INSIDE THIS DUMP of a home in rural Sullivan, Georgia, Lillian Zachary’s rescue mission to save her younger sister and niece isn’t going well. Only because of her parents’ pleadings did she make the three-hour drive this warm evening from the safety of her Atlanta condo to liberate Gina and her daughter, Polly, from this place.
She nervously eyes the guns that are on open display, their promise of violence making her uneasy. A pump-action shotgun is leaning near the sole door leading outside, a hunting rifle is up against the wall on the other side of the old home, and two black semiautomatic pistols are on the cluttered kitchen counter, next to three sets of scales and plastic bags full of marijuana. Antique oak cabinets and porcelain-lined sinks and metal faucets are on the opposite side of the room.
Lillian is in a part of the home laughingly called a “living room,” and there’s nothing in here worth living for, save her sister and her sister’s two-year-old girl. The place is foul, with empty beer cans, two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew, crumpled-up McDonald’s bags, and crushed pizza cartons strewn across a wooden floor worn and gouged from a century of wear. Built in the small plantation-plain style and named The Summer House, the place was once the getaway destination of a rich Savannah family fleeing city smells and sounds generations before the invention of air-conditioning. Now, decades later, the rich family has fallen on hard times, and their grandly named Summer House is a decaying rental property fit only for this group of lowlifes.
Lillian wonders if the ghosts of the old Savannah family are horrified to see how decayed and worn their perfect summer escape home has become.
Lillian is perched on the armrest of a black vinyl couch kept together with scrap lumber and duct tape, and Gina is sitting next to her, shaking a footless rag doll in front of little Polly, who’s on the carpeted floor before her mother, giggling.
Lillian says, “Gina, c’mon, can we get going?”
Her sister shakes her head. “No, not yet,” she says. “Polly’s laughing. I love it when Polly laughs. Don’t you?”
Lillian isn’t married, doesn’t seem to have that maternal urge to bear children, but something about the bright-blue eyes and innocent face of the chubby little girl in a pink corduroy jumper stirs her. Her little niece, trapped here with her single mom, in a crappy house in a crappy part of the state.
At the other end of the room is another couch in front of a large-screen television—no doubt stolen, she thinks—and three other people who live here are playing some stupid shoot-’em-up fantasy video game where fire-breathing dragons and knights do battle armed with machine guns. She’s already forgotten the names of the two lanky, long-haired boys and their woman friend. Shirley? Or Sally. Whatever. And Randy. Yeah. That’s one of the losers’ names.
The two guys gave her serious eye when earlier she knocked on the door, and she feels vulnerable and out of place with them and their guns. Even though they seem to be having fun on their couch, there’s a simmering tension between them that’s growing along with the insults they’ve been tossing at each other.
“Missed it, you fag!” Randy yells.
“Bite me!” the other young man shouts back.
Upstairs in the old home is the other occupant, Gina’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Stuart, who’s lying in bed, not feeling well, bitching and moaning like the community college dropout and drug dealer he is.
Plus the father of little and innocent Polly.
“Gina,” she says, looking away from the video game players. “Please.”
“Just a sec, Lilly, just a sec, okay?”
Lillian rubs her hands across her tan slacks, looking again at the shotgun resting between the television and the door leading outside. All she wants to do is carry the two green plastic trash bags holding the entire possessions of Gina and her daughter through that door. In just a very few minutes she’ll get Gina and Polly out of this shithole and back up to Atlanta and leave this crap off-ramp to a loser life behind.
If those increasingly angry young men let her, Gina, and Polly leave, that is. Randy said a while ago, “Hey, you plan on staying for a while, right? We’re gonna party hard later on.”
Her plump younger sister is wearing black yoga tights and an Atlanta Falcons sweatshirt, but even through her bad complexion, her eyes shine bright with joy and love for her baby girl. That light gives Lillian hope. Gina moved down to this little town with Stuart, promising Mom and Dad she would study dental hygiene at nearby Savannah Technical College, and not telling anyone until a week ago that she dropped out last year.
Tonight it’s going to change, Lillian thinks. She has a great job as a purchasing agent for Delta, and she’s confident she can get her younger sister a job even if the work is physical, like handling baggage. Gina is a stout, strong girl, and Lillian thinks that will be perfect for her, and much better pay than the night shift at the local Walmart.
Her little niece keeps on laughing and laughing.
There’s a sound of a helicopter flying overhead, and Lillian vows to leave in just one minute. Yep, in sixty seconds she’s going to tell Gina to get her ass in gear.
Lillian thinks she sees a shadow pass by one of the far windows.
As he moves through the typical Georgia pine forest to within twenty meters of the target house, he raises a fist, and the others with him halt. He wants to take one more good scan of the target area before the operation begins. A helicopter drones, heading to nearby Hunter Army Airfield. The woods remind him some of forests he operated in back in Kunar province in the ’stan, right up against the border to Pakistan. He likes the smell of trees at night. It reminds him of home, reminds him of previous missions that have gone well. Some meters off is a small lake with a shoreline overgrown with saplings and brush.
He slowly rotates his head from left to right, the night-vision goggles giving him a clear and green ghostly view of the surroundings. He can see that the two-story place used to be a fine small home with two front pillars and classy-looking, blackshuttered windows. Now the siding is peeling away, the pillars are cracked and stained, and one of the windows is covered with plastic. Only one entry in and out between the two pillars, which will be challenging but not much of a problem.
Four vehicles in the yard. Two Chevy pickup trucks and a battered Sentra with a cracked windshield and trunk held closed with a frayed piece of rope. Previous surveillances of the area showed these same vehicles here, almost every night.
But tonight there’s an additional vehicle. A light-blue Volvo sedan.
It doesn’t fit, doesn’t belong, hasn’t been here before.
Which means there’s at least one additional person—and perhaps up to four—in the target house.
Embrace the suck, move on.
Has he ever been on a mission that went exactly, 100 percent right?
So why start tonight?
He catches the attention of his squad mates, and they move into position, with him leading the way to the open wooden porch before the solitary door.
He flips up his night-vision goggles, blinks a few times. He can hear music and sound effects from some sort of video game being played inside.
He pulls out his pistol, gets ready to go to work.
Lillian puts her hand on Gina’s shoulder, is about to say, I want to get on I-16 before the drunks start leaving the roadhouses, when there’s a sharp bang! and the door leading outside blows wide open into the small, old house.
The woman on the other couch screams, and the guy to her right—Gordy, is that his name?—stands up and says, “Hey, what the hell—”
A man in military-style clothing ducks in with a pistol in his hand, and Lillian stands, putting her arms up in the air, thinking, Oh, damn it, it’s a police raid. These morons have finally been caught dealing their dope.
Funny how all cops nowadays feel like they have to dress up like soldiers, like this one, with fatigues, black boots, belts and harness, a black ski mask over his head.
Gordy says, “Hey, guy, I know my rights—”
He stops talking when the man with the pistol points it at him—and with horror Lillian recognizes there’s a suppressor on the end of the pistol, just like in the movies—and in two muffled reports, Gordy falls back onto the couch, his skull blown open in a blossom of brain and bone.
A spray of blood hits the face of Sally, who is now screaming louder, and the other guy on the couch scrambles over the side, toppling the couch. Lillian pushes Gina, screaming, “Run, run, run!”
Gina ducks down and picks up her girl, who’s still giggling, and Lillian shoves her sister and niece away as she grabs a dirty couch pillow and throws it at the gunman.
“Gina!” she screams at her sister. “Run!”
Polly in her arms, Gina runs up the stairs, Lillian pounding the steps right behind her.