by Gary Earl Ross
Adila Farhani sat in the gray interrogation room, hands folded on the steel-topped table, eyes fixed on the large mirror on the side wall. She had seen enough police procedurals on television to know that someone was on the other side of the glass, watching her. Rather than look away or close her eyes, she made a minor adjustment to her pale blue hijab, to ease the pressure on her neck. Sitting up straight enough to see her own unwrinkled olive-skinned face in the mirror, she was determined that the police see how unafraid she was.
The metal door opened and a tall man stepped inside—fiftyish, balding, clean-shaven, tired green eyes, white skin. He took the chair across from hers, placed his large hands on the table, and sat back as if studying her. After a moment, he leaned forward.
“Ms. Farhani, I’m Detective Mills. I’d like to ask you a few questions, to clear up a few things about what happened on the bus.”
There was a natural coarseness to his voice that made her stomach clench but she answered quickly, “Yes, of course.”
“One of the men you shot said you screamed, ‘Allah Akbar!’ when you pulled the trigger. Is that true?”
“No, sir.” She hesitated a moment, wondering whether she should correct him, then decided she must. “The phrase is Allahu Akbar—God is greatest—but I didn’t say that either. What does the other man say?”
Mills sighed. “Not much, I’m afraid. He’s dead.” He stared at her.
For the first time since she had been taken to the police station, Adila closed her eyes and kept them closed long enough to whisper a prayer. When she opened them again, she felt they were moist but made no effort to wipe them. She swallowed. “What do the other people on the bus say?”
“The driver didn’t know what was happening, but he said you were a regular rider he always picked up near the hospital.”
“I work there, as a pharmacist.”
He nodded. “A couple people in the front of the bus say you just started shooting so they got down on the floor because they thought you were a terrorist who wanted to kill everyone.”
“Because of my hijab.” It wasn’t a question but a statement weighted with weariness.
“And what do the people close to me in the back of the bus say?”
“No one heard Allahu Akbar. The elderly man who gave you his seat and the four women we’ve talked to all say the same thing.” He took out a pocket notebook and flipped it open. “Two young white males got on the bus and pushed their way toward the back. When they got to where you were sitting, they started harassing you. They called you raghead and ISIS bitch and said you didn’t belong in this country and should go back where you came from. One of them grabbed your…hijab and threatened to hang you with it. Is that how you remember it?”
“So you pulled your 9mm Ruger LCP from your purse and shot them both.”
“He was twisting my hijab around my throat and I couldn’t breathe. You must understand, I was afraid for my life…”
“I do.” He smiled, kindly. “I expect where you come from, violence is a way of life.”
“Nashville?” She shrugged. “I was born here but I don’t think it’s more violent than your average American city.” Then she smiled, for the first time since she’d boarded the bus that afternoon. “Now where my parents were born… Well, that’s another story but I won’t tell you what country because America is their country now and you’ve never seen a bigger Titans fan than my father.”
“One final question,” Mills said. “Why hollow points? You know they expand to cause maximum tissue damage.”
“I took a pistol class before I was issued my concealed carry permit,” Adila said. “I learned hollow points are less likely to pass through the body and injure someone else. The nice old man who gave me his seat was right behind the guy trying to choke me, and the second guy pushed the old man aside and kept him from helping me.” She bit her lip and looked into the detective’s tired eyes and wondered if he could see how tired she was. “In Arabic my name—Adila—means justice. How is it justice if an innocent person is hurt for someone else’s wrongdoing?”
Just then there was a knock at the door—a signal to let Mills know someone else was coming in. An older man stepped into the room, well-dressed, white hair slicked back.
“Mills, the feds are here, the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They want to take over the investigation.”
Mills stood. “Have you been watching, sir?”
“Then you know the terrorist is dead. This young lady shot him.”
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Gary Earl Ross
Retired University at Buffalo professor and Edgar Award-winner Gary Earl Ross is a fiction writer (Wheel of Desire, Shimmerville, Blackbird Rising) and playwright (Matter of Intent, The Scavenger’s Daughter, The Guns of Christmas, The Mark of Cain). His novel Nickel City Blues, the first Buffalo-based Gideon Rimes mystery, will be published in early 2017 by Black Opal Books.