Weezy was attacked on a Saturday night.
“Jack,” his mother called from down the hall. “Weezy’s on the phone.”
Jack poked his head out from under the covers, forced his eyes open, and checked the clock on the table next to his bed. He saw 8:13 in glowing red numbers. He squinted at his window. A cloudy morning sky peeked around the edge of the drawn shade.
“I’ll call her back.”
“She says it’s important.”
What could be important at eight thirteen on a Sunday morning?
Groaning, he slid out of bed, pulled on his jeans, and padded barefoot down the hall past his brother’s and sister’s empty bedrooms. Tom was finishing law school in Jersey City and Kate had started med school in Stratford. He veered right, into the kitchen where his mother was cracking eggs, and picked up the receiver lying on the counter.
“Jack, I need to talk to you. Real bad.”
“Well, hello, stranger.”
Except for brief conversations at the school bus stop, they hadn’t seen too much of each other lately.
“I’m serious, Jack. I really need to talk.”
Something in her voice … he couldn’t put his finger on it, but he sensed she was upset. She didn’t get along too well with her folks, especially her dad. Weezy was a little too strange for him. Maybe a lot too strange.
Not too strange for Jack. She was just … Weezy.
Maybe they’d had a blowup.
“Okay. Want to come over for breakfast?”
“No. I don’t want anyone else listening in. Meet me on the bridge and we’ll bike into the Barrens where no one can hear us.”
Weezy … always mysterious. Well, he had some time before he was due for work at USED.
“Sure. Let me get something to eat and I’ll meet you there in half an hour.”
“I’m hungry, Weez. I’ll try for twenty.”
He smiled as he hung up. Now what? Never a dull moment with Weezy Connell. And Jack wouldn’t have it any other way.
He heard voices coming from the living room—first a man’s, then a woman’s. Radio? TV? His folks never played either on Sunday morning. This was newspaper time. If they played anything, it was one of Mom’s Broadway soundtracks. He went to check and found his father seated before the TV, leaning forward, eyes glued to the screen.
And on that screen—a pile of burning, smoking rubble with fire trucks and ambulances milling around. A caption said Beirut, Lebanon. The little CNN logo sat in the lower right corner.
Dad looked up, his expression grim. “See that pile of concrete? That was a four-story marine barrack until some crazy Arabs blew it up.”
Jack stared at the rubble. Four stories? It was barely one now.
“An air raid?”
“No. Word coming out is some nutcase drove a truckload of explosives through the front door and blew it up.”
Jack blinked. “With himself still in it?”
“Yeah. What they’re calling a ‘suicide bombing.’ Same thing happened to a French barracks a few miles away. They think the dead count is going to reach three hundred.”
Jack was aghast.
“Are they crazy? I mean, blowing themselves up?”
“Well, the kamikaze pilots during World War Two went on suicide missions, but that was in battle, during a war. These kids were all part of a peacekeeping force.”
“But … why?” He couldn’t fathom anyone doing this.
“Who knows? Some reporter said it was like Pearl Harbor—a sneak attack at dawn on a Sunday morning. But the Japs had the decency to declare war first. And they had a country and an army and a navy we could strike back at. Some group called Islamic Jihad is taking credit for this. Who the hell are they? No one seems to know a thing about them, except they also claimed credit for that U.S. Embassy bomb back in April.”
Jack had heard about that but had been only peripherally aware of it. This seemed different, and was so much worse. He could tell from his father’s expression and tone that he was steamed.
He remembered the Iran hostage crisis of a few years ago, now these suicide bombings. What was going on in the Middle East? Had they all gone insane?
Mom coaxed Dad away from the tube with a promise of sausage and eggs. An almost funereal breakfast followed, the silence broken only by Mom’s futile attempts at conversation and Dad’s muttered remarks about the “inexcusable lack of security” at the barracks.
Jack couldn’t remember ever seeing his father like this. He was a Korean War vet who never had anything good to say about the army. He’d always made it very clear that he didn’t want either of his sons anywhere near the armed services. But he seemed deeply shaken by the deaths of so many U.S. soldiers. Maybe he made a distinction between servicemen and the armed services. Maybe some automatic brotherhood sprouted between guys who had been to war. Like at the local VFW post.
After breakfast he went right back to the TV, and Jack headed for his bike.
Copyright © 2011 by F. Paul Wilson