Angelo Pluzetti paced the floor of his office. Occasionally, he stopped and looked out the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, down to the Communications Department, where a mission was in progress. Hunter Savage, Master Strategist, and the Head Mission Coordinator, Kirsten Ulrick, ran the operation from the compound with the Comm leader, Justine Fielding. Just moments ago, the teams on site had intercepted the bomb they'd been alerted to only hours ago--set to go off at the winter home of the President of the United States. The country's leader was currently enjoying the holiday there with his family.
"Anything?" Angelo questioned, using the comm unit on the long, black credenza built against the overlooking window.
"Ash's team is disabling the bomb now," Kirsten repeated calmly.
Angelo didn't wonder how the two terrorist groups had placed the device and gotten it past the President's heavy security. Revolutionary Echelon Defenders--R.E.D.--and their smaller ally, New Horizon, had plagued the country for long years with their malicious attacks. The Network was a white hat, covert organization devoted to disabling criminals in a way few others could. In the last few years, realizing the Network could frustrate their individual objectives indefinitely, the two terrorist groups had been working together to target highest-level operatives. Fortunately, neither faction had been able to locate or penetrate Network headquarters, located in a secret underground bunker beneath a legitimate technology corporation known as ETI. The corporation was situated in Chicago and was a front that designed innovative equipment for both public and internal use.
Terrorists had been concentrating on defeating the Network and its personnel for so long, Angelo wondered if his top minds had neglected the possibility that the criminals possessed another directive. The notorious leader of R.E.D., aptly nicknamed the Black Pope, had relegated all of his resources to destroying the Network and Hunter Savage. As long as the groups stayed focused on that, Angelo had been assured they could protect the country while thwarting those seeking to rob the population of justice for all.
For the first time in countless years, his past served up the painful reminder of his high school sweetheart and young wife, murmuring sweetly, "Have patience, darling. You've taken care of everything. Now trust those in your service to carry it out."
The gentle tone of Carly's voice in his head, and the reassurance that he'd overlooked nothing, made him close his eyes now as he perched on the credenza. Her lovely face filled his mind, shocking him with the level of agony that gripped him. Thirty years ... thirty years ago, Carly got the babies secured in their car seats. I leaned into the back seat of the van and kissed their angelic faces. Only a year old, Anya already looked sleepy. Two-year-old Jacob giggled when I tickled him under his chin. When I drew back and kissed my beloved wife, the center of my world, she wrapped her arms around me. Dear Lord, every kiss was a celebration. Then I stood back to watch Carly drive out for a day at the zoo. At the end of the block, the left turn signal blinking, the vehicle had exploded as soon as she eased into the turn. Even from the distance, I was knocked back. Enemies of the CIA, my enemies, had destroyed my family with that car bomb.
"It's done," Kirsten said on a pent-up sigh of release. "We have two of the terrorists in custody."
Angelo opened his eyes, swallowed when he saw his office, not the asphalt he'd crawled forward on until he got the strength to get to his feet and run ... run toward his family, knowing he couldn't save them and it was all over. Thirty years ago, I lost everything and so I gave up my life to the Network, to Tom McKee's relentless urging to join the fledging organization he and the then-President were forming with the mission of taking over where regular law enforcement left off. I wouldn't join before that. Not when it meant leaving my family behind. But when they were taken from me so violently, there was nothing else for me.
"There's an ... anomaly," Kirsten added, sounding uncertain.
"What is it?" Angelo demanded.
"There's something on the bomb casing ... Hold on. I'm getting confirmation now."
Angelo stood, looking down at his lead operatives below.
Kirsten glanced at him from Comm. "It's a fuzzy picture. Of you. One of your former identities."
No doubt when he'd been Master Strategist and primary recruiter for the Network instead of second in command. During a time in his life when he'd actually left these dark halls and emerged into the sunlight often instead of seeing it only from the tower of the ETI skyscraper far above the bunker. The protective insulation was part of the package in ascending to the top of the chain of power. He'd been working up the chain for three decades. Angelo fought an urge to laugh at the ridiculousness of the terrorists targeting him with the bomb.
"Withdraw your teams," Hunter ordered the primary team leader. "Bring the device back to the compound. I'll see that Jocelyn is ready to interrogate the prisoners."
"Wounded?" Angelo asked.
There was a pause, then Kirsten nodded up to him in the roost. "Secondary teams had some injuries during infiltration."
"What's the ETA?"
"Under forty-five minutes."
"I'll have Celine's medical team standing by at Airlock 2," Angelo said. "Justine, have Head of Operations establish a sat link with Shannon and Chase at Oversight in the briefing room. Hunter and Kirsten, meet us there with Jocelyn and Ron when you wrap up the mission."
Angelo called down to Medical, hoping to talk to Dr. Celine Savage about the injuries. He was told she was in her fourth-floor suite in the skyscraper. Disappointed at the thought she might be avoiding him again, he put in the order to have the med teams on standby.
Hunter, Kirsten, and Captain Ron Blair, Head of Operations, were already waiting for him in the briefing room on the lower level.
"Jocelyn will be here as soon as she finishes with the prisoners," Kirsten told them.
From the monitors at the end of the circular table, the top two members of the Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C., Captain Shannon McKee and Chase Giovanni, greeted them.
"What did the team find?" Shannon asked, her face showing concern. Angelo had the feeling she'd gotten an earful from the President's security team leader. Only the highest officials in the White House, including the President and a couple of members of the CIA, knew about the existence of the Network. They trusted the organization to administer absolute justice where other law enforcement agencies couldn't. And that usually meant no one got near the President. This time, R.E.D. and their little buddies had gotten too damn close for anyone's comfort.
"Ash's team found an anomaly--a poor quality photograph of Angelo in his Samuel Crawford identity," Hunter said, calling up the digital shot the Alpha Team leader, Ashton Barnett, had sent.
"It was another trap," Angelo said simply. "This one with a purpose. They wanted to show us how easy it is to get to our country's top man."
"And how easily they'll get to our top man," Shannon finished, adding, "They're targeting 'The Immortal.'"
Angelo bristled at the nickname he'd gotten after thirty years of Network service. The operatives here had also started calling him "The Immortal" because he hadn't seemed to age at all during his time here. He looked the same now as he had when he came on board. But how did their enemies know about his annoying sobriquet?
Shannon's tone was harsh. "They intended us to intercept the bomb and prevent the assassination in order to get their message across. I guess they figure they can't get to you, Hunter, so they've changed their target."
And damn them for it. Angelo knew for a fact that the new threat would have his operatives and Oversight on alert concerning his safety. As if he wasn't already a prisoner inside this goddamn facility. Be careful what you wish for.
Jocelyn Dominica, Network psychiatrist, entered the room and took a seat at the table. "I'd like to spend more time with our guests when I'm done here," she started, "but both of our prisoners are members of New Horizon. Apparently, R.E.D. betrayed them with this operation. They didn't bother telling them to pull out once the bomb was planted, and so these two were captured. The rest of the New Horizon team were killed by our operatives. The alliance between R.E.D. and New Horizon has been fractured. And New Horizon will want revenge at any price."