Team Coop, as he called it though everyone else on the team referred to it as Luck’s Team, sat around a table. For the better part of two hours they had been reamed by a General who was less than impressed with their track record. In summary using a lot less descriptive words than she did, the team was a failure and was disbanded effective immediately. Al and Ant would receive their new assignments in the morning and Cooper was dismissed to return to his previous life. Malone was never an official member of the team as far as the General was concerned and would now be able to return to Salt Lake or wherever he decided to work since he quit his job when he found out his friend needed him. Not only his friend, but his government really.
No one said a word as they thought of the implications for each of them in how the next morning would be spent. Except Cooper. He replayed the events from the last mission one more time in his head. There was something he was missing, he could feel it but he couldn’t quite point to it. Yet.
Al noticed his deep concentration. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” it was the most sympathetic she could be. “We all make mistakes.”
“But I was so sure.” Cooper didn’t look at her. He appeared to be focused on the wall in front of him but he was busy replaying the mission in his mind. “We were at the poker game, the Sheik was there, Donovan was there, all the key players in this operation were there. That was a giant red flag to show their strength. How did we miss it?”
A month earlier, based on his observation, Cooper suggested that the Sheik would be playing a poker game with none other than the world’s most notorious bad guy for hire Donovan. No first name or maybe last name. He was just known simply as Donovan. Team Coop’s objective was to stop the two’s collaboration from coming to fruition. Based on everything Cooper learned about the Sheik he knew the two would play a “friendly” game of poker before striking. Using Cooper’s past proclivities, he was able to garner an invitation to the high stakes game.
He had to go in solo, no one else could accompany him not even a surveillance wire. It was at once the most thrilling and terrifying thing he had ever done. His job was to figure out who Donovan was so that the CIA could follow him. He thought he did one better, he not only figured out who Donovan was at the table but he also discovered the plan. When Donovan excused himself to take a call, Cooper excused himself to use the restroom. This spy stuff was so easy.
Until the whole operation ended up intercepting an illegal fishing expedition. Still a crime, it didn’t warrant the manpower or expense that brought the little fishing boat in.
The General was not happy. She made it clear that Team Coop (no, she did not use those words but that’s how Cooper interpreted it) was coming to an end. So far, it had been a colossal (her word) waste of tax payer money.
Normally, Cooper would have been relieved and bid the group goodbye. He, after all, gave his best effort. But since he found out his mother’s death was not what it seemed he knew he would need CIA resources to find out the truth. For the first time in his life, he was invested in a job and committed to see it through.
Ant picked up Al’s cue. “It’s okay, kid, you did your best.”
Ant and Al were saying their goodbyes? No, not yet. There was something more.
“I know that look,” Malone said studying his friend’s face. “You’re replaying the evening one more time?”
“Replaying?” Al asked.
“In his mind. He can have total recall when he tries. It takes a lot out of him but it’s a pretty cool parlor trick. He basically can relive any moment in his mind down to the smallest details. It helped him get out of detention once. He was able to figure out the person who was stealing from the cafeteria and prove it wasn’t him. Kind of freaked out his small Wyoming school’s class mates though.”
“That’s impossible. No one can completely relive a past event like that.”
Malone chuckled. “Impossible for you, maybe.” He shrugged, “Okay, and for me, but not for my boy Cooper Baldwin. Ever since we were 9 he has had some pretty cool mind tricks.”
Ant cleared his throat.
“Should we leave him alone?” Al asked looking at Cooper’s face.
“No, he can’t hear us. As far as he is concerned, he is probably back at that poker game.”
“How long does this take?” Ant asked.
“You’ll know when he is back with us.”
“Maybe we should do other things until he is ready?” Al asked suddenly aware that all three were watching him. “I have to agree with his classmates. This is kind of freaky.”
“What are we going to do? If he can’t figure this out then we need to pack,” Ant said. “But if he does, well then…”
Cooper blinked and looked at his three friends.
“Talk to me,” Al beat Malone to the punch. He glared at her.
“We were wrong,” Cooper said slowly.
“We meaning you,” Al clarified.
Ant looked at her.
“What? We listened to his assumption and we followed the wrong lead.”
“That was intentional. Not on my part but they knew they were being played by the CIA. Everything they did that night was to have me, or us, chase shadows. They were one step ahead of us the whole time and I played right into their hand.” He grimaced. “Sorry about that.”
That was the first time Al had heard any trace of humility from him. “Rookie mistake.” She said.
“But I won’t be making it again,” Cooper said confidently.
“You know who Donovan is?” Ant asked.
“Donovan was not playing cards with us that night,” Cooper said smiling. “He was the waiter.”
“What?” Al asked incredulously. “Don’t be absurd.”
“He was the waiter. He and the Sheik communicated the whole night by the Sheik’s hands. He didn’t win a game all night because he was winning the overall game against the CIA. Lose the battle, win the war.” Cooper nodded slowly. “Meanwhile, the Sheik set up the Texan with some bogus cryptic messages. I followed that scent so confidently. He played us. He played me. It shows the Sheik’s sense of humor that the red herring he gave us actually led us to a fishing boat.”
His team members sat quiet for a moment.
“Well, let’s go get the Sheik,” Malone said.
“Not so fast,” Al said. “The General disbanded us, remember? We can’t disobey an order. We need to run this by her first.”
Cooper, Malone, and Al slowly turned and looked at Ant. This was after all, his team. He sat looking at all three of them.
“Please,” Cooper said. “I know I was wrong before. But I’m right now.”
Ant tapped his fingers on the table. “We have tonight to change the General’s mind. What we need is a plan.”
“As luck would have it, no pun intended,” Cooper smiled. “I happen to have one.” His smile disappeared and he looked at Al, “But this plan needs everyone on this team to do their part. Is everyone in?”
Al looked around at the table. She had been so close to ditching Baldwin and Winn. But she was no deserter. This was still her team until the morning. She sighed. “I’m in.”