Current day, 06:35 AM, Mount Silver, Virginia.
“Anyone home?” Cole shouted as he opened the front door of the small rental house on the outskirts of Mount Silver. He frowned in understanding...his question was entirely rhetorical. The man could clearly see there were no other vehicles in the rutted driveway of the tree encircled, several-acre yard. Regardless, Cole still hoped his family might have been here.
Cole had rented the two-bedroom, factory-built home and instructed Biltmore and Delinda to bring his family here after the op was over... no matter how things transpired. It was also their rendezvous location in the event the three of them lost communication with one another.
“Where are you guys?” he wondered to himself, setting the backpack of documents down on the kitchen counter. He extracted the bag’s contents onto the cracked white Formica countertop and quickly sorted through the pile.
“No phone...Shit! And I left my backpack of tools in the damn Prius along with that burner cell!” Cole muttered, angry with himself for being that sloppy. He surveyed the kitchen. “No phone on the wall either. How could I have been so absentminded?”
He exhaled and returned to foraging through the bag’s contents. The digging stopped as Cole’s hands landed on the cracked housing of the broken laptop. He lifted the SUV tracking computer and eyed it sadly. “It’s not like you had any kind of internet connection anyways, genius...”
Cole wanted to fling the machine across the room, but stopped. He chose instead to calmly set the broken device aside, telling himself he could always pull the hard drive out of the thing and give it to Delinda to decrypt when she got there. It would give her something to do when he took off and did what needed to be done with that G.I.Z.M.O. weapon.
Thumbing through the paperwork, Cole nodded his head in slight satisfaction. Thankfully, the majority of the paper documents were intact and readable. Cole slowly sifted through the last of the paperwork until he located the file for Subject 42. Retrieving a chair from beneath its matching black and white café table, he laid the folder in front of him and sat down.
“Top Secret: Project G.I.Z.M.O. Subject 42. Breed: Pekingese. Age: Seven months. Payload...”
Cole poked a finger through a hole in the paper, wiggled it, and shook his head in frustration. “Dammit, you would know there would be a bullet hole...” Cole muttered, flipping the page back and forth to examine it. He knew what the payload was; nonetheless, he would have preferred to know how powerful the damn device in his kids’ possession actually was...not that it would really matter if it went off. Cole shuddered and continued to read.
“G.I.Z.M.O. – Government Issued Zoological Mobile Ordinance. Research Project G.I.Z.M.O. An attempt to gauge the efficacy of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) delivery systems utilizing zoological carriers. Radii’s recent advances in nano-tech weaponry have made it possible to greatly reduce the size of WMD’s. These amazing innovations, the capability to embed micro-ordinances inside of common household animals (note: pets), improve ease of transportability...”
“Alright, that’s all well and good, but how do you disable the damn thing?” He scanned over a few more pages and then stopped. “Damn.”
Cole lay the paper down in front of him as the dull sound of an engine slowly filled the room.
Cole raised an eyebrow, observing the shadow of a man’s head pass by a window.
“BOOM!” The kitchen door flew open followed by the pop and hiss of a CS “tear gas” canister rolling across the linoleum floor.
Cole grabbed a nearby kitchen rag and placed it over his face.
“You are surrounded, Cole Hitchens! Come out with the dog!”
Cole darted down the hall away from the smoking can and stopped, his exit blocked by a tall man in a gas mask. The shadowy human obstruction was holding the familiar G-36 used by Radii’s security team.
“Down on the ground!” the mask commanded; his rifle trained on Cole.
Cole quickly tossed the rag into the air. As the man glanced up, Cole shot forward and quickly dropped to a knee, planting his left fist into the enemy’s groin.
The man screamed, pulling the rifle’s trigger.
Cole’s right hand shot upward, sending the sputtering weapon skyward, an eruption of bullets spraying from the barrel. He winced, his ears ringing from the loud discharge.
“Everyone, move in!” shouted a voice from outside.
Cole’s chest burned, his eyes hurt, and watered uncontrollably, but he knew he would not live to see his kids again if he gave in to the gas’ painful effects. He grabbed the man’s boots and pulled his enemy’s legs from under him, sending the man crashing to his back. Cole shot forward, chopped at the guard’s throat with an open hand, and snatched up the assault rifle freed from the writhing man’s fingers.
Scrambling from the floor and down the wood-paneled hall, Cole dove into the bathroom. The sound of boots thudded throughout the house as Cole snatched a towel from a towel rack and quickly shoved it into the toilet. He lifted the dripping cloth to his face and wiped it over his eyes...it was only a slight relief. Regardless, it would have to do.
“He went that way!” coughed the soldier lying on the floor clutching his neck.
The first security officer to sweep his rifle into the bathroom caught a bullet underneath his chin. He began to tumble backward as Cole leapt from a crouch and caught the lifeless body, pulling it to him. Swinging the deceased guard around, Cole stepped into the hall with the G-36 tucked under the dead man’s arm and fired. Bullets from another Radii security team member’s rifle spattered into Cole’s human shield and then quieted as the CIA agent’s bullets found their target...the space between the lenses of the man’s gas mask.
The floor creaked behind him.
Cole spun and fired as a bullet whizzed by his cheek. Another masked adversary fell to the ground, devoid of life.
“BANG! BANG! BANG!”
Cole flinched as he recognized the familiar report of an Uzi followed by two dull thuds.
“Cole, you alright?”
“Delinda? Don’t come in...tear gas!”
“Yeah, I figured that was probably going to be the case when I saw these assholes wearing gasmasks!” the woman replied from the home’s front porch.
“Nope. You?” Cole let the corpse in his arms fall to the black and white linoleum floor of the bathroom.
“I’m fine! Are you gonna make it?”
Cole stumbled back down the hall toward the kitchen. “Yeah, Del, but my eyes hurt! Damn throat’s on fire, too!” Cole froze and glanced down at the remaining guard lying on the ground.
The man raised his hands toward Cole in surrender. “No, please...I...”
Cole pulled the trigger on the H&K and stepped over the twitching body. He was fresh out of compassion. “Goddammit, I hate tear gas.”
“Where’s Frannie? The kids?”
“I told them to wait in the Jeep...c’mon, we need to get out of here. I imagine the rest of their team is close behind,” Delinda said, appearing in the doorway.
Cole looked over at his comrade and nodded in agreement. “I need you to give me the dog, Del, and get my family as far out of these hills as possible!”
“What’s going on?”
“Just need you to do it, alright?”
“Where’s Chris?” Cole asked, wiping his red, watering eyes with his forearm. He crossed the living room, readied the rifle in his hands, and slowly opened the front door of the house to glance outside. He relaxed. “All clear.”
Delinda waited until Cole turned to face her. “He stayed behind at the cabin to give us time to get away after another group of these Radii assholes showed up. These guys are everywhere...”
“And? Where’s Chris?” Cole asked taking in a lungful of the clean, mountain air wafting in through the open doorway.
Delinda shook her head and looked down.
Cole closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the door frame. He pounded his fist on the wall. “Goddamn it!”
“Yeah, I’m so sorry, Cole...I know you two were like brothers. Chris would have followed you into hell...”
“I know, but... what about you, Del? You and Chris...you were close,” Cole responded shakily. He wiped his eyes once more, unable to tell where the gas-induced tears ended and the real ones began.
“We both knew the risks.”
“Ain’t right, Del and you can’t lie to me that you’re not hurting,” Cole said.
“Hey, why do they want your kids’ ugly dog? In fact, why do you?” Delinda asked, attempting to change the subject. “Is it something to do with that weapons facility?”
Cole wiped his eyes once more. “Yeah...in fact, you probably won’t believe it, but that thing is a weapon. That’s what the Chinese are after.”
“What is? That dog?”
“Seriously? A Pekingese weapon? What kind of weapon?” Delinda asked standing in the open kitchen doorway, confusion riddling her face.
“Well, it’s a...”
“Daddy!” Raven shouted, blindly running in past Delinda.
“Wait, Raven! Stop!” Cole shouted.
The small girl tumbled over the pair of corpses dressed in black and shrieked.
“Get her out of here, Delinda!” Cole barked. “I’m right behind you.”
Delinda carefully lifted the weeping child and carried her out of the house.
Frannie opened the door of the Jeep to take Raven. “Honey, I told you to stay in the truck! Are you alright?”
“Uh huh...” Raven sniffed and then shuddered, burying her face in her mother’s chest.
Cole sighed; this was not how he envisioned all of this going down. He hated himself, knowing that he managed to let his family become so heavily involved with everything. Cole strode from the house to where Frannie sat in the Jeep with Raven. Hunter was next to Kaitlyn in the backseat. She held the Pekingese.
“What’s the matter, Daddy? Why are you crying?”
“Tear gas.” Lie.
“Oh,” Cole’s oldest daughter said.
“Katydid, I need the dog.”
“I can’t say, sweetheart, but I need him right now. It’s important.” Cole noted Hunter no longer glared at him. Instead, his expression was now one of interest...almost as if his father were some sort of county fair novelty. “Are you okay, son?”
“You’re a spy?”
“Something like that,” the man replied.
“Cole Hitchens...you could have told me. I wouldn’ta told anyone,” Frannie said with a frown. She began to cry. “I...uh, we thought you were...”
Cole walked around to the open passenger window and placed a hand to Frannie’s face, wiping a tear from her cheek. “We’ll talk later, but right now, you guys have to go. It’s not safe around here.”
Frannie grabbed Cole’s hand and pulled him to her. The woman stared intently into his watery, crimson-rimmed eyes. “Now, you listen to me, Cole Hitchens. Don’t you up and get killed on me, you hear?” she whispered. “You finish this and come find us!”
Cole nodded in affirmation, forcing a smile. “Here, you guys are going to need this,” he said, handing her a stack of hundred dollar bills. “Complements of the Chinese government.”
Frannie looked at the bundle of money in astonishment. “The MSS?”
Cole looked surprised. “No, Chinese Red Army, but damn good guess.”
The woman smiled. “I heard Ben, erm, Chris say that.”
“Ah, well, take the kids someplace nice,” Cole said. “...and stay low.”
Frannie smiled weakly. “That about covers your child support for a few years.”
Cole returned the grin and backed from the Jeep. He waved at Delinda to go.
She nodded, “Richmond, Cole?”
“No. Someplace northwest from here. Drive fast, Del...just in case...”
“You’ll need this,” Delinda said, tossing Cole a pre-paid cellphone over the front of the SUV.
“Thanks,” Cole replied and shoved the device in a pocket.
Delinda smiled, patted the hood, and then climbed in behind the steering wheel. “Alright, say bye, you guys!”
“Please, come with us! We just got you back, daddy!” Kaitlyn shouted through the open window.
“I know, Katydid, it’s only one more day, a couple more at the most,” Cole replied. “If I don’t handle this, they’ll never leave us alone. Now, please, hand me the dog.”
“Why do you need Death Monger?” Hunter asked.
“Death Monger? I thought it was Mr. Buttons?” Cole asked with his eyebrows raised. He glanced over at Frannie.
“Don’t ask,” she said, tears returning to her eyes.
Kaitlyn lifted the dog through the Jeep’s window and handed him to her father. “Here...please keep him safe. We all love him!”
Cole felt his heart sink as he removed the panting animal from Kaitlyn’s hands. “I can’t promise anything, he’s a spy dog and his work is super dangerous. Now, you guys go on and get out of here. We’ll catch up.”
Hunter’s eyes turned to saucers. “Spy dog...wow.”
Raven sniffed. “Bye daddy. I love you.”
Cole felt a lump in his throat. He hated to say the words. “Bye bye, honey pots...I love you all. It’s just a couple more days, okay?”
The little girl nodded and with a sniff, snuggled into her mother.
Delinda waved once more, backed the Jeep away from the house, and then drove the vehicle down the rural road until it disappeared behind the trees.
The dog wriggled in Cole’s hands. “Gotta pee, huh. spy dog?” he asked and then sat the animal down.
Mr. Buttons trotted over toward a flowerbed filled with rose bushes and lifted a rear leg. He finished, kicked at the grass, and returned to Cole.
“Good boy,” Cole said as he picked up the canine and walked toward the black Radii Defense System’s SUV. He opened the passenger door and gently sat the animal down on the brown leather seat. The Pekingese turned in a circle a couple of times and lay down.
Cole re-entered the house and stowed the G.I.Z.M.O. documents away in the backpack. He then retrieved a pistol and G-36 rifle from one of the Radii guards along with a few clips of ammo. Tossing the gear into the SUV’s back seat, Cole took a minute or so to locate the vehicle’s telematics and tracking device and cut its wiring harness. He stood and brushed himself off.
Opening the passenger door, Cole looked down at the fluffy, dangerous animal lying peacefully in the seat. He lifted the dog’s face and gazed into its large round eyes, slowly removing a knife from his belt. “You are so ugly you’re cute, you know it? You make it really hard for me to do this...”
Mr. Buttons wagged his tail happily as Cole loomed over him.