They called him a hero for doing his job. And if that weren’t bad enough, damn if they weren’t making him talk about it.
Special Agent Samuel Wellington Kincaid received a standing ovation when he finished his lecture. He gave a quick nod then tried to leave the podium and the auditorium, but he was pulled back by another FBI agent who insisted that, as soon as the cheering and clapping stopped, Sam answer questions.
Knowing he should cooperate, he nodded again and waited for the audience of cadets and future FBI agents to quiet down. Like most people, Sam hated giving speeches, especially those concerning his work in intelligence, but this was a training seminar and a goodwill mission, and he had been ordered by his superiors to talk about his role in the dramatic capture of the notorious Edward Chester, a radical white supremacist and one of the most elusive criminals in many years.
Despite his reluctance, Sam had been scheduled to conduct five of these seminars around the country. He’d already completed the first in D.C., and this one in Chicago was the second. Next week he would fly to Seattle for the third and then on to Los Angeles. His final stop would be at the naval base in San Diego where he would address Navy SEAL trainees. Inwardly, he groaned at the thought of three more appearances in front of inquisitive audiences who wanted only to hear sensational details of the capture.
This particular audience, however, also wanted to hear how Sam, while helping out on another case, saved the life of Alec Buchanan, a local Chicago FBI agent. The incident had happened six weeks ago, and since then, a few stories had been circulating. Agent Buchanan had been on medical leave, so they weren’t able to get any facts from him. Before Sam was introduced to the crowd, he had been warned about their curiosity and the questions he might face. Was it true Agent Kincaid had gone into a blazing house to get Buchanan? How many gunmen were in the house when he’d broken in? Had he carried Buchanan out seconds before the house exploded?
What happened was a matter of public record. Sam still didn’t want to go into it, but now that he stood at the podium, he was trapped by a group who wanted all the gory details.
Yet the first question Sam was asked had nothing to do with the Chester case or Alec Buchanan. It was the same one that was asked almost every time Sam was introduced. “Agent Kincaid, I couldn’t help but notice your accent. Is it . . . Scottish?” a female cadet asked.
“Yes it is.” Sam was accustomed to people’s curiosity about his background, and so his answer was polite but brief.
“How is that possible?”
He smiled. “I’m from Scotland, and that’s probably why I have a bit of an accent.”
The cadet blushed. Not wanting to embarrass her, Sam continued, “What you really want to know is how someone from Scotland could become an FBI agent, right?”
“I have dual citizenship,” he explained. “I was born in the United States, but I was raised in the Highlands of Scotland. I did my undergraduate work at Princeton, my postgraduate work at Oxford, then moved to D.C. to get my law degree. I started with the FBI just after I passed the bar.”
Sam evaded disclosing anything more about his personal life by calling on another eager cadet whose hand was raised, and for the next twenty minutes he was bombarded with questions.
Toward the end of Sam’s lecture, Agent Alec Buchanan and his FBI partner, Jack MacAlister, slipped into the room and took seats near the rear door. Alec, still recovering from the wound to his back, shifted forward to find a comfortable position. Neither federal agent had seen Sam for a few weeks, but during the time they had spent with him in D.C., he’d become a good friend.
Jack leaned toward Alec to whisper. “He really hates doing this, doesn’t he?”
Alec grinned. “Yeah, he does.”
“We ought to mess with him a little bit.”
“What have you got in mind?”
“I could raise my hand and ask him a couple of questions about his sex life.”
Alec laughed. A woman in front of him turned around to glare but changed her mind when she saw him. Instead, she smiled.
Jack lowered his voice again. “How long is Sam going to be in Chicago? I forgot to ask when I picked him up at the airport.”
“Two nights. He’s staying with Regan and me, but I had to promise him that my wife wouldn’t cry all over him again.”
Giving an understanding nod, Jack said, “She’s a crier all right.”
“I believe your fiancée shed a few tears at the hospital.”
“True,” he admitted. “Will Sam join our poker game tomorrow night?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Can he play?”
“I sure hope not.”
“Man, listen to that brogue. He’s really miserable up there. Should we save him?”
Alec took a second to watch Sam, who was turning from one questioner to another, and replied, “Nah.”
The two agents thoroughly enjoyed watching Sam squirm in the limelight. Although he looked composed, it was apparent he was nervous because his Scottish brogue got thicker with each sentence he uttered. Alec also noticed that, during his lecture, Sam never used the word “I” when describing his accomplishments. He was humble, self-effacing, and impressive. As Alec had discovered firsthand, Sam was also as hard as steel and as unfeeling as a machine when it was necessary.
Sam was a skilled agent, proficient in gathering intelligence and carrying out missions, but his real expertise was in languages. Truth be told, the only languages he couldn’t translate were those he hadn’t been exposed to. As he had explained to the cadet who was curious about his accent, most of his childhood was spent in Scotland. What he had not mentioned was the fact that, as the son of career diplomats, he had either lived in or traveled to almost every country of the world. Languages came to him easily.
It was this linguistic proficiency that had saved Alec Buchanan’s life.
The Chicago office had sent Alec and Jack to D.C. to follow a lead on a suspected arms dealer. A low-level informant was ready to give them the names of men who, for a price, could help them. While Jack headed off to get background information on a couple of people, Alec planned to make contact with the informant to gain his trust. There was no guarantee that anything would come from the meeting, but the D.C. office insisted on sending along audio equipment to record the conversation anyway. And even though the informant spoke some English, they thought it would be prudent to have a translator on hand.
What was supposed to be a quick meet-and-greet turned into a nightmare.
Sam Kincaid happened to be in the D.C. headquarters at the time finishing a case report. He was reading the last page on the computer screen when the director called him into his office. He asked Sam for a favor. An agent from Chicago was in town to question a possible informant, the director explained, and the translator, who was sitting in a van a block away from the house where they were meeting, was having difficulty.
The director handed Sam a file and said, “This has all the information on the case thus far, along with photos of those involved.”
Sam quickly looked it over and handed the file back.
“The safe house is real close,” the director told him. “Shouldn’t take long. It might even be over before you get there.”
Fifteen minutes later Sam was sitting in the van with the driver, Agent Tom Murphy, and the translator, who introduced himself as Evan Bradshaw. Sam took one look at the perplexed young man at the console and summed up the situation immediately: rookie. Evan handed Sam his earphones and moved aside to give him his chair. “They’ve been talking for about an hour.”
Sam slipped the earphones on and listened for a minute, then turned around to find Evan sliding the van door open to leave.
“Hey . . .” Sam called.
“They’re speaking English,” he pointed out, trying not to sound exasperated.
“I know, I know,” he answered. “But every now and then the guy says a sentence or two in a dialect I’ve never heard. I can’t make heads or tails of it.” He got out of the van and, before he pulled the door closed, said, “I think Agent Buchanan ought to pull the plug on this one. I hope you can understand what the man’s saying. Good luck.”
Only Murphy and Sam remained. For several minutes Sam listened to the conversation, which continued in English. Suddenly he heard two men burst into the house and begin barking orders in another language. Sam understood every word, but he only needed to translate one sentence to know that they were planning to kill the informant and Alec, then blow up the house. The charges had already been set.
“There’s a bomb in the house. Call it in and stay in the van,” Sam shouted as he ripped the van door open. He hit the ground running, pulling his Glock from its holster. He leapt over a fence and raced across the yard. At the sound of a gunshot, he increased his stride and, using his forearm to protect his eyes, crashed through a bay window.
He landed on his feet and took in the scene all at once. The informant, blood oozing from a bullet wound to the head, lay crumpled on the floor. Agent Buchanan was slumped in a chair, his white shirt covered in blood. A gunman running toward the front door whirled around in surprise when Sam crashed through the window. Another gunman stood behind Buchanan’s chair. He raised his gun to the back of Alec Buchanan’s head and shouted, “If you—”
Those were his last words. Sam fired his gun. His bullet struck the man between the eyes. Sam spun to his left and fired several times in the vicinity of the second gunman, forcing him to dive for cover. In a rage, the man rolled, then sprang to his feet. Sam shot him as he was bringing his weapon up.
Not wasting a second, Sam rushed to the unconscious Alec Buchanan, lifted him over his shoulder, and carried him out of the house. He managed to get him across the street and behind a huge oak tree when the house exploded. The force was so great the trunk of the tree shook. Fiery debris rained down on them.
Seconds later, the van screeched to a halt in front of them, and Murphy leapt out to help get Alec inside. While Sam applied pressure to Alec’s wound to stem the flow of blood, Murphy threw the van in gear and sped away from the fire, stopping at the end of the street to summon an ambulance.
Sirens screamed in the night, and within minutes two paramedics were transferring Alec into the ambulance. He had been stabbed in the back, just above the right kidney. They worked quickly to stabilize him. Sam rode with them to the hospital, and though it was only a couple of miles away, it seemed to take forever to get there.
“How’s he doing?” Sam asked once they were well on their way.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Sizzle by Julie Garwood. Copyright © 2009 by Julie Garwood. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.