Diplomatic Security Service special agent Alec Jones turned automatically when the front door opened and let a stream of light into the coffeehouse. He and his date were in the vestibule waiting to be seated, along with a couple of her local acquaintances—husband-and-wife schoolteachers. Alec watched with detached, professional interest as two bearded young men dressed as security guards entered. Their garb and their holstered sidearms appeared innocuous enough, but there was something off. And Alex’s sixth sense instantly went on the alert.
He glanced over at Darla, but she was caught up in conversation with her friends. Alec had only been posted as regional security officer, or RSO, for a month at the embassy where Darla had been serving for a year as personal assistant for the US ambassador to this tiny Middle Eastern nation, and this was their first date.
Alec’s eyes flicked back to the two men. They’d taken seats near the front door as if they were patiently waiting their turn at a table. But one man was peering through the curtained window as if checking out the street. The other was watching the movements of the customers in the coffeehouse with cold, hard eyes. Alec’s sixth sense was humming steadily—something was definitely wrong.
His hand slid inside the jacket he always wore even on the hottest days—and there were a lot of hot days in the Middle East—for his SIG SAUER P229R, one of the standard-issue concealed carry weapons DSS personnel used.
Without warning the two men abruptly jumped to their feet, drew their sidearms and started shouting commands in Arabic and broken English. Alec’s semiautomatic was instantly out.
Nearly everyone in the coffeehouse hit the ground immediately, including Darla’s two friends. But Darla was shocked into immobility. She stared openmouthed at the gunmen, frozen with fear. And when the men turned their weapons on Darla and Alec—their faces twisted with hate, a fanatical light in their eyes—Alec fired.
It was all over in seconds. The two young men lay on their backs on the floor, unmoving. Their eyes were open and fixed sightlessly, guns still clutched in their hands. The shots they’d managed to get off had gone wide—only the gunmen had been hit. Blood stained their clothing crimson, pooling around their bodies.
But Alec felt no guilt. No remorse. He knew enough Arabic to know these men were terrorists—their shouted warning to the non-Americans to take cover and leave the infidels to them was easily understood, even with his less-than-perfect knowledge of the language. Their sole intent had been to abduct or kill the only two Americans in the coffeehouse.
Alec moved on autopilot now. He kicked the guns from the hands of both men into a far corner of the room. The training ingrained in him said you never take the death of the bad guys for granted. The only way to ensure safety was to neutralize the threat by removing any and all weapons from the vicinity. He didn’t think these men had any other partners in the coffeehouse, but you could never be sure. And he wasn’t taking any chances.
How had they known Darla and he would be here? That was a question the answer to which would have to wait. Could Darla’s so-called friends have set them up? Possible. This coffeehouse wasn’t frequented by Americans from the embassy, but Darla’s friends had insisted it had true “local flavor,” something Darla was interested in experiencing. It was something to consider…but not right at this moment. Not with the coffeehouse patrons staring at him in horror, as if he’d instigated this confrontation.
Alec bent over and quickly checked both men for a pulse he knew he wouldn’t find. Then he rifled through their pockets. He found zip ties, blindfolds, gags and a couple of switchblade knives—confirming their intentions—but no identification. Nothing to tell him who these men were or what terrorist organization they were affiliated with.
He lifted a corner of the curtain and glanced out the window. These two likely had a driver and a getaway car somewhere outside, but he couldn’t see anything that looked suspicious. And he couldn’t very well leave the scene to check. Not now. He’d have to depend on the local authorities to follow up on the getaway car…if it was still around. The gunfire had to have alerted the driver that things hadn’t gone down as planned, and he was probably long gone by now.
Most of the coffeehouse patrons had risen from the floor in the few seconds Alex’s back was turned, and many of them had cell phones out. Two of them began sidling for the door when police sirens were heard in the distance. Alec holstered his weapon, turned to them and said coldly in Arabic, “No one is leaving. You are all…” His mind frantically searched for the right word. “Witnesses. You are all witnesses.” He culled his knowledge of the language and added, “All of you will give a complete and accurate statement to the police.” He stared them down until they returned to their tables.
Alec’s eyes met Darla’s for the first time since the shooting, and he recognized the familiar look of shock and dismay most civilians displayed when confronted with sudden, deadly violence. Darla wasn’t naive—all embassy personnel were briefed on the hazards of working in the Middle East—but she’d never taken a human life. And she seemed appalled Alec had done so. Coldly. Dispassionately.
At least that’s how his actions appeared to her, he knew. Alec wasn’t cold. Nor was he dispassionate. He regretted the necessity of this killing, but the alternative was unacceptable. He wasn’t going to second-guess himself or his actions. Not now. Not ever.
As the distant sirens grew louder, Alec sighed softly. No matter what came next, he knew two things for sure.
One, despite the fact that he hadn’t instigated this incident, he would now be persona non grata at the US embassy here. The promotion posting as RSO he’d just received a month ago was now shot to hell and gone. Even though there were plenty of witnesses to back up a claim of self-defense, the State Department was hypersensitive about the possibility of reprisals. He would be whisked out of the country as soon as the local officials allowed in order to hush this incident up.
Two, not as important but still important enough, his budding relationship with Darla had just died a quick death, too.
Which raised another question. Would he ever find a woman who understood?
ALEC’S ROYAL ASSIGNMENT, Copyright © 2015 by Amelia Autin Lam
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