Gay male romantic thriller. U.S. diplomat Chet Bender saves young Nabil Shabili in an extraction from Palestinian refugee camps inside Lebanon, in the shadow of an impending Israeli attack that will lead to a massacre in the camps. He subsequently accepts Nabil into his life, bed, and heart. Nearly twenty years later, Nabil is in the running to take the presidency of Lebanon and the forces promoting this rise are busy cleaning up loose ends in his past. And one of those loose ends is Chet.
“And on that first trip you made to the camps, you met Nabil?” Malcolm Moorhead asked, in his familiar voice. Familiar to millions of viewers, his weekly show was one of the top-rated programs in the States.
“Yes. Yes, we didn’t fill all the seats with the people we had come to get. A lot wouldn’t believe us and wouldn’t leave.”
I sipped some water from the glass on the small table beside me, remembering that day. Still vivid after nearly twenty years. Grateful now that I was letting it all flow out of me—well, most of the story at least. I kept a large part of what Nabil was to me withheld. It was something that Malcolm Moorhead was interested in doing this interview for his show after all these years. It would be more interesting, but surely banned, if I told him the full story. And the full truth would mean disaster to Nabil. That was what I had to come to grips with before the interview: what I wanted for Nabil.
“I was not supposed to be there alone, but we were suddenly without the Marine who was supposed to drive the bus—and to back me up in case of trouble. On such short notice, I went alone that time because I knew how to drive the bus and we were under a time constraint—the Israelis had given us a very small window of opportunity—and there was no one else at hand who could go with me.”
Moorhead sat across from me, camera’s going, and him giving that welcoming, sympathetic look he so professionally had mastered.
“I had been driving one at home, in the States, before I took my first foreign assignment,” I continued. “A church youth group bus. The call to go to the camps came in for this quick extraction trip into the camps, and my usual driver was off sick with stomach flu. So, either I went alone, or the mercy trip was canceled. I would have gone anyway. I determined who got on the bus. Now, however, it was just me, no one else to share the responsibility and the horror with me.”
I realized I was repeating myself and talking in circles. I wanted to convey how much more terrifying it was to be doing this alone that time—which, I think went far in causing me to lower my guard where Nabil was concerned—but I was making a hash of this, so I just clamped my jaw shut and hoped that Moorhead would ask a question that moved me out of this failed attempt to make him and his viewers understand the full horror of what I’d experienced.
“And when did you first see him?”
“Nabil?” I frowned, “After a couple of hours I knew some of those on the list were never coming with me, so I began to say yes to anyone who looked like they could fill someone else’s place. Similar age, sex, look. I had papers for every seat. There were quite a few young men who stood around looking at us. It got quite scary. They no doubt were combatants—the ones the Israelis wanted to neutralize. Ones who would cause me trouble at the checkpoints if I tried to get them through. But old people would queue up asking if I would take their sons, saying their sons had futures if they could only get out of the camps. How could I tell them that it was their sons who had brought the destruction down on the camps? Then this young man turned up and said, ‘Who would want to go with you? Who trusts you?’