On their way to Afghanistan to look for Usman, Amna and Ron stop for lunch and encounter a woman who claims to be engaged to Usman. Amna challenges the woman to identify herself.
Life on the Left Side of the Fast Lane
by Reynold Conger (Copyright 2010)
(To verify her identity, Shauna displays an antique locket on a chain around her neck.)
“My mother’s locket,” gasped Amna.
Shauna said, “I understand it is traditional in your family for this locket to be given to the intended bride of the oldest son.”
“Yes, it is obvious you are who you say. Everything I tell you from now on must be kept in closest confidence. Usman’s life may depend on it.”
“Of course. I will do anything to help Usman get his freedom.”
“In case someone is watching, do not act surprised at what I am about to say.”
Amna continued, “The reason my driver did not speak to you is that he speaks no Urdu and no Punjabi. He is an American who has come to help look for Usman.”
Shauna’s eyes opened wide, but she managed to keep her composure.
Ron bowed his turbaned head and said quietly in English, “Ronald Cooper at your service, Ma’am.”
Shauna gasped and then turned toward Amna, “If you don’t mind, sir, I will keep my back to you so that it is not obvious we are conversing.”
“If I understand, your fathers are not on speaking terms.”
“That is correct,” answered Shauna.
“Has your father met Usman?”
“Yes, but I just introduced him by his given name. I never told my father that he was Mr. Kahn’s son.”
“Does your father have anything against Usman.”
“No, I think Usman impressed him. Later, Father even asked me in a joking way if Usman was the man I wanted to marry, but to arrange a marriage, Usman’s father would have to talk to my father, and we don’t think they would ever agree on anything. That’s why we finally decided to elope.”
“Is that a common practice?”
“No, Usman got the idea from a book he read, but we think it will work.”
Amna interrupted, “Mother must be in agreement, or Usman would not have been able to give her the locket.”
Ron said, “Then Shauna, you don’t think, do you, that your father abducted Usman to prevent this marriage?”
Shauna gasped, “Oh, I can’t imagine he would.”
Ron said, “Amna, I don’t think we can completely eliminate Mr. Sultan from suspicion, but for the moment let us assume he has nothing to do with your brother’s disappearance.”
“Good, I’m beginning to think that Shauna would make a great sister-in-law,” said Amna.
Ron continued, “Usman left home in his own car last Saturday morning. Shauna, you are the last person to have seen Usman. Tell us about it.”
Shauna shrugged, “It started normally. I left the house quietly and had my driver drop me off at a friend’s house over there. Then I walked over here to wait for Usman.”
“Was he on time?”
“You can set your watch by Usman. He’s very predictable. I got in his car, and we drove off to find a place to be alone.”
Amna interrupted, “Oh, how romantic. I suppose Usman got all kissyface.”
Shauna said. “Of course. The thing I like best about Usman is how he kisses me.”
“I am not surprised, and with a figure like yours, I am sure he did not take long to undress you,” continued Amna, with a sigh.
Shauna blushed. “Your brother is a gentleman. We had our fun, but I remain a virgin. That is part of the reason we want to get married right away without waiting for our fathers to finish arguing over details.”
“We are digressing,” Ron interrupted. “Did you and Usman discuss anything in particular while you were alone?”
“Yes, we discussed marriage and this silly feud between our fathers. Usman proposed that we elope. When I agreed, he hung the locket around my neck. I have never been happier, and yes, Amna, it took all of our combined willpower to keep from making love on the spot.”
“Oh, that’s how love should be,” gushed Amna.
“But did he say anything about going anywhere else?” Ron asked.
“Not right then. We only talked about love and made our plans to elope today. Usman had some arrangements to make. Later, we came back here for some lunch. During lunch, he mentioned that he had other business. I begged him to take me with him, but he refused.”
“What kind of business?”
“He didn’t say. I assumed it had something to do with computers because he was going to Luknur. He has taken me there before to look at computers. There are great deals in computer components to be had there.”
Amna nodded her head. “We must certainly look in Luknur.”
Ron nodded and continued, “What else did you talk about?”
“Usman talked about Amna’s impending marriage to some fellow who Usman doesn’t like.”
“I don’t like him either,” said Amna.
“That’s what Usman said. He’s very concerned about your happiness. I’m so sorry your father wants to marry you to a man you don’t love.”
“I guess that is reality. Papa announced my engagement Thursday evening,” replied Amna.
Shauna hugged Amna tenderly and said comforting things to her.
Eventually, Amna said, “At least you and Usman will be happy. I will live vicariously through your love, but first we must find Usman.”
“So, what do you plan to do?”
“We stopped here to refresh ourselves, so I suppose the first thing we will do is get something to eat.”
“Then join me. As future sisters-in-law, we will dine together.”
“First I must lead Mr. Cooper over to where the other drivers wait and arrange for him to be fed. Remember he can neither hear. . . .” Just then a blue car appeared on the road. Amna reacted with alarm. “We must hide.”
“In here,” Ron said, putting his shoulder to the door of the boarded up building. He grasped Amna’s hand and pulled her into the abandoned building. Without waiting for his eyes to adjust to the deep shadows, he plunged ahead with Amna in tow. Suddenly, the rotting boards beneath his feet gave way, dropping him and Amna into a shallow pit.”
(to be continued)