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The schoolyard was humming with activity, buses coming and going with scores of children laughing and playing while they waited for their parents to pick them up. One little girl, her long blonde hair tied up in a ponytail with a yellow ribbon sat on a little bench at the corner of the school grounds. Emerald green eyes carefully reading the new book her mom had given her that morning. Her hand played unconsciously with the little silver charm bracelet, her mommy was a little late today, but she always came.

A little brown minivan pulled up, looking up the little girl sighed cause it wasn't her mommy. Re-opening the book the little girl continues to read.

The passenger door to the van opens and a tall thin black man steps out, a little white cloth held in his left hand. Moving around behind the bench he steps up to the little girl, placing the white cloth, saturated with chloroform over her mouth he grabs her around the waist with his right hand. Struggling hard the little girl kicks and scratches but to no avail. Lifting her up he moves quickly back to the fan. Her screams are muffled in the white handkerchief but her wildly flailing arms and legs will leave several bruises on her captor. Handing her to a second man through the open side door of the van he quickly closes the door, climbing back into the passenger seat. The van quickly drives away. Leaving behind a little book sitting forlornly on the bench, it's pages blowing mournfully in the gentle afternoon breeze. The small silver bracelet it's clasp undone had fallen off into the middle of the book during the struggle, one of the little charms a silver horse, it's mailed rider, Lance in hand is poised for battle

Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach, CA

Matt Shepherd, a tall dark haired man with intense blue eyes stops just outside the side entrance to the hotel. Grabbing the little blue towel off the doorknob he wipes the sweat from his face and neck. He liked jogging. The beach was quiet at 6am, no big crowds to fight through.

From behind him he can hear the crunching of tires over gravel as a black limo pulls up. Throwing the towel over his shoulder, Matt leans against the door crossing his arms over his chest, waiting.

An older man, dressed in a dark blue suit climbs slowly out of the limo. Matt frowns slightly as he watches the man walk across the parking lot. Unlike his normally pristine appearance Trout's tie was askew, his hair is rumpled and he looks very tired.

Standing up straight, Matt shakes Trout's outstretched hand.

His face grim, Trout says, "Can I talk to you Matt."

Opening the door, Matt leads the way to his office behind the bar. Indicating for Trout to sit and make himself comfortable he waits.

"I know you don't usually handle kidnapping cases Matt, but I need your help with this one. A friend's daughter was kidnapped nearly a week ago. There hasn't been any note or ransom demand. Normally the FBI would handle the case but they don't know where to start.

My sources believe that a child slavery ring has been working in that area for some time. In the last month fifteen children have been reported missing. We had someone on the inside but we lost contact with him yesterday. His last report gave us a possible location in the mountains of Wyoming. I know if the FBI gets hold of the case something will go wrong, those children will get hurt. I'd like you and your team to go in and get those children out. When they are safe the FBI will move in and clean up the rest."

Handing across a manila envelope Trout asks, "Please Matt, will you do this for me?"

Taking the envelope, Matt opens it to find pictures of the children, ranging from four to eight years old. Happy, smiling faces stared at him, and his heart thumped crazily in his chest as he stared down at their little faces.

Moving to the desk, Trout pulls out a photo of a little girl. Blonde hair and smiling green eyes look out of a heart shaped face.

"Her name is Mary, Please find her for me Matt!"

"Done," is Matt's only reply.

Less than an hour later five people are gathered in the operations room in the basement of the Silver Star Hotel.

They have all been made aware of the mission. Matt standing by a large map on the wall is describing the terrain.

"We're going in to the Wyoming, Cloud Peak Wilderness area, it's pretty rough terrain, the most we will find is goat trails and rocks."

Deke, you will land the chopper here, pointing to a small clearing on the map. It will take us about 20 minutes to hike in to the location Trout gave us. He didn't have any Intel on the size of the compound or the number of men involved. So we're going in blind. Benny Ray you'll go in first, recon the area, find out what we're up against and if possible where the children are being held, then set up a position overlooking the compound. When your set Benny Ray, Margo, Nick and I will move in and do whatever it takes to get those kids out."

"Any questions?" Several seconds later when no questions are asked Matt says, "Ok, people gather your gear, we have a plane to catch.

0400 Hrs
Fort Carson
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Deke, sitting in the pilot seat is running through the last of his pre-flight checklist. Their gear stored, the team was sitting quietly waiting for Deke to finish. Seconds later the chopper hovers off the runway, before gaining full altitude.

Over the headsets the team hears Deke's voice, "Sit back and relax folks the flight time will be about 60 minutes. It will still be dark when we land so take you time.

An hour later the team is standing in the little clearing, strapping on gear and checking weapons. Benny Ray was already a couple hundred yards down the rocky slope heading for the compound.

Matt standing on the slope just below the chopper say, "Benny Ray you copy?"

"Loud and Clear Sir."

"Contact me as soon as you are in place."

"Roger that Sir."

0455 Hours
Cloud Peak Wilderness Area
Wyoming

Fifteen minutes later, Benny Ray's voice is heard over the communications channel. "Major, you read me, over?"

"Roger Benny Ray, Go."

Looking through his night scope Benny Ray says, "Compound consists of two building, only one, the larger one is guarded, two entrances, two guards, one east one south, heavily armed. A dirt road leads east out of the compound. One van, two 4 by pickups and at least six dirt bikes parked at the east entrance. The compound is running on generator power, there are no perimeter lights, wires or fences, only a small light over each door. Best approach Major is from the South."

"Give the word Major."

"Roger Benny Ray, sit tight we will be on site in 5 Mikes."

Several minutes later Benny Ray hears, "Now Benny Ray."

Siting on the guard East of the building Benny Ray fires, silently the guard slips to the ground. On the south side the guard is leaning against the doorjamb dozing. With his second shot, Benny Ray sends the guard slowly sliding down the side of the building to a seated position."

"All clear Major,"

"Roger Benny Ray, keep your eyes peeled we're coming in."

Moving to the building Margo goes to the left of the door, weapon ready. Matt moves to the right, with Nick behind him. Checking the knob, Matt is surprised to find it unlocked. Opening the door slowly he looks in. One small light on the east north wall shows at least twenty cots lined up along the walls. Motioning for Margo and Nick to move inside he says, "We're inside Benny Ray, keep your eyes open."

"Roger that Sir," is the reply.

Inside the room Margo moves to the other side of the room where a door leads to the rest of the building listening intently. A little blonde girl about seven or eight years old, in the bed beside the door whispers, "There's usually someone sitting out there."

Smiling Margo says, "Thank you sweetheart, could you do me a favor and quietly wake the rest of the children, tell them to get dressed as quickly and quietly as possible, we are going to get you out of here.

"Yes, Ma'am," is her enthusiastic answer.

Beside her the door slowly opens, stepping back Margo waits as the big man enters the room and sees the little girl putting on her shoes.

"What are you doing up you little rat," raising his hand, the little girl cringes away from him. But Margo strikes first bringing the butt of her weapon down on the back of his skull. Unconscious he falls onto the empty bed beside the little girl.

The little girl grins up at Margo then quickly turns away shaking the girl in the next bed awake, whispering instructions in her ear. Moving to the next several beds and quietly waking the occupants. Seeing the rest are beginning to wake the little girl quietly moves to an empty bed, picking up a tiny pair of sneakers. Quietly she tiptoes back to her bed, opening the door she slips out into the hallway unseen. Slowly she moves down the hallway to a little door on the right, opening the door she slips inside. Sitting huddled in the corner is a little boy. "Timmy, she whispers, Timmy are you awake, she asks?"

"Yes, he whispers defiantly"

"Some people are here and they are going to take us home, hurry and put on your shoes."

"Thanks Mary," he whispers.

Looking across the room Matt can see that all the children are up and dressed, ready to go.

Nodding at Margo he says, "Benny Ray we're coming out."

"Roger that Sir."

Opening the door, Matt can see that it's getting light outside, turning back he motions for Nick to lead the way. Picking up a little boy, Nick heads out the door the rest of the children quietly following. Thirteen children in all, leave the room hurrying down the trail following Nick, with Margo in the middle and Matt picking up the rear. Benny Ray waits for nearly a minute before breaking cover and following the little band, checking for movement one last time before taking off down the trail.

Several minutes after Benny Ray disappears into the brush, the door opens again. A little blonde haired girl holding tight to a small dark haired boy come running out of the building, following the trail into the dense underbrush.

Inside the building the rest of it's occupants slowly begin to stir. Looking out the window one of the men sees the two children disappear down the trail. Yelling to the rest of the men that the children are getting away he dashes out the door to the second building.

Pounding on the door he yells, "Colonel, the children are escaping!"

Opening the door a tall heavily built white haired man with pale icy blue eyes grabs the messenger by the neck. His voice low and deadly he says, "What do you mean the children are escaping, where are Tibbs, Hammer and Carter.

"I don't know Sir, but I saw a couple of the kids running down the trail, if we hurry we can catch them."

"Then I suggest you hurry Mr. Mason," he says his eyes flashing. With a flick of his wrist the "Colonel" tosses Mason to the ground. Scrambling to his feet Mason starts yelling to the other men grabbing a weapon he takes off down the trail after the children, at least ten men following closely behind.

Catching up with Matt and the slowest of the children, Benny Ray hauls one of the littlest ones up into his arms and runs toward the waiting chopper. One by one they hand the children up into the arms of Nick and Margo until finally all thirteen children are aboard.

Inside the chopper they all hear Margo say, "Oh God Matt look."

Turning Matt and Benny Ray see the two children running down the trail.

Matt jumps up into the chopper grabbing Benny Ray by the arm knowing the sniper is going back after the children, smiling he says "Everybody comes home Benny Ray, even the children!" Releasing him, Matt nods.

Tossing his Remington up to Matt, Benny Ray turns and starts back down the trail at a dead run.

Several minutes later when he reaches the running children, Benny Ray says, "it's time to go home," scooping them up one under each arm. Turning he settles them in front of him and heads back toward the chopper, running hard.

He hears a scared little voice whisper in his ear, "Their coming!"

Behind him Benny Ray can hear the breaking of brush and shouting voices as the kidnappers come up the trail.

One voice standing out above all the others saying, "Take him down Mason - Now!"

Mason stops lifting the rifle to his shoulder and fires.

Benny Ray hearing the shot ping off a rock to his left tucks the children closer to his chest using his body as a shield.

Swearing, Mason squeezes the trigger a second time

Inside the chopper, Matt raises the Remington, taking aim he fires - a second too late.

Mason goes down but so does Benny Ray.

Fire slashes through Benny Ray's left thigh and the leg buckles beneath him. Twisting right Benny Ray keeps himself from falling on the children. Landing to the side of the trail his fall is broken by a small bush, it's branches bending backward sending Benny Ray and the children sliding beneath a large boulder. The bush springs back into place concealing them. But the ground beneath the rock gives way and a small hole opens sending then plummeting twenty feet to the rocky floor below.

Both Margo and Nick join Matt, but the Remington is the only weapon with the range to reach the oncoming men. The kidnappers scatter as Matt continues firing round after round, hoping Benny Ray will be able to continue. After several minutes and still no sign of Benny Ray, Matt turns handing the Remington to Margo. Pulling a map out of his pocket he points to a small clearing and says, "I'll find him, and meet you here at 2000 hrs tonight. Now get out of here!"

Turning Matt crosses the chopper and jumps out the opposite side, running down the slope away from the clearing, he conceals himself in the brush and rocks.

The "Colonel" watches as the chopper takes off, his eyes blazing with anger and frustration. Walking over he kicks Mason's body turning it face up swearing when he sees the blood spreading across his chest. Calling the men together his voice ruthless and threatening says "Find them, no matter how long it takes and I want him alive."

His commo gear flying off into the darkness Benny Ray lands hard, the breath knocked out of him, the wound in his left leg sending fiery bursts of pain through his body. Trying to clear the fog from his mind, Benny Ray tightens his grip on the children whispering, "Quiet, children, we must be quiet," before the darkness claims him.

Above them the children can hear many familiar voices. Huddling together, wrapped in the security of Benny Rays arms they close their eyes.

Matt crawling to the top of the hill beside the landing zone, watches as the kidnappers hunt relentlessly for Benny Ray and the children. Frustrated the "Colonel" begins to widen the search area.

Nearly an hour later, Benny Ray fights his way back to consciousness, soft feather light taps to his left cheek finally wake him. Opening his eyes he sees a little girl sprawled across his chest, her little hands brushing his cheek. Seeing his eyes open she smiles saying, "My name is Mary."

"Hi Mary, he whispers, I'm Benny Ray."

Loosening his grip Mary rolls to the side to sit on a rock beside him.

In his other arm a small voice says "I'm Timmy"

"Hi, Timmy, Benny Ray says, are you both ok."

Shaking their heads yes, they sit quietly as Benny Ray struggles to sit up. Abused muscles protest and fiery shafts of pain lance through his leg. Looking at his watch he is surprised to see that it is almost 7:30, he'd been out for quite a while. Listening intently but hearing no sounds or voices from above Benny Ray reaches into the top pocket of his vest, pulling out a small thin tube he bends it in half then shakes it, the chemicals within react casting a blue light around the small cave.

Handing the chem light to Mary he says, "Mary would you hold this for me."

Smiling she takes the little tube.

Benny Ray looking at the two children is amazed by what he sees. With everything they had been through he expected them to be noisy and hysterical. Not so, both children were very well behaved, quiet and helpful.

"Mary why weren't you and Timmy with the other children?

Defiantly she looks Benny Ray straight in the eye and says, "The bad men had put Timmy in the closet, he's my friend, and I didn't want to leave him there all alone.

Benny Ray smiles. That this little girl was thinking of her friend when she was probably scared out of her mind wanting only to go home amazed him.
Reaching out he brushes her cheek saying, "you did the right thing Mary, friends are very important and we need to take care of them and protect them if we can.

"Are you a Knight," Mary asks?

"A Knight, Mary, I don't understand."

"My mommy says a Knight is the kind of person that defends and protects the weak because they can't take care of themselves. You came back for us!"

Hugging the little girl, his voice tight with emotion Benny Ray says, "I don't know if I'm a Knight Mary, but it was my job to find you and take you back safely to your family."

Leaning back Mary takes Benny Ray's face between her tiny hands saying, "Well I think you're my Knight," and places a little butterfly kiss on his mouth.

Looking down at this sweet, trusting little girl, Benny Ray hoped he could live up to her expectations and get them all out of the mess they'd fallen into.

Beside him Timmy taps his arm, in a small voice he says, "I'm hungry"

Laughing softly, Benny Ray pulls a small packet out of another pocket, tearing it open he breaks the power bar in half handing a piece to each child.
Reaching down Benny Ray begins to probe the bullet wound in his left leg, ripping his pants he can see the wound is bleeding sluggishly, the pool of blood on the rock beneath it, the reason he feels so tired. Swearing under his breath he can see an entry wound but no exit. The bullet is still lodged inside. On his left Mary leans toward him saying, "You have a big aowie, does it hurt a lot."

"A little bit Mary," is his chuckling answer. Reaching into another pocket he pulls a small green packet, tearing it open he shakes it out placing the gauze pad over the wound, wrapping the ends tightly around his leg he knots it above the pad.

Taking the light from Mary, Benny Ray peers around the small cave. Looking up he knows there's no way he's going to get himself and the children back out that way without rope or climbing gear. Holding the light higher he sees two holes in the cave wall that might lead out of the chamber. Pulling out a small compass he notices one goes south, back toward the compound the other heads northwest toward the landing zone.

Cautiously Benny Ray tries to stand, placing as little weight as possible on the injured leg. Beside him the children stand anxiously watching as he struggles up wanting to help but not sure how. Standing up Benny Ray takes a deep breath before trying to place any weight on the injured leg, but it's not as bad as he had thought. The first onslaught over, the pain settled down to a dull ache.

Limping toward the NW opening he says, Mary I want you to hold on to Timmy's hand real tight, and take hold of my belt, Ok, don't let go!"

"Yes Sir, she answers.

With the Chem light in his left hand, pulling the Glock out from under his vest, Benny Ray carefully moves down the narrow corridor making sure the children are following.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Frustrated Matt waits for the kidnappers to move away from the area. Nearly an hour later the last of the men have disappeared over the hill. Carefully Matt moves toward the last place he saw Benny Ray, but it's another 20 minutes before Matt reaches the brushy outcropping where Benny Ray and the children disappeared. Finding small traces of blood on the tip of the bush, he carefully steps over it. Looking closely he can see a dark opening beneath the boulder. On the underside of the boulder he again see a small smear of blood. Pulling a small flashlight out of his pocket he peers down into the hole. Suddenly the ground beneath him gives way, dropping him through the widening hole. Landing hard his right foot unable to find purchase twists sideways the ankle giving way beneath him. Swearing Matt topples to the cave floor, flashlight spinning out of his hand. Standing up he checks the ankle, it's sore but he doesn't think anything is broke. Limping across the cave he retrieves the flashlight. Carefully looking around, he spots a small dark puddle on the cave floor, still wet, the blood is easy to identify. Looking around Matt sees two openings, checking their directions he has a fifty-fifty chance of discovering which one Benny Ray might have chosen. Heading northwest Matt pulls a chem light from his pack and activates it, the cool blue light, shedding it's eerie aura throughout the small cave. Moving quickly Matt follows the twisting turning cave, hoping to catch up, hoping he'd chosen the correct trail.

Benny Ray is frustrated it's been nearly forty-five minutes since entering the little corridor. Many of the twists had opened into small caverns, but most had narrowed and been almost impossible for him to pass and none had given him a clue as to how to reach the surface. Stopping in a small cave to catch his breath and rest his aching leg, he hears the sounds of boots scraping rock coming from behind him. Gathering the children he hides them behind a small outcropping of rock, hand to mouth, he motions them to keep silent. Handing Mary the chem light he tucks it beneath her, dousing it's light. Moving back up the trail toward the sounds he plasters' himself against the wall, weapon drawn, waiting.

A minute later the blue of a chem light comes into view as the intruder crosses into the cave opening. Silently Benny Ray moves forward placing his weapon to the man temple, "Don't move," he says his voice low and deadly. "Benny Ray," Matt whispers?

"Major," Benny Ray answers.

"You're a hard man to find my friend."

Lowering his weapon Benny Ray noticing Matt is limping slightly asking, "What happened to you"

"I fell down your damn hole," he answers, glaring as Benny Ray chuckles.

"Where are the children?"

"Over here Sir, Benny Ray says as he moves toward the children's hiding place, Mary, Timmy, he calls."

Standing up the children move quickly to Benny Ray, silently they stand Mary wrapping her arms around his waist while Timmy stand to his right wrapping one arm around his leg.

"It's Okay, Benny Ray says, he a friend. Mary, Timmy this is Matt."

Like a grown up little man, the four-year old Timmy moves forward holding out his right hand saying, "How do you do Sir?" Mary with a shy smile waves from her haven beside Benny Ray.

Shaking Timmy's hand, Matt smiles and waves to Mary saying, "I'm doing just fine Timmy."

Looking at Benny Ray, Matt can see the tiredness in his eyes and the pain in his face. "How are you doing Benny Ray," he asks?

"I've been better Sir," he replies.

"Well, sit down and let me take a look."

"Major I think we need to get out of here."

"Benny Ray," is all Matt says watching him.

Seeing the implacable look on Matt face, Benny Ray resigns himself to the inevitable, with a little help from Matt and the children he settles himself against the cave wall. Ten minutes later with the wound cleaned and freshly bandaged, Matt says, "we have about ten hours before Deke comes back, so why don't we rest here a while. About to protest Benny Ray changes his mind saying, "So what's the plan major?"

"Well since neither of us has a rope or ladder going back is out of the picture. I figure we head that way - indicating northwest.

"That's your plan, Benny Ray says grinning, "I don't suppose there's a Plan B."

Grinning back Matt says, "There's always a Plan B, Benny Ray, I just haven't figured out what it is yet."

"That's what I was afraid of Major," Benny Ray mumbles leaning back against the wall, with Mary on one side and Timmy on the other Benny Ray closes his eyes.

Forty minutes later, Matt shakes him awake, "Time to go Benny Ray." Holding out his hand Matt helps him to his feet. With the children between them, Matt in the lead the little band continues following the caves heading northwest. Many hours later the passageway opens into a huge cavern. Overhead they can see the ceiling sloping in the westerly direction with several opening in it, but they are much too high to be of any use. One wall has several holes in it and about 10 feet below they can hear rushing water. Looking around Matt can see two more small openings. Turning he tells Benny Ray to stay put while he checks them out.

A few minutes later Matt returns, pointing he says, "They both dead end a few hundred yards in. I'm not sure we have much choice here. It's a long way back, but we may not have any alternative.

Walking over to the wall Mary and Timmy look down through the small holes at the rushing water below. Leaning against the wall Timmy turns and say, "Mary can you swim?' Screaming in terror Mary watches the wall give way beneath Timmy's weight sending him tumbling toward the rushing water. Reaching out Mary tries to grab his shirt, as she too drops toward the water. Rushing across the cavern Matt and Benny Ray are too late to grab the children, without thought, they launch themselves into the water. Holding the chem light high Benny Ray can see the bobbing heads of the children only a few feet ahead of him, kicking hard he reaches forward grabbing Mary by the shirt, dragging her toward him. Still holding onto Timmy, Mary reaches back grabbing Benny Ray around the neck. Behind him Matt using both arms is swimming hard. Passing Benny Ray he reaches for Timmy. Frightened Timmy is flailing his arms and legs making it more difficult for Matt to get hold of him. Finally Matt grabs the four year old and wraps him in a bear hug.

The water is rushing quickly through the narrow cave as it drags them down, the ceiling closing in on them getting lower and lower. Yelling to Timmy to take a deep breath Matt does the same ducking down below the rock ceiling and into the water. With his hand Matt tries to keep in contact with the ceiling hoping it will open soon giving them a chance to breath. Turning in the direction they are moving Matt can see a bright spot ahead, quickly the spot get bigger and bigger as the water rushes through an opening in the mountainside. Swearing loudly Matt holds Timmy tightly as they are thrown out and down, freefalling nearly fifty feet to the pond below. Hitting the water Matt and Timmy are dragged beneath the falling water. Scrambling back to the surface Matt starts swimming for the nearest shoreline. Behind him Matt hears Benny Ray hit the water, looking back to be sure Benny Ray surfaces. Seconds later Benny Ray and Mary surface, slowly Benny Ray starts swimming for shore. Depositing a coughing, Timmy on the shore Matt wades back in pulling Mary up into his arms he grabs Benny Ray by the collar dragging him to shore.

Shaking the water from her hair and eyes, Mary hurries over to Timmy, patting his back and hugging him tight.

Breathing heavily lying half in the water Benny Ray closes his eyes, willing the stabbing pains in his leg to go away. As Matt kneels beside him Benny Ray says, "Was that Plan B Sir!"

"Not exactly," Matt mumbles.

Matt seeing Benny Ray shivering and the bandage missing notices that the water around the injured leg is turning bright red. Dragging Benny Ray out of the water, Matt hunts around in his pack for something to put over the wound and stop the bleeding, whispering Matt says, "at the rate your going Benny Ray your not going to have much of the stuff left." Pulling off his belt, Matt places the small pad of gauze over the wound. Wrapping the belt around the leg, Benny Ray flinches as it's drawn tight.

"I need a vacation," Benny Ray mumbles, opening his eyes.

Grinning Matt say, "A vacation, what would do on a vacation, you live for this stuff."

Snorting Benny Ray answers, "No bullets, no bad guys, just me and my fishing pole as far away from civilization as I can get.

"No problems Benny Ray when we get out of this - take a week off, Matt say laughing!"

"Ha, Ha," Benny Ray mumbles, dragging himself up to lean on both elbows.

Leaning over Matt checks one more time making sure the belt is tight, placing his finger in the center of Benny Ray's chest he says, "You stay put, I'm going to take a look around and try an figure out where we are."

Seeing the children shivering and huddled together, Matt pulls off his shirt wrapping it around them say, it's not much but it might help a little. Whispering to Mary, he says, "If he tries to get up," pointing to Benny Ray, "sit on him."

"Yes, Mr. Matt, Mary says giggling."

Pulling his commo gear out of his pack Matt puts it in place, hoping that the soaking didn't ruin it. Binoculars in one hand map in the other, Matt disappears into the woods. Finding a small clearing about 10 minutes from the pond, Matt taking a good look around orients the map and finds their position. Swearing he sees that they overshot the rendezvous point by close to three miles. Getting back there was not going to be easy and they had two hours to do it in. Margo would wait, but he didn't know if the kidnappers were still in the area. Making his way back to the pond, Matt stops before entering the shore area calling "Benny Ray."

"Roger Sir," Benny Ray answers.

Stepping into the clearing he sees Benny Ray up on his right side, weapon in his left hand, the children at his back.

Sitting down beside them, he helps Benny Ray to a sitting position, laying out the map in front of him saying, "We overshot our mark by a few miles, we'll have to backtrack across here, pointing to a small trail. It's not going to be easy but I think we can do it. We've got about two hours before Margo is suppose to be there.

"Roger that Sir, lets get moving!"

Throwing his pack over his shoulder, Matt gets Benny Ray to his feet. With Benny Ray's arm around his neck, Matt takes hold of his belt as they move slowly out into the thick brush, the children following.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In a small clearing several miles south of the rendezvous point, Deke sets the chopper down easily. Turning he say, "Pretty Lady you say the word, I'll be there as quickly as I can."

"Thanks Deke," Margo replies.

Turning she steps out of the chopper, Nick and Rico close behind. Grabbing Rico by the arm Margo smiles saying, "I'm glad you could make it Rico, I have no idea what shape they are going to be in but having you here makes me feel better."

"I'm just glad I could get here in time Margo, you know how I feel about this team, Rico says winking at her"

Talking to both men, Margo say, "Ok, we do it just as we talked about in the chopper, move into position and wait, when Matt and Benny Ray are in sight I'll radio Deke to bring the chopper in. If you see or hear anything let the others know.

Nodding in agreement Nick and Rico move out into the brush it would be at least twenty minutes before they would be in position. Nick going northeast, Rico northwest and Margo going north straight down the middle.

Unseen, a figure about a mile up the mountainside hears the chopper come in. Taking out his radio, he says, "Colonel, you read me over?"

A harsh clipped voice answers, "This is the Colonel, Report!"

"A chopper just landed sir."

'Did anyone get on or off?"

"Couldn't tell sir too much cover."

"Get down there now and take a look, what is your position."

Relaying his coordinates, the kidnapper starts down the mountain, heading for the chopper, several minutes later he can hear the chopper as it takes off. Moving into the clearing he hears the rustling of brush. Following the sounds he silently follows, but soon he hears nothing. Swearing he stops pulling the radio from his pocket saying, "Colonel,"

"Go," is the only reply.

Afraid to tell the Colonel he lost his quarry he says, "One target sir, moving north along Grissom ridge."

"Stay out of site, the Colonel answers, but follow him, let me know immediately if he changes course."

"Yes Sir," he answers.

Stowing the radio, the man continues up the ridge hoping to pick up the trail of whoever got off that chopper.

Margo, hearing the sound of crunching brush behind her, fades into the underbrush off the rocky trail. Moving slowly she parallels her original course. Ten minutes later from her vantage point above the trail she sees a thinly built man, weapon in hand hurrying up the trail.

Into her headset Margo quietly says, "Nick, Rico I have company so keep your eyes open."

"Roger," they reply.

Taking up a position off the trail but in front of the kidnapper, Margo waits. As he reaches her position, she launches herself at him, bringing the butt of her weapon up smashing it into the side of his head. The man's head snaps sideways and he falls to the trail unconscious. Quickly she ties his hands and feet, and then checks his pockets, finding the radio. Stuffing the radio into her pack she empties his weapon and throws it into the brush before starting up the trail again.

The Colonel, gathering several of his men heads toward the clearing at the start of Grissom trail, with six men the Colonel sets up an ambush, sending two down the trail he and the others take cover in the bushes at the opening of the clearing.

Coming up the trail, Margo suddenly feels eyes watching her as one of the men moves onto the trail behind her, raising her weapon she's jumped from behind by the second, preventing her from getting off a shot. With difficulty the two men wrestle her to the ground, amazed to find a woman under the camo paint and gear. Pulling her back to her feet they drag her up the trail toward the clearing.

Reaching the clearing she sees several men step out of the bushes. One a tall, white haired man with pale icy blue eyes.

Recognizing the man a look of pure hatred crosses her face as she says, "Trexlor"

A harsh ugly laugh breaks the silence as Trexlor says, "Margo Vincent, fancy meeting you in the middle of this god forsaken country."

Walking up he grabs her by the chin saying, "It's Colonel now Margo!"

Jerking her head out of his hand, she sneers at him, "In whose army Trexlor, your own? You could have been a brilliant intelligence officer but you had a promising career in front of you but you betrayed your own people, sold government information and destroyed countless lives with your greed and ambition! Now it's children Trexlor? You were kidnapping and selling children, you are despicable!"

"Children are a commodity Margo and a very profitable one, do you know how much little blonde girls can bring on the market, 30 to 50 thousand dollars."

Enraged and disgusted Margo kicks out catching him in the knee.

Rage wells up inside Trexlor and he lashes out with his right hand slapping Margo hard. Grabbing her by the front of her shirt he lifts her up getting face to face with her saying, "You have interfered in my life once too often Margo, only this time you'll pay the final price, I want to know how you found me and where you've taken those kids."

"It's too late Trexlor, the children are safe," Margo says triumphantly.

"Not all of them Margo, you're here to find those two children and the man who stole them from me, Loyalty, how quaint."

"Loyalty is a virtue, Trexlor and one you will never possess."

Grabbing her by the throat this time, he squeezes hard. "When I have captured your friend Margo, I'm going to kill you, he says throwing her backward. I will make it long and painful, but I will make sure you watch as I kill your friend first." To his men he says, "Take her into the brush there," he says indicating a well concealed point to the side of the clearing, "tie her up and keep her quiet." "The rest of you find a spot, I want her friend and those children alive, do you hear me."

From their position around the clearing Nick and Rico watch as Margo is dragged into the clearing. Nick says, "Rico are you seeing this!"

"Yeah, Nick I see it, I'm going back for Margo, the bastard only left one guard with her and there are too many of them to take out at once. Lets hope Matt and Benny Ray show up soon."

Half a mile away, Matt stops, listening intently to the receiver in his ear, unable to make out the words, he say, "We're getting close I can hear them."
"Nick, Margo, you read me over." When no one answers he says, "We must still be too far out of range." Ten minutes more of walking brings them close to the clearing. Again Matt tries the commo link, "Margo, Nick, you read me over.

"Matt, this is Nick, don't come in, we have a problem."

"What's going on Nick, Matt asks?"

"Remember that white haired man from this morning, his name is Trexlor, he and six of his goons have Margo."

"Trexlor, Ian Trexlor, Matt asks?"

"Don't know boss, all Margo said was Trexlor, an she didn't like the guy very much.

"Do you know where they have her, Nick?"

A second voice over the radio Rico's says, she's fine Matt, one guard nearby. I can take him whenever you say the word."

"Rico, how the… never mind, but I am glad you're here. Benny Ray and I are about five minutes from the clearing due north. I need to know where you are and where the tango's are."

"Yes Sir, Nick is northeast of the clearing, Margo and I are south of the clearing about thirty feet off the trail. Trexlor and his men are spread out along the south side of the clearing at about fifty-foot intervals. They're waiting for Benny Ray and the kids. This guy is majorly disturbed Matt."

"I know Rico, I've met him. Sit tight!"

Standing beside him Benny Ray says, "How are we going to do this Sir?"

"Plan C, Benny Ray, we need a diversion to draw Trexlor and his men out." Pacing the area, Matt can't decide what kind of diversion they could create would draw Trexlor out into the open. He wanted Trexlor alive, the man should be brought to trial for kidnapping and slavery. After several minutes Matt throws his arms up in the air.

Putting his hand on Matt shoulder Benny Ray says, "Me Sir, I could be the diversion, he's waiting for me and the children. If I go out there and draw them out you, Rico, Nick and Margo can take care of the rest."

"No!"

"Major, what other choice do we have?"

"Dammit, NO Benny Ray, with the shape your in, you'd be lucky to make it to the clearing, much less put up a fight. I'll go.

"I can do this Matt, Trexlor saw me this morning, what's he going to do if he sees you, he knows you and he'll know there are more of us out here. I'll wait until you give the word, the children can stay here until it's all over. This can work Matt, just give it a chance."

Leaning back against a tree, Matt runs his hands through his hair. Staring into the distance Matt knew the odds of Benny Ray making it out of this one were pretty slim. Trexlor was a vicious man and would kill Benny Ray without thinking about it, if it suited his purpose. But at the moment he couldn't think of a better plan. Knowing Trexlor was only expecting one man would give them the edge they needed. The children would be safe where they were, hidden among the trees.

Resigned, Matt stands up straight, looking hard at Benny Ray saying, Ok, but wait three minutes before moving.

"Roger that Sir!"

Skirting the perimeter of the clearing Matt moves into position northwest of trail.

Kneeling down beside Mary and Timmy, Benny Ray speaking softly says, "I want the both of you to hide right here beneath this bush. I promise I'll be back to get you, do you understand."

"Don't go Mary cries, throwing her arms around his neck, I don't want you to go please." "Timmy unsure of exactly what was happening buried his face in Benny Ray chest hugging him tight."

"I have to Mary, the man who took you away from your parents is out there and it's my job to make sure he never kidnaps another child. I need you to be a big girl now and watch over Timmy, he needs you. I'll come back for you, I promise!"

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Mary scrambles backward, taking Timmy with her to lie flat beneath the bush, hidden by the overhanging limbs and ferns.

Struggling to his feet, Benny Ray heads toward the clearing, taking up a position just outside the clearing, waiting.

"Rico, Nick move in," Matt commands.

Minutes later, Benny Ray comes limping into the clearing, nearing the south side stopping suddenly as Trexlor and five of his men break concealment. Moving forward weapons ready Trexlor laughs at the bedraggled figure coming across the field. Two of Trexlor's men grab Benny Ray searching him for weapons, finding the Glock under his vest.

Trexlor, stepping up to Benny Ray says, "I have to admire you soldier, I don't know how you escaped my men this morning, but you did. Looking around he continues, but where are the children, he mocks, did you loose them, or maybe you weren't man enough to save them.

Anger fueled Benny Ray as he strikes out at one of his captors, catching him in the groin, but the other delivers a quick punch to Benny Ray's left kidney halting his struggle.

"Enough" Trexlor says, "In time you will pay for your mistake,

Margo, working the bond on her wrist is almost free as Rico moves in, smashing the guard with the butt of his rifle he pulls out his knife quickly cutting the rope binding Margo's hands and feet. Handing her the guards weapon, he fills her in on the plan. Moving to the edge of the clearing they take aim at the small group in the clearing. Margo, anger and hatred seething beneath her cool exterior is unable to fix her sites on Trexlor, two men standing behind him are cover enough to block her shot.

"Trexlor, you and your men are surrounded Matt shouts across the clearing, place your weapons on the ground or we will fire." Across the clearing Nick emerges weapon raised.

Over his shoulder Trexlor can see Margo standing poised for battle, Rico beside her.

"Don't do it Trexlor, you and your men will be dead before you can blink," Margo says, and I would love to be the one to put a bullet through you."

Seconds flash by as Trexlor weighs his options, unwilling to give himself up and face prison. Looking at his men, hatred blazing from his eye Trexlor nods, whispering, "Kill them, kill them all."

Raising their weapon Trexlor's men are not quick enough, those men behind and to the side of Trexlor drop like flies.

Reaching out Trexlor tries desperately to grab Benny Ray by the arm to use him as a shield. Driving himself forward, Benny Ray smashes his right elbow into Trexlor's neck pushing him off balance. Seething with rage and frustration, Trexlor wrenches himself around pulling a weapon from behind his back. Prepared for this Benny Ray all his weight on his good leg, hitch kicks forward, catching Trexlor in the jaw. Spiraling backward, Trexlor drops heavily to the ground and lays still. On landing his left leg unable to support him, Benny Ray drops heavily to the ground. For several minutes the clearing is deathly silent.

Exhausted, pain evident in every movement Benny Ray struggles back to his feet, limping slowly back toward the children. Behind him, he hears a quick hissing breath as Trexlor turns aiming the weapon at Benny Ray's back. Turning he hears a shot and watches as Trexlor convulses, dropping the gun Trexlor falls back to the ground, his eyes open and staring skyward. Looking up Benny Ray sees Margo standing with her weapon raised a hard look on her face. Saluting her, Benny Ray continues back toward the children.

Running up Rico grabs Benny Ray by the arm saying, "Benny Ray I think you need to sit tight and let me look at you and that leg."

"I have to go get the children Rico, I promised them I would come back for them and I'm going."

"Alright amigo, let's go get them together.

"Deke, Margo calls, come on in."

"On my way Pretty Lady, ETA three mikes."

"Roger Deke, we'll be waiting."

Ten minutes late, inside the chopper, the children are sitting close to Benny Ray. Benny Ray, eyes closed is sitting in the corner slumped to one side. Grabbing his pack from the rear of the chopper Rico goes over to Benny Ray, finding his skin hot to the touch his face pale, Rico lays him down across the seat. Pulling a couple of syringes, needles and bottles from his pack Rico gives Benny Ray two injections, one for the pain the other an antibiotic, then sets up an I V.

Over the headset, Rico asks, "Deke, how long until we can get him do a hospital."

"Close to an hour Rico, I'm pushing her as hard as I can."

From the co-pilot seat, Matt turns asking, how's he doing Rico."

Without stopping what he was doing, Rico says, "He's running a fever Major and he's pretty badly dehydrated, but he'll make it, the sooner we get that bullet out the better though."

An ambulance is waiting at the military base in Colorado Springs as the chopper lands. Benny Ray, Matt and the children are loaded in and taken to the base hospital. Several hours later, after surgery to remove the bullet Benny Ray lay sleeping in his room. Matt and his team had finally gone to billeting after making sure Benny Ray was going to be ok.

Several doors down Timmy also lay sleeping, but Mary lay awake, both their parents having flown in to ensure they were safe, were now sleeping worry free in a hotel several miles away. In her hand Mary played with the tiny silver bracelet her mother had brought the miniature horse and rider swinging to and fro in the pale moonlight drifting through the window. Climbing out of bed, Mary cautiously opens the door to her room, seeing no one she wanders down the hall opening the door to Benny Ray's room.

Standing beside the bed, she watches as the IV fluid slowly wends it's way through the tubes attached to Benny Ray's right hand.

Benny Ray must have sensed someone watching, wakes slowly turning his head toward the little girl standing beside him.

Smiling Mary says, "I can't sleep can I stay with you for a little while."

Carefully, so as not to disturb the wires and tubes Benny Ray reaches down, lifting the little girl up beside him, tucking her under the blanket. Snuggling close they each take comfort in the other's presence, soon falling fast asleep. Mary's right hand lay lightly across Benny Ray's chest the silver knight draped over his heart, winking merrily in the moonlight.

 

End Of Line

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