Current day, 06:15 AM, several miles northwest of Thompsonville, Virginia.
Ben turned the cabin door’s handle. The door creaked open and he stepped inside followed by Frannie, Raven, and Hunter.
“C’mon, Buttons, come here, boy!” Kaitlyn called, standing with her back to the doorway. She snickered as she watched the little dog bound across the cabin’s front yard with its tongue extending from its mouth. It bounced onto the rough-cut planks of the sagging front porch where Kaitlyn scooped the dog up into her arms. She walked in the cabin with Mr. Buttons and found her mom in an armed standoff with another woman. A dark-haired beauty seated at a table across the room; cigarette hanging from her mouth.
“Who are you?” Frannie asked.
“Agent Delinda Thorton, CIA. You must be Cole’s ex?” the pretty woman with dark lipstick replied, exhaling a lungful of smoke. She dotted her cigarette out into an ashtray filled with cigarette butts. It mimicked an ashy white bouquet. “You can put that weapon away, Frannie. I would never hurt you or your kids.”
“Very well.” Delinda rested her Isreali-made Uzi on the table next to the ashtray and lifted her hands. “See, I’m not your enemy...your turn.”
Frannie relaxed and lowered the pistol. “Okay, now tell me what the hell is going on,” Frannie commanded, pointing at Ben.
“My real name is Christopher Biltmore. Cole, Delinda, and I worked for a top-secret task force under the CIA’s Special Activities Division. We disrupted human traffickers moving women and children in and out of Afghanistan.”
“Wow, you’re really CIA!” Hunter blurted out. “So, my dad is a spy?”
Delinda stood and offered her chair to Frannie. “Have a seat, Mrs. Hitchens. In fact, you all should sit down.”
“Why?” Frannie asked.
Ben inhaled. “Because it appears that Agent Hitchens, erm, Cole is currently M.I.A. He’s missing and we can’t confirm his status.”
Frannie covered her mouth. “What are you saying? Is Cole...” Frannie pulled her youngest daughter to her and covered Raven’s ears. “...dead?”
“Is he?” Kaitlyn asked, a tear rolling down her cheek. She hugged Mr. Buttons to her chest in anticipation of the reply.
Delinda shook her head. “No, we’re not sure of that. However, we do need to leave here quickly to make our way to our rendezvous point. If he is still alive, that is where he will come to find you guys.”
“So, he doesn’t know we’re here, then?” Frannie asked.
“No, Cole and I decided that this was the way it had to be. The less he knew, the safer you would be,” Chris replied. “This was just a backup safe house I arranged in case something happened.”
“...and then something happened.” Delinda added.
Frannie shook her head. “Why? What is all of this about?”
Chris looked over at Frannie. “When we were in Afghanistan, Mike, our FBI tag-along, had a run-in with a Chinese MSS agent...”
“MSS?” Frannie interrupted.
“Ministry of State Security.” Delinda replied. “They’re the Chinese version of the CIA.”
“Don’t apologize, Frannie...I know this is a lot to take in.” Chris said as he shook his head. “So, anyways, this piece of crap was selling Chinese orphans and weapons to various Afghani tribal leaders in exchange for stolen U.S. military tech and intel. When Mike brought the piece of shit down, he had a smartphone on him that Delinda was able to hack. Oddly, one of the emails on the thing referred to an experimental weapon of mass destruction lab operating near Thompsonville, Virginia. The message was very cryptic, but it indicated that whatever was going on there, it was something big and of huge interest to the Communist regime. Cole immediately ran the info up to Langley. Basically, HQ yawned. Maybe there’s something going on there that they’re either aware of or approved of. At any rate, Cole then requested to be transferred home. He grew concerned that you guys might not be safe and didn’t like the idea of some dark entity operating without regulation in his little slice of Heaven. Regardless, his request didn’t go over too well with Langley and they refused, telling him that there were no positions open for him back home.”
“So, what did daddy do?” Kaitlyn asked.
“What Cole Hitchens always does...he did what he wanted and went AWOL, disappearing from Afghanistan, then suddenly re-appeared right here in Langley’s back yard. Aaron, our boss, knew it would happen. He even told Langley that Cole and the rest of us needed a vacation after our last op. It’s been a very long vacation...”
“That’s why he was keeping his distance from us?” Frannie asked.
“Yeah, in fact, Delinda and I were sent in here by Aaron to keep an eye out for Cole. That’s why we both took jobs with his old friend Kevin down at the Roadhouse, anticipating that Cole would eventually reach out to Kevin for assistance.” Chris laughed. “But, that’s not how it went down...it was kind of the other way around.”
“Why, though? Why would the CIA just let Cole leave like that?” Frannie asked.
“It was Aaron. He let Cole go...said he wasn’t going to allow it to happen again on his watch. Whatever that meant. At any rate, Aaron put the CHR program on hold indefinitely.”
Mr. Buttons ears shot up and the small dog suddenly began barking.
Chris and Delinda glanced at each other.
Biltmore shot over to the cabin’s windows. “Shit!” he exclaimed.
“What is it, Ben...dammit, Chris?” Frannie asked nervously.
“Whoever those guys are, they’ve found us again. Del, take the Jeep and get them out of here. Get to the rendezvous point. I’ll try to keep these jokers busy.”
“Let’s go! Everyone out the back!” Delinda commanded, lifting her Uzi from the table. She snatched up a heavy military backpack lying on the cabin’s wood plank floor and ran toward the back of the cabin, pausing in the doorway.
“I got this...I’m right behind you,” Chris said, returning Delinda’s gaze. “Now, go!”
“You better,” she replied and bolted out the door.
Current day, 06:25 AM, somewhere northwest of Thompsonville, Virginia.
“Yeah Doc?” the RDS Security Chief replied into his cellphone.
“It seems someone broke in the lab and made off with several documents.”
“So, what does the security footage show?” Vick asked, staring through the windshield into the misty forest surrounding the SUV.
“Nothing. Security was disabled. Video feed was offline.”
“How is that possible?”
“Vance and Dunham say it was the Chinese.”
“They’re lying. They have to be.”
“Are you sure about that?” the scientist asked. “Not only did they kill the security guard, but they knocked out Del Toro, Brunswick, and Vance, shooting Dunham in the process.”
“I believe I know who it was and it wasn’t the Chinese. It was this guy I met one time over in Afghanistan named Cole Hitchens. It seems his family lives around here.”
“I think you might need to reconsider your theory, Vick. I sent Team Four out to look for evidence regarding who could have infiltrated the building and they found something rather unexpected. It seems there was a gunfight between Chinese Red Army soldiers and several hunters about a mile to the east of here...bodies everywhere. Thankfully no locals discovered it or we would have been on the news. I’ve already had everything cleaned up.”
“Okay, I have to admit then that I really have no clue as to what is going on, Doc.”
“I’m making the call, Vick. I’m going to shut everything down and have the rest of the G.I.Z.M.O. units moved to our other facility to the west. We can’t afford an investigation when the locals start asking questions about their missing loved ones.”
“What about 42?”
“You still need to find it and get it to DC. The deadline is approaching,” Dr. Royal replied.
“Oh, hey Vick?”
“Something else you won’t believe, but somebody shit in my office and cooked it with the heater...”
“Oh, that’s...um...messed up.” Vick covered his mouth to stifle a laugh.
“It’s damned awful in there...”
“Vick look up ahead...it’s a cabin,” Bohannan interrupted, sitting forward and pointing a finger at a rustic structure topping the hill.
“Gotta go, Doc. We might have found something.”