Agent Palmer -real name Matt Ritter- followed an unremarkable man past empty, unremarkable cubicles, in an unremarkable office building. Pushing forty, fit, Caucasian, in dark jeans and white button down shirt Ritter wouldn't have looked out of place in an office like this on a casual Friday; not that he'd ever worked an office job in his life. Or this office had a casual Friday.
He'd been getting ready for a date when the "call" in the form of an innocuous looking email for a production of Phantom of the Opera appeared in his inbox, and hadn’t bothered to change. He'd barely taken the time to cancel with the co-ed he'd been meeting before grabbing his go bag.
The office drone showed him to a conference room, but didn't follow. The other two members of P-cell were already there, sitting across from each other near the middle of the long table.
Agent Piers -Kiran Patil, a third generation Indian-American with thick dark hair and bright intelligent eyes; the youngest of the trio grinned widely at the sight of him.
"Cool hair man. You all signed up for battle of the bands?"
Ritter flipped him off, but did it with a smile; he liked Patil. On top of being a genuinely decent human being, the NSA analyst was funny, with an easy charm and infectious smile.
Ritter often wondered how long it would take for these ops to destroy him.
In the seven months since their last op -and, consequently the last time they'd seen each other- Ritter had dyed his hair dirty blonde but it had since grown out to reveal natural brown roots.
Agent Paige -Ashley McNeil- smiled. A profiler with the FBI, McNeil was thirty two years old though her mixed Chinese-Irish heritage gave her a more youthful appearance. Easy on the eyes with long black hair, she'd never quite warmed to Ritter personally but they'd been on enough ops to trust each other when the chips were down.
The pair of them exchanged a nod and a fourth person entered behind Ritter, closing the door after her. Surveillance countermeasures all around the room sprung to life.
Their case officer, Judith Green was a severe looking African-American woman in an off the rack suit with short clipped hair. She hadn't been pregnant last time though; looking maybe three or four months along. She gave the three of them a curt nod and Ritter took a seat that faced the door, putting his back to the wall as she stopped at the head of the table.
She didn't bother with preamble, clicking a remote to bring up a picture of a young girl; white, blond hair and blue eyes on the screen at the front of the room.
"At 6:30 this evening, five-year old Regina Balfour was abducted from a Wal-Mart near her home, whose cameras managed to capture most of it."
It was already all over the news; Ritter had caught some of it on the radio and his phone had signaled the Amber Alert but he hadn't paid it much attention.
The picture was replaced by middling quality CCTV footage of Regina sitting in a shopping cart swinging her legs, while presumably her mother was looking at something on the shelves.
A large, older Caucasian man with a mustache, baseball cap and large sunglasses walked up to them with a purpose, drawing a Taser from his pocket and jamming it against Regina's mother's neck. Her body jerked then crumpled, knocking several boxes from the shelf as the man pulled Regina from the cart. There was no audio but they could see Regina screaming, struggling as the man carried her out of frame. The man came back a second later, moving to grab the cartoon ladybug backpack that had been next to Regina in the cart. By that point, Regina's mother had begun to recover and lunged to grab one of the backpack's straps. They struggled and the man viciously kicked Regina's mother in the face, but she didn't lose her grip.
The man's head whipped around and he let go of the bag, fleeing out of frame a few seconds before a young couple ran in; a black woman and Caucasian man. The woman knelt by Regina's mother as she gestured after the kidnapper, clutching her face with one hand and the man took off after him, followed moments later by a security guard.
Footage from a second camera showed the abductor knocking over the middle aged greeter as he carried Regina out the entrance; struggling and fighting him all the while. At the front of the store, he forced Regina into an idling car; a white early 2000's Mustang, which immediately sped off. Then the kidnapper pulled a gun and marched back into the store, just as the young man caught up.
The kidnapper fired and the man dropped. The greeter took off running as the kidnapper brandished the gun wildly, firing a round into the air before turning back to the young man who was clutching at his leg; blood smearing across the laminate floor as he tried to scramble away.
But instead of executing him, the kidnapper paused by a belt display and tossed one to him before overturning the display over and heading deeper into the store.
Green spoke up as the tape sped up. "He continues this for the next half hour, knocking over displays and chasing out customers until SWAT arrives."
Normal playback resumed, showing a SWAT team entering in tight formation. Coming around a corner, the kidnapper spotted them.
And immediately shot himself in the head.
"Fuck!" Patil started in his seat and McNeil jerked back in surprise. She wasn't a total stranger to violence, but seeing someone take their own life like that was deeply unsettling. Ritter let out a mild 'huh'.
The tape froze on the carnage and Green pushed herself back to her feet.
"Local authorities are still attempting to identify the abductor, who used acid to remove his fingerprints and facial recognition and dental records are proving something of a problem because, well…" she gestured to the corpse missing the front half of its skull.
Ritter held up a hand to interrupt. "Look, I know 'missing white girl' means all hands on deck, but kidnappings aren't exactly our wheelhouse."
The looks he got from around the table were not kind but he wasn't exactly wrong.
The Program had a very specific, if broad focus and P-Cell had only ever been activated to deal with strange or 'supernatural' events, which this seemed anything but.
Green gave him a hard look. "Because, while the local authorities are still attempting to identify the man, we already have." An official looking picture of the man from the video; several years younger, minus the mustache and his hair a different colour replaced the footage on screen. "George Lewiston, former ATF; retired." She paused. "He was one of ours."
P-cell shared a look around the table.
"He was Del-" Patil caught himself, "with the Program?"
Officially Delta Green did not exist.
Unofficially Delta Green, formally referred to as "The Program" if it was referred to at all, did not exist.
In reality, The Program was a highly illegal conspiracy recruiting from all areas of government individuals who'd experienced and dealt with the certifiably impossible in some meaningful way; their mandate to operate outside the law to investigate and contain evidence of the supernatural.
No matter the cost.
"Lewiston was a former agent, since downgraded to friendly. Your main objectives are determining Lewiston's purpose, remove any evidence of the Program, and contain any possible threats or leaks."
"And Regina?" McNeil asked.
"If she's not involved, recovery is secondary."
Judith Green hid her feelings well but Ashley McNeil people for a living; it had cost her something to say that.
None of them had to ask what would have to happen if Regina were involved.
They collected the go bags they'd left with reception on their way in and piled into the black government SUV Paige had brought. It was easiest to transfer Paige to the investigation in an official capacity as an FBI profiler, which meant while they'd know everything the Feds did, she'd be operating without cover.
The scene was on the way to the station, so they'd check that out together before Patil and Ritter dropped McNeil off to integrate herself with the investigation while they checked out Lewiston's home. For now Ritter drove, giving the others a chance to familiarize themselves with the files they'd gotten and giving him the cliff notes.
"George Lewiston; divorced, one daughter, Nicole who lives nearby. His sister died in a car accident a few years ago, but his niece Lindsay is in Cleveland too." Patil summarized from the backseat, flipping through the pages of Lewiston's file. "Specialized in domestic terror organizations before retiring a couple years ago, still does the occasional consult. File's pretty basic. Psych record suggests mild PTSD before retiring, but that's no shock. Doesn't say anything about suicide risk or a penchant for kidnapping."
Of course there were no records of Lewiston's previous Operas in the file and unless they found concrete proof the abduction may be tied to one, they'd never see any. Delta Green compartmentalized like a motherfucker.
"What about Regina?"
"Given what we know about the kidnapper, and the fact that she's five, odds are she was targeted because of her parents." McNeil said, reading over the file on Regina and her family.
"You don't think she might have her own enemies?" Ritter said.
McNeil gave him a look over the rim of her reading glasses from the passenger seat. "She's five."
"I don't know, the girl scouts in my neighborhood are ruthless," Patil said without looking up.
Ritter barked out a laugh and McNeil chuckled before continuing.
"The Balfours run a religious fringe group called 'the Church of the Passover Angel', which is apparently critical of the US government enough to land them on the domestic terrorist watch list. The congregation includes members of local 'militia' groups, white supremacist, and survivalist types."
"Oh good, neo-Nazis," Patil said dryly, "Fun."
"The A.T.F's investigated them a few times on suspicion of stockpiling weapons and explosives, but never turned up anything illicit. Financially the church receives regular large charitable donations totaling a couple million a year from a variety of fringe movements, again including racial hate and extreme right wing political groups-." "Yay." "-But the I.R.S has gone over their taxes with a fine toothed comb a bunch of times and everything looks above board."
Patil flipped back through a few pages, looking over Lewiston's previous cases. "Doesn't seem like Lewiston was involved in any of those investigations. Not officially, at least."
Ritter thought back to the video, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. "Why'd he go back for the bag? He had the girl but ran back for the backpack."
"Why'd he blow his brains out instead of escaping when he had the chance?" Patil shrugged. "His actions don't exactly seem burdened by an overabundance of logic."
"A distraction for the driver?"
McNeil considered it, "an active shooter is a pretty effective one; but sacrificing yourself like that takes a fanatical level of commitment. Do we think Lewiston was the type?"
Patil shook his head, flipping back to the psych evaluation but Ritter answered first.
"He was Delta Green."
And that pretty much summed it up.