Out of Africa

And Then There Was One

"Part of making a good decision is just making a decision. You can't always sit and weigh the pros and cons. There just isn't time for that. Making a good decision means sticking with your choice and dealing with what comes with it. Being able to deal with the consequences—that's making a good decision."
~J.X. Burros

Nairobi, Kenya.

Major Yonah Zamir did not rise to her current level of authority by being a brash or unthinking person. And since she preferred to keep an upward trajectory in her career, she knew that she would always have to consider and reconsider every action and every decision, long before it was even made.

Which was why she was seated on the balcony of her hotel room, leaned back in an uncomfortable plastic chair with her bare feet braced against the metal railing, cigarette in hand as she thoughtfully squinted out at the sleeping city.

She needed to make the call. The longer she waited, the closer the others got to learning the truth. As soon as they knew, her window of opportunity would be irrevocably shut.

Still. There was a chance that she was wrong. The world was full of bad men and women—it was not entirely impossible for someone else to be behind this attack.

And yet, the feeling in her gut told her that it couldn't be anyone else.

She took one last long drag of her cigarette before setting it in the ashtray at her feet, which was already filled with others—she hadn't chain-smoked like this in years, not since her combat days, and that itself was a sign that she knew she was right (because she wouldn't be so nervous if she wasn't). Pulling her phone from her back pocket, she dialed a number which she knew by heart.

The line picked up, but no one spoke.

"Rav Seren Zamir," Yonah stated.

A beat passed. Then, a voice, "What news, Zamir?"

"It's him."

"You are sure?"

"As sure as I can be at this point."

"That is not very reassuring."

"We know that he was here. The task force has already discovered that two of the men were not East African."

"That description applies to over ninety-five percent of the world population."

"It's him," Yonah repeated, this time with a harder edge. "Have I ever been wrong about such a thing?"

"There is a first time for everything."

Yonah rolled her eyes at this pronouncement, but she didn't respond. She simply waited.

Finally, the voice spoke again, "We will send someone."

Ye gods and little fishes, why was the ringing so fucking loud?

This was Rowena Lewis' first conscious thought as the hotel phone on her bedside table continued to blare like a four-alarm siren. She blindly reached for it, snatching it off the hook and gingerly pulling it back to her ear.

"Yes?" She still hadn't moved from her current position of being face-planted on her stomach, and the pillow and her loose hair muffled the sound of her voice.

"Roe." It was Jeff.

"What the hell, man? I have an alarm set."

"Roe, Dr. Arterton called. They've got the eastern section open."

She groaned slightly as she lifted herself onto her elbows, squinting at the clock. "Jeff, I swear to god, it's four o'clock in the morning."

"I told you, we need to be there first thing."

"I hate you."

"I hate you, too. Now get your ass out of bed."

Forty five minutes and two cups of coffee later, Jeff Masterson's partner still wasn't the most fun person to be around. Luckily, their line of work didn't require much talking or much interaction at all. The generators were running, but they weren't as loud—since it was just a handful of people at the site right now, they were only using about a third of the lights and therefore only a third of the generators. And the excavation crew, with their machines and jackhammers, had left as well. The eastern section was still an absolute mess—smaller bits of concrete still covered piles of random items from the mall, larger pieces that could still be lifted by a person instead of a machine had been left behind, too, in fear of further damaging any bodies that might still be underneath.

"Be careful," Dr. Arterton warned as he zipped up his own forensic jumpsuit—even though his team wasn't here yet, he was awake and alert, so he might as well spend the time doing something constructive."We found one of the bodies earlier this morning, but the other one is still somewhere beneath the rubble."

"We will let you know as soon as we find it," Jeff promised with a curt nod. With a slight smile, Ben Arterton delicately picked his way around the debris, back to his large pelican case filled with tools and collection supplies.

"So, what is your specialty?" The doctor called over his shoulder.

Oh, so they were going to have to be chatty, then. Rowena looked at her partner, and he merely smiled (because he knew that she was silently passing the buck to him, choosing to stay in her own little cocoon).

"Ballistics and explosives," Jeff answered. "Pretty much anything that goes boom."

"Ah, I see."

"Yes. Very American of us, don't you think?"

Benjamin Arterton smiled at the dry quip. At least Agent Masterson had a good sense of humor about it all.

"Well, you must be in a veritable playground then," the Brit mused, moving back towards the unsearched section of the quadrant.

"What about you, Doc?" Jeff kept his tone conversational—even though Rowena had that weird ability to attract people, he was the friendlier of the two, more outgoing, better at making jokes and small talk (personality traits that seemed inconsequential but proved vital to their line of work).

"DNA. Genetic markers, that sort of thing," Arterton shrugged. "All the things you would expect, from looking at me."

He gave a self-effacing smile as he gestured to himself—the slight build, the glasses, the decidedly scientist look about his entire person.

Jeff Masterson merely smiled at the quip, and a comfortable silence ensued as the three continued quietly sorting through the rubble.

As it was wont to do (more often than he cared to admit, even to himself), Jeff's mind wandered to the woman moving twenty feet away from him. He wanted to apologize for last night—he'd assumed that Dr. Arterton was merely trying to get into Roe's good graces by offering to let them stay late, but when the doctor had called Jeff instead of Rowena this morning, it was suddenly clear that the Englishman's intentions had truly been altruistic. Of course, Jeff has insinuated otherwise last night, and Rowena had understood his meaning—and she'd subsequently become smaller and quieter, like a deflating balloon, and he'd hated himself for making her feel that way.

The more complicated part of this equation was why he'd been so irritated at the thought of Rowena Lewis enchanting another man. She was his partner, his colleague and sometimes even his friend (always his friend, even when he didn't like to admit it)—but regardless of everything they were, he still was not in any position to dictate her private life. Especially when it involved someone as harmless as Benjamin Arterton. Jesus, Roe could beat that man with both hands tied behind her back.

He quietly admitted that it wasn't her safety that he was worried about. No, that would be too simple. Whatever he feared was something much more complex, something much more tangled than he ever wanted to be.

"Agent Lewis, you're rather quiet this morning," the doctor interrupted the conversational lull.

"I wasn't expecting a four o'clock wake-up call," she turned to give Jeff a pointed look over her shoulder. Still, there was a playfulness at the corner of her eyes which informed him that her irritation was mainly feigned.

Jeff merely grinned back at his partner. She shook her head, turning away so that he couldn't see her smile.

And that was how he knew they were alright again. From day one, they'd always shared an innate ability to make each other laugh—no matter what they faced, if they could both smile, then all was well.

She hadn't been smiling last night. Now she was. He knew that his little off-hand comment didn't warrant a full apology, but he still wanted to say something, to acknowledge that he'd misread the situation, that he knew (and had always known) she wasn't that kind of person, even when she pretended to be. She needed to know that she was seen, as she really was. He needed her to know that he saw her.

Of course, the biggest hurdle to such a conversation was exactly how to start the conversation. Jeff Masterson prided himself on being a pretty straight shooter, but he couldn't imagine that such a trait would help in this situation (hey, Roe, remember last night, when I hinted that you might be a slut?—ah, yeah, that would go over splendidly).

She had already forgiven him, in their usual unspoken way. He didn't have to make formal amends. But he could continue to apologize, in their native tongue.

Rowena was currently focused on the remains of a collapsed pillar, which had fallen on a kiosk. She was gingerly lifting the larger pieces of concrete and plaster, setting them to the side as she continued to unearth the object. Jeff skirted around the debris, quietly coming to her aid, lifting the heavier pieces and adding them to the small pile of rubble.

She looked up, smiled gently in thanks, and they continued working in silence.

Something was wrong with Jeff. Rowena could feel the tenseness in his muscles, the little glances that he kept throwing her way. He acted as if he had something to say, but she had learned a long time ago not to push the man until he was ready. So she merely kept her attention on the debris.

Jeff looked over his shoulder again, making sure that Dr. Arterton was out of earshot before quietly admitting, "He's a good guy."

Now Roe stopped, turning her hazel eyes up to meet his blue ones as her mouth opened slightly in surprise.

So that's what this was about. Jeff was still mulling over last night's comment—a mere statement that hadn't even been an argument or even a disagreement, a simple little thing that would be gone and forgotten in a few days.

She knew that this was his olive branch—he still felt badly about it, and he was trying to show her that he'd realized the error of his ways.

"He is," she agreed, fighting back the urge to laugh. Of all the things to bother Jeff Masterson, this had to be the most inconsequential. Still, it was oddly touching, knowing that he really had seen how much it had affected her, knowing that he wanted to make it right, no matter how small the slight seemed.

Jeff gave another curt nod, turning his attention back to the rubble. Amends had been made; they were truly back to normal. So he switched gears, back to their old ways and old conversations, "I'm thinking we'll be here another week solid, at least."

Rowena nodded, crouching down to pull away various hand-knit bags that had once been on display in a pretty painted kiosk.

"Of course, the fun doesn't really begin until we start trying to sort out which evidence goes where," he continued, his tone laced with a dry sarcasm that made the corner of Roe's mouth quirk into a smirk. He glanced over, noted her reaction, and felt a small measure of triumph—they really were back to normal.

Then something changed. The smile slipped from his partner's face, the lines and muscles of her back and shoulders became tense as her hands' movements became faster, more frenetic. She moved away more bits of rubble, her brows furrowing into an odd expression of confusion and dread.

"What is it?" He moved closer, his own expression filling with concern.

Rowena stopped, slowly rocking back onto her heels. From the pile of debris, she gingerly pulled out the remains of a chest harness, which still had bits of cloth and metal where the explosives once were.

The straps were still clasped together, though the edges were disintegrated from the blast. There was no blood, no other form of human remains.

Eighteen ANAM members.

Only seventeen bodies.

"Oh shit." That was Jeff's first reaction.

Roe's mouth set in a thin line as she tiredly agreed. "Yeah. Shit."

"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised."
~Denis Waitley

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