Flame had been waiting patiently for nearly three hours now. Her contact had not yet arrived, hoping for once things would run smoothly and she wouldn't miss her connection to London.
All she wanted to do was go home, she hadn't seen her friends or family in over five years and it was time. The holidays were almost upon them and she was meeting a friend in London after delivering the package. Then they would both fly to her home in New Zealand.
She was a CIA courier, carrying a diplomatic pouch. This mission like many before would probably be routine and boring. She'd been hassled by police and government forces in Yemen in the past, but hoped this trip would be smooth and worry free. Dressed in traditional Arabic garb she could easily pass for a native.
Her laughing open face surprised people. Beneath that laugh was a well trained operative, her skill with weapons wasn't well known and she liked to keep it that way. Which was why she was perfect for the job.
She was tall and slim with hair the color of rich dark mahogany. People often asked how she acquired the nickname "Flame". She would laugh and tell them some story about her temper being quick to ignite, but only she and a few very good friends new about her tendency toward Pyrotechnics. Actually she was a clutz when it came to fire. Chuckling to herself, her mind drifting back to the first occasion she had tried to set fire to a place - not on purpose of course. On holiday in Europe, she and a friend had gone into Notre Dame, thinking to light candles. When the chapel door had slammed, she jumped sideways bumping into the rack holding the candles, sending several lit candles spinning across the floor. They came to rest beneath a curtained table that subsequently burst into Flame. If it hadn't been for Diana, the whole place probably would have gone up in Flames. Diana had never let her forget the incident and the nickname was born and never forgotten. It was purely an accident of course and the several other "Incidents" had been accidents too.
Diana of course had ranted and raved about being careful with fire, goaded Diana had finally admitted that her one phobia was fire.
Laughing to herself, Flame thinks about her meeting tomorrow with Diana. Good old Diana, they had known each other for almost ten years now meeting in Kuwait during the war. Those days had been interesting and fun a little hairy at time trying dealing with the people and politic of a very volatile situation but still fun. And being a woman had made it that much harder, but they had both survived to tell the tale, and it was a tall tale at that.
The quiet knock at the little hotel room door was a welcome sound. A few minutes later the envelope was sitting in her hand and she could be on her way.
Driving the little car through the mountain pass Flame stifles a yawn, looking down at her watch surprised to see that it's nearly midnight. The U.S. Consulate in Sanaa was still a long ways away but if she pushed it a little she could still make her flight to London on time. Once she crossed the mountains the trip would be smooth sailing across the flat desert.
Twenty minutes later Flame is surprised to see headlights coming up fast behind her.
"What the hell," she mumbles "as the car rams her from behind." Struggling to keep the little car on the road she swears again as the car pulls up alongside ramming into her, the drivers door crumbling inward under the assault the ripped metal tearing into her thigh.
Slamming on the brakes Flame's car fishtails erratically as one of the tires pops off the rim, her attackers flashing on by. Swerving right Flame's car careens down a steep slope, smashing head-on into a large boulder. Dazed by the final impact Flame shakes her head grabbing for her weapon and the pouch, she crawls out the passenger side of the vehicle. The stabbing pain in her injured leg finally clears the fog from her brain. Looking at the gash she can see that it isn't as the bad as it felt and the bleeding was minimal. Pulling her case from the backseat Flame rips one of her shirts apart placing a pad over the wound tying the torn strips tightly to staunch the flow of blood.
Looking up she can see several bobbing lights coming down the mountainside. Grabbing her pack from the front seat, a canteen, blanket, map and some extra clips, Flames moves quickly away from the car the air beginning to smell strongly of gas and oil.
The night sky is pitch black, no moon peaking through the clouds to give away her position as she moves quickly away from the car. A deafening explosion blasts through the quiet night, sending sparks and debris spinning high into the air as the car burst into flame setting off the gas tank.
Walking off into the night Flame grumbles in disgust. Fifty miles from nowhere, not a phone in sight, a couple of maniacs chasing her, and a bum leg to boot well this was going to be fun she mumbles to herself.
Drumming her fingers on the table impatiently Diana was worried. Flame had been late before but never this late. Pulling her phone out she dials the hotel. "Sorry Miss, the Lady hasn't checked in yet," is the clerks answer. After a second call to the airlines only to find out the flight landed three hours ago but Ms. Wyndom was not aboard. Paying her bill Diana hurries back to the hotel. Three hours later after at least twenty more phone call and checking with several friends she knew in Yemen, Diana finally tracked down what she'd been looking for.
The news service reported a car accident on the main road 45 miles from Aden. The car had careened off the road, exploding upon contact with a large boulder. No body was recovered.
Diana knew Flame was on a courier run, it was supposed to have been a routine paper push, but this little story might indicate otherwise.
Plopping down on the bed, Diana runs the names of her contacts in the Middle East through her head knowing none are even remotely capable of helping in this kind of situation.
Grabbing for the phone on the nightstand beside the bed Diana starts dialing.
Silver Star Hotel
Sitting at the table in the ops room, Benny Ray continues to clean the already spotless Glock, thinking about the holiday. His ex-wife had taken the kids to their Grandparents for Christmas so he was left kicking his heels. Rico was hunting around in the kitchen trying to figure out what to make for breakfast. Matt and Margo had finally come to terms with their relationship and had taken some time off to go work out a few things. Grumbling as the phone on his belt begins to ring Benny Ray is tempted not to answer it as he looks at the unfamiliar number sitting on the screen.
Flipping open the phone Benny Ray listens as the troubled voice on the other ends pleads for his help.
"Diana," Benny Ray says, "I've got a couple of friends in London at the moment visiting for the holiday. I'll contact them and have them met you at your hotel." "Chance and CJ are their names and you can't miss them. I'll make arrangements to meet you in Aden as soon as I can."
"Have you called Trout," Benny Ray asks?"
"Yes," Diana answers, "He didn't know anything but is checking into it now."
"See you in a few hours," Benny Rays says.
"You didn't have any plans for the holiday did you Benny Ray," Diana asks?"
"Nothing that can't be changed," he answers.
"Thanks Benny Ray, I'll make it up to you I promise, this really means a lot to me!"
"No problems," Benny Ray whispers in return before hanging up. As he ends the call a twinkle enters his eyes as he whispers. "I'm sure I can come up with some way you can make it up to me."
Dialing CJ's number Benny Ray is happy to hear the Brit's voice. Asking for his help he fills him in giving him the address of Diana's hotel. "Thanks Amigo, Benny Ray says, I'll see you in a few hours."
Across the room Rico listens intently as Benny Ray explains the call.
"So, Rico says smiling, "This holiday isn't going to be as boring as I'd thought, lead on Amigo."
After dialing Matt's number and getting no answer Benny Ray writes a cryptic little note leaving it sitting in the center of Matt's desk - though he knew they weren't due back for three more days, the letter was there just in case.
Mountains North of Yemen
The mid afternoon sun beat relentlessly on the arid ground. The rocks were hot to the touch. Sitting in the shade of a tall boulder Flame sips from her canteen, planning her next move. She had yet to see any signs of pursuit but she had a feeling they were out there, and too close for comfort.
Picking up the packet she twirls it in her hands a thoughtful frown crossing her tired face. Her contact hadn't given her any indication that there might be trouble so what the hell was going on. She had a couple of choices, destroy the documents so they wouldn't fall into the wrong hands. Keep them and try to make it to the consulate or?
A few minutes later Flame gathers her gear slinging the pack over her shoulder she takes one last look around before heading down the steep slope.
Pacing the room restlessly, Diana jumps as a loud knock sounds at her door. Opening the door to see two men, different as night and day standing expectantly in front of her. A tall black man, a somber expression on his face stands towering over the second smaller man.
"Chance, CJ" Diana asks? "Please, come in."
"At your service little lady" the little man says. "So," CJ says, "What's this little problem you'd like us to help you with."
Explaining the situation, Diana grins when CJ says "The bloody Middle East, why does it always have to be there." "No Libyans this time right, CJ" asks?"
"I don't think so," Diana answers, "I take it you don't like Libyans very much?"
"Let me tell you," CJ begins only to be cut off as Chance says, "Later CJ."
After a myriad of questions from her two new friends Diana answers, giving them as much information as she knows.
Heading for the airport Diana is surprised when her phone rings, Trout on the other end.
"Xavier," she says "I hope you have some good news for me?"
"Not exactly Diana" Trout says, "it seems your friend is missing, which of course you already know. The package she is carrying is highly controversial both in the US and Yemen. Those documents cannot fall into the wrong hands. If they do, it would create a very volatile situation in the Middle East and possibly cause an International crisis. How the hell they ended up over there without a full escort is beyond me. Heads are definitely going to roll over this one."
"I heard you have already acquired some help, Trout continues. What are you planning to do Diana?"
"Find her Xavier," Diana answers, "and bring her home!" Hanging up Diana relays the news saying, "This has turned out to be a little bit more than you bargained for hasn't it. I'll understand if you change you mind about going!"
"No, Ma'am" Chance says, "If the job had been simple you wouldn't have asked for our help."
"Your bloody right my friend" CJ says, "I'm looking forward to a little excitement maybe I'll even get to blow something up."
Breathing a sigh of relief she smiles gratefully at both of them.
The trip to Aden was accomplished with relative ease, Diana's knowledge of the language and customs made dealing with the local officials almost pleasant. Renting a car was the hard part. When Diana had asked about something-larger possible a van or truck the clerk had stated "Not Available." Chances' efforts to fold his huge frame into the small car had CJ in stitches.
Benny Ray and Rico weren't due to arrive for another three hours and Diana was anxious to get supplies. Leaving CJ at the airport, Chance and Diana drive for about 20 minutes, parking near a small bazaar east of the airport. Wearing native garb Chance and Diana wend their way through the streets and alleyways of Aden. Finding what she's looking for, Diana knocks lightly at the door to a weather beaten little building. Standing behind Diana Chance, his arms crossed over his chest presents a very menacing picture to the man answering the door. Whispering excitedly in Arabic he moves to close the door. Convincing the man that Chance was no threat proved harder than Diana had thought as a few minutes later they are standing inside the house.
Switching to English Diana hands a thick wad of bills to the man. His face wreathed in a big smile he leads them down a hidden set of stairs to the basement. Chance whistles as another door is opened the treasures displayed within. Weapons, explosives and just about anything they might need was available for a price, and by the looks of it Diana was willing to pay the price. Pulling out CJ's list he hands it to the Arab. In less than ten minutes the pair is loaded, most of their booty hidden beneath their voluminous robes. Stowing the weapons and explosives in the boot of the car they head back to the airport.
Diana sighs in relief as she catches sight of Benny Ray coming off the plane, Rico close behind.
Moving across the room, Benny Ray looks around without being obvious spotting two men dressed in white robes watching his friends.
Dropping his pack on the floor he steps up to Diana grabbing her around the waist pulling her into his arms, planting a warm kiss on her rosy cheek. "Darlin," he drawls. Winking over her shoulder at Chance and CJ. Then he whispers in her ear, "Two Tango's across the room, they were paying just a little bit too much attention to you."
Leaning back slightly, Diana places one hand on either side of his face. Drawing him forward she whispers, "Saw them earlier, but two can play at this game you know," as she hungrily kisses him full on the mouth. Closing his eyes Benny Ray groans.
Finally releasing her he says, "Hmmm I deserved that.
Looking up he catches CJ with a wide smirk on his face. "Like that is it," CJ whispers, "this gets more interesting by the minute."
Reaching out, Chance grabs Benny Ray's hand, saying, "it's good to see you my friend it's been too long." "Rico, my man," Chance says shaking his hand, "it's good to have you back."
Slapping both newcomers on the back and heartily shaking their hands, CJ greets them enthusiastically before saying, "Times a wasting my friends and we have a long way to go."
Ten minutes later after signing for their vehicle Rico and Benny Ray pull up beside Diana's car. Eyeing the tiny car with laughter in his eyes, Benny Ray doesn't say a word as he opens the rear door of his SUV. Laying out a map he says, "The car was spotted here" as he places his finger on the map. It's been a little over 24 hours since she disappeared so we are going to have to hustle. If she's injured she may be hold up somewhere unable to call for help. It's also possible there are Tango's on her trail or they might already have her. My guess is she's moving toward Rada, where she might be able to contact the consulate, either way we start at the crash site.
"Good," Benny Ray says, "keep your eyes and ears open, I don't see a tail yet but that doesn't mean there won't be one."
Folding up the map Benny Ray heads for the passenger side of the SUV, only to find Chance already there, along with Rico driving and CJ taking up the rear.
"Compadre," Chance says his face crinkling with laughter, "I think you need to ride with the fair Diana and discuss the plan a little more."
"I second that mate," CJ pipes in slapping Chance on the shoulder.
Grumbling something about "Friends, who needs enemies," Benny Ray folds himself into the little car.
Crash Site 1000 hrs
Turning another corner Benny Ray can see the area where Flame's car went off the road, police flags still marking the site.
Picking their way carefully down to the site. The team looks around for some kind of sign that Flame didn't perish in the fire. About twenty feet from the car Chance bends down scraping some dirt out from under a small rock. The small white patch is soon discovered to be a torn shirt with a bloodstain on it.
"Benny Ray," Chance calls "she's alive, hurt maybe but alive.
Looking up Benny Ray stills as the sound of rolling pebbles comes from up the slope. "Down" he yells as several shots are fired from above. The team dives for cover, beside him Benny Ray sees Rico jerk to the left and grunt in pain. Rico mumbling some choice words beneath his breath, his left sleeve now red with blood pulls his weapon and begins to return fire as do the rest of the team.
Up slope CJ whispers into his mike, "I count four tango's mate."
"Roger that CJ," Benny Ray whispers back. "Lets see if we can take one of these guys alive."
Shots are exchanged without any advantage to either side. Yelling, "Cover Me," Benny Ray takes off heading up the slope to a better position. Behind him Diana and Rico continue firing rapidly, keeping the enemy pinned down.
One Tango tempting fate raises up and Diana is quick to take advantage, her shot hitting the man in the chest knocking him backwards. Across the slope Chance moves silently, his body low and unseen up to a better vantagepoint. Taking aim he fires sends rock shards flying into the Tango's face blinding him for the moment. The blinded Tango has moved sideways away from his cover CJ fires, the man cries out as he hits the ground.
Shouts from the Tango alert Diana, "They're retreating," she says through the comms link."
As the Tango's head up the slope covering their escape with wild gunfire Benny Ray finally gets his chance. Taking aim he fires. The last man grabs his right thigh as he stumbles rolling down the hill.
Farther up the slope the last of the Tango's moves out of site over the top of the hill with Chance and CJ in pursuit. As they crest the hill they can see a car fishtailing down the road as it accelerates away. Firing Chance and CJ's efforts are unrewarded as the car moves out of range.
Benny Ray moves in slowly knowing the injured man might still have his weapon. Looking up the man can see Benny Ray getting closer he raises his weapon. Instead of aiming at Benny Ray he places the gun to his head yelling, "Allah" before he fires one shot.
"Well, how do you like that," CJ says as he walks up.
Cocking his eyebrow at CJ Benny Ray asks "How about the other two?"
"Deader than door knobs," the Brit answers. "Do any of them look familiar to you?"
Coming up beside them Rico says, "Yeah this one was at the airport."
"Search them," Benny Ray says, "it might give us a clue as to who they are?"
As Rico turns away Benny Ray grabs him by the arm saying, "Hey Amigo, I think you'd better get that arm looked at!"
"It's just a scratch," Rico answers.
Snorting in disgust Benny Ray says, "Yeah I've heard that one before."
Beside them Diana chuckles taking Rico's. "Sit" she commands as she starts digging through her pack. Gently she slides his shirt off the shoulder and arm. Cleaning the cut she can see the bullet creased the outside of the arm just below the shoulder. Closing the cut with a couple of butterfly strips she bandages it saying, "It will be sore for a couple of days, but it's not bad."
Finishing up Rico and Diana chuckle as CJ his arms flailing wildly his mouth moving a mile a minute comes walking up. "Libyans," he mumbles, "They're damn Libyans." "What the hell are they doing here," he asks?" "Why can't they just stay put in their little country, why do they always have get in the way?"
"Libyans," Chance says, "If they know about the documents then there has got to be a leak. We need to find Flame and those documents before they do!"
"Damn," Benny Ray mumbles, "Rico, Chance, CJ, I need you to take the vehicles and go on ahead to Rada, call Trout tell him what we've found out and call the consulate just in case Flame has shown up." "Diana and I are going to try and follow her trail"
Taking off back up the slope the three men head for the vehicles, CJ in the car, Chance and Rico in the truck as they head down the road toward Rada.
Looking around Benny Ray's finely honed instincts pick up tiny signs of Flames trail. Settling their packs comfortably the two set off down the trail.
Waking up had been hard, the little cave provided shelter from the wind but that was about all. The trip across the mountain had taken twice as long as it should have her leg ached more and more with each step. Her body ached in every muscle and she was hungry. Supplies were dwindling fast and she still had quite a few miles of travel through the desert before any type of settlement or Oasis would be found.
Taking one last sip from her canteen, Flame tucks the leather pouch under her arm and steps out onto the trail. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She was being watched placing her hand on the weapon tucked into her belt she looks around carefully. Not even a breeze was blowing this morning, maybe she had imagined it, but she doubted it her instincts had always been good before this. Of course it could be the mountain people or one of the nomadic tribes that lived in this area. Shrugging her shoulders she begins the trek down the last few miles of mountain trail. Ten minutes later she sees a lone horseman standing silhouetted against the morning sky. Limping down the trail Flame watches the rider for several minutes, though he has not made a single move toward her. His garb portrayed him as a nomadic tribesman who endlessly travels the deserts and mountains of the Middle East region. Looking up he very much reminded her of someone. She'd met several of the tribes on her trips across Yemen and Iraq. Some of them had welcomed her and some had been openly hostile, but none had ever offered her any harm.
On one of her treks she's met and traveled with a small tribe who offered to teach her the ways of the desert. It had been a wonderful experience one she would never forget. Letting her mind drift back several years she thinks about those times and the people she'd come to know and love. They were a strong people, their way of life made it that way. One man in particular filled her thoughts his name was Nasir, he was the Sheik's son. She'd been drawn to him, mesmerized by his dark brooding countenance, the barely leashed power. Just as he'd been drawn to her. Shaking her head Flame clears her mind of Nasir watching as several minutes later the rider passes out of sight
That feeling again the tingling, hair-raising feeling was back. Slipping off the trail Flame steps behind the rocks, watching and waiting. The sound of boots on rocks could be heard coming up the trail. Muted voices their tone low and earnest drifted up to her, but she couldn't make out the words. From the trail behind more sounds but these were different, more of the four-footed variety. Maybe the nomad had followed her.
From above her a familiar gray horse comes into view its rider draped in white robes, carefully picks it's way down the rocky trail. Catching sight of the rider's profile Flame is shocked, "Nasir" she whispers to herself. Climbing up onto a rock Flame watches as Nasir encounters the other men on the trail. Six men stand blocking the trail. Two men reach for the horses' bridle firing questions at him in rapid Arabic. Unable or possible unwilling to answer their questions, his voice filled with barely suppressed rage Nasir shouts his answer, as he queue's his horse. Kicking out the gray catches one of the men in the thigh, the other scurries away in fear. Spurring the gray forward Nasir sends him back up the trail
Shouting at him to halt, several of the men draw their weapons. Pulling her weapon Flame fires, scattering the men but not before they loose several shots toward the fleeing rider. Watching Flame sees Nasir slump forward in the saddle as his fleet footed little horse flies up the trail.
Continuing to fire Flame slides down off the rock heading down the steep slope beside the trail. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she mumbles, "you gave away your position, now look at the mess you've gotten yourself into." Slipping and sliding down the trail the first of her assailants catch up with her. They want her alive, but she has not qualms about him being dead and fires her weapon. Knocked backward the man lays still as the others, now more cautious move closer. From in front of her she can hear the sounds of running feet. Swearing to herself she turns back up the hill, ducking behind a large boulder. As the men approach she leaps up kicking out, sending the man's weapon spinning off down the trail. Swinging her body around she sends her elbow crashing into his face, breaking his nose. But there are too many of them and within minutes she is disarmed and face down on the rocky ground.
"Be still," one of the men shouts in broken English, give us the package and you will go free."
Hurling some nasty swear words in their directions Flame continues to struggle, beside her one of the men rifles through her pack holding up the leather pouch in triumph. Grinning, a mischievous light in her eyes, Flame howls with laughter as they open the pouch to discover several pairs of ladies undergarments hidden within.
Dragging her to her feet one man slaps her hard across the face asking, "Where are the papers?"
Lifting her chin high into the air her voice low and husky Flame says, "Go to Hell!"
"You will tell us sooner or later," he whispers slowly. This is the easy way, if we must we can make this hard."
"Licking her lips Flame whispers, "I so enjoy doing things the hard way, it makes life so much more interesting - don't you think!"
Slamming his fist into her jaw, he watches as Flames slumps to the ground.
"Pick her up," he yells to one of the men, "We go to BaraQish."
Unseen several yards away behind the rocks Nasir, his face lined with pain listens intently as they question Flame. Anger burns deep in his soul as he hears them strike her, "BaraQish" he murmurs to himself, "I must get to BaraQish." Stumbling back up the trail he reaches for the reins of his horse as the darkness overtakes him sending him spiraling down into the black abyss of unconsciousness.