“The Nephilim were in the Earth in those days, and also after that…”
Genesis 6:4 (JPS 1917)
November 1, 1942, Archuleta Mesa, Southern Colorado
“Move it, Wheeler! They’re coming!”
Sergeant Raymond Clark squirmed through the cavity in the murky rock, frantically shoving Marcus Wheeler forward until the surveyor fell into the clearing on the other side, landing with a thud. Raymond turned, wiping beads of sweat from his eyes, and blindly shot his Colt 1911 three times into the dark tunnel. The bullets whizzed a hundred feet and a cluster of moist limestone shattered, spraying a triad of mineral dust. He waited to hear a body hitting the cave floor, but there was only a blaring echo of the three-round blast.
Menacing voices cried out in the distance and grew louder by the second. Somewhere, deep within, he could hear the strange clicking and hissing that had tormented his geological team for weeks. Whatever those things were, they were moving fast. The eerie sounds that seeped from the tunnel rock had terrorized two of his five teammates. Raymond and Wheeler chose to brave the cavernous system, a decision that Raymond would always regret. With the exception of the two government contractors and the Lieutenant Colonel (who led from above ground), the team had abandoned their posts the day before. They had been gripping their ears, unable to stop the deafening shrill inside their brains.
The rat-like scampering that was barely audible a few hours prior had escalated into a stampede. When Raymond first heard the light footfall and clicking sounds that came and went like an apparition, he thought they had stumbled upon a new species: giant ants or arachnids, perhaps. But when they found a glass radar panel and other high-tech gadgets in a cave that looked like a highly advanced mission-control room, the general consensus was that it must be the Germans. But as Raymond wedged himself through the rocky hole, he knew these beings were not ants or Nazis. Far from it. They were deceptive, intelligent, and now they were coming.
When he turned back to make his way into the cave, an energy pulse of some kind hit the rock inches from his leg and he felt a static charge envelop his ankle, racing all the way to the back of his neck. Oh, God, he thought, panting. He plopped through to the other side and began to run as fast as he could up the narrow tunnel, a passage as round and smooth as a glass tube. He thought of his family: his wife, Lydia, and their four children, Ray Jr., Marla, Richard and Peter, not a one of them more than ten years old. Would this be his legacy? Would he see them again? Would he make it home for another Christmas with Granny Clark? She didn’t have much time left, but probably more than he did, or so it seemed. He imagined the terror and gore that would befall him, and then he questioned what kind of man would die like this—afraid, tormented—eaten alive.
Justifiably terrorized, Raymond ran out of the tunnel and into the larger, lighted cave opening where he immediately found Wheeler bent over and hyperventilating. The surveyor was breathing so hard that he couldn’t explain what was happening. Lieutenant Colonel Walter Hyberg and the two scientists, Emerson Smith and Eugene Zondervan, gathered around Wheeler with looks of concern and confusion.
“Take cover!” Raymond shouted, bursting from the darkness that trailed behind. His voice blared in the immense talus cave, their heads pivoting in his direction. He could barely see Wheeler and the other three men as his eyes adjusted to the natural light. They looked like ghosts morphing into a solid form as he raced toward them.
Lt. Col. Hyberg opened his mouth, but there was no time to speak.
“Take cover!” Raymond screamed again. “We’re under attack!”
Wheeler eagerly nodded his head in agreement, pulled out his Colt and clumsily began loading the weapon.
“Get ready to fire. They’re right behind me,” gasped Raymond as he slid behind a large stone. Age-old dirt billowed in his wake and his body smacked against the backside of the rock.
“Who’s firing?” Lt. Col. Hyberg asked. His six-foot-four frame crouched down, holding his pistol at the ready. He surveyed the gloom, then commanded Eugene Zondervan, the geologist from the Army Corps of Engineers, to hit the ground. “Pull that goddamned rifle off your back, Geo, and take aim.”
Hyberg shuffled toward Raymond. “How many are we talking about, Sergeant?”
Raymond turned to his right, shaking, breathless. “I don’t know, Sir. S-s-sounds like a herd of cattle… I took fire, Sir. It wasn’t a bullet.”
“What the hell was it?”
“Static…electricity… laser beam… I don’t know.”
“Dear God in heaven,” Hyberg said, his pistol momentarily sinking toward the dusty earth.
“Look,” Zondervan shouted, pointing toward the tunnel.
Raymond peered over the rock and felt his heart sink. Dozens of emerald lights surged from the depths of the cave like lime soda bubbling out of a bottle. A luminous discharge barely missed Raymond, deflecting off the rock with a wave of electricity. The herd was coming and the beasts were armed. He fired back, blindly pointing over the stone.
“Shoot at the green lights!” Hyberg commanded. “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
Bursts of greenish light exploded at Hyberg’s feet. He maneuvered near a cleft in the rock, nearly unloaded his weapon, and one of the green lights tumbled to the pebbly floor.
Guns boomed. Electrical pulses burned the dirt and rock surrounding Raymond, leaving red-hot scars wherever they came to rest. He wiped a wisp of dark hair and sweat from his eyes and then slid behind the protective boulder, shaking.
Wheeler shrieked when he took a direct hit. His severed left arm fell to the ground only inches from where Raymond had hunkered down. Blood pooled at Raymond’s feet. Wheeler staggered, hysterically reaching for his lost limb, hemorrhaging. He turned toward Raymond, eyes rolling back into his head, and then toppled over the stone. Raymond jerked back in shock and fear. Another blast hit Wheeler’s back and blood sprayed across Raymond’s face. Instinctively, Raymond lifted his Colt and fired four more rounds at the green dots and three more lights dropped to the glassy floor.
Zondervan returned fire until his right hand exploded into a miasma of flesh and blood after taking a direct electrifying blast. Crying out with a shrill howl, he dropped his gun and gripped the bleeding nub.
Hyberg snatched up Zondervan, dragging him to safety with his left hand while shooting two more rounds into the darkness. A pulse of energy snagged a hunk of Hyberg’s thigh, but he kept shooting. Raymond reloaded, and the blasts from within abated.
Wheeler lay silent. Zondervan cried in agony.
Doctor Emerson Smith, the team physicist, fired his Springfield rifle with crazed eyes. Boom. Boom. Boom. A final electrical burst rushed so close to his head that his thin white hair stood on end, but he kept firing even though he was out of ammo. Click. Click. Click.
Raymond shot another round and watched the last green light fall.
“Hold your fire!” said Hyberg, limping as he set Zondervan’s half-dead body beside Raymond.
Smith continued pulling the trigger. Click. Click. Click.
“I said hold your fire, Smith” Hyberg repeated, glaring at the physicist.
Smith, an aging physicist and government contractor, held his rifle with white-knuckled terror. His entire body was shaking and his pants were soaked from pissing himself. Raymond stood up, approaching the scientist with caution. Smith noticed the movement and jerked his weapon toward Raymond and resumed firing. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Raymond moved closer, speaking softly, methodically as trained, carefully nudging the barrel to the left and then yanked the gun out of Smith’s hands.
“They’re gone,” said Raymond. “For now.” Smith stared right through Raymond, his chest pumping, veins filled with adrenaline.
Raymond looked at the war zone that had unfolded before him, a place of wonder when they arrived only three weeks earlier. Assigned to the U.S. Southwest Pacific Division to locate suitable atom bomb test zones, Lt. Col. Hyberg’s team had stumbled upon a geological and scientific discovery with the potential to change the trajectory of the human race, advance civilization a hundred years in the blink of an eye, and possibly re-write history. The beauty of their find, however, had gradually lost its luster while they removed their spoils: “typing boards” as they called them, biologically sensitive weaponry, a highly advanced energy source applied to small devices throughout the facility, and ecological or possibly biological lighting systems. The glass-like walls would immediately glow purple when they were touched, lighting several feet in front and back when contact was made, and then dim several seconds later as they walked on.
The discovery was glorious and each of the five men, hand-selected for their specialized fields, spoke openly about the ramifications as they sat around the evening campfires that Sergeant Raymond Clark had routinely prepared. Raymond’s prayers were finally answered. He dreamed of the riches that would follow. He’d have enough money to put his children through college and move Lydia off the Army base and into a real home of their own, closer to Granny, where the children could grow up in one place, a hometown where the boys could hunt and fish; he and Lydia could put down roots. But Raymond’s dreams waned with each passing day. The creepy screams and insect-like tapping that never materialized but always seemed to claw their way into his ears left each man haunted, caring less about fame and fortune and more about survival. Do your duty. Follow orders. Retrieve the technology, and report your findings directly to Major General Murphy Ward Simpson, Chief of Engineers, who was currently in flight with a material recovery Battalion to witness his subordinates’ claims firsthand.
The team was first alerted when Zondervan discovered what appeared to be Native Indian remains in the mouth of the cave. After further investigation, the Army engineering team found a scene that looked like a massacre: dozens of skeletons, scattered weaponry, and deep within the tunnel, small, non-human bones with strange objects still bonded to their bony hands. The weapons lacked triggers, biologically fixed to each creature. Their new orders were to collect as much evidence and materials as possible.
When General Simpson arrived two days later, on November 3, 1942, the Army Corps of Engineers immediately began the process of annexing the Archuleta Mesa outside of Dulce, New Mexico. The Department of Defense still controls the area today.
Murals on a Wall
December 17, 2006
New York City
Agent Liz Ramsey awoke to her phone vibrating on her nightstand. She sluggishly rolled her feet off the bed. The phone buzzed once more and she read the name on her screen: Shanna.
She answered, “Good morning, Shan.”
“Morning,” replied Shanna, Liz’s partner and best friend.
She looked at the time on her phone: 4:17 am. “It’s a little early, don’t you think?”
“Not at all. We’re moving on Project Steward right now.”
“Okay,” Liz said with a yawn. “What’s going on? Did Tango make it home?”
“Sweetie, Tango made it home and he’s parked in the rear of the De Carver Youth Center. We’re here now. Tried to call you, but—”
“Damn it! What’s the status?” Liz set her phone on speaker and scrambled to her walk-in closet. She put on her slacks and dress shirt, and tightened her black leather belt.
“Tango’s parked at the loading dock, so we haven’t seen the delivery yet. But get this; we’ve got about six or seven high-profile donors who happened to stop by this morning.”
“We think so. It’s a who’s who convention.”
“State or Fed?”
“Both. It’s a goldmine and the price of precious metals is going up every second because we’re still mining luxury vehicles at ground zero.”
“Anyone I’d know?”
“Mitch Sizemore, among others.”
“Right… Maryland Assistant Prosecutor…figures we’d see him. Keep talking. I’ve got you on speaker.” Liz fluffed her shoulder-length hair with baby powder, pulled it into a ponytail, and put on her FBI-labeled cap.
“I’ve heard that there’s one or two movie execs, someone from the military, and a luminary from your alma mater… But I’m a block away, Liz. I’m only getting reports every five minutes. There’s probably been other pervs show since my last update.”
“I haven’t heard.”
“What about Harper?”
“He showed up at three and unlocked the joint… looked like shit.”
“Is he our handler?”
“Looks that way... Listen, Liz… the Boss is on the line right now… Hang on…”
Liz strapped on her side holster and shoved her Glock in the leather nest. She grabbed her field jacket and badge while slipping on a pair of black walking shoes and then headed to her car.
“Shan? Don’t go in yet,” begged Liz.
“Too, late. He’s giving a five-minute countdown.”
“Shit! I’m leaving now. Be there in ten if the traffic gods care at all.”
“I’m sure they do,” Shanna replied. “See you in ten.”
“See you in nine.”
Liz hung up, and sped away from her Mid-Manhattan apartment, heading for 9th and 37th, a strategic location with a direct exit out of Manhattan via The Lincoln Tunnel, and then it’s off to the races; New Jersey, Philly, and Chicago were a short road trip away, and so were the billions made each year in the body business. Human trafficking across the country had spiraled in recent years, and the De Carver Youth Center was merely a blip on the FBI’s radar until Liz managed to stumble upon a hot lead.
After she’d discovered Jinnie two years ago, she committed herself to putting away as many pedophiles as possible. Jinnie was eleven years old. She was from Lansing, Michigan, but Liz found her in a basement in Queens—locked in a cage. She found the girl while searching the home of David Espeznas, a previously convicted pedophile, who—after serving a miniscule sentence— was back on the streets.
While investigating the Espeznas’ home, Liz and her team found what they were looking for, which was the computer linking David to an online kiddie-porn ring that spanned from California to New York to Louisiana. They found the IP addresses of sixteen men and one woman. Within hours, FBI Field Offices across the country were given names, addresses, and warrants. With the exception of two runners, all were captured, arrested and convicted. As expected, David caved under pressure and leaked a name: James Tahlski. The name seemed insignificant at the time, but Liz later discovered that James, a small-time thug and pimp, had connections to a foster family that was previously associated with a family services rape investigation. It was this foster family that led to information regarding the De Carver Center. At the time, Liz’s daughter, Angie, was fourteen years old, so finding Jinnie, a beautiful, happy little girl, ripped from her home and used for God knows what, was like taking a punch to the gut. The girl was locked inside a steel cage, no bigger than four feet by four feet, with a dog cushion for a mattress; she was filthy, nearly malnourished, and heavily sedated. Her dark eyes looked terribly wounded.
Liz remembered taking her in her arms and feeling the emotional detachment emitting from Jinnie. When Liz escorted her out of the house, she felt a heaviness crashing down on her like she’d never known. She never forgot that day, and as she raced to the De Carver Center, she wondered if she’d find another Jinnie.
Liz had worked in the violent crimes division since she first joined the Bureau, but Jinnie’s case was the worst she’d seen. The acts committed against this poor girl were unfathomable. But what really sparked Liz’s interest was when Jinnie stated that David Espeznas never touched her sexually. She claimed that he paid very little attention to her until it was time for her to “go on a date”. At that time, he’d take her out of the cage, lock her in the bathroom until she bathed herself, and then he’d give her something pretty to wear. That’s when he drugged her with fresh juice and drove her someplace fancy, and other places that were frequently dark and scary. Her story seemed common until she mentioned the caves. Jinnie tried to describe where she was taken, but Liz just couldn’t get enough details. There were others, Jennie said. “...lots of others, underground”.
That was a tipping point for Liz. She knew there was more to the tens of thousands of children who go missing every year. She knew that the children weren’t all victims of the creepy man down the street... not every day... not thirty thousand a year. She suspected that there was something bigger, something organized, structured and protected. Her team usually nailed the small-time pervs and individuals at the bottom of the food chain, but they were only fool’s gold compared to what she was after.
When she arrived at The De Carver Youth Center, the parking lot had been taped off, and a paddy wagon was filled with alleged sex offenders. She took note of the luxury vehicles in the parking lot and wondered how the hell these wealthy, respected men can live such disgusting lives and not throw themselves over the Brooklyn Bridge.
She looked inside the wagon, guarded by two NYPD officers, and recognized a few faces. A graying, heavy-set man turned away.
“Good morning, Senator,” Liz said, smiling at the retired politician. He had dropped out of his eighth-term race when an alleged sex scandal between him and a senatorial page broke in the Washington Post.
Liz looked at the young, handsome, affluent lawyer from The Old-Line State. “How you doin’, Sizemore?”
Mitch Sizemore, who was seated closest toward the door, sneered and turned his handcuffed hands toward Liz, flashing his middle finger.
She scanned the others and immediately recognized Dirkus Harper, the Center’s Director. His thin, normally well-groomed hair was tangled in knots, and his face pale and wrinkled. He usually cleaned up a little better. “How’s business, Dirk?” Liz asked, feeling a bit sick to her stomach. “Times are tough these days, eh?”
“Go fuck yourself,” snapped Dirkus. His brow twisted with hate. His filthy white dress shirt hung out of his pants, stained from resisting.
“Looks like you’ve got that well in hand, Dirk.” Liz shifted her cap and said, “Have a nice day, fellas.” She nodded at the officers and hurried under the crime tape. She realized that although these dirtbags were in a world of shit, most wouldn’t pay what they owed society and the lives they’d ruined. Her time working in New York’s FBI Crimes Against Children Unit had taught her that. Some could afford bail and easily flee the country. The others would plea-bargain their way into less than a nickel in the pokey, or hire a top attorney that would inevitably find a loophole somewhere.
Liz walked into the large, privately endowed youth center, and she felt an extreme sense of accomplishment. Vincent, her ex-husband, would be proud. He was a CIA agent on assignment in Saudi Arabia and was scheduled to return to the States by Christmas. She knew very little about his work because Vince refused to tell her. He always said it was better that she didn’t know, and Liz understood. They had chosen careers in the world of secrets and agreed a long time ago that they’d rather discuss other things when they were together; things like Angie and family life. It didn’t take long, however, before a breaking story about international affairs got Vincent talking. And although it frustrated her, Liz couldn’t resist commenting on the latest criminal case that hit the headlines. Far too often they’d catch themselves talking about everything except what was real, what Vincent really did, and who they had become. Their conversations circled around true intimacy like an eagle watching from on high, but they never came in for the kill. Liz hurt deeply because of it. Vincent wouldn’t budge. He’d almost get there and then fly away—leaving Liz empty and longing. So as time trudged on, the lovers morphed into something like associates, comfortable with the distance that had wedged itself between them. Still, years after their divorce, Liz longed to share the news about the bust. She had warned Vince that she was on the verge of a major shakedown. When they received reports that a few high-profile suspected sex offenders had frequented the De Carver Youth Center, she knew they’d hit the jackpot. Within days, Liz and Shanna were able to connect a Family Services incident report with the center and before they knew it, they’d stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Liz walked through the glass doors at the front of the facility. The reception area was well lit and the walls were covered with poignant murals that told the story of broken homes, addiction, living on the street, and ultimately hope and healing, painted by some of the center’s most talented boys and girls. Then in the midst of the chaos, she noticed an agent kneeling beside a young boy who was sitting against the wall, sobbing into both hands. Liz almost missed it—another story for the mural.
Beyond the foyer, she walked through a huge gymnasium that housed two half-court basketball courts, gymnastic mats equipped with parallel bars and rings, and plastic barrels filled with dodge balls, Frisbees, you name it. Although there were no kids playing in the gym that morning, the smells of fun and armpits lingered in the air.
State and federal agents walked in and out of the gymnasium, creating a line that resembled an army of ants coming and going. Each worker entered with empty carts or two-wheeled dollies but left with something of value: weapons, money, computers, boxes, and documents of every sort.
Liz fell in line and entered a narrow hallway with school-like rooms on each side. The doors had large signs overhead indicating the activities that took place: ART, MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHY, and GENEALOGY.
At the end of the hall, which was much darker than the entrance, gray double doors were wedged open, exposing the shipping and receiving area. Her sense of achievement had waned, and she imagined what she’d find beyond the doorway. She began hearing the muffled sounds of children crying, Agents consoling, and cameras snapping. Inside, dozens of children huddled together en masse, sitting cross-legged. She watched their little bodies and scared eyes, and covered her mouth with her left hand, forcing herself to pull her shit together.
Her heart felt heavy. She wanted to cry, to kick Harper’s teeth in, but this was not the time or the place. She’d learned to save her tears for the drive home. It was always the same routine—let it out before she walked through the front door, because life went on no matter how screwed up the world was. Dinner needed fixing, her daughter needed a mother, and if she had a free moment before going to bed, she needed to escape into a good book and a full glass of wine.
Only a few feet away from the open semi-trailer where the kids were exchanged for cash, Shanna gingerly wrapped a blanket around a little blond-haired girl wearing nothing but an oversized t-shirt. Liz’s partner was so petite that she could almost pass for one of the children, but she bent down with a clipboard in hand and asked the girl a few questions. Each time, the girl shook her head or nodded, but never spoke—a worst-case scenario. The damage was done. This was a raw shipment, but as they say in the body business, There’s no such thing as damaged goods in human trafficking. If they’re still breathing, they’re still salable.
“How many are there?” Liz asked.
Shanna looked at Liz, paused, her dark eyes glassed over. “Thirty-seven.”
Liz felt a knot turn in her gut. She couldn’t help but think about Angie. Her daughter was sixteen now, and these boys and girls appeared to range in age from nine to fourteen years old. She pried her eyes away from the little blond and approached her boss, Special Agent Ted Gilmore, who supervised the New York Violent Crimes Against Children Division. He stood in the middle of the docking bay with one hand holding a clipboard against his hip and the other balled into a tight fist that pressed against his lips. He turned toward Liz as she approached and she noticed the rage in his eyes.
“Are they all hot?” asked Liz, referring to whether they’d been in the market long. If they had, then she was most likely standing in a room full of pre-pubescent rape victims, a sickening thought.
A large man in both height and girth, Gilmore turned and said, “I think so. Here…” He handed the clipboard to Liz. “You got your pick of the litter.”
“Thanks, Boss. I appreciate the busy work, but I want to know who hasn’t been arrested yet. I counted three Jaguars, two Lexuses, one Rolls-Royce, two Mercedes-Benzes, and one Bentley. That’s nine perps, and I only counted eight heads in the meat wagon. So…where’s number nine?”
Gilmore ran his hands over his meticulously trimmed, short hair, took a deep breath and said, “Just fill out the paperwork, Agent Ramsey. I’m not in the mood for your heroics.”
Liz knew it was going to be a long, emotionally draining day for everyone, no less her boss, so she let it go and bit her tongue for the moment.
“I need you to follow up on these kids,” directed Gilmore. “If the parents and guardians will consent to SOEC kits, we might get lucky and pluck out a few more spokes from the wheel.”
“I’ll do what I can. The state’s already backed up. You know that.”
Gilmore took an impatient step forward and said, “Then give ‘em hell. We need those rape kits before we run out of time.” He turned and walked away.
Liz cased the room and found a sad little black boy sitting on the outer perimeter of a circle composed of five other kids in similar condition. They looked sad—five beautiful children most likely hand-selected by their buyers. She bent down and began to fill out the questionnaire, recording statements and making observations. One down. Thirty-six to go.
From the desk of: General Murphy Ward Simpson
13, November 1942
I am pleased to inform you that Lieutenant Colonel Hyberg’s report regarding the strange objects found near the Archuleta Mesa have been confirmed and will be of great interest to the War Department. After examining the findings at the location in question, I have seen for myself the magnitude of this discovery, including the intricate tunnel systems, audio interference, and other advanced gadgets allegedly created by the unidentified beings. Because of the incredible nature of these discoveries, I believe it would prove beneficial if you and your superiors make arrangements to visit the location as soon as possible. Not only have we stumbled upon devices that appear to have been developed by a race far superior to our own, my men have encountered and taken fire from the beings who we believe live in the underground dwellings. There were casualties, Sir. The threat is real and we remain on high alert. Fortunately, we have preserved the body of one of the beings we killed in the scrimmage; the others were taken the night following the firefight by (I presume) the surviving clan, leaving no evidence of their existence. Fortunately, the corpse is small in stature and fits comfortably in an icebox.
Sir, I believe these creatures are highly intelligent, not only because of their advanced instruments but because they seem to know where we are at all times, stirring fear in the heart of our soldiers with a form of psychological warfare (that we can discuss in detail at a later date). They are deceptively dangerous and highly protective of their tunnel systems. Our current strategy is to expand our basecamp near the caves outside Dulce, New Mexico and hold our position until you visit the site for yourself.
General Murphy Ward Simpson
December 17, 2006, 10:44 am.
De Carver Youth Center, New York City
Liz moved on to child number seven, an eight-year-old boy from Nebraska who’d gone missing three months ago. His name was Philip. Covered in freckles and topped with a rusty mane, Liz wanted to take him home and keep him safe, but he had a family and he wanted to see them. He was a talker and explained the process of his abduction. Apparently he was stolen right off his bicycle while riding home from a friend’s house. Transported over the course of two weeks in car trunks, steel cages, and grouped with more children with each passing day, he recalled days without food, scarce water, and few bathroom breaks. Philip had no idea where he was taken, but he mentioned a dark, dirty place where people in white suits poked at him and took all kinds of samples. After that, he was shipped from one sicko to another, some fancy (his words), some nasty. He relayed the details of his abuse, details Liz had heard several times beginning when she was a graduate student, studying Psychology at Penn State. When the boy had shared everything he knew, Liz passed him on to a Family Services worker and stood to stretch her legs when her cell phone rang.
She walked out of the loading dock.
“Hey, Vince. Where are you?”
“On a flight to JFK,” responded her ex-husband, his voice deep and exhausted.
Vince laughed. “Yeah, I know. Four weeks is a cake walk after Iraq.”
“I’m just glad you’re safe.”
“Glad to be back. But listen, I can’t talk now, there’s a rabbit hole in Denver that I need to sniff out before I come home.”
“Figures,” Liz said coldly. “Angie was looking forward to seeing you.”
“Like I said, I can’t talk. The hole’s pretty deep. Tell my Angel I said I love her, will you?””
“Sure. I always do,” Liz said with a hint of sarcasm.
“Liz. We’ve talked about this.”
“That doesn’t mean she deserves to be caught in the crossfire, Badger. She loves you.”
Liz rarely called Vince by his code name, a private name she gave him when they were planning their wedding sixteen years ago. Vince had a reputation for being extremely fierce, not only while he served as a Navy Seal, but in every aspect of his life. “I’m not going to waste time on anything if I can’t give it two hundred percent,” he’d say. And he made that promise to Liz as well. “I’ve never failed my team. I’ve never failed a mission, and I’ll never fail you,” he assured her just before he opened the box to her engagement ring, and just before she said yes. She was already pregnant with his baby, his angel; how could she refuse his proposal?
“Listen. I should be home in thirty-six hours and after that, they’re shipping me out again. I don’t know where. All I know is I’m putting in the plumbing somewhere near the Mediterranean, and I think it’s connected to us here at home. That’s why I’m shopping in Denver.”
“What? We’re in the middle of a war in Iraq. Why would they send you there?”
“I’m sorry. You can’t blame me for asking.”
“And you can’t blame me for connecting the dots. Playing pin the tail on the donkey in my line of work can bite me in the ass.”
“What are you saying? Are you in danger?”
“Possibly. Tell Angie I love her.”
“See you soon.”
“Don’t hang up.”
The only reply Liz heard was the dial tone. She cleared her phone and thought, Oh my God. What’s going on, Vince? She stood stock still, trying to make sense of what he had said. What the hell are you doing in Denver?
Liz turned when she heard arguing in the art room. She walked to the door and stole a look through the sidelight. Gilmore was talking with two white-haired men. One thin and clean-shaven, the other, older and balding with a well-trimmed fully white beard, both dressed in crisp black suits and handcuffs.
What the hell?