Until a few weeks ago, she was an international soccer star. But now she’s taken the helm of her billionaire father’s private security company, and she’s playing against a whole new set of opponents – the kind who shoot to kill.
On her first day on the job, Pia’s client is assassinated in front of her. There’s no time for training, so Pia must trust her instincts and athletic skills to unravel the complicated maze of money laundering and piracy that will take her from Swiss mansions to the jungles of Cameroon.
Her battle-hardened employees suspect she’s just a spoiled rich girl with a mean corner kick. But Pia’s got some unexpected moves of her own. Will they be enough to bring her team through its mission?
What People Are Saying About The Geneva Decision:
“A fine thriller with intriguing locations, intricate plot twists and a complex heroine.” — Kirkus Reviews
This book really got into its stride and kept going strong. I loved the character of Pia Sabel – there’s a girl Charlie Fox would team up with any day! — Zoe Sharp, author of 10 best selling Charlie Fox novels
Seeley James has created a protagonist that is strong and yet conflicted. This compelling heroine presents a multi-faceted character that mystery readers will enjoy getting to know in this first book and probably for many more to come. — PJReviewofBooks.com
Female leads in bestselling thrillers are rarely this realistic and complete. She’s not panting over a man, not whining all the time, makes her own decisions and still kicks ass. Pia Sabel must be the love child of Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. — ShortThrills Review
The Geneva Decision is superb….The non-stop intensity catapults the action from the first page to the last, never relaxing….Seeley James is definitely an author to watch in the future as he writes more featuring the undaunting Pia Sabel. — Mysteries Galore
If you’re an adrenalin junkie who enjoys breakneck pacing and action on every page, then The Geneva Decision is the book for you… A great debut for a new thriller series. — William G. Davis, author of Pagan Moon
I picked up The Geneva Decision based on a recommendation and I’m glad I did. Seeley James does a good job of…taking the reader to new places… James is a writer to keep your eye on, and I’m looking forward to the next Pia Sabel book. — Giacomo Giammatteo, author of Murder Takes Time and A Bullet for Carlos
Great story! Vivid descriptions! Likeable characters! Action-packed yet realistic! Witty comebacks! Unexpected twists that I never saw coming. — Sandye, Goodreads.com reviewer
She thought the man was an assassin the instant she saw him. Then he walked out of the shadows. Definitely. All the visual signs for an assassin were there: sweat on his brow, bulging eyes, pulsing neck veins, purposeful stride. She knew the signs inside and out. When she was ten, off-duty Secret Service agents had permanently etched them in her mind. He weaved through the forest of tuxedos and ball gowns in the small park, just a silhouette in the last rays of sunlight shimmering off Lake Léman. Then he disappeared behind groups of partiers.
She searched for him. Nothing.
Maybe she’d imagined him.
Maybe she imagined him because her father had forced her to change careers. Which forced her to attend the party. Which forced her to meet Clément Marot at the Banque Marot reception. Or whatever the French invitation called it. They’d roped off the whole park for cocktails before the formal dinner. Exclusive as it was, she would never feel comfortable around the idle rich. She preferred the company of people who had accomplished things on their own. Still, she had agreed to take the job so she should give it her best effort.
Pia Sabel sighed and scanned the crowd, this time looking for Marot. Any man there could be the banker. It was Geneva after all. She pulled out her phone and took another glance at Marot’s picture.
When she looked up, she saw the assassin again.
He was crossing the park at some distance. His stride was picking up pace as if he were nearing his target. Then he disappeared behind waiters bearing silver trays of champagne flutes. She looked around at the reception guests who politely laughed at each other’s cocktail wit. An alarm went off in her head.
Her stomach squeezed.
She reached into her purse and clicked her panic button. Agent Marty waited on the far side of the boulevard, Quai du Mont Blanc. Could he reach her in time to help? She looked around for security people then remembered there were none. The safest city in Europe had few of them. The very reason Marot wanted to hire Sabel Security.
Shouldering her way between guests, she put herself on an intercept path. With a little luck, she could cut him off and maybe delay him until help arrived. But she reached the balustrade and a magnificent view of Jet d’Eau, Geneva’s famous fountain, with no sign of the assassin. She stepped onto a park bench and searched again. His predatory pace would make him easy to find.
Instead, she found Clément Marot chatting with people in the far corner. The assassin stepped out from between two guests on Marot’s left, pulled his hand out of his pocket, and pointed something at Marot’s temple.
Marot’s head came apart.
The bang echoed off the hotel façade and across the water.
Marot collapsed on the ground like a dropped cloth. Sharp shouts and cries erupted as a small crowd moved around the victim. Some tried to move back, others to move in, but they cancelled each other out.
Pia Sabel watched the assassin. He held a gun in his hand and aimed at bystanders’ faces. Everyone in his path stepped back a good ten yards, crushing together until there was little room to move. Once they moved, the gunman strode toward the street. After five paces, some men swirled in behind him. He turned around and threatened them with the gun, then resumed his march.
Pia slid her hand around the Glock in her purse’s hidden holster but left it there. Too provocative. Too many innocent bystanders.
She sized him up. Average height for a European, he was an inch shorter than Pia. She’d sparred with enough men at the gym to know a fight with him could go badly. Very badly. But there was another move that might work. Dangerous, but someone had to do something.
Threading her way between guests, Pia took up a position in the killer’s path. Standing on tiptoe to see over a tall man’s shoulder, she watched him. His wary eyes scanned the crowd, daring anyone to stop him. His cold gaze locked with hers for a second before moving on. Then he hesitated, something had caught his eye. He looked in her direction again.
To keep the element of surprise, she turned her back, bent her knees, and lowered herself below the shoulder in front of her. She tried to use all her senses. She watched people’s eyes to track his movement. She tried to feel the static charge in the air through her skin. She listened for his footsteps.
Her human shield stepped back, clearing the killer’s path.
She coiled the powerful springs in her legs and listened to the killer’s footsteps approaching.
Pia exploded into his path, pivoting on her right foot and hooking her left ankle around his. Momentum carried his bodyweight forward, but before he could recover, her left forearm slammed hard into his shoulder blade. The assassin crashed face first onto the concrete pathway. She jumped into the air above him, her gown billowing around her like an unfurling parachute and came down hard. Her knees drove into his back on either side of his spine, halfway between the ribs and the hipbone. The impact forced the air from his lungs and pounded his kidneys.
Emboldened by her initiative, a heavy man stomped on the killer’s wrist until the gun fell free. Another man picked it up. Someone hurled epithets in French while other voices called for police and doctors.
Multiple vehicles converged on the scene, their sirens shrieking. Their blue and white lights splashed off nearby windows before spilling into the park. Pia, panting from the adrenaline rush, patted down the killer. In one pocket, a book of matches with a handwritten phone number and a bus ticket from Douala, Cameroon. In another pocket, a wad of cash comprised of several euros and other bills that read Banque des États l’Afrique Centrale. Nothing else—no other weapons, no ID, no wallet, no phone. He writhed and struggled against the men holding him.
Agent Marty pushed through the crowd, looked at Pia and the man under her knees. He said, “Hey boss, you OK?”
Pia nodded, took a deep breath, and pointed.
“Killed Marot. He was heading to the street, probably had an accomplice. Cuffs?”
Marty whipped out the plasticuffs and took over.
Grabbing a fistful of her gown, Pia kicked off her heels and pushed through the astonished crowd. She ran toward the quai fifty yards away, jumped the velvet rope, and surveyed the broad sidewalk. Thirty meters to her right, a lone gray Peugeot idled at the curb in the no-parking zone. It was empty, the driver’s door open, no license plate. A tall man, pale with blond spiky hair and a thin goatee, stood not far from the car, just outside the rope. He strained on his toes to peer into the crowd.
His face snapped her way. Their eyes locked.
He turned to run. Should she pull her gun or try to tackle him? She was not a confident marksman on the range but was a world-class sprinter. She gave chase.
He bolted for the idling car. She angled to cut him off. He had the advantage in distance while she had the advantage in speed. His large black boots clumped across the sidewalk. She closed the gap, but it wasn’t enough.
In a last ditch effort, she threw herself into a slide tackle. Her feet nearly clipped his ankles but caught only a bit of his heel. He stumbled and jumped into the car. By the time she grabbed her Glock, he had the door closed and in half a second was tearing away.
Her darts would never penetrate the car’s sheet metal.
Should have brought bullets.
He was gone.
She clutched her gown at the shredded hip and limped back toward Agent Marty. As police cars and emergency vehicles swarmed the street, officers and emergency responders pushed through the crowd. Pia followed in their wake.
Agent Jonelle, hair slicked into a tight bun at the nape of her neck, came alongside Pia.
Pia glanced over. “Thought I gave you the night off.”
“Awfully kind of you, Ms. Sabel. But you know I don’t work for you, right?”
“You work for Dad, then?”
“Mr. Sabel told me to keep your past in the past and unplug any pranks you might think funny.” She paused as they walked. “And I’m here to help you run Sabel Security before you run it into the ground.”
Without breaking stride Pia turned to stare at the woman. She turned forward again, looking ahead twenty yards. Several police officers had arrived and formed a circle to the right of Marty and the killer. Two, a man and a woman, wore blue windbreakers with POLICE CANTONALE stenciled in white from shoulder to shoulder. The rest were uniformed officers.
“Those were Dad’s words?” she asked.
“Pretty much—but cleaned up some.”
The woman in the blue windbreaker stepped forward to meet them. She carried a purse slung over her shoulder bandolier-style, the way Pia liked to carry hers. She extended a hand, smiled, and gushed something in rapid-fire French. The only words Pia understood were the two that matched the woman’s nameplate, Capitaine Villeneuve. Villeneuve didn’t wait for a response but hurried on toward three uniformed officers, shouting orders as she went.
Must have been her official thank you.
Pia approached a pudgy officer next to Marty. His name badge read Duchamps.
“His accomplice is getting away in a small gray Peugeot, no plates,” she said. “You can catch him if you hurry.”
Duchamps stared at her, then turned to Marty. Marty translated and Duchamps stared some more. After an awkward second, he pulled a handheld radio out and repeated the description.
Jonelle tapped her shoulder. “What makes you think they’re working together?”
“They were both soldiers.”
Marty extended his free hand, holding her Vivier heels. She smiled thank you.
Pia examined her captive while Jonelle waited for an explanation. Since he wasn’t facedown with her knees in his kidneys, she could get a look at him. He had a swarthy complexion, black beard, dark eyes, and a high and tight haircut. A broken nose and bloody shirt. No longer struggling, he seemed oddly calm. Not subdued. Not worried.
“This guy was aiming at people’s heads,” Pia said. “Marty told me that’s how soldiers aim in case the enemy is wearing body armor. And the other guy wore Army boots.”
Marty dragged the killer to his feet and pushed him toward the officers. Duchamps took one arm, Capitaine Villeneuve took the other, and they walked toward a squad car on the street.
“Pardon me,” the tall man in the windbreaker said. “I must have your statement.” When their eyes met, he smiled and pointed his pen at her. “You are Pia Sabel, the Olympic footballer, oui?”
Pia nodded. Fans of women’s soccer had dwindled since the games ended.
He was handsome and lean, like a distance runner, his skin drawn tight over sinewy muscles. Coin-sized curls and strong features. His words rumbled in a rich baritone.
“I thought this. Your tackle of Louisa Nécib in the Olympics was, ehm…” He snapped his fingers as he searched for the right word. “Notorious.”
She shrugged. “In France.”
He smiled. “Oh, pardon me. I am from Chamonix, just across the border. And also Capitaine Villeneuve. We are on special assignment to the Canton. But no matter. So then, I need your statement.” He patted his pockets before finding the pen and pad already in his hand. “Just the few questions, if you please. You tackled him, he fell face first causing the broken nose. I have this from the others. You took items from the pockets. What were these?”
“I was looking for weapons. Patted him down. I put them all back.” Pia described the contents of the killer’s pockets.
“Oui.” He jotted. “Anything that distinguishes the items?”
“The matchbook had Objet Trouvé, Valois Maritime embossed on the outside and a phone number on the inside.”
Jonelle said, “Excuse me?”
At the same time, Alphonse said, “Do you remember the number?”
“Just +41-22, something something.”
Alphonse nodded. “Country and city codes of Geneva.”
“Perhaps the clue, oui?” he said.
He whistled to Capitaine Villeneuve, who knelt by the patrol car’s open back door. Absorbed at that moment with securing the prisoner in the back seat, Villeneuve didn’t respond. Duchamps waited in the front, his mind and eyes elsewhere. Alphonse stretched to wave and whistled once more before giving up.
Pia said, “Probably the number of whoever hired him.”
“Hired? Assassin? How do you think this?”
“An Arab working with a Nordic-looking guy, both soldiers, they picked a public space with no video cameras, they weren’t afraid of any resistance from the crowd. That’s a lot of planning. These guys are pros.”
Alphonse’s mouth hung open. “Many conclusions for such, ehm, petite evidence.” His smile took the sting out of his words.
“Excuse me,” Agent Jonelle said. “Valois Maritime is a shipping company. The Objet Trouvé is one of their ships. It’s listed on the meeting agenda.”
Alphonse looked at Pia.
Pia looked at Jonelle. “Agenda?”
“Yes. On your phone, under calendar. The meeting with Clément Marot.”
Pia scrambled to retrieve her phone, pulled up the calendar and the meeting notes.
Sécurité – Banque Marot
- Questions Internal
- Questions International
- Priorities Premier:
• Objet Trouvé – Valois Maritime, Marseille
• Étoile de Lyon – Total SA, Paris
• Zorka Moscoq – Lukoil, Moscow
• Altid Trigg – Statoil, Stavanger
Alphonse read over her shoulder. He said, “You will send this to me?”
“Sure,” Pia said.
Just beyond him, Pia saw an officer escorting a college boy in a tuxedo with an older woman on his arm. Their faces turned down, their posture weak and bent—the son and widow. She wanted to say something to them, do something that would make them feel better.
The officer escorting them broke off and walked over to her. He said something in French. She raised her brows and slowly shook her head. He said, “Madame Marot has requested you keep the meeting tomorrow.”
As he walked away, a frantic woman in an off-white sequined dress intercepted him. She gestured and pointed with outstretched arms, her body bent at the knees and waist, her neck strained. The officer shrugged and pointed to another officer. The frantic woman ran in that direction. He rejoined the bereaved and led them forward.
A loud shout caught Pia’s attention. Capitaine Villeneuve ran toward a knot of uniformed officers, yelling at them as she ran. Alphonse looked up from jotting on his pad, leaned an ear toward his Capitaine and stiffened. His eyes opened wide, and he shouted back to Villeneuve. He turned back to Pia. “My apologies. I must go. We finish your statement soon, oui?”
He sprinted toward the quai, where Capitaine Villeneuve had assembled three uniformed officers. She gestured in every direction. The group split up, running.
Jonelle turned to Marty. “You speak French—what was that about?”
“They said al-Jabal escaped.”
Pia said, “You mean the killer? How the hell did that happen?”
Agent Marty forked his fish, unwilling to look at either woman. Jonelle uncrossed her arms, leaned forward, and finished her last two bites. Pia trimmed the last slice of steak and ate it. She tried to think of the best way to get Jonelle in line, but nothing clever came to her.
Pia said, “It’s the right thing to do.”
Jonelle looked at Marty, who shrugged, then back at Pia.
“You’re on her turf, sticking your nose into her investigation. If I were Capitaine Villeneuve, I’d lock you up first time you touched something.”
The hotel’s restaurant sparkled in white with gold trim. Pia set her knife and fork on the china and pushed it away. She said, “You were an MP for, what, ten years?”
“And how many murders did you investigate?”
No one spoke as the bus boy cleared the plates. The waiter stepped in, scraping the crumbs from the linen with a silver scraper. Pia caught his eye and signaled for the check.
“Too many,” Jonelle said. “You put ten thousand eighteen-year-old boys in the desert for months on end, something bad’s going to happen. No worse crime rate than anywhere else per capita.”
“And they had at least twenty lethal weapons each,” Marty said. “Identical weapons. Worst conditions for finding evidence.”
Jonelle shot a glance his way. “You’re not helping.”
“I looked up Chamonix while I was changing,” Pia said. “It’s a ski village in the mountains an hour from here. Guess how many murders they’ve had in the last ten years.”
Jonelle sighed. “OK, so she pulls drunks out of gutters and cars out of snowbanks. She’s still a trained peace officer—you’re a rich kid who was lucky enough to tackle a killer without getting hurt. You gave them the bad guy, and they blew it. Big problem, but not our problem. Our client—potential client—is dead. We have no legal standing here. No ethical reason to get involved.”
Agent Marty said, “She’s right.”
Jonelle glared at him. He put his hands up and leaned back.
“Your father made significant financial promises to me if you remain in the job and are successful over the next five years.” Jonelle stabbed a finger toward Pia. “I don’t have stacks of money stashed in my Gulfstream’s cargo hold. That means I want to do what’s right for Sabel Security, what’s right for the business. At the moment, we’re looking at good press: Pia Sabel Captures Killer. That’s a win. Leave it alone.”
“He murdered my client.”
“Your client is a banker. A Swiss banker. Who caters to the ultra-rich. Not a sympathetic person.”
“I should have stopped him.”
“Not true,” Marty said. “You might have prevented it, or you might have been killed trying. You might have scared him into a rampage killing and ended up with a lot more dead bodies. You could have made it worse, not better.”
“Look,” Jonelle said, “we meet with Madame Marot in the morning, give her our condolences, and head home. Either she hires us or she doesn’t hire—”
“We’re here, and the locals aren’t equipped,” Pia said. “They’re nice enough, but they lack the experience you and Marty bring.”
“They didn’t ask for our help. We can’t help them.”
“That’s not how we make decisions at Sabel anymore. We don’t help people based on whether we can or can’t, should or shouldn’t, or if it’s convenient. We help people who need help.”
Pia’s gaze wandered outside the restaurant windows where spotlights clicked off in the park. Police were clearing out. A reporter lingered with a cameraman, trying to dig one last word out of an officer who kept his head down and his mouth shut. Just as her gaze was moving on, Pia spotted the woman in the off-white dress running across the park. The woman approached the officer. Her hands outstretched, her knees and waist bent, she was still frantic an hour later.
Pia glanced at Marty. He followed her gaze outside and shrugged.
She said, “The boy in the lobby?”
“Want me to get the mom?” he said.
Pia nodded and stood.
Jonelle looked up at her. “What’s going on? Where are you going?”
“There’s someone who needs help,” Pia said with a nod out the window. She ran to the lobby while Marty ran outside.
Two chairs faced each other over a small table in a secluded corner. In one chair sat a boy of six or seven playing with two toy cars. If his mother had come through looking for him, she could have easily missed him. Pia and Marty had seen him because they looked in secluded corners out of habit and training. Pia dropped to her knees six feet away and observed him. He glanced at her and sank his head to his chest. His eyes were red and a trail of snot trailed sideways off his face. The crying was over and he was living in abject fear. He glanced around the room before he returned to Pia.
She patted her knees and opened her arms. “Hi. Do you speak English?”
He shook his head and pulled his knees up. He folded his arms across them and sank his face into the box they formed.
She said, “Mére?”
He kept his head locked down. She realized that ‘mother’ and ‘sea’ probably sounded the same in her terrible accent. She tried desperately to remember something in French. Behind her, heels clicked rapidly across marble. The woman in off-white swished by her and swept the boy up in her arms. Neither boy nor mother spoke; instead they clenched their arms around each other.
Pia stood, watching for a second before joining Marty a few steps away.
Back in the restaurant, she signed the check and led her team outside. She zipped up her USA track suit. She said, “Where do we start?”
Jonelle started to say something.
Pia cut her off. “Because I’m in charge now, and things are going to be different. Discussion is over.”
“I’m sure it was tough to witness another murder—”
“Just…” Pia chopped the air with her hand. “Get started.”
Jonelle shook her head. Pia’s agents huddled over Jonelle’s phone-map for a moment, pointing things out to each other, then looked up without saying a word. They started walking up the narrow lane beside the hotel. Marty shoved his hands in his pockets and took the left side. He scanned the buildings top to bottom. Jonelle took the right.
Pia tagged along, three paces back. “What’re we looking for?”
Marty looked over his shoulder from ten yards up the narrow Rue des Pâquis and held a finger to his lips. He went back to scanning the storefronts from the street to the roofline.
Pia said, “Just trying to learn.”
“Learn quietly,” Jonelle said. “Imagine you’re this al-Jabal guy. Your ride left without you. The city’s locked down, nobody goes in or out without a lot of scrutiny. Did you have a backup plan? If not, what’re you going to do?”
“Lay low until the heat’s off?” Pia said.
“You make it sound like a cheap thriller, but yes. He hides somewhere. Finds an empty apartment, a construction site, a flat roof. Maybe he has a friend.”
“Why aren’t they doing that?” Pia pointed down the lane as a patrol car passed by on the well-lit four-lane cross street, Rue des Alpes.
“Lazy police work,” Jonelle aid. “It feels like you’re doing something when you seal off the checkpoints, bridges, trains, major streets. Lights and sirens and policemen everywhere you look gives people the impression you’re putting it all out there. Le Capitaine’s hoping the killer makes a break for it. He won’t.” Jonelle kept walking, looking at everything. “Sooner or later you have to do the work. You have to get out and walk the beat.”
“We do the same in soccer. We call it ‘doing the work’. Finding open space when your teammate has the ball or marking your player when she loses it.” She paused and took a long breath. “At least… used to, when I played.”
In the sickly orange light of the sodium lamp suspended five stories above the street, Jonelle stopped and stared at her.
“OK, I’ll be quiet,” Pia said. “Do your thing.”
Jonelle’s expression softened. “Sorry, I forgot to mention something. You’ve only been on the job for a day, and you got a lot done, considering. Not just taking down al-Jabal—spotting the accomplice, figuring them for soldiers, catching the make and model of the car. You put all those things together yourself?”
Pia smiled. “Bodyguards talk about security everywhere I go. Been hearing it all my life.”
“The assassin part—you really think that too?”
“Only thing that makes sense,” Pia said. “Don’t you think?”
“You don’t want to prejudice your intake of the evidence. Compartmentalize your theories until you have something solid to back them up.”
“That wasn’t solid?”
“No,” Jonelle said. “But as theories go, not bad.”
“What’s your theory, then?”
“I don’t have one. But I do have statistics, and those show that the vast majority of murders involve a family member. On top of that, women are involved in most noncontact murders like poisoning and assassination. I’d take a close look at the wife.”
Jonelle turned in a slow circle, looked up at the buildings, roof lines, the doors of restaurants and shops that opened into the lane.
Pia looked at the same buildings, unsure what a hiding place might look like. Still close to the hotel, they were surrounded by offices closed for the night. Few places to hide. They walked up Rue Sismondi, working a grid uphill from the lake.
After looking at buildings the others already checked, Pia pulled out her phone and turned to the Internet. Jonelle and Marty kept pacing the grid, their eyes working every door and window. In the space of a city block, the neighborhood changed from tourist shops and cafés to sex shops and bars. A scattering of people strolled on the main streets. They turned down another narrow lane and worked it up to Rue Docteur Alfred-Vincent, then turned uphill again and made their way toward the next cross street, Rue de Berne.
“We’re trying to keep a low profile here,” Jonelle said. “It’s bad enough that you’re wearing your USA track suit, but put the phone away. You’re lighting up the street and making yourself a target.”
Pia clicked it off. “I was looking up the Objet Trouvé.”
“It was hijacked by pirates in Cameroon.”
Jonelle raised a brow. “Cameroon? Like the bus ticket?”
Up the hill, Agent Marty gave a low whistle and waved them over. They trotted to his position. From the edge of a building, he pointed down Rue de Berne at a group of narrow storefronts: Cartes Telephoniques, Barillon Hotel, Marrakech, Parfums de Paris, Funny Horse Saloon, Berne Shop.
Jonelle followed Marty’s gaze, checking the street, turned back to him and nodded. She said, “Worth a look. You take the back.”
Marty looked right down a long block, then left. And looked back at Jonelle. He shook his head. “No alley. Probably a closed courtyard inside the block. Access could be difficult. Let’s do a walk-by first.”
Jonelle and Marty turned into the larger street and took the sidewalk opposite the shops.
Pia tagged along, quiet for a few steps. Then she said, “Wait. What did you see?”
“We’re looking for an Arab.” Jonelle pointed across the street. “In twelve blocks that’s the only place we’ve seen with Arabic in the window.”
Pia glanced at the storefront and recognized two words: Marrakech and a huge OUVRET on a sign hung in a darkened window. Was the store open or closed? She crossed the street to have a look. Jonelle hissed her name, calling her back. She kept going—just a closer look from a public sidewalk, no big deal. She cupped her hands on the glass and looked inside. A modest store of fashionable dresses with Arabic motifs. Everything was dark except for a sliver of light coming from the back room.
She tried the door. It swung open and a bell tinkled. Pia stepped inside.
Jonelle crossed the street, pushed in behind her and hissed in her ear. “Jesus, what are you doing?”
Marty crossed to their side, looking left and right as he came.
Jonelle tiptoed through the small showroom, circling wide around a doorway at the back of the shop and disappeared from Pia’s sight. Light from the street did nothing but create silhouettes and cast shadows. The scent of Arabian jasmine filled the air. Pia found herself standing in the middle of the room, unsure of her next move. Her confidence drained away and left her cold.
A man’s voice called out in Arabic.
Her heart rate exploded into high gear. From his tone Pia assumed he expected someone, hence the open door, and was agitated by the silent approach. Jonelle gestured from behind a rack of clothing. Pia had no idea what the hand signal meant. Sounds of movement and another Arabic greeting floated from the back room, the voice sounding closer.
Pia pulled two hijabs off a shelf. She wound the cloth around her knuckles.
Lights erupted overhead.
A big man appeared through the small doorway. He shouted and pointed a gun in Pia’s face.
Jonelle pulled her gun and crouched, but she was two display racks away at the back of the showroom.
Half frightened and half angry, the man approached Pia, gun held steady.
Pia put her hands up, not quite raising them above shoulder level. The man took another step toward her. He glanced at the merchandise in her hand and demanded something of her in Arabic, then in French.
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. Do you speak English?”
He peered at her, his fear gone, his anger rising, and shouted again in Arabic. She took a step closer putting her left foot forward, tilting her ear toward him as if straining to understand him. She moved her shoulder just inside his gun, her hands still slightly above her shoulders but closing in, her face scrunched as if she were trying to translate his words.
He shouted again.
A face popped in from the back room: swarthy complexion, trim beard, haircut high and tight.