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.

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