The Last Scenario

The Last Scenario

Marcos Gabriel

April 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-4-761

They have to rely on each other to survive--and to somehow stop the nightmare scenario they imagined before it becomes a terrifying reality.

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I’m just a high school biology teacher in southern California. I wrote a paper on bio-toxins in college. Nine months ago the government asked me to be the‘ordinary citizen’ on a seven-member panel. For three days we brainstormed potential homegrown terrorist scenarios. That was all.

I thought.


"We’re the only two left,” John Ryder said, no emotion in his voice. "The others have been assassinated. If you want to live, you’ll have to come with me.”


Terrorists have adopted one of the team's scenarios, and if they’re successful, it could claim a half-million lives. Samantha Waters and ex-Navy SEAL John Ryder are caught in the middle of a dark conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of power. They have to rely on each other to survive—and to somehow stop the nightmare scenario they imagined before it becomes a terrifying reality.


Marcos Gabriel is an award-winning writer whose body of work includes novels, plays, screenplays, and television productions. Working in Los Angeles as the Creative Director of an entertainment advertising agency, he has crafted television commercials and theatrical trailers for many blockbuster and critically-acclaimed Hollywood films. Marcos lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.

Marcos Gabriel is a member of the International Thriller Writers Association.



Coming soon!



LATER, SHE WOULD wonder if those black, unmarked sedans had been following her the entire time she jogged that morning, or if they had picked up her trail as she got closer to home.

But now, before the dawn broke along the route she jogged, it felt like the world was under her control. The light drizzle of suspended atmosphere on her legs, her arms, her face, undisturbed by everyone else, just waiting to be swept up by her graceful stride.

It was approaching five in the morning, and she could feel the freedom of solitude. It was one of the only positives that came from the joint-custody agreement with her ex-husband, Brent. This was his week to watch Maya, their five-year old, and over the course of the last year of separation, Samantha had learned to take advantage of the few good moments the arrangement provided.

Running in the morning, before the oppressive heat of the sun and the Santa Ana winds, was one of those good moments.

The rhythmic slap-slap-slap of her Nikes on the jogging path as she made her way from one amber pool of streetlight to another settled the chaotic rhythm pulsing through her mind. She still had lesson plans to draw up before the school year started, conferences to deal with, and a classroom to rearrange before the students began filing in. And then there was Maya’s sitter, who recently got a "real” job and wouldn’t be able to provide her services after school any more.


She turned north to run parallel to a dry creek bed as she pushed the thoughts out of her mind. The world was hers, the dew was hers, the cool, still air was hers. The scent of rosemary rolled in from the hills above her. She breathed it in, let it fill her lungs, and held onto the silence that was left without her gasps for breath. She exhaled and pushed ahead into the pale blue light of the early morning, watching the perfectly lined-up tract homes of her neighborhood slowly stir into life. A garage door opening here, a bathroom light turning on there. She quickened her pace. Soon, it would no longer be her world.

She followed the jogging path through a playground that marked the halfway point of her morning run. Later, she would realize that this was probably where the men in the four black sedans had spotted her. They could have been watching her for days, the men being who they were and all, but because she hadn’t jogged this path since the last time Maya stayed with her dad, they had most likely been watching her for over a month.

She wouldn’t remember seeing their black sedans at the playground, but she would remember pushing her pace faster as she turned past the edge of the playground and back onto the jogging path to return home. Maybe it was the feeling of being watched, or maybe there were sounds that she hadn’t picked up at the time—the shallow crunch of slow moving tires on gravel, the gurgle of a fuel injected engine—tiny sounds that may have triggered an instinct somewhere inside, but not large enough to cause a conscious reaction. If the men had beenthere, if they’d been following her from that point on, they hadn’t had their headlights on, she was sure of it. She would’ve noticed something like that, even while drifting in and out through her own thoughts.

As the path led her back into the Alta Vista subdivision, she glanced at her watch and smiled. 5:41. She was running faster, and it was getting easier, too. At thirty-three, she knew she could still pass for twenty-eight, twenty-six maybe, and after the divorce with Brent, and re-entering her life as a single mother, she had a renewed interest in getting back into her college jogging shape. She was still young, she was still vibrant, and, without Brent, she still had adventures to find. Her therapist had been discussing with her the need to push herself into situations she would normally reject, little by little, to see if they might help calm her occasional panic attacks and help her get off her meds.

There was nothing to be panicked about this morning—not yet anyway—as she made her way through the jogging trails of Santa Clarita, thirty miles north of downtown LA and a world apart from the city. Quiet, peaceful, predictable.

The kind of place where, if someone’s following you in an unmarked car, in a row of unmarked cars, you notice.

And that’s when Samantha finally did notice, as she turned down Mira Vista to her house. The pace the black cars were keeping, slowly closing in the space between them and her as she’d glance over her shoulder as nonchalantly as she could, gave her a feeling she couldn’t deny. Her lungs, her heart, her mind were all telling her the same thing.

They’re going to take you.

She hadn’t swallowed a Rivotril tablet this morning, didn’t have any reason to, but all she could think of was that prescription bottle in her medicine cabinet. She took in another deep gulp of oxygen, hoping to push down the attack.

Samantha kept her eyes as straight as she could, running faster but not sprinting, not fully trusting her instincts, as she turned the last street towards her house.

Sixty yards ahead of her was another black sedan, this one parked in her driveway. There was a man standing there in a black suit and dark aviator shades, at 5:48 in the morning with the sun still hidden from the world.

She slowed her pace, her mind still racing, still trying to get a handle on whatever was happening. The man held something in his hand, but she couldn’t make out the shape of it. As she cautiously approached, it revealed itself to be a badge, a Federal one, not that she’d seen one in real life before, but it looked like the kind she’d recognize from the movies.

The badge told her they might not be here to abduct her, but it didn’t calm her either. Her mind raced to Maya: was she okay, what could have happened, what had Brent done?

As she crossed her lawn, the man in the black suit smiled. "Hello, Ms. Waters,” he said easily.

There must have been something in the way she was looking at him that made him say, "Nothing to be alarmed at. Just wondering if we might have a conversation. Need to catch your breath?”

"Who are you?” Samantha said, drawing shallow gulps of air. "What’s going on?”

"My name’s Thomas Wilcox. I’m an agent with the Department of Homeland Security.”

"What’s this about?” she repeated.

"An opportunity,” Wilcox said. "To do your country some good, and to make a little money, too.”

He motioned to the drivers of the four other black sedans, a quick flick of his fingers that stated, Move along, I’ve got this from here.

"Sorry about the caravan,” he said as they disappeared down her street. "It seems over-the-top, I know, but you’ve earned a certain degree of importance recently.”

"Excuse me?”

"Do you mind if we talk inside?”

Samantha shook her head, trying to make sense out of his words, his demeanor. "Does this have something to do with my daughter?”

"No,” Wilcox said. "Maya’s fine.”


He started to ask again. "It would really be better if we—”

"No,” she said, "not until you tell me what this is about.”

He smiled, then removed his sunglasses, trying to put her at ease. He was in his forties, clean-shaven with salt and pepper hair, cut short.

"Do you know what a scenario planning exercise is?”

She knew the term, but wasn’t sure she understood what Wilcox was asking. She shook her head.

"It’s a tool we use to assess risks, weaknesses in our defenses. After 9/11, we started opening our scenarios to non-government participants. People who tend to be more imaginative than us.”

Samantha nodded, still unsure where she fit in, but remembering hearing something about what Wilcox was describing years ago on the news.

"We’ve tapped a lot of resources,” Wilcox said. "Producers, writers, chemists, pilots, construction workers. The results of these scenario planning exercises, they’ve been immeasurable.”

"I think you’ve got the wrong Samantha Waters. I’m sorry, Mr. Wilcox—AgentWilcox, but I don’t understand how I—”

"You’re thirty-three, you teach Biology at Howell Creek High School, you’re recently divorced and have one daughter. While attending UCLA, you wrote a paper under the guidance of Dr. Laurence Walker detailing the procedures for multiplying biotoxic specimens outside a laboratory setting.”

Samantha couldn’t process what she was hearing.

"You’re the right Samantha Waters,” Wilcox said.

She shook her head, confused. "I was a T.A., I just wrote down what he asked me to. I don’t remember a thing about that study.”

"And that’s fine,” Wilcox said. "You’re not being asked to participate because you’re an expert in the field. You’re being asked because you’re an ordinary person, who happens to have been exposed to a select range of knowledge.

"Our intel shows that there is a high probability of a splinter cell group being assembled here, within our borders. A collection of ordinary people who are putting their ordinary knowledge together to do something beyond what we can imagine.

"We don’t need you to solve the problem for us. We just need you to work with a group we’ve assembled to show us some possibilities, to find that onething we’re not thinking of. We’ve tightened the borders, secured the airlines, and gotten our bridges and ports and delivery systems in check.”

The sun was breaking over the mountains now. He put his dark shades back on. "The only thing we don’t know,” he said, "is what we don’t know.”

He handed her his card, saying, "And then, of course, there’s the money. If the intelligence you and the rest of the team provide leads to an actionable result, you’ll wake up one day with an extra ten thousand dollars in your bank account.” He smiled and said, "And you won’t have to report it.”


LATER, AFTER Wilcox had gone and she prepared for work in a daze, she played the offer over and over again in her mind. She considered what her therapist, Dr. Chandra, would say if Samantha could discuss the arrangement with her. Most likely she would encourage it. Her panic attacks, according to the doctor, were possibly tied into the divorce, into losing aspects of control over her own life, and it manifested itself in intense waves of fear and desperation. She never knew when an attack would fully swell, which only added to the anxiety.

Back and forth, back and forth, she played it out in her mind. As long as it fell on one of the weeks that Brent was watching Maya, it might work. And those bills, it would help to have that ten thousand in the bank, the way she and Maya were barely squeezing by on her teacher’s salary. There was something else, too. Something about the control, about this being something she was askedto do, something she could contribute to that made a difference to the world. Even if she couldn’t share it with anyone, she would know what she had accomplished. It was a powerful feeling.

Before the sun set on the day of their meeting, she dialed the number for Agent Wilcox and told him she was interested in joining the team.

THREE WEEKS later, she met the six other members of the scenario planning exercise and began their work together. It lasted three days and then they were dismissed.

Nine months later, she checked her bank account and discovered a ten-thousand-dollar deposit had been made. She couldn’t contain her smile, even though she could tell no one its source.

The following day, she got a call from one of the members of the scenario team, a man named John Ryder, and he told her, with no emotion in his voice, that five of the other members were dead, assassinated within the past four days.

He told her they were the only two left, and that if she wanted to live, she’d have to go with him.

Later, as she screamed while the first bullet shattered the vase by her entrance door, and John Ryder pulled her away from the next bullet that destroyed her television, she thought, just for a millisecond, of that moment while she was jogging and felt her instincts say she was going to be taken, and knew she’d been right to trust her instincts all along.




Breaking the Glass



Chapter 1

SAMANTHA WATERS was exhausted and silent, not used to the pace, the lack of sleep, the constant state of alertness. Her eyes were closed now as Ryder eased off the accelerator and guided the Bronco off the 14 Freeway, towards the Luna Motel.

She must have felt the truck’s deceleration because she opened her eyes and said, "Where are we?”

"Some place safe.”

"Safer than the last place?”

"For now.”

The Luna Motel sat alone in the Agua Dulce Canyon, just north of Los Angeles. The rooms were spread out on a single level, all in one straight line, all facing the freeway and the only road that led to the motel. He pulled the truck into the empty lot.

"I’ll be right back.”

The woman sat upright in her seat. "Can I come with you?”

"It’s better if we’re not seen together. They’re looking for both of us.”

"Please,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Ryder glanced at the front desk and saw the man behind the counter craning his neck to look out at them.

What difference did it make now?

He moved to her side of the truck and opened the door for her, holding his arm out to steady her as she stepped wearily to the ground. He imagined what they looked like to the man behind the counter. She, someone who had been through hell; he, someone ready for it.

As Ryder pushed the door open towards the front desk, he noticed the dried blood caked across his knuckles and the back of his right hand. He caught another sideways glance from the man behind the counter as he moved his hand into his pocket.

Samantha’s weight started to shift by his side, like she might faint at any moment. He led her to an upholstered chair in the lobby and she went limp into it with her eyes wide open.

"Evening,” the man behind the desk said.

"Need a room,” Ryder said, leaving Samantha’s side and approaching the man.

The man was looking past Ryder, over his shoulder. "She okay?”

"She’ll be better with a bed underneath her.”

"Let me get her some water.”

"Just the room,” Ryder said.

The man behind the desk paused, and his eyes cautiously lingered on Ryder.

It was a mistake. Ryder was getting impatient standing there, exposed. He wanted to be in a secured room with his back to a wall and a gun in his hand. He should’ve let the man get the water and not said a word. The worst thing he could do was make himself and Samantha memorable.

"She just had some water,” Ryder said, trying to recover. "Now she needs some rest. We both do.”

"Rough day?”

Ryder thought about the last eight hours, about the three men he had shot, about the dried blood that was coating his hand. "You could say that.”

The man behind the counter nodded and laughed quietly. "I’ve had my share of those. How long you staying?”

"One night,” Ryder said.

"Room’s forty-nine dollars, plus tax. Just need a credit card.”


"I don’t charge anything on it now. But in case you order pay-per-view or whatever, I need a card to go with the room.”

"I don’t watch TV,” he said, "and I don’t have a credit card.” Ryder put three twenties down on the countertop with his left hand.

The man slid the bills off the countertop and shoved them into his pocket. He handed Ryder a key with a big number four imprinted on it.

"Room 4, just out the door to the left. Checkout’s noon.”

As Ryder helped Samantha back up to her feet, he could feel her body shaking. He pushed the door open and heard the phone behind the counter start to ring. The sound made the fingers on his right hand curl up in his pocket, yearning to be gripped around a gun.

The room was sparse, with only the basic necessities—two twin beds, one TV, one nightstand with a lamp, a phone, and a Bible. All cloaked in the scent of stale cigarettes and mildew.

They hadn’t made it three steps into the room when Samantha started to collapse again. He helped her over to the bed and laid her down.

She wasn’t exhausted, Ryder realized. This was something else. An episode of some kind.

"My bag,” she said between short gasps of breath. "Pills.”

He retrieved the bag that he’d helped her pack before they had to escape her house and found a cylindrical orange prescription bottle he didn’t remember her taking before. The label read RIVOTRIL. He popped the bottle open and removed two tiny tablets.

"Just... one,” she said.

He placed a tablet into the palm of her hand and she swallowed it without water.

"What’s that for?”

She breathed in shallowly. "Panic... attacks.”

Ryder supposed she had been struggling to hide it ever since they fled the safe house. She was stronger than he’d first assumed. He’d served with men who suffered from panic attacks before, clutching their chests and screaming they were going to die, and there was nothing you could do but try to keep them restrained until it passed.

Samantha pushed the back of her head into a pillow and shut her eyes tightly, evidently trying to contain the fight inside.

Ryder couldn’t do anything for her that the medication wasn’t already doing. He left her side and moved to the window, opening a narrow slit through the drapes to see the freeway just beyond the parking lot.

He looked at the orange pill bottle and read SAMANTHA WATERS on the side. He ripped the label off and stuffed it into his pocket.

No IDs. Nothing that could identify them. That was the rule. That was part of what was going to keep them alive.

Her bag was still in his hands. He unzipped it fully and started to unwrap all of her clothes, one item at a time, holding them up to the lamp and letting his fingers explore the seams.

How had they found them in Northridge?

The location was secure, he was sure of that. No one knew about the safe house, and yet they’d shown up, just hours after he and Samantha had fled her house and took sanctuary in their Northridge location. It was one-half a duplex that one of Ryder’s associates owned and kept vacant for situations just like this one.

Ryder and the woman were being tracked. Somehow.

His car was clean, or they’d have found him a week ago. Same with his clothes and guns. He’d ditched their cell phones the moment he arrived at Samantha’s place, so they weren’t being tracked that way. That left the rest of the woman’s possessions, whatever was in her bag or on her body.

He could hear her stirring on the bed behind him. He turned to see her starting to stand. "Careful.”

"I’m fine,” she said, the quiet coarseness of her voice indicating otherwise. She shook her head and let the vibration trickle down the rest of her body. "When it happens, it’s like I can’t breathe. Can’t move.”

She sat back down on the edge of the bed and glanced towards the phone. "I need to call Maya.”

"Not yet. Not until we’re secure.”

"I have to. I have to know she’s okay.”

"When we’re secure, the next time we move, we’ll get a clean phone and you can call.”

"I need to know, John. What if these people are coming after her?”

"Then a phone call isn’t going to stop them.”

He knew the words were the wrong ones the moment they came out of his mouth. It was confirmed by the way Samantha’s face tightened.

"What I mean is—”

"You’re an asshole.” Her face hardened, and her eyes filled with salty water.

He let a moment pass and then said, simply and quietly, "I promised I would keep you alive. I’ll keep her alive, too. The safest thing we can do for her now is keep her as far from us as possible.”

He waited for a tear to roll down her cheek, but she held them back. For the first time, she seemed to notice her bag still in his hands. "What are you doing with my clothes?”

"Checking them.”

"For what?”

"Tracking device.” He pointed to her body and waved his hand up and down. "I need to check all of that, too.”

He threw her the bag. "Get changed. Bring me what you’re wearing.”

She shook her head and moved towards the bathroom.

"Samantha,” Ryder said, "I need... everything.”

She glanced at him and closed the bathroom door.

He settled in by the window again, taking in the late evening sun leaking through the slit in the curtains. He reached into his bag and picked up his Heckler and Koch USP .40 handgun and felt the momentum change within him. With the steel in his grip, he wasn’t hiding behind the window curtain.

He was waiting.

The bathroom door creaked open, and Samantha emerged in a pair of blue jeans and a loose grey cotton t-shirt. No bra. She had known what he meant by "everything.”

She handed him her clothes and he took them, laying the handgun down on his lap. He held her shirt up to the light, ran his fingers up and down her capris pants, and inspected her bra and panties.

"Satisfied?” she said behind him.

There had to be something he was missing, something he was overlooking. The duplex in Northridge couldn’t have been compromised, there’s no way the men with guns could’ve known about it in advance, or had any idea that Ryder would take Samantha to that location. There had to be something.

"Can I have my clothes back now?”

He bunched up her items and turned to give them to her.

And then he saw it.

The satisfaction of being correct was swallowed up quickly by a dreadful wave of urgency.

"What are you looking at?”

"Your earrings. Take them off.”

Samantha quickly removed the backings from both of the gold studs and handed them to Ryder.

He rolled them both in the palm of his hand and knew he was right. One earring was the tiniest bit bigger than the other.

He placed the gold stud on the nightstand and cracked it with the butt of his gun. With its siding opened, he exposed the smallest of microchips hidden within a casing less than five millimeters thick.

"Water,” Ryder said and motioned towards the sink. Samantha moved quickly, and he knew she was starting to feel the charge too, the dreadful urgency filling the room. She came back with a plastic cup of water.

He dropped the earring into the cup and listened for the quiet sizzle-pop that let him know the board had been shorted and the device was no longer active.

"What does this mean?” Samantha asked.

"It’s a tracer. That’s how they found us so quickly in Northridge.”

"I know that,” Samantha said. "What does that mean now? Can they find us?”

Ryder stared at the device as it lay still and silenced on the bottom of the plastic cup.

"A tracer this small,” Ryder said, "it can’t carry a signal very far. A few miles at the most. We might have stopped it before they could lock on.”

He was lying, trying to keep Samantha calm. He couldn’t risk her body falling apart with another panic attack.

One look at her face told him he hadn’t sold the lie. She said, "I don’t think we should wait around to find out.”

Ryder nodded. He grabbed his bag and helped her re-pack hers.

His senses were all on overdrive, the way they used to fire off in Iraq, alerting him that an enemy was nearby and that his life was in danger.

"What?” Samantha said.

Ryder looked above her, focusing on a sound coming from the roof. A shuffle.

It happened again. Low, dull, and wide. Spread out. He could visualize whoever that person was, lying prone against the rooftop and slowly shifting his body forward: elbows, waist, knees, feet. He must’ve approached from the rear of the motel. Ryder hadn’t checked for access roads back there, couldn’t have checked with Samantha barely walking as they got to their room.

It was an error. One they were going to have to pay for. He didn’t know how many had come for them this time. He only knew they wouldn’t survive inside this room.

The shuffle came again, letting Ryder know that whoever was on the roof, howevermany of them were on the roof, they were shifting into position to breach the room and fill it with gunfire.

"Stand by the door,” Ryder said in hushed tones. "Only watch me. When I motion for you to get to the truck, you trust me and you run and you don’t look back. You understand?”

She nodded.


SAMANTHA TOOK her position by the side of the door, her heart racing and her stomach turning over. She prayed the Rivotril pill she’d just taken would be enough. She wanted to vomit and scream and collapse, but she couldn’t do any of those things.

She had to watch him.

That’s what he’d said.

Watch him and stay alive.

Ryder moved to the door, and, without a moment of hesitation, swung it open and charged backwards out of the room, his gun aimed straight at the roofline.

Boom boom boom boom.

Every concussive blast made Samantha’s body contract, but she wouldn’t close her eyes, she couldn’t close her eyes, because she had to watch him and she had to stay alive, and she had to see Maya again.

A body fell from the roof and landed in the doorway in front of her, spattering the door and her grey cotton shirt with crimson dots. Boom boom boom.

Ryder raced back to the doorway, and Samantha got ready to run, hoping it was over, but he didn’t motion for her to move, so she stayed locked with her back against the wall. He quickly patted down the body, digging through its pockets, and then grabbed the assault rifle off of the fallen soldier, who was dressed completely in black from his boots to his helmet. Ryder didn’t fire the gun he collected, just pinned it under his arm and stepped backwards again, sweeping his gun in the air, left to right, right to left, then held the position a moment longer.

Finally, he motioned to her with his gun, run run run, and she ran, stumbling over the body in the doorway but regaining her footing and finding the burst of adrenaline to hold back the vomit and the fear and the dread.

She was following his instructions, and she was surviving.

He had told her to watch him, and she had.

He had told her to wait for his motion, and she had.

He had told her to run for the truck, and to not look back.

But she did look back, she had to look back, right before she reached the Bronco.

As she turned, she saw the body in the doorway again, and, draining from the rooftop like melting icicles at winter’s end, a stream of red pouring from four more dead soldiers.



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