Nine-Eleven. He’s a Special Forces guy I trust.”
We left our fancy hotel, a five-star treat that tried hard to make you forget the deadly terrain it was parked within, but failed because of the metal detectors and physical searches at the door.
Heading to the coast road, we passed the destroyed Holiday Inn, a mocking, bullet-ridden reminder of the animosity simmering justbelow the surface of Beirut. A testament to both the potential and the reality of the country.
Going generally south along the coast, we left the city behind us. About forty minutes later, we turned east and entered the foothills of the Chouf Mountains, home of the Druze sect.
One of the eighteen recognized sects in Lebanon, it was a monotheistic religion that was neither Christian nor Muslim. Primarily found in the Levant, the Druze were known for their fighting prowess and staunch loyalty.
Driving along winding mountain roads, full of switchbacks, we reached the small town of Deir Al Qamar. I cut north, finally stopping at a modest stone house, carved straight into the side of the mountain with a view that would command millions in the United States.
I killed the engine and said, “Hope he still lives here.”
“Really?” Jennifer said, “That’s the best you can do? How long has it been? Ten, fifteen years?”
“Yeah, but all these homes are family owned. This isn’t like America. The sects tend to stick together for survival, and none more so than the Druze. If he’s not here, whoever is will know where he lives now, and it’ll be somewhere close.”
The door of the house swung open before we were out of the car, an attractive girl of about thirteen on the stoop. She said something in Arabic back into the house, then, in heavily accented English, said, “Can I help you?”
I stopped at the base of the steps. “We’re looking for an old friend of mine. I met him when I was in the Army a long time ago. His name’s Samir al-Atrash.”
Before she could answer, Samir himself came onto the stoop. He looked exactly the same, a tall, rangy guy with jet-black hair and a bushy mustache. He stared at me without recognition for a second or two, and as I waited to see if he would remember me, I realized I was wrong. He wasn’t exactly the same.
My memory of him had been frozen decades before, and like holdingan old photo to your reflection in a mirror, I saw the changes. He had some gray coming through and a few more wrinkles. Crow’s-feet around his eyes where there’d been none before.
He said, “Pike?”
I grinned. “I was beginning to think I hadn’t left an impression on you, what with all the money we wasted on your training.”
His face split into a smile. “Impression? No, you didn’t. At least not in any good way.”
I introduced Jennifer, and he led the way into his house. We settled into a small, comfortable den, the girl from earlier now teamed with a younger boy, both clinging to the armchair Samir was sitting in.
“You’ve been busy,” I said. “You were single the last time we talked.”
“Times change. Sooner or later, you realize what’s truly important. You don’t have a wife? Children?”
He laughed and said, “You’re going to die a greasy, dirty old man. You should try it, Pike. I think you’d like the lifestyle.”
I barked a fake laugh and awkwardly changed the subject, not wanting to make him feel bad. His brow furrowed at the abrupt shift, but I pressed on, talking about our business interests instead. How we loved the travel and adventure. Jennifer helped out by asking questions about the Druze. As usual, she knew more than I did and had never even been to the country.
At a natural pause in the conversation, he whispered to his kids, then watched them scamper away and disappear into the back of the house.
“What can I help you with?” he asked, “Surely you didn’t drive into the mountains just to banter about your lack of commitment or your love of