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"Ugh! Get off me, you big ape!" I placed my palms on the man's chest and shoved upward. I jumped to my feet and reached for my gun. "Don't move." I cocked it.

The man stood still. I looked him in the eye. "You're afraid, ain't ya?" I said, my gun directly in his line of vision. "How much is he paying you to do this? Why bother risking your life for that scumball? Is he paying you lots? Huh? Do you owe him your first-born, too?"

He lunged at me. "I'm tired of your babble, woman!"

I didn't hesitate. The shot stung my ears as it left the gun and penetrated his skin. Tears of rage filled my eyes as I turned and shouted, "Is that all you've got, Haskins? Send your crummy little cronies down here to do your dirty work? Too bad. You'll lose 'em all that way! Why don't you come down here and face me like the spineless creature that you are!"

Silence.

"I know you're here, damn it! You'll never escape me, no matter what! You hear, Haskins? Do you hear me? I'll hunt you down if it takes the rest of my life!"

I put my gun in its holder and stepped over the dead body of my attacker. I
left that dark basement and headed out into the sunlight, tears streaming down
my face.

* * *

I rubbed my neck as I approached my house. It had been hurting all day. I
decided I must have been sleeping on it wrong. Gotta stack up on pillows tonight.

I put my keys into the lock. I hope Danny got my message. He should be used
to it by now. Ever since I stumbled upon Robert Haskins' secret bank account
at work and discovered he'd been secretly smuggling in high-technology
weapons, I'd been staying at work later than usual. This new discovery had
spiked my interest.

I glanced at my watch as I stepped in the house and closed the door behind
me. 10 pm. I hung up my coat in the closet and looked around the living room.
It was dark.

I walked through the living room to the kitchen. The light was on and the table was set for one. The milk was out on the counter and the microwave door was open. The whole situation seemed oddly peculiar. The dishes were untouched, clean. I smiled to myself. Maybe Danny set the table for me so I could eat when I got home. I walked over to the microwave and peered inside.

Definitely strange. The casserole I'd left in the fridge for him was cold and unwrapped. I frowned and closed the door. What did he eat for dinner? He loves my tuna casseroles. I decided I'd better go check on him. Maybe he was sick and didn't want to eat.

I went back through the living room and pounded up the stairs. I turned left and stopped at the first door. The door was cracked open.

I stuck my head in. It was hard to see in the dark, but I could make out Danny's figure slung facedown across the bed.

"Come on, Danny," I said softly. "Time to get under the covers." I rubbed
his back soothingly. It was wet. "What the…" I pulled my hand away. Did he get
sick? On his back?…

I went over to the desk and turned on the lamp. I looked down at my hand. It
was red.

My brain instantly shut off. It felt as if I was inside a Jell-O mold. I couldn't move, couldn't breathe. My hand was bloody.

I slowly turned my head and looked at my son on the bed. His white T-shirt was soaked through with blood.

My brain kicked into gear as I realized what had happened.

"Danny!" I shrieked, running to his bed. "Oh, God…no…Danny…" I picked him up and cradled his limp body in my arms, sinking to the floor. The tears came. I
started shaking. All over. My son. He was dead…

The word echoed in my mind as I rocked my son back and forth, crying. Holding him tightly. He was gone, and there wasn't anything I could do about it.

I glanced at the bed. A piece of paper. I reached my trembling hand out and
grasped it, wrinkling and staining it with blood. My son's blood.

I shakily unfolded and read it. It had two words written down:

YOU'RE FIRED.

* * * *

I sat straight up in bed. It was still dark outside. I was shivering and gasping for air. I rubbed my arms and realized I was sweating. I slowly laid back down again and pulled my blankets up to my chin.

As my breathing rate slowed, my eyes filled with tears. My son's death had been a reoccurring nightmare for almost a year now. Every time I'd wake up freezing and shaking and all the pain would come back and shoot itself through my heart.

After Danny's funeral, I'd decided to move back in with my parents. I figured Haskins wouldn't look for me here, considering he'd only seen my parents once before. Besides, I'd never shown my face back at the base where I worked for him after Danny died. I guess he figured he'd caused me enough pain and suffering and I'd keep my mouth shut.

He must have been infuriated when he heard me today, screaming my revenge at
him in the basement of his military base. Killing his "highly trained" men. I was positive that after today he'd turn tail and run. He couldn't afford my coming back and exposing him to his entire base. He would be hard for me to find on my own, but I had my connections.

I turned over on my stomach and buried my head in my pillows, still able to breathe. I let the tears spill and soak the sheets, for Danny.

* * * *

"What are you doing today, honey?" My mother asked me as she set a glass of
juice down on the table for me.

I sipped it. "Today's the day I'm packing up and going house hunting."

My father looked over at me from the stove, where he was cooking eggs and
frying bacon. "Today?" he asked, surprised.

I nodded. "Yes," I replied firmly. "It's time I get back out on my own. I need to find myself a new place. A new job. A new life."

"Why so soon?" Mom asked fretfully as she sat down across the table from me.

"Mom, it's been almost a whole year now. I've got to get back out by myself."

My father set a steaming plateful of food in front of me. "We understand, honey. We just don't want you to leave, that's all. It seems like you've hardly spent any time with us." He sat down next to Mom.

I smiled sadly. "I know. I hate to leave, but I've made up my mind. I have to go."

My parents smiled back at me. "At least you'll get one last hearty breakfast!" My dad said lightly, trying to break the tension.

"Yeah!" I agreed. I picked up my fork and dug in.

* * * *

A few hours later, I'd packed and we were standing at the front door saying
good-bye. I hugged my parents tightly.

"I love you," I said, resisting tears. I pulled back and looked at them.

"You have my cell phone number if you need me, okay?"

"Okay," said my mother, teary-eyed. "Be careful. Call us if you need us."

"Call if you have any problems," my father added. "I'll find you and help you if you need me."

"Thanks." I smiled at them. "You'll hear from me soon. I promise." They nodded.

I turned and walked down the steps to my Ford Explorer. I threw my bags in
the back and climbed in. I put the keys in the ignition, started the car, and drove away.

About two blocks down, I pulled over. Leaning across the seat, I opened the
glove box and pulled out a piece of paper my friend had given me after Danny's
funeral. I opened it.

Written on the paper was the name Xavier Trout. A phone number was scribbled
underneath. I picked up my cell phone and dialed.

Okay, I did half-lie to my parents. I was going out to find myself a new place to live and a new life. I just had a few old problems to take care of first.

* * * *

Trout's voice rung in the back of my mind. Go in, ask for a bartender's application. Make sure you talk to the bar owner. A tall man with short, dark hair. Matt Shepherd. Once he gives you the application, ask if he's got a blue pen for you to write with. He'll take you to his office. When he picks up the pen to give to you, tell him I sent you. Xavier Trout sent you. Tell him you want to talk. He'll already be briefed on your situation. Good luck.

I stepped out of my Explorer and put on my sunglasses. I walked towards a
building and stopped, looking up at the sign. It said Silver Star Bar.

I pushed open the door and entered a small, crowded, noisy bar. People were
milling around, drinking and dancing.

I made my way up to the counter and sat down.

"Can I help you?" asked a man's voice.

I looked up and smiled innocently. "Yes, I-"

"Matt! These people are goin' wild! Everybody's drinking like crazy!" A blonde woman holding a tray full of empty glasses bustled back past the man behind the counter. An assistant bartender?

"Well, you know, this is a bar," Matt responded, smiling at her.

She smiled back and began mixing drinks. Matt turned back to me.

"I'm here for the bartender's application?" I told him.

"Ah, yes." He reached under the counter and produced a pack of papers. He
handed them to me. "Here you go."

The girl gave Matt a funny look as she left the counter with her trayful of drinks. He turned his back to me and began straightening up.

I pretended to search though my pockets and purse for a pen. I pulled off my
sunglasses and laid them on the papers.

"Um, excuse me," I said. "Do you happen to have a blue pen on you?"

Matt turned around and thought for a moment. "I have one in my office. Come
with me."

I got up and gathered my things. I noticed his assistant bartender watching me suspiciously. I gave her a look that said 'too bad' as Matt led me up to his office.

He walked behind his desk and selected a blue pen. I closed the door behind
me and faced him. He held the pen out.

"I want to talk, Matt," I blurted coolly. "Trout sent me."

Matt put the pen back down.

I raised an eyebrow. "Testing me, were you?"

"Well, if you took the pen without hesitation, I'd know you weren't the Sarah Langley I was supposed to meet today."

I smiled approvingly. "Good man. I can see why you're the head honcho around
here."

He smiled. "So," he said. "Let's go talk. You need a place to stay?" He walked towards the door.

"Actually, yes," I admitted.

"Okay." He opened the door. "Let's go get you a room at the Silver Star Hotel."

* * * *

After I'd been settled in my room for a while, Matt told me there'd be a meeting soon. He said I had to meet with the members of his "team", the people I'd be working with. He assured me they were top-notch, experienced military
personnel who could basically read each other's thoughts and movements.

"You'll fit right in," he said, grinning. "I can tell by the way you handle yourself."

I didn't know how to respond to that, so I just smiled. So much for being able to handle myself.

Matt led me down to the basement. As my foot touched the steps leading down,
I began to feel slightly nervous. Over everything. What if we can't find Haskins at all? What if he kills everyone here but me? That would be more guilt on my conscience-I couldn't handle it. Or what if he's already found me, and he's just laying low and keeping quiet?

We reached the landing of the basement. In the center of the room there was
a table. A woman with shoulder-length dark hair and a man with curly short hair were sitting there, talking softly.

The woman got up from the table as Matt and I approached them.

"Matt," she said, "what's going on? How come I wasn't briefed on this?" She
glanced coolly at me.

Matt held up a hand. "Easy, Margo. You'll find out what this is soon, promise."

We all sat down. I sat next to the curly-haired man.

"Hey," he said. "Nick Delvecchio. What's yours?" He seemed polite enough.

I cleared my throat. "Sarah Langley. Nice to meet you."

He grinned at me. "Pleasure's all mine."

Uh-oh. A charmer, I thought.

"Uh, before you get into further fascinating conversation with him, I'm Margo," the dark-haired woman said.

"Sarah," I replied. She has a complex about her, I thought. I could feel it. I guess she was used to being the only woman around here. I tried to shrug it off. Too bad. This was my mission. I knew a lot more about it-and I know a lot more than what Matt's brief is going to say, too.

"Sorry I'm late, Major." A male voice shook me out of my thoughts.

"Motorcycle wouldn't start."

Something clicked in my head. I knew that voice, that southern accent! No, it couldn't be-

"That's all right, Benny Ray," Matt said. "Let's get down to business."

"All right," Benny Ray agreed as he joined Margo on the other side of the table. I didn't make any movements toward him.

Matt got up. "Okay, people, we've got a situation on our hands." He clicked on a projector. "Robert Haskins. Founder of Haskins Military Base. It seems that Sarah here, while employed as his personal secretary, innocently discovered his hidden bank account-" Benny Ray turned his head and looked at me through his sunglasses-"for which he was using to import high-technology weapons (or weapon parts) from overseas."

"He found you out?" Margo asked knowingly.

I nodded. "Burned down my house with me in it," I lied.

"How did you escape?"

"Through the window. Climbed down a tree."

"You climbed down a tree?" Nick asked incredulously.

I shrugged. "I had to worse at military camp. Trust me, it was nothing."

I could see in Benny Ray's movements that he'd finally recognized me. I couldn't see his eyes through his dark sunglasses, but I felt like they were boring into me.

Matt cleared his throat to get everyone's attention again. "This is our mission, people. Track Haskins down, destroy the weapons, and let Sarah finally live her life without looking over her shoulder. Any questions?"

"What does Haskins want with high-tech weapons?" Margo asked.

"That's what I'm here to find out," I jumped in. "I need your help. I can't do it alone. I've tried. He never shows."

Matt looked around. "I'll call Deke and see what he's got." He clicked off the projector.

Margo and Nick got up and began packing weapons from the storage closet.

I looked at Benny Ray. "Come with me," I said.

He got up and we silently made our way up the stairs. (I noticed Margo watching.) I led Benny Ray to my room.

After I'd closed the door behind me, Benny Ray turned around, pulled off his
sunglasses, and exclaimed, "Sarah! Sarah Langley! I haven't seen you forever!
What's it been, amigo, ten years?" He grabbed me into a big hug.

I laughed as I hugged him. "Just about," I said as I pulled away.

"Wow. You look great! Haven't changed too much." He was grinning.

I shook my head. "No, not really." That wasn't the total truth, though. My
appearance hadn't changed. Nope, I was the same brown-haired, blue eyed woman I'd always been. I'd just changed inside. I'd changed into a mother.

"So, you worked for Robert Haskins, huh?" Benny Ray sat down on my bed.

I leaned against the TV directly in front of him. "Yeah. I'd been doing freelance bounty hunter work for anyone who'd pay. I was pretty desperate for money then." I bit my lip. "You know, fresh out of the military, low on cash."

Benny Ray nodded. I failed to mention that I'd also been struggling to raise a son the whole time.

"One day, Haskins contacted me. Asked if I wanted a job." I sighed and joined Benny Ray on the bed. "Told me he had an offer I 'couldn't refuse'."

Benny Ray looked at me. "So you didn't."

I shook my head. "Nope. I took the job. As his secretary. I sat behind a desk and a computer all day and registered trainees who came to the base. Paid good money."

"But…" Benny Ray prompted.

"But, I found something I shouldn't have. I wondered why there were so many
trainees coming in. They had all gotten a letter from Haskins boasting about his new playtoys. So, I broke into his computer filing system and found his bank account and what he was using it for. I guess he knew I knew because…that night he, uh, set my house on fire."

Benny Ray sat and absorbed everything I'd just said. I felt so bad lying to him about the fire but I just couldn't tell him the truth. I know what he's like when it comes to adults murdering children and I didn't want his feelings to get in the way of his job. It was easier on me, anyway. By now, I'd almost tricked myself into believing that we were only going to trap Haskins because of the illegal weapons. But the pain inside was still there, reminding me of the real reason I wanted Haskins dead.

"I remember Haskins," Benny Ray said, as if the words tasted bad. "I remember that sniveling-"

"Yep, me too," I cut in.

Benny Ray could tell I wanted to drop the subject. "How about taking a walk
with your good old friend, Sarah?" he suggested.

"What, you're not my best friend anymore?" I asked in mock horror.

"Oh, I'll always be your best friend." He grinned and helped me up from the bed.

We passed through the bar on our way out. It was still crowded with people.
Matt made his way up to us.

"And where are you two going on this fine California evening?" he inquired
politely.

"Benny Ray's taking me out for a night on the town," I joked, laughing. I slid my arm through his.

Matt grinned. "We move out first thing in the morning," he said slowly.

"Yes, sir, Major," Benny Ray replied. "We'll be back in time for Sarah to catch her beauty sleep." He grinned at me.

"Stop!" I said. "No more. Let's go."

We said good-bye to Matt and left the bar.

* * * *

Back in my room that night, I lay in bed thinking. Benny Ray and I had taken a nice, leisurely walk down by the beach, catching up on ten years of missed friendship. I'd forgotten how charming and funny he was. Danny acted exactly
like him when he was alive. I just never saw it before.

Benny Ray told me about the team. Margo was an interesting person, to say
the least. She spoke many languages and even had her own clothes designer who
designed clothes that were specially fit to accommodate weapons. I'd have to
get ahold of that designer.

The charmer, Nick Delvecchio. Benny Ray warned me of him. Said he was kind
of like one of those dogs that constantly follow you around. And those children who always ask "Why?" after every explanation that you give them. He made me laugh. Delvecchio seemed pretty sweet, I thought. The story of how Nick joined the team kept me in stitches. Benny Ray's impersonations of the team were hilarious.

Which brings me to Matt. Benny Ray said basically he was a good man, a good
leader. He was more human than any major Benny Ray had ever met. Matt
understood the actions of his team and made good decisions. His temper wasn't
lost too easily, and he never gave up. Most importantly, he cared about the
members of his team.

"He seems like a good person," I'd said mischievously, a sparkle in my eye.

Benny Ray had poked me. He knew I'd been kidding him.

I had a job to do. And with Benny Ray, Matt, and everybody else's help, it
would get done. As soon as possible. Haskins was mine. Vengeance was mine.
Robert Haskins would regret the day he'd tangled with Sarah Langley.

* * * *

We'd been on the road for a little over an hour. Benny Ray, Margo, and Nick
sat in the back of my Ford Explorer. Matt drove and I sat next to him. I
pulled my hair out of my face and clipped it up. Then I opened the window.

"Too much air?" I called into the backseat.

A chorus of "No"s responded. Everyone's eyes were glued to Margo's laptop,
which displayed a map of each area we drove through.

"Yep, got it," Matt said into his cell phone. "Thanks, Deke." He clicked it off. "Margo, how far are we from the Roger Mills Manufacturing Plant?"

Margo consulted her computer. "Two blocks," she reported. "Why?"

I looked at Matt with interest.

"Deke's got connections. He said that Robert Haskins is supposedly going to show at the Roger Mills Manufacturing Plant within in a week. Guess what we're
going to do?"

"Stakeout!" Nick said excitedly, like a little kid. I had to laugh.

"That's right," Matt agreed, squinting out at the sun. He put on his sunglasses. "Stakeout."

"Till he shows?" I asked expectantly.

"Then we take him out." Matt looked over and smiled at me. I could almost hear Margo's disgusted look from the backseat. I smiled back sweetly.

* * * *

Days had passed. There had been no sign of Haskins. Not yet, anyway. When we'd first arrived, I'd felt so antsy. I wished he was already there so I could just go in, bust some heads, and avenge Danny's death.

But he wasn't there. So we set up our equipment in the abandoned building across the street from the plant, on the top floor for good surveillance.

As of late, I'd been fine. Margo and I weren't talking much, but that didn't break my heart. I spent my time talking with the three men instead. I told Nick and Matt how I'd met Benny Ray in the military. We'd been in the same class, along with Robert Haskins. Everybody loved the story I told about how Benny Ray beat the tar out of Haskins one night. We were all disgustingly drunk, and Haskins had been harassing me all night. So Benny Ray took care of him. (This was all on our own free time, of course.)

Matt was right. I did fit in.

* * * *

I was standing at Danny's grave, staring at the cold, gray headstone.

Slowly, I stooped down and placed a small bouquet of flowers on the ground.

"Mom?" said a voice behind me.

"Hmm?" I responded absentmindedly as I straightened up.

"Why are you standing there staring? I'm not dead. I'm right behind you!"

I turned around and gasp-there he was. Danny, my beautiful son. Alive and
breathing.

"Danny?" I croaked. "Danny!"

He ran to me and wrapped his arms around my waist. "I've missed you so much,
Mom."

I started crying. "Oh, I missed you too, Danny. Don't ever leave me again!"

Danny looked up at me. "Why'd you let me die, Mom? Why'd you let me die?"

"No!" I shouted, sobbing. "I didn't let you die! He took you from me!"

* * * *

I opened my eyes. The room swirled around and around, making me dizzy and
sick. I sat up and got my bearings.

There was a soft snoring coming from DelVecchio's corner where he slept. I
glanced around the room. Margo and Matt were dead asleep. Benny Ray was up at the window keeping watch. He looked over sharply at me.

"You okay, Sarah?" he asked, concerned.

I didn't answer. Tears were filling my eyes as the pain of my son's death took ahold of me and ripped through my body once again.

"Sarah?"

"I'm fine," I said too quickly, standing up. "I just need some fresh air." I padded in my stockingfeet across the room to the balcony, on the opposite side of Benny Ray's window. I kept going until I hit the railing.

I let the tears fall, faster and harder than they'd ever been. Danny's voice rung clear as a bell in my head, over and over. "Why'd you let me die?" I didn't even notice when Benny Ray joined me and closed the sliding door behind him.

I pounded the railing with my fist. "I didn't let him die!" I said loudly, angrily. "I didn't let him die! I-I didn't…no, I didn't! I didn't want him to go!" I sucked in a breath of air, gasping for it. "Danny!" I shouted to the heavens. "Danny, I-"

"Sarah!" Benny Ray grasped me firmly but gently by the shoulders, cutting me
off. He stared into my eyes.

I fell against him, exhausted, sobbing. He wrapped his arms around me and let me cry myself out.

After a few minutes, I pulled away and leaned my elbows against the railing. The cool night air felt good on my hot, tear-stained cheeks.

Benny Ray broke the silence. "You wanna talk about it?" he asked gently.

I hung my head. Slowly I replied, "I lied to you."

Benny Ray said nothing, just waited.

"I lied to everyone, the whole team." I took a deep breath. "Yes, I worked for Haskins and yes, I found his secret bank account. He knew I knew. But he never burned down my house."

"Then what did he do?" Benny Ray asked patiently.

I tried to jump around the subject. "You left your post."

Benny Ray waved his hand. "To hell with surveillance, Sarah. You're out here
crying and I want to know why."

I sighed and faced him. "You can't tell the rest of the team."

"Fine. I won't."

Why was it so hard for me to tell Benny Ray the truth? I wondered angrily.

Finally I decided just to blurt it out. "Haskins killed my son."

Benny Ray was taken aback. "Your son?"

I nodded and looked down at my hands. "My son. Do you remember when I spent that week before graduation in the infirmary? I told you I had a virus?" I
looked up at him. "It was really morning sickness."

Benny Ray was still comprehending this new information, I could tell. I didn't say anything more.

"You were pregnant the week of graduation?" he spoke up slowly. I nodded,
almost ashamed.

"It wasn't Haskins' baby, was it?" Benny Ray ventured.

It was my turn to be taken aback. "No!" I almost shouted. "Never. I hated him!"

"Okay, okay," Benny Ray said in a soothing tone. "I was just making sure." He looked at me sadly and shook his head.

"What?" I demanded.

"I'm so sorry, Sarah. You lost your son. I don't know how you lived with it. I would have killed Haskins that very same day."

Tears filled my eyes again. "Well, Danny's been gone for almost a year now and it took me that long just to track Haskins down-"

"Danny. Is that your son's name?"

"Yes, it was."

"I like it."

I smiled at Benny Ray as a tear slipped down my cheek. He wiped it away and
pulled me in for a hug.

"I won't tell anyone anything, I promise. Our mission's still the same. Only I feel a lot better knowing you trust me enough to talk openly to me."

I rested my head on his shoulder. "Of course I trust you. You're my best friend," I told him sincerely.

He pulled away and squeezed my hand. "Always. Let's go back in and nail this
guy, huh?" He cocked his head towards the door.

I followed him inside, leaving our conversation to be picked up by the cool breeze and carried away.

* * * *

The next morning Nick and I were enjoying a makeshift breakfast of cereal (in the little convenience boxes) and powdered milk (compliments of Nick).

Suddenly Margo said loudly, "We've got him! He's getting out of a car now."

I nearly choked on my milk. "What?!" I stood up and walked towards Margo,
who was standing at the window. In her hand was a pair of binoculars.

"About 5'9, red hair, and a mustache?" she described.

The rest of the team joined us quickly. "Yep, that's him," I said disgustedly. "Wretched little snake of a man."

"Not even a man," Benny Ray pointed out, and I knew he was thinking of our last conversation.

"All right, people," Matt cut in. "Let's gear up and move out." He began giving us all different instructions. "Margo, you go around the back of the plant. Nick, you see that ladder on the side? Climb it and scope out the second floor. Benny Ray, you're staying here in case he escapes. Sarah, you and I are going in through the front doors."

"Yes, sir," I responded.

Everyone began to scatter and collect various machinery. I chose my weapons:
a dagger strapped to my ankle, a small handgun attached to my torso (hidden by
my jacket flap), and my favorite hand-held gun, a Beretta 92. Nick armed me
with a comm-link unit so I could communicate with the rest of the team if I
needed to.

"Okay, everybody's inside. No visible men guarding the outside. Matt?" Margo
turned to him, waiting to be pointed in the right direction.

"Move out," he ordered without thinking. We began walking towards the door.

As we were filing out, I heard Matt say, "If he escapes, Benny Ray, no hesitations. Take him out on the first shot."

"Yes, sir," Benny Ray replied. He sounded almost delighted at the idea of spilling Haskins' blood. (Smart man.) Matt closed the door then.

We made our way silently and quickly across the street to the plant. Matt signaled Margo and Nick to their posts. Then he looked at me.

I walked past him and we crept up to the door. Before opening it, I pressed my ear against it to listen for voices, machinery, anything.

I didn't hear much, so I slowly turned the knob and pushed it open slightly. I could hear voices now. They were bouncing off the walls, echoing. They sounded pretty distant.

I flattened my back against the wall as I stepped inside. Matt followed suit.

It was dark and damp. Musty. I began to walk slowly forward, my hand clutching my Beretta, which was half-hidden under my jacket.

Jesus, I thought. It's a friggin' maze in here! Pipes were leading every which way and the floor looked as if it was made of trap doors.

Matt cocked his head to tell me he was heading the other way. I nodded to say I understood. He left.

Here we go, Sarah, I thought. Finally. The day you've been waiting for.

Haskins' death warrant was signed. Time to take action.

Suddenly, an arm expertly wrapped itself around my neck, cutting off my air
supply. I didn't waste any time. I could tell by the hair on the arm that it was a man. I jabbed my elbow into his stomach with all my might, then grabbed his head and flipped him onto his back. He landed with the wind knocked out of him, still conscious. I gave him a good hard punch to the head and knocked him out. There. Much better.

That's when I realized the plant was humming. What's he doing? Is Haskins actually manufacturing the weapons here? I began walking again.

"How long will it take this time, Manuel?" Haskins' voice demanded loudly.

Crap! I thought. He's nearby! I stopped short.

"An hour, Senor," came the response. "The same time as always."

I hit the wall. I could tell both men were right around the corner from me.

Slowly, I peeked around the corner, my gun drawn. Yes! There were wooden
barrels stacked on and next to each other where the mouth of the hallway
opened up to a small room. The room had a hallway leading out on each wall.
That meant anyone could enter from any side of the plant. I got down on my
hands and knees and crawled toward the safety of their shadows.

"What should we do with the broad?" a gruff voice asked.

I looked through the opening between the barrels. I could see Haskins standing next to a man who had to be Manuel, holding a gun. The gruff voice belonged to a man who stood in front of Haskins. He had Margo by the hair. She looked like she'd had a pretty good fight with someone.

Before Haskins could answer him, the man shouted, "Put the gun down or I'll
blow her brains out!"

I looked past Haskins. Behind him, between two barrels just like mine, was the long end of Matt's M-16 A-1 rifle.

Damn! Eagle eyes. Matt stood up slowly with his hands in the air, still clutching his rifle. Haskins turned around and faced him, surprised.

"Put the gun down," he ordered fiercely. Matt obeyed and his rifle clattered to the floor.

Two men who had been hidden from my vision by the barrels grabbed Matt and
dragged him up next to Margo.

Haskins looked back and forth between Matt and Margo, sneering.

"Well, well, well," he said sarcastically. "What have we here? Freelance bounty hunters?" He moved over to Margo and placed his hand along her cheek. "Very good work, my dear. You found me. Too bad you're not the one holding the gun, huh?" He grinned wickedly.

Margo glared at him. Then she opened her mouth and spit in his eye.

If my blood hadn't been boiling by then, I probably would have laughed. The men holding Matt's arms momentarily let go of him as Haskins doubled over, shouting, "She spit on me!", still clutching his gun. Matt seized the opportunity and punched the men on either side of him forcefully. They fell, unconscious. Margo, with a sudden burst of energy, did the same thing I'd done earlier to her assailant: a jab to the stomach, a flip onto the back, and a tooth-breaking punch to the mouth.

Haskins had been wiping frantically at his eye to clear Margo's saliva. Now he dropped his gun and swiftly pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He covered his eye.

Matt kicked the gun away and Margo delivered a punch to his stomach.

No! I thought. My fight! Move it, Langley! I raised my gun and fired a shot in the air. I stood up from behind the barrels.

Matt and Margo were holding Haskins by his arms. He was coughing from Margo's punch. Manuel was standing behind them, his hands in the air, not moving. They all looked over at me.

"Move one inch," I warned Manuel, "and I'll blow the back of your head off." I pointed my gun straight ahead of me.

"You," Haskins sputtered. "I should have known. Didn't your son teach you a
lesson a year ago?"

"Shut up!" I snapped.

"What was his name?" Haskins wondered. "Oh, yeah. Daniel Langley. How cute.
Or as his headstone says: Daniel Langley-Riddle. Even cuter." He snickered.

"How long do you think I'm gonna let you live, Haskins?" I asked. "Huh? It's
taken me a year to track you down. You think I'm gonna just let you walk away
without paying for what you've done?" I pointed my gun at his face.

"You…have…no…CHOICE!!" Haskins shouted.

No! My brain screamed. NO! He'd somehow gotten out of Margo's grip and was pulling a dagger out of his sleeve. Margo and Matt were unarmed!

He was right. I had no choice. I had to kill him. I wasn't close enough to physically fight him and Margo and Matt had been taken by surprise.

Just before the tip of Haskins' dagger touched Margo, I let out a bloodcurdling scream. My finger squeezed the trigger and the bullet shot him directly in the head. He lost his balance and thudded to the floor. I walked swiftly up to his body, and as Margo and Matt watched, squeezed the trigger two more times, directly at his chest.

Haskins was dead.

I began to shake. My gun fell from my hand and landed on Haskins' bloody body.

"That was for Danny," I sputtered through clenched teeth.

Matt put his hand on my shoulder. "Come on," he said softly. "Let's go." My legs felt like lead as he pulled me away.

Margo pulled handcuffs out of her pocket and cuffed Manuel. She began
following us.

"Hey!" called a voice behind us. "You're leaving without me?!"

We all turned around. Delvecchio was limping toward us, his hand over his arm. It was covered with blood. We turned back and began walking again as Nick caught up.

"What happened to you?" Matt asked as we reached the outside.

"I had to rough up some punk who thought he could take me on," Nick said (as
his head began to expand). "I twisted my ankle, and he shot me!"

Margo opened the car door that Haskins had arrived in and cuffed Manuel to the steering wheel. "We'll let Trout's men take care of you," she said to him.

I still couldn't speak. My vocal chords were paralyzed. My body hadn't
registered the fact that Haskins was dead yet. That now I could still lead a
semi-normal life. I had to talk to Benny Ray.

* * * *

When we reached the abandoned building, we met up with Benny Ray and settled down to wait for Trout's men. Matt got up and looked out the window as Margo explained what happened to Benny Ray.

"Three, two, one," Matt counted under his breath. We all looked up.

Then we heard it. An explosion. I got up and walked to the window.

The Roger Mills Manufacturing Plant was ablaze with flames.

"A bomb?" I asked, looking at Matt.

He nodded. "Can't risk leaving any of those high-tech weapons lying around for some other terrorist to find, can we?"

I smiled at him.

"Ouch! Man, that hurt!" Delvecchio squealed suddenly.

"Quiet, you little weasel," Margo said impatiently as she wrapped his arm up. "You have to get that bullet out as soon as we get back." She stood up.

I looked at Delvecchio and felt bad. "I'm so sorry, Nick," I apologized. "It's my fault." I faced the whole team. "All this was my fault. I'm sorry I dragged you into it. I'm very grateful for all you've done."

"It's just our job," Margo said as she began cleaning herself up.

"Well, there's something you should know, anyway," I said. I paused and took
a breath. "I lied to you."

"Sarah, you don't have to do this," Benny Ray warned, an alarmed look on his
face.

"Yes, I do," I replied nicely. "You guys put your lives on the line for me. You deserve to know the truth."

Matt and Margo sat down next to Benny Ray with interest. I'm sure they figured he already knew the truth.

"You don't have to tell us if it's too painful," Matt said.

"You've already put two and two together, haven't you?" I asked him.

"It's about your son, isn't it?"

I nodded. "After I graduated from the military, I gave birth to a baby boy. I was struggling for money then, and Haskins offered me a job that paid big cash. Of course I accepted it. Then I found out about his bank account and everything, and he found out I knew. Then he killed my son. I came home to my nine-year-old son face down on his bed with no heartbeat. It took me a whole year to find Haskins back at his military base and I tried to take him out on my own. No such luck. He always escaped. That's when I contacted you guys."

Nobody said anything. The silence was oddly comforting. Margo got up and walked slowly to the window. "Trout's here."

Everyone began to pack up.

"Move out, people," Matt ordered.

"Are you okay?" Benny Ray asked on his way out.

I nodded solemnly. "I'm fine."

"Let's go home," Margo said, following Nick out the door. Nick patted me on
the back. Then Matt and I were the only ones left in the room.

He grabbed my arm. "One question."

I shrugged. "Shoot."

"Daniel Langley-Riddle?"

* * * *

Benny Ray sat down at the Silver Star Bar's counter with a white envelope in his hand.

"What's that?" Matt asked from behind the counter. It was after hours, and he was cleaning up.

Benny Ray smiled. "A letter from Sarah. She told me she'd write." He tore it open.

"Hmm. Tell me how she's doing," Matt said, then left Benny Ray in peace.

Benny Ray unfolded my letter.

* * * *
Dearest Benny Ray,

How can I express my gratitude? Back in the military, you stuck by me. Ten years later, you still stuck by me. You are truly the best friend I ever had. Which is why I have to tell you one last 'secret'.

I know you didn't ask who the father of Danny was, and I'm sure the assurance that Robert Haskins wasn't the father was a good enough explanation for you. But it isn't good enough for me.

You remember the day you beat the skin off Haskins. We were all too drunk,
weren't we? You probably don't even remember how you made it back to the
barracks, do you? I do. I remember all too well. I wasn't drunk enough to forget.

A few days later I found out I was pregnant. And sometime after that, we graduated, and I didn't hear from you, and our connection was lost.

You would have loved Danny. He would have grown up to be a caring,
warm-hearted man, just like you. When I think of him now, I realize he acted
so much like you.

But I want to apologize. I'm sorry you never got to meet your son. I'm sorry I didn't tell you before we graduated, and I'm the most sorry for not being able to tell you this in person. I'm crying right now as it is. Please forgive me. Take your time. Come visit me if you can. We'll talk about things.

I left him my parent's address and my cell phone number.

P.S. Danny's full name was Daniel Langley-Riddle. It's carved on his headstone for the whole world to see.

Love,

Sarah
* * * *

Benny Ray just sat and stared at the white sheet of paper. He didn't know what to think or what to feel. The only thing he knew for certain was that he wasn't angry, and he didn't think he could ever be. Not at me.

Matt and his assistant bartender Debbie walked back into the bar just then,
talking and laughing. Matt walked behind the counter and looked at Benny Ray,
eyebrows raised. "Well?" he asked expectantly.

Benny Ray didn't look at him. "She's, uh, she's doin' fine, Major." He got up slowly and exited the bar.

Matt watched him leave. "I know, Benny Ray, I know."

"Hey, Matt? Whatever happened to that woman who was applying for the
bartender position?" Debbie asked.

Matt thought quickly. "She decided she didn't want the job after all."

"Hmm. Too bad."

* * * *

I was standing at Danny's grave, staring at the headstone. Slowly, I stooped
down and placed a small bouquet of flowers on the ground.

I stood there and thought about the past week and a half. I realized that I never asked why Haskins wanted those weapons. I guess it really didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was Danny's killer was dead. My son's death was
avenged.

"I love you, Danny," I whispered. I began to walk away, a soft breeze blowing.

The trees rustled. In the back of my mind, I heard Danny's voice once again.

"I love you, too, Mom."

The End

* * * *

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