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Chaos Big Bang: A Matter of Luck 1/3

September 5th, 2011 (01:41 pm)

A Matter of Luck

Rick doesn’t need luck; he just needs his skills and his determination and this case will be over in no time.

PART ONE  //  PART TWO  // PART THREE // ART // MASTER POST

-o-

Rick is the youngest of three boys.  His older brothers are all the very definition of boy, taking turns bolstering each other’s machismo in epic displays of competitive vanity in everything from sports to girls.  They are only a year apart in school but may as well be twins.  When people look at them, they nod knowingly and say, “There’s the Martinez brothers; watch out for them.”

It’s no secret in the family that Rick was a happy accident, as his mother likes to call it.  He’s only four years younger, but it may as well be decades.  He’s always three steps behind, it seems like; the ragtag runt that his brother try to ditch the second they’re out of view of their mother in the kitchen window.  

In the neighborhood soccer games, Rick has to play scorekeeper.  When the boys huddle in the alley to smoke stolen cigarettes, Rick’s the lookout.  After a while, he stops wanting to trail after them and starts forming his own path.  He studies and he trains; he learns and he excels.  When he gets to high school, the teachers look at him and ask, “Are you another Martinez boy?”

Rick holds his head high and says, “Yes, sir.  But I’m not like the others.”

At home, when his brothers duck in and out to borrow money or do their laundry, Rick barely pays attention, alone and studying in his room.  When he comes down for dinner, his mother smoothes his hair and babies him.

“Why do you let them walk all over you like that?” Rick asks, not because his brothers are bad people--because they’re not.  They’re just lazy and immature.  “They need to grow up.”

“Oh, they are just boys,” she says, scurrying around the stove.

“That’s not an excuse,” Rick tells her.

She tuts a little, coming back to look at him.  “You are not like them,” she says.  “You wouldn’t understand.”

That’s true; Rick’s not like them and he doesn’t understand.  Still, he shakes his head.  “I can do better than them.”

Because Joey is taking a few classes at the community college, working the rest of his time as a waiter at a dive restaurant off the interstate.  Damon lives with his girlfriend in an apartment downtown where she studies nursing and he’s managing a McDonald’s.

“Better is relative,” she says.

“No,” Rick tells her.  “I’m going to do things with my life.  I’m going to make a difference--for you and for everyone.”

She looks at him, and Rick can see the love there, even if she doesn’t understand.  No one understands.

“Of course,” she says.  “But the real world--it’s not so easy.  You’ll need luck.  Lots and lots of luck.”

But Rick doesn’t believe in luck.  Rick believes in working hard and trying harder.  He believes in succeeding, no matter what.

-o-

“The key to success,” Michael says, “is being prepared on this one.”

Rick nods along earnestly.  At the table to his left, Casey is watching with narrowed eyes while Billy lounges to his right.

“It’s taken years to gather this intel, and we’re only going to have one shot to pull this off,” Michael continues, passing out the files.  “I don’t think I need to tell you how important it is.”

“We usually take terrorists pretty seriously,” Casey reminds him blandly.

“Especially ones that have been responsible for the death of fellow agents,” Billy commiserates.

Rick glances at him, raising his eyebrows.  “We’ve had run ins with this guy before?”

“If by ‘we,’ you mean the CIA, then yes,” Michael clarifies.  “Omar is wanted in connection with numerous deaths, both agents and civilians.”

“And not just Americans,” Billy adds.  “He’s been on the United Kingdom’s most wanted after the incident in ’05.”

“Exactly,” Michael says.  “So we’ve all got an invested interest in catching this guy--to make the world, and our lives, a little safer.”

Rick looks at the files, more seriously this time.  “How did we finally get our in?”

“Greed,” Michael says.  “It’s the universal stumbling block.”

Casey is perusing the file as well.  “So he’s finally trying to make one of his fronts legitimate,” he muses.

“That’s right,” Michael says.  “Omar has played on the fringes for a long time but now that he’s got the capital and the support, he’s looking to take it up a notch.”

“And in order to stay friendly with the local government, he creates a front business,” Billy continues, shaking his head.

“Which he’ll use to create profits and provide easier cutbacks to keep his less than legal practices under wraps,” Michael says.

Casey sighs grimly, tossing the file in front of him.  “Clever.”

“And our best opening,” Michael says.  “He’s looking for investors and we managed to intercept a wire to a few of his prospective clients in the United States.”

“So we’ll switch them out and take their place,” Billy surmises.

“Also clever,” Casey says.  “And dangerous.”

“I know,” Michael says.  “We’ve only got two openings, and neither Casey or I fit the bill.”  He pauses to look at Rick squarely.  “Do you think you’re up for it?”

Rick looks back at him and realizes they’re all watching him.  It doesn’t occur to him until then that he really should be nervous about it, even though he’s actually not.  He’s a CIA agent.  This is what he signed up for.  Risk and peril aside, this is the real thing, and Rick’s never been one to shy away from the things he has to do.

He nods, resolutely.  “Of course,” he says.

Michael is still watching him carefully.  “This is a big mission for someone so early in their career,” he says, almost as a warning.

“No one would blame you for being a wee bit hesitant,” Billy adds, a bit sympathetically.

Rick just shrugs, feeling a little at a loss.  It almost seems like they really are giving him an out.  “No, I think I can do it,” he says.  “I mean, Billy will be there, right?  And you guys will be backup?”

“Deep backup,” Michael explains.  “We won’t be able to get within ten miles of the compound and you and Billy will have to be in without wires.”

“More than that, Omar has seen through numerous stings in the past and cost more than a few experienced agents from around the world their lives,” Casey says.  “He’s good.”

“You know the term baptism by fire?” Billy asks.  “That about sums this mission up.”

It’s a dire picture.  But Rick’s already jumped in with both feet; he’s not going to stop now.  Not for a little fear or a complicated mission.

“No, I’m good,” he says, feeling the confidence stolid in his gut.

Casey seems to tilt his head as he looks away.  Billy hits the table decidedly.  “Then we’re good,” he says.

Michael gathers a breath, but he sounds wearier than normal.  “Okay then,” he says.  “I’ll give the final paperwork to Higgins and we need to be ready to leave in the morning.  Have your files and stories memorized by then.”

“Anything else?” Rick asks, astute and eager.

Michael inclines his head.  “Just good luck,” he says.

Rick frowns.

Next to him, Billy is getting to his feet.  He puts a hand on Rick’s shoulder and leans close and says, “Because we’re most definitely going to need it on this one.”

-o-

At home that night, Rick goes over the mission in more detail.  The more he looks at it, the more he starts to wonder if his team is right about this one.  Omar isn’t just good, he’s deadly, and his ability to evade the authorities parallels the worst wanted criminals that Rick has studied.

This is why Rick buckles down hard; he reads the file until it’s in his head, and he practices his cover in the mirror.  He packs his bag and mouths the details to himself.

When he falls asleep in the early morning, he dreams of his cover.  He knows himself as Roger Carerra, international representative of OilEx.  He’s being sent overseas to meet with the founders of Desert Sands Global, an upstart oil company in Africa.  He’s being sent with Gavin McLeod to start negotiations and have permission to sign a contract if the money is right.

Roger Carerra has a MBA from Michigan State University and has been at OilEx for nearly six years.  Due to his aggressive negotiating tactics, he’s quickly become one of their top representatives, which is how he earned this lucrative liaison posting.

This is a trip of wining and dining, punctuated by a thorough look at the enterprise’s headquarters, which is where Rick’s real job comes in.  Because he and Billy have to gather enough evidence to create an indictment of Omar, taking him down slowly through the international legal system.

It’s a complicated plan with high risks and higher payoffs.  When Rick wakes up in the morning to the sound of his bleating alarm, he feels ready.  He doesn’t need luck; he just needs his skills and his determination and this case will be over in no time.

-o-

Billy picks him up to go to the airport, and as Rick tries to find a spot to sit in his messy car, Billy grins at him and asks, “Get your sleep last night?”

Tossing a paper cup in the back seat, Rick frowns and nods.  “Yeah,” he says, kicking away a fast food bag.  “No problem.”

“So you’re not nervous,” Billy asks.

Rick shrugs.  “I’m a little nervous.”

“As well you should be,” Billy says.  “This is a big mission.”

“Yeah, but we do this stuff all the time.”

Billy looks at him while he drives, his eyebrows raised.  “We’ve done many missions--most of which have been quite dangerous--but trust me, we haven’t done a lot like this.  You’d be wise to take Michael up on his luck.”

Rick shakes his head.  “Luck seems like an uncontrollable element.”

Billy guides the car through traffic, nodding.  “Aye,” he agrees.  “It is.”

Rick has to brace himself as they take a turn quickly  “So shouldn’t we be attempting to control the elements in a mission like this?  Not leaving it to fate?”

“Of course,” Billy concedes.

“Then what’s with all the talk of luck?” Rick asks.

Billy grins at him a little.  “Because the best operatives know that you can’t control all the elements,” he says.  “You can plan and you can train but ultimately part of the mission always comes down to how kind the fates are feeling that particular day.  Sometimes it breaks your way; sometimes it doesn’t.”

There’s maybe some sense to that, but Rick can’t accept it.  Doesn’t know how to.  “That means we are essentially leaving our lives in the hands of something we can’t control,” he says.  “That’s silly.”

Billy shrugs, navigating them onto the freeway.  “Silly, perhaps,” he says, looking at Rick with a knowing twinkle in his eye.  “But if you’ve figured out another way to do it, then please, feel free to let me know and I will be happy to adapt my ways to it.”

Rick consider this.  He thinks about how hard he’s work, how much he’s trained and studied.  There’s a difference, though, between luck and the unexpected.  Life cannot be totally predicted even if one can be fully prepared to deal with its twists and turns.  Luck implies a release of control, a release that Rick doesn’t feel comfortable giving up.

As Billy pulls them into the airport, Rick thinks he’s less inclined to give it up today than any other.

-o-

After landing across the ocean, Rick expects to feel tired and cramped.  But he’s jittery with anticipation and as he and Billy set up in their hotel, with Michael and Casey in the room next door, he can barely rest even when Billy declares it’s time for light’s out.

“Normally, I’m all for late nights, but I really think common sense dictates otherwise this time,” Billy says, stretching out on his bed in boxers and a t-shirt.

Rick’s in his sweats, up in his bed with his laptop on.  “I just want to go over a few more things,” he says.

Billy groans, rolling over and reaching across the beds to close the laptop.  “At this point, you know it or you don’t,” he says.  “What you need now is one good night of rest before we go undercover at peril of losing our lives.”

That’s not exactly very encouraging, but Rick also doesn’t have a viable counter-argument while Billy switches off the light and promptly goes to sleep.

In the dark, Rick stares at the ceiling.  For some reason, he thinks of his brothers back home.  He wonders what they’re doing.  He wonders if his mother misses him or worries about him the way she does them.

That night, when Rick dreams, it’s of gumbo and missed soccer games and all the other things that he’s let define him all along.

-o-

Rick’s right, because it’s not luck that gets them in position.  It’s hard work and training and intelligence and cunning.  

Still, Rick’s heart is throbbing in anticipation at the meet.  He and Billy play off each other seamlessly, and Omar’s men seem suspicious but by the end of their first meeting together, Rick’s fairly certain they’re still buying the story.  Billy insists on drinks after dinner, and after a few hours of pretending to get plastered, he and Billy retire for the night, under the watchful eyes of their new friends.

Back in the room, Billy flops heavy on the bed and groans.  “It never ceases to amaze me how tiring it is to pretend like you’re intoxicated,” he says, scrubbing a hand over his face.  “Only with none of the fun perks.”

“At least you won’t have a hangover in the morning,” Rick says, loosening his tie.

Billy looks at him from the bed.  “Yes, but I still have to pretend to have a hangover,” he says.  “Besides, tomorrow we have to actually go to Omar’s facility.”

Rick nods, tossing his tie on the dresser.  “That’s the point of the mission, isn’t it?”

Billy sits up and gives him a serious look.  “Aye, and it’s also the part with the most risk,” he says.

Rick shrugs, shrugging off his jacket and sitting down to tackle his shoes.  “They bought our act tonight,” he says.  “They think we’re legit.”

“They think we’re stupid enough to get drunk in front of them,” he concedes.  “But that’s a long way to establishing trust.  We can’t slip up, not even for a minute, and we have to remember that if something goes wrong, it might not even be our fault.”

Rick gets one shoe off and groans.  “We’re back to luck?”

Billy inclines his head.  “I hate to be repetitive about it, but this is a tricky mission,” he says.

“We’re pulling it off,” Rick says plainly, taking the other shoe off and lining it up at the foot of his bed.  “It’s not that big of deal.”

Billy snorts, pushing his shoes off with his feet, not bothering to untie them.  “If you say so,” he says, getting to his feet and moving toward the bathroom.  “Though, for me, I’m half tempted to think the hangover would be the less stressful option.”

Rick rolls his eyes as the bathroom door closes.

-o-

That night, Rick dreams of the debriefing they’ll have when they get back to Langley.  He can see the smile on Higgins’ face, the pride on Adele’s.  He can hear Michael say how valuable their work was, how well prepared they were.  

He also dreams of the dog his brothers had when he was young; a mangy mutt who used to chase cars down the street until one day it misjudged the distance and never came back.

When Rick wakes up in the morning, he somehow remembers that the dog’s name was Lucky, but that’s neither here nor there as far as Rick’s concerned.

-o-

Omar’s men pick up him and Billy from the hotel.  Billy wears sunglasses and moans about a headache Rick knows he doesn’t have.  Though they’re clad in suits and carrying briefcases, Rick can still tell that these men are armed and have experience in the field.  He can also tell that they feel comfortable, hands lax in their laps as they smile and joke the whole way out.

It’s a circuitous route, Rick notes while they chitchat, and Rick figures this is part of their safety procedure to make sure they’re not being followed.  They’re not being followed, of course, because Michael and Casey have taken a different route entirely and will be camped out at the nearest possible location to the factory without attracting attention.  

Rick also knows that while this is their safety net, it’s not much of one.  Michael and Casey can only be contacted through an emergency beacon; once that’s activated, their cover is completely blown and it’s just as likely to save them as it is to kill them.

These factors are steady presences in the back of Rick’s mind, but he takes a cue from Billy and plays up his role as the ambitious businessman.  This is the deal of a lifetime, he reminds himself, and makes himself smooze a little more.

“We’re very excited about our tour,” Rick says when a lull hits the conversation.  “I think this can be a very profitable partnership.”

“Profitable indeed!” Billy croons.  He tips his glasses down and looks at their new colleagues.  “It’s just our luck that you decided to look for an investor now, because our company wouldn’t want you to know, but we’ve got money burning holes in our pockets.”

The men smile, a little self-satisfied.  “Very lucky then,” one of them agrees.  “Because we are very ready to take our business to the next level.”

“To good luck then,” Billy says, tilting his head and pushing his glasses back up as he reclines in his seat.

-o-

The tour of the plant goes better than Rick expects.  Their tour guides are friendly and professional, and if Rick didn’t know better, he might actually think this is a legitimate operation.

Still, there are small tells.  The volume of production isn’t what it needs to be if the figures they’re talking about are real, and the security around the place is a little too beefy.  He would expect armed guards, but the automatic weaponry is a bit of a tip off.

He doesn’t show any signs of misgiving, though, and neither does Billy.  When the tour is over, they’re on a first name basis with their new friends, and they’re settled into a conference room with plush chairs and told that Omar will be with them shortly to start the serious talks.

It’s tempting to let cover drop while they’re alone, but Rick knows about the real security precautions that Omar takes, and he and Billy don’t let it drop but set about gathering their papers and making talk about their negotiating points.

Whoever is listening, their banter must be satisfactory, because within ten minutes, a well dressed man walks in, a huge smile on his face.  “Hello, gentlemen,” he says.  “I’m told that you are both ready to talk business.”

Rick smiles and Billy straightens his paperwork.  “More than ready,” Rick says.

Omar’s teeth are dazzling white as he makes his way around the table and sits down.

-o-

It’s going well.

Which is Rick’s first indication that something is wrong.

Omar is friendly and effusive and offers almost no resistance to any of their bargaining points.  The deal is coming together seamlessly, and Rick knows that a man like Omar would hold out for better terms unless there was something else going on.

It’s just suspicion, though, and the uncertainty in Rick’s stomach does not justify pulling the plug, especially since pulling the plug is just as likely to get them killed as anything.

And then Omar says, “You haven’t seen the lower levels yet, have you?”

Rick blinks.  Billy shrugs.  “Just what was on the tour.”

Omar shakes his head.  “That simply can’t do,” he says.  “I don’t want you signing anything until we are thoroughly introduced to one another.”

“Well, if you think it’s necessary,” Rick says, pushing back in his chair.

Omar flits his hand through the air and nods out the window to one of their previous tour guides.  “Just a quick run through,” he says.  “It doesn’t even require both of you.  Perhaps you would like to go and check it, Mr. McLeod?”

Rick stiffens for a moment, but Billy hardly hesitates as he gets to his feet.  “Certainly,” he says.  “I suppose we shouldn’t be jumping into bed without each until we’ve been entirely thorough.  I do think it’s our luck to be working with someone so honest.”

The slight inflection on the word luck is not lost on Rick, and he offers Billy a smile as he goes out the door, following one of their guides.  Billy knows this isn’t a good sign, but neither of them know who it’s worse for at the moment.  

They’ve been careful and they’ve been good.  There have been no lapses in their security or their covers.

Rick takes strength in this as he turns back to Omar.  “We really do appreciate the time you’re taking,” he says.

Omar smiles back, but there’s a cold gleam in his eyes.  “I assure you,” he says deliberately as he reclines in his chair.  “The pleasure is all mine.”

-o-

Rick’s a trained operative.  He’s prepared for any and all situations.

Still, it’s increasingly hard to keep a calm face while Billy is being escorted around the lower levels.  Their entire plan of attack had been a team effort and while Rick is capable of doing this alone--he doesn’t doubt that--he can’t help but worry if something should go wrong and Rick’s either not there to help out or not there to let Billy know things have gone south.

It doesn’t help that Omar has barely moved, still lounging in his chair looking at Rick with a grin that he can only consider carnivorous.  

“So tell me, Mr. Carerra,” Omar says after a bit.  “How long have you been with the company?”

It could be small talk, but Rick knows better.  Still, he smiles.  “Almost six years,” he says.  “Feels like something, but they don’t pull out any of the big bonuses until you hit a decade.  I’m sort of hoping if this deal goes well, they might make an exception.”

Omar doesn’t miss a beat, nodding his head.  “And you studied at Michigan?”

It’s a baited trap.  Rick shrugs disarmingly.  “Michigan State, actually,” he says.  “We Spartans don’t take kindly to being confused with the Wolverines.  We like our petty rivalries.”

Omar inclines his head in apology.  “That I can understand,” he says.  “Here, we are often quite petty over small, territorial matters.  We have to fight for what’s ours and seek continually to hold our ground against all possible intrusions.”

There’s a hint of malice and warning in that, but Rick plays dumb.  “Given what I know of the economic climate over here, I think that’s understandable,” he says.  He leans in.  “And what business hasn’t cut a few corners for the long term benefit?”

Omar lifts an eyebrow.  “It’s interesting to hear you say that,” he says.

Rick pulls back, holding his hands up in placation.  “I’m just saying, I think we’ve all been there,” he says.  “But just don’t tell my boss.”

It’s supposed to be a joke.  But Omar doesn’t laugh.  Instead, he smiles, keeping his eyes trained on Rick.  “I won’t,” he says.  “You have been nothing if not gracious and generous.”

“Well, like I said,” Rick continues.  “We’re highly motivated to complete this deal.  We have a surplus problem at the moment that doesn’t look good in the current economy.  If we’re going to use the money without losing it, we need to properly invest it.  Given what we’ve seen of your operation here, I can’t see any reason not to get excited about moving ahead.”

“I’m quite certain about that,” Omar says.  “Of course, if I were a CIA spy poised to make one of the biggest mistakes of my life, I might consider being a little less effusive and a bit more conciliatory.”

Rick freezes, heart racing.  Their cover is blown.  He doesn’t know how, he doesn’t know why, but it’s being blown wide, and it’s all Rick can do to keep his face composed.

Omar looks calmly at him.  “Though, really,” he says, shrugging one shoulder.  “It’s hard to say exactly what good it might do at this point.”

-o-

A tense moment passes, and Rick remembers his training.  Never blow cover.  Not even when it’s been compromised.  Hold fast to it, no matter what.  This could be a test; nothing more.  

He furrows his brow, shaking his head.  “CIA?” he asks.  He flails for a moment, searching for words in what he hopes looks like shock.  “But you’re the one who orchestrated this meeting.  How--”

Omar doesn’t flinch.  “I know how the CIA works, Mr. Carerra,” he says with slow certainty, pronouncing Rick’s alias with due skepticism.

“Well that makes one of us,” he says.  “I’m a businessman and I’ve come here prepared to offer you a very good deal.  Whatever other business you have is entirely your business--”

“So you’re saying you did not come here with your partner with the intention of scoping out our operation and looking for ways to connect it to illicit activities that I am alleged to operate on the side?” Omar asks.

“I’m interested in making money,” Rick says.  “This is business.”

Omar is still watching him, eyes appraising.  “Business,” he repeats.

“Just business,” he says.  He laughs nervously.  “Gavin and I--we’re businessmen looking to make the sale of our careers.”

Omar nods slowly.  “Just businessmen.”

“Just businessmen,” Rick agrees, feeling his breathing even out slightly.  It’s possible there’s been no compromise, that this is just a test.

Omar wets his lips and then looks to the door.

Rick looks too when it opens.  At first, he just sees their guides, but they don’t look like guides now.  Still in suits, their guns are pulled and they’re hauling something between them.

They’re hauling Billy.

Billy’s on his feet, but barely as they yank him by his arms, which are tied tightly behind his back.  He stumbles as they force him through the door, and he only has a second to find his balance before the men at either side kick behind his knees, shoving him down to the floor.  

Billy lands hard but doesn’t fall, if only because of the men pulling him erect, one with a hand entwined harshly in his hair.  There’s a bruise blossoming under his eye and moving toward his nose, surrounding a leaking gash across his cheekbone that’s dribbling blood.  There’s a gag pulled tightly in his mouth, clearly pinching the corners.  

Rick doesn’t dare move; barely dares to move.  Billy’s eyes meet his, and Rick can see the cold certainty there.  His face is impassive, but Rick can still read what Billy’s really feeling, what he’s trying to hide.  Billy knows how this ends.  He knows it’s not good.  Rick forces himself to swallow.

There are a million things going through Rick’s head right now.  Things about protocol and procedure, training and probabilities.  But there’s only one thought he can pin down among all the rest.

Rick thinks, fear growing in the pit of his stomach, that this could still be a test, that he has to hold his cover, hold his cover no matter what.  

But the fact is, if this is a test, then it’s one Rick’s not sure he can pass.

-o-

Omar sighs as he gets to his feet.  “Did you enjoy your tour of the lower levels, Mr. McLeod?”

Billy’s eyes turn to him, flashing with terror, and Rick understands.  While this response may be understandable, he knows it’s not legitimate.  Billy’s keeping his cover.  He’s a businessman, not a CIA agent.  Being beaten and bound at gunpoint would be more than any businessman would expect.

Rick glances to Billy’s attackers and notes that they aren’t roughed up.  Billy might go down with two armed assailants, but not without putting up some kind of resistance.  Billy’s best guess is that this is a test, too.

Rick can’t let this be in vain.  This is up to him.

He shakes his head, and lets panic tinge his voice.  “I think there’s been some misunderstanding here,” he says, getting to his feet.  He looks at Omar, lost.  “We’re businessmen!”

Omar circles around the table and glances past Rick, eyeing Billy with disdain before looking at his cohorts.  “Did he say anything?”

“Just that he’s here on business,” one of them replies.

“He doesn’t seem trained,” the other adds.  “No real fight.”

Omar smirks.  “CIA operatives are well trained,” he says.  “And if these two were sent on a mission after me, then they’d know how deep undercover they have to go.”

Rick shakes his head again, gesturing wildly.  “Look, we don’t want trouble,” he says.  “We can call the deal off.  Leave right now.”

Omar looks at him, almost amused.  “And let you walk out with the intelligence you’ve gathered?”

Rick puts his hands in the air.  “Call our boss,” he says.  “Call him now.  Get him on speaker phone,” he says.  “Hell, call my mother or Gavin’s girlfriend.  We’re businessmen.”

There’s more than a note of pleading in his voice as he lets himself shift from panicked to desperate.

On the floor, Billy’s eyes move wildly from one person to the next, his body tense.

Omar pauses for a long moment.  “I know how well crafted a CIA sting can be,” he says.  “You don’t get to my position without such knowledge.  So you’ll have to forgive my skepticism.”

With that, Omar moves closer to Billy, circling once around him before stopping in front of him, just next to Rick.  Calmly, he pushes back his jacket and pulls out a pistol.

Rick’s breath hitches.  “Oh my God,” he says.  “We’re businessmen!  I swear.  We just wanted to make a business deal!”

“Businessmen,” Omar repeats again.  He looks at Rick for a long moment before lifting the gun and pointing it at Billy’s head.  On the ground, Billy flinches.  

Omar doesn’t seem to notice.  He continues instead.  “So tell me, then, Mr. Carerra,” he says, gun still trained as he pulls the safety off.  “How does luck fit into your business plan?”

-o-

It’s happening too fast.

Rick still doesn’t know if they’ve actually been compromised or if Omar is just guessing, but ultimately, Rick’s beginning to realize that it may not matter.  Not with Billy on his knees with a gun to his head and no backup in sight.

Rick’s brain works through the contingencies, goes back to his training, and is coming up blank.

He shakes his head, the panic less of an act now.  “God, no,” he says, fumbling desperately for time.  “Just--we just wanted a business deal.”

Omar looks bored but he lifts his gun.

Rick breathes out and Billy visibly relaxes.

But then Omar pulls out the bullets, unloading it bullet by bullet until there’s just one left.  He eyes Rick cautiously then, gauging him.  “Business, I understand, Mr. Carerra,” he says.  “There are many ventures worth taking, but the best ones always involve some kind of risk.  You, Mr. Carerra, and your associate have taken a great risk to come here, regardless of your reasons.  I can appreciate that about you.”

Rick doesn’t let himself dare to hope but can’t afford not to look the part.  “So you believe us?” he says.  “You’ll let us go.”

Omar smirks, spinning the loader.  “No, that’s a risk I simply cannot afford at this point,” he says.  “But I will give you a fighting chance to reconsider your options fully at a game of luck.”

With that, he slams the ammunition back into place and lifts the gun to Billy’s head again.  Billy flinches again, his jaw trembling under the gag.  His blue eyes flash to Rick’s, holding the cover, and Rick understands his message.

Say nothing.  Billy’s life is on the line, but Rick’s the one who determines the outcome of this mission.

“So,” Omar continues.  “Tell me who you really are or we pull the trigger and see how lucky your friend Mr. McLeod is today.”

Rick takes a strangled breath.  “I told you,” he says.  “We’re businessmen.  We work for OilEx.  I came on this job to be top earner again.  I want the bonus so I can take a vacation in Lake Como.”

Omar’s smile is almost sympathetic.  “I believe in your country they might say, strike one,” he says.

Rick’s frantic, his voice working to a yell, but his efforts are cut short by the sound of the trigger being pulled.

The gun’s not pointed at Rick, but the release still hits him deep.  His breath catches in his throat and for a moment he thinks he’s going to be sick but then he realizes there’s no retort.

Just the sound of an empty chamber clicking into place.

Billy is crying now, shuddering breaths around the gag, his entire body shaking as Omar lifts the gun with a shrug.  Even though Rick knows it’s not entirely real, it’s still pretty hard to watch.

Omar doesn’t seem bothered by it, though.  “One down, five to go,” he says with an easy shrug.  “And I don’t need to remind you that your chances get worse the further this goes on.”

-o-

There’s a kink in the mission and then there’s when a mission really goes wrong.

And then there’s when things have officially fallen apart and it’s time to stop thinking about anything except mere survival.

And then, Rick thinks, there’s this.  It’s impossible to tell just where their cover lies--Omar has given no indication of any concrete evidence against him, just pretty strong suspicions.  For the average person, strong suspicion might be motivation to be cautious.

For Omar, apparently, it’s motivation to threaten, maim, and likely kill.

No wonder they want this son of a bitch dead.

Of course, Rick has to focus on getting himself and Billy out of this alive before he can concern himself with anything resembling justice.

Rick’s mind races, but it’s not fast enough.  He’s thinking about sending out the distress call, but it doesn’t actually matter.  Not when the gun is at Billy’s head with one bullet and four empty chambers left to go.  They might get lucky and have another chamber before they find they bullet, but Rick doesn’t believe in luck.

Omar pulls the trigger.  On the ground, Billy stiffens, his eyes squeezed shut.  There’s a shuddering pause before Rick realizes that another empty chamber has clicked into place.

Omar lifts the gun, looking vaguely amused.  “Two of six,” he says.  “I’ve seen men with worse luck.”

Billy opens his eyes and is visibly shaken.  His face is pale under the bruising and the blood and when his eyes meet Rick’s, there’s an implicit message.

Any kind of offensive would likely prove disastrous for them both.  Even if they did manage to get past Omar and his two goons, there’s an entire factory which may not be fully staffed but is undoubtedly fully armed and loyal.  At the very least, if Rick makes a move, Billy’s dead, because Omar’s gun has blank chambers but the impressive looking firearms on the men don’t and they’re still standing, just barely idle, hands ready to move.

Billy’s okay with that end, if it means Rick can escape.  He doesn’t need to ask the Scotsman to know that.

But Rick’s not okay with that.  The only option left is to hold cover, to stall and stall and hope Omar sees reason or that some other opportunity presents itself.  Rick’s unarmed, after all, and his hand to hand is good, but not good enough to down three armed attackers without sacrificing Billy’s life.

Rick breathes out and lets himself cry.  “Why are you doing this?” he asks, pleading now.  “We’re businessmen.”

“We’re all businessmen, though our businesses may differ,” Omar says, almost casually.  His demeanor is gentlemanly, which is a disturbing contrast to his murderous stance with a gun to Billy’s head.  “And I have found that when it comes to trained operatives, be it CIA or otherwise, a threat to their own lives is rarely sufficient to yield significant results.  Such an approach requires luck, a relative crap shoot in hoping that you’ve caught an operative that breaks easily.”  Omar made a face, shaking his head.  “I prefer to stack the odds in my favor.  Threaten their partners and you can often find better leverage to gain what you need.  So the question remains, Mr. Carerra.  Are you going to stick to your imperative business and let your partner die?”

Rick gapes.  “If I knew what you wanted me to say, I’d tell you,” he says.  “Anything.”

Omar’s attention stays fixed on Rick although his gun doesn’t waver.  The goons are still poised at Billy’s side, guns ready.  “I want the truth,” Omar says, quite seriously now.  “How did you acquire intelligence of this meeting?  How did you manage to intercept my communique?  Do I have a leak?”

Rick feigns ignorance.  “Our investors found you,” he says.  “We followed up.  You said you wanted to do business.  That’s all--”

Omar tsks and looks disappointed.  Without further preamble, he shakes his head and pulls the trigger.

-o-

Billy actually looks surprised when he’s still alive, letting out a breath around the gag, his nostrils flaring.

Rick is trembling in earnest now.  It’s not working.  He’s holding cover, he’s sticking to his training, and it’s not working.  He has to do something else.  Something drastic.  If they’re going to die, they’re going to die like the operatives they are, not on their knees.

Not if Rick can help it.

Which, he’s not sure he can, but as Omar cocks his pistol for another shot, Rick knows it’s a chance he has to take.  It’s something of a crap shoot, but the best he can do is put all he has on a single bet and hope to hell it pays off.

Sparing only a second, Rick meets Billy’s eyes.  The resignation is mixed with cold fear as the Scottish operative shakes his head, just slightly.

Rick refuses to accept that.

For Billy’s sake, it has to pay off, because Rick’s not sure he can stand around and watch Billy’s head explode.

There’s only a split second to decide, and less than that to fully realize his plan.  Because of this, Rick keeps it simple.  A good kick will take out Omar’s gun, even if it won’t incapacitate the terrorist.  Next he’ll have to get the guards off their feet and hope he can do it with enough efficiency that Omar won’t be able to regain his footing--or, more importantly, his gun--before Rick has a chance to continue the fight.

From there, Rick hasn’t figured out the details, but if he doesn’t act now, Omar will pull the trigger again, and Rick’s just not sure he’s that lucky.

He just hopes he’s lucky enough as he takes a breath, lifts his foot and kicks with all his might.

-o-

Rick is good under pressure.  He always has been.  When the rubber hits the road, Rick has always been at his peak performance, and this is no different.

The first kick is well placed and hard, and Rick notes briefly with satisfaction that Omar’s gun goes skittering across the floor as the man stumbles toward the door, falling beyond Billy, who is still on his knees.  Rick doesn’t wait to follow it up and take a moment to lash out at the first guard, who is too surprised to react sufficiently in defense.

Rick uses his fist this time, sending it hard into the man’s face, feeling the resounding crunch of the man’s jaw as he goes to the ground and doesn’t even twitch.  The other guard is on him fast, though, and Rick has to rear up hard and fast, nearly falling as he avoids a blow and lashes out with a kick.  It’s enough to take the gun out of play, but not enough to take out the guard, who charges over him and they both go rolling.

It’s a dog fight from there, and Rick has to fight with an intensity that’s unknown to him.  He takes a few hits to the face before he manages to get the upper hand, scrambling to his feet and connecting a solid kick to the man’s chest.

This stuns him long enough for Rick to follow up with a jab to his face, and the man goes down.

The scuffle is punctuated by a gunshot that seems to rip through Rick’s chest.

He takes a ragged breath, tears stinging at his eyes.  Turning, he exhales, mouth open as he sees Omar on his feet on the other side of Billy, pistol in hand and a smirk on his face.

Rick looks down at the space between them and for a second all he can do is stare.

Omar shrugs.  “Looks like you’ve just run out of luck,” he says.

Rick blinks and tries to understand.  Because he can hardly breathe, he can hardly think, and Billy’s sprawled face first on the ground, a patch of red growing on his back.

-o-

Rick prides himself on being reasonable.  He values his conscious intellect.

But Billy’s bleeding on the ground, shot in the back by a mad man, and there’s no time for reason.  There’s no place for intellect.

All he has left is the growing rage in his stomach and the blind luck of fierce anger as he skirts around Billy’s prone body charges at Omar once and for all.

-o-

The fight is short, but it feels long.  Rick tackles the other man, using a few good hits to knock the gun clear.  Omar tries to scramble, but Rick doesn’t give him a second of reprieve.  Despite his smaller stature, Rick doesn’t waver as his fist pounds into Omar’s face again and again.

By the time he realizes that Omar’s not moving, Rick’s fist aches and Omar’s eyes are closed, body lax beneath him.

Rick lets out a strangled breath and sits back, barely able to think at all.

It’s over.

Except it’s not.

Rick looks back at Billy, and remembers that this mission is far from over.  Because Billy is bleeding and Rick’s still in a highly secured compound with no guaranteed way out and no backup around for miles.

In this, there is no reprieve.  There is no time to gather his thoughts.  It’s time to move--faster now before all the ground he just gained is lost.  He doesn’t know how much time he has before the scuffle attracts attention, but Rick’s pretty sure it’s not long enough.

This realization grounds Rick, spurring him to take definitive action again.

First, he takes quick stock of his attackers.  None of them are moving, and Rick doesn’t have time to tell if they’re alive.  His attention shifts to Billy, who is still face first on the ground.

Swiping one of the loaded guns and pulling off one of the guard’s blades, Rick goes to his knees next to Billy.  Expertly, he slices through the bonds that have Billy’s arms pulled tight behind him.  He tries not to wince at the blood, which is stemming from a wound high to Billy’s back, before carefully rolling Billy onto his back.  The action makes the other man groan, face twisting in pain.

It’s actually one of the most beautiful things Rick has ever seen.  Because this means Billy’s alive.

The reality almost makes him want to laugh.

Then Billy’s eyes flutter, blinking blindly at the ceiling for a moment before Rick maneuvers himself into Billy’s line of vision.  “You with me?” Rick asks.

Billy squints for a moment.  “How is it possible that I’m alive?”

Rick shrugs one shoulder  “Hard to say,” he says.  “But we still need to move.”

Billy winces, shutting his eyes against the pain.  He swallows with difficulty and when he speaks, his voice is thick.  “You mean because of the compound of soon to be angry terrorists that will be coming after us?”

Rick nods.  “Something like that,” he says.  “We need to find someplace safe to hole up so we can contact Casey and Michael and plan an escape.”

Opening his eyes, Billy looks paler than before but manages a nod.  “Sounds reasonable enough,” he says, trying to push himself up with marginal effort.

Moving in, Rick supports Billy as best he can, levering him to a sitting position.

Billy curses, curling in a bit and shaking his head.  “I’ve been shot, haven’t I?” he asks between clenched teeth, his voice nothing more than a hiss.

Rick keeps his arm around him.  “I’ll take a look at it when we have more time,” he says.

Billy nods, and when he opens his eyes, they’re wet.  “Bloody terrorists,” he grits out, even as he’s trying to get to his feet.

Rick moves quickly to aid him, and together they get Billy to his feet, leaning heavily on Rick, who bears the weight awkwardly.

Pausing for a moment, Billy seems to take in the situation again.  “You took out three armed men,” he muses, clearly impressed.  “And here I thought you were the linguist, not the human weapon.  Just my luck that you’re learning to multitask.”

“Well, don’t count yourself lucky yet,” Rick advises as they move toward the door.  “It’ll be a miracle if we get out of this room.”

Billy is breathing heavily as he keeps pace.  “Well, for what it’s worth,” he says, “I’ll let my money ride on you for now.”

Rick smirks because he knows at this point, neither of them have much choice.

-o-

The hallway is empty, and Rick doesn’t hesitate to lead them on a fast break--at least, as fast as Billy can manage.  It’s work for both of them, but even as Rick’s shoulders ache under the added weight, he doesn’t dare complain because Billy’s pain is so clearly evident in every harsh breath he takes in Rick’s ear.

Rick’s mind works, trying to recall the layout of the facility, and veers them northward toward what he remembers is the least guarded exit.  Billy doesn’t question him as they hobble along, and for a moment, Rick thinks it’s working.  

But the corridors are winding, and even if Rick’s sense of direction is impeccable, it’s tedious work.  Billy’s weight leans heavier into him with each passing step, and Rick feels himself flush with heat as he carries the burden of the mission even more on his shoulders.

They’re almost there, though--to the outer ring of passageways--when the alarm sounds.

Just that fast, their clear escape is gone, and Rick hears the sound of approaching footfalls and knows if he doesn’t find cover now, all their progress is going to be for nothing.

Rick’s heart skips a beat and then starts to race.  Leaning against him, Billy barely twitches, and Rick realizes they’ve run out of options in more ways than one.  They might make it out in a fast break, but they’d have to hit the ground running and not look back for miles.  Billy’s not going to make it another two feet in his condition.

It’s time to hide.

Feeling frantic, Rick’s eyes dart about, looking for any kind of shelter.

There’s no time, though, and Rick hears people coming up the way behind them.

Desperate, Rick breaks into a shuffling run, half dragging Billy beside him.

He darts down the first corridor he sees, and realizes quickly it’s a dead end.

The dark hall is clearly a stocking area with no clear exits.  Still, it’s the only option he has now, and Rick unceremoniously pulls Billy into the first door, which is thankfully unlocked.

Inside, it’s eerie and still.  It looks like a machine lab, though not commonly used.  This means it’s out of the way and good enough for a brief respite--but they’ll need to do better if it’s going to keep them safe for any length of time.

Which, considering how far out Michael and Casey are, could be a while.

There are more noises outside, and Rick feels stuck.  Billy body is almost slack now, head lolling against him, and Rick knows he has only second to make the right choice.  If he doesn’t, then it won’t matter how far they’ve come; it won’t be far enough.

Moving again, Rick hauls Billy across the room, looking for some kind of cover.  There are plenty of work benches, but they won’t provide much in the way of shelter for long.  There’s a bathroom at the back, but it’s too obvious and the flimsy door would be impossible to fortify.  A few cabinets line the back wall, and while they might be okay for short term hiding, Rick would have no way of seeing to any of Billy’s wounds at all.  

Still, they might be his best bet.

Then Rick sees a utility room, marked with warning labels in a number of languages on the thick, metal door.

Rick doesn’t think twice.  He makes his way there without looking back.

The door is locked, and Rick feels a rush of panic before he remembers that he can do this.  Carefully, he eases Billy against the wall, helping him slide down to a sitting position.  The other operative mumbles something, but doesn’t move, head tilted forward and eyes closed.

Wetting his lips, Rick reaches into his pocket and pulls his lock pick.  It’s the first time he’s gotten to use it on a mission, and suddenly he wishes he had more practice.  He can hear voice somewhere down the corridor, and his fingers are sweaty as he fiddles with the mechanism.

He thinks about all the times he asked Billy to let him do this; funny, he’d always wanted Billy’s permission, but he supposes Billy’s unconsciousness is all the tacit consent he’s ever going to get.

The lock snicks into place, opening up, but there’s no time for revelry.  Rick wastes no time in reaching down and grabbing Billy underneath his armpits, yanking hard into the now-open room.  It probably isn’t the best way to move someone with a bullet in his back, but Rick doesn’t have the time and if he leaves Billy out and exposed much longer, a single bullet to the back will be the least of the Scot’s problems.

Inside, Rick flicks on the light before closing the door, unspeakably grateful when the automatic lock slips back into place.

It’s a lucky break, he thinks, but as he looks around the grim room and Billy’s slumped form on the floor, suddenly Rick can’t be so sure.

-o-

Rick’s relief is short lived.  There’s the sound of voices, and Rick feels his heart skip a beat as he turns off the light and presses himself close to the door to listen.  On the outside, he hears the door open and he can hear the men barking orders as they fan out.  

There’s movement now--and lots of it.  The items of the shop are overturned and the bathroom door is slammed open before the cabinets in the back clang.  It’s muffled, but someone stops on the other side of the door, and it’s all Rick can do to not cry.

He doesn’t cry, though.  Doesn’t move, doesn’t even breathe.  He squeezes his eyes shut in the darkness and grips his stolen gun tightly, poised to shoot if it comes to that.

The dialect on the other side is hard to follow, but Rick makes out the basics.  Someone asks what’s behind the door and then the handle jostles.

Rick flinches but bites down hard on his fear and keeps himself tense.

Another voice is dismissive, saying that it’s locked.

Someone asks if they should open it.

Rick considers the odds.  He thinks about the men on the outside and Billy unconscious in the dark.  He thinks about his stolen gun and making one last escape.  If he has to, he will.  He won’t have a choice.

The dismissive voice replies that they’d need to get a key.  

The other voice laughs that unless these men are magicians, they can’t be in there.

Rick doesn’t dare feel relief, not even when the voices retreat and the footfalls grow distant.  He doesn’t move until the door to the outer room is closed and silence resounds in the empty darkness.

When Rick finally breathes, it’s a strangled breath hitching with a sob.  He leans his head against the metal door and prays every prayer he remembers, thanking every god he knows that while he’s not a magician, today he may just be that lucky.

PART TWO