Four days later

Deakins sat silently in his office, drumming his fingers lightly on the desktop. The last few days had been just about the toughest that any of them had endured, even more-so than the previous eight and a half months. The entire squad was on tenterhooks, waiting for that call from Jarod to tell them that everything was ready, that it was finally time to act.

He himself had spent the last four days not only keeping the Major Case Squad functioning at an outwardly acceptable level, but also making plans for someone to take over and fill in for him as acting captain while he was absent, as well as for his wife and daughters to go to his sister’s home in San Diego for the next three months.

He grimaced as he recalled the family discussion that had resulted in the decision to send his wife and daughters away. Angie had been horrified at the thought of taking the girls out of school, and the girls had been horrified at the idea of being away from their friends. Or rather, that was until he’d sat the three of them down and explained the full situation to them.

A palpable silence had enveloped the house while he told them the truth behind Bobby’s disappearance (until then, even his own family had been led to believe that Bobby’s absence was semi-official), and the truth of the horror he’d had to endure for nearly nine months now. By the time he’d finished speaking, all three had been in tears. Angie had then agreed softly that he had to do whatever he could to help save Bobby, and that she and the girls would pack immediately to go west.

The girls had very vocally expressed their own agreement, along with fervent prayers for a successful rescue. Not another word was said in protest about their temporary relocation. They had left that very morning, amidst many tears, and a firm promise from him to contact them as soon as it was safe to do so.

Also, he had had to arrange for someone else to visit Frances Goren at Carmel Ridge in his absence. True to his promise to Bobby, Deakins had gone to see her every Wednesday evening, without fail. Some of those visits had been good, and some not so good, but he’d never failed to go, not once.

He had been troubled at the thought that there might not be anyone to keep that once-a-week visit going, but ultimately he needn’t have worried. Once he mentioned the situation to his detectives, a roster had been very quickly organised, ensuring that each of the Major Case detectives would take it in turns to visit her, and that her routine would continue on uninterrupted. Quietly, he’d been touched by the sincerity of the squad members but, as Jackson had pointed out, they all wanted to help. For those who could not actively help in the rescue itself, this was the next best thing.

After that, all that had been left for him to deal with was putting in the ‘official’ applications for leave of absence for himself, Alex, Mike and Carolyn. For that, he’d gone to Commissioner Adkins directly. Normally, it would have been through the Chief of Detectives, but there was no way in hell that Deakins intended to clue Harris in to what was happening, and risk alerting the Centre. So he’d gone to Adkins, and told him on the quiet what the plan was. Adkins hadn’t been especially happy with the idea of Deakins and three of his detectives doing a disappearing act, but he hadn’t objected. He’d signed off on the applications, and then tucked them away in his drawer, to be produced after the fact.

Mike and Carolyn’s affairs had taken only a small effort to put in order in preparation for the anticipated seclusion. Carolyn’s parents lived in Washington DC. She’d called to warn them that she would be out of contact with them for a couple of months or more, but hadn’t considered it necessary to tell them to go elsewhere for the interim. Mike had no family to concern himself with, and the only arrangements he’d made was for a neighbour to keep an eye on his apartment.

Alex, on the other hand, had had more complicated arrangements to make. After considerable discussion, her parents had decided on Connecticut, where they were welcome to stay with Helen Eames’ father. Alex’s brothers and sister, though, had all opted to stay put, but had all promised to be on alert both for themselves, and for anyone at all who might come asking after her.

Not that it mattered, as Alex’s sister Sarah had pointed out. Alex hadn’t told any of them where she would be going after Bobby’s rescue, and what they didn’t know, they couldn’t be made to tell.

Deakins knew it pained Alex to be separated from her family. It pained him, as well, but in this instance, the good of the one outweighed the good of the many. They had to get Bobby out of that place, and that was all there was to it.

“Nothing yet?”

He looked up to see Mike standing in the doorway, and shook his head.

“No. Not yet.”

Mike pulled a face as he wandered in and dropped into one of the empty chairs.

“The whole squad’s on edge, Captain. We want to move on this. We want to get him out.”

“I know, Mike,” Deakins assured him. “Believe me, I know.”


It was with some effort that Deakins kept his voice even.

“What, Mike?”

“When Don Cragen asked what the odds were of getting Bobby out of there alive… Jarod said about fifty percent.”

“What of it?”

“Those aren’t great odds,” Mike said softly. Deakins paused, and then set his pen down and sat back in his chair, watching Mike critically.

“Are you having second thoughts about this?”

“No!” Mike burst out. “Hell, no… It… It just scares me… that we might get him out of there, only to have to bury him.”

“That was always a risk, Mike,” Deakins pointed out. “And I don’t like it anymore than you do, but it’s a possibility that we have to accept. There is a strong chance that when we reach Bobby, he might already be dead.”

“If they kill him, then it’ll kill Alex,” Mike said reluctantly. “It’ll just about kill all of us.”

“That’s why this operation is being kept so tightly under wraps,” Deakins said. “We’re not risking anything getting back to the Centre. With any luck, they won’t know we’re coming until we’re right on top of them.”

“Do you really think it’s going to work?” Mike wondered, and this time Deakins caught a plaintive note in his voice. The detective was desperate for reassurance, he realised sadly.

“Yes,” he answered softly, with as much confidence as he could muster. “I really do think it’s going to work, Mike. I believe we’re going to go in there, find Bobby, and get him out, alive. I really do believe that. I have to believe that.”

“You know,” Mike said after a moment’s hesitation, “one thing we haven’t considered is counselling.”

Puzzlement filled Deakins’ face at Mike’s words.

“What do you mean, counselling?”

“For Bobby, I mean. It’s one thing to say that we need to go with him to… well, to wherever it is that Jarod plans on taking him, but none of us are psychiatrists. And Jarod…? He might have pretended to be one at some point, but he’s not really a shrink. We all agree that Bobby’s going to be in a bad way, right?”

“Right,” Deakins agreed.

“So, shouldn’t we be looking at providing proper psychiatric help for him?”

Deakins had to concede that Mike’s reasoning was sound.

“All right,” he murmured. “Point taken. Do you have any suggestions?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Mike confirmed. “Elizabeth Olivet.”

The captain mused on that for a minute, and the more he thought about it, the more he liked it. Mike was right, of course. Good though their intentions were, it would still be no substitute for psychiatric healing, and that was what Bobby was going to need. After nearly nine months in that hell-hole, Deakins could only imagine what the damage might be.

“It’s a good idea,” Deakins agreed finally. “I think you’re right, Mike. But we can’t contact her yet. We’ll wait until we’ve actually gotten Bobby out of there, and then look into arranging it. Any particular reason for suggesting Olivet, though? I’ve heard good reports about George Huang over at SVU… and there’s Emil Skoda, as well.”

“I’ve got personal experience with Olivet,” Mike said quietly, his gaze fixed very firmly on the floor. “She’s good at what she does… She’s not confrontational… and I think Bobby would respond better to her than to anyone.”

“That’s not something we can anticipate, Mike,” Deakins told him. Mike shrugged.

“Maybe. Look, I just know she’s good at getting people to trust her. I think she could probably help Bobby, that’s all.”

“It’s a good idea,” Deakins assured him. “But let’s just take it one step at a time…”

He trailed off as the phone on his desk rang, cutting harshly into the quiet. Frowning at the interruption, he lifted the handset and spoke impatiently.


Mike was about to get up and leave, when he caught the sudden change in Deakins’ expression. He hesitated, out of curiosity and more than a little hope, to see who the caller was.

Deakins sat silently, saying nothing, but listening intently. Finally, nearly a minute later, he spoke in a soft, tense voice.

“We’ll be there in an hour.”

He hung up and looked up at Mike tensely.

“Go and get Alex and Carolyn.”


Deakins’ eyes flashed with renewed vigour.

“That was Jarod. It’s time to move.”


Don Cragen hung up his phone and sat back with a thud, his heart in his throat. For nearly a minute, he didn’t move, fighting the urge to pinch himself in an effort to prove that he was only dreaming. Finally, though, shaking himself back to reality, he rose up and walked quickly out of his office. A quick glance around, and he spotted his four top detectives crowded around Elliot and Olivia’s desks, sharing a lunch that looked to Cragen like Thai take-away.

After a moment’s hesitation to observe them, he cross the floor and came up beside the desk, catching their attention by rapping hard on the wood. All four heads came up simultaneously to look at him quizzically, and he motioned back over his shoulder to his office, and spoke in a harsh tone that had them all wincing.

“You four,” he said, putting an extra edge into his tone. “My office. Now.”

Exchanging uneasy looks, Elliot, Olivia, Fin and Munch abandoned their lunch and filed silently into Cragen’s office.

“What the hell have we done now?” Fin asked sullenly. Cragen closed the door behind them, and then spoke apologetically.

“I just had a phone call from Jim Deakins. It’s time.” He motioned to the desktop. “I want your guns, badges and Department IDs. You’re not to take them with you.”

“Your call, or Deakins’?” Elliot asked as they each removed the items in question.

“Deakins’ instructions,” Cragen confirmed. “You’re to go anonymously. Now, get yourselves over to Domestic Terminal Five, at La Guardia. Go to the information counter, and ask for Major Charles. You’ll be given further instructions then.”

“Okay,” Elliot said, looking around at his colleagues. “Let’s get going.”

Cragen followed them out, and stood watching just inside the door of the precinct as they piled into Elliot and Olivia’s SUV, and drove off.

“God speed, guys,” he murmured softly, once the vehicle had vanished around the corner. “Bring him home.”

Deakins had just hung up the phone from talking to Don Cragen when Mike strode back into the room, with Alex and Carolyn.

“I told Jackson, King and Oliver,” Mike said quietly. “They’ve gone to stow their stuff. They’ll meet us down in the garage.”

The captain answered that with an accepting nod. Leaning down, he pulled open the large bottom drawer of his desk and removed a large, lockable tin box. Setting it down on his desk and opening it up to reveal three solitary items – a gun, a gold detective’s shield and a Department ID card. Bobby’s gun, shield and ID.

He then proceeded to remove his shield, his ID and his gun, and laid all the items in the box.

Once he’d done so, Alex stepped up and did the same. Without speaking a word, she unclipped her badge and her gun, and placed them with her ID in the box.

Then it was Mike’s turn, and he followed suit without hesitation, setting his gun, shield and ID in the box with the others.

When he stepped back, all eyes turned to look at Carolyn, who was hesitating in the doorway. She glanced uneasily at each of them, and for a split second it seemed that she might just turn and bolt. But then, visibly steeling herself, she moved forward and placed her own gun, badge and ID in the box as well.

Nodding grimly, Deakins closed the box and locked it, placing it back in the bottom drawer of his desk.

“For when we come back,” he said quietly, and Alex nodded.

“For when we all come back.”

“Together,” Mike added fiercely. Carolyn spoke, renewed determination in her voice. The point of no return had long since been breached. There was no longer any choice, but to go forward.

“Let’s go get our brother back.”

They arrived at La Guardia, at Terminal Five as per Jarod’s instructions, and the seven of them headed straight for the information desk, where they were met by a bright-eyed young woman.

“Can I help you?” she asked in an impossibly cheerful tone. Deakins nodded.

“We’re here to see Major Charles.”

The woman’s expression altered, her bright smile rapidly replaced with a look of sharp understanding. She produced a key, and held it out to Deakins.

“Go through to Gate Nine. There’s a door marked ‘Strictly No Admittance’. This key will unlock that door. Go through that door, and walk down to another room at the end of the corridor. The others are waiting there for you.”

Deakins accepted the key, and led the way through the terminal.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have left our guns behind,” Mike said as they approached Gate Nine.

“Relax, Mike,” Deakins said quietly. “Jarod knew what he was doing. We would never have gotten through security unnoticed with our guns. Just keep walking.”

There was enough people milling around at Gate Nine that they were able to slip unnoticed through the door the woman had described to them. They found themselves in a long corridor, which led the way down to another door, this one unmarked, at the far end.

Deakins paused at the door, just long enough to look around at the six detectives behind him, before pushing the door open and leading the way in.

The size of the room they found themselves in caught them all by surprise. After the narrow length of the corridor, it was a surprise to find themselves in a large open room that was more than a little reminiscent of a lecture theatre. There was over a dozen desks in the room, most of which were occupied by a number of men in civilian clothing.

When they walked in, all heads turned to check them out, but Deakins and his team ignored the stares; focused, instead, on the two men who quickly crossed the floor to meet them.

“Jarod,” Deakins said quietly by way of greeting. “Commander Ellis.”

Ellis smiled and shook hands vigorously with the captain.

“Welcome to our little party, folks.” He paused, looking past Deakins to the six detectives behind him, and doubt flickered across his features. “Is this it?”

“No,” Deakins answered firmly, and none of them missed the relief in Ellis’ eyes. “There’s another four on their way. They should be here soon.”

“Good,” Ellis enthused. “That’s very good. With my twenty, Jarod and myself, that makes thirty-three. I like that number. This mission is starting to look good.”

“Have you heard anything more about Bobby?” Alex asked Jarod with more than a touch of anxiety in her voice. Reluctantly, Jarod shook his head.

“I’m sorry, no. I haven’t heard anything since I spoke to you four days ago.”

Alex fell back, struggling to contain her disappointment and worry. Ellis glanced at Jarod, and then spoke to her as reassuringly as he could.

“God willing, we’ll have him out of there soon. Be strong, Detective, for just a little longer.”

Alex nodded wordlessly, not quite able to bring herself to smile. Mike slipped an arm comfortingly around her shoulders and gave her a brief hug, which she willingly leaned into. The entire situation was taking its toll on all of them, and the only thing keeping them going was the hope, however slim it was, that they would soon have Bobby back with them where he belonged.

“Come and have a seat,” Ellis invited them. “As soon as your other people get here, then we can get started.”

The detectives from SVU arrived ten minutes later, completing the number. Ellis then moved to the front of the room, his commanding presence quickly drawing the attention of everyone there. He paused to look the group over briefly, and the spark in his eyes told them he approved of what he saw. Then, he began to speak.

“For the benefit of those here who don’t know me, I’m Commander Dan Ellis. I’m the one who’s got the privilege of running this operation, and I intend to see it played out smoothly, and successfully. And for that to happen, we need to be willing to put aside right now any difference, and any rivalry. In this room, and from this point on, you’re no longer Navy. You’re no longer NYPD. There is no place for any rivalry here, and I cannot… No, I will not tolerate anyone trying to outdo anyone else. We are a team, and we will act like it. And right here is the reason.”

Stepping to one side, Ellis pressed a button on a hand-held device and a large screen came to life behind him. On that screen there was an image of Bobby, a photo that had been taken not long before his abduction.

“This mission has multiple parameters, but one prime target,” Ellis went on, “and that is to rescue this man. Take a good look, people. For those of you who don’t already know him, this is Robert Goren. You’ll find a picture of him in the dossiers you’ll be given shortly. I want you to study his face. Burn his image into your brain, so that you feel a hundred and fifty percent certain that you could recognise him anywhere. Because believe me, after nine months in the hell-hole we’re going to bust him out of, he is definitely not going to look as healthy as this.”

In the midst of the gathered group, Alex winced visibly at the blunt reminder that Bobby’s physical condition was likely to be severely neglected, to say the least. She felt a hand close over her own, and looked around to see Deakins offering her a reassuring smile. She attempted to return the gesture, and failed miserably. She didn’t think she’d ever felt less like smiling in her life.

“Our prime objective,” Ellis continued, “is to find Robert Goren, and rescue him, alive. The last report we received a week and a half ago indicated that he is still alive, but we can’t afford to waste any more time. To that end, we plan to launch this operation tonight.”

A murmur went through the group, and someone called out incredulously.

“Are we going to be ready for that, sir? We got newbies to train, here…”

“Stow that remark, Bailey,” Ellis growled. “The ‘newbies’ you’re so eloquently referring to are seasoned NYPD detectives, and I don’t doubt their capabilities to deal with this situation. We will be ready to move by tonight, I promise you that.”

“Sorry, sir,” Bailey murmured, sounding sincerely contrite.

“Anyone else have any concerns about going in tonight?” Ellis demanded to know, but no one spoke. He nodded in satisfaction and directed the SEAL seated nearest him to start handing out dossiers. There were two different colours, blue and red. The red dossiers were handed out to the SEALs, and were each individually named, while the blue ones were handed out to the detectives. Of the blue folders, only four already had names on them: Deakins, Eames, Logan and Barek. The other seven folders handed out were all unnamed.

“I didn’t know for certain how many extras people were going to be joining the team,” Ellis said, speaking specifically to the detectives. I’d only assigned Captain Deakins, and Detectives Eames, Logan and Barek to specific roles in this operation. The rest of you have been randomly assigned tasks, according to which folder you’ve been given.” He returned his attention to the group as a whole. “I hope no one will take issue with what they’ve been assigned to do. We don’t have time for dissension. If we’re going to save Goren, then it’s vital that we all work together.

“Now, when we move out, you’ll be travelling in your individual strike groups. Each strike group will have a team leader, and it’s that team leader’s responsibility to make sure that everyone in his team knows what they’re supposed to be doing and when. You can find the strike group that you’ve been assigned listed inside your folder. For now, though, we’re going to go over the plan in general terms. Jarod?”

Jarod rose up and took the handheld control from Ellis, clicking it once and replacing Bobby’s image with the image of an imposing building that didn’t look that much different to the façade of a prison.

“This is the Centre,” he told the group. “More specifically, the Centre’s base in Blue Cove, Delaware, where Bobby Goren has been held prisoner for the last nine months.”

Alex sucked in a shaky breath at her first sight of the place that had been the subject of so many of her nightmares over the past months. She supposed that under any other circumstance, the place might have sent a slight shiver down her spine, but nothing worse than that. Now, knowing what she did, it almost made her physically sick. A glance to her right, to Deakins, told her she wasn’t alone there. The captain looked similarly ill, although she wondered whether that was partly from his own memories. She wondered, suddenly, whether he had ever been inside the Centre during his time as a rookie in Blue Cove, or whether it was a place that he had only ever glimpsed from the outside.

She tried to catch his gaze, but that time he refused to look at her.

Jarod clicked the button again, and this time they found themselves looking at an older map of Delaware – a map on which Blue Cove was highlighted.

“This map is one of the very few on which Blue Cove is shown,” Jarod explained. “After the Centre was built, it ceased to be included on any maps, road maps or otherwise. It sits here, on the coast, southeast of Middletown. It’s a very isolated town. There’s not so much as a gas station within seventy miles of its borders in any direction. We’re going to use that to our advantage, to slip into the town as clandestinely as possible.” He clicked the button again, and this time the map that appeared was of Blue Cove itself, with the location of the Centre itself clearly marked.

“This is the only map in existence that denotes the location of the Centre,” Jarod told them. “You’ll find copies of it, and the other map I showed you, in your folders, along with an actual plan of the Centre. You need to study them, and familiarise yourselves with the layout of the building, and the town. It will be important when it’s time to pull out.”

Another click, and this time the plan of the Centre building appeared on the screen, with several key points highlighted. Ellis then stood up again, joining Jarod.

“Here,” Ellis said, using a pointer to indicate one highlighted spot, “is where we expect to find Goren. It’s on Sub-level Twelve.”

“And if he’s not there?” Fin asked. Ellis nodded.

“We’ll come to that shortly. Now, I’ve divided you into five strike teams, and each team has been designated a particular colour. We’ve got Red Strike; Green Strike; Blue Strike; Black Strike and Grey Strike, and each team’s number has been assigned according to the task they’ve been given. I’m going to go through each strike team’s task now, starting with Red. Red Strike has just three men in it, and it will be Red Strike’s job to go in ahead of the rest of us, and plant the explosives that we plan to detonate after the job is done.”

“You’re gonna blow the place up?” Elliot asked, startled.

“They’ll be given sufficient warning to evacuate,” Ellis replied. “It isn’t our aim to take lives, but that building is not going to be left standing. Now, as I said, Red Strike will be going in ahead of the rest of us to ensure the explosives are planted, and ready to detonate at a moment’s notice.

“Black Strike is the team that will be responsible for taking out the Centre’s power. Timing is going to critical. If the power goes out too soon, they’ll have time to figure out what’s going on, and either move Goren somewhere else… or even kill him. Above all else, we want to avoid that happening. It will be crucial that the cutting of the Centre’s power is timed perfectly with our assault. Again, it will be the responsibility of the team leaders to coordinate accurately.

“It will be the responsibility of Green Strike to ensure the common entry points to the Centre are secure. The place will be crawling with agents as it is. We don’t want any fresh arrivals coming in and creating unanticipated problems.

“Blue Strike is responsible for our getaway. We have five exit plans ready, depending on what goes down while we’re in there. Blue Strike must be ready to execute any of those five plans at a moment’s notice, to ensure a fast, safe escape.

“Finally, Grey Strike’s responsibility will be finding Robert Goren and bringing him out. Jarod…?”

Jarod nodded, and took over speaking.

“Finding Bobby will be potentially the most dangerous task. No matter how well prepared we are, and how precise we are, it is not going to take the people in charge long to work out what’s happening. When they do, it’s going to be a race to get to Bobby before they have a chance to do either of the things that Commander Ellis mentioned. We have to be prepared that we may have to intercept them in the process of moving Bobby to take him beyond our reach.”

“If they try to move him,” someone asked, “to take him out of there entirely, how would they be likely to do it?”

“There are two likely possibilities,” Jarod answered. “The less likely is that they’ll try to smuggle him out and move him by car. What’s more likely is that they’ll try to take him up the tower, and take him away by helicopter. The tower is this section right here. If they succeed in getting him up there, and airlifting him out, then we’ll have lost our chance. We can’t let them use that option.”

“Green Strike will need to do what they can to secure all possible entrances to the tower,” Ellis confirmed.

“You said we’re not aiming to take lives here,” Mike spoke up, his tone deceptively calm. “So what do we do if we get fired at? Aim for their kneecaps?”

“If you’re fired upon,” Ellis said flatly, “repel borders. Fire back, and don’t take any chances. I don’t just want to get Goren out of there alive. I want everyone in this room to walk away from that place, too. If you honestly believe you have no option, then yes. You shoot to kill. One parameter of this mission is anonymity. We plan on leaving no trace of ourselves behind, at all, so it’ll be your consciences that you have to answer to. I trust all of you not to be trigger-happy, and kill indiscriminately. That isn’t what we’re going in there to do.”

“When we pull out of there,” Jarod went on, firing Mike a suspicious look, “whatever exit plan we ultimately use, the vehicles we’ll be using will take us to a designated point approximately twenty miles outside Blue Cove. Those assigned to Blue Strike will find road maps in the folders. You need to study them, and familiarise yourselves with the roads in and around Blue Cove.

“There will be three helicopters waiting for us when we get to the designated meeting point. The first two will deliver its passengers back to New York and, if everything goes to plan, you’ll be back here by this time tomorrow. The third will be heading for a completely different destination. That will be the helicopter that will be carrying Bobby. I’ll be going on that transport, as will Captain Deakins, Detective Eames, Detective Logan and Detective Barek.”

“Where will you be going?” Olivia asked, startled by the announcement.

“That’s strictly need-to-know knowledge,” Jarod answered, not so much as cracking a smile. “And the only ones who need to know are those who will be on that flight.” He paused, taking in the incredulous expressions of the four SVU detectives before speaking again in a gentler tone. “I’ll be the one piloting that chopper, and the intent is to get Bobby to a safe and secure location, beyond the reach of the Centre. Captain Deakins and Detectives Eames, Logan and Barek will be coming partly so that Bobby will have familiar and friendly faces with him… but also because they are known to the Centre, and would be otherwise targeted in the Centre’s attempts to get Bobby back. The rest of you are safe as long as you stay anonymous.”

“And that’s why I’ll personally shoot anyone who takes their masks off once we start this operation,” Ellis added fiercely. “Now, does anyone have any questions?”

Silence met Ellis’ words. He nodded, satisfied.

“Okay, then. Everyone up, and let’s go get fitted out for this op.”

“Green Strike,” Mike mused as they crossed the tarmac to a hangar that sat isolated, farthest away from the terminal.

“Same,” Carolyn said as she looked inside her folder. She glanced sideways at Alex, and was mildly disturbed at the way she seemed to be gritting her teeth together. “Alex…?”

“Blue Strike,” Alex said in monotone. Deakins, Mike and Carolyn all exchanged glances. They understood her flat tone all too well. Alex had been assigned to the team whose task it was to ensure a fast and safe getaway for them all. She would not be going into the Centre itself during the operation.

“Look…” Carolyn murmured in a low voice. “If you want to switch, I don’t mind.”

For a split second, Alex hesitated, and it seemed that she was going to accept the offer. But then, with a shuddering sigh, she gave a quick shake of her head.

“No. I… I don’t like it, but I guess I can understand it. And besides… I’m a better driver than the rest of you put together.”

“Well, I hate to say it, but you’re right about that,” Mike agreed. Alex sighed again, pushing her hair almost brutally out of her eyes.

“I really want to go in there, but… I have to ask myself, would I just be compromising the operation? As much as I want to answer no, I can’t. I know that if I set foot in there, all I’ll be able to think about will be finding Bobby. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing… and I guess Jarod and Commander Ellis know that. I can’t justify putting the operation in jeopardy. I won’t do anything to put Bobby at risk, and if that means sitting outside in a car, waiting for the rest of you to come back out… then that’s what I’ll do.”

Mike grunted.

“Well, you’re a bigger person than I am. I’d raise hell if they tried to keep me out. Still, you’re probably right and I, for one, will feel a hell of a lot better knowing you’re behind the wheel of one of the getaway cars.”

“Getaway cars,” Alex echoed with a short, strained laugh. “Sounds more like we’re planning a heist, than a rescue.”

“But what we’re planning to steal is more valuable to us than any jewels or money,” Deakins put in quietly.

“Captain?” Carolyn asked, suddenly realising that those were the first words Deakins had said since before they’d been handed their individual folders. “What about you?”

“Yeah,” Mike chimed in. “Where’s they put you, Captain?”

Deakins said nothing. Instead, he handed his folder to Mike, and kept walking. Mike blinked in surprise, and opened the folder. A moment later, he slowed to a halt, his mouth open.

“What is it?” Alex asked, feeling her gut tighten instinctively at the look on her colleague’s face. “Which team did they put him in?”

“Grey Strike,” Mike answered hoarsely. “He’s part of the team that’ll be going in to find Bobby.”

They walked into the hangar to find a long row of tables that stretched all the way down one wall, laden with piles of black clothing, and various weaponry.

“Okay, people,” Ellis announced loudly. “Get yourselves outfitted. Choose clothes, and weapons that you will be confident and comfortable using, and be quick about it. We’re on a tight schedule, and we don’t have time to waste.”

“Ski masks?” Olivia asked in bemusement as she held up a jet black ski mask.

“Anonymity,” Ellis reminded her firmly. “You do not want these people getting a look at your face, not for any reason. Remember, no taking chances. Now hurry up. We’re flying out in an hour.”

“This is nice,” Mike commented wryly as they seated themselves inside a private jet not quite an hour later. Each of them now carried with them a large black sports bag, inside which was their outfit for the task ahead, and the weapons they’d chosen for themselves.

“Only the best, of course.”

They all looked up as Jarod joined them.

“This belong to another well-connected friend?” Carolyn asked as he seated himself with the Major Case and SVU detectives. Jarod smiled wryly.

“Actually, this is mine,” Jarod answered. His grin widened at the startled expressions that met his words. “Paid for by the Centre.”

“By the Centre?” Mike growled, his hackles immediately going up. Jarod held up his hands defensively.

“Relax. They never know what I’ve done with the money until after the fact. I siphon off money from them whenever I need it, and I never hang on to the assets longer than necessary. I purchased this jet, along with the cars we’ll be using, with Centre funds, and those funds will be put to good use when I sell them on.”

“What about the helicopters Commander Ellis talked about?” Elliot asked. “Did you buy them, too?”

“Didn’t need to,” Jarod answered. “They came courtesy of Commander Ellis and his people.”

“You must have done them one hell of a favour,” Olivia remarked.

“He did.”

They all looked up again, caught by surprise by Ellis’ sudden appearance. Ellis regarded them all with a sober expression.

“Four years ago, we had a traitor in our team who’d killed one of my men, and set him up to look like he was the traitor. Meant his wife couldn’t claim his pension and other benefits, and she had two little children to take care of. Jarod infiltrated our team, smoked out the real traitor and trapped him like the filthy rat he was. Because of Jarod, those two little children are able to grow up remembering their dad as the hero that he was, and not as a traitor to his country. And, in the process, Jarod also saved my life when the son of a bitch took me hostage. So yes, Detective. He did do us one hell of a favour and as far as I’m concerned, this is just a small repayment. And it’s why I won’t consider anything other than complete success with this operation. By helping your colleague, we’re also helping Jarod. So we are going to get him out of that place, alive. I promise you that.”

He paused, eyeing them piercingly before continuing on his way. Once he was gone, Alex spoke in a soft voice.

“Despite everything, I had my doubts about how successful we’re going to be. I want Bobby back more than anything, but there was a part of me that kept whispering not to get my hopes up.” She paused, and then went on softly. “This is the first time I really do believe that we might get him out of there alive.”

Reaching across, Jarod closed his hand briefly over hers.

“Don’t stop believing that, Detective Eames. We’re going to save him. I promise.”

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