Margo Vincent was dreaming... at
least that's what she thought at first. Matt Shepherd's heartbeat
was a steady rhythm against her cheek and his work-roughened
hands traced gentle patterns on her bare skin. A lazy smile curved
her lips as she came fully awake and remembered that it wasn't
"'Morning," he murmured.
"Good morning," Margo replied, shifting her head slightly to see Matt's face.
"Were you dreaming?" he asked quietly. "You were smiling in your sleep."
"If I was dreaming, I don't recall... anyway, reality's much nicer."
"It is, isn't it?" Matt agreed with a grin.
"I ought to go check on Abraham," Margo said after a moment.
Matt pulled her close for one last
kiss, then released her without protest,
"Go back to sleep for a while," she urged, seeing him move to get up.
"Nah... it's not as much fun by myself."
Margo grinned as she pulled a brush through her hair. "Well, all right... but take it easy, OK?"
"Margo, I'm fine!" Matt snapped. He instantly regretted his sharp tone when he saw the raw hurt that flashed across her beautiful features. "I'm sorry," he apologized. It's just that I'm starting to go a little stir crazy. I wish you guys would start letting me earn my keep," he added with a crooked grin that he hoped would take the sting out of his words.
Margo came over to sit on the side
of the bed. "I'm sorry, too. I know how
Matt pulled her close against his chest. "Terribly selfish," he agreed, kissing the top of her head, "and I love you for it. If I just knew for sure what had happened to the others, I'd want nothing more out of life than to spend it all alone with you."
"Then we'll just have to find
them, won't we?" Margo leaned in and kissed
Matt picked up the brush that had
fallen, unnoticed, to the coverlet. "Turn
Margo smiled as she complied, loving the feel of the brush and Matt's fingers moving through her hair. A couple of weeks ago she'd grumbled that since Matt was so adept at undoing her hair, it would be nice if he learned how to fix it, too. He'd surprised her by swiftly learning to produce a braid and this had become a favorite part of their morning ritual.
Matt clung to the tree branch until
sweat beaded his entire body and black
"Matt, are you all right?"
A strong pair of hands helped him to sit up.
"Not you too," Matt grumbled at Jonathan.
Unperturbed, the paratrooper passed him a canteen of water. "Well, you see, if I let you overexert yourself and get hurt, Meira - Margo, that is - will be very angry with me. She's very noisy when she's angry - have you noticed that? She knows more ways to call a man an idiot than anyone I know."
"That's because when she runs out of cuss words in English, she's got about a dozen other languages to fall back on."
"Exactly. And then there is
the fact that if Margo is upset, my father will
"I know," Matt sighed, "I'm just feeling a little useless right now."
"Well, I have something you might be interested in," Jonathan told him. "Come on inside... Margo should hear this, too."
"I ran into a mutual friend
in Tel Aviv," Jonathan began. "There are two
"OK," Margo replied neutrally.
"The first involves a man who has been frequenting the sort of establishments favored by mercenaries. He's been making inquiries - none too discreetly, I'm afraid - about Americans operating in this area. I thought perhaps you might be able to tell me if this man poses any real danger or if he's just the typical riffraff that passes through every so often."
"Got a picture?" Matt asked.
Jonathan passed it over and was surprised to see both Matt and Margo smile as they recognized the subject.
"Well, he is dangerous -" Margo began.
"For a squid," Matt interjected.
"- but not to us," Margo chuckled. "His name is Darryl Drummer, and if he's asking about Americans, he just might be looking for us."
"All right," Jonathan nodded.
"The second incident concerns a missing
"Name?" Margo inquired.
Jonathan checked his file. "Ricardo Vasquez."
Matt and Margo exchanged stunned glances.
"Rico and Drummer?" Margo mused.
"It's got to be a coincidence,"
Matt answered, "they don't even know one
"So you know this gentleman as well?" Jonathan inquired.
"Yeah," Matt replied, "Rico
is a Special Forces medic... we've worked
"So you think he signed on for this assignment in order to come over here to look for you?" Jonathan guessed.
"I wouldn't put it past him," Matt replied.
"All right then... assuming that nothing untoward has befallen Mister Vasquez and he did in fact leave of his own volition, what are his chances?"
"Rico is a former Navy SEAL,"
Margo answered. "He can hold his own in any given situation,
plus the fact that he's a top-notch medic opens a lot of
"I think we'd all prefer it if your friends don't go blundering blindly into Libya, so why don't we go to Tel Aviv and round them up?" Jonathan suggested.
"Why don't we do that," Matt agreed, grinning broadly.
"Are you sure that your friend is up to this?" Abraham asked.
Margo adjusted the settings on one
of the radios for a moment while she
"Guilt? For what?"
"For being alive, knowing that his friends are dead. For being free, knowing that Benny Ray isn't."
"None of that is his fault," Abraham reminded her gently.
"He's been through some terrible things... no one would blame him - or you - if you just went off somewhere and lived like normal people, you know."
A slow, sad smile crossed Margo's
face. "He'd blame himself... I'd blame
"Then you go and find out, child... and come home again safely."
Margo smiled fondly as she leaned
in to kiss the old man's cheek. "We
Matt stiffened slightly as the bedroom door opened, then relaxed again as he recognized Margo's soft footfalls. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself," she replied,
perching on the edge of the bed to remove her
"Thought you were spending the night down in the radio room?" Matt inquired.
"Abraham thought I'd get more rest in my own bed than on that cot," Margo explained.
"Oh, he did, did he?" Matt
drawled suggestively as he wrapped his arms
Sometime later, Margo's voice whispered
through the warm stillness of the
"Matt, I need to ask you something."
"I need to know if you're sure you can manage this," she insisted. "Jonathan-"
"- is afraid I'll endanger his men."
"And if you were in his place -"
"I'd be acting the same way," Matt said, finishing their mutual train of thought. "Damn!" he chuckled, "We're getting pretty good at this... are you sure we're not married?"
Margo refused to be distracted. "Positive. And if you don't give me a straight answer..." She paused, letting the threat hang in the air unspoken.
Matt sighed heavily, knowing that she wasn't teasing anymore. "I don't think I could handle a forced march in the desert just yet, but I'm fine for a ride into Tel Aviv," he assured her.
"OK," Margo sighed, relaxing against his chest again.
Matt's arms came around her once
more and his fingers traced lazy patterns on her arms. He rested
his chin on top of her head and reveled for a long
"I was wondering... does your brother know where you are?"
"No," she whispered.
Matt winced at the pain in her voice and tilted his head slightly to kiss her forehead. "I thought John worked with displaced populations... couldn't he help you somehow?"
"John works with refugee children... they have a slightly different legal status than spies. Besides, I still don't know for sure that Trout actually died of natural causes... I couldn't take the chance of leading something bad to my brother's doorstep. And... I couldn't leave here without knowing what happened to you... to all of you," she amended, "but especially you. Something kept telling me... it sounds crazy, but... I knew in my heart that you were out there somewhere, waiting for me."
"Doesn't sound crazy to me at all," Matt replied thoughtfully. "At night... I'd close my eyes and I'd see you... hear your voice. I think your friend Abraham pegged it just right. What was that word he used? Be... besh...?"
"Besherit," Margo replied promptly. "Soulmates."
"Are you sure about this?"
Matt asked doubtfully as Jonathan pulled up in
"This is the last place he was seen," Jonathan replied.
"It does look like Drummer's kind of place," Margo chuckled.
There was a sound of shattering glass
and splintering wood from inside the
"It does, at that," Matt
had to agree. "What's this place called?" he asked
"The Bucket of Blood,"
Jonathan told him with more than a little disgust
"You're kidding me, right?" Matt wanted to know.
Jonathan shook his head negatively as Margo grinned.
"I think there's a cosmic law somewhere that says every major city has to have a bar called The Bucket of Blood," Margo mused.
"And they're all populated by
the same type of people, the world over,"
The temperature inside the car dropped
a few degrees. "I don't think so,"
"Margo," Jonathan began
patiently, "I know you can handle yourself, but
Matt raised his hands in a 'not me' gesture.
"Matt, surely you can't want
Margo to go inside this place?" Jonathan
"Jonathan," Matt explained slowly, "this is our friend. He knows us. I know you mean well, but Drummer doesn't and God only knows how he'd react."
"Then you and I will go in."
Both men turned sharply as Margo opened her door and stepped out of the car. "Coming, boys?"
Matt and Jonathan scrambled after
Margo, ducking their way through an
Margo walked right up to Daryl Drummer
and tapped him firmly on the
The former Navy SEAL stopped dead in his tracks. "Margo!? What the hell are you doing here?"
Margo stepped in and caught Rico
Vasquez's hand as he moved in to land
"Margo!?" He looked from her to his former opponent. "You know this guy?"
"Oh, yeah," she drawled.
"She knows me too," Matt piped up.
"Major?" Rico gasped in disbelief.
Matt nodded slowly.
"Gentlemen and lady," Jonathan interrupted, "do you think we might continue this conversation out in the car?"
Drummer stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk.
"In the car, if you please," Jonathan instructed.
"No," the former SEAL stated
pugnaciously. "Not until somebody tells me
"Drummer, get in the car. We'll
explain as much as we know," Margo said
"I am not going anywhere -"
"Drummer, you re coming with us," Margo told him. "You've been stirring up a lot of trouble around here. It's Jonathan's job to put a stop to it - one way or another."
"Meaning I get in that car myself or he puts me in?" Drummer sniggered.
Margo heaved a heavy sigh of exasperation.
Jonathan didn't bother - he just
stepped in close and grabbed Drummer's arm,twisting it up behind
his back at a painful angle. "Now, Mister Drummer... if
"Just get in the car," Rico urged.
"These two have been MIA for over two years, you and him I've never seen before and you think I'm just going to get in a car and -"
"Yeah, I do Drummer," Matt
said quietly. "You came here to find us, didn't
"I came here to find out why
my 'retirement' checks from Trout suddenly
"Fair enough," Matt allowed,
"but if you want some answers, get in the car.
The former SEAL glared, but got into
the car without further protest. Rico
Abraham was waiting at the door when they pulled up. He limped out to meet them, grinning broadly. "So, child, these are your friends?"
Margo smiled fondly at the older man. "Yes, Abraham, this is Drummer and Rico."
"Pleased to meet you,"
Drummer muttered, eyeing the house and trying to
"Sir," Rico intoned politely.
"Come on inside, all of you,"
Abraham invited. "I think you young people
Rico held a chair for Margo and the others settled themselves.
"Margo, you seem to know the
most complete version of the story...why don't you start us off?"
Matt suggested, unconsciously falling back into his command role.
Margo stared hard at the tabletop
for a few moments, gathering her thoughts. Finally, she drew
in a deep breath and began. "About two years ago, some terrorists
got their hands on a cache of hand-held missiles, which they
immediately used against a commercial airliner. This incident
Drummer let out a low whistle. "I remember that."
"So that explains what you guys were doing over here," Rico muttered.
"Yeah," Margo acknowledged.
"We were using different infiltration routes,
"Right about then," Matt continued, "Benny Ray and I were arrested crossing the Libyan border."
"About two years ago is when
my 'pension' from Trout stopped," Drummer
"If we weren't so good, we'd all be dead by now," Matt replied bitterly.
"Back up a minute," Rico
interjected, "you said as near as you'd been able
"How?" Drummer demanded. "Trout was a tough old bird."
"The official story is a heart attack," Margo informed him.
"It's not completely unreasonable," Rico considered, "I mean, he had a very high-stress job and he'd just lost his only daughter."
"I don't suppose we'll ever really know the whole truth of the matter," Margo said quietly.
"So, you've been here the whole time?" Drummer wanted to know.
Margo nodded. "I have contacts
here. They offered me a chance to try and
"What about you, Major?" Rico asked.
"Until about seven weeks ago,
I was in a Libyan prison camp. This fellow
"How 'bout that jarhead buddy of yours?" Drummer demanded.
"About a year ago, someone tried
to rescue us. The attempt... failed... and the next day, we were
separated." Matt bowed his head in terrible, silent grief.
"Assume?" Rico asked with horrified eyes.
Margo's voice was very low as she continued. "Abraham and I picked up some radio chatter about the rescue attempt. Jonathan and his men tried to give assistance, but it was too late. By the time they arrived, the chopper had gone down in flames and C.J. was badly wounded. He died on the way back here."
"They're all gone?" Rico exclaimed in a hollow whisper.
"Except for Benny Ray,"
Matt confirmed. "He's still out there, somewhere,
Margo saw it and smiled radiantly.
"What's this 'we' stuff?" Drummer demanded belligerently.
Rico shot the former SEAL a disgusted look. "I crossed half the world to find you, Major. I'm with you all the way."
"Thanks, Rico," Matt replied
gratefully. "I'm sure some arrangement can be
"Look, Shepherd, if anyone has a snowball's chance of getting in there, finding your boy and getting back out again, it sure in hell ain't you! Seven weeks is nowhere near long enough to undo two years of captivity. You try to lead this op and all you're gonna do is get us all killed."
"Drummer, that's enough!" Rico snapped.
Drummer ignored him. "Is that
what you want, Shepherd? You wanna be a
The room erupted in a cacophony of
angry voices that rose until Jonathan
"You all seem to be forgetting something here. This is not your country - it's mine, and defending it's borders is my business. I'm not sure that it's in the best interest of my nation and it's security to have a band of mercenaries gathered on the border plotting incursions into enemy territory."
Matt fixed him with a level gaze.
"You do what you have to, but I'm going
Margo squeezed his hand a bit tighter. "You're not alone Matt... not ever."
"Don't give me that look, Father," Jonathan warned.
Abraham winced; it was always a bad
sign when his son resorted to calling
"I know that you sympathize
with Margo's friends, but we have got to be
"An army of four?" Abraham asked mildly.
"Two former U.S. Navy SEALS, one former Green Beret, and an intelligence officer who's had access to our systems and operations for two years!" Jonathan protested.
"Margo was given that access by someone farther up the chain of command than you or I will ever be," Abraham reminded his son.
Jonathan gave his father a hard look.
"I was willing to overlook Major
"You do what you think is right, son. Just be sure that you're doing it for the right reasons."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Jonathan demanded angrily.
"What makes you so sure that
they'll compromise our security if they go in
"Who haven't worked together as a team for over two years! Two years that their leader has spent in a forced labor camp! I can't just let four Americans blindly wander out into the desert on a personal vendetta."
"No.I don't suppose you can," Abraham said slowly, "but you could help them."
Rico squirmed around on his blankets, trying to find a more comfortable patch of floor. He succeeded only in attracting Drummer's attention. The old man, Abraham, had apologetically told them that there were no spare rooms and produced bedding to spread on the living room floor.
Drummer eyed Rico consideringly for a while. "What do you think Shepherd's going to do?" he finally asked.
"Go after Benny Ray," Rico replied instantly.
Drummer shook his head in disbelief. "And you?"
"I'm going with him," the medic replied in the same dead certain tone.
"Just like that?"
"Yeah. Just like that. It's called personal loyalty. It's also called an absolute certainty that if I was the one stuck out there in some Libyan hell hole, Matt Shepherd is the one guy who wouldn't stop searching until he found me."
"You think so?"
"I know so," Rico answered firmly.
"Haven't you been listening
to anything I've said, Father?" Jonathan
"I suggest it because it's the
right thing to do. How many times have you
"That's different. That's risking the lives of well trained soldiers who know exactly what kind of odds they face."
"I think Major Shepherd is very
much aware of the dangers. I'll tell you
Jonathan shook his head 'no.'
"He disobeyed a direct order to cease combat and quit the field. You see; one of his men was wounded. Matt refused to leave without him, even though it cost him his career. He will go back for his friend, and Margo will go with him. That young medic, too, I think. And I think they'll stand a much better chance if you go with them."
Jonathan stared silently at his father for the space of several heartbeats."Why don't you go on upstairs and get some sleep?" he finally suggested. "I'll keep an eye on the radios," he added quickly to forestall any argument. "I need to think about some things," he added with a crooked smile.
"All right then," Abraham
replied, gripping his son's shoulder firmly.
Matt Shepherd stood at the window of the room he'd shared with Margo for the last seven weeks. Had it only been weeks? Looking around the sparse, but comfortable room, and it's other occupant, it seemed like a lifetime. He often caught himself staring at her, or reaching out to touch her, as if to reassure himself that she really was there with him.
Not that he'd ever really needed an excuse to stare at Margo, he thought with a silent chuckle that rippled through his tall frame. Right now, for instance, when the room was bathed in silvered moonlight which created deep pools of shadow and light. He could just make out the pale oval of her face, relaxed in peaceful slumber. As he watched, Margo sighed and stirred in her sleep, reaching out to the space he normally occupied. Finding it empty, she drifted into wakefulness, blinking her luminous eyes.
"Matt?" she murmured.
"Shh... go back to sleep," he whispered.
Margo sat up, her dark hair spilling across her shoulders. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing... really," he added with a reassuring smile.
"Then come back to bed."
Grinning, Matt complied, sitting up against the headboard. Margo moved up beside him and he slid his arm around her.
Margo rested her head against his
shoulder and sighed contentedly. "Now,
Matt laughed softly, knowing he could
never really hide anything from her.
"I know you did."
"I just... it's one thing to risk my own life, but..."
"But nothing! I'm going with you, Matt. He's my friend too!"
Matt's fingers dug painfully into
her shoulders as he dragged her around to
She stared up at him defiantly. "Then we'll just have to make sure that nothing goes wrong, won't we?"
He stared back into Margo's crystalline green eyes and knew that she'd never give in. It was one of the reasons he loved her so very much. Matt gradually relaxed, wrapping both arms around her and pulling her close. "God, I love you," he whispered into her hair.
"I love you, too," Margo murmured, tipping her head up to brush a light kiss against his jaw.
Still holding her, Matt finally fell into a dreamless slumber.
It was dawn, and Matt was taking
advantage of the relative coolness of the
Margo saw too, and her eyes stung
with tears, as they always did when she was reminded of the pain
he'd suffered - old pain that she could never
"Damn, he's something,"
Drummer muttered with more than a touch of
"Damn straight," Margo replied, eyeing him coolly. "I'm a little surprised that you're still here," she couldn't help adding.
Drummer cleared his throat awkwardly. "OK. I guess I deserved that."
"Why did you come, anyway?" Margo asked curiously.
"To find out what happened to your people. To help if I could."
"It sure didn't sound like it last night."
Drummer had the grace to look slightly
ashamed as he answered her. "I know people say I got no
ideals. And maybe they're right. And maybe that's why I've never
had a fine woman look at me the way you look at him. But Shepherd
- he's got too damn many ideals, and one of these days, they're
gonna get him killed - him and everyone else with him. He's got
to realize that he's got no safety net anymore; Trout is dead
- gone - whatever, and being on the side of angels isn't going
to keep any of you alive in hostile
Margo's eyes were hard as agates
as she stared up at him, but that was the
"You two slackers gonna join us sometime today?" Matt called cheerfully. He accepted a canteen from Rico and drank greedily. He felt Margo's steady gaze on him and knew that she was noting exactly how much he was sweating and how hard he was breathing. He also saw her draw in a breath as if to say something, then press her lips together firmly, and he knew that she was fighting back her instinct to try to protect him and tell him not to push so hard. He was sure he'd catch hell for it later, but she'd never undermine him in front of the others.
Jonathan came out of the house and
the group fell silent. It was Matt who
"Not necessary... if it was my best friend over there, nothing and no one would stop me from going after him. But you have to understand - I will not risk my men on a mission with no chance of success."
"I understand," Matt agreed.
"I'll be going this morning - I've some business to attend to elsewhere - but I'll be back in three or four weeks. If you can devise a plausible plan for rescuing your friend, I'll give you all the help that I can."
"Thank you," Matt said gratefully. He held out his hand and Jonathan clasped it firmly.
"I hope we find your friend." There was terrible bleakness in Matt's eyes for a moment and Jonathan wondered uneasily what would be left of this man's soul if they didn't find their lost comrade.
"So do I," Matt answered slowly.
Margo saw the fleeting hollow expression as well, and just for that instant, she wished that Matt could be content just to live, to be with her, but she knew that something inside of him would die if he didn't at least try to discover Benny Ray's fate. And the truth was, not knowing would haunt her, too.
"Someday out of the blue
"Someday Out of the Blue"
COPYRIGHT © 2000 KATHLEEN KLATTE
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