Abdulaziz al-Omari stood on the corner of a busy intersection in Downtown Paradise. He rang a bell and wore a cardboard sign that said, 911 was an inside job. He looked weathered.
Jim watched him from the veranda of the ice cream shop, spooning sundae into his mouth. The terrorist didn’t wear much for an expression – maybe it was sober and kind of defeated – and he just rang his bell with long steady swings of his arm. Every now and again a passerby dropped a nickel in his tin can.
“Can you believe this guy?” Jim said. “On Earth he’s a terrorist, and in Paradise he’s a beggar. I mean, he could be out jet-skiing or something. What a cunt.”
“I feel sorry for him,” his mom said. She was on a long lunch break and still wearing her Cinderella dress. She sipped at a milkshake. “And you really shouldn’t say cunt to your mother.”
“How do you feel sorry for a guy like that?”
“I don’t know. He looks sad.”
“I think he’s sad for a pretty good reason.”
“What do you want me to say? I see somebody with a sad face and it makes me sad. I just want people to be happy.”
“Well he’s perfectly free to go out and get a jet-ski. Instead he stands there every day on that damn corner, ringing that damn bell. I can’t believe people give him nickels.”
“Maybe he regrets it.”
“Regret? Look at the sign. He’s one of those inside job nutcases. As if it wasn’t bad enough already. Like, who pilots one of the planes in the nine-eleven attacks, gets to Paradise, and panhandles outside of a Starbucks wearing an inside job sign? The balls on this guy.”
“Well you should go talk to him.”
“Talk to him?”
“If it’s bothering you that much.”
“It’s not bothering me. It isn’t. It’s another beautiful day in paradise and I’m enjoying ice cream with my mother. I’m sorry I said cunt.”
Jim pointedly spooned some creamy banana into his mouth. It really was delicious. But it wasn’t as delicious as Abdulaziz was a cunt. His mom smiled into her milkshake and waited.
“I think I should go talk to him,” he said.
“Go. Go. My break is almost over, anyway. Jim . . .” She left his name hanging in the air.
But she seemed to reconsider her words. After a moment she patted his hand and said, “Just no more nukes, okay?”
Jim sauntered across the street, casual and with his hands in his pockets. He checked the air around him, squinted, took a few steps and happened to end up next to the terrorist.
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“So, uh, how’s business?”
He asked it the same way he’d ask a car salesman – disinterested and civil. Just passing the time.
“Jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams,” said Abdulaziz.
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“No small talk, huh?” Jim peeked into the bucket. He counted eight nickels. “What are you saving up for?”
“Flight ninety-three left behind no wreckage.”
Abdulaziz was sober and impassable. He stared ahead and rang his bell and went on with the litanies of conspiracy.
“The towers fell from controlled demolitions. The US government let it happen. It was a false flag attack. The war was for oil and control.”
“The Bush family is tied to bin-Laden. Cheney is tied to Halliburton.”
“NORAD was commanded to stand down. There was insider trading on Wall-Street. The Pentagon was hit by a government missile.”
While Jim considered these claims in this strange new context, a Chinese family stopped to get some pictures with the terrorist. The two boys played dead at his feet while the parents laughed and made clicking noises with camera-phones. Abdulaziz took it like a British royal guard.
When the Chinese family left, Jim decided to come out with it.
“The truth is, I was just having a conversation with my mother about how much of a cunt you are. Every odd Wednesday we come down here for some ice cream and catching up and we have to look over here and see you ringing that damn bell. It’s not even about the whole nine eleven thing. Fuck it, man – I hang out with Hitler sometimes. I get it. Earth is a shitshow and eternity doesn’t give a damn. So you’re not a cunt because of that stunt you pulled; you’re a cunt because you won’t let it go and you’ve got to ring it in our faces. I mean, how is the guy that flew the plane a fucking truther? There’s jet-skis here, man. Hell, I know a guy that could get you those virgins. Let it go.”
RING RING RING
Jim took the hint. He hunted through his pocket, found a nickel and threw it into the tin can. Abdulaziz nodded.
“I thought I was killing for Allah,” he said. “When I came here, I found out I was probably killing for something else. I’m not happy about it.”
“Boo-fuckin-hoo,” Jim said.
“I was supposed to be important. They said there would be glory.”
“Yeah, it’s a bummer to find out that life is just the part where you’re not dead and none of it mattered – but you get over it. You get your dick wet and move on.”
“I don’t want to be a pawn in their game.”
“Dude, I died of a heart attack while I was jerking off. At least you were on the board.”
“But jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams.”
“You really are a cunt.”
Jim sighed. Another passerby tossed a nickel into the tin can. Jim wondered idly how many nickels Abdulaziz would need for another plane ticket, which made him wonder what it was like to see the World Trade Center getting bigger in the cockpit window, to think that God was a guy you could do a solid for. He wondered if, like some of the suicides he met, the terrorist thought well this was a bad idea right before impact.
“Where did you even get this inside job nonsense from? It’s not like you were there. I mean, you were there, but you were dead.”
“I watched a documentary.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“The music was very scary. I am convinced.”
Jim bit his tongue and shook his head. He supposed conspiracy nuts and religious nuts just fit the same bolt.
“Listen, if I can convince you that all this inside job stuff – that it’s all bullshit – will you stop wearing that sign and ringing that bell?”
RING RING RING
Jim tossed another nickel into the tin can.
“Okay,” the terrorist said.
A television studio. Three angels sit at a panel, one of them getting some last-second make-up. Some production assistants set up a display, the centerpiece of which is an image of the North Tower burning. The director shouts, things get quiet, and cameras start to roll.
Jim and Abdulaziz enter through the far door wearing suits. Abdulaziz still wears the cardboard sign claiming that nine-eleven was an inside job. Cameras follow.
Welcome back to The Angel Tank, the show that pits the redemption of the soul against the pitiless incredulity of the seraphim. Up next, Abdulaziz al-Omari, a man best known for terrorizing the Western World with his September eleven shenanigans. He has since become a member of the nine-eleven Truth movement and begs for American nickels on the street. Speaking for him – Jim.
Jim and Abdulaziz take their places before the display. The three angels look down from the elevated panel in silent expectation. Jim clears his throat.
Hi. Good afternoon. I’m here speaking on behalf of Abdoolazeez a la Mary. He’s one of the guys that crashed a plane into the World Trade Center in New York. On Earth. He’s pretty mixed up about it, and now he, uh, he thinks, or he’s finding out, that he probably wasn’t an instrument of God. Sorry, Allah. He was just another guy getting kicked around in the shitstorm. Can I swear on here? Anyway, now he’s falling for all this nine-eleven truth stuff, so not only is he not an Allah instrument – but it wasn’t even him that did the thing that he did. He’s pretty bummed about it and I think we should help him out.
Wait a minute. I’m going to stop you right there. This is really one of the guys that brought down the towers?
Uh, yeah. He was one of the hijackers that flew American Airlines Flight Eleven into the North Tower.
Too soon. I’m out.
That’s cool. So if you two will hang in there with me I’ll do the pitch?
Show us what you got.
Jim fumbles with the display. Abdulaziz is subdued and stands quietly with his head bowed. A camera zooms in on the cardboard sign, and the words – 911 was an inside job. The angels whisper amongst themselves. When he’s ready, Jim makes his pitch, reading from note cards.
What you’re looking at is a picture of the North Tower, after Abdoolazeez flew a Boeing seven-sixty-seven into the side of it. Because of the impact and the flames, Abdoolazeez is dead at this point. Probably somewhere in this area, where the hole is.
In this next picture, taken a few hours later, you can see the tower beginning to collapse. Abdoolazeez is no longer present – being dead – and lots of other people are no longer present also. We imagine that everybody involved is watching this from their seats here in paradise, wondering what the hell just happened.
And here is a selfie I took of me and my mom eating ice cream at a parlor Downtown. You’ll notice Abdoolazeez, across the street in the upper right-hand corner, ringing his bell. The sign he’s wearing is the same one he’s wearing today, the same one he’s been wearing since he watched a documentary. The nickel bucket is just out of frame.
What these pictures have in common is that, even though Abdoolazeez is a cunt, I still want to enjoy ice cream with my mother. I believe that the only way to achieve this is to reenact nine eleven, and let Abdoolazeez fly another Boeing into a replica of the North Tower. He’s promised me that if the building falls he’ll give jet-skis a try and work on letting the whole thing go.
Thank you for your time.
Silence is dead air. The angels are bewildered. At last Angel 3 leans forward.
Let me try to put this straight. You want us to save this terrorist’s soul – one of the guys that took out the Wolrd Trade Center, killing thousands, throwing the modern world headlong into an era of fear and surveillance – so that your ice cream will taste better? And you think the way to save his soul is for the terrorist to do it again?
More or less.
It’s audacious, I’ll give you that. But I’m out.
Before I join my colleagues, I’d like to ask one question, and I want the answer straight from the horse’s mouth.
Abdulaziz nods. Jim stands aside.
Have you ever been laid? On Earth or in Paradise, have you ever known the touch of a woman?
I knew it.
How do you do that?
It’s a gift.
Wait a minute. Stop the show. You’re telling me that you went through all that trouble, imposing your beliefs on the disinterested and the innocent, without ever once stopping to smell the supine rose?
It is true.
Oh I’m back in baby. Here’s my offer. I’m going to get you laid. Right now, right here. And if you give three quarters of a single flying fuck about anything afterwards, I’ll fly the plane myself.
You know, a flying fuck isn’t a bad idea. What I’ll do for you – I can build the tower. Alexandre Eiffel is a good friend of mine. He’s a perfectionist. We’ll rebuild the North Tower to specs, right down to the papers filed away in the cabinets. We set you up in another Boeing, just like the one you flew before – except en route you’re going to make love to three beautiful women. If as the tower approaches you still need to know, you go ahead and crash. Otherwise you just fly that plane off into the sunset. A gift from the angels for changing your tune.
I’ll throw in free ice cream for a thousand years.
Ice cream is already free. For eternity. What are you trying to pull?
That’s my offer. The virgin is lucky to have it.
A tower, a plane, and three flying fucks. It’s a one-time offer, and I need your answer now.
Jim and Abdulaziz confer. Dramatic music plays as the angels peer through the tension. Abdulaziz shrugs and Jim nods.
We’ll take the flying fucks.
When the show aired it created a sensation that tickled every corner of paradise. All ages, creeds, and races were riveted by the same curiosity – Could a wet dick perform an act of terror? The headlines of the various news circuits battled for superiority with installments like, Love vs Terror at Ten thousand Feet, and Flying Fucker Filibusters Fate. High minds gathered in billiard halls and conjectured that the outcome was erroneous on the post-ironic planes of bliss, while higher minds wondered if, like, it’s us that’s the terrorists, man.
Millions of women vied for the honor of ‘changing the terrorist’s tune.’ Ten were selected by committee, and after a series of debates dubbed The Martyr Monologues, three were democratically chosen. They were Abigail Adams, Amelia Earhart, and the Persian conqueror Zenobia.
From a Q and A panel following the election:
Q: For Miss Adams. Your decision to run came as quite a shock when it was announced, given your history. You’ve certainly silenced any critics over the course of the debates, but perhaps you could expand on why you made that initial decision, now that you’ve won?
Abigail Adams: I can’t hardly expand on anything I’ve already said, but here it is again in brief. Yes, this is all very ridiculous and misogynist, downright repulsive to the feminine intellect. There’s no denying that. But at some point your ideals run up against the exigencies of reality and you have to choose between the inaction of idealism or the imperfect action of pragmatism. And the reality seems to be, that in spite of thousands of years of social, political, economic, and intellectual progress, the most awesome power available to a woman remains buried somewhere in her vagina. (The inverse is just as true – let’s not forget that all of this is contingent upon the blue balls of terrorism.) In short, it’s a pragmatic fuck I give, and I give it for humankind.
Q: Zenobia, having led the armies of Persia in revolt against another of history’s great empires, don’t you have a conflict of interest? How can we be sure that you won’t pull out?
Zenobia: When I fought the Romans it was on the field of battle, as a warrior. When I suffered defeat and they paraded me through the streets of Rome, I held my head high because even though I was vanquished I had met my enemy with honor – arms for arms and strength for strength. I don’t pretend to know the geopolitical landscape of the twenty-first century, or the frustration that comes with outrageous technological inferiority, but I know this: The majesty of Arabia is being erased from the Earth by the zealots of Allah, and no one has a greater desire to preserve that majesty than the queen who fought to build it. My fuck is a merciless one, and it will come with venom.
Q: Looks like we’re building towards a theme. What kind of fuck will the first lady of aviation be giving?
Amelia Earhart: The adventurous kind. This little prick did a number on the aeroplane, and I mean to show him the true spirit of flight. The dark calm of the open ocean, the clear stars above the clouds, the gulf between you and where you’re going and nothing but human ingenuity to get you there. I’ll fuck him through a thousand parallels if that’s what it takes. Aeroplanes are for lovers. Print that in bold. Flight is an act of love.
Meanwhile the angel kept his word, and Alexandre Eiffel worked tirelessly to reconstruct the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Steel beams, concrete, underground parking and subway station, twenty thousand windows, cubicles and go-get-em-tiger office posters – no detail escaped the French engineer. And at last the one hundred and ten stories of the ghostly tower rose up over Downtown Paradise and dared the terrorist to do it again.
Jim sipped coffee in the TV control room. It was earlier than he would have liked, six in the morning, and the noisy action made his brain hurt. Video and audio techs buzzed around their stations and barked jargon at one another, producers flailed and moaned. The director stood before an array of numbered screens, all showing feeds from different cameras. Alexandre Eiffel and the third angel sat with Jim at a folding table in the back of the room.
“So you’re an engineer,” Jim said. “Can jet fuel melt steel beams?”
“Mmm.” Eiffel shrugged. “I don’t answer that question anymore. It just gets me in trouble. But maybe we’re about to see for ourselves.”
“Not a chance.” The angel lounged with one leg slung over the other and drank beer from a can. “I don’t care how many suicide bombs you’ve got to your name – if you’ve never kissed a woman you’re a virgin, and that’s all you are.”
Jim looked at the screens with their different feeds. Cam 1 showed the view from the cockpit of the plane, where Abdulaziz fiddled with the take-off controls. Cams 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 were different angles of the king-sized bed in the cabin, where the three martyrs lay in wait. Cam 7 showed a huge crowd gathered at a safe distance from the tower. Cam 8 covered a thinly populated protest, and Jim thought he could make out a picket sign that said, I died on 9/11 and this shit isn’t funny – You’re all a bunch of assholes – Paradise sucks. Cams 9 through 15 were exteriors and interiors of the tower. And the last cam was Abdulaziz’z go-pro.
When coverage went live the terrorist was given the green light and he throttled the plane down the runway and took to the air. The director called out all the establishing shots of the bed and the towers and the crowd – “Cam four! Wider, I want all three. Wider! Alright, give me ten. Slow zoom. Cam seven, I want faces. Reactions. Red shirt, get a close-up of red shirt. Okay, back to one.” The Boeing was quick to make cruising height and Abdulaziz flipped on the auto-pilot, unbuckled, and left the cockpit.
The angel tapped Jim’s chest. “Twenty bucks says he cums before they get his pants off.”
Jim thought about it. “Naw, I’m not betting against an angel.”
It was the right move. Abigail Adams had scarcely begun to remove the terrorist’s belt when he convulsed, convulsed, blushed, and began to cry. Amelia went to comfort him. Zenobia stared at him coldly, a whip gripped in her white-knuckled hands.
The scene unfolded with an acute and stinging awkwardness. Jim had to look away frequently, for the same reason he couldn’t watch Brendan Fraser films. Abdulaziz’s embarrassment became his own and his skin tightened around his nerves.
But when the martyrs finally succeeded in removing his clothing, and after some petting and coaxing and whipping, the terrorist discovered his nature as a man. A probing hand found Amelia’s breast, another found Zenobia’s mound. Abigail, the de facto leader of the martyrs, worked at his erection. As the flying fucks began the crowd by the tower, viewing the broadcast on a giant screen, cheered them on. The protesters sagged and shook their heads. The tower loomed. The director, sensing the moment, called for a go-pro money shot and the terrorist spilt his seed on the martyrs and fell to the floor.
Jim had idly wondered what form the cum of terror would take, remembering that his own first load had been a neat slice of cherry pie. He was pleasantly surprised, if a little perplexed, to see the martyrs wiping spaghetti from their tits.
Still naked, Abdulaziz went back to the cockpit. His expression was unreadable. He flipped off the autopilot and reclaimed the controls. The clock said eight forty-two.
The critical moment. The director cut it up with ravenous expertise. The eyes of the terrorist, the hush and expectation of the crowd, the eerie tranquility of the empty tower. The plane rising over the city and acquiring its target. The eyes, the tower, the crowd. Red shirt gaping, Zenobia stroking her whip, the hands at the controls, the eyes again, and the tower.
At eight forty-six Abdulaziz yanked the controls and the plane veered and sailed past the tower. It careened, leveled out, and crash-landed on a wide avenue outside of a McDonald’s. The crowd went wild.
The last images aired were of Abdulaziz ordering and eating a Big Mac, stark naked and smiling.
Jim was on the cusp of wondering whether or not it was a happy ending, when Eiffel pulled a remote detonator out of his pocket and hit the red button. All at once the tower cams lit up with a series of explosions and the North Tower went pancaking into the ground.
“You rigged it with explosives?!”
“Well we couldn’t just leave it there. That’s prime real estate.”
Bewilderment. “That’s not cool, man. Not fucking cool.”
One thought on “A Mile High in Paradise [Jim #16, Short Fiction]”
I have loved reading these stories today. The short film was great, your stories have been even better. I probably won’t come back for a while, but when I do I would love to read more.