Jefferson hit the button on his radio, "This is Jefferson and Pierce, in position."
"Affirmative. We were told by the bank manager that the odds of them knowing about that tunnel are almost zero, and our network should be able to pick up on anyone coming your way in advance. That said, we don't want to leave anything to chance, so stay sharp you two."
"Roger that," Pierce said.
Jefferson gestured to their setup, "This is it, our very own guard station." There were two metal folding chairs, one on either side of a crate that had recently been used as a card table. After they sat down, Jefferson took a cigarette box out of his pocket and offered a smoke to Pierce. "Want one?"
"It'll calm you down."
Pierce realized his hand was shaking. After a pause, he grabbed a cigarette from Jeff's pack with his stable one. "Thanks," he muttered. Jefferson reached over to light Pierce's, then lit his own.
"I don't like this." Pierce said.
Jefferson sighed. "Me neither," he admitted, "I feel it too. Everyone does. Something is off with this job."
"And this building rubs me the wrong way somehow," Pierce offered.
Pierce sat there for a minute deep in thought as Jefferson shuffled the deck of cards. Then a questioning look appeared on Pierce's face as he asked, "Why would the bank keep files in paper form instead of using computers? And for that matter, why are there no security cameras in the whole building?"
"You were well-named, weren't you? You are sharp. Best I can figure it, some sort of extreme op-sec. For what, I couldn't tell you..."
Pierce's hand had stopped shaking, the cigarette had done its job. It had been a long time since he'd last smoked. He definitely couldn't afford it as a habit anymore. But he was glad he had this cigarette.
Jeff finished shuffling the cards and began to deal them out. "Now, let's see how good you are at blackjack."
For hours, the two sat there, playing cards, looking at the map and talking about tactics, and challenging each other to exercise competitions, among other things. As uncomfortable as Pierce had felt coming into this, he had to admit, he couldn't imagine a better partner for this sort of scenario than Jefferson. He was a solid man who, from the stories he told, could definitely handle himself in any situation.
After their long shift was up, they swapped places with their relief and headed to the armory for some food and rest.
Pierce was in the barely-lit center of a shrouded room looking down into the face of his sister. He could feel the fear of loss and overwhelming guilt creeping up on him, feelings he had to constantly fight to keep down. Everything will be alright, he tried to tell himself. Her face was so motionless, so void, but the doctors had told him she was alive, thinking, dreaming, listening. A deep resonance bust in on his awareness. His pulse quickened. Something was wrong. Very wrong. The earth began to shake. He looked around the room, trying to figure out what was causing this. But he wasn't in the hospital room anymore. He was deep underground in some sort of dark pit. He felt trapped with no air and no escape. Was this his grave? He started to hyperventilate. His vision became bleary, but suddenly from out of nowhere there stood before him a towering man, putrid and decrepit. Though he could not see him clearly, there was a wicked light in the man's eyes that pierced into his soul.
He hit the marble floor with a resounding thud. He opened his eyes and saw that he was back in the armory, with several concerned pairs of eyes on him. Jefferson hurried over and helped him up. "Are you okay, buddy?" he asked.
Pierce rubbed his back, then responded with a weak, "Yeah, I think so."
"Hey, you'd better eat something, it's about time we get back to the grind."
Pierce's throat felt dry. He took a big swig of water from his old military issued canteen and sat back down on his cot.
"This place is really messing with everyone's heads," a man with the thousand-yard stare who sat on a nearby cot said to nobody in particular. "Nobody can sleep, and when they do they wish they hadn't."
"The longer we stay here, the less chance we'll make it out of here sane!" someone else offered.
Jefferson spoke sternly, "Enough of that kind of talk. We're all here to do a job, and we're going to do it. Don't let fear get the better of you. That will only get you and your friends killed."
The chatter stopped, though a couple men glared daggers at Jefferson.
After they finished their meals, Pierce and Jefferson refilled their water, went back to their position, and checked in with the coordinator.
After they smoked in silence for a while, Jefferson noticed that Pierce could not stop fidgeting. This is getting to him too much, Jefferson thought. "Hey, do you know why you're teamed up with me?"
Pierce shook his head.
"Because I wanted you to be." Pierce looked confused. "I saw your face when you came back from dealing with your last job. Then I read your report, and I read your file."
Their files were supposed to be confidential. But, Pierce thought, if anyone was going to look through my file, at least it was this guy.
"You're a solid guy," Jefferson continued. "I know a lot of those guys up there are good men, but you have more experience, energy, and motivation than most of them."
Pierce wondered exactly how much the company knew about him. A distant rumble caught him off guard. The voice of the coordinator buzzed on the radio, interrupted repeatedly by gunfire, "All units, get...positions! They've breached...All positions, prepare and engage, repeat...prepare yourselves!"