Stealing Ali


Stealing Ali is a Novel based on a true story. It is available as a Kindle e-book or as a paperback.  Continue reading the preview or click on the cover image to link to Amazon. Published and written by myself and my hero, my wife, Daisy Serle.

The ‘true story’ was an awful chapter in our marriage when we lost our youngest child to an unknowable life in the Middle East.


PROLOGUE – THE PERSIAN GULF – Hot and humid.   Midsummer – Maggie’s face was rigid with fear and tension.  She was trying to be brave to protect her precious little girl.

With the speedboat on plane, they headed for their rendezvous at sea.  The decisive action made their pulses race.  After the long period of frustrating inactivity, it was exciting to be masters of their own fate again.  The rush of air cooled them.

Impulsively, head back and lungs full, Lee flung up his arms and screamed a victory cheer, “Yeaaaah!!!!”

“Lee!  For God’s sake!”  Maggie’s look told Lee that this was half a jesting rebuke and half an agreement that she’d always remember this moment of her life.

Maggie struggled.  There were no seats in the back of the little runabout, so they balanced by kneeling to absorb the shocks as the boat sped through the light chop.  She had to hold on to tiny Ali, balance herself and manage her own drink, all at the same time.

The low lying land soon dropped out of view.  No other vessels were in sight as the sky became darker.  There were distant dots of light on the sea each time the boat rose on a wave.  Out to sea blazing fires could be seen far away atop of the many oil rigs.

Ali didn’t really need to be held.  Her five-year old body adjusted to the motion better than the adults.  Lee reached over and pulled Ali to him to give Maggie some relief; her little body wedged between his chest and arms.

The Scotsman rode in front, sitting next to the driver.  He had given them the cold beer to toast their freedom.  To them it was as good as champagne.

The wind tore through Lee’s clothing, blowing away the stink of sweat and fear.  His beer dribbled down his chin whiskers.  He shook the can in the air and some foam bubbled out blew in Maggie’s hair.

“Don’t do that.” She grinned.  Maggie really didn’t care.  He sensed her excitement.  The soaring moment of escape was on them and they laughed at her words.

Their celebration spread to the front of the boat.  Even the boy at the wheel was whooping it up.  Their emotional responses were heightened by the escape after so many defeats.  They had been like animals in a trap, gnawing their own bones.  Now they felt free.

The western sky was a sailor’s-delight, draining the color from the departed sun.  The waves were bigger now that the boat was away from land’s shelter.  Abdul slowed the boat to ease the pounding.  Without warning he cut the motor.  When the boat stopped he stood up, legs spread wide, one hand on the windscreen.  He began to scan the horizon, looking for their ship.

Their moods changed as the boat slowed.  The roar of the outboard motor and the speed had shut out the possibility of thought or conversation.  The boat quietly lifted and fell with the rhythm of the sea.  The air became oppressive now;  hot again and full of moisture wrung from the salty sea.

“Oh God Lee,” said Maggie nervously, “What if we can’t find our boat?” Her face was twisted, revealing dark thoughts.  “It would be awful if…”

“Ah come on.  We’ll find it.” Lee steadied her by putting his hand on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Abdul.  How soon should we see them?” Lee asked their young driver.  His voice was normal, but he shared Maggie’s concern.  He thought, “She’s right.  It’d be awful to go back.  If Joe catches up to us he’ll have the police force with him and we wouldn’t have a chance.”  His mind drifted back over the events that had elapsed over the course of their marriage.  The stealing of Ali….


LEE ELRES – Maggie’s husband.  A Brooklyn, boy was transplanted to steamy South Florida in 1956.  Miami’s Cuban migration had not yet begun in earnest.  Sleepy South Florida, along with its newly acquired college sophomore, never dreamed of the human wealth that was about to reach its shores.

Lee was a quiet guy.  He was strong and fit but not quite sure that he was in the right time or place.  Miami seemed small time to him compared to fabulous New York; he thought of himself as a dreamer.  Passive.  He thought his life was like swimming at an ocean beach at the breaker line, with waves breaking all around.

He liked the feel of the wave surge when it pulled, lifted and then swept toward the sandy beach.  Lee usually went with the flow, floating over the waves, enjoying the sunshine, the breezes and the palm lined beach.

There was one one exception.  Wooing and wedding Maggie was like catching a big wave just right.  He swept along famously, reaching for the shore as fast as he could go.

Maggie became a Goddess for him, but her history was very human.

They met at work in 1967 when he started at the large weight-reduction clinic where Maggie was a medical assistant.  He acted as the general manager but given the title of Administrator.

The owner, Dr. Burt Arnold, had a major weight reduction practice with a staff of physicians to help him.  In addition to fourteen clinics in South Florida cities, there were six clinics in Colombia and Mexico.  Lee was very involved in the creation of this little empire and the latin American expansion.

Lee had a banking background and a B.B.A.  He had lots of management and leadership training and experience courtesy of the U.S. Army.  He was an Army Reserve first lieutenant when he began working for Dr. Arnold.


MAGGIE ALVAREZ – Maggie was a pistol!  Boisterous.  Flighty.  Sensuous.  Loving.  Beautiful.  Enthusiastic.  Scary.  Fun to be with.

At five foot-four inches, Maggie was a sight to behold.  She had a voluptuous figure and an angel’s face with dark hair, a narrow nose and a clear light Mediterranean complexion.  She was a hottie.

When Lee first noticed Maggie, she was making fun of him.  He was making a speech at his first staff meeting at the main clinic in Hialeah, Florida.  It was his first day at work.

What he noticed first was her impish grin.  Then her long, sleek black hair that cascaded below her waist.  She made funny gestures and faces behind his back.  A quick glance over his shoulder and he caught her in the act.

Her whole package was a little incongruous.   She wore a demure white nurse’s uniform with a very short skirt.  “How in hell can that gal sit down?” he wondered as he smiled at her joke.  Later on, after a little study, he came to appreciate her great figure and boldly rounded derriere.

Stylish and feminine, she had no need to compete with men.  Males tended to worship her.  She was lightning in a bottle.  Maggie’s extreme side was cunningly hidden most of the time.  But it could pop out when least expected.  Sometimes as anger, sometimes as humor, and sometimes as deep sadness.

She often acted on impulse and thought things over later.

Quick to love and quick to loathe.  Maggie was not always easy to really know.  Her hidden thoughts require a long relationship to decipher.

She communicated well whether using words or not.  Maggie could let people know exactly how things stood with a glance or a simple gesture.

Her hands, face, arms and body were always in motion when she talked.  She spoke her mind.  When an idea came to her the thoughts seemed to blaze out of her brown eyes.  She was passionate about life.

Maggie was fully bilingual, at ease in her native Spanish or in the English she had to use since she was nine.  This was just one aspect of her unique personality.  She had an adolescent confusion about whether she was a Cuban or an American.

She spoke perfect, colloquial, unaccented, American English.  Hardly anyone ever suspected that she was not U.S.A. to the core.

As she graduated from high school, she was in rebellion and desperate to escape her father’s overzealous supervision.  Her family was just one source of her distress.  Her dad, Alfredo, and her mom, Caridad, moved to the U.S. in 1948.  Maggie remained in Cuba with her grandparents for school and spent her summer vacations in Miami.

At age five, Maggie was a handful for her grandparents in Cuba.  At eight she went to a boarding school where her grandparents hoped the nuns could deal with her better.  She felt abandoned by her parents.

Her time in boarding school was a disaster.  Her anger and rebellion escalated against the excessive number of rules.  She felt isolated from friends and family.

One of the rules at the American Dominican Academy allowed the girls an opportunity to go home for weekends if they did their homework, made their beds, were on time for meals and said their prayers.  Margarita, as the nuns called her, didn’t make that trip to Havana very often.

Her parents split and divorced.  Maggie moved to Miami Beach to live with her dad.  When Caridad moved back to Cuba Maggie felt abandoned by her mother again.  Alfredo, convincingly, placed the blame on Caridad and Maggie bought into the story.

Then the shit hit the fan!  Alfredo showed up one day married to Elizabeth.  Maggie, at thirteen, suddenly had a step-mom and a blond stepsister to share her room.  She was mad at everyone!

Her father had betrayed her.  This betrayal combined with her screaming teen hormones kicked her further out of the frying pan.

She couldn’t wait to slip away into adulthood.  Her needs for love and support forced her into marriage three times.

Maggie was 29 years old and in full bloom in 1973.  She was a beautiful Cuban American woman with dark eyes and midnight-black hair.

Trouble, however, seemed to follow her everywhere.  Like a middle name.  Always lurking.  Seldom spoken.


Maggie married big George Mathews, her high school sweetheart, in her eighteenth year.  That adventure involved four years in the Air Force and a cross country relocation to Seattle, Washington where her first daughter Jackie came into the world.

When George’s hitch in Air Force ended the little family  returned to Miami.  Maggie had her second baby.  Scott.

Things were not going well for Maggie and George.  Times were hard as they lived from paycheck to paycheck.

He was an office machine salesman and did not earn big money.  He began to drink and soon became unreliable and resentful.  Maggie fumed.  The marriage became so difficult that Maggie had to leave.


Separated from George, penniless, with two small children to feed and care for, Maggie went to work at Dr. Arnold’s clinic at minimum wages.  She struggled to make ends meet with little support from George.  She couldn’t afford hair salons so her hair grew longer and longer.  She could sit on it.  It looked great.

She lived in a one-bedroom Hialeah apartment with her children.  It was close to work.  She had to be within walking distance because she didn’t have a car.

Maggie earned her rent and grocery money but not much more.  Her folks tried to help but her pride pushed her to try to make it by herself.

Motherhood had become Maggie’s central issue in life.  Her two children were on her mind and in her heart when the sun came up and when the moon rose.  Circumstances forced her to have a job but she would rather have stayed home to care for the kids.

Then tragedy struck with an iron fist.

Precious little Scott died in the care of his baby-sitter while Maggie was at work.  She thought that he had bronchitis but it suddenly turned into pneumonia and he passed away while he was napping.

The death of baby Scott was the final straw for the young couple.  It pushed George into alcoholism and the couple into divorce court.  Maggie hovered on the edge of a breakdown.  At this point in her life she really went into a deep depression.

This terrible event in Maggie’s life soured everything.  She went into a depression.  She couldn’t cope in her emotional tailspin.

That’s how things stood when Joe Zayyat came along a few months after her separation from George.


Maggie was like a magnet and Joe like an iron bar.  He had money and time to spend on winning the heartbroken girl.  He paid for her to hide out from her life at a resort in the Bahamas.  She went to recuperate there in the sunshine with little Jackie.

Joe flew over on Chalk’s Ocean Airlines every weekend for a month.  They bonded.

Love happens.  Divorce happens.  Exit George.  Fast forward.  Joe and Maggie married.

She had been struggling and Joe was her rescuer.  Joe was a Lebanese immigrant to the U.S. and had traveled a lot.  He seemed worldly and supremely self-confident.  Joe spoke fluent French, Arabic, Italian and confident Spanish,  He knew a smattering of phrases in several other languages.

Their union started strong and well but, as always, lovers really begin to know each other after the ceremony.

Joe wanted Maggie to stay home but she continued to work, partly out of a need for self-reliance, and partly because Joe let her fully share the financial burden of supporting the household.

He was about to start a new business, providing hydraulic services to Miami’s burgeoning Cuban fishing fleet.  He needed to use his funds to rent a shop on the Miami River. He said, “Maggie, I’m not gonna get rich on day one, but there’s a lot of money to be made there.  I’m going to specialize in fixing the hydraulic systems on those commercial fishing boats.”  Maggie’s job paid the bills.

Maggie continued to work throughout her marriage to Joe except for maternity leave when Ali came along in 1969.


JOSEPH ZAYYAT – One would call Joe a hardworking, smart, good looking guy.  Even charming if you met him socially.  His mild mid-eastern accent made him interesting.   Think of young Omar Sharif.  He was thirty years old when he spotted Maggie at a friend’s Halloween party.

He had a complicated history of work and adventure on several continents after his departure from Lebanon.

Stocky and dark-haired, Joe claimed to be a champion bodybuilder and told Maggie that he had once held the body building title of “Mr. Lebanon.”  At various times he told Maggie that he had been a mercenary soldier in Africa, a ship’s captain and a trained engineer.

As years passed Maggie had a hard time discerning Joe’s truth from fiction.  She did know that he held a U.S. Coast Guard Masters License, valid, it said, for any vessel in any waters.

When Joe met Maggie he was the chief engineer on the University of Miami’s tall, square-rigged oceanographic research ship.  The highlight of his time on the ship was a transatlantic voyage to Italy.  He had just returned from Italy when Scotty died.

Joe had a cruel streak.  On several occasions he brought cute puppies home as a gift to the family.  This seemed fine on the surface but he would go into a rage when the dogs peed or pooped on the floor and beat them mercilessly.  They never lasted long.  He’d give them away complaining that the mutts didn’t live up to his standards.

Six year old Jackie longed for Joe’s attention.  She had no contact with George who was bitterly angry at Maggie.  George stayed away because he regarded Maggie as the one who had abandoned him, never giving any weight to his own misdemeanors.

Joe was tolerant of Jackie but never as warm as the little girl wanted.  When Ali was born Joe became Ali’s doting daddy leaving Jackie out in the cold.

To Maggie’s horror she had to step between Joe and Jackie when Joe wanted to beat her with his belt for minor infractions.  He did hit Jackie on occasion and sometimes locked her in the bathroom when she was naughty, threatening to beat her if she dared to come out before he was ready.

He was preoccupied by his new business and sometimes went missing without warning.  Business was first with Joe.

Joe was secretive about money matters and about his business activities.  He looked down at his Cuban clients and was critical of everyone.

His business prospered and he bought a house with the money he’d saved by letting Maggie pay the rent and buy the groceries for five years.

He was cruel to the dogs and Maggie, too tough with Jackie and not attentive to his family’s emotional needs.  Despite his promises to do better when Maggie complained, the nice new lakefront house became an arena for bitter fights.

The marriage was too painful for her.  Maggie moved out in January 1973 while Joe was at work.  She took the furniture, pots, pans and clothing and, when Joe begged, refused to come back. She felt that her life had to change.

Joe had several wealthy clients with big expensive yachts.  Maggie found out that he was having an affair with an owner’s “arm-candy” wife.  And Maggie knew them!  The two couples sometimes had dinner together.

Carol was tall and voluptuous.  She showed off her assets with short shorts and revealing tops.

When Maggie moved out, Carol moved in.  Maggie heard some of the details when Carol telephoned her for help in the summer of 1974.  Carol was stuck, without transportation or funds.  Joe was abusive and she had to get away to the airport to pick up a ticket her husband in Oklahoma had bought for her.

“Come now Maggie.  Now!” she croaked.  Carol’s voice was urgent.  “He’s at work and I don’t know when he’s coming back.  Just a ride to the airport.  I don’t have cab fare and I don’t know anybody else to call.  He’ll kill me if he catches me trying to get away.  Hurry.  Please!!!”

When Maggie picked Carol up she looked a wreck.  She was without makeup and wore a wrinkled tee shirt over Bermuda shorts.  She was waiting in the driveway with two suitcases.

Carol poured out her woes.  Apparently Joe paid little attention to her except for sex and meals.

“Joe never hit me but I was scared all the time.  He gets so mad.  When I ask for something he ignores me.  He even goes to the grocery with me.  He tells me what to buy and pays the bill.  Right now I have just $3.00 in my purse.”

“We had no social life.  Never went to a movie or talked to the neighbors.  He thinks everyone in the neighborhood is nosey and stupid.”

“He was so nice at first.  I can’t believe this has happened to me.”

Maggie gave Carol the $45.00 she had in her purse and wished her well.


In 1974 Joe was in shock and denial over the separation and subsequent divorce from Maggie.  He wanted her back and was willing to pay a price.  He couldn’t believe that Maggie would ever marry someone else.  In his twisted head the demise of his marriage to Maggie was someone else’s fault.  Never his own.  Joe  was mad as hell.


CHAPTER 1 – 1974 – MIAMI

Maggie and Lee were married on August 22, 1974, survivors of unhappy marriages that had gone on the rocks.  They had vowed to love, honor and keep each other, until death did them part.  Their lives together were to be a symphony of love and accomplishment in modern America.

Their bliss lasted thirteen days.  The length of the honeymoon.  Joe was a vengeful person and he still wanted Maggie as his wife.  He gave them a wedding present that almost blew them apart.  It was a terrible gift that aged them, scarred them, and in the end, caused them all to blunder about.

As the wedding preparations and pre-ceremony activities were finalizing, Joe became more aggressive.  He declared that he still loved Maggie and he wanted her back.

While the new furniture was being moved into their house and as they learned the intricacies of the swimming pool plumbing, dishwasher and so forth, Joe began to badger Maggie with menacing telephone calls.

“You know that you love me.  Why are you marrying him? Because I wasn’t nice to Jackie?  I’ll be good to her this time.  No man is going to raise my daughter.”  Meaning Ali of course.  “I’ll put out a contract on Lee.  They’ll cut him up before they stick a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger.”  Joe was not showing his nice side.

“Tell me you don’t love me.  You are sacrificing yourself for Jackie and your parents.”  He couldn’t tolerate Maggie’s parents, friends or relatives.

“Maggie please I’m asking you on my knees.  I’ll make it all up to you.”  He had been living with another man’s wife in the house that Maggie had tried to turn into a home for him until she was forced to leave him.  “We’ll take a grand tour of Europe.  Paris, Rome.  The Riviera!  Wherever you want to go.  First class all the way.”  He had been somewhat parsimonious during their marriage.

“That bastard.  He bought you with that house.  Didn’t he?” Joe refused to believe that Maggie could have a relationship with another man which was not based on money.

“I’ll buy you a better house.  You name it and I’ll make a twenty-five thousand dollar deposit on it tomorrow.”  He named several houses which he had heard Maggie admire.

“You tell Lee that I know where his sons live.”  His nasal voice gravely and evil on the telephone.  He gave Lee’s former wife’s address.  “Tell him that they’ll never walk again when I get done with them.  Then I’ll have Lee killed.”

Maggie recorded the conversation and played it for Lee.  “My God Lee. What can we do?”

Lee said.  “Maggie.  Don’t worry.  He’s just trying to scare you.  He’s a bully and he is used to getting his way.

“Look.  If he seems serious I’ll get a gun and take care of him.”

Lee tended to be introspective.  A little nerdy,  reading fiction about far away places and adventure.  He was always the most peaceful guy in any gathering.  Lee was six foot four inches tall and a fit two hundred and twenty pounds.  Never a violent man, he was scared enough by the recorded threat to threaten murder.

“I’m an expert shot and I even have medals to prove it.”  He showed Maggie his collection of army medals and awards.  Sharpshooter.  Marksman.  Expert.  He was a lieutenant in his reserve unit.

Joe’s threats and Lee’s talk about shooting guns shook Maggie.  If their wedding arrangements hadn’t been so advanced, she might have delayed until Joe cooled off.  They could have waited until her fears and misgivings, so cruelly raked to the surface, had quieted.  Have you ever known a bride, or groom, without misgivings?

Lee took action.  The baseball bat he kept near his bed wasn’t enough anymore.  He bought a Titan Tiger 32-caliber revolver for $95.00 and planned to defend himself.  Trouble was, the threat was today and there was a one-week waiting period before he could actually get the gun.

Lee tried to borrow a gun from their boss, Dr. Arnold.  “Lee.  I can’t let you have it.  I’m afraid you’ll do something foolish – something you’ll regret.”

A friend, lawyer Stan Schulman was in the room.  He said, “Lee.  I have a gun in the car.  You can have it as long as you need.”  So Lee now had a fine semiautomatic pistol and pondered.  What to do?

Early mornings, weekends and after work he went to the river front neighborhood of Joe’s marine hydraulic business and learned the layout of the neighborhood.  He sat in his car a half block away and had a pretty good view of Joe’s comings and goings.  “What if I just go in at a quiet time and kill him?  How can I get away with it.  Even if I’m not seen, I’ll be a suspect.  I’ll spend years in jail.  What good would that do for the kids and Maggie?”

Lee was able to take possession of his new gun after the week was over and he returned Stan’s gun with thanks.

Lee stalked Joe but couldn’t figure a way to kill him that made any sense.  And what about killing him?  That would sit heavily on his soul.  He was just not cut out to be an assassin.  He never told anyone about his thoughts of murder.

Despite their difficulties with Joe, Maggie and Lee plunged ahead becoming obligated for thousands of dollars for a leased house and new furniture.   Their wedding reception was all arranged and, of course, of supreme importance, driving them onward, was their love for each other.  They wanted to be united!  Maggie and Lee were married on a  brilliant August day.

When their determination became clear, the threats ceased and a smoother and calmer Joe emerged.

Joe wanted to take Ali to visit her grandparents in Lebanon for three weeks during the honeymoon.  He indicated, at last, that he was resigned to her marriage.  He said that he would wait and that when she came to her senses he would be ready to take her back.

Joe begged Maggie, “Please let me take Ali to Lebanon to meet her grandmother.  Mami is getting old and she’s dying to see Ali.  Please?”

Maggie couldn’t say no and that’s how things were while the newlyweds honeymooned in Mexico.  Joe and Ali went to Lebanon.

At first Maggie voiced many objections to the proposed trip.  School began in early September.  She told him she was afraid that he would try to take Ali away from her.  He assured her that he would never do anything to harm his own daughter.  He promised to return Ali in time for her to begin kindergarten school; without fail.

He swore on the grave of his sainted older brother – David, who had been killed in an Israeli border clash.  So Maggie consented and Ali went to Lebanon to see the grandmother, aunts and uncles that she had not met before.

The wedding was the most exhilarating celebration they’d ever experienced.  The ceremony took place in a tropical garden.  It was remembered through a pink and blue cloud.  A beautiful and dear friend performed a ceremony full of tender and meaningful sentiments before relations and close friends.  Lee’s father was the best man.

That night became a champagne whirl of dining and dancing.

They honeymooned in Mexico City and Acapulco.  They had a glorious time.  The extent of their downfall was almost classical in scope.  Those who fly too high, too fast, have a long way to fall.

They returned to Miami on September second and eagerly awaited Ali.


Joe did not bring Ali back.  After two days of anxious waiting, Maggie began a series of frantic telephone calls to Lebanon.  She could not locate Joe.  Known relatives in Lebanon refused to accept her calls or were conveniently out.

Joe was being too cruel.  Given Maggie’s history of already losing one child, losing another was the worst thing that could ever happen to her – a new disaster piled on the old disaster.

Joe’s mother Adele was called “Mami.”  She lived in a mountain village near Beirut.  She reacted very emotionally when, after many attempts, Maggie finally managed to get her on the phone.  The woman carried on unintelligibly.  Clearly, Joe was back to his evil ways.

Lee and Maggie contacted the Welfare and Whereabouts Section of the U.S.  Department of State in Washington and asked for help in locating Ali.

They got a prompt telephone response and, later, copies of wire traffic between the state Department and the Embassy in Lebanon.  This led nowhere.


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When Maggie heard the contents of the wires she knew immediately that Joe’s mother told the investigator that Ali was fine and had departed with her father.  Neither Maggie or Lee realized that she had lied until much later.  A sharp reader will notice discrepancies in the dates but Lee and Maggie could not tell, and did not care much, afterwards, to know if this was a result of typos or deception.

Maggie made a desperate telephone call to her cousin Vincent’s ex-wife, Chloe, who had handled the sale of their townhouse.  Maggie had learned in the months since she’d left Joe, that Chloe had been having an affair with him but Maggie figured that Chloe was probably pissed off at him by this time.

“Chloe.  Its me Maggie.  How are things?”

“Good.”  Chloe was a little reserved, not knowing what was coming or if Maggie was mad at her.


“How are you Maggie?”

“Not good Chloe…” Maggie burst into tears and couldn’t talk for a bit.  Lee handed her a tissue.

“Oh god!  What’s wrong honey?”  Chloe’s heart went out to her friend.

“That shit head stole Ali, Chloe.”  Maggie groaned.  Her breathing was so heavy that she could hardly talk.  “He has her in Lebanon and isn’t bringing her back…”  More weeping.

“Maggie.  That’s awful!  How could Joe do such a thing?  What can I do to help?”

“I don’t know Chloe.  I just had a thought about the settlement on the townhouse.  I’m going to go to court and maybe the judge can hold it up to give us some leverage.”

“Maggie.”  Chloe’s voice was conspirital.  “Don’t ever tell anyone what I’m about to tell you.  I’ll get in trouble and could lose my job or even my license, but, Joe hasn’t been paid yet.  The money will be his on the 15th.”  She gave Maggie a lot of information.  The name of the bank Joe used and his account number.  The name of the lawyer handling the sale and his bank information too.

“Thank you Chloe.  I swear I’ll never, never tell.  I love you!”  A glimmer of hope arose.

“Lee.  We have got to go to court now.  Maybe we can hold up his money.”  Maggie and Lee went right to work.

They’d sought legal help on the thirteenth of September.  The situation deeply depressed Maggie.

Their attorney and friend, Stan, recommended Maurice Gelb as the best lawyer in the state when it came to family matters.

Maggie and Lee called Mr. Gelb, got an appointment to meet with him immediately.

They learned that things happened fast around Mr. Gelb.  He was the soul of efficiency and very smart.  His practice was located in a expensive suite of offices in a Brickell Avenue tower with long views of Biscayne Bay.

A dapper man with short steel-gray hair, he wore custom-made, boldly striped shirts under his beautiful suits.  His imported silk ties seemed worth a week’s paycheck for the average guy.

His fees were high but he gave them confidence that he could get any job done.

The very next day there was an emergency hearing in front of the Judge Silverman who’d granted Maggie’s divorce.  She was awarded an Arrest Warrant, and an “Order of Sequester” which  froze the twenty thousand dollars due to Joe from the sale of their home.  They also got a court order demanding the return of Allison to her mother.

Maurice Gelb seemed like Superman in a silk suit.

Judge Silverman was clearly outraged by the situation.  He demanded of Joe’s attorney that he return immediately with Ali.

At the time of the divorce Joe had closed his business and supposedly moved to Louisiana to work for an oil company.  Maggie had abandoned her share of the home proceeds in an effort to placate Joe in his rage over the divorce.  Obviously it had not worked.  Ali was still lost in Lebanon.


Joe sat on the shady front porch of his mother’s house watching Ali play with her cousins.  Allison was learning Arabic.  She was singing songs with the neighborhood kids and she refused to speak Spanish which was her primary language when they left Miami.

He couldn’t believe how dumb Maggie was.  She’d believed him when he said he would bring Ali back.  Maggie said she wanted Ali to have a relationship with him.  Well, the relationship was going to be there all right because he was not going to take Allison back to the States, no matter how  much Maggie begged.

Adele, Joe’s mother, came out to sit with Joe.  She spoke in Arabic with a liberal Italian vocabulary mixed in.  It was almost a private family language.

She looked at him closer and asked,  “Why did Maggie give up her daughter?”  She had been asking the same question for the last week.  Joe’s answer was the same each time.

“Mami,” that’s what the children called Adele, “When Maggie got married again, Ali was in her way.  All she wanted was her new husband.  I couldn’t let Allison live under those circumstances, anyway Ali wanted to come and live with me.”

“But Joe, you’re traveling all the time, how are you going to take care of Ali by yourself?”

“Don’t worry Mami I’ve already made arrangements to put her in a boarding school, I’ll be with her on holidays and vacations.”

“How is a life in a boarding school going to be better for the child? Allison needs her mother.”  Mami looked at her son with tearful eyes.

“I’ve told Ali that Maggie doesn’t want her anymore and she’s ok with that,”  Joe muttered.

Joe turned to Adele with rage in his eyes and said.  “No other man is going to raise my child, you are not to talk to Maggie when she calls or tell her where Allison is.  Is that clear?”

“My son, I see such hatred in your eyes, that part of you is not a part Ali should see.” “I will do what you ask, but my heart breaks for Maggie every time I hear her crying on the phone when she calls.  She doesn’t sound like she doesn’t want Allison.”

Mother and son sat in glum silence for a long time watching the children play.


The telephone rang early in the morning in Joe’s mother’s Bkassine house.  Adele didn’t want to answer it in case it was Maggie again, so Joelle, Joe’s sister answered the call.

It was a man’s voice asking for Mr. Zayyat in English.  Joelle went to Joe’s room to wake him.


“Hello Joe, it’s Mark.” Mark Goodman was Joe’s attorney in Miami.

“What’s wrong Mark, why are you calling?”

“I’ve got bad news and you’re not going to like it.”

“What is it man, spill it out.”

“Well it seems your ex has sequestered the twenty thousand dollars from the sale of the house and you’ve got to appear in court ASAP to answer the charges she’s brought against you.”

“What charges?”

“Kidnapping.  You are to bring Allison back to the states immediately and there’s an arrest warrant for you.  If you do not appear in court at the appointed time, Maggie will get the money from the sale of the house.”

“How can she get away with this Mark? She signed the house over to me, I’m the sole owner now.”

“She’s done it Joe, you took Allison out of the country and didn’t bring her back on the date you agreed with Maggie.”

“I’m not bringing Ali back Mark.”

“If you don’t bring her back, Maggie will get the money and they’ll be an arrest warrant for you as soon as you touch American soil.”

“What is my time line for this?”

“ASAP buddy, tell me when you can get here and I’ll call the judge and set up a court date.”

“I’m not bringing Ali back, besides she’s sick and can’t travel.”

“You’d better have a Doctor to verify this.  I’m sure the judge will ask for verification.”

“Ok, I’ll take the first flight out tomorrow, but Ali stays here.  She’s sick.”

“Call me as soon as you get in.”

“Will do.”

Joe slammed the phone down.  Ali was standing right next to him.

Daddy I’m not sick, why did you tell that man I was sick?” “Daddy where are you going?  I want to go home to mommy.”

“I’ve already told you Ali, your mother doesn’t want you anymore.  She married that man and now she doesn’t want you anymore.”

“But Daddy Lee loves me.  He tells me all the time and plays with me and we swim in the pool all the time.  Tell mommy I’ll be a good girl, I’ll pick up my toys and eat my vegetables.”

Joe scowled.

“Allison! Go to your room, I don’t want to talk about this any more.”

“But Daddy…”

“I said go to your room, right now.”

Ali ran to her room sobbing.

“And stop that crying, it won’t do you any good.”

Joe picked up the telephone and said “Operator, I’d like to send a telegram to the states…”


The consequences of freezing Joe’s funds was almost magical to Maggie and Lee.  On the fourteenth of September a telegram came:

Allison is ill and cannot travel.

I am obliged to return

without her. Joe

A few days later there was a phone message at the office.  Joe left a local number to call back.  He was back in the U.S.  But where was Ali?

Lee and Maggie did some sleuthing.  They got the street boundaries for the three-digit exchange from the phone company.  Maggie and Lee immediately set out to drive the neighborhood together, trying to locate any apartment building that might be suitable for Joe.

There were very few apartment buildings in the industrial area.  Most of them were shabby.  There proved to be only one that might be suitable.  It was a large complex surrounded by a wrought iron fence.  The cars in the parking area were clean models of recent vintage.  Coincidentally a friend of theirs once lived in the same building complex following his divorce.

They knocked on a door near the parking area and hit pay dirt.  The man who came to the door said he knew Joe and described his car.  He said that Joe had been living there for about a year.  He gave them the apartment number.

Joe’s car was not there and there was no response to the  knock on his door.  It seemed to them that Joe was still living and working in Miami.  Maggie drove to the apartment building again early the next day before work, but she had a fender bender on the drive over and was unable to complete her mission.  Frustration, confusion and anger mounted.

Joe was back and appeared in court as Judge Silverman had instructed.  This had mixed results.  Joe claimed that Ali had an ear infection and was too ill to fly.  The judge directed Joe to tell his family, in writing, to release Ali to Maggie.

Joe looked contrite and said, “Your Honor.  I want to bring her back to her mother but she’s been sick and her physician has advised me to not let her fly.”  His story  was not believable.

At a second hearing in Judge Silverman’s chambers Joe arranged for Lee’s and Maggie’s employer Doctor Burt Arnold to talk to Ali’s physician in Lebanon on the speaker phone from Miami – a Dr. Karim Massaad at the Military Hospital in Beirut.  He found out that she was taking penicillin and valium.  Judge Silverman listened with his hands interlaced under his chin.  Joe was stoney faced and grim.

They were gathered around a boat-shaped wooden conference table.  Tension filled in the air.  Maggie listened in tears and Lee was still, his face pale, his right leg jumpy.  Joe wore a face of stone.  The lawyers listened intently and made notes on their yellow legal pads.

The connection was made by Mr. Gelb’s secretary.  Dr  Massed came on the line.

Massaad: “This is Doctor Massaad.”  His English was accented.

Arnold: “Why are you giving a five-year-old child Valium?” said Dr. Arnold.

Massaad: With a heavy accent.  “Well.  Because she’s been very agitated.”

Arnold: “Why has she been agitated?”

Massaad: “Well it seems the mother abandoned her and the father had to go back to the states for court hearing.”

Arnold: “The mother did not abandon her.  That’s what this hearing is all about.  Can we talk to Allison?”  He always called her by her full name.

Massaad: “No.  she’s sedated right now and can’t come to the telephone.”

A loud dial tone ended the call abruptly.  Every one was surprised.  It seemed that Dr. Massaad was done talking.

Joe presented a handwritten letter from Dr. Massaad in French.  There was an English translation attached.  It was on the doctor’s hospital stationery with little documentary stamps and a Arabic inscription apparently attesting to its authenticity.




(The printed parts of the stationery with the name, addresses and telephone numbers were in both french and arabic)

(The english translation read)

I the undersigned Karim Massaad hereby certify that I examined Miss Allison Adéle Zayyat who is suffering of  a general anemia and an intermediate socket with head-noises.

Her health condition does not allow her to fly. She still is under my control. Her Health condition requires a treatment of at list six months as from 2.9.74.

In virtue of I delivered this certificate.

Seal and Signature of the Physician

Dated: September 2 1974


Dr. Arnold told Judge Silverman that he felt that the diagnosis and letter were suspect.  He used the word       “Bullshit” several times.

The judge and the attorneys went into the judge’s private office to decide what to do.

The judge sternly told Joe that he was ordered to stay in Miami and that the money would not be released until Maggie and Ali were back in Miami together.

Joe turned to his attorney in disbelief.  His evidence was being disdainfully ignored.  The attorney whispered something in his ear.  An admonishment to be quiet no doubt.  He turned to glare at Maggie with his face screwed up in hate.  Maggie almost looked away but then forced herself to glare back at him.

She thought, “Not this time you bastard.  You’ve gone too far.  This is my daughter you’re hurting!”  She kept her eyes on him.

Lee took her hand and squeezed it.

Judge Silverman told Maggie to go to Lebanon and to return with Ali as soon as she ascertained that Ali’s health would permit travel.  A legal writ was produced with relevant orders.  Joe was to remain in Miami and provide Maggie with round-trip plane tickets.  Joe presented the following letter, with his signature on his attornney’s letterhead:


September 22, 1974

Mr. Wadi Zayyat



Dear Wadi,

You remember that the last thing I said was that no on was to touch my daughter without me being present. I must change these instructions NOW.


This letter is being given to you by Maggie and she believes that I do not want Ali to return to the U.S.A.  Please help me convince Maggie that I want Ali back home as soon as medically possible.


Help Maggie make her independent choice of a doctor to examine Ali and confirm whether our daughter should travel. It would help for Maggie’s doctor to be in consultation with Dr. Massaad.

Under no circumstances should you decide the doctor for Maggie as her choice must be her own.


Love to all

Joseph Zayyet


Attached to the letter was a notarized Authorization for Ali to travel with Maggie.

The events that followed were nightmarish.  Lee learned the real story much later.  Maggie left for Lebanon on Wednesday, September 25th.  There followed a gloomy period in his life and a low point in the lives of all concerned.


Joe called his brother Wadi in Lebanon.

“Wadi, we went to court today and the judge said my money will be held until Maggie goes to Lebanon and picks up Allison and brings her back to the states.”

“Joe, Ali is crying all the time.  She wants her mother.”

“Just make sure you keep on telling her that her mother doesn’t want her, and keep talking to her in Arabic.  I want her to forget her Spanish.  That should really get to Maggie.”

“Ok Joe, I’ll do what you want.”

“Good!  I’ll give you the information about Maggie’s flight when I have it.

Goodbye brother.”


The first step in going to Lebanon is to apply for a visa at a Lebanese consulate.  Maggie wanted to go to N.Y.C.  to get her visa quickly.  She just could not wait for the mail.  The tickets were waiting for her at the Miami airport for her journey to Lebanon via New York City.

Maggie flew to New York intending to proceed to Beirut directly from New York.  She was refused a visa because the consulate had had reports that she was a “Zionist and in league with the Jews.”  Untrue, of course.  Not that Maggie or Lee were against Israel – it is just not their cause.

Maggie called Joe in Florida and he smirked, “I told you so!” She could see no other solution so she promised him anything if he returned her precious four-year-old girl.

He immediately flew to New York, disobeying the court’s orders, and cleared the way for her visa.  He was parading his pull with the Lebanese government.  He had demonstrated his invincibility and her inability to fight him.  She was sick with dread.

At the airport.  Joe walked her to the departure gate.  She stiffly let him kiss her cheek as he said good bye.

“I’ll see you when you get back.  We’ll have time to talk then.”



Joe stood scowling by the airport’s huge bank of public telephones. He was mad and worried.  In the few minutes it took the international operator to connect him, he was thinking dark thoughts.

“Wadi, Maggie is on her way.  I just put her on flight  705. She’ll get into Beirut on Friday.  Pick her up but don’t give her Ali’s passport and see if you can get her passport.  That will scare her and show her who is in charge.”

“Ok Joe, I’ll pick her up.  Shall I take Ali with me to the airport?”

After a thoughtful pause, “Yes, go ahead and take her with you.”


Maggie arrived at the Beirut Airport midmorning.  Standing in the baggage area she was anxiously looking for Wadi, Joe’s brother.  She was trying hard to remember what he looked like, but she’d only seen blurry photos of him and his family.  He held a high executive position with the official Lebanese government radio station, according to Joe. She expected a man in a suit leading Ali by the hand.

“Oh!” She thought.  “I think I see him.  No…that’s not him.”

She continued to scan the crowd.  “Yes I do see him.”  He wore the same sunglasses in all his photos.  He wore a short-sleeved, white sports shirt which was not tucked into his pants.

But where was Ali?  “Keep calm,” she lectured herself.  “She’s here.  I know she’s here!”

Wadi walked toward Maggie holding a little boy’s hand.  “Is that his son?” she mused.  “I thought he and Amale had two girls.”

As he drew closer she suddenly realized it was Ali.  “Oh my God.  She looks like a boy!  What happened to her long curly hair?”

“Calm Down.  Don’t cry.” Maggie lectured herself again.  “Keep your cool.”

They came face to face.

“Hello Maggie.” Wadi greeted her.

“Hello Wadi,” she said.  But her eyes were locked on Ali.

“Hello Sweetie.”

Ali looked up at her mother and said, “What are you doing here?  Daddy told me you didn’t want me now because you have Daddy Lee and Jackie.”

Maggie felt lightheaded.  Her heart dropped to her feet.  “Keep calm.  Don’t panic.  You can do this,” she kept saying to herself.

She knelt and tried to take Ali in her arms.  “Ali.  Mi vida.  Mami te adora.  Yo no te abandone.”

Ali, her life and love, looked away from her mother.  Eyes down.  “Don’t talk to me en Espanole.  I only speak English and Arabic now.  I don’t know what you’re saying.”

Six weeks ago Ali mostly spoke Spanish.  “Oh my God.  She doesn’t want anything to do with me or even my language.” Maggie whimpered to herself.  She thought, “Joe’s family has brainwashed her.”

Wadi said, “Is this your suitcase?”

Maggie nodded, while trying to fight back the tears.  She was both angry and frightened.  He picked it up and walked off holding Ali with his other hand.  Heartsick, Maggie followed.

Wadi’s car was a little 4-door European model.  Ali rode in front with Wadi.  Fuming, Maggie sat in back.

“I’ll take you to your hotel so you can check in and then we’ll go to my house.  Amale is making lunch for us.”

The streets of Beirut were crowded.  Many women wore traditional Islamic hijab and others were in European styles.  Men wore both Middle Eastern robes and western suits.  The mix of style and culture seemed very foreign and exotic to Maggie.

There were grand boulevards and mysterious little streets and avenues going off in all directions.  Tall palm trees graced the street corners and parks they passed.

Army tanks were positioned on major intersections with sand bags piled around them.  ”What a strange, scary city,” Maggie thought to herself.

Food shops had barrels of pistachios, olives and herbs lined up in front of their doors.  Women were carrying small plastic sacks filled with exotic groceries.

The drivers seemed rough.  Traffic was fast and aggressive.

Wadi quickly maneuvered through the crowded streets ignoring traffic lights and stop signs.  He pulled into the St. George Hotel and handed Maggie her suitcase from the trunk.  She followed him to the reception desk.  Ali again held Wadi’s hand.  It gave Maggie a sinking feeling in her heart that Ali was walking with Wadi and not her.

The desk manager had her registered as Maggie Zayyat, even though the name on her passport was Elres.  Wadi seemed to know the manager and even greeted several other employees by name.

“Here are your keys,” said Wadi helpfully.  “You can take your suitcase to your room and Ali and I will wait here.”

Maggie was desperate to talk to Ali by herself.  She seized the chance and said, “Ali honey.  Would you like to come to Mommy’s room?”

Ali looked to Wadi for his approval.  He said, “You can go.  Go ahead and I’ll wait here.”  She gave him a little gap-toothed smile.  She was still six front teeth shy of a perfect toothy smile .


Wadi stepped into the hotel office and got permission to make an international call by the office secretary.

“Hello Joe.  Maggie’s here at the St. George.  Ali won’t talk to her.”  They spoke in Italian.


We hope you enjoyed this sample chapter and want to know more. The book is available as a paperback or kindle edition.      


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