Excerpt from The Coming Storm
Brooklyn, New York
Jenna woke to the noise of boots stomping the apartment’s loose floorboards. Two men rushed into her bedroom, dark figures silhouetted against the doorway. The shorter man halted in the middle of the room. The taller one charged toward her bed.
“Hands in the air! NOW!”
The man loomed over her, monstrous in the darkness. He wore a black helmet and thick slabs of body armor, and he pointed an assault rifle at Jenna’s chest.
“Are you fucking DEAF? Get your hands up!”
She couldn’t. Terror pressed down on her, pinning her to the mattress. She had no idea who these men were. She froze under her blanket, defenseless, wearing nothing but an oversized nightshirt and panties.
The shorter man stepped forward. He had a rifle too. “Don’t be stupid. Raise your hands, nice and slow.”
Now Jenna saw the black uniform under his body armor. The men were officers in the Federal Service Unit. The new police agency had started patrolling South Brooklyn three months ago, after the big flood in June and the looting in Brighton Beach. Jenna had seen dozens of FSU officers on Coney Island Avenue, stopping everyone on the street to check their residence documents. She’d also seen the cops outside the flood-damaged buildings on Ocean Parkway, rounding up the squatters and illegals.
Her terror pushed down harder, constricting her chest, but she managed to slip her hands out from under the blanket. They shook as she raised them.
In an instant, the bigger cop grabbed her wrists and flipped her onto her stomach. He yanked her arms behind her back and flung the blanket off the bed. “She’s the one we want, right? The raghead’s daughter?”
Jenna turned her head to the side so she wouldn’t suffocate against the pillow. The shorter officer pulled out a flashlight and shone it on her face. “Yeah, that’s her. Jenna Khan.”
She squinted at the light, trying to look past it. She could hear shouts and scuffling outside her room. Then she saw another pair of cops in the corridor, running past her doorway and out of sight. They were heading for the apartment’s other bedroom, where Jenna’s father and brother slept.
Her throat tightened. When she spoke, her voice was thin and high-pitched, as if she’d gone back in time and become a child again. “Please . . . we’re not illegals . . . I was born here, and my brother—”
“Shut your hole.” The big cop tied her hands behind her back with a pair of plastic cuffs. They dug into her wrists, notching the skin.
The other officer kept shining the flashlight in her eyes. He stepped closer and leaned over the bed. “She’s not bad-looking. For a Pakistani, I mean. Nice ass.”
“But she smells like curry.” The cop grabbed her by the elbow and lifted her off the bed. “Come on, get moving.”
The man was alarmingly strong. He heaved Jenna to her feet and marched her across the room, gripping her arm as he and his partner walked behind her. If they were decent human beings, they would’ve given her a chance to get dressed—even with her hands tied, she could’ve stepped into a pair of sneakers—but the officers pushed her past her closet and bureau. Barefoot and shivering, Jenna stumbled toward the doorway.
When they reached the corridor, the big cop tried to steer her toward the apartment’s front door, tugging her arm to the left. But instead she automatically turned to the right, toward the second bedroom, and caught a glimpse of her Abbu—it meant “Dad” in Urdu—illuminated by the flashlight beams. Hamid Khan knelt on the room’s floor, naked except for his undershorts. Two officers in black uniforms stood behind him, both pointing their rifles at his balding head. A third cop bent over Hamid and tightened the plastic cuffs around his wrists.
Furious, Jenna lunged toward the bedroom. She twisted her arm out of the big cop’s grasp and ran to her father. “Abbu!” She glared at the officers surrounding him. “What are you doing? Get away from him! Get away!”
The cops stepped back and aimed their guns at her. At the same time, Hamid raised his head and groaned. His nose was broken and his face smeared with blood, but that wasn’t the worst of it. In the far corner of the room, another officer had tied up Jenna’s brother. Raza lay facedown on his bed, his thin, brown arms bound behind his back, his skeletal legs splayed over the edge of the mattress. His head bobbed on the pillow, but otherwise he didn’t move. He was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, but the cops had handcuffed him anyway.
Jenna rushed toward him. She ignored the officers and tore across the room. But when she was a couple of yards from Raza’s bed, the big cop caught up to her. He tackled her from behind, and with her hands tied behind her back she couldn’t break her fall. She toppled forward, and her forehead smashed into the floorboards.
When Jenna woke again, she lay on the wet sidewalk in front of her apartment building. It was raining hard on her face, and a strong wind gusted across the night sky. She trembled under her damp shirt, her cuffed hands mashed between her back and the pavement. Her ears rang and her head ached.
Then she remembered: Abbu. Raza.
She lifted her head from the sidewalk and dizzily stared at the street, which dead-ended at Coney Island Beach a hundred yards away. Although the streetlights were off—the neighborhood’s power had been out for the past two weeks—Jenna could see half a dozen cops nearby, all of them holding their guns at the ready. Their vehicle was twenty yards down the street, an armored truck as big as a fire engine, its tires sitting in two feet of turbid water. The neighborhood had flooded again, for the third time that month. Seawater from the Atlantic gushed over the beach and under the boardwalk and into the streets.
She turned her head in the other direction and saw three more Federal Service officers on the sidewalk, but there were no detainees besides herself and no sign of her father or brother. Did the cops already load them into their truck? Jenna took a closer look at the vehicle and heard a grinding, whirring noise, the sound of the truck’s driver trying to start its engine. Two officers sloshed across the street and yelled instructions at the driver, but despite all their advice the engine failed to turn over. Soon the floodwaters rose above the stalled truck’s bumpers. After a few more seconds, the truck’s headlights went out.
The water rose above the curb too and spilled across the sidewalk, streaming under Jenna’s back. Panicked, she sat up and turned to the closest officer, who stood about ten feet away. “Hey! Hey, you!” She had to raise her voice over the noise of the storm. “What’s going on?”
The cop ignored her. His black uniform had gold stripes on the shoulders. Jenna guessed he was in charge of the other FSU officers, probably their sergeant. He was busy shouting into his two-way radio. “No, listen . . . that can’t be right . . . you mean to tell me that all the streets between here and . . . well, we can’t just wait here until . . . what was that?”
Jenna couldn’t wait either. Although it was difficult to stand up without the use of her arms, she managed to rise to her bare feet and approach the police sergeant. “Listen to me! Where are my father and brother? What did you—”
“What the fuck?” The cop lowered his radio and gave her a ferocious look. “Get back down! Right this fucking second!”
He clamped his free hand on her shoulder and pushed her down to the sidewalk. Her back hit the pavement, knocking the wind out of her. The pain was tremendous, but she couldn’t even gasp. She rolled onto her side and closed her eyes until she could breathe again.
“Now stay there! Don’t move till I tell you to!” The cop leaned over her for a moment, the rain pelting his body armor. Then he stepped away and went back to talking to his radio. “Repeat your last instruction, Dispatch . . . no, I already told you, we can’t wait that long . . . I don’t care how bad the roads are, you gotta send the vehicle anyway . . . we’re fucked if you don’t send backup, you hear?”
Jenna opened her eyes and glowered at him. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She stopped shivering, even though the cold seawater surged under her head and numbed her feet. Rage boiled inside her. Jenna had a bad temper, and until this moment she’d been ashamed of it—she was too prickly and rebellious, too much of a smart-mouth—but now her anger was an asset. It kept her sane and focused. If her hands weren’t cuffed, she would’ve strangled the police sergeant. She would’ve leapt on the cop’s back and dug her fingers into his throat.
But it was no use. She couldn’t fight, couldn’t do a thing. The rage seeped out of her and the rain hammered down, and she felt nothing but self-disgust. She realized that this was no ordinary police raid, no routine roundup of squatters and illegals. If it were, the cops would’ve arrested everyone else in their building too. No, it was all her fault. She’d pushed things too far, asked too many questions. She should’ve just done her job at the lab, should’ve conducted the experiments without any objections. But she’d always been too stubborn—her father had warned her about it so many times. And now, thanks to her stupidity and arrogance, her whole family was headed for the FSU’s detention cells.
The storm was getting worse. The wind howled over the flooded beach, picking up clumps of sand and garbage and flinging them at the redbrick apartment buildings. Seawater poured into the buildings closest to the beach, funneling through the broken windows and doors that had been trashed during the last storm two weeks ago. Jenna was no expert on weather forecasts—her degrees were in genetics, not climate science—but she could tell that the flooding was going to be worse this time. After the last downpour, the squatters abandoned all the ground-floor apartments in the neighborhood, but this time the floodwaters would rise even higher. Jenna looked up to the second and third floors of her building and saw shadowy figures behind the dark windows, her neighbors anxiously watching the storm.
Then one of the second-story windows opened, directly above. An elderly black woman stuck her head outside, oblivious to the rain, and looked down at the street. Against the glowing night sky—there was a full moon above the heaps of storm clouds—her face was a dark splotch, contorted with outrage. Jenna recognized her: it was Mrs. Wilson, their eighty-three-year-old next-door neighbor, dressed in a white nightgown that billowed over her ample body. The old woman leaned against the windowsill and pointed a thick finger at the police sergeant on the sidewalk.
“What did you do to that girl? You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Her voice, loud and indignant, echoed against the apartment building across the street. The sergeant looked up, and so did all eight of his men. Two of them automatically pointed their rifles at Mrs. Wilson’s window. But she didn’t retreat into her apartment. Instead, she leaned farther out the window and clenched her hand into a meaty fist. “You think you can get away with this? And leave that poor girl half-naked on the sidewalk? Who the hell raised you boys to treat a woman like that?”
Someone opened a window in the apartment above Mrs. Wilson’s. A moment later, a couple of people in the building across the street opened their windows too. Jenna felt a stab of humiliation—her nightshirt was hiked up to her hips, and all her neighbors were staring at her. But then she heard the scattered shouts from the opened windows.
“God damn! Look what they did!”
“Leave the girl alone, motherfucker! Yeah, I’m talking to you!”
“Fucking assholes, you gonna pay this time.”
Now all the cops raised their rifles, aiming at the apartments on both sides of the street. Jenna tensed, heart pounding. The Federal Service Unit was a paramilitary force, trained and equipped to fight terrorists, and they’d brought all their firepower to South Brooklyn. After rioters torched the neighborhood’s supermarkets last June, there was an exodus of everyone who could afford to leave; most of the white residents fled and most of the black and brown folks crowded into the few buildings that hadn’t been razed or flooded. The New York Police Department pulled its officers out of the district, and the White House sent in the FSU to stop the chaos from spreading. The Feds had no qualms about shooting into crowds—Jenna had heard their gunshots in the distance many times over the past few weeks. So now she scrambled to get out of their line of fire, slithering across the sidewalk with her hands tied behind her.
She made it to the entrance of her apartment building and propped her back against the front door. Fifteen feet above her, Mrs. Wilson was still yelling at the cops from her window, calling them thugs and animals and worse. In response, the officers trained their rifles’ laser sights on her. Bright red dots flashed on her wrinkled forehead.
Jenna opened her mouth, horrified. But before she could shout a warning to Mrs. Wilson, the old woman retreated into her apartment.
At the same time, more windows opened on the upper floors, and more onlookers yelled at the cops. Their voices rose and fell, a squall of insults and curses and threats, almost as loud as the storm crashing down on the street. The FSU sergeant raised his radio again and shouted another request for backup, practically screaming into the microphone. Meanwhile, the other officers turned this way and that, pointing their guns at the loudest protesters. The red dots of their laser sights raced up and down the building’s façade.
This isn’t good, Jenna thought. I have to get out of here. The cops weren’t watching her at the moment, so maybe she could sneak away unnoticed. Maybe she could push against the door behind her and hide inside her building’s vestibule. But she couldn’t open the door without turning the knob, and that was impossible to do with her hands tied. She pulled at the plastic cuffs behind her back, hoping to slip one of her slick hands through the loops, but they wouldn’t loosen. Shit, I don’t believe this! She looked up at the knob, just inches above her head, and wondered if she could use her shoulder to turn it.
Then Mrs. Wilson reappeared at her second-floor window. She leaned over the sill again, now holding a dark, rectangular object in her right hand. “Here, take this.” She cocked her arm, readying to throw the object.
The police sergeant saw her first. He staggered backward and dropped his radio into the floodwaters. “Bomb! She’s got a—”
In an instant, the red dots converged on Mrs. Wilson, and the cops opened fire.
The assault rifles juddered in their hands, like thunder at the heart of the storm. The bullets tore into the old woman, plunging straight through her chest, piercing her nightgown in the front and back. Their momentum pushed her back into her apartment, out of sight, but the cops kept firing at her window, pocking and pulverizing the brick façade around it.
Jenna saw it all. With her hands tied, she couldn’t cover her eyes. As the bullets shoved Mrs. Wilson backward, the old woman let go of the dark, rectangular object, which dropped in front of the apartment building. It splashed on the flooded sidewalk, just five feet from Jenna.
It wasn’t a bomb. It was a pair of gray sweatpants, neatly folded. They were meant for Jenna, to cover her bare legs.
“Cease fire!” The sergeant waved his arms at the other officers. “Goddamn it, cease fire!”
The gunfire stopped. The other officers lowered their rifles. For a moment, the only sounds were the howling of the wind and the lashing of the rain.
Then the whole street erupted with rage, all the onlookers at the windows bellowing at the cops below. It was a blaring, indecipherable uproar—Jenna couldn’t make out a single word—but she knew what it meant. The police had gone too far this time. Now the people were angry enough to fight back.
It started with a lone gunshot, fired from the building across the street. The bullet didn’t come close to hitting anyone—it streaked into the roiling waters next to the curb, at least ten feet from the nearest officer—but all the cops dived for cover behind the parked cars. They searched for the shooter by shining their laser sights on the building’s upper floors, but there were at least a dozen open windows up there, all of them dark and empty. The unseen gunman had apparently ducked after firing his shot, and now it was impossible to tell where he was hiding.
Then two more shots were fired, both from Jenna’s building. One of the bullets hit an SUV parked near the street corner, and the other struck a cop in the leg. The wounded man let out a shriek, and the other officers started firing blindly, spraying their military-grade ammunition all over the apartment buildings.
The barrage shattered every window on the street. Shards of glass and slivers of brick rained down from the buildings and splashed into the floodwaters. Jenna heard screams coming from inside the apartments, from the people who hadn’t hit the deck fast enough, but she also heard more gunfire coming from the upper floors, and she caught a glimpse of someone poking a handgun over a windowsill. South Brooklyn had no shortage of guns, and the local gangbangers knew how to use them. They took potshots at the FSU officers, firing from the dark windows overhead and dodging the blasts of return fire from the cops’ assault rifles.
The bullets zinged over the sidewalk in front of Jenna, whizzing in all directions. One of them struck the pavement just a yard away, and a sharp chip of concrete grazed her ankle. Frantic, she flattened herself against her building’s door and slid her body upward, edging toward the brass knob. She twisted and squirmed, pressing her shoulder against the knob, but she couldn’t get the damn thing to turn. Shit, shit, shit!
Then the door suddenly opened behind her. Someone grabbed her arms and yanked her into the vestibule, then slammed the door shut.
Before she could catch her breath, Jenna was dragged into the apartment building, as far as possible from the front door and the gunfire outside. It was darker here than on the street, and Jenna couldn’t see a thing at first. But then she slid to a stop at the foot of the building’s stairway, and when she looked up she glimpsed the dim outline of the biggest man she’d ever seen.
He let go of her arms but stayed hunched over her. “Don’t make a fucking sound.” His voice was low and hoarse, and he was breathing heavily. “You’re mine now.”