Jonathan Andrew Sheen (leviathan0999) wrote,
Jonathan Andrew Sheen



Our Right Trusty and Right Well-Beloved Cousins


            The man who knocked quietly at the door of Bashik’s private office, and limped diffidently inside when the King opened the door to him, was in his mid-twenties, with dark, crew-cut hair that came to a sharp widow’s peak, and, seeming a bit out of place with his traditional robes, a rather ‘mod’ horseshoe-style mustache.

            Kelly smiled at that last. “Nice!”

            The man smiled ruefully. “I tried a goatee, but I ended up looking like a Republic serial villain.”

            Bashik smiled tightly at him, then nodded toward his American friends. “Maher Sharif, I’d like you to meet two very good friends of mine, and of Khadra’s. This is Kelly Robinson, and this is Alexander Scott. You have heard of them – they’re not without fame on the tennis circuit – but there is this which you do not know: Mr. Robinson and Mr. Scott are American intelligence agents. They will be engaged in an investigation on my behalf.”

            Kelly, closest, extended his right hand, but Sharif offered another rueful smile. “I’m afraid I must offer my left.”

            Kelly looked puzzled as he awkwardly clasped the proffered left hand, and Sharif’s right materialized from within the folds of his robe. It was a horrible pink claw, like a chicken’s foot, awkward, gnarled fingers and hand, and what could be seen of a frighteningly thin forearm above them, all covered with drum-tight, shining, puckered skin.

            “Thermite grenade,” he said, as Scotty took Sharif's outstretched hand in both of his. “It was thrown at his Majesty. It was my good fortune to catch it, and try to throw it back, but it exploded within four feet. I’m afraid my right arm and leg are rather useless. The arm more than the leg, but if your investigation will require running and shooting, I will be little use.”

            He looked to the King. “Your Majesty, I take it that this investigation involves the messenger you had us trace? And the public phones before the Palace? Is there a reason not to leave it in the hands of Al-Shurafaa?”

            The King smiled, first at Sharif, and then at Kelly and Scotty. “As I told you, gentlemen, brains in addition to courage.” He turned back to the Security man. “Yes, Mr. Sharif, there is a reason, and I shall not disclose it. Fear not! I do not doubt your loyalty, nor that of anyone within Al-Shurafaa. But this matter requires the, uh, specialized knowledge our Right Trusty and Right Well-Beloved Cousins can bring.”

            Sharif’s eyes widened, and he re-examined Kelly and Scotty with renewed respect. “You are Knights, then, of the Order.” He nodded. “It is good to know. His Majesty is not in the habit of awarding such honors frivolously.” He bowed to them. “I will, of course, be of any possible service to you.”

            “Well, thanks, man,” said Kelly. “We appreciate it.”

            Scotty turned to the King. “Your Majesty, did your Telecommunications Ministry have results for you?”

            Bashik nodded. “Yes, they did. The call was indeed placed from one of the public phones out front. The kiosk near the southwest corner, at 4:52 PM.”

            “You have video surveillance of that area?” Kelly asked Sharif.

            “Yes, we have.” He turned to the King. “If Your Majesty will excuse us?”

            “But of course, Mr. Sharif,” said Bashik, moving to open the door for them. “I thank you for your service and discretion. Good luck, gentlemen.”

            Scotty paused to smile at the King. “It will be fine, your Majesty.”

            “We promise,” added Kelly, and followed the others out.

            Al-Shurafaa’s offices were a spacious, modern suite on the first floor of the castle, with steps going down to further facilities in the basement. The video archives were down these stairs, in a cool, white-walled room, where cartons the size of shirt-boxes sat on row after row of metal shelves, each box dated.

            “These are the video tapes from the security cameras outside the palace,” said Sharif. “Closed-circuit television, very modern. They are sorted by camera number, then date, then AM or PM.” He opened a loose-leaf binder on the desk, and looked at a chart. “The phone kiosk you’re interested in is seen by camera number seven. This way.”

            He led them to the shelves, and they checked boxes until they found the previous day’s date, and selected the “PM” box, and hefted it down, to carry to a playback unit on another desk. Kelly removed the large spool from the white cardboard box, and swiftly mounted it on the player, deftly feeding the tape into position, and turning on the small black-and-white monitor.

            “You are very good at that,” said Sharif.

            Kelly laughed. “One of the lesser-known essential skills of the spy biz!”

            “Yeah,” added Scotty, pulling over extra chairs. “If international peace and brotherhood breaks out, man, the whole covert community will be getting jobs in television, you see, as video editors and cameramen.”

            They started the tape and fast-forwarded through the afternoon, watching grainy grey ghosts flicker through the scene, accelerated to jerk, like insects, in and out of frame. Kelly dialed back the speed knob as the shadows started to grow long, and the pace of the passersby slowed again to human velocities. A readout showed the time as 4:46:28 PM, and they watched as the form of a smallish, slender man stepped into the telephone kiosk. Scotty glanced at the time. 4:46:34.

            The form in the kiosk was shadowed, but facing the palace. In stillness, he was almost invisible, a darker gray shadow amid the gray shadows of the phone kiosk. He suddenly moved, a decisive nod, a straightening, a squaring of the shoulders. His head turned as he watched a young man trot by.

            “The messenger,” said Maher Sharif, indicating the screen with a dip of his head.

            Scotty looked at the clock. 4:48:07.

            The shadowy form inside the kiosk waited a few moments. Even in the monochrome shadows, his eyes seemed dark and intent. His mouth spread in a slow smile, and he picked up the receiver, dropped a coin in the slot, and dialed.

            The clock. 4:51:57.

            The man was speaking. The shadows were too deep for lip-reading, but the expression was hard and satisfied.


            Kelly and Scotty exchanged a glance of similar hard satisfaction. Got him!

            The man was animated as he spoke. Not emotional, but pleased, and allowing some energy to materialize in slight shifts of his body, his shoulders. It was a short conversation, and as the man stepped out into the plaza, he paused a moment, smiling, as his eyes adjusted.

            “Great!” said Kelly, pausing the image.

            The grainy image from the television camera gave no more than they already knew: Not tall, slender, a western-style suit conservative enough for a London banker, dark hair, dark eyes, unremarkable jawline. The features themselves were grainy and indistinct. Kelly automatically flicked the knob, moving the image forward one frame, so the playback heads of the machine wouldn’t damage that frame on the tape.

            “Let it go, Kel,” said Scotty, and Kelly nodded, backing the tape up until the man was back in the kiosk, and then playing it again, at normal speed. The man stepped out of the kiosk, smiling with an ugly sort of triumph, paused, and then turned and walked jauntily away. As was so often the case with video, seeing the man in motion made him seem much more recognizable than in the still image. Not just the manner in which he moved, although Kelly and Scotty had both analyzed and filed his kinesics, his body language, and felt reasonably sure they could recognize that later, but in the transition of motion from frame to frame, the human eye drew in details, and the face seemed clearer: High, sharp cheekbones and a slender nose above dark, thin lips.

            “Hang on,” murmured Kelly, and ran the tape back a second, then forward again. “Scar, by the left eye?”

            “Maybe,” said Scotty. The man walked out of the frame.

            Kelly backed it up until he was in the booth, and they watched again, and then again. The man didn’t do anything different. Whatever secrets he reserved, and there were clearly several, he was not giving up through the video tape. He had told them all he was going to.

            “He heading downtown?” Kelly asked Sharif.

            “It would appear so.”

            “All right, then,” said Scotty. “Let’s go, and see what we can find with vigorous application of eyeballs and skull-sweat, shall we?”

            “I’ll put the tape away,” said Kelly.

            “Well, I wish you would,” replied Scotty.

            “I know them!” said Jed and Leo, at the same time.

            They glanced at one another.

            “Okay, that was weird,” said Leo, as Jed muttered “Let’s not do that again.”

            They were looking across the marketplace plaza at three men, two of them Americans, one black, one white, both rangy and athletic. The white man was so handsome he bordered on pretty, brown hair parted and wavy, eyes twinkling, smile charming. The Negro on the other side of their robed guide – whom they seemed to be treating with respect and good humor – was more serious, with both a slyness and a lightness in his smile and intelligence sparkling in his dark eyes.

            “Kelly Robinson!” said Jed Bartlet, and Leo closed the mouth he’d opened to speak. “And his trainer, Alexander Scott. They stayed at my house last summer, when Robinson was playing at Longwood.” He glanced over at Leo. “You remember, I wrote you about that weird Russian guy who turned out to be some kind of diplomat, who drowned in Lake Winnipesaukee? It was right around then.”

            “Which is really kind of funny, when you think about it,” replied Leo, “because they spent a few days that fall trying to teach Elizabeth and Josephine tennis, when the Chinese delegation was meeting with my dad.”

            “That is funny...” mused Jed.

            “Yeah,” said Leo. He saw Scott’s eyes fix on his, and gave an answering smile at the flicker of recognition in the other's expression. “Must be nice to be an international jet-setter.”

            “Leo, you are an international jet-setter!”

            Leo grinned sideways at his old friend. “Yeah, and with a real jet, too! C’mon, let’s go say Hello!”

            “Heads up, Hoby,” said Scotty, tossing a significant glance. “Familiar faces at four o’clock,”

            “Oh, yes,” replied Kelly. “What a wonderful surprise, two of our babysitting missions coming back to haunt us in one swell foop!”

            “Three if you count His Majesty,” offered Sharif, and Kelly and Scotty both grinned at him.

            “Kelly! Scotty!” The dark-haired young man had come within hailing distance, and they smiled and raised friendly hands in return. “It’s great to see you again! Imagine running into you two here in Khadra! My friend Leo McGarry tells me you’re already acquainted.”

            “Yeah, yeah,” said Scotty, shaking Jed’s hand first, and then Leo’s.

            “Your father,” Kelly told Jed, as he followed Scotty’s lead in the handshakes, “recommended me as a tennis teacher to his father, and it’s a small world after all!” He turned and waved Sharif over. “Let me introduce you, and we’ll all be friends! Maher Sharif, this is Leo McGarry, and Jed Bartlet. Jed, Leo, Maher Sharif.”

            Sharif bowed. “It is an honor, gentlemen, and a pleasure. I trust you are enjoying my country?”

            “It’s very beautiful,” said Leo.

            “And an example for the region,” added Jed, “if you don’t mind an American having the temerity to say it. Your regent has done more to fight poverty than any other leader in the area.”

            “Oh, I dunno,” said Leo, “King Hussein, over in Jordan, is pretty good.”

            “He is,” agreed Sharif. “Also, he is a very fine chess player. He has visited to play with both the Regent and the King, many times. A very wise and kind man.”

            “So, you’re here for the ceremony?” Jed asked Kelly and Scotty.

            “Yes, we are,” said Scotty. “We met the King in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, and he very kindly invited us to attend.”

            “That’s great!” Jed’s eyes were bright with interest. “What an opportunity to see history, you know? I mean, playing out right before your eyes!”

            “It’s very much an honor,” said Kelly quietly. He held a hand out to Jed again. “Listen, it’s really been great to see you, I hope we run into one another again while we’re here.”

            Jed took both the hand and the hint with a smile. “I’m sure we will, Kelly. It’s a great city, but not a large one.” He turned to Maher. “Mr. Sharif, it’s been an honor. I thank you for your hospitality and tolerance. Yours is a very beautiful country.”

            With more thanks and pleasantries all the way around, the two groups parted ways, and Sharif led Kelly and Scotty deeper into the marketplace. Unlike yesterday, though, when they were merely soaking up the scenery, the two agents were now watching faces and moving bodies, their eyes cross-referencing and filing features and builds and walks.

            “Fine young men,” said Sharif, favoring his right leg a little more after the morning’s walk.

            “And much more important than you’d think,” said Kelly, letting his mouth work on auto-pilot while his eyes scanned and collated. “Jed is really Josiah Bartlet. His Umptyeth-great-grandfather was Josiah Bartlett-with-two-Ts, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Family’s been important in New Hampshire politics for longer than New Hampshire’s been a state.”

            “Oh, hey, that was good,” said Scotty. “I like how you saw Maher had no idea what New Hampshire was so you slipped it right in there, real smooth, Homer!”

            Sharif chuckled.

            “And young McGarry,” Kelly continued, “is the only son of Fergus McGarry, of the Chicago McGarrys who became that because Massachusetts was too small for them to be the Massachusetts McGarrys at the same time as old Joe was running the Massachusetts Kennedys.”

            “Ah!” Maher Sharif smiled. “This Fergus McGarry, he was Ambassador to Iran for a year or so, yes?”

            Scotty nodded. “About three years back, yeah.”

            “I remember him.” Sharif was contemplative. “He was a kind man, even when drunk, but drank to excess. I worried about him. He is well?”

            Kelly and Scotty exchanged a glance, and Sharif held up a palm. “Forgive me, I spoke out of turn. I may speak of him, as he is only someone I met. You have been responsible for his safety, I know you may not speak of these things.”

            “Don’t worry abou– Oh.” Kelly’s face hardened, staring at a group ahead of them. “Scotty, eyes front. That’s our man...”

            “...and that,” Scotty completed, “is the Mountain.”

            “This is not good,” muttered Maher Sharif. “The Mountain? This is not good at all.”

            They stepped back and watched from the shadows as their quarry, looking smaller and thinner than he had on the videotape, led a gigantic black man wading through the crowd. He was as tall as a professional basketball player, but vastly more solid, great slabs of muscle rolling and grinding under his dark brown skin.

            “Yeah, I can’t disagree there,” muttered Kelly. He exchanged a glance with Scotty, knowing they were both remembering the dossier: Letsego ‘The Mountain’ Kefenste, height, 7 feet, 2 inches, weight, 612 pounds, age, 56. Serious muscle for criminal gangs and covert services alike for about thirty years, migrating slowly northward from his original home in Equatorial Kundu.

            “Well, Stanley,” he said to Scotty quietly, “here’s another fine mess you-”

            The sudden alarm in Scotty’s eyes stopped him, and he looked quickly back. A woman in ragged, filthy clothes, obviously a beggar, was lying on the ground, as the Mountain drew back a foot to kick her again. Before he could, a boy of maybe five or six leaped at him, screaming. Kefenste’s casual backhand sent him tumbling limp to the dirt.

            The smaller man, the man who had called to threaten the King, turned and said something angrily to the Mountain, and the two walked in double-time and crammed themselves into a dark gray Renault.

            “Maher, get this number.” Kelly’s voice was hard and quiet. “1684. Got it?”

            “1684,” repeated Sharif.

            “Great. You’ll have to get back to the Palace on foot, I’m afraid, we’re taking the car. With any luck, they’ll lead us right back to their pad. Tell the King. Tell him they have the Mountain. Tell him what that means.” He glanced at Scotty. “Let’s go, Duke.”

            But there was something about Scotty... Kelly looked back. Scotty was staring, hard-faced, slightly wide-eyed, at the beggar-boy and his mother.

            “Duke.” No response. “Duke!” Kelly snapped his fingers in front of Scotty’s face, and his partner jerked, as if waking, “We’ve gotta go, Duke, like now.”

            The Renault was already at the far end of the plaza, and turning left into a main street.

            “All right, Hoby,” Scotty snapped out, and said to Maher Sharif, over his shoulder, “Get them some help, man!”

            The Al-Shurafaa car was a dented brown Mercedes whose engine was in perfect repair, far swifter and more powerful than it looked, which was entirely by design.

            “Jesus, Jed, did you see that?” Leo stared, wide-eyed, as the giant and the smaller man started the Renault.

            “Come on!” Jed was already pushing through the crowd toward the fallen woman and child.

            As they pushed through, they saw Robinson and Scott – the latter seeming distracted – climbing into a battered Mercedes and starting after the Renault, and Sharif pushing through the crowd to the felled mother and son beggars.

            They stopped, turned slowly, with widening eyes, to look at one another.

            “The Chinese delegation?” asked Jed.

            “Some sort of Russian diplomat?” replied Leo.

            “And, King Abd Al-Salaam in Vegas? Didn’t I read...?”

            “You did, Jed.”

            “We’ve got to back them up!” cried Jed Bartlet.

            “Are you out of your mind? They’re pros! They’re obviously pros! We’re not trained–”

            “I don’t mean running in with guns blazing, Leo, I mean following them, so somebody knows where the Hell they are!” He turned and marched off toward the line of taxis at the curb, every line of his back and shoulders radiating determination.

            “Oh, this has International Incident written all over it,” muttered Leo, and followed in his wake.

            “Oh, now, look at this, Hoby,” Scotty murmured, as the Renault pulled into the driveway of a house in a residential area just outside of Al-Zahra (“The Flower,” as locals called their city.) “The Mountain and the Qumari blackmailer, just one happy family in their nice suburban house. Isn’t that nice?”

            Kelly glanced over as the huge form of Letsego Kefenste wedged himself out of the Renault, and scowled back at the form of the Qumari agent who climbed easily from the driver’s seat. From this angle, in the sun, Kelly saw that his impression from the videotape had been correct, and there was a small, straight scar by the outside corner of the left eye. “You know what, Fred C,” said Kelly, “now that I get a good look at him, isn’t our buddy from the kiosk Qabeel Alaaeddin? Wasn’t he quite the rising star within El-Qabdat?”

            Qabda,” replied Scotty, driving on, “I keep telling you, it’s El-Qabda! No T, Homer.”

            “But it’s Qabdat Sultan Allah El-Mokhtar,” complained Kelly. “So where does the T go?”

            “It goes away when it’s not indicating the possession of Allah’s Chosen Sultan, man,” said Scotty, pulling onto the next side street, and parking there. “The T is the hook that attaches it to the Sultan, right?”

            “All right, all right,” said Kelly, following him out of the car and back up the sidewalk. “Silly way to run a language if you ask me!”

            “Says the American English speaker!” chuckled Scotty.

            Kelly snickered, “True, true.”

            They slowed down and moved closer to the shade of a tree before reaching the house the El-Qabda men had driven to, and took a few moments to examine approaches. Two or three cars moved by, a taxi pulled to the curb a couple of houses further up, but the house itself seemed unwatchful.

            “You know, Hoby,” said Scotty, “that’s quite a name our friend from the kiosk is packing. Alaaeddin? That’s Aladdin, Jack!” They continued on past the house, glancing as they went by, and then Kelly tapped Scotty’s elbow, gesturing with the angle of his head, and without any fuss, they casually turned and approached the corner of the house.

            “Aladdin, really?” Kelly’s hand had dipped into his pocket, and come out with a small pair of wire cutters concealed in his palm. “Well, then...” Quickly and easily, without fuss and without a pause, he reached down and clipped two barely-visible alarm wires. “All I have to say is,” he reached down and, with a rolling motion of his shoulders, lifted the window past its catch. “‘Open Sesame!’”

            Scotty shook his head in disgust. “No, no, no!” he said, helping him slide the outer pane of the window open to the left. “That’s  Ali Baba, you Philistine! Can’t you keep your Arab clichés straight?”

            “Am I tall enough to be a Philistine?” Kelly asked, swinging a leg over the windowsill, and slithering gracefully inside.

            “Not really, man, no,” agreed Scotty, as he accepted Kelly’s offered hand and followed him in. “But if you work hard and eat your Wheaties, you know, you can achieve anything, man.”

            “Yes, yes,” said Kelly, reaching out to close the window again, “The Philistine dream.”

            Their shoes made almost no sound as they moved deeper into the house.

            “Did you see that?” said Leo.

            “I am right here, Leo,” Jed replied. “Although I’m not sure what that little jiggle at the beginning was.”

            “So, now what, Mister Nought Nought Seven?” Leo asked. “Go tell someone they broke into a house? And who can we tell?”

            Their taxi had already gone, and they were standing in the shadow of a moderately large fig tree. Jed shook his head. “Not yet. We can go to the American Embassy if it reaches that point, but they’re probably fine. We’ll just keep an eye out for trouble, and do a fade when they come back out.”

            Leo put a hand on Jed’s shoulder and pushed him back a step, fading into the shadows close beside him. An Arab man stepped out from beyond the far side of the house, adjusting a robe over grey twill trousers and a white linen shirt, clearly sealing his fly. In the swishing fabric of the robe, as his hands secured his zipper, they saw a gun, a machine pistol, pushed down through the belt in front of his left hip.

            Leo’s voice, barely a breath, ghosted into Jed’s ear as the man took up station leaning against the wall of the house, between the window the two agents had entered, and another. “That’s a C96 Broom-handle Mauser. 20-round magazine, 9 mm parabellum. That’s a serious gun, Jed. It’s a pro’s gun.”

            Jed nodded. “Come on, then.”

            They moved quietly back, in the shadows, and ducked into the alley on the far side of the building behind the fig, a shop of some sort, obviously closed for business. A battered, rusted Coca-Cola sign hung askew over the door. “Do we go for help?” Leo hissed.

            Jed bit his lip. “I don’t like it,” he said. “In the time it takes us, anything could happen. Leo, if they try to come back out the way they went in...”

            “He can cut them down, no problem.”

            “We’ve got to go in and tell them,” said Jed.

            “How are we going to do that, Commander Bond? You may have noticed, there’s an armed guard out there now.”

            “Nobody likes a smart-ass, Leo,” sighed Jed. “Let’s go around behind, and see if there’s an approach there.”

            The back of the shop was like the back of a shop in Manchester or Chicago or Newark: trashcans, one knocked on its side, litter that had not reached the trashcans, two or three wooden pallets to stack crates or boxes on, a large delivery door. Empty soft-drink cans. There was a hedge of sorts separating the shop from the house Robinson and Scott did not yet know they were trapped in. Jed and Leo made their way to it, stepping carefully amid the rubbish and debris.

            They wormed into a thin patch, and looked beyond. Behind the house was a panel truck, like any bakery might own, its driver’s-side door not fully shut. Beyond it stood an old Peugeot, then the Renault. The truck was parked inches from the back of the house, and they could see a window through the empty cab. Between the seats was the dark rectangle of the doorway into the storage area behind.

            “Looks promising,” said Leo. “If we can make it to the truck, we can slide open the other door, and then that window, and go in that way. Nobody’s looking out that window, or they wouldn’t have parked the truck against it.”

            They looked carefully, saw no sign of watchers, and sprinted to the truck, crouching low as they eased the driver’s door open, and slipped inside. As he scrambled crabwise after Leo, Jed’s foot slid a few inches, and he looked down to see a cellophane-wrapped cigarette package on the floor. The logo was in Arabic, with Latin letters underneath: “Atiyeh.

            He reached down and picked it up, nudged Leo. “Look at this.”

            Leo glanced down. “What? Somebody smokes?”

            “No, Leo.” Jed’s voice was quiet, intense. “Atiyeh is a Qumari brand. They don’t sell them here. There’s a trade embargo.”

            Leo half-smiled. “Don’t jump to conclusions, Jed,” he whispered. “There are a million ways Qumari smokes could have got here. Ever hear of the black market?”

            “Not for Atiyehs,” murmured Jed. “They’re terrible!

            Leo nodded. “All right, we’ll keep it in mind, Jed.”

            He turned back to the passenger-side door, slid it slowly back, and then started examining the window of the house, remembering the odd, rolling movement of Kelly Robinson’s shoulders before he slid open the window. It took him a couple of moments, but then he smiled. “Got it,” he murmured back to Jed. “You sort of lift and roll the outside window, the one that usually doesn’t open, over this latch here...”

            He gripped it carefully, rolling his shoulders, and then slid the window open.

            “Come on, man.”

            They crept into the house as quietly as they could, hyper-aware of the sounds of their footsteps. “We need to find them,” Leo breathed, “without alerting anybody else.”

            Jed grinned wryly. “Why, thank you Leo,” he whispered, matching his friend’s ghostly tones. “Should I occasionally inhale and exhale as well?”

            “Yeah, fine, fine,” grunted Leo. “Don’t blame me if you get enthusiastic about some pre-dynastic art, and get us caught.”

            Kelly Robinson froze, holding up a hand, and Alexander Scott was still beside him as well, both listening intently to the house’s near-silence. After a moment, they exchanged a nod.

            “You sure you got that alarm?” Scotty’s voice was a ghost on the air.

            Kelly nodded. “Anyway, we’ve been in here almost five minutes.”

            “Well, Hoby, they’re on the move.”

            “More toward the back of the house, though,” replied Kelly. “Maybe we should take a look that way.”

            There was a sound, and Scotty gestured with his head. He and Kelly ducked immediately into a sideways hall, and thence into a closet. They stood pressed together, breathing against one another’s cheeks.

            “This sort of thing was much more fun with Andrea,” breathed Kelly.

            “Well, man, I’m really insulted,” Scotty replied. “Besides, Andrea was too squirmy to be a world-class hider, man, she couldn’t keep still in a closet if her life depended on it.”

            “I thought she kept pretty still.”

            “With you, maybe!”

            Kelly grinned. “I thought you didn’t like white girls.”

            “They’re all the same color in the dark, Homer.”

            The sound of footsteps had come and gone while they’d entertained one another, and they slipped back out of the closet, and carefully continued back through the house.

            A door suddenly opened close in front of them, and a blond head peered out, first away from them, then turning, and Kelly hissed with surprise and annoyance, “Leo!?

            Leo jumped at the unexpected sight and sound, and then stepped out, followed by Jed. “Great!” Leo’s voice was as quiet as theirs, his tone urgent. “We found you.”

            “You say that like it’s a good thing,” snapped Kelly. “You know, this isn’t like some pickup basketball game anybody can just join in on.”

            “Listen,” Jed replied, “You’re in trouble here. We realized what you two are when you took off after those guys , and we followed – just to keep an eye out and get you help if something bad was happening.”

            “Look, that’s real cool and all, but Kelly’s right, man, we do this for a living.”

            “Anyway,” Kelly broke in, “if you were just going to keep a watch outside–”

            “We came in,” supplied Jed, his tone a little sharp, “because you’re going to need to find another way out.”

            Leo confirmed it. “After you came in, a guard showed up with a broom-handle Mauser. He’s planted right outside that window.”

            Kelly glanced over at Scotty. “Dammit.”

            “What?” asked Jed. “Can’t you find another way out?”

            “It’s not that,” said Scotty. “Kelly just hates it when other people are right.”

            “Broom-handle?” said Kelly. “We’d’ve been dead meat.” As he spoke, Scotty had cracked a door into another room, found it dark and empty, and indicated with his head. “Come on,” Kelly continued. “We need to huddle.”

            In the dark room, door closed, they did just that, leaning together, hands on shoulders, like a football team, to allow them to be as quiet as possible.

            “The good news,” said Scotty, “is that you two pretty much saved our lives, and no kidding.”

            “But don’t go breaking your arms patting your own backs,” added Kelly, “because you set off an alarm in the process. They’re out searching the house right now.”

            Dammit!” said Jed. “Leo tried to warn me...”

            “Leo,” said Kelly. “You’re Air Force. You know E&E?”

            “Escape and evade, yessir.” Captain McGarry’s tone was tight and clipped, the voice controllers no doubt heard in the tower back in Viet Nam.

            “Great,” said Scotty. “We’re going to go get caught.”

            “You can’t!” hissed Jed.

            “We have to,” replied Kelly. “Do you have any idea what kind of international mess this turns into if Al-Qabda grabs the two of you in this house? They’d have to kill you, which I’m actually not all that wild about, to be perfectly honest with you.”

            “And then they have to do something about it,” added Scotty. “Probably try to pin it on Al-Shurafaa, and start a whole mess, you see, between America and Khadra.”

            “Best-case, is,” continued Kelly, “they mess that up, and end up at war with Khadra, and America steps in on Khadra’s side.”

            “We can’t do that,” Jed hissed. “The Middle East is a powder-keg right now! We put American troops on the ground anywhere in this region, and the war we’ll end up in will make Viet Nam look like–”

            “Exactly,” interrupted Scotty.

            “The alarm’s gone off, and they’ve gotta find who set it off, or they’ll just keep searching,” Kelly said. “So, we get caught, and we get ourselves out of trouble later. In the meantime, you hide out until you get an opening, and get the hell out.”

            “Go to the Palace,” Scotty added. “Find Maher Sharif. He’s with Al-Shurafaa. Tell him we’re here, and they can handle the rest.”

            Kelly tapped twice on the shoulders on either side of him, put a hand unerringly, in the dark, to Jed’s mouth and Leo’s, and pulled them quickly back and into another tiny closet, shoving them inside, then following them halfway in and pressing his own back against them as Scotty, directly before him, pulled at the door.

            Lights came on in the room, dazzling, and a harsh voice barked, “Makanak!

            While Scotty peered around the closet door, slowly raising his hands, Kelly, close behind him, silently moved his hands behind his back, shifting the clothing and robes hanging there, so as to disguise the two civilians.

            “You! Negro! Who is with you? There are two of you!”

            At the sound of the voice, in its heavily accented English, Kelly moved slowly out to look past his partner at its owner. Qabeel Alaaeddin stood confident, holding a Soviet Tokarev TT-33 semiautomatic pistol.

            One second quicker!” Kelly complained to Scotty. “That’s all you had to be, Jack, one second quicker, and the door would have been closed when Aladdin here looked!”

            Scotty hung his head sheepishly. “I’m sorry, man. I guess I’m just not as quick as I used to be.”

            Alaaeddin shook his head. “No difference. When I am searching, I am not in the habit of leaving doors unopened.” He gestured with the Tokarev. “This way.”

            The two agents stepped where he had indicated, and Alaaeddin stepped into the room far enough to glance into the shallow closet, nodded once, then closed the door, pulling a walkie-talkie from somewhere within his suit jacket. “You may cease searching, and secure the house. I have found them. Yes, two of them, as the alarm indicated. I will see to them myself.”



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