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>CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA
>LEMONBROOK APARTMENTS, LOBBY
>LAURIE, GOMEZ
>0247HRS…///

Serena moved to cross the street with the group but she kept some distance between herself and the others, letting them get ahead a bit as she did. She looked over her left shoulder to see if the southern boy was with her and nodded to him. Crossing the street she noticed the man walking his dog. Odd time for an old man to be walking a dog she thought to herself, very odd. Her cop instincts were going haywire, and then the man spoke. He mentioned a son, but Donnelley hadn’t. She passed by a trash can on the corner of the street next to a few benches at a bus stop next to the sidewalk. She bent down and grabbed a spent tallboy wrapped in a brown bag next to the bin and smelled it. Gross- It had a very robust and stale odor, and the stench tickled her nose. Probably only a few hours old and ripe with some homeless man’s DNA. There was only a small amount of liquid in the bottom. She tucked the can in her arms as if it were hers. She cut her eyes to the man with the dog, and then to Laurie.

“Laurie, you seeing this?” she said in a low but audible voice. “Eyes on him.” Serena kept a brisk pace keeping a few paces behind the group, eyes steadily fixated on the man and his dog.

Laurie was honestly very, very skeptical and even somewhat annoyed. “Calm the fuck down, its nothing.” he hissed, shaking his head. “That’s fucking nasty, just drop it and let’s go in nobody will give us any shit if we glance in his direction every so often. Come on, let’s go.” He said, but he’d wait for her to go in before following. “You know you people drove real shitty but now you’re so fast, doesn’t add up.” Laurie stated, hinting he was interested in hearing what the fuck they blabbed on for so long with Donnelly.

She could tell something was bugging him, but she kept on walking. Small talk would have to come later. “Let’s just stay focused on this for right now.” she said, her tone still very low. “There’ll be time for small talk later.”

She pulled the glass door open with her left hand, now holding the can in her right. She slowed her pace and held the door open long enough for Laurie to catch it before continuing on inside. She gave the room a quick glance. A bench to the left, empty of course, right next to a small rack of those business and apartment brochures on the wall with a sign overtop for the apartments proper. A reception desk further back, also empty, but the door behind it was open and the light was also on. She pulled her hat down tighter, and tucked the tall boy back under her left arm and came to a halt just inside, and waited for Laurie.

Laurie snickered as followed, giving yet another shake of the head. "Madamesoille, you are the one rooting around in trash for a beer can, and creeping on an old man with his pupper, you're the one who has to stay focused."

Entering the building he thanked the officer for holding the door as he made his way to the centre of the room, leaning against a wall quite comfortably. "Come on now, we got time. What's going on here, you had a chance to talk to the boss whereas I don't know Jack-shit about who the fuck this Clyde fellow really is, what we really do." The Ranger paused to spit a bit more of his dip, before continuing. "Really I just want to do my job but I got to wonder why some hick park ranger like me got hooked up with some yankee suits, soldier boys, cops and other boot-lickers. Why they got this motley crew full of people not trained for this shit be the ones here nevertheless."

Serena followed and stopped fairly close and facing him, a big gaudy [i}Lemonbrook[/i] sign behind him. She leaned in closer pulling out her phone. She began texting Donnelley for Baughman’s box number. Glancing over her shoulder at the desk to her right to make sure it was still clear. She could hear a game over a TV, coming from the back office. Stay there.

“The beer is for cover. There’s a camera on my right above the desk facing the entrance and one directly over my right shoulder, fixed on the mailboxes. We need to check Baughman’s to see if there is anything in there.” she said.

“Look Laurie, I really don’t know any more than you do at this point. Donnelley still hasn’t came off with very much. Something about some fucked up shit in everyone’s file or something.” she said, sending the message to Donnelley’s phone and looking back at Laurie making an awful face. “Goddamnit this fucking thing stinks..”.

The Ranger sighed, giving an amused look to Serena. "Cops, man, cops. You really think a drunk broad would keep a beer can around in her hands to demonstrate she's drunk so conveniently? That's not how it fucking works. A guy called into the Ranger station said he been attacked by a gator by the vending machine down on the trail. He was still holding a pack of chips, all ready to show what he was doing before a gator attacked. You think he won the lawsuit he scared us with?"

Walking over to the camera to conveniently block it, the Ranger kept his eye near the door to make sure he wouldn't miss any shit coming through. "Your breath doesn't smell a single bit like beer, but if you want to give that can a practiced suck then be my guest." He said, with another ptew of spat dip. "I don't give a shit at this point. None of this is on my résumé, I'm not getting caught breaking the law when I don't even have a promise of a pay-raise." Laurie cursed, wiping down his brow. "What I'm paid for, that's what I'll do my yankee lady."

Serena’s phone vibrated in her hand. A text from Donnelly. “Well lucky for you that’s all we have to do now. Jason is coming down with the key. We just gotta stay alert and cover the camera when he gets here.” she said, clearing the message from her phone. She then held it up and shook it. “Motorola's got wings.”

She took an apartment finder from the rack beside the bench and walked over to the boxes and stood with Laurie, again facing him, but she could still see the elevator and entrance as well. “You got eyes on the desk? I think there’s a receptionist in the back room.” she said, hoping Laurie had a decent line of sight on the counter.

Just a little pissed Serena ignored the comment on her little beer can prop, Laurie nodded. "Yeah I got it covered, but then I can't check for people coming from the door, your choice. Like I said I ain't paid for this shit and if things go sour I'm fucking sprinting."

“I got eyes on the entrance, just keep an eye out for the receptionist.” she said, glancing in its general direction. She was hoping the others would hurry. “What about your ride over here? You guys not come up with anything either? All I know is Donnelley mentioned something about some fucked up shit in everyone’s files. Doc mentioned something about a weird ass stone.” leaning closer to Laurie, almost whispering. “I was at a banger’s house two years ago and they had some red skinned flesh eating Chinese midgets in the basement cutting up girls.. Choo-Choo’s, Tcho-Tcho’s, or something like that..” she said, propping herself on the wall with her right hand. She shuddered at the thought of it all. That fucking smell. She wasn’t sure if it was the stench of the can or if she was reverting to the incident at this point.

“What about you? What kind of fucked up Paul Bunyon type shit you got going on in your files?”. Serena looked him in the eye when she spoke, still managing a whisper. She was genuinely curious, but she didn’t want to make a scene in there if they didn’t have to.

"Nah, we weren't like that. Quiet tough guys, us. Like I said, in and out, that's how I operate, just doing our job." Still leaning with legs crossed, Laurie's nose curled back as Serena described some cannibal yellow people.

"The fuck are you on about?" he demanded, forehead creasing. "No I ain't ever seen something like that, "Doc" sounds like a shrink that needs her own fucking medicine." Laurie had seen stuff out of the ordinary, but the sight of bigfoot didn't come up in his head when he was thinking on the topic of shit Gomez mentioned. "Crazy fucks…." he amended.

>LOBBY
>LAURIE, GOMEZ, JASON
>0300(?) HRS…///

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open revealing the stagnant lobby. Jason stepped out, eyed the lobby for cameras, and then spotted Laurie and Serena talking in sotto voce. He approached, the narrow ring holding Baughman’s mail key barely spanning his index finger. The agent looked dour or at the very least unenthused. As he approached the pair he said softly, “Ready to commit your first felony?” and raised the key in front of him.

Serena heard the elevator open and nodded as Jason approached the two of them. She pulled herself from the wall and straightened herself up as he passed by, smirking at his comment she rolled her eyes. “Who said it was my first?”

“Atta pepper,” he replied, and managed a weak smirk.

Laurie on the contrary shook his head, making a false laugh. "Ha-mother-fucking-ha."

Serena took another glance towards the counter, hoping the elevator had not roused the sleeping dragon in the back room, if there was in fact someone in there. Serena grabbed the key from Jason, but kept her eyes trained on the desk but spoke towards Laurie and Jason both. “I don’t think we should stick around here for too long.” Her attention torn between the entrance and the desk. “Maybe we should step outside once he checks the box, maybe have a smoke? Lookin’ a little crowded for three o’clock in the morning.” Serena didn’t have any cigarettes on her. “Hey Jason, you got a smoke?”

Jason grimaced. “Don’t smoke,” he said, and waited for the criticism to be hurled.

“Fuck.” she said. She shook the can in jest. “I only smoke when I drink.” It wasn't a lie though, she really didn’t. She nodded to the both of them and then turned and leaned in close so that her shoulders would block at least one row boxes where she was standing. She found the box with the corresponding number that matched the key, and turned the tumblers opening the small brass door. She grabbed a small stack of papers, mostly coupons from what she could gather, spam mail. She didn’t bother to look at it right then and folded it all up, stowing it in her hoodie pocket. She closed the box and locked it back before turning back to Laurie and Jason.

“You boys wanna get some fresh air? Kind of stifling in here.” nodding towards the main entrance as she spoke.

The Louisiana boy shrugged. "I'll follow your lead." He said, voicing his modus operandi. He didn't feel real good in this building, but the outdoors of this shithole weren't much better, were they.

The elevator dinged again, the doors sliding open like stage curtains to reveal Laine and Donnelley. As the two approached, their footsteps echoed in the empty space of the tile-floor lobby. Donnelley raised his hand, “Care for a smoke?”

Jason smirked at the mention of smokes, replying, “Was going to ask you the same thing.” He turned to Laurie and for the first time since arriving in West Virginia he exuded a welcoming warmth. “Fresh air sounds great,” he said. Jason studied Dr. Laine for a moment after, scanning her outline like she was wearing some part of Baughman’s remnant, like the indeterminant goal of their searching was adorned like a shroud. Whatever it may be wasn’t meant for the lobby, and he strode out the building while chuckling lowly at Gomez’s worn can of Steel Reserve.

Still pinching the clove cigarette between her fingers, she nodded a greeting at the others, her distracted expression could be blamed on trying to wriggle the Zippo lighter from the pocket of her tight jeans. Without a word to Gomez, leaving her to Donnelly she followed Jason out of the lobby.

Finally wrenching the lighter out, she thought, Skinny jeans and hips don't agree.

She flicked the steel and a bright flame leaped at the beckoning, and she put the cigarette between her lips, touching the tip with the flame as she inhaled. The cloves crickled and cracked as she sucked on it, the numbing smoke entering her throat and lungs before she exhaled deeply, the frustrations of the evening billowing out with it.

Serena nodded at Donnelley and started for the entrance. Upon exiting the building she had noticed that the darkness of the twilight hours was dwindling and the sky was getting brighter. Sun would rise soon. She dropped the can back in the trash and stuck both of her hands in her hoodie pocket as if to make certain that nothing was going to fall out, her fingers ruffling through the mail. She went and sat down on the bench at the bus stop and waited for the others.

Seeing the rest of the group going out, Laurie followed suit thinking back to what Serena told him earlier. He wasn't exactly socially tact in these things, so as he stepped outside and faced Laine before he asked quite bluntly: "You really see a fucking big rock?", looking back in to Gomez with some confusion. He wanted to clear confusion, but only got more of it. Jason looked back and forth between the two, looking intrigued but puzzled.

“Yeah, they’re called mountains. They’re everywhere.” Donnelley cocked a brow at Laurie and looked at Serena as he followed the rest outside. Once out, he followed suit and let the flame of his lighter kiss the tip of his cigarette. He puffed on it a couple times before speaking again, “Save it for the drive home, Laurie.”

He looked to Serena once he stood opposite her, “So, you holding out on me?”

Serena looked at Donnelly as she retrieved the stack of mail from her pocket. She held it up so he could see it and then started going through the pile. “Looks like a bunch of coupons and sales papers..”, she replied. “Oh, wait a minute. This could be something.”

She pulled a pastel yellow envelope out from the pile and looked it over. The words Thank you written across the front. She opened it up to reveal a photograph and a thank you card addressing him on the inside with a small note saying - Thanks for the wonderful weekend at the cabin! She handed it to Donnelley and kept sifting through the junk mail. A few bills, credit card offers, the usual shit that fills everyone’s mailbox though they wish it wouldn’t.

“Huh...” Donnelley said, looking at the family in the picture. Sure enough, there was Sam Baughman, a wife, two kids. Behind them was a cabin. “Maybe.”

But why let his family stay somewhere he was stashing Delta Green intel and case files? Unless, “That envelope.” He muttered, “We’re mounting up, get in the cars.”

Laine took a few more drags and glanced at the bus bench where Donnelly and the others were. When they started to move, she flicked the growing stem of ash and reached for the keys of the Chrysler in her jacket pocket.

Donnelley flinched slightly when his phone began vibrating in his pocket, reaching down with a cocked brow and bringing it to his ear. He stood silently while whoever was on the other line spoke. A muttered, “Oh.” was all that came from him. He looked behind him, walking towards Tom…

Serena discarded the rest of the mail in the trash and headed towards the Chrysler, and glad to be out of the apartment building. Three o’clock in the morning made anyone look sketchy. Dew was starting to accumulate on the few small patches of grass next to the highway and glistened like diamonds under the orange light of the streetlamps. She was due for a drink.




>SOME TIME BEFORE...///

Tom walked about 10 meters off to the left and rear of Joe Donnelly, Dr. Laine and Jason Jimenez. He was thinking tactical. It may not have been necessary, but better safe than sorry. No one had weapons drawn, they were just walking across a city street in the middle of the night in America. Tom kept going, stopping at the building wall. He turned to face Donnelly when he spoke to the old man walking the dog. He noticed the man had several people’s attention. He listened to the conversation and wondered how the possible presence of Baughman’s son would effect this operation. I guess it depended on what he did when he arrived and what Joe did when the son arrived.

As the group went inside, Tom moved to the nearest corner of the building so he could see down two walls and anyone approaching the building from three directions. He knew Mr. Clark would move to the opposite corner. It was tactically, the smart thing to do. From this vantage point, two men could see all entrances and approach avenues. Besides, there were plenty of bushes to conceal his location if someone were to walk up on them.

Justin mirrored Tom’s moves, taking the opposing corner as he adjusted his baseball cap. Flipping open his burner, he tapped through the ancient device to bring up the pixelated picture of Baughman’s son. Looking at it to burn the picture into his mind, he placed the phone back in his pocket, glancing around. Quietly, as he leaned against the wall and kept his eyes peeled, he pulled his pack of Pall Mall Reds from his shirt pocket, using some cheap BIC lighter to ignite one. He casually smoked, ready to make for cover if need be, albeit he wasn’t too concerned about anyone except the son.

‘Like I said earlier, I wish I had my M4’ Tom spotted a vehicle less than a hundred yards down on the left side of the road. Tom called Justin’s number on the burner phone he received from Mr. Donnelly, “hey Mr. Clark, there is a nosey individual in a late model Toyota about seventy meters up the street. I can keep my eyes on it, if you would like to go check him out?” Tom could tell there was someone in the car due to the way the suspension rocked ever so slightly when the person moved around. He knew the car was there when the group of seven arrived. No one new approached the area. It was a slight movement from the interior that alerted him to the person’s presence.

After their conversation on the phone, Tom called Mr. Donnelly’s number. “Sir, there is an unknown individual sitting in a Toyota about seventy meters up the street who appears to have taken an interest in our activities. I’ve sent Mr. Clark to go check him out, while I watch from the bushes.”

Footsteps were heard and Tom looked to see Donnelley, the others in the distance. Donnelley didn’t look in the direction of Tom had been, but when he did, he too saw it. It wasn’t exactly where he’d park if he was staking out a place or tailing someone. Did they know they were coming? Were they also after Clyde’s things and watching them when the team got there first? Had the team gotten there first? “I’ve got eyes on him.” Donnelley nodded, “We’re about to head out to somewhere else. When’d you notice that nosey sumbitch?”

“Just a few minutes ago,” Tom replied. “I called Mr. Clark to go check it out. I haven’t heard from him yet.”

“Clark here, I got it, will keep you updated.” Clark flipped his burner closed, slipping it into his pocket once more. Sweeping any furls of his button-up and fleece jacket from his side, he took a stroll down the street, keeping his figure as firmly glued to the shadows as humanly possible. Slowly, surely he unbuttoned his hip sheathe, and pulled out his folded SMF knife, backhand gripping it as he ducked behind a nearby car, careful of the presence of street lights or building entrance lights.

He removed his ball cap, stuffing it in his zip-up fleece’s front right pocket, peeking his eyes up and over the hood of the car he was using as cover. Full view of rear plates, and the silhouette of its occupant. Couldn’t be identified. Damn. At least he could get the license plate number and model. Pulling out his burner, he tapped at the buttons steadily, his breath wavering. He leaned back out, snapped a picture, and hastily retreated, hoping to god he hadn’t been seen. Planting himself on his ass in front of his cover vehicle, he dialed up Tom.

“Yeah, I got it. Driver is unidentifiable likely male, can’t discern any features. Vehicle is a silver Toyota Corolla, 2010s model. Got a picture of its rear plates, number is-” Clark looked down at his phone momentarily, bringing up the photo. “-Seven-Xray-Four-Five-Three-Four. I’ll send the picture your way.”

‘Break off, meet in the cars.’ Donnelley’s message.

Some ways away, the man himself was stuffing his phone in his pocket and turning towards the cars. The sounds of them closing their doors in the vehicles echoed down the road towards him and soon both cars were starting.

Justin made his own hasty retreat, taking up his previous spot in the Ford Explorer, making sure all his shit was in order as he buckled in.

Laine slid into the driver's seat of the Chrysler 300, starting the car as she waited for the others. It idled quietly, the stereo silent. The Explorer was parked behind her and in the rearview mirror she could see the dark shape of one of the men from the team get in the truck.

“You boys don’t mind if I hitch one with you?” Donnelley asked as he planted himself in the front passenger seat of the Explorer. All the while, he kept his eyes on the Corolla, watching and waiting for the bastard to follow them. He never did.

Just let them disappear down the road, past a corner, and onto the next little place with a shroud of mystery. The next quiet place waiting for them to stir up its secrets like silt in the water...
>CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA
>INSIDE THE LEMONBROOK APARTMENTS
>0250HRS…///

“Clyde has family on the way, I don’t know the ETA.” Donnelley said into his phone. They were waiting to reach their floor, the three of them packed in the elevator.

Foster’s came from the other side, starting with an annoyed sigh, “Make sure they don’t see you. The last thing we need is them calling security because some strangers are going through his things.”

“Obviously,” Donnelley muttered, “Get me a good picture of his son. Facebook, you know what that is?”

“I’m not that old, prick.” Foster chuckled, the line cut off and Donnelley shoved his phone back in his pocket. He rubbed his face, letting go of yet another annoyed sigh. “Well, fuck. At least we have Laurie and Gomez on the welcoming committee.”

Ding

Laine kept her face averted when the old man with the dog spoke to Donnelly, acting like a bored, disinterested youth hoping that's what he would take her for and the dimness would hide her mature features. What he must think, the three of us, "friends" showing up in the middle of the night to clear his apartment. They looked more like a trio that would rob an old man rather than befriend one.

"Son?" She asked as he hung up, "Is it his son the way we're his friends or his actual offspring?"

"We don't know anything about the son, too easy to get duped," Jason said. "Old business friends looking to crash after a night of drinking is what I'd go with. Close enough to the truth."

Not that it mattered much, either way it meant they had to move quickly. Dr Laine stayed between the men as the elevator slid to a stop. As it dinged, she reached into her pocket to get the small digital camera and held it against her palm. No matter what Donnelly said about natural death, she would treat it like a crime scene.

“Either Laurie and Gomez stop a bewildered young man in the lobby or we get into a gunfight.” Donnelley shrugged, “Either way, we’re finishing this.”

At the mention of a gunfight Jason appeared bewildered. He checked the ceiling of the elevator for cameras then pulled out his .45 and racked the slide, the weapon close to his body and the safety still on. To Donnelley he gave a wary glance, and to Dr. Laine an expression of rumination. Jason was thinking, but of what was buried behind an intensity.

Donnelley looked back at the two of them and the look on their faces was priceless. If only they knew it was a possibility. Or maybe they did, either way, they weren’t thrilled. Less so when he casually smirked at them and turned around, stepping out of the elevator as he chuckled, “Relax. Clyde never had any enemies.” Donnelley walked on, he knew that was a lie. Clyde was a Cowboy, an outlaw, his years in Delta Green smack dab in the era where the government itself was hunting down the only heroes it had.

He counted the numbers on the doors they passed, glancing at the number on the key he held intermittently, “That I know of, at least.”

She noticed Jason’s intent expression and when he pulled his weapon as she had her camera and for a moment she felt silly and vulnerable. Laine was treating this like a crime scene, after the danger had passed and all that was left was to piece together the puzzle of a broken life. Danger was still in the air, the unknown and secrecy added to her unsettled feeling. Stop it, this was an old man who died of being old. If he had enemies, it was cholesterol and hardening arteries.

Clearing her throat, she asked them, “Do you expect he did anything to his apartment? Any ah...security measures?”

“I knew a guy once. We were after a very hard-to-catch individual with a propensity to murder others for a cause.” Donnelley said, pausing at a door and checking the number on it against the key. He shook his head, continuing on, “We’re close. Anyways, the case was a hard one. If the man knew we were onto him he’d likely come after us. Spook or not, you’re mortal.”

“And the mortality rate for spooks? Don’t get me started. Well, this friend of mine who was helping me find this elusive murderer had jury-rigged a claymore mine to be set off if somebody entered their front door without doing the proper procedures.” Donnelley sucked at his teeth, looking at a door and then the key and then nodded. He slipped the key home, the sound of it rattling the tumblers graced his ears and he smirked as he turned it. He placed his hand on the doorknob, turned it and then opened the door without much ceremony.

“But Baughman didn’t have many enemies that would be dissuaded by a claymore mine.” Donnelley took the first step in. What greeted them was surprisingly normal to the other two. And, perhaps, maybe a little surprising to Joseph.

The doorway only offered a slice of the normality of the small apartment. It told the story of a man who lived like just about anybody else would, waiting out his retirement years with the usual fineries of a middle-class man. There was an empty coffee cup on the living room table, a tv that had gathered some dust on the screen and a dvd/vcr player under it in the entertainment station. Unopened envelopes and junk mail were spread out on the same table. Other than the paper, everything was just clean enough to look lived in but not dirty enough to tell of a man who lived a hard life of tragedy.

Directly ahead was a sliding glass door that led out onto a balcony with a humble view of Charleston. As Donnelley walked further in, he looked around. To his left was the bathroom, door still open. He looked along the wall and spotted the light switch, flipping one turned on the hallway lights. The other illuminated the doorway and living room. To his right and down a very short hall was the only bedroom, file cabinets and plastic containers were full of documents, some of which may or may not be interesting to Donnelley and his team.

A few steps toward it was the kitchen, and something caught Donnelley’s eye on the fridge- that looked to have been made 20 years ago. A crudely drawn family portrait, a collection of four people rendered by a child’s sloppy hand as smiling stick figures. The signature at the bottom- ‘for grampa.’ There was a stove that hadn’t been cleaned for a week, maybe, dishes in the sink. Donnelley shook his head and sighed. There was long-staled toast still in the toaster slots. He turned away, pushing the door open to the other room next to the bedroom. Only more paperwork and a computer in the office, the desk that held the computer had a file cabinet squatting next to it, parts of the paint flaking away to reveal bare and rusted metal. Whatever was in there was old. Case files?

Above all else, the only thing that Donnelley knew about Clyde’s apartment was there was going to be an effort to meticulously search every goddamn piece of paper in every container, folder, drawer, envelope.

“Feel free to take a look around. Doubt the old man would mind right now. We should go through those papers.” Donnelley said, looking around him reminded him that ‘those papers’ referred to a great many of the piles. “A lot of goddamn clutter, Clyde…”

When the lights came on, Dr Laine stood in the doorway, taking a long look at the apartment before raising her camera and snapping a picture, the muffled click the only sound. It looked normal, nothing overly clean and it was not a hoarding nightmare, both signs of mental instability in her opinion. She walked into the living room, taking in the details as her sharp green eyes gleamed behind her glasses.

“Fairly normal,” she commented, “Of course they’re always normal until you find the jar of severed fingers in the fridge. Not that Baughman would, I just...”

Laine trailed off as she made her way into the hallway, her FBI training taking over as she noted any smudges on door frames or stains on the carpet. Upon entering the bathroom she caught her reflection in the mirror, her short dark hair slightly mussed from the breeze outside and she reached to smooth it down. Then she opened the mirrored cabinet, looking at the contents. A razor, bottles of aspirin and Tylenol and the ubiquitous orange-brown prescription bottles of anyone over 35. Curious, she took one and read the label. Viagra.

She huffed a soft laugh and put it back, checking the others. Typical high blood pressure pills, the guy probably popped an artery trying to get it up. For who? The thought passed her mind but that was not what they were here for, and time was ticking.

Laine closed the cabinet, and checked under the sink, nothing but cleaners. She lifted the lid of the toilet tank, checking to see if anything might have been hidden in a plastic bag or container. Finding nothing but water, she closed it and moved out of the small room into the hallway.

Jason was the last to enter, hovering around the living room and taking the apartment in. Dr. Laine was right, normal was the perfect descriptor. Baughman was anything but normal, Jason reminded himself. Whatever he was a part of, what they all were now a part of, was beyond normalcy's fringe. The pattern, the eccentricity, just had to reveal itself.

Jason opened the coat closet and finding nothing of interest he grabbed a cloth bag with leather handles, the type that looked weathered but too sturdy of quality to be anything modern.

The doctor entered the bedroom, taking a picture of it before digging into the first tote, dumping it onto the bed and setting the empty bin next to her feet as she began shuffling through the documents. She dumped the old bills and junk back into it, hunting for something out of the ordinary. As Laine went through the paperwork, something Donnelly said came back to her. She must have missed it but now it planted itself forefront in her mind, “...Baughman didn’t have many enemies that would be dissuaded by a claymore mine.”

Pausing, gripping a manilla envelope in her hand she ran over the sentence, perhaps it was just his way of speaking, that slight Texas accent and manner but what would not be dissuaded by a claymore mine? Frowning slightly, she stored it back to ask later then folded the brass clasp to open the envelope.

“What am I even looking for?” she muttered, pulling out a tax return from 2002.

Jason passed the bedroom door and threw the bag on the bed next to the pile of letters Dr. Laine was sorting through. "If we find anything to haul," he said, and disappeared down the hall.




“Bills, junk mail, junk mail, bills.” Joseph leaned back in the couch and sighed, “It’s like I’m going through my own mail.”

Just then, he felt his phone vibrate. He tapped the power button and it came to life, showing a notification from Foster. Opening it revealed the face of Sam Baughman, as evidenced from Foster’s message below, ‘This is Sam. Be careful if you’re caught by him. Followed his daddy and he’s Army. At least you, Justin, and Sam can trade stories about being Rangers.’

He snorted, texting back, ‘Thanks. Maybe one day you’ll be a real man too.’

He forwarded the picture to the rest of his team with the warning, ‘Careful, he’s a Ranger. Take care.’

He looked around the room, his eyes snagging on a row of key hooks, on which three of the four were taken up. He stood, walking over and plucking one of them off the hooks and checking it against the door key. Not a match, another place he was staying? It was for a house or apartment, that was apparent.

The other was smaller, made for a storage unit or mailbox, perhaps… the mailboxes downstairs. He smirked, pocketing the mailbox key and the other, just in case. The other was for a car, but they weren’t in the business of repossessing his belongings. “Jason,” he fished the mailbox key out of his pocket, “Run this down to Gomez and Laurie.”

"Roger that," Jason replied from the hallway. His heavy steps entered the living room before he did but he was quick to take the keys, not stopping his stride to the front door as he asked, "We find anything worth while?"

“So far? Just the key. Maybe he’s got something in the mail but if he was as good at his job as I’m led to believe then we’ll never find anything classified here.” Donnelley shrugged, “I’ll message you and everybody posted while we look through this shit.”

Laine gave Jason a small smile and thanked him for the bag, then went back to tearing through the useless junk. Hadn't Baughman heard of a shredder? After she cleared the bin and put all the expired credit offers and bills back she got up to stretch her legs.

She wandered around his room, looking over the dresser and picked up the portrait of Clyde and his wife, she could see their matching wedding bands in the photo.They looked normal, smiling the happy couple smiles into the camera. She wondered briefly if his wife had any idea what her husband did for a living or was she blissfully ignorant. Laine wasn't even sure what Baughman had done for a living only that it had been secret and dangerous enough that a spook and his team were burglarizing his home. Flipping it over, she slipped the latches from the cardboard and removed it to see the back, checking for any writing or hidden items.

Once she checked that, Laine opened the top drawer and noted the gun and loose rounds, leaving them there for now. She scooped up the photos, thumbing through them.

“What’chu got?” Joseph asked, stepping up behind Laine with his hands in his pockets, casually surveying the aftermath of the tornado Laine was on the once peaceful stacks of otherwise useless mail and files.

“By the way, I was thinking of ripping open the computer and looking through that file cabinet he’s got.” Donnelley shrugged, “If you’re not too busy looking at… Clyde’s wife.” He said as he peeked over Laine’s shoulder.

Dr Laine jumped at the sound of his voice, turning halfway to see Donnelly just behind her. At the mention of the computer and filing cabinet, she nodded then glanced back at the couple in the photo.

"Do you think she knew?" Laine asked, looking back up at Donnelly. "About his work, I mean?"

Donnelley’s otherwise lackadaisical demeanor fell away for only a second. Clyde’s life told the same story as his own, but with happier endings. It made him jealous, almost. He remembered the arguments with Holly when he came back from Afghanistan.

Now those smiles that Clyde and his wife had in those photos could never be had with Donnelley and Holly. Tilly neither. He stepped up beside Laine, looking at the photos as she thumbed through each one. He shook his head, “No.” he said, “No, they never do. Work isn’t allowed to be talked about. You wouldn’t ever want to, anyways, if you knew what was good for them.”

Laine watched him, catching the movement of his expression, a flicker of emotion in his calm face. He recovered quickly, moving closer as she searched the photos.

Turning to him she made a guess and asked, "What did you tell your wife when the things you see and know keep you up at night, that make you bolt out of sleep and haunt your thoughts?"

Her gaze met his, "Did she want to know?"

Donnelley shrugged, shaking his head, “Maybe.” He frowned, working at the words though it felt like he had to pry them loose. He looked at Laine and shook his head, “Maybe not. I think she- all of them. Husbands, wives, they all think talking about it will make it go away. Sharing a burden, for better and for worse.”

“They weren’t thinking about people like me when they wrote that.” He sighed, leaning closer to Laine and holding her gaze long enough with that face of his. Could she understand until she saw for herself? Not just the black slab, but the things that put it there? Still, he stared into her, leaning just a hair closer, “Eyes peeled. Ears open.”

He turned and left, disappeared around the corner into the office. Whether she followed him or not was her choice, but her prying left a bad taste in his mouth with every word she let tumble out of him. Maybe he wanted to talk, after so long of just not. Even so, he called over his shoulder, “I don’t think the mission left any room for picking my brain, Doctor.”

Dr Laine kept her gaze steady on his blue eyes, she had stared into the eyes of dangerous men before, monsters wearing human flesh. Donnelly might have been CIA and a killer but he wasn't one of them, there was still too much humanity in his eyes. Sadness, regret perhaps, and he confirmed her guess at being married or at least had been so. She set the pictures back in the drawer and called after him, "Maybe you're right, but I'm here for information. And you..."

Then he was gone.

She let him go, bending to open the next drawers, searching through them, her hands reaching into the back of each drawer. Her fingers slid across smooth grain until she felt an irregularity at the back. Something had scratched or indented the wood so she pulled out the drawer until it hung down so she could examine it in the light.

Laine used her fingernails to pry at the indents, to see if it perhaps opened a false bottom or back."Better not chip a nail," she muttered.

Finally, the bottom gave way. The only contents were an envelope labeled, ‘Mr. Green,’ a green triangle drawn next to it.

Laine pulled out the envelope, turning it over and studying the writing for a moment. She should out in the bag and give it to Donnelly so he could dispose of it, whatever it was it had been hidden well. She should.

Instead, Laine slid a black laquered fingernail under the flap and opened it, removing whatever was inside.

It was a single sheet with an address written neatly across. Her heart sank a bit, nothing about murders or stones but it was a start.



“Fucking finally.” Donnelley muttered to himself, looking at the computer tower in pieces. He snatched up the hard drive and put it in his hoodie’s pocket, opening one of the drawers of the file cabinet. Empty.

He furrowed his brow and checked the second one down, empty. Third? Empty, but the fourth held something. Two Manila folders. He hiked up the legs of his pants and squatted down, flipping open one of the folders. He read the document inside. After a few seconds of reading, it was apparent that the paper was a therapist’s report on his mental health.

He reached down and grabbed the folder up, reading the second page. Nothing out of the ordinary, just talking about how he missed Marlene- so that’s her name- and he had ‘work-related stress and nightmares’ and he always wondered if he did the right thing. “Don’t we all, Clyde.”

Other than that, there was nothing else worth anything to Donnelley in the file cabinets. He leaned his head into the bedroom, “I’ve got the hard drive.”

She set it on the dresser and snapped a picture of it just as Donnelly poked his head in. Stuffing the small camera back in her jacket pocket quickly, she turned to him then grabbed the envelope and paper, handing it over.

"An address," Laine said, then gave him a curious smile, "Do you have code names? Like in Reservoir Dogs? You know, Mr Pink?"

She held up the envelope, "Mr Green, for Baughman?"

Donnelley raised his brows, nodding at the envelope in Laine’s hands. Mr. Green, the green triangle. “Something like that, sure.” He looked at Laine, “Let’s go join the others. Whatever that address is could be important, huh?”

With that he left the room, tucking a ncigarette between his lips just waiting to be lit while the man himself waited for Laine to join him so he could very literally close the door on this part of the mission.

Dr Laine put the contents back in the drawer and pushed it into place, the totes now sealed and shoved into their corners. She started to walk out when she remembered the portrait and clipped it back into place under the glass, setting it back on the dresser.

"Tidied up a bit," she said, hurrying out to where Donnelly waited. Laine tucked her hands in her jacket, the leather creaking softly in the quiet apartment.
"That's it then?"

Donnelley and Laine went out the way they came in, flicking the lights off and shutting the door of Clyde’s apartment. Donnelley locked it, stepping back and nodding. “That’s it.”

The two continued down the hall from whence they came, walking fast and not making any small talk. At least not until they got to the elevator. They stepped inside, quiet for only a few moments while Donnelley pressed the Lobby Button. “What was that, back there?” Donnelley looked sidelong at Laine, “You usually just try to psychoanalyze your co-workers?”

In the elevator she met his glance and shrugged slightly, "No, just my bosses."

After a beat, she turned to look at him fully,"Mr Donnelly, it was only a question because I am curious about you, I apologize if it seemed I was trying to put you on the couch."

“I don’t know you. Least of all know you well enough to spill the shit about my life.” Donnelley spoke, the dangling cigarette jumping with each word, though not altogether fuming. He did shake his head, “It’s just…”

Donnelley chuckled ruefully, rubbing his eyes, “Ain’t professional, s’all.” Although he did turn his head to look at her, “You did good back there. Crafty.”

Ding

He stepped off the elevator and away from her before she could reply. He looked right, then left, scanning for his team. When he spotted them huddled around the mailboxes, he raised his hand as he approached them, “Care for a smoke?”

Laine watched him walk away, perhaps he was right but there were so many unanswered questions. About him, about Foster and who, other than the mystery government types, they were and why the motley team was put together. But that wasn't why she had asked, not wholly.

She followed behind, reaching up into her pocket to find the pack of Djarums, feeling the stick of gum beside it. She pulled out a black cigarette and held it between her fingers as she fished out the cheap Zippo from her jeans.
>THE SAFEHOUSE
>0112HRS...///

Around midnight Dr Laine changed into a pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt with the words The Exploited emblazoned in red across her chest. Her Doc Marten's laced up past her ankles and she rolled her jeans to just rest against the tops of the boots. She packed a backpack with an extra set of clothes and her notebook and camera. Laine took two extra magazines for her 9mm which she tucked into her shoulder holster and tossed on her old leather jacket.

Her stomach twisted with sudden nerves, and she took a deep breath, reminding herself it was just a clean up operation. Just making sure nothing important fell into the wrong hands. Documents. Information. Maybe about murders and strange stones and voices from the void. Shouldering the bag, she looked around once more, the nerves starting to settle as she picked up the keys to one of the rentals.

There shouldn't be trouble, it's just a matter of forensics and cleaning up. Nothing that dangerous. Right?

Dr Laine stepped into the front room, twirling the keys into her palm, then glanced around for the lead man.

"Donnelly?"

The front door opened to reveal Donnelley stepping inside, only half his body visible from behind the door as he took in one long drag from his cigarette. Clad in a plain black shirt, a pullover hoodie, jeans and Vans, he didn’t much look like the shadowy CIA man Tom had pegged him for earlier. The Thrasher cap put him even farther afield of that. Behind him, the sound of a car running. He flicked the cigarette outside, sighting Laine. “Nice shirt.” He smirked, then looked around, “You’re driving the Chrysler with me. Where the fuck’s Gomez?"

"Had my hardcore phase," Laine replied, brushing her short hair behind her ear with a slight smile. She looked him over, trying not to linger on the burn scar or the deep eyes. At his question she glanced back at the room the two women shared then shrugged. "I'll wait in the car."

“Tell me about it.” Donnelley chuckled as Laine walked past him. “I’ll just wait here. Make sure everybody’s on schedule!”

He raised his voice good and loud, but still that bit jovial. Like a father to his children on the first day of school, hoping to rouse the team awake. Before his prodding could come to fruition, he produced his flask, taking a long pull from it and stashing it back in his pocket.

Serena heard Donnelley beckoning from the front room as she was coming down the hallway, her boots pounded against the plank-wood flooring. She had changed into some relaxed fit jeans, a plain t-shirt, and a black Carhart hoodie. She pulled a dark ball cap down tight against the edge of her brow as she rounded the corner.

“Right here boss.” she said as she passed him in the front room, not stopping on her way out the door. “You got shotty boss.. age before beauty and all that noise.”

Serena made her way out to the passenger side of the car and pulled her Beretta from her back, and slid back her slide to check and make sure she had some brass in the chamber, then returned it, pulling her hoodie back into place. She opened the door and entered the vehicle. She acknowledged Dr. Laine as she did.

“Nice ride.” she said while taking a seat, half a smirk held by a bit lip.

Laine was hooking up the piece of shit mp3 player that had to replace her phone for now, at least she had been able to put a few playlists on it. She glanced up as Serena slid into the car, looking at her in the rear view mirror.

"Thanks, it's not mine," she replied before hitting play. Whoever had driven the Chrysler last had not turned down the stereo and a sudden clash of drums and squealing guitar filled the vehicle, spilling out into the darkness of the yard.

Laine winced, reaching to turn it down a bit. Hell of a start. Real situational awareness on her part. Glancing up at the mirror she just mouthed the word, "Oops."

Serena snickered a bit, pulling a pack of Juicy Fruit from her hoodie pocket. Antsy. She still wasn’t one hundred percent certain that they weren’t riding out to some shallow grave somewhere, plastic sheeting laid neatly in rows on the forest floor out in the middle of nowhere. Five years on the gang unit had made trusting people hard for her. She pulled a piece of gum from the rather large pack and unwrapped it, throwing the stick in her mouth. Going to be one hell of a ride, Serena was certain. A sweet smell loomed about the cab of the Chrysler. She looked in the rear view to Dr. Laine, hoping to catch her eye. “Gum?”

Laine did catch the other woman's eyes in the mirror and the smell of the banana yellow wrapped gum brought her immediately back to being a kid, skating on the boardwalk and she grinned. "Thanks, normally I only chew sugar free but..."

She turned and plucked a piece of gum from Gomez's hand, "Living dangerously now, right?"

“That’s what my mother keeps telling me.” Serena replied, returning the pack of gum to her hoodie pocket.

The passenger door opened and Donnelley grunted as he plopped himself down in the seat, the suspension rocking with his entrance. He noted the music. “Sorry, I drove this thing here. Got a V8 too.” He smiled.

He sighed, push-checking his .40 cal. If anything, he was glad the South was no stranger to people carrying guns. It was as American as apple pie and big Pharma. While they waited, Donnelley produced a GPS from the glovebox, sticking the suction cup on the windshield and inputting the directions to Charleston. Not that there were many needed. Once you got on the highway it was pretty much a straight shot into town. “Looks like everyone’s where they’re supposed to be now,” Donnelley peered behind them as the last straggler shut the door of the Explorer behind them. “Let’s go.”

The Chrysler lurched forward and they turned onto the dirt road that led to the main one. Once they got enough speed on their descent from the mountains, Donnelley spoke again. “I’m sure you two have a lot of questions.” He said, looking out the window and watching the trees and hills pass them by. “I’ll answer the ones I can.”

Serena’s back pressed firm against the back seat. “How ‘bout something useful, for starters?” She had heard this sort of empty rhetoric before. “Not much on briefings around here, huh..?”. She turned and glared out the back before returning her attention to her company up in the front seats.

Laine kept her focus on the road, navigating the hills as fast as she dared but she listened above the din of Black Flag and Cro Mags, turning it down enough to talk.

"Specific questions might be better," she said. Many questions raced through her mind but the one that nagged her the most was also the ridiculous one she feared to ask. After a moment she asked it anyway, "Is this about the stone?"

The doctor flicked her gaze to the man next to her, hoping to catch his initial reaction.

“Well, I would’ve been more specific, but I didn’t feel like asking what some suits and spooks, a park ranger, a head doctor, a cop, and some soldier boys were doing playing commando at a gangbang all the way out here in Nowheresfuckingville was gonna get me very far.” she snipped. She was clearly agitated from being kept in the dark for so long. Serena didn’t like it. “What’s this shit about a stone?”

A spike of anxiety shot through Donnelley at the mention of a stone. It was in her case files. She’d seen it too. A lot of them had. “Due time.” Donnelley pursed his lips, “Let’s keep our eyes forward.”

“We’ve all got shit in our dossiers. Blacked out portions of things we only know. Things nobody wanted us to.” Donnelley snorted, fishing his pack of cigarettes from his hoodie pocket, biting one and pulling it free. “Either of you mind?”

Moving her gaze back to the black river of asphalt stretching before them and shook her head, her bobbed dark hair swishing against the seat, “I don’t mind if Gomez doesn’t, I’ll crack the windows.”

Tapping the button on the console the passenger window slid down half way. Glancing at the rear view mirror, trying to catch Gomez’s eye, Laine continued, “About the stone, I’m going to hold you do that, Mr. Donnelley. Now, if you can’t answer the blacked out portion right now, I have another. This man we are cleaning up after, he was one of you. How did he die?”

Serena waved them off. “It’s fine, I only smoke when I drink and I didn’t bring anything.. which I am starting to regret a little bit.”. She watched as the trees that were lit as they passed by them in a blur as they pushed on down the highway.

Donnelley nodded at the both of them, rolling his window up slightly so the spark could catch on the lighter. He puffed twice and rolled the window back down. He sighed, “Not everything has to be a classified top secret operation we’re cleaning up after.” He chuckled a bit, scratching at his forehead, “The guy was old as hell. Cardiac arrest. We keep tabs on everybody who gets let in.”

“You two. Them back there in the Ford.” Donnelley nodded and smirked, taking a drag and speaking through the harsh cloud that came after, “Even me. Even Foster. From the day we come in from the cold to the day we croak. One day some asshole is going to have to come clean up after me. The people who decide where Foster goes, where I go, these decisions are made in places I’ve never been by people I’ve never seen.”

“You want to last, you want to fight the good fight? Don’t dig too deep. The enemy wants you to.” Donnelley said, matter-of-factly, not pretending that he would be making sense to either of them until their blindfolds had been lifted, so to speak.

“That’s unfortunate,” Laine replied dryly, “Digging is what I do.”

“Tell me about it..” Serena said in accordance. “What else is a cop supposed to do?” Her tone coming of a bit more lax, having found some comfort in sharing a bit of common ground.

She turned over what he had said, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel in time to the next brief angry song that played at an inappropriately low level. “If we can’t dig, if we can’t find meaning in...what this enemy is...and I am assuming it is a deadly enemy if it’s so hush-hush. I’m an analyst, she’s SWAT. You need something figured out and you need something dead, that’s for certain. Just who is it? Terrorists, mafia, narcos? No, that’s not it.”

Her green eyes flashed behind her glasses but her voice remained smoke soft and even, “This is something no one is meant to know, everything is top secret about this. Donnelley, give us something. You’re taking us in blind. What documents are we looking for? What would he have in his own home that is so dangerous it needs to be destroyed.”

“You gotta give us something Boss, Doc is right on this one. We got shit. I just traveled 2,400 miles because I was instructed to over a phone call with a complete stranger, who also coincidentally told me to lose my identification.. A little bit of clarity would go a long way.” Serena firmly agreed with the doctor on this. How were they ever going to work as a unit she thought to herself. Her unit wouldn't have handled it like this. This shit was deep, really deep., Whatever it was.

“You ever hear about those crazy fucking Nazi scientists and SS fuckers running around Europe and Asia and the Mid East?” Donnelley said, blowing smoke out the window as he shook his head in frustration. “Ask the flyboy back there in the Ford about the Office of Special Intelligence. Gomez, ask yourself what the fuck was going on when you crashed that party with SWAT.”

He turned to Laine, “Ask yourself what the fuck that black slab in the middle of the forest you saw was.” He sniffed something into his face and spat it out the window, “I used to ask myself those things every day until I was given the answer. It’s the only war that matters. The truth’s a privilege, ladies, earn it.”

"I have been asking that since..." she paused, her mind flashing to the night under the pier and the ripple in the dark. 'Since we pulled that girl's body or what was left of it off that stone. I've been over the coroner's report and the statements of the victim's friends and family, the witness statements of the Park Ranger that found her. Who, incidentally, won't take our calls now. I tried to go back to examine the scene, and was told in so many words to kindly fuck off."

She took a deep breath, looking over briefly at Donnelly, "It's that damn stone. You can feel ... something."

Saying it out loud made it seem ridiculous, like something from the X Files. "I'm back to the stone. But I'm still working on this case, trying to build a profile of the killer. Sofie Childress was butchered and I'm not going to let it just get swept away under a black ops carpet."

Serena was stone silent, slumping ever deeper into the back seat, and in her mind. She could feel the Latin potena fleeting from her face being replaced by a sheet of alabaster. A sinking feeling in her gut. The doctor’s words faded like headlamps on a distant foggy highway. It was all rushing back in. That smell.. that awful wretched smell, came flooding back into her nostrils. She hadn’t mentioned it since it had happened. It couldn’t be.. could it?

“Are you referring to 2018? The Asian bangers’ place?” Serena was baffled, that had taken place nearly a year prior and she hadn’t mentioned it since. Her entire unit shied away from speaking about it, in any context.

“Do you think I am?” Donnelley said over his shoulder, turning back around and taking another drag, flicking ash out the window, “Like I said. Eyes peeled, ears open.”

...///

0100 was a long time off, too long for Jason to wrestle with an unanswered curiosity spinning day dreams in his head. At first being busy was the answer, the necessity of unpacking keeping his hands busy. Even then his mind coursed with questions and the hollow conjecture that attempted to answer them. His gear was packeted in unlabeled black pelican cases, one clearly housing a rifle by its telltale shape, but the others were an assortment of gear seemingly meant for field operations. A laptop, weapon accessories, a field satellite for classified data, even a BATDOK ready cell phone.

“Why the fuck would I need all of this?” Jason muttered. The agency had inundated him, a nobody field operative, with the very finest; right down to the latest in Pararescue loadouts. Ready for war. It was piece to the puzzle, but one that hardly revealed the composite picture. Jason rifled through his personal gear next, cautious to avoid exposing his cache of substances, and in the absence of tasks his mind began to uncomfortably dilate. The demographic of their team, the purposeful lack of information, the innocuous first mission. Jason knew there was a connection beyond any of their knowledge bases, but he was impatient and his curiosity near insistent. The remainder of evening was for him one spent in silence and an unsettling solitude, though he tried his best to project a warmth if he ran into any of the other team members.

When it was about time he holstered his HK45, pocketed a spare clip, and donned a pair of blue jeans, black boots, and a black and grey flannel button down. Someone outside was yelling, "Come on boys, daylight's not burning but it will be soon!" and he followed the call.

*****

In the interim, waiting for the time they would roll Laurie didn't really seek anyone out. He wasn't particularly sleepy and regardless he had much on his mind. So he went to the only thing he knew, his Bible. He almost got through Luke when it was time. He loaded his Nineteen-Eleven, secured his knife, a few spare magazines and Taser before he stepped outside with a few stretches. He dressed plainly in grey khakis and a grey sweater with a black baseball cap and necker chief. Laurie was the guy who knew for sure he wouldn't be caught on tape, he didn't want to embarrass all his friends by being found working with these yankee suits after all!

So instead he went over to lean on his assigned car all cowboy like with one foot on the ground and the other against the wheel while looking vaguely down on the ground. "Come on boys, daylight's not burning but it will be soon!" he called out, Laurie waiting for the other men to get in before following.

Tom noticed how most of the other had nondescript clothing on. He decided to do the same. He preferred the trousers and boots. They were comfortable and suited his needs. He put on a plain grey T-shirt, with a shoulder holster over it and then a gray windbreaker over the shirt. He picked up his SIG, hit the thumb release on the magazine catch pulling it out. Then he pulled back on the slide. The chamber was empty. He reinserted the magazine leaving the chamber empty. He would load it if he needed it. Finally, he holstered the pistol under his left arm and placed two spare magazines in the pockets on the shoulder holster. He insured he was wearing his Leatherman on the back of his belt and strapped a Gerber Mark II survival knife around his ankle, tucked into his boot and under his trousers. Finally, he pulled the navy blue baseball cap with the red letter “B” emblazoned across the front onto his head.

As he headed down the stairs, he pulled a fine brown cigar in an aluminum tube out of a drawer. He found the Park Ranger from Louisiana leaning up against the Ford Explorer they were going to take. It may have been the same vehicle he rode in to get here from the airport. “Hey kid, got a light?” Tom asked as he approached Laurie. He pulled the cigar from the tube. Tom bit the end of the cigar off and shoved it into his mouth. He tossed the tube aside.

Looking up from his stance Laurie nodded, going to his left-hand pocket before realizing it was in another, and retrieved a matchbox. He struck one as the man approached and held it out for his counterpart to light his cigar on. The moment the cigar caught flame the Park Ranger pulled the match back to blow out and dropped it on the ground to stomp out. “Forest fires, nasty shit.” He stated, shrugging as it might have been seen as excessive measures. “Baseball fan?” came the followup, a question by definition rhetorical. But why not make small talk, eh?

“Thanks,” Tom muttered as he drew the smoke into his lungs. He took a few more puffs and looked at the taller man, “yea, I’m a Sox fan.” He stood next to Laurie, smoking on the cigar.

"Yeah? My family were always a football bunch. Dad said I was a good batter but that was a load of bull, he wanted me to explore sports or something." The Ranger realized too late he probably had lead to a conversational dead end, but tried to fix that. "Looks like there's four of us, all like Sardines in this car. You're driving, right cowboy?"

Tom laughed. He had never been referred to as a cowboy before. That would be a Texas thing, hardly a nickname for a Northerner. “Oh yea, I’m a Pats fan too. But I remember when they sucked; worst team in the AFC east along with the Baltimore Colts. Lot of young people flock to the Pats because they are all about the double yous since the beginning of the century. It wasn’t all that wonderful years ago.”

"Damn." Laurie offered, spitting out a bit of his dip. "I remember hearing something like that at my first ranger station. Football has a lot of politics of its own but baseball seems to have politics like one of them shows on Tee-Vee soccer moms watch with wine. My first Superintendent loved to talk about them all, who was trading to who, I knew enough from him to just about pretend to get it when I crashed in New England for a bit. Baseball popular with the soldier-boys?" the Louisiana guy asked at last, realizing again his little affliction made him ramble on too long.

Jason came out the front door and approached the two as he overheard the conversation. Damn, he thought. He hated sports conversations and never had enough to say in them. This was especially true for baseball, the sport he found to be the most uninteresting. Another missed bonding topic, as per the course. Anything atomic or all-American was a connection lost between Jason and whoever he was working with.

“Only the dopey ones,” he answered, his inflection as sarcastic as he could manage. “I assume you two have the front seats?”

Jason glanced at the other car mounting up, and without waiting for either Tom or Laurie to answer he sat in the driver-side passenger seat.

Justin was the last out. He’d traded his t-shirt for a nice button-up with sleeves rolled to his elbows, and a zip-up fleece was thrown over one shoulder. He wore another set of Wranglers, some tac-shoes, and a different unmarked cap, this one olive green. He made for the only open passenger seat without protest, silently going through the little go-bag he’d packed. Had a box of 9x19, a couple bottles of water, hygiene supplies, an MRE, some protein snacks, and a carton of Pall Mall Reds for emergencies. These were all in plain view of the others in the vehicle as Justin went through his mental checklist.

“Right, I’m good, let’s get this fuckin’ thing on the road.”

The four men took their seats in the Ford Explorer. Tom followed the Chrysler to their objective. The ride to the Lemonbrook apartments in Charleston was pretty quiet. No one spoke. Tom puffed away on the stogie with his window open. He never even considered if the others cared if he smoked or not. It was not a thought he would have had. This situation, working with these men whom he is just meeting caused a flood of memories about his time in the Corps. His mindset fell back into those ways. He was a Marine again, rather than a Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigations. It was a role he was comfortable with, but not on US soil. It almost felt contrary to everything he had done for the past five years, but he kept his options open.

He thought about Jill and the way they left things that night at dinner. He wished he could talk to her. He also needed to call Lieutenant Colonel Norman Miller at the armory in Worcester. He had to let him know what he was doing; or at least as much as he could say. Their next meeting was in a week and a half. These thoughts still weighed on his mind, but he could still function as a Marine or an SSA, depending on the situation. Hell, he could perform the duties of an attorney if called upon to do so. Yea, Tom was a Yankee Suit, even if he couldn’t admit it to himself.

About a mile from their objective rally point (ORP), the cigar was tossed from the window. It had diminished to a point where he felt it served its purpose. The four men were alert watching their side or corner of the moving vehicle; someone keeping an eye on the rear. Tom occasionally, looked in the rearview mirror or side mirrors to see if anyone was following them. It was late at night; the streets were deserted. He was surprised to see no local police patrols on the road either. Normally, a small city like this would have several patrols visible. Most law enforcement officers who work between the hours of midnight and zero five believe there are only two types of people they encounter; victims and assholes. He knew that if a police patrol encountered this crew of seven, he would not consider them to be victims.




>CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA
>OUTSIDE THE LEMONBROOK APARTMENTS
>0242HRS…///

Finally, some civilization. In America, no less. How many years had it been since he spent more than a week, a month stateside? When the car slowed to a stop and parked on the curb across the street from Lemonbrook, Donnelley closed his eyes as he stepped out of the Chrysler, inhaling all the American air he could. Even White Tree, even Blackriver didn’t feel like America. It felt like some slice of another world someone had carefully laid over what was supposed to be, long ago. But, as he opened his eyes and looked around, there it was. American civilization in all its prideful, calloused handed dirt and grime. The streets in this part of town were anything but clean, but the gloom of it all, the streetlights making bastions of orange light in the blues and blacks of the morning... There wasn’t even the tinge of diesel or the sound of blasting charges in the distance. Nor even the oppressing aura of the unnatural, the unknown. The cars, just honking. A police siren in the distance. A cool breeze over his face.

And somewhere in Charleston was a barstool with his name on it. But this assignment came first. He owed it to Clyde Baughman, one of the proud few to step back from fieldwork and get that coveted position as an advisor. Donnelley couldn’t see that for himself. Not until they won. He turned his head at the sound of brakes, the black Ford Explorer coming to a halt just behind them, headlights making him squint. Donnelley waved all of them over to him.

As they all came together like one big happy family, Donnelley looked all of them over. Satisfied, he nodded, “Alright. Over there in that building is Clyde Baughman’s former residence. We’re not expecting anybody else to come calling for Clyde, so Tom, Justin? Post up in the lobby and ping me on my phone if you hear anybody asking about Baughman.”

“Serena, Laurie, if anybody does, make a fuss about something. Anything, get creative.” Donnelley nodded to Jason and Laine, “You two are with me, we go up to Clyde’s, do a search. Take anything with us that’d raise eyebrows.”

Donnelley cast a glance towards the apartment building, that little resting smile on his lips. In a way, it felt good to be back to work. At least when Foster wasn’t breathing down his neck. “Questions?”

Dr Laine glanced at Jason Jimenez, her gaze running along his broad form, taking in his expression and the way he held himself. At their initial meeting, he had been tense and guarded, not unexpected in their situation but there was something else. Maybe the look in his eyes, a flicker of emptiness lost in memory. She had seen it before, in victims of violence. And in those who committed violence, at least those still left with a scrap of conscious.

Turning to Donnelley, she said, “Just the apartment number, lead the way.”

Jason was scanning the streets as Donnelley briefed the team, the heavy humidity a welcome southernly embrace. It reminded him of the stuffy nights of inner city Houston when the only relief from the heat was sleep. He didn't catch Dr. Laine's observation until it was a fleeting turn away from him, but just enough for him to notice. A tumult of anticipation, hunger, and nervousness racked his gut. Surely she isn't interested, it wasn't anything, he thought. The impending revelations inside were a welcome distraction from the aimless desire spurred from nothing but a glance. Just the mission, nothing but the mission Jason. Please, he pleaded to himself.

Serena’s thoughts of the previous conversation melted away as Donnelley began briefing the team. This was much more vernacular to what she was accustomed to. She retrieved the Beretta from her back and checked it a second time. It felt like home now, Serena was all about the pre-game. She nodded towards Donnelley and then at Laurie.

“Good shit Boss, waitin on GO.” she said, returning her sidearm to it’s holster.

Temperate, Laurie likewise was excited to at least move his legs a bit, and so tapped his forelock in a quasi salute. “On it.” he said, walking over to Serena and letting her lead the way for now.

“Alright.” Donnelley nodded, “Let’s go.”

With that, he walked towards the apartment building, looking both ways as he stepped out into the street. Wouldn’t do if all of a sudden they had to deal with their team lead flattened by some asshole. He nodded to an old man walking his dog, a golden retriever. The old man nodded back, offering that smile that wasn’t, the one reserved for people on the street you’d never see again. Just as Joseph reached out to pull the doors to the lobby open, he heard the old man speak at him. “Huh?” Donnelley asked.

“Said, you folk lookin’ for Clyde?” The man smiled.

Donnelley smiled back, almost having to remind himself that this wasn’t Turkey or Chechnya or some other backwater and it was okay for people to make small talk… but how did he know Clyde?

“Friend of his?”

“I was about to ask you the same.” The man chuckled, bending down to pat his old retriever on the head. “You friends? Family?”

“Yeah, friends.” Donnelley nodded, making like he wasn’t racing circles in his mind. “We came to get Clyde’s things in order. Better go.”

“Shame about Clyde. Take care!” The old man held up a hand, “Oh, do tell his son that I offer my condolences. Should be here in a little bit, I think.”

“I will.” Donnelley pulled the door open and he stepped inside, his two trainees behind him all the way.





>THE SAFEHOUSE
>0630HRS...///

“Two days ago at 2200 hours,” Steve Foster, began, “Retired Army Lieutenant Baughman passed away in his apartment in Charleston. Years ago, Baughman was given the same chance at opening new avenues for his career, just like all of you here today.”

“Your first order of business is to go to his apartment and remove any… incriminating documents. Anything anybody but Clyde Baughman and everyone here doesn’t need to know.” Steve Foster eyed the assembled recruits as Joseph did the same, offering his arm out for a better look at Baughman's apartment key, giving them a little jingle, “Welcome to Working Group Umbra. Dismissed.”

As Foster closed the door to the tiny garage behind him, there was a silence that seemed to swell in his absence. It choked whatever comfort Joseph had being inside the living room. Joseph wasn't too much in a rush to fill it, but he figured some sort of bonding was going to have to happen for them to start being a cohesive unit. Joseph wasn't in the business of holding hands and singing songs around a fire, so that was that option out the window. He clapped his hands together, wringing them as he looked them all over. Standing or sitting in the couch, none of them seemed particularly fresh-faced, which was good. The day they started conscripting the young was not a day Joseph wanted to be around for. "Well," Joseph looked at everybody about the room, not attempting to mask that little stubborn bit of Texan in his words that never seemed to go away, "Let's introduce ourselves, then."

“I’m your team lead. My name is Joseph Donnelley. If you’re wondering if I’m going to tell you why you’re here,” Donnelley paused. He had the face on him, he knew. The one Holly always said looked like he was about to tell them the truth. A little sad smile and his kind eyes as he looked at whoever he was talking to from the other side of the threshold of disappointing truth. “I’m not. Yet. I can and will tell you that if you do well enough on this first errand, then the rest of your lives are going to be different.”

“I was given the same choice as you, a long damn time ago.” He said, reaching into a pocket and producing a black pack of Spirits, he clenched one in his smirking teeth, “I sure learned to appreciate the little things since then, tell you what.”

She looked around at the people around her then smiled slightly, and clasped her hands, "I'm Dr Laine, I am a profiler with the Behavioral Analysis department of the FBI."

Her green eyes peered from behind her black frame glasses flicking over to Donnelly. "And I'm here because I want answers. If cleaning this man's apartment will help lead me there, well...I should probably change clothes."

She tapped her high heel, the twin bows on the velvet material bobbing slightly.

Sprawled on the couch like the cowboy Laurie saw himself as, he didn’t really pay attention to what was said before him. He knew they had a meet and greet thing going on and already two people spoke up. Moving down the hands he was resting his head on Laurie looked about, seeing if anyone else felt like speaking. It seemed nobody else did, and thus he spoke up.

“I’m Laurie.” The man said plainly. “Park Ranger, I guess. I’m here to do my job whatever the heck that is.” He said, spitting out a bit of his dip. “Don’t know why the hell they brought a Park Ranger for some Suit’s cover-up bullshit.” he muttered as addendum.

Serena cocked her head to the side and slid her aviators down the bridge of her nose a bit at the mention of “cover-ups.”, especially taking note of the thick twang in the delivery. She also took note that he made a good point. Why the fuck was she there?

“Lieutenant Serena Gomez. LAPD, SWAT negotiator and unit B member. Five years prior with a special gang task force.” She said plainly. “LT for short.”, -short and sweet. She nodded round the room to her colleagues, an odd mashup she thought to herself, more questions.. She dropped her gaze to the center of the table, staring out. “I’m also here for some answers. I’d also like to know why this gang-bang is going on out here in ‘Way-the-fuck-out-West Virginia’.” she took her sunglasses off as she spoke. She did her best not to come off as too abrasive, she did what she could with the filter she had.

“I came a long way to get ‘em. I sure hope this trip was worth it.” she said, a bit of agitation on the fringe of her tongue.

Though it was hard for Jason to blend into the periphery of the living room he tried, his bulky frame sticking towards the walls and exterior edge of the furniture. His arms were crossed in the telltale body language of uncomfortability, and his expression was all focus and glare. Joseph Donnelley held the attention of the room, but them like the others Jason began to study each person in this ragtag spin up. He sure as hell wasn't going to speak first, but no one this far was connecting the dots like he wanted.

"Not without purpose, I'm sure," he replied to Serena. He looked around at everyone, continuing, "Jason Jimenez, DIA. Was an Air Force PJ before that. My guess is we're following a breadcrumb trail. The purpose is supposed to reveal itself, though why we have DoD, DoJ--hell even the Department of the Interior--working together is beyond me."

Jason crossed his arms and turned to Joseph. "This counter-narco?" He asked. It was the only type of op that made any rational sense. Even then it was a stretch, a conjecture, but weren't they supposed to be asking questions?

“That’d make the most sense outta anything I’ve heard over this past week.. That’s for damn sure.” Serena replied.. “I’m just as clueless as you are.” Serena wiped the lenses of her aviators on her blouse then slid them back on her face.

Laurie still wasn't exactly paying attention, but he knew the woman that just spoke had already said her piece and now she was just double-dipping. "Hey, let's have everyone say their name and then we'll get on with our job, alright Miss?" With that said, he went back to trying to find the most comfortable position on the couch.

There was a certain feeling of freedom that came from lighting a cigarette with four walls and a roof over your head. Harkened back to another time, to when America was so, so sure of its place in the world. Joseph felt that feeling wash over him as he lit the cigarette inside, not bothering to ask anyone if they were alright with it as they went about the room introducing themselves.

To Jason, Joseph only shrugged. He was a sharp one, alright. He wouldn’t be surprised if Jason was the first to catch on to what this was. He was right there before once.

As the decidedly awkward silence loomed, Justin opened his mouth to speak. He'd sat there pretty quietly as the others said their pieces, just gripping his cap tightly in one hand. Whether it was Appalachian mannerisms or his Army conditioning, he was disciplined about that cap. Always came off when he entered, always went back on when he left.

"I'm, uh, Justin. US Army, a little bit of the infantry, mostly the Ranger Regiment." He trailed off in his drawl. From the way he looked and the way he talked, he just about could be mistaken for some local, but the deep scar along his right hand and wrist along with a partially concealed tattoo of a Ranger tab on his left shoulder proved well enough he was Staff Sergeant Clark.

Tom kept his back to the wall. He had been dressed in a black T-shirt with the first marine raider patch over the left breast. He also wore a pair of black tactical trousers complete with cargo pockets and a pair of low cut tactical boots. He listened quietly to the other members of this team he would be working with.

“My name is Tom Stewart, I am from Boston, Massachusetts,” the FBI agent spoke with a definite Boston accent. “For the past five years, I have been a Federal Agent for the FBI in the Boston field office investigating crimes throughout New England, helping local law enforcement agencies with whatever they may need. I graduated from Boston College School of Law near the top of my class. I also graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 2006. Before law school, I was in the 1st Marine Raider Battalion; left active duty as a Captain. I am currently a Major serving with the first battalion, 25th Marine Infantry Reserve. I serve as Battalion Operations Officer. Which reminds me, I need to contact my battalion commander to let him know I will be out of the loop for quite some time. If you don’t know what Marine Raiders are, think a hybrid version of Marines and Rangers or Rangers, but in the Marine Corps. Actually, Raiders are a little more high speed than Rangers.” Tom looked over at Justin, “no offense, Staff Sergeant.” He allowed a slight smile.

“I’m not going to speculate on what our purpose here is. Looking at Mr. Donnelly, I’d say he works for the CIA in some capacity, possibly the SAD or some such organization. The young woman who drove me here this morning worked in naval intelligence. Undoubtedly, she also is employed by the CIA as well. I have no problem working with the CIA. As a combat veteran, they were a great source of intell. I guess now it is best that we get to know one another and get along.”

“On another note, I enjoy Jameson Whiskey and Cuban cigars. I also love listening to classic Rock; Hendrix, Zeppelin, The Who and the Doors...don’t forget CCR.” Tom intentionally failed to mention his wife back on Cape Cod.

Clapping was heard, slow, and only increased for five more of the loud staccato. Donnelley wagged a finger at Tom, a slight smile on his lips. “I like you.”

Joseph folded his arms, taking another drag before flicking the ash off into a coffee mug he’d emptied before the briefing. “I worked with some Raiders once.” One of them never returned home from Somalia and there was no body in his closed casket. Joseph and the others had to stab the hell out of it before weighing the bag down and sinking it into the Persian Gulf. There was no explaining to anybody outside of the Somalia Op why they’d had to do it, or how he died. “Good men.”

Donnelley’s eyes were distant. He remembered returning fire as they bobbed away on the waves in their little Zodiac, praying whatever was in that compound was dead. He remembered shaking the rest of the night, shaking and shaking into the morning and finally being able to sleep two days later. “Real good men.” He nodded, regaining his little smile after he realized he’d lost it. It fell away in favor of a more serious face and tone, “Anyways, you’ve all been called here for a reason. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, who you report to, what you were before this.”

“You’re here now. Keep your eyes peeled, ears open, you’ll be alright.” Donnelley nodded, looking them all over. “Get settled in. We head out early, pack light, 0100.”
@ArkitektVery much possible
Prologue

Last Things Last...

>SITE 332, COLLOQUIALLY CALLED ‘THE HOLE’
>SOMEWHERE IN TURKEY
>0034

“Ah, hell...”

It was silent in the room. That was never a good thing because it meant the fan had gone out again. It had a habit of doing that so much that Donnelley figured it hated being here as much as he did and wanted so badly to let the suffering of the heat stop. But if Donnelley had to be here…

He unplugged the little desk fan and plugged it in again, probably harder than he needed to. He tapped the little thing until it whirred to life again and let go a sigh of supreme relief at the tiny breeze it created, only a hair cooler than the room itself. “Should just get a new one.”

“And go back into town after what Smitty did? That was high-vis shit on a low-vis op. We’re lucky we even got this sonofabitch.” Donnelley gestured to the tiny television on the desk next to the fan. The only source of light inside the tiny office he and fellow Paramilitary Operations Officer Donald Kingsley were sweating to death in, showing a live feed of a man forced into a squatting position with a black bag over his head. Donnelley could tell he wasn’t used to this, not trained, by the frantic head movement. If the feed had audio, they’d hear calls for mercy, maybe. “He talk yet?”

“‘Course.” Kingsley said, nodding, eyes unwavering from the feed. “Just never said the words I wanted him to.”

“Shame.” Donnelley may have hated ISIL and their allies, but he didn’t hate the kid scared and alone with two monsters of men watching him through the all-seeing eye of a closed-circuit feed. “He’s a street kid, not a fighter. We gotta truss him up like that?”

“He’s their driver. He’s seen the faces of the foreign fighters, seen the commanders, he knows what they look like and he knows the routes.”

“Still. Are you sure your source wasn’t blowing smoke?” Donnelley looked sidelong at Kingsley. He was better at developing sources than he was, but there was always that little bit of chance somebody caught on. Somebody found out a source was giving you info and wanted to start feeding you horse shit instead of actionable intel.

Kingsley pursed his lips at Donnelley, folding his arms. Donnelley remembered confronting Kingsley’s source, Azad inside his tiny apartment on the outskirts of Adana. A dingy little place they had no trouble breaking into and setting up their theatrical little dramatic meeting by moonlight where they brokered a deal. A paid-for trip out of Turkey to anywhere of his choosing in Europe if he gave the names of his network of drivers.

Donnelley hid it well, the fact they had no plans nor the power of setting their end of the deal in motion. It was a cruel world. And maybe Azad would get left to the wolves or they’d sniff out his treachery, but as long as they got those names his screams as they tore him apart wouldn’t be in vain.

The phone started ringing. Kingsley grunted to his feet from the chair he was sitting in and snatched the phone up. “Hello… Oh.”

From behind him came Kingsley’s big hairy hand with the phone clutched in the thick fingers. He never got over how not-CIA Kingsley looked. Like the CIA set up a recruiting booth on the sidelines of a college football game years ago and Kingsley the linebacker stuck to it. Donnelley took the phone, putting it to his ear, “Donnelley.”

“You are activated. Stateside. Check your email.”

And that was never, ever a good thing. Kingsley sat down again, folded arms over his big barrel chest. “What’s it about?”

“Nothing good...” Donnelley sighed as he rose from his chair to go pack his things.



>BLACKRIVER COUNTY
>OUTSIDE WHITE TREE, WEST VIRGINIA
>UNITED STATES
>0541HRS...///

The cold winds cutting along the porch of the run-down shack of a safehouse complemented the dark iron of the clouds well. The smell of the woods and the mountain air was tainted by the smell of diesel and smoke from the nearby mines, the only thing that drowned the stench of the tireless, obstinate march of industry was the cigarette held between Joseph’s lips. He took a draw and exhaled, letting it disperse on the air, watching the cloud drift off to be lost among the morning mists.

The medium-sized house- if the glorified cabin could be called such- had been procured a week before Joseph and Steve’s landing, the accoutrements and vehicles set up by nameless, faceless busy-bodies of the Agency. All of it- the vehicles, the house itself, the living arrangements, and the sizeable stockpile of ammunition, weapons and tactical gear- was paid for by Steve Foster’s slice of the CIA black budget offshore account, untraceable by local authorities and anyone else without proper clearance. At least it had good location, perched atop a hill where a lookout could be posted and see anyone approaching from any direction. Not that the walls looked like they were ready to stand a siege, let alone a particularly rough sigh. To add to everything, the electricity was supplied by a generator- one in backup, just in case- and that electricity did not run towards fixed light outlets. There were lamps arranged inside the tiny cottage, and one outside. That was about it for mood lighting.

More importantly, deep-down, in the places where Joseph refused to let soldiering and tradecraft taint, he loved to be able to see the sprawling mountains in every direction and the lights of White Tree speckled about the hills at night. The relatively low light-pollution lent the night sky an almost clear complexion, an unimpeded view of the stars when it wasn’t cloudy. Although, despite even his hardest efforts to beat back the rigors of work, the front door from the porch to the living room creaked open. Footsteps, slow. “Review the files yet?”

Joseph shook his head. He could hear Foster sigh, “You know they’ll be here. You should look at their dossiers and get a feel for them.”

Joseph nodded. He turned around and brushed past Foster, entering the living room where the dossiers were arranged neatly in columns on the coffee table. He took a seat and grabbed up the first one, Mathieu, Laurence, National Parks Service.

After a good hour of reading and review of each of the team handpicked by Steve, he leaned back on the couch, took a swig from his flask and then walked back outside, sitting on the rocking chair on the porch. It almost made him smile to fantasize about a day where he could be sitting in his own rocking chair, on his own porch. Without Foster... “How much do they know?”

“Hmm?” Steve asked, following him closely and leaning on the porch’s banister.

The team.” Joseph frowned, “How much do they know?”

“About the same I told you on your first.” Foster said.

“Well, that really addresses my concerns.” Joseph said. He'd never forgotten Afghanistan, he'd never forget Somalia. He shook his head and sighed, “Do they at least meet the criteria?”

“All. I made sure they’re not completely blind. A lot of them have seen a scary black rock.” Steve raised his eyebrows, as if that made things all better. Joseph had an urge to crack one on Foster's jaw about then, but then who'd babysit the newbies. “The rest know there’s things out there at the fringes of our sight. Things the rest of the world, the public, the average joe shouldn’t know. Just not enough to be locked up like a gibbering mess.” Foster turned around and leaned over the banister, his hands propping him up as he looked out over the town, “Pretty soon, Joseph, we’re going to be old and grey. Or at least I hope we reach that, but...”

Joseph snorted, "You know," he lit up the burnt end of a half-smoked cigarette, puffing on it a couple times and then continuing, "I'm going to keep clinging to that whole narrative of one day winning this glorious holy war. Do you ever get tired of being so fucking depressing?"

"Just being realistic." Foster shrugged.

"The day I start being realistic to the exclusion of all else is the day I might just put a cyanide pill in my mouth and wait patiently." Joseph and Foster both chuckled. Gallows humor was a staple of surviving. You needed it, to see the humor in everything and anything. It was less an actual joke and a ritual, almost, the laughing its chants.

"At least their's won't be a baptism of fire. Just errand work. For now."

“More fuel for the flames.” Joseph nodded, slow. The words were quiet and more to himself than Steve, but he perked up a bit- little bit of that old bravado a younger Joseph had been bled of over the years, “I’ve got a few more fires in me.”

“Of course you do,” Foster said, smiling over his shoulder at Joseph ant then looking back out at the mountains, “I do too. But that time will come, where we either find a good reason to use that special bullet we all keep secret, or we accept a little house on the prairie with a comfortable sum of money lest we trip and fall and accidentally shoot ourselves twice in the chest and once in the head.”

Foster didn’t have to elaborate any more. Joseph only nodded in agreement, knowing the old lions of the Delta Green pride were nearing the end of their reigns. “Well.” Joseph sighed, getting to his feet from the chair, “Ain’t that a nice thought. What's their ETA?”

"Should be here later this morning if they can find the place." Foster smirked.

Joseph gave one of his own, "Oh, I'm sure the tough Ranger can."

"Which one?"

"Which one do you think?" Joseph chuckled, the sound of the front door closing after him...
@Leidenschaft I get that, but I have her personal vehicle from LA, along with her work vehicle as well. I am sure this will change to a rental very soon. Serena will most like acquire some sort of rentl when she touches down.. I'm thinking SUV..


@idlehandsLike Idle says, and under a fake name for good measure. Unless that doesn't occur to her.
Man I can't wait for this thing to get crackin' finally. Sooo excited already. I'm more excited for the characters than anything I think. Everyone is so different, going to be very cool @Leidenschaft.

I do have a question though. Once we finally start I assume we would need to re-evaluate what we have in the way of gear currently, since we will be relocated to WV. Serena isn't going to take her own personal car obviously. Do you want us to just update that list as we progress? I am assuming that she will not take a personal phone either. Nothing personal.. I was going to update her equipment list as I am writing current posts. Also the on duty equipment I assuming will change as well. Noting that Serena doesn't carry an MP5 everywhere she goes, but it was what she qualified and tested best with for her unit back in LAPD swat, weapons she is cleared or qualified to use. . I assume all these things will change to fit the current narrative once we leave our respective local areas.
..


You'll be able to keep whatever you have in the player inventory lists, so you won't have to change anything. All the gear that your players are equipped with is, IC reasoning, procured by Steve Foster to be in line with whatever weapons the characters' home agencies would've issued them.

I will say that there are going to be points where we will have to change what we have in the player inventories because we will be restricted to weaponry we can find only in the field. Stateside, we can keep the current loadouts.

@GuntherThank you.

@Nate1008On top of what Gunther said, I have to add that your character doesn’t fit the central themes of the RP. I don’t think this RP would be a great match for this character and from the CS itself, I’m not exactly sure you would be able to keep up with the Advanced-level expectations for the accepted players.

Good luck and best regards to your future here on RPGuild.
@Nate1008There are monsters, it’s a game centered around the occult and the Cthulhu mythos, yes.

Any non-humans stumbled upon by Delta Green, the organization the players work for, are going to be killed quick. Humanity has a lot of reasons to not take kindly to anything unnatural.

“Players are encouraged to be creative with their characters, as long as they make sense.” - From the opening post of the RP’s OOC.

A non-human player character would not fit into this RP.
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