Exclusive extract from the novel by Frank Okolo, available for purchase: August 16, 2016
Harvey Michelson owned an FTD florist shop on Main Street, Schaumburg. He greeted the three men — two agents and a police sketch artist — from his cluttered workbench. He wore a large green apron over white paisley shirt and knit tie.
“Come into my office, gentlemen.” He dropped the flower stems and led the three men into an outer office that held files and bookcases instead of flowerpots and cymbidiums.
Yes, he had sat next to a man perhaps of Middle East origin in the airplane. No, nothing unusual. Kept to himself, didn’t look as though he wanted to talk to anybody. At one time the man had looked at his watch and brought out what looked like rosary beads, you know, those things Catholics use when reciting Hail Mary’s. Anyway, he holds the beads between his thumb and first finger and moves from one bead to the next ever so slowly. All this time his eyes are locked forward in this distant look and his lips move slowly. I figured he was praying. It struck me he probably wasn’t Catholic. Maybe Muslim. I thought Muslims pray facing Mecca — east. We were heading west, toward Chicago. But I didn’t dare ask him, wasn’t my business. And, oh yes, I did confirm he was Muslim. Didn’t eat pork. I remember reading somewhere that Islam forbids the eating of pork.
Could you explain further?
Well, when they brought the lunch tray — the usual — sandwich with a layer of cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle, plus the other stuff, I noticed our friend carefully removed the ham before eating the sandwich. It was then I said, airline food’s mediocre, huh?
He had nodded.
You must be a Muslim, I says to him.
He looked at me for the first time. His eyes were cold, liquid cold, like his face. Intense. Not sinister, just…someone who held rigidly to his beliefs.
Could be, he said. He went back to eating his food.
I wasn’t about to be put off. I’m Harvey Michelson. I’m an FTD florist. You don’t get to be that if you can’t make friends. So I say, Let me see, you must be from Kuwait? Qatar?
He shook his head again.
Oman? Saudi Arabia?
I’m from Turkey, he says finally.
Turkey! I’ve been to Turkey. Istanbul is a pretty interesting city, isn’t it?
I wouldn’t know, he says. I’m a Mediterranean Turkey.
The agents laughed despite themselves. Harvey Michelson chuckled.
“Obviously that put an end to the conversation. The guy just didn’t feel like talking to anybody. He must have had something pretty important on his mind. Earlier, before the in-flight service and our brief conversation, he had unfolded a small map. One of those American Road Corporation maps. A couple of times I saw him trace his finger down from Chicago southward.”
“Did you notice which area southward?” an agent asked.
“Matter of fact, I did. Champaign-Urbana or Danville, Illinois. Thereabouts. He placed his thumb firmly on it and seemed to be inspecting the surrounding area. I’m sure of it. Didn’t know I was looking, cracked my eyelid a wee bit. Thought I was sleeping.”
“You’re quite sure it was Champaign-Urbana?”
The agents exchanged glances.
“Anything more you could tell us, Mr. Michelson?”
“Nothing more I can remember. After we landed he went on his way and I did mine.”
The sketch artist moved in. He worked for the Cook County Sheriff’s office and was on loan to the Secret Service. He was a little martinet with handlebar moustache. He set up his easel and sketchpad beside Mr. Michelson, looked him in the eye and said, “Describe him in detail, as far as you remember. Let’s start with the face.”
As Michelson talked, the artist sketched. Within minutes the outline of a figure began to emerge. One agent took notes. His partner went outside, called Ken Dwight on his cell phone. The time was just after 11 a.m.
”Urbana!” Dwight exploded, after the agent had briefed him. “Yeah, okay. Good work. Get on with the sketch. When you finish take a photo –several photos –and e-mail them to my office. Include your report.”
By the time the agent reentered Mr. Michelson’s office, the artist was packing up his easel. They thanked Michelson for his cooperation.
“Anytime,” Michelson said. “Hey, if you guys run into that gentleman tell him I really don’t care he’s from up the Mediterranean. Tell him I’m a Bosphorus Turkey.”
End of extract