Chapter 1

The Present

Halima still could not believe she was on a plane overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. She looked below at the azure water, closed her eyes, and began to drift away. Her mind raced back to the day she received the unusual package. She pictured herself arriving to her front door having just returned from L.A.

She had just submitted the revised draft of her final story about South Central L.A. gangs. It was common knowledge that the major gangs, MS and 18th Street, were responsible for much of the illegal drug trade entering LA. But, as was her trademark, she went further than the typical reporter.

She published, at great risk to herself, the names of the gang leaders that had connections to organized crime. She named government officials paid to look the other way as cocaine was smuggled through LAX. Her paper, the Washington Post, was sure to win numerous awards for breaking the story. Many of the government officials would be indicted for their involvement.

Halima had put her life on the line for her work by posing as a go-between for the 18th Street Gang and the Mafia, a position that took a year to cultivate. She had been shot at on two occasions and yet somehow had survived unscathed. Al-hamdu lilah she thought to herself. The words automatically came to her, before she had a chance to weigh their meaning.

Al-hamdu lilah. Those words had meant so much to her at one time and now they were no more than a knee-jerk reaction to certain situations or fleeting thoughts. She remembered the summer of fifteen years ago as if it was yesterday.

She was on the championship Little League baseball team of her city. She remembered attending the World Series at Yankee Stadium and catching a homerun ball in the grandstands. She was such a strong Muslim at the time. Her faith empowered her to accomplish so much as a kid. Now, fifteen years later, she had changed in so many ways. But there was some kernel of innocence, or belief, left in her. Now she was about to face something different.

It had started with that unusual package she received on her doorstep. What was in the package was self-evident. Its dimensions revealed that it was the baseball she had last seen so many years ago.

When she opened it she saw the inscription she had written to her friend, Rania. Foolishly, Halima thought the baseball would miraculously give Rania the power to survive her cancer. The baseball represented both faith and friendship—all that was necessary for Rania to survive.

Within six weeks Halima found herself attending Rania's funeral. There were no long speeches, no eulogy, and no obituary. It all happened so fast. Too fast for Halima.

She quickly became a loner, she dropped out of baseball, she rebelled against God. She wanted to erase all memory of her friend. Halima poured her anger, grief, and tears into her writing. She became good enough to join the local paper as a cub reporter. Her work and diligence soon won her national acclaim and caught the eye of the Post. At the tender age of 20 she was offered a position on the Post staff.

Halima thought she had distanced herself from the past. She vowed never to return to Brooklyn, her hometown. Her parents had moved to Florida and, dutifully, she called them once a month—an aspect of her culture she could not shake.

Last week the package arrived, and the bitter memories of Rania came crashing back. The baseball she now held in her hand brought back the image of Rania's diminutive body, her eyes full of hope, determination and dreams. She was going to go back to help her people, be a medical doctor. Halima was certain Rania could get to her goals.

The letter accompanying the baseball said so much in a few words.

Bismillahe Ar-rahmane Ar-raheem

Dear Halima,

Assalamu Alaykum,

We are the parents of Rania. Rania has left something for you here in Palestine. We cannot describe it. Please come and see it.

With peace,

Syed Abdullah

Iman Al-Sharif

Intrigued by this letter, Halima decided to meet Rania's parents and look at what Rania had left. The return address said simply Bethlehem so it was obvious that the package was hand delivered. By whom, she did not know.