After a day of heroic effort and continuous media coverage that lasted through the night, the shock of what had happened set in. Dawn broke with a pallor that spread across the country with the morning light. Ali had only slept a few minutes when he dozed off to the drone of weary commentators repeating over and over tidbits they gathered from the news feeds and their on-site contacts. The news was so depressing almost everything ceased to operate. A sense of waiting slipped in--but for what?
Schools were closed. Banks were closed. The stock market did not open. Most companies told their employees to stay home. Phone lines were jammed as people tried to keep in touch with their friends and relatives. Internet providers failed to keep up with the volume of email. Except for those leaving the cities for the country and those still ransacking the stores for supplies, an eerie quiet settled over most of the land.
Ali had had enough. He hadn't heard from Rob, which was strange, so he decided to give him a call.
“Hello, Mrs. Johnson?”
“Is Rob there?” There was a moment of silence. Then he could hear Mrs. Johnson sobbing in the background. “Mrs. Johnson?” He repeated himself.
Still sobbing, Mrs. Johnson returned to the phone. “Rob's gone. I don't know why. Sometime during the night he packed up his things and drove off. We don't know where he went or where he is going. Please, ... please! If you know where he is going. Please tell me! I’m desperate!”
Ali explained to her that he didn't know that Rob had any plans to leave. All he could remember was that Rob had called the day before and said something about, “Joining up.” He promised Mrs. Johnson that he'd help look for Rob, and hung up.
Thoughts of Rob and his crazy attitude haunted Ali as he returned to watching the news on television. It wore on him until he couldn’t stand his own inaction any more. In less than 15 minutes, he was driving to the Johnson house.
“Mrs. Johnson. May I come in? I was thinking. If you could let me up into Rob's room, maybe I could help.” Mrs. Johnson, her eyes red and her cheeks streaked with tears, without saying a word, faded backward and let him pass. Ali rushed upstairs three steps at a time to the room he'd been in many times before.
Everything was neatly in place. It wasn't like Rob. It was though his mother had cleaned and straightened up after he left. Strange. He doubted that Mrs. Johnson had. It was all Rob's doing. He had to be careful. He was of Pakistani descent. If Robert turned out to be a missing person and the FBI got involved, he would become suspect. He didn't want that at time like this. He looked carefully around the room, looking for anything that would give him a clue. He didn't see anything. Rob had left some stuff that he considered valuable--the scarred surfboard in the corner, the worn skateboard hanging on the wall, and the 49ers memorabilia that he collected.
With his right hand, Ali gingerly pulled a tissue from the box by the bed. The room was probably full of his fingerprints, but he didn't leave any now. Through the tissue, he pushed a button that started up Rob's iMac. There was a familiar “chime” and the computer started. He placed a tissue over the mouse, and clicked on the hard drive. Except for the essential system and utilities folders, the drive was blank! “Damn,” Ali muttered. He had hoped to take a look at Rob's recent e-mail to see if he had left any clues as to his whereabouts. Now he was stumped. He checked the trash to be sure, and the system folder for histories or preferences, but he found none. Rob, or someone else, had carefully deleted all files from Rob's computer.
As he left the room, the thought occurred to him. “Maybe I can restore the files?” He told Mrs. Johnson that he hadn’t found anything, but that he was working on it and he'd be back.
When he got home he went to his room. He disconnected his zip drive from his computer and located a pack of the zip disks he had bought but never used. Rummaging through the considerable store of computer CDs he had, he found his Norton Start Up Disk. He also picked up an installation disk for the zip drive to be sure that it would operate on Rob’s computer. He didn't talk to his father who still sat absorbed by the television. He didn't even check to see if there was anything new on the news himself. He was back at the Johnson house in 35 minutes.
The door was still slightly open like he left it. He stormed upstairs like before, yelling over a shoulder, “Mrs. Johnson! I'm back!” If she returned his call, he didn't hear it. He was focused on other things.
The iMac was still on in the sleep mode. With gloved hands, Ali slipped the Norton disk in gently and the screen came back to life. He selected the control panel that determines which drive starts up the computer and selected the round CD icon titled, Norton. Then, he restarted the computer. When it came back up, Norton was running the iMac and its hard drive was available to test. Ali selected Disk Doctor, and in the Options menu, Unerase. Immediately, file names began to appear. Norton cranked on for twenty minutes, tallying the number of erased files it had found. There were 32,383 files in various states of potential recovery. Ali selected them all. When Norton asked which drive he wanted to put them on, he remembered that he had not installed the zip drive.
His zip drive could be “hot” plugged through its USB connection to the computer. But when he plugged it in, nothing happened. “Damn,” Ali muttered under his breath. He'd have to install the zip drive software. It took another fifteen minutes to get the drive installed and working and a check to see that all the cartridges were blank. He found two that were carrying some of his critical files, so he was glad he checked.
Reversing the process took another fifteen minutes. Ali once again had 32,383 files ready to be “unerased ". It was another hour, or so before he got all of the unerased files onto zip disks. Carefully packing everything up so as to make it look like nothing had it been disturbed, he took one more look at the blank iMac Drive and then shut the computer down. One more look at the closet and Rob’s clothes drawers indicated that Rob had packed clothes carefully into some bags he had. They were obvious in their absence along with all the computer CDs, floppies, and other media for storing computer information Rob always had lying around. Ali headed downstairs.
“Mrs. Johnson?” Ali called. He heard no answer. “Mrs. Johnson?” He repeated as he entered the kitchen. She was nowhere to be found. Then, he heard her crying in the master bedroom. He entered cautiously. He'd never been in that part of the house before. She was lying, her bleached blond hair flowing out on the flowered bed cover like a shining river, with her back to him, sobbing. He could see she was wearing nothing but a nearly transparent blue nightgown, but he approached her anyway, touching her left shoulder.
“Mrs. Johnson.” His voice was softer this time. She rose on her elbow and turned toward him. Her eyes were red and streaked with tears. Ali could see her breasts through her gown. It fell open, revealing her right breast altogether. She didn't notice. Her eyes were focused on his.
She grabbed him and pulled him down onto the bed beside her. Ali did not resist. He was too shocked to. “Kiss me.” She proclaimed. She closed her eyes and pursed her lips. With her right hand firmly in the middle of his back and her left behind his head, she pulled him in.
Ali had kissed a few girls in his time, but he wasn't prepared for this. Her lips were deep and soft and open. He could feel her teeth and her tongue in the background. His lips tingled. It was strangely exciting. He was experiencing his first real kiss. He was experiencing something else too. Her right hand was sliding down his abdomen toward the top button of his jeans. It didn't stop there. Her fingers wiggling a bit, and then slipped easily under the top band of his jeans and shorts until she had him firmly in a grip with her fingers stroking every inch of his most private part. He was unable to say anything because her left hand kept his head firmly in place while her tongue explored his.
This should have put Ali off. After all, this was his friend's mother. But she was too good; and he was too surprised, to do anything but give in. He got hard. She took advantage of that. She guided his hands to parts of her body that he never dreamed of touching. Before long he was fucking her. Fucking his best friend's mother!
He came in an instant. Harder than he'd ever come while masturbating. And then it dawned on him. He wasn't wearing a rubber! He pulled out and rolled over. Guilt ran through him like a cold shower. Mrs. Johnson continued touching him. He struggled for words. She was gasping for breath, but beat him to it.
“Oh my God! What have I done! I don't know what it was, but this feeling just came over me. I was lost—so alone! I couldn't get hold of Rob's father in New York and the police ignored my pleas. I was at my wit's end when you came to my rescue. You know you're so handsome, Ali? I just couldn't resist you. Please forgive me. Don't tell anyone about this, OK?
Ali sat up and nodded in agreement. Mrs. Johnson was sitting cross-legged next to him, her gown fully open. She had nothing left to hide. She was completely vulnerable--completely dependent upon him. He put his hand on her hand, resting on her bare leg.
“That's OK, don't worry, Mrs. Johnson, I'm going to go look for him. I won't say anything about this. My father would kill me if he knew. I'm going to leave now. Will you be OK?”
Mrs. Johnson reached for him and gave him a great big, smothering, mother hug. Their nakedness didn't seem to matter this time. Ali could feel her warmth and her cold tears against his cheek. He felt her relax in his arms. He left her gently and got dressed. Looking back as he closed the bedroom door, she sat there, cross-legged as before, staring straight ahead. He hoped she'd be all right.
He drove home slower this time. He was so focused on his thoughts he didn't even notice his surroundings. He thought about her and how she had surprised him. He thought about Rob and what he might have done. He thought about what he was going to do. By the time he got home, his mind was made up.
It took three days to unravel the mystery. Ali only stopped to sleep, eat, and check in on the news for any new developments. It was mostly bad. The country was suffering through throes between control and chaos. While police and National Guard had taken on a new role under the new government, anarchists came out of the woodwork. Zealots, mostly in the name of extreme patriotism, were everywhere. They hampered the best efforts of government to maintain order. It would be hard for Ali to do what he had to do under these circumstances.
It started with those zip files. Ali connected his zip drive back to his computer and began downloading all the files he collected into a single folder on his computer. While Unerase had fully restored most of Rob files, the names had been altered by the process, making it difficult to identify what they were. Once they were all loaded, Ali sorted them by name so they would all have some order and duplicates would hopefully be side by side. With so many files, he still had the tedious task of looking at almost all of them.
Rob had the eclectic taste of most teenagers. It was like going through garbage. Ali threw most of what he saw into the trash. For the rest, he made folders and sorted the files into categories. Many of them he had to rename so he would know later what they were. From time to time, he got up, stiff and bleary eyed and watched TV. The never-ending scenes of a country in great turmoil were not relaxing or inspiring. His only consolation was the food he gathered in the refrigerator. Still, it tasted as old and stale as the musty chronicles of Rob he was searching.
He did not sleep. With coffee and Tylenol, he pushed on through all the aborted hacking attempts, pornography, rants and raves that Rob's adolescent mind was into. He found references to chat rooms and the like, but didn't have a clue as to what Rob’s passwords were. From what he knew of him and what he was seeing, Rob was very troubled. His image pad was filled with grotesque drawings that Rob had scanned into the computer and altered with Photoshop. Rob's poetry and drawings suggested that he was patriotic to the point of obsession, and bigoted beyond words. Ali cringed at the references to Turks, (Tur)Buns, Hammeds, Monkeys, Black Monkeys, Chinks, Hebs, and the like. While Rob claimed friendship with Ali, he bore deep hatred for all Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and anyone else from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America. He was deeply anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and considered most foreign born less than human.
Gagging on Rob's twisted thoughts, Ali steeled himself against his own loathing and pushed on until, about two and a half days into his search, he came across Rob's Netscape email file. Putting it all back together took some doing, but reading Rob's inbox and sent files began to help him make sense of where Rob went.
Aside from the many hate and cultist websites that Rob visited, he wrote to one individual, John White, firstname.lastname@example.org, the most. John White ran a number of hate websites under the guise of the Aryan Nation and offered the standard archconservative patriotic fair, catering to the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, Knights Templar and other similar organizations. John was a self-styled leader of the Aryan Nation. He claimed to have thousands of followers throughout the country and was building strength for his “ultimate solution” to the problems besetting the country in his mountain stronghold, P.O. Box 27, Razorback, Ark 72601.
As Ali followed the correspondence between the two for the past six months leading up to the bombing, it appeared that John White was recruiting Rob into his organization with promises that Rob, “Being a true White American,” could garner himself a high position in what White described as “The New Pure America to come.” More recently, Rob's impassioned letters were met with fewer responses from White. Finally, although Rob wrote five emails after the bombing, Capitalize says answered none. The last email was the most telling. It ended with “I don't care if you don't want me, I'm coming. I'm coming to join! Rob.”
Ali knew he had to do. Before he left the computer he typed in the zip code 72601 to his favorite mapsonus.com, and printed out several maps of the zip code and the route he could take to get there. The zip code included Harrison, Arkansas, “One of the best one hundred small towns in America”, according to their website. He figured two days. He was wrong.
By now, four days after, Ali’s father had become some kind of a muttering TV gnome. The muttering was in Pakistani. He was blaming everyone: Moslems, his ancestors, the company that fired him, capitalism, and even his parents for sending him to America. He was not the father Ali knew. He could be no help to Ali now. Ali tried to explain what he was going to do, but it fell on deaf ears. He would leave a note in case his old man came to his senses. But he was leaving in the morning. He called Mrs. Johnson and told her that he thought he knew where Rob was going--Razorback, Arkansas. He told her not to worry, because he was going to look for Rob himself, starting early the next morning.
Ali pulled out all of the Boy Scout camping gear he could find. He selected only those things he felt essential for the trip and packed them carefully. He went to the grocery store and bought enough dried and radiated food for two weeks, batteries, bottled water and other essentials. The checkout clerk proudly declared that they had just restocked those items, declaring “The shelves were bare two days ago.” Ali didn't seem to notice, but he was glad they were restocked now. He had everything carefully packed by 8pm when he fell asleep, exhausted. He awoke at 5:00am, showered and dressed, and went by to see his father before he left. Is father was sleeping on the couch in front of the continuous news on the TV. Ali didn't bother to wake him. He just whispered, “I'll call," and left.