Current day, 9:30 PM, Radii Weapons Systems laboratory, Thompsonville, Virginia.
“...alright Phil, thanks,” Kevin said, closing the clamshell cellphone. “Dipshit’s got three guys with him and each one of them are gonna take up a different position around the corners of the compound like we talked about. They only agreed to do it for thirty grand apiece.”
“You know these fellas, then, Kev?”
“Just Phil,” Kevin replied. “But I imagine I might have seen ’em around.”
“That’s reassuring, but I thought you were hand-selecting our support?” Cole inquired.
"Support? Damn you and your fancy words,” Kevin said and then shrugged. “Look, Cole, I’m working with what I got here.”
“What about the bikers? I thought we talked about reaching out to them, first?”
“I did,” Kevin shot back. “I made a call to the VFW guys like you wanted, but they had their weekly bingo night thing going on down at the Baptist church. I dropped it at that point.”
“So, you didn’t tell them what we were up to, then?” Cole inquired.
“Nah, I changed subjects real quick. I didn’t say anything more than we were lookin’ for people to play paintball with. I figured questions might get asked if the ladies down at the church started wonderin’ why their games were stopped last minute. Mutt probly thought I was just drunk again, with me askin’ about playing nighttime paintball and all, so I don’t think he thought nuthin’ about it.”
“Good,” Cole said with a nod of understanding. “Alright, so what about these guys with Phil, I’m assuming they’re armed?” he asked, a slight indication of concern in his voice.
“Yeah, huntin’ rifles with nightvision scopes...just to keep an eye out for us,” Kevin said with a lop-sided grin. “They ain’t exactly the binocular, birdwatchin’ types you know?”
“Right. Well, since this is your deal, their pay is coming out of your money,” Cole said, pointing a finger at his partner. “Mine’s going to my kids and since I’m takin’ as big a risk as you, it levels the pay a bit.”
“Fine. Even though I think I’ve done most of the hard work here,” Kevin replied and opened the car door. Grabbing the handle at the base of the chair, Kevin tilted the driver’s-side seat-back forward and slide it toward the steering wheel.
“Let’s just hope Phil’s regulars don’t screw up and shoot somebody needlessly,” Cole said as he leaned inside the Prius’ trunk to extract his backpack of tools.
“Nah, these boys are bear hunters. They don’t spook easy.”
“Says the guy that don’t actually know anything about ‘em,” Cole said with a raised eyebrow. “Alright, let’s hope you know what you’re talkin’ about. Well, grab the weapons and let’s do this.”
“On it!” Kevin acknowledged, withdrawing the firearms from the backseat. “Ready to go, sir!”
“Bluetooth headset and walkie?”
“Roger, roger cap’n Cole!” Kevin said, fumbling with the guns in his arms to manage a sarcastic salute.
Cole cut his eyes at the man. “Then let’s get to it...”
“Yes, honey? What is it?” Frannie asked Raven.
“I know, we all are, baby. The man said he would bring us back some food when they were finished doin’ whatever it was they had to do tonight,” Frannie said, managing to maintain a cool outward appearance for the kids, however, she was raging on the inside. She and her children had been cooped up in this hot upstairs room with very little to eat and provided with only the occasional trip to the bathroom. A shower or bath had been completely out of the question.
“Okay, Buttons, I’m coming!” Kaitlyn said, noticing the Pekingese beginning to bounce around next to the window.
“Katydid, you best be careful out there on that old roof. That dog ain’t worth you goin’ to no hospital,” her mother said, the words laced with seriousness.
“Yessum, mom” the older girl replied as she struggled to lift the wood-paned window that led out onto the roof. It was the one place that the poor dog could go to relieve itself. Kaitlyn lifted the small dog and set it just outside onto the slightly angled roof that covered the front porch. “There you go, Buttons.”
The little canine stuck out its tongue and happily trotted over to a dingy blue rug lying just a few feet away from the window. It had soiled the square piece of shag carpet only a few hours after the family had begun their incarceration. The whole‘rug on the roof’idea was Hunter’s. He noted that the damage was done and now the dog had someplace it had marked, a spot it now recognized as a location to take a leak or do something that would have made the situation in the room much worse. It was a win-win for everyone, not just for the dog.
“Come on Buttons, come here, boy!” Kaitlyn said patting the top of her legs as the dog lowered its leg and kicked at the carpet, attempting to bury the evidence. The four-legged animal bounded over to Kaitlyn and was scooped up into the girl’s arms. “Better now?” she asked and then set the dog back inside on the dull wood floor. Its paws made a clacking sound as it trotted away from her toward Raven who was quietly playing with an old rag doll she found lying in the corner of the room earlier in the day.
“Hey Buttons, you wanna play with me and Gretchen?” the small girl asked.
“Gretchen? Where’d you get that stupid name from, Raven?” Hunter asked, shifting his attention away from the book he was trying to read in the dimly lit room.
“Boy, that’s enough of your mouth. Raven ain’t hurtin’ anything and you are gonna go and pester her? Now, leave that baby alone and mind your business!” Frannie said gruffly.
“Sorry, momma,” Hunter said, lowering his head with his eyes still on Raven. He squinted and pursed his lips angrily when he saw his little sister staring back at him with a‘a-ha you got told’look. “Hrmph,” he said under his breath and returned to reading the yellow, dog-eared copy of Treasure Island he snagged from the bathroom on his last trip.
Kaitlyn snuggled up next to her mother on the squeaky bed, curling her legs under her. “Hey, what do you think they’re keepin’ us for, momma?”
Frannie put her left arm around her daughter, gently pulling the girl to her, the bed’s springs creaking with every movement. She lightly slid a finger across Kaitlyn’s forehead and brushed several strands of dark hair from the girl’s lovely young face, smiling as her eldest looked up at her. “Katydid, I don’t know, but I just hope your daddy ain’t wrapped up in whatever it is,” she said, keeping her voice low. “You are ’bout the only one that might understand what it is that I am about to tell you. Them two over yonder, they ain’t old enough to know that your daddy’s done some stuff. Bad stuff. I’m just afraid he ain’t the man you think he is.”
“What do you mean, momma?” Kaitlyn asked. “I know he went to jail for havin’ all them guns, but that don’t necessarily make him bad, does it?”
“No, you’re right, Katydid, it don’t and running guns was what he got sent up for, but your daddy and that Kevin fella’, well, they used to do all kinds of things mostly before me and him got married. I know I probably shouldn’t be tellin’ you this and all, but your daddy, there wasn’t much he and Kevin didn’t do. From small things like shopliftin’ to moonshine, stealing cars, you name it, Katydid, they did it. Now, after you was born, he started calmin’ all the really dangerous activity down, but I knew he still was doing things. I just never asked...I really didn’t want to know. I suppose I thought it was better if’n I didn’t.”
“Oh,” the girl said, wrapping her arms around her mother. “I’m so confused.”
“No, don’t get me wrong, sweetheart, your father, that’s where he came from. What he knew, but know this, in his heart, he always knew he was doin’ wrong even if it was for the right reasons.”
“Still don’t make right.”
“I know it don’t, but for what it’s worth, it did seem to come to a stop after your granddaddy got ill. Cole showed up with all kinds of money from the blue to pay for doctor bills as’n we didn’t have any money for treatment. I know he did it for me, but you got to understand, your daddy loved my father like he was his, too. They was close and all.”
“So, where did all that money come from?” Kaitlyn asked.
“Like everything that man did, Cole never would say. I know he was just tryin’ to protect me, but I really think it had something to do with Kevin, ‘cause he and your father quit talkin’ right when your granddaddy went in the hospital,” Frannie said. “You know, it’s funny, my dad...your granddaddy, was a preacher; a good, God-fearin’ man that warned me about Cole way back when we was first seeing each other and sneaking around after school. I remember him tellin’ me all about how that long-haired boy was gonna take me straight to hell with him,” Frannie said low, but with a humorous tone in her voice. “Then, when your daddy showed up on our front porch in his Sunday-best all out of the blue, sweatin’ like a glass of iced tea in the sun, and askin’ for my hand in marriage, things changed. I still don’t know what that boy said to to convince your grandaddy that he was man enough to marry his daughter, especially when he was still far from church material, but then again your daddy was always the smooth one, right able to charm the skin off a snake, I tell you. All I know is soon after, Cole began going to the Lord’s house with us and even got baptized down in the river right therein front of the whole congregation. After we got married and then you came along, well, daddy and Cole was like two peas in a pod after that...always together and it seemed all was right with the world for several years. We had Hunter, followed by Raven, and then that’s when your granddaddy up and came ill. Cole was as devastated as me.”
“What did he get sick from, momma? Grandpa, that is?”
“When my daddy was younger, he worked in the coal mines. He did that job up until I was about twelve and then he got hurt real bad in an accident that nearly killed him. He would often say if it weren’t for the grace of Jesus he would have never made it out alive and that’s when he turned his life over to God.” Frannie sighed. “I miss him. I just wish the Lord wasn’t so willin’ to call him home so quickly and would have left him down here a few more years, but that’s just me bein’ selfish.”
“No, momma, that’s just you lovin’ somebody,” Kaitlyn said, looking down at the dog walking by, toenails clacking on the wood plank floor.
“You are wise beyond your years, child,” Frannie said with a smile. “Anyways, he got something called CWP, don’t ask me how to say what it means, but it’s a disease coal miners get in their lungs.”
“I’m sorry, momma. You’ll see him again in Heaven,” Kaitlyn said, the edges of her mouth curling up into a reassuring grin.
“You know, honey, you got his smile and that spark of his in you, I can feel it. You are going to make a fine, upstanding young woman one day, this I know, and some boy is gonna come along and want to sweep you off your feet. You just keep your head about you when this happens and make sure you can see the road before you. Don’t let all the crazy love that you’re gonna feel cloud your judgement and make you do something stupid.”
“Like you marrying daddy? Is that what you’re sayin’? If that’s true, what am I?”
Frannie lifted her two hands to Kaitlyn’s face and pressed the girls cheeks together. She smiled and looked straight into her daughter’s dark eyes. “Oh no, honey. There ain’t no stupid about any of this...my marriage to your daddy or you. All of it was done outta love. I just wanted you to know that love is like a happy tornado and once you get caught up in it, it will carry you away,” the woman said, staring out of the cloudy window in the nighttime sky. “Once you feel it, this once-in-a-lifetime powerful love, you will spend the rest of your days trying to find little pieces of it to hold on to once again.”
Kaitlyn hugged her mother tightly. “Daddy’s gonna come find us. That’s something I know! He still loves us. He’s different, I could tell.”
“I hope you’re right, Katydid,” Frannie said, releasing the girl, and then turned her attention to her other two children. She patted the bed. “Alright ya’ll, get on up here and crawl into bed with me and your sister. Let’s try to get some sleep...”
“Okay, the spotter sees us,” Kevin whispered to Cole, responding to the call in progress on his Bluetooth headset. “He says there ain’t any guards walking around. So far none of the guys are reporting any real security.”
“That’s strange,” Cole said in a hushed tone as he felt a few raindrops fall from the sky onto his bare, outstretched arms, thankful that the rain had held off like it did. The leather gloves on his fingers stretched as the left hand gripped the chain link fence and the right clutched the handles of a pair of wire cutters. He systematically snipped a vertical progression of chain links until he had an opening large enough for a man to squeeze through. He widened the hole and stepped in, followed by Kevin.
The two men did as Pete told them and entered the area at the rear of the facility. They ran across the manicured lawn of the Radii facility hunkered over, using the dark for cover, mindful of the location of the security cameras.
“Okay, I got to disable this security lock, give me a minute,” Cole said as they arrived at the rear entrance to the building. He patted a couple of places on his body until he located and retrieved an odd looking key from a black BDU pants pocket. It was a long metal object with several small dark circles running down its center. Cole held the object in the air to examine it, then slowly inserted it into the lock, slid it back, and re-inserted it once more until a small LED light on its housing flashed from red to green.
Kevin heard the door click. “Holy shit, that is some James Bond stuff there, Cole,” he whispered.
Cole lifted a pointer finger to his mouth. “Shhh!” The man then eased the door open as little as possible, inserting the fingers of his right hand just inside the frame to maintain the gap. With his other hand he fished out a small snake camera and handed the tiny screen to Kevin. Cole slowly inserted the end of the device through the opening, glancing up at Kevin’s illuminated face.
Kevin nodded at Cole, indicating with a finger to go in.
Cole slid inside the well-lit, white corridor, followed by Kevin. The pair cautiously made their way down the hall until they came to a door with a sign attached to it with the words ‘Supply Room’ spelled out in black letters. Cole turned the handle and they both went in.
“You got that map, Kevin?” Cole whispered, taking the opportunity of the closet’s cover to calm his nervous breathing.
Cole re-examined the map, even though he had spent the last 24 hours doing nothing but memorizing the building’s layout. “Okay, hallway to the left, and then into the supply elevator,” he said to Kevin.
“What are we waiting on? Let’s go...”