Publish Novellas 31 August 2022
EPISODE 1 – STALEMATE
In this novella mystery miniseries, discover whether a happenstance romance between strangers with different religious backgrounds find acceptance among family and community as years of war end.
The object of chess is not to capture the king, but to force an intractable position of not being able to move out of check. This is called checkmate. The game mimics rules of battle, thereby training players to think strategically. Its principles permeate a variety of competitive professions that include negotiation, finance, and law.
A stalemate is when a king perpetually evades capture without the means of counter attack. With no victory, it is a draw unless an opponent concedes. (Some chess matches limit the number of recurring moves.) In a game against his father, Mark Levine tenaciously moves his king to extend the stalemate. His father, Jacob, is pursuing the king with three pieces.
During Mark’s two tours in Afghanistan, he witnessed the loss of lives on both sides of the conflict. He did not require a plausible endgame to enlist. His goal was to loyally support the country into which his father immigrated. Ending a protracted war can result in a stalemate, or resignation.
“Give in,” Jacob demands after ten moves. “You don’t have enough pieces to win.”
“As long as I have a rook, there’s a chance,” Mark replies.
“It’s a stalemate. Accept a draw,” his father offers after five more moves.
“Never! Do you resign?” asks Mark.
“You’re just too stubborn. I have a bishop and a rook,” Jacob protests.
“I was trained to be stubborn. Even with one additional piece, you cannot checkmate me,” Mark utters in defiance.
“The game is over,” Jacob concedes after 20 minutes. “You win.”
The twenty-year war in Afghanistan triggered by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center ended with a stalemate. The unsuccessful efforts to establish a democracy resulted in a battle to defend a vassal king. After the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban planted its flag on a broken capital surrounded by parched desert and bankrupt citizens.
Of the many faces Mark saw in Afghanistan, was Laila. With only her translucent hazel pupils exposed through the traditional niqab, he could imagine her full beauty. After defending her home from a barrage of hostile fire, there was a memorable embrace.
While many soldiers suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, Mark wrenches with love sickness. Violating the traditions of his forefathers, Jacob married Catherine. She was brought up Catholic, but converted to Judaism. Now Mark longs for an Islamic woman—sans conversion.
When Mark hears of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, his first thoughts go to Laila’s safety. Some of the desperate citizens clung to the outside of limited aircraft and fell to their death. Even if she qualified for evacuation, was she able to forge through the crowds at the Kabul airport to get out of the country?
A reservist named Mark, working as an information analyst, begins mining the data of 123,000 civilians. He endeavors to discover whether Laila was able to escape Taliban rule. After weeks of tireless efforts, Mark finds whom he believes to be Laila in a German refugee camp at Ramstein Air Base. Immediately, he begins investigating how to bring her to the United States among Afghan diaspora.
Sometimes, an excess of 800 passengers, without seats or restraints, were crammed into the hull of military transport planes. Getting people out of Afghanistan is difficult enough. Extending visas, housing, educating, and feeding them presents exponentially more daunting challenges.
How can destinations run adequate background checks for those who might pose a terrorist threat? During a pandemic and recession, can they receive sufficient medical and psychiatric healthcare?
With only the memory of her eyes, the touch of her hand, and warmth of her embrace, Mark feels willing to marry Laila without courtship, if necessary. This will bring opposition from his father and the Jewish community in which they live.
Mark begins studying more about the fragmented Islamic culture and religion. Women wear various head coverings, based on the region or demands of a husband. Reference to such is even in the Holy Bible at 1 Corinthians 11:6.
Every night that Mark sleeps on his comfortable bed in the United States, he is awakened by thoughts of Laila sleeping on the ground in an overcrowded refugee camp. His initial requisition to visit Ramstein Air Base is rejected. However, with chess game-like persistence, he receives permission. The new challenge will be identifying her by her eyes among thousands of women.
The assignment comes with orders to document the names and photos of all immigrants for further processing. He takes this opportunity to locate Laila. The task has a six-month expiration, but Mark completes it in three. With all the data before him, he begins comparing the photos taken by assistants.
Mark is searching for the “eye” of a needle in a haystack. He zooms in on one of fifty photos of unmasked women named Laila. He stares at her eyes for half a minute while comparing how he imagined her full face might look. The eyes are a match, but the face is even more beautiful. The real test is to see if she remembers him.
Marching to the tent in an official manner, he requests the presence of Laila in his makeshift office. Wearing a full niqab, he can see she is frightened and trembling. As he leads the way, she follows behind.
Mark offers her a seat at his desk. He pours her a cup of water, which she sips beneath her veil. “Laila, how are you faring in this encampment?” he asks.
“Very well, sir,” Laila responds, fearing negative remarks could have her repatriated to Afghanistan.
“Do you remember me?” he asks.
Squinting her eyes while raising her head, she examines his face with puzzlement. “Your voice sounds familiar. It is our custom not to make direct eye contact with men.”
“Your eyes are quite familiar to me. I may have defended your home during the war… about two years ago.”
“Mark?” she asks with a look of astonishment.
“Yes, it’s me! Well, my name is on my badge, but you remember?”
Her beautiful eyes well up as she lowers her head. “Please, don’t cry. Tell me what’s happened since I last saw you.”
“Terrible things! Embarrassing things,” she admits. “Should I go on?”