An hour before dawn, a black panel van cruised a small townhouse neighborhood in Germantown, Maryland, circling at the end of the street before returning to a four-way stop. The van sat idle for several seconds, then continued along the shoulder before slowing behind a mailbox across from the brick-front homes. The driver signaled his two passengers and shifted the transmission into park.
When the van’s sliding door opened, two large men in dark suits got out and marched across the street to the bay window residence with painted shutters, their shoes crunching on the slush of salt and ice on the sidewalk leading up to the welcome mat.
They rang the doorbell and stood shoulder to shoulder armed with Sig Sauer handguns and the training to use them.
A woman with tired eyes and a slouched body posture answered the door in a faded flannel gown and slippers. “Can I help you?”
The taller man with a chiseled jaw and short, spiked hair raised his hand to show his badge. “Are you Martha Anne Sayeed?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
“My name is Special Agent Parks. My partner Special Agent Rollins and I are with the Department of Homeland Security. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Did you find my husband?”
“May we come inside?”
“Where’s my husband?”
Martha Anne allowed the men with guns and badges to enter and ushered them to the family room. She shut the basement door and parted a strand of hair from her face. “Who sent you here?”
Agent Parks ducked his head beneath a low-hanging chandelier and observed the family photos on the fireplace mantel: a wedding portrait of a husband and wife exchanging vows on a beach, and a photo of three kids wrestling with a golden retriever in front of a painted fence. “You are the wife of Fayez Sayeed?”
“Yes. Do you know where my husband is or not?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out, Ma’am,” Agent Rollins acknowledged. He checked the area behind the breakfast nook overlooking the neatly arranged family room with coasters on the coffee table and a sofa positioned in front of an open entertainment center. “Is there anyone in the house besides yourself?”
“My children and my mother upstairs. Why?”
Agent Rollins checked the space behind the laundry room door. “Standard procedure. We have to ask.”
Agent Parks scanned the room with lugubrious eyes, noting anything suspicious or out of place. A wireless microphone in his collar transmitted his voice to the agent in the van. “When was the last time you saw your husband?”
“Seven days ago. He left for work like he did every morning. I called him before lunch to remind him to pick up the dry cleaning. He said he would. That was the last time I heard his voice.”
“So you haven’t had any contact with him since then?”
Martha Anne shook her head and wiped the edge of her nose with a tissue.
“How long have you known your husband?”
“Almost twelve years.”
“Where did you first meet him?”
“On vacation in France.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Ten years.” She watched Agent Rollins disappear into the other room. “What does this have to do with anything? I don’t understand why you’re here.”
“Prior to your husband’s disappearance was he acting strange or out of character? Did he do or say anything out of the ordinary?”
“I don’t know what you’re implying, and I don’t appreciate your tone. My husband is an American citizen.”
“A naturalized citizen,” Parks corrected her.
“My husband works for the federal government, and yet, no one gives a damn that he’s missing.”
“Did your husband have any foreign friends or relatives visit him recently? Anyone he might be in touch with today?”
“I don’t know where my husband is today! I’ve never met his relatives. His friends are my friends. We don’t keep any secrets from each other.”
“I understand your frustration, Ma’am. We’re simply trying to ascertain his whereabouts.”
“You’re acting like he’s a wanted felon. Slaves were treated with more compassion than this. I don’t want you in my house. Get out!”
Agent Parks put his hands out to help deflect the verbal assault. “I understand how you feel.”
“No, you don’t. You have no fucking clue how I feel. Now get out of my house or I’ll call the police!”
“You have no right to be here. No right to come into my home, with my children, and harass my family like this. For all I know my husband is already dead.” She cupped her hand on her mouth when she noticed her daughter staring into the living room from behind the upstairs banister.
Martha Anne shook her head and took her hand away. “Go back to your room,” she told her daughter. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
“I need to ask you some more questions,” Agent Parks insisted.
Agent Rollins returned to the family room and started for the stairs.
“Don’t go up there!” Martha Anne shouted. She took the cordless phone from the kitchen counter and dialed 911. She put the phone to her ear and heard, “We’re sorry, this call cannot be completed at this time…” She pulled the phone away and shot a scathing glance at Agent Parks. “You did this, didn’t you? You tapped our phones.”
“This is a national security issue.”
“National security? This isn’t Nazi Germany. I’m an American citizen. You’ve got no right to do this!”
Agent Parks maintained his calm. The deadpan expression on his clean-shaven face never changed when he spoke. “I understand your frustration.”
“I’ll sue you and your department. My lawyer will eat you alive before this is over.”
“Were you aware your husband’s sister has ties to a family in Iran?”
“Yes. She still lives there.”
“And were you aware her family has ties to a terrorist organization with cells suspected to be operating in the eastern portion of the United States?”
Martha Anne folded her arms at her chest. She watched Agent Rollins return from upstairs and give a nod to his partner. She’d prayed for days on end, hoping for an explanation to her husband’s disappearance. She’d lied to her children to protect them from the reality that she had no idea where their father was or whether he would ever return. She’d called the police. She’d called her friends, her relatives, and former coworkers, anyone she could think of who might know something, anything, even if it meant her husband left her for another woman. She’d even contemplated the possibility of an auto accident, an amnesia scenario, an angry man upset by something so distressful he couldn’t bear to see his wife again—even the possibility of suicide. But nothing like the agent’s suggestion had ever crossed her mind, not even for a second. She loved the man she married. She knew him as a faithful husband and a caring father who loved his children. A man with distant ties to relatives who never blessed his marriage to an American woman.
“He lied to me,” she said. “We’ve been married for ten years. How could he do this? How could he live like this?” She felt Agent Parks touch her arm as she mentally collapsed from the sudden reality that the man she loved had betrayed her and the country that welcomed him with open arms. “He lied to me…”
Agent Parks held his arm out to catch her fall. “He lied to all of us.”