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A Moroccan journalist stumbles upon a story that can make or break her career…and her life. Zakia Karim receives a request to meet a former boyfriend, Elias, who works for an oil and gas company in Morocco.
She doesn't respond because her long-distance marriage to an American is already hanging by a thread. Less than a week later, Elias is incinerated in a fracking incident, which may not be an accident. She discovers the oil and gas company is cutting shady deals with someone in the government.
The closer Zakia gets to the truth, the more danger she encounters. For security reasons, her family moves to the United States. But when she is accused of murdering a Scottish climate scientist in Iceland, Zakia must uncover the truth about the conspiracy, the Dirty Network, to save herself.
Page Count: 410
Word Count: 100936
Elias knew he was being watched. He rubbed his eyes against the dry Moroccan desert heat.
It was midmorning and already stifling. He scouted the perimeter from the gas field to the distant Atlas Mountains, taking in the rocky, sandy wasteland with pockets of shrub before entering the maze of pipes, machinery, tanks, and trucks. A member of a nomadic Berber tribe, Elias was accustomed to the heat, but the stress and fatigue of the past few weeks were taking their toll. Massaging the back of his neck, he felt the sun bearing down on him, warning him.
Shaking his head, Elias stopped to check his phone again and frowned. He was hoping to hear from Zakia; she was one of two people he could trust with the information he was carrying.
When he’d stumbled upon the transfer of a deed for a large tract of state-owned land traditionally used by nomadic Berbers into his company’s name, Oddleifur Oil & Gas, he decided to tell the media. That’s where Zakia came in. Elias wasn’t comfortable releasing the information. Yet, why was the company insistent on doing hydraulic fracturing—extremely water intensive as it was—in the desert? He’d considered quitting earlier, but he needed access to the company files to prove the wrongdoing. He couldn’t turn back now, even if he was putting himself in danger.
Elias reached the wellhead where he met three workers who’d been assigned to help with the malfunctioning equipment he’d been ordered to fix. Reluctantly he took the lead, closely followed by the young men, scrambling around the pipes and pumps, checking the fittings. He attached a manual pressure monitor, a high-tech version of a manometer, to the valves to test the pressure in the pipes. The whole time he worked, he sensed the smell of the rotten eggs, which was common, though this seemed more than the usual amount.
He was sweating now. The sun was higher, and he’d developed a raging headache. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. He came across a valve with a loose bolt where it connected to the pipe. As he crouched to tighten it, he discovered the thread on the screw was worn and the bolt wouldn’t tighten. Then he heard a distinct hissing coming from the pipe. It grew louder and louder.
His adrenaline spiked.
He turned to his co-workers and yelled, “The bolt’s not tightening. It’s going to blow. Run! Now!”
Elias heard the ear-splitting explosion and his own scream.
The day’s deadlines were looming. Zakia Karim walked quickly to her favorite French sidewalk café, five blocks away from her newspaper’s office. She wound her way on the crowded sidewalk between tourists taking photos of the elaborate mosque next door with its turquoise blue dome, and locals going about their business. The torrential rains of the past few days had stopped and Rabat was lush and green. Zakia smiled; she appreciated the early spring rains.
Crossing the noisy street, she paused to avoid a fast-moving moped which had squeezed between the cars and trucks, carrying a family of four sandwiched on a single seat. Reaching the curb, she just missed stepping on a stray cat soaking up the sun. She rushed into the popular Joyeux Café, her green eyes adjusting to the darkness, and saw an empty table back in the corner, near the hookah smokers. Being a lone woman in a café could bring unwanted attention, especially since Zakia had short-cropped hair not covered by a hijab. In Morocco, mostly men frequented the sidewalk cafés. All Zakia wanted to do was eat a quick lunch, not be harassed by a bunch of gawking men in robes with nothing better to do.
She slid into a wooden chair and sighed. These days she hated to spare even a moment for lunch. She was eager to land a career-changing story, one that would propel her to a senior reporter status. Lately, her spouse, Benjamin Atkins, who worked at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., had been hinting that he wanted to make a permanent move to the United States. She feared her career would stall there; she felt pressured to prove herself in Morocco in order to move to a senior positon in the United States.
When it was her turn to order, she smiled at the proprietor and said “Bonjour,” hoping that her good nature would hurry the process. It worked and she had just started to eat her habitual croque monsieur, prepared here with mutton instead of ham, when her phone rang. The proprietor frowned, but she shook her head apologetically and answered it anyway. It could be a source.
Instead it was Mohammad Yasin, one of her colleagues in Marrakesh. Mohammad worked as a reporter on the news desk at a sister newspaper that covered the Al Tarife region in the south and surrounding areas. She remembered vividly that when they’d last spoken, he’d said, “Zakia, your passion is going to kill you one day.” They had both laughed.
Mohammad sounded tense. “Zakia, I have an interesting story for you.”
She perked up. He had dispensed with the usual Arab tradition of catching up on family matters before getting to the point.
“What’s going on?”
“Something big.” His sharp tone made her uneasy.
He didn’t speak for a moment, and then cleared his throat. “Several people died in a blowout at a gas well near Al Tarife. The story’s just breaking now.”
Zakia’s stomach churned. She had an uneasy feeling she knew where this was going. “Isn’t that where Oddleifur Oil is located?”
“Yes,” he said. “Weird thing is the well is still on fire, but the authorities are chasing reporters away. I know the fire chief, but he wouldn’t let me through and, instead, threatened to confiscate my camera.”
“How can I help?” she said. Her adrenaline surged with the thought of a potential new assignment.
“Well,” he paused. “I thought you mentioned once that you had a friend working there.”
“Elias Mansur,” she said. “You have a good memory.”
He sounded sarcastic. “That’s how I get so many press awards,” he said. “I remember things. Make connections.”
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