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 Part 1

Silver Star
Hermosa Beach
1400 hours

Matthew Sheppard sighed as he looked around the basement of the Silver Star.He had a small mountain of paperwork to finish and, on top of that, the
place was a mess. Computer stuff that Nick Delvecchio and Margo Vincent
were installing was scattered around the workstation. Assorted magazines
and the leftover takeout sat on the coffee table. Benny Ray Riddle’s
Remington 700 lay on the table, partially disassembled. It was not like the team to leave everything in this condition. Matt’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of several people coming down the staircase.

"I wanna know, how did ya pull this one off?" Nick’s accent was easily
recognized.

"I want to know just what’s going on here." Matt looked at his team...and
looked again.

Benny Ray came down the stairs first, carrying his motorcycle helmet under
one arm and a paper bag in his hand. Nick followed, turning around to watch Margo and a very tall yellow-haired man. Margo was trying her hardest not to laugh. A large cast covered Deke’s left hand and arm up to the shoulder. Part
of his hair was shaved off, covered by a large bandage.

"Mario Andretti here tried to outrun a Greyhound bus." Margo said.

"Yeah, and he lost. Lost a lot more than his car." Nick said. "He looks
like my grandma’s poodle."

"Very funny." Deke did not look happy at all.

"Sorry about the mess, Major. Margo paged me from the hospital and we met
up there." Benny Ray looked around the basement.

Matt started to reply, but was interrupted by the phone. "Silver Star"

"Matt, it’s Trout..."

Part 2

LAX International
Los Angeles, California
1130 hours

Benny Ray looked around the terminal again. It was beginning to fill up with passengers for their flight. One hour to departure time. Matt’s voice crackled over the com link.

"Ok, subject has arrived. We’re on our way up. Everything clear?"

"All right here, but you’d think they’d have coffee that doesn’t taste like…"

"Good to go Boss." Benny Ray cut Nick off.

"Roger that, we go as planned."

The good thing is we’re flying first class Margo thought. First on, first off. And, although the team normally didn’t do personal protection jobs, this one did not look too hard. The kids' parents were Trouts' friends and he owed them a favor. After all, how much trouble could an 8 year old kid be? Get him from here to an island off the Florida coast where his family had a house and they were done. Child’s play, right?

They announced boarding a few minutes later. Benny Ray and Rico would sit
in the coach seating to alert them if anyone back there was coming their way. Matt wanted an extra person handy. Deke’s accident had ruled him out and since Benny Ray and Rico worked well together as a backup shooting team, the medic was the first person he had though of. Nick had a seat in the rear of the first class cabin. Matt and Margo were sitting next to their charge, Richard Austin.

Ricky, as he insisted on being called, was getting very restless. "How long till we get there?!"

"It’s a five hour flight. They’ll have a movie." Margo replied. And maybe you’ll go to sleep and shut up! She didn’t voice that thought.

Thirty seconds later... "I’m hungry! I wanna drink!"

"Wait until we take off."

"I have to go to the bathroom!"

Margo, desperate for a distraction, pulled out a deck of cards. "Do you want to play, um..."

"Poker." Matt grinned at her.

"You can’t teach an 8 year old poker!"

"I want to learn it!"

"Ok, here’s what you do." Margo dealt the cards as the plane started moving.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for flying with us. We
expect a pleasant flight.."

Benny Ray tuned out the rest of the captain’s announcement. He stretched
and yawned, looking around the rest of the cabin.

"Nervous?" The woman seated next to him peered over a pair of glasses.

"Nope."

"I’m going home from visiting my grandchildren. Want to see the pictures?
I’d feel better if Jim, that’s my husband, was here. I’m afraid of flying."

She took out what had to be a hundred photos out of her purse.

‘This is gonna be a long flight’ Benny Ray thought.

Ricky got real quiet as the plane gained speed and rose from the ground. He looked out the window and grabbed Margo’s hand.

"Hey, it’s all right. I’ve flown lots of times and it’s fun."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, very. See that dot?"

"Yeah."

"It’s a truck."

"Wow! Look, there’s a boat, and another plane, and…"

Margo smiled. She heard Matt’s voice over the ear mike. "Nice one Margo.
Ok, how’s it look people?"

"Fine here." Nick sighed.

"Benny Ray?" Matt waited. "Benny Ray, you there? Ok Nick, check it out!"

"Nope boss, I’m here, we’re clear." Benny Ray finished squirming out of Dottie’s death grip. "Lady next to me’s a little afraid of flying, she passed out. I can’t feel my arm."

Matt chuckled.

"Rico’s looking at her." Benny Ray settled back after making sure Dottie
was okay, trying not to get too bored.

Miami International Airport
Miami, Florida
2200 hours local

"You’re a nice young man. I know you will find the right woman someday.
You won’t stay on the market for long. Thank you for helping me."

"It’s ok, I enjoyed talking to you." Benny Ray smiled, thinking ‘the market? Never mind, I don’t want to know.’

Matt, Margo and Nick almost died laughing when Benny Ray emerged from the
gate with Dottie on his arm. Rico followed the pair. Her husband was waiting and Benny Ray and Rico had to be introduced. They finally rejoined the others.

"Geez Benny Ray, moving up in the world are we?" Nick said, a big grin on his face.

Benny Ray glared at him. "She’s a nice lady."

"Sure, that’s what they all say, and then bang! along comes the husband. I feel for ya man."

Benny Ray couldn’t help but laugh. It was cut off abruptly when he looked
around the terminal. Rico, who could sometimes read the sniper’s mind, said "We gotta bug out now!"

Matt spotted the two pairs of men who were moving to cut them off. "Parking garage, move it! We need a car, fast!"

Part 3

Miami International Airport
Miami, Florida
1145 hours

Nick, who knew his way around the huge airport well, led the group away
from the gate. Trout had said there would be cars waiting in the garage for them. Nick wanted to take an indirect route. Whoever their pursuers were, the team did not want them to follow to the boat. Nick’s thoughts were interrupted by a shout from behind. "Halt, FBI! Stop where you are!"

"Major, what now?" Benny Ray’s calm voice cut through Matt’s racing mind.

"Keep going, we don’t know what’s going on. Our first priority is to keep
Ricky safe. Lose them now, and regroup. Benny Ray, you and Rico split off,divide them up. Meet at the garage in 15."

"Roger that." Rico sped off down a hallway, heading for the international gates.
"Hope you know where you’re going, amigo."

Matt leaned against the sink, trying to catch his breath. It had been easy
to lose the agents in the crowded airport. Most travelers had ignored the
agents' yells in their hurry to get to their respective gates. The bathroomseemed a good place to wait, for now.

With 5 minutes left to get to the garage, Matt looked carefully around the
hallway. Nick appeared with a bag. He handed out clothes and a wide straw
hat with a fake flower in it for Margo.

"Don’t even say it Nick," Margo warned.

The team found the two vehicles, with Rico and Benny Ray waiting, where
Trout said they would be. The first, a Pontiac Grand Prix, would take Matt,Margo, Nick, and Ricky. A Ford Bronco would be used as the chase car.

Benny Ray got behind the wheel of the truck.

"Hold on a minute. We’ll meet at the safe house first, call Trout, and
find out why in the hell the FBI was waiting for us. I don’t want to go to
the boat not knowing what’s going on."

"Or even if they're really FBI in the first place." Nick, always suspicious, wasn't going to rule that out.

"Trout always hides something. There’s always a catch with that guy..."
Rico trailed off.

Safe House #1
Miami, Florida
1400 hours

"When am I going to see my mommy?" Ricky looked close to tears. The past
events hadn’t been kind to him. All of his tough guy act had disappeared.
He had been told by his bodyguards in LA that it would be a quick trip, and
then he could see his parents again.

"Real soon. We won’t let anything happen to you. You have my word." Rico
looked at his charge. Margo was trying to get in touch with Trout so he hadvolunteered to watch Ricky.

"Where’s Margo?"

"She’ll be back in a minute. You hungry?"

"Yeah!"

"Ok, we’ll grab something to eat, then you can teach me how to play poker."
Rico, of course, knew very well how to play poker.

Benny Ray studied the street in front of the house. He had a spot in an upstairs window that gave him a view of the entire street. Holding a pair of binoculars courtesy of Nick’s plan to make them all look like tourists, he scanned the surrounding area carefully.

"Want something to eat?"

"Nope, I’ll eat on the way to the marina, but thanks Nick."

"All right, here’s the story." Margo and Matt came into the room. "Trout
says we continue as planned. He doesn’t know why the FBI was at the
airport, and we are to contact him as soon as we reach the boat. I have a
secure satellite phone for us to use."

Matt sighed. He didn’t like being kept in the dark. One of these days, I’ll learn not to trust Trout when he says ‘Easy mission.’

"Heads up, incoming."

Matt saw it immediately. A Suburban, not unlike what the team used, drove
up the street and turned around the corner.

"Rico, let’s go," Matt called.

The team got back into the vehicles and started off. Their only option was
to head to the marina and the boat. If they could reach the island maybe
they could get some answers.

Matt saw the tail first. The other car, a black unmarked car that had
‘government’ written all over it, made no attempt to be subtle.

Benny Ray saw the threat and moved to intercept the car.

A voice on a loudspeaker demanded that they stop and pull over. Margo saw
the shotgun pointed out of the passenger side window. Suddenly, the Bronco
flew in front of the black car.

"Get going Major! The marina’s 5 minutes away. We’ll keep ‘em busy!"

Matt gunned the engine, sending the Pontiac over 90. "Stay down, Ricky!"
he yelled.

Margo pushed Ricky to the floor and used her body to protect him from any stray bullets. Nick, being in the passenger seat, had nothing to do except hold on for dear life.

Benny Ray slammed on the brakes, trying to get the other truck’s driver to
lose control. The Suburban immediately swerved around him. Cursing, the
sniper raced to catch up. "Rico, see if you can slow him down!"

Rico pulled his own shotgun out of a bag at his feet. He took aim and fired. "It’s armor plated, this won’t do anything."

"Okay, hang on. Try to get the driver." Benny Ray stayed calm.

"The boat yard’s over this hill, we don’t have much time."

In answer, Benny Ray floored the Bronco, sending it up even with the car.

Rico aimed the shotgun.

Matt glanced in the rearview mirror. "Watch out!" he yelled. Too late. The Bronco did not have armor or run flat tires. Matt watched helplessly as Benny Ray moved to cut off the Suburban, shielding the Pontiac. He saw the gunner in the car take aim and shoot out the passenger tires of the Bronco.

Benny Ray fought for control coming over the hill. The truck lost control on the loose gravel slope. It flipped onto the roof and skidded into a tree, its engine pouring out thick black smoke.

"Benny Ray! Rico! Come in!" Matt yelled over the radio. "Benny Ray!"


Part 4

Sunchaser’s Marina
Outside of Miami, Florida
1430 hours

Rico coughed. His head was pounding and he smelled smoke. ‘What
happened?’ he thought. Then he remembered. He heard a voice coming faintlythrough his comlink. Amazed that it still worked, the medic found the
mouthpiece hanging from his shirt. "Major? I’m ok, get to the boat, I’ll get Benny Ray and meet you there."

"Are you ok?"

"Just get going, sir!"

Matt didn’t like the sound of that answer. There had been nothing heard
from the sniper.

Margo and Nick had their pistols out, watching for the hostiles.

"There’s the boat, I’ll get it started." Nick jumped out of the car.

Matt and Margo got Ricky to the boat. Their pursuers seemed to be focusing
their attention on the overturned Bronco, but once they figured out that Ricky wasn’t in it that would change.

‘Hurry up Rico,’ Matt thought.

Rico’s urgent voice cut through the fog in Benny Ray’s head. He groaned
and opened his eyes, only to see the tree trunk a few inches from his face.
The seat belt held him securely upside down. Black smoke wafted through theair, making it difficult to see much else.

"Come on, amigo, wake up! We’re about to have company." Rico knew there
was no time to check thoroughly for a neck or spine injury. "Can you move
your legs? Any pain or numbness?

"Yeah, I think so. And, no, nothin’s numb."

"Okay, I’m gonna cut you down." Rico poked his head out of the truck for a
moment and saw just how close the other men were to their position. He
fired off a round from the shotgun, driving them back. Then he took out his knife, and after telling Benny Ray to brace himself on the truck’s roof, cut through the belt.

Benny Ray cried out in pain as he fell sideways onto the roof. Rico forced
himself to ignore that for now- they had to get to the boat first. He punched the rest of the glass out of the window and took up a position by the hood. "Can you walk?"

"Don’t have much choice, do I?" Benny Ray emerged from the shattered truck.

"Major, we’re on the way." Rico looked around and saw the men racing
toward the boat.

"Took them long enough to figure that out. My grandma’s smarter..."

"Nick, enough! Margo, get the lines off, now." Matt knew there was no way
for the other two to make it to the boat.

Rico saw that too. He raced down the hill, checking to make sure Benny Ray
was able to follow. Keeping to available cover, Rico looked for a way out.

"You up for a swim? There’s a long pier, Major if you can get the boat out of range, we’ll meet you." Benny Ray didn’t miss much.

"Roger that." A relieved Matt got the boat moving fast.

The two men raced down the pier. Rico didn’t stop at the end; he made a
long jump and hit the water. Looking back, he was ready to help Benny Ray
if the sniper was too severely injured to swim.

Benny Ray jumped in, feeling the cold water close over his head. He fought
his way to the surface and started swimming, his head barely clearing the water.

Rico came up next to him. "You gonna make it?"

Benny Ray managed a nod. He could see the boat just ahead.

Rico frowned, they weren’t going fast enough. Bullets hit the water around them, the shooters didn’t have the range yet. Rico grabbed his friend under the arms
and started towing. Benny Ray went limp, knowing that they could move
faster if Rico pulled him.

Matt, seeing the trouble the two were having, threw a rope out. Margo used a winch to tow them in and hauled them on board.

Benny Ray lay on deck, streaming water.

The major wasted no time in getting them out of the harbor.

Rico checked on the others, making sure nobody else was hurt.

"Benny Ray?" Matt looked over at him.

"I’m okay, Boss."

"I’ll make sure of that." Rico’s tone left no room for argument.


 Part 5

The 'Wind Runner'
Atlantic Ocean
1530 hours

"Well, how is he?" Matt asked, keeping his voice low. Ricky was sleeping
in the bunk. Nick had watch on the bow, and Margo was sitting at the stern.

"He’ll live. Got a few busted ribs, cuts, and bruises. I want to wake him
up once in a while to check on him. His pupils are a little dilated, could
be a concussion, I don’t think it’s serious but I want to make sure."

Matt sighed in relief. "Monitor the radio, if they are FBI, the Coast Guard
will be searching for this boat."

The boat had a new name, with the old one on some type of banner that was
easily removed. It was a good sized boat, capable of high speeds. Extra
gas was stored in a locker under the side benches. Matt felt like he was
riding on a bomb, but they would need the fuel to get to their destination.

"Will do Major." Rico headed down below.

Matt looked over at Margo. "Take the wheel, I’m going to call Trout and
see if he has any info for us."

Trout’s Office
The Pentagon
Washington D.C

"Hello."

"Trout, it’s Matt."

"I’ll call you back. I need a little time to look into this."

"How long?"

"Give me 30 minutes."

Trout booted up his computer and entered his access code. He quickly entered the FBI’s mainframe. Looking up any current cases in the Miami area turned out to be a mistake. The computer flashed access denied on the screen. Trout tried a back door, this time searching for agents active in the area. Again he was booted out. Then his phone rang. "Yes."

"I suggest, for your own health, that you cease searching."

"Is that a threat?" Trout managed to sound equally cold, although he was having a hard time keeping his temper.

"Consider it a warning. You and your team are in way over your heads. It would be much more"- the caller paused- "advantageous for their health if they hand over the boy. Tell them that." The unknown caller hung up.


 Part 6

The Wind Runner
Atlantic Ocean
1600 hours

"Just get Ricky to his parent’s house. I’ll have a full security team waiting there for you. They’ll handle things from there."

"Trout…."

"Matt, I’m sorry, if they tapped my computer they may be able to trace this
phone using my link. Good luck."

"Rico, see if you can get Benny Ray up here, the situation’s changed."

"So what else is new?" Nick looked at Matt. "That’s the usual for us
isn’t it. Nothing changes."

"Are you ever positive?" Margo asked.

"No. I can’t be positive when I’m seasick. I’m gonna lose my lunch."

"Over the side, downwind please."

"Oh, you’re so sympathetic."

"Benny Ray. Hey, come on man, wake up."

Benny Ray groaned. Whoever that was obviously wasn’t going to shut up and
let him sleep. He cracked open his eyes. Rico.

"The major needs to talk to us. Something’s come up."

Rico emerged from the cabin, followed by a groggy Benny Ray. Nick was
looking at the water over the stern.

"Gonna feed the sharks?" Hurting though he was, Benny Ray couldn’t resist.

"Sharks! What sharks?!!"

Margo started humming the Jaws theme. Nick turned pale.

Matt laughed, then quickly turned serious. The team caught his mood change
and quieted, waiting for the bomb to fall. Matt briefly retold his talk with Trout, adding that he didn’t know where to get intel on their pursuers.

"How about Deke? He’s been able to do it before. I’ll route the phone
through a network they won’t be able to trace. They’ll come up in India, I
think." Margo held out her hand for the phone.

"Ok, do it. Better India than here."

Los Caballeros Hotel
Tijuana, Mexico
1200 hours local

Deke sighed as he sipped his margarita. His arm was killing him, and
tequila was a very effective painkiller. The codeine Benny Ray had brought
back from the hospital had run out. ‘I wonder where I can get more. That’s
good stuff.’

The cell phone that was always next to him rang.

"Yeah, baby, what’s up?"

"Deke, Margo. We need info, fast."

"Coming right up. What’s goin’ on?"

Margo briefed him in on the situation, making sure to add Trout’s problems.

"Okay, let me check with my contact. I’ll get back to you. What’s the
number?"

Margo told him a number, then asked him to subtract the amount of his
doctor’s bill.

"Sure thing, baby. I’ll get back to you."

The Wind Runner

Deke called back an hour later. His contact had found something before
being kicked out of the network.

"Here it is." Margo began repeating what Deke said. "Since we already
knew trying to ID the agents was pointless, the contact looked into Ricky’s
parents instead. Turns out that they were in the market, selling some very
high priced goods. He based that on the amount of cash in the offshore
account. What it was they were selling is unknown. The contact was booted
before he could find out. The last transaction looks like a down payment,
the amount doesn’t match the other deposits. My guess is that somebody inthe government wants the latest set of goods back. They’ll do anything to get it."

"Including using Ricky as bait to draw the parents in."

Margo glanced at Nick. "I’m impressed."

"Yeah, well, kidnappings work the same way. Only instead of money, the
kidnappers want whatever Ricky’s mommy and daddy took. Then maybe they’ll
get their son back."

"Or maybe whoever it is will just bump off all three of them." Benny Ray
looked at the others. "We don’t know for sure."

Matt sighed. "In that case, I don’t think it would be a good idea to go to
the house. Margo, call Deke. Have him get in touch with Trout to call off
his security team. They’ll be walking right into a trap."

"Yeah, well, let’s not do the same here."


 Part 7

Two days later….

The National Hurricane Watch Center
Florida
1800 hours

Mary Quinn looked at the latest readouts and satellite data. She frowned.
Tropical Storm Riley had increased its' wind speed. It was now a full
hurricane and headed on a northeast track that would cross southern Florida, and, in doing so, hit most of the small islands in the area. Of course, this was a projection, but so far the storm had followed exactly what had been predicted.

"Jack, we have a full hurricane. Issue the small craft advisories and
begin working the evacuation plans with local authorities. Make sure we
notify the Coast Guard and rescue services. If this does hit, it’ll be a big one."

"How much time?"

"About 6 hours."

The Wind Runner
85 miles south of Key West, Florida
1815 hours

"We’ve been on this boat for two days. How much longer?"

"Take it easy Ricky. We can’t go to your house yet and we’re safe out
here."

"But I wanna go home!"

"You and me both," Nick muttered.

Margo shot him a look. "How about some Monopoly? Rico found it in the
cabin."

"Cool! Hey, Nick, wanna play?"

"Yeah, okay." Nick grinned. He was becoming attached to the kid.

Rico grinned at them from his spot at the radio.

Benny Ray was spelling Matt at the wheel. The sniper felt much better, although he would still admit his head hurt, if bugged about it enough. Rico had made sure that his friend kept his broken ribs taped to avoid problems.

The noise from the game distracted Rico until he heard the Coast Guard on the radio. He motioned for everyone to be quiet and turned up the volume.

"Attention all craft in the vicinity of southern Florida, this is the Coast Guard. We are hereby announcing a hurricane warning for the following areas."

The group listened silently. "Is that us?" Matt asked.

"Damn straight...hang on a sec."

"All craft are advised to head for the nearest safe harbor. We will be listening on Channels 48 and 49, if you do not think you will be able to reach safety, please report there with your craft’s name and description. Keep this channel clear except for emergencies."

"Benny Ray!" Matt called up to the boat’s driver. "Put on the autopilot."

"Let me guess, we have a problem."

"You could say that," Nick yelled back.

Matt waited until everyone was seated. "I don’t think we’ll be able to make Key West in time. We’ll run out of fuel if we go any faster. I was hoping to catch a plane there and get out of Florida. Split up the maps and look for possibilities." In a quiet voice he added "Margo, you and Nick keep Ricky occupied. Make sure he wears his life jacket."

Benny Ray looked out at the now cloudy sky. "We’d better find that harbor
fast, Boss."


Part 8

The Wind Runner
75 miles south of Key West, Florida
1845 hours

"How ‘bout this one, Boss?" Benny Ray handed Matt the map he had been using to navigate. "There’s a small airstrip, maybe someone’ll have shelter."

"All right. There’s an inlet on the south side, circle around and see what it looks like."

Benny Ray started to reply, but stumbled to the side as dizziness washed over him. The pounding headache had not lessened any in the past hour. "Rico, you take it."

"Will do buddy, are you okay?"

"Yeah." Benny Ray thought for a minute. "I think."

Rico had his hands full with the boat. The water was getting choppy, with a strong current running in the opposite direction of where they were headed. The south side of the island was sheltered by large rock formations. The medic guided Wind Runner through into a small harbor. A boat was moored in the middle. Rico asked Margo for the fog horn and blew it for several seconds.

A figure soon appeared on the path leading to the beach. He did not look happy about his visitors at all. Pushing a small outboard into the water, the island’s owner headed for the team’s boat. "I hope y’all have a good reason for coming here."

The voice had a strong Southern accent, more pronounced than Benny Ray’s.

"Yeah. Sorry for the intrusion, but we’re too far away to reach a harbor before the hurricane hits." Matt studied the other man. He had serious brown eyes that reminded Matt of the look in Benny Ray’s sometimes. Thinning brown hair topped a square face.

"Oh, right. I’d forgotten ‘bout that." The man looked at the boat. "Well, come on, put out the anchor and I’ll give you a ride."

"Thanks. Rico, tell Margo and I what you need us to do."

"Hang on a sec...Margo?"

Margo came up from the cabin, where she had been waiting in case of problems.

"Jimmy?" A wide grin spread over her face."How long has it been?!"

"Not since Prague..." Margo cut her sentence short when she remembered the
rest of the team.

Jim returned her smile. "Let’s get to the house."

Atoll #23
1900 hours

"Nice place ya got here." Nick looked around the one story ranch house.

"It suits my needs."

"So how do you know this dude, Margo?" The New Yorker wasted no time in
asking questions.

"Later. I’ve got food, that kid of yours looks hungry."

Ricky looked at Jim. "I’m not a kid!"

"All right, young man. Let’s go see what we have to eat."

After dinner, Rico insisted on checking Benny Ray again. The dizziness earlier worried him.

"I’m good to go, honest. I think I’m just tired."

Rico looked at him skeptically. "It didn’t look like that to me."

"What happened?" Jim asked.

Matt glanced at Margo, silently asking if this guy was trustworthy. She nodded.

"Here’s what’s going on. I’ll tell you as much as I can."

It took Matt almost 15 minutes to brief Jim on their situation. During that time, both Ricky and Benny Ray looked about ready to pass out from exhaustion.

"Interesting. Sounds like y’all have a real can of worms there. Get some rest, I have space. I’ll do some digging, if this damn storm doesn’t knock out my gear."

He got no arguments on that one. The team found places around the house to crash, after dividing up guard shifts for Ricky. Matt would take no chances, it wasn’t his nature. The hurricane didn’t wake up the exhausted operators. The house was sheltered by a cliff, minimizing the noise.

0900 hours

"Oh shit, Major!" Nick’s yell woke Matt.

"Wha…" Matt rolled off the couch and landed on a sleeping Benny Ray, who
had stretched out on the floor next to the sofa. The sniper let out a surprised yell and tried to get out from under Matt. Matt grinned and stood up.

"This better be good, Nick." Benny Ray peered out from under the pile of blankets that had landed on him.

Nick laughed nervously. "I’d say, the boats are gone."


Part 9

Atoll #23
0905 hours

"You’re kidding, right?" Margo looked at Nick.

"Nope." Benny Ray gazed out the window. "They’re gone."

Matt and Jim traded glances. "We have a plan."

"Y’all are going to split up…" Jim began.

"Wait, that’s never a good idea. Remember the last time?" Margo said.

Benny Ray winced, he remembered the last time very well.

"We have to. It’s not safe to have Ricky near his parents until we find out the whole story." Matt looked at each of his team members.

The plan was to have Matt, Margo, and Nick go to Colorado in order to meet
with Ricky’s parents. They had a cabin for winter getaways near Boulder.
Deke had called with the location and had confirmed that the couple was there. Matt had not bothered to ask why they weren’t at the island house as originally briefed. There was a lot more going on than the team knew. Answers would come, one way or another, from Mr. and Mrs. Austin. Rico and Benny Ray would escort Ricky to a safehouse unknown to anyone but the team members. Jim had offered the use of his seaplane to ferry the team to the mainland. They could catch flights from different airports. Matt took it for granted that they were being followed.

"Sounds good, Matt." Margo grinned, she liked Colorado.

"I’ll take you three first." Jim said. "The other two can wait here with Ricky, it’ll be safe."

"What about weapons? We’re kinda short, Boss." Benny Ray asked.

"Got that covered." Jim answered. "In the basement, follow me."

The team found an arsenal down there. Everyone was able to outfit themselves with favorites, and Rico refilled his first aid kit with supplies.

"You sure you don’t mind me taking this, amigo?" Benny Ray held up a
Remington 700.

"No prob. Just send it back if it survives the trip."

"Good idea, Benny Ray. So far they’ve found us everywhere we’ve gone. Find a spot on the cliff and watch out for guests." Matt sounded tired. He couldn’t wait for this to be over…. Quickly pushing those thoughts from his mind, the major
began organizing the supplies for Colorado. Margo helped him pack the computer and satellite commo equipment salvaged from the boat. "That should do it, let’s get going."

Benny Ray watched through the scope as the small four-seat seaplane took off. Why did he always get a bad feeling when they split up? As a sniper, he had often gone on missions alone…but now was different. He had gotten used to always having someone there to watch his back. He would do the same for any of them. Splitting up just didn’t feel right. Although he would probably never say it aloud, the team was like his family. Movement in the scope broke into his thoughts. He zeroed in on the small object, waiting until it grew closer. The boat was a fast Cigarette model, capable of speeds over 100 mph. Benny Ray could make out two people in it. "Rico, we got tangos, inbound. Call Jim, see how fast he can get here."

"Roger that." A pause. "He’s 15 minutes out, but he’ll need fuel."

"Too long, I’m gonna move and see if I can slow them down some." The sniper made his way down to a better spot. The boat had to come ashore to the beach, it was the only place that gave ready access to the island. The other sides were protected by sheer cliffs, which would take hours to climb. Jim had chosen well.
The boat reached the beach after another ten minutes. The two passengers
motored slowly into the small bay, scanning the beach to see if anyone was there. Benny Ray took aim and put a bullet squarely into the boat’s starboard engine.

"Sniper! On the cliff!" The driver yelled.

"Go, go, go!" The passenger shoved the remaining engine to the max, going
for the beach.

"Benny Ray, the plane’s back. We gotta go!"

Benny Ray ran back up the path, locating the hanger. He jumped into the back seat, next to Ricky.

Rico looked back as the sniper gasped for air.

"I’m fine, ribs hurt." Benny Ray answered before Rico could ask.

The seaplane took off, flying low over the water to avoid radar. Ricky thought that was the coolest thing he had ever done, and let everyone else know. The flight would take almost an hour.

Rico spotted the second boat seconds before they flew over it. He was about to call out a warning when a stream of tracers reached for the plane.

Benny Ray unbuckled his belt, using his body to shield Ricky.

They all felt the thump of bullets hitting the plane. Alarms went off in the cockpit, and they lost altitude.

Rico was able to see land ahead.

"Hang on, I’ll have to put her down. Riddle, get your belt on!"

Benny Ray refastened his belt. He could see trees now. They were coming up towards the plane. Too fast. Jim tried to land in a field but the battered airframe couldn’t make it. They hit with a loud crash. The four passengers felt themselves being thrown around, then everything went black.


                                                   
Part 10

Whittaker Airfield
Boulder, Colorado
0900 hours

Matt stretched as he got off the plane. He looked around the small airport. It catered mostly to business planes. The Austin’s Learjet was parked in an open hangar. Mechanics were clustered around the plane.

"Margo, see what you can find out from them."

"No problem." Margo smiled.

She headed for the hangar, throwing a purse over her shoulder. One of the
mechanics looked up. "Can I help you, ma’am?"

"Well, yeah, you see I’m kinda lost. I don’t have a car and I need to get
to the Eagle’s View area."

"You have a house up there?"

"Yes, the Austin’s are neighbors of ours."

"Really? This is their plane. They came in a couple of days ago. I don’t know if they’re going to be good company though."

"Are they all right?" Margo put the right amount of concern into her voice.

"Well, Mr. Austin was muttering about his business associates not paying on time. He ordered us to fix some electrical problems on this crate. The wife looked pretty upset. Funny though, their son wasn’t with them. I asked how he was doing and she told me he’s visiting with his grandmother."

Matt grinned at the expression on the mechanic’s face. Margo did have that effect on people.

"Well, there’s a rental company that services this airport. I’ll call them for you. Any preference?"

"Anything with 4-wheel drive."

"I know just the thing. Those trucks are popular. The guys who flew in with the Austins wanted the same thing."

Now that’s interesting, Margo thought. "Really? Well, I guess we have the same tastes. I wonder if I know them."

"Well, one of them was tall, dark brown hair, and he had two different colored eyes. The other was shorter, blond hair and blue eyes."

"Hmmm." Margo thought for a minute. "No, I don’t know them."

"I’ll call the rental place for you."

Margo flashed him her best smile. "Thank you. I really appreciate your help." She headed back to the rest of the team and briefed them in. "I’ll contact Deke and see if he can match descriptions. The one guy should be easy to get intel on."

Matt nodded. "Hang on a sec, we have a commo check with Rico in five minutes."

"Hey, do you think Deke would want a poodle for his birthday? Then he could go on those shows where people look like their pets." Nick grinned.

Margo rolled her eyes. "I’m going to get something to eat."

Matt sighed in frustration. "Bravo one, this is Alpha one. Come in, over." He looked up as Margo approached with the food.

"No luck. They’re not replying."

"I’m sure they’re okay. We can try again later."

"Here’s our ride. Nice, Margo." Nick watched a Lincoln Navigator pull up
next to their plane, followed by the rental company’s car.

Eagle’s View
Blackhawk Mountain, Colorado
1100 hours

The Austin house was enclosed by a stone wall. A massive iron gate was the only entrance. The house itself was barely visible through the trees. Two guards sat in the guardhouse just inside the gate.

"I can get in this joint," Nick said. "No problem."

Matt looked at him. "That’s a last resort, Nick. Watch the delivery schedule. Then we’ll get someone inside using one of their trucks. I want a general idea of the situation."

"The biggest question being, are Ricky’s parents there willingly," Margo said.

A schedule of sorts was noticed over the next two days. The papers were
delivered to the gate in the morning. Someone from the main house came down to get them. In the middle of the morning a truck appeared delivering food.

Matt liked the possibilities of using the truck.

The Real McCoy Catering Co.
Boulder, Colorado
1000 hours, two days later

Margo and Matt strolled into the catering office. A salesman headed over right away. He needed a big sale. While he began talking to Matt, Margo headed for the ladies room. She took a left into the manager’s office. The schedule book was lying on the desk, open to that day’s date. Margo grinned as she pulled out a hand-held computer scanner.

"You getting this, Nick?"

"Yeah. Damn, you’re good."

"I know."

"We can take care of your party, no problem. Here’s my card, when you finalize your guest list call me."

"Thank you."

They got back into the Lincoln. Nick headed back for the hotel, somehow
managing to keep the truck under the speed limit. Barely.

"We have the schedule. They’re having a dinner tomorrow so that’ll mean an
extra delivery. Maybe we can help." Matt grinned.

"I like food," Nick replied.

"Matt, any word from Rico or Benny Ray."

The major frowned. "No."



Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Return to Author's Page


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