The Ravine, November 19, 10 AM


Aden had been able to find and shadow Turelli, but Ali got separated.  He parked his car at dawn and explored the area on foot.  He was attracted to a ravine by the sound of a burst of rushing water.  As he reached it, the flow slowed as abruptly as it had begun.  He looked down and saw a man and a young woman pulling an older man out of the mud.


Ali made his way as quickly as he could down the slope and sat on his heels where he saw a Cossack topknot protruding from the mud.  The Arab pulled on the topknot until the face came up, and then Ali wiped mud away with the hem of his garment until the man started to gasp air. 


Working together they got Ivan onto the bank.  At one point his arm seemed jammed in something, but it was only that he was still holding his saber.  The others gathered and collapsed.


“I am Ali Kamali.”


Ivan said, “Then your son … ”


“Yes, I know.  Nothing else can have lived through that.  You are Ivan, and these are your friends, as was my son.”


Ali stepped a distance away and prayed toward Mecca.  He could only submit himself to what had happened.  But now there was work to do.  He had the rest of his life to grieve for a son.  Only now he could do what his son would have wanted him to do.  He asked Allah to expect further prayers concerning Aden and rejoined the others.


Ali looked at them sitting numb with dejection.  He had seen it before only too many times, the defeat too bitter, the loss too profound for mourning.  They might die here of exposure or they might live to become awkward automatons drifting emotionless through life, never to know joy or fear or sorrow again, dead husks who could not feel or imagine or ever speak of what they had been through.  They must weep or howl or laugh hysterically.  They must begin the mourning now or they never could.


Ali mastered his voice, “Mister Saffski, Ivan.  I have lost a son, my only son.  He thought well of you.  May I have permission to be your father?”


The words settled in slowly.  Tracy squeezed as much water as she could from Hapgood’s clothes and then put her arms around him and held him close to keep him warm.  Jon moved over to join the other men.


Ivan,” said Jon.  “Shouldn’t you tell him…?”


“I think he already knows I have parents,” said Ivan.


“No, I mean about …”


Jon, I’m sorry.  I lied to you.  I’m not gay.  But my friend Terra Lane was.  And I didn’t want to hear you say anything bad about him.  If you had something to say about gays you could say it to me.”


“In my land sodomy is death,” said Ali.  “But Ivan says he is not, and that is enough from any son of mine.  You, on the other hand ....”  He got up and moved around so that Jon sat between himself and Ivan.  “My son Aden learned something in America.”  Ali sat on his heels and continued.   


“Only Allah knows what is in a man’s heart.  Even words and actions may mislead.  The condition we refer to is not an act.  It is feeling of yearning,” his words came slowly, his voice darkening as he spoke. “For the approach of a man.”


He crowded into Jon’s personal space and continued, “And though it is but a feeling, there is one sign that may betray it.”  Ali caught Ivan’s eye to make sure he was prepared to move.  Ivan set aside his saber, which he begun to clean. 


“What’s that?” asked Jon nervously.  “What’s the sign?”


Ali’s voice became a caricature of intensity, “When a man touches him he will pucker ... his ... lips.”


By surprise Ali’s hand flashed to Jon’s breast and started tickling him unmercifully.  Ivan did the same from the other side.  Jon fought, laughed and squirmed.


Ali shouted, “If you want us to stop, whistle!  If you want us to stop, whistle!”


The teasing was interrupted by the song of police horns on a road nearby.  Ali quickly made a phone call and almost at once the prowl cars halted, doors slammed and they could hear the sound of the gendarmes approaching through the woods.


At this moment the hound, soaking wet, filthy and still dragging its leash burst from the undergrowth.  It ran to Ivan, wagging its tail, and began licking him joyously on the face.  


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