The jet landed in Dover, Delaware, forty minutes after its departure from La Guardia. From there, the group was divided into its five individual strike forces, and ushered into waiting vehicles for the journey to the rendezvous point outside Blue Cove.

Alex found herself in a minivan with six others; all SEALs, and not a familiar face among them. Her discomfort, though, lasted for about as long as it took her to realise that she was not being looked down on by any of them, and not one had questioned her placement in their team. Commander Ellis had appointed her as a driver, and they all accepted it as canon that she had the skills to carry out the task as well as they did.

It took very little time for her to come to the conclusion that they were good guys who were all eager to help.

“So, this guy is your partner, Detective?” one of the men asked as he looked at the photo of Bobby that had been included in each of their folders. She nodded, taking out her own photo out and looking at it sadly. It warmed her, though, that he did not speak of Bobby in the past tense.

“Yes, he is… and please, call me Alex.”

The man nodded amiably.

“Okay, Alex. I’m Pete. That’s Sam, Brady, Dale, Taylor and Jay.”

“Gotta have been tough for you,” Jay mused, his tone tinged with sympathy. “For you partner to be missing for nine months…”

“Tough?” Dale retorted. “I’d go out of my fucking mind!”

“I very nearly did,” Alex admitted softly. “I think the only thing that stopped that was the phone call from Jarod, telling us it was time to get him out.”

“So, how long has he been your partner for?” Pete asked, firing a quick, warning look at Dale.

“Five and a half years,” Alex answered, suddenly finding it difficult to keep her voice even.

“Well, I’ll tell you something,” Pete said confidentially, “and I hope you don’t think I’m just blowing our collective trumpet here, but those of us that Commander Ellis brought in for this op? We’re the best there is, Alex, and this is what we do best, mounting rescue ops. We’re going to get your partner out of that place, in one piece. Trust us, okay?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak immediately. When she did, it was to shift the topic away from something that was emotionally painful for her.

“You guys don’t mind tag-alongs?”

Jay snorted derisively.

“Tag-alongs, my ass. Like Ellis said, you’re NYPD. How long have you been a detective, Alex?”

“I’m been with Major Case for nearly seven years,” Alex answered. “I spent five years with Vice before that. I was promoted to detective just before I went to Vice.”

“So, around twelve years,” Jay concluded. “You’re hardly inexperienced, and I’ll bet you’ve found yourself in some pretty hairy situations, too.”

She nodded again.

“There have been moments…”

Her words were met with loud laughter from the six men, but there was nothing unkind about it, and she found herself smiling in reaction to their laughter.

“Uh huh,” Pete said in between laughter. “Moments. Right. You’ve got a pretty sharp sense of humour, Alex. I like that.”

Alex sighed softly. Yes, she thought miserably. So did Bobby…

“Okay, yes, the five years I was in Vice could get pretty…hairy. But when I moved to Major Case, that changed. Major Case is the thinking cop’s squad. Especially after Bobby joined us. There were times when we were in immediate danger, but they were few and far between. It wasn’t that we were dealing with any less dangerous people… It was Bobby. He seemed to have sixth sense to anticipate danger. He didn’t avoid it, though. He seemed to have a skill for defusing a volatile situation. There was one time when he walked into a motel room without a vest on to talk down a man who was holding a shotgun to his two young children. And Bobby… he put himself directly between the gun and the children.”

“Ballsy,” someone murmured. Alex hesitated, expecting someone to add ‘stupid’, but it never came.

“I’ve been with Major Case for seven years,” she said again. “Seven years, and in that time, I’ve had to fire my weapon twice… Only twice.”

“Tell us something, and answer honestly,” Pete said quietly. “Do you put that down to your own skills, or those of your partner?”

Alex fell silent, frowning. It was obvious she’d never really put that much thought to it before.

“Mine,” she said finally, sincerely. “But without Bobby to back me up, I think I might have been in danger a lot more often than I’ve been the past. Bobby and I… We’re a good team. The… The best, and I want him back.”

The tears had started flowing even before she realised it, but there was no disgust or mockery in the gazes that watched her. A hand alighted on her shoulder, and she looked up to find Pete smiling reassuringly at her.

“Don’t worry, Alex. You’ll get him back soon. We promise.”

Green Strike was the largest group, with a total of twelve members assigned to it. Half were SEALs, and the other half was made up from a mixture of MCS and SVU detectives. Upon arrival at Dover, they were ushered into a small bus, which immediately headed off on a different route to the other transports. It had been established early on, that each team would approach the rendezvous point near Blue Cove from different routes, to avoid as much suspicion as possible, and the likelihood of alerting anyone at the Centre that they were coming.

The detectives were wary at first, when their designated team leader began to go over their part of the operation in more intricate detail. Despite Ellis’ words about rivalry, at best they expected to be ignored by the SEALs. At worst, they anticipated ridicule for simply being there.

To their collective surprise, it didn’t happen. Rather than ostracising them, and treating them as an inconvenience, their team leader, a man who introduced himself simply as Jack, took extra care to include all six detectives.

“We’re going to be splitting into four groups of three for this op,” he explained to them. “We’ll have two groups with two SEALs and one NYPD, and two with two NYPD and one SEAL.” His gaze went to the detectives. “Are any of you guys regular partners?”

“We are,” Mike volunteered, indicating himself and Carolyn.

“Same with us,” Olivia spoke up for herself and Elliot. Jack nodded approvingly.

“Good. That makes it easier. Uh… Sorry, guys, names?”

“Mike and Carolyn,” Mike answered.

“Okay. I’ll be joining the two of you. And…”

“Elliot and Olivia,” Elliot volunteered, and Jack nodded appreciatively.

“Thankyou. Dom, you’re with Elliot and Olivia. Now, you other guys…”

“That’s Jerry,” Jackson said, motioning to Oliver. “And I’m Ben.”

“Okay. Ben, you’ll be with these guys right here, Todd and Barry. Jerry, you’ll be with Zach and Tommy. Everyone okay with that set up?”

There was a murmur of agreement, and Jack nodded.

“Good. Okay, look in your folders. You’ll find details maps of the Centre, and the surrounding terrain. Get those maps out, and we’ll start going over what we’ll be doing, one step at a time.”

He waited while they pulled out their maps before continuing on.

“We’ll be the third team to go in, and we have to time it perfectly with Black Strike. As soon as the power goes out, we’ll be moving in. Our entry point is a disused service tunnel on the east side of the main building. It’s highlighted on your maps, and it’s the same one that Jarod used previously to get in and out of the Centre. When we’re inside, it’s imperative that we secure the ground floor as fast as possible, so that Grey Strike can move in and begin their search.

“Now, there are two main ways in and out of this place. The main entrance at the south side of the building, and the tower. There are a lot of smaller side exits, but they’re all electronic. The blackout should disable all of them, preventing anyone using them to get out, or to get in. So, our first objective will be to secure the main entrance so that no one else can get in, and the tower so that no one can get out.

“Once that’s done, one sub-team will stay at ground level to keep the area secure. The other three sub-teams will head into the sub-levels to try and provide as much ground cover as possible for Grey Strike.

“We will be leading the way in, clearing a path for Grey Strike. That’s a our primary aim, to give Grey Strike a clear run, so they can locate Goren as fast as possible, and then to get out again just as quickly.”

“Are we going out the same way we’ll go in?” Olivia wondered as she studied her map. Jack smiled and shook his head.

“If all goes to plan, we’re going to walk straight out their front door.”

“That’s insane!” Mike burst out. “They’ll have a friggin’ army out there, waiting for us!”

“Not if they can’t get word out,” Jack replied calmly. “Jarod is going to be taking care of blocking all outgoing communications from the Centre. And we’re hoping the blackout will prevent anyone from getting suspicious about the lack of communication. The other point is that it will be the last thing they’ll expect us to do. Once Grey Strike has found Goren, our prime concern will be to get out of there as fast as possible. We go in covertly, but there won’t be anything pretty about our exit. We’ll probably be getting shot at from within, and there is nothing smooth about making a run for it while you’re dodging bullets.

“Our objective is clear; to find and rescue Robert Goren. We’ll be hitting them hard and fast, and clearing out even faster. The simplest way to do that will be to go straight out the front door. Now, if Blue Strike times is right, they’ll be there waiting for us when we walk out that door. Then, once we’re in those cars, it’ll be up to them to get us to the rendezvous point to meet the choppers.”

“There’s an awful lot that could go wrong with this plan,” Elliot said quietly. Jack nodded in concession.

“Yes, you’re right. But that’s why we have to be flexible. We have backup plans, and I’ll go over those with you all shortly. I want to ask you something first, though. Out of you six from the NYPD, how many of you know Goren personally?”

“We work in the same squad as him,” Oliver said, indicating himself and King. “But Logan and Barek over there are the ones who have worked with him directly.”

Jack looked over at that.

“So, tell us about him. From a personal point of view.”

Mike and Carolyn exchanged glances, and Carolyn nodded in deference to her partner. He had more experience with Bobby than she did, and it was he whom Bobby often went out to bars with on a Friday night.

“Well…” Mike muttered, annoyed at being put on the spot like that. “The guy’s a damned good cop… He’s a brilliant profiler. He, um… He’s just a good guy.”

Jack raised an eyebrow.

“That’s all you can say for him?”

Mike bristled visibly, but Carolyn nudged him.

“Tell them about the Federal prison.”

Mike’s breath caught as the memories of that incident came back with force.

“What happened?” Jacked asked, curiosity in his eyes. Mike hesitated, and the spoke slowly, his gaze fixed on the floor of the bus.

“Bobby and his partner… Alex… they were investigating the murder of a prison guard, and it led them back to these other guards that the murdered guard worked with. It turned out there were unofficial prisoners there, and they were being abused by the guards. The guard who was killed, he was quitting to join the NYFD, and the others killed him because they were worried he’d talk.

“I got involved because my girlfriend at the time was a nurse at the prison, and she knew what was going on. Anyway, Bobby and I went to the prison to get Gina out, but we got caught in the middle of a lockdown. We were confronted by the four guards. We were unarmed. They had their batons, and they made it pretty damn clear what they planned to do to us. I was ready to go down fighting. I even told the sons of bitches that we’d take one of them with us. Bobby, though…

“Now, I know he was as scared as I was. I could hear it in his voice, see it in his face. The guy was terrified. But despite that, he started talking… I swear, I’ve never seen anything like it before. He homed in on the weakest of the four, and talked him down, and then he did the same with each one of them until only the ringleader was left. He was terrified, but he still managed to talk our way out of there.

“I admit that I didn’t think much of him and all his psychobabble before then, but what happened in that prison totally changed my opinion of him. I respected him after that… and when I moved to Major Case later that year, it didn’t take us long to become friends.”

“Now that’s one hell of a tale,” Jack said approvingly. Mike rubbed fiercely at his eyes, suddenly aware of the tears that were threatening.

“He’s a good friend… and I don’t really have too many of those. I burned a lot of bridges over the years, you know? We… We’ve gotta get him out of that place.”

Jack nodded, smiling with renewed confidence and determination.

“We will, together.”

Deakins sat for the most part in silence, listening while Jarod and Ellis outlined their part of the operation. It seemed simple enough. They would follow Green Strike in through the service tunnel, but then wait in the tunnel for the all-clear signal to go into the actual building. Then, Jarod would lead them down to sub-level twelve where, God willing, they would find Bobby.

Their team was small, with just five people, one of whom was Fin Tutuola, whom Deakins knew had worked alongside Bobby in Narcotics. Even though Ellis had claimed that assignments had been handed out randomly, Deakins had to wonder. It seemed to him to be more than just a curious turn of fate that of any of the detectives who might have ended up in this particular strike team, the one who did was the man who, with the exception of Alex, possibly knew Bobby the best.

“What if Bobby isn’t where you expect him to be?” Fin asked suddenly. “This Centre is one hell of a big place, and we ain’t gonna have time to search everywhere.”

“If he has been moved,” Jarod answered, “then I’ll be relying on my contact to tell us where he is.”

“Your contact,” Deakins echoed quietly, drawing the attention of the other four men with his tone. “You trust someone inside the Centre to do right by Bobby.”

It wasn’t a question, and the scathing tone had even Jarod wanting to wince.

“I’ve trusted him for the last ten years, Captain Deakins,” Jarod told him. “He hasn’t betrayed that trust once.”

“Who is it?” Deakins demanded to know. “Sydney?”

“No,” Jarod answered. “His name is Angelo. He was taken by the Centre like I was, but he was never able to escape the place like me. Believe me, we can trust him.”

Deakins looked doubtful, but didn’t argue further.

“What’s really bothering you, Captain?” Ellis wondered. Deakins stared at him for a long moment before looking away out the window at the passing scenery.

“I’m afraid of what we’ll find when we go in there,” Deakins admitted softly. “I’m terrified that all we’ll bring out of there is a… a corpse.”

“I wish I could reassure you that won’t be the case,” Ellis said, “but I can’t tell you something that I’m not a hundred percent sure of myself. We all want this to be a successful rescue, and we’ll do everything in our power to make it so, but at the same time we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that it may not be.”

“I just wish I knew for sure that he’s alive right now,” Deakins said in a stricken voice.

“If we knew for certain that he wasn’t,” Jarod ventured cautiously, “would you want to pull out of this operation?”

“No,” Deakins replied without hesitation. “I’d still want to go in and get him out… even if it was only so that we could give him the burial he deserves. And to burn that damned place to the ground.”

Nodding in satisfaction, Jarod pulled out his cell phone, and dialled a long-remembered number.

Miss Parker had just walked back into her office, and settled herself in her seat, when her cell phone rang. Exhaling sharply at the fresh blast of irritation that the sound afforded her, she snatched the phone off her desk and answered the call with her standard response.


Is he still alive?”

Parker froze at the familiar voice asking such an ambiguous question.


Yes or no, Miss Parker. Is Bobby still alive?”

She exhaled again, but her irritation was forgotten.

“Yes,” she answered quietly, sincerely. “But…”

What?” Jarod asked tensely, when she hesitated.

“Right now, I guarantee he’s wishing he wasn’t,” she told him grimly. She paused, and then swung around so that she was facing the window, away from the security camera that recorded everything that happened in her office, and spoke in as low a voice as she could manage. “It’s not good, Jarod. Raines has him completely in his control now, and it’s been a month since Sydney was allowed to see him.”

And…?” Jarod pressed.

“He said he’d rather euthanize him than let him continue to suffer at Raines’ hands. And coming from Sydney…”

I know,” Jarod muttered. Parker hesitated again before speaking. She couldn’t believe what she was about to say…

“Jarod, you have to get him out of here.”

Jarod froze, stunned by her words. As much as he knew Miss Parker was as capable of compassion as her mother had been, she rarely allowed that compassion to surface when it clashed with Centre business. She went on, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“I don’t know where you are, or what you’re doing, but you’d better drop it and get your ass back to Delaware now, and get Bobby out of here. I don’t think he has much time left, and if he’s left with Raines for much longer, it’s going to be too late to help him. Just… hurry.”

Jarod ended the call, his stomach in knots. For Miss Parker, of all people, to beg him to help, he knew it was bad.

“Well?” Deakins asked, watching piercingly.

“He’s still alive,” Jarod confirmed quietly. “But we don’t have much time. If we don’t get him out of there tonight, we may not be able to get him out at all.”

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