The Third Brother

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The Third Brother Page 10

by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

  “You’re sure?”

  “Sure. So what are you hearing?”

  “I’m hearing the feds are itching to take this church attack away from us. As a result, I’d appreciate it if you come across anything and felt like dropping a dime.”

  “In return for what?”

  “In return for maybe that helps us keep this on the state side, which is a helluva better deal for the kid than the U.S. Attorney’s Office coming down on him.”

  I couldn’t argue with his logic, despite his supercilious tone.

  “I’ll definitely keep that in mind,” I said. “But listen—”

  “Gotta run. Enjoy my ancestors’ rightful property.”

  I tried not to fume over his parting shot and focused instead on the conversation. Abdi part of a gang? It fit with nothing I knew. I’d have to circle back with Abdulkadir and—I blanched a little at the thought—Helene Paulus. I’d also have to let Cohen know about Fielding’s offer of cooperation. I had to give the evil wizard credit on that front: he was right about the benefits to Abdi if we kept the case out of the federal courthouse.

  My phone buzzed with a text. I looked at the message. Mike, my older son.

  If Joe’s going to Red, White & Boom can I go too?

  I sighed. I should have seen that coming. I recalled Ben Layton’s firm handshake and the sincerity behind his invitation. It would be great if you could make it. I mean it.

  I texted: I’ll talk to your mom. I guess it’s OK.

  He didn’t text back. Why bother? He’d gotten the answer he’d hoped for.

  I was about to call Kym to see what she thought when Cohen texted me to say they were finished with the interview. I paid my tab and walked back up Nationwide. I met them as they came out the door.

  “How’d it go?”

  Cohen frowned and shook his head. I glanced at Farah but she looked down, hiding shiny eyes. Abdi’s parents walked to their car wordlessly, like mourners in a midwinter funeral procession.

  “So?” I said when Cohen and I were back in the van, alone.

  “So it’s not good.”


  “They’ve got security camera footage.”

  “Of Abdi?”

  “Of Abdi or his clone.”

  “You saw it?”

  “Saw a still. That’s all they’d show us. But it sure looked like him, at least from behind. He’s got a black head scarf on, so you can’t see his face. Just like those Islamic State guys. He was wearing the same clothes he had on the day he disappeared.”

  I drove out of the parking lot and turned left on Nationwide. I related Fielding’s call and the implication that Abdi was in a gang. I mentioned the offer to try to keep the charges out of federal court if we cooperated. Cohen chuffed with skepticism.

  “I take it you disagree?”

  He glanced at me dismissively. “Don’t be a bigger idiot than you already are. Fielding’s blowing smoke up your ass. This kid’s public enemy no. 1.”

  “Believe it or not, I get that.”

  “I don’t think you do. No way it’s staying stateside. The feds catch you sniffing around now, they’ll throw you in jail and maybe me too.”

  “What are you saying?”

  “That it’s probably time to go back to staking out motel rooms and dating C-list starlets, or whatever it is you do.”

  “Give up, in other words.”

  “Fuck you. You had your chance. But we’ve gone from simmering to high boil in a day.”

  “Which is why it’s more important than ever to find Abdi.”

  “I said—”

  “Give me a day. Two days. Three max. I’ll watch myself. I promise.”

  He shook his head like a father sick of excuses from his wayward son. He said, “You screw this up, I may not be able to help you.”

  “Able to or willing to?” I waved off the retort I saw forming on his lips. “Don’t worry. I’ll finish this, one way or the other.”

  He thought about it for a long minute. I examined the FBI building. I wondered if they had microphones on the parking lot. I thought about some choice observations about Agent Morris I could offer, to test the theory.

  “All right,” Cohen said at last. “But Jesus, be careful. We’re running out of time.”

  “That’s obvious—”

  He turned to me. “I mean it, Andy. The clock is ticking.”

  The use of my name like that caught me up. “I told you, I get it—”

  “There’s something I haven’t told you yet. Something else they had.” He gestured toward the FBI office. “There was a post on some kind of file-sharing service this morning. Something the extremists all use. It’s untraceable.”

  “What kind of post?”

  “It was a picture of Abdi, and a screen shot from the news about the fire. And a warning.”

  “A warning?”

  “It said: ‘This is only the beginning.’”


  I DROPPED COHEN AT HIS HOUSE, LINGERING long enough to be sure he made it safely inside. I didn’t see anyone at the door. I took my time driving home, thinking about how far I’d come with Abdi, the things I’d learned, the things I needed to pursue now, with the stakes so much higher. Cohen was right. I’d been lucky the day I caught Cindy Morris and her minions tailing me. She wouldn’t give me a second chance, despite the fact I’d helped her out in the past. They weren’t going to screw around with an alleged extremist firebombing churches on the side. Not in this day and age. Not anytime, to be truthful.

  As a result, when Bonnie Deckard called later that afternoon with an update on Abdi’s social media postings, I told her straight up she needed to be even more careful. That I’d understand if she bailed. I had to give her credit. She dismissed the suggestion of danger out of hand. Maybe that’s why she excelled at Roller Derby.

  “It’s pretty easy to see the transition you were talking about,” she said, laying out what she’d found so far. “Right before his brother was reported dead it’s all stuff about soccer. He even posted something that day, about a Crew game he was pumped to go to. Presumably he hadn’t heard yet. But once Abdi disappeared it’s all that Islamic State stuff, the black flags, talk about a caliphate, calling for the destruction of the West. The things you hear about on the news.”

  “So he started posting after Hassan died?”

  “After his disappearance,” she corrected.

  “But how about in between?”

  “I didn’t find a whole lot. A couple articles about his brother, and one newspaper story about the prejudice that Somalis in Columbus face and the way Hassan’s death might make it worse. It probably reflected his reality at the moment. But that article was a long way from the stuff that came afterward.”

  “It seems strange he went from nothing to all that, if you know what I mean. The Crew to the Caliphate.”

  “Maybe. Or maybe he was too upset to post anything really radical until he’d made up his mind to do whatever he’s going to do. I’m just telling you what I found out there. I could be missing things, too. I’m sure the government’s taken down most of it.”

  I wondered aloud, as I had the day I met Abdi’s parents, about the possibility he’d been hacked. She conceded it could have happened. But that only assumed he hadn’t self-radicalized, she pointed out. And of course, there was Hassan’s precedent.

  “Well, I’ll pass all this along to Freddy Cohen. Thanks for everything. And send me your invoice—I’ll process it faster this time, I promise.”

  After pondering my next move, I decided to take the riskiest one of all. I drove to Mount Shiloh Baptist Church to see if I could find Pastor David Monroe. I promised myself I’d turn around at the first sign of black Ford Explorers.

  SEVERAL CARS WERE IN the parking lot when I got there, but none of them looked like they were registered to three-letter government agencies. The church was a one-story red brick structure with a central entrance flanked by long wings on either side and a large, square,
story-and-a-half building on the back. Yellow crime-scene tape wrapped around the covered walkway leading to what was left of the charred entrance. I followed hand-lettered instructions on squares of cardboard directing me to the back. A gray folding chair propped a metal emergency exit door open. I went inside.

  I found myself in a gym at the rear of the church, a space housing a full-size basketball court along with an array of weights and workout balls and yoga mats. I tried to remember where I’d seen a similar setup recently and realized it had been at the mosque just up the street, minus the indoor court. Inside, people were putting out folding chairs as makeshift pews. That meant the damage had extended farther inside than just the entrance. Several black faces turned in my direction as I stationed myself near the midcourt line and looked around. Whether I would have looked more out of place had I simply pranced in naked was up for debate. After an awkward couple of seconds a heavyset woman in sweat pants and a purple “Sanders Family Reunion 2012” T-shirt walked up to me.

  “Something I can help you with?”

  “I was looking for Pastor Monroe.”

  “Was he expecting you?”


  “He’s a little busy, is all. Trying to get reorganized. Are you a detective?”

  “An investigator, yes,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t press beyond that. “It won’t take long.”

  She sighed and walked across the gym, her tread heavy and slow. She disappeared through a door into the church. A minute later she returned, trailing a man dressed in work boots, jeans, and a red golf shirt stained with sweat.

  “I’m Pastor Monroe. How can I help you?”

  I handed him a card and explained who I was and why I was there. Anger brightened his eyes.

  “I think my wife explained we have nothing to say to you.”

  “That’s true. But that was before all this happened.”

  “Which is now a matter for the police. So if you’ll excuse me—”

  “So you’ve told the police that Faith and Abdi were dating?”

  He cast a panicked look around the gym and lowered his voice to a whisper. “That’s not true. Where did you hear that?”

  “It’s not important. But I’m curious: did you also tell the police you put your foot down? Forbade them to be together? And that that might make a decent motive for Abdi attacking your church?”

  He glared at me, perspiration darkening the pencil mustache that seemed to float in place on his upper lip.

  “Let’s go to my office.”


  WE WALKED A GAUNTLET PAST SEVERAL stone-faced parishioners. We left the gym, went down a hall, turned, and entered a small room with a panoramic view of the parking lot. Bibles, books on religion, and family photos crowded a bookshelf behind the pastor’s desk. The walls were covered with more photos, along with framed diplomas and the quintessential Columbus office accessory: a framed poster-sized picture of Ohio Stadium on game day.

  Monroe moved behind his desk but stayed standing, arms folded tightly across his chest. Almost identical to the pose his wife had struck in her doorway the afternoon I stopped by.

  “You have a lot of nerve coming here. As if we haven’t gone through enough.”

  “I wanted to do this in person. I also didn’t want to talk about this at your house. In front of your wife and daughter. To show you that respect.”

  He brushed the peace offering aside. “Just tell me what you want. Money? You’re in the wrong place. We were struggling to make ends meet before this happened.” He gestured to his left, toward the front of the building where the homemade bomb had hit.

  “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t want your money. I’m trying to find Abdi Mohamed. Until yesterday, his family and the lawyer they hired were convinced he was in trouble. That he didn’t leave to follow in his brother’s footsteps.”

  “What do they think happened to him? He just disappeared? Please.”

  “They don’t know. A lot’s changed because of the fire, obviously. It might be the explanation we’re looking for. If he’s really the one who did this, it’s inexcusable and he needs to pay for his crime. But that’s different than showing sympathy for a terrorist organization. Even you can see that.”

  “That’s supposed to make me feel OK? We built this church from scratch. People invested their life savings.”

  “And if you help me find him, he’ll be punished. You can be sure of that. But first I have to figure out where he is. And that takes us back to Faith.”

  “It was nothing,” Monroe said. He produced a white handkerchief from a rear pants pocket and wiped his brow. “She was confused about her feelings.”

  “That’s not what I heard. I heard they were involved. And I’m guessing from your denials you haven’t told the police any of this.”

  “There’s nothing to tell. It’s hardly a motive for trying to burn down my church. The tension between the mosque and Mount Shiloh was well-known. Some of those young men there are openly aggressive to our youth. That’s more than enough reason.”

  “I’ve heard the opposite was true. That kids here threw stones at the mosque.”

  “That’s not—”

  I waved away his objection. “Let me put it to you this way. Either you tell the police about Faith and Abdi, or I will.”


  “Why not?”

  “Because,” he said with emphasis, “there’s nothing to tell.”

  “I have a different theory.”

  “A different theory about what?”

  “I think you don’t want the fact your daughter was dating a Muslim to make it into any kind of official record. Sure, some kids know. You know how they gossip. But a police report? That’s different. That’s fodder for the news. And how’s it going to look that the pastor of a church let this happen under his own roof? The brother of a terrorist, dating a good Christian girl?”

  “Stop it.”

  “Help me, then.”

  “Help you how?”

  “Help me find Abdi.”

  MUSIC DRIFTED DOWN THE hall. Someone was playing a piano. I recognized the tune from one of my uncle and aunt’s country church hymns, though theirs was a decidedly more staid version. The heavyset woman in purple appeared at the door.

  “Pastor Monroe? Someone from the insurance company—”

  “Just another minute, Sister Andrea.”

  She smiled at Monroe, shot me a dead-eye, and slowly walked away.

  When she was gone, Monroe said, “All right. They were dating. Secretly. Until we found out. Satisfied? I’d like to credit myself enough that it wasn’t just a question of Abdi’s religion that gave me pause. Faith is so young. She’s barely sixteen, and not all that mature. Show me another father who wouldn’t have done the same, looking out for his only daughter. Do you have children?”

  “Two boys. The oldest is the one the people with the daughters need to worry about. Listen, nobody’s trying to make this about religion any more than it already is. And I can’t force you to call the police. I can only suggest it will help in the long run. But like I said, if you have any idea where he might be, I need to know.”

  “And I’ve told you, I don’t.”

  “Your daughter?”

  He shook his head. “We’ve asked her. We made her show us her e-mails and share her Facebook password. There were some innocent messages back and forth. But nothing for several weeks. Definitely not since he disappeared. I’m telling you the truth. We have no idea where Abdi Mohamed is. Unlike him.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “He knows where we are,” he said, his shoulders sagging. “He knew right where to come, didn’t he?”


  I WENT HOME, WALKED HOPALONG AROUND the block, came back inside, and started making notes. I needed time to think about the case. To figure out my next step. I also didn’t have any other options that night. Anybody to do anything with. I was like the guy who decides to stop drinking because he ran out of beer. I th
ought fleetingly of Anne, and then pictured Ben Layton, and walked into the living room to hunt up the remote. A minute later my phone buzzed. It was the parson calling, inviting me to see Hamlet around the corner in Schiller Park.

  “It’s practically your autobiography,” he said. “Not to mention it’s two blocks from your house and I’m bringing the wine.” The productions were staged each summer on a permanent stage not far from where dog walkers gathered each morning and evening.

  “I suppose I could drag myself across the parapets for that. What kind of wine?”

  Roy Roberts made an improbable best friend, to say the least. I’m one rung up the ladder from atheism, whereas he’s an Episcopal priest. I’m Black Label, he’s craft beer. I’m Browns, he’s Bengals. He and Lucy have been married thirty-plus years. Me? Moving on. But the fact he was once Major Roberts as an army chaplain in Iraq means he takes a greater than usual interest in my work. Meanwhile, I appreciate his rough-and-tumble ministry at his church in Franklinton, the poor neighborhood just west of downtown. It was the usual bromance, with occasional undercover work thrown in.

  I walked to the park just before seven, passing under several of the tall oak trees on the park’s outskirts before reaching the theater’s sloped viewing lawn. Roy and Lucy were already there unfolding their lawn chairs. As we settled in I explained about my so-far failed search for Abdi.

  “The fire at the church may have been the last straw,” I said. “It lends credence to what the FBI thinks the kid’s up to.”

  “It’s hard to avoid drawing conclusions,” Roy said in agreement, filling my glass.

  “I just don’t want to believe it.”

  “I don’t blame you. But does that feeling make it any less probable?”

  “It just doesn’t make any sense, is the problem.”

  “Religion has a funny way of gumming up people’s minds,” Roy said. “People confuse belief with ideology, and then we’re off to the races. It’s a problem all faiths have. I see it every day even in my little church.”

  I acknowledged his point. “The issue is that the stakes are so much higher in Abdi’s case.”


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