Shades of Grey
part 9

Josh sat slouched in the chair, his head leaning on the backrest. He heard Rashid snap the phone closed. Twenty-four hours. He rolled his head to the right to look at his old friend.
Rashid smiled, lifting his shoulders in a small shrug. "And now we wait."

Rocking his head from side to side, Josh muttered, "This is crazy. This isn't happening." He wanted to launch himself at Rashid, grab him by the lapels of his expensive suit, and shake some sense into him. The presence of the guard--the one who had stuck the gun in his face--quelled the thought quickly. Instead, he slid upright and leaned forward, planting his elbows on the table. "What's going on here, Raj?"

"I would think that would be obvious."

"Oh, cut the crap. You know what I mean."

Rashid sat back in his chair, his lips pursed, but he made no comment.

Josh tried again. "Look, can we talk?"

Raj spread his hands. "We have twenty-four hours to talk."

"How about without the chaperone?"

There was something in Rashid's reaction that sparked hope in Josh. Maybe it was his hesitance, or the way his brows drew together a fraction of an inch. Raj considered the idea, rubbing his fingers in his impeccably groomed mustache and goatee. Finally, he said something to the guard.

As the two other men exchanged a few words, Josh realized that in all the time he had spent with Raj, he never knew his old friend spoke his native language so fluently. Josh had assumed Raj knew about as much Urdi as he himself knew Hebrew. What else was he wrong about?

The guard left the room.

"Now," Rashid said, "what is so important that we had to speak in private?"

"Jeez, Raj, you act like we don't even know each other-"

"We don't," Raj cut him off quickly, then added softly, "not anymore."

Josh matched his tone. "Talk to me."

Rashid looked at him a moment, then stood and began to pace. "You are not here as my friend, Joshua. Keep that in mind."

Josh sat back, shaking his head. "Yeah, I know what I'm here for. I'm being used. What happened to you, Raj? You had everything going for you. Your grades were outstanding. You were motivated, driven. You got more dates than I did. I've never forgiven you for that, you know." The fingers of Raj's right hand were rubbing together. He did that when he was uncertain. Good.

"This is not about you, Josh. And it's not about me. There are more important things to fight for, you know."

"Mohammad Riaz?"

"Yes."

"He's a terrorist!"

Raj spun on him, arm raised, finger pointing in his direction. "He is my mentor! He is a great man, a leader of men!"

Josh regarded his old friend silently a moment, then said softly, "You know, the only time you ever shouted was in Debate when you were trying to get a point across that you didn't entirely believe in."

Rashid straightened, tugging his suit jacket into place. "You want to know what I 'don't entirely believe in'? The American Dream. Yes, my grades were as good as yours. I was motivated. And I was driven--right out of my field. I could have been where you are now, had I been offered the opportunity." He was moving steadily closer to Josh, his voice so low it was barely audible. "But there were no opportunities for me."

"Raj..."

"Oh, I could have gone into business for myself. How about a convenience store or a gas station?"

Josh lowered his gaze. The snide comment sounded so alien coming from Raj. Josh sighed. "You should have called me."

The bang of Raj's fist hitting the table startled Josh.

"So I could owe you some political favor in the future?"

"No!"

"That's the problem with you Americans; you do nothing for honor. Everything has a price." Rashid leaned toward him, his hands on the table.

Josh sat there, his mouth agape before he finally managed to collect himself. "You Americans? For crying out loud, Raj, you're an American! And you're doing a hell of a lot of stereotyping here. That's not like you. You know what I think? I think you gave up. You allowed Riaz to talk you into believing you couldn't make it. That it was the fault of society. It was nobody's fault but your own!"

Josh gasped as Raj grabbed front of his shirt and hauled him to his feet. Rashid was not a big man, but there was an intensity that worried Josh. They were so close, he could hear his old friend's teeth grinding together. Oh yeah, he'd struck a nerve.

They glared at each other for a long time, then Raj let go and distanced himself. When he spoke, it was so low Josh could barely hear him.

"Katherine and I were supposed to be married," Raj said. "I broke it off. I couldn't support her. I couldn't support a family."

"So you gave up on her, too."

Rashid stood very still. Josh watched him, wondering if he had managed to get through to the part of Raj that was his old friend. It was in there, somewhere.

Rashid drew himself up and squared his shoulders. He turned to Josh, his face masked of emotion. "I did not give up. I took control. With the help of Riaz I was able to pick myself up and start over. He gave me purpose. He showed me the truth. He must be allowed to continue his work."

"He's got you brainwashed," Josh said.

"Why is it so hard for you to see that I believe in what I'm doing?"

Josh shoved his hands in his pockets looked away from Raj's intense gaze. "Because I don't think you do. Not entirely."

There was no retort. Josh glanced back to find Rashid staring out across the room. Maybe there was some progress after all. Josh left the conversation there. At least he'd gotten the last word. He decided not to push the issue any further for the moment. There was something else that was much more important.

"Rashid," he said softly, a note of pleading in his voice. "Let me see Sam. Please."

 

Shades of Grey - 10

 

 

 

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