I have something special for everyone this week! This week’s Bauer’s Bytes will be an surprise excerpt from Book 3 in the Executive Office series!
Here is a scene for you from Doc’s perspective as the team works to sneak back into the United States and rally together with Ethan to continue fighting. They’re operating under the radar, and striving for stealth. Doc follows the rules about as well as can be expected!
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
The airplane hummed around Doc, the interflight rattle of a jumbo jet hurtling at thirty thousand feet in the air, screaming halfway around the world. It was the second, no third, flight for the team, a mind-numbing series of trips that had spanned almost three days already. From Jeddah they’d flown to Riyadh, and from Riyadh to London. Now, from London to Seattle. Back to America.
Scattered around the cabin, not sitting together, not even pretending to know or care about one another, were the rest of the team. Sergeants Coleman and Wright, each snoring in window seats. Park, Ruiz, and Kobayashi, the remaining junior members left after Fitz’s murder, were sitting through their third round of inflight movies and numbly chewing crackers and pretzels.
And Adam, the L-T, was several rows up and to the right. He sat hunched and glowering in his seat, desperately trying not to turn around.
Doc rolled his head, looking to his left. A fat, snoring Brit sat between him and the last member of their team: Faisal.
For the length of each flight, Faisal had sat silently in his cramped coach seat, staring out the window at a shifting landscape of desolation and nothingness. His face stayed impassive, a practiced coolness and seeming serenity. As fucked up as Adam appeared, Faisal seemed practically impervious to even feeling emotion.
Doc knew that was epic bullshit, of astronomical proportions.
Fuck, the argument over Faisal coming with the team had been massive. He hadn’t thought Adam could get that pissed. Granted, he’d seen a brand-new side of him over the past few weeks, but the shit-fit Adam threw had been beyond anything he’d imagined possible.
And Faisal. Shit, did looks deceive. He stared hard at Faisal’s profile, remembering the final climax of Adam and Faisal’s argument. It had happened right in front of him, for fuck’s sake.
He’d been working with Adam in Faisal’s space-age kitchen, their truly astounding array of weaponry spread out in front of them. They’d already decided they were sneaking back into the States under the radar, which meant traveling commercial and ditching their military IDs. Which also meant no weapons… at least, none that could be found. Faisal had scrounged up two false bottomed bags, and Doc had volunteered to help Adam disassemble their untraceable assault rifles into all their thousand little hardened plastic pieces and load everything up.
And then Faisal walked in.
The argument between Adam and Faisal was already days old, stale in the broken air of the Jeddah villa. The whole team tiptoed, as if walking on shattered glass, questions burning from their eyes. What was up with the L-T and Faisal?
Doc knew. But he kept his damn mouth shut.
“You’re not coming,” Adam had hissed. “Jesus, Faisal. How could you even ask?”
Faisal’s eyes had narrowed. “How could you imagine that I would be fine with you leaving? Without being by your side?”
“I swore to your uncle—“ Adam’s voice shook, his words quaking as his hands had balled to dark fists.
“You said you never wanted to leave.”
“I swore to keep you safe!”
“The only times I have ever been hurt are when you are gone.”
Fuck, that had been a low blow. Doc watched Faisal’s words slam into Adam’s chest like bullets, each one driving the air from his body and making him step back as he paled, blood draining from his face.
“There’s no place for you!”
“You are down a man. I can fill in for Fitz. Let me help, Adam—“
Adam’s fists hit the counter. A disassembled rifle part clattered to the floor. “Not you! You can’t—“
And then, Faisal had moved. Hands darting out, he’d picked and grabbed from the pieces of ten different weapons spread across the counter, assembling, before their eyes, a flawless AR-15 in under a minute. He pressed the rifle stock to his shoulder, turned to the living area and raised the bore. The patio door had been left open, the breeze from the Red Sea floating through the house. He sighted the rifle, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger.
A perfect hole appeared in the center of the middle pylon on his pier. If a bulls eye target had been fixed to the wood, he would have landed his shot in the dead center.
Doc’s mouth had dropped open. He stopped breathing.
Faisal turned back, disassembling the rifle as he moved until it was nothing by pieces scattered on the counter again. “You forget where I came from, habibi,” Faisal whispered. “Or our history together.”
Silence. Doc’s eyes had bounced from Adam to Faisal and back again, like he was watching an invisible game of tennis.
Adam had walked out, shoving away from the kitchen counter with a snarl.
Later that afternoon, the rest of their supplies arrived, and that evening, they were on their first flight to Riyadh, Faisal sitting squished next to Doc. Since the kitchen, not a word had been spoken between Adam and Faisal. That was part of the plan, though. They were supposed to act like strangers to one another. Not know each other until they rallied back in the States.
Except, Doc thought, glaring at the back of Adam’s head, he was doing a shit job of acting like there wasn’t everything in the world that he wanted to turn to sitting four rows behind him and to the left. As Doc stared, Adam leaned forward again, wrapping both hands around the back of his neck, and tried to surreptitiously glance beneath his bent arms to their row.
Doc met his dark, hooded eyes. Adam looked away, fisting one hand and holding it in front of his pursed lips.
The fat Brit snorted and glared as Faisal squeezed his way through the seats and into the aisle of the jet. Doc tried to catch his gaze, but Faisal, far more so than Adam, was keeping to their ruse of not knowing each other at all.
He turned, watching Faisal head down the aisle toward the rear of the plane. Passengers watched, too, Brits and Europeans with narrowed eyes and suspicious glances turned Faisal’s way, watching him with a predatory intensity. One man unbuckled his seat belt as Faisal drew near, as if he was readying himself to lunge.
Fuck it. Doc rose, heading down the aisle after Faisal. He glared at the businessman prepared to leap, now relaxing back in his seat since the Arab had passed him by. Shit, out of anyone, Faisal was the least likely to ever start something. He was the tech nerd, the skinny guy with the computers and the awesome house. He called Adam habibi, and he’d put them all up multiple times, never asking for anything. And, with the tiny bit that he did know about Adam and Faisal, well—
Faisal had put a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and intelligence in their hands, over and over again, even though it meant having his ex, a man he still loved, in his face. Using his palace like a personal base. And ignoring him, and their history.
Faisal didn’t deserve to be side-eyed like he was some kind of dangerous terrorist. Without him, would their team have accomplished even half of what they had? It was Faisal that put the pieces together with the Yemeni tanker and found Noah in Ma’an. Hell, they were all just Faisal’s muscle, at this point.
A part of Doc twisted at the thought, his gut clenching against that mental sucker punch. His words, thrown at Adam days before, echoed in his ears. Serious foreign influence violations. They all trusted Faisal, Adam especially. But why? What did they have to go on, other than Faisal’s endless consideration and politeness, and his and Adam’s mercurial connection?
What kind of world was it where Saudi princes became frontline allies against a rogue American general?
Doc followed Faisal to the back of the plane, catching every sidelong glance and lingering glare sent Faisal’s way. Even the flight attendants slipped away when Faisal neared, their heels click-clacking against the corrugated cabin flooring as they fled.
Sighing, Faisal leaned against the plane’s bulkhead, next to the rear door, and ran his hands over his face. His lips moved as if whispering, but Doc couldn’t hear a thing over the drone and rattle of the plane.
“Hey.” He leaned back, his shoulder blades digging into the knobs and toggles and levers along the rear compartment wall, the stowage area of bins and trays and carts the flightcrew used.
Faisal’s eyes popped open. He spotted Doc and snorted. “Of course. You would ignore the rules about not interacting.”
Doc shrugged, one corner of his lip curling up in a smirk. “I’m sure people just think I’m trying to get into the Mile High Club.” Faisal shook his head. His smirk faded. “How you doing?”
Faisal stilled, and a shroud descended behind his gaze. “Fine.”
Lolling his head toward Faisal, Doc’s eyebrows shot high on his forehead. He said nothing.
Neither did Faisal.
Time for a different approach. “I didn’t know you were such a bad ass. Thought you were just a computer nerd.”
Faisal chuckled softly. His eyes sparkled. “There is quite a lot you don’t know about me. I am an al-Saud. My family fought for control of the entire Arabian Peninsula, and we won when no one else could. United the tribes and built a nation. We may look like fat, wealthy Arabs, but we carry the hearts of warriors.”
“Now I see why Adam took an interest in you.”
Faisal’s eyes darkened, and his expression went brittle, like holding his tiny smile in place was all that kept him from breaking apart. He shrugged. “I suppose that is one reason.” He looked away, staring at the bulkhead and the jump seat for the flight attendant as if it were a priceless artifact.
“You guys okay?” Doc crossed his arms and frowned.
Shifting made one of the knobs dig into the center of Doc’s shoulder blade. He leaned back, pressing into it. “I don’t really know the L-T all that well…” He trailed off. What the hell was he trying to say? He barely knew Adam at all. Adam had been their team leader for a little over a year, and he’d gone from being a stick-in-the-ass perfectionist, when they’d met him, to rough-edged brawler with the shadow of some huge weight dragging him down. Months ago, Adam had been thrown in the stockade by General Bell, and the team had gone out to drown their frustrations in liquor, anticipating their collective stand down and reassignment to a new team lead.
Color them all shocked—and hungover—when instead they were on a black ops White House mission to South America at midnight.
“I know he’s a private guy…” Doc shrugged. What he knew about Adam could fit in a paragraph. The most important of which was what he and Faisal were to each other. Not just, as Adam had claimed in the highland sands of Ethiopia, when they first ran to Faisal and his safety net, a source he’d worked with in the Middle East.
Adam seemed to unbend with Faisal, just slightly, around him and Reichenbach. Had at least acknowledged that Faisal was someone to him, someone special.
That all changed when the team arrived. Adam had locked up tighter than missile defense shield. Even Doc had felt the reverberations of his distance echoing painfully off Faisal’s confused hurt.
“Having the whole team here is probably hard for him,” Doc finished lamely, shrugging.
Looking down, Faisal nodded. “I appreciate what you are trying to do,” he said, meeting Doc’s gaze. “There are… larger problems, though.”
He shifted again, the knob grinding against his spine. “Like what?”
Faisal stayed quiet, his gaze seemingly turned inward, and Doc watched him pick and discard words as he licked his lips. “This is the third time he has walked away from us. Each has been difficult. The first…” Faisal’s voice faded away, and his eyes slipped closed. “I have never felt anything like that. And I never want to again. After the second, I tried to put us back together. I thought if I reached out, if we could just connect again—“ He shook his head.
Doc tried to add up what he knew in his head. He frowned. “When was this?”
Doc thunked his head back against the cold metal. So, when they’d first ran to Faisal, when they were presumed dead, killed by their own government, Adam had found comfort in Faisal’s arms. And then left again. After Ethiopia, and after the White House, Adam had started his slow slide, his descent into gruff silence and barroom brawls, and a prickly hardness that had the whole team on edge. “And now?”
“This is the third time he has turned away from us. I thought, after the hospital, that things would be different. He seemed different. But it is all just the same.”
“He was fucking crazy at the hospital. I mean, just fucking desperate to get to you. I thought he was going to get himself killed. He wasn’t faking that.”
Faisal glared at him when he cursed, flat stares that broadcast his displeasure. He sighed. “Three times is significant in Islam. It is a number of Allah, a number special to Him. We do things that carry great meaning in threes. Al-wudu, the ablutions before prayers, done three times. In Salat, prayers are repeated three times. And—“ He inhaled, holding his breath. “Talaq, to divorce someone, must be done three times before it is final.”
Shit. Doc’s eyes flicked up the aisle of the plane, as if he could spot Adam in the rows and rows of passengers. “You think he’s trying to divorce you? You’re not married, right? I mean, I thought that couldn’t—“
“I think,” Faisal said, interrupting him gently, “that three times is three times too many. This hurt I feel is not right. This is not the way it is supposed to be. Pursuing this again would be wrong.”
“Then why did you insist on coming?”
Faisal’s expression softened, though his eyes shone with a cutting pain. “How could I not? I still love him, even if he does not feel the same. I will do everything I can to help him, shield him, uplift him. Always.”
Halfway up the plane, a man stood, stretched like he was a bad actor in a soap opera, and turned around, leaning against the front of his seat as if he wanted to stand for a while. He stared toward the rear of the plane, his eyes laser-like and seeking a target. He spotted Doc, and Doc stared right back.
He watched Adam look away, down at his seat cushion, as his fingers picked at each other, over and over.
“He doesn’t deserve that from you.”
“We have a long history.” Faisal smiled, almost wistful. “That is how I choose to remember us. What we were. Not this. Not what we have become.” Straightening he cleared his throat and rubbed his hands together. “It is time for prayer.”
“You’re going to pray on an airplane?” Doc’s eyebrows shot sky high again as his jaw dropped. “Do you want to get jumped? There are about twelve dudes out there right now who wouldn’t think twice.”
“Not my full prayers.” Regret laced through Faisal’s voice. “But the practice grounds me. I find peace in my prayers, when I seek al-nafs al-mutma’innah. My tranquil self. My peaceful self.”
“I think Adam could use some of that.”
Faisal sighed, a harassed, harried look crossing over his features as he stared at Doc. A moment later, he smoothed his expression back to his practiced neutrality.
“Sorry.” Both of Doc’s hands rose, and he shuffled sideways, trying to give Faisal space. “I’ll, uh. I’ll hang out here with you until you’re done. If that’s okay. Make sure no one bothers you.”
“More than okay.” Finally, Faisal truly smiled. “I have always hated being alone.”
Timestamp: Secret! Exclusive Excerpt from “Book Three of the Executive Office”.