Home > Rick (Lighthouse Security Investigations West Coast #3)

Rick (Lighthouse Security Investigations West Coast #3)
Author: Maryann Jordan

 


1

 

CAIRO, EGYPT

 

 

Abbie Blake opened her eyes, blinking as the hazy dawn’s light started to streak through the lacy cotton sheers that hung over her windows. She stretched, climbing from the bed as the Fajr prayer calls sounded out from the nearby mosque.

Walking over to the window, she gently pulled the sheers to the side, her gaze falling onto Mustafa, her gardener, wearing his cream-colored galabeya, as he knelt on his prayer rug in the middle of her villa’s garden.

Smiling, she lifted her face and breathed in deeply, the familiar scents wafting past. Baking bread. Flowers curling up the trellises. The rich coffee coming from her kitchen, which she knew would be accompanied by eggs and ful, the stewed seasoned fava beans.

Padding into her bathroom, she quickly showered and dressed for the day. She kept her makeup light but dried her long hair before pulling the dark tresses into a low ponytail.

Walking down the tiled stairs, she appreciated her housing, knowing it was small by American standards but huge to many locals. The two bedrooms upstairs shared a bathroom, and downstairs was a small living room, a nook with room for a dining table, and an open kitchen. Like many of the villas in Ma’adi, she had a small but beautiful garden filled with lush grass, palms, shrubs, and an abundance of flowers, all behind a tall wall. My very own oasis.

Offering her a good morning greeting, she called out, “As-salaam, Sabah,” while smiling at the petite woman standing in her kitchen. Her housekeeper was at the stove, stirring a pot.

Wearing a long blue skirt with a white blouse and her dark hair pulled up in a bun and covered in a hijab, Sabah looked over her shoulder and smiled. “As-salaam.” She dipped the beans onto a plate, then loaded it with bread and eggs before setting it on the table. “Here, eat. Eat. I’ll get coffee.”

It didn’t take long to finish her breakfast, and the plates were whisked away before she had a chance to take them to the sink. Sabah and Mustafa had been with her for several years, essentially coming with the villa. Offering her thanks for the meal, she hurried back upstairs to finish getting ready for her workday.

As she stepped out into the garden, Mustafa stopped raking and turned to greet her. The lines emanating from his eyes could have come from years of working in the sun, making it impossible to guess his age. His hair and beard were lightly streaked with gray, and his spine was slightly bent as he leaned on his rake. His galabeya was stained with dirt, and she could see he’d already spent time weeding this morning. With his own version of good morning, he dipped his chin and called out, “Naharak saa’id, Ms. Blake.”

“Good morning,” she returned, meeting his smile with one of her own while tossing her hand upward in a wave as she walked through the wrought-iron gate and onto the residential street. Heaving a sigh, she was ready for her least favorite part of the day. Getting to work was sometimes a logistical nightmare.

Fighting to board the crowded, hot train that broke down as often as it worked, she accepted that she’d never get a seat and always had to stand while the masses packed in around her. Catching a cab was sometimes impossible, but when necessary, it often involved placing her life in the hands of someone who drove in any direction necessary to get to the destination, even if that included wrong ways and on sidewalks. And if the pedestrians didn’t get out of the way, they could become collateral damage. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d seen that happen.

Finally, alighting from the train, she joined the masses that swept through the open doors and onto the sidewalks. Walking briskly down the block to where she worked, she entered the next crowd, making her way to the security checkpoint of the American Embassy. It didn’t matter if the guards knew who she was. Protocol and identification were always followed and needed.

Finally, her heels clicked along the tile floor in a rapid staccato as she hurried toward her office buried deep amongst a labyrinth of other offices. She hated being late for work. Glancing at the clock on the painted concrete wall in the hall, she knew she wasn’t technically late. But she was a believer in being early.

Careful not to slosh the cup of strong coffee in her hand, she had to concede that the wait at the coffee station was necessary, even if it added a few minutes.

Unlocking her door, she stepped inside her small, windowless office. She placed her cup on her desk before hanging her scarf onto the back of the door. Firing up her computer, she sat at her desk, logged in, and began going through the security steps necessary to start her day’s work.

Footsteps were heard just outside her office, and she looked up to see her boss. Smiling, she greeted, “Good morning, Michael.”

Michael Hawn was a civilian contractor with the US Army at the embassy, and she was his gopher— basic office work and running errands. He had a military assistant to handle the secure information, so her tasks for Michael were more mundane.

“Good morning, Abbie.” With a nod, he headed into his office, and she started on the tasks that would fill her day. One of the perks of her office being so buried meant she was never interrupted by others just stopping by to chat. But that was fine with her… she preferred solitude while working.

The morning hours passed quickly, and soon, she was ready for lunch. After securing her computer and locking her office door, she made her way to the first floor, across the stone courtyard made more attractive by large potted palm trees. Entering the cafeteria, she slogged through the line, then turned and headed to a table where several women she knew had gathered.

They were all pleasant to spend time with, but only one was a real friend. Abbie never enjoyed the small talk that others seemed to live for. But soft-spoken Mary Hayes was easy to spend time with. She worked as an entry-level data analyst for the State Department.

Lunch passed quickly enough, and she and Mary were walking back across the courtyard. “Have you got any plans this weekend?” Mary asked.

“No, not really. I’ll probably do my usual. Stay in, read a book, and go shopping.”

Mary chuckled, shaking her head. “We should go on a tour. Anything to get out and do something.”

“That’s true. Although, the office you work in is really nice. You even have a window,” she joked.

“Working as a data analyst is so much better than my last job where I was just a gopher—” Mary winced, scrunching her nose. “Oops. Sorry.”

Abbie laughed and shook her head. “No worries. There are a lot worse jobs I could do.”

With plans to get together over the weekend, Abbie took the elevator back up to the sixth floor. Once again settled into her office, she rebooted her computers and got back to work.

A knock on her door had her look up to see the smiling face of the young Army lieutenant assigned to assist Michael. “Hey, Sam.”

“Hey, Abbie. How’s it going?”

“I’m good. What do you need?”

Laughing, he shrugged. “Can’t I just pop in for your company?”

Lifting a brow, she pretend-glared. “I hardly think you need a distraction from your work.”

“Hey, working with you is the best distraction. Anyway, I needed to let you know that you’ve got a meeting with Michael at fifteen hundred hours.”

“Thank you.” She waited until he left and then stood quickly, having just enough time to race to the ladies' room before walking directly into Michael’s utilitarian office that only Sam currently occupied. He nodded toward her, then stood and walked to a panel behind Michael’s desk. Sliding it open, she slipped through, hearing it close behind her. Quickly going up one floor, she knocked once and then opened the door, walking into the well-appointed office.

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