Today's Reading

They hear more small-arms fire from inside the house. They hear shouting from outside the wall. The Basque is in a fury now. "Will you fools shut the fuck up! We get out! Now!" He gestures to the walkway atop the wall. "If they get up there, we'll be ducks in a barrel!"

Dez tsks. "It's fish in a barrel. Or sitting ducks."

The Basque draws his sidearm. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Dez drapes his forearms over his upturned knees and smiles gently up at the man. "I mean, a sitting fish would be a silly image. Not a half-bad name for a pub, though." He turns to Rafik. "Could open a pub. The Sitting Fish. American girls like pubs, yeah?"

Rafik rubs a hand through his beard. "I see a flaw in your plan, vis-à-vis these California girls."


"Well, you're quite homely, chef."

The Basque looks like he's a hair's breadth away from a coronary.

Dez is aghast. "That's a terrible thing to say! I'm actually quite a handsome man. Rakish, even. Comely, if we're bein' honest. An' you, you've a face like an elbow! I'd do quite well in California, thank you. Starlets an' what have you."

Rafik grins through his grimy beard. "If you say so, chef."

The Basque aims his 9mm firearm at Dez, then at the crouching Rafik, then at Dez. "Call the boat! We are leaving! Now!"

Dez turns his smile to the big, angry man. "A firearm's not a toy, love. It's all fun an' games till someone puts an eye out."

The Basque presses the barrel of his sidearm into the top of Dez's skull, pushing down the black-and-white headscarf. "I should kill you now!"

They hear shouting near the top of the compound wall. The remains of Djamel M'Bolhi's men have finally figured out how to get up there. Well, they work there. Likely, they've trained for just this contingency.

The noise distracts the Basque. When he glances away, Dez grabs the man's right wrist, sliding his little finger into the trigger guard, blocking the trigger itself. The man's leaning forward, already a little off-balance. Dez yanks hard on his right arm and the Basque stumbles into him. Dez, arm crooked, slams his elbow into the supraorbital ridge over the Basque's left eye. He hears the bone crackle. The big man slumps to the ground, unconscious.

The tall, quiet beauty, the Shot-Caller from Elsewhere, steps out of the house, SIG Sauer in her fist. She's bleeding from her shoulder. She nudges the unconscious Basque with her boot. "What happened?"

Dez rises and brushes dust off his smoke-dark fatigues. "Someone put his eye out."

She nods. "Count?"

"Fourteen in," he says. "Fourteen out."

"Call the boat."

"Aye." Dez draws a ruggedized mobile from his trouser pocket.

She studies the courtyard and the sturdy wall. "They get up on the walkway, they can use those flowerpots as merlons."

Rafik rises, too. "Merlons?"

"Battlements," Dez says, hitting Send on his phone. His friend frowns. "Solid bits, to hide behind and peek out and shoot us to death."

"Ah." Rafik studies the dozen red pots. "Yes. That would be bad."

They see scuttling movement atop the walkways.

"Unless someone had the forethought to put pouches of white phosphorous on them pots," Dez says.

They see movement behind four of the pots. Five. Djamel M'Bolhi's men, showing a little unit discipline, waiting to get all their snipers in place before attacking.

The Shot-Caller from Elsewhere smiles. She aims her SIG at the nearest of the great red pots, twenty feet off the ground, and fires.

She hits the packet of phosphorous adhered to the pot. Everyone on the ground turns, throwing arms or hands over their eyes, as the pot explodes with a bluish-white fireball, sending a gout of potting soil and bougainvillea into the air. A man screams, his body arching back over the crenellated wall, falling, landing on one of the Jeeps below.

Dez has rigged the phosphorous pouches in tandem, like Christmas tree lights, and when one ignites, they all do. The air is thick with the peaty tang of potting soil, and a snowfall of red flowers drifts into the courtyard. The explosions have deafened everyone sufficiently that they don't have to hear the screams of the burning men.

When the last of the pots has exploded and the last of the fireballs has dissipated, the team brushes clods of dirt and pedals of bougainvillea and bits of sandstone and terra-cotta and terrorist off their fatigues.

They hear no more shooting or shouting from outside the compound.

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