Follow the adventures and misadventures of one of the Original 13 Joes, as he contemplates the end of his career and searches for love. Watch out for action, because Cobra can strike at any time!
Disclaimers: As set forth in previous chapters...
Breaking the Bank
Wall Street, Lower Manhattan
"Patricia, would you mind coming in for a minute?" Lisa Underwood called out from her office, attracting the attention of her assistant who was in her cubicle nearby.
"Just a second, Lisa," Patricia replied. "There's something going down on the news. Some sort of breaking story over in Washington Heights."
"It'll be just a few minutes, 'Tricia," Lisa said. "Then we can catch the story on the five-thirty news roundup on News Twelve New York."
Patricia studied the small television screen on her portable set, as the image showed an NBC news crew clamoring with other local reporters to speak with FBI Agent Price about the hostage situation at the bank.
Lisa stepped out of her office just in time to see Patricia's jaw drop. "Is everything okay, 'Trisha?"
"Check this out," Patricia nearly exclaimed, turning the portable TV so that Lisa could see the picture. At the same time, she pulled out her headphone jack and the two women listened to the broadcast together.
"... That's right, David," Shawn Robbins, the on-site news reporter said into the NBC camera. "We're here with FBI Special Agent Jay Price, who has been trying to ascertain the situation inside. From the information we have, an unknown number of gunmen took over the Banco Hipotecario Dominicano this afternoon and have at least twenty or more hostages inside."
"Some of the gunmen," the correspondent continued, "armed with automatic weapons, are on the second floor of the building and had pinned down a couple of New York's finest as they tried to secure the area and keep the public at a safe distance. There has been deadly gunfire here at the corner of Audubon Avenue and One-eighty-first Street."
The voice of David Ushery, one of NBC News Channel Four's local anchormen, came over the picture. "Has the Special Agent revealed anything more definite, Shawn?"
"He has been in contact with the gunmen by cellular telephone, via the NYPD 911 call center," Shawn replied. "However, he is not releasing any information about the gunmen or their identities. They have apparently made demands of the Special Agent, and we witnessed a few of the policemen at the incident command post here on One-eighty-second Street pushing back their safety perimeter. There's an unconfirmed buzz among the reporters that shots may have been fired. Perhaps a hostage is dead. But we're waiting for Agent Price to acknowledge the specifics."
"Look at that, behind the reporter," Patricia whispered, pointing to the tiny screen. The column of G. I. Joe vehicles had arrived inside the police perimeter and a number of soldiers approached the cluster of people around Special Agent Price. "The Army's been called in."
One of the soldiers, a square-jawed blond man with an air of toughness, stepped up to the FBI Special Agent and tapped on his shoulder, offering a hand to him. Agent Price shook it in front of the cameras and then stepped up to the news hounds' microphones, clearing his throat.
"Wait, David," Shawn said. "Something's about to happen. The Army is here."
"May I have your attention, please?" Price said. He waited for some of the reporters to stop talking and then began. "Based on the information obtained from my conversations with the hostage takers, the New York Office of Emergency Management has declared this an Orange Alert situation, suspecting terrorist activity. The Army soldiers behind me are deploying to aid the NYPD in protecting lives and property. I can't answer any more questions at this time. Please stand behind the revised police perimeter and I will address you again shortly."
Lisa watched the figures moving around behind the scene more than Agent Price who filled the center of the camera's view. One face in particular came into view, rushing behind Agent Price with a slung M-4 carbine and camouflage battle dress. Her hand shot up to her mouth in surprise.
"What is it?" Patricia asked. "What's wrong?"
Agent Price turned aside to step back from the reporters as the NBC cameraman happened to shift his view to Price's right, taking Steeler's face smack dab in the center of his feed.
"There!" Lisa said, pointing. "I see Ralph!"
"Oh my God!" Patricia exclaimed. "What's the major doing there?"
"I don't know," Lisa said, riveted to the image of Steeler on the screen. "I hope he'll be okay though."
181st Street and Audubon Avenue
Long wooden barricades had gone up in all directions as the NYPD solidified the crowd control perimeter, pushing it back the block demanded by the terrorists. Yokas and Bosco were standing guard close to their RMP as the crowds of curious onlookers formed around them were beginning to withdraw. The wail of sirens drew the two officers' attention as Bosco rose onto his toes to see over the crowd.
"I think that's EMS, Bosco," Yokas said, leaning on a blue NYPD barricade. "We need to clear out the crowd."
"I see 'em," Bosco replied. He put his hands out in front of his body and waded into the crowd. "Clear out, you people! Clear the way! Get out of the way of the fire equipment! Come on, you slowpokes! Move it!" Bosco's temper got the better of him quickly, as was his nature. Yokas shook her head sadly when Bosco started getting angry and shoving people that didn't seem to budge. "Come on! Move your asses! There's nothing for you to watch here! Get the hell out of the fire department's way! Move it now, dammit!"
"Carlos, kill the damn siren," Monty "Doc" Parker told his EMS partner while he slowed their Ford F-350 ambulance. "It looks like the cops have some crowd clearing to do."
"Jesus, Doc," Parker's partner, Carlos Nieto, said while flipping the switch that silenced the ambulance's emergency siren. "This looks like another fine mess."
"Stow it and get your mind on the game, Carlos," Parker insisted, picking up the handset of the ambulance's radio and bringing the vehicle to a stop short of the crowds. "Adam Five-five-three calling Central. We're ten eighty-four at the scene. I don't see any indications of an emergency other than some crowds."
"Central to Adam Five-five-three," the FDNY radio dispatcher replied. "You have a police incident unfolding with potential civilian casualties. Stay on location and keep out of the NYPD's way until they need you."
The voice of Bobby Caffey, another EMS crewman who was partnered with medic Kim Zambrano, came over the radio speaker. "This is Adam Five-five-two. We're four blocks from being ten eighty-four. Truck Fifty-five and Squad One-hundred are right behind us. We'll be there momentarily as well."
The column of FDNY equipment soon had a thin path through the crowds, while Bosco kept shouting into the crowd and Yokas moved the barricade she was leaning on to let the vehicles pass into the safety perimeter.
Glancing in the direction of the incident command post, a block north of them, Carlos spotted a column of men walking down the sidewalk behind a pair of NYPD ESU officers brandishing large bulletproof riot shields.
"Hey, Doc, it looks like they called in the big guns," Carlos said. "The Army's in town."
"You just better hope they don't turn this incident into a bloodbath," Doc growled. "Go back and check all the cabinets. Make sure we have all the gear we'll need and pull out the field kits."
180th Street and Audubon Avenue
Sully and Davis had recovered from their close call. They hid behind their RMP, which was still up on the sidewalk just around the corner from the alleyway that led to the BHD bank building's truck loading dock.
"I swear to God, Davis," Sully groaned, adjusting the fit of his bulletproof vest and glancing around the area for signs of more trouble. "You are nothing like your father as far as being a cop goes."
"You can give me my rookie evaluation later, Sully," Davis replied, shifting the 9mm Glock from his shooting hand to his left and flexing his fingers to loosen them up. "Let's worry about saving those hostages first."
"You have your orders, Ty," Sully said, taking a firm grip on his partner's shoulder. "We don't move an inch closer to that damn situation. We might have cost the hostages their lives. Just stand by here; an ESU team is hustling down the block right now to take over."
The lead officer of the ESU covering team was a veteran police sergeant that used to work with Sully and the senior Davis at the 55th Precinct. When he skidded to a stop behind the RMP, he gave the street officer a cold look.
"What the hell were you two beat bunnies thinking?" the Sergeant scolded. "They killed a hostage in there!"
"Oh, shit," Sully swore under his breath.
"Someone's gonna eat some crow over at the house if this turns into a bloodbath," the Sergeant warned. "I suggest you rein your rookie in better, old buddy."
Sully looked at Davis, who was staring at the alley opening. "If he's still around when this is over, I sure will. I hope both of us make it out of here to regret his little stunt."
"Listen," the Sergeant whispered, making hand signals to his teammates as they crouched behind cover and raised their MP-5 sub-machineguns. "You never know. They might have planned on shooting the hostage anyway. If they're able to piece the whole thing together in your favor over at 'infernal affairs', you guys might be able to keep your shields. Just watch your ass. Get into the RMP and drive up to 182nd Street. Lieutenant Meigs wants you two out of the line of fire for now. Just keep out of his cross hairs, okay?"
"Thanks, old buddy," Sully said. He slipped into the RMP's driver seat, waving for Davis to get into the car as well. After a few moments, the patrol car wheeled back into the street with a squeal of tires.
West sidewalk of Audubon Avenue
Between 181st and 182nd Street
"Just advance slow and easy. Keep your intervals at five meters," Duke said to the Joes and NYPD cops in his ad hoc reconnaissance team, with one hand on the shoulder of a burly ESU officer that was walking point with a riot shield.
The top kick turned his attention to the point man and his partner, also carrying a protective shield, whispering, "I just want a peek for the moment. Don't expose us beyond the corner of the building on this side of the intersection."
Steeler walked a few paces behind Duke, with Wiretap in tow. All three Joes moved slowly and took deliberate, measured steps as they held their small arms at the ready. Sneak Peek and Low Light had already scrambled into the building across from the BHD bank to set up surveillance from a rooftop observation point.
The other Joes had strung out along the sidewalk and out of sight of the bank, prepared to lay down cover fire or fan out to extract any unprotected beat cops and civilians if the shooting resumed.
The ESU cops reached the corner of the building opposite the bank and crouched onto their knees, feeding the barrels of their service automatics through small slits cut in their shields.
Duke peered through the Plexiglas view block of the closest ESU man, studying the ground floor of the bank. His sharp eyes picked out the silhouettes of the hostages lined up against the glass picture windows but couldn't see much of the gunmen inside.
"Duke to observation team," Duke whispered into a radio headset. "Talk to me, Sneak Peek."
"Sneak Peek is scanning," the Ranger surveillance specialist whispered calmly into his own headset. "I'm unable to see much on the ground floor with the optics. The truck is blocking the windows. Give me a second..."
"Come on, troop," Duke urged. "We ain't got all day out here!"
Sneak Peek maintained the slow and even pace of his movements behind the large portable periscope he used to study the building, systematically checking each row of upper story windows that were in his line of sight.
"White Bravo Three," Sneak Peek said, indicating the third window from the left, on the second floor and facing the front of the bank. "I see two tangos with AK-74's. Average civilian clothes. One is Caucasian, can't tell the other. White Bravo Five, two tangos with AK-74's. One of them has a BG-1 grenade launcher attached. Same general descriptions, one's a female. Good news is, the two uppermost floors appear empty from my angle."
"Roger that," Duke said, following the windows on the second floor and counting from left to right. The Joes used a common method of identifying target points that was based on a very simple system developed by the British SAS and American Delta Force. Duke quickly found the target windows and made a mental note of them.
"All elements, this is Duke," the top sergeant said over the Joes' radios. "Back off to the vehicles and prep our gear. Observation team is to stay in position and report on all movement above the first floor. Sneak Peek, switch your big eye to thermal and sing out if anything changes drastically. Low Light, you're on the 'Big Ears' parabolic microphone. Stick with the second floor and keep it trained on those gunmen for sounds. If you can get a good angle on the customer lobby, listen in down there too. We'll start recording shortly."
Steeler held his hand up to signal Wiretap to turn around. "It looks like this may become your show, kid," he said to the tactical electronics expert. "We're going to need some eyes on the inside."
"I've got just the bag of tricks for you, Major," Wiretap replied, turning on his heel and working his way back to the Army vehicles.
Inside the bank
"Gregor, sir!" a Cobra Tele-Viper shouted from the back hallways of the bank's main floor. "I'm picking up a local news transmission with video. The Joes are here!"
Gregor left the bank lobby and walked back to the office area where the Cobra soldiers detailed to open and empty the vault were working as fast as they could. He found the Tele-Viper and spun him around roughly in order to see the small video panel on his tactical signal backpack.
"Replay the feed, Corporal," Gregor ordered, smacking the soldier on the back of his helmet to make sure he would comply. The tiny LCD screen on the backpack ran through ten seconds of captured video, in which Gregor could identify Duke shaking hands with the blue-suited Agent Price.
Even with such a small monitor to work from, Gregor counted at least two or three Army vehicles in the background. As an Alley-Viper Commando leader, he was very experienced in the use of Cobra's communications equipment, and his trained eyes and sharp mind recalled Duke's image from long sessions of memorizing dossiers in Cobra's secret intelligence database depositories.
"How does the loading of the truck progress?" Gregor asked after viewing the video a second time. He didn't pick out any more details that would help him, so he turned his mind back to executing his action plan.
"The vault is empty, sir," the Tele-Viper replied. "The Techno-Viper team is rigging the device in place of the money and also gathering the gear for the little surprise you wanted in the lobby."
"Very well," Gregor said. "Return to your duties, Corporal. Good work."
Incident Command Post
Agent Price paced back and forth near one of the NYPD ESU command trucks, out of sight of the press reporters who were still crowding and pushing against the perimeter to ask questions. He plucked his cell phone from its belt holder when it softly rang.
"FBI Agent Price," the Fed answered. He nodded when the 911 operator on the line reported a new incoming call from the bank. "Go ahead and transfer the call through."
"I see that you are moving your perimeter back," Gregor said in his thick accent when Price acknowledged the connection. "Good. We are beginning to have an understanding here. That will be sure to save the lives of the hostages, so long as it continues."
"Yes," Price said, motioning to get Duke's attention. Sparks, one of the Joes' communications specialists, had just gotten the recording patch working and was able to tape the terrorists' calls coming into Price's cell phone. "We are doing our very best to protect the lives of the people out here and those under your control."
"So, does that mean that calling in the G. I. Joe Team is an effort to protect civilian lives?" Gregor asked.
Price was stunned at the caller referring to the soldiers as Joes. He didn't even know what the detachment's unit affiliation was. The group's leader that shook his hand had never identified them as the elite counter-terrorism operators.
"Well, Agent Price?" Gregor added after a pregnant pause.
"Asking for the New York Army National Guard's help to beef up the police in a local evacuation is now a standard procedure in the city," Price said. "It's part of the Mayor's metropolitan emergency plan."
"Don't play naÃ¯ve with me!" Gregor shouted into the phone. "We know what G. I. Joe is. I saw them on the television news standing behind you! They are commandos! If they come anywhere near the bank, I will blow it up immediately!"
Price gulped and turned to face Duke and Sparks, who were following the conversation with headphones. Duke frowned, his square-jawed mouth turning down in a stone cold expression of concern as he considered what people in the world could possibly identify the members of the Joe Team.
"Apparently, you are not as well informed as you could be," Gregor continued. "I wish to speak with the commander of the Joe Team. I shall deal with him from now on. If you do not comply, I will flatten this entire city block."
Price walked over to the communications panel built into the command HMMWV where Sparks was recording, reaching the phone over to Duke. "He wants to speak with you, First Sergeant," the agent said slowly.
Duke set down the headset he was using and took the phone, still shaking his head as he tried to process the variables and information he had so far. "This is Duke, of the G. I. Joe Team. With whom am I speaking?"
"My name is unimportant," Gregor replied. "What is important is that your presence here is a direct threat to the lives of all the innocents still being held inside the bank. You shall take your unit and depart immediately, or else I will detonate the device we brought into the bank vault."
"Device? What device?" Duke asked, turning to stare at Agent Price with flashing, angry blue eyes. Price wrote a set of short notations on a pad that read, "Some sort of bomb. They claim it can flatten the block. I think they're bluffing. But they have killed a hostage."
"You mean to tell me that your so-called 'agency cooperation' didn't yield the information that we have a high explosive device planted in the bank vault?" Gregor asked, starting to laugh evilly. "Since you are a kindred spirit, a freedom fighter of sorts, I shall tell you that we have a dirty atomic bomb, filled with cobalt isotope and plastic explosive. It'll leave quite an impression on this part of the Manhattan cityscape if we set it off, don't you think?"
Gregor didn't wait for Duke to answer. "Apparently, you're not familiar with dirty nuclear bombs. Our device is loaded with enough radioactive Cobalt Isotope to turn three city blocks into an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. For fear of long-term radiation exposure, most of this neighborhood will have to be abandoned and cordoned off for the next seventy-five years, until the radioactivity diminishes to a safe level. Everything left behind would be utterly useless and would have to be decontaminated or destroyed. Not to mention that the municipal fresh water supply system, subway systems and the electrical grid covering all of Manhattan would be affected."
"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Duke asked. "Hitting a bank for money is one thing, but did you consider the consequences of you getting caught in your own dirty bomb blast? You know these guys won't let you leave here alive."
"You must trust me, from one soldier to another," Gregor said, sneering at the idea that his mind games were working. "If you care to assault the bank to find out, please feel free. We are committed to our cause and willing to die, to take Americans to Hell with us."
"Fine," Duke said. "Then I'll back my men off. You'll have to talk with Agent Price after we leave."
"That is fine," Gregor said. "You will depart quickly and do not think about playing any tricks." The Cobra Alley-Viper disconnected the call without further words.
Duke shook his head and passed the phone back to Agent Price, who had been eavesdropping with Duke's headset. Price was shaken and lost some of his FBI bravado when he faced Duke's cold stare.
"I'm sorry," the agent said. "I should've taken them more seriously."
"You should have taken everything more seriously, and had someone keeping track of all this shit so we could've been warned about the device," Duke said. "He told me that it's a dirty nuclear bomb. It won't nuke Manhattan flat, but it sure can toss enough radioactivity around to make this neighborhood a dead zone for years."
"Oh, God," Price whispered sadly. "Does this mean you're leaving? To keep him from setting that thing off?"
"Hell no!" Duke said. "What the Hell do you think we are? The Joes don't go running with our tails between our legs at a threat! You just get back on stage and talk to this asshole! We're going to play the game with a little more finesse!"
Duke shoved the FBI agent out of his way, striding over to the parked ESU command trucks. "Hey, you tacticals!" the top kick yelled while banging on the trucks' doors. "Who's got a dozen spare jumpsuits and sets of body armor?"