As if in a dream, Muammar thought he heard his name being called. But by who? It was impossible to be sure. He was being pummeled by noise and heat, and when he peeked saw bodies flailing in torment, screaming shadows in a dim light. Had he been consigned to hell by Allah as punishment for his unworthiness?
Muammar fearfully turned his head the other way. At first he thought it was the devil, Satan himself, but it was only Rashid the one-eyed beggar, the other eye lost some time ago in an accident involving a camel, according to Rashid, though some said it was Rashid who had blinded himself in order to improve his prospects as a beggar. Rashid did nothing to discourage these rumors by offering three different versions of how he had been blinded: by a camel spitting in his eye causing an incurable infection, a camel kicking him in the head while he had been sneaking up behind it for some reason, which knowing Rashid was nefarious, and by a camel throwing him off into a thorny bush, one of the thorns impaling his eye. Rashid refused to say which one of his stories was true, as if they all possessed some measure of accuracy, or as if the true experience was too painful to remember. The one thing that did seem certain was that Rashid had made it his life's mission to track down this now mythical beast that had so cruelly treated him and to extract his revenge, by killing it and cooking its meat, after first blinding it and letting it suffer that way awhile to let it taste Rashid's misery. It was common wisdom that Rashid's refusal to accept his injury was foolish and perhaps even blasphemous, a quarrel with Allah, but it was accepted as a form of madness as much as anyone knew Rashid, who largely kept to himself.
"Here," Rashid said, extending a helping hand, causing Muammar to realize that he was kneeling on the floor in submission as if he was praying, putting him in danger of being trampled by the people dancing. He took Rashid's hand and let himself be helped up. Rashid led him to a table against a wall, where they pulled out chairs and sat.
"I want to commend you for your heroic action," said Rashid. "It was inspirational."
Muammar wondered what heroic action, then remembered. "The picture."
"It was an affront to the dignity of all Muslims."
"Then why didn't you do something?"
Rashid smiled in a manner that Muammar recognized as condescending. "I must maintain a low profile. Even now, I'm sure that I'm being watched. Perhaps you've heard of the Brotherhood?"
Muammar had. He was impressed. The Brotherhood was an underground opposition party dedicated to the removal of King Idris and rumored to be supported by Egypt. He had often wondered about trying to contact them. "You're a member?"
"Yes. We've been keeping an eye on you. You have a lot of potential. What do you think of this place?"
Muammar allowed himself a tight smile at the irony of hearing that he had a lot of potential again. "It is an abomination. It should be burned to the ground."
"Exactly. It is part of a plot to make us subservient to Western interests by destroying our Arab identity through the corrupting influence of their culture. King Idris is involved, of course, this place could not exist without his permission, but he is a mere lackey, a puppet of the foreigners ruled by his greed and lust for power. The real mastermind is right over there, standing at the bar. The tall American. I believe his name is John Wayne."
Muammar looked and saw John Wayne leaning on the bar as if it was the only thing holding him up, some other foreigners with him. Muammar wished he knew where Miss Loren was so he could tell her that he had found John Wayne and please her, though he supposed Rashid would frown on that.
"He's fooled many people into thinking that he's just an actor, but he's much more," said Rashid, leaning across the table, which tottered precariously. "That's just a disguise, a cover for his activities. It gives him more freedom and power than he ordinarily would have. Haven't you wondered why he is making a movie here in the first place? Don't they have deserts in America? It's all a plot to crush our fledgling independence as the western infidels have always plotted, to steal the oil that lies beneath our desert sands to run their factories and cars and make themselves even richer and more powerful than they already are. As fellow Arabs, we must stick together."
Muammar was growing bored. The only person he liked to hear talk this much was himself. "I had no idea that you were so interested in politics, Rashid."
"There's a lot you don't know. I act the fool only to deceive our enemies. What would you do for our cause?"
"Then take this."
Muammar felt something being nudged against his knee under the table. He looked down and saw something wrapped in a purple handkerchief. "What is it?"
"To do what with?"
"Shoot John Wayne."
Muammar wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't take the gun and instead sat back in his chair and folded his arms imperiously.
"Are you afraid?" asked Rashid.
"No, but I am no fool, either. I cannot help you."
"This man has done nothing to me. Why don't you shoot him, if it is so important?"
Rashid smiled, the same smile Muammar had seen earlier. "I am of too much value to the Brotherhood. We thought you might like to strike this blow for our peoples' freedom. You may think of it as an initiation, assuming you care to join us."
"I don't see how shooting John Wayne would help our cause."
"He is a representative of foreign interests who would enslave us and keep us weak. This club is but one of their methods to divide and conquer us, by exposing us to the temptations of their secular Western pleasures. They want to distract us from reaching our true destiny as Arabs and Muslims by Westernizing us. I'm surprised that you don't see that. It's so obvious."
Despite himself, Muammar began to feel interested. "Go on."
"One of their most potent and subtle weapons are the movies. Perhaps like many of our brothers who think themselves sophisticated you consider movies as harmless entertainment, but they are not. Cannot you not see? Their movies undermine the very fabric of our culture because they usurp the prerogatives of Allah. They create an illusion of life and reality that seems even more real than life itself. How can such blasphemy be permitted? And now, not only are they making movies, but they are making one on our own soil? What next? But that is not all, there is something a thousand times worse that I almost dare not tell you."
Rashid looked right and left with his good eye, then leaned closer across the table. "I have it on good authority that the foreigners led by John Wayne are here making another movie in secret besides the one they pretend to be making. They shoot the real movie at night, so no one knows. This movie is called Mohammed and shows the Prophet acting cowardly in battle, making up his visions, fornicating with young boys and, even, a camel. The unbelievers would do anything to discredit our religion because they know it is our strength."
Muammar could hardly believe his ears. "You have seen this movie?"
"No. I have just been told that this is why John Wayne is here, to make this sacrilege in an Arab country. Doesn't it make sense?"
Muammar looked down and Rashid held the gun out under the table again, still wrapped in its purple handkerchief. This time Muammar took it, tucking it away inside his cloak.
"I know you will not fail," said Rashid, getting up. "Allah be with you."
Rashid bowed, then left by the front door. Muammar felt the gun hidden under his cloak. Did he have the nerve to kill a man in cold blood? Except it wouldn't be in cold blood, if John Wayne was here to make a movie that defiled the Prophet as Rashid had described. It was hard to imagine that anyone would do something so terrible, but with these western devils, it seemed any evil was possible.
John Wayne was still slouched against the bar. The foreign music had not lessened in volume or intensity, but Muammar was no longer aware of it. He said a prayer, then got up. He would ask John Wayne if he was making a movie about the Prophet, then depending on the American's answer, kill him or spare him. He had placed himself in the hands of Allah, so he knew that whatever action he took would be the correct one. Muammar took hold of the gun, unwrapping it so that his finger was on the trigger but keeping it hidden under his robe, then began making his way through the dark crowd of riotous infidels to whatever fate Allah had planned for him.