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.

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