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An Encounter in Atlanta by Ed Howdershelt

Copyright (C) 2003 by Ed Howdershelt

AN ENCOUNTER IN ATLANTA A Mandi Steele Novel Copyright (C) 2003 by Ed Howdershelt ISBN 1-932693-04-1

Prologue:

Ahmed Musaffi combined three prayers on Friday afternoon; one for his family, one for himself, and one for success in his holy mission. He then got into the yellow Crown Victoria that had been provided for the occasion and drove the few miles from Cascade Heights into downtown Atlanta through a drizzling rain. The Crown Vic had been 'heavily customized' -- a choice of words that had been a source of great amusement among those who had labored for a week to pack the trunk and every concealable cubic inch of the car with plastic explosive. Every little bump in the road bottomed-out the shocks and springs, and despite what he'd been told about his load being detonated only by radio, Ahmed flinched hard at every jolt and swore viciously at the other cars around him. A red, hard plastic suitcase shifted slightly on the seat next to him. Ahmed reached to push it back in place and briefly cursed the fool who'd perched it there, although no wires showed and there was no chance the case would fall. At a red light one block from his goal, Ahmed wiped his face on his sleeves and repeated part of his last prayer -- the part for himself -- one more time as he twisted his grip on the steering wheel. Clusters of people hurried across the street, some in various costumes he recognized. Spiderman led Wonder Woman at a laughing dash to the shelter of an awning, where they were joined by Lara Croft, a tall, furry creature, and a couple of white-armored stormtroopers. Ridiculous fantasies of the unfaithful, thought Ahmed. There was only one true book under heaven and no man had ever been so foolish as to try to make a movie of it. Ahmed's little group had been instructed to strike on the second day of the science fiction convention. No reasons had been given for choosing this particular event as a target and -- as far as Ahmed was concerned -- none were required. Their leader had spoken, and his words were the words of Allah in matters of their holy cause. When the light turned green, Ahmed's jangling nerves caused him to goose the gas pedal. The back tires spun uselessly on the wet pavement until he rather shakily let up on the gas a bit. Continuing up the street, he turned left into the covered driveway of the Rivage Hotel's reception area and joined a line of cars waiting their turns to load or offload passengers and luggage at the big glass doors at the top of the driveway. Ahmed's was the fifth car in line when a family of five came through those doors and walked past him, evidently on their way to some part of the science fiction convention. The three children all wore costumes; the two boys were waving their hollow plastic lightsabers at each other and the blonde girl -- perhaps as old as twelve -- was wearing a Batgirl costume and slinging her cape dramatically as she walked. A pang of pity lanced through Ahmed, but then he remembered his teachings, hardened his heart, and severely chastised himself for his momentary weakness. They were just infidels. Untaught, unholy, and therefore unfit to live. He moved forward another carlength, and again watched the family in his rearview mirror as they stood waiting to cross the street. The blonde girl grinningly faced into the gusting wind to make her cape billow behind her. Too bad, Ahmed thought appraisingly. The girl might possibly have been found worthy of conversion to Islam. Or not, he appended, remembering the dancers at the strip club the night before. After all, even infidel females


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