Asha took a large bite of her rice when her phone chimed atop the table. She set down her fork and lifted her phone. A video message from a number she didn’t recognize had popped up on her screen.
SeaTac’s employee cafeteria was especially busy this time of day. In the seat next to her, one of her coworkers burst out laughing at a Tik Tok video she’d replayed for the third time. Asha reached into her pocket and placed a wireless earbud into her ear before opening the message.
The video began to play. A man filled the screen, shouting his allegiance to Al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group that terrorized many parts of her native country. A black cloth covered the lower half of his face. He waved an assault rifle up and down as he yelled in Somali.
The video panned away from the man, and Asha recognized the rural village she’d lived in for the first twenty years of her life. Asha’s breath caught in her throat as the video focused on several villagers on their knees in front of a wood hut, crying and begging for their lives. Another Al-Shabaab member, wearing a similar face covering, stood in front of the villagers with a rifle aimed at the man in the middle.
Laughter erupted again from Asha’s cafeteria table. The video zoomed in on the villagers. They were her family. Her mother. Her father. Brother. Aunt. Uncle. Cousins.
The Al-Shabaab member who’d been shouting at the beginning of the video moved in front of the camera. His eyes stared into Asha’s through the small screen of her phone. He spoke directly into the camera, only inches from his face.
She nearly dropped her phone when he said her name.
He backed away from the camera and held up a paper with a Seattle address. “You will go to this address tonight and pick up a package. Tomorrow, you will put the contents of that package in the AED on board Pacific Air Flight 385.”
The video turned back to her relatives begging for their lives. The blast from the rifle made Asha jump in her seat. Blood splattered across the side of the Acacia hut and her uncle fell facedown into the dirt. Her aunt screamed hysterically as she stared at her husband lying in a pool of his own blood. The terrorist pressed his rifle into her chest and screamed at her in Somali to shut up.
The video swung back to the man holding the address. “Do this, and no one else in your family has to die.”
“Boss, you ready?”
The video ended. Asha’s mouth hung open in shock.
She felt a hand on her shoulder.
Asha was the only one still seated at their table. She looked up at her young coworker, Rosalyn, whose biggest concern was getting back to work. Asha tucked her phone into the side pocket of her airline cleaner uniform and stood from her chair.
“Yeah, fine. Let’s go.”
Asha got out of her car at the address the terrorists had given her. She closed her fingers tightly around the shoulder strap of her purse as she crossed the empty parking lot. The small, South Park warehouse looked as if it had been long abandoned. It was in an even more rundown part of town than where she lived. She had no idea what was waiting for her, and she didn’t like being here alone.
She’d lied to her husband, telling him she had to stay late at work and asked if he could cook dinner for the girls and put them to bed. Hopefully, he wouldn’t notice the missing overtime from her next paycheck. With traffic, it had taken her over an hour to find the address. She stopped at the metal door in front of the building.
Maybe she should just go home. Or go to the police. What if someone was waiting to kill her? But that video of her uncle’s murder was real. And she understood that Al-Shabaab needed her to carry out a bigger plan. With a trembling hand, she knocked forcefully on the door.
She looked around when no one answered. She was alone. She tried the rusted door handle. The door rattled as she shook it, but the lock didn’t budge. She looked back toward her car. The terrorists hadn’t specified a time, just that she pick up a package at this address.
The late-August sky was beginning to darken as she walked around the side of the building. Not finding any doors, she rounded the rear of the warehouse. The hum of the few cars passing by grew softer. She came to a single door in the middle of the building. This time, she tried the door handle without knocking. It turned easily in her grip.
The door swung open. She stepped inside the large dark space onto a concrete floor. A musty smell filled her nose.
There was no answer. Her heart pounded in her chest. Using her phone as a flashlight, she found a light switch on the wall. She turned it on, but nothing happened.
She looked around the large room and tried to focus on what she was supposed to find. A folding chair sat in one of the corners. A brown paper sack was perched on the seat.
Asha took careful steps toward the chair, worried about what was inside the bag. She wondered if it could be a bomb, waiting to explode after she picked it up. When she reached the chair, she assured herself that the terrorists weren’t out to kill her. At least not yet. They needed her.
There was a sharp metal clang behind her as Asha started to open the bag. She spun around, shining her phone in front of her. There was no one there. She shined the light onto the floor and caught the movement of a small rat as it skittered across the dirty concrete.
Asha exhaled and turned back to the paper sack. She opened it and shined her light inside. Although she’d never held one in her hands, Asha recognized the black form of a pistol immediately. She felt herself relax slightly as she picked up the bag, glad it wasn’t an explosive. She placed one hand underneath to support the gun’s weight and hurried out of the warehouse.
Asha pulled back the comforter and slipped into bed next to her husband’s sleeping form. She’d been glad to find him in bed. She didn’t want to face him with more lies.
“How was work?” Aaden asked, as she turned onto her side.
“I thought you were asleep. Sorry if I woke you.”
“That’s okay.” He yawned. “The girls will be glad to see you in the morning.”
Asha felt sick to her stomach. “Me too. Good night.”
A tear slid down her cheek as she faced away from him. His breathing changed to a rhythmic snore as Asha lay awake. An image of her uncle’s final moments filled her mind when she closed her eyes. And the look of horror on her aunt’s face after they executed him.
She wondered if she’d ever see her family again. Her thoughts drifted to the gun still in the brown bag that she’d tucked away in her glove compartment. For the sake of her relatives in Somalia, she forced herself not to think of the passengers who would be on Pacific Air Flight 385.