I will be posting my stories from Writer’s Unite! on here as well. I hope you all enjoy them as you await my novel’s reveal!
Through the Diamond-Coated Lens
It was typical of him to do this. He was a world-renowned photographer – known for his breathtaking landscape and wildlife photographs. He’d been there on the front lines with the troops to photograph the danger of war. He had been praised in every journal and magazine around the world for the last decade, which gained him worldwide fame. Never had any danger stooped him or even slowed him down.
Until now, that is… Will Kraithe was missing in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
White-Collar Crimes Agent Lexi Kraithe knew something had happened to her twin brother. He never let anyone use his beloved camera, but here it was now – sitting on her desk at the FBI’s San Francisco field office. All that had come in the box was that precious camera he loved and an ominous note he had scrawled out on a scrap of paper. His terrible penmanship had proved it was his writing – at least to Lexi it had.
Lex. Develop this film. Please hurry. I need your help. I love you, big sis. – Will
Will never called her that unless something was wrong. She was only four minutes older than he was, but he didn’t like to be reminded of it. That is how she knew something was wrong, and she had to help him – somehow.
“Agent Kraithe?” Penny, a young lab tech, approached her desk. She laid a blank folder on Lexi’s desk. “Here are the photographs from the film you sent to the lab, including the negatives. Do you need anything else?”
“No, Penny. Thank you.” Lexi smiled and waited for her to walk away before opening the folder.
Lexi opened the folder slowly – taking out the negatives and setting them to the side as she did. Glancing through the first few photos, she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. A herd of zebras, a pride of lions, a crocodile, and a group of American mercenaries with machine guns guarding a truck.
“Wait. What?!” Lexi exclaimed. She looked around to see if anyone heard her outburst. Luckily, no one seemed to notice. “What have you gotten yourself into, Will?”
Lexi sighed as she leaned back in her chair. She knew who she had to call – if he would even help her. They hadn’t ended on the best of terms, after all. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a choice. She needed the expertise of a Navy SEAL. She needed Damien Hawke.
It took thirty minutes for Lexi to get to where Damien wanted to meet. A small bar near the bay – owned by his best friend. Lexi should have known he would only go someplace where the drinks are free.
“Agent Lexi Kraithe. To what do I owe this pleasure?” Damien said, grinning as she approached his table. He motioned to a wine glass in front of him. Its contents were a deep red. “I ordered your favorite.”
Lexi scowled at him as she sat down across from him. No one knew about her choice of drink – except herself and her brother. After working one case with Damien, that had changed.
“You’re looking good, Lex.” Damien continued talking as she sat there in silence. “It’s been what? Five years?”
Lexi eyed him warily. Damien was a smooth talker, and she knew that. He was tall and good-looking – with intense green eyes, broad shoulders, and short, brown have that she loved to run her fingers through. Correction: she used to love to run her fingers through it.
“Still angry with me, Lex?” Damien cocked his head to the side and looked at her – frowning. “I thought I explained everything.”
Lexi held up her hand. “I get you were trying to find a mole in one of the agencies during our investigation. I understand that even I was a suspect. What I still don’t get is why you didn’t plan to tell me about Gia.”
“That relationship was already over with. The only thing I had left to do was break the engagement. I had to wait until after the investigation was complete. I couldn’t blow my cover, and I didn’t want to lose you.” Damien sighed. “I messed up, Lex. Maybe you can eventually forgive me. I guess, right now, it’s time to get down to business.”
Damien knew this meeting would have been easier if Lexi had changed in the past five years – even just a little. From her long Auburn hair to her big blue eyes, she was the same. His team often joked about how it was that a petite woman like her could make a six-foot man back down with just a glare. They didn’t know her feisty side like he did…
“Did you hear me, Damien?” Lexi was glaring at him with one raised eyebrow. She sighed as he shook his head. “I thought so. Will is missing. He sent me his camera with a note that said to develop the film. That’s why I called you.”
“Why haven’t you told anyone about your agency about this? Was Will involved in something?” Damien knew Lexi’s brother could be a bit careless at times. “Stop looking at me like that, Lexi. Sometimes Will has a knack for being in the wrong place.”
Lexi shook her head. “No. Will is a good person, and you know that.” She pulled a file folder from her leather tote bag beside her chair. “Here are all of the pictures on the camera. I’m sure you’ll know the ones of concern.”
Damien took the file folder from Lexi as she slid it across the table. He flipped through the various photographs of animals and landscapes until one photo stopped him. Will was in trouble, alright. If he wasn’t already dead…
“When and where did you last speak to Will?” Damien continued looking through the photos – putting several to the side as he did.
“Five days ago, Will called me on his satellite phone from his camp in northeast Nigeria. He was traveling to Sierra Leone to do some landscape photography work for some nature magazine.” Lexi closed her eyes briefly before looking at Damien. “That is the last I heard from him. I wasn’t concerned about his lack of communication. That’s normal. The arrival of his beloved camera is what worries me.”
Damien furrowed his brow. He picked up the photos that he had set aside and placed them side-by-side in front of her.
“Before I tell you what I know, I need to know the truth.” Damien stared directly into her eyes. “Why me? You and I both know that you have enough pull with the Bureau to have a team go after your brother.”
Lexi let out the deep breath she had been holding. “You’re right. I can get a team full of agents together in a matter of hours, but that is not going to help me track down Will. You have been in situations like this, Damien. You know how to get people out of them – alive.”
Damien had to struggle to hold back a grin. That was as close to a compliment as he was going to get from Lexi.
“Alright, Lex.” Damien pointed toward the photos. “The first photo is a military-grade delivery vehicle. Armored siding, reinforced locks on the cargo door, and bullet-proof glass indicate that this truck is ready for anything. The guys carrying around the heavy artillery are ex-Navy.” Damien tapped his finger on the second photo. “My team met these two in Baghdad. They were already working for a military contract company at the time. Their contract was abruptly terminated after that mission.”
“Who are these people, Damien.” Lexi kept her tone low.
“The one on the left is Zane Bresk, and the one on the right is Josh Frank,” Damien told her. “They work for a man named Isaiah Mischa. Isaiah proves difficult to find information on, but Zane and Josh have records. Both were dishonorably discharged for inappropriate conduct, including assault. The MPs even suspected them in several thefts. No evidence of that was ever found.”
“What do I do, Damien? It’s clear that Will stumbled onto something these guys were doing.” Lexi rubbed her forehead with her hand before looking at him. She was desperate to get her brother home safe. “Will is the only family I have left.”
Damien was one of the few who knew about Lexi’s parents. They had kicked the twins out when each refused to work for the family law firm. Their parents’ ultimatum had been to leave or attend law school. The two decided on the former.
“Damien?” Lexi was looking at him with concern. She was afraid he was going to tell her to take a hike. “I have already contacted the Director and got my time off approved. I’m going to the airport tonight to get a flight. Are you coming, or did I waste your time?”
“I need to get my team together for this, Lex,” Damien told her. “Two of us aren’t enough for this operation. It’s just too dangerous.”
“I don’t want to get your NCIS team involved,” Lexi informed him. “It’s too risky. What if someone leaks something to your boss or mine?”
“I don’t mean that team, Lex.” Damien grinned at her. He turned toward the bar. “Troy! Come over here!”
A tall man with jet black hair and blue eyes walked around the bar towards them – pulling up a chair to join them at their table. He smiled at Lexi before scanning his eyes over the photos in front of her. A flair of recognition shown in his eyes as he landed on the picture of the two men.
“What you need, Damien?” Troy asked as he looked over at his friend. “It looks like you two have stumbled on to some trouble.”
“We have a rescue mission. Lexi’s brother, Will, is missing. Those are the last photos he took in Sierra Leone.” Damien gestured to the photographs. “Can you round up the guys and have them meet us at the airport in an hour?”
“Sure thing, Commander.” Troy nodded as he got up from his seat. He smiled at Lexi again before heading back behind the bar.
Damien picked up the photos – placing them in the folder. “I’m assuming you are already packed, so we’ll need to stop by my place to get a few things. Follow me there, then we’ll take your car to the airport.”
Lexi nodded as she got up and grabbed her bag before following Damien out of the bar. She knew her brother was still alive. She could feel it. Lexi just hoped that feeling didn’t go away as they looked for him…
Several long hours later, Lexi, Damien, and his team were in Sierra Leone. Damien had introduced her to the rest of the team during flight. Despite just meeting her, the team seemed to consider her as one of them within a few minutes. It wasn’t long until they were all joking with Lexi – trying to make her feel better.
“We’ll find them, Lex.” Cal Johnson – the “tech guy” – told her with a reassuring smile. He was a tall, muscular, African American man with a deep voice, but his light brown eyes gave away his kind nature. “I’m sure your brother is just fine.”
“Yeah, he’s probably hiding out – waiting for his sister to come to his rescue.” Sebastian Cartwright chimed in as he ran a hand through his shaggy, dark brown hair. As the team medic, he always tried to see the positive in a situation. It helped him get through his job a little easier. A humorous glint shown in his dark brown eyes as he continued speaking. “Where do we start, Commander?”
“For the last time, Sebastian, we are not in the SEALs anymore. Call me by my name.” Damien chuckled as his friend nodded and saluted him. “Let’s ask around and show Will’s picture. We might get lucky.”
Lexi was really hoping Damien was right because the knot in her stomach was growing. She chalked it up to worry and slight terror at being in the proximity of highly trained killers. Lexi glanced over at Damien as she followed him – watching him as he showed various people Will’s photo. She was surprised when they got a promising lead in less than two hours.
“Yes. I saw this young man.” A tall, pretty woman informed him at the local hotel. “He was staying here until yesterday.”
“Did he say where he was going when he left?” Damien asked her gently. She was eying him warily – unsure if he was with the mercenaries that were occupying the city. “We are not here to hurt him. This is his sister. She is looking for him.”
Lexi stepped forward as the woman’s eyes widened – a smile appeared on her face.
“Yes, yes! Will told me about you. His twin sister – Lexi, right?” The woman’s smile grew as Lexi nodded. “My name is Cheyla. Your brother left right before two terrifying men came looking for him. These men – they are no good. They terrorize our city.” Cheyla reached behind the counter and pulled out a folded sheet of paper – handing it to Lexi. “Will said to give this to you when you arrive. He said you would come. He knew you would!”
Lexi thanked the woman and turned around – walking over to the seats in the hotel’s lobby. She sat down as she opened the note and read what her brother had hastily scribbled down.
Lex. I hope you get this message. I am hiding in a village about five miles outside of town. Please hurry, Lex. I don’t know how long I will be able to stay here. Ask for Lenji at the produce stand near the entrance to the village. They will know what that means. I love you, big sis. – Will
“Everything okay, Lex?” Damien was looking down at her from where he stood beside her. “Did Will leave us any clues?” He glanced over the note that Lex handed to him. “Alright. Looks like we’re heading out.”
Fifteen minutes later, Troy had located the produce stand on the outside of the village. After a quick conversation with the owner, Lexi had the location of the house of Lenji Aboudi. It took only a few more minutes for the small group to pull up in front of a small home surrounded by a chain-link fence.
“Can I help you?” A tall, slim African man asked them from the front yard. He narrowed his eyes as he squinted against the afternoon sun. “What business do you have here at the Aboudi household?”
“Are you Lenji Aboudi?” Lexi got out of the beat-up jeep – meeting the man at his fence. “I’m Lexi Kraithe. My brother left me your name on a note in the village. His name is Will – Will Kraithe.”
“Come with me.” Lenji opened the gate, letting the group into his yard. He continued speaking as they followed him to the house. “I assume that these are people you trust, Miss Kraithe, which is why I am allowing you all inside. Will is here – hiding from people who wish him harm.” Lenji stopped at the front door and turned to face her. “Will saved my son’s life. Kai got too close to the camp of some diamond searchers. They are ruthless people – these men. They threatened Kai, and Will heard them. He took photos of what they were doing, and he told them that the photos would be sent to the authorities if the men tried to harm anyone.”
Lexi could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Will was never one to back down from helping someone in need. The fact that he put himself in danger to help a little boy made sense. Now, it was up to her to save her little brother from trained killers.
Lenji opened the door – motioning the group inside. “You’ll find a trap door under the rug beneath the kitchen table. Will is hidden in there. Once I received word from Kovi that someone asked for me, I had him hide until I knew you could be trusted.”
“Thank you, Lenji, for keeping my brother safe,” Lexi told him before entering the house. The man nodded before shutting the door behind the group. It only took mere minutes to uncover the trap door in the kitchen, but it felt like an eternity for Lexi. “Will? Are you down there?”
“Lex?” A voice came up through the wooden door on the floor. It was followed by the sound of a lock sliding and the door being pushed open. Eyes the same color as hers greeted her as Will climbed out of the hole. “I knew you would come, sis. I can always count on you to bail me out of trouble.”
Lexi didn’t know whether to punch her brother or hug him. She decided on the latter – taking her brother in a fierce, protective hug. When she released him, Will ran his fingers through his shaggy auburn hair and shook the dust from his clothes.
“I should strangle you for getting yourself into this, but I can’t.” Lexi placed her hands on her hips. “Your heart was in the right place, Will. I would have done the same thing.”
“Thanks, sis.” Will glanced at the group she had brought with her before his eyes landed on Damien. “I see you brought a whole rescue squad to find me. Did you bring the photos?”
“No, she didn’t,” Damien answered. “We turned them over to a special team that has been trying to locate Isaiah for a long time. Your evidence will help them find him and put him away for a long time.”
“Well, that is good news.” Will put his arm around Lexi’s shoulders. “How about we go home them, Lex? I could really use a nice long shower and about three weeks of sleep.”
Lexi laughed at her brother. “I agree. Let’s go, Will.”
During the long plane ride home, Lexi was able to find out that Isaiah and his team has been found. Luckily, the entire operation was going to be shut down for good – with each member facing multiple charges. She had to admit that Damien had proved himself during this entire operation, which meant that it was time for her to finally forgive him.
“Damien?” Lexi turned to face him after her brother had fallen asleep in the seat beside her. “I am sorry that I held our past against you for so long. Can we start over?”
“Does this mean you forgive me?” Damien grinned as she nodded. “Then, sure. We can start over, Lex. On one condition.” He chuckled as she gave him a curious look. “Have dinner with me when we get back, Lex.”
“Okay,” Lex replied with a smile as she leaned her head back on the seat.
Damien had helped her rescue her brother, and he hadn’t thought twice about the danger it would put him in. She could do a dinner – or two. After that, only time would tell…