The Agent sipped her coffee as the Subject stepped in.
"7:30 AM precisely," she noted in her newspaper crossword. Every day, its a free-market Colombian roast, black, Jenna thought. While every night he's roasting a Free-Colombian Blackmarket.
She didn't eye the Subject as he sat at his favorite table on the veranda and looked across the sunrise-New-York-Harbor skyline. Nope. Didn't have to. She knew exactly what he was doing. Luckily for Jenna, profiling him was easy; the man was a machine: moving with precision and purpose, keeping to his schedule as if his air would run out otherwise. Sipping her latte, a slight breeze brushed across her face. She glanced up, and immediately caught it: he was sitting away from the docks ever so slightly, more so towards the opening in the surrounding fence. A meeting.
Sliding her reading glasses up the bridge of her nose, Jenna activated the camera across the street trained on the place. The two connected, with the increased field of vision revealing the entire stretch of shops. She zoomed in on the Subject. Clearly waiting for someone; eyes trained on the fence gate with unveiled anticipation shining in his eyes, even behind sunglasses. It was as if he didn't care who saw, or what anyone thought; especially when it came to the obviously-concealed 9mm pistol resting in his jacket. A woman stepped to the gate, holding a small bag in one hand, phone in the other; with that, a smile stretched across the Subject's face, welcoming the siren. Her demeanor suggested disgust at the publicity of such a meeting. Between her perfectly-tied, cerulean curls and her raised eyebrow was a silver bluetooth which she flicked every now-and-then; switching between conversations. Taking her seat across from him, she ripped it out of her ear, tossing her hair.
"Val, you're looking well. Lose some money recently? You become beautifully flushed when that happens." Jenna's receiver picked him up.
"Don't try me today. I also become vicious." She placed the bag on the table; a simple brown paper bag. "Are you ready with the couriers?"
"You disappoint me, Val. I thought we had a little more faith in one another than this." He stared her in the eye. "Would you expect anything less of me?"
"The last time we dealt, you left me gagged in Quantico. I think that's all that needs to be expected, Zev."
"Oh, that wasn't me. The people I hired left you there. Now, if you please, can we get started with business again?"
"You better be as slick as you think you are, because this is the oiliest play I've seen. McKay better not learn what you're trying."
He spat, "Never mind him! He's as veiled as anyone else when it comes to this. That Irish bastard would still be swindling green cards if he didn't have the Family." The Subject curled his fists then swept his hair back into place. "Just give it to me."
"Alright. This should be everything." She handed the bag to him carefully. "The crystal, the ID cards, the location for the drop, what-have-you."
"Thanks, I'll see you back at the lounge?"
"After the arrangements are finalized."
"Of course, of course." He stood up, leaving a tip for the coffee. Reaching into the bag, pulled out a small silver bearing and tossed it into his mouth. "See you on the other side."
He walked off the veranda and into the street, walking toward the harbor. Stopping, he looked directly into the grill of the speeding semi-hauler. Jenna shot up from her seat. The huge truck skid sideways into the seaside walkway, tumbling and rolling into the blue expanse. There was no trace of the him. Cars skid to a stop, people peered over the edge, they watched as it sank to the cold depths.
Jenna spoke into her collar, "Lost contact with Subject. Requesting assistance."
Val didn't look up from her phone. Under her breath, "Show-off…"
The older gentleman shook himself off. Dusting himself from the transport, he sauntered over to the silver door. He grabbed the small cookie sitting at the bottom of the bag, crushing it in his hand, and revealing the small slip of paper.
"Slime-sucking, Silver-haired Devil," he read. The door hissed as it stretched open, revealing the beautifully-lit interior of the waiting area; Victorian white, with Edwardian influences in the furniture, the fireplace roared with blue fire, creating an ethereal presence for those basking in its warmth. Zev stared into the eyes of the Medici framed in the portrait hanging above the mantel as he sat in the grand, delicate armchair. The painting receded into the wall, uncovering the shining face of the woman onscreen.
"Enjoy today's password? Picked it especially for you."
"Hilarious." Zev's grimace was unwavering.
"Hm. I take it your trip wasn't so fun?"
"I'll never be used to those new beacons. They always leave a particularly nasty taste in your mouth. Besides, when combined with a contact who doesn't want to have anything to do with you, the experience becomes less enjoyable by the second."
"Oh, sorry about that. Didn't know Valerie had something against you. I'll be sure to try to change that later. She gave you the right stuff, though?"
"It's all here. Is my fellow ready to meet?"
"They're in the next room as we speak. Everything's set, isn't it? You're ready?"
His lip turned up. "Now and Forever."
"He's important. Maybe not now, but he will be."
"That's not a reason for someone to be assigned. Lemme guess, you have catchy little names for everyone to be called, too?"
"There's always a better reason to do something, and of course I do. He'll be 'Broker.' Shepherd as 'Bailer.' Heliotrope, 'Grifter.' Swanson was 'Dealer,' since replaced by Repartee, 'Dollface.' Roman, 'Soldier.' Voss, 'Holder.' And 'Carrier' is gone too, 'Froggy's suitable enough, though."
"Well, what's your name, then?"
"Couldn't come up with something a little more subtle?"
"You know me, 'If you're blunt, it's certain.'"
"Three of your names are Foundation. Are you absolutely sure about them?"
"More often than not, snakes are more friend than foe."
"Would you stop speaking in idioms, please?"
Jenna slammed the door as she sped out of the parking structure. "Dammit, dammit. Control! You read me?"
"You requested assistance, Watts?"
"He's gone. He's just gone! I need everything on a 'Valerie Repertoire.' She might have info on where my Subject's gone."
"No 'Repertoire…' Sure it wasn't 'Repartee?' Agent Heliotrope's compiled info on that one."
"Are all these MC&D Pseudonyms frickin' puns? Argh. Send me the info." She peeled into traffic, her truck brandishing the Skippy Carlson's Plumbing logos scraped against a couple parking meters as she squeezed through traffic. She glanced down at the tablet mounted on the dash every now-and-then, checking the inbox. PING The folder appeared. She pulled off to the side to skim through the Profile. She muttered under her breath, "Val…known pseudonyms…Associates!" She scrolled through, past clients, degenerates, couriers. "Redacted? Are you kidding me?! Control! I need this info. Can you get me Heliotrope?"
"The encryption's deep, Watts. Some things are above our pay grade."
"Nope! Not today! This is of absolute importance. Can I please get the files declassified?"
"Watts. That information is none of your concern. Don't get personal on this."
"Unprofessional, I know… God. I lost track of my subject! You gotta give me something. I need to get back on this."
"What makes this so important? Fine. There's an agent in your area who would probably know something; Roman. Sending you coordinates."
As Jenna saw the GPS activate and started her car again, a black convertible pulled to the side of her. "Bang, you're dead." Jenna looked up to see purple-nail finger-guns pointed straight at her temple.
"Damn you, Hel." Watts smiled up at the old friend. Heliotrope opened her door beckoning the Agent into the sleek vehicle.
"Saw you rang. Need something? All you have to do is ask." Jenna could tell through her associate's violet eyes that Heliotrope saw the unverified access of the profiles.
"Zev's gone. I needed to see Val's contacts."
"Oh, yeah. No way that's happening."
"Control pointed me to Roman. What does he know about it?"
"Roman? Nope. That guy's an asshole. He's a Trapper. Only thing they care about is results. He was assigned to Pi-1 until…"
"They found out how much of an asshole he was." Watts locked the truck door as she climbed into Heliotrope's car. "What would he even know?"
"Apparently, he knows something about the LLP."
"He's the current CO of the 'Mallrats.' He better know something about MC&D if he ever expects to keep that job; especially with all those Skips under his belt. You know, the ones that breached last period?"
"That was him?" Watts pulled out her pad, typing up the coordinates. "Apparently, he's over in TriBeCa."
"Well then, let's pay him a visit, shall we?"
Zev stepped into the large ballroom. Gleaming white pillars welcomed him to the auction area. Seated not three rows away from him sat Reginald McKay. Zev glided over to the old Irishman. "I didn't know you had an interest in Aztec instruments of war," he didn't take his eyes off the huge, carved-stone head set on the pedestal.
"You don't seem to have a problem with butting into others' business, do you?"
"Everyone's business is my business. That's how you stay on top."
"You better watch what you get your grubby, little paws on, Zev. Might be too sticky, even for you…" McKay smiled and waved at the Spanish delegate walking across the platform. He continued through gritting teeth, "…you filthy son-of-a-bitch."
"Let's get this out right now: stay out of my way, Regg. You might find yourself on the wrong side of Greenland one day."
"Your threats don't make you any prettier, Zev. Ease up before your crow's feet grow wings and beaks." He held up his paddle, "5.7."
The Auctioneer met his eyes. "And Monsieur Mckay wins the bid at 5.7 million dollars. Congratulations, monsieur." Bang.
"Eh… I'd wipe my ass with the money," Regg muttered. "Perhaps I will with the relic."
Zev cringed inside. His steely demeanor offset for a brief moment as he saw the priceless artifact go to this classless cretin. "I have an important meeting to attend." He strode to the reflective glass toward the back. Waving his hand, the shutters opened the hidden portion of the complex where Zev took a seat. The violet, stained glass shut as the elevator ascended to the top of the invisible structure.
Watts's eyes darted across the crime scene, looking for the Agent. Heliotrope looked the part of the FBI Agent on the hunt perfectly; her black pantsuit moved as determined as she did. She felt bad for her friend; Watts's civilian wear didn't exactly exude the authority she deserved — it certainly didn't to the on-site officers that were taping off the area who almost stopped her. Grabbing a jacket off the hook of a Police service vehicle, Watts slid the CSI marked windbreaker as if it was a second skin.
She probably feels more at home here than I do, Heliotrope thought.
"Hey, Roman!" Jenna ducked under the red tape. "You're Roman, right?"
The blond agent took off his glasses with a grimace slapped across his face. "Not very subtle, are you? You must be Watts. Control said you'd be coming." He presented an outstretched hand in salutation, which Jenna completely ignored.
"He said you have info on the 'Lip,'" her words bulleted out. "Well? So what have you got?"
"Is that any way to talk to an officer? Patience is a virtue, agent." Roman knew he didn't have any authority over her; however, to someone without any real power, like him, the point was to throw one's weight around as much as possible with the illusion of authority. Watts stared blankly at him. "All right… What do you want to know?"
"Heliotrope and my subjects just set up a meeting. You know where it is?"
"Ooh. Profilers losing their targets, doesn't look too good on ya'll." The two agents' glares were enough for him to drop it. "There's two major meet ups going on today: one in SoHo, high-price auction; and one close to Essex. I have 'J.D.'s' at both locations right now."
Heliotrope turned to Watts, "Of course. Jenna, Zev has a place at Essex, right? You should track there, while I head to SoHo."
"Hold on," Roman interrupted. "You guys are with Mu-3, aren't you? Wow. You're all more in the dark than I thought. There's an item that recently shipped over here. My contact is pretty sure that a 'Sully Zev' requested to handle the op. Why don't we team up on this? Share the glory?"
"This isn't about glory."
"Okay, fine. But something big is gonna go down. You need info, and my team has that." Roman took his tablet out. "You guys may have the best thieves on the East Coast, but at least my division doesn't get bogged down by bureaucracy. See? All the profiles you guys had no access to. It's my team's job to intercept the smaller players in the 'Lip.' And these are who Zev probably got for the job." Sliding his finger across, the names and faces of international criminals moved across the screen.
"So who are they? I don't know half these people." Jenna thought back to all the information kept from her.
"He's got to have access to the best couriers Marshall, Carter, and Dark can get, and that would have to be Leon. A Ukrainian refugee and excellent smuggler; he's so nondescript, even loan sharks can't find him." Roman narrowed the search parameters based on Zev and Repartee's contacts, "As for supervision, there's only one guard that they both know: he's called 'the Shepherd.' The most intimidating man you'll ever see. He's probably going to facilitate the drop."
"Why are you just telling us this? If you're not careful, there could be hell to pay. What's your angle?"
"You might not want the glory, but this bust is gonna be big. This'll be my move out of this crap team and into something a bit more suited to my abilities."
Heliotrope looked unfocused. "So, what's the item, then? Must be something important by the sound of it."
"That's one of the biggest things about it: with so many agents being moved around, it's something very important. There's even rumors of an agent flying in for their expertise on it."
"Voss." Heliotrope's eyes lit up. "A 'Juniper Voss' from the Marshall, Carter, Dark British subsidiary arrived through customs this morning. Control thought it peculiar, so he had me look into it. She's a MC&D defector from GRU Division 'P.' Very important; she's been handling affairs there for almost 30 years now."
"All right. Now we're getting somewhere. I'll have Control make the joint to the Task Force for my team." Before he left, turning back around, "Oh, and try to keep all of this between us. Once this is all taken care of, I'm sure Control will understand my—"
"Breach of information?" Heliotrope smirked. Roman inhaled sharply and got into his SUV. Heliotrope opened her umbrella as the rain began to fall. She looked over to her friend, "Man… Yorston's gonna be pissed…"
"THIEF. Where are you? What's the plan?"
"En Route. Don't worry. I'll let you know once the arrangements are finalized."
"We need as much info as possible before the Item arrives. This mission has become too important to lose track of it."
"It's all taken care of. I'll be trying to change the mode of transportation for ease of the Containment team. How's Yorston on water?"
"He'd do fine no matter the job. He's one of the best. But, you're sure water is the best plan for this SCP? You're not worried about activation?"
"Stop worrying, Control. It'll be as smooth as possible."
"You haven't forgotten about the assassin, have you? Five of your names are active in this operation."
"That's part of the idea."
Zev stepped out onto the rooftop as the bright orange helicopter came into view against the blue light of the stormy sky. The shadow in the corner of his eye came into view; the small, huddled man in the trenchcoat stepped beside Sully.
"I always hated orange. Too immediate. Like a hunter trying to not be shot."
"Ah, Leon. It's always uncomfortable when we meet, isn't it?" The rain pattered and darkened Zev's shoulders.
"You're telling me. You sure about this chick?"
"More than I am about you." As Sully turned to look at the dark-faced man, the elevator rung again, opening its doors to let out a giant hulk of a man. He stepped out of the glass-paned box and crossed his arms behind his back staring intently at the helicopter through his black glasses. "Shepherd." The man returned Zev's nod.
"Ah, Hemos. Been a long time, hasn't it?" Leon shot a half-smile under his hood at the Shepherd. "Where was it? Singapore? Madrid?"
"Of course… Probably not a good time to mention that now…" Leon's face darkened as he retreated and slumped his shoulders.
The helicopter touched ground, air-drying the pad with its huge gusts. Zev didn't so much as flinch as he approached the door, paper bag still in hand. He opened the door for the lady. "Madam Voss, a pleasure to meet at last."
She quickly stepped to the ground, shaking the air-travel off herself, "Let us not waste time, shall we Zev? I terribly dislike the flying, but I hate wasting time." She strode across the helipad to the elevator shutters, not even opening her clutched umbrella. "You asked me for my knowledge on this acquisition, now show me where it is so that I may go home."
The silver-haired man matched her speed, "Of course, let us convene in the lounge to better acquaint ourselves with the plan."
The two other dark figures in the rain followed them in. "No time," Voss shot. "Talk now… This city must be the most dismal place on Earth."
Leon spoke up, "The goods arrived this morning, now located at one of the North harbors in a warehouse guarded by the very best. No need to worry about security."
"How many? Are you sure? This is no dime-store purchase, we've been moving merchandise like this since the age of Christ." As Leon chuckled at Voss's remark, he was only met with cold glares. "They're being transported now?"
"Last-minute change. They leave as soon as I'm there." The elevator shot down, quick as lightning. "Pennsylvania by tomorrow."
"I'd like to check it myself, Zev. Make sure everything's accounted for."
"No need. We're off to PA before it gets there. Post-checking the valuables," Zev pushed open the doors, revealing Valerie Repartee at the entrance. "Ah, right on schedule."
"Shut it, Sully. Madam Voss, pleasure," Val's expression switched from disdain to salutation within a split-second; changing just as quickly to disinterest as Voss waved away her outstretched hand. "The arrangements are set. There's a car ready for us to take to the drop, and the item is being loaded onto the barge." Leon scurried out of sight.
"What?" Zev grunted from behind gritted teeth. "What do you mean barge?"
"The service was the most cost-effective with the accompanying assured security."
Zev laughed between throaty, forced coughs. "And by 'assured security,' I'm guessing you mean the destruction of the WHOLE OPERATION AND THE LLP?!" He exploded. "How could you possibly think this would be preferable? How could you think that was even an option?!"
Voss interjected, "The item cannot be transported across water! This exhibits such danger, as…incalculable!" The stern alarm shone in her grey eyes.
"I-I'm sorry, sir! I didn't-I mean, I knew but-I-I'm so sorry!"
"LEON." Zev turned to the man who had already left. "DAMMIT."
"Zev," the silent one spoke up. "The plan goes ahead as planned. Leon does not make mistakes. We shall go to the drop."
Zev recalibrated in his mind. "Fine. It seems too late to change anything…however, if any of this goes awry —"
"Yes, of course. My responsibility. Of course, sir." Valerie's wide eyes conveyed more than her voice could.
"Not just your responsibility, my dear: your head."
"Yorston. THIEF sent me the information on the new 'acquisition,' to use 'Lip' terms. Operation 'Free Market' is a go."
"It's coming through now, Control. We have the drop location too?"
"THIEF doesn't hold back, we have everything now; and now with Roman's additions, we have names to faces."
"I thought Morris redacted that."
"I don't like that. And Roman? What the hell does he have to do with this? I lead Containment."
"I don't question that, Al. Roman's just backup on this op."
"Fine. Whatever. I've got two Armed Fireteams and one Covert. I take it Roman's gonna be waiting by the van?"
"Depends on who's going on the boat."
"Oh shoot, that's right…it's on a boat. We'll probably hijack it off the bridge three clicks from the start. I'll be on the boat with Armed Fireteam Alpha and Covert team Bravo. Going in hot, but no fire."
"You know, Al, anyone tell you you're a smart one? The call number we got from THIEF is G2T67/L9VXC/WI3M3."
"Hm, catchy, I'll be sure to keep an eye out. Okay, moving out. Tell Roman not to wait up."
Leon Czoltz stepped out of the structure into the rain. He couldn't stand the small talk of the hired guards for a second longer. The barge had already began its movement along the wide river, pushed by the small tugboat toward the open ocean. It occurred to him to check up on the acquisition, he hadn't before launch.
Leon moved slippingly on the slick boat's surface; slowly making his way to the bin. The rain battered his back like those Taiwanese jungle gnats, it brought back bad memories to say the least. He slid over to the package, checking the tarp covering. The chains were tight enough, not to the point where he felt safe though. Cursing under his breath, he thought of the other times the Lip screwed him over. The iridescent puddle of water exuding from the boarded bin caught his eye.
"What the hell?" He didn't hear his own words over the roar of the storm. "Is it leaking? No, nonono. Don't do this to me."
He grabbed what spare material he had on the deck, wrapping the package's underside and pooling the liquid. "That should do it. At least for now." One of the guards approached him as the barge passed under the bridge.
"Czoltz, is something wrong?" the hired hand shouted above the torrentious sounds.
"No! Nothing to worry about. All taken care of!"
"Are you sure?" The man walked over to the bin. "Something might be damaged, should we alert the boss?"
"No need. I said I took care of it."
"You're sure? Don't want to take another look?"
"Fine," he grunted while struggling back to the package to double check. He watched as the tarp tore and sprayed the slick liquid on his raincoat. In the corner of his eye, he caught sight as the dark figure lit his flare and tossed it at the Courier. Leon instinctively caught it, immediately going up in flames. The deck ignited in a blaze, scorching every one of the containers in its vicinity. Leon tossed himself against the floor, pounding the burning ground. He watched with his last moments as the dark man walked away, and with his last gasp screamed for help.
Yorston was along the stern of the barge when the explosion erupted. The teams of four and two ducked down immediately behind the crates after the boom. Yorston signalled Bravo to stay back as he led Alpha forward to look out. The only true light was the lightning flashes; as the floodlights from the tug that once illuminated the decks had gone out since the explosion. As he rounded the corner, he caught the orange light blazing from the oil fire; it illuminated the guards as silhouettes while they tried to smother the spreading flame. A box sat in the middle of the blaze, slowly charring and collapsing, revealing six small figures covered in the fire.
Tarps flew down from the hands of the guards, shielding the flames from the rain, as it billowed smoke up in a vast fog covering the entire deck within seconds; Yorston signalled his teams before the wind blew the blanket of smoke over them. The six agents wrapped their faces and crouched into the fog. Through squinting eyes, and muffled ears, Yorston glimpsed the tall, dark, MC&D agent, to his immediate left, drop in a hail of gunfire. Yorston bulleted to the tarps as he looked back to see one of his agents grazed by a ricochet. The hired guns brandished their semi-automatics as they searched for their assailants. The two fireteams ducked behind two ISO containers near the now-smothered package before the fog of smoke lifted.
"What the hell is going on? All fireteams report!" He hissed into the radio of his tactical vest.
His earpiece buzzed, "What do you mean? This is Charlie, waiting at rendezvous. What's happening?"
"Where's Delta? ROMAN, DO YOU READ?" Yorston only received static in response. He looked up to see the star of fire from an automatic's muzzle at the front of the barge. "Who the hell is on my boat?"
The Marshall, Carter, and Dark agents returned fire on the gunner; each of them going behind different crates for cover. Yorston signaled, then radioed, "2, 4: cover and suppress." Silencers off, two of the agents of Alpha moved into place, drawing fire and covering Yorston and the two covert-containment officers as they sped to the tarps. They slung off the secure containment vessels from their backs. Each took three of the figures. The teams withdrew back behind the ISOs. Yorston listened to the absence of gunfire, much to his despair. The Hired Guns searched for the intruders.
"Cap? This is Roman. Come in."
"Roman, do you have any idea what the hell is happening?" he hissed below the sound of the thunder.
"Sorry, sir. It seemed as if we had to resort to less…conventional means of engagement."
"We weren't supposed to engage at all! You put the lives of everyone here in danger and threatened the integrity of this operation." Yorston looked over at the charred remains. "What happened?"
"Save me the lecture, Yorston. Something went down as soon as we landed on the ship. One of the reps covered the deck in gas… But that's not important right now. Make your way portside. I got a boat, let's get this item the fuck out of here."
Yorston didn't have time to weigh the pros before one of the Guns found them. He signaled for suppressive fire again. Three of the guards went down in the MTF's hailstorm. They booked it to the edge of the barge, banking left as more guards came out of the tugboat. Rounding the corner, Yorston saw the Foundation agent with the automatic standing before him. Undoing his face mask, Roman slung his machine gun to his back and motioned for Captain Yorston to look. The grapple led off the edge of the ship, over to a dinghy moving alongside the barge.
Roman jumped onto the boat. "C'mon, we don't have all day! give me the packages!" Yorston gathered his Covert team, unstrapping the vessels off their backs. He threw them into Roman's arms.
Yorston stared into Roman in complete astonishment and disbelief as the small boat sped away to the rendezvous point. He turned back to the barge as it blew apart in fiery inferno of scrap metal and splinters. Within minutes, police copters swarmed the scene as the teams slipped away. Yorston and Fireteams Alpha and Bravo breached the water in time to see Roman's boat on the horizon, heading back to the city.
"What? Explain. Stop the car." The silver-haired man stepped out as the chauffeur skid to a halt. "It's gone. Is that what you're telling me? It's just gone?" Zev punched the car roof. "Then WHERE IS IT?"
Shepherd stepped out with Voss and Repartee following. Zev continued on the phone, "What color is the ocean? Still blue? Then at least you avoided that disaster. Now we just need to get our fucking item back. Easy enough? Then get it done."
He climbed back into the luxury car, "Take me to the East Wall Street Office. They can't be much farther from there."
"I'm going to the waterfront. I'll head them off."
"Thank you, Shepherd. Finally, someone who can do their job." A van pulled up and carried the huge man away. "This is why he's here."
As they drove to the Marshall, Carter, and Dark offices, Valerie couldn't help but fidget in her seat as the city passed her by. Zev calmly looked out the window, however, there was something about his eyes flitting about the scenery that displayed the tumult brewing behind his ice-green eyes. She glanced over to Voss, who stared straight ahead at the general direction of the office. She abhorred the moment when the vehicle finally stopped at the gleaming buildings. At the ground floor, an art expo was going on; she took in every sight she could.
Once the three walked inside, they took an immediate right into the utility corridors. Valerie had walked these halls so many times before, yet never before noticed their deep-grey glow of cruelty. They continued down, passing door after door, until reaching the cubicles of the communication center. Only two or three islands were inhabited by callers and receptionists. Zev pulled them aside.
"Funny how this happened, isn't it? Suddenly there's explosions and dead couriers and missing items in a deal that should have been routine…simple…tedious. Yet, nothing went right. All this trouble for an item…" Zev looked them both in the eye. "One has to ask themselves… was it a fellow LLP agent, a rival? someone's old friends at GRU? Couldn't be the Insurgency… So the Foundation? Someone has my property, and I won't stop until I have it back. So, you might as well tell me now: Who is it?"
Valerie was taken aback, "Sully, I never worked with anyone! I swear! I'd never do anything like that. You trust me! Please! It wasn't—"
Her body fell to the floor as Zev shook the smoke from his barrel, resting the pistol back in his jacket.
"You see? That's the problem. It's new blood like this, Voss. They don't understand how business is meant to be done. Back in the old days, everyone understood how this worked: You ask, they deliver, you follow through." He waved for someone to clean the mess up. "You know how we do things. You were there. Hell, you were even untrustworthy and still managed to claw your way into things."
He walked on to the door to the main rooms. "You and I? We're the only ones who know the right ways, anymore."
"Watts, come in? You read?"
"Yeah, here. Still no sign of Zev. I checked one of his residences, but now I'm headed to—"
"No time. I've lost contact with our Probe. No word for a while now."
"What do you need?"
"Go meet Roman. He's got the item. Heliotrope's already getting there. Sending you the coordinates."
"God… No one ever tells me anything…"
Heliotrope stopped her car at the edge of the street, she stood under the streetlight searching the darkness for her teammates. She squinted as she pulled her overcoat closer to her chest, guarding it from the rain; through the black of the fogged-over river, she caught the glint of a small boat. She spoke into her earpiece, "Roman? That you?"
"Yep, why? Expecting someone else? Sorry to disappoint."
"You got the item?"
The small boat reached ground, scraping across the cement lining of the river. The FDR still roared above as Heliotrope treaded closer to the ship. The four members of the Containment team heaved the containers ashore, Roman then took one in each hand. "Where's Yorston?"
"He's still in the East." Roman didn't look up from the road.
"So you just left him there? Didn't that thing blow up?!"
"Look, we didn't have time. In case you didn't notice, we're still in the thick of things here. We still gotta get this thing back to Site-28. And SoHo's a bit of a way's away."
"So hand it over, then. This is Mu-3's op. You should've given it to Yorston."
"Sorry, Grifter. This is personal delivery."
Heliotrope pulled on him before he could open the car door. "Is this about the glory? Give it up, Roman. We have protocols to follow." A shot whizzed between the two.
They turned to see the black van speeding down the street. The man hanging out the window let fly his bullets, Heliotrope ducked behind her vehicle, Roman opened fire on him. The van jerked and skid sideways, denting her sleek car as it fishtailed in an arc to allow the man a better shot at the agents.
Machine guns' chatter deafened Heliotrope as she opened the door and shouted to Roman, "GET IN!" The windshield glass was shattered by the bullets that blazed through her suit, puffing red mist out of her white blouse. Roman jumped into the front seat, grabbing Hel's limp body and pushing it into the passenger side with the containers. She held them close to her chest as she tried to stop the blood from escaping her throat; to no avail. She whispered a prayer as Roman started the car and floored it. The rear-view mirror blew apart as the gunfire tore through the back windshield, Roman closed his eyes for a moment as he swerved around the traffic moving south. His back right tire blew as he turned onto Wall Street. Roman went into the telephone pole, three cars rear-ending each other behind. The huge man walked over to the passenger side, sliding the boxes out of Heliotrope's limp arms, and calmly made his way back to the van.
Spitting the last of her blood from her mouth, she spoke into her collar. With her last gasp, "Plate numbers… 'Tango, Golf, 1, 5, 3, Fox-foxtrot, 2, 7…' Have to… Watts…"
Yorston reached the coordinates sent throughout the MTF by Control. Taking off the Amphibious gear, he looked around for any sight. The commotion down the street could be heard for miles. He tried to make himself sparse, until Fireteam Charlie arrived in the gleaming white van.
"Boss! Get in! We got an ID on the skip's car!" Before Yorston could open the sliding door, another car drove up; a plumber's truck.
Watts rushed out, meeting Yorston's eyes, "What happened? Where's Hel?"
"The Op's been compromised. We gotta go now!" The two stepped inside the van as it shot down the roads. "I swear, containment teams used to be good at their jobs. Roman went off with the item, but I think Zev got word of it in time." Yorston turned toward the driver, "Rich, where are they?"
"The package's being tracked down to the MC&D Wall Street HQ. Police are on the scene now. Possibly even UIU."
"Damn. Contact made?"
"No. Just surveillance. But the LLP's smart enough to know when they're being watched."
"Forget this. Control?" Yorston spoke into his comm. "I need the other backup teams over on Wall Street. Don't involve Pi-1, but get me as much as you can."
"What's the plan, boss?"
"We're going in, Rich. Hot and blazing."
"Show me everyone."
The wall of monitors projected dozens of agents; the ones waiting outside, watching carefully for any sign of Marshall, Carter, and Dark employees' appearance in or out of the offices. The center projection switched between face after face, until Zev held up his hand.
"Stop. Who is that?" The image showed a young, blond agent, covered in cuts and blood, suiting up in a new tactical vest.
"His name is Roman." An unseen voice entered. "He's a container for SCP. He's of no importance anymore."
"Shepherd, how did it go?" Through Zev's eyes, he could see the actual question.
"They're right here." The blood-spattered plexiglass vessels slid across the floor over to Zev.
"Why did you bring them here? There's an infestation about, if you haven't noticed."
"You told me to get it here, so I did."
That's not the reason, Zev spoke in his mind. "Come, we need to get these into security, now." The two went down the halls, deeper into the utilities. Voss followed.
"Sully, I need to check them!"
"We can worry about damages later. I'm sure they're fine. Luckily, there's one thing those hoarders know how to do well: keep an acquisition safe."
After being let through the armored door by the two armed guards, Zev looked up at the mechanical eye sitting at the top of the frame for the vault's seal. The eye almost nodded as a panel stretched open, revealing an opening roughly the size of Zev's hand. With minor pain, he authenticated. The doors scraped across the tile as they lumbered open to the almost-warehouse in the small office. Stacked high with crates, there was almost no room for another acquisition, let alone for someone to walk through.
However, Zev managed to navigate through the maze of merchandise, valuables and goods until he came to the cart. Around the size of an industrial photocopier, the mass of plates, panels, and buttons whirred with excitement at the sight of the Broker. He slid open a drawer below the main hub of keyboards. The velvet-lined interior perfectly contorted around the six bronze horses, once Zev had rested them in the container. Sliding it back into place, he typed his passcode and left. Voss and Shepherd stared at the man looking for a clue as to what the plan was.
Zev brushed the dust from the never-used merchandise off himself. "All set. What do you say we welcome our visitors, hm?"
"Any word from THIEF? What's next?"
"No…nothing. I don't know what's happening. Yorston's moving in, hopefully we can salvage something out of this operation."
"Do we at least know yet?"
"THIEF. The probe had to be one of the four, right? Couldn't have gotten that info, if not."
"That's not for us to worry about, Watts. For all I can tell, THIEF's gone."
"Zev's starting to become more trouble than he's worth. Why aren't we storming?"
"Protocol. That's why. Something's definitely wrong with this team's outlook. We have to follow rules. That's why PR's having to deal with a nightmare right now, that's why we've lost the item, that's why Heliotrope is dead."
"Heliotrope? What happened? What's going on, Control?"
"Things can't get much worse, Watts. All we can hope now is that we aren't too deep."
Roman was sliding the comm headset around his helmet as a hand grabbed him by the shoulder. He found himself face to face with the Unit Commander overseeing this next phase of the operation. The steely-faced chief in the NYPD uniform pointed to a white van careening to a halt at the operation site. The remaining forces of MTF Mu-3 stepped out, with a young captain b-lining toward the Agent.
"What the hell happened while I was gone?" Yorston glared into the soldier.
"The op moved ahead."
"You left us in the middle of the freaking East River!"
"We had to get outta there before—"
"Before Zev could intercept the item?" Roman's face darkened. "Before we lost an Agent? It's too late for that now; isn't it?" Yorston strode over to the main SUV of the Unit. From its trunk, he secured a new headset, replaced his cartridges with multiple accessories, and traded his MP5 for a silenced "Baby Eagle." Loading his subsonic rounds, he motioned for his teams. "I need one and two to come. Three, set up overwatch. Get in contact with Control; see if he can help with anything."
"What do you think you're doing? We need to set up the exchange."
"You're still doing that, but I'm going in with Mu-3."
"You're gonna try to swipe the Item? No. You can't do that. Your role in this mission is over, Yorston. We're gonna bust this place."
"Get off your power trip, Roman." Yorston picked up the disruptor from his vest pouch, switching on the red light. "In case you don't know, I'm a Thief," the red light blinked thrice. "And while we aren't as fancy as you Standard Containment guys, this is what we do; and we do it well," green light. All transmissions went static as Yorston led his team across the street.
Zev tore the receiver out of his ear on his way through the foyer; the sound of the snow gave him a headache. He strode through, waving away the personnel trying to explain what he already knew. The gleaming, silver lobby of the office was paled with the suit standing at the door.
"Good morning, sir. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you for a minute of your time."
Zev patted his 9mm. "How about no. I'm afraid I'm gonna hafta ask you to leave."
"Sully Zev, I'm with the NYPD. Don't make this harder than it needs to be." Zev stepped around the agent.
"You guys don't have a thing on me. I suggest you and your friends leave before this gets too deep." Opening the door, he scanned for the intruders across the sea of faces and cars. Zev locked eyes with Roman.
"Listen. Maybe we can work something out."
Zev bolted back into the building before the SWAT vehicles arrived. Taking the long way around to the surveillance area, he passed Voss in the cubicles. He met Shepherd in front of the wall of static screens. "I need her out of here before things get messy. On top of this, I can't have the whole board lose the last of their faith in me."
"You sure, Zev?" Juniper Voss walked to him, "You're sure you didn't lose it when your courier failed?"
"What do you expect we do? They're ready for the whole cavalry to go ahead and take this place. Look at this," Zev motioned at the defunct security feeds. "We have no next move. They have us by the balls."
"Zev, calm down. We need a plan of action." Shepherd stepped over to the stone-faced guard at the door. "Set a defensive perimeter around the vaults. They don't play by the rules."
"What do you mean? They have to stay under the radar as much as us."
"No, Voss," Zev wiped the sweat from his brow. "Not these ones…I don't know what's gonna happen next." With the intercom system, the guard issued orders. Within seconds, the three agents watched as hired guns rushed to the front of the building. Voss gasped and took the nearest seat as she mentally prepared herself for the inevitable.
"Shepherd, I need access to the Repulse."
"Are you sure that is wise?"
"I'm sure that it's the only way we could possibly have an edge on the Hoarders. I want to bury them. I'm going to bury them."
It started as a whisper until she turned to the Broker; Voss pleaded, "Why?"
"It's just business," Zev squatted down to look her in the eye, "but now it's my personal business.
The troops piled out of the vans as Roman was handed the megaphone by the commander. The sector was evacuated of civilians, and the soldiers prepared for siege. Through the glass of the facade, the once-bustling office looked abandoned. The vague shapes moved slightly in the shadows of the lobby were the Unit's only confirmation of the threat that lay in wait.
Before Roman could issue the order to the forces, the commander placed his hand on his arm. "Wait. Something's happening."
Roman tried to reach Yorston for a clue until the static buzzing from his headset reminded him.
Mu-3 climbed two stories under their radio silence. The building adjacent to the offices was perfect for the maneuver; no alley, thin walls, and entirely evacuated. Yorston had a hole cut through the plaster and brick of the adjoined wall of the two buildings. The crappy carpeting and taupe walls, through one and a half feet of brick and mortar, changed to gleaming tile and silvery walls of the MC&D building.
The mirroring floor was scuffed and dusted by the team moving in checking the area for hostiles. Yorston moved for the Containment specialists next, but as the last agent stepped through the carved door, a reverberation shook the structure. The agent's foot caught in the hole as a wave of greenish force moved outwards from the offices stopping at the boundary. A clean burn sliced the Foundation agent's limb off in a flash, leaving the forgotten boot on the other side of the shimmering barrier.
"Thompson! Shit. No turning back." Yorston recalibrated as the thief grabbed his amputation, "Franks, stay here with Thompson. Find a safe place to wait this out."
The soldier helped Thompson up, carrying him to a restroom. Yorston pulled out the detector, the green blinking showed anomalous activity all over the place; until he caught a glimpse of concentration. "There. West, Northwest area." The captain switched off the disruptor, there was next to no surveillance above the first floor. "Charlie? You read?"
The receiver picked up a voice long missed, "Hey, Al. What do you need?"
"Control. Thank god. Do you have the floor plan to this office?"
"I just got everything about it. Sending it now."
"Got it, Cap," the second thief had the tablet out.
"Thanks, Control." The teams moved toward the mass of activity, until they came to a small office. "Set the charges."
"Field is set, Zev. Send in the welcome wagon?" The question was rhetorical.
Shepherd aimed his launcher at the glass walls after rounding the corner. The smoke grenade flew threw the shattered panes, landing barely burned in the middle of the SWAT teams. Gunfire immediately followed, more for intimidation than anything; they knew the Feds had no idea what they were shooting at. The hail ceased after they realized the bullets weren't even penetrating the green energy barrier.
Shepherd understood he couldn't keep this up for too long. The teams, the investigations, the police alone were enough to destroy any hope for him to get out of this unscathed in the eyes of the LLP.
The Repulse stopped. The hired guns came out of their cover to open fire, shattering the remains of the glass windows. Each were disabled by the agents one by one. The precise fire managed to miss Shepherd by an inch. He turned and let fly the rounds from his Armsel Protecta; nailing three soldiers in the head before he was dropped. The teams moved in, stepping over the glass and bodies of the felled agents. Rushing past, a couple of them didn't notice when Shepherd grabbed the officer and ripped off his grenade belt while firing off the rest of the drum magazine from his shotgun. Before the SWAT captain could tell his men not to fire, the grenades blew.
Zev heard the blasts. He knew they'd be in soon, with little time for any escape. It was the third blast that really caught his attention. Pulling the 9mm from his jacket, he raced down the halls to the back rooms. The dissipating smoke made it evident.
"Get me security, NOW!" He ran back to the main surveillance area to meet with Voss. "Get me the hell out of here!"
He was met with Voss at gunpoint by the SWAT officers covering the area. The mascara streamed with her tears. Roman aimed his pistol straight at Zev's temple. "Bang."
Yorston finally broke the locks. After his team wasted so long sorting through the columns of crates and merchandise for the call numbers, they'd found the cart. Once the main panel was off its hinge, Yorston asked Rollins to get into the mainframe.
"Control? Do you have anything that can help? This looks ridiculously sophisticated…"
"Someone sent us the schematics."
"THIEF actually get back to you?"
"No. Someone else. Rollins, what do you see? Which part?"
Rollins switched on her mic, "I'm in the main boards. This really is some of the most impressive stuff I've seen… Okay, I think I've got this. No puzzles, no games; just wires now." She swallowed dry, "Wires set to blow, but still…"
"Okay. I think we've got it. Row H-Gamma-seven?"
"Connected three ways, cross porting. Red to Alfa-Epsilon."
The agent flicked her cutters with second-natured dexterity. The system shut down, the drawers slid open. She got out the containment vessels as Yorston lifted them out of their slots. The alarm sounded.
"Go! Go! We gotta go!" The teams navigated through the maze again. A display over the vault door showed a countdown. "We got one minute!"
Two of team Bravo set new charges, blew blowing the door before the failsafe activated. They pulled the dismantled vault's door from its groove, discovering two Foundation Armed Personnel stationed at the opening.
"Give it up, Zev. It's over now."
Zev kept his gun on the agent. "Nothing is over. I will not suffer this embarrassment."
"Drop the gun, and put your hands behind your head." Roman turned his gun on Voss. "What, do you think this is a negotiation?"
Watts approached behind, "Roman! Stop! You're under arrest!" Roman didn't take his eyes off Zev. "Rolff Romanovich. Stand down! You're not going to—"
Voss's body dropped to the floor, with Roman following suit. Zev's pistol smoked as two operatives grabbed him, detaining and handcuffing. He spat on the body as they escorted him through.
Jenna rushed to the two on the ground. Voss called for her, "Watts!"
"It—it was you… wasn't it?"
Voss chuckled; blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. "I'd always wondered what you looked like." She brushed the hair from Jenna's face, "You did well."
She watched the light leave her eyes as Yorston met up with them. "God… Dunn's gonna kill us." He stepped over to Romanovich. "Another agent down…"
"He was GRU. The assassin Control was looking for. She's our downed agent…" She stared up at Yorston. "Why did this happen? How do you know when you're too deep?"
"You only know when you're gone…" He helped her lift THIEF's body. "We got 'em. At least…" he saw looked out to the SCP Containment vessels leaving, "at least we got 'em."