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True Identity (Excerpt 27)
An Azad Khebat Story
It was early morning, as Azad and Rihanna sat at one of the new sidewalk cafés that overlooked The Citadel in the heart of Erbil.
“To find Mujo, we are going to have to get inside the hotel staff,” Azad said.
“That’s not going to be easy with the security measures that have been added for President Sandoval’s visit,” Rihanna said.
“It’s the only way. He’s a master of deception and will blend in perfectly with other staff.”
“It has to be you,” Azad said. “He will recognize me and go into hiding. You must find a way to join the staff yourself. And you must pay extreme attention to the details of your behavior, fully integrating with the hotel staff. He will notice anything out of the ordinary.”
“Then I will become a maid,” Rihanna said. “Mujo will never know the difference.”
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Rihanna saw the hotel manager sitting alone at the far end of the bar with a glass of seltzer water and a stack of paperwork that he was reviewing. Taking a breath, she paused to check her appearance one final time before walking over. Her dress was modern but modest, portraying a sense of innocence and humble origins. Her hair was pulled back but with a few strands left hanging loosely to hint at an adventurous side that wanted to be released. She approached timidly.
“Are you Roni?” she asked shyly, looking away and pretending to be afraid to look at him.
Surprised, he looked up to see who had approached.
“Yes,” he said. “How can I help you?”
“They told me that you are the hotel manager.”
Pretending to be nervous, Rihanna rubbed her hands and stared at the floor.
“I was wondering if there was some work that I might be able to do here at the hotel.”
Normally, Roni would have just dismissed such a request, especially with the impending arrival of the American president. But there was something about this girl’s innocence and natural beauty that attracted him.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Have you worked at a hotel before?”
“No, not really,” she said, looking down at the floor again. “I’ve been working as a nanny for a family here in Erbil. But they no longer need my services. I really need to work, as I’m the only one to take care of my mother who’s in poor health.”
“What happened to your father?” Roni asked.
“He was killed in Halabja.”
Startled, Roni paused. For nothing more needed to be said. Every Kurd knew the story of Halabja, the 1988 chemical attack by Saddam Hussein on defenseless Kurds in the village of the same name along the Iranian border. His sympathy for her grew, and he resolved to help her.
“Will you promise to work hard, if I give you a chance?” he asked.
“Oh, yes! Absolutely!”
“And you can be discreet when necessary?”
“Your guests won’t even know I’m there—unless they want to, I mean.”
“Can you be here early tomorrow morning for orientation and training?” he asked.
“As early as you want me to be.”
“Then I’ll see you at seven.”
“Thank you, sir. You won’t regret it, I promise.”
Still portraying herself as shy and innocent, she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
“Oh! I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean—”
“It’s OK. I appreciate your enthusiasm.”
“Great! I’ll just go then and see you first thing tomorrow morning,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“Me too,” she said with a smile.
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