Eventually some of the HTS officers had taken some office space in the building. The women had to wear chadors just to visit the building, so they tended to either avoid the place or stay longer when they came. Krum put the bulk of his computers in the basement, with work stations scattered throughout the office block. He really didn’t have an office, but kept one rolling office chair in the basement, and would sometimes use it to whizz between computers. His actual office was his laptop.
Jordan was happy with a makeshift office on the first deck above the floor in the warehouse. It turned out the chain hoist had a basket which worked nicely as an elevator, too, but the place was far from filled. Still, he got a couple of local men to handle whatever was shipped in and out. No one was surprised when HQ asked them to store things, as well. Ripley took the main office on the ground floor and secured a male secretary of some intelligence vetted by the military from the local workforce. This man served as their receptionist. Manford, Gilson and Worley took over the second floor, which was also their adopted living space. The crew agreed very early on at their own expense to modify one of the two bathrooms, converting it into a shower room. The rest of the office block was variously outfitted by whomever chose to use it. There were no keys to any doors as far as the HTS officers knew; none of the rooms were locked, but there were lockable cabinets in the supply chain.
They never did get a vehicle, so the bicycles were repaired and saw some use. Krumm decided he wanted to buy his own, because he felt some nameless need to be able to get around freely. This would require something better than the old Russian commuter bikes. But on his first full day out of the basement, he decided he needed some time to himself more than anything else, just to get away.
Right after breakfast, he stepped through the pedestrian gate, chatted with the guard a few moments, then headed north. From the map and the placement of highly visible minarets, he knew it would take him past a rather large mosque at the center of the community. The destination was an open park area indicated on the maps, some five miles away. At times the pedestrian and small vehicle traffic was thick, but he was in no hurry. Naturally, his Western style clothing stood out like a sore thumb, but people were generally polite. He began humming to himself some favorite old hymns.
At some point he unconsciously began to sing outloud:
Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide Thee;
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see…
“Excuse me, sir!” One of the men he had identified as some sort of Public Morality Police approached from his right. It was the first English he had heard since leaving the compound. This fellow was taller than average, taller than Krumm. Watching warily, he saw nothing angry in the man’s visage, but a rather friendly demeanor. “Were you singing praises to God?”
“Yes, sir. Was I too loud?” He had no idea where this was going, but saw no reason to be fearful, only respectful.
“Oh, no, no. It is always proper to praise God in any language. Besides you have a fine voice. I have not heard such music in a very long time.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m glad you like it.”
The man kept his slender rod behind his back. Stepping a bit closer, “You are surely not a tourist. We have precious few American visitors to our community.”
Krumm half-smiled. “I’m afraid it is officially discouraged.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard.” The man glanced around. “It seems sad they assume social strictness means uncivilized. We always felt it was quite the opposite. We’d be glad to see more Americans, but the soldiers are rather barbaric for our tastes.”
Krumm couldn’t resist. “Do tell. I was hoping to avoid them myself. Violence is hardly entertaining to me.”
The man extended his open right hand. “Let me introduce myself — Sabaz Khan. That’s rather like Charley Jones in your world.”
“I’ve visited Canada and the US many times, attending conferences in my training to become an imam. What would bring you in this direction, which would take you nowhere near any American facilities?” Khan made sure it didn’t sound like some kind of interrogation.
“Just trying to get away after two weeks of frantic activity setting up our offices. I wanted to sit in your park” — he pointed to his map — “and perhaps see if I could purchase a bicycle or something similar. We won’t be issued any vehicles by the military.”
“Could I walk with you? I’d love the continue this conversation. I won’t pressure you to convert to Islam, but I suspect we have much in common already.”
Krumm resumed his walk. The conversation was open and philosophical, quite refreshing compared to the locker room chatter of his co-workers. Krumm outlined his position as a Christian Mystic, and easily took in stride Khan’s response to the the two calls to prayer which sounded over the city from dozens of loudspeakers during their visit. They sat awhile in the park, then at Khan’s invitation, ordered something from a passing food cart for lunch. Eventually, he suggested Krumm visit a particular shop just a block away, to see if the prices for a scooter were not cheap enough in dollars to compare well with lower priced bicycles in the US. He discussed the best way to buy fuel and other supplies on the bustling streets of the city. Finally, Khan needed to return to his office.
“Mr. Krumm, I have enjoyed a refreshing visit with you today. I cannot hide from you being seen in my company marks you as somewhat a VIP. Make yourself at home here in our community; we want you to feel one of us.”
As Krumm watched the man stride away, something told him his real mission had just begun.