Richard Clarke's 'The Scorpion's Gate'

Sofas, chairs, carpets, the palm plants in giant ceramic pots were burning in the rubble of what had been elegant, the soaring lobby of a five-star hotel. Then Brian focused on the overpowering scent, a smell that made him gag again as he struggled to roll over. He coughed and spit as he inhaled the vile, heavy stench of ammonia, nitrate, and blood. It was a retching smell he hated but knew all too well. It was the stench of senseless death that brought back painful days of friends lost in Iraq.

Through the shattered glass that opened onto the driveway in front of the hotel came another sound he recognized as automatic gunfire. "Brrrrt, brrrrt..." Seconds later a cacophony of sirens blared, the European-made ones going up and down in singsong, the American-made sirens wailing their imitation of space aliens landing.

Suddenly, Alec, one of Brian Douglas's bodyguards, was over him. He wondered how long he had been down. Had he been out? "Does it hurt anywhere, sir?" Alec asked.

Brian now noticed that blood was dripping down from his scalp, matting his sandy hair. "No, Alec, somehow my luck has held once again," he said, getting up on one knee, grabbing the overturned table for support. Brian's head spun like a carnival ride. He tried to wipe away some of the blood and dust and rubble from his face. "Where's Ian?" For the three years that Brian Douglas had been Bahrain station chief of SIS, British intelligence, the staff at the station had insisted that he take two bodyguards with him wherever he went, driving to and from his house on Manama's northern beach, going on trips elsewhere in the little country, or visiting the subordinate posts in the other Gulf states. For the last year it had almost always been Alec and Ian, two former Scots Guards sergeants. They had watched over him with a mix of professional polish and personal attention, as if he were a favorite nephew.

"Ian was standing watch by the door, sir," the big man replied, helping Brian as he managed finally to stand up. "Ian is no longer with us." Alec said it with a slow sadness, in his soft Aberdeen lilt, accepting what he could not change, that their friend had been murdered. "There'll be time for that later, sir, but right now we have to get you the hell out of here."

"But there are people here who need help," Brian stammered as Alec grabbed him firmly by the arm and moved him expertly through the mounds of wreckage and out the door to the pool deck.

"Aye, and there are experts coming to help them, sir, and besides, you're in no shape to be helpin' anyone." Alec had found the service stairwell next to the pool and was steering Brian toward it. "Hear all of that shootin' out front? This is not yet over."

The two men moved through the smoldering debris, trying not to step into the pools of blood or onto the pieces of pink and white and gray that had so recently been living flesh and bone and brain. Glass crunched under their weight as they moved to the stair and down to the exit door. An emergency lighting box provided a pale beam as the men headed down the darkened stairs. At the bottom, Alec tried the door.

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