Allahs Fire (Task Force Valor Series)

The Washington Post, for the work of Dana Priest, Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille
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He has already risked his life to thwart a horrific terrorist plot involving the chemical. But the snakes, bugs, and crocodiles are soon the least of her worries as the group stumbles upon something they were not meant to see. To make matters worse, Fernanda soon finds herself alone and being pursued by an unseen foe. Can they use the chaos to their advantage, or will one false step set the entire island ablaze? A young American woman is kidnapped in Lebanon by terrorists. Connected or coincidence? While maneuvering through hostile territory, Liz and John realize they need each other to survive.

Their antagonism gradually gives way to cooperation—and something more. For the men of Task Force Valor—life is a blast. A lethal new weapon. Washington wants the manufacturers shut down before it turns up on American soil. A missing sister. A suicide bomber blows up a hotel in Beirut. And there were too many donations. And there were too many crazies. I think there was one small article in the Times. When I began to meet these people, I had been speaking to families, survivors and people in the community for months, and they were wary and many of them spoke anonymously.

But they were relieved to speak, at last, and I set out to corroborate everything they said with documentary evidence. The council found hotels for hundreds of residents that day. Everyone from the tower who wanted to go and everybody from the blocks below. Housing officers arrived at the town hall while the tower was still on fire, and some of them barely left the office for days.

Allah's Fire (Task Force Valor Series #1) by Chuck Holton, Gayle Roper

Officers were being asked these questions, and the council was being blamed for not being able to say whether a family member was alive or not, but it was never our job. The council was being presented with an impossible task. But something strange began to happen. At one level, the narrative was connected with something both the public and the media wanted: a story of our austere times, a totemic unfairness myth. It was very difficult. We had officers here working 18 hours a day. I spoke to the officer who liaised with the TMO and she listened before sighing and throwing her hands up.

I clicked the links they sent, and there were thousands. But we were bombarded. Respect for the narrative became a badge of honour and people who questioned any aspect of it were themselves deemed questionable. She wanted to see my questions for him and for Grenfell United, and told me they might reply and they might not.

Grenfell United also had the prime minister to talk to. Initially, like everyone else, I felt angered by the sight of the burning building. In time, hoping to get to the bottom of what happened there, I set up an office near the tower and took on researchers so that we could examine everything. And then I listened more closely, and I began to notice the inventions, and I would check what was being said against the documents and emails, and I could see the manipulations, great and small, but persistent.

I left the office after a while and ended up on my own again, testing everything that was said against what actually happened, such as the amount of council presence there was after the fire. It was W. The local council had serious questions to answer, and from the beginning I could see that they had never done effective enough consulting in their wards. The answer may lie in what could be called the dislocations of compassion. It may seem right, in these times, to place compassion before composure, and to feel insulted by authorities who appear to think when they should be feeling.

Allah's Fire Task Force Valor Series #1

Seven years into austerity, and so soon after a close election, which the Labour candidate, Dent Coad, had won in Kensington by twenty votes, the climate was right for the storm of disapproval that was about to hit the council. Nowadays, when we hate the establishment, we accuse it of not caring. A toxic brand of cheap compassion threatened, from early on, to distract us from finding out what really caused those deaths. The clues to the tragedy were hiding in several tons of ash: the products used by those contractors, the fittings, the whole safety apparatus — the shoddy windows, the bad doors, the failed cavity barriers and the flammable cladding.

It was a story of deregulation and industrial malfeasance enabled by the actions of several governments, Labour, Tory and coalition. The council made a mistake by not having its officers wear tabards the whole time they worked in public, and it made another mistake in not establishing its lead over all the voluntary groups active from the morning of the fire.

But its biggest mistake was perhaps in not looking sufficiently guilty in front of the cameras. Not a single media outlet reported over the course of those first days that housing officers from Kensington and Chelsea went to the Rugby Portobello Trust and the other centres to help the victims. Or that more than three hundred staff were deployed immediately. Nor that the education officers met with school heads and arranged for pupils to have psychological support and to be schooled elsewhere while the academy was closed, and organised transport as well as paying for uniforms.

Or that hotel beds were supplied for hundreds of people and funds located immediately or that provision grew over the days.

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Consult your heart. This fact was explained in the Qur'an in a time when telescopes and similar technological advancements were not even close to being invented. For that reason, at the moment we refer to as "now," we are actually living something determined in the past. There is no doubt that there is a very high risk of collisions in such a complicated and fast-moving system. Home Theaters Headphones.

None of that mattered, it seems. Inspector Mike Rumble, an affable, by-the-book policeman with white hair and a beard, is part of the Parks Police Team. He was woken up at 2. The call came from David Kerry, the borough emergency planning officer. Layton acted as the town hall keeper; he lived in a flat there, and was called first.

Rumble lives in a job-attached cottage in Holland Park. On receiving the call, he immediately pulled his clothes on and jumped in his car.

He had spent thirty years in the Sussex Police, and attended the Brighton bombing. He headed straight to the rendezvous point. There were vehicles, people and fire engines everywhere — it was 3 a. Huge piles of equipment were set up by Kensington Leisure Centre.

Police commanders were nervous about this location: it was too close to the burning tower, which many at the scene thought was about to collapse. There were tents, a Salvation Army truck, refreshment vans, fire engines, police cars and ambulances. The chief firefighters were desperate for information, and Rumble contacted the TMO to get floor plans of the building and a list of registered tenants. Everyone who worked at the scene says that the demand for information was constant and overwhelming. How many people were in the block?

Do we know if they were home? What are their names? Do we know what floor?

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Which flat? Did anybody speak to them? Did we check the hospitals? And in that situation, with press people closing in, there is a firm obligation to say nothing more than you know, and especially nothing that could upset a waiting family or give them false hopes.

A councillor not ready with the information, and not willing to speculate, is seen to have revealed his incompetence. These people were often denounced by local residents and one another for jumping on the bandwagon. But the press ignored this. None of that was evident in the stories that became conventional wisdom in no time flat. To make matters worse, the government then goes into a pre-emptive cringe. Inspector Rumble spoke to his team and put them all to work. He got to Sergeant Helen Tilbury at 5. But we are council. I was inside the cordon and my team were there all day.

I spoke to the person who took responsibility for removing the body of one of the victims who jumped. The council workers were baffled when they saw what was being reported on the news. There was a team of eight responsible for PR, several of them part-time, and it was overwhelmed from the start.

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In major disasters, local councils have to play second fiddle to the emergency services — the council facilitates and enables — but at Grenfell the world had been alerted to watch for uncaring behaviour. Had the public relations people understood that, and understood it early, the council might have made more effort to be seen doing what it did. Instead, staff members just did it, while the hours ticked by and reporters went with the happy conviction that the council was entirely absent.

Ironically, we were pleased to see this because we had supported those voluntary groups for so many years. Use whatever funds are necessary. Social workers and key workers were on constant call. One survivor said he needed a pram for his one-year-old. We bought it. Nicholas Paget-Brown , who was then the leader of the council, lives alone not far from the Fulham Road.

The Fire Of Allah!

His gentle manners precede him, in the style of a decently prepped, slightly fogeyish man of the s, and he acts as if he might find the modern world fascinating were it not so loud. In the middle of the night his phone rang; it was Maighread Condon-Simmonds, a friend of his who was on the board of the TMO. The pictures were shocking: the whole tower was in flames. He dressed and got into his car for the minute drive to Lancaster Road, where he stopped. He thought by then the building would be empty of people.

He looked up. Surely this was the burning hulk of an empty building. It was about 3. Paget-Brown spoke on the phone to Holgate, who said there would be a Gold Command meeting — the gold commander is supposed to provide strategic leadership in major public emergencies — and informed Paget-Brown that he was coming to the tower and would then go to the town hall. That group was already speaking as if the fire was their vindication. In any event, he joined Paget-Brown in thinking that every assistance must be provided to the residents.

Rock Feilding-Mellen, the deputy leader of the council, lived in Bramley Road, in a house very near the tower. He was woken by his wife at 3 a. The streets were full of people and blue lights were flashing everywhere. Black told him he was behind the police cordon on Whitchurch Road, under the tower. When Feilding-Mellen arrived behind the cordon he was told that three people had died. There were camera crews everywhere and someone suggested that, as leader of the council, Paget-Brown should say something. So he spoke to some Australian broadcasters and then gave an interview to Sky News.

There are national regulations about fire safety. For that you have to attend to the perfect storm that was even then swirling around the tower. And it appeared that they had one. Several men were quickly identified who appeared to fit the bill, none more so than Paget-Brown and Feilding-Mellen. In a matter of hours, Theresa May and her ministers, seeing the way the wind was blowing, began to distance themselves from their local authority colleagues.

Every hand was at the pump, desperately trying to deal with this unfathomable disaster. How could they make it their priority, as politicians, to drag officers away to answer less important questions posed by vicious journalists? Paget-Brown attended the first Gold Command meeting at the town hall, chaired by Holgate. They also discussed a plan to make sure survivors had consistent keyworkers.

Provision at the centres where the survivors were gathered was also discussed — by now they had opened a third one, at the Westway Sports and Fitness Centre — and Housing reported on progress with finding hotels for people not only from the tower but from the homes at its base. Paget-Brown had been up all night and he went home to wash. He appeared again a few hours later to check in at the relief centres and give interviews to the press.

It would prove to be one of the more sinister aspects of the story, that people close to the tragedy, or seeing themselves as close to it, continually inflated the number of the dead, as if the numbers could only make sense if attached to larger fears and limitless disgust.

Pop stars seemed especially liable to confuse conspiracy theories with political engagement, and certain stars have what you might call perfect pitch for moments when the distance between their fame and the lives of others might speedily be narrowed. Some of them, Adele and Rita Ora, were simply moved and wanted to help. Others spotted a soft opportunity for the stoking of misunderstanding in the name of political progress.

Lily Allen knew how people were feeling on the ground, she said. Pubs, she added, had been turned into homes for rich people, presumably rich people very different from Lily Allen. Now I hate it. All public tragedy now brings well-meaning colonisation. Jon Snow felt he was speaking up for the victims of an obvious case of corporate manslaughter, but what was obvious about it? Journalism is in trouble because a rush of personal conviction has — for reasons of economic necessity — overwhelmed the essential dynamics of professional doubt.

In the game of errors you can never be wrong about how you feel. Or can you? But none of this made it into the papers. Newspapers abounded with untrue stories, and I wondered if the general election, as well as Brexit and austerity, had left the liberal conscience estranged from reality, perhaps especially after an election in which the person who won appeared to lose and the person who lost appeared to win. Someone is coming to get you. Two firemen. My colleague will hold you from the back. They had no tears left to cry. A man in his seventies, Elpie Bonifacio from the Philippines, was the last resident to be rescued from the building.

He had waited 12 hours, waving a tea towel from his kitchen window, before he was brought out by firefighters at 11 a. He was taken to hospital and spent a long time in a coma.

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Anybody watching would have assumed — wrongly as it happened but not unreasonably — he was going to die. Many of those who escaped believe there will always be something of themselves left behind in the tower. Serena, the social worker, had approached the policeman at the cordon, very anxious. Stop wasting your time. Get wet towels and wrap them round your faces. She told me the stairs were silent as they made their way down. It was slippery underfoot and the boys lost their grip, but they made it out. They sent keyworkers. I read this stuff, people are unpleasant with what the council did, but for me they did it all.

Though she had rented privately in the tower, after the fire she was made a permanent social housing tenant.

Allah's Fire

We were sitting talking in her new flat and two of her friends joined us. But some people did use the tragedy for their own benefit. We had a nice conversation about social ills. But she too supplied robust speculation without evidence. My sources in those groups sent me a great deal of material, all of it characterised by a fundamental assumption of guilt, and many errors. The tower was a progenitor of myth, as well as sharp truths, usually both at the same time, and there was no guide as to how they might be sifted and clarified.

People on the far right lost themselves in immigration theories that proved false. Tories bestowed on themselves a pure paternalism that forgave their remoteness from a portion of the people they were employed to serve. The Corbynites took every opportunity to make the tragedy exemplify their core message, but they had to be selective in order to do that. The firefighters, and the unions, argued that every failing on the night could be put down to government cuts, closures and privatisations. The ordinary punters meanwhile pinned their colours either to group heroism on the night or to individual acts of depravity — as if the tower was pre-eminently a locus of truth about Britain today.

People were jumping. The dreadfulness of it all became real to people when they thought of the jumpers. And not only were people jumping: several were throwing their children down into the arms of the waiting community. Dozens of news outlets carried the story and many of the people I spoke to said they witnessed it. She had a pink dressing gown on. It seems that real heroism is never quite enough. When we were growing up, the only old framed photograph my brothers and I ever saw was of my grandfather Michael, a hero of the Second World War.

When I was grown up I went to see the man, very elderly by then, who had been the captain of that ship. They broke in and were down there when the second torpedo struck and they died there.

III: The Aftermath

At Grenfell, the community was desperate, amid all this chaos, not just for a happy story but for a story that showed the community at its best, and parents at their best, facing death in the tower but throwing the vulnerable child into capable arms. I was invited into family WhatsApp groups, where they were livid about the official figures. All over the community, to believe the official figures was to align oneself with the obvious criminals. A final body count could not be countenanced because it would place a limit on the scale of the outrage. In fact, 72 people is a huge number of people to die as a result of negligence.

Saying that number made many people angry, but, if you stuck around and asked more questions, you began to see that it was the anger that was limitless, not the number of victims. When I met Ashley Fegan-Earl, chief pathologist to the Grenfell fire investigation, the thing that stuck with me was his sense of the emotional problems. He thought hundreds of deaths were unlikely. In any case, accuracy of that sort is beside the point: the point is grief. But when it comes to establishing the truth, he worries that in this case political arguments take precedence. You end up with so many opinions and the people who shout the loudest are the most heard.

The virulence of the commentary probably helped the community work at Grenfell, uniting people in outrage, but it also embedded the lie that the council did nothing. Rajaa Shanaat, a relative of the El Wahabi family who died on the 21st floor, said she stayed away from social media during the week of the fire and for a while afterwards. There was just so much upsetting stuff, she said, in particular about her cousin Yasin.

They want the story to be the story they want it to be, and no group is more typical of that tendency than reporters. And what do we really mean when we speak of culpability? Firefighters eventually controlled the fire in the tower at one in the morning of the second day, or, more accurately, that was when the fire burned itself out. It was perhaps the longest and most savage 24 hours in London since 10 May , when German bombers flew under a full moon and bombed the city relentlessly through the night.

You could see it for miles, acrid and acrimonious, the whole country waking up with a sense of disorder. And people required an answer. So we dried their eyes and blamed the council. One of the local government people I spoke to is called Clare Chamberlain. Community groups have been funded in North Kensington where such funding was cut years ago by other London boroughs. I went back to work at Kensington and Chelsea after working in a senior position elsewhere — and why?

Because they give you money for frontline services. Who pays housing benefit faster than any other borough? The first full day after the fire, a survivor was being interviewed by somebody in the media, sitting beside one of our social workers who had been with her since she escaped. The media were keen to press her about the council. And at the end of the interview the social worker turned and looked at her. I spoke to a former member of the press team who tried to explain why the council lost the story so fast.

We had a small team: we had always been discreet, and I think we carried on the same way that morning. A few people just taking calls. Huge piles of donations were accumulating by the minute. We were organising food, transport, data and donations, as well as accommodation. Our staff were in all day. We were given the advice to take off our badges when we went to the accommodation centres, and at that point we really did become invisible.

I went to see Paget-Brown several times. He still seemed shell-shocked. You do it because you are deeply interested in the circumstances where you live. But self-sustaining decency was a commodity in short supply, and I found I liked Paget-Brown. He never closed a library. He never closed a library without proposing a better one to replace it.

He opposed supercars and rich people tearing up the streets of the borough to build private cinemas. He opposed dozens of applications. He built schools. He kept the council in funds. And he was one of the least schmoozed councillors in London, accepting hospitality or gifts only 43 times since , according to available records.

By way of contrast, Robert Davis, the Conservative deputy leader of neighbouring Westminster Council, was entertained or received gifts times in the same period. But in the days after the fire, Paget-Brown was portrayed, pretty much universally, as a greedy toff who was happy to put the lives of the poor in danger. When I asked Paget-Brown about this, he was clearly still hurt. Instead, you apologise. I said sorry — and indeed I am sorry for what has happened. He regrets it, of course.

But nobody wants to hear that. The same cladding is on hundreds of buildings in the UK, and the leaders of those councils, Labour as well as Tory, are presumably not being accused of detesting the poor for being in power when their managers installed it. Sources inside the town hall told me Gold meetings continued early on the Thursday morning.

The fire had been out for six hours. When Paget-Brown arrived he was told that the prime minister intended to visit Grenfell at 9. He had received no direct communication about the visit from Number 10 and found that odd. At the first emergency meeting, methods were discussed for speeding up payouts to evacuees, and Holgate reiterated his view that nothing be spared in getting assistance and funds to survivors. At the entrance they met several firefighters, who spoke to the leader about the difficulty they had experienced in getting to the top of the tower.

A witness to the conversation told me one of the firemen was quite wound up. Advisers were keen for her not to be seen with Paget-Brown. After visiting the leisure centre, Paget-Brown made his way down Bramley Road, the black tower smouldering behind him. A cameraman from Channel 4 News sprinted towards him, followed by Jon Snow, who had a microphone raised. He avoided him and went to a pre-arranged interview with the BBC and then to the town hall, where he caught up with everything the council was doing, and noted that people were asking for more co-ordination.

This might have helped matters, but I know from any number of sources that voluntary groups already felt they were the ones in charge of the centres. That afternoon Holgate and Paget-Brown both separately spoke on the phone to the chief executive of the Red Cross and approved the setting up of a charity appeal for the victims. The leader wanted to know more of what they were dealing with on the ground.

Feilding-Mellen was one of those present. Colleagues usually thought of him as quite a tough and uncompromising member of the cabinet — a man on the move, and sure of himself — but he was tremendously upset. He lived there. On the contrary, we had ideas about how to make it better.

Let me be clear: we never planned permanently to displace anybody from the borough and it was never our intention to reduce the amount of social housing. We had ambitious and emerging plans to build a lot more affordable housing. Other London councils were making offers of help, which is normal in a crisis, especially when the borough affected is a small one with an international-sized problem. Barradell has what you might call a leading interest in the operations of London Resilience, the set of protocols that go into action during a major emergency in the capital. At this point, Barradell or central government could have suggested to Holgate that Grenfell be classed as a major emergency incident, with Cobra meetings and central government in charge.

Kensington and Chelsea, which has a small stock of social housing relative to most London boroughs, and tiny resources in public relations, was left for those first crucial days to cope on its own. We will get better. Paget-Brown ended that Thursday on Newsnight. Wark asked him about cladding, about sprinklers there was a suggestion that fitting the block with sprinklers should have been considered during the refurbishment. Sajid Javid, then secretary of state for communities and local government, arrived at the Westway Sports Centre at nine on the Friday morning.

People who were with him say he was immediately struck by the size of the challenge. We need to get the London mayor involved in this. London Resilience needs to be activated. Several people inside his own team made the point to me that Javid was highly strung and fearful for his own position. He was reading too many columnists. Javid and May began making promises that the Kensington and Chelsea housing officers knew could never be met.

Like we were all becoming political footballs in all of this. We were really making progress, then the government moved in to seek its own advantage. The Jafaris had chosen to sleep on camp-beds at the sports centre rather than take hotel rooms. Javid and the government housing minister, Alok Sharma, had been saying that as much housing as could be bought should be bought; the council should use its financial reserves. Then one of the ministers did an extraordinary thing: in conversation with the Jafari family, who told him they needed a four-bedroom house, he promised they would get one.

He said he wanted it to happen fast. They live there now. None of these ministers knew what they were doing and there was worse to come. She gave it to her keyworker and imagined the council would go ahead and buy one. Why was Javid there? The prime minister had visited the area the day before. He was worried about public perception, pure and simple.

As Javid left the sports centre, the queen arrived, accompanied by Prince William. Even before then, the narrative had become part of the common air. Paget-Brown stopped to speak to two Somali women he knew. As he did so, a man suddenly stood in front of him followed by a group of photographers. Other drivers started sounding their horns and lowering their car windows. It was around noon on Friday. The mood had now turned full-throatedly against the council.

There was going to be a march on the town hall that afternoon: he should go home. He took the advice and headed back to the Fulham Road. That afternoon, John Barradell arrived for the Gold meeting, where they were joined by a member of London Resilience, a press officer from Westminster and a loggist from the City of London. It soon became clear that Holgate would hand over leadership to Barradell whenever Barradell chose to assume it. What came with his increasing authority, some of the council officers told me, was an immediate demand for more information and more statistics.

It was terribly slowing of the relief effort, stopping actual aid in order to compile research for outside executives who felt no doubt correctly that it was important to be seen to know the answers to crucial questions. London Gold Command appeared to see its first goal, in the age of media realpolitik, as managing the press — and Barradell was thought to be clever at this. Its first job was to draft a personal blog by Paget-Brown. Holgate, though, was pleased to have Barradell there. He brought with him a well-briefed understanding of central government.

In their own version, it indubitably did. Only one thing was missing: an effective media strategy. The day after Kirsty Wark said to Paget-Brown on Newsnight that some families in hotels were still waiting to be seen, London Gold came into the town hall demanding information about visits to survivors. It took up time, but more visits were set up. Several families later told me they had too many. But word went out and was heard — especially by the chief believers in London Gold — that the council had lost the plot. And he mobilised on that basis.

Holgate was due to take part in a telephone meeting with the prime minister, Sajid Javid and other ministers that Friday at 3 p. It had been arranged by Number Just before it began, Barradell warned Holgate that one of the ministers, probably the prime minister, was going to suggest in the course of the call that the Grenfell survivors be promised that they would be rehoused within the next two or three weeks.

According to my sources, the telephone conversation — May and Javid speaking, Holgate assumed, from a cabinet briefing room; Holgate and Barradell gathered around a box on a table in the town hall — was about what could practicably be offered to the victims. The prime minister was keen that action should be decisive; it was put to the two town clerks that people should be told they would be rehoused in either two or three weeks. It was too big a decision and many of them were very traumatised.

She had decades of experience with tenants.

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As the call ended, protesters were already gathering outside the town hall. There is a moment in the trajectory of organised dismay when the crowds want to voice something much larger than whatever they set out with. A phalanx of police in yellow jackets spread across the entrance, but were soon jostled out of the way. Some of their helmets toppled to the ground. A man in a black T-shirt stood on the steps and shouted down towards the crowd.

Then a woman holding a skateboard went up the steps. They do not care. So, fuck them. Fuck the system. Inside the building, on the second floor, a Gold meeting was taking place with 15 people present. Get them out! They tore several crests from the walls and crushed them underfoot.

They broke into his office, throwing water jugs and coffee mugs at the walls and smashing up a TV. One floor above, at the Gold meeting, the door was locked. Holgate was trying to get through the items for discussion. There are people screaming outside. And at that moment the police came through the door. I cannot get a single line out. He was admired for his easy ability to hug people. Odd, given that she was a local councillor for so many years.

Or is it? Someone has to be held responsible. Theresa May got her own lesson in adversity when she visited the same centre the following day. Police and security men were jostling locals and holding them back as her car arrived. That evening, not long after his office was trashed, Paget-Brown received a call at home from the prime minister. She told him she had just been to the Clement James Centre and was told the people there had had no communication from the council.

He thought it very odd. People inside her group who know of the call say that May was disgruntled by her reception, was floored by its contrast to the reception Jeremy Corbyn had received, and was determined to find the reason. This was the Jafari family. May then said that a support group from the Department of Communities and Local Government would help locate accommodation for others who wanted it. Paget-Brown did not tell her that everyone else who wanted temporary accommodation already had it. All the families, with the flat number, everything.

Absolute nonsense. Nobody had been sent outside West London! And we gave people a lot of money. The prime minister asked Paget-Brown on the phone if the families were receiving money. Most of them talk about the brilliance of the community, about the number of people willing to help, the kindness of neighbours and people on the street. When the mission goes south and politics intrude on their plans, the team must rely on their wits—and guts—to survive. Can they make it…with a wounded team member and a female civilian in tow?

I enjoyed him because my life experience is so different from his. Very challenging and great fun! May contain some library markings. Used books may not include companion materials; notes or highlighting may be present. Binding have minimal wear, and the. Good Item Notes: No markings throughout text. Language: English Brand New Book. Virginia, United States. Clean, tight and unmarked. Book-will contain Library Markings.