Friday, October 26, 2012

Hot Chips and Sand 21-25 First Draft Comparison

Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2012 Mary Hughes 
All rights reserved 

Col. Hafez Fahrrad was the name on the cover letter. She had done her usual thorough research and had discovered he was presently the dictator of a Middle‑East dot on the map, Middle Yemen by name, recently coming to power in a particularly bloody coup.
At their first meeting, her hair had marked her out.
Fahrrad had stood as if transfixed, eyes flat and glassy. “What an unusual color,” he had said, reaching out a finger to touch a curl.
She had pulled back, appalled, and slapped his hand away. She still could see his expression, as if he were there with her in the dark hold. He had been furious, his eyes sparking with anger at her effrontery. But then he had controlled himself, and had actually smiled, with a toothy, gold‑capped grin and a slight bow in apology.
Vickie had felt certain that he was trying to weasel his way back in her good graces, although she had thought at the time it was to get a better price for his data system.
“Here at Fitzwater Software and Consulting, we generally work in database design and implementation, Col. Fahrrad,” she had told him.
“Ah, yes. That is what my advisor had told me. But what I want is not so different, is it, my love?”
Terms of endearment in the business environment always grated on her. This one made her wonder if Fahrrad thought all Americans sounded like old Bogart films. If he hadn’t been a client, she would have made an issue out of it. As it was, she asked politely, “And what are you looking for?”
“I would like a security system.” His slow, sensual grin had not endeared him to her at all. It really looked more like a leer, ruler of a country or not.
“For the government headquarters?” Vickie had remembered from her reading that he had infiltrated the Middle Yemeni palace, then staged a coup months later. Then Fahrrad had slaughtering all the people loyal to the original ruler, Prince Kulinahr, and the Prince himself. She supposed he would want to make sure no one would pull the same trick on him.
“For the entire country.”
That had set her back. She knew the technology involved in guarding a bank or building was commonplace, but a whole country…? “I’ll have to check with the vice‑president on this, Col. Fahrrad. Unless you’d like to speak with her yourself?”
“No, sweetheart, I much enjoy working with you.” Again that oily grin. She shuddered even now, remembering it.
Men had kidnapped her two days later, as she left work for the night. They hadn’t said a word; their guns spoke for them quite clearly. She had kept her head enough to leave her brief case on the sidewalk, unobtrusively. They hadn’t seen her do it, and she had hoped it would alert the other people leaving work that something had happened to her.
One of them had pushed her into an old model car with a missing muffler. She smiled at that. Apparently they were trying to blend in.
She had started suspecting the Middle Yemen connection when she realized half her kidnappers spoke Arabic, the other half English. Later, she overheard a conversation punctuated quite frequently by Col. Fahrrad’s name.
She had no doubts left to her fate, however, when they had arrived in this place of sand and sweltering heat and dank buildings, and they had produced her present, comfy outfit, which they had requested, quite nicely if you didn’t consider the rude manner in which they had pointed at her and  the guns they had used to point with, that she put on. Then they had burned her own clothes.
“Hey, I might need those,” she had protested.
“Not with the Colonel, Madam,” the bilingual one had answered her.
With that motivation, Vickie found the opportunity to escape soon after. Perhaps they thought she wouldn’t attempt it. Well, she was modest, but she valued her life more highly than modesty.
They had gone into the city to celebrate, leaving one behind to guard her. The remaining kidnapper was relieving himself in the next room, and she simply let herself out.
Unfortunately, three of them had returned early and surprised her in the lobby, where she had stopped to stare at a large sculpture of what looked like a curled‑up triangle. It had seemed so incongruous, over-pretentious art in Motel she had started laughing, and the three kidnappers in the lobby had pointed and come at her, running. She had then begun the flight which had brought her to that truck of a man.
He loomed up in her memory as big as he had loomed in her sight. She rarely gave in to fantasy, but, after all, she would never see the man again. So she let her mind play over her first astonished sight of him, the dim lighting cutting deep grooves in his sleek torso, of the feel of the weight of his body on hers, his hand, tangled in her hair, his mouth, sweet on hers, his tongue…
“Hello, young lady.” The pleasant baritone voice did little to calm Vickie’s nerves. She whirled, ready to fight or flee.
A slim, middle aged man faced her. “Please, Ma’am, come with me. Cliff has arranged…”
“You know Cliff?” she broke in, excited. Now maybe she would learn something about her fantastic rescuer.
“Of course. It was Cliff who brought me here. I am Prince Kulinahr. But please, we must…”
“Prince Kulinahr?” So the original Middle Yemeni ruler had escaped Fahrrad’s murderous schemes. And it was due to that man, the one who had saved her life. “Tell me how you know Cliff.”
“Yes, soon, soon. We must hurry and hide now. All ships leaving Misr are searched before clearing the harbor. Come, Cliff has made arrangements.”
Kulinahr led Vickie between crates, bales and bags to a largish crate marked with stencils—“SAND SAMPLES—DO NOT DROP”. One side was open. “Quickly, come in and help me close the crate.”
Together they swung the side of the crate closed. Vickie heard Kulinahr fumble in the close darkness, then a small battery powered lantern illuminated the cramped confines. Vickie saw grim, tired lines etched into the unshaven face; lines that weren’t in his official photographs. His suit was dusty and torn on one side. Kulinahr picked up the lantern and looked closely at the bottom corner where they had closed the crate. He gave a small sigh of satisfaction and pulled hard on a thin white cord. A pungent smell crept through the crate. “Pepper.” said Kulinahr, straightening. “Fahrrad uses dogs in his clearance searches, ostensibly to search for drugs. Pepper will block their sense of smell for days, yet it’s harmless.”          
“But how do you know Cliff? And how did he arrange for all this?”
“Yes, yes. This will become clear as soon as we leave the harbor. But right now we must be silent.”
Vickie sat carefully on the rough wood. Kulinahr sat down opposite her. Then he turned out the light.
Vickie tried to relax. Being on a ship inside a pepper‑ sprinkled crate was just one more bizarre occurrence. Well, she’d have some story to tell when she arrived back home. As she once more consciously let go of her tension, she became aware of her body’s sensations. Her stomach was just starting to twinge, and her leg was falling asleep. She shifted her weight to relieve the pressure. “Ouch!”
“What has happened?”
“I’ve got a splinter in my…my…well, you know.”
“Oh.” Vickie heard a rustle, then steps. Kulinahr touched her shoulder. “Here. Sit on my jacket.”
Vickie reached up into a rich silk fabric. “Are you sure? I mean, this seems a pretty expensive suit coat.”
“Yes, I’m sure. This suit will never receive another U.N. delegation, but I think it should continue a useful life. Now, quiet, please.”
Vickie took the jacket and arranged it into a seat pad. She folded her legs into a half lotus and opened herself to what was happening. Dimly she heard shouts of dock workers and the clank and roar of machinery, as if the outside were wrapped in cotton. Even farther, just over the threshold of her hearing, was the incessant rush and slap of water. A low thrumming of engines began under her. Then a series of clanks and bangs indicated the start of the police inspections.
Vickie felt Kulinahr tense, and she barely breathed. The sounds of heavy boots on metal stairs mixed in with shouts of men and pants and yelps of dogs. The sounds advanced and receded as the teams went back and forth between stacks of cargo. Then the sounds seemed to recede and vanish. Vickie let out a gush of air, relieved that they’d gone.
Suddenly the sounds returned. Vickie’s eyes widened and she clamped her lower lip with her teeth. The snuffling of the dogs approached. Vickie tried to make herself as small and quiet as possible. The dogs came closer, whining and snuffling in their eagerness.
Almost inevitably, Vickie felt a small tickle build in the back of her throat. Her eyes watered and she was certain she was going to cough. She swallowed several times in an effort to keep her body under control.  
Then, blessedly and thankfully, the threatening advance of the dogs was replaced by sneezing, snorting and wheezing. The dogs had run into the pepper and sniffed full noses. There was no possibility now that they would be discovered. Vickie felt herself relax, but Kulinahr’s warning touch held her still.
Boots pounded the steel deck as the police hustled the dogs topside. An officer shouted orders in Arabic. Vickie heard the men tramp away, then return. A resounding series of bangs and cracks ensued. The police were banging the crates and boxes, apparently to scare anything out of hiding. Vickie heard the feet come closer and cringed back when a set stopped right outside their crate. Kulinahr tightened his grip on Vickie’s wrist, probably the only thing that saved them from being discovered a moment later.
The crate suddenly shifted, crazily tilting onto an edge, sending Vickie and Kulinahr tumbling along the side. Kulinahr, though, had found a handhold and he held onto it and Vickie with all his strength. Just as suddenly, the crate dropped back on the deck.
Vickie, on her hands and knees, waited. This time she did not move a muscle, even when the banging retreated, even when it stopped altogether, even when she heard the boots clang back up the stairs. She remained frozen until, at last, she felt the ship move under her, when she gingerly sat down. ‘Now I know how a deer feels in hunting season,’ she thought.
Hiding in the woods, never able to show their snouts. Sneaking out only to eat.  Of course thinking of eating reminded her of her own empty stomach.
Kulinahr slid himself over to where Vickie was sitting. He spoke in a low voice. “I believe they are gone, but we had better wait until we are in international waters before we present ourselves.”
Vickie nodded, then realized he couldn’t see her. “How long?”
“Perhaps twenty minutes. Then another hour or two to leave the area would be prudent.”
She sure hoped no longer than that. Her stomach was starting to make a nuisance of itself. She tried to ignore it. “What was all that about?”
“Fahrrad evidently knew I was still in the country.” Vickie heard him pause, and mutter a phrase in Arabic. “That was his special police. They are deadly. It is well Cliff planned this escape, for I think Fahrrad has spies among even my most loyal militia. Although they would have found us had we shifted in this crate.”
“We’re lucky you found that hand‑hold then.”
“Luck was not involved.  The strap I held on to is not standard equipment for a crate; not on the inside, at any rate.”
“How’d it get here, then? Oh, don’t tell me. Cliff.” That man again.
“Yes.” Another pause. “He would make a most formidable enemy.”
“Could you tell me more?”
This time there was a longer silence. Finally, Kulinahr said, “I am concerned that you would not understand, right now. And I am tired. We will meet after this trip and discuss it, yes?”
Oh, sure, let’s do lunch. “Maybe. Why don’t you get some rest, then, if you’re tired.”
She settled back into the dark silence. The rocking of the ship lulled her into closing her eyes, although she was still too tense to sleep.
The escape had been close. She had been athletic in her youth, but had let all that slide in favor of sitting in front of a tube 20 hours a day with diet Mountain Dew and popcorn for her constant companion. That run up the stairs had really taxed her.
‘Let’s not mention swinging through the air.’  She clamped down on that thought, preferring to try to relax. Thinking about that man did not, strangely enough, cause her to relax.
Her stomach growled. How much time had gone by? She started to shift her position but abruptly froze when the crate creaked. Gingerly, she settled back against the side. Where was that coat of Kulinahr’s? Lost when the crate had done its rumba, probably. She could sure use it right about now. ‘Although I suppose I could use this lunking T‑shirt I have wrapped around my head to sit on. It probably has just as much material as Kulinahr’s coat.’
She pulled the shirt off her head and was folding it when she felt something hard, apparently embedded in the material. Carefully, she moved her fingertips along the shirt, searching for some opening. When she found nothing, she methodically turned the shirt inside‑out and tried again, revealing a small, hidden pocket.
Gingerly she withdrew the object from the pocket. In the dark, she ran her finger over the edges, noting a notch, and what felt like tiny threads. Touching the flat surface revealed nothing. It felt like a computer chip, she realized, but different somehow. Puzzled, she returned the object to the pocket. Perhaps seeing it in the light would give her some clue.
Her stomach growled again, reminding her of her current situation. By the sound of the engine they would soon be in international waters. Time to face the captain of this vessel. Well, Cliff’s name had certainly struck a chord with Kulinahr. She hoped it would be equally effective with the captain, for Kulinahr’s sake as much as for her own. If anything, he was in more danger than she if the captain should decide to return them to Misr.
Several hours later, she and Kulinahr sat in a walnut paneled room with ankle‑deep Persian carpeting, a dusky gold spy glass and a huge relief globe. Vickie saw only the delicate pink shrimp in shiny red sauce disappearing one by one into the thick ruddy lips of the man opposite.
“What I’d like to know,” he said flicking a bit of sauce from his bristling mustache, “is what this Cliff of yours looks like. May know him, may not. A lot of people named Cliff, after all.”
Vickie sighed as the last of the shrimp vanished into the captain’s mouth. It was strange how in two days she had not missed eating at all, but in the last two minutes she had become ravenous. Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on her. Ring the shrimp and she salivates.
Luckily, Kulinahr had been listening. “Cliff is a  to the captain. “A tall man. Broad, broad of shoulder and deep of chestathletic. Dark hair. But his most distinctive feature is his eyes. They are quite—penetrating.”
Vickie didn’t think Cliff’s most distinctive feature was his eyes, but the captain had grown pale. . Well, when blazing that pure blue, yes. But what about his size, his impressive chest, his heady masculine scent?“That’s him. It would be best if each of you tell me your stories… from the beginning.”
But the captain had grown pale. “That’s him. All right. I was only expecting one extra passenger, so why don’t each of you tell me your stories from the beginning.”
“Why don’t you go first?” Vickie hadsaid to Kulinahr. She’d sighted a tray of petite sandwiches on a small table next to the giant globe.
As Kulinahr related the steps that had lead him to the walnut paneled room, Vickie stoodshe rose and wandered, with deliberate nonchalance, over to the globe. She glanced backA glance over her shoulder, noting showed the captain was deeply engrossed by the sheikh’s narration. With one hand, she casually turned the globe. With the other she reached out and…
“And how did you get here, Ms. Johnston?” the captain boomed.
She nearly shrieked. Momentarily defeated, she returned to her seat. As she told her story, she kept an eye on the tray of sandwiches, hope returning. As soon as she finished, she rose again and meandered about the room.Breathing a couple times to get her skyrocketed heart rate under control, she turned and smiled, and returned to her seat.
As she told her story, she kept an eye on the tray of sandwiches. They were winking at her. She swallowed, and finished as swiftly as possible.
When the captain thanked her she gave him a quick smile, then stretched her back as if needing a break. Nonchalantly, she rose and meandered toward the sandwiches.
“It seems to me, Kulinahr,” said the captain, “that you already know a fair bit about Cliff.” Vickie had made it to
At the tray, and placed herselfVickie put her body between it and the captain. Now, casually, she Casually, she reached for one of the petite sandwiches. It would hide onenicely in the voluminous folds of the T‑shirt. For once she was glad of that man’sman Cliff’s size. Yes, oneOne sandwich. would fit easily. Or two. They were small. Gradually, she moved her hand forwardfingers wrapped around bread.
The captain’s voice sounded right behind her. “But you, Ms. Johnston,” she .”
She dropped sandwich and spun. He was standing next to the globe, bushy eyebrows lowered in a frown. She hid her hand behind her and attempted to grin innocently, “would while feeling for the dropped sandwich. “Yes?”
“You’d be better off forgetting you ever encountered himCliff.”
Vickie abruptly halted her attempt to grab a sandwich by feel alone. “Why?”
CliffHe is a veryinfluential man, but. But he is, by choice, unknown. He is a private man. He wouldIf you attempt to identify him, he will deny helping you, even deny being here in this country, if you attempted to identify him.Middle Yemen.” The captain shook his head. “No, I would not mention his part in your escape to the press, or anybody if I were you. Ever. Especially not the government, or anybody.”
The governmentWhat? Why?” A private man who worked behind the scenes, whom she should forget she had ever met, about whom and never ever mention to the government might question her… was Cliff a gangster? This was awful!? “You make him sound like a criminal!”
Kulinahr began chuckling, and waschuckled, soon joined by the captain’s hearty guffaw. Vickie took it to mean Cliff was not a criminal, and relaxed. Not that she would ever see him again, but it was nice to know she could dream about himfantasize in good conscience.
“Okay, I won’t mentiontalk about Cliff at all.” But I doubt if I’ll forget we ever met, she thought, sobering. I doubt if I’ll ever forget him.
“And now, my guests,” boomed the captain, “please help your self to these delicious hors d’oeuvres!”
Vickie hurriedly stuffed a couple of the small sandwiches in her mouth. “Mmm, these are good,” she mumbled, licking.” She licked her fingers. “Do you have any egg salad? Maybe some relish? Could I have a glass of milk? And a napkin? And maybe some pants…”

Chapter 3
Upon her arrival home, Vickie had beenwas the press’s obligatory three‑day wonder. “What was it like to be kidnapped by overseas terrorists? (‘They spoke English.’)  “Tell us about your feelings when you realized you were to be sold like an animal.” (Dumb question. She had never been up for sale. Do your research next time.)   She had nearly belted the over‑enthusiasticoverenthusiastic newshound who asked “What would you have felt like if you actually had been killed by these terrorists?” These dimwits were in wild contrast toWhile these guys and gals were a few circuits short of a motherboard, they were emphatically better than the polite yet insistent gentlemen with dark suits and official badges who questioned her in great detail. After about twenty minutes of these ‘interviews’“interviews” she felt more exhausted than in the whole two days of her abduction.
But eventually there was an earthquake to cover, and a local election, and a zoo opening, and things settled back to situation normal.
TheSo the small white envelope with neat calligraphy and Canadian postmark came as a surprise, therefore. .
Vickie, starting to find fingered it. Finding life a little dull after her grand adventure, she tried playing detective. “Hmm. Good, thick, quality paper. I can see fibers. Probably someone with money. And this is not ordinary writing.” She ran her finger overheld it up to the light. “Dark India ink, indelible. Italic oblique nib, from the looks of it. No return address. Interesting.”
She turned the envelope over and over, but finding no more information, she tired of the game and opened it. It was from Prince Kulinahr.
“Well, well,” she murmured.She smiled. “He wants to do lunch after all.” She startedBut skimming the words, she realized it, caught the sense of it with surprise, then wasn’t a mere “let’s catch up” invitation. She sat down and read it thoroughly.
Kulinahr’s instructions were quite explicit. She was to meetThis Friday, at the Embassy Hotel in Canada, two of his body guards, whobodyguards would escort her to see the prince, at the Embassy Hotel that Friday. In Canada.him.
She immediately got on the phone to her travel agent. “Lonnie,” she said, “I need a rush set of accommodations. Montreal. This weekend, arriving Friday, leaving Sunday morning. Yes, how much? How much? No, no. I’ll take it. Send the stuff to my office. Thanks.”online and booked plane and hotel. Stared at the screen. How much? She shook her head and clicked buy.
So, she would see Kulinahr again. Vickie felt aA knot of anticipation settled in her stomach. She tried to convince herself it was merely the natural reaction to visiting with a head of a whole country. And aA prince, no less.
Yeah, sure, Vickie. You’re not at all excited to think you might find out more about Cliff.
But oh, to meet him again, the man who had kissed her into oblivion in two seconds flat. She had thought it impossible. But then again, afterNot since her ex-fiancé, Ron, had she had thought reactingreacted so strongly to any man’s kiss was impossible.
Vickie shook her head. That was a rat hole she didn’t particularly want to go down again. She settled her mind on And if she had to compare Ron and Cliff, big and masculine, …well, there was no comparison. She remembered Cliff carrying her through the streets of Middle Yemen. His, big and masculine, his scent came to her as if she were there again, on the night breeze…her stomach tighteningtightened intensely.
If only Kulinahr would tell her where to find him.
Vickie finished her work early on Friday and went directly to the airport. She hopped on a DC‑9 which flew her, with only one stop, to Montreal. From there she went to the Embassy Hotel and sat down in the bar Kulinahr had named to wait.
She hadn’t even ordered a drink when the two men arrived. According to their name tags, they were supposedly with the Music Educators convention. but their twin MIB suits shouted secret service. They walked casually overwith that alert power too, and when they greeted her it was with the pass phrase Kulinahr had written.: “The ship is in the harbor, but the dogs only smell pepper.”
“The ship is in the harbor, but the dogs only smell pepper.”
“They sneeze and run away,” she replied, stifling.” She stifled a smile.
One nodded. “Ms. Johnston? Please come with us.”
She followed them outthe twins outside to a black Mercedes saloon with smoked windows. How camp, she thought, althoughIt was almost a parody but she couldn’t quite suppress a shiver as she slid into the plush air-conditioned interiorbackseat. She half‑expected a blindfold, but and was grateful when the two men got in front and ignored her through the entire drive. She did not recognize any of the streets they traveled anyway, having been to Montreal only in her childhood.
The car pulled to a stop in front of a nondescript house in a quiet residential neighborhood. One man, she thoughtpossibly the one who had spoken before but she couldn’t be sure, turned to her.
Just knockKnock on the door three times. Tell the person answering the door your name and your mother’s maiden name. Good‑bye, Ms. Johnston.”
‘Oh, wonderful,’ Great, she thought Vickie. ‘as she got out. They’re not Middle Yemeni secret service. They’re from my bank.  But as she got out of the car,knocked she couldn’t dampen a thrill of anticipation. This was, after all, more exciting than anything that had happened to A housekeeper admitted her for a week. ‘Getting spoiled, Vickie?’
She followedand led her instructions to the letter. A computer programmer had to be detail oriented, and she took pride in her ability to break down and memorize complex tasks. This was a piece of cake. Even that man Cliff would be proud of her, if he ever saw her againupstairs to a small room on the second floor.
She was perfectly aware by now that Cliff had made a lasting impression on her. Ten days of constant intrusion on her thoughts had convinced her. Every male she saw, every man she met was held up to the image of Cliff. And found lacking.
Vickie even found herself comparing him on a point‑by‑point basis with her ex‑fiancee, Ron. Only the fact that she didn’t have enough information about Cliff kept her from trying to call him, despite her experience with Ron. She had her excuse all ready. She had never thanked him for rescuing her, after all. He didn’t need to know how much, at the time, she had resented it.
But she didn’t know how to get in touch with him. Heck, she didn’t even know his last name. But Kulinahr knew Cliff.  She had to get that information from Kulinahr.
The deposed ruler was alone, seated at a writing table in a small room on the second floor.. When he saw Vickie, he rose with a smile. “Vickie Johnston. How good of you to come.” He met her with a warm handshake.
“Prince Kulinahr. HowIt was kind of you to see me.” He looked well, better than the last time they had met. He was neatly barberedShe followed him to a small grouping with settee, coffee table set with silver service, and his clothes were impeccable. Perhaps there was more gray at the temple. chairs.
When she got closer, however,In some ways he looked older,better than the last time they had met. He was neatly barbered and his clothes were impeccable. But there was more careworn. Thengray at the temple and when she got closer she saw the lines remained, the deeper folds and in his face, deep grooves that only come from fatigue and worry. He indicated that she should sit
He gestured at the settee, took a chair across from her and poured them some coffee.
Vickie openedsat and took her tasse gratefully; it had been a long day and difficult flight. She sipped.
Her eyes in surprise.snapped opened like abruptly retracting window shades. The coffeeliquid was thick and grainy, andjust short of chewed coffee beans in water hot enough to scald her tongue.
“The coffee does not agree with you? Would you care for something else?”
Blinking fast, Vickie carefully swallowed. “No,” she began hoarsely, blinking fast.. She cleared her throat. “No,” she tried again, “, this is fine. It just takes some getting used to.”
Kulinahr smiled slightly. “My English university friends also found the taste somewhat unusual. I would understand if you did not want itto finish.”
Vickie grimaced and tried another sip. It was not much better, but now she was determined. “No, it’s good.” She sipped again. “You went to a Western university?”
“Yes. Education is prized in my country, and all members of the royal family attended Oxford University in England. I went during the turbulent sixties, which probably accounts for my progressive bent. Even in those ancient halls the new ideas were felt.” Vickie nodded, starting to see a new side of KulinahrEach of us was assigned their course of study. My brothers were set to work at engineering, finance and education. My cousin studied medicine, and is now director of the main hospital in Misr.” His pride shone in his smile.
“Each member of my family was assigned their course of study. My brothers were set to work at engineering, finance, education. My cousin studied medicine, and is now director of the main hospital in Misr,” he said proudly.
“And you run… ran a country. Impressive family.”
Kulinahr sadlyKulinahr’s smile faded and put his cup down. “Yes. Ran. I no longer govern my people.” His jaw clenched. “They are in the hands of that madman, Fahrrad. And I trusted him. I believed him. I made him my guest!”
Vickie put downset her own cup aside. “What happened?” she encouraged him.
“It began less than a year ago. As a small country trapped between many larger ones, you understand, we always have our share of external problems. But suddenly we began to have internal issues as well—bombings, and kidnappings, and acts of horrible violence right on the streets of Misr. Terrorists.”
Vickie’s eyes widened. “What did they want?”
“To distract me from my true enemy.” “That’s terrible. Did you find out who they were?”
“TheyKulinahr sighed, and looked into the small cup in his hand. “Oh, they said they were freedom fighters, trying to liberate a particular sect of peoplethe oppressed in my country. I was furious. Who had I oppressed? They were an affront to my pride.” Kulinahr sighed, and looked into the small cup in his hand. “.”
“But you don’tI now think that’s what they really were after.”their purpose was to distract me from my true enemy.”
No.”Who was…?”
So how did Fahrrad enter the picture?”
.” Kulinahr’s jaw worked. “Hafez Fahrrad was well known for eliminating terrorist threats in his own country of Kalifad. As that is just across my border, I was particularly aware of his reputation. I sent an emissary to Fahrradhim, to ask for his assistance. I should have known…I should have seen…the man was a dinosaur in his own country. Decades past the age of perestroika, Fahrrad is a staunch Stalinist.”
“And he came?”
Kulinahr sighed again. “Yes, of course. You see, I knew he was having problems in his Kalifad. They have entered a period of enlightenment, following somewhat the lead of their parent country into the age of peristroika. Fahrrad, of course, was a staunch Stalinist.”
Vickie grunted. “Mixes like oil and water.”“Did you know that then?”
“Yes. So I knew he would come. I did not worry, however. I thought our country was far too progressive to give him a handhold.”
“Well, that makes sense. If he was already having trouble just from new‑style Communism, I can imagine he’d sink like a stone in a market economy.”
“I did not . But I did not take his desperation into account.” Kulinahr fell silent. Vickie watched as his face grew more careworn. , his eyes fixed on some point deep within.
Odd, she thought Vickie. A ruler in. He’s a modern day ruler, yet he looks like some of the ancient patriarchs must have looked. Plus caThe more things change
Vickie thought back briefly to what she When the job had read in her research.first come up, Vickie had researched Middle Yemen, until the coup, had been driven by Prince. Driven by Kulinahr’s ambition to eradicate poverty and ignorance among his people. He had taken his , the nation had risen from a poor, squabbling country to one of peace and prosperity.
Now the coup seemed to make more sense to Vickie. Obviously Fahrrad felt the rising level of  in just a few decades. She considered it from Fahrrad’s point of view. The rising prosperity in Middle Yemen could mean of his neighboring country probably looked like a cash, to fund Fahrrad’s private war. “Why cow just over the fence. “How did you believe himit happen, then?”
“First, becauseKulinahr sighed. “I’m not saying he completely took me in, but he painted a very pretty scene of a repentant Communist. Second, becauseAnd though my citizen’s militia is very good, but they cannot be on watch all the time.” Kulinahr shook his head, as though he still could not understand it. “I thought perhaps Fahrrad couldAll he had to do was help us keep guard while we were waitingwaited for the security system to be designed and built.”
“Security system?” Vickie’s ears pricked. That sounded like the project that had started all this. Fahrrad had also been looking for a security system.

Vickie had known the new account would be trouble from the moment she was assigned to it. Never in her wildest dreams, however, did she imagine how much trouble.
Col. Hafez Fahrrad was the name on the cover letter. She had done her usual thorough research and had discovered he was presently the dictator of a Middle East dot on the map, Middle Yemen by name, recently coming to power in a particularly bloody coup.
In person he was a slight man in an overdesigned uniform and a too-big hat, with small dark eyes and a tidy mustache.
At their first meeting, in her company’s conference room, Fahrrad had stood as if transfixed, eyes flat and glassy. “What an unusual color for hair. It is like a sunset.” He reached out to touch a curl.
She automatically slapped his hand away. She still could see his expression, his eyes sparking with anger.
But he controlled himself, and actually smiled, with a toothy, gold capped grin. He gave a slight bow in apology.
Vickie knew weaseling when she saw it. Trying to get back in her good graces to get a better price for his system. “So what is it you’re looking for, Colonel?”
“I wish to implement a security system. Shall we sit?” He took a chair, then patted the one next to him coaxingly.
She stayed on her feet. “I’m not sure we can help you. Here at Fitzwater Software and Consulting, we generally work in database design and implementation.”
“Yes, so my advisor said. He also said that what I want is not so different, is it, my dear?”
Terms of endearment in the business environment grated on her. If Fahrrad hadn’t been a client, she’d have made an issue out of it. As it was, she asked politely, “And what do you wish to make secure?”
His slow, sensual grin had not endeared him to her at all. It really looked more like a leer, ruler of a country or not.
“Your government’s headquarters?” she prompted. She remembered from her reading that Fahrrad had infiltrated the palace and slaughtered all the people loyal to the Prince Kulinahr in the coup. The world thought he’d killed the Prince himself and she supposed at the time that he’d want security to make sure no one pulled the same trick on him.
“Not my headquarters, my dear. For the entire country.”

 [MH1]Backstory interrupts current action, the now, and so may yank the reader from the story. I pulled anything that happened after the first sentence and put it in two later scenes. I managed to also pull some of the things the reader needed to ground them in the now.

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