Body ShotBy: Amy Jarecki
Joint Regional Correctional Facility Southwest, Miramar
Henri’s gut whirred like a boomerang, though she showed no outward sign of triumph. That’s right. She kept her face expressionless. If only she could jump on the table and start dancing. But freedom came with a backhand so vicious, her thoughts darted in a gazillion directions while volts of wariness shot up her spine.
Yes, she’d expected this day to come. Eventually. But she also expected the news to be delivered by a Delta Force commander, an elite member of the United States Army. They owed her that much. Presently, she trusted the suit sitting across the conference room table less than she trusted the lamebrained attorney responsible for landing her in the pen.
A sergeant in the elite Delta Force counter terrorism unit, Henri had learned in the trenches to suspect first, question later. And her internal suspicion radar was firing on red alert. Still, ten years of ingrained military discipline prevented her from telling the windbag he was full of shit. Besides, her throat had closed. Hell, even her hands perspired.
She wiped her palms on her orange coveralls.
I’m free, dammit. This guy’s not my CO. I could tell him to go to hell.
She closed her eyes and inhaled a calming breath. “Do you need my answer now?” He’d just dropped a bombshell, offering her some international job that would make use of her “special talents”. And it paid more money than she’d ever dreamed of earning. The rub? The suit refused to tell her where she’d be going or the details of what she’d be doing until she committed. What if he wanted her to murder someone? The man just sat there, his intense eyes staring at her from across the table. He was pasty, sweaty and overweight. Worse, agreeing to his clandestine request was like blindly slicing her palm with a dagger and dripping blood on a signature line just because her commanding officer told her to do it.
“Ja, that would be preferable,” he said. The man had introduced himself as Anders Lindgren and spoke with an accent that sounded Scandinavian. The fact he was sitting in a conference room in a highly-restricted military operation denoted some credibility, but that did zilch to lower Henri’s wariness meter. His face gave away nothing. Lindgren could pass for a seedy politician—the type who wouldn’t think twice about sending her tiptoeing into a minefield filled with IEDs.
“After all,” he continued, “until three minutes ago, you were still planning on being a guest here.”
Here, being military prison, a lifetime guest of Uncle Sam. Henri swallowed, forcing back bile bubbling up her esophagus. Two years rotting in a goddamned hellhole because of a setup by a terrorist who wanted revenge. A bastard who’d entered the US illegally for the sole purpose of murdering the Iranian Ambassador and pinning the kill on Henri. “Who figured out I was innocent?” she asked.
The corners of Lindgren’s mouth turned up. “We began to suspect you were framed when my expert came across certain...ah...internet chatter.”
Pursing her lips and inhaling through her nose, Henri glanced at the folder he’d handed her. She’d wasted two lousy years of her life and, out of the blue, they admit to her innocence? Wasn’t she entitled to a few details? And why had the news been delivered by a foreigner? He wasn’t even military.
Lindgren inclined his head to the folder, still lying unopened on the table. “You’ve been given an honorable discharge. But your country and the world need you now more than ever.”
With a groan, she opened the cover and skimmed the top memo. “They’re not bothering to offer a return to my squadron?”
“The major felt it was time to move on.” Something in Lindgren’s tone told her he wasn’t giving the full story.
Henri squared her shoulders. “What if I disagree?”
The man’s features pinched. “He said you’d be difficult.”
“Oh, yeah?” Every muscle in her body clenched. Was the suit’s collar buttoned too tight? Difficult? She was madder than a honey badger fighting a cobra. If it weren’t for the cameras in the four corners of the conference room, she’d reach across the table and slap the smirk off the dude’s face. “Tell me, Mr. Lindgren, who wouldn’t be bitter after spending two years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit?”