Traci Brenner had left his life many years ago and he thought that he'd finally put her behind him for good. But an urgent call from his former lover brings Derrick Olin right back into his past, and into a myriad of feelings that he had never even suspected he was capable of. Traci tells Derrick that she has trouble, and shortly thereafter he's on a plane to Utah, no questions asked. He tells himself that he's just going to help out an old friend, but soon realizes that the journey is a lot more complicated. The backdrop is a very real threat to Traci Brenner, a threat that Derrick Olin is more than capable of dealing with under normal circumstances, but these circumstances are anything but normal. This time, in addition to the violence and the danger, Derrick must confront his own human emotions as well as his personal needs and desires, things that his lifestyle and his work have always denied him. Or maybe he's just denied them to himself. And, oh yes, there is the little matter of the violence and the danger...
The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing. Up until re- cently I didn't even know what the acronym stood for, didn't really know it was an acronym. Strange because I've lived in Alabama off and on for most of my life, born and raised in Birmingham just over fifty miles to the west of Talladega and the NASCAR Superspeedway. But it never interested me, not in the least. And, to be honest, it doesn't interest me now, not really, but for the first time in my life, I am actually attending the Talladega races this mid- October weekend as the temperatures are finally starting to come down and approach something close to normal for fall.
It's Sunday, bright and beautiful with a clear sky and temperatures in the low seventies. Most people are still wearing shorts and short sleeves but I see a lot of jackets being carried around just in case the wind picks up, as it is apt to do around the speedway. I'm actually dressed in a suit, black, gray button-down shirt, and black slip-on dress shoes. Kind of overdressed for attending the races, but I'm not actually attending the races. I'm working today, which is the only reason I'm here, believe me.
A week ago, I got a call from Lolita Rossier, President and CEO of Rossier International, one of the largest private security firms in the country and based over in Atlanta. I've done work for Rossier a few times and she's always been impressed with my work, or so she keeps saying. And for that reason, she gave me a call when a client of hers informed her that he was coming to Alabama this weekend to attend the races at Talladega. The client is a very wealthy oil sheik from Saudi Arabia, a minor prince actually with very close ties to the government, and he's a NASCAR fanatic, follows all the races very closely, and likes to attend whenever he's in the U.S. and time permits. He had been all over the country to different racecourses, but never to Talladega. He was adamant about attending, and this was not a man used to being denied anything.
Because of his wealth and his nationality, the sheik was a prime tar- get for kidnapping and/or assassination. He never went anywhere without a heavily armed protective escort, and whenever he was in the U.S. that escort was supplemented by agents from Rossier International, often with Lolita Rossier leading the details herself. Lolita asked if I was available to be the local backup during her client's visit and I told her that I was, having just wrapped up a two-week assignment for a client up in Memphis. She sent me all the information she had on the client, including an up-to-date threat as- sessment that I found both thorough and a little disturbing. It seemed that this particular sheik had many enemies, most probably because of his ex- treme indulgence in all things western, especially American. Apparently, many of his fellow countrymen didn't like his tastes or his cozy American rela- tions. Maybe they didn't think he showed their culture the respect it de- served. And reading his file made me think that they were probably right. One curious item I noticed was that while he was married to a woman from a well-to-do traditional Saudi family, the sheik always insisted that his mis- tresses--and there were many--be American. I guess the man really did like to buy USA.
In the past, there had been no less than nine attempts to either kill or kidnap him, and several of his bodyguards had died during those attempts. How very nice for them. The assessment seemed to suggest that he was under greater threat in his native land than in the United States, but with the way a lot of people in this country felt about Arabs these days, his security team wanted to take no chances. And neither did Lolita Rossier. I thought that was probably a prudent course to take, considering we were talking about Alabama. Even Twenty-First Century Alabama looked a lot like Twentieth Century Alabama in many respects, especially when it came to people being different.
I grew up here, came back here after I left the Air Force more than a decade ago, and there are many things that I can say about the state that are kind, but there are equally as many that I can say that are not. Progress does not come quickly in the south, and in particular not in the area of racial and ethnic relations. For the most part a lot of it stays buried, but not far beneath the surface, and it doesn't take much to stir up racial tensions and old preju- dices. And let's face it, NASCAR brings out the rednecks--and proudly so. Apparently, it also brings out a thirty-nine year old billionaire Saudi oil sheik with a fondness for American women. A good thing too, because it means another good paycheck for me. And that's always nice. For me.
The last couple of days have gone well. The sheik is actually staying in Atlanta and flies over every day on a private jet which lands at Talladega Airport just on the other side of the speedway. I meet the party there with three vehicles and fully vetted security drivers, and then we come over to the southwest side where the private viewing suites are located, one specially re- served for the client and manned by security personnel twenty-four hours a day, swept by bomb-sniffing dogs thirty minutes before the sheik's arrival.
One thing I wish the man would do while he's here, since he loves America so much, is get rid of his Saudi duds and put on jeans and a T-shirt and cowboy boots or something like everybody else is wearing. But he doesn't. Apparently, he likes to look like Lawrence of Arabia and everybody who sees him stops and stares, and a few of those stares have not been par- ticularly friendly, but we manage to get him inside his suite quickly before any trouble ensues. And after today, this job will be over and I'll be three grand richer. My finances taken care of for this month. Excellent.
I was posted outside the upstairs luxury suite along with two uni- formed guards. Actually, I wasn't really posted anywhere. I was roving, checking the area for any potential problems and making sure that all the other security personnel assigned to the team were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to be doing. However, right now I was outside the suite with the two guards, having just stepped out from hav- ing a quick word with Lolita Rossier. She was inside the suite with the sheik and several other bodyguards--and a special friend who looked like she might be twenty-one. Lolita had informed me that the client would be ready to leave in about an hour, before the final race concluded. He had business to attend to later on in Atlanta and would have to leave early. I told her that was fine by me; it meant we wouldn't have to deal with all the crowds of people trying to get out of the stadium at the end race.