Chapter XXIV Many, many years ago but no one knows how many
She thought he would have been excited. But judging from his silence she was wrong. She thought when she told him about the baby, he would elevate her into his world. Again, she was wrong. Instead, his first question seemingly burned a hole in her heart.
“You sure it’s mine?” he asked in such a low tone it took a moment for her to process his words. They sat on a park bench in the dark. Nothing new there, the only time he met her was in the dark of the night.
“Of course,” she forced a laugh. What a silly question. “Who else would it be?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Could be anyone’s really.” He didn’t even look at her.
Chapter XXIII December
“You done yet?” Cooper asked.
“This is not easy,” Al said her hands working quickly behind her back. She was working a piece of wire sewn into her sleeve out. They had anticipated being bound in some fashion and she was relieved when her hands were bound together. It made the task of escaping much easier than if her hands would have been tied separately to a chair. It was a gamble, but they had figured – and hoped – their captors would choose hands together in handcuffs. Which, to the benefit of Al and Cooper, they did.
Chapter XXII A few years ago
Al sat in the surveillance van waiting for her partner to return. A fresh graduate of the academy, she wanted to do a good job. People had invested time and effort in her to complete her training and she didn’t want to let anyone down. For the first time in her life, she felt the pull of other people guiding her life. She had never known that feeling of people depending on her before. Never in a million years would she have guessed the current path her life was on but now that it was on that path, she was going to make the most of it. Maybe now she would find a place she belonged. Maybe even a home, if such things existed for girls like her. But first things first, this was her first assignment and she was not going to fail. She absolutely would not allow herself to fail.
Ant leaned on his cane for support. It irritated him that he even had to use a cane but he also recognized as much as he fussed about using one he still needed it. He had been out of commission for far too long and was anxious to get back to work. The general didn’t clear him for active duty so he decided this was a perfect time to initiate his plan. He had painstakingly assembled his team for one specific mission. Now it was time to implement it.
He walked into the room where his team patiently waited for him.
Cooper stood in the corner and nodded at him. While he was in the hospital, they had worked out this presentation. The time had come to lay the cards out on the table and get everyone on the same page.
XIX. Still September
The next few minutes passed as a blur for Cooper. Al called for assistance to help with Ant. A bomb squad was dispatched to the hotel room to inspect the bomb. Another team arrived to apprehend the suspect. Through it all, Cooper stayed with Ant. He even insisted on riding in the ambulance with him. The connection he felt with the man couldn’t be explained and it even surprised him. All he knew is Ant had to be okay. He just had to be.
And so, when he overheard a couple of agents talking about how the suspect had gotten away and was no where to be found, he didn’t register his disappointment in losing the opportunity to look for the notebook. For the first time since he knew its name, the Samson Pill was far from his thoughts.
XVIII. Still September
Cooper stood very still. “Okay, what’s the plan?” he asked.
“I’d very much like to not die here,” Al sized him up and refrained from adding with present company. Since those might be her last words she thought she should at least die with the pretense of being nice.
“Yeah, it would be a bummer if we were the last people we each saw,” Cooper said finishing her thought. He scanned the room. “Are you sure about this?”
She rolled her eyes. “Pretty sure, yeah.”
“Okay, I’ll just call for help,” he took his phone out of his pocket and dialed Ant’s number. “Ant’s not answering.” He dialed another number. “Actually, my phone doesn’t seem to be working.” He shook it to see if that would fix it.
“I’m sure they jammed all communication,” she said. “Look what they did to the hotel’s phone.” The phone was ripped out from the wall.
XVII. Later in September
Cooper sat in the van listening on a headset and stewing about the fact that he was essentially sitting in a forced “time-out” in the van. The mission started off normal enough. Cooper reviewed it in his head: bad guy enters hotel because he has a dinner appointment set up with other baddies. Team Coop follows said bad guy to hotel. The team has a certain objective. In this case, it was surveillance. They listen for incriminating key words like “weapon” or “bomb” or “kill.” Blah, blah, blah. That kind of thing, they hear what they need and send a team to move in. All very routine. All very boring for Cooper.
Cooper could not sleep.
He felt frustrated that he couldn’t sleep, after all, he was bored. That’s what happened when things became too routine and his life had become so routine it was in a rut. Since June when Team Coop (he was the only one that called them that, everyone else still referred to them as Luck’s Team) apprehended not only one of the most notorious terrorist masterminds known simply as The Sheik but also one of the world’s most dangerous assassins known simply as Donovan, his team worked non-stop catching all sorts of known baddies. With each successful mission, the team seemed to level up. Each nefarious person they caught was a little worse than the previous one. Ant and Al were aware of the caliber of their missions, novice Malone sensed the intensity of each succeeding mission, but Cooper could not care less. His focus had rested solely on finding the man who murdered his mother. After each successful mission, he expected the next one would be to chase the man who killed his mom. But Ant said that wasn’t how it worked. So, for now, Cooper did what was asked of him but his mind often drifted to his mom’s case when other matters didn’t occupy it.
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.
“Hey buddy,” Malone said warmly and gave Cooper a bear hug. “Long time no see. Decided to hang out in our country for a bit, eh?” he smiled.
“Something like that,” Cooper said and scanned the mall’s food court to see if they were under surveillance. Just because he didn’t notice anyone didn’t mean he wasn’t being watched. Ever since he agreed to help Ant and Al he felt like he lived in a fish bowl. Always being watched. It was with some reluctance Ant agreed to give Cooper the weekend off. But the fact that did give in to this request made Cooper suspect he and Malone weren’t entirely alone.