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"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 most.

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 anyone questions.

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 CIA?"

"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 every word.

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 same things.

"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 imagine."

"Has your job made having a relationship difficult?"

An old ache lanced through Margos heart - not nearly as bad as it used to be, but enough to bring back memories.

"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 the distance."

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 haired lady. 

The End

 

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