The popping sound didn’t really register in Ciala’s tired mind.
“Da shuka laka,” Ciala thanked the older couple but her mind was already moving on to her next interview which was about an hour’s drive from here.
It took her several more moments before the anxious expressions on the couple’s worried face registered in her mind. Turning to her interpreter, Fayad, she glanced at him but saw the same startled glance out the window. “What’s wrong?” she asked, still not understanding the danger.
“Get down!” he commanded.
Ciala looked back at the older couple but found them already crouching on the floor underneath the window. “Why would I…?” And then she realized.
Fayad’s grasp on her wrist was hard as he yanked her down to the floor. “Do you have a death wish?” he almost shouted.
Ciala still wasn’t really sure what was happening but she had the presence of mind to push her thick, dark glasses higher up on her nose and ensure that her mustache was still glued to her upper lip. In this part of the world, her job was easier if she looked like a male so she put on a mustache, fake glasses and a dark wig over her wavy, brown hair every time she ventured out on the these research trips. No one knew her as Ciala del Abass Samara, Princess of Kilar here in neighboring Drakar. Here in the oil rich country she was only known as Tim Kindall.
She looked around, trying to figure out what was happening, why people were shooting. This wasn’t a small, border village. They were close to the capital of Drakar. They should be safe here!
Thinking fast, she narrowed her eyes and looked around, planning an escape. This was not good, she thought, evaluating the area rapidly, just as she’d been taught by all of her bodyguards.
Patting her bag, she ensured that all of her notes and files on the numerous SD cards were safe. Unfortunately, her digital video camera was still on the tripod! Whoever was shooting might miss their target and…
No way, she thought with rising anger. She’d worked too hard to get this information, she wasn’t going to lose her work to some idiots who thought they could shoot at random people. With more determination than caution, she wiggled over to her camera and pulled it down, hugging the camera and bag containing the disks that held her work. Hundreds of interviews done over the past year. She was not going to lose her work! Not to some idiot rebels who had the audacity to shoot stupid bullets into the air in an effort to scare the locals. What jerks!
She’d just packed away her camera and was slinging the bag across her body when the door to the small house slammed open. Three dirty men stood there, masks over their faces and wild eyes latching onto her.
Ciala knew that look! It wasn’t good.
“Oh no you don’t!” she growled and stood up, getting into fighting position and getting ready to defend herself as well as the elderly couple behind her. She lowered her bag back to the floor, preparing to fight these men and not wanting the heavy bag to get in the way.
The three men looked at her, noticed the couple she’d just finished interviewing as well as her interpreter crouching on the floor, then brought their eyes back to her. Obviously they didn’t know she was a female or they would have a completely different reaction. But she didn't care. It was to her advantage that they thought she was just a smallish man.
“Bring it on, jerks!” she said under her breath, ignoring the startled reaction from Fayad, the only person who understood her words.
The men pressed further into the small house, circling her and Ciala realized that was her first mistake. She should have high-kicked them back out the door where they would be down for a few moments, giving her the advantage.
Not allowing them the time to get into position, she moved quickly, slamming her booted heel into the first one, then swinging around to the second, knocking him out. With two down, she walked towards the third. He was still staring down at his companions, a startled expression in his eyes. Ciala took advantage of his surprise and slammed her elbow into his stomach, taking him out for a few moments as well.
“Let’s go,” she said to the other three even as she reached down to grab her bag once again. The couple immediately stood up, more than ready to get out of the small area, eager to be safe.
Fayad looked at the three men, still writhing on the floor, then back at Ciala. He said something, then walked over to one of the men. Ciala was startled by the way he was acting, almost as if he knew the men, but she didn’t have time to worry about him. She pulled her camera bag across her body, then helped the couple out of the house and into the alley where they would be safer. She then glanced at the street, calculating the distance to the beat up old truck she used on these kinds of excursions. It was one of those vehicles that appeared worn out, rusted in several places and looked like it would barely make it to the junkyard. It was all part of the illusion. A beat up truck like this wouldn’t be stolen. Thieves wanted the more expensive cars, the flashier vehicles they could bring to a chop shop and sell for parts or sell off for a tidy profit. Her truck didn’t look like it would even start.
“Stay here, I’ll send for help as soon as my phone gets a cell signal, okay?’ she said to the elderly couple.
They both nodded their heads, worried about what would happen in the next few minutes. Ciala wished she could stay here to protect them, wished she’d brought a gun and she wished she’d checked with her guards about security issues in this region. But none of that had happened so she had to deal with the current situation.
Clutching her bag closer to her, she glanced both ways down the street, looking for the source of the gunfire. She’d smelled the gunshot residue on the men but it wasn’t strong enough for all the gunshots she’d heard.
Her heart was beating frantically and she could feel the blood pounding in her head. This was it, she thought. She’d practiced and trained for this, hoping a situation this dire would never occur. But it had and she was more than willing to handle it.
The priority was getting out of this mess alive. Her second objective was to get out of this country without being discovered. The second was almost as high a priority as the first.
Her truck was only fifty feet away. She could make it, she told herself. Palming her keys, she lifted her hand once more to ensure her disguise was still in place, then made a dash for where she’d left her vehicle.