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The Explosive Ride

By Binyamin Lebovits


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The five middle-eastern-looking men sat on the sofa. Their eyes were glued to the TV tube. The images on the screen could not be dismissed or ignored. Increasingly, the men tensed their muscles, fought to see through eyes blinded by tears, and with difficulty sought to blot out the internal sensations of anguish that flooded their rigid bodies.


“It will be a cakewalk!” gloated the announcer as the screen presented picture after picture of the various sections of a smoking city. ” Our B-52’s, stealth bombers, and smart bombs will decimate them! If the Iraqis have half a brain in their heads, they’ll rush to the nearest white flag and beg to be allowed to surrender!”      

Suddenly a muffled, angry and unintelligible voice intruded. The voice’s criticism annoyed the announcer, and he replied in an abrupt and defensive manner.

“What do you mean ‘they’ll resist’? If they don’t give up right away, we’ll bomb them back to the pre-pre PRE-caveman era!”

Now, a still sharper voice cut in and apparently issued a severe reprimand.

“What I meant to say,” a chastened announcer apologetically corrected himself, ”was that once the Iraqi people see that we’re really there to free them, the people will revolt and help us defeat Saddam’s corps of killers. They’ll be so happy to see us that they’ll fall over backwards thanking us and showing their appreciation for what we’re doing for them!”

The first man on the sofa, Ali, couldn’t hold himself back any longer.

“Why,” blurted out Ali, ” are they destroying our city? It’s taken generations to construct our beautiful city. What good will it do them? What enjoyment can they get by looking at broken bricks and crumpled, smoking buildings?”

Patel, who had been sitting at the other end of the couch, got up, shook his head at Ali, and gently sought to edify him.

“The butchers of Baghdad have no respect for our efforts and sacrifices. It’s all about making money.”

“How can the Americans make money by destroying buildings?” asked Ali.

“Come on, Ali,” Patel reprimanded him. “The more buildings the American destroy, the more buildings they must rebuild. The more they must rebuild, the more of our oil they will say they have a right to confiscate. Then, after the oil is sold, they’ll give the money to their crooked henchmen who run the construction firms!”

Ali was fit to be tied! His face turned a tomato-red, his hands rolled up into bone- bulging fists, and his face broke out into ugly bluish cords of protruding veins.

“They’re our buildings! It’s our oil!” he practically screamed.” We’ve got to stop them now before nothing is left!”

“We can’t stop them-yet,” chimed in the man next to Ali. ”Their military equipment is far too superior to ours. Our only chance is to outsmart them and,” he added with great emphasis, ”make them pay with their blood for every single brick they destroy!”

“Abdul,” retorted Ali,” I don’t give a damn about revenge! You take revenge after the destruction has occurred. I want to stop them before they can destroy any more of our city! I don’t want to wait until AFTER it happens!”

“Don’t blow a gasket!” advised Emir, the third man on the couch.” Right now bin Ladin is searching the world over for nuclear weapons for us. He is trying to obtain bombs for us in every possible way. His men are ready to buy, bribe, steal, and kill to get us nuclear weapons. If bin Ladin gets them right away, we can stop the Americans in their tracks and wash them back to Kuwait in a river of their own blood! If it takes longer to get the bombs, we’ll have to be patient and pay back the Americans at a later date.”

“I want to smash them NOW!” insisted Ali. ”I can’t stand it any longer. Watching the destruction of our city is eating out my heart and mind!”

Patel paused for a moment and then addressed the men. Their respectful looks and attentiveness clearly indicated that he was the leader.

“Our orders have come through. The waiting is over! Tomorrow we make the Americans suffer and die!”

“Do we have all the equipment we need?” asked Emir.

“The explosives, nails, fuses, and overcoats are all in the basement. Hassan is getting everything ready. The coats have been modified so they’ll fit comfortably. Once the explosives are fastened to our bodies, regular overcoats would make us look too suspicious. No Question,” Patel firmly assured them, “everything is absolutely ready to go.”

The silence that followed gave Patel time to work out a gentle motivating warning.

“Mistakes and unforeseen complications do arise. Please make sure you utter all your prayers with genuine feeling and full concentration. Only if we approach this holy task with the proper attitude can we expect that Mohammed will smile upon us, protect us, and ensure that we succeed.”

With that, Patel turned off the TV and gave some final words of advice.

“Get a soda, read a book, or do something that you know will help you relax. Push the war out of your mind—think only about what you will say when you first meet Mohammed in heaven! You don’t want to stammer and stutter for loss of words! And” Patel finished with a twinkle in his eyes, ”Don’t forget about the 72 virgins that you’ll have all to yourselves. Try to get used to the idea before we reach the gates of heaven! You don’t want to impress them as being local yokels from Strawsville!”


The members of the group got up and one by one wandered off to seek personalized forms of stress-reduction. Only Patel remained in the TV room. He had a problem on his mind, one that worried him a great deal: his nosy neighbors.

Jane and Jerry Ovims, the nosy neighbors, lived two houses away. Jerry had done everything possible to engage Patel in conversation. And, something that made Patel squirm even more, Jerry, he suspected, probably watched him through binoculars at every opportunity. That was not empty paranoia, insisted Patel to himself—there was no other explanation for the creeping sensations that flowed up and down his back every time he left or arrived home!

I must assume, Patel reasoned to himself, that Jerry saw me bring in the coats and that his curiosity was aroused.  What would he make of it? What would he do about what he had seen? further wondered Patel. Supposedly only Patel and his “wife” lived in the

house—nobody knew about the other five men whom he had sneaked into the house. A pile of coats had to appear very unusual and suspicious. How he had allowed himself to make such a mistake, he would never understand. He could easily have sneaked in the coats just as he had successfully sneaked in the men!

Still, Patel glowed with an inner strength and steadfast confidence. Not a coward among the five! He had selected his bombers very wisely—each was an excellent choice. Not one, he crowed to himself, was afraid to die! Now, if only Mohammed would grant them the privilege of watching the Americans suffer and disintegrate! Nothing else could wipe out those ghastly TV images!

“Only our shock and awe can eradicate the American’s!” he happily concluded before going up to sleep.

The next morning the six arose at 5 A.M. After prayers and a brief breakfast, each helped his colleagues pack explosives securely in their containers and flatten them on their bodies. Any bulges, if there were to be any, had to be limited to the stomach area –America’s fast food craze made even over-hanging stomachs common and above suspicion.

Patel waited until all the men had been equipped with explosives. Then, one by one, he examined them. After a few pushes and smoothings, he signaled the men to don their overcoats. Once the coats were on, Patel again examined each one. This time he also had them walk around just to be sure nothing was unusual about them, especially the presence of telltale bulges. Satisfied with what he saw, Patel confidently concluded that  there were no signs of any  ill-shaped bodies. His walking bombs were ready to go off!

“I’ll drive the van into the garage to give you a chance to sneak into it,” Patel instructed them. ”Make sure you sit LOW. Nobody—and I mean absolutely nobody—must see you! If our nosy neighbor concludes that other men have been living in the house, he might call the police or the FBI. We all want to pay back the Americans for their crimes against our people. Don’t take any chances and ruin our plans at the very last minute!”

Patel gave the men a last stern glance, went out to the van, and drove it to the very end of the open the garage. While the men sneaked into the van, Patel went out and pretended that he was examining the back tires—he wanted to make sure that nobody was in a position to observe the men sneaking into and sitting in the van. When the men were in and all seemed in order, Patel got in and drove away.

The target—a subway station —was 30 minutes away. Each team of two would enter a different car, one at each end. And, at exactly 11 AM, the teams would set off their explosives and scatter their nails in all directions. The Americans would be in for it—and get the point, he thought jubilantly!

Back at the Ovin’s home, Jane finally cleaned up the kitchen to her satisfaction. Bored, she began to examine the classified ads in the local newspaper. When younger she had loved to scout out bargains and had daily perused the ads. Today, she had barely begun to examine the ads before she stopped with a puzzled look on her face.

“Jerry, look at this!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen a bunch of ads like this before!”

“You and your ads!” grumbled Jerry. “Haven’t you bought enough junk and saved enough fortunes?” he asked sarcastically.

“I’m serious, Jerry! Look for yourself. Don’t you see something funny about these ads?”

Reluctantly, Jerry examined the series of 5 ads that Jane had singled out.

“The first one is just like any other ad I have seen,” he declared impatiently. ”It gives a time, 11 to 5; it gives an address; it tells you what days to come; and the furniture that is being sold. Nothing out of the ordinary,” he concluded curtly.

“The second one,” he continued, ”gives the same beginning time—11—but no ending time and not much furniture either. And”-he paused as he read the last three in the series, ”so do the other three. They list only a beginning time and not enough furniture to make it worthwhile to advertise! Wow!” he declared excitedly, ”The addresses on the last four ads are of houses that are right next to each other, but the address on the first ad is in a different neighborhood! That is very unusual!” Then turning to his wife, he asked, ”If you had that little to sell wouldn’t you have made a joint ad with the neighbors?”

“I think we ought to call the police and tell them about it,” advised Jane.

“Why not wait until Patel comes home? I’ll go over and pretend that we want to put an ad in his paper and ask him about the different ways we could set up our ad. He’ll have to talk to me about something like that. The super told me that he works for the paper.”

“In which department?” asked Jane in a hushed voice.

“I’ll call and see,” replied Jerry.

Jerry went to the kitchen nook, looked up the paper’s number in their phone index, and dialed the number.

‘I’m looking for Patel,” he informed the operator. Could you please connect me with his extension?”

The operator immediately connected him and Jerry heard ”Classified Ads—can I help you?”

Jerry was so startled that he remained speechless.

“Hello,” the voice persisted, ”Can I help you?”

Jerry cleared his throat and asked,” May I speak to Patel?”

“I’m sorry,” replied the voice,” He is ill and won’t be in today. Can someone else help you?”

“No, thanks. I’ll call back tomorrow,” mumbled a trembling Jerry.

Jerry put down the phone and walked unsteadily back to the kitchen table.

“What’s wrong, Jerry? You’re white as a sheet and you’re shaking!” asked an anxious Jane.

“Patel works in the classified ads department of the newspaper. They said Patel is sick and won’t be coming in today. I saw him drive away a few hours ago and he didn’t look sick to me! Besides,” He added in a bewildered voice, “a few days ago I saw him come home with a whole pile of overcoats. Why would one man need all those overcoats?”

“We’ve got to call the police NOW!” urgently pleaded Jane ”Something is wrong and they need to find out about it now!”

Jerry seemed stunned and remained silent. Absent- mindedly, he picked up the classified ad section to reexamine the ads. In less than a minute, however, he gasped, grabbed his pen, and started to write. After what seemed like only a handful of seconds, a wild look crossed his face and he appeared frightened. Clearly, Jane thought to herself, he is losing it!

     As if to confirm her worst fears, Jerry groaned “Oh, No!” Then, he bolted out of his chair and raced toward the phone.

“Give me the FBI!” he shouted into the phone. ”This is an emergency! It’s a life and death matter!”

In a matter of seconds the operator connected Jerry with the FBI. Jane listened eagerly.

“This is Agent Thomas,” a voice said. ”Can I help you?”

“This is an emergency!” shouted Jerry. “The terrorists are dressed in coats. It’s all there in the ads. They’re already on their way to blow up something! You’ve got to stop them before they do it!”

“Please!” requested Agent Thomas. “I can’t follow you. Start from the beginning”----

“”It will take too long!” objected Jerry. ”At 11 the bombs will go off!”

“What bombs?” probed the agent.

“The ones they have under their coats, you dumbbell!” screamed Jerry. ”They bought the coats to hide the bombs. If you look for their coats, you can catch them and stop them before they can set off the bombs!”

Agent Thomas couldn’t tell whether he was talking to a psychiatric case or an excited disorganized authentic informant.

“Where are these ads?” cautiously inquired   the agent.

“Get today’s paper!” ordered Jerry. ”Turn to page four. Look at the ads in column three! Start with the fourth ad in that column. Do you see what I’m talking about?” bellowed Jerry.

There was no response. That made Jerry furious until it occurred to him that the agent must have gone to get the paper. And sure enough, within about a minute, the agent spoke up.

“I have the paper before me, Mr.—What’s your name?” asked the agent.

“Jerry Ovims, retired engineer,” Jerry fired back. ”We have no time, so let’s get down to business. Look at the ads in the third column on page 4 of the classified ads section. Start with the fourth ad. If you take the first letter in each row where furniture is described, the letters make up the words shock and awe—That’s because Patel put them in.”

There was a short pause and then the agent gasped.

“My partner and I will be over right away to talk to you. Where---“

“You’re wasting precious time!” shrieked Jerry. ”It’s now 20 minutes before 11. Don’t come here! Search for Patel!”

“How do you know the bombs will go off at 11 o’clock?” Asked the agent.

“Idiot!” yelled Jerry. ”People will die if you don’t do something immediately. It’s got to be 11 because all 5 ads in a row say start coming over at 11. It’s too much of a coincidence. It’s got to be a secret message that is being sent to a whole bunch of cells!”

By this time Jerry was almost apoplectic.

“Are you going to do something? Are you going to look for the men with the coats before they set off bombs in our city? Or, won’t you believe me until the bombs go off?” He asked in a voice ringing with contempt.

The agent was worried by the ads and felt he had to give the crazy-sounding, disorganized man and his story the benefit of the doubt.

“I’m going to alert the local police right away. Then, my partner and I will come to interview you. We need all the information you can provide. Where do you live?”

“We live at 1645 W. Lincoln Court,” replied Jerry in a thoroughly disgusted voice. ”Let’s see if you get here before the explosions go off!”




The agent ignored the sarcasm, said a curt goodbye, and immediately began to alert the law enforcement agencies and the emergency services in the area. The police were told to look for suspicious people wearing overcoats; the medical units were asked to prepare for massive casualties.

Agent Thomas then grabbed his partner, and the two raced to the Lincoln Court address. In less than five minutes their car screeched to a halt in front of the Ovim’s house. The two agents jumped out of the car and raced to the door. Jerry, hearing the screeching tires, had the door open for them before the agents reached it.

Once in the house, Agent Thomas pleaded with Jerry.

“We ask you to give us a coherent story, a story that we can follow. It doesn’t have to be book length -just give us the basic facts in an organized fashion.”

A resigned and dejected Jerry surrendered.

“Patel moved into this complex with his wife about two months ago. He is an unfriendly middle easterner. Every time I have tried to talk to him, he has rebuffed me. Not only is he unfriendly but also nobody ever seems to visit him. Yet the lights are on in a bunch of rooms—I can’t believe that two people need that many lights on at one time!”

“How do you know all of that?” asked Frank Bannon, the second agent.

“I’m retired and I have a lot of time on my hands. I’m not interested in being a bird-watcher, but I am very curious about people and their behavior.”

“Do you have a picture of Patel?” inquired Thomas.

“It just so happens that I do,” promptly responded Jerry with a wide grin. ”After I saw him bring in all those coats, I took a picture of him with my camera. In fact, I got it ready for you.”

Jerry handed the two a photo with the dramatic flourish of a magician. Clearly, he was proud of himself. The two agents ignored his showmanship and eagerly examined the photo. Bannon then took the photo, excused himself, and went out to make a phone call. Thomas stayed behind and continued the interrogation.

“Did you report any of this to the police?” asked Thomas.

“Of course not!” replied Jerry in a disbelieving tone. ”You see how much trouble you’re giving me with the ads in the paper and Patel being out sick when he is perfectly well.”

“I didn’t quite get that,” replied Thomas.

“Today those ads caught my wife’s eye. The super told me that Patel works at the paper. So I decided to call and see where he worked. It turns out that he works in the classified ads section. I’m sure he put in all of those ads. I bet they are a secret message that he is sending to a bunch of sleeper cells” Then looking at his watch, Jerry groaned and scolded the agent. “ In ten minutes the bombs are going to go off!”

At that moment, Bannon returned.

“The bomb squad will be here in a few minutes with bomb sniffing dogs. If you’re correct, Jerry, we will find traces of explosives in their house and---“

“Great!” interrupted Jerry. ”Just think of it! By the time the bombs go off, you’ll have your facts straight and you can charge the body parts of the bombers with murder!”



“We’re doing the best we can,” retorted Thomas. ”Had you reported your suspicions earlier, we could have investigated the matter in a more timely fashion.”

“What are you trying to do?” shouted Jerry. ”Blame me for your failures? Had you monitored the ads, you would have picked up their coded messages in a more timely fashion.”

“We can’t monitor everything! declared Thomas. ”We have to rely on citizens to help us out.”

“ You’re monitoring all the phone calls and all the E-mails. The terrorists know that. Why didn’t it occur to you that the terrorists would use ads to send their coded messages?”

“We’re wasting time,” lamented Bannon.” Is there---“

The sirens and screeches of flying police cars suddenly filled the air. The two  agents jumped up, excused themselves, and raced out to join the police.

That left Jerry at the mercy of a glaring and fuming Jane.

“You didn’t say anything to me about Patel. You didn’t tell me that he brought in coats. You didn’t tell me that he works at the paper. Apparently, there is no communication between us!” she declared in her most icy tone of voice. ”Don’t you think your wife has a right to know something about what’s going on around here, especially when it involves a terrorist cell?”

“It sounded too silly to bring up,” Jerry sheepishly admitted. “You make fun of me when I talk about my suspicions of people. I  didn’t feel sure of the significance of these isolated things. I can just imagine how you would have poked fun of me and my—to quote you---‘paranoid suspicions!’ ”

Just then the two saw the police, the agents, and the bomb squad dogs and their handlers dashing out of the Patel house. Their faces clearly telegraphed that something was terribly wrong. Fortunately, Banner detoured to them. He blurted out ”There are massive traces of explosives. He is a terrorist, and his cell members all were housed there.”

With that, Bannon broke away at a dead run. The race was now on to beat the clock.

It was now less than two minutes to eleven.


In the meantime, Patel and his team members had sauntered one by one  into a subway station at the end of the neighborhood. Teams of two stood at places where different cars were likely to stop. One in each team stood at the head and the other at the back of a car’s likely area.

Patel was tense and uneasy. He wished the train were already here. Patel had a worrisome premonition that it was going to be very close. Just his luck to have found a house right next door to a nosy neighbor. By this time, the police could already be on their way.


Patel’s ruminations were drowned out by the sounds of an approaching train. Patel got ready to board, making sure not to stare at the other members of the cell. Finally, after an excruciating period of impatient waiting, the train pulled into the station and the doors of his car opened.

Patel nonchalantly walked into the car, took a position in a crowded aisle, and waited for the last seconds to tick away.



Suddenly he realized the doors were not closing. The train remained standing in the station and the doors were not closing. Something was wrong. But, no sweat, he assured himself. Whether or not the train was going to be in motion was irrelevant. Patel was now so certain of the success of his mission that he wasn’t even fazed by a booming voice that almost shrieked out of the loudspeakers in the car.

“We ask you to co-operate with us immediately. This is a life and death matter! You are in great danger. Evacuate the cars NOW! Again—evacuate the cars NOW! If you

don’t, you may die!”

It was too late.

“Shock and awe!” the team members shouted before the stunned people could evacuate the cars.

As the explosives were set off, Patel had one last thought: “Mohammed, we are on our way up! Please meet us at the gates of heaven!”



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