Chapter 2: Larry

December, present day

Larry saw the heat signature of someone topping the brick wall around the doctor’s residence. His night vision goggles gave everything a gray cast, but the intruder became a red and yellow streak when he dropped from the top of the wall to squat in behind a bush.

“Code Red,” Larry whispered. His throat mic picked up the subvocal comments and transmitted them to the other two team members. Their audio and video signals were also monitored by the van parked down the street that served as their base of operations and recorded everything they saw and did. “Breach midway on the east wall. One suspect holding position there.”

“Copy that,” Thomas replied, who was watching from the gated entrance. Larry knew he couldn’t see the spot the intruder was hiding. “Nothing to report here.”

“Confirmed. I have visual,” Felix said. He was perched on the roofline near the chimney. “He has a bag of some kind, but no obvious weapon.”

Larry flexed his back as he stood, then dashed to place himself between the intruder and the front of the house. They had prepared a number of locations to provide cover using large potted plants and cement statuary. Ducking behind a thick square planter holding a small tree, Larry brought the Mossberg 12 gauge combat shotgun against his chest and mentally prepared himself for the confrontation.

Felix broke in, “Intruder is moving along the wall heading towards the driveway.”

The faint sounds of approaching footsteps made Larry’s mouth twitch. “Going in 3… 2… 1!”

In the split second after Larry came around the planter he saw something black and cold in the intruder’s right hand. Aiming the shotgun towards the center of the glowing mass, he fired twice. The first shot knocked the intruder off balance and the second dropped him on his back. Flipping up his night vision goggles and hitting the lump on the ground with a red flashlight, Larry saw a man curled up on the ground crying softly. There was a cheap semi-automatic handgun on the ground nearby and a lumpy duffel bag next to it.

“Please,” the man moaned with his arms across his chest. “I don’t wanna die.”

“Well, that’s unlikely considering those were beanbag rounds, but I bet those bruises will make you wish you were dead tomorrow,” Larry growled. “Code Red down. Remote One call this in and prep for debrief. Eyes out until law enforcement arrives.”

Larry zip-tied the man’s hands and feet, but left the gun and bag where they fell. Since all their communications were monitored remotely, he knew Cass, the agent in the van, would already be getting the video and audio evidence of the operation ready to hand-off to their law enforcement contact.

Thomas opened the gate when two police cars pulled into the driveway with lights flashing, pinning Larry and the intruder with their headlights. Larry laid his weapon at his feet and made his hands clearly visible to avoid any confusion.

“You get ‘im?” the large black detective asked as he climbed out of the unmarked car with concealed red and blue flashing lights.

“Looks like it, Jeff. He matches the description anyway.”

Jeff knelt down and rolled the crying man over to get a look at his face. “Well, hello there, Gary. I’m so glad you dropped by tonight. Now I can get home in time for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with the kids.”

“You want us to alert the family?” Larry asked as he bent to pick up his shotgun.

“No way, man,” Jeff laughed. “You know how much I like bein’ the hero!”

Larry laughed along with him and shook his head. Then he activated his throat mic and said, “Wrap it up, guys. We’re goin’ home.”

After handing off the evidence and making their statements, Cass drove the van back to the main office so they could all check in their equipment and file their reports. Larry stared out the passenger window at the night sky and wondered what Jenna was doing.

Those two weeks he had spent with her before she left for New York back in the summer were, oddly, some of the most satisfying of his life. Despite the pain of his recovery, they had established a real connection in the privacy of her apartment. The conversations had never stopped and he was surprised by how much she shared about her own life.

Larry had a feeling that Jenna kept everyone at a safe distance by using her reporter skills to deflect their attempts to get to know her. But when sharing her bed with him, Jenna had opened up at last, showing Larry a heart that was as beautiful as it was fearful.

They had parted before she left for New York without promises or expectations, but Larry had let himself hope too much and got stung for it when she never returned his calls. He finally saw her again during Thanksgiving weekend at his best friend’s wedding. Larry was the best man and Jenna was the maid of honor. Spending a week around her had awakened something in them both. Saturday night after the wedding they had reconnected like no time had passed.

On Sunday morning she left for New York again without a word to him and he had no idea what to say to her. Larry sent roses to her apartment with a card that had empty quotes around a blank space. When she called him to ask what it meant, he asked her what she wanted it to mean. Her answer was, Goodbye, and then she hung up.

That had ripped him open and made him feel as raw as when his ex-wife asked for a divorce. He hadn’t slept since the call, flipping from one television station to another all night in a futile effort to avoid thinking about her. Now he was having trouble keeping his eyes open as they drove back through downtown Houston to their offices.

“Good op tonight,” Cass said, drawing Larry’s attention. Her short black hair and smooth olive skin contributed more to her beauty than the prominent nose of her Greek heritage. She glanced over at Larry with a wrinkled forehead. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Larry whispered and returned his gaze out the window. “Just tired.”

“You never said how the wedding went,” Cass asked him when she stopped at a red light. The rest of the guys were laughing about something in the back of the van and weren’t paying attention. Cass was a good friend, but Larry was technically her superior, and he didn’t often open up about his personal life with coworkers.

He dug out his cell phone and brought up a nice picture of the bridal party and kids. “You remember my buddy Alex. This is his wife, Molly McDill Thompson,” he said as he pointed them out then zoomed in on the kids. “Manny and Hannah are his. This is Molly’s son, Will.”

“Who’s the blonde?” Cass asked a little too casually. Larry had picked up that Cass might be interested in being more than friends, but she was only twenty-two and a little too young for him to seriously consider dating.

“Jenna,” Larry said with a level tone. “She’s Molly’s friend from New York. The newscaster, remember? I know I mentioned her before. She did the news stories this past summer that helped Alex out.”

“Oh,” Cass replied with a touch of relief that made Larry suppress a smile as he put his phone away.

He hadn’t told anyone about Jenna since she had been so fixated on keeping their tryst a secret. He still wasn’t sure why it was so important to her, but he had kept his word. Unfortunately, that also meant he had no one he could talk to about it now.

“So what are you doing for the holidays?” Cass asked, changing the subject.

“I’m thinking of heading out to Alex’s bed and breakfast for the week. What about you?”

“Suffer with my family at Mom and Dad’s house unless I get a better offer.” This time she didn’t look his direction, but he noted the color rising in her cheeks even with only the reflected light of streetlights and traffic. When Larry didn’t respond, she pressed on, “What’s the bed and breakfast like?”

Larry grinned to himself. “It’s a big three story house on top of a hill, surrounded by woods and pastures. At night it’s so quiet you can almost hear the stars twinkle. The kids love to go exploring the woods. I was thinkin’ about picking up three BB guns for Christmas to teach them how to shoot.”

“Ohhh,” Cass whined with a cute expression. “That sounds so fun. I wanna go!”

“You’d love Molly. She’s ex-Army like you and runs that place like a barracks.”

“So you wouldn’t mind if I tagged along?” she asked quietly, giving him a worried glance.

Larry shrugged. “Why not? They’ve got a web site for reservations. I’ll send you a link.”

“Good,” Cass grinned and nodded to herself. “Good.”

When they pulled into the parking garage at the Context Security building, the gate guard checked them in and waved the van through. The team gathered their gear and headed into the building for debriefing. Larry had fired two beanbag rounds in a few seconds, and his punishment was about an hour of paperwork. At least he got to shower first.

After he walked through the heavy steel door into their offices, Larry handed off his weapons through the heavy screen to the armorer on duty. Every weapon and round of ammunition was tagged and examined. Then before he could head to the men’s locker room to shower, he spotted Brandon Connor sitting at the debriefing table with a smile on his face.

Brandon was a typical REMF (rear echelon mother fucker) who was more interested in the contract bonus than the security work. Larry had worked under him back in the service and they mixed like bleach and ammonia. Things came to a head when Larry took advantage of Brandon’s multi-hour lunches to approve critical mission resources that pushed their company over budget. Before one of those missions won Brandon a prestigious leadership award, he had been preparing a disciplinary report against Larry for insubordination.

Larry had transferred to another unit to get away from him, but his past caught up with him when he interviewed with Context Security and found Brandon sitting across the table. Brandon acted friendly at first but then continually tried to torpedo him behind the scenes. It hadn’t worked so far, but Larry didn’t like the shark-toothed smile he gave when he waved Larry over.

“I hear congratulations are in order,” Brandon said as Larry sat. The rest of the team continued on to their lockers. Larry caught Cass giving him a worried look when she passed Brandon.

“We busted Gary Ross entering the client’s property with a handgun. Jeff already took him in for booking and will give the client the all clear.”

“So I heard,” Brandon said as his teeth flashed again through a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I also heard your request for a transfer to the New York office was declined.”

Larry shrugged. It had been a long shot. Since Jenna shot him down after Thanksgiving, he was less interested in working on the network contract anyway. “No biggie.”

“After your… lapse in San Antonio, I didn’t feel right recommending you.”

Larry clenched his jaw and tried not to let his rage show. Allowing his client and best friend to get shot had tainted him around the office. The fact that he had also been shot protecting Alex, managed to get them both to the hospital, and then worked through a concussion to clean up the mess counted for nothing. It was bad enough that Larry blamed himself for what happened, but now Brandon was using his failure to punish him.

“I understand,” Larry muttered.

“I’m sure you do.” Brandon sat back and studied Larry for a moment. “Just to be clear, I don’t want to see any more transfer requests. You’ve got plenty of work that needs your attention right here. But if you run out of things to do, just let me know.”

“Yes, sir.” Saying the words made him feel like vomiting.

“Go on and get cleaned up. I’ll be taking your statements tonight.” He looked down to begin tapping on his laptop keyboard.

Larry nodded at the dismissal and turned to go. He knew that Brandon would do his best to spin the successful operation into something that would damage Larry’s reputation and there was nothing he could do about it.