The sedative they injected into me prior to boarding the Gulfstream G650 knocked me out cold before the flight from Texas to who the hell knew where departed from a private airfield somewhere north of Dallas, Texas. I’d been there twice before. Both times while working for Frank Skinner and the SIS. It seemed fitting that we used it as the first step on a journey to see Frank, presumably for our final meeting.
Waking up hours later as the jet touched down, I felt the full hangover effect of the knockout drug. At least it made it easy to forget about everything that had happened over the past few days.
To forget them.
To forget her.
It was futile to dwell on it. The FBI had made Reese McSweeney disappear. She was out of my life. Again. Somehow I always figured we’d meet once more. We had one shot. And we’d blown it.
Nothing new there.
We should’ve left Texline when we had the chance.
I sat in the rear seat of the sedan with an agent on either side. The windows were blacked out, and a divider separated us from the front seat. I couldn’t see a damn thing. The Feds weren’t much for conversation, either. They didn’t even crack a smile at my recent bad dad joke repertoire. It made it difficult to ascertain where the hell we were. The end destination had been made evident by my brief conversation with Frank. Based on that, I figured we were somewhere in Northern Virginia.
Frank had been placed in charge of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, Special Operations Group. Didn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that my escorts were his men, and that we were en route to his office.
One of his offices, at least. The kind of place the rest of the world assumed was a farm, but underneath the barn or the house was a labyrinth of Agency offices and interrogation rooms. I, like others before me, would learn my fate there.
What did Frank have planned for me? We’d last seen each other a few months ago. Our farewell consisted of me holding a pistol to his head. The only thing that stopped me from pulling the trigger was that my daughter, Mia, stood thirty feet away. I saw the fear in her eyes. She hardly knew me as a father. I sure as hell didn’t want her to remember me as a monster. So I let Frank live. I knew then that it was a mistake. Things weren’t the same between us, and hadn’t been for years. Tension escalated every time we were near each other. I could’ve ended it there. I should’ve ended it.
I assumed, since my identity had been exposed while in Texas, it had landed me on a watch list. One that Frank had access to due to his position in the CIA. He used resources to determine the credibility of the report, and then acted on it. At least he’d left me enough time to clean up the mess in Texline.
I had to be prepared for other outcomes of our pending meeting. I’d pissed off plenty people over the past decade, and performed enough shady deeds for even shadier individuals that any city, state, or federal agency would want to bring me in. Frank was the only one with a solid motive, though.
Instinctively I glanced at the side window as the vehicle slowed to a stop for the first time in over an hour. The blacked out glass revealed nothing. One of the men, a bald guy with bushy eyebrows and a tattoo behind his right ear, glanced at his phone. He leaned forward, made eye contact with his partner. They both nodded.
We were close.
A wave of panic traveled through my body, numbing my fingers and toes. I took a deep breath, relaxed my arms, legs, chest and abdominal muscles. The feeling slipped away. I had no control over whatever was about to happen. My job moving forward was to react. Whether that was to an attack, or information, was to be determined. I prepared for either.
The ceiling vents stopped spitting out cold air. In its place was a warm stream that smelled like gasoline and oil. The men squeezed in close to me. If I started to move, they’d know.
The driver turned left and right a few times. I pulled up a mental map of Langley, tried to match our changes of direction with streets, and the accompanying buildings, training facilities, housing. I recalled what was underground as best I could. And hoped that we wouldn’t end up down there. It was an exercise in futility. We could have been back in Crystal River, Florida. The turns would line up the same. It was impossible to tell with any accuracy.
The guy with the tattoo lifted his phone to eye level and poked at it with his index finger. After a minute, he lowered it, grasped it with both hands, and typed out a message with his thumbs. He used his hands to block the screen from view. For a few moments the haptic feedback tone was the only sound inside the car. We’d come to another stop. The engine idled quietly.
I counted the seconds in my head. Thirty, fifty, ninety. Tattoo played on his phone, no longer hiding the screen. No need to. Angry Birds was hardly anything to conceal. At least if he was twelve it wouldn’t be. His partner stared straight ahead. I didn’t bother to ask what was going on. They weren’t going to let me know.
The front passenger door opened. The vehicle dipped to that right, then rebounded, swayed side to side for a few seconds. I strained to hear footsteps, couldn’t make out any. The inside of the vehicle must’ve been soundproofed. What else was the car used for? Transporting foreign dignitaries? High profile refugees and asylum seekers? Double crossing agents coming over to our side?
Made me want to laugh and puke at the same time. I’d reached a level in intelligence where there were no sides. No good versus evil. Just a bunch of bad men doing bad things all in the name of an ideology that no one at the top believed in anymore.
And for a guy like me, one that worked on the inside, and outside, who sold himself to the highest bidder and was willing to do any job, none of it meant anything. Give me an order, pay me enough, and I’d execute any command, and any person.
But the truth was that used to be me. Now, I wanted nothing to do with any of it. I’d reached a point where my only goal was to drift and disappear with Mia. I realized we should have left together, rather than taking a few months to let things blow over.
It all led to me stuck in the back of a government sedan, parked outside of God knows where. Presumably I wouldn’t have to wait much longer to figure that part out.
The rear passenger door opened, and I squinted in anticipation of sunlight flooding in. Didn’t happen. Dim yellow fluorescent light was the flavor of the day.
Tattoo exited the vehicle first. He stepped out, turned, leaned in, and then gestured with his pistol for me to follow him. His partner remained seated, hand hidden inside his jacket. I climbed out and glanced around the parking garage. There were two similar cars parked there, and a Mercedes in the corner. Couldn’t fit much else in there. It was smaller than I expected, which meant we were near one of the less frequently used offices.
The kind of place a few people like me walked into, and were brought out in a body bag. If they left at all.
Four agents boxed me in and led me forward. It wasn’t until we neared the steel doors set into concrete walls that I recognized where we were.
It wasn’t Langley.
Hell, it wasn’t in Northern Virginia, either.
They’d taken me to New Jersey. And I stood in the parking garage of the now-defunct SIS headquarters.
Thanks for reading! Click here to go to Chapter 2!