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Sequel to "The Heart of Darkness"

THE SILVER STAR
HERMOSA BEACH, CALIFORNIA

Margo Vincent walked into a scene of complete chaos. Debbie, the
bartender, stood nervously wringing her hands behind the bar. One of
the waitresses – Carol, Margo thought her name was – was in tears.
Benny Ray and Nick were trying desperately to calm her.

"Look, honey," Benny Ray soothed, "Matt's just a bit tired, is all.
He didn't mean it."

"Dat's right," Nick chimed in.

"Why don't you just take the afternoon off – go do something nice for
yourself," Benny Ray suggested. "We'll talk to Matt, and I'm sure
this will all blow over."

"Oh, no!" the young woman exclaimed half-hysterically, "I won't even
come back here to pick up my last paycheck – you can mail it!"

Margo just barely managed to get out of the way as Carol ran for the
door. "Isn't she the second this week?" she asked the room at large.

"Three, if you count da busboy," Nick replied.

"Margo, you have got to do something!" Debbie pleaded.

"Don't worry," Margo assured her.

Benny Ray stepped close so that his words fell only on Margo's ears.
"Darlin,' are you sure about this?"

"I've got it covered," she told him with an enigmatic smile.

* * * * *

Margo paused just beyond the doorway of Matt's office, silently
observing the love of her life. He was staring uncomprehendingly at
a sheaf of papers on his desk, most likely tax forms, to judge from
the calculator and teetering stack of files on the corner of the desk.

Rico had been right when he suggested that they take a vacation after
Kepper's attack. Unfortunately, real life had conspired to postpone
their R&R. It suddenly seemed that every terrorist organization on
the planet had gone into overdrive. They'd spent the last month
shuttling back and forth among three different continents. Between
ops, when the others had had some slight respite, Matt had come home
to the Silver Star only to have to deal with the health department,
the labor board, and most recently, the IRS. It really was enough to
make anyone crazy, but the problem was, it was making everyone else
around Matt crazy too. And the bigger problem was that in their line
of work, they simply could not afford to have a leader who was burned
out, so Margo had taken the redeye to DC and paid a call on Trout,
informing him that she and Matt were taking a non-interruptible
vacation.

Xavier Trout had snorted derisively and said he'd be sure and tell
the bad guys not to bother anyone for the next couple of weeks. Margo had countered that the CIA, Delta Force and the SEALs had been
managing quite nicely for a very long time and she was sure they could hold down the fort for a week or two. Trout had eyed the sparkling diamond nestled in the hollow of her throat and accused Margo of thinking with her heart and not her head. She'd stared straight back and reminded him that the only thing an operative on edge was good for was getting himself and others around him killed. Finally, Trout had sighed and relented.

And so, here she was. Tapping lightly on the doorframe, Margo leaned
inside the office.

Matt looked up, his scowl fading as he saw her standing there. The
sight of Margo in a gauzy summer dress definitely lightened his mood.
"Hey." A grin warmed his features, erasing some of the worry lines
that had been accumulating over the last few weeks. "Are you really
sure you want to come in here?" he asked wryly.

"Yup," she answered, smiling as she shoved aside his paper work to
perch on the desk in front of him.

"Margo, I have to –"

Margo laid a gentle hand across his mouth. "No, you don't. The only
thing you have to do is pack, because our plane is leaving in two and
a half hours."

Matt scrubbed his hands wearily over his face. "Again? I swear, I'm
gonna wring Trout's –"

"Now, now," Margo chided, her voice rich with laughter, "Trout didn't
have anything to do with this. It was my idea, and in fact, I had
the damndest time getting him to go along with it."

"Go along with what?" Matt asked suspiciously.

"We're going on vacation," Margo answered promptly. "Just you and
me, at a beautiful old seaside resort."

"Just you and me, huh?" Matt leaned back in his chair. The view in
front of him was terribly distracting and he was suddenly finding it very hard to breathe.

"That's right," Margo answered mischievously, "You and I have some
unfinished business."

At the word 'business' the light faded from Matt's eyes. "Yeah, well, speaking of business –"

"Deke is going to take care of all this," Margo informed him.

"Deke?" Matt scoffed. "I won't have a hotel left to run when we get
back."

"Well, not exactly Deke. He knows a really good accountant. Her name is Helga, I think."

"Helga?" Matt said skeptically.

"While Helga is straightening out the books, Deke and the guys are going to try to patch up your labor relations. One more word out of you to the staff and you won't have a staff."

"That bad, huh?"

"Worse."

"And what did you have in mind to rectify this...situation?" Matt asked curiously.

"Well, if I recall, back before we were interrupted by a homicidal maniac bent on revenge, there was something you and I were discussing... something you said that you wanted everything to be perfect for."

"O-o-oh," Matt responded, drawing out the single syllable as understanding dawned. "And why exactly do we have to go to – where
are we going, anyway?"

"We're going to Mystic, Connecticut," Margo informed him. "We'll be
staying at a quaint bed and breakfast that's furnished with nineteenth century antiques."

"What sort of antiques?" Matt inquired with a suggestive gleam in his
eye.

Margo leaned down to whisper in his ear. "The sort that involve feather beds and hand-pieced quilts."

"What time did you say that flight was?"

I-95 SOUTH
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

Matt watched all bemused as the colorful New England scenery flashed
by the windows. Margo had arranged every detail of their excursion –
the rental car had been waiting at Logan when they'd landed, and
Margo had produced a map and printed directions from her carry-on,
informing him in no uncertain terms that she was driving. He could tell that she was enjoying herself immensely, and he was having too much fun watching her to argue. Signs for Connecticut started to appear and he roused himself slightly to read them.

"Hey, look – a casino! Maybe we could –"

"No," Margo told him firmly. "Too many people. I want you all to
myself," she added with a wicked grin.

"Well, you've got me," he answered, reaching out to take her hand.
He raised it gently to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles.

Smiling, Margo reluctantly withdrew her hand. "Later," she promised
with a sidelong look for Matt.

"I've, ah, been kind of a jerk lately, haven't I?" Matt asked quietly.

"Yes, you have," Margo agreed, "but you're my jerk."

"Thanks... I think. Are we almost there yet?"

"Almost."

Another sign caught Matt's attention. "I didn't realize we'd be this close to Groton Sub Base."

"No," Margo told him flatly.

"No what?"

"No military bases. No guns, no bombs and no tangos. This trip, it's just you... and me," Margo concluded with a self-satisfied little smirk.

Matt noticed and decided to play along. "Well, if there's no bad guys to chase, what are we going to do with ourselves for a whole two weeks?"

"Don't worry," Margo assured him, "I've got something in mind."

THE SILVER STAR
HERMOSA BEACH, CALIFORNIA

Daryl Drummer entered the Silver Star and made a beeline for the bar.

"Well, I see someone left the door open an' a big ol' squid washed up," Benny Ray observed cheerfully.

"Aren't you supposed to be fightin' on the shores of Tripoli or something?" Drummer growled.

"Who's ya friend?" Nick asked curiously.

Drummer glanced down at the little New Yorker with evident disdain.

"What's yaw problem?" Nick bristled.

"Delvecchio, shut up," Benny Ray advised. "Daryl Drummer, this here's Nick Delvecchio. Delvecchio, this is Drummer." The two continued their staring contest, reminding Benny Ray very much of a little Chihuahua yapping at a Rottweiler. "Ah, gentlemen, we're gonna be workin' together here for a while so maybe ya'll should start over and shake hands."

The two just continued to glare, a perfect case of hate at first sight if ever there was one. Deke slid onto a barstool next to Drummer and smiled at Debbie, who supplied a tall, cool drink without being asked.

"What the hell are you supposed to be?" Drummer demanded, looking him up and down like he was a new species of bug.

Deke just sipped his drink impassively.

Benny Ray groaned inwardly. "As I was sayin', fellas, we're all gonna be working together for a while, so –"

"Benny Ray!"

"Over here, Rico," Benny Ray called.

"Where'd ya find dat guy, gigolos-r-us?" Nick wondered.

"Delvecchio," Benny Ray said warningly.

"Awright, awright," Nick whined.

Benny Ray sighed heavily. It was going to be a long two weeks.

 (cont'd)

 Part 2

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 Part 3

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