Terrorists attacked a residential compound in Saudi Arabia in May, 2004, where Americans and other expatriates lived. I was working in the U.S. State Department’s “watch” or operations center in Washington at the time.
On my last overseas assignment before returning to the U.S. to work on the watch, I lived near the attacked compound. I visited for meals in restaurants there. I attended meetings of American women, one of whom was wounded in the attack. Because I knew the area, I was able to provide a summary of the compound’s layout to the watch team as we kept up with events and provided input to State Department officials.
The State Department operations center is staffed with career U.S. Foreign Service officers taking a Washington assignment between appointments overseas, as I was. Some hours on weekends or nights were dull, but worth it for the privilege of those adrenalin laced moments when we had a front row seat to a crisis erupting on the world scene.
Coming to work for midnight shifts on the watch, walking down empty, echoing hallways in the State Department, my overactive imagination pictured lurking spies waiting for the opportunity to steal classified documents, perhaps to kill if they were thwarted.
It seemed natural to center my third novel in the Mark Pacer mystery/family relationship series around those evenings loaded with my imaginings . . .
He reached the nearest elevator and punched the button. The elevator hummed as it descended from an upper level, then shuddered to an opening. He began his first step inside, his hand instinctively held out in case the elevator door started to close prematurely.
Then Mark halted, one foot in the doorway, his hand remaining out as he saw a man’s contorted face staring back at him. . . .
The man collapsed with his knees bent. Was he aware of his tall frame and the small space of the elevator floor? He turned slightly, resting on his left shoulder, his face toward Mark.
Mark forced the elevator door open as it tried to close, his mind noting further details; a part of him frozen in shock, another part of him driven to analyze. The man forced a groan, as though it was pulled involuntarily from him, and his right arm stretched to within inches of Mark’s foot. Finally, a dark stain puddled on the floor from the man’s right shoulder. His expensive suit would be ruined . . .
Thankfully, this experience never happened during my tenure on the watch. During those nighttime hours, however, with their aura of haunting, I could easily imagine it.