When he was seven years old, Joe had been at the bank with his father. This bank just so happened to be the wrong place and the wrong time. Two masked men carrying large guns and bags burst through the door and ordered everyone to get on the floor and keep their heads to the ground. No one was to look up until told they could do so.
Of course, different people react in different ways to situations like these. Some people go into a blind panic, begin crying and beg not to be killed because "they've got so much to give," which, depending on how empathetic the bad guys of the situation are, usually results in their death anyway. Others freeze completely, unable to do anything and so are also usually people who end up dead, unless someone else is brave enough to pull them to the ground on their behalf. Another trait which (although rarer) is a characteristic in some people, is to remain completely calm, take everything as it comes and some may even find the courage to stand up to the villain of the situation.
Joe's father fell into the second category. So when the robbers burst in and ordered people to "get to the ground or be shot," Joe's father froze, fearing for both himself and his young son. He stood still, unable to move, and it appears that either no one there was brave enough to pull him to the ground, or more likely, everyone who was already on the ground had their faces buried in the worn grey carpet and could not see Joe's father still standing. Joe himself fell into the third category, meaning as soon as the robbers shouted their orders, he dropped to the ground and folded his hands over his head. Not knowing any better, he assumed that everyone else had done the same, so shut his eyes tightly and hoped it would all be over soon. He didn't keep them shut for long though, he opened them again when he heard two sharp bangs, and someone slumping to the floor near him. Peering out from beneath his arms, Joe could see the unmoving outline of his father lying face down on the floor amongst the other people, who had folded themselves neatly to be as small as possible and were all breathing heavily. At this point, it became clear that Joe was no ordinary seven year old. Any other child would have begun sobbing, or maybe shouted out "dad!" in a weak, helpless voice. Joe, however, took a few moments to come to his senses then slowly shuffled his way (still folded to the ground) towards his father. When he reached him, Joe quietly whispered into his father's ear, knowing what being too loud could result in.
"Dad, wake up. Say something. Anything. Please, get up. Please?"
When he got no response at all, Joe gently laid his head against his father's back. He was desperately hoping he would feel the rise and fall of his father's breathing pressing regularly against his cheek, but at the same time, he guessed that nothing would happen at all. He guessed correctly.
Luckily, Joe, however abnormal, was a very clever child. He came to the conclusion that the robbers would be too busy stuffing their bags with money to notice a small child moving around. Slowly and quietly, he shuffled his way backwards until he could get into his father's jean pocket without being noticed. He quietly slipped his father's mobile out of his pocket and covering the phone to muffle the beeping noise, held the mute button until a loudspeaker with a line through it appeared on the screen. He then quickly and quietly dialled 999 into the keypad and called it. At exactly the right moment, the two masked men appeared announcing that they were going into the back of the bank to open the safe, that they had counted us all and that if any of us had so much as moved by the time they got back, they'd shoot everyone in the room. The robbers disappeared into the back and seizing the opportunity, Joe pressed the phone against his ear and quickly spoke to the operator in a hushed voice, (like he'd seen it done on TV a million times before) telling them his name, which bank was being robbed, how many other people were there, how many robbers there were and various other pieces of information. He paused, looked at his father, then quickly told the operator that they'd need an ambulance too. He hung up as soon as he'd been assured that the police and an ambulance were on their way, pulled the phone up his sleeve, and resumed his original folded position.
A short while later, the two men arrived back into the main room of the bank, with bags stuffed to the brim with wads of bank notes. They were halfway through re-counting their hostages when the wail of numerous police cars could be heard from outside the building. The robbers looked at each other and panicked, sprinting into the back of the bank to look for an alternative exit then back into the front to see if one had magically appeared. Joe waited with baited breath wondering if they were going to kill everyone because someone had dared to phone the police, but breathed a sigh of relief when the robbers hastily came to the conclusion that an emergency alarm had been activated by breaking the safe. Before the men could do anything however, there was a splintering crunch as the door flew open and slammed against the wall behind, an armed police officer silhouetted in the frame. Six armed officers came through the door, pointing their guns at the robbers and ordering them to drop their weapons and the bags. The men did as they were told immediately; they knew there was no escaping this fate so didn't bother trying. As soon as the men were unarmed, one of the officers shouted back to his colleagues outside the door. Four more police officers came through, followed by two paramedics. Two of the officers handcuffed the robbers and led them out of the door and into a waiting police van, while the other two ushered the terrified hostages through the door and sat them outside, making sure they were alright.
Joe stared into the bank while the two paramedics crouched over his dad. Watching closely, he felt his heart drop as one of them shook their head pulled a blanket over his dad's body. He sat in stunned silence, tears welling up in his eyes. His dad couldn't be dead. He just couldn't. They had never really been all that close, but what was Joe going to do without him? He was only seven, hardly an appropriate age to begin living independently. One of the police officers who saw him staring into the building came rushing over with a blanket, which she promptly wrapped around Joe and led him to a police SUV where he sat with his legs dangling outside the open door. She crouched down to his height and spoke to him in a voice which was clearly reserved for young children.
"Hiya pet, my name's Kat, what's yours?"
Joe stared at her with tearful blue eyes for a moment before replying.
"Joseph Henry O'Branaghan, but you can call me Joe."
The police officer smiled at him with perfect teeth and keeping the same, sickly sweet voice, spoke to him again.
"OK pet. And where are your mummy and daddy?"
Officer Kat watched as Joe's face dropped.
"Mum died just after I was born and dad's in there." he said quietly, pointing into the bank.
Joe watched as Officer Kat's face dropped.
"Oh." She said quietly, before standing up, going over to her colleagues and talking to them in a hushed voice, looking over to Joe every so often.
While sitting on his own in the police SUV in his borrowed blanket, Joe couldn't help but notice a tall man in a black suit and tie, with neatly combed hair and dark glasses staring at him. He was nearly sure that this man had been in the bank, but like Joe, he seemed remarkably calm given the circumstances. The man watched carefully as the police officers moved away to find a phone on which they could ring social services and discuss Joe's case.
As soon as they were gone, the man came towards Joe with what seemed impossibly long strides, then when he reached the SUV, he crouched down casually, one arm hanging over his knee. They studied each other for a moment before the man took off his dark glasses to reveal a deep scar that ran down his left temple and cheek bone, before he spoke in a heavy American accent.
"Hey kiddo. Listen, that was some awesome work you did in the bank there. I ain't ever seen a kid as young as you stay so collected through an ordeal like that. I had the same idea as you did, but, when I saw you were already on it? I let you work away. Impressive stuff. You may just have saved the lives of everyone in that room. That's somethin' to be proud of kid, believe me." The man smiled at Joe, waiting for a response. Joe stared back, unsmiling.
"Not everyone." He replied coldly. "My dad's still in there."
The man turned and looked into the bank, seeing nothing but a body with a blanket over it and two paramedics writing out something in a file.
"Oh. That was your pop, huh? Sorry for your loss kiddo, really I am. I know how ya feel. What's your name, kid?"
Joe sighed and looked at the man, still unsmiling, but decided not to be as cold to him.
"Joe. What's yours?"
The man laughed. Joe was confused. Why was he laughing? Surely the name 'Joe' couldn't be all that funny.
"I'm Agent Robert Jolensen." he said with a smile.
Suddenly, Joe became a lot more interested in the stranger.
"You're an agent? Of what?"
"An organisation called the Central Intelligence Agency."
Joe stared, open mouthed.
"...You work for the CIA?" he asked, clearly impressed.
"That I do kid. In fact, it's a little more specific than that. I work for a certain unit within the CIA, called the IFGPA. It stands for the 'Institute For Gifted Potential Agents'."