Current day, 10:35 PM, just outside of Thompsonville, Virginia.
Frannie and her kids were startled awake as the door suddenly flew open with a bang. Mr. Buttons began barking hysterically from the foot of the bed at the man now standing in the darkened doorway. Hunter and Raven grabbed their mother, Kaitlyn a close second as he threw the light switch on, flooding the room with light.
“Come with me, now! We have to go, something’s gone wrong!” the man Frannie knew as Ben said.
“We are not goin’ anywhere with you, mister!” Kaitlyn shouted. “Where’s my daddy? You said...”
Ben exhaled and put his hands out before him to calm the family. “Listen, please, this is going to be hard for you to believe, but I am not a bad guy and your daddy, he’s not either. We have to go, right now. This is your only chance before Phil and the rest of his crew gets back.”
Franny gripped the frightened children hugging her around the waist. “I don’t know what kind of game you are playing, Ben, but...”
“Do you hear that? Hush!” Ben said putting a finger to his lips. “Shit, Phil’s back early!” he exclaimed and flicked off the light switch.
The lights of approaching vehicles reflected off the glass picture frames and other shiny objects in the small, dark bedroom.
“Please, Frannie, keep quiet and follow me unless you want your kids to die,” Ben whispered.
Frannie felt around blindly, placing her hands on her kids’ soft faces. “Let’s go, my sweets. Follow the man,” she said softly, ushering the kids from the bed and through the door.
Kaitlyn grabbed Mr. Buttons and tucked the small dog under her arm. She kept a hand securely over the animal’s face for good measure.
The stairs creaked under each foot, still Ben did not stop until they were on the bottom floor. Saying nothing, he indicated that Frannie should walk behind him and lead her children out the back door...quickly.
Frannie could see Ben remove the pistol from his belt and turn toward the front door, placing himself between her family and it. She was very confused.
The voices of several men and their squawking radios echoed from inside the house just as the small family made it into the edge of the dark woods. Frannie stopped and turned to look back at the house. She flinched as she saw several muzzle flashes briefly illuminate the dark windows matched with the pops of gunfire.
The back door suddenly flew open as the stutter of machine gun fire echoed through the hills.
“RUN!” Ben shouted.
Raven screamed as bullets pinged off something metallic hidden in the dark.
Another machine gun burped and another.
Ben turned and squeezed off two more shots. They evidently struck their intended target because the man yelled out and the muzzle flashes of his machine gun streaked skyward.
Ben ran until he caught up with Frannie, her kids, and Mr. Buttons and they all disappeared into the nighttime Appalachian woods.
“Bo, tell these idiots to stop shooting! Just let them go, someone could hit the damn dog!” Vick DeJue yelled, emerging from the house.
“Roger, Vick! Everyone hold your fire!” Bohannan barked into his throat mic. “Hold your fire!”
Quiet returned to the night, followed by the sounds of insects, as Vick began to pace in a circle. He ran his hands through his hair and then kicked a rusty old can lying on the ground. “Shit!”
“You alright, Vick?”
“Yeah, just wasn’t expecting that. Is anyone hit, Bo?”
Bohannan slung his rifle over his shoulder and peered out into the darkened woods. He shook his head, hocked, and then spat as he grasped the edges of his Kevlar vest. “Whoever that gunhappy hillbilly was, he was either a really great shot or damn lucky, but he managed to pop Curly.”
“Nah, Vick, he’s not dead. He got hit in the vest and in the shoulder. The bullet went straight through, so he’s gonna be fine. Nothin’ a little Kentucky mash and some time off won’t fix.”
“Regardless, we need to run his ass into town and get him looked at by a doctor at the medical clinic,” Vick said. “Alright, so, did any of you guys verify that the station wagon out front is the one from the house where I found the tracer? How about you, Blitz? You I.D. it?”
“Boss, hey, it’s Blitz,” came a voice over the walkie. “Yeah, I’m out by the car and it checks out. It’s the vehicle, alright. The plate is registered to that address you gave me, belongs to...um, one Benjamin C. Hitchens the DMV registration system says.”
“Yessir, Benjamin C. Hitchens.”
“Oh, I hope this is a goddamned joke,” Vick said.
“Sir?” Blitz asked.
“It’s nothing. Hopefully, it’s just a coincidence. Thanks, Blitz,” Vick said.
“No prob, boss.”
“I need you to run Curly into town. He needs to go to the doctor.”
“Roger that, boss,” Blitz replied with a squawk.
“Hey Vick, I found something! It’s kinda...I don’t know...weird,” shouted a shadowy figure of a man standing on the first story roof of the house.
Vick un-velcro’d a flashlight from his vest, clicked the activation button, and aimed the beam at a young African American man in black fatigues holding something in his hand. “What is it, Beamer?”
“Take a look at this,” Beamer said lifting a blue rug into the light.
“It’s got dog shit and piss all over it.”
“You found that up there on the roof?”
“What in the hell is going on around here?” Vick asked and put his fists in his sides. “Thanks, Beamer.”
“No problem,” the man replied. “Hey, Vick?”
“Yeah?” the security chief asked, turning around to shine the flashlight on the man once more.
“Do you think they were being held hostage, Vick?”
“Hostages? Really, Beamer? How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
“Because, there was a bunch of empty food packages and other stuff in the bedroom next to where I found this blue rug on the roof. Whoever they are, they must have been in there a couple of days at least judging by the amount of dog poo on that rug.”
Vick scratched his head and shut off the flashlight. “What a goddamned mess,” he muttered. “Alright, everyone find a spot in the house and get a couple of hours. We’ll search for them at daylight. Whoever they are, they aren’t going to get too far in the dark. Bo, you got first watch. Keep an eye on the vehicles and make sure no one sneaks in on us.”