Mallory gave the CIA guy a smack on the cheek.
"Hey sleeping beauty, time to wake up!"
The CIA agent woke with a start, causing his body to swing further back. "Wha--wha--?"
"Hi there." Mallory grabbed the agent's leg where he hung upside down from the ceiling. "I'm Mallory, and I'll be your rescuer today. This is my beautiful assistant, Carlos." Mallory pointed over her shoulder, then had to to give the CIA agent another slap. "Hey, hey. I'll get you down but it's better to be awake for this part. Hey, Carlos, get his shoulders, would you?"
Mallory scrambled up the closest floor to ceiling beam and pulled herself across the scaffolding to where the CIA agent was trussed up. "Got him?" she shouted and cut the rope before getting a reply. Carlos cursed at her, and the agent looked slightly more shell shocked after landing on Carlos' shoulders and flopping on the floor. She was never really fond of the cloak-and-dagger guys.
"Thanks, Kane," Carlos muttered at her as she dropped down.
"Consider us even for that Thai girl you left in my hotel last time," she answered.
"I told you, I thought she was a boy! You like that metrosexual, pan-Asain shit!"
"What's that? All I hear is racist bullshit, racist bullshit."
They grinned at each other while their recently rescued CIA agent vomited on the floor.
"Maybe we should get this guy to a medic," Carlos advised.
"Right. Load him up." Mallory activated her radio while Carlos swung the agent over his shoulders. "Team Rocket, Team Rocket, this is Big Boss. We have the princess, but she is a delicate flower. We're going to need some wheels here to make the ball in time."
The radio crackled then, "Team Rocket is blasting off at the speed of light. Wheels are go, Big Boss."
There was an explosion just outside the warehouse.
"Oh shit, no, they didn't--"
A humvee smashed through the front of the warehouse, shredding the thin tin walls and cargo boxes of opium in its way. It screeched to a halt barely a foot from Carlos and Mallory.
Another soldier leaned out and grinned at them. "Need a lift?"
Mallory yanked open the driver's door. "Shove over, Psycho. Mama drives."
Carlos casually tossed the semi-conscious agent in the back seat and sat on him. "Cargo loaded." He cocked his uzi. "Locked and loaded."
"Aw, come on, boss, let me for once--" Psycho made a vague grab at the wheel.
"Driver picks the tunes, passenger shoots the bad guys," and Mallory slammed the humvee into reverse. One handed, she spun the car free of the partially-collapsed warehouse and switched on her radio. "Big Boss to Team Rocket, the princess is on her way, both slippers and all. Traffic is light, but we are planning for some hot and horny bachelors to show their heads."
Outside, the sun was above the horizon. They had wasted too much time inside dealing with the security force. If that explosion had not already attracted the local bad guy flavor of the month, a speeding humvee down a country track toward the dirt field that was used as an airport out here in the bush certainly was.
"Copy, Big Boss," the radio crackled back at her. "Ball is set to start in minus 10. Best cockblock those horn dogs."
"Roger, Team Rocket."
They were silent as the humvee bumped along the dirt road. The warehouse had been set into the hillside, and now the team was speeding down the track back to the flat valley, full of incredibly green farms that Mallory found almost unreal. No where was this pretty in reality.
"How's our princess doing, Carlos?" Mallory called back without taking her eyes off the road.
"Let's see." She heard a smack and a groan. "We're still alive."
"Thank you for your comforting medical diagnosis." They were now in the flat land, and Mallory slowed down so as to not attract even more attention to themselves. Farmers walked slowly along the lane between the surrounding rice fields. "Right. Guns prepped, but no firing unless on my say. You got that?"
There was a muttered, "yeah."
"I said, do you go that, Psycho? This isn't some government op in desert country, understand me? That's grandma, grandpa, and some kids out there. You shoot them, I shoot you. You fucking got me?"
Psycho huffed and tucked the muzzle of his uzi under the dashboard. "Yeah, fine."
Mallory glanced in the rearview mirror and Carlos was rolling eyes in camaraderie. Mallory had no idea why this kid was still employed: after the disaster in Peru and the llamas, she recommended him for termination due to immature judgment. Their line of work was not the latest Call of Duty DLC.
They pulled up alongside the long dirty strip that served as the airfield. It was totally washed out in the rainy season, and it was pure luck the mud had been dry enough to land on. The aged, converted Kawasaki C-1 stuck out on the field of tiny, two-seater prop planes. Mallory pulled to a stop several hundred meters from the plane. The cargo bay was wide open, but the three other members of her team were not there to wave them in. The engines were dead. The entire field was empty of people, but there were two beat up jeeps shabbily hidden behind some of the prop planes.
"Shit," Carlos muttered to himself.
Psycho lifted his uzi from under the dash and looked at Mallory.
"Give me a gun." All three of them whipped around to stare at the CIA agent they had rescued. His face was covered in dried blood from a laceration in his hair line and a hole below his lower lip. "It's drug runners. They want your plane for their drugs and the girls. Ship them out to China quicker." He swallowed hard and sucked in air through his teeth. "Give me a gun, you'll need me."
Mallory and Carlos shared a look.
"How many?" Carlos asked.
"How many did you take out where you found me?" The CIA agent countered.
"Four," Mallory told him.
"Five more, that I saw," the agent told her.
"How long were you in there?" Carlos asked him.
"Three weeks, at least." Before Mallory asked how he could be sure, he answered her quizzical expression, "Upper management does not send a rescue unless it has been over three weeks."
"Give him a knife," Mallory ordered. Carlos pulled his second best knife from his boot and handed it off. "Assume Team Rocket is down. Take out anyone not us. If unable to confirm location of Team Rocket, secure the scene and regroup. If we are able to confirm... we take off. Like, ten minutes ago. Got it?"
The three men grunted.
"Semper fi," Mallory muttered to herself and gunned the engine. She saw Davis laying across the cargo ramp and a bloodstain under his head.
"Tuck and roll!" she shouted, and whipped the humvee about so Carlos could shove the CIA agent out onto the ramp and roll with him, using the rest of the vehicle as protection.
"On your six!" Psycho shouted just as a jeep collided with the back of the humvee.
The collision slammed her head against the steering wheel, but her training kept her moving even as her brain bounced about in her skull. She kicked the humvee into reverse and stood on the gas, grinding the wheels into the mud, but slamming the lighter jeep back as three guys tried to pile out. One got stuck under his own vehicle’s wheel and screamed. A shot went wild and hit the side mirror on the passenger side of the humvee. Psycho, true to his name, turned around and shot out their rear windshield, fracturing the glass but not breaking it. Mallory switched to the side mirror as her main view point. The driver in the jeep was hanging on the wheel for dear life and looked terrified. He bailed when Psycho took out the front windshield of the jeep and just missed him. The jeep fishtailed without someone keeping a death grip on the steering wheel and Mallory slammed the the humvee back into drive, gunning it back to the plane.
"Where's the other guy?" she shouted.
"No clue, ducked in the tall grass!" Psycho was leaning out the passenger window, as if he got closer to the ground, he could spot their missing bad guy.
Mallory popped her door as soon as they got close to the cargo bay doors. "Out of the pool!" she shouted and rolled. As soon as her feet hit the ground, she righted herself and ran straight into the cargo bay. There was a man with his back to her, holding a gun on a bloodied Carlos. She jumped, using the side of the plane as a rebound point, and slammed her elbow in the side of the guy's face. He went down, the stolen uzi sliding out of his grip across the cargo bay. Mallory planted her boot in his throat for good measure.
There was a commotion from the front of the plane. Mallory looked up in time to watch the CIA agent trip the man coming out of the cockpit and stab him in the throat. The man gurgled, convulsed, then was still. She and the CIA agent shared a look.
"Got him!" Psycho shouted from the cargo bay door. He had hunkered down behind the humvee, where it stalled not far from the plane. "He was trying to be all sniper and shit!"
Mallory looked at Carlos, who said, "Davis is dead. Got me in the gut. Tarek was still in the co-pilot's chair when they got him. Don't know if Marcel--"
"Not dead yet!" Marcel yelled from the cockpit. He stuck his head around, and Mallory could see the blood on his teeth. "I can drive, but don't know how long. Get in the fucking boat, shitheads!"
"Psycho, get Davis! We're leaving!" Mallory carefully touched Carlos' shoulder as she made her way to the front of the plane and the controls for the cargo bay doors. "Good job, princess." Mallory patted the CIA agent on the head as she passed the man half collapsed against the bulkhead.
The agent showed his teeth in a nasty grin. "Princess Kenneth," he corrected.
Mallory smacked her palm against the controls, and the doors started their slow snap shut. Psycho pulled Davis' body to the center of the cargo bay and looked almost sad at it. He looked up at Mallory, and she felt something close to pride that the kid was about to finally feel a human emotion.
"Can I have his gun?" Psycho asked.
"No." She looked at Carlos. "I quit."
Three weeks later...
Mallory sat in a lawn chair in the middle of her father's front yard. Which meant she was sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of nowhere desert, by her dad's solar collectors.
It was almost ten in the morning, and she took another sip of white wine. It was five o'clock somewhere, as her dad liked to say.
"Here they come," her dad told her through the radio.
The security system had picked up a car making its way toward their home about an hour ago. She respected her father's paranoia. That was why she was sitting outside in a pair of practical shorts and a sports bra, wine glass in one hand, desert eagle in the other.
The big black SUV was sending up a dust cloud.
"Have visual," Mallory confirmed. "You can hit it just about... now."
Her father huffed his version of a laugh and activated the tire spikes. The SUV actually bounced when it hit spikes, then slid to a stop a hundred meters from Mallory.
"Good one, dad."
Her father actually let out a real laugh. "I'm going to get my disaster planning guy to put in five more of those."
Mallory grinned. Her dad was happiest when he spent all his book royalties planning for the fall of their country and "the compound defense." She thought they were still planning to survive a civilization collapse due to hyperinflation, but she could be wrong. Her dad had been talking about China an awful lot lately.
"Incoming!" Her dad reminded her.
The driver got out of their vehicle and kicked at the tires. They turned about and spotted Mallory. It was a man, and he waved at her like he knew her. She squinted as he approached.
"It's a guy I know," she told the radio.
"Do we stand down?" She knew her father had his sniper rifle trained on the approaching figure.
"Nah." She attached her radio to her belt then waved with her wine glass. "Hey there, CIA Disney Princess Kenneth!"
Kenneth the CIA agent faltered then walked more confidently toward her. He was grinning, like he had a real sense of humor. "It's just Kenneth."
"Well hey there, just Agent Kenneth." She casually slid off her pistol's safety.
Kenneth stopped in his tracks. He put up his hands. "It's just Kenneth, actually. I quit as soon as my fingers were back to a normal size, and I could type my resignation letter." Mallory glanced at his hands, and both of his smallest fingers were still wrapped in medical tape.
Kenneth paused, obviously not expecting such a cool welcome. Mallory had no idea why he thought he would get anything else.
"And I heard your ex-company promoted that kid you called... what was it, Psycho? Once you left."
"You're well informed for a no-longer-CIA guy." They had prompted Psycho, all right. And promptly dropped the fool kid in Colombia to "rescue" a few kidnapped corporate types. Ended up with a bullet in the head curtsey of some Farc rebels. Kenneth wasn't the only well-informed person, here.
"That's my point, Mallory. I've still got some friends in high places. And after that disaster in Thailand, I don't want anyone else to go through what we did. Why did you have a plane instead of a helicopter? Your team would never have been compromised if you could have dropped in and out."
She tipped her head. "You read my report."
"Of course I did!" Kenneth squatted down to be more on her level. "You saved my life. And at some cost. I wanted to know everything that happened."
"So, what? You came all the way out here to say thank you? You could have called me; saved your car the trip."
Kenneth winced and glanced back at his SUV. He turned back to Mallory with a sheepish grin. "I thought it was a good idea at the time."
"Never read my dad's books."
Kenneth still had that sheepish grin on his face. "It's on my to-do list now. But," and he leaned forward a little more. "I didn't come out here only to say thank you. I came out here to convince you to work for me."
Mallory could not suppress the surprised laugh. "What? This is a sales pitch?"
"Well, yes." He blinked. "I read everything you put together for that mission. The before action requests, your recommendations. And your after action was spot on. If your company had listened to you, your team would have been in and out. Hardly any enemy contact. But, they scrubbed to the bare minimum of your suggestions to get the highest profit margin. Lost good talent, and the two other agents who were with me, because of their greedy fingers."
He sat down, not caring about his fancy suit and the Arizona dust getting every where. "I want to build the whole team around you. The whole business, even. You know what the hell you're doing. You don't lose people, and you don't drop the ball on the mission. It was all over your file. You and me, we could make this whole contract mercenary thing a little safer and a little money for ourselves."
Mallory stared at him. "Did you just come up with this on the drive? Or--"
"Oh no, I have a plan." He grinned again. "Five-year plan, capital to keep us afloat for a year. When you resign because of field issues in this business," he smiled, "they pay you well for your silence."
She thought about it. This guy had been held captive over a month by Thai drug smugglers. Two other agents died before the CIA contracted her team to get him out (Kenneth apparently had some clout further up the chain of command that got his ass rescued). She remembered him almost decapitating the thug that tried to shoot her.
"Well." She picked up her radio. "Dad, can you call out that repairman friend of yours? Kenneth seems to need a couple new tires."
Her father sighed on the other end of the line, and muttered, "Fine." She watched until her father left his sniper roost before turning back to Kenneth.
"All right." She flipped the safety back on her gun. "You've got an hour. Do your best sales pitch, ex-CIA Princess Kenneth. And maybe I'll think about it."
Kenneth grinned again. "You're never going to regret this, Mallory."