Chapter Three - Holding On

Quiet reigned as pre-sunrise light spread across the middle class suburban neighborhood. Rotted cedar fencing and the orange tile rooftops of neighboring homes framed the eastern mountains in a uniquely American backyard vision. Henry Thornburg puffed on a cigar while gazing at the mountains and curling his toes in the cool, damp grass.

He was lost in memories seemingly older than himself. In his head, children were playing happily on a swing set he had spent an entire day erecting. It had been worth every minute of labor for the smiles on their faces and the reassuring echoes of their laughter. A soft, feminine hand held his own as they watched from the shade of the porch. He had been different then, but it is not the individual moments that make a man; it is the journey between them and the choices made along the way.

Thornburg shook off the memories when he heard the glass door slide open behind him. He turned toward the noise and puffed a final cloud of smoke in the air. The past was not going anywhere, but the future loomed over him like a hurricane on the horizon. He extinguished his cigar in the ashtray held in his hand.

“They’re waiting.” The intruder said.

Thornburg nodded and stepped into the sandals he had discarded on the ground when he had first stepped out into the grass. He gave a single last look at the mountains as the sun peeked its head over them. A new day was beginning.

In the dark three-car garage twelve men were assembled and waiting for Thornburg. They were outfitted in black body armor and tactical gear, complete with gloves and helmets. Thornburg could not have looked more out of place, dressed in khaki shorts and an oversized Hawaiian shirt. With his gray hair and the yardstick waiving in his hand, he looked more like a schoolteacher than a tactical specialist, but no one in the room would dare say it aloud.

At the front of the garage, on the wall above the workbench, a map was hung. Scattered along it were a series of colored push pins and red, blue and yellow highlighter lines were drawn indicating routes between the marked locations. Thornburg called the men to order.

“Gentlemen, today marks the final operation of stage one. Our operations have thus far been an outstanding success, but that is only because throughout everything you have remained cautious and vigilant. Today must be no different.” Thornburg said.

He paused for a moment to let his words sink in with the gravity he felt they were due.

“Today’s target is the Huntington Beach branch of Liberty One. Escape routes are marked on the map, memorize them. Team one will enter from the north and exit to the south. Team two with rendezvous with team one at location green. Team three will proceed east from location green during the rendezvous. Team two will proceed south after the exchange and team one proceeds north. Extraction points are here, here and, here.” Thornburg said waving his yardstick to locations on the map as he spoke.

The twelve assembled men nodded their heads a single time in unison. Thornburg smiled.

“After today’s operation you have until next Friday to report to your new assignments. Be careful to cover your trails as previously discussed and make no attempt to contact your new commanders before scheduled. Good luck.” Thornburg said.

The twelve men split into three groups of four. Each group boarded their own waiting black cargo van. Thornburg exited the garage into the house as the garage doors rolled up. The engines roared to life and from right to left each van pulled out of the garage and headed up the road.


Kate McCormick hated working inside a cave without sunlight for days at a time, but that was the job she signed up for. In front of her a computer screen displayed data from multiple FBI investigations across the country. One in particular caught her attention as a possible lead of value. Attached to the file were three names, Robert Lewis, Aaron Cobb, and Christina Baines. Ordinarily the case would have held little interest for the agency Kate worked for but the combination of Baines, “seemingly unrelated”, and “possible pattern”, moved it up on the radar.

Kate printed out the relevant pages of data and quickly assembled a file. According to the FBI file they were moving in on the suspects in a matter of hours. If the team wanted to get involved there was not much time left. Were the investigation not in neighboring southern California they would already have been too late.

“Piper.” She called out to her boss.

Mark Piper was deeply involved in his own data sifting and did not take notice of McCormick straight away. She crossed the room to his station and laid a hand on his shoulder to interrupt him. He looked up at her with a curious smile.

“You have something?” He asked.

“I think so. Take a look.” She said.

He took the folder from her and quickly scanned over the documents.

“What does the analysis show?” Mark asked.

“No pattern found.”

“Do we have any indication Ms. Baines theory is correct?” Mark asked.

“Only past history and the fact Deputy Director Lewis has authorized air support for the surveillance.”

“Past history?”

“Yes. She’s the one who spotted the ANA pattern in Virginia.”

“Right. Okay, I’ll run it by the General. You, Johnson and Bailey get prepped. If the General gives the go ahead I want you airborne in a half hour.”

“You’re not coming?” McCormick asked.

“I think you can handle this without me, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” She said.

Mark took the file down the hidden corridor at the back of the room. General Harris was on the phone when he walked in and waved him to sit down and wait. Mark gestured at his watch to let the General know that time was of the essence. A moment later Harris put the phone down.

“What have we got?” The General asked.

“Baines may have identified another pattern.” Mark said.

“What’s the case?”

“Bank heists in Southern California. All analytical models have indicated no connection but Baines thinks about a dozen of them are related, all high takes.”

“You want to go after this?” The General asked.

“At first glance it appears to be outside the scope of our mission, but the amount of cash we are talking about here if they are related, could be financing something major.”

“I don’t see a direct connection here to our mission. However, I am not certain one does not exist. Run it as an observation, no interference in FBI operations at this time.” General Harris ordered.

“Done.” Mark said.


It was a beautiful afternoon on the beach. The sun was warm but not hot and the cool breeze off the ocean filled the air with the smell of salt and suntan lotion. Children played in the sand and water to the rhythm of beach music roaring from boom boxes while bicyclists, rollerblades and dog walkers paraded along the sidewalk of the Pacific Coast Highway.

No one noticed the black, unmarked Mercury Sable parked conveniently across from the Liberty One Bank. Inside the car, Christina Baines and Aaron Cobb watched for any signs of trouble. It had been an uneventful morning and the afternoon was shaping up to be no better.

Cobb’s cell rang.

“Any change?” Robert Lewis asked.

“Nothing.” Cobb replied.

“Another half hour and then I’m pulling the plug.” Lewis said.

Baines frowned at the news. In her gut she knew she was right about the bank. The only question in her mind was when but she had narrowed that down based on the armored car schedule. Leaving anytime before it arrived was out of the question to her.

“Tell him we have to hold until the armored car pick-up.” Baines said.

Lewis heard her over the phone and did not wait for Cobb to relay the message before replying to it.

“I’m way out on a limb here as it is Baines. There is just nothing to substantiate the amount of resources we are expending and every minute that goes by is just proving the point further.” Lewis said.

Cobb shrugged at his partner. He did not want to get in the middle but he knew as well as his boss that if she was wrong they would be hearing about the waste of resources for months if not years.

“Cobb and I can at least hold our position until then, just in case.” Baines said.

“Fine, but I can’t keep anyone else on it unless something happens.” Lewis said.

“Understood.” Cobb said.

He ended the call before anything more could be said. In the short time he had worked with Baines he had learned to trust her instincts and if she was wrong this time he was not about to hold it against her long term, but he had worked with Lewis long enough to know the man would not forgive the mistake anytime soon.

“Your theory made some sense to me and that’s why I’m here with you, but you should consider that maybe the analysts were right. There may not be any pattern or connection.” Cobb said.

“They’ll be here Cobb. I know it.” Baines replied.

Cobb took another sip of his now cold coffee instead of replying. She might be brilliant and a damn good agent but she was also stubborn as a mule, he mused. Baines sipped her own coffee and continued watching the traffic. Cobb looked straight over at the bank entrance, avoiding Baines’ gaze.

The timing could not have been worse. At the very moment Cobb looked over at the bank, a black van crossed over the lanes of traffic and came to a screeching halt in front of the bank. Before Cobb could even breathe the side door of the van flew open and three men leapt out wearing full body armor and carrying automatic rifles. Two of the men ran inside the bank and the third stared straight back at Cobb.

The two men immediately understood the significance and the danger posed by the other. Cobb started the engine realizing too late they were too close. The other man turned his rifle on the car and pulled the trigger. The street became an instant war zone as bullets began to pepper the car. Oncoming traffic in both directions began emergency breaking and cars swerved to avoid hitting each other and the gun toting maniac in the middle of the road.

The car’s tires squealed in reverse as Cobb floored the accelerator in a desperate attempt to get out of the line of fire. The rear bumper slammed into the car parked behind them and it was only the consternation of the drivers on the road that saved Cobb and Baines from the gunman.
As the traffic swerved around and came to screeching stops, the gunman lost his aim on the car from its movement backwards. Cobb jammed the gear shift into drive and floored it again this time steering straight at the gunman. Even as he brought his rifle to bear the car struck him and sent him flying through the air.

Cobb switched from accelerating to breaking but not quite fast enough. The car crashed into the side of the open van with enough force to crumple metal. Cobb’s head banged into the steering wheel and then as if an afterthought the airbag deployed. Baines was more fortunate, her seatbelt held her firmly in place.

Everything happened in seconds, but they were the critical seconds giving Baines the time she needed to react. In a single fluid motion she unfastened her seatbelt and drew her sidearm. The door handle worked but the door was slightly jammed. Through the window she saw the gunman rolling on the ground and raising his head to look at her. Their eyes locked for a second and he went for his rifle.

Baines pulled the door handle and kicked at it, this time the door swung open with a groan. She fired two shots at the gunman’s hand causing him to recoil away from the rifle on the street. Keeping her gun trained on the man, she began a cautious approach.

“Federal agent, don’t move!” She shouted.

Baines kept her eyes glued on the man on the ground. He lay groaning on his back nursing his hand. She could feel his eyes on her more than see them as she slowly closed the distance between them. To her right she heard a click and instinct took over her movements.

She leapt backward toward the car and van just in the nick of time. A barrage of gunfire erupted, sending bullets where she had stood only moments before. The man on the ground did not wait. He rolled back toward his rifle and picked up off the street as he went.

Baines realized she had only seconds and few places to go. She sprinted toward the front of the car where it had impacted the cargo van and rolled over the hood landing flat on her side on the opposite side of the car. More bullets flew, this time riddling the car and flattening the front tire on the passenger side.

Cobb, still dazed from hitting his head, threw himself out of the car and onto the ground. He took one look at Baines and then drew his weapon from his holster. Keeping low, he crawled to the backend of the car. He blinked trying to clear his vision and then peeked his head up to see where their assailants were. He ducked down just in time to avoid another barrage of fire.

Baines ducked under the front of the car with her sidearm and took aim at the closest man’s boot. She squeezed off two rounds and then rolled herself back up to take aim at the man over the hood.

“Fuck!” The man screamed.

She fired two more rounds aimed at his face armor and the man fell down back behind the front of the van. Before she could reassess the situation, gunfire from the other man forced her to take cover again. She looked over at Cobb who was screaming into his cell phone.

“We need back up, right fucking now!” He yelled. “Baines stay the fuck down, we got too many civilians in the line of fire.”

“They’ve got full body armor and automatic weapons, if we don’t hold them off we’re dead.” Baines replied.

Another round of gunfire shattered the car’s windows and showered the two agents in glass. Cobb grimaced and shook the glass off. Baines glared at Cobb as if the shattered glass were his fault.

“Two of them are in the bank.” She said.

“Backup is on the way, until they get here we hold.” Cobb said.

“By the time they get here these guys will be gone. Is the chopper still in the area?” Baines asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

“We need them to follow the van.”

“We can flatten those rear tires and they won’t be going anywhere.” Cobb suggested.

“Too many civilians in the way here. We are better off to let them get away.” Baines replied.

“I don’t think they’ll be leading us anywhere now that they know we are watching.” Cobb said.

“They’ll still get us away from here and with a little luck to someplace a little less crowded.”

“Letting them leave here is only going to endanger more people at this point. We wait for backup and then we take them down.”

“They haven’t taken hostages yet, but if we try to force a showdown here they have access to plenty. We need to let them believe they have the upper hand. Tell the backup to hold back until the van is clear.”

“Baines, this will get out of control if we don’t contain it.”

“Exactly, we contain it but we need to move it to a location on our terms. If we force things here, people are going to get hurt or killed.”

Cobb pressed his phone to his ear and spoke to the person on the other end while another barrage of gunfire riddled the car further. Baines could not hear what was being said but by the look on Cobb’s face she knew she was not going to like the conversation. He closed the call and shoved the phone back into his jacket pocket.

“As soon as the local police arrive we move in on the bank.” Cobb said.

“That‘s not a good idea.” Baines replied.

“Like it or not, we do things the way were told.”

“It’s a mistake.”

“We’ll see soon enough.” Cobb replied.

The van’s engine suddenly roared to life and even as Baines aimed her gun at the back tire, the van backed up taking the agent’s sable with it and sending Baines and Cobb sprawling to ground. Baines gun went off but the bullet punctured the rear bumper instead of the tire. She scrambled to re-aim but it was already too late. The van pulled forward and jumped up onto the curb, driving around the blocked traffic on the road.

The two shooters who had been holding the agents at bay made a run for the moving van. The one closets jumped in through the still open passenger side sliding door. The man Cobb had hit with the car was farther away and as he closed in, Baines fired three shots at him. While his armor protected him from any serious injury the shots slowed him down and the van did not wait. It squealed back on to the highway and took off at high speed leaving the man to fend for himself.

He turned his rifle back toward Baines and fired, forcing her to take cover behind the Sable again. Keeping his sights trained on the Sable he back walked toward a parked steel gray Volvo convertible. When he reached the convertible he pulled a set of keys from a vest pocket and fired another barrage of bullets at the Sable in the middle of the road. He jumped the door and shoved the keys into the ignition as he settled into the driver’s seat.

Meanwhile, Baines and Cobb had not stayed behind the Sable. Under cover they quickly moved to the beach side of the street where the convertible was parked. When the shooter jumped into the car, Baines went left and Cobb right. Just as his fingers gripped the key in the ignition, Baines shoved the muzzle of her gun into the side of the shooter’s neck.

“Put your hands on the steering wheel and don’t move another muscle.” Baines commanded.

The gunman considered his options before moving. He knew even at point blank range the handgun she held against him was unlikely to pierce his armor but that would not stop it from hurting and seriously bruising his neck. The injury alone he could live with but the pain would likely give her all the time she needed to disarm him. Either way she had him for the moment and he was smart enough to know he had a better chance at escape uninjured.

Slowly, he placed both his hands on the wheel at the ten and two positions. In a flash, Baines slapped a set of cuffs around his left wrist, shoved his head forward into the steering wheel and pulled his arm up into the middle of his back and then grabbed his right wrist and locked it in place behind him with the other bracelet. She opened the door and pulled him out of the car and face down onto the street to the applause from the other cars and passer-bys in the vicinity.

As if on cue three police cars pulled to a screeching halt several feet away with their sirens blaring. The officers exited with guns drawn. Baines and Cobb identified themselves although it was far from necessary.

“Get this man into a private cell and hold him. Nobody talks to him without myself or agents Baines’ permission.” Cobb ordered.

“Yes, sir.” The lead officer replied.

Cobb took his phone out and called back to Lewis to update him.

“We’ve got one of them in custody, three made their escaped in the van. Do we have air support?” Cobb said.

Baines climbed into the convertible and popped open the glove box. She pulled out a berretta, two extra clips and a folded map with highlighted routes marked on it. The car was void of any other effects. Baines got out with the map and unfolded it on the hood of the car.

“Cobb, take a look at this.” She called out.

He glanced at her and saw the map which raised his curiosity.

“Hang on, sir. Baines might have found something.”

He crossed the short distance to stand next to his partner. The map was of the entire state and all the major highways and interstates were highlighted in various colors. At first glance there seemed to be no correlation to the colors, but the look on Baines’ face made him wonder what she saw. The voice on the other end of the phone interrupted his thoughts.

“Wilkes, picked up your van from the air. It disappeared into a parking garage and two identical vans pulled out a few seconds later.” Lewis said loud enough that Baines could hear as well.

“Do we have units on both?” Cobb asked.

“Negative, the bank slipped transponders into the money packs and we are tracking them now. Wilkes confirms the van headed northeast has the money. I‘m coordinating with the CHP for a safe capture.” Lewis said.

“What about the other van?” Cobb asked.

“We don’t even know if it’s involved. Once the money is secured we’ll try to track it down. See if you can find out anything from the one you‘ve got and keep me informed.” Lewis said.

“We’ll do.” Cobb replied and put the phone away.

Baines folded up the map and jogged over to the Sable. She reached inside through the shattered passenger window. Baines grabbed the police radio and ran back across the street to the steel gray Volvo. The keys were still hanging in the ignition from where the gunman had tried to get away. Baines jumped over the door and landed in the driver’s seat in one fluid motion.

“What are you doing?” Cobb asked from the sidewalk.

“Get in. They’re getting away.” She said.

“The chopper has them covered. Let the CHP do their job.”

“They’re following the wrong van.”

“How do you know?”

‘Trust me.”

Cobb looked at her and shook his head.

“Damn it. Alright but maybe I should drive, you being new here.”

“I grew up on these streets, get in.”

Cobb opened the door and grumpily sat in the passenger seat. He did not like being a passenger but he knew there was no point in arguing with her. She turned the key and the engine roared to life. Before he could fasten his seatbelt they were speeding down the coast highway. He grabbed the radio.

“Wilkes, this Cobb. You there?” He said.

“You still in one piece?” Wilkes asked through the crackling radio.

“Barely. Baines says you are following the wrong van.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Can you give me the heading on the other one just to be safe?”

“South PCH headed for the five interchange, but it’s not them.”

“Thanks. Cobb out.”

“We’ll never catch up with them this way. We’ve got get over to the five now.” Baines said.

“There’s no quick route from here.” Cobb replied.

“I know. Wish we had siren.” She said.


Baines turned sharply to the left, taking them inland toward the freeway. She barely used the brake weaving through traffic at full throttle and ignoring every red light. Horns blared, hands waved, curses were shouted, and rude gestures were proffered, but they made the trip to the onramp in a third the time it would normally take.

Cobb patched the radio through to the CHP and coordinated tracking of the van with them. Baines kept the accelerator married to the floor and weaved from the carpool lane to the right shoulder through heavy mid-day traffic. Cobb’s knuckles were white as he held onto the radio as though it could save his life in the event of a collision. Baines never even blinked, no matter how close they got to other vehicles. The radio suddenly crackled to life with a panicked voice.

“Shots fired! Shots fired! Jesus Christ, they’re going to kill someone.” It screamed.

“Still think Wilkes is on the right van?” Baines asked.

Cobb just shook his head and held on as the Baines pushed the convertible to a new top speed. The wind whipped through their hair as she continued to weave through traffic as though it was standing still. Seconds ahead every lane was occupied with red break lights. Baines steered onto the shoulder without ever slowing down and whipped past the stopped cars.

At the front of the traffic jam were two motorcycle CHP and one car, weaving across all the lanes to keep traffic back. One of the motorcycle officers seeing them coming held his hand up in a signal to stop. Combined with the man’s fierce expression it might have done the job, but Baines simply held her badge up as they whisked by at 90 mph. Cobb signaled the CHP on the radio and informed them they had just passed the choke point in the steel gray Volvo as he realized Baines’ badge waving was little more than a joke at the speeds they were going.

The interstate was wide open before them. On the sides of the road were several wrecked cars, clearly victims of the pursuit. Two CHP cars were the worst with busted glass and bullet holes. One of the officers was on the ground and appeared to be shot. Cobb signaled for assistance on the radio.

Less than a minute later they could see the van ahead of them. It was the lone vehicle on the road. Baines slowed down so as to not overtake the van or get close enough to be a target. Cobb had expected her to be reckless in approaching the van but was nonetheless relieved when she slowed down.

“The CHP has two cars waiting about a mile ahead. They are going to attempt a PIT maneuver.” Cobb said.

What about the automatic weapons?” Baines asked.

“They know the risks but we’re running out of open highway.”

“What are you talking about, this goes all the way to Mexico.”

“There is a overturned semi about 30 miles ahead and traffic is backed up at a standstill ten miles before that.” Cobb replied.

“Shit.” Baines said.

“You can say that again.”

“Any chance we can force them off the highway?” Baines asked.

“We just passed the last exit before the jam up.”

“Tell the CHP we are going to attempt to get in front of the van when they move in for the PIT.” Baines said.

“You got a plan Baines?”

“Yeah, just don’t ask me what it is.”

“Let’s just hope the CHP can spin them out.”


On the highway, two black and white mustangs pulled up next to Baines and Cobb. The drivers nodded to the agents, signaling they were making their move. Baines allowed them to pull ahead. As they approached the van’s right rear corner, she accelerated, speeding passed the van on the left side.

One of the mustangs held back as the other maneuvered into position to bump the rear of the van with the hope of spinning it out and ending the high speed pursuit. The right side door of the van slid open in an instant. A body armored man leaned out of the van with his automatic rifle and open fired on the mustang. The bullets flattened both the front tire of the mustang before it could connect with the van.

Cobb’s radio crackled to life.

“That’s it. We couldn’t even get close.” The disembodied voice said.

Baines and Cobb exchanged a look of knowing.

“We’ve got a couple units up ahead to lay down a tack strip but they’ve already evaded two of them.” The radio continued.

“How much time left before we hit that traffic?” Cobb asked.

“At current speeds, less than 15 minutes.” The radio replied.

“We can’t allow them to reach all those people.” Baines said.

“Agreed, but I don’t see how we can stop them.” Cobb replied.

“Tell them to bring the rear traffic to a stop.”

“What are you planning?”

“Better if you don’t know.”


“Just make sure your seatbelt is fastened good and hold on to something.”

Cobb gave the order through the radio to stop the traffic. Baines accelerated hard putting the van miles behind them. When the van was no longer visible in the rearview mirror she slowed the convertible down and turned it around so they were facing the wrong direction and stopped.

Baines took her sidearm out of its holster and ejected the nearly spent magazine from its base. She grabbed a spare from her waist and slapped it in placed with a click. Cobb stared at her as if she had gone insane. She flicked the safety off and gripped the weapon firmly in her left hand.

“Baines, what the hell are you doing?” Cobb asked.

In the distance, the black van reappeared. It was quickly closing the distance between them. Baines responded by gripping the steering wheel at the top with her right hand and pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor. The convertible’s tires squealed as they struggled to grab traction and then sent the car careening head on for the van.

The left side door of the van slid open and another gunman leaned out with his rifle. Baines aimed her gun at the van and started squeezing the trigger in rapid succession. Her first shots hit the gunman and his rifle fell to the highway unfired. The next shots bounced around the left front tire until one finally pierced it causing a blowout.

The van’s driver lost control at the high speeds and the van swerved to the left. Baines dropped her gun in her lap and grabbed the wheel with both hands. The front left corners of the convertible and van collided sending the front of the van into the air. The convertible began to spin and Baines turned into it pushing the accelerator down further even though every reflex told her to break.

The van tipped over onto its right side with a loud thud, followed by metal screaming as it skidded on the asphalt. Just as Baines managed to pull the convertible out of its spin the back of the skidding van sent it spinning in the opposite direction until the center guard rail stopped it flat.

The van came to a stop against the guard rail in the shoulder. Six CHP cars swarmed in to surround the van even before the echoes of the skid died. The officers took cover behind their cars with shotguns and handguns drawn. Baines and Cobb sat still in the convertible for a moment catching their breaths and shaking off the stunning effect of their collision. Silence fell over the highway as if time had stopped.

Chapter Two - Sitting Down

“In the national news, twelve missing scouts in Virginia were found this morning during an apparent FBI raid on a local farm house. Two agents were shot during the raid, one was pronounced dead on the scene and the other remains in critical condition at this hour. None of the scouts were injured during the raid despite what officials are calling a deadly shoot out. More details to follow as they become available.

In local news, a rash of bank robberies continues with Fidelity Trust in Long Beach becoming the latest victim this morning. Unofficial accounts total the bank’s losses at $15 million. Police refuse to speculate on any leads but sources close to the investigation say that surveillance footage is being analyzed. Authorities continue to insist there is no evidence connecting the string of more than a dozen robberies beginning almost two months ago.

It’s 2:10 and 74 degrees in downtown LA and we’re kicking off another hour of commercial free rock ‘n roll.” The radio squawked.

The battery powered silver and black radio sat atop a messy workbench in a dimly lit three-car garage. Three men sat on stools nearby listening to the broadcast with rapt attention. Above them was a flickering shop light hanging on rusted chain from the rafters. The garage doors were rolled down closed and the decorative windows in them were blacked out with paint.

Outside in the sun it was warm, but inside the garage the cold cement floor put a slight chill in the air. A black cargo van sat on the single car side of the garage. Its engine clicked every few moments as it cooled from the morning’s activities. The van’s side door was slid open revealing a collection of army green duffle bags sitting inside.

None of the three men appeared to notice or care about the strong smell of gasoline or the faint odor of dried grass in the air around them. The three men were dressed identically in black garb reminiscent of military tactical gear. With their helmets on, it would have been difficult to tell them apart although not quite impossible.

The man closest to the workbench was clearly the youngest of the three. His bald head showed signs of the recent shearing which was likely also his first of many. Black steely eyes behind a ballpoint nose on an angular face gave the younger man a look of frightening intensity.

To his right, sat the largest man of the three. His broad shoulders gave him a tougher look than the other two. He kept his brown hair cut short and maintained a triangular patch of black facial hair on his chin. Squinty brown eyes and tight cheeks rounded off his appearance, giving him the look of a modern day devil incarnate.

Across from them, sat the oldest man. He was completely devoid of hair on top of his head with a spattering of gray hair clinging on the sides. His forehead showed the wrinkles of stress and age and even his eyebrows were showing a touch of gray in them. His nose crooked to the left side of his face and his lips were unusually thin and light in color. In general he was more relaxed than his companions and something about his demeanor suggested a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts would have looked more natural than the black garb he wore.

“Shut it off.” Squinty eyes ordered.

Ballpoint nose reached over and flipped the switch to off. The music stopped and the three men looked at each other in silence for a moment as they considered the ramifications of what they had heard.

“They failed.” Ballpoint nose said.

His snap judgment visibly ruffled Squinty eyes’ feathers. Ballpoint’s condescending tone demonstrated his youthful arrogance and lack of big picture perspective. Squinty eyes kept his opinion of Ballpoint to himself and spoke with an even tone as her replied.

“No, someone tipped the Feds off. We could have a leak.”

“It’s irrelevant. The Fed’s intervention was unavoidable in the long run. We continue as planned.” Gray hair said.

He eyed his two top subordinates carefully and considered the differences between them. Ballpoint could be rash and impulsive but his direct brand of dealing with the facts and calling them as he saw them, made him an invaluable resource for handling the unexpected.

Squinty had his solid value as well. His pragmatic views combine well with his analytical tendencies often giving him an edge in getting to the heart of any given problem. He could kill a man without a second thought or breaking a sweat but he would never do it without having first considered all the angles.

“Security will be increased. We’re going to need more money.” Squinty said.

Ballpoint grinned and it was a scary sight. His arrogance crept into his tone along with a barely suppressed laughed.

“That won’t be a problem.” He said.

Gray hair nodded his agreement with both men and his parsed lips broke into a crooked smile that oddly matched his crooked nose. It was time to bring things to a close and get back to the work that mattered.

“Virginia remains largely successful. Inform your teams we’re still on schedule.” Gray hair ordered.

Ballpoint and Squinty nodded at Gray hair before standing up and leaving through a side door into the house. From the shadows behind Gray hair, another man stepped forward into the light. He wore a gray suit that looked too tight in the shoulders and his shirt collar looked about to burst open despite a crooked red tie dangling from it. A jagged scar ran down his right cheek and disappeared into the collar of his shirt.

“We have a problem.” he said.


“No, but related. A field agent may have discovered a pattern in Oblivion.”

“I was under the understanding that Oblivion had no discernible pattern?”

“I have been assured any pattern was an anomaly and most likely the agent made an intuitive leap that is unlikely to be duplicated.”

“Threat potential?”

“Difficult to assess. She’s a trainee ready for graduation to field work, but she was wounded during the raid. Our sources indicate she will survive and could pose a threat in the long term, but Oblivion considers her irrelevant.”

“Do we have an opening to eliminate her?”

“Not without endangering our operations.”

“Alright, keep an eye on her. If she looks to be any more trouble make sure she has an accident.”

“Yes, sir.”


Mark Piper could never get used to being a passenger. While the rest of his team slept, he typed away on his portable computer. Paperwork was not his first choice of activities but it was universally better than pacing the passenger cabin of the 767 and it would give him a head start on explaining just what had gone wrong in the previous 72 hours.

The simplest answer was they had been duped. Mark did not like the answer anymore than he knew his superiors would but it would be the elephant in the room if no one would say it. All evidence pointed toward a sophisticated effort to get him and his team out of the country and in essence, out of the way. It was only through luck and resourcefulness the country avoided a disaster of epic proportions.

Anger remained insufficient to describe how he felt, but he kept it buried deep inside. As team leader he knew he could never allow any of them to know how he was feeling at anytime. Discipline and focus were more than ideals for Mark Piper, they were a way of life.

Somewhere deep in the Nevada desert the 767 touched down on a government airstrip. Ten passengers exited with Mark and quickly boarded a military truck. Mere seconds passed between them boarding the truck and it driving off toward a pair of rusted iron doors set in an arch of a red rock mountain. The door swung open to allow them passage and slammed shut behind them with a loud echoing clang.

Deep inside the red rock cavern, the truck came to a gentle stop before a shiny steel wall. Mark Piper and his team exited the truck and stepped up to a security panel by a door in the steel wall. There was a brief humming noise and a flash of light before the security panel turned green from red and the door clicked open.

The team stepped through the door into the circular room filled with computers and displays. By appearances it could have been in a building anywhere in the world, work stations adorned the walls and in the center of the room was a conference table. Along the perimeter of the room a dozen technicians worked diligently at consoles monitoring information from all around the world.

Mark’s team filtered into the room and sat down at their work stations. The frustration of their wild goose chase in Amsterdam was evident on all of their faces. Still, they held on to hope that in reviewing the misinformation leading them astray, they might find a real clue to help. Two years of work and none of them were yet sure just what or who they were up against.

Mark walked to the back of the room and entered a hidden corridor that led him into a further secured room filled with more computer systems displaying satellite data from around the world. General Harris paced the floor awaiting his arrival. When the door closed behind him the two men shared a knowing look.

“We got lucky on this one.” Harris said.

“Amsterdam was a decoy. Nobody ever showed.” Mark reported.

The general punched a few buttons on a console and large screens on the far wall lit up with maps of the Virginia and DC region. In large red text , “NO PATTERN FOUND”, was imprinted above the map.

“Why am I starting to feel like there is a pattern to these no pattern cases?” Mark asked.

“You may be right.” The general replied.

“How so?”

The military man punched a few more buttons and a picture of Christina Baines appeared on the screen. Mark inhaled sharply surprised to see her face. He looked at his boss wondering what she could possibly have to do with things.

“This young woman is quoted as having recognized a pattern in the Virginia bombing case.” The general said.

If possible, Mark looked even more surprised.

“What sort of pattern?” He asked.

“We don’t know yet.”


“She was shot during the raid of the farmhouse, her partner was killed. She’s stable but still listed as critical. I want you and Johnson in Virginia ASAP. Question her as soon as she wakes up and nail down this pattern.”

Mark sighed as he considered how to address the complications that would be created by his showing up at her bedside. In the end he decided on bluntness.

“I shouldn’t go.” Mark said.

“Why not?”

“Christina Baines is from my past, sir. She thinks I’m dead.”

The general looked at the file for Christina Baines again and wondered how it was that his team leader and this woman from nowhere might have crossed paths let alone had a past together. He shook his head at the coincidence, like so many events it seemed everything was connected, but with no reason behind any of it.

“Alright, send McCormick instead.” The general said.

The military man watched the face of his team leader for a moment and considered what kind of past he might have with the woman on the screen.

“Do we have an unresolved issue with your past here?” The general asked.

“No, sir. It was a long time ago. I just don‘t think it would be wise for her to become aware of me at this time.”

“Good. If this pattern checks out, I’m considering bringing her in to fill Howell’s spot.”

“Do you think that’s wise, sir? She has no real field experience.”

“She just single handedly stopped a terrorist cell from radiating Washington DC. I think that counts as real field experience.”


Two days later in a white hospital room under guard, Christina Baines opened her eyes for the first time. A nurse checked her vitals and pushed a button calling for a doctor while Christina grappled with identifying her whereabouts and collecting the pieces memory that constituted the last things having happened to her.

Realizing her mouth was incredibly dry, Christina looked around herself for a bottle of water. Seeing none in sight she turned her attention to the nurse.

“Water.” Christina said.

The nurse smiled sympathetically and patted her hand in a patronizing manner that made Christina’s blood pressure spike enough to cause a beep from one of the machines. The nurse realized this and stopped her patting Christina’s arm and instead bit her lip in slight embarrassment.

“I’ll go get some and you can have it as soon as the doctor says it’s okay.” The nurse said.

Christina rolled her eyes at the absurdity just as the doctor entered the room. He looked scornfully at the nurse, clearly having overheard at least some of the exchange and making the obvious connection.

“Of course, Ms. Baines can have a glass of water.” The doctor said.

Christina interpreted the statement as more for her benefit than any concern the nurse would withhold water. The Doctor picked up the chart from the foot of the bed where the nurse had left it. He clucked to himself as he reviewed his patient’s condition.

“How are you feeling?” He asked.

“Thirsty and tired.” Christina replied.

“Any pain or discomfort?”

“My chest feels tight.”

“With good reason. Are you having any difficulty breathing?”


“Good. All good. Do you recall what happened?”

Christina closed her eyes for a moment.

“Yes.” She said.

“Well the good news is the bullet passed through you and left no permanent damage. The bad news is it still did some damage that will take time to heal and as a result you won’t be going anywhere for a little while.”

“I can live with that.”

“We’ve got you on some painkillers at the moment but starting tomorrow I want to start weaning you off them. That means you’ll experience some discomfort and we want that so far as you can handle it and still rest. Okay?”

Christina nodded. The nurse returned with a glass full of water and a straw sticking out of it. She held it in front of Christina and helped her put the straw in her mouth.

“Try to drink slowly.” The nurse warned.

Christina sipped cautiously enjoying the moisture in her mouth more than trying to quench a thirst.

“If you feel up to it, you have some visitors. If not I can have him come back in the morning.”

Christina nodded that it was okay. The doctor nodded and escorted the nurse out with him making sure to leave the water with Christina. Christina did not know the two people who entered the room at that moment but by the looks of them she made them for agents of the government.

The large man who would have intimidated a bouncer at any establishment, closed the door for privacy and stood with his back to it. The other, an attractive woman in her thirties with blonde hair, came to Christina’s bedside.

“I’m agent McCormick, this is agent Johnson, we have a few questions for you if you feel up to it.” The woman said.

Christina nodded. Agent McCormick opened a file with a printed map marked with the locations in Virginia and DC that Christina had identified during her hunt for the terrorists.

“Agent Merrick and agent Miles both recall you mentioning a pattern in these locations.”

“Yes.” Christina replied.

“Could you elaborate on the ma’am?” McCormick asked.

“I’m not sure. It was more of a feeling.”

“A feeling?”

“Yes, I couldn’t pin it down but there is something there, the locations are definitely connected.”

“What connects them?”

“It’s weird, but connect the dots.” Christina said.

“Pardon me?”

“Do you have a pencil?” Christina asked.

McCormick handed Christina a pen instead. Christina took the file and quickly drew lines between two separate groupings of the locations. The first formed an outlined character of “1” and the second a “2”.

McCormick looked at it, stunned that no one had noticed. Johnson stepped from the door to look at the map himself and blinked as though he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Twelve? What does it mean?” Johnson asked.

McCormick shrugged.

“It’s really odd.” Christina said.

Johnson and McCormick nodded their agreement.

“We will be in touch, Ms. Baines. Thank you for your help.” McCormick said.

The two agents left the room quickly wondering if the other cases held a similar message that had been missed.

A moment later Merrick entered the room.

“Good to see you awake.” He said.

Christina nodded to him. She was torn on whether to ask the question plaguing her mind or to simply ignore it and hope he answered it first.

“Did we stop it?” She asked dodging the real question in the room.

“Yes, you stopped it.” He replied.

He shifted uncomfortable wondering if now was the time to tell her or if it would best to wait. She closed her eyes and decided not knowing would be worse than whatever the answer would be.

“Jack?” She asked.

Merrick breathed in sharply before replying. He shook his head from side to side.

“He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.” He said.

Christina laid back into the pillow and squeezed her eyes closed on the tears threatening to come. If there were more words from Merrick she refused to hear them, the responsibility for the death of a partner and a friend lay squarely and heavily on her shoulders. She could not see it, but Merrick felt the same weight on his own shoulders and the weight of her injury as well.


Six weeks later, Robert Lewis exited the elevator on the 32nd floor in a Los Angeles high rise. In front of him, the office was bustling with activity and to an outsider it might have looked like chaos, but to Bobby it was the workings of a well-oiled machine. His eyes scanned over the room of agents under his charge and finally settled on an older man pounding away at a keyboard with his two index fingers. His white shirt was wrinkled and his burgundy tie was loosened and draped over his right shoulder. It was 8 AM but he looked like he had been working for eight hours already.

Lewis smiled to himself and said, “Cobb. My office. Now.”

Lewis did not wait to see if he was obeyed. He proceeded directly through the mass of desks and agents into his office. He hung his jacket on a hook on the backside of the door. With an squeak as grating as it was irritating, he adjusted himself to some semblance of comfort in his sorry excuse for an executive chair. Cobb entered the office with a questioning look on his face.

“Close the door.” Lewis said.

With the door closed Cobb sat down on the plastic chair in front of Lewis’ desk.

“What’s up boss?” He asked.

Lewis tossed a manila folder at him. “Early Christmas present. That’s your new partner.”

Cobb opened the folder and immediately his blood pressure went up.

“What the hell, Bobby? I’ve got a six month back log of bank robbery cases. I don’t need an academy pup to follow me around. I need a real fucking partner!” Cobb said.

“Calm down Aaron. In case you forgot, I’m running this department now and I do know all about your case load. You are also the most competent agent I have. This isn’t a punishment for God’s sake. I can’t trust anyone else around here to train this one right.”

“Christ Bobby! Do you ever stop and smell that stuff you’re shoveling? You’ve got Sanders, Ryan, and Wilkes out there. Any one of them could handle a trainee right now. I’m not doing this, if I have to go over your head, I will.”

“You go over my head and you’ll find yourself in early retirement before you can hang up the phone. Listen Cobb, this one is different. I put her with any of these others and she’ll be calling the shots with them in two weeks or less. She’s already more competent than most of the agents out there. According to Alan Miles, she’s the best recruit he’s trained in a decade.”

“I don’t care if she’s J. Edgar Hoover incarnate. I don’t have time to--” Cobb interrupted himself as Lewis’ last words sunk in. “Alan Miles said what?”

“Read the file Aaron. She’ll pull her weight in no time. Give it a week and if you still think she’s a pup, I’ll reassign her. Deal?”

“I can’t ever just tell you no, can I? It’s a deal Bobby, but if she makes one mistake…” Cobb trailed off without finishing the thought. Both men knew the ending anyway.

Aaron Cobb was back in Lewis’ office with high blood pressure. This time, he wasn’t alone. In just three weeks of working with his new partner she had gained his respect and his trust. She stood next to him looking the professional agent in a smart navy blue suit. Her dark hair was tied back, neatly out of the way. There was stiffness in her stance that displayed her respect for the two men with her but her tone demanded that the respect be paid back to her in kind.

“I know all the analytical models say these jobs are unrelated, but they’re wrong. Look at the connections; All the jobs were done precisely two hours before their vaults were due to be emptied, Each of them have six men inside and six men outside, their take was approximately the most money any of them ever have on hand, in each case they knew all the security points, from dye bags to vault lockdown and silent alarms. These were professional hits and they are being carried out by one group.” Christina Baines said without stopping despite her two companions attempting to interrupt her several times.

“We can confirm on the video the men inside and out have been different from each job. They are not related.” Lewis said.

His tone conveyed he was unlikely to change his position.

“It is clearly a large, organized group and they are related. The computer even notes that some of the men could be the same. It only states that they aren’t all the same at any two jobs.” She said.

She continued arguing her point with as much conviction as Lewis opposed it with.

“Cobb?” Lewis turned to the senior agent and asked.

“She’s got some valid points, but I don’t know, it seems far-fetched.” He responded.

“Look if I’m right the next target is right here.” She said with her finger pointing on a map that was spread out on Lewis’ cluttered desk. “They will hit it tomorrow at 1:15PM and all I’m asking is that we have the backup to stop them if I’m right. What will it hurt?”

“First off, if you’re right, and that is a mighty big if agent Baines. If you’re right, I’m not sure stopping them is the right move. The situation has the potential for a lot of civilian casualties in a very public and messy shootout. If you’re right there is a large organization backing this, and there hasn’t been a criminal organization like that since the 1930’s. Stealth would be the better way to proceed. Find the whole lot of them and arrest them where civilian interaction can be kept to a minimum.” Lewis said

He finally sounded like he was finally considering the prospect.

“If we are going to follow them, we’ll need air support, Bobby.” Cobb spoke up.

“You are the senior agent on this case, Aaron. It’s your call, but if she’s wrong you can explain it upstairs. Those aerial units cost a fortune out of the budget and they don‘t like them going on wild goose chases.”

“I may regret it, but have them on stand by.” Cobb said after a long pause.

Chapter One - Waking Up

Sunrise was not for another two hours, but it did not matter. Christina’s cell chirped cheerfully from the nightstand beside the bed. She pulled a pillow over her head and groaned into it. The man beside her opened his eyes and stared at the digital clock in the darkness. Christina sat up and grabbed the phone, flipping it open and pushing it to her ear.

“Hello.” She said.

The grogginess of sleep left her face as she listened to the voice on the other end. The man beside her sat up and donned an expression of concern as he watched her listening to the voice on the phone.

“Now, sir?” She asked.

“Yes, sir. I’m on m way.” She said.

Christina closed the phone and set it back down on the stand. Without looking at him, she pushed herself out of bed and headed to the shower. A moment later he followed her in.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“Nothing. I have to go is all.” She said.

“It’s four in the morning.” He said.

The look on his face said he did not understand. Christina smiled at him, he was a nice guy, sweet, but he would not last. Part of her wondered if she would ever be fortunate enough to find a man capable of lasting in her life. The rest of her pushed such thoughts aside as trivial and irrelevant. There would be time for men later and if not, none of it mattered anyway.

When she left he was sitting in a chair staring at her. His eyes were sad and they said every word he did not know how to say. She gave him one final look as she closed the door. He was nice to look at and she knew he probably would not be there when she came back. The click of the door latching was goodbye and they both knew it, though neither said it aloud.

Fifteen minutes later, Christina was crammed in the back of a black Chevy Suburban. No one was talking as the vehicle sped up the highway in a convoy of identical SUV’s. Christina knew there was nothing to be said. They all had received a nearly identical call and now they were heading off to an unknown location for an unknown reason. There was only a single certainty in the unknowns; it was no training mission.

The convoy exited the road and pulled off onto a grassy field. There was a single, large tent erected and beneath were a handful of men drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups. Christina stepped out of the vehicle and onto the grass just as a boom of thunder echoed through the field. She looked off into the distance and watched another bolt of lightning scorch the sky. Silently she counted the seconds until the resulting thunder reached her ears. Twelve.

She pushed her way under the tent to join the rest of her assembled peers. It was impossible to see from the back where she stood but the voices were enough to convey the seriousness of the situation. An uneasy silence fell over the crowd as a man at the front asked for their attention.

“Is everyone here now?” The man asked.

“Yes, sir including a dozen of our best trainees. We have about another hundred agents on their way, but given the deadline they mostly likely won’t arrive in time.” Another male voice responded.

“My name is Merrick. For those of you who don’t know me, I am the special agent in charge of DC operations. Three days ago we intercepted internet communications indicating an imminent attack on the east coast. The threat was classified as credible and a full scale investigation began.
Twenty-four hours ago satellite imagery located a moving radiation signature classified as probable nuclear material. Verified tracking of the signature lasted for thirty-two seconds before the signature was cloaked, likely being encased in a sealed lead container. We were able to narrow our search to DC and surrounding communities.

Three hours ago, we received a pre-recorded message from a group calling themselves the Alliance for a New America, or ANA as they are better known. One hour ago we captured the man believed to have built the bomb for ANA. Through interrogation we have secured information to shut down the detonator.

The important details are as follows;

One: The President will not negotiate with nor acquiesce to the demands of terrorists.

Two: The deadline has been set at 8:00AM

Three: We must assume the threat is credible and imminent.

Our job is to find the bomb and shut it down. Interrogators are continuing to pry information which may help narrow our search, but in the absence of new information we will conduct a street by street search. Profilers have highlighted the most likely positions and we will begin with them.

Agent Andrews has your team assignments. Trainees report to Agent Miles for your assignments.”

As the crowd dispersed, Christina made her way to the front. The grim faces worn by all were testaments to the near hopelessness they faced. Gathering with her fellow trainees, Christina felt overwhelmingly small and insignificant. If agents with years and even decades of experience were not equal to the challenge then how could she hope to provide any assistance of worth?

Agent Miles faced the gathered trainees. He was not a stranger to them. He had overseen their Bureau training for the last several months. Christina looked at those who were standing with her and she knew without doubt she was with the finest in her class. She was proud to stand with them, to be counted as one of them.

“As none of you are agents yet, this is strictly a voluntary assignment. All I ask is that if you have any thoughts that you might not be up to this today, leave now.” Agent Miles said.

No one so much as flinched.

“As you just heard, we are short handed and because you are my best students I have nominated you to help here today. You won’t be entering the field but you will be providing a vital role here, helping to coordinate our teams with the best information our analysts can offer.” Agent Miles continued. “Baines, Williams, you two are on maps. Keep track of all team locations and mark off all areas as they are cleared.”

Christina Baines tuned out the rest of the assignments and moved off with Jack Williams to study the maps. The two had been paired up in their first week and were comfortable working together. Jack handed her a box of push pins and began reading off team assignments for her to mark. Agent Miles approached them as she inserted the last pin.

“Everything under control here?” He asked.

“Yes, sir.” They replied.

“Sir?” Christina asked.

“You have a question Baines?”

“More of a request, sir.”

“Spit it out.”

“It appears we are going to have a bit of down time.” She began.

“If you think this work is beneath you, you are welcome to go home.”

“It’s not that sir. I was hoping I could get a look at the data.”

“You think you might find something that our best experts missed?” Agent Miles asked.

“I uh…” She stuttered, suddenly feeling unsure of herself.

“Let her look at it.” Merrick said.

Merrick had been working at a nearby table and did not even turn to look at them, but his order was clear enough. Agent Miles looked annoyed but made no more objections. He pointed her to a portable computer where he logged into the secure files.

Christina was not sure whether it was appropriate or not to offer gratitude so she kept quiet and sat down at the computer. Methodically she began reviewing page after page of compiled information. She scanned each page without really reading the analyses but allowing the raw data to percolate in her consciousness.

The information on the suspects was sparse but it did give sightings and likely locations. The more she looked at it the more she felt certain there was a pattern emerging but it was elusive. She scrolled through the information and began marking key locations on a map.

Agent Miles paced behind his trainees, insuring they were on top of the their assignments. He kept glancing at his watch and shaking his head. Every so often he would pause behind Christina Baines and peer over her shoulder at the computer screen. On his latest pass, Merrick joined him and the two men looked at the map she was creating with puzzlement.

“There’s a pattern here. I can feel it.” Christina said.

“If there is, everyone has missed it. The computers determined the locations were completely random.” Merrick said.

Christina looked behind her, startled that anyone had heard her. Then her eye fell on the newspaper in Merrick’s hand.

“Can I see that?” She asked.

Merrick handed it to her. She unfolded it to see the front story in full. It was about a missing scout troop of ten year old boys. Three days ago they had gone missing on a hike. Christina pulled up the location on her map and searched for nearby structures. The result came up with three, she marked them on the map.

“What are you doing?” Agent Miles asked.

Merrick scowled at the screen.

“Sir, excuse me sir!” a trainee called out.

“What is it?” Miles asked.

“We’ve got a confirmed rad signature at location violet. Should I have all teams converge?”

Merrick looked between the trainee and Christina’s screen for a moment as if he was unsure. The data on her map was starting to make a small amount of sense to him but then the computers had confirmed there was no discernible pattern.

“Roll all cars. Tell them to hold until I arrive. Miles, you're with me.” Merrick ordered.

“It’s a feint, sir.” Christina said.

Merrick turned to look at her.

“It all adds up. They’re in the hills here. The winds will carry the material for them they don’t need to be that close. I’m positive of it.”

“I can’t risk this operation on a hunch Baines, and especially not when we have a solid lead.”

“I understand, but what is the risk of Williams and I checking this out? If I’m wrong no harm done but if I’m right it could make all the difference.” Christina said.

“Alright.” Merrick took a set of keys out of his pocket and threw them to her. “Take my car and check it out. You don’t make a move without contacting me first, understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Miles, you’re driving.”

* * * * * *

Christina studied the decrepit farm house on top of the hill. Weeds, dead grass and bare dirt surrounded by a flimsy chain link fence constituted the yard. The house itself seemed to be made of nothing but rotting wood supported on the backs of not so well hidden termites. The remnants of paint curled up and away from the planks and then back into them. Overhead, rain threatened to fall and in the distance a flash of light and thunder echoed the mood.

Christina watched as Jack Williams put the car in park. Together, they stared again at the instrument on the dash. They looked each other in the eye, neither quite ready to speak. Christina looked back up the hill at the house and took in a deep breath. Jack closed his eyes and spoke, “Do you think this is it?”
She looked back at the instrument on the dash and then again at Jack. Her tone was sarcastic when she answered, “Maybe we just found the nation’s most secret launching site.”

“Right. I better call Merrick.” He said.

“I’ll check the perimeter.” Christina said and exited from the car.

She removed her sidearm from its shoulder holster and released the safety as though she’d been doing it all her life. Her heart throbbed in her ears and adrenalin shot into her veins. She stayed low to the hill wishing her clothing choice for the day had been beige instead of black. Circling up the hill toward the front of the property she spotted an open window on the side.

Cautiously she moved closer to the fence in the hope she might be able to hear something. The sounds of murmuring voices spilled out into the cool air. Unable to understand the words she focused instead on the variations in pitch. “Four, maybe five.” She thought to herself before making her way back to the car and Jack.

“You were right, it was a feint. They‘re on their way here but the clock is winding down and Merrick doesn‘t think they‘ll get here with enough time.” Jack said as soon as Christina arrived. He was standing by the open trunk with his own sidearm trembling in his right hand. The look on his face confirmed the worst.

“Merrick wants us to go in?” She asked although it wasn’t really a question.

Jack nodded and said, “It’s your lead, Chris. I can’t decide right now whether you’re lucky or cursed. How the hell did you figure this out?”

“I don’t know, it just made sense to me. Why couldn’t Merrick have listened to me? Never mind that now. How long do we have left?”

“Ten minutes, a little less.” He said and holstered his gun in favor of the shotgun resting in the trunk. He filled his pockets with extra shells.

Christina grabbed six extra magazines for her sidearm, stuffing them into the waistband of her slacks. “I guess training is over, huh?”

“I was expecting my first storm would be with an experienced agent and a shit load of back up. All said though, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be here with.” Jack said with a smile and the best look of support and confidence he could muster.

“Thanks,” She replied. “There is an open window on the east side. I heard voices coming from it so it is probably well covered. I’d bet they know we’re here and that we are going to make a try. Our best bet is probably the rear door, it has poor coverage from the inside and we can make a clean approach. We stay in tight formation and move fast. If they decide to detonate early it’ll be a million people dead. You with me, Jack?”

“Yeah. Merrick said the whole thing is timer driven. Once it was set the only thing that can be done is to stop the timer. I’ve got the shut down code in my jacket pocket. What about the scouts?”

“We can’t be sure they are here or even alive. You heard Merrick this morning, everything is secondary to shutting that bomb down. We do what we can for them, but we can not hesitate in there.” Christina said with a heavy tone in her voice betraying her true feelings on the matter.

“Alright. I’ve got your back.” Jack said.

They moved together up the hill and stormed the back door. They split to either side of it and then in a flurry of motion, Jack spun and kicked hard into the door. The crack of splintered wood and the slam of the heavy door onto the floor was nearly lost in the barrage of gunfire from within. Jack narrowly turned out of the bullets path and his face paled as he realized how close to death he had just come. He signaled Christina with his left hand, indicating there were three men.

Christina turned into the doorway just enough to give her right eye a view and her gun a clear shot. It was a risky move but time was against them and they could not afford to be stalled. She squeezed off two rounds before retreating. The sound of metal clanking to the floor was followed by a hollow thud that could only be a body falling. She had hit her mark. The response from inside was immediate. A second barrage of gunfire erupted, spraying the doorway with splintering wood.

Christina could hear the whisper of footsteps getting closer. The look on Jack’s face confirmed what she felt, they were in trouble. The sound of gunfire was suddenly replaced by a single echoing click. Either the gun was empty or it had jammed. Jack and Christina didn’t wait to find out. They turned into the doorway and took their advantage. Jack rocketed off a shot gun blast that hit the first man square in the chest and threw him backward. Death had come as a surprise to him and his face would forever show it. Christina fired a single round into the second man catching him center forehead. He twitched as he dropped first to his knees and then face down onto the floor.

They were in. Quickly they moved up the hallway past the dead. Christina stopped as she came to an opening on the left side. Jack paused opposite her and silently indicated the immediate view was clear. She turned into the opening, gun first. A quick gaze around the room confirmed it was empty, but a shadow at the far side gave away the location of at least one more gunman. As she moved toward the empty room positioning herself to attack the owner of the shadow a boy’s scream turned the world upside down.

From her half in the room, half in the hall location she saw the young boy first. Jack had turned with his shotgun aimed straight ahead at the boy and the man behind him with an assault rifle. The assault rifle was pointed at Jack and he registered the reality but he was all too aware of the consequences for the young boy if he fired his own gun. Christina tried to alter her momentum and angle for a clear shot.

The assault rifle fired. Jack Williams threw himself at Christina and they crashed into the empty room and rolled on the floor. Christina knew it had all gone bad in that instant. She felt the warm gush of blood on her as they rolled to a stop. She had no need to check herself for wounds, she knew it was not hers. Jack’s eyes blinked at her. For an instant there was nothing but the two of them. Reality intruded as the gunman dragged the boy down the hallway with him. Christina grabbed her sidearm from the floor just as he entered the room. Even as he swung his aim toward her, she fired.

The man dropped to the ground cursing her to his death. The boy stood in place petrified with fear. Christina‘s subconscious told her the shadow had moved. Her gun hung open and empty in her hand. Reflex took over as she heard the creak of wood giving away the shadow‘s new location. Her fingers expertly ejected the empty clip and even as it fell to the floor she grabbed a spare from her waistband and locked it in place.

The boy remained unmoved as the latest gunman entered the room firing his rifle as he went. Christina dived into the boy carrying him into the hallway and knocking the gunman off balance. He couldn‘t turn quick enough. She unloaded the full clip into him and replaced it all in the breath of a moment. The fifth man lay dead. Christina turned to the boy.

“Are you hurt?” She asked.

He looked at her in silence.

“Are you hurt?” She asked again putting her hand on his shoulder.

“N-no.” He finally spoke in a whispered voice.

“Are there others like you?”


“Where are they?”

"D-down the st-stairs in the b-basement.”

“Are there more guards?”


“How many?”


“Okay. You are going to be alright. I want you to go straight out that door and run until you get to the street. Don‘t look back just run. Can you do that?”


“Good. Now go.”

The boy ran out the way Christina and Jack had come in. Christina checked her watch and saw that she was quickly running out of time. She hurried to Jack and knelt down next to him. He was still alive but his breathing was shallow and he was no longer conscious. She reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a small white notepad with a sixteen digit code written on it. She started to move on toward the basement stairway and stopped. She reached into his jacket again with her left hand and pulled his sidearm from its holster.

“Hang on Jack. I‘m going to stop that bomb and then we will get you some help. Just hang on.”

Armed with a gun in each hand, Christina Baines moved with precision to the basement stairway. She paused at the top to listen for any sign of what she was facing below. Only silence remained and that was going to be a problem. Her footsteps would echo on the concrete steps as she descended and she knew there was no place to gain cover. The armed men below had every advantage including time.

It was an impossible journey. Christina knew it and equally knew there was no other option. She pressed herself as tightly as she could to the left wall and began the decent on her tiptoes. Every noise she made was amplified a hundred times in her ears. Amazingly she made it halfway down before she was heard. The instant she saw the man below with his rifle pointed up the stairs, she squeezed her triggers and jumped the remaining distance straight at the man below. Her shots killed him before he had a chance to fire his own weapon and even as the other two scrambled toward the stairs she was firing at them using the body of the man she had just killed to protect her.

In all the shootout had lasted mere seconds. Christina looked around the room and saw the scared faces of nearly a dozen boys. Lying on the floor in front of them was her true destination, a bomb on a timer sitting on top of a case full of nuclear waste.

The countdown clock showed only forty seconds remaining. Quickly she knelt before it, dropping her guns and pulled the pad with the shutdown code from her pocket. She breathed a sigh of relief when the timer shut off and deactivated with 12 seconds remaining.

Christina only then returned her attention to the others in the room with her. The boys were all terrified. For some reason even the deactivation of the bomb had not eased their fear. A noise behind her alerted her as to why. In her hurry to deactivate the bomb she had laid her guns down on the floor. They were useless to her there and she kicked herself for being so foolish and not checking the room before disarming herself.

She made the only choice she could. She took a chance and grabbed for the guns while throwing herself to the side. Just as her right hand closed around the handle she felt the biting sting of a bullet pierce her chest despite the protective vest she wore. The instant reaction to the pain was for her hand to release the gun and let it fall to the ground. She collapsed on the cold cement floor and prepared herself for the end.

The man was foolish though. He had her. He could have ended it all right then but out of some misconceived concept of idealism he felt the need to stand menacingly over her. He got close and looked her in the eye. “Now you die, bitch!” He said with as much venom in his voice as humanly possible.

She snorted a half laugh and kicked him hard in the groin with her right leg. At almost the same moment she used her left leg to propel her up and with her left hand she grabbed at his gun forcing the barrel up to his chin and then it went off. Christina backed away as the man looked at her in shock and pain.

His mouth opened as if to say, “How?” Instead of words a trickle blood flowed out and he stumbled backward and then fell to the floor.

Footsteps pounded on the stairs. Christina lunged for her dropped weapon with her left hand. She pointed it at the base of the stairs and waited to see the eyes. When she saw them it took every bit of self-control not to pull the trigger. A familiar face this time, a friendly face.

“Baines! The bomb?” He said.

“Deactivated, sir.” She replied.

“Are you alright?”

Christina collapsed to the floor at that moment. Adrenalin had run out. The man ran to her and lifted her heard from the floor. It was only then he saw the blood gushing from her chest.

“Get a medic! Right NOW!” He shouted.