It had been a long day and I was exhausted.
Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to have a 9 to 5 job
like normal people. Twenty hours ago I had been soaking in the
Jacuzzi when the call came. Now here I was five thousand miles
from home in the middle of nowhere looking for a madman. It was
my job... I was an Outrider. First on the scene, assess the situation
and if the circumstances warranted it, I placed a call and an
infiltration team was called. It was up to the team leader how
the event was handled. Some situations warranted termination.
Some were to rescue the damsel in distress others were to save
the world. Just the usual good guy, bad guy stuff!
So far this had been a wasted trip.
Either the Intel Landry had given me was bogus or the tango's
had picked up and moved the whole operation to another location.
I also knew that Landry had three other Outriders on this particular
mission so it had to be important.
I still had one more lead to check before
I could head for home. I sincerely hoped this last location would
be the same - empty. What I found usually wasn't pretty. Not
all my missions were life and death but my last mission had been
gruesome, women and children slaughtered, towns wiped off the
face of the earth just because some warlord had craved land and
power. The man had been insane, the lives he ruined the devastation
he caused in my mind could never be measured. Maybe I was as
sick as he was but my heart sang with joy when he died.
Shuddering from the memory I continued
up the nearly nonexistent path, grumbling.
Most of the time Landry's Intel was
right on the money. But even the big boss sometimes gets some
bad information. Ten minutes more of skulking around in the steamy
jungle and I would know for sure.
Ok maybe I was a bit frustrated about
this, but I had had a date for tonight with the nicest guy I
had met in forever. Those blue eyes had captured my heart from
the second I had fatefully gazed into them. He was unlike anyone
I had ever met. His laughter, his quick wit and that sick sense
of humor made my heart soar with delight. Sometimes I got the
feeling we were soul mates.
Grimacing I thought about the last man
in my life. Oh he had been sweet and kind but he was soooo boring
he didn't go anywhere or do anything. You'd think that a person
like me whose job kept them on the edge all the time would like
going home to someone who knew how to relax. Not me, work or
play it had to be interesting and exciting. And so far my blind
date had been anything but boring. I could feel the energy vibrating
through the man and being near him excited me like no other ever
had. Which of course scared the hell out of me. I didn't need
a man in my life especially one as mysterious as this one. He
had never asked me what I did for a living I'm not sure what
I would have told him maybe the truth. I had never asked him
either. I really didn't want to know. He seemed so very complex,
and the man had more attitude than I did. I'm not sure I needed
someone like that in my life it was complicated enough!
Kicking myself I turned my thoughts
back to the job.
"Damn," I mumbled to my self
- "Landry you are one lucky dog." Below me a thin wire
was stretched across a small opening in the trail. Dropping to
the ground I followed it, finding the small explosive device
it was attached to. It took me almost a minute to disarm. I left
it in place but at least now it was harmless.
Another fifty feet down the trail and
I found a second trap, this one a little bit nastier. The bad
guys had dug a small pit. The bottom was crisscrossed with thin
wooden spikes. I shuddered to think what would happen if anyone
fell into it. Crossing the trail I marked the spot - I couldn't
uncover it. It might give my presence away if someone was walking
the perimeter checking the traps.
A few minutes later I lay at the edge
of the woods watching the compound. It was bustling with activity,
Trucks and soldiers - they looked like mercenaries and were unloading
weapons and ammo into a small building.
That's when I spotted the target - Mikhail
Veranov - Ex-KGB, turned mercenary and terrorist, whose services
were open to the highest bidder. He walked across the compound
toward a lone truck parked a few hundred yards below my position.
Several men heavily armed stood guard around the truck. When
Veranov reached it I saw a smirk of satisfaction cross his ugly
mug as he threw back the tarp. Stolen chemical agent! Landry
had said the truck had been on its way to a destruction facility
when it had been hijacked. Now 5 canisters of the deadliest chemical
agent know to man were in the hands of a lunatic.
So Landry's Intel had been correct after
all and from the looks of it they were preparing for a major
campaign. Wriggling back into the underbrush, I pulled the small
pocket computer out of my pack. Punching in my access code, the
little screen came to life. It only took a minute to compose
the message. Hooking up the phone I made sure the signal was
strong before I hit the little send key. The encrypted message
would take just a little over two minutes to reach the satellite
and find its way into Landry's terminal. Five minutes later a
team would be mobilized and soon Veranov would be out of business.
My job now was to lay low and keep an
eye on the situation. If Veranov mobilized or changed locations
I could report it within seconds to Landry. If the OP Team sent
in failed its mission. I could report it and a second team would
Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach, CA.
It was nearing midnight when Matt got
the call. Rolling over he switched on the light as he grabbed
for the phone. "Shepherd" he grumbled. Listening intently
for several minutes he replies. "We're on our way Trout,
meet you there in twenty minutes."
Dialing Margo, Benny Ray and Nick, Matt
gives the orders. Two more calls and he too gathers his gear.
Twenty minutes later Matt and his team
are standing at a small airfield as a black limousine pulls up.
Sliding in Matt spent several minutes listening as Trout briefs
him on the situation.
Several minutes later a chopper could
be heard overhead coming in fast. As the chopper lands the side
door is flung open. A smiling familiar face stands silhouetted
in the doorway. "Hey Compadre's anyone need a lift,"
Less than five minutes later their gear
is stored, and the chopper lifts off once more.
"Heads up people" Matt begins.
"We are headed to Vietnam our mission is to destroy 5 canisters
of a very toxic chemical agent." Passing out folders Matt
waits as they read the information.
"Jeez," Nick yelps, "this
stuff could kill ya!"
"No shit, Sherlock," Benny
Ray says, slapping the little man in the chest. "If it was
bubble bath they wouldn't need us."
"Chance and CJ are meeting us in
Hawaii. I suggest you get some rest if you can; we're on the
fast track flights are waiting at Oakland and Hickam. We should
reach our destination in less than eighteen hours."
Touching down at Hickam they immediately
boarded a second plane fueled and ready to go. On board Chance
and CJ sat waiting to greet the rest of the team. Twenty minutes
later the plane is airborne and cruising at 25,000 ft.
"Gather round people," Matt
yells, waiting as everyone settles in. "5 Canisters of a
lethal chemical were stolen five days ago. They were on their
way to a destruction facility. Our mission is to destroy the
chemicals. CJ you will be glad to note that Trout had provided
us with a specialized explosive. When detonated the intense heat
generated by the explosion will cause the chemical to vaporize."
Our secondary target is this man,"
Matt says indicating the picture. "Mikhail Veranov - Benny
Ray your mission is to terminate."
Bringing out the map, Matt indicates
the target area and the trail they will use to reach the site.
Eighteen hours and forty-five minutes
after Trout's call the team was on the ground heading northeast
toward Veranov's compound. Matt knew if they could keep up the
pace, they would reach their target a little after midnight.
Trout had also relayed the fact that an Outrider was on site
and would keep them apprised of the situation.
I lay dozing beneath the branches of
a huge tree as the receiver in my ear crackled, an unfamiliar
voice breaking in.
"Artemis, this is Eagle1, over."
"Eagle1 this is Artemis, I read
you five by. Welcome to my nightmare!"
On the other end Matt's jaw dropped
in surprise at hearing a female voice on the other end.
I expected some kind of questions but
when the line remained silent I had to ask. "You still there
"Affirmative Artemis," the
voice replied, "what's the situation."
I just had to grin. It was always the
same with these guys. They weren't prepared for a woman to be
out here doing something this dangerous. Sometimes I wondered
if it dented their manly egos. Out here they had no choice, work
with me or go home empty handed. None of them ever had.
"Eagle1," I began, "compound
consists of three buildings going north to south. Building 1
is ammunition and supplies, building two is barracks, and building
three is Veranov's headquarters. Four guards moving counter clockwise
around the perimeter, approx fifty yard away from the buildings.
Barracks contain approximately forty soldiers. Target is 25 yards
west of the ammunitions building. One guard posted to the rear.
The perimeter is riddled with traps so keep your eyes open."
"Roger Artemis, appreciate the
Intel, moving into position now."
"Affirmative Eagle1, Artemis out."
"Benny Ray, CJ you are on the truck,
Nick, Rico, south, Chance, Margo go north."
My mind went numb, Margo, Nick, and
Benny Ray here? They were the infiltration team? "Why him,"
I muttered, as a few choice words crossed my mind. The man on
the other end of my conversation had probably been Matt. Truthfully
I wanted to scream.
Settling the night vision goggles in
place I watched as the team moved into position. I heard them
all report in when they reached their positions. In my ear I
heard Matt utter "Now!"
I watched as four guards dropped silently
to the ground, seconds later the guard on the truck also dropped.
A hundred feet below me I saw two figures advancing on the truck.
I heard a hissing sound and the night
sky burst into bloom as a flare lit the compound. Seconds later
I could hear the sounds of gunfire and mortars as they exploded.
Looking south I could barely make out
the bodies as rebel troops came into the compound. Veranov's
men had roused at the first explosion and were soon scrambling
out of the barracks looking for the enemy.
"Insurgents," I yelled into
the mike, "Matt get your team the hell out of there?"
Below me I saw the bright flare of an
explosion as a mortar struck the ground. I watched in horror
as Benny Ray and his partner were thrown to the ground.
Breaking cover I started across the
clearing as one of them climbed slowly to his knees. I saw two
men come around the side of the truck and quickly raised my rifle.
On the run I knew I would be lucky to hit one, much less two,
but lady luck was riding my shoulder tonight and both men fell.
As I slid to the ground beside Benny
Ray, I asked, "is he alive?"
I saw the affirmative shake of his head,
but he didn't answer. "We need to get that truck out of
here, we can't let it fall into rebel hands."
"Roger," I heard him whisper,
"Cover us." He picked up the limp body of his partner
throwing him over his shoulder. I heard him groan as he gained
his feet limping toward the truck.
Moving toward the rear of the truck
I searched the guards pockets, finding the keys.
Standing up I heard running feet from
behind me as two of Veranov's soldiers closed on the truck. Turning
I fired hitting one, but the second had already raised his weapon
and I was the target. I heard a shot and expected the burning
pain but the soldier in front of me crumpled to the ground.
"Can you drive this thing,"
I heard a familiar voice whisper in my ear.
"You bet your ass I can,"
I said as I helped him back to the truck. Jumping in I started
the engine. Slamming it into gear I set the truck north toward
an old trail I had marked earlier.
Beside me I heard Benny Ray call his
voice cracking. "Matt you read me?
"Roger Benny Ray, what's your status?"
"We have the truck and are heading
north, CJ is unconscious and our contact is driving?"
"Roger," Matt says, "Do
you still have the explosives?"
"You know what to do, rendezvous
at the following coordinates."
"Roger that Sir," I heard
him mumble. Resting his head back against the seat I saw him
wipe the side of his face his fingers coming away wet and slick
with blood. But until we were far enough away from the compound
I couldn't do anything to help.
The whole situation had gone to hell.
Vietnamese insurgents were even now overrunning the camp. Snapping
out orders Matt directed his team toward the rendezvous point.
His heart had thumped in his chest when a mortar had caught CJ
and Benny Ray. He hadn't seen them get up. Relief had swept over
him when he'd heard Benny Ray's voice. So far the rest of the
team was intact. They had the truck. Benny Ray, CJ and the Outrider
were on their way to safety. The canisters would soon be history.
Trout had said they'd be working for
the company on this one. He hadn't liked it but Trout had asked
them to do it as a special favor. But Matt had to wonder about
the Outrider. She'd called him by name warning him of the new
danger. How the hell had she known who he was?
Keeping low Matt moved away from the
compound heading toward Chance and Margo's position. It would
take close to two hours for them to reach the rendezvous point.
Across the comlink he hears Chance's
voice, "What's your position Major."
"Moving on your location now Chance,
I'm coming in."
"Roger that Sir!'
Stepping behind a small bush, a tall
figure stands up, "Here Sir," Chance whispers. "Present
and accounted for."
Beside Chance several more figures step
out staying low, as Matt looks at the rest of his team.
"All right people, we stay low
and move fast. Chance take Point, Nick your in the rear. Now
let's move it!"
The going had been slow, the trail overrun
with brush and stumps. We had probably only traveled 10 miles
when I pulled the truck to the side of the trail. I was glad
to see that Benny Ray's partner had finally regained consciousness.
Neither one of them looked too good but at least they were alive.
I climbed out first taking the pack
from Benny Ray as I steadied him. His partner came next, I could
hear him mumbling beneath his breath and I had to smile. British,
by the sound of his voice and he was ranting and raving about
"Enough CJ," I heard Benny
Ray mutter, "we need to set the charges and get the hell
out of here."
"Sit both of you," I said,
"I want to take a look at your injuries. Before they could
protest I continued. "It's not going to do anyone any good
if you both bleed to death. A couple minutes aren't going to
make that much difference."
I could feel Benny Ray's eyes boring
into my back as I worked on CJ. Had he recognized me? I certainly
wasn't the same creature he'd taken sailing or riding on his
bike. My face was covered in black, brown and green paint and
my long hair was stuffed beneath my jungle hat. It took me about
five minutes to bandage the gashes on CJ right arm and side.
From what I could tell he probably had a couple of cracked ribs
and a concussion.
Benny Ray wasn't much better. I found
a golf ball size knot and gash above his left eyebrow and a matching
gash on his left calf. The mortar had done it's job, neither
one of them was in good shape and we still had a ways to go before
we would reach the rendezvous point.
Grabbing the pack, I said tell me what
to do and I'll take care of it.
Looking up CJ had this strange look
on his face, like I'd just stolen his favorite toy.
I watched as he pulled out one of the
charges and gave me directions. A few minutes later after setting
the charges we were nearly a quarter of a mile away safely hidden
behind a rocky outcropping as the devices exploded. We could
feel the rush of heat as the truck and canisters were engulfed
If any of Varanov's troops or insurgents
were still alive the explosion would act as a beacon drawing
them in our direction. We had to move and we had to move now.
From a pocket on my pack I pulled out
my little computer. Flipping it over I activated the GPS. We
company types had some of the neatest toys to play with and this
little palm computer was pretty slick, transmitter, receiver
and locater all in one neat little package. Reading the coordinates
I plotted our position. We were only about 5 miles from the rendezvous
point. I lead the way as Benny Ray and CJ gamely followed moving
as quickly as their poor abused bodies would allow. Neither one
of them complained, I would have been surprised if they had.
Veranov was furious, his plans in ruins most of his men dead,
he'd barely escaped the compound alive. Six of his men were squeezed
into the small jeep as they followed the trucks trail. They were
gaining. It would only be a matter of minutes.
But they were closer than it seemed
as the sky in front of them was ripped apart the concussion of
the blast throwing the little jeep to the side of the road and
over a large stump. Veranov and five of his men were thrown clear.
The driver wasn't so lucky. The jeep careened out of control
and flipped over crushing him beneath it.
Several times during the trek I had
seen Benny Ray stop, it was as if he was sniffing the air, but
seconds later he continued on. When I asked him about it he had
said something didn't feel right. I was careful after that, I
could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, but
nothing ever materialized.
We were nearing the two-hour mark as
we reached the rendezvous point. My companions were exhausted.
The area was clear as we sat hidden beneath a large tree the
first to arrive. Passing around the canteen I checked their bandages
"Stay put," I whispered, "I'm
going to check the perimeter." I thought Benny Ray was going
to protest but I saw him settle back and nod.
Taking off I moved silently around the
area. I heard the rustle of brush as Matt and his team arrived
at the rendezvous point.
That's when I felt it, the shiver ran
up my back as I turned to face the enemy, bringing my weapon
around I saw Veranov standing silhouetted again the sky his weapon
pointed at Margo's back.
"Down," I yelled as I launched
myself toward Margo taking her to the ground.
Veranov was startled as my cry broke
the stillness, but it didn't stop him from getting off a shot.
Around me all hell broke loose, but all I could feel was the
searing pain as the bullet sliced into my left shoulder.
The team dove for cover as Veranov and
his men open fired. But they hadn't counted on CJ and Benny Ray
hidden beneath the tree. Veranov slid to the ground as Benny
Ray's bullet ripped through his throat. CJ took out one man while
Chance rolled to the right taking out another as Benny Ray fired
again taking out one more. The lone man fled.
Beside me Margo had regained her feet
as Matt and his team scoured the area.
But I was slow. The burning pain in
my shoulder told me I was still alive, and it was too high up
to be life threatening but it sure hurt like hell. Using my good
hand I peeled away the blood soaked shirt.
In the dim light Margo must have seen
me still sitting on the ground. Turning she kneels beside saying
"Just a little, " I replied
between gritted teeth.
"God, I'm sorry," she mumbles,
"that bullet was meant for me wasn't it."
"Maybe," I answered.
I could hear the sincerity in her voice
as she whispered, "Thanks."
"No problem," I muttered,
"that's what friends are for don't ya know."
"Oh my god," I heard her say
"Shhhh," I muttered, "I
don't want anyone else to know Ok."
"But," she started as I cut
"Please," I coaxed.
"Alright, she muttered, but someday
you and I are going to talk, do you hear me."
Grinning at her, I yelped as she pulled
the bandage tight. I could see the mischief in her eyes as she
carelessly murmured an apology.
Our little tête-à-tête
was broken as Matt and the rest of the team returned. I listened
as Margo explained that I had taken a bullet meant for her. "It
wasn't like that at all" I mumbled, "I tripped."
Beside me I could feel Benny Ray's laughter.
Matt immediately took charge as he assessed
the condition of his team. Rico had taken a few minutes to look
at everyone's injuries and pronounced us ready to move.
This time it was Nick's turn to lead,
with Benny Ray leaning heavily on Chance and CJ being propped
up by Rico. Margo had taken up a position behind me as we headed
for our transportation. Matt covered the rear.
We were a sorry bunch of travelers,
but a collective sigh of relief was heard as we spotted the chopper
several hours later. It was with great pleasure that I settled
myself into the chopper. Matt had said the chopper would take
us across the border into Thailand and there transportation home
had been arranged.
It was nearing 6am as the chopper landed.
In all the hubbub I slipped away.
Los Angeles CA
2 days later
I was sitting on the porch my left leg
thrown over the arm of my wicker rocker my left arm was resting
in a sling. That's when I heard the roar of the Big Dog as he
pulled up in front of the house.
My heart thumped in my chest as he took
off his helmet and slowly turned toward me pulling his sunglasses
off. I watched him slowly fold them and put them in his pocket.
I could see the bandage on his brow and the anger in his eyes,
as he looked my way.
I knew he was angry because I had nearly
gotten him and his team killed. It was my fault and I knew it!
I stood up as he slowly limped up to
the porch, his eyes burned into mine and I looked away. He stood
in front of me waiting!
Looking up our eyes locked once more.
Taking a deep breath I whispered, "I'm sorry."
"Yes, Ma'am" he whispered
through clenched teeth.
Before he could say anymore, I rushed
on. "I know it was my fault, I should have know they were
there, I almost got you all killed!" I could feel the tears
threatening. Stiffening my resolve I stood straighter waiting
for his anger and hatred to wash over me.
I saw the look in his eyes change from
anger to puzzlement. "What," he asked in confusion?
"The Vietnamese," I said,
"if I had done my job I would have know they were there
and no one would have gotten hurt," I shouted, "especially
you I mumbled." "Isn't that why you're angry"
That's when he chuckled. Now it was
my turn to be angry, he was laughing at me and I didn't like
"What are you laughing at,"
I stormed clenching my fist.
Turning serious he explained. "Those
mortars have close to a 3 mile range. There is no way you could
have known they were there. It wasn't your fault. "In that
situation you did more than anyone could have asked. You saved
mine and CJ's lives and completed the mission."
Looking off into the trees I finally
knew he was right. I hadn't thought it through clearly.
He spun me back to face him as he snapped,
"No Ma'am, I'm angry because you didn't trust me enough
to tell me who you were after saving my life."
I stared up into his eyes seeing the
anger had returned. How could I explain?
Gently I reached up touching the bandage
on his forehead. "I wanted to," I whispered leaning
into him. "But I didn't know how? I can count on one hand
how many people know what I do. Not even Margo knew and she is
my best friend."
He stepped away and I felt bereft, shivering
I wrapped my arms around me waiting.
The world stood still as we looked at
one another. His eyes were cold and assessing as he stared down
at me. I was vulnerable and he knew it. I wanted to plead with
him to forgive me but that wasn't in my nature. This is who I
am and I wasn't going to change even for him.
Stepping forward his arm snakes around
my waist dragging me forward. His voice low and deadly he whispers,
"I do understand Diane, we all have secrets, but you could
have trusted me."
With my good arm I reach up wrapping
it around his neck dragging him closer "I'm sorry,"
I whispered. With an inviting smile and a sideway glance, my
voice husky I asked, "will you let me make it up to you?"
Rumbling laughter erupts as he says,
"Yes Ma'am I think I will!"
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