The masked gunmen who infiltrated Nairobi’s Westgate Mall arrived with a set of religious trivia questions. As terrified civilians hid in toilet stalls, behind mannequins, in ventilation shafts, and underneath food-court tables, the assailants began a high-stake game of 20 Questions to separate Muslims from those they consider infidels. Numerous survivors described how the attackers from al-Shabab, a Somali cell that recently joined al-Qaeda, shot people who failed to provide the correct answers. — Associated Press


“You Muslim?” the bearded Somalian with the clipboard asked the American tourist sitting against the wall with the others.

“Since Eldridge passed, don’t hang with the brothers no more,” the tourist said, his breath reeking of Serengeti Lager.

“Take him away,” the Somalian said to a second man with an AK-47.

“Whoa, wait, wait. I was talking ’bout Black Muslims. Hell yeah, I’m a Muslim. What else would I be? As-salam alaykum, my brother.”


He handed his to the Somalian, who perused it. “You live Chicago. What is name of mosque in Chicago?”

“The mosque in Chicago? How the fuck I kno–, uh, I mean…which one? They all over Chi-town now. Where you been? Mosques done took over the whole Loop. Ain’t no more synagogues or churches. America’s Muslim now. All us folks Muslims! Praise be to Allah!”

He jumped as gunfire erupted on the mall’s second level near the Elephant Tusks ‘R’ Us.

“The name,” the Somalian repeated, his eyes sweeping the concourse nervously.

“All right, I got this. I’m gonna go with…the big one with the dome on top.”

The Somalian gritted his teeth. “The name. On front of building.”

“Uh…the Chicago Mosque.”

“You make name up,” the man said. “You mock me?”

“Naw, naw, you doin’ just fine yourself. That my final answer. Look it up you want.”

The man glared at him, spoke into his walkie-talkie, then flipped it off. “My friend googling ‘Chicago Mosque.'”

“Aw, now why you wanna go and do that? I don’t know its official name, all right? Everybody just calls it that. C’mon, man. With all the guns and smoke and people running’ and screamin’, how the fuck’m I supposed to remember?”

“Enough. I ask three questions now. First question easy. Second so-so. Third impossible unless you devout Muslim. Miss one, you die. Ready? What is–”

“Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa. You expect me to think clearly when you say say shit like that? See how your brain work when I hold a gun to your head and ask the name of the liquor store on the corner of Mogadishu and Yoreass. Alex Trebek ever throw down like that, ABC toss his lily-white ass–”

“Silence! First question: What is name of Holy Book of Muslims?”

The tourist let out a belly laugh. “Hah, really? That your first question? That the best you got? The Qur’an, motherfucker. How much I win?”

The Somalian grunted. “Lucky answer. You guess.”

“Didn’t say I couldn’t.”

“Cannot guess. You guess, you die.”

“I woulda thought you’d skip the easy one to save time, since you in such a hurry and all. But your call.”

“Quiet!” Sweat rolled down the Somalian’s face as a concussion outside the Clitoridectomy Walk-In Clinic shook the building.

“Second question: How many verses are in Holy Qur’an?”

“A lot.”

“Cannot accept. Correct answer 6,236. Take him away.” The armed man moved forward.

“Wait. I answered right.”

“Did not give full answer.”

“Show me the fuckin’ rulebook says I gotta give a full answer. Based on the wording of your question, my answer’s accurate. Six thousand’s a lot. But why you care? You said your third question’s impossible, so you got me no matter what.”

The Somalian wiped his forehead. Nearby, a police squadron across from the Semtex and IED Mart crept steadily closer. “Okay, I accept answer this time. Will reword question next attack. Final question…”

“I’ll take True or False.”

“Nice try.”

“Okay then, Multiple Choice.”

“You will be shot if you ask another question.”

“Okay, then at least let me pray before you give it. I need all the help I can get.”

The man leaned close and smiled malevolently. “And who you pray to?”

“Allah, what you think? I’d be a dumb ass not to now.”

“You dare desecrate His name? We will see what He thinks of that. Final question: Who were four daughters of Nabi Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam?”

“Oh…oh…wait…I know that one.”

“You do not. You lie. Answer.”

“No, no, it’s on the tip of my…His four daughters? You sure there were four?”

“Four! Not three. Not five. Four! Admit you are not Muslim. Do not fear death, infidel. Everybody go sometime.”

“If I say I don’t know, will you give me the right answer? Quiz shows always do that ’cause otherwise how’d you know if they were chea–”

“Yes, yes. Hurry!” the Somalian spat as soldiers on ropes descended from the fourth level next to the Voting Booth & Shooting Gallery.

“Okay, I ain’t no Muslim. Now what’s the answer?”

The man ran his finger down his clipboard to the answers.

“Uh-uh-uh. Without looking, asshole.”

The Somalian fixed him with a cold stare. “I need not look. Unlike you, I am true believer. Pray every day. Give all credit and thanks to Allah. Recite the Surahs. The five pillars of Islam. The three conditions for towbah to be accepted…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Sure you all into it and family’s real proud — ‘cept for your punk-ass mess today. But back to the daughters. You still going with four?”

“I…I know them. I do,” the man stammered. “Studied them as child. But never memorized them. Names too long.” He shook his head at his henchman. “We only get test this morning!”

His shoulders slumped, and he stared off, his face resigned.

The tourist nodded to the man with the AK-47. “Take him away.”


Pilot: John Glenn
Mission: Space Shuttle Discovery
Log: First Day

2:05 a.m. Wake up, severe urge to pee. Turn on enlarged prostate monitoring scan, which I’d forgotten to do. Also remember I’d forgotten to turn on short-term memory something-or-other.

2:12 a.m. Discover that crewmembers have hidden antimacassars I put on seatbacks earlier. Story Musgrave warned me they’d do that. Didn’t believe him. Fine. Candy dishes won’t come out either.

2:45 a.m. Can’t go back to sleep. Must have been given placebo instead of melatonin. Mice look dead. Feed them. [As a result, mice are kicked out of deep REM mode and into hyper-exercise mode, causing vital rodent dream-imaging data to be lost.]

3:41 a.m. Decide to surprise grandson with phone call from space. Recording says must dial “1” before number. When did they implement that? Try again. Wake up somebody in upper Mongolia, who seems mighty upset. No call for that. Should be up milking his yak anyway.

4:33 a.m. Make sandwich. Forget where I put dentures. Good thing I brought The Clapper. Clap once. Jaw vibrates violently. Gosh, never took ’em out.

5:29 a.m. Overhead panel begins to rattle. Unscrew panel and find problem: loose floating container inside. Label reads STANDARD ISSUE NASA CONDOMS (6). Only three left. Knew missions never should have gone coed. Date on container, however, is before missions went coed. Say silent prayer for future of program and country. Jettison evidence out waste disposal shute. Put up spaceseat foot rest and nap until fellow astronauts awaken at 6.

6:08 a.m. “Houston, we have a problem.”
“What is it, Discovery?”
“Senator Glenn has not woken up, sir.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“No one wants to…be the one to…confirm it.”
“Confirm what?”
“Well, he is 77 years old.”
“Good grief, Colonel, we have a real busy day and—”
“Sir, it’s the crew’s consensus that Senator Glenn appears to have expir—”

[Siren goes off in shuttle.]

“Check that, Houston. Confirm Senator Glenn is now…up.” [Chuckles.]
“Congratulations, but why is alert still sounding?”
“One moment, Houston…I hope you’re monitoring that, Lieutenant Hemshaw. No, not with your camera! Put it down – that’s an order!”
Discovery, we’re getting a reading that there’s a problem with Senator Glenn’s spacesuit. Is that the source of the alert?”
“Roger. Working on it. Minor puncture is all…Although we wouldn’t exactly call it a problem, Houston.”
“Why is that?”
“It seems someone conducted an unofficial experiment on the Senator while he was asleep – no cause for alarm. Totally harmless. Just some hijinks.”
“Colonel, switch off speaker at once. Do you read? This must not go out over—”
“You’re breaking up, Houston, didn’t get that…As I was saying, the good news is, the experiment appears to have succeeded.”
“Discovery, turn off your speaker!”
“Not only is Senator Glenn fully awake, but results from the first Viagra test in space should be coming your way shor—”
“We’re cutting communication, Colonel! Out.”

9:16 a.m. Outscore crew in balance and coordination experiment despite claims that use of walker skewed results.

10:00 a.m. Nap.

2:05 p.m. Polyester “elastic-band” space pants I ordered are vast improvement in comfort department than old Mercury suit, particularly in groinal and buttockal area. Usefulness of pants coming up to armpits, however, needs further analysis. Could be causative factor for why crewmembers no longer address me as “Senator” but as “Uncle Fester.”

2:20 p.m. Nap.

3:45 p.m. Was not awakened until after Jeopardy. Believe it was premeditated.

4:17 p.m. Conduct unofficial aging and weightlessness experiment to monitor muscle atrophy, cardiovascular system, reaction time, immune system, and bone density. Translation: Punch puissant flight commander in nose. Findings:

  • Flight commander knocked into kitchen bay (muscle wasting not apparent).
  • Heart rate soars, no ill effects (cardiopulmonary rate above average).
  • Return punch misses (reaction time excellent, immune system undamaged).
  • Knuckle/wrist sore but not broken (bone density above average).

4:18 p.m. Nap.

7:54 p.m. Get no takers for Bid Whist. Bet flight doctor 20 bucks that Ed Ames played me in Right Stuff, not Ed Norton. Bet science advisor 20 bucks that I didn’t play for Knicks, Ed Bradley did. Will get another 20 from communications officer when he learns it was me, not Jack Kemp, who played for Buffalo Bills.

7:58 p.m. Before turning in, ask Lieutenant Hemshaw for some Prune-Tang. Am struck over right eye by Lieutenant Hemshaw. Complaint officially filed.

8:22 p.m. Ask flight commander if I can “take her around the block” one last time. He agrees but insists on briefing me on instrument panel first. Respond that I know my way around inside of a spacecraft. Apparatus complicated, but no more so than campaign finance reform. Commander reminds me to check mirror before activating reverse thrusters. Give him look that once melted Werner Van Braun…or was it Zero Mostel? “I’m from Mercury program, Commander. We didn’t need mirrors to back up.”

“Not mirror, Senator, MIR. It’s right behind us…WaitNO!

8:23 p.m. Transmission from commander of MIR Space Station: “Moscow, we have a problem.”