"Come in," Matt Shepherd responded
to the knock on his door. Margo Vincent walked into the office
of the Silver Star Hotel with an almost embarrassed look on her
face and an envelope clutched in her hand. With an uncharacteristic
sigh, Margo sank into a chair across the desk. Matt hadn't been
a major in the army without learning how to read people, so he
just waited. After a few minutes, Margo silently handed an envelope
across the desk and waited to see what reaction would result.
Matt slipped the letter out of the envelope and began to read:
There was more to the letter but the
main point was right there at the beginning. "Well, it sounds
like a great honor," Matt said. "They seem to have
gone to a lot of trouble to find you. Not to mention the fact
that you are on the other side of the country. A little thing
like that usually deters people. Evidently that didn't seem to
be a factor. Noticing the look on Margo's face he threw up his
hands and said, "What? What did I say?"
Margo grimaced and said, "Actually,
it's nothing I haven't told myself. It's more the fact that I
remember how I looked up to those people who were at my career
days. How am I supposed to live up to that? Besides, I've killed
people, broken into buildings and computers, blown things up,
been shot, stabbed, beaten and tortured. All that was more fun
than speaking to a group of high school students."
With a knowing smile, Matt just nodded
at all of her comments. Then he simply stated, "You've already
made up your mind. When do you need to leave?"
Margo gave a thankful smile and replied,
"I can get a flight two days from now and will be back in
five days. I'd like to visit around my hometown for a little
while since I'm already there."
"I'll see you in ten days, then."
Noticing the raised eyebrows, Matt smiled and asked, "Do
I have to make it an order?"
With a laugh, Margo stood up and left
the office. As she went out the door, Benny Ray Riddle slipped
in with an envelope in his hand. "Mail call Major!,"
he sang out. "Who do you know at Hermosa Beach High School?"
"Oh man, I've got a bad feeling
about this," Matt said as he slid a knife along the flap
of the envelope.
Benny Ray was rather surprised to see
Matt throw the letter into the air with a huge groan and lay
his head on his desk.
Three days later Margo walked through
the front doors of her alma mater. Looking at the brick and limestone
brought back many memories. With a start, she realized that this
was her first real battleground. Graduating from high school
at the age of 14 hadn't exactly endeared her to many of her classmates.
Oh, she had plenty of friends, but she grew up more quickly than
Walking into the office, Margo identified
herself and was escorted to the auditorium. There she was met
by Mr. Greg Bernhardt who had been her principal. Other than
a little less hair, he hadn't changed at all. He still was dressed
in a sharp navy suit, white long-sleeved shirt, red power tie
and black wing tipped shoes shined like he had been in the military.
"Margo, it's so great to see you again!," he exclaimed
as he pumped her hand. "Come over here and meet the organizer
of this year's Career Day. This is Miss Bottorff."
"I'm glad to finally get to meet
you face to face," Miss Bottorff said as she finished checking
the microphone at the podium. "This year is going to be
just like it's been for years - a five member panel who will
tell a little about themselves and then the students will be
able to ask questions."
"Sounds like fun," Margo said.
"When do we get started?"
Matt climbed out of his Corvette and
stretched in the California afternoon sun. Thinking that he might
as well get this over with, he started up the sidewalk.
"You must be Matt Shepherd,"
a whirlwind exclaimed as he burst out of the front doors. "I'm
Charles, the principal here. You must come in and have a seat,
we'll be starting soon."
As he was propelled into the building,
Matt took a sidelong glance at the man who had ahold of his arm.
He was a middle aged man with thinning hair and a bit of a spare
tire. Charles was dressed in a pair of khaki dockers, penny loafers
and a maroon polo shirt. Shaking his head and trying to hide
a smile, Matt allowed himself to be guided into the building.
Once in the office Charles explained
that there would be four people talking about how their careers
developed to their current state. After everyone had told their
life story (in a few minutes) the students would be able to ask
Margo walked across the stage as she
was introduced by Miss Bottorff. All the eyes of the seniors
were on her as she prowled to her seat. Wearing a black pant
suit and silver silk shirt everyone could see that she was a
driven personality. As she sat down she looked across at her
fellow panel members and the crowd from under lowered eyelids.
The heart of every male in the room skipped at least one beat
and every female swore to learn that look.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like
to introduce you to a local businessman and former U.S. Army
Major Matt Shepherd." Charles smiled as he watched the reactions
of the juniors and seniors in the lecture hall. Matt glided in,
almost like a shadow, dressed in gray dress pants, a purple tee-shirt
and a black sports coat. All the guys (athletes or not) swore
that it was time to hit the weights and all the girls reevaluated
their list of most desirable males.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, does
anyone have questions for the members of the panel?"
"Margo, why did you go into the
"I graduated from high school when
I was only 14," Margo began. "After that I went to
Northwestern University and graduated in three years. I don't
say that to brag, but to give you an idea where I was in my life."
"Think about all the pressures
you are going through right now. Now think about if you were
the same age except that you are in college. I wasn't a wallflower
or anything, but then again, I wasn't a party girl either. It's
just that sometimes I felt like I wasn't living my own life.
Then the Central Intelligence Agency came along and offered me
a chance to use my skills in a way that would challenge me. How
could I pass that up?"
Margo continued with a smile, "That's
something I hope each of you take from this career day - find
something that challenges you. There were lots of other jobs
I could have taken but I never would have been happy. That's
what being successful in life is all about."
Matt, why did you go into the military?"
Images surfaced in Matt's memories as
soon as that question finished. In a split second there were
snapshots of his mother, his father, a Green Beret involved in
the Son Tay raid and six operators from a failed mission.
"Well, my father was a Navy pilot,"
he began quietly. "In 1968 he was shot down over Vietnam
and he is still missing in action. Then when I was 15, I met
a Green Beret who was incredible."
At this point, every student was leaning
their elbows on the tables of the lecture hall and was scooted
forward to the edge of their seats. Even the kids who told themselves
that they were too cool for this were perched and waiting for
Matt continued with his story. "Like
anyone, I looked for a career that would challenge me. For some
it's farming, rocket science or security work. For me it was
the military. Going to the Citadel and then being in the Army
was a chance for me to grow as an individual. To be honest, it
was also a chance to follow in the military footsteps of my father
and other role models I had met throughout my life."
"What do you do now?"
"Right now I'm a consultant for
security issues. It's nice because I get to do a little bit of
traveling, visit some interesting sites and have fun with friends."
"Have you ever killed anyone?"
The principal and teachers were shocked
beyond words or action that this question had been asked. Some
were ready to seek out the student who asked the question and
punish them somehow. There were others, though, that saw the
need for this question to be asked. It was a touchy subject and
every person in the room could tell that the upcoming answer
would stay with them for the rest of their lives.
The crowd could see a shadow pass across
that face and then settle in the eyes. A hand brushed through
the hair as the question hung in the air. It was inevitable that
it would come up, yet it was still a bit of a shock to hear it
spoken by a teenager. Then in a quiet voice, not a whisper, but
not a normal volume either, came the response. "Yes, I've
had to defend myself, my friends and my country. In the process
it has meant, at times, that someone had to die."
"What's the most fun you've had
in your job or what are you most proud of?"
Margo's eyes flashed as she recalled
a trip into Libya. "I met a group of orphans one time who
weren't being cared for properly. As a matter of fact, the people
in charge were using these small, defenseless children for personal
gain, kind of like a shield. Well, we were able to get those
kids out of that situation and into the hands of people who would
care for them properly.
To most people that doesn't sound like
a lot of fun. I grew up for a few years in Romania and saw the
suffering that can happen. I don't want to ever see someone have
to go through that so putting them on track for a better future
was very satisfying."
Everyone in the auditorium could see
the fire in her eyes and feel the power and emotion in her voice.
There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Margo Vincent had seen
some terrible things. There was also no doubt that she would
do whatever she could to prevent others from experiencing those
"I inherited the Silver Star Hotel
from my uncle. It's taken a lot of time, money and effort but
it's finally up and running. Seeing people enjoying themselves
is an amazing feeling because I've provided that opportunity
to them. It's a place where my friends and I can hang out. It's
also a place for strangers to come and have a good time."
"Whatever you do in life, be sure
to make things enjoyable for others," Matt said with a voice
full of pride. "Sometimes it may seem cool to act like you
don't care. I can tell you from personal experience, though,
that seeing someone smile is a better reward that you could ever
"Has your job made having a relationship
An old ache lanced through Margos heart
- not nearly as bad as it used to be, but enough to bring back
"At one time, my job allowed me
to meet someone very special," Margo said with a wistful
smile. "While I was stationed in the Federal Republic of
Germany, I met someone special. He was an Israeli Mossad officer
and we were about to get married. As we were looking at synagogues,
he was killed."
Margo's voice became stronger as she
continued. "That was several years ago and my broken heart
has healed. Now I do date, but my job usually scares men off.
Right now I am single, though."
As she was talking, her mind wandered
to a certain man that she had worked with. Strong, smart, handsome,
confident, and a friend - possibly too close a friend. One thing
she did know, though, was that he could kiss very well.
"I've never been real good at relationships,
at least long term ones," Matt said with a rueful grin.
"For me, the job comes first. I've heard it said that soldiering
is a selfish mistress and for me that is true."
"Now that my military career is
over and I have a steady and normal job, maybe I'll have the
time to look around and find someone." No one was aware
of the irony in his statement. Not only was his job as the leader
of SOF anything but a normal job, but he knew who he wanted to
have a relationship with. He chuckled silently as he realized
that with all his medals and ribbons, he was scared to ask her
for a date.
Margo lay on her couch and stared at
the ceiling with a small smile playing across her face. She could
hear the "Les Miserables" soundtrack playing in the
background but she wasn't really listening. Her mind was focused
on the letter laying nearby on top of the glass coffee table.
Matt leaned back in his chair and propped
his feet on the window behind the desk. "It was actually
pretty fun. Maybe you should see about participating in a Career
Day sometime, Benny Ray,"
"No sir, Major," was the quick
response. "The last thing those kids need to hear about
is being a sniper. Either it's already in their minds or they're
never going to think about it. Besides amigo, those kids want
to hear about the things you and Margo did - action and adventure.
This ol'boy just sits still and waits for things to develop in
With a nod, Matt realized that Benny
Ray was right. The resident sniper might be a great marksman
and an even better person, but it took a special breed to follow
through with Plan X.
"So what was the hardest question
those kids asked?" Benny Ray drawled.
"Probably the one asking if I had
ever killed anyone," Matt replied absently. All the while
his mind was on the last one he was asked and a certain dark