“Thank you.” He hung up and let himself out the front door.

Crossing the grass to his apartment, he heard Hussein’s garage
door open. He watched as Faisal got into Hussein’s car.

Zaki’s thoughts turned to Hussein’s sudden interest in the Career
Center and the English classes. Hussein had no interest in having his women become Americanized, and recruiting men for the cell had never been a problem. There was clearly some other reason for Zaki’s sudden assignment.

As Zaki watched Hussein’s blue Toyota disappear down the
street, he felt a stirring in his gut. A nudging.

Suddenly, a number of pieces of information linked together in
his mind.

Prominent among them was the blue Toyota he’d read about in
the morning paper.


Chapter 4


Austia looked up from the open newspaper lying on her desk.

“The applicant that’s waiting to see you did very well on his test.”
Annie laid the folder in front of her.

“Oh, sorry.” Austia hadn’t heard her business partner come into
her office. “Guess my mind was somewhere else.” Seeing Annie somehow comforted her. The older woman had been with her ever since Austia had opened the Center. It was Annie’s wisdom, godly council, and unfailing support that had helped Austia through the difficult days after David’s death. A true blessing from God.

Annie rested her hand on Austia’s shoulder. “I loved her too.”

Austia nodded, afraid to speak, not wanting to lose her composure
again. She and Annie had not discussed the fact that Sabirah’s
death had almost certainly been an honor killing. Stating the obvious wouldn’t change it. And it would only play into the hands of
the Enemy. Instead they’d set aside some time when they’d first
arrived at the office and prayed that God would station His warring
angels around them so they could continue their work, and
that the Career Center would not become involved in the police
investigation. There was no doubt that if the radicalized Muslims
in the community learned Austia was sharing her faith with the
women who attended the classes, the building would be burned to
the ground. And there was little doubt that a fatwa would be put
out on her life.

Annie straightened and gestured to the folder. “Zaki ben Hassan
is waiting in the conference room. He’s a great prospect. He used to work at the Arabic Cultural Exhibition. They gave him a wonderful
reference. And that job gave him a lot of experience working
with Americans and Muslims. So he’s someone who can bridge not
only the language barrier but also the cultural differences during
job placement. He worked there for over a year and his background
check was clear.”

Background check was code for the extensive vetting they had
to do on anyone who worked for them. It included email address
searches, social media “friend” network searches, and certain Arabic website searches.

“The Exhibition! That’s wonderful training for this job. I’ve been
there many times. I’ve visited all the displays. I’ve probably spoken
to him there.” Austia opened the file and looked at the test. “These
dialogues he interpreted show a very good grasp of American language and culture. I’m not surprised.”

“That’s exactly what I thought.” Annie dropped into the chair next
to the desk. “We’ve been interviewing for two days. When he finished the written test and I read what he wrote, I was pretty excited and spent some time talking to him.” She paused. “I think we should offer him the job.”

Austia rose and began to rifle through the papers on her desk.
Finding her legal pad, she laid Zaki’s folder on top of it, then she
tucked both under her arm. She started toward the door. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. My brother’s coming to dinner tonight so I’ve got to head home a little before we close. If you need me for any reason, just call me on my cell.”

“Don’t worry about a thing. I’m planning to stay late anyway and
catch up on a few things.”

Austia stepped toward her and gave her a quick hug. “Thank you.
You’re such a blessing to me.” Catching up on a few things meant trying to work through the dispute they currently had with the IRS over the first quarter’s payroll report. According to the government, they’d underdeposited. Thankfully Annie did the books and they wouldn’t have to pay an accountant to straighten it out. Annie was a godsend.

“Oh, Austia. I went ahead and put a hire sheet in the folder.”

“Well, that’s a subtle hint.” Austia gave her a wicked smile and
headed for the conference room.

All interviews with men were conducted in the conference room
with its floor-to-ceiling windows, keeping the meeting in view of
everyone in the office. And gender issues, such as avoiding eye contact, were always strictly observed when dealing with Muslim men. If she or Annie were not meeting Zaki in a professional capacity, it would have been completely unacceptable for them to meet with him alone. In fact, for most Muslim men, working for a woman was frowned upon and was one of the reasons they’d had such a hard time finding and keeping an interpreter.

As Austia rounded the corner of the conference room she felt
the top of her blouse, making sure the small gold cross with the tiny mustard seed encased at its center wasn’t visible. She let her fingers rest a moment on the hidden necklace. It was the first … and last …anniversary gift she’d received from her husband.

After giving it to her, he’d tapped the little seed and said, “With
just that much faith, you can say, ‘Mountain, move.’ And it will be
moved.” He’d kissed her forehead. “Jesus said so.”

But that was before his death, before Sabirah’s murder, before the
mountains God had given her to climb threatened to crush her.

Zaki stood as she entered.

The familiar scent of his aftershave distracted her for a moment.

She recaptured her focus. “Good morning. Thank you for coming.
I’m Austia Donatelli.” She nodded toward him, careful to avoid
eye contact. Though his uncommon good looks didn’t escape her.
“You scored very well on your test.” She laid the legal pad on the table and slid the test sheets in front of him as they both sat down.

Her cell phone chirped. “Oh, sorry. I meant to leave my phone
in my office.” She pulled it from her skirt pocket and glanced at the
screen. Her pulse quickened. Abdur Rahman. A dear elderly man
whom she’d known ever since she’d moved to Agua Viva. His wife had recently become quite ill. A call from him could mean he had new concerns about his wife.

“Excuse me a second. I have to take this call.”

“Yes, of course.” Zaki nodded.

After walking outside the room, she closed the door and answered
her phone. “This is Austia.”

“Al salamu alaikum.”

Austia smiled at the formal greeting of Abdur Rahman.

Wa alikum alsalam. Is your wife feeling all right, Mr. Rahman?”

“As God wills it.” Emotion textured his voice. There was a moment
of silence. Then he cleared his throat. “I call you to ask if you’re going to the meeting Tuesday night.”

“About the call-to-prayer issue the Planning Commission is taking

“Yes. I’m sorry to have to trouble you. I cannot leave my wife, but
I want to speak. Would you take a letter for me and read it to them?”

She hadn’t been planning to go to the council meeting; the matter
was too divisive. There had been another article in the paper just this morning, and it was clear that the issue was continuing to split the community. The story had referred to the two sides as the citizens and the Muslims. As though they were two different things. Personally, she preferred that the call to prayer be confined to inside the mosque, but she was willing to accept whatever the Planning Commission decided.

Citizen or Muslim, Mr. Rahman deserved to be heard. If Austia
didn’t respond, it would have the effect of silencing him.

“Of course, it will be no trouble whatsoever to do that for you. I’ll
come by sometime before the meeting, pick the letter up, and present it to the Planning Commission.”

“Thank you so very much.”

Austia said a quick good-bye to Mr. Rahman, shut the phone,
and returned to the table. “Sorry for that interruption. It was a friend
whose wife has been ill. I was concerned.”

“Of course.” His eyes met hers. “I understand completely.”

For a split second she couldn’t look away.

“Anyway, as I was saying.” She pointed to the test sheets. “You did
very well on these translations.”

He looked at the few notes Annie had made on the papers. His
closely shaved beard hugged his jawline, his dark eyes momentarily on the test sheet. He had an air of self-assurance about him, as did many of the Muslim men she came into contact with, yet … Somehow he was different. Ordinarily she had an extremely good sense about people. It’s what had made her agency successful. But this time, she couldn’t put her finger on it; there was something different about Zaki ben Hassan.

“We checked your references at the Arabic Cultural Exhibition and
they were quite good.” She glanced at him, waiting for a response.

She cleared her throat. “I’d like to offer you the position.”

He looked up, his gaze briefly meeting hers. “When do I start?” A
smile spread across his straight white teeth.

“Tomorrow if possible.” Austia pulled the hire sheet from the file
and extended it to him. “This confirms the specifics of the job.”

Zaki read it, then signed it and handed it to her.

“Thank you.” Austia rose. “You’ll have your own office.” She
turned and pointed across the hall. “It’s right over there. When applicants come in, we’ll ask if they need an interpreter. If they do, we’ll give them their paperwork and send them to you.” She unclipped the key from the folder and handed it to him. “Here is a key to the back door. You’ll be working under a deadline and I think you’ll find that requires you to come in early and stay late from time to time.”

Zaki stood and took the key. “Very well.”

She nodded and smiled. “See you tomorrow.”

Watching him walk out the door, she tapped her pen on her lower
lip. The Arabic Cultural Exhibition’s loss would be her gain.

She tilted her head and pursed her lips.

The Arabic Cultural Exhibition.

Thinking about it for a moment, Austia realized she’d never seen
him there.

Her breath caught in her throat. What if Zaki’s appearance at the
Career Center and application for the job had really been prompted
by Sabirah’s family?

The Next Target
by by Nikki Arana