I always painted my fingernails right before an op and cleaned 'em off again once we were back. Pure black, scuff 'em a bit to get rid of the glossiness, and put a tiny dot of dark green right in the center of the thumbnails. It was a good-luck ritual I did that I'd picked up years ago, well before I was recruited into the Foundation, back when I was dating this goth chick.
Pretty much everyone on the squad had something they did to ensure they'd come back alive and in one piece: Parker spent a couple of hours praying to Ganesh; Ng made sure she got laid the night before; Nokigawa would field-strip every weapon we'd be taking, clean every part, and put them back together; Lewis always started telling whoever would listen the worst, most "hilarious" jokes he'd heard since the last op. Chief just vanished for about a half-hour. I don't think anyone really expected this shit to make a difference, but with all the weird shit in this world, you never know, right?
So I was listening to Lewis tell this god-awful story about two Chinamen and a horse while waiting for my nails to dry, and this kid walked into the briefing room with a pile of folders and loose papers. She couldn't've been more than 25, 26, and looked really damn nervous. A newbie for sure; the ones who'd been around a while knew better than to bother an MTF when we were doing our prep. She looked sideways at Lewis and me, like she was expecting him to stop telling his story and stand to attention in front of her or something. Me, I just laughed a little. Let Lewis think it was at his joke.
The newbie put down her stack on the table up front and stood there awkwardly for the next 15 minutes, as everyone straggled in, Chief being last. Once everyone was seated, she cleared her throat and started talking as she passed out the folders.
"Welcome to today's briefing. Two weeks ago, Intelligence identified a potential humanoid SCP in Liverpool. There was some online chatter about a girl who would make incredibly realistic chalk drawings on the pavement outside her residence, and someone spotted her jumping into one of the drawings and posted a video online.
"A field agent staked out the address and kept the child under surveillance until yesterday afternoon, when he confirmed this anomalous behavior by observing her jumping into a picture of a green field. He also observed her return 20 minutes later, which included her grasping the hand of an unknown creature before it fell back into the drawing."
I opened my folder while she was talking. First thing was a photo of the kid. She looked to be about 8 or 9, average looking, long red-brown hair framing a chubby little face. Lots of freckles. The rest of the file was probably a dossier on everything about her from her name to which brand of toothpaste her mum buys to where daddy dearest gets his petrol. The same useless shit they always hand us.
"You will be providing back-up to a retrieval team who will be securing the SCP today on her walk home from school. We don't anticipate any complications, but want to be prepared in case she can do anything else unusual with chalk. You'll be issued the standard low-profile urban equipment and will rendezvous with the retrieval team in 3 hours. Are there any questions?"
Very new, then. This sounded like a standard snatch-and-grab and we all knew that you didn't want the answers to the questions we'd learned to ignore, like "What's going to happen to her family?" or "Is she ever going to see the light of day again?" Instead, we stared at her in silence for about a minute until she started fidgeting.
"I guess you don't, then. Your transport will be leaving in 20 minutes. Good luck."
Ah, just enough time to get the dots on, then put the polish in my locker.
It was a gorgeous day out. The sun was shining in a deep blue sky, there was just enough of a breeze to cut the heat, and there was even a faint flowery smell on the breeze. God knows what flower, but it smelled good. The kind of day that made you glad to be alive and out in the world. The only problem was that it was too quiet. If the kid started screaming, we'd have to hustle her off the street fast before someone peeked out their window at us. Still, it was the job of the retrieval guys to keep it from getting that bad.
In the meantime, the squad was spread out in a loose formation. I was slowly riding a bike about a block in front of the kid. Parker was dressed up as a postman and was walking down the street in the opposite direction. Nokigawa was dressed as a gardener and trimming the hedges of a house we knew was empty. Ng and Chief were in a supply van with the heavy gear. Lewis was off somewhere in a good sniper position, god knows where. Everyone in place and waiting for the retrieval guys to make their move.
They'd just reported over the earpieces that they were moving in when I heard a big engine roar behind me. Parker and Chief started swearing and I swung around to see a big black sedan come barreling down the road. I was already swinging my bike around and pedaling hard back towards the girl when the car screeched to a halt right next to her. The driver's door popped open and this big guy, looked like a Paki, jumped out and rushed around towards the girl. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Parker reach into his mailbag for his pistol, and the retrieval guys were screaming something about abort, abort into my ear. Just one guy wasn't likely to be GOC or them rich fuckers, though, and we could handle Hand operatives unless they whipped out some kind of hoodoo.
The girl had started screaming at this point, that high-pitched, piercing keening that kids do. I braked to a hard stop a few yards from the car and saw the front, then the back tire pop and start going flat. Lewis was on the job, then. The big guy was trying to bundle the girl into the back of the car, but she was kicking and flailing a storm. I jumped off the bike and whipped out my baton, feeling it telescope as I advanced on the pair. Nokigawa was yelling something about dropping the kid and backing away from her slowly, but I don't know if the guy was paying attention. A little tap on the noggin might get it, though.
Parker beat me to it, though, with a clean shot through his shoulder. The bloke dropped the kid like a hot iron and looked around in shock. He apparently just then noticed Parker and me coming up on him and Nokigawa crouched behind the hedge, aiming his Luger at him. Ng and Chief hadn't come out yet, though; they usually stay in reserve for when things go much worse than this. The man looked terrified, like he was about to bolt but couldn't figure out where. I got close enough to pop him a good one to his right knee, and he went down like a puppet with its strings cut. The girl scrambled up and started to run around behind the car, but Parker grabbed her as she went past and held her tight.
As he tried to calm her down, I kneeled beside the man on the ground. "You did a real stupid thing there, trying to kidnap her in plain sight. Bloody sloppy, too. You're not going to learn any better, though." And I popped him a right good one across the side of his head with the baton. Knocked him out cold.
I turned to the girl, crouched down to her level and looked her in the face. Her eyes were so big you could see the whites all around and her mouth was so wide open screaming I could see the back of her throat. She was missing her two front baby teeth.
"Shh, shh, it's okay. He's not going to get you. You're safe now, and we're going to take care of you. Don't worry. We look out for special little girls like you. You'll be protected now."
The whole thing took maybe 5 minutes and the pair of retrieval guys finally came up in their non-descript gray Honda. Slowpokes, but that's why we were on the scene, to handle the surprises.
We were on the way back to base an hour later. It always seemed that, even with a simple snatch-and-grab, it took forever for the clean up crew to arrive. We'd already tied up the guy and tossed him into the back of the van. And we always carried a few doses of C-grade in case a quick wipe or two was needed. Just a couple of nervous old women this time. We got lucky there. The retrieval guys were long gone with the girl, on their way to god knows where.
Chief ran a quick check on the guy's fingerprints while we were driving. Turned out he wasn't with any of the other groups after all. He'd been arrested a year back for indecent exposure and was on probation for it. The kid just had the bad luck to be the victim of an attempted abduction right when we were about to pick her up. My guess was that the interrogators would go after him for a while, just to make sure he wasn't a mole, wipe the guy and dump him back in Liverpool. None of my business at that point.
We got the regular debriefing when we got back. Different person than the briefer this time. An older guy, maybe my age, starting to prematurely gray around the temples. I was too, but I dyed it. This job would age you, but that didn't mean you had to give in to the aging. When we came out of the debrief, Ng asked if she'd see me down at the cafeteria. I told her I'd be there in about half an hour, but to grab me an apple if they had any that looked good. She grinned and said she would.
I figured 30 minutes would be just enough time to strip the polish off my nails and call my husband for a quick "I love you." We were planning on taking a trip to the shore that weekend. I was looking forward to it.