Deadly ExposureBy: Lisa Phillips
Master Chief Bradley Harris did his best to disguise the limp in his stride. The man walking beside him was an old friend. Steve Preston led him down a wide hallway, gesturing as they went. “We have a gun range, workout room, a movie theater and a down room with bunks. A couple of the guys live out of town, so they sleep here if they don’t have the time to get home. The warehouse on the north side is for mock-ups.”
Bradley nodded. His SEAL team ran through mission scenarios set up to look like the building they’d be breaching. It was pretty standard operating procedure. But still, there was obviously money invested here. Not just a government budget at work. “It’s quite the facility.”
“My accountant would agree with you.” Steve grinned. “He says I give him hernias.”
Bradley chuckled. “It’s impressive.”
“The garage has four SUVs, two compact vehicles and a van. The plane is in a private hangar at Richmond. We sign each of them out as needed. Missions are dished out based on skill set, availability of team members, and the number of personnel the op requires.”
“How many guys on the team?”
“Six, including me, plus one female operator. And my assistant, who handles all the paperwork.”
This wasn’t an interview, per se, but Steve had outlined the benefits packet. Bradley had weeks left -in his service with the Navy. It was past time to start thinking about the rest of his life.
“How’s the senator these days?”
Bradley glanced at Steve. The man hid his interest well, but Bradley had been answering questions about Rachel’s availability and situation for longer than he cared to remember. “Good, as far as I know.”
“Gonna see her while you’re home?”
Bradley shrugged. “She wants me to come over later.”
Steve nodded, something knowing in his eyes.
Had the man told Rachel that Bradley was in town? He wanted to believe his sister would just ask him, but figured her use of intelligence-gathering tactics wasn’t unprecedented.
Would seeing her mean seeing Alexis? He figured not, since the two former best friends were estranged these days. He could stop by and have a late dinner with his sister—and not discuss Alexis.
“The team members on campus are in a meeting right now. Want me to introduce you?”
Bradley nodded. Steve led him down the hall and stopped by a door. Above it a red light was illuminated.
Steve opened the door into a six-by-six closet lined with hooks, a door on the other side. A TV screen mounted high on the wall had a list of six names—call signs probably—beside each of which was a score. It shifted constantly, the top two battling for number one. Half of the hooks held what looked like futuristic guns, along with various harnesses, vests and head lamps.
Steve tossed him a headlamp and Bradley realized it wasn’t a headlamp at all. The strap was similar, but the circles on the front and back had a sensor in the middle. “Front and back of your head.”
“Headshots?” Bradley realized then what the guns were for. He slipped the strap on his head.
Steve nodded, then handed him another, larger strap. Two sensors. “Heart—front and back.”
Four spots to kill. Or, in this case, tag the victim.
Bradley tried to process what was happening, even as he tugged the larger strap onto his chest. This was some kind of icebreaker.
Steve did the same with his sensors. Was this just for fun or part of an unofficial “interview”? He wasn’t sure if Steve, or anyone who worked for him, knew what regular people did for fun. And yet, this was exactly the kind of fun he was accustomed to as a SEAL. And these were definitely his kind of people.
Steve handed over a gun, then what looked like a knife. Bradley touched the blade and it retracted into the handle. His old friend lifted a finger. “One point for a kill shot, three for a knife strike.”
“Hit the sensors?” Earn points. Win the game.
Steve nodded. “You’re tagged, you’re out.”
Bradley swung the gun strap over his shoulder and tested the weight of the knife in his hand. Strike one of the four sensors? This was going to be fun.
Steve pressed a button on the wall beside another door, and spoke into it. “Two more coming in.”
He shoved the door open. On the other side it was completely dark, the air full of smoke. Strobe lights flashed periodically in no pattern Bradley could detect.
His ankle smarted, but he wasn’t being asked to run a marathon. “How many targets?”
Steve grinned. “All of them.”
Then he disappeared into the smoke.
Bradley stood in the door and wondered what he’d gotten himself into. These people were the best of the best in private security operations. Was this what he wanted to do after he left the Navy?
Something moved in the dark.
Bradley chuckled, and then commenced hunting.
Two hours later he exited the building, sweat-soaked and grinning. Probably every day working here wouldn’t be that much fun. But if this was how they blew off steam, he was all in.
Bradley pulled out the keys to his truck. He clicked the locks, but before he pulled the door open, he stopped. Glanced around.
He headed across town to a burger joint he’d always loved. A milkshake was definitely in order.
At a stop light two miles from the hole-in-the-wall place, Bradley pulled up to the white line and waited for the light to turn green. He raised the volume on the radio and tapped his finger on the steering wheel in time to the beat.
Two doors slammed. He glanced out the back window of his truck. Men walked from the van behind him toward his truck, dressed in black fatigues and carrying rifles.
A woman screamed.
Someone honked their horn.
Bradley glanced at the light. Still red. Cross traffic was streaming by.
He had a pistol in his glove box, but what would that solve?
Call the police? He left his phone in his back pocket. A passenger in one of the surrounding cars was likely already on the phone with emergency services.
The first gunman reached his window. Another on the passenger side. Bradley held the wheel. Looked at the light—still red. The gun raised, pointed at the glass beside his face.
Bradley hit the gas pedal.
Bullets grazed the sides of the bed as he sped away. A Buick driver honked. He swerved but still caught the front corner of the car.
Behind him the gunmen raced back to their van, determined to give chase. Bradley had grown up on these streets. He lost them quickly enough in a back alley, then retraced his route. All the while wondering who that was.
And whether they’d been sent to kidnap him.
Or kill him.
The door swung open and Alexis braced. Secret Service agent Alan Turner frowned with those bushy gray brows. He didn’t have to say anything, not when that twist of his mustache conveyed plenty. He still didn’t like her.
“She asked me to come.” Why she said that, Alexis didn’t know. She had nothing to explain to this man.
Alan stepped back, opening the door. She read what he didn’t say in the line of his body. He was charged with Senator Rachel Harris’s protection. And that meant, if necessary, he would take Alexis down. And here she thought they’d been friends.
Then again, she thought she’d been friends with all the agents on Rachel’s detail—back when they’d spent their days side-by-side, serving the office of the senator. Doing their part for the country. Only months, but a lifetime ago now. Every day since, like a bad dream.
Alexis squared her shoulders. She clutched her purse tight against her side like a shield. Not the designer label she’d carried just a few months ago. No, this one was a knock off she’d bought for eight dollars at a thrift store. Like everything she owned now.
As she passed Alan, he muttered a dirty word.
From down the hall, a woman gasped. “Agent Turner. I expect better from you.”
Alexis watched her friend emerge from the living room of her Georgetown brownstone home, shaking her head. Like it was possible for Rachel to be shocked. Striding toward them on four-inch heels even though she’d been home for hours. Her dress just as pristine as when she’d put it on that morning. “You do not speak to my friends that way.”
Alexis didn’t look back at Alan. She kept her focus on Rachel as he said, “My apologies, Senator Harris.” But he didn’t apologize to Alexis.
The Secret Service agent shut the front door and Rachel sighed. Alan had opted to go outside, rather than be in the house with Alexis. No doubt the rest of the agents felt the same way. Though, some would think she was there to harm Rachel. They’d stick close to make sure Alexis didn’t do anything.
She was a pariah now. An outcast. Did she have that scarlet letter “A” on her chest? Maybe she should.
Rachel’s gaze softened.
She opened her arms, and tears filled her eyes.
Alexis walked into the embrace of the woman who’d ruined her.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
Alexis shook her head, an unladylike snort emerging from her throat.
Rachel cocked her head to one side. “Living room?”
Alexis sighed and followed her friend from the hall. They sat opposite each other. Rachel on a wingback chair, Alexis perched on a beautiful couch that was seriously uncomfortable. Kind of like shoes. The prettier they were, the more they hurt.