One Week Later, 10:00 AM,
The White House Rose Garden, Washington, D.C.
Cole felt completely out of his element as he awkwardly stood next to the presidential podium in a tailored gray suit and black tie, staring down at the smiling Frannie and their fidgeting three children. Cole’s family sat in the first of many rows of folding chairs occupying the Rose Garden with dozens of government officials and a massive cadre of reporters. At his side stood Aaron, Nick, Sally, Delinda, Lou, Shane, and oddly, no Kevin.
Frannie mouthed the words, “Where is he?”
“Hello everyone,” the president said appearing from behind Cole, greeted by an assault of flashbulbs and clicks.
“Hello,” replied the audience in unison.
“Wow, what a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
The crowd nodded in agreement.
“Before we get started, I would like to take a moment this morning to honor someone who could not be here with us today because he made the ultimate sacrifice, not just for his country, but in the service of his countrymen.” Arnold looked over at Cole and prepared to step away from the podium. “Agent Hitchens, I think you wanted to say a few words about this hero?”
Cole smiled politely and positioned himself behind the presidential podium with a raised hand, attempting to temper the rumbling timbre of the media before it began to spiral out of control. “Please, no questions right now. Thank you! Thanks, ya’ll...” The young man put a hand on each side of the podium and looked around at his comrades, his family, and finally Christopher Biltmore’s family. He smiled politely and nodded at the elderly man and woman holding tissues to their eyes. “Thank you for that introduction, President Cao. Now, let me start by sayin’ I asked the President to allow me a few minutes this morning to talk to the nation. So, before we get down to business answerin’ you all’s questions regardin’ everything that transpired, let me tell everyone about Agent Christopher Biltmore. When you hear someone saying people don’t change, I want you all to think about my friend and partner, Agent Biltmore. Because he was the definition of change...in fact, at one point, he and I were at each other’s throats, but eventually we had each other’s backs. When someone says that all men are evil, I want you to think about Chris, because he was kind and selfless to a fault, literally giving his life to save people he had never even met.”
Cole felt the tears welling around his eyes as he looked down at Chris’ weeping mother and father. “...when people say that there is only darkness and no light left in the world... maybe at this moment, it might seem that way, now that Chris is no longer with us. However, when I look at the reason why my friend is gone, I see that this light shines even brighter because of what he did. Without his one moment of selfless sacrifice, I would not be looking down at the sweet faces of my children and my wife seated here with us today. Many thousands would not be hugging their children, eating breakfast, reading the paper, or kissing their significant others as they left for work. In fact, the world would probably be preparing for war.” Cole swept a hand back toward his friends on the stage. “Mr. and Mrs. Biltmore, none of us here can offer you words powerful enough to bring your son back, although I wish I could. We can only offer you our undying gratitude for sharing your son with the world. Because, without Chris’ sacrifice and without all of the other wonderful, brave, and selfless people standing here, not behind me, but with me, on this stage today, this day would be a much different day for everyone all over the world, and people would truly say, men don’t change, men are evil, and the light of good has been extinguished from the Earth. Thank you, my friend...”
Cole sputtered and attempted to regain his composure before speaking. “Um...sorry, folks. Thank you, Chris. Now it’s me that owes you, bud.”
President Cao wiped the corner of his eye and strode to the podium once more as Cole turned to walk away. He patted the Virginian on the shoulder. “Cole?”
“Don’t go anywhere, yet. Could you call your family up here for a moment?” the president asked.
Cole looked down at Frannie and the kids and waved them up. “C’mon, ya’ll” he said, generating a humorous rumble from the audience as Hunter and Raven ignored the the seriousness of the situation and jumped up onto the stage as if they owned it.
Frannie stood next to Cole in a bright yellow dress with Kaitlyn standing between them both wearing ribbons of blue in her hair that matched her own pretty outfit.
“We’re ready!” Arnold raised his hand in the air and waved at someone. He looked over the five people before him with a raised eyebrow.
“Sir, is there something wrong?” Cole asked.
“Yes...yes, there is. You know, Hitchen’s family, something just doesn’t look quite right,” the politician said, arms crossed and tapping a finger to his chin.
Hunter, Raven, and Kaitlyn looked at each other with confused expressions on their faces.
“Sir?” Cole inquired.
“I think you’re missing someone,” President Cao said as a U.S. Marine in formal dress emerged from the crowed carrying one fluffy, very excited Pekingese.
“Mr. Buttons!!!” Raven shouted as the soldier lowered the dog into her arms.
“Now, that looks right,” the president said.
Same Day, 10:00 AM,
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
“Hey, beach waiter man dude, bring me and the lady one more of those fruity, umbrella drinks, will ya?” Kevin asked, holding a $20 dollar bill in the air for the waiter to take. “Woowee, this is livin’ ain’t it, honey?” he asked wistfully, noticing how the white sandy beach faded into the practically unreal blue Caribbean water.
Cindy the x-ray technician adjusted the large round sunglasses on her sun kissed face and smiled. “Yeah, it sure is, Agent Monroe...erm, Kevin. Will you put some more suntan oil on me?”