Safe From the War, chapter 2


Links to other excerpts and chapters from Safe From the War are listed below:





Nunez walked into the roll call room, just before a supervisor entered. After a few minutes Desk Sergeant Morrow finished calling out names and assignments, ending roll call amid the usual banter and playful insults being thrown back and forth among the men and women in the room. The officers headed for the equipment room to draw their car keys and radios, and Morrow said to Nunez, “Hey Jerry, meet me in the sergeant’s office a minute.”

Nunez nodded and followed him into the communal patrol supervisors’ office, just across the hallway. As soon as he walked in the door he saw a probationary officer, fresh-faced and young with a haircut that couldn’t have been more than two days old, with his perfectly pressed uniform and shiny leather gear, and Nunez immediately knew what the desk sergeant wanted.

“Wait Sarge, don’t tell me. You called me in here to notify me I’m being fired because of my crack addiction.”

“No,” Morrow said. “I’m giving you a probationary. He just finished his training and wants to finish his probationary period on night shift.”

“Damn. That’s what I thought,” Nunez said. “Why me? Why don’t you give him to someone else? Are you trying to convince him to quit or something?”

“Who else should I give him to?” Morrow asked. “The trainers all have rookies, Beal and Jensen already have rookies, Edloe is the laziest fuck on this shift, and you know I’m not about to give him to Perkins or Myer.”

Perkins and Myer were the two oldest officers on the shift, having spent their entire careers, over 30 years each, on night shift patrol in north Houston. They were aged, tired and pissed off and would never allow anyone to ride with them, except when they rode together. When they did ride together they had a funny habit of fighting each other for the radio, especially when they got into something exciting, which fortunately wasn’t very often.

1118 dispatch, we got…let go, gimme the god damn radio! We got a rolling stolen car, south on 45 approaching Gulf Bank…shut up!I know where we are! I mean, approaching Tidwell! Red Nissan pickup, license plate…leggo of the radio and just drive, dammit!

“You could give him to Calhoun,” Nunez said.

Morrow gave Nunez a look that said, Oh, come on. Tillis, seated at one of the desks, snorted derisively.

“Okay, fine, you can’t give him to Calhoun,” Nunez admitted. “He’d have a good time dodging calls with Edloe though.”

“Jerry, get out of my office,” Morrow growled. “And take the rookie with you.”

“What if he’s an idiot and does something stupid like the last couple of guys you gave me?” Nunez asked.

“Then I guess you’ll both die. See you later, Jerry.”

The probationary officer stood uncomfortably on the wall listening to the conversation about him taking place five feet away as if he wasn’t in the room. Tillis leaned back in a chair with his arms folded, getting a kick out of the exchange, getting a bigger kick out of the rookie’s discomfort.

“Fine,” Nunez said. “But I promise he won’t enjoy it. And if someone else gets available put him with them. I don’t want to get stuck babysitting some fool for the next three months.”

“This one’s pretty good, Jerry,” Morrow said. “He had good trainers and passed everything on the first try. Olson was his evaluator, and you know he doesn’t pass idiots.”

“Huh. Was he military?” Nunez asked.

Morrow looked at the rookie. “Were you military?”

“Uh, no sergeant, I wasn’t.”

“No he wasn’t,” Morrow said.

“I don’t want him then.”

“Jerry…god damn it…”

“Okayfinewhatever.” Nunez said. “What’s his name?”

“His name is. . . ask him what his damn name is, he’s right here,” Morrow said, exasperated. Nunez turned to the rookie, who looked really self-conscious at the moment.

“What’s your name?”

“Michael Woods.”

“Alright Woods, go to the equipment room and get the keys to my patrol car. Load your stuff up and meet me at the back door to the station.”

“Yessi. . . Okay, I got it.”

Woods walked out of the office, still looking a little perturbed. When the door closed, Nunez smiled at Sergeant Morrow and said, “That was fun.”

“I’m sure the rookie thought so. Don’t fuck with him too bad Jerry, he actually seems like a pretty good one.”

“I won’t fuck with him, Sarge. But seriously, if someone else is around later, it would probably be better for Woods if he rode with another officer. I’m not nearly as rambunctious as I used to be, most of the time I just want to be left alone. I know you’ve noticed it.”

“I’ve noticed, ever since you came back from Iraq,” Morrow said. “If I can take him off your hands I will, Jerry. I promise.”

“Jerry, teach him something,” Tillis said. “Lots of officers are showing rookies how to duck calls and do as little as possible. You get out there and get him into some stuff on the street. Turn him into a Mata instead of an Edloe. And keep him away from Calhoun.”

“I think you’re making the wrong choice putting him with me, but okay, I’ll make him work,” Nunez said. “Speaking of Mata, you hear from him lately?”

“I called him yesterday, he seems okay,” Tillis said. “Still a little intense when he’s talking about it, but he doesn’t sound like he’s drinking himself stupid or feeling super guilty about it, nothing like that. You might want to give him a call in the next couple of days.”

“I got his number, I’ll call him. Later Sarge. Sarges.”

“See ya, Jerry.”

Nunez walked out the back door and saw Woods sitting in the driver’s seat of the patrol car. Woods’ face looked neutral, but Nunez figured he was hoping for permission to drive.

Nunez opened the driver’s door.

“No driving. I let the last two rookies drive and both of them tried to kill me. Trade places.”

Woods got out and walked to the passenger side. After they both got into their seats, Nunez logged onto the car’s computer while the rookie sat in silence, and seeing that there were no calls holding in his beat, he turned to Woods and offered his hand.

“I was just fucking with you in there, Woods. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go asking for rookies or anything, but that in there was just an act. Jerry Nunez.”

Woods looked at Nunez, seeming unsure if he was being jacked with again, then slowly put his hand out to meet Nunez’s. Woods looked 25 or so, tall and athletic, with sandy blond hair over a thin, angular face surrounding two surprisingly brown eyes. “Uh, okay. Mike Woods.”

“Nice to meet you, Mike.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Nunez drove to his Jeep, got his carbine and patrol bag out of the back and put them in the patrol car’s trunk. Nunez carried a civilian-legal, semiautomatic M4 carbine with six thirty-round magazines. After he stowed his gear Nunez got back into the driver’s seat, stuck his binoculars behind the center console and filled out his daily activity form. He took a sideways look at Woods as he wrote. Woods didn’t look like he had relaxed a bit.

“Hey dude, chill. If you sit there all stiff and uptight like Al Gore we’re both going to have a shitty night.”

“Okay, I’ll try. Uh, Jerry, do you need me to bring any of my stuff up front?”

“Nah, unless you want to,” Nunez said. “I’ve got all my forms up here. Now, let’s go find something cool to do. What do you like to do, traffic, run calls, catch dope fiends, what?”

“Well, I liked working traffic with two of my trainers, on evenings and nights,” Woods said. “But I think that was only because they didn’t do it to write tickets, they did it to get searches on gangsters and stuff. We made some good arrests that way, but none of us cared to write too many tickets.”

“Good man,” Nunez said. “Fuck tickets, I only write them when there’s absolutely no way I can avoid it, or if it’s some turd who really needs it. Personally, I like running calls. I’ve gotten a lot of good stuff off of traffic stops, but it’s always the same. Dope, guns and warrants. With calls, you get all kinds of different stuff. You never know what you’re going to find inside someone’s house, or see what kind of weird shit they do in private.”

“Yeah, I can see how calls would be fun,” Woods said. “I haven’t had anything really interesting yet, just a bunch of boring assaults and thefts.”

“Hopefully some good calls will drop tonight. It’s Thursday, beginning of the weekend, there should be a little activity tonight.” Then Nunez pronounced, “Let’s go get a god damn soda.”

By the time they walked out of Nunez’s favorite gas station twenty minutes or so later, Woods had relaxed a little and was asking Nunez questions instead of silently waiting to be spoken to.

“So how many years do you have on, Jerry?”

“Thirteen. Sort of. If you don’t count the three years I was away in the military against me.”

“Yeah, Olson mentioned to me that you’ve left a couple of times. You went overseas?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Iraq, Afghanistan, where’d you go?” Woods asked.


“You still in?”

“No, after Afghanistan my enlistment was up and I didn’t reenlist. I only had three years until retirement, but my wife wanted me out. So that’s that.”

Woods took the hint, and changed the subject. “How long have you been at the north station?”

“My whole police life. I trained here after the academy, then got a spot on night shift in the hood. I figured I’d try to get on day shift as soon as possible, but I really got to like working nights and decided to stay on this shift instead of going to days and having to deal with the heat and traffic and all that shit. I’ve passed up a couple of day shift spots I could have gotten, and boy did that piss off my wife. She’s alright now that I have Sundays and Mondays off though.”

“Do you plan on staying in patrol until you retire?” Woods asked.

“I really don’t know. I put in for homicide a couple of years back and didn’t get picked, but that was my own fault,” Nunez said. “I didn’t go to any extra training to get ready for it. I don’t know if I’ll put in for another investigative division or not. I might be another Perkins or Myer, just be an old, pissed off asshole who doesn’t know how to do anything but be the real po-lice in the ghetto.”

“I’ve been wondering about that too, if I want to stay in patrol or not,” Woods said. “In the academy everyone talks about how they’re going to get into SWAT or helicopter division or K9 or something, but that just sounded unrealistic to me. I mean, isn’t everyone trying to get into the cool jobs? It can’t be that easy. The academy staff was always telling us to ‘advance our careers’ and stuff, basically to get off the street as soon as possible. I don’t know why they told us that, I really looked forward to working the street and think I might want to do it for a while.”

“Cool,” Nunez answered. “Stay on the street, not many officers decide they want to do that.”

Woods hesitated for a few seconds before he asked the next question. He had been curious about something, but didn’t know how to bring it up. “Uh, sorry to change the subject, but…I heard about the shooting you were in Tuesday night.”

“Yeah? What’d you hear?” Nunez asked.

“Heard it was a really bad murder, that the suspect cut his sister’s head off and an officer named Mata killed him when you guys cornered him in his room,” Woods answered.

“That was pretty much it,” Nunez said. “The suspect didn’t cut his sister’s head off, but it sure as hell looked like he tried.”

“Were you right there when Mata shot him?”

“Yup. I was standing right next to him.”

“I don’t know exactly what the situation was, but just curious, why didn’t you shoot?” Woods asked.

“Didn’t have time. I was going to cuff the suspect, so I had my weapon in my holster when he picked up the knife and charged us. Good thing Mata was ready.”

“You mind telling me how the whole thing happened?” Woods asked. “I mean, I heard bits and pieces, but not really the whole story. Unless, uh, you don’t want to talk about it or something.”

“Nah, no problem. It doesn’t bother me, nothing like that,” Nunez said.

As they patrolled in random patterns around the beat, Nunez laid out the whole story to Woods, walking him all the way from the first dispatch call to the shotgun blast that blew Mohibullah’s spine apart. Woods barely interrupted to ask questions, and Nunez discovered that he needed to talk about the shooting, still feeling a desire to get everything off his chest. He hadn’t talked to his wife about it when he got home, like he normally did after a murder or a good chase or fight, and as he spoke to Woods about it he felt the pressure being released a little.

“So what happened afterward? Did y’all ever find the parents?” Woods asked.

“Yeah, they showed up after the Homicide investigators did. It was pretty fucked up, when they showed up the mom was screaming and crying in Pashto and beating herself on the head, just freaking the fuck out. She wouldn’t talk to anyone at the scene, not even the female officer who showed up. Then again, I don’t know if she even spoke English.”

“What about the dad? Was he freaking out also?”

“No, he wasn’t,” Nunez said. “He was really calm. One of the things I saw in Afghanistan was that the Afghans tended to not react much when people got killed, I guess because they were so used to it. Except with kids. They always went nuts when kids got killed. The dad didn’t go nuts though. I’ve tried to figure that one out, maybe he considered his kids to be adults and not children.”

“How old were they?”

“The son was sixteen and daughter was eighteen. We thought they were a lot younger, they were both real little. Almost like they were malnourished or something. They had only been living here a few years, maybe they had been too poor to eat when they were in Afghanistan.”

“What did the dad do? Did he speak English, did he talk to anyone?” Woods asked.

“He spoke English,” Nunez said. “Not real well, but he did. When he showed up a couple of guys took him off to the side and brought the lead Homicide investigator to talk to him. I talked to the Homicide guy later, he said the father kept asking ‘Are you sure my son is dead? Can I make sure he’s dead?’ instead of saying he wanted to see him, or something normal like that. Maybe it was just the language barrier, but it sounded weird. And fucking Calhoun. . . the investigator said the dad asked if he could check his son’s heartbeat, and Calhoun says, loud enough for the dad to hear, ‘We already checked his heart, it’s stuck to the wall upstairs’. Fucking asshole.”

“No shit? What’d the dad do?”

“According to the investigator, he didn’t react at all,” Nunez said. “Something else that was super fucked up though, he didn’t ask about his daughter. Not one time. He kept asking if we were sure his son was dead, and when the investigator finally said, ‘Hey man, I have more bad news for you, your daughter’s dead too,’ you know what dad said?”

“No idea. What?”

“’My daughter is a whore.’ That was it,” Nunez said.

“Damn. That’s pretty fucked up.”

“Yeah, it is. The investigator was shocked. He’s one of the old guys, been in Homicide for over twenty years, and he said he’s never seen a parent react like that. And one other thing, the dad did get pretty pissed when he was told that K9 went into the house. Of all the things he could have gotten pissed about, that was it.”

“Why? What’s the issue with the dog?”

“I don’t know a whole lot about it, but when I was in Iraq I was told that very devout Muslims think dogs are unclean, almost like pigs,” Nunez explained. “Supposedly when our guys went on raids looking for IED material in people’s houses and they searched them with bomb dogs, the people would be so pissed afterward about dogs being in their houses that they would swear allegiance to the insurgency, you know, promise ‘death to the American invaders’, all that crap. Even in houses where there were no weapons or bombs, nothing was found and nobody was detained. But like I said, I never saw it personally, I just heard about it from other soldiers.”

“Damn, that’s weird,” Woods said. “I haven’t had any real dealings with Arabs, I don’t know what they’re like.”

“Well, the Iraqis are Arabs, but these guys on Hanley weren’t Arabs, they’re Pashtuns. The Afghans aren’t Arabs.”

“Is that what you said earlier?” Woods asked. “That the mom was screaming in Pashtun?”

“Pashto. The people are Pashtun, the language is Pashto.”

“Did you ever get a motive? I mean, I know the suspect and dad said the girl was a whore, but did you get anything specific?”

“No, not really,” Nunez said. “The investigator asked the father what the girl had done that was so bad, and the father just said, ‘She was a whore.’ We asked some of the neighbors if they knew anything about the girl, and the people we talked to said she was respectful and seemed real nice. One of them mentioned that she didn’t know for sure if the girl was Muslim because she had never seen her with her head covered. Maybe that was it, that she refused to cover her head.”

“Just that? That’s enough to make her a whore?”

“In that culture, maybe so,” Nunez said. “I almost want to see what else the investigators found out, maybe she was screwing somebody at her high school or something. Hell, she could have just kissed some boy, or maybe one just called her at home. That might be enough. Normal teenage stuff over here would make her a screaming whore over there.”

“And they have to kill her if she’s a whore?” Woods asked.

“They have to kill her if she’s a whore,” Nunez answered. “She shames the family, she’s dead. They might have picked someone for her to marry and she refused, that would be a major humiliation for them.”

“Jerry, would you mind going back to the apartment complex on Hanley?” Woods asked. “I’d just like to see the place where the shooting happened. You know, to try to get a better picture in my mind of what the situation was actually like.”

Nunez looked at Woods and took another drink. “Yeah, I guess that’s okay. Just curious though, why are you so interested?”

“I think it’s cause. . . I’ve never been in any situation like that. I was never in the military, I never even really shot much until I went to the academy. This whole ‘tactical mindset’ thing is all new to me. Since I started the academy I’ve been wargaming situations, trying to figure out what I should do if such and such happens. None of the trainers I had were ever in a shooting, they couldn’t tell me what it was like. I’d just like to get a better look, to figure out what I would have done.”

“Well, we can’t get inside where the shooting actually happened, but no problem,” Nunez said.

“I know,” Woods said. “I’m curious about how you approached the door when you first got there, where you set up the perimeter, all that stuff.”

“Yeah, I understand that. Most rookies have their head completely up their ass when it comes to tactics, it’s good that you’re thinking about it that much.”

Nunez drove them north toward 1803 Hanley, running license plates and hoping to find a stolen car as they slowly made their way to the complex. “You know, I know my beat pretty well. But I had never seen this place, never heard anything about it. Turned out that the old church across the street from the complex owns it, and it’s only for refugees from other countries. There are families living there from Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Central America, a couple other places. I thought the little gangster kid that turned out to be our most important witness was from Mexico but it turned out he was from El Salvador. The families only pay what they can afford, and they’re required to help with all the upkeep for the complex. It’s a pretty cool little community they have there, really. The neighbors we talked to said that the only thing that had ever happened there were vehicle burglaries. A murder was completely out of character for that place.”

After a few minutes of conversation, they arrived at the murder scene. It was just as dark as it had been the night of the murder, and Nunez wondered if it looked as sinister in the daylight.

“We’re here,” Nunez said. “It’s the first apartment on the left, in front of us.”

Woods took a look around, taking in the sight of the darkened apartment complex. There were no lamps in the parking lot and no porch lights on. The only illumination in the complex came from the patrol car’s headlights, which were pointed to the side of apartment A. Woods pictured how he would approach this complex on a disturbance call, or on a shooting call, or maybe a man with a gun call.

“Mind if I get out?” Woods asked. “I’d like to just walk around a little.”

“No problem, go ahead.”

“K. You want me to just walk around by myself, are you going to wait at the car or. . . ?”

“I’m going to hang out here for a minute and look up a report, just let me know if you have any questions about anything. I’ll be out there in a little bit,” Nunez said.

“Okay, cool,” Woods said and then walked into the parking lot. Nunez surprised him by turning the car’s headlights off, making it almost impossible to see anything. He took a look at apartment A, then walked toward apartment F, trying to figure out where he would approach the door from if he knew there was an armed suspect inside A.

From the darkness, an accented voice said, “Good evening, officer.”

Woods jumped. He peered into the blank spaces in front of the apartment doors, wishing his eyes would adjust to the darkness faster. Then he saw the burning end of a cigarette swing upward, stop and increase in brightness before swinging back down. The cigarette was just outside the door to apartment D. Curious, Woods walked toward the cigarette.

As he arrived at the door to the apartment he turned on his flashlight, keeping the beam pointed at the ground. He saw a tall, thin, distinguished-looking man in his 50’s wearing what he thought were Arab clothes and a small, flat circular hat. The man wore squarish glasses and had a completely white and very neatly trimmed beard. He sat with his legs crossed in a plastic lawn chair located on the left side of the door, letting his left hand with its cigarette hang out of view behind the chair.

“Is everything well tonight, officer? I have been sitting outside for almost an hour and have seen nothing unusual.”

“Yes sir, everything is fine, just taking a look around.”

“I see, very good. I am glad to see a police presence here. Our little apartment complex used to be such a calm and quiet place, but I suppose all things change with time. Tell me officer, were you here two nights ago, the night of the murder?”

“No sir, I wasn’t,” Woods said. “I heard about it though. Did you know the girl?”

The man got up from his chair and reached inside the doorway to turn on the porch light. “Yes, I knew her well. Her name was Fahima, she was a nice, proper young girl. Very intelligent, a good student, polite and respectful. It was a terrible tragedy, what was done to her.”

“Yes, I agree. Did you know her brother also?” Woods asked.

“Yes, I knew him,” he said, not offering any additional information. Woods thought that probably meant he hadn’t liked the boy much.

“Sir, where are you from? Saudi Arabia?”

“No, I am from Afghanistan,” the man said. “From Kabul. Do you know it?”

“No, sorry, don’t know anything about Afghanistan,” Woods answered.

“That’s unfortunate, officer. I think if you knew Afghanistan, if you knew my people, you might better understand what happened to Fahima. I think it is likely that the police do not have a very good understanding of why such a thing was done.”

Woods’ eyes raised as an idea popped into his head. “Sir, can you wait here a minute? I need to talk to my partner. Just a minute, please.”

Smiling, the man said, “Of course, officer, I will be right here. I have nowhere to go at this time of night.”

Woods hurried back to the patrol car, finding Nunez sitting in the driver’s seat with his binoculars in his lap.
“Hey Jerry, that guy-”

Nunez cut him off. “Stop. You better not have told him I’m an Afghanistan vet.”

“No, I didn’t tell him you were in Afghanistan. He’s from Afghanistan though, and-”

“Gosh!” Nunez said sarcastically. “No shit? Really? He’s from Afghanistan? Is that why he’s wearing Afghan clothes and a fucking Afghan hat? Gee, I thought maybe he was from Cleveland or something.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s why he’s wearing Afghan clothes,” Woods said, not understanding Nunez’s sudden change in demeanor. “Listen, he just mentioned something about the murder, he said it’s too bad I didn’t know Afghanistan, that I might better understand why that girl was murdered, something like that. He said he didn’t think the police understand it real well. I thought, maybe, you know, since you were there and all. . . ”

“Me being there doesn’t mean shit. Nothing he can tell me is going to make me say, ‘Now I understand why that little girl got murdered! Shoot, that makes so much sense, go ahead and kill another one!’”

“That’s not what I mean, Jerry,” Woods said. “I mean, I don’t think that’s what he meant.” Pissed off, he said, “Look, you’re the one who said you had all these things about the murder that you didn’t know, or didn’t understand. Maybe this guy can explain it to you. Quit being such a dick and just talk to the guy.” Inside, Woods asked, Why is this guy being such an asshole all of a sudden?

“A dick? Why it gotta be about dicks? I was gonna go talk to him, but now you hurt my feelings.” Nunez picked up his soda and sucked the last bit of Dr. Pepper from the cup. “Fine, I’ll talk to him. But don’t say shit about me being in Afghanistan. Nothing at all, got it? If you tell him, he’s going to want us to go inside and drink tea and eat cookies and we’ll have to sit there and listen to all the bullshit about why this guy’s people or tribe or whatever are the only real Afghans and why they should be in control of the government and how wonderful and powerful and honest they all are. And I don’t want to fucking hear it again. So don’t give any information away, we’re just talking about the murder.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Woods answered. “I got it. Can we go? He’s waiting for us.”

“Hold on, we’ll get there when we get there. Why do you care so fucking much about it anyway?” Nunez asked.

Woods hesitated for a few seconds. “Because I want to know why this girl’s brother stabbed her guts out and tried to cut her head off. I can’t understand why someone would do that, and I want to get an answer. I haven’t been on the street for years, I haven’t worked a million murders, I haven’t been to war and seen guys get killed left and right. This is the first murder I’ve been anywhere close to, and I want to know more about it.”

Nunez’s face tensed. “Who the fuck are you to say anything about my friends getting killed left and right around me in the war?”

Woods looked back at Nunez, not sure what to say. Nunez glared angrily at Woods for a few seconds before saying with a sneer, “Fine, Kojak. Whatever.” Nunez got out and followed Woods to apartment D, warning him one last time, “I swear, you better not tell him shit.” The Afghan man was standing outside his door waiting, and as the two officers approached the door he extended his hand to Nunez.

“Good evening, officer. My name is Yussuf. I am very happy to meet you.”

In as bland a voice as he could muster, Nunez replied, “Yeah, good to meet you too, Yussuf. I’m Officer Nunez.” Nunez shook hands with Yussuf and Yussuf reached up to pat his heart, something all Afghans did when they shook hands with each other. Without thinking, Nunez patted his heart, a reflex he had learned from shaking hundreds of Afghan hands during his deployment. As soon as he patted his heart he saw Yussuf’s eyes light up, realized what he had just done and thought, Awww, fuck.

“Officer Nunez! You are familiar with the customs of my people?”

“Uh…yes. . . maybe just a little familiar with them.”

“Officer Nunez, if you did not have a Spanish last name I would think you are Afghan,” the man said, smiling. “You could easily be an Afghan.”

Nunez had been told that by Afghan soldiers several times during his deployment. He replied, “Yes, I have been told I look Afghan before.” Fuck! “I mean. . . Hispanics are often confused with Arabs, or Pashtuns sometimes.” Nunez was suddenly conscious that he had automatically reverted to the slow, clear tone and language he used when speaking to Iraqi or Afghan English speakers.

“Ah, you know of the Pashtuns?” the man asked, smiling as if he knew a secret.

God damn it! “Well, I’ve heard of the Pashtuns, you know, on the news and stuff,” Nunez said.

“Please, Officer Nunez. I think you know a little more about us than you have seen on the television.”

Nunez looked at Woods, who was looking back with an expression that said, Hey man, this is your fault, not mine. “Well, what the hell,” Nunez said. “I guess you caught me. Yes Yussuf, I know a little more than what I have seen on television. I was in Afghanistan, last year.”

“Last year! It has been many years since I was back in my home, you are so lucky to have been there so recently!” Yussuf glowed as he spoke, shaking his palms together in excitement. “What did you do there, where were you? Were you in my home? In Kabul?”

“I was there as a soldier, in Kapisa province, in the northeast near Bagram.”

“Ah, Kapisa province, I have been there a few times. Many Tajiks in the northern part of Kapisa, my people are in the southern half. And there are many Pasha’i and Kuchi there, I believe. Did you meet any of the Pasha’i? They are very interesting people, with a language almost nobody else in Afghanistan can speak. Like the Nuristanis.”

“I met many Kuchis, and I think I fought some Pasha’i Taliban once or twice.”

“Pasha’i Taliban? That is very strange, the area must have changed since I was last there. But it has been many years since I was there, of course it has changed.” Yussuf stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I am sorry, I am not being very hospitable. Come inside, my wife will prepare some tea for you.” Nunez raised an eyebrow at Woods at the mention of the word tea, telepathically saying to him, See? I told you so as the man said, “Please, my home is your home.”

Inside the apartment Yussuf directed Nunez and Woods to sit on a couch and then walked into another room, speaking in an unintelligible language to his wife. Leaning toward Woods on the couch, Nunez whispered, “If his wife comes out, don’t talk to her or offer to shake her hand unless she does it first or he tells you to.”

Yussuf walked back into the room, and a small woman in what looked like a house dress with her head covered in a shawl quickly walked across the room and disappeared into the kitchen.

“It is so good to have guests, Officer Nunez, Officer Woods. I am very happy to have you here. In Kabul we had guests three or four times per week, it is the need of Afghan people to visit often with their friends and family. I have very much missed that since we left our home.”

“We may not be able to stay very long, Yussuf, we are on duty and may get a call,” Nunez said.

“Yes of course, of course,” Yussuf said. “I am happy to have you visit, even if only for five minutes.”

Woods asked, “Yussuf, was that Pashto that you were just speaking? I know it’s a dumb question, but I’ve never heard it before.”

“It is not a stupid question, Officer Woods. Of course I speak Pashto, but I speak Dari in my home. Dari is a form of Farsi, the Iranian language. In Afghanistan it is usually Tajiks who speak Dari, but Dari is also the language of Kabul. It was my first language.”

Yussuf’s apartment was very clean, like Mohibullah’s had been, but wasn’t so sparse and had much more of a warm, comfortable feel to it. Woods had relaxed almost immediately when they sat down inside, but Nunez sat tensed and uncomfortable. Yussuf’s wife walked back out of the kitchen and placed a small tray with cookies on the coffee table, then walked quickly back into the kitchen. She reminded Nunez of all the times in Afghanistan when villagers invited them into their compounds or brought tea and food out to them, except that it was always men serving the food, never women. Nunez had never really felt comfortable in Afghan homes during his tour, and he felt nearly as edgy and nervous now as he had then. While he had never really harbored any hatred for the Afghan people, and truly liked some of them, he was discovering that he wasn’t real happy with the idea of having them living in Houston, in his beat, near his home.

“So Officer Nunez, you have been to Kabul? You have seen how beautiful my city is?” Yussuf asked.

I heard Kabul was a complete shithole. “No, I never had the chance. I would have liked to have seen the city, I know it is very historic.”

Yussuf rocked slightly in his chair, obviously enjoying a chance to talk about his homeland. “Oh it is, it is. Possibly not as historic as Kandahar, but it has had a very important place in history.” Yussuf stroked his beard and leaned forward, becoming serious. “Tell me Officer Nunez, were you here two nights ago, when the girl was murdered? I am sorry to change the subject so abruptly, but I am very curious to know what you saw if you were here.”

“Yes, I was here,” Nunez said. “I was the first officer to arrive.”

“And you saw the girl, Fahima?”

“Yes I did.”

“Ah, that must have been very terrible for you to see her,” Yussuf said. “I was told how badly she had been, eh, mutilated. Yes, mutilated. And her brother Mohibullah? Were you there when he was killed?”

“Yes Yussuf, I was there. I was in the room when he was shot.” Despite Yussuf’s friendly demeanor, Nunez half expected him to suddenly explode with some bullshit about the unnecessary killing of a poor, misguided young immigrant who had only attempted to decapitate his sister because of an unfortunate cultural misunderstanding.

“Tell me, Officer Nunez. Did Mohibullah say anything before he was shot?” Yussuf asked. “I know he was shot as he attacked police officers with a knife. Did he say anything as he attacked?”

Nunez was surprised at the question. Mohibullah’s last words had already been released to the local media. Nunez figured it wouldn’t hurt anything to reveal the answer to Yussuf.

“Yes, he did,” Nunez said. “When he attacked us he yelled Allahu akbar.”

Yussuf clasped his hands together, keeping his index fingers extended, touching his lips with them. “Yes, I had been told that, but I did not know if it was true. Tell me, Officer Nunez, do you know what that means?”

“Yes, I know what it means.”

Woods leaned forward. “I don’t know what it means. I’ve heard guys yelling it on TV, when they’re showing news about the middle east and stuff, but I don’t know Pashto. What does it mean?”

“Officer Woods, it is not Pashto, it is Arabic,” Yussuf explained. “Arabic has never been the primary language of any of the people in Afghanistan, but the Muslim faith has spread much of the language of Mohammed, peace be upon him, throughout all the Muslim lands. Allahu akbar means ‘god is great.’ I find it very strange that a young boy would say such a thing at his death. That may be normal behavior for older men who are facing death as part of their wish to become martyrs, but not for young boys such as Mohibullah who have simply committed a crime.”

“Wish to become martyrs? Can you explain what that means?” Woods asked.

“Officer Woods, you know very well that there is a strain of Islam that breeds men who wish to do nothing more than die, supposedly in defense of Islam. The men who attacked your country on 11 September, for example. When they carry out their attacks, at the moment before they die, they call out that god is great, to demonstrate their faith in the face of death.”

Nunez added, “Woods, if you’re ever in a mall or someplace and you hear someone yell ‘Allahu akbar’, you better duck. Or start shooting.”

Yussuf looked a little offended, but continued in the same even, friendly tone. “Of course, there are valid reasons to pronounce your faith to Allah with this phrase, not for the purposes of conducting immoral attacks on innocent people. Such behavior was not part of Afghan culture when I was your age, Officer Nunez. Nothing like what you saw two nights ago. Kabul in the 1970’s was a beautiful city, very western and free, covered in beautiful gardens. You know, women often walked the city by themselves, in western clothes, with no hijab, no head scarves? Kabul was much like Beirut at the time, a cross between east and west. The Soviet invasion began the changes that have produced the Kabul of today. I still see the beauty of the city, but only because of the beauty of my memories. I believe you would see only the danger and the poverty if you were to visit my home. I could not expect you to see anything else. You did not have a happy, wonderful childhood there as I did, you did not sit on the terraces with your mother and see the kites flying over the city and hear music playing at the outdoor restaurants.”

Seeing the beginning of a long, Afghan-style monologue, Nunez interrupted. “Yussuf, how did you learn English so well? I don’t think I ever met an Afghan who spoke English as well as you do. Not even our interpreters.”

“Ah, thank you for the compliment, Officer Nunez.” Yussuf’s wife walked back into the living room with three teacups and a pot full of steaming tea, plus a silver container with sugar and a small spoon. After laying out the tea, she disappeared into her bedroom. Yussuf watched her leave and laughed softly.

“Ah, my wife. My childhood was very western and not very traditional. My mother never behaved as my wife does, she was not a very obedient wife. She gave my father and grandfather fits with her independence and stubbornness. But my wife came from a very traditional family, and even after five years in the United States she still insists on covering her head and refuses to sit with me when I have American guests. Perhaps she will change someday.” Waiting until Nunez and Woods had filled their cups with steaming green tea, he poured tea into his cup and took a drink. “I met the father of my wife at Kabul University, I will be forever grateful that he thought me worthy enough to arrange my marriage to his daughter. The University is also where I learned English. During my years there I often made extra money by working as a guide for western tourists, and for a time I worked at both the German and French embassies. Later, just before the Soviet occupation, I was a professor of English at the University.”

“You speak German and French also?” Nunez asked.

“Oh yes. And Urdu, and some Hindi. I am fortunate to have inherited my mother’s gift for languages.” Yussuf swirled the remnants of leaves floating in his tea. “Officer Nunez, why do you think that Mohibullah killed his sister? Have you established a motivation? A motivation you believe?”

“Mohibullah told me his sister was a whore,” Nunez said. “Sorry, those were his words. His father. . . I don’t know his father’s name. . . told the detective that his daughter was a whore. I don’t think we received any better explanation than that.”

“Their father’s name is Rahim. I know him, though not very well. We are neighbors and attend the same mosque, not far from here, but I do not know him well. I knew Fahima well, and she was not a whore. I do not believe she had ever even responded to a boy’s attention in any way, although I know she received much attention at her school. She was a beautiful young woman, far past ready for marriage by the standards of my culture. But she was not as traditional as her family was, she was very thankful to have the freedom that comes with life in America, while her family wished for nothing more than to return to the simple, devout life they lived before they left Pakistan.”

“Pakistan?” Woods asked. “I thought they were from Afghanistan.”

“They were, Officer Woods,” Yussuf said. “They were Kandaris, from Kandahar. Fahima told my wife that they left Kandahar because the Taliban had accused her father of not being sufficiently devout, because he did not wish for Mohibullah to attend training that a local Taliban commander had ordered all boys to attend. They settled in Pakistan for some time, then were able to come to America as refugees, through the help of the Catholic church. The same church that assisted my family.”

Interested now, Nunez asked, “So Yussuf, do you think that the fact that Fahima was not very traditional was the reason her brother killed her?”

Yussuf stroked his beard again. “I think that is the obvious answer they have provided. But I do not know of any sixteen year old Pashtun boy, no matter how devout or how traditional, who would be willing to kill his sister and lose his life because his sister lived as Fahima did. Fahima did nothing to bring shame to her family. Nothing at all. She would not cover her head, and she had friends at school, but nothing more than this.”

“Yussuf, aren’t ‘honor killings’ very common among devout Muslims? I mean, among less educated and devout Muslims?” Nunez asked.

“Officer Nunez, please ask yourself this. . . ”

“Please Yussuf, call me Jerry.”

Yussuf smiled. “Thank you, Jerry. Ask yourself, Jerry, when did you ever see such a thing happen in Afghanistan? When did you ever hear of such a thing as a young Pashtun boy killing his own sister over something so frivolous as not covering her head, over having friends at school? If she had lost her virginity before marriage, yes, such a thing is possible. Or if she had refused her parents’ orders to marry. But even killings for reasons such as these are not common. And I ask you to consider this as well. So-called ‘honor killings’ are not a Muslim phenomenon, they are a cultural phenomenon. Such atrocities are not common to every Muslim nation, they are only found among cultures who carried out such crimes before they even adopted Islam. It is unusual, but there have even been such killings committed by non-Muslims also. What this means, Jerry, is that killing one’s sister is not done in the name of god, it is done in the name of one’s culture, or family. So, why then would one proclaim ‘Allahu akbar’, a term reserved specifically for acts committed in the name of Islam, when he has done something that is not part of his Muslim beliefs?”

Nunez thought about it, admitting to himself that although American soldiers told lurid stories of all the horrible things Afghans did to each other, he didn’t know of a single confirmed honor killing that happened while he was in Afghanistan. And he could see Yussuf’s point, it didn’t really make sense for Mohibullah to have acted like he was dying as a martyr after killing his sister. “You’re right, Yussuf. I don’t know of such a thing happening in Kapisa while I was there. Maybe it was common in other provinces, but I don’t know. If Mohibullah didn’t do it for any religious reason, why do you think it happened? What reason can you give me?”

“I can give you no good reason, Jerry,” Yussuf said. “No good reason at all. There can be no good reason for the commission of such a crime. I simply ask of you, please do not blindly accept that Mohibullah killed his sister because she had shamed the family. Perhaps you should look behind the obvious answer you have been given.”

Nunez’s radio beeped. “Dispatch 1243.”

Damn. “1243, go ahead.”

“Check your MDT for a call. Code 3 loud noise, no big rush.”

“That’s clear, I’ll put us en route in a few.”

Yussuf looked disappointed. “It appears you have to go, Jerry. That is unfortunate, I have enjoyed this discussion with you. You will visit on another night, then?”

Nunez stood up. “I think I might be able to visit you every so often, Yussuf-khan.” Khan literally meant “king”, and it had become a common name in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When it was added to a first name it denoted respect, and Nunez’s use of the word immediately brought a wide smile to Yussuf’s face.

“Ah Jerry-khan, you make me miss my home so. It has been very good to meet you. I will look forward to your next visit, and I shall pray for your continued safety. For both of you.”

“Thank you, Yussuf,” Nunez said. “We’ll come by and check the apartment complex more often now. You might not see us, but we’ll drive through as often as we can.”

Woods added, “Yeah, we’ll drive by and look around, hopefully every night. Thanks for the tea, Yussuf, and thanks for just talking to us. I learned a lot tonight. It was really interesting.”

“Thank you, Officer Woods.”

“Mike. Call me Mike.”

“Mike. I suppose I still love to teach, although it has been many years. Thank you for being an attentive student.”

“Anytime, anytime.”

Yussuf followed Nunez and Woods outside, shaking their hands again. This time Woods awkwardly tried to mimic the heart-patting gesture, drawing an appreciative laugh from Yussuf. As they turned to walk back to their patrol car, Yussuf asked, “Officers, might one of you have a number where I can contact you? I assure you I would not be a bother, but it would be a measure of security for me and my wife, in the case problems develop in this area again.”

Woods answered first. “Sure Yussuf, no problem. I’ll write it down for you.”

Nunez thought about it. Like most cops, Nunez was leery of giving his personal cell number to anyone who wasn’t a cop. And in this case, there was the possibility that if they started any kind of friendly contact Yussuf would decide to try to unofficially adopt him into his family. It was something Afghans liked to do, an aggravating consequence of the famed Afghan hospitality. But Yussuf seemed to Nunez to be a genuinely good person, one of the first that Nunez had run across in what seemed like a long time.

“Hey Mike, give me that paper when you’re done, I’ll write my number on there too.” Nunez said.

Woods finished writing and handed the small sheet of paper to Nunez, who wrote his cell number and name on it before handing it to Yussuf. Yussuf took the paper in both hands, bowing slightly to show his gratitude. “Thank you, Jerry, Mike. Have a good day, and I sincerely hope to see you tomorrow night.”

“Good night, Yussuf,” Nunez said. “And tell your wife, that was great tea. I haven’t had hot green chai since I was in Kapisa.”

“Yes Jerry, of course I will tell her. Our home is always open to you. Good night.”

“Good night.”

They both walked back to the patrol car and got into their seats. Jerry pulled up the information for the call they had been dispatched to and hit en route, then started the car and drove out of the parking lot. Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement at apartment A, and thought he saw the door closing in the darkness, though he couldn’t be sure.

“That old guy was interesting, Jerry. Did you already know all that stuff that he was talking about?” Woods asked.

“I knew some of it,” Nunez answered. “When you go places as a soldier you don’t learn what the people are really like, there’s always a barrier between you and them. Some soldiers come out of Iraq or Afghanistan with all kinds of fucked up ideas about how the population is, what the locals believe, everything. I like to think I learned some accurate information about the Afghans while I was there, but Yussuf might have taught me some new stuff tonight. Then again, he might be full of shit. A lot of tribal people actually believe their own myths, no matter how big a load of obvious bullshit they are.” Nunez picked up his drink, forgetting he had emptied it before he went into Yussuf’s apartment. He took sip of melted ice and said, “I need to get some more soda. We’ll stop by a gas station on the way to the call.”

“Cool, I could use a drink too.”

“Alright, sounds like a plan.” Turning south off of Hanley and quickly accelerating, he said to Woods, “And next time I suggest we get out and talk to some nice old guy, don’t argue with me about it, just do it. Dick.”

18 Responses to “Safe From the War, chapter 2”

  1. I really, REALLY like the dialogue once they were together in the squad car. I have to say though, i don’t know if it just took a minute to get into the flow or what, but the beginning while they were at the precinct, it was tough to follow the banter. And the words ‘roll call’ were used three time in the first paragraph, which seemed odd.

    I’m not trying to nitpick, just some observations. Loved the chapter though, when the older man started talking, it felt like you were actually there listening to him. Very cool stuff Chris.

    • Scot,

      thanks for pointing out the “roll call” repetition, I removed one. I also added some dialogue attribution into the station conversation. Can you take another look and tell me if it reads better now?

      Thanks again, I always like to hear your observations.


      • 3 Scot Mantelli

        Sorry it took so long for me to check back and leave a reply…I re-read the piece and to me it is much more fluid, i like it alot! Also i’m glad to hear others mentioning how it reads like a screenplay, I agree! I was going to mention it earlier, but wasn’t sure how you’d take that, i know some guys that take that negatively.

        • No worries Scot, thanks for the feedback. I actually met Aesop face to face recently and talked about the screenplay thing, it sounds kinda promising.

  2. 5 Aesop

    Take this for what it’s worth, but even more than enjoying reading a good novel, I’m a movie fan, and I work in the movie industry.

    That chapter was a screenplay, whether you meant it to be or not. In fact, strictly from your samples here, I could pick up your stuff, set it in Hollywood-standard script format, and shoot it as is, and it’d be a film or a TV show in the time it took to shoot the dialog.

    That chapter is about 2 days work for a TV show, or 3 for a film.

    So my advice is, once you get this finished, and you self-publish, blow the money on the latest edition of Final Draft, plug in your manuscript, and knock out something around 100 pages (+/- 20ish) as a feature script, and come up with a tighter version that’s 42 pages exactly, for a TV drama.
    And shop them around.

    There are writers in Hollywood who don’t put stuff out that’s this good, and others who do, and a lot of the people in charge can actually tell the difference.

    Keep it coming.

    • Aesop,

      I’ll have to get in touch with you to get more specifics, but turning this into a screenplay sounds interesting. I’ve heard the comment “Your writing is like watching a movie” a few times, so if it’s that easy to turn my stories into a good movie or show, it’s definitely something I’d like to pursue. As long as nobody wants me to write unbelievable crap.

      If you happen to know anyone who’s looking for cop or military stuff, please feel free to drop my name. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, and the info.

      • 7 Aesop

        Write believeable crap.
        There’s plenty of the other kind.
        Another FWIW: the average film, as a rule of thumb, is 90-120 minutes long, which as a rule of thumb means 90-120 pages of screenplay.

        Which is about a 50-page single-spaced novel, at most.

        Thus the biggst problem in Hollywood is figuring out how and what to throw out, and what to keep, to still tell the story. The rule is, don’t tell it if you can show it. Three pages of novel describing The Emerald City boil down to 5 seconds of camera pan.

        For a short class in that, read two books by Michael Crichton:
        Jurassic Park
        Andromeda Strain

        then watch the movies based on each.

        Note how in JP they ruthlessly whittled away, whereas with AS, Crichton himself basically shot the book, exactly as written.

        And your work is in that league, or could be if someone (actually, about 500 someones) did it justice.

        Step one: finish the novel.

        Best regards,

        • Actually, the book is finished. I have some editing and revising to do, but I finished the book years ago. I’ll have to come back to you for advice when the time is right.

          • It’s a lot of fun to turn your own novel into a screenplay. You start seeing it from a different (more visual) perspective, and you automatically sharpen the dialogues. And the best thing is: it doesn’t take half as long as writing the novel in the first place!

          • One agent/mavie guy who spoke to us at a writer’s conference told us we shouldn’t bother writing a screenplay for our novels. He said if a company buys the movie rights, they’re going to have a professional write the screenplay, not an amateur.

            But who cares, might be fun to try screenwriting anyway.

  3. 11 M. A. Baxley, Jr.

    I like this… Aesop is right! I kept thinking how easy it was to “see” this setting in my mind’s eye! Keep it up!

  4. 15 Gene

    Good work. I had previously ass-u-med you would have a more negative view of the Afghan & Iraqi locals you encountered. So much for my ass-u-m-ption! Good work and God Bless!

    • Gene,

      I didn’t interact much with Iraqis, but I got to know the Afghans pretty well. And I did like a lot of them, even though I saw and understood the “problems” they had. And by problems, I don’t mean “things Americans don’t like.” I mean the things they did that hurt their own country and society.

      Working with Afghans was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life. With Yussuf, I’m trying to do justice to the Afghan people, to show the good side of people who we rarely hear good things about.

  5. 17 Nomad26

    You’re my new favorite blog, Chris. Found your piece on the French this morning thanks to Breach Bang Clear, read a couple of other articles, and closed out with this for the day. It’s good stuff, brother, you have a talent here. I just got your novel on Kindle, so I’ll kick off reading that tomorrow. I’ve been trying to write a novel for a couple of years, but without much success. Glad there are other Troopers out there who have managed it! Cheers. And Scouts Out, bro.

    • Nomad,

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and for buying my book. Please drop an honest review on Amazon when you’re done. And if you like it, my next book should be available in September.

      Scouts out,


      p.s. If you need any insight into writing or publishing, let me know. There are a million “hardest parts” of writing a book, but the one that most people never overcome is “getting started”.

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