12:53 P.M.

DANNY’S SNEEZEwas as loud as a gunshot, startling a pair of caged doves in a neighboring shop. Wings fluttered against bamboo bars.

Omaha watched the masked gunman turn toward their booth, stepping toward them. A yard away, Danny covered his nose and mouth and sank lower behind the tall earthenware urn. Blood ran freely down his chin. Omaha pushed to the balls of his feet, tensing, ready to leap. Their only hope lay in surprise.

The police sirens wailed, piercing now from their proximity to the market. If only Danny could have held back for another minute…

The gunman held his rifle shouldered, pointed forward, moving in a crouched stance, experienced. Omaha clenched his fists. He’d have to knock the rifle up, then dive low.

Before he could move, the robed proprietor of the shop shambled forward, into plain view. He waved a fan in one hand and wiped his nose with the other.

“Hasaseeya,” he mumbled as he straightened some baskets over Omaha’s head, cursing his hay fever. He feigned surprise at seeing the gunman, threw up his hands, fan flying, and fell back.

The gunman gave a muffled curse, waving the old man back with his rifle.

He obeyed, retreating to a low counter, covering his head with his hands.

Off in the direction of the souk’s entrance, the squeal of brakes announced the arrival of the Omani police. Sirens whined.

The gunman glanced in their direction, then did the only thing he could. He stepped to the large urn sheltering Danny and shoved his rifle inside. And after a check around, he ripped off the mask and tossed it in, too. Then, with a swirl of a sand-colored cloak, the figure disappeared into the depths of the market, clearly planning on simply joining the mass of humanity.

Anonymous.

Except Omaha had stared hard. He saw her face.

Mocha skin, deep brown eyes, a tattoo of a tear under the left eye.

Bedouin.

After a safe stretch, Omaha stepped out of hiding. Danny crawled to join him. Omaha helped his brother up.

The proprietor appeared, straightening his robe with pats of his hands.

“Shuk ran,” Danny mumbled around his bloodied nose, thanking the man.

With the typical self-effacing custom of the Omani people, the man shrugged.

Omaha stripped off another fifty-rial bill and held it out.

The shopkeeper crossed his arms, palms facedown. “Khalas.” The deal had already been struck. It would be an insult to renegotiate. Instead, the old man crossed to the stack of baskets and picked one up. “For you,” he said. “Gift for pretty woman.”

“Bi kam?” Omaha asked. How much?

The man smiled. “For you? Fifty rial.”

Omaha returned his smile, knowing he was being swindled, but he handed over the bill. “Khalas.”

As they left the market and headed toward the entrance, Danny asked nasally. “Why the hell were those guys trying to kidnap us?”

Omaha shrugged. He had no idea. Apparently Danny hadn’t gotten a look at their assailant like he had. Not guys… gals. Now that he thought back on it-the way the others had moved-they might all have been women.

Omaha pictured the riflewoman’s face again. Skin aglow in the sunshine.

The resemblance was unmistakable.

She could’ve been Safia’s sister.

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