The world around me was pitch black. My brain was starving for information while rough hands shoved me into a cold metal chair, forcing my arms behind the backrest where another person bound my wrists together behind the chair with what sounded like a plastic zip tie. A sharp pain shot up my spine as they had forced me to sit down on my own tail. I could see nothing. A steel door slammed shut, followed by the clatter of a diesel engine and soon a gentle rocking motion. Footsteps neared.
"Wake up!" barked a man's voice. A blindfold was suddenly yanked from my face, subjecting my eyes to harsh light. Silhouetted against the light was the figure of the man who had spoken. That voice. It sounded familiar.
"Show your face," I growled. My eyes scanned my surroundings. The cold metal chair had left me expecting to be in a crusty old van, but instead the enclosure appeared to be a large motorhome with tan leather seats, wood trim and carpeted floors. Except, of course, where I sat. The floor under my chair was covered by clear plastic sheeting. The lighting was kept to a minimum aside from the spotlight shining in my eyes, but in the shadows I saw at least two figures.
The man must have noticed me looking around. "You like it?" he said. "It's my brand new campaign bus. You were transferred here following that brave but incredibly stupid visit to the White House."
He moved so that the light illuminated more of his body, revealing a black pinstriped business suit that stretched around a moderately overweight belly, a crisp white shirt and a golden yellow necktie. His face was wrinkled with age, approximately mid sixties, with flushed cheeks and a furrowed brow. His hair was greyed and almost white in places, worn long on top and combed over a balding spot. Attached to his lapel was a gold pin in the shape of an American flag. What really struck me, though, were his eyes. Green eyes, taken straight from that old photograph from my dossier and the nightmares in my mind. He was decades older and his style had changed with the times, but the eyes were the same. "You!" I snarled. "You've been behind all this!"
Archer smiled faintly. "Me? No, son, this was all your fault. For the last year you've been a pain in my ass because you couldn't stay still long enough to be put out of your misery."
Anger welled up inside my body, dulling even the pain of the gunshot wound that was just finally beginning to coagulate in my side. "What right do you have to decide whether I live or die?" I struggled against the zip tie, shaking the chair side to side.
"The answer's simple, son," Archer said. "It all comes down to politics. I don't expect you to know anything about the American political system, but we in Congress get elected to represent our constituents. You came about because we were fresh off the Vietnam War and Americans were sick of seeing our boys get all shot up in the jungles and rice paddies. I sponsored a bill that would explore new ways to reduce combat losses in the future. Nobody reads the damn bills anyway so I didn't have to word it too clearly. They handed over the funding, and I made sure they got results.
"Mind you, voters are fickle. You have to do well in polls or they kick you out. Now son, I'm from the Midwest. People support the troops where I come from. And since I did such a good job with my legislation, our combat losses were reduced overseas and I'm still here. Had some speed bumps when people started getting all touchy-feely about animal rights, though. The program was a success, and dead men tell no tales. If you do it right, nobody knows whether that terror cell got shot up by G.I. Fido. But you three screwed up. Rumors spread. Your cover got blown. I took flak over it and had to work with military intelligence to cover things up." He paused to take a drink of water from a glass, notably not offering me any.
"I'm up for re-election this year," Archer continued. "When you boys blew that mission in Afghanistan, the terrorists found out about you. Photos surfaced on the web of Al Qaeda corpses covered in slash and bite marks. The CIA had to convince people it was fake or hacked the sites. I can't afford bad publicity if it gets out what my company's been doing all these years. I had to shut down the project."
I stared at him. "Your company? BioCon is YOUR company?"
The old congressman laughed and walked over to a cabinet on the wall, opening the door to reveal a small safe with a combination lock. "In a manner of speaking, yes. BioCon is headquartered in Michigan, but it's owned by a shell company in New York. That company's owned by another shell company in the Cayman Islands, which I own. Government defense contracts are very lucrative. BioCon's pharmaceutical wing is rather profitable, too. My friend Ted Cardiff and I have done well over the years."
I was livid. "You had my friends killed so you could get re-elected to some political office and make money off it?"
Archer stopped twirling the dial. "The pension of a public servant is a bit low. I figure I should be rewarded for a job well done. And what do you know of friendship? I volunteered my own dog Maggy's best pup for Cardiff's experiments. He became the first successful subject. That dog could have been a show dog; he was perfect."
"Shep was like a big brother to me," I replied indignantly. "He was a good leader, a good soldier. Loyal and honorable, everything you aren't."
"Shut up!" Archer snapped, smacking me upside the head with a backhand hit.
I flattened my ears, my eyes narrowing to slits. My upper lip curled back. "Touch me again and I swear to God, I will bite you."
Archer backed away, knowing that he was safe from the chair-bound fox. He snapped his fingers. "Show this animal what his friendship has gotten him."
From the darkened part of the campaign bus cabin, a figure was thrust forward. Diana Foxworthy stumbled and fell onto the plastic sheeting at my feet. Her face was bruised and bloodied. My worst fear had come true! "No!" I cried, whimpering. "I told you not to come to Washington!"
Diana attempted to climb back up to her feet but was roughly pushed back down to the floor by Archer. "You son of a bitch," she spat.
Archer returned to the safe and twirled the dial until it unlocked, then swung the door open. Inside was a Smith and Wesson Model 12 .38 Special snubnose revolver. "Such a shame you dragged poor Miss Foxworthy into all this. She really is out of your league."
"Let her go!" I shouted, straining against the zip tie that was cutting into my wrists. The chair rocked back and forth on its four legs. All my movements did was open up the wound in my side again.
Archer opened up a small cardboard ammunition box and inserted two .38 caliber bullets into the revolver's chamber. "I'd really love to, but as the saying goes, she knows too much. And you, son, have long outlived your usefulness. Let's make this quick, I have a vote on the House floor to attend." He pulled back the gun's hammer with his thumb and leveled the pistol into a firing position aimed at Diana who still lay on the floor, her eyes shut tightly.
I rocked the chair back and forth in sheer rage. On a forward rock I got lucky. My feet got a grip on the slippery floor and I stood up, taking the chair with me. Hands still tied behind my back, and chair forcing my body into a hunched position, I charged. Archer was taken by surprise and swung his arm around to point the gun at me, but I was too quick. I rammed my head into his gut, punting the old congressman backward into the bus's mini bar with a pained grunt and a shatter of liquor bottles. The gun fired, the bullet going astray into the rear wall. Pinned down by my body and the chair, Archer slammed the butt of the revolver down on my head. I saw stars in the air in front of my muzzle. My animal survival instinct battled with the need to protect Diana.
Archer brought the gun down again forcefully with the apparent intent to shatter my relatively fragile muzzle. This time I was ready and snapped, sinking my fangs deep into the man's arm and clamping my jaws firmly around it. Warm blood gushed from the wound and he roared like a bear. Archer struggled against the rage-filled grip that remained latched on to him. The .38 Special fell from his hand. With his free arm, Archer pounded on my body. At the same moment I summoned all my strength to pull the zip tie apart. It cut my wrist open but stretched enough to pull my hands free.
Archer landed a lucky kick that knocked my chair backwards and I fell onto the floor, hitting my head. Little fireworks exploded in front of my eyes again. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Diana crawling to cover. She was smart. Archer was crawling as well, crimson soaking the arm of his suit jacket as it dripped onto the clear plastic sheeting. He was trying to retrieve the gun, which we both knew had one bullet left in it. I climbed to my feet just before Archer reached the revolver.
Diana was over by the mini bar now. She disappeared from view for a few seconds while I watched Archer. He grabbed the Smith and Wesson off the floor. Suddenly behind the madman I saw Diana. Unseen by Archer, Diana had found a hefty bottle of whiskey and wound up her arm like a tennis player about to spike the ball. The rectangular glass bottle smashed with full force against the back of Archer's neck and he stumbled forward. My fist delivered a solid punch to the dirty politician's face and he crumpled to his knees, then collapsed to one side on the floor. I bent down and pulled the gun from his hand, but there was no need to use it. Archer was out cold.
The campaign bus slowed to a halt. A door at the far end of the compartment opened and I aimed the revolver at it. "Stop right there!" I commanded, ready to shoot anyone who came in.
A familiar face walked in. "Whoa there, soldier, stand down," said FBI agent Bob Farley. The short agent was as scruffy as ever, dressed in a black FBI jacket, faded blue jeans and scuffed tennis shoes. He looked down at the prone, bleeding and unconscious form of Archer. "Jesus, I hope you didn't kill him."
"Why the hell not?" I growled, lowering the gun and clicking its safety on. "He was going to murder us both."
"Because we can't convict a corpse," Farley replied. "The Bureau thought that guy was dirty but could never make anything stick. You just got a full confession out of him." He waved a small tape recorder in front of me.
The little weasel! "You've been a double agent this whole time?" I cried.
Farley looked at the ceiling thoughtfully. "Triple, I think. I worked for Archer and BioCon, worked for the FBI behind their backs, and off the record, I worked for you."
"I don't think I'm very popular with law enforcement right now, Farley," I said. The deaths of multiple agents over the course of the last several months had worn heavily on my conscience.
"Yeah... about that," Farley said, "Vehicles can be replaced; the American taxpayer covers those. The Director wasn't keen on losing people, though. He was also not very happy to find out that some of his agents were in BioCon's pocket. Those guys who went after you in the chopper in Pennsylvania were working for BioCon."
"What about that agent in Vegas?" Diana asked, her face looking very sullen. "The one I... shot." Her eyes studied the floor ashamedly. "I suppose I'm wanted for murder."
Farley sighed. "Pynebachs was a loose cannon. We called him 'Pine Box' because he had an above-average death and injury rate per case. He had just gotten off an administrative suspension when he went after you two. I reviewed the security camera footage from the parking lot. It looked like you acted in self-defense."
It seemed a bit too convenient. "How did you show up just after the fighting stopped?" I inquired, suspicious.
"I was in a BioCon van just ahead of Congressman Archer's campaign bus on the parkway," answered Farley. "Dr. Cardiff brought me along for a meeting with his boss. I suspect he wanted me for protection just in case, since usually he tried to leave me out of the loop a little. Wouldn't want their good little personal FBI agent to turn states on them, would we?"
"You had my dossier all along, Farley! How could you not know Archer was the boss?"
"I was pretty sure Archer was behind it, but could never prove it," Farley replied, idly nudging some broken glass on the floor with his sneaker. "He's a well-liked member of Congress who's served for thirty years. Plus, I had to act like I was on BioCon's side for the past year. It takes more than a few photos from the seventies and eighties to convict someone. I needed something concrete, like that amazing confession."
"You little prick!" Diana cried. "Using us as pawns ... that sleazeball was seconds from blowing my brains out! Look at this plastic on the floor. He planned to take us out, dispose of the bloody evidence and continue on his merry way."
Farley quickly knelt on the floor, probably afraid that Diana would lash out and hit him. He produced a pair of handcuffs and clicked them around Archer's wrists. "I was as surprised as you were, Miss Foxworthy, finding you both on board this bus," he said meekly. "I've been tracking Fox across the country but never expected you to show up in Washington. Maybe if you hadn't hit all those squad cars, they wouldn't have arrested you."
Diana scowled at Farley. Her bottom lip was puffing up and the bruises from the car crash were turning a deep purple. "When Fox called me I knew I had to be here. I took a red-eye flight east and rented a car here in town that I knew he would notice. When I heard a whole bunch of sirens heading toward Pennsylvania Avenue I knew it was time to help out."
"I hope you got the collision insurance," I said, wincing from my own injuries. I kept my handpaw on top of the gunshot wound in my side to maintain pressure.
"I did," Diana replied with a faint, puffy-lipped smile.
Farley looked at the bruised woman, injured vulpine soldier and the unconscious, bleeding congressman. "I think it's time I rounded up some ambulances for you guys."
I was already feeling very weak since the adrenaline had worn off and the pain was becoming serious. There was just one more thing to say. "Put that scumbag away."
Farley was radioing for medical help. "Oh, we will," he said. "Even if the attempted murder and ethics violation charges don't stick, we'll do what we did with Al Capone."
"What's that?" I asked, my body feeling like it was shutting down.
Farley grinned. "Lock him up for tax evasion."
I sat down on the floor, leaned my back against the wall and closed my eyes.