About “Reprisal”

The Zehra Series – A prosecutor whose cases often threaten—her life!!

It’s already started with the disappearance of the Somali boys from Minneapolis.  Small Pox was eradicated from the planet in 1979. For future research, two repositories of the deadly virus were set up in Atlanta, Georgia and Vector, Russia.  When an Islamic bioterrorist group steals samples of the virus from Russia, they need human hosts to carry the disease and infect defenseless Americans. Release of the virus is about to explode until a criminal defense lawyer gets involved.  She becomes entangled in a race against time and the terrorists to save hundreds of children and the community.

What people have said about Reprisal:

From the first page of the prologue, this is a scary novel.  It is also provocative, intriguing, and it raises questions that remain in the mind after the final chapter closes.

Loved the book!  A unique mix of suspense and character development.  The storyline includes a surprising and frightening method of terrorism.  Sure hope there’s a sequel to “Reprisal” with some of the great characters of this very good book!

Wow!  Just finished this book and it kept me up all night.  The plot in “Reprisal” is so well crafted and really very believable.

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Chapter One

Although never convicted of a crime, she had to go to jail.

Zehra Hassan, one of dozens of Public Defenders in Minneapolis, forced herself out of the office and down Fourth Avenue toward the concrete building known as the Public Service Facility. In spite of the bureaucratic name, it was still a jail. She never liked going there and especially today, dreaded the first interview with her new client.

She’d been appointed to defend the terrorist accused of killing a missing Somali boy who’d returned to Minneapolis. Zehra remembered her first appearance with him. One of the arresting cops who was a friend of hers, approached her after the hearing.

“Watch this guy, Z. He’s bad news.”

When even the cops were worried about a defendant, that concerned Zehra.

Hot sun pressed like a weight across her back. For May, this was unusually warm. Bright light glanced from the tall glass buildings surrounding her. Heat rising off the sidewalk clutched at her legs.

Zehra opened one of the doors to the PSF and thought of the air conditioned reward on the other side. Once in, she still felt clammy and hot.

“Hey Joe,” she called to the deputy sheriff at the metal detector. “What’s up with the air?”

Joe grinned when he saw Zehra. “The computer’s aren’t programmed right. They tell us they’re workin’ on it…”

Zehra took a deep breath, patted her damp forehead, and headed for the elevator that would take her down two floors into the suffering and struggles of the inmates below. Pulling the back of her suit down over her hips, she slowed and waited.

When she’d first moved to Minnesota years ago, she thought of it as a tundra. “Siberia with family restaurants,” one of the film-making Coen brothers had said after they left themselves.

Certainly, the first winter matched her expectations. Then she experienced her first spring. Formally hidden under snow banks, caches of unexpected objects appeared. People uncovered life in a variety of colors with a diversity of animals and plants all greedy for new growth. The spring thaw also uncovered other odd things: sinners; unexplained mysteries; and even a dead body on occasion.

The elevator came and Zehra rode alone as it descended. After graduating from law school and working in the prosecutor’s office for a few years, she’d switched to the defense side. One of the necessary difficulties of the job involved meeting clients who were dangerous enough to be held in custody.

When the elevator opened, Zehra rushed out into a small room with a beige tile floor. The bright fluorescent light above caused her to see a metallic reflection of herself in one of the thick windows in the wall. She liked her face, her large eyes that were hazel–unusual for someone with her dark complexion. Thick black hair curled around the edges of her chin. Then, there was her nose–too long. A remnant of her distant relatives from Iran.

The heat made her chest feel clammy and damp.

When Zehra moved forward to press the button on the intercom, a deputy looked up at her and waved in recognition. She heard the loud metal clank as the lock shot open in the door. She pulled on the cold handle, walked through it, and turned left.

Zehra’s parents were a part of the flood of educated people who fled to the U.S. after the fall of the Shah for more opportunity, a chance to become naturalized citizens, have children, and work hard.

She’d grown up in Dallas but moved to Utah for college, mostly because she loved to snowboard. After graduating, she moved to Minnesota to attend law school, followed by her parents after they wilted in the hot weather of Texas’ summers.

Zehra walked through the thick dead air of the jail toward an interview room. She missed the colors of her garden when she was down here. She found an open room and stepped into it.

Two metal chairs sat beside a plastic table. She set her briefcase on it next to a red button, the size of her palm, which protruded from the wall. If she hit the button, several deputies would charge into the room.

Zehra pulled out the thin file she had on the new client. It read: State of Minnesota vs. Ibrahim El-Amin. With the amount of publicity generated by the disappearance of many young Somali men from the Twin Cities, the police and FBI had worked overtime to discover what happened. The murder seemed to be the first crack in all the cases, since this victim had also disappeared earlier like the others. No one knew why he’d come back or how.

Zehra stood–she never liked to meet new clients sitting down. She had to control the meeting. Not that she believed much of what defendants told her. So many lied, made excuses, denied, and minimized their behavior. The savvy ones threw in a few truths like glue, to try and hold together their preposterous stories.

Around the control desk, she saw two deputies escorting El-Amin toward the second door in the room.

He had closely cut curly black hair and a short, flat nose. Dark skin that shone under the lights and a ragged beard. A short man, he walked slowly, erect and proud. He wore the jail’s private label clothing line–an orange jump suit. The deputy pushed on his arm. El-Amin jerked it away and came through the door.

He paused. His eyes rose slowly and looked at Zehra. They glistened black and focused, surrounded by deep cavities of smudged gray making him look old.

Even though they were narrow, Zehra saw wiry strength in his shoulders.

Behind El-Amin, the door closed and the lock scraped through, metal against metal. Zehra nodded. “Hello, Mr. El-Amin. I’m Zehra Hassan, your lawyer.” She held her hand at her side.

He didn’t respond. Continued to stare at her. His eyes probed her face, shoulders, chest, then circled her hips and legs. She’d seen this before–the Stare, although it usually came from the street gangsters.

But this defendant was different. He wasn’t a gangster and at 26, was older. She held his gaze for moment and then broke it off.

They both sat and El-Amin used his left hand to push himself away from her. He had strong hands with thick calluses that edged each finger.

Zehra took a deep breath. Considering she had ambitions to be the first Muslim judge in Minnesota, defending a Muslim terrorist wouldn’t help her career at all.

“I’ve been appointed to represent you in your murder case,” Zehra began. “You speak English?”

He bobbed his head.

“First, we should talk about bail. Is there anyone who could afford to come up with some money..?”

“I want a male lawyer,” he demanded.

She’d heard this before, too. “Sorry, you get me.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“That’s irrelevant.”

“In my country, women are not allowed to work like this. It is contrary to the Qur’an.”

“Well, this isn’t your country and women do work like this here,” Zehra said. “Do you want to talk about your case or religion? ‘Cause if it’s religion, I’m leaving.”

He leaned back and refused to speak. His nostrils flared as if he smelled something.

Zehra took a deep breath. Most defendants were desperate to get out of custody. Not this one. And the bullshit about Muslims really set her on edge.

As an American Muslim born here, she knew the difficulties faced by people like her–trying to be good Americans and good Muslims at the same time. It was the discrimination and the crap suffered by Muslim women that upset her and led to law school. Most Americans knew more about micro-breweries than Islam and how close its theology related to Judeo-Christianity. Along with other females in the U.S, Zehra was passionate to modernize the role of Muslim women.

And here she faced the very problem they all faced–a radical, extremist who probably hated all women and had probably killed an innocent young man.

She thought to herself. Was there a way she could dump this case? Could she beg a male, Christian colleague to take this bronco?

“Okay. Let’s look at the Complaint,” Zehra sighed. She pulled out a document written by the prosecutor that alleged facts to make the defendant guilty of the charge of first degree murder.

“It says that on March 19th a witness was standing on an open porch at the back end of the Horn of Africa deli on Cedar Avenue. The witness saw a young black man come out of the patio next to the deli through a wooden gate in the fence below the witness.

“Just as they guy got through the gate, another dark man, wearing a mask of some sort and identified as you, came up behind the younger one, grabbed his forehead with the left hand. With the right hand, he cut the younger one’s throat with a knife and the killer fled.”

Zehra glanced at El-Amin. His expression remained frozen.

“A week later,” she continued reading, “a confidential reliable informant, a CRI, reported to police you were at a coffee shop near the crime scene and bragged about a knife you had. You bragged that you ‘brought a little lamb to Allah.’ When police executed a search warrant at your apartment, they found a knife and shirt. Both had been cleaned but forensics later determined the victim’s blood showed on both items.”

Under brows hooded low, his eyes moved from the paper to Zehra’s eyes again. He crossed his muscled arms over his chest.

A creepy feeling crabbed its way up her back. At this point, after reading all the accusatory facts, most defendants raved about how they were “all lies” and insisted they were innocent.

Still, Zehra’s training as a defense lawyer asserted itself and she started to see holes in the State’s case. “When the cops did that line-up with the witness and he picked you, it’s highly suggestive. The light was bad during the crime and after, as well. I don’t know if it’ll stand up to cross…”

“It’s not important. There are bigger things.”

“What things? You don’t think a murder one case isn’t important?”

“You are not qualified.”

“Damn right. If I could pull the plug on you, I would so fast…”

“I have a right to a lawyer, don’t I?” His lips lifted above white teeth.

“You got one.”

“You…are a woman and an infidel.”

“Aw…shit.” Zehra moved her chair back. It felt hard to breathe around El-Amin, as if there were a vacuum sucking the air out of the room. She wanted to get out of this case. Besides, he made her feel uneasy.

Mostly, he stood for all that she hated and fought against.

El-Amin raised his arm with a finger pointed up in the air. “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other,” he quoted from the Qur’an.

Zehra felt a drop of sweat course down her neck. The stuffy room became claustrophobic. She breathed faster. “Don’t quote me that crap. I know the Qur’an.”

He interrupted her. “I have the right to a trial and I can command you to have one.”

“You have the right to a trial.”

“I want a jury trial with a new lawyer.”

“You’ll get your trial,” she shouted at him.

“I did it.”

Zehra’s words caught in her throat. “You killed the Somali?”

“It was necessary.”

She stammered, “Well…I could talk to the prosecutor about a deal…”

“Do not talk to them.”

Zehra never had a defendant admit guilt but still demand a trial. What was wrong with this idiot? She shoved her chair back and stood. “I’ve had it. I’m out of here.”

“I know that I have a right to represent myself.”

Zehra felt the anger rising in her until a thought struck her–she might be able to get out of the case. If he insisted on defending himself, she could be relieved of representing him.

She started to stuff the papers into her briefcase, not worrying about the order. The room felt small, stuffy. She wished she were drinking a cup of tea and working with her garden plants.

El-Amin stood and leaned toward her. He smelled of onions. Through gritted teeth, he said, “I will not have anything to do with you. I will be disgraced.” His eyes shone with fury. “You do not wear hijab, you have bare legs. It is not of the law of Allah.”

Zehra snapped. She jammed her finger into his face. “Listen, you jerk. I’d be happy to never talk to you again. And don’t tell me about the law of Allah. I know it better than you do.” She stopped for a moment. “Have you ever read the Qur’an yourself or do you let others interpret it for you?” Her shouts bounced off the close walls.

“A woman cannot understand the words of the Prophet like a man.”

Zehra felt her face flush hot with anger. Sweat stood out on her forehead. She knew better than to argue with him, but she hated all that he said. She stood but didn’t trust her legs to support her. “Get out of my way,” she yelled at him.

“No woman talks to me like that.” He reached for the chair, gripped the edges, and started to lift it.

The silence in the room crackled with tension. Zehra heard the lights above humming. Thick air dulled any outside sounds. The chair scraped across the floor.

Zehra watched his eyes. Knew it was time and slammed the red panic button with her fist.

El-Amin had the chair off the ground. He twisted his shoulders to get better leverage. She could hear him grunt as he strained to swing it toward her.

Zehra backed into the corner. The block walls felt surprisingly cool. She had her arms up. Clanking sounds echoed around the room. El-Amin swore something in Arabic.

Two deputies burst through the door and clamped their arms over El-Amin’s shoulders. The chair clattered to the floor. One deputy seemed to enjoy the opportunity and twisted El-Amin’s arm behind him until Zehra heard something crunch. El-Amin screamed and dropped to the floor. He stomped on El-Amin’s back.

Another deputy arrived and helped the first two drag her client outside the interview room. “You okay, Zehra?” he asked her. “Sorry…we didn’t see anything until you hit the button. I…I’m so sorry.”

She waved her hand at him. “Don’t worry, Jack. I gotta get out of here.” She stumbled back to the elevator and rode up to civilization above. Her blouse was drenched and Zehra longed to get out of the sticky clothing.

She burst through the doors outside and felt the comforting smell of fresh air. Closing her eyes, she let the sun’s warmth penetrate her wet face. Tangled thoughts flew through her brain. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before.

Even though El-Amin said he was guilty, her reading of the file told her there was a good chance he was innocent. Why would he want a trial? Zehra shook out her damp hair as if to shake off the creepy feeling he left with her.

That’s not to mention the way guys like El-Amin had hijacked Islam in a perverted way to serve their violent ends. That infuriated her.

She took a deep breath and watched as a sparrow lifted off a nearby tree. It paddled upwards along the stones on the side of the old City Hall where Peregrine falcons sometimes swooped down from the ramparts to snatch prey like the sparrow.

Zehra started toward the cool of her office, plotting how she was going to dump the case.

If you like what you’ve read and want to buy the book, go to:



Further Resources  about issues raised in the book:


What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, John L. Esposito, Oxford Univeristy Press, 2002

American Muslims, Asma Gull Hasan, Continuum Press, 2001

American Islam, Paul M. Barrett, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007

Islam Unveiled, Robert Spencer, Encounter Books, 2002

Why I Am A Muslim, Asma Gull Hasan, Element Publishing, 2005

The Essential Koran, Translated by Thomas Cleary, Castle Books, 1993


The Submission,  Amy Waldman, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2011

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2007


The Islamic Resource Group at:  http://www.irgmn.org/  (An educational organization)

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)  at: http://mn.cair.com


For information about Small Pox and Pandemics:

The Hot Zone,  Richard Preston, Random House, 1994

Living Terrors, What America Needs to Know, by former Minnesota State Epidemiologist, Dr. Michael Osterholm, 2001

Center for Disease Control and Prevention  (Lots of valuable information!)


“Contagion” a new film directed by Steven Soderbergh

This website has links to other interesting resouces:


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