A couple of Tuesdays ago I started recapping retired Denver Broncos placekicker Jason Elam’s debut novel, Monday Night Jihad. Last time, we were introduced to star PFL linebacker for the Colorado Mustangs, Riley Covington, counter-terrorism intelligence analyst Scott Ross, and the fabulous, exploding al-Hasani brothers. Part two opens (OPENS!) with some torture and things just ramp up from there.
So turn down the volume to FOX NEWS, grab your soy milk and fresh berries protein shake, renounce the Great Satan, and get ready for part two of the With Leather Book Club presents: Monday Night Jihad.
Friday, December 19
CTD North Central Division Headquarters
Jim Hicks is currently engaged in some “active persuasion” methods of interrogation on Mohsin Kurshumi. By which I mean he’s straddling the guy, forehead pressed against forehead, with an interpreter’s tie in one hand and his Navy SEAL combat knife in the other. The knife, by the way, is slowly being pushed underneath Kurshumi’s chin (PERSUASION!). Hicks twists the knife in deeper and deeper as he tells the translator to explain that the cameras in the interrogation room have mysteriously malfunctioned. Hicks also wants it known that Kurshumi won’t be his first accidental kill (And by accidental kill he totally means intentional, cold-blooded murder victim), but Hicks will make it the slowest, and even the translator probably won’t make it out of the interrogation room (Jeez, I hope some brave freedom fighters are on their way to stop this monster). Hicks finally pushes the knife through Kurshumi’s flesh and into the bottom of his mouth and demands answers (WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR? WHERE’S THE BOMB? SWEAR TO ME! WHERE’S THE BEEF? WHO’S NEXT? DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN MAN?)
Ten minutes later, and Hicks is bolting from Torture Room D to the bathroom, where he horks up the contents of his stomach (I think this is meant to show that Jim is a good guy, since he literally cannot stomach having to interrogate people in such a violent manner. Of course, if he were actually decent, he’d be unable to go through with the whole face-stabbing thing from the get-go). He washes himself and his knife clean of Mohsin Kurshumi’s DNA (Gross, Yemeni blood!), then stares at his reflection in the mirror. Hicks had long ago tricked himself into thinking that it’s okay to torture dudes if that one life can save hundreds or thousands, but considering he’s a wreck of a human being, riddled with sleepless nights and or nightmares, and has two failed marriages under his belt, Jim might have been off in that assessment.
Before his existential crisis can spiral even further out of control, Hicks gets a call from Scott Ross. Jim lets Scott know the high-points of the interrogation since a transcript is still being typed up (How many Hs in that last blood-curdling yell? Probably like twelve). Kurshumi was looking for his own map and set of keys to presumably build his own suicide vest (It honestly sounds like he was picked up for looking under the wheel wells of cars), and that makes Scott realize “Allah controls the weather” refers to cold temperatures allowing the terrorists to disguise their bomb vests under layers of jackets and sweaters. Scott wants more intel, such as how many other bombers there are and where they plan on attacking, but the only other information Hicks was able to extract is that the attack is scheduled for tomorrow due to Kurshumi swallowing his contact number when he got pulled over. Ross wants someone to take another crack at Kurshumi, but Hicks assures Scott that there is nothing else of value to be squeezed from Mohsin’s brain. Jim angrily hangs up and gets back to work, having decided to brood, get really angsty and listen to Papa Roach on repeat as soon as he gets off the clock.
Friday, December 19
North Central United States
Abdel is inserting the last blasting cap into the C-4 when Aamir reminds him of the glory associated with being a martyr. Aamir speaks of the money their parents will get, and how the al-Hasani brothers will become famous by their actions, but Abdel is still stewing over Aamir slapping him. Abdel grabs a knife and cuts open Aamir’s shirt, revealing a slip of paper with a phone number on it. Aamir uses the burner phone to call the number and the brothers receive their instructions, then smashes it to bits, wasting a perfectly good SideKick and some quality Any Time minutes. Aamir again tries to give a pep talk, but Abdel simply cannot listen to any more tonight, as he’s having a bit of a crisis of faith (Or he just really doesn’t want to get blown to bits). Abdel retreats to a corner of the room with his thoughts while Aamir heads out for some dinner (If I was going to explode myself, I think I’d eat a bunch of popsicles for a nice color splash), then returns to go to bed.
Friday, December 19
CTD Midwest Division Headquarters
St. Louis, Missouri
Scott and the Ross Force Five have assembled to discuss potential terror attack points. They’ve got the when, they just need the who and the where, so however-f*ck the whats. The group consists of Ross, Tara Walsh, former teen hacker (And daughter of Kate Libby and Dade Murphy) Evie Cline, MIT grad Virgil Hernandez, and Joey Williamson, who is the only team member aside from Ross to have not graduated from a prestigious university (Joey Williamson, DeVry University, class of February!). Ross goes through the team, asking for any major manufacturing or financial centers in the general Minnesota area, but nothing seems like a major target. Something only triggers when Hernandez points out that most convention centers aren’t having conferences due to it being a week before Christmas, which Ross apparently failed to notice, since I guess St. Louis either doesn’t decorate at all, or decorates so early everyone becomes numb to how nigh Christmas actually is. Ross calls for silence to work things out, but Tara is already phoning Jim Hicks to let him know the target is…(Wait for it, let the dramatic tension build)
THE MALL OF AMERICA! (If they blow up the Wicks n Sticks or the Auntie Annie’s Pretzels, I will lose all of my sh*t)
Key Lines: He slowly pushed himself to his feet and steadied himself as he wiped his bloody handprint off the white plastic toilet seat – WILSON! WILSON I’M SORRY!
Little punk sits behind a computer screen all day and then tells me how to do my job? The only blood he’s ever had on his hands was probably from his own nose.
– Yeah, that Scott Ross punk never shed the blood of some dude in custody via protracted torture! You tell him with your mind-thoughts, Jim Hicks!
Friday, December 19
Inverness Training Center
Riley Covington has just finished with all of the media obligations, ending with the live interview for the PFL Network. It’s a bit of a drag, having to answer the same questions over and over, but he manages to hit all the key points: “We want to play good”, “We hope we play good”, “We’re gonna go out there and give it 110%”. He heads out of the training center, cursing the stroke of forgetfulness that made him leave his new gloves at home, when he sees a plethora of stretch Hummer limos. It’s the night the Mustangs rookies have to cover the dinner bill for the entire team because it’s always a good idea to bankrupt the young players early.
Riley heads down the line of cars, looking for the linebackers’ limo, when something makes him pause. All the other vehicles have been blasting thumping bass from the sound system, but he hears opera lilting from the speakers of a limo in the center of the line. Sal Ricci rolls down a window and explains it is in honor of Ricci being named offensive player of the week after his stellar performance against the Pittsburgh Miners (And their stellar quarterback, HARF THROEWSENBORG), including two touchdown receptions. Riley takes a closer look inside the limo to find a trio of receivers singing into their bottles of Michelob, impersonating the Three Tenors (Y’know, Groucho, Costello, and Laurel), while back-up tight end Jerrod Watkins is doing something he calls operatic beat boxing because beat boxing is apparently still a thing in 2007-ish.
Rookie linebacker Garrett Widnall waves Covington over, allowing him to leave the receivers and their strange music rituals. Covington feels bad for Widnall’s wallet since he didn’t get a huge contract coming out of Division II Humboldt State, plus Garrett stocked the limo’s mini-fridge with Diet Pepsi for him. Of course, Riley drinks Diet Coke, a fact that Keith Simmons is quick to point out to Widnall, and Simms barks at the rook to run back inside the training facility to get some tasty robot sweat for Pach.
The limos make it to Del Frisco’s, the swankiest joint in the one-horse town that is Engelwood, Colorado without much incident. Riley, Sal, and rookie offensive tackle Travis Marshall (WILLIAM AND MARY, SIXTH ROUND, WHAT IT DO?) are sharing a booth off the main group of tables, and Riley is already planning on helping out Travis in addition to Widnall before the night is over. As the men converse, Chris “Snap” Gorkowski jams himself all up in the booth and demands Marshall serenade the team with the William and Mary fight song in the style of “Mary more than William”. Snap takes a couple of huge bites out of Marshall’s New York strip, then drunkenly stumbles back to the main table. Travis moans about having to perform when Ricci explains he had to sing the Italian and German national anthems, the A.C. Milan fight song and the Hamburg Donnerkatzen (Also, it turns out “Donnerkatzen” means Thunder Cats, so go fightin’ Lion-Os!) fight song in his rookie year, so shut your calzone-hole, kid.
Marshall reluctantly leaves the booth to start crooning to a bunch of drunk football players, allowing Riley the opportunity to buy him a few entrees and side dishes on the sly. Ricci questions Covington’s motives, and doesn’t buy that it’s just to keep Travis from raiding his pantry. Riley talks about not just wearing WWJD gear, but living idea behind a Jesusly life. Ricci’s sort of familiar with the concept, having seen WAS WURDE JESUS TUN gear in Germany (But apparently there was no such movement in ITALY of all places), but due to being a heathen European, thinks one good deed means one step closer on the stairway to heaven. Before Riley can further expound on the fact that THROUGH CHRIST THE LORD JESUS WHO STRENGTHENS ME, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE, Sal gets a phone call and scurries off to answer it.
Gorkowski climbs on the table, stomping through dishes of vegetables and the exotic POTATOES FANDANGO, holding a $2500 bottle of whiskey that he insists everyone on the team take a shot from. But WHOOPS, he clumsily drops it, shattering the bottle, requiring another $2500 added to the rookies’ tab. Ricci returns to the booth, flustered, and after Covington presses him, explains that his daughter took a spill and bumped her head, and his wife just wanted confirmation that she’s not a monster of a parent (She totes is, though).
Riley gets home and ruminates on Sal’s attitude after the phone call. Ricci’s always played things close to the vest, and heck, Riley barely knows more about his friend than the average fan does. Just the major points: foundling, discovered at an Italian orphanage, star soccer player-turned football player. Riley wrestles with calling Sal, ultimately decides not to invade on another man’s privacy, and remembers to set his gloves right next to his car keys before he heads to bed.
Key Lines: As Riley look around, his impression was less of twenty-first-century luxury than of 1970s Huggy Bear. – Look, I haven’t ridden in many (Any) Hummer limos, but I’m not expecting shag carpeting and disco balls. Also, by my napkin math, Covington is an 80s baby, so what the hell does he know about Huggelfeld J. Bearington?
Sal’s moods were often a little unpredicatble, but Riley had always written that off to his friend’s being European. – Ugh, those emotionally flighty Europeans, am I right? It’s like, what if a man behaved like a woman!
Saturday, December 20
CTD North Cental Division Headquarters
6:00 A.M. CST
Scott Ross is peeved because the King of the Mall of America has refused to shut things down solely based on “one guy’s hunch”. The CTD team couldn’t even get the governor to help out, making Jim Hicks pine for Jesse Ventura in charge. Without help from Minnesota, the CTD team is left to go through the cameras at the border crossings, hoping to spot similar Canadian rental cars that Kurshumi was picked up in. Add in a hearty dose of racial profiling, and CTD just might be able to provide a few faces the sixty-six cops and agents can be on the lookout for.
Saturday, December 20
North Central United States
7:10 A.M. CST
Abdel and Aamir have finished their morning prayers, and Abdel realizes he’ll miss the other four if everything goes according to plan. Aamir presses Abdel to see if he’s still having doubts, but Abdel is all ‘talk to the hand’ and tells his brother that he’ll be there with him. The brothers take turns, placing bomb vests on each other, threading the detonator under heavy flannel shirts, and taping the wires to their arms. Abdel finally realizes that the children he’s attacking aren’t innocents since they will more than likely grow up to become infidels.
CTD North Central Division Headquarters
After extensive searching (Thank you, Patriot Act!), Ross and Tara Walsh have finally found some faces. They’ve found border crossing hits on Kurshumi, Iskandar Bogra (Isn’t that the pianist/comedian?) from Pakistan, and the al-Hasani brothers, Abdel and Aamir, from Saudi Arabia. The al-Hasanis in particular are notable since they were discovered at a training camp in Pakistan. Both Aamir and Bogra have been seen on camera four hours apart at the Hawthorne Avenue bus station in Minneapolis, which was one of the drop sites Kurshumi was supposed to collect a package from.
Hicks makes the call to his team to get ready at the Mall of America, and Ross begs to be allowed on the squad. Hicks is skeptical, since all he knows about Scott is that he’s a chubby intel guy, and chubby intel guys tend to get themselves and others killed on missions like this. Ross points out that despite his extra weight, he’s got a military background and has spent some time IN THE SH*T, man! Hicks is still reluctant, but agrees to letting Ross on the team under some sort of weird “You found ’em, you get to potentially kill ’em” rules.
Saturday, December 20
Mall of America
3:20 P.M. CST
Abdel and Aamir are waiting in their car, a rented Dodge Stratus (No, really, THEY DROVE A DODGE STRATUS!) Abdel cuts the tape on Aamir’s detonator, and Aamir does the same for Abdel. They arm each other’s vests, and Aamir goes over the plan once more: The brothers will separate at the escalators, with Abdel posting up outside the movie theater and Aamir getting in line for the roller coaster. At 3:30, Aamir will detonate, thirty seconds later a martyr on the second floor will follow, then Abdel thirty seconds after that, and the last man thirty seconds later, near the entrance to the east parking garage.
Scott Ross is hanging around next to the Healthy Express, having downed three mango smoothies in the five hours he’s been at the mall, and he’s got to take a piss. Unfortunately, he knows that he’ll be a laughing stock and kicked off the team if he asks Hicks for a bathroom break. Ross could have just as easily taken up a spot next to the Freshens Yogurt at the north entrance, since he figured the east and west entrances, with their covered parking garages, would limit the availability to bundle up and hide the bomb vests, but five hours of frozen yogurt would have meant an entirely different kind of problem.
Abdel is nearly at the entrance to the mall when a ruckus distracts him. An old lady has fallen, and needs help getting up. Aamir guides his brother past the scene and into the mall itself. Abdel quickly scans the area, trying to determine if anyone is looking for him, but discounts the people he sees, and continues on his way.
Scott’s getting back into his AFSOC rhythm, when he notices Abdel al-Hasani walk through the door, unwrapping a scarf. He quickly brings his smoothie cup to his mouth and speaks into his wrist-radio, alerting Jim Hicks, who’s posted inside the American Eagle Outfitters. Hicks calls for essential communications only and orders Four and Six Teams to be ready for take downs, while he and Ross follow in behind Aamir and Abdel.
Abdel’s grip on the detonator tightens as his hand gets sweatier and the cylinder feels heavier and heavier. As the brothers near the escalators, Abdel notices a guy in a trench coat leaving the juice bar, and he gets a moment of panic before dismissing the notion that anybody knows what him and Aamir are planning.
Hicks walks out of the store and gets behind the taller of the two brothers, presumably Aamir. He notices they both have their hands shoved deep inside coat pockets, no doubt tightly gripping detonators. Jim wonders how to get their hands off the triggers without the bombs going off when he notices the group is headed for the escalators. That’ll make the snipers’ jobs that much harder, so Jim and Scott will have to figure out something fast.
Aamir gives Abdel’s arm a brief squeeze before veering away from the escalators. However, as he chances a glance back at his brother, Aamir notices the man in the trench coat from the juice place not far behind Abdel. What’s worse, Aamir can tell that the trench coat guy recognizes his and Abdel’s faces. Aamir rips open his jacket, ready to advance the plan considerably.
Jim sees Aamir notice Scott and reveal the detonator. Realizing there’s no other choice, Hicks gives the order to a sniper to take a shot. The shooter fires and a split second later, Aamir al-Hasani is missing a head.
As Scott rides the escalator to the second floor, he notices the commotion, but the general noise of the mall means Abdel couldn’t hear Aamir’s truncated cry of “ALLAHU AKBAR!” Unfortunately, general mall noise does nothing for a rifle shot and the subsequent screams of terrified patrons. Ross quickly pulls the knife from the sheath on his back and jams it into Abdel’s armpit before al-Hasani can make his move. Scott then sweeps the leg, pulls Abdel’s hand out of his pocket, and then pins Abdel’s hand to a bench with his blade, the detonator falling uselessly to the ground.
Hicks snatches up Aamir’s detonator and shouts for a complete lock down of the mall. He notices Scott’s got a handgun pressed against Abdel’s head, so the “rookie” seems to have acquitted himself rather nicely. Jim pulls out his badge just to make sure nobody tries to vigilante him, when an explosion shatters glass and nearly knocks him over. He looks up again at Ross, but the blast wasn’t that close. He quickly runs towards the explosion, with Ross following after. They head to the north entrance, devoid of all glass as cars smolder and burn in the parking lot.
Hicks finally gets to the impact spot and asks a CTD agent what happened. After lock down was called, several police officers exited the mall, startling a guy. He ran away, two officers gave chase, and when they finally caught up to him, he detonated his vest (He, more than likely, being Bogra). Jim tells Scott to get the bomb squad to remove Abdel’s vest and then prep him for interrogation. He doesn’t like it, but Hicks will use any means necessary to get Abdel to talk.
Key Lines: “I spent six years with AFSOC, two of them hunting hajjis in Afghanistan.” – Seriously, you’re going to drop a h-bomb like that? That’s a line out of bad airport fiction. OH WAIT.
But as he scanned the surrounding areas, all he saw were a few teenage girls talking on their cell phones, a scruffy-looking guy in a trench coat hanging out at the juice bar, a family diving up their cash, and singles and couples passing by, carrying bags of expensive, worthless junk out to their cars.
– I would have thought wearing a trench coat to look inconspicuous would in fact be too conspicuous, and thus, a terrible idea for a spy mission. Also, the juice bar? Is this Angel Grove?
Saturday, December 20
Denver International Airport
“Snap” Gorkowski is a scorned man. One of the rookies has failed in his chickenly duties, and has not rendered unto Gorkowski that which is Gorkowski’s. Namely, a bucket of Popeye’s, mashed taters n gravy, and some biscuits. You’d think that since it’s only a two hour flight from Denver to San Francisco, a healthy, adult human being could go more than 120 minutes without food, but Gorkowski is less of a a man and more of a ravenous, insatiable black hole of hunger. Also, Coach Burton hates the entire city of Oakland and refuses to set foot in the city until game day, so that explains the flight to Frisco.
Riley is trying to ignore Snap’s lamentations by letting the soothing sounds of A Decade of Steely Dan soothe him to sleep, but the captain has asked to see him in the cockpit. As Covington makes his way toward the front of the plane, he bumps into Ricci, who’s looking very stressed out and upset, which Sal chalks up to his hatred of flying. Riley offers up some Yo-Yo Ma cello suites to calm Ricci’s frazzled Italian nerves, and he continues on to the pilot.
The captain, Mike Flores, is also an Air Force graduate, and a big fan of Covington’s. He offers Riley the chance to sit in the jump seat for the flight, an opportunity Riley quickly accepts. He has to take a quick position test for coach Texeira, but other than that, is primed to hang out with the flight crew. First, though, Riley does the pre-flight announcements, getting some digs in at Gorkowski for being a giant lummox, and then ‘accidentally’ leaves the mic on while asking the pilot which pedal is the gas and which is the clutch, which is somehow the height of comedy.
Riley breezes through his position test, since he’s not only supremely physically gifted in terms of speed and strength, but is also incredibly smart, often out-smarting the coaches. He finishes up the test and makes his way to the cockpit as the plane is passing over the Rocky Mountains. Riley gets back on the microphone to antagonize his teammates as the plane goes through several pockets of turbulence. He pulls the ‘accidentally left the mic on’ trick again as he asks Captain Flores if the 12,000 feet elevation refers to from sea level or mountain level, then hits the WARNING – TERRAIN – PULL UP button, because apparently Riley thinks it’s funny to make his good friend, Sal, who is uncomfortable flying, have a heart attack.
With his jokes all done, Riley remains in the jump seat for the rest of the flight. As the plane begins to descend, the pilots get a print out message announcing the terror attack at the Mall of America, and the notice that all fights are to proceed as scheduled. Knowing that the crew will have a lot to take care of, Riley exits the cockpit and heads back to his seat. He gets some flack form Gorkowski and a few other players, but he’s mostly met with cheers for his antics. The plane lands without incident at 3:16 P.M. PST, and everyone files onto several chartered buses. It’s not until then that PR director Robert Taylor discovers the attack and announces it to the group.
Ricci is particularly concerned since his wife has friends in Minneapolis and wants to know more information, but Taylor isn’t getting much from his Blackberry. The buses reach the Hyatt to a screaming collection of fans, autograph seekers and sellers. Riley ignores the guys looking to make a quick buck and gets his room key.
At 6:00 P.M PST, the team meets up in the ballroom for a catered dinner, and both Travis Marshall and Garrett Widnall ask Riley’s perspective on the attack. After dinner, the team splits off for position meetings, and also a special teams meeting. And as we all know, special teams has two jobs: don’t screw up and be f*cking awesomely sexy (I knew Elam couldn’t help himself). After all the meetings is coach Burton’s final pep talk before lights out. An important division game with the Mustangs most hated rival awaits tomorrow.
Key Lines: Bones was Ted Bonham, the head of the medical team. – Nice Star Trek reference, NERD.
“Today we are expecting moderate to severe turbulence on takeoff. Gorkowski, this means Mr. Plane go bump-bump.” – THIS IS BAD COMEDY