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1100 HOURS

Matt Shepherd grimaced irritably at a light tapping on his office
door. "Yeah, what?" he grumbled.

Margo Vincent poked her face around the door. "Is it safe to come in

"That depends," he replied, not looking up. "You're not here to
bring me any more tax forms are you?"

"Nope." Margo grinned impishly as she crossed the room to perch on
the corner of his desk. "Actually, I'm here to take you away from
all this."

"Oh, really?" he muttered, continuing to work.

Margo reached over and shut the file he was using. "Really."

Matt glanced up and did a double take as he got his first really good
look at Margo's uniform of the day. In lieu of her usual black, she
was wearing a pair of white shorts and a bright pink halter top that
tied across her back and behind her neck, leaving her shoulders and
midriff bare. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail and a pair of
sunglasses was perched on top of her head. Matt's face relaxed into
an appreciative smile. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

"Well, for starters, we're going to get you out of this office! It's
an absolutely beautiful day outside. I thought we could spend it on
the boardwalk - you know, ride the rides, play some games… maybe even go for a walk on the beach. Just like real people," she added

He might have been able to hold out, if she hadn't thrown in that
last sentence. There was a wistful note in her voice… so faint that
someone who didn't know her as well as Matt probably wouldn't have picked up on it. He understood her unspoken plea. They could never be 'real people' - their chosen line of work simply did not allow for that - but it would be… nice… to pretend for a while… if only for one afternoon.

Matt leaned back in his chair, trying to maintain a serious expression.
"So, let me get this straight. My options for the day are staying in here, dealing with this very ugly mess… or going out to the beach and having fun with a very pretty lady. Hmmm… I'll have to think about this."

Which he did…for the two seconds it took her to get out a
mock-outraged "You!" and take a swipe at his arm.

Laughing, Matt caught her hand and allowed her to lead him from the


Matt had to admit that it was a gorgeous day. Fluffy white clouds
dotted the azure sky, silvery waves crashed on the golden sand, and
the sweet music of children's laughter rang in his ears. Having the
most beautiful woman on the beach for his companion did nothing to
detract from his enjoyment of the day, either. He looked down at
Margo and smiled.

She walked with her arm linked through his, laughing delightedly at
the sights and sounds of the boardwalk. So far, she'd talked him
into the Ferris wheel, carousel and bumper cars. Matt felt a bit
foolish, but he'd decided a good hour ago that it was a reasonable
price to pay for seeing Margo so relaxed and happy. The events of
her life and career had forced her to erect a hard protective shell
around her emotions. Matt knew that Margo lowered her defenses only in the presence of a few well-chosen friends. He considered it one of the highest honors of his life to be one of them.

As if sensing his thoughts, Margo tilted her head up at him and
smiled. "See? I told you this would be fun."

Matt chuckled indulgently. "And you were right… as usual. Wanna
check out the games?" he asked, keeping her earlier-stated wish list
in mind.

Margo agreed readily.

An hour later, Matt had beaten her soundly at the softball toss and
she'd returned the favor at the pinball arcade. "OK, this is war!"
Matt announced, leading her over to the shooting range.

"You're kidding, right?" Margo asked incredulously.

"Uh-uh… no kidding. Loser buys dinner," he added slyly.

"You're on!"

"Hope he doesn't have expensive taste," the attendant muttered as he
handed Margo her rifle.

She ignored him and proceeded to hit every target. The attendant's
jaw dropped as he reset the game for Matt, who also pegged every
target. "Uh… you folks wanna play another round?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah," Margo assured him. She and Matt played several more
rounds, each consistently hitting every target, no matter how fast
the attendant set the speed.

Margo was in the middle of yet another successful round when she
suddenly froze, lowering the rifle. She looked inquiringly at Matt,
who nodded tightly. He'd heard it too. The noise sounded like a car
backfiring or…

"Gunfire," he murmured.

"…with live ammunition," Margo completed his thought.

Margo set down the rifle and they moved off quickly, ignoring the
attendant, who was yelling for them to come back and collect their

"I don't suppose you're armed?" Matt asked hopefully, as they scanned the area for a way around the shooting arcade.

Giving him a you-should-know-better-than-to-ask look, Margo slipped her hand out of her pocket just enough for Matt to see the Derringer Model 7 Ultra Lightweight concealed in her palm.

"How many shots?" he muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

"Two. Beats spitting," she said with a shrug.

"Not by much." Matt spied a narrow alley that ran between two of the boardwalk's attractions and tapped Margo's arm, steering her in that direction. The alley was evidently for service entrances and ran back to the area where the garbage dumpsters were arrayed.

"Charming," Margo muttered under her breath as the rank stench of
rotting garbage assaulted their senses.

Matt laid a finger over his lips, gesturing for silence. He carefully edged forward, straining to see and hear around the corner.

"Geez, man! You shot a cop! Are you crazy?" a slightly panicked
voice exclaimed.

"Welcome to the big leagues, Johnny," a second voice replied. "Now
help me get rid of him before someone else comes along."

"Whoa…back up…no one said anything about killing any cops! I don't want any part of this."

"It's a little late for that," number two replied ominously. "You see, Johnny, Mister Enrique doesn't like it when the police manage to
infiltrate his operations. He doesn't like it one bit. He always finds
them, you know…just like this fella here."

Matt looked at Margo and raised two fingers. She shook her head -
she hadn't heard anything to indicate that there were any more people

Margo leaned in close to murmur into Matt's ear, "Maybe we should
just call the police."

Matt waved her to silence as they heard a heavy, dragging sound issue from around the corner.

"How'd you find out he was a cop?" the one called Johnny was asking.

"We have our sources Johnny. In fact, our sources have been very
good to us this week. They not only told us about Phil here…they
told us about you, too."

Margo's gaze met Matt's in a silent agreement - they simply couldn't
stand by and allow a peace officer to be murdered.

The men in the alley froze as Matt and Margo strolled around the
corner arm-in-arm. One was in the act of dragging a dead body while
the second aimed a pistol at his head.

"Darling, I told you we made a wrong turn!" Margo exclaimed

"You've made a very wrong turn, lady." The deep voice belonged to a third man at the far end of the alley, a tall, bulky man who's eyes
were hidden behind reflective sunglasses and who up until now had
been silent. As he swung around to cover them with his three fifty
seven, the man dragging the corpse dropped his burden and launched
himself at his own assailant, tackling the man around the legs and
wrestling for possession of the gun.

Matt and Margo took advantage of the confusion to take cover behind a dumpster. Shots ricocheted off the metal, deafening in the enclosed space. They heard someone grunt in pain, but when Matt edged his head out to look, another bullet whizzed by.

"Damn," he muttered.

Margo had her weapon out, alert for an opportunity to use it.

They heard footsteps approach, then stop just around the corner of
the dumpster. Matt set himself against the heavy container and gave
it a sharp push, knocking it into the gunman who was stalking them.
He pounced before the larger man could regain his balance, bearing
their assailant to the pavement and pinning his gun arm against the
ground. Matt's opponent was every bit as tough as he looked however, and a fierce battle was joined.

Margo slithered carefully past them to the spot where Johnny and his
attacker were still battling for control of the gun. The weapon
discharged, and Johnny slumped to the ground, clutching at his
shoulder. Mister Enrique's associate raised his pistol again, but
the shot that rang out was Margo's, impacting with his gun arm. Her
second shot grazed his temple, taking him down for good. She stepped closer and kicked his weapon out of reach, then looked to the fallen police officer, intending to check on his condition.

His eyes widened as he saw something beyond Margo. Catching his
expression, she whirled around and slammed her elbow into the hulking gunman's gut as he tried to grab her. Matt struggled to his feet, blood running from a cut over his eye. He delivered a powerful kick to the back of the man's knees, effectively cutting his legs out from under him. Margo clubbed him over the head with her now spent weapon and he crumpled to the ground.

The silence that descended was sudden and complete as Matt and Margo stood trying to catch their breath. She reached up to probe gently at the cut on his face.

"Ouch," she said, wincing in sympathy.

"I'll live," Matt assured her with a grin.

"You'll live longer if you take a long hot shower," she told him,
wrinkling her nose at the aroma of garbage rising from his clothing.

"Yeah…well…the trash was softer to land on than asphalt!" Matt
protested, chuckling softly.

"But so much more fragrant," Margo observed.

"Who are you people?" Johnny asked, groaning in pain.

"Just some friends who happened to be in the right place at the right
time," Matt replied carefully.

"Military?" the fallen man guessed.

"Something like that," Margo replied evasively.

"You?" Matt inquired cautiously.


Matt nodded noncommittally. "Will you be all right here? We'll call
nine-one-one from the boardwalk…help'll be here in a few minutes"

"No wait - we'll need your names and statements!"

Matt kept walking.


"Whoa - what the hell happened to you, Major?" Benny Ray exclaimed as they entered the back room at The Silver Star.

"Pe-ew!" Nick added, waving a hand in front of his face.

Margo looked her usual impeccable self, but Matt had blood on his
shirt… among other things… and a swollen, discolored lump over one eye.

Matt looked at Margo and smiled. "I'm fine, Benny Ray, really. We
just went for a walk on the beach, that's all."

Benny Ray looked from one to the other. "If you say so, sir. I'll
go get something to clean up that cut you got there."

"And I'll get a trash bag for that outfit yer wearin'," Nick added
pointedly. "You smell worse'n a Central Park wino!"

"Gee thanks, Nick," Matt replied acidly. He looked back at Margo as the others vacated the room. "You sure you're all right?"

"Yeah…I just wish we didn't have to leave him."

"You know as well as I do that we couldn't afford to get tangled up
in a police investigation. We saw the ambulance and black-and-whites arrive… if he really is DEA, then he made two collars…and if he's not, well, he's still in the right hands."

"I know," she sighed, "it's just that I have this thing about leaving
people behind."

"I know," Matt agreed. He reached out as if to drape his arm around
her shoulders, but Margo backed away out of his reach.

"Don't you dare!" she warned.

Matt laughed quietly again. "You know, Margo, this was a really good idea - spending a day at the beach like normal people - we'll have to try it again sometime!"

"Right," Margo laughed, "just like normal people."



Thanks to: Chris for letting me bounce ideas around, Ellen and Grace
for being my preview victims… er… audience, and everyone else who listened to my whining! ...Kath

Disclaimer: SOF is the property of Rysher, et al this is a
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