Somewhere in Upstate New York lies a place invisible to many and inaccessible to the few who stumbled upon its existence. Most people driving past would see little else but lush greenery, and perhaps a cow or two, and think nothing of it; the few curious enough to do a little more scouting would be stopped in their tracks by men in fatigues, telling them that they had no business near a restricted area. In most cases, fear gets the better of them, and they turn tail never to return, like sensible human beings. As for the few who decided that they have to find out for themselves (and for the rest of the world) what the place really was about, no matter what it took... Well, we can't say for sure.
However, what we do know is that today the men and women in fatigues who run the place have been tasked with keeping watch over a most "special" guest. For in a reinforced concrete room in a building (now we know the place has at least one building) beyond the barbed-wire fence that encircled the place, a young girl was thumbing half-heartedly through a steamy romance paperback, courtesy of a more thoughtful guard. The room's sole exit was guarded by a steel door shut tight and four armed men posted outside.
Nothing else was in the room save a wooden table, a clear bottle of Perrier, a dusty old light-bulb that dangled from a wire overhead, the chair the girl made herself "comfortable" in, and a similar chair, just across the table. Besides herself, she concluded, this room housed more boredom than she ever thought was possible. They had taken her wristwatch away, along with the rest of her belongings; she no longer knew how long she'd been in there. It couldn't have been more than half a day, she reassured herself; if they wanted to keep me in here longer, they would've locked me up in a real prison cell... with a toilet and a cot and stuff.
At least a bit of fun was to be had as she stumbled through clumsy love scenes and cheesy dialogue, yet even unintentionally humorous scenes were few and far between. There were better ways to waste her time, she thought. She could pretend that the flickering light bulb was relaying to her, in Morse code, a message from God-knows-where. If that were the case, then the message was sent in vain; she never took the time to learn what all those dots and dashes meant. So much for that, then. On the other hand, if she really wanted to, she could play with the Perrier she had in ways other people would find impossible, but no; what she did earlier today gave her captors more than enough reason to worry, and she didn't want to raise any more red flags. After a long yawn, she resigned herself to three (or was it four?) more hours of Mills and Boon.
The novel ended with the hero and heroine riding off into the sunset after some torrid afternoon delight. No surprise there.
The room was gray, the air was drab. What am I supposed to do now? she thought. Go over the novel... again?
"Hey... can I have another novel?" she called. No response.
"Great," she muttered. "I'm a growing girl, so at least don't forget to feed me." She slumped over the table and dozed off. She would be awakened later on, though not as rudely as she (or you, or I) would expect.
* * *
A prickly tingle ran through the girl's arms as she slowly came to. She had been using her folded arms as a pillow, after all. A black lady in a pantsuit sat on the chair that had been empty hours before. The girl observed her carefully; by the way she flipped through her file, this woman meant business. More importantly though, on the table rested a box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (whose aroma supplanted the room's scentless air, the girl noticed), and two espressos. The girl's stomach grumbled.
As though prompted by the grumbling, the woman put her file down.
"Hello, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Special Agent Angela Warner, and I'm with the FBI. Just in case you're wondering, I've been here for about three hours now," she said, glancing at her watch. "Here, have some doughnuts and a coffee."
"No thanks. This Perrier should do just fine." the girl said mumbled she twisted the cap off the bottle, though in reality she wanted a doughnut and an espresso. The bottle was empty in a matter of seconds.
"OK, but feel free to have some just in case you change your mind. Anyways, I'm here mainly to ask questions, though I'm aware that you might have some in mind yourself... So go ahead, ask away."
The girl was silent at first; something's wrong here. Warner said nothing, as her eyes returned to her file, taking a sip from her espresso.
But the girl did have questions, and a good deal of them were begging to be let out. Finally relenting, she asked Warner, "What time is it?"
"It's 11:24 pm. At 2:13 pm today, you were taken into custody, if I recall correctly."
The girl heaved a sigh of relief; she was right about how long she's been locked up.
"Where am I?"
"Upstate New York, though I'm not to disclose where our exact location is."
"No way..." the girl said, her voice trailing off.
"Wow." Just like in the movies, the girl thought.
Yet she could not take her mind off her hunger, which grew more and more unforgiving as the minutes went by. Forgetting what she said earlier, the girl reached for a doughnut, which she wolfed down faster than you could say Jack Robinson. Warner tried to suppress a grin as she herself took a doughnut as well.
"Fine. What am I doing here?" the girl asked as she wiped her mouth with her jacket's sleeve.
"You're here to help me out here by answering some questions."
"Do you have any more questions before we begin?"
"I don't suppose so."
"very well." Warner glanced at her file again. "The file says your name is Fatima Sfeir, though your friends call you Timmy."
"You can call me Fatima."
"Fatima it is, then. Age seventeen, ethnicity Arab."
"Lebanese," Timmy corrected.
Warner cleared her throat. "Lebanese. Religion, Maronite Catholic. Non-citizen, green card holder. Current residence, St. Clare's, Harlem, New York City. Ever been to a Globetrotters game?"
"Me neither. Furthermore, your file says you've been orphaned since the age of two; the sisters running the girls' home say you showed up on their doorstep one rainy afternoon, carrying a letter in French asking the nuns to 'take care of our daughter while we handle some important business.' You didn't speak a word of English back then."
"Your duties at St. Clare's include, besides the chores expected of all the girls and your studies, include library duty, coaching the soccer team for younger girls, teaching woodworking, and escorting Sister Martha Benedicta to the bank every last Friday of the month... Though it's the last I'm interested in."
"That's where you were this afternoon."
Timmy hesitated at first, but continued anyway. "Just to collect donations. Most of the donations we get come from outside of New York state, sometimes even from Canada and beyond... so the Clares opened an account with the Bank of America down the street just a few years back."
"And a good deal of donations come from where...?"
"The countries textbooks call 'third-world'. Think Nigeria, East Timor, the Philippines, Panama, Sri Lanka. Et cetera. Surprising, huh?"
"I'd have to agree. Is Sister Martha aware of that, too?"
"Yeah... She told me on our way to the bank just this afternoon, 'Timmy, these days always take what you read in textbooks these days with a grain of salt. I've never given it much though before, but after going through our records, it has occurred to me that those who have, have nothing to give, and those who have nothing, have to give.'"
"Hmm... Wise words, those. Is she your teacher?"
"I wish." Timmy took another doughnut from the box. Warner pretended not to notice.
"So what's a regular day like at the bank?"
"Sister Martha's not so fond of anything with buttons, so she has to take out cash the old-fashioned way. Always 60% of what we get every month, except during emergencies and... Hey, hold on a sec."
"You're not interrogating me. Aren't you supposed to?"
Warner paused, as if to consider carefully what Timmy said. "You know, you're right. But I'd rather not. Would you like me to?"
"Well, I... Uh..."
"Don't worry. I said I was here to ask you questions, wasn't I? Come to think of it, I don't recall ever mentioning the word 'interrogate'... and they forgot to put recording equipment here, so they'll have to take me at my word. But, fine." Warner opened her briefcase and took out a manilla envelope. "Though I suppose you could help me out here, given the 'special' way you defused the recent standoff at the bank." Timmy winced.
Warner slipped the envelope across the table over to Timmy. Timmy opened the envelope and saw it contained four black-and-white polaroids.
"A bald man in shades whispering something to a possible accomplice; a woman going through clothes at a department store; a scrawny guy speaking from behind a lectern; and a chubby hombre enjoying himself at a Burger King. Allen Miller, Jane Sanders, Philip Atkinson, and Brian Woodrow, respectively."
"Never heard of them."
"But you've met them at the bank. Just this afternoon. Of course, you wouldn't recognize them from under those ski masks, and you weren't happy to see Sister Martha held hostage at gunpoint. And after what you just did, I wager they weren't too happy to have made your acquaintance, either."