The Watchman of Ephraim (Book Club Edition)
by Gerard de Marigny
Cris De Niro worked his way up to the top of the hedge fund world. Yet, all of his money couldn't protect him from losing his wife on 9/11. 10 years passed since the tragedy. De Niro and his sons relocated to a sprawling ranch near Las Vegas. Turning to his faith to overcome his anguish, De Niro now lives for a higher purpose. From a biblical passage, he reads about the "Watchman of Ephraim," a defender who kept watch over the land. De Niro decides to acquire a lackluster counter-terrorism agency in order to transform it into a modern-day version of The Watchman for the United States but there's not a moment to lose.
Aref Sami Zamani is planning a terrorist attack on American soil - codenamed "Antioch," a plot to detonate a "suitcase nuke" over the city of Las Vegas. The Watchman uncovers a connection between Zamani and a Mexican drug cartel but their agent goes missing before they can learn more. That’s because Zamani has a spy working for The Watchman. Strange events start to unfold near the Nogales border crossing. References are discovered to something the Mexicans are calling "Noche Del Espantada” …Fright Night,” but can it mean something else?
September 11, 2011 and the sun hasn’t risen yet in Las Vegas or Nogales. Antioch is in motion! At the border, Noche Del Espantada has begun and there are intruders at De Niro’s ranch. De Niro has to protect his sons and someone new in his life, Dr. Moriah Stevens. She too, lost her spouse on 9/11. Moriah finds herself in love with De Niro but his devotion to his wife is proving too powerful for him, even after 10 years. It’s the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil and unless De Niro and his new team are successful, the day will be known as “The 2nd 9/11.”
World Trade Center Mall
New York, New York
8:30a.m., Tuesday, September 11, 2001
(16 minutes before terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into Tower One)
The shopkeeper smiled at the handsome, well-tailored customer as she finished tying a ribbon around the box of long-stemmed roses he picked out. She noticed his wedding ring and could surmise for whom the flowers were intended. The earthy woman’s ruddy cheeks glowed with satisfaction as she affixed the final touch to her handiwork – a big red bow – to the top and center of the lid.
“Will this be cash or charge?”
De Niro handed over his American Express black card as he flipped his cell phone open and hit an auto-dial button.
The shopkeeper raised her eyebrows when she examined the oddly-colored card and read the famous last name embossed onto it. After swiping it through the terminal, her blue eyes sparkled with curiosity as she handed it back to him. De Niro knew the look on her face well. He’d seen it countless times before, and though he bore little resemblance to the legendary actor with the same last name, curiosity got the better of most people.
If I had a dollar for every time someone gibed me with the famous line, “You talkin’ to me …” … I can only imagine what it’s like to – be – Robert De Niro.
Smiling politely, he answered her question before she even asked it.
Born Cristiano Stephen De Niro, De Niro had long ago given up teasing people by telling them, “We’re cousins.”
After deciding whether she should believe him or not, the shopkeeper flashed De Niro a knowing glance. Handing him the box, she added a little too loudly for his comfort, “I understand, Mr. De Niro.”
De Niro rolled his eyes and with a few curious stares from other customers, made a quick exit from the store.
Located behind the “Twin Towers,” the florist shop was nestled in the far corner of the concourse, the largest shopping center in Manhattan. The WTC Mall was also a main stop for a number of trains including the PATH that carried people into the city from New Jersey as well as the N, R, 1 and 9 lines that ran from Brooklyn and Queens to uptown. As he passed the entrance to the PATH train platform heading for the Tower One lobby, De Niro detected the familiar smell of the subway below. It brought to mind his harried youth, when he took the train from Brooklyn to uptown to go to work.
The smell of the subway and over-cooked pretzels will always remind me of Manhattan.
He hadn’t been to the Trade Center in awhile but De Niro could see some things hadn’t changed - his call wasn’t going through - so he disconnected it and tried again. Being there brought back so many memories of when he first met his wife, Lisa. At the time, she worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the world-famous bond house. Lisa landed her job with Cantor right out of college and worked her way up the ladder, eventually becoming the firm’s chief market analyst. Lisa and Cris both knew God had a hand in their meeting despite the fact they didn’t get off to the best start.
De Niro blushed with embarrassment whenever he thought about how they met. It was at a cocktail hour that kicked off an investment conference in San Francisco, where they both were scheduled to speak. He arrived late and had just walked into the reception area. Lisa greeted him and introduced herself in her usual, confident manner. He offered his hand to her and began to introduce himself, when she interrupted him with just a touch of sarcasm.
“I know who you are.”
Winking, she glanced over his head and walked away. De Niro was perplexed until he noticed that he was standing directly under a ten-foot billboard poster of himself, complete with his name in bold, printed under his picture. Apparently, someone working for the event’s promotion department thought it was a brilliant idea to plaster the behemoth posters all over the conference center.