“That’s right, Christine, speculation grows here among policy-makers as to the whereabouts of second-term Congresswoman Cynthia Kang. What I can tell our audience is, no one on her staff will give us a detailed answer on where she might be.”

“Highly unusual,” Global News Service’s overnight news anchor Christine Ranjipur noted, back in the studio.

“Very,” the field correspondent Grace McGowan-Ling agreed, as she stood in front of the Rayburn Office Building. A slight wind ruffled her lustrous black hair and she squinted as grit blew into one eye. “Let’s remind everyone that Kang’s chief of staff Chet Kimbrough was found beaten and dehydrated in a wooded area outside of Los Angeles.”

“That’s right, Grace, and so far have authorities said what happened to him?”

“They’ve been mum,” Christine, “adding fuel to the rumor this was a violent message intended for the Congresswoman, who is known for taking on corruption and kick-back schemes among some government vendors. I believe it was in her first term she got the plum appointment of being on a committee that investigated the contractor WebCore. An entity that had been hired by the Pentagon to supply a specific part for Apache helicopters, and it turned out they’re were overcharging for this item at something like 300 percent.”

“Pretty astounding for a freshman representative to get such an assignment,” the news anchor noted. “Still, why target her and not the chairman of that committee?” she speculated aloud, then quickly added: “Of course we’re in no way saying that WebCore, a subsidiary of the far-flung Fallenbee Directive, is behind this troubling sequence of events.”

“Of course not,” the field journalist concurred. “In fact, what I have been able to get out of the staff is the Congresswoman is away but they are well aware of where she is–at least that’s the impression they give.”

“You’re not suggesting they don’t know where she is?” Ranjipur leaned forward slightly at her desk, sensing an angle on the story that she hadn’t considered. What if Kang had been kidnapped, as had happened to Kimbrough? Now, to break that would surely boost her lagging ratings–she had a mandate to, as the Brits would say, sex up her segments. She knew from friends that athe good-looking lefty Kang swung both ways. Maybe she’d run off with a couple and was holed somewhere indulging in a ribald three-way, and her embarrassed staff had decided saying little was the best approach. Now that would get some attention and secure her year-end bonus.

Ranjipur snapped out of her reverie as McGowan-Ling said, “While Kimbrough is said to be conscious and has had at least one interview with the FBI, the Bureau has not been forthcoming on what if any light he was able to provide on what happened to him.”

Ranjipur shuffled a few sheets of paper on her desk. “Thanks so much for this, Grace, and of course we’ll keep on this story until we get to the heart of it.”

“Absolutely, Christine. This is Grace McGowan-Ling for GNS Overnight.”

Dieter Countryman’s flat emotionless eyes moved from the TV screen and the report about the missing Congresswoman to the squat glass on the night stand. The whisky that the glass had held was gone, and he considered fetching more but instead stretched, interlacing his fingers behind his head. He then idly scratched at his lower region through boxers emblazoned with a hot-rod-head version of Woody Woodpecker, all saucer-eyed and smoking a big stogie. A man of his age wearing such. He chuckled at that.

“What do you make of that?” Cenine Gilmore asked him. She walked out of the bathroom after her nightly regime of brushing, vigorously, her teeth for three minutes, as recommended by her dentist, and using the Water-pik. Since those days as a high school cheerleader, she’d been big on maintaining her teeth. To this day, no cavities and no damn gum disease. The eyes might be a window to the soul, but funky teeth made even friendly dogs turn away.

As the younger woman lay on the bed next to him atop the quilt, he said, “She doesn’t strike me as the sort to go into hiding.”

“Damn straight she’s not,” she remarked, “Kang is up to something and neither one of us wants to get surprised.”

His arms were folded across his muscular chest and athletic T. He looked at her evenly. “And that goddamn Riggs is up to something too. He’s the one who snatched her chief of staff.” He wagged a finger at her. ” I know the lad’s handiwork.”

She frowned. “But how does you putting out the word to find him do us any good?”

“ ’Cause that sumabitch can’t be left to his own devices, Cenine.”

“But that’s the point, isn’t it?” Since becoming aware that Kimbrough had been found after being kidnapped, learning it from the news like everyone else, Countryman had been putting out feelers among the merc community to get a line on Riggs. “This is not the kind of dude who’ll do this just for the thrill.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “Like I said before, he was always out there, even among a group of individuals who had more than one bolt not tightened down all the way.”

“Unlike you,” she cracked.

He smiled thinly. They’d argued about whether Riggs was operating under orders from Cenine Gilmore’s husband or, as Countryman theorized, he’d finally succumbed to the creeping paranoia lurking in the fiber of men like Riggs… and yes, like him. An unease that was often dressed up in the trappings of patriotism but was too often a psychological excuse to play soldier and be the hero of your own personal TV show.

“Uh-huh, that’s right,” he responded, putting a hand around her waist and pulling her close. Leaning in to kiss her, he saw the green light go out on the perimeter alarm unit on the wall behind her. “Shit,” Countryman swore as he spun his body back toward the nightstand and the trusty Sig Sauer he kept in its drawer.

“Intruder,” he bellowed as one of the windows of the cabin exploded and a canister was tossed inside.

To Be Continued…