SG-5’s Manhattan ops center, never a
hot bed of mind-blowing excitement in and of itself, was duller these
days than a plastic knife working at a stick of cold butter.
It was driving Tripp Shaughnessey out of his ever-loving gourd.
He understood the laid-back, uneventful, mellow-as-molasses mood; really, he
did. But without something to do besides sitting and staring zombie-eyed at static
surveillance feeds, he was at a huge risk for losing the rest of his mind.
The Smithson Group—Christian Bane specifically—had recently pulled
the plug and sent Peter Deacon, the sleazy frontman for the international crime
syndicate Spectra IT, swirling down one nasty drain.
That only left, oh, another umpty dozen members of the organization to annihilate.
There were days it seemed nothing short of an apocalyptic, second-coming, end-of-world
scenario would make a dent in the work the SG-5 team had remaining to do.
In the meantime, Tripp’s eyes and ass needed a break. Even a highly trained
Smithson Group operative could only sit and stare for so long without giving
in to distraction.
He pushed up from a squat to his feet, righted his chair, capped the tube of
bearing grease he’d brought with him this morning, and tossed it to his
He twirled the chair this way, twirled it that, sat and drew his knees to his
Bracing the balls of his feet against the edge of his desktop, he shoved. The
chair sailed into the center of the ops center’s huge horseshoe-shaped
workstation and beyond.
He was rolling, rolling, rolling . . . slowing, slowing, slowing . . .
He glanced to his right where Christian sat holding headphones to one ear, shaking
He glanced to his left where Kelly John Beach faced him, arms crossed, brow arched.
“What the hell did I tell you? Inline skate wheels, you maroon. Otherwise,
forget it. You can’t race Hot Wheels on a NASCAR track.”
Tripp shrugged, leaned back in his chair, legs extended, ankles crossed. It was
all good. He had it under control.
Laced hands behind his head, he stared up into the cavernous darkness of the
twenty-fourth floor’s ceiling that was nothing but a web of exposed duct
“Thought I’d give the bearing grease a try before changing out the
wheels. Picked the stuff up at a skate shop down in Philly last week.”
His comment was met with snorting in stereo, and Kelly John’s, “Waste
Tripp rolled his eyes. “Now, how can you say that when I bested my record
by ten feet at least?”
“Good to see you’re keeping yourself busy,” Christian said
without looking up.
K.J., on the other hand, met Tripp’s gaze straight on. “Yeah, don’t
you have some work to do?”
“Nag, nag, nag.” Yes, he had work to do. Or he would as soon as the
Spectra IT agent he had on his scope made a noticeable move.
The agent who’d chosen Brighton’s Spuds & Subs Sandwich Shop
at the end of the block as his base of operations.
Tripp hadn’t yet made the dude’s cover story; he only knew the agent
was monitoring the early afternoon traffic coming and going from the building
across the street housing, among other things, a privately-held, family-owned-and-for-the-most-part-operated
Tripp was monitoring the traffic as well. Especially since it wasn’t Spectra’s
M.O. to deal with such a small time operation as Marian Diamonds—and because
word on the street said Marian Diamonds was trading in illegal conflict stones
smuggled out of Sierra Leone.
Sure, the Spectra agent could’ve been canvassing the dealings of the entire
block—a lot of high dollar transactions went on in the financial district
between the hours of nine and five.
But just about the same time Spectra had shown up at Brighton’s, the grandson
of Marian’s owner had gotten a hankering for sandwiches eaten long past
lunch time, ordering corned beef and sauerkraut on rye to go the same time every
Of course, his hankering could’ve been for Glory Brighton instead. In which
case Tripp had a decision to make. Cement shoes or defenestration, because Glory
Brighton was off limits whether she knew it or not.
His partners having put the kibosh on play time, he spun his chair around and
shoved off in the direction from which he’d come. This time he only made
it two-thirds of the way across the room.
Crap and a half.
He rolled his eyes. Christian chuckled. Kelly John offered up a round of applause
and a suggestion. “Why don’t you make yourself useful and go grab
us some lunch?”
“I could. But I’m trying to keep a low profile here. Sticking with
Hank’s playbook and all that.” Tripp followed the Smithson principal’s
instructions to the letter, but then so did all five of Hank’s original
hand-picked operatives as well as the newest recruit.
Each one of them owed him, if not for the fact that their names weren’t
yet carved into nondescript tombstones, then for keeping them from a lot of years
spent incarcerated at Leavenworth or Gitmo.
Besides, there was something about Hank’s seventy-five year’s of
experience at staying alive that spoke to a man.
“No one said you had to go to Brighton’s,” K.J. was saying. “Order
a pizza. Pick up Chinese.”
“Besides,” Christian added. “There are other delis out there.”
Tripp sputtered, feigning shock. “Heresy. Blasphemy. Other delis indeed.”
K.J. waved Tripp away and turned back to the bank of monitors at his desk. “So,
phone in an order. Have Glory leave it for you with Glenn in the garage. Pick
it up there if you think your mark’s gonna make you.”
Tripp wasn’t too keen on the idea. The garage separating the buildings
housing Brighton’s and Smithson Engineering—the cover for the SG-5
team—was no better than a war zone. The honking, the squealing tires, the
exhaust fumes—not to mention the nosy punk parking attendant.
Forget getting in any quality Glory time with Glenn hovering around. And that
quality time—even more than the freakish boredom—was the only reason
Tripp was even considering venturing out of the ops center.
Kelly John and Christian might want food, but it wasn’t too high on Tripp’s
list of priorities. He’d learned to do without in the weeks before Hank
Smithson swooped down on salvation’s wings and plucked him off a Columbian
mountainside, and he’d never quite gotten back to his old way of thinking.
He ate enough to keep his body strong and able, his mind active and alert. Just
not enough to start taking sustenance for granted. Not when he knew all too well
the way life had of snatching away what he valued.
He glanced at the monitors on his desk. The first received the wireless feed
from the camera hidden behind the marquee over the entrance to the Smithson building.
He toggled left, toggled right. Nothing out of the ordinary on the street in
front of Brighton’s or the diamond exchange.
Next he glanced at the monitor showing the feed from Brighton’s security
system. Glory had no knowledge of SG-5’s video tap of her wires. The shop’s
surveillance cameras were simply set up to encourage employee honesty, scare
straight the kids working for her, stuff like that.
But they told Tripp what he needed to know. Spectra IT’s agent had not
Tripp pounced on the window of opportunity, shooting out of his chair and making
like a rabbit for the door to the safety vestibule. The walls of the tiny chamber
were constructed of sixteen-inch steel and separated the SG-5 nerve center from
the floor’s areas of public access.
“Back in a flash,” he said, pressing his thumb to the pad of the
biometric sensor. Mechanized bolts and pins disengaged and the door swung open.
“Or at least in an hour or two,” Christian corrected.
“Hey. A girl likes a guy who takes his time,” Tripp said, stepping
inside. The closing door cut off further contact, sealing him up like a hot dog
Overhead lights switched on inside the high-ceilinged, four-walled enclosure
outfitted top to bottom in soundproofing tile
Funny about that. The soundproofing. The lack of outside contact. How it still
got to him after all this time. The idea of help being within reach . . . but
It wasn’t like he needed help, or that he was really cut off, as seconds
later he punched the code and exited into the suite’s bamboo and black-lacquer
façade of a reception area. And the confining space wasn’t an issue.
But the idea of being on his own sure was enough to cause a bitch of a hitch
in his side.