FOREIGN EXCHANGE by Nick Hahn (due 2015)

PROLOGUE

Three Ford Expeditions, black with tinted glass, were crossing the bridge. US Ambassador Owen Wintour sat in the middle vehicle next to Jim Carlisle, a government lifer and Charge’ de Affaires. Carlisle is the consummate diplomat, trained, articulate, charming, savvy. He knew his job and his place in the embassy pecking order. He would serve as acting Ambassador in Owen’s absence. A routine trip, going over notes on their way to an airport, SOP for a busy Embassy. Alex and I sat together in the back near the double cargo doors guarding luggage. The Pakistani driver and guard riding shotgun kept their eyes on the masses littering the street like human detritus. The other two trucks held more security, an unnecessary expense according to Owen, one truck two guards more than sufficient, a routine trip. Mustafa approved our detail, selecting each guard personally. Satisfied, he stayed behind catching up on training neglected since we arrived.
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Midway over the bridge it happened. A blinding flash signaled a deafening explosion followed by the unmistakable odor of high explosive cordite. The Ford Expedition in front of us erupted in a mushroom cloud of smoke and fire, leaping off the road, settling back in a black pile of melting plastic, glass and metal. A shoulder fired rocket found its mark with deadly accuracy.

The driver slammed on the brakes, jamming the gear into reverse, twisting his body around for a better view out the rear door windows. Too late, the car behind met the same fate. Boxed in by smoking heaps of scrap metal an assault squad of five masked terrorists appeared from nowhere and surrounded the truck. A professional hit , they were calm and efficient directed by a leader with calculated precision. With black ski masks, bullet proof vests and earphone sets they resembled a swat team, only the captain spoke, the others took orders.

The short one wore a small knapsack, turned his back to another who unzipped the bag removing explosive Semtex, a grey putty like substance. He slapped the mass hard against the rear gate, ducked behind a fender and held his ears. The doors locked together rather than to the structural integrity of the truck. They exploded out and back in a spray of broken glass, dangling on their hinges. The short one jumped in first, throwing out luggage as he scrambled towards Alex. The guard riding shotgun leveled his Glock-45 at the terrorist closest to my daughter, he hesitated before pulling the trigger, a mistake. The infrared dot centered on his forehead, the backup shooter behind the truck squeezed off a single high caliber round from his Beretta, the barrel flinched, the hollow point found its mark. His head jerked back, blood, bone and brain fragment exploded from the gaping exit wound splattering against the windshield in a rorschach pattern. Our driver, went for his concealed weapon but stopped as the bombers surrounded the truck. The leader banged the bullet proof glass with the butt of his automatic, he wanted the door locks opened now, the driver was already hitting the release button.

Two of them grabbed Jim Carlisle from the jump seat and threw him to the ground. Owen’s move to protect us met with a crushing blow to the temple from the barrel of a terrorist’s handgun, Owen crumpled to his knees. Alex ‘s screams now muffled by the rag over her face. The medicinal odor of chloroform filled the SUV, she struggled and chocked before going limp in the bomber’s arms. Not a random kidnapping, this was a professional hit performed flawlessly by a well trained team. They had snatched the daughter of a US Ambassador on a busy bridge in the capital of Pakistan in broad daylight. They ignored the rest of us, they wanted Alex and they got her.

Ambulances and fire trucks arrived first, ahead of police. Pandemonium erupted, people shouting, pointing and crying. Owen, now back on his feet, waved off the EMT, he directed them to the security guard laying face down on the pavement, he didn’t need medical attention, he needed a coroner.

Dazed, Carlisle held his head, percussion from the explosion ruptured both ear drums. We survived with a superficial gash to Owen’s head. This was about Alex, where did they take her and why? Calling the Embassy Owen requested immediate access to the Secretary of State, I sobbed uncontrollably.

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