Layla recoiled from the shock of Gamal grabbing the gun and the explosive sound of the gunshot. Youssef crumpled to the floor.
“Get the gun!” yelled Pierce.
Layla wrenched the gun from Gamal’s grip and pointed it at him. But Gamal didn’t resist. He didn’t even turn to look at her. He stood with his arms at his sides, staring at Youssef, who lay on the ground. Layla turned to check on the woman in the chair. A mist of blood had sprayed against her yellow blouse. She appeared to have passed out but seemed unharmed.
Pierce brushed by Layla and body-slammed Gamal against the wall with surprising force, given the difference in their sizes. As she twisted one of his arms behind him, Layla stepped in to help her. She leaned her elbow into Gamal’s back despite the electrifying pain in her arm. They held him together, each on one side, but he still didn’t resist.
“Why did you do that?” Layla said breathlessly.
Gamal looked dazed, almost catatonic. He frowned at Youssef ’s prone body.
“He was never who I thought he was,” he said to himself more than to anyone else.
“Layla, I’ve got him,” said Pierce. She gestured toward Youssef. “Clear his weapon.”
Layla went to where Youssef lay, bending to one knee beside him. The gun was nestled firmly in his grip. Layla prized his fingers off it and kicked it aside. Then she set two fingers on Youssef ’s neck, just to be sure. Blood flowed from beneath him, like ink staining the dark green carpet.
“Is he dead?” said Pierce to Layla, her eyes still on Gamal.
“He’s dead.” She turned Youssef onto his back and gingerly lifted his jacket, lightly running her good hand over his shirt, searching for a wire, a detonator, explosives. There was no wire, no vest, but she did find the wound. It was in his upper chest, next to his sternum. The bullet must have exited through his back.
“He’s clear,” she said.
Outside, beyond the library door, Layla heard people running and calling out. The chaos was still raging. They seemed so far away from it all in the suddenly quiet scene in the library.
Colonel Taylor’s voice broke through the cacophony beyond the closed door before two Marines burst in, Berettas drawn, and pointed their weapons at Pierce and Layla. Layla instinctively put both hands in the air. She knew she must look highly suspicious, covered in a dead man’s blood.
Colonel Taylor entered. She strode toward Layla and knelt beside her.
“Is he dead?”
Layla nodded, lowering her hands, which she noticed seemed to have stopped shaking for the first time since she had witnessed Hamadi’s murder the night before.
Colonel Taylor looked closely at her. Layla realized that they had met only half an hour earlier—maybe less—but it felt like a lifetime had passed. Colonel Taylor nodded at Layla and then looked at the blond Marine, who was helping the now revived and weeping woman stand up from the chair. “Help Agent el-Deeb secure this room. Do whatever she tells you to do.”
Colonel Taylor gave Layla’s shoulder a quick squeeze before rushing from the room. In the hall, Layla spied embassy staff rushing toward exits. Someone had set off the fire alarm. The adrenaline that had flowed through her body all that long day seemed to slow to a drip, and then she had nothing left to give.
“You okay?” said Pierce. She was now only half heartedly holding onto Gamal, who clearly had no plans to flee or fight. She eyed the wound on Layla’s arm. “We need to get you some help for that.”
“I’m okay.” Layla watched as Marines escorted the distraught woman, and then Gamal, out of the room. She had prevented the attack. Stopped the bad guy. But it didn’t feel the way she thought it would. She felt hollowed out. Exhausted.
What remained of the day was a blur of debriefs that felt more like interrogations. Finally, she was allowed to return home, to sleep. She woke the next day in the big bed in her penthouse from a sleep that felt as deep as she imagined death must feel.
She padded to the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub, studying the bandages that covered her shoulder. She carefully unwound them, wincing at the pain. As she showered, the blood from the exposed gash turned the water a dull pink. She watched, mesmerized, as it pooled at her feet and spun around the drain. When she was done she put on fresh bandages and, as if on autopilot, dressed and made a breakfast of fluffy eggs and sausage, with good black Turkish coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and toast.
She looked over to the living room, where a sleeping Pierce lay snoring softly on the sofa. It was strangely pleasant to witness Pierce at peace—it was a side of her Layla rarely got to see. The sound of the phone shook Layla from her reverie, and she grabbed it...