The Director was suggesting that I go into the field to assist with taking down a known terrorist. This wasn’t going to be an easy mission. In fact, you could say it was a suicide mission. I could tell by Simon’s change of posture that he did not like what the Director was suggesting. It wasn’t that I particularly loved it, either. However, focusing on a mission and going into the field would allow me an opportunity to cast aside the trouble I was having at home. It wouldn’t fix my issues with Chris, but it would let for me to focus on something other than my crumbling marriage.
“I’m…I…well, sir, I’m honored you’d even consider me for this type of mission.” I glanced over at Simon and back to the Director, “I’m in, when do we start?”
Director Hobson stood and extended his hand to me, “I was certainly hoping you would say that.” I immediately rose from the couch and took his hand, shaking it vigorously. “We have our first meeting to discuss this mission at 14:00 hours in the secured conference room. I look forward to seeing you there.”
As the Director moved toward the sliding door, he glanced over his shoulder. “Simon, I’d like you to be involved in this mission as well. I hope you’ll join us. Just remember, no laptops or cell phones for this meeting. We’re going old school.”
Simon rose to his feet as well. “Yes sir, I’ll be honored to join you.” As the Director exited my office, Simon turned to me and wasted no time in letting me know how he felt. “Have you gone mad? You do realize he just asked you to go on a fucking suicide mission, right?”
My brother was not one to curse, so I knew he was angry. “Simon, you do realize that ‘fucking’ is a bad word, right?” I couldn’t help myself and let out a laugh as I moved to take my seat at my desk. I figured making light of this situation could ease the mounting tension in the room. “I’m aware of what he was asking, and this is me not caring one way or the other.”
“Dammit, Lauren. You realize if you and Chris were good right now, you wouldn’t be considering this? What do you think his reaction would be to this? Are you giving that any consideration? Don’t do this.”
Simon was imploring me to be realistic, I was doing all I could to shut him out of my mind. When I didn’t respond to him or provide a counterpoint, he pulled the door open and walked out. If the sliding doors could slam, he would have done that for show. But since they don’t, he left the door wide open so I could hear his pounding footsteps along the catwalk as he walked back to his office.
He was right, though. If Chris were not deploying, I wouldn’t even give this mission a second thought. Hell, I’d have already transitioned into another division and would be busy trying to start my family. But that wasn’t happening and with what the Director was suggesting, I knew what I was signing up for. I wasn’t surprised Simon didn’t understand, he wasn’t in the middle of his life falling apart. If Chris was going to go marching off to war, then I was going in my own way. I had a bad feeling about my husband’s deployment, there was no way I could sit at home and twiddle my thumbs for months on end. This gave me a purpose. Although it was safe to say that my mission would be just as dangerous as my husband’s.
~ * ~
14:00 Hours – Secured Conference Room
I made my way down the brightly lit hallway to the northwest corner of the floor. The secured conference room was a large, soundproof room with special keycard access for entry. Unlike the other conference rooms, this one had solid walls instead of glass and heavy oak doors. The door made a loud clicking noise when they shut, it always reminded me of the sound of prison doors clanking shut. The conference table could easily seat thirty people; however, currently, we had twelve seated. We were missing Simon and the Director, but I wasn’t sure how many others would be joining us.
I’d not spoken to Simon since he left my office earlier in the morning. This just proved that he was still furious at me. I’d almost venture to guess that he’d called my other brothers to complain about how hard-headed I was being. In the hierarchy of the Harrison family, Simon was the oldest, and I was, of course, the youngest. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was also the only girl. I was treated like a princess, not just by my parents, but by all four brothers. They were all overprotective and would take turns following me on my dates to make sure I was being treated like a lady. I’d say it was embarrassing, but I loved it.
It isn’t that I want to brag, but I was, accordingly to my teachers, a gifted student. I was President of our student council and had long entertained the idea of becoming a lawyer. I had a myriad of colleges lined up to visit and prayed that I’d get scholarships so I could go wherever I wanted. All of that changed when, in my senior year, I was nominated to attend the Naval Academy. There had never been a student in our school who had received this honor. Several had been appointed to West Point, but I was the first for the Naval Academy. It has surprised my family almost as much as it had surprised me. I was asked to take a test and do an interview to ensure that I was the right candidate. My linguistic skills and test scores impressed the Academy, they admitted me with the intention of having me focus on intelligence work.
I was twenty-years-old when the World Trade Center was attacked. I was in my third year at the Academy, and I knew, without a doubt, that I would be going to war. I’d never thought I would really see a conflict when I started at the Academy, but now it was inevitable. My parents and my brothers were not prepared for that news. I would graduate as a commissioned Marine officer and be shipped off to the war zone. Primarily I was located in Afghanistan where my skills were put to the test by translating intercepted radio transmissions and relaying them back to the Generals who were running the war.
I was able, along with my fellow Marines, to detail the whereabouts of high-value targets. They were either captured or taken out, and I didn’t lose any sleep over it. In fact, it helped me sleep knowing I was making a difference in the war on terror. My family, however, could not see me as anything other than a pig-tailed little girl playing with dolls. They worried I would not come home or if I did, that I would be changed forever. I guess the impact on my psyche was less since I didn’t see action. I didn’t fire a weapon or take enemy fire. All of these thoughts came rushing back to me as I sat in the conference room and waited for Simon. I couldn’t help but wonder if these things were going through my mind, were they going through his as well.
Several minutes later, Simon walked into the room and only made brief eye contact with me. He sat on the opposite side of the table, down a few seats, making sure we wouldn’t have direct eye contact during this meeting. I wanted to say something but felt it might not be best when there was an audience. Before I could bring myself to ask him to step outside, Director Hobson entered the room. He didn’t speak, just took his place at the head of the table and clicked a USB stick into the waiting computer. Immediately a presentation came to life on the monitor behind him.
The Director cleared his throat and began his speech. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Adnan Mohammed Yusef, one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. He has been dealing arms to small terrorist organizations to fund his activities with other groups. I’ve invited you to this meeting because we are going to embark on a mission to bring him down. This is a black ops mission, that means if you are compromised or captured, your disappearance will not be acknowledged, and an extraction team will not be sent to get you. I’m making you aware of this danger ahead of time and you are provided this opportunity to back out without recourse. If you do not leave this room, I will take that as you accept the risk and that you are willing to move forward.”
The Director stopped talking and looked around the room. Not a single person flinched or made a move for the door. It was evident that we were all willing to do what we could to bring down this man.
“Great, now that I have the team assembled, let’s get into the details. Lauren Evans developed a comprehensive dossier on Yusef. While Charles Harper is probably our foremost expert on his most recent arms transactions. We’ve got a good start on being able to infiltrate and bring down Yusef and his organization. Clandestine Services has been given the approval to complete this mission.” Once again the Director glanced around the room to make sure everyone was invested in what he was saying. Hobson then picked up a stack of sealed manilla envelopes and walked around the room distributing them. We knew the drill, don’t open the pouch until you are given express permission to do so.
When the Director made it back to the front of the table, he began speaking again. “You’ve got in your hands your assignment. Do not open your envelope just yet. You can do that when you return to your office. You will have three days to complete your assignment, we will reconvene in this room to begin combing over what we’ve found. We are going to look for links between Yusef and any known dealing with ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Baku Harum, and any foreign government that might be funding these groups. We cannot afford another mass casualty event on our soil. If you’ve got a question concerning your assignment, see me privately to discuss. All discussions regarding this operation stay in this room. You’re all dismissed.”
While everyone was getting up from the table, I glanced over and realized Simon had been given an envelope. Why? He was a high-ranking officer, but he didn’t go on missions, and he certainly didn’t get involved in Clandestine Services when the operations revolved around terrorism. I wanted to ask Hobson, but I knew that would be stepping over a boundary. Hell, I couldn’t even ask Simon without breaking a rule or two.
I pushed away from the table and began making my way to the door. I had not taken two steps when Hobson stopped me. “Lauren, I need you and Simon to stay behind, please.” I might end up getting my answer after all. I took a seat near the end of the table, Simon was seated directly across from me. I noticed that Director Hobson was observing me and I was starting to get very nervous.
“Mrs. Evans, am I correct in stating that your husband is a SEAL and member of Seal Team Eight?”
Ok, that question took me by surprise, I have to admit I bristled at the mention of Chris. “Yes, sir, he is.”
“I knew that your husband was in the military and that’s never been an issue. But doing the extensive backgrounds on each member of this team I realized he wasn’t just in the military, he’s a member of the SEALs and he’s preparing to deploy to the same area where you’d be stationed.” He stopped and watched my face, most likely waiting to see if I had some sort of reaction to the words he’d spoken. I didn’t budge or flinch, but I wasn’t sure where he was going with this. “Admittedly, I want you on this mission for your expertise in the area but this is a red flag. Is your husband deploying to Afghanistan?”
“Yes sir, he is leaving in a few days and will be gone for almost eighteen months.”
“I’m going to be completely frank with you, Lauren. I’m concerned as to how you will handle being on a critical mission while your husband is deployed within the same theater. There are security concerns, as I am sure you can understand.”
I was suddenly confused. The Director had asked me on this assignment and was now trying to kick me off because of Chris and his job? “I’m sorry, Director, but he has a job to do as do I. We’ve made it a habit to not discuss work.” I glanced over at Simon, and I could tell from his body language that he wanted to interject. He gave me a head nod, and I knew what that meant. “Sir, I’m only going to bring this up because of your line of questioning. My husband and I have encountered a few issues in our marriage. It would be fair to tell you that we are not actively communicating at all right now.”
“I see,” the Director responded back to me. “You know that you’re the only team member with a family member who is active military. And the fact that he is a SEAL is even more problematic for us. This mission is vital, I need to be sure there will be no impropriety. He cannot know anything about this operation, not a word.”
“Again, sir, at the risk of divulging too much personal information, I feel it only fair I am upfront with you. My husband’s deployment is a source of friction between us right now. I think it is fair to say that his decision to go has effectively ended our marriage.” I hated saying those words, and I had to choke back tears. It would not do me any favors to cry at the direct questioning of my superior. “He won’t know anything about this mission. You have my word on that.”
I could tell that Hobson believed me. He relaxed his shoulders and reached out to place his hand over mine. “I’m sorry, I certainly didn’t intend to pry into your personal relationship. I hope you can understand my initial concerns?” I nodded at the Director. I did get why he was asking. Chris is part of an elite force, I can’t put our mission in jeopardy, and he certainly cannot do the same to his. The Director turned and looked at Simon, “I trust the family will side with Lauren in regards to any, um, battle lines with her husband?”
“Absolutely, we respect and support the decisions that Lauren makes. Chris will not hear of this mission from anyone within the Harrison family. For the record, while our brothers have a variety of classified statuses, they will not be read into this mission, either.”
It was important for Simon to say that. All of my brothers had some sort of job that revolved around the government. My brother, Nick, worked at the Justice Department. He had helped with the prosecution of several high-profile cases recently and was a rising star. Working for the Attorney General gave him access to dozens of classified files. My brother, John, was a Deputy Director of the FBI. He worked in the New York office which was one of the highest-profile offices in the country. Due to the terror threats for New York, John was always roped into classified briefings. The youngest of the Harrison boys was my brother, Roger. He’s a US Marshall and is currently working in the Chicago office. He didn’t come into contact with as much classified material, but it was certainly easy for him to get it if he needed it.
Directory Hobson stood, “I’ll see you in a few days. Please accept my apology for the line of questioning. It wasn’t personal, I just need to make sure any potential leaks are dealt with early on.”
I nodded, I knew what the Director had to do, but it didn’t make dealing with the question or giving the answer any more comfortable. The Director excused himself and left the conference room; shutting the door and leaving me alone with Simon. I wasn’t sure if Simon was going to say anything, but I figured since we were in a soundproof room, this was his opportunity to get his feelings off his chest without drawing attention to himself for yelling at me. Sure enough, after a momentary pause, Simon let loose.
“Has the decision Chris made to go on one more tour sent you into such a spiral that you suddenly have a death wish?” His glare was intense, I could swear he would burn a hole through me. It’s not very often that I see Simon really angry, but today is one of those times. “I think you need a psych evaluation, Lauren. You know if you go to Afghanistan there’s a real chance you aren’t coming home. This isn’t like the last time you were there. The last time you were on a base and were protected that won’t be what happens now.”
I nodded my head, “I know Simon. I’m aware that this mission is dangerous. But I don’t have a death wish, and I don’t need an evaluation. I’m trained for this type of work, and I’m an asset to the division. I’m struggling enough with the failure of my marriage – don’t let me be a failure at work, too.”
Simon stood and sighed heavily. “I love you, and I would never think you’re a failure in your marriage or your job.” He took several steps forward and put his hand on the door, preparing to open the large oak doors. Without turning to look at me, he fired a parting shot. “You’re lucky that Nick, John, and Roger are unaware of your struggles with Chris and of you signing up for this mission. If you think I’m hard to deal with, try holding off all four of us.” With that, he exited the room and left me behind.